TORONTO – A Liberal backbencher who introduced an anti-Islamophobia motion that unanimously passed the Ontario legislature Thursday says, despite all-party support, she has received racist backlash.
The motion from Nathalie Des Rosiers called on the legislature to “stand against all forms of hatred, hostility, prejudice, racism and intolerance,” rebuke a “growing tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric and sentiments” and condemn all forms of Islamophobia.
It passed as the federal government weighs a similar motion that has sparked controversy in the House of Commons and beyond.
Des Rosiers introduced the provincial motion Dec. 1 in response to incidents in her Ottawa-Vanier riding such as anti-Muslim graffiti, and young women wearing hijabs who were spat on, she said. It took on extra urgency after six men were shot to death at a mosque in Quebec, she said.
“You don’t want discrimination to become internalized, for people to stop seeing themselves as full citizens, as having the ability to contribute fully in a society, and that’s the reason you need to denounce hatred and discrimination,” Des Rosiers said.
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, who is Muslim, said Muslims and Canadians across the country were shaken by the violence at the mosque.
“The day after the shooting in Quebec a father called my community office asking in the morning is it safe for him to send his son to school,” he said. “That’s not the society we live in. That’s not the society we’re building. Parents should not be fearful for a nanosecond whether they should send their children to school because of their faith. It’s real.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said, as a lesbian, some people had tried to discourage her from running in a riding with a large Muslim population. She disagreed and said when she spoke to community members they discussed their differences but also what binds them together, such as values about health, education and family.
“It’s those commonalities that make it possible for us to create this country, to create this province, and that’s why it enrages me – it enrages me that we still have to have this conversation globally,” she said.
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said Ontario’s legislature “unequivocally opposes Islamophobia.”
“Islamophobia is real and we have to condemn it unreservedly,” he said.
“No matter the colour of your skin, which part of the world you come from, what language you speak, whether you attend a mosque on Friday, a synagogue on a Saturday or church on a Sunday, every distinct element of who we are as a people comes together to form this beautiful mosaic that is Canada.”
The Tories’ support means the Ontario motion has not generated the political debate seen over a similar item in the House of Commons.
However, Des Rosiers said that like Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, who moved the Ottawa motion, she has received “nasty” and “quite racist” comments.
Naqvi said he is “disturbed” by the tone and the level of debate the federal motion has generated.
“This is not one of those issues that one starts quibbling about different elements,” he said. “This is about making a very fundamental statement against hatred, be it anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, any other form of hatred.”
A number of federal Conservatives, including several leadership contenders, argue the Ottawa motion singles out one religious group over others and could potentially curtail freedom of speech because it doesn’t define the term Islamophobia.
Naqvi dismissed those arguments, saying, “There is no competition between what kind of hatred do you condemn.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said more must be done to tackle ignorance and prejudice, and that work has to be done together.