Protests, acrimony over Islamophobia motion mark international anti-racism day

By Joan Bryden
OTTAWA - The international day for the elimination of racial discrimination was marked Tuesday on Parliament Hill by profane protests and acrimonious debate over a motion calling on federal politicians to condemn Islamophobia.
   

MPs wrapped up debate on the motion with Liberals and Conservatives accusing one another of playing politics with the rising tide of prejudice and hate crimes facing Canadian Muslims.
   

The motion, known as M-103, is to be put to a vote on Thursday.
   

Hours before the final debate, several dozen protesters gathered on the stairs in front of Centre Block to protest the motion, which has no legal effect but which they nevertheless maintained would restrict free speech and lead to the imposition of Sharia law.
   

Among them were individuals sporting black hoodies emblazoned with the logo of the ``Soldiers of Odin'' _ an anti-immigration group that originated in Finland and has been linked to neo-Nazis in Europe. The Canadian branch maintains it is not racist but more of a neighbourhood watch.
   

At the bottom of the stairs, another several dozen counter-protesters gathered to defend M-103.  The two groups, separated by a line of police officers, shouted profanity-laced epithets at one another.
   

``Nazi scum off our streets,'' chanted the pro-motion crowd.
   

``You are the Nazis,'' countered the anti-motion protesters.
   

Inside the Commons a few hours later, M-103 sponsor and Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, closed the debate on her motion by attempting dispel misconceptions about what it will do.
   

``M-103 does not give one religion or community special privilege over another,'' she said.
   

``M-103 will not restrict free speech. This motion is not legally binding.''
   

Khalid called the claim that the motion would result in Sharia law being imposed in Canada ``outrageous'' and vowed she'd  be ``the first person to oppose any motion or law that negatively impacts our multicultural, secular society.''
   

The motion calls on the Commons to condemn Islamophobia and ``all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.'' It further requests that a Commons committee study how the government can eliminate the problem and collect data on hate crimes.
   

The Conservatives proposed an alternative motion last month, which was virtually identical except for deletion of the word Islamophobia. The Liberals voted that motion down, contending that it was aimed at watering down Khalid's motion.
   

Conservative MPs continued to argue Tuesday that the undefined term Islamophobia could be construed to mean any criticism of Islam. Some also contended that the motion singles out one religion.
   

Tory MP David Sweet said the Liberals' refusal to consider amending the motion demonstrates that they've ``decided that there are more political points to win by ramming this motion through, regardless of legitimate concerns.''  He dismissed the Liberal contention that the Conservatives want to water down the motion as ``shameful political spin and outright balderdash.''
   

New Democrat MP Jenny Kwan denounced both Liberals and Conservatives for playing political games with the issue.
   

``Frankly, that kind of fear-mongering and political gamesmanship served only to feed into the increasingly polarized climate surrounding this conversation instead of setting the example that is so desperately needed,'' she said.