Upcoming: Talking About Racism

PeaceGeeks and Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue will be holding PeaceTalks #34: Talking About Racism in Canada on Wednesday, February 8, 2017. The panel discussion, which includes Seemi Ghazi, Kory Wilson, and Hope Sealy, will be held at HiVE Vancouver, 128 West Hastings Street, from 6:00pm to 7:30pm. You can register for the event here. The panel will be discussing the question “How do we talk about racism in Canada to affect positive change?” To see some of the great work that PeaceGeeks has been up to, visit their YouTube channel.


The No Ban, No Wall Rally, which was originally scheduled for Feb. 5, has been rescheduled for Sunday, February 12, 2017 from 10:00am to 3:00pm at 138 Peace Park Drive in White Rock.


S.U.C.C.E.S.S. will be hosting a “Community Forum on Immigration & Racial Discrimination” on Wednesday, February 22, 2017. The event will be held at UBC’s Robson Square campus at 1:30pm, with a reception to follow at 5:30pm. The cost for the forum is $5.00, and those interested in reserving a seat can do so here.

Coalition Against Bigotry – Pacific has announced a march to mark the International Day Against Racism on Sunday, March 26, 2017. The march will begin at Thornton Park at Main and Terminal in Vancouver at 2:00pm.

Upcoming Events

Coalition Against Bigotry – Pacific and Vancouver Antifa are planning a “New West Anti-facist and Anti-neoNazi Rally” to be held on Sunday, January 29, 2017 from 1:00pm to 3:00pm at 8th and Columbia, near the New Westminster Skytrain Station. The event is being held in partially in response to Neo-nazi posters which were found at a New Westminster bus stop on January 21, and also in response to similar literature that has recently been distributed in Greater Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.  


S.U.C.C.E.S.S. will be hosting a “Community Forum on Immigration & Racial Discrimination” on Wednesday, February 22, 2017. The event will be held at UBC’s Robson Square campus at 1:30pm, with a reception to follow at 5:30pm. The cost for the forum is $5.00, and those interested in reserving a seat can do so here.



Rally Against Racism

Trigger warning: Some readers may find some of the images below disturbing.  

On Sunday, December 11 at 2:00 p.m., a “Rally Against Racism” was held outside the Richmond-Brighouse Skytrain Station to protest the distribution of anti-immigrant flyers in the city.


I arrived by Skytrain 15 minutes after the start of the event. As I came down the stairs, I could see approximately 150-200 people gathered on the sidewalk in front of the station. Many people held signs with slogans like “No Hate” and “Immigrants Welcome Here! Richmond is a Racism Free Zone.” A number of people gave speeches in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English, and at times the crowd responded by cheering or repeating phrases.

The highlight of the event, however, was not the speeches, but a confrontation involving the Soldiers of Odin. From my vantage point, I could see three or four members of the group. They are easily identifiable by their black biker-style jackets, which sport patches reading “S.O.O.,” and a large back panel with a stylized “Viking”-helmeted man’s face. Nearby were a few anti-fascist activists (also identifiable), who I later learned were members of Vancouver Antifascist Action (Antifa). One S.O.O. member held up a sign reading “Stand and fight against hate!”


The Soldiers of Odin and Antifa were both, as far as I could see, remaining respectful of the speakers and standing quietly. All of this changed when the speaker (whom I could not see) made a point of calling out the S.O.O. She told the crowd that there were “neo-nazis” at the rally and (I’m paraphrasing here) they were not welcome. At this point, many members of the crowd turned around and began yelling at the S.O.O. members, some of whom responded verbally. Given that the whole area is constructed of concrete, it was difficult to tell what was being said, but eventually a chant of “go away” (or something to that effect) led the S.O.O. members to retreat south down No. 3 Road. They were followed by members of the news media.  


These men seemed happy to speak to the media and to anyone who wanted to chat. I approached one man, who identified himself, and struck up a conversation. I began by asking what he thought of the speaker referring to him and his group as “neo-nazis.” He quickly responded that they were not racists, and that Antifa always tries to shut them down. He went on to say that they were concerned about people promoting Sharia law. When I pointed out that the rally was not addressing that topic, he said that they were there to “show support” and show that they were against the anti-immigrant posters.    

This man was clearly informed about the public perception of his organization, as when I mentioned that the European wing of S.O.O. has links to the extreme right, he countered that the founder of S.O.O. — “Mika” (Mika Ranta) — had unfairly gotten a bad reputation. He was at pains to explain that his S.O.O. chapter is a charitable community organization. In addition to patrolling the streets, they ostensibly have supported families in need, including a family whose house was destroyed by fire. Furthermore, he and another man (who had joined him by this point in the conversation) both noted that members of their families were immigrants and/or visible minorities. We shook hands and parted amicably.

Who are the Soldiers of Odin?  

The Soldiers of Odin were founded in the northern Finnish town of Kemi in late 2015. They were created in reaction to an influx of migrants, many arriving via Sweden. According to Reuters, the new organization was mainly attempting “to protect native Finns from immigrants” by organizing street patrols. The influx of refugees had, to their way of thinking, put a strain on local police forces, as they believed that these immigrants increased the rate of criminal activity in the town. In the past year, the Soldiers of Odin have opened chapters across Canada, and many other countries, as Vice Canada reported in April.  

The Soldiers’ reputation as a racist organization stems partly from their anti-immigrant raison d’etre, partly from the fact that their founder, Ranta, is an avowed white supremacist, but also from the fact that their social media indicates that many members have extreme-right leanings.

A cursory look at the Facebook pages of members of the Vancouver S.O.O. chapter reveals some disturbing imagery. One member, living in Surrey, posted the following image on his personal Facebook page:


At the moment, the Vancouver S.O.O. seem to be purging certain members from their ranks. For example, another (now former) member of the Vancouver chapter made it clear through his Facebook account that if he isn’t a neo-nazi, he’s ignorantly appropriating neo-nazi symbols, including the “valknot,” explained here by the Anti-Defamation League . Whether the imagery he is using or internal politics within the movement are the reason for his ejection from the organization is unclear.

Several “members” of the Vancouver Facebook group are actually from overseas. One member from Germany shows quite a bit of neo-nazi imagery on his Facebook page, including an image of WWII-era German soldiers with the phrase “Ihr opfer unser auftrag.” This is a lyric used in a song by Rechtsrock (white power) band Hassgesang.


Another photo is of a slogan that reads “Familie ist nicht immer mit wem du dein blut teilst sondern fur wen du bereit bist es zu vergiessen” (“Family is not always with whom you share your blood but for whom you are willing to shed it”); note the stylized “SS” in the picture:


A “member” from Belgrade, Serbia posted this photo:


Are these Facebook members actual members of the Vancouver chapter? In all likelihood, they are not. However, with members and “friends” like these, it’s no wonder that Soliders of Odin finds itself mired in accusations of being a front for white power. If they want to distance themselves from such accusations, they will need to take a hard look at their membership — and be more careful about who they “add.” Better yet, they might want to consider a name change. When I asked the member with whom I spoke if his chapter might consider such a change, he responded that “We could call ourselves the ‘Blue Knights,’ but we’d still be Soldiers of Odin.” Perhaps the question that I should have asked is: “Why did you choose this name in the first place?”

The Soliders of Odin have now inserted themselves in the public discussion about immigration in Richmond. Just as the S.O.O. are ‘vigilant,’ those of us who worry about ethnic relations need to also be vigilant and ensure that groups like this are held to account for their actions and their associations.

Stay tuned.  

Racism in the News

Greater Vancouver has once again made national news because of its ethnic tensions. The Richmond News initially reported on xenophobic flyers, which were placed in mailboxes in Steveston on November 17th. This story was quickly picked up by CBC News, the Huffington Post Canada, and other national news outlets. A week and a half later, more flyers were left in mailboxes in the city; this time, Immigration Watch Canada claimed responsibility.   

These incidents in Richmond appear to be part of a wave of literature targeting ethnic and racial minorities in Edmonton, Toronto, and Montreal. Some of the flyers in Richmond, Edmonton, and Toronto explicitly refer readers to “alt-right” websites. Though it is unlikely that the distribution of this literature has been coordinated, it does follow on a string of racist and xenophobic incidents in the United States and Canada in the wake of the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President. Trump’s victory has clearly emboldened the alt-right, with even Canadian members of the movement feeling that his victory signals a tide-change in this country. As the Canadian alt-right mouthpiece, the Council of European Canadians, put it: “We can now practice a more direct form of politics…”

Given that there has been a print media and social media circus surrounding the American election, it begs a question: Are these incidents in Richmond indicative of a larger problem, or are they anomalous? Are we, perhaps, more attuned to such incidents at the moment because of the media frenzy?

By way of explanation, let me share a personal anecdote. Last March, the City of Richmond held a forum on foreign-language signage at the UBC Boathouse on River Road. It was an extremely well-attended event. Although I had reserved a seat online, when I arrived the organizers had no record of my reservation. As I was waiting to get in (which I eventually did), a man handed me a flyer that looked like this:


While the language on this flyer is arguably not as inflammatory as that of the flyers that were distributed this November, the message is similar: immigrants are not wanted, and they are ruining our country. However, the local media did not report on this flyer at the time. Did they not report on the flyer because it was uninteresting? Were they expecting Immigration Watch Canada or similar groups to hand out flyers (and therefore it was not deemed newsworthy)? Did they simply miss it entirely? (Journalists are humans too!)  More than likely, the journalists at the forum were a lot more concerned with what was going on inside the event than what somebody was handing out outside of it. But it is interesting that what was apparently not newsworthy at the time is now national news.   

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been wondering what the landscape of racism in the news looks like in Richmond and Greater Vancouver. What follows is a preliminary report.

Data & Analysis

Note on methodology: Using online databases (mainly EBSCOhost, Google News, and newspaper databases), I have compiled lists of racist and/or xenophobic incidents reported in print news in Greater Vancouver for the past ten years (2006-2016). In most (but not all) cases I was able to verify that these events took place by looking at more than one news source. The data for Greater Vancouver includes Richmond, as well as Vancouver, West Vancouver, North Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Surrey, Delta, and Langley.  

Richmond, BC

Year Incidents
2016 2
2015 4
2014 2
2013 2
2011 2
2010 2
2009 1
2007 1
2006 3


The findings for Richmond are, for those of us who live here, not all that unexpected. Overtly racist incidents that are reported in the local news are few and far between. However, anecdotal evidence — or what we might call “collective memory” — would suggest that racism (by all groups and individuals) is much more widespread. Some incidents stay under the radar because they are simply not reported in the press. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre and B’nai Brith Canada, for example, publish statistics about antisemitic incidents that are reported to them, but some never make it into the news. For example, in 2014 I stumbled across a swastika that had been painted on public infrastructure at Garry Point Park in Steveston.   


I reported the incident to B’nai Brith (or the Anti-Defamation League — I can’t remember), but the incident was never shared with the press, as far as I know. I made the assumption at the time that it had either been reported to the local media or would be reported. In other words, news reports are far from the whole picture.  

Vancouver, BC

The data for Greater Vancouver is much more disturbing. As we can see, there have been 29 incidents in the past year, 20 more than the previous year.

Year Incidents
2016 29
2015 9
2014 6
2013 8
2012 4
2011 7
2010 2
2009 3
2007 1
2006 3


I think there are a number of reasons why this number may be higher than in previous years. In no particular order, here are some possible factors:

  • The news media has been more diligent in reporting incidents this year because of the national and international (particularly American) discourse around racism and immigrants   
  • Better SEO and Google News algorithms have made ‘more’ incidents appear this year in databases
  • Easy access to mobile phones makes it easier for people to capture incidents as they happen, and later report them to authorities.
  • People living in Vancouver have become more sensitive to incidents of racism and are now reporting at higher rates than in the past
  • There have, simply, been more racist incidents this year than at any point in the past decade

Final Thoughts

What are we to make of all of this? Well, I don’t know yet. There is still much work to be done in cross-referencing this data. Specifically, I hope to contact municipal police and RCMP detachments in the region to obtain statistics on racist incidents. By comparing their data with the data I have gathered about ‘newsworthy incidents,’ I hope to have a better picture of what our local media and social landscape really looks like.

I am also hoping to turn this database into a collaborative project at some point in the near future, so that individuals can contribute both incidents that have been reported in the news, as well as those that have gone unreported.

Finally, it is worth saying that not all of these flyers (or their creators) are, by definition, ‘racist.’ There is a legitimate public discussion to be had around the issues of immigration, multiculturalism, and ethnic diversity. These flyers raise these issues, but they do so in a confrontational way.

However, I think that the popular perception is that these flyers are a means of expressing racist and/or xenophobic sentiments in an acceptable format. The inflammatory language used (“Step aside whitey! The Chinese are taking over!”) overshadows the message (that there are problems with home ownership and language, due to in influx of non-English speaking immigrants over the past couple of decades). In addition, it is very difficult to divorce the messages on these flyers — however valid — from their association with the politics of the alt-right, which is a movement that has strong links to white supremacy. In other words, we are using ‘racist’ as a shorthand for ‘looks racist.’

More to come.

Signs of trouble


Richmond has garnered a fair amount of regional and national media attention in recent years as a result of the local debate about Chinese-language signs. Something that has been overlooked is another set of signs that can be found in the downtown area. At least three of these posters, which read “Conservative Party of Canada is Anti-Immigrant,” can be found in the downtown core. One is located across from the Richmond Public Market on Buswell Street; the other is located next to the Subway at Westminster and No. 3 Road; a third is found in front of the CIBC building.

The posters do not contain any contact information or affiliation. According to a story by the Vancouver Media Co-op, these same posters were posted on the office of Conservative MP for Vancouver South Wai Young in 2012. If you have any information about the origins of these posters, please leave a comment.





Forgotten multiculturalists: Walter Bossy and the Institute of the Canadian Ethnic Mosaic Confederation

One of the first people to publicly endorse “multiculturalism” was a man by the name of Walter Bossy. During the early 1960s he attempted to organize ethnic minority communities into a “third force” to counter what were then perceived as the dominant (French and English) communities. Although he was not successful, his story is nonetheless interesting because of what it tells us about changing attitudes toward Canadian identity in the postwar period.

Born in Yaslo, Galicia to a Ukrainian family in what was then part of the Austrian Empire, Bossy served as a machine-gunner in the Austrian army during the Great War. Within two years of his arrival in Canada, Bossy had become the editor of Ukrainian Canadian. He later worked for the Department of Colonization and Immigration because of his fluency in several languages. Bossy eventually settled down with his family in Montreal and became a language teacher for the Montreal Catholic School Board in 1931. Within the Ukrainian community, Bossy was best known for having founded the Canadian branch of the Ukrainian “Sitch” Organization in 1924. The Sitch Organization was a paramilitary movement that supported the Skoropadsky monarch-in-exile and advocated the establishment of a Ukrainian monarchy; it would later become the United Hetman Organization and was, for a brief period, an important force in the Ukrainian Canadian community.

Within the Montreal community, Bossy became an advocate for ethnic minority groups and helped new immigrants to integrate into Quebec society. In 1949, at the urging of the School Board, he formed the Bureau du Service Neo-Canadian (New Canadian Service Bureau), and set up an office on University Avenue. In addition to helping immigrants like himself familiarize themselves with their new surroundings, Bossy’s office also organized events, such as a “New Canadians celebration” in 1949 to celebrate Montreal’s ethnic diversity.

In October of 1963, the New Canadian Service Bureau folded and was replaced by the Institute of the Canadian Ethnic Mosaic Confederation. Representatives of seventeen ethnic groups met at the Insitute’s headquarters, Villa Semper Fidelis in Ile Bizard near Montreal, to form what was hoped would be an organization that would represent all ethnic minority communities in Canada.

Canadian Ethnic Mosaic

[Photo courtesy of the Walter J. Bossy papers, Library and Archives Canada]

To announce the new Institute, Bossy sent an open letter addressed to Andre Laurendeau on 28 August 1963. Laurendeau was the co-chair of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, which was about to begin its work. Like many ethnic minority leaders, Bossy was concerned about the Commission’s use of the term “bilingualism and biculturalism” and the fact that its terms of reference referred to “two founding races.” In his letter to Laurendeau, Bossy noted that he had dedicated forty years of service “on behalf of the non-English and non-French Canadian ethnic groups.” In light of the recent discussion of a “third force” (composed of the ethnic minority groups other than the French and British) and in light of the need to organize ethnic minority communities, Bossy believed that his Institute might lead the “third force.” The groups that met at Villa Semper Fidelis “requested their former “New Canadian Service Bureau” to assume new dimensions and responsibilities, and in effect to become the rallying centre of representatives of all ethnic groups.” If ethnic groups were unable to rally around the Institute, its founders hoped at the very least to “provide the [Royal] Commission with the location and name of a body that the ethnic groups themselves have specifically designated to be their spokesman.”

The Institute asked Bossy to present a brief to the preliminary hearing of the Royal Commission. On November 8, 1963, Bossy told the commissioners that “statistically” the “other ethnic groups” constituted a force in Canadian society. He went on to say that the idea of a third force “does not mean that we are carrying the bombs behind, but it is a potential force.” Bossy concluded with two recommendations. First, he said that the Commission owed it to the other ethnic groups to explain the terms of reference of the Commission in ethnic language newspapers, as the terms could be interpreted as discriminatory. Second, Bossy said that any new constitution should have input from all of the ethnic groups living in Canada, as the “third group” deserved to have an equal say as “Fathers of Confederation.”

Despite Bossy’s best intentions, however, the Institute of the Canadian Ethnic Mosaic Confederation acted neither as a clearinghouse for information about ethnic groups, nor did it help to organize the multicultural movement. While there were some initial attempts to share information with other ethnic organizations, it became clear that there was no real demand for a pan-ethnic body of the kind that Bossy envisioned. Similarly, the Royal Commission never did explain its focus on “bilingualism and biculturalism” in ethnic language newspapers, nor did it see ethnic minority groups or the “third group” as “Fathers of Confederation.”

It would take another eight years before the Canadian Government would officially abandon “biculturalism” for “multiculturalism.” Nonetheless, Bossy’s submission to the Royal Commission on behalf of the Institute was one of the first open attacks on biculturalism by a coalition of ethnic minorities. It marks an important milestone in Canada’s development because it was an indication that ethnic minority communities were no longer content to be viewed as an afterthought to the “founding races.” Walter Bossy and the Institute of the Canadian Ethnic Mosaic Confederation were important builders of the notion of “multiculturalism” in Canada because they challenged long-held views about Canadian identity and ethnicity.

To hear an audio recording of Walter Bossy at the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism’s preliminary hearing, visit the CBC Digital Archives: http://www.cbc.ca/archives/categories/politics/language-culture/the-road-to-bilingualism/canada-is-actually-tricultural.html

What is multiculturalism?


“What is multiculturalism?” This is a question that is often asked of me when I tell people that I study the history of multiculturalism policy in Canada. While it seems like a pretty straightforward question, even so-called “experts” in the field tend to answer the question in ways that are confusing or even wrong. My go-to proxy answer (or some might say cop-out) for lay people, students, and colleagues is to refer people to an article published in the Journal of Canadian Studies by Evelyn Kallen in 1982 entitled “Multiculturalism: Ideology, Policy and Reality.” Without getting into the details of Kallen’s piece, here is the gist of the article: When we discuss “multiculturalism” in Canada we are usually referring to one of three notions – multiculturalism as an ideology, multiculturalism as a policy, or multiculturalism as a reality.

The ideology of multiculturalism is usually said to have begun in the 1960s as a response to the hearings of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (1963-1971). Ethnic minority groups protested that Canada was not, as the government claimed in naming the Commission, “bicultural,” but was instead “multicultural.” This gave birth to a movement and a way of thinking about Canada that broke from the previous British-centric and bicultural (English and French) models. Other scholars and writers have said that the ideology of multiculturalism began in the 1920s or 1930s and grew out of the idea of Canada as a “mosaic.” Kate Foster’s Our Canadian Mosaic (1926) and John Murray Gibbon’s Canadian Mosaic: The Making of a Northern Nation (1938) are seen as germinal works in this regard. Finally, some people claim that Canadians have always lived in a multicultural society. In his book A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada (2008), John Ralston Saul claims that the idea of multiculturalism began among the Indigenous Peoples, long before Europeans settled in the geographical area now known as Canada.

When we speak of multiculturalism policy, the waters are, once again, murky. Usually multiculturalism policy is said to have begun on October 8, 1971, when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau announced his government’s policy of “multiculturalism within a bilingual framework.” Since that point, various Federal departments have managed that portfolio (often assigned to a junior minister). For example, Jason Kenney is Canada’s current Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. But multiculturalism as “policy” also refers to the provisions regarding multiculturalism in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) and the Multiculturalism Act (1988). Section 27 of the Charter reads: “This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.” Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s Multiculturalism Act simply gave legislative backing to PM Trudeau’s 1971 policy.

Kallen’s third pillar, multiculturalism as “reality,” refers to the fact that Canada is an ethnically and culturally diverse country. Its population is composed of people from all over the globe, as well as Indigenous Peoples. Again, one might think that this point was irrefutable, but scholars and pundits still disagree over when Canada became multicultural in a demographic sense. Most agree that the Indigenous Peoples were polyglot and diverse, and that this diversity was expanded with successive waves of immigrants from France, Britain, China, etc. But often this is confused with the ideology of multiculturalism. Some claim that Canada was, for most of its history “bicultural” or even “British.” To be clear: these are political standpoints, and are not defensible given what we know about immigration. True, Canada’s leaders often viewed the country as a “British nation” during the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, and as a “bicultural” (French and English) nation at various points (especially the early 1960s), but Canada’s population has never been uniformly “British” or anything else. Many French-Canadians have First Nations ancestry. Jewish merchants, German mercenaries, and Portuguese navigators were often part of early expeditions to Canada and helped to found towns and cities like Halifax, Quebec, and Montreal. In other words, it is irrefutable that Canada’s population – in a demographic sense – has always been ethnically diverse.

So the answer to the question “What is multiculturalism?” is: “Multiculturalism is a complex phenomenon that can refer to the ideology or idea of multiculturalism, legislation and policy, or the demographic makeup of Canada.”

Keep in mind that “multiculturalism” means very different things in other countries. In Germany, “multikulti” refers to policies designed to integrate immigrants into German society. In the United States, which does not have a policy, “multiculturalism” often refers to anti-racist or inclusive practices in the primary or secondary school classroom. When we talk about multiculturalism in Canada, we can refer to the policy, the ethnic composition of the country, or the public ideology of multiculturalism. Sometimes we get these things confused. Quite often, immigration is seen as synonymous with multiculturalism, though there has historically been little correlation between immigration law and multiculturalism policy/law. It doesn’t help that these portfolios are often grouped together (though, of course, it does make some sense!)

On a final note, I would add a fourth pillar to Kallen’s model: multiculturalism as practice. The way in which private organizations and citizens attempt to address and grapple with ethnic diversity, linguistic diversity, and immigrants is, I think, another way of talking about multiculturalism. In fact, much of the real work on the ground has been done by private organizations. As Franca Iacovetta points out in her book, Gatekeepers: Reshaping Immigrant Lives in Postwar Canada (2006), organizations like the International Institute of Metropolitan Toronto and C.O.S.T.I. helped to integrate immigrants and encourage a spirit of openness and acceptance among “charter” Canadians toward both immigrants and Canadian-born ethnic minorities.