Any attempt at narrowly and definitively describing Canadian values is bound to be fruitless. Kellie Leitch, in particular, has singled out freedom of religion, tolerance, and equality of women as some examples. On its face, this seems innocent enough. But to those paying attention to her during the last federal election campaign, it sounds awfully like racially coded dog-whistles when one remembers her dogged defence of the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act and encouraging Canadians to tattle using a tip line.
What this kind of discussion implies is that any Canadian citizen or someone seeking to be one in the near future should be treated as un-Canadian unless they pass an arbitrary values test administered by a government bureaucrat with limitless discretion. It's why I don't believe any coherent framework of what Canadian values are can exist, because they are subject to the whims and fancies of regime changes.
Kellie Leitch's self-professed concern for women and young girls, she says, is about protecting women from atrocities. As a practicing, young-ish Muslim male, what this rhetoric has reminded me on a recurring basis is that Muslim women need saving from Muslim men such as me because of my faith and skin. It suggests that gendered violence and misogyny are only the hallmark of people with my socio-religious background. That sectarianism and intolerance are intrinsic to Muslim Canadians and the pulpits of our religious institutions.
With the growing powers of surveillance that the Canadian state has granted onto itself without many legal checks and balances, I fear that discourses such as this will normalize the profiling of Muslim Canadians, our places of worship, and even our very homes and workplaces to ensure compliance with "Canadian values." Ironically, the chilling effect of this discourse and ensuing enforcement mechanisms would be to limit freedom of religion and tolerance for Canadian Muslims.
I was in my last year of high school when the Toronto 18 episode occurred. I attended the high school where some of the members of the group had recently graduated and was acquainted with friends and family of the accused. Seeing reporters descend on my friends and me during lunch was my first contact with national security, homegrown radicalization, RCMP entrapment, and the perils of being a young Muslim male growing up in Canada. It’s why, after graduating from law school, I have devoted myself to immigrant and refugee rights, fighting racial profiling, as well as working with Lifeline Syria to assist Syrian refugees being relocated to Canada.
In light of Donald Trump's win, I hope to hear conscientious and moral Canadians of all stripes and political affiliations push back on attempts by the state to be in the business of defining what values are acceptable and welcome in Canada. Canadians ought to realize the dangers posed by allowing uncivil, inflammatory, and racially tinged rhetoric to exist in the marketplace of ideas and free speech without a principled, dignified, and united pushback.
Ammad Rafiqi is a Toronto-based lawyer working for immigrant and refugee rights.