08 October 2023

On Our Streets

We have a rise in hate crimes in Ottawa which, while being the capital city of Canada, has always felt like a quiet place.

With a 23.5 per cent increase in hate incidents in 2023, Ottawa Police Chief Eric Stubbs said, “Across North America and really the world, we’ve seen this trend of hate crimes on the rise.” One of the targeted groups was the LGBTQ community.

This gave me pause because many of us have been talking amongst ourselves about the shocking changes we are seeing. Canada has had a history of supporting LGBTQ rights by decriminalizing being gay as early as 1969, legalizing same sex adoption in 1995, legalizing same sex marriage in 2005 and making LGBTQ discrimination illegal in 2017.

Recently, however, in Canada we’ve had marches called, “Leave our kids alone”. Under the guise of protecting children against learning too much about sex, they actually want them to learn nothing good about the LGBTQ community. So, in reality, we had anti-LGBTQ marches on our streets. Some of the hateful things said left many of us reeling. 

What is also worrisome was the fact that they went to great lengths to look like a bunch of concerned parents, organizing organically at the local level. However, in reality they were supported by a big tent of far-right groups aligned with groups holding these “Leave our kids alone” marches in the United States.

In typical Canadian fashion, many people came to show strong support for the LGBTQ community as well. What was heartwarming about the support was most of it was from neighbours, friends and family of people who happen to be LGBTQ simply saying to them: we know you, respect you, care for you and will stand up for you. 

But make no mistake, this has shaken us. Canada has always been a tolerant country, largely insulated from the far right hateful shouting elsewhere. To have these same slogans – at times screamed out by children – was horrifyingly unCanadian. Many I spoke with were tearful at the thought of LGBTQ children hearing this vileness in a country where many had worked so hard to make them feel respected. For LGBTQ adults who had seen grimmer days of intolerance recede and lived in hope one day it would be gone, this rise of hate is disheartening. 

Ottawa Police Chief Eric Stubbs talked about the hate seeping in from our southern neighbours, but some is homegrown or brought in from people who now call Canada home, but were raised in a hateful environment elsewhere.  It was a warning to us that we are not immune. It is literally on the street where we live. 

What is uniquely Canadian is a history of calm and civility. Americans sometimes make fun of the ‘nice’ Canadian, suggesting we are prone to naiveté and cluelessness. They misunderstand. It’s actually a steely determination not to get caught up in anger and drama but to choose, instead, to chat with people as we meet them. It’s not soft. Nothing is stronger, more adult, than refusing to engage in childish shouting, drama and anger -  this is the fodder for extremism and hate. These are the things we have tried to have a steely resolve to avoid. That’s the backbone of who we are and I hope, the civility will once again win. We have always had intolerance within our borders and knocking on the doors of our borders. We conquered it with civility.

My parents came to Canada when brown-skinned people were few and far between, particularly in small town Waterloo. Many, who had never met anyone who looked like my parents, chose to chat as they met in the neighbourhood and, more often than not, extend an invitation for coffee. At school, children hung out on the playground, invited me to their homes and some became lifelong friends. This is why civility is highly underrated. It allows everyone to meet and talk.

What we saw on these marches was the antithesis of civility. 

The far right extremism may seem big, well-funded and so loud that they will drown us. We must fight them in big ways - online, through enforcing hate laws, increasing rules in workplaces - but one way to drown them out is to chat. Quietly. In a friendly way. Being the quintessential nice Canadian, with a spine of steel, who is civil to anyone we meet on our streets. 

Those of you who have read some of my previous articles know that I strongly champion empathy in all its forms.  To the shouty and the angry, to the political and crass, I may seem like a naive fluffy person. In response to that caricature, I would like to tout my credentials - after much more than a quarter of a century of studying and clinically practicing in the area of mental health as a physican -  what allows for normalcy, decreases violence and prevents mental illness is my lane. I can say with utter certainty that empathy is crucial for a highly functioning person and a highly functional society. 

We need to get back to empathy and civility. On our streets. 


  1. Of course Canada is a tolerant and patient country– just consider living with their neighbor. Funny… when I poke fun at Canada (as if I would ever tease anyone, no ma'am, not ever never, ahem), it's never about being too nice. I admire that. I respect that. I envy it.

    We Americans should be very careful– revenge may be coming. In 2063 or so when Florida has disappeared under water, the inhospitably hot desert sands of Wisconsin and North Dakota offer scant refuge for climate deniers, and the Sea of Death Valley has become North America's largest body of water, Canadians will be sunning bronze bodies and sipping margaritas. And laughing that they foisted Ted Cruz on us.

  2. Leigh, Canadians are famous for saying sorry and we still cannot apologize enough for Cruz...

  3. Unfortunately, when people get stirred up emotionally, it seems you can't reason with them with logic.

  4. So true...

  5. And it's so much easier to distract by emotion - "LGBQT are comin' for your children!" - so that no one notices headlines like these: "Record $100 Million Settlement Reached in Lawsuits Alleging Torture, Rape, Starvation at Christian School" (in West Virginia). Invent a monster to hide the one that's real.


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