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COMMENTARY: CRA case shows M103 motion has failed to address ‘Islamophobia’ in government

REUTERS/Chris Helgren

Less than a year after Motion 103 passed in the House of Commons on March 23, 2017, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage released a report outlining the Government of Canada’s plan of action following from the motion. Within this report, the government committed to training federal public servants as part of its “whole government approach” to addressing systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia. 

Suggestions offered by participating stakeholders included establishing an anti-racism committee, ongoing engagement and consultation with faith communities, and especially, adopting a critical equity lens from which to educate and reform the public service, and remain accountable to the populations they serve.

Nearing the 30-month mark since this report was released, and in the wake of the George Floyd protests against racism in law enforcement across the world, Canadians have to ask themselves if the federal government has made good on its promises. Is the government holding its agencies that actively enforce the law accountable when it comes to racism and Islamophobia? 

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READ MORE: (May 28, 2020) Canadian Council of Imams alleges ‘Islamophobia’ at CRA after Ottawa mosque loses charity status

One governmental case study, that of the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA), suggests the answer to that question is a resounding “no.” 

In 2018, the same year the M103 follow-up report was released, the CRA published statements against two members of the Canadian Council of Imams (CCI), Imam Abdullah Hakim Quick and Imam Said Rageah, that we believe falsely connected them to hate, intolerance, and terrorism. 

As has been reported, the Imams believe CRA used dubious examples for both imams, often taken out of context or with selective clipping, all of which had already been denied by the imams themselves in numerous public statements both before and after the CRA claims. 

None of this was taken into account by the CRA auditors who sidelined the valuable contributions both imams have made to their Canadian communities and in the fight against racism and extremism among youth. To make matters worse, as recently as last year, the CCI has demanded an apology from CRA for what amounts to blatant Islamophobia in this case, but to date, there has been no response from the agency.

Contacted last week, the CRA said it cannot comment on individual cases, such as the June 2019 complaint.

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Toronto Imam alleges Islamaphobia at Canada Revenue Agency
Toronto Imam alleges Islamaphobia at Canada Revenue Agency

But does this sound like the CRA is reflecting the government’s commitment to adopting “an equity lens”? Of course not. The CRA has a system in which Canadians can make complaints, compliments or suggestions about the tax-related service they receive from the agency. But as noted in evidence given in a 2015 Senate committee hearing, the CRA has no oversight body that can consider complaints against the CRA for Islamophobia and other alleged discrimination. The agency is simply not set up for that kind of accountability.

Originally, most agencies in Canada have their respective oversight bodies that take public complaints: CSIS has SIRC; Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) has the Office of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner (OCSEC); and the RCMP has the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. The Liberal government has replaced all of these with the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA), a new governmental agency promoting transparency of Canada’s national security issues. 

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While charities with revoked statuses have some legal options for challenging CRA decisions, they are often unsuccessful in doing so. In the case of individuals who believe they have been defamed by CRA, there is no avenue for redress. Civilian complaints with the CRA do not fall under NSIRA and no other mechanism for fielding them exists in the agency. 

As such, we believe individual Muslim citizens, or any Canadian for that matter, can have their names and reputations defamed by the CRA with impunity. The one defamation and negligence complaint that was sent to the CRA by the CCI in June 2019 appears to have fallen on deaf ears. 

READ MORE:  (August 9, 2018) Ottawa mosque loses charity status for promoting ‘hate and intolerance’

And this is looking at one agency alone. The CRA is not the only government agency to face accusations of Islamophobia or racism; others such as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and our Canadian Armed Forces, and Canada Border Services Agency have all faced complaints.  

As cities south of the border burn in protest over systemic racial injustices, there is a real chance for the government of Canada to return to its commitment to accountability and change in the wake of M103, something that had been a matter of principle for the government three years ago when public outcry against the motion forced the Liberals to take a real stand against Islamophobia. 

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The racialized hatred based on the discriminatory biases of invisible public servants and accompanying system failures, such as that faced by Imams Quick and Rageah, has no place in government agencies or Canada as a whole. 

The time to rectify the past and bring structural change on racism and Islamophobia is now.

Imam Abdulrashid Mohamed serves as the vice president of the Canadian Council of Imams.