The Image Of Muslims In Canadian Parliamentary Debates – Some Preliminary Results

Research team: Abdie Kazemipur, University of Lethbridge; Research assistants to be recruited

Since the events of 9/11, the Government of Canada (and that of Quebec) has introduced several pieces of legislation and held many hearings on issues related to Muslims. These deliberations and discussions reveal a great deal about the presence or absence of any biases towards Muslims in the attitudes and decisions of authorities in Canada’s highest administrative circles. The needed documents are publicly available online and are easily searchable with keywords. A thematic content analysis of these texts and transcripts was conducted: first, through a quantitative analysis of the occurrence of key terms; and second, through developing perceptual maps for different periods and different political parties. This allowed us to capture the possible changes in the government discourses across two decades, between 1994-2016. The data point to a few preliminary findings. First, the frequencies with which the issue of Islam/Muslims come up in the parliamentary debates and hearings are understandably affected by the nature of the major events, both locally and internationally. This resulted in several frequency peaks: 1994/95, 2001, 2007-2009, 2012, and 2015/16. Second, the events of 9/11 in the United States resulted in a peak discussion about Muslims within Canadian parliament, but it also led to a major transformation in the thinking of Canadian lawmakers about Muslim issues. Some of these transformations are: a) that this is no longer an international affairs subject that has little to do with local Canadian life; and b) the concept of religion has a significant presence in discussions about Muslims. Third, regardless of the possible changes on the ground, the notion of ‘Canadian exceptionalism’ – as a concept to distinguish Canada, as a successful model for integrating immigrants, from other western liberal democracies – is still very much alive in the psyche of Canadian MPs. References to this concept were most prominent in the period immediately after September 11, but they also appeared during the federal election of November 2015. In addition to this time dimension, the data also shows that Liberals have been making the most frequent references to this concept in both periods. The findings show that the positions of the various political parties towards Muslims is still in flux, unlike some European countries with relatively more solidified positions. This would call for more and continuous research to detect the possible changes over time.