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Canada Confronts 'Violent Duality'
Recent issues reveal tensions on country's 139th birthday
David Kootnikoff (kaspian)     Print Article 
  Published 2006-06-28 04:43 (KST)   
As Canada prepares to celebrate its 139th birthday this July 1, it is again confronting what author Margaret Atwood once referred to as a "violent duality," the binary tensions that erupt from time to time along familiar faultlines such as language, culture or region.

Recently, two very different aspects of Canada's multicultural identity have been vying for headlines across the country. Both convey radically different images of a country known for celebrating diversity, while shunning any semblance of one dominant cultural narrative.

The first is the type of story Canadians love to trumpet -- it concerns righting past wrongs and striving towards the ideal of the "Just Society" where race does not matter.

On June 22, the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper surprised many by granting compensation and an apology to the victims of a head tax that was levied solely on Chinese immigrants to Canada in the earlier part of last century. It was a form of institutionalized racism that was responsible for splitting up families and reducing Chinese immigrants to second class citizens.

From 1885 to 1923, the Chinese Immigration Act levied a $50 fee on all Chinese immigrants to Canada, which was raised to $100 and then $500 in 1903, the equivalent of about two years wages at the time. Then from 1923 to 1947, this law was superceded by the Chinese Exclusion Act, banning all Chinese immigration. Approximately 81,000 Chinese paid a total of $23 million.

Five elderly men made a trip to Ottawa aboard a VIA Rail-sponsored "Redress Express" to hear the apology and present a ceremonial "Last Spike." Chinese immigrants played an instrumental role in the construction of Canada's cross-country railway in the 19th century.

Critics argue that Harper has set a bad precedent because the compensation singles out individual recipients and may open the door to other minority claims. National Post columnist Don Martin writes, "Government will no longer just be responsible for current affairs and future consequences. It will be held to open-ended account for paying off revisionist wrongs dating back through time."

The other issue represents the grimy underbelly of the first and seethes with intolerance. In the wake of the arrest of 17 individuals on terrorist related charges in Toronto earlier this month, Muslim communities across the country have been the target of violent incidents.

In the immediate aftermath of the arrests, a mosque in Toronto's Rexdale neighborhood had 30 of its windows smashed and an Islamic school in Mississauga was vandalized. On June 10, Imam Said Jaziri was threatened at knifepoint outside of Montreal's Al Qods Mosque. In Western Canada, Calgary's Madinah Islamic Centre has been targeted by vandals on more than one occasion over the past month.

Much of the national discourse has degenerated into references about group traits rather than individual behaviors, fuelling racist stereotypes directed at Muslim communities and exacerbating tensions. This has gone on despite explicit and strongly worded condemnations of violence by Muslim leaders throughout Canada.

In response, Harper has come out in support of Canada's diversity in an attempt to stem a backlash from gathering steam.

- 'Canada Confronts Violent Duality,' by David Kootnikoff 

The author's Web site is alldaybliss.com
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David Kootnikoff

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