Monday July 04, 2016

Trump, Brexit and racism: Why Canada isn't immune to racist rhetoric

Kim Fry was in downtown Toronto when she came upon an anti-refugee rally organized by Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (known by its German acronym PEGIDA). Fry decided to confront such beliefs by organizing a counter rally of her own.

Kim Fry was in downtown Toronto when she came upon an anti-refugee rally organized by Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (known by its German acronym PEGIDA). Fry decided to confront such beliefs by organizing a counter rally of her own. (Kim Fry/Facebook)

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In the United Kingdom, anti-immigrant rhetoric has been intensifying since Brexit. In the States, presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been campaigning for a wall along the Mexican border and a ban on Muslim immigration.

But what of such racist discourse in Canada? 

If Lorraine Fry's recent experience on a Toronto streetcar is any indication, the rise of race-based political rhetoric is also affecting Canada.

Kim Fry, of no relation to Lorraine, is another Toronto resident who has witnessed racism on Canadian soil in recent weeks. Fry was shopping in her neighbourhood when she came upon an anti-refugee rally organized by Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (known by its German acronym PEGIDA). The group had Canadian flags, with some sporting Trump hats and buttons, and signs targeting Muslims and the Islamic community.

"There was stuff about men needing to protect their wives from the rapists that we were letting in and they were chanting, 'protect Canadian values,'" Fry says.

Fry confronted the group and took photos of the rally on her phone, which she later posted on Facebook. The pictures quickly gained attention and days later Fry was part of about a dozen people planning a counter rally. While Fry's anti-racism rally attracted larger numbers and focused on welcoming messages from residents and businesses alike, she remains concerned of the climate — citing both Trump and the situation in the U.K. as factors — that she says created this "space to explore" racist and xenophobic ideas. 

'For me, in Canada, one thing we do is differentiate between free speech and hate speech, and when we have speech that targets a particular community and paints a whole group of people with very broad strokes ... to me, that incites hate.' - Kim Fry, organized an anti-racism rally in her Toronto neighbourhood

Rinaldo Walcott, associate professor and director of
the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto, says what's happening is a resurgence of far right politics. Walcott doesn't believe these views are new, but that they've been emboldened by the current political discourse both abroad and at home.

While Walcott mentions Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's participation in Toronto's Pride parade as progress, he notes the once proposed "barbaric cultural practices" bill and Bill C-51 as cause for concern.

"What these [bills] tell me is that there's a particular kind of political ferment that we need to uncover here in Canada, as well," Walcott says. 

'There's still a myth that immigrants draw from rather than contribute ... we still see the immigrant as someone who doesn't belong, as an outsider and, in Western nations, we always imagine the immigrant as also non-white.' - Rinaldo Walcott, director of the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto

We reached out to PEGIDA Canada for a response, but they declined our invitation. 

Have you experienced or witnessed racist behaviour over the past year? 

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This segment was produced by The Current's Taylor Simmons, Ines Colabrese and Sujata Berry.