KINGSTON, Ont. — Ontario’s New Democrats and Liberals committed Wednesday to bringing in a law to fight Islamophobia and other forms of hate if elected to form government next month.
Speaking to reporters in Kingston, Ont., NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said addressing racism and hate is a priority for people who have experienced hateful attacks based on their race, faith or any other part of their identities.
She said she is proud of her party’s work with the National Council of Canadian Muslims in bringing forward legislation earlier this year to help address Islamophobia in Ontario. That bill, tabled in February, did not pass before the election campaign began.
“There’s just too much hate out there,” Horwath said. “We have an obligation and a responsibility, leaders do, to take that on and to listen when (a)community says we don’t want to just hear the words. We want you to take action.”
Horwath said it was “extremely disappointing” that the governing Progressive Conservatives did not support the bill.
“It was disrespectful,” she said, promising that her party would re-introduce the legislation.
Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said his party would also pass the anti-Islamophobia legislation if elected on June 2.
“I said from the very beginning that we would move forward with legislation. I’ve already committed to moving as quickly as I can to pass the Our London Family Act,” he said at an unrelated announcement in Toronto on Wednesday.
“It’s not the NDP’s Our London Family Act. It’s the National Council of Canadian Muslims who did all of the work from the very beginning to not only put together and research that legislation, but then to advocate very strongly with every party in the legislature.”
Mustafa Farooq, CEO of the National Council for Canadian Muslims, said his organization held consultations with Muslims from across Ontario and Canada before developing recommendations that were then translated into draft legislation.
“It really is a pretty substantive omnibus piece of legislation that makes change at every level,” he said in an interview.
The legislation tabled by the NDP earlier this year – called the Our London Family Act, in reference to members of a Muslim family killed in London, Ont., last year – would have established a provincial review of hate crimes and hate-motivated incidents in Ontario.
The bill would also designate safe zones around houses of worship, prevent white supremacist groups from registering as societies and establish an anti-racism council that would provide input on government policies.
The legislation would also present new tools for schools to combat racism and empower the Speaker at the legislature to ban protests at Queen’s Park that promote hate.
Farooq said fighting Islamophobia and other forms of hate should be a priority for all political parties.
“We would like to work with all parties. This is not a partisan issue. This is not an NDP piece of legislation. It’s not a Liberal piece of legislation,” he said.
“It’s a piece of legislation to prevent people from dying and from getting hurt, and that’s why it belongs to everybody.”
Farooq said there were positive signals of support to the legislation from the government but that there should be a clear commitment to passing the bill by the Progressive Conservatives.
“We’ve heard initial support for the bill from the Ford governments but we would have liked to see it prioritized to pass in this last session. And we’d certainly like to see it prioritized as a platform piece for for fall,” he said.
Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford didn’t commit to supporting the proposed law when he was asked about it on Wednesday.
He said his party has a strategy to combat hate of any kind and that the Tory government’s minister of multiculturalism had been working on the issue.
“We made a dedicated ministry for that, over on top of the funding before, we’ve added another $30 million for education and security,” Ford said during a campaign stop in Hamilton.
“I have zero, zero tolerance for any hate of any type, for any religious background. We live in Ontario, everyone should be getting along, and honestly 99 per cent of us, probably even higher, all get along, work together, live beside each other.”
The Our London Family Act was drafted after after a Muslim family in London was struck and killed by a truck last June in what police say was a hate-motivated attack.
Salman Afzaal, his wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, died after they were hit by a vehicle during an evening walk on June 6, 2021. Nine-year-old Fayez Afzaal was seriously hurt but survived.
Prosecutors have said a man charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder in the case committed an act of terrorism.
In a different case, Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, was stabbed and killed outside a Toronto mosque in 2020. A man has been charged with murder in his death and police have said they cannot discount that the random attack was motivated by hate.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2022.