By Anne Dagenais Guertin and Tim McSorley – So much has happened in the last few days, we are struggling to keep up. The sheer volume of bad news can be overwhelming, so we are elated to see that people are taking to the streets, to their communities and to social media to show their solidarity against violence, racism, Islamophobia and injustice, with no sign of that outrage fading soon.
Our thoughts and solidarity are with the families of the victims and survivors of the shooting at the Centre culturel Islamique de Québec in Ste-Foy, and we firmly condemn all forms of violence and discrimination, especially Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism.
In the weeks and months leading up to this heinous crime, we have seen so many attacks on the rights and lives of numerous people and communities coming from so many sides, that they often feel chaotic, even unrelated. But as others have pointed out, and as we strongly believe, the events of January 29th cannot be seen in isolation from the overall political environment. They must be seen as linked, and denounced as such.
As we learn more about the suspected shooter, it becomes clear that the xenophobia, Islamophobia and fear mongering that has arisen from the so-called “war on terror” played a role in the tragic events that have unfolded last Sunday night in Quebec City. We hope that this will be a wake up call for our political leaders, and all Canadians, that racist, Islamophobic and xenophobic rhetoric have terrible real life consequences. We often assume that Canada is immune from what is happening south of the border. Canada and Quebec, though, are no strangers to Islamophobic statements. But somehow we believe we can engage in bigoted discourse and avoid the negative consequences; that it is “just words.” As so many from Muslim, Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities have pointed out, though: this has never been the case, and this kind of thinking must change.
The Canadian government must take action to prevent future incidents. This does not mean increasing the surveillance state or bringing in more repressive police powers. Instead, many groups are already pointing to immediate, concrete actions the government can take. Moving on these would send a strong message that violence and hate, specifically racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, will not be tolerated.
We believe that the following actions, among others, will help send that message:
Repeal the Safe Third Country Agreement
The agreement, which has been in effect since late 2004, stipulates that Canada and the US are “safe countries” for refugees. This means that – barring some exceptions – refugees to Canada or the US must make a claim in the country they enter first. The agreement effectively closes Canada to anyone making a refugee claim at the US-Canada land border, because the US is a “safe” option. Except, since Donald Trump signed his Executive Orders on immigration, the US is no longer a safe country for any refugee. This only compounds the problems that already existed in the agreement: In December, two Ghanian refugees were hospitalized for severe frostbite in Manitoba after trekking across the border away from an official entry point to make a refugee claim in Canada. According to the Canadian Border Services Agency, the number of asylum seekers crossing between points of entry has increased five-fold recently. Refugee supporters point to the Safe Third Country Agreement as the cause.
Clearly denounce Trump’s refugee and Muslim immigrant ban
While the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has responded to the US immigration ban by saying Canada welcomes refugees and immigrants, the Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen, stated on Tuesday that the government will not increase the refugee target – which is 15 000 less than last year’s. This is unacceptable and completely contradicts Trudeau’s statement. The actions of the US government are not benign and have real world consequences. The government must explicitly denounce the rules for putting refugees and migrants in danger, and for contravening important human rights agreements like the Geneva Convention, and it must actually help and protect refugees and migrants; not just say it does.
Take concrete actions to address Islamophobia in Canada
Hand in hand, we need the government to take concrete action on Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism. In October 2016, the House of Commons passed a motion condemning Islamophobia, which was a good first step: studies show that political rhetoric can inspire Islamophobic hate crimes. But now is the time for Canada to go further, and groups like the National Council of Canadian Muslims have been offering up ideas for years. The government must listen – and act.
Revise Ministerial Directives on torture
The outlawing of torture is fundamental to protecting and upholding human rights. To allow torture to persist is to agree that it is acceptable to ignore the humanity of another person. President Donald Trump has made it clear that, if he has his way, he would re-instate the use of torture during interrogations. Canada’s Ministerial Directives on torture allow government agencies to use and share information likely to be derived from, or at risk of leading to, torture.
Immediately rescinding the ministerial directives would provide the clearest, loudest message that torture is unacceptable under any circumstances, would help reinforce the international movement against torture and, at its most basic, increase the protection of those who could face torture at the hands of the United States, or any country.
Repeal C-51 (Anti-terrorism Act, 2015)
C-51, as we and others have documented, poses one of the largest threats to civil liberties and human rights in recent Canadian history. It increases surveillance, weakens fundamental rights like freedom of expression and freedom of association, and does little to increase our security or protection, as we have seen with the attack on the Quebec City mosque. If such laws have failed to prevent this violence, it is because the use of draconian measures that further curtail our civil liberties simply cannot prevent violence. Instead, the government needs to take a proactive role in not only denouncing hate and prejudice, but also in teaching anti-racism and the respect for human rights on a large scale.
In addition to their ineffectiveness, such laws are also dangerous because they are political tools that stoke fear of a non-existent or exaggerated danger, sowing division, hate and xenophobia. The Liberal government has said they will repeal the most problematic aspects of the law, but it’s components are so intertwined and it is based on such fundamental flaws that only a full repeal will suffice.
Take action together
Finally, there is so much more that can also be done, and by coming together we can show the government that words are not enough – we need action. We are encouraging everyone to participate in the upcoming National Days of Action Against Islamophobia and White Supremacy on Feb. 4 and 5, and to sign on to petitions like this one, initiated by No One Is Illegal – Toronto. Educate, organize, resist!
Since you’re here…
… we have a small favour to ask. Here at ICLMG, we are working very hard to protect and promote human rights and civil liberties in the context of the so-called “war on terror” in Canada. We do not receive any financial support from any federal, provincial or municipal governments or political parties. Any donations will go a long way to support our work.
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