LABOVE: Holding tight to fiction of a European Canada

Xenophobe Brad Saltzberg has been on a bit of a media tear lately, as spokesperson for what can only be called a hate group for modern times, Putting Canada First.

Saltzberg and his cronies are largely dismissed by city councils and mainstream news media, but I would argue we need to take this group seriously as dangerously divisive and hateful. We should find their invocation of "Canada" and "European Canada" to be disturbing and hateful for the fictions such terms attempt to make of our multicultural, settler society.

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Putting Canada First has powerfully worked to align the narrative of our hard-earned tax dollars to that of the greedy migrant. Saltzberg's interviews attempt a dispassionate view of multiculturalism veiled as a waste of taxpayer resources, telling a Shaw

TV interviewer last month that cultural groups should stop seeking funding from government for events that celebrate diversity and culture. He was a bit tighter lipped on funding for Christian and Jewish education, so presumably those are OK? And when an immigrant resettlement centre was found to be posting signs in predominately Chinese Richmond for a predominately Chinese migrant population, Saltzberg and Putting Canada First deployed the taxpayer access argument again to ensure that services designed to help new Canadians - those who would be least comfortable speaking or reading in an official language - be written in English.

It is unclear who wins here when an immigrant social services agency is forced to make its services less accessible to those who need them the most.

Today, Putting Canada First is at it again, in West Vancouver, protesting bus shelter signage that is, advertising bought by private actors for commercial purposes with no taxpayer involvement. So the argument has moved for Saltzberg to the spread of non-English signage as "undermin(ing) 'traditional English and French Canadian identity.'" Perhaps even more insulting than the concerned taxpayer approach, this newest argument demonstrates a hysterical blindness toward Canada's history, erases First Nations and aboriginal narratives, and reimagines this land as born when White Europeans came to town.

There is, in fact, nothing traditional about the role of Europeans in Canada, and the suggestion that there ever was undermines the history Europeans have long attempted to erase while at the same time claiming a kind of primacy, an ethnonationalism through which certain Canadians can be made less so, can be othered, and can be rendered outside of this new narrative of a Canada that ignores both past and present.

As Saltzberg crows at the end of a North Shore News interview, "I'm proud to say I've never believed in multiculturalism for even one minute of my life." Rather than dismiss Putting Canada First as right-wing zealots attacking signs or trolls looking for fights in trivial corners of public life, we should see them as dangerous for the way they couch hateful and racist discourse in arguments of Constitutional reform and taxpayer rights. It's not about signs; it is about divisive rhetoric that aims to undermine the multiple histories and identities that create a modern Canada.

Josh Labove is a PhD candidate, department of geography, and lecturer, continuing studies, at Simon Fraser University.

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