“I don’t want to come off as racist. I really don’t,” says Michael, a member of a far-right and anti-government militia group profiled in the documentary Muslim in America: Legacy of Fear.
When filmmaker Deeyah Khan asks why he joined a militia, he says, “The brotherhood of it. You know, a sense of belonging. I feel like I belong with them. Well, everybody wants to be loved or wants to belong. Nobody wants to be an outcast.”
It strikes me as ironic that the Muslim Americans who are featured in the documentary are also looking for acceptance. After having experienced anti-Muslim hate, one says, “I’ve come to the conclusion that the only sense of home that I’ve ever had is my parents.”
Against the backdrop of a federal election, I’ve been thinking about belonging.
If that happened to you, how willing would you be to put a sign on your lawn again?
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I wonder how the people whose signs have been destroyed feel after the fact. Do they feel suspicious of their neighbours? Do they feel unwelcome in their own community? Has it made them start to peep from behind their curtain whenever they hear a sound outside their door?
When the snap election was called, there was no shortage of news happening.
In May, Bloomberg Businessweek named Vancouver “the Anti-Asian Hate Crime Capital of North America.” The feature noted that “more anti-Asian hate crimes were reported to police in Vancouver, a city of 700,000 people, than in the top 10 most populous U.S. cities combined” and that nearly one in two residents of “Asian descent in British Columbia” said they had experienced a hate incident in the past year.
Later that month, a mass grave with the remains of 215 Indigenous children was uncovered at a former residential school. Throughout the summer, more graves were uncovered. The grief and anger were palpable. To “honour all of the lives lost to the Canadian state,” rallies were held across the country in protest of Canada Day; some people cancelled their celebrations in favour of a day of reflection. With more than 5,000 children “in unmarked graves on federally run residential schools,” you’d think that reconciliation would be at the forefront of this election, but it has become a footnote — if that — during the campaign.
In June, four members of a Muslim family were killed in London in what police called an act of terror. A nine-year-old boy was the lone survivor. All major party leaders attended a memorial service and pledged their support for the Muslim community, yet, as the CBC’s Raffy Boudjikanian writes, “the threat of Islamophobic violence still hasn’t emerged as an issue in this federal election.”
Earlier this month, a 23-year-old Sikh taxi driver was murdered in Truro, Nova Scotia. Friends of the victim, Prabhjot Singh Katri, fear it was a hate crime. “We feel very unsafe,” his friend Jatinder Kumardeep told the CBC. “We are also people. Brown people also matter. We are giving our everything to this country. Why is this happening to us?”
Antisemitism is on the rise; B’nai Brith Canada says that more antisemitic assaults were reported in May “than in all of 2020, 2019 and 2018 combined.” According to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, “In Canada, you’re more likely to be the victim of a hate crime than be injured in a motor vehicle accident.”
And how much have we heard about Black Lives Matter since the prime minister took a knee at a rally last summer?
It seems as though the anger of anti-vaccine demonstrators — who wear “Make America Great Again” hats and hold signs with hate speech and protest at hospitals — has drowned out all these voices.
On September 6, a man hurled gravel at Justin Trudeau during a campaign stop. Shane Marshall, then Elgin–Middlesex–London riding president for the People’s Party of Canada, has since been charged with one count of assault with a weapon (the party subsequently removed him from his post). If it forms government, the PPC promises to “oppose vaccine mandates, vaccine passports, and other authoritarian measures imposed by provincial governments.” It also vows to “repeal the Multiculturalism Act and eliminate all funding to promote multiculturalism,” “substantially lower the total number of immigrants and refugees Canada accepts every year,” and “ensure that every candidate for immigration undergoes a face-to-face interview and answers a series of specific questions to assess the extent to which they align with Canadian values and societal norms.”
In the 2019 federal election, the party received just 1.6 per cent of the vote; as of Tuesday, the CBC’s Poll Tracker puts its support at 6.4 per cent — just below the Bloc Québécois (6.6 per cent) and ahead of the Greens (3.3 per cent). The Toronto Star reports that far-right and white-nationalist groups are telling their members to vote PPC in the upcoming election.
In the Globe and Mail on Tuesday, a columnist argued that PPC candidates “should be elected to the House of Commons” in order to “preserve a healthy democracy.”
He also wrote that “there are plenty of reasons why so many people have become resentful and untrusting: the loss of manufacturing jobs due to offshoring; the increasing number of non-European immigrants; the stress of the pandemic; the self-empowerment that comes from rejecting authority.” Is the suggestion here that grievance should be reserved only for a few? (The paper has since updated the piece, adding “This is racist, but it is how they feel” to this section and an editor’s note at the bottom: “This column has been updated to clarify language about why supporters are drawn to the People’s Party of Canada.”)
Here’s the thing: there are millions of non-European immigrants and people in many different communities from across the country who have become resentful and untrusting, who have lost their jobs, who are stressed about the pandemic, and who reject authority. Grievance isn’t owned by one group of people. There are many groups, including non-immigrants, who are struggling and dealing with these challenges. Imagine not having access to clean water? In Canada? Shouldn’t those voices be heard and those people elected in order to “preserve a healthy democracy”?
Anger is reserved for a select few. People from marginalized communities are acutely aware of that. You adapt. You keep quiet. When you criticize or ask for dialogue, you are told you should be grateful to live in this country, and if you don’t like it, you’re told to go back to where you came from. Imagine if the person who threw gravel at Trudeau had been a person of colour? On Twitter, there was debate over the size of the rocks thrown. Why does that matter? I tell my kids not to throw anything at anybody ever.
There are many groups across the country who are struggling, and an election should be a time to address that. But the loudest and angriest voices are drowning out the voices of millions of Canadians from other communities.
If an election isn’t the best time to address these struggles, then what is? It’s telling that these protestors know they can push the limits in their rallies, can protest in front of hospitals. But health workers don’t make the laws; politicians do. So why protest at hospitals, where people are often at their most vulnerable? What do we do as a society when our health-care workers, who are already stretched to their limits, are exposed to COVID-19 or physically attacked for trying to do their jobs?
We expect so many groups to conform and adapt. During last week’s English-language leaders’ debate, Green leader Annamie Paul took a question from Rebel News after the other leaders had declined to do so. I wasn’t surprised. Paul, who is Jewish, made history when she became the first Black person to lead a federal party. Because of the colour of her skin, her gender, and her religion, she’s no doubt had to learn how to adapt in a world that wasn’t built for her.
So when we say representation matters, what do we mean? If a “healthy democracy” requires us to hear from all voices, then who decides which voices get to be heard?
When we choose to listen only to those who scream loudest, we are acknowledging who we think belongs in this democracy.