Quebec mosque shooting should be a wake-up call

As a diverse future beckons, Canadians need more intercultural dialogue to address undercurrents of intolerance.

It would be tempting to think the mass shooting at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec was an act of hatred conceived south of the border and born in Quebec City, but that would be a mistake.

This is a wonderful country. In the last election the majority of us voted for ‘sunny ways,’ and elected a Prime Minister who is devoted to diversity. The ham-fisted actions of the demagogues down south make him look all the better.

But there is an undeniable undercurrent of intolerance in this country. It’s not obvious or brash like it is in America as we Canadians enjoy a subtler form of xenophobia than they do down there.

In Quebec, people should not mistake baguettes and joie de vivre with an embrace of diversity and liberal politics. The province contains deeply conservative, mistrustful elements.

About three years ago, the Parti Québécois tried to introduce a Charter of Values to restrict religious garb for public employees.

This is not the behaviour of an open and tolerant society but it would also be a mistake to link the populism and conservatism of a minority of Quebecers and Canadians to last month’s act of terrorism.

The Charter of Values was decried as xenophobic and populist but it was never adopted. In addition, the Parti Québécois who tabled the charter have been voted out of office. It was also not a specifically an anti-Muslim document, as it would have also affected Jews, Christians, Sikhs and other religions.

It would be wrong to explain the actions of a lone suspected gunman by pointing to a province’s anxiety over burkas. A society should be able to debate identity politics without people getting shot. But this heinous act should serve as a warning and a wake-up call for more intercultural dialogue.

A report this week from Statistics Canada suggests that by 2036, as many as 30 per cent of all Canadians will not have been born in this country. Another 20 per cent of the population will be the children of immigrants.

This country should prepare for a future that is going to be defined by diversity. The nationalists both in Quebec and the rest of the country need to accept that they were themselves immigrants at some point and embrace the coming change. At the same time Canadian values of freedom, secularism and democracy should be respected.