News / Canada

Canada's minority communities 'vigilant and aware' of possible 'Trump effect'

Minorities are worried about the divisive language south of the border after Canada has seen its own spike in coverage of hate crimes after the U.S. election.

A graffiti removal worker cleans anti-Semitic graffiti, including a swastika, that was spray painted on the door of The Glebe Minyan and home of Rabbi Anna Maranta in Ottawa.

The Canadian Press

A graffiti removal worker cleans anti-Semitic graffiti, including a swastika, that was spray painted on the door of The Glebe Minyan and home of Rabbi Anna Maranta in Ottawa.

There’s a subtle sense of sadness among many people in Canadian communities targeted by racism and hate since Donald Trump’s election. Sadness mixed with a heightened sense of vigilance, and the resolve to stand up against hate and not let it impact Canada the way it has south of the border.

Since the U.S. election, acts of racism — including swastikas spray painted on synagogues and racist flyers being taped to light poles — have made headlines in Canada. Some people speculating that upticks in hate crimes are a result of the “Trump effect,” whereby people who subscribe to far-right ideologies may feel emboldened to act out against minority communities.

Syed Imtiaz Ahmad, President of the Islamic Society of North America Canada, says Muslim Canadians are concerned over how the Trump effect may affect Canadian society in general.

“That concern may lead to worries and even fear when we read about events that could be genuinely viewed as right wing terrorism,” said Ahmad.

“What is happening is not totally surprising. There has always been a feeling among some people of ‘us versus them.’ ‘Them’ being people who may look different (and) a fear of the unknown.”

“Sometimes these feelings can be exploited for political gains, just as it happened in the United States recently. It is occupying our attention now in the Conservative Party leadership in Alberta, and it is also happening in parts of Europe.”

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Ahmad said there’s always a chance for right-wing extremism to lead to acts of terrorism or violence, and this could lead to an “increasingly ugly climate of divisiveness.”

At the end of the day, it’s ignorance that leads to prejudice, says Ahmad. And politics can instigate this.

“Canadians in general are against the politics of divisiveness,” he says. “The politics of divisiveness failed in last provincial elections in Quebec, it failed in federal elections, and hopefully it will fail in the leadership race in Alberta.” 

Michael Bach, founder and CEO of the Canadian Center for Diversity and Inclusion, said he’s definitely concerned about the impact the Trump effect may have in our communities.

“I do believe that it is a very small minority of Canadians, but they got real noisy,” he said. “And unfortunately they tend to be people who don’t listen to reason and do things like spray swastikas on the doors of synagogues. So it’s no like you can have a reasonable debate with them.”

“Canada is not some utopia where racism does not exist,” he said. “(But) my hope is that we can overcome this (spate of hatred) relatively quickly, and we’re not going to spend the next four years dealing with the wave of the Trump effect.”

Martin Sampson is the director of communications at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the advocacy agent of the Jewish Federations of Canada.

He said it’s a troubling reality that anti-Semitism continues to exist here, and elsewhere, adding he’s not convinced the recent spate of racism is directly linked to the Trump election.

“I can’t speak for other minorities, but I can tell you the Jewish community is not scared. Jews remain vigilant and aware, but continue to go through their day-to-day lives knowing that the Jewish community is an integral and respected part of Canadian society.”

“Canadian society and politics are distinctly different from those in the U.S.,” he said. “We did not just go through a polarizing election. Canadian society has repeatedly and broadly rejected this type of hatred and, while white nationalist or neo-Nazi groups exist in Canada, their influence has been declining steadily since the nineties (and) they continue to reside on the margins.”

“We’re not immune from the influence of American dynamics, but nor do those trends automatically cross the border into Canada. Observers should resist the urge to engage in speculation, and instead work to uphold the values we want to see reflected in our society.”

What can we do to fight hatred in our communities

“The first thing is to make the public better informed, preventing them to act from ignorance,” says Syed Imtiaz Ahmad. “Second, we need to cultivate tolerance of values other than our own. We should not be fearful of those who are different from others. Ultimately, society will prosper by participating with others who may be different from us but can become part of building a stronger Canada.  Diversity should be a source of strength because it can nurture positive dynamics.”

Michael Bach admits that racism and violence can happen at any time, anywhere.

“It’s just a scary time,” he said. “So I think there needs to be at least, until the calm returns to Canada, some diligence, and we as people who are not (visible minorities) need to be the advocates, and we need to be upfront in saying ‘No, this is not okay.’ ”

“Canadians should be very angry about what’s going on right now. Because that’s not who we are.”

“When you see something happening, get off your butt and say something. When you see somebody making comments on a bus or on the streets, or when you hear a colleague say something, say something. Be brave.”

Martin Sampson said that while the swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti seen around Ottawa recently was a cause for concern in the Jewish community, he was struck by two positive things:

“The first is how seriously law enforcement engaged in the issue,” he said.

“The second thing that struck me is how more than 1,000 people, representing all faiths, all levels of government, all political affiliations, gathered in solidarity on short notice at Congregation Machzikei Hadas (one of the synagogues that was targeted) proving that the people of Ottawa, indeed all Canadians, will not be silent in the face of hatred.”

“There will always be hatred on the fringes,” he said. “What really matters – and will prove decisive in shaping the future of Canada – is how the mainstream responds.”

“The potential for average Canadians to be dismissive or indifferent in the face of these hateful acts is a concern. This is why we must be vigilant in raising awareness, speaking up against bigotry – including in social settings where it isn’t always convenient, and above all educating our children to cherish our differences and stand up against hate and bullying.”

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