OTTAWA—There is a direct line from the political and policy responses following 9/11 to the murder of the Afzaal-Salman family; there is a cause and effect when politicians spread state-sanctioned hate through policies and the rhetoric required to sell them to the public. It is at this point of reckoning that Canada once again learns that it’s performative in its multiculturalism.
Following the United States’ passing of the Patriot Act in 2001, Canada passed the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001, known as Bill C-36. In critiquing this bill, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) pointed out that “Bill C-36 creates far-reaching powers with major implications for civil liberties. It provides a sweeping definition of terrorism that risks capturing legitimate political dissent. … It empowers the Solicitor General to recommend that groups be put on a public terrorist list without any advance notice or an opportunity for response prior to listing.” Nothing could go wrong here.
The definition of who is and who isn’t a terrorist is at the heart of Islamophobia today, and is the reason domestic terrorism wasn’t on the radar of federal officials (which should make one wonder about the return on investment for all the resources sunk into national security). We have defined Muslim-Canadians as the enemy—effectively “othering” them—derided their religion and cultures, surveilled them, weaponized our immigration system against them, while still engaging in the vanity project that is diversity. Behind the scenes, however, the Canadian state, supported by a willing public and a voracious media complex, marginalized and terrorized a group of people based on religion and skin colour—much of what Quebec’s Bill 21 does.
The irony is that Quebec in 2019 succeeded where the Conservatives failed nationally in 2015.
It is within this context that Stephen Harper tweeted out the following on June 8: “Canada is a place of tolerance and pluralism. Cruel acts of racial and faith based hatred must be unequivocally condemned by us all. Laureen and I join our fellow Canadians in praying for the Afzaal and Salman families during this unfathomably difficult time.”
Canada is a place of tolerance and pluralism. Cruel acts of racial and faith based hatred must be unequivocally condemned by us all. Laureen and I join our fellow Canadians in praying for the Afzaal and Salman families during this unfathomably difficult time.
— Stephen Harper (@stephenharper) June 8, 2021
What a dick move, particularly because policies that sanctioned and normalized Islamophobia were enacted under his watch. In addition, instead of writing statements of regret like his fellow caucus members, Tim Uppal and Michelle Rempel Garner, the current Conservative Party leader deflected responsibility by claiming, “all parties need to do better.”
The party of “personal responsibility” elected a man who engages in deflection better than Wonder Woman’s Bracelets of Submission.
This isn’t good enough considering that Erin O’Toole was in Harper’s cabinet and signed onto the “barbaric cultural practices” tip line, the niqab debate, and refused to vote in favour of M-103, a motion introduced by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid in 2017, which sought to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” One would think that such a low bar of humanity could be cleared by nearly anyone, except the Conservative Party, which callously used free speech as a wedge to vote against the motion. As I wrote in my May 5 column, “Those in power continue to weaponize free speech for their own ends that have nothing to do with preserving the rights and freedoms of all Canadians,” and this display of U.S.-style Republicanism, which bathes in white supremacy, was a tactic racialized and non-racialized Conservative MPs were happy to use when they felt they could attract votes. But then, the world changed. And now the consequences of these chickens are coming home to roost, and they’re perched on O’Toole’s ledge.
If he doesn’t attempt to make amends for his part, good luck with that election win he seeks.
O’Toole had a seat at the table that spawned the Islamophobic rhetoric and campaign platform of the hate-filled 2015 federal election, but it is Harper whose Islamophobic policies got the ball rolling. In 2014, the Harper government passed Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act. As explained by the Library of Congress, the act “gives the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration the power to revoke the Canadian citizenship of dual citizens and those eligible for dual citizenship when such persons are convicted of terrorism, high treason, treason, or espionage.” Suffice it to say that excludes white, domestic terrorists. There are a lot of layers in that bill that make assumptions about who is and isn’t a Canadian, the “loyalty” of those with dual citizenship and the second-class citizenship of immigrants or children of immigrants, who are most likely of colour. The message that the Harper Conservatives sent with this bill is that those who aren’t “old stock Canadians” are suspect and their loyalty must be questioned at all times to prove they’re not “the enemy.”
Next was Bill C-51, an update to the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001, passed in 2015, which fundamentally restructured national security, so much so we are only beginning to see the ramifications. This bill: expanded the no-fly list, criminalized promoting terrorism, allowed court proceedings to be sealed (including deportation), lowered the threshold for arrest (and we all know how transparent and fair the Canadian justice system is), lengthened the period of “preventive” detention, and a myriad of other police-state tactics.
Note that the alleged perpetrator of the London attack is only 20 years old. It is his generation that was born into the post-9/11 era of Islamophobia, so it’s not surprising if he’s been radicalized by a Canadian state with far more reach and conversion than any social media platform could boast.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.