The Liberal MP who tabled a motion that touched off a divisive debate over religious protection and free speech says she will not remove the reference to Islamophobia from the text.

Mississauga, Ont., MP Iqra Khalid, who led debate in the House of Commons tonight on M-103, said the common definition of Islamophobia is "the irrational hate of Muslims that leads to discrimination," and that her motion must not remove the word.

"I will not do so, any more than I would speak to the Holocaust and not mention that the overwhelming majority of victims were six million followers of the Jewish faith and that anti-Semitism was the root cause of the Holocaust," she said. "We cannot address a problem if we fail to call it by its true name."

Opponents of M-103 have raised concerns the motion will infringe on free speech and could lead to Shariah law in Canada, but Khalid insisted there is nothing in it that would affect Canadians' charter right to free speech.

Saskatchewan Conservative MP David Anderson has tabled a motion to counter M-103 that removes the reference to Islamophobia and instead calls on government to "condemn all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance and discrimination of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, and other religious communities."

During tonight's debate, he argued the word "Islamophobia" is undefined in M-103, and that there is no consensus on what it means. Including the word has led to widespread confusion and fears about freedom of speech, he said.

Anderson said Conservatives proposed replacing the word with the more precise phrase "hatred against Muslims" in order to reach consensus in the House, but that suggestion was rejected.

"We're stuck with a divisive term that means nothing, or everything, which is not clearly defined," he said. "And it is of little value about the role of Islam in Canada."

Earlier today, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly said the federal government is throwing its "strong and clear support" behind Khalid's motion.

Surrounded by more than 50 MPs in the foyer of the House of Commons, Joly said there is a need to counter all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada.

"There is no place for hatred and no tolerance of abuse," she said.

MPs began debate on M-103, which was tabled by Khalid in December 2016 and calls on the government to "recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear," shortly after 6 p.m. ET today.

M-103 has generated much controversy on social media and through online petitions, with some erroneously calling it a "law" or a "bill" rather than a non-binding motion. Some have raised concerns that it could lead Canada on a path to Shariah law.

But Khalid insisted Wednesday her motion is much broader in scope than one single religion, and said she is glad it has created much dialogue across the country.

Tackle problem 'head-on'

"We need to recognize that we have a problem and we need to tackle it head-on," she said.

While the Liberals made a show of solidarity by assembling dozens of MPs behind Joly and Khalid at the news conference, the Conservative caucus is not united in its position on the motion.

Several Conservative leadership candidates have spoken out against the motion, arguing that it could curtail free speech and that it singles out one religion for protection. Others have raised concerns that the motion does not define "Islamophobia."

Leadership candidate Kellie Leitch asked people to sign her petition opposing M-103, saying that "no religion should be singled out for special consideration."

Leitch and fellow candidates Pierre Lemieux, Chris Alexander and Brad Trost are all listed as participants at a "Freedom Rally" protest in Toronto organized by The Rebel, a right-wing news and commentary website.

Hatred of other religions denounced

Leadership contender Michael Chong said Tuesday he will support M-103, noting the House of Commons has denounced hatred against other groups, including Jews, Yazidis and Egyptian Coptic Christians.

Another leadership candidate, Erin O'Toole, had been in touch with Khalid asking her to remove a reference to e-Petition 411 in the motion because of the broad language referencing "all forms of Islamophobia."

"Regardless of what is intended by that description, it is clear that a significant number of Canadians believe that a broad consideration of the term Islamophobia could be extended to mean that simple criticism of that religious faith or of issues like radical Islam could be considered Islamophobia," he wrote in a news release today explaining why he will oppose the motion.

The e-petition was signed by nearly 70,000 Canadians and presented the same day Khalid tabled her motion.

Amendment proposed

O'Toole said that small amendment would have helped counter these concerns and left almost all of her motion intact.

Speaking on CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Lemieux said he has "grave concerns" that Islamophobia is not defined in the motion. He also questioned why Muslims were being singled out for protection, when reports have shown blacks and Jews are more frequently targeted for hate crimes.

"It is not at the forefront of discrimination. There is not a problem in Canada," he told host Rosemary Barton. "I'm not saying there aren't isolated incidents that occur, but not enough to warrant what's going on in Parliament right now." 

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said anti-Muslim acts and expressions have become "fair game," because U.S. President Donald Trump has served as a model saying it's OK to attack a religion like Islam.

He urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take concrete actions against U.S. discrimination against Muslim travellers, but said the motion sends an important message to Canadians.

"At least we're expressing our desire to stand up against hatred, discrimination, which unfortunately is becoming commonplace with regard to Islam," he said.

Climate of hate and fear

The motion, which was tabled in December 2016 but is being debated in the aftermath of the Jan. 29 mosque shooting in Quebec City, says the government should "recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear."

It calls on the government to task the heritage committee to:

  • Carry out a  study on how to develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia in Canada, while ensuring a community-centred focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making.
  • To collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion.
  • Make recommendations the government can use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.