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M-103: Canadian Muslims need this showing of solidarity

Warda Shazadi Meighen and Lorne Waldman are immigration and refugee lawyers based in Toronto.

Much has been made this week of something that should have been a simple gesture to a community in mourning.

Many Muslims in Canada have been hurting. They have been hurting because of a gruesome attack that resulted in the death of six individuals who were peacefully praying in a Quebec City mosque.

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Muslims have been hurting because many of them, who are completely unconnected to any form of terrorism, are far too often vilified and painted with a broad, derogatory brush.

They have been hurting because acts of violence targeting them have surged.

They have been hurting because, south of the border, there is a contested – and temporarily suspended – immigration ban on individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries – a ban that makes exceptions for Christians and other religious minorities from those countries.

And they have been hurting because it was not long ago that they were implicitly targeted by something known as the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act and the completely gratuitous "barbaric cultural practices" hotline announced by Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander, who are both now vying for the leadership of the federal Conservative Party.

The sentiments of Muslims have become perpetual casualties of wedge politics.

The continual debasing of Muslims, culminating in the recent attack in Quebec City, is precisely why it is important for Muslims to see their leaders express solidarity with them.

M-103 does precisely this in the form of a non-binding motion that condemns Islamophobia. If the motion passes, its symbolism will do much to alleviate the deep suffering of many Muslims. On a practical level, it would result in the House of Commons's heritage committee taking tangible steps to study the issue, and perhaps make recommendations to address it.

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What M-103 will not do is curb freedom of speech. M-103 is not a law. If the concern with M-103 is the limitation of free speech, the non-binding nature of the motion should assuage that anxiety. Only hate laws, which have existed in the Canadian Criminal Code for decades, can actually punish individuals for promulgating certain types of hate. Rest assured that the marketplace of ideas will continue to exist – the threshold under the law for hate speech is quite high and justifiably so. M-103 is no more than a tip of the hat in solidarity.

If the true concern with M-103 is that the term "Islamophobia" lacks clarity, the correct response is to call for a definition of that term. Here is one: the irrational fear of Muslims.

If the opposition to this motion is nothing more than a continuation of wedge politics, we ought to reflect on what type of society we are creating. To alienate Muslims who are eager to contribute to our society is unwise. Camaraderie with any minority group that is being singled out is crucial – it embodies the promise of Canada and what Canada is lauded for globally.

The Conservative Party's effort to pass a new motion cleansed of the word "Islamophobia" and replaced with condemnation of "all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance and discrimination of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and other religious communities" is obstructive and, frankly, misses the mark. It does not help to alleviate the incredibly hurt sentiments of many Muslims. It is also redundant, as the Supreme Court, in the 1990 case of Canada v. Taylor, has already banned any expression that is "intended or likely to circulate extreme feelings of opprobrium and enmity against a racial or religious group."

Muslims are being targeted now not only in Canada but across Western liberal democracies. To oppose a motion made in solidarity with Muslim Canadians, many of whom have been weighed down by the effects of Islamophobia for too long, is tragic.

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