While attention is mainly focused on the leaders of the four main parties, something sinister is happening to our politics.
White supremacy has made its way into mainstream public discourse in this country, becoming an insidious danger to our democracy.
In the past few weeks alone, two candidates running for the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) have dropped out or been forced out because of party leader Maxime Bernier’s stance on white supremacy and racism.
Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam candidate Brian Misera shared a series of videos on Twitter last month in which he asked Bernier to do more to rid the party of “racist idiots.” Rather than address his concerns, the party revoked his candidacy.
Another candidate announced he was no longer running because of the party’s “hate-filled, us-versus-them” politics. Chad Hudson was the PPC candidate for the district of West Nova. He said he found the divisiveness “dangerous for racialized Canadians in this country.”
Hudson also noted that he grew more uncomfortable with the party after learning that one of the signatories who supported the party’s creation with Elections Canada was a former leader of a U.S. neo-Nazi group.
“This election does not feel like a normal Canadian election campaign. It feels like it has been Americanized … this country is divided,” said Hudson in a media interview.
“Our confederation feels like it’s coming apart at the seams. It’s west versus east, separate sentiment rising in the west, regional alienation, then we have these racial divisions that are now being exploited by opportunists like Bernier.”
The problem is that “opportunists like Bernier,” who do not have any chance of forming government, are nonetheless moving the goalposts on what society will accept from public figures and in everyday conversation.
We need only look at how U.S. President Donald Trump’s election in the United States impacted online hate here in Canada.
According to a study conducted by media marketing company Cision, hateful speech in social media posts by Canadians rose by 600 per cent between November 2015 and November 2016. Common hashtags included #banmuslims, #siegheil, #whitegenocide and #whitepower.
Disturbingly, these types of racist, white supremacist attitudes are spreading. Earlier this fall, the Canadian Nationalist Party registered itself with Elections Canada. Its priorities include maintaining “the demographic status of the current European-descended majority.”
The RCMP opened an investigation in June into a video posted by the party’s leader, Travis Patron. In it, he denounces a “parasitic tribe” that he says should be removed from Canada “once and for all.” This language has worried Jewish groups for echoing anti-Semitic tropes and narratives.
Clearly, something is broken in our electoral system if a white nationalist party can gain official status and is able to provide tax receipts to donors. Canadians shouldn’t be subsidizing hate, particularly now that we are finally hearing stronger condemnation of these dangerous movements.
Earlier this year, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Chrystia Freeland, told the United Nations that white supremacy was among the greatest threats facing the world.
“Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, incels, nativists and radical anti-globalists who resort to violent acts are a threat to the stability of my country and countries around the world,” Freeland said in her speech a few weeks after the deadly Christchurch massacres in which a white supremacist gunned down over 50 people in two mosques. That killer referenced a Canadian man who had similarly walked into a mosque in Quebec City, killing six men in cold blood and injuring many more.
Yet, on the campaign trail, we haven’t heard much at all about how parties suggest addressing this scourge. Only two parties mention white supremacy and far-right groups in their platforms.
The NDP promises to “convene a national working group to counter online hate and protect public safety, and make sure that social media platforms are responsible for remove hateful and extremist content before it can do harm.”
The Liberals also commit to doing more about the proliferation of online hate speech, saying they would protect victims by exploring “civil remedies” rather than relying solely on the Criminal Code. The Liberals go further than any other party in promising new regulations that would require “all platforms remove illegal content, including hate speech, within 24 hours or face significant financial penalties.” This is similar to Germany’s model.
There’s also a promise of $6 million over three years towards combatting radicalization to violent extremism.
Canada’s democracy is facing a real threat. It’s evident online and it’s evident on the streets. Candidates have reported swastikas spray-painted on their signs. Protests and rallies for and against racist ideas have become far too common, even violent.
When a city mayor can’t even pay tribute to the contributions of his town’s Muslim residents during Islamic Heritage Month without his feed being littered with hateful comments, you know there’s a problem in Canada.
It’s a problem that’s much bigger than most Canadians realize.
Amira Elghawaby is a writer and human rights advocate. Follow her on Twitter @AmiraElghawaby.