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Judy Haiven: For the root of Islamophobia look no further than some of our elected officials

Judy Haiven’s speech on the occasion of Sunday’s Solidarity Vigil for the victims of the terrorist attack in London, Ontario, that took away the lives of four Muslims and left a little boy severely injured and orphaned. The vigil was held at the Grand Parade in Halifax.

First I want to acknowledge that we are on the unceded land of Mi’kmaki. I want to thank the Mi’kmaq people because I am a guest on their land. I also want to thank Rana Zaman and members of the Human Rights Coalition for inviting me to speak today.  

My name is Judy Haiven. I’m a member of the national steering committee of Independent Jewish Voices Canada. IJV is made up of Jews across Canada. We  oppose Israeli apartheid and support Palestinian human rights in Palestine and Israel. I’m also a member of Canadians Arabs and Jews for a Just Peace, a Halifax group committed to peace and justice in the Middle East. I live here in Halifax. 

IJV stands with the Muslim community across Canada, and particularly the Muslims of London, Ont who are grieving and angered by the murders of members of the Afzaal family, and the attempted murder of their 9 year old son. This was a heinous act. We name Islamophobia, white supremacy, and the structures of colonialism which must be exposed and stopped. 

Racism runs deep in Canada, as this attack proves – but in the last few years  we’ve seen other instances of murder visited upon the Muslim community. We  saw when six Muslims at prayer were killed and more than a dozen others injured when a white supremacist man opened fire on worshippers in a Quebec City mosque. We saw when a caretaker in a Toronto area mosque was killed by a white male attacker in Sept. 2020.  

In the last month we see proof that our Canadian government cared little about Indigenous children in Residential schools. Over more than 120 years, thousands of Indigenous children have gone missing, fallen sick and died for lack of medical care at Residential schools. Many more suffered from beatings and assaults at the schools.  Indeed in the last three weeks more than 215 children’s graves were discovered at Canada’s largest residential school in Kamloops BC. The children were buried without markers and without names. Their deaths were not revealed  to the families or to the government.

And we cannot at this time forget that other racialized Canadians have been subject to terrible racism – indeed here in Nova Scotia there is the legacy of slavery which destroyed the lives of many African Nova Scotians. It continues today in other oppressive ways – African Nova Scotians are denied housing, denied jobs, denied careers. African Nova Scotians continue to be the victims of crimes, of police brutality, false arrest, imprisonment and violence by people of the dominant white culture in Nova Scotia.

Across Canada, people of East Asian heritage have suffered historic racism and now slurs and beatings have become commonplace across Canada, as  some white Canadians blame them (wrongly) for bringing Covid to Canada. 

Today I’m going to call out the politicians and their decisions who paved the road for the terrorist attack against the Afzaal family in London, Ont. 

Conservative Stephen Harper won three consecutive terms as prime minister. 

A few days ago in a media interview, he claimed the murders of the family were “unfathomable”.

But he has clearly forgotten what he and his government did: 

As recently as 2015, in advance of the election he lost to now PM Trudeau, he pledged to set up an RCMP hotline to report what the tories openly called “barbaric cultural Practices” of Muslim Canadians. White Canadians were urged to call the snitch line to report on Muslims to “protect Canadian values”. 

In that same election campaign Harper defended his government’s decision to deny health care to refugee claimants. Harper insisted this move was supported by “old-stock Canadians”. He consistently maintained that legitimate Canadians were “old stock” compared to new Canadians. 

In 2014, the NCCM (National Council of Canadian Muslims) wrote to Harper to criticize him for inviting a Rabbi on a government delegation to Israel – a rabbi who had “introduced, defended and praised two of the most recognized and vitriolic anti-Muslim activists of our time” Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. In response Harper’s spokesman said NCCM had ties to a terrorist organization such as Hamas. 

Neither Harper nor his media man (Jason MacDonald) apologised, so the NCCM sued both Harper and MacDonald. In 2017, the NCCM won the case. Harper’s chief spokesman Jason MacDonald had to disavow his defamatory remarks.  

Andrew Scheer, Harper’s successor, continued with Harper’s tone. A member of the Liberal caucus in early 2017 introduced a motion to condemn Islamophobia and all religious discrimination. After the slaughter of Muslims at the mosque in Quebec city.  Scheer opposed the motion on the grounds it would stifle free speech and legitimate criticism”.

But his comments  played to the Islamophobia that has been tolerated and is growing –thanks to the Conservative party. 

Erin O’Toole, the new Tory party leader, released a video last June asking Canadians to “join the fight to take back Canada” but his loaded language was similar to Trump’s tirade against Mexican immigrants to the US.  

And we can’t let the Quebec government off the hook either. Quebec’s CAQ government  under Francois Legault passed bill 21 in 2019. It unfairly targets people in the public service who express their faith through what they wear. The bill bans wearing  hijab, a head scarf or a turban or anything with a religious symbol.

Nor will we let the Ontario Conservative government under Doug Ford off the hook. Three days ago, in the wake of the mass murder, a Liberal member of the provincial parliament put a motion on the floor of the legislature which condemned all forms of Islamophobia but it was blocked by Ford and his Tory government. They claimed there was not adequate notice for the motion.  

When people in Canada want to know the root of Islamophobia – look no further than some of our elected officials in this country.

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  1. Well stated speech! It’s so important to connect the dots of these attacks by white supremacists on Muslims, Indigenous people, East Asians, people of African descent because it leads our way forward. We must be united in demanding our political leaders dismantle all manifestations of colonialism and white supremacy in all levels of government. We must hold them accountable for their actions and inactions.

  2. Great speech Judy!
    A note on Harper – similarly to clones – Shear and O’Toole – old stock – what didn’t effect them wasn’t their problem – not on their radar – except perhaps by way of a snitch line and numorous overt and insidious ways to ostracize, intimidate, even murder Muslims over the last 2 decades. Our country has caused harm to Muslim lives throughout Canada and especially in Quebec, Ontario and in Nova Scotia. Islamophobia is real – it is often motivated by unconscious ignorance and fear and in many cases conscious and deliberate acts of violence against Muslims.

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