First GTA Muslim Community Meetings with Public Safety Minister

by on June 24, 2012  •  In Events

Diverse representatives from the GTA’s Muslim community met for the first time with Public Safety Minister Vic Toews on Friday June 8, 2012 in Hamilton, Ontario to discuss a wide range of issues.   In fact, to our knowledge, this was the first substantive meeting in the GTA between the Muslim community and any Conservative Minister since Prime Minister Harper’s first government was elected in 2006.

So perhaps to make up for lost time and opportunities, there were in fact two distinct meetings held on that day.

The first was a meeting with about seven leaders and Imams of the Somali Muslim community, which was reported in a story in the Globe and Mail

The meeting lasted just over one hour  and in some ways it was a continuation of previous dialogue that had taken place with the Ministry of Public Safety without the Minister in various cities, including a conference in Ottawa in December 2010 (see conference report – final). Mr. Farah Aw-Osman, the Ottawa-based Executive Director of Canadian Friends of Somalia was instrumental in setting up the Hamilton meeting.

While much of what was discussed was confidential, other than what was reported in the Globe story and the general concerns of Somali youth involved in gangs and instances of radicalization, the Somali representatives expressed their very strong concerns about the language used by Government representatives in describing national security threats including the terms “Sunni” Islam.

The second meeting the same day, saw Minsiter Toews meet with representatives from Muslim lawyers, charities and the Hamilton Mosque.  Mr. Hussein Hamdani, a Hamilton lawyer and  member of the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on National Security was instrumental in organizing this meeting and provided with a report of this meeting:

“The Minister of Public Safety met with representatives of the Canadian Muslim community in Hamilton as part of a joint North American Spiritual Revival (NASR) and Canadian Muslim Lawyers’ Association (CMLA) sponsored meeting. In attendance at the meeting were Yusra Siddique, President of the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Assocation (and also member of CCRNS), Firdaus Walele (lawyer), Sara Khan (lawyer), Omar Shabbir Khan (lawyer), Maryam Dadabhoy (Cair-Can), Zaid al-Rawni (Islamic Relief), Sallah Hamdani (NASR), Ibrahim Danial (lawyer) and Hussein Hamdani (lawyer).

“The Muslim representatives expressed their concern with the language the federal government has used in the recent countering violent extremism strategy.  The representatives shared with the Minister various studies in general and an Australian study in particular that looked at the consequences of using exclusionary language.  The representatives asked for four items and the government agreed to work with the representatives on the items, which are:

1.  Use better language (stay away from alienating language and employ more inclusive language)

2.  Support moderate and moderating voices in the Muslim communities through grants and funding [war for the hearts and minds]

3.  Help fund a 3-year leadership and civic engagement project for Muslim youth in between Toronto and Hamilton

4.  Establish a Muslim community working group that meets with the Minister of Public Safety on a biannual basis.

A subcommittee of the representatives is in contact with the Ministry of Public Safety on next steps.”

Here is Mr. Hamdani’s Power Point Presentation to Minister Toews.

The importantace of language which was conveyed to Minister Toews was explored in Australia which produced an excellent Report and Language Guide which are yet to be released to the public.  In the meantime, reference could be made to the Policy Brief written by Law Prof. Mohammad Fadel for the U.S. based Institue for Social Policy and Undertanding and the U.K. British Council called Language Matters: Talking about Islam and Muslims.

As the two groups of representatives independently conveyed similar concerns over the language used, it remains to be seen whether the Conservative Government will take the concerns of the community into account in the future when making references to threats to national security.

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Irfan is a Business and Charities lawyer as well as a Trademark Agent. He is a principal in the firm of Kutty, Syed & Mohamed based in Toronto (Scarborough), Ontario, Canada. His clients range from individual entrepreneurs, family businesses and private companies to not-for-profit organizations, charitable institutions and public companies.

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