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House of Commons Hansard #142 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was islamophobia.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ali Ehsassi Liberal Willowdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I obviously understand the sentiments that are animating my good friend across the aisle. However, it seems pretty clear to me that as members of Parliament we are supposed to actually bring clarity to issues. We are supposed to try to identify those issues that demand leadership and to elevate the discussion.

What we have seen over the course of the past two years is something truly jarring. The member knows full well about the torching of a mosque in Peterborough in late 2015. She knows full well about the arson that occurred at a mosque in Hamilton in September 2016. She knows full well of the horrific incident in Quebec City. She knows full well about the Statistics Canada study which was published, which demonstrated very clearly that the incidence of hate crimes against Muslims has doubled over the course of two years.

The question before us is clear. Are we supposed to demonstrate leadership, identify the problem, have the department simply undertake some research on an issue which is significant to Canadians, or are we going to play politics? Are we just going to engage in the type of behaviour which actually obfuscates the issue rather than clarifies it?

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague across the aisle.

Would he like everyone to stop playing political games on such a delicate and serious issue? If the official opposition agreed to support your motion, would you agree to support theirs?

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I would remind hon. members that they must address their comments to the Chair and not to other members directly.

The hon. member for Willowdale.

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Ali Ehsassi Liberal Willowdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, obviously, all of us as members of this House would like to see collective attention brought to this issue. If there was consensus that there is the issue of Islamophobia, that it is an issue we have to take seriously, that it is an issue that we have to examine, and that it is an issue that we have to treat as incredibly important in terms of the terrible distress it causes for the members of our Muslim community, then yes, I would be very much in favour of that.

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Mr. Speaker, today I rise against the opposition's motion that was introduced by the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands. This motion looks to gain the support of this House to require the government to recognize the increasing public climate of hate and fear across Canada, condemn all forms of religious discrimination and systemic racism, and to request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage conduct a study.

The current motion has a different motive. This came in response to Motion No. 103 introduced yesterday. It essentially reformulated the motion introduced yesterday with one significant and notable difference: the word “Islamophobia” is removed from the Conservative motion.

The Conservatives claim to want to have a mature debate but fail to recognize and make the effort to learn what Islamophobia is. They fail to understand what the word means to Muslims living in Canada. They fail to show leadership in the face of a growing wave of hate and irrational fear of Islam and Muslims. They continue to allow the extreme views of people who perpetrate racism and discrimination against people of different faiths. This motion holds little weight when the Conservative Party leadership hopefuls are joining protests of racist and xenophobic groups.

Let us be clear. Much of this directly relates to the recent petition e-411, signed by more than 69,000 Canadians, asking the government to denounce Islamophobia. This petition received broad support from Canadians because people of different faiths in this country are facing systemic racism and religious discrimination every day.

A few years ago, in my city of Brampton, flyers were being circulated against the Sikh community and immigrants asking, “Do you really want Sikhs and immigrants to be living among us in Brampton?” We see swastikas printed on Jewish synagogues here in Ottawa and across Canada, racist graffiti against Sikhs in Edmonton, and anti-Muslim protests at the University of Calgary. A mosque in Calgary was vandalized and left with a burned copy of the Quran and a threatening letter. We can never forget the tragic and horrific terrorist attack on the mosque in Sainte-Foy. That attack was a result of the divisive rhetoric used by leaders of government, political parties, media personalities, and other public figures. When public figures use hateful, discriminatory, and divisive language, it gives legitimacy to those who feel it is acceptable to perpetrate racism and discrimination against people of certain religious groups.

What we read and hear about in the news does not even include the countless daily discriminatory and racist attacks that people face on buses, on sidewalks, at schools, and at work.

As much as I have been loved and accepted by many Canadians, I too have been a victim of racism. Imagine a young girl in middle school isolated in an elevator and her hair being set on fire as she was being called a “Paki”. That happened to me. Imagine what kind of fear and mental anguish one would go through in life when one realizes that adults could perpetrate such hate toward a child. We cannot allow ourselves to let this continue, especially if the government can do more to help people who are marginalized because of their faith. This Conservative opposition motion should be seeking to get the heritage committee to study the rising tide of fear and hate against people of the Islamic faith and all other faiths.

However, eliminating the word “Islamophobia” waters down original Motion No. 103. In order to have a proper understanding and study on the issue, we must name that issue. We must call it what it is and we must have a focused study.

Denouncing Islamophobia is not prohibiting respectful criticism of Islam or any other faith as that is allowed by our country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What is not acceptable is categorizing Islam as a religion of evil and violence, and painting all people of the faith with one brush.

People in this country have called for targeted attacks against people of the Muslim faith. Motion No. 103 does limit the study to be done and provides for all Canadians who want to practise their faith without the fear of discrimination and being marginalized by others. The opposition motion is asking the committee to conduct a study on racism and religious discrimination that exist in our country, but it eliminates once again the word “Islamophobia” which is a very real issue in this country today.

The motion could do more by asking for the condemnation of Islamophobia and all forms of discrimination against people of any religion.

To ask the government to condemn Islamophobia is not without precedent. In a previous Parliament, former Liberal member Irwin Cotler received unanimous consent to his motion which called for the government to condemn anti-Semitism, stating that discrimination against Jews is an insult to our shared democratic values and for the government to work with community stakeholders to help combat all forms of anti-Semitism.

The context is similar when it comes to anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Both are terms used to describe the action of discriminating against Jews and Muslims respectively on the basis of their religion. If that motion was acceptable in a previous Parliament, then seeking the condemnation of Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and discrimination against other religious groups should be treated the same.

It is important that we define what a phobia is. The definition of a phobia is “an extreme or irrational fear of, or an aversion to, something”. Therefore, Islamophobia is by definition “an extreme or irrational fear of, or an aversion to, Islam”. That is a very simple and clear definition of what Islamophobia is.

Islam is a religion of peace, harmony, and community. Canadian Muslims are peaceful, respectful, and essential members of our community along with other Canadians. For those of this faith or of any other faith, or for those without faith that are not peaceful and respectful, we have the Criminal Code to deal with that. The actions of so few extremists that have made Islamophobia so prevalent in today's society has made this fear a reality in our country.

Just like any hateful and violent actions committed by someone from a certain community, it does not mean everyone from that group is the same. When people have a problem with Islamophobia being listed specifically to be condemned by the government, that implies it is okay to have an irrational fear of Islam.

It is ironic that those who want that word removed called for the removal due to freedom of expression, but those people are directly trying to block that freedom of expression by removing that word from the motion. Those are far from the truth about Islam and should not be used in categorizing a religion that is followed by over one million Canadians.

This Conservative motion comes after the terror attack in Sainte-Foy and after every party in the House has agreed that the hateful and divisive rhetoric used by people against Muslims in Canada cannot be ignored anymore. If we do allow it to continue, we are allowing more Canadians to think it is okay to marginalize and discriminate against one group of Canadians. We cannot repeat the mistake of letting Islamophobia and systemic racism persist.

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge my hon. colleague for sharing what I can only imagine being a horrific incident in her youth. Bullying and racism have no part in our schools. I wish I had been there. I would have been her bodyguard. It is absolutely unacceptable, and I appreciate her sharing that.

My hon. colleague mentioned a former member of Parliament, Irwin Cotler, who suggested that the word “Islamophobia” be removed and substituted with “anti-Muslim”.

We see acts of racism and hate crimes throughout our country. Indeed, if members Google “hate crimes in Canada”, it comes up with attacks against Sikhs, attacks against first nations, and attacks against the Jewish community as well.

During the summer, I went to Punjab, India, and visited the Golden Temple so that I could better understand that religion, and I am offended by the comments by government members that somehow we are racist, by putting forth this motion that mentions that we condemn all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance, and discrimination against Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, and other religious communities. This is not a watered-down motion. It is simply capturing and standing up, as leaders, as we should all be doing.

I believe our hon. NDP colleague mentioned that we should be standing together. How is this motion going to protect one person? As a matter of fact, those in the Islamic community within my riding have said that this would draw more unwanted attention to them.

I challenge the member opposite to review this and withdraw the comments that this is a watered-down attempt, which is painting us as racists. I am not a racist.

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I recognize that pointing out systemic racism among all groups, which the original Motion No. 103 does do, in fact, is noble in its intent. However, the removal of the word “Islamophobia”, to me, in itself shows that there is something that is worth fighting for in our current climate in Canada. It shows that there is an extreme fear against calling a person or an act Islamophobic. It does not limit freedom of expression, which a lot of critics have said. I believe that is a misrepresentation.

Yes, systemic racism against all faiths does occur in this country. I am a witness to that, and many in this House probably are, but the current climate in Canada calls for us to take some bold action against what is happening. So, yes, we should call it what it is. We should have no fear against the word “Islamophobia”. Let us use it, let us figure out what it means, let us figure out why this current climate and temperature is occurring in our country.

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, when we talk about Motion No. 103 and its importance when we are seeing a huge spike in hate crimes toward people of the Islamic faith and Muslims in our country, I think it is very important that we support the motion and the intent of it. However, I think the Conservative motion should also be supported. It is important that we focus on the spike in hate crimes and the attack on Muslims, in particular, but we should also be supporting this motion.

I am hoping that the member will show real leadership, which is voting for both motions, as that would bring people together and represent all people in our country, because we need to move forward. It is going to take someone from one of these parties to actually bring us together by taking the lead and saying that they are going to commit to vote for both motions. I hope this member will be the member to take that lead.

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I said before, there is no ill intent in the Conservative opposition motion. However, the original Motion No. 103 was worked on for a long time by a member of the House, and that motion in itself was a terrific motion.

There is nothing wrong with studying systemic racism among all communities and focusing particularly on Islamophobia. It is what society in Canada calls for today. It is what we should call out and focus on.

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek.

I rise today to speak in support of the motion put forward by my colleague the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands.

I have been very impressed by much of the tone of today's debate, by the respect shown across party lines from all quarters of the House and by some of the very touching personal stories that have been offered to us to persuade us to reason, reconciliation, and recognition of what we all recognize as a continuing challenge to our country and our society, to fight hate and discrimination in all of its forms.

I am afraid I must say that, given the attempts by some Liberal MPs to misrepresent both the content and the motivation of the motion, it is worth revisiting the text. The motion reads:

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.

Conservatives are fully committed to freedom of religion and freedom of speech. We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, any and all acts committed against religious communities, including at places of worship.

In my riding of Thornhill, I have two mosques, dozens of synagogues, dozens of churches, a Buddhist temple, a Hindu temple just adjacent, and until constituency boundaries were redrawn in 2015, a Taoist temple. More than 100 mother tongues are spoken in my riding.

As Canadians struggled to come to terms in the days after the tragic, hateful terror attack on the Sainte-Foy Islamic cultural centre, I was invited to participate in a commemoration service at the largest mosque in my riding, the Jaffari Community Centre. It was a terribly sad but defiant gathering.

Representatives from across faith communities, from congregations across Thornhill, came together to pledge a shared commitment to the fundamental right of all Canadians in our homes, our workplaces, the public spaces we share, and particularly our places of worship, to enjoy and share all of the freedoms of this wonderful country in peace and safety. The names of the six murdered men in the Quebec attack were read into the record: Abdelkrim Hassane, Khaled Belkacemi, Boubaker Thabti, Azzeddine Soufiane, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Ibrahima Barry. Those names cannot be said too often. Those names are forever inscribed in a terrible moment in our shared Canadian history.

However justice may be eventually dispensed, this tragedy demands of all of us a renewed commitment to reject prejudice, fear, bigotry, and hate.

We must mourn, we must reflect, but we must also go forward as friends, neighbours, and respectful, loving fellow Canadians.

As I have said repeatedly in the House since I was first elected in 2008, I am passionately in favour of the legal protection of all Canadians from discrimination in any of its forms; I am passionately in favour of the legal protection of all Canadians from hate crimes; and I am proud of the laws that have evolved over the years and the reality that Canada is recognized around the world for our recognition of diversity and equality.

I am proud that the current Canadian Human Rights Act defends the principle:

all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability

The Conservative Party has long been the party of free speech and free expression. Conservatives do not support restrictions on legitimate freedom of speech, and we strongly support the fundamental right to freedom of expression. We must remember that it was the Conservative government that established the office of religious freedom under the leadership of Dr. Andrew Bennett in 2012. That office led the way internationally, as well as promoting Canadian values of tolerance and pluralism.

Regrettably, as we know, the Liberal government chose not to extend and strengthen the mandate of the office and the ambassador of religious freedom in budget 2016. As a result, Canada's voice on issues of religious tolerance in an increasingly intolerant world has been severely diminished.

Just as I said that I believe that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, so too is eternal vigilance essential in the fight against discrimination, hate, and fear. Many motions put before the House over the years have pledged to recognize that Canadian society is not immune to these worst tendencies of human nature and urged efforts to reduce or, ideally, eliminate all forms of discrimination in Canada. Again, as the motion before us stipulates, we must “condemn all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance, and discrimination”. As well, the motion directs the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to study how the government might develop a whole-of-government approach to better address the terrible recurring societal disorders we have discussed today.

Reduction or elimination of all forms of discrimination is a massive challenge, but we cannot give up. We must not stop trying. This motion just might move our wonderful country closer to achieving the dream I know we all share in the House of a fully inclusive, respectful, and loving society.

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands and the member for Mississauga—Erin Mills for doing something that I have not been able to do in 20 years; namely, get a debate on the floor of the House of Commons about the religious currents in our society, some of which are, frankly, quite negative.

I am actually kind of disappointed, though, ultimately, in the debate. This is an issue involving religion, which, of course, creates all kinds of differences among people, as well as bringing them together. It is extremely important that the chamber bring people together. How it is done is a matter of technicality. It is not really an issue whether it is done by simultaneous votes, as suggested by the NDP member, or some amendment to the motion. The issue is that it is more important to bring us together on this motion than the content of both motions.

The argument that Islamophobia does not exist is just nonsense. I could give chapter and verse from my own riding. It is an important thing to say, and it is important that we deal with it. It is also important that we, as a chamber, bring together the people of Canada so that we can have a rational, coherent discussion about the impact of religion in our society.

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have always enjoyed working with this member, on the defence committee and now on the foreign affairs committee. I would respectfully disagree with regard to his belief that there is a single definition to the keynote word in the Liberal Motion No. 103.

We have heard a number of interpretations, of definitions, of what it means to different people, what it means to Muslims, and what it means to non-Muslims. It is not a precise word in any sense of the definition of a word. We cannot find it in a dictionary. It is a confected word. It does send a powerful message, but it also, if adopted, would undermine and compromise the essential message, that this House I know believes in, about systemic racism, hate, discrimination, bigotry, and fear. It is that single word that stands between some of the members on that side of the House; while not all because I know there are many members on that side of the House who disagree with that word as well as on this side of the House. I would hope that in the hours ahead before we vote on this motion and in the days ahead before we vote on Motion No. 103, all members will reflect on what words mean and the power of words.

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, as this debate continues I am forever hopeful that maybe there is a way to square the circle because I do think that the importance of this debate merits all of us to put our best foot forward and to try to find a resolution here. It seems to me that the issue that the Conservative members are having trouble with is the lack of a definition of Islamophobia and the members want it to be clarified.

I had heard from the member for Mount Royal who actually made a pretty good proposal, and maybe there is a space where we can find agreement. His proposal was to add the words, “which speaks to a hatred or fear of Muslims, known as Islamophobia”, to be added somewhere in this motion. I wonder whether this could be entertained. Is there not some way that we can find a way to make this work? I do think that the importance of the issue trumps, pardon the word, I really dislike that word, or makes it so that it is incumbent upon us to rise above this and to find a way to make it work. Is there some way that we can make this work?

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's efforts in crossing back and forth across the floor of the House today, as a number of fellow colleagues have done seeking a way to find acceptance of both motions. On issues of human rights, I always look for advice at some point or another to the former Liberal justice minister, to the human rights champion Irwin Cotler. On this issue and on Motion No. 103, I take his advice where he says he would prefer that keynote word be taken from the motion and replaced instead by “anti-Muslim”.

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I want to express my deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those killed and injured in the attack at the Quebec City Islamic centre. It cannot be overstated that this attack is an affront to the religious freedom of Canadians. Places of worship are meant to be havens for personal peaceful reflection and faith. Violence against any religious group is an attack on the universal values that all Canadians cherish and seek to protect.

It truly is a privilege to speak to the motion introduced by colleague, the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands. He has been a mentor to me through the incredible work he has done over the years advancing the issues of freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Parliament, and I want to acknowledge his efforts.

We truly are fortunate to live in Canada. Often, we take our freedoms for granted, like the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, and the freedom of association. These foundational democratic principles were first enshrined in Canadian law by Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, in 1960. His definition of what a Canadian is has never been better stated and has stood the test of time, “ I am a Canadian...free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country.”

These are Canada's values.

As someone whose faith is integral to my life, I am grateful for and believe very strongly in the religious freedom we enjoy here in Canada. That freedom, which includes protection against discrimination based on one's faith, is a right for all Canadians regardless of their religion.

A number of weeks ago, I met an incredibly brave young Christian woman in my riding. She fled her country as a young adult because she was the very real target of attacks from those who did not approve of her choice of faith. Today, she cannot be on Facebook or Instagram because she remains concerned that her family, still in her country of origin, could be targeted because of her choices. When I sat down with her and listened to her tell her story, it was impossible not to grasp the real fear that she feels as a target of attack because of her religious beliefs. This young woman came to Canada because she believes in the words and the spirit of former Prime Minister Diefenbaker's declaration. Nobody should be forced to choose between their faith and their personal security.

Os Guinness, in his book, The Global Public Square, Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity, identifies the need to “restore the primacy and high priority of establishing freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief for people of all faiths and none, both for the sake of individual human persons and for the common good of humanity itself.”

Making free speech and freedom of faith a priority is paramount to our democracy and our success as a nation. These are the values that, for over a decade, informed the previous government's foreign policy.

Unfortunately, with the abolishing of the office of religious freedom, one of the most visible vehicles for the promotion of freedom of religion is now gone. Through this office, under the very capable leadership of Dr. Andrew Bennett, Canada worked with like-minded partners to speak out against violations of freedom of religion, denounce violence against human rights defenders, and condemn attacks on worshippers and places of worship around the world.

This office led the way internationally to protect freedom of religion and belief, as well as to promote Canadian values of tolerance and pluralism.

Free speech and freedom of belief are fundamental. Without them, there can be no exchanging and evaluating of ideas. If we are unwilling to challenge each other, then we leave ourselves vulnerable to having our beliefs set by others.

If British society had not challenged the monarchy, the bill of rights of 1689, which is the foundational document of Canada's democracy, would not exist.

Free speech is what allows us to advance as a country. When the state determines what is right and what is wrong, societies are doomed to become less prosperous and less free, as we have observed in Venezuela or North Korea.

Free speech is also our first and ultimately our only durable defence against tyranny. It has been well documented that the monstrous regimes of the 20th century gained and held power by taking control of the press and silencing all of their critics. Free speech was stifled, competing views put down, often violently.

The Soviet Union was the first state to have the objective of eliminating religion as a means of consolidating power. The state, or a central authority that derives its power from the state, cannot unilaterally decide what is right to say and what is wrong to say or think. Trying to shut down debate on a point of view that is not mainstream almost inevitably leads to unintended consequences.

Over the past few years, we've seen campus clubs shut down, government not releasing certain information because it could be incendiary or certain persons not being able to hold events in certain forums. Because a debate may be divisive is precisely why it's important to have it.

It's impossible to find common ground or a way forward on an issue unless the proponents of both sides of that issue can share their points of view and the reasons behind their contentions. If that does not happen, the silos of thought that are so devastating to the advancement of a prosperous country become more and more entrenched. An informed citizenry is the check against an abuse of power by the state or its most powerful individuals.

Freedom of religion also serves as a bulwark against totalitarianism. Pope John Paul II has been well recognized as playing a major role in ending Communist rule in his native Poland and eventually all of Europe.

Beyond supporting the motion, all of us here can take a role supporting religious freedom, which brings me to the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief. Established in Oslo, Norway in 2014, the panel's activities have been opened up to all members of Parliament. All participating parliamentarians are committed to accomplishing the shared goals of advancing freedom of religion or belief.

This is done by promoting freedom of religion or belief for all persons through their work and respective institutions; enhancing global co-operation by endeavouring to work across geographical, political, and religious lines; and undertaking efforts to jointly promote freedom of religion or belief, share information, and mobilize effective responses. The experiences of one country can inform how another country views its situation. I recommend that MPs from all parties participate in this international panel.

To conclude, last week, I welcomed my seventh grandchild into the world. I consider it my responsibility as a federal legislator to work every day to help keep Canada a place where my grandchildren will be able to worship as they choose, a place where they will be able to speak out for what they believe in, and where they are able to live without fear of being the target of hate-based attacks because of those choices. That is my priority as a member of Parliament. It is my sincere hope that all members will support the motion.

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Parkdale—High Park Ontario

Liberal

Arif Virani LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage (Multiculturalism)

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her comments and her passion on this issue.

I will confess that we on this side of the House find it a bit confusing that the term, “Islamophobia” can have such extensive semantic debate in this chamber and cause such confusion to our friends opposite when our friends opposite themselves consented unanimously to a motion that reads:

That this House join the more than 69,742 Canadian supporters of the House of Commons e-petition (e-411) in condemning all forms of Islamophobia.

The term was clear to the Conservatives on October 26 last year. Why is it no longer clear now?

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Mr. Speaker, I recognize that there was a motion passed unanimously on October 26. I recognize what that motion was, but obviously, the member of the governing party who introduced the motion in December thought it warranted even more discussion and sought to clarify what she would like to see discussed in her motion.

I believe that the motion we presented today provides even more clarity in that conversation, which is why I am supporting the motion we introduced today.

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend, the hon. member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, and congratulate her on her seventh grandchild. I know she is a great mom and a great grandmother.

I really find it perplexing that there is in this House today the pretence that there is a conflict between Motion No. 103 and the motion put forward today by the hon. member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands. They stand side by side, focused largely on the same concerns. I think we are having a false debate, which is not going to be helpful to Canadians.

I note that on Twitter today, former prime minister Stephen Harper's communications director, Andrew MacDougall, is basically pleading with Conservatives to say that Motion No. 103 is not a source a concern. To him it makes sense. It is a small measure of a statement of concern in the wake of killings at a mosque.

Could the hon. member not see her way clear to supporting both motions?

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Mr. Speaker, if anything has become clear to me throughout last night's debate and the debate today, it is that there are dissenting views on whether these motions conflict with one another.

I believe that the motion put forward by my colleague is more inclusive and provides more clarity. It speaks to the concerns that have been raised with me hundreds of times in the last number of weeks by constituents I am here to represent.

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a question based on the confusion it seems the member for Parkdale—High Park has about the opposition day motion today and Motion No. 103.

I want to thank his colleague, the member for Mississauga—Erin Mills, for taking my call on this subject. What I am confused by are the PMO talking points we hear from that side today about confusion, which seem to conflict with the evidentiary record of the committee on human rights of this Parliament. The first time the member for Mississauga—Erin Mills used the term “Islamophobia” as a member of Parliament, it led to a comment by the witness, Hossein Raeesi, who said that the definition can change, depending on where one is in the world.

What we are talking about is a reasonable debate to ask for some certainty. That is what I suggested to the member for Mississauga—Erin Mills, to clarify that there was no conflict with free speech provisions. It is unfortunate that the PMO would not allow her to make a slight amendment.

I wonder if my colleague has any comment on the testimony heard that day, including by those members, on the issue of this definition on a global basis.

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Mr. Speaker, I cannot do that question justice. I would simply point out that again today, and even last night during the debate, there have been different definitions of the word thrown out. There have been suggestions that we can figure it out as we go, which does not do a service to all Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank all colleagues in the House for the great passion and support they have shown on this very important issue. When I tabled Motion No. 103, I approached everyone. I approached grassroots organizations, civil society, and Canadians at large to see how they felt about an important issue that affects all Canadians: systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia. The amount of support I have received from the House and from Canadians at large has been overwhelming.

As is part of my collaborative nature, I went across the aisle to seek support from members in opposition. I received tremendous support from members of the NDP caucus, and it was amazing to see. I approached members of the Conservative caucus, and I felt division among them, and it astounded me. I could not understand why they were so divided on this issue. Where one member proposed that “Islamophobia” be removed and replaced with “anti-Muslim discrimination”, another member proposed that the whole reference to e-petition 411, which was signed by 69,000 Canadians, be removed. There were other members who had not even read the text of the motion but were still opposed to it, based on I do not know what.

I really tried to build consensus in the House to raise awareness on this very important issue and to shed light on the more than one million Canadians who suffer because of Islamophobia, who are victimized on a daily basis. It astounds me, but I am very flattered that the opposition has used one of its very precious opposition days to continue the debate on this very important issue.

I believe that my time is up, and I will be continuing my speech after question period.

Opposition Motion—Systemic racism and religious discriminationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The hon. member for Mississauga—Erin Mills will have seven and a half minutes to complete her speech following question period.

Seasonal WorkStatements By Members

February 16th, 2017 / 2 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, on the North Shore, the fishery and forestry sectors provide thousands of jobs for Quebeckers. Thousands of families back home live from the sea and the forest.

Seasonal work is nothing new. No one has ever gone fishing in February and crops have never been planted in March, which means that there are people who work for the better part of the year, but who have to rely on employment insurance to fill the gap.

The spring gap, that time of year when neither income nor EI benefits are received, is 14 weeks. Fourteen weeks without a decent income is just terrible. Back home people are forced to leave the region, go into debt, or rely on the community's generosity even though they do work that is essential to Quebec's economy. The spring gap is 14 weeks. Ottawa is hindering regional development, contributing to the exodus from the regions, and leaving people in misery. It is disgusting.

The House can be sure that the Bloc will always be there for the unemployed in our regions who have been abandoned by this heartless government.

Val-Martin Infrastructure ProjectStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Mr. Speaker, today I would like to inform the other members of the House about all the work that has been carried out by various levels of government and has led to a decision that will help many people in my riding of Vimy.

On January 16, 2017, $18.2 million in federal funding was allocated for the first phase of the Val-Martin infrastructure project to renovate 124 social housing units in Vimy.

This significant investment in Quebec shows that Canadians' priorities are respected and that we are following through on our commitments.

I would like to thank everyone at the provincial and federal levels who worked on the long negotiation and planning process for this massive investment. This is a giant step that will help the most vulnerable people in Vimy gain access to affordable housing.