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‘Go Back To Your Country’ Is A Phrase That Hits Home In Canada, Too

Thanks to politicians, racism nationwide is louder than ever before, these Canadians say.

TORONTO — As Carolina Kaneda stepped out of her Toronto home to catch up with her mother and dog one July day, she noticed a woman trying to get their attention.

The woman became angry after discovering Kaneda’s mother only speaks Spanish and couldn’t understand what she was saying. She told them both to “go back to your country.”

Kaneda snapped in frustration. “This is my country,” she said.

She and her mother walked away, but incidents like this continue to sting, Kaneda said.

“It definitely wears you down,” the 32-year-old photographer told HuffPost Canada. Originally from Colombia, she moved to Canada a decade ago, and identifies as mixed race.

Kaneda said people are becoming more emboldened to openly insult people of colour and other minorities, and she attributes it in part to the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, who used the slur towards members of U.S. Congress, and has made similar, derogatory comments about immigrants and refugees.

“Racist people are everywhere, and they’re more loud about it,” Kaneda said.

Carolina Kaneda has lived in Toronto for years, but was recently told to "go back to your country."
Carolina Kaneda
Carolina Kaneda has lived in Toronto for years, but was recently told to "go back to your country."

This past summer she said she witnessed a man at a park tell a woman wearing a hijab she was a terrorist. At a previous job in 2016, Kaneda said her boss would touch her hair without asking and call it “crazy.” Her husband is Japanese and when they’re out together, people have made racist comments.

Kaneda tries to spread the message that “at the end of the day, we are all just trying to be happy, care for the ones we love, and trying to have a better life,” she said. “I think that if we keep that in mind, it is so much easier to be tolerant and compassionate towards each other.”

Her story is one of dozens of responses HuffPost received from Canadians who’ve been told to go back to their country or some variation of it in recent years. A number of people reported they’ve had the phrase yelled at them while walking down the street in cities across Canada or targeted at them on social media.

Shawna Bennett, 35, is of Jamaican descent and was attending a festival in Toronto two years ago with her then-eight-year-old daughter when she said a stranger, unprovoked, swore at them and yelled “go back to your country.”

“I got angry and I told him he’s not Indigenous, and it’s also not his land,” Bennett said.

“My daughter brings it up now and again, too. My response is always: ‘Let’s get rid of racism.’”

Canada sells itself at home and abroad as one of the most inclusive countries in the world. In 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau drew international attention for welcoming tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, and then in 2017, he spoke out against some of Trump’s xenophobic remarks.

“Inclusion is not just the smart thing to do; it is also the right thing to do,” says the federal government’s website.

However, Trudeau’s carefully crafted image as a progressive leader fighting for multiculturalism took a hit this fall when photos and a video surfaced of him wearing blackface and brownface.

And hate crimes have been on an upward trajectory since 2009, according to national data.

Last year, police reported 1,798 incidents motivated by hate towards another race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, language, disability, sex or age. That’s compared to 1,409 incidents in 2016. Less than a third are solved, and there are likely far more that are never reported. The Canadian Anti-Hate Network, for example, estimates the real number of hate crimes is actually 20 to 100 times higher than what’s reported.

Benoit Covillard, who is white, said he had never experienced any form of racism before this summer. In fact, he immigrated to Canada from France about 15 years ago and was impressed by what he said was a more inclusive approach to diversity.

In June, however, Covillard made a complaint to a contractor who’d done a shoddy job repaving his in-law’s driveway. His in-laws are originally from China, and the contractor must have assumed Covillard was, too, because on the phone he dismissed his concerns, laughing, and said: “Why don’t you go back to China?” Covillard recalled.

“I was really shocked. I was so angry.”

He was fuming on behalf of his wife, Angel, and her parents, Henry and Rainbow Zeng, who “keep their heads down and work hard,” having come to Canada decades ago for more opportunities.

When Rainbow heard what happened, she said she felt disappointed. “Why, Canada?” she asked.

Angel was less surprised, but still felt “emotional and on edge.” She said people sometimes treat her differently than her husband, at the grocery store, for example, and tend to be less friendly and accommodating, and more impatient. “It just happens so often, in minor ways, somehow I’m used to it now and don’t pay too much attention.”

Covillard said he tried reporting the incident to police, but was told there wasn’t much they could do. With a baby on the way, he said he’s scared “to see Canada getting more openly racist.”

From left: Benoit and Angel Covillard with her parents Henry and Rainbow Zeng, who were the target of a racist remark this summer.
Benoit Covillard
From left: Benoit and Angel Covillard with her parents Henry and Rainbow Zeng, who were the target of a racist remark this summer.

In Montreal this past August, Michael Kaplan, 71, was sitting on the front steps of his synagogue reading a book when he said a woman approached, pushing a baby carriage. She told him there needed to be more churches in the city.

“I shrugged my shoulders and didn’t say anything, and then it got ugly. She raised her voice and (swore) many times, and said people like me are infesting schools and harming her children,” said Kaplan. “I was told to ‘go back to where I came from.’”

Eventually, when the woman didn’t get a reaction, she left. But it resonated with Kaplan because he said it was the only anti-Semitism he’s ever experienced in Montreal, and was struck by how the woman’s language mirrored the message Quebec’s politicians have been sending.

Quebec recently passed a law prohibiting public sector workers, including teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols at work, such as hijabs and kippahs.

“It’s the tenor of the conversation, more of a feeling people who live like we do are second-class citizens,” said Kaplan, who himself wears a kippah.

“It’s heinous and a slippery slope.”

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to reflect that Carolina Kaneda is a former legal consultant and now works as a photographer.

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