A wave of reactions poured in after Quebec Premier François Legault stated that Islamophobia does not exist in the province.
The timing of such a statement from the premier could not have been more insensitive. Legault chose to make it on the second anniversary of the Quebec mosque massacre which took place in 2017. The remark was like a punch to the gut for the broken-hearted remembering the loss of innocent lives at numerous commemoration events around the province and country. Six men were shot in cold blood on the night of Jan. 29, 2017 while they prayed, leaving behind 17 orphans, six wives, shattered lives and severe psychological wounds. Hearing someone deny the existence of Islamophobia was extremely hard to comprehend amid the dark memory of the mass killing.
The responses to the premier came from all sides of society: politicians, journalists and community figures. The hours that followed witnessed a half-hearted retraction from Mr. Legault's office — a press aide later clarified that he meant there is no undercurrent of Islamophobia in Quebec — but the damage was done. Legault's statement was like salt on a wound, souring the provincial government's relationship with its many cultural communities.
There has certainly been no decrease in prejudice in Quebec, Ontario and the rest of the country. A 2018 Statistics Canada report shows that hate crimes reached an all-time high in 2017, based on incidents reported in both Quebec and Ontario. Quebec reported a 50-per-cent increase in the number of hate crimes in the month after the massacre in the mosque, mainly towards Muslim Quebecers. Ontario witnessed a 207-per-cent increase in hate crimes against Muslims, an 84-per-cent increase in crimes against Black people and 41-per-cent increase on incidents against Jewish people.
Taking into account that a good number of hate crimes are not reported for various reasons, these statistics are more than enough to be a wake-up call for Canadians to tackle a dangerous attitude contaminating our largely inclusive, peaceful and diverse country.
Bigotry has entered the public discourse, normalizing hatred and xenophobia.
Politicians and media outlets have fanned the flames of animosity, contributing to an atmosphere that promotes hate in extreme individuals. On some occasions, the authorities have arrested people who went public with hate speech against Muslim citizens. Bigotry has entered the public discourse, normalizing hatred and xenophobia. This will lead to the same violence that was demonstrated in the Quebec City mosque.
Political leaders are building platforms around division, developing an us-versus-them mentality targeting Muslims. The provincial government's planned bill banning "religious symbols" from certain public jobs, including education, is one example. In a very strong statement published in Le Journal de Montreal, the head of "La Fédération autonome de l'enseignement (FAE)," a teachers' union in Quebec, called the proposed bill what it is: a "hijab hunt."
The list of actions that further alienate Muslim Quebecers and other cultural communities goes on. Quebec's newly appointed minister responsible for the status of women added to the already heated climate in the province by stating that the Muslim hijab is "a symbol of oppression." A Gatineau city councillor told a newspaper that "Islamophobia is a problem invented by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau."
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At the federal level, Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer was called out for falsely claiming the UN Global Compact on Immigration that Canada expressed its readiness to sign onto would allow foreign governments to dictate our country's immigration policies. In many of his appearances in the media, Mr. Scheer does not hide what is considered to be a harsh position on immigration and migrants coming into the country.
Instances like this challenge Premier Legault's insistence that Islamophobia doesn't exist. It's alive and well within the province and Canada.
As populist and far-right movements take root across the country, it is more important than ever to renew calls to recognize January 29 as a day of action against Islamophobia. Both the Canadian Muslim Forum (FMC-CMF) and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) have launched a joint campaign to request the implementation of a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia, which could be an important tool in the fight against all forms of discrimination through systematic efforts that are officially recognized and supported.
There is clearly a problem with Islamophobia in this country and it should be acknowledged matter-of-factly in order for us to begin tackling the complicated parts of it. Without a doubt such a deep social problem will not be solved by hiding or denying its existence. Open dialogue, strong political will, inclusive policies and human values can and should be used as strong tools used to fight any and all form of hate and bigotry.
Samer Majzoub, president of the Canadian Muslim Forum (FMC-CMF)
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