Timeline of Events
Islamophobia has been on the rise since 9/11. Under the “war on terror” and the anti-radicalization framework, Muslims were securitized within public, political and media discourse. As a result, Muslims were stigmatized and racialized as an “other” – mostly through targeting the expression of their “Muslimness.”
Soon afterwards, Islamophobia was weaponized as it found its utility for partisan political purposes, which, in turn, led to its normalization as it moved from the fringe towards the centre of the political discourse. This weaponization of Islamophobia was exposed. Islamophobia is manufactured, spread, and funded not by a vast right-wing conspiracy but rather by a small, tightly networked group of misinformation experts effectively amplifying their message through influencers, media partners, and grassroots organizing. More recently, Jasmin Zine, a professor of sociology, religion, and culture at Wilfrid Laurier University, mapped the Islamophobia network within Canada. She unpeeled how an ecosystem is built, starting with platforming messages by media outlets and influencers and validated by self-designated security experts, and then enabled by politicians who authorize Islamophobic narratives and policies that promote anti-Muslim sentiments. During the 2015 federal election, the “Barbaric cultural practices” snitch line exemplified the type of vulgar language used to mobilize the base to heighten partisan tensions. This is the environment in which the CRA was given a mandate to combat terrorism financing.
This misinformation model was in full swing throughout 2014. Starting with a number of website blog posts or articles that were spreading misinformation about Canadian Muslim organizations including MAC. The increase in this Islamophobia and misinformation discourse was connected to a small number of individuals including Marc Lebuis who operates Point de Bascule and is associated with the Toronto Sun and Rebel Media, and Syed Sohail Raza who is also associated with Point de Bascule, PEGIDA Canada and The Council of Muslims Facing Tomorrow, among other authors. Both these individuals are connected with Thomas Quiggin and a few others in a network of individuals who have actively spread misinformation as pseudo experts, bloggers and journalists. These individuals tend not to rely on accredited academic sources but on their own unsupported opinions that they then attempt to amplify by referencing each other as authorities.
Their connections and network, and methods of spreading misinformation could be further understood by reading “THE CANADIAN ISLAMOPHOBIA INDUSTRY: Mapping Islamophobia’s Ecosystem in the Great White North.“
In May 2014 Thomas Quiggin published a report called “The Muslim Brotherhood in North America (Canada/USA)”. Quiggin is a self-styled Islamic extremism expert who alleges widespread links between Canadian Muslim civic organizations, including charities, and terrorist organizations around the world. Quiggin is also a former military intelligence officer most recently known as one of three named leaders of the Truckers Convoy in 2022.
According to a 2014 article in Maclean’s magazine: “Quiggin’s report reads more like a doomsday manifesto, predicting the end of Western civilization at the hands of Muslims” and portrays Canada’s Muslim community as “a secretive cabal plotting the downfall of Western civilization from within”.
His report called for Muslim groups to not be given governmental accreditation, access to public grants nor should they have charity status.
In November 2014, the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence invited Syed Sohail Raza, Director of Muslims Facing Tomorrow, to its hearing where she made accusations against NCCM and MAC suggesting that they play a role in radicalization.
In January 2015 QMI (later purchased by the Toronto Sun) published a series of articles by Brian Daly that targeted MAC. They alleged that MAC had links to IRFAN-Canada and that it was named in an RCMP warrant. Brian Daly specifically alleged that IRFAN-Canada or MAC (unclear) “was named in a search warrant related to Project Sapphire, a probe into terrorist financing. Warrants indicate MAC sent nearly $300,000 in the 2000s to IRFAN-Canada, a group that raised millions for Hamas.” These articles have since been removed by Postmedia after an internal investigation demonstrated these articles advanced false accusations without supporting evidence or adherence to professional standards in reporting. (In 2020 the RCMP Commissioner issued a letter regarding Project Sapphire and the Sun Article allegations as it relates to MAC and confirmed that MAC’s funds given to IRFAN-Canada were legal and legitimate and there was no wrongdoing.)
Between February and May 2015, there were a few more mentions of MAC at the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defense. Each statement cited either Point de Bascule, the Quiggin report, or unspecified media reports. The statements were factually incorrect (e.g. in one case an MP claimed that MAC’s charitable status had been “withdrawn.”)
On May 11 2015 at the Standing Senate Committee On National Security And Defence hearing, Prof Lorenzo Vidino, who is connected to numerous alleged anti-Muslim think tanks, stated that an “Al Capone law-enforcement approach” to cracking down on Canadian Muslim charities is needed. If the government cannot shut down Muslim charities for criminal activity, he says, it should use tax violations. In his 2015 Senate testimony, Vidino raised the false spectre of the Muslim Brotherhood and other foreign groups influencing and even controlling mainstream Canadian Muslim organizations.
Following Vidino, on May 28 2015 the Senate Committee also invited Thomas Quiggin who repeated Vidino’s statement and said “Dr. Lorenzo Vidino, who is perhaps the world’s leading expert on the Muslim Brotherhood outside of the Middle East itself, recently testified at the Senate of Canada on May 11 of this year. His view, as he expressed it to the Senate, is that the Muslim Brotherhood has some eight to ten front groups in Canada, but the four best known ones are the Muslim Association of Canada, CAIR-CAN, otherwise known as NCCM, and Islamic Relief Canada. He identified IRFAN as the fourth. This was a classical example of how Islamophobia is produced and amplified.
In December 2015 the CRA contacted MAC to inform them they would be auditing the organization.
MAC worked with the Audit teams and provided all the documentation requested. On various occasions, the audit team commended MAC for the orderly fashion it prepared its submissions and for the cooperation during all the site visits.
Notwithstanding that, the audit quickly turned out to be something far more than a typical charity audit. It was described by lawyers with extensive experience in charity audits as unprecedented. As the audit progressed, it became clear to MAC that there was a deep undercurrent of Islamophobia within the CRA, and that this bias was affecting the way the audit was being conducted. Auditors were searching desks and closets, downloaded over 1 million financial transactions, and took 181 Gb of email data accounting for almost 500,000 emails. This went on for 13 months.
After five years of limbo the CRA sent MAC “preliminary” findings in what is called an Administrative Fairness Letter (AFL).
The CRA’s “findings” sounded suspiciously like right-wing extremist anti-Muslim discourse. Equally shockingly, the “findings” were based on flimsy “information,” assumptions, and innuendos. Of the hundreds of thousands of emails reviewed in the Audit, the CRA found a grand total of four unsolicited conference invitations sent by mass email transmissions, which CRA alleged was evidence that there are links between MAC and foreign entities. None of these emails were ever replied to, but that didn’t matter to the CRA. The audit team relied heavily on biased and Islamophobic sources to justify absurd allegations that would never be applied to any other faith or social group. The audit attempted to police the Islamic faith by defining what is and what is not religious activity.
At the end of it all the CRA threatened to revoke MAC’s charitable status, and to slap the organization with a 1.3 Million dollars penalty. MAC executives and their lawyers were shocked, but cooperated and submitted over a thousand pages of evidence in response to the CRA’s allegations.
MAC raised concerns about both the rampant Islamophobia and the complete lack of credible evidence to support allegations with the former Director General of the Charities Directorate.
In its public statements, the CRA claims that their first approach to charities after an audit was education. MAC’s legal counsel informed the CRA of its intention to file a charter challenge and suggested to enter into an agreement with CRA similar to what other charities would be offered, but the CRA refused.
The only option open to MAC was to file a charter challenge to stand up for the rights of Canadian Muslims.