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People Are Falsely Claiming That Canada Is About To Make It Illegal To Criticize Islam

Online rumours claim that Justin Trudeau will pass blasphemy laws to create "a Sharia state."

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A motion before the Canadian Parliament that calls for a study of Islamophobia has set off a wave of online rumours and conspiracy theories that criticizing Islam will soon be illegal in Canada.

Parliament of Canada / Via parl.gc.ca

The nonbinding motion, M-103, was introduced in early December by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid. It calls on the government to "condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination." The motion also calls on the heritage committee in the House of Commons to study the problem and make recommendations on how to combat such discrimination.

The motion was tabled after almost 70,000 Canadians signed a petition highlighting a "notable rise in anti-Muslim sentiments in Canada," and calling for action.

According to the most recent Statistics Canada figures, anti-Muslim hate crimes more than doubled in the three-year period from 2012 to 2014.

The issue has taken on extra gravity after the Quebec City shooting, in which six Muslim men were killed while praying at their mosque.

Despite the straightforward language of the motion, M-103 has been painted by some columnists and websites as an attack on free speech.

The Rebel

Right-wing Canadian media outlet The Rebel characterized M-103 as tantamount to "Islamic blasphemy laws."

"The Canadian government is preparing to silence anyone who criticizes Islam," the website warns its audience.

Although the government could, potentially, draft legislation at a later time, M-103 is not a bill and will make no change to the criminal code if passed.

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US outlets have also jumped on the story. The website of Pamela Geller, one of the most prominent anti-Islam activists in America, published a piece claiming the motion will "create a Sharia state."

Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau, Smears all Canadians with Islamophobia Lie to Create a Sharia State… https://t.co/ScyTklgQaQ

"In order to push this vote forward, [Justin] Trudeau has diabolically employed psychological warfare tactics created by the Muslim Brotherhood, and has smeared the entire Canadian population with the lie that they are Islamophobic," the blog post claimed, without any apparent evidence.

Many other conservative and anti-Muslim websites have raised alarm over the nonbinding motion, all suggesting that free speech is under attack in Canada.

Ontario MP Kellie Leitch, who is seeking the leadership of the Conservative Party, criticized M-103 on the grounds that it confers "special privileges" on one religion.

Twitter / Via Twitter: @KellieLeitch

She is one of only a handful of prominent Canadian politicians who have voiced any opposition, and few mainstream news outlets have given much coverage to the motion.

The MP behind the motion says she's been surprised by some of the hyperbolic online reaction. "It is a little troubling," Khalid told BuzzFeed News. "This is not legislation. This is a motion."

Bernard Thibodeau / Via ikhalid.liberal.ca

The first-time MP, who represents the riding of Mississauga–Erin Mills, rejected the notion that there is a hidden agenda.

"Unfortunately, systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia have been problems in Canadian society," Khalid said.

She laughed at the suggestion that her motion is a sneaky way to impose Sharia on Canadians.

"I would be the first person to oppose a bill or a motion that challenges our multicultural and secular society," she said. "It's quite the opposite. It's about finding peaceful ways that we can live together."

In introducing the motion, Khalid said that as a "young, brown, Muslim-Canadian woman" she had herself faced discrimination based on her faith.

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"When I moved to Canada in the 1990s, a young girl trying to make this nation my home, some kids in school would yell as they pushed me, 'Go home, you Muslim' — but I was home," she said. "I am among thousands of Muslims who have been victimized because of hate and fear."

The House of Commons will start debate on Khalid's motion on Feb. 15.

CORRECTION

M-103 will have its first hour of debate on Feb. 15 but no vote has yet been scheduled, as stated in an earlier version of this story.

Ishmael Daro is a social news editor for BuzzFeed and is based in Toronto.

Contact Ishmael N. Daro at ishmael.daro@buzzfeed.com.

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