Evidence of meeting #75 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 indigenous.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Murray Sinclair  Senator, Manitoba, ISG
Kevin Barlow  Chief Executive Officer, Metro Vancouver Aboriginal Executive Council
Samer Majzoub  President, Canadian Muslim Forum
Faisal Bhabha  Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association
Yavar Hameed  Barrister & Solicitor, Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Can you share those recommendations of what needs to be done with this committee so that we can learn to duplicate best practices and what needs to be fixed with existing practices so that we can magnify the results I think we all hope for?

4:30 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Metro Vancouver Aboriginal Executive Council

Kevin Barlow

I certainly can. We had shared the brief with the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, but I can do that more broadly.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Thank you very much.

Mr. Sinclair, do you have anything else to add?

4:30 p.m.

Senator, Manitoba, ISG

Murray Sinclair

Read the report. The TRC report has a lot of that in it already. It really is a useful document.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Okay, the government says they will recommend all those recommendations, but in reality how does that measure up?

4:30 p.m.

Senator, Manitoba, ISG

Murray Sinclair

They've started to do some things. The problem we have right now is that many of the elements are being done by other segments of society and they need to be supported in what they're doing too.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Peter Van Loan

Thank you very much, Mr. Sinclair and Mr. Barlow.

I want to particularly thank Mr. Barlow for his observation on the importance of people learning history. I had someone come to me with the issue of John A. MacDonald. I asked him if he knew that MacDonald introduced a franchise bill in 1885 to extend the vote to aboriginals. He didn't know that. I said that it was also supposed to give the vote to women, but it was resisted so fiercely for two years, that until he dropped the part about votes for women he couldn't get it through the House of Commons until 1887. Aboriginals got the vote then, but women did not. Then in 1897 under Laurier they took away the vote for aboriginals, which was not to come back until Diefenbaker's era. I didn't see that anywhere in much of the coverage about the MacDonald controversy. It's important that people know that history. Thank you for that reminder.

At this point, I'm told we're going to have Mr. Nantel step in with a notice of motion, and I'm told by the chair's staff that the preference is to deal with that now.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

I would ask that if we're going to be discussing committee business we do so in camera first.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Peter Van Loan

That will mean everyone who is not a member of the committee has to leave. Sorry, you'll have to wait out in the hallway.

Do members agree that they want to go in camera?

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Can't this wait until the end of the next hour? We have no idea what they're introducing.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Peter Van Loan

This is a motion that has been circulated I believe to everyone about the minister appearing with regard to the new vision she gave on cultural policies.

I will suspend briefly while we move in camera.

[Proceedings continue in camera]

[Public proceedings resume]

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Peter Van Loan

I call the meeting back to order.

We have two further witnesses. From the Canadian Muslim Forum we have Mohammed-Nur Alsaieq, who is the outreach coordinator; and Samer Majzoub, who is the president.

From the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association we have Faisal Bhabha, associate professor at a fine law school, Osgoode Hall Law School; and Yavar Hameed, who is a barrister and solicitor.

Each group is going to have 10 minutes to present, however you want to divide up the 10 minutes of time. I'm going to warn you that in about 13 minutes, I'm going to walk out of the room and it's not because I am outraged at something you have said. I am going to another commitment, and Mr. Vandal will assume the chair at that point in time.

We will start with the Canadian Muslim Forum for 10 minutes.

4:45 p.m.

Samer Majzoub President, Canadian Muslim Forum

Thank you very much for receiving us. My name is Samer Majzoub. I am president of the Canadian Muslim Forum. Mr. Mohammed-Nur Alsaieq is a board member. It's a pleasure to be with you today.

First, I would like to announce our condemnation for the terror attack yesterday that happened in Edmonton and today in Vegas. This is only to prove that terror has no religion and no race.

We will go back to our subject and start with the Canadian Muslim Forum. The Canadian Muslim Forum is an organization that was established in 1994. We mainly focus on advocacy and civic engagement. We try to get the community together on common interest issues that face our community in Quebec and in Canada. Today our subject is about Islamophobia. The Canadian Muslim Forum and I have taken this subject very seriously since day one. As you all know, we have initiated petition e-411 to fight Islamophobia, with Mr. Frank Baylis.

We all know that Islamophobia has been an issue, and I think we are at the point that Islamophobia or discrimination against Muslims is not disputable anymore. It is there in the statistics. It is there on a daily basis. We had it in Quebec City against the mosque, and generally in 2017. It is an issue to recognize because it is proven to be there.

On October 1, 2015, the National Assembly of Quebec unanimously denounced Islamophobia. In the House of Commons on October 26, 2016, Islamophobia was also denounced unanimously and, on March 2017, motion M-103 was adopted about Islamophobia at the same time.

What is positive about this commission in particular is the fact that Muslims are suffering discrimination, hatred, and violence, but it is not contested anymore, as mentioned. What is contested, especially in the media, and lately by some politicians, since March, is whether the word “Islamophobia” is to be used. As an issue, the subject itself has been agreed upon.

Islamophobia was originally developed as a concept in the late 1990s by political activists, to draw attention to discrimination against citizens of the Muslim faith. This has not been limited to Canada and Quebec, but it is worldwide. We have seen it in many places, and even in the United States. In the United Nations, in Geneva, they have created a special committee to fight Islamophobia worldwide.

The word itself is not something new. It is not something we have created. It has existed for a long time. The issue that comes into concern is what Islamophobia means. This is one of the things that was taken on, and the media and some political parties also took this on. There are many definitions for this particular terminology. I have many of them, but I will mention just one or two to shed more light on it.

It is “a widespread mindset and fear-laden discourse in which people make blanket judgments of Islam as the enemy as the 'other' as a dangerous and unchanged, monolithic bloc that is the natural subject of well-deserved hostility from Westerners”. This is a definition by Zuquete. Another definition that is very popular is that Islamophobia is “a rejection of Islam, Muslim groups, and Muslim individuals on the basis of prejudice and stereotypes. It may have emotional, cognitive, evaluative as well as action-oriented elements like discrimination and violence”.

Islamophobia has many terminologies and explanations that have been given to this particular word by many scholars.

As for us, we have opted for the following definition. It is a criticizing or scathing negative opinion that might directly or indirectly cause humiliation or damage to the reputation and or incite to hatred and to violence against a person or a group of persons for the only reason that they are of Muslim faith.

Regardless of any definition, the House of Commons has the right to provide their own definition.

We come to the wording itself, Islamophobia, when it is targeting Muslims and individuals and properties like mosques and community centres. If we would like to give clear comparisons here, we have the anti-Semitism and we have racial profiling. Anti-Semitism is well known to be whenever there is hate targeted against the citizens of Jewish background. It is called anti-Semitism and there is no dispute that this exists.

The question that comes up is that we know that Arabs are Semite, but still when an Arab is being attacked, we never say that this is anti-Semitism. Why? The definition now is that they are related by impression and by political concept to the Jewish community and there is no objection to this.

It is the same thing when it comes to racial profiling. Whenever we speak about racial profiling, what comes to our mind is that, when citizens of African descent, or black Canadians, for example, are being targeted, right away we say it's racial profiling. There might be other races that have been targeted, but it is rarely we use the words “racial profiling”.

The third example is bashing. When we speak about bashing of races, most of the time, whites are the target or the bashing of many races could be any other race.

There are terminologies that are used, so that at one time, the definition is associated with this group or the other.

I will conclude by saying that one of the concerns that was raised is that when we use the word “Islamophobia” we are limiting freedom of expression. This is not the objective and we do not accept this. We do not want any excuse to limit the freedom of expression. We support it. It is something very important for our democratic societies.

We are not suggesting in any way or for any reason to limit the freedom of expression.

I will stop here and leave it to my colleagues. When it comes to the questions, I am ready to clarify any point.

Thank you so much.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Peter Van Loan

We have 10 minutes for the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association.

4:50 p.m.

Professor Faisal Bhabha Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'm here with my colleague, Yavar Hameed, and we represent the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association. The CMLA is an organization made up of self-identified Muslim Canadian lawyers coming from a diversity of backgrounds and a variety of professional expertise.

Although we are lawyers, the approach that we advocate underscores the urgency here for Parliament to research, study, and understand Islamophobia. It is not to create a legal term of art or a set of prohibited practices that need to be specifically identified and legislated. Rather, it is to recognize the social problem that needs to be understood and documented in order to better inform on government policy and legal decision-making. That's our general position.

Why does Parliament need to study Islamophobia? The police already investigate crimes of hate-motivated assault, vandalism, anti-Muslim terror, and hate speech. We have civil courts that redress wrongs of battery, libel, and slander. There are ombuds, labour boards, police complaints procedures, and a variety of other administrative avenues to complain about discriminatory treatment. Many of these processes operate as quasi-judicial bodies, which means they have the power to apply human rights norms and the charter. They have a mandate to consider evidence of systemic discrimination in order to better understand the specific facts that are before them. Systemic discrimination doesn't produce on its own findings of individual liability. It allows us to better understand specific facts in context.

The challenge, though, is that those various bodies are not human rights experts. They don't have social context at their fingertips. They are equipped to ascertain facts before them, but they need evidence about the underlying social conditions that is usually admitted only through expert evidence. The problem is that the law can't protect against Islamophobia. Rather, it is policy-makers, administrators, police, judicial and administrative decision-makers that need to be sensitive to the depth of the problem and its social manifestations, so that they can better consider that as the context in which individual disputes arise.

The best experts on Islamophobia are social scientists, and that's because they observe society. They write about what they see. Social scientists have observed that the war on terror and the divisive public discourse that has focused heavily on Islam as the problem have had trickle-down effects. Our society is obsessed with the way a handful of women dress, with how and where people pray, and whom they associate with. We've heard calls to screen immigrants for values, testing for loyalty.

All experts tell us at the same time that white extremism is a real threat. We see attacks by white people against Muslim women, perceived foreigners, racial minorities on buses and in malls around the country, the murder of six worshippers in Quebec City in a mosque, daily physical and verbal assaults on innocent ordinary Canadians for no reason other than how they look or what they are perceived or assumed to be. All the while Muslims are still painted as the terrorists and continue to be subjected to hate because of that.

What we know about is just the tip of the iceberg. We know, as Muslim Canadian lawyers who hear from members of our community, that under-reporting is a big obstacle. There's a chill on reporting. But we do know enough to know there's a problem, and we know enough to know what we don't know. That's why we support this government taking a closer look at the problem, to better understand it.

Islamophobia is not a legally defined concept. It's a term developed by social scientists to describe the social problem. Defining it is not impossible, but expecting a perfect definition is unrealistic, so don't do it. Too much time has been wasted arguing about finding the perfect definition, and not enough is being done to understand the problem that everybody of reasonable mind accepts and should acknowledge exists. Having said that, we do offer a simple working definition that is not any different from the definitions you have heard, but as lawyers we boil it down to a very simple analogy. Islamophobia is simply anti-Muslim discrimination or hate.

We all know that anti-Semitism means something like anti-Jewish discrimination or hate. We also know that homophobia means something like anti-gay or anti-LGBTQ discrimination or hate. It's not that hard to extend that thinking, using logic, to Islamophobia.

There are two important dimensions: the individual and the systemic. Systemic Islamophobia involves a pattern, practice, or policy that is rooted in discriminatory criteria or assumptions and which has a broad impact on members of that group. Islamophobia gives a name to the system of structural obstacles that coalesced and deepened after 9/11 to produce exclusions, burdens, and barriers on people in various aspects of public and personal life just because they fit a particular profile. Once these exclusions, burdens, and barriers become embedded in our institutions, they can be difficult to identify and remove. This is why it's important to study systemic discrimination.

At the individual level, Islamophobia can be considered a subset within the category of discrimination. We hear from members of the Canadian Muslim community all the time and sometimes ourselves even experience the casual forms of ordinary daily discrimination that people face in various social areas or as a result of state surveillance and over-scrutiny. It consists of contempt, prejudice, aversion, and distrust. It may be rooted in irrational fear, beliefs or even in claims of expertise. It may even be couched in neutral language, and it's often connected to particular movements such as the backlash against multiculturalism, the backlash against political correctness, or the backlash against reasonable accommodation.

It can be observable in critical and hostile behaviour on the basis of religion or on the basis of perceived religion, and it can manifest in the denial of benefits or of opportunities based on unstated assumptions. It's difficult to unearth and to identify. It can lead to outcomes that people cannot see and therefore cannot address, and for this reason it is even more important to study the systemic patterns that cause those things to be embedded in our society.

5 p.m.

Yavar Hameed Barrister & Solicitor, Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association

I have just a couple of comments to add to those of my colleague. I want to address how the Canadian state is blinded to the dangers of Islamophobia and what we propose to do about it.

In terms of this blinding, Islamophobia not only clouds judgment, but it can also make the state so blind that it fails to see actual danger. Should we be surprised then that while white supremacist Alexandre Bissonnette was dreaming up his murderous plot to attack a Quebec city mosque, the RCMP were basically manufacturing crime in the case of John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, Muslim converts who were recovering heroine addicts living on social assistance, whose terrorism charges were stayed last year after a court found they had been entrapped by the police?

This country's top courts have recognized for more than 20 years that unconscious bias operates in law enforcement as it does in all social relations. These biases are shaped by history and social context, unstated assumption, and pre-existing prejudices.

In terms of legal tools, as my colleague has mentioned, there already exist numerous legal provisions that address the various possible sites of manifest Islamophobia, as well as human rights legislation that protects against discrimination in housing, contracts, employment, etc., and in this sense, the injection of Islamophobia is consistent with the tenor of human rights jurisprudence; however, there is a glaring gap in the empirical research to understand why there is what my colleague referred to as an under-reporting of incidents of hate and discrimination against Muslims in Canada. Civil society organizations, such as those many of you have heard from, receive confidential complaints and information regarding hate crimes, but only a fraction of these are pursued through official investigation or adjudication. I, as a barrister and solicitor, routinely receive such complaints.

The Arar report, after the case of Maher Arar, provides only the narrowest and most general comments about religious profiling by the state, despite its focus on the unlawfulness of the actions of the RCMP. Chief Commissioner Dennis O'Connor noted that given the tendency to focus national security scrutiny on Muslims and Arabs, members of these communities are more likely to be affected by human rights violations. The report stands as a watershed in changing national security practices, but Islamophobia, in that context, was really like the elephant in the room in that inquiry and its aftermath.

Similarly, despite the scathing comments of the Supreme Court in the case of Omar Khadr and a $10.5 million settlement to Mr. Khadr, there needs to be an indication of how the government will learn from its mistakes in terms of a prospective strategy of addressing Islamophobia within foreign affairs practices and information sharing, and its involvement in the global war on terrorism.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Acting Chair Liberal Dan Vandal

Mr. Hameed, your time has expired.

I want to thank all the speakers for their presentations.

We're going to go to the first seven-minute round of questions and answers.

First up is Arif Virani.

October 2nd, 2017 / 5 p.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Chair, I'm going to share my time with Mr. Frank Baylis.

I'm going to ask a few questions right at the outset, because it's meant to be about three and a half minutes in total.

It's very important that all of you are here. Thank you in particular for petition e-411, for raising such an important cause on a national basis.

Mr. Majzoub, I want to ask if you could comment on the rise of particular anti-Muslim sentiment in Quebec, the rise of groups like La Meute and how that's different, and whether we need to approach things somewhat differently in your province in particular.

I want to ask the lawyers on the panel about how we encourage reporting, but also how we facilitate prosecutions. We've had some witnesses thus far who have talked about the need for the AG's consent on incitement to hatred. Others will be coming and talking about that. Could you comment on that and what you think are impediments or not to prosecutions?

Last, I want any of you to speak about the role of media in fomenting division. You've all talked about the fact that there's a climate right now where people feel emboldened. We know there have been rallies that have been held.

I will confess that I find it quite troubling with certain types of fringe media, such as the Rebel Media group, which is often a platform for division. We know that entity and their subjective coverage of Charlottesville has prompted even the leader of the opposition to withdraw from the Rebel Media. We know that just last week we had witnesses in this very committee, Ms. Raza and Mr. Cameron, who appear and continue to appear on Rebel Media.

Could you comment on platforms like that and what they are doing to encourage the division we're so desperately trying to combat?

Thank you.

5:05 p.m.

President, Canadian Muslim Forum

Samer Majzoub

I believe Rebel is a very important concern that we are facing in Quebec and in Canada in general. After the terrorist attack in Quebec, in January 2017, Islamophobia was more manifested in the province of Quebec, or that's what we felt at least. It was more reported than any other province. After the terrorist attack, and unfortunately after the adoption of motion M-103 by the House of Commons, we have seen that this has been extended. The Islamophobic sentiment has also been really clear in English Canada.

To go back to your question, we were amongst the first to raise the concern and the worry about the far right groups, La Meute, or some other groups. What is the danger of such a group? First of all, they are openly anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-whoever new comes to this country. Second, they tend to present themselves with their military background, that they are doing some patrols in Quebec City streets. They are just there to stop the Islamization of Quebec City. They are creating this Islamophobic sentiment that has now started to affect the security and safety of Quebec citizens. I don't know if you're following Quebec news. There is mainstream media in Quebec opening their doors and their air for such groups to express themselves.

One of the other things that is really strange, especially about security departments—and we have raised this issue—is that if you go to social media, you see that those groups are expressing their hatred, their violent expressions openly, and no one has really approached them. They even threatened the Prime Minister of Canada to be shot and killed. They attack Muslims—do this, do that. There is very rarely any approach by the security department against those groups.

I will conclude that those groups are increasing their visibility. It does not mean they're increasing by number. What is worrying is that socially they are more and more accepted, especially in the province of Quebec.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Acting Chair Liberal Dan Vandal

Thank you, Mr. Majzoub.

There are three minutes left, so I'll go to Frank Baylis.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

I want to first of all congratulate Mr. Majzoub and Mr. Alsaieq for the excellent work that CMF has done to fight intolerance and discrimination in Canada.

In that light, with regard to the word “Islamophobia”—and we've heard from both of you—it has been said that you can't criticize Islam. It's said that if you use the word, it curtails free speech.

5:05 p.m.

President, Canadian Muslim Forum

Samer Majzoub

Not at all. This is not the intention, and we don't want this. You have to make it clear.

This has been a political game that has been played. In no way are we asking to limit criticism. Islam from within has been criticized, and that is why it has evolved during the last 1,400 years. In no way do we speak about the limitation of freedom of expression. We are just limiting the definition of Islamophobia that creates hate and violence against citizens of Muslim faith.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Bhabha, would that also jive with your views on Islamophobia, that it does not curtail free speech?

5:05 p.m.

Prof. Faisal Bhabha

Well, I certainly don't think that studying Islamophobia poses any greater threat of state interference in speech than studying any other forms of discrimination. We already have laws that curtail speech—namely, hate speech laws, libel laws. Nothing about studying Islamophobia and nothing about adopting some sort of anti-Islamophobia initiative would on its own curtail speech.

At the same time, there is no constitutional principle in this country of unlimited free speech. In 2013 the Supreme Court of Canada justified the infringement of an individual's free speech, finding that this individual was not free to quote the Bible and publicly propagate discriminatory and hurtful comments about LGBTQ persons. The case, called Whatcott, involved the careful balancing of free speech with anti-discrimination principles. There is a long tradition in this country of speech and equality being in constant dialogue. Unfortunately, those who wish to undermine this important Canadian constitutional tradition are waving the flag while doing that, but—

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Acting Chair Liberal Dan Vandal

There's only about a minute left.