Six pervasive myths about Canada we must stop believing

Image: Dave Molenhuis

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After Brexit, the attempted military coup in Turkey, the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, Donald Trump's grip on the Republican nomination, the collapse of the Democratic National Convention, and the numerous terrorist attacks around the world, many Canadians are relieved to call Canada home.

Some even took to Twitter to revel in Canadian tolerance, using #MeanwhileinCanada to celebrate Justin Trudeau's participation in Toronto's Pride parade, Peel-region police enjoying a mindfulness meditation session, Ontario provincial police officers rescuing ducklings, police officers dancing alongside Black folks, and excitement over the 2016 census.

But wrapping yourself in Canada's national myths and taking comfort in our self-identifying feminist prime minister amounts to an act of violence: the myths erase histories of oppression and lived experience(s) of discrimination in Canada.

Canada has a lot of work to do.

rabble spoke to multiple individuals and organizations involved on the frontlines about the impacts of these pervasive myths.

We have preserved the original format and content of each statement and assembled them in no particular order. rabble also recognizes that the list of myths and responses is not exhaustive. We encourage readers to discuss in the comment section below.

 

Myth #1: Canada is a post-racial nation

Janaya Khan, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto. Statement by phone.

Movement building in Canada, particularly around Blackness and fighting anti-Black racism, is difficult at best for a number of reasons. For one, we have very different histories and traditions of resistance here.

In the States, which [Canada is] most often compared to in terms of our treatment of Black populations, [you] often get people referencing the Civil Rights Movement, referencing the Black Power struggles in the 1960s, the Black Panther Party, referencing rebellions like Nat Turners' as a part of the fabric of Black Americanism and as part of American history. That type of history isn't something that is uplifted and celebrated in Canada, though it existed here.

First and foremost, from a historical context, we're looking at [a culture and history] of complete denial and erasure. You can see the contemporary implications of that in Canada's pervasive myth of being a racial haven. This [myth is] the thing that we have to disprove before we can actually talk about how how anti-Black racism manifests itself here.

You're looking at statistics: Black people in Toronto are carded more than people experience stopping and frisking in New York. Which really set the tone on stop and frisk and a lot of pushback that has been centred in that particular city.

Every time you bring up anti-Black racism in Canada, the first response is "oh it's just not as bad as the States." And when you see hashtags like #MeanwhileInCanada, it's really promoting this very dangerous myth [that Canada is a racial haven.] Our incarceration rates based on population are comparable [to those in the United States], encounters with the police still end in fatalities.

If you're considering the more recent histories going back to the 1990s when there were the LA uprisings, there were Yonge street uprisings too because while there was going to be a solidarity protest with Rodney King and these four or five officers not being indicted, even with video proof, you know, that protest turned into something that was very Canada entered as well when Raymond Lawrence, a 21 year old, was shot twice in the chest by Toronto police. And that was a legacy of young black people being shot by police here in Toronto. and so it's not a stretch that a couple decades later here we are.

[Black Lives Matter Toronto's] first protest here in Toronto, which for us was not just around Mike Brown who was killed in Ferguson and the non-indictment of police officer Darren Wilson, but also around the murder of Jermaine Carby by two police. It developed into fighting for Andrew Loku as well, and then Kwase Skene-Peters.

What we're seeing is that the narrative is starting to shift. It's interesting because even while it starts to shift, it comes down to hashtags like [#MeanwhileInCanada], because these hashtags are symbols of how people understand culturally what Canada is.

[BLMTO] is holding this mirror up to Canada's face. The pride action in Toronto that BLMTO did really ripped the mask off of this racial haven, it really complicated the narrative. Suddenly you had to talk about Blackness and queer identities and trans bodies and white privilege in a particular way in order to understand the nuances of an action like that, the history of an action like that, the history of Stonewall and of the 1981 Bathhouse raids that eventually birthed Toronto's first pride protest.

When you have a context like this where there's such an incredible amount of denial but at the same time there's irrefutable truth that suggest that anti-Black racism exists here in Canada, what we're going to see is an incredible amount of pushback. Pushback not just from people who live in Canada, but from people who don't.

In the States it has always been "oh when get too bad here," or "if Trump gets elected, I'm going to move to Canada." We saw that when Trump originally started to run there was a 200 or 300 uptick in Google searches for how to move to Canada.

I think for a lot of folks, particularly who are in the movement, they're going to be less surprised by Canada's anti-Black racism than ever before. And certainly astounded, and shocked, and appalled by Canada's treatment of its Indigenous population.

Myth #2: Canada is a post-colonial nation

Colonialism No More - Solidarity Camp Regina collective. Statement by Facebook message.

Colonial Amnesia: Many Canadians, including former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, believe Canada is not, and has never been, a colonial state. In Harper's words, Canada "has no history of colonialism."

How, then, do we account for:

  • The 1876 Indian Act which enshrines white settler domination and supremacy and Indigenous subjugation?

  • The forced dispossession, displacement, and containment of Indigenous peoples under Canada's reserve and pass systems -- systems that made Indigenous lands available for European settlement?

  • The genocidal residential school system, for which Harper himself apologized?

Colonialism Today: Canadian colonialism is not only a historical fact. It is also a present reality.

  • White settler supremacy remains intact. In education, housing, employment, the justice system -- indeed, almost everywhere in Canadian society -- whiteness is an advantage and Indigenous identity a disadvantage.

  • 51 per cent of First Nations children live in poverty. The rate rises to 60 per cent for children who live on-reserve. The numbers are even worse for Saskatchewan where 69 per cent of on-reserve First Nations children live in poverty -- compared with a non-Indigenous child poverty rate of 13 per cent. (These figures are taken from a May 2016 report by CCPA: Shameful Neglect: Indigenous Child Poverty in Canada.)

  • Canada's dispossession of Indigenous peoples is ongoing, as the Canadian state continues to grant corporate access to Indigenous land and resources.

Myth #3: Canada welcomes and protects its Muslim communities

Amira Elghawaby, journalist and human rights advocate with the National Council of Canadian Muslims. Statement by email.

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Canada is real. A recent report published in the Toronto Star, for example, points to an "epidemic of Islamophobia" in the province of Ontario.

Across Canada, a third of Canadians hold a negative impression of Islam and Muslims, according to another recent survey by the Environics Institute.

Sometimes, people act out these feelings quite negatively, even criminally. Statistics Canada's data shows that hate crimes against Muslims in Canada have more than doubled between 2012 and 2014 -- and that's based only on what is reported. Close to two-thirds of alleged hate crimes are never reported in the first place.

Considering that a majority of media coverage of Islam and Muslims in the West is often focused on the terrible atrocities and terrorism perpetrated by those professing to be acting in the name of Islam, it's not surprising that negative attitudes exist. Though studies have shown that media coverage can be lopsided when it comes to terrorism committed by Muslims, including one study that indicated that while six per cent of terrorism suspects in the U.S. were Muslim between 2008 and 2012, over 80 per cent of the coverage on network news was about Muslims and terrorism.

Another study showed that Islam and Muslims were more negatively portrayed in The New York Times than cancer, alcohol, and cocaine.

However, it's also necessary to acknowledge an active, multi-million dollar Islamophobia industry, well documented in the United States. Harmful and divisive political rhetoric also has a role to play, and was on shameful display during the last federal election, and is again south of the border with the current American election campaign.

At the NCCM, more and more Canadian Muslims are contacting us each week with concerns around discrimination at school, in the workplace, and various other settings as well. We are currently working with the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), as well as the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), and a number of other organizations to create public education campaigns around Islamophobia and discrimination.

The NCCM also recently partnered with the Islamic Social Services Association, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and the Red Cross, to create a new guide for educators on helping students deal with geopolitical trauma and Islamophobia.

The good news here is that Canadians have frequently stepped up to confront Islamophobia. Following the firebombing of a mosque in Peterborough, Ontario, the local community quickly raised more than enough money within a few days to cover the repairs.

In Cold Lake, Alberta, the entire community came out to help remove graffiti that had been scrawled on the mosque. Quebec's National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution last fall to condemn Islamophobia.

The NCCM just launched a Charter for Inclusive Communities, which has been endorsed by Canadians across the country. And currently, there is a petition to the House of Commons calling on the federal government to condemn all forms of Islamophobia.

Most Canadians value diversity, equality, freedom, and dignity for all and oppose hatred in any and all forms. Many of us are working to make that our collective reality.

 

Myth #4: Canada is a safe haven for immigrants and refugees

Tings Chak, End Immigration Detention Network. Statement by text message.

Canada's immigration system is not a broken one. It functions as it is intended to. It is a system that is founded in settler colonialism, through stolen labour on stolen land, and that legacy continues today.

We see this when hundreds of thousands of migrant workers come every year, whose labour can be exploited yet they are not allowed to stay.

We see this with the 500,000 people living and working in our communities but are forced to become undocumented when they run out of status.

We see this when 50 Black and Brown men [were on an 18-day] hunger strike in a maximum security prison, starving themselves to end their indefinite immigration detention without charges or trial. 

The Canadian immigration is not flawed, but it functions as from its inception to exclude, criminalize, and exploit largely poor and racialized people from the global South (many of whom are displaced for reasons the Canadian state is implicated in -- resource extraction, imperialist wars, climate catastrophe, trade agreements).

 

Myth #5: Canada safeguards the rights of LGBTQ communities

Sophia Banks, trans rights activist and photographer. Statement by phone.

Many people, especially queer people, are [saying things] like, "oh well transphobia doesn't exist in Canada." Actually it does, both systemically and amongst people.

People, especially in my experience back in Toronto, live in this bubble and they think that just because they're cool with trans people, nobody has an issue with trans people, especially trans women. And it's just infinitely frustrating.

[We see it just recently] with the whole Canada Blood Services ban, and so many people were not aware that trans women are banned from donating blood. And even with the new updated blood policy, are still seen as men unless they have vaginoplasty. So there's systemic transphobia or transmisogyny where the government is saying: oh well you can change your ID to female and we'll see you as a woman but if you donate blood, we're still going to see you as a man unless you have a vaginoplasty.

Or on a federal level, or provincially outside of Ontario, is that most provinces and federally, especially, is that if a trans woman is incarcerated she will be put with men. And so people [say] "oh transphobia doesn't exist," well if anything ever happened, even if I was arrested or like something bullshit, still would be housed with men. And to me that is extremely systemic transphobia.

When I was in Toronto, when I first came out as trans, I lost my wedding photography business and I had to go back to work. The only real skill I had was working as a cook, and it took me years to find work. I was getting interviews and then i'd show up and I'd be asked in a gay bar if I had a dick or vagina.

How am I supposed to get a job when you're asking me what my genitals look like? Why is this relevant when [I am] applying for a cook position? Another job I was hired at in the Distillery district: I went in, and the chef was a friend of a friend and they were cool with me, and on my first day there I was in the women's changing room and this woman starts screaming at me about how I don't belong there and how I'm a pervert.

I was trying not to panic, but I'm freaking out about to cry and trying to explain "I'm a woman, I'm a trans woman, and I do belong here." Eventually I just walked out of that job.

This is such a common thing in my life, [...] and this is going to be my forever life.

There's still so much work to do and denying that transmisogyny and transphobia exist is part of the problem, because you're not do[ing] the work that's necessary to change attitudes. I work with a lot of trans kids in Toronto, and I know a lot of kids who felt like they were being bullied in school and were talking about dropping out. [The kids experience bullying] not so much from other students, but bullying from teachers and schools that wouldn't allow them to use the changing rooms or washrooms that were appropriate to their gender, even with that being Ontario law.

People talk about self-care, [but] I don't feel comfortable going to a gym because I have no idea if people are going to be okay with me being in the women's changing room. I have to worry about being called out, being screamed out, being kicked out. I live in this constant fear of being afraid to leave my house, afraid to go somewhere.

And people might say, "oh I know a trans woman and they do fine." Well there [are] privileges past that: are they cis-passing? are they white? are they middle-class? It depends where you live, that sort of stuff.

Transphobia is rampant in Canada. Maybe not to the level of the States where they're having high levels of murder, but there is certainly lots of violence and discrimination.

HIV infection [is an issue] because so many trans women do sex work because they can't find jobs, so they're forced into underground economies. We have epic HIV rates in Canada, and unfortunately the rates are growing as more and more people come out and are forced into these roles of doing sex work.

Myth #6: Canada isn't complicit in global human rights abuse

We Welcome African Refugees. Statement by Facebook message.

Canada has been one of the leading Western powers involved in mineral exploitation. Quantum Minerals, a Canadian-based mining company has had a significant role in fuelling the resource war in Congo, forcing a growing number of Congolese people to flee.

Quantum Minerals has also been involved in providing weapons to multiple rebel groups, in order to proliferate the unregulated market. Nevsun Resources, a Vancouver-based company, owns a mining site in Eritrea. There are allegations that hundreds of forced Eritrean labourers worked there.

The practice of forced labour is the key reason Eritreans are leaving the country, at a rate of about 5,000 a month, a higher proportion of refugees per capita than even Syria.

We Welcome African Refugees has been highlighting the refugee crisis from the perspective of African Refugees. Their stories have been silenced, and, when they are discussed, the root causes are hidden.

We see the African refugee crisis as strongly connected with Canadian mining in Africa. We cannot treat resource exploitation and the African refugee crisis as two separate issues.

 

In the comments below, tell us:

  • What other myths are pervasive in Canada?
  • What is your reaction to these statements?

Sophia Reuss is a Montreal-based writer, editor, and is a recent graduate of McGill University. She's interested in how online media and journalism facilitate public accessibility and conversation. Sophia also writes and edits for the Alternatives International Journal. She is rabble's current news intern.

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