Trudeau calls out federal agencies during national summit on Islamophobia

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said government agencies need to do more to help end Islamophobia in Canada, during a national summit on Thursday.

Summit on Islamophobia follows similar event addressing antisemitism

People pray following a vigil attended by thousands in London, Ont., for a family of four killed in an attack police say was motivated by anti-Muslim hate. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a national summit on Islamophobia today that government agencies need to do more to help end the problem.

MPs voted unanimously in favour of a motion calling for a national summit on Islamophobia in June, following the attack in London, Ont., that killed four members of a Muslim family as they were out for an evening walk.

In his opening remarks, Trudeau called on the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and federal security agencies to stop practices that "target" Muslims.

"Institutions should support people, not target them," he said.

The CRA has been accused by civil liberty organizations of unfairly targeting Muslim charities with audits based on flimsy pretexts.

Sources tell CBC that National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier has promised to have the taxpayers' ombudsman conduct a review of the CRA to address concerns about how the tax system has been treating Muslim charities.

Lebouthillier also said the government will ensure the CRA's advisory committee on the charitable sector, which guides all departmental policy, will have a representative from the Muslim community.

WATCH | Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: "There is no place in Canada for Islamophobia." 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: "There is no place in Canada for Islamophobia."

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Trudeau takes part in a national summit against Islamophobia with community leaders and cabinet ministers.

During his remarks, Trudeau said Canadians must fight for a Canada "where we celebrate diversity, where we stand together."

"That's the promise our country must work hard to live up to, because too many times and for too many people that promise has been broken," he said, pointing to the attack in London and a more recent incident in Hamilton, Ont., which saw a mother and daughter threatened.

Trudeau said he met with the mother and daughter in Hamilton earlier this week.

A family stands outside, looking to the camera. There are trees in the background.
Yumna Afzaal, 15, left, Madiha Salman, 44, centre left, Talat Afzaal, 74, and Salman Afzaal, 46, right, were out for an evening walk in London, Ont., when they were run over by a man who police say was motivated by anti-Muslim hate. (Submitted by the Afzaal family)

CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) Mustafa Farooq said he wants to see all levels of government follow up today's summit with concrete action.

"The reality is we cannot just keep adding onto a list of horrifying things that have happened," he said, citing the recent spike in hate crimes.

Earlier this week, Farooq and the NCCM released 60 policy recommendations to combat hate and racism across the country.

The recommendations include Criminal Code amendments to better deal with hate crimes, a review of school programming and a national fund for victims of Islamophobia.

'This is about survival'

Farooq said he hopes the government will commit to these recommendations and follow up with timelines to achieve them.

"This is not about politics or an election," he said. "For our community, this is about survival."

Azeezah Kanji, a legal scholar and director of programming at the Noor Cultural Centre in Toronto, said she is not optimistic about today's event.

"We'll have to see what comes out of the summit, but I would not be surprised if it's just more of the same superficial gestures and optics that we have seen from this government time and time again," she said.

Just before midnight, the government issued a list of commitments which include:

  • Engaging with Muslim communities on the government's next anti-racism action plan,
  • Looking at adjusting some programs — like the security infrastructure program — for effectiveness and to be more, responsive to community needs.
  • Improving digital literacy and tackling misinformation.

They also announced funding for eight projects, that address Islamophobia, including fighting back against online hate.

Aymen Derbali, who was shot seven times during the Quebec mosque shooting in 2017, said the government should focus on addressing Islamophobia on social media.

"Hate crimes are spread throughout social media," he told Robyn Bresnahan on CBC Radio's The Current.

Derbali said it's particularly important to educate young people about how hate can be spread through social media, pointing out that the man who shot him was only 27 at the time.

"We need to talk to them about how they could be able to distinguish between freedom of speech and hate comments," he said.

Questions about who was invited

Kanji questioned the choice of speakers addressing the summit, saying key experts on systemic Islamophobia were left out.

"The organizations, lawyers and academics who have been doing the most sustained work on state-sponsored Islamophobia are precisely those people who have been excluded from speaking," she said.

The summit was held virtually and was mostly closed to the public — a measure to ensure the safety of those participating, the government said.

NDP says government should have acted sooner

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said Wednesday that while the summit was a good idea, the Liberals have been slow to act against the rise in Islamophobia and other racist ideologies.

"There are a number of solutions that we have known about for years, and, sadly, Mr. Trudeau has not responded, has not taken action," he said.

Singh said the Liberals should put more effort into tackling online hate and give more resources to police and security agencies to dismantle white supremacist groups.

In February, a month after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced that a number of "ideologically motivated violent extremist groups" — including the Proud Boys — were being added to Canada's list of terrorist organizations.

But a recent report suggests those efforts haven't prevented groups like the Proud Boys from operating openly online.

Controversy kicks off antisemitism summit

The same day that MPs voted to hold a summit on Islamophobia, the government announced it would also host a summit on antisemitism, which was held Wednesday.

In a media statement earlier this month, Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger said she invited various cabinet ministers and members of Parliament to join the discussion on antisemitism.

But opposition leaders said they didn't receive invitations to the antisemitism summit until the very last minute.

Green Party leader Annamie Paul tweeted Tuesday evening that she hadn't received an invitation, despite being the only federal leader who is Jewish.

Paul later tweeted early Wednesday afternoon that she had received an invitation to observe the summit only hours before the event was set to start. She said she had wanted to address the summit.

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole's office said he wasn't initially invited to Wednesday's summit, or to the one held today on Islamophobia, despite asking the government for an opportunity to speak.

O'Toole's office said a late invite to the antisemitism summit came Tuesday night.

"Mr. O'Toole received an invitation at 7:15 pm last evening to watch the summit but despite repeated requests from stakeholders and our office, we are not part of the event," said spokesperson Josie Sabatino.

A member of O'Toole's office told CBC on background that the party's critic for diversity and inclusion would attend the entire antisemitism summit.

WATCH | NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says his critic was invited to the antisemitism summit

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says his critic was invited to the antisemitism summit.

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Singh says the invitation to the national antisemitism summit launched by the federal government was extended to his party's critic.

The NDP sent its critic, Lindsay Mathyssen, to attend the antisemitism summit. During his press conference on Wednesday, Singh said he was looking forward to getting feedback from Mathyssen.

"We know hate is very much like a fire ... it's not isolated, it will spread, it will consume everyone. So we've all got a collective responsibility to listen to people impacted," Singh told a press conference on Wednesday.

Opposition leaders were invited to the summit on Islamophobia, said Chagger's office.

Wednesday's summit coincided with Blair announcing the government will spend more than $6 million on 150 projects to support communities at risk of hate-motivated crime.

The security infrastructure program allows community centres, educational institutions and places of worship to apply for funding to cover doors, windows, cameras, alarm systems, fencing, lighting, minor renovations to enhance security, and basic training for staff to respond to hate-motivated crime.

The next call for applications will be launched on July 28.

With files from Janyce McGregor