David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Election Puts Race, Religion in Spotlight

Brandon Sun, October 7, 2019 – David McConkey

Even before photos emerged of Justin Trudeau in blackface, race and religion were already factors in this federal election. And the focus of an election creates a perfect opportunity for citizens to reflect on some interesting and controversial questions.

Religion was already an issue because of the new Quebec law banning some government workers from wearing religious symbols in their workplace. This measure is approved of by about two-thirds of people in Quebec and by one-third in the rest of Canada.

We may be ready for new conversations about the complications of workplace dress codes. We also may be ready to discuss removing religion from human rights legislation. Why would this be a good discussion to have? Well, look at the grounds where people now are protected from discrimination. Examples are race, national or ethnic origin, colour, age, religion. See how religion does not belong? Race and age are characteristics that people have. Religion is something that people choose.

There are thousands of religions. New ones are created every day. Why give every conceivable religion – no matter how bizarre – blanket legal protection? Of course, people should have the right to hold any religious belief (or non-belief) they want. But people should not have the right to every religious practice.

We understand this concept with political leaders. Our leaders need to be held to account for any religion they belong to and how religious beliefs might affect their policies. This is vital, because religious beliefs can often be sexist, homophobic and socially divisive. For the record, both Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer are Roman Catholic, Jagmeet Singh is Sikh and Elizabeth May is Anglican.

Race and religion became contentious this election when some candidates were accused of racist and insensitive religious words or behaviours, often from long ago. “Gotcha” or “call-out” culture has always been part of elections, but is more pronounced in today's social media environment. Ha ha! We have got you now with what you said or did years ago! The Liberals thought they would embarrass Scheer with a video clip of him speaking against same-sex marriage - in 2005. The Liberals felt so smug. Then photos surfaced of Trudeau in blackface - in 2001 and the 1990s. 

One result of the blackface kerfuffle was our changed international status. We used to be admired for having a prime minster who was the world's favourite woke boyfriend. Now . . . not so much. Here was a headline from CNN: Trudeau's blackface exposes the truth: Canada is no racial haven.

I say: good. We still have legalized apartheid-like racism in Canada with the Indian Act. We should not get complacent, basking in some illusion that we are a “racial haven.” (Not that abolishing the Indian Act was going to be debated during this election, but that's another story.)

Maybe it's time to question the whole notion of race anyway? Look at the language we use. In Canada, agencies like human rights commissions feel the need to identify a category of people who are not Indigenous and not white. Those folks used to be classified as “visible minority,” then as “people of colour.” Now, the politically correct term for them is racialized.

To me, “racialized” does not sound like a friendly appellation, but more like a passive aggressive insult. What do you think? And do you think that some day we could move beyond feeling compelled to label and just see everyone as members of one race – the human race?

I would like to conclude by bringing these thoughts back home. I think Brandon is doing well in becoming a more open, welcoming, multiracial and multicultural community. I get a good feeling often when I observe people on the street, in businesses and in other settings.

As we approach the 2019 federal election, where are we at? Canada has the legalized racism of the Indian Act; Canada has flawed political leaders; Canada is no “racial haven.” But regular folks right here do a pretty good job of respecting one another and getting along together. 

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See also: 

Voting Results Reveal New Generation Gap

Religion and Values in the Public Square

Politically Incorrect Issues This Election

Election Reflection: Niqabs, Religion, and Social Media

Can We Say No to More Racism?

Enlightenment Values Are Needed Now More Than Ever



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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