Open Letter about Conservative Party Politics in Canada

The Canadian Federal Election is coming up on October 19th, and the Conservative Party, under current PM Stephen Harper, has been using some extremely questionable tactics (to put it mildly), perhaps with the guidance of his new political consultant, Lynton Crosby. Crosby is an Australian political strategist who has worked for years for conservative parties there, as well as for David Cameron’s Tories. Regardless of the source of Conservative tactics, many of them have capitalized on divisive anti-immigrant sentiments.

Earlier this year, Bill C-24 came into effect, which many have criticized as creating a two-tiered citizenship system. Under this bill, it becomes possible to strip dual citizens and naturalized Canadians of citizenship if they are convicted of serious crimes in Canada or abroad. Canadians who become citizens under Bill C-24 can also lose citizenship if they fail to display sufficient intent to reside in Canada. However, the government’s interpretation of dual citizenship has proved itself to be extremely broad, given their revocation of Saad Gaya’s citizenship. Despite his having been born in Canada to parents who are Canadian citizens (having given up their Pakistani citizenship), none of whom have applied (or re-applied) for that citizenship, the onus is upon him to prove that he is not a Pakistani citizen.

A phrase used by Harper more recently, during the Globe and Mail debate in September, has also been seen as an instance of dog whistle politics. In discussing whether or not his government had taken health care away from immigrants and refugees, Harper said, “We do not offer them a better health plan than the ordinary Canadian can receive. That’s something new and existing and old stock Canadians agree with.” The phrase “old stock Canadian” was something for which he was quickly called out by the Liberal Party on Twitter. When asked to clarify later, Harper suggested that he was referring to Canadians who have been the descendants of immigrants for one or more generations. (Though given the appalling treatment of indigenous people by the Canadian government, and Harper’s own dismissal of missing and murdered indigenous women, this clarification seems to make the whole thing even worse.)

There has also been a Conservative attempt to overturn a Supreme Court ruling that women are allowed to wear face coverings such as niqabs at citizenship ceremonies. This has been centred around the case of Zunera Ishaq, who successfully fought for the right to wear her niqab during her citizenship oath, just in time to vote in the upcoming election. But just on the heels of the Conservative loss in this case came a statement saying that the Conservatives would seek to establish an RCMP tip line for the reporting of “barbaric cultural practices.” The cultural practices in this case are acts such as child marriage and honour killings, which are already illegal under Canadian law. While this idea has gathered some satirical responses, it does have plenty of support in the Conservatives’ base.

As a response to the current tactics being used by the Harper government, an open letter drafted by four Canadian academics, but signed by almost six hundred more, was published in the Ottawa Citizen and has been picked up other mainstream news sources, such as the CBC.