A few weeks ago we were witness to images from Charlottesville in the United States that could have been found in 1930s Germany. Hundreds of angry white males marching at night with torches, chanting phrases such as “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.” It was a frightful and shocking sight, and it was a stark reminder of the bigotry, racism, and hate that lingers still in American society.
The United States has a hard history to confront. It fought a civil war in which one side’s main reason for fighting was to protect and maintain slavery. The catalyst for the events in Charlottesville was the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, which was situated in a place recently renamed as Emancipation Park.
It would be foolish to believe that we in Canada are immune to this. This was proved when, in January, a young man walked into a Quebec mosque during evening prayers, killing six people and injuring 19 more. It is an unfortunate fact, but my office continues to receive correspondence that dehumanizes and promotes racism against those who practice the Muslim faith; it doesn’t seem to matter that these messages are devoid of facts and instead promote false stereotypes — I know they are finding receptive audiences across our country.
Some of the intolerance and racism we see in Canada is finding home in professional journalism. The Rebel, which brands itself as a “fearless source of news, opinion, and activism that you won’t find anywhere else,” has come under intense scrutiny of late when one of its correspondents painted the neo-Nazis and white supremacists marching in Charlottesville in a sympathetic light. Everything changed when a man drove his car through a crowd of counter-protestors, killing one and injuring many more, and now former correspondents and regular guest politicians are distancing themselves from the organization.
Canada is also facing its own dreadful history of colonialism and awful treatment of First Nations people. Land seizures, the ending of cultural practices, and residential schools are but a few of the policies that were used to subject an entire people to the supremacy of colonial rule. Like the U.S., Canada is also embroiled in the debate that surrounds buildings, landmarks, and statues dedicated to men who were key figures in this colonial past. It is only in recent years that important steps have been taken to confront this history and to embark our country on a path of reconciliation, and we clearly have a long way to go on this journey.
Politicians at all levels of government have an important role in confronting racism. I believe we must actively push back against harmful stereotypes and misinformation that seek to characterize so many different segments of our society. It is also important to promote respectful dialogue between different cultures with the ultimate aim of fostering understanding and learning from one another.
Thankfully, we also have wonderful organizations such as the Cowichan Intercultural Society, whose vision “is to be a leader in building inclusive and welcoming communities where every person feels valued and has a sense of belonging.” That’s the type of community we should all work hard to achieve.