Private Members motion M 103 has been causing a bit of an uproar in certain circles in Canada. It seems a good time to have a look at it and see what it is, and what it isn't.
What is a Private Member's Motion?
To begin with, what is a private member's motion anyway? Private members are Members of Parliament (MPs) who are not ministers. They are often referred to as backbenchers because they typically do not sit in the front rows in the House of Commons. They are MPs from all the parties that are not Ministers. A private member's motion can address a wide variety of topics. This is, in effect, where your MP gets to represent you, the constituent. This is where local issues can be raised, or attention drawn to issues of importance to specific groups of Canadians.
For example, private member's motions were brought forward to address the problem of derelict and abandoned ships and boats, study how immigration can help maintain the economy of Atlantic Canada and also to recognise Italian Heritage Month. These are things that various groups of Canadians are concerned about, but are not part of the official government agenda that was announced in the Speech from the Throne at the beginning of each session of Parliament.
A private member's motion, even if adopted by the House, has no binding authority. There can be discussion and debate, but the government is not required to enact any new laws as a result.
If a private member puts forward a motion, other private members can register their support for it. In the case of M 103, it was proposed by Iqra Khalid, a Liberal MP representing Mississauga - Erin Mills in Ontario. She is on several parliamentary committees looking at human rights and justice, both in Canada and internationally. This issue fits well with her interests and responsibilities as a Member of Parliament. Her motion has been supported by other MPs, including Ron McKinnon (Coquitlam - Port Coquitlam), Raj Grewal (Brampton East), and Salma Zahid (Scarborough Centre).
The motion has been successful and has been put on the order paper, which means it is on the agenda to be presented and discussed in the House of Commons on Wednesday, February 15 for ONE HOUR. For a more detailed discussion of Private Member's Motions, please go here.
What does M 103 actually say?
The text of the motion is as follows:
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.
Let's parse this. (A) The government should recognise the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear. OK, that seems pretty straightforward. Six men died while at prayer in a mosque in Quebec City on January 29, 2017. There have been a number of attacks on mosques and against Muslims, most particularly against women wearing the hijab. Hate crimes against Muslims in Canada have more than doubled in the past 3 years. Is there a problem? Yes. Should the government look at it? Yes. Should the government look at ways to protect Canadian citizens? Absolutely.
(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. Ok, so what is petition e-411? It is an electronic petition sponsored by Pierrefonds-Dollard MP Frank Bayliss. This e-petition received some 70,000 signatures. What does it say?
Petition to the House of Commons
The motion asks that the government officially state that systemic racism and religious discrimination is wrong, and also acknowledge that Muslim DOES NOT equal ISIS terrorist. That seems pretty straightforward.
So the petition and motion are asking the Government of Canada to declare itself non-racist and non-prejudiced based on ethnicity or religion. Sounds like something most thinking rational Canadians could get behind, doesn't it? After all, to suggest that all Muslims are alike, some sort of heterogeneous Borg, is as absurd as suggesting that all Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, or whatever, are like all others that share their faith.
(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 racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centred focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making. This sounds a little more complicated. But it isn't really. "A government-wide approach to reducing or eliminating racism and religious discrimination". In crafting legislation, in hiring, and in conducting the business of governing, the government should be aware of ways in which racism and discrimination can creep in, and take pro-active steps to prevent this. That doesn't sound crazy or extreme. We are all Canadians and this is the government for all of us. Why shouldn't we expect equal treatment regardless of ethnicity or faith? And the motion says "including Islamophobia", not exclusively Islamophobia. Just as "Black Lives Matter" does not mean other lives don't matter. But one group is currently having a rough time, and so we should be particularly aware of their situation.
"While ensuring a community-centred focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making." This is an arduous sentence, but not incomprehensible. "Community-centred" - actions at the grass-roots level, real actionable policies to decrease discrimination within communities. "Holistic" - looking at the big picture, carrying this initiative through right across the country. "Evidence-based policy-making" - Using best practices and models to formulate policy, finding metrics to evaluate progress, and basing policy decisions on fact and science rather than emotion and conjecture. In short, creating rational fact-based policies across the country that focus on community as a building block to enhance acceptance and inclusivity and combat discrimination. Pretty hard to argue with that.
Request that the standing committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (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. This is a long one. But fairly easy to understand. This part of the motion asks for a study to be done to better understand the drivers behind hate crimes, as well as to discover how vulnerable communities could be better supported. Then it places a deadline on the report of 240 days, or about 8 months. Finally, it directs the intention of all of these ideas towards better implementing and upholding the constitutional rights and freedoms of all Canadians.
What is the controversy around M 103?
The CBC tried to explain the controversy, quoting Rebel media and National Post contributor Barbara Kay who is concerned that criticising Islam could become a hate crime. This, she says, would infringe on people's freedom of speech and possibly lead to a blasphemy law similar to that in Sharia law in some Middle Eastern countries. I find this quite interesting in the wake of efforts by our previous Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, to criminalise criticism of Israel. At the time, if I recall correctly, Ms Kay thought this was a good thing. It all depends on where you stand and what you value, I suppose.
So, the leap was made from "We should all try to be nice to each other" to "They are going to impose Sharia Law and women will have no rights!" How did this happen?
Clearly, there is no mention whatsoever of Sharia Law in the motion. None. Zip. Nada. So how did this become about imposing Sharia Law in Canada? This is a classic example of galloping paranoia. There is also no mention of making Islamophobia illegal. Unlike when Harper wanted to make criticising the State of Israel illegal. Rational discussions between people who have the theological education to be able to speak about Islam objectively are not being threatened. What is being threatened is people's freedom to be ignorant assholes and hurt others in the process. And that really does not seem like a bad thing.
If you look at the comments following the CBC article cited previously, it is appalling that Canadians are spewing such ignorant and hateful nonsense. And it gets worse. Much worse.
The fake news and blogs are filled with vitriol:
Justin Trudeau to create Islamic State in Canada
Islamophobia to become a crime
Muslim lawmaker pushes Sharia blasphemy law
And there are so many more. This is shameful. This is not how civilised people in modern, civilised countries treat their neighbours and community members.
If you have read this far you know that this motion strives through education and research, to reduce hatred and violence in our communities. And not just for Muslims. Because many groups in our country are subject to discrimination. Indigenous people. Sikhs. Jews, Blacks. Asians.... Back in the day, immigrants from eastern Europe were vilified and persecuted. Before that, the Irish and Italians had a rough ride.
It's 2017. Isn't it time to put racial, ethnic and religious discrimination where it belongs: in the past?
This motion is not about about Sharia law. It is not about creating an Islamic state in Canada. It is not about suppressing people's rights. It is about upholding them. The right to live in safety and peace. The right to respect and consideration. The right to equality before the law. Nowhere in this motion is it ever suggested that Muslims should be given special privileges. It only urges that Muslims, and every other vulnerable group, have the same rights as white Canadians take for granted. And that doesn't cost any of us us anything. You don't lose anything by ensuring others have the same rights. Remember, human rights are not pie. The portions do not get smaller as they are shared among more people.