A report released by the Senate national security committee is sparking anger from one of the country’s largest Canadian Muslim organizations and has Liberal members of the committee distancing themselves from its controversial recommendations over concerns they could stigmatize the Muslim community.
The report was released Wednesday into an already politically charged public discourse about national security and cultural stigmatization ahead of the scheduled Oct. 19 federal election.
It issued 25 recommendations, including suggestions that the federal government encourage the provinces to take steps to prevent “vexatious” libel lawsuits against individuals who accuse others of having ties to extremist groups or activities.
“This report, while ostensibly about improving national security, in fact stigmatizes and marginalizes Canadian Muslim communities and portrays them as a threat rather than as a partner in the fight against violent extremism.” – Ihsaan Gardee, National Council of Canadian Muslims
The National Council of Canadian Muslims blasted the report Thursday, saying it demonizes members of the Muslim community and doesn’t adequately acknowledge the risks posed by other extremist elements of society.
“This report, while ostensibly about improving national security, in fact stigmatizes and marginalizes Canadian Muslim communities and portrays them as a threat rather than as a partner in the fight against violent extremism,” says Ihsaan Gardee, NCCM’s executive director.
“The issue of violent extremism is real and one which all Canadians take seriously and yet it is hard to understand how a poorly drafted and poorly researched report which is replete with contradictions and mischaracterizations will do anything more than provide talking points on the election circuit,” Gardee said. “We note with appreciation that three Senators dissented on this report, including the committee’s deputy chair, which indicates that our concerns are shared by those who were directly working on this report and privy to the process leading to its compilation.”
Some recommendations ‘redundant’, ‘inoperable’
While media reports about the recommendations on Thursday focused on the call from senators for a No-Visit List that would ban those deemed “ideological radicals” from entering Canada, less attention has been paid to the 24 other recommendations outlined in the report.
Among them are: calls for legislation to protect Canadians who state or imply that others might have ties to radicalism; for provinces and Muslim communities to consider requiring training programs for and certification of imams; for the government to ban the glorification of terrorism; to amend the Criminal Code to allow terrorism charges to be laid without the approval of federal or provincial attorneys general; and that CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) develop a protocol for screening citizens involved in community outreach.
“How do you implement a ‘No-Visit List?’ How do you tell one religious group they need a seminary when we don’t tell every group?” – Senator Grant Mitchell
Three senators — all Liberal — dissented from the report, with the deputy chair of the committee, Senator Grant Mitchell, among them.
“Some of the recommendations are redundant and some of it is just inoperable,” Mitchell told iPolitics when asked why he dissented. “How do you implement a ‘No-Visit List?’ How do you tell one religious group they need a seminary when we don’t tell every group?”
In particular, the recommendation for legislation to limit “vexatious litigation” by those accused of having ties to extremism has critics of the report worried.
The senators wrote in the report that “on a number of occasions, primarily in the context of public debate about terrorism, extremism and radicalization, plaintiffs have claimed to be defamed and have launched lawsuits against those whom they alleged to have inflicted reputational damage upon them by stating or implying they had an association or affinity with radicalism.”
The report continued that, “It is a growing worry, including in the province of Ontario, that some interests may be abusing their access to courts by commencing lawsuits aimed at chilling the speech of defendants, and sending a deterrent signal to the broader population.”
However, Gardee says that suggestion is ludicrous.
“A recommendation whose stated aim claims to ensure the protection of Canadians who are participating in public discourse from vexatious litigation but which, in fact, amounts to nothing more than a direct attack on the ability of individuals and institutions – and by extension, entire communities – to defend themselves from false allegations and attempts to smear and target them for political or other purposes,” said Gardee.
Report raises more questions than answers
It’s not clear yet what will come of the report or whether any of the recommendations will be implemented.
However, Mitchell says there is a lot of work left to be done on examining the plethora of issues affecting Canadian national security, citing the need for further study on areas like cyber-crime.
“There’s more questions raised by this examination than answers,” he said. “It was very difficult to find people who would say they had expertise on this issue.”
“… [The report’s] tone reads like a colonial document dictating a primarily one-way relationship with minority communities and suggesting that the state has the final say on determining who can and cannot participate in our communities and in our democracy.” – Ihsaan Gardee, National Council of Canadian Muslims
Gardee voiced similar concerns, saying the report did not devote enough attention to other forms of extremism and the diverse threats faced by Canadians.
“It also must be said that the disproportionate focus on the Canadian Muslim community also means that significant threats of radicalization, including those emerging from right-wing extremists, were not even considered. This despite several recent reports and expert testimony stating that this threat is a major pre-occupation of Canadian security agencies,” says Gardee.
“Far from being a necessary conversation about violent extremism, this report and its recommendations are redundant, contradictory and misleading on many fronts. In addition, its tone reads like a colonial document dictating a primarily one-way relationship with minority communities and suggesting that the state has the final say on determining who can and cannot participate in our communities and in our democracy.”
Published in Partnership with iPolitics.ca.