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On International Day against Islamophobia, community leaders call on Ottawa to act

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Last year, on the anniversary of the Christchurch Mosque shootings in New Zealand, the United Nations proclaimed March 15 as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia. Canadians United Against Hate is calling on the federal government to do more to address the issue in Canada.

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and New Democratic Party (NDP) Leader Jagmeet Singh, the organization is asking Ottawa to root out aspects of systemic Islamophobia within government, review Canadian foreign policies with respect to Muslim minorities such as the Uyghurs in China and Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and take decisive actions to counter Islamophobia in Canada.

“I’m not sure how seriously this is being taken by the government,” said Fareed Khan, founder of Canadians United Against Hate.

“And we have the added problem of the opposition parties, the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois, who are in fact enabling Islamophobia.”

In January, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre and the leader of the Bloc Québécois, Yves-François Blanchet, called for the resignation of Amira Elghawaby from her role as Canada’s first Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia over comments she made in 2019 related to Quebec’s Bill 21.

The bill, which was passed by the Quebec National Assembly in 2019 and prohibits individuals in certain public positions of authority from wearing religious symbols at work, has been widely criticized as discriminatory.

“Federal leaders in Ottawa have to stop kowtowing and being deferential to the Quebec government on the issue of Bill 21 and the bigotry that is inherent in that legislation,” said Khan, who believes the bill needs to be referred to the Supreme Court of Canada.

However, according to a poll released on Monday by the Angus Reid Institute, over half of Quebecers have an unfavorable view of Islam, and in general Canadians are evenly split on whether Islamophobia is an issue, with 44 per cent of respondents saying Canada doesn’t need a special representative on combatting Islamophobia.

“We should be at a point where studies like this no longer need to take place,” said Memona Hossain, at the Muslim Association of Canada.

“The fact that it exists speaks to the need to address Islamophobia at the community level, at the systemic level.”

Hossain pointed to research and reports on Islamophobic practices used by Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the alleged targeting of Muslim charities by the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA).

On March 14, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency announced it is reviewing the CRA’s “national security activities and decision-making relating to registered Canadian charities.”

Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier welcomed the investigation, adding that the agency seeks to “ensure that Muslim charities are treated fairly.”

However, Hossain said that when tackling Islamophobia, beyond government initiatives, change needs to be felt “on the ground”, including with the normalization of “Muslims being a part of Canadian society.” 

“Muslim organizations, Muslim community leaders are voices for all issues, are present in all of those discussions that are happening across government, across communities.”

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