Last week's anti-Islam protest outside of a downtown Toronto mosque was small, but powerful. With roughly 50 protesters in total, their signs and banners that read "Stop Islam" and "Islam brings death" left no room for misinterpretation or misunderstanding. The demonstration was abhorrent and hateful. It was a horrifying sight many of us wish to never again see on our city's streets.
Anti-Islam protest is seen outside Masjid Toronto. (Photo: Uzair Khan)
But it was not surprising.
Since the election of Donald Trump in November, many have accused the U.S. president of inciting hatred and fear in Canada -- and rightfully so. Last month's shooting at a Quebec mosque, which left six people dead and 19 injured, was carried out by a lone Canadian extremist who was also a vocal Trump supporter.
But Islamophobia has been an issue here in Canada, long before Donald Trump. Although the country is home to more than one million Muslims, more than half of Canadians have an "unfavourable" view of Islam, according to a 2013 Angus Reid Global poll (an increase of nearly 10 per cent since 2009). Among Quebecers, those numbers are even higher, hovering close to 70 per cent in both 2009 and 2013.
The growing animosity has led to a sharp increase in the number of hate crimes against Muslim Canadians. Despite a decrease in the overall number of reported hate crimes across the country, the number of police-reported hate crimes against Muslims has more than doubled over a three-year period.
Canadians' unfavourable perceptions of Islam have also been reflected in our government, most notably the Conservative government led by former prime minister Stephen Harper. In 2015, the Conservatives implemented Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, effectively giving Canada the power to strip dual citizens of their Canadian citizenship. In the same year, the Harper government also passed the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, which toughened laws on forced marriage, polygamy and "honour killings."
Islamophobia in Canada has also been fuelled by the dangerous rhetoric of Canadian leaders like Kellie Leitch. The MP and Conservative leadership candidate has called for a controversial screening of new immigrants and refugees for "Canadian values," as well as proposed a "barbaric cultural practices" tip line.
Kellie Leitch makes a statement at the Conservative leadership candidates' debate, in Halifax on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. (Photo: Andrew Vaughan/CP)
All this has now seemingly come to a political head in Parliament through the form of Motion 103. Put forward by Mississauga MP Iqra Khalid, the motion calls on the House of Commons to "condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination." M103 has ignited a heated debate in Ottawa for one sole reason: its inclusion of the word "Islamophobia."
Conservative MPs argue that without a clear definition, the lack of context could infringe on Canadians' rights to free speech, while suppressing legitimate concerns of Sharia law. Last week, the party tabled a new motion, removing any reference to Islamophobia. The Liberals have since rejected the change.
This attempt to condemn religious discrimination without explicit mention of Islamophobia is indicative of a greater trend within Canada, in which intolerance of Muslims is soft-pedaled and downplayed. Worst, it's often times portrayed as a justified response to a perceived intrusion of Islamic ideologies and encroachment on Canadian values.
Islamophobia is here, and we can no longer ignore its growing presence in this country. Just like systemic racism and anti-Semitism, it can no longer be treated as a non-Canadian issue, or a matter we are somehow immune to by result of our geographical location.
Together, the blinders we've worn for so long and politicians' use of dog-whistle politics have created a dangerous climate of fear and division. As Liberal MP Chandra Arya pointedly noted last week, the Quebec mosque terror attack was the "direct result" of the policies put forward by the federal Conservative party and Quebec's Parti Quebecois.
"Fear is a dangerous thing," he told the House of Commons. "Once it is sanctioned by the state, there's no telling where it might lead. It's always a short path to walk from being suspicious of our fellow citizens, to taking actions to restrict their liberty."
As the political discourse against Islam continues south of the border, Canadians must remain vigilant to ensure that all Canadians, regardless of race or religion, are protected and given safe space. But this diligence can only begin with recognition and acknowledgment of the matter at hand: Islamophobia.
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