What a difference a year makes.
The massive nationwide reaction to the murder of a Muslim family in London, Ontario seems unlikely. a week ago, tonight would have been so deep and global before the death of George Floyd. His death, and the global revulsion against him, have imposed new lessons on us all about the depths and costs of systemic racism.
This week, impressively, the majority of those calling for the change were not Muslims. The sight of all political leaders from all levels of government at the London vigil was also remarkable. They all pointed out that there is simply no more political space for racist tropes, even hissed by dogs, in our politics. Stephen Harper was the latest politician to suffer from the shady racist whispers of his 2015 campaign. Premier Kenney, who has blamed South Asians’ cultural practices for the spread of COVID in their communities, looks likely to be next .
A European friend reminded me recently that we should be proud to be the only nation in the developed world where there is no traction for a racist or anti-immigrant political party. It is a feature of our politics that we must celebrate. We saw it again this week.
Statements by American politicians about their nation’s “exceptionalism” make many Canadians tremble. Barack Obama’s strangely ignorant claim that his victory could only have taken place in one country has many of us screaming “right!” ”On our screens. So it is with some trepidation that I suggest that there are few places in the world where an entire nation will immediately leap up in defense of a wounded Muslim community and demand action from all of its politicians.
What we cannot collectively congratulate, however, is the success in tackling the visible rise in calls for violence by white supremacists. Spurred on from the depths of the social media swamp, we can no longer deny the cancerous growth of racial hatred. We find it in members of our military and police services, in too many hospital and LTC workers, and in too many city streets. We cannot excuse our political leaders for their continued incompetence and their inability to take even the most basic measures to block racist attacks.
As a sign at the London vigil asked, “How many times? Neither Prime Minister nor Premier Ford accepted the call for an emergency national summit to create an agenda for action, despite their powerful rhetorical performances that evening. Nothing effective was done after the murders at the Quebec mosque. So far, the political response to the murder of the Afzaal family has been a promise to write another check. A tougher application of criminal justice is not the solution. Harsh punishment after the next attack will do nothing for the deceased victims.
The basic principles for rolling back racism are well known. They begin with a frequent public recognition of our reality by the leaders of each institution. Deliver stories about the power of inclusive and diverse communities, starting at the elementary school level. Heavy consequences for social networking platforms that provide safe havens to this poison on their sites. (Suppressing hate speech after an attack isn’t enough, Facebook.) All of us face the slurs we see and hear too often. And yes, use the law to hammer the attackers.
The politician most certainly faced with humiliation is the one who lags behind his own constituents in understanding an urgent need for change. The response of Canadians – first to the residential school graves and now to this attack – shows very clearly that voters are in the mood to punish political laggards who fail to put up effective barriers against racism.
As we go to the polls in a few months, our politicians had better have a program of effective measures to tackle this real estate crisis. Voters will ask each party, “How are you going to fight systemic racism and protect our neighbors – now?” It is unacceptable in our Canada that those who wear turbans and hijabs, Asian Canadians and Canadians of color are terrified of a Sunday night walk.