Evidence of meeting #73 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 systemic.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Ayesha Chaudhry  Associate Professor and Chairholder of Canada Research Chair in Religion, Law and Social Justice, As an Individual
Avvy Yao-Yao Go  Clinic Director, Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
Shawn Richard  President, Canadian Association of Black Lawyers
Shalini Konanur  Executive Director and Lawyer, South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO)

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thank you very much.

Now we will go to Ms. Dzerowicz for the Liberals, for seven minutes, please.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Thanks so much for the excellent presentations. I have a few questions for you.

The first is, in terms of systemic discrimination and combatting it, is there any country that is doing a good job of it right now and that you think we might learn from, or we might look at in terms of an example?

I'll ask you first, Ms. Chaudhry, and then Ms. Yao-Yao Go.

4:10 p.m.

Associate Professor and Chairholder of Canada Research Chair in Religion, Law and Social Justice, As an Individual

Ayesha Chaudhry

I cannot, off the top of my head, think about a particular country that has been doing a great job all around. I think that different countries have different programs that are useful for us to think about. I know, for example, that the Ontario Human Rights Commission looked at the programs that were being used in the United States and has tailored them for Ontario.

We can definitely learn from things that are happening in different parts of the world, but we will have to tailor them for a Canadian context. We have this philosophy of a multicultural society, so how do we account in a multicultural society, for example, for race? This is a question that is coming up more and more. Does the focus of multiculturalism end up erasing race, for example?

I think some of these conversations have to happen at a national level, in terms of how we are going to define ourselves as Canadians moving forward. What does our cultural mosaic really look like? The cultural mosaic is a rich metaphor, and I think we could use it as an entry point to have conversations about this.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Thank you.

4:10 p.m.

Clinic Director, Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic

Avvy Yao-Yao Go

I'll give you three examples, but they're not complete examples.

For instance, in Ontario, the Ontario government started an anti-racism directorate, which has an anti-racism strategy for the next three years. They have passed anti-racism legislation which we helped to draft. That's one model. It may not address all of your issues, but it is certainly a start.

As an example of how to address discrimination in employment, I think this year or last year, Iceland expanded their pay equity legislation, ensuring that all employers must have equal pay based on gender, race, and other grounds. That's another example.

The third example is New Zealand. The New Zealand government has started to implement a data collection program. They have a very good way of collecting data based on race, indigenous status, and so on.

You may not find one country with all the answers, but I think different countries are starting to look at it from a different point of view. These are examples of the different pieces that you may want to look at.

You can also look at your own example. The government has started to use a gender-based equity budgeting process. I think you can always use the gender equity model and expand it to a race-based model as well. It's not a very difficult jump. If you can apply it to gender, then surely you can look at the race aspect as well.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Perfect, thank you.

Ms. Chaudhry, you made an interesting comment. When I was thinking about solutions, I thought of an education campaign. I was delighted when you said that's good, but you can't stop there. You went on to say that there needs to be a counter-narrative.

Can you talk a little more about that, in terms of what that could look like, and maybe get us going on that?

4:10 p.m.

Associate Professor and Chairholder of Canada Research Chair in Religion, Law and Social Justice, As an Individual

Ayesha Chaudhry

Thank you for that question.

I think if people believe there is a civilizational war between Islam and—quote, unquote—“the west”, having problematized those categories, I think it's not enough when people believe that to say that's not happening. That is something that needs to be demonstrated. One of the ways, of course, is to have integrated schools where people are interacting. We know that in contexts where people are interacting with people of different groups, they are less likely to maintain prejudices, biases, and stereotypes against those groups. Also it's recognizing that things like Islamophobia, racism, and sexism end up tearing our communities apart. They really do weaken our democratic institutions. For example, if one in two Canadians has a bias against Muslims and Islam, then I wonder what happens to the process of standing trial before a jury of your peers. What does that do to that process?

This is a systemic issue that expresses itself in all these different contexts. I don't think we need one counter-narrative for it; I think we need many counter-narratives for it. Again, I would resist the idea that one narrative or one voice speaks for all. If one voice dominates, we all lose. If one of us wins, we all lose.

One of the things that I was trying to do in my statement today was to offer a different narrative of being Muslim in Canada, a narrative that I think we don't hear all the time but is important to listen to alongside other narratives of being Muslim in Canada, because there isn't only one experience of that.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Thank you. That actually leads very well into my next question.

We talk a little about an action plan. I know that systemic discrimination actually impacts different groups slightly differently. I'm always worried about a one-size-fits-all solution. I wonder if you might have advice as we are thinking of an action plan. What might we also consider as part of that?

4:15 p.m.

Clinic Director, Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic

Avvy Yao-Yao Go

I think there are two responses to it.

First of all, the action plan must come with a plan to also collect disaggregated data because you want to make sure that whatever action you come up with will benefit different communities and not just benefit some communities. The only way that you will know is if you collect data that is disaggregated, looking at different communities.

The second part is what we call targeted universality. You may have a general action plan, but it's identifying certain communities that are most at risk, with special attention being put to those communities within the overall plan. An example of that would be if you have an action plan looking at different components, one component might be on the correctional system. We know from the data that the communities that are most affected would be indigenous and African Canadian. You have an overall plan. You may have something that says something about the correctional system, but within that component you may also have certain targeted measures for those communities.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thank you, Ms. Go.

I want to thank the witnesses. You were excellent, clear, and decisive. I want to say that all of the members of our committee have become very crisp and clear in what they're asking for. This was a good round.

Thank you very much for coming.

We're going into a three-minute second round. We will start with Mr. Reid for the Conservatives.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

I have less than half as much time as all the preceding questioners, so I will attempt to improve upon their concision even further.

Professor Chaudhry, you mentioned another academic who had given a definition of Islamophobia, and you cited it favourably. I wonder if you could provide us with the name of that individual, and then perhaps if this was given in the context of an essay, if you would be able to submit that essay to our clerk. Could you do that?

4:15 p.m.

Associate Professor and Chairholder of Canada Research Chair in Religion, Law and Social Justice, As an Individual

Ayesha Chaudhry

Absolutely. It's Dr. Jasmin Zine.

September 25th, 2017 / 4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Okay.

The next thing I want to ask you about is an issue that you just raised a moment ago, of standing trial before a jury of your peers, or alternatively, facing a situation in which someone is alleged to have committed an offence against you, and you have a jury of essentially average Canadians from your community.

I know this was a very severe problem in the American south vis-à-vis race relations between African Americans and whites in past decades. It was a really severe problem. I haven't seen any evidence that it exists here in Canada, but I'm willing to be corrected vis-à-vis the Islamic community. Although, I do note that in the periodic review of Canada's human rights performance we see other aspects of the penal system, in particular, being singled out, in particular with relation to aboriginal people.

I've given you room to expand in the remaining time on that general subject.

4:15 p.m.

Associate Professor and Chairholder of Canada Research Chair in Religion, Law and Social Justice, As an Individual

Ayesha Chaudhry

Thank you.

The problem with African Americans and criminalization, in terms of their standing the right to a fair trial, is a persistent issue in the United States. There is much that we can learn from that context.

As for the Muslim community, I am not aware of data around this. This is one of three things in its mandate that I see this committee doing: expanding our information and knowledge about that. When such a large proportion of people have such a negative view of Islam and Muslims and view mainstream Islamic doctrines as violent, that raises questions for me about what happens when Muslims enter the judicial process, for example. What happens when they confront the police? What happens when they are standing trial for something or are victims of a crime?

That's what I was trying to raise in that comment. It raises issues around the legal system. It also raises questions around governance. It raises questions around merit, promotion, grades in schools. It's a systemic problem, so you can imagine all sorts of context in which this will affect people.

Thank you.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

You have 15 seconds.

4:20 p.m.

Associate Professor and Chairholder of Canada Research Chair in Religion, Law and Social Justice, As an Individual

Ayesha Chaudhry

I'm done. Thank you.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thanks, Scott, well done.

Now we go to Dan Vandal for the Liberals, for three minutes.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

You have referred to our hate speech laws. Are they as robust or as relevant as they can be?

I'll ask Avvy and then Ayesha.

4:20 p.m.

Clinic Director, Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic

Avvy Yao-Yao Go

In the Criminal Code there are only two ways in which hate is taken into account. One is in hate speech or hate propaganda. The other is that hate is considered in sentencing once a crime has been proven.

You would require the Attorney General's authorization before you could prosecute someone for hate propaganda. If I remember correctly, there have been very few cases—I don't remember the stats—that have ever been prosecuted in Canada.

Professor Chaudhry has been mentioning many of the things that are happening within the community that will never be captured by the hate propaganda provision or captured by the hate crime provision either, if somebody called her home making stupid racist comments but did not actually act on it—unless, I guess you can say, there's a death threat. Then it becomes a crime, and the police can charge that person. If it doesn't amount to a death threat, there's no crime, and the police will not take action. It will never appear in the stats for hate crimes. That's the vast majority of the experiences of the people who are subject to Islamophobia.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Do you have anything to add to that, Professor?

4:20 p.m.

Associate Professor and Chairholder of Canada Research Chair in Religion, Law and Social Justice, As an Individual

Ayesha Chaudhry

I think that laws can always be better, but I trust our legislative process and would like, based on what you're saying, to see it used more. I know that there has been a lot of hate propaganda happening in Canada and I am worried about this trend of people having an unfavourable opinion of Islam.

You're not born like that, so where is this discourse coming from? I'm worried that a right-wing discourse is becoming more and more mainstream, such that the right-wing discourse is no longer fringe or “right”. If it becomes the mainstream discourse about Islam, what does the right look like then? That's something I worry about.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

There has to be a lot of unreported hate crime. Can you talk a little bit about that?

4:20 p.m.

Associate Professor and Chairholder of Canada Research Chair in Religion, Law and Social Justice, As an Individual

Ayesha Chaudhry

The thing I was saying is that most of the times when I experience Islamophobia, or when my parents were making that call to the RCMP, when someone was calling and actually threatening to kill my family and saying things about Muslims and Islam in those threats, my parents did call the police, and the police reacted as though it might have been a prank call: “Don't worry about it; if something happens, let us know.”

That was a situation in which we felt as though we fell through the cracks, because we didn't know what to do.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thank you very much. We go to Mr. Reid again for the Conservatives, for three minutes.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Just to deal again with the issue of assuring a fair trail, what would you say about the idea of expanding the number of questions that can be asked of prospective jurors as a way of removing people who may be problematic. I know from my own experience when I was almost selected for jury duty once that at the time, under the Ontario system, you were allowed to ask one question of the juror and were allowed to find out their profession, and that was all you could get.

What about dealing with this, in order to ensure that people get fair trials? As you can see, this is something that deals with any group that is potentially going to be denied a fair trial.