THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS
TORONTO, Thursday, September 22, 2022
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 9:06 a.m. [ET] to examine such issues as may arise from time to time relating to human rights generally.
Senator Salma Ataullahjan (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, I am Salma Ataullahjan, senator from Toronto, and chair of this committee. Today, we’re conducting a meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, and I would like to introduce members of the committee who are participating in this meeting. We have, to my right, Senator Arnot from Saskatchewan, Senator Gerba from Quebec, and Senator Oh from Ontario.
Having held two meetings in June in Ottawa, today we continue our study on Islamophobia in Canada, under our general order of reference. Our study will cover, amongst other matters, the role of Islamophobia with respect to online and offline violence against Muslims, general discrimination and discrimination in employment, including Islamophobia in the federal public service. Our study will also examine the sources of Islamophobia; its impact on individuals, including mental health and physical safety; and possible solutions and government responses.
We are pleased to be here in Toronto and to hear from witnesses about Islamophobia in this part of the country. This is the fourth of our public hearings outside of Ottawa. Two weeks ago, we were in Vancouver and Edmonton, and earlier this week we were in Quebec City. Let me provide some details about our meeting today. This morning, we shall have three one-hour panels with a number of witnesses who have been invited. In each panel, we shall hear from the witnesses and then the senators will have a question-and-answer session. There will be a short break around 11:00 a.m.
And now I would like to introduce our first panel of witnesses. Each witness has been asked to make an opening statement of five minutes. We shall hear from all witnesses and then turn to questions from the senators. From the Muslim Council of Peel, we have Hamid Slimi, who is the President; from Zabiha Halal, we have Sarah Khetty, Director of Marketing; and Katherine Bullock, lecturer, University of Toronto Mississauga. I now invite Imam Slimi to make his presentation.
Hamid Slimi, President, Muslim Council of Peel: Good morning, everyone. Peace be with you. My name is Hamid Slimi. I’m the current chairman of the Muslim Council of Peel. I’ve also been an imam and spiritual leader in Canada since 1997 and I served as chair and president of the Canadian Council of Imams from 2006 to 2013.
Honourable senators, I would like to sincerely thank you for this opportunity to address your committee on this subject of Islamophobia in Canada, which has two facets: a domestic one that is the subject of our discussion today, and of course, a global one, which we will not discuss due to the time limitations, although it does affect and influence the former one directly and indirectly. In the following, I am discussing three sections, facts, consequences and some recommendations.
For the facts, we, Canadian Muslims — regular citizens, imams, community leaders, parents, men, women, youth, and children — are deeply concerned by the continuous and alarming rise in anti-Muslim and anti-religious incidents and sentiments in Canada, which include, but are not limited to, the following six points.
The first is hate speech and literature, including that directed at children in neighbourhood playgrounds and schoolyards.
The second is vandalism. I don’t have to remind you of the Peterborough mosque that was burned down and the continuous graffiti and broken windows at mosques, until today, and at Islamic schools.
The third fact is terrorist acts; you’re familiar with the Quebec mosque shooting. I don’t have to go over those, which inspired the New Zealand Christchurch terrorist attacks in 2018, the IMO killing — you’re familiar with the killing of Mohamed-Aslim Zafis in 2020; I was the former imam of that centre for eight years — and the Afzaal family in London, and the list continues.
The fourth is discrimination at workplaces, airports and border crossing points, as well as at consulates of this country, diplomatic missions abroad for Muslims applying for student visas or tourist visas or families who just want to see their children. And unfortunately, this year specifically, many students did not get their visas in many Muslim countries, which is clear discrimination. And you could refer to some of the reports by reputable organizations like NCCM and others.
Fact number five is physical attacks and verbal abuse against Muslim individuals, especially women in the streets and public places, and children at schools.
And the sixth is hateful rallies in front of Islamic centres and mosques.
The attackers, the Islamophobes and those who target Muslims are motivated by four points that I have summed up in my research.
Number one is far-right extremism.
Number two is blind hate that results from media and the entertainment industry. There is a trend in the movie industry continuously producing shows and movies in which the bad guy is always a Muslim and always has a Muslim name. It’s continuous and the CRTC has to do something about it. Of course, there is also the internet and hate speeches and literature.
Number three is what I call imported hate, and this is a fact. We need to pay attention to this one from countries who have allowed anti-Muslim campaigns and adopted anti-Muslim policies. I don’t want to specify which countries, but they exist, and everybody knows them.
And number four is anti-religion extremist groups. This is very funny to mention, but there are some who have gone so far to the extreme of anti-religion and, of course, anti-Islam as well.
Now, I’ll move to the second part, which is consequences. As a result of the aforementioned facts, I am sorry to share some of the consequences we are observing and reporting to you today, which are mainly about a sense of injustice and uncertainty, as well a sense of marginalization and not belonging here for many Muslims. To sum up, there are seven points.
The first is a strong sense of being targeted due to having a visible appearance, whether it’s dress, ethnicity or simply for being Muslim with a Muslim name.
The second is a strong feeling of being treated like a second-class citizen in many places and contexts.
Third is an ongoing fear and a sense of insecurity since Canada has had more Muslims who have been killed in targeted hate attacks than any other G7 country in the past six years due to Islamophobia.
Number four is an increasing withdrawal of people from public life, which leads to many mental health issues, like an increase in depression and anxiety, especially among the youth.
Number five is an increasing withdrawal of students from public schools due to bullying and negative remarks, even sometimes by teachers.
The sixth is an ongoing debate among Muslims about whether there is a future for them and their children in this country.
And number seven is an unprecedented phenomenon of what we call reverse migration — emigration — by a significant number of Muslim individuals and families.
Now, I would like to offer some recommendations. Since 2001, many of our recommendations at different platforms have still not been implemented. We acknowledge and we are encouraged somehow that the current government has taken some positive steps, but a lot more needs to be done. As I close, I would like to stress the following recommendations.
One is to invest indiscriminately in all Canadians of all backgrounds. The best investment is the one that aims at elevating not only the standards of living but also the standards of thinking and a sense of belonging in all Canadians.
Number two is to educate people about the above-mentioned issues — parents, children, schoolteachers, law enforcement officers, public servants and politicians — through a reviewed curriculum, sensitivity training and human resource departments.
Number three is to review education curricula in all schools and better educate future generations not only about tolerance and respect but also the consequences of all forms of hate, including Islamophobia.
Fourth is to reprimand the language and culture of divisiveness, whether by politicians, special interest groups, social media or media in general. The language of divisiveness is the precursor for hate, xenophobia, racism, bigotry and prejudice. Therefore, there should be accountability for such things.
Recommendation number five is to listen to the people as we are doing today, and solve small problems before they become complex crises.
Finally, number six is to please implement NCCM’s recommendations, which were shared on July 19, 2021. I would just reiterate most of the points that were suggested by NCCM. I am sure you took notes of CCI’s recommendations yesterday. Thank you for listening to me.
The Chair: Thank you. Imam, the recommendations you’ve made, please leave the list with the analysts. They do take notes, but I think it would be good for them to have that.
Mr. Slimi: I will do that.
The Chair: Thank you.
Sarah Khetty, Director of Marketing, Zabiha Halal: As-salaam alaikum. Thank you so much for inviting me to appear before this committee to discuss the work that needs to be done to dismantle Islamophobia in Canada.
I appear here as the Director of Marketing of Maple Lodge Farms, which is home to the Zabiha Halal brand. Zabiha Halal serves Canadian Muslims by providing halal foods which are available at grocery stores across the country. The Zabiha Halal brand is the result of a collaboration between Maple Lodge Farms — a private, family-owned company — and the Muslim community itself, which started over 30 years ago.
I have been at Maple Lodge Farms for over seven years and worked on the Zabiha Halal brand for the last six, an experience that has been personally rewarding as a member of the Canadian Muslim community and a halal consumer myself. I can actually remember standing outside of Maple Lodge Farms as a little girl with my own parents purchasing cases of halal chicken, taking it home and making the most value of it as an immigrant family — and the entire day I dreaded repacking that chicken into small bags and putting them into the freezer.
I suspect it is not often that brands are asked to participate in public forums of this nature, but as the home of Canada’s largest halal brand, Maple Lodge Farms is uniquely positioned to inform a discourse on the prevalence of Islamophobia in Canada, and in many ways, we ended up here by chance. As a community brand and because of our grassroots connection with Canadian Muslim consumers, we have had a front-row seat to the struggles Canadian Muslims face. We have even been subjected to these challenges ourselves through online hate and misinformation on our social media pages. These existing issues, as we all know, were magnified by 9/11, and then reinvigorated by the politicization of the Muslim faith ahead of the 2016 U.S. election. The negative sentiment and rhetoric quickly spilled into the Canadian political and cultural landscape.
What has been the most disconcerting regarding the increase in hateful rhetoric regarding Muslim Canadians is the sharp contrast in how this community perceives Canada. In a survey we conducted in 2016, 98% of Muslims responded that they were very proud or proud to be Canadian. Another 97% said they felt a strong sense of belonging here. I know that I have experienced this many times. As the lead on Zabiha Halal, I get asked to speak at many community events, like Reviving the Islamic Spirit, which is a huge conference that takes place over Christmas, and I’ve represented Zabiha Halal at MuslimFest. Any time I feel nervous or don’t know what to say, I know a shoutout to Canada is the solution. It gets the crowd really excited and gives me a moment to catch my breath. There is a lot of love for this country within the Canadian Muslim community.
Four years ago, Zabiha Halal launched the Sharing Halal campaign to combat misinformation and stereotypes about the Canadian Muslims that we represent and serve so proudly. In it, real Muslim Canadians — and I need to emphasize that these are real people, not actors and not myself as a brand ambassador — from immigrants to entrepreneurs, told their own stories regarding their hopes and aspirations, joys and challenges and the extraordinary pride so many have in being Canadian. Sharing Halal was our way of creating content that Canadian Muslims could share to counter the narrative they encountered in their everyday lives, especially online, sometimes through the media and often by mistake through peers and colleagues.
Like many Canadians, after the unprovoked and targeted attack on a Muslim family in London, Ontario, we knew we needed to do more. We were creating this content that was allowing Canadian Muslims to represent themselves on social media and other platforms as more than what the media depicted. But we made the decision to leverage the Sharing Halal campaign to confront Islamophobia more directly. We took on conducting a new survey in 2022, which was issued to 1,500 Canadians and it supported that Islamophobia is real and there is much work to be done.
Let me share a few of the alarming findings with this group today. Of the Canadians surveyed, 54% said they trust Muslims, compared to 68% who expressed that they trust those of the Christian faith. One third worried about how many Muslims are immigrating to Canada, and one quarter wished that hijabs were banned outright.
This was our way of measuring where the differences were, and the gaps, and this is self-reporting. These are Canadians who checked the box to say that they’re worried about Muslims immigrating to Canada. It doesn’t measure the internalized racism or Islamophobia that people aren’t able to identify or aren’t willing to check the box themselves and say, “A person in a hijab makes me nervous,” or “I’m concerned when I hear the azan coming from a mosque.”
Yet we see this as an opportunity to build understanding and compassion through education, awareness and action. We again asked Muslim-Canadians to share their own perspectives. One said, “There’s pressure to always be on my best behaviour, that you need to be better than everybody else.” Another said, “I’m not from any other country, but I started to feel like maybe I’m not as accepted as I thought I was.” This young lady spoke particularly of an incident at a bus station when she was wearing a hijab as a young girl, and before she went to university, she made the very difficult decision to stop wearing a hijab in order to avoid the type of hate she had experienced growing up. These stories are not rare. I too have my own experiences of Islamophobia. In one incident that took place just outside of Toronto, my family reunion was subjected to awful racial slurs. We were left feeling scared and like we did not belong.
We must pave a new way forward. As an accountant by education and a marketer by trade, I have a deep respect of data and information. I believe the key first step here to solving this issue is measurement. We must regularly measure the makeup of the Canadian Muslim community at national, provincial and regional levels to direct support and resources where they are needed. We must measure the sentiments of Canadians toward Muslims to identify communities who require education and tools to broaden their understanding of the Canadian Muslim community. And we must also measure occurrences of Islamophobia at all levels of severity. Often those small occurrences of Islamophobia are your early indicators of larger things to come, like the tragedies that occurred in Quebec as well as in London, Ontario in 2021.
If members of the Muslim community are empowered to document their experiences, they will feel greater support, like their voices matter and that legitimate change is possible. Obtaining data, which I believe is achievable, will inform action that empowers families, normalizes Islam and builds awareness among Canadians at large. This must be a sustained, collective effort between community organizations, private companies, members of the Muslim faith themselves and, of course, governments. Together, we can use our respective strengths and positions to combat a serious, escalating issue.
Sometimes, for inspiration we can look to our children for lessons. One story from the Sharing Halal campaign sticks with me. It confirms we are not born with biases. During year one of the Sharing Halal campaign, we brought a Muslim family and a non-Muslim family together to celebrate iftar in Ramadan. When this visiting family, which was non-Muslim, came to the Muslim family’s home, the young son of the visiting family thought nothing of the little girl’s Islamic dress and simply asked if she could show him her toys. He had clearly been told that there would be toys available at this party, and he wasn’t concerned that the smells in the room and the food were unfamiliar to him, or that her salwar kameez was something that he didn’t understand. He was looking for toys. Those two held hands the entire day as the adults kind of ambled about uncomfortably, learning about each other and getting slowly comfortable. They held hands and played from the get-go. These youngsters remind us that we are more the same than we are different.
Thank you again for the opportunity to present to this committee and considering the recommendations that are detailed more extensively in our written report.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Khetty.
Katherine Bullock, Lecturer, University of Toronto: Thank you very much. Good morning. As-salaam alaikum; greetings of peace. Madam Chair and members of the committee, my name is Katherine Bullock. I have been a lecturer at the University of Toronto Mississauga for the last 18 years, and I’m very grateful to be here today.
I grew up with the adage that “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Once I converted to Islam in 1994 and began experiencing racist verbal harassment on the street, at my dentist, at my university and at government services, I learned that this adage is false. Words hurt and words can hurt for a very long time. They demoralize. They lead to self-doubt, self-hatred or low self-esteem. They are a trauma that can be hard to heal.
When we discuss anti-Muslim racism, we often focus on the haters and how to stop them. We talk about legislation and institution-based policies that focus on what happens after a racist event. These are important and crucial. By focusing on preventing and dealing with perpetrators, we overlook a crucial part of what happens at that event for someone else — the one on the receiving end, or the affectee, to use a delightful Pakistani-English word. How do they cope at that moment? How do they cope afterwards?
There is not a lot of research on how Muslims cope with experiencing an anti-Muslim racist event. The little that is known confirms that Muslims have experienced since 9/11 a collective trauma. There are greater levels of stress, PTSD, anxiety, lower self-esteem and depression. Some scholars argue that Islamophobia is a public health emergency. I have a friend in hijab who was out for a walk one day and had eggs thrown at her while being told to “go back to where you came from.” After this, she was afraid to leave her home for a week.
In 2019, I received hate mail at my university address; excuse me, but there’s going to be rude language in what follows. I’m going to read what it said so you appreciate it. This hate mail was entitled in the subject line “fuck head.” The message was, “Hey you can put your Sharia law up your ass you Muslim piece of shit.” This left me with a panic attack all day: sweaty palms, palpitating heart, shortness of breath, an inability to focus, and later, anxiety about being on campus.
A few weeks ago, we saw on the news the story of an eight-year-old in Montreal now afraid to leave her home after a racist verbal assault by a passer-by in her driveway yelling at her parents to go back to India or Pakistan. They were both born and raised in Montreal, and I am sure that you have your own stories and have heard many more like this over the course of the last few weeks.
Racist encounters might be few and far between and the majority of people might have good interactions, but these negative ones stick. They etch themselves into our sense of being. They last a lifetime. There are positive and negative coping strategies. Staying at home and having a panic attack are obviously negative coping strategies. Some people find their way to positive coping strategies, such as comfort from religiosity, asserting one’s identity or increased civic or political engagement. Medical scholars have established that experiencing racism has a negative impact on children’s healthy development and on adult well-being. We need to do what we can to help people toward positive coping.
We need to assist individuals psychologically in the short term while challenging, over the long term, systemic and everyday racism. Time does not permit me to explain in detail my three recommendations that flow from my concern over how people cope in the long term with an anti-Muslim racist event. In brief, I would like to see funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Department of Canadian Heritage go to mental health providers and community organizations to develop ways to diagnose and treat those affected by anti-Muslim racism and for bystander training for those witnessing anti-Muslim hate crimes, hate incidents and street harassment.
I am sure over the course of these past few weeks, as you have travelled around Canada, you are hearing a lot of statistics. Not only do hate crime statistics skim the surface of the rumblings of daily anti-Muslim racism, they overlook the fact that each statistic represents a person who is reacting and who is now coping. That’s why I wanted to focus on the anecdotes of coping, because words hurt more than we think. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much. Before I turn to the senators for questions, Ms. Bullock, can you please share your recommendations with us?
Ms. Bullock: I submitted them to the clerk.
The Chair: Okay, thank you very much.
Senator Arnot: Thank you to the panel. I have a question for Katherine Bullock. I agree with you that there is evidence that these kinds of interactions of racism and anti-Muslim hate can create depression, anxiety and strong mental health issues. Are you aware of a program that was started in Australia? It’s a national public education program, an anti-racist education program on television and multimedia.
I mention that because I am aware of that study and that program that came out of Australia because it was studied by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission about 10 years ago or so. I can’t put anything into evidence, but there is a national program on anti-racism education designed for adults in the larger public, and if you could find that and submit it to the clerk, it would perhaps be helpful because the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission copied it in a small way, but it really outlined anti-racism against Aboriginal people in Australia. But since it was a national program, I thank you for your comments on that. We are aware here, we have heard about mental health issues that are real and they need to be addressed, and I look forward to analyzing all your recommendations.
To the whole panel, I would just say that I’ve heard you talk about the power of education, and I wanted to tell you that there is a foundation in Canada that has created a set of resources for kindergarten to Grade 12 that answers the questions, “What does it mean to be a Canadian citizen?” and “What are the rights of citizenship?” But more importantly, it asks, “What are the responsibilities that come with those rights?” There is a recognition that the fundamental responsibility is to respect every citizen.
So, in my view, one of the features of this, basically, is that Islamophobia, as we’re hearing, is very acute in Canada, but an investment in education is something that I think we Canadians should be making. We have a country that is known as the most successful experiment in pluralism the world has ever seen, and I think that’s right, but we fail to invest in our multicultural, multi-theist, multi-ethnic country in the sense of creating the understanding required to embrace this. As Senator Oh has mentioned many times, this is Canada’s strength and I believe that is accurate. But my thesis is that in order to change the culture and the community, we need to change the culture in the schools first because we’re creating a generation of people that understand.
I would just say that this pedagogy is created by the Consentus Citizenship Education Foundation. We’ve heard testimony from that organization yesterday, but I believe it is one feature of a response to Islamophobia because it provides a vaccine against ignorance and hate and fear, which is a very toxic combination. The pedagogy espouses that there are five essential competencies of Canadian citizenship that all students from kindergarten to Grade 12 should be enlightened, ethical, empowered, engaged and, I think most importantly, empathetic. So, those are the five essential competencies of Canadian citizenship, and the theory is we need to start very young in schools creating understanding and creating support for the kind of Canada we have in theory, which I’m quite certain is not what’s happening.
You know, many immigrants come to Canada embracing the values of Canada that are in our Constitution, yet your experience on the ground and in the community is opposite to that, it’s antithetical to Canadian values actually. So, we need to emphasize the teaching of Canadian values, the teaching of respect because every human being, every citizen deserves equal moral consideration and respect for every citizen is what we need for a better Canada — for a Canada to sustain this position of being the most successful country of the world as a pluralistic country.
So, I just make that general comment and I’d like to have any comments from any of the witnesses about the power of education and what we should be doing and focusing on using education in an effective way to create a vaccine against this hate that we see in the community.
Mr. Slimi: In my humble contribution, I refer to education review and curriculum and I 100% agree with you and I mentioned that this should start, you know, with the planning for a long-term result. I, with my co-panellists here, we all agree that this can’t be solved in one day, so it must be very well studied, in consultation, of course, with all the stakeholders — in this case, the Muslim community, academics and, of course, community leaders.
Regarding the education and the training, I don’t believe in curriculum; we used to do a lot of sensitivity training, in my opinion, in the '90s with the police officers and law enforcement. I served in Ontario in the 1990s and early 2000s before 9/11 in London, Ontario with the OPP. We’ve done a lot of sensitivity training and I saw the results; it changed officer’s attitudes with the police and in corrections centres. I used to work with CIC, with Correctional Service Canada, and we’ve done a lot of training for chaplains, you know, and I see the results. These things are gone. Even recently, the former federal government, I believe, stopped funding chaplaincy and chaplains. So, we fund them actually for our Muslim communities with our humble means collecting donations and doing fundraisers and selling tickets so we can, because these are very important.
A lot of Islamophobia is happening in correctional centres. There’s a big population, unfortunately, that is suffering. So, they’re already in jail and incarcerated as well as suffering from Islamophobia. But unfortunately, when they turn to us, we just say, sorry, we can’t do much, but law enforcement and teachers need to be trained on how to deal with minorities and sensitivity. Just teach people about people. This is in simple, plain English; teach people about people and this is really needed. But sensitivity training needs to go back.
With diplomats and people who are going to serve in Muslim countries or are dealing with Muslims, it’s very bad. People in CRA, people in government places with authority, you know, unfortunately, we’ve seen and witnessed it and I’m sure you heard in statements that authority is abused and, unfortunately, turned against Muslims.
And I have to emphasize one very important thing, and this is something I have learned over the years looking at this problem and some of it is the imported hate. Sometimes it’s not Canadian, but it’s coming from overseas. Some countries, they come with that hate, you know, and they actually make it worse for their compatriots from the same country. And this is very common, so it’s not to blame everything on what is indigenous to Canada. A lot of it is also imported. You want to live in this country, then you have to learn how to respect and live and let live, and this is very important, as is educating the new immigrants about this Canadian environment.
Ms. Khetty: I’d like to add to that. There’s been a lot of progress in terms of being able to represent diversity. You know, there’s more books in schools. I have a niece who’s five years old, and she told me that the main character in some of her books wears a scarf. That’s incredible. But I think one of the things that’s been really interesting as we’ve talked to the community over the last three years is that the diversity of the Muslim community is not always respected.
So, when we talk about education, and the media, and other areas, how can we make sure that we speak to that fact that? There were definitely people on this panel and many others that are better able to speak to the specific and very real challenges of being a hijabi woman. Muslims are a very diverse group. They’re racially diverse. There are Black, white, Arab and brown Muslims from different regions of the world that speak many, many different languages. And so Muslims look, act and speak, and have different traditions and I think the impact of being othered out of being a Muslim is also very difficult.
I’m going to give an example just to make this very real for people. We had one individual who we spoke to during the Sharing Halal campaign, a young, early-20s Arab man who was white passing, for all intents and purposes, and he shared hearing his friends at school talking about Muslims with him and being discriminatory with him because they didn’t realize he was Muslim. When he shared he was Muslim, their response was, “Oh yeah, but you’re cool.” I’ve experienced this myself as a non-hijabi woman, and I’m sure some of the women in this room have as well, where you’ve been othered by not being included as a Muslim, and that creates a really strange sense of lack of self-understanding, and a sense of othering because you feel like you don’t fit into the Muslim community and you don’t fit in with other people either. And so I think in that education being clear about how diverse Islam and the Muslim community is; that is something that we’ve heard over and over again. It’s very important to people.
Hearing in a work setting that people thought you were too well educated to fast is a reflection of the fact that maybe I speak the way I speak and I look the way I look, and is equally insulting and Islamophobic. So, I just wanted to add that piece which is, you know, often when we think about education and representation, we think of these visual items, and those clearly cause very real issues, but we need to think beyond that, especially when we’re thinking about educating children and police officers, like you said, and teachers, et cetera.
Ms. Bullock: I really appreciate your remarks and I thank you for it. I’d like to share with you that there are anti-racist trainings going on by groups in Canada too; I wasn’t aware of the Australian one, but I’m aware of a sister, Shahina Siddiqui, who, at the moment, is doing anti-racist training in Winnipeg, and is spearheading a launch of something called the Institute for Muslim Mental Health, and I have, I think, heard of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women also doing anti-racist training, and NCCM have also been doing anti-Islamophobia training.
I had a friend and colleague who probably has testified to you, Dr. Jasmin Zine. In the 1990s, she was doing in the schools anti-Muslim racism training. They got a Woodcock Award or something from the NDP. In a way, we’re constantly doing these trainings. And so there’s something else going on as well and I think it’s what Imam Hamid was talking about, the multiple layers and avenues through which anti-Islamophobia is coming. So, you might teach the kid at school but then they’ll go home to their family, or they’ll turn on the TV and they’ll see the movie as the bad guy.
There was a study that came out that possibly someone’s testified to you a couple of months ago about how different religious groups viewed each other. And amongst Catholics, they had the highest anti-Muslim sentiment. So, I think this is a really complex problem, and of course, that education piece is necessary, but it’s not going to be enough. I’d like to share with you a study that came out of the University of Toronto.
I’ve just finished an interview series with Muslim-Canadian healthcare workers asking them how they cope with anti-Muslim racism on the job. When I went in, I assumed they were going to be telling me about racism they were experiencing from their patients, but unfortunately, most of the time we talked about racism from their supervisors. These are medical doctors, and we all know that to get into medical school you have to have got, like, 90%, the highest of the high.
So, U of T did a survey amongst its medical residents in 2017, and they found that 47% self-reported experiencing either discrimination or harassment. Of those who said they’d been discriminated against, 60% were visibly Muslim. I don’t necessarily know how to explain that because something’s really going on, but all of these institutions have reporting mechanisms. The medical resident can go, theoretically, to human resources and make a complaint against their supervisor, but no one wants to. They’re all terrified. They say, “If I do that, it’ll put a target on my back.” “I’ll get, you know, labelled as a troublemaker.” So, even though we’re putting in place these policies, it’s somehow not working. I share this as a conundrum. I find it sometimes difficult to understand. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much. Before I turn to the next senator, Imam, something you said just resonated with me. I don’t know if you’ve been following. I’ve been following and my children have been following what’s happening in Leicester, the city in England where, after the India and Pakistan cricket match, the city has just gone crazy. There are armed men roaming around. You know, there’s actually battles taking place and we’re watching with worry and we’re seeing what’s happening there. So, like you say, you know, certain hate can be imported and that’s a classic case, and we find that it’s not long before it makes its way here.
It was just a game which just took on a totally different meaning. You know, people in restaurants were being attacked. It’s actually a street war going on between, you know, the Hindus and the Muslims over there, and I’ve had calls, even my own children call, and they said, “Mother, are you watching what’s happening there?” And I said, “Yes, with great dismay.” So, I thank you.
Senator Oh: Thank you, witnesses. You know, it’s so exciting to hear everyone, all immigrants come to this country and have a story to tell. From day one, when the Canadian immigration officers in your home country shook your hand and said “Congratulations, you’re going to start a new life in a beautiful country,” you know, you come with big hope, just like me. When they say, “Oh, this is Canada, it’s far better than the country you are living in now.” You know, you are going to have a great life, so when you come here, you start to encounter all these problems and, you know, that really hurts to all of us.
And another thing, I want to echo what Senator Arnot was saying that, you know, the problem is immigrants and the education is important. It takes one generation to change anybody’s mind. So, education from the kids are important to start off. It takes one generation to change somebody’s idea.
And another thing is, you know, I’m always talking with my former mayor, Hazel McCallion, in Mississauga. We agree that, you know, any immigrant who came to this country, please leave your baggage home, don’t bring it here. You are here to start a new life, live as the way Canadians live here. Everybody’s equal. As you say, a lot of imported hate came from where they come in. They were not happy when they left their country, and they brought the same idea over here and they started here again. So, all this baggage must be left behind when you are starting a new life here.
You know, another important thing is probably everybody agrees that, including myself, freedom of speech is very important, but when freedom of speech is misused, it becomes terrible and is a tool to kill everybody. Freedom of speech must be under some kinds of control because that could tell the society good or bad, and that’s freedom of speech. Media is so poisoning if they want to make things worse. That is the scary thing; most anti-Muslim racism and hate crimes, a lot of this is actually promoted by media. I would say media did not report the truth, but it’s not the world media that do it, it’s the individuals in the media.
So, as politicians, I hope someday we could have some kinds of restrictions on media. Yes, freedom of speech, but in the western world, media and speech have two standards, and it depends on which way your mouth wants to sway: left or right. I myself have been targeted left, right and centre. So I would say media plays an important role. So, in the report we are doing, what are the most important things that you want us to put in the report that you think will help the Islamophobia and anti-racism and hate crimes? What are the most important things we’ve got to do? Thank you.
Mr. Slimi: We wouldn’t ask you to do something you can’t. You are legislators, so the first thing is legislation. We need to work on that. We have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We pride ourselves. You know, within it, implicitly, we should guarantee the rights, the rights to live as a human being with dignity. We don’t need rocket science to understand what dignity is. Dignity means any racism should not be tolerated, but the word “toleration” is very vague and ambiguous. We need to talk about actions.
We have precedents, and I don’t need to be specific, where we dealt with issues that we saw that could lead to terrible consequences. As an example, use the word vaccine; we believe in prevention, all of us. I think both co-panellists mentioned that it could lead, and I think, senator, in your words, you did mention that when it came to children, the impact, and I think Ms. Bullock also mentioned the impact on children’s development. So, the word “development” is key here.
You mentioned as well that with developing our ideas, we evolve. I have to admit, I’m an immigrant, but I came young. I came to Canada by choice. I was in the United States, and I liked it here, we stayed here and I evolved in many of my ideas. Where I come from, we evolve. That’s development. We change.
I always like to give a beautiful example to my community, and this is a very good example, for people who don’t tolerate things. I say listen, Canada is like a mall. Someone sells halal food, another one sells kosher food, and we Muslims don’t consume alcohol and pork, which the next-door neighbour sells. We learn how to respect in a mall or a food court, although we don’t consume. I have to respect, and I cannot go to your customers and impose my halal food. Likewise, you cannot impose your pork products and alcohol on my customers. I cannot go and try to persuade your customers to come to my shop. I learn how to live in an environment where all of us are protected by the same laws. Those laws have to be very comprehensive.
When it comes to legislation, we need to spend more on prevention, not only laws if someone does a crime. We have a common law; we don’t have the codified law. But we need to understand we have enough precedents to see and somehow use from all of these. Unless we have strict laws, they don’t have to be, you know, a police state, but under the name of dignity and respect, we need to translate those notions and those concepts that you can’t just make fun of a Black person or a Chinese person or a brown person; there is consequence for such words, including in the movie industry and these movies.
The CRTC, in my opinion, needs to do more work, either make it bigger; I go back, and I see children talk in school. I will give you an example, but I don’t want to take too much time. The children come from school and say they saw a show and then the kids made fun of the other child because there’s a girl with a hijab, there was someone with hijab and they made fun of her. And my own daughter came one day, and this is a while ago, back in 2012, and she said they were telling the kids not to talk to or anybody who says as-salaam alaikum because those are terrorists. Where did this kid learn that? We found out that it was from television: A guy said as-salaam alaikum and then committed a terrorist act somewhere in the United States. These movies and these shows should not have a place in Canada. We have enough ideas to entertain rather than using someone from a different ethnic group.
So, regarding legislation, this is what you can do. There are things, of course; we know that resources are limited, but law has to be reviewed. We need to redraft some of the laws, make them more comprehensive, in the name of dignity and these values that we are taking pride in. We love Canada, and ultimately, as Ms. Khetty mentioned, there are more positives than negatives, but the way things are going, it’s not promising the way the youth are thinking and their mental health, and COVID just made things worse. But legislation is very important. Thank you.
Senator Oh: I just want to add that you mentioned about Hollywood. Hollywood is one of the worst soft power propaganda.
Mr. Slimi: Yes.
Senator Oh: You have to remember. Do you ever see a movie come out from Hollywood that says anything bad about G. I. Joe? So, I am telling you Hollywood is the worst propaganda. Any of the people of colour they want, they will portray you in Hollywood as a different person. Thank you.
Ms. Khetty: So, as outlined in the more extensive written brief that I provided, first of all, thank you for the question because it gives me an opportunity to talk about measurement more, which is something I love. Not being as familiar as Imam Hamid, here, on what the power of this committee is, I’m going to say measurement is something that we really need as a community, and whether it’s as a legislative body, et cetera.
What I mean by that is, first, we need to more consistently understand where Muslims are, who they are, et cetera. The census measures that I think is called “Religious” measures religion and comes out every 10 years. If you think about 2011 to 2022, and how much the Muslim population has changed, a lot of our immigration is coming through Muslim majority countries. We had Syrian refugees over that period that came to Canada, about 40,000 people that changed the landscape, and then were placed into areas and communities that weren’t necessarily Muslim to start with.
A lot of Syrian refugees end up in Atlantic Canada, for an example, communities that were not prepared from an education and diversity perspective for that, and then as a result, they experienced a lot of challenges. So, first, measuring where Muslims are and who they are on a more consistent basis will allow us to provide Canadians at large with factual information.
Second, measuring Islamophobia, I can’t tell you how many of these conversations happen behind closed doors. People are speaking to their imam about these experiences, but they’re not speaking to their non-Muslim colleagues. I will say that for first-generation Canadians — and I’ve experienced this both through my own family, but also as I work in the industry at Zabiha Halal, we speak about traditional thyra or traditional thyher, that’s kind of a segment that we speak about — they feel this level of privilege of being in Canada, which allows them to tolerate a lot. They’re more likely to have accents, they’re more likely to be visually Muslim in some way and they tolerate a lot because they see it as a privilege to have been allowed to immigrate here and they are not going to talk about Islamophobia. In many cases, they’re not even going to notice it and it falls to that second group to talk about it, but they’re still talking about it in these closed circles.
So, how do we give Muslims an opportunity to say, I don’t know, how many times in a week do you experience Islamophobia, or in a month, and how severe is it? Whether it’s a comment like, “You can’t even drink water, that seems barbaric,” to something where you’ve missed a job opportunity and it’s had an impact on your economic life or your ability to participate in certain groups. I don’t know how you do it.
And then I’d say the last thing is about sentiment and I think more studies on how Canadians feel about Muslims and why that is, what’s driving that, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The reality is that we owe people that have these negative views of Muslims, and I think we owe people education and knowledge and information that they might not be getting at home and in their communities.
Ms. Bullock: You asked, Senator Oh — and I appreciate your comments — about some things to put in your report that are the most important, and I think I have six points.
The first one is that you can use your office for leadership. It’s very important that the political leadership charts the vision and then the population can follow. And therefore, to have a committee at this level that would validate Islamophobia happens and it’s real, there’s a lot of discourse, denying; you know, in Canada we’re tolerant, we’re multicultural, there’s no racism here. So, even a simple thing like, “We discovered Islamophobia exists and it’s real,” would be very impactful and very meaningful.
And then the second part of your office is in terms of leadership and “We don’t agree with it. We think it shouldn’t be here and we want to work toward it not being here,” through all of those avenues that you’ve been talking about education and dignity and respect. That in and of itself, I think, is a very meaningful and important step.
The second one is to encourage the discourse. I remember in the 1990s when there was anti-hijab sentiment, it started in Quebec and then spread, the Toronto Star or The Globe and Mail started a campaign called “My Canada Includes Hijab.” So, those kinds of things, they’ve been done, but we can keep doing them: “My Canada Includes Hijab” or my Canada includes, you know, an imam with a big beard, or something like that. Those are very meaningful, symbolic things that people can look up to and it gives vision.
In terms of law, you are senators, but you can encourage that hate crimes be recognized as their own crime rather than right now it doesn’t exist; it’s just an aggravating factor in a crime that’s already listed. I’m sure NCCM has already approached you about that, but that’s something to consider. And you can use your office to encourage the municipalities. We need some kind of accountability for street-level harassment. If someone spits at me, or throws eggs at me, or gives me a hate mail, I did report it. I went to Peel Regional Police, and we had a conversation about it, but what are they going to do? It just gets noted down as a hate incident statistic. We need something, and this is where the bulk of the experience is happening. So, if you could encourage the municipalities to look into street-level harassment bylaws, that would help people feel that I can take it to the police, and something will be done about it.
And finally, funding. So, we talked about funding, and I mentioned it in my proposal funding. Believe it or not, there are very few Muslim psychiatrists, and there are very few psychiatrists who would know how to diagnose and recognize someone who’s suffering the effects of an anti-Muslim racist event. It’s a very, very new field, and so funding to support that would be very useful, as well as the anti-racism training that you had mentioned.
There’s something that I wanted just to highlight again. I don’t know what the solution is, but we need to figure out these institutions that have human resources policies where I can go and report my supervisor, but then I know that I will get targeted by my supervisor for having done so, it means that putting in place these kinds of anti-racism, human-resource policies, something’s going wrong. I don’t know what the solution is, but we can’t assume that just because the policy is there, it means things have been fixed. So, I just finish with something that is a problem that I don’t know what the solution is. Thank you.
Senator Gerba: Thank you. I will give the floor to Sarah Khetty continue because I really, really like what she said about communication, sensitivity and about having the brand ambassador for Islamophobia. So, maybe I can give you the floor to say more about how to sensitize, inform and document all those crimes and what can we do with the CRTC, let’s see, and with what can we do to teach people about people because we are an immigration country. The only people who belong to this country are the First Nations people and the Indigenous people. We belong to these people, we are all immigrants, but we have to learn to live together and to accept diversity.
In French, the saying is that the clothes do not make the man, but we recognize the man from his appearance.
Wearing one’s garments and maintaining one’s personality are important, because we are in a free country, a country with the rule of law. I would really like to hear a bit more about how we can spread this message of tolerance, of acceptance of diversity, which is part of Canada’s makeup.
Ms. Khetty: Not to say that these are simple issues but one, like I said about measurement, we have to give people a forum to talk about this in a more public way. This is a public forum, but there’s not that many people in this room. How do we make sure that these experiences that build empathy in people and help people understand each other are shared more regularly?
The professor spoke to hate amongst certain religious groups that have more hate toward Muslims. How do we create more programs where people are coming into mosques and masjids, and Muslims are going into churches, and we’re having more of this cross-pollination of our communities? That is often happening today at the imam level, at the pastor level, but it needs to be happening at the community level more regularly.
I really don’t know if I have all of the list of solutions, but I do think that the idea of being able to measure what those communities look like, then measure it and layer on the sentiments of that community will help us identify the pockets where we need to start by bringing the community together and building that understanding. The data is going to be able to inform us what that map looks like, and where we truly have lots of diversity, but diversity doesn’t equal understanding, right? We have diversity, but a lack of understanding, and we can close that gap. I’ll keep it short, but I’ll leave it at that.
Mr. Slimi: Let me say a few things about that.
In my remarks, I said that everyone has to be educated, but I have to concentrate on politicians. It is not always a case of hatred or ignorance. There are what can be called political manipulations. There are parties that use words and expressions that increase this danger to a truly intolerable level.
For example, there are people who say things, in private or in public, say something and make comments, for instance.
In Quebec, for instance, the issue of the veil has been manipulated by politicians. To garner a lot of votes and engage a lot of people — people have to vote to have that power — unfortunately, they use that hatred.
People are truly manipulated. They are not necessarily against Islam or Muslims, or against a particular ethnic group, but it is political manipulation.
The key — and this is why I think the Senate has the power to start something for the future — is to engage politicians in this education and even to have laws for this political game. We have to be conscious of this danger which, unfortunately, will result in an intolerant society. That is political manipulation.
Moreover, as I already said, everyone has to be educated, especially people who work for the government and have authority. As noted before, people do not want to be reported because they have that fear, which immigrants also bring here with them. There is always a fear of power.
In Canada, for instance, you can file a complaint against a police officer. That is not possible in many of the countries that immigrants come from. Police officers are like gods in some countries; they have a lot of power. The same thing goes for politicians. They have power. A politician has a lot of power, one cannot — such as a senator or government representative.
So there is a need for protection, and even education of those exhibiting Islamophobia or racism in general. You have the power, but where does it come from? From the law. The law protects you. It is not just the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but the law. The law must be explained, very simply, because a lot of people are not as educated as senators or university professors.
People have to be educated about their rights.
Those who come as immigrants may not be as educated as the politicians or the professors, and they need to know that they have the right to actually stand against a police officer, or a politician.
That is really a brief answer. Thank you very much.
Senator Gerba: Thank you very much. I have 30 seconds left, and I would really like to thank you for your testimony and your courage, Ms. Bullock. I would like to hear about your life today.
Is your life different now? And how can you explain these differences?
Ms. Bullock: I would like to speak in French, but I am not sure I can.
You’re asking me, after I converted, how was my life different? Well, first of all, I was an atheist and now I’m a believer, and that makes an immense difference in my life because I feel spiritual guidance and succour. I feel held by my spiritual connection to a greater being that gives me confidence in my life and helps me through the difficulties, so I’m very happy to be a believer.
I experienced, after I put on the scarf, a lot of discrimination, but it was very subtle. I haven’t experienced any kind of physical attack or any kind of physical assault, thankfully, but there is that street harassment, this hate mail that I’ve talked about. I’m fairly sure that I’ve experienced discrimination in terms of my job hunt. That’s something that’s very difficult to prove, right? And I experience that sense of “I want to feel like I belong to Canada” but you get pushed out by the nasty, and sometimes, it’s just the look. I’m sure you know this. You just get stared at and you can feel hatred coming out of the eyes, and it’s devastating, and it makes you feel like you have no place here, and you worry about your children. But this is life.
Thank you for your question.
Senator Gerba: Thank you for being here.
The Chair: Thank you so much. You spoke of feeling the hatred coming out of their eyes, and I think we had some very difficult testimony in Alberta from the young Black Muslims. We’re finding out that wearing the hijab is difficult, but if you’re Black and you’re in hijab, your experience is really very difficult.
I wanted to ask a couple of questions, if you can give me short answers. So, Ms. Khetty, I remember being so excited, my children especially, when Zabiha came out with halal food. How has the business grown? I know that there is a certain mall in Toronto, and I went into the food court and I asked, and they said all the food they serve in this food court is all halal. We don’t advertise it, but it’s all halal, because the clientele is mostly Muslim. So, can you tell me very briefly about that? How is the growth?
Ms. Khetty: Yes, the growth has been extremely significant. Again, the community is growing, and one of our studies showed that when we asked Canadian Muslims what activities they participate in — Islamic activities: praying, reading Quran, giving Zakat, et cetera — eating halal came up at the very top as the most unifying activity amongst Canadian Muslims. This was part of why we knew we needed to do more, because we’re part of everyday lives of Canadian Muslims, and we talk a lot about meals. You asked earlier, what can we do? Meals are a great way of sharing. Food is a great way of sharing, and that has been our experience; bringing people together over meals starts conversation, and meaningful conversation, personal conversation; sharing your food is a part of sharing your culture and who you are.
So, yes, it’s definitely growing significantly, and we’ve also seen with that growth in the need for halal the growth of what I call halal avoidance from people who say, “I will not eat halal,” and it’s coming from a racist place. You know, it’s funding terrorism, et cetera. So, we’ve also seen a growth in where, simply by providing halal food, we’ve been targeted more by hate.
The Chair: Thank you. Are the studies publicly available? If not, can you please share it with the committee?
Ms. Khetty: Yes, I can absolutely share the 2016 and 2019 studies.
The Chair: Thank you. Imam, my question to you is that — and you briefly touched on this — people come to you and talk to you about incidents of racism that they have experienced personally. I have always said since we started this study that when we look at the percentage and it is up to 77%, those are not true numbers. The numbers are much higher. And we saw an instance of this in Quebec where one of the fathers’ daughters had an incident, and he wanted to go into the school, and the wife told him, “No, no. Don’t go.” So, do you agree that the incidences are much higher than are being reported?
Mr. Slimi: I agree 100%. I, at a personal level, did experience this, and I was debating with my wife whether we should raise this issue. Again, there is that fear of having our children or my child being targeted and, of course, in high school, usually this is Grade 11 and 12 that affects your university. So, it’s actually true.
We know that Muslims by nature are conservative. Most Muslims come from different countries that have conservative — you let go, you forgive and leave it to Allah, and Allah will guide them. You have that attitude. It’s not like an activist attitude. There are very few; the young generations, those born here like Ms. Khetty, and those who are first generation, they speak up.
Many of us, even myself, came young. Still, I do have thoughts sometimes that, you know, it’s not worth it. And I’m just telling you the truth. This is what it is, because you don’t want your child to be focused on, and you don’t want to pay the price at a personal level, so a lot of people don’t want to talk about it for fear of being targeted. A lot of incidents were not reported. We even tried to encourage people to report. They say, “No, it’s okay. It’s okay.” So, there is that. It’s true, yes.
The Chair: We did hear of an instance in Quebec, again, where the mother was in line at the grocery story with her three daughters, and she was subjected to real hate, and she did call the police and she said the police spoke for 45 minutes, and then ended up ticketing her and the other lady. Very briefly, imam, you spoke about how great your relationship with the police was and how you were speaking to them and opening channels of communication, but has that stopped?
Mr. Slimi: No, at the Peel Region level, it has been excellent. Actually, I’m part of the MAC, which is the Muslim Advisory Committee, with the chief. All the chiefs, the chief before and the current chief, they’ve been fantastic. I was involved with Toronto as well. In my experience of Ontario, we had a wonderful relationship, even with the OPP and the RCMP. It’s not as it used to be. They were more active, but the local police, Peel Regional Police and the Toronto Police Service, they have been fantastic. We have Muslim chaplains, we have sensitivity training. With COVID, things went a little bit more online, but there is good communication, and they have improved. They have even hired Muslim advisors.
One brief thing on the former question: Very often, mothers or fathers will bring their children. Recently, just last Saturday, I was with the community doing a program, and I opened the floor for questions, and one daughter, a woman member, was hesitant, and I said please, and I made her feel comfortable. She raised her hand. She said, “Somebody pulled my hijab off,” in Brampton, Ontario, and I said, “What did you do?” “Oh, I didn’t want to talk about it. I mentioned it to my mother.” I said, “You need to go to the school and to the principal.”
So, these are some of the things we do. We encourage our community. “Oh, that’s not a big deal.” No, it is indeed a big deal. Go to the principal, and if the principal does not do anything, go to the board of education. Raise these issues and speak about it. And unfortunately, many Muslims don’t want to report these things. We need to educate our Muslim people to report.
But as Ms. Bullock mentioned earlier, when you report, it’s just statistics. There must be more of a follow-up. There must be dedicated staff to call you, and follow up and update you. What’s the progress? What are they doing? Just that call from them and follow-up means that they care. But if we just report it and nothing happens, unfortunately, I don’t think people will be encouraged to do reporting. Thank you.
The Chair: The other thing, imam, is I asked you something yesterday in a private conversation. We were at ISNA yesterday. They have huge congregations, as does the Khadija, and I have been there many times, and I have seen the size of the congregation. They were saying that in the GTA, which is the Greater Toronto Area, there are around 600,000 Muslims. Is that your sense that that’s how many Muslims there are, 600,000? Is it more, or less? Whenever we go to MuslimFest or any gathering, we see the numbers, but I just wanted to hear —
Mr. Slimi: According to the Canadian Council of Imams, we use different ways of calculation because, as you know, like in any community, not all the Muslims are mosque goers. But based on Eid and different events, we estimate in the GTA, say from Oshawa to Hamilton, no less than 700,000 to 750,000. A lot of Muslims are not practising, but that doesn’t take them out of Islam.
But it is more. It has grown significantly, especially with the migration. A lot of people have come in for education, but also, a lot of people have come in because Canada still, in the world today, is one of the best places to migrate, and the GTA specifically. In spite of what we heard today, Canada still stands out among many, many other places. Thank you.
The Chair: And I would agree with you that it’s probably toward the higher end of 750,000, because I personally have a lot of friends who for Eid prayers will just stay at home and do Eid prayers at home, instead of going out. So, thank you, imam.
Professor Bullock, the one issue that we’ve been grappling with since our first public hearing in Vancouver was that when we started the study, we were calling it a study of Islamophobia. Now I’m finding that word is not the correct word, because a phobia means a fear of someone. So, we know that people are afraid of Muslims, but it doesn’t in any way acknowledge the repercussions for the community, for the Muslims because of that fear, the hate that we see, the physical attacks and the verbal attacks. So, now we are grappling with what to call this study. Anti-Muslim hate? Anti-Muslim racism? I would love your thoughts on that.
Regarding some of the statistics and the numbers that we see, I think the one that we heard yesterday was that incidents of hate and the numbers in Canada are much higher than the U.S. What prompted me to do this study was when I found out that more Muslims have died in Canada than any other country in the G7, and there was a study out of the U.K. which said that Canada is becoming a difficult place for Muslims. Can you address those issues? Thank you.
Ms. Bullock: Thank you, senator, and thank you for organizing this committee and this study. It’s incredibly important and we’re grateful for it.
For the first question, there’s a debate in academia about precisely that — anti-Muslim racism or Islamophobia — and I’ll try to give you a very brief look at the two sides. The side that prefers anti-Muslim racism says that it’s not a phobia because a phobia is a psychological fear, but the situation is willful hatred and targeting of others. A phobia is supposed to be something irrational, whereas this is not irrational; it’s targeted.
Now, those on the right who criticize the term Islamophobia say, “It’s not irrational for me to be afraid of Muslims, because Muslims are the ones doing terrorist acts.” I think, having experienced hatred myself — and now I’m a little bit paranoid of going out and experiencing white people, because I wonder if this person going to be racist toward me — I have a glimpse of why people look toward Muslims in that way.
Islamophobia, from this perspective, brings up too many counter-arguments that distract from the issue at hand, and the issue is discrimination and hatred toward a particular group and exclusion. Those who prefer the term Islamophobia say that a racialized person can be mistaken for a Muslim and attacked, so if you take out the “Islam” part, you are taking out that connection to the faith that exists in the mind of the perpetrator. They will prefer the term Islamophobia because they say that makes the connection between the racialized person and the religion.
My preference is to use the term anti-Muslim racism because of what I had said before about it not being a phobia. I don’t think it’s something irrational. I don’t think it’s a mental disease on the part of the perpetrator. You can have a diagnosis for agoraphobia, but there’s no diagnostic tool to diagnose Islamophobia. I think that anti-Muslim racism pinpoints it as an act of hatred by a perpetrator and, therefore, that’s the term that I use. But if you talk to Professor Jasmin Zine, she will tell you the complete opposite. She will say you need to connect it to the faith. Islamophobia predates colonialism. It goes back all the way to the 7th century. It’s not a 9/11 thing. She and I will have a disagreement, and then we each use our terms, and then it will be up to your committee. You can have that debate about which term you prefer.
But I do have a backgrounder that I wrote summarizing the different positions. If that’s a helpful thing, I can send it to you.
The Chair: We would really appreciate that. In the Senate, we find a way to come to a consensus and somehow manage. Here I look at the analysts. We try and use both the words and see Islamophobia and anti-Muslim. We’re grappling with that. We have a few months to go, but we would be really happy if you could share that paper with us.
Mr. Slimi: I’m not sure if you were at the U.N. commission on Islamophobia. I will send you my one pager. I am in agreement, but I wouldn’t use racism, because racism has to do with races. In my paper, I call it anti-Muslim behaviour. It’s more general, not necessarily because of race.
And it’s true, as Dr. Bullock said, that sometimes people are against you because you look different, and not necessarily Muslim. They will do the same thing against a person from a Hindu or Sikh faith. So, that’s why I call it anti-Muslim, specifically the act: Attacking a mosque is an anti-Muslim behaviour. I don’t like the word Islamophobia, but it has been conventionally adopted because a phobia is a mental state. I don’t like the word, because in the attacks on the mosque, the Quebec shooting, I don’t think the guy had any phobia. He went and killed. It’s anti-Muslim behaviour. Included in the behaviour could be racism, abuse of freedom of speech, swearing, scolding or removing someone’s hijab. Behaviour has a wide range of actions. I’m personally more inclined to use anti-Muslim behaviour, not only racism, because racism is specifically about race. But I will send you my paper today. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much. As you can see, there’s a lot of interest, and we could have gone on for another half an hour, but we’re limited by time. I want to thank all the witnesses for taking the time to come and for your remarks. This will help us a great deal when we are ready to write the report. And if you feel that there is any issue that you missed or something that you should have said, please feel free to make a written submission to us.
Honourable senators, I would like to now introduce our second panel of witnesses. They have been asked to make an opening statement of five minutes, and then we shall have questions from the senators. We did have more people on the panel but, unfortunately, two of our witnesses got sick. I think one was exposed to COVID, and the other one is sick, so they decided not to appear, and I’m grateful for their decision. So, we’ll hear from Shabnees Siwjee of the Islamic Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat of Toronto. I would ask you to make your remarks to be followed by questions from the senators.
Shabnees Siwjee, At-Large Director, Islamic Shia Ithna Asheri Jamaat of Toronto: Thank you very much. In the name of God, the most beneficent and the most merciful, thank you for this opportunity to speak at this public hearing. I am here on behalf of the Islamic Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat, or ISIJ, of Toronto. The ISIJ of Toronto is a charitable organization made up of a diverse community of over 7,000 Muslims, the majority of whom reside in the City of Vaughan and the City of Richmond Hill.
The ISIJ operates four religious centres in the Greater Toronto Area, in the cities of Vaughan, Brampton, Hamilton and Barrie. The guiding principles of the ISIJ of Toronto espouse and promote the core Canadian values of equality, fairness and tolerance. ISIJ of Toronto’s progressive and socially responsible ethos is held up as a role model for other faith-based organizations in Canada and abroad. Through its centres, it successfully carries out its own youth programs, periodic publications, a library, seniors’ activities, burial facilities and various other functions. Our community has been an active and peaceful part of the Greater Toronto Area for over 40 years and has and continues to contribute positively to the multicultural fabric of our community and Canada as a whole.
Regarding our community’s experiences with Islamophobia and general discrimination, our centres, as I said, are located in different regions — in Brampton, in Peel Region; Vaughan, in York Region; the Hamilton region; and Barrie, in Simcoe County. If we look at hate crimes data, we all recognize the increase in hate crimes targeting Muslims. For example, York Regional Police’s latest hate crimes report singled out an increase in hate crimes against Asian, Black, Jewish and Muslim communities in York Region. Police noted a steady surge in hate crimes in cities like Markham, Vaughan and Richmond Hill. This scenario is prevalent in many communities in our province and country, and while it is impossible to capture all of our community’s experiences with Islamophobia and general discrimination in this brief opening statement, I would like to raise three main overarching concerns that require your immediate attention.
The first is acts of hate, like graffiti incidents. In 2014, our community was targeted through an act of vandalism that took place on one of our mosque properties, the Jaffari Community Centre in Vaughan, Ontario. Volunteers from the community discovered derogatory slogans on our premises on July 20, 2014, which were immediately reported to York Regional Police. The perpetrators included slogans such as “Go home,” among others. This incident took place after we hosted our flagship annual interfaith iftar, the breaking of the fast, where we welcome people from all faiths from across York Region and the Greater Toronto Area. While we recognize these actions do not represent the attitudes of Canada’s multicultural society, it was a stark reminder of hate felt toward Muslims.
The second concern is the misinterpretation of Islam and Muslims. In an age of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, we’ve seen experiences of our community being recorded with items shared and taken out of context, all of which have contributed to misinterpretation of Islam and Muslims. Various anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant websites paint Islam poorly and portray Muslims as backward communities that do not belong in Canada, and this has to stop. We had an incident in 2014 where someone filmed segments of a play re-enacting a religious scene that occurred during the holy month of Muharram where the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him, was martyred. This play was performed by students in the Islamic school on our premises and was unfortunately shared widely to further the narrative of Muslims as violent.
Here are some possible solutions and government responses for your consideration. In recent years, while our community and facilities were blatantly targeted, we feel just as much hurt and disappointment when other Muslim communities suffer as a result of hate. I think of the incidents close to home, like the Quebec mosque shooting in 2017, and others further away, like the Christchurch mosque shooting in 2019. Many local communities rallied around us through kind gestures like forming a ring of peace around our centre during praying time, sending in messages of support and the like. While these are appreciated more than words can say, we need to move toward ensuring hate incidents and crimes against Muslims and any other marginalized members of society do not occur.
I want to preface the following recommendations by saying that more Muslims have been killed in targeted attacks in Canada than any other G7 country in the past five years because of Islamophobia. The Government of Canada cannot afford to be idle in this matter. It is literally a matter of life and death for my community.
There are countless actions the government can take, and I want to highlight three pillars.
The first is policy and implementing recommendations shared by Muslim organizations that reflect our shared struggles and solutions. Specifically, in 2021, the NCCM, in conjunction with a lot of Muslim communities, released recommendations on addressing Islamophobia at the federal, provincial and local levels.
The second policy is accountability. It’s imperative that when addressing and combatting any kind of hate, you do so with our feedback using the “nothing about us without us approach,” as you are doing right now. It’s also important that you create a framework that ensures that those targeted by hate are kept informed about the progress made.
The third policy is action. Addressing hate requires concerted and strategic action. While the government should be commended for creating a special representative on combatting Islamophobia, we encourage you to take this further and create a measurable, achievable and timeline action plan or strategy to combat Islamophobia as is done with other equity-deserving groups.
In the end, I would like to thank the various communities for supporting Canadian Muslims in times of need, when various other Muslim communities were attacked in recent years. When the Quebec mosque shooting happened in 2018, the entire Muslim community was shaken and felt targeted, even hundreds of kilometres away from Quebec.
Thank you for listening to me and looking into our recommendations.
The Chair: Thank you very much. Just to clarify, the government promised a year and a half ago to appoint a special representative, but we are still waiting. One has not been appointed, so I just wanted to clear the record.
Senator Oh: Thank you to our witness for being here to share your story with us. What would you make as the number one, strongest recommendation to the committee? As we have heard, everybody has different ideas. What is your idea that should be the key aspect of the report?
Ms. Siwjee: Thank you. I heard in the previous panel some very great recommendations and initiatives, and one that is very close to me, that I feel was touched on in terms of education, is that charity starts from home and the behaviour starts from home. I feel that the young, when they are growing up, it’s the older generation that is very blunt about addressing people of other ethnic backgrounds.
So, I feel that when the children are growing, they are taking this behaviour and what they’re hearing at home to the schools. At a very early age, what they have heard at home is what they are exhibiting in the school environment. An example could be a young Muslim girl would say that her friend said, “Oh, you Muslims are all terrorists.” What is this? This is the behaviour that they’re hearing at home. It isn’t something they’ve already learned in the school environment.
What I’ve heard today is that if you look at the actions of juveniles, and if you look at all the crimes that are committed by the young people, vandalism and graffiti are the things that youth are doing. As a Senate and as a committee that’s looking at what is happening at an early stage with education, I think there should be a law that really promotes the criminal act to go further with juveniles exhibiting any anti-racism action.
If a young person commits one kind of graffiti at a school or in an environment and is caught, I think we should, in the Youth Criminal Justice Act, include something by which we can penalize that person so that this behaviour doesn’t carry forward and is an example to all. It is not a publication ban, or it’s not something that is hidden, because if you are accountable for your actions at an early stage, I think more will come out of it.
Senator Oh: And what do you think of soft-power propaganda, soft power like Hollywood and all this?
Ms. Siwjee: I agree. You know, in the media example, if there is a crime committed, you know, somebody who is watching the news, before it’s told who it is, they’ll say, “Oh, I’m sure it’s a Muslim,” or “Oh, my God, here the Muslims go again.” So, yes, media at the level of newspapers and TV is very fast to bring out that sentiment. If it is somebody from another community, it is very soft. It is very much like that.
In the film industry, there always has to be a bad guy. The bad news is the bad guy is always a Muslim. After 9/11, we had overcome that, but in the last 20 years after 9/11, we are finding that we are back to square one because of the media, because of the approach that’s been taken on that level.
Senator Oh: Good. Thank you.
Senator Arnot: Well, the witness had the good fortune to see the other panel, so you know we had a full discussion on a number of issues, and much passion came out. Do you want to amplify anything that you heard or feel that we should know in any way to corroborate? You’ve given us some very good recommendations under policy accountability and action, and we understood those, I think, but if you want to say anything else, I’d really be pleased to let you tell us what you want us to hear.
Ms. Siwjee: Thank you. Among the things we heard from the previous panel was whether these crimes are being reported. Are people coming forward? There was a hesitation, even from the imam. You could see that this was something that happened in his home, and he was wondering why he should go to the media or how to approach this. There isn’t a clear direction on that level as to what actions should be taken. It isn’t encouraged that we should speak up.
I was just thinking of a very basic example in a financial situation. There’s always audits and there’s compliance. I think that there should be compliance with regards to anti-racism policies applied in school, or incidents happening anywhere in corporations, in businesses, on the front line and in homes; there should be a way to report this. There should be a place where individuals can go to. In schools, there should be an annual compliance document saying how many anti-racism issues they had. Did you have any reported? Were they to the police level or were they to the management level?
All this basic information can come toward accountability and responsibility because, for example, if a school is supposed to, among other compliance documents, have an anti-racism document to be submitted annually, they are going to be telling the teachers to make sure they are promoting good behaviour and tolerance. Make sure that, in your classrooms, if something is happening, bring it out in the forefront so that we are reporting it at the level that is taking it to the committees and taking it so that the right legislation and policies are done. As we heard before, how much is reported? We said not even 70%. And yes, you know, if you ask me, every person that I speak to has been exposed to this.
Senator Arnot: We’ve heard in most of the communities we’ve been in that the police are not taking incidents seriously enough, and they do have the tools on assault, intimidation and harassment. They seem not to be acted upon. I think of some examples of good, progressive police chiefs who are well motivated and have good policies, but I’m also hearing on the ground some of the front-line officers are not dealing with these incidents seriously enough. They’re not taking them seriously enough. And one of the solutions proffered was to have a much more dedicated unit in a police force to actually not only take down the information and the data, but take explicit action and move prosecutions forward to start to set examples in the community and make it public in a public forum in a courtroom. I just wanted to know if you had any thoughts on those issues.
Ms. Siwjee: Thank you. I agree that’s a very good point, but I must say that the police have come a long way. There has been so much dialogue between the Muslim communities and the police. They have now started to take us seriously. Now, they have started to pay attention. In our mosque, any time we’ve had a 9-1-1 call, they are the first to come there, and they are even around patrolling when we’ve not asked them.
But what are they able to do and what have they done? From the past incidents that have been reported, what actions have we seen? What they have come back and told us is, yes, there’s a huge gap there, because I think that nothing is going anywhere from the information that is collected, and I think this committee’s role will help them and there will be some clear direction in where the next step can be.
Senator Arnot: Thank you.
The Chair: In your congregation, you say there are people who experience daily acts of racism; sometimes it’s microaggressions and sometimes it’s outright. How many do you think go to the police and report this?
Ms. Siwjee: I would say that it would be less than 2%. I think the old-school behaviour to turn the other cheek is very much applied, with tolerance and patience. “It’s okay. This was just one incident. Don’t worry about it.” This is a community that manages to keep things very internal.
I have seen things now changing because we have kind of stretched our arms with groups like Mosaic Interfaith. We have been doing a lot of information sessions and talking to other communities, bringing them to our centres and having the dialogue so that we hear how they are coping so we can encourage our congregation to speak about it.
We have a task force on anti-Black racism. We have different task forces that we have created that encourage the general individual to come up and report. If they are feeling that they need a support system, then we help them channel it through.
The Chair: You said that practically everyone in your congregation has faced racism, yet 2% have reported it. Those are numbers to ponder over. Is it a fear that nothing will be done or, like you’re saying, is it turning the other cheek? Here, I’m going to play devil’s advocate. If you turn the other cheek, nothing will happen, right?
Ms. Siwjee: Right.
The Chair: And yet, we’ve heard through this committee where police don’t want to even write a report, or as you heard me say about the woman in Quebec, she was given a ticket too when she was reporting an act of hate directed at her.
What is the solution? I don’t think it’s right that people don’t have that comfort level to go and report hate that is being directed at them.
Ms. Siwjee: I agree. It’s a shared responsibility, and you can only do it better if you know about it. I think that there is a whole shift in the way you look at our membership. If you look at our demographics and the age group between 15 and 65, we have a whole change of new leaders coming forward and encouraging the youth to speak up. They are seeing a difference now because the dialogue is much more open because when the police come in, it’s as cybersecurity: talk about it, show us some examples. How do you do the next step, how do you report? It’s not something that will be fixed if we shy away from it.
Those behaviours are encouraged, and you’re right. This is a shared responsibility that we at the community level need to take, because we’ll only see a difference if we make a difference by doing the right thing and encouraging people to voice and come forward and report such crimes.
The Chair: Thank you. I am finding that the younger people — and here, I speak from experience; I have two young daughters — are more willing to call it out. Recently, I was in London, Ontario, with my older daughter who teaches at the university. At the store, the lady asked us, “What’s that language you were speaking? Where are you from?” And she was just sort of looking at us, and my daughter looked at her and said, “You know, that’s a problematic question,” and the lady, she didn’t know how to respond. So, I am hopeful our younger generation will call it out in a nice way, in a non-confrontational way, when they see the behaviour, because sometimes the people who are behaving in a certain way don’t even know that their behaviour is inappropriate, or the language that they use is not appropriate.
As I was told by a colleague recently, “Well, if you continue to live in silos,” and I said, “I’m sorry, I’ll continue to live in silos as long as you keep asking me where I am from.” And he didn’t have an answer for that. I know being young and being Muslim, especially if you’re in hijab, for the women, has been exceptionally difficult. We’ve heard that as we’ve travelled through B.C., Alberta and Quebec. What about your own personal experiences?
Ms. Siwjee: It’s funny you said that you learned from your children. I just applied the hijab. I took it on about 10 or 15 years ago. I was in the corporate world. I had a very high-level job where I was afraid to put on my hijab, and I learned from my children saying, “We are in Canada, mom. This is a multicultural society. You can practice any religion. Mom, be proud of your religion. Mom, put on your hijab. People won’t see you differently. You’re intellectual, and what you have to offer, mom, you can make a difference and you can show the world that people in hijab are peace lovers. They are people that are good. They are good neighbours. Mom, you can take those baby steps. Put on your hijab, and this is your flag. Come out there and show people that Muslims are good people, and you can do it so well, mom. I cannot put on a hijab,” my son said, “But mom, you can be our ambassador. You can be an advocate.”
And you know what? I enjoyed that journey in a hijab, because I sit on many boards, and with my hijab, my accountability, my responsibility and my discipline is all at a high regard because I have to be a good Muslim when I am working with people so that their perception changes.
So, I have learned from my children, and I think you are right that the children of today can speak up. They can educate as well. We don’t need to hide anymore. And since wearing the hijab, I’ve found peace within myself because I practice my religion without any fear. I get a different kind of respect out there. It’s not all Canadians that are bad. Many understand what our hijab requires us to do, and that comes with learning and spreading the word and the good message out there.
The Chair: Thank you. I’m happy to hear that your experience has been positive, but we have heard in B.C., Alberta and Quebec how some women wearing the hijab have had to struggle.
Ms. Siwjee: And we also see other countries banning hijab, and it’s a pressure, and I would say that in our community recently, we are facing that. Many young girls are taking off their hijabs. On social media, the pressure is huge, and it is becoming a fashion statement now, you know? So, the girls say, “I don’t need to wear my hijab because I’m not accepted around the world.” So, it’s taboo, definitely.
The Chair: I know. We know of certain instances where girls wearing hijab are not allowed to go into colleges and schools, and they’re banned from going into schools. There’s a lot of work to be done. But I thank you for taking the time to appear before us as a witness, and if you feel there’s anything that you missed in your testimony that you would like to add, please feel free to write to us. Your testimony will go a long way in helping us write this report.
Ms. Siwjee: Thank you very much. I pray for you all. We’re very proud of Canada. This is a home for us, and whenever I travel around the world, I can’t wait to get back home.
The Chair: Me too. Thank you very much.
I shall now introduce our third panel of witnesses. Each witness has been asked to make an opening statement of five minutes. We shall hear from all witnesses and then turn to questions from the senators. Witnesses, I ask you to try and respect the five minutes. I hate to interrupt, but we just want to leave more time for questions from the senators. So, if possible, I don’t like interrupting anyone.
So, from the El-Tawhid Juma Circle, we have Troy Jackson, who is co-founder and president, writer and performer; and El-Farouk Khaki, co-founder of Salaam Queer Muslim Community, co-founder of The Canadian Muslim Union, co-founder of the Muslim AIDS Project and founding member of the Muslim Lawyers’ Association. And we also have, from the Canadian Muslim Public Affairs Council, Khaled Al-Qazzaz, who is the senior adviser.
Gentlemen, I welcome you.
Troy Jackson, Co-Founder and President, Writer and Performer, El-Tawhid Juma Circle: Greetings, salaam alaikum, and peace be upon everybody here. Thank you for inviting us to speak with you on behalf of El-Tawhid Juma Circle, the Unity Mosque, on the issue of Islamophobia in Canada. My name is Troy Jackson. I use he/him pronouns.
I am one of three co-founders of the Unity Mosque, along with El-Farouk Khaki, and Dr. Laury Silvers. I serve as the president. We started this group in May 2009 because the Muslim spaces we were going into didn’t feel very welcoming to the queer folks, us included, so we did not feel welcome. Also, the women that we knew that were trying to go to the spaces with us were not in the same rooms with us. They were downstairs and pushed off to the side. We didn’t want that, so that’s why we started our own space. We often say that people that come to “our space” are the ones that have hiked up their skirts and run for the hills from Islam, and they’ve come back to Islam through our group.
So, we started this group as an intentional Muslim mosque space that is gender-equal, LGBTIQ2S+ affirming and centres the voices and leadership of marginalized people. We embrace a liberation- and compassion-centred vision of Islam. We also believe that Islam never was or will be a monolith. We celebrate diversity and the concept of shared service. Everyone is welcome to take a turn in each aspect of the juma services, including but not limited to making the call to prayer, giving the sermon and leading the ritual Friday prayer. We happily share space with Muslims and non-Muslims of all backgrounds.
As a person that’s been attending since 2009, we’ve had people cry. We’ve had people feel very overwhelmed when they are at the service because they’ve never heard their voice articulated within a space like that. So, lots of women have cried when they hear their voice give the call to prayer.
From May 2009 until March 2020, The Unity Mosque met every Friday in downtown Toronto for congregational service. On some Fridays, our numbers swelled to 60 or 70 people in the room and others initially on Skype and, later, via Facebook Live. Our annual Peace Iftar that we host was drawing up to 300 people each Ramadan, including a few senators. Our programming over the years has included Eid services, Milad un Nabi — the Prophet’s Birthday — celebrations, Muharram majlises and interfaith outreach. Unity Mosque has had affiliates over the years in Halifax; Ottawa; Montreal; London, Ontario; Calgary and Vancouver, as well as several in the United States. A number of affiliates remain active.
The mosque community includes many LGBTIQ2SA+ Muslims and has more women than men. However, we are not a “gay mosque,” and our membership includes people of all genders and orientations. In fact, from our own experience about Islamophobia, observations and information from our community members, queer and trans Muslims’ experience of Islamophobia is exacerbated by homophobia and transphobia from dominant Muslims, white supremacists, racists and from Muslim community organizations and individuals. Our queer and/or progressive Muslims are often the only Muslims in the room, and we take it for the team, but we speak up or put ourselves a little bit in danger sometimes in those rooms, but we definitely feel that the larger context in the community does not have our backs. So, that’s exacerbated the Islamophobia and the homophobia that we experience.
El-Farouk Khaki, Co-Founder, founder of Salaam Queer Muslim Community, co-founder of The Canadian Muslim Union, co-founder of the Muslim AIDS Project, founding member of the Muslim Lawyers’ Association, El-Tawhid Juma Circle: Salaam alaikum. My name is El-Farouk Khaki. I go by he/him pronouns, and as you’ve heard, I am one of the co-founders and serve as imam of The Unity Mosque. I will start from where Mr. Jackson left off. I wanted to make reference to a submission by the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, which is one of the few organizations that openly engages with us within the larger Muslim community. In their report to the National Summit on Islamophobia, they said that Islamophobia is experienced differently by each person. Structurally, it intersects with other forms of oppression such as anti-Black racism, sexism, homophobia — I would add transphobia to that list — and ableism. The lived experiences of Muslims with intersectional identities are often removed from conversations surrounding the Muslim experience.
Due to the composition of our membership and the nature of our community, The Unity Mosque is at the intersection of Islamophobia and all these other issues, and, in particular, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny. When we started our mosque in May 2009, our first security concerns were around violence from radicalized Muslims because we are a queer-, trans- and woman-friendly space. Our concerns have been confirmed over the years by threats, emails and information from law enforcement agencies. As such, our activities are often not advertised and the location of our activities is not publicly available. You have to be a member of our group. You have to be screened in order to become a member of the group, or you have to register for the events. Any news or social media article about LGBT Muslims or The Unity Mosque inevitably receives homophobic and transphobic drivel under the guise of Islam. “Never read the comments” has been our motto for many years.
However, radicalized and intolerant Muslims are not our only safety and security concern. Like other Muslims, we are increasingly faced with threats of violence, racism and othering by white supremacists and non-Muslims, with comments such as “Go back to where you come from” and “Go to Saudi Arabia or Iran and see how you do there” when referring to our practice of faith and also our activism for overall human rights issues.
Hijab- and niqab-wearing lesbian, bi and trans Muslim women are subject to the same aggressions and violence due to their dress and attire as other hijabi or niqabi Muslim women, and black LGBTIQ2SA+ Muslims experience the same anti-Black racism as non-queer and non-trans Black Muslims. However, as noted by CCMW in its report, “The lived experiences of Muslims with intersectional identities are often removed from conversations surrounding the Muslim experience.” This is especially true for queer and trans Muslims.
While some Muslim organizations have made public overtures to the larger LGBT community as a human rights or civil rights issue, they refuse to acknowledge, let alone integrate, queer and trans Muslims into their programming and services, or consider protecting our rights and our bodies as Muslims because sexual orientation and gender identities are uncomfortable or complicated subject matters in their understanding of Islam.
As Mr. Jackson said, this often leaves us with no one covering our backs. So, we experience the Islamophobia as Muslims, we experience racism in whichever way we might be racialized and then we experience the homophobia and the transphobia, and those are prevalent in dominant culture as well as Muslim cultures and communities. I’d like to give you a couple of examples, if I may.
Homophobic and Islamophobic graffiti was found a few years ago on a mosque development site just outside of Ottawa. The national Muslim organization contacted us and asked for help in responding to this, and we did, and we said, “Now can we have a talk about queer Muslims at your table?” They told us, “Yes, yes, we’re working on it. We’ll get back to you.” It’s now 15 years later and we are still waiting. In the meantime, they put out a statement on bullying in schools. They invited dominant-culture LGBT organizations, but they did not invite either Salaam or The Unity Mosque to be part of the table.
When we brought forward our concerns of increasing tension in the LGBT neighbourhood at Church and Wellesley in Toronto and some homophobic Muslim kids from a school in the area, we were told we’re not a religious organization and they didn’t deal with the issue, even though it had the potential of becoming a community-based problem and there were issues of potential violence arising.
Islamophobia as a form of social oppression interconnects with race, religion, class and other systems of marginalization. For many of our members, it also intersects with sexual orientation and/or gender identity or expression, compounding impacts on physical and mental health and personal safety. While many Canadian Muslims experience discrimination, harassment and threats in virtually all aspects of their lives, queer and trans Muslims and other “non-conforming” Muslims are especially vulnerable and unprotected.
One of the things that I hear and that Mr. Jackson hears is, “Well, you don’t look Muslim,” and this comes from both Muslim and non-Muslim agents, and that kind of othering also means that are sort of left adrift in many cases.
We endorse the previous reports and recommendations made by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women and the Noor Cultural Centre, but we stress the need for an intersectional approach to combatting Islamophobia in Canada for Muslims of all genders, gender identities and sexual orientations. There have been issues around the murder of a number of gay men, a number of whom were Muslim, in the Toronto community, and the McArthur investigation and how that was handled. In my opinion, there was definitely Islamophobia that affected the investigation and the outcome of it that allowed these murders to continue. I could speak more to that later, if you wish.
About 40% of our community are converts. Many folks end up hiding their conversion from their family and communities for fearing ostracization and rejection. You asked multiple questions about reporting. Microaggressions are normalized for us as Muslims, for us as people of colour and for us as queers, so many people just don’t bother reporting, because they don’t know who to report to. I think this is particularly true for queer and trans Muslims. Who do you go to that’s going to understand the fullness of your experience as Muslims, as queers or trans people and as racialized people? There’s no one to report to, no safe place to report where you will be held in your entirety.
I’m happy to speak about our relationships with police and so on, but I think my five minutes is up.
The Chair: Thank you very much. I have one clarification. You said a percentage of your congregation is converts; is that converts to Islam?
Mr. Khaki: Yes, they are converts to Islam. Two of my three co-founders were not born and raised Muslim. They made that decision, including Mr. Jackson, at some point in their lives.
The Chair: Thank you.
Khaled Al-Qazzaz, Senior Adviser Canadian, Muslim Public Affairs Council: I will start by apologizing. I tested negative, but I just have a bit of a lingering cold, so I’m taking some distance and wearing a mask. I will put it back on after I finish.
Salaam alaikum. Peace be with all of you. Thank you for inviting me to testify before the Senate committee today. I also want to acknowledge the efforts of Senator Ataullahjan and her respected colleagues in leading this study to better understand lslamophobia in Canada and its various dimensions and manifestations.
I am an advocacy advisor to the Canadian Muslim Public Affairs Council. I am also the director of the Institute for Religious and Socio-Political Studies, which has conducted significant research on this topic. I co-founded an organization that empowers vulnerable communities and refugees, and another for democracy defenders in exile. Finally, I am a sitting member of the International Justice Circle of Human Rights Watch.
With regards to Islamophobia, we often think of lslamophobia in Canada as hate crimes or incidents. We think of it when a Muslim family is told to “go home to where you came from,” the Quebec mosque massacre or the London, Ontario family killing. However, violence represents only the apex of lslamophobia. Islamophobia is more nefarious and reaches far deeper into the personal lives of many, many Canadian citizens. Islamophobia is experienced personally by most Muslims one way or another.
lslamophobes have targeted me personally and several family members online and in right-wing media with lies, misinformation and hate. Some of my family members sued for defamation, while others continue to suffer from these attacks. Muslim Canadians face many types of lslamophobia, such as transnational lslamophobia, institutional and structural lslamophobia and Canada’s lslamophobia network, which are examples that I will focus on.
With regards to transnational Islamophobia, we are witnessing transnational lslamophobia funded and driven by foreign states in the form of persecution, as well as state-sponsored campaigns directed against Muslims and Muslim organizations in North America. This is done through PR firms, lobbyists and think tanks to influence elected officials, impact public opinion and change the nature of conversations about Muslims here in Canada and abroad. It’s also implemented through the misuse of security mechanisms like state terrorism lists, no-fly lists or international bodies like the Financial Action Task Force — or FATF — international policing like Interpol and risk databases like World-Check. All have had concerns and negative consequences they have studied.
Counterterrorism tools have been used by states essentially to target Muslims disproportionately and with bias — also known as the securitization of Muslims. My wife and I have been subjected to this when our names were placed on Egypt’s asset-freezing list and a travel ban as reprisal for our support for democracy and human rights in Egypt. To date, lslamophobes have used the unlawful actions of the Egyptian regime to discredit us and allege wrongdoing.
In Canada, with regards to institutional Islamophobia, examples such as our anti-terrorism legislation and national risk assessment contain institutionalized lslamophobia that threatens Muslim Canadians’ civil and constitutional rights. It affects how we live and how freely we can practice our faith.
Agencies also practice institutional lslamophobia. The Canada Border Services Agency — CBSA — has discriminated against Muslims for years, whether through the no-fly list or profiling. But more recently, we have seen the CBSA targeting Muslim refugees, whether they are coming from Egypt, Bangladesh, Afghanistan or other Muslim majority countries. The commonality is these refugees are seeking asylum for their efforts to fight for democracy and freedoms in their own countries.
The CRA has also been accused of targeting and revoking Muslim charities as an approach of policing the Islamic faith and ensuring a limited practice of Islam in our mosques and institutions. Auditors are using their biases to demonstrate that the teachings of Islam do not meet the public benefit test. They also believe that Islamic religious practices are not in fact religious. This is currently being challenged in the Ontario Superior Court by the Muslim Association of Canada.
We have also seen lslamophobia present in parliamentary hearings like these under the previous Conservative government. For instance, the Senate Standing Committee on National Security, Defence and Veterans Affairs in November 2014 invited Lorenzo Vidino, who is connected to numerous anti-Muslim think tanks and has been published in various anti-Muslim outlets. The Senate also invited Thomas Quiggin, a well-known lslamophobe who uses fear tactics to drive anti-Muslim hate. Recently, he was part of the leadership of the “Freedom Convoy” and is deeply connected to Canada’s lslamophobia network. Both were afforded the ability to spread misinformation about Muslims while protected by parliamentary immunity.
Finally, I will conclude my remarks with these recommendations. The Government of Canada has a responsibility to eliminate lslamophobia from its institutions. These issues will not be solved relying only on diversity and equity efforts, anti-racism training or ombudsman reviews. A more serious approach to tackling lslamophobia is needed that holds government agencies accountable and drives reforms. Some suggestions include investigations and inquiries into lslamophobic practices of government agencies, particularly CBSA and the CRA; instituting comprehensive oversight on these agencies; and, finally, including Muslim community representatives in this oversight process.
I would like to conclude by stating that, most importantly, there needs to be a serious effort to change the culture within the security agencies and parts of the government bureaucracy that views Muslims and the Muslim community only through a security lens, and treats them as outsiders rather than equal citizens. This can only be accomplished through genuine engagement and partnership with the Muslim community at all levels. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much, and I will now turn to the senators for questions.
Senator Arnot: Thank you. I’d like to ask all the panellists, but specifically Mr. Khaki and Mr. Jackson, about issues with the police force or police forces that would be applicable throughout Canada, and certainly in this community, and any comments you might have about biases in the police force. You’ve faced a number of intersectional issues, as you’ve pointed out. I don’t know the relationship you have with any of the police forces, if it’s positive or negative, but do you have any recommendations about improving that nationwide?
Mr. Khaki: In answering your question, I think it’s important to appreciate privilege and how privilege works. I speak English with an accent, but I speak it as my first language, and it’s Mr. Jackson’s first language, and we live in downtown Toronto, in the “gaybourhood.” So, we have the right postal code. The responses that we get, we get as queer people, so we have a connection with the LGBT police liaison who reached out, and so forth. If there’s a disturbance in our neighbourhood, as there often is, because we’re downtown, and we call the police, the area code gets a different response than Regent Park, Moss Park or St. James Town, which are just a hop, skip and a jump away from where we are.
Our history has been that we have a good relationship with the police or police forces — the RCMP and Toronto Police Service — when we’ve had occasion to have those interactions, but I do think that is also exceptional. I am a lawyer. I think that also influences how people react and respond, and I have a larger public profile.
I don’t think every Muslim in Canada has that profile so that, when they call the police they actually get, as our friend here talked about, the other deputations that you’ve had. People don’t call the police. A lot of immigrants and racialized folks will not call the police because they don’t trust the police. They don’t think that they’re going to be heard or understood, and there’s enough in the media out there that says that sometimes the victims are further victimized by the system and by the people who are actually meant to protect them. So, our experience is good, but I think it is exceptional in the larger context of what happens.
Mr. Jackson: On the streets, for younger folks too, they probably would not go to the police, and that is just because of the exacerbation within the context of policing, how it started and how there are still problems within the police force with racism. I have an RCMP-heavy and very police-oriented family, but they will get those inward jokes at work.
People are not going to step forward and say certain things. Like he said before, we have privilege. When I call the police, they come right away. They’re very polite to me. I usually get something done. But I know other folks that have called the police, but they’re not coming to their neighbourhood quite quickly. They’re not going to approach police on the street and say, “Hi, this has just happened to me.” They’re probably going to go and talk to the imam or the community and ask what’s happening. But like some of the panellists before, if you’re old school or older, you might just keep it to yourselves a little bit.
Also, we have immigration from other countries where you go to the police services and complain and you might be disappeared. That’s another reason why they will not actually go to the police because they don’t trust them, because it’s also a level of where they’re from, you don’t do that. You don’t make a big stink. You don’t put yourself out there too much because, like the last panellist said, as well, they didn’t want to put their family in danger, and we have made similar decisions ourselves, because we now have a five-year-old, and do we want to put our family in danger? No. So, we have to make those decisions ourselves as well.
Senator Arnot: Thank you very much. I’d like to ask Mr. Al-Qazzaz a question. You’ve pointed out institutional bias in the CRA and the Canada Border Services Agency. You’ve given some examples. I’d like you to amplify your recommendations. You’re trying to change the culture in those two organizations in some way to be much more open and non-discriminatory. Is there anything you’d like to add in terms of how you would implement those recommendations, or best recommend how government do that?
Mr. Al-Qazzaz: Thank you for this important question. The engagement, particularly with the CRA within the Muslim community level, has actually been at its peak the past couple of years. There were a couple of reports that came out, one from the University of Toronto and the other from the International Civil Liberties Monitoring group, basically outlining the Islamophobic practices of the CRA with Muslim organizations. The bottom line is that the practice, unfortunately, is different when it comes to Muslim organizations versus everybody else, and they’re not giving the benefit of the education-first approach that they use. They rely on Islamophobic resources and references and they tried to take an extra step to limit the growth and vitality of Muslim organizations through means that are given to them through legislation.
The challenges are basically the CRA in this situation is the prosecutor and the judge, and they make all the rules. They give you instructions and guidelines that are vague. These are quotations from our professional lawyers — tax lawyers and charity tax lawyers in the top firms — basically that they’re big enough that any organization can be shut down or heavily penalized for not following the regulations.
There are so many international models. The U.K. charity legislation is one of the very good examples that are very clear and there is an attitude to educate and get organizations on track by following these regulations. So, one is on the education side and clarifying the regulations. And to follow what they have outlined, which is basically an education and an engagement approach, in that capacity, unfortunately, this is not what is given to Muslim organizations.
The second is that the CRA, unfortunately, does not hold themselves to the same standards that legal court proceedings do. They do not need to have clear, solid evidence to take a decision. Similarly, with the CBSA officers, it is not about having enough doubt in the organizations or the individuals to attempt to take action and impact the results, and that in itself is problematic. This is where legislation can come in place to limit that infinite authority that is given to the CRA and CBSA at the same level.
The third is that there is almost no oversight. There is an official appeal mechanism that everybody knows in the charity sector that does not work. It really is taken as a step to counter a negative or difficult decision that was done. And I’m not talking here about the specific organization or a specific practice, because within different organizations, there’s a whole scale of rule-abiding organizations and organizations that do not really follow the regulations and the guidelines. I’m talking about in general and as it compares to everybody else in the charity sector or at least in the faith-based charity sector.
Finally, there is a cultural situation that has prevailed for a long time in terms of why these organizations were set up. This is the culture change that I believe my colleagues were referring to in terms of practices that all of us as Canadians involved in different spaces need to counter — cultures that do not see these microaggressions, do not see the structural issues and cultures that basically are okay with these discriminatory approaches that they follow.
So, there is also a cultural approach that can be resolved with oversight and continuous training and education, and I believe there is good intention in the government, but there is no substantial action that is taken to investigate these practices and to take bold corrective actions that, unfortunately, some of the bureaucracy or the security agencies would resist. It really requires some political stamina and strength to correct what is wrong out there, and an engaging process between different stakeholders would be a good starting point. Thank you.
Senator Gerba: I must congratulate you on this initiative. I think it should be repeated in other places because it shows that Islam is an open religion; it is a religion of tolerance, a religion that accepts others.
Your experience is quite touching because it shows how much of Islamophobia is internal. We have to start fighting Islamophobia among ourselves, among Muslims. So yours is a noble undertaking.
I would like to know: what do you really expect from us?
What do you need? What are you really expecting from this committee?
Mr. Jackson: I also amplify saying we need to actually have action. It’s also who you hire, who you have in the room. You can have diversity groups within your committees or even in the Senate, but unless they’re actually putting those words into action, we can all come here and talk as much as we want, but it has to be actioned. How does that look? Who is actually at the table? Are you talking to Muslims or are you talking at them? Are you taking what they’re actually saying to you and putting it into action, or is it just to pat yourself on the back later on because you’ve spent this money, you’ve taken this time to talk to people all across Canada? We’d suggest some concrete action, but you need to include a diversity of Muslims in the room to turn those actions into actual action. We can talk as much as we want, but we need action.
Mr. Khaki: Thank you for your comments. Certainly, for me, Islam is a faith practice that has opened me up to the fullness of the world, the fullness of humanity and our relationship with the non-human world around us. I agree with you. I think Islamophobia is a little bit internalized in us, as racism often is, and for queer and trans folk those also can be internalized because of the dominant culture and the dominant narratives.
What we need from you is not just the words. The words are important. It’s a starting point, but it’s no good having, say, somebody appointed to oversee and respond to Islamophobia by the government when, in fact, government agencies in their policies or in their actual practices are treating Muslims or other folks differently. So, we need a consistency of application.
I did read all your bios, and I know your work around restorative justice with Indigenous communities. The mosque is based on the healing circle from Sufi traditions and from Indigenous traditions. And I think those kinds of healing circles need to be integrated into everything that we do, because a lot of people suffer from all kinds of trauma.
My friend, Dr. Rima Berns-McGowan did a study on imported conflict, where immigrant communities import their conflict. Her conclusion was that they don’t want to, but when I asked her if they import their trauma — and I’m a refugee lawyer, so I deal with traumatized people every day — yes, they do bring their trauma, and it’s in the trauma that is unresolved and not dealt with. We need the concept of restorative justice and healing circles brought into every aspect of our human rights work, because it’s not just enough to say a problem exists. The question is how we get through it and how we get to the other side.
Part of that is also the affirmation of the equal humanity of all people, Canadians or not. It doesn’t matter about citizenship. What we need is an integrated approach that renders phrases like “You don’t look Muslim” irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether I look Muslim. Sometimes I get asked if I pray and if I do this or that. I don’t need to answer that question. What is important is how I see myself, and conversely, how other people see me within a particular situation or particular context.
Our mosque has taken great initiatives to bring in Indigenous practices and traditions, and as a lawyer and a human rights activist, I think we need to bring Indigenous teachings more into the way we do our work. It goes beyond the simple land acknowledgement that we give and actually integrating those practices into healing, because I think that the real issue is trauma. Islamophobia, like any other phobia, is based on stereotypes and making the other a monolith. We always think the best of our exceptions, but the worst in the generalizations of others.
And so, to break down the notion that any community or any group of people are a singularity or a monolith is paramount, and what we need from you is to continue to underline that diversity and that those diversities are multiple. Thank you.
Senator Gerba: Thank you.
Mr. Al-Qazzaz: I always had the intention to learn more French, but have never gotten to it, so I’m doing my best.
So, as the chair is aware, the complexities within the Muslim community are not a monolith, it’s not one uniform community that we can deal with in the exact same way. Islamophobes do not distinguish between a practising Muslim, a non-practising Muslim or a Muslim with this lifestyle or that lifestyle, et cetera. Anything in the space that relates you to Islam, even your skin colour — even though there are White Muslims — you would suffer from a relatively similar attack.
What we hope from the committee, especially with the presence of all these experiences, is to also add this additional complexity or nuance, appreciating and understanding the diversity within the Muslim community. I really appreciate the efforts here to try to bring different voices from within the broad and wide Muslim community, but also, in a slightly sophisticated way, it’s not just bringing everybody different into the same room. Advising action is one direction, but also understanding that we’re fortunate to live in a country that respects this diversity and action through a pluralistic society and our understanding of Islam — I’m talking about myself here — appreciates that aspect and notion of diversity and pluralism, even within the wider circle of humanity with people of diverse faiths and diverse relationships and spirituality.
However, what makes life in Canada special, as well — and Senator Ataullahjan knows that I survived political persecution in other places — is that Canada allows you to practice your faith and allows you to live the lifestyle that you choose for yourself without any force or imposition in any shape or form.
In our attempt to resolve this issue of Islamophobia, to simplify the problem, we cannot just say, well, these are Muslims, these are the challenges and they have one solution that fits all of them. It doesn’t work this way, because there are different lifestyles. Muslims cannot just be confined to one specific lifestyle and one specific way of doing things, and this is what everybody has to accept. We would like to abide by the same principles that exist in this society that allow everybody to do what they want without being pressured into one way or another, and that’s seen within the Muslim community and outside the Muslim community as well.
So, we need to add that little bit of complexity of that diversity and allowing for different lifestyles by Muslims, even if people do not agree about these lifestyles. I hope this makes sense.
Senator Gerba: Okay. You just mentioned during your testimony a Senate committee that brought Islamophobes as witnesses. Are they on a list?
Mr. Al-Qazzaz: So, this was in November 2014, and it was the Standing Committee on National Security and Defence. They invited a couple of people including Lorenzo Vidino and Thomas Quiggin. Here is an unfortunate example of how this is affecting people’s lives.
Thomas Quiggin in particular created a report that is full of misinformation and lies, and trying to connect, basically, Canadian Muslims and Muslim organizations to terrorism and extremism, and he is using shady resources. He was sued and he had to declare bankruptcy. Unfortunately, that hearing became a document that entities like the CRA, for example, would rely on. That report is being used by some of the security agencies, which makes people’s lives more difficult in applying for visas, or inviting family members, or any of these things. So, really, giving Islamophobes more legitimate ground to document their lies is actually a problematic practice, unfortunately.
Senator Gerba: I just wanted to clarify if there is any list where people are listed as Islamophobes, but are you saying that was from a study?
Mr. Al-Qazzaz: I get your question. We don’t want to fall into the problem of others where basically somebody gives themselves the right to classify people as this or that because you have an opinion. Everybody is entitled to their opinions, unless it goes to an extent where it is criminalized by law in cases of defamation or others, or in cases of instigating violence or instigating action against individuals. Some of those individuals who have taken this as part of their jobs and responsibilities have actually taken this to the public platform and caused harm to many people, including myself and several of my family members.
There are some studies that I can share with the committee that documents these attacks and these networks. The most recent is by Dr. Jasmin Zine where she collected more evidence on an Islamophobia network in North America.
Senator Oh: You mentioned a 2014 Senate committee, and you said — correct me if I’m wrong — you said Senator Vidino?
Mr. Al-Qazzaz: No, Mr. Vidino was the guest. He was a witness. He’s not a senator.
Senator Oh: Oh, he is not a senator.
Mr. Al-Qazzaz: No, not a senator.
Senator Oh: Yes, because they said Senator Vidino, but he retired some time ago.
Mr. Al-Qazzaz: No.
Senator Oh: Is he the same one?
Mr. Al-Qazzaz: No, he’s not a senator. He’s an online blogger.
The Chair: Just to clarify, was this the Defence Committee?
Mr. Al-Qazzaz: Yes.
The Chair: Do you remember who the chair was?
Mr. Al-Qazzaz: I can give you all the details.
The Chair: Okay. So, he’s saying that the Defence Committee called two known Islamophobic witnesses.
Senator Oh: Yes.
The Chair: To clarify, we have the Senate Human Rights Committee, which is only dealing with Muslims, and we’re calling out Islamophobes. So, it speaks to the diversity of the Senate and what we represent, but I didn’t know about that. Otherwise, if it was an issue, I would have raised it, and I think I know who the chair was — anyway, I can’t say this. We’re in a public meeting, so I can’t say anything, but I will have a conversation with you.
Senator Oh: Thank you and welcome to our witnesses. I have a question for both of you. How big is your membership in your mosque? You are located at Wellesley and Church, correct?
Mr. Khaki: It’s hard to define the size of our community. We have always had a global component. When we used to meet in real life, our Friday services were at a community health centre for women of colour, and our evening programming was at the 519 Church Street Community Centre, which is in the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood.
I would say that we’ve had thousands of people come through our services over the last 13 years. Our Facebook group has almost 3,000 members and they are global. As I told you when we were talking outside, on a Friday service now, which is all online — we’ve been online only since March of 2020 because of the pandemic — and in all of our activities, whether they’re our Friday congregational prayers, our Eid celebrations, our Muharram majlises or anything else, we have a relationship and we have members as far away as Singapore that join our activities. When we had our first online Eid in the pandemic, we had over 400 registrations from six continents. Only Antarctica was missing in terms of representation in part of our service.
It’s hard for me to say because we don’t have a formal membership, but our catchment is in the thousands and international. We have resourced our model and shared it and our lessons with communities in South Africa, Malaysia, throughout Europe and the United States. I’m trying to get some stuff down into South America as well. So, I can’t give you exact numbers, but I can say it’s a lot.
Senator Oh: Okay.
Mr. Jackson: Right now, with this current climate that we’re in, we would probably be apprehensive about having a physical space at this point in time. The fact that we were protected by the spaces where we used to do our programming and where we would hold our services, there was protection and it was in our own space, and there was some semblance of security there. Right now, with the context and also the advisement of some security people in the RCMP and other police services that have advised us, we would probably keep a low profile, do our advocacy and come here and speak to you, but a physical space is something that we need to really think about if we want to actually have that.
Senator Oh: Do you physically have a chapter in Vancouver and Montreal?
Mr. Khaki: Yes, we do. In Canada, we have communities that are active now in Montreal, in Ottawa, in Calgary and Vancouver They’re small compared to us. We are the flagship here.
Senator Oh: In Toronto?
Mr. Khaki: Yes.
Senator Oh: Okay. And gender-wise, is there a mix of males and females?
Mr. Khaki: Yes. We’re not on a binary, so male, female and whatever your gender might be. Our services are gender equal, which means any person of any gender identity can lead the prayer, give the sermon or do any other part of ritual service.
Senator Oh: Okay, thank you.
Mr. Khaki: Come as you are is our motto.
Senator Oh: I will come visit you.
Mr. Khaki: Please do.
Senator Oh: What is the key thing, the most important thing in your mind? You were worried that the committee is only listening and no action is taken. What is the key thing for you that we should keep to the point?
Mr. Al-Qazzaz: I have two specific suggestions. The first is that I hope that the work of this committee can translate into more of a parliamentary inquiry or investigation on structural Islamophobia within the government and security agencies. I think a true deep inquiry that engages some of the civil society in it would be a very good starting point in that capacity.
The second one is actually something that can be done directly by the committee, and that is a public message that some of the Senate members here can do. That is to really not look at the Muslim community as a security threat and from a security lens. I spoke to a public safety minister earlier who was previously the chief of the Toronto Police Service at the most difficult times post-9/11, and I asked him to confirm that the Muslim community since September 11 has been seen from a security lens first and then everything else.
If we can publicly speak out against that outlook, I think it would be an important step that some of you and others can take part in. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you. I wanted to ask you, as a lawyer, about a certain individual who stood in Yonge-Dundas Square who called for the killing of Muslims and Sikhs as justified, and who has not been charged. Are you aware of that? Have you seen that footage? I know he has not been charged, not because the police don’t want to charge him, but it’s the Attorney General’s office that’s taking its time. Are you aware of that case? I don’t want to name that individual, because I don’t like to give these individuals any space.
Mr. Khaki: To be honest, no, and that’s simply because we have been travelling, got COVID and have been dealing with a five-year-old, but it doesn’t surprise me. It comes into that notion of differential justice, and the targeting of Muslim charities, for example, differentially. It’s not that Muslims are particularly bad at keeping their books or their records, but the same scrutiny is not applied elsewhere, or there’s a differential standard. To me, your comments speak to that institutional differential treatment of certain people, in this case Muslims, but again, you’ve got anti-Black racism and how that intersects, and so on.
The Chair: You spoke of Sufi Islam. Could you explain Sufi to my fellow senators who don’t know? Can you speak of Sufi Islam in two sentences? I like to think of myself as Sufi, too.
Mr. Khaki: Sufi Islam and Sufism refer to the mystical tradition or the mystical path in Islam, and the principal relationship between creator and created in Sufi Islam is that of love. Allah is the beloved, and we are the beloved of Allah, and Allah in the Quran says, “I am closer to you than your jugular vein,” and Allah doesn’t specify those who are Muslim, or those who are male, or those who are White, or those who are straight. It is the great equalizer: No matter what you believe, if you believe, if you don’t believe and no matter who you are in the relationship, the foundation of the relationship is love and intimacy. That’s my understanding of Sufism.
The Chair: I think that is correct. My daughters and I say we are Sufis. Of course, the poet, Rūmī, was one of the greatest Sufi writers. To the analysts, I was trying to look at every angle and different sects, and we kind of missed the Sufis. I know that there is an organization here in Mississauga.
Mr. Khaki: I am a dervish.
The Chair: You are a dervish? Okay.
Mr. Khaki: Sorry, I strive to be a dervish.
The Chair: We will be looking at that too. You said you get police response right away because you live at a certain address. What does that mean?
Mr. Jackson: We live right downtown. We live on one of those streets in a really old house that’s been there forever. Most people in our neighbourhood are White or quite affluent and can afford to pay, I don’t know, $700,000 for a very small apartment. That’s why they come really quickly for us.
Also, with the expansion of U of T and Toronto Metropolitan University, there’s a lot of students in the area too. We also live in the Church Wellesley area of Toronto, so they’re taking care of the money and the well-heeled people in the neighbourhood.
The Chair: I don’t want to put words into your mouth: Are you saying if you’re White and wealthy, the police respond to you more quickly?
Mr. Jackson: Yes.
Mr. Khaki: Yes.
The Chair: Thank you. So I didn’t put words into your mouth?
Mr. Khaki: No, and we appreciate that.
The Chair: Mr. El-Qazzaz, you raised an issue that we’re probably looking at the role of the CRA in targeting Muslim charities. It was raised very briefly yesterday when I was at ISNA, and I know that some of us senators have been working on this issue. We’ve had private meetings with the CRA, and they said this is all blind and they don’t know what charity they’re dealing with and what was happening.
I don’t want to talk too much about this, because this is an angle we will be exploring later on in the study, but I was told that it’s all blind, and my response was that out of eight charities that they looked at and audited, six were Muslim. I couldn’t understand how that was blind. What we’re hearing is that some Muslim charities are intentionally being targeted.
Mr. Al-Qazzaz: I will, for the benefit of the time, share the summaries of the two reports by U of T and ICLMG, because they clearly outline the problematic areas in the CRA practice. It is a complex situation because the challenge is not only at the CRA level; it is also at Canada’s national risk assessment level, as well as their international commitment to entities such as the FATF that I mentioned earlier.
The problem is the way they articulated and designed this national risk assessment. It places Muslim charities and Muslim groups as the number one threat. I think at least 95% of the organizations — I won’t use the exact number, but this will be in the report that I share with you — that are considered to be terrorist entities listed by the government are Muslim or have some Muslim ties, which shifted the entire outlook of the organization and of the establishment to target Muslim organizations. And the challenge is that it is not only about penalizing and revoking charity status, but it’s actually more about practices called de-risking and defunding.
The idea is it became a target to put a limit on Muslim charities without doing the due diligence of their connections, their ties and their problems. Some of these practices are used on charities that have no international connections. They don’t collect money; they don’t distribute things. Unfortunately, this allowed anyone with more Islamophobic tendencies or cultural practices to use these authorities to target Muslims because they disagree with how they view their faith or their religion.
The CRA came and told one of the organizations that I work with that doing eight celebrations for the poor is considered non-charitable, and this doesn’t make sense, because they consider this as a social event, not a religious event, which means they are attempting to define what their faith means and how they practise it. At our church, my son goes to volleyball and his entire private practices are mostly in rented church spaces for volleyball practice. Most Muslims are looked at differently and their holding of youth activities is considered non-charitable.
This shows you practically how the CRA is attempting — or some within the CRA are attempting — to define what Islam is for Muslim organizations and Muslim charities. It’s a problem at multiple levels.
The Chair: Thank you. You’ve raised an important issue that we will indeed look into further.
Witnesses, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for taking the time to be here and enlightening us. Mr. Jackson, we are actually talking to people, we’re not talking at them. The Senate works quite differently, and if you look at some of the work that the Senate committees do, we don’t have to worry about being elected. We do the work we do because we feel it in our hearts, and we feel it’s the right thing to represent Canadians of all colours and all stripes.
We are truly trying to do our best, and I have to share with you that it’s been a difficult journey. Senators will tell you that every evening we have very heavy hearts, and sometimes it’s almost like I feel it because of what we’ve heard. So, I want to thank you for taking the time to be here, as this will help greatly as we go forward with our study.
(The committee adjourned.)