A Commentary by Doug Draper
‘Well, it seems to be working.’
That line has been spun out by a number of political pundits in the days since the 1st of this October when the Harper Conservatives unleashed this idea of setting up a tip line to report what they are calling “barbaric cultural practices” to the RCMP.
The tip line is aimed mainly at Muslims in our midst who y engage in such practices as forced marriage or the wearing of the niqab and so on – conduct that may be seen as being in conflict with Canadian values, whatever those are these days.
I responded this past October 3rd with what admittedly was an angry commentary on this site, denouncing this promise of a tip line as divisive tactic by the Harperites, appealing to the darker side of our nature when it comes to showing tolerance for people who may look and behave differently than we do. And for my outburst, I’ve had a number of people call me things I’d rather not repeat here – suggesting to me that Harper, who has also seen his party rise in recent polls, has struck a winning chord with all too many Canadians.
Canada’s Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, was in Brampton, Ontario – one of the province’s more culturally diverse communities outside of Toronto – this past October 4th, denouncing this ‘barbaric cultural practices’ business and the “fear” and “nastiness” it breeds as un-Canadian.
But is it?
What left me feeling so angry and disappointed in all of this is that it takes me back to a time when I was a wee little kid growing up in the late 1950s and onward through the 1960s in Welland – a more or less typical industrial town in Ontario – where all the people in my neighbourhood had Anglo-Saxon names like.
There was one Japanese Canadian family down at the end of my street and no one had anything to do with them. After all,it was only a decade and a half earlier that Canadians of Japanese descent had their property confiscated and were transported to internment camps during a Second World War in which Japan was one of the enemies. The war may have been over for 15 or 20 years, but that didn’t stop the otherwise nice white adults in my walk of life from calling them “japs” and “nips,” and from making derogatory remarks about their “slanted eyes.”
Across town from where I grew up, were the relatively new arrivals to our country from Europe who were routinely referred to as “waps” and “dagos” (two names my Italian born wife and her family were forced to endure when she was growing up), or “hunkies,” “spics,” “pollocks,” and on and on. They were called “dumb” and “greasy,” and were made fun of for having “weird” names and eating “weird” food. But they were put up with as long as they didn’t steal our jobs and stayed on their side of the canal.
There was also a sizable population of French Canadians on the other side of the canal who were called “frogs” and peasoupers” by Anglo parents who were red hot with anger over their children being taught the French language or, as they put it, having it “shoved down their throats” in school. I remember attending a large rally of adults, crammed in an auditorium in my neighourhood and booing and cursing a few people on stage who were trying to make a case for bilingualism. That was turned into a hot-button issue during elections too.
There weren’t too many aboriginal people or what far too many of the rest of us felt comfortable characterizing as “drunken’ savages” around. Right up to the 1990s, aboriginal children were still being taken away from their parents and bussed off to “residential schools” operating at various places of the country where the aim was to purge the ‘Indian” out of them.
But there were some families of Jewish people in the community who were called names I would rather not repeat here. They were considered “shrewd” when it came to money and we were often told not to let them “Jew you.” It was ugly stuff but possibly not all that shocking since it was only a few decades earlier that, in one of the darkest moments in Canadian history, Jewish people attempting to flee the genocidal policies of Nazi Germany were refused asylum here.
And now here we are – all these years later – and a segment of so-called “old stock Canadians, ginned up by a Harper government with a record of using “wedge issues” to shore up power, thinks it’s okay to target brown people, especially if they are Muslims. Earlier on, it’s going after women wearing the niqab, and then it is setting up snitch lines for people who find their behaviour threatening to their version of Canadian values. What are we going with this next? Are we going to make them sow some Islamic logo on their coats?
Indeed, it may be working enough to shore up more support for the Harper Conservatives in the last few weeks of the election. But it is heartening to know there are at least some Canadians out there who see it for the ugly business that it is.
A letter to the editor in the October 5th edition of The Globe and Mail, sent in by someone named Warren Cass from Toronto continues to stand out for me. It reads as follows and I urge you to read it: “Once upon a time, European Jews would draw their curtains on the Sabbath, fearing that if their xenophobic neighbours would see their lit Sabbath candles, they would abuse them and report them to hostile authorities. … It is unconscionable that in 2015, our government would set up an RCMP tip line for ‘barbaric cultural practices’, subjecting Muslims to such scrutiny and hostility, all to score political points in an election. I have never been more angry or ashamed.”
A story in the same newspaper quoted a Canadian woman whose daughter converted to the Muslim faith and chose to wear a niqab saying this: “I think people have to let go of their fears, their non-acceptance, and their intolerance of others. This is Canada. I am a Christian and she’s a Muslim. That is her choice. People have to learn to accept each other and not letourfears impeach our relationships. For me, it’s about the heart of a person.”
You can call me a commie or whatever you want for how angrily I respond to the ugly, divisive politics being played here by Harper’s Conservatives.
I feel like I’ve spent most of my life fighting against being influenced by the fears and intolerance significant others around me expressed for people who they never cared enough to understand.
I am certainly not going to stop fighting against those toxic influences now, nor should those of you out there who share my view. I don’t want to get any more messages from people saying they are afraid to speak out for fear of being verbally assaulted by the trolls.
As the mom with the daughter wearing a niqab said, this is Canada. Let’s not allow the dividers to shut us up and drag us down.
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