UNDERSTANDING THE COMMONS MOTION ON ISLAMOPHOBIA

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This week apart from the federal budget, news in Canada has been dominated by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, who tabled a motion calling on the Canadian government to condemn Islamophobia and develop a coherent strategy to combat it.

MPs in the House debated this motion amid much public confusion and misinformation. At the center of contention is the single word: “Islamophobia.”

Here are five things you need to understand about the motion:

What will it do?

In light of the recent tragic Quebec Mosque attacks which were widely condemned, Khalid has proposed motion 130, otherwise known as M-103. The debating of the motion will continue throughout this coming April. One noteworthy clause of the motion states that: “The government should condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic forms of racism and religious discrimination.”

The motion was initially tabled by Pakistan-born Mississauga-Erin Mills Liberal MP Iqra Khalid on Dec 5, 2016. It aims to condemn and combat Islamophobia, acts of discrimination and hate against Muslims. This events and debate this week unfolded in the emotional aftermath of the Jan 29 mosque shootings in Quebec City, where 6 Muslim worshipers were killed.

The motion does three things:

  • Calls on the government to condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.
  • Asks the government to recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear.
  • Requests the Commons heritage committee to study how the government could develop a government-wide approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia, and collect data to provide context for hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities. Findings are to be reported within eight months.

Is it a motion or a bill?

A large section of the public have mischaracterized it as a “bill” or a “law,” out of confusion or deliberate attempts to spread misinformation, M-103 is actually a private member’s motion.

A motion is a proposal moved by an MP to draw attention to an issue considered urgent or of public interest. It cannot become a law, but it can lead to the development of a bill that could eventually become a law. On the other hand, a bill is a draft of the proposed law which must be passed by the House of Commons and Senate before it becomes law.

What is Islamophobia?

Much of the debate in Canada including in the House of Commons focused on this word, and whether its reference in the motion will tackle the growing problem head-on, or erode free speech. The Liberal government insists the word is clear while the Conservatives say it’s confusing and potentially harmful.

On Wednesday, Khalid offered this: “What is Islamophobia? He most commonly used definition, and the one I ascribe to, is that Islamophobia is the irrational hatred of Muslims that leads to discrimination,” she said.

Amira Elghawaby, the spokesperson for National Council of Canadian Muslims, said the term Islamophobia is commonly used in Canada is to describe the irrational fear or hatred of Muslims that leads to discrimination or actual acts of harassment or violence.

She said the term is widely used by community members, public officials, and academics, as well by international organizations including the United Nations, and called it “unfortunate” that the decisive debate is shifting focus away from collective efforts to make everyone feel safer.

Why are some people opposed to it?

M-103 has become a lightning rod, attracting a flurry of comments and conversations on social media, blogs, and websites.

Some critics of the motion worry that it could infringe on freedom of expression, mainly because criticism of Islam could be construed as Islamophobia.

What next?

M-103 now goes to the bottom of the list of private member’s business and is expected to return for an hour of debate in early April. At that time, it could be passed in the House but if recorded vote is requested, that would occur the following Wednesday.

The political debate will likely continue to rage in the meantime, with several Conservative leadership candidates seizing the issue or even fundraising on it. The Liberals are also using M-103 to showcase the government’s “diversity is our strength” message.

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