Alcohol to Opioids: Part 2

Curious Public goes on the road to visit the Middlesex-London Health Unit to talk with Christopher Mackie (Medical Officer of Health) and Ana Ning (Associate Professor in Sociology) about psychoactive substances in our community.

In this episode we ask…

Are we in collective denial about the health impacts of alcohol?

Why are we removing tobacco displays from convenience stores and putting alcohol into grocery stores?

Will legalizing cannabis be a net gain or a net loss for society?

What are public health officials thinking about as they prepare for the legalization of cannabis?

Users, doctors, big pharma — who is to ‘blame’ for opioid crisis?

(This conversation is the second installment of Alcohol to Opioids — an occasional series about drug use and society. You can also listen to the first discussion with Tara Bruno and Robert Solomon for more background.)


Christopher Mackie (@Healthmac) is the Medical Officer of Health for Middlesex-London and is the Chief Executive Officer of the Middlesex-London Health Unit. He previously served as the Associate Medical Officer Health for the City of Hamilton for four years. Dr. Mackie has published peer-reviewed papers and abstracts on a number of public health related issues, including vaccination policy, emergency planning, environmental health and child and youth mental health.

Ana Ning is an Associate Professor in Sociology at King’s University College. Her research includes addiction treatment and harm reduction interventions, as well as the integration of complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) in mainstream healthcare. She also studies traditional Chinese medicine and issues of evidence-based medicine model.

Art Changes People and People Change the World

According to the quote meme on the internet, the musician John Butler once said, “Art changes people and people change the world.” It also seems evident that events in the world inspires the art that people create. This reciprocal nature of society and human expression has mesmerized artists, researchers, activists, historians, and ethnographers for a long time.

So, let’s talk about art and society. How are artists of all kinds describing the world right now? How are art-based strategies helping researchers better understand the experiences of individuals and groups? How does the present shape art, and how does art shape the future?

The Panel

Eugenia Canas (@EugeniaCanas) co-coordinates the Centre for Research on Health Equity and Social Inclusion (CRHESI). She is a Health Information Science PhD Candidate, where she uses critical, participatory and art-based research approaches to understand issues of epistemic justice in the engagement of vulnerable populations. Eugenia holds clinical experience as an art therapist in child/adolescent oncology, working in hospital and community settings. She is a Doctoral Fellow with the ACCESS Open Minds Network at the Douglas Institute of Mental Health. She serves as mentor and facilitator in local and national research and knowledge translation initiatives, including the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s SPARK Program, the Wisdom to Action Network, and the Collaborative RESearch Team to study psychosocial issues in Bipolar Disorder (CREST.BD) .

Tom Cull (@waltercull) is the current Poet Laureate for the City of London. He grew up in Huron County alongside the Menesetung (Maitland) River. He teaches creative writing and American Studies at the University of Western Ontario, and runs Thames River Rally, a grassroots environmental group he cofounded with his partner Miriam Love. Tom has also served on the boards of the Urban League, Poetry London, and WordsFest. His chapbook, What the Badger Said, was published in 2013 by Baseline Press and his first full length collection of poems, entitled Bad Animals, is forthcoming from Insomniac Press (Spring, 2018). His writing has appeared in journals, anthologies, and he is the co-publisher of WordsFest Zine, an “instant” zine of occasional poetry celebrating London’s literary festival, Words.

Holly Painter (@HollyPoetry) is a spoken word artist, public speaker, and certified teacher. She is passionate about sharing her stories, inspiring audiences, and advocating for important causes through poetry. Holly has spoken to over fifty thousand youth in school and community settings and performed on stages across the country. She is the National Director of Spoken Word Canada, Director of London Poetry Slam, and a former Artist in Residence with Thames Valley District School Boad and London Arts Council.

As one of many citizens

As one of many citizens who depend on safe and accessible sidewalks for work and daily life — no less than motorists depend on safe roads — I wonder how much more tax we’d need to pay to become equal citizens to drivers in snow removal prioritization?

Is Hate a Public Health Emergency?

On Monday, December 11, Christopher Mackie (@Healthmac), Michele Manocchi (@manocchimichele), Jennifer O’Brien (@JeninLdnont), and myself discussed the question, Is Hate a Public Health Emergency? Does the metaphor of a medical emergency accurately depict our social climate? Or is calling racism and xenophobia a “public health emergency” simplistic, journalistic sensationalism that distracts us from the real work of understanding causes and solutions?

To get the conversation going, we read these three articles ahead of our time together:

Thanks once again, and always, to London Public Library for providing this program.


A Critique of Multiculturalism

On Monday evening, as part of the Curious Public series, we held a community conversation about multiculturalism. But not just a conversation, it was principally an intentional critique of the status quo. Canada is a nation that has multiculturalism baked into its legislative framework, and we are actively encourage, especially at a national level, to celebrate multiculturalism as a key feature of ‘Canadian identity’.

But do we collectively ask the right questions? What are the negative impacts or side effects of multiculturalism? Whose agenda does it ultimately serve? Does the Canadian experience multiculturalism deserve all the national fanfare it receives?

You know that experience when you walk away from a conversation and say to yourself, ‘Well, I’ll never be able to think about that issue the same again’? That was me after this chat. It was mentally disruptive. Provocative.

Thanks so much to the panel: Raghad El Niwairi, Marie Fiedler, Leroy Hibbert, Jasmine Jasani (@_jasminejasani), Tanaz Javan (@JTanaz), and Heenal Rajani. Thanks for devoting your time, mental energy, and bringing your stories and experiences to this discussion.

For extra context, here are some of the points we set out as possible avenues that the panel might explore. Obviously, we only had time to touch on a few of these points, but I include them here for further reflection and consideration.

  • Multiculturalism as legislative policy that (inadvertently?) excuses/denies lived experiences of racism. For example: “Oh, I’m sorry to hear someone said/did that to you. But don’t worry, they’re just one ‘bad apple’: Canada’s not racist, we’re a multicultural society!” Does the act of ‘legislating tolerance’ encourage us take it for granted? Does declaring ourselves to be multicultural incentivize us to shrug off racism?
  • Multiculturalism as directing a performative role/function in society. Both in the anecdotal sense that “Where are you from?” becomes a standard line of exchange when conversing with a “visible minority” (i.e. positioning ethnicity and origin as primary social markers for non-predominate group members) and also in the sense that multiculturalism defines “normative” cultural functions. Does multiculturalism define “visible minorities” as a political identity and assign this identity with specific cultural roles? If so, then whose agenda does multiculturalism serve?
  • Multiculturalism as a pathway to Amartya Sen’s idea of ‘plural monoculturalism. In this sense, does multiculturalism reify the concept/myth that society is made up of a series of distinct, homogeneous cultures that dance around each other? We want to consider the tendency of multiculturalism to “essentialize” certain cultures or cultural traits and subsequently “tokenize” them or their representation. Does multiculturalism play a subversively isolating and ‘siloing’ role on society?
  • Multiculturalism as a political construct with minimal bearing in reality? For example, professor Anton Allahar’s argues that “Canada is not a multicultural country, it is a multi-ethnic country that is monocultural.” Who defines the parameters of ‘culture’ in multiculturalism when it is the law of the land?
  • Multiculturalism as relegation. Does multiculturalism ultimately devolve into a political framework defining “diversity” in such a way as to ultimately juxtapose “Western, Judeo-Christian, white culture” versus a conceptual hybrid/amalgamation of all other cultures? (“Dear white people, you are no less ‘ethnic’ than any other people.“) And in doing so, does this construct subsequently retrench the privilege of white identity? “So ‘diversity’ becomes a way to reassure whites of their place”,  as Sisonke Msimang describes?

In Search of the Public Sphere

I want to live in a community where youth and elders gather to discuss the ideas and issues of the day. I imagine rustic ‘city gates’ or the middle of a bustling ‘town square’: places enshrined in common thought as the epicentres of public discourse. Yes, nostalgic as it may be, I want to live in a community that has an identifiable public sphere: a community where the question, ‘Where can I go to discuss ideas with other people?’ has a clear and definable answer. I want to know where people who only seem to share differences go to break bread together.

And yes, I mean a place: a geographic location. And in this place, class, status, and rank have no bearing on the legitimacy of one’s right to hold a view on public opinion. We all show up as nothing more or less than human. This venue is not a virtual parallel or a digital portal. No, this is a place where we discuss issues as mortal beings, face-to-face, not as typists or as brand/identity managers lurking behind our avatars and usernames. This is live theatre for live deliberation.

It seems to me that such a place for public discourse must be ‘held’ together by a community of learners. These ‘practitioners’ are cognizant of the responsibility they have assumed: establishing a truly public physical arena for sharing knowledge and ideas is a task that must be taken up by us, the people, not by the state or corporate actors. The only way we can access such a space is if we create it, and the only way we can maintain such a space is if we protect it. Therefore, this is not a religious community in a spiritual or mythical sense, but it is a ‘creedal’ community in a certain manner of speaking — it is a community that finds common identity in its collective commitment to sharing knowledge and opening discourse.

Where does this community meet? Where are the ‘city gates’ or ‘town square’ in my city? Where is the ‘public sphere of ideas’ made manifest?

I have absolutely no idea what I am doing, but I’m afraid that I am obsessed with these questions. To the best of my ability, I want to contribute to the creation of such spaces. Therefore — iterating on an earlier initiative launched with my local library in February — I am highly invested in a project that kicks into gear this Monday. It is called Curious Public at Central Library.

We’re describing Curious Public at Central Library as ‘a weekly learning party for inquisitive minds and critical thinkers.’ The group convenes every Monday, in open space at the London Public Library. The format for the front half of each session is flexible — panel discussions, interviews, debates, storytellers, public lectures, etc. — but the agenda always lands back on community conversation.

Looking around the world today, I get the sense that we desperately need localized answers to the question, ‘Where is the public space in this city where anybody can go to learn and talk with one another in real-time, every week?’ Curious Public at Central Library surely doesn’t present a ‘solution’ to any of the pressing problems in the world, but it is just another humble attempt to open space to talk about them constructively. In fact, as a ‘program,’ Curious Public is surely flawed on many levels. It has its own blind spots. It doubtlessly requires further critique, tweaking, and iteration. It is not a panacea, nor even an exclusive or unique idea. But everyone is welcome to participate in this mess of becoming. Join us. Come and contribute to the development of a weekly, diverse, public, and curious learning community in our city.

These kinds of places will only exist to the extent that we create them.

Monday, September 11, 2017: A Critique of Multiculturalism – What are the negative or unintended consequences of multiculturalism?

Monday, September 18, 2017: Race, Gender, Class? Who is society designed to serve? – A primer and discussion about structural violence and discrimination.

Monday, September 25, 2017: My Rights vs. Your Rights – What happens when one person’s human rights seems to violate or compete with another person’s human rights?

Monday, October 2, 2017: How Did Work Become the Point of Life? – Who convinced us all that having a ‘career’ is such a good idea?

Monday, October 16, 2017: Should We Quit Social Media? – When we weight all the pros and cons, does social media come out as a net good or as a liability for society?

See all upcoming topics at

Human Trafficking: Definitions, Interventions, and Politics

In this podcast episode, Mia Biondi, Caroline Pugh-Roberts, and AnnaLise Trudell discuss the different ways that we as a community are trying to define and respond to human trafficking in our region. We explore some of the debates surrounding the definition of sex trafficking (should all sex work and prostitution be defined as trafficking?) and the resulting differences in approaches to intervention and political advocacy (should sex work be decriminalized and regulated or rather policed more heavily?). Despite the differences to approaching the issue, what do all ‘sides’ of the discussion agree on?

Mia Biondi is a Registered Nurse with a special interest in increasing healthcare provider awareness and knowledge on human trafficking issues in Canada, as well as organizational readiness to identify, and provide aftercare for trafficked persons. Before beginning a career in nursing she completed a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology studying HIV drug resistance, and post-doctoral fellowships in viral hepatitis and emerging viruses. Following her BScN, Mia worked as the Clinical Coordinator at All Saints Church-Community Centre in Toronto providing comprehensive trauma-informed care for trafficked youth, and drop-in health services for street-involved persons. During this time she led training for city staff, police services, and specialized health teams. She also has clinical experience in public and sexual health, severe and persistent mental health, and pediatrics. In 2015, in collaboration with the Middlesex-London Chapter, Mia submitted a Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario resolution to advocate for increased prevention, identification, and aftercare of trafficked persons. Mia is now completing the Primary Health Care Nurse Practitioner Certificate at Western University, and is an active member of the London Anti-Human Trafficking Committee.

Caroline Pugh-Roberts is a survivor of eight years of sex trafficking through strip clubs in Ontario and along the 401 corridor. As an executive member of the London Anti-Human Trafficking Committee, she focuses on advocacy and educating others. She has spoken publicly to thousands of people Canada-wide, including advocacy groups and front-line providers. She speaks at John School, a court-mandated program for men who are arrested for buying sex services; and at the other end of the spectrum, runs a sex-worker drop-in at safe space for women in London, ON. She has also been an advisor on training packages for front-line providers for the provinces of both Ontario and British Columbia. She is the recipient of a Queens Diamond Jubilee Medal for her work in this area, and currently a social work student at Fanshawe College. Caroline was recently invited to partake in The First Canadian Experiential Women’s Summit, in Toronto, for survivors of human trafficking who have shared their story with the public. She aspires to pursue a career providing care for women in the sex trade and trafficked persons.

AnnaLise Trudell (@annatrudell) is Manager of Education, Training & Research at Anova (formerly Women’s Community House & Sexual Assault Centre London). She brings extensive analysis of sexual violence and gender dynamics through her research at Western University, and is a seasoned public educator and facilitator with over 500 presentations engaging youth, professionals & post-secondary students through public education. She supports a staff team of 8 individuals who run dozens of youth violence prevention discussion-based groups every year. In her role as Postdoctoral Fellow at Western University, she seeks to amplify the voices of sex workers, offering a harm reduction sex positive approach to looking at the ways in which digital literacy can foster social inclusion and health for sex workers.

Episode notes:

The Heuristic of Hate: Dissecting Islamophobia

In this podcast episode, Rifat Hussain and Tristan Johnson reflect on the history of Islamophobia and the impact that it has on the lives of Muslims today.

Rifat Hussain is the manager of Orientation Services for Newcomers at the Cross Cultural Learner Centre, and she has played an integral role in helping settle hundreds of refugees and newcomers in the city. She is also the chair of London’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Anti-Oppression Advisory Committee. Rifat’s family immigrated to Canada from the United Kingdom when she was very young. She has degrees in Criminology and International Politics. Rifat is deeply invested in efforts to support cross cultural communication, cultural diversity, anti-bullying, and interfaith dialogue.

In 2014, Tristan Johnson was working on a Masters in American Cultural Studies and researched the experiences of American Muslims after the September 11th attacks. Digging through the statistics, he charted the way Islamophobia morphed from anxiety and fear in 2001, to a more generalized hatred by 2014, complete with attribution to anyone who looks or dresses like someone from Turkey, the Middle-East, North Africa, or South Asia. Now working on his PhD, Tristan is revisiting his 2014 research, investigating the impact of ISIS on Islamophobia and examining the way that Islamophobic attitudes have spread in Canada and Europe.

Seeing the Present in the Past: Immigration in North America

Our contemporary policies and attitudes about immigration in North America did not materialize in a vacuum. They have long histories, which shape and hue many of the perspectives we inherit today. In this conversation, we explore the ‘backstory’ to the present.

Stephanie Bangarth is an Associate Professor in History at King’s University College, at the University of Western Ontario. She is also an Adjunct Teaching Professor in the Department of History at Western and a Faculty Research Associate with the Collaborative Graduate Program in Migration and Ethnic Studies (MER) at Western. Her research interests also include Canadian immigration policy, social movements in Canada, and political history.

Shamiram Zendo, born in Aleppo Syria to an Assyrian family, moved to Canada in 1999. She is currently completing her Phd at Western University in the Health Information Science Program. She has worked extensively with the settlement of privately sponsored Syrian/Assyrian newcomers in the city of London.

Surveying the Local Journalism Scene

Looking to the future, we wonder: how will we, as a community, stay informed on what is happening in our city and monitor the decisions and actions of our elected officials? Who is investing the time to investigate the activities of corporations and power brokers? As old media revenue models heave and shift under new technological and cultural pressures, the way we will answer this question is much less predictable than it used to be. For more than a century, local newsrooms have fueled democracy, holding municipal leaders, governments, and ‘big brass’ business to account, but today the future and sustainability of local investigative journalism is far from clear. What is at stake?

Jennifer O’Brien (@JeninLdnont) is a well known and highly respected journalist and reporter in London. She worked at the London Free Press for 16 years. She has reported extensively on diversity, multiculturalism and is especially interested in issues related to equity and social justice.

The City and the Stage: Civics and Theatre

“I see theatre company leadership as civic leadership,” said Dennis Garnhum, shortly upon returning to London to become the Artistic Director at the Grand Theatre. The 2017/18 season, Garnhum’s first playbill the Grand, not only includes a full lineup of main stage productions, but also an initiative to bring professional theatre to 100 schools in London.

As a community, why is it important to support live theatre? Why do we need to make productions more accessible, inclusive, and diverse? What will stage performance look like in another generation? How will theatre continue to adapt and evolve to remain sustainable in an everchanging economic landscape? Come join Dennis Garnhum and James Shelley for a conversation about the intersection of art, theatre, and civic society.

After 11 seasons at Theatre Calgary, Dennis Garnhum (@grandgarnhum) moved back to his hometown of London in October 2016 to become the Artistic Director at the Grand Theatre. Dennis directed nearly 20 productions at Theatre Calgary, as well as productions at Vancouver Opera, National Arts Centre, Shaw Festival, Stratford Festival, Tarragon Theatre, Manitoba Theatre Centre, Bard on the Beach, Pacific Opera Victoria, Belfry Theatre, Neptune Theatre, and Theatre New Brunswick.

Poverty-Industrial Complex

As a nation, we’ve said many things about eradicating poverty and ending homelessness:

Let us affirm today, in this Parliament, that as a nation, by the beginning of the twenty-first century — only eleven years away — child poverty in this great Canada will be a relic of the past. (Ed Broadbent speaking to the House of Commons on November 24, 1989, on the motion to eliminate child poverty in Canada by the year 2000. The motion was unanimously adopted.)

In my city, poverty has been the focus of much political discussion. In 2001, we said this:

By 2006 no resident of London will be homeless. (Community Plan on Homelessness in London, October 2001, pg. 40)

And in 2010:

Unlike previous plans, this Community Plan on Homelessness is a comprehensive reflection of the voice of the community. The Community Plan on Homelessness transcends any one funding program and is designed for alignment across a broad range of initiatives to focus on permanent solutions to homelessness. (London Community Plan on Homelessness, November 2010, pg. 15)

And in 2016:

The goal of these recommendations is for London to reach its full potential by ending poverty in one generation… Panels have been struck before, recommendations developed, plans made. Even with the best of intentions and efforts, we haven’t been able to bring about the big changes we are looking for. What makes things different this time? (London for All: A Roadmap to End Poverty, March 2016, pg. 2, 12)

Admittedly, cynicism comes easy. For others, a sense of aggravated pessimism and resentment is a default (and arguably justifiable) response to the past thirty years of political action on poverty. Broadly speaking, the last three decades of consultations, expert opinions, and academic research studies have all yielded pretty much the same outcome: an almost standardized, copy-and-paste list of recommendations never seem to get enough political traction in the real world. A 2008 discussion paper from my city’s research and planning department sums up the common recommendations that emerge from such processes:

…the general strategies for addressing poverty in a community are consistent: advocating for increased income through higher social assistance and minimum wage rates, taxation strategies, and child benefit levels; increasing access to community supports such as quality child care, adequate and safe housing, and transportation; increasing access to health supports; addressing issues that contribute to poor education outcomes and poor jobs… (Poverty Elimination in London: A Municipal Approach to Community Well-Being and Vitality, Social Research & Planning, April 17, 2008, pg. 47)

When it comes to addressing poverty, the kernel of our collective frustration is blatant: if we’ve been saying more or less the same things for so many years, why has so little been done? Every time yet another government consultation goes live — gathering yet more input from “people with lived experience” and community stakeholders — the indignation grows just a bit louder: we already told you what the issues are. As evidenced in community consultations of all kinds, we have a definite threshold for participating in public engagement schemes: the less implementation we see as a result of our previous input, the less inclined we are to accept future invitations to participate. Trust is a finite resource. In the end, for many, this circuit of consultations and research programs appears to be a circus of indifference and inaction:

Almost a decade of empty discussions about “poverty reduction” has shown that consultation is a diversionary tactic to avoid tackling poverty. (Let’s break the cycle of endless studies and consultations, Mike Balkwill, September 12, 2016, Toronto Star)

The following exchange is an imaginary dialogue to illustrate the situation:

“Would you be willing to participate in a research project to help us better understand the issues affecting people experiencing poverty?”

“What about the study you interviewed me for last year?”

“It was a great research project! And we thank you for your participation. Your insights helped us craft several important policy recommendations.”

“But nothing about my dire situation has changed.”

“Yes, unfortunately the government didn’t implement all the recommendations we proposed based on our findings.”

“So what was the point of the last study, then?”

“Well, we generated some terrific data. And we were able to win a another grant to this new study!”

“So, they have given you more money to ask me why I have no money?”

“Uh, well… If we can understand poverty, we’ll be able to make the system work better and more efficiently to serve people.”

“That’s what you said last time you asked me to be in one of your studies. I think my poverty might just be helping you stay employed.”

Let’s call this phenomenon the “poverty-industrial complex.” Like a military-industrial complex, it appears to be a league of elites devoted to funding one another’s pet projects. From the outside, at least, they might seem more interested in extracting money from one another than actually eradicating poverty itself. It is a system that appears to sustain insiders who are making names themselves on the backs of the impoverished: dissecting and commentating on the lives of their subjects — the poor — like laboratory rats. Many papers and resume-polishing articles are published for other elites to read. It all begins to look conspiratorial: nothing seems to change, but more and more public money is spent on the salaries of highly educated (and comfortably unionized) experts to research why nothing seems to change. The longer nothing changes, the more of them seem to be hired. And when a new political party promises to address poverty, what do they do upon winning office? They hire even more elites to do more studies. Another anti-poverty campaign. Another round of consultations. Another prestigious award for an upstanding in-group do-gooder. Another funding increase announced with fanfare and glossy brochures.

There are significant careers to be had and salaries to be made in professionally studying, talking, and theorizing about poverty. And yet there are still people desperately struggling in our city. I think it is the collision of these two realities where the breakdown of social trust snowballs into outright resentment.

One might think it would be alarming to everyone that the people we task as a society to study and address poverty are increasingly referred to as a social class of their own — the “poverty expert elites,” as it were. But perhaps this should be no surprise: accepting public money to study and comment on public social issues effectively makes one a public figure — and it leaves one’s motives and legitimacy open to scrutiny in the public sphere, much like a politician. (Except, unlike politicians, poverty experts do not have to seek reelection, which invites the public to be even more skeptical of their authority and position.) Ultimately, everyone who speaks to public social policy necessarily ventures into the public arena, which inherently invites criticism. (Expound this variable if your salary is linked to public money, and multiply it yet again if your career is directly linked to other people’s lack of resources, power, or social mobility.)

We often fail to recognize is the degree to which social heroism can be toxic for community.

Turning a blind eye to the realities and optics of this system is irresponsible and counterproductive to the stated cause of reducing poverty itself. The fact that the “fight against poverty” has created a socioeconomic tier from which people feel structurally and economically marginalized seems, in the long run, catastrophic to the struggle against poverty itself. And inasmuch as anti-poverty work is a struggle against inequality and systemic barriers to resources, anything that exemplifies “elitism” or resembles “insider trading” is more than just a problematic public image issue. Ignoring the real-life obstacles and inefficiencies that the poverty-industrial complex has created because we are “just too passionate about ending poverty to be distracted by the naysayers” is endemic to a willfully blind system caught in its own inertia.

(This post serves as an introductory ‘part 1’ of an informal, multipart reflection on the so-called poverty-industrial complex. I will explore the system from several angles. I am curious how it might be reimagined, circumvented, redeemed, or, perhaps, abolished. Full disclosure: I am presently employed part-time by a university-funded research centre that includes “Poverty and inequality” as an area of research. The extent to which I am personally implicated in the very system under critique is my driving motivation for this series. Like all writing and projects on this site, this work is composed entirely on personal time.)

Also see:

Will Canada Be Different?

As we see populist, anti-immigration sentiment gain political traction across Europe and in the United States, we wonder: will Canada be different?

There are at least two ways to look at this question.

In Canada, we have two official languages. We are the home of the most diverse city in the world. We sport multiculturalism and politeness like a global brand. We like to apologize for everything. We have a private refugee sponsorship program. We have a uniquely powerful Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrined in our constitution. The Crown is our formal head of state. Statistics Canada recently reported that nearly half of all Canadians will be immigrants or the children of immigrants by 2036. We have a Prime Minister who says, “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada” and that the shared values of openness and respect “make us the first postnational state.”

These variables, among others, might incline us to think that Canada is somehow ‘unique’ in the world.

Yet the shooting at Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec demonstrates all too painfully that hatred lives here too. A recent poll by CROP-Radio Canada indicated that one in four Canadians and one in three Quebecers is “very or more or less in favour” of banning Muslim immigration to Canada. As many visible minorities can attest, racism is alive and well today, manifesting itself in all kinds of subtle (and not-so-subtle) actions and words. Our comment sections are full of vitriol, too. Along with the rest of the world, we recognize new dynamics at play in our society: such as the immense power of social media algorithms to invigorate existing bias and prejudice. And arguably Canada’s geographical position on the globe has meant that our rhetoric has never truly been ‘tested’ by the kinds of refugee and migrant challenges faced by many European countries today.

Perhaps most importantly, history is instructive when it comes to the potential fragility of multiculturalism. One need only consider the stories of 15th century Spain or 20th century Bosnia and Herzegovina to encounter sobering reminders that diversity requires diligence.

So, will Canada be different? Predicting the future is a foolish game, but I think the uncertainties call for speculation, studying the potentialities, and weighing the probabilities. I am organizing an event on May 29 to ask, ‘Will a populist, anti-immigration agenda come to Ottawa? Probably yes? or, Probably no?’ We will examine the variables related to this critical, national question, with the help of an eminent brain trust of Canadian scholars. In the end, this is not just about predicting the future, but grappling with it — anticipating the nation we will create together.

This event is an opportunity for the London community to wrestle with some more reflective, reasoned, and rational perspectives on how the next several years might unfold against an uncertain and shifting global backdrop. Expert panelists will look at the questions of populism and anti-immigration sentiment from the perspectives of sociology, psychology, journalism, religious studies, and history.

Monday, May 29, 7:00pm
(Pre-event concert at 6:30pm)
Wolf Performance Hall, London Public Library
FREE. All welcome. Coffee & refreshments served.

I hope to see you there!