M-103: Getting Real About Islamophobia

This year is Canada’ 150th. And while our neighbours to the south are grappling with a president whose campaign was run and won on divisiveness and controversy, elements that are now becoming hallmarks of the Trump presidency, we were confident in our faith that racism, or discrimination of any kind, had no place in Canada.

Part of this faith in the welcoming and inclusive history of Canada was manifested when Justin Trudeau was accorded a landslide win in last elections, beating Stephen Harper whose election campaign had veered dangerously towards Islamophobia.

Our pride in being a tolerant and open society was tested a few weeks ago when a gunman shot down Muslim worshippers in a mosque in Quebec City. While the people were gracious in condemning the attack, and came out in thousands to show support to their Muslim neighbours, reassuring them that Canada was their home as well, truth is that this undercurrent of hatred and animosity towards immigrants in general and Muslims in particular, can no longer be ignored.

Last December, Iqra Khalid, a rookie MP from Mississauga-Erin Mills riding had tabled a private member’s motion, M-103, calling for the federal government to eliminate “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”

The motion was debated last Wednesday, with the Liberal government throwing its full weight behind the non-binding motion. Heritage Minister Melanie Joly stood alongside Khalid as she presented it to the house.

The motion has caused considerable uproar among the right-wing hardliners and within Conservative ranks as well who say that it threatens freedom of speech and expression. Some go on to suggest that it would pave the way for the ‘Sharia” law to be implemented in Canada.

Opponents, with Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch leading the group, have objected to Islam and Muslims being accorded special treatment. Kevin O’Leary, another Conservative leadership hopeful, has called it ill-conceived.

Only Michael Chong, also in the race for Conservative leadership has expressed support for M-103

Khalid has clarified that this is “a motion, not legislation” and does not curtail anyone’s right to freedom of speech or expression.

“I would be the first person to oppose anything that infringes on our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This motion is about having a study on how we can tackle important issues like systemic racism and religious discrimination,” she added.

However none of her clarifications seem to have worked. Instead M-103 has irked segments of the society and laid bare our ugly side.

In the few weeks since news broke of M-103, Khalid’s office has received an astounding number of hate mail and threats.

Reading out some of the messages, filled with hatred and racial slurs, Khalid shared a particularly chilling message sent to her, threatening to record her, a “little girl” being shot down by “a Canadian patriot.”

She went to voice her disappointment with her Conservative colleagues, who have countered M-103 with a motion of their own, removing all references of Islamophobia.

“I am appalled by the cynical, divisive tactics on the Conservative side to try to start a fake frenzy around the word Islamophobia instead of tackling the issue at hand,” she said.

Peel Regional Police have offered increased protection to Khalid and her office where her staff have been wielding angry phone calls from all across Canada in addition to threats and hate mail. Surveillance and patrols have also increased her constituency office and home.

Heritage Minister Melanie Joly had also received hateful comments online, and was taken aback by the messages that “sow fear and division”.

The Liberal government stands by its decision to back M-103 saying that Islamophobia is real and must be challenged.

Image: Iqra Khalid is welcomed by her colleagues as she arrives to make an announcement about an anti-Islamophobia motion on Parliament Hill on Feb. 15, 2017. (Photo: Patrick Doyle/CP)    

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