8499Islam and Muslims in Canada: Muslims test press freedom limits in Canadian case
- Feb 2, 2008Muslims test press freedom limits in Canadian case
Sun Jan 6, 2008 8:43am EST
By Randall Palmer
OTTAWA (Reuters) - An Islamic group's demand that a
Canadian magazine publish its response to an article
that said Muslims were set to swamp the West has
sparked warnings of government-imposed restrictions on
freedom of expression.
The Canadian Islamic Congress, one of Canada's largest
Muslim groups, says Maclean's, a popular Canadian
weekly news magazine, subjected Muslims to hate speech
with an article in October 2006 by best-selling author
Mark Steyn that said a high Muslim birthrate, combined
with Muslims "hot for jihad," could conquer a West
that is unwilling to stand up for its civilization.
The Islamic group has asked a government body to step
in to guarantee it the right to an equal-length
rebuttal to the article, which was an excerpt from
Steyn's September 2006 book "America Alone."
"This article completely misrepresents Canadian
Muslims' values, their community, and their religion,"
said Canadian Islamic Congress lawyer Faisal Joseph.
Maclean's says it has already run 27 letters from
readers, many opposed to Steyn's piece, and is ready
to consider a further response. But it said the CIC
wanted to direct the art work for the rebuttal and to
run it on the cover.
Publisher Kenneth Whyte said he would rather go
bankrupt than have the CIC set the terms for what the
The Canadian and British Columbia human rights
commissions have agreed to investigate the complaints,
and the Muslim group has the high-profile backing of
the Ontario Federation of Labour.
"We need to make sure that folks are treated with
dignity and respect, regardless of who it is , whether
it's Maclean's or anybody," said the union
federation's executive vice president, Terry Downey,
formerly a human rights investigator.
"People have a right to freedom of expression but that
has some restrictions on it. You just can't offend
people based on their religion or color or things like
The Canadian commission could order the two sides to
reconciliation, or forward the case to a tribunal that
would have the power to order Maclean's to publish the
group's response, or face legal sanctions.
The idea a magazine should have to defend its writings
to a government body has some critics warning of
Soviet-style thought police and urging the commissions
to get out of the business of regulating speech and
Alan Borovoy, general counsel of the Canadian Civil
Liberties Association, said he fought to create human
rights commissions "to deal with "discriminatory deeds
... not discriminatory words."
"Nobody thought it would be used to censure freedom of
expression," he said.
The Canadian human rights commission would not comment
on the case but said it was authorized by Parliament
to investigate what it calls hate speech.
Freedom of expression is guaranteed in Canada's
constitution, but laws have been enacted that restrict
hate speech. In December, an Alberta human rights
panel ruled that a local pastor broke a human rights
law by writing letters to the editor urging citizens
to stand up against what he described as militant
CBC commentator Rex Murphy said Maclean's should not
have to defend itself for starting debate and stirring
"Is every touchy, or agenda-driven sensibility now
free to call upon the offices of the state and ...
embroil them in 'justifying' their right to write and
broadcast as they see fit?" he asked on CBC's flagship
news program, The National.
Steyn said the CIC and law students acting on its
behalf aimed to shut down debate by making it more
trouble than it's worth for editors to run pieces on
But he added, "In using quasi-judicial coercion to
squash debate, they make one of the central points of
my argument -- that a proportion of Islam is inimical
to Western traditions of freedom -- more eloquently
than I ever could."
(Editing by Janet Guttsman and Jackie Frank)
Navigating Uncharted Territory
Wed. May. 16, 2007
By Sheema Khan
Freelance Writer Canada
Not every harassment against Muslims comes out of
Islamophobia. Secular, nationalistic, but not
religious are the Quebecers. The founder of CAIR-CAN
reflects on how the nature, culture, and history of
Quebec make it hard for Muslims to live normally in
The latest high-profile incident involved the
expulsion of five Muslim girls, aged 10 to 14, from a
Tae kwon do tournament, by Quebec sports officials who
ruled their hijab to be against regulations of the
sport, in spite of the fact that hijab-clad Muslim
women have competed worldwide in this martial art
without any incident. In the neighboring province of
Ontario, Prof. Tyseer Abou-Nasr recently earned her
black belt in Tae kwon do without any concern about
her hijab. Nasr is a professor of electrical
engineering at the University of Ottawa, having just
completed her tenure as dean of engineering. She has
also been recently named to the Order of Ontario a
prestigious recognition in honor of her contributions
to the province.
The Tae kwon do incident comes on the heels of two
other events involving Muslim women. In February,
Ottawa resident Asmahan Mansour was ejected from a
soccer game in a Quebec tournament for wearing the
hijab. The referee ruled her headscarf to be contrary
to FIFA rules, whereas referees in Mansour's two other
tournament games had no problem with the hijab. Her
teammates and coach supported her by withdrawing from
the tournament in protest. The Quebec Soccer
Federation (QSF) backed the referee as did many Quebec
politicians. However, the QSF did say that it would
abide by any decision handed down by the Canadian
Soccer Association (CSA). The CSA has yet to issue its
ruling. FIFA did not provide any clear guidelines
about the hijab following its meeting in February.
In March, a few days before the Quebec elections, the
province's chief electoral officer came under fire for
reiterating his support for a bylaw that allowed
registered voters to vote without the benefit of a
photo ID. The media immediately focused on the
situation of niqab-clad Muslim women voting without
showing their face as proof of identity.
Quebecers were outraged: Some threatened to disrupt
the election, while others threatened bodily harm. The
chief electoral officer had to rescind the rule and to
hire personal bodyguards. Interestingly, many
niqab-clad women indicated that they had no problem
revealing their face for proof of identification.
Furthermore, there were generous offers by Quebecers
to escort niqab-clad voters to the polling stations so
that they could vote free of harassment.
In January, the Quebec town council of Herouxville
gained international notoriety for proposing a list of
societal norms for would-be immigrants, including the
prohibition of circumcision and stoning women to
death, in spite of the fact that stoning is already
illegal in Canada. It was clearly aimed at keeping out
immigrants primarily Muslims from settling in
Herouxville. After much protest, the town dropped the
mention of stoning while maintaining the spirit of the
Furthermore, a survey by the polling firm Environics
revealed that out of the 7.5 million Quebecers, 53
percent favor a ban on the hijab, while only 36
percent out of 31.6 million citizens of all Canada
In addition, some Quebec institutions of higher
learning, including McGill University, have been less
than helpful in providing space for Muslim students to
observe their daily prayers. In fairness to McGill, it
has provided the McGill MSA (Muslim Student
Association) with large prayer space for Friday
Prayers, in order to accommodate the large crowds of
downtown workers. Furthermore, McGill has required its
Catholic and Jewish students to operate their student
centers off-campus through the rental or purchase of
property. On the other hand, Montreal's Concordia
University has worked together with its Muslims
students to provide generous prayer space and ablution
Based on the above incidents, many are asking, "What
is going on in Quebec?" In particular, some have
assumed, incorrectly, that Islamophobia is rampant in
There have been many rumblings in Quebec against the
religious practices of the province's Jews and Sikhs.
There are three principles at the heart of recent
The first is the evolution of religious practice in
Quebec history. Up until a few decades ago, the
Catholic Church had a grip on Quebec society,
influencing social policy and politics to a great
extent. Women were greatly affected. For example,
Quebec was the last Canadian province to allow women
to vote, granting women this right in 1945. The
society underwent changes during the "Quiet
Revolution" in the 1960s, during which the people
rejected the rule of the church and opted for a more
secular vision of society.
Secular, Nationalistic, but Not Religious
The pendulum is swinging farther in the direction of
secularization. Compared to other provinces, Quebec
has the lowest percentage of people who profess faith.
Many believe that faith should be a private matter and
feel very uncomfortable with public displays of faith
or requests for accommodation of religious practice.
In addition, some feel that public institutions should
be strictly secular and should not be required to
accommodate any religious practice. McGill University
has taken a similar stand in its refusal to provide
Muslim students with prayer space, arguing that as an
educational institution, it is not required to fulfill
the religious requirements of its students. In a
region that has 1.3 percent Jews, 1.5 percent Muslims,
and 0.1 percent Sikhs, it seems that there is less
tolerance for the orthodox religious practices.
Interestingly, such incidents are less prevalent in
the rest of Canada.
The second principle is the fact that Quebec is a
francophone "island" in a sea of Anglophone North
America. Quebecers have fought to maintain their
language, culture, and history. As such, they take
issues of identity very seriously, one may argue,
even more seriously than the rest of Canada. And while
immigration hardly impacts on issues of Canadian
identity, the issue is somewhat more complex in
Quebec. So much so that Quebec maintains some degree
of control on who immigrates to the province. The
province also requires children of immigrants to
enroll in French schools, for French is the only
official language in Quebec.
Equality Over Multiculturalism
The third principle that many Quebeckers feel strongly
about is that of equality between men and women. It
should be noted that the majority of Canadians also
share this sentiment, with many saying that equality
takes precedence over multiculturalism. It is this
particular issue that seems to have the most impact on
Muslims. In Quebec, many view religion as an
impediment to the liberation of women based
primarily on their historical experience with the
With regards to Muslims, international media reports
on honor killings, female genital mutilation, the
practices of the Taliban and Saudi Arabia toward
women, and other incidents, have given the impression
that equality between men and women is lacking in many
Muslim societies. Some view the hijab as a symbol of
oppression and inferiority imposed by men on women,
and thus contradicting the Quebec framework of
Similarly, in Ontario, there was strong opposition to
the use of Shari`ah principles in family arbitration.
Part of the opposition was based on distortions and
fear-mongering, with some critics warning of the
arrival of public stoning for adultery and amputation
of hands for theft. Others believed the provisions for
divorce and inheritance in Islam to be contrary to the
Canadian framework of equality.
In response to the concerns regarding accommodations
of religious practices, Quebec premier Jean Charest
has set up a commission to explore the issue in
further detail and provide recommendations. Renowned
philosophy professor Charles Taylor, winner of the
prestigious Templeton prize, is one of the
commission's members. The commission will travel
through the province to interview individuals and
representatives of various organizations, and report
its findings in about a year.
A Better Situation
In the meantime, it seems that Quebec's Muslims are
rising to the challenge by engaging in the public
debate. In particular, Muslim women have been
presenting themselves in an articulate, professional,
and patient manner, with the aim of educating the
public about their faith and their commitment to be
part and parcel of Quebec society. For example, Sarah
Elgazzar, Quebec spokeswoman of the Canadian Council
on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN), has provided
many media interviews attesting to these ideals.
Furthermore, a delegation of Muslim women visited the
town of Herouxville to engage in dialogue and
There is more work to be done. Quebec's Muslims must
work together with members of the wider society who
believe in societal pluralism, where differences are
respected and freedom of religion is guaranteed by the
Constitution. In addition to engaging with the media,
Muslims need more education about the civic
institutions of Quebec and how these can help. The
Quebec Human Rights Commission is a valuable resource
in this endeavor.
However, the issue of rights is balanced by that of
duties. It is a two-way street. Just as Muslims are
seeking to educate the broader public about Islam,
they too must seek to understand the history of
Quebec. Just as Muslims are asking others to
understand their concerns, they too must try to
understand the concerns of those who are apprehensive
about their customs and practices.
Like many parts of world, Quebec is going through
changes as a result of globalization and immigration;
thus, there are legitimate questions of identity and
culture at play. However, these can be discussed in a
respectful, meaningful manner to enhance the
foundations of civil society. The keys will be
dialogue and patience.
Sheema Khan is a monthly columnist for The Globe and
Mail, Canada's national newspaper. She is also a
patent agent and a consultant in intellectual property
law. In 2000, she founded the Canadian Council on
American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN), and served as
its chair from 2000-2005. She holds a master's in
physics and a doctorate in chemical physics, both from
Harvard University. She can be reached through Muslim
Canadian Muslims dismiss Harper government for 'lack'
of Mideast policy
Mike Blanchfield , CanWest News Service
Published: Tuesday, January 08, 2008
OTTAWA - As Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier
begins his first Middle East tour, Canadian Muslims
have written off trying to engage the Harper
Conservatives on the troubled region.
The Canadian Islamic Congress says it has been
continually snubbed by the Conservative government and
says it has abandoned trying to influence Canada's
efforts to play a role in the Middle East peace
process until the next federal election in Canada.
"We gave up on having a constructive dialogue with the
current government on any foreign policy issue,"
Mohammed Elmasry, president of the CIC, said in an
interview Tuesday as Bernier began a six-day trip that
was to start today in Saudi Arabia.
Bernier has also sandwiched in a two-day trip to India
before doubling back to the Middle East where he will
end his tour with two days in the West Bank and Israel
It has been a year since Bernier's predecessor, Peter
MacKay, visited the troubled region. For the most
part, MacKay avoided trouble in a part of the world
that is a political minefield for rookie international
statesmen such as himself and Bernier, not to mention
some seasoned politicians.
Bernier kept a low profile on the eve of his first
major international trip, declining interviews and, as
far as Canada's leading Islamic group is concerned,
they don't care if Bernier is ever heard from again.
The CIC says that the two men who have served as
foreign ministers in the Conservative government have
refused to meet members of their organization.
"We tried to communicate our position on Afghanistan,
on the Middle East on U.S. interference in Lebanon,
the threat of the U.S. on Iran," said Elmasry. "It is
either following the lead of the U.S. or it doesn't
have a policy of its own.
"Either way, it is really bad for Canada and for the
people of the area."
After nearly two years of being snubbed, the CIC says
it will cool its heels on trying to lobby the
government until the Conservative minority is defeated
in Parliament and Canadians go to the polls.
"This government right now is on the last leg of its
life. We hope that we have an election sooner than
later in '08," said Elmasry.
In the meantime, the group says it will concentrate on
the two Toronto-area ridings and Vancouver Quadra,
where federal byelections are scheduled for March 17
to fill vacant seats in the House of Commons.
If the Conservatives hope to one day win a majority,
they must make in-roads in Canada's major urban
centres. Muslim and Arab groups have threatened in the
past to campaign against the Conservatives over what
they view as a tilt towards Israel and an abandonment
of Canada's role as a neutral player in the
The issue came to a boil in the summer of 2006 when
Canadian Arabs and Muslims reacted angrily to Prime
Minister Stephen Harper's comments over Israel's
decision to bomb Lebanon in pursuit of Hezbollah
"It's now beyond (being) pro-Israel. It doesn't have a
clear policy for any foreign issue," said Elmasry.
In a prepared statement before he departed earlier
this week, Bernier said he was bringing a message of
Canadian support to both sides in the conflict.
"We support the efforts that will lead to a peaceful
and comprehensive resolution to the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including the creation
of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace
and security with Israel."
A senior government official said Bernier has worked
hard behind the scenes at a series of international
meetings to engage both sides of the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict, since taking over the
Foreign Affairs portfolio late last summer.
The Conservative government has since restored some of
the spending it had previously cut to the Palestinian
Authority, $8 million in all, shortly before MacKay
was shuffled out of the portfolio, while Bernier
committed Canada to $300 million over five years to
the Palestinians at last month's international donors'
conference in Paris, the official said.
"He announced $300 million. I think that's more than
words, that's deeds, that's money. It positively
reinforces the momentum," said the senior official.
But Elmasry dismissed Canada's latest round of
spending towards Palestinians.
"It's a photo-op and basically trying to be nice to
Who is Hesham Islam?
By Claudia Rosett Friday, January 25, 2008
In the sorry tradition of shooting the messenger, the
Pentagon is cashiering its top expert on Islamist
doctrine, Stephen Coughlin. Some members of Congress
are now contemplating hearings to ask why.
Along with drawing attention to Coughlins research,
now circulating on the Internet, the growing
controversy has thrown a spotlight on Coughlins
alleged nemesis at the Pentagon, a top aide named
Hesham Islam whose tale deserves closer attention.
Not least, as a reporter for the Armed Forces Press
Service observed last year, it would make a great
Certainly there are subplots here that seem made for
the movies, including tales of Islam, in his youth,
living through an air raid in Egypt, a ship sinking in
the Arabian Sea, and now, years later, this scuffle
under the Pentagon rug over how to deal with the chief
threat to America today Islamic extremism.
Hesham Islam is a native Arabic speaker, a Muslim,
born in 1959 in Cairo and schooled in Saddam Husseins
Iraq. In 1980 he immigrated to the U.S. From 1985-2005
he served in the U.S. Navy, rising to the mid-level
officer rank of commander. At some point after former
defense-industry executive Gordon England joined the
Bush administration as secretary of the Navy, in 2001,
Islam went to work on his staff. In 2005, when
England, after a stint in Homeland Security took over
from Paul Wolfowitz in the Defense Departments number
two slot of deputy secretary, Islam came with him.
In Englands office, Islams official title is special
assistant for international affairs. In that capacity
he pops up as a man-about-town in Washington, making
the rounds of embassies. But Islam also works as
Englands point man for Pentagon outreach programs to
Muslim groups. These include organizations such as the
Islamic Society of North America, or ISNA, with whom
Islam and England have forged ties attending ISNA
conventions, and hosting ISNA delegations at Pentagon
events, and in Englands office.
Thats alarming to some, such as terrorism expert
Steven Emerson, executive director of the
Investigative Project on Terrorism, who, for more than
a decade, has been tracking Islamic extremist networks
in the U.S. In a recent appearance on Fox News,
Emerson described Hesham Islam as, in his view, an
Islamist with a pro-Muslim Brotherhood bent who has
brought in groups to the Pentagon who have been
Muslim in Canada: Killing Canadians best way
By OnTheWeb Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Hate speech laws are dangerous, because jihadists and
their allies will use them as much as they can to
silence resistance to jihadist activities. However,
there ought to be some way to limit the activities of
this treasonous individual, just as no one would have
tolerated the publication of a pro-Nazi newspaper in
Toronto in 1943.
Killing Canadians best way: student,
TORONTO - A Toronto-area man has been posting messages
on the Internet supporting attacks against Canadian
soldiers on Canadian soil, drawing the attention of
RCMP national security investigators.
Police have advised the Bangladeshi-Canadian that he
is under investigation for incitement and facilitating
terrorism after he repeatedly called the killing of
Canadian troops in Canada legitimate and well
No charges have been laid, but counterterrorism
officers are apparently taking it seriously, and the
case has set off a debate inside government over where
to draw the line between free expression and
The promotion of hate and violence has no place in
Canadian society, and it is an offence under the
Criminal Code, Stockwell Day, the Minister of Public
Safety, responded when shown a sample of the postings.
Our government carefully balances the right to
freedom of expression with our duty to protect
Canadians from harm.
Alarm bells about the online writings went off last
September after German authorities arrested three
Islamic militants accused of planning to bomb the
Ramstein Air Base and Frankfurt International Airport.
That same day, Salman Hossain posted several messages
about the plot on the comment board of a Toronto-based
Internet site where he is a frequent contributor.
Although Mr. Hossain claimed in one of his
communications with the National Post that he made the
comments in a private online chat room, the messages
can easily be viewed by anyone using a simple Google
I hope the German brothers were gonna blow up
US-German bases in their country. We should do that
here in Canada as well. Kill as many western soldiers
as well so that they think twice before entering
foreign countries on behalf of their Jew masters, he
Any and all Western soldiers getting prepared to
enter Muslim nations like Afghanistan or Iraq should
be legitimate targets by any and all Islamic militants
either in the attacked nations or in the western
nations --if there were any planned attacks against
Canadian/ American soldiers by Muslim militants in
Canadian soil, Id support it, he added.
Canadian soldiers in Canadian soil who are training
to go to Afghanistan or Iraq are legitimate targets to
be killed. Now it is POSSIBLE AND LEGITIMATE!! ...
believe me, if we could have enough of our soldiers
killed, then wed be forced to withdrawn
In addition, he singles out Jews, writing: When do I
get to shoot a few Jews down for attempting to blow up
dozens of mosques in America right after 9-11 why
f---ing target the Americans when the Jews are
The author of the messages is a Mississauga university
student in his mid-twenties who claims to know the
infamous Khadr family and several of the men arrested
in Toronto in June, 2006, on terrorism conspiracy
charges. He confirmed to the National Post that he was
the author of the postings but later declined to
comment further on the advice of his lawyer. While he
writes that he approves of attacking Canadian troops,
he also says he would not do so himself.
Despite being visited by the Canadian Security
Intelligence Service and RCMP and told he was under
investigation, Mr. Hossain has continued to post
messages approving of attacks on Canadian troops.
Saying anti-war protests will do sh$$, he describes
a mass casualty attack on the home-front as a well
considered option and the best way to compel western
soldiers to get out of Afghanistan/Iraq.
Such an attack would be fantastic and would get the
job done, he writes. If someone gets the bright idea
of committing such a wonderful act, its NOT my
responsibility in any way, shape or form.
He wrote, I enjoy watching the blood flow from the
western troops, and during Defence Minister Peter
Mac-Kays Christmas week visit to Kandahar, he wrote:
I pray that the Taliban kill our Mackay
In other postings, he wishes a merry 9-11, and I wish
yall many more merry 9-11s; says the Jews are
literally the most treacherous nation on the face of
the Earth; says I hate the Jews; and claims the
filthy Jews carried out 9-11.
He rails at police, saying you cant charge me for
possessing a thought and writes that he honestly got
a kick outta pissing off the RCMP HAHAHA i was
laughing my ass off for provoking the RCMP."