Mr. Speaker, the citizens of Flamborough--Glanbrook, and every member of a faith community in Canada, needs to know that their right to religious freedom is at the forefront of our concerns here in the House. Canadians of all faiths should know this: every member of the official opposition is dedicated to protecting their right to worship who and how they choose without fear of persecution.
The motion we are debating this evening, Motion No. 103, touches on this sacred right and has generated significant public discussion and concern, and rightly so. I have heard arguments in favour of and against the motion from within the Muslim community and from the broader public.
In my comments I will try to cut through the political spin of the Prime Minister's Office and the amped-up rhetoric on all sides of this debate.
For context, the motion asks members of the House to agree to three main points: first, to recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; second, to condemn Islamophobia; and third, to commission a parliamentary study that would recommend ways to reduce systemic racism and religious discrimination, with particular attention paid to Islamophobia. I wholeheartedly agree with the first point but have serious concerns about the second and third points.
In light of the recent attack on the Quebec City mosque, this debate is timely and of the utmost importance. It is imperative that we get it right. For this reason, I would like to draw the attention of my colleagues to the words the Prime Minister spoke in the House not more than two weeks ago to the Daughters of the Vote delegates. He passionately said:
Do we have a problem with lslamophobia in this country? Yes we do. Do we have a problem with anti-Semitism in this country? Yes we do. Do we have a problem in this country with discrimination and hatred? Yes we do and we need to talk about this and we need to challenge each other to be better on this.
I fully agree with these words, and, this will be a rare occasion, I promise I am going to follow the Prime Minister's advice. I challenge him and his Liberal team across the aisle to, as he said, be better on this.
Motion No. 103 could have been better in the following ways. It could have been amended to be inclusive of all faith communities rather than singling out one group over the others. Additionally, the motion could have clarified the definition of lslamophobia so it could not be used to shut down legitimate debate. Finally, Motion No. 103 could have affirmed the right to freedom of speech so Canadians can respectfully criticize any religious practice they believe to be wrong, including the one I adhere to and cherish myself.
Instead of pursuing these changes in an effort to have a meaningful, inclusive, and non-partisan study on the matters of racism and religious discrimination, a debate that should unify us, the Liberals have decided that there are more political points to win by ramming this motion through, regardless of the legitimate concerns I have articulated.
When it became clear that the PMO would not permit these reasonable amendments, the Conservative opposition used one of its valuable opposition days to bring forward its own motion to formally offer the government an opportunity to climb down from its political position.
During the full day of debate, the government dug in its heels and doubled down on its position, once again choosing politics over good policy. As they defeated the sensible Conservative motion, several Liberal members argued that we were trying to water down the language in Motion No. 103 by replacing the word “lslamophobia”. This argument is nothing more than shameful political spin and outright balderdash.
Not one member on the Liberal bench argued that Motion No. 103 is watered down because it does not include anti-Semitism. Do the Liberals really expect anyone to believe that a study would have been watered down because the study would have included anti-Semitism? Would it be watered down because the study included Christophobia?
Is the infringement of the rights of one faith group greater in some way than another's? Are not the rights of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Hindus equally important? Why do the Liberals view the inclusion of all religious groups in the parliamentary study as diluting the discussion on religious freedom?
Up until this debate, the Prime Minister had been talking a good game on Canada's diversity. Countless times he has stood in his place proclaiming that our nation "is strong not in spite of our differences, but because of them". That is why Canadians should rightly be outraged by his decision to pit neighbour against neighbour in this debate, choosing division over bringing people together.
Mere platitudes are not enough on the important issues facing our country, especially, when it comes to religious freedom and racial discrimination.
My concerns with the motion are not limited to the disgraceful actions of the Prime Minister's Office, but also with the use of the word “Islamophobia”, and I am not alone. Many within the Muslim community have expressed their concerns as well.
Raheel Raza, a Canadian Muslim journalist, explained her opposition to the term in an op ed. She said:
The term Islamophobia was created in the 1990s, when groups affiliated to the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood decided to play victim for the purpose of beating down critics. It is also in sync with a constant push by the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) to turn any criticism of Islam or Muslims into blasphemy.
Further to the questionable origins of the term, Raheel Raza also articulated how the term was counterproductive for those who would like to offer criticism of the religion as part of public discourse. She said:
I believe that...M-103 will only increase the frustration of ordinary Canadian who...(... have the right) to ask uncomfortable but necessary questions. Being concerned about creeping sharia is not phobic; questioning honour-based violence and FGM in Muslim-majority societies is not phobic.
Another writer, Farzana Hassan, in her article entitled “I am a liberal Muslim and I reject M-103”, reiterated this point when she wrote:
[The] Prime Minister...has talked about finding the right balance between protecting a religious minority and also protecting our Charter rights. The answer to his dilemma is simple: Do not put the slightest dent in our right to free speech.
Consider that the Canadian Muslim community is debating the use, definition, and application of this term and consider further that it has been used in various forums to quell legitimate and respectful criticism of Islam, it is therefore incumbent upon us as members of Parliament to say what we mean with respect to Islamophobia, rather than leave this motion open to interpretation.
For generations, members of Parliament have stood in the House to put Canadian sentiments, priorities, aspirations, and concerns into words for the purpose of meaningful debate. This is a responsibility and a tradition we ought to be careful to uphold.
To that end, I personally met with the sponsor of the motion to replace the divisive language and offered to champion the motion within the Conservative caucus if she would agree. I suggested that we could have replaced the word “Islamophobia” with the phrase “hatred toward Muslims”. Alternatively, we could have worked together to draft an amendment that would have included all-faith communities.
Instead, the long arm of the Prime Minister's Office inappropriately reached into private members' business to politicize the debate and denied my request.
In a debate that features questions surrounding free speech, religious freedom, and racial discrimination, it is unacceptable that the government would not work with us to find common ground. Canada has long been a nation where a member of one faith can live peacefully beside members of other faiths. That is the way it should stay. That is the way it shall remain.
Unless the government engages in an inclusive, comprehensive, and unifying discussion on religious freedom, racial discrimination, and free speech, I am compelled to vote against this divisive motion.