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Russell Wangersky: Anti-immigration rhetoric makes no sense

Maxime Bernier visited Cape Breton on Thursday and sat down with the Cape Breton Post to answer some questions.
Maxime Bernier during a visit to the Cape Breton Post. — SaltWire Network file photo

Sometimes, I feel like I have to pinch myself, just to be sure I’m not in some kind of finely tuned, close-to-real-life nightmare.

Listening to renegade MP Maxime Bernier foment about there being “too much diversity” and claim that a majority of Canadians want to roll back immigration numbers, watching the federal Conservatives jump tentatively on the immigration bandwagon as well, I keep wondering if I’m going to wake up and realize I should never eat nachos before going to bed.

But it doesn’t seem to be a dream.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about immigration, and frankly, I’m still mystified — mystified how there could be what seems like such a strong undercurrent against immigration in this country.

Maybe I’m just naïve.

Or maybe it’s not me; maybe there is a whole tranche of Canadians who are naïve because their only real experience with immigrants are brief interactions — or no interactions at all.

The fact is, we need people. Go to many restaurants and fast-food outlets, and you find whole crews of temporary foreign workers doing jobs we can’t fill otherwise.

As the Canadian population ages — and some Atlantic provinces are aging even faster than the national rate — we’re going to need even more help, including more working people to broaden the tax base and help pay for things like, I don’t know, health care for Canadians.

But no. Instead of seeing value, even without any legitimate clear evidence, a fair-sized block of Canadians apparently see us as being under some kind of threat.

The fact is, we need people. Go to many restaurants and fast-food outlets, and you find whole crews of temporary foreign workers doing jobs we can’t fill otherwise.

Can you go into court records and find people with foreign-sounding names who have been charged with crimes, sometimes horrible crimes? Of course you can. I can go into the files of the Ontario Court of Justice and find a Rego and a Reyes and a Sivalingam in an instant. Can you pick a case and say, “There you go — violent criminals!” Yes, you can.

But you can just as equally go into the same court records and find a McEwan and a Bertrand, a Conley and a Stephenson and even a Smithen-Davis.

Neither search really means very much; people commit crimes, not their ethnic origins.

I understand how easy it is to be afraid of something you know nothing about, especially if it’s regularly being cast as a threat or as an end to some nebulous “Canadian way of life.”

I can also understand how convenient it is to blame someone else — especially a phantom “other” you never actually meet or know — for all of your problems, rather than accepting any of the blame for why you find yourself in a particular situation.

Some people can legitimately be called racist — others just act that way, simply scared of things they haven’t experienced and don’t understand. They end up in the racist pool simply out of ignorance and fear, rather than hate.

Unfortunately, we will always have a small number of die-hard racists. What we can’t do is to allow fear of the unknown to grow that pool.

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll have to say it again: if you’re not indigenous, you can’t claim ownership of this place.

To claim “I want it, I’ve got it, and no one else can have it” is really nothing more than greed.

There are huge changes coming. But there were huge changes before, for example, after the Second World War, and there will be huge changes again.

Opting for the easy, casual hatred that is racism? In a country with so much, I find it hard to accept

I think we’re better than this. And I hope I’m not wrong.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky.

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