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OPINION: All's not well in Anne's Land

Photo shows exterior of the Royal Canadian Legion, Tignish Branch.
(Journal-Pioneer)
Photo shows exterior of the Royal Canadian Legion, Tignish Branch. (Journal-Pioneer) - The Guardian

What happened in Tignish legion identifies soft and ugly underbelly of Island values

BY RICHARD DEATON

GUEST OPINION

Further to the Guardian's editorial (Jan. 24, 2018) and Rick MacLean's op-ed piece (Feb. 3, 2018) dealing with the racist incident in Tignish, it is painfully clear that all is not well in Anne's Land. It's time Islanders had a discussion about racism and dealt with the reality.

Related: Tignish legion to issue apology for demanding Sikh man remove religious head covering

The Tignish incident where a Sikh patron was told to remove his religious head covering at the local legion was more than an embarrassment; it put all our dirty little secrets out there for the world to see. We Islanders are a complacent, smug and judgmental lot. We view ourselves as friendly and neighbourly, but in reality all too many people here are small-minded bigots who are afraid of change and are disparaging towards outsiders, especially those who aren't native Islanders and come from away, or those who aren't white, God-fearing Christians.

We have lived in our cloistered world far too long. Our siege mentality and narrow world views have become barriers to adapting to the global changes that are going on around us. Anne my have lived in a small, closed, isolated, rural world - we do not. Time to grow up.

The racist incident that transpired in Tignish was considerably more than a mere "unfortunate incident" requiring "sensitivity training" or an apology to rectify it. And many people will be tempted to give it the mushroom treatment and ignore what happened. But what happened in Tignish identifies the soft and ugly underbelly of Island values.

The Tignish incident exposes the underlying intolerance, racism and hypocrisy that exists and subtlety permeates Island life. The veneer of welcoming openness and civility is all too thin and is a mirage. We'll take your tourist dollar, now move on, please. What happened does not reflect well on us.

The following observations will make me few friends. First, it must be said that when we scratch the surface here there is little to differentiate us from the yahoos and crackers in the American south who are claiming racial entitlements based on white nationalism.

Here, just below the surface, there is the same simmering anger and the need to feel superior to someone else by putting their foot on the back of someone's neck. Until recently the history of P.E.I. was in many ways similar to that of Northern Ireland, with its continuous, ugly religious disputes. But now it is easier for Islanders to identify an outsider by the colour of their skin, language or dress code.

Second, what happened in Tignish reminds me of that meme on social media where some fat, beer sucking biker-type with tats says, "Now that we got rid of them there immigrants, I'm goin' to get me one of those hi-tech jobs they took." He haw. Now immigrants are uppity and have more doctorates and grad degrees, according to the recent census, than do most locals. And immigrants do something the locals have forgotten to do: they work hard to get ahead. Immigrants value education and work hard to succeed. So it's easy to resent them in subtle and not so subtle ways.

Third, in terms of Island culture, it is quite telling, based on the video, that the other patrons at the Canadian Legion saw nothing wrong in what was happening, and were yelling obscenities at and giving the Sikh's the bird. In other words, what happened was acceptable behaviour directed at outsiders. The other message that was implicitly given off was that outsiders, especially if they are "foreigners," have no business in the Legion hall.

Political leaders say Tignish has learned from Sikh head-covering incident at legion

Fourth, and last, as the dust settles, we are entitled to ask: Where are our political, community and religious leaders in all this; in condemning this type of intolerant behaviour and promoting tolerance? What leadership or understanding have they provided to the public? And if all the legion can do is provide cheap beer for big mouth, racist punks, maybe they have outlived its organizational usefulness, because it is painfully clear that they don't understand why their members fought and died in our wars for democracy.

P.E.I. has a lot of great folks, but what happened in Tignish embarrasses us all.

- Richard Deaton, Ph.D., LL.B., of Stanley Bridge, taught Military Ethics and Law at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), Kingston, Ont.

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