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It is Time to Move Beyond Harper's Politics of Division

07/20/2015 12:12 EDT | Updated 07/20/2016 05:59 EDT
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In the recent piece by Lorne Gunter entitled "Harper Tories racist? What rubbish!" completely missed the mark on an important discussion facing our nation. Instead of addressing the serious concerns of the "us versus them" politics by the Harper Conservatives, Mr. Gunter highlights the Government's actions on immigration and refugee benefits, including some which the courts have ruled as unconstitutional, as proof that somehow the Conservatives have made citizenship "more meaningful."

In fact, Mr. Gunter's piece only works to highlight the point I was trying to make -- namely that the Harper Conservatives have focused their time in power on dividing Canadians and creating fear for their own political benefit.

We have seen countless examples of this from groups that have questions about criminal code legislation being called "soft on crime," to the use of terrorist propaganda to stoke fear when talking about political rivals (just look at the latest online Conservative attack ad against Liberal leader Justin Trudeau using material from jihadist propaganda), to the politicization of citizenship ceremonies and the meaning of citizenship as a whole.

Just this week, Conservative Senators wrote a report singling out the Muslim community in suggesting that imams need to be trained and certified. Are we applying this same standard to Christian ministers, Buddhist monks or Jewish rabbis?

What other community or religion is subject to this kind of targeting? This is not to suggest that certain individuals may have been radicalized or may even be a security threat to Canada's interests. But to target an entire community or religion because of a few bad apples is entirely inappropriate. Should we target our security services on individuals seeking to radicalize Muslim youth? Absolutely, but we should encourage Muslims to work with Canadian security services to identify these potential risks, rather than alienating an entire community.

Yet, this is the same government that has changed laws to ban the wearing of niqabs at citizenship ceremonies and during voting. How does wearing the niqab during a swearing-in ceremony devalue our citizenship or create a security risk? This disenfranchises a specific community by pushing it to the fringes of our society.

In addition, last year the Harper government passed Bill C-24, which fundamentally changed the meaning of Canadian citizenship. Instead of being a basic foundation of our society, the new law allows citizenship to be taken away at the direction of the minister. But this only applies to Canadians who have immigrated here or who have dual citizenship. This has created a two-tiered citizenship. Like with the decision on the niqabs, the Harper Conservatives made this change without consultation.

Taking away the rights of select Canadians does not make citizenship more meaningful. It devalues citizenship for all Canadians by creating two distinct tiers of citizens. To that end, Mr. Gunter mischaracterized the point I was making which is that the Harper Conservatives are trying to exploit the fears of Canadians by creating the conditions that demonize a particular community primarily for political gain.

I am asking readers to consider what truly makes Canada one of the great nations in the world; a sense of fairness; a sense of openness to different viewpoints and a sense that our inclusive diversity is what makes us such a desirable country to live in. Further to that, we must continually strive to better understand and participate in our many diverse cultures. Only through dialogue and understanding, rather than invoking the politics of fear, can we build a better and freer Canada.

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