Can it happen here in Canada?
That was the question on the lips of many in the Caribbean community as we watched in horror the scenes of racist violence on the television last weekend.
The violence had flared up at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia when neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and other white nationalists gathered to “take America back,” and clashed with others who came to protest the rally.
According to news reports, the violence culminated when a man allegedly plowed his car into the group of counter-protesters, killing one woman and wounding 19 others.
As Prime Minister Trudeau reminded Canadians on Sunday, Canada is not immune to racist violence.
He is, of course, correct.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne also spoke out against racist violence, saying, “hate knows no borders and we must stand on guard against its spread.”
She too is right.
Lately, we have seen a series of incidents of violence in Canada stemming from race hate.
Some of the utterances of United States President Donald Trump during his election campaign seemed to have emboldened closet racists in the United States and in Canada.
Trump’s election pledge to “make America great again” was seen by white supremacists as a promise to “make America white again.”
And his remarks immediately following the Charlottesville incident certainly did not give comfort to black citizens of the United States. While he did condemn the violence, he did not describe the incident as an act of terrorism and did not mention white nationalists and the alt-right movement.
Neo-Nazis applauded Trump’s first response to the violent clashes, noting that they were not mentioned and it was only after a great deal of criticism from various groups that he issued a statement several days later saying that he ” condemns all forms of violence, bigotry and hatred and of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.”
Michael Signer, the mayor of Charlottesville, who blamed Trump for inflaming racial prejudice while he was running for president, said he placed the blame “for a lot of what you’re seeing in America today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the President.”
And in the wake of the Trump’s failure to immediately denounce white supremacists over the rally in Charlottesville, six executives have quit his business advisory panel.
Michael Bach, CEO of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, has noted that since Trump took the presidency in January, and even during his campaign, there has been a rise of hate crime in Canada.
Let us not forget that the Ku Klux Klan is no stranger to Canada. Members of this terrorist organization have been active in many provinces since the 1920s and there are now more than 100 white nationalists groups in Canada. Many of them are now reported to be planning rallies in different parts of the country
Only last Monday, Mofaba Baker, program director of the African Canadian Legal clinic in Toronto, told the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in Geneva that Anti-Black racism is “alive and well” in all spheres of Canadian society.
Was his statement an exaggeration? We think not.
And while governments have an important role in helping to eliminate racism, the citizens of the country also have an crucial part to play in pushing for the legislative measures which we need to ensure equality of opportunities for the advancement of all our people and an end to racial violence.
We cannot have legislation to make people love us but we can certainly demand legislation to protect us and ensure our rights as citizens.