House of Commons divided over motion against Islamophobia

Liberal MP Iqra Khalid’s motion to condemn Islamophobia has divided MPs. Photo from CP

Liberal MP Iqra Khalid made it clear that she isn’t changing the content of M-103, her motion to denounce Islamophobia, despite personal attacks and growing dissent among other MPs and Conservative leadership candidates.

“We cannot address a problem if we fail to call it by its true name,” Khalid, an MP for Mississauga-Erin Mills, told the Commons Wednesday. Her party reiterated their agreement after debate on M-103 in the House of Commons on Wednesday evening, with Heritage Minister Melanie Jolie saying the Liberal government strongly supported the private members’ motion.

But Conservative leadership candidates and MPs remain divided on the motion, which will be voted on by the House at a later date.

Conservative MP David Anderson asked that “Islamophobia” in the motion be changed to “hatred against Muslims,” and his party plans to introduce its own motion without the word “Islamophobia” on Thursday.

And as the House of Commons debated Wednesday evening, Conservative leadership candidates Kellie Leitch, Chris Alexander, Brad Trost, and Pierre Lemieux attended a Toronto rally against the motion that was organized by right-wing website The Rebel.

What would M-103 do?

M-103, placed on notice on Dec. 1, motions that the government should “recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear” and “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” Since it is a motion and not a bill, M-103 can attract the House’s interest to something important and suggest a course of action but does not create or change legislation.

The text of the motion also asks that the heritage committee study the development of a government-wide approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia, and that the government collect data to contextualize hate-crime reports and conduct needs assessments with affected communities.

Who supports the motion?

Justin Trudeau: The prime minister spoke in favour of motion M-103 during a town hall meeting in Yellowknife on Friday. Trudeau responded that the individual rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms have to be balanced with other rights in Canadian society and that the motion is aimed at protecting a community that is currently vulnerable. “You’re not allowed to call ‘Fire!’ in a crowded movie theatre and call that free speech. That endangers our community,” Trudeau said at the town hall. “And as we saw 10 days ago in Quebec City, there are other things that can endanger our communities. And we need to stand strongly and firmly against that.”

Michael Chong: Conservative leadership candidate and MP Michael Chong said Tuesday that he would support the motion, pointing out in a statement published on Facebook that the House of Commons has at various times passed similar motions denouncing discrimination against other religious groups including Yazidis and Jews. Chong also said that the motion will not curb free speech rights and in no way constitutes Sharia Law. “In denouncing Islamophobia, the motion is simply denouncing discrimination and prejudice against Muslims and people of the Islamic faith. Nothing more or less,” the statement reads. “Motion 103 will not prevent anyone from criticizing Islam or radical Islamic terrorists.”

Liberal and NDP MPs: Several other MPs in both the governing Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party have expressed their support for M-103. Mulcair told the Globe and Mail Wednesday that he supports the motion, and believes that his caucus agrees with him.

Who opposes it?

Maxime Bernier: Bernier, like Chong, is in the crowded race for leadership of the Conservative Party. But unlike Chong, he has said he will not support a motion that singles out Islamophobia specifically. “Is this motion a first step towards restricting our right to criticize Islam?,” Bernier wrote in a statement posted on Facebook on Sunday. “Given the international situation, and the fact that jihadi terrorism is today the most important threat to our security, I think this is a serious concern we have to take into account.” Bernier said in the statement that the House instead should affirm everyone’s right to their religious beliefs regardless of what they are.

Kellie Leitch: Tory leadership candidate Kellie Leitch also shared her thoughts on M-103 on social media, posting on Twitter in late January that she opposed the motion because she believed all religions should be treated equally. “I am opposed to #m103,” Leitch posted. “No religion should enjoy special privileges.” On Tuesday and Wednesday Leitch posted tweets asking supporters to sign a petition opposing the motion.

Brad Trost: Saskatchewan MP and Conservative leadership candidate Trost is also opposed to the motion. In a statement posted on his website, Trost said that Jewish Canadians are more often victims of religious hate, Christians are the group most likely to experience discrimination for their beliefs, and Muslims in Canada benefit from “extraordinary acts of accommodation.” Trost also refers to incidents of Islamophobia as isolated, though police-reported hate crimes against Muslim Canadians more than doubled between 2012 and 2014 even as the total number of hate crimes decreased and reported hate crimes against Muslims spiked in Quebec after a shooting during prayers at a Quebec City mosque last month killed six men.

Rona Ambrose: The interim Conservative leader indicated that any support for the motion would be contingent on some changes and she would vote against it as it is currently written. A spokesperson told CBC News that Ambrose wouldn’t support the motion without an amendment but did not specify what that amendment might be. Ambrose’s spokesperson did say, however, that the vote on the motion is a free vote.