November 2019 / Toronto - My social media accounts were buzzing with righteous and rightful (if there’s such a word) indignation about comments made on a hockey game show by the host of Coach’s Corner Don Cherry. I’ve often been surprised that he continued to get airtime on our public network.
He first came into my consciousness when about twelve years ago or maybe longer he went on an insulting diatribe against people he called ‘left-wing pinkos’ or worse during the swearing in of the then Toronto Mayor-elect Rob Ford.
Forward a decade plus later and this time his target is “you people” meaning immigrants; and given that his comments were based on his observation of who was or wasn’t wearing a red poppy, I would hazard a guess that it was primarily racialized folks.
What I found insulting and egregious wasn’t so much the xenophophia and racism – I’ve read enough over the years about his hate-on for every group other than white, heterosexual, English-speaking Christians- but the absolute erasure of Indigenous, Black and racialized men and women (and I’m sure some 2-Spirited and non-binary folks as well) who served in the world wars- as Canadians and under other flags. What was even more disappointing and angering is that our national broadcaster didn’t immediately correct the misinformation his comments promoted. And their apology the next day where he isn’t named nor the words used made clear fell far short of what is expected from the CBC.
Before I receive emails from my friends and colleagues across the country about these comments let me say two things: If the world wars were fought so that I can have freedom as we’re always told, then certainly that freedom includes the choice to wear or not wear a poppy.
And second, during this time of year, I remember and hold space for all those who are affected by war and political upheaval and persecution. Today I remember the peoples of the global south from South Sudan to Congo. From Bolivia to Haiti. From Hong Kong to West Papua. And I also remember the people here in Canada – First Peoples fighting for clean drinking water and to maintain their rights as keepers of these lands. My thoughts today as I write this are with Human Rights Defenders all over the globe.
Turning my attention to soul lifting sharing….
I had the great privilege a week or so ago to bring introductory remarks along with my friends and colleagues from FCJ Refugee Centre to a packed house at Oxfam Canada’s ‘Museum Without A Home’ showcase in Toronto.
Museum without a Home is an award-winning exhibit, featuring real and every-day objects given to refugees – in their new countries – as symbols of friendship and solidarity. Behind each item is a simple story written by the person who donated it. The stories bring to life the person who came as a refugee and the person who connected with them.
The room was electric with a racially and gender diverse audience with many refugee and refugee claimant youth in attendance. It was truly wonderfully uplifting to be in that crowd who gathered to celebrate the strength of refugees and the solidarity exhibited by those of us who support their journey to safety.
I want to share here some of my remarks primarily crafted by my colleague who is the policy and communication lead at OCASI, that was so well received by the audience:
Events like this one are exactly what we need in all our communities. A celebration where we can see and get to know each other. That is how we begin to break down walls between us: between immigrants and refugees. Between strangers and neighbours.
We have come out of a nasty election campaign where we saw far too many political leaders use the language of hate and suspicion to divide Canadians; promoting messages like Canada takes in too many refugees or the wrong kind of refugees or that they come in the wrong way.
This is not the Canada we want.
The Canada we want has a real nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples and respects treaty obligations; acknowledges the history and the legacy of enslavement of Black Canadians; and welcomes all refugees regardless of who they are, where they are from and how they came here.
We want a Canada that will withdraw from the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States- an agreement that often keeps out many people who are in need of Canada’s protection.
The Canada we want pays attention to and privileges women and girls who are always a major target in any and all conflicts- the targets of rape, sexual exploitation, physical and mental violence and abuse.
The Canada we want welcomes and embraces those in need of protection because of their sexual or gender identity (claims based on LGBTI2S+ identity). In almost seventy countries in the world it is illegal and dangerous to be non-heterosexual in practice and identity.
We must be vigilant in protecting these rights that we have won here in Canada.
We must ensure that the Canada’s commitment to antiracism as announced before the election through its antiracism strategy includes refugees and refugee claimants who are racialized by dismantling the systemic racism that exist in our immigration and refugee determination system.
Let us ensure that any action (including legislation) acknowledges and names anti-Black racism and its deep historical roots here in Canada. Let us ensure Indigenous sovereignty is always front and centre.
We want a Canada that moves away from performative and superficial acts of inclusion to a Canada that truly walks its talk of leaving no one behind.
In the words of my Black Feminist Jamaican-Canadian Sister Rosemary Brown, “Until all of us have made it, none of us have made it.”