“That is not how we do things in Canada. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.”
That was Prime Minister Trudeau’s response to Trump’s latest racist tweet tirade where he told Democratic congresswomen of colour to “go back” to the countries they came from—disregarding the fact that all of them are American citizens and all but one were born in the United States.
Trudeau’s remarks are almost easy to believe as a person of colour, if you’ve been lucky like me. I grew up in a multicultural community in north Toronto after immigrating at the age of three. I have always felt at ease here, where everywhere I go I can spot another South Asian and most days I’ll see a family on the subway that reminds me so much of mine when we first came to this country, likely navigating the difficulties that come with starting a new life, but never alone in their pursuit of making Canada their home.
There was a specific moment that drove this home. I was in Oxford, England in the summer of 2016 shortly after Brexit had passed in the U.K. when a man on the street, a stranger, called me and my sister, who lives in the U.K., ‘foreigner c—ts.’ It was like I had been punched in the gut. Shaken, I couldn’t help but cry, an almost involuntary reaction, even though the altercation was over.
The man had walked away after uttering what was essentially a more explicit way of saying ‘you don’t belong here’ (a common sentiment immediately post-Brexit). He was a stranger who meant nothing to me but I was so incredibly hurt. I was wrenched out of the safe and sheltered bubble my very multicultural upbringing had created around me and was reminded that the colour of my skin will always set me apart. Oh, so this is how it feels.
I remember being struck by how this experience had happened to me on the very first day of my trip to the U.K. An impulsive part of me wished I could book a flight back to Canada right then and there. I felt homesick, afraid and betrayed. This wouldn’t happen to me back home, I thought. It never had.
That’s not how it’s done in Canada, Trudeau said. I wish I could believe that wholeheartedly. But it doesn’t take very long to think of times I’ve witnessed the very opposite of how it’s supposedly ‘done in Canada.’
For instance, I was walking in Kensington Market in Toronto several years ago with a friend, who was wearing a hijab when a man yelled at her to ‘go back where she came from, terrorist.’ We walked faster, not daring to look in his direction. I felt sick, the rest of that day tainted by the incident.
More recently, I was in St. Catharines, Ont., earlier this year when I witnessed a man screaming at a Sikh man wearing a turban to ‘take that towel off his head.’ I crossed the street, hoping he didn’t turn his attention to another visible minority, my heart aching for the man who was just waiting for his bus to take him where he needed to go.
I have only bore witness, but there are plenty of Canadians sharing their own experiences with being told to ‘go back to where they came from’ in the aftermath of Trump’s heinous comments and Trudeau’s tepid response.
When I was 10 years old — the week after 9/11 — a boy in my British International School in Saudi Arabia walked straight up to me and said “my parents said you should go back to where you came from. So when are you leaving?”
— Fatima Syed (@fatimabsyed) July 15, 2019
“Go back to where you came from!” How many of our students have had that phrase thrown at them. I was 9 when I first heard it. It was my first week in Canada. It’s still fresh in my mind 45 years later. Teachers–talk about this stuff with your students. I wish mine did.
— Kindernick (@KindyNick) July 16, 2019
Heard someone tell my dad “go back to where you came from” followed by expletives when I was a kid. It traumatized me. I worry about someone saying the same to me and not being able to maintain the same grace others have.
— Fotini Iconomopoulos (@Fotiniicon) July 16, 2019
Of the many racist taunts I’ve heard over the years, “go back to where you came from” was a particularly vile reminder of my and my family’s otherness.
— Samer Muscati (@SamerMuscati) July 15, 2019
The incidents I’ve witnessed and experienced are purely anecdotal evidence. But it seems there could be a bigger shift taking place. According to a recent Ipsos poll done on behalf of Global News, 48% of Canadians agree that immigration is causing Canada to change in ways that they don’t like, while 44% agree that there are too many immigrants in Canada. Meanwhile, hate crimes are on the rise in the country, reaching an all-time high in 2017.
No one in Canada has told me to go back to where I came from. But it feels like it’s just a matter of time. While I am a Canadian citizen, it feels like the only thing that sets me apart from the immigrants considered in this poll is that my parents did the right paperwork, passed a test and we said an oath. I can’t help but take the country’s rejection of immigrants personally.
I suppose Trudeau’s response is partly true. The leader of our country isn’t the one funnelling racist filth onto Twitter and into the world, emboldening the bigots who were previously too afraid to speak their minds. But the internet knows no borders. To say a problem doesn’t exist in Canada, that we are somehow wholly better than what’s going on south of the border is naive and just plain wrong.
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