New Zealand and Bill 83 designates January 29 as the day to recognize and take action on Islamophobia, Councillor Jan Harder, City of Ottawa

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 New Zealand and Bill 83 designates January 29 as the day to recognize and take action on Islamophobia, Councillor Jan Harder, City of Ottawa

On March 15th, Ottawa woke up to the terrible news of the shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. Mass shootings in and of themselves are always horrific. However, there is always a greater sense of shock when a tragedy like this occurs in a place of worship.  A place of worship should always be a sanctuary away from fear and violence – something that it wasn’t on that terrible day.  While New Zealand is a world away for most of us, it certainly wasn’t for members of the Muslim community here in Ottawa.

Just two years earlier, Canada was witness to its own ethnocentric tragedy.  Similarly, to New Zealand, on January 29, 2017, a place of worship was the sight of a terroristic attack where six people were murdered and 19 people were injured.  Canada prides itself on its multicultural and inclusive society.   When an ethnic group is attacked, the whole of Canada is attacked.  Acts like this are unacceptable.  Racism and intolerance seem to be on the rise.  The question is how do we put an end to this awful trend?

I think the solution lies in education. It is well known that racism and intolerance are learned behaviours.   Children exposed to the rhetoric and actions of hatred grow up to perpetuate the same in adulthood. Intercultural sensitivity and awareness must be taught at home and at school if we are ever to combat xenophobia.

The world looks to Canada as a peaceful and tolerant country much of it due to its multicultural policy.  In 1971, under Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s government, Multiculturalism became official Canadian policy. Canada was the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as official policy.  The two principles of the Multicultural policy are:

  • All citizens are equal and have the freedom to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage.
  • Multiculturalism promotes the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in all aspects of Canadian society.

Furthermore, in 1988, under the leadership of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, the government passed the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, which formalized the government’s commitment to “promote the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society.” Under the Charter of Rights and Freedom, every individual has an equal opportunity to full participation in Canadian society while maintaining their cultural heritage.  This is to be done without fear and/or persecution.  It is diversity and inclusiveness. What Canada has said to the world is that you can be Canadian and retain your cultural identity.  You have the right to celebrate, dress, and practice your religion without fear and persecution.  As a society, we can only be richer if we learn from others.  Multiculturalism has taught us about different cultures – from food, language, religion, to the arts and much more.

 

Unfortunately, we are living in dangerous times where ethnonationalism has reared its ugly head. The fear of the unknown, along with racism and divisive discourse has created the opportunity for Islamophobia to emerge.

Islamophobia has reared its ugly head here in Canada.  The extreme case of it occurred that day at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City.  We can easily put the blame for that evil on a sick individual. However, that shouldn’t cloud the fact that everyday acts of intolerance are on the increase and should not be ignored.  Again, education is key.  After the attack in Quebec, the Ontario Human Rights Commission called on “governments and communities, and each of us, to ask again, what we can do, what we must do, to eliminate Islamophobia.”

MPP Rima Berns-McGovern (Beaches-East York) has introduced an Act to proclaim a day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia.  Bill 83 would designate January 29 as the day to recognize and take action on Islamophobia.  This day will not only memorialize the senseless tragedy in Quebec City but also remind us that anti-Muslim sentiment is a real problem.  No one deserves to live in fear.  No one should be fearful to practice his or her beliefs – religious or cultural.

I am happy to have added my name to the United Against Islamaphobia Campaign that will be presented to the Government of Ontario in support  Bill 83.  We cannot legislate respect and understanding, but I believe that by recognizing that hate and ignorance can lead to tragic results is, I think, an important first step. Let us make sure that Canada keeps its multicultural vision a reality.

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