Here’s what you need to know about the anti-Islamophobia motion everyone is talking about in Canada
It’s been called an attack on freedom of speech. An attempt to silence legitimate criticism of Islam. A move to give special rights to Muslims.
Motion 103, a non-binding motion put forward in the House of Commons calling on Members of Parliament to condemn Islamophobia, has faced a maelstrom of unexpected opposition, just weeks after a mass shooting claimed the lives of six worshipers in a Quebec City mosque.
Conservative pressure groups, columnists, and politicians have all come out fighting against the motion — but what does it actually do?
Private member’s motions in the House of Commons rarely attract any attention at all, much less the intense focus that has dogged M-103.
Introduced by Liberal Iqra Khalid — who is, herself, Muslim — the motion calls on the House of Commons to recognize a rise in hatred; condemn Islamophobia and all other forms of religious discrimination; and set up a committee to study an approach to combatting all racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia.
It was introduced last year after an online petition from Canadians calling for such an action hit 70,000 signatures. Now, it has the backing of the Trudeau government.
Here’s the whole text of the motion:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Liberal motion comes after the Quebec City shooting which, according to police sources, was motivated at least in part by Islamophobia and as nationalist movements worldwide, from America to France and the Netherlands, take aim at Muslims.
But the extent of the problem is currently unknown in Canada, as police-reported hate crime data is now more than two years out of date — as of 2014, there were 99 reported instances of hate crimes committed against Muslims reported to the police, second only to the number of similar crimes targeting against Jewish Canadians. Khalid’s motion, if adopted, would compel the government to collect more up-to-date data on all hate crimes, including ones targeting Muslims, within eight months.
This is the sort of action it has already taken in response to hate crimes against Jewish communities, and a reported rise in anti-Semitism.
The previous Conservative government signed onto the Ottawa Protocol on Combating Antisemitism — which calls on signatory governments to adopt a definition of antisemitism; do more to combat its spread, especially on university campuses; to “create common indicators to identify and monitor anti-Semitism and other manifestations of hate online” and to create “frameworks to address these problems.”
It’s not even the first time that the House of Commons has condemned Islamophobia. Last October, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair moved a motion to “join the 69,742 Canadian supporters of House of Commons e-petition (e-411) in condemning all forms of Islamophobia.” While it initially faced opposition from some Conservative members, the entire House of Commons later supported it.
What’s the problem?
Critics of the motion have interpreted it to be a threat to free speech and criticism of Islam as a religion, although they often have trouble pointing to how, exactly, the motion would do that.
Nevertheless, the debate has split the House of Commons.
Some Conservative members have pushed Khalid to drop the word ‘Islamophobia’ from the motion. MP David Anderson told the House that “there are many in the radical community who are trying to use this phrase as a catch-all.”
“(The motion is) calling for a study, it’s calling for a dialogue amongst Canadians.”
Khalid tried to allay concerns in a press conference, telling reporters that the motion is simply “calling for a study, it’s calling for a dialogue amongst Canadians.” She added that “if there is any doubt on what the definition is, this is something that the committee can discuss.”
Ultimately, the government won’t be backing down on the text of the motion. In a press conference this week in Ottawa, Heritage Minister Melanie Joly said nobody would gain from “watering down” the motion, adding: “Islamophobia is a term that everybody understands.”
The debate over the motion has been particularly fervent in the Conservative Party leadership race, which has pitted various factions within the party against each other.
The only candidate to come out in support of the motion, thus far, is Michael Chong, who has modeled himself a moderate in the race. He released a statement denouncing false claims about the motion, and noting that “the House of Commons has long had a tradition of passing motions denouncing discrimination and hatred against particular groups, especially religious minorities.”
His competitors, all trying to distinguish themselves in a crowded race where money and media attention are spread thin, have taken another route. Chris Alexander, Maxime Bernier, Kellie Leitch, Pierre Lemieux, Erin O’toole, Andrew Scheer, and Brad Trost have all announced their opposition to the motion in one form or another, while the other candidates, including frontrunner Kevin O’Leary, have not indicated a stance.
For some of the candidates, the opposition is a bit quixotic.
As Bernier, a self-styled libertarian, acknowledged in an email to supporters, “M-103 is not a bill: It’s not going to change any of the country’s laws or going to affect freedom of speech by itself. It’s just a motion, which expresses an opinion of Members of Parliament.” He insisted his opposition is to the fact that the motion mentions only Islam, and there is no definition for Islamophobia.
Many have contended that M-103 makes Islam somehow unique — Leitch, for one, tweeted “no religion should enjoy special privileges” in denouncing the motion.
Speaking at an event organized to oppose the motion, Alexander remarked “I have a lot of trouble with a motion that talks about hatred this, phobia that and doesn’t mention the number one threat in the world today which is Islamic jihadist terrorism.”
Alexander did speak in favour of the Ottawa Protocol, telling the House of Commons that he was proud to be a member of a government that “wants to monitor and end this kind of hatred on the Internet and elsewhere.”
Trost, the most ardent social conservative in the race, also released a statement against M-103, arguing that “if anything, Muslim Canadians are the beneficiaries of extraordinary acts of accommodation, far beyond anything other faith groups in Canada enjoy” and insisted that Muslims have more rights than other religious minorities in Canadian schools (though makes no mention of the numerous publicly-funded Catholic schools that dot the country.)
“If anything, Muslim Canadians are the beneficiaries of extraordinary acts of accommodation, far beyond anything other faith groups in Canada enjoy”
Meanwhile, Leitch, who has built a campaign on calling for stricter immigration controls, drafted a petition contending that “no religion should be singled out for special consideration.” Leitch was a minister when her government signed the Ottawa Protocol. She has also condemned a movement to boycott Israeli goods in protest of the occupation of Palestine as “a thinly veiled anti-Semitism movement.”
Even interim Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose, seen as a more progressive and moderating force in the party, says she will oppose the motion in its current form out of fear that “some of my work trying to empower women and girls in Muslim communities could be branded as ‘Islamophobic’ if I criticize practices that I believe are oppressive,” she said in a Facebook post.
Asked directly whether M-103 would criminalize or stigmatize those who criticize the niqab, Khalid was brief: “No, that is not true.”
Either way, the fight around the motion has gone beyond Parliament.
At a rally against the motion organized by right-wing Rebel Media in Toronto, four Conservative leadership contenders joined polemicist Ezra Levant as he denounced M-103 and insisted that he would continue to talk “about the real issues of Islam.”
On Thursday, The Rebel published an article entitled “Islamophobia is justified,” which posited that “why would our government want to quell the hatred and fear of something that, in many ways, deserves hatred and fear?”
The fate of M-103
The motion has already received one day of debate, and it appears to be supported by the entire Liberal and New Democratic parties. It appears that some Conservative members, as well as the entire Bloc Quebecois, are opposed to the language.
In an effort to hit back against criticism that they’re ignoring the threat of discrimination against Muslims, the Conservatives have moved to introduce their own motion, Introduced by MP David Anderson, who is not Muslim.
Here’s the full text:
That the House: (a) recognize that Canadian society is not immune to the climate of hate and fear exemplified by the recent and senseless violent acts at a Quebec City mosque; (b) condemn all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance, and discrimination of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, and other religious communities; and (c) instruct the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating all types of discrimination in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities; and that the Committee report its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
That motion hasn’t impressed the Liberals, who have used the issue as a wedge to go after the Conservatives.
In a press conference with reporters this morning, Joly directly attacked the opposition motion, saying: “They’re scared of denouncing Islamophobia. And by not denouncing Islamophobia, they’re actually contributing to the problem.”
Cover: Ben Nelms/The Canadian Press