Did You Say the Conservatives Are Visiting Our Mosques?!

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Hussein Hoballah, Montreal

“Did you say the Conservatives are visiting our mosques?!” This was the answer I heard from a prominent Muslim-community figure once he learnt that incumbent Mayor of Brampton, Ontario and federal Conservative-Party-leadership candidate Patrick Brown had visited a group of Montreal’s mosques and held a public iftar at the Château Kabab restaurant in West Island.

After all, the history of the Conservative Party’s stances has in no way led to building good relations with Canada’s Muslim community. The Arab community in general and the Muslim community in particular have been voting for the Liberals, and whenever the Tories are mentioned at Islamic centres, they’re met with unwelcoming reactions. That is, the party’s interior and foreign policies have left no room for connections, harmony or proximity with the community, which has eventually felt closer to any other party than the Tories, be that the Liberal Party, the NDP or the Green Party.

Concerning interior policies, it would be enough to read what former Prime Minister and Tory leader Stephen Harper told CBC during an interview in 2015: “The biggest security threat to Canada a decade after 9/11 is Islamic terrorism.” The words uttered by the Conservative Party’s top official could not be justified or reasoned by any subsequent stances. The Muslim community was then left in great dismay.

In October of 2006, a parliamentary committee recommended extending the effect of two clauses, the enactment of which would end in 2007. One stated that whenever police suspected the commitment of a terrorist act, they could arrest suspects without a judicial order and hold them in custody without charging them for three days. The other clause would allow the concerned judge to force witnesses to testify in secret regarding any earlier connections or pending actions. Witnesses could be jailed if they refused to comply.

A proposal by the Tories to extend those measures three other years came to an end when the three opposition parties united their voices (159-124 votes) against it in February of 2007. But when CBC’s Peter Mansbridge asked Harper if he was planning to re-enact those clauses, Harper confirmed, "That is our plan."

Likewise, Brown’s rival candidate, Pierre Poilievre, has also dismayed the Muslim community. His 2015 election platform included backing the niqab ban during citizenship ceremonies and setting up a tipline to report “barbaric cultural practices” like “sex slavery” or “honour killings.” Back then, critics saw that Poilievre was trying to attract anti-immigrant voters by making those cynical stances. His fan base, in contrast, said his stances were meant to protect two Canadian values: secularism and gender equality.

As to foreign policy, Canada has been blindly supporting Israel’s aggression against the Palestinian and Lebanese peoples. During the 2006 Lebanon War, around 1,200 people, most of whom were civilians, were killed. Among them was the Montreal family of al-Akhras that was visiting motherland when the aggression happened. But the governing Conservative Party did not even bother to send delegation to express condolences for the family’s death. Things got even worse. A Muslim-community delegation met then-parliamentary secretary Jason Kenney in time of the 2006 aggression, complaining about the Israeli aggression and the casualties that had caused Lebanon. A delegation member presented Kenney photos that showed schools, hospitals, infrastructure and civilians that had been targeted. But Kenney (who became immigration minister in 2008) unreluctantly said what Israel was doing was “self-defence” and did “not” violate Canadian values!

A similar stance was made by former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole regarding moving the Canadian embassy to occupied al-Quds (Jerusalem): “Under my leadership, a Conservative government will move the Canadian embassy to Jerusalem and finally recognise the city as Israel’s rightful capital.”

Those standpoints and others have created a gap between the Conservatives and the Muslim community and had made it harder for organisers to promote federal Conservative-Party-leadership candidate Patrick Brown’s visit to Montreal. Somewhat, Brown’s important stances and his established good relations with the community have helped ease the situation, but they haven’t made up for the Tories’ course of action that we’ve spoken about briefly.

While interviewed by Sada al-Mashrek, Brown made significant stances, which, for a while, seemed to be made by a non-Conservative. But Brown made those documented stances unreluctantly in public and shared them via social media.

Most notable perhaps is his iteration that he would fight Bill 21. In fact, Brampton City Council has dedicated $100,000 to help fight Bill 21 in court. Brown as well said, “If the Government of Quebec wants to fight on religious freedom, then the prime minister will have a fight. I will use every tool and resource at the disposal of the Government of Canada to make sure that Bill dies.”

And contrary to the Conservatives’ blind support for Israel, Brown sees that “Canada needs to have a balanced foreign policy and far too often has not been balanced in the Middle East.” As to moving the Canadian embassy to occupied al-Quds, he clearly said, “If I am prime minister, I will not be moving the embassy.”

In relation to the situation in Yemen, the candidate told Sada al-Mashrek, “I am one of the few politicians in the country who are speaking out that Canada needs to stand in solidarity against this. If we can help refugees in Ukraine, why can’t we help in Yemen?”

And regarding the situation in Palestine, he said, “If we can help refugees in Ukraine so quickly, why can’t we help in Palestine?.. I was the first Canadian politician to make a public statement on what happened [last] to al-Aqsa.”

The candidate won’t be able to enact those standpoints unless he is supported by the people demanding them – the Muslim community and their supporters from other communities, who need to help drive change and join the political party. That won’t be easy; it will take much work to convince a big part of our community that the party can change in a short while after its long-term unfriendliness to the community.

it seems Mr Brown is serious about his standpoints. He’s working hard to change the negative perception that the Conservatives have created within the community, and he needs support to enact his programme. If support is not given to him, the others will seize the chance. That’s why Brown says, “If you want to change the Conservative Party to be one that stands with the community, you have to join the party. You have the choice between a far-right, Trump-like Conservative government and one that is a friend to the community.”

Change is possible, and nothing is forever constant in politics. Stances are imposed by the majority of every party, and every party leader gains an essential role whenever supported by that majority. But such a majority won’t be formed if people demanding such stances – like our community – remain far from influence centres, and if they don’t join in, vote and volunteer for the Conservative Party or any other party that we want to listen to us and support us.

So yes, the Tories are visiting our mosques. It is hoped that regular mosque visitors and the community take part in influencing parties that are approaching us and ringing our doorbells. It is hoped that they collaborate with moderate voices in those parties to make Canada a country of tolerance, diversity, multiculturalism and social equality.