Last week, Conservative MP Candice Bergen asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau why scientists at the Winnipeg infectious-diseases laboratory had been collaborating with Chinese military scientists. Two Canadian scientists have been fired from the lab, so Ms. Bergen’s question was reasonable. Mr. Trudeau’s response was not.
“The rise in anti-Asian racism we have been seeing over the past number of months should be of concern to everyone,” Mr. Trudeau replied, from left field. “I would recommend that the members of the Conservative Party, in their zeal to make personal attacks, not start to push too far into intolerance toward Canadians of diverse origins.”
What a foolish thing to say.
No one can deny that Canada has a long and unhappy history of discriminating against immigrants from countries in conflict with ours. On Thursday, Mr. Trudeau extended a formal apology on behalf of the government and people of Canada for persecuting Italian Canadians during the Second World War. German Canadians endured discrimination as well. Worst of all, more than 20,000 Japanese Canadians were forced into internment camps, one of the darkest stains on this country’s history, for which Brian Mulroney apologized when he was prime minister.
Asian Canadians today are suffering racist insults and worse in the wake of a virus that spread from Wuhan, China, to Canada and the rest of the world. A report released in March detailed more than a thousand incidents of harassment and physical assault against Asian Canadians between March, 2020, and February, 2021.
But while we need to protect Asian minorities from hate, we also need to question this government’s willingness to co-operate with China despite its misdeeds. It is irresponsible to slander the opposition for doing its job in asking why scientists at the Winnipeg lab were co-operating with Chinese scientists, just as it was irresponsible for the government to allege racism back in the winter of 2020, when Conservatives asked why Ottawa had not imposed a travel ban on China amid reports of a dangerous new virus emanating from Wuhan.
“One of the interesting elements of the coronavirus outbreak has been the spread of misinformation and fear across Canadian society,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu warned on Feb. 3. The best way to prevent that spread, she added “might be if the opposition does not sensationalize the risk to Canadians.”
As late as March 5, as countries around the world imposed travel restrictions, Mr. Trudeau accused his critics of intolerance for questioning Canada’s wide-open borders. “There is a lot of misinformation out there, there is a lot of knee-jerk reaction that isn’t keeping people safe,” Mr. Trudeau said on March 5. “That is having real, challenging impacts on communities, on community safety.” Days later, Canada closed its borders to the world.
Some commentators allege that even suggesting the virus might have escaped from a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan is a racist conspiracy theory. But President Joe Biden last week ordered the intelligence services to redouble their efforts to determine whether that happened.
We all need to fight racial intolerance toward Asian Canadians. But it is not racism to ask why this Liberal government still hasn’t banned, as other countries have, the use of Huawei technology in Canada’s 5G network, why it launched a failed effort to co-produce a COVID-19 vaccine with China, or why the Winnipeg lab was co-operating with the Chinese military.
China is a major power and economy. Dealing with that reality while also condemning its persecution of the Uyghur minority, its suppression of democracy in Hong Kong, its arbitrary imprisonment of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig over an extradition dispute, its aggressive actions in the South China Sea and its threatening actions toward Taiwan is one of the biggest challenges in Canadian foreign policy. It’s the job of the opposition parties to scrutinize the government’s conduct as it executes that policy. Accusing the Conservatives of fomenting racism every time they ask a legitimate question about China does more to encourage intolerance than any question the Conservatives might ask.
“The Prime Minister conflated our legitimate concerns about national security with racism against Asian Canadians,” Conservative MP Nelly Shin told the House. “He spun an inflammatory narrative that implies Conservatives are stoking intolerance. By using this false narrative, he has cheapened and undermined the ongoing efforts to combat the rise of anti-Asian racism.”
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