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October 9, 2015

Harper the Genteel Bigot

Reuel S. Amdur

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In a recent response to a reporter's question, Stephen Harper referred insidiously to "old-stock Canadians." Whether or not he was being openly racist, the message to the subconscious was just that. It's us versus them. More about this in a bit, but first let's look at the context in which his remark was made.

When Harper was asked about removing health care coverage from some new arrivals, he replied, “The only time we’ve removed it is where we have clearly bogus refugee claimants who have been refused and turned down.  We do not offer them a better care plan than the ordinary Canadian can receive.”  

Then he went on, “I think that’s something that most new and existing and old-stock Canadians agree with.”  To begin, without going into a deeper analysis, it is quite simply a lie.  A court found the denial of health care to be “cruel and unusual,” and the denial affects not just those who have had a claim lost but others as well, for example clients from so-called safe countries, countries like Hungary and Mexico.  

Someone fleeing criminal cartels in Mexico is apparently a bogus refugee, as is a Roma fleeing attacks by racist thugs in Hungary.

So let’s dig a bit deeper.  

He talks about “clearly bogus refugee claimants who have been refused and turned down.”  Our system apparently makes no mistakes.  But Samsu Mia, a failed claimant, was finally able to stay in Canada and bring his family, after the immigration judge found that his emotional, physical, and financial abuse that he suffered at the hands of a Bangladeshi diplomat was just a worker-employer conflict.  “Clearly bogus?”  

Then there is the lie that our refugee health care program offers benefits beyond what “the ordinary Canadian can receive.”  The benefits are comparable to what a Canadian in receipt of social assistance is entitled.  

The niqab controversy is part of the same picture.  Us versus them.  My symbols trump your symbols.  Zumera Ishaq cherishes her niqab, which has a fundamental religious importance for her.  Some have argued that Islam does not require the wearing of the niqab, but that argument is irrelevant.  Her Islam does.  She sees no conflict between the symbolism of the niqab and that of the citizenship ceremony.  Harper does.  So what?  I’ll tell you what.

No matter that Harper’s legal effort to keep Ishaq from being granted at a citizenship ceremony was so absurd that the judges hearing the case did not even need to take the time to reflect on the question.  They unanimously turned it down right then and there from the bench.  

But now Harper has just what he wants and will continue dragging the matter out by appealing to the Supreme Court.  It is not to the Supreme Court that he wants to appeal.  Rather, he wants something that appeals at some level—openly or subconsciously—to the “old-stock Canadians.”  He is milking this decision for all it is worth, to keep the us versus them alive.  It appears that it has become an important factor in his drive to win.

One of Crosby’s messages that helped the British Tories was “It is not racist to impose limits on immigration.”    

Harper tells us that we need to be careful because terrorists might sneak in with genuine refugees.  Angela Merkel, the conservative German prime minister, is admitting 800,000 refugees.  She is holding the door open.  She is defying the racists.  No dog whistle there.  What would be happening in Europe if Harper were the German prime minister?

Perhaps Justin Trudeau has said it best.  “Mr. Harper is yet again highlighting that he doesn’t believe that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, and that there are different categories of Canadian.  The fact that he is once again choosing to divide Canadians and to use fear in his politics simply isn’t worthy of a prime minister of Canada.”  Trudeau’s syntax is a bit off, but his sentiment is dead on.

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