First published in the Washington Post on March 7, 2017.
Islamist terrorism may threaten the Western world, but Canada’s Parliament is more concerned with Islamophobia.
Last month, Canadian lawmakers debated a motion put forward by a Liberal member of Parliament — part of the governing party — to condemn Islamophobia and study its effect on society. Though a number of Conservative MPs have pledged to vote against it later this year, the motion, M-103, is guaranteed to pass.
The motion’s sponsor, MP Iqra Khalid, said we “need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear.” Khalid has called for a “whole of government approach” on the matter, which includes analyzing data surrounding hate crimes, singling out those against Muslims.
This comes just weeks after six Muslim men were killed by a shooter at a Quebec City mosque, a tragedy that the National Council of Canadian Muslims (formerly CAIR-CAN, the Canadian chapter of the American organization) exploited to lobby for mandatory anti-Islamophobia education in Canadian public schools. The motion itself is non-binding, calling on parliamentarians to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” Supporters have said it isn’t a Muslim-specific motion, though Islamophobia is the only phenomenon identified by name. The “and all forms” that follows is merely an afterthought.
A similar motion was passed unanimously in Ontario’s provincial legislature last month. Though a number of legislators were conspicuously absent, no one stood up to vote against the pledge to “recognize the significant contributions Muslims have made” and “rebuke the notable growing tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric and sentiments.” No list of Muslim accomplishments was provided, nor evidence that anti-Muslim bigotry is running rampant. Even the Conservatives in the chamber were urged by their leader to support the motion, lest they all look like bigots.
In fact, the Ontario motion didn’t even pretend to be about all forms of bigotry, referring solely to “hate-attacks, threats of violence and hate crimes against people of the Muslim faith.” And, of course, the apparently ubiquitous “Islamophobia.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is putting Muslim feelings above free speech. Without defining Islamophobia — a term often applied to legitimate criticisms of radical Islam — these motions tell Canadians that their government deems some types of speech off-limits. Americans may shrug off this legislative virtue signaling, assured of First Amendment free-speech protections. Canadians aren’t so lucky, however. Our 35-year old Charter of Rights and Freedoms — part of our Constitution — does afford us “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression” — but only with a catch. The very first section of that charter sets out “reasonable limits” against which all of our supposed freedoms are measured. This caveat has given other arms of government carte blanche to curb allegedly offensive speech in the past decade.
Federal and provincial human rights tribunals have gone after authors, bloggers and radio hosts — the most notable of which is Mark Steyn — for “hate speech,” even when comments fall short of the criminal threshold, which requires incitement to violence and public disorder. Steyn and his then-publisher, Maclean’s magazine, faced a slew of complaints over publication of an excerpt of Steyn’s bestseller, “America Alone,” which Muslim groups said was Islamophobic (despite how prescient Steyn’s message was.) Ezra Levant similarly found himself in front of a human rights tribunal to defend his right to publish the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons in 2006. Both Steyn and Levant emerged victorious, but the process itself was the punishment. Both cases came about because the government had been empowered to enforce incredibly loose definitions of hatred.
Toronto Sun columnist Tarek Fatah said the anti-Islamophobia motions will target moderate Muslims like himself; he fears his criticisms of sharia law, radicalization and the Muslim Brotherhood’s widespread influence in Canadian Muslim organizations are effectively being stifled.
Where are the motions to condemn anti-Semitism in Canada?
The parliamentary debate on M-103 happened the same week that a McGill University student leader was allowed to remain in office after tweeting “punch a Zionist today.” Also making news that week was publication of a 2014 sermon by a Montreal imam calling on Allah to “destroy the accursed Jews” and “make their children orphans and their women widows.” And just last week, chalk drawings of swastikas were found in a York University classroom in Toronto, triggering a police investigation.
When a Peterborough, Ontario, mosque was vandalized in 2015, Trudeau flew to the mosque to speak about the dangers of “fear, hatred and division.” No such call has been issued in support of the Jewish community. When a Muslim terrorist shot a Canadian soldier on Parliament Hill in 2014, Trudeau, who was not yet the prime minister, assured the Muslim community that Canadians “know acts such as these committed in the name of Islam are an aberration of your faith.”
Regardless of whether Muslims are victims or perpetrators of reprehensible acts, liberal lawmakers rush to smooth things over with the Muslim community. The goal may be to bring about more tolerance in society, but the outcome is simply less freedom.