Regg Cohn: When it comes to recognizing Islamophobia, some Conservatives recognize that words matter

Of note:

A massacre changes everything. And, sometimes, nothing.

Four years ago, in the face of a Quebec mosque attack that killed six Muslims at prayer, the federal Conservatives closed their eyes and their hearts to the reality — literally — of Islamophobia.

Then-leader Andrew Scheer led the charge against uttering the word Islamophobia. He relied on a pretext of free speech so specious as to be unspeakable today.

What a difference leadership makes — a change of leaders, a change of mind, a change of heart. And another massacre.

Much is being said, now, about how Scheer’s successor, Erin O’Toole, used the word Islamophobia freely and unselfconsciously after this week’s attack against a Muslim family that killed four in London, Ont. O’Toole showed the sensitivity and humanity that were conspicuously absent — in him and his party — back then.

What remains unsaid, however, is that not all Tories were so far behind the times that they were so overdue for change. At the very moment federal Conservatives were playing intemperate word games in Ottawa in 2017, their provincial cousins in the Ontario legislature were displaying tolerance and togetherness in their choice of words.

Then-leader Patrick Brown rallied his Progressive Conservative caucusbehind him to recognize and respect the term Islamophobia, unequivocally and unreservedly, in a legislative vote. How to explain the stark difference between federal and provincial Tories — and the subsequent about-face by O’Toole?

There is no single reason, but there is one common thread: Walied Soliman.

Brown and O’Toole are both close to Soliman, an influential lawyer and persuasive political operator who also happens to be a person of faith. For Soliman, as a Muslim, the massacres were also intensely personal.

“Islamophobia is real,” he wrote on Twitter this week. “Call it out. Call out anyone who doesn’t use the word. Call them out. Shame them. Cut the crap. Enough. If you’ve got a problem using the term you are part of the problem.”

Soliman has known Brown since they were both Young Tories in their twenties, and he later played a key role as Ontario PC chair, helping the party pivot toward broader community outreach. As co-chair of O’Toole’s leadership run, he raised the candidate’s game — and raised money for the campaign.

Soliman tells me he never raised the Islamophobia issue directly with either leader. Perhaps he didn’t have to, knowing that the mere fact that they know him — were thinking about him — might have influenced them.

“They came to their conclusions on their own,” Soliman insists.

But even if he didn’t have to say a word about using the word Islamophobia, they also had to look him in the eye. And they knew what his reaction would be when they said it.

“When they both started talking about it, there was this distinct feeling of happiness that I felt,” Soliman recalls. Even if it took O’Toole a lot longer to find the words, “The first time Erin publicly talked about Islamophobia, it made me very happy.”

It must be said that Soliman himself has been a target for vicious Islamophobia against the backdrop of leadership races and internal policy debates. As chair of the Norton Rose Fulbright law firm — where he has worked with Brian Mulroney, another early champion of tolerance — his high profile attracted slurs about a supposedly hidden agenda for Islamic sharia law.

“I’ve often wondered if my friendships were a burden, that maybe it’d be easier for them if I wasn’t involved, wasn’t a friend,” Soliman muses. But when a person is a friend or a neighbour, he inevitably has influence because “you see them every day, you see their humanity — that’s me.”

The old Conservative word games — the claim in 2017 that Islamophobia was a made-up word because it literally suggests “fear of Islam” — never made sense. Everyone knows what homophobia means to gays who faced discrimination and demonization for centuries, which is why Soliman encouraged Brown to march in a Pride parade.

Not every word must be taken literally. Misogyny means hatred of women, but it is often used interchangeably with sexism, referring to prejudice, discrimination and contempt. The term anti-Semitism is only about 150 years old, but “Jew hatred” goes back centuries and makes the point more powerfully.

The Muslim family killed in London this week had immigrated to Canada from the Islamic State of Pakistan in search of sanctuary. They thought they had found it here, only to be blindsided by bigotry and intolerance, police say, on the streets — on the sidewalk — of an Ontario city.

We live in a time of slogans and slurs. We cannot coexist in a world where words are weaponized or accountability is avoided altogether.

Hate crimes are rising, not falling, but there is a way for us to insulate and inoculate ourselves. It falls to our political leaders to show the way on civility and tolerance, lest we fall victim to the internecine intolerance that we witness in America today.

Democracy alone cannot protect minorities from the perils of majority rule. Only pluralism can preserve our common humanity.

Our leaders must say what needs to be said — on Islamophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and discrimination that badmouth the “other.” And that lead to massacres.

Words matter. Leadership matters.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/politics/political-opinion/2021/06/09/when-it-comes-to-recognizing-islamophobia-some-conservatives-recognize-that-words-matter.html

Regg-Cohn: Surprised that some Black people and Latinos voted for Trump? Try looking at them as individuals

Good commentary on the diversity within groups:

In other news, it turns out that more Blacks, Latinos and gays turned out for Donald Trump this time than last time.

Why is that news? The only surprise is that anyone is surprised.

That certain groups are presumed to vote in their supposed self-interest — as determined by other groups who know better what’s best for them — is not merely presumptuous. It’s profiling.

Today, some of the same social critics who warn against stereotyping Blacks or Latinos are now scratching their heads about why they didn’t vote as expected in the U.S. presidential election. Profiling can be perilous.

Today, some of the same social critics who warn against stereotyping Blacks or Latinos are now scratching their heads about why they didn’t vote as expected in the U.S. presidential election. Profiling can be perilous.

It is a human impulse. But impossibly dehumanizing at times.

Profiling seeks out similarities, but it is pointless if we forget individual differences. It relies on the notion that people of similar backgrounds or aspirations hold similar beliefs, live in similar neighbourhoods, and so on.

Profiling seeks out similarities, but it is pointless if we forget individual differences. It relies on the notion that people of similar backgrounds or aspirations hold similar beliefs, live in similar neighbourhoods, and so on.

The biggest problems with profiling are the premises and definitions that underlie it. That more Latinos voted for Trump this time tells us little of interest, because it’s such an imprecise term (and is overshadowed by the overpowering reality that whites voted massively and decisively for him).

Latinos range from anti-Communist arch-capitalists in Miami’s Cuban émigré community to impoverished Honduran refugees fleeing drug wars via Mexico, to second-generation strivers in Texas or Arizona aspiring to join the ruling Republican establishment. Ethnic is not monolithic.

Just as LGBTQ voters can be Republican or Democrat, Latinos are more different than they are alike.

Profiling is a tool and a template. It is a form of demography and part of democracy, for better or for worst — which is why pollsters, political operatives and party fundraisers mine the data to harvest votes and donations at election time.

They’re just more sophisticated than the rest of us in slicing and dicing the fruit salad. They know that skin colour is only skin deep, so they drill down for other demographic details such as education, income, location.

That’s why postal codes are the preferred proxies for pollsters. Yet zeitgeist and zip codes are rarely congruent.

My own education in demographic divisions came when I was posted to the Toronto Star’s Middle East bureau years ago. Despite my background as a political reporter, I only realized as a foreign correspondent how many ways Israelis could be subdivided.

Not merely as hawks versus doves, but ethnic Ashkenazi versus Sephardi; secular Russian immigrants versus ultra-Orthodox Haredi; socialist kibbutzniks versus modern Orthodox Jewish settlers; urban versus suburban; Muslim and Christian Arab citizens versus Jewish citizens; and last but not least, left versus right. The miracle was how quickly those internecine divisions melted away when Israelis faced an external enemy and existential threat; and how quickly the internal tensions returned (Palestinians, too, fought their own civil war in Gaza between Islamist Hamas rejectionists and secular Yasser Arafat loyalists).

The security services typecast people as safe or threatening based not only on background but back story and behaviour — whether at airport check-ins, military checkpoints or political rallies. Which is why Yitzhak Rabin’s security guards let down their guard when a kippah-wearing orthodox Jew chatted them up before assassinating the prime minister — he didn’t fit their Palestinian profile of a clear and present danger.

Stephen Harper’s Tories made inroads in the GTA suburbs by appealing to the traditional values of many immigrant communities that converged with conservatism. His then-minister of multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, once sat me down to demonstrate his mastery of Chinese Canadian demographics — delineating early anti-Communist immigrants from Taiwan, subsequent waves of Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong dual citizens, and more recent (more apolitical) arrivals from mainland China.

The New Democratic Party — founded as an alliance between the co-operative agricultural movement and the labour movement — long ago learned the working class would not reflexively rally to their side. If workers are reluctant to recognize their own enlightened self-interest — rallying to Doug Ford’s Tories even when they campaigned on cancelling a minimum wage hike and then freezing it for years — why are progressives perplexed when Blacks or Latinos warm up to Trump?

Vote-determining issues are more likely to be economic than ethnic, and political preferences are often more idiosyncratic than ideological. That’s only human.

The point is that profiling tells you everything and nothing about people. Just as postal codes are imprecise — people are unpredictable.

Political parties bank on profiling because there’s much to gain from voters and donors, and little to lose from mass mailings or email blasting that misses the mark. The minimal cost of bulk postage and mass spamming is a mere rounding error.

The point is that profiling tells you everything and nothing about people. Just as postal codes are imprecise — people are unpredictable.

Political parties bank on profiling because there’s much to gain from voters and donors, and little to lose from mass mailings or email blasting that misses the mark. The minimal cost of bulk postage and mass spamming is a mere rounding error.

The rest of us can’t afford to be so reckless with our wild guesses, unproven hunches and dehumanizing assumptions. If the penalty of your profiling is an assassin’s bullet, or an airplane bombing, or a human rights humiliation, then the miscalculation yields an incalculable cost.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/politics/political-opinion/2020/11/11/surprised-that-blacks-and-latinos-voted-for-donald-trump-try-looking-at-them-as-individuals.html

When white Canadians think of racism, they think of America. These Black MPPs know better

Good conversation and discussion:

“Five Black politicians have changed the face of Ontario politics.

They’ve formed the first Black Caucus in the history of Canada’s most diverse province — which still has a mostly white legislature.

In the worst of times, their timing couldn’t be better. In the wake of the 2018 election that vaulted them to the provincial legislature, in advance of the violence-plagued summer of 2020 that sparked public protests, five New Democrats came together to speak out.

Now, they are being put to the test. We all are.

When white folks confront racism, their first thought is usually slavery or strife in America — with Canada as an afterthought. For the Black Caucus, the reality of racism is closer to home, here and now.

“When I as a Black person am thinking about racism, I don’t actually see a difference between the U.S. and Canada in the same way that a lot of white community members seem to believe is true,” Black Caucus chair Laura Mae Lindo told a Ryerson Democracy Forum I hosted Thursday on the NDP Black Caucus — why it matters.

“What I see is a similarity about how quickly we stop talking about racism in the U.S. and Canada — how quickly we accept people’s apologies for racist comments or denial of my history or denial of my humanity.”

Lindo, who spent much of her career before politics educating people on diversity — as a researcher and university administrator — has a keen eye for Canadian blind spots. And an ear for classic Canadian excuses.

“There’s a subtlety and a politeness in which Canadians perpetuate their anti-Blackness,” she muses. “And much of that is linked to their ability to just say, ‘I’m sorry,’ when somebody calls them on it.’”

Lindo came face to face with that in her Kitchener riding when she asked a gathering of Black students from the school district if the N-word was thrown around by white folks in their presence. Every single hand went up.

Not in America, not decades ago, here and now.

“I cried — I’ll be honest — because it’s shocking,” Lindo recalled. “It was overwhelming.”

And a life lesson for the mostly-white teachers in the classroom. Racism isn’t just accidental or incidental in Canada, it’s ingrained — even if sometimes invisible.

To cope with deadly serious racism, Lindo has resorted to humour as a teaching tool. Studying for her PhD in education, she focused on standup African American comedians for her doctoral thesis.

Diversity training for white folks too often tried to “guilt them and shame them into doing better.” She wanted to get their attention by harnessing humour, after realizing that “the people who were doing that best were the standup comedians.”

She coined the academic term “race-comics” to analyze their ability to “keep people in that room.” Laughing can make listen and learn the lessons of racism.

“I need to laugh…. We can’t do that if we’re angry all the time. Racism makes me rage-y, right?”

Fellow MPP Faisal Hassan recounted his own life story as an immigrant, experiencing homelessness, hardship and harassment on his way from the Horn of Africa to his Toronto riding of York South—Weston: As a Black male, he was carded a half-dozen times by local police.

But he described his journey in surprisingly resilient terms.

“My story is a happy story — I am an immigrant, I came here, and I have been welcomed,” Hassan told the students, many of whom wanted to know not just how he got to Canada, but how he got where he is today — in the legislature.

“Nobody’s going to give you anything,” he replied to student Stephen Mensah. “You have to be competitive, you have to be working hard with others, you have to show that you are going to be the voice of your community.”

Ontario needs more Black, Brown and Indigenous politicians so that people feel reflected in their institutions, added Jill Andrew, who represents St. Paul’s and proudly describes herself as the first Queer and Black elected representative in any provincial legislature.

“There’s a subtlety and a politeness in which Canadians perpetuate their anti-Blackness,” she muses. “And much of that is linked to their ability to just say, ‘I’m sorry,’ when somebody calls them on it.’”

Lindo came face to face with that in her Kitchener riding when she asked a gathering of Black students from the school district if the N-word was thrown around by white folks in their presence. Every single hand went up.

Not in America, not decades ago, here and now.

“I cried — I’ll be honest — because it’s shocking,” Lindo recalled. “It was overwhelming.”

And a life lesson for the mostly-white teachers in the classroom. Racism isn’t just accidental or incidental in Canada, it’s ingrained — even if sometimes invisible.

To cope with deadly serious racism, Lindo has resorted to humour as a teaching tool. Studying for her PhD in education, she focused on standup African American comedians for her doctoral thesis.

Diversity training for white folks too often tried to “guilt them and shame them into doing better.” She wanted to get their attention by harnessing humour, after realizing that “the people who were doing that best were the standup comedians.”

She coined the academic term “race-comics” to analyze their ability to “keep people in that room.” Laughing can make listen and learn the lessons of racism.

“I need to laugh…. We can’t do that if we’re angry all the time. Racism makes me rage-y, right?”

Fellow MPP Faisal Hassan recounted his own life story as an immigrant, experiencing homelessness, hardship and harassment on his way from the Horn of Africa to his Toronto riding of York South—Weston: As a Black male, he was carded a half-dozen times by local police.

But he described his journey in surprisingly resilient terms.

“My story is a happy story — I am an immigrant, I came here, and I have been welcomed,” Hassan told the students, many of whom wanted to know not just how he got to Canada, but how he got where he is today — in the legislature.

“Nobody’s going to give you anything,” he replied to student Stephen Mensah. “You have to be competitive, you have to be working hard with others, you have to show that you are going to be the voice of your community.”

Ontario needs more Black, Brown and Indigenous politicians so that people feel reflected in their institutions, added Jill Andrew, who represents St. Paul’s and proudly describes herself as the first Queer and Black elected representative in any provincial legislature.

She noted the impetus for creating Black Caucus — its two other members are Kevin Yarde (Brampton North) and Rima Berns-McGown (Beaches—East York) — came from members of the Black community who pointed out that the Official Opposition NDP now had enough MPPs to make it happen (two Black MPPs in the Liberal caucus, Mitzie Hunter and Michael Coteau, have not been invited to join the New Democrats).

Now the challenge is to get more outsiders inside the halls of power — and inside voting booths. Getting engaged, and getting elected, can be doubly hard for Blacks and Indigenous peoples, Lindo added.

“When you have been subject to the realities of a political system that has never seen you, kept you invisible, ignored your needs, used you — it’s very difficult to trust that the politician knocking on your door, asking for your vote, or putting her name forward is going to be any different,” the caucus chair told students.

“The formation of the Black Caucus at this point in history has pushed us to really look deep into our souls, too, and decide: ‘Are we going to push?’””

Source: https://www.thestar.com/politics/political-opinion/2020/10/04/a-black-caucus-at-queens-park-is-an-idea-whose-time-has-come.html

Three contrasting narratives regarding statues of Sir John A and other historical figures

Three contrasting narratives: the first by Martin Regg-Cohn, of the Star (keep most statues but provide historical and social context), the second by Erica Ifill in the Globe (tear them down, lacking perspective) and the third, by Tom XXX in The Tyee, (focus on building monuments and statues to commemorate Indigenous history). In Hegelian terms, think thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

Focussing on the symbolic, while important, can divert attention away from the long and difficult tasks of improving conditions for Indigenous peoples and can be seen as one form of virtue signalling. If there were easy and simple solutions, we wouldn’t be in this space now.

Starting with Regg-Cohn:

The tug of war over public statues keeps exposing our blind spots — not just our blinkered view of history, but of democracy in all its complexity.

Sir John A. Macdonald is merely the latest historical figure to be pulled down and covered up, his head lopped off or layered with painted graffiti. Protestors in Montreal toppled our founding prime minister last weekend, and Macdonald’s visage is visible no more at Queen’s Park — protected and padlocked in a massive wooden shell after demonstrators hurled paint at his statue this summer.

Unpopular statues, like unpopular governments, ought not to be toppled in a democracy — just put in their place, placed in context, or put in storage.

Controversies over politicians of the past — like those of the present — are as old as history itself, and rarely as simple as they appear on protest placards. How we deal with them, how we heal over them, also matters in the crusade to right historical wrongs.

Sometimes the decision is obvious — like removing Confederate statues that celebrate those who lost the civil war but still succeeded in keeping Blacks down. More often it’s complicated.

Shall we remove the monument to Mahatma Gandhi at Carleton University, given latter-day criticisms of the Indian independence leader for harbouring anti-Black views? What about the monument in Toronto’s Riverdale Park to Sun Yat-sen, the revered leader who brought China into the modern era?

“Other monuments, such as to Sir Winston Churchill, to Sun Yat-sen, have also been called into question,” Wayne Reeves, chief curator of Toronto’s culture division, told the city’s Aboriginal affairs advisory committee last month.

Which raises the question of who decides. Protestors deserve to be heard but not automatically heeded. A representative democracy defined by pluralism, mindful of minority rights and majority sentiments, requires consultation and conciliation, debate and deliberation.

A statue of Edward Cornwallis, founder of Halifax was a festering sore given his infamous Scalping Proclamation of 1749 offering a bounty for any Mi’kmaq adult or child. Ultimately, the statue was removed when elected representatives took a vote in 2018 (they voted again last month to erase his name from city streets and relocate the statue in a new museum of Mi’kmaq history).

That may not be as satisfying as spray painting, or as gratifying as graffiti. But the decision is more enduring.

The controversy over Macdonald is complicated — and in many ways intertwined with the debate over Egerton Ryerson, whose statue at Ryerson University was covered in pink paint by the same protestors this summer. As one scholar looking into Ryerson’s relationship with residential schools noted, his name is “incorrectly linked to the ‘architect’ label;” instead, wrote Sean Carleton, “Macdonald must be understood as its architect.”

(Full disclosure: as a visiting practitioner at Ryerson’s Faculty of Arts, I walk by his statue on campus; I see his visage again inside the legislature when I walk by the Ryerson bust perched just outside NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s office).

Perhaps that’s why Ryerson University added a plaque in 2018 introducing more context: “As Chief Superintendent of Education, Ryerson’s recommendations were instrumental in the design and implementation of the Indian Residential School System,” it reads.

That he also pioneered the modernization of Ontario’s educational system remains beyond dispute. The question is how to reconcile conflicting legacies for people like Ryerson, Macdonald, Churchill, Gandhi, and others.

At Queen’s Park, Macdonald lies boarded up. What’s interesting is that few other statues, such as one honouring Queen Victoria — who presided over so much of our complicated colonial history — get much attention.

A few steps away, a monument honours the “memory of the officers and men who fell on the battlefields of the North-West in 1885,” which surely invites historical context and Indigenous input. The previous speaker of the legislature, Dave Levac, campaigned for years to erect a new to monument to the Métis leader Louis Riel, who led the Northwest Rebellion and was later executed during Macdonald’s time as PM.

Surely the answer to our complicated historical record is to clarify and contextualize it, rather than censor it — which is why the recent addition of anonymous historical plaques adding context to some of Toronto’s most problematic landmarks and street names is so interesting and educational. Far better to fill in the gaps of history rather than create new historical vacuums in a country where few of us have taken the time to learn it.

“The problem I have with the overall approach to tearing down statues and buildings is that is counterproductive,” said Sen. Murray Sinclair, who headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigating the Residential Schools disaster. “We are trying to create more balance in the relationship.”

That’s similar to the approach taken by Nelson Mandela, who launched a pioneering truth and reconciliation commission when he became the first president of post-apartheid South Africa. As president, he avoided reflexively razing the statues of his racist predecessors, opting for a more deliberative approach (some came down, others remained).

Mandela, like Gandhi, understood the frailty and flaws of all humans, not least our leaders. Let he who is without sin cast the first bronze.

Ifill:
In a classic example of what the late John Lewis called “good trouble,”Montreal demonstrators removed the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from a public space without injury at a protest to defund the police last Saturday. And the outrage from the white Canadian men in whose image Canadian history is taught was swift.

But context has been missing from so many pearl-clutching responses. In this second civil rights movement, where Black Lives Matter has brought global attention to police violence and death wrought on Black people, the traditional framing of criminality is being challenged. Even our current Prime Minister has engaged in at least the pageantry of it; just months earlier, Justin Trudeau attended an anti-police brutality march in Ottawa, going so far as to take a knee reminiscent of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s years-long protest over the same issue.

Fast forward to his response to the statue toppling, and his tone has changed. Much like his reaction to the protests in support of some Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Mr. Trudeau has morphed from white ally to condescending white settler colonialist. “We are a country of laws, and we are a country that needs to respect those laws even as we seek to improve and change them,” he said on Monday. “Those kinds of acts of vandalism are not advancing the path towards greater justice and equality in this country.”

With allyship like this, who needs enemies?

In doing this, Mr. Trudeau was eager to show off his law-and-order bona fides. But if he is still seeking to advance “greater justice and equality,” he undermines his own allegedly progressive message by vaunting the very laws that underpin many of the problems being protested – including laws Macdonald helped establish at the start of Confederation. (And imagine having the temerity to scold Canadians about respecting the law after proroguing Parliament to avoid judgement from those same laws, in your second ethics scandal in as many years.)

It’s not as if this issue came out of nowhere for Mr. Trudeau, either. The removal of monuments exalting the father of Confederation has been in the national discourse for years. However, Canadians like to engage in the vanity exercise of cherry-picking the history we’re comfortable with, leaving out the icky bits that don’t uphold our worldview of being “good people.” The reality, though, is that Canada’s first prime minister was an oppressive colonist whose deployment of state violence was instrumental in the formation of the nation. These aren’t “mistakes made by previous generations who built this country,”as Mr. Trudeau falsely characterized them; rather, this was a man who committed real atrocities that formed and informed how the Canadian state interacts with Black, Indigenous and people of colour, to this day.

Here are just a few achievements on his résumé: The creation of the federal residential school system, which was used as a form of genocide against Indigenous peoples; the creation of the pass system, a program of social control requiring Indigenous people to attain permission to leave the reserve (and which was then exported to South Africa, where it was used to control Black South Africans during apartheid); the execution of Louis Riel; a starvation policy to clear Indigenous people off their lands and make way for the Canadian Pacific Railway; the largest mass execution in Canadian history, when eight Indigenous men fighting that starvation policy were hanged in what is known as the Frog Lake Massacre; the implementation of the Chinese Head Tax; and the passage of the Electoral Franchise Act, which denied Black and Indigenous people the vote.

Those same racialized groups targeted by MacDonald in the formation and dominion of Canada continue to be the targets of systemic racism and oppression today.

Ignoring inconvenient truths makes for bad leadership. And the paucity of leadership from Mr. Trudeau is evident, or else there wouldn’t have needed to be a protest in Montreal in the first place. Five years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, we are still waiting on this government to implement its recommendations. Nearly three months after Mr. Trudeau took the knee, we are no closer to systemic reforms, despite the credible plans on the table. And in June, the Parliamentary Black Caucus called on the federal government to dedicate real resources toward ending anti-Black systemic racism: “This is not a time for further discussion – the Afro-Canadian community has spoken for many years and is no longer interested in continued consultation or study. Extensive reports and serious proposals already exist.” That call appears to have gone unheeded.

Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, his ability to deliver on promises of transformational change has long been in dispute. Now, he has condemned protesters on the destruction of property more than he has the RCMP, for the gratuitous violence against Black and Indigenous people.

The time for double-talk is over. The time for action is now – and it’s not being well used in defending Canadian history’s leading man.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-in-rebuking-john-a-macdonald-protesters-trudeau-undermines-his-own/

Lastly, and I think most useful, Tom McMahon:

Every so often, the removal of a statue or place name causes a minor media moment in Canada. Like this weekend, when protesters in Montreal pulled down a statue of the country’s first prime minister, the notorious racist John A. Macdonald, and beheaded him.

The media dove in. “Trudeau ‘deeply disappointed’ after demonstrators topple John A. Macdonald statue” read one headline. The prime minister’s thoughts on this “act of vandalism” filled papers across the country.

Rarely does news coverage of such stories place the topic of statues in a broader context. And political parties are usually completely silent about it too.

What is the broader context? It’s that while we can seemingly talk forever about whether a statue or place name should exist, we never seem able to discuss what does not exist. And why that might be.

What doesn’t exist in Canada, for the most part, are statues and monuments highlighting great Indigenous leaders, or highlighting exactly which Indigenous groups live in a particular place and their contributions to Canadian life. What doesn’t exist is any effort to create these monuments.

Justin Trudeau is deeply disappointed that a headless John A. Macdonald was put on the ground? Well, I’m disappointed that Trudeau has not lived up to his promise to implement the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Specifically, Call to Action #81:

We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with [Residential School] Survivors and their organizations, and other parties to the Settlement Agreement, to commission and install a publicly accessible, highly visible, Residential Schools National Monument in the city of Ottawa to honour Survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities.

I see that the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson, responsible for Parks Canada, has announced that the residential school system is an event of national historical significance and that two residential school buildings in relatively remote, unpopulated areas will be designated national historic sites.

Not in the capital cities. Not particularly publicly accessible or highly visible.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney volunteered to bring the statue of the headless racist to his province. But who will ask Kenney what he is doing to implement TRC Call to Action #82?

We call upon provincial and territorial governments, in collaboration with Survivors and their organizations, and other parties to the Settlement Agreement, to commission and install a publicly accessible, highly visible, Residential Schools Monument in each capital city to honour Survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities.

In Winnipeg, we have a monument to the Holodomor in the Ukraine in front of our city hall. A monument to the Winnipeg Rifles who were sent to put down the Riel Rebellion in Saskatchewan in 1885 is across the street.

Or for a more exhaustive example, look at Manitoba. On its legislative grounds alone you’ll find a massive monument to Queen Victoria and a smaller one to Queen Elizabeth II; one for General Wolfe who led England’s takeover of New France from France; two to Lord Douglas, to whom the London governing committee of the Hudson’s Bay Company gave a huge grant of land to settle Scots in Manitoba; one to Scottish poet Robert Burns; one to the Sieur de La Verendrye, the first European to travel to Manitoba from Lake Superior; one to Father Ritchot, Louis Riel, Marc-Amable Girard and John Norquay as early Manitobans who got the province included in Canada through the Manitoba Act (and a monument to George-Étienne Cartier who worked with them); several memorials to Manitoba soldiers killed in wars and to others who served the war efforts; one to the internment during the First World War of Ukrainian and other eastern Europeans as potential enemies of Canada; one to Taras Shevchenko, a Ukrainian poet and symbol of the important contributions of Ukrainians to the Canadian West; one to Jewish victims of the Holocaust; one to Jon Sigurdsson who led the country of Iceland to be independent from Denmark, symbolizing the important contributions of Icelandic immigrants to Manitoba; a B.C. totem pole to commemorate the 100th anniversary of B.C.’s entry into Confederation; and a commemoration of the tenth year of an exchange program between Manitoba and Japanese students.

Plus, there’s a monument to the controversial Famous Five, who won the right for propertied, well-connected women to be appointed to the Senate. Some of the five were also famous for their racism, support of eugenics and advocacy of racist drug laws.

The Famous Five should be controversial because support for being appointed to the Senate did almost nothing for women’s equality generally, and Indigenous women and children in particular are still fighting for equality in various ways nearly 100 years on.

At the University of Minnesota football stadium in Minneapolis there is a marvellous plaza showing the names, maps and a summary of information about each Tribal Nation that is in Minnesota. I have never seen a similar plaza in Canada.

Go to any provincial capital city and see what monuments there are, especially on legislative grounds. How are Indigenous peoples included in those monuments? Are they there at all?

Now go ask your premier what is happening with Call to Action #82.

Every time there’s a news article about monuments to John A. Macdonald, Cornwallis, Amherst, Langevin, Wolseley, Osborne, Douglas, Begbie, Vancouver, etc., do the media show any awareness of what monuments are not there?

Do the media have any awareness of TRC Calls to Action #81 and #82? Do the media ask the first ministers and leaders of the opposition about those Calls to Action?

Did the media ask the federal government: thanks for the announcement about the new Portage la Prairie and Shubenacadie residential school sites, but what is happening with Call to Action #81 for the capital cities?

Let’s get on with building a publicly accessible, highly visible, residential schools monument in each capital city to honour survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities.

Let’s get on with building prominent public monuments that show exactly which Indigenous peoples live in a specific region, showing the extent of their traditional territories and the dates and contents of the treaties that we signed with them.

Let’s get on with building prominent public monuments to Indigenous contributions to our lives and to Indigenous heroes.

It’s history by addition.  [Tyee]

 

A vote — from anyone — is a terrible thing to waste: Regg Cohn

Good profile by Regg Cohn on the Muslim community’s successful effort to increase political participation and voting (Liberals won a massive majority of the Muslim vote in the 2015):

Every political party gets out the vote on voting day.

Their vote. And only their vote.

GOTV, as it’s called, is an axiom of democracy. And yet the better that parties get at GOTV, the less democratic the turnout tends to be. From one election to the next, a political movement masters the technique or musters the technology to outhustle all rivals on voting day. But do we really want elections decided on the strength of a well-oiled electoral machine rather than a well-honed democratic impulse?

What if we got out the full vote (GOTFV) with a full pull — motivated not by partisanship but participation?

That’s what the Canadian Muslim Vote tried in the last federal election — and plans again for the coming provincial ballot. Mindful that Muslims vote far less than others, the group’s volunteers focused on their own faith group — but without trying to divine anyone’s partisan loyalties.

“We didn’t care who they’d vote for,” said Seher Shafiq, part of the leadership team at the non-partisan, non-profit organization.

As long as they voted for someone. For too long, too many of Canada’s 1.3 million Muslims voted for no one, she told a panel on democratic engagement that I moderated at Ryerson University on the weekend because this issue is crucial for me. Her group tried to understand how Muslim participation in the 2011 election was a mere 35 to 45 per cent in key ridings, compared to the national turnout of 61 per cent.

“We were shocked by this research . . . and we wanted to know why,” Shafiq told a couple of hundred democracy activists at the conference sponsored by Ryerson’s Leadership Lab and the Open Democracy Project.

The reasons were both banal and discouraging; people didn’t know who to vote for, how to vote, how to master the issues, and how to get engaged. In short, how they could make a difference.

Focused mostly on ridings in the Greater Toronto Area — where most volunteers, and most Muslims, happen to live — the group attended hundreds of grassroots events, paid for robocalls, mounted a social media push, and knocked on thousands of doors. Celebrity endorsements were part of the campaign, including Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri.

The bigger stars, however, were influential imams at local mosques. Her group persuaded them to praise the virtues of civic engagement and democracy in their regular sermons.

“For the first time ever, people saw the Muslim community was organizing politically,” she told the audience. “We really felt the buzz.”

It added up to a dramatic increase in the Islamic turnout — 79 per cent in the 2015 election versus 45 per cent in the previous vote, according to public opinion research commissioned by the group. In nine GTA ridings targeted by the group, the Islamic turnout averaged 88 per cent.

The Canadian Muslim Vote doesn’t take full credit for the improvement. Community concerns were bubbling up over perceived anti-Islamic rhetoric after the Stephen Harper government talked about banning religious face coverings, and proposed a “barbaric cultural practices” snitch line.

But I asked Shafiq if lessons learned from the Muslim mobilization could be transferable to other groups in the next provincial election. She is already comparing notes with Black Vote Canada and other organizations that motivate voters.

“Without talking to them — and having people who look like them talk to them — I don’t think they will be as engaged as they could be.”

Fellow panelist Dave Meslin, a grassroots activist trying to reform the electoral system, dismissed traditional GOTV as “a scam” that merely harasses people on election day, with little evidence that it improves democratic outcomes.

“Are we really building these lists (of supporters) to make sure we increase engagement, or are the lists designed to make sure we don’t pull the wrong people — that the Liberals don’t pull Conservatives, that Conservatives don’t pull New Democrats” he asked rhetorically.

Our third panelist, ex-MP and mayoralty candidate Olivia Chow (full disclosure: like me, she is a visiting professor at Ryerson), talked about the power of motivation in democratic engagement. Participatory movements are fine in theory, but a top-down approach may leave the grassroots as unmoved — and unmotivated — as ever.

“We talk about winning hearts and minds, not minds and hearts,” Chow reminded the activists. “Hearts come first.”

But Shafiq won a round of applause when she projected an image onscreen of her grandmother voting for the first time in the 2015 election at age 85. And then came a public confession from Shafiq about herself — the great persuader.

It turns out that she had never taken an interest in politics before she took on the role with the Canadian Muslim Vote. But at the age of 25 she finally joined her 85-year-old grandmother in focusing on the election, figuring out the issues, and making up her own mind.

Because a vote — from anyone, of any persuasion — is a terrible thing to waste.

via A vote — from anyone — is a terrible thing to waste | Toronto Star

White privilege, Jewish privilege, and neo-Nazis: Cohn 

A thoughtful exploration of the different forms of privilege, and the complexities involved by Martin Regg Cohn.

Money quote: “prejudice and privilege come in all shades and colours.”

The latest manifestations of white supremacy have reminded us that Jews, not just Blacks, are perennial targets at neo-Nazi rallies.

Put another way, African Americans and Ashkenazi Americans are seen as equally un-American by the blue-eyed, red-blooded, all-American white nationalists who chanted in Charlottesville, “Jews will not replace us.”

That shared demonization comes as no surprise to many Jews who know their history. And who have watched with apprehension the present-day tendency to lash out at so many other “others” — be they brown, Black, Indigenous or Muslim.

But the resurgence of anti-Semitism is also an awkward reminder that “white privilege,” supposedly enjoyed by white Jews and all other white folks, offers little protection from persecution or privation. Now, as the casual invocation of white privilege gains greater currency, it’s worth examining some of the questionable assumptions that underpin it — and undermine it.

This is not an attempt to shoot down the important social analysis behind the theory of “white privilege” — the idea that most whites have “unearned” advantages notably in dealing with the police, employment and education. But relying on colour to confer privilege on people — an entire class of people — is conflating, confusing and counterproductive.

When a phrase risks alienating potential allies in the quest for greater equality of opportunity, it’s time for better terminology. Much like “cultural appropriation,” the “white privilege” paradigm emerged from the academic world, which speaks in its own rarefied and coded jargon, often obscuring rather than clarifying real-world issues. Beyond the ivory tower, where colour analysis has superseded class analysis, the term “white privilege” is being used, misused and misunderstood.

I hope I have a head start in understanding the obstacles others face. My grandparents didn’t just face discrimination but death in the 1940s. I still have a Montreal Gazette clipping about the landlord who wouldn’t rent to my father in the 1950s because of our Jewish surname (which made the stories about Donald Trump’s father rejecting Black tenants personal for me).

Privilege is part of any society that stratifies itself along various lines — hierarchical, patriarchal, economical, geographical, political, religious. But when “white privilege” is appropriated as a proxy for societal unfairness, it too easily breeds resentment.

It is a classic anti-Semitic trope to confer privilege and power on Jews — propagating the pre-Nazi, Nazi and neo-Nazi fiction that they control the media, the banks, the world (you might call it fake news . . .). We are not reliving the 1930s today, but whether in Hitler’s Germany or Trump’s America, the privileged can be persecuted in the blink of an eye.

And not just Jews. Citizens of Japanese descent were unjustly incarcerated in Canada and the U.S. in the Second World War for fear they were fascist fifth columnists. Today, students of Asian descent are viewed skeptically for their disproportionate university enrolment. Talk of informal “Asian quotas” among college admissions officers has personal resonance given the formal Jewish quotas enforced at major universities in the 1950s.

Beware white privilege, for class and cultural differences are no less critical.

It is one of the great conceits of whites that we flagellate ourselves as the world’s most unrepentant racists. Go to Indonesia, where the majority has hounded an ethnic Chinese minority for decades as a “privileged” group of shopkeepers. Think of Vietnam, where so many boat people were ethnic Chinese fleeing persecution. Consider Hong Kong, where those of Indian descent are disparaged and whites are mocked as “gweilos” (ghosts). In East Africa, Ismailis of South Asia origin have been persecuted for decades. Entrenched homophobia across Africa conjures up Black heterosexual privilege. India’s caste system has long co-existed with a colour continuum that prompts marriage prospects to describe themselves as having “wheatish” complexions, as against less socially desirable “dusky.”

The reality everywhere is that race and skin colour are clumsy proxies for social distinctions that matter at least as much: Ageism is a chronic affliction. The urban-rural in Ontario and across North America is deeply rooted. Postsecondary education is ever more accessible, yet driving more enduring disparities for those left behind.

Yes, we need constant reminders of our blind spots, but white privilege is hardly the clearest prism for viewing the world. Whites assuredly have advantages — on average. But averages are just generalizations, which lend themselves to stereotypes, which can be skin deep. Averages disguise the individual variations underneath.

We live in a world of competing victimhoods. But if everyone plays victim — even the billionaire President Donald Trump and the white nationalists he flirts with — then no one is a victim.

When white Jews are targeted by so-called white nationalists, the notion of white privilege loses its colour palette. But it reminds everyone — not least Jews who joined the civil rights battles of the 1960s, in the wake of the Holocaust of the 1940s — that we must all stick together, even if we come at it from different life experiences.

Which is why we need a better term than white privilege. Because prejudice and privilege come in all shades and colours.

Source: White privilege, Jewish privilege, and neo-Nazis: Cohn | Toronto Star

How police became the enemy in Toronto schools: Cohn

Good insightful column by Regg Cohn. Activists have the right to opinions and protests but ultimately the democratic process and accountability must decide:

Uniformed police have now been banned from participating in Toronto’s Pride parade.

Will they next be barred from fraternizing with students in our schools?

Anti-police protests have become a recurring theme in Toronto. Black Lives Matter led the charge at last year’s Pride, blocking the parade and out-organizing the organizers until they won the day.

Now, however, the protesters may have met their match in parents and principals who don’t view all police as perennial enemies in all places.

At a raucous meeting of Toronto’s Police Services Board this month, BLM protesters found themselves being challenged by people of colour who are taking a more colour-blind view of security, safety and pedagogy.

Critics describe the School Resource Officer (SRO) program as a “school to prison pipeline,” arguing that police pick on marginalized — read, racialized — students. But when police board member Ken Jeffers suggested last week that it be suspended or terminated like a truant student, the reaction may have surprised him.

One woman in the audience shouted back that he should ponder the blood shed by Blacks because of violence in our schools. As my colleague Andrea Gordon reported, a procession of principals, teachers and students from diverse racial backgrounds expressed strong support for the police presence — though it didn’t seem to influence BLM’s view.

The SRO program is not unique to Toronto but it is uniquely controversial here. Vancouver, Ottawa, Mississauga and other big cities have embraced the idea of placing police in schools, where it remains popular.

That’s not to say the program is perfect. But we should remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good — even if the police are sometimes seen by many as the enemy.

Whatever its flaws, the program has indisputably benefited many students and teachers in the trenches. An independent study of a similar SRO program in Peel suggests the presence of cops is an “overwhelmingly positive” confidence-building and relationship-building measure.

Measuring its impact is undoubtedly difficult. To its credit, the police board ultimately decided to defer any suspension until the Toronto program is properly evaluated. That didn’t stop Black Lives Matter from dismissing any review as a “dangerous side tactic.”

BLM is entitled to its protests, which had a cascading effect on the Pride parade — a private (albeit publicly subsidized) group that can make its own decisions in its own ways. Unlike Pride, the police services board — like our Toronto-area school boards — is a democratically constituted entity answerable to our elected councillors, who are accountable to the broad public and especially parents. Pressure tactics are part of our civil discourse, but representative democracy ought not to be held hostage to protests weighed down by historical grievances about police raids on gay bathhouses three decades ago.

It’s easy to forget the impetus for police in our schools. A decade ago, Grade 9 student Jordan Manners, 15, was fatally shot in the hallway of C.W. Jefferys Collegiate. In the aftermath, Toronto’s two publicly funded school boards teamed up with the police to introduce the SRO program.

The C.W. Jefferys school initially resisted the idea, but later embraced it after another teen was stabbed and yet another caught with a loaded handgun. Its current principal, Monday Gala, is a strong supporter:

“If you come into Jefferys today and see the positivity that is going on organized by this partnership with the police, you can’t deny the fact that there is a place for the police in the school,” he told the Star.

Some feel frustrated that the SRO program isn’t comprehensive but perhaps unfairly selective, rotating 36 uniformed cops through 75 schools across the city. Other SRO programs, such as in Peel and Ottawa, cover all schools.

That has led to the perception that only at-risk Black kids are targeted at schools like C.W. Jefferys. But at-risk — and rich — kids of all colours are just as likely to be watched over by cops at the posh Etobicoke School of the Arts, Riverdale Collegiate or Northern Secondary School.

Would an even larger program that puts cops in every single school appease everyone? It hardly seems like the solution sought by protesters, who sometimes sound as if they don’t want to see any cops anywhere at any time — whether on a Pride parade ground or a Toronto school ground.

Protesters have every right to their anti-police perspective. Especially in the wake of a long battle against carding that disproportionately affected people of colour.

Minority voices, whether held by minority groups or believed by bastions of white privilege, are part of our democratic discourse. But they cannot be the last word in a democratic process.

Source: How police became the enemy in Toronto schools: Cohn | Toronto Star

Demands asked of Write magazine go too far: Kate Jaimet

Hopefully but unlikely the last post on this subject but Kate Jaimet’s overall take and her critique of the equity task force “fundamentalists” is largely on the mark:

Like many writers I know, I’ve done a lot of soul-searching recently about questions of freedom of speech and cultural appropriation.

To me, it’s not a simple issue. While I’m sick to my stomach that white editors in positions of considerable power would “jokingly” tweet about funding a “cultural appropriation prize,” it also nauseates me that Hal Niedzviecki would lose his job as editor of Write (the magazine of the Writers’ Union of Canada) for penning a controversial opinion piece.

It’s been a bad week for intercultural respect. And for freedom of speech.

Niedzviecki’s opinion piece, “Winning the Appropriation Prize,” which appeared in an issue of Write dedicated to Indigenous writers, was ham-fisted and offensive — in parts. In other parts, it was a timely plea for writers to step outside the box of their own ethnicity and culture, learn about other people, and write about them.

Having read the entire article, I don’t think that Niedzviecki meant to suggest that Indigenous cultures had never been exploited by imperial colonizers, nor that it was OK to do so. But his article could legitimately be read and interpreted in that way. And it was — which led to the fallout we’ve witnessed.

I don’t know Niedzviecki. But I do know that over the past few years, he transformed Write from a boring union newsletter to a vibrant publication with more diverse contributors than before his tenure. And I know enough about how small magazines work, (IE. on a shoestring) that I’d lay money on a bet that Niedzviecki either originated, or strongly backed, the idea of an issue dedicated to Indigenous writers, and worked hard to solicit contributions and get them into print.

The feelings of anger and betrayal expressed by Indigenous writers who were blindsided by Niedzviecki’s article are completely understandable and we, as fellow writers, must take them to heart. But I also believe that the List of Demands published by The Writer’s Union’s Equity Task Force in reaction to Niedzviecki’s article went completely beyond the pale.

Not only did the list call for a retraction and an apology, it also demanded (No. 6) that the next editor of Write must not only be an “Indigenous writer or writer of colour,” but also, “active and respected in Indigenous sovereignty or anti-racist cultural movements for at least three years;” and (No. 7) that all future Writers’ Union office staff be “active and respected in anti-oppression cultural movements for at least three years” with priority given to “Indigenous writers, racialized writers, writers with disabilities and trans writers.”

Further, the Task Force demanded (No. 4) “Protocols for editing all issues of Write that build in accountability to issues of race and colonialism.” Accountability, it seems, would be monitored by (No. 9) a new in-house Equity Officer “active and respected in Indigenous sovereignty or anti-racist cultural movements for at least three years.”

I’m sorry if people are offended by what I’m about to say, but to demand that all staff of the Writer’s Union must hew to a certain political line — and that all content of Write must be vetted in accordance with that line — smacks of totalitarianism.

Just as cultural appropriation evokes a strong reaction in Indigenous people, political totalitarianism evokes a strong reaction in many people of European descent — people sometimes labelled by the “anti-racist cultural movement” as simply “white.”

Many Canadians of European origin have experienced — or have parents or grandparents who experienced — repression for their political or artistic beliefs under 20th century totalitarian regimes. People were imprisoned for expressing opinions deemed politically unacceptable. Some lost their lives.

Freedom of speech is not just a megaphone used by the powerful to shout down their voiceless opponents (though it can be misused this way). Freedom of speech is a fundamental principle that we, as writers, must defend.

I believe more Indigenous journalists should be hired in Canadian newsrooms. I believe journalists who are not Indigenous should strive to learn about Indigenous issues and cover them with fairness, accuracy, and empathy. I believe more books, poems, plays and films by Indigenous creators should be published and distributed. I believe novelists who are not Indigenous should, respectfully, include Indigenous characters in their works; because leaving Indigenous people out of stories can be as racist as falsely portraying Indigenous people within stories. I believe that people shouldn’t lose their jobs for expressing their opinions.

I want to believe that I can believe in both: intercultural respect, and freedom of expression. I hope that’s possible in Canada today.

Source: Demands asked of Write magazine go too far | Toronto Star

Martin Regg Cohn also has a good piece: Why the debate over cultural appropriation misses the mark: Cohn – Wouldn’t social critics find a wider audience — beyond literary and journalistic circles, or the echo chamber of Twitter — by distinguishing between cultural exploration and exploitation?

How Donald Trump’s vision of diversity divides us too: Cohn

Regg Cohn praising tolerance, drawing an appropriate distinction with full acceptance and celebration. And of course, tolerance happens within the context of the Charter and the legal system:

recent column calling on politicians to espouse tolerance in their public speeches sparked comments from some readers (activists and politicos) criticizing me for using that very word: Tolerance, they argued, bespeaks condescension, superiority, insincerity and negativity.

After all, one tolerates something unpleasant — a loud noise, a bad smell. One has “zero-tolerance” for drugs. Surely we should celebrate diversity, not merely tolerate our differences, these readers argued.

Well, yes and no. To me, tolerance is a worthy objective in itself, because it is eminently realistic and achievable. Here’s how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines tolerance:

First, a “willingness to accept feelings, habits or beliefs that are different from your own.” Second, “the ability to accept, experience or survive something harmful or unpleasant.”

Tolerance can, in fact, have a double-meaning — fairness versus forbearance. Which is quite apt.

It’s understandable that many Canadians try to put a relentlessly positive spin on diversity, calling on us to “celebrate” and “embrace” it — appealing to our better angels. But let’s be honest with ourselves.

There’s not always cause for celebration. Not all diversity is delightful.

For example, one can be tolerant of the face-concealing burqa, without necessarily celebrating it. The Islamic call to prayers wafting from a nearby mosque might annoy some neighbours, until they realize that church bells pealing nearby are also part of the religious landscape — and so one tunes out the noise, rather than praying for silence.

Tolerance is an antidote to intolerance and discrimination. We needn’t sugar coat all diversity. Far better to truly understand differences while seeking reasonable accommodation.

Let’s not make tolerance a dirty word. If we persist in pretending that all diversity is positivity, we will quickly get caught out in a lie — and feed the resentment that Trump harvests across America, or that Leitch is mining in the Conservative leadership race.

Live and let live. Even if you don’t always love the lives others lead.

It’s better than living a lie. The best way to defend diversity is with honesty — not defensiveness.

Source: How Donald Trump’s vision of diversity divides us too: Cohn | Toronto Star

Canada shouldn’t be smug looking at anti-immigrant sentiment of Brexit: Regg Cohn

Good piece by Regg Cohn on Canadian smugness:

People who prey on people’s fears and phobias about “the other” are nothing new in European or North American history. And Canada is not inoculated against that virus, however well we have resisted it of late.

Yes, we are good at both welcoming and integrating newcomers. We have resisted calls to decrease intakes of both immigrants and refugees. We make a virtue of diversity rather than rueing differences.

But we are only human. If Canadians persist in casting themselves as better than the rest of the world, ugly reality will soon set in. Remember the burqa debate in our last federal election campaign?

The splendid isolation we enjoy from our geographic perch far from poverty and conflict zones will not forever protect us from the upheavals that lie ahead. As we have seen in the Middle East, across Africa, and much of Asia, migrant movements are ever more volatile and overwhelming in an interconnected world.

If today our behaviour is better than that of our southern neighbours, whose presidential discourse demonizes Mexican migrants, it is largely because of where we sit — a safe distance from the frontier with Mexico, buffered by thousands of kilometres of American territory.

If our well-publicized impulse to resettle Syrian refugees is more orderly and dignified than what has beset Southern Europe’s barbed wire borders, it is because our roads and railways are not overrun by migrants clamouring for processing on our doorstep.

While it is tempting to disapprove of the debate in Britain, it is perhaps more prudent to ask why the anti-immigrant message was so well received in the first place.

The quick answer would be that it is human nature to fear the other. A more considered response might be that political leaders must be mindful of the limits of tolerance amid the changing rhythms of migration.

Who knows how Canadians would behave if geography did not insulate us from the human tide along the shores of the Mediterranean, or the porous border between Mexico and the U.S.

Consider a couple of recent Canadian responses:

When Mexicans surged to first place among refugee claimants to Canada a few years ago, the government of the day imposed visa restrictions to stem the flow. That 2009 decision is only now rescinded with the visit of Mexican President Henrique Pena Nieto to Canada this week.

And while we deride Trump for his anti-Mexico ravings, another populist politician by the name of Rob Ford campaigned against the boatloads of Tamil migrants turning up off the coast of B.C. a few years ago: “Take care of the (Canadian) people now before we start bringing in more.”

Ford’s brand of xenophobia was borne out by an Angus Reid poll showing 55 per cent of Ontarians would deport the Tamils even if their refugee claims proved legitimate — and he was elected mayor a few weeks later. Torontonians may dismiss Trump, but don’t forget Ford Nation.

Mindful of our well-documented history of ethnic intolerance and internment, let alone our recent inconstancy, Canadians dare not be smug. And our leaders cannot be complacent.

While appealing to our better natures, politicians must also be mindful of our worse natures, and practical realities, lest they get out too far ahead of themselves. The immigration and refugee challenges of today are only a taste of what lies ahead for Canada.

There but for the grace of demography go we. And geography.

Source: Canada shouldn’t be smug looking at anti-immigrant sentiment of Brexit: Cohn | Toronto Star