Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the parliamentary secretary for multiculturalism, the MP for Parkdale—High Park, stood in the House of Commons in solidarity with the Liberal caucus to announce the government's support for the MP for Mississauga—Erin Mills' motion recognizing the need to counter all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia. Today, it is my turn to stand in the House of Commons to echo this same message and denounce loud and clear the unfortunate tide of hate and fear. Our government stands united in support of this message of compassion and empathy, confirming our support for the Muslim community here in Canada and acknowledging the hardships the members of this community endure.
Today, the opposition is presenting a watered-down version of the motion put forward by the MP for Mississauga—Erin Mills. It is without a doubt a political ploy put forward by the Conservative Party to save itself from internal division. The motion presented today is a diversion to serve political purposes.
We must not fool ourselves. The Conservatives lack courage and are hiding behind a false argument. They claim to be bringing people together, but they are not acknowledging the challenges faced by the Muslim community across the country.
This is why we will not be supporting the opposition motion today.
Over the past few years, I and many other Canadians have witnessed a growing tide of hatred and intolerance toward the Muslim community. Yesterday, our government came forward with a message of hope, a message of solidarity, a message of support for the MP for Mississauga—Erin Mills, who faced a barrage of online abuse, but we can think of many other instances of Islamophobia.
Let us recall what has happened. A fire at a Peterborough mosque was arson. A Hamilton mosque was firebombed. Two women were threatened with a noose in Edmonton. Two men in Toronto tried to rip off a woman's head scarf. A Muslim woman in London was spat on in a grocery store. There were anti-Muslim posters at the University of Calgary. Mosques were vandalized in Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec, and Sept-Îles. Those of us in leadership positions have a social responsibility to take a strong stance on these acts of hate perpetrated against individuals of Muslim faith.
Let me be clear. Islamophobia is a real problem. Neighbours, friends, co-workers of the Muslim faith endure systemic racism and religious discrimination in our country.
Our government recognizes that Islamophobia exists, and that is the first step in fighting the hate and fear towards this community.
While police-reported hate crimes have fallen in Canada in recent years, they have doubled against the Muslim community between 2012 and 2014.
As the Minister of Canadian Heritage but also as the member for Ahuntsic-Cartierville, one of the most diverse communities in the country and home to 50 different cultural communities, I urge the House to keep all of that in mind.
As I stand here in the House today, I am thinking of Esra, one of my constituents in Ahuntsic-Cartierville. This young Muslim woman was born here in Canada. She is currently studying education at UQAM and is having a hard time finding a job. She is a victim of discrimination every day because she wears a head scarf.
I am also thinking of Mohamed, a good friend of mine, an intelligent, skilled young man who is having trouble finding a job because of his name. I am also thinking of colleagues of mine in Ahuntsic-Cartierville who are afraid to go pray at their local mosque. They do not feel safe because of the prevailing climate in this country right now.
That being said, foremost in my mind are the Muslims who were killed because they were in a place of worship.
The tragic events that occurred in Quebec City on January 29 shook us deeply. The motivation behind this horrendous attack in a place of worship and reflection goes against everything this country stands for. We stand united in the face of this catastrophe. As political leaders, we have a moral imperative not to turn our backs on something so insidious, so galling as discrimination based on religious beliefs.
Things do not cease to exist just because we do not name them. We have a real problem, and that problem is Islamophobia. The Conservatives want to find a solution without really talking about the problem, without naming it, and that is actually making the problem worse. We have a duty. Every time a community is targeted, we must condemn such actions. I find it sad that people are using certain communities to make political hay. We need to condemn that too.
The Conservatives have decided to engage in divisive politics. They were unable to stay united in the fight against discrimination even though it is so important.
At the end of the day, the motion of the MP for Mississauga—Erin Mills ensures that in Canada we stand for free and respectful exchanges of ideas and opinions, and it leaves no place for hatred nor any tolerance of abuse. It bears repeating that we are at our best when we care for one another. Over the years, we have learned to work together and to value diversity, diversity of backgrounds as well as diversity of opinions, customs, and beliefs. This diversity has strengthened and enriched us.
We must never stop protecting what makes our country great: our diversity. As Canadians, we must stand united and say no to the politics of fear and division. More than ever, we must defend our values and lead by example.
Canada's strength is found in many facets: in our respect for rights and freedoms, in our welcoming and open society, and in our diversity. There is no better time to reflect and build on these strengths, and our government is fully engaged to focus on Canada's ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and regional diversity and to find ways to deepen our relationships across the country and within our many communities. Canada's commitment to diversity is one of the pillars of our social contract, the social contract that unites each and every one of us. I am really proud of this.
I would like to bring attention to the fact that the opposition thinks otherwise. The Conservatives have brought this motion forward in a cynical attempt to serve their political purposes and avoid addressing the real issue of Islamophobia. It boggles the mind that members of the House, members who have put their names forward to lead political parties, would try to capitalize on fear and division for their own benefit. Some have actually had the gall to use this as an opportunity to blast out emails and mailers to raise money for their campaigns, to use fear of Islamophobia to enrich their own success.
Others have used poor taste by using imagery of the Ottawa terror attack as a backdrop in mail-outs and emails to protest Islamophobia. In fact, just yesterday, three members of the House were speakers at a so-called freedom rally in Toronto, a rally organized by a man who claimed that the mosque shooting in Quebec City was actually an act of Muslim terror that lying media refused to report. Anyone who tells Canadians that this motion is the “first step toward restricting our right to criticize Islam” or that “thought police in Ottawa dictate what we can and cannot say” is misleading and undermining a real issue that is deserving of our attention.
As we fight racism and discrimination, I want to share with members a program I announced last week in Scarborough. As minister responsible for multiculturalism, I was very proud to announce that our government invested $5.5 million in the inter-action multiculturalism funding program. Non-profit organizations can apply for funding for projects that aim to promote intercultural dialogue, fight systemic racism, and cultivate respect of diversity. Programs like this one foster mutual understanding and help create bonds between all Canadians. After all, diversity and inclusion are central to who we are as Canadians, which is why they are a pillar of Canada 150 celebrations taking place this year.
Today, I invite all hon. members of the House to promote this program in their community.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity of hosting a round table on diversity with my colleagues the MP for Edmonton Mill Woods and the MP for Edmonton Centre. We sat down with 15 students and we heard about their successes, their challenges, and their ambitions. It was really an uplifting conversation.
I learned a great deal from this conversation and I was surrounded by people from different religious backgrounds.
Everyone there condemned Islamophobia. No one was afraid to speak out against it. Even though as Jews, Sikhs, indigenous peoples, or black persons they are part of a minority, they stood behind the Muslim community. Having often been victims of discrimination themselves, they acknowledged that Islamophobia is a problem in Canada.
The same thing happened in my riding. In Ahuntsic-Cartierville, I had the opportunity to meet with several leaders from different religious backgrounds, including Armenians, Coptic Christians, Maronites, or even Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims, and atheists. All these community leaders and religious leaders acknowledged that Islamophobia is a problem. They all acknowledged that we must work together to fight prejudice and that if we did not, we would be preventing our society from achieving healthy social cohesion.
While we are dealing with a difficult subject—and we cannot ignore the evidence of racism and discrimination in Canada—we have reason for optimism. An Environics study reveals that an increasing majority of Canadians identify multiculturalism as one of the most important symbols of the country's national identity. But the study also showed that Canadians increasingly acknowledge that there are systemic barriers facing visible minorities, which require a societal response.
I strongly oppose this motion and encourage my fellow members to recognize the importance of collectively standing against a motion like this that seeks to avoid the real conversation, and which attempts to divide us.
Motion No. 103 is a signal to the Canadian people that we will never relent in our pursuit of a more equitable and just society, one that actively promotes diversity and inclusion. Our strength as a country lies in our diversity. I would encourage my colleague across the way to support Motion No. 103.
I would also like to seek unanimous consent for the following motion. That the motion be amended, first, by deleting the words “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” and substituting the following: “, 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”; and, second, by adding after the words “all types of discrimination” the following: “including Islamophobia”.