Is pres­i­dent’s stance fu­elling racism in Canada?

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - SHERYL UBELACKER

TORONTO — Canada has long prided it­self on be­ing a mul­ti­cul­tural na­tion that val­ues in­clu­sion, open­ing its bor­ders to refugees and im­mi­grants, no mat­ter their eth­nic­ity or re­li­gion.

But has U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Mus­lim travel ban, his prom­ise to build a wall on the Mex­i­can bor­der and months of pre-elec­tion anti-im­mi­grant rhetoric led to a rise in racial in­tol­er­ance in this coun­try?

Or has such dis­crim­i­na­tion been bub­bling be­low the sur­face within some seg­ments of Cana­dian so­ci­ety, and Trump’s world view and poli­cies have merely val­i­dated such sen­ti­ments, grant­ing like-minded peo­ple tacit per­mis­sion to voice racist com­ments and per­form hate­ful acts, where they might not have be­fore?

“I think ab­so­lutely the bound­aries are por­ous, the bor­ders are por­ous, so any­thing that hap­pens in the U.S. ob­vi­ously af­fects us,” said so­ci­ol­o­gist Bar­bara Perry, a global hate crime ex­pert at the Univer­sity of On­tario In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in Oshawa.

“We get the same Twit­ter feeds, we hear the same sound bites on tele­vi­sion and ra­dio and in the print me­dia as well. Clearly the mes­sages are cross­ing the bor­der.”

And those mes­sages do seem to be res­onat­ing with some Cana­di­ans, said Perry, point­ing to a flurry of anti-Mus­lim post­ings on so­cial me­dia that fol­lowed last month’s Que­bec City mosque shoot­ing.

“I’m not a big user of so­cial me­dia, but even some­one like me who’s at arm’s length can see the free­dom peo­ple are feel­ing to ex­press some pretty vi­cious and vi­o­lent sen­ti­ments,” she said, not­ing that the abil­ity to re­main anony­mous makes it eas­ier to voice “po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect” opin­ions.

“You might not say some­thing out loud or you might not sign your name to some­thing ... (be­ing) ex­pressed on­line, but if no­body can see your face be­cause you’ve got a pic­ture of a cute lit­tle kitty cat as your avatar, then you don’t suf­fer reper­cus­sions, you don’t think any­one’s go­ing to call you out in the same way they would in a more pub­lic and face-to-face venue.”

Still, it’s im­por­tant to rec­og­nize that Canada is hardly in­no­cent when it comes to dis­crim­i­na­tory at­ti­tudes and poli­cies, said Rima Wilkes, a pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia, point­ing to the mal­treat­ment of in­dige­nous peo­ple, the 1923 Chi­nese Ex­clu­sion Act, and the in­tern­ment of Ja­panese-Cana­di­ans and the re­fusal to ac­cept Jews flee­ing Nazi Ger­many dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

Perry be­lieves many Cana­di­ans are in de­nial about how com­monly racially mo­ti­vated acts oc­cur in this coun­try — she fre­quently hears from her stu­dents about how they or their fam­i­lies have been tar­geted — and that polls over the last five to 10 years sug­gest a siz­able pro­por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion is re­sis­tant to im­mi­gra­tion and in par­tic­u­lar to new­com­ers from Mus­lim coun­tries.

“It’s more like we’re fi­nally pay­ing at­ten­tion to it and ac­knowl­edg­ing that it hap­pens,” she said of dis­crim­i­na­tion, which may be more overt in the last few months.

On the flip side, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s travel ban and the Que­bec City mosque mas­sacre seem to have had a uni­fy­ing ef­fect among those who re­nounce racial in­tol­er­ance, giv­ing rise to ral­lies and vig­ils across the coun­try to demon­strate sup­port for Cana­di­ans of all eth­nic and re­li­gious back­grounds.

Amanda Hohmann, na­tional di­rec­tor of the League for Hu­man Rights of B’nai Brith Canada, said that anti-Semitic in­ci­dents across the coun­try in the last few months ap­pear to be down, com­pared to the same pe­riod a year ago.

“I think peo­ple are pay­ing at­ten­tion now where they weren’t maybe pay­ing at­ten­tion be­fore be­cause of what’s go­ing on in this po­lit­i­cal cli­mate,” said Hohmann, who is based in Toronto

IAN WILLMS, NYT

Peo­ple gather near the Que­bec Is­lamic Cul­tural Cen­tre af­ter a mass shoot­ing in Que­bec City.

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