While we are known as a country of tolerance and peace, and we largely are, there is a longstanding thread that runs through our history and right into our present that claims a kind of Eurocentric supremacy, and it has its impact against immigrants, indigenous people and people of colour who were born here.
In the Red Deer story a group of high school kids are punished for fighting, in an incident that involved Syrian refugee kids and others. The response was a protest against the Syrian kids, because some people believed that the Syrian kids were getting different punishment for their role in the fight. That wasn’t true.
However that did not stop some of the more seedy xenophobes and dogwhistle racists from getting their voices heard on the matter, and the Euro-centric white supremacy thread again surfaced. Consider this quote from Steven Garvey who organizes against Muslims:
“Who we are as a people, as a country, as a heritage, it’s all getting pushed aside and if we don’t stand up for us as a people, as our country, we’re going to lose it,” Garvey said. “We welcome people coming to our country, but they have to integrate into our society. It’s not about accommodating their values.
“It’s about standing up for Canadians, our freedoms, our civil rights and our liberties. And some of these cultures that are coming are incompatible with our own.”
Garvey’s voice is not at all unusual, and the sentiment is not at all uncommon. Many non-indigenous Canadians, if you ask them, will tell you that immigrants should integrate into their idea of society, and that we should not accommodate their values, and that our own laws and cultural practices should be respected, as if this has been going on from time immemorial on this continent.
And of course this begs two questions. First is, where were you from 1500 until now? Because without having done exactly this to the tens of millions of indigenous people here, there would be no basis for a man of immigrant European heritage to claim that his particular set of values is “Canadian” and therefore supreme in this place.
The second question is “which values?” which is a question that Kellie Leitch has spun into a dog whistle political campaign to attract racists and xenophobes to her leadership bid for the Conservative Party. Those that voted for her are now members of that party, and despite the results of the leadership race, they will remain members of that party unless they quit.
The question of “which values?” is totally confounding in a country as big and diverse as Canada. We have a Constitution, and that’s as close as it gets to a collective expression of values. The Constitution dictates the legality of our laws. Break the law, you’ll be punished by the courts. So we already have a mechanism for doing what Garvey says we should be doing.
Except he’s not saying that our current rule of law is good enough. He and others like him want to pick and choose what Constitutional rights apply. For example, he wants to exercise unfettered freedom of speech but he would like a limit of the freedom of religion – his organization is called the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam, after all. I suspect that he values the ability to freely associate or have access to equality before the law, but I’ll bet he quibbles with the protection of Aboriginal rights as defined by the Royal Proclamation of 1763. All of those rights are equally protected in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Justice demands that Canadians uphold and live by this Charter, something we’re not always very good at.
So what does he really want? Garvey’s ideas – that are readily shared by many with the merest of prompting across this country – are not fundamentally Canadian. They are not compatible with our Constitution or the laws we have set in place to help everyone who lives here get along.
Worse they are a perfect example of the ongoing imposition of a colonial mindset on the Canadian psyche. Canada is not a “nation-state.” this is not a country that is composed of a single nation of people with a shared history, language and set of values and standards. There are many many expressions of what it means to be Canadian and they are allowed within the framework of the laws we have made to try to balance rights and responsibilities. The shadow of the colonial violence that sought to erase indigenous cultures and laws is that the colonizers somehow became the victims. It isn’t true. Colonization still proceeds apace, and Euro-centric racism and xenophobia drives the seedier parts of the civic conversation on immigration policy.
Bigots like Garvey should not be left unchallenged as long as news outlets like the CBC see fit to give his ideas daylight.
It is both our right to do so, and our responsibility.