Last week was a particularly disgraceful and embarrassing one for Saskatchewan politicians and public figures, who used the Paris tragedy to attack refugees. But through petitions, a rally and community gathering, people in Saskatchewan are pushing back against racism and extending a welcome to refugees.
John Gormely, a ring-wing radio commentator, made his discriminatory perspective clear when he made a tweet shortly after the Paris attacks that read “next guy in a Western democracy who chants ‘Allah Ahkbar’ we shoot.” Then on November 16, Premier Brad Wall released an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau requesting a halt in the Syrian refugee plan. Citing the attacks in Paris as a means to be concerned about Canada’s refugee screening process, Wall laid out his fear-mongering xenophobia and distinguished himself as the most racist premier: distracting from his privatization agenda and building his career on the backs of refugees.
As political science professor Howard Lesson explained, “he simply wishes to deflect attention from a number of provincial issues which have been plaguing the government this fall. These include the carbon capture problems, the bypass problems outside of Regina, health-care deficiencies, etc... I think the more likely explanation, is that the premier continues to position himself for a possible run at the national Conservative leadership.”
Racism, not refugees, is the security threat
As Wall wrote, “The recent attacks in Paris are a grim reminder of the death and destruction even a small number of malevolent individuals can inflict upon a peaceful country and its citizens.” If that were his concern, he would be speaking out against the small number of malevolent individuals who have launched Islamophobic attacks across Canada in recent weeks.
Wall and Gormley’s “not all but some” approach to Muslims perpetuates racism and misunderstanding. Gormley in particular demonstrated sheer ignorance. Allah Ahkbar (God is Great) is a common phrase uttered by those who practice Islam; insinuating violence towards this already victimized and marginalized population is an act of hate.
Meanwhile, Wall is manufacturing a refugee threat from abroad. Syrian refugees had nothing to do with the Paris attacks. Nearly all of the attackers were of French or Belgian descent, and a recent study actually demonstrates that since 2011 in the United States, there has been “one terrorism-planning conviction for every 286,543 refugees that have been admitted. To put that in perspective, about 1 in every 22,541 Americans committed murder in 2014. The terrorist threat from Syrian refugees…is hyperbolically over-exaggerated and we have very little to fear from them because the refugee vetting system is so thorough.”
Racism is the greatest security threat—provoking attacks at home and justifying wars abroad. Refugees in Syria are fleeing a repressive regime, Western bombs and the counter-revolutionary force of ISIS. Canada not only has a shameful record of welcoming refugees, but is actively making the situation worse through ongoing war. The tragedy in Paris should not close doors, it should illuminate the dire need of opening our doors—which should not incite confusion and fear, but should incite resourceful planning and support in any way we can.
Former Liberal immigration minister Lloyd Axworthy criticized Wall, saying “I don't know why a premier would feel empowered to make that kind of request when he really doesn't have the information, doesn't really have the know-how…to be able to assess what are the threats and risks in the area of refugees.” But while the Liberals were elected to stop the war and welcome 25,000 refugees by the end of the year, they are breaking both promises—relying on Conservative rhetoric that Syrians should be bombed rather than welcomed.
In response, two petitions have gathered thousands of signatures: one calls on Gormley to issue a sincere apology and resign; the other calls for his employer to take him off the air.
Wall too has faced backlash: he is a national embarrassment in which other leaders have spoken out against. With an upcoming spring election, Wall has already backtracked and has promised to set up a refugee settlement centre. Moreover, the people of Saskatchewan have come together to express that Wall does not speak for them.
The day after the letter was released, an emergency rally was held in front of the legislative buildings in Regina to let the public know that refugees are welcome in Saskatchewan. Later that week, the Amadiyya Muslim community in Saskatoon hosted an event aimed at clarifying misconceptions about the religion. Local communities have come together to encourage donations and supplies for refugees upon arrival, and many families have been able to independently fund refugees.
These examples shed light on the compassion that we must feed and grow; it is the best tool we have for ensuring people like Wall and Gormley receive no validation. To quote the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism, “we stand united with our brothers and sisters in transit and with No One Is Illegal and join in their Canada-wide call that declares: refugees welcome!”
Sign the Canadian Peace Alliance petition to stop the war and welcome refugees