Canada Avoids Ethno-Populism, but not the Surge in Hate Crimes
By Chelsea Wilson Miller
First, the good news: Canada has largely resisted the ethno-populism that’s swept through other Western democracies in recent years.
The ethno-populists who’ve risen in Europe and the United States have gained significant support from white working class and lower middle class voters, tapping into their deep anger over the misdeeds—both real and perceived—of elites. At the same time, ethno-populists tend to scapegoat migrants, Muslims, and other minorities.
Canada has mostly avoided this “us v. them” mentality partly because of its national pride in diversity and multiculturalism. Canada was the first country to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy. The country’s leadership often speaks out against discrimination and xenophobia in Canada and around the globe. While Canada is politically polarized, it promotes and protects cultural diversity as part of their collective identity.
This stands in stark contrast to Germany and France, both assimilationist countries that expect adherence by newcomers to traditional forms of national identity. France and Germany perceive immigrants’ “hyphenated identities” negatively. Attempts to ban religious garments, like Islamic veils, in public are reflective of dominant and exclusive perceptions of identity. A recent poll reveals that a majority of French people feel that there are too many foreigners in their country and that foreigners do not integrate well enough. In Germany, 45.3 percent of citizens without immigrant backgrounds feel the same.
Another factor is what Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, calls the “the luck of geography”—the single border it shares with another country. Since most immigrants must intentionally travel to the country, it does not experience irregular immigration. The large numbers of immigrants arriving in Germany, for example, have strengthened extremist parties like Alternative for Germany (AfD), which have seized on this to instrumentalize fear for political gain.
Nonetheless, Canada’s religious minorities are suffering from the increase in hate crimes also afflicting other Western democracies. In part, this appears to be a ripple effect of the increase in hate crimes in the United State’s following President Trump’s election. Racist harassment and online hate-speech in Canada also spiked after November 8th.
Canadian anti-Muslim sentiment is not new. Anti-Muslim groups, such as Rise Canada, and anti-Muslim policies, like Quebec's proposed and defeated Charter of Values, have cultivated bigotry. What has changed recently are the number of hate crimes against Muslims. Police-reported hate crimes targeting Muslims increased from 99 incidents in 2014 to 159 in 2015, an increase of 61 percent. This is similar to the trend in the United States, where anti-Muslim hate crimes rose 67 percent, from 154 in 2014 to 257 in 2015.
With the rise of terrorist attacks throughout the world, many fear a rise in so-called Islamic extremism. Ethno-populists have used this fear to demonize Muslim migrants, depicting them as threats. In fact, they are often victims of terrorism and other forms of brutality.
Government leaders have the responsibility to speak out against such scapegoating and make the case for openness and compassion. They should also provide responsible policy solutions to manage the integration of immigrants.
Countries like France and Germany should learn from Canada’s success in forging an inclusive identity. Yet Canada, like these other countries, should also do more to protect Muslims within its borders, whether immigrants or not.