Hancock Lecture To Explore The Meaning of Canadian Citizenship
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Hancock Lecture To Explore The Meaning of Canadian Citizenship

The talk comes on the heels of the Syrian refugee crisis, #BlackLivesMatter, and changes to citizenship acts

Audience at the 2014 Hancock Lecture. Photo courtesy Hart House.

The past year brought to light many debates about the idea of citizenship: Activists tirelessly called for the abolition of random police carding. #BlackLivesMatter rallies amplified the message of young, racialized Torontonians desperately working to improve relations between people of colour and the police. And most recently, the arrival of 10,000 Syrian refugees brought to question what it means to be Canadian the moment Prime Minister Justin Trudeau slipped new winter coats onto their shoulders.

In honour of its 15th anniversary and the past year of questioning, the 2016 Hart House Hancock Lecture on Feb. 9 will challenge a perception that has long defined Canadians: are we as welcoming and inclusive as we think?

John Monahan, warden at Hart House, says the talk will discuss the broader issue of citizenship and how public security policies and community relationships help define what it means to be Canadian.

A recent study by the Mosaic Institute, where Monahan formerly served as executive director, found that of 4,498 Canadians, 57 per cent believed new Canadians or those who come from places where violent conflict persists will bring their conflicts with them in ways that threaten violence here.

Research has disproven this. But while new Canadians with direct or indirect experience to conflict regions rarely import violence, they do experience the after effects of exposure to trauma.

“When we don’t work very intentionally to create as inclusive a Canada as possible, we actually end up undermining security, which is oftentimes the very excuse we give for not implementing more inclusive policies across the board,” Monahan says.

Legal scholar and columnist Azeezah Kanji will be leading the lecture, followed by a discussion and question-and-answer session moderated by author, activist, and former Torontoist staff writer Desmond Cole. The lecture is open to the public.

Azeezah Kanji says her lecture will explore how different groups in Canada experience national security and policing practices.

“The particular relevance of this in a city like Toronto is to help us question this idea we have of ourselves as having transcended race to being a multicultural, even post-racial city,” she says.

Among the policies Kanji will discuss are the Canadian Citizenship Act and the Anti-terrorism Act, which have been subject to debate and controversy.

Through recent changes to the Canadian Citizenship Act under Bill C-24, the federal government can revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens and immigrants for crimes such as terrorism, espionage and treason.

Meanwhile, the Anti-terrorism Act under Bill C-51 expands the powers of CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, to prevent suspected terrorist activity. The bill, which was passed into law last year by the former Conservative government, also expands no-fly list powers and makes it a criminal offence to encourage someone to carry out a terrorist attack.

During last year’s federal election, the Liberals promised to create new legislation that would guarantee all CSIS warrants respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ensure that Canadians are not limited from lawful protests and advocacy.

“When we’re looking at the impact of particular policies and particular laws, it’s important to not just look at who’s actually facing prosecution under them, but the broader discourses around them and the way it enforces stereotypes about Muslims that are also perpetuated in the media,” Kanji says.

Kanji wants the audience to look at ways in which ideas about race are “still firmly entrenched and structure the experiences of people even in a city like Toronto.”

Program coordinator Zoe Dille says the topic of this year’s lecture is particularly timely: she has noticed an increase in student engagement with social justice issues like Black Lives Matter on campuses.

Dille says recent events, such as the Syrian refugee crisis, have galvanized different student groups and educational institutions to work together on initiatives. “[It’s] something I haven’t personally seen before or seen done in this way,” she adds.

Dille also hopes the lecture will spark discussion and create understanding between different groups. “We’ve got a different government now, so if that inspires some people to make sure that they’re more socially and policy aware, I think we’ve done our job.”

And more discussion is warranted. If the events of 2015 are any proof, this year will be yet another to reflect on what it means to be Canadian—and how to do better.

The Hancock Lecture Series takes place Feb. 9 at Hart House Theatre.