Toronto / September 2019 - The rallying cry for Labour Day 2019 in Ontario was ‘Unite Against Racism’. The slogan and sentiment meant to acknowledge the troubling rise in white supremacy and xenophobia across the province and the country signaled a coming together of progressive forces to combat this scourge that has a material impact on the lives of Black, Indigenous and people of colour, including racialized (im)migrants and refugees.
Labour organizations from the Ontario Federation of Labour to the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists amplified the message that in this election period all leaders of federal parties should be publicly stating their abhorrence to racism and anti-immigrant expressions and actions, and committing to combatting it in all spheres of Canadian society, whether they win the election or not. It is the least we should expect from those who are seeking to represent us or lead our country.
It was and is a timely message. Far too many Canadians are complacent about the growing threat of white supremacy and racist policies and actions we’re seeing across the world-from Europe to the USA to Brazil. Canada is not immune. Often couched in language of ‘right-wing populism’, this pushback against progressive forces working to right historical and contemporary wrongs from the African holocaust called the Atlantic Slave Trade and its legacy of anti-Black racism, to the horror of colonialism and the multi-generational impact on Indigenous Peoples here in Canada and across the Americas, is showing up in a multiplicity of ways.
The registration of an explicitly white nationalist party in Canada should give us all pause.
We were all surprised when we turned on our screens to hear the news that over ten New Brunswick members of the New Democratic Party, had defected to the Green Party of Canada, later corrected by the Green Party that it was ten members and not fifteen as originally stated. The primary reason for this defection was the ethno-racial and religious background of the national leader of the NDP who is Sikh and of Indian descent – a brown turbaned man. In short, the white politicians and candidates said they knew that they couldn’t win elections as long as the leader of their party was non- European in appearance – this in twenty-first century Canada!
Unfortunately, the NDP-Green Party cross-over debacle isn’t the only incident where xenophobia (and racism) is rearing its ugly head. It was in Nova Scotia where the billboard reportedly first showed up (later also in Ontario and other provinces in Canada) with the face of the leader of the new People’s Party of Canada (PPC) and a statement calling for an end to “mass immigration”. Dog whistle politics at its best. Just in case I need to say it: There is no ‘mass immigration’ to Canada. What we have is a managed, orderly (not too fair and timely) system.
Although placed by a third party, the PPC and its leader quickly embraced the anti-immigration message. For a brief moment there, it was the talk of all media with various pundits weighing in. And while there is ongoing debate in public relations and media relations circles on whether the outpouring of attention aided or hurt the PPC, it was heartening to hear and see the quick responses by the provincial leadership of Nova Scotia, mayors from across the country and leaders of other political parties.
The test for me of whether or not we’re winning this public debate on immigration however, was the quiet and heartfelt apologies and welcome to immigrants and refugees that came from shopkeepers and congregants of various Faith communities, neighbours of recently resettled refugees, and educators in our public schools. Regular folks. Canadians.
There is a concerted effort from various groups and organizations across the country who work in the immigrant and refugee (re)settlement, integration and inclusion space to amplify the positives of Canada’s immigration and refugee determination system and the benefits of immigrants and refugees to this country. The argument is often economic based with stats and news stories of immigrants ‘making good’. In fact, there’s a short article on just this topic elsewhere in this month’s OITF.
All stories of immigrants, refugees, migrants, with or without legal immigration status are important. Immigrants (inclusive of all immigration categories) should not be held to a higher standard however. At the end of the day they’re like everyone else, wanting a safe place to lay their heads, and often having to battle incredible odds to do just that.
The one thing… well maybe two things I ask: Promote voting to all who cross your path. And get out and vote for a progressive, inclusive Canada!