It was a chilly, rainy evening late in 2001 as I was headed home on the bus. Abruptly my attention was caught by an outburst from the woman who was sitting next to me. She was short, middle-aged, and appeared to be of Native American descent.
"I don't care for your language!"
I followed her gaze and realized that she had taken exception to two robed and turbaned men seated across the aisle, who were speaking quietly in Arabic.
"If you can't talk like everyone else, you should go back to where you came from," the woman continued. The men looked up, but didn't reply. Either they didn't understand what she was saying, or they chose to not respond to her. I suspected the latter.
Immigration Canada records state that 48.3% of all immigrants in the year 2011 were from Asia and the Pacific. Moreover, 23.8% were from Africa and the Middle East, 13.1% from Europe, and the remainder from the United States and other continental American countries. As more immigrants arrive, they make their marks in the community. Muslim mosques and Sikh temples have replaced derelict Catholic and Anglican churches that have closed from the lack of parishioners. Exotic restaurants with menus of falafel and gyros have become more popular than the local greasy spoon. This ebb and flow of cultures creates a vibrant character for a community which sets it apart from others. Unfortunately, many people think of this as a takeover rather than integration.
The native woman became annoyed that the two men were paying little attention to her. "Did you hear me?" she said more loudly. "Look at me while I'm talking!"
"What is your problem?" interjected a young black woman from the seat directly across from me. "They're not bothering you."
"You keep out of this. People who don't behave like Canadians don't belong here." The native woman's expression grew accusatory. "Why don't you go home too?"
"I am home," the black woman countered. "I was born here."
Flustered at being unable to gain sympathy from the black woman, the native woman tried another tactic. "They have no right to come here and flaunt their religion and jeopardize our safety!"
"You have no right to disturb us all with your argument," said a white English man seated further down.
We can still see signs of intolerance despite the rising number of well-educated Canadians: a graffito sprayed on the wall of a subway station that reads "Anglos go home" or pen scribbles in a public washroom that say "Nuke whatever-country". Covering up the paint or closing the door won't make the problem go away. Big changes are needed in the way people are educated with respect to other cultures.
I was not raised according to the tenets of a particular belief system. My parents were of the opinion that I should choose my own path and educate myself on its merits as opposed to being told by others which path I ought to follow. I have studied and attended services in a number of different faiths. I have friends who ascribe to a variety of beliefs and I respect them all. How many people of my generation can say that?
The bus ride was quickly turning into a circus. When the native woman's comments became louder and more derogatory, a middle-aged man down the aisle spoke with a Quebecois accent, "This should not concern you anyway, so please shut up."
"You shut up!" the woman retorted.
The bus driver pulled over to the side of the street, looking frustrated. "All of you, shut up." He addressed the native woman. "Either shut up, or get off." She grumbled to herself a bit and disembarked a few stops later. The rest of the passengers appeared grateful for the silence, but I was left with pity for the woman's inflexibility.