Photo taken by Patrick Doyle | The Canadian Press
Adam Gilani is a community activist and graduate of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law.
Motion 103 in Canada’s Parliament has focused the attention of the country, and indeed the world, on Canadian Muslims. The ensuing debate raged on longer and more fiercely than anyone could have ever imagined. Furthermore, the debate galvanized far-right activism against Muslims in a way that was not even seen in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in the United States.
Since the introduction of the Anti-Islamophobia motion, M-103, introduced by Iqra Khalid, Member of Parliament for Mississauga—Erin Mills, there has been a fierce campaign against the motion, against the MP who introduced it, and against Muslims across the country. The motion passed with an outpouring of support in the House of Commons, where 201 parliamentarians voted in favour of condemning Islamophobia and all forms of religious discrimination. The Heritage Committee was also called upon to study the matter. However, despite these outcomes, we know that the problem of racism, bigotry and attacks on Muslims and their places of worship will not end overnight.
So, why bother?
That’s the question many Canadians and prominent thought leaders in the country have been asking.
The opposition to M-103 has not only come from the racist and bigoted perspectives commonly associated with the extreme right; rather, there has been opposition from a variety of voices. But, even the most moderate opposition has failed to do one simple thing: to actually engage in a conversation on the subject. In the age of hot-takes and retweets, we now need, more than ever, to have principled and reasoned conversations on issues that matter to all Canadians.
In evaluating the substance of the motion, almost all the arguments opposing M-103 fall apart very quickly. In fact, it appears that M-103 represents yet another piece of the puzzle in a lengthy Canadian history of strengthening and affirming our commitment to Charter values, and to building a robust and diverse democracy.
Before the motion was adopted, the most commonly advanced excuse from the anti M-103 crowd was that the term Islamophobia is too broad and that any motion without a definition was unsupportable. The second most common excuse used to oppose the motion was that M-103 should not have been an anti-Islamophobia motion, but a catch-all motion that also named and opposed discrimination against other religious groups.
Both tracks of argumentation are not only weak excuses masquerading as arguments, but are also evidence of the way many far right-wing groups continue to undermine and downplay the uniquely harmful violence and hatred faced by Muslims.
When discussing other forms of discrimination, there has never been a call to expand the scope of the discussion. And rightfully so. When we are confronted by anti-Sikh racism, or anti-Semitic violence, we should discuss them in their particular contexts. By not doing so, we do a disservice to victims, and we hamper our ability to understand religious discrimination and its motivations. In order to have meaningful action against racism and violence, we must get as close as possible to the root in order to identify the sources of the hatred in question.
By calling for the anti-Islamophobia motion to be watered down, it is synonymous to hearing “All Lives Matter”, but in different terms. This kind of erasure of hatred and oppression by diluting the conversation and by overstimulation must be filtered out and ignored.
Another major contention of M-103 opponents is that it will achieve nothing and is not an effective way of solving the problem it seeks to remedy. This is yet another excuse from those who would rather see nothing done than see any incremental movement towards a more just society. I agree that a simple motion in Parliament, or a study by a parliamentary committee, will not change the minds and hearts of violent, white supremacists or far-right groups. But, does that mean we should continue to sit on our hands? Nobody argues that racism can be solved overnight. That’s why we have to keep working at it from every angle. Calling out racism, bigotry and hatred one by one and, focusing attention on understanding its root causes and how to eradicate it, is a great start. I’d rather see incremental – even symbolic – improvements than none at all.
Finally, it suffices to say that the allegation that this motion is sharia in disguise or that it will somehow restrict free speech and muzzle dissent is unsubstantiated and nothing more than fear mongering and dog-whistle politics. There is no conceivable way to see how condemnation of racism and bigotry or how data collection and a study of the rising tide of far-right hatred and violence could possibly restrict the rights of Canadians.
Far from restricting Charter rights, M-103 is an act of affirmation of Charter values. Section 27 requires interpretation of the provisions of the Charter “in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.” What better way to promote and enhance multiculturalism than standing up for equal access to basic rights for all Canadians of diverse backgrounds. Standing against Islamophobia, at its core, stands for the uncontestable proposition that all Canadians must be free to unapologetically participate in society in exercising their rights and freedoms without fear of violence. Moreover, by actively committing and holding the government accountable for supporting diverse communities, Canada grows stronger and closer to being the more just and accepting society we all know it can be.
If we want to defeat racism and bigotry, we will need to keep chipping away at the underlying hatred and ignorance over and over again. This is why it’s vitally important to continue to name individual forms of hatred and to work against them all vigorously. It is necessary to build coalitions of communities across the board and to attack racism and bigotry simultaneously from all fronts. Together we can make progress, one step at a time.