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English Canada, racism and Quebec

Demonstratio against Quebec's Bill 21 banning religious symbols
Sid Lacombe

May 8, 2019

The proposed ban on religious symbols put forward by the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) is a racist law. Make no mistake about it. Under the guise of supporting secularism, the law will further curtail the rights of the most vulnerable. Jews, Sikhs, Muslims and specifically Muslim women will suffer from this.

People throughout the Canadian state have, quite rightly, expressed their anger and outrage. Many in English Canada have called for some kind of action to stop the law from being brought into effect. This is an understandable reaction to injustice.

But pundits, politicians and some activists in English Canada have revealed a bias of their own in response to the law. There is a trend of anti-Quebec sentiment that infiltrates the reaction.

For many politicians it is a convenient excuse. By targeting the CAQ law they can deflect any responsibility for the racism that exists under their noses in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver or anywhere else in the country.

For English Canadian media it allows for yet another round of Quebec bashing – a time honoured tradition.

If we want to talk about racism in Canada we need to recognize that it is a phenomenon that exists in all parts of the Canadian state. Quebec should not be singled out for having a racism problem.

Foundations of racism

Indeed, this country was built on racism and the genocide of Indigenous peoples and this continues to the present day. Just witness Trudeau and his attacks on Indigenous people in the past few months. We saw his government order militarized police to attack Indigenous land defenders in Wet’suwet’en territory. We saw a Trudeau supporter physically attack an Indigenous activist at a rally in Toronto and we heard nothing from the Liberal leader. We saw his utter disregard for the people of the Grassy Narrows First Nation when he smugly dismissed their pleas to clean up mercury poisoning in their water supply.

And the Liberal decision to extend the Canadian military presence in Iraq will continue to fuel the refugee crisis in the region and perpetuate Islamophobia at home.

Indeed, the Liberals have doubled down on the racism, introducing a budget that will target immigrants at the border making it harder to flee to Canada. They have also put billions more into policing, which always disproportionately targets people of colour.


The Liberals aren’t alone in boosting racism. There is a revolving door between the far right groups and the campaign team of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. This is a man who had to be shamed into publicly denouncing an Islamophobic mass murderer because he didn’t want to alienate his racist base.

The Trump-style campaign rallies of Maxime Bernier and the new [White] People’s Party he founded have created a new home for racists.

And we have Jason Kenney, the Premier of Alberta who will further embolden the far right there. In the lead up to the election, not a day went by that we did not hear about a UCP candidate who was forced to resign for racist, sexist or homophobic statements.

Kenney is happy to be the new premier of Alberta so he can work with his old buddy Doug Ford to further a right-wing agenda. Beyond the massive cuts that will be literally killing people in Ontario, we have a Premier who is at home sharing a picture with Faith Goldy, the white supremacist former mayoral candidate in Toronto. Going to a Ford event is like stepping over the border into a Trump rally, with the most vicious attacks on the poorest and most vulnerable being greeted with cheers from his bigoted fan base.

The list of examples of racism in English Canada could go on and on. There is the regular PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the the West) rallies in Ontario, the Halifax police carding members of the black community at 10 times the rate of white people and the growth of neo-fascist groups across the country. In a recent Globe and Mail article they studied the online chats of hundreds of racist right wingers and found that the vast majority of them came from Ontario.

But the point is that we have to look at the bigger pan-Canadian picture and indeed the global terrain where the far right are mobilizing in numbers we haven’t seen in decades.

Activists in English Canada who are asking if we should be picketing Quebec trade offices in places like Toronto and Vancouver should instead take the time to push back against the racists locally.

That is not just because it would be more effective, but also because there is a history in this country of Francophones being treated as second class citizens, which complicates any attempts by anglo Canadians to influence politics in Quebec. Sending English Canadians to Quebec to protest Quebec’s racist law will backfire.

And working people in Quebec have already held a number of mass rallies against the racist law. Tens of thousands have come out in protest.

They even have a political party in Quebec Solidaire that has voted to fight the proposed law.

What we need is for all anti-racists across the Canadian state to shut down hate and show solidarity wherever we are.

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