Four years ago, a young man walked into a mosque in Quebec City and killed six people. I remember being glued to my television screen watching the coverage. 

Then, as now, the messages of support poured out from every leader and every politician at every level. There was no shortage of people decrying the violence and the hate and vowing to fight it. As shocked, sad, and angry as I felt, I was moved and I felt hopeful. 

Two years later, the Quebec government passed Bill 21.

Today, as I watch the outpouring of love and support for the London Muslim community and Muslims around the country, I can’t overcome this sense of déjà vu.

Bill 21 is unconstitutional. The government that passed it knew that and, pre-emptively, used the notwithstanding clause. The message to Muslims: not even the Constitution can protect you. Yet many of the politicians decrying Islamophobia today have either supported this bill or opted not to oppose it. I have heard no acknowledgment from these politicians that their stances may have contributed to the rising hate. I have heard no promise of change.

Ninety-one members of Parliament voted against a non-binding motion to condemn Islamophobia (M103). Some of them have now stepped up to microphones and social media platforms to inform us that “Islamophobia is real.” But I have heard no expressions of remorse and no promise of change.

report released last week paints a distressing picture of how the CRA hasunfairly targeted Muslim charities over the last decade. The CRA claims it does not target charities based on faith. The numbers tell a different story. Decisions by the CRA’s Charities Directorate are almost impossible to appeal and are subject to very little oversight. Just the conditions for prejudice to thrive. Yet the most recent federal budget gives the CRA more power instead of creating more oversight. 

Over the last few weeks Canadians have read news reports of the unjustified detention and abuse of a pro-democracy activist from Egypt who came to Canada seeking asylum. Everything about the case points to prejudice. He, and thousands of others, are the victims of brutal regimes that abhor democracy. But he is a Muslim who believes that Islam promotes democracy and freedom. So he becomes suspect rather than victim. The news reports and analyses of his case and many others tell us that there is very little oversight over the decisions of individual CBSA officers, even when they act out of prejudice. The leaders telling us there is no place for Islamophobia in Canada are silent. I have heard no promise of change.

I contrast this with a social media post from Jeff Bennett, a former PC candidate for provincial Parliament in London West. 

“I’m partially to blame. I’ve come face to face with anti-Muslim attitudes in London, Ont., and said ‘Thank you for your support.’ I’m so very sorry. I promise to do better.”

This is as courageous as it is rare. So many leaders have declared that the hate must stop. But how many are willing to take the needed hard look in the mirror and say with Bennett, “I promise to do better?”

Hate is not the weed that comes through the pavement: it does not grow spontaneously. It must be sown, watered, and nourished. And for the past 20 years, in Canada, it has been. Not by the fringe. But by leaders who thought they could capitalize on it and decided that it was worth it.

But if hate must be deliberately planted, it is not easily controlled. We can learn from our neighbours to the south. Trump started his term in the White House with the Muslim ban, but didn’t end his term before bringing the hate and violence to Capitol Hill. 

Our leaders must take the needed hard look in the mirror. They must take responsibility for their own actions and those of their political parties and supporters. They must commit to do better and they absolutely must do better. Hate thrives in the dark. We fight it with transparency, accountability, and equality before the law. No more special laws, no more secret audits, no more double standards. Anything less, and I fear we’ll soon stand again in yet another Canadian city to mourn more Canadians lost.

Yaser Haddara is a Muslim community leader and activist who resides in Hamilton.

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