As I walked the cold Toronto streets on Saturday February 4, in solidarity with Muslim Canadians and with immigrants and refugees from the seven Muslim majority countries banned by Executive Order by the US President, I couldn’t help but reflect how different this Black Lives Matter Toronto led solidarity march was from the women’s march held in January on these same cold streets. There was the difference in numbers of course – sixty thousand at the women’s march versus a few thousand at the Muslim solidarity march, but even more important was the make-up of the crowd. At Saturday’s march the crowd was primarily young and of colour. Muslim women in hijab and bare headed, Black and Indigenous people, college and university students, young and not so young workers, activists, Faith leaders and representatives from the Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Yoruba, Akan, Voodun traditions, Agnostics and Atheists all chanting and marching in solidarity, saying with one voice “not in my name’.
There were calls for the Canadian government to speak out against the hateful policies and rhetoric south of the border. There were specific demands, many that OCASI has also called for over the years and especially more recently: A repeal of the Safe Third Country Agreement; a repeal of C-51, the anti-terrorist bill; a repeal of the Designated Country of Origin provisions in our refugee determination system; a lifting of caps for refugees, government and privately sponsored and significant increases in resources (financial and human) to process the various classes of claimants and others (sponsored parents and grandparents) waiting for a resolution to their files.
The massacre of the six men at prayer in the Quebec Mosque - Ibrahima Barry; Mamadou Tanou Barry; Khaled Belkacemi; Abdelkrim Hassane; Azzeddine Soufiane; Aboubaker Thabti - woke us up as Canadians; and I hope we stay woke. Racism and Islamophobia is not something that happens elsewhere. It is alive and increasing in our country as the political right and its surrogates are emboldened by the rhetoric in the US and by candidates vying for the leadership of Canada’s conservative movement and political party who continue to put forward the xenophobic notion of vetting all immigrants and refugees destined to Canada.
Last summer, OCASI in partnership with the City of Toronto mounted an anti-Islamophobia campaign. The campaign consisted of advertisements on public transit shelters and a social media campaign. The response was astounding. Our first comment was from a young Muslim woman who tweeted, that she felt validated when she walked to her regular bus stop and saw the ad with an image that looked like her and a message that resonated. The pushback from Islamophobes and xenophobes was just as loud. On social media the comments were nasty, often personal and steeped in racialized misogynistic language. The Council followed up with an anti-Black racism campaign some weeks later and again the pushback from the conservative, far right groups were swift, harsh and racist. But we persist. We are pleased that other towns and cities (the Town of Ajax launched a similar campaign at the end of January) have taken up the mantle and are being proactive in sparking conversations about Islamophobia and racism.
Without anticipating what would be the US president’s first public policy moves, nor the tragedy of the Quebec massacre, we launched with funding support from the province and in partnership with the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Canadian Arab Institute (CAI), a series of television ads that address issues of Islamophobia. We are hoping to amplify this campaign over the next few weeks and to expand its distribution net. We are planning a social media roll out and are also wanting it to be played in cinemas and in schools and colleges and universities. We want our neigbours, friends and families to speak out against hate - against Islamophobia and racism, against racialized sexism and transphobia. Against hatred of immigrants and refugees.
Educational campaigns are only one approach. Tweets of pleasant platitudes by our Prime Minister and other elected officials serve their purpose but they must be backed by real policy change. I have named our policy priorities above but let me repeat: repeal Safe Third Country Agreement; Designated Country of Origin; Anti-Terrorism Act and increase resources to manage the immigration and refugee flow. This is the time for the federal government to act. This is not the time for appeasement of a regime that is showing itself to have no regard for human rights and is proactively promoting the othering of vast groups of people within its body politic. This is the time for us as Canadians to hold those who represent us in Parliament to account. We must, with one voice say loudly to our parliamentarians, ‘Not in Our Name’.