Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Harper Government's Implicit Bigotry

The actions of the HarperCon$ in handling Canadians who are stuck abroad for one reason or another carry the seeds in them of a rising tide of conservative prejudice against anyone who doesn't subscribe to their narrowly defined sense of norms.

First up is this editorial from Embassy Mag (sorry, it's a sign-in site - but it is free).

The second lesson is about the lack of political concern for Canada's reputation in dealing with these matters. The treatment of Ms. Mohamud combined with other recent cases strongly suggests to the world that non-white and Muslim Canadians do not get the same attention from Ottawa as white native-born Canadians.

Stephen Harper and three of his ministers—Jason Kenney, Lawrence Cannon and Peter Van Loan—may not realize the seriousness of this problem. But this perception of institutional racism is a smoldering coal that, if left unchecked, runs the risk of igniting more than negative perceptions.

Along with certain overly heavy handed changes to our policies with respect to requiring Visas, the Harper government has taken a particularly heavy-handed approach to dealing with Canadians abroad, and visitors coming to Canada. The excuses they have provided to date seem at best inadequate.

It's time to bring the tough talk to an end. Canadians in trouble don't need to be lectured by the prime minister. And immigrant and refugee applicants don't need ministers to constantly complain about "queue jumpers." If the leaders set a tone of compassion, rather than the hardball language popular in Cabinet today, the world might not be so tempted to think us racist.

But then, when you combine that picture with the implications of recent changes to the "approved language" for DFAIT, it gets a whole lot uglier:

"The broader focus [of gender equality] certainly does include an understanding of the importance of the rights of the GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] community. I think that there is a real concern about whether or not those rights are going to have less of a focus from the Canadian government perspective from that change," said Lindsay Mossman.

"[Equality of men and women] is language that was used in development circles years ago—language has progressed for reasons and moved forward and the Canadian government doesn't seem to be reflecting that in its language."

Mr. Cannon told Embassy on July 30 that some of the language changes were semantics, but said others reflected a change in policy. He didn't say which terms indicated a policy shift.

If the terminology does mean a change to government policy, it's a change that matters when you step outside Canada to look at how other countries treat gay and lesbian people, say advocates.

"On the ground, if the Ugandan Gay and Lesbian Association asks for some money to hold a workshop or something, [Canada] still could sponsor it, but we couldn't use our gender priorities as a justification. We'd have to just sponsor it on its own. Because that is less clearly about equality between men and women," Mr. Brown said.

Brown says the change at CIDA happened about a year ago. He believes the language shift indicates changing government policy because it has hit two departments.

Frankly, I think Cannon, like his master is being a little bit of a weasel when he tries to be evasive about what the various changes represent. Canada's government is trying to reinstate the kind of institutional bigotry that was commonplace through the first part of the 20th Century and before. It is a sad statement indeed that they either do not understand this, or have not managed to move beyond that period of time themselves.

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