Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Islamophobia and racism are to blame for the murders of six men in a Quebec mosque last year and can never have a place in this country.
Trudeau made the assertion Monday just hours before he was to attend a vigil in Quebec City to mark one year since a gunman killed six and injured 19 others when he fired into the Islamic cultural centre during evening prayers. Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, along with opposition leaders, will also be there to commemorate the grim anniversary.
In speech in the House of Commons earlier Monday, Trudeau called on all MPs to stand against Islamophobia.
“We owe it to (the victims) to speak up and stand tall and explicitly against Islamophobia and discrimination in all its forms,” he said.
His call to action received just tepid applause, conjuring up memories of the heated debate about the use of the term Islamophobia which took off after Liberal MP Iqra Khalid introduced a 2016 motion which also called on parliamentarians to condemn Islamophobia and all forms of discrimination and have a committee study how to combat it.
Most Conservative MPs — including all but one of 13 leadership candidates at the time — opposed the non-binding motion because they said Islamophobia is an ill-defined term that could lead to stifling criticism of Islamic doctrine. Some complained it was singling out one religion for special treatment although many motions had passed previously condemning acts of hatred against Jews or Yazidis and even in October 2016, another motion condemning Islamophobia which passed unanimously and without fanfare.
Still, when Khalid’s motion moved for debate, it led to a number of protests, for and against the motion, some of which saw the two sides clash directly. Khalid herself received thousands of hateful emails, some of them containing death threats.
In his speech marking the anniversary of the mosque shootings, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer did not use the term “Islamophobia” but condemned the shooting as an “act of terror” and a “hate crime.”
“This shooting was an act of terror that shook up the entire region, province and country,” Scheer said.
He said Canada has to be a country where people of all faiths can worship freely and safely.
During last year’s leadership race, Scheer argued that Khalid’s motion didn’t properly define the word “Islamophobia” and pointed out that Canada already has laws to protect individuals from hatred.
New Democrat MP Guy Caron, the NDP’s parliamentary leader, did use the term in his speech, asking Canadians to commit to fighting Islamophobia.
Scheer and Caron will be at the vigil Monday evening, as will NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
While Khalid introduced her motion more than a month before the Quebec City mosque murders, that event played a role in the subsequent debate on the motion last winter and spring.
Earlier this month, the National Council of Canadian Muslims lobbied both Trudeau and Couillard to declare Jan. 29 a national day of remembrance and action against Islamophobia. Couillard opposed the idea and, while Trudeau has not expressly rejected it, he has not made the declaration.
Conservative MP Scott Reid tried Monday to get support from all parties to declare Jan. 29 a “national day of solidarity with victims of anti-religious bigotry and violence.” He cited hateful acts against several religious groups. He did not get unanimous consent.
Khalid’s motion was eventually passed by the Commons and was sent to the Heritage Committee to study ways to combat discrimination. The committee is expected to issue its report later this week.
Trudeau said it should not take a murder or a massacre or violence for people to condemn “every day acts of racism” around them.