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November 7, 2015

Joseph Boyden shames Harper for using the niqab as a race bait

The Canadian Charger

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Best-selling author Joseph Boyden, whose novels such as Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce, portray First Nations characters and explore Canada's hidden and painful history, said he felt he had to speak up against what he characterized as Stephen Harper's race-baiting during the recent Canadian federal election.

When CBC interviewer Wendy Mesley pointed out to Mr. Boyden that when he endorsed Justin Trudeau, he accused Stephen Harper of using the niqab as a race bait, Mr. Boyden said it was.

“Canada can't fall for this politics of divisiveness. Canada can't fall into this politics of “them vs. us,” Mr. Boyden said.

Of Irish, Scottish and Anishainaabe heritage, Mr. Boyden, who grew up in Willowdale, North York, Ontario, said he has watched this kind of race-baiting in Canada for so long, especially with First Nations; but then when it opens up into immigrants and who should wear what, it was a call to arms.

“I should not be allowed to wear my niqab to a swearing in ceremony even though my identity is embedded beforehand. What happens to freedom of religion, of culture of choice? And when I watched these kinds of actions and these kinds of politics I was really, really upset, so I had to speak out; I had to.”

Not willing to accept Mr. Boyden's message, Ms. Mesley said: “But race-baiting, hatred; is it hatred or is it fear, fear of change?”

Mr. Boyden responded that he's always argued and told people that fear and hatred are one in the same.

“Hatred stems from fear.”

Moreover, he intimated that Mr. Harper was well aware of what he was doing when he decided to make wedge issues such as the niqab a focus of his election platform.

“Stephen Harper is an incredibly smart man; there's no question. But he knows dog whistle politics. He knows when you blow the dog whistle. Tell me that the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act and a hotline to report on your neighbour is not race-baiting. It is dog whistle politics through a microphone; it's not even a dog whistle anymore.”

Still not willing to concede that Mr. Harper's message was race-baiting, Ms. Mesley continued to espouse her belief that it was about fear of change – not necessarily race-baiting – and she intimated that Canadians are not the only ones dealing with these issues, as though that somehow justifies Mr. Harper's conduct. At the same time she was making an effort to soften Mr. Harper's message – what could be characterized as massaging the truth.

“Do you think there's a solution? We've seen these debates in Europe and people are afraid of change,” Ms. Mesley said.

Mr. Boyden agreed that people are afraid of change, and he added that those in the in the know know that in 20 or 30 or 40 years North America will no longer be a country where the white people are the majority; but the minorities are the majority. He said this is coming and this is where the Tea Party is coming from in America, but Canada shouldn't go this way.

“They're saying we're scared of change and we must put the brakes on it and I saw the Conservative campaign try to step into that territory, and very poorly; and we have to expect that this is a country, I call it a country of a big loud family, our country of Canada, a country where everyone belongs at the table. Somebody said beautifully that when you have so much you don't build higher fences; you build a bigger table. And that's my Canada; that's the Canada I grew up in. I'm one of 11 kids and you don't push somebody away or say no to somebody: you invite and that's what Canada is.

Tellingly, even though he is speaking out, Mr. Boyden said he – and he's not alone – felt some concern about speaking out against Harper government policies.

“A week ago when I decided to speak out, I thought I was doing something dangerous. When I was against the status quo, I felt very uncomfortable; and I felt maybe I shouldn't speak and that's what made me push harder. A week ago there was a different government and many of my friends were saying this is becoming a place where to speak your mind is a dangerous place. It made me have to speak out even stronger.”

Although he acknowledged that not everything is rosy: “We have for example water boil advisories on small reserves in the north of Canada - not for six months or a year, but for 20 years - and nothing has been done about that,” Mr. Boyden said. But he still believes that the Canada he knows and grew up in as a mixed-race person is inclusive.

Continuing to express a more complaisant view of the status quo, Ms. Mesley said: “But is that going to change?”

Mr. Boyden said he thinks it will change because there is a new Prime Minister whose administration wants it to change; and First Nations want it to, and he believes Canadians are getting a better and better understanding of some of these situations. Moreover, he said First Nations peoples participated in this election as they've never done before in the history of Canada.

“Indigenous voter turnout was the highest ever; they were running out of ballots on some reserves, it was so high.”

Mr. Boyden said a native elder told him before he passed that he has to speak for people who can't and this message echoed exactly with his father's message, when he passed when Mr. Boyden was eight.

His father said: “Joseph never allows a bully - no matter how big that bully is - to hurt the people you love.”

Mr. Boyden said he spoke from his heart, and in a way that was emotional, but he also I knew he had the logic to back it up.

“I had to speak for those who weren't able to and that's the case for a lot of Canadians.  We're very polite compared to Americans. In American politics, during an election season, all gloves are off. In Canada, I was amazed at how people were almost accepting some of these more virulent, angry and divisive kind of strategies and I had to speak.”

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