On the night of Donald Trump’s election, Canada’s immigration website crashed from an overload of traffic. Data from Google Trends also suggests that searches for “move to Canada” spiked significantly during the night as Trump victories unfolded. On Twitter, Canadians shared an image of Bugs Bunny sawing the U.S. off the continent, and speculated about whether the Canada Goose might decide not to migrate south for the winter.
Yet Canada is not immune from the emotional plague of white nationalism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism that helped fuel Trump’s rise and that has found newfound freedom to terrorize since his election. The Great White North may not be the haven from the “alt-right” that it is, well, “trumped up” to be. Recent developments in Canadian politics and a spike in hate crimes here suggest a darker reality than the philo-Canadian myth suggests.
In the days following Trump’s election, Canada saw a spate of vandalism, hate speech and pamphleteering directed against Jews and other minorities.
In Toronto, posters appeared urging white people to unite against multiculturalism and to join the “alt-right.” In Ottawa, the nation’s capital, a rabbi woke up to find a swastika and “kike” spray-painted on her house’s front door. A mosque, a Jewish community center, and a church with a black pastor were spray-painted with racist graffiti on November 19, after two synagogues were defaced with anti-Semitic messages earlier that week.
In Richmond, British Columbia, a municipality in the Greater Vancouver Area with a large Chinese population, residents received a pamphlet in the mail calling on white people to reclaim their rights from their Chinese usurpers by “signing up with the alt-right.”
The mayor of Hamilton, Ontario, a city struggling to reduce its high rate of hate crimes, recently tried to ban Trump hats after a city councilor came to work wearing one.
Perhaps most worrisome is the arrival of an allegedly extreme anti-refugee group called “the Soldiers of Odin” (I kid you not) in Edmonton, Hamilton, Saskatoon and Vancouver. SOO was born in Finland in October 2015 out of a perceived need to protect Finnish women and children from refugees and immigrants. The Canadian group claims they are not racists, despite evidence from the private Facebook page of the international SOO showing Nazi sympathies and racist attitudes among their high-ranking leadership, as uncovered by Finnish news site Yle.
Maclean’s, Canada’s premier news magazine, recently ran the chilling headline, “Donald Trump could happen in Canada. It’s already begun.” The piece was chiefly inspired by Kellie Leitch, a contender for the leadership of Canada’s version of the GOP, the popular Conservative Party that held power for eight years before being ousted last October by Justin Trudeau. The day after Trump’s election, Leitch emailed her supporters that Trump bears “an exciting message we need to hear in Canada as well.”
Leitch is well known in Canada for supporting a “Canadian values” test to be given to new immigrants, and for championing the Conservative Party’s controversial “barbaric cultural practices hotline,” a proposal that coincided with the 2015 election season and a spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes. She is also on record supporting new fossil fuels infrastructure.
Like Trump, Leitch is painting herself as anti-elitist, though tellingly she told the CBC that she doesn’t define “elite” in terms of money or power, but rather as “an individual who is out of touch and seems to think they know better what how (sic) someone should think.” The strain of Trumpian resentment and anti-progressivism speaks for itself here. Though Leitch’s campaign is already being called “bizarre” by some, she is widely thought to be first in line to lead the Conservative Party.
The truth is that there is a virulent strain of white nationalism and racism hiding behind Canada’s polite facade. Last year the CBC temporarily closed all online comments on stories featuring aboriginal people because of the “staggering number of hateful and vitriolic comments” posted. In August the premier of Saskatchewan was forced to issue a plea for an end to hate speech following the second-degree murder of an aboriginal man on a farm. As a result, his own Facebook page was flooded with racist messages.
So, my American friends yearning to breathe free, Canada may not be the refuge you seek. The truth is that the fight we wage is not against Trump or his supporters, but against toxic habits of thought that haunt us everywhere. This fight is global, and there is nowhere to run to.
Matthew Gindin is a freelance writer, journalist and lecturer located in Vancouver, BC. He has been published in the Forward, Tikkun, All That Is Interesting, and elsewhere, and regularly writes for the Jewish Independent. He can be found on Medium and Twitter, and blogs at “Seeking Her Voice.”
Matthew Gindin is a journalist, educator and freelance writer located in Vancouver, BC. He is the Pacific Correspondent for the Canadian Jewish News, writes regularly for the Forward and the Jewish Independent and has been published in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Religion Dispatches, Kveller, Situate Magazine, and elsewhere. He also writes on Medium from time to time.