On August 15, the Liberal government declared a snap election will be held on September 20. The leaders’ debate, which takes place on back-to-back nights in French and English during each election campaign in Canada, is a recurrent tradition. 

Affordability, climate change, pandemic recovery, reconciliation, leadership, and accountability were among the topics discussed by federal party leaders. The Canadian Muslim Public Affairs Council (CMPAC) has compiled a summary of what the leaders had to say on issues that directly affect Muslims in Canada.

Additionally, CMPAC has released an Election Issues Guide that focuses on issues that impact Canadian Muslims.

To view CMPAC’s key issues, click here.
To view CMPAC’s party platform comparison, click here

Bill 21

The debate began on the topics of leadership and accountability. When questioned why his party supports discriminatory legislation like Bill 21 and Bill 96, Yves-François Blanchet, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, responded that “those laws are not about discrimination, they’re about Quebec values.”

Following the debate, other party leaders stated that the issue is insulting and that racism is prevalent throughout the country, not only in Quebec.

For context, the Coalition Avenir Québec introduced a “secularist” measure aimed at religious freedom in March 2019. Bill 21 makes it illegal for anyone wearing religious symbols like the hijab, turban, or kippah to hold public office or positions in the public sector.

It is a law that intends to enforce second class citizenship on the basis of an individual’s identity and religion. The Muslim community and other faith groups have been opposed to this legislation, widely viewed as discriminatory and Islamophobic, as well as any legislation or public policy that targets charter protected rights.

This all being said, Bill 21 is not explicitly mentioned in any of the five parties’ platforms. CMPAC has asked political parties to guarantee that if they are elected, the Attorney General will intervene in all future legal challenges to Bill 21.

Foreign Policy – Uyghurs

In late February of this year, the Conservative Party introduced a non-binding motion in favour of designating China’s human rights atrocities against the Uyghur as genocide. This motion was passed by a vote of 266-0.

The Conservative Party leader, Erin O’Toole, reminded the Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, that Mr. Trudeau abstained on this issue. Mr. O’Toole claimed that our allies are asking “where we are,” and accused the Prime Minister of being weak. Mr. O’Toole committed, if elected, to strengthen Canada’s position on standing up to China’s human rights transgressions alongside international allies.

“Leadership is standing up for the Uyghurs,” Mr. Singh, the leader of the New Democratic Party, said.

Meanwhile Ms. Paul, the leader of the Green Party, said that “when the Uyghur ask for us help to declare a genocide and we don’t do that… then our word does not count for much” in reference to government inaction.

Mr. Blanchet criticized the weakness of Canada’s record on Human Rights under the Prime Minister.

Mr. Trudeau made no mention of Uyghurs directly but rather a general comment on standing up to China’s human rights violations.

Foreign Policy – Afghanistan

The UN Regional Refugee Preparedness and Response Plan estimates a worst-case scenario of 500,000 Afghan refugees. 

In the aftermath of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, both Mr. O’Toole and Mr. Singh questioned Mr. Trudeau’s decision to call an election.

Mr. O’Toole, Mr. Blanchet, and Ms. Paul all agreed that instead of calling an election, Mr. Trudeau should have placed the interests of Canadians and those who aided Canadians in Afghanistan first. The scenario in Afghanistan, according to Ms. Paul, was predictable.

In response to the comments, Mr. Trudeau stated that Canada assisted in the return of Canadians from Afghanistan even before the election was called. He said that the government has worked relentlessly to secure Canadians’ safety, and he chastised rival parties for failing to acknowledge the government’s efforts. He also stated that additional individuals from Afghanistan would be arriving.

Concerns surrounding the situation in Afghanistan have been expressed by CMPAC. Canada is responsible for those who have been left behind. 

CMPAC has urged political parties to take in more Afghan refugees if elected. The Liberal Party has pledged to make it easier for Afghan citizens to travel and resettle in Canada, as well as to expand the number of refugees eligible from 20,000 to 40,000. The NDP has pledged to welcome Afghan refugees to Canada.

Indigenous Affairs

The Liberals, NDP, and Green Party all pledged to implement the global human rights standard in their 2019 platforms, however the Conservatives did not.

Indigenous communities continue to live through decades-long water boil advisories. The Liberal government had pledged over six years ago to end all long-term drinking water advisories in First Nation communities by March of 2021. 

Mr. Trudeau has indicated Canada has failed Indigenous peoples for 150 years. He claims to have  lifted 109 drinking water advisories. Additionally, he indicated progress has been made by enrolling more Indigenous children in high-quality schools.

Reconciliation, according to Mr. O’Toole, is about restoring trust and respect. Indigenous peoples continue to suffer, according to Mr. Singh, despite the fact that Canada is a wealthy country and a member of the G7, yet unable to provide water to every Indigenous community. Justice denied is justice delayed, according to Ms. Paul. She pledged to support indigenous leadership, sovereignty, self-determination, and nation-to-nation cooperation.

What Was Not Debated

Despite an increase in Islamophobic incidents particularly against Black Muslim women, the death of the Afzal family in London in June 2021, and the massacre at the Quebec City Mosque in January 2017, Islamophobia was not addressed in the debate.

CMPAC has urged political parties to create a government office to combat Islamophobia and appoint a Special Envoy on Islamophobia with sufficient funding. CMPAC has also urged political parties to address systemic Islamophobia in government institutions, including backing the Charity Sector’s call for a moratorium on targeted audits of Muslim charities by the CRA’s Review and Analysis Division until a review is completed. As well, legislation for effective civilian oversight of the CBSA is needed, along with improving oversight of the RCMP and CSIS.

While officials deliberated Canada’s foreign policy in relation to China’s human rights atrocities, they neglected the continued war in Palestine and Israel. The Liberal platform makes no commitments to improve Canada’s role on the international stage or in Palestine. 

The NDP platform pledges to work toward a just and lasting two-state solution between Israel and Palestine that respects human rights and adheres to international law, as well as to halt arms sales to Israel until the illegal occupation is ended. 

The Conservative Party has pledged to support a two-state solution leading to a Palestinian state as well as the current religious status quo surrounding the Al-Aqsa Mosque, but opposes the International Criminal Court’s involvement in bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Additionally, the party recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and supported shifting the Canadian embassy there, as done by former US President Donald Trump, but subsequently withdrew this plan.