Surprise! Canada has a blasphemy law! Well, it’s actually a blasphemous libel law, so if you don’t print everything you say, you can say most anything. Maybe. Some blasphemers are a bit nervous lately.
History first: a blasphemous libel law has been on the books in Canada for more than a century. It’s charming, really, the essence of “Canadian Nice.” As long as you express your blasphemous thoughts in good faith and in decent language, you cannot be prosecuted. In fact, the last prosecution under this law was more than 75 years ago, so why would anyone be worried today?
Motion 103, that’s why. Canada, as you may know, officially welcomes Muslims, including Syrian refugees in direct contrast to the United States since January 20. Canada also has its share of anti-Muslim protests and actions including a horrid incident on January 29 when a lone shooter killed eight and wounded many others at a mosque in Quebec City. In the aftermath of that incident, Canadian Parliament adopted Motion 103, introduced by liberal MP Iqra Kahlid.
Motion 103 is controversial because it asks the Canadian government to “develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia…” You may well wonder how this notion could be so controversial. But some of the people who worry about this motion fear that it puts Canada on track to beef up, rather than eliminate, blasphemy laws.
Outspoken ex-Muslims, reform-minded Muslims, and Canadian atheists are among those who fear that they could easily be targeted by any official action to reduce or eliminate Islamophobia. It’s sweet that the current blasphemous libel law protects those who write in “good faith and decent language.” But is that sufficient protection today for the wide variety of speakers who dare to challenge religious doctrines and practices that need to be dismantled? Consider this Ex-Muslim talking about M-103 on the streets of Canada.
Canada, I applaud your good intentions. Just please don’t shut down critics of Islam or any other religions that are unhealthy for women, children, and, yes, men. Don’t push those who value freedom of speech and freedom from religion into the arms of virulent right-wing critics of Islam. Decent language is lovely, but who decides what’s decent? Decent people might well run afoul of the language police in efforts to bring about needed change. Je suis Charlie.