Tuesday February 21, 2017

Anti-Islamophobia motion could stifle free speech, say critics

Mississauga-Erin Mills Liberal MP Iqra Khalid has tabled a motion that calls on the government to condemn Islamophobia. Critics worry it could lead to infringements on free speech.

Mississauga-Erin Mills Liberal MP Iqra Khalid has tabled a motion that calls on the government to condemn Islamophobia. Critics worry it could lead to infringements on free speech. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

Listen 20:00

Read story transcript

In December, a motion known as M-103 was tabled by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid. Among other things, the motion calls on parliamentarians to study hate crimes and propose ways to reduce systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada.

While it is non-binding and would not change existing laws, the motion has set off a firestorm of debate in the House of Commons and across the country.

Critics — including some federal Conservatives — argue the Liberal motion fails to define Islamophobia and could suppress free speech.

To Faisal Kutty, an associate law professor at Valparaiso University in Indiana and Osgoode Hall in Toronto, M-103 is a good idea  "because of the growing hate that we see towards Muslims."

"Statistics were released last year which showed that anti-Islam, anti-Muslim hate has increased — has doubled in a two-year period," Kutty tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Mississauga-Erin Mills MP Iqra Khalid

'This motion has done something that is very important: it's created conversation,' says Liberal MP Iqra Khalid (CBC)

"Most Canadians would have no objection to this simple straight forward motion."

But Kutty says there's been a lot of "confusion, conflation, misrepresentation, obfuscation which is being done by the opponents to confuse people."

He says people are made to think it's changing Canadian values.

"This was a motion, a symbolic motion for the Canadian public in a pluralistic, multicultural society to say 'look we stand with you people. We feel that there is a problem. We need to investigate this,'" Kutty explains.

"Not to pass any laws, not to restrict any speech but to study this to see how we can handle this so that we can continue to be a co-existing society."

It's the "alarmism" and "hysteria" reacting to this motion that has made Kutty want to speak up about the issues raised in this debate.

Lorne Gunter, a senior political columnist with the Edmonton Sun, tells Tremonti one of the major concerns he has is the motion is based on an ill-defined term.

"Islamophobia is a very broadly defined term. You can fly a plane through it, I mean it's huge."

Gunter points out as an example that he's been called Islamophobic for pointing out the attacks in Paris, Brussels and Nice were by radical Muslims.

"There are people who believe that they can't possibly be Muslims if they're doing what they're doing. So if you're saying that they're Muslim then you're Islamophobic."

Conservatives propose alternative anti-discrimination motion7:57

Gunter says his concerns also rest on the fact that the motion calls for government action to root out and identify Islamophobia and religious discrimination wherever it's found.

"It goes beyond where most motions go."

He prefers the suggested amendments by opponents that include "discrimination against Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, and other faith communities."

"That then also gets at what the authors of this — the supporters of this — say they're trying to do," Gunter argues.

"But they refuse to make those amendments."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino, Samira Mohyeddin, and Lara O'Brien.