The Toronto Star by Kara Santokie 6 October 2015
In whom can we place our trust? The government? Other political parties? Certainly not each other, apparently. Keep an eye on your neighbour, we’re being urged during this election campaign; report them if something seems awry. Not scared enough yet? ISIS is coming! And on top of that, there just might be a homegrown plot brewing in your local Tim Hortons, so call it out. Take that with your double-double, you terrorist. This is Canada, and we don’t tolerate that sort of thing.
It is both an irony and a tragedy that in this most powerful and compelling exercise of our freedom, we’re being pitted against each other. As a result, a heady brew of supposed threats to Canada and what it means to be Canadian has now effectively obscured all the other issues that we really should be paying attention to in casting our ballot.
The Conservatives want us to focus on our fears. To assuage them, they proposed a tip line for reporting suspicious or barbaric activity. They passed Bill C-51, allowing expanded powers of surveillance and arrests without warrants. And, through Bill C-24, they created a two-tier system of Canadian citizenship that tramples on naturalized Canadians’ rights.
These policies, which taken together have become the central issue of the campaign, all have a shared theme. Times are changing, they seem to suggest, and this is what we have to do to protect Canada and continue living in a stable, economically sound and prosperous democracy. But the Canada of these policies is not Canada at all. Why should everyone bear the responsibilities of being Canadian while only a few enjoy the rights?
So at this crossroads, two weeks before an election, how should we choose? First, we must not be distracted from what really matters. Instead of tying ourselves up with imagined impending attacks or reporting “barbaric cultural practices,” we should be spending our time considering what truly Canadian values are, who needs our help and protection, and which policy platforms will support that.
If the government wants tips about barbaric practices, here are a few:
It’s barbaric that almost half of the population of Nunavut cannot access healthy food. High food prices over the long term mean that Inuit children are experiencing stunted growth, with 22 per cent of Inuit families reporting chronic hunger. Northern food insecurity is a real threat with frightening consequences and, thus far, zero airtime on the campaign trail.
It’s barbaric that federal cuts have led to defunding of crucial services for women, such as rape crisis centres, shelters and reproductive health services. The most recent Global Gender Gap report ranked Canada 100 out of 142 countries in the category of health outcomes and survival. So while we’re sidetracked with the Canadianness or otherwise of the niqab, more than half the population of this country is steadily losing services that are crucial to their health and well-being.
And it’s beyond barbaric that more than 1,200 indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing. Policies like C-51 and income-splitting keep our eyes focused on the physical security and economic well-being of most Canadians. But surely government exists, too, to protect the most vulnerable among us. With nary a murmur from our political leaders and continued defunding of organizations that work for indigenous rights, these tragedies continue and with each one the fabric of our nation frays.
We’re being groomed to vote on Canadian values without meaningfully thinking about what these mean for us, for our families, and for our relationships with our fellow Canadians. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was not created for some at the expense of others. We are all deserving of the rights that are enshrined therein, and we all have a responsibility toward each other. This is Canada.
Kara Santokie, PhD, is the director of Toronto Women’s City Alliance.