Amira Elghawaby appointed as Canada’s first representative to combat Islamophobia

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the appointment of a special representative on combating Islamophobia that will advise the federal government on how to better fight discrimination against the Muslim community. 

Human rights activist Amira Elghawaby will be responsible for serving “as a champion, advisor, expert and representative to support and enhance” the government’s efforts, the federal government said in a statement.

“No one in our country should experience hatred because of their faith,” Trudeau said in a statement. “The appointment of Ms. Elghawaby as Canada’s first Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia is an important step in our fight against Islamophobia and hatred in all its forms.” 

“I look forward to working with her as we continue building a country where everyone feels safe and respected,” Trudeau said.

The federal government announced in June that it was seeking to hire its first Islamophobia representative.

In her new role, Elghawaby will provide policy and legislative advice and proposals and suggest programs and regulations that will be inclusive, the statement explained. 

She will also be responsible for shining a “light on the important contributions of Muslims” to Canada.

Elghawaby said her appointment is a “deep honour.”

“Muslims are sometimes caught between being perceived as a threat or as representing a problem to solve,” she told a press conference on Thursday. “It’s our hope that we can use this moment to spur a national conversation about the value of Canadian diversity, including the richness of Canada’s Muslim communities.”

The budget proposed $85 million over four years, starting in 2022-23, which will also contribute to a new anti-racism strategy and national action plan on combating hate.

A spokesperson from Diversity and Inclusion Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office told CBC News she will sit for a four-year term and that her office will have a budget of $5.6 million. The budget says that funding would cover the first five years of the office’s operations.

Human rights advocacy

Elghawaby currently works as a communications lead for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. 

A graduate from Carleton University’s journalism school, she worked briefly at CBC in Ottawa after graduating and currently contributes a freelance column to The Toronto Star newspaper.

She has worked with the Canadian labour movement on human rights issues, and spent five years promoting civil liberties at the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM); that appointment ended in 2017.

Stephen Brown, the CEO of the NCCM, praised Elghawaby’s appointment during Thursday’s press conference.

“This turning point for our community is a tremendous moment,” he said. “It is now imperative that we all help hold each other accountable in the pursuit of change.”

Brown said he wants to see Elghawaby’s office work with civil society groups to challenge Islamophobia in Canada. Brown pointed to Quebec’s Bill 21, which bans public servants from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs.

During the press conference, Hussen was asked if he saw the new office playing a role in challenging Bill 21.

Hussen didn’t directly answer the question but repeated the federal government’s position — that it would weigh in on a Supreme Court challenge to the bill.

“We expect this matter to be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. When that happens, you can expect that we will be part of that debate and we will take a position and make sure that we are part of that process,” he said.

The Quebec Court of Appeal heard arguments on the constitutionality of the law in November but has yet to rule on the case.