Just like bad cologne, hatred has staying power, and it’s lingering in every corner. As ever, Canada’s solution has been to idly spritz a bit of perfume to mask the smell, all the while admiring itself in a mirror full of cracks.

Cruelty is everywhere and putting lives in danger. In Ontario, the defunding of supervised-injection sites has upped the risk of overdose among opioid users. LGBTQ kids are more likely than their peers to end up homeless and attempt suicide, but Alberta’s incoming government plans to eliminate legislation preventing teachers from outing students to their parents.

And on Monday, Ekos Politics reported that 40 per cent of Canadians believe that “too many” immigrants coming here are members of “visible minority” groups, that uniquely Canadian term that lumps together everyone who isn’t white (or Indigenous, but that’s never been the point).

The number is highest, 69 per cent, among those who identify as Conservative Party of Canada voters. That said, the stink is everywhere. About 30 per cent of Green and NDP voters also think there are quite enough immigrants who don’t look white.

But there’s no way of knowing where a “visible minority” walking down the street was born – expressing a dislike for racialized immigrants is expressing a dislike for racialized people. That’s called racism, but Canadians don’t say that word. It might hurt someone’s feelings, or kick off a lawsuit. Likewise “homophobic,” or any other specific calling out of prejudice.

Hate crimes are up, as is misinformation, but for many, neither are as important as “free speech.” That’s a priority, but only when it’s narrowly defined as freedom to spout discriminatory drivel, true or false, blatant or coded.

Identifying and labelling prejudice is also free speech, but that’s framed as unfair or, as CPC Leader Andrew Scheer put it, “nasty personal attacks.” That’s the phrase he used in a tweet on Tuesday night, when congratulating the United Conservative Party for its Alberta election victory.

The UCP campaign was a series of stink bombs on multiple fronts. Party members were snapped chumming around with white supremacists, and more than one candidate resigned in the face of homophobic, anti-immigrant or Islamophobic statements made on social media. Newly re-elected MLA Mark Smith was allowed to stick around, even after audio circulated of him equating homosexuality to pedophilia.

Valid questions were posed to UCP Leader Jason Kenney about his interest in protecting human rights. Mr. Scheer wants those relevant queries dismissed as “fear and smear.” It’s a spin that serves him as he determinedly ignores criticisms of his own relationships with purveyors of far-right ideology, including histrionic political website The Rebel, his campaign manager’s old employer.

Speaking of The Rebel, its pundits were welcomed right into the UCP election party, including one who was briefly a graphic designer and shipped orders for a company which sold apartheid South Africa flags and other paraphernalia which was associated with white supremacists. This is Canada, now – and the response of the federal Liberals to the growing stench has been to revamp their inclusive branding.

“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted in 2017. Now, his government is portraying refugee claimants as “asylum shoppers.” Indigenous communities, once said to be his most important relationship, are now being openly derided.

“Thank you very much for your donation,” the Prime Minister recently sneered at protesters who had paid $1,500 to get into a room with him. No apology can erase his tone, or their issue: his broken promise to clean up mercury-poisoned water in the Anishinaabe community of Grassy Narrows.

In their hearts, most Indigenous people probably didn’t trust his government’s promises of reconciliation. After all, the perennials emitting this rotten odour took root in soil laid down by the founders of the Liberal Party, alongside their Conservative frenemies.

It’s just that any hint of relief from the exhaustion of injustice is tempting to believe in. It’s the same reason immigrants and their offspring cling to the image of Canada as a place that welcomes everyone – even as we close the drawbridge to others.

Because 39 per cent of “visible minorities” also told Ekos there were too many visible minorities wanting to live here. We avert our eyes from immigration detainees, or workers whose bodies are used to harvest food then sent away – if the whiff of their suffering stays out of our clothes, hopefully our own lot will be mere unfairness.

But there’s no escaping the smell of the refuse Canada has always refused to incinerate. And quite a lot of people seem happy to roll around in garbage.

The Globe and Mail, April 18, 2019