Canadians cannot ignore our country’s social issues

Urging Canada to right its unpopular wrongs

Rafi Matchen, Computing '22.
Journal File Photo

The murder of George Floyd sparked a pandemic-fatigued, Trump-weary United States into a summer of protest against police violence and the enduring legacy of slavery and segregation within the United States. Ultimately, it forced every facet of American institutional society to enter a reckoning on race. 

Instead of being introspective, Canadians once again focused on American issues. 

While much of this reaction has advanced the cause of improving policing—such as the banning of knee-on-neck restraints by various police departments—some of the sideshow has led to politicians capitulating to activist demands of defunding the police. In Seattle, this led to the resignation of the city’s first Black police chief after the government slashed her salary and cut her budget. Her resignation resulted in a loss of roughly 100 officers, most of whom come from the community policing program comprised mainly of Black officers.

Protests all across America incited the removal of statues of Confederate leaders, men who were honoured because of their allegiance to a treasonous country founded on the lie that slavery is the natural state of Black people. 

Yet, some radicals took it further to destroy statues of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Both were great leaders venerated for their massive expansion of democracy and human dignity—and known slavers with complex histories. They, like most historical leaders, had their warts, but simple people rarely end up with statues. It quickly became clear that such iconoclastic elements ought to be denounced, and they were, by politicians of the Democratic Party, as well as mainstream protest leaders. 

Unfortunately, instead of seriously considering issues in Canada, our country’s elite spheres—business, media, academia—spent the summer embracing a vacuous, Americanized anti-racism campaign. This allowed them to signal their support for progressive causes without demonstrating the necessary courage to problem-solve in Canada. 

The challenges faced by Black Canadians must be addressed. While perhaps not as publicized as in America, they are no less important. Furthermore, while Canadian police officers generally do their jobs, systemic issues cannot be ignored. 

Canada has seen some good outcomes with a focus on social issues, such as new scholarships and professorships. At Queen’s specifically, recognition of the harmful effects of preferential treatment within clubs in the Commerce program has paved the way for progress. 

Yet, the Canadian obsession with American culture and politics has led activists to push a conspiracy theory about the tragic death of the mentally unwell Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto and turn her story into a rallying cry for Canadian racial justice and policing reform. Despite the SIU clearing the officers involved, many, including New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh, still alluded to potential police wrongdoing. 

The money and energy spent lobbying for cuts to police in Canada would have been better spent working toward making Canadian society more accessible for Black Canadians. Changes to policy in education, as well as cracking down on gun violence, are logical ways to improve the quality of life for racial minorities in Canada. 

Rather than reckon with foundational issues, Canada seems more intent on changing the names of law schools and mandating “implicit bias training,” which, in its current form, has been discredited by psychological literature and has even angered employees when done wrong. 

Instead, it should start with China. It has become clear that China is committing a borderline genocide against the Uygur Muslims of Xinjiang. Muslims are being forced into concentration camps where they face “re-education” in Chinese communism, a forced-fed diet of pork, denial of their right to speak their native languages, as well as forced labour, torture, rape, and murder. 

Queen’s, through its investments in Chinese state-owned technology companies operating in Xinjiang, is complicit. These firms work on language processing and surveillance technology that allows China to keep tabs on Muslims in the region. 

The Canadian economy is undeniably intertwined with China. While a boycott of China is not advisable, a university happy to promote social justice when it’s easy and popular should be able to take a stand against severe human rights violations. 

When the University takes action on equity, diversity, and inclusion, it is acting in its own best interest; consider how Queen’s reputation for insufficiently accommodating minorities has hurt its standing in recent university rankings, for example. A principled stance against Chinese violations of human rights could be financially disadvantageous and politically awkward. 

Beyond China, crucial issues are happening in Quebec. Eight million Canadians live in a province where the right to freedom of religion is abrogated, with public servants like teachers and judges being prohibited to wear religious garb while at work. 

While the law was clearly aimed at Quebec’s growing population of Muslims, a community in which women traditionally wear hijabs, niqabs, and burkas, it also affects Sikhs and Jews who wear turbans and kippahs, respectively. All of these communities exist outside Quebec’s secular traditions. It should be noted that as the government of Quebec contends the law is non-discriminatory since it applies to everyone, including Roman Catholics, a crucifix can be conveniently tucked under a shirt, whereas a headscarf cannot. 

There are targeted religious minorities here in Canada. Until we finish our critical work of truth and reconciliation with Indigenous Canadians, there are targeted racial minorities, too. They have been mistreated for hundreds of years. 

Racism is not only an American problem. We cannot leave Canadian social issues unaddressed when they do not co-align perfectly with those of the United States. Our infatuation with our neighbours to the south has given Canadians and our institutions willful blindness towards human rights violations in our country. 

Rafi Matchen, Computing '22, is a student at Queen's University.

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