Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address Motion No. 103, introduced by the member for Mississauga—Erin Mills. The motion calls on the House to recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear, and condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.
The motion calls on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to study how to develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing systemic discrimination and racism, including Islamophobia, and report back to this chamber.
The standing committee would make recommendations to better reflect our enshrined rights and freedoms, examine how the government should collect data on hate crimes, and conduct needs assessments for impacted communities.
As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage (Multiculturalism), I am proud to state in this chamber that our government supports Motion No. 103. I am proud to stand here today to recognize the importance of overcoming all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada, in particular, the pressing issue of Islamophobia, with a view to building a more equitable society grounded in the important values of inclusion and acceptance.
Canada is one of the most diverse countries in the world. In our country, people from all backgrounds, including immigrants and refugees, from around the globe, live and work side by side and contribute to today's rich and magnificent mosaic. I am a product of our great national experiment as I am a Muslim refugee from Uganda who arrived here about 45 years ago. Today, I am a parliamentarian. The member for Mississauga—Erin Mills is also a product of a culturally diverse and pluralistic Canada, just like our colleagues born abroad who come from no less than 41 different countries.
Our nation is composed of people from many countries, with many religions, many languages, many races, and many cultures. This is a place where Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Christians, and members of many other religious groups live together in solidarity. This is a nation of proud francophone and anglophone communities, speakers of a large number of aboriginal languages, and of other citizens whose mother tongue is neither French nor English.
Our country continues to change and diversify. By 2036, it is expected that more than 30% of working-age Canadians will be made up of non-whites, or of members of a visible minority. It is even estimated that this percentage could climb to roughly 65% in Toronto and more than 60% in Vancouver.
I am emphasizing our diversity not to reiterate well-known facts about our multicultural population, but to point out that we owe the success we have enjoyed since Confederation to our diversity.
People from diverse ethnic, cultural, and racial backgrounds and very different religious beliefs have contributed to Canada's success over the 150 years since Confederation.
Yet, significant challenges remain. The terrorist attack that occurred at a Quebec mosque on January 29 was a tragic reminder of the persistence of hate in our society, and how such hatred can have deadly consequences. As a Muslim Canadian and as a member of this chamber, my initial reaction to the shootings was shock and horror, followed by rage and anger, and eventually mourning for the senseless loss of innocent lives. Indeed, Canadians of all backgrounds are still grieving across the country. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families.
This incident should not be viewed in isolation. It must be seen in context, and that context is one of growing intolerance fuelled in part by the politics of division where groups have driven wedge issues in an attempt to divide the electorate for partisan gain.
I reject outright the characterization by the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands that some members of the Liberal Party have been responsible for this politicization. Our party and our government stand against the politics of division.
Growing intolerance has manifested in escalating actions. Take, for example, the appearance of racist posters targeting members of the Sikh community that surfaced in Alberta. Subsequent to the Quebec terror attack, we have witnessed anti-Semitic graffiti in Ottawa, and Islamophobic insults hurled at passengers on the Toronto transit system. These incidents cast a shadow on our reputation as a peaceful, tolerant, and inclusive society, and remind us of the vital need for initiatives such as Motion No. 103.
They are a reminder, as the member for Louis-Hébert put it so passionately in this chamber two weeks ago, that we must never be complacent in the face of racism and discrimination. Instead, we must confront it, in all its forms. Canadians have started to do so.
In the wake of the horrible shootings in Quebec, we have also seen a broad outpouring of solidarity, support, and compassion from Canadians across the country. We have seen thousands braving freezing temperatures to mourn the innocent loss of life at vigils. We have seen Jews and Christians gather to form circles of protection around mosques to give worshippers a sense of safety and security for their Friday Jumu'ah prayers. We have seen, in my very own riding of Parkdale—High Park, the development of inter-faith dialogue groups to better understand one another's religions, in the hope of breaking down barriers.
However, fostering the inclusive and compassionate Canada we aspire to, where difference is not only tolerated but celebrated requires vigilance. It requires a re-dedication to the task of rooting out systemic racism and religious discrimination, which is precisely what the motion seeks to do. However, this attempt at remaining vigilant has come up against a few objections, which I will turn to now.
The first is that condemning Islamophobia will serve to limit the freedom of speech of those who have genuine concerns about Islam and its tenets.
Nothing could be further from the truth. There is nothing in this motion that would curb or limit the constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression guaranteed under section 2b of the charter.
Let me go further. I know that we, as Canadians, will never be able to truly overcome intolerance, and build a more inclusive country unless we are to have candid, open, and respectful discussions about the challenges presented by a changing and rapidly diversifying population, and pose honest questions.
As a Muslim, I have asked those questions myself, and I pose them regularly to religious leaders in my own community.
Make no mistake, Motion No. 103 is not about limiting respectful discussion. It is about curbing hatred. Motion No. 103 is about all members of this House standing up and affirming that racism and discrimination, whether toward Muslims, Jews, Black Canadians, indigenous groups, or any others, runs contrary to the values we hold dear as Canadians.
In this context, I want to address the plethora of misinformation and fearmongering about Motion No. 103 circulating on social medica. This motion is not about bringing Sharia law to Canada. Such statements are pure conjecture and should be rejected out of hand because they lack any merit.
On top of the erroneous information circulating on social media, it is the abuse that we have witnessed which concerns me. The online attacks that are circulating about this motion are just that, attacks. They illustrate, quite directly, the climate of hatred, which this motion recognizes. These online attacks constitute abuse and insults meant to intimidate and shut down discussion, not promote it.
Our government wants to have a discussion, because discussion is vital to building a more inclusive country. By calling for a parliamentary committee to study systemic racism, Motion No. 103 fosters freedom of expression. It does not limit it.
The second objection we have heard, and we heard it again this evening, is that this motion is flawed because it singles out the vague term Islamophobia for special consideration. I have several responses to this.
First, reaching a resolution on this matter is not a question of the PMO's approval. It is a private member's motion brought forward by the member for Mississauga—Erin Mills. We have heard her response this evening. Let me reiterate her response on why Islamophobia is important to enumerate.
First, understanding what we mean by Islamophobia is not difficult. When we speak about Islamophobia, we are not talking about legitimate questions about a religion or a respectful criticism of religious practices. When we speak about Islamophobia, we are talking about taking a stand against prejudice, against abuse, against discrimination targeted toward individuals for no reason other than the fact that they practise Islam.
Second, singling out a particular religion has precedence. As the member for Wellington—Halton Hills has observed, this House has a long tradition of passing motions denouncing discrimination and hatred against particular groups, such as Jews, Yazidis, Egyptian Coptic Christians.
Third, the motion enumerates Islamophobia because words matter. It is incumbent on us, as parliamentarians, to use words which accurately depict and call out by name the intolerance we are observing, and that we are honest with the facts, which show an overall increase in the number of hate crimes in this country against Muslims.
While all of us in this chamber stand opposed to all instances of racism and discrimination, 24 days after six Muslim men were gunned down in cold blood in a mosque simply because of their religion, it is incumbent upon this government and this Parliament to signal to Canadians that we recognize that there is an acute problem with anti-Muslim sentiment, and that we are committed to working steadfastly to address it. If we cannot call out Islamophobia now, at this junction, when will it ever be appropriate do so.
Our government supports Motion No. 103. I do, and I urge all members of this House to do the same.