Canada's Security Agenda a Threat to Multiculturalism

Canadian Speeches, March-April 2003 | Go to article overview

Canada's Security Agenda a Threat to Multiculturalism


Muticulturalistic Canada is under threat of extinction. Post September 11, racial profiling, religious discrimination, and the condoning of targeting Arabs and Muslims in Canada's security agenda, have often been seen as acceptable practice by the government. Arab Canadians are routinely discriminated against in schools, workplaces, the U.S. border, by the police and CSIS. This is unacceptable in a country that prides itself on multiculturalism. Speech to RCMP and police officials, Ottawa, Ontario, February 27, 2003.

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Anxiety, fear, alienation, marginalization, betrayal, and disillusionment. This is how September 11 and its aftermath have left Arab and Muslim Canadians feeling--indeed reeling. There have been many causes for this: Key among them is what would by Canadian standards, easily qualify as an excessive, overzealous security agenda.

Allow me to briefly list a chronology of what has become known as the backlash to September 11. Mere hours after the events of that day there came an unleashing of acts of hate and racism directed at Arab and Muslim Canadians on the streets of our cities, in schoolyards and workplaces from neighbors and strangers alike, from vandals who attacked places of worship. While such acts continue to this day, they have by-and-large subsided. However, we fully expect they will dramatically rise again once the war on Iraq has started.

Next on the chronology came mass detentions of Arabs and Muslims: hundreds here, thousands across the border, incarcerated under a cloak of secrecy: secret detentions, secret hearings, secret evidence, secret names, secret numbers of those arrested.

Bill C-36 followed and quickly became law, allowing, among other things, preventative detentions and forced testimony--anathemas in a free society. While some argue rightly that the Anti-Terrorism Act does not single out Arabs and Muslims and is directed at all Canadians, we nevertheless feel it targets us. Watch it kick in with the new war on Iraq.

In the months following September 11, there were reported abuses by law enforcement, and CSIS in particular, that seemed to cast a wide net. While on this fishing expedition, CSIS conducted intrusive interrogation of innocent people, and most damaging, pressured ordinary Arab Canadians to act as spies and inform on their friends and colleagues.

I will not dwell much on the damage done by the media following September 11, but suffice it to say that many commentators have had a field day demonizing Arabs and Muslims and painting us all with the bin Laden brush. The stereotypes and racist overtones put forward by some in the mainstream media confirmed the permissibility of singling out Arabs and Muslims for suspicious treatment: they are guilty by association, suspect by nature of their ethnicity and religion, therefore, all acceptable subject of hate.

Our failure as a society in this regard was in not sending a clear signal to the contrary, society did not come to the aid of this maligned minority. This, despite the best efforts of church groups, other well-meaning citizens, and some in the law enforcement community, who built bridges and spoke out against discrimination. But by-and-large, Arab and Muslim Canadians were left standing on their own, having to explain themselves and prove their loyalty; defend their religion and demonstrate its goodness; and at times hide their ethnicity and deny their heritage in a bid to escape scrutiny. The effect on our communities is that, like our Japanese Canadian counterparts during World War U, we too have become victims of psychological internment.

In the meantime, our mainstream institutions, including governments, simply look the other way. Perhaps our officials felt they could not be introducing the legislation and measures that target Arabs and Muslims while at the same time telling other Canadians not to single us out for discrimination. …

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