Race can determine value of one’s citizenship

Who is a real Canadian? Who is accepted as a Canadian?

The reality, as we celebrate Canada Day 2009, is that if a White person claims to be Canadian that claim is accepted without question. If a member of a racialized community makes the same claim their claim is usually questioned.

Even though Canada is not part of Europe, European culture dominates the country and negates the culture and history of every other group including the original people of the land. European culture and history are glorified in the education system and taken as the norm, while everyone else’s is marginalized and tokenized.

The British and French consider themselves Canada’s “founding” nations. It is as though they forget there were people living here before the first Europeans arrived. Africans have been here since the 1600s beginning with Matthew DaCosta (an interpreter with the Champlain expedition, 1603) and Olivier Le Jeune (enslaved six-year-old kidnapped in Madagascar and sold in Quebec in 1628). Yet, people who are 7th and 8th generation African Canadian are routinely asked which Caribbean island they come from.

Given this history it is little wonder that Canadian citizen, Abousfian Abdelrazik, was left to languish for the past six years; first in a Sudanese jail cell and then for more than a year in the weight room of the Canadian embassy in Khartoum (Sudan’s capital).

It is not surprising that Abdelrazik did not want to make a statement until he arrived safely at Pearson International Airport and cleared immigration and customs. In spite of all he suffered because the Canadian government abandoned him, Abdelrazik is still “glad to be a citizen of this famous nation”.

As one of the people anxiously waiting at Pearson last Saturday to welcome him, I suffered some moments of doubt about Abdelrazik’s safe arrival knowing the history of the government’s abandonment of this Canadian. This has been one of the examples of shameful behaviour for which the government has to be held accountable. Just a few days before Canada Day 2009, the advocacy of Canadians across the country, including members of unions and religious groups, resulted in the Canadian government being forced to do the right thing.

Canadians have been celebrating Canada Day for more than 140 years. On Saturday, June 20, 1868, a proclamation issued by Governor General Lord Monck, which was also published in the Canada Gazette, “enjoined and called upon all Her Majesty’s loving subjects throughout Canada to join in the celebration of the Anniversary of the formation of the Dominion of Canada on the 1st of July, 1868.” On May 15, 1879, Royal Assent was given to “An Act to make the first day of July a public holiday by the name of Dominion Day.” In 1967 Canada celebrated its 100th birthday with a year long celebration which included hosting the World’s Fair, Expo ’67, in Montreal from April 28 to October 27.

The Caribbean community in Toronto, as part of its contribution to the “Centennial projects”, staged the first “Caribana” and taught Torontonians how to enjoy the summer with a glorious street party. Caribana is now a Canadian institution bringing millions of tourist dollars into the purses of Torontonians, and of the government. The people who, for the past 42 years, have worked to make Caribana the celebrated festival that it is, many of them born in Canada, would probably not fare any better than Abdelrazik if they found themselves in a similar situation. Several people from the Caribbean, especially from Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, have Muslim last names.

Abdelrazik’s calamity can partly be attributed to Islamophobia which has bedeviled Muslims since September 11, 2001. Abdelrazik is one of several Canadian Muslims who have been ill served by the Canadian government. Maher Arar, who eventually received an apology and compensation, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin, for whom a parliamentary committee has urged apologies and compensation, are some of the others.

Abdelrazik was reunited with his family in Montreal on Saturday and is expected to appear in court on July 7. The Canadian government owes this Canadian citizen an apology and compensation for its actions, which put his life at risk, and their neglect in bringing him home even after he was cleared of any ties to terrorism by both the RCMP and CSIS.

Who is a Canadian citizen? Anyone who was born in Canada, born to Canadian parents living anywhere or who, after living in Canada as a landed immigrant for three years has taken the oath of citizenship which includes swearing allegiance to the reigning British Monarch and her heirs. However, not all Canadian citizens are equal. Your race and religion can determine the value of your citizenship.


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