That the House: (a) recognize that Canadian society is not immune to the climate of hate and fear exemplified by the recent and senseless violent acts at a Quebec City mosque; (b) condemn all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance, and discrimination of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, and other religious communities; and (c) instruct the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating all types of discrimination 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 report 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 will be sharing my time with the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent.
What a great day. I have involvement in two portfolios, agriculture and human rights. Today, of course, is Canada's Agriculture Day. We are going to talk about that a little later. It is great that we can celebrate the contribution agriculture makes to our country.
For the rest of today, we get to talk about the issue of religious freedom in Canada. This is exciting. We had a good debate last night, and we will discuss some of the issues all day today. We do not often get a full day to deal with some of these issues.
I will talk today about the opposition day motion. I did not think, when I came here this morning, that there was anything we would disagree on in terms of this motion. I had expected that this would be one of those rare days in Parliament when all parties could agree on the substance of the motion, and then we could move the issue forward together.
Today is an opportunity to talk about the challenges we face and the proposed solutions to these very real issues. I hope that all of my colleagues in the House can get on the same page and deal with these issues seriously.
The motion begins exactly where we should start, by recognizing that although we hear most often of atrocities in other countries and regions, we are not immune to extremism in Canada. Every person here in the House was appalled by the recent and senseless violent act at a Quebec City mosque, and that is noted in the motion.
We have already, and we do again today, expressed our sympathy to the victims of the horrific Quebec City shooting. No one in this House can express anything but our deepest condolences and our revulsion at what happened there. People were attacked while they were praying. Over a dozen people were shot, and several were killed. Therefore, our motion begins where it must, which is by recognizing them.
Our motion moves on to condemn all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance, and discrimination against Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, and other religious communities. What stands out here is the inclusiveness of this motion. Although it lists the half-dozen largest faith groups in Canada, it obviously includes all religious communities in Canada. There is no sense in excluding any of them. We know that this is important, because some of the smallest communities, such as the Baha'i, have faced some of the most severe persecution around the world. Therefore, we want to recognize all religious communities.
Every faith group has a story of being at odds with the culture around them. These stories often involve periods of persecution and discrimination. I have been able to host five annual parliamentary forums on the Hill dealing with the issue of religious freedom in the last five years. The first one looked at this very subject. We invited six or seven of the faith communities to tell us about their perspective and their history as it relates to persecution and religious freedom. These histories were fascinating. As we move ahead with this motion, perhaps we could make that part of our request to the committee. I will talk about our request to the committee a little later. I really think we need to take time, if this is going to be referred to a committee, to hear those stories to understand the depth of people's commitment to their faith.
Every member here obviously condemns all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance, and discrimination against all religious communities. The motion moves on to call on the heritage committee to take a good, solid look at religious discrimination in Canada. We want to give faith communities a chance to come and tell their stories, to give their version of where they feel they are being pressured and where they have been pushed aside.
Last night, both the NDP and the Liberals in the House talked about the importance of such a committee. We wanted to bring this motion forward to provide the opportunity for that. I hope I can be part of that committee when it is struck, because in these hearings, there are all kinds of things we can look at. There are many questions in Canada we need to address.
The issue of religious freedom is becoming increasingly important, not only in other parts of the world but in our country as well. I think it is fair to look at faith in Canada and at the role of faith in our country. It is also fair to look at the role non-belief plays in our country, because we have people who see things very differently in our country.
What is faith? What role does it play, and what role should it play in the future of our country? How do we balance the freedom of belief or non-belief with freedom of speech, which is part of the discussion we are having? There are always issues around freedom of speech and whether people can say the things they want to say, while running the risk that others will be offended by the comments being made.
What is the role of religious symbolism in our country? What freedom do private institutions have in expressing our core values? That would be an important issue for the committee to look at. Do we look at the judiciary and its role in the establishment and protection of religious freedom in this country?
We had a presentation at one of our forums about the role that the courts have played in rulings on religious affairs. It was clear that there has been no consistency in those rulings, that no thread runs through them so Canadians can say this is how the courts see the issue of religious freedom and religious discrimination in Canada. There is always the question of whether we can examine the role of judicial organizations. What role will they play in the future as well?
Perhaps we could look at the role that educational institutions play in limiting freedom of speech or in advancing it on faith issues. There is a lot of concern. We hear almost monthly about the role that secondary institutions are playing on free speech issues. The committee might also like to look at this.
There is another thing that we probably need to talk about. Are we going to talk about some of the religious beliefs of other countries that are brought in to our country as people come here? We had a panel about a week ago on the Ahmadis in Pakistan and the pressure that they face as a result of their government bringing in legislation that has changed their position in their society and restricted their ability to function as full citizens. We have had debates in the House about the Yazidis. We will have Yazidis coming here soon as well. There are large issues with the Rohingya community in Islam, and we have a Rohingya community in this country as well. What role do we have in speaking to these people about their faith and the role that it plays in their lives?
I see this as a really exciting opportunity and an exciting challenge. This could be some of the most significant work that a committee has done on Parliament Hill in a number of years. As I pointed out last night, we really need to start to get some of these issues resolved before division becomes the order of the day. It is time for Parliament to step forward and look at the issues, look at some of the hostility that is being exhibited in this country toward religious belief and find some ways to deal with it.
After listening, the committee is being asked to do two things. One of them is to come up with an evidence-based, community-centred approach to deal with religious discrimination. This will be a huge job. The challenge is obvious but it can be done. That report would be groundbreaking if the committee takes its work seriously. The second instruction to the committee would be to come up with a way to track hate crimes for all religiously motivated crime.
Obviously things are not perfect in this country, but our Conservative government worked to make sure that issues of faith were a priority for Canadians. We always kept in mind the three principles of religious freedom, as follows: that for people to be truly free they must be free to be able to believe or reject belief as they choose, they must have the opportunity to change that belief if they want to, and they must have the freedom to practise their beliefs.
Our government highlighted those issues. We made them a priority. In 2011, we formalized that commitment with a promise to establish the office of religious freedom. It had a small budget, a small number of people, and it played an extremely significant role around the world on these issues.
There is a place for this to be discussed in our country. We need to respect the right of people not to believe as well, because this is another important factor in these conversations.
I have the opportunity to be involved with a multi-faith group of legislators who are pursuing the issue of religious freedom. We talk about how these things are taking place and how they are impacting our country. We are trying to approach these issues in a positive way.
My office is in the process of setting up a sixth parliamentary forum on religious freedom for sometime in April. We welcome all members to come out to that. In the past it has been supported by members of various parties. It is one more place where we can meet to discuss issues of domestic and international religious freedom.
There is lots to do. It is an exciting time. The motion has fired me up on these issues. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House on this. I look forward to a positive, inclusive, and mature debate today on the issue of religious freedom in Canada.