Trudeau’s defence of Canadian Muslims courageous: Mallick
The Liberal leader’s speech in Toronto to McGill University alumni was ‘as heartening a statement as I have ever heard from a politician,’ Mallick says.
This week in racism: “Whities.” “Brown people.” The Canadian verbal airspace is becoming more toxic with every day that passes, thanks to the nudge-nudge-wink-wink of Conservatives as they speak about the ethnic vote they court while stirring up the voting base that gave them a majority.
Conservative MP John Williamson could be heard on tape using these words to sum up the controversial — make that hateful — temporary foreign workers program that has brought low-skilled workers from overseas to work more cheaply than local Canadians, even in areas of high unemployment. What worries me is that he didn’t pause before saying them, or show discomfort. They came naturally to him.
This is a man who was once Stephen Harper’s chief spokesman. His job is all about using words carefully, but “whities” and “brown people” appear to be standard fare.
Harper’s team is constantly pushing the boundaries of what is socially acceptable. It works. As the CBC has reported, voters throughout Williamson’s own riding in New Brunswick aren’t happy about this. But the next time an MP says something racist, Canadians will automatically compare it to the previous moral low set by Williamson. The bar of decency will eventually skim the ground.
The Liberals have called for Harper to remove Williamson from the Conservative caucus but it won’t happen. Williamson should resign, but he won’t. No one resigns for verbal indecency any more than they go to jail for massive high-level banking crime. So I hoped Williamson would apologize, which he did. But he apologized on Twitter, which doesn’t count. Normal Canadian voters aren’t on Twitter. They are intelligent people with lives to live and work to do.
Things got worse. The CBC’s Rosemary Barton, one of Canada’s most intelligent and best-loved journalists, hosted an edition of the political panel Power and Politics, in which four people commented on the news stories of the day, including, briefly, the Williamson remarks. The CBC was then taken to task on social media for the panel having been all white. Fair enough, but these shows are pre-booked, while news pops up to alarm people. News is like that. No one tries harder than the CBC to be ethnically diverse although it didn’t happen on this day.
Me, I had been quietly pleased to see a female guest, meaning that two of the five talking heads — in my notes, the list is “RB, Pearls, Glasses, Dk Hr, Last” — belonged to women. But then the critics began quarrelling over whether the correct ethnicities should have been black or First Nations — another sign of current divisions — and I left them to their American-style quarrel.
At this point, I cede the floor to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau whose extraordinary March 9 speech on the corrosive effect of Stephen Harper isolating and demonizing one group, Muslims, was as heartening a statement as I have ever heard from a politician. Trudeau dared to come out and say it: Canadians are being invited to be racist, and they should decline.
Trudeau, who was speaking in Toronto to McGill University alumni, referred to a Quebec woman, Rania El-Alloul, who was recently shamed in a Quebec courtroom by a judge who refused to hear her case unless she removed the hijab covering her hair. “Rania’s story is part of a troubling trend that Mr. Harper seems keen to accelerate and exploit,” he told the crowd.
El-Alloul had gone to court to get her car back after it was temporarily held after an insurance problem involving her son. She was on welfare. She needed her car, she could be heard pleading in the courtroom to a judge who was rigid, cold and racist. It was an awful display of the new Canadian cruelty.
On Friday, after generous crowdfunding raised $52,000 for a new car, El-Alloul politely turned the money down. Can you remember the last time anyone declined cash offered free and clear?
“Although I very much appreciate the financial support offered by this generous and warm hearted campaign, I cannot accept this gift,” this dignified woman wrote on the Gofundme website. She asked that the money go to others who had been denied justice because of their “faith, race, gender or other.”
The Harper government, looking for votes at any cost, has made clear its dislike of Muslims generally. I was appalled to see Conservative MP Diane Ablonczy on Friday, questioning respectable Muslim organization the National Council of Canadian Muslims about (baseless) allegations of links to terrorism, a real taste of McCarthyism in Ottawa. When the group’s executive director responded with a clear denial, Ablonczy seemed to ridicule him for being unsurprised by her approach.
Trudeau’s speech was courageous. Think of that. It is now considered dangerous to defend Canadian Muslims. Still, it made me very happy to watch it, which I did repeatedly. “Mr. Harper and I disagree fundamentally about many things,” Trudeau said. “None perhaps more so than this: leading this country should mean you bring Canadians together. You do not divide them against one another.”