Muslims in Canada
Open February 6 - March 6, 2017

How do Muslim communities deal with Canada’s Charter values?

Communications Director
The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM)
Professor of Sociology
Trent University
Discussion Overview
The key thing here is to take some of the issues raised by debates about the niqab in the current election (and debates earlier) but to reframe them in a more useful and less polarizing way. The topic is electric and needs to be addressed. Can or should Canadians and Canadian governments accommodate patriarchal cultural practices? It is worth... read more

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Momin Rahman (Subject Matter Expert) • February 6, 2017 at 05:28 pm
The Environics poll of Muslims in Canada last year showed that most Muslims strongly value the rights and culture of Canada. We have been reminded recently of the extreme murderous form that Islamophobia can take, with the Mosque shootings in Quebec City. While this kind of violence is thankfully uncommon, I would argue that the conditions that see Muslims as 'other' to the west are part of what allows an extremist to legitimize their actions. What the rest of us can do is to challenge these constant iterations of Muslim 'otherness', through our work, through the media and through our everyday interactions. Kellie Leitch's 'values' campaign right now is just one example of an action that knowingly draws on Islamophobia to gain success, even though all the evidence points to Muslim Canadians being mostly well-integrated into our democratic and rights based culture. But this success would not be possible unless our culture had built up a systematic and long lasting understanding of Muslims (and many other 'others', like Indigenous peoples) as somehow not belonging to our imagined notion of Canada and the west. We must ask our fellow community members to stop and think about this, to reflect on the fact that the dominant culture is what creates these divisions, not the perceived lack of integration of minorities. Cultures are not static, they always evolve and progress through challenges and interactions with others, and the question here is not really whether Muslims can deal with Charter Values, but how those values are being denied to minorities when an assumed Canadian norm overrides the reality of a diverse Canadian difference.
Danielle Harris • February 7, 2017 at 11:10 am

Hi Momin, I see parallels with the Muslim community and the Indigenous peoples, as the "Other" in this country. In my experience with conversations of Indigenous-settler relations, asking settlers (the dominant culture) to reflect on their role in colonization can be very upsetting and can cause so much push back that the conversation ends. There are two approaches to unsettling the settler, one is a direct and intentional affront to the individual's understanding of colonization today, and the role settlers and non-Indigenous peoples play in systemic colonization in Canada. This results in feelings of hurt, anger, confusion, sadness and a resistance to engaging in conversations. The other approach, while less challenging, is simply introducing ideas slowly, over time, in a gradual exposure to the discourse. I have personally experienced the feelings that come with the first approach of "unsettling the settler" and at first was extremely shaken by what I felt and what I had learned. I did not agree with this approach as it caused a shut down, on my part. However, over time, I began to see the ways in which colonization was still very much alive and thriving, and began a personal journey of discovery and understanding. It has taken a year and a half to begin to come to terms with this experience, and now I understand the importance of that experience and am an advocate for the unsettling as a necessary exercise. I share this experience with the discussion board to see if there is a similar approach when engaging in the conversation of Muslim "otherness" in Canada. Is there an approach to awareness of Islam that is similar to Unsettling the Settler? Can having an "unsettling" experience by the dominant culture with regards to Islam, reframe the conversation away from the Canadian Charter Values?

William Innes • February 11, 2017 at 12:00 am

Thank you Momin and Danielle for your insightful remarks. I must admit that I find my self conflicted on this subject. On the one hand I support the idea of diversity in Canada, but on the other as a member of the dominant culture I find it unsettling. Some thoughts which I am grappling with: -- I am proud of the heritage of hard work and sacrifice which has built this nation. With the notable exception of the treatment of our indigenous peoples, the culture of peace, orderliness, and good government is something which I find exceptional in the world, and not something for which I should have to apologize. -- the reality is that the dominant culture is just that. It represents who most Canadians are; and their needs have to be respected. It is not surprising that they may feel threatened by change, and if we wish to evolve it will have to be at a pace which the dominant culture can accept. -- I think Danielle has an excellent point about the pace of change. It will be most constructive if it occurs incrementally. We do need to be thoughtful about the pace of immigration/refugees so that the dominant culture can adjust. Otherwise they will react. I see this issue very differently with respect to indigenous peoples who are part of the original fabric of the country and for whom it is long overdue that we confront the need for aggressive change. -- I often wonder why the reaction to Muslim immigrant/refugees seems so extreme. You don't hear almost any public reaction to the large numbers of Sikhs, Chinese, Vietnamese, and other identifiable groups who are part of the Canadian community. I also don't sense animosity toward individual Muslims, many of whom have stories which are inspirational. However, the reality is that most Canadians see the Muslim world through the brutality , and hatred we see on TV from the conflict between Shia and Sunni's in the middle east. It is not surprising that public consciousness get affected, and concerned that we do not want these conflicts to become part of Canada. It is often pointed out that islam is a peaceful religion, but the reality of the Islamic world is frightening. It seems to me that the only way to overcome this is through the experience of individual Muslims as contributing members of our society.

In reading my thoughts I am struck that we need to deal with both the intellectual and instinctive reactions to this subject. I often find myself disappointed by my instinctive reactions, but as a country we need to deal with the reality that these are real fears and concerns.

Stephanie Dotto • February 12, 2017 at 07:01 pm

I'm a little uncomfortable with the idea that change has to be made at the pace the dominant society is comfortable with, in part because that is often a cover reactionary forces use to stymy change, though I know that is not your intention here.

More importantly, I think those who are most fearful of Muslims rarely have experienced, or stand to experience, any negative impacts from the presence of Muslims in Canada. Their discomfort is in their head. There haven't been crime waves occasioned by Muslim immigration, and for all the fear about sharia law, to my knowledge there hasn't been a single bill tabled in the HOC suggesting its introduction into Canada. There are no insurgent political parties in Canada advocating for sharia law. I live in a part of Toronto with many Muslim residents, and I haven't noticed any of those fabled no-go zones emerge.

The one area where I did notice some Muslim Canadians bringing religious values into the public sphere was around the protest to Kathleen Wynne's sexual and health education curriciulum reforms. However, the Christian right was an equal, if not dominant partner, in those reactionary protests.

I think you're on to something when you talk about the news and the media creating the fear around Muslims. I think the media needs to do a better job historicizing the strife in the Middle East. So much of it can be traced right back to the devastating impact of Western interference and exploitation, whether during colonial conquests of the 19th century, the Cold War proxy wars of the 20th century, or the more recent "War on Terror." Indeed, Trudeau and co just sold Canadian-made armoured cars to a Saudi Arabian regime that is brutally repressing its own citizens and bombing the life out of Yemen. Given this, I think the West, Canada included, may indeed have a responsibility to provide aid to these countries and to bring in refugees and support them to thrive. I know this is a hard sell when the social safety net we have for our current citizens is frayed, but I don't see it as an either/or zero-sum proposition, and ignoring the suffering at our doorstep is neither a moral stance nor one that is wise in the long term.

William Innes • February 15, 2017 at 07:53 am

Stephanie you make a good point about the complex history which certainly factors into the conflict in the middle east. However the Sunni/Shia conflict seems to be very much at the heart of what we see on our TV screens. What is so sad is that the violence appears to be so untypical of the Muslim community in Canada; and yet Muslims are tainted by the fear about what is playing out in the middle east. Changing subject — I have been inspired by the stories we are seeing about the efforts being made by Syrian refugees and their sponsors to adapt to Canadian life.The publicity which is being given to this will go a long way to building acceptance. One thing which has surprised me though is that a couple of times I have seen stories of Syrian men who were not willing to take work below their qualification/experience. It makes me wonder what is done in the screening process to educate refugees before they decide to come to Canada about the expectations of all Canadians that they do what they can to support their families. I hope that the examples I have seen are not typical.

Amira Elghawaby (Subject Matter Expert) • February 15, 2017 at 03:25 pm

Hello everyone, such great conversations here so far. William, Stephanie, Momin, and Danielle are raising very critical points. If i may weigh in on a few points. In terms of the Charter itself - it's interesting to understand that it is the presence of minorities, including of Muslims, and the expectations that the Charter applies to them as well, that shows how robust a document it really is. When we look at a famous case called N.S. which involved a woman wanting to wear a face veil in a sexual assault case, the Supreme Court ruling was insightful: religion cannot be checked at the courtroom door - ie. of any institution - religious freedom must be protected. However the ruling also tried to balance the Charter rights of the accused in the rights to a fair trial in which it was argued that seeing the accuser's face can be necessary. Regardless of one's views of the case itself, it is important to see how our Charter is a valuable framework that illustrates how a multi-cultural, diverse society can successfully balance the human rights of all of our community members. When I've presented in Europe on Canada's efforts to balance competing rights, not just at the Supreme Court, but through our human rights tribunals, I've been greeted with much admiration, envy and awe at what Canada has been striving to do.

In terms of having difficult conversations with a dominant culture, I totally understand the tensions in raising the colonial-settler relationship and legacy on our First Nations brothers and sisters. The parallel is the need for education and contact - as William also raised. As we learned more about the shameful history of residential schools, or listened to Gord Downie's haunting song in memory of Chainie Wenjack called the Secret Path, many more Canadians could empathize and fully understand the painful experiences and therefore commit to supporting change in the relationships with our Indigenous communities. I think the same must occur when it comes to minority communities, including Muslim communities. We must learn the positive stories, as well as understand the real experiences of hatred and discrimination, in order to work proactively to make our country more inclusive.

Colleen Dogterom • February 15, 2017 at 03:46 pm
Theodore Roosevelt said this, but it portrays how I feel. "In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes a Canadian and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet a Canadian, and nothing but a Canadian… There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is a Canadian, but something else also, isn’t a Canadian at all. We have room for but one flag, the Canadian flag… And we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the Canadian people." I understand our ethnicity and our beliefs shape who we are, but when that belief is in conflict with the law, the law supersedes.
Amira Elghawaby (Subject Matter Expert) • February 24, 2017 at 01:19 pm

Colleen Dogterom wrote on February 15:

Theodore Roosevelt said this, but it portrays how I feel. "In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes a Canadian and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet a Canadian, and nothing but a Canadian… There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is a Canadian, but something else also, isn’t a Canadian at all. We have room for but one flag, the Canadian flag… And we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the Canadian people." I understand our ethnicity and our beliefs shape who we are, but when that belief is in conflict with the law, the law supersedes.

I think you raise an interesting point Colleen. The law should indeed supersede. For Canadian Muslims, it is actually not only a civic duty to obey the laws of the land but it is also a religious duty to do so. What I discussed though in the previous thread is that around the issue of competing rights, there will always be tensions and our courts have done much work in this vein. It's rather interesting to see how they have done so in various cases. The Ontario Human Rights Commission defines competing rights here: http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-competing-human-rights/4-what-are-competing-rights In terms of the other point in the quote you reference from Mr. Roosevelt, I think that it is very superficial to assume that people who are loyal to their personal faith background, or ethnic background heritage, would not be fully loyal to Canada. I don't believe it is an either you are Canadian or you are not. On the contrary, unless you are a First Nations person, your heritage is based in another land and there is no reason not to be proud of where our ancestors originated and to celebrate the positive in all of our cultures and beliefs. Of course, those of us who are Canadian celebrate that blessing; but a big part of that blessing is in the freedom to be whoever we want to be, and live our lives glorious and free.

Alex Cruise • February 27, 2017 at 02:38 pm

Colleen Dogterom wrote on February 15:

Theodore Roosevelt said this, but it portrays how I feel. "In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes a Canadian and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet a Canadian, and nothing but a Canadian… There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is a Canadian, but something else also, isn’t a Canadian at all. We have room for but one flag, the Canadian flag… And we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the Canadian people." I understand our ethnicity and our beliefs shape who we are, but when that belief is in conflict with the law, the law supersedes.

There's some really problematic stuff in this paraphrase, I personally would not sign this manifesto. The word "assimilate" is not without negative connotations, and "nothing but a Canadian" and "isn't a Canadian at all" are extremely exclusionary language.

Laws are written to regulate behaviour, not touchy-feely concepts like "allegiance" and what people say about their identities. I think this is a Good Thing™.

William Innes • March 1, 2017 at 08:14 pm

Amira , I so admire the perspective which you have brought to these discussions, but on the Roosevelt quotation I think that we are missing a reality which we need to acknowledge. Most of us as immigrants (including myself) have a cultural heritage which we should and do celebrate, but this different from our commitment to the country of which we have chosen to be citizens. Canada is not just some location of convenience because we have been displaced or are looking for a better job. Canadians have a legitimate right to expect that we will place the interest of Canada first, and that we will make the accommodations necessary to become contributing members of Canadian society — whether it is learning a language, or taking a job which is less than you are used to, or living in a location which may not be ideal. I feel badly in making this point because my own experience is that the vast majority of refugees/immigrants are wonderful committed Canadians, who make tremendous effort to become part of Canada. However, conversations like these seem often to revolve around the rights of refugees or immigrants and not their responsibilities. I think that it would be wrong to assume that Canadians view coming to Canada as a right; rather it is a huge privilege — and it only works if there is accommodation in both directions.

William Innes • March 1, 2017 at 08:31 pm
On a different topic, but the title of this segment; Amira/Momin as Muslim Canadians do you find any conflict between your faith and the charter values — particularly with respect to discrimination?. I thought that Amira gave a great example of how the courts have dealt with great consideration with one of these potential conflicts. If there are conflicts, how should Muslim Canadians deal with them?
Amira Elghawaby (Subject Matter Expert) • March 6, 2017 at 09:30 am

William Innes wrote on March 1:

On a different topic, but the title of this segment; Amira/Momin as Muslim Canadians do you find any conflict between your faith and the charter values — particularly with respect to discrimination?. I thought that Amira gave a great example of how the courts have dealt with great consideration with one of these potential conflicts. If there are conflicts, how should Muslim Canadians deal with them?

Thank you William for your question and earlier comments. As I mentioned earlier - it is both a civic duty and a religious duty for Canadian Muslims to fully respect the laws of the land in which they live. It is also a sacred duty to do good in our communities and general society - not just for one's own immediate community of religious adherents, but for the whole society. That is a huge responsibility that many Canadian Muslims take very seriously - just to give a few examples, our local mosques run regular blood drives with the Canadian Red Cross; the local Islamic schools engage in regular food bank drives; and individuals in their every day experiences are doing what they can to gain skills, contribute time and energy to not only benefit themselves, or their families, but the entire society. There is no conflict in being proud of one's heritage, and also being very proud and honoured to live in Canada and want to do all one can to make it an even better place for everyone. Inclusion is key. In terms of discrimination, there simply should be zero tolerance of any discrimination towards any one, or against any group. This is what's guaranteed by our Charter. Of course, we know human rights violations happen everywhere, in various communities and public settings. It is up to all of us to educate, challenge, and work towards eliminating such barriers. This is a collective task and I believe Canadians are in a wonderful position to illustrate to the world just how to do that. On that hopeful note, please let me thank my fellow discussant Momin Rahman, Canadian Difference, Trent University, and of course, all of you who took the time to read and respond to our discussion. This has been a good opportunity and I very much appreciate the challenging questions that we explored together. I can be reached at aelghawaby at nccm.ca for any further follow-up. Kind regards!