So did 63 Canadians lose their lives when Iran mistakenly downed the Ukrainian airline on January 8th? Well, it depends who you ask. Canadian PM Justin Trudeau quickly claimed the naturalized Canadians and permanent residents to be one of us. There was an outpouring of grief displayed at memorial services and vigils held across the country, but my feeling is that it didn’t have quite the impact compared to the 2018 Humboldt Broncos bus crash that claimed the lives of 16 young Canadians. I am quite sure that the media coverage and the outpouring of grief would have been much greater had all 63 victims had been white Canadians.
Though no one will say it openly, but the truth is that a white Canadian victim or celebrity is seen as authentically Canadian. When victims are first-generation or new Canadians who’ve lived most of their lives elsewhere, we mourn, lets say differently.
PM Justin Trudeau did the right thing by considering this to be a national tragedy and owning it, although I am not sure what that means when the PM considers Canada to be a post-national country with no core identity.
Politically and socially, Canada has come a long way since another tragedy struck Canada 35 years ago. That was the bombing of Air India Flight 182 en route from Toronto to Delhi via London. Aboard were 268 Canadian citizens, most of South Asian background. When that happened, then prime minister, Brian Mulroney, lost no time picking up the phone and offering his deepest condolences to the late Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi. Many Canadians then and now thought it to be an Indian tragedy given that mostly Canadians of Indian descent were the victims. I lived in India at the time and recall the coverage and I am sure that in the minds of millions of Indians, this was an Indian rather than a Canadian tragedy.
I am sure people in Iran consider all the Canadian victims of the Ukrainian airline disaster to be Iranian, however, to his credit, PM Trudeau did not offer condolences to his Iranian counterpart, although Iran was in mourning for the loss of its Iranian victims regardless where they lived.
Many Canadians including new immigrants have their own idea about who is a real Canadian and it is almost always Caucasian. White Canadians get treated a whole lot better in India for example than Canadians of Indian descent. In the minds of most people around the world, Canadians are white and everyone non-white is considered a sub-category of Canadians condemned to a lower status. An acquaintance of Indian descent from Toronto who had moved back to India to pursue a business proposition told me she got checked each time she called herself Canadian. Indians there had no qualms saying: “But you are basically Indian, na?” She eventually stopped calling herself Canadian to avoid the derision that followed. Funnily enough she flaunted her Canadian status only in the company of other white expats living and working in India.
Comedian Dave Chapelle had a point when he joked about terrorists never taking black American hostages, it is invariably the white who is the preferred hostage. Even a terrorist seeking hostages realises that there is little value in holding non-white western hostages.
Identity is a huge challenge in multicultural Canada and I am sure that even after 50 years there will be discussions about who is a real Canadian and who is not. Regardless of a Canadian passport and all the support from politicians, immigrants of color can expect their nationality to be questioned if not in Canada, elsewhere around the world. -CINEWS