By Majed El Shafie, President & Founder, One Free World International
A dash to the finish is not always a win.
A well intentioned motion, with the potential to result in a greater sense of community and awareness between Canadians, now also has the ability to isolate, misinform and perpetuate the violence and hate it intends to eliminate.
Canadians have raised concerns with the anti-Islamophobia motion M-103, brought by Mississauga-Erin Mills MP Iqra Khalid. Instead of listening to their concerns and encouraging discussion on a topic that affects most communities in Canada, the government chose to end the parliamentary debate.
If the government had been willing to encourage dialogue on the topic, they would have heard Canadians want more answers. The haste displayed by the government reveals a lack of interest in the concerns of Canadians and a total disregard for addressing them.
The question most are asking is what is Islamophobia? The lack of a clear definition not only jeopardizes the reliability and clarity of law, but also creates uncertainty for larger charter right concerns of free speech. Are constructive discussions of Islam that share knowledge and highlight concerns under question and suspicion? An act must be clearly defined before it can be condemned.
Rushing through due process leaves many feeling shunned from the dialogue and the lack of transparency – something the Liberal government has claimed to pursue and advocate – is creating an endemic of misinformation, leading many to believe the worst of the motion.
Leaving people out of the dialogue results in a restless social atmosphere; people who feel they are not being heard are more willing to push extremes in an attempt to be heard. Look south of the border and their experience should be a warning of caution for Canadian legislators that should be considering all outcomes of their decisions before they make them.
The motion focuses on a number of priorities that Canadians would encourage: collecting data to conceptualize hate crime reports, a heritage committee study to develop an approach aimed at reducing and eliminating religious and race based discrimination, and community centered responses to hate crimes. These goals however, are harder to appreciate when they appear to benefit one community.
Canada’s criminal code provides the legal framework to address threats of violence and public incitement of hate through S.319, and the case development surrounding hate speech has strived to strike a balance with the Freedom of Expression, in s.2(b) of the Charter.
At the risk of being politically incorrect, it is necessary to highlight those that have committed violent crimes in the name of Islam, in Canada. The 2014 shooting on Parliament Hill and Quebec attack caused the deaths of two Canadian soldier on Canadian soil; both attackers’ motive was his association to radical Islam.
Canadian police and intelligence services have been crucial in tracking and preventing various plans of attack inspired by radical Islam before they have unfolded. The value in remembering these realities is to note that Islam remains vulnerable to extreme and violent interpretation, and while Islamophobia has had its share of violent consequences, shunning any constructive discussion or singling out one extreme will not build community in Canada.
Raising these concerns is not Islamophobic. The concerns of many with M-103 is its lack of reference to existing laws, and its lack of appreciation for statistics that show that the largest victims of hate crimes are Jewish members of our society. The key is to ensure that religious sensitivity does not overshadow our value in being Canadians. Religious freedom applies to all and laws that protect against religious hate crimes should protect all.
To those that will decide what comes of M-103, dialogue should encourage the sharing of ideas and constructive critiques that bode well for all elements of society. The personal right of expression is a benefit to the public sphere. When striving to strike a balance, the gains made by society should not be overlooked. Expressing thought and exchanging ideas should not be treated as privileges threatened to be taken away in tough times. The idea should not be to limit ideas and speech but to encourage its intellectual, compassionate and constructive elements. This path may ask for more work, but it also deserves it.