Editorial: Post-Paris, we’re more American than we like to think
NEW YORK CITY—In the days following a string of violence that has left over 120 people dead, echoes of the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris are felt here. New Yorkers know all too well the impact of massive civilian casualties caused by terrorism. Major attractions such as the 9/11 Memorial, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, and the bustling Penn Station are surrounded by police officers brandishing combat gear and assault rifles.
As Canadians, we see this as the typical American reaction. Gun sales soar in the wake of terrorism and a culture of fear is brewed by hastily-reported inaccuracies from the media. State governors unite in refusing to accept Syrian refugees on American soil. On top of this, given the fact we’re in election season, presidential candidates put together soundbites to feed the rage people feel when innocents are killed at the hands of Muslim extremists.
Can we blame the politicians for wanting the limelight? After all, there is an ugly vein of intolerance and suspicion of new foreigners that runs deep in American society, and it’s a known fact in both parties that elections can be won and lost by tapping into it.
I attended a talk featuring Toronto Star reporter Desmond Cole on Tuesday night about anti-black racism, and he discussed how Canadians address race relations compared to the States. When Canadians look at the aftermath of the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and many others, we quickly think, “We’re not at all like them! That would never happen over here!”
While Cole was talking about racial tensions in a primarily black context, I began to notice that many Canadians have similar attitudes when it comes to immigration. While America’s melting pot brews intolerance of difference and demands assimilation, we were taught to see Canada as a multicultural mosaic, one that puts cultures on an equal footing and lacks that vitriolic need to force others to assimilate to “our ways.”
In the wake of these attacks, however, one must wonder how different arewe really from the Americans? Although we don’t like to admit it, Canadians are falling into the same shameful traps as our neighbours to the south already have.
Over the weekend, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall urged Justin Trudeau to reject any Syrian migrants displaced by the civil war. We saw scenes like a mosque being torched in Peterborough, a Muslim mother attacked in broad daylight in Flemingdon Park, and a Sikh man’s iPad selfie photoshopped to make him look like a Qur’an-wielding suicide bomber. A new poll conducted three days after the Paris attacks shows a majority, or 54 per cent, of Canadians now oppose the Trudeau government’s stated goal of relocating 25,000 Syrian migrants into Canada by Christmas. The top concern among Canadians seems to be ones of ‘security,’ concerning the idea that the migrants are primarily “young men of fighting age” and are therefore undoubtedly working covertly for ISIS.
This suspicion of foreigners is unfounded. The Economist cites the fact that since 9/11, over 750,000 refugees have come to the United States and not one of them has committed a terrorist act. Canada, like the United States, is a country founded by people escaping squalor, violence, poverty, and religious persecution overseas. Imagine if First Nations had said, “Sorry, we’re not accepting refugees,” to those first settlers?
Descendents of these people (whom Harper slyly referred to as “old stock”) now shamefully hide their intolerance with the thinly-veiled excuse that Canada has plenty of poor people it needs to take care of first. Anybody involved in humanitarian work already has a sense of charity and concern for others that extends beyond political borders. Ask yourself—how many people making that argument cared about Canada’s homeless last week?
In the late 1930s, two-thirds of Canadians opposed the government taking in Jewish refugees from Europe during the rise of Nazi Germany. The story of MS St. Louis, a steamship filled with 937 Jewish refugees, sailing to North America to escape persecution and being rejected by our government is taught to most Canadian students in high school as an example of our dark, intolerant past.
The question here is whether we’re going to let those same forces define what we do today. Resettling 25,000 refugees costs less than two of the CF-18 fighter jets Harper used to drop bombs on Syria. If we truly are turning the page on the past ten years of politics, Trudeau must not give in to the majority opinion of Canadians riled up in fear.comments powered by Disqus