Sarah Leamon: Demeaning and ethnocentric RCMP screening is at odds with Canadian values

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      Since Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president, Canadians have seen some changes here at home. One of them happens to be an influx of immigrants from our neighbours down south.

      Since Trump was elected, more than 12,000 men, women, and children have crossed into our country, entering at Roxham Road, near the town of Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, from the state of New York.

      The RCMP has been monitoring this informal border crossing for quite some time. This is, of course, in the interests of national security. 

      However, it wasn’t until recently, that an RCMP interview guide was discovered, which had previously been kept mysteriously hidden from public view. 

      A spokesperson for the RCMP, Annie Delisle, told the Toronto Star that the guide was developed as an operational tool. She said that it was meant to help streamline the process of admitting migrants and to provide consistency to members' individual assessments. 

      After the information required on the guide was collected, the answers were entered by members into RCMP databases. This information was subsequently shared with other national security agencies, such as the Canada Border Services Agency. Remember, this was all done in the interests of national security. 

      But I mean, really, aside from the shroud of mystery; the total police discretion; and the dissemination of highly private, personal information in the interests of the "greater social good"—it doesn’t sound that bad, does it?

      Well, just hang on a minute. The contents of the guide itself are actually what is the most alarming.    

      The guide is tailored to deal with Muslim migrants—specifically. And the questions are premised upon Islamophobic diatribes that are outdated, politically incorrect, and inconsistent with government policy. 

      Among concerning questions like “what is your opinion about terrorist attacks?”, the guide prompts RCMP officers to ask respondents about their religion, their prayer schedule, and their opinions on women’s clothing. For example, “how do you feel about women who do not wear the Hijab?” and “how would you feel if your boss was a woman?”

      Questions like these are sure to raise more than an eyebrow. 

      After all, if having backward, antiquated views on women in the workplace is a reason to wind up on a national security watch list, then I happen to know a whole number of people whose names should be added—and not a single one of them identify as Muslim. 

      The problem here is not that we are screening migrants as they enter our country. The problem is that we are doing so in a racist, demeaning, and ethnocentric manner that is contrary to our identity as Canadians. 

      In this country, our identity is hinged on our diversity. We welcome differences between our citizens and we celebrate them as an integral part of our community. Our federal government and political leaders have expressed this sentiment over and over again.  It is something that we take pride in.

      It is also a way that we have traditionally distinguished ourselves from our American neighbours, in that we are a mosaic, rather than a melting pot. This has become particularly important as the U.S. enters into a political dark age of travel bans and wall building. 

      The news of this guide is also in stark contrast to recent poll results, released earlier this week, which indicate that the vast majority of Canadians would not support an American-style “me-first” approach to foreign policy.

      The good news is that officials were quick to act once news of this inappropriate guide broke. It was pulled from use almost immediately. 

      But the next big question is how we move forward. 

      It goes without saying that better oversight is required in order to make sure that these types of things do not happen again in the future. 

      There are also concerns about what will be done with the information that has already been collected. It seems logical to assume that inappropriate information, collected via inappropriate means, should be properly and promptly destroyed. The timeline on whether this will happen, and how exactly it will unfold, however, has yet to be determined. 

      In the meantime, the RCMP would be best to avoid topics of politics and religion and instead refocus on what they are best at—dealing with actual threats to our security and safety.