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Legislation Impacting Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Radicalisation Efforts

Legislation Impacting Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Radicalisation Efforts Stephen Harper, Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party of Canada (2006-2015)

Despite the existence of the law and despite the prevailing ideology of multiculturalism in Canada, there is quite a serious layer of discriminatory legislation. Moreover, this legislation is not a remnant with roots in the 19th and 20th centuries, but the result of the modern lawmaking process. For example, from 2006 to 2015, Canada experienced the so-called "Harper era. Stephen Harper was federal prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. At the same time, his policies were characterized by intolerance towards one of Canada's religious minorities, namely Muslims. Under Harper, Canada promoted anti-Muslim policies such as the "Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act," passed in 2015. This law amended other legislation that humiliated Muslims. These were the Immigration Act, the Civil Status Act, the Anti-Terrorism Act, etc. For example, it was forbidden to use the niqab in ceremonies related to obtaining citizenship (no longer exists today).

In 2015, "Bill C-51" or the Anti-Terrorism Act, was passed. Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced this bill with the assertion that "violent jihad is not just a danger somewhere else. It is aimed at hurting us here in Canada." Under C-51, many Canadian Muslims have seen their passports suspended, denied border crossings or treated unfairly - without a full explanation. The Arar Investigation (2017) made recommendations on how to ensure that the egregious mistakes made by law enforcement and uncovered in the investigation would never happen again, but the government ignored most of them.

Amira Elgawabi, human rights coordinator at the National Council of Canadian Muslims, put it this way: "Bill C-51 is a reckless attempt to win over a frightened electorate under the pretext of 'fighting terrorism.' Instead of imposing a dangerous new security regime that does not guarantee security, the government should heed the advice of security experts and leaders who argue that community partnerships are urgently needed to effectively counter the threat of violent extremism. Simply put, we can't spy and arrest people to find a way out of this problem. What is needed now is a nationwide, comprehensive and well-funded grassroots campaign based on mutual trust, credible research and genuine scholarship. The marginalization of the very Canadians who are on the front lines of this fight is worse than bad policy - it is a threat to all of us."

Much of the discriminatory legislation comes from the province of Quebec."Bill C-62" or the State Religious Neutrality Promotion Act, passed there on October 18, 2017, prohibits anyone receiving public services (including schooling, daycare or bus rides) from wearing clothing that covers their face. The bill had a negative impact on specific Muslim women and others with certain religious or ethnic practices. On November 7, 2017, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCMCM) jointly filed a lawsuit in Quebec challenging the constitutionality of Bill 62. As a result, the Superior Court of Quebec suspended the ban on the niqab.

In 2018, Parliament of Quebec passed amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-59), which human rights activists see as a violation of the civil rights of Canadians. Concerns focus on 1) empowering Canadian national security agencies to conduct mass surveillance; 2) the practical impossibility for an individual to effectively challenge being placed on a "no-fly list," which denies a person the ability to travel by air; and 3) allowing the Canadian Intelligence Service to conduct cyber-attacks. Of particular concern was the fact that the bill targeted communities flying from very specific regions, particularly Muslim countries.

On March 29, 2019, Quebec passed another discriminatory act, namely Bill C-21, which prohibits certain public sector employees believed to be in leadership positions from wearing religious symbols while at work, such as the turban, kippah and hijab. This group includes teachers, police officers, and judges. Since the introduction of Bill 21, Muslim women in Quebec have reported a sharp increase in harassment and discrimination. In May 2019, Just Women, a Montreal-based organization that offers legal and psychological support for women, said it had received more than 40 calls from women who wear the hijab since the bill was introduced in late March. The women reported a wide range of incidents, from aggressive language to physical violence. The organization provided a summary of its findings to elected officials who studied the bill. Among other things, the summary detailed:

  • Four incidents of physical violence in public places, including two attempts to tear off a hijab.
  • Six cases of workplace harassment and intimidation.
  • More than a dozen cases of cyber-bullying forced several women to delete profile photos showing them wearing the hijab.
  • It must be said that Canadian civil society has responded quite vigorously to the passage of discriminatory laws. For example, on October 28, 2019, protesters against Bill 21 said that the law actually supports racists. On June 14, 2020, opponents of the law vowed to continue the fight to repeal it on the first anniversary of its passage. Some of those who opposed the law gathered in front of the office of Prime Minister François Legault in downtown Montreal to denounce Bill 21, as it is known, a law they associate with systemic discrimination. They called on the Quebec government to move away from policies that divide people and unite to face the challenges ahead.

    In October 2019, the English School Board of Montreal filed a protest against the law, arguing that it contradicts a section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that protects the rights to education in minority languages and also has a disproportionate impact on women. In the summer of 2019, the National Muslim Council of Canada and the Canadian Civil Liberties Union also challenged the law and appealed a Quebec Superior Court decision that rejected their request for an immediate suspension of some of its provisions. Federal party leaders agreed not to intervene in any court challenges to the secularism law, at the request of Quebec Premier François Legault. Quebec's coalition government, Avenir, defended the secularism law, saying it had strong support among Quebecers and helped keep the state secular.

    Community groups have also called for improved human rights legislation aimed in particular at combating online hate. A good initiative by the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) is to advocate for a comprehensive review of Canada's Human Rights Act to consider how to combat the rise of online hatred, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia while balancing the rights of Canadians to engage in legitimate criticism. Similarly, NCCM's Federal Election Guide recommends revising current legislation to combat the rise of online hate, regulating social media companies to prevent hate, violence, misinformation and disinformation, and increasing funding for relevant groups to develop Canadian digital literacy programs. NCCM argues that better tracking by law enforcement and protective measures for Muslim institutions under attack are needed to reduce harm. In addition, an independent regulatory oversight body should be created to regulate all online platforms and enforce hate speech laws. As a result, in May 2019, Canada signed the Christchurch Declaration, a global commitment to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online, and Trudeau promised a new digital charter to combat hate speech and misinformation. This was followed by a campaign pledge to fight hate speech, exploitation and harassment online, and to do more to protect victims.

    The Center for Countering Bias and Extremism recommends three key points for countering right-wing extremism: The first is "education" - educating yourself and others about the dangers of the far right and the rise of hate crimes. Second is "responding to the challenge." And finally, "resistance," including participation in anti-hate rallies. It has become a Canadian practice that more right-wing and racist rallies are attended by those people who have come to protest racism than by far-right supporters.

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