Inclusion for All: A Canadian Roadmap to Social Cohesion Insights from Structured Conversations

5. Peace, safety and security

The consultations affirmed that these Canadians hold dear the safety, security, peacefulness, civility, and rights that are a mainstay of our quality of life. Peace, peacemaking, safe communities and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms were all rated as among Canada’s top social cohesion strengths by government researchers. These characteristics were identified as central to how we distinguish ourselves from Americans and to our international reputation.

We don’t have to worry about people walking around with guns.

People have a legitimate lack of trust if they belong to a group that has been the target of discrimination.

Social cohesion is about a just society—what Trudeau stood for.

Participants in the youth session underscored that immigrants and visitors frequently mention peace, safety and civility as among Canada’s greatest attributes. These participants also stressed that we have long distinguished ourselves from Americans by our higher level of personal safety and security. In particular they noted the lower level of gun ownership and of assaults with weapons in this country. The young people we heard from also reported pride in our history of accommodation and acceptance of diversity. We are not asked to join a “melting pot,” they said, but are encouraged to celebrate our differences, confident in the knowledge that rights and rights-based institutions exist to support that freedom. Youth consulted also mentioned the importance they attribute to justice and nondiscrimination.

How can we address fear and insecurity through a social cohesion lens?

When looking through a social cohesion lens it is clear that victims of crime and violence, as well as victims of discrimination, are being excluded from full participation in society. As with all our strengths, our peace, safety and security should not be taken for granted. Some groups, such as young black males in Toronto, do not always feel safe when they see police or security forces. They are among those groups in society who do not have a sense of complacency about rights and protections. Others, such as women who rely on restraining orders, may see the police as vital to their security. Not everyone is equally vulnerable or will feel secure under the same conditions.

Existing research on victimization and the fear of victimization tells us that fear is not a straightforward response to risk. Rather, it is a complex cultural phenomenon. To reduce fear and its negative effects, we must understand the sense of vulnerability felt by different groups in society, and these groups’ different responses to our security and justice institutions.

The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 had a dramatic effect on Canadians’ sense of peace, safety and security. Conditions we may have previously taken for granted suddenly were seen to warrant attention. These conditions include the freedom to move about as we wish and to participate and to be in public spaces without concern for our physical safety. Physical and emotional security and confidence have become more evident as elements of social cohesion. Canadians of Arabic or Muslim origin, as well as Canadians thought to be Arabic or Muslim, felt vulnerable to the effects of the public’s fear. As a result, they need to see bridges that connect them with other Canadians, and evidence of acceptance and inclusion. There is a need to identify the bridges and connections that best address racialization and the divisions exacerbated by anxiety and fear. For visible minorities, indeed for all Canadians, connections, bridges and participation have more significance since September 11, 2001.

Mobilize resources…. Do it differently, by increasing the density of existing networks that foster collaboration and partnerships, reciprocity and mutuality…. Do trans-disciplinary, cross-sector, bridging research. Get good people and build networks.

Inevitably, there will be debates and discussions about the interconnections between social cohesion, security, freedom and justice. The insights from these consultations can enrich discussion and research into the effects of terrorism and fear on participation, bonds and links, equity and access. If we fail to address these issues quickly and appropriately, and if the climate of war and fear persists or re-occurs, there was some concern that it may be difficult to maintain immigration at the level the country needs.

Another relatively invisible effect of the terrorist attacks was the redeploying of police and security services. Research may be needed into the impact of this reaction. Another effect has been a realignment of our attitudes towards, and relations with, the United States. Subtle shifts in how Canadians understand and experience security warrant research. The links between this set of social changes and those related to immigration, globalization and North American integration warrant analysis.

Take away the roadblocks. When dissension comes out about an issue, listen, don’t squash it with riot police.

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