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A Word From Our Chair: M-103: “Islamophobia”, racism and religious discrimination in Canada

Oct 18, 2017 | A Word from Our Chair

Canada is among the best places in the world to call home, particularly if you are a member of a minority community. Protecting that reality by defending against racism and bigotry in all its forms is a big part of CIJA’s mandate.

Later today, CIJA’s CEO, Shimon Koffler Fogel, will be testifying at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage (at 3:30PM, you can listen to our testimony here). The committee has been tasked with making policy recommendations flowing from M-103, a parliamentary motion passed earlier this year that condemns “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination”.

The constructive proposals we will present to the committee draw on the Jewish community’s experience of being the group most targeted by religiously-based hate crime in Canada, and our record as a group that has thrived in Canada and contributed immensely to the fabric of Canadian life.

In brief, this is what we will tell the Committee:

  1. Though we must remain vigilant, we must also recognize that Canada is one of the most welcoming and inclusive places in the world. Every year, tens of thousands of individuals who identify as religious minorities – including Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and all other groups – choose to make Canada their home. Why? Because Canada remains a place where minorities enjoy security, prosperity, equality and freedom. Of course, one hate crime is one too many. However, we must acknowledge that the sky is not falling.   
  2. As welcoming as Canada is, bigotry against minorities, including against religious minorities, is a real phenomenon that must be addressed. No one should ever face hatred or discrimination because of their race or religion. According to Statistics Canada, Police reported hate crimes motivated by race or religion increased in 2015. This is unacceptable and it must be addressed.  

  3. The Jewish community’s experience in combating antisemitism is a model for countering hate. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism was achieved through a multilateral consensus and endorsed by governments around the world. It clearly defines what constitutes anti-Jewish sentiment and what does not. Similar definitions should be established for other forms of hate, based on careful consideration, common sense and consensus.

  4. The term “Islamophobia” has not been clearly defined in M-103, and has therefore become a distracting lightning rod. One can’t effectively fight bigotry and hatred without first precisely defining it. While some use the term “Islamophobia” to concisely describe prejudice against Muslims, others have expanded it to include opposition to Islamic political ideologies. A recent Islamic Heritage Month Guide issued by the Toronto District School Board, and designed in partnership with the National Council of Canadian Muslims, defined Islamophobia to include “dislike toward Islamic politics or culture”. Though the guide was quickly withdrawn, this incident exposed some of the problems associated with relying on ad hoc, inadequate definitions of Islamophobia. Muslims can be protected from hate without restricting critique of Islamist political ideologies, especially those that are explicitly antisemitic or undemocratic. 

  5. There are interpretations of Islam being promoted today that are antisemitic and directly contradict human rights and democracy. As Canadians counter hatred, we must also maintain the freedom to debate and criticize ideas. Recent examples of antisemitism on display at mosques and Muslim organizations in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver have shown that Islamist extremism is a problem within parts of the Canadian Muslim community. It must be addressed.

  6. Let’s take practical steps to better protect all minority groups in Canada. When it comes to countering hate crimes what’s needed is greater and more consistent enforcement of existing laws. We will urge the committee to recommend uniform guidelines for the collection and publication of hate crime data, which is currently inconsistent. We will propose new training programs for police and prosecutors to allow for better enforcement of existing hate speech laws. And we will point out the need for every major police agency to have a dedicated hate crime unit, so that all such cases are directed to those best qualified to investigate.

Canadians value our ability to debate complex, emotional issues while maintaining civility and avoiding the pitfalls of political extremism. I am hopeful that the Heritage Committee will unite around the reasonable approach outlined above to the benefit of all Canadians.

Sincerely, 

David J. Cape
Chair, The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs

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