Racism and hate are threats to public safety. Why haven’t we heard this during the Emergencies Act inquiry?

The Toronto Star

Amira Elghawaby The Star Wed., Nov. 16, 2022

Did I miss something?

On Monday, the Public Order Emergency Commission heard testimony that the head of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service “at no time” felt that the so-called Freedom Convoy threatened Canada’s security.

Perhaps we have different interpretations of what security means, and for who it’s supposed to be for. But even with that in mind, CSIS Director David Vigneault had already reportedly raised serious concerns about the risk that potentially violent people could use the protests as a “recruiting ground,” according to a Feb. 6 call between federal, provincial and City of Ottawa officials in which he took part.

“There are some individuals from other causes who are the hardened elements who will likely use violence but they see this as not their mission … They are not actively participating or organizing it and are likely using this as a recruiting ground,” reads a summary report presented to the commission.

Considering that several key organizers and supporters of the convoy had clear links to white supremacist groups or espoused hateful views on social media, it would seem that such behaviours would raise fears of real threats to the security of racialized people and other minorities — and by extension, to Canada.

And not just theoretical fears.

In fact, some protesters engaged in acts of hate (the Ottawa police’s hate crime hotline received at least 200 calls), and some displayed hateful antisemitic and anti-Black symbols, underscoring how unsafe and insecure members of Ottawa’s minority communities, and those beyond the nation’s capital, felt and were.

Yet, somehow, the impacts of the convoy on racialized communities has been largely unexamined by the commission. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that experiences of racism and discrimination are all too often made invisible. As lawyer and former Toronto Star contributing columnist Supriya Dwivedi pointed out during a January podcast episode of “This Matters,” it has taken far too long for most people to take notice of the cancerous nature of hate in far-right movements.

“It’s really easy to ignore all these hateful elements if you are not worried about yourself going to work, if you are not worried about your friends and your family, right? Talk to any Jew, talk to any Muslim, talk to anybody from the LGBTQ community. They have been feeling the hate on the ground for quite some time now. None of this is new. It’s just new for a certain segment of the population,” she pointed out in her conversation with podcast co-host and producer Raju Mudhar.

While the convoy was ostensibly about vaccine mandates for truckers, it became threatening. Many residents felt abandoned by the institutions that were meant to protect them. This is all too familiar for people of colour.

Various commentators have also pointed out the double standard of treatment towards racialized and Indigenous protesters.

“The blockaders were treated differently than any other group that had marched for racial or social justice,” wrote Heather Campbell, a former co-chair of the Alberta Anti-Racism Advisory Council and a commissioner with the Calgary police commission, in a Calgary Herald article last February.

Jarring still, the commission heard allegations that sympathetic police officers were leaking information about police plans to convoy organizers, and heard from a former deputy minister that public safety agencies “feel very underequipped and underprepared to gather and share intelligence” about threats related to ideologically motivated, violent, extremist rhetoric online.

Now, months later, the City of Ottawa’s “Institutional Report,” submitted to the commission, barely mentions racism or hate; the Ottawa Police Service’s report doesn’t reference either term even once.

Such erasure can only mean one thing: the security of racialized communities is simply not a priority.