On January 29, an armed man burst into a Quebec City mosque, shooting dead six Muslim Canadians and injuring 19. Two days earlier, American President Donald Trump, who had campaigned on a promise of "extreme vetting" at America's borders – primary target: Muslims – signed an executive order banning travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries. In Europe, Islamist fanatics launch attacks, while millions of law-abiding Muslims find themselves scapegoated by nationalist demagogues.
Given the context, it's no surprise that Muslim Canadians feel under threat. That's why it's important for Parliament to pass a resolution expressing solidarity. MPs should come together, condemn anti-Muslim violence and anti-Islamic prejudice, and say, on behalf of all Canadians, that any attack on Muslim Canadians is an attack on all Canadians, and any discrimination against our fellow citizens because of their faith or their race is illegal, unconstitutional and unCanadian.
Writing some succinct and powerful words, and passing them with the unanimous support of all MPs, should have been easy and uncontroversial. Instead, it has been anything but.
The blame for that falls mostly on the Conservative Party. Mostly, but not entirely. Every party has to some extent played politics with an issue that should transcend it.
Over the past few days, MPs have been debating motion M-103. Introduced by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid late last year, before the Quebec mosque murders, it condemns "Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination."
Motions like this usually receive little attention; this one has taken over Parliament and turned into the hottest issue in the Conservative Party's leadership race. That is not a good thing.
Those running to lead the Conservatives, including Kellie Leitch, Maxime Bernier, Andrew Scheer, Brad Trost, Chris Alexander, Kevin O'Leary and Erin O'Toole, all declared themselves unhappy with the motion. The term "Islamophobia" is the main holdup; it's been called confusing and even nefarious. It's also been suggested that the motion threatens free speech, and singles out Muslim-Canadians for special treatment or extra rights.
Earlier this week on Facebook, Michael Chong penned an elegant demolition of most of his colleagues' reservations. He is the one Conservative leadership candidate clearly supporting the motion. Mr. Chong is right.
Yes, M-103 is not history's most elegantly phrased work. For example, one part of it asks the government to "develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination ... while ensuring a community-centred focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making." No, we don't know what that means either. But the motion's heart is in the right place. And it's not dangerous.
And crucially, it's not legislation. It doesn't change the law. It simply condemns something that deserves to be condemned, namely anti-Islamic discrimination and all forms of racial and religious discrimination, and calls on Parliament to study how to reduce it.
A parliamentary motion – that's all M-103 is – expresses the views of Canada's elected representatives. Last year, Liberal MP Deborah Schulte introduced a motion to "recognize the contributions that Italian Canadians have made to Canadian society." Liberal Alexandra Mendes put forward a motion calling on Parliament to "recognize the important role co-operatives play in the economy."
These motions were not met with angry denunciations. No one claimed that, if the historical contributions of Italian-Canadians were recognized, other Canadians would be diminished. No one argued that a rhetorical tip of the hat to the co-operative corporate structure would constitute discrimination against sole-proprietorships, family businesses or limited-liability corporations.
The Conservatives have tried to amend M-103 by removing "Islamophobia," and leaving the motion as a blanket condemnation of all religious and racial discrimination. They received support on Thursday from former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler, who said that for the sake of clarity, he'd prefer if "Islamophobia" were replaced by "anti-Muslim bigotry." The Liberals, however, said they wouldn't "water down" the motion.
And NDP members said they could back both the Liberal motion and the Tory changes – but some said they also wanted the M-103 to take a shot at President Trump.
Ah, politics. But who speaks for Canada?
There should be unanimous support for a motion condemning anti-Muslim prejudice. To smooth its passage, we agree with Mr. Cotler's suggestion. So should the Liberals. If the Conservatives can't enthusiastically back a clear statement, in plain English, opposing any and all discrimination against Muslim Canadians, then their party – and Canada – has much bigger things to worry about.