For­mer min­is­ter urges Lib­er­als to drop ‘Is­lam­o­pho­bia’ ref­er­ence

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - TERRY PEDWELL

OTTAWA — A Lib­eral-backed mo­tion aimed at com­bat­ing racism would have broader sup­port if it didn’t con­tain the word “Is­lam­o­pho­bia,” for­mer jus­tice min­is­ter Ir­win Cotler ar­gued Thurs­day as the Lib­er­als and Con­ser­va­tives butted heads over com­pet­ing propo­si­tions.

But the Lib­er­als stood firm in their sup­port of the con­tro­ver­sial mo­tion, ar­gu­ing pub­licly that re­mov­ing that one word would wa­ter down the mea­sure and di­min­ish the fight against ha­tred and dis­crim­i­na­tion.

The mo­tion, known as M-103, was de­bated Wed­nes­day in the House of Com­mons amid con­tro­versy about fears ex­pressed by a num­ber of Con­ser­va­tive MPs, who say it could sti­fle le­git­i­mate de­bate about is­sues such as sharia law and the niqab.

Mis­sis­sauga Lib­eral MP Iqra Khalid, who in­tro­duced the mo­tion, was adamant that it point a fin­ger di­rectly at Is­lam­o­pho­bia, telling the Com­mons that “words have im­pact.”

Dur­ing de­bate later Wed­nes­day, Khalid — say­ing Cotler had since pledged his full sup­port for her mo­tion — rose in the House to read off a pro­fan­ity-laced li­tany of abuse she has re­ceived on­line since the con­tro­versy erupted.

“Al­though the hate was over­whelm­ing, the mes­sages of sup­port were in the thou­sands,” she said. Khalid’s mo­tion calls on the gov­ern­ment to “rec­og­nize the need to quell the in­creas­ing pub­lic cli­mate of hate and fear” and con­demn Is­lam­o­pho­bia, as well as all other kinds of “sys­temic racism and re­li­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion.”

If ap­proved, the Com­mons her­itage com­mit­tee would also be asked to study the is­sue and de­velop a strat­egy to tackle it.

The Op­po­si­tion Con­ser­va­tives coun­tered with their own mo­tion, which makes no ref­er­ence to Is­lam­o­pho­bia. It calls on the House to “con­demn all forms of sys­temic racism, re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance, and dis­crim­i­na­tion of Mus­lims, Jews, Chris­tians, Sikhs, Hin­dus, and other re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties.”

“When look­ing at this op­po­si­tion mo­tion, I agree with 98 per cent of it ... be­cause I wrote it,” Khalid said.

“I am ap­palled by the cyn­i­cal, di­vi­sive tac­tics on the Con­ser­va­tive side to try to start a fake frenzy on the word ‘Is­lam­o­pho­bia’, in­stead of tack­ling the is­sue at hand.”

Cotler, who served in the jus­tice port­fo­lio un­der Lib­eral prime min­is­ter Paul Martin, said Is­lam­o­pho­bia is a mis­un­der­stood word. Keep­ing it in risks de­flect­ing the main ob­jec­tive of the Lib­eral-backed mo­tion, he ar­gued: com­bat­ing sys­temic racism and dis­crim­i­na­tion in Canada.

“I think if the term ‘anti-Mus­lim big­otry’ would be used, which is in ef­fect the pur­pose of the (mo­tion), that could cause the con­cerns of those who are wor­ried about Is­lam­o­pho­bia to abate,” said Cotler, who hap­pened to be in Ottawa on Thurs­day.

Cotler said he has no is­sue per­son­ally with the word, be­cause he un­der­stands it. Oth­ers, he sug­gested, might not.

Both the Con­ser­va­tives and Lib­er­als ac­cused each other of play­ing pol­i­tics and caus­ing divi­sions over the is­sue, rather than ad­dress­ing the prob­lem co-op­er­a­tively.

“They’re scared of de­nounc­ing Is­lam­o­pho­bia,” Her­itage Min­is­ter Me­lanie Joly said of the Con­ser­va­tive mo­tion as she stood out­side the House of Com­mons, flanked for the se­cond time in as many days by her Lib­eral col­leagues.

A num­ber of Con­ser­va­tives say the word Is­lam­o­pho­bia is ill-de­fined, and in­clud­ing it in the mo­tion risks sti­fling free­dom of ex­pres­sion by pre­vent­ing crit­i­cism of spe­cific el­e­ments of Is­lam or Mus­lim cul­ture, such as the face-cov­er­ing veil known as the niqab.

Re­plac­ing the ref­er­ence with “anti-Mus­lim big­otry,” Cotler ar­gued, would fall in line with a unan­i­mously-adopted mo­tion he cham­pi­oned in 2015 to con­demn a global rise in anti-Semitism.


Lib­eral MP Iqra Khalid, right, and Min­is­ter of Cana­dian Her­itage Me­lanie Joly speak Wed­nes­day.

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