When Will Canadians Get The Anti-Islamophobia Measures They Want?

This article was originally published on February 07, 2018 on Huffington Post Canada.

Since 2012, Canada has witnessed a surge in anti-Muslim attitudes and incidents, culminating in the Quebec City mosque attack on Jan. 29, 2017, that left six Muslims dead, and 19 injured. Following the attack, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to support Muslims in Canada and asserted, "We will defend you ... and we will stand up for you."

M-103, a motion introduced last February by Liberal Member of Parliament Iqra Khalid, charged the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to conduct a study on how to reduce or eliminate systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia, in Canada. On February 1, nearly two years after almost 70,000 Canadians called on the government to condemn Islamophobia in parliamentary ePetition e-411, the M-103 report and recommendations were finally released to the public.

Data from a recent survey conducted by EKOS Research Associates on behalf of the Canadian Muslim Forum (CMF-FMC) and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) reveals that many are deeply disturbed by this increasing Islamophobia in Canada, and want the government to protect multicultural traditions.

The survey demonstrated that Canadians recognize Islamophobia is a problem, stand largely opposed to it and expect the government to take action. In fact, a whopping 81 per cent of Canadians acknowledge the existence of Islamophobia in Canada.

The joint CMF-FMC/CJPME survey reveals that the majority of Canadians support the timely recommendations of M-103. Recommendation 22 of the M-103 report asserts that "the Government of Canada take a strong leadership role to actively condemn systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia." Indeed, survey results showed that 77 per cent of Liberal supporters, and 60 per cent of Canadians overall, agree that the government must take action to combat Islamophobia in Canada.

When asked, "What is the best way for the government to respond to the challenges that come with multiculturalism today," Canadians in the survey expressed support for all the different courses of action recommended by the Committee. For example, Recommendation 29 of the M-103 report calls on the government to ensure that law enforcement agencies better "investigate hate speech on the Internet" and "enforce existing laws."

The most highly recommended course of action by Canadians surveyed was to "better enforce existing laws to protect minorities from discrimination and hate crimes." This approach was supported by 48 per cent of respondents, and indicates that Canadians continue to have faith in the existing mechanisms supporting multiculturalism.

Likewise, 42 per cent of Canadians believe the government needs to "provide cultural sensitivity training to government employees who deal with the public," another position supported by several recommendations in the Committee's report.

Sadly, after half a year of testimony and study, the Committee was unable to establish a working definition of Islamophobia. Considering that much of the opposition to the motion was due ostensibly to the "vague" definition of Islamophobia, the Committee fell short in addressing these concerns and developing consensus moving forward.

M-103 faced considerable backlash from right-leaning voices, who claimedCanadians find the term "Islamophobia" confusing. Contrarily, the survey results reveal that 70 per cent of Canadians are comfortable that they understand the meaning of Islamophobia. If Canadians indicate that they are clear on what Islamophobia is, surely a Committee tasked with investigating Islamophobia could do the same.

It has been said that actions speak louder than words, and rightly so. Indeed, in a context where there is a nation-wide wave of religious discrimination against Muslims, action becomes a federal imperative.

Many Canadians have waited years for Parliament to recognize the problem of Islamophobia in Canada. The federal government can be at ease knowing it will have broad support if it decides to implement the recommendations of the Committee's M-103 report and take action to stand up for Muslims.

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