National Council of Canadian Muslims sue PMO for libel

| February 11, 2014
Photo: flickr/Sean MacEntee

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What does it mean to be Canadian when you belong to a visible minority?

Growing up on a steady diet of pseudo-liberal Canadian cultural mosaic pride and regular renditions of "This Land is Your Land," I thought that it meant my citizenship; my childhood memories and the rest of my lived experience were enough to legitimize my identity as a 'Canadian,' and afford me the corresponding rights.

As a child, I was told that it meant that I had as much of a right to be here as any other person and that I had the right to practice my religion and express my culture free from harassment or disrespect from anyone, as outlined in section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

But as an adult, I know that the "right to equality before the law and to equal protection of the law without discrimination," didn't make it past my elementary school classroom lessons on bullying. Structuralized racism and pervasive islamophobia taunt me way more than any smartass kid on the playground ever did. 

Emphatic claims of Canada's inclusivity and diversity now ring hollow, with evidence of historical marginalization and examples of derogatory micro-aggressions popping up every day in the news, from rightwing media personalities, offensive politicians and in popular discourse.

These examples are often written off as isolated instances, not representative of true Canadian values, but let's see someone try and explain away the recent traducement of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) that came from the Prime Minister's Office itself.

PMO + hatemongers + defamatory statements = Notice of Libel from NCCM

The NCCM released a statement announcing their "Notice of Libel against the Prime Minister's Office for a 'false, offensive and defamatory' statement made by Jason MacDonald, the PMO's Director of Communications, in an interview with Sun News on January 16th."

The defendants listed in this notice include MacDonald, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada. 

The defamatory statement as quoted in the NCCM's Notice of Libel was in response to the NCCM's criticizing PM Harper's decision to include Rabbi Daniel Korobkin in his recent trip to the Middle East.

"We will not take seriously criticism from an organization with documented ties to a terrorist organization such as Hamas," claimed MacDonald.

Hamas, being the democratically elected party governing the Gaza Strip since 2007. Canada, among others, classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization but a number of countries also do not.

"The NCCM's criticism arose from Rabbi Korobkin's association with Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, whose group, Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), has been designated as a hate group by respected civil liberties monitoring groups," according to the Notice. 

"Mr. Korobkin has chosen to align himself with some of the most recognized and vitriolic anti-Muslim activists of our time," says NCCM Executive Director Ihsaan Gardee in an open letter to PM Harper.

"The highest political office in our nation should not lend its legitimacy to such parties and views that are entirely contrary to our shared values of mutual understanding, acceptance and respect," continues Gardee, "As Prime Minister, you represent all Canadians including people of all faiths and backgrounds. Accordingly, in this situation many Canadian Muslims may perceive that your Government is accepting and legitimizing the promotion of hate against them."

With this final statement, Executive Director Gardee has tapped into the crux of the matter. It is problematic for the Prime Minister of Canada to be rubbing shoulders with associates of known hatemongers because in doing so he is showing all Canadian citizens that he would maintain his relationship with an islamophobe than protect the rights of the million Canadian Muslims he represents in his capacity as Prime Minister of this country.

And if Jason MacDonald's comments are any response, what are members of the Canadian Muslim community supposed to take away from this situation? That the Prime Minister's Office -- from Harper himself to his PR guy -- subscribe only to the most base and conservative stereotypes of Islam? That the man who is leading our country thinks that any Muslim organization is a terrorist one?

The fact that a top Canadian official is making slanderous and islamophobic comments shows that we are still living in a post 9/11 world. What that means for Canadian Muslims is that there exists an instinct to tie Muslim community initiatives to terrorist organizations and that instinct is maintained in our highest level of government.

As for the case itself, the NCCM's decision to take the PMO to court should be commended; however their chances for success seem slim. Can Canadian Muslims really rely on their "right to equality before the law and to equal protection of the law without discrimination" when it is our governmental institution that is the manufacturers of said discrimination?

What's the point of multiculturism if Islamophobia is abound?

How far can the legal legitimacy of Canadian law take us when at every turn our cultural legitimacy, our very existence as Canadians with rights to exist, resist and criticize are immediately dismissed with libelous drivel?

What was the point of singing those songs and participating in multicultural days and memorizing section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms if the man who is meant to represent our interests and his envoy actually think that we are terrorists -- or at the very least hang out with people who are? Can visible minorities can ever really be Canadian?

Finally, how will it be for the next minority group under fire for their tenuous connection to whatever place is on Harper's agenda for political condemnation?

My advice to them would be to remember that your race, creed and religion apparently come before whatever country has its stamp on your passport. It would appear that your Canadianness is about as credible as PMO spokesperson Jason MacDonald, that is to say, not very. 

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Haseena Manek is a freelance journalist based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter here.

Photo: flickr/Sean MacEntee

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