October 2019 / Toronto
Who decides who looks like a Canadian? Who is assumed to be Canadian and who are the folks that are constantly asked that question: where are you from? And on answering, hear the follow up- no really- where are you from?
The ‘where are you from’ question can be genuine curiosity from a friendly seatmate on public transit that can lead to interesting conversation. After all, we live and work and play and pray and love in Canada’s most populous and most ethno-racially and culturally diverse province. It isn’t too much of an exaggeration when we say the world resides in our large urban areas like the GTHA (Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area).
But more often than not the question is leveled against those who are seen not to read as Canadian. Folks who like me and my children are not white. But even within my own immediate family there are nuances of how we are read. My two daughters both Toronto born and raised get very different assumptions made about them. My eldest, with the burnished dark skin of Africa is often asked. My youngest, lighter skin with Europe mixed in with Africa is seldom if ever asked. This is instructive.
The issue of who is seen as Canadian surfaced in a big way when it was revealed that Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer holds dual US and Canadian citizenship. When asked by media why he hadn’t disclosed this in the past, he said he was never asked. There it is. Another candidate vying to become Prime Minister of Canada, Elizabeth May is also an American- born and raised. Yet, I don’t recall any discussion or questions about whether or not she was Canadian.
Juxtapose this with the daily comments thrown at NDP leader Jagmeet Singh who was born and raised in this very province, and we begin to get the picture about who is assumed to belong and who is questioned about their Canadian-ess.
Whether it is the apparently well-meaning white man in Quebec who advises Singh to ‘cut off his turban’ so that he will look more Canadian, or it’s the racist cartoon of him with a bomb in his turban, the message is clear. You are not one of us. You are not Canadian or as the leader of the Bloc Quebecois said to his Quebec audience during the French language debate a couple of weeks ago, when voting “qui vous resemblent”- choose who resembles you. Couldn’t get clearer than that!
We hear from politicians all the time - from the Mayor of Toronto to the Prime Minister of Canada “diversity is our strength”. Yet from what we’re finding out during this election campaign, it looks like only some within that diversity are considered Canadian!
We have much work to do as a nation in coming to terms with the fact that Canada and its people resemble the world - Le Canada et ses habitants sont à l’image du monde. Or in other words a Canadian looks like you. And like me!
On October 21st vote for a progressive inclusive Canada.