Authorities are still deciding how to characterize the attack in London, Ont., earlier this week that killed four members of the same Muslim family. But for thousands of other Muslim Canadians, there’s only one word that comes to mind: terrorism. And while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested that “Islamophobia has no place in any of our communities,” the unfortunate reality is that there are many communities in Canada where anti-Muslim bigotry is already firmly rooted.

Those roots seem particularly deep within Canada’s conservative movement. When the federal government tabled a motion to condemn Islamophobia in 2017 in the wake of the horrific Quebec City mosque shooting that killed six people and injured 19 others, all but one participant in the Conservative leadership race (Michael Chong) at the time voted against it. Future leaders Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole openly criticized the motion, while former ministers Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander appeared at a rally organized by Rebel Media and described by the Toronto Star’s Susan Delacourt as a “hateful free-for-all against ‘political correctness.’”

That rally took place at Canada Christian College, the institution run by Charles McVety, who just happens to be a political ally of Ontario Premier Doug Ford. McVety makes no secret of his disdain for Islam and those who practice it, and he’s reportedly argued that “we know that Christians and Jews and Hindus don’t have the same mandate for a hostile takeover.”

Derek Sloan, who helped play kingmaker for Erin O’Toole in the CPC’s most recent leadership race, has made a litany of racist and bigoted statements — and was only kicked out of the Conservative caucus for what O’Toole described as “a pattern of destructive behaviour involving multiple incidents and disrespect towards the Conservative team.” Maxime Bernier, who nearly won the previous Conservative leadership race, has a history of making Islamophobic remarks, including a baseless claim during the 2019 federal election that “Islamist extremists” had infiltrated Canadian politics.

Yes, Conservative MPs have (mostly) stopped appearing on Rebel News, and they’ve (mostly) stopped repeating the most egregiously anti-Muslim theories and language. But they have yet to truly step forward and denounce those they flirted with so recently, from their furious reaction to the federal government’s $10.5-million settlement with former child soldier (and Guantanamo Bay detainee) Omar Khadr to the proposed “barbaric cultural practices” hotline floated by Stephen Harper in the 2015 campaign.

Neither have the columnists and writers in the conservative media ecosystem who have repeatedly dumped rhetorical gasoline on the fires of intolerance and anti-Muslim bigotry. On Tuesday, for example, the National Post published an op-ed from Rex Murphy on the apparent problem of anti-white racism, which is a perfect example of where his priorities really lie. He’s hardly alone there, either. As Haroon Siddiqui noted in a 2016 speech at the Aga Khan museum, “hardly a week goes by without these publications finding something or other wrong with Muslims and Islam. These publications are forever looking for terrorists under every Canadian minaret.”

The fruits of this poisonous tree were on full display in the Twitter replies and Facebook comments of high-profile Conservatives this week, where their carefully crafted statements preaching tolerance and understanding in the wake of the London massacre were greeted with a torrent of anti-Muslim bigotry and whataboutism. Generally speaking, you should never read the comments, but it’s time for Canada’s conservative leaders to read the ones they get on this issue.

There are some conservatives who understand the damage their party and movement has done here. Jeff Bennett, the former Ontario Progressive Conservative candidate in London West (the riding where Monday’s attack happened), posted a statement on Facebook apologizing for his own willingness to overlook the uglier elements and attitudes within his political family. “I’ve come face to face with Anti Muslim attitudes in London Ontario and said ‘thank you for your support,’” Bennett wrote. “I’m so very sorry. I promise to do better.”

Some of those attitudes came from his own campaign volunteers, who apparently had issues with the previous candidate, a lawyer and second-generation Canadian from the Middle East named Ali Chahbar. “I should have asked them to leave,” Bennett wrote. “I did not.”

Chahbar, for his part, posted his own thoughts on Twitter. “I think about campaigns I was involved in where I was expected to dignify questions about advancing hidden agendas of shariah law while simultaneously being asked to affirm my Canadian credentials despite being born & raised in this country,” he wrote.

Canada needs more conservatives like Jeff Bennett, Ali Chahbar and Michael Chong, and it needs them right now. It doesn’t need people who continue to flirt with fringe elements in their party or wink at their racism and bigotry in order to win elections. As Monday’s attack should make clear, the cost of that is already far too high.

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
June 9, 2021, 08:32 am

This story has been corrected to reflect that Ali Chahbar is a second-generation Canadian.

Keep reading

this is the only news commentary Ive heard even a hint of cons being the fomentors of the pernicious muslim hate atmosphere we now live it. thank you for affirming what Ive been muttering to myself since Sunday night's terrible, inevitable (?) news

I taught new Canadians for 40 years and I watched this nasty suspicion of muslims come from nowhere after 9/11 and set up camp in media as "the favourite boogiman" replacing those nasty ´communist russians. it is terrifying to me as a thinking person to see bow blindly people are led by the likes of rex the dinosaur good old boy. The public approval of such injustice against Kadhar was horrifying to watch. It defied all sense and was utterly devoid of compassion or justice. But is was barely challenged by leading voices of power. Libs did the right thing but didnt call out the cons as they deserved to be charged and taken to court for Hate speech!!!

Thank you very much for writing this article, as it is one of the very few that addresses some truly disturbing historical dimensions of the right wing in Canada. Most of the reporting on Islamophobia in the Canadian context hardly mentioned it at all, and usually in passing and with little commentary.
Until this side of conservatism is brought into the light and discussed/debated to the fullest extent possible, there is little hope for improving the situation, Thank you for your efforts to shed light on this problem.

Excellent commentary, but I fear that a large swathe of the Canadian right is too deeply immersed in resentment, bigotry, and their own political, news, and social media bubbles to be reached.

Eventually the Conservative Party is going to have to decisively deal with this or consign itself to be the perpetual opposition status, like a mirror image of the NDP except cruel and stupid.

At the moment, yes. But they didn't get there by themselves. It's right wing media, very notably including right wing televangelists and indeed right wing local churches, along with the encouragement of right wing politicians, that create the bath of hate these people have been steeping in.
At this point, there's no way to change their minds. There's usually no way to change people's minds in one go; you can't argue with someone until they change their politics. But if you change their information environment, most people without a strong personal analysis of the world will gradually change their views, often forgetting they once thought differently.
So what's important is to do something about the prevalence of racist propaganda in media, whether social, religious, talk radio or mainstream newspapers. And figure out just where the money comes from for all that stuff; there is a good deal of money behind it, as far as I can tell not so much because those bankrolling it are actually racist or care about racism, but because they see people who can be whipped up to hate and fear as easier to manipulate or deceive on other fronts, such as climate change. So for instance there seems to be oil money behind the rise of right wing racism and fearmongering (such as in the case of the Canadian Yellow Vests) and I don't just mean the Koch brother.

I think conservative's hostility toward Muslims also comes from their own competing creed of Christianity, based on the usual smug assumption that most people here are also Christians, i.e. "old stock" Canadians. Which no white people are of course, that's actually the indigenous people, who have the further truly positive distinction of NOT proselytizing when it comes to their particular creation myth.
"Myth" is defined as "a traditional STORY especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving SUPERNATURAL beings or events." Note the other two capitalized words; none of these refer to "truth" so these types of conflicts are of the bitter internecine variety, and proven to be the most intractable.
I think more people should consider that religious belief is a continuum, with the new-age, relaxed "there must be something" types at one end, and ISIS at the other. Unfortunately, unless you are NOT on that continuum at all, i.e. an atheist, this is actually your uncomfortable but undeniable cohort. More atheism would likely bring more peace as in the compelling song "Imagine."
Also, religion is NOT A RACE, so labelling people who hate Muslims "racist" is incorrect because religion is not immutable, is in truth just another set of ideas, and like ANY such set, is not above criticism. In that vein, the ideas of Islam have manifested quite widely since 911, which was not nothing, nor was ISIS, nor is beheading, or "infidels" or cloaked, covered women, or "honor" killings, or madrasas, OR the civilizations deeply devoted to the creed, like Saudi Arabia, rightly called the evil kingdom, and Iran for example. So "Islamophobia," in this context, is not an unreasonable concept.
Nothing excuses violence, ever; Muslims are simply human beings first and foremost, so should be treated as such. But it's really too bad that more people can't be more satisfied with that already very singular identity.

nonsense

So, when Abdulahi Sharif did exactly the same thing in Edmonton, THEN tried to stab a police officer to death, or when that fellow stormed Parliament Hill, it was a Christianophobia problem and the Liberals were at the root of it? Utter nonsense. First, there is no such thing as "Islamophobia" or "Homophobia" etc. These are words we have created when people exercise thier free will and don't agree or care for something. A "Phobia", is an irrational fear of something, and just because you don't care for something or agree with something, doesn't make a fear. I don't care for Kraft Dinner, so, if we follow the trend, does that make me a "KD-ophobe"? Nope, I simply don't like it. It isn't Islam or Christianophobe driving these people, they are nuts, plain and simple, so quit trying to make it something its not, or playing the blame game, pointing at political parties. Want to know what's fueling hate? The media, with nonsensical articles, trying to enflame one group or another to cause strife. We all know that bad news is big business in the news industry, and rocking the boat helps generate the bad news. So the root of it? It isn't the "Libs" or "Cons" its the media.

You didn't respond to the article in the slightest, rather you ranted about the definition of phobia. Maybe start again and read the actual article and try to understand what the author is saying. You might even come to the realization that you are the type of person being influenced by conservative politicians and right wing media to be anti-Muslim (if you prefer that term to islamophobic)