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Canadian Politicians Need To Stand Up Against Growing Xenophobia

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PARLIAMENT HILL
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The world is changing rapidly. We have witnessed the success of the Brexit campaign in the UK, and the victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. There is a growing and frightening divide between the rich and the poor, the urban and the rural, the educated and the less educated, journalists and the media. Amid this social and political turmoil, some political groups and social movements are emerging to exploit this climate of tension and fear and make political and financial gains out of it.

Canada has not been immune of this. During the 2015 federal election, Stephen Harper used the niqab ban issue to make political gains. Moreover, he used the Syrian refugees file to create a fear mongering rhetoric insinuating that behind every refugee hides a terrorist and vocabulary as "old-stock Canadians" and "barbaric cultural practices" were employed by Harper to appeal to some voters.

As despicable and opportunistic his campaign was, his party came second, 5.6 million Canadians voted for the Conservative party. It is not a negligible number if compared to the 6.9 millions who voted for the Liberal party of Prime Minister Trudeau.

After the election of Donald Trump in the U.S, I heard many people on social media and around me saying with relief that we are so lucky to be living in Canada. That is a fine statement but we should not take things for granted.

Few days ago, Chris Alexander -- a former minister of immigration and citizenship in the Harper government and a candidate in the Conservative leadership race -- was in a rally criticizing the carbon tax to be introduced in January by Rachel Notley, the premier of Alberta and the crowd started chanting "lock her up" in reference to the infamous saying of Donald Trump regarding his political adversary Hillary Clinton. Alexander was seen smiling along with the chant and didn't even try to distance himself from the chanting by stopping them or leaving the event. If this is not a copycat from the U.S. politics of populism and misogyny, what else could it?

His colleague Kellie Leitch, another former cabinet minister in the Harper government, who introduced the barbaric practice hotline during the summer 2015 and briefly expressed some regrets before announcing her candidacy for the Conservative party leadership race, has since been surfing on the "Trump wave" by including an "Anti-Canadian value" as a screening for immigrants in a survey question to her supporters. If this is not xenophobic, what else could it be?

In Quebec, tactics of xenophobia and Islamophobia have been used by some politicians and media outlets with total impunity and very little denunciation by political leaders and the main stream media. The mere impression to appear complacent with terrorism or with anything related to Islam seems to have paralyzed many of them.

François Legault, the leader of the Coalition Avenir Quebec, in a distorted attempt to distance himself from his political opponents published a political ad with the picture of woman wearing a chador (Islamic garment to cover all the body worn in Iran and Afghanistan by some women) and declaring that only his party wouldn't allow teachers to wear a chador in schools. The ad is misleading, as there are no teachers wearing chador in Quebec.

Nevertheless, this ad is intended to appeal to the fear that some voters have regarding those religious symbols that invaded the popular culture (movies and books) after the Iranian revolution of 1979 and remained stuck in people's imaginations even if today there is not a single request for a teacher to wear the chador in Quebec or Canada.

Recently, we learned from CBC that a xenophobic group, has been gaining membership and funds based on their fear of what they call "Islamic fundamentalism."

This group attracts members who are concerned to see the province being invaded by sharia followers or Halal products consumers. It originated in some small village in Quebec, where most likely there are no Muslim immigration presence. The founders of this groups said that they are inspired by Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Front National, a right-wing party in France.

Despite, the historical and socio-economical differences and origins of the immigration in France and Quebec, the fear seem to have crossed the Atlantic Ocean to find fertile ground in Quebec. How come these groups are not considered to be fuelling and propagating hate? When we have politicians hurrying to legislate and invest millions of dollars to combat terrorism and radicalization, and then, on the other side, silent or shy when it comes combating xenophobia and Islamophobia, there is clearly a double standard.

Politicians at the federal and provincial levels should be more courageous and bring legislation that would condemn these groups and actions. Otherwise, it will be too late and the "Trump wave" will sweep us here in Canada as well.

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