The Association of Human Rights Lawyers (AHRL) is an Ontario network of lawyers, law students, and legal workers who practice human rights law. We represent Applicants under the Canadian Human Rights Act and Ontario’s Human Rights Code. The AHRL meets monthly to share information, monitor human rights legal developments, and coordinate law reform efforts. We see the recent increase in Islamophobia and xenophobia, as well as the backlash against refugees as important human rights issues.
The Act and Code evolved based on principles of substantive equality. Too often, these legislative values have not benefited marginalized and vulnerable people in Canada. The horrific mass shooting by Alexandre Bissonnette of worshippers at Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec earlier this year is part of a pattern of emboldened white supremacy in Canada. Racism and white supremacy not only find their expression in acts of violence, hate speech, and vandalism, but also in our political, economic, social and cultural systems, which disproportionately benefit white people.
This violent inequality is neither new nor foreign to Canada. The heightened xenophobia of these times finds its precedent in Canadian laws and policies. These include Canada’s early use of slave labour and its wilful admission of founding KKK members in the 1920s, paired with its simultaneous ban on Black American immigrants fleeing US racism; Canada's ongoing policies of colonialism and Indigenous dispossession (including the countless Indigenous children who were assaulted and killed in Canada’s residential schools); the internment camps in which thousands of civilians of Japanese descent were held during World War II; and the turning away of the 900 Jewish refugees aboard the SS St Louis who were subsequently killed in Nazi concentration camps.
We challenge the naked hatred being visited on our Muslim members and friends, as part of our ongoing challenge to all laws, policies, and social practices that perpetuate colonial and racial exclusion. These include Canada’s continued and widely-denounced reliance on the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015 (formerly Bill C-51), the Designated Countries of Origin List, and the Safe Third Country Agreement, among other laws.
As human rights advocates, we affirm our commitment to the pursuit of substantive equality and justice. We will not stand by as our governments and societies repeat the deadly crimes of this country’s past.
Next Steps for Government Actors
The AHRL calls on all levels of government to meaningfully challenge xenophobia and Islamophobia by:
1. Rescinding the Safe Third Country Agreement, and committing to the timely processing of refugee claims;
2. Lifting the cap on sponsorships of Syrian and Iraqi refugees by Groups of Five and Community Sponsors;
3. Removing the Designated Countries of Origin list;
4. Repealing the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015;
5. Ensuring non-discriminatory access to healthcare, housing, and financial assistance;
6. Repealing the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act; and
7. Repealing Bill C-23, which expands the question, search, and detention powers of US border agents in Canada.
Next Steps for Individuals
The AHRL recommends individuals consider the following practical steps:
1. Be an ally and not a bystander. Speak up against discrimination and misinformation when you see it. Take an active role in educating yourself and those with whom you’re interacting. Staying silent in the face of discrimination normalizes discriminatory attitudes, behaviours, and violence. As lawyers, we have a professional obligation to promote human rights. By speaking up against racist and alarmist remarks or "jokes," and by recognizing examples of discrimination in your own life, we can help promote substantive equality.
2. Participate in anti-hate support rallies. Protest racism and Islamophobia in all their forms. Consider supporting boycotts and other economic sanctions against the promotion of xenophobia and white supremacy. These types of actions show other individuals, corporations, our own government, and even governments of other countries that we do not tolerate white supremacy and racism; that we support our Muslim friends, neighbours and colleagues; and we will stand with them.
3. Stay informed about what is going on in your community, your country, and the world. These are difficult times; many news stories are wearisome and overwhelming to take in these days. But it is critical to stay engaged and reflect on how people’s lives are being directly affected by divisive government laws and policies. Having the courage to face these injustices head-on, and to resist and fight against them as they happen, is what allows you to make to a difference. And you can make a difference!
4. Speak out publicly against racism and white supremacy. Contact your Member of Parliament, Member of Provincial Parliament, and/or local municipal representative. Call on them to support refugees; abide by domestic and international human rights obligations; and take an active stand against white supremacy, Islamophobia, and racism. Write a letter to the editor of your local or national newspaper.
5. Support grassroots organizations working to promote racial justice, refugee rights, and human rights. You can support this important work by joining or becoming a member of the organization, donating money, volunteering your skills and/or time, or simply by spreading the word about the organization, its work, and upcoming events.
6. Form a group that regularly meets to discuss these issues, and support each other in this work. Being part of a group can lend strength and make it easier to stand up and take action in the face of injustices.
This Blog shares developments in human rights law and related issues. As such we hope you'll find this Blog informative - and maybe even fun.