By Luis Armando Sanchez Diaz, February 11 2021—
The events that recently unfolded in Washington D.C. in early January shocked the entire world as insurrectionists abruptly entered one of the most symbolic buildings in the United States — the Capitol building.
It was an attempt to stop the official counting of the electoral college votes that confirmed Joseph R. Biden’s election as the 46th president of the United States.
During the insurrection, five people unfortunately lost their lives and millions of Americans witnessed what was one of the darkest days in American history. The attack on the Capitol building put into perspective how fragile a democracy can be and raised alarms in other countries about the measures governments around the world must take to prevent radicalism from ever having a prominent role in any aspect of society.
The events also demonstrated just how much power the words of a leader can have upon the actions of their followers. Hours prior to the attack on the Capitol, President Donald Trump spoke in front of thousands of his supporters at a rally outside the White House which focused on protesting the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election.
What happened in the Capitol was foreseeable after four tumultuous and divisive years of the Trump administration. His presidency was full of falsehoods, lies and conspiracy theories that he shared through his various social media channels — mainly Twitter. This information was received by his supporters as fact. Donald Trump pushed the notion that the election was stolen from him, but in reality there is no evidence. State certification of the vote took place and many courts rejected the fraud lawsuits brought by his campaign.
It will take time for the newly-inaugurated President Biden and his administration to return America to a place where each of its citizens can gain full trust in their government and feel that they are being represented by it. What happened in the United States is to be taken as a lesson by other democracies which need to work very hard to prevent those events from ever happening in their nations. Radicalism is present everywhere.
Canada, from my perspective, is the country that needs to do the most when it comes to stopping extremist ideas from surfacing in its social atmosphere. We share an almost nine-thousand-kilometer border with the U.S. and close relationship between the two countries makes it easier for ideas to spread, also made easier by social media. On Jan. 6, Trump supporters in different Canadian cities took to the streets — albeit in small numbers — in response to the insurrection incited by Trump.
Canadians must never be hesitant to hold current politicians and public servants accountable for their actions and comments, especially those that go against the duties of the office they hold or that purposely incite violence, target minority groups or propagate misinformation about an issue. Trust and transparency within government institutions, as well as by the people in charge of running them, are essential components for a nation to prosper and govern effectively.
Political parties at all levels of government have the daunting task of approaching people who, for years have become wary of government efficacy as well as those who don’t see the relevance the role of democracy plays on maintaining Canada as a free nation. There are people who feel unheard and look at the political class as figures that work only for their self-interests instead of for their constituents and communities.
It is time for leaders of the different federal political parties to make a heart-felt outreach to the voters in the areas around the country where their parties aren’t favoured in a riding. If this is not done in the near future, further divisions will occur among rural and urban voters arguably creating two countries within one — like in the U.S. where Democrats are heavily favoured in urban-metropolitan centres, while Republicans have more support in rural areas.
When it comes to Canadian politics, the Liberal party in the last two elections have handily won in heavily urban areas. On the other hand, Conservatives claim large wins in many rural areas around the country, with the exception of having won some urban ridings in the prairies. We need to work to change the urban-rural divide so that every party is aware of the enormous challenges Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast face, so the party eventually tasked with forming government is able to tackle the issues that impact people outside their voting tent.
Furthermore, as students of a post-secondary institution we have the enormous privilege of being in close contact with different perspectives, backgrounds and ideas that both our instructors and classmates bring to every class. We must cherish that diversity, as it’s part of the core of Canada and is one of the reasons I decided to come to study in this great country. One of the ways to grow our intellect and knowledge is when we challenge our beliefs, views and opinions about many issues.
Indeed, Canada is a free country and the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms constitutionally grants every single Canadian the “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression” among other fundamental freedoms which are immerse in our education. However, it needs to be specified — as sometimes many forget — that freedom of speech has limits, specifically when people express ideas that directly aim to affect others by using one’s religion, sexual orientation and identity, as well as their ethnicity and race and other physical or spiritual characteristics in a negative way.
Finally, it is important to note the relevance of the power that the government — provincially and federally — can have when it comes to battling radicalism. As it was seen on Jan. 25 in the House of Commons a motion introduced by NDP leader Jagmeet Sigh was adopted unanimously by the House. The motion called on the government, led and represented by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to categorize a far-right group as a terrorist organization. The motion goes even further, as it urges the government to use all the available tools to stop the rise of white supremacy and other hate groups in the country.
I urge all the first ministers and the prime minister himself, to use the authority they hold to rebuke falsehoods, conspiracy theories and hateful comments made by members of the political class or by fellow workmates and to use their constitutionally-permitted power to prevent any individual or organization to ever pose a national security threat to this country.
Canada is a great and unique country because of its people, culture and values. Every citizen and non-citizen like myself must work tirelessly to maintain decency and unity in our daily lives.
This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.