Promotion and Protection Canadian Council of Muslim Women
of Human Rights P.O. Box 154,
Working Group on Minorities, Gananoque, ONT
12th Session www.ccmw.com
Muslim Women in Canada Thank you Mr. Chairman for giving me the opportunity to speak. My name is Salima Ebrahim and I represent the Canadian Council of Muslim Women. I would like to draw the attention of the Working Group on Minorities and the international community to the situation of Muslim Women in Canada.
Canadian Muslim women are not ethnically, culturally or linguistically intertwined, but they are bound by a common religion, that of Islam. Islam is the second largest of the three Abrahamic faiths in Canada, and according to the 2001 census, form a little over 2% of the population. As a group, Muslim women have easily integrated into the Canadian mosaic, but were pushed into the spotlight after the events of September 2001, with stereotypes and myths about Muslim women abound in the media and within the larger Canadian society. Although the attacks were in the United States, Canada felt its aftermath. The ramifications of 9/11 in Canada were wide reaching and have been both negative and positive and have had an immediate impact on Muslims and Arabs in Canada because the perpetrators were Muslim and Arab.
Mr. Chairman, in this report I would like to highlight two items: one, the situation of Muslims in Canada in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001, and two, Muslim Women’s experience of discrimination in Canada.
In a report by the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, which assessed the situation of Muslim and Arab people in various parts of the world in the aftermath of the events of 11 September 2001, it was found that ‘according to the numerous reports from human rights organizations, men, women, and children were attacked in the United States, Canada, Western Europe and certain parts of Africa and Asia, not because of anything they had done, the way they acted or what they said, but because they belonged or were thought to belong to a particular religion or ethnic group or community.’1 Moreover, it was also found that ‘hostile acts related to 11 September took place all over the country…and that these terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 were the main cause of the 66 per cent rise in reported cases of hate crimes,’2 which included bomb alerts in mosques, arson, physical attacks, harassment and attacks against Muslim students.
Although the government at the time called for the rejection of stereotypes based on nationality or religion, the anti-terrorist measures put in place to combat terrorism had the opposite effect. Canada’s anti-terrorism bill, Bill C-36, which entered into force on 24 December 2001, was such an act. A number of Muslim organizations wrote to the Prime Minister expressing their concern that certain ethnic or religious minorities would be targeted by these provisions, and that the Bill ignores fundamental protections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the criminal justice system, and abandons basic fairness and the rule of law. In essence, Bill C-36 was drafted in haste, fast-tracked and it is intrinsically flawed.3 There are mounting concerns that Canadian officials have conducted investigations in security-related cases in ways that have directly or indirectly led to Canadian citizens experiencing serious human rights violations in other countries. There is concern that this may have been a deliberate practice, or at least carried out with willful blindness to the risk of human rights abuses. It is vital that there be a thorough review of the possibility that an approach of this nature has existed, or even may still be part of Canadian practice.4 Furthermore, the use of security certificates is also a grave problem. This has been pointed out by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention which says that ‘elements of the certificate regime jeopardize a person's rights to a fair hearing, to challenge the evidence used against them, and to ensure judicial review of their incarceration’. The report also expresses concern that ‘all four men currently imprisoned under security certificates are Arab Muslims. A fifth man, also Muslim, has been released from jail but is strictly monitored by authorities.’5
This climate of suspicion and stereotyping has led to increased racism and discrimination, particularly against Canadian Muslim women who are triply discriminated against due to their colour, gender and religion. In a report titled Triple Discrimination- Muslim Women’s Experiences of Discrimination prepared for CCMW, it was found that Muslim women are the most discriminated of the faith communities in Canada for which the data is available. Moreover, an overwhelming majority of Canadians in every region agree that Muslims are the main target of discrimination, with 80% of the Canadians questioned in 2004 saying that Muslims encounter one or more incidents of discrimination or unfair treatment.6 Furthermore, in spite of society becoming more inclusive and accepting of change, anti- Muslim sentiment is rising; in the same report, it was found that while 11 per cent of Canadians saw discrimination against minorities as more of a problem in 2004 than before, four times as many (45 per cent) said that anti- Muslim sentiment was rising among the people they knew.7
Women are subjected to particular discrimination in the workplace. A study of barriers faced by Muslim women in the labor market, done in 2002, concluded that ‘8women who wear hijab…do experience discrimination as a result of wearing the hijab…this form of discrimination cannot be separated from anti- Muslim discrimination’. Moreover, a recent study released by the Canadian Council of Muslim Women argued that Muslim females had experienced only a small reduction in unemployment over time. Despite being one of the most highly educated faith communities, they have the highest unemployment rate among the two dozen or more faith communities. Many of those who have jobs do not work in their field of specialization and others hold term, casual, and part-time jobs. The incidence of unemployment at 16.5 per cent in 2001 (the latest data available) was more than double the national female unemployment rate and the highest among more than two dozen faith communities.
Mr. Chairman, lastly I would like to bring your attention to the rise in hate crimes against Muslims post 9/11, where two-thirds of the hate crimes reported to the Toronto police in 2001 were against Muslims.9 However Muslim organizations contend that the situation is much worse than the data indicate because many Muslims do not report hate incidences. This is more so the case for females due to social and cultural norms, and due to the perception of discrimination in the justice system, as exemplified by a survey carried out by Heritage Canada in 2004 which showed that 17 per cent of visible minorities felt that they had been discriminated or unfairly treated while dealing with the justice system.10
Mr. Chairman, I would like to propose the following recommendations to the Canadian government to ensure that Muslim women are not discriminated against:
1. The Government of Canada should fund governmental as well as non-governmental and inter-faith projects that aim to increase the knowledge of Islam and Islamic Practices
There is a general lack of awareness of Islam within the mainstream communities. Disseminate accurate information to mainstream community about Islam that also attempts to dispel prevailing myths and misconceptions. And ensure discussions about Islam that are not relegated to 'hot issues' like hijab and terrorism.
2. Educate the media. The mainstream media must change its coverage. The media needs to be more aware of Islam the faith, and less as a stereotype. The Muslim community should also provide the media with contact names of Muslim organizations and community leaders who can best fulfill the needs of the media.
3. Ensure transparency in all government policy as well as stakeholder consultations with various members of the Muslim community, taking into account sectarian differences. Ensure this is done prior to legislation being brought to the House of Commons.
4. When collecting data the government should disaggregate it based on gender and religion. This will allow us to capture the level of discrimination against Muslim women much more accurately.
5. Ensure that the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance during his country visit to Canada in 2004 have been followed through, particularly those related to minorities in Canada.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Ms. Salima Ebrahim
1 P. 6, Report by the SR on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance on the Situation of Muslim and Arab people in various parts of the world in the aftermath of the events of 11 September 2001.
2 Ibid., p. 10
3 Open letter on Bill C-36 from a number of Muslim organizations: http://www.canadianliberty.bc.ca/liberty-vs-security/muslim_canadian.html
6 Jodey Michael Derouin, Perceptions of Discrimination, presented at Immigration and Outmigration Atlantic Canada at Crossroads, November 19, 2004, source attributed to Environics Group, research commissioned by Heritage Canada, 2004
8 Women Working with Immigrant Women, no title, 2002, http://ccmw.com