On Monday voters in Burnaby South have an opportunity to send a strong message to racists.
At the heart of the issue is the politicization of the murder of 13-year-old Marrisa Shen. The girl was found dead in Burnaby Central Park in July 2017. Ibrahim Ali, 28, faces a charge of first-degree murder. Ali had come to Canada as a Syrian refugee four months before the killing, which right-wing forces have weaponized against the Trudeau government.
There were angry demonstrations when Ali appeared in court. Among the participants was Laura-Lynn Thompson, an activist against SOGI (B.C.'s sexual orientation and gender identity resources for educators) and People’s Party of Canada candidate in Burnaby South. She has repeatedly blamed Justin Trudeau’s immigration policy for Shen’s murder.
During a heated candidates’ debate in Burnaby, Thompson once again brought up the murder of Shen by a refugee.
Often we assume that racism in politics exists only across the border, but we conveniently ignore the challenge of growing bigotry in our own backyard. Canada was built on the stolen lands of Indigenous peoples, and racism is very much entrenched in the power structures of this country.
Dividing immigrant communities
The fear of the unknown is frequently used by right-wing politicians in this country to polarize the white majority. In the case of Burnaby South, Muslims and Syrian refugees are being cleverly scapegoated to create divisions between Chinese and Middle Eastern immigrants. Nobody has a right to use such a sensitive issue for political gain. If Ali is guilty, he will be punished, but you cannot blame the entire community of Syrian refugees or immigration policy for a gruesome act committed by one individual.
South Asian voters in the riding should know how such bigotry exists. In India, the entire Sikh community was targeted by well-orchestrated violence following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984. Recently, Kashmiri Muslims have been targeted across India following a suicide bombing by a Kashmiri extremist that left more than 40 soldiers dead.
It’s a shame that some South Asians, who also came to this country as immigrants, are supporting Thompson and her anti-refugee rhetoric. Among them are those who do not want to see NDP candidate Jagmeet Singh win. Singh has a long history of raising his voice against attacks on religious minorities in India, including spearheading a campaign for justice for the victims of the 1984 massacres of Sikhs. This has annoyed the Indian government. The pro-India lobby in Canada had earlier tried to stop Singh from being elected as the leader of the federal NDP. This time, they are again trying their best to make him lose in the by-election. It is pertinent to mention that India is currently being governed by a right-wing Hindu nationalist government under which attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown.
Voters must reject Trump-like politicians
The residents of Burnaby South need to come out of denial and vote wisely to ensure that Trump-like political figures do not get elected. This is not to suggest that Trudeau is perfect. After all, the way he demoted an Indigenous woman in his cabinet for the sake of a controversial company and his insistence on supporting the Trans Mountain pipeline that is opposed by First Nations and remains a hot topic in Burnaby reflects very badly on his sweet talk of reconciliation.
However, Trudeau has set a good example by accepting refugees, in contrast to Trump, who is determined to raise walls to stop the influx of immigrants to the U.S. Trudeau also showed leadership by forcing Karen Wang, the former Liberal candidate of Chinese heritage, to resign after she emphasized Singh’s Indian origin in asking Chinese voters to elect her.
Any attempt to create divisions among people along the lines of ethnicity and race must be defeated to save Canada from going to the dogs. The intensity of racist politics has made this election important for all of us, and the voters of Burnaby South have an opportunity to showcase where Canada stands.