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Human Rights lawyer Matas says there are

By Rhonda Spivak, October 13, 2010

Liberal Member of Parliament Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre) has spoken out against  the  cancellation by Canada’s  Defence Minister Peter Mackay of    a planned speaking engagement in honour of Islamic Heritage Month in Ottawa  by  Imam Zijad Delic, executive director of the Canadian Islamic Congress.

In a statement posted on the website of the  Liberal Party  on October 6, 2010  Neville said "Imam Zijad Delic was asked to speak because his mandate has always been one of breaking down misconceptions and prejudices and creating a better dialogue between faiths."

Mackay  made a decision to prevent Imam Zijad Delic from  gving his talk at National Defence headquarters in Ottawa, because the former head of the  Canadian Islamic Congress  Mohamed Elmasry had made anti-Semitic statements in 2004. Elmasry  said  in 2004 that Israelis over 18 were legitimate targets for suicide bombers and later apologized for and retracted the remarks

According to the Liberal Party website  Neville  also said that " any connection of statements from six years ago that have nothing to do with Imam Delic or the Canadian Islamic  Congress in 2010 is a clear and calculated denial of the facts at hand."

Neville also said "The theme of this speech was the evolution of Islam in Canadian life.There's no better example of that evolution than when you have an Imam of Mr. Delic's stature in a leadership role in this organization."  added Neville in the statement. "This is someone whose work for truth and reconciliation in Bosnia was exemplary, who has always spoken of building bridges between faiths, rather than walls, because he has seen up close the tragic consequences of intolerance."

A statement by the Defense Ministry  last Friday said “These types of  [anti-Semitic] comments don’t support Islamic Heritage, they simply divide Canadians and promulgate hate, and they have no place in [Islamic Heritage Month] celebrations. Instead, Monday’s celebrations will focus on the evolution of Islam in the Canadian Forces and the positive contribution of Canada’s Muslim community to our society.”

In a telephone interview with the Winnipeg Jewish Review, Neville said she believed that the Conservatives were playing the “politics of fear and division” in Ottawa, and “It’s time for  bridge-building not dividing.”

Neville said that there is a much better “climate of tolerance and dialogue in Winnipeg, where there is an Arab-Jewish Arab dialogue group that is ongoing” in the province where people are genuinely trying to hear and understand each other. The Arab-Jewish dialogue in Winnipeg is comprised of  a core group of  approximately 15 community leaders and business people of the local Arab and Jewish community, and also has reached out to other members of both communities]

Neville added “That  [Arab-Jewish Dialogue]is fostering a climate of tolerance, and I think we are doing far better here than they are in Ottawa. There is a real effort of bridge building between communities… They in [ Ottawa] could learn from what is happening in Winnipeg..That’s the kind of approach that should be taken.”

Imam Delic told CTV his organization views suicide bombings as a “totally un-Islamic act.”

“There is no such thing in the Qur’an that would tell Muslims to go and kill a Jew, for indeed that is against our basic concepts,” he said.

But  according to an Oct. 2 Globe and Mail report, Sohail Raza, president of the Muslim Canadian Congress, another national Muslim organization said he was pleased with the government’s decision.

“The Canadian Islamic Congress has publicly been anti-Semitic… This is not the kind of garbage we want in our Canadian way of life, so we welcome the stance of Peter MacKay,” Raza said.

Imam Delic said he believed Mackay unfairly targeted his group, which seeks “better relations between Canadian Muslims and the general Canadian population.”

 Liberal Multiculturalism Critic Robert Oliphant (Don Valley West) said, "This is another move designed to appease the Harper government's hard right base. The Prime Minister is taking his directions from leaders on the extreme Christian right like Charles McVety, who has no interest in a substantive dialogue about Islam in Canada."

While Imam Delic has called the Canadian Islamic Congress a bridge builder, the lobby group has previously attacked a major Canadian magazine, Maclean’s for running articles that it disliked. 

The Congress helped launch controversial human-rights complaints against Maclean’s magazine several years back, alleging the publication promoted hatred against Muslims. The offending writing included commentary by bestselling Maclean’s columnist Mark Steyn whose book, America Alone, argued that Western values in Europe and elsewhere are under threat from the rising demographic weight of Muslim communities. 

According to the Globe and Mail, Imam Delic at the time defended the campaign against Maclean’s by saying free speech has its limits. 

Following the  attacks on Maclean’s, the majority of delegates to a Tory party convention  in late 2008 voted in favour of scrapping the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s power to probe complaints under the “hate messages” section of the Canadian Human Rights Act. 

 In an article in the National post on Saturday October 8, Joseph Brean who interviewed Iman Delic wrote that Delic himself described the Canadian Islamic Congress as until recently “a mess” that needed to be “purified from within” and “totally Canadianized.”

“We cannot change an organization in two years. It takes a lot of time to remove some of the stuff,” he said, referring to 9/11 conspiracy theorists on the board of the CIC’s biggest project, Islamic History Month Canada (IHMC).

As Brean wrote, the Canadian Islamic Congress also has a  student essay contest on the “ethnic cleansing” of Palestine, and has  honoured  “ Zafar Bangash, the firebrand journalist who hosted a conference of Iranian propaganda and told police he could not guarantee the safety of any protester who got too close.” (Imam Delic had Bangash as a speaker and shared the stage with him at a Canadian Islamic Congress fundraisng event this past June.)

 The Canadian Islamic Congress has also demanded that Hamas be delisted as a terrorist group, and has supported the United  Nation’s “defamation of religion” resolutions, a project of Muslim states to combat criticism of religion in general and Islam in particular, widely seen as an affront to free speech. 

According to the article in the National Post, Iman Delic has proposed  that the Anti-Terrorism Act be repealed because the criminal code is sufficient, and the expanded government powers marginalize Muslims. Read more here.

David Matas,  human rights lawyer and senior counsel for B’nai Brith Canada wrote in an email to the Winnipeg Jewish Review when asked to comment on the withdrawal of the invitation given by National Defense to Delic to speak at National Defense headquarters.

“The issue here is not freedom of speech. The issue which precipitated the debate rather is who is going to be invited to address a gathering hosted by National Defence.
Logistically it is impossible for everyone who has something to say to address such a gathering. The fact that someone is not invited or uninvited does not prevent the person from saying whatever her or she wants.
No one has a right to an invitation to address the Department of National Defence. The Department and Minister have every right to choose who is to address them at their own headquarters at their own gathering.
If one puts to one side the controversy over the speaker and the organization he represents, one would have nonetheless to say that the Government was sloppy first for inviting and then for uninviting the speaker. The invitation withdrawal was not based on facts which arose after the invitation was issued but rather appreciation of existing facts already on the public record. The Government should in future do its homework before it issues an invitation and not after the invitation has gone out.
Robert Oliphant of the Liberals criticised the Tories for catering to their base through the invitation withdrawal. That may be true. Yet, all parties have a tendency to do that. The Liberals, by their response, may be catering to their base. There is nothing inherently wrong with parties' catering to their bases.
I have no reason to quarrel with anything Anita Neville has said about Iman Delic as an individual or the nature of his intended speech. The stated reason of the government for the cancellation was the 2004 incitement to genocide of Israelis by former Canadian Islamic Congress head Mohamed Elmasry, something, needless to say, which concerns me a good deal. The statement has since been repudiated by Delic and the organization. Nonetheless Elmasry still sits on the Board of Islamic History Month Canada, a project of the Canadian Islamic Congress.
Because Iman Delic is executive director of the Canadian Islamic Congress, it is impossible to disassociate one from the other. Iman Delic was not invited to speak as an individual but as executive director of the Canadian Islamic Congress. Consequently, we should be considering not just what Iman Delic as an individual stands for, but what the Canadian Islamic Congress stands for, albeit now, not six years ago.
Whatever one can say in favour of Iman Delic as an individual or the remarks he intends to give, the fact remains that there are many problematic positions of the Canadian Islamic Congress today, even if one puts to one side the genocidal incitement of former head Mohamed Elmasry.

Delic referred to the Canadian Islamic Congress as, until recently, a mess and added "It takes a lot of time to remove some of the stuff". If Iman Delic does eventually clean up the Canadian Islamic Congress, one would have to applaud him for it. However, the clean up has not happened yet. So, there is a basis in public policy for the Government invitation withdrawal, even independently of the remarks of Elmasry.
The response from the Muslim Canadian Congress approving the invitation withdrawal is telling. The Canadian Islamic Congress is not the voice of the whole Islamic community, but only one troubled portion of it. The existence of interfaith dialogue with Muslims does not hinge on dialogue with the Canadian Islamic Congress.
For my part, I wish Iman Delic well in his efforts to clean up the Canadian Islamic Congress. I have no reason to doubt his stated intentions of attempting to do so. I look forward to the day when an invitation to speak given to the executive director of the Canadian Islamic Congress will be uncontroversial.”

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.