Andrew Mitrovica is an
award-winning investigative reporter and journalism instructor.
Warning: if you believe Canada is a pretty, picture-postcard Islamophobia-free
zone, then I recommend you stop reading this column. You're about to be
profoundly disappointed, shocked, or both.
Scratch its inviting surface and you will discover quickly that,
as in most other Western democracies, Islamophobia is not only alive
and rampant in Canada, but it has long been a
defining characteristic of at least one of its major political parties and
large swaths of the country's corporate media.
The most recent evidence of this unassailable fact has been on
unsavoury display in the still raw residue of the massacre of six Muslim Canadians at
prayer in a Quebec City mosque earlier this month.
Immediately after the terrorist attack, politicians went about the
ritual of decrying the murders, while praying for the victims and their
grieving families and urging their countrymen to rally around the Muslim community as
a sign of unity and support.
Meanwhile, after a burst of attention to blunt any criticism that
it took a terrorist attack on Muslims in Canada by a white, reactionary male as seriously
as attacks in Paris, Brussels or London, much
of the establishment media promptly went on its way, as the carnage in a mosque
receded comfortably into the rearview mirror.
But difficult questions remained unanswered. Chief among them:
What to do about the Islamophobia that was stoked into a raging bonfire by some
of the very politicians and media that were pleading - with all the faux
solemnity they could muster - forharmony and understanding?
Wisely sceptical of the flowery rhetoric, the National Council of
Canadian Muslims (NCCM) - a prominent voice for Canada's Muslim community - has
written an open letter to politicians of all
persuasions, urging them to take concrete steps to confront Islamophobia
and racism and discrimination that
exists plainly in their midst.
Among its sensible recommendations, the
NCCM said that more money needed to be spent to report and gather data on hate
crimes and train police; that, following the province of Ontario's lead, other
provinces should create an anti-racism directorate and establish a mandatory
high-school course on systemic racism and its corrosive impact on society.
Finally, the NCCM threw its powerful backing behind a largely
symbolic, non-binding motion sponsored by a governing Liberal MP, Iqra Khalid,
that calls on the House of Commons to condemn Islamophobia and all
religious discrimination in the aftermath of the Quebec city attack.
For context, it's important to note that after a few hours of
perfunctory debate, Canadian parliamentarians unanimously adopted another
Liberal MP's motion in 2015 condemning the "rise of
anti-Semitism around the world".
Not surprisingly, Khalid's motion has
faced a much more different, tumultuous and instructive fate.
Rather than be approved swiftly and
unanimously, Motion 103 has morphed into a running spectacle that has not only
dominated Canada's political agenda but has also exposed the pus of
Islamophobia still oozing from Canadian politicians and media that only a few
weeks ago were expressing sympathy for men murdered during evening prayers
because they were Muslims.
Leading the hysterical charge in opposing the motion is Canada's
Conservative Party and the bevy of candidates who are vying to lead it. All but
one of the leadership candidates have signalled their vehement opposition to
the motion, claiming that, among other phantom horrors, it would stifle freedom
of speech and possibly act as a precursor to the invocation of "Sharia Law".
This is, of course, lunacy. But it is
lunacy that has coursed its malevolent way through the core of the Conservative
Party for a long time and not, as some have suggested, emerged only lately from
the swamp of Islamophobia to take up residence at the party's radical
Harper not only stocked his cabinet with ministers who shared
his embrace of what amounted to hate politics, but also plucked them from
obscurity, gave them a national profile, all the while defending and
This is a revisionist lie. Former Conservative Prime
Minister Stephen Harper spent much of his tenure fuelling and
satisfying the not-so-latent Islamophobia that was politically appealing to his
legion of supporters by making the niqab a racist dog-whistle and lauding
By the way, the NCCM has sued Harper and his former
spokesman for suggesting that the respected advocacy group had "documented
ties to a terrorist organisation such as Hamas".
Harper not only stocked his cabinet
with ministers who shared his embrace of what amounted to hate politics, but
also plucked them from obscurity, gave them a national profile, all the while
defending and championing them.
Perhaps Harper's signature legacy in this sorry regard was first
encouraging, and then promoting, the political career of Kellie Leitch - who,
in turn, repaid her patron's largesse with unrivalled zealotry and loyalty.
During last year's election campaign, Leitch fronted the unveiling
of a Harper-approved "tip line" for reporting so-called
"barbaric cultural practices" - a thinly disguised, bureaucratic
euphemism for Islam.
And, today, as a prominent and popular
Conservative leadership candidate, Leitch keeps channelling her former boss's
odious modus operandi while attending a "freedom rally" stuffed with
avowed Islamophobes who are convinced Motion 103 is an Islam-inspired plot to
undermine Canadians' rights and freedoms.
"It's great to be in a room full of severely normal people
tonight," Leitch told the adoring crowd. "Canadian values are
not fringe, and together, I know, we are going to fight for them."