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Zachary Paikin: Canada’s leaders must take the dangers of diaspora politics seriously

Commentary

A massive spike in antisemitic incidents across the country following Hamas’ gruesome October 7th attacks has shocked many Canadians. But these events are only the latest example of how diaspora politics are increasingly putting our national cohesion and international engagement at risk.

The disorder we have witnessed in Canadian cities in recent months, which just this weekend succeeded in shutting down an event between two G7 leaders at the Art Gallery of Ontario, comes on the heels of a major break in Canada-India relations following the killing of Sikh nationalist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, as well as the fiasco surrounding the invitation of former Waffen SS member Yaroslav Hunka to Parliament.

The implication seems clear: An increasingly multipolar international order—one featuring assertive new powers and competing global interests—risks fracturing our diverse society and rendering our foreign policy impotent. To avoid this outcome, we need to do two things. 

First, our leaders need to repurpose our public discourse about multiculturalism toward highlighting the ties that bind Canadians together, rather than focusing on the ways in which we are diverse and different from one another. 

Continual intimidation, harassment, and violence against Jewish businesses, neighbourhoods, and community institutions since October 7th has been unnerving and dangerous. I certainly never thought I would live to see the Avenue/Wilson intersection in Toronto—where I spent the first five years of my life—labelled a “Zionist-infested area,” nor to witness a crowd outside the Montreal Holocaust Museum earlier this week cheer as those inside the building were called “rats.”

The face of Canada has changed considerably since multiculturalism was first adopted more than a half-century ago. One day after introducing the policy in Parliament in October 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s maiden speech to outline his vision of a multicultural Canada was made to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

Ten years later, in 1981, Jews still outnumbered Muslims nearly four-to-one in the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA). Yet as of the 2021 census, Muslims accounted for more than 10 percent of the Toronto CMA, now outnumbering Jews by roughly the same four-to-one margin.

Multiculturalism is a unique Canadian success story. And it remains one of the most important assets we have to grow the foundations of our national power and prosperity in an increasingly post-Western international order. But the dramatic change in the demographic composition of Canada over the past four decades means that our population has become subject to a wider range of pressures and ideas. If we fail to pair our growing diversity with a common narrative, then we risk seeing Canadians pitted against one another—as indeed is already occurring—and the whole multicultural edifice being brought down in the process.

Leaders from all parties need to get behind a unifying message, rooted in the founding wisdom of our constitutional order: Canada stands for peace, order, and good government. That means that acts of intimidation and harassment will not be tolerated. But it also means we cannot allow conflicts in distant lands to divide us and shape who we are as Canadians.

A protester walks as police line the entrance to the Art Gallery of Ontario, where a cancelled event for Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, was to take place, in Toronto, Saturday, Mar. 2, 2024. Cole Burston/The Canadian Press.

This domestic message will resonate even more strongly if accompanied by an adjustment in the way we conduct our foreign policy. Research I have conducted for the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy shows how our political class has difficulty articulating a common idea of Canada’s national interests, beyond platitudes such as outdated conceptions of our “role in the world” as a “middle power” or our desire to be “seen to be a good ally.”

Unable to focus resources and attention on clearly defined core interests, our leaders all too often gear their statements toward domestic audiences for political gain. The current Israel-Hamas war is a case in point: given that Canada’s ability to influence the conflict is negligible, foreign policy statements are used to satisfy demands from this or that constituency. Diversity management takes the place of diplomacy.

A new discourse focused on what does or does not constitute a core national interest would encourage ethnocultural communities to think about foreign policy not as Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, or Ukrainian Canadians, but rather simply as Canadians. Owing to Canada’s location on the map, challenges in the Arctic, Asia, and Europe must rank far ahead of the Middle East when it comes to allocating limited resources in the pursuit of our interests.

By the same token, we should oppose antisemitism not just as Jewish Canadians, but because it offends who we are as Canadians: a civilized country based on peace, order, and good government for all. With a multipolar world exerting growing pressure on our multicultural tapestry, our leaders should focus less on moral posturing toward a conflict over which they have little influence and more on what kind of society we want to build here at home.

Neil Seeman: May your opinions always be yours

Commentary

Your employer has as much right to your opinion as you have to his Bobby Hull rookie card. That doesn’t stop Generation Z from disclaiming—on social media, blog posts, and in journal articles—that “opinions expressed are solely my own and not those of my employer.” Herein lies the timorous caveat.

Upon delving into Google Scholar, a repository of peer-reviewed articles, I unearthed roughly 67,000 papers adorned with such disclaimers—a trend that gained fervor after 2009.

For ideas to flourish, we need to speak clearly on matters of ethics, politics, and morality. The ubiquity of disclaimers has me worried about the state of our freedom of speech, our grammar, and about human authenticity, too. Imagine Plato disclaiming in the presence of his teacher, Socrates: “I sense a contrast arising between your approach and that of the Sophists, who win arguments through logical fallacies for personal gain—and here I speak solely for myself, not for the Socratic circle, and not for Greece!”

Your opinions are always your own. We live in a world where our professional and personal lives can comingle. It’s always been thus. If you write something that leaves your clients or students wilting in fear—especially if your words cause grievous assault to an identifiable minority group—your employer has the right to reprimand you and maybe even sack you. Again, nothing new here.

What’s new is the expansionist march of meaningless disclaimers. Some modern disclaimers alert readers that all views expressed, no matter how repugnant or anodyne, do not represent the views of “present or past employers.” Meaningless, since the disclaimer can serve to disclaim—but not to disown. You own what you say, online and off. If you say something charming or witty or wise, yasher koach! If you rejoice in a heart emoji or a repost, you earned it. If you hurt someone, you must own your apology, too. 

While it’s sound advice for employees to exercise discretion and sensitivity when voicing controversial opinions aloud, the prevalence of these disclaimers online contributes to a chill on speech. The fear of professional repercussions or misinterpretation by employers or colleagues may lead people to temper authentic expression, compromising the principles of open discourse and intellectual diversity.

Authenticity is what employers and employees yearn for in each other; faux disclaimers are just that.

The language used in these disclaimers can be muddled with ambiguity. The phrase, “opinions expressed are solely my own,” falsely implies a clear demarcation between personal and professional viewpoints. It’s illogical in its construction, wrongly suggesting that others can lay claim to an individual’s thoughts or arguments. The word, “solely,” is redundant. Nor can we ever know if the opinions expressed have been proclaimed by others, with or without caveat; the disclaimer implies that you alone say this.

A 2014 U.S. tribunal decision (Kroger Company vs. Anita Granger) critiqued a firm’s policy requiring employees to always include a disclaimer of this nature. David I. Goldman, the administrative law judge in the case, conceded that companies have a legitimate interest in their employees not appearing to speak on their behalf “unless an employee is actively seeking to give the appearance of speaking on behalf of an employer.” In other words, the default position online should be as it is in physical interactions: if your neighbour, a schoolteacher, grumbles to you about the authoritarian remit of the teachers’ union to inject politics into the middle school curriculum, she’s expressing her view, not that of all educators.

To be sure, some people—politicians, union bosses, CEOs—are held to a higher standard when speaking publicly, since their jobs bestow on them stewardship toward voters, members, or shareholders. It’s their job, 24/7, and they’re generously compensated for being “always on.” And no disclaimer can or should absolve them from defaming anyone. If you work in the civil service or a job whose policies prohibit advocacy for a political party online, then your disclaimer won’t save you from transgression. 

What if we cast away the disclaimer, this timorous caveat? Discouraging such disclaimers might make us cherish free speech more, and revive friendlier and more robust exchange in the public square. 

Cardinal Richelieu, Chief Minister to King Louis XIII of France, is said to have cautioned: “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.” 

Your enemies will try to hang you no matter what you disclaim or how vigorously you disclaim it. And if you keep mum on matters of morality about which you care deeply, then the loudest voices win. Free speech and the marketplace of ideas wither under a booming din of disclaimers.