Iqra Khalid, the Liberal MP behind a contentious anti-Islamophobia motion in Parliament, says a highly respected former MP told her that changing the word “Islamophobia” would “water down” her bid to address racism and racial discrimination.
In a separate interview, however, human rights activist and former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler said he only told Khalid he supports her motion “in principle.” Were he a sitting MP, he said, he would propose amending the wording of the motion to make it more widely acceptable.
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“I told her I am in support in principle, but I do believe the motion would be more widely supported if she changed the word ‘Islamophobia’ to ‘anti-Muslim bigotry,’” Cotler said. “It would achieve the same purpose and garner more support.”
Cotler said he and Khalid spoke in the government lobby behind the House of Commons when he was in Ottawa last week.
The inclusion of the word “Islamophobia” in Khalid’s motion has caused a maelstrom in Ottawa, with a number of Conservative MPs – including several leadership hopefuls – saying the motion is an attack on freedom of speech.
The fact the word “Islamophobia” is included – yet not explicitly defined – could suppress freedom of expression, some Conservatives have argued; without a clear definition of the term, could the criticism of any element of Islam or Muslim culture become forbidden, they’ve asked.
Khalid’s motion calls on the government to “recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear” and condemn Islamophobia, as well as all other kinds of “systemic racism and religious discrimination.”
In the event Khalid’s motion passes, as is expected with the Liberals’ stated support issues yesterday, the matter will be referred to a Commons committee for study. Motions presented in the House, however, have no legal implications or requirement for the prime minister or his cabinet to take any action on the matter.
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In opposing Khalid’s motion – and her refusal to amend or add to it – Conservative MP David Anderson introduced his own motion which will go to a vote this week.
Anderson’s motion is broader in scope than the Liberal’s; it asks the House to “condemn all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance and discrimination of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and other religious communities.”
Cotler was first asked his opinion on Khalid’s motion last week and said he’d recommend a “more expressive” word than Islamophobia.”
Some Conservatives took that to mean he supported their party’s motion, but Cotler later said he wasn’t aware of their motion and hadn’t read it, so could not supporting of it.