On March 4th, over 1,000 people gathered outside of Toronto’s city hall to protest and counter protest bill M-103. The protest was comprised of two factions, those who were protesting against the bill from Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens (CCCC) and those who were engaging in a counter protest. Witnesses estimated from that the counter protest outnumbered the protestors by a margin of 3-1.
M-103 is a motion to investigate and condemn Islamophobia in Canada. This motion was was tabled in the House of Commons shortly after a mass killing in Quebec that saw six Canadian-Muslim citizens murdered while praying in a mosque. The bill looks to do a few things involving quelling a climate of hate and fear, condemnation of Islamophobia*, and conducting a study with policy suggestions for eliminating Islamophobia*. The asterisk denotes that alongside Islamophobia, the bill also incorporates systemic racism, as well as religious discrimination as issues that Canada should be combatting.
The vigorous discussion surrounding bill M-103, has been centered on a topic all too familiar to those at Trent University; one of free speech. For conservative politicians like Chris Alexander, M-103 is limiting the ability of Canadians to criticize Islam, which he sees as linked to the “the number one threat in the world today which is Islamic jihadist terrorism.”
Those who oppose the bill take issue that the bil does not actually Islamophobia define Islamophobia, which they believe creates a vagueness around the issue of Islamophobia, serving to delegitimize any conversation pertaining to Islam. Ezra Levant, the founder of Rebel Media echoes this sentiment “The deliberate blurring of having a dissenting opinion, labeling anyone who dares to even have a public conversation about the real issues of Islam, whether it’s the treatment of women, the separation of Mosque and state, non-violent solutions to problems, proper integration and assimilation of refugees, proper vetting of refugees, terrorism…”
Those in favour of the motion see this movement against bill M-103 as prime examples of exactly why there needs to be a motion that condemns Islamophobia. It should be noted that a very similar bill was passed in 2015 condemning Anti-Semitism in parliament, which speaks to a double standard for religious communities in Canada. There was no mass hysteria about free speech from those on the right back then, meaning that they aren’t concerned with an inability to criticize all religions, rather, just the inability to criticize Islam. This is Islamophobia on full display.
Iqra Khalid, the Liberal backbencher who put the motion forward describes Islamophobia as “the irrational hate of Muslims that leads to discrimination.” The protests against Bill M-103 are not protests to protect Canadian values, but are displays of discrimination against Muslims that prevent them from having the same right to safety as other Canadians.
Supporters of the bill also point out that M-103 is a motion and not a law, which means that the findings from the issued report will be in no way binding.
The fact that the counter protest greatly outnumbered those advocating for free speech on March 4 reveals that at the very least, people living in downtown Toronto can see through this tactic. This protest also debunks a narrative established in the alt-right media that campus debates have no weight in the real world. Debates regarding the lines between free speech and hate speech used to be framed in terms of safe spaces and snowflakes. Now, they are framed in terms of motions in parliament and city hall protests.
What university students should take away from this debate is that regardless of where they stand on an issue, their opinions and convictions are neither trivial or childish.
Campuses are where political issues are conceived, grow their teeth, and eventually walk out of the door and into the “real” world. The way that students engage in issues informs the rest of the world as to how they will interact with the ideas that begin on campus. Student’s should be given more credit in this regard.
The image for this article was sourced from thestar.ca