Thank you for your invitation to address the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. Muslims have felt under siege since 9/11 and generally excluded from public discourse about us, so we appreciate the opportunity to be part of the process re-examining Canada's national security framework.
The Islamic Society of North America of Canada, or ISNA Canada, was incorporated in 1982 and is an outgrowth of the Muslim Students Association of the United States and Canada, founded in the early 1960s. We have around 1,000 members across the country, from Vancouver to Prince Edward Island.
My name is Safiah Chowdhury. I hold an M.Phil. in Islamic studies and history from the University of Oxford and I am a member of ISNA Canada's executive committee.
With me is Dr. Katherine Bullock. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Toronto and teaches Islamic politics at the Mississauga campus of the University of Toronto. She was elected to the ISNA Canada board in 2015.
ISNA Canada is a grassroots community organization that serves the spiritual, psychological, educational, and social needs of the Muslim community. It operates mosques and Islamic schools; assists the poor through disbursement of charitable donations; operates food banks; provides pastoral care to congregants; organizes religious festivals, conferences and lectures, matrimonial services, and family events; and conducts funerals.
ISNA Canada promotes living in peace and with good relations with neighbours. It is part of the Canadian interfaith community. It is thus grounded in the everyday experiences of Muslims in Canada. Our imams, our religious leaders, face an overwhelmingly constant stream of people turning to them for assistance on all matters to do with life, often in crisis situations.
As Canadians working very closely with communities and families, we understand and share the need to protect against violence. We recognize that we live in an increasingly globalized and digitized world and that threats to our safety can thus come from anywhere and are more complicated than ever to track. This violence and these threats compromise not only our safety but the very quality of life that we cherish so dearly that ultimately allows us to thrive.
We know that you will be hearing or have already heard from a number of organizations, Muslim and non-Muslim, such as the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association, and other civil liberty organizations, that the Anti-terrorism Act, the even more frightening Bill C-51, and now Bill C-23 privilege fear of threat over real rights. This bill compromises the very Charter of Rights and Freedoms upon which we purport to exist. The people whose rights it compromises, who now feel targeted and, ironically, unsafe, are the country's almost 1.1 million Muslims.
We are not here to repeat those arguments, most of which we endorse. We are, as you've heard, not legal experts. As representatives from a large community-based organization, we are here to tell you about the very human impact anti-terror legislation has on our communities, our dignity, and our ability to thrive. We will refer to two points in particular. The first is how the narrative around terrorism leads to a rise in fear of Muslims. The second is about the impact on freedom of speech.
On Islamophobia, since 9/11 there has been a sharp rise in hate crimes against Muslims in Canada. As the “war on terror” centralized Muslims as the primary source of terrorism, Muslim communities—everyday average individuals who are at home or going to work, school, the grocery store, or the community centre—came under scrutiny.
Statistics Canada data tells us that crimes against Muslims are increasing despite the overall drop in identity-based attacks on other communities. Despite these accounts, as Canadian Muslims ourselves, we know that these are under-reported numbers. People in our community don't report hate crimes. We typically tend to brush them off as isolated, perpetrated by “lone wolves”, because historically this is what we have always been told.
That is despite the rise of right-wing extremism in Canada, which has been thriving and growing at alarming rates. Internal documents from CSIS, a body from this committee, suggest that extreme right-wing and white supremacist ideology has been the main ideological source for 17% of attacks in Canada. This is more than Islamic extremism. We know so acutely that this extreme right-wing hatred is often directed toward the Muslim community, from street harassment to the firebombing of a mosque in Peterborough, to the most recent example, on January 29, when six Muslims were ruthlessly killed in a Quebec mosque that had previously been targeted by these “lone wolf” white supremacists. These acts of violence by hatred-filled individuals are yet to be tried as terrorism, a term that seems to apply only to Muslims.
From what we know of the perpetrators of anti-Muslim attacks, they are propelled by dangerous rhetoric that positions Muslims as problems, as threats to the security of the state. The discourse around the Anti-terrorism Act and Bill C-51 speaks to this. In fact, in your very own green paper on national security, the only threats identified come from organizations or countries associated with Islam.
It is a strange situation, honestly, to navigate. Rhetoric on national security targets and typecasts Muslims, who then are increasingly becoming the victim of terrorism-related offences due to this very same rhetoric.
It places us in the perilous position of needing to protect ourselves against threats of violence because the world and our country position us as the threat.