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Why Canada is Racist

It’s a shameful fact that I’d like to see less of, that Canada is racist. I’m lucky enough to have been raised without racism. I don’t understand it. But then some of it is subtle. It’s not always about the color of a person’s skin but a person being other, not one of us. Outsiders need not apply.

Canada’s own interior racism (or should I say racial profiling) includes the interment camps for people of Japanese ancestry during WWII. Those people were uprooted for fear that because of their original nationality, even if they were born here, that they would betray Canada to Japan. Guilty by association, and in fact guilty even if innocent. These people lost homes and livelihoods and many of them never regained their properties. Vancouver’s Japantown is nonexistent these days.

Even older than that was of course the treatment of various First Nations bands (once called Indians and called Native Americans in the US). Many people were corralled onto reservations. While BC’s west coast fared better and many bands had fur and trade deals with early settlers and the Hudson’s Bay there were still many infringements on the culture including the nefarious residential schools. In some cases, First Nations people were punished if they used their own language, did their own rituals or anything else that represented their culture. They were also physically, emotionally and sexually abused. As well, many people were uprooted from where they lived and in the case of some Inuit, promised all sorts of things to move farther North to protect Canada’s sovereignty, where life was extremely hard and isolating.

We could say that these are issues of the past but the truth is no country is completely free of racism and bigotry. Canada still has many issues with First Nations where they are treated as second class citizens and live in appalling conditions. People of color (whether Native or black or…) are still arrested or harassed more frequently by some police departments. Prostitutes are still treated as if their lives don’t matter. After Willie Picton’s rampage and disturbing murders of so many street workers over the years and the lackadaisical attitude of the police in searching for these missing women (some who were First Nations on top of that), at least some police departments pay more attention now.

So you could say we’re trying to improve. And I would like to think on an individual level that most people are decent and treat people equally. It’s how I was raised. I never called someone a name because of the color of their skin or their race. I’ve dated men of all colors. I have what I call a soft racist friend. She works with and gets along with people of color and other races but she would never think of dating one.

It is something that everyone as an individual must be constantly aware of and try to curb. We can all fall into an “us and them” mentality and it’s insidious and dangerous. But we could say that our country at least has a human rights policy and upholds international standards of protecting the rights of the individual and helping those who are subjugated whether children, women, racial minorities, religious groups or any persecuted group. You could say that about a country but Canada is sliding a slippery slope toward a dictatorial regime.

I can’t yet draw comparisons to Hitler’s Germany and his persecution and murder of millions of Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals. (Yes, those three groups were targeted.) But if Steven Harper’s nearly totalitarian clutch on his ministers continues and his blatant disregard for the rights of Canadians continues, I won’t be far off.

Canada is hiding its face in shame over the issues of the following people and their problems. Suaad Mohamad was stuck in Kenya for three months when she went to visit her mother and was accused of being an impostor by Canadian consular officials.  Anab Issa took her autistic son Abdihakim Mohamed to Kenya to see if it would help him. He was not allowed to return and Issa was told that he wasn’t her son. Sound familiar? Then there was Abousfian Abdelrazik stuck in Sudan after being accused of being an Al Qaeda confidante of some sort. Cleared of charges by CSIS and the government, still Harper’s Conservatives would not let the man back in the country. Abdelrazik jumped numerous hoops but lived at the Canadian embassy and was in limbo for years, denied time and again his passport.

Debra Martin was jailed in Mexico, accidentally embroiled in her boss’s dealings. She was the cook I believe. When media finally got involved Canada sent a private jet for her release. Omar Khadr, the only person of a western nation and the only Canadian, still resides in Guantanamo and Harper and his henchmen are challenging yet another court ruling that they are infringing on Khadr’s rights.

Worse than that, they’re taking on the nightmarish doublespeak of 1984 and censoring such words as “child soldier,” “gender equality” and “international humanitarian law.” What’s next? Women are just incubation machines? Our elected members of parliament will not be allowed to say Khadr was a child soldier. What happens if they say this? Are they shipped of to a gulag or Guantanamo and never heard from again. Sure, governments change laws but it seems the Canadian government is changing the law to get their way. They’re doing it on the sly and they’re doing it against those they consider “other.” And they are setting a dangerous precedent toward bigotry and racism.

And what do all of these people have in common? They were Canadian citizens who went abroad and were abandoned by their government. What do all of these people except Deb Martin have in common? They’re brown skinned, with foreign sounding names and probably most of them are Muslim. Why do we even know about many of them? Because the media had to start pointing out what the government wasn’t doing. What does this say about the Canadian government? They’re willing to abandon you if you go abroad and you’re not white with a last name like Smith or White. I could be okay should I fall afoul in another country but I’m a woman and the government could be changing wording so that instead of saying “woman” we will soon say “second class citizen.” I certainly have faith in their racism and bigotry but not in them protecting humanitarian rights.

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Political Name Changes: A Rose By Any Name

Or perhaps never a rose. It could be a stinking weed or even a better flower. The NDP (New Democratic Party) of Canada is looking at changing their name and dropping the “New.” One reason stated is that people who are newer to Canada (and maybe those not so new) see the “New” and think that the party hasn’t been around very long, and is less experienced.

Fair enough, and it’s not the first time the NDP have gone through a transition. Its roots are in two parties, the Canadian Labour Congress and the Co-operative Commonwealth Foundation, which joined together to form the National Committee for the New Party (known for a while as the New Party). That party became the NDP with Tommy Douglas as its first leader.

It’s not bad for any political party to re-evaluate where its going, what its mandate is and is it serving the needs of the people. Of course, once you have more than a small handful of people you will get differing needs and views. (Heck, even if you have two people that can happen.)

The Progressive Conservatives went through a split where the right of center PCs spawned the Reform Party of Canada. This happened after Brian Mulroney drove the party into the ground, setting up Kim Campbell to be the fall guy (or gal) for the party that was nearly voted out of existence. Mulroney’s arrogance and his implementation of the GST and the controversial Free Trade Agreement (seen as selling away some of Canada’s rights to the US) left the federal party with only two seats in the next election.

The Reform offspring, a farther right-wing, extreme conservative party then became known as the Canadian Alliance after the unfortunate name of the Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance party (or CRAP for short). They were known for being narrow-minded and members were caught several times saying racist and sexist remarks. So in a big sellout the Reform party merged back with the PCs, causing many long time Conservative members (such as former prime minister Joe Clark) to leave the party in disgust.

That’s our Conservative party today, cloaked again with the respectable Conservative name but still more right of where the PCs were yet not as red as the Reform was. But Harper’s disinterest in helping anyone of color or of a nonChristian religion, even if they are Canadian citizens has been noted by the press. (such as Abousfian Abdelrazik in Sudan but not charged with anything) One could say it is the government but Harper likes to keep a stranglehold on his ministers.

So, in that case, the name change for the Reform didn’t work but merging back into the Conservatives did. Will it work for the NDP? That depends. Often what happens when a party renames itself is that it also looks at its mandates, its policies and its platform. If the NDP doesn’t do an in-depth examination, then a name change probably won’t do much for them in the polls and they’ll continue to be third runner up in federal politics.

As I’ve said before, Canada’s political parties don’t have very charismatic leaders at present. I’ve heard from an experienced ex-politician that he liked Jack Layton until he met him. I also listened to several people talking this weekend at a party about the NDP. Layton at some point had been in town for a photo op with guards and press. It blocked the way to a local store (selling roleplaying games I believe). Because it took so long when they were packing up this one guy was saying that Layton could have gone into the store and shook a few hands because the nerds (his word not mine) were waiting to go in. And then they would have probably blogged about it. But Layton missed an opportunity.

Layton comes from a long family history of politicians and a has a PhD in political science so he should know his stuff. However, he comes across as arrogant, and he’s not the only political leader who does. It certainly didn’t serve Stockwell Day or Brian Mulroney that well with many people. Like Preston Manning before him, it could be Layton also needs a makeover. Not even gay men wear moustaches like that anymore: only policemen. But it’s attitude and party politics that will need to change most of all to bring the party out of third place in the race. Politicians should try being genuine and talk more with the common people.

If the NDP are not going to be new democrats anymore but democrats with seasoning and experience, then the party has to grow up all around. Perhaps at the NDP convention the name change will come with a new leader but if they change the leader they better throw smarts and charisma into the package. Oh and clearly stating their platform and sticking to their guns. If not, the NDP, or the Democratic Party, will continue to bring up the rear, even if the other two choices aren’t much better.

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