Fostering hate in the halls of power

By Amy Awad
National Post | August 7, 2014

There was a time when Canada was known as an open, fair-minded country, led by level-headed politicians striving to bring about positive change at home and abroad. This reputation transcended the political party in power and set the tone for how Canadians saw themselves. This is no longer the case.

Rather than nuance and context, our federal leaders have adopted simplistic notions of “good” and “evil” to drive their policy decisions. Not only has this marginalized certain segments of the Canadian population, it is contributing to a culture of hate that is patently un-Canadian.

The government’s response to the current Gaza-Israel conflict illuminates this trend. In a recent YouTube video, the Conservative party highlights its one-sided and uncritical support of Israel, by being unequivocal about its support for the Jewish state, while failing to mention the harsh realities of life for the Palestinian people, or calling for a just resolution to the conflict.

The government’s crude us-versus-them mentality is not without social consequences. Since the military operation in Gaza began, Muslim communities in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas have been the victim of at least two incidents being investigated as hate crimes.

First, two McMaster University students were attacked on their way home from Ramadan prayers. Later, an Islamic Centre on the outskirts of Toronto was vandalized with Stars of David and obscene references to Arabs and the crisis in Gaza. Then there was a report of a Thornhill, Ont., bus shelter being defiled with anti-Semitic messaging.

Sadly, some of our elected representatives are also guilty of perpetuating social ills by putting forth law and policy that negatively impact certain groups. This approach is not confined to foreign affairs. Even domestic policies can send clear messages about the relative value of different members of society.

The new citizenship law, for instance, gives the government wide discretion to revoke citizenship from dual citizens who are found guilty of certain crimes, even though Canadians who do not hold another passport are not subject to the same rules. The obvious implication is that dual citizens are afforded second-class status.

And what about the United Nations’ recent appeal to the international community to help resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees. Canada was expected to take in 10,000 refugees, but our government keeps dragging its feet. Compare this to Joe Clark’s PC government, which resettled nearly 60,000 Southeast Asian refugees in 1980. This sends a message that certain prospective Canadians are less desirable than others.

Our national security policy has also reinforced the parochial labels that become fodder for hateful attitudes. All Canadians benefit from effective security, but many minority religious and cultural groups end up paying a disproportionately higher cost, due to increased scrutiny on their communities, and the inevitable errors that government officials make.

Our leaders can say that they will defend basic rights and freedoms. They can setup institutions, such as the Office of Religious Freedom. They can even speak out against hate crimes domestically. Yet when they adopt policies that label and marginalize certain communities at home and aboard, they will not only be seen as inconsistent and politicizing, they will fail in their responsibility to promote social cohesion and create a safe place for all people. And when that happens, all Canadians lose.

Amy Awad, LL.B., LL.M. is the human rights co-ordinator at the National Council of Canadian Muslims.