Stuff

How Canadians Were Terrible to Each Other in 2015

Things are very shitty, but at least we're talking about it.
Manisha Krishnan
Toronto, CA
December 17, 2015, 4:20pm

A demonstrator protests Bill C-51 on Parliament Hill. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press/Justin Tang

This post was originally published on VICE Canada

A Toronto woman in hijab picking up her kids from school is kicked, punched, and robbed; a Peterborough mosque gets deliberately set on fire; a Montreal man in a Joker mask threatens to "shoot an Arab in the head, once each week."

All (recent) examples of hatred and bigotry, these are also coordinates on an extremely depressing map. The map, created by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, is called Tracking Anti-Muslim Incidents Reported Across Canada. It lists a synopsis of each altercation and where it took place, along with a color coded legend that corresponds with the following categories: physical, verbal, hate propaganda, vandalism, threats, and online.

It sucks that the need for such a tool exists, but let's be real, racism has always been a thing, even in Canada where we are supposedly color blind, and it's not going anywhere. But, in part thanks to media coverage and social media, people are paying more attention than before and they're using various platforms to document and denounce discrimination, from systemic to casual. On the flip side, racists are using those same soapboxes to spew malicious rhetoric and rally their ignorant troops. Such is the conundrum of race relations in Canada in 2015. Here's a look on some of the major issues that cropped up this year:

Islamophobia

There's unfortunately no shortage of material on this front (see above). But let's start right at the top with the (former) federal government. Ousted prime minister Stephen Harper invoked divisive wedge politics even before the federal election campaign officially kicked off. Earlier in the year, he unveiled Bill C-51, aka the Great Anti-Terrorism Act, which gave police and the government greater authority to spy on Canadians and detain terrorism suspects and add them to a "no fly list," as well as jail people who were caught promoting terrorism. The laws were panned by many as overly broad with the potential for abuse and stereotyping. The Harper government also banned Muslim women from wearing niqabs while taking their citizenship oaths—an issue that for a period seemed poised to decide the entire election—and during the campaign floated a "barbaric cultural practices" hotline for people to report things like honor killings and forced marriage (aka things that are already illegal and that people could just call the regular ol' police about).

Terrorist strikes such as the Charlie Hebdo shootings and the more recent Paris attacks stoked Islamophobia in Canada. We've seen violence, places of worship burned (and banned), anti-Muslim rhetoric both online and sprayed in graffiti in our cities, and recently, a pushback toward Canada's plan of accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees for fears there might be ISIS agents lurking amongst them.

Being Shitty to Indigenous Communities

During the federal election, VICE boarded a campaign plane with Harper to ask him a question—would his government support an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women in this country? According to the RCMP, 1,107 Aboriginal women were murdered and another 164 went missing between 1980 and 2012. As of June 2015, 106 murders and 98 missing persons cases remained unsolved. Despite the fact that these numbers are a national shame, slammed by the UN human rights committee, Harper's response was dismissive.

"Most of these murders, sad as they are, are in fact solved," he said. "We are way past the time for further study."

In a case that caught rare national attention, the body of Tina Fontaine, 15, of the Sagkeeng First Nation, turned up wrapped in plastic in Winnipeg's Red River last year. But cops there refuse to search the river for bodies, despite it being a known dumping ground. VICE embedded a group of volunteer searchers who "drag the red," looking for bodies there because the police won't.

Speaking at a conference organized by the Assembly of First Nations last week, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson admitted that "there are racists in my police force" and that dealing with them would be key to the MMIW inquiry.

This year also saw Winnipeg earn the dubious title of Canada's most racist city, according to Maclean's. The magazine reported one-third of those living on the prairies feel racial stereotypes are accurate and Saskatchewan and Manitoba have the highest rates of racially motivated incidents.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, released in installments throughout 2015, detailed the sexual, physical, and emotional abuse Aboriginal children faced in the residential school system. It described Canada's treatment of its Indigenous population as "cultural genocide." The Commission makes 94 calls to action in the areas of child welfare, education, health, justice, and others.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said his government will implement all of them and that this will provide a path to "true reconciliation."

Carding

A few weeks back, a mob of people tried to stop a white police officer from arresting a young black man who was allegedly acting "fidgety" outside a Toronto liquor store. They felt the cop's actions were without cause and racially motivated. In responding, Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash told VICE it's "extremely dangerous behavior to interfere with a police officer when they are making an arrest" and that claims of racism were "unsubstantiated."

We can't say for sure whether or not the cop in this instance was guilty of racial profiling. What's undeniable, however, is the public's faith in police is at a low, in part because the narrative of law enforcement abusing positions of power to target people of color is one with which we've become very familiar. Carding, the practice of stopping civilians to gather and store their information, is a particularly contentious issue that disproportionately targets visible minorities. In Brampton and Mississauga, Ontario, black people are three times more likely to be carded, according to a Toronto Star investigation. The Ontario government recently proposed a series of restrictions that would put an end to arbitrary stops. Whether or not law enforcement officers actually abide by them remains to be seen.

White Students Unions

Flyers and Facebook groups endorsing these popped up at a number of Canadian post-secondaries including University of British Columbia, Western, McMaster, University of Victoria, and University of Toronto. The Students for Western Civilization says its goals are to "organize for and advance the interests of Western peoples." Most of the groups appear to be hoaxes, and the universities targeted have denied that they have any official status, but the trend is troubling no less.

There's no getting around it: shit is bleak. But it's refreshing that the racism in this country is getting called out, not just by the ones being targeted and their allies, but by those in positions of power. For far too long it seems we've been telling ourselves we're multicultural and diverse and that racism is something that mostly exists south of the border. Clearly, that's not true. We have different incarnations of the same problems and we're not going to solve them without first acknowledging that they exist.

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.