Lifting the veil on Canadian xenophobia 

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The story of the maligned American traveller replacing the stars and stripes on his overstuffed backpack with a maple leaf patch has been told and retold so many times at this point that it's practically become Canadian folklore.

Distinguishing ourselves from our bolder, brasher southerly neighbours has always been something of a national pastime, and the endless anecdotes of Americans too ashamed to don the red, white and blue abroad only further reinforced in our minds the growing divide between the two countries.

But after sentient-robot-in-a-two-piece Stephen Harper spent the last decade eroding the values we hold dear, and an equally interminable slog of a campaign in which public xenophobia and paranoia were stoked to near-Trumpian heights over a quarter-inch-thick piece of fabric we've suddenly declared a threat to national security, media pundits below the 49th Parallel have breathlessly wondered: What the eff is going on up in Canada?

It's a question we've been forced to ask ourselves about a million times too many over the course of Harper's sad, strange reign. But that particular line of inquiry shouldn't stop at the Prime Minister's Office.

We also need to ask some pretty tough questions about what kind of nation we've become, and what kind of nation we want to be moving forward.

For as effective as Our Dear Leader and his merry band of cronies have been at turning what was essentially a non-issue — the frustratingly distracting niqab debate — into a whopper of a wedge issue, the reason it worked is because the Conservative spin machine shrewdly exploited a dark truth about the Canadian psyche: Maybe we're not as open and accepting as we so proudly purport to be.

Canada has a long history of being gripped by intense fear of the outsider. The Japanese internment camps of World War II are probably the most infamous example, but there are plenty others as well.

The Doukhabours, a community of rural farmers who made the long trip from Russia to settle the Prairies, were thrown into labour camps en masse in B.C.'s Interior not long after the attack on Pearl Harbour.

The Hutterites, another religious community with roots in Russia, were barred from owning land for nearly 30 years by the Alberta government once they were seen as a competitive threat to other farmers.

Now I truly believe we've learned from these glaring historical mistakes. Canada is, by and large, a more tolerant, progressive country than it's been at any point. But it's hard to tout the more than 200 different ethnic groups within our borders as clear proof we've finally created the rainbow-coloured multicultural Utopia of our dreams when we still can't even give our indigenous peoples a freakin' glass of clean drinking water.

Canada in 2015 is marked more by what divides us than the many things that should tie us together, all because we've let a kitty-cuddling miscreant at 22 Sussex play the politics of hate like a fiddle. Right vs. left. Conservative vs. Liberal. Urban vs. rural. Industry vs. environment. Rich vs. poor. No matter how many lines we arbitrarily draw in the sand, Harper knows where they are and how to use them to kick up dust.

It's the only card he has left to play; those of us engaged enough in the spinning hamster wheel of the 24-hour news cycle already know where our vote's going on election day, so our beleaguered PM is banking on the apolitical set being whipped into enough of a xenophobic frenzy that they'll flock to the polls in shuffling droves.

The time for talk is over. Thank God, we've heard enough hateful blabbering from all corners of the spectrum over the course of this spiteful campaign.

So let's stop talking about how open and inclusive we are for once and actually be it.

Let's stop treating the systemic racism that has turned our First Nations' peoples into second-class citizens like it doesn't exist.

Let's stop preaching religious tolerance without actually making a concerted effort to understand those that are different from us.

Let's lift the veil on our own ignorance and openly admit our faults.

Let's stop giving Harper a reason to divide us.

Let's take action. Let's be who we already know we are. On Oct. 19, let's take Canada back.

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