Former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi urges politicians to stand up for Amira Elghawaby

Former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi addressed concerns about Islamophobia in Canada to the Senate Committee on Human Rights virtually on Monday afternoon.

During his presentation, the former mayor urged politicians to stand up for Amira Elghawaby, Canada’s first special representative on combating Islamophobia.

Elghawaby has been mired in controversy since being appointed to the role due to a 2019 opinion column about Quebec’s religious symbols law — widely known as Bill 21 — that she co-authored. She has since apologized.

Nenshi, who has been a vocal critic of Bill 21, says he’s been “extraordinarily vexed” in the last few weeks about the lack of political response to the situation.

“The fact that the special representative has been browbeaten, has been harangued, has been lectured to, has been forced to take meetings with people who are not interested in listening to her but are interested in using her to score political points — to me, really highlights a very serious problem in our country,” said Nenshi in his presentation.

He points to moves the Alberta government has made in effort to deter vandalism of faith institutions, but says that only goes so far. Policymakers also need to stand up for those being impacted by hate, he says.

“I thought that it would be important to make a statement in the corridors of power in Ottawa, in the institutional framework of government to say, ‘Guys … as policymakers, you actually have to be able to have a little more courage,'” said Nenshi on CBC Calgary News at 6.

“We talk about it as though it’s about courage or bravery to stand up for people, but it’s really not. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do, and it is actually just about doing the right thing.”

Recommendations to government

In the meeting, Nenshi was asked to list three recommendations the committee should make to the government to address Islamophobia.

“I would love to see from this committee a straight up condemnation of religiously bigoted laws across this country, including Bill 21 in Quebec,” he said.

The committee also needs to highlight the importance of accepting people from different religious backgrounds, he says, and make a strong statement around anti-racism and anti-religious bigotry.

Nenshi says he knows the committee can’t make laws, but they can take a moral stand to the federal government.

“It really comes down to rethinking the permission space public servants have to do their job so that they can do it better,” said Nenshi in an interview with CBC News.

‘We need to do our part’

Imam Fayaz Tilly with the Muslim Council of Calgary says it’s important that Nenshi is addressing Islamophobia in the country.

“I think it’s important that we don’t hide behind Canada’s multiculturalism,” said Tilly. “Over the past five, six years, unfortunately Canadians who [are] Muslim have been survivors — if not, unfortunately, victims — of hate and anti-Islamic rhetoric.”

Imam Fayaz Tilly of the Muslim Council of Calgary and a chaplain at the University of Calgary says citizens and governments need to do everything they can to address anti-Islamic hate. (Dave Rae/CBC)

According to Statistics Canada, the number of police-reported hate crimes targeting Muslim religions increased by 71 per cent from 2020 to 2021.

Tilly says individuals and all levels of government need to do everything they can to curb this hate or the Muslim community will become increasingly vulnerable to hate crimes.

“We need to do our part, we need to use our voices, we need to use our resources to ensure that not only my community or my own generation, but the generation coming after as well, are safe and have equal opportunity.”

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