Photo: Jaclyn McRae-Sadik.
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It seems by now we’ve heard it all about M-103, a parliamentary motion that calls for MPs to study solutions to Islamophobia and the systemic discrimination it causes for Muslim-Canadians.

Conservative leadership hopefuls Kellie Leitch, Brad Trost, Chris Alexander, and Pierre Lemieux, among many others, have persistently condemned the motion as an attack on free speech, with Trost calling it an instrument of the “thought police in Ottawa.” Others have called this motion the first step in establishing Sharia law in Canada.

There’s just one problem with these allegations—M-103 isn’t legislation. It’s a motion, and by definition cannot impact Canada’s law in its current form.

In general, motions in Canada are largely symbolic. For example, in 2015 Parliament unanimously passed a motion to make combating anti-Semitism a priority in Canada’s domestic and international activities. So why all the fuss about a motion for similar action against Islamophobia?

With six innocent people recently targeted and killed due to their faith at a mosque in Ste-Foy, Que., and a significant spike in reported hate crimes against Muslim people after the shooting, not to mention the fact that studies have shown Ontarians to view Islam in particular negatively, there’s a clear need for the government to take some kind of action.

M-103 doesn’t denounce—and definitely doesn’t criminalize—criticism of Islam. The goal of the motion is to simply dissuade unfounded fear and hatred of Muslim-Canadians, an action that leaves ample opportunity for Canadians to voice disagreement with the religion itself.

And yet, the motion stirred up so much backlash that Iqra Khalid, the Liberal MP who tabled the motion, has received thousands of death threats, sexist comments, and Islamophobic remarks since bringing the motion forward.

“‘I’m not going to help them shoot you, I’m going to be there to film you on the ground crying … Ha ha ha ha, the member got shot by a Canadian patriot’,” read a death threat that Khalid called only “the tip of the iceberg” in an interview with the Toronto Star.

There was so much controversy over this motion that former justice minister Irwin Cotler suggested replacing the word “Islamophobia” in the motion’s text with “anti-Muslim bigotry.” Because catering to the needs of people uncomfortable with acknowledging actions of hatred towards Muslim people was exactly the intended focus of this motion.

The fact is, we need to acknowledge that Canada has a clear bias against Islam, and our political leaders must stop hiding these biases behind an extremely selective crusade for “free speech.”

What’s especially ironic about the fuss around M-103 is that so many Conservative leadership candidates have cried wolf over something that won’t impact your rights in a court of law. However, Bill C-51, a 2015 bill that was condemned by lawyers and civil liberties advocates for violating constitutionally protected rights of expression, has a clear ability to restrict your freedom of speech due to its vague language on what constitutes the promotion of terrorism.

Curiously, Leitch, Lemieux, Trost, and Alexander, all “free speech” warriors when it comes to a symbolic action to curb Islamophobia, all supported this bill, which members of Canada’s legal profession have warned will cause “speech chill.” The kicker? Unlike M-103, Bill C-51 could in fact work against you in a court of law.

Do I sense ulterior motives from these Conservative champions of “free speech?”

Free speech is an incredibly important aspect of Canadian society. But to point to an effort to take a collective stance against Islamophobia and call it an infringement on “free speech” is not only absurd, but it devalues this very concept that underpins our democracy.

If M-103 passes in Parliament, will anything really change? At the least, Canadians should be thinking about how we can put some real action behind this purely symbolic gesture. Otherwise, it will only serve to further the ignorant agenda of those who are still quivering over the word “Islamophobia.”