Inside The Perimeter
Writer and photographer Shannon VanRaes spends her days with the Manitoba Co-operator and her nights covering urban affairs in Winnipeg. Look for her in Metro every Tuesday.
VanRaes: Canada's bigotry not born of Donald Trump's politics
It’s only love and difficult introspection that can prevent Canada's hate from coming of age, writes Shannon VanRaes.
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Canada is not America.
Although in recent weeks you might not know it.
Tune into just about any Canadian newscast and President Donald Trump is the leading story — American President Donald Trump. Although actually adding the word “American” has become unnecessary in a news cycle so heavily dominated by the federation to our south.
Perhaps now more than ever, Pierre Trudeau’s 1969 analogy that living next to the United Sates “is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant” is an apt description of the unbalanced relationship between our two nations. Even for a Canadian who’s had a lifetime of exposure to American culture, today’s rising tide of U.S. political turmoil leaves one gasping for fresh air.
And yet, it’s not as though we can sleep comfortably by turning our backs on the increasingly unstable and nationalistically inclined elephant to the south. Every policy the U.S. enacts affects us directly or indirectly, and no blatant affront to human rights can be ignored in good conscious.
Besides, who among us has the willpower to turn away from a train wreck so spectacular it threatens to ignite the atmosphere on which our very existence depends?
But as Canadians we can’t be so blinded by the inferno burning on our border that we lose sight of our own trajectory, our own strengths and weaknesses. Nor can we continue to define ourselves solely in terms of our relation to and difference from the United States.
Being a Canadian is more than not being an American.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that Canada accepts those fleeing terror and war regardless of faith in response to Trump’s travel ban, it was a warm and fuzzy affirmation that Canada is inherently kinder, more compassionate and more progressive than America. It said, don’t worry, Canada is a better place.
Only, in many ways we are not.
Yes, Canada has opened its doors to refugees — nearly 40,000 have arrived from Syria since November 2015 — and in 2016 more than 300,000 immigrants landed on our shores.
But Canada too is rife with simmering right-wing ideology. From the yet-to-be repealed Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, to Kellie Leitch’s proposed test for “Canadian values,” to Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister’s refusal to apologize for his “race war” comments, Canadian politicians have not shied away from divisive and xenophobic rhetoric.
A 2015 report by CSIS identified white nationalists as Canada’s biggest security threat, but the issue quickly faded from the political landscape — at least until a radical white terrorist tragically murdered six Muslim men as they prayed at a mosque in Quebec City last week.
As Canadians, we were eager to discuss right-wing ideology south of the border, tut-tutting, marching, posting memes and signing petitions in the weeks leading up to that attack, but we were not nearly as motivated to take a hard look at the hate that is growing untended in our own backyard.
Canada’s bigotry is not the child of American politics — whatever southern winds now fan the flames of hate — it was Canadian-born and Canadian-raised. Now, it’s only love and difficult introspection that can prevent it from coming of age.
Yes, Canada is welcoming those from beyond our borders, but we also need to take a hard look at what is happening within them.