That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues who have stood with me today.
Today I am honoured to speak to my Motion No. 103. This is a motion that seeks to continue the important conversation about how we can strengthen our Canadian fabric by studying systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamaphobia, in Canada.
I am a member of Parliament in one of the most diverse ridings in Canada. I like to say that the whole world is represented in my city of Mississauga. We live beside each other as Canadians. We all, in our different ways, contribute to the building of Canada. We all form part of this beautiful Canadian fabric. Our Prime Minister has often said that our diversity is our strength. Our government of today focuses its policies on being inclusive and on leveraging our strengths to the benefit of all of us as a nation.
However, when it comes to the ground reality, I often find myself wondering how it is that we can come from so many different places, be of every colour, practice different faiths, and yet collectively, be one of the most peaceful countries in the world. Balancing the interests of such a diverse and dynamic group of people like Canadians requires a lot of work. It requires partnerships between our policy-makers, civil society, which acts as a watchdog, grassroots organizations, which provide programs and services required, and individual Canadians and the respect they have for one another. Without that respect, our society cannot function. Let me be clear. This respect exists, despite Canadians having differences in ideology, skin colour, faith, and so on.
In light of the statistics, the media reports, and the personal stories I hear, I feel that this partnership needs more effort.
Motion No. 103 seeks three things from our government: first, to recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; second, to condemn all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamaphobia; and third, to request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamaphobia, and collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct a needs assessment for impacted communities.
Racism is not new to Canada. From the struggle of black Canadian communities, to the turning away of the Komagata Maru from Canadian shores, to the internment of Japanese, Italian, and Ukrainian Canadians, to discrimination against our Jewish community, exemplified by the actions taken in 1939, when 907 Jewish refugees aboard the German transatlantic liner, the St. Louis, were seeking refuge from Nazi Germany. Canada refused to take them in, and the ship sailed back to Europe, where 254 would later die in concentration camps.
This brings us to the historic and ongoing struggle of our indigenous communities, and now, additionally, the targeting of the Muslim community in Canada.
Racism and religious discrimination is a reality. A recent survey commissioned by The Globe and Mail and conducted by Nanos Research in 2016 suggests that seven in 10 respondents say that there is still a lot of racism in Canada. One in five have had a racist remark directed at them, and more than one-third have made a racist remark in the company of others.
In 2016 alone, there were cases of discrimination and racism against almost every community in Canada. On September 20, 2016, the University of Alberta woke up to posters put around campus depicting turbaned men of the Sikh faith with racist insults written above them.
In December 2016, in Edmonton, a man went up to two women wearing hijabs. He then pulled a rope from his pocket, tied the rope into a noose, and said, “This is for you”.
In November of the same year, swastikas and racist slurs were spray-painted on a church in Ottawa that had a black pastor. “Go home” was spray-painted on the front doors of the Ottawa Muslim Association. Anti-Semitic slurs were spray-painted on synagogues.
Statistic Canada's most recent hate crime data from 2014 shows a doubling of hate crimes perpetuated against Muslims over a three-year period. Many Muslim Canadians have told me personally that they do not feel safe practising their faith here in Canada.
When I tabled Motion No. 103, not even in my wildest imagination would I have envisioned the Quebec terrorist attack, where six Canadians lost their lives for the simple reason that they were practising their faith.
When over 69,000 Canadians came together to call on our government to act on Islamophobia through e-petition 411, sponsored by the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard, it was a signal to me that we need to act.
The first step toward engaging in these conversations of inclusion is to recognize that we have a problem. Words have impact. When we as a government stand together and condemn intolerance manifested through racism and religious discrimination, we can begin to tackle the issue.
I have been asked by some to change the wording of my motion to remove “Islamophobia” and other references. I will not do so any more than I would speak of the Holocaust and not mention that the overwhelming majority of victims were six million followers of the Jewish faith and that anti-Semitism was the root cause of the Holocaust. We cannot address a problem if we fail to call it by its true name.
What is Islamophobia? The most commonly used definition, and the one I ascribe to, is that Islamophobia is the irrational hatred of Muslims that leads to discrimination. With that definition in mind, I find it hard to believe that any member of the House would vote against a motion that condemns this.
I cannot believe that some Canadians are practitioners of Islamophobia. There are certainly a small, and unfortunately growing, number of individuals who are driven by dark motivations to commit acts of violence or even murder to silence or marginalize Canadians who ascribe to certain beliefs and values.
I would like to address the question of freedom of speech, which is a central and dearly held Canadian value protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The passage of my motion will do nothing to affect the status of the charter, despite many allegations to the contrary. To suggest that my motion, the aim of which is to initiate a study of systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada, could possibly impact the freedom of speech enjoyed by Canadians demonstrates a lack of understanding of how our charter works.
A study of systemic racism and religious discrimination would bolster the state of freedom of speech in Canada by making certain that all voices are able to be heard on a level playing field. In essence, this study would shed light on areas in which the freedom of speech of Canadians belonging to racial and religious minorities is currently curtailed. The freedom of speech of all Canadians is strengthened by studies such as the one proposed by the motion, because having access to the experiences and wisdom of all Canadians makes our society, culture, and economy stronger. To recognize where we currently have a blind spot, where we “other” certain Canadian voices, can only result in an enrichment of our multicultural, secular national conversation.
To tackle this issue, we must go to our partners, our civil society, our grassroots organizations, and individual Canadians to assess the impact of racism and religious discrimination on Canadians. I propose that these conversations take place in the context of a formal study that brings everyone to the table and provides them with an opportunity to raise their voice.
It is not about one race over another. It is not about one religion over another. Hate does not discriminate. I am sure the black community, the Jewish community, the aboriginal community, the Sikh community, and many more communities feel what their brothers and sisters of the Muslim faith feel today. The reality is that none of us are immune. None of our communities are exempt from this sort of prejudice, bigotry, racism, and discrimination. This motion is about strengthening our country. It is about finding ways to work together to build on our diversity as our strength.
I ask all members of the House to join with me and pass this motion so the committee can conduct a fulsome study of systemic racism, religious discrimination, and Islamophobia. I would expect the committee to call witnesses from all affected communities as well as hear from experts both in the field of evidence gathering and from those who can offer potential solutions through greater education and understanding.
This motion was never meant to be a divisive one, and I am indeed sorry that some have tried to turn the intent of the motion into something that it is not. The motion would not expand or change the Criminal Code in any way. The intention of the motion is to show all Canadians that Parliament is united in its opposition to all forms of discrimination that weaken our Canadian fabric.
I look forward to the support of all members of the House.