We must stand on guard against intolerance

Our country stands in shock as once again violence has rocked our gentle nation with the terrible news of the attack in Quebec against people worshipping in a house of God. Within seconds of the news appearing across our screens social media exploded with commentary—most of it expressing shock and horror, offering prayers and condolences for the families of the six slain and eight wounded. Those messages coming from those who follow the Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu and a plethora of other faiths, even from those who would express no faith whatsoever.

Short on the heels of this awful tragedy there also came recriminations in social media streams, comments blaming the attack on Justin Trudeau, Donald Trump, immigrants, Quebecoise, liberals, fascists, Canadian complacency, and (your favourite villain goes here). All of it utter nonsense. We may have to look further than the alleged perpetrator that has already been arrested—rooting out any accomplices that may have been a part of those murderous acts—but the blame lies squarely on those within whom the seeds evil of intolerance and hate were nurtured, grew and blossomed into violence against others.

Most of us like to believe that we live in a tolerant and inclusive nation, but there are some among us who believe that our nation should not be a bastion of tolerance and inclusiveness. In some twisted perversion of logic, they point to what has just occurred in our neighbouring province and cite this act of utter barbarity as the just desserts of our naivety. As if somehow, by institutionalizing intolerance and enforced conformity, those acts will no longer occur.

They will point to more homogenous countries like Switzerland and Japan and suggest that Canada should strive to follow their lead. We have had policies that strived to create such societies in this country in the past. The descendants of the workers who built the national railroads, the children of the survivors of the residential school system and the generations of Quebecoise who were locked out of decent paying jobs in their own province because they did not speak English, they understand very well the horrors that such policies inflict. The horror reverberates for generations and reconciliation, as we are learning each and every day, is tremendously difficult to achieve.

Look around the world and witness the impact of ethnic cleansing. You do not have to stretch your sight back to the horrors of the Third Reich and the Holocaust (where not only six million Jews murdered in that extreme example, but also five million others who did not fit the ideals of Aryan purity) to find someone who has been directly impacted by such policies. Your own neighbour is quite likely to have been a victim in Bosnia, in Serbia, in Rwanda, in Cambodia, in Israel, in Palestine, in Eritrea the list goes on, and on, and on.

A tolerant and inclusive society, a land where peace and liberty to enjoy one’s life free from tyranny, be it imposed by the majority, a powerful minority or simply our neighbour’s disapproval of a lifestyle they disagree with, will not be an easy goal. There will always be those who believe they cannot be happy unless everyone around them follows the same God, or doesn’t believe in a god, or has the same morality, or worldview.

If there is a common social responsibility in a civil society that honours freedom and liberty it is to stand on guard for those values. Do not stand idly by while the seeds of hatred and intolerance are sown—and they will be sown, even by those around us whom we love—push back. Let it be known that such seeds are not welcome. It will take bravery and determination to stand up to the bullies, but stand up we must, each and every one of us in our own way and every day, to give meaning to the words O Canada, we stand on guard for you.