Honourable members of Parliament, thank you for having me here today.
I'm here on behalf of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. It's a registered charity, non-partisan and non-religious, and it receives no government funding. It's dedicated to upholding the charter freedoms of Canadians, particularly those in section 2.
I'm going to discuss four things today in brief. First will be a brief refresher on the importance of freedom of thought and expression in our democratic society. Second, I'm going to talk about the threatening, inapt, and vague language of the motion itself. Third, I'm going to talk about vagueness and its terms in the motion, particularly in regard to Islamophobia. Fourth, if I have time, I'm going to talk about some of the threatening and alarming talk from witnesses.
The Supreme Court of Canada has stated, “The very lifeblood of democracy is the free exchange of ideas and opinions.” In the case of the Edmonton Journal v. Alberta, Justice Cory stated:
It is difficult to imagine a...right more important to a democratic society than freedom of expression. Indeed a democracy cannot exist without that freedom to express new ideas and put forward opinions about the functioning of public institutions.
The courts have repeatedly held that freedom of expression should only be limited in the clearest of cases. Freedom of expression, however, does not just protect speakers. It also protects listeners. This point is especially relevant because of comments you heard last Wednesday from one of your witnesses in regard to “trash radio”. In Canada, people can have opinions about trash radio and can call it trash radio. It's a free country and you can say that. In Canada, citizens of this country get to determine what is trash, not the government.
In Harper v. Canada, the majority of the court noted, “The right of the people to discuss and debate [new] ideas forms the very foundation of democracy”. In speaking specifically of the need for citizens to hear, the majority of the court stated, “Freedom of expression protects not only the individual who speaks the message, but also the recipient.”, i.e., the recipients of so-called trash radio.
I'll pause to note that calling something “trash” of course dismisses any content of value that it may have. It's just like me referring to a witness before this committee as a trash witness. The appropriate thing to do is to contradict the thoughts that he had and rebut them with more constitutional and more enlightened thoughts.
Freedom of expression and hearing is not a Canadian idiosyncrasy. It is the right to receive information that is enshrined both in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Canada is a signatory to both. American case law, which has been referenced as just as relevant in Canada as it is in the United States, has said, “The freedom to speak and the freedom to hear are inseparable; they are two sides of the same coin.” But the coin itself is the process of thought and discussion.
The motion before you states that there is a rising “public climate of hate and fear” in this country which the government needs to “quell”. I don't know how the word “quell” got past the House of Commons, but I can tell you right now that the word “quell” is a concerning word. It is defined as “to thoroughly overwhelm and reduce to submission or passivity” and “to put down forcibly and suppress”. It is language that is frequently used in the context of riots, not in the upholding of constitutional freedoms of Canadians.
The word “quell” in the motion only serves to increase concerns about motion 103. It hints at compulsion, with an implied use of force.
This committee should be exceedingly wary of assuming that there is a rising “public climate of hate and fear” in this country. According to the 2017 global peace index, which was presented at the United Nations this year, Canada is the eighth-safest country out of 163 nations globally. The largely peaceful day-to-day coexistence of millions of people from various races, cultures, and religions in Canada contradicts the assertion that there is a rising climate of hate and fear in this country that requires a forceful legislative response.
Existing laws already place careful limits on conduct between Canadians. I'm referring to the criminal law, human rights laws, tort laws, and defamation laws. Mr. John Stuart Mill noted, “The third, and most cogent, reason for restricting the interference of government, is the great evil of adding unnecessarily to its power.”
It is not the government's role to make everyone love each other. Government's role is to uphold constitutional freedoms.
That brings me to Motion No. 103 and the term “Islamophobia”. The word is not defined in the motion. This committee has been asked to study and put forward its recommendations in regard to the elimination of Islamophobia. I don't know what it is, but, worse, neither do you.
Worst of all, you've been asked to craft a legislative response to it. MP Iqra Khalid proposed that Islamophobia is the irrational fear of Islam. This definition raises more problems than answers, not the least of which is whether Parliament can constitutionally legislate against an irrational fear. If there is an irrational fear of Islam, does that mean that there may be rational fears or concerns that are not Islamophobic? Where would you draw the line between the two?
Canada is one of the safest countries in the world, but other people who live in other nations are not so fortunate. The Middle East and North Africa are ranked by the GPI as the least peaceful nations in the world for the fifth successive year this year. Political instability is rife there. There are wars and internal fighting, and they are fundamentally less safe than this country.
Is it Islamophobic for Canadians to be concerned about how the immigration of persons from these nations may impact the safety of Canada? Is it Islamophobic to conclude that the nations that are ruled by a combination of mosque and state are far less safe than Canada and are repeatedly and consistently ranked among the most dangerous countries in the world? Should it be illegal to express such concerns?
Wadi is a non-government organization operating in the Middle East. The word “wadi” is Arabic for valley. It focuses on women's issues. After gaining the trust of local women in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, they learned that female genital mutilation in that part of the country was common, and that the procedure was reportedly performed with unsterilized instruments or even broken glass, and without anaesthesia, on girls four to 12 years old, with the extent of the mutilation dependent on the experience of the midwife and the luck of the girl.
The cutting of the clitoris is performed according to the sunnat excision, the excision according to the tradition of the prophet. The locals reported that the wound is then treated with ash or mud, with the girls then forced to sit in a bucket of iced water. Many Kurdish girls die, and others suffer chronic pain, infection, and infertility.
In subsequent studies, it was found that 60% of the women in that part of Iraq, which adheres to a variety of Islam, have undergone female genital mutilation. Despite the fact that the United Nations has attempted for decades to stamp out the practice, it is expanding. The clitoris is considered dirty, haram, and women fear they cannot find husbands for their daughters if they have not been mutilated. Many believe that men prefer sex with a mutilated wife.