Symbolism, Meet Substance

di Joe Volpe del 6 October 2018

The Notwithstanding Clause (NC) is back in the public forum. In layman’s terms, the NC is the “set aside” tool governments can legally use to deprive citizens of individual or collective rights guaranteed under the Constitution - and enhanced by the Charter of Rights.

The NC is now being referenced as the weapon of choice for latent “tyrants in majority governments”.
Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario, threatened its implementation to set aside a Court decision outlawing his proposed boundary changes for the October 22 elections in Toronto.

A Court of Appeal decision in his favour prompted him to withdraw the enabling legislation to invoke the NC. The 25 Federal Members of Parliament who had signed a “slap-on-your-little-brother’s-wrists” letter had zero impact on Ford’s decision.
Newly-elected Premier of Quebec, Francois Legault, has announced that, yes, he would do the same to defend his proposed legislation to ban religious symbols (icons, head-wear, garb and beards …) in publicly funded places.

He will go further, he promised. Any immigrants who can’t pass a French-competency test, three years after their arrival, will be shipped out of the Province.

Here’s a wager I am prepared to lose: ten dollars says the Prime Minister of Canada will NOT find 25 Members of Parliament from the Montreal area to sign a letter reminding Legault that this might not be a good idea.
Where will Legault send the immigrants who cannot satisfy the requirements enforced by the Language Police? To Ontario?

Ford has said he wants “to take care of our own first”. Although what that means to him is not quite clear. For a friend of his – former
Prime Minister Stephen Harper – it meant that only “old stock” immigrant types were welcome. You know … Caucasian Anglophones. For his idol, “the Donald”, it means non-Muslims and non-Hispanics, at least.
Premier Ford is more tolerant, even if his Minister for Correctional Services circulates dresses in bullet-proof vests, there are ten former refugees in his caucus.

Nothing will prevent those Quebec rejected immigrants from entering (swarming into) Ontario, a province overflowing with undocumented workers. They have become an “underclass” of workers at the mercy of the unscrupulous but essential to business models dependent on reliable competent labour, irrespective of their language skills.
Federal Minister Ahmed Hussen, who seems oblivious to this reality – one million undocumented workers in Canada, according to federal officials speaking off the record – has taken the “baby-step” of changing the vocabulary guiding the debate. There are no longer such people as “illegal” entrants, only “irregular” ones.

This debate is not new. In the mid 1800s, French Catholics interpreted English Protestant policies (perceived) to flood Quebec (then Lower Canada) with impoverished and sick Irish Catholics as a tactic to diminish the influence of the Francophones.
The Anglophones have not been immune to fear-mongering of their own. The Komagatu Maru incident, involving Sikhs; the St. Louis and rejection of Jewish refugees; the War Measures Act (a blunter instrument than the Notwithstanding Clause) to criminalize and/or jail Italian and Japanese Canadians as “enemy aliens” are but a few examples.

Old, ingrained prejudices linger. They fester and beget others.
Today, Canadian Border Services Agency (immigration branch), incapable of “keeping out” border-crossers from the USA, are making the enjoyment of life precarious for any undocumented workers. They troll schools, work-places, transit stations and public gatherings for “illegals/irregulars” to remove.
“Mainstream” Press and Media often, perhaps inadvertently, feed into this psychology of uncertainty. For example, seemingly “out of the blue”, one English language daily newspaper in Toronto discovered a series of quotes attributed to (but not so independently verified) a front runner in the Brazilian presidential election. The article mocks the candidate. It does not deal with any substantive issues - even remotely.

There are an estimated 55,000 Brazilians in the GTA. Many of them are reputedly “undocumented/irregular” types busily minding their own business; trying to earn a living for their families. They wouldn’t feel comfortable by the negative association.
About 6,000 of them hold Brazilian citizenship and are eligible to vote in that presidential election. Their preference would seem to be that same, right-wing, front-runner, Jair Borsolano - co-incidentally, an Italian by ancestry.
Whatever, Brazil is still a democracy. It is an emerging economic power. Canada is officially pursuing improved trade relations with her. Why foment discord among us?

This represents yet another opportunity for Minister Hussen and his Cabinet to revert to his previously held intentions to test and evaluate a Pilot Project tasked with “regularizing” undocumented workers.
He shouldn’t miss it. Quebec and Ontario combined represent 62.5% of Canada’s population. Their governments are decidedly anti-Ottawa.

Justin Trudeau should start looking elsewhere for coalition-building.

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