Equality and Justice

The Diversity Movement: The Good, the Bad and the Dangerous

Robert Girvan
September 14, 2021
His commitment to universal rights began in high school, his admiration for Martin Luther King Jr. runs deep, he spent years representing underprivileged defendants in the legal system, and he wrote a book on behalf of Indigenous people and their environment. Robert Girvan believes passionately in the equality of every person and has a visceral horror of prejudging anyone based on their race, colour or other immutable characteristics. He respects Canada’s system of laws and considers even-handed justice among humanity’s noblest ideals. The former defence lawyer and Crown prosecutor believes all of that is under attack – by what he used to consider his own side. Girvan bares his heart and soul in dissecting the grave threats to liberal ideas and Canada’s very institutions posed by the increasingly extreme diversity and identity politics movements.
Equality and Justice

The Diversity Movement: The Good, the Bad and the Dangerous

Robert Girvan
September 14, 2021
His commitment to universal rights began in high school, his admiration for Martin Luther King Jr. runs deep, he spent years representing underprivileged defendants in the legal system, and he wrote a book on behalf of Indigenous people and their environment. Robert Girvan believes passionately in the equality of every person and has a visceral horror of prejudging anyone based on their race, colour or other immutable characteristics. He respects Canada’s system of laws and considers even-handed justice among humanity’s noblest ideals. The former defence lawyer and Crown prosecutor believes all of that is under attack – by what he used to consider his own side. Girvan bares his heart and soul in dissecting the grave threats to liberal ideas and Canada’s very institutions posed by the increasingly extreme diversity and identity politics movements.
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We live in dangerous times. While an awareness of the diversity of the human being is important, we often forget that we are all human, with the same strengths and weaknesses. Ensuring that people of diverse backgrounds are treated fairly by our institutions, can participate fully in society, and have a job commensurate with their talents and passion, is a noble ideal. But often today diversity is misused as a weapon to score political points or to divide humans into odious moral hierarchies no better than the ones they were meant to replace.

Justice as a universal principle, knowledge as the product of sound rational method, individualized judgment, and culture in its deeper sense are all under attack – in part due to the systematic misuse of the diversity principle. Racism – in its true meaning – is opposed by every humane person. But today the label “racism” has been pushed far beyond its legitimate use. It is the McCarthyism of our time.

A long search for Justice: Former Crown prosecutor and defence lawyer Robert Girvan has spent his career immersed in the legal system and recognizes the supreme importance of treating all parties fairly.

I spent eight years researching and writing a book, Who Speaks for the River?, that looked at injustices faced by the Indigenous people of one First Nation. I also worked in the criminal justice system in Toronto for 17 years, mostly as a defence lawyer representing underprivileged clients, and also as a senior Crown Attorney. The longer I worked in our justice system, the more I respected it. While it is not perfect, our system is very good.

I was deeply impressed by the painstaking and rational method of investigation in our courts: the presumption of innocence, the careful assessment of evidence, the process of testing allegations and theories by rigorous cross-examination, leading to judgments rooted in law and precedent, in a system of laws governed by a constitution, and appellate courts to try to correct inevitable mistakes. The entire process being designed to accomplish a fair trial, or a fair sentence on a guilty plea. If one looks around the world, one realizes that these things are precious, and rare. Finally, it is important to understand that the Courts cannot solve broader issues in society; they can only do their part.

My years as a trial lawyer defending accused persons left indelibly in my mind the vital importance of having a sound process, including reason and evidence gathering, to analyze any issue, in or out of court, and a horror of prejudging anyone based on their colour or background. These principles are the hallmark of justice. I shudder when I see what often passes for justice today in our public discourse.

I can no longer remain silent.


Words worth dying for: “I should run any risk on the side of law and justice rather than join you … when you were engaged in an unjust cause,” Socrates in Plato’s Apology.

While the terms are new, justice is always in danger. According to Plato’s Apology, during his trial for impiety in 399 BC, Socrates reminded the jury that he had served on Council during the Peloponnesian war and had refused to agree to put ten generals on trial together for failing to reach survivors before they died, because a group trial would be contrary to Athenian law. Socrates continued:

“The orators were ready to prosecute me and take me away, and your shouts were egging him on, but I thought I should run any risk on the side of law and justice rather than join you – for fear of prison or death, when you were engaged in an unjust cause.”

We know how that trial ended.

First the good news: The diversity movement has produced many notable and positive achievements, including allowing women the vote (American women voting for the first time in 1920, top) and the 1960s civil rights movement (bottom). (Source of bottom photo: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Warren K. Leffler, digital file: cph ppmsca 03128)

Let’s begin with the good about diversity. We know from ecology that the more diverse an ecosystem is, the healthier and more productive it is. Being run by rigid rules, whether by a totalitarian, fascist, communist or religious fundamentalist state, is horrifying. Letting each person be free, limited only by law, to live as they see fit, is a worthy principle. Furthermore, even in democratic societies, minority groups, however defined, are always in danger from the majority. If we look back over the past 60 years, we have seen positive social change to allow women and those excluded from power positions based on their sexuality, colour, race, etc., to more fully participate in society without or with less prejudice. This process is ongoing and, provided it is done in accordance with sound principles of justice, is good.

Everywhere in the world, minority groups with less power struggle to exercise their rights or have access to higher positions in society, which are held by the ruling class, which varies from country to country. There is no magic about skin pigmentation – each colour has its ruling class somewhere. The issue is always power. Provided the ideal of excellence is not forgotten – that the best person should always get the job – taking active steps to give members of underrepresented groups a chance to prove they are the best candidate, and making sure hiring practices are not subconsciously biased, are laudable practices. The danger is that some will seek formal quotas based on the very characteristics that were previously the subject of prejudice. This is enforcedsocialism under another name, and it is now occurring.

When this sort of thinking begins, who knows where it will go or whether it will stop? It is common in many kinds of dictatorships – in the Middle East, in Africa, in China or in the former Soviet Union. Globally, countries that habitually make decisions based on a person’s merits rather than on political factors are rare. Decisions based on merit promote excellence for all groups in the entire society. But in this respect, Western countries are becoming more like those other countries. Our universities are even descending to new forms of prejudice or racism by banning members of some groups from applying for a job.

Less like a democracy, more like a dictatorship: Science columnist and former academic Debra Soh warns that Canadian universities are now “explicitly exclud[ing] non-minority, white men from applying” for various positions, creating a troubling new kind of power imbalance. (Source: @DrDebraSoh)

For example, only a few months ago, neuroscientist Debra Soh warned in a Globe and Mail column that universities are “explicitly exclud[ing] non-minority, white men from applying” for many jobs. She feels there is no need for such programs as women and others are more than able to compete without them. More recently, the CBC announced a new quota system that, this report stated, “Will require that at least 30 percent of all key creative roles on its new original scripted and unscripted series commissioned from indie producers must be held by people who are Indigenous, Black, People of Color or persons with disabilities.”

I do not oppose making positive efforts to ensure that groups still disadvantaged today have a chance to tell their stories. But are these groups really in danger of not getting a chance at the CBC today? This is bureaucratic virtue-signalling, and setting a dangerous precedent.Every person and group in society has ancestors who both suffered and perpetrated injustices. To try to settle all these ancestral scores today will lead to chaos. You cannot fix the past by doing injustice today. Instead, you fix today by doing justice today in a way that excludes no-one.

Even those now-overused words – systemic racism – in their proper use, are sound and good. Various forms of racism and prejudice exist in all groups and all societies, including in Canada. Who doesn’t want the institutions of one’s country to treat each citizen and group fairly, equally and effectively, whatever their background? The talk about justice “being blind” is unfortunate in some ways. What it means is that justice has no favourites. No one’s life matters more than anyone else’s. All are judged equally.

What lies behind the blindfold: The notion of Justice being blind refers to the necessity to judge everyone equally; creating special race-based categories or legal procedures robs the legal system of this crucial impartiality. (Source: Mitalivshanbhag1810338, licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0)

Where credible allegations of systemic or specific racism are raised based on some form of evidence, they should be thoroughly investigated and we should act on the results. For example, for many years Canadian courts have made efforts to reduce incarceration rates for Aboriginal offenders by taking into account their history and struggles. There is a lot more work to do as the Indigenous situation is very complex and hard to remedy. Aboriginal courts have been developed. Enormous work must still be done at the political level to improve life on the reserves.

While the desire to reduce incarceration rates for Indigenous and Black offenders is legitimate, it is vitally important that we apply our sentencing principles fairly to all accused persons. The more the factors of past trauma are present in an accused’s life, whether from racism, residential schools, or other sources, the more this should tend to mitigate their sentence. Sentencing must, however, be carefully rooted in the actual experience of the accused. In my experience as a lawyer, our courts have been very good at balancing these factors fairly and carefully assessing past trauma for each person.

Setting up “categories” of accused by race would work more injustices than it would solve. A person in a given category might have had more or less trauma than “normal” for their group. Thus, sentencing must always be individualized, but based on universal principles. Finding a proper sentence is hard, as the judge needs to look at the struggles of the accused, but also the suffering or harm against the victim, and affirm the worthy value of human moral autonomy and responsibility for all citizens.

A legitimate desire, poorly expressed: The over-representation of Indigenous and Black offenders in the justice system deserves attention, but creating new racial categories for sentencing purposes will create more injustice than it will solve.

Diversity is praised virtually everywhere, so I need not dwell on the good. Let’s look at some of the dangers, beginning with the most dangerous of all, the misuse of the idea of “systemic racism.” In Canada, we have completely failed to respond reasonably to the allegation of “systemic racism.” Accusations of racism can end careers and destroy the reputations of persons and institutions, all without a proper – or often any – investigation. This is a concern that goes to the highest levels of government – our current Liberal government. I say this as someone who has voted Liberal in the past.

Let me explore one egregious example. On June 17, 2020, three weeks after the killing of George Floyd in the United States, the leader of the New Democratic Party, Jagmeet Singh, introduced a Motion in Parliament to both investigate and reform the RCMP. These moments were recorded. Singh prefaced his motion by stating, “Let the House recognize that systemic racism exists in the RCMP as several Indigenous people have died at the hands of the RCMP in recent months.”

There were grounds for concern given the deaths of the Indigenous persons, and grounds to be concerned about the RCMP based on these and other incidents. Nonetheless, it was remarkable that such an important and complex issue could be decided without any comments from the Prime Minister, or any debate at all. How could one know – precisely – what, if anything, was wrong with all, or part, of the RCMP, and what to do about it, until the issues had been investigated thoroughly?

All who oppose me are racist: Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s (top left) unproven declaration of systemic racism within the RCMP denied due process to both the police service and his political opponents, such as Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet (top right). (Sources: (top left) [email protected], (top right) The Canadian Press/Graham Hughes)

One might have expected the Prime Minister to say he was deeply concerned with these events but that, of course, he would not prejudge police officers guilty before the completion of a full and impartial investigation, so he could not support the Motion. And one might have expected quite a few other MPs to agree with that.

Instead, all MPs present in person or online that day, from all political parties, agreed to this motion, except one from the Bloc Québécois. One nay – in a chorus of yes’s – and the Motion failed. Afterward, Singh alleged that the person who opposed the Motion was racist, both because he voted no and because of a purported hand gesture of dismissal. Likely every politician was afraid of that label that day.

Later the same day, the Bloc Québécois released a statement saying, “Discrimination against Indigenous communities and cultural minorities is a major issue.” It added that the “Public Safety Committee is currently studying systemic racism in the RCMP and it should be allowed to do its work. We consider it inappropriate to impose findings to a committee before it has conducted its study. We respect the parliamentary process.”

One day later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “I think it remains problematic that the Bloc Québécois refuses to recognize systemic racism in the RCMP and in this country.” As is common today in Canada, the news media universally covered this event through the lens of “racism.” The issue of racism was a possible theme – and indeed, the subject was already under active investigation – yet they entirely missed the greater danger to due process that was narrowly averted.

The problem here is the obvious contradiction of seeking due process and justice for one group by explicitly denying it to another, as if some groups are intrinsically morally better than others. Such is what often passes for reasoned discourse in Canada these days. It is not enough to merely, in some vague way, want to do “the right thing.” One must carefully study, with a careful method, to determine if you are doing the right thing in this situation, and then, that you follow a just process. None of that happened here.

If due process and justice mean anything at all – in or out of court – they must be applied equally, impartially, without prejudice, to all. The dictionary definition of due process has two parts. First is procedural due process, “a course of formal proceedings (such as legal proceedings) carried out regularly and in accordance with established rules and principles.” Second is substantive due process, “a judicial requirement that enacted laws may not contain provisions that result in the unfair, arbitrary, or unreasonable treatment of an individual.”

Confess, regardless of the facts: Amid the media frenzy over allegations of systemic racism in the RCMP, all that mattered was that RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki finally utter the magic words. (Source: CTV News)

Ironically, the one person who saved Parliament from an ignoble presumption of guilt of an entire police force was from the Bloc Québécois, the party dedicated to leaving and thereby breaking up Canada. Whatever the precise motives of the Bloc MP, he was the only one who took the fair and just position that day.

Shortly before these events, RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki had been grilled remorselessly in the media about whether there was “systemic racism” in the RCMP. No one could precisely define what systemic racism was; nor did the media refer to any completed investigation. They seemed to have no interest in evidence or investigations at all. Given the issues surrounding the RCMP, there was a valid basis to ask pointed questions, and do thorough investigations. But the magic phrase was all anyone cared about, not the hard work of completed investigations.

After attempting to defend the force, Lucki finally uttered the magic words, and the news media moved on. The reality is no doubt complex. How much relates to racism, how much to the training of the RCMP, and how much to the challenges people face on the reserves themselves should all have been carefully investigated. But none of that happened.

These events are, in their way, perfectly Canadian. Totalitarian countries attack dissidents. We attack our institutions. Our situation is much betterfor now. But it is a dangerous trend if we habitually presume our institutions and the men and women in them guilty, before any reasoned investigations. We risk undermining and ultimately destroying our institutions. While our institutions can and should always strive to improve, we often do not realize how lucky we are in our country.

The relentless talk of systemic racism in Canada, this racialization of events often without analysis or proof, blinds us both to the evidence-based cases where it does exist and to how well Canada compares to other countries. According to the Democracy Index of The Economist Intelligence Unit, in 2020 only 23 out of 167 countries assessed are considered “Full” democracies, when considering such factors as electoral process/pluralism, functioning of government, political participation/culture and civil liberties. Canada ranks 5th in the world, with a score of 9.24 out of 10. In comparison, the United States is in the “Flawed” democracy category, ranked 25th with a score of 7.92. The other great power, China, is in the “Authoritarian” category, at 150th position with a rating of 2.27.

Looks good from here: The 2020 Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index ranks Canada 5th in the world across measures of democracy, pluralism and civil rights. (Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit)

Today we often hear the word racism used as a bludgeon, completely divorced from the complexity of life. One book that does show this complexity is Peace and Good Order: The Case for Aboriginal Justice in Canada by the now-retired prosecutor Harold Johnson, who is also part-Indigenous. Johnson reveals many ways the justice system must improve for Indigenous people, some of which I agree with. He also tells of a very interesting case.

In a trial in which the accused was a Dene person, Johnson called the defence lawyer, and said, “I don’t mind if you load the jury with Indigenous people – I won’t try to stop you.” So the Dene person had his trial with many Cree people on the jury and was quickly convicted. Later, Johnson realized he may have inadvertently contributed to the conviction as the two groups had hostilities stretching back to the Fur Trade era. He explains, “Outright hostility ended a century ago, but the prejudice lingers.”

And isn’t this animosity true for all groups much of the time? This human irritation at difference manifests in a range of responses, from a simple misunderstanding of the others and their history, mistaking motives or interpretations, to dangerous nastiness of correctly called racism, to murders based on race, ethnicity, religion or sexuality, all the way up to mass murder. It is both awful and universal.

The term “racism” is rife with socio-political nuances and complexities, as former Crown prosecutor Harold R. Johnson explains in his 2019 book Peace and Good Order: The Case for Indigenous Justice in Canada.

Why can’t we just all get along fairly? Unfortunately, the good things in life are not limitless; nor are the necessities. Thus, conflict is inevitable. There was no mythical, conflict-free Golden Age. The German Enlightenment-era philosopher Immanuel Kant suggested that humans have a “sociable unsociability.” For Kant, this is not all bad: it can goad us out of our natural laziness.

An impartial justice system must transcend factions, ethnicities and self-interest: Philosopher Immanuel Kant (left) observed humans possess a “sociable unsociability” while U.S. President James Madison spoke of people’s “inflamed zeal” for faction and dispute driven by their natural differences.

In his Federalist Paper #10, the American Founding Father and 4th President James Madison wrote that humans have an “inflamed zeal” for faction and conflict for often frivolous reasons, but also because the difference between citizens in their ability to acquire property leads to differences in its accumulation, and this leads inevitably to factions. Madison didnot trust any of the factions to do justice. He stated, “No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause; because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.” Needless to say, whatever Madison thought, to me these “differences” are differences in aptitude, which are found equally across all social groups.

Due to the inherent conflicts in society, we need a fair and impartial state, with fair and impartial institutions, not to mention a fair and impartial way to hire people, based on merit and character, and not for any other reason.

The continual use of the words “racist” and “racism” have become a lazy or doctrinaire substitute for thoughtfully analyzing an issue or social problem. If one group, for example, is doing worse than others, it is called racism without any historical, economic or sociological analysis of what is happening within that community. But to solve this problem, we need careful analysis: Is it because of a structural problem such as social inequality that also afflicts some other disadvantaged groups? Is it racism? Is there a problem in the community? Is there a non-racist policy that is unintentionally affecting this group? To fix the problem, we need to know what is wrong.

It is important to understand that the lack of fair-minded analysis is not innocent, for there is an aggressive formal ideology and movement behind this: Critical Race Theory. One of the leading exponents of this movement is Ibram X. Kendi, an American race theorist, activist, professor and author of How to be an Antiracist.

Kendi’s book is a critique ofall forms of racism that Black Americans have suffered. He begins with the profoundly humane idea that genetics has shown that all humans, regardless of race, are 99.9 percent the same. One feels compassion for Kendi for being treated and defined unfairly based on his race. The book has some good points, although it reads more like a religious sermon than a careful analysis. Many diverse and complex issues, such as climate change, poverty, health, voting and globalization, are not analyzed but lumped together in racial terms. One reads many pronouncements about “white” or “black” people. Having said this, Kendi never makes unfair comments about any social group.

I see racists: While it is just and proper to abhor racism, anti-racist activist and author Ibram X. Kendi insists on seeing racism lurking in every aspect of life and society, to the detriment of fairness for all people.

The benefit of being aware of race/racism is that you do not leave it out of the analysis. The danger – particularly for a race theorist – is that you don’t see anything else. And this is a big danger for Kendi and others. Consider this key passage (page 18): “A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequality between racial groups. An antiracist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between social groups…there is no such thing as nonracist or race-neutral policy.”

Wanting one’s own group, and all groups, to participate fairly in a society, without legal or other forms of racism (as normally defined), is legitimate and can be agreed upon as a positive goal of diversity. Unfortunately, Kendi goes well beyond this: he advocates a race-based socialism, in which justice, fair policies, truth or analysis independent of race cannot exist. One sees now why “systemic racism” is so hard to define, to explain, and seems everywhere, because it is a religious form of socialism, not democracy.

There are three core problems with Kendi’s vision.

First, the racial-socialism, like communism in past times, has become a secular religion. It has little or no analysis or even comprehension of the enormous and complex universe of knowledge beyond race theory. This is the dangerous part of identity politics of all kinds. If it could, this theory would deny all knowledge, history, art and culture inconsistent with its dogma. Needless to say, this would be catastrophic.

Shall the swift win the race? Kendi’s view of race-based socialism is incompatible with the principles of freedom and competition which form the foundation of Western society.

When we say “white” do we mean Canadian, Irish, Russian, French, Jewish or Greek? One sees how the immense complexity of different traditions of history and life are all lumped together by a simple moralistic agenda. When we say “writer of colour” do we mean Colombian, Indian (from India) or Nepalese? One sees the destruction of reasoned analysis.

This new religion is tied to a dangerous ignorance and determined blindness about history. The complexity of what happened, and why, in historical events, is reduced to a simple morality-play, with good people and bad people, determined in advance without analysis, and typically classified by their belonging to the oppressed vs. the oppressors, respectively, or the victims vs. victimizers. There is a related danger here, of judging past cultures by our standards and finding them wanting, and consequently of rejecting all of their cultural products out-of-hand.

The second problem with Kendi’s vision is equally grave: it tries to deny the human freedom to rise or fall based on one’s merit, that one finds in a free and democratic society. We can and should help each other and cooperate, but life on Earth is competitive. And competition has many good aspects. In an authoritarian socialist society based on the enforced substantive equality of race, this human freedom would be stifled if not crushed. And who will control those who control? The so-called equality would not last long. As George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

A free society, with true equality of opportunity, free of racism and prejudice in the normal meaning of these terms, with a social safety net for all, is an alternative and noble way to be fully human and see everyone else as fully human also. Given that Kendi is surely right that all races are equal, given a fair chance all social groups can thrive in an atmosphere of excellence.

A fixation on “white people” often leads to more – not less – racism, and negatively affects the young by undermining their sense of dignity, tradition and belongingness.

Third, Kendi’s fixation on “white people” has equally dangerous intended and unintended consequences. It may breed more racism, rather than less, as the use of racism for attack and counterattack will continue until someone has the courage, wisdom and humanity to rise above it and show equal compassion for all. Furthermore, it may breed – and this has already begun – racist laws, policies or decisions against “white” people, people who may fully support racial justice. Finally, those attacked, particularly the young, may fail to realize the falsity of the overall critique, lose faith in their own tradition and become homeless on this Earth.

The attacks on the Western tradition have become relentless, aggressive and ideologically driven: “The Europeans were all evil, but…(pick your victim)…were all good.” This narrative is so simplistic and bankrupt of balanced analysis that it is remarkable it can be taken seriously, let alone have become a dominant thought paradigm in North America. This is not to say that European expansion did not have terrible consequences, but nearly all cultures everywhere have had war and expansion. No people can claim to be morally better. Any claim of racial superiority is terrible, but that is a universal human problem.

The Western tradition has brought many vitally important principles into the world, principles that those who attack it require for their own attacks: the notion of human rights as protected by law and a constitution, the notion of limits on government to make it function better and protect the citizen, the notion of rational discourse to understand the world validly in many domains, the enormous benefits of science – including the critical biological insight that all races are part of one human race – and the notion of human freedom, to name a few. Many Western societies also have the practical freedom and security to allow those who attack them to live in safety. The fact that these ideals have been imperfectly applied does not take away their universal validity. This is where the diversity movement, in the good sense, can help us.

Tear it all down: The recent spread of race-based socialism threatens to discredit or remove all aspects of Western art, culture and history (left), similar to what occurred during China’s Cultural Revolution (top right) or Girolamo Savonarola’s Bonfire of the Vanities in Florence, Italy in 1497 (bottom right). (Source of left photo: AgnosticPreachersKid, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

If, instead, we zealously apply the new racial-socialistic religion in place of analysis, there is a clear and present danger of destroying the humanities, social sciences, sciences and the creative arts – in Canada and globally – similar to what happened during the so-called Cultural Revolution in China or when artworks were thrown onto the bonfire in 15th century Florence under the fanatical preacher/prophet Girolamo Savonarola.

Some moderate voices internationally have seen the dangers of the excesses of Identity Politics and group rights. In a prescient article three years ago Natalie Nougayrède, the Guardian columnist, foreign affairs commentator and former editor-in-chief of Le Monde, provided the timely reminder that,“Human rights are best defended one unique, valuable, irreplaceable person at a time.” She noted that the Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and other human rights legislation focus on protecting the “rights and dignity” of each individual human being “regardless of whatever characteristic may be attached to that person, willingly or not.” What is sacred is the individual – not the social group. Nougayrède worried that today we often focus on the “category” of person we want to defend and forget “what’s universal about human rights.”

Categories are unhelpful: For art to fulfill its purpose, its source should lie “beyond the margin of the self,” and speak to humanity as a whole, according to American poet Mary Oliver.

This focus on the “category” of person, rather than on what they have to say, has also affected the arts. While it is good to have art created by people of diverse backgrounds, we often fetishize diversity and forget that it is the art that matters, not the maker’s identity. For art to fulfill its functions of piercing the skin of banality and telling unfashionable truths to an often smug society, it must be made from “beyond the margin of the self,” as poet Mary Oliver wrote.

Art must also speak beyond one’s own tribe to provide broad wisdom amid the maelstrom and amnesia of our internet age. But instead of cracking open our entrenched parochialism to find common humanity with others, too often today’s art is a weapon in the cultural wars. Furthermore, the requirement to adhere to an ideological purity, instead of respecting and following the complexity of truth, with careful attention to form, would kill all true art and leave us with propaganda, as one found so often in the former Eastern Bloc and still finds in Russia and China today.

Finally, if one thinks that the effects of Critical Race Theory are negligible in Canada, think again. It is taught in Canada today to our own diplomats, and in a version that is much less scrupulous than Kendi’s. Global Affairs Canada’s anti-racist course materials teach that only white people can be racist. But this is only the beginning.

Canada is bad, bad, bad: An excerpt from a recent Global Affairs Canada document claims Canadian history is just as racist as that of the U.S. (For the full document visit https://www.scribd.com/document/501975490/Government-of-Canada-anti-racism-training-documents)

Canada is one of the world’s most tolerant societies, with multicultural policies, criminal laws to protect against crimes motivated by racism, and powerful human rights commissions. Despite this, the country has fallen into an extended spasm of “anti-racist” and “anti-hate” training programs, often obligatory. Instead of policing criminal or hateful conduct, we are now policing thoughtcrimes.

Curiously, the Stratford Theatre and many left-wing theatre companies feel themselves particularly in need of such training. The whole thing seems like a bizarrely Canadian remix of Orwell’s 1984, Maoist re-education camps and the 19th century Temperance Movement. Given the potential for racism and racist theories among those doing the training, who is policing them? In the end, one comes to realize that the anti-racism frenzy is as much about power as racism. It is vitally important to separate the two and carefully investigate all racism allegations thoroughly in a fair process.

This leads to another word-of-the-hour in Canada – and another strand of the diversity ideal – namely decolonization. If the term merely signifies that Canadians must make efforts to reconcile with First Nations people, treat them fairly and respectfully, honour their history and culture, make sure our institutions treat them fairly and effectively, and help them with economic development and legal reform for good governance, then few would take issue. But often it goes far beyond this.

Often one hears that Canada itself is a kind of error, tainted by its own kind of original sin, and that we all “live on stolen land.” I understand this argument emotionally. But the situation is much more complex. In the past, we ignored the First Nations’ history. Today, we often hear only the First Nations version in the Globe and Mailor on the CBC at least, and forget our own.

Colonial controversy: While there may be strong arguments to be made about Canada’s past treatment of Indigenous people, modern Canada has made real progress in combatting racism towards natives and honouring its treaty obligations.

Canada, though imperfect, is a good place. Those who settled here were not morally better or worse than any other people who migrated somewhere, much like First Nations people themselves had done long before. Ultimately, if you look back far enough, we all came from somewhere else, and must work together now. Canada has a human, cultural and institutional history, and all can be honoured while also regretting injustices. Although the histories of Indigenous people and Canada are sometimes contradictory, we can respect and honour them both. If every country were irretrievably tainted due to past battles and injustices, then no country would have a right to exist.

Canada has made real progress in combating racism against Indigenous people. No doubt various forms of racism remain, along with lingering romanticism among a segment of the population (mainly on the left) about Indigenous people and their traditional way of life. Perhaps because many are seeking a better way to live with the natural world, they are foisting romanticism on Native people.

Yet a large number of First Nations people today are trying to develop a modern economy. Some First Nations are among the most vocal advocates of resource development, while others, or factions within the First Nation, are unalterably opposed. We should also not assume that disagreement or even conflict between an Indigenous community and the surrounding non-Indigenous community over resource development can only be motivated by racism. Often in life different groups have different interests and agendas, and they may clash. Working peacefully in a fair process to solve problems is critical.

Unfortunately, not only have most Canadians been rendered largely ignorant about their history through lack of a rigorous and balanced education, but they are even more ignorant about the reality of First Nations history, with its conflicts, violence, battles for territory and use of technology when available. We do Indigenous people a great disservice by such romanticization, as it pushes us away from their reality and current challenges of life on the reserve, and lessens our ability to help them make things better.

Despite my great respect for the Blackfoot and their culture, and my focus on injustices against them, I was obligated to note in my book that their past is tangled as well, with attacks on and battles with other peoples, and injustices on the reserve perpetrated by Blackfoot against their own people. Injustice and conflict are human problems; they are not limited to particular races or cultures. Rather than imposing a false and dangerous moral hierarchy amongst peoples, we should help each other and work together today.

The principles of diversity can strengthen society but only when universal human values are upheld and reason and due process are followed. (Source: Shutterstock)

Justice is always in danger. We need all the help we can get today. One finds a living appreciation of how scrupulous the process of justice must be in the Torah (and Old Testament) Book of Leviticus: “You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich: judge your kinsman fairly” (Lev. 19:15).

This saying makes the profound point, often forgotten, that justice, by necessity, must have no favourites. Each person must be judged individually and not, except in rare cases, by association with any kind of group, whether that is based on wealth, race, ethnicity, culture, political beliefs, sexuality, social habits or otherwise. The fact that no system is perfect does not lessen the necessary power of the absolute quality of justice. Universality is the test by which we can measure all legal systems, even criticism of such systems, and has wide applicability to a rational inquiry of any kind.

Globally, we are at a critical moment. The diversity movement can either help Western civilization live closer to its high ideals by fostering full participation in society for all peoples in a free society. Or, by its abuse, it can weaken, even destroy civilization everywhere by sowing ethnic division, ignorance and irrationality. It is the job of those living today around the globe, wherever they fall on the identity spectrum, whatever their political agenda or background, wherever they live, who believe in core human values, founded by the West but universal, such as the universality of justice for each human whatever their background, due process, and reason; the freedom and autonomy of the human being; the importance of excellence and merit; culture in the high sense of a marriage of insight and form; and institutions which promote human rights and freedom, excellence, a healthy economy and culture in the high sense, to push back against the misuse of the diversity project, using reasoned discourse, context and knowledge; and to speak up for universal values for all humans, even if it means being unfairly called a racist.

True public debate on these issues does not exist in my country any longer. Moderate conservatives have done a much better job of speaking up here than those on the left, including me, who have been afraid or reluctant to take on the excesses of this movement. But it will only get worse if we do not speak. For a Canadian, is it equally important to honour the immense value of the principles of our Western heritage, and to combine them with respect for First Nation and other cultures in this land that we all share, Canada, to find a new synthesis for the 21st century.

Robert Girvan worked for many years as a trial lawyer in Toronto, both for the Crown and the defence, and is the author of “Who Speaks for the River?” 

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