Freedom of Speech and the face of White Supremacy in Today’s Canada

Imagine yourself standing in the middle of a busy subway or a crowded train station in one of the big cities of Canada. If you are a visitor or a newcomer, there will be one thing you can’t help noticing. The diversity of the people! It wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that all continents in the world are being represented. You might even bump into someone from your own country and have a chit chat in your own language other than English/French. Multicultural Canada!

Yes, Canada is known for its diversity, which is a result of immigration in the nation’s history. Actually, since all Canadians (including Aboriginal people) share the history of ancestral immigration, there wouldn’t have been a Canada without immigration. All that said as indisputable fact, Canada’s multiculturalism hasn’t been always free of challenge.

The nation also experienced a history of racist groups in some of the provinces that claim Canada only to themselves. Alberta particularly is known as the haven for such crowd. The Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. The Aryan Nation’s Canadian in the 1980s. The recent Western Canada for Us.  Most of these groups were doomed to disappear one after the other. The North Alliance is another group from London, Ontario established in 1997 with a mission of protecting and advancing the ‘rights of Canadians of European Descents’  who they describe as ‘the most beautiful , creative and intelligent race on Earth’. This group has been very intent in challenging immigration policies to ‘exclude people from non-Western Countries’. The most recent group that is causing the current controversy is called The Aryan Guard, from Calgary.

On March 21, 2009, disturbing news came from Calgary. A demonstration was organized by the Anti-Racist Action group to observe March 21st (International Day to Eliminate Racial Discrimination). The Aryan Guard, the white supremacist group formed in 2006, was also having a demonstration at the same time, which resulted in a clash between the two groups. According to CTV news, police mitigated the clash and the two groups were dispersed without much damage done. Same kind of incidents occurred in 2007 and 2008.

As surprising it is to find groups like Aryan Guard in today’s Canada, the range of people’s reaction towards the incident is also a bit shocking. From a short assessment we conducted on the internet to analyze people’s reaction on the issue, the number of people who support the group is insignificant. However, the number of people who think the group have the right to express their views is high. Most of these opinions are backed by ‘freedom of speech’. The question is if freedom of speech is right at the expense of the other? Is freedom of speech applicable for hate speech?

Other viewers also think that the Aryan Guard group are entitled to be have ‘white pride’. One comment on the Vancouver Sun read as ‘To be proud of being black or Jewish is history, to be proud of being white is ‘racist’.’ The question here is ‘is Aryan Guard and their kinds just about white pride?’ Any group of people has the right and should be proud of who they are, and can express their pride in different ways. White people are no exception. The problem is when pride jumps into the stage of supremacy and belittles other groups. As clearly put in their website, the Aryan Guards believe that different races shouldn’t live together and ‘the concept of a multi-racial society violates every natural Law for species preservation’. By denouncing multiculturalism and co-existence they put the whole concept of ‘Canada’ as unacceptable. Even though this group have been distributing racially charged messages on immigrants, nothing much has been done to stop them. Even though they declare that they are non-violent in their struggle to pursue their mission, many people especially immigrants don’t feel safe knowing the existence of such groups. Especially, the group’s obsession with Hitler, whose birthday they celebrate every year, make many uncomfortable. There is an assumption that the existence of these groups might be related to the high rate of hate crime in cities like Calgary, where hate motivated crimes are in highest rate in the country, according to Statistics Canada. Same study states that most of the hate crimes in Canada are racially motivated and teenagers account the highest number of offenders.

The number of these neo-nazi racists might be insignificant. However, there should be a lot of caution in protecting young people from being brainwashed by such ill-equipped people. This group has been targeting schools to recruit new members and in 2008 they offered to pay rent for new recruits who are willing to move to Calgary to join them. All this is happening behind the curtains of freedom of speech. This would leave us questioning if it is healthy to apply freedom of speech to distribute hate and racial intolerance.

Photo source: Thivierr 

Yohana Otite

Yohana Otite is the co-founder of BornBlack and writers on issues that revolve around the intersection of race, gender and class. Yohana also manages the Hamilton DiverseCity onBoard program at Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion.

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