Politics
Why this London, Ont. MP voted against a 2017 motion to condemn Islamophobia

Why this London, Ont. MP voted against a 2017 motion to condemn Islamophobia

In the wake of Sunday’s deadly attack on a Muslim family in London, Ontario, politicians from all walks of life have come forward to condemn hatred and violence in that province and across Canada.

Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their daughter Yumna Afzaal, 15, and Salman’s mother, Talat Afzaal, 74, were killed. The youngest member of the family, nine-year-old Fayez, survived and remains in the hospital.

Following Tuesday night’s vigil, Karen Vecchio, the Conservative MP for Elgin-Middlesex-London, is among those who caught on social networks, and said, “Last night I was among 10,000 Canadians who came together to mourn, commemorate and address the issues of Islamophobia.

But in 2017, after six people were killed in an attack on a Quebec mosque, Vecchio voted against M-103, a motion first introduced in 2016, to condemn Islamophobia.

During the recent attack, police said they believed she was premeditated and motivated by anti-Muslim hatred. Community groups and politicians have also spoken out against Islamophobia.

Vecchio spoke to CBC’s Rebecca Zandbergen London morning Thursday morning on why and how she was able to do things differently:

Zandbergen: You were at the vigil on Tuesday with many other politicians. How was it for you?

Old: Standing among more than 10,000 people present to commemorate the family and fight against Islamophobia: it was a very powerful evening. I think since the tragedy on Sunday it’s been a time that a lot of people across London and the region have been thinking because it’s just a family, a family like me. The bottom line is that no family is free until all families are free. No family should ever worry about walking the streets and being targeted because of their religion and appearance.

Zandbergen: You talked a lot about ending racism and Islamophobia this week, but you had the opportunity to support a motion in the House of Commons in 2017 to condemn Islamophobia. You voted against. Tell us why.

Old: I recognize the importance to the community and the importance of moving forward to understand racism and hatred. So M-103 today would be very different to me. But at the time this was introduced in 2016, there was also another motion in the House that I had seconded. It was much wider. I spoke to Iqra Khalid [the Ontario Liberal MP who sponsored the motion] and I respect her and worked with her in the women’s caucus for a while. We had brought forward a slightly different and much broader motion. It spread to different religions … which included Sikh, Jew, Islam. He made everything bigger.

Zandbergen: Would voting for M-103 prevent you from voting for the Conservative motion as well?

Old: No. When I voted I personally thought we should include other communities including Sikhs and Hindus.

Zandbergen: Couldn’t you vote for both?

Old: You are absolutely right. I recognize that, yes, I could have voted for both, and will I do so today? Absolutely. But what I’m saying is that when I was considering these bills, I wanted to expand it.

Zandbergen: But do you regret not voting for this in 2017?

Old: Absolutely yes. I absolutely do.

Zandbergen: your boss [Erin O’Toole] campaigned on a “Take Back Canada” message. Many have pointed out how such language allows Islamophobia to take root. Do you agree with that?

Old: Again, this is the message. We’re looking at our economy right now, so I want to make sure that when we talk about it, we look at the safety of Canadian families, and security includes economics, it includes security, includes everything. So I wouldn’t take what he said in our motto to have anything to do with Islamophobia. That’s not the intention at all and people can try to take any sentence like that and move it around. He is absolutely genuine and wants to make sure we have a safe Canada for all Canadians. And that includes our new immigrants to Canada and our Muslim brothers and sisters.

Zandbergen: So would you recommend campaigning again on a “Take Back Canada” slogan?

Old: I understand where you’re from, but we’re talking economics. I see where you are going with this. And I think every time you have a slogan we have to be very careful because there are going to be a lot of individuals who are going to take it and distort it. Let’s not kid ourselves. When we have political enemies, they like to take anything and twist it.

Zandbergen: How did you contact your Muslim voters during this period?

Old: Lots of phone calls. Lots of people have tried putting things on my Facebook. I find that we are in a time of great hatred. And so I tried to contact all of these people individually. I don’t think social media platforms are the best way to have discussions. I have been on the phone with many people in our own community, including last night at the vigil here in St. Thomas with the St. Thomas Islamic Center. I think we need to do a lot of great work in our small communities and that is the kind of work that I will continue to do.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity

London morning8:32Should the denunciation of Islamophobia be controversial?

London Morning chats with Conservative Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio and asks her what it will take to end racism and Islamophobia in Canada. 8:32

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