After nearly a decade in power, you’d think the Trudeau Liberals would be better at politics. But the disastrous rollout of Canada’s first “special representative on combating Islamophobia” speaks to their enduring blind spots about Quebec, and the corners they routinely paint themselves into as a result.

It’s also a reminder that when it comes to that province’s uneasy relationship with diversity, there are still some truths that can’t be spoken aloud.

On Thursday, in advance of the six-year anniversary of the Quebec City mosque shooting, the Liberals announced human rights activist Amira Elghawaby’s appointment to the new post. "No one in our country should experience hatred because of their faith," Trudeau said in a statement. "The appointment of Ms. Elghawaby as Canada's first special representative on combating Islamophobia is an important step in our fight against Islamophobia and hatred in all its forms."

But on Friday, after La Presse drew attention to comments Elghawaby made in a 2019 column suggesting Quebecers seem “influenced by anti-Muslim sentiment,” Trudeau and his government were already backtracking. According to the Globe and Mail, while heading into a caucus meeting, the prime minister told reporters he did not agree with her remarks and expected them to be clarified. Diversity Minister Ahmed Hussen went even further, saying: “Our government’s position is very clear. We recognize the leadership of Quebecers and Canadians against Islamophobia.”

This falls somewhere between absurd and outrageous. As Elghawaby herself noted in a different 2019 piece for Canadaland, anti-Muslim sentiments are a persistent problem in Quebec. “While Quebecers matched the national average in terms of the proportion who said they encountered racism and hatred online,” she wrote, citing a Leger poll at the time, “62 per cent of Quebecers who saw such hate speech said it was most often targeted towards Muslims, compared to 46 per cent for Canadians overall.”

As Elghawaby made clear, Quebec’s problem with Islamophobia extends to — and is often exacerbated by — the province’s biggest media outlets. She highlighted the work of Lise Ravary, a regular columnist who has said there is no such thing as a “moderate Islam” and criticized members of the Quebec City Muslim community for wanting a stiffer sentence for the mosque shooter, as one example. Another was a columnist named Joseph Facal, who “accused survivors of wanting to inflict the kind of vengeance present in Middle Eastern countries,” Elghawaby wrote. “Such stereotypes fuel the type of hatred we see on social media, and in real life.”

Those stereotypes have obvious consequences. As Elghawaby noted, in 2017 — the same year Alex Bissonnette killed six people in a mosque — hate crimes against Muslims tripled in Quebec. And what did the government of Quebec do in the wake of that tragedy? It drafted and implemented Bill 21, which bars public servants like school teachers, police officers, judges and government lawyers from wearing religious symbols like the hijab.

Not surprisingly, that has only made things harder for the province’s Muslim population.

According to a study released last August, the threats and discrimination they face is reaching new levels — or new lows. "Religious minority communities are encountering — at levels that are disturbing — a reflection of disdain, hate, mistrust and aggression," Miriam Taylor, lead researcher and the director of publications and partnerships at the Association for Canadian Studies, told the CBC in an interview. "We even saw threats and physical violence.”

Quebec politicians are lashing out against the appointment of Amira Elghawaby as Canada's first special representative on combating Islamophobia. It's long past time for Justin Trudeau to start pushing back. @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver

This is a reality that needs to be confronted head-on, and few have been better at doing that than Ms. Elghawaby. But, of course, pointing out Quebec’s problem with Islamophobia isn’t exactly a winning electoral strategy, much less for a Liberal government whose tenuous grip on power depends so heavily on support from that province.

It’s not clear whether Trudeau and his senior ministers didn’t know about her background and the arguments she’d put on the record or they simply didn’t understand how they would be weaponized by Quebec’s nationalist political class.

Either way, it’s an intolerable failure of leadership on the part of the Trudeau government, and it should have some heads rolling in Ottawa. But those heads shouldn’t include Ms. Elghawaby, as some in Legault’s government — including its minister responsible for secularism, no less — are now demanding. All she’s ever done is tell the truth about her experience, and that of so many Muslim women in Quebec.

The 2022 study on Bill 21’s impact, which included data from Leger, showed more than 70 per cent of Muslim women said they felt less safe and over 80 per cent less hopeful for the next generation than before Bill 21 was adopted.

This is the problem that the federal government has to confront, not the discomfort some Quebecers feel when it’s pointed out.

If it’s actually serious about fighting Islamophobia, it has to tackle it in Quebec. That’s the place where it’s most widespread, and it’s where the government deliberately feeds it with its laws and legislation.

Yes, this might cost the Trudeau Liberals some votes and seats. But the cost of surrendering here will be much, much higher in the end — one that would be paid by Muslims in Quebec and across the country.

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In 1945, Hugh MacLennan wrote the novel « Two Solitudes » , a novel about two different « worlds » within the same country. Mr Fawcett writes excellent articles about the environment and climate change, but here, he clearly reflects the hostile attitude (and misunderstandings) of English-speaking Canada towards Québec.

Islamophobia is not only a problem in Québec, but also in Canada and many parts of the world. Besides the horrible shooting in Québec city 6 years ago, there was a terrible multiple murders in London. Mr Fawcett should remember the parable of « a straw in Qubébec's eye, but a beam in Canada's eye ».

The most rabid promoters of islamophobia are the promoters of the «holy war»; we see it in countries such as Iran and Afghanistan; these people are the enemies of honest , decent muslims! Presently, in these countries, women are being killed if they don't wear the hijab correctly. After the brutal attacks on the world Trade center, Canada and its allied tried to free Afghanistan from this backward view of religion; more than 160 Canadians died in their efforts to free this country from this political (as opposed to religious) Islam. If you oppose Bill 21, are you saying that those Canadians died in vain?

Bill 21 proposes a « divorce » between organised religions and public office; spiritual values are a private (not public ) affair. This applies to all religions, whether Islam or the Catholic church. People can freely practice their religion in their homes or in church (or mosque or synagogue), but the political arm of that religion must not enter into the public domain. Our history may explain our insistance on separating church from politics. One example. In the summer of 1867, there was an election; the issue was to accept or reject confederation (Conservatives for confederation, liberals against ) . In Le Devoir, Jean-François Lisée relates the fact that the Catholic Church had put its full weight for the conservatives. He tells the fact that 6 « mandements » ( bishop's orders) were published on the subject. See

One « mandement » claims that is was a « mortal sin » to vote liberal and another that priests could not forgive the awful « sin » of voting liberal! I have heard exerpts of the gospel read on many sundays, but I have yet to find the passage in the gospel where Jesus says that it is a « mortal sin » to vote Liberal. However, I have seen a passage where he says « My kingdom is not of this world ». And at the same time (1867), the pope was fighting to protect the papal states against the unification of Italy by Garibaldi! The church was defending its kingdoms in this world while violating the preachings of its founder.

Clearly, we need a separation between the politics of an organised religion and public life. If Mr Fawcett is willing to have a public debate on the issue, I am willing to defend Bill 21 and Quebec's position.

I agree and would very much like to see such a debate because it's one about aggressively political religion encroaching on public life. Because the magical thinking of religion (indeed, "not of this world") requires effort to maintain, like the sweet spot in meditation, much regular affirmation is required. Meeting places in publicly subsidized buildings isn't enough, nor are publicly subsidized religious schools, this "faith community" wants to be in government; it's the ultimate sanction for the alternate reality and worldview that these people desperately want to be seen and accepted as REAL but of course the sanction is for THEM as well. They recognize that not everyone agrees with them, but refuse to acknowledge that they believe what they do because they were indoctrinated, usually as impressionable children, and by their beloved families. Christopher Hitchens called this common practice child abuse, and I agree. Lying to children about something as important as the nature of reality is hugely problematic with far-reaching consequences that we can all see. One such is creating a platform for other magical thinking. No wonder so many of the wildly religious Americans bought into the "big lie" and QAnon, the latest addition to religions made in America.
Many feel sorry for Muslim women whose religion is so outsized in their life as to be considered immutable, even though it actually isn't, and who are so blinkered that they also don't see any conflict between their deep love and affinity for Islam and its demonstrably barbaric doctrines that are literally on display regularly, creating affirmations for the rest of us about that religion. It's totally disingenuous of Muslims to ignore that reality, but the dangers of indoctrination are just that, allowing victims a flight of fancy so powerful (five times a day will do that) that reality itself can be easily eclipsed. That's not good.
Those affirmations for us "non-believers" or heretics, are the actions of true believers like Iran who actually murders protesters against their god-given right to murder women who don't express appropriate "modesty" or shame "under HIS eye." And then there's the Taliban righteously setting up gender apartheid in Afghanistan as we speak, even eschewing the agencies trying to help their starving population because WOMEN work for them. Oh, and don't forget the purists of all purists when it comes to Islam--ISIS, who are alive and well. Clearly Islam has a brand problem like no other for good reason and "Islamophobia" is entirely rational. The Liberals pretending otherwise might be the actual and valid origin of the "virtue-signalling" they're accused of. In the current trendy frenzy to defend this religion, "methinks thou doth protest too much," only once have I seen a placard that made sense that said "Just Say No to Islam." Obviously that would require an extensive "recovery" period of de-programming and detox, not to mention risking alienation from a person's family and community, so no small thing, AND the reason such indoctrination with such a massive lie is abusive. It's humanity at its tribal worst.

You know, I just lost a ton of respect for you. I'm an atheist myself, but that's just rancid. In the name of stopping religious oppression, you want to oppress the religious. In the name of stopping some weirdo fanatics on another continent from telling women what to do, you want to tell women right here, what to do. Your position is that we should do what we claim to oppose because the ends justify the means. Or because it's all right when WE do it, just not when THEY do it.

If there's one moral precept popularized by religion that has some solidity, it is "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you". You don't appear to swing that way.

Quebec is the ONLY province willing to even START to push back on religion because they lived the fever dream of intrusive, ubiquitous and highly patriarchal Catholicism there for long enough to ultimately throw it out of public life altogether, returning it to private life where it belongs, but clearly isn't content to stay. I don't know where you live but in Alberta a bunch of evangelicals are in charge and didn't cut funding for religious universities while decimating the others, and opened the floodgates to charter schools, many of which are which are religious, despite "don't pray in my school and I won't think in your church" making all kinds of sense. And Roe V. Wade sure as hell wasn't overturned by atheist judges.
You're not a woman. Women get the shit end of the stick in every religion, but particularly Islam, and the book they all follow IS the same, the creed is the same, which makes the creed the problem; it is by any objective measure an unusually fanatical one. The misogyny is shocking and unnerving, at a whole other level.
Quebec's ruling seems to target Muslim women, but a line is a line, and not all Muslim women wear headscarves either, so there appears to be a choice. To a lot of men it mainly comes off as a fashion choice but to a lot of women it's oppression clear and simple because they wouldn't feel like they had to cover their hair unless they were taught that, which they ARE.
The Muslim women here can go to their mosques (although of course they can't even pray in the same room with the illustrious men) and keep petitioning for their own Islamic schools instead of the public ones despite them being important cornerstones of our democracy, but their precious "faith" can otherwise be "lived" here in private. But how they can completely ignore the absolute horrors of what their particular book sanctions just because it's happening elsewhere without ever even questioning it is irrational but one notes that THEY have managed to escape, bringing their carefully cloistered and cherry-picked religious interpretations with them, recognizing that many people take pride in out-tolerating each other here, not wanting to be labelled Islamophobic any more than racist, wrongly deeming them interchangeable.

So do you, like, KNOW any Muslims? Are you acquainted with anyone who wears a headscarf? Have you paid attention ever to a single word any of those people have said? Have you thought for five seconds about how they feel?
You're all about how they ought be grateful for us being anti-Muslim because in theory, them ceasing to be Muslims would be better. Let's grant the idea that all else being equal, not being religious is an improvement over being religious. Fine, but. In theory, me ceasing to eat sugary desserts would be better, but having the government come along and give me an electric shock every time I pick up a cookie and call me a dirty dessertist would not improve my life.

Oh, but Afghanistan! Look over there! That's all very cute, but it kind of ignores the existence and experience of actual Muslims in Quebec. Never do you mention a single thing about what happens to them, how they are impacted and so on. Clearly you don't give a shit. Which is kind of the problem--there is this category of people that supposedly-not-racist Quebecois don't give a damn about. They're real people, you know.

And I'll be frank: You are being disingenuous in your description of Bill 21. Quebecois do this whole song and dance about "Oh, no, it's all about secularism, it doesn't single out any particular religion or religions bla bla bla"--yeah, bullshit. It was and is deliberately targeted against the only religions that do the stuff it says you can't do. Duh. It's like if you made a law against pretending to drink blood and said it wasn't about Catholics or communion. It's the most audible dang dog whistle I've ever heard. And both the racists and the Muslim (and Sikh) victims hear loud and clear, with the former feeling emboldened and empowered, and the latter feeling scared and excluded, and that was not an accident, that was the point--you can tell by the way nobody ever tried to do anything to counteract any of that. Some people manage to pretend to themselves that the rationale is real, but most are simply lying their asses off. I don't know if you in specific are a willing dupe or a flat out liar, but those are the possibilities.

And yet Quebec -- as do most other provinces -- recognizes Good Friday, Easter Monday, and Christmas as statutory holidays, and also names a fourth after a Christian saint. Claims that Loi 21 is motivated purely by secularism would carry more weight if the legal status of these holidays had been removed.

True, but they did remove the cross in their legislature.
More importantly, they no longer publicly fund Catholic schools.

Only after people had been pointing out the hypocrisy for a few years, but yeah they did.

When it comes to coming to grips with Islamophobia in Quebec, the response of all Federal political leaders is reminiscent of The Emperor Has No Clothes.

Not unlike ALL religions.

“Islamophobia is a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.”
- Andrew Cummins

So, which fascists and what cowards, exactly, are the vile ones we must crush? Have the guts to be specific. That's a really creepy quote you got there. Actually, in the way it dehumanizes a vague enemy, it seems kind of . . . fascist.

Here you go:
Specific excerpt: "The fascists are those religious and political leaders who wish to impose a kind of intellectual tyranny where certain ideas are immune from criticism; those cowards are the privileged few who would restrain free speech and withhold inquiry for fear of backlash or causing offense."

OK, so . . . the article makes that inflammatory quote but actually doesn't say anything much that advances the claim in the quote. And the article isn't by this Andrew Cummins guy, and doesn't identify him. Who the hell is he, anyway? So that doesn't tell me much.

Further, the article is kind of dumb, and mostly wrong. Amusingly, it describes people using the term as including on one hand, leftists who think Muslims can't defend themselves . . . and on the other, Muslims themselves, defending themselves. So apparently there's something terribly paternalistic about leftists using THE SAME TERM MUSLIMS DO. This seems like an objection in search of a problem.

It never gets around to explicitly arguing what the heck it is about use of the term that does anything pernicious, it leaves that implied. But I'll unpack it in a moment. So OK, on one hand, the article totally agrees that Islamophobia is a major problem that should be combated. It's just, it thinks that in the name of free speech we should make people call it something else . . . which is kind of incoherent. And it has two rationales for this, one of which is argued for explicitly, while the other is mostly implicit. And they're both wrong.

So the first argument is that basically the term Islamophobia is inaccurate because Americans are ignorant, and really what is going on is just racism against brown people, who they have been vaguely taught to identify as "Muslims". There is an ounce of truth and a pound or three of inaccuracy about this. Sure, many Americans may struggle to identify a Muslim who isn't brown, or to realize that a brown Sikh isn't a Muslim. And, many Americans may ALSO be somewhat racist against brown people generally (and prejudiced against non-Christians generally, for that matter). But they know Islam is a religion, and they've been told everyone in it is a terrorist who wants to overthrow America and impose Sharia law, which they don't know what it is but it apparently involves doing, um, a lot of the things Christian Dominionists want to do, and that's, um, bad because it isn't Christians doing it . . . it's a vague belief set, but it's very definitely there, and it very definitely identifies Islam as a religion and maybe an ideology. And if you told one of these Islamophobic types that some white person was a Muslim, they would cheerfully hate them (Or if you told them that some black person named, for instance, Barack Obama, was a Muslim, they would hate him more than they would hate him just for being black). If you just hate brown people, you don't put a sign saying "No Muslims" you put a sign saying "No Coloureds". So there is definitely a specific phenomenon being talked about by the term "Islamophobia", and it definitely exists (and indeed, the article you cite is quite clear about it really existing and being a major problem), and it is distinct from generalized racism against brown people.

Which brings us to the implicit argument. The reason the author of this article does not want Islamophobia to be a distinct thing that is based on the religion not just on race, is that he wants to be free(er) to critique the religion of Islam, and if one admits there are a bunch of people criticizing Islam because they're prejudiced against Muslims, that becomes a more difficult thing to do because it is easy for a genuine, rational critique of Islam to either seem indistinguishable from, or lend ammunition to, prejudiced trashing of Islam. Further, if you admit this problem, you have to also admit that people defending Muslims have a reasonable, rational basis for saying nasty things about your critique of Islam, even if your critique of Islam wasn't actually based on prejudice, because lacking telepathic abilities they cannot be sure of that. And he wants to be free to critique Islam without people saying nasty things about him. So he invents this thing where the only problem is prejudice against brown people with no religious component, so that critique of the religion is always OK and carries no baggage. But it is just not true.

So he comes up with a rationale for the idea that Islamophobia is a misnomer for more typical racial prejudice with no real religious component. And then, given that, that anyone using the term Islamophobia is doing it for disingenuous reasons. And, given that their reasons are disingenuous, that while his critiques of Islam would be free speech, other people saying things attacking his critiques as Islamophobia would not themselves be free speech but would be an ASSAULT on free speech, um, because reasons. I think we should be clear that speech criticizing what other people say is not an attack on free speech, EVEN IF you think the people doing the criticizing are full of it. Indeed, he is criticizing what these other people say, and even explicitly claiming they should stop saying it, but would not consider this an assault on their free speech (and he would be right).

I get his problem, but sorry, it's HIS PROBLEM. The world is imperfect, the attack on Islam really is prejudice against Islam not just skin colour, people really do have reasons to object to that, and so impeccably motivated, rational critiques of Islam are often going to look somewhat like Islamophobia. It's a pity, but that's just too bad, and trying to rationalize his way out of it by pretending the world is different from how it is and using that false modeling of the world to tar people with solid reasons for their opinions as fascists, is wrong and in bad faith.