Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Edmonton Centre.
I am honoured to rise today to speak to the issue of systemic racism and religious discrimination. This conversation is vital to ensuring that all Canadians feel safe, welcomed, and at home here in Canada.
For me personally, racism and religious discrimination have been a part of my life since I was a young kid. Having grown up as a practising Sikh who wears a turban, whose father wears a turban, whose friends wear turbans, the Sikh community and my family have always stood out for their identity. However, just like my Jewish friends who wear the kippah or my Muslim friends who wear the hijab, we are all proud of our identities, but all recognize that our identities also make us easy targets.
I vividly remember kids making fun of me because of my turban, or being bullied on the playground for being different. I remember being the subject of racist taunts as a young soccer player, or witnessing my dad being verbally abused shortly after 9/11. But that is not the Canada I know. Each instance of discrimination was rooted in mistrust, intolerance, and fear. Each instance was unacceptable then and is unacceptable now.
I am pleased to represent the second-most diverse riding in the entire nation. Brampton East is home to five Sikh temples, five Sikh gurdwaras, four Hindu mandirs, three mosques, and two churches. It is the definition of diversity. When we walk around Brampton, we see diversity for which the world knows Canada. We see people from all walks of life peacefully co-existing with the freedom to hold their beliefs, practise their traditions, and share their cultures. In their own way, each of them contributes to the fabric that forms our great nation.
The Prime Minister, when addressing the United Nations, stated:
Strong, diverse, resilient countries like Canada didn't happen by accident, and they won't continue without effort. Every single day, we must choose hope over fear, and diversity over division.
This government's policies over the last 16 months have been grounded in ensuring that diversity is our strength, that we are a welcoming and inclusive nation, and that we are all treated as equals, regardless of our race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and economic status.
However, there is a harsh reality we must face. Even in 2017, racism and religious discrimination are far too often common in Canada. Posters at the University of Alberta targeting the Sikh community, taunting women who wear hijabs, anti-Islam vandalism at the Cold Lake, Kingston, and Quebec City mosques are just a few examples.
If some of our fellow Canadian brothers and sisters are worried about being attacked, whether verbally or physically, because of their identity, that makes me feel like we are failing as a nation, because that is not the Canada I know, and we need to do better.
The motion we have before us today is one that every member in the House has seen before. Just yesterday, Motion No. 103 introduced by my good friend, the member for Mississauga—Erin Mills, on December 1, 2016, was debated. These two motions have much in common.
They both recognize that there is an increasing climate of hate and fear in Canada. They both condemn all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination. They both request that the Standing Committee on Heritage undertake a study on how the government could develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination. Last, they both recognize that the standing committee should collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for the impacted communities at a local level.
Like most committee studies, upon completion, the committee will submit a report and recommendations to the government, based on what it heard from witnesses, which the government will take into consideration, followed by an official government response to be tabled in the House.
When we know that in recent years hate crimes against Muslims have been increasing while hate crimes against other groups are decreasing, we cannot pretend that Islamophobia is not a legitimate concern. My personal example far too often occurs in Canada.
Sikhs are often confused for Muslims, and are too, in fact, victims of Islamophobia. However, it is not good enough as Sikhs to say “Don't attack us. We're not Muslims.” We are all Muslims when our Muslim brothers and sisters are being attacked for their faith. That is not just my Sikh value speaking; that is my Canadian value speaking.
The vast majority of Canadians have a long-standing tradition of rising to the occasion to denounce attacks of discrimination. That is what built our great nation. But diversity requires effort. It requires us all to have the difficult conversations at our dinner tables about treating all people with respect and compassion, regardless of their faith, race, or culture. It requires us to ask questions if we do not understand, and answer responsibly when asked tough questions. It requires us to make it known that it is not acceptable to act in a discriminatory or hateful manner toward anyone.
What makes this opposition motion so cynical is that it feeds into the very deliberate misinformation campaign surrounding Motion No. 103. Individuals have tried to spread misconceptions about how the motion could limit free speech, lead to the adoption of sharia law here in Canada, and more. I would like to take a moment to clear up some of these misconceptions. Motion No. 103 is not only about Islamophobia, but also seeks to address all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination. Motion No. 103 does not expand or change the Criminal Code in any way. Motion No. 103 is a motion and not a bill. As such, it is not legally binding.
We cannot address a problem when we refuse to call it by its name. We cannot overcome the challenges our communities face if we refuse to name the issue, understand the issue itself, study it, and propose solutions. That is a fundamental reason our democracy has been successful.
I am pleased to be a seconder of Motion No. 103, for this is not about them or us, or all of us collectively. It is about improving the lives of a generation of Canadians until stories of racism, religious discrimination, and intolerance are rare occurrences.
I ran in 2015 to be the MP for Brampton East because I wanted future generations to have the same opportunity I did. I want the sons and daughters of immigrants and all Canadians to have the opportunity to attend some of the best secondary institutions in the nation. I want them to start new companies. I want them to pursue careers as doctors, lawyers, and engineers. I want them to change the world. I want them to pursue public service. What I do not want for them is to grow up in an atmosphere of hate, which breeds fear in our fellow Canadians. I want them to be proud of their identity. I want the saying to always be true that I am a proud Sikh, or Muslim, or Hindu, or Jew, believer or non-believer, that at the same time, I am equally proud to be Canadian, and most importantly, that I am so proud I live in a nation that does not make me choose between my faith and my devotion to my country.
I call on all my colleagues to support Motion No. 103 and to reject the politics of fear and division.