The last two weeks have shown that Canada isn't as different from the United States as it should be.
Last week, Mitt Romney received criticism for his adviser's comments in Britain about President Barack Obama "not fully appreciating" the Anglo-American heritage of the United States. His campaign co-chair also accused President Obama of being un-American for the time he spent in Hawaii and Indonesia. Hawaii is still part of the United States, by the way.
As a Canadian, I often balk at examples of racism and discrimination so explicit in American politics. When I read stories about racism used to attack President Obama, or the often xenophobic debate about immigration in the U.S., I frequently dismiss such moments with a comfortable overconfidence that such a thing is not going to happen in Canada -- the self-professed home of multiculturalism. This time around, in reading about Romney's advisor's comments, I just didn't have the same Holier-Than-Thou Canadian swag.
The idea that an elected official could disrespect immigrant groups or racial minorities so fearlessly in Canada should be unbelievable to someone who calls Toronto home -- a city made up of over 50 per cent immigrants and almost as many racial minorities. In the fallout of Toronto's recent shootings, however, Mayor Rob Ford and Minister Jason Kenney's comments about reviewing "immigration law" (Ford) and "foreign gangsters" (Kenney) are guilty of exactly what members of Romney's team have done -- attempting to turn certain communities into "others" who are somehow less American or Canadian because they are racial minorities who, through their parents or on their own, have roots in other nations. Ford and Kenney, through their rhetoric, effectively labeled Toronto's recent youth offenders, their communities, and the communities associated with them, un-Canadian.
Thankfully, many members of Canadian media have righteously criticized Ford and Kenney. Some of our elected officials have spoken up to distance themselves from these comments, but few, if any, have appropriately highlighted just how offensive and problematic these remarks are.
Unfortunately, our Prime Minister Stephen Harper has failed to responsibly denounce these comments as well.
Still, that such a thing could happen in Canada, and we could have such influential people -- one in charge of Canada's most diverse city and the other in charge of national immigration and citizenship policy -- utter such offensive terms with unsustained outrage and little if any consequences is unacceptable. It is similar to what I have seen in the U.S., where xenophobia and racism have become part of the mainstream political discourse and politicians are too comfortable alienating racial minorities and immigrant groups. We can't forget what has been said and we must remain offended by such remarks.
To send a message to Ford, Kenney, and those who may agree or not disagree enough with these individuals, we must make it clear to our elected officials that we want a Toronto and a Canada where our leaders uncompromisingly promote a vision of our city with the appropriate sensitivities and required moral compass.
And we must also celebrate and remember the diverse history of our country and the various racial, cultural, and linguistic groups that make Canada possible. We must make sure that when people attempt to "otherize" racial minorities and immigrant groups in our country, it's clear how ignorant they are because many of these communities have a storied history in Canada long before Ford, Kenney, or even Romney were born.
Join me in sending this message, in remembering, and in fully restoring my Holier-Than- Thou Canadian swag before the next time Romney and his advisers say something offensive (which could be any minute now).
Follow Jamil Jivani on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jamiljivani