Are M-103 Deliberations a foregone conclusion?

The M-103 anti-Islamophobia motion passed in the House of Commons with a partisan 201 to 91 vote count on 23 March of this year. The partisan nature of the vote is uncontested as both the Liberal and NDP parties voted en masse against a block of Conservative Members of Parliament to win the day. What was surprising was the fact that there was a contest in the first place. After all, the M-103 initiative, floated by Mississauga Erin-Mills MP Iqra Khalid, was considered a slam dunk in line with its predecessor venture, “E” Petition 411 (Islam). This latter petition passed unanimously in Parliament on 26 October, 2016. Paradoxically, it appears the foregone conclusion that was “E” 411 turned into a battle supreme in the case of M-103 when a sleepy public awoke and started to ask, “what do you mean by Islamophobia?”.

Public concern ramped up slowly enough with the tabling of M-103 in early December, 2016. It gained steam mightily, however, in the ensuing months with the initiation of related petitions, public protests, journalistic articles and the engagement of a unified Conservative Party. This concern reached a fever pitch in the few days that preceded the M-103 vote with some 900,000 citizens emailing their concerns on the motion to their Members of Parliament. Over and over again they expressed the fear that the term “Islamophobia” might be a Trojan horse hiding a move to curtail free speech rights – specifically the right to criticize all things Islamic. The problem is this would include Islamic things such as Sharia Law, a legal code that incorporates many practices that are seen as antithetical to Western forms of jurisprudence. It’s easy to see how MP Khalid’s assurance that Islamophobia meant “an irrational fear of Muslims that leads to discrimination” fell flat with a public that reasonably saw the term to mean an irrational fear (phobia) of Islam (along with its fellow traveler, Sharia Law). After all, everywhere anti-Islamophobia initiatives have been passed in Western European jurisdictions there has been a parallel rise in prosecutions of speech critical of Islam itself.

Everyday Canadians were, and are, obviously engaged in the M-103 debate but will their concerns be reflected in the 240 day “study period” that will be conducted by the Heritage Committee? This period was kicked off when the motion passed in Parliament on 23 March, 2017 and is slated to end just prior to Christmas break 2017. One thing is for sure, absent any extensions the Committee will be hard-pressed to accommodate these apprehensions as it develops, in the words of the motion, “a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada…”. Given these assertions, the Committee seems to be working from the notion that racism, of which “Islamophobia” is a component part, is hard-baked into the Canadian psyche – a notion that belies the fact that Canadians graciously accept an ever-increasing number of immigrants, refugees and foreign workers/ students to their neighbourhoods without consideration of race or point of origin.

Will this obvious disconnect between notion and fact be studied to ensure faulty conclusions and findings are avoided? This would not appear to be the case as the 20 June, 2017, meeting of the Committee, the last before the summer recess and the return of Parliament on 18 September, indicates a rationing of witness testimony on the basis of Party affiliation. The Liberals, for example, will be allowed to call 36 witnesses for study purposes while the Conservatives and NDP Parties will be allowed to call 24 and 12 respectively. Given the nature of the math and the fact that the Liberals and NDP are aligned on the matter of “Islamophobia” being a component part of Canadian racism and religious discrimination, it would appear that the Conservatives will be heavily outgunned when it comes to arguing that “Islamophobia” is just as much about criticizing the faith of Islam as it is about discriminating against faith practitioners in the form of individual Muslims.

It would appear that the rush of time and the instatement of a process that permits one side of the argument to overwhelm the other will lock-in a predetermined outcome – an outcome that confirms that Canadians are in dire need of being “quelled” of their Islamophobic tendencies. The Heritage Committee has chosen to exclude public input save for invited guests sponsored by Canada’s major political parties. There will be no open hearings held in communities across the country that stand to be impacted by M-103 outcomes. This is truly incredible given the fact that the public-at-large has demonstrated such an overwhelming interest in these outcomes including the possibility that their free speech rights will be adversely impacted. There is only one way to right the rigged system that the M-103 deliberation process appears to be. Individual Canadians and organizations will need to take it upon themselves to make their voices heard. If you are one such person or group, you may consider doing so through a written submission with the help of the advice noted here. After all, absent your input Islamophobia stands to change Canada along lines that are already in evidence in other Western jurisdictions.

Major (Ret’d) Russ Cooper has retired from military service as a decorated combat CF18 fighter pilot and from civil aviation as an international airliner pilot.  He is published internationally in the field of civil aviation security and currently writes on related subjects while operating his own avionics flight test and certification company. He is a founding member of the Canadian Citizens for Charter Rights and Freedoms (C3RF) advocacy group that seeks to preserve the free speech rights of all Canadians.