So-Called “Bill M-103”

It doesn’t do what you think it does. Or anything, really.

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The latest from the Cult of Ignorance deals with what they call “Bill M-103”, in the Canadian Parliament.

There are a few apoplectic posts floating about it around the internet, such as this share to CBC Edmonton’s Facebook page.  (You can Google “Bill M-103” to find more.  Most of the hits will bring you to paranoid nonsense, because there’s not actually a thing called “Bill M-103”.  I make no representations about the safety of any websites that may pop up, though.)

In a nutshell, the claims being made are that M-103 is a bill before Parliament that would classify any (negative?) speech about Islam as “Islamophobia”, subjecting the speaker to criminal prosecution.

The first hint that something is off here is the letter.  Federal bills don’t start with “M”.  M-103 is, in fact, a private member’s “motion”.  And here’s the full text of the motion.  It’s short enough, however, to reproduce in full here:

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.

Let’s be clear on a few points here:  Motions don’t make laws.  They don’t amend laws.  They don’t turn speech into an offence.  They don’t subject people to criminal prosecution.

This motion, if adopted, basically does two things:  (1) It would amount to a statement by the House of Commons that systemic racism and religious discrimination (including but not limited to Islamophobia) is bad (not “criminal” or “illegal” but merely worthy of condemnation); and (2) it would request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study to collect data and develop approaches relating to systemic racism and religious discrimination.

That’s it.  Nobody’s going to jail for saying something negative about Islam; that’s not what the motion does.  Full stop.

If anyone tries to convince you that M-103 makes Islamophobia a criminal offence…they’re either ignorant or lying.  It does not and cannot do such a thing.

But is the Motion Necessary in the First Place?

The Toronto Sun recently published an opinion piece about it by Anthony Furey.  To Furey’s small credit, he appears to recognize that it isn’t actually a bill, and doesn’t actually change the law.  But his entire alarm appears to be rooted in a ‘slippery slope’ argument – he’s worried about what legislative reforms might follow the study by the SCCH, because he’s convinced that “there’s a good chance they’ll be dragnet laws that criminalize anyone who dares stand up to the many unsavoury parts of orthodox Islam.”  Notwithstanding Furey’s fear of what legislative reform may eventually follow (and remembering that any legislative reform would have to comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including its guarantee of freedom of expression), it bears highlighting that this motion doesn’t actually do any such thing.

Furey also argues that the “increasing climate of hate in Canada” comes “from within Islam”, seeming to dispute the legitimacy of the premise of the bill, that Muslims in Canada face unjustified hatred and persecution from non-Muslims.  To be fair to Furey, his column was posted the day before Alexandre Bissonnette murdered six people praying at a mosque (a grocery store owner, a university professor, a pharmacy worker, and three civil servants) and injured 19 others.

But Bissonnette’s crime, while recent and extreme, is not the first evidence of Islamophobia in Canada:  In Edmonton, in late 2016, someone was recently spreading anti-Islam pamphlets, calling for the deportation and banning of Islam, with a graphic showing men with nooses around their necks.

When Mississauga was evaluating a zoning application for the construction of a mosque in Meadowvale, a website and pamphlets were proliferated seeking to “stop the mosque” in order to protect “Canadian values” and prevent increases in various forms of criminal activity; a related online publication later made unsupported claims that large numbers of female high school students in Mississauga were being sexually assaulted by Muslims.

In Calgary, in February 2016, somebody spraypainted “Syrians go home and die” on the wall of a Calgary school.  Mosques have been vandalized or even set on fire.  Women wearing the headscarf have been physically and/or verbally assaulted.

In other words, notwithstanding Furey’s desire to overlook the unwarranted abuse that Canadian Muslims are receiving, there’s clear evidence of the ‘climate of hate and fear’ that M-103 seeks to recognize and condemn.

2 thoughts on “So-Called “Bill M-103””

  1. Do we have any concerns that the more orthodox followers of Islam will seek to enforce the letter of the law as it pertains to the Quran? I used to live in a neighborhood were we had this really great ribs place. A local make-shift Mosque petitioned to have the poor guy that ran the place put out of business because they didn’t like the idea that pork ribs were cooking close to their temple of woreship. This is a very trivial example of a people arriving in large enough numbers that they can completely transform the values of a region. I’m not suggesting that values relating to the right to eat pork ribs is equivalent to the right not to be subjected to hate crimes but it’s a slippery slope and I think the slippery slope argument holds if you look at what has happened in the Middle East over the past 30 or so years (they have become more extreme in their enforcement of Sharia in several countries).

    At what point to we recognize that a belief system that fundamentally opposes our beliefs and values should be questioned? My vote is to open a dialog with Canadian Muslims to ensure that we allow for the most reformed Muslims to gain acceptance and recognition in our communities. We need Muslim reform. Hate will simply fuel the Islamic Fundamentalists and that’s not good.

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    1. Do we have any concerns that the more orthodox followers of Islam will seek to enforce the letter of the law as it pertains to the Quran?

      In a word, no. Canadian law does not subordinate itself to the Quran (and, in fact, the vast majority of Muslims will tell you that the Quran requires them to abide by domestic law). Religious freedom in Canada is a fairly simple concept: Absolute freedom to believe, absolute freedom to worship, limited freedom to practice, and zero freedom to expect others to comply with your religious values. So the Canadian legal infrastructure will (and can) *never* enforce Islamic law.

      While it’s unclear to me what the nature of the mosque’s “petition” was, nothing seems inherently problematic to me. Consider a few possibilities: (1) A religious leader seeks to have the municipality revoke the restaurant’s business license. Without some legal basis for doing so, the municipality would presumably decline (and would be subject to judicial review if it chose to do otherwise). If there *is* a legal basis (i.e. that the restaurant isn’t complying with local regulations, etc.), then question whether the existing regulations *should* be enforced, or are overbroad and need to be reformed. (2) Religious adherents bring a proceeding before the Provincial human rights tribunal. Most such processes have ‘gatekeepers’, and such a baseless proceeding would be vetted out at the initial stages. (3) The religious leader tells his followers that ribs are not, in fact, halal, and that they should stop frequenting the business, with the effect that the business loses a large portion of its customer base. That’s religious freedom, and the free market, in action. (And nothing new, either. There are predominantly Jewish communities in both Canada and the United States where it can be tough to find a high-quality non-kosher grocery store.)

      At what point to we recognize that a belief system that fundamentally opposes our beliefs and values should be questioned?

      What, specifically, are you talking about when you talk about “our beliefs and values”?

      There are two different conversations to be had on this point.

      (1) There are a great many people who regard Canada and the United States as being ‘Christian’ countries, and feel that anything not sufficiently waspy is ‘foreign’. Quite the contrary, both Canada and the United States are constitutionally secular; both have freedom of religion as constitutionally entrenched rights; both have a long history of being safe refuge for people fleeing religious persecution overseas; and both have certain historical stains on their conscience in that regard (such as the MS St. Louis). If we want to start having a conversation about “our beliefs and values”, that conversation has to include express recognition of religious freedom and equality.

      (2) Some people regard Islam as being misogynistic, homophobic, etc., and argue that this makes it inconsistent with western values. It is categorically false to say that all Muslims hold those attitudes. It is true that certain Muslim sects are, to varying degrees, oppressive toward women and gays, and in fact in this regard they are not much different from Christianity. There is, at present, a legal battle in Canada as to whether or not a Christian school should be accredited as a law school despite maintaining policies that effectively exclude active homosexuals from admission. (It is likely, and ironic, that most of the school’s proponents, arguing on the basis of religious freedom, would be either protesting loudly or remaining silent if a similar Muslim University were seeking such accreditation.) There are, at present, businesses in Canada that are financed by conservative Christian groups, who oversee and enforce illegal discriminatory ‘modesty’ standards for women in the workplace. There are, at present, polygamous Christian communities in Canada, in which there is reason to believe that significant abuse of women and children occurs.

      To treat misogyny and homophobia as a strictly Muslim problem is, simply put, a misstatement of the problem. Religious orthodoxy in general tends to have certain tensions with a liberal democracy. The attitudes tend to conflict. Where this becomes a major policy problem is when individuals are unable to extricate themselves from the religious community (so if a woman is adhering to religious values not out of choice, but out of fear); where they attempt to impose their discriminatory religious attitudes on others outside the religious community (for example, when a government official, on religious grounds, refuses to issue certificates for same-sex marriages); and where they incite or engage in violence against those who don’t conform with their religious views (for instance, bombing an abortion clinic).

      These policy issues transcend any particular denomination, and to treat them otherwise leads to all sorts of skews: If we specifically condemn Islamic sects for having an archaic stance on homosexuality, but we don’t give equal criticism to Catholics, or evangelical Christians, then we’re alienating Muslims and giving preferred treatment to Christians – which is problematic on a number of levels. What’s far fairer, and far more consistent with western values, is to criticize homophobia, without regard to who is engaging in homophobia.

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