Attacks under the guise of parliamentary privilege

Attacks under the guise of parliamentary privilege
Faisal Kutty
We are Canadian Muslim lawyers concerned about a new spate of fear mongering reminiscent of McCarthyism being promoted through parliamentary institutions.

There is a whole industry of anti-Islam and anti-Muslim crusaders searching for subversives under every Muslim bed. Often unable to identify real threats, they end up defaming law-abiding Canadians through innuendo and mischaracterization of tenuous or even non-existent links and associations. In sum, they foster fear by vilifying Muslims and Islam without letting verifiable facts get in their way.

Anyone who disagrees with their assessment and stands up for principles is targeted. Their goal is to sow fear, hatred, and promote the existence of a conspiracy to Islamize Canada. Invited to testify at Senate and House hearings they make baseless attacks (all under the protection of parliamentary privilege) on respected national Muslim organizations and individuals that have tirelessly worked to integrate Muslims into becoming proud citizens.

Canadian Muslims critical of anti-terror legislation and the steady erosion of our fundamental liberties attract smears from well funded and well co-ordinated networks aptly termed by Islamophobia researchers as “Fear Inc.” There are now many prominent Canadian members of this network with their own franchises.

Many times we have ignored their paranoid rants and counseled clients to do the same, but when such fear mongers are invited and given parliamentary platforms to legitimize their slander without effective rebuke and challenge, we cannot continue to stand by.

These witnesses allege extremism and links to terrorism, but facts are not their forte. None of us have ever served as a spokesperson for any terrorist organizations. A lawyer, representing a client, is a far cry from a spokesperson.

We, and our clients, have openly and unequivocally condemned violence of all kinds, including those committed in the name of religion and politics. At the same time, we have tried to fulfill our democratic duty to hold our elected officials and civil servants accountable.

As lawyers practising in the areas of charities, human rights, civil rights, and national security, it is not uncommon that organizations and individuals seeking legal help with such issues will seek us out. There is nothing sinister about legal representation. It is indeed misleading and self-serving to assert that representation is the same as being “associated” with them.

Moreover, they glibly ignore the presumption of innocence and right to free speech. As members of the bar, we simply fulfill our duties to zealously advocate for and represent the interests of our clients within the confines of the law and the rules of professional conduct. We have done nothing more, nothing less.

Our respective track records — articles, speeches, media appearances, and engagement with intelligence and law enforcement — speak for themselves. We have always urged Canadians (including Muslims) to fulfill their patriotic obligation to defend our country, but also to be vigilant in holding our government and its agencies accountable.

In this vein, we have critiqued national security practices but also written and spoken about how to tackle violent radicalization and the important role that the community must play.

These purveyors of fear and hate only marginalize and contribute to radicalization by reinforcing stereotypes and perpetuating the “us” versus “them” divide. Their rhetoric creates an environment conducive to silencing criticism. This chill and guilt by association allows violations of civil rights to go unchecked and curbs dissent.

We will not be bullied. We have and will continue to defend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the rule of law even as we push for terrorists and other convicted criminals to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

We have been in the forefront of engaging with intelligence and helped facilitate a number of town hall meetings with the community. Each of us (and others) has devoted substantial time and resources to foster communications and trust between the community and intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Our aim has been to make Canada a safer place.

We firmly believe that Muslims must play a key role in the fight against violent radicalization.

Fear mongers and those of their ilk are peddling nothing short of hate. Some have a veneer of Muslim support from the fringes of the community, but this should in no way legitimize their bald and unfounded assertions about Islam and the community as a whole. Giving credence to such generalized and baseless views will only marginalize the community and play into the hands of terrorists who thrive on dividing us by fueling fear and hysteria.

We are doing our part to integrate Muslims and we hope that parliamentarians will not let us, and the community down. Individuals and entities that have wanton disregard for the facts, the Constitution, multiculturalism, and all the other things that make Canada great should not be invited by parliamentary committees to sow their discontent with so much deference and so little challenge.

Faisal Kutty is a lawyer, associate professor at Valparaiso University Law School, and adjunct professor at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Naseer (Irfan) Syed is a past-chairman and founding director of the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association

Hussein Hamdani is a partner at Simpson Wigle and a member of the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security

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