On March 23rd, Parliament passed a motion tabled by Liberal back-bencher Iqra Khalid. The motion differs from a bill in that it has no effect in law; it acts as a suggestion, recommendation, or opinion. It is important to read the actual words of the motion -- the full text of which is:
Systemic racism and religious discrimination
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
So, what is all the fuss about? Some people think, for reasons that have no basis in fact, that M-103 will open the door to Sharia law. Even though it is clear that much of Sharia law could not pass Constitutional scrutiny, and the motion states clearly that it is intended to “better reflect … enshrined rights and freedoms…” the fact that the motion wants to eliminate Islamophobia makes some people squirm. They fear that freedom of expression will be eliminated and censorship will rule. Not happening. Freedom of expression is enshrined in the Constitution and it isn’t going away. Feel free to complain about Islam, just don’t expect that everyone will like you if you do.
The very mention of Islamophobia makes quite a few people squirm, because the word does not appear to have a single definition in law. How do you know what to condemn if you don’t know what it is? In fact, this doesn’t matter a whole lot. Even if Islamophobia is in the eye of the beholder, the motion won’t make a huge difference. Arguments about intent won’t go away with or without this motion. If a person says he or she lost a job, got a poor mark, or was otherwise discriminated against because of their faith in Islam, the Human Rights Act is there to make such determinations. These are difficult things to prove no matter how we construct definitions. If I fail to be promoted because of my boss’ deeply held prejudice, there are already remedies for this. If I fail to be promoted because of my lack of qualifications, my boss should have evidence to make this case. Motion 103 will not likely make a difference.
Other people are miffed because the motion focuses on condemning Islamophobia, as opposed to other forms of prejudice. They forgot to read to the end of the sentence. The motion says it asks for a condemnation of Islamophobia …”and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination…” Yes, we already do this too. Again, provincial and federal human rights acts and tribunals are hard at work for us. Perhaps they are not working hard enough or well enough, but this motion is not going to address such a problem. Black Lives Matter asks people to focus on a deep problem in our society be focusing attention on the issues the Black communities are facing. At no point do they suggest that other lives do not matter. It is a question of focus on a contemporary problem, as is Motion 103. It does not ask to be exclusive – please let us just focus the lens here and now where a problem seems to be growing.
See, it is chicken soup. Nearly every culture has a delicious recipe for chicken soup, and most believe that the soup has magical curative powers. But in reality, chicken soup has never been scientifically shown to make a difference to the bacteria or viruses that have made us ill. Sure, it is warm and comforting. It might even encourage sick people to eat a bit. But mostly it gives our families a way to feel they are doing something to help those of us who are suffering -- just like Parliament wants to be seen to be doing something about an ugly problem that can have no single or simple solution. Racial and religious discrimination and prejudice have been a part of society since time immemorial. We can have laws against discriminatory acts, but changing minds is another story.
Even if you dislike chicken soup, it is not going to do you harm. Nor is Motion 103.
The only recommendation under Motion 103 that could make a real difference is under paragraph (c)(ii) “collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities.” We do need those data. We all need them. If I want to complain that something bad is happening, or if I want to deny it, I need the numbers to prove it. The data will give us a chance to see if we know what we are talking about when we use our freedom of expression to loudly complain about any form of discrimination or other limit to anyone’s rights.