M-103 report flags ‘fake news,’ need for better media literacy

People gather outside Toronto City Hall to stand behind M-103, a motion to condemn Islamophobia. Mike Arsenault/Global News

The government needs a plan to address the spread of misinformation and improve media literary among Canadians on the heels of a campaign of criticism against a non-binding motion last year that asked parliamentarians to condemn Islamophobia as well as all other forms of racism.

The parliamentary committee studying M-103 — the anti-Islamophobia motion that became a rallying cry for critics that falsely argued it would amount to a blasphemy law protecting Islam from any kind of criticism — released its report on systemic racism Thursday.  It addressed a sweeping range of issues related to the discrimination facing Canadians from all kinds of backgrounds, religions and cultures but also specifically flagged concerns raised by witnesses about the spread of misinformation about the motion.

Not one of the 30 recommendations contains any mention of Islam, Islamophobia or Muslim Canadians, though one calls on the government to “develop an education campaign to promote media literacy.” The recommendations focused on improving the way the government understands, responds to and compiles data on systemic racism and discrimination in Canada.

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READ MORE: What you need to know about the anti-Islamophobia motion making waves in Ottawa

Among them, the report recommends the government:

  • Implements more equitable hiring practices for the federal public service.
  • Reviews all legislation and ensure all new legislation complies with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
  • Creates a task force to assess how education and credentials obtained by professionals outside of Canada compare to those obtained within Canada.
  • Creates a national database to retain and analyze hate crime incidents.

It also recommends that the government reinstates the Canadian Action Plan Against Racism, a five-year plan created in 2005 which got $53.6 million in funding to create federal programs aimed at combating racism and discrimination.

READ MORE: Conservatives have caused ‘waves of xenophobia’ with reaction to anti-Islamophobia motion: Muslim group

The report did not include further detail on exactly what should be included in its proposed media literacy campaigns. But it noted that the committee had heard from multiple witnesses who pointed to vitriol on social media and misinformation spread about the motion itself as evidence that there is a problem in people’s ability to think critically and understand what is presented to them online.

A supplementary report included by the NDP touched on similar concerns.

“Misinformation was rampant regarding M-103 itself,” the supplementary report states. “Much of this was a result of editorials and an online campaign of misinformation that was initiated by sources that would describe themselves not as journalists, but as pundits, or commentators, despite the look and feel of journalism.”

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WATCH: Protesters clash across Canada over anti-Islamophobia motion M-103

Click to play video: 'Protesters clash across Canada over anti-Islamophobia motion M-103'
Protesters clash across Canada over anti-Islamophobia motion M-103

M-103 was first introduced by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid in late 2016 but it received renewed attention when it came up for debate in the House of Commons following the deadly shooting at a Quebec City mosque in January 2017 that killed six men and injured 19 others.

The trial for the alleged shooter, Alexandre Bissonette, begins on March 26 and is expected to last about two months.

Far right outlets like Rebel Media and similar groups quickly began spreading misinformation that the motion amounted to an insidious attempt to censor anyone from criticizing Islam and to implement sharia law in Canada.

In reality, it does no such thing.

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Click to play video: 'House of Commons passes anti-Islamophobia motion M-103'
House of Commons passes anti-Islamophobia motion M-103

WATCH ABOVE: House of Commons passes anti-Islamophobia motion M-103

The motion asked members of Parliament to condemn Islamophobia as well as all forms of religious discrimination and tasked the Canadian Heritage committee with studying how the government could develop an “approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia” and collect data to “contextualize hate crime reports.”

Parliamentary motions are not bills and will never become law, and M-103 carries no legal weight to require any action from the prime minister or government, does not change hate speech laws, and does not change any part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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