'Language matters': Goodale defends changed wording in terror report

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale defended his government’s decision to update the most recent report on the terrorism threat facing Canada with more politically correct language.

Conservatives say Liberals are 'playing politics' by changing the way they refer to terror groups

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale said the government's new public report on the terrorism threat to Canada is using more careful descriptions of terror groups to avoid promoting hate. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale defended his government's decision to update the most recent report on the terrorism threat facing Canada with what many might call "politically correct" language.

When Goodale's department released the December 2018 Public Report on the Terrorism Threat to Canada, it was criticized by some groups for using such phrases as "Sikh extremism." The most recent report avoids such direct references to cultural or religious groups; instead of "Sikh extremism," for example, it refers to "extremists who support violent means to establish an independent state within India."

Goodale said the language in the report was changed, not to appease individual groups, but to be more accurate and to discourage the recent rise in hate crimes across the country.

"Canadians of all faiths and backgrounds have helped to build our country and continue to be integral members of our communities and neighbourhoods. They contribute to inspiring a stronger, more equal and compassionate Canada that we all strive for," Goodale told MPs on the Commons public safety committee on Monday.

"It is neither accurate nor fair to equate any one community, or an entire religion, to extremist violence or terror. To do so is simply wrong or inaccurate."

By using terms such as "Sikh extremism" or "Sunni extremism," Goodale said, the report failed to properly zero in on the dangerous actions of a small number of people. As a result, it spread the stigma over an entire religion or community.

Public Safety has updated or changed the titles of individual terrorist groups or movements cited in the report in order to make them more specific and less likely to be confused with other groups. 

Goodale said that in 2017, 47 per cent more hate crimes were reported to police in Canada, and that social-media platforms are making it easier for racists to find and support one another online.

He said that encouraging hate by denigrating an entire religion only ends with violence, citing the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March that killed 51 Muslims and injured dozens more.

"Language matters, and just because something has often been phrased in a certain way does not mean that it should be phrased in that way, now or in the future," Goodale said.

'Playing political games'

Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus pushed back against Goodale's explanation, saying he was "playing politics" with matters of security, because everyone understands that a term such as "Sikh extremism" refers to those of that faith who are extremists, and to no one else.

"When you have reports that have been drawn up by our security bodies that communicate information, well, that's what it is. So to what extent should politics enter into play just to avoid insulting anyone?" Paul-Hus said.  

"The information was accurate. It was pretty clear about existing threats, and now you changed it just to lighten, change some words, basically playing politics here, making sure you don't displease anyone."

Goodale said other political parties were consulted about the changes, as were community and faith groups, and that the decision was not about being partisan, but about being accurate.

NDP MP Matthew Dube — who, along with his party leader Jagmeet Singh (a Sikh himself), had asked for a language review — said he welcomed the changes in the report.

"Words do matter," he said. "There is a rise in hate crimes, and there is another form of terrorism that is happening in communities, not just here in Canada, but in the world. I think these changes are welcome and, certainly, I hope the work will continue."  


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.