Protests in US put racial discrimination in Canada under scrutiny

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (2nd L) takes a knee during in a Black Lives Matter protest on Parliament Hill June 5, 2020 in Ottawa, Canada. (AFP)
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Updated 08 June 2020

Protests in US put racial discrimination in Canada under scrutiny

  • Discrimination against Canadian blacks and Arabs ranges from higher unemployment to hate crimes
  • Trudeau’s reputation as a diversity champion was tarnished last year by multiple images of him in black makeup

DUBAI: The protests across the US over the death of George Floyd while in police custody have prompted its northern neighbor with a nicer image to acknowledge discrimination within its own borders. Only time will tell, though, whether Canada’s next step will be honest self-searching and concrete action to defend its reputation — especially among Arabs and Muslims — as a fair and tolerant society.

So far, what Canada has mainly shown is that a history of moral posturing greatly diminishes a politician’s ability to provide credible leadership on the problem of anti-black racism. Otherwise, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would not have reacted the way he did during a news conference in Ottawa when asked to comment on US President Donald Trump’s call to use military action as violence and looting eclipsed protests over Floyd’s death.

The former drama teacher paused for 21 seconds, opening his mouth a few times to speak. The pregnant pause caused many to wonder whether Trudeau was making a deliberate point with his silence, fearful of taking on Trump, or he was literally at a loss for words, perhaps recalling his own blackface scandals.

On Friday, Trudeau made a dramatic appearance at a protest in Ottawa (pictured above), where he joined the crowd in kneeling for eight minutes and 46 seconds — which is how long a Minneapolis police officer held down Floyd with his knee on his neck before he died — clapped to chants of “Black lives matter” and collected a T-shirt emblazoned with the same slogan on the front.

Such gestures are perhaps only to be expected of a white politician whose carefully crafted image as a champion of inclusivity and diversity was tarnished last year by the appearance of multiple images of him in black makeup, laughing, making faces and sticking his tongue out.

The tradition of brownface and blackface — white people painting their faces darker — was common in North America until it came to be viewed by the turn of the 21st century as a racist caricature. However, systemic inequalities that plague Canada’s black and indigenous communities have proved far more resistant to change.

Last weekend in Toronto, protesters held a rally over the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a black woman who fell to her death last week while police were in her apartment, an incident that is being probed by the province’s Special Investigations Unit.




People who were identified as family and friends of Regis Korchinski-Paquet lead protesters as they march to highlight the deaths in the U.S. of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and of Toronto's Regis Korchinski-Paquet. (Reuters)

A CBC News investigation of fatal encounters with police found that black people made up 36.5 percent of the deaths involving Toronto police from 2000-2017, while accounting for only 8.3 percent of the city’s population.

Canada is also no stranger to prejudice against Arabs and Muslims. Most recently, some cities’ decision to suspend their noise bylaws during Ramadan to permit mosques to broadcast the sunset call to prayer sparked a backlash, drawing some racist rants on Twitter. 

In 2017, university student Alexandre Bissonnette shot and killed six Muslims in a Quebec City mosque, in what Trudeau called “a despicable act of terror.”




In 2017, university student Alexandre Bissonnette shot and killed six Muslims in a Quebec City mosque. (Facebook)




Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre (L-R), Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pay their respects during a funeral ceremony for three of the victims of the deadly shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, in Montreal, on February 2, 2017. (AFP/File Photo)

That year there was a spike in hate crimes reported by police, a 10-year high of 2,073 criminal incidents, according to Statistics Canada.

While the most recent stats show a slight decrease in 2018 to 1,798 incidents, the number was still the second highest of that period.

Of those hate crimes, 44 percent were motivated by race while 36 percent were based on religion.

Then there is a less visible form of systemic discrimination, such as the issue of unemployment among Arabs, Canada’s fastest-growing immigrant population.




Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Canada building. (Supplied)

“A lot of people here think that Canada isn’t racist,” Faith Olanipekun, an organizer of a Canadian protest in support of Black Lives Matter, told the CBC, the national public broadcaster, this week.

“So it’s important for us to come out, voice our concerns and let people know that we are suffering in Canada just as much as people in the US are suffering.”

A report last year by the Canadian Arab Institute, a non-partisan research and policy group, showed that based on its analysis of the country’s last census in 2016, the unemployment rate among Arabs was 13.5 percent, higher than the total visible minority population at 9.2 percent.

“That’s more than double the national average, so this is based on 2016 data, very important to note, because with COVID-19 it means it’s going to get much worse,” Shireen Salti, the institute’s interim executive director, told Arab News. 

“We know there are employment barriers. We’re looking into why … Is there discrimination in the labor market, on university campuses etc.? There are some preliminary results from our research that show this, and we want to dive deeper to better understand.”

IN NUMBERS

ARAB CANADIANS

- 947,820 people in Canada reported having Arab ethnic origin.

- 90% reside in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta provinces.

- Highest numbers: Lebanese, Moroccan, Egyptian.

- Over 60% are first generation.

- Over 60% have post-secondary education.

Source: Canadian Arab Institute, based on country’s last census in 2016.

Despite being a highly educated community, she said figures show Arabs’ average annual income is about $33,000, below the national average of $47,000.

“There’s a lot of work that we still need to do to ensure the integration of Arabs in Canada,” said Salti, who was born in Palestine and moved to Canada with her family in 2009.

“There’s a lot of government support in place for newcomers and immigrants, but we need to move beyond that and better understand how to cater to various communities with various inequities.”

While standing in solidarity with black Americans, Salti said the US situation has opened up a window for Canadians to talk about all forms of discrimination.




A man walks past Vancouver's Chinese Cultural Centre, which was targeted with vandalism during the Covid-19 pandemic in Vancouver, British Columbia. (AFP)

“It’s important to take a moment to pause and listen to the important messages that are being shared right now,” she added.

“We need to be anti-racist in a society where we have multiple communities, and diverse communities, and multiculturalism is literally at the heart of what we do here in Canada.”

Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s father, who was Canada’s prime minister for more than 15 years, had the vision to make the country the first in the world to adopt an official policy of multiculturalism in 1971, later enshrined in law.

This allowed its citizens to preserve their own cultural heritage while being protected from discrimination.




Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill to attend a sitting of the Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic, May 20, 2020 in Ottawa, Canada. (AFP/File Photo)

Justin has had a harder time convincing people that he walks his talk as Canada’s woke leader. He got points for introducing the first gender-balanced Cabinet in the country’s history in 2015, which was also ethnically diverse.

He offered apologies to Canada’s aboriginals for their abuse dating back more than a century, and he welcomed Syrian refugees at the airport with open arms.

Then, while running for re-election last year, two “blackface” photos and a video raised troubling questions about the character of a politician who rose to high office on a platform of social justice, gender equality and indigenous and minority rights.

At the June 2 news conference in Ottawa, Trudeau said he had "spoken many times about how deeply I regret my actions hurt many, many people," before going on to state: “There’s systemic discrimination in Canada, which means our systems treat Canadians of color, Canadians who are racialized, differently than they do others.”




Protesters march to highlight the deaths in the U.S. of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and of Toronto's Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who died after falling from an apartment building while police officers were present, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada May 30, 2020. (Reuters)

Not everyone was impressed. Jagmeet Singh, the outspoken leader of Canada’s NDP Party, said Trudeau’s government could immediately take actions that “go beyond the pretty words of a prime minister who says that he cares.”

Trudeau’s own cabinet minister, Ahmed Hussen, a Somali Canadian, was more specific: He lamented that black Canadians were disproportionately followed in stores by shop owners fearing theft, while black drivers had every reason to be anxious when they are pulled over by a police officer.

Racism is “a lived reality for black Canadians,” Hussen said, as he urged other Canadians to “step up” and “raise your voices and ensure that real inclusion accompanies the diversity of our country.”

The mood in Canada’s black, indigenous and immigrant communities was perhaps summed up best by Salti, of the Canadian Arab Institute, thus: “Now more than ever, we hope that all our political leaders and elected officials will do more than simply pay lip service, and instead act and invest in strategies that promote an inclusive, integrated and fully respectful society for all Canadians.”


India’s crazy-rich temples get wealthier by the day

India hosts some of the world’s wealthiest temples including the Shiva Temple (pictured), with some earning donations worth more than some businesses. (Files/Reuters)
Updated 24 min 42 sec ago

India’s crazy-rich temples get wealthier by the day

  • With assets worth billions of dollars, historians say donations offer validation to many

NEW DELHI: Vinod Tawde donates a kilogram of gold each time he visits the Tirupati Temple, located in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, every year.

“This has been a tradition in my family to visit the Tirupati Temple at least once every year. Sometimes I visit twice also if I get a good business deal. The offerings to the temple is a way of thanking God for blessing me,” the Mumbai-based builder told Arab News.

He is not alone. Under normal circumstances, the nearly 300-year-old Tirupati Temple would be frequented by 100,000 people every day, earning $120 million in gifts and donations annually, while its total worth is estimated to be $11 billion.
However, since a nationwide lockdown was imposed in March, it has impacted the footfall to all places of worship across the country.
India is home to some of the world’s wealthiest temples, with some earning more in donations every year than a successful business enterprise.
According to a 2015 assessment by the World Gold Council, India’s temples hold about 2,000 tons of gold, worth about $100 billion, while the country’s central bank placed the value at 557.7 tons of gold based on its 2013 estimate.
One among these is the Shirdi Temple, located in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Less than 100 years old, it is very popular among devotees and holds wealth worth $100 million.
Next in line is the 200-year-old Siddhivinayak Temple in India’s financial capital of Mumbai, which is said to have assets worth $20 million.
However, none of these are a patch on the 1,000-year-old Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram, in Kerala, which historians believe is worth $20 billion, making it India’s and one of the world’s richest temples.
“No other temple in the world has claimed to have so many antiques as the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple claims to have. Only one vault of the temple has been opened; imagine its wealth when the other vaults are opened,” Lekshmy Rajeev, a Kerala-based poet and temple historian, told Arab News.
The temple came to national and international consciousness in 2011 when one of its vaults was opened, yielding sacks of gold coins, diamonds and antique jewelry.
 The other vault has not been opened yet; the royal family believes doing so would bring bad luck. With the kind of wealth the temple has, one can build 10 Burj Khalifas, the world’s tallest building (2,717 feet), worth $1.5 billion.
The temple came under the spotlight recently over ownership claims, with its former royals taking the matter to court.
It follows a 2011 decision by the Kerala high court to give the state ownership of the ancient religious place following the death of its head, Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, the last ruling Maharaja of Travancore in 1991.
On July 13 this year, the apex court reinstated ownership of the temple to its former royal, overruling the 2011 ruling of the Kerala high court.
“We allow the appeal of the royal family of Travancore. Death does not affect Shebaitship (management and maintenance of the deity) of the Travancore Family,” the two-member bench said in the order.
It ruled that a new committee set up by the Travancore royal family would run the temple and decide what to do with its wealth, including the contents of an unopened vault.
“A large number of devotees had prayed for us. The judgment is their victory,” a member of the former royal family, Gauri Lakshmi Bai, told reporters after the verdict in Thiruvananthapuram at the time.
The apex court verdict has ignited the old debate about who should manage the temple and whether the wealth of religious places can be used for the public good.
Experts, however, are divided on the matter. “The Supreme Court did not leave the administration of the temple to the former royal family, as many thought and quickly interpreted. There are checks and balances in place, and at the same time the court wants to recover the missing money from the vault from the royal family,” Rajeev said.
She added that using a temple’s wealth “strictly for the welfare of the people would be the ideal thing.”
However, Manu S. Pillai, author of the award-winning book, “The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore,” said such a proposal would be “alarming.”
“The value of the temple’s treasure is not monetary alone but also historical. What is reasonable, on the other hand, is placing some of it in a museum run by the temple authorities,” Pillai, who has written extensively on the royal family of Travancore, which has been managing the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, told Arab News.
Most of the wealth acquired by the temples are from donations by individual devotees. Experts say this is due to a desire “to wash their sins,” which prompts a majority to indulge in such extravagant donations.
“It’s a paradox that India is a land of many homeless and hungry people and gods are rich,” Rajeev said.
“Each temple in India represents a myth or ritual, or some miracle — and people believe them blindly. People donate money as a votive; business tycoons donate a minuscule amount from the black money they amass thinking that it would wash away their sins,” she added.
Pillai agrees and adds that donating to temples also offers “social and cultural validation” to many.
“Temples could be used to legitimize political changes, to create patronage networks, to control economic channels. While an ordinary devotee may pay small amounts willingly out of love for the deity and a desire to contribute to the institution’s upkeep, there are public figures for whom large donations bring social prestige. So it is a mix of several things,” he said.