June 2016

Prime Minister Trudeau Introduces Legislation Protecting Gender Diversity
The heart painted

There have been huge strides in the LGBT Community recently.

Even if you don’t follow politics in the United States, you’ve probably seen something about the transgender bathroom policy debate. In a nutshell, there are certain locations in the United States that are passing laws to limit bathroom use based on a person’s sex at birth, whether the person identifies as a different sex today. It’s turned into a national debate, with businesses, states, cities, and the federal government each weighing in. While this situation should be watched, the real news in Canada is that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has introduced a bill that extends human rights protections of gender diversity to all Canadians.

Gender identity is described as an individual’s personal experience of gender. It’s not the same thing as their sexual orientation. Essentially, it is a sense of being a man or woman, or neither, or anywhere along that spectrum. Often, when a person’s gender identity is different than their assigned sex at birth, they may be called transgender. Cisgender is the term for gender identity that conforms to the gender given at birth. Gender expression is how people present the gender in public, which might be through dress, hair style, body language or voice.

Five Key Things to Understand About the Legislation

On May 17, 2016, the Government of Canada introduced a bill that would give basic human rights to the gender-diverse community. According to the Department of Justice website, there are five things that you should understand about the new legislation.

  1. Gender diversity is an umbrella term that includes gender identity, gender expression and transgender.
  2. The “Canadian Human Rights Act” would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.
  3. The Criminal Code will be amended to include hate crimes based on gender identity or expression. These types of criminal offenses could have longer sentences.
  4. According to a study from 2010, 18 percent of transgender participants had been denied employment based on their gender identity. Transgender individuals face much higher levels of discrimination than cisgender individuals.
  5. Transgender individuals face higher risks of violent crime. One study estimates that at least 20 percent of the participants had been physically or sexually assaulted. Many people do not report these crimes to the police.

Currently, the “Canadian Human Rights Act” prohibits discrimination based on:

  • Race
  • Ethnic origin
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • Colour
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital status
  • Family status
  • Disability
  • Convictions when a pardon or suspension has been ordered

The proposed legislation would make it clear that transgender individuals have protection under the law.

Social Media Discussion

PM Trudeau opened the discussion on Twitter with the hashtag #FreeToBeMe. Overall, the bill has support from many different organizations and leaders, including the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board; Bill Morneau, Member of Parliament for Toronto Centre and Canada’s Minister of Finance; Eric Alper, SiriusXM Host; and TELUS, a communications provider. The hashtag is also being used on Facebook with a great deal of support.

Once the legislation is passed, it will be a huge step forward for LGBT rights in Canada and in the international venue. Canada is on the forefront of human rights for all its citizens. Jody Wilson-Raybould,

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, issued this quote:

“In Canada, we celebrate inclusion and diversity. All Canadians should be safe to be themselves. The law should be clear and explicit: transgender and other gender-diverse persons have a right to live free from discrimination, hate propaganda, and hate crime. We are committed to making Canada stronger by ensuring Canadian laws reflect the rich diversity of our people.”

More governments need to take up the fight for inclusion and safety for all their citizens. Trudeau and the other leaders who support this legislation make us proud to live here.

Ontario Mosque Donates Funds to the Community
Ontario Mosque Donates Funds

Ontario Mosque Donates Funds

You might be wondering why it’s news that a mosque is giving back to the community, but it’s an interesting story. The only mosque in Peterborough, Ontario, suffered damages after the Paris bombing attacks. A firebomb had been placed in a window, causing a fire. It was not the only mosque targeted in Ontario. Fortunately, no one was injured in the bombing, although there were people in the building just an hour before the firebomb went off. Members were celebrating the birth of a baby, according to the president of the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association (KMRA), the group which oversees the mosque.

Aftermath of the Bombing

While the congregation of the mosque waited for it to be rebuilt, a local synagogue hosted prayer sessions for them. A crowdfunding campaign was started to ensure that the resources would be available to pay for the damages. Almost $100,000 was raised in just a few days. The damages were estimated at $80,000. Insurance ultimately paid for the repairs, which left the donations free and clear for the mosque.

The KMRA reported that they also received many letters and emails from across Canada demonstrating support for the mosque. Individuals in the community came together in solidarity, with people leaving flowers and notes outside of the building. Some women held a drumming and singing vigil after the fire. The KMRA reports that it had to install security cameras, just in case there is another attack. This is the second time the mosque has been damaged after an international incident. The first time was after the 9/11 attacks. In that attack on the mosque, only windows were smashed.

What Happened to the Money?

The KMRA is donating the crowd-funded money to the YMCA Crossroads women’s shelter and to another shelter in the community which works with children and teens who have special needs. The association wanted to assist those who were vulnerable, because that is how they feel right now. This is a statement from their website:

“We the members of the KMRA are shocked and deeply disturbed by the November 14th incident at Masjid Al-salaam. The damage of the incident which is now being investigated as a possible hate crime has been estimated to exceed $80,000. In spite of the incident, we are deeply touched and highly encouraged by the overwhelming support we have received from the Peterborough community at large. We will continue to work with all faith groups and concerned citizens in raising awareness of peace and tolerance. We are thankful to all those who have extended their support to our community and we look forward to strengthening ties with the broader Peterborough community.”

The attitude of the mosque’s leadership should be commended. Instead of turning inward and shutting out those in the community who reached out to them after the tragedy, they turned around and did what they could for the neediest individuals.

Imam Shazim Khan stated that the building was “rebuilt better than it was before.” The entire congregation is taking the incident as a way to demonstrate their faith.

According to the Peterborough Examiner, the individuals which gave money to the crowd-funding campaign had a chance to get their money back if they chose. KRMA was upfront with the donators that the money would be donated to the community, instead of being used for rebuilding the mosque.

On December 23, the mosque reopened with a prayer service. It’s reported that there will be an open house on January 17. Whatever faith you do celebrate, this open house would be a great chance to learn more about the Muslim religion and people. This mosque has demonstrated its heart and character after a devastating event.

Will the Syrian Refugee Crisis Affect the Election?

Syrian Refugee need help

Christian voters are concerned about the Conservative Party’s reluctance to welcome Syrian refugees to Canada. Although the government has pledged to bring in 10,000 refugees, the regulations make it difficult to get help to families in need. With the recent announcement that those rules would be relaxed, some people are saying that it’s too little, too late. On the other extreme, others are concerned that the lax security will alienate hard-liners who believe the party is yielding to pressure in front of the election.

Religious Organizations Are Making the Difference

Who is stepping up in Canada to help the refugees? Since 2013, about 2,500 refugees have arrived in the country, but data has not been released about their ethnic or religious vulnerability. One news organization discovered that about half of the 1,000 refugees admitted in 2015 are individuals who are the most vulnerable. Because the United Nations has a policy to help the vulnerable first, this information is important to the government’s claim that they are working to help alleviate the crisis.

However, what’s interesting about those 500 refugees is that most of them were privately sponsored instead of being government sponsored. The Canadian government has brought in about 400 refugees and private groups have brought in about 600 refugees this year to date. Only 5 percent of the government sponsored refugees are in the vulnerable minorities that the UN is targeting. On the other hand, 90 percent of those brought in by private groups are in the minority categories that are a priority.

There are allegations that the Canadian government is cherry-picking refugees and discriminating against the Sunni or Shiite Muslims. However, private organizations are probably more equipped and better organized to handle the sponsorships. Christian organizations, in particular, have been dealing with refugees long before the current crisis.

Although Muslim communities want to lend a hand, one of the problems they face is that they are young and still paying off or renting mosques. Many Muslims are sending money abroad. In addition, they don’t have the experience dealing with the process of bringing refugees to the country. There are also national, political, and religious subdivisions which make working together more difficult.

Top Google Searches Demonstrate the Need for Information

Earlier in September, Google tracked the top queries from Canadians. The young Turkish boy who died on the coast of Turkey most likely precipitated the want of information, but it does demonstrate the desire to learn more. Over September 2 and 3, these were the most asked queries on Google:

  • How to sponsor a Syrian refugee?
  • How to help the refugees?
  • Why is the Syrian refugee crisis happening?
  • What is the cost of a Syrian refugee in Canada?

Where to Turn to Help

It’s evident that the country wants to help the refugees, but mobilization isn’t easy. It takes time to process the paperwork required by the government out of security. No one wants to just let in everyone without some sort of screening, but there is an immediacy for humanitarian aid no matter which party you support.

Hay Doun has brought in around 650 Syrian refugees since 2013. They are an Armenian Christian organization based in Montreal, and they have the experience to navigate the process and get people resettled here. Previously, Hay Doun was able to get refugees relocated in about 10 months, but even they are facing delays due to the paperwork slowdown.

Whatever your beliefs, if you’re interested in helping alleviate the crisis, you should work with the organizations who are making a difference. It’s time to rise above religious or political lines and reach out to those in need. Hopefully, the upcoming elections don’t affect what is being done to rescue the refugees and let them start a new life.


The Battle Over Niqab

Beautiful blue eyed woman in traditional niqab veil

Zunera Ishaq, a woman who holds devout Muslim beliefs, moved to Ontario from Pakistan in 2008. When she was going to participate in a citizenship ceremony, she had to decline because she would be required to remove her niqab, a head veil that is a symbol of her faith and modesty. This set off a battle in the courts. On September 17, 2015, the Federal Court of Appeals upheld Ishaq’s right to wear her niqab, stating that, “banning face coverings at such ceremonies was unlawful.”

Head Coverings – What’s the Difference?

Muslim women wear different types of head coverings. If you aren’t familiar with these articles of clothing, the names can be confusing. Here is a primer:

  • Hijab – A hijab covering is the most common in the West. It covers the head and neck while leaving the face clear.
  • Niqab – A niqab is a veil for the face that usually leaves the eyes clear. It’s typically worn with a headscarf.
  • Burka – A burka is a one-piece veil that covers the face and body and has a mesh screen for the eyes to see through.
  • Shayla – A shayla is a long scarf that is wrapped around the head and leaves the face clear.
  • Chador – A chador is a full cloak that covers the entire body and is typically worn when outside the house.

The Argument Against Head Coverings

One of the reasons that the government is arguing that Muslims should remove their veils during the citizenship ceremony is so they can hear them say the oath. However, it is possible to hear someone speak under the veil. Another argument is that of identification. Again, women who wear these garments are willing to accommodate the need to be identified. One survey of Muslim women found that they would be happy to remove their veils for facial identification. Wearing veils during the ceremony doesn’t change who they are.

Earlier this year, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper went so far as to condemn the wearing of the niqab because it is “rooted in a culture that is anti-women.” The Conservatives are being charged with practicing divisive policies because they have taken this fight over the niqab so far. The Conservatives say that they will appeal the most current ruling of the Federal Court, making some wonder why it is so important to them when the women are not complaining.

Freedom of Religion

Advocates for the right to wear the niqab believe that it is a restriction of religious freedom when the state tries to use its power to dictate what a woman can or cannot wear. Justin Trudeau believes that in a free country such as Canada, individuals should have the right to wear a niqab, just as others can choose to dislike it. However, the state itself should not be in the middle of it unless it poses a threat to society.

How Do You Respond to a Woman Wearing a Niqab?

The Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) surveyed Muslim women across Canada to give them a voice by asking why they wore the niqab. Not one of the women surveyed answered that they are forced to wear the veil. The two most common reasons that women gave for wearing it were for religious beliefs and personality identity. The CCMW is working to ensure Muslim women are not denied their rights just because so many people do not understand this minority.

If you are in a position of authority and need to see a woman’s face for identification purposes, politely explain your position and make the request. A woman may be more comfortable allowing another woman to identify and see her face, but most agree that they have to cooperate with the government as part of their religion. Otherwise, you should just consider the niqab as any other item in a woman’s attire. Respect their choices, even if you don’t agree with them. As for Ishaq, she plans on taking her lawyers to the citizenship ceremony, just in case.

Religious Equality in Canada

Saquenay, Quebec, home of the Canadian Government's acceptance of religious equality.

The debate over religious equality has been a hot topic in Canada. While approximately 67 percent of the country’s citizens identify themselves as Christians, that still leaves a large part of the population to embrace other forms of spirituality (or claim no religious affiliation whatsoever). Issues such as employers providing time-off for non-Christian holidays and the legality of prayers before municipal meetings have both been issues.

Celebrating Non-Christian Holidays

Having time off to celebrate religious holidays is important to many people. The majority of Canadians receive paid days off for the following statutory holidays. Some are nationwide and a few are province specific.

  • New Year’s Day
  • Good Friday or Easter Monday
  • Victoria Day (except NB, NS, PE, NL)
  • Fete Nationale (Quebec only)
  • Canada Day
  • Labour Day
  • Thanksgiving (except NB, NS, PE, NL)
  • Christmas Day

While the majority of these dates are secular, two are religious (Easter and Christmas). Christians don’t have to request time off for these days because they are automatically included in the list of statutory holidays. People of different religions often need to ask for time off for their holy days since they are not usually recognized vacation days in Canada. In most situations, employers now have to accommodate the religious beliefs of eligible employees and grant them leave, if requested.

Legal Precedents

The Canadian courts require companies to allow employees who are not Christian time to celebrate their own holidays, as long it does not place any unreasonable burden on the employer. Federally regulated industries like banks, telecom companies and airlines must comply with this as well under the Canadian Human Rights Act. There a number of ways Canadian employers can accommodate these requests including switching work schedules and offering floating vacation days. There have been several milestone lawsuits that have reinforced this view.

  • Commission Scolaire Regionale de Chambly v. Bergevin

This case involved three Jewish teachers who requested time off for Yom Kippur, the most important holiday of the Jewish year. The leave had been approved by the school board, but without pay. The Canadian Supreme Court ultimately ruled the teachers should be paid for the time off, and doing so did not impose undue hardship on the school district.

  • Ontario Human Rights Commission and O’Malley vs. Simpson-Sears Ltd.

Theresa O’Malley, a Seventh Day Adventist, refused to work on Saturdays because it was the day her religion observed the Sabbath. She was subsequently fired from her job. The case made it to the Supreme Court of Canada and the justices unanimously ruled in favor of Ms. O’Malley, and ordered her employer to pay back wages.

Employers’ Undue Hardship

Employers do have a means of recourse. They can claim accommodating these requests places an undue hardship on their business or organization. However, it is relatively difficult to successfully argue these cases, because most Canadian companies routinely adjust work schedules based on holidays or sick days.

Prayers at City Council Meetings

In further support of the need to provide greater religious equality in Canada, the Canadian Supreme Court unanimously ruled on April 15 to ban reciting prayers prior to city council meetings in Saquenay, Quebec. The decision read, “The state must instead remain neutral in this regard. This neutrality requires that the state neither favour nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non-belief. It requires that the state abstain from taking any position and thus avoid adhering to a particular belief.” A number of other municipalities have already followed suit and done away with their pre-meeting prayers as well. It will take time to understand the full impact this ruling will have on religious equality in Canada.

Canada is considered one of the most religiously tolerant countries in the world. However, it has taken time and lawsuits for non-Christian Canadians to attain greater legal support for exercising their beliefs.



Religious Freedom for Canadian Muslims

Muslim woman's eyes peering through a traditional hajibCanada is a country where religious freedom is a given. Numerous immigrants chose Canada specifically because of the rights afforded to residents. For many people worldwide, head coverings are an essential part of their beliefs. Recent events have called into question the rights of Canadians to wear certain religious headwear.


Beyond the Burka: Traditional Muslim Headwear

Confusion about the different types of head coverings may have contributed to the debate. Here are some of the most popular ones people wear:

  • Burka: The most concealing of all headware, the burka covers the entire body and obscures the face. There is a semi-transparent rectangular piece around the eyes so the wearer can see.
  • Niqab: The niqab is slightly less concealing than the burka. The area around the eyes is clear, but the rest of the face is veiled.
  • Hijab: The hijab is most frequently worn by Muslim women in Western countries and is available in a wide variety of colors and styles. It is a headscarf that leaves the face unobscured while covering the head and chest.
  • Al-amira: A two-piece veil, an al-amira is made of a snugly fitted cap and tub-like scarf that covers the head and neck, but not the face.

2015 Headwear Controversy

The most recent controversy involved a woman who wore a hijab to a court proceeding in early March. The automobile insurance board of Quebec had seized Montreal resident Rania El-Alloul’s car, and she was trying to recover it. Judge Eliana Marengo refused to hear her testimony unless she took off her veil. The judge said donning a hijab in court was comparable to wearing sunglasses. El-Alloul refused to comply. She filed a complaint against the judge and is also contemplating further legal action.

In late February, former Pakistani school teacher Zunera Ishaq was told she could not wear her niqab to her citizenship ceremony. Prime Minister Stephen Harper supported the decision even though a federal judge had ruled to the contrary earlier in the month. Harper disagreed with the ruling, saying he doesn’t believe prospective citizens should be permitted to wear any type of face covering to the ceremony. Some feel Harper’s move is politically motivated and tied to his bid for re-election later this year. Ishaq hopes the prime minister’s attempted ban is denied by a judge and has postponed participating in a citizenship ceremony until the issue is resolved.

Other Controversies

  • In April 2013 in Ontario, Judge Norris Weisman ruled that a woman (who has not been identified) must remove her niqab while testifying against her uncle and cousin, whom she accused of sexually assaulting her in the 1980s. The woman was pregnant when the alleged assault occurred. She had been fighting for the right to wear her veil in court for six years, and Judge Weisman’s original 2008 ruling went all the way to the Supreme Court. He stated that wearing a niqab would make it very difficult for the judge and defense attorneys to evaluate the plaintiff’s demeanor and credibility, which can be particularly important in sexual assault cases.
  • Another 2013 incident involved a soccer player who was told by officials from the Quebec Soccer Federation he could not wear a turban on the field. The Canadian Soccer Association had previously stated turbans were permitted. FIFA later reversed the ban and apologized to anyone who been offended.
  • In 2007, Quebec election official Marcel Blanchett said he would allow women wearing niqabs to vote in an upcoming election. His decision created a firestorm, and Blanchett had to hire two personal bodyguards for his own protection as well as placing security officers in his office building. He later reversed the ruling.

The cold weather makes headwear popular in Canada. However, recent events have made it clear one’s rights may not be what you think they are depending on the type of headwear you choose.


Muslim Blogger’s 1000 Lashings Temporarily Suspended

489364747Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger, was sentenced in 2014 to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes (50 lashes a week for 20 weeks). He was also fined 1 million Saudi riyals (approximately C$317,000). The former blogger has been in prison since the middle of 2012. Badawi was accused of insulting Islam and the country’s powerful clerics through his liberal blog posts. The first flogging took place on January 9, 2015 in front of a mosque. The second one was scheduled for January 16, but postponed for “medical reasons.”

The Canadian Connection

Ensaf Haidar, Badawi’s wife, and the couple’s three children now live outside of Montreal in Sherbrook, Quebec. They were given refugee status when they arrived in Canada in October of 2013. Haidar is 35 years old and now has permanent residency.

A Secret Relationship

Badawi and Haidar originally became acquainted by cell phone. Haidar’s brother would let her borrow his phone to make calls. Badawi was one of her brother’s friends, and one day she wound up having a conversation with him on the phone. Over the next two years, the couple would talk by phone in secret. Saudi women are not permitted to show their faces to strangers of the opposite sex, so the pair would attempt to catch brief looks at each other through open doors and windows. If caught, they could have been in serious trouble. Her parents eventually became aware of the relationship and tried to end it. According to Haidar, “That’s when Raif proposed. His kindness got the best of their resistance.” When Raif was banned from leaving Saudi Arabia in 2009 due to his inflammatory blog posts, her family attempted to force her to divorce him. She refused and stopped speaking to them.

The First Lashing

Haidar has reportedly viewed leaked cell phone video of her husband’s first flogging session. The video reportedly shows Badawi standing and shackled as he is repeatedly struck on his back and legs. She said, “Every lash killed me.” Her husband is diabetic and of slight frame, which further contributes to Haidar’s anguish over his punishment.

Medical Complications

The second flogging session was scheduled for a week after the first. However, after a medical check-up, it was postponed. The doctor who examined Badawi determined his wounds had not healed to a point where he would be able to endure more lashes. His recommendation was to delay the next round until the following week.

Since the postponement, there have been some encouraging media reports that Badawi may not be subjected to any more floggings and his prison term reduced. Whether Saudi officials do in fact alter his sentence remains to be seen.

International Outcry

There has been a tremendous international outcry to the floggings and the overall handling of Badawi’s case.

  • Siad Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said, “The flogging of Raif Badawi is a vicious act of cruelty which is prohibited under international law. By ignoring international calls to the flogging Saudi Arabia’s authorities have demonstrated an abhorrent disregard for the most basic human rights.”
  • The United States, Great Britain, European Union and other nations have pressed the Saudi government to stop the lashings.
  • Numerous Saudi academics received a letter signed by eighteen Nobel Laureates asking them to publicly condemn the lashings.
  • Protestors have demonstrated outside the Saudi embassies in Ottawa, Oslo, London, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
  • Others are calling the Saudis hypocrites for denouncing the killings at the Paris office of the Charlie Hebdo magazine while they sanction brutality in their own country.

It is difficult to image living in a country where people are imprisoned and flogged for speaking their minds. One can only hope Badawi’s lashings stop and he is freed, his wife most of all.

Why Does Canada Still Have a Blasphemy Law?

166575816The killings at the Paris office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on January 15 has once again brought the issue of free speech front and center. Should there be limits to what is off-limits? Canadian media coverage in the days since the incident seems to largely portray a collective sentiment (with a few exceptions) in overwhelming support of free speech, no matter how offensive it may be to some. Canadian politicians vehemently condemned the killings and a number of media outlets showed the cartoons on TV and in print. However, this response does seem a little ironic since blasphemy is still technically illegal in Canada.

Section 296 of the Criminal Code of Canada

Per Section 296 of the Criminal Code of Canada, publishing blasphemous libel is an indictable offence and if convicted you can go to prison for up to two years. Anyone accused is permitted to defend himself or herself of the charge provided they use “decent language.”

  1. (1) Everyone who publishes a blasphemous libel is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years. 

(2) It is a question of fact whether or not any matter that is published is a blasphemous libel. 

(3) No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section for expressing in good faith and in decent language, or attempting to establish by argument used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, an opinion on a religious subject.

Definition of Blasphemy

There is a good chance many Canadians don’t know what blasphemy means and have no idea blasphemous libel is a criminal offense in their country. For those who would like a little clarity on the definition, it is “the act or offense of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk.” These days it is hard to miss all the blasphemy out there; from TV shows, movies, newspapers to video games, it is on full display.


The language outlawing blasphemy was first included in the Canadian Criminal Code in 1892. There have been a handful of times in the last century when Canadians have been accused of blasphemous libel.

  • 1927: Eugene Starry, a Toronto atheist, was sent to jail for 60 days after a being accused of insulting Christianity. He was ultimately deported to England where he had been born.


  • 1977: A poet who wrote about a gay Jesus Christ was charged, but not convicted.


  • 1980: Owners of a theater in Sault Ste. Marie were accused, but not convicted, after screening Life of Brian (a Monty Python movie), which is a spoof on Christ. An Anglican vicar who had seen the film had complained to local authorities.

The Pope Weighs In

Pope Francis unequivocally condemned the Paris attacks and said there was no way to justify them in God’s name. He said free speech was a fundamental right and it is the duty of people to speak their mind for the common good. However, the Pope also stated there are limits and a reaction of some kind when people make fun of the religious beliefs of others is not unexpected.

Other Blasphemy Laws

There are many countries that still have blasphemy laws and, in some cases, punishment for the crime is death. It is not particularly surprising that Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia have them, but it is that Ireland and Australia do as well. In 2008, the United Kingdom repealed its blasphemy law. In the United States, there are no federal blasphemy laws since they would violate the U.S. Constitution.

It seems more than strange in this day and age that a progressive western country like Canada would still have a blasphemy law, even if it has fallen out of use. Yet, it’s still there.