In the 1970s, Lincoln Alexander fought the caucus of the Progressive Conservative Party. Mr. Alexander fought them because as a Black man, he wanted to support anti-hate speech legislation. His party, the Progressive Conservative Party, didn’t like the legislation because they felt it would curtain both the concept of the freedom of speech and the individual rights of all Canadians. So Lincoln Alexander asked a question: “Are you saying that you can call my son or daughter a nigger and that is free speech?”
In a similar fashion, as a proud Canadian of Caribbean heritage, I need to ask a similar question of Maxime Bernier and Rex Murphy: “do you feel that the recognition of various racial problems in Canada also exacerbates those problems?”. Should we close our eyes if we know that the actions of government will have a negative effect on particular minorities? In my mind, recognizing that government actions can be uneven allows us the freedom to improve the lives and lot of all Canadians. For, if you cannot talk about the problem, how can you solve it.
It is true that Maxime Bernier, when he was Minister of State for Small Business, Tourism and Agriculture, choose a different path. Way back in 2013, when Maxime Bernier was a Minister, the Canadian Correctional Ombudsman – Howard Sapers – said that many policy changes presented by the government that he was a part of would have a negative cumulative impact on “aboriginal Canadians and visible minority Canadians” who were behind bars. At that time, Maxime Bernier did not make a public pronouncement saying that government policy should recognize the problems that their policies would create. Nor did he say that we should attempt to be colour blind. The Honourable Maxime Bernier didn’t make a speech or resign in protest to ensure that the system that he was a part of would not disadvantage a community or cultural group.
Consequently, while I find the use of exclusionary language – like mansplaining or privilege – to be abhorrent and the behaviour of Celina Caesar-Chavannes and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen to be less than admirable, it is hard to take the criticisms of Maxime Bernier and others seriously. It’s easy to see that governments in Canada can do better. Just look at the numbers. HIV rates among Saskatchewan on reserve communities are 11 times higher than the population a whole. While, the 4% of Canadians population which is Aboriginal, according to the 2006 Census, makes up nearly 21% of the Tuberculosis Cases that Canada had in 2008. As it is, the system makes a variety of choices which don’t benefit all Canadians equally. Why not acknowledge that truth?
I don’t blame Maxime Bernier and Rex Murphy. They can’t change their skin colour. So they don’t know what it feels like to go into a new store or town and to be scrutinized because of one’s skin. As a Black Canadian, whether I wear a suit or not, whether I am driving or walking, I know that look. While my daughter has a positive view of police services, she knows that I am hyperaware of the police. For while, I have had good experiences with the RCMP, Toronto or Calgary Police Services, I know the stories of Pierre Coriolan, Donald Marshall or the countless stories of other persons of colour. I know about “Midnight Rides” where police officers dumped Aboriginal People outside city limits.
My parents and friends saw the rise of the Edmund Burke Society, Nationalist Party of Canada, Western Guard Party and the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. My Jewish friends and I have discussed the effects of Ernst Zündel and Paul Fromm. In that same vein, I want a government who will defend people’s right to choose to wear tichels, kippahs, payot, hijabs, turbans, crucifixes, kirpans and snoods. Maxime Bernier may not understand that sometimes protecting the Other is important to ensure their equality; but as a man of Afro-Caribbean Heritage, I know how important it is.
Presently, in Alberta, the province which I reside, the only boiled water advisories which affect people’s water supply are on Aboriginal Reserves. That same reality is only too often repeated across our great country. When in government, Maxime Bernier did not publically call for a change. Nor has his change in bench status adjusted his tune. Maxime Bernier has said that he believes that all people should be judged on the content of their character. If that was true, one would think that he would fight for equal services for all. However, Mr. Bernier has not publicly fought for access to clean drinking water for all. He has not publicly fought to reduce the rates of communicable diseases on reserves. Given that there is no evidence that Mr. Bernier has fought in public for Others, we know he is not prepared to fight for the Other. So how can Mr. Bernier use the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr when he is not prepared to fight like the great chaplain?
In fact, since he became a Member of Parliament since 2006, the Hon. Maxime Bernier has only sponsored four bills: a bill to amend the Competition act, the Trademark act, the Industry Act and the Settlement of International Investment Disputes Act. Consequently, if Mr. Bernier would have us believe that he wishes to live in a colour blind world, he would start by listening and acting for Others and not just being offended when someone criticizes his own behaviour.