Make January 29th a National Day of Remembrance and Action

On January 29, 2017, a lone gunman entered a mosque in Quebec City and opened fire on dozens of Muslim Canadians during a prayer service. By the time the shooting had ended, six worshippers had been killed, and 19 more injured. The killer, Alexandre Bissonette, idolized right-wing commentators, mass shooters, and white supremacist leaders. He regularly expressed views that were ultraconservative, racist, and Islamophobic on forums and Facebook pages. In October 2018, the Canadian Muslim Forum (CMF) and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) and the launched a campaign for the federal government to recognize January 29th as a “National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia and other forms of religious discrimination.” The government must understand that if it is serious about its commitment to combatting Islamophobia, recognizing January 29th is a simple first step. If the government is unwilling to support this largely symbolic initiative, it cannot claim to defend and support Muslim Canadians.

Overview

On January 29, 2017, a lone gunman entered a mosque in Quebec City and opened fire on dozens of Muslim Canadians during a prayer service. By the time the shooting had ended, six worshippers had been killed, and 19 more injured. The killer, Alexandre Bissonette, idolized right-wing commentators, mass shooters, and white supremacist leaders. He regularly expressed views that were ultraconservative, racist, and Islamophobic on forums and Facebook pages. During his police interrogation, Bissonnette told interrogators that his attack was set off by Prime Minister Trudeau’s message of welcome to refugees in the face of Trump’s entry ban.

In October 2018, the Canadian Muslim Forum (CMF) and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) and the launched a campaign for the federal government to recognize January 29th as a “National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia and other forms of religious discrimination.” Despite the existence of broad-based grassroots support for recognizing January 29th the Liberal government has failed to take action. Meanwhile, there has been a marked rise in Islamophobic incidents both domestically and internationally. Given this context, it is imperative that the Canadian government take immediate action to address the rise of Islamophobia by adopting January 29th as a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia.

Questions for Federal Candidates

  • Do you believe that the federal government has a responsibility to combat the rise of Islamophobia in Canada?
  • Do you believe that all forms of discrimination should be condemned by the Canadian government?
  • Do you believe that designating specific days and months for remembrance and commemoration can be helpful for Canada to overcome historic biases? (e.g. February as Black History Month; or Nov 9th as International Day Against Fascism and Antisemitism)

If elected:

  • Will you work within caucus to garner support for a parliamentary resolution recognizing January 29th as a National day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia and other forms of religious discrimination?
  • Will you work within caucus to raise awareness of the urgent need to combat Islamophobia and other forms of racial and religious discrimination in Canada?
  • Will you work in Parliament to adopt other measures recommended by Parliament’s Heritage Committee to combat Islamophobia and other forms of religious discrimination?

Supporting Points

  • Statistics on Growing Islamophobia. Since the Quebec mosque attack, there has only been a rise in Islamophobic incidents, both domestically and internationally. In 2017 alone, hate crimes targeting Muslims increased by 151% in Canada.[i] In Quebec specifically, hate crimes against Muslims tripled over the 2016-2017 period, largely due to a spike in incidents following the Quebec City mosque massacre.[ii] These statistics are congruent with the findings of a November 2017 survey on Islamophobia and religious discrimination jointly commissioned by the CMF and CJPME.[iii] The survey revealed that religious discrimination, especially Islamophobia, stands as an ongoing challenge to Canada’s multicultural society. These polls confirm that Islamophobia is on the rise in Canada, and Canadians expect their government to take measures to oppose this trend. Elected officials, however, are often part of the problem rather than the solution. There are numerous examples of Canadian politicians at various levels of government advancing Islamophobic rhetoric. For example, in February 2019, Quebec’s minister responsible for the status of women faced criticism after saying a hijab is a symbol of oppression. Meanwhile, in March 2019, a Montreal city councillor was expelled from caucus after posting Islamophobic comments on her Facebook page.
  • Widespread Support for the Campaign. The campaign to mark January 29th as a “National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia” has widespread support amongst grassroots organizations. As of April 2019, the campaign has already been endorsed by 138 organizations, as well as 79 academics.[iv] Meanwhile, the cities of Markham, Toronto, Hamilton, London, and Windsor have already designated January 29th as a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia. An EKOS Research Survey released in February 2018 also found that a majority of Canadians believe that the government should take action to combat Islamophobia. [v]
  • Parliament’s Heritage Committee Report. Following the Quebec mosque attack, Prime Minister Trudeau promised to support Muslims in Canada, asserting, “We will defend you… and we will stand up for you.” Two months after this statement was made, Parliament passed M-103, a non-binding motion which called on the government to condemn Islamophobia. The motion, which was originally introduced in December 2016, had additional symbolic significance given the emotional aftermath of the January 29th M-103 also called on the Heritage Committee to develop a government-wide approach for reducing and eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada, including Islamophobia.[vi] As directed, a study was launched by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, which released its final report in February 2018. The report put forth numerous recommendations, including Recommendation #30 which called for January 29th to be designated as a “National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia and other forms of religious discrimination.”

The Liberal government, however, has largely ignored this recommendation, and has yet to commemorate January 29th. Not only has the government disregarded the Committee’s recommendation, but it is has also ignored the important historical precedents that exists. December 6 is designated as a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women in Canada in commemoration of the 14 young women murdered during the Polytechnique shooting. Status of Women Canada declares, “They died because they were women.” In the same way, the six men who died in the Quebec City mosque shooting “died because they were Muslim.” As such, January 29th should serve as a reminder and motivation to act against any similar act of Islamophobia or religious discrimination. The NDP is the only political party that officially supports the January 29th campaign.  

Recommendations for Canada

  • The Canadian government should designate January 29th as a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia and other forms of religious discrimination. This can be achieved in various ways:
    • By Parliamentary Resolution: Parliament can pass a resolution recognizing January 29th, as it did when it recognized the Armenian Genocide in April 2004.
    • By Proclamation: Canada’s Governor-General, at the recommendation of the government cabinet, can make a Proclamation recognizing January 29th, as it did when it recognized June 21 as National Aboriginal Day in July 1996.
    • By Order-in-Council: Canada’s Governor General can make an “order” and therefore approve a statement on January 29th formulated by the government cabinet, as it did in June 2005 when it designated June 23 as a National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism.
  • The government must understand that if it is serious about its commitment to combatting Islamophobia, recognizing January 29th is a simple first step. If the government is unwilling to support this largely symbolic initiative, it cannot claim to defend and support Muslim Canadians.
  • The government must take concrete action on the other recommendations put forth by Parliament’s Heritage Committee to combat Islamophobia and other forms of religious discrimination.

 

 

[i] National Council of Canadian Muslims. (2018). Hate crimes targeting Muslims in Canada up 151% in 2017, according to new data. Retrieved April 4, 2019 from https://www.nccm.ca/hate-crimes-targeting-muslims-up-151-in-2017-according-to-shocking-new-stats-can-hate-crime-data/

[ii] National Council of Canadian Muslims. (2018). Hate crimes targeting Muslims in Canada up 151% in 2017, according to new data. Retrieved April 4, 2019 from https://www.nccm.ca/hate-crimes-targeting-muslims-up-151-in-2017-according-to-shocking-new-stats-can-hate-crime-data/

[iii] Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. (n.d.). 2018 Survey: Islamophobia in Canada, still a grave problem. Retrieved April 9, 2019 from https://www.cjpme.org/islamophobia

[iv] Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. (n.d.). Who’s on board? Retrieved April 9, 2019 from https://www.january29.ca/who_s_on_board

[v] Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. (n.d.). 2018 Survey: Islamophobia in Canada, still a grave problem. Retrieved April 9, 2019 from https://www.cjpme.org/islamophobia

[vi] CBC News. (2017). House of Commons passes anti-Islamophobia motion. Retrieved April 4, 2019 from https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/m-103-islamophobia-motion-vote-1.4038016

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