Harper government won’t consider controversial suggestion to certify imams

WATCH: Conservative senators on a senate committee are recommending the government look at certifying imams, something critics say unfairly targets the Muslim faith. The senators’ recommendation is so contentious that even the government is pushing back. Vassy Kapelos reports.

OTTAWA – A controversial suggestion to look at certifying Muslim religious leaders was rejected by the Harper government today, according to a spokesperson for the Minister of Public Safety.

“The recommendation in question is not something our Government is considering,” Jeremy Laurin said in an email.

The recommendation – that “the federal government work with the provinces and the Muslim communities to investigate the options that are available for the training and certification of imams in Canada” – was tabled in a report yesterday by the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence.

The committee heard from dozens of witnesses over a nine-month period aimed at investigating the threat against Canada.

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The resulting report makes a total of 25 recommendations to the government, including barring known radicals from Canada, outlawing membership in a terrorist group and helping families deal with radicalized children.

“We thank the Senate committee for their thorough report,” Laurin said. “Once again, it is clear that the threat posed by the international jihadist movement is real.”

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The report identifies 318 radicalized Canadians – some of whom have travelled abroad to fight with a terror group.

The presence of that radicalized ideology led to the suggestion to look at certifying imams, according to the committee’s Conservative chair Daniel Lang.

“That belief system…as extreme as it is, is being taught to them by someone somewhere,” Lang said. “If we had Canadian imams training Canadian imams, in conjunction with that it would also indirectly bring forward our Canadian values that we all stand for.”

Lang added the recommendation came from testimony heard during the committee’s hearings.

“We had a number of representatives from the Muslim communities that felt that would be a step in the right direction,” he said.

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But the executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims disagrees.

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“When we read it, the initial reaction was profound disappointment,” Ihsaan Gardee said. “It stigmatizes and marginalizes an entire community by portraying them as a threat rather than as a partner.”

Gardee isn’t alone – three Liberal senators on the senate committee didn’t sign off on the final report, including Grant Mitchell.

“We were told that 75 percent of the terrorism in Canada comes from right wing racist ideologies and yet this report seems to implicitly, or even explicitly, single out a specific group,” Mitchell said. “Why would we tell one religious group that they have to have a seminary process and not deal with all religious groups?”

Lang doesn’t think the report unfairly targets the Muslim faith.

“We’re trying to assist and find solutions,” he said. “How can we help the vast majority…who just want peace and be able to go to work stand up and denounce the small minority of individuals who want to do us harm?”

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Gardee is encouraged by the Harper government’s rejection of the controversial recommendation, but thinks the damage has been done.

“It feeds into this ‘us versus them’ narrative that could also give legitimacy and credibility to the ideology of violent extremists who will point to this and say see you know what, you’re trying to integrate, you’re trying to be involved, but you will never be a part of this society,” Gardee said. “So it could actually be used a propaganda tool for the very extremists it aims to fight.”

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The report needs to be adopted by the Senate before it can be sent to the government for a formal response – with the Senate in recess, that won’t happen until after the federal election in the fall.

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