I’m Sorry to Report That Canada Has an Anti-Semitism Problem Too

If you're joking about moving to Canada, think again.

Are you an American Jew who has joked about or seriously considered moving to Canada to escape anti-Semitism in the United States?

Well, you may want to put those plans on the backburner because it’s not all perfect up in the Great White North. In fact, there’s a chance that it could get a whole lot worse, yet the world stage hasn’t really seemed to take notice.

I was born into a multifaith Jewish home in Winnipeg and, while I moved to the United States when I was young, I have tried to stay up to date about issues affecting Canadian Jews, especially rising anti-Semitism.  

On October 21 (which is on one of the last days of Sukkot — not cool, Canada), Canadians like me will vote in the next Canadian Federal Election. Canada has a parliamentary system which consists of 338 Members of Parliament — this represents 338 ridings, or electoral districts. The leader of the federal party who wins the most seats becomes the Prime Minister of Canada. 

Despite admiration from people in the United States, there is a fair chance that Justin Trudeau, who is the leader of the Liberal party, will not remain Prime Minister after this election. His approval rating currently sits in the 30s and between one scandal after another — I highly recommend watching the “Two Sides of Canada” episode of the Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj for a run-down — it looks like Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer may be the next Prime Minister. 

Between Scheer’s refusal to separate the Conservative Party from far right groups and his connections to Rebel Media, his victory may put Canadian Jews in danger. This is on top of the rise of neo-Nazism and the nationalistic government in Quebec. 

So before you pack your bags for Canada, here’s what you need to know about the current situation:

First, let’s start with The Rebel Media:

To be blunt, The Rebel Media (also known as The Rebel) is basically the Breitbart of Canada. After being founded in 2015 by Ezra Levant, who is Jewish, and Brian Lilley, The Rebel caught international attention briefly in 2017 for its coverage of the Unite the Right rally — for all the wrong reasons.

Then-contributor Faith Goldy broadcast the rally to The Rebel’s website and later uploaded the video of Heather Heyer being killed by a white nationalist. While Goldy was not alone when it came to releasing footage of Heyer’s murder, what made it more. Numerous times throughout the day she kept on mentioning the “Jewish question,” which is the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews have a major influence and power over politics, media, and society at large. 

Goldy did not go to the Unite the Right rally to be a journalist – she went because it was a place that her anti-Semitism and white nationalism was welcome. Goldy was promptly thereafter interviewed by the neo-Nazi The Daily Stormer website’s podcast, boasting that in the next five or so years, “we will have alt-right men and women running for political office.”

The backlash that The Rebel faced was swift. Levant, in an attempt to save face, claimed that he thought the term “alt-right” referred to “the insurgent right, the politically incorrect right, the grassroots right, the nationalistic right, the right that was a counterweight to the establishment of the GOP.” While Goldy was immediately fired, many felt that was likely done to protect The Rebel’s image. 

It was a terrible “apology” made worse by the fact that The Rebel has not changed at all after claiming that they were not alt-right. Despite articles from publications like The New Republic, Vice, and Salon predicting that Charlottesville would mark the downfall and the end of this publication, The Rebel continues to publish Islamophobic content and their most notable contributor is Gavin McGinnes, founder of the far-right group The Proud Boys. 

And just over a week ago, per Vice, human rights lawyer Richard Warman filed a 53-page complaint with the Ottawa Police Service’s Criminal Investigations Unit for “hate propaganda” published on The Rebel’s website and YouTube channel.

Okay, what does The Rebel have to do with the upcoming Canadian election?

In October 2018, the Conservative party named Hamish Marshall as the 2019 campaign chair. This was not too surprising, as Marshall led the campaign to elect Andrew Scheer as the leader of the Conservative party in the summer of 2017. Marshall happens to be the former director of The Rebel. In August 2017, around the same time as the Unite the Right rally, Marshall announced that he had left The Rebel to focus on Scheer’s campaign. 

If you’re like me, you may wonder whether, if Marshall was behind the business strategy that attracted neo-Nazis and their sympathizers to The Rebel, why would he not do the same in his role in the federal Conservative Party?

Scheer, an active Tweeter, has yet to make a public comment on the newest complaint against The Rebel. With less than two months before the election, Scheer’s affiliation with Marshall does not look great.

What else do we need to know about Scheer?

Scheer, if you haven’t caught it yet, is the leader of the Conservative Party. And along with Marshall and The Rebel, he has a long history of associating himself with anti-Semitic groups, publications, and individuals. 

In February of this year, Scheer spoke at the far-right “Yellow Vest” movement protest. Canadaland reports that the Yellow Vests Facebook group is filled with “racist, anti-Semitic, and bigoted” comments. (It should be noted that the Yellow Vest movement in Canada is a separate group than the Yellow Vest movement in France, which has faced its own accusations of anti-Semitism.) Despite the backlash that Scheer faced after attending this event, he refused to apologize.

Scheer never fails to wish Jews a happy holiday or express his condolences after a tragedy or the loss of someone in our community on Twitter, but unless he distances himself once and for all from the alt-right, including from those associated with The Rebel, his leadership is a danger to Jews living in Canada.

What about Bill 21?

From mid-2016 to late 2017, I was a resident of Quèbec. While I was originally relieved to be out of the United States when Trump was sworn in, this changed a little over a week later when a white supremacist killed six people and injured 19 others at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City.

While the mosque shooting was horrific in itself, it was also a symptom of a larger issue in Québec: rejection and hatred of those who are considered “outsiders.” This includes Muslim people, Jewish people, and other immigrants. While Québecers could have moved towards fighting systems that hurt Jews and other marginalized groups, they want the other way. 

On October 1, 2018, the political party Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) — a nationalist party — won a majority of seats in the National Assembly after its provincial election, allowing it to form its first government. François Legault, CAQ’s leader, ran a controversial campaign, championing his idea of a “religious symbol ban,” aka Bill 21.

In his inaugural address, despite protests over his religious symbol ban, Legault said that “it’s a reasonable position.” This ban would prevent state employers, including teachers, from wearing religious symbols including kippahs, turbans, and hijabs in the workplace. The Jewish mayor of  Hampstead, Québec — whose population is 70 percent Jewish —referred to Bill 21 as “ethnic cleansing.”

After months of opposition, the “religious symbols ban” was passed in June of this year. Per the Canadian Jewish News, the Centre for Israel and Jewish News — the political arm of the Jewish Federations of Canada — condemned the passing of Bill 21, stating, “It undermines religious freedom and equal access to employment.” Many other local and national Jewish organizations across Canada, including JSpace, condemned the bill as well. 

All three leaders of the three most popular federal parties in Canada — Justin Trudeau (Liberal), Andrew Scheer (Conservative), and Jagmeet Singh (New Democratic Party) — have also condemned the bill.

However, no parties have taken drastic measures to fight it — and it is questionable whether or not Bill 21 can be struck on the federal level unless it is brought to the Canadian Supreme Court (please, someone do this). 

Looking ahead

While both Rebel Media and Bill 21 are both current threats to Canadians, a new federal political party should be raising massive red flags on an international standpoint.

In late August, the Canadian Nationalist Party received eligibility to become a registered party in the upcoming federal election. While it does not look like they will win any seats, it is a terrible sign that enough Canadians support an alt-right, white nationalist party enough for it to become a federal party. 

Their members don’t even try to hide that they hate Jews. 

Their leader Travis Parton has made videos “warning” Canadians of the “parasitic tribe” — which is a disturbing anti-Semitic trope, going back to Holocaust propaganda that portrayed Jew as wandering parasites. 

In a statement to Global News, Elections Canada claimed that they were unable to prevent the Canadian Nationalist Party from receiving federal party status. 

“There is no mechanism under the Canada Elections Act to either reject a party’s application to register or to deregister them based on their ideology.”

As the alt-right and neo-Nazism continues to rise in Canada, the Canadian government’s complicity should be noted and should be remembered. As of now, no Canadian politicians have taken measures to try and change Elections Canada’s policies after the Canadian Nationalist Party received federal status. 

Is there any good news?

Well, Canada does have tougher anti-hate laws than the United States. Per the Canadian Criminal Code, public incitement of hatred and/or willful promotion of hatred towards an identifiable group are both criminal offenses, which could lead to offenders having a maximum of two years in prison per charge. 

Because of these laws, it is possible for websites like The Rebel and the people who run them to be held accountable for the hate that they incite. 

The Canadian government has also started to take steps in recognizing the brutality of the neo-Nazi movement. This past June, the Canadian government added a neo-Nazi group to its list of terrorist organizations for the first time.

Anti-hate laws and labeling a neo-Nazi group as a terrorist organization are signs that Canada has the capacity to take action against hate. However, Canada has to take more drastic steps to confront white nationalism, especially when the next election can have such negative ramifications for Jews and other marginalized groups.

In conclusion…

What does this all mean? Is Canada screwed, too? Like with the United States and many countries around the world, Canada is dealing with the alt-right, which inevitably means that Canadian Jews may eventually face danger. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. 

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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