Islamophobia has been on the rise across Canada over the past decade. According to Statistics Canada, while the total number of hate crimes have dropped over the past three years, those against Muslim-Canadians have more than doubled.
The massacre at a Quebec City mosque on January 29 2017 is an obvious manifestation of this hatred, which has become part of the quotidian experience for a growing number of Muslim Canadians. The rise of far-right organizations in Canada and the greater “West,” which use xenophobia to energize their base and supposedly make sense of political/economic distress, has emboldened many to publicly (and unabashedly) express anti-Muslim sentiment.
On February 17 2017, for example, protestors gathered outside of a Toronto mosque to decry the “Islamization” of Canada. Participants carried signs declaring “Say No to Islam” while chanting anti-Muslim slogans. Regular attendees at the mosque say they had never seen anything like it before.
The protest came two days after a “freedom rally” organized by Rebel Media, a far-right, conspiracy-driven commentary site. The rally, which took place in Toronto and had roughly 1,000 people in attendance, was meant to galvanize opposition to M-103, an anti-Islamophobia motion currently being debated in the Parliament of Canada. Participants were whipped into a frenzy over the motion, which organizers insisted was an attack on freedom of expression and marked the introduction of “shari’a law.”
M-103 was introduced by Liberal Party MP (Member of Parliament), Iqra Khalid, in December 2016. The motion calls on the Canadian government to condemn all forms of racism and religious discrimination, particularly Islamophobia. It also asks for a parliamentary body to study systemic racism and recommend a plan of action.
As a private member’s motion, M-103, if enacted, would not be legally binding. As such, it cannot limit speech on its own (hate speech and discrimination based on race/religion is already prohibited by the Canadian Criminal Code and Human Rights Act). Still, this hasn’t stopped the far-right from suggesting otherwise.
Unfortunately, the hysteria over M-103 cannot be blamed solely on the “fringe” right. Conservative Party MPs, who are in the middle of a leadership race, have decided to build their brand on the back of Muslim Canadians. Four would-be leaders attended and endorsed the “freedom rally” in Toronto, while others have been stalling parliamentary endorsement of M-103. The only Conservative leadership hopeful to endorse the motion, so far, is Michael Chong.
For those Conservatives stalling the motion, their arguments rest on ground as shaky as those of far-right agitators against the initiative. Some insist it would establish “special” legal protections for Muslims, even though M-103 is not a bill. Others say that it unfairly singles out a particular form of hatred. M-103 does not privilege anti-Muslim sentiment (it condemns all forms of discrimination), but rather makes it a focus for parliamentary efforts, because of the documented rise in hate crimes against Muslims. Notably, Conservative MPs, who opposed M-103 on this basis, previously tabled or supported parliamentary motions/petitions condemning specific forms of racism, including Islamophobia.
Another argument is that “Islamophobia” is not clearly defined in the motion and, thus, risks conflating criticism of religion with hate speech. But, instead of suggesting an alternative definition, Conservative MPs are looking to scrap any reference to Islamophobia all together. Indeed, if free speech is such a concern, one wonders why Conservatives introduced a parliamentary motion just last year equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. The motion, which passed, was part of a larger, Conservative-led campaign to intimidate the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement into silence and chill debate over Israeli state violence.
Of course, this is all beside the point. The commotion over M-103 is not really about consistency or the alleged legal consequences of a toothless motion. Instead, it is about ideologues and politicians promoting bigotry for their own personal and political gain.