On S-210: Addressing Racism and Inequality

I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill S-210. This bill has quite a long, full title, but seeks to do just one small thing, an important thing, which is to repeal the short title of former Bill S-7.

    My New Democrat colleagues and I wholeheartedly support this initiative. Words matter, and when crafting legislation in this place, they matter even more. The words members of this place use, and the words used to craft the laws of a country, set a tone and an example for Canadians. We must always keep that responsibility in mind, and we must always take it very seriously.

    I was glad to see Senator Jaffer take on this initiative, encouraged by the broad support it received in the Senate, and happy that the member for Cloverdale—Langley City sponsored this bill in the House of Commons.

    Choosing to title Bill S-7 the “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act” was just that, an intentional choice. This choice was one New Democrats saw at the time as irresponsible at best, or dangerous dog-whistle politics at worst. The NDP attempted to change this title during Bill S-7's committee study, but the former Conservative government's minister of immigration had already announced that he would not consider any amendments to the bill.

    It with great privilege that I have held the role as NDP critic for immigration, refugees, and citizenship, as well as multiculturalism, and it is through my time in these roles I have had the opportunity to understand just how important small initiatives like repealing this inappropriate short title are.

    Today, we are faced with a global migration crisis. The United Nations estimates there are over 65 million people forcibly displaced, a level not seen since World War II. Not only are the humanitarian actions we, as Canadians, take to address these global challenges important, but so too are the words we use when discussing it. At the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, many European nations were closing their doors to asylum seekers fleeing a brutal civil war. Anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and anti-Muslim rhetoric had truly taken hold in some places. This was pushed in many corners by far-right nationalist political movements. They discredited the idea of the Syrians fleeing this war, one where we have seen intentional targeting of civilians with barrel bombs and chemical weapons, as economic migrants trying to jump the queue. The rhetoric was effective.

    As I have said in this House before, I was shocked to read the quote from our own Prime Minister on November 23 when he took that rhetoric regarding the irregular bordering crossing situation, stating, “Would-be Canadians need more than just a desire for a better economic future if they expect to be granted refugee status in this country.” Words matter.

    Given the rise globally in anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric, as Canadians, and especially as parliamentarians, we must do more than just rest on our humanitarian laurels to prevent these ideas from taking hold here. Canada has thus far gone against the trend, and we need to work hard to keep it that way. This is important because not only does it shape how we respond to those outside our borders, but how we treat members of our own communities.

    I was troubled to see that police reported hate crimes in Canada continued to rise from 2015 to 2016. In 2016, there were over 1,400 hate crimes reported to police, and 48% percent of those were motived by hatred of a race or ethnicity. The short title of Bill S-7 shamefully attempted to reframe crimes committed by individuals as normal practices of so-called barbaric cultures. At the time Bill S-7 was tabled, many Canadians saw this as being targeted towards Muslim Canadians.

    In my opinion, it was also clear during the Canadian heritage committee's study of systemic racism and religious discrimination that there is a clear segment of our society that is continuing the push to denigrate the culture and heritage of Muslim Canadians. I believe this can unfortunately be seen in our hate crime statistics too.

    In 2016, Arab or West Asian Canadians were the target of 112 hate crimes and Muslim Canadians were the target of 139 hate crimes. Combined, this represents 18% of all police reported hate crimes.

    While I and my colleagues support Bill S-210, we believe that there is much more to be done.

    Words matter but so do actions.

    Coming out of the heritage committee study, New Democrats supported the report tabled in the House and its recommendations for taking action against systemic racism and religious discrimination, including lslamophobia, but we believe there was still more that could be done. As the NDP representative, I tabled a supplementary report containing an additional 29 recommendations aimed toward making Canada a more just, fair, and inclusive place.

    I was pleased to see in the budget tabled yesterday, a commitment and a recognition for a new national anti-racism plan and a plan to deal with religious discrimination. However, I was disappointed to see that once again the government is merely committing to consultation.

    Words matter but so do actions.

    The heritage committee met 22 times over the course of that study, hearing from 78 witnesses, receiving countless written submissions, tabling a 130-page report, and the report's first four recommendations outline how to get moving on a renewed national action plan with a timeline, resources, and measurable outcomes. I hope that this consultation process is not going to be a long drawn out one. I hope at the end of the process it will yield a concrete plan that is resourced.

    We have seen time and again a pattern of behaviour from this government. It likes to consult but the follow up, not so much.

    We have seen that movie played out with electoral reform, which Canadians overwhelming say that they want a system where every vote counts. The government decided to ignore all that good advice and the Prime Minister makes a unilateral decision to break his own promise to Canadians that the 2015 election would be the last first past the post-election.

    Worst still, the Prime Minister thumbs his nose at Canadians who participated in the many town halls that many MPs held in their communities and the extensive consultation process that an all-party committee embarked on. Members will excuse me if I am just a little skeptical whenever the government says that it will consult.

    We heard loud and clear during the study about the rise of hate crime incidents in Canada. Witnesses said that immediate action should be taken to provide improved training and education to Canada's law enforcement agencies to better understand and recognize when hate is a motivating factor in the commission of a crime.

    We need to ensure that provinces and territories are resourced with proper hate crime units. This is something that the government could do now.

    Action matters.

    We also heard about under reporting of hate crime incidents to authorities often out of fear by victims that they would not be taken seriously. Under reporting of hate crime incidents is a known fact. The government needs to ensure barriers are removed for victims to come forward. Resourcing a hotline in collaboration with community groups would have done just that but that was not part of budget 2018.

    Canadians do not want to see victims of hate crime and systemic discrimination to continue to suffer silently.

    Action matters.

    What we also know is that hate is a learned behaviour. We must do more as a society to counter those who teach and promote hate and division.

    Given the current climate and the increase in hateful and anti-immigrant rhetoric across the developed world, Canada cannot rest on its laurels when it comes to diversity and inclusion. To ensure that Canada continues to go against those trends, investments must be made into our newcomer communities to ensure that they can integrate successfully and thrive.

    We need to build on the hard work of community groups by investing and supporting organizations that work to strengthen community involvement, civic inclusion, and to develop community leaders.

    Action matters.

     Let us get on with it with love and courage.


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