Quebec Muslims hoping to see plan for concrete actions, movement on Bill 21 at summit on Islamophobia

Yusuf Faqiri, the director of Quebec Affairs for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said the province’s Bill 21 — the religious symbols ban for many government employees — is top of mind for Muslim people in Quebec going into the summit.

National group issues 61 policy recommendations ahead of national summit

People gathered in downtown Montreal last month to pay tribute to the family killed in an attack in London, Ont. Many Muslim Quebecers are concerned about violence. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The head of a group representing Muslim people in Quebec says many members are hopeful there will be a plan for concrete actions coming out of Thursday's national summit on Islamophobia — and that several specific issues relating to the province will be addressed.

Yusuf Faqiri, the director of Quebec affairs for the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), said the province's ban on religious symbols for many government employees is top of mind for Quebec Muslims going into the summit.

"It's high time for the government to work on this," Faqiri said, explaining the federal government needs to intervene and take a stand on the law. "That's the most important issue, many would argue." 

Faqiri called Bill 21, or the secularism law, "legalized discrimination." 

He added what he hopes to get out of the summit is a "genuine and sincere partnership with all levels of government," in which officials "back up denunciation with political action."

The summit is largely in response to an attack in London, Ont. last month. A 20-year-old man drove his car into the Afzaal family, killing a mother, father, grandmother, and teenage daughter while they were out for their evening walk.

A nine-year-old boy, Fayez, was the only survivor. 

Leading up to the summit, the NCCM released dozens of policy recommendations — drafted following consultations with thousands of Muslim Canadians — that it would like to see brought to fruition through the meeting. 

Faqiri joined Mohamed Labidi, the co-founder and former president of the Quebec City mosque, to make the announcement in Quebec City on Monday. 

Labidi said that Islamophobic acts are escalating and becoming more frequent, and Muslim people are "in the thick of it" when it comes to facing hatred in Canada.

"We are the best-positioned to give solutions to the government to fight Islamophobia and hate in general," Labidi said. 

Yusuf Faqiri, director of Quebec Affairs for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, says the most important issue is Quebec's secularism law. (CBC)

Faqiri said it was symbolically important to announce the NCCM's recommendations in Quebec City, where six men were killed and dozens of others were wounded when a shooter opened fire after evening prayer on Jan. 29, 2017. 

"It was important for us to be in Quebec City … because we have to know that this issue is not just for Quebec Muslims, but it's for Quebecers across the province," he said. "We needed to be there to show we support the local community, but it's also important to be there at the place where one of the worst Islamophobic attacks took place."

Faqiri said it is up to all levels of government to take concrete action to stop Islamophobia, and the NCCM's recommendations address federal, provincial and municipal officials.

Mohamed Labidi, former president the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, says Islamophobic acts are escalating in Canada.

"The time is now, more than ever," he said, adding there are still elected officials in Quebec who deny that systemic racism is a problem in the province. "What has to happen now is the work has to happen."

Some of the recommendations include a special envoy on Islamophobia, changes to education policy and curricula, and Canada Revenue Agency reform. 

Two of the recommendations are about Quebe's controversial secularism law.

One asks the federal Attorney General to intervene "in all future cases challenging Bill 21 before the courts."

Another seeks the creation of "a fund to help those affected by Bill 21 have a degree of financial security until the legislation is struck down."

'Life and death situation' 

Faqiri said the attacks in London, Ont., and Quebec City, and countless others, have shown the need for meaningful change. 

"The time has passed for denunciation, it's now for real action to take place, because it's a life and death situation in Canada," Faqiri said. 

Nina Karachi-Khaled, the president of the national board of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, also highlighted Bill 21 as a major concern for the members of her organization. 

She said the law disproportionately affects minorities, many of whom are already afraid of being victims of violence and harassment in their daily lives. 

"A lot of our members are feeling scared to go out for their walk, to do errands," she said. 

Karachi-Khaled said she also wants to see more meaningful legislation when it comes to defining hate crimes and dismantling white supremacist groups online. 

She said there will be follow-ups to the summit in the form of check-ins and report cards, and that her organization will do everything it can to help the government fight Islamophobia. 

Faqiri agrees. 

"This is not just an issue for the Muslim community, it's an issue that all of us need to work together," Faqiri said.