Changing the national narrative



Executive Director’s Message - September 2016

This is the front page of Canada’s largest newspaper that greeted me last weekend. I had to read twice to ensure that I did not misread: “67. The percentage of Canadians who agree that immigrants should be screened for anti-Canadian values.” And this: “29. The percentage of Canadians who believe the state has a role in telling women what they can wear”. Excuse me?

Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch amplified the debate on immigration and the ‘anti-Canadian values’ immigrants hold. If this kind of thinking wasn’t dangerous, I would laugh. Who is this homogenous group called ‘immigrants?’ And what are these Canadian values that they do not share? Are they like the 29% of polled Canadians who believe the state has a role in deciding how women dress or are they part of the almost 70% that rightfully think (to paraphrase a former Canadian Prime Minister) the state has no business in the bedrooms or closets (clothes or otherwise) of Canadians?

Or maybe I’m asking the wrong question. Maybe the question is do we (all of us who call ourselves Canadian) truly have a shared set of beliefs or values? If so what are they? I would hope that the folks in my various communities (geographic and otherwise) and those we elect to represent us believe and promote the notion of equality of human beings regardless of social identities (gender, race, ethnicity, faith, nationality, (dis)ability, economic class, age, sexual orientation, etc); in democracy and that we have a responsibility to care for our society’s most vulnerable.

The idea that immigrants and refugees need to be vetted to ensure that they hold or appreciate these ‘values’ arises from the egregious belief that those who are not like ‘us’ (read white, Christian) need to held in suspicion until they can prove that they are not too ‘other’ to be let in. This is offensive.

This new public policy idea isn’t new. It was less than a year ago that this same leadership candidate announced the hotline for Canadians to report ‘barbaric cultural practices’. She’s become politically smarter. Canadians voted against the notion that they should spy on folks who may not look, dress or worship like them. This time around the language is positive, speaks to shared values and uses progressive ideas like equality. Let’s not be fooled. The intent is the same. You (and for new Canadians you get the gist) know the story of looking and sounding like a duck!

This aside, there are other numbers in the poll that should concern us. 38: “percentage of Canadians who think we are allowing too many immigrants into Canada”. This should be a wake-up call for all of us supportive of Canada’s immigration and refugee protection programs. We must become proactive in changing the national narrative on immigration. We must celebrate the contributions immigrants and refugees have and continue to make in building a progressive, inclusive Canada. We must counteract the negative portrayals of immigrants and refugees especially those from the global south who are often demonized. We must identify and work to remove barriers due to racism, xenophobia, growing islamophobia that many newcomers face as they work to establish new lives in our country. We must walk locally, our global talk of being a welcoming society.

In Solidarity