Sensationalized Violence, the Media, and Somali-Canadian Communities

Charlene Hay, Executive Director, responds to the recent article in the Globe and Mail titled, “Why So Many Somali-Canadians Who Go West End Up Dead“.

I wish to respond to the Globe and Mail article “Why so many Somali-Canadians who go west end up dead” of June 22, 2012 – a sensationalized headline if I have ever seen one.

We are led to believe that ‘others’ are the cause of violence and crime; and in this case, the Somali-Canadians. Recent research done by the Centre for Race and Culture indicates that immigrants and non-white people (racialized) do not commit more crime than mainstream Canadians with similar life circumstances. Crime IS higher for those who are unemployed, have low levels of education, come from single parent families, or live in poverty. These are all exacerbated by the discrimination that immigrant, refugee, and Aboriginal people experience.

Why do racialized people consistently receive a lower quality of education, have a more difficult time finding employment and income levels that are commensurate with their education and experience? And why does this topic so rarely see a headline in our newspapers? We need to stop blaming racialized people and look to mainstream Canada’s individual attitudes and institutional behaviours to get the complete explanation.

Headlines like “Why so many Somali-Canadians who go west end up dead” feed into the stereotype that immigrants tend to be criminal and therefore increase fears for safety. When a white person commits murder that person is represented as aberrant. When a non-white person commits murder, that person is seen to represent an entire community. I wonder at the significance of a “graveyard” being near the place where many Somalis live in Fort McMurray. Does this add important information to your story, or just add to the fearful tone? I also wonder if there are more immigrants and refugees selling drugs in Fort McMurray, in proportion to their population, than any other group?

Inequities persist in the Somali-Canadian community as in other immigrant, refugee, and other ‘racialized’ communities. This is, in fact, a highly diverse group of people that includes mostly ethical and non-criminal people. Let’s remember that our economy needs immigrants. White Canadians have a dangerously low birth rate. Without immigrants Canadians will face a shrinking economy where the work force is not contributing enough to pension plans and health care to support our aging population. It is in all of our interests to work toward a harmonious and equitable society that values the richness in diversity.

Charlene Hay

Executive Director, Centre for Race and Culture