When Justin Trudeau was elected prime minister of Canada — with a majority Liberal government, no less — it marked the hopeful end of nearly a decade of Conservative rule. “Sunny ways,” Mr. Trudeau said in his acceptance speech. “This is what positive politics can do.”
His victory received fawning international coverage: The son of another popular prime minister, and conventionally good-looking, he managed to say all the right things about climate change and feminism. Remember when he achieved gender parity with his cabinet appointments? Swoon.
The stereotype, inside and outside of Canada, is that Canadians are so polite and accepting that nothing like the bitter populism of Donald J. Trump could ever flourish here. Canadians say “sorry” all the time, but we say it “soary,” and we are happy to pay for our neighbor’s health insurance through higher taxes. We even add an extra “u” in neighbor. Canadians just are that generous.
This impression is so widely accepted that the Canadian immigration website crashed in the hours after America’s presidential election, thanks to a fivefold spike in the number of visitors. But the belief that Canada is a liberal utopia holds only if you have no concept of Canadian history and little knowledge of current events, and only if you walk through its cities and towns without speaking to anyone who isn’t white, middle class or male.
On Jan. 29, six people were killed in a Quebec City mosque by a gunman. The suspect’s social media use suggests support for white supremacist ideas and the Trump movement. That event, though jarring and terrifying, was neither new nor unpredictable, especially for Canada’s Muslim citizens. The idea that Canada is a safe space is a lie — and an easy one to catch for anyone who has actually lived here as part of a minority group and watched how the country chooses to forget about you.
At least Mr. Trump’s presidency will rip that falsehood open. Canada has two Trump-like candidates running for the federal Conservative leadership on platforms very similar to those that have nudged the United States and parts of Europe into the embrace of white nationalism.
After the American election, a member of Parliament named Kellie Leitch sent out an email blast calling Mr. Trump’s win “an exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada as well.” Before this, she attempted to establish a tip line for “barbaric cultural practices,” a blatant attempt to curry favor with racists and Islamophobes under the guise of protecting women and children. Ads for Ms. Leitch run on our version of Breitbart, the adorably named The Rebel, a site that traffics in hate speech. Earlier this week, The Rebel wondered if the Quebec City shooter was actually a Muslim extremist rather than a white nationalist.
Meanwhile, Kevin O’Leary, a fame-hungry “Shark Tank” judge who has been living in Boston and refers to himself as “Mr. Wonderful,” is the latest to announce he’s running for the Conservative leadership. He has also argued that the 85 wealthiest people in the world having as much money as the 3.5 billion poorest is a good thing.
“It inspires everybody to get some motivation,” he said. “Of course I applaud it.”
Finally, a reality show narcissist with too much money and zero government experience of our very own!
And then there’s Mr. Trudeau himself, a colossal disappointment for liberals and conservatives alike, despite his Superman-style coiffure. He has made no attempt to publicly condemn Mr. Trump’s race-baiting and politics of fear, presumably because he’d worry that calling your largest trade partner a racist would hurt the aforementioned trade. In November, our eco-friendly prime minister approved the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Atlantic pipeline, a big step backward for the environment. Worse, last month he shouted down activists who were protesting the pipeline development. He was upset that they were interrupting him; they were upset that indigenous people across Canada continue to live in third-world conditions.
As Toronto’s crack-smoking former mayor Rob Ford once said, “Everything is fine.”
This wave of political reaction is nothing new. Toronto has a history of police performing street-checks on black men at far higher rates than they do on white men. Quebec in particular has a lamentable record of anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies. In 2013, the province proposed banning the wearing of religious symbols — namely, hijabs, turbans, kippas and niqabs — by people who work in the public sector. In September, the University of Alberta was plastered with posters that read “[Expletive] Your Turban.”
On criminal justice, as well, Canada is hardly a progressive champion. In Ontario, Adam Capay, a 24-year-old First Nations man, has been kept in solitary confinement for the last four years. Charged with killing a fellow inmate in a prison altercation, he has still not gone to trial.
Comparing Canada with the United States is reasonable — we’re close enough, and share a similar history and geography — but suggesting that Canada has figured something out that other nations haven’t is not. True, everything the United States does is louder than in Canada: America’s food is radioactive, its television is more aggressive (and, well, objectively better), so it makes sense that America’s politics are more overtly noxious. But that hardly makes Canada a refuge.
There’s a meme circulating on Twitter and Facebook that you see more than ever now that people are arguing that Canada’s politics are such a stark contrast to America’s. It involves posting a link to a goofy Canadian story — often involving a moose, why not? — with accompanying text that reads, “Meanwhile in Canada.” While America burns, Canadians calmly shovel their driveways and buy bagged milk for their kids.
It’s like being considered the gentler, kinder sibling. In reality, we’re just more passive-aggressive, too frightened to acknowledge how we fail our citizens day after day.
There is no Canadian exceptionalism. What’s happening here now has been happening for decades: Bias and discrimination are rooted in our history and government. All that’s true about America’s broken system is true, too, of Canada’s. The only real difference is the illusion that Canada is intrinsically better.
America has elected a dangerous demagogue to its highest office. In Canada, we’re just one election away from falling into the same trap.
Scaachi Koul, a culture writer for BuzzFeed, is the author of the forthcoming book One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter.