Islamaphobia and Canada’s M-103

March 14th, 2017

Title of M-103 with motion excerpt text behind (illustration)

Illustration by Sarah Dowler / The Phoenix News

Motion M-103, or what is being deemed the anti- Islamophobia motion, has received open support from Liberal and NDP MPs. One side claims that this is a good step to stop hate speech in Canada, while another calls this as an attack on free speech and the first step towards Sharia law. While I believe such legislation against hate is futile, calling this motion as “the end of free speech” is a bit far.

M-103 is a motion that will, if passed, encourage the government to study the issue the motion highlights to, perhaps leading to a bill in the future. The motion builds on the government petition e-411 in “recognizing that extremist individuals do not represent the religion of Islam, and in condemning all forms of Islamophobia.” Introduced by Muslim Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, M-103 encourages the government to “quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear,” “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination,” and that the government should conduct a study “to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia.”

In response, Conservative MP David Anderson tabled a second motion where the only major change was the exclusion of the undefined term Islamophobia. The new motion called the government to “condemn all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance and discrimination of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, and other religious communities.” The motion was rejected 165-126 on February 21 with only the Liberals voting against it.

Both these motions have problems. First is how would “other religious communities” be defined in Anderson’s motion, because parody religions have, at times, received the right to wear strainer hats in ID photos. Second, this motion already states “all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination,” which makes listing other religions by name unnecessary.

That said, why does M-103 include the word “islamophobia” if the motion is broadly intended to reduce “systemic racism and religious discrimination?” Statistics Canada shows that in 2014, 49.7% of reported religious hate crimes were towards Jews while 23% were towards Muslims. Of course, this should not be a game of Oppression Olympics, but religious discrimination should stay broad without creating the accusation of Islamic preference.

The word Islamophobia is my only issue with the motion because, as the Opposition highlighted, Islamophobia is not defined in M-103. In Parliament, Khalid shortly defined Islamophobia as “the irrational hate of Muslims that leads to discrimination,” but if that is the case then why not include that in the motion so Canadians understand what is being debated? Linguistic vagueness in legislation encourages hysteria, and it will remain unless the concern is addressed; however, Khalid has refused suggestions of defining, removing, or replacing the word with something like “hatred against Muslims.” E-411 says that “these violent individuals do not reflect in any way […] the religion of Islam,” but what if someone believes they do? Does their opinion on the ideology fall under Islamophobia and is thus open to indictments if a bill follows similar language? Yes this is just a motion, and it appears too early to justify the hysteria, but with a majority government this motion could set a precedent, and a future bill could become just as vague and face no significant opposition.

Islamophobia has unfortunately morphed into a term that unjustly attaches itself to anything critical of Islam, which has slowly deteriorated the word’s significance in the last few years. If such a bill were to ever criminalize the criticism of Islam, then I would hope everyone would be against it, as no ideology is immune to public criticism. As Conservative candidate Maxime Bernier said, “Free speech is a fundamental Canadian value. We should reaffirm everyone’s right to believe in, and criticize, whatever belief they want, whether it is Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, atheism, or any other.” The motion should not be a concern; what should be a concern is what it may create.

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