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Politics Conservatives argue motion to condemn Islamophobia impacts freedom of speech

Member of Parliament Iqra Khalid, centre, is congratulated by colleagues for her announcement of her anti-Islamophobia motion, M-103, on Wednesday.

PATRICK DOYLE/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Liberal government says it strongly supports a private member's motion that condemns Islamophobia, but many Conservatives say they are concerned the term isn't well defined and will impact freedom of speech.

Heritage Minister Melanie Joly said Wednesday the government is voicing "strong and clear support" for Liberal MP Iqra Khalid's motion M-103, which calls on the government to "recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear" and condemn Islamophobia and "all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination."

If passed, the proposal asks the heritage committee to study the subject and report back with recommendations.

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"Racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia have no place in Canadian society," Ms. Khalid, who said she has received "hateful comments" over the past few weeks, told reporters.

Ms. Joly said Canada has seen "disturbing acts of intolerance" recently, including last month's deadly attack on a Quebec City mosque that left six men dead.

The motion was debated for the first time in the House of Commons on Wednesday night and will be voted on at a later date.

Ms. Joly said Liberal MPs can vote in favour or against the motion, but "I'm very happy to say that there will be a very strong support."

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During the debate, Ms. Khalid said she's been asked to remove references to Islamophobia in the motion, but refused. "We cannot address a problem if we fail to call it by its true name," she told the Commons.

Conservative MP David Anderson told the House his party asked Islamophobia be changed to "hatred against Muslims." "We're stuck with a divisive term, Mr. Speaker, that means nothing, or anything, which is not clearly defined," he said.

The Conservatives plan to introduce their own anti-discrimination motion on Thursday without the word Islamophobia.

Even before the debate began, Tory leadership candidate Kellie Leitch promoted a website called "Stop M-103," which featured the image of a woman with "M-103" taped over her mouth over a faint photo of RCMP officers during the 2014 Parliament Hill shooting.

Ms. Leitch said she won't be supporting the motion because "no religion should be enjoying any special privileges."

"Many Canadians are very concerned that they are having their freedom of speech stifled," she said.

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Ms. Leitch said people of all religions have to accept that they may be criticized for their beliefs.

"I'm Roman Catholic, I witnessed that about my own religion, and as uncomfortable as that may be, it's a cornerstone of our democracy that freedom of speech … whether it be about other religions or other issues, are things that we embrace in an open democracy."

Conservative leadership candidates Erin O'Toole, Maxime Bernier and Andrew Scheer have all said they'll vote against the motion.

Mr. Scheer told The Globe and Mail he's not comfortable with one religion being singled out and also takes issue with the government playing an "interventionist" role in what could be legitimate critiques of a faith.

"I don't like this identity politics stuff. We have a [Charter of Rights], we have protection against discrimination based on faith. We have laws against incitement of violence and hatred," he said.

On Tuesday, Tory leadership hopeful Michael Chong said he would support the motion. He said that, in light of the mass shooting in Quebec, "it is appropriate and important" that Parliament study anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic prejudice and discrimination.

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A spokesman for Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose said she wouldn't be supporting the motion, but it is a free vote. He added she would be open to amendments.

NDP leader Tom Mulcair said he supports the motion and believes his caucus does as well, but wants the Liberal government to stand up to U.S. President Donald Trump for his immigration policies.

Epicerie-Boucherie Assalam was owned by Azzeddine Soufiane, one of the victims of the mosque shooting. It is considered a hub for the Morroccan and Tunisian communities and customers hope it will continue on after his death.
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