Canadian Conversations and National News: What to Keep in Mind as the Ghomeshi Case Unfolds

The moment that I heard the news about the attack at the National War Memorial and Parliament Hill—itself preceded by a targeted hit-and-run in Québec—my heart began to race and I became incredibly anxious. Part of this was, of course, my concern for those parties involved and my fervent hope that no one would be harmed. But I’m not ashamed to say that my anxiety had more to do with what would happen next: the fearmongering in the news, the attempts to find the “root cause” of the issue, the likelihood that Canada’s security laws would be ramped up in response to the attacks, and the certainty that while the general response across Canada would be a message of hope and a reminder of strength (as Bob McDiarmid has already demonstrated) there would be targeted aggression against Canadian Muslims, people of colour, and their places of worship and businesses because of the perceived links between ISIL and the perpetrators of the attacks.

My certainty was not misplaced, as events unfolded precisely as I’d predicted they might. Canadians tried to remind each other to respond to this incident with kindness, care, and support for one another and for the families of the victims (including the families of the perpetrators). On behalf of the CBC, Peter Mansbridge reported events with acuity and a level head, relaying details without speculation while reassuring Canadians that they were receiving up-to-date information as it was confirmed and made available. Meanwhile, American news sites were quick to get a head start on the fearmongering and misinformation, doing whatever they could to establish connections between the attacks in Canada and America’s ongoing geopolitical and military involvement abroad. Obama expressed his support by reminding Canada of the need to be vigilant and synchronized with the United States’ counterterrorism responses. The Harper government has already moved to reduce the cause for preventative arrest on suspicion of terrorist activity. And a mosque in my home province of Alberta was vandalized, and then cleaned up by volunteers from the Cold Lake community. In the weeks ahead, every citizen who engages in conversations about the hit-and-run and the Parliament Hill attack will attempt to sort out how they feel about these attacks and what they mean, for themselves and for Canada. For my part, I am still anxious. I am anxious about the fear-mongering and Harper’s vow to increase national security, its effect on the upcoming federal election, and how easy it is for fear to turn into race-based hatred and violence against others. I am anxious about how easy it is for misinformation to spread when it concerns mental health issues in Canada, Canadian gun laws, religious extremism, and Canada’s own military involvement abroad.

More generally, I am anxious about the kind of ideas that are born of conversations between those who have opinions without facts, arguments without justification, and belief without empathy. I am anxious about being between a rock and a hard place, trying to explain the simultaneity of my beliefs: the dire need to improve support services for those who struggle with mental illness, that Canadian soldiers’ well-being and safety are crucial, that Canada’s presence on the global stage no longer looks like peacekeeping, that the Harper government represents an extremism that terrifies me more than ISIL ever could, that Canadian Muslims are not dangerous, and that I am grateful to have been born and raised a Canadian.

Today I have been watching another serious situation unfold: Jian Ghomeshi’s forced departure from the CBC, Ghomeshi’s subsequent suing of the CBC for the sum of fifty million dollars in general and punitive damages, his grievance for reinstatement under his collective agreement, and the rape allegations that are said to be the source of his termination. I wish to make it very clear that by discussing these two situations in the same post, I am in no way comparing the tragic loss of two innocent lives in Ottawa and Québec with the canning of a Canadian broadcaster, nor do I believe that such a comparison is even remotely appropriate.

But I am anxious again. I am anxious because in the coming days and weeks, I will witness victim-blaming, accusations that anyone who participates in the kink community is mentally ill or a rapist or both, a resurgence in animosity between men’s rights activists and feminists of all affiliations and inclinations, and misinformation spreading with a vengeance. Victim-blaming harms. False accusations harm. Stereotypes harm. Racism and xenophobia harm. Extremism harms. Opinions without facts harm. Arguments without justification harm. Belief without empathy harms.

This week, you may find yourself in a conversation about Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and Ottawa, or Jian Ghomeshi and the CBC, or another breaking news story in which innumerable intersections begin to emerge: violence, politics, sexism, racism, extremism, ableism, and nationalism, to name but a few. When you have these conversations, reflect upon those intersections. Ask yourself what they are, who has been harmed and who may yet be harmed, what facts are available to you, who is being silenced and who is speaking, and from which sources your information is coming. Debate, discuss, search for more information, but do so with care and a healthy dose of self-awareness and understanding. And above all, try to remember that there is no shame or weakness in reserving judgement until you have the facts you need, or in altering your view as your receive new information.

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