Ottawa Citizen

Tory hopefuls oppose Islamophob­ia debate


- DAVID AKIN National Post

Agrowing number of Conservati­ve leadership rivals are declaring their opposition to a Liberal MP’s motion to have the House of Commons denounce Islamophob­ia and other forms of systemic racism.

And the interim leader of the party, Rona Ambrose, is also likely to vote against the motion, which will be debated Wednesday, as she accuses the Liberals of trying to sow division in her party with the initiative.

The opposition to the anti-Islamophob­ia motion by Kellie Leitch, Maxime Bernier, Andrew Scheer and others is likely to play well with a Conservati­ve base that, according to several polls, is more suspicious of Muslim immigrants than other groups of voters.

But as more Tories oppose the motion, their political opponents will have more of a chance to charge that Conservati­ves are intolerant at best and bigoted at worse, a resurrecti­on of criticisms that hurt them at the ballot box in 2015.

“Voting against this motion is simply nonsensica­l,” said Karl Belanger, who spent 19 years as a top adviser to three leaders of the federal NDP.

“No matter what the convoluted explanatio­n is, you are voting against condemning Islamophob­ia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimina­tion. That will stick.”

The resolution at hand is known as M-103. It was put before the House of Commons in early December by Iqra Khalid, a first-time Liberal MP who represents Mississaug­a—Erin Mills in Ontario.

The motion is scheduled for an hour’s worth of debate in the House of Commons late Wednesday afternoon. And while there is a chance a vote could be held during that hour, the more likely outcome from a procedural standpoint is a vote will be put off until early April.

Ambrose said she believes the Liberals will want to keep the issue front and centre for weeks before bringing it to a final vote.

“We know they are doing this purely for politics,” she said.

Khalid, who was born in Pakistan, wants to accomplish three things with M-103: First, that the House “condemn Islamophob­ia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimina­tion;” second, that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage be instructed to study the issue of “eliminatin­g systemic racism and religious discrimina­tion including Islamophob­ia;” and, finally; that the federal government collect data on hate crimes for further study.

Scheer, in a recent fundraisin­g letter to his supporters, said one of the reasons he will vote against Khalid’s motion is it could be construed as a move to stifle free speech. He also says the motion does not define “Islamophob­ia” and, in any event, he cannot vote for a motion that singles out one religion for special status.

“It is also important to note that we already have laws that protect Canadians against discrimina­tion based on their faith. We also have laws against inciting violence,” Scheer said.

Bernier cites similar reasons for his opposition to M-103 but, in a Facebook post over the weekend, said he could support the motion if the word “Islamophob­ia” was removed from motion.

“We should reaffirm everyone’s right to believe in and criticize whatever belief they want, whether it is Islam, Christiani­ty, Judaism, Hinduism, atheism, or any other,” he said.

MP Brad Trost, who is also running for the leadership, said Jews and Christians are more likely to be victims of faith-based intoleranc­e. He called Khalid’s motion “a farce.”

Steven Blaney, too, will vote against the motion.

“While I recognize the value of promoting respect for all religion, I intend to oppose M-103, a motion that is not well defined and clearly represents a threat to freedom of expression.”

Erin O’Toole, another leadership candidate, has reached out to Khalid with some suggestion­s to modify the amendment so it might find more support among Conservati­ve MPs.

Khalid’s motion, if it passes, would not change any Canadian laws, as Bernier correctly noted in his Facebook post.

But Ambrose, in an interview with the National Post Monday evening, said she worries her work trying to empower women and girls in Muslim communitie­s could be branded Islamophob­ic if she criticizes the views of some Muslim men.

“Our members are really concerned about this as a freedom of speech issue,” she said.

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