09/05/2017 12:48 EDT | Updated 09/05/2017 21:50 EDT

Militarism Won't Silence The Debate Over Toronto Air Show

Many of the trolls said refugee newcomers should "go home" or accept the show as part of Canadian culture.

Edward James via Getty Images
The CF Snowbirds fly past the CN Tower during the on 68th annual Canadian International Air Show during Canada's 150th anniversary year on Sept. 1, 2017 in Toronto, Ont.

Labour Day weekend in Toronto means the end of the summer, start of the school year and, unfortunately, enduring the Canadian International Airshow. During this past weekend, we were subjected to low-altitude flyovers from jets and formations of helicopters hovering over the city's downtown core and west end. This year included a supersonic fighter jet decorated in the "Canada 150" theme.

This time last year, the authors received a lesson in Canadian nationalism after writing an opinion piece in the Toronto Star, followed by a more fleshed-out blog post here about the airshow and its effects on refugee newcomers.

Published two months before Americans elected U.S. President Donald Trump and "alt-right" became a household term used to describe a movement of neo-Nazis and white supremacists, the reaction served as an introduction to some of the now-ubiquitous language and concepts of their political movement. To dismiss them simply as "trolls" or unthinking rednecks would be to make the same mistake of American progressives in the election. These are deep-seated views, and militant nationalism presents a real threat to Canadian values.

Air Show - Teaser from Maya Bastian on Vimeo.

For proposing that resettling refugees created a duty of care, Craig was labelled a cuck, snowflake, sissy, libtard, SJW and (best of all) low test homo. The basic assumption came from a strange and patriarchal masculinity wherein concern for vulnerable people equated to a lack of commitment to an authentic, macho and militaristic Canadian identity.

In all honesty, much of the early reaction was amusing. It was abundantly clear that the irony of employing the term snowflake as part of a hysterical reaction to a newspaper op-ed was lost on most of the Twitter trolls. It also traded on an irrational hatred of experts that fuelled Brexit and underpins the Trump administration's domestic and foreign policies. The now-floundering Rebel Media produced a hilarious monologue dressing Craig down as an "overeducated fool" and questioning the mysterious term "PhD candidate."

The longer it went on, however, the less funny it became. Ignorant tweets were replaced by threatening emails, particularly when Maya joined the conversation. Maya was invited to wider media outlets, speaking on CBC's Metro Morning and discussing the issue on The National (Craig was relegated to Southern Ontario AM talk radio).

Melissa Renwick via Getty Images
A CF Snowbirds fly-by roars through the sky during day one of the Canadian International Air Show in Marilyn Bell Park, Toronto, Ont.

She faced direct racism, with many social media critics telling her "to go back where she came from" (she was, in fact, born in small-town Canada — and is as Canadian as anyone who maligned her). She received Facebook death threats comparing her to slain Pakistani blogger Qandeel Baloch, violent emails, hate-filled tweets and a thorough lashing on alt-right websites. People harassing her undertook background research on her place of work and home life, going so far as to mock her young child.

The hatred traded on interwoven racism, homophobia, and misogyny — the basic threads of militant nationalism. And while these are old and tired concepts, the fact that they were directed at refugee newcomers at a time when Canada was celebrating itself for its response to the Syrian refugee crisis was particularly alarming. Many of the trolls said refugee newcomers should "go home" or accept the airshow as part of Canadian culture. To set the record straight — resettled refugees are permanent residents on their way to citizenship. Canada is their home.

Militant nationalism presents a real threat to Canadian values.

The episode peeled off the thin layer of civility to reveal an ugly nationalism that is, sadly, increasingly mainstream. Recent alt-right activity across the country from groups like The Council of Euro Canadians, Sons of Odin, the "Proud Boys" and La Meute, spurred on by right-wing politicians like Kellie Leitch and "journalists" like Ezra Levant, means we're not immune to political currents most consider safely rooted across the border. The January terrorist attack on the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec was the saddest and most violent episode of the trend.

We think it vital to keep the debate alive. To this end, Maya agreed to a limited run of her short film, Air Show, in the Globe and Mail. We encourage people to share it widely. Concerned residents should contact their city councilors and members of Parliament, because militarism is never innocuous. If there is one thing on which we agree with some of our critics, it is that we enjoy a range of hard-won privileges — including the ability to influence how our cities treat vulnerable newcomers.

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