U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweets telling four non-white Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to the “places from which they came” were racist. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s inability to call these comments racist, and insistence that “that’s not how we do things in Canada,” is moral cowardice, but not at all surprising.
Canada was built on this “go back home” sentiment. The term is more often than not directed toward those from non-white communities who either critique the status quo, ask for fairer treatment or are just living their everyday lives. I’ve heard this phrase many times, and have primarily seen it extended to those who look like me.
This statement is not unfamiliar to many Canadians. It follows in our legacy of favouring white immigration while opposing or restricting immigration from places unlikely to create “ideal Canadians.’’ Often times, the idea of an “ideal Canadian” leads to dog whistles, such as former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s references to “old-stock Canadians.” This legacy continues to this day with 37 per cent of Canadians — enough to elect a majority government — saying that immigration is a threat to white Canadians.
History proves this narrative can be dangerous. Jewish refugees aboard the SS St. Louis were turned away from Canadian ports in 1939 after being told that “none is too many.” Of the 620 passengers who returned to continental Europe, 254 died during the war.
This sentiment is paradoxical considering the harm and genocide white colonialism has inflicted on the Indigenous people in Canada. To put it simply, the only group that has caused widespread destruction in Canadian history is not new immigrants, but those who colonized the land and built a system that favoured them.
Trudeau’s comments highlight a very real problem with Canadians’ widespread inability to acknowledge racism. And Trudeau is not alone.
Andrew Scheer has not done enough to condemn those in his party who are racist or who have enabled racists, like Rebel Media creator Hamish Marshall. His organization called the Quebec mosque shooting a “false flag” and propagated the “white extinction” myth — a conspiracy theory purporting that migrants will replace white people — the likes of which was referenced by the Christchurch shooter in New Zealand.
Trudeau suggests Canada doesn’t have the racist problems that the U.S. faces. That’s not true. The purpose for his weak comparison is intentional and is clearly meant to minimize systemic discrimination that occurs to this day. Discrimination that includes nation-wide police racial profiling; six Muslim men being murdered in their place of worship; and the mainstreaming of bigots like white nationalist Faith Goldy, who — one month after the Quebec mosque shooting — was praised by Conservative MP Kerry Diotte, who has refused to condemn her since.
“White Canadians can look at the discrimination in the U.S. and then comfortably carry on with their lives.”
Continued denial that racism exists here in Canada obscures the plentiful evidence to the contrary. Telling marginalized communities to shut up and leave is clearly a defensive reaction meant to gaslight their experiences.
We’ve seen this in action with racial profiling. For years, police agencies across Canada refused to gather race-based data during a carding encounter. Police agencies often denied racial profiling was a problem. This was later debunked when community members and journalists released nationwide stats showing that Indigenous and Black people were disproportionately subjected to street checks. It is often the institutions that are complicit in discrimination which hide evidence showing the very discrimination they deny.
With this system in place, reinforced by Trudeau’s comments, white Canadians can look at the discrimination in the U.S. and then comfortably carry on with their lives in Canada where they have built an apparatus that shields them from witnessing and being accountable to the injustices that occur to this day.
Prominent politicians from around the world have fallen for this Canadian Myth, perhaps best illustrated by Donald Tusk — president of the EU — who tweeted this week that he “felt at home” in Montreal because he had never heard anyone shout “send him back.”
Donald Tusk is one of the most influential politicians in the world, and him falling for this myth shows the absurdity and danger of this idea of Canadian exceptionalism. This is because Tusk was able to land in Montreal and confidently claim things are better when — at the same time — it is currently illegal to wear a hijab and be a school teacher.
Yes — Trump is racist. However, we shouldn’t allow his bigotry to provide cover for the very real and painful discrimination that we have here in our country.
Have an opinion you’d like to share on HuffPost Canada? You can find more information here on how to pitch and contact us.
Also on HuffPost: