Evidence of meeting #81 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 organizations.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Shahen Mirakian  President, Armenian National Committee of Canada
Robert Kuhn  President, Trinity Western University
Zuhdi Jasser  President, American Islamic Forum for Democracy
Balpreet Singh  Legal Counsel, World Sikh Organization of Canada
Muainudin Ahmed  Director, Muslim Food Bank and Community Services Society
Azim Dahya  Chief Executive Officer, Muslim Food Bank and Community Services Society

5:05 p.m.

Legal Counsel, World Sikh Organization of Canada

Balpreet Singh

This was a bullying survey of students within the Peel District School Board.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

I see.

5:05 p.m.

Legal Counsel, World Sikh Organization of Canada

Balpreet Singh

We have done this as well in Surrey. We focused on these two major hubs where the community is really in large numbers. We were surprised by the fact that 40% of kids said they were bullied because of their Sikh identity, in 2011.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Was it worse in Peel than in Surrey?

5:05 p.m.

Legal Counsel, World Sikh Organization of Canada

Balpreet Singh

Initially it was. In our most recent survey in Surrey, it was 32% of Sikh kids in Surrey said they were bullied, and that's 27% now in Peel. But we've been working with Peel for the past five years on different initiatives.

October 30th, 2017 / 5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Directing us toward those pages is really helpful. I think the reason it was mentioned for you to direct us toward that is that's really how we have to work in order to get your information into evidence. If it's not included as part of our evidence through this kind of channel, it's harder for us to actually take it into account in our report, so I appreciate that.

One last thing is that you mentioned that you condemn any reluctance...or you reject any reluctance to condemn anti-Muslim activity. I should stress that although my party has concerns about the phrase “Islamophobia”, we are emphatic that there is nothing wrong—indeed, it is essential—to condemn anti-Muslim activity. We have concerns about the fact that the term “Islamophobia” is at present not defined, either in motion 103, nor indeed has this committee come to an agreement on a single definition, and that's the issue we face.

To be clear about this, anti-Muslim activity, anti-Sikh activity, and anti-Jewish activity is wrong. Certain kinds of it are criminal, as they should be, if they are violent, and they should be soundly condemned, and perhaps punished more severely than at present. I just wanted to get that editorial on the record.

Let me turn to our witnesses from the food bank. You mentioned something very quickly about a lack of prison chaplains who represent all people who need to be serviced. Is that a problem that exists in the federal system that, at this point, is simply not resolved? That's something that would be easy for us to put into our report.

5:05 p.m.

Director, Muslim Food Bank and Community Services Society

Muainudin Ahmed

Yes. Our experience is that it is not resolved at the moment. When we look at it specifically from a Muslim lens, compared with the percentage of inmates that are self-declared as Muslim, we see that the number of Muslim chaplains federally is actually very small comparatively, and also the service that's being offered is not culturally sensitive. That's been our experience so far in the work that we've done.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thank you, Mr. Reid.

Now I go to Jenny Kwan for the New Democrats.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

I thank all of our witnesses for being on the panel today. First, I'm going to go to our friends at the food bank for some questions and then I'm going to the video conference with Mr. Singh.

Mr. Ahmed, you mentioned through your experiences that you have seen incidents of women, particularly Muslim women, who have experienced discrimination. We have a hit and miss thing around the issue of collecting data right now. There's a lot of under-reporting, I would argue. Do you think the government should embark on a process whereby we utilize or engage and work collaboratively with organizations such as yours and other NGOs across the country to collect this data so that we have a better sense of the reality of what goes on?

5:10 p.m.

Director, Muslim Food Bank and Community Services Society

Muainudin Ahmed

The short answer is yes, but I would like to add that if we do that, and I think it's a good idea, there needs to be very clear parameters around what we define as “discrimination” or “Islamophobia”, for that matter, or in terms of what is reportable and what is not reportable. I think the idea of doing it at the community level is very important, because that's inevitably where the connections get made and where people feel comfortable.

I'm going to use an example of a Syrian case that we recently had where the individual, because of her cultural background, felt totally uncomfortable about opening up to a police person. Because in her culture back in Syria the police would not be seen as an ally, she felt totally uncomfortable about even reporting it because she felt it wasn't a thing to be heard. I think community organizations certainly have a part to play there, but as I said, with very clear guidelines to collect that, and that's across all communities.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Thank you.

I'm going to go to Mr. Singh.

On the issue around your survey, you were just talking about the survey that was done in the Surrey community and also in the Peel region. Most recently our leader, the NDP's leader Jagmeet Singh also experienced a situation of discrimination and hate towards him. The video went viral and many people have seen it, and he responded to that in a way we all very much admired in the face of such a situation.

To that end, in terms of trying to deal with situations like this, in terms of having to come up with a strategy across the nation, what kind of recommendation would you have for the government as we come out of this study? How should we deal with systemic discrimination, both on race and on religious grounds? How can we educate the public? How can we deal with this in a more effective way than we're doing so far?

5:10 p.m.

Legal Counsel, World Sikh Organization of Canada

Balpreet Singh

Once again, I'll go back to my two recommendations. First is statistics and numbers. I keep talking about the Peel District School Board, because I think they're doing a good job. What they've started to do is collect data on how many people of religious or ethnic backgrounds are at senior levels. How many are principals? How many are at other levels that are senior? Having that data [Technical difficulty-—Editor].

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Is there audio?

5:10 p.m.

A voice

No, there's nothing.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

I think we may just have to go on and ask questions of the Muslim Food Bank Community Services Society.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

I asked a question of Mr. Singh already, and I wonder if we could have the clerk's office reach out to him and have him submit something in writing back to us in response to that question?

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Maybe, Madam Chair, if there are others who have questions of the WSO, they could submit those in writing to the clerk as well.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

I'm sure we can do that. That's easily done.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Thank you, Madam Chair. That would be great because I did have a second question on the implications of discrimination on the economics of ethnic communities, so I'll follow up with a written question.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

May I ask that if you have questions for Mr. Singh you actually submit them. The clerk can send them to Mr. Singh, and then he can send us his responses. I know this all has to be in both languages if we're going to do this officially, but—

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Yes, we can do that.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

—we'll just do it in both languages and submit the questions to him.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Thank you very much.

I'm going to go to our presenters here. On the larger question, in terms of a plan, a question I've been asking other witnesses is whether or not we should actually have a national action plan to deal with racial discrimination, as well as religious discrimination?

5:15 p.m.

Director, Muslim Food Bank and Community Services Society

Muainudin Ahmed

Yes. I think there should be one. There are definitely some very concrete things that can be done. Obviously, I think some of the other speakers have spoken about keeping proper records and also about understanding which areas or which communities might need more support than other communities. Maybe that could sort of be the basis of some of the funding, in terms where that leads, but I think a national approach is most definitely the best way to go.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Okay.