Prince George woman raises issues of racism, Islamophobia in House of Commons

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Lila Mansour kept that saying in mind when when some unexpected controversy flared up in the House of Commons this week.

She was among the 338 young women from across the country who were in Ottawa as part of the Daughters of the Vote program and, on Wednesday, they were in the chamber to give speeches on issues that mattered to them.

But perhaps the biggest statements were made when dozens of them turned their backs on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and walked out on Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.

Mansour was not among them.

“I prefer to keep the dialogue open and if I don’t agree with someone’s point of view I prefer to listen to them and hear their perspective and voice my opinion and be able to have a conversation with that person,” Mansour said in a telephone interview.

“And so I preferred not to walk out, I preferred not to turn my back, but instead to listen.”

Mansour said those who chose to turn their backs on the PM did so in protest of the decision to eject former cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould out of the Liberal caucus.

“It was a critical issue especially for the Indigenous women who felt it was inappropriate that he removed an Indigenous minister speaking truth to power,” Mansour said. “They felt that was kind of threatening them and how they are going to speak to power.”

About the same number walked out on Scheer when he addressed the delegates just prior to Trudeau. Mansour said they did so because he did not want to fund the Daughters of the Vote program, which is run by Equal Voice, an organization that advocates for equal representation of women in parliament.

The second-year UNBC student said in a post on social media that the opportunity to speak with other strong, confident women from across the nation was incredible.

“Without Daughters of the Vote and Equal Voice, I could not have had such an inspiring experience, and I am so thankful for your efforts to make this happen and to allow the women of today have a voice to shape tomorrow,” Mansour explains.

She’s originally from Syria and explained in her speech of how grateful she was to the Canadian government for accepting over 40,000 refugees from her country.

While the feat is a milestone for the nation, Mansour also included the issues facing Syrians, Muslims, and other minorities that she wishes to tackle.

“Despite this, I’ve still seen many newcomers in my community [of Prince George] struggling and need support,” said Mansour to the other delegates. “Like us, they want freedom, security, and opportunity. They want to be a part of this country, but yet, problems like racism and Islamophobia persist and nobody should be afraid to worship and believe as they wish.”

She also included the issues she’s seen among Prince George’s Indigenous community and called upon the Federal government to act.

“As passionate as I am about immigrants, refugees, and Islamophobia, we must not forget the people of this country. As I’ve witnessed in Prince George, which is known for its Highway of Tears, I have watched the Indigenous people mistreated and I have seen how they are disproportionately represented in the justice system and its time for this to be fixed.”

Mansour helped organize a vigil in front of Prince George City Hall on March 16 for the New Zealand mosque shooting a day earlier, a terrorist attack where 50 people were killed and 50 mre were injured.

“Racism and discrimination are very real,” Mansour said to a crowd of more than 50 people that afternoon. “Hatred and extremism are present in the world around us, these things can’t be ignored. It is our job to spread love and peace no matter who we are, what our background is or what our religion is. Every life is important, whether it is a Muslim life, a Christian life or Jewish or anyone’s faith, we must look past our differences and instead look at the things that connect us and bring us together.”

As far as she could remember, Mansour also said she’s never felt like she had to pretend to be someone else.

“I’ve never been afraid to show I’m Muslim. I’m very thankful for that and the wonderful Prince George community that has always supported me and I’m very fortunate.”

Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty praised Mansour for her courage to speak in Ottawa this week and for her passion for uplifting local residents.

“I’m very proud to have the opportunity to watch one of our young community champions [Lila Mansour] stand in parliament today and deliver a powerful message,” explained Doherty in a social media post. “Lila, thank you for being a great ambassador for our community!”

When she’s not speaking in parliament or studying economics at UNBC, Mansour helps organize the Relay for Life youth activities, teaches Sunday school at the B.C. Muslim Association’s mosque in Prince George, and volunteers with the Justice Education Society at the Prince George Court House.