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EDITORIAL: Racism lurks below a thin veneer

Canada's defence minister Harjit Singh Sajjan has entered the debate of the Tignish Legion incident where two Sikh men suffered a racist attack.
(CP Photo)
Canada's defence minister Harjit Singh Sajjan has entered the debate of the Tignish Legion incident where two Sikh men suffered a racist attack. (CP Photo) - The Guardian

It seems that we are just one headdress away from open displays of anger and hostility towards newcomers.

Just over three weeks ago, six young people from West Prince were turned away from a Charlottetown hotel, sent packing simply because of their place of residence. Their treatment that frigid New Year’s Eve was discriminatory and unacceptable.

Fast forward to last Wednesday night at the Tignish legion. Three people came in to socialize but were greeted by patrons and staff with a spew of insults and racists comments, ignited because two were Sikhs and one was wearing a religious headdress – a turban.

It seems that facing intolerance themselves hasn’t made some people from the town more tolerant of others.

The legion honours veterans who fought great wars to stop injustice, tyranny and autocrats; to safeguard our cherished rights and freedoms; and who shed blood to keep the peace in far away lands.

And then, right here in our small province, legion patrons act like those same bullies.

Some felt the incident was overblown - that it wasn’t racism – it was just the media overreacting and blowing the incident out of proportion. Some people saw the tape and saw nothing wrong.

The videotape of the incident shows a disturbing story. It wasn’t just a couple of patrons at the bar who allowed liquor to do the talking. It was the manager, the bouncer and patrons who all ganged up - becoming almost an angry mob.

It wasn’t that long ago that anyone wearing a hat into a legion had to buy a round, amid some good-natured laughter and tsk tsking. Now it’s become an excuse for open hostility.

We are a nation of immigrants. Without immigration, our communities and province will shrivel and fade away.

This is the same province which welcomed Syrian refugees two years ago, fleeing for their lives - from their war-torn country, from ISIS, from coalition bombs, from bloody reprisals - seeking safety for their families and themselves and to start a new life in peace and security.

Political leaders say Tignish has learned from the head-covering incident. The legion has apologized and admits a request to remove religious head covering violates legion policy. It was all an unfortunate incident. Really?

A random, and unscientific, poll published Tuesday asked the question, “what was your reaction to the video from the incident at the Tignish legion." A majority, 54 per cent, saw nothing wrong. It shocked 31 per cent and 15 per cent were not surprised.

It was good to know that shocked reactions are still possible.

The three guests left the legion, shaken and disillusioned, after coming from work at a call centre a short distance away in Bloomfield. They are willing to put the incident behind them and are acting with much more understanding than that extended them a week ago.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves if racism and intolerance lie beneath a very thin veneer on P.E.I., since it seems that we are just one headdress away from open displays of anger and hostility towards newcomers.

We all have some sensitivity training to catch up on.

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