Doorstep Postings: A lesson in where the power lies in Canada—with thanks to the new anti-Islamophobia adviser Amira Elghawaby

“I would like to say that I am extremely sorry for the way that my words have carried, how they have hurt the people of Quebec, and this is what I am going to express to Mr. Blanchet,” said federal anti-Islamophobia adviser Amira Elghawaby as she met with the Bloc leader on Feb. 1, 2023. (@CPAC_TV/Twitter)

This is a special edition of the series of opinion columns written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

Some might say the Trudeau Liberals are out of touch—but occasionally, they do recognize that not everything runs peacefully and orderly in Canada all the time. Sometimes, an issue persists like the health care system not being able to function, or the cost of having a child spiralling out of control, or home ownership seeming impossible. 

Antisemitism is one of these Issues, which continues to persist despite the PM saying, over and over again, that it has no place in Canada. (The nerve! He asked antisemitism to leave very respectfully, and it’s still here!) 

And to manage that Issue, the Liberals appointed a special representative to combat antisemitism. Did you forget that we had one, and it was Irwin Cotler? Look, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that the government can look like it is caring about the Issue while putting all the responsibility for the Issue on the shoulders of the person or persons that they have honoured for their lifetime of service. If someone is frustrated with the lack of progress on an Issue, well, they can talk to the envoy instead of bothering the government. 

Anyway, once the Jews had their special representative, it was only fair that everyone else would get theirs too.

And so, after many months, the Liberals appointed someone to be the parallel envoy regarding Islamophobia: Amira Elghawaby, a journalist, human rights activist, and former human rights advisor for the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). 

In truth, they could hardly have picked someone with a better track record. Elghawaby was there when the NCCM made their presence felt back in 2014, when they sued Stephen Harper’s former communications director for libelling the organization. She was there once again when the federal Liberals demolished the Conservatives over the adoption of M-103, the anti-Islamophobia motion of 2017. 

It’s safe to say Elghawaby’s efforts had quite a bit to do with making Islamophobia something all progressive politicians pay lip service to fighting against and all conservative politicians take pains to avoid (or else), much like they do with antisemitism.

And it follows that the government would appoint her as a sort of capstone to their efforts in making questions about this whole procedure awkward. Questions like “Has antisemitism decreased since Irwin Cotler was appointed to the post?” and “What about antisemitic attacks in Canada carried out by Muslims?” and “How do we know that these special representatives really speak for their respective communities?”   

We’re mostly able to sweep questions like this from random commentators under the rug, because none of those complainers are special representatives.

But what happens when another group with more special representatives than either the Jewish or Islamic communities start asking questions and making a fuss? What happens when that group is a founding nation of Canada, and what happens when they—unlike Jews or Muslims—can tank the Liberal government’s re-election hopes?

Well, in the case of the Quebec government getting offended by Elghawaby pointing out that that province has a rather large Islamophobia problem—and an anti-semitism problem, too, but nobody’s interested in that right now—you have to engage in the sort of expert balancing act that keeps this federation together.

Never mind that if fighting Islamophobia is your jam, then eventually you would have to say something about Quebec. And so you have to lean on Elghawaby to “clarify” her statements on Islamophobia in Quebec, and maybe take the edge off a little. No sense deliberately inflaming tensions. (Only the PM can do that!) 

And then the Quebec government can go pound sand, because the federal government gave itself plausible deniability. There exists a shadow of doubt that Trudeau caved under pressure—which is all the reliably Liberal voters need to keep giving the Liberals more seats than all the other parties. 

And most importantly, everyone—even the Jewish community, who weren’t directly involved in this performance—gets a polite reminder of where they stand in the hierarchy of groups that inevitably results from Liberal phrases like “Diversity Our Strength.” After all, we’re a diverse country, but some groups are stronger than others!

Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.