What happens when we ignore the language of hate

Canada’s reputation as a welcoming country for immigrants from around the world is being tested by advancing extremist views and growing income inequality

It seemed like only yesterday that Canadians were swelling with pride as we welcomed Syrians fleeing their war-torn country to make a new life here.

Resettling hasn’t been easy, but we welcomed every new success story like Soufi’s, a family-owned Syrian restaurant that was winning accolades for their delicious food. 

Just last year, the New York Times profiled Soufi’s and wrote about Canada’s Syrian “food boom.”

But Soufi’s story looked like it had come to an incredibly sad end when the family was forced to close the restaurant after receiving numerous hate messages and death threats. That was after their son had been identified at an anti-hate rally outside a People’s Party of Canada event in Hamilton.

Thankfully, the owner of Paramount Fine Foods is working with the family to help them re-open the restaurant and ensure there is security to protect workers and family.

We are failing as a country if this is how we treat a family that came to Canada, overcame adversity and contributed to the cultural fabric of our community as well as our economy.

But what can we expect when Canada increasingly tolerates the language of hate, racism and intolerance? And when we are giving a platform to politicians who wilfully spread misinformation about immigrants and refugees?

There was an orchestrated alt-right campaign to seek out Soufi’s and run the family out of business. The vitriol they faced was unrelenting. This is what happens when we ignore hateful and racist acts: the hate spreads like a cancer.

Canada’s ability to make this country home to people from around the world is being tested by advancing extremist views.

One of the hallmarks of Canada’s success has been the ability of its people to coexist in relative harmony. Because of that, Canada is seen as an example for the rest of the world. This is a point of pride.

But when we threaten people whose culture is different than our own, we risk descending into Trump’s America and the UK’s Brexit.

We need to spend less time yelling at each other and more time reaching across our differences. What divides us is threatening our unity.

It’s important for us to think about what’s behind the rise in hate speech and overt prejudice.

One thing we’re not talking often enough about is the effects of persistent income inequality.

This isn’t just about new Canadians. We live in a time of anxiety and rapid change. Income inequality is pitting us against each other. We keep growing the economic pie, but it isn’t being equally shared. The economic gains have been going to people at the top of the income ladder, while the rest of us fight for scraps.

And that is slowly causing us to devolve into a Canada we don’t want.

Continued divisions along racial lines won’t solve the problem of income inequality.

Neither will scapegoating people who want to live here, establish roots, raise a family and contribute to our communities.

Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Canada is failing to live up to this commitment. As election day nears, each and every one of us must join together and talk to our friends, co-workers and family members about the powder keg of hate that has been bubbling up in our country.

Debbie Douglas is executive director of Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants Margaret Eaton is executive director of Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council Mario Calla is executive director of COSTI Immigrant Services.


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