Frivolous Symbolism: Motion 103 and the Status of Anti-Discrimination Laws in Canada

On March 23, 2017, M- 103 on “Systemic Racism and religious discrimination” passed in the House of Commons. The motion was introduced by Iqra Khalid, a Liberal MP from Mississauga Ontario and is considered to be Canada’s anti Islamophobia motion, though it has little worth beyond its symbolism.

The motion met opposition on both sides.

On the one hand you had white supremacists using the good-old “slippery slope” argument in which they claimed that passing the motion was one more step towards forcing Canada under Sharia Law. On the other side you had liberal Canadians – secular and religious, white and people of colour – decrying the gesture as being frivolous.

The motion is not a law.

The motion uses convoluted wording demanding that the government “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism, and religious discrimination” when the motion has no power to do so. Believed to be a politically motivated act to get some pats on the back in wake the Quebec City Mosque massacre, the motion is also completely redundant.

Canada has a lot of protections against discrimination, and they’ve been in our legal system at least thirty years.

First, there’s the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the brain child of the late Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau when he repatriated our constitution from Great Britain in 1982. The Canadian Charter is entrenched in our constitution, which means that it has primacy over all other laws in Canada and any law deemed to be incompatible with it can be struck down.

The Canadian Charter lists our fundamental freedoms which include those of conscience and religion, of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly and association. It also contains our legal rights to life, liberty, and security of the person, and to equal protection before law without discrimination based on race, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or physical disability.

The Charter only applies to government entities which include everything from Citizenship and Immigration Canada to public schools to hospitals. If a law is discriminatory, the Canadian Charter allows us to go to court to seek redress for the discrimination. Once one side proves the violation it’s up to the government to prove that the law is within reasonable limits as per the Charter’s main failsafe that allows legislation to survive in spite of itself because the ends justify the means.

Then there’s the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

Enacted in the 1970s, the Quebec Charter applies to both private and public entities. The Quebec Charter prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, colour, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, disability and the use of any means to ease it.

The Quebec Charter not only prohibits harassment based on those grounds, but also has provisions against discrimination in everything from access to public spaces, employment, and housing. It also prohibits the distribution or publication of notices, symbols, or signs authorizing discrimination. People whose rights have been violated as per the Quebec Charter can also seek redress via the courts and the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

Last but not least, we have the Canadian Criminal Code.

The Criminal Code has laws about hate propaganda and public incitement of hatred. Publicly advocating for genocide could result in a prison term of up to five years. Publicly inciting hatred and willfully promoting it in a circumstance other than in a private conversation could result in up to two years in jail.

Perhaps the most significant way our Criminal Code punishes hate crimes is via its sentencing guidelines. When the court must determine the sentence of an offender, it must consider a bunch of aggravating circumstances in order to decide whether to give the maximum or not. The first of these aggravating circumstances is:

“evidence that the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor,”

Since our laws already punish hate crimes, what is it that the federal government could do to further fight racism and discrimination?

Here are a few ideas that would have greater impact than any frivolous motion at a time in which Canada’s visible and religious minorities are asking for more than symbolic acts to prove the government will protect them.

First, the federal government should make transfer payments to the provinces for education conditional in part on the inclusion of a history or social studies course at the primary or secondary level about Canada’s different cultural and religious communities and their contributions.

It is widely acknowledged that racism is a learned behavior. Education is the key to enlightenment and such a course could prevent kids from becoming hate mongering adults while giving provinces the funds to create the curriculum and fix existing courses that leave people other than the French and English out of Canadian history.

The federal government should also demand that the Implicit Association Test be mandatory for law enforcement as part of their entrance exams.

The Implicit Association Test was created by Harvard University and is useful for determining people’s hidden biases against, for example, a particular ethnicity or gender. Any candidates shown by the test to have strong prejudices against a particular group should be made to undergo training about the groups they’re biased about as a condition for their admission to law enforcement. This would help to tackle racial profiling and police brutality and weed out some of the racists from law enforcement.

Candidates for judicial appointments should be subjected to the same test as a condition of their appointment. Strong negative biases would result in mandatory training as a condition of their appointment. This would not only help with discrimination towards religious or visible minorities, but would also prevent judges like former Judge Robin Camp from ever hearing a rape trial.

Last but not least, the federal government could increase its support for organizations that actively fight discrimination. The Center for Research-Action on Race Relations would be a good one to start with.

Talk, like that in Motion 103, is cheap. The need for symbolism is over. It’s time the government took real action against hate.

Facebook Comments

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *