What does a Canadian look like?

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Sabrina Almeida

Last week during a campaign stop in Montreal, a man shook Jagmeet Singh’s hand and then advised him to cut off his turban to “look like a Canadian”. The NDP leader calmly responded with “Canadians look like all sorts of people” before walking away. Soon it was all over the news and Singh had yet another opportunity to highlight the discrimination he and people from visible minority groups continue to face.

The man’s insensitive remark highlighted his ignorance and small-mindedness. I don’t believe he was being racist. After all he did shake Singh’s hand and wish him well. In reality he expressed the views of a section of ‘white’ Canadians. That this happened in Quebec demonstrates how Bill 21 came to be. Still this incident is more characteristic of the smaller towns in that province rather a big city like Montreal. A friend (of Indian origin) shared how heads turn when she visits the local mall where her in-laws live in a small town here. There aren’t any brown people in that rural community which makes her stand out.

I can’t imagine how they would respond to an individual wearing a turban or hijab.

Having said that Quebecers are not alone in their narrowmindedness. A woman of Middle-Eastern origin who lives in a small town in Nova Scotia recounted similar experiences. Her daughter moved to the GTA as a result. The young lady also decided not to wear a hijab because she didn’t want to be seen as ‘different’.

This is not to say that some people in the multicultural GTA may not feel the same way as those in Quebec and Nova Scotia. A couple who owned a business in Burlington had a similar story. Many of their young employees’ parents didn’t want them to work for an Indian establishment. That they don’t wear a turban or hijab, or their business is not Indian in nature didn’t work in their favour.

So, what does a ‘real’ Canadian look like? Male friends who immigrated from India more than 20 years ago were advised to remove mustaches and beards to find jobs. Apparently Canadian businesses preferred clean shaven employees. Indian-sounding names were also shortened or changed to Western ones for business purposes.

This practice continues today though it may now be an employee’s choice. A friend’s son prefers to be addressed as ‘Mo’ rather than Mohammed and signs his name likewise. It is not too hard to figure out what inspired him to do that.

Similarly, those from visible minority groups who expect to climb up the corporate ladder know they must dress and speak a certain way to be included in the ‘white boys club’. Isn’t that what accent reduction classes are all about? Sounding Canadian!

Yes, it is true that on fancy dress day you can break out the traditional ‘exotic’ garb that Trudeau and his family donned throughout their India trip and share samosas and butter chicken with your colleagues. Many companies and businesses host these ‘cultural days and events’ to showcase their diversity. However, this well-meaning gesture does nothing to teach us how to accept other ethnicities. In fact, in some cases it just reinforces stereotypes about ‘smelly Indian curries’.

While visible minorities fight to be acknowledged as ‘equally Canadian’, those that take advantage of their religious or cultural identities to gain privileges reverse any progress that may have been made. Politicians bending over backwards to make accommodations for ethnic groups to appear inclusive and secure their votes only inspire ill-feelings and perpetuate the divisiveness.

Maxime Bernier’s policies may be controversial and his chances of becoming prime minister very slim, but he is right in his assessment that “extreme multiculturalism” is not a way to build a national identity. Perhaps it’s time that leaders realized that the stress on multiculturalism is dividing rather than uniting Canadians.

That Bill 21 came to be and no federal political leader (except Trudeau in a small way) including Jagmeet Singh committed to fighting it, showed how hypocritical humans can be. Singh doesn’t miss an opportunity to share his experiences with racism, yet he wouldn’t stand up to Quebec’s discriminatory law. He was asked if he was not letting Canadians down by not taking a strong stance in the English-language debate but side-stepped the question. Is it because NDP seats in Quebec are on the line? Then in the post-debate scrum, the New Democrat leader said he would have to look at the law if it ends up being appealed before Canada’s top court, as an after thought.

Without a doubt the huge increase in immigration is increasing ethnic tensions. The rise in hate crimes gives evidence of it.

Don’t tell me how to look or sound Canadian!!! But don’t create a country of ethnic tribes vying with each other for accommodations either.

Unfortunately, this is what multiculturalism and political leaders are doing. -CINEWS

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