Liberal MP's anti-Islamophobia motion set for debate on Wednesday

Members of Parliament will debate next week a Toronto-area MP's motion to condemn Islamophobia and track incidents of hate crime against Muslims. The motion has seen an online backlash from critics who fear it could limit freedom of speech.

Some critics worry Motion 103 could chill free speech and ultimately lead to blasphemy laws

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. (CBC)

Members of Parliament will debate a motion to condemn Islamophobia and track incidents of hate crime against Muslims in the House of Commons next week.

Motion 103 was tabled by Mississauga, Ont., Liberal backbencher Iqra Khalid last fall, but will be discussed in the  aftermath of last month's mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque. It calls on government to "condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination."

The text of the motion also asks the government to:

  • Recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear.
  • Request the heritage committee study how the government could develop a government-wide approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia.
  • Collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities and present findings within 240 calendar days.

The motion, scheduled for one hour of debate on Wednesday, has generated a backlash online, with petitions garnering thousands of signatures opposing the motion.

Some critics have mischaracterized M-103 as a "bill" or a "law" rather than an non-binding motion.

Some have warned that Canada is moving towards criminalizing Islamophobia or even to the implementation of Islamic law, called Shariah, in Canada.

Khalid declined requests for an interview from CBC News. 

When she tabled the motion on Dec. 5, 2016, she described her experience as a "young, brown, Muslim, Canadian woman."

"When I moved to Canada in the 1990s, a young girl trying to make this nation my home, some kids in school would yell as they pushed me, 'Go home, you Muslim' — but I was home. I am among thousands of Muslims who have been victimized because of hate and fear," she said.

"I am a proud Canadian among hundreds and thousands of others who will not tolerate hate based on religion or skin colour. I rise today with my fellow Canadians to reject and condemn Islamophobia."

E-petition condemning Islamophobia

On the same day Khalid tabled her motion, an e-petition with nearly 70,000 signatures was tabled that called on the House of Commons to join the signatories in recognizing that "extremist individuals do not represent the religion of Islam, and in condemning all forms of Islamophobia."

Barbara Kay, a columnist for the National Post and contributor to The Rebel Media, said she worries about M-103's potential impact on freedom of expression and special protections for a single religious group.

"There are a lot of countries in Europe where criticism of Islam, even if not entrenched in law as a hate crime, are being interpreted by police and law enforcement, social workers — the whole spectrum of the state apparatus. They have been internalized by those within the public service as wrong, and if not criminal then absolutely morally wrong, and therefore Muslims are a group that must be protected from this very offensive speech," she said in an interview with CBC.

Kay said anti-hate speech laws have traditionally targeted human beings, not ideas. She questioned the need to single out Islamophobia, and argued there are more hate crimes against Jews than Muslims in Canada.

Hate crimes in Canada

According to Statistics Canada, in 2013 there were 326 police-reported hate crimes motivated by hatred of a religion or religious group, about 28 per cent of all hate crimes.

Those targeting Jewish populations were the most frequently reported, accounting for 56 per cent of religious hate crimes in 2013, according to the most recent data available. There were 181 hate-motivated crimes targeting the Jewish religion reported by police in 2013, compared to 65 crimes motivated by hatred against the Muslim religion.

In her report and a video for The Rebel website, Kay said blasphemy laws conceived according to Shariah law could creep into Canada. 

She said that could have a chilling effect on free speech and ultimately mean some of her columns could be deemed Islamophobic and subject to penalties.

"I'm worried. All Canadians should be worried," she wrote.

Trudeau: Balancing fundamental rights

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about M-103 during a town hall meeting in Yellowknife Friday, with a participant questioning how the motion squares with Trudeau's claim to be a feminist. The questioner said by referencing Islamaphobia, M-103 risks silencing voices critical of oppressive practices rooted in Sharia law.

In a seven-minute response, Trudeau said fundamental rights and freedoms are enshrined in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but that individual rights must be balanced with others in our society. Determining the parameters is an ongoing discussion in a dynamic, successful society like ours, he said.

Trudeau said the motion aims to address the fact there is a community that is "particularly vulnerable these days to intolerance and discrimination."

"You're not allowed to call 'Fire!' in a crowded movie theatre and call that free speech," Trudeau said.

"That endangers our community. And as we saw 10 days ago in Quebec City, there are other things that can endanger our communities. And we need to stand strongly and firmly against that."

Push for broader discussion

B.C. Conservative MP Dianne Watts said she supports the motion but wants a broader discussion about how to end any act of hate or discrimination based on race or religion. 

"We just look at what happened at the mosque in Quebec and it's such a horrible thing to have happen in Canada because that's not who we are, that's not what we're about and we have to do everything we possibly can as legislators and as a community to make sure it doesn't happen again," she said.

On Wednesday, Muslim leaders from across the country issued a letter urging all levels of government to take steps to combat Islamophobia. The letter urged support for M-103 and for Parliament to declare Jan. 29, the date of the shooting that killed six Muslim worshippers, a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia.

Amira Elghawaby, communications director for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, says what happened in Quebec City was a wake-up call for the nation. (CBC)

"Now is the time to take meaningful steps forward in order to combat Islamophobia collectively. In so doing, we honour not only the memory of those whose lives were lost and their families, friends and communities, we also honour and uphold the values of multiculturalism, respect and diversity enshrined in our cherished Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," reads the letter signed by 74 Canadian Muslim organizations, individuals and community groups.

Amira Elghawaby, a spokeswoman for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, called for action now.

"What happened in Quebec City was a wake-up call for the entire nation, that leaving hatred to fester in our communities can lead to the loss of life and the destruction of peoples' communities, and also the shooter himself succumbed to his hatred and acted out on the ignorance, the misinformation and the fear that he had," she said.