Jewish groups were in Ottawa on Oct. 18 to testify in front of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, which will make policy recommendations on M-103, a motion that condemns “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”
Leaders of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and B’nai Brith Canada drew on the Jewish community’s experience with fighting anti-Semitism in their recommendations on how to maximize the motion’s efficacy.
In his testimony, CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel pointed to statistics that showed Jews are the most targeted religious minority in the country.
“Nationally, there were 54 hate crimes targeting Jews per 100,000 individuals in 2015. While this number is relatively consistent with previous years, there was an increase in hate incidents targeting other minority communities, including the Muslim community. In fact, Muslims were the next most targeted group, with 15 incidents per 100,000 individuals,” Fogel said.
“I mention these numbers not to showcase Jewish victimhood, but rather to demonstrate the very real experience our community has in grappling with the issues this committee is studying.”
B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn recommended that the motion be constructed so that it will be “embraced broadly by all Canadians” and by “communities that are the targets of racism and discrimination, including Canadian Jews, who continue to be the target of anti-Semitism.”
Mostyn said the bill must not diminish “the threat to Canadians of all faith communities who face racism and religious discrimination and it must not suggest that one form of racism or religious discrimination is more threatening, or of greater priority, than another.”
Among Fogel’s recommendations was that the committee work to improve on the collection and publication of hate crime data, as it currently varies widely by police department.
He said statistics from the Greater Toronto Area – including Peel Region, Toronto and York Region – are readily available, “but even with these three neighbouring jurisdictions, each report provides different information, making direct comparisons sometimes difficult.”
He added that there are cities, such as Montreal, that don’t release data about which identifiable groups are being targeted, leaving policymakers with incomplete information.
Fogel said it’s important to properly define hate, as we “can’t effectively fight bigotry and hatred without precisely defining it.
“The term ‘Islamophobia’ has been defined in multiple ways, some effective and some problematic. Unfortunately, it has become a lightning rod for controversy, distracting from other important issues at hand.”
Fogel used the Islamic Heritage Month Guidebook, which was issued by the Toronto District School Board earlier this month and contains a definition of Islamophobia that includes “dislike toward Islamic politics or culture,” as an example.
“Muslims can be protected from hate without restricting critique of Islamist political ideologies,” Fogel said.
Mostyn agreed that the committee should “exercise great care in any definition of Islamophobia,” because if the definition is vague or imprecise, it can be “hijacked and only inflame tensions between and among faith communities in Canada.”
Mostyn said an imbalance can create “the impression that Canadian Muslims are the only victims of hate crimes. We are just as concerned with the source of hate crimes targeting Canadian Jews from within radical elements of the Muslim community.”
Fogel also recommended that greater and more consistent enforcement of existing laws is needed.
“Recently, the attorney general of Quebec decided not to lay charges in a case of an Imam in Montreal who had called for the murder of Jews. Quebec’s attorney general also declined to pursue a second charge of genocide promotion. This decision sent a message that someone can call for the death of an entire group of people without consequence,” he said, adding that the federal government should train police and prosecutors to better enforce the existing Criminal Code hate speech provisions and provide resources for the development of more local hate crime units.
In his testimony, David Matas, B’nai Brith Canada’s senior legal counsel, argued that some fear of radical Islam is rational.
“Adherents to some components of Islam preach hatred and terrorism, incite to hatred and terrorism and engage in hate-motivated acts and terrorist crimes,” Matas said.
“What the committee, we suggest, can usefully do is propose criteria, with illustrative examples, which can guide those directly involved in the combat against the threat and acts of hatred and terror coming from Islamic radicals.”
Matas called on the committee to “focus both on those victimized by Islamophobia and on the incitement and acts of hatred and terrorism, which come from within elements of the Islamic community.”
In his remarks, Fogel also referred to the passing of Bill C-305 – a private member’s bill that would expand penalties for hate crimes against schools and community centres associated with identifiable groups – which had it’s third reading on Oct. 18.
“CIJA has long advocated for the changes contained in Bill C-305,” Fogel said. “C-305 is a clear example of how elected officials can work together, in a non-partisan spirit, to make a practical difference in protecting vulnerable minorities.”
CIJA chair David Cape said “CIJA remains grateful for the tireless efforts of MP Chandra Arya who has committed his time and energy to strengthening hate crime protections.
“As we celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary, we’re reminded that the safety of at-risk communities is essential for a healthy, vibrant country. Criminals who target Jews or other minorities don’t distinguish between house of worship, community centres and schools – neither should the law.”