Motion 103, the contentious anti-discrimination motion currently being debated in the House of Commons, is more than a symbolic gesture according to some experts, as hate crimes against Muslims continue to rise in Canada.
The private member’s motion was presented to the House by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid in December 2016. It calls on the government to condemn Islamophobia and all other forms of systemic racism and discrimination. It also asks for a committee to collect data on hate crimes and look into ways of reducing racism and discrimination.
Opponents of the motion say it doesn’t clearly define the term “Islamophobia” and may end up infringing on free speech rights to criticize Islam.
Passing M-103 wouldn’t lead to any new legislation, but the motion’s defendants say it is more than just a symbolic gesture or rhetoric.
Rebecca Bromwich, a law professor at Carleton University, said making a statement through something like M-103 is important, especially with hate crimes against Muslims on the rise.
“There’s been a lot of good research that shows that solidarity really is the best way to fight ethnic violence, to prevent the kind of racism [and] discrimination underlying this kind of behaviour,” she said.
Bromwich pointed to the book In Excited Times: The People Against the Blackshirts by Nigel Todd, which explained that solidarity between immigrants and the British working class helped stave off fascism in Britain in the 1930s as an example of this type of research. Alex Vitale, a Brooklyn College sociology professor, has also written that solidarity between the marginalized and the privileged is essential to defending against modern fascism in the United States.
Bromwich added it’s impossible to deny hate crimes against Muslims are rising. She said this trend became more apparent in the wake of the Quebec mosque shooting and the steep backlash against M-103 both in and out of parliament.
“Sometimes you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. We don’t have the stats from 2017 yet but on January 29 there were six Muslim people killed at a place of worship, 19 people injured. We don’t need to wait for the Stats Canada data to know that there is this climate of fear and hatred right now,” Bromwich said.
She added the controversy around the motion is remarkable and surprising considering a similar anti-semitism motion passed several years ago.
Bromwich added she believed though M-103 was a step in the right direction, more needs to be done, including the passing of bill C-305, which would levy steeper penalties against people who commit hate crimes.
According to Warren Silver, a Statistics Canada spokesman, hate crimes against Muslims rose 55 per cent between 2013 and 2014, from 64 to 99 incidents. In addition, hate crimes against Arab/West-Asians, a group that is often targeted because they are perceived to be Muslim, also rose 44 per cent, from 48 to 69 incidents.
Between 2010 and 2014, one third of reported crimes against Arab/West-Asians were classified as mischief, which includes mischief against religious property. In the same time period, 47 per cent of crimes targeting Muslims were classified as mischief. Overall, mischief is the largest category of hate-crime offence targeting both Muslims and Arab/West-Asians. The second-largest category is violent crime.
“Of the violent crimes, most common for both groups were assaults and uttering threats … we count uttering threats as a violent offence as well,” Silver said.
Silver added Statistics Canada does a Victimization Survey every five years. The most recent iteration, in 2014, estimated that two-thirds of hate crimes go unreported to police, suggesting that the data could be underestimating the real number of hate crimes being committed.
Though hate crime data does go back farther than 2010, Silver said the older data is less reliable because fewer police departments were reporting their numbers to Statistics Canada, so large yearly increases were often the result of more departments reporting rather than any significant changes in rates.
Statistics Canada hasn’t released 2015 hate crime numbers yet, but some expect this upward trend to continue.
Amira Elghawaby, the communications director for the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), said the annual hate crime data her organization tracks has indicated a continuous increase in incidents against Muslims. She said many recent polls also indicate that negative attitudes towards Muslims are growing.
The NCCM compiles incidents called in by Muslims, and cross-references their police-report numbers to ensure they have actually been reported before adding them to an interactive map on their website. They also add crimes that are widely reported by the media to their map.
Elghawaby said her organization has noticed hate crimes against Muslims spike in politically charged times, like during Stephen Harper’s re-election campaign, and the debate around Syrian refugees.
“Whenever there are moments in our zeitgeist … where Islam and Muslims are spoken about in a negative way, we do see an increase in activity and reporting,” she said.
Elghawaby added the NCCM is working on several initiatives to reduce the number of hate crimes targeting Muslim-Canadians.
“We have launched a Charter for Inclusive Communities … it’s a symbolic letter of support and solidarity for all communities to stand up against hatred including against Islamophobia. It has been endorsed by over 100 different Canadian institutions,” she said.
Elghawaby said the NCCM is also working on a public service advertising campaign that aims to encourage people to stand up to hatred, and is working on educational outreach to combat hatred, including Islamophobia.
The Ottawa Police Service is also working on initiatives to reduce hate crimes, but their hate crimes unit said via email that it has not noticed an increase in crimes against Muslims in Ottawa.
“Programs and services are in place to assist any member of the community, including our Community Officers, Diversity and Race Relations Section, Outreach Team … as well as Crime stoppers,” the email stated.
Bromwich said those who oppose M-103 either do not understand it, or are deliberately misinterpreting it.
“People are confused by it. It goes back to that problem with fake news right now, that people are not operating on good information … so there are these concerns that it’s a bill and that it’s a law … and that it’s going to interfere with freedom of speech. It absolutely won’t,” Bromwich said.
She added much of this misinformation is deliberate to perpetuate an Islamophobic agenda, as there are no legitimate reasons to fear M-103 will lead to restrictions on free speech.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, a defendant of free speech, has openly stated their organization does not oppose the motion because it doesn’t restrict speech. According to Bromwich, this is another example of why opponents of the motion shouldn’t fear it infringing on their rights.
M-103 is expected to be voted on in early April, and Statistics Canada will be releasing updated hate crime data in June.
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