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Scott Reid is the Member of Parliament for Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston

and is currently the Shadow Cabinet critic for Democratic Institutions.

He served from 2008 to 2015 as the chairman of the subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.

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My remarks against Motion M-103

February 16, 2017

On Wednesday evening, February 15, I delivered the following remarks against Motion M-103, a Private Members’ Business (PMB) motion sponsored by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid (Mississauga–Erin Mills).

My remarks can be viewed in the context of the one hour of debate on M-103 that took place on February 15 by following this link to the House of Commons Hansard for the text, or this link to see the video. Further context is provided by this link to the Conservative motion moved on Thursday February 16. I reference this motion (“Opposition Motion”, moved by David Anderson, Cypress Hills–Grasslands) in my remarks.

Since M-103 is a “PMB” motion, it is subject to strict debate and timing rules. It will have one more hour of debate at some time in the near future (it cannot be debated sooner than 10 House of Commons sitting days after it was first debated, and there is a rotation, the “Order of Precedence”, that this type of House business is subject to that will determine, subject to a trade, the timing of the next hour of debate). The vote on this motion will likely not take place until March or April.

One additional note: motions of this kind in the House of Commons do not constitute or change enforceable laws inside or outside of Parliament. Rather, they are simply an expression of an opinion by the House (or at least by a majority of members of the House).

—–Beginning of Remarks—-

Mr. Speaker, as I address Motion No. 103, I will attempt to draw upon two sources of experience that may be relevant. First, I was the chair of the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights from 2008 to 2015. Second, I co-chaired the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism in 2010 and 2011.

Let me start by noting the very close textural relationship between Motion No. 103, which we are debating today, and the Conservative Party’s motion, which we will be debating tomorrow. Both condemn all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination. Both use identical language to instruct the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to undertake a study on hate crime and to seek out ways of reducing or eliminating discrimination. Both instruct the committee to report back to the House in 240 days.

The two motions differ in only three particulars.

First, the Conservative motion condemns racism, religious intolerance, and discrimination against all of Canada’s largest religious groups: Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus, while Motion No. 103 mentions only Islam by name.

Second, the focus of Motion No. 103 is on the undefined term Islamophobia rather than on protecting Muslims as individuals. This implies that what Canada needs is state protection for faiths rather than for the safety of the faithful.

Finally, the Conservative motion specifically names, as the paradigmatic example of impermissible hatred, what it describes as “the recent and senseless violent acts at a Quebec City mosque”. This wording reiterates that it is the faithful who must be protected rather than the faiths they profess, since eternal truth is under the protection of an almighty and all-loving protector far more powerful than the Government of Canada.

Based on these distinctions, I will be voting against Motion No. 103 in favour of the alternative motion which we will be debated tomorrow.

The contrast between these two motions is reminiscent of a similar contrast between the motions considered during the course of a decade-long debate at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

In 1999, Pakistan introduced a motion calling for all UN member states to take measures in their domestic law to ban the defamation of religions. Pakistan’s motion went through a number of incarnations. Initially it referred only to Islamophobia, but as time went on, reference was made to other religions as well. For example, the 2009 version condemned the defamation of religion as a human rights violation and authorized an annual report “on all manifestations of defamation of religions and in particular, on the serious implications of Islamophobia”.

Pakistan’s set of motions met with consistent opposition from many democracies, including both Canada and the United States, and from many civil liberties groups as well. Human rights groups pointed out that this measure could have the effect of authorizing or even mandating domestic blasphemy laws, with citizens of any complying state potentially being found guilty in their domestic courts of blaspheming against religions in which they had never been participants or believers.

As well, in 2007, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, himself a Muslim, reported back that the special and isolated reference to Islam in the motion was widely seen as creating what he referred to as “the hierarchization of forms of discrimination”.

Eileen Donahoe’s critique of the motion is also worth repeating. She was President Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations. She said:

We cannot agree that prohibiting speech is the way to promote tolerance, and because we continue to see the “defamation of religions” concept used to justify censorship, criminalization, and in some cases violent assaults and deaths of political, racial, and religious minorities around the world.

In 2011, this deadlock was broken when the United States and Pakistan co-authored a new resolution which was adopted as Resolution 16/18, under the title, ”Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief.” It is a long but comprehensive title.

Resolution 16/18 bears the same relationship to the Pakistani delegations’s previous motions that the motion we will be debating tomorrow bears to Motion No. 103, which we are debating today.

This episode reminds us that freedom of religion and freedom of speech are not opposed concepts. It is no accident that they are protected side-by-side in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Section 2 of the charter reads as follows:

Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

(d) freedom of association.

We cannot have one of these freedoms unless the others are protected in equal measure. We cannot have freedom of religion without having the ability to try to convince others to share in one’s thoughts and beliefs and therefore to abandon the religion, or absence of religion, to which they presently adhere. We cannot have freedom of religion if we cannot assemble peacefully to pray, whether that be in a church, a mosque, a synagogue, or a public place. We cannot have freedom of religion if we cannot associate with other like-minded individuals.

To better make the point about the spirit that lies behind tomorrow’s motion, and to distinguish it more clearly from Motion No. 103, let me now turn to the classic jurisprudence on the issue of the relationship between speech and safety, which comes from the Supreme Court of the United States in its 1919 ruling in Schenck v. United States. Speaking for the unanimous court, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the following:

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic…. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.

In other words, it is when, and only when, speech is a form of action, and when that action itself would be a criminal offence, that speech may be prohibited by law.

By the way, lest anyone regard the reference to “shouting fire in a theatre” as being merely a rhetorical flourish, I should point out that Justice Holmes was referring to a real-life event: the fatal stampede that occurred after someone shouted “fire” at a party in a crowded community hall in Calumet, Michigan on Christmas Eve, 1913. This disaster, which killed 73 people, was disturbingly similar to the mosque shooting in Quebec City, and it is correctly regarded to this day as the worst act of mass murder in Michigan’s history.

I should point out as well that there are practical dangers in developing new categories of legislated impermissible speech, as opposed to legitimate bans on the kind of speech that constitutes criminal incitement.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Ernst Zundel was able to turn his serial prosecutions on charges of inciting hate to generate far more publicity than would otherwise have been possible for so marginal, and frankly, contemptible and laughable a character. Had he simply been ignored, it would have been better for the cause of openness in Canada. Indeed, he was able to use this publicity, this notoriety, to turn himself into a sort of media celebrity. Similarly, the existence of laws in Weimar Germany against the defamation of religions, including Judaism, did nothing to slow down the rise of the Nazis.

Seven years ago, this fact led me, along with other Conservative members of Parliament on the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism, to disagree with our Liberal colleagues, who wanted to expand the definition of hate speech. We believed it would be very counterproductive. I believed that in 2011, and my goal was to find ways to combat hatred against Jews. I believe that today, in the context of the debate taking place just weeks after this country’s worst ever act of hatred against Muslims.

Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are united concepts. Embracing all religions, allowing ourselves to speak freely about them, and ensuring the protection of individuals to practice their faith is the best way forward.

I encourage all members to vote against Motion No. 103 and in favour of the motion that will be debated in the House tomorrow.

—–End of Remarks—–

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Scott Reid is the Member of Parliament for Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston

and is currently the Shadow Cabinet critic for Democratic Institutions.

He served from 2008 to 2015 as the chairman of the subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.

More About Scott  >