OPINION: Whichever party wins, here are the key policies it should focus on to combat hate
Ontario voters will be heading to the polls on June 2 — just days ahead of the June 6 anniversary of the London attackthat killed four members of the Afzaal family in a hate crime.
Unfortunately, addressing Islamophobia has not emerged as a major election topic (although it was addressed briefly in Monday night’s leaders’ debate). Granted, the first provincial election following the onset of the pandemic has many critical issues for voters to consider. But there has also been a sharp increase in hate crimes during the pandemic, including police-reported anti-Muslim crimes. Ignoring Islamophobia is not an option.
In February 2022, the Ontario NDP introduced Bill 86, the Our London Family Act, based on recommendations from the National Council of Canadian Muslims’ National Summit on Islamophobia. Disappointingly, Bill 86 did not pass before the legislature was dissolved by the Doug Ford government for the June election.
Each party should reaffirm its commitment to addressing Islamophobia in concrete terms, through policies such as those suggested by NCCM, in the coming days. Voters should push canvassing candidates on their positions regarding the Our London Family Act and indicate it is of utmost importance.
Here are some key policy areas the next Ontario government should focus on to address Islamophobia:
Although it is incredibly important for leaders, policymakers, and politicians to firmly condemn hate crimes when they occur, this condemnation must be followed with action. By and large, those subjected to hate crimes do not report the crime, and, if they do, they often do not see the perpetrator face consequences.
It should be noted that members of marginalized communities may also be wary of reporting hate crimes to police for fear of not being taken seriously, being retraumatized, or interacting with officers who have no cultural-safety or trauma-informed training.
As such, it is important for the province to support a provincial hate-crimes accountability unit. The mandate of this unit should be expanded, as recommended by the NCCM, to act as a safe third-party route for those looking to report hate crimes but are uncomfortable going to law enforcement as the first step.
Relatedly, the collection of this data in a safe and equitable manner is incredibly important to measure the impact of hate crimes and the need for supporting victims of such crimes. Although police and community groups may collect this data, it is not standardized across the province and very much depends on the comfort around self-reporting of said groups — and that can lead to many gaps.
And this unit and data collection need oversight. A fully funded Anti-Racism Directorate (which the Ford government cut funding for in 2018), along with the proposed Anti-Racism Advisory and Advocacy Council, would provide important strategic direction to this work and ensure safety in its data collection.
Diversity in public service
In order for an organization to better serve a diverse population, representation is often cited as a pathway to success. But so-called diversity on its own can often lead to safety concerns for said employees when a safe workplace culture is not also in place.
So, although a diverse workforce does not fundamentally solve issues around racism, it can be an asset when implemented well. Developing a strategy around meaningful recruitment, retention, and promotion — all while creating a culture of safety for diverse employees — is key for the provincial public service, the employees who are often at the forefront of driving forward public policy.
The provincial government has supported the creation of resources and training for educators and of counselling for Muslim youth. But we need more than one-time announcements and grant programming.
Islamic history in Canada needs to be embedded into school curriculum, providing cultural safety and competency education from a young age and in age-appropriate manners. As with the public service, a meaningful strategy to diversify staff should be implemented.
Updated code of conduct for politicians
In January 2022, independent MPP Randy Hillier called federal minister of transport Omar Alghabra a “terrorist.” These comments were widely condemned as Islamophobic and hate speech — and rightfully so. However, Hillier faced few to no actual consequences, and the speaker indicated that not much could be done in the legislature, as the comments had been made on social media.
Ontario needs an updated code of conduct for MPPs using their official social media in a professional capacity.
One silver lining about the delay of Bill 86 is that there is room to strengthen it even further. One recommendation in the act includes giving the Speaker power to ban protests at Queen’s Park if they incite racist, homophobic, transphobic, or xenophobic hate. There is concern that this power could be weaponized incorrectly on the whims of the Speaker, especially if they do not have the right training in understanding hate groups and hate crimes.
Groups should be deemed hate groups by extremism experts. This responsibility should fall under such agencies as the Anti-Racism Directorate, which would support the government through recommendations in its decision-making when it comes to banning groups.
The pandemic has seen a sharp increase in online searches for far-right materials, including white genocide and the xenophobic Great Replacement theory, which allegedly influenced the Buffalo shooter.
Key organizers of the lockdown protests in this province had a history of Islamophobia and white-nationalist views (which did not deter attendance by elected officials); attendees flew problematic hate symbols, such as the Nazi swastika, Confederate flags, and even the flag of the Three Percenters, a far-right anti-government militia.
Preventing hate groups from registering as societies is integral to ensuring such groups do not have access to resources or become further publicly legitimized.
Politicians indicate they want to meaningfully address Islamophobia. We are long past the point of empty promises and thoughts and prayers. This election presents the opportunity for political leaders to follow their words with action.
Original Link: https://www.tvo.org/article/the-next-ontario-government-cant-ignore-islamophobia
Written by: Sarah Mushtaq