(OTTAWA, ON) – The federal Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage has tabled the report on religious discrimination. In recommendation 29, one of thirty, the report entitled Taking Action Against Systemic Racism and Religious Discrimination including Islamophobia calls on the government to increase funding for law enforcement and security agencies to investigate hate speech on the Internet and to enforce existing laws.
Islamophobia is often cited in the report, particularly in quotes from some of the witnesses who presented information to the committee. At one point Raheel Raza, president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, said she believed the use of the term could also limit freedom of expression.
“I believe, though, that using the word ‘Islamophobia’- let me be very clear- in the motion will curtail free speech, because no other ethnic community or religious community is mentioned by name in the motion except Islamophobia.”
The Committee’s thirtieth and last recommendation calls on parliament to designate January 29 across the nation as a, “National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia, and other forms of religious discrimination.”
Not Only About Islamophobia
The report also documented comments from witnesses concerned about instances of racial and religious discrimination they have faced or dealt with in their communities. Examples included the murder of six Muslim men praying at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec in Quebec City, anti-Semitic hate speech and graffiti, the frequent carding of black Canadians in, “areas where [they] do not belong”, and the inequitable access to government services for First Nations children.
Also mentioned was the rejection of a Canadian university’s proposed law school by three provincial law societies because the university has an, “underlying philosophy and viewpoint that is Christian,” as well as “name-calling and taunting” of members of the Sikh community who are perceived to be Muslim.
Hate Thrives On Internet
Sikander Hashmi, spokesperson of the Canadian Council of Imams, expressed, “the need for more resources dedicated to this issue.”
Increase funding for law enforcement and security agencies to investigate hate speech on the Internet, to enforce existing laws, and to gather intelligence on, investigate, and prosecute radical individuals and groups who believe in terrorizing Canadian minorities through criminal acts with the same vigour and allocation of resources as has been done so far against individuals and groups who believe in terrorizing Canadians indiscriminately through criminal acts. – Sikander Hashmi
Soudeh Ghasemi of the Iranian Canadian Congress told the committee that a, “systematic review of our Criminal Code legislation in regard to hate crimes and hate speech is long overdue.” She added that numerous sources have reported that a significant part of the problem in prosecuting hate crimes is that the Criminal Code limits what can be done and does not allow speedy and efficient prosecution.
Shimon Fogel, chief executive officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, told the committee that federal government resources, “should be allocated to support the development of dedicated local police hate crime units.”
Kwan Wants More
Following the tabling of the report tomorrow to parliament, the NDP’s critic for multiculturalism, Jenny Kwan (Vancouver-East), provided a separate report. In commenting on his report he noted there is, “significant statistical evidence and personal testimony highlighting an increase in hate incidents towards Muslims.”
Despite this, partisan politicking and debate over the term ‘Islamophobia’ disappointingly hindered discussion of how we can best combat the rise in hate crimes in Canada, including those directed towards Muslim Canadians and their places of worship. – Jenny Kwan
Kwan wants the government to convene a federal-provincial-territorial meeting to discuss the rise of hate crimes in Canada and develop best practices to address this troubling phenomenon and to create a fund dedicated to police hate crime units.
Reaction to the report includes comments by Christine Douglass-Williams in a post on the Fortress of Faith website on February 2. She opined the, “Heritage Committee report has delivered a passive-aggressive document that threatens ‘action’ against those who practice ‘Islamophobia,’ while not providing a concise definition of ‘Islamophobia.’”
Douglass-Williams is of the opinion that there has been a campaign in the country to, “forbid criticism of Islam – thus putting a single religion over all others.”
The Heritage Committee did not ask for specific action on its report and its recommendations. That will now be up to parliament.