On rare occasions I pick up a copy of the National Enquirer or World Weekly News when I shop for groceries. It’s not that I am particularly a fan, but they are strategically located at the checkout counter with their flashy, outrageous headlines. Some are truly unbelievable. I think my all-time favourite was ‘Titanic survivor found on ice floe, vows never to eat fish again.’
These periodicals deal in what we now call fake news, albeit with a difference: the stories were never intended to be taken seriously and it is hard to believe that anyone could be influenced by their stark departure from the truth.
We are now living in a very different time where outright lies are taken seriously and they do affect the views and opinions of some people on very serious issues. The claim that crime is up (when it is down in many places) has led to calls for ‘law and order’ campaigns. The belief that vaccinations lead to autism (this was debunked years ago and the scientist making the claim shown to be a fraud) has made some parents eschew life-saving vaccines, causing outbreaks of diseases we thought we had beaten, like measles.
In Canada, there is another onslaught of fake news that centres on our Muslim communities and supposed links to terrorism and clandestine efforts to take over our country. Several Canadian cities have seen demonstrations that appear to have coincided with a motion by a Liberal backbencher to call on the government to look into and report on Islamophobia and other forms of hate. Among the allegations made by some of those demonstrating in Canadian streets are:
- M103 (the Liberal MP’s motion) is an attack on free speech
- there is a secret campaign to bring Sharia law to Canada
- legitimate dissent is in danger in Canada
One of the great things about living in this country is that we are all free to express our views and opinions to a tremendous degree. There are limits, though, and these limits are both legitimate and necessary. If someone calls for violence, whether against a specific group or in general, that constitutes a crime (we’ll leave aside the difficulties in prosecuting these offences). Incitement to beat another person to a pulp should not be ignored and I am confident that all Canadians would agree with this.
No, M103 is not a blanket on free speech, it is a reasonable call for looking into a worrisome rise in hatred online and on certain radio shows. Neither is it focussed solely on Islamophobia, although the highlighting of this particular form of potential hatred is not surprising in the wake of the awful massacre at a Quebec Islamic Centre a few weeks ago. The State has both a right and a duty to investigate individuals and groups who, through their actions or their language, can reasonably be seen as urging others (or themselves) to use violence against anyone. To ignore these actions would constitute State negligence.
While I support the fundamental right of the Islamophobes and the anti-immigrant lobby (thankfully small) in this country to voice their opinions, I also feel it necessary to address the ‘alternative facts’ they use to make their arguments. I will limit my comments to three here:
a) no, immigrants are not a drain on the system, commit more crimes than native-born and they do not steal ‘Canadian’ jobs. Study after study after study has shown that immigrants are a net bonus to their adoptive societies and that most integrate within a generation. Those that veer towards criminal acts will be dealt with by the same authorities that deal with all others who engage in crime.
b) no, there is no ‘creeping Sharia’ campaign in Canada. The last time a government (the Ontario Liberals back in 2004) considered allowing limited Sharia for some family issues, the greatest opponents were Muslim women. In the end the McGuinty government changed its mind and also got rid of other forms of religious arbitration, noting that there is ‘one law for all Canadians’.
c) no, the Muslim Brotherhood is not taking over Canadian mosques and planning a stealth terrorism offensive. Reports alluding to this are comical at best, bad analysis at worst.
Canada is proudly a land of immigrants and it is those immigrants who have built this country and will continue to do so. The vast majority are just average people looking to better their lives as well as those of their families. Yes, there are bad apples, and we will deal with those.
To conclude, here is a great quote I read in a recent edition of Foreign Affairs. I could not have said things any better:
“Most people around the world now have the same aspirations as the Western middle classes: they want their children to get good educations, land good jobs, and live happy, productive lives as members of stable, peaceful communities.”
Amen to that.
Phil Gurski worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield).