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RIDR - Standing Committee

Human Rights



OTTAWA, Monday, March 27, 2023

The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met with videoconference this day at 4:06 p.m. [ET] to examine such issues as may arise from time to time relating to human rights generally; and, in camera, 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: I am Salma Ataullahjan, a senator from Toronto and chair of this committee. Today we are conducting a public hearing of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights.

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce the members of the committee who are participating in this meeting. We have Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard, who is the deputy chair. She is from Nova Scotia. We have Senator David Arnot from Saskatchewan, Senator Omidvar from Ontario, Senator Nancy Hartling from New Brunswick, Senator Jaffer from B.C. and Senator Fabian Manning from Newfoundland and Labrador.

Today, our committee will continue its study on Islamophobia in Canada under its general order of reference. Our study will cover, among other matters, the role of Islamophobia with respect to online and offline violence against Muslims, gender discrimination as well as 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.

After having held two meetings in June of 2022 in Ottawa, followed by public meetings and visits to mosques in September in Vancouver, Edmonton, Quebec City and Toronto, we continued our public hearings in Ottawa last fall and last month.

Let me provide some details about our meeting today. This afternoon we shall have three panels. In each panel, we shall hear from witnesses, and then the senators will have a question-and-answer session.

I will now 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. I wish to welcome the first of our witnesses who are with us in person at the table today, the Honourable Marie Deschamps, Chair of the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency; accompanied by Dr. Foluke Laosebikan, member, National Security and Intelligence Review Agency; and John Davies, Executive Director, National Security and Intelligence Review Agency. I now invite Madam Deschamps to make her presentation.

The Honourable Marie Deschamps, Chair, National Security and Intelligence Review Agency: Good afternoon, Madam Chair and honourable senators on the committee. I would like to start by recognizing that we are speaking to you today from the unceded ancestral territories of the Anishinaabe Algonquin Nation.


Thank you for inviting us to participate in your deliberations. With me is Dr. Foluke Laosebikan, who has been a member of the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, or NSIRA, since spring 2022. The agency relies on her experience and expertise with vulnerable communities, particularly Indigenous peoples and visible minorities.

To my left is John Davies, Executive Director of the NSIRA Secretariat. He has served in that position since the agency was first created in 2019. He leads the Secretariat responsible for providing NSIRA with all the support it needs to fulfill its mandate.

The agency’s name has come up several times in your hearings and in the media. I know that the committee’s work on Islamophobia in Canada extends well beyond the practices of the Canada Revenue Agency, or CRA, but today I will be focusing my remarks on the CRA. Your invitation gives us the opportunity to explain what NSIRA has done since the CRA’s practices raised issues related to discrimination.


I will not say much about the NSIRA mandate other than to remind the committee that, when we were created, the mandate was optimistic in the sense that it is very broad. It includes investigations but also reviews of national security and intelligence activities of the entire government. While many of our reviews are discretionary, several of them are mandated by statute. To select our discretionary work, we have established a process based upon considerations at that are now made public. They are on our website. The raison d’etre of the NSIRA is to act as proxy for Canadians to ensure that national security activities are conducted in ways that are reasonable and necessary.

First and foremost, we assess whether agencies respect their obligations. This, obviously, includes respecting the Charter and, more specifically to the subject matter of this committee, protections against discrimination. To assess the agencies’ activities, NSIRA conducts independent, in-depth and fearless reviews. I’m not sure that they appreciate the metaphor, but I often tell them that we offer them the gift of reviews. By this, I mean that we help them improve their governance and their operations so that they can operate in a way that is in compliance with the law.

The activities of the CRA came to our attention in 2021 following the publication of two reports, both of which you have heard about during your hearings. The first was released by the National Council of Canadian Muslims in collaboration with the University of Toronto’s Institute of Islamic Studies. The second one is the one published by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group. When these were issued, we considered several options to examine how we could integrate the activities of the Canada Revenue Agency into our work plan.

Shortly thereafter, we learned that the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson, Mr. Boileau, whom you have heard from during your hearings, was conducting his own review. As you know, we are required by statute to deconflict with certain review bodies, but even if those who are conducting reviews are not listed in our statute, we attempt not to duplicate the work of the other agencies. Considering that Mr. Boileau and the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson were conducting a review, we decided to wait until the Ombudsperson completed his work. Then came your hearings. During those hearings, we heard Mr. Boileau testify that his office had faced several significant roadblocks. This led us to reopen our analysis.

We stand in a very different legal framework than the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson, and we have experience and expertise in this area. Issues of discrimination and differential impact on marginalized communities are not new to NSIRA. In fact, you may have seen that, for example, in 2022, NSIRA released a review of the Government of Canada’s use of biometrics. That report addresses real and potential impacts on marginalized communities and the risk of discrimination in national security activities.

For these reasons, and after having consulted again with Mr. Boileau’s office, NSIRA notified the CRA of our decision to initiate a review — I have the notification, which is a public document — of their Review and Analysis Division program. NSIRA’s review will focus on the division’s activities and decision making related to registered Canadian charities, and we will assess the reasonableness, necessity and compliance with the law of those activities. With access to all information, except cabinet confidence, NSIRA is positioned to conduct a thorough, independent and fact-based review of the division.

As a result of NSIRA’s review, we will make findings and recommendations related to the activities of the Canada Revenue Agency. We will report to the Minister of National Revenue and other ministers if other departments are included in the review. An unclassified version of NSIRA’s final report will also be made public.

In closing, NSIRA’s mandate is a key element in national security, transparency and accountability in Canada. Although Canadians may not be able to observe every aspect of security or intelligence work for themselves, they can trust that review agencies such as NSIRA are holding the government accountable on their behalf. We work every day to build and strengthen this trust through rigorous and independent reviews.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today about these important issues. I’m sure you have many questions for the three of us.

The Chair: Thank you for your presentation.

Before asking and answering questions, I would like to ask committee members and witnesses in the room that for the duration of this meeting, please refrain from leaning in too closely to the microphone, or remove your earpiece when doing so. This will avoid any sound feedback that could negatively impact the committee staff in the room.

We will now proceed to questions from senators. As was our previous practice, I would like to remind each senator that you have five minutes for your question, and that includes the answer.

I will start with Senator Bernard, who is the deputy chair of the committee.

Senator Bernard: Thank you very much for being with us today and for your testimony.

I have one quick question with regard to your review of the CRA, and that is the timeline. Can you tell us the timeline for this review and when we might expect the report?

Ms. Deschamps: I would like to share the microphone with my colleagues. I will ask Dr. Laosebikan to answer that question.

Dr. Foluke Laosebikan, Member, National Security and Intelligence Review Agency: Thank you.

With respect to the timeline, NSIRA has a review process that is established. In terms of the scope of the authority and the work that NSIRA conducts, it has the authority to conduct broad investigations and obtain unfettered information. This, then, determines the scope of the work.

The quick answer is that it is difficult to prejudge how much time will be required. We will be able to better assess that after the work is scoped and after we have an idea of what the information is that we have. At this time, it is difficult to prejudge or predetermine what the timeline will be.

Senator Bernard: During testimony before this committee on March 20, witnesses emphasized the need for Canada’s security and intelligence organizations to cultivate diverse workforces that reflect the population of Canada, including Muslim Canadians. Could you tell us, please, what steps NSIRA is currently taking to ensure the diversity of its workforce?

Ms. Deschamps: I will ask John to address that question.

John Davies, Executive Director, Secretariat, National Security and Intelligence Review Agency: Thank you, senator. That is a very good question.

When we became NSIRA, we had a lot of work to do. We inherited an organization of about 20-25 people and were growing it up to 100. Staffing an HR team that could help support broad policy objectives, including issues around diversity and inclusion, was an important issue. Identifying a champion in the workplace for equity diversity inclusion that could be supported by the HR team to develop the kind of dialogue you want in an organization to discuss these issues — certainly during COVID, there is no shortage of issues to discuss — and generally create a safe environment for discussion was also important. The management team also spent a lot of time on building the policy framework in terms of the kind of forward strategy we wanted to have in terms of diversity.

The biggest challenge we have now is the lack of demographic statistics and details on who our people are. When we hire people through applications or through letters of offer, we can ask people to self-identify, or we can piece things together, but we do not have a good view. As an organization below 100 in staff, we’re not obligated under the Employment Equity Act to do self-identification, but we have agreed to do so.

The legislated authority that we are going to use, given the privacy implications and given the support, is under the Canadian Human Rights Act; I think it is under section 16. We’re working with them to implement a special program to help us figure out how to self-ID in a proper way. This would include the four areas that employment equity targets, including women, Indigenous peoples, racialized persons, people with disabilities and potential religion. In 2023-24, you will see more from us on that.

In addition, obviously people interested in reviewing our organization are interested in the issues around discrimination in how we do our work, how reviews are selected and how we adjudicate complaints. A number of our reviews touch on these issues as well. I will stop there.

Senator Bernard: How are you measuring success around equity hiring and retention?

Mr. Davies: Again, to go back to my point on self-identification and the metrics around success in terms of getting to a diverse workforce that represents the population, you need to know who our people are. Self-identification is a sensitive issue. How to bring it up with staff and encourage them to fill out surveys is a key way forward. We have an action plan in this area as well. However, it is not posted online. I am not sure why. We probably could post it online. In addition, we have responded to the Call to Action from the Clerk of the Privy Council. That is posted online. That also shows specific actions we have taken over the past few years in this area. There is a maturity model that actually has more specific metrics attached as well.

Senator Bernard: Would you be able to share your Call to Action with this committee?

Mr. Davies: Yes. We would have to get it translated, but there is no reason why we cannot.

Senator Hartling: You were talking about CRA. For a lot of us, that is our worst nightmare, namely, dealing with CRA. The witnesses have said how difficult it was. It sounds as if you have ways to do that. Do you see possible roadblocks there? Do they have to comply with your request? How does it work?

Ms. Deschamps: We have built a process with other agencies. Obviously SIRC, one of the predecessors of NSIRA, had built a relationship with CSIS and OCSE, its predecessor. We also took their work. They had some kind of process with the Canadian Communications Security Establishment, the signal agency. We also took work from the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP. We have built in some processes to access information, and we are establishing protocols. We are progressing.

With every agency, there are different challenges. In some cases, it was more a question of timing and responsiveness. In other agencies, we would face situations where the documents were still paper copies. With the Canada Revenue Agency and the work that we have done with them, so far we have been able to work together. Obviously, we have not yet done a review of them directly. The Canada Revenue Agency has been included in our work through horizontal reviews that you may know about. For example, the security statute is called SCIDA.

Mr. Davies: Yes, the Security of Canada Information Disclosure Act.

Ms. Deschamps: That covers a number of agencies in Canada. The Canada Revenue Agency is included in the schedule. We also have avoiding complicity in the sharing of information with foreign entities. The Canada Revenue Agency is also included in that.

So far, we have had some kind of positive response from the CRA. We have not had the kind of hurdles we have had with other agencies based upon paper copies or things like that. We expect to be able to have positive response from them. Our statute is very clear. We have access to all information except cabinet confidence.

Senator Hartling: That is helpful. Thank you.

Senator Jaffer: Thank you for being here. I have so many questions.

Chair, they have not even started the CRA review, so we will have to hear from them again. I do not know how that will happen, but I leave that in your good hands with the steering committee.

What I am puzzled about is that the issue of CRA is not new. When it comes to the Muslim community, it has been going on for a number of years. Why only now are you looking at it? People in the community, charities in the community, are really suffering. Why are you only looking at it now? I am not following your process. That is why I’m asking.

Ms. Deschamps: We were created in 2019. In 2019, we started our review plan. We attempted to include as many agencies as possible. We needed to continue doing the work for CSIS, for CAC and for the national security complaints that normally went to their review body, and then we added many more. I have reports from the two last years. We are extending our remit and reviewing many more agencies.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks, the depth of the issue with respect to the charities was documented through two reports that came to our attention, and we did not want to duplicate the work of the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson. At the time, we decided to wait until his report was released. However, because he came to you —

Senator Jaffer: I am going to stop you because you already said that. I’m not being rude.

Ms. Deschamps: No, I agree with you.

Senator Jaffer: The chair will cut me off.

You said you reviewed CSIS, and one of the biggest complaints of the Muslim community is with CSIS and how they walk into the house, take young people out and give no explanation. Have you done any reviews with CSIS and the Muslim community?

Ms. Deschamps: We review topics. We don’t review a community. We have systematically reviewed a number of CSIS activities. To answer your question, yes, we did review many CSIS activities.

Senator Jaffer: Let me ask you, did you review systemic racism in the community? Did you review discrimination from CSIS towards a certain community?

Ms. Deschamps: Our reviews are not labelled by reference to a religion. We review activities. For example —

Senator Jaffer: Okay. Then tell me, by reviewing activities, have you seen any systemic racism activities? Have you seen any discrimination activities against Canadians?

Ms. Deschamps: The closest that I can give you as an explanation is an example of the experience we had through complaints that were made through the Canadian Human Rights Commission, but they were not labelled with reference to their religion. They were labelled through discrimination based on country of origin, and in that case, it was Iraq.

Senator Jaffer: What did you find?

Ms. Deschamps: You may infer where our findings stood, but the reports are not public yet. The Government of Canada is in judicial review, so you can infer where the outcome could have gone.

Senator Jaffer: Have I gone over my time?

The Chair: I am liking the questions you are asking, so please continue.

Senator Jaffer: I’m confused. I really am. Have you done any work on systemic racism? Have you done any work on discrimination? I can tell you as a racialized Canadian woman that there is a lot of racism. I know that you have to be careful, but I want an answer. Have you done any? Have you found anything? I’m confused.

Ms. Deschamps: As I mentioned, the closest that we can get to it — and first of all, we don’t label activities on the basis of religion. But those who —

Senator Jaffer: On the basis of a Canadian. Forget religion. On the basis of a Canadian.

Ms. Deschamps: Yes. In activities, we have not done reviews on the basis of racialized people as a topic.

Senator Jaffer: Have you done any activity on issues of systemic racism?

Ms. Deschamps: The activities that we review will sometimes raise risk of discrimination. In my opening remarks, I gave you the example of the biometrics study where we raised the risk of discrimination. In many of our reviews, we will alert ministers and the public on risk of discrimination.

Senator Jaffer: Thank you.

Senator Arnot: I want to say thank you to Dr. Foluke Laosebikan who is here today and is a well-known lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, practising for many years. I know that she will serve the agency well in her presence and her work. I want to say thank you to her for being here today, for sure, and to all the witnesses.

The tax ombudsman gave a report and made it public today. He indicated, as you have made mention, that there was legislative and administrative obstacles placed in the way of his work. It doesn’t speak well for the CRA as an agency of government in respect of transparency and finding the truth. I see that he seems to have made reasonable recommendations, particularly focusing on education and dealing with addressing issues that were raised by the Muslim community in Canada, who came before us, on racism and systemic racism. He is advocating for the creation of unconscious bias training for CRA employees, particularly in the charities directorate, and to target the course to those individuals in the audit process and to make the course mandatory for all employees involved in the audit process, including the decision makers. That speaks well to me and makes common sense.

I’m not confident, and I don’t know if Canadians should be confident, that those recommendations will be implemented, given the fact that the CRA was resistant to the work of the tax ombudsman. I would ask your committee to particularly focus on those issues, which corroborates the comments made by Senator Jaffer. Your agency has many more tools to deal with ensuring transparency and accountability in this government agency, as I understand what you are saying. These issues raised by the Muslim community in Canada are very disconcerting. There is great concern in the community, and the substance of those concerns needs to be dealt with properly. I’m hoping that your work will be more rigorous than was available to the ombudsman to actually get to the truth or beyond that and address the concerns and assuage the concerns in the community. I look forward to your final report, which will be made public.

The concerns Senator Jaffer and I have noted have been put on the public forum here this afternoon. I’m wondering what you can say about your ability to address those particular issues and the work you are going to do.

Ms. Deschamps: We will look at the activities. We will look at whether they have a governance framework and are complying with the Charter. This will be a very intense, fact-based review where the legal component will be prominent.

Senator Arnot: Thank you very much.

I’m wondering, can we expect that the findings you make or the recommendations that you make would be implemented by the Canada Revenue Agency? Is there a mechanism to actually measure those recommendations?

Ms. Deschamps: Implementation of recommendations is something that occurs in every review. Usually we will say, “Here is recommendation A, B, C,” and in some instances we will say, “We will come back in two years.” There is a review that was made public on CSIS and Department of Justice recently. We said we will go back in two years to determine or examine what they have done. Not only are our reviews public as much as possible, but we also go back to determine whether progress has been made. Although we don’t have any power to sanction them, we have the ability to be on their back.

Senator Arnot: Thank you.

Senator Omidvar: Thank you to our witnesses for being here today.

Madam Deschamps, I look forward to your fearless review of the CRA and, in particular, RAD. I want to confirm that we are not talking about the CRA at large. What we’re really talking about is this so-called elite division of the Review and Analysis Division at the CRA. I just want to confirm that. I see heads shaking, but for the record, you have to say “yes.”

Ms. Deschamps: Yes. That’s correct. We are reviewing the RAD program.

Senator Omidvar: We have heard numerous submissions at this committee about the treatment of Muslim charities by RAD. You will recall that in January of last year, Senator Ataullahjan and I wrote to you in our capacity as individual senators, asking you to conduct such a review. You wrote back and said, “Let’s wait for the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson,” who we know now, in the meantime, is not able to do a full review because he is working with one hand tied behind his back.

In your review, what is the process you will use to get at the heart of the matter, and will you consult with external stakeholders as well whilst you are framing your recommendations?

Ms. Deschamps: I will ask my colleague to answer that question.

Ms. Laosebikan: Thank you, Senator Omidvar.

In terms of process, if I can reframe the question, my understanding is that this question seeks to understand or get an assurance that the perspectives of the complainants, so to speak, will be heard and put into consideration directly and that their voices will be heard. If that is the question, I know that NSIRA has a review process that allows for full information to be obtained. In terms of what that consultation will look like or the hearing of the voices, NSIRA cannot prejudge at this time what that will look like. NSIRA can provide the assurance that, in obtaining the information it needs to reach the conclusions, those perspectives will be heard and will be put into consideration.

Senator Omidvar: Thank you.

We have heard from Muslim charities that terrorism financing, which is the main concern here, is extremely hard to prove. Instead of proving terrorism financing — these are allegations, and you will do the review — RAD chooses to nitpick over administrative issues and therefore lead agencies through a very long, painful audit review and, ultimately, their charitable status is revoked.

These are shades of grey, Madam Deschamps. I want to know whether you will have the back of the community in looking for real answers, even if they are ensconced under issues that are — let me put it this way — trying to obfuscate the matter.

Ms. Deschamps: We cannot answer for the RAD and what we will find there, but that touches on practices. That touches the professionalism of our analysts. Our analysts are there to dig, to make connections between facts and to look at sufficient facts, a sufficient set of circumstances, in order to determine whether the activities actually conform to the governance framework or whether this is a smokescreen. Normally, our analysts are very expert at discerning the facts from the screens.

Senator Omidvar: Thank you. That gives me some comfort. You have expert analysts who can get behind the smokescreen of administrative reviews.

The community is so concerned about this issue, Madam Deschamps, that they have actually put out an opinion that it may be unfair for the government to start another review while letting these practices at RAD continue. Some of them are advocating that RAD either be disqualified from conducting these reviews or that the targeted audits of Muslim charities be suspended until the review is completed. What are your thoughts on this position?

Ms. Deschamps: The review has not begun yet, so it’s much too early.

I would like to make a comment to complete one of the observations that was made, that we may need to come back during the review. Normally, we don’t make any interim reports because our information will be incomplete. I sometimes make the comparison with a judge. You don’t ask a judge in the middle of a trial what his decision will be. As an independent body, we need to conduct the review from A to Z, and then we produce our report. We have a very strict process in order to ensure that all our findings are grounded in reality. For example, after we have conducted all our review, the draft is sent for a fact-finding review to the agencies in order to ensure that we have —

Senator Omidvar: Thank you, Madam Deschamps. That gets me back to Senator Bernard’s question on timelines. The way you are describing it, this is not going to be a short process. Can you give us a proxy comparison to a similar study that took X months, years or decades?

Ms. Deschamps: We have reviews that go on for a long period of time. For example, the biometrics lasted a long time.

Senator Omidvar: “A long time” meaning?

Ms. Deschamps: That was eighteen months. When we did the review of CSIS and the Department of Justice, it lasted over a year and a half. Normally, we aim to have our reviews completed within one year.

Senator Omidvar: Are your recommendations to Parliament binding?

Ms. Deschamps: Our recommendations are what the word says, recommendations. I explained to Senator Arnot that our means are more by way of pressuring them. It’s public pressure, because our recommendations are out in the public. In this matter, as in other matters, very often interested parties will act as agents of pressure. But in any event, NSIRA has the authority to come back in order to determine whether any progress has been made. If yes, we note it; if not, we try to find the root cause of the lack of progress.

The Chair: Before we go to a second round, Mr. Davies, I would like to come back to the champion of diversity that you mentioned earlier. Could you please elaborate?

Mr. Davies: It’s typical in most departments that a senior manager takes the role of the champion on any issue. It could be official languages. It could be workplace safety. Equity, diversity and inclusion is a champion role that we have had, I think I said, since the beginning. In addition to their normal duties, they usually work with the chair of the internal committee, HR team and the management team to advance any internal action plans related to diversity and inclusion. In some ways, they are not necessarily accountable, but they are a kind of catalyst, or they give fuel in the engine to help us animate internal discussions and represent the department or the agency, in some cases. It’s another important tool we have in the tool kit.

The Chair: Did I hear you correctly? You said they are not held accountable?

Mr. Davies: I said they are not accountable for diversity and inclusion. Obviously, I would be; the management committee is. Their role is more working with the HR team, who helps us lead in overcoming gaps and any performance issues we’re trying to get to in order to improve the workplace in terms of the culture and the inclusivity of the culture in the workplace.

The Chair: In other words, they will be making suggestions?

Mr. Davies: Yes.

The Chair: Which might not necessarily be followed?

Mr. Davies: Again, we are a small organization. We have an excellent champion who is certainly a leader in the organization in any sense of the word. He carries a lot of weight and is also part of the management team. At the end of the day, accountability is with me. It’s to the clerk in terms of organization’s ability to deliver in this area.

The Chair: Is the champion of diversity a racialized person?

Mr. Davies: I believe he would identify as a racialized person, but I have not confirmed that.

The Chair: Okay, thank you.

Senator Jaffer: Ms. Deschamps, I didn’t mean that you could tell us about the report midway. I meant when you finished the report. I know that much, namely that you can’t make a decision midstream. If there was a mistake in understanding, I apologize. It can never be halfway because you might change your opinion when you finish your review.

My second thing is, you said that the Iraq study is still sitting with the cabinet. Did I understand you correctly? That is, where is the —

Ms. Deschamps: No. What I meant is complaints were referred to NSIRA by the minister, but there were complaints that were laid before the Canadian Human Rights Commission. It was referred to us. When we filed our reports, the Department of Justice, the attorney general, went in judicial review before the Federal Court.

Senator Jaffer: And what happened?

Ms. Deschamps: It’s pending.

Senator Jaffer: What’s the judicial review for? I’m sorry. I don’t know.

Ms. Deschamps: They were not in agreement with the decision, so they are asking a judge to review the decision.

Senator Jaffer: Basically — and I’m just asking because I don’t know this — they don’t like your decision, so they have gone for a review to a judge?

Ms. Deschamps: Well, I would not go as far as referring to the substance of the decision, but there are aspects of the decision that led them to ask a judge to review it.

Senator Jaffer: Okay. So that’s where it has stopped, with the court system?

Ms. Deschamps: Yes.

Senator Jaffer: I want a clarification, if I may. I don’t understand. I’m not following this. You said you don’t review religions. What do you review, and for whom do you review it?

Ms. Deschamps: NSIRA’s mandate is to review the activities of CSIS, of CSE and of any national security or intelligence activities from any department in the Government of Canada.

Senator Jaffer: Concerning the activities of CSIS, I just said to you that one of the activities of CSIS — and I won’t use the word “religion” — is very discriminatory and involves systemic racism. Do you look at that?

Ms. Deschamps: By “activities,” we look at operations. In the course of operations, or in the course of activities, we may observe that there is systemic racism, but we need to review an activity.

Senator Jaffer: I don’t have any more time. May I respectfully ask that you send to the chair exactly what you mean in writing, because I don’t understand what you mean by “activity.” In answering that, may I ask you to let me know if you have found any systemic racism in any of your reviews?

Ms. Deschamps: Okay. The easy answer is contained in our annual report where we describe the review of the activities CSIS conducted. The two I have before me are 2021 and 2020. In those two, for CSIS in particular, as far as I remember, there is no activity where risk of discrimination was noted. However, as I also mentioned, the biometric review included CSIS, and I cannot tell you whether the activities were those that led to the comment on the risk of discrimination.

The Chair: Thank you. Senator Jaffer would still like a written response, so maybe we could ask you for a written response for this committee. We’re in a time crunch, and I now want to turn to Senator Omidvar for her questions.

Senator Omidvar: Thank you. It’s a really —

Senator Jaffer: There will be a written response to my question? Thank you.

Senator Omidvar: In a previous meeting, Sharmila Khare, Director General of the CRA, testified before the committee. She informed us that RAD relies on the national inherent risk assessment framework in its approach to countering terrorism financing. Whether it’s intended or unintended — again, I leave that up to you — it finds Muslim and racialized community charities in its crosshairs. Do you believe that you will be reviewing the national inherent risk assessment framework, which seems to be the source of a lot of problems here?

Ms. Deschamps: When I mentioned that we will report to any other minister whose department is included in the review, this is the kind of circumstance that could give rise to a report to a minister other than the Minister of National Revenue. However, it is too early at this stage to tell you that any other department will be involved.

Senator Omidvar: Thank you. The comments from the community are that terrorism financing is, unfortunately, alive and well, but by focusing simply on people of colour, we miss the real problem at the source of this. Thank you again for your fearless review and good luck.

The Chair: I want to thank the witnesses for being here today and for agreeing to participate in this important study. Your help with this study is truly appreciated.

Honourable senators, I shall now introduce our second panel. Our witness has been asked to make an opening statement of five minutes. We shall hear from the witness and then turn to questions from the senators.

With us, in person at the table — and I am delighted to welcome you — is Amira Elghawaby, Canada’s Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia. I now invite Ms. Elghawaby to begin her presentation.

Amira Elghawaby, Canada’s Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia, as an individual: Al Salam Alaykom. Hello, honourable senators, officials present in the room and community members joining us virtually, and Ramadan Kareem to those who are observing.


I am pleased to be joining you today on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg people. It is my honour to serve as Canada’s first Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia. I’ve been on the job for about 25 working days.

I have began building capacity to deliver on my mandate, which includes, but is not limited to, the following: providing guidance and advice to ministers to inform and improve efforts to track and monitor the incidence of anti-Muslim hatred and violence across Canada; supporting efforts to address systemic racism and Islamophobia through public education and awareness; proactively engaging with diverse stakeholders, including all of the varied Muslim communities around the country and other stakeholders, to advance community-informed solutions, policies, and actions; offering guidance to responsible ministers to contribute to training, in support of national security agencies.

I am just now embarking on the engagement and analysis that will be required to determine the priorities of this office over the short, medium, and long term. I am very mindful that in fulfilling the objectives of this role, I will be both building upon and drawing from the work that has come before, including the 2018 report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, various other government inquiries, and academic and civil society studies and research. There is also the work currently under way, including the report that this committee will publish upon the conclusion of these hearings.


From my perspective, the key strength of this office lies in both my proximity to the federal government and to communities experiencing Islamophobia. This means that I will be constantly engaging with communities and listening to their concerns in order to effectively serve as a champion, adviser, expert and representative to the Canadian government, as outlined in my mandate.

Before I go further, I would like to share the definition of Islamophobia that the federal government has adopted through Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy for 2019-22. The definition states that Islamophobia:

Includes racism, stereotypes, prejudice, fear or acts of hostility directed towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general. In addition to individual acts of intolerance and racial profiling, Islamophobia can lead to viewing and treating Muslims as a greater security threat on an institutional, systemic and societal level.

In order to understand how Islamophobia manifests in society, there are various quantitative and qualitative markers that can provide some level of understanding about the problem we face. Among the quantitative markers, Statistics Canada’s most recent data for 2021, as you all have seen, showed hate crimes targeting Muslims rose 71% over the previous year. As for qualitative data, these include the stories that we hear from the ground from Muslims in Canada, be it Canadians, newcomers, permanent residents or refugees.

For instance, as part of my first official visit, I was in London, Ontario, earlier this month to speak with the city’s diverse Muslim communities who have been grappling with the painful aftermath of the deadly 2021 Islamophobic attack that took the lives of four members of the Afzaal family. The aftereffects continue to reverberate, underscoring the reality that hate crimes are message crimes that shake the sense of well-being of the targeted community, eroding our social fabric and our democratic values, whether it is the Muslim neighbour of the late Afzaal family who told me she rarely goes out into her backyard now because it still hurts and frightens her to see the garden they used to tend so lovingly or the hijab-wearing woman whose young son pushes her away from the road whenever he sees a speeding car, fearing it may hit her. Highlighting the gendered forms of Islamophobia, I heard from several young girls whose headscarves were ripped from their heads by classmates. I also heard from students who still experience class lessons that embed stereotypes and promote misinformation about Islam and Muslims.

Yet, I will end my remarks by spotlighting the resilience and hope I witnessed from the City of London’s first of its kind Action Plan to Combat and Disrupt Islamophobia to a group of Syrian-Canadian teen girls working on a collective artistic project to resist Islamophobia. Let me conclude my remarks with a short excerpt of a poem they wrote together:

The World We Deserve

We deserve a world in which we can walk freely on the streets.

With pride and dignity.

We deserve a world in which we are safe and loved.

A world in which we all belong.


Thank you, and I welcome your questions.


The Chair: Thank you for your presentation, Ms. Elghawaby.

We will now proceed to questions from senators. As is our previous practice, I would like to remind each senator that you have five minutes for your question, and that includes the answer. We will start with Senator Bernard, who is the deputy chair.

Senator Bernard: Thank you for being with us today.

I want to thank you for highlighting the multifaceted nature of your role and the complexity of the issues that you are dealing with. I would like to know, what gives you critical hope and inspiration to do this work?

Ms. Elghawaby: Thank you for the question, Madam Chair and Senator Bernard.

I have hope because I am here to be able to share with this committee that has been studying Islamophobia in Canada now for about a year. I have hope because the work of this committee is testament to the type of country that we all aspire to — a nation that is inclusive, that is built on equity and inclusion, that stands for human rights for everyone, that has a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that makes us all very proud — and the resilience of communities that I have met with, worked with and advocated for who believe in the promise of Canada, the promise that this is a place where people can contribute fully, be who they want to be and be respected and have a life of dignity for themselves and for their families.

Senator Bernard: Thank you.

Could you tell us what your priorities are to fulfill the promise of Canada in addressing Islamophobia?

Ms. Elghawaby: As I mentioned in my opening statement, it has been just about 25 working days. There are so many issues that are impacting our communities. I do not have to tell this committee. There are myriad issues that our communities are expecting this office will address.

I will be working, first and foremost, to look at what has come before me. What are the reports? What are the issues that have been raised? For instance, there was a national summit on Islamophobia. From that summit arose the call for this office. At that summit, there were, again, myriad recommendations made to all orders of government. I will be, of course, looking closely at the recommendations made specifically to the federal government where I have the ability to provide advice and recommendations to ministers in various departments on how to advance issues of concern to our communities. I will start that work in building the capacity of the office, as we speak. I look forward to getting to the work.

As I said, I am also looking forward to the report that will come from this committee. As I mentioned, there have been so many witnesses who have come forward here and shared many of the experiences of Islamophobia that communities have been feeling and talking about.

Senator Bernard: Thank you.

Senator Hartling: Thank you for being here. I appreciate you being here with us. You have presented very well here.

So that I am understanding, is this a job that is for a long time? Is there a certain time frame to the mandate?

Ms. Elghawaby: Yes. There has been the creation of this special office to combat Islamophobia. As well, there is a special office and a Special Envoy on Combatting Antisemitism. I have a four-year term that is renewable.

Senator Hartling: Being on this committee and learning so much about Islamophobia that I did not know and all of the many hateful things that have been done to Muslims, it is overwhelming for me, and I have not experienced it. What kind of support do you have in your office or in your community to go forward? You are going to be dealing with so many things. I see that you are very positive and hopeful, but how will you help yourself deal with some of these things as you go along? I am sure it will get heavy at times.

Ms. Elghawaby: That is an excellent question. I thank Senator Hartling and Madam Chair, for the question.

For minority communities in Canada, racialized communities and Muslim communities among them, unfortunately, discrimination and systemic racism are, all too often, a daily fact of life. As I mentioned, we have a lot of hope that we can eradicate racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Black racism, anti-Asian racism, anti-Indigenous hate — sadly, the list goes on. Whenever we have a situation where any community is being othered, the chances are that there are many other communities also being othered in that process. When we address and combat hatred against one community, we are essentially combatting it against all communities.

To address hate that I know we’ll be aware of and made aware of, we continue to go back to the principles of what it means to be a Canadian. These principles are based on equity, inclusion, democratic principles and ensuring a country that allows everyone to participate fully and benefit.

We all know that, again, an attack or hatred against one is an attack or hatred against all, and that together, united, we can stand together. That is the positive hope that we can all share and carry as we tackle some very difficult issues. Some of these issues, as we heard from the previous session, will not be addressed overnight and, sadly, have not been addressed sometimes quickly enough for communities that are impacted by systemic racism and Islamophobia. That being said, what is important is to see the effort to make progress, the effort to be witness to these experiences and to collectively commit to addressing them.

Senator Hartling: In your office, you are the main person. Do you have other staff or a team that you can share discussions with on things that are going on?

Ms. Elghawaby: I am very much looking forward to building the office and hiring as soon as possible.

Senator Hartling: Thank you.

Senator Arnot: Thank you, Ms. Elghawaby, for coming today and for being with us. You have a very important role to play now in Canada. We wish you well in carrying out your mandate.

My hope is that the study that we’re completing here will help you in your work and perhaps help augment your work and lay a foundation for you to be able to fulfill the mandate that you have in a very successful way. I would like to hear about how you think we can help you in your role.

I know that you believe in the power of education, because I happened to see a Tedx talk you did which exactly augments that comment. I know you have a public education mandate. I am hoping you interpret it in a very broad and expansive way.

I say that, because I have asked many witnesses who have come before this committee since I joined it in September of 2022 to reflect on the need to teach Canadian students at a very young age, from Grades K-12, about the rights of citizenship and, more importantly, the responsibility that comes with those rights and how you build and maintain respect for every citizen.

I know that there is an Environics poll, I believe in 2019, that found that in the cohort over the age of 40, only 38% of those adults support multiculturalism as part of our Constitution. I believe that Heritage Canada has a major role to play in reinforcing our multicultural, multi-theist, multi-ethnic state, and, really, Canada has failed to make an investment in those very areas the way that we need to.

The Aga Khan came to Canada and said that Canada is the most successful experiment in pluralism that the world has ever seen, but there is a fragility attached to that. It’s directly related to the commitment that all Canadians have to our multicultural country.

Do you see a need for education in the K-12 system? My personal belief is that if you want to change the culture and the community, you should change the culture in the schools and focus on five essential competencies of Canadian citizenship. All students should be enlightened, engaged, empowered, empathetic. Those are the five essential competencies. I would like you to comment on that need, your support for that type of education and the role of Canadian Heritage in fulfilling it.

The Chair: Senators, I have promised our witness that she would be out of here by 6:00. I know that you are fasting; I should have said Ramadan Kareem to you. We have to be tight with our questions in order to give her enough time to answer.

Ms. Elghawaby: Madam Chair, I am grateful for the question about education within the mandate and supporting efforts to address systemic racism and Islamophobia through public education and awareness. I read that directly from the mandate. I look forward to finding opportunities to fulfill that. Of course, my role is at the federal level. I will be looking for how we make recommendations around the types of education that young people can benefit from across Canada, specifically to the heritage department. The next witnesses on the next panel will be able to speak more specifically to that.

The role of education is very critical. While I was in London, Ontario, 10 days ago, I met with a group of young Muslim students, many of whom were friends with Yumna Afzaal, the young girl who was killed in the Afzaal attack. They are part of a group called Youth Coalition Combatting Islamophobia. They have created resources for schools on what happened to their friend and what Islamophobia has done to their sense of safety and well-being in Canada. Those resources, for instance, are available to teachers right across Canada.

One of the things they asked me was: Can you help bring awareness to these types of resources? Can you help to share this on a national stage? Hopefully, they are watching. I don’t know if teenagers watch committee hearings, but I certainly will send them the link to let them know that there is work like theirs under way that helps to amplify, again, the experiences of young people in this country and to help them educate one another.

Senator Manning: Thank you to our witness for being with us this evening. I wish you all of the success in the world as you build the world that we deserve. A couple of my questions have been asked already but, as always, there are others.

You touched on the fact that you are building your office in the near future. I understand that you have been only 25 working days on the job, so we will not rush you into making rash decisions. I wonder about the budget for your office on an annual basis and how you envision the office being set up. Is it going to be concentrated here, in central Canada, or will some people be working in other provinces? You have a big job. We live in a large, geographically challenged country with issues from one end of the country to the other. What is your budget, how do you envision the office to be set, and what do you see as the greatest challenge that you face as you begin your new position?

Ms. Elghawaby: I thank the senator for the question. It is an excellent one.

The budget is $5.6 million over the next four years.

In terms of building the office, as the senator has acknowledged, I am in the process at the moment of staffing it. I am committed to getting out to various parts of the country and to meeting with members of Canada’s diverse Muslim communities to hear about the ways that Islamophobia may be impacting folks in different parts of Canada. We know that while we have nearly 1.8 million Muslims in Canada, they are right across this country. Many of them, of course, reside in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and B.C., but there are communities everywhere.

It will be important, as I mentioned at the outset, to centre community experiences in the work of this office to be sure that what this office recommends to the federal government and to the various ministers is rooted in the needs and experiences of communities right across this country.

Senator Manning: Thank you.

When you mentioned your guidance to responsible ministers, who would be the main ministers that you will be dealing with?

Ms. Elghawaby: I report directly to the Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion, Minister Ahmed Hussen. I am able to provide recommendations to all other ministers as well, and I look forward, again, to building relationships across government, with officials and bureaucrats, to help address some of the policy concerns that have been raised by communities.

Senator Manning: You mentioned earlier about eradicating all the different concerns across the country, and Senator Arnot touched upon the education theme. When you talk about the K-12 system, we all know that the younger people are more accepting of things than what an older generation may be. Across the country now, are you aware of anything that is being taught in that system from K-12 to address those concerns of Islamophobia? If not, where should we begin? As a committee, we may end up with a recommendation to address that. I am wondering about the status of where it is now.

Ms. Elghawaby: Well, I can speak to simply that there are many community organizations that have been providing resources and training to educators across Canada. As to specific examples, I have not yet been able to find that, having just started.

Again, the challenge, of course, is that my area of focus is at the federal level, and education is provincial, as you know. I am looking for opportunities to highlight and spotlight examples of educational curricula that help to speak to the issues that this committee is looking at, whether it is Islamophobia or, more broadly, inclusion equity. It is important to look at all of the different jurisdictions and see what is working well.

Senator Manning: Thank you.

I know we may not have a large Muslim population in Newfoundland and Labrador, but we have some fine people there who are contributing to our society in a wonderful way. I extend to you an invitation to visit “The Rock” whenever you have the time to do so. I’m sure you’ll be pleased.

Ms. Elghawaby: It would be my pleasure.

Senator Omidvar: Thank you, Ms. Elghawaby, for being with us today. You have an important and yet a very difficult job, with what I can only conclude is a tiny budget.

I would like to shift my question to the issue of expressions of Islamophobia that are hard to see and detect but beset the lives of community members throughout our country, specifically with reference to Canada’s anti-terrorism laws. The machinery of government — the CBSA, RCMP, CSIS, IRCC, CRA — all coordinate and function under a national security regime, and the National Council of Canadian Muslims has recommended that you review these frameworks. Even at this early stage, without any staff, can I ask you whether that particular point of view is part of your agenda?

Ms. Elghawaby: Thank you for this very good question, Senator Omidvar.

Within the mandate already, I am committed to offering guidance to responsible ministers to contribute to training in support of national security agencies. I have that to begin with, immediately. That will be an important priority. As I said, I will be exploring what other ways I can work with the different departments and agencies who are responsible for national security. Out of the 2021 National Summit on Islamophobia, we saw many recommendations related to training and to the oversight of these different bodies.

I look forward to having strong staff in place to help me review what currently is going on, what recommendations have been made and what efforts have been taken already and are under way. I’m part of what’s called the National Security Transparency Advisory Group. I had joined this group before taking on this role, in fact, due to my interest in human rights and specifically in the area of national security, so I had already begun to build relationships with various partners within the government. I absolutely see this as an important and critical priority for the office.

Senator Omidvar: I wish you luck.

I want to refer to a recent poll by Angus Reid that has just come out. On the one hand, at least half of Canada believes that Islamophobia is a problem — that anti-Muslim discrimination is a problem — and yet they don’t seem to agree that your role is necessary. We agree that there is a problem, but there is disagreement about your role. What would you say to these Canadians about your role?

Ms. Elghawaby: I would say to Canadians who are wondering what the purpose of this office that, unfortunately and very sadly, we have seen Islamophobic attacks take the lives of 11 Canadians over the course of a short span between 2017 and 2021. I would tell them that Canada has the highest number of Canadian Muslims killed of any other G7 country. Already, Islamophobia has had deadly impacts here in this country.

Also, along that spectrum of Islamophobia where the very worst example is the type of deadly attack that we have seen, there is concern about the systemic Islamophobia that impacts the ways people can participate in society, whether it’s the racial profiling that national security agencies have put our communities under, systemic barriers to employment, systemic barriers in housing and other aspects of everyday life or hate crimes — again, the list can go on.

I would further tell them that we have to look for solutions to address these issues because not only does this impact Canadian Muslims and Muslim communities in this country, it impacts all of us. When we have our social fabric and democratic values being undermined and we have division within our society, that, in fact, can influence and harm our entire country. Standing up for one community is standing up for all communities, and we must be allies to one another to stand up for human rights for all.

Senator Omidvar: Ms. Elghawaby, at this early stage of your role, we are winding up our study. Whether that’s good or bad, I’m not able to say because our study could inform your work, but your thoughts should inform our work. What recommendations — maybe two — would you have us include in our report?

Ms. Elghawaby: The importance of training for national security bodies is absolutely critical. Senator Arnot mentioned the report from the tax ombudsperson today where he identified the need for anti-bias training for certain members of the Canada Revenue Agency — in the Review and Analysis Division particularly. As well, I’m very cognizant of the call from communities to suspend the RAD while the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency is doing its review. Given that, training is critical. Ensuring there is anti-bias and anti-Islamophobia training is one area that’s critical. Also critical is the recommendation to support education and the campaign’s awareness around how Islamophobia impacts people’s lives.

As well, it’s important to also look at the contributions of Muslim Canadians to Canada — not just Canadian Muslims but also newcomers and immigrants. It’s very important that people understand that Canadian Muslims have been in this country since before Confederation. There is a long, rich, diverse history that many people don’t know. If we can celebrate these stories, hopefully that will allow more and more people to acknowledge, understand and appreciate that history.

Senator Omidvar: Thank you.

Senator Jaffer: Thank you very much for being here. Ramadan Kareem.

The summit recommended that there be someone appointed in your position, so I’m glad the government has done that, but I’m really concerned that over the three years you have such a small budget. Also, where are you housed?

Ms. Elghawaby: I’m housed out of the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Senator Jaffer: Do you get any support, or none at the moment?

Ms. Elghawaby: I have been getting incredible support from the Department of Canadian Heritage as they help me find my feet in the federal service. Actually, it’s been wonderful. As well, I am getting all the guidance required to help set up the office. Of course, within Heritage, you’ll be hearing shortly from the director of the Anti-Racism Secretariat. I’ll be working closely with him and his team on addressing Islamophobia and, as I mentioned, building on the work that’s come before me. It’s so critical that we utilize the incredible efforts to date on addressing racism in Canada, including addressing Islamophobia.

Senator Jaffer: Heritage is doing extremely good work on education on racism. I’m not sure about Islamophobia, but they are doing the work on racism and have programs.

My concern is that there can be all kinds of training — and I know you are very new — but people have to take the training too, right? It’s not mandatory. I just put that to you, because it’s too soon.

At the beginning of our study, we had many, many discussions on the definition of Islamophobia. I see you have set out this definition of Islamophobia here in the paper you presented. However, many people — others can confirm if I’m wrong — asked why we couldn’t just call it anti-racism against the Muslim community rather than Islamophobia. Do you have any views on that? To me, the meaning of “phobia” is not as strong as “racism.”

Ms. Elghawaby: Thank you so much, Senator Jaffer, for the question.

The definition of Islamophobia currently being utilized by the federal government through the anti-racism strategy does include racism, stereotypes, prejudice, fear or acts of hostility directed toward individual Muslims or followers of Islam, and then there’s more to the definition, as I read. I do believe this encapsulates all that we’re trying to address while also being very specific. Islamophobia is not meant to limit the critique of Islam. That’s really important to emphasize. People can criticize Islam — the religion itself. When we talk about Islamophobia, we are talking about the racism, stereotypes and prejudice that lead people to act in hostility toward individual Muslims or followers of Islam. So this is extremely important.

This definition is also very effective in that it goes on to say that not only are we talking about individual acts of intolerance and racial profiling but also the way that Islamophobia can lead to viewing and treating Muslims as a greater security threat on an institutional, systemic and societal level. That is really critical because, as mentioned earlier, when we have had this focus on Muslim communities, what we have seen, historically, is a lack of attention on the rise of right-wing extremism. For instance, when we had the tragic killing of six worshippers at the Quebec City mosque, it came to light that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had actually closed the desk that looked at right-wing extremism just a few months prior to that attack. Why are we missing the fact that right-wing extremism is rising in this country and also has deadly consequences? That’s really important to highlight in this definition. I do think it encapsulates it. I hope it can put to rest the debate around the definition and we can move forward, because as the committee appreciates, Madam Chair, there is so much work to do, and I do believe this definition encapsulates what we are talking about.

Senator Jaffer: Every time there has been a tragedy, politicians from all walks of life have shown up and said that it’s terrible and all that. Then they go home, and it’s, in my opinion, forgotten. It happened yesterday, they’ve done their bit, and all kinds of things have been promised. I’m frustrated that people say all those wonderful things. I remember so clearly with the Quebec murders that there were all kinds of promises, all kinds of things, and when I went to see the families, there was a lot of help. But, of course, now it disappears. It’s only natural. So what I am asking is, is it part of your work to even train politicians?

Ms. Elghawaby: I can say that I have already begun meeting with politicians from all political parties, and I am hearing commitment to addressing Islamophobia.

I also want to point to the fact that we have a nationally designated day, January 29, the National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action against Islamophobia, which is a permanent moment in our calendar to ensure that we come together to remember what happened that day. There are similar efforts to have June 6 commemorated in the city of London, for instance, so that communities there can mourn every year together and commit to addressing Islamophobia.

I think that there is a recognition that Islamophobia is a phenomenon that is damaging to our democracy and damaging to our values of human rights and equity, and I think that together we can find those who are willing to do the work, to support the work, to make positive change.

Senator Jaffer: Will you be doing training of senators as well?

Ms. Elghawaby: Well, send me the invitation.

Senator Jaffer: I want to thank you and I wish you well in your job. It’s a big job, but I believe you can do it. Thank you for being here.

The Chair: I wanted to ask you about your priorities. During the course of this study, we have heard about many forms that Islamophobia takes. In Edmonton, we heard about the young Black women who wear the hijab and how difficult their lives were. In Mississauga, the children opened up and talked about their lives and how difficult their lives were. So what will be your priorities? Like you said, Muslims are everywhere. I was in Iqaluit and was surprised to see the number of Muslims there who, every Saturday and Sunday now, are getting together for the opening of the fast. We’re everywhere. I, too, like Senator Jaffer, feel that the budget that you have been given — for four years — is not enough.

Ms. Elghawaby: Thank you, Madam Chair.

As I mentioned, still going to work on a work plan to identify those priorities for the next four years, looking at short-, medium- and long-term goals to determine what’s possible and what’s most urgent to our communities. So I’ll be working on that.

Thank you so much, Madam Chair, for also raising the intersectional identities of Muslims. I know this committee has heard from a range of witnesses, and I want to congratulate this committee for having brought forward Muslims from across Canada, explaining how Islamophobia manifests in so many different ways, including, as you mentioned, in Alberta, where we had a spate of attacks against Black Muslim women. Some of the cases, as I’m sure you have read, were horrific. A woman and her daughter were threatened at knife point, et cetera. Certainly, the experiences range across communities, and there are many intersectional identities within our communities. I will continue to, as I say, centre communities and make sure that as I’m forming this work plan, as I’m forming and determining the priorities, that I am also engaging with communities and ensuring that the way I see the office proceed with its work is in clear alignment with how Muslim communities across Canada hope to see this office advance these priorities.

The Chair: I know you have just started. You went to London, Ont. I find that the Muslim community, when I speak to them, is more forthcoming with me, because they perceive me as being from the same faith, than they would be others. We say a 71% increase in hate incidents against Muslims. I feel it’s much higher because I personally know people who have had incidents and are unwilling to report them. How are we going to encourage the community to come out and report the incidents they face? Most people just sort of say, “Okay, let’s just keep quiet about it. Let’s not rock the boat.”

Ms. Elghawaby: Madam Chair, it’s an excellent question.

Certainly, again, reading directly from my mandate: providing guidance and advice to ministers to inform and improve efforts to track and monitor incidences of anti-Muslim hatred and violence across Canada. Much of my work over the past few years has been with communities that are targeted by hate crimes, not only Muslim communities but others, including the Black community, et cetera. One of the things that had been identified was the need for third-party reporting, so a way for people who are targeted and victims of hate not necessarily to have to go to police to report what they have gone through but perhaps to go to community organizations in order to have somewhere to go, somewhere to report, and that report could therefore be sent by that third party to the police, if the victim chooses. These are some of the creative ways that communities themselves have been advocating for ensuring that their safety and well-being are central to our communities, because if we are only relying on police-reported hate crime, you are absolutely right that it’s not giving us the full story. Up to two thirds of hate crimes are not reported to police, according to Statistics Canada. We only see the tip of the iceberg, and that’s quite concerning.

It is not only finding ways for people to report what they are going through, but also to make sure that victims of hate have supports. For instance, in London, after the tragic killing of the Afzaal family, there was a charity that provided counselling for the community there for just about one year, and then it was finished. For example, one young girl, who over the course of the year was busy helping with the commemoration of the anniversary of the killing, needed counselling after that year of funding had run out. She didn’t have anywhere to go. Making sure that there are victim supports, victim counselling that’s also culturally responsive, is so important. There are community agencies that are trying to fill that void. For example, I met with one organization called the Muslim Resource Centre, in London. They were the ones facilitating that counselling for the community. They are willing to do more work, but, again, funding is often a challenge.

The Chair: Thank you for that.

Would you be interacting with the National Council of the Canadian Muslims, the NCCM, at all? I applaud them. They keep a record of every incident of Islamophobia that happens. They are reporting it. They are talking about it. They are tweeting about it. Would you be having any interactions with them?

Ms. Elghawaby: Absolutely. I will be working with all civil society organizations dedicated to addressing Islamophobia and civil liberties of Muslims, as well as other organizations that are working writ large around civil liberties and human rights. It’s so important that we work in allyship. Often we find potential solutions to addressing human rights violations for one community can be applied for other communities. I do really feel it’s important to work across civil society to address these issues, across communities.

The Chair: Thank you.

Senator Arnot: Ms. Elghawaby, I just want to go back to a couple of points. In my experience recently, international educators like Pasi Sahlberg from Finland and Simon Breakspear from Australia have identified that, in school systems, we need to focus on literacy and numeracy but also a third pathway, a concept that in the schools, students need to be educated about being a citizen. It’s about making the whole student. We fundamentally need to get students the tools they need to create the society in which they wish to live. I’m going to ask you a couple of questions. Do you think it’s important when these resources are constructed that they fit into the actual curriculum in every province and territory and the education outcomes expected in every grade from K to 12? What do you say about the need to promote the professional development of teachers on these very types of new curriculum resources to ensure that they are actually implemented in the classroom?

Ms. Elghawaby: Thank you for the question, Madam Chair and Senator Arnot.

Again, being quite new to the role, I have yet to sort of explore all the opportunities to advance educational resources. However, what I can say is that I was always impressed with different efforts to, for example, educate on Remembrance Day. Veterans Affairs Canada provides resources available to teachers for free every year that can be ordered online, can be mailed, posters, and that’s at the federal level but it’s to the teachers across Canada about a very important national day. Is it possible that there will be resources available at a national level to any teacher anywhere in Canada that looks at either Islamophobia, anti-racism efforts or citizenship? That is certainly an interesting question to explore. As I mentioned, I know that I will be looking at what other tools are available to advance education and awareness on Islamophobia and the contributions of Muslims in Canada.

Senator Arnot: I have some good news. Such a set of resources does exist. It’s in the Concentus Citizenship Education Foundation materials, and I commend that to you for your consideration. Thank you.

Senator Bernard: I would like to ask a follow-up question around intersectionality. I’m wondering if you could give us a sense of how you uptake those issues around intersectionality in your work and how you envision that going forward.

The Chair: Can I add to that about intersectionality? To what extent has GBA Plus been successful at integrating intersection analysis in the development of federal policies, programs and legislation?

Ms. Elghawaby: Thank you, Madam Chair and Senator Bernard, for both questions.

Intersectionality is critical in the sense of understanding that people can hold multiple identities, whether it’s being a religious minority, having a disability, a different ethnicity or a different race. There are so many different identities there. Part of my commitment in this work is to ensure that I am cognizant and aware of intersectional identities and that, when I am engaging with communities, that I am looking at the richness and the diversity of our communities to ensure that the input that I am receiving on how Canada can do better on the issue of Islamophobia is rooted in the different experiences that people have across Canada, ensuring I am very mindful of these identities.

I’ll give an example of the way that not being mindful or not being able to be mindful of these identities can actually limit our understanding —

The Chair: I apologize.

Ms. Elghawaby: For instance, when we look at what we were mentioning earlier, police-reported hate crimes. Police-reported hate crimes are actually only based on one identity marker. For instance, we mentioned the Black Muslim women in Alberta. When they reported the victimization they experienced, the police could only mark one identity as to how they were targeted. The police cannot mark whether they were targeted both for being Black as well as being Muslim. There is a limit in the data, and that really reflects where we need to do more work to ensure that we’re able to capture the intersectional identities because, of course, that will feed into the evidence that we’re using to base our interventions on. Thank you.

Senator Bernard: The GBA Plus?

Ms. Elghawaby: The GBA Plus is a question, I think, for the officials that will come after me. I’m not versed in it at the moment yet, so I will leave it to their capable hands.

The Chair: Thank you.

I wanted to ask you, when you set up your office, how many people are hoping you to hire? What is the budget allowing for?

Ms. Elghawaby: Well, I’m hoping to at least have four to five staff that will be working with me in the areas of policy and programs. We’re still working it all out, but certainly as was identified by pretty much every honourable senator, the work is a lot and it would be nice to have an even larger team. We certainly all have to work within the constraints that we have, and I’m looking forward to really working very hard and getting the most for the money that we’re putting into these efforts.

The Chair: Finally, I want to thank you for the work that you have done and that you will continue to do. Just in conversations with young women, you are a very powerful role model for them. I wanted to bring that message to you, because sometimes when you are in the trenches and you are doing the work that you do, you wonder whether it’s making a difference. You are a very positive role model, and thank you for that. We have kept our promise. We are letting you go five minutes before 6:00. If there is anything that you feel you missed or you would like us to take notice of, feel free to give us a written submission. Senator Omidvar did ask about the recommendations, and if there is anything else that you feel we should have at the end of the study as recommendations for the government, please send them to us. Your help will go a long way as we write this report. Thank you so much.

Ms. Elghawaby: Thank you, Madam Chair and honourable senators, for your time.

The Chair: Honourable senators, I shall now introduce our third and last panel of the day. Our witnesses have been asked to make an opening statement of five minutes. We shall hear from the witnesses and then turn to questions from the senators.

I welcome witnesses from Canadian Heritage who are in person with us at the table: Mala Khanna, Associate Deputy Minister; and Gaveen Cadotte, Assistant Deputy Minister, Anti-Racism Strategy and Action Plan on Combatting Hate Sector. I want to take this opportunity to welcome back Peter Flegel, Executive Director of the Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat. I now invite Ms. Khanna to make her presentation.

Mala Khanna, Associate Deputy Minister, Canadian Heritage: Thank you, Madam Chair and honourable senators. It is an honour for us to be joining you today on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. Allow me to also express a warm Ramadan Kareem to those of you who are observing this holy month.


Just as you have been over the course of your study, we are deeply troubled by the persistent reports of Muslim communities being targeted by Islamophobic violence and hatred and of systemic racism and discrimination, which create barriers limiting the ability of members of Muslim communities from thriving and prospering in our country.

Our department is working tirelessly to support the federal government’s efforts to build an open, welcoming, and inclusive Canada, where no one is discriminated against simply because they are Muslim, Black, Indigenous or a member of another community that is the target of discrimination.

If we consider all of the many testimonies you have heard in your study of Islamophobia in Canada, it’s clear that words are not enough. We are determined to build on the progress already made and to continue taking concrete action.


It was four years ago that the government launched an Anti-Racism Strategy, a first in Canada. Close to $100 million has been invested through this strategy since 2019. The strategy was designed to lay a foundation to tackle systemic racism, including Islamophobia, through immediate action.

As part of the Anti-Racism Strategy, the Anti-Racism Action Program was created. Through this funding program, we are now supporting over 85 projects worth about $15 million. Thirteen of those projects support Muslim communities or specifically combat Islamophobia. These include initiatives like a hackathon to end Islamophobia online and a digital campaign to empower Muslim women to fully participate in Canadian society.

Two years ago, the government declared January 29 a national day to commemorate the attack on the Quebec City mosque and to act against Islamophobia. We also convened an unprecedented national summit on Islamophobia organized by the Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat at Canadian Heritage.


I would be remiss if I did not mention, as you know, the appointment this year of Amira Elghawaby as Canada’s first Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia, who just spoke. We look forward to continuing to support her in her important new responsibilities.

Building on the foundation of the current Anti-Racism Strategy, the Government of Canada committed $85 million over four years in Budget 2022 to support a new anti-racism strategy for Canada and to create a new action plan on combatting hate, an action plan that will focus on the realities and lived experiences of communities to address the troubling rise in hate crime and violence, as well as hate groups and their supporters. These two initiatives are top priorities for Minister Hussen.

However, a critical part of our work in developing the new strategy and action plan is to be informed by the advice we have gathered from thousands of stakeholders, including Muslim communities, across Canada.


The government is also working on legislation related to online safety, which has been informed by extensive engagement with people across Canada, including victims of online harm, industry stakeholders and civil society groups.

As we move forward with our work, we will continue to look to your report and recommendations. We know there is still more hard work to be done. We know this because, too often, Muslims everywhere in Canada continue to face barriers, intolerance and hatred. This is not the Canada we want. It is not the Canada we know we can be.

Once again, I thank you for inviting us. We are happy to answer any questions that you may have.

The Chair: Thank you for your presentation.

We will now proceed to questions from the senators. As with our previous practice, I would like to remind each senator that you have five minutes for the question and the answer. I will start with the deputy chair, Senator Bernard.

Senator Bernard: Thank you all for being with us today. We appreciate hearing from you.

In your previous testimony to the committee in June 2022, you stated that the Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat would be working with several departments and stakeholders on renewing Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy and releasing Canada’s first ever National Action Plan on Combatting Hate, and you have highlighted that again today. Could you please update our committee on the specific progress in these efforts to date? Are you able to give us more specifics around where things are with regard to the new strategy and action plan and what differences we might see from the previous strategy? Also — I am adding on to the questions, and I know that I shouldn’t do that, but I will say it now that I’m halfway into it — when can we expect to see this new strategy and action plan? Thank you.

Ms. Khanna: Thank you for the questions, Senator Bernard.

Yes, we have been working on the Anti-Racism Strategy, and we continue to work on it. We have made progress. Really, it has been around a high degree of community engagement, and I would say externally with community but also internally within the public service.

In terms of precise timing, I can’t give you a precise date that it will be ready, but I can tell you that it is absolutely a priority for the government and for Minister Hussen. We do hope to be able to launch the strategy soon.

In terms of the content of the strategy, it very much will be based on the first strategy, which was around building a foundation for anti-racism and combatting systemic discrimination.

In terms of the action plan on hate, again, a high degree of engagement with community, particularly in an area like this, is really fundamental to the success of the action plan and the Anti-Racism Strategy. There have been a number of round tables and a questionnaire, but we also look to research that has been done, important research that, for example, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation has done around the need to provide support to victims, which the Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia also spoke to, as well as the task force that the Canadian Race Relations Foundation launched with the RCMP.

Together with Public Safety and Justice and other departments, we are assessing the content that we have heard and working to develop an action plan. Again, in terms of precise timing for the action plan, I cannot provide that today because we don’t have a precise date, but we are working to develop and release it soon and will be pleased to do so.

What I can say is that the work of this committee in the study you have done on Islamophobia, which you are wrapping up tonight, will very much inform the work that we are doing as well.

Senator Hartling: Thank you to the witnesses for being here.

I will read my question. In your previous testimony to the committee in June 2022, you stated that there was an opportunity to enhance coherence and impact federal laws to prosecute hate crimes and hate groups. Could you please expand on this statement? How can federal laws be amended or utilized to better prosecute hate crimes and hate groups? Are some efforts already under way to achieve this?

Ms. Khanna: Thank you, senator, for the question.

We have heard about the need for legislative reform from community. We have heard about the need for better data. We have heard about the need to reinforce security infrastructure and support to victims or people who have been impacted by hate.

In terms of concrete legislative proposals, certainly we have heard that they are very much part of what we are looking towards. In terms of online safety, Minister Rodriguez has definitely committed to bringing forward legislative proposals that would protect marginalized communities that experience hate online. That is a concrete measure that I think we can expect. There may be other legislative proposals that come forward in the course of the action plan, which will come to pass, but right now, that is where we are.

Gaveen Cadotte, Assistant Deputy Minister, Anti-Racism Strategy and Action Plan on Combatting Hate Sector, Canadian Heritage: That is absolutely correct. Part of what we are looking at in the development of the action plan is all the available tools that we can leverage across and what would make sense. We have definitely heard this from communities, as Mala has said. This is something that we are reflecting on in terms of what we have heard from communities and what we have seen in other jurisdictions. We are keeping an eye on all the different tools that could be leveraged in an action plan. It will definitely be informed by the consultations that we have done to date.

Senator Hartling: Thank you.

Senator Manning: Thank you to our witnesses.

We have the opportunity to travel throughout the world. Canada is the envy of the world when we travel to other places. But we have a serious issue here, Islamophobia. What do you see as the greatest challenge that your department is dealing with in addressing this issue? Money can’t solve it. We cannot legislate people to accept things that they do not want to accept. How do we change attitude? How do we get people to open their eyes and hearts to people who may not look like them or whatever the case may be? I’m just trying to find a way —

Ms. Khanna: Thank you, senator and, thank you, Madam Chair.

I think the greatest challenge that we face in this kind of work — and I include the work on Islamophobia as well as the work that we are doing on combatting anti-Semitism and anti-racism — is really around the fact that these are not problems that can be fixed overnight. These are very complex, entrenched issues that affect every part of our society, many of which, I think, we are only beginning to understand root causes of and beginning to understand the depth of the systemic barriers which exist.

I do believe that we have made tremendous progress. I think a focus on awareness and understanding and the work that we have done and continue to do around working with Statistics Canada to have better disaggregated data is helpful. I really believe that we have made progress, but I think the challenge is just the nature of the complexity of the issues that we are facing. Again, I would point to intersectionality as being a critical, conceptual lens that we have understood and applied in a much better way in the last few years than we have. But even with all of that progress — as has been very clear through the study that you have done — that these problems are persistent.

It is a very good question. I would love to have Peter, if I could, reflect on it as well, because he has worked quite closely with communities and I think would have a very good sense of it.

Peter Flegel, Executive Director, Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat, Canadian Heritage: Thank you, Madam Chair.

One of the things that we heard from Special Representative Amira and we have heard from our stakeholders across the country is the systemic dimension of Islamophobia. Yes, there is the attitudinal piece, so people who are Islamophobic in their attitudes, but also how the government system may reinforce Islamophobic outcomes and consequences. I think one of the biggest challenges for us as a federal government is having the right institutional, systemic and structural tools at our disposal to eradicate systemic Islamophobia. That’s one of the things we’re working on in developing the new Anti-Racism Strategy and the new National Action Plan on Combatting Hate. We are very lucky, of course, to have Special Representative Amira who will be helping us walk through what those institutional set-ups and tools can be so that we can reach the Canada that we all want that is free from Islamophobia.

Senator Manning: Do I have time for another question?

The Chair: Really brief, and a brief answer, please.

Senator Manning: It is hard to be brief.

You mentioned in your opening remarks the funding program supporting 85 projects. You touched on a couple of your projects. A solution to this problem is not going to come from the top down. In my view, it is going to come from the bottom up. I am thinking that’s the purpose of these projects, to get out into the communities and try to build the foundation that we need to build. I wonder if you could elaborate a little on the process of the projects for people who may not be aware of the availability of funding to assist them in their efforts.

Ms. Khanna: That is a great question, senator. Madam Chair, I will turn to my colleague, Gaveen.

Ms. Cadotte: Madam Chair, thank you for the question.

Through Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy, or CARS, the government has provided funding — over $100 million since 2019 — to invest in actions through CARS, including $70 million in program funding. Through the Anti-Racism Strategy, a new program was set up, the Anti-Racism Action Program, which provides funding to community levels in addition to our existing program the Community Support, Multiculturalism and Anti-Racism Initiatives Program. Both of those programs are used to help leverage and build capacity within communities to combat racism, including Islamophobia. We have been able to fund a number of projects, as Mala mentioned in her remarks, specifically to support Muslim communities as well as combatting Islamophobia.

Mr. Flegel: To add to that, just to be clear, under Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy, there are four priority areas for funding: One was access to justice; two was access to employment; three was social participation, so access to the arts and sports; the fourth one was combatting online hate. With that — and this ties into the point about education — projects that focused on enhancing young people’s ability to detect Islamophobic and racist disinformation online were the types of projects that were funded. That is a focus point for the funding programs.

Senator Arnot: Thank you to the witnesses for being here tonight. You were here for some of my questions to the previous panel. They set you up to answer all of the questions, so here we go.

I want to make a comment. In Canadian Heritage, your raison d’etre is to deal with our multicultural, multi-theist, multi-ethnic Canada and really support that the best way you can. The Aga Khan has said that Canada is the most successful experiment in pluralism the world had seen, and he is right, but there is a fragility attached to that, and it is directly related to the knowledge, understanding and commitment all Canadians have to our multicultural Canada, our Constitution and our democratic values.

I am saying to you the best investment you can make through your resources and your expertise, the best chance for success, is to bet on education. You heard what Ms. Elghawaby said about the K-12 education system and what we can do. Educators are change agents. We definitely need change in this country. Islamophobia is closely connected to a lot of other things: racism, anti-Semitism. There is a relationship there.

What I am saying here is this: You are developing the new strategy and the action plan. I am hoping there is enough flexibility in the strategy and the plans to support the professional development of teachers and the building of resources. Ms. Elghawaby talked about when she was a teacher she used resources from — I cannot remember the name of the ministry right now, but it’s on Remembrance Day. They were free. You do not have to have anything that is mandatory. But if you have professional development resources that are optional that deal with these issues, that would be a good bet.

One other point: We visited the Clarkson Secondary School in Mississauga, Ontario. It was a really great experience, and the students there were frank and forthright. They were talking about inclusion and belonging and what the teachers and the school could do to make students feel welcome and to have the opportunity to succeed in the best way they can.

So I say you should be betting on education. That is a good place to put your money. I understand there are some existing programs, like CSMARI and the Youth Take Charge Program, that can fit some of these ideas. I am hoping there is enough flexibility in the contemplative programs in the new strategy, new action plan, to accommodate that need or desire of teachers to help shape the students to create a better Canada.

Ms. Khanna: Thank you for that, Senator Arnot.

My response to you, sir, my own background. I am the child of immigrants who came here from East Africa in 1970 and certainly have benefitted from the multicultural Canada that we have. I agree that it is fragile. I agree that we must protect it. I’m very proud and honoured to have the role that I have.

I also agree with you about the power of education, and, certainly, your committee has heard powerful testimony about the importance of education in correcting stereotypes and countering negative images, particularly of Muslims, as they exist in our institutions and in the media.

Also, I think Special Representative Elghawaby also mentioned about the importance of learning our history and learning the contributions of Muslims in Canada. There, I think, the education of young people, absolutely. I just look at my children and how much more they understand about reconciliation than I did growing up in the education system here in Canada, but I think educating university students and adults is very important.

As has been mentioned, of course, education is provincial jurisdiction, but Canadian Heritage can and does work with community to develop projects that do relate to the curriculum, so I think there is scope there.

Thank you.

Senator Arnot: Anybody else? Mr. Flegel, you are working on the anti-hate strategy?

Mr. Flegel: Thank you.

Absolutely. Across the board in every single engagement session we had across the country or even online, the power of education to shape citizenship and to change hearts and minds was emphasized. Obviously, as you know, there is the jurisdictional dimension or difficulty that we have, but, nonetheless, as you pointed out — and this is what we have heard, and this is what we’re trying to do as a government — you can fund the creation of tools that teachers, instructors and community leaders can then use and pass on to their children. Whether it’s the Community Support, Multiculturalism, and Anti-Racism Initiatives Program — CSMARI — or the Anti-Racism Action Plan that are being funded, we anticipate that this will likely continue moving forward, but we definitely take your point as we develop the strategy.

Senator Arnot: Thank you.

I wonder if Ms. Cadotte has something that she would like to add.

Ms. Cadotte: I completely agree. We have heard from communities, as Peter mentioned, around just how important this element is in terms of education and awareness on anti-racism and on combatting Islamophobia. As mentioned, senator, we do have two funding programs, Community Support, Multiculturalism, and Anti-Racism Initiatives — CSMARI — and the Anti-Racism Action Plan — ARAP — which are open to school boards, to schools and to communities and organizations to submit for funding requests. We have seen those requests come in, and they have been received from many.

As Peter also mentioned, there are community groups that do make their resources available. We have the example of the Black family FreedomSchool in Toronto that’s creating resources for those to participate in activism and promoting anti-racism education in their schools. There are many fronts in which we’re supporting this focus on education at the community level through our funding programs.

Senator Jaffer: Thank you very much to all of you, and welcome.

I have a lot of questions. When I hear you say you are working on, working on, working on the anti-racism policy, it worries me, to be frank with you, because the longer you work on it, the longer this is festering in the community and the longer our children have challenges without the proper education. How much longer? I know you didn’t commit, but how much longer?

Ms. Khanna: Thank you for the question, Senator Jaffer.

I can’t give a precise date, as I said to Senator Bernard, but I really can say that there is a high degree of commitment and work that has been done, and I believe it won’t be years.

Senator Jaffer: Thank you.

I’m sure you deal with this issue of White supremacists. You know what happened in Quebec and what happened in London. Do you have a policy? Are you working on it, and what kind of education are you giving?

Ms. Khanna: Thank you for the question.

Certainly, we are working with other departments and altogether really trying to get an understanding and develop responses that can really deal with root causes. I would say that it is, as you say, really around awareness and support and training that Canadian Heritage would have a role, but certainly security agencies and the police would be very much also involved in really getting — because they are crimes, and so the investigation and prosecution of them as crimes —

Senator Jaffer: Are you doing any training in communities generally on this issue, or are you planning to?

Ms. Khanna: On the issue of Islamophobia?

Senator Jaffer: No, White supremacists.

Ms. Khanna: I will ask Peter to maybe respond to you.

Mr. Flegel: Thank you, Madam Chair, for that very important question.

The first thing I want to say is that Minister Hussen has publicly acknowledged the existence and reality of White supremacy and White supremacist groups, as have other ministers within the government. In our engagements with community across the country, the danger of White supremacy, which we have seen in our streets, has been raised. While we’re working on the anti-racism strategy and the National Action Plan on Combatting Hate, please rest assured that action is still happening.

One of the ways that we’re able to help address the issue of White supremacists operating in the streets is through funding projects led by community organizations on the ground that have the capacity, that have the knowledge and the know-how of who the actors are and are working with law enforcement and local government to advance community-based, community-tailored strategies to combat White supremacy groups.

That’s helping to inform the new strategy that, as Mala Khanna said, we’re hoping to launch soon. I think one of the important messages that we would like you to understand is that even though the strategy has not been launched yet, the work continues. We’re still engaged with community, and we are still working hand in hand with community to advance the change.

Senator Jaffer: Thank you. That’s very useful.

I was thinking of something when I was listening to the special representative speak. Of course, the summit asked for that special representative, and then I guess the government agreed to do that, so I get that part. With the budget she has been given — and I know you will say this is not something that’s in your hands — but looking at your budget and what she has been given, aren’t you worried that she is set up to fail?

Ms. Khanna: Thank you, senator and Madam Chair.

What I would say is, again, going back to — and I think the special representative said it herself — the tremendous amount of work that there is for us all to do. All of us have a role to play in combatting Islamophobia, working in partnership. If solving Islamophobia was her job alone, I would be very worried.

Senator Jaffer: No, no, I don’t expect that.

Ms. Khanna: We do want to support her. We want to work with her, we want to work with community, we want to work with this committee, we want to work with research institutions, we want to work with provinces and we want to work with civil society in order to be able to collectively combat Islamophobia.

Senator Jaffer: To have $5 million over three years is very little to get her work done, but I guess that will be a question I ask somewhere else. It makes me worry about how serious the government will be on wanting the special representative to succeed.

I understand she is sitting in your office, and she has no staff as yet. What kind of support are you giving to her?

Ms. Khanna: Thank you, Madam Chair and Senator Jaffer.

We are working with her to help her set up her office and identify possible candidates. We are helping her with all of the public service requirements that go into staffing an office and also getting her briefed in terms of the system of government and the public service. It will be for her to determine how and who and what she does with her office, but we definitely want to play a facilitative role and have been up to now.

Senator Jaffer: There is no other special representative except for Islamophobia; right?

Ms. Khanna: There is a Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, Professor Irwin Cotler, but there is no other special representative.

Senator Jaffer: Professor Cotler does not sit in your office?

Ms. Khanna: They are sort of parallel offices, but he is also supported by the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Senator Jaffer: What is his budget?

Ms. Khanna: I think it is the same. I want to make sure.

Ms. Cadotte: It is the same.

Senator Jaffer: Thank you.

The Chair: I have a couple of questions before we go to second round.

You spoke of advice that you have gathered from thousands of stakeholders, including Muslim communities across Canada. Would you be able to give me more details about that? In what region? How many Muslims, groups, community members and community leaders did you speak to? If you don’t have that information, you can always send it to us in writing.

Ms. Khanna: I will start with an answer, and we can follow up with further information. I know that Peter will also want to speak to this.

Engaging with community groups is at the core of the work we do at Canadian Heritage. We do this so that we can ensure that the needs of equity-seeking communities are identified and understood. The engagement happens across all levels, and it happens in different ways. I can talk about the consultation and engagement I have done in my capacity thus far, by way of illustration. All of us are involved in this.

The Chair: Let me stop you for a second. When you say, “by illustration,” I’m not understanding. Can you give me a specific example?

Ms. Khanna: I will be specific in terms of my experience, and we can get back to you with a more fulsome answer.

By way of example, I visited our regional office in Vancouver. The regional offices have well-established relationships with communities. While I was there, I met with Yusuf Siraj and Tariq Tyab from Foundation for a Path Forward. I know that Tariq also participated in your study.

I also attend events. I had the fortune of attending an event for Muslim women leaders at Massey College earlier in the fall and met some exceptional women from the Muslim community in Toronto.

The department has also organized formal round tables on specific topics. There were dedicated round tables on Islamophobia in connection with the Action Plan on Hate. As well, MP Virani had a round table specifically on Islamophobia in relation to the online safety proposals.

As I say, these are just examples of the community engagement I have done or have been aware of. It really is the work that Peter does, so he would be able to give you a further sense of it, and we can get back to you as well.

The Chair: Before you answer the question, Peter, can you tell me: When you are having a meeting with stakeholders or community members, how do you decide who to invite to those meetings? Who takes that decision?

Mr. Flegel: Thank you, Madam Chair, for your question.

As Mala Khanna mentioned, the department has regional offices across the country that have close relationships with grassroots organizations, including Muslim grassroots organizations. Based on that, they have provided us with a list. We use that list to reach out further to organizations that we may not be aware of or that are not within our orbit but that they have connections to, so they can bring them into the process.

What is very important to us — and Special Representative Elghawaby mentioned this — is the reality of intersectionality. We can’t simply invite one Muslim group or one type of Muslim group; we need to make sure that the full diversity of Muslim communities is represented.

At the National Summit on Islamophobia, we had approximately 400 Muslim representatives from across the country — whether from Iqaluit in the North or from Vancouver, Halifax or P.E.I. We had that full range. Every day I was looking to make sure that we were reaching a greater number of people because we recognize that more needs to be done in order to be as inclusive as possible in terms of engagement.

The Chair: Have you heard from any young Black Muslim women who wear the hijab in terms of their experiences?

Mr. Flegel: Not only was that raised, but it was a priority for us to make sure that Muslim women who wear a hijab, whether in Alberta, Quebec or anywhere else —

The Chair: Young Black women?

Mr. Flegel: Young Black women, yes.

The Chair: From our study, we found that they have the worst experiences. If you are a Black woman wearing a hijab, your experiences are far worse.

Ms. Khanna: Could I add something? That was one piece that I also wanted to mention, particularly your experiences when you met with those young Black women in Alberta wearing the hijab. I read the testimony and thought that it’s another way of identifying people who we want to reach out to. I was so moved and troubled by their experiences, and I want to reach out to them as well. There are a number of different ways that we can identify people, and that’s one way in which your study has helped.

The Chair: Thank you for that.

I find that within the community, there are certain groups that are presumed to be representative of all people in the community, which is not so. Sometimes we find there are too many leaders. We have to be mindful that we talk to people on the ground who are experiencing this.

The Islamophobia summit was in July of 2021. Of the recommendations that were made, how many have been implemented?

Ms. Khanna: Madam Chair, that’s an excellent question.

I would say that the key recommendations have been implemented. Of course, I’m referring to the Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia.

The Chair: That’s one, yes.

Ms. Khanna: As an example, I would point to Budget 2022, which provided $4 million for the Muslims in Canada Archive. This is run out of the Institute of Islamic Studies at the University of Toronto. It’s a community-engaged archive that is working to fill Canada’s archival landscape to equip storytellers to tell stories that haven’t been told about Muslims in Canada. Changing and countering the narrative is another recommendation that came out of the summit.

Online safety and the importance of protecting vulnerable groups in their online activity is another aspect that came out of the summit. As I say, work is ongoing with respect to online safety.

Another recommendation that was made is around the importance of safety and security in places of worship and community spaces through the Security Infrastructure Program. I know that Public Safety is very much looking to a next call-out for that program.

Systemic investigation into Muslim-led charities was another recommendation that came out of the summit. As we know and as has been the subject of discussion today, the report did come out.

The Chair: I’m forgetting how many recommendations there were. I just want a number. How many were there, and how many were implemented?

Ms. Khanna: I will turn to Peter, and we can come back to you too.

Mr. Flegel: We’ll provide you with a fulsome breakdown of what has been asked for.

The Chair: Would you remember offhand how many recommendations there were?

Mr. Flegel: At least 40.

The Chair: Could you give me a figure of how many have been implemented?

Mr. Flegel: I would prefer to send you a fulsome report so that I’m not providing the wrong information.

The Chair: So not too many. Thank you.

Senator Bernard: I have a couple of follow-up questions. Following up on one of the questions that Senator Jaffer asked about the action plan, and she expressed some worry about that, I wondered if you could tell us if there are specific barriers to launching the strategy that you are dealing with. Is that cause for what we perceive as a delay?

Ms. Khanna: Thank you, Senator Bernard and Madam Chair.

I wouldn’t say that there are barriers that we are encountering. I would say that we are wanting to ensure that we have the right product and that we are doing the work. As I said to Senator Manning, these are very complex deep-seated problems. It does just take time. Working within the public service and working horizontally — the nature of these issues requires in-depth collaboration. It couldn’t be any other way, but that can take time.

Senator Bernard: You mentioned in a response to one of the other questions that there are two funding streams for community-based initiatives. I’m wondering how communities are made aware of those funding opportunities and how often there are invitations for people to participate. As a Nova Scotian, senator, I’m interested in what’s happening in Nova Scotia.

Ms. Khanna: Well, I will take a stab and then probably turn it over to Gaveen.

We have the regions across Canada. We have a regional office in Halifax that does work directly with the community and gets to know the communities. That is, I think, the number one way in which groups find out. I mean, the information is on the website, but certainly in terms of the actual engagement and involvement in the community, that is how the regional offices get to know the communities in the first place.

The one that is continuous intake and which you could certainly put forward a funding proposal for is the CSMARI program, which is our multiculturalism program. It is for events that community groups are looking to organize.

Ms. Cadotte: Thank you, Madam Chair, and thanks for the question.

Indeed, as Mala said, this is one of the programs, and both ARAP and CSMARI have high community engagement. We recognize that we are trying to reach folks at the community level, the grassroots level, so we try, through various means, to make sure that we do the outreach when opportunities are there. It’s not just that we put it on the website and hope people come. We are proactive in reaching out through our community groups, through the networks that ARSEC has developed and through other colleagues in other departments as well. We do try to get the word out. This is another opportunity around the CSMARI events.

We’ll definitely follow up with programs that have been funded in Nova Scotia.

Senator Arnot: I know about CSMARI, but the ARAP program, I don’t know what that is.

Ms. Cadotte: The Anti-Racism Action Program.

Mr. Flegel: One of the messages that we share with communities is that there is more to government funding than those two programs. Historically, if you were racialized or a religious minority, everybody sent you to Multiculturalism. But we know there are billions and billions of dollars of funding across the government, so what we do at the federal secretariat, I think it’s every month, we send out to communities funding opportunities from across the government. Historically, access to such information has been very limited, and this is going directly out to more than 12,000 people, and they send it out further — to hundreds if not thousands of people — so that it really reaches as many people as possible. It’s one way to share the information with more people so it’s more accessible.

The Chair: I presume the information is also available online if anybody wants to access it. Thank you.

Senator Manning: Thank you for the wonderful discussion.

You mentioned in your remarks the unprecedented national summit on Islamophobia. I have been involved in many summits over the years, and many people look for a follow-up so we can measure progress and see where we’re going. Is there any plan for a continuation of another national summit on Islamophobia to see exactly how far you have gotten along since you started, since the last one?

Ms. Khanna: Thank you Madam Chair and Senator Manning.

There are no plans right now, but we can definitely take that idea back, having a follow-up summit. Certainly, the work and recommendations, as we had said, have been taken very seriously, and we have made progress on a good number of the really key recommendations, working with other departments because a lot of the recommendations fell under other departments as well, but certainly working with them where we can to ensure progress, and we will get back to you on the specific number.

Senator Manning: That’s good. It’s an opportunity to showcase the work that you have completed, and it’s good for public relations.

I know that in my first slot of questions I mentioned the fact that Canada is the envy of the world. In our work here, we look at other jurisdictions to see what they are doing somewhere else that may work in Canada, like lessons learned in other jurisdictions. I just wonder, in this particular case, do you reach out, where do you reach out, and where have you identified some of the issues that we’re facing that they made progress on in other places, something that we can learn from?

Ms. Khanna: Absolutely, yes. Thank you for that question Madame Chair and Senator Manning. I’m going to turn it to Peter because this is what he is doing.

Mr. Flegel: Thank you, Madam Chair.

One of the things that we have heard, and that we know through research and evidence, is that Islamophobia and just racism in general are global. It’s not a Canada-specific thing. It’s across the globe. It’s really important that we’re connecting with our like-minded allies to understand what’s working in other places, the new practices they developed and what we can learn from each other.

One of the things that the federal anti-racism secretariat spent two years negotiating was the North American Partnership for Equity and Racial Justice with the Mexican and U.S. governments. Just last January, our minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Melaine Joly, the foreign minister of Mexico and U.S. Secretary of State Blinken signed the partnership. It’s a historic opportunity to enhance collaboration to share that information and to get to best practices to eradicate, among other things, Islamophobia, because in the U.S., for example, they have set up a special representative on combatting Islamophobia and monitoring Islamophobia. Right there, there is a lot for us to learn, not only for government but also putting civil society — community organizations in Canada — in contact with our counterparts in the U.S. and Mexico so that they can also learn and exchange information.

We’re having lots of conversations with like-minded allies around the world for that very purpose so that we can make sure that what we’re proposing as the Government of Canada is based on the most effective means out there.

Senator Manning: Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you.

I wanted to ask you a final question. Terrance Carter appeared before us, a charity lawyer, and he spoke about being in the States a few days prior to his appearance before the Senate Human Rights Committee. He mentioned there that he was coming to testify about Muslim charities. He said he got a laugh and they said, “Are you still worried about Muslim terrorism and Muslim charities? We have moved on to the rise of the White Supremacists.” Is there recognition here in Canada that we also have a serious problem that needs to be tackled?

Ms. Khanna: Madam Chair, thank you for the question.

Yes, I do think that it is being recognized as a serious problem. I’m not able to say more than that, but I do know that it is being treated as a serious issue by our security and by the government.

The Chair: Thank you.

I want to thank all the witnesses for agreeing to participate in this study. Your assistance with our study is greatly appreciated.

Colleagues and guests, this ends the public portion of our meeting.

(The committee continued in camera.)

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