Nova Scotia

'Barbaric cultural practices' rhetoric condemned by Nova Scotia academics

Close to 600 academics have signed an open letter to the Conservative Party of Canada condemning it for its campaign tactics.

65 Nova Scotia university professors and instructors among 587 academics in Canada to sign open letter

Zunera Ishaq speaks with reporters outside the Federal Court of Appeal in Ottawa on Sept. 15 after her case was heard on whether she can wear a niqab while taking her citizenship oath. (Patrick Doyle/CP)

Close to 600 academics have signed an open letter to the Conservative Party of Canada condemning it for its campaign tactics.

The university professors and instructors are particularly upset with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's repeated call to outlaw what the party considers "barbaric cultural practices."

There are 65 academics from Nova Scotia who have endorsed the letter. Among them are Michael MacMillan and Leslie Brown, husband and wife professors at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax.

MacMillan, who teaches political studies, says the Conservatives have gone too far in singling out new Canadians and recent immigrants.

"This is a serious crossing of the line in terms of the way we talk about our fellow citizens and issues," he said. "It stimulates the politics of fear, the politics of hate."

Tip line

Brown likens this letter of opposition to those who stood up after Parti Québécois leader Jacques Parizeau gave a politically-charged speech on the night the Yes side lost the 1995 Quebec referendum.

"When Parizeau stood up and said that he was condemning what he called the ethnic vote, Quebecers responded and they said that is not the way we want to go," says Brown, who teaches sociology.

Conservatives have promised that a re-elected Tory government would introduce a tip line for reporting "barbaric cultural practices" to the RCMP.

And cultural identity issues have become a divisive question in this federal election campaign, after the Federal Court struck down a 2011 Conservative policy that bans wearing niqabs while taking the citizenship oath

Harper has said the government will pursue the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. He's also said his party will examine a wider ban on the niqab for federal public servants, in line with proposed Quebec legislation the federal Conservatives have publicly supported in the past.

'Inflammatory rhetoric'

But it's the "inflammatory rhetoric" of barbaric cultural practices that has prompted an open letter by 587 Canadian academics who say Conservative tactics "demonize" those who are different and amount to "hate mongering."

"We are united by a common interest in the integrity of democratic processes and concern about the ugly and dangerous turn we have recently witnessed in the election campaign," the letter says.

Jennifer Stamp, a senior instructor in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Dalhousie University, drew a much sharper historical parallel to describe the tactic being used by the Conservatives to win votes by singling out those who may be a threat.

"Hitler and Stalin did this," she said. "Do we need this? The ugliness is that it points out differences among certain Canadians and tries to compartmentalize them. That really makes me sick."

Those who have signed the letter don't expect the Conservatives to abandon a tactic that appears to appeal to some voters, but are instead encouraging voters to take a long hard look at how the party has chosen to campaign in the final weeks of this election.

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