1- Mr. Majzoub, president, FM-CMF presentation before the concerned Senate Committee
Chair; From the Canadian Muslim Forum, we have some Samer Majzoub, who’s the president.
I will now invite Samer to make his presentation.
Samer Majzoub, President, Canadian Muslim Forum: Thank you so much for the invitation, by all means. Every step that is being taken to address Islamophobia has a dispositive dimension, and this is what I would like to underline. I will try to respect my time of five minutes. I have already sent my submission to Mr. Payet, and I will be distributing this later on.
I would like to underline, as I start up, and this is very important and we have repeated this many times, that Islamophobia is neither a religious war nor an ethnic war. This is an extremely important element to have in mind, whether for my brothers from the Muslim community or for the fellow citizens, Canadian citizens, in Quebec and outside Quebec and all of Canada.
Islamophobia is an extreme form of hate, and that expresses itself and inserts itself in different dimensions: hate speech, racism, hidden racism and, unfortunately, terror, as we have seen in Quebec City and Northern Ontario. It expresses itself in hate against Islam and its universal values. I have my submissions, seven pages, and I will not go through the seven pages, but I will try to focus on a few points that I’d like to read and have those shed a light on. Islamophobia has many forms, many shapes.
I have been here in Canada for 34 years continuously. I have seen Islamophobia unfortunately evolving per se, and not a positive evolving. No, it is evolving from the hate speech that we all know, and I really need to underline that because we have worked very hard to reach this point where Islamophobia is being recognized and worked on. At one point during 2017, we had a lot of media coming out, asking, What does it mean? Are we asking people to have a lack of freedom of speech? No. I just want to make sure that hate speech means hate. Every speech that leads to hate is hate speech, and it doesn’t have to do with the freedom of speech. They are completely different dimensions.
We have the social media platforms. This is another fact that we face a lot, and it is not limited to Muslims. It is hate and bigotry and racism and targeting the women and men. All social media is becoming extremely intimidating, especially for our youth. We have a train car that is hitting the Western world, and Canada is not out of it. It is the extreme supremacy-based ideology, and the danger of this ideology is that it reflects its beliefs in violence. It’s not limited to Canada. We’ve seen this in Norway, we have seen this in Europe, and unfortunately, we have seen it extensively in Canada at least in two or three major events that have sent people dying on the streets and in mosques. I’ll not repeat this because this is known to everyone.
We also have another face of Islamophobia, and it comes within laws and rules, unfortunately. The panel before me mentioned the implication of law 21, and whether we like it or not, whether we admit it or not, whether we try to hide it or not, it does inflame the words of Islamophobia and xenophobia. It’s not only in Quebec, with all respect. It is Quebec and outside Quebec. Again, I need to underline this. Quebec is not a racist society. All my children were born in Quebec and lived in Quebec, and we love the province. This is an issue that needs to be addressed when it comes to racism all over Canada.
Another factor, and I will be very quick on this, is what we call a toxic environment within certain federal agencies. The media has said it, the Prime Minister himself has said it, and it has been reflected in certain rules and regulations. We see some non-profit organizations have raised complaints in Canada that they have been targeted because of their identity, and this is another factor that we need to look at.
We have what we call hidden racism, and hidden racism is another factor that is reflected mainly in the job market, where it is not easy to access the job market and, if you do have access, and the panel before me mentioned this, there are limitations for your advancement.
I will finalize my statement by the most important factor that is intimidating our kids and our lives. It’s the safety and the security of Muslim Canadians. And yes, I can tell you there are periods of time, not all the times, when parents call my organization and ask whether they should send their children to schools or not. And yes, this is in Canada, this is in our cities, so we are not talking about a war zone. The safety and the security of Canadian Muslims requires that our security agencies take every fear that we might see online, every intimidation, very seriously in order to avoid, God forbid, any violence or any bloody incidents like we have seen before.
I will conclude there, and I’m ready to receive any questions.
Senator Jaffer: I have a question for the president of the Canadian Muslim Forum: Are you involved in the lawsuit against Bill 21 that’s now before the Quebec Court of Appeal?
Mr. Majzoub: Actually, I mean, as the Muslim community, as the Canadian Muslim Forum, we are all involved. We are not the group that initiated the court case, but it is in the appeal court.
Let me verify something. The issue is not only the legal dimension of law 21 but the actual implications of law 21. Let me tell you, with all respect, that this law does not target immigrants, and there is a wrong impression, and maybe some politicians or some media would like to show this. The implication of this law in particular and its victims are young Quebec women.
There is a grandfather clause. This clause says if you arrive and start teaching before 2019, you can continue your position as a teacher. In other words, all the new arrivals to Canada up to 2019, but we call them immigrants, can still teach. Who’s paying the price now? It’s my kids and your kids who were born in Quebec, raised in Quebec, went to school in Quebec and went to university in Quebec. They cannot teach.
More important and more dangerous for all of us, beside the fact that women are being targeted by the implications of this law, is the fact it is giving a green light for racism and discrimination. This is what is so much not talked about. People speak only about the jobs themselves and that there are some sorts of job that you cannot access. No, it is very dangerous because it gives the okay, that it is fine, and you can give excuses to yourself to start discriminating against others. I believe this is one of the most negative implications of law 21.
Senator Jaffer: You have said this so articulately.
There are so many aspects to this. What does your organization do to make people understand what Islam is and what the Muslim community is in Quebec?
Mr. Majzoub: As the Canadian Muslim Forum, I have to put in mind we do not and I don’t encourage people to initiate a direct discussion from a religious point of view. I say very clearly, Muslims are citizens. I have had the chance to meet numerous politicians, decision makers and stakeholders in my last 34 years of activism. As a citizen, I have to be respectful. I pay my taxes and I have to respect the laws, and I have the same rights as any other citizen, and I say Muslims are not supposed to be discriminated against. With all respect to Mr. Antonius, and I respect him a lot, there is no excuse giving, no Islamism, no whatever, because if I start giving up excuses, I will never end. I will never end not only against Muslims, but against Muslims and other groups and other religions. I’m a Canadian, I am a Quebecer, I have the full rights here, and this is what I want.
I started by saying that Islamophobia is not a religious war. It is a hate that we are facing in Canada. I will underline here and stop. In 2016, we signed — because I’m the initiator of a petition on Islamophobia — to condemn Islamophobia in Canada, on which motion 103 and other things came. We said that this is not even a Muslim concern only, this is a Canadian concern. It’s a form of hate that we have seen. People are being killed on the streets, people and worshippers. Families are being eliminated. We initiate our talk as citizens that have the full right to be respected and not discriminated against.
Senator Oh: Thank you, witnesses, for being here.
I would say all three of you have expressed even more detail into Islamophobia and Bill 21. If we are to do something, we have to get down to the bottom. For the three of you, if you had a chance to change Islamophobia, where would you start, how do you start, and what message do you want to give back to the government and to society?
Mr. Majzoub: Just to start, honourable senators, the federal government of Canada, in 2019, came out with a definition of Islamophobia. It is done. The federal Government of Canada has chosen the definition of Islamophobia. It defined Islamophobia as including racism, stereotyping, prejudice, fear or act of hostility directed towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam, in general. In addition to individual acts of intolerance and racial profiling, Islamophobia can lead to viewing and treating Muslims as a greater security threat on an institutional, systematic and societal level. This is the Ministry of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism in 2019, so the definition of Islamophobia has been defined by the federal government in 2019.
Back to your question, honourable senator, there are a couple of things that I would suggest or underlined very quickly on how we could address this. First, express and show the contribution of Muslim Canadians to society, at all levels, whether at the scientific, social or the political level. This kind of expressing that Muslims are part of this society and have contributed to society might help to reduce the feeling of fear from Muslims and Islam.
Second, give women, Muslim women, the opportunity and the chance to reach out and to be on certain posts, and I’m talking about with qualifications. Give those women the chance and do not deprive them. So we fight and we say no to extremism, and then we ask women to stay home, and this is so very contradictory.
Third, call it out, as we have called it out many times, and move from the good talk, the good rhetoric, to a real political will of having real action plans to deal with Islamophobia, whether it’s the rulings and laws and many specifications to address Islamophobia, on social media, on systematic racism within certain departments or the violence that we’re having. By doing this, having actual and clear action plans, I believe it will start to diminish the effects of Islamophobia. It will not remove it completely because it will always be there, but certainly it will diminish it. Thank you so much.
Senator Jaffer: Two studies showed recently that there are many students in Quebec, Muslim students, who are wanting to look for work outside the province, and it’s mostly to do with the discrimination that is faced here. I wanted to ask this to the previous panel too. Are you seeing this, and how serious is this issue? I believe that if our young people leave the province, that sort of takes away the strength of the community, and that’s a very serious issue.
Mr. Majzoub: As painful as it is, it is the case. Let’s divide the feeling of moving out between those men who were not born in Quebec and Canada and came from overseas and those who were born here. This is a surprising thing, but those who were not born in Quebec and Canada are ready to resist and stay and fight it. Our children are ready to just pick up their stuff and leave. The numbers are staggering, and the feeling of people just leaving Quebec is staggering.
I sat down with some Quebec officials, and I will not mention names due to the respect of the meetings, and I said my child was born in Sacré-Coeur, went to daycare in French, primary in French, secondary in French, college in French, and university in French, costing thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars to taxpayers in Quebec and to the Ministry of Education. Now that they’ve graduated, they start working and paying taxes, but they’re being discriminated against and being targeted day and night. So many people come to the media to excuse themselves and say that they have the right to target Muslims because of this and that and all those excuses that we hear left and right and centre. How hard on the youth is this? The youth will say, “No problem, I will apply in Ottawa, I will apply in Ontario, or I’ll go to the West.” It is happening a lot, and unfortunately, I don’t see so far any officials in Quebec coming out to say that this is extremely dangerous trend that we’re seeing.
Senator Jaffer: Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you
*Photo source; Senate Report: Combatting Hate: Islamophobia and its impact on Muslims in Canada