On Prejudice

Perhaps realizing that Harper’s attempt to paint the opposition as obstructionist based on one symbolic, non-binding vote (discussed here) has fallen a bit flat, some of his supporters have focused their outrage on some of the reasons given for the opposition parties’ signal that Gwen Morgan didn’t enjoy their confidence.

Here’s a typical response:

The committee rejected a person with excellent credentials who is widely respected across the country in academia, in business and for his community work. They used ‘racism’ as their pretext. They chose to smear this person’s well-earned reputation of smarts and integrity in order to strike a blow against Harper.

This accusation arises from the opposition members citing a speech Mr. Morgan gave last December as a reason they found him to be unsuitable, Greg at Sinister Thoughts points us to the full text of the speech here. In it, Mr. Morgan talks about the problem of Jamaican and Asian gangs in our urban centres, leading to “run-away violence”.

Some of Stephen Harper’s supporters called this an attack on Morgan’s character.

Multiculturalism is not sacrosanct. People can believe it is of no value or of negative value and not be racist.

Pointing out the cultural reality of gangs in Toronto and other large centres is not racist.

The truth of black on black crime and Asian gangs is being lived out in this country. Not saying so doesn’t mean it isn’t. Saying so does not make one racist because it doesn’t imply that all Jamaicans or all Asians are bad people and for six members of a committee to say that Morgan is so tainted by his perceptions of the immigration system in this country that he is unsuitable to serve in the capacity of chair of this commission is an attack on the man’s character.


First of all, the committee members who voted against Mr. Morgan’s candidacy were careful not to accuse him of being racist; to say otherwise is an exaggeration of their statements. Rather, the committee members only said that the speech was one of the reasons they thought that Mr. Morgan was “unsuitable.” And reading the full text of Morgan’s speech, I am surprised that Stephen Harper is surprised that the NDP, at least, voted against him.

While I can’t speak to the Bloc’s or the Liberal Party’s reason for opposing Mr. Morgan, quite apart from Morgan’s questionable and unsourced statements on the nature of crime in our urban centres, he shows considerable contempt for the NDP in general. And as the chair of a government appointments commission in a minority parliament, this indication that the working relationship between Morgan and any NDP members of the commission might be tense is a fair reason for the NDP to vote against him, in my opinion.

And the fact remains that Harper could have brought forward somebody else to sway at least one member of the opposition (Justice Gomery, for instance, would have passed in a cakewalk). Or he could have challenged the opposition to bring forward candidates of their own. Or he could have taken the political flak and appointed Morgan anyway above the opposition’s objections. Either way, this feigned outrage over the reasons the opposition decided to express their opinions (something they are entitled to do), is simply irrelevant. Even some Conservative supporters agree.

I do not think that Mr. Morgan is racist. Despite the fact that he uses hyperbole (violence in Toronto, while serious, is not “run-away”), he was careful to point out that the overwhelming majority of immigrants are decent, law-abiding individuals, and to call for more immigration to bolster key sectors in our economy. However, in his wake there have been a few comments and commentators out there that have taken his points and stretched them further. StageLeft points to this recent criticism of multiculturalism which goes too far, in my opinion:

Flash forward to 2015. John’s doctor was trained in some half-assed med school overseas and has an accent so thick John can’t understand his advice. And John’s not sure that nurse understands him. He calls 911 and hears, “Que?”

John struggles to make himself understood everywhere he goes: pharmacists, shop clerks, the dishwasher repairman — English is a second language to almost everyone. It’s like he’s surrounded by a million Manuels from Fawlty Towers. But it isn’t funny.

The city’s just suffered its 10th (known) honour killing this year, and it’s only April. Botched female circumcisions are up.

John took early retirement. The Globe’s circulation plummeted in the face of dozens of small, foreign language community papers. There isn’t much for John to do with his free time. Who did he think would put on the Stratford Festival? Portuguese drywallers? Did he envision an all-black Toronto Maple Leafs or something? Who did he think would organize Remembrance Day ceremonies — a bunch of Chinese teenagers? The CN Tower is still closed after the bomb scare, but they’re hoping to reopen it in time for Cinqo de Mayo. Maybe this year they’ll finally have Gay Pride again, after that horrible Muslim riot, er, “misunderstanding” back in ‘11…

Yeah. We’ve got nothing against people from other cultures, except that we think they talk funny, look different and are more prone to violence. But it’s not like we’re racist or xenophobic!

Morgan’s speech and those who have attacked the committee members for citing it as a reason to find him unsuitable for the position Harper proposed him for, follow a bunch of canards: that crime is on an unprecidented increase in this country, and that immigrants are responsible for a disproportionate portion of it. The first statement is simply inaccurate, and the second statement is, at best, irrelevant and, at worst, ugly.

The fact of the matter is, Toronto’s per capita crime rate is less than half that of New York City, even after the remarkable drop in crime that occurred under Mayor Rudy Giulliani’s watch. Toronto’s per capita crime rate is lower even than that of Edmonton or Calgary and many other cities in Canada, and yet I’ve heard no one talk about Edmonton or Calgary’s crime problem. Why? Perhaps because Edmonton and Calgary are wonderful cities which, while they may have a higher per-capita crime rate than Toronto, they are small enough that the number of crimes they do suffer each day aren’t enough for the blood-hungry media to feast on and make the local citizens forget that the overwhelming majority of their population is safe and always will be.

It’s a sad fact that, in a metropolitan area that’s five million people strong, the number of bad things that can happen does increase. The media has both a duty and a financial interest in reporting these crimes, but they do present a false picture that the metropolitan area is overrun with crime. On a day when there were five murders and attempted murders in the city, it’s easy to forget that almost five million individuals were unaffected by these sad incidents.

The fact also remains that, though it’s hard to believe in the face of the incidents that get splashed across our news screens, our crime rates, while volatile, remain significantly lower than they were in the early 1990s. Toronto’s murder rate peaked in 1991; its population has increased since, but the number of murders have dropped — and this is a trend that is reflected across Canada. All of these trends are bourne out by StatsCan.

I am not downplaying the seriousness of crime. All crime is serious. While I myself have never been attacked, Erin has been mugged twice while living here in Kitchener (she was only shaken, fortunately; and the second time she forcibly removed the nose ring from her assailant, thus giving the police plenty of DNA evidence to work with). So we know what it’s like to be a victim. Be it one murder, or one home invasion, or one assault or one burglary or one broken window, one crime is one too many. I believe we should ensure that our police forces have the resources and manpower they need to do their jobs (Toronto’s police could use a helicopter or two, in my opinion). I believe that we have to be tougher on criminals and that life sentences should mean being jailed for life.

What Erin and I do not believe is that we should exaggerate the problem and treat the issue as if society is on the verge of collapse. We do not believe that this country should go overboard in our solutions and compromise civil liberties. We do not believe that we should forego the key right of our democratic society to be considered innocent before proven guilty.

And this is my problem with people who constantly talk about the contribution immigrants have made to our crime rate. Given that, just as Mr. Morgan notes, 99.9% of our immigrants are as decent and law-abiding as our decent, law-abiding citizens, how is the race or legal status of the criminal relevant?

The only difference between citizen criminals and immigrant criminals is that we have the added bonus of being able to deport immigrant criminals once they’ve been convicted for their crime. Otherwise, what else do we intend to do with this information? What do we propose as the solution for crime committed by immigrants that doesn’t already exist for crimes committed by natural-born Canadians? The only way that I can see that “immigrant” becomes relevant, here, is if you propose putting all immigrants under greater scruitiny, simply on the basis of the immigrant group they belong to.

And that’s the very definition of prejudice.

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