Harper Plays To The Darker Side Of Our National Character – And It Seems To Be Working

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.

Harper's Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander stands up for 'Canadian values' and against what his party calls 'barbaric cultural practicies'.

Harper’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander stands up for ‘Canadian values’ and against what his party calls ‘barbaric cultural practicies’.

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.

This election, vote for hope, not intolerance and fear. Someone shared this image with me. It came from a site called Meanwhile In Canada you should visit at https://www.facebook.com/Meanwhile-in-Canada-251089648271407/timeline/ .

This election, vote for hope, not intolerance and fear. Someone shared this image with me. It came from a site called Meanwhile In Canada you should visit at https://www.facebook.com/Meanwhile-in-Canada-251089648271407/timeline/ .

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.niqab-1

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.

Visit Niagara At Large at www.niagaraatlarge.com for more news and commentary for and from the greater bi-national Niagara region.

(NOW IT IS YOUR TURN. Niagara At Large encourages you to share your views on this post. A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who share their first and last name with them.)

8 responses to “Harper Plays To The Darker Side Of Our National Character – And It Seems To Be Working

  1. Gail Benjafield

    Very well said, Doug. Fingers crossed.


  2. So proud to be a subscriber. Your best commentary to date about what may be the most important issue of this election. Whether we embrace our ethnic diversity or allow Harper to lead us down the well-worn path to racism. The niqab represents a refusal to recognize women as equals, but the Catholic Church does the same when it refuses allow women to play whatever role they wish inside that religion. Nobody is calling for Catholics to be stripped of their citizenship because of it. As long as someone else’s faith doesn’t impact negatively on others, it’s their business.


  3. Doug
    No one could have written this column with more intensity or compassion than you and though we at times cross swords, so to speak, I also feel as you …Yes!!! Harper has used diversion, hatred, lies and half truths and has done so much like a sick sociopath bent on the destruction of Canada…..BUT the really sickness here is that neighbors, so called friends and acquaintances have become ready participants in this mad rush to hell.
    In my opinion Harper is a cancer eating at the very heart of a “ONCE” proud Canada and “NOW” he is doing so with the blind obedience of certain Canadians who have been convinced they are the chosen few.


  4. Gail Benjafield

    We lived for years in Old GLenridge (often referred to as ‘prestigious Old Glenridge’) in St. Catharines. As a historian, I discovered that there was once a convenant for the area, as it was being developed, c. 1913. I have seen and read this covenant. It did not allow Turks, Greeks, Jews , and others (I have forgotten the entire list) to buy properties being developed. It was in place until all similar covenants were struck down. Hard to believe we are peddling backwards here a hundred years later. .


  5. Agree! Well said. Harper has suddenly become a woman’s rights activist claiming he would never make his daughter wear a hijab. Who is asking him to? Where was he with his advocating of women’s rights when he said missing Aboriginal women were not on his radar? Where is he on women’s rights while currently selling military supplies to the Saudis who will not let a woman leave the house unattended by a male relative or even drive….not to mention the average of 2o beheadings every month for perceived crimes of both men and women? How about his foreign aid for women’s issues being contingent upon each nation’s stance on abortion? HE DOESN’T CARE ABOUT WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND TRADES WITH NATIONS WHO CONSIDER BARBARIC PRACTICES THE NORM!!!! Oh, that’s different.

    Unless Harper’s name is “Rain in the Face” or “Wiping with Leaves”, his background is also that of an immigrant regardless of when and from where. I too remember several families in my childhood who were treated like dirt. One was a family whose children I played with, an Inuit mom and English dad, who left and went back to Whitehorse because they could no longer stand the taunts and insults. As you said, “Wap”, “Dago”, “DP”, were all common vernacular then. Those “Waps”, “Dagos” and “DP’s” are now pillars of the community.

    With all the MAJOR issues facing Canada today, why is the prime election issue about what one in ten thousand (or fewer) women MIGHT wear? Personally I find the hijab repressive if not by the woman’s choice but regardless, it is guaranteed as freedom of religion by the Canadian CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS! How many police do we see now with turbans? That was a big issue too. Has the earth opened up and swallowed us whole? If so, I missed it.

    He is pulling out all the stops and xenophobic, backward, bigoted Canadians are grabbing the bait hook, line and sinker like bottom dwelling catfish. Good heaven, I thought we were better than that! In 20 or 30 years, these people will not even be noticed and most will have adapted to our culture and be fine Canadians while treasuring their heritage at the same time. I worked with dozens of Muslim doctors and I would trust my life to any of them. This is race baiting simply as a grab for votes among those who are afraid of change and anything unfamiliar. Sadly, that is what humans do. Anything unfamiliar frightens them. This is a nation of immigrants but we invading “wasps” even had the gall to treat those who were here far before us as inferior, much to our shame. As a diversionary tactic, Harper will try anything and everything. God help us if the politics of hate works.


  6. An afterthought on Harper’s (dis)respect for women. The Terese Casgrain Award for women was eliminated and replaced with the PM’s Volunteer Award to be presented by him. Casgrain was a Quebec woman’s advocate largely responsible for obtaining the vote for women in Quebec in 1940 and was later a Trudeau Cabinet Minister. She was also removed from the back of the $50 bill in 2012 along with the rest of “The Famous Five” women activists. All with no consultation with the family. So much for respect of women’s rights.


  7. Gail Benjafield

    My final comment here is that I enjoy the toing and froing on this site for years. Different opinions openly shared. Different viewpoints, political partisanship, if any at all. All signed by real people. I hope your regular contributors will continue, despite the occasional outburst from you or any of us, frustrated by the political system we live in today. I enjoy reading the strong well stated opinions of others that I may not agree with.

    That is meant for Mr. MCK. in case it was not noted.


    • I enjoyed your comment Gail and we should all thank Doug for giving a forum to express our opinions, popular or otherwise. Even if we all don’t agree he gives us a chance to speak our minds and to learn from the views and knowledge of others.


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