Huda Idrees is the founder and CEO of Dot Health, Canada’s largest health data transactions network. She is Muslim.
There are no guarantees in life – except, perhaps, that Canadians will act smug when terror attacks, mass shootings, travel bans, human-rights violations and insurrections take place in the United States.
We saw it happen again this weekend when a white teenager – who was armed with a military-grade weapon and armour, and who had written a racist screed beforehand – shot 13 people in a grocery store in Buffalo, killing 10. Eleven of the victims were Black. It didn’t take long for some Canadians to start talking about how much better we are than our neighbours, including former federal cabinet minister Catherine McKenna. “Reading the news today, I’m feeling very fortunate to live in Canada – a diverse and tolerant country that values freedom while respecting human rights,” she wrote. “We aren’t perfect and building our country is an ongoing project but I wouldn’t choose anywhere else.”
Of course, white supremacy exists in Canada. June 6 will mark the one-year anniversary of the killing of a Muslim family in London, Ont., in broad daylight; police said they were targeted “because of their Islamic faith,” and the Crown is pursuing terror charges. And just five years ago, a white supremacist murdered six worshippers in a Quebec City mosque, saying he was driven to do so because of Canada’s immigration policies.
White supremacy has also become more mainstream recently. Part of this trend stems from a growing underground belief in the so-called “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory – an awful, wrong-headed idea that has been around since 2010, when it was first popularized in France. With its roots in Islamophobia, the theory suggests that Muslim, Black and brown populations are slowly but surely replacing white people in European countries through demographic growth and mass immigration. We have seen the harmful effects of this theory in France in the form of laws that criminalize religious expression and general fear-mongering of Muslims in the media.
The Buffalo grocery-store shooter cited the theory in his screed. The white supremacist who killed 51 people in a mosque in Christchurch, N.Z., in 2019 also espoused the same theory.
But white supremacy has also been normalized by populist movements and politicians, including Donald Trump. One of the leaders of Canada’s self-described “freedom convoy” protests is on record saying, “The goal is to depopulate the Anglo-Saxon race, because they are the ones with the strongest bloodlines.” Some participants displayed Confederate flags and Nazi swastikas, while Trump-inspired nativist “Make Canada Great Again” banners were flown. Despite this, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre – now the frontrunner to be the party’s next leader – supported the convoy, posing for photos and bringing coffee and doughnuts.
What we choose to normalize with our words and actions have consequences. Canadian politicians have vilified Muslims by upholding laws such as Quebec’s Bill 21, which prohibits some of the province’s government employees from wearing religious symbols. Canadian police forces often use excessive, sometimes fatal force disproportionately on Black and Indigenous populations, usually without any consequences. When Indigenous groups organized blockades to protest the building of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in 2018, courts issued injunctions that allowed police to forcibly remove them. Yet the trucker convoy was able to set up camp in Ottawa for weeks and blockade the border at Coutts, Alta., which caused an estimated $44-million in trade loss every day.
Hate crimes, meanwhile, increased by 37 per cent year-over-year in 2020, according to the most recent Statistics Canada data.
When George Floyd was murdered by a policeman in Minneapolis in 2020, sparking Black Lives Matter protests across the world, people in Canada wondered whether this was purely an American problem (never mind that a 2018 inquiry found that 70 per cent of people killed by police in fatal shootings of civilians in Toronto were Black). In the aftermath of Mr. Floyd’s death, Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared that Canada doesn’t have the “systemic, deep roots” of racism that the United States does; Quebec’s Premier François Legault would later make a similar statement, saying that systemic racism doesn’t exist. If we cannot acknowledge that the problem exists within our own borders, we have no hopes of tamping it out.
“Diversity is our strength” is a catchy motto that leaders across all levels of government love to quote, but they’re empty words unless we challenge and change racist laws. We have to investigate the rise in hate crimes across Canada, and we have to stop normalizing obvious white supremacist trends disguised under the banner of “freedom.” A good first step on this journey would be to stop using the pain of victims of domestic terrorism in other countries as an opportunity to gloat.
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