A sad sign of our times is the number of politicians in different countries trying to gain power by promoting fear and suspicion of ‘others’.
The recipe goes something like this…Portray an entire group of people as dangerous and threatening. Promise to take strong action against them. Get ready to win the next election.
Leading practitioners of this unsavoury strategy include Donald Trump in the U.S., and a shocking number of rising political leaders in countries like Britain, France, Austria, Denmark, and Hungary.
And now we can add a Canadian politician to the list: Kellie Leitch. She has decided that telling Canadians to fear immigrants is her ticket to winning the leadership of the Conservative Party. The federal Member of Parliament is campaigning to have everyone wanting to immigrate to Canada screened for “anti-Canadian” values.
Let’s hope that doesn’t include ‘disloyalty’ for cheering Usain Bolt as a Jamaican Olympian, or a majority of Canadians are in trouble.
Kellie Leitch has decided that the most important message to send Canadians now is to fear immigrants. That they are a problem. This is nothing new.
Until the 1960s, Canada had two lists for potential immigrants: desirable and undesirable. Non-whites and non-Christians were largely kept out. They were deemed ‘unlike’ us.
We told them their traditions were different. Their values were different. They really weren’t as good as us. They didn’t look like ‘us’. And besides, they could never survive the cold climate.
Oh, the silly reasons we concocted to keep out people we didn’t know and want. And if we had held onto those fears Canada would be a country without its rich mosaic of peoples including Caribbean, Chinese, South Asian, Muslim and Jewish communities.
Kellie Leitch wants us to be believe this country’s biggest problem is the threat posed by immigrants. She wants us to believe they bring “anti-Canadian” values with them. She has made herself judge and jury of who is a ‘real Canadian’.
This takes us down a dangerous path where ALL immigrants, and also Canadian-born non-whites will suffer. It will create a climate where anyone who is non-white or from a religious minority will be suspect. After all, many will believe, don’t they ‘look like an immigrant’?
This is divisive, dangerous politics at its worst. Here’s what’s wrong with Kellie Leitch’s proposal.
- Do you want to live in a country with uniformly shared values? If so, I recommend you move to North Korea. Totalitarian states are very good at assuring everyone has the same values.
- A free country assumes and even promotes people holding different values. That’s where liberty and progress come from.
- If you are concerned about bad behaviour or crime, make laws against them. And Canada does!
- The values held by any society at any given time, including Canada today, may be bad values needing to be changed. Why glorify our treatment of Aboriginal peoples, for instance.
- And if we are going to test immigrants for bad values, shouldn’t we also do the same for everyone already in the country? Are all of us born here perfect? And what will we do if some of us fail that test?
- Treating immigrants as a threat creates a climate in which racism and discrimination will rise.
So if you prefer cricket to hockey, roti to burgers, reggae to rock all I can say is: Welcome to Canada.
(Myer Siemiatycki is Professor of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University in Toronto.)