The Debate Continues
Over the past week, Canadian politics have been dominated by one word: Islamophobia. While it may seem fairly straightforward, members of the House of Commons have been feverishly debating exactly what the word means and how the use of it in legislation could create problems.
To provide some context, the whole issue began after Mississauga, Ont., MP Iqra Khalid put forward a motion aimed at addressing racism and discrimination in Canada. The motion (M-103) called upon the government to form a committee to study how the government could develop an “approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia.” It also called upon the government to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”
Bill VS Motion
First off, let's clarify that this is a motion and NOT a bill. This is a very important distinction as these two terms are not interchangeable and are causing a lot of confusion surrounding this issue. A motion put forward by a Member of Parliament is basically a request for the government to take action or make a stance on a certain issue of concern. As mentioned, M-103 is a request to condemn Islamophobia and all forms of racism and discrimination as well as create a committee to see how the government can respond further. Unlike a bill, a motion does not create any legal changes whatsoever. Even if a committee is formed and makes recommendations, there is no requirement for the government to even consider making them laws or to pursue the issue further. In short, a motion is more of a formality to bring about further discussion and hopefully longer term change rather than immediate change that is written into law.
So, now that we know M-103 is not a bill and will solely change nothing, where did all the controversy come from?
While many may assume such a motion could easily and quietly be passed without issue, this motion has become extremely heated and shown massive divides amongst federal parties. On one hand the Liberal party has opted to defend its MP who put forward the motion while the Conservative Party has decided to vigorously dispute the wording within the motion. According to the Conservative Party, the motion should not specifically use the term Islamophobia without mentioning other religions and instead should just address religious discrimination in general. Conservative Leadership candidate Kellie Leitch has particularly been opposed to the motion and says that in its current form the motion gives Islam "special treatment." Leitch has even gone so far as to create an online petition that opposes the motion. It has also been argued that condemning the term Islamophobia without a specified definition will only infringe on freedom of speech and will make future discussions involving such things as the niqab and Sharia Law more difficult.
While the Conservatives push for the removal of one word in the motion and fight for a more generalized approach, the Liberals are saying 'sorry we like it our way.' MP Iqra Khalid has argued that her motion must not removed the term and that the common definition of Islamophobia is "the irrational hate of Muslims that leads to discrimination." She has also argued that hate crimes against Muslims have more than doubled in recent years and that islamophobia is the biggest discriminatory issue currently facing Canadians which is exactly why it needs to be specifically addressed. Likewise, she says that just because you single out the largest offender does not mean the others are forgotten or are less important but rather that Canada needs to start by focusing more on its biggest problem first.
The Bigger Issue
While this debate has created much attention by itself, what has created even more controversy is the approximately 50,000 hurtful and threatening messages that have been sent to MP Khalid over her motion. The content of the messages range from anger over what some perceive as a threat to freedom of speech while others have been direct threats to her and members of the Islamic Community. Several police agencies including the OPP and RCMP are investigating the threats and have said security for the MP has been increased.
Overall, I think that the concerns surrounding M-103 have been drastically blown out of proportion and are now being used as a political tool to attack opposing parties and their members which is really a shame. Not only is Canada still reeling from one of the largest terrorist attacks in our history but the statistics clearly demonstrate a significant rise in hate crimes and discrimination across the country which needs to be addressed. I truly feel that all the major federal parties agree that discrimination is a problem and that more needs to be done. However, instead of addressing the problem together in a nonpartisan way, the parties have opted to politicise the issue and not work together for the good of Canadians. I do understand the need for freedom of speech but this motion (not a bill) will do nothing to infringe on that right (or any other Constitutional right) and to say otherwise is completely false.
Furthermore, I do not buy the argument that the government cannot condemn the term Islamophobia because it is not 'properly defined' in the motion as some have argued. Several members of the Conservative Party have even boldly stated that the term is undefined and vague at best. However, the term is clearly defined and recognized by the Oxford, Collins, Webster, and Cambridge dictionaries so I fail to see who else or where else it should be defined before the government can address it. This is not a new term that requires more definition in the House of Commons, but rather one that has been used and recognized in the English language for well over 50 years.
However, I do agree that singling out one religion can possibly give the perception of favoritism or something to that effect which is the only argument against M-103 I can understand. Nevertheless, I fully agree with the counter to this argument provided by MP Khalid in which she says we need to address Islamophobia "head-on" because it's the biggest discriminatory issue facing Canadians. It is true that we have a problem in Canada and that in recent years there has become a greater "us vs them" mentality which has led to a more fearful and divisive society. As a result, I think it's completely appropriate to single out the primary contributing factor as a way of taking a hard stance against discrimination in general. This is no different than campaigns aimed at reducing lung cancer by denouncing cigarettes. Sure, smoking is not the only thing that can cause lung cancer, but it is a major contributor and by decreasing smoking rates we also decrease lung cancer rates. Likewise, Islamophobia is not the only type of discrimination occurring in Canada but it's certainly one of the most prevalent and if stopped can drastically help reduce discrimination overall.
The motion is expected to be voted on in the next 2 months. We will continue to follow this story and provide the latest updates on Twitter.