On January 29, six Muslims were killed at a Québec City mosque during evening prayers. Outpourings of support and condolences immediately began to grace television screens and social media feeds. I’ve begun to notice a trend following these tragic incidents: we, Canadians, begin to prioritize our own feelings, and above those of anger, sadness and empathy, we feel denial. We say things like: “This is not our country,” “how could something like this happen here?”, “this is the sort of thing you expect to see in the U.S.”
We Canadians will go to extreme lengths to blame anything and anyone for issues that happen within our borders. After the massacre in Quebec City, we pointed fingers at Trump. In fact, at a Montreal vigil to remember and celebrate the lives recently lost, anti-Trump sign and chants took centre stage. An opportunity for Canadian reflection on violence and our part in it became a rally against another country’s government. Turning Canadian grief into American scapegoating fails to acknowledge our society’s responsibility to hold its own members accountable for their actions.
To a certain extent, this blame is understandable. It goes without saying that hate expands exponentially and violence incites more violence. Trump’s ban of refugees, especially Muslims, during a time of political unrest and war, has mobilized racists and Islamophobes across the world to be unabashedly bigoted. No two countries, especially not countries that share a border, exist within a vacuum. Canada has become all too familiar with the ripple effects of U.S. policy and U.S. intolerance. This can be seen in the forms of Canada’s economic suffering as a result of the 2008 housing crash or the Flag Shop, for example, facing surprising demand for the confederate flag, a symbol intrinsically tied to the legacy of slavery, in cities such with little link to the confederation of the American south such as Vancouver and Ottawa. The American Muslim ban destabilized not only refugees but permanent residents who had left the country to travel and found themselves unable to return home. This ban affects a great number of McGill students who either cannot return home to their families or cannot pursue higher education in the U.S..
However, excusing tragedy as an isolated result of factors Canada is not responsible for, especially when that tragedy is deeply rooted in racism and settler colonialism, is weak and dismissive. The narrative of Canada as a ‘safe haven’ for marginalized groups is an inaccurate representation of the country. Stephen Harper’s election campaign rested heavily on the banning of the niqab, which fortunately was ruled unconstitutional. Frequent vandalism of mosques and other hate crimes perpetrated against the Muslim-Canadian community are testimonies to the bigotry that exists within our borders. Quite frankly, Canada could do without its self-fellating exceptionalism and constant pats on the back, especially when they occur as a knee-jerk reaction to concrete and homegrown examples of Islamophobia. When assaults like these occur, whether we define them as acts of terrorism or hate crimes, it is a call to critically examine our own prejudice and xenophobia. We must realize that pretending we are more tolerant than others is not a solution to intolerance. It is accountability for our own shortcomings that makes nations safer, not the maintenance of a reputation Canada does not deserve. I hold a firm belief that what makes you a patriot is not your unchecked love for your country, but your commitment to improve it.
Now is the time to mourn; those killed,injured, and affected during the recent attack deserve our sorrow and our support. But more than that, they deserve justice and the assurance that Canadians will learn to reflect and progress rather than blame and dismiss.