Globe editorial: This is a story about race in Canadian politics. And it’s hopeful

Agree. Recent federal election largely confirms:

This is not a story about race.

But to understand how it isn’t, we have to talk about how, in another, less successful country, it could be.

In 2016, the census found that 31 per cent the residents of the City of Calgary were immigrants. Thirty-six per cent of the population were members of a visible minority, including 9.5 per cent who were South Asian. The picture is almost exactly the same in Edmonton: 30 per cent of residents are immigrants and 37 per cent are visible minorities, including 9.5 per cent who identify as South Asian.

Two weeks ago, the people of Edmonton and Calgary went to the polls and elected new mayors. Both were born outside of Canada. Jyoti Gondek, Calgary’s top magistrate, was born in England to parents of Punjabi descent and came to this country as a child; Edmonton’s Amarjeet Sohi was born in India and immigrated in his teens. On the census, both would be counted among the roughly one in 10 city residents of South Asian descent.

We bring up race not because it was an issue in the elections of Ms. Gondek and Mr. Sohi, but because it was not. And let us give thanks for that.

In many other countries – less happy, less peaceful countries – the story would have been very different. There, race, religion or ethnicity are the basis for politics. Sectarian divides slice through the possibility of shared citizenship, with lives and politics organized along those lines.

That’s how much of the world is. (Ask an immigrant.) In the worst cases, it results in the failed state of Lebanon, or the violently extinguished state of Yugoslavia, or the Rwanda genocide.

But here’s what we believe can safely be said about the mayoral elections in Calgary and Edmonton: The race of the candidates, their religion (or lack thereof), and their status as first-generation Canadians appear to have been irrelevant to most voters. Maybe not all voters, whether pro or con, but surely most.

Consider: Nine out of 10 voters in Calgary and Edmonton are not of South Asian heritage. Yet Ms. Gondek and Mr. Sohi each won 45 per cent of the vote. That means that most of those who voted for them were from “another” community.

And we put the word “another” in quotation marks because, this being Canada in 2021, most voters don’t see it that way. They weren’t marking their ballots through a prism of race. They didn’t see the winning candidates as coming from some other community, but rather as part of their shared community – Calgarian, Edmontonian, Albertan, Canadian – that transcends where you or your parents came from, where you pray or do not pray, and what colour your skin is.

Canadians are not saints, and Canada is not some magic land where racism never existed. It is not some place where no lines have ever been drawn labelling some people as “us” and others as “them.” Canada has a long history of evolving varieties of sectarian divisions.

But Canada also has a long and accelerating history of expanding the definition of “us,” and extending membership in the shared community to people who, in another place or another time, might have been excluded. For example, until 1954, the mayor of Toronto had always been a Protestant from the Orange Order. But that year, the citizens of Toronto ended all that, electing Nathan Phillips. Phillips was Jewish; nearly all of the city’s residents were not. Most were Protestants. It didn’t matter.

It was a similar story half a century later, in the three mayoral elections won by Naheed Nenshi in Calgary. The vast majority of the people of Calgary are not Ismaili Muslims; it didn’t matter. Overwhelming majorities chose Mr. Nenshi as their representative. And though three-quarters of the residents of Brampton, Ont., are visible minorities, in 2018 they elected Patrick Brown as mayor.

This ability to see beyond differences and biology and faith is something that Canada will need ever more of in its future. Canada is on the road to becoming a majority-minority nation, where no ethnic or racial group is the majority. That’s already the situation in Metro Vancouver and Greater Toronto, and the other big cities are not far behind.

The voting in Calgary and Edmonton is a reminder that this future is hopeful, not ominous. If a Canadian is defined by all that we hold in common, in spite of differences, then everybody’s part of the majority.


Storm of reaction to news Syrian refugee charged with sex assaults

Good commentary by David Tait of Carleton University on how the media should and should not report on cases like this:

Reports that a man accused of sexual assaults on six Edmonton teenage girls was a Syrian refugee have ignited a firestorm of reaction, from anti-immigration diatribes to criticism about how the media dealt with the story.

Groups that work with refugees in the city have been inundated with calls and texts over the past 24 hours, some from people calling for an end to the refugee program and others from refugees themselves apologizing on behalf of their community.

Erick Ambtman, executive director of the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, said his organization received a message on Twitter from a white supremacist group that included a picture of a Syrian refugee, asking the centre to confirm whether the photo was the same man accused of the crimes.

“It may be just to scare us or to unnerve people,” Ambtman said.

“But around my office that’s what’s happening. People are starting to get really nervous, and the [English] language students are starting to get really nervous.

“And the Syrian students are apologizing for somebody who they don’t even know, because he’s got the same country of origin as they do.

“It’s really spiralling into a really ugly place.”

Soleiman Hajj Soleiman, 39, was arrested Saturday and charged with six counts of sexual assault and six counts of sexual interference after six teenage girls, all younger than 16, told police they were inappropriately touched while swimming at the West Edmonton Mall water park.

…When the media reports stories like this one, decisions about what information is relevant have to be made on a case-by-case basis and sometimes on a day-by-day basis, said David Tait, a professor at Ottawa’s Carleton University who has taught ethics courses at the journalism school.

“Journalists have to sort of go and look at a situation not from the standpoint of, ‘Is there public appetite for this information? Do people want to know it?’ But, ‘Is that detail relevant at this stage to this story?’

“And that’s a very difficult thing to determine as a journalist, because you also have to be careful that you’re not making your judgment for some sort of social engineering purpose.

“To say, ‘Oh I don’t want to make these sorts of people look bad’ or ‘I don’t want to make these sorts of people look good.’ You shouldn’t make your journalistic judgments based on how you want people to think about something, because that’s not the journalistic mission.”

‘Our job is to report what’s going on’

Tait said in this case, while reporting immediately after the arrest was made public, he would have questioned whether details about the accused’s background were relevant.

“My question would be, would we have run additional background details about this person if they were a gay man? A gun owner? If they were Jewish? If they were a fundamentalist Christian? If they were a recent arrival from the United States? If they were any number of other identifiers?”

It’s the responsibility of journalists to try to determine what the public needs to know to understand the story. Once the public has the information, people will make their own choices about what’s relevant to them, he said.

Some will seize on information that confirms their own views about the world and overlook other aspects of the story.

“Our job is to report what’s going on out there in the world,” he said.

The story about the water park allegation, Tait said, “is a classic example of where people these days are rushing to grab details, to use individual facts as weapons instead of looking at those details and saying, ‘How does this fit into my developing understanding of the world?'”

Ambtman said Soleiman came to Canada in January 2016 with his wife and six children, aged one to 13 years. The family was assisted by the Mennonite Centre.

Some commenters are exploiting the fact that a Syrian refugee has been charged with a crime, he said.

“They’re exploiting what’s happened to these girls to say something about immigration, and it’s just a really ugly thing to do. It’s been pretty awful to bear witness to.”

It will be up to the justice system to determine the facts of the case and, if a crime has been committed, punish the person responsible, he said.

“To make this about immigration is just absurd. What has happened is there has been a sexual assault at West Edmonton Mall and six girls are going to be traumatized likely for the rest of their lives because of a crime that somebody perpetrated on them. To me, that’s the concern.

ICYMI: Woman wearing burka denied service in Edmonton shop because of ‘no-mask policy’

Will be interesting to see whether a complaint is filed and if so, how will it be handled:

The owner of a north Edmonton shoe repair store says the reason he refused to serve a woman wearing a burka was motivated by safety, not religious or cultural reasons.

“We have a no-mask policy in the store and I certainly cannot discuss any race, religion, politics on the (sales) floor,” said Ryan Vale, owner of Edmonton Shoe Repair in Northgate Centre mall.

The response comes in the wake of accusations from 19-year-old Sarii Ghalab who claimed Vale told her he could not serve her because it goes against his ethical beliefs.

“He blatantly told her not to touch anything in his store and that he will not offer her any service,” Ghalab’s sister wrote in a Reddit post while searching for online advice.

A burka is a traditional dress worn by some Muslim women that covers everything except the eyes.

Ghalab later told CBC News that she tried to deliver flowers to Vale along with a letter explaining the reasons she wears the burka. But she said he simply ushered her out of the store.

Vale said that isn’t the case.

“I certainly did not bring up the issue of race,” said Vale, pointing out a hand-written sign on his counter saying “Please, for security reasons no facial coverings Thank you” as well as another printout saying “For security reasons NO MASKED CUSTOMERS ALLOWED” with a silhouette of a head wearing a balaclava.

“That’s the way it’s always been. I know lots of businesses adhere to that business — strictly a no-mask, veiled mask, policy in the store; for white people, black people, dogs, anything. Please show who you are for safety,” Vale said.

Ghalab said she isn’t looking for retribution (though her sister posted she would file a human rights complaint) and the incident details remain he-said-she-said.

Source: Woman wearing burka denied service in Edmonton shop because of ‘no-mask policy’

Edmonton police set to unveil official hijab that Muslim officers can wear on duty | National Post

Practical example of accommodation (similar to turbans). Highlights again the difference between English Canada and Quebec, where even the more open approaches to accommodation (i.e., Bouchard-Taylor) would not accommodate religious symbols for officials in position of authority.

Edmonton police set to unveil official hijab that Muslim officers can wear on duty | National Post.