61 ways to fight Islamophobia

A national Muslim advocacy organisation in Canada has released a raft of recommendations aimed at tackling Islamophobia in response to a rise in hate crimes targeting the North American country’s Muslim community.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) issued 61 recommendations in a report, calling for action at the federal, provincial and municipal levels.

NCCM is an independent, non-partisan and non-profit organization that protects Canadian human rights and civil liberties, challenges discrimination and Islamophobia, builds mutual understanding, and advocates for the public concerns of Canadian Muslims.

More Muslims have been killed in targeted hate-attacks in Canada than any other G-7 country in the past 5 years because of Islamophobia, the NCCM states.

In 2017, a deadly mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec City left six Muslim worshippers dead. Last month, a terror attack killed four members of a Muslim family in London, Ontario. The incident sparked renewed calls for authorities to deal with systemic Islamophobia.

“While we have heard many words from politicians condemning Islamophobia and standing in solidarity with Muslims in Canada, action to tackle Islamophobia has been slow and piecemeal. It has been three years since the 2018 report by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on combatting Islamophobia, and many of the recommendations have still not been implemented,” said the report.

A federal Anti-Islamophobia Strategy by year

Among the recommendations are calls for a federal anti-Islamophobia strategy by the end of 2021, which includes a clear definition of Islamophobia, funding for anti-Islamophobia research and public education campaigns.

“Our community members have long felt that a dedicated strategy focused on Islamophobia is needed,” the Muslim group said.

The report states: “It is time to develop and publicly release a federal Anti-Islamophobia Strategy that puts forward a roadmap for ending violent and systemic Islamophobia.”

Online hate

The report also talks about online hate.

“During the sentencing of Alexandre Bissonnette who killed six Muslim worshippers in Quebec City in 2017, Justice Francois Huot indicated that the convicted mass murderer consulted multiple anti-Muslim online sources before the attack. Bissonnette accessed racist content on YouTube, Facebook, and he was consulting #MuslimBan on Twitter before the attack,” it said.

In 2016, media research company Cision documented a 600% rise in the amount of intolerant and hate speech in social media postings between November 2015 and November 2016. Their study focused on the usage of hashtags like #banmuslims and #siegheil. According to a 2019 survey by Leger Marketing, 60% of Canadians report having seen hate speech on social media, and 62% of Quebecers stated that they had seen hateful or racist speech on the internet/social media in relation to Muslims.

National Support Fund for Survivors of Hate-Motivated Crimes

It also called designated funding in the Federal Budget for a National Support Fund for Survivors of Hate-Motivated Crimes.

“The funding program should cover expenses incurred by survivors as a result of a hate-motivated incident or attack. The funding must include eligible expenses such as paramedical services (physiotherapy etc.), medical treatment and equipment, mental health treatment and supports, as well as loss of earnings. Applications for funds or their release should be readily available in the immediate aftermath of an attack when survivors need it most. Funding should not be contingent on a final criminal sentence being rendered,” report states.

New legislation on listing violent white supremacist groups

NCCM welcomes the recent listing of violent white supremacist extremist groups on Canada’s official list of terrorist organizations and entities such as Combat 18, the Proud Boys, The Base, Russian Imperial Movement, Atomwaffen Division, Aryan Strikeforce and the Three Percenters. The banning of these groups degrades their abilities to organize to incite and commit acts of violence, it said.

“Legislation should be introduced to implement provisions that place any entity that finances, facilitates, or participates in violent white supremacist and/or neo-Nazi activities on a list of violent white supremacist groups, which is separate and distinct from the terror-listing provisions,” read the report.

Study of the failure of national security agencies

The Muslim group also recommended an investigative study into the failure of national security authorities to deal with white supremacist groups in Canada.

“The deadly escalation in Islamophobic attacks in recent years deserves closer scrutiny, particularly when it comes to whether our security agencies have been able to effectively deal with white supremacist hate groups – all while disproportionately profiling Canadian Muslims.”

According to NCCM, such a study could point towards disparities in resources and funding have been put towards surveilling Indigenous, Black, and Muslim communities in contrast to white supremacist groups in Canada.

Amendments to the criminal code

Among criminal code amendments recommended were the introduction of provisions around hate-motivated assault, murder and threats.

“Most Canadians do not realize that there is no specific legal provision that deals with what many colloquially call a “hate crime.” That means that if an individual walks up to another person on the street and assaults them while yelling racial epithets, and it is determined that the attack was indeed hate-motivated, there is no specific “hate crime” section of the Criminal Code that the offender would be charged with as such,” the report states.

Office of the Special Envoy on Islamophobia

NCCM has proposed that the Government of Canada immediately funds the creation of the Office of the Special Envoy on Islamophobia, and subsequently appoints a Special Envoy.

According to NCCM, this position needs to work with various ministries to inform policy, programming and financing of efforts that impact Canadian Muslims. The Envoy should have the powers of a commissioner to investigate different issues relating to Islamophobia in Canada, and to conduct third-party reviews across all sectors of the federal government relating to concerns of Islamophobia.

Empowering Canadian Muslims to tell their own stories

Among the recommendations are incentivize production of Muslim stories, told by Canadian Muslims, that counter Islamophobic narratives through designated funding in the Canada Media Fund, Telefilm, the National Film Board, and provincial and municipal grants for arts and media.

The group also urged Government to allocate a multi-million-dollar fund through the Anti-Racism Secretariat or the Ministry of Heritage for Canadian Muslim artists and community organizations to facilitate grassroots storytelling, visual and oral history projects, and building community archives on experiences of and resistance to Islamophobia.

Dedicated funding for the study of Islamophobia

“The federal government should support universities to establish dedicated research infrastructure to enable the study of Islamophobia and antiIslamophobia approaches in Canada,” NCCM report suggested.

Mandate anti-Islamophobia training for all judges

Recently, an investigation was launched into a judge allegedly mocking an expert who testified in court because of his accent. In the case of Rania El-Alloul, NCCM and others were involved in reviewing the conduct of a Quebec judge who removed Ms. El-Alloul from a courtroom for wearing a hijab. Similarly, Canada’s Chief Justice of the Supreme Court publicly called for more diversity in the judicial system while citing numerous instances of judges pushing racist bias and stereotypes.

The report says: “In 2020, the government introduced proposed changes to the Judges Act and the Criminal Code in the House of Commons. Those changes have now received royal assent. We are glad to see legislation passed this session mandating that judges undergo training around sexual assault. While this legislation also mentions racial and systemic discrimination in relation to sexual violence in the continuing education for judges, there also need to be regulations to ensure that judges all receive distinct anti-racism and antiIslamophobia training that is delivered by diverse facilitators.”

Addressing Islamophobia in education

The Islamophobia report claimed that the studies and reports of the lived experiences of Muslim children in Canadian school systems tell that Islamophobia takes many forms in educational contexts.

Report read: “Ministries of Education should work with school boards, in consultation with local Muslim communities in particular districts, to develop anti-Islamophobia strategies that are responsive to local contexts and speak to broader issues of Islamophobia. Such strategies should be based on student voice data, student success, and representation in staffing within the context of districts’ commitments to human rights and equity.”

The NCCM report comes ahead of a national summit on Islamophobia set to take place on July 22, a day after a national summit on anti-semitism.