Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

How should Toronto respond to hate? With calmness and solidarity

Hate comes in on rats' feet. It scutters along the baseboards. It flits among the shadows. It strikes and runs. A slogan sprayed on a mosque. A symbol drawn on a synagogue. A word flung at a schoolmate.

The rise to the most powerful office in the world of a man who said American Muslims cheered the 9/11 attacks, who proposed a ban on Muslim visitors to his country, who claimed the first black president was born outside the United States, who talked about Mexican rapists coming across the border – all of this has had predictable results. U.S. groups that track hate incidents have reported hundreds since the presidential election on Nov. 8.

At a gathering of a right-wing fringe group in Washington last weekend, followers raised their arms in a Nazi salute as a speaker shouted "Hail Trump! Hail our people!" and "Hail victory!" Donald Trump's overdue disavowals of the vile groups that cheer him can't undo the damage done.

Story continues below advertisement

Hate doesn't stop at the border. There has been a smattering of incidents in Canada, too, from racist graffiti in Ottawa to an anti-Semitic message on the window of a Toronto library.

How do we respond when hate comes out of the dark?

Not by panicking. No. These are anxious times but the haters are an obnoxious few. They are lashing out in part because they are losing. Liberal values are advancing all over, as hard as it may be to see it. The arc of the moral universe really does bend toward justice, and it continues to bend despite the recent disturbance in the cosmos.

People on both sides of the border are more tolerant than ever. Marriage equality is the law of the land in both countries. Interracial matches are far more common and accepted. The first-ever LGBTQ Grey Cup party was to be held in a downtown Toronto sports bar on Friday night. That says far more about where we are than a swastika daubed on a wall.

Not by flogging ourselves. No again. Disregard the voices that say our institutions are shot through with racism. The schools are marvellous engines of integration, the place where kids of every background become Canadians. The police force, for all its faults, is more and more diverse and getting better at guarding against biases. It is the police, remember, who pursue the haters when they vandalize and terrorize.

When Barack Obama talked to his daughters about the election result and the racial incidents that followed, reports The New Yorker's David Remnick, he told them that when things like this happen, "You don't get into a fetal position about it. You don't start worrying about apocalypse. You say, okay, where are the places where I can push to keep it moving forward."

Not by curbing free speech. Never. The danger from the scurrilous pamphlet dropped in the mail by the local crank is less than the danger of compromising that most central of rights. Weaken that and we weaken ourselves.

Story continues below advertisement

Not by going down the blind alley of identity politics, either. The answer to hate isn't to huddle in groups. It is to come together as one and say: This is not us. That is what some east-end residents did when someone put up posters in their neighbourhood asking, "Hey, white person: Sick of being blamed for all the world's problems?"

A few dozen people gathered in a local park to say that that kind of swill did not represent their Toronto. Calm, determined demonstrations of solidarity are the best way of resisting hate.

And resist we must. Hate can work, even in a tolerant place like this. When the haters raise their voices, the new and the vulnerable begin to wonder: Do these few speak for many? Are we really welcome here? Suspicions spread. Anger swells. Barriers go up.

Hate, sibilant-voiced, whispers doubt in our ears. Are we really progressing? Is taking in so many newcomers really a good idea, or are we just inviting a backlash? Are we all just racists underneath all the multicultural happy talk?

It makes us second guess what we've built. It shouldn't.

Toronto, blessed Toronto, is an example to the world of successful co-existence. The haters can't spoil that unless we let them.

Story continues below advertisement

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
Toronto columnist

Marcus Gee is Toronto columnist for the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper.Born in Toronto, he graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1979 with a degree in modern European history, then worked as a reporter for The Province, Vancouver's morning newspaper. More


The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨