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Katerina Gang
Katerina Gang is the Managing Editor of the Prince Arthur Herald and studies Journalism at Concordia University.

Canada is giving up on free speech

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Recently, Canada’s members of parliament voted in favour of a motion to condemn Islamophobia in Canada, to the chagrin of free speech advocates.


The motion, presented by backbench Liberal MP Iqra Khalid and known as M103, maintains that parliament will attempt to quell instances of hate and fear and provide suggestions for parliament going forward on how to achieve these goals within 240 days.


M103 passed in a landslide victory, and was supported by the Trudeau government. Almost all Liberal MPs voted in favour of the motion, with only Gagan Sikand choosing to abstain. The NDP lent its full support. Conservative Party MPs, however, voted overwhelmingly against it. In this case, the Conservative Party had Canadians’ interests at heart.


A Forum Research poll found an overwhelming majority of Canadians were against M103. Only 14 per cent of Canadians asked said they supported the motion in its current form. Many wanted words clarified, terms changed, or the focus broadened to all religions—but these concerns fell on deaf ears.


The motion has the potential to greatly limit Canadians’ right to free speech. Our laws already protect identifiable groups—including those bound together due to religious affiliation—against hate speech, according to sections 318, 319 and 320 of the Criminal Code.


The motion has failed to define what exactly constitutes “Islamophobia.” Current and former MPs have asked for a definition of the term to be included in the motion, or for the wording to be changed to intolerance of Muslim individuals rather than Islam—things the Liberals refused to do.


Irwin Cotler, MP for Mount Royal from 1999 to 2015, supported a rewording of the motion. “I would have preferred that Islamophobia had been defined,” said Cotler. “I don’t think there would have been any concern at the notion of anti-Muslim bigotry being used.”


In the past, parliamentary motions have included terms like “anti-Semitism.” However, these remain distinct from M103, as the Ottawa Parliamentary Protocol to Combat Anti-Semitism and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, of which Canada is a member, use a standard definition of the term.


Saskatchewan Conservative MP David Anderson proposed a new motion that kept the spirit of M103 and while addressing fears about limiting free speech. His motion would have targeted systemic racism in general, specifying hatred of Muslims, and not fear of Islam, as a symptom of this problem. This motion was defeated 165-126 back in February, with Trudeau himself opposing it.


Without defining “Islamophobia,” many fear the motion, and perhaps further legislation, could be used to justify persecution or even punishment of those who speak out against practices within Islam or tenants of the faith. Liberals’ inability to compromise on definitions only lends credence to this fear.


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French Prime Minister Maneul Valls believes this is a real possibility. “I refuse to use this term ‘Islamophobia,’ because those who use this word are trying to invalidate any criticism at all of Islamist ideology,” he said. “The charge of ‘Islamophobia’ is used to silence people.”


In France, these fears are coming to life. In 2016, Jewish historian and scholar, Georges Bensoussan, was prosecuted for making certain criticisms of Muslim anti-Semitism. His comments, while inflammatory, were based on a Fondapol survey, which uncovered anti-Jewish sentiments in France’s Muslim population.


While many believe, in the wake of the tragic Quebec mosque shooting, that stronger action should be taken to protect this specific community, many fail to remember that this motion was tabled awhile before the attacks occurred.


Furthermore, Muslim Canadians are not the demographic experiencing the most hate crimes. According to 2014 police report data, despite a sharp increase in Muslim hate crimes, those most often targeted during hate crimes are Jewish Canadians. A report this week from B’nai Brith Canada shows that these crimes are still on the rise.


There has been a 26 per cent increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes since 2015. In 2016, 1,728 hate crimes against Jewish people were reported – the highest in the organization’s 35 years of data tracking. It seems illogical to focus specifically on a group when they are not the most in need.


While it is too late to stop M103 from passing, it is important to remember the fight for free speech will continue as the motion attempts to fulfill its promises. The Trudeau government will have to either define its terms more aptly, or the next leader of the Conservative Party will need to stand up for Canadians’ rights and values. Either way, Canadians cannot let M103 in its current form inform any future legislation.


The Prince Arthur Herald

Photo Credit: Twitter, @TheAffinityMag