Are we moving into a new era of intolerance in this country?
Intolerance is a strong word, but certainly no more inflammatory than some of the words being bandied about by our politicians in this election year.
Vigilance has crossed a line, much of it fuelled by comments – or inaction, or studied silence – by politicians at the federal level, much of it from the Conservative government.
The events of the past weeks have been well-chronicled.
The Bloc Quebecois has targeted Quebec voters unhappy with NDP leader Tom Mulcair’s defence of a woman’s right to wear a niqab at a citizenship ceremony.
“Should you have to hide your face to vote NDP?” it asks in an ad, as the House of Commons chamber is seen through the eyeholes of a niqab.
Harper’s Conservatives have made their challenge to the niqab ruling a fundraising pitch.
A mosque in Terrebonne, Que., was forced to close after municipal officials ruled it had obtained a permit to open “under false pretenses.”
Earlier in the month, Shawinigan refused a permit for a mosque because of what was termed “irrational” anti-Muslim fears by city officials.
Here in Ottawa, a well-known Manitoba Muslim leader implored Canadians to stop casting all Muslims as threats because of the actions of terrorists who have subverted her faith.
For her trouble, as first reported in the Winnipeg Free Press, Shahina Siddiqui was told by Ontario Conservative Senator Lynn Beyak to stop being so thin-skinned.
“Canadians don’t want to hear all that,” Beyak said. “They are tired of us being offended. They want us to do something about people who are threatening to blow up malls.”
And there is the Quebec judge who refused to hear a case before her because the single mother in her court was wearing a hijab.
Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau properly condemned the decision, but Harper did not go out of his way to do the same. His office did release a one-line statement in response to reporters’ questions, saying “if someone is not covering their face, we believe they should be allowed to testify.”
The Commons, to its credit, last week rose as one to decry the growth of anti-Semitism worldwide, holding a special debate which, coincidentally, occurred a day after swastikas were spray-painted on four cars in a Montreal parking garage.
Defence Minister Jason Kenney called anti-Semitism “ancient and pernicious,” rooted in history and passed from generation to generation.
But while the government properly stands to condemn intolerance in some instances, it turns around and fuels it elsewhere by blatantly peddling fear.
Health Minister Rona Ambrose became exhibit A in Calgary Friday.
During a speech on health care, she suddenly pivoted to the Islamic State in her discourse, after lauding her government’s policies on jobs and the economy.
“We are at war with a dangerous enemy,” she said, reminding the audience of “unspeakable atrocities … beheadings or rape or slavery on the most innocent of people including women and children.”
She later said the issue was top of mind for Canadians. “People are afraid.”
As she spoke, her government again displayed the two solitudes in this country on the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women.
Following a roundtable, aboriginal leaders, those who have lost loved ones and provincial representatives met journalists at one hotel in downtown Ottawa.
The two federal ministers who attended a one-day meeting, Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, spoke at another hotel down the street.
The best thing that could be said about Friday’s meeting was that it occurred.
Any movement in closing the gulf between the government and indigenous Canadians was glacial.
If there is a link between the government’s rejection of a national inquiry into the murdered women and its continued declaration that we are at war with jihadi extremists, it is this government’s determination to deal with symptoms rather than root causes.
Just as it chooses to treat violence against aboriginal women as a police issue, it beats the vigilance drumbeat when it comes to terror, paying only lip service to the root cause of homegrown radicalization.
“There is racism involved in the refusal to hold a commission of inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada,” Mulcair says.
He has also accused Harper of “Islamophobia” in relation to his anti-terror bill.
Serious charges, but not so easily dismissed. It is discouraging, though, that Mulcair is espousing the minority view in this country in 2015.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter:@nutgraf1
Copyright 2015 Torstar Syndication Services