Far exceeding hockey and Tim Hortons Roll Up the Rim, there really is no more classically Canadian pastime than passing callous judgement on the blatant injustices of our southern neighbours while ignoring our own. Yet, from residential schools, to forced sterilizations and Chinese Exclusions Act, racism is literally ingrained into the foundations of our Canadian identities and our institutions. The world may think we’re some kind of racial utopia, and we may love to bask in this unearned praise, but the truth remains that our villainy is just more nuanced and less dramatic than the States. It doesn’t mean that it’s not happening within own borders with equal frequency and devastation.
Now that the fairy-tale is cracking, we can’t afford to live in ignorance much longer. By skirting away from any serious discussions of race relations, we’ve created a void that’s allowed the white supremacists of Canada to thrive. With over one hundred white nationalist factions in Canada groups like the Proud Boys (yes that’s their real name), the Aryan Guard, Odin’s Sons, the Heritage front, Blood and Honour Canada and the Canadians Nationalist Party are growing more bold than we’d like to accept.
Just take the man who was filmed verbally assaulting Kaniz Fatima and her family in Manitoba in early July, calling them a tirade of islamophobic taunts when they stopped to ask for directions. Luckily, a bystander stepped in and defended Fatima against the self-proclaimed Nazi while repeatedly advocating that she belonged to our country much more than his hateful attitude does. Now that is truly Canadian in the way we want to be, and this is where we need to begin our campaign against white supremacists.
Namely, we need to start by calling out any racist or Nazi propaganda we see or hear. Whether it’s at work, online, on transit or at the dinner table. Aid these discussions by studying up on Canada’s systemic racist policies like residential schools. Prepare to get uncomfortable. Many people will be starkly opposed to shattering our image of a fair and equal country. They’ll be defensive, angry and might even blame you personally. Keep talking anyways. When we’re forced to argue our assumptions and beliefs, we’ll begin to question them ourselves – and for many Canadians this needs to be the first step.
Of course, just talking to Nazis or Nazi-sympathizers is not going to solve the situation. Before you get too excited though let’s be clear here: Violence is not at all the answer to hate. But at the same time, neither is pacifism. To swat down the rising Nazi force within our beloved nation, we’ll have to strike a bargain between these two schools of thought.
When it comes to political life and social justice, the most important thing we can do is show up. Community action is one of the most effective tools we have in thwarting the rise of fascists. Support your local civil rights and anti-hate organizations. Donate your time, any disposable income and join in when you see a peaceful protest. If you see someone being harassed by an alt-right advocate, step in, let them know that they’re not alone and that their aggressor won’t be ignored. Numbers are what will make or break the rise of this hateful ideology.
A vital part of this cause is keeping in constant touch with the developments of your own community. Call your local police services and activist groups and ask them if there are any supremacist group in your city and who they are. Keep track of them using social media – without following them, because that would just add to the attention they crave. Inform the proper authorities if you think they’re planning to commit a hate crime or file a report at Stophatecrime.com if you think one has already been committed. Likewise, pay attention to any gatherings the alt-right may be having as well and undermine their schemes by showing up to wherever they’re and counter-protesting. On August 19th, when the citizens of Vancouver heard that an alt-right rally would be happening in their city, four-thousand people showed up to counter protest and vastly outnumber the Nazis – thereby reminding them of how small a minority they are and how little power they really hold.
Yet, the most fundamental changes we need are the reforms of discriminatory public policies. These will prove the most challenging by far. Research the racist influences in our major institutions like the disproportionate amount of indigenous and ethnic people in the criminal justice system, or the need for more affirmative action for racial equality in our education and job markets. From there, regularly call, email, write and go see your elected representatives. These would be your city councillor, mayor, Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) and Member of Parliament (MP). Make it clear that as your representatives you expect to see decisive action on this issue, and sooner rather than later. Make sure you’re also pushing others to do so. If enough voters care, these issues will become a major policy promise for candidates before election season.
If officials try to give you the runaround about how long major changes like this can take, remind them that while we wait they can also strengthen our existing barriers against the rise of fascism. Part of the reason racist tirades are less violent and eye-catching on our side of the border are the hate speech laws and gun control restrictions written in our Criminal Code. However in 2013, sections of the anti-hate speech laws were actually taken out of the Canadian Human Rights Act, and haven’t yet been reinstated. As far as policy goes, it’s always easier to build on what already exists than creating something from scratch.
Most importantly to this cause is to stay active. HBO didn’t spend millions of dollars funding Game of Thrones for seven seasons so you can assume the good-guys will always win. The only way we’re going to undo the consequences of our negligence is if we do the opposite of our established strategy against racism. Let’s not forget what’s at stake here – after all, we began this year with a terrorist attack on a Quebec City mosque that killed six people.
We have to stand together as a collective, across every ethnicity, religion or identity, and continue to apply unyielding pressure against these white supremacist groups. In our rose-coloured vision of Canada they don’t exist and it’s time to make that illusion a reality.