We'll be splitting our time.
Thank you, Madam Chair. We thank the committee for inviting us to appear.
My colleague, David Matas, our senior legal counsel, will speak to elaborate on some of our key points. We have documentation available and can provide additional materials to support our testimony.
B'nai Brith Canada is this country's oldest national Jewish organization, founded in 1875, with the proud history of defending the human rights of Canadian Jews and all Canadians across the country. We advocate for the interests of the grassroots Jewish community in Canada and for their rights such as freedom of conscience and religion.
B'nai Brith addresses the twin challenges of anti-Semitism and hate speech, linking them to the broader threat of discrimination and human rights, a universal issue that affects all Canadians and individuals everywhere. Anti-Semitism is but a visible portion of the dangers inherent generally in prejudice and discrimination.
The committee has an opportunity to study how all Canadians can face the challenges that exist for at-risk communities, those suffering from systemic racism and religious discrimination. The committee's work and its outcome must be embraced broadly by all Canadians, and it must deal with those communities that are the targets of racism and discrimination, including Canadian Jews, who continue to be the target of anti-Semitism.
The committee's work and its outcome must not diminish or be perceived to diminish the threat to Canadians of all faith communities who face racism and religious discrimination, and it must not suggest that one form of racism or religious discrimination is more threatening or of a greater priority than any other.
The committee's work and its outcome must exercise great care in any definition of Islamophobia, if indeed any is attempted. Any definition that is vague and imprecise, that is embraced by one community but not all, or that catalyzes emotion or irrational debate on scope and meaning can by hijacked and only inflame tensions between and among faith communities in Canada and detract from the committee's objective.
My colleague, David Matas, will explore the continued threat of anti-Semitism in Canada. Contrary to the views of some, anti-Semitism is not confined to the margins of our society. Since 1982, B'nai Brith Canada has published an annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents in Canada, copies of which you have. Over a five-year period, anti-Semitism has been on the rise. Statistics Canada has reported that in 2015, the most recent year with complete figures, Jews were the most targeted group in this country for hate crimes, a serious trend that has been continuing for nine years.
While most anti-Semitic hate crimes in the 1980s and 1990s were attributable to elements of the far right, we have sadly witnessed an increasing number of anti-Jewish incidents from within the Muslim community, sometimes by those claiming to act or speak in the name of Islam. We know that this trend is of concern to many leaders in the Muslim community, just as it is within the Jewish community.
Thus, we strongly endorse the importance for your work on M-103 to be broad-based. An unbalanced emphasis on Islamophobia creates the impression that Canadian Muslims are the only victims of hate crimes. We are just as concerned with the source of hate crimes targeting Canadian Jews from within radical elements of the Muslim community. We have exposed several such incidents and are concerned that the law is not being rigorously enforced to deal with those hate crimes.
The committee has an opportunity to address this trend and consider actions to counter it through laying out the facts, advocacy education, and stressing the consequences to be faced by those who act contrary to the charter and the Criminal Code. A message to law enforcement must be this: enforce the law.
Canada cannot become a haven for anti-Muslim bigotry. B'nai Brith Canada sees anti-Semitism as but a visible portion of the dangers inherent generally in prejudice and discrimination, including that directed towards Muslim Canadians. By the same token, we must ensure that no one can hide behind the idea that any criticism of Islam represents Islamophobia, or a vague definition to this effect.
Our hope is that the committee will continue to bear in mind that Canada's most targeted religious minority in terms of hate speech and hate crimes is the Jewish community, and we have some specific recommendations that we can address later on.