Time to end the myth of Cana­dian ex­cep­tion­al­ism

We have ig­nored the much more deadly un­der­cur­rent of Cana­dian-born ha­tred

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - SARAH ADJEKUM Sarah Adjekum is a MSW RSW com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer, McMaster Alum and a long­time Hamil­to­nian res­i­dent. Sarah co-or­ga­nized Hamil­ton’s Anti-Racism Ac­tion Ini­tia­tive.

When Brexit took place in the UK we gasped and waited with baited breath at the so­cial im­pli­ca­tions and eco­nomic im­pacts it would have be­yond the Euro­pean Union.

When Trump be­came the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee we scoffed at the like­li­hood that his sug­gested poli­cies would be be­come law and then he was elected into of­fice of Pres­i­dent of the United States of Amer­ica. We shook our heads and pointed our fin­gers at our British and Amer­i­can neigh­bours, not an­tic­i­pat­ing the la­tent racist sen­ti­ments in our own coun­try would man­i­fest in mass mur­der. To­day, we are mourn­ing with great in­dig­na­tion, the atroc­ity that took place in Quebec City re­cently in the year that would mark Canada’s 150th an­niver­sary.

The nar­ra­tive of Cana­dian ex­cep­tion­al­ism is a po­lit­i­cal mythol­ogy that must be ex­am­ined in con­trast to our gov­ern­ment’s ac­tual poli­cies on im­mi­gra­tion and refugees and the un­spo­ken Is­lam­o­pho­bia that drove un­con­sti­tu­tional mea­sures like Bill C-51. Cana­di­ans main­tain that the con­trast be­tween Trump and Trudeau is proof enough that our pol­i­tics are pro­gres­sive and our sys­temic bar­ri­ers for marginal­ized peo­ple are min­i­mal; that our own ‘race prob­lems’ are at worst man­age­able. We see “mean­while in Canada” memes per­pet­u­at­ing the idea that our mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and diver­sity holds at bay the fes­ter­ing racism that ac­com­pa­nies any coun­try founded on set­tler colo­nial­ism.

More clearly do we re­al­ize that Cana­dian ex­cep­tion­al­ism is a myth? Worse still, a deadly nar­ra­tive that en­cour­ages us to turn a blind eye and be silent to the prob­lem­atic stereo­types that are be­ing nor­mal­ized in our coun­try and weaponized against mi­grants and refugees.

The fear mon­ger­ing and ha­tred that sat­u­rated the me­dia and tabled by our gov­ern­ment should not be for­got­ten. Canada’s Bill S-7, the Zero Tol­er­ance for Bar­baric Cul­tural Prac­tices Act, and its pro­posed tip-line was not un­like the grudge in­former cul­ture of the Se­cond World War which en­cour­aged the cit­i­zens of Nazi Ger­many to re­port dis­si­dents and Jews. Con­ser­va­tive Party of Canada’s lead­er­ship nom­i­nee Kel­lie Leitch’s rhetoric on ‘Cana­dian cul­tural val­ues’ veils a more in­sid­i­ous rhetoric about de­sir­abil­ity in Canada be­ing con­nected solely to Euro­pean race and cul­ture. Bis­sonette sub­scribed to the sim­i­lar pol­i­tics of French far right politi­cian Ma­rine Le Pen who was vo­cal about the threat of Is­lam in Europe.

Be­hind closed doors, Canada has adopted a sim­i­lar rhetoric that al­lows for mi­grants and refugees to still be de­tained in­def­i­nitely upon en­try to Canada. Some have been de­tained with­out le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion or trial for as long as 10 years. Even the United Na­tions has ques­tioned Canada’s hu­man­i­tar­ian rep­u­ta­tion in light of this treat­ment of refugees. When ba­sic hu­man rights of oth­ers are crushed in favour of se­cu­rity, we must truly ques­tion at what cost to our own civil lib­er­ties?

In Cana­dian his­tory none of the ter­ror­ist at­tacks were per­pe­trated by for­eign born na­tion­als. There has only been one in­ci­dent con­nected to Is­lam. Ev­ery other at­tack was per­pe­trated by White Cana­dian born men. Miss­ing from th­ese dis­cus­sions about se­cu­rity is the re­al­ity that Canada con­tin­ues to have a num­ber of ac­tive hate groups and white su­prem­a­cist or­ga­ni­za­tions with cor­re­lat­ing steady in­crease of hate crimes; Hamil­ton hav­ing the se­cond high­est in On­tario. If the Sons of Odin’s re­cent es­tab­lish­ment in Hamil­ton is any in­di­ca­tion, the prob­lem is wors­en­ing.

In pulling our­selves into rel­a­tive com­fort com­pared to the USA in favour of a false nar­ra­tive of Cana­dian ex­cep­tion­al­ism, we have ig­nored the much more deadly un­der­cur­rent of Cana­dian-born ha­tred that en­cour­aged a lone gun­man to mas­sacre six men as they met to pray. Mock­ing their right to prac­tice their re­li­gion, Alexan­dre Bis­sonette yelled “Al­lah Ak­bar” and gunned them down. Sons, fa­thers, neigh­bours, and loved ones; their sole crime was that they dared to be Mus­lim in a cli­mate of Is­lam­o­pho­bia. In Hamil­ton, 15-year-old Noah Rab­bani faced an un­pro­voked bru­tal at­tack in what his fam­ily and much of the com­mu­nity be­lieves to be a hate crime. He sus­tained life threat­en­ing in­juries and is still un­der­go­ing ex­ten­sive ther­apy.

So, as we re­flect on our sesqui­cen­ten­nial let us do so with a hu­mil­ity that over­comes this false feel­ing of Cana­dian ex­cep­tion­al­ism. It must be called out for what it is; hubris and de­nial that has costs us lives and threat­ens to re­strict the rights of count­less more. We should not be im­mo­bi­lized by guilt or fear by the re­al­ity of racism in our coun­try. In­stead we must en­gage in a prag­matic deep re­flec­tion as to how we treat our cit­i­zens at home and our neigh­bours abroad en­gag­ing in the very wars that dis­place them and cause them to seek shel­ter else­where. We must look our ugly re­la­tion­ship with racism and white supremacy in the face.


Peo­ple ob­serve a minute of si­lence at a march in sol­i­dar­ity to the vic­tims of the mosque shoot­ings in Quebec City.

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