Islamophobia won’t be the central focus of parliamentary committee’s M-103 report, sources say

The parliamentary committee tasked with preparing a report on racism and religious discrimination as required by M-103, the Liberal government’s controversial anti-Islamophobia motion, is about to make its recommendations public. But after months of debate over the definition of Islamophobia and the use of the term in a motion intended to address all forms of racism, sources say Islamophobia won’t be a central focus of the M-103 report.

The report’s recommendations largely don’t single out Islamophobia, say some sources with knowledge of the heritage committee’s discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the report. “It’s certainly not the focus of the report,” one said, adding that Islamophobia is referenced, “but not at great length.”

Another source said that while the report does mention the debate over the definition of the term, it doesn’t “go on and on and on about it.”

M-103 was a motion tabled in December 2016 by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, but only gained steam after the shooting in a Quebec City mosque last January that left six Muslim worshippers dead. The motion called for the government to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination” and for the heritage committee to conduct a study on how the government could eliminate discrimination “including Islamophobia.”

Though a motion and not a piece of legislation — and though M-103 did not call for the creation of new legislation to address Islamophobia — it quickly became a political lightning rod, with many Conservatives arguing it would stifle free speech, as, they said, the term Islamophobia is poorly defined. A Conservative counter-motion calling for a general study of religious discrimination without singling out Islamophobia was defeated by the Liberals before M-103 was passed in March.

When the heritage committee began its work in September, some members said they’d been contacted repeatedly about the motion by constituents, some of whom expressed fears about Sharia law.

Debate continued over the wording of the motion throughout the committee’s public hearings, leaving Liberal members at times clearly frustrated and at pains to explain that the motion wasn’t just about Islam. “I personally feel we spent a lot of time on this issue of the terminology as opposed to addressing the root cause of the problem,” Liberal MP Arif Virani said during an October hearing.

There have been other signs that the Liberals have wanted to take the focus off Islamophobia, despite the motion’s connection to an attack on Muslim worshippers. “We’re not following the motion word for word,” Liberal committee chair Hedy Fry told witnesses in September. “We’re not having to slavishly follow anything in this motion.”

During the same hearing, NDP MP Jenny Kwan conceded that the language of the motion was “perhaps not the best.”

The heritage committee blew past its 240-day deadline for tabling its recommendations back in November. Sources say debate over the word Islamophobia continued into the committee’s roughly 10 hours of private meetings in December as the report was being prepared.

On Dec. 11, for instance, Conservative MP Scott Reid said on social media that he planned to move a motion to include a suggestion in the report that M-103 should use “anti-Muslim bigotry” instead of “Islamophobia.”

“The Conservatives were focused on the word, and after a while it became bordering on ridiculous,” one source said. Another said the in camera meetings were “complete madness.”

Still, another source said it was important to debate the term. “And I think that just based on the variety of evidence that we had before the committee, that goes to show you that it was a discussion people felt it was important to have.”

Ultimately, sources suggested, the report acknowledges disagreement about the word Islamophobia, but the recommendations don’t focus on anti-Muslim hate over any other type of discrimination.

That would be in line with many of the recommendations put forward by witnesses last fall, which included better collection of hate-crime data, better education, more training for police officers, and an updated national action plan against racism. Few of those recommendations singled out any ethnic or religious group.

The committee is expected to release its report shortly after the House of Commons returns next week.

Source: Islamophobia won’t be the central focus of parliamentary committee’s M-103 report, sources say

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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