Evidence of meeting #71 for Canadian Heritage in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was discrimination.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jenifer Aitken  Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy, Planning and Corporate Affairs, Department of Canadian Heritage
Gilles Michaud  Deputy Commissioner, Federal Policing , Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Ritu Banerjee  Senior Director, Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Carl Trottier  Assistant Deputy Minister, Governance, Planning and Policy Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat
Jérôme Moisan  Director General , Strategic Policy, Planning and Research Branch, Department of Canadian Heritage

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

I'm calling the meeting to order.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the heritage committee, at its 71st meeting, will study the issue of systemic racism and religious discrimination.

Our first witness is Iqra Khalid, who moved motion 103 that went to the House and was passed, and the committee agreed to study this motion. Without further ado, I will ask Ms. Khalid to begin. I will let her know that she has 10 minutes to speak, and then obviously there will be questions and answers.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair, honourable members, for inviting me to your committee today as you start your study on systemic racism and religious discrimination.

I'm a member of Parliament in one of the most diverse ridings in Canada. I like to say that the whole world is represented in my city of Mississauga. We live beside each other as Canadians. We all, in our different ways, contribute to the building of Canada. We all form part of this beautiful Canadian fabric.

When it comes to the reality on the ground, I often find myself wondering how it is that we can come from so many different places, be of every colour, practise different faiths, and yet collectively be one of the most peaceful countries in the world? Balancing the interests of such a diverse and dynamic group of people as Canadians requires a lot of work. It requires partnerships between our policy-makers, our civil society that acts as watchdogs, our grassroots organizations that provide the programs and services required, and our individual Canadians and the respect they have for one another.

Madam Chair, racism and religious discrimination have no place in Canadian society. We value the differences among Canadians, and we know that diversity is our strength.

A recent survey commissioned by The Globe and Mail and conducted by Nanos Research in 2016, suggests that seven in 10 respondents said there's still a lot of racism in Canada. One in five have had racist remarks directed at them, and more than a third have said they have made a racist remark in the company of others.

In 2016 alone, there were cases of discrimination and racism in almost every community in Canada.

On September 20, 2016, the University of Alberta woke up to posters put around their campus, depicting turbaned men of the Sikh faith with racist insults written above them.

In December 2016 in Edmonton, a man went up to two women wearing hijabs, proceeded to pull out a rope from his pocket, tied the rope into a noose, and said, “This is for you.”

On August 18, 2016, Andre Bear, a student from Little Pine First Nation in Saskatchewan said, “I remember having white friends when I was growing up, but their parents didn't like me or they would tell me to go home. People weren't allowed to play with me because I was native.”

In November of the same year, swastikas and racist slurs were spray-painted on a church with a black pastor in Ottawa.

“Go home” was spray-painted on the Ottawa Muslim Association front doors, and anti-Semitic slurs were spray-painted on synagogues.

On January 29, 2017, six Canadians were gunned down in their place of worship.

Statistics Canada's most recent hate crime data shows that the number of police-reported hate crimes against Muslims increased by 60% in 2015, compared to the previous year. Many Muslim Canadians have told me personally that they do not feel safe practising their faith here in Canada. Statistics Canada data also shows that the number of incidents targeting Jewish Canadians remains the highest among religions targeted, at 178 incidents in 2015 alone. In addition, reported hate crimes targeting black Canadians still made up the largest percentage of the total number of incidents, at 224 incidents in 2015.

Madam Chair, systemic racism and religious discrimination are real. I listen to many stories from people every day. Early last year, an e-petition came to my attention that had over 69,000 Canadians coming together to call on our government to combat Islamophobia.

I was astonished by the numbers. This must be real, I thought, so I decided to do more research. I was even more astounded—and frankly disappointed—to find out that data on this issue was very limited. I struggled to find real numbers. Thus, in light of the limited statistics, the media reports, the concerns raised by Canadians, and the personal stories I heard, I felt that something needed to be done.

As a parliamentarian, I felt the need for more concrete data to reflect on the problem of systemic racism and religious discrimination as a whole in Canada. What could be a better place to study the issue than our own House of Commons, the house of the people? On December 1, 2016, I had the privilege to table motion 103. The motion builds on the support from e-petition 411 and uses the example of Islamophobia to make a larger point about the problem of all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination, which is that we have to find ways to tackle that broader problem in Canada as a whole.

Allow me to state on the record that I am not an expert on the subject matter but rather a believer in our parliamentary process. I trust that this committee will bring the best experts to the table and provide us—Canadians—with a more substantive look at the status of the systemic racism and religious discrimination issue in our Canada.

Due to this, my recommendations to your respected committee will be merely regarding the focus and direction of this committee as you move forward with this study. My recommendations are that this committee take a unified approach to study all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada; that this committee direct experts to testify on best ways to collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and, more specifically, how we as parliamentarians and government can support this; and, that this committee direct experts to testify on the best methods of reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada.

I would hope that the outcome of your study provides more concrete recommendations to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada.

Thank you, Madam Chair. I'm happy to take questions.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thank you very much, Ms. Khalid.

Now we begin the question and answer piece, but I want to recognize a colleague who is in the room. The leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May, is here as a member of Parliament listening to this testimony.

Thank you, and welcome.

Now we begin the seven-minute round. The seven minutes include questions and answers. I'm going to give you a sign when you have two minutes to go so you can wrap up. I'll begin with the Liberals.

For seven minutes, Ms. Dhillon.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Anju Dhillon Liberal Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle, QC

Thank you for joining us today and for your very poignant statement.

First, can you describe the reaction you have seen since this motion was presented and what you have experienced personally?

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

I think what happened is something that I believe was necessary. Canadians engaged in a conversation that was much needed, and now we're looking at the way forward.

This motion and study is an opportunity for parliamentarians to come together and to be unified in seeing how we can tackle this issue of systemic racism and religious discrimination. There's a lot to be learned from the statistics, the media reports, and people's personal experiences, including mine. We must use those in our unified approach to combatting systemic racism and religious discrimination and in ensuring all communities that need the help are getting it. I'm really looking forward to the concrete recommendations that this committee will provide for this issue going forward.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Anju Dhillon Liberal Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle, QC

Can you give us your thoughts about what's been happening in my home province of Quebec regarding the fire bombings and the mosque shooting? Can you give us your opinion?

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

I really think that Canadians are realizing what the issue is, which makes this committee's study that much more important.

It gives us and all of you the opportunity to come together to look at these issues, to hear from Canadians, and to hear from experts on what is happening and how we can continue to build those bridges amongst minorities in Canada, amongst our diverse population here in Canada, and also, how we can continue to have and strengthen those partnerships between our policy-makers, our civil society, our grassroots organizations, and Canadians at large. How do we develop that respect we have for each other and how do we as a committee go forward in providing those recommendations?

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Anju Dhillon Liberal Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle, QC

Why do you think it's important to have statistics on hate crime data collection?

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Well, as our Prime Minister and our government always say, good data leads to good policy. When we have that data and are able to contextualize it, we are able to better understand the needs of impacted communities. We are better able to come up with those concrete recommendations and initiatives that our government may take in enhancing and building those partnerships with our civil society, our grassroots organizations, and Canadians at large. That data piece helps us to understand what is happening at the grassroots level, and it helps us to have effective and better policy.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Anju Dhillon Liberal Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle, QC

As parliamentarians, we have many people walking into our offices with various problems. How many have walked in with these concerns or have been victims of racial profiling? Have you seen that?

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

A lot of people have walked into not only my offices, but also, I'm sure, those of many of the members around this table.

I'll give you an example. I had a conversation with the local rabbi of my riding, Rabbi Pollack. We had a very lengthy conversation about the discrimination the Jewish community faces in Canada and specifically in my riding. She talked about those trials and tribulations and about how unified a community is can really affect how we can help each other.

Having these kinds of stories really defines how we take this study forward. I think we can do better by Canadians. We can work to enhance and use our diversity as a strength because, quite honestly, it's our future. Our kids of tomorrow are going to need the support that we can provide today.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Anju Dhillon Liberal Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle, QC

Your motion covers all sorts of discrimination against all communities that coexist in Canada. Why do you think this is a very important motion? What exactly would you want us to study here?

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

I'm not at liberty to restrict the committee. I think the objective of the motion has been completed, in that now a study is taking place. As parliamentarians, this heritage committee is taking ownership of an issue that we are seeing in statistics and media reports and are hearing about from Canadians. The objective of the motion is now complete.

I'm really looking forward to having the committee bringing in experts and understanding from the experts how we can find better ways to collect and contextualize data, and how we as policy-makers, as representatives of the people, can assist in helping to build those bridges amongst different communities here in Canada.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Anju Dhillon Liberal Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle, QC

I want to thank you so much for having the courage to present this motion, for coming here before us, and for trying to help all communities in Canada.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

I'll go to the Conservatives, with Scott Reid.

September 18th, 2017 / 4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Iqra, thank you very much for being here. Before we began, I wanted to go up and shake your hand and ask if you enjoyed your summer and all those collegial things, but unfortunately I didn't get the chance. I'll do it at the end. You're looking well rested anyway, for what it's worth.

I want to ask you this as a starting point. A few years back, I was a co-chair, along with a Liberal MP, Mario Silva, of an informal parliamentary group called the “Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat AntiSemitism”. We had members from all parties serving on it. Are you familiar with that group?

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

No, I'm not.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Okay. What I might try to do, then, is get a copy of the report we did. At the time, the study looked into anti-Semitism, obviously, as the name implies, and how to deal with anti-Semitism. One of the bases on which we were looking at it was the assumption that anti-Semitism has historically been a kind of canary in the coal mine for religious or, in some cases, racial discrimination, because as you know, the very worst anti-Semites of all conceived of Judaism not as a religion but a race.

At any rate, we were looking at this as the canary in the coal mine for other forms of discrimination, hatred, and hate-motivated violence. We had a few recommendations that I think might prove useful in the context of the report that your motion could lead to from this committee. In terms of what was included, I want to ask you what think about these recommendations as potential ideas, given that you've thought a lot about this general subject matter over the past few months.

We felt that there was room for improvement in better unified police reporting on statistics of violence and other hate-motivated acts.

We were dealing, of course, with synagogues, because this was about Jews, and we recommended better federal funding for security around synagogues. I'm expressing a prejudice here, I guess.... I think there's a very strong case for this in the context of mosques as well, given the fact that we saw those terrible events, those murders in Quebec City, at a mosque.

Do you think there would be profit in us pursuing this kind of security-related research as part of our agenda in response to your motion?

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

That's fantastic. I'm so glad that you've put so much thought into what these recommendations would look like.

As I stated earlier, I am not an expert on the subject matter, and I defer to the direct experts who will come before this committee to inform committee members on what would be the best way forward and what these concrete recommendations could be. I'm very glad that you have worked very hard on this issue over your past number of years. I know that you're quite a learned man yourself. I'm looking forward to a unified approach as to how we can combat systemic racism and religious discrimination—all forms of it—here in Canada.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Thank you.

As you will recall, back in February, your motion 103 was debated. The day after the first hour of debate, a second motion, very similar but introduced by my colleague from Cypress Hills-Grasslands, who is sitting beside me today, was also debated. It was very similar in wording. It did not use the word “Islamophobia”, but it did contain a few passages that were absent from motion 103. It specifically included the following words:

That the House: (a) recognize that Canadian society is not immune to the climate of hate and fear exemplified by the recent and senseless violent acts at a Quebec City mosque; (b) condemn all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance, and discrimination of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, and other religious communities;

When you were asked about this, you said, “Well, I agree with most of this. After all, I wrote 98% of it.” This is the 2% you didn't write. I'm going to guess that you also agree with this part. Would I be correct?

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

I'm not understanding your question.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

This is the part of the motion that was introduced the day after motion 103 was debated in the House of Commons. Much of that wording was lifted directly from motion 103.

This was the part that was not lifted from motion 103. It was added in. We felt that it was important. I'm just trying to establish.... I have a suspicion that you actually agree as well with this part that I just read: that we should try to fight against discrimination against Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, and all religious communities, and also that we should single out senseless acts of violence as the paradigmatic thing against which we are fighting.

Are you comfortable with being in agreement with those things?

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Of course. I am here before this committee by invitation as it commences a study on systemic racism and religious discrimination—all forms of it. I'm really looking forward to how this committee tackles this issue, looking for that testimony of experts from all across the board to see how we can better define the relationships we have between each other as Canadians and how we can work together.

I will give an example. I've had many conversations with a lot of people in my riding. One day I was sitting with Erin Mills United Church, and some of the members of that church expressed that they were first-generation immigrants from Portugal. They spoke about the issues that they faced. We talked at length about what kind of issues communities face, not only when they are newcomers here in Canada, but also as minorities that are impacted, that need that extra help, that are vulnerable. We came to a conclusion as we spoke: if you remove the type or the identity of the person—race, creed, religion—and look at the body of the type of discrimination, it seems that all minorities have gone through it at some point.

It's so important for this committee and for us as parliamentarians to take on this task at a time when Canada really needs to work hard to build those bridges, to work together between us as policy-makers and between our grassroots organizations, our civil society, and Canadians at large. The experts who will come before this committee will, I'm sure, inform this committee on all types of systemic racism and religious discrimination. I'm sure that the recommendations that will be provided will be fantabulous and will work towards a better and stronger Canada.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thank you very much.

Your time is up now, Scott.

Now I go to Jenny Kwan of the NDP.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Thank you very much, Ms. Khalid, for bringing this motion before us.

The issue before us is a very serious one, particularly in this climate of hate, I would call it, especially looking south of the border where so much effort is being made to normalize hate and discrimination. It is extremely disheartening to me as a person of colour, a woman, and someone who has lived experiences of discrimination in the past and continues to from time to time as well. To see how far we have come and the setback that we're now experiencing.... Some days, thinking about the situation that we face today literally makes me want to weep. With that being said, I think the work before our committee is very important, and I think there is much to be done.

In terms of addressing the issue of how, as we see in our community, some are working so hard to normalize hate and discrimination—I'm sure you have experienced that as well—do you have any suggestions on how the government can tackle that? None of us are experts per se, but that said, I might add that those with lived experiences are perhaps the best experts. I would love to hear what actions you think the government should take, from a lived-experience point of view, to deal with this issue.