OTTAWA — Conservative MPs are stoking a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment by raising unfounded fears about a motion calling on the House of Commons to condemn Islamophobia, a Canadian Muslim leader said Tuesday.
Samer Majzoub, president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, told a news conference that the Conservatives are trying to "delegitimize" and "degrade" the Liberal motion by presenting an alternative motion of their own that condemns all forms of racism, intolerance and discrimination against Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and other religious groups — without mentioning the word Islamophobia.
The Conservative motion was defeated a few hours later by a vote of 165-126, with the governing Liberals using their majority to block a united opposition front in favour of the motion.
Majzoub said Muslim Canadians are increasingly suffering prejudice and acts of hatred — including a deadly shooting spree at a Quebec mosque last month that left six worshippers dead — and that the problem can't be tackled until it's recognized for what it is: Islamophobia.
Conservative MPs have argued that the Liberal motion singles out one religious group over others and could potentially curtail Canadians' freedom to criticize any aspect of Islam because it doesn't define the term Islamophobia.
"It is so, so sad that those political games are coming after a terrorist attack."
Majzoub said those arguments are unfounded and are helping fuel anti-Muslim sentiment.
"The fact that it was approached by some of the Opposition in this way has created all (these) xenophobic waves," Majzoub told The Canadian Press after the news conference.
"Certainly, it did not help, the way they approached it."
Conservative MP Tony Clement called Majzoub's accusation "an unfortunate interpretation" of what his party was trying to do.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," he said. "I think we're trying to be fair to all people of faith in our society and I think that we're trying to recognize hatred directed against many faiths, including the Muslim faith."
Canadian Muslim Forum President Samer Majzoub, right, responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Feb. 21, 2017. (Photo:Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Majzoub pointed out that the Liberal motion, known as M-103 and introduced by Toronto-area MP Iqra Khalid, does not have the force of law and would simply instruct the Commons heritage committee to conduct a study on reducing systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia, and collect data on hate crimes.
The Conservative motion would have done the same, but without specific reference to Islamophobia.
"This motion, unfortunately ... came as trying to delegitimize the M-103 and trying really to degrade this motion," Majzoub told the news conference, accusing the Tories of using Muslim Canadians as a "political football."
"It is so, so sad that those political games are coming after a terrorist attack ... I just want to say to all those politicians ... what you are going to say to the 17 orphans that they cry every night for their fathers to be with them?"
"I think both parties are guilty of trying to score their points."
Majzoub said he's had calls from Muslim parents asking if it's safe to send their Canadian-born children to school.
"We are a community under siege and this is not an exaggeration."
Last year Majzoub initiated an electronic petition condemning Islamophobia that garnered almost 70,000 signatures. It was that petition which prompted Khalid to introduce her motion in December.
She has rejected Conservative proposals to delete references to Islamophobia from her motion.
New Democrat MP Matthew Dube accused both the Liberals and Conservatives of playing partisan games with the issue. His party's MPs voted in favour of the Tory motion and intend to support Khalid's motion as well.
"I think both parties are guilty of trying to score their points. Nothing prevented the Liberals from being in favour of this motion and also being in favour of their own," he said.
However, government House leader Bardish Chagger suggested that if the Conservative motion had passed, then Khalid's motion — which won't come to a vote until April — could have been ruled redundant, since the two are very similar.
"Within the rules, you'll see that there is that possibility," she said.