Time to end the myth of Canadian exceptionalism
We have ignored the much more deadly undercurrent of Canadian-born hatred
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.