COMMENTARY: It’s OK to call racists ‘racist’
In 2018 it’s apparently bad form to call racists racist in Canada. At least according to several commentators and Conservative politicians.
In what the Canadian Press has described as “the heckle heard around the country,” the prime minister called out a woman for intolerance and racism while at an event in Sabrevois, Que. The entire exchange took place in French, starting off with the woman repeatedly demanding to know when Quebec will see its share of the funding needed to accommodate the increase in asylum seekers, or as she put it, “the $146 million we paid for your illegal immigrants.”
The woman then asked the prime minister if he was spreading intolerance against “Québecois de souche.” For English speakers, the term “Québecois de souche” is an incredibly loaded one, with meaning far beyond its literal translation. The term has racist connotations in that it excludes anyone who does not have a so-called “pure” bloodline that is exclusively French Canadian and white. (This would include the prime minister: his mother is an Anglo, and his father has Anglo blood as well, dating back generations.)
Despite this, conservative commentators — including those on Global News Radio — as well as Conservative politicians initially framed the exchange as the prime minister berating an elderly woman who was merely asking a question about intergovernmental fiscal responsibility in good faith.
After being repeatedly asked if he was intolerant against “Québecois de souche”, the prime minister responded with, “Yes madam, I am tolerant of all perspectives, it is you, madam, who is intolerant, and you don’t have a place in this beautiful gathering of Liberals.”
When it was revealed that the woman in question was Diane Blain, a woman with known affiliations to racist groups such as Storm Alliance and Front Patriotique du Québec, who made headlines in 2015 for refusing dental care from a Muslim woman, the narrative changed slightly. In the new version, Blain’s initial question is legitimate, whatever her other views and actions, and the prime minister, not knowing the woman’s background, simply snapped at her that she’s a bigot.
This isn’t the first time Conservatives have taken issue with the prime minister being emphatically blunt in his characterization of racists. In January of this year, on the anniversary of the Quebec mosque attack, the prime minister was speaking at a commemorative rally and referred to members of the far right Islamophobic group, La Meute, as “nonos,” a French colloquial term that can roughly be translated in English as bozos or dumdums.
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In an ideal world, calling a group of racists bozos would be uncontroversial, but in the dumpster fire of a reality that we live in, it led to several right-wing commentators, as well as Conservative Quebec MP Pierre Paul-Hus, to decry the prime minister’s dismissal of the group.
There are several legitimate and rather substantive criticisms to be made regarding the government’s approach towards refugees and asylum seekers. The government itself seems to be realizing this, with recent cabinet changes suggesting it’s trying to reboot what has been an ineffective process thus far. But one can certainly criticize government policies, and policy failures, without having to prop up the opinions of documented racists or descend into hyperbolic talking points of a “crisis,” which only further emboldens the overtly bigoted among us.
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The Conservatives are kidding themselves if they don’t think that dinner time conversation among ethnic and religious minorities in this country does not regularly feature talk of the latest racist incident to go viral on social media, talk about how bad things are in the rest of the world and how worrisome it is to see it creep its way into the political discourse here, or more depressingly, some sort of racist encounter that an acquaintance or friend had to endure, and how things are seemingly getting worse.
Canadians deserve a Conservative Party who will hold the government to account while also refusing to play the wink, wink, nudge, nudge game with xenophobes. You know, like the Conservative Party that won a majority in 2011.
Yet given the way the Tories have decided to conduct itself since the 2015 election, it’s clear that they seem to think not offending racists is a winning strategy for them. And that’s bad enough, but what’s worse is that they might very well be right.
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