Racism in Canada — Are We Becoming More Intolerant?

On Jan. 29, 2017, Alexandre Bissonette walked into a Quebec City mosque during evening prayers to commit murder.

Armed with an illegal weapon, he shot 53 worshipers from behind, leaving six dead and many more injured, igniting a firestorm of fear and denouncement in the most deadly act of domestic terrorism ever on Canadian soil.

Canadians flew into action, descending upon Montreal for the funeral of the men lost in the terror attack which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced as a blatant act of Islamophobia.

As a society, Canadians began to question more deeply the growing impact of racism upon our collective psyche. How has a country which prides itself in its openness and respect for cultures, declared by journalist Stephen Marche in The Walrus as the last country on Earth that believes in multiculturalism, breed sentiment that manifests in the slaughter of its people?

Are Canadians Becoming More Racist?

Marche agrees with former B.C. Premier Ujjal Dosanjh who sat down with Conversations That Matter host Stuart McNish that Canadians are, indeed, less racist than at any other point in their history right now.

Canadians are embracing the world of open borders and open markets, and they are doing so eagerly, not with a sense of loss but with a sense of purpose. Understanding the specific conditions of the Canadian exception is essential to anyone with the interests of global peace and prosperity at heart. – Stephen Marche

Many people who work as allies and voices of visible minority groups across Canada would argue that the sentiments of Marche and Dosanjh are oversimplified. Yes, Canadians are representing themselves as inclusive and standing firm against the racist rhetoric that is permeating the media reports and conversations of our neighbours to the South. Yet, Canada has a long history of violent racism and, in very high-profile circumstances which define the underlying values of Canadian society such as Bill 62 banning women from wearing niqabs in public in Quebec, an underlying racist sentiment remains evident.

That province’s justice minister Stéphanie Vallée and the Quebec provincial government have come under extreme fire for the passage of the legislation and are now headed to court to determine if it violates human rights.

It has sparked outrage across Canada, with MPs calling for the federal Liberal party to intervene and force Quebec to rescind the law. In November 2017, Globe and Mail reporter Daniel LaBlanc detailed the argument on both sides, laying out the implications.

Muslim women are speaking out. In the video above, Aima Warriach explains how wearing a niqab is an important part of her identity as a woman and a feminist. This video is part of a series by Alia Youssef looking at Muslim women in Canada called ‘The Sisters Project’ – facebook.com/the.sisters.project1.

Let’s review the Canadian Chater of Rights and Freedoms:

  1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
  2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
  • (a) freedom of conscience and religion;
  • (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
  • (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and,
  • (d) freedom of association.

While the legal battles to dismantle Bill 62 play out, other tactics to track immigrants and refugees are proving controversial as they may violate the human rights of people coming to Canada from war-torn countries in the Middle East and around the world.

In December 2017, the Canadian Border Services Agency announced that it is considering instituting an electronic monitoring system for people who are immigrants and refugees whose claims are in question or have a number of other risk factors. This week, University of Toronto Adjunct Prof. Stephanie J. Silverman published a piece on The Conversation Canada arguing that this tactic has the potential to lead to an increased sentiment of Islamaphobia in communities where people are being monitored, the criminalization of immigrants and refugees, and violate those people’s freedoms.

What Is The Answer to Stemming The Spread of Islamophobia?

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says that the answer lies in opening Canada’s borders to immigrants and refugees.

In December 2017, she told an audience of as many as 20,000 at the Reviving The Islamic Spirit conference that, “While others, in other countries, have slammed their doors shut and done all that they can to extinguish hope for a better tomorrow, we are keeping hope alive,” Wynne said. “Violence is the worst consequence of the rising tide of Islamophobia and racism in Canada and around the world. But what happened in Quebec was not an isolated incident. Police statistics tell us that anti-Muslim hate crimes are on the rise.”

Hassan Yussuff of the Canadian Labor Congress has called upon the federal government to designate Jan. 29 as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia, “So that we take the opportunity to educate fellow Canadians about this poison in our midst. This form of racism harms all of us, not only Muslims, or those frequently mistaken for being Muslims, including Sikhs and Hindus.”

Most agree that Canada has far more work ahead of it as a country than behind in order to ensure that racism and shifting global political sentiment does not infect our collective values as a nation.

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