This past Thursday, the Canadian parliament passed a non-binding motion (M-103) which calls on the government to recognize the “increasing public climate of hate and fear” and calls on them to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” It also asks for the Common Heritage Committee to conduct a study and collect data on hate crimes in an effort to help “develop a government-wide approach to reducing or eliminating religious discrimination, including Islamophobia.” The motion was proposed by Liberal MP backbencher Iqra Khalid last December, who moved parliament with an emotional reading of Islamophobic messages she had personally received. It gained widespread national attention and sparked debate after a terrorist attack was committed the following January, targeting a mosque in Quebec and killing 6 Muslim-Canadian men. The debate intensified this week after the motion passed with a vote of 201-91.
The motion was inspired by an e-petition 411, put forward on a platform from the Parliament of Canada website. The e-petition process allows the Canadian public to submit policy concerns online, and if they receive enough support from the public, it is sponsored by an MP and the government is required to draft a response. E-petition 411 focused on “recognizing that extremist individuals do not represent the religion of Islam, and condemning all forms of Islamophobia.” Despite the e-petition receiving the support to be tabled in parliament, there has been a widespread backlash against M-103.
Critics of the motion are worried this will bar their right to free speech, and ultimately prevent them from criticizing Islam as they see fit. In late February, a rally was organized by Rebel Media, a right-wing media source, to oppose ‘Islamic Blasphemy laws’ in Canada. At this event, several Conservative party leadership candidates spoke out against the motion. One candidate, Brad Trost declared the motion was an instrument of the “thought police in Ottawa.” Conservative and Former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander announced “This is ground zero … for freedom of speech, not just in Canada … but for the world today.” The motion has also received attention south of the border, with American political commentator Pamela Geller tweeting “Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau, Smears all Canadians with Islamophobia Lie to Create a Sharia State.” Conservative media source the Toronto Sun has claimed only 14% of Canadian’s support the bill, and the majority of respondents want the word Islamophobia removed from the motion as to not give preference to a community.
Supporters of M-103 have spoken out against these sentiments and accused the critics of mobilizing moral panic and fear mongering by organizing a crusade in the name of free speech. The most common point is noting a motion is different from a bill, as it is effectively non-binding. This means that there have been no changes to Canadian law. There has been no adaptation of Sharia law, or ‘Islam Blasphemy’ laws, as some have claimed. In addition, supporters have noted the similarities between M-103 and a motion the Conservative party passed in 2015 condemning anti-Semitism in the context of Israeli support. Advocates for M-103 have noted this irony and hypocrisy.
Motions such as M-103 rarely receive widespread national attention, yet its debate has taken over parliament. Faisal Kutty, Canadian human rights activist, professor, and lawyer writes “Such opposition within weeks of the slaughter of six Muslims praying is not only insensitive, but highly irresponsible” in an article for the Toronto Star. This brings attention to the deeper issue of widespread Islamophobia embedding itself in the fabric of Canadian society, creating great political divides.