Last week the Ontario Legislature unanimously passed the following anti-Islamophobia motion:
“That, in the opinion of this House, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario should reaffirm that diversity has always played an important part in Ontario’s culture and heritage; recognize the significant contributions Muslims have made, and continue to make, to Ontario’s cultural and social fabric and prosperity; stand against all forms of hatred, hostility, prejudice, racism and intolerance; rebuke the notable growing tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric and sentiments; denounce hate-attacks, threats of violence and hate crimes against people of the Muslim faith; condemn all forms of Islamophobia and reaffirm its support for government’s efforts, through the Anti-Racism Directorate, to address and prevent systemic racism across government policy, programs and services, and increase anti-racism education and awareness, including Islamophobia, in all parts of the province.”
The motion was proposed by Liberal back-bencher Nathalie Des Rosiers in response to the increasing incidence of anti-Muslim activity both provincially and nationwide, ranging from graffiti to harassment to violence. While the motion passed without much official controversy, MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers received critical and abusive mail.
The motion is compared to a federal anti-Islamophobia motion brought forward by the Liberal party. This motion has faced considerable criticism from Conservative lawmakers and commentators. That motion reads 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.”
Some critics of the Ontario motion see it as not going far enough, claiming that a gesture of official solidarity with Muslims will not have appreciable effects on Islamophobic persons and systems, yet will give the false impression of credible governmental action on this issue. Meanwhile, it is precisely the substantive commitments of the federal motion that give other commentators pause. These critics say that while Muslims face unacceptable discrimination in Canada, Islamophobia and its systemic manifestations must be made more precise before adoption of the countermeasures mandated by the motion. Absent a clearer standard for which criticisms of Islam and Islamic communities are healthy and just, or at least permissible, versus those which are hateful and dangerous, critics say deference to free speech is preferable.
Defenders of the federal motion claim that similar motions were passed for Jews (February 22, 2016), Yazidis (October 25, 2016) and Egyptian Coptic Christians (October 17, 2011). However, the functions and consequences of those motions appears different from the instant one. The Jewish motion seemingly concerned the government’s official attitude towards Israel and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions political movement. The Yazidi motion concerned our immigration policy and foreign policy in light of the dire Yazidi genocide at the hands of ISIS. The Egyptian Coptic Christian motion seemingly concerned Canada’s approach to Egyptian relations around the time of the Arab Spring, given severe and worsening persecution of Copts in Egypt. The current motion appears to lack a targeted foreign relations question, instead concerning a growing domestic issue.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.