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Sep. 21, 2019 | Saturday
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Political expert decries hate posters
A poster taken down last week from the bulletin board outside the NOTL post office. (Scanned Image)

While anti-immigration posters being placed around Niagara-on-the-Lake aren’t considered hate crimes in a legal sense, Niagara Regional Police and a political science expert both say they are concerning and hateful.

“In my view they are hate-oriented types of posters,” says John Shields, a professor of politics and public administration at Ryerson University. “They’re here to sort of identify particular groups in society as being unwelcome.”

“They probably don’t fall under hate laws per se, in that I think hate laws are a little bit more legalistic in how they define certain things, but clearly I think the intent of this is to talk about, you know, the ‘threat to white society’ and the threat that’s posed by the arrival of newcomers through the immigration system.”

Another anti-immigration flyer was put up on the kiosk outside the NOTL post office last week. It’s the third time in recent weeks that such posters have appeared in various locations in town.

The latest flyer includes a 2018 Toronto Sun column about Omar Khadr and handwritten political commentary critical of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It also says: “Multiculturalism” is destroying Canada and its European-Christian heritage. Wake up Canada.

Niagara Regional Police Chief Bryan MacCulloch said a detective who specializes in hate crime investigations has examined one of the offensive posters and determined it doesn’t violate the law.

“While the ideology expressed in the poster is certainly anti-immigration in nature, it does not meet the threshold of a hate crime,” MacCulloch said in a statement to The Lake Report.

However, the posters are “meant to be quite unwelcoming to new groups,” Shields said in an interview. 

“And obviously it can sort of spur certain types of emotions within (alt-right) groups, that could result in negative attitudes towards newcomer groups, and even more unwelcoming kinds of actions or gestures.”

Hateful propaganda is not new in Canada, though he said it seems more prevalent today, perhaps a  reflection of the political climate in Europe and the United States.

“I think it’s always been with us to some degree, but I think we’ve seen more of it happening in recent years. I think this has been spawned by — especially developments that we’ve seen in places like Europe, and also in the United States under Trump, where there has been sort of a rise of right-wing populism.”

He think it’s also “kind of a consequence of many people growing more kind of uncertain about their economic circumstances to some degree.”

“You know, it’s the process of globalization, the growth of precarious work and so forth, and people are looking for, I guess, scapegoats to sort of blame for the changing situation. And immigration is a fairly easy target, especially if the immigrants look differently from mainstream white society.”

Shields recently returned from a research retreat that touched on the topic of “migrant resilience.”

“How do immigrants become resilient in this kind of context of changing? Certainly one of the issues is that in order for immigrants to settle in society, we need a welcoming society. You can have great policies, you can have great programs and so forth, but if you don’t have a welcoming society, that’s going to make it far far more difficult for immigrants to successfully settle.”

Policies can help to some degree, Shields said, and in many cases create a more welcoming environment. “But if you’ve got a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment, and that sentiment is starting to grow in society, it creates a real sort of challenge in terms of attracting immigrants and successfully settling newcomer populations.”

He said what he finds “really interesting” is that in many areas, especially smaller rural communities, there’s an increasing attempt to actually attract newcomers.

“And that’s because within these areas you get a lot of young people who are moving to big cities. They don’t want to stay in the smaller communities any more, the population is aging very rapidly. And this is causing a real question about who’s going to be part of the labour force in these communities.”

In York Region, police are investigating after similar posters were placed at a high school in Newmarket.

Shields thinks the police in Niagara should be taking the matter seriously.

“I think (Niagara police) should definitely be looking at this and, you know, trying, because (the people who spread similar material) start with this kind of talk and then move quickly into something that’s much more pointed and much more threatening in its nature.”

But there is also a need to respect free speech, he said.

“This is clearly anti-immigrant, but there is a certain degree — well, more than a certain degree — of free speech here.”

People have a “certain licence” to make their views known, Shields said.

“But it’s when it goes over another line where it starts targeting people and starts using more threatening kinds of language that it begins to violate the actual hate laws. This is repugnant in my view, but it probably is not within the official definition of hate.”

The people behind groups like this tend to walk a fine line between what they can and can’t say legally, Shields said.

“I think what you’d find is a lot of people that are behind groups like this may also be engaged in other activities that do push them over the line at times.”

He said it is “probably a fairly small group of people who are doing it.”

An Ekos research report released Monday said 42 per cent of Canadians surveyed indicated they think there are too many immigrants of colour coming into the country.

“So, you can see some of this sentiment is beginning to catch on in Canada,” said Shields.

“Now, most people don’t agree with that. It is also divided by party, so that a large number of people who identify with the Conservative party actually hold that kind of view. And I think in the next run-up to the federal election — and the federal election — that we’re going to see a little bit more of this, and certainly immigration becoming a bit more of a political issue that it hasn’t really been in Canada over the past 20 or 30 years.”

Most Canadians are still welcoming of immigrants, Shields believes.

“If you do general surveys, most Canadians still see immigration as very favourable.”

“I think what (hate) does do is … it begins to put a little bit of a dent into the welcoming environment. I think it depends how the rest of the population reacts to it,” he said.

“There was a pretty visceral reaction to what happened in New Zealand, and I suspect that has really pushed some of this stuff more underground actually. There’s such a revulsion toward what happened there” in the anti-immigrant terror attack at two mosques.

“I think we’ve even seen it to some degree in the election that’s been taking place in Alberta. A number of the more conservative candidates running with (Alberta Premier-elect Jason) Kenney have come out with some statements that have been quite provocative, right? And he’s had to try to reign them in a bit.”

“This kind of stuff can sort of give freer reign for people to say things that would otherwise be unacceptable … You don’t want to kill free speech, because that doesn’t help things,” he said.

Society needs counter-voices to denounce such behaviour when this happens ”and to try to show that this is not where the mainstream of Canadian society is.”

“They’re trying to cultivate ideas, they’re trying to use provocative images to push forward this idea that we’re losing control of our country … so if something happens in society, you know, there’s some sort of violent act or something — or perhaps an act of terrorism — they’ll try to say, ‘Well, I told you so.’”

Niagara Now and The Lake Report understands publishing these images may offend some people. We believe it is important for people to see them to understand the full extent of the alt-right movement creeping into Niagara-on-the-Lake. This type of racist propaganda is not condoned by TLR.

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