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Jewish groups wary of passage of M-103

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Most Conservative MPs voted against the measure. Conservative leadership candidate Michael Chong, pictured, voted in favour.

Jewish advocacy groups reacted to the passage of federal motion M-103 condemning Islamophobia by repeating a number of misgivings they expressed when the measure was introduced and debated.

As expected, the controversial motion that has bitterly divided Canadians for months passed on March 23, by a vote of 201 to 91, with all Liberal and NDP MPs who were present voting in favour.

Most Conservative MPs voted against the measure, with leadership candidate Michael Chong and Simcoe North MP Bruce Stanton voting in favour. Mississauga Liberal MP Gagan Sikand and Barrie Conservative MP Alex Nuttall both abstained.

While any condemnation of hatred or discrimination is positive, M-103 is “a problematic motion,” Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said in a statement.

READ: SHOULD JEWS SUPPORT M-103? A CJN DEBATE

B’nai Brith said it finds it “unfortunate” that calls for the clarification of the motion’s language were not heeded prior to its passage.

“Without clarified language, it unfortunately may be open to abuse,” the group said.

“As it stands, Islamophobia can be defined as both the criticism of the religion of Islam and/or anti-Muslim bias. Human rights apply only to humans, and no faith should be protected from legitimate criticism,” Mostyn’s statement went on.

B’nai Brith said it offered its advice to ensure that language in similar future resolutions reflects “the proper purpose: the protection of individuals targeted by racism.”

Put forward by Ontario Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, the motion, which has no legal force and simply expresses the will of the legislature, seeks to accomplish three things: that the House “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination”; that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage study the issue of “eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia”; and that the federal government collect data on hate crimes for more study.

It goes further than a motion that passed unanimously last October, which just condemned “all forms of Islamophobia.”

READ: WHY AREN’T JEWISH GROUPS SPEAKING UP FOR MUSLIMS?

Khalid’s motion raised fears of singling out one religion for special treatment and of quashing all criticism of Islam. It “has engendered a polarized climate of misunderstanding, misinformation and animosity,” Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), wrote in the Huffington Post March 20.

CIJA supported a motion that intended to combat anti-Muslim hate in Canada. But it is concerned with the “potential validation of any restriction placed on criticizing those manifestations of Islam that drive hatred and violence against Jews, Muslims and other Canadians.

“Recent calls for anti-Semitic violence from the pulpits of some Canadian mosques have brought this concern into sharp relief for many in the Jewish community,” Fogel wrote.

CIJA reached out to Khalid last month in an attempt to change the motion’s wording and define Islamophobia. “For some,” Fogel wrote, “it is an interchangeable term for anti-Muslim bigotry. For others, it is purposefully amorphous, used to quash legitimate criticism of certain interpretations of Islam.”

A poll released the morning the motion was passed suggested that most Canadians opposed the measure. The Angus Reid survey, which polled 1,511 Canadians, found that 42 per cent would vote against it, 29 per cent would vote in favour, and 29 per cent were not sure or would have abstained.

Canadians over 55 were more likely to oppose the motion, while those aged 18 to 34 were more in favour. As well, the survey found university graduates were more supportive than those with high school or college educations.

In an impassioned speech from the floor of the House on March 21, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Khalid tried to assure Canadians that her motion had been subject to many misconceptions and “outrageous claims.”

The motion “does not give one religion or community special privilege over another,” Khalid stated. “In fact, it is an attempt to study all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada. Similar motions have been passed in this House highlighting many issues and many communities.”

Neither would it restrict free speech, she said. Rather, it “serves as a catalyst for Canadians to speak out against discrimination and be heard where they may not have been heard before.”

And it will not create sharia law, she pledged. “I vow to be the first person to oppose any motion or law that negatively impacts our multicultural secular society. I assure members that Motion 103 does not.”

During debate on the motion March 21, some MPs raised the issue of anti-Semitism.

Jews “are the people most targeted for their religion when it comes to hate crimes,” said Quebec Liberal MP Frank Baylis, citing Statistics Canada figures. “However, there is much more work to be done, [because] when it comes to hate crimes, the rate of crimes against Muslims has more than doubled over the last three years.”

Peter Schiefke, also a Quebec Liberal, reminded the House that it passed a motion condemning anti-Semitism in 2015.

Arguing against the motion, Ontario Conservative MP David Sweet noted that “not one” Liberal argued the measure “is watered down because it does not include anti-Semitism. Do the Liberals really expect anyone to believe that a study would have been watered down because the study would have included anti-Semitism?” 

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