“I don’t know why he did that, but it’s just not Canada,” said Saima Samad, mother of Khawlah Noman, the 11-year-old girl who reported that a man with scissors had cut her hijab, twice, on her way to school.
It’s just not Canada. The Toronto Sun led with that quotation on its front, with a full-page picture of Khawlah.
Her Majesty’s first minister is in full agreement with Khawlah’s mother.
"I want her and her family and her friends and community to know that that is not what Canada is,” Justin Trudeau said just a few hours after the girl’s press conference.
As it turned out, it’s not Canada, after all.
Who knows why Kwahlah lied about what happened? Did an 11-year-old and her little brother concoct an ill-conceived prank on the way to school that got out of hand? Was the little brother rough housing, as little brothers do, and tear the hijab accidently, causing the kids to cobble together a cover story, unaware news editors the world over would slaver intensely at it? Is it even possible that the parents orchestrated and coached their kids through it?
We’ll never know, as the Toronto police and the Toronto District School Board are running away from this hot mess as fast as they can, rightfully embarrassed that they were so easily fooled by an 11-year-old.
Yet while the sliced hijab caper lies on the cutting room floor, it bears asking, what exactly is “not Canada”?
For many politicians a hijab story is a red cape in the face of bull. They charge in, genuinely displeased but also taking unseemly delight in goring the matadors of anti-Muslim bigotry in Canada.
How else to explain that within hours of Kwahlah’s arriving at school with her scissored hijab, the Toronto police and the TDSB were conducting a press conference at the school, with Kwahlah and her parents deciding to join in? It is actually impressive that the TDSB spokeswoman got there so fast in Toronto traffic. Perhaps she had a police escort.
Of course any public assault, especially an assault on a child, and an assault that appears to be motivated by anti-religious bigotry, must receive investigative priority. Of course the police must move as quickly as they can to determine the facts, and ultimately reassure the public.
But why the imperative to go public so quickly? How could the investigation have been conducted with such haste that the contradictions inevitable in the story of an 11-year-old telling a fib, went uncovered by police, let alone the media?
The CBC had a national news story about the incident within an hour of the police being notified. Again, impressive speed. But how does that happen exactly? Who decided to escalate the story before the girl could even be questioned at anything more than cursory length?
Why were the police and the school board so eager to get themselves – and the girl herself – on camera so quickly?
A plausible explanation is that media-police-political officialdom both lament the story, but desire it to be true. They believe Canada is infected with anti-Muslim prejudice, and therefore welcome any opportunity to highlight and condemn the virus lurking in the body politic. That our leadership class feel that way about country is, in fact, newsworthy.
Muslims are a religious, not national group, but their experience is similar to previous patterns of immigrations. Like every minority group that has arrived in Canada before them, Muslims certainly encounter a rough reception from time to time. But the happy reality is that, also like every minority group before them, Canada has been exceptionally generous and welcoming. And, unlike previous generations when Germans, or Italians, or Poles, or, lest we forget, Irish, arrived, there is not a student across the land today who is not told regularly in school that Muslims are peaceful, noble people whose presence makes Canada better.
Canada, like any country, is not free of hostility toward newcomers and minorities. But it would be hard to find a country more hospitable toward them, and that is more successful at providing opportunities for advancement and integration.
We are the world’s great mass-immigration success story. That is Canada. Our leaders should be as quick to acknowledge that.
Convivium means living together. We welcome your voice to the conversation. Do you know someone who would enjoy this article? Send it to them now. Do you have a response to something we've published? Let us know!