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Are Canadians Becoming More Racist? This Week’s Election Proved the Opposite

“Citizens ‘don’t feel safe’ as hate fills Edmonton’s streets,” proclaimed the Toronto Star on April 20, in reference to a gathering of Albertan white supremacists—one of at least two that occurred that month. In the lead paragraph, Star reporter Omar Mosleh grimly noted the ironic nature of a venue, Edmonton’s Churchill Square, “a place named after a world leader instrumental in defeating the Nazis.” The article was widely shared on progressive social media, where tales of Canada’s supposed slide into neo-Nazi extremism are now common currency.

But for anyone who looked past the headline, a mere glance at the accompanying photo showed the underwhelming totality of Edmonton’s allegedly epic hate-fest: about a dozen random locals, surrounded by a larger number of counter-protestors and curious onlookers, plus a sizeable detachment of police officers keeping order. Even if one accepts the Star’s generous tally of right-wing protestors at the pictured event—“about 15 people”—the conceit that “hate fills Edmonton’s streets” is ludicrous. There aren’t enough haters here to fill a parking spot.

The fact that such an article could appear in Canada’s biggest newspaper helps explain the hysterical tone suffusing our just-concluded federal election campaign, in which Justin Trudeau’s incumbent Liberals lost the popular vote to the opposition Conservatives, and got knocked down to minority Parliamentary status. As I wrote recently in Foreign Policy magazine, many of the big substantive issues that traditionally have divided Canadians—separatism, free trade, inter-provincial payments—weren’t on the table during this election cycle. And so much of the campaign discourse devolved into vacuous fearmongering.

The Liberals, in particular, fell back on the ludicrous claim that a Conservative government would roll back abortion and gay marriage while making common cause with fringe racists. In what arguably constitutes the absolute low point of the campaign, an advisor to Trudeau offered a widely panned Tweet suggesting that a photo of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer shaking hands with an outdoor worker wearing standard reflective work attire was a dog whistle to racists. How easy it was for Liberal supporters to forget that, just weeks earlier, it had been Trudeau, not Scheer, who was seen on a 1990s-era rafting video decked out in blackface, playing the part of Jim the slave in an apparent re-enactment of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (This marked at least the third documented instance of Trudeau in blackface, though the Prime Minister himself says he simply cannot remember how many times he has done this.)

Trudeau came to power in 2015 as a unifying left-centrist. During the first half of his mandate, he applied an admirably steady hand while guiding Canada through a potentially catastrophic trade crisis with the United States, and most observers (including me) had him as a shoe-in for easy re-election. But as the months passed, Trudeau and his advisors became seduced by the culture wars, and their postures on such issues as “toxic masculinity” and gender expression became increasingly indistinguishable from those of campus activists.

This in turn opened Trudeau up to charges of hypocrisy when his political moves—being governed, as with all politicians, by the art of the possible—were judged according to the unforgiving, absolutist standards of the social-justice puritanism he was now preaching. Trudeau sang from the environmentalist hymn book, but spent US$4-billion on an oil pipeline (earning him a rebuke from Greta Thunberg). He promised to bring about “reconciliation” with Indigenous people, but then fired his Indigenous Justice Minister when she (rightly) blocked his plans to coddle a politically influential engineering firm facing criminal charges. He made a spectacle of himself as a (literally) dancing mascot of multiculturalism, but mostly stared at his shoes when asked about provincial legislation that would ban Quebec civil-service workers from wearing visible religious attire.

Throughout it all, the main tactic that Liberals had to deflect negative attention was to insist that the greater threat to tolerant Canadian values lay with the Conservatives. (In one preposterous gambit, Trudeau’s immigration minister even cited the issue of Trudeau’s blackface to attack Scheer, affecting indignation that “the Conservative leader would bring up blackface to kick off a national debate without acknowledging real issues of systemic racism in Canada.”) And in this project, Trudeau found a willing ally in a national (and international) media corps that, having spent the last three years reporting on the genuinely racist pronouncements of U.S. President Donald Trump, was searching the political skies for signs that Trumpian xenophobia was metastasizing north of the border.

From a partisan perspective, yesterday’s election result seemed to disappoint almost everyone. The Liberals were knocked down to a minority. The Conservatives lost their shot at governing, despite facing a weakened, scandal-plagued PM. The left-of-Liberal New Democratic Party (NDP) and Greens both failed to make the quantum leap that some polls had predicted. Only the Bloc Québécois (BQ), a regional separatist party once given up for dead, had reason to pop a champagne bottle or two.

But the big story, for anyone who took seriously the pre-election social panic over allegedly epidemic levels of Canadian hate and bigotry, was that the only well-known party that offered anything close to an anti-immigrant agenda, Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party, got just 2% of the vote. Canada’s per-capita immigration rate is among the highest in the developed world, and 98% of voters supported parties which pledged to keep it that way.

Given that Canada is ranked as the world’s fourth most accepting country for immigrants, this should not be surprising to objective observers who live outside Canada’s progressive media bubble. (The global rankings have us just below Iceland, New Zealand and, oddly, Rwanda.) None of the major political parties said they would upset the status quo, by which Canada immigrates about 0.7% of its population every year. (The BQ’s critique of immigration policy was based on questions of regional allocation and French-language skills, not total numbers). Even Bernier’s more nativist PPC—dismissed as a fringe party by many—pledged to admit 150,000 immigrants per year, half of the current total, but still a level that would rank Canada respectably among OECD countries on per-capita intake.

Any Canadian who supported a truly xenophobic approach to immigration would have had to cast their vote for an even more obscure party, such as Christian Heritage Party or the Canadian Nationalists, which, taken together, attracted fewer than 20,000 of the 17.9-million total votes cast—or about one vote per thousand.

A few years back, when Trump was freshly elected and Trudeau still had his woke-warrior sheen, numerous pundits gushed about the lessons in tolerance that Canada supposedly had on offer for the rest of the world. But for the most part, it comes down to the accident of geography: Since Canada is physically isolated from large-scale land-based migrations, we aren’t beset by the uncontrolled flows that have sparked xenophobic ire in the United States and Europe. Moreover, as Jonathan Tepperman documented in his 2016 book The Fix: How Nations Survive and Thrive in a World in Decline, our system of selecting immigrants “primarily on the basis of what they could contribute to the Canadian economy—instead of what they looked like or whether they already had family in the country—[has yielded] impressive material dividends that benefited everyone.”

But this good news often is hidden: We have all been conditioned by U.S. and European media to identify immigration as a defining cleft issue between left and right. And so the lack of any real anti-immigrant constituency in Canada has created a sense of cognitive dissonance. Even after an election in which the People’s Party won exactly zero seats, a Globe & Mail columnist now warns us that the results should not be taken as “a definitive repudiation of right-wing populism,” since Bernier “was so bad at actually trying to advance that cause (an odd claim to make given Bernier’s surprise inclusion in the most widely watched debate).

Of course, Canada is a country of more than 37-million people. So it’s bound to have a few bigots—some of whom made cameo appearances during this campaign. This included yokels who made racist comments to NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, a turbaned Sikh. But even this became a good-news story, as Singh’s lucid and humane response to these scattered episodes went viral, and became a powerful earned-media signal booster for his own political brand. (Indeed, there are now enough of these videos online that they arguably constitute a new social-media genre that might be dubbed Canadian Tolerance Porn.) And when a Syrian restaurant in Toronto closed down “permanently” due to racist threats arising from a confrontation at a political event, the Liberals made a point of serving the restaurant’s food to its journalistic retinue. As of last reports, the restaurant is now back in business.

Perhaps the most powerful rebuke to fearmongering is the array of faces featured on the election signs now being picked up from lawns all over Canada. All of the major parties featured a wide diversity of candidates—including the conservative parties. In the Toronto riding of Scarborough North, where my daughter plays hockey, for instance, the race included (a) Shaun Chen, the son of Hakka Chinese immigrants, (b) Yan Chen, a Chinese-Canadian legal advocate, (c) Jude Guerrier, an immigrant from Haiti, (d) David Kong, a Chinese-Canadian immigrant and radio commentator, and (e) Avery Velez, a self-described “non-binary trans, queer, indigenous, activist, feminist, and Newfoundlander.” Can you guess which one of these candidates ran for Bernier’s PPC? (The correct answer may be found here.)

But my favourite example comes courtesy of the PPC candidate in my riding, whose campaign signs were spray-painted “Fuck Off Nazi Scum” by Antifa supporters. Just a few years ago, one might imagine that the presence of such graffiti really might signal a political candidate with genuinely fascistic tendencies. But in 2019, we know better. The PPC candidate in question, Tara Dos Remedios, is a Sri Lankan-born woman who arrived in Canada as a refugee. If this woman of colour is what passes for a “Nazi” in 2019, then Canada is surely one of the luckiest nations on the planet.


Jonathan Kay is Canadian Editor of Quillette, and Tweets at @jonkay.

Featured image: Election signage in the Toronto riding of Scarborough North.

Correction: This article was corrected on October 29, 2019, to clarify that Toronto Star reporter Omar Mosleh’s April 20 article contained information relating to two separate Edmonton rallies that occurred in April, 2019. The uncorrected version of this article incorrectly indicated that a photo taken at one event had been taken at the other.  


  1. It’s disappointing that this article pretends that Canada’s problems with racism are tiny in comparison with the “real ones” in the US.

    The “problems” in the US are tiny and fake, too.

  2. “earning him a rebukefrom Greta Thunberg” Heaven’s to Betsy!

    Seriously a rebuke from a child. Did she threaten to hold her breath?

    The more one is fixated and unable to see past race, the more one feels entitled to labeling racists. To the author of this article and his ilk there are no individuals, everyone is defined by their skin color. Quite sad actually that so many are unable to see past race and drill down to the real person beyond the epidermis. Ironic how the author’s arcane notions about humanity are considered progressive. One day perhaps this author and those like him will one day realize that people are individuals to be judged on the content of their character (Someone else once made that observation or in language the author could understand, “so said some black guy.”)

  3. … the last three years reporting on the genuinely racist pronouncements of U.S. President Donald Trump …

    He’s living inside your head, isn’t he, Mr. Kay. You couldn’t make this article entirely about Canada.

  4. Wait, didn’t they just re-elect that blackface guy? That seems kind of racist.

  5. The article opens with a quote about ‘Edmonton citizens not being safe because of a small rally of white racists’

    The irony is that Edmonton is one of the most crime ridden places in Canada…because of third world immigration.

    Canadians have a very good reason to oppose immigration on the scale they are seeing, and it has fuck all to do with ‘racism’.

  6. To be fair, that was in 2001 when many Canadians routinely wore blackface because the systems and institutions encouraged it. You couldn’t walk more than 5 metres without bumping into blackfacer. The offensiveness of it was unknown back then because 2001 was a very, very long time ago, practically 1955. And Trudeau was a young person as well; 29 is practically teenaged. Let’s not ignore Trudeau was paying blacks a compliment, as we’ve been told by his allies.

    Anyway, congratulations to North America’s first blackface national leader. A grand achievement for the people of blackface. And the people of banana pants, who somehow have been overshadowed, if not erased, from this event.

  7. Maybe the U.S. can follow suit and elect a faux Indian.

  8. Perhaps Canada isn’t, but what of the NDP and the mass media?

    The NDP lost 15 seats, a drop of 38.5%. That’s a catastrophe. Yet, as I watched Global News’ live stream, I heard many pundits speculating whether or not Sheer should retain Tory party leadership despite increasing his Party’s seats by a bit more than 27%. Global Times informs me that 63% of Canadians think he ought to resign.

    And NDP’s Singh? No speculation made of his survival. He is now spun to be the kingmaker apparent; snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. I can’t think of a party leader in the developed world who suffers such a set back at the polls yet keeps his position. This is more common of third-world parties aligned to (controlled by) a dynastic family like India’s Congress Party to the Nehru-Gandhi family. The same Global News poll tells me 66% of Canadians think Singh ought to stay on as party leader. Maybe they enjoy witnessing election collapses. Perhaps being brown and turban wearing protects one from the fate of those not so privileged and who must suffer the consequences of their leadership failings.

  9. But the big story, for anyone who took seriously the pre-election social panic over allegedly epidemic levels of Canadian hate and bigotry, was that the only well-known party that offered anything close to an anti-immigrant agenda, Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party, got just 2% of the vote.

    Mr. Kay, come now, must we continuously prostitute the pervading nativist beliefs/policies, with which many hold, to the cold vulgarity of an ephemeral social rectitude? Surely, this has become tiresome for most everyone, or at least, I would like to think as much.

    And, yet, for reasons that are not at all clear, the article seems to grant an unwarranted parity of reasoning, such that any position mimicking a pro-nativist posture is, by analogy, a hateful and/or bigoted sentiment; or so, one assumes. Why any thinking person would reflexively dismiss legitimate (read ‘empirical’) concerns - such as the socioeconomic and/or social capital effects of a liberal immigration policy (see Eric Weinstein & Robert Putnam, respectively) - is no less mysterious, I must confess.

    What is clear, however, is that perpetually conflating the two (nativism & bigotry), is to advance a fraudulent imposition of truth. Reasonable people should be able to appreciate that, merely, fostering/promoting nativistic sympathies/policies is not a corollary of hate/bigotry. That simply does not follow.

    While it can certainly be argued (persuasively, it should be said) that nativism is, on many points, contiguous to a spectrum of behavior near universally recognized as “immoral” (bigotry, racism, etc.); acts of divination notwithstanding, to simply impute uncharitable motivation(s) that is/are grounded on the contemporary criterion of bigotry, racism, and the like is an act of punditry so utterly confounded, it isn’t (as I’ve previously noted – and no, I’m not above quoting myself) even sophistry. It’s just bullshit.

    Just happened upon this little jewel and it seems relevant to the issue at hand

  10. “genuinely racist pronouncements” of Trump. Links to article with these whoppers;

    In 1973!? lol…employees said that they were told to tell African Americans there were no vacancies and that they were only allowed to rent to “Jews and Executives”…but 2 paragraphs earlier the scoffing harumptastic author of the piece says Trump is racist and bigoted against…Jews? Wait…what?

    Further down in the article they talk about how Trumps lawyer Roy Cohn of McCarthy fame and they give a funny aside about how the “alleged” Communists…alleged. Funny that.

    The next one (from 1983) is Trump allegedly (fun isn’t it?) told the construction manager to get rid of the braille on the elevator cab interiors…and is quoted second hand in saying “they won’t live in this building”. Man…That sure sounds racist. I’m super duper serial impressed with the breadth and depth of this article and all the “racism” shown by Trump.

    Then we get to the Central Park 5. Trump thought they should be executed, and the menarching author quotes one of the kids who breathlessly exclaims Trump said something bad about us and “we hadn’t even started the trial”…now THAT is a standard. Just like all the Liberals, like Kay, refrained from making any comments before the Zimmerman trial, or the Freddie Gray trial, or the Michael Brown trial…or the smirking white kid…wait there was no trial but there were more people publicly claiming to know what was in the kids mind while some raging lunatic of a “war hero” was agitating in his face (boldly told to do so by some fine upstanding brothers…just beyond the camera’s sight…amazingly enough).

    Then they pull out all the stops with how racist Trump is…the “birther” controversy. We get a firsthand account from Seth Meyers the super duper funny guy from SNL and some late night show. They giggle like little school girls about how they roasted Trump at the Correspondents dinner…that turned out real well didn’t it funny man.

    Boy oh boy how did Trump do it? I mean with all these racist pronouncements he’s made since 1973, backed up so solidly from third and fourth hand witnesses (and comedians too!) that clearly show Trump’s a racist.

    You can effectively stop reading all from Kay (already did many years ago) right from the start.

    Oh Canada.

  11. This is a relatively recent import into more general Anglo culture of an American taboo.

    That American taboo, born out of the USA’s unique racial history, had not yet widely made its way into Canadian society at the time. It is still not accepted as a taboo in French Canadian society, anymore than it is in European society, which finds it baffling. Trudeau went to high school in a French Canadian institution, I am sure it never came up.

    A candidate for the Greens admitted he had worn it in a comedy sketch on the CBC, the bastion of Canadian politically correct media, at least as late as the late 80s, early 90s (he played Gandhi). It had not yet been accepted as taboo in Anglo Canadian society.

    The photograph of Trudeau dressed as Aladdin in blackface showed him flanked by two Sikhs, who said they saw nothing offensive in it.

    Black and brown people from non-American-influenced cultures also see nothing offensive about it, and those are most of the Blacks in Canada, as they will, and did, tell us.

    Besides the earliest incident, the other ones were Trudeau dressing up in what he considered as glamorous and exotic, at a time when no one had thought up “cultural appropriation”.

    Trudeau’s problem is his arrogant self-righteousness, not racism, and he got hoist by his own petard.

    He should have learned his karmic lesson, but instead doubled down on the wokeness, blaming his “privilege”.

  12. They need to study how the effect of wearing blackface as youth affects your propensity to call your political opponent “racist”. Case in point, our wonderful VA governor Blackface Northam run an absolutely ugly political ad against his opponent Ed Gillespie, where some guy in truck was running off the road brown kids.

  13. Canadians are clearly becoming more race obsessed, at least in the media bubble. That we can’t talk about immigration without imposing racial connotations and throwing insinuations at anyone advocating anything less than open borders is a sure sign. What gets lost in the noise of all these old stock Canadians virtue signalling over each other is that some immigrants came to Canada because they preferred it to their home country, and do not want to see Canada fundamentally transformed by mass immigration. Some people don’t want the country ruined just because other people didn’t realise they were supposed to integrate.

  14. Perhaps. Though selective amnesia may be at play presently, in particular by those aligned to the Liberal Party - kind of like how Democratic Virginia Governor Ralph Northam caught grief for a short while but evaded any consequence once the political calculations were done and Democrats realised the seat would fall into Republican hands. Issue dropped. Nothing to see here.

    In 1992 Ontario’s Lt Governor made a stink about a Lion’s Club performing blackface minstrel shows. This is all pre-internet and digitalisation, so how widely was this covered, I don’t know. Here’s a list of blackface in Canada.

    Still, I found this comment of the controversy.

    The commentator mentions residents of this small town, a “monochromatic community” “in darkest southwestern Ontario” had been telling the local Lions club “not to [do so] for years [prior to 1992]”. How was it that these yokels got the message a decade or so before Trudeau? He had the benefit of being reared and educated in the centre of all things - a cosmopolitan through and through - amongst some of the most liberal of people including his own family - his father was the one who introduced multiculturalism to Canadian politics to resolve the crisis with Quebec.

    Perhaps backwater Canadians are more enlightened than their more cosmopolitan compatriots.

    Personally, I take a more nuanced approach to the issue. For example, I have no problem with a person dressing and darkening up as Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, or other individuals, either to praise or ridicule, whether for a theatrical performance or simply as a Halloween costume. Which is why for Halloween I’ll be dressing as blackface Trudeau - a Justin mask with shoe polish smeared on it. I take a dimmer view of a person who dresses as a generic representation of an entire people, which is what the minstrel shows were about.

    As for Europe, as a (former) European, I knew about the controversy of blackface in the late '80s. I certainly recall the hullabaloo over Zwarte Piet in the '90s.

    (Use google translate if you like.)

    Even in unwoke Asia, where I saw Darkie toothpaste on the shops’ shelves as a lad, the English name was changed to Darlie in 2009… oopsie … I meant to type 1989. So, (Anglophone) Hong Kong was more woke than Trudeau by 12 years - the Chinese name, meaning “black man’s toothpaste” remained unchanged.

  15. @Justme @gagamba, I was already receiving a very woke education in Montreal in 2001, albeit at an anglophone elementary school, and a couple of years later in high school racial issues were harped on constantly. I can’t imagine a teacher being insulated from this in the even more woke city of Vancouver. Particularly one from such a family. As for the American nature of the blackface issue, the Canadian education system has been sensitive to American issues for as long as I can remember. Even in my francophone, immigrant household American culture seeped in.

    It doesn’t seem surprising that Sihks in attendance would not be offended, because blackface has not historically been used to mock Sikhs and as recent immigrants they wouldn’t be sensitive to historically-based slights against a very different demographic. Simply having darker skin does not mean you share the history and associated cultural sensitivities of every other darker skinned people.

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