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Ontario New Democrats hope government will support anti-Islamophobia bill


TORONTO — An Opposition bill aimed at fighting Islamophobia and other hate crimes was tabled in Ontario's legislature Wednesday, but it was unclear if it would receive the support of the majority Progressive Conservative government. 

The bill from the New Democrats, if passed, would establish a provincial review of hate crimes and hate-motivated incidents that happen in Ontario.

It would also designate safe zones around houses of worship, prevent white supremacist groups from registering as societies and establish an anti-racism council that would provide input on government policies.

The bill, which was created with the National Council of Canadian Muslims and follows similar recommendations put forward by that organization, would also present new tools for schools to combat racism. Additionally, it would empower the Speaker to ban protests at the legislature that promote hate. 

Faisal Hassan, an NDP legislator who represents a Toronto riding, introduced the bill on Wednesday afternoon, saying "it is time for bold, concrete action to tackle Islamophobia and hate in Ontario." The bill, called the "Our London Family Act," was named for the Afzaal family, victims of a deadly truck attack in London, Ont., last year. 

"This is not a partisan issue, it is a moral one," Hassan told the legislature. "I hope and trust that all members of the house will support Our London Family Act and we are able to pass this very important legislation as soon as possible."

Other Opposition parties have said they will support the bill. But the governing Progressive Conservatives – who hold a majority of seats and have the power to determine the fate of legislation – have not yet said how their members will vote.

House leader Paul Calandra said early on Wednesday that the government would take a look at the details once the legislation had been tabled.

Liberal House Leader John Fraser said the bill was a very important piece of legislation. "If you look around at what's happening in Canada right now, it's even more important," he said. 

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she was happy the Liberals and the legislature's Green member agreed to support the bill after outreach to all parties. 

"We're hoping that the government does the same. Why? because this is exactly what the community asked for," she said. 

Salman Afzaal, his wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, died after they were struck by a vehicle during an evening walk on June 6, 2021. Nine-year-old Fayez Afzaal was seriously hurt but survived.

Police have alleged the attack was motivated by hate and prosecutors argue the man charged with four counts of murder and one of attempted murder committed an act of terrorism. 

Another man, Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, was stabbed and killed outside a Toronto mosque in 2020. A man has been charged with murder in Zafis' death and police have said that they cannot discount that the random attack was motivated by hate.

Sabena Islam, the cousin of one of those killed in the London attack, spoke at an NDP news conference on Wednesday about her own experiences with Islamophobia. She called the legislation "a chance to do something meaningful and long-lasting" to honour the memories of those who died in London. 

Islam urged government members – and Premier Doug Ford in particular – to support the legislation as "the first step in this journey towards an Ontario free of Islamophobia and hate."

"It is your job to keep us safe, and we are counting on you to do so," Islam said. 

The bill is due to be debated on March 10, the NDP said. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2022. 

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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