Muslim groups voice concerns about Quebec's anti-hate speech bill
Quebec's proposed anti-hate-speech legislation is a plan to fight radicalization and violent extremism, but some have concerns about the proposed bill.
Public hearings on Bill 59 resumed this week in the National Assembly, with representatives from the Muslim Canadian Forum, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, and the Muslim Council of Montreal among those speaking Thursday afternoon.
The government says the bill is a response to three things: the attacks against Canadian soldiers in Quebec and in Ottawa last autumn; to young Quebecers leaving or attempting to join jihadist groups in the Middle East; and to a public backlash against the Muslim community.
For Samer Majzoub, president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, the law has its merits. He said the bill can turn out to be positive for Quebec’s society, but it’s not completely clear.
“We are looking for some clarifications of definitions. What exactly is hate speech? We would really like for this to be clarified,” he said.
The bill gives the Quebec Human Rights commission the power to create that definition, and to investigate any complaints. Those eventually found guilty by the Commission would have their names published on a website for all to see, so some say this has the potential to turn into a witch hunt.
“We cannot call for hate, we cannot call for violence against a group of people. This is what it's all about, it's a bill about protection,” said Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee.
But Salam Elmenyawi of the Muslim Council of Montreal feels the bill isn't necessary.
“There's no need for a new regulation, especially if we're not using the old one. We already have the right tools in the criminal code,” he said.
And while the anti-hate speech bill is partly an effort to fight Islamophobia, Elmenyawi fears it could end up unfairly targeting the Muslim community.
“A lot is left for the discretion of a civil servant in an administrative process that can destroy somebody's life,” he said.
The Canadian Council of Muslim Women is concerned about the language in the bill dealing with so-called "honour" crimes. Member Samaa Elibyari said she fears it could promote harmful stereotypes about Islam.
“If you talk about an honour crime, you are maybe implying that there could be an excuse. However a crime is a crime, and there's no excuse,” she said.
Despite the sensitive nature of the bill, the justice minister says the tone of the debate has been respectful.
“There have been some critics, but the exchanges and the dialogue has been present. It's very soft, and that's the way it should be when we're talking about a delicate issue,” Vallee said.
There are still several days set aside for various interest groups to speak at these hearings, which will continue until late September.