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On Friday Sept. 18, in response to the sorely lacking Muslim vote in previous elections, hundreds of Muslims from the GTA convened at the Aga Khan Museum to gain some insight regarding which political party they would vote for in the coming election.
Conservative candidate Karim Jivraj, NDP candidate Andrew Cash, Liberal candidate John McCallum and Green candidate Adnan Shahbaz were asked questions crowd-sourced from Muslim youth on three themes: citizenship and immigration, security and Islamophobia, and inequality and unemployment. Moderators Naheed Mustafa and Ginella Massa, both established journalists structured the debate to ask three questions per theme, one of which was selected from tweets with #muslimyouthdb8.
At around 6.45 p.m., the auditorium was alive with chatter. Emcee Zaib Sheikh prefaced the debate with clichès about how voting would give a voice to the voiceless. After formal acknowledgements and applauses, the moderators laid down ground rules, including the first reference to a “zero tolerance policy” except that this one had to do less with barbaric practices and more to do with audience interruptions of the debate.
One issue that the debaters took on was Bill C-24, which became law in May and introduces a two-tiered system that allows the government power to revoke Canadian citizenship and deport Canadians with dual citizenship.
Jivraj argued that anyone who committed an act of terrorism had severed their ties of loyalty to the Canadian state and deserved to be deported. McCallum and Cash agreed that the only place that Bill C-24 belonged was “in the garbage can” and that terrorists belonged in jail, assuming that they would have access to a legal trial.
Shahbaz enriched the discussion, noting that laws that addressed issues of terrorism already existed, and that the reason that this bill and Bill C-51 existed was to fester a rhetoric of fear that criminalizes Muslims, especially given the fact that Prime Minister Stephen Harper specifically referenced mosques and basements of Muslim households as spaces that allowed for these discourses and practices to fester.
On the topic of Syria, each representative committed to bringing in a given number of refugees. Only Shahbaz linked the crisis in Syria to larger global forces like climate change and requested a more nuanced understanding of the background of ISIS in Syria, to which Jivraj passionately promoted air strikes as an action that will somehow ultimately “allow Syrian girls to go to school.”
What became clear during the debate was that while the Liberals voted in favour of Bill C-51 in Parliament, they condemned it to the Muslim audience. McCallum’s response to this point was that there were aspects within the bill that the Liberal party inherently agreed with, implying that the case of dual citizen Maher Arar would not have resulted in his deportation and torture had the RCMP and CSIS shared resources based on the provisions that allow for surveillance within this bill.
On the topic of inequality and unemployment, Cash noted that an NDP priority was to phase out unpaid internships and to systematically reduce student debt by starting with a $10,000 grace on OSAP loans. The Liberals referenced an infrastructure strategy that they would use to ensure that disenfranchised members of Canadian society had employment. The Green party envisioned phasing out student debt entirely over an extended period, and the Conservatives did not provide a strategic plan to address unemployment, noting that “the middle class is doing just fine.”
In addition to some discussion on the Quebec Charter of Values and missing and murdered Indigenous women and each party’s commitment to the plight of the racialized woman in Canada, there was some discussion on the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act.
While Jivraj asserted that the term “cultural” was entirely appropriate and had no racial undertones, the Liberal party sought to get rid of the word “cultural” and the NDP committed to phasing out the act entirely, and again, Shahbaz pointed out that laws already exist to address issues covered in this act, and that its purpose was to fester a rhetoric of fear.
Finally, on the topic of endorsing or fighting the BDS movement, the NDP and Green Party asserted that both Israel and Palestine had a right to exist and that platforms that allow these discussions to be had will not be interrupted by the hand of the state. The Liberals and Conservatives finally consented on something and this was that non-violent movement was apparently inherently anti-semitic. However, both Green and NDP foresaw a two-state solution without considering actual Palestinian realities and input.
The energy in the room was already spirited at the end of the debate. Party representatives presented what audience members expected and did not provide any exceptional selling points.
However, what seemed clear to me at the end of the debate was that the Conservative Party had lost this audience’s vote, and that even though the Green Party had the strongest platform, the Muslim vote would be split between the NDP and the Liberals.
Editor’s note: The last paragraph of this article is a personal observation on the part of our reporter.
Aaliya is a YorkU graduate who studied Political Science and Communication Studies. She is the founder of Diaspora Defiance, a community blog on the experience of the woman of colour in the West and has been published in Masala Militia, an online Zine that negotiates what it means to be South Asian in Canada. She has worked at the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Support Line for three years and is currently the finance coordinator there. She has also been on the board of the Ontario Public Interest Group and has spoken at No one is Illegal events.
Photo: Sarah Hassanein