Monday, October 15, 2007

This is what happens when people play with fire

Neo-Nazis show up in downtown Calgary wearing masks on their faces to protest Muslim women being permitted to vote while veiled:
Protesters from both sides of a white supremacists rally were hauled away in handcuffs after tempers and profanity flared on the steps of Calgary city hall.

A group of 15 neo-Nazis, most wearing balaclavas and carrying black flags bearing a "white pride" Celtic symbol, clashed with a crowd of over 60 counter-protesters Sunday afternoon.

On the eve of a civic election, the white supremacist group handed out leaflets protesting Canadian legislation allowing women to vote wearing face-covering burkas.

Now let's recall...who was it who led the charge against Muslim women being permitted to vote while veiled and made a very big show of his displeasure with it prior to the Quebec by-elections? Oh yeah, it was our Prime Minister who fanned the issue by attacking Elections Canada for not requiring that veils be lifted. And he did so despite the Elections Act specifically not requiring that veils be lifted while voting. And he did so despite the fact that Muslim women intended to lift their veils for identification and there was absolutely no issue that had been raised by them in the context of these by-elections. And he did so despite his own party having been involved in amending the Elections Act just this year where they were specifically informed of the issue of veiled voting yet raised no objection at the time. In other words, the Prime Minister did so for no good reason.

It's difficult not to connect our Prime Minister's very high profile stoking of the issue as he did with the display we witnessed in Calgary yesterday. Pandering to latent resentment against minorities has consequences. The PM can deny that he was doing so and can seek refuge in claims that their views were meant solely to protect the integrity of the voting process. And I'm sure any defenders would seek refuge as well in the claims that the Liberals and NDP also supported the visual identification of Muslim women at the time of this flap. But a Prime Minister has a special responsibility as the head of our elected government to set a much better leadership example than this. He instigated this irresponsible line of attack and he's responsible for it. He should have known better as the leader of a multicultural country not to take the chance that his position would be misconstrued and misinterpreted by hatemongers, as apparently was the case yesterday. They no doubt felt perfectly legitimized in stepping out to spew their hate by a political climate in which our Prime Minister set the tone.

Yesterday's hateful demonstration, vile as it was, is a powerful reminder of the chances some are willing to take by playing with this kind of fire.

And kudos to those demonstrators who stood toe to toe with the hate. Good for them.