Canadian Politics: Less Racist Is Not a High Enough Standard (Part 2/2)

Are we in Canada as multicultural as we claim to be? Erin Tolley explained that the answer is a big NO! And while my previous piece picked apart the first reasons for racialized press in Canadian politics, we left things incomplete. Let’s take those ideas and go one step further – into the very words we use.

The idea of “ethnic politics” (discussed in Part 1) ties in perfectly with the other main reason for why politics in Canada is racialized: language. Let’s start with the example Tolley used:


Notice how the members of parliament abstaining in a vote about Israel are pointed out to be Muslim? As though they had abstained from the vote because of religious or ethnic reasons? If you read the rest of this story, it shows that, in fact, over 40 MPs abstained from this vote, but none of them are being considered as newsworthy as the 8 Muslim MPs. This article almost assumes that their reason for abstaining was religious – where the others who abstained did so for “logistical reasons.” Problematic? You bet.

The linguistic framing of race just continues to enforce a racialized political media in Canada. And sure, it’s not like there are racial slurs being used, but regardless, Tolley thinks of this as a new form of racism: “modern racism.”

When you frame it with those words, it seems pretty bad, and it is. The problem is, even though this keeps happening, not a lot has been done to address it. While privately it might be acknowledged, newsrooms continue to print these kinds of stories.  And if it is publicly acknowledged, then offenders may claim to be colorblind – which, as Tolley explained, isn’t much better.

Because there has to be a balance to this. Reporting on people based on their race is not good journalism, but erasing ethnic background can erase the distinct cultural identities and history within racial minority groups. Both aren’t good, and yet a balance doesn’t seem to have been found.

In coming to this dilemma, we have to ask ourselves: do we really have the right to call Canadian politics multicultural? And if not, how do we change that?

I mean, there could be small fixes. Tolley suggested that the media could use a “Reverse Test” in which they ask themselves: “would I include this information (the mention of race) in a story about a white person?” If the answer is no, then take it out of the story! Or, we could acknowledge the fact that Canadians are not as superior when it comes to racialized media, as some might think we are.

And, in terms of action, we could simply refuse to support stories that perpetuate racialized language. Don’t click on clickbait that has a questionable headline. Don’t say we’ve got a multicultural cabinet now with Justin Trudeau in charge – there may be more racial minorities than in the past, but that number is still small, and still fails to represent the whole of Canada’s diverse population. “Less racist” than other countries should not be an acceptable standard for Canadian politics, and the media shouldn’t be helping this trend continue.

Most of all, I think it’s time to hold media truly accountable for giving us stories that highlight race. We can boycott headlines all we like, but unless we start asking why certain people are framed in certain ways, then we’re never going to get anywhere. Thankfully, UTM’s own Tolley has provided us a starting point – creating awareness of the issue. Now, let’s take that knowledge and make a real change! Because we know for sure that institutions aren’t going to go on and change themselves.

(I have included a note below that touches upon methodology and restrictions, as outlined by Tolley.)

It should be noted that indigenous peoples were not included to this, because they have a different relationship with Canadian government, and a different history of colonial oppression.

This study focused on print media, and compared the news coverage of white candidates to non-white candidates. All subjects and samples are Canadian, as to prevent comparing it all to another country with different media and political atmosphere. Tolley’s research was done by examining headline and articles as well as conducting structured interviews and conversations with MPs and staffers on Parliament Hill.

All the research shared above belongs to Professor Erin Tolley. Her book is available in hardcover and softcover on if you care to read it.


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