Last night, federal politicians debated motion M-103 on the floor of the House of Commons.
The motion aims to denounce and combat Islamophobia, and has three main objectives:
M-103 was tabled by Liberal backbench MP Iqra Khalid last year, and received little media attention at the time. However, given the fact that it is now being discussed in the aftermath of an attack on a Quebec City mosque that left six men dead, what should have been a simple, non-binding gesture of goodwill by our federal government has somehow snowballed into controversy due to opposition from the federal Conservatives.
Conservative leadership candidates Kellie Leitch, Maxime Bernier, and Andrew Scheer have all falsely suggested that this motion elevates the religion of Islam above other religions. Leitch, who during the 2015 federal election campaign unveiled the “Barbaric Cultural Practices Tip Line,” went so far as appearing at a protest rally organized by an alt-right media outlet, as well as set up a petition website.
Bernier and Scheer have also claimed that the motion would somehow erode free speech, despite the motion being non-binding. The presumed frontrunner of the leadership race, Kevin O’Leary, chimed in recently to assert that he too opposed the motion, while also conflating the motion with a bill.
WATCH: Liberal MPs claim a motion to address Islamophobia is being politicized by some “cynical” Conservatives, who say it risks stifling freedom of expression by preventing criticism of elements of Islam or Muslim culture.
Michael Chong seems to be the voice of reason for the Conservative leadership candidates as he released a statement earlier this week correcting some of the blatant falsehoods being propagated and stating that he would be voting in favour of the motion.
It is interesting to note that in 2015, when the House of Commons unanimously adopted a Liberal motion condemning the “alarming rise of global anti-Semitism” similar concerns were not raised regarding the comparative elevation of Judaism. Leitch did not feel the need to set up a petition website, or attend a protest rally organized by the alt-right, nor did Bernier and Scheer raise vociferous concerns regarding free speech.
It is also nearly impossible to fathom this much opposition to a motion that would denounce specific hatred towards one religious group mere weeks after that particular group had six members gunned down while in their house of worship, and yet sadly, here we are.
Religious minorities of all stripes are subject to potential discrimination and bigotry. That does not negate the fact that Islamophobia is real and exists in Canada. Data collected by Statistics Canada has demonstrated that during the period of 2012 to 2014, as all other hate crimes decreased in the country, religiously motivated hate crimes against Muslims more than doubled during that same period.
One can obviously be opposed to the motion without dog whistling to Islamophobes by making misleading assertions. The text of the motion could provide a definition of Islamophobia for the sake of clarity, or in the case of the amendment proposed by Conservative leadership candidate Erin O’Toole, the overt reference to the e-petition that led to the tabling of the motion is unnecessary and could lead to ambiguity in its interpretation. Perhaps the most convincing critique, however, is that motions are ultimately superficial endeavours undertaken by all parties.
Motions are not bills, meaning they do not have any binding effect. Once debated, a motion does not bind Parliament to any specific policy or action. A bill, on the other hand, is subject to becoming law and as such is subject to several readings and debate in the House before being passed along to the Senate where a similar process takes place. In essence, when the House agrees to a resolution via a motion, they are merely expressing an opinion.
It is unfortunately unsurprising that Conservative leadership candidates would want to pander to those who consider a non-binding Parliamentary gesture denouncing hatred towards Muslims offensive. Recent polling done by Forum Research has found that 40 per cent of self-identified Conservative voters hold an unfavourable view of Muslims.
WATCH: Battling Islamophobia in the House of Commons
Stephen Harper won a majority government in 2011 without the help of Quebec, the country’s second-most populous province, largely because Conservatives actively courted and tried to appeal to new Canadians and religious minorities, effectively creating a “big tent” party. After having run a disastrous campaign in 2015 with xenophobic undertones, one would think the Conservatives would have learned their lesson.
To be clear, no mainstream political party or ideology has a monopoly on bigoted supporters. But only one major federal party in Canada seems to enthusiastically engage and appeal to them.
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