Last week, John Horgan sent a welcome letter to the Pacific regional office of CIJA, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. The British Columbia premier committed to fighting antisemitism, including using the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism as a measuring stick in the ongoing fight against anti-Jewish discrimination.
The premier’s statement came on the very day that Abacus Data, an opinion research firm, released data from a survey of 1,500 Canadians. The alarming results show that a huge number of Canadians subscribe to appalling ideas.
Nearly one in five Canadians, according to the survey, believe there is a cover-up to hide the “fact” COVID vaccines kill people, while fully another 25% of Canadians think that might be true or aren’t sure.
One in 10 believe that vaccines implant a microchip to control human behaviour, and another 14% think that could be accurate.
Things go downhill from there. More than half of Canadians say that official government statements cannot be trusted – a serious allegation in a democratic society.
The poll also found that 44% of Canadians believes a “secret cabal of elites” control world events. As alarming, about 37% of respondents agreed with the statement: “There is a group of people in this country who are trying to replace native-born Canadians with immigrants who agree with their political view.”
Whenever phrases like “secret cabal of elites” are employed, informed people know exactly to whom that dog-whistle refers. And the second concept, dubbed the “Great Replacement” theory, was the motivation for the mass murder of 10 Black people in Buffalo, N.Y., last month. The “group of people” frequently accused of masterminding such alleged “replacement” are, of course, Jews. This was something that came to broader public awareness during the fatal white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., five years ago, when tiki torch-bearing racists chanted “Jews will not replace us!”
It is above our paygrade to understand or explain the socio-psychological reasons why, at the first sign of crazy, attention seems inevitably to turn to Jews. (At least the caricatured Jews of the antisemites’ imaginations, a pathology that inevitably has impacts on actual Jews.)
For whatever reasons, as we noted in this space a month ago, when a society leans into conspiracies, it seems inevitable that sights turn to Jews. These poll numbers suggest Canadians are further down this slippery slope that we might have imagined.
Canadians – Jewish and otherwise – can be forgiven for feeling a sense of smugness in recent years as we have watched some seriously messed up stuff happening with our nearest neighbours. Many of us have hedged our bets, knowing that, in societies that are in some ways going off the rails – not only the United States, but parts of Europe and other erstwhile stable liberal democracies – Canada cannot be immune from some of these tendencies. And, it seems, we are not.
It is important that government officials say the right things, as Horgan did last week. Of course, that so many Canadians do not trust elected officials presumably dulls the impact of these actions somewhat, but this does not detract from the urgency of forging ahead with what we know is the right thing to do.
The answer remains, as it was when we wrote about this issue (albeit less urgently) a month ago: we must stand verbally and forcefully against misinformation and disinformation. We must recommit, every day, to liberal values of tolerance, pluralism and the quest for truth and justice. We must ourselves exercise as well as teach young people the critical thinking skills to discern truth from fiction, and how to evaluate facts. And we must challenge politicians, commentators, family and friends who promote, or justify, the sorts of ideas that, we now know, are held by far too many Canadians.