Donald Trump’s election victory is causing a 'spill-over effect' in Canada, where hate-motivated incidents have seen a recent spike, experts say
TORONTO, Canada – As the US election results rolled in earlier this month, and it gradually became clear that Donald Trump would be elected the country’s next commander-in-chief, the Canadian immigration website unexpectedly crashed.
Online commentators speculated that Citizenship and Immigration Canada could not handle a surge in web traffic from its southern neighbours, many of whom were frantically searching how to move to Canada.
Canadian immigration officials have not released any data yet to show an increase in US requests to emigrate to the country since Trump’s victory.
The issue highlights growing fears of a crackdown on minorities, curbs to press freedoms, increased deportations, and other human rights violations under President-elect Trump.
But the upcoming Trump presidency has also had an impact north of the border, as Canadian experts say an uptick in racially-motivated incidents and calls to join far-right movements can be tied to the US election results.
“There seems to be a spill-over effect,” explained Barbara Perry, a professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and an expert on hate crimes and right-wing extremist movements in Canada.
Perry estimates that at least 100 right-wing hate groups operate in Canada, ranging in size from clusters of two or three individuals, to more established groups with dozens of members.
The US election, she explained, has led to renewed interest in a fairly widespread, far-right movement in Canada.
Like the so-called “Alt-Right” movement in the US – a term used to describe white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups – Canada’s far-right blends white nationalism with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim stances, misogyny and sometimes homophobia.
“It’s emboldened I think a movement that was latent and very quietly going about its business, primarily online. But this has sort of allowed them to come out of the shadows,” Perry told Middle East Eye.
Hate crimes reported across Canada
Following the US election, several racially-motivated incidents were reported across Canada, with many taking place in Ottawa, the Canadian capital.
Swastikas and hateful slurs were spray-painted on a synagogue in Ottawa and on the home of a local Jewish community leader.
Rabbi Anna Maranta, who runs a prayer centre out of her home, linked the racist graffiti spray-painted on her front door to Trump’s election and his hateful campaign rhetoric.
"My first thought is that this is an example of what happens when you allow somebody who is in a position of power to speak openly racist, bigoted, misogynistic language and don't censor [it] in any way," she told CBC News.
"It allows other people to express their feelings, to express their hatred, and to feel like they've been given permission to do so because no one has effectively silenced that."
In October, a man was filmed shouting racist threats in a parking lot in British Columbia. The man, who is white, is shown calling the person behind the camera “Hindu” and “Paki” and yelling “white power, motherf***r”.
In Toronto, Canada’s largest and most diverse city, a man was recorded shouting racially charged insults and threats at another passenger on a streetcar, while posters were discovered in an east Toronto neighbourhood urging people to “join the Alt-Right”.
“Tired of political correctness?” the signs in Toronto read. “Wondering why only white countries have to become ‘multicultural’? Figured out that diversity only means ‘less white people’? Sick of being blamed for all the world’s problems?”
City officials removed the posters, which were widely condemned by community members and leaders.
“The American election and Trump’s hate speech has given legitimacy to these types of organisations. It’s very frightening,” said Toronto city councillor Janet Davis. “It’s very troublesome that the Trump election has unleashed this kind of hate.”
Meanwhile, a church in Ottawa led by a Black pastor was also vandalised this month, and swastikas and the words, “F—k Allah”, were spray-painted on a local mosque.
— CBC Ottawa (@CBCOttawa) November 18, 2016
The Ottawa Muslim Association denounced the spate of attacks.
“Such hate crimes have no place in our communities and are contrary to the spirit of inclusion that makes our city such a safe and wonderful place to live,” the association said after several Jewish houses of worship were vandalised.
“We stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters in solidarity. Anti-Semitism hurts all of us in the same way that any other form of hatred hurts us.”
‘Disheartening and disappointing’
Amira Elghawaby, communications director at the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), said the hate crimes in Ottawa were “disheartening and disappointing,” but the wider community rallied around the victims of the attacks.
“What was positive was how Ottawa really came together following that rash of incidents and really made it very clear through the response from elected officials, as well as just everyday citizens and residents, that such hatred really has no place in our community,” she said.
An uptick in hateful incidents is routinely tied to political rhetoric both in Canada and the US, Elghawaby told Middle East Eye.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate crimes in the US, has documented more than 700 incidents of hateful harassment across the US since the elections on 8 November. The majority of them took place in the days immediately after the vote.
Similarly, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric during the Canadian federal election campaign last year resulted in an increase in reported hate incidents, including public harassment of Muslim women in Canada, Elghawaby said.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper made outlawing the niqab (the full face veil) during Canadian citizenship ceremonies a central pillar of his Conservative Party’s election campaign.
'It’s important to note that up to two-thirds of hate crimes are not reported' -Amira Elghawaby
“Words matter and what our elected officials say and don’t say does send signals to those, again, who may hold such negative views and may feel that they are being given license to spew those views,” Elghawaby said.
Trump’s victory has also emboldened a thin segment of the Canadian political class.
Kellie Leitch, who is hoping to succeed Harper as the next leader of the Conservative Party, welcomed Trump’s win as an “exciting message that needs to be delivered in Canada as well”.
Similarly to Trump, Leitch has campaigned on a plan to screen immigrants for so-called “Canadian values”. She was also the face of the Conservatives’ campaign last year to set up a tip line to report “barbaric cultural practices”.
That idea was widely condemned as divisive, and sowing hatred and fear of Muslims, but a recent survey showed that values testing for immigrants had the support of about two-thirds of Canadians.
Recognising the problem
According to Elghawaby, the majority of people in Canada are inclusive and accepting of differences, and many have publicly supported groups that have been targeted by hateful incidents.
She said a parliamentary motion passed at the end of October condemning all forms of Islamophobia was a positive first step toward combating discrimination against any group in Canada.
But Elghawaby also said it’s important to accurately track and analyse the reasons for hate crimes in major cities across Canada to get a better sense of the scope of the problem.
“It’s important to note that up to two-thirds of hate crimes are not reported. So we’re only talking anyway of a tip of the iceberg, but at least let’s know the tip of the iceberg,” she said.
According to Perry, the hate crimes expert, Canadian political leaders at the federal, provincial and local levels have largely done a good job challenging these hateful incidents when they occur.
But it is equally critical to recognise that Canada does not need to look outside its borders for evidence of how political rhetoric can lead to a surge in right-wing extremism, she said.
“I think we also need to remind ourselves that this is still a part of our culture. We need to acknowledge it, admit it, and confront it head on.”