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Liberal MP Iqra Khalid on Parliament Hill February 3, 2016 in Ottawa. (Dave Chan For The Globe and Mail)
Liberal MP Iqra Khalid on Parliament Hill February 3, 2016 in Ottawa. (Dave Chan For The Globe and Mail)

CAMPBELL CLARK

With the M-103 debate out of gas, we reflect on a squalid exercise in democracy Add to ...

Thus endeth the great M-103 debate, a sad episode of overreaction, twisted falsehoods, imaginary consequences and a game of parliamentary silly buggers.

A symbolic motion to condemn Islamophobia somehow became, even after the shooting deaths of six people at a Quebec City mosque, a toxic debate that leapt off the order paper and onto overheated internet sites. It ended with a quiet, anti-climactic vote that adopted the motion, and most MPs seemed happy enough to slip away afterward.

Two Conservative MPs voted for the motion to condemn Islamophobia, including leadership candidate Michael Chong, one abstained and all the other Tories who were in the Commons voted against. MP Gérard Deltell came out to argue that he, like many others, decided the term Islamophobia was just too vaguely defined and open to misinterpretation.

And the Liberal MP who sponsored the motion, Iqra Khalid, emerged to express satisfaction, but couldn’t really explain why she didn’t try to counter Tory concerns by adding her own definition of Islamophobia – all of 11 words – to the text of the motion.

Elizabeth Renzetti: A motion to quell anti-Muslim hate shouldn’t be up for debate, but here we are

This was a squalid exercise in democracy. Many parliamentary motions come and go unnoticed such as one condemning Islamophobia adopted unanimously Oct. 26 – it was adopted by a half-empty Commons, but the Conservative leadership had advance notice it would be proposed.

But the second one, Ms. Khalid’s, sparked a frenzy.

Even if you accepted the notion that Islamophobia is a term so ill-defined or even tainted with dangerous connotation, that still never explained the high-pitched claptrap that followed, with folks claiming that adopting the non-binding motion will not only mean a gutting of free speech but a slippery slope to the imposition of sharia law.

That’s right. Boom! Sharia! One day, you’re happily eating bacon and drinking beer and the next day, sharia law. You’d think that might not be the Liberals’ best re-election plank, but still, that was the theory. But there was nothing in the motion that led there.

Another claim was that M-103, a symbolic motion of no legal effect, would inexorably lead to a gutting of freedom of speech so one could not criticize Islam or any Islamic religious practice – apparently evading our Charter of Rights, but somehow not requiring actual legislation, or an opportunity for MPs to vote against it.

There were the conspiratorial suggestions. Columnist Tarek Fatah tweeted a photo of Ms. Khalid sitting next to Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Canada, asking why she met the diplomat before tabling motion M-103 – but it was a cropped shot from a dinner that included another Liberal MP and Conservative Salma Ataullahjan, six weeks before Ms. Khalid came up with her motion.

All this fuelled a campaign that filled the inboxes of Conservative MPs. An Angus Reid Institute poll found 42 per cent of respondents would vote against, and only 29 per cent would vote for it.

In the Commons, many Conservative MPs argued that the word Islamophobia was ill-defined – that some people had used it to argue against any criticism of Islam. They offered their own motion, condemning hatred against Muslims instead of using the word Islamophobia. But the Liberals voted against it – insisting their motion was better.

Ms. Khalid made a good argument that one shouldn’t shy away from naming the thing you want to condemn, and refused to remove the word Islamophobia. In a speech, she even offered her own simple definition, that “Islamophobia is the irrational hatred of Muslims that leads to discrimination.”

So why not put those words right into the text of her motion, defining Islamophobia? It would either allay the fears of Conservative MPs, or call their bluff. If you want to name the prejudice you condemn, why not go all the way? She dodged that simple question over and over on Thursday, then made the preposterous assertion that defining Islamophobia would have watered down the motion.

There was so much hysteria around this motion that the Liberals started to enjoy the idea that Tories would trap themselves in it. But the Liberals were derelict in their duty: When you’re facing phantoms of conspiracy, suspicion and misinformation, the response should be simple clarity.

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Follow on Twitter: @camrclark

Also on The Globe and Mail

Muslim group calls for support of anti-Islamophobia motion (The Canadian Press)

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