The ugly head of racism and bigotry in Canada

The ugly head of racism and bigotry in Canada





Canada is being buffeted by the tumbling prices of its export commodities, including oil. The International Monetary Fund predicts that Canada’s gross domestic product this year will grow by just one percent. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development forecasts a 1.1 percent rise this year and 2.1 percent next year. Worried Canadians are curtailing their purchases and travels. The Canadian dollar, once at par with the US dollar, has slid to 75 cents.

So you would think that in the October 19 federal election campaign the debate would focus on the state of the economy and on the record of the present government which has been in power since 2006. But all major issues, including the plight of the Aboriginal people, have been shunted to the back burner while politicians argue about whether women should be allowed to wear the niqab while taking their oath of citizenship and whether Canada should tolerate “barbaric cultural practices.” Child and forced marriages, “honor killings”, female genital mutilation and sexual slavery are already illegal in Canada and represent rare exceptions.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been harping on the threat to Canadian values because  Pakistani immigrant Zunera Ishaq refused to remove her veil in public while offering to unveil before female immigration officers. Harper also keeps repeating that Canada faces a danger from Islamists, Muslim terrorists and possibly mosques.

Harper successfully made these the central issues in the campaign while sweeping under the rug his abysmal record. The prime minister claims, rightly, that most Canadians oppose women taking their oath of office wearing a niqab and that they also view Islamic terrorism as a threat.

There have been attempts at terrorism in Canada by Muslims or converts but most were thwarted, some with help from Canadian Muslims. Last year, however, two innocent soldiers were killed in cold blood by two converts to Islam, actions that were condemned by Canadian Muslims.

Canada also admits a number of immigrants and refugees each year, which has made this country rich in diversity. It treats them with fairness but Canadians expect that they will also respect Canadian values.

Harper is portraying himself as the defender of Canadian values and security from Muslims. But leaders of other parties and civil society are criticizing him for dividing Canadians for electoral benefit. They point out that Canadian values uphold freedom of choice, including the right of women to wear what they deem to be appropriate.

Canadian courts overturned the government’s ban on niqab during citizenship ceremonies and Ishaq has already taken her oath of citizenship. Now she can vote in this election on Oct. 19. But the prime minister soldiers on.

Toronto Star columnist Edward Keenan wrote:  “That the anti-Islamic wedge-driving has been popular to some degree doesn’t make it right. Instead, its success serves as an indictment of Canadian society we might hope had moved on from past racial and religious panics: from the days when one Jew was thought to be too many; when we interned Japanese-Canadians as racially-suspect potential traitors; when we banned non-European immigrants; when we endlessly bickered about whether it was an affront to our values for a Mountie to wear a turban. Often we may think we’ve progressed beyond the hurtful retrograde attitudes at the core of those historic debates.

“That the Conservatives have bet that they can swing an election on the premise that we haven’t progressed is shameful. That they appear to have a decent chance of winning that bet is absolutely horrifying.”

Neil MacDonald, senior CBC correspondent, stated:  “What’s more, at the same time as the government was reminding Canadians of its new barbarity law, it was also stripping citizenship from people convicted of extremism. All, so far, have been Muslims.

“There have been no reports that the government is considering stripping citizenship from the Sikh bomb-maker convicted in the 1985 Air India bombing — the worst act of political violence in Canadian history — or any of the surviving FLQ members convicted after the October Crisis. “None of the above is a Muslim.”

Twenty-eight women leaders said in a joint statement: “It is a legacy of Canada’s colonial past that there are more than 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women. It is Canada where every six days a woman is killed by an intimate. It is in Canada that 460,000 women are sexually assaulted each year…”

Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallick wrote: “I’ll give the man credit for doing so much damage in so short a time. He’s not smart, but he’s cunning. Canada uses a first-past-the-post system, with no runoffs, for federal elections, which means that a candidate needs only a plurality, not a majority, to win his or her constituency. This is how Harper’s Conservative Party could control 53.9 percent of the seats in the House of Commons after the 2011 election despite winning only 39.6 percent of the popular vote.”

Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau and New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair are challenging the racism and bigotry that have been injected into the election campaign. If they work together Canada will likely regain its former lofty stature as perhaps the world’s gentlest, fairest and noblest country.


— Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge.