In the eight years I have been in Parliament, I couldn’t begin to guess how many motions we have passed. Some were motherhood, some were controversial. Some were important, some less so. I usually saw the controversial ones coming; with Iqra Khalid’s on Islamophobia I didn’t at all.
On October 26th of last year the House voted unanimously voted to “condemning all forms of Islamophobia”. In the days since that motion, we have seen an increase in anti-Islamic rhetoric not only in Canada but globally. Over the last 5 years hate crimes against Canadian Muslims have nearly doubled while all other hate crimes are down. Recently we had the tragedy of the horrific shooting at a Quebec City mosque by someone who had fallen under the sway of anti-Islamic hate. All these things considered it appeared as though the motion presented by Iqra was very timely and prudent and likely to be widely supported. It was a clear message calling out this blatant hatred and pressing for action and yet, here we are. Many in the Conservative party now oppose a similar motion for reasons that, on their face, at best make no sense and at worst represent deliberate misrepresentations.
So what is the motion that has engendered so much opposition from the Conservatives? Iqra Khalid’s motion calls on the government to “recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear” and condemn Islamophobia, as well as all other kinds of “systemic racism and religious discrimination.” How can a reasonable MP oppose such a motion? Let’s take some of their arguments in turn.
The motion will limit free speech. How? It is a motion. It is non-binding. It has no effect in law. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms fully and completely protects freedom of speech and its protection supersede the power of Parliament. This would be true even if Parliament tried to infringe upon it, which it is not. Every day on social media and in disgusting speech sent to many of my friends and colleagues people spew the most wretched venom. Free speech, even speech that makes me sick to my stomach, is protected. This motion won’t infringe upon this right nor has any MP of any party proposed and legislation that will.
This motion starts us on a ‘slippery slope’. If condemning hatred against Muslims puts us on a slippery slope, then pass me a pair of skis. There is a clear and obvious line between what is and what is not free speech. You are free to think and say whatever opinion you might have. You are even free to dislike people just because of their religion, race, orientation or gender. You can say hurtful things about them. You can share opinions about them that I would find repugnant. You can go to a rally with Ezra Levant or retweet the angriest Twitter handle you can find. All of that is fair game. What you are not allowed to do is to incite violence or to promote hate. So you can criticize a religion, campaign against it, say it is terrible but you cannot promote people to hate them or incite violence. That is a very clear line. If you are unsure of what side of that line you are, then maybe it is time for some introspection. Moreover, there are 0 examples of anyone being prosecuted for anything but the most heinous speech. Nothing in this motion and nothing proposed by any MP seeks to change that.
The motion serves no meaning and doesn’t do anything – Sadly our office and, I would imagine all offices, have received many hate filled messages. If you read Iqra’s speech wherein she describes the kind of hateful vitriol she has been sent, it is truly terrible. We have also received countless calls from people misinformed and with inaccurate information. There are websites, social media channels and many people propagating hate and falsehoods. In all, it is creating a poisonous environment. I firmly believe this swirling soup of toxicity is at the heart of many violent acts; including the most recent in Quebec City. If there was any doubt whatsoever for the need of a clear, unambiguous message from the House of Commons on this issue, the response of the last few days eliminated it. For the government and the elected Members of the House to denounce such hate, to call it out and reject it explicitly is essential. People who harbor hate in their heart need to hear from those of us entrusted to speak on behalf of Canadians that it is not welcome in our pluralistic society. The vast majority of Canadians denounce such hate. They want it confronted. They want every Canadian to feel welcome. That is the goal of the motion. To support that end.
No religion should be singled out – all religions should be listed. When hate is perpetrated, we must call it out for what it is. We shouldn’t water it down in grey pabulum. We have a problem with Islamophobia. That problem is different and unique to other problems the nation faces. Each must be addressed on its own. The solutions and challenges for one issue are not the same as the other. Tossing them all in together only means we don’t face any issue head on.
‘No debate about Islamophobia should happen without mentioning “the number one threat in the world today which is Islamic jihadist terrorism,” Chris Alexander, my two time opponent and now Conservative leadership candidate posited this argument against the motion. I’m at a loss. This statement is offensive and utterly distasteful and makes me want to run against Chris all over again. Replace any religion in that statement and how does it read? On what planet, do we have to talk about radical Jihad when speaking about a friend who received a death threat or fellow citizens who is being told they aren’t welcome in their own country? What purpose would that serve except to promote fear and misunderstanding?
There are no restrictions on people saying all kinds of absurd and hurtful things. Those people don’t need more protection and they certainly aren’t losing any with this motion. That said, we have an opportunity as parliament and as a society to stand up against hate and discrimination directed against our neighbours and fellow citizens. The tremendous outpouring of support for Muslims in Canada has been deeply moving but we can’t close our eyes to those who push a much darker narrative. Hate is the fuel of violence. If we don’t confront it, call it out and do all we can to extinguish it; we will reap the violence it sews. For this reason I will be proudly supporting Iqra’s motion and I hope all my colleagues in the House do so as well.