By Blythe Irwin
As the growing controversy and tension over multiculturalism and race relations comes to a boiling point across Canada, spilling over to scald the nation in incidents such as the Quebec City Mosque shooting, Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly and her department have seemingly been missing in non-action.
That is, until Thursday, when the Minister apparently got the memo, and rejected the Conservative bid to remove the "Islamophobia" reference from the text condemning religious discrimination, M-103, a December 2016 motion tabled by Mississauga, Ont., Liberal MP Iqra Khalid. As a result, Khalid has received thousands of angry emails, including one that said "Kill her and be done with it" and another that vowed "We will burn down your mosques."
However, to judge by the reporting in ethnic media, which the Minister may not be aware of, this reaction at a media availability in Ottawa (CBC, 2017.02.17) may well be a case of too little, if not too late.
The widespread reporting on race relations and multiculturalism issues in the Canadian ethnic media seems to suggest a disconnect between the everyday reality facing all Canadians and the Canadian Heritage department’s billion-dollar focus on events to celebrate the country’s 150th anniversary.
The ethnic media makes no mention of any Canadian Heritage department action on these issues besides a statement from Joly to mark the start of Tamil Heritage Month, which notes that “the Tamil-Canadian community is a shining example of how Canada is made stronger through its cultural diversity” (CMR FM 101.3 Tamil, 03/01/2017). Radio stations Voces Latinas CHHA AM 1610 (03/01/2017) and CMR FM 101.3 Tamil Weekend (01/01/2017) both noted her presence at the fireworks display over Parliament Hill where she joined Governor General David Johnston to help kick off a year of Canada 150 events and relight the centennial flame.
The Heritage Minister’s absence from taking an active part in multicultural affairs at home is further highlighted by Canadian ethnic media coverage of her trip outside of the country. Canadian Chinese media, including Sing Tao Toronto (13/01/2017), Today Commercial News - Montreal (27/01/2017) and Ming Pao Toronto (12/01/2017) all reported her six-day tour to China to promote Canadian innovation, science and technology.
A broad spectrum of Canadian ethnic media sources have reported on the federal government’s spending and/or planned events to celebrate the nation’s 150 years of Confederation in various languages such as Italian (CHIN FM 100.7 Italian, 05/01/2017), Hindi (Red FM 93.1 Hindi, 03/02/2017), Spanish (Noticias Montreal, 11/01/2017), Punjabi (PTC North America, 08/01/2017), Mandarin (Talent Vision Canada, 05/01/2017), and Cantonese (Fairchild Ontario, 05/01/2017). On a positive note, CMR FM 101.3 Voice Radio Hindi (23/01/2017) noted that: “Many Canada 150 events to be held in GTA and across the country will inspire you to get out there, explore, appreciate and celebrate what a wonderful place we live in.” However, the Punjabi program host at 530 AM Morning (06/01/2017) remarked that the half billion dollars to commemorate Canada’s 150th anniversary is not coming from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but from the taxpayers’ pockets.
Mentions of multiculturalism issues related to the federal government in the Canadian ethnic media seem to be linked to Prime Minister Trudeau and the appointment of Ahmed Hussen as Immigration Minister rather than to the Canadian Heritage department. A guest on the Urdu talk show on CINA Sun Shine Radio (11/01/2017) praised Canada's diversity and multiculturalism and hopes that being an immigrant himself, the new minister will better understand immigrants' issues and work to fix them.
Chinese website 51.ca noted that “Hussen is the embodiment of multiculturalism in Canada: Black, African, Muslim, and refugee” (27/01/2017). Spanish website Montreal Quebec Latino (18/01/2017) ponders whether the Government of Canada team is the most modern in the world, noting that “the Cabinet has an atypical gender parity and reflects Canada's multiculturalism”. According to Chinese Readers in Vancouver (30/01/2017), Prime Minister Trudeau opened his arms to welcome all refugees and promoted multiculturalism after Trump’s travel ban.
At the municipal level, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson received a mention in the ethnic media for promoting multiculturalism. Fairchild Radio AM 1470 Evening (03/02/2017) reported Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Chinese Consul General Liu Fei’s attendance of the Chinese New Year celebrations, and noted Robertson’s comment about how Vancouver welcomes immigrants and refugees and that multiculturalism is the driving force behind the city's growth. During the event, Gregorson also thanked the Chinese people for helping to build Vancouver.
While Canadian Heritage celebrates Canada’s 150th anniversary, issues surrounding race relations and newcomers are heating up across the country. The Canadian ethnic media widely picked up on Statistics Canada’s report stating that nearly one out of two Canadians will be an immigrant or the child of an immigrant by 2036. In a story on these statistics, Today Commercial News Toronto (26/01/2017) notes that Canada’s multiculturalism continues to blossom despite the rising anti-immigrant sentiment in the US and Europe. The new report puts an official statistic on the growing proportion of newcomers within Canada, reflecting the changing face of the nation. With this change comes a rocky adjustment period as various cultures merge into one country.
Integration is a key issue, with varying opinions reflected in the Canadian ethnic media. Multicultural website New Canadian Media (11/01/2017) discusses the considerable angst over immigration and the impact of new arrivals on Western society. “Newcomers must by definition adjust to a new reality and conform to a few accepted standards. This is not unreasonable since these requirements are few and far between and do not impinge on private practice and faith.” A commentary in Chinese newspaper North America Weekly Times (20/01/2017) postulates that immigrants' difficulty in integrating into Canadian society should not be an excuse for Canada to reject immigrants.
An example of integration as a result of merging cultures can be seen in the RCMP’s announcement that Muslim Mounties can now wear the hijab on the job. The Muslim community has welcomed this policy, with an editorial in the al Ameen newspaper (27/01/2017) stating that: “We applaud the government, especially the Canadian Armed Forces, RCMP, and other regional police forces, such as those of Toronto and Edmonton, for being at the forefront of these much-needed changes to recruit and attract quality people.” Another example of cultural melding is shown by the decision of the Peel District School Board in Ontario to allow Muslim students in public schools to give Friday prayer sermons without prior screening of the sermon’s content, as reported by the OMNI 2 TV South Asian Today Punjabi talkshow (26/01/2017) and Polish newspaper Goniec (20/01/2017).
In addition to general integration, discrimination against newcomers and Islamophobia are also hot topics in the Canadian ethnic media. Korean (All TV evening, 26/01/2017), South Asian English (Weekly Times of India, 03/02/2017), Cantonese (CIRV FM 88.9 Cantonese, 25/01/2017), and Mandarin (Fairchild Radio FM 96.1, 25/01/2017) sources all reported on a joint study by the University of Toronto and Ryerson University showing that job seekers with Asian names are less likely to be asked to an interview than their counterparts with Anglo-Canadian names.
According to Al Ameen (13/01/2017), the epidemic of Islamophobia in Canada continues to worsen due to lack of treatment. “No one - not even the federal government and certainly not the Western media - will go out of their way to change the current status quo on an anti-Muslim narrative.” Darpan Magazine (31/01/2017) in Vancouver reported a story on how lawyers who launched a legal assistance hotline for victims of Islamophobia are urging Canadian citizens and politicians to talk more openly about the racism and xenophobia in their midst. Haroon Siddiqui of The Muslim Times (01/02/2017) said that he long believed that Canada would be immune to anti-Muslim hysteria and he was mistaken. He notes that the attack on the Quebec mosque has been a long time coming, with Muslim Canadians reporting feeling psychologically under siege. The ethnic media also reported measures taken by Canadians to embrace Muslims, such as the “rings of peace” around mosques in the wake of the Quebec City shooting (The Muslim Times, 05/02/2017 and Red FM 106.7 Good Morning Calgary, 03/02/2017) and the "Islam Understood" campaign carried out in 30 communities across Canada (The Muslim Times, 07/02/2017).
Perhaps the real spirit of Canada in the celebration of its 150th birthday is embodied, not by fireworks, but by Mississauga Centre MP Omar Alghabra’s post on his Twitter page: