There was nothing particularly controversial about Leitch’s political career until late in the 2015 election, when she and then-Immigration Minister Chris Alexander surprised everyone – including the RCMP – by announcing a police hotline to which Canadians could report “barbaric cultural practices” such as female genital mutilation or forced marriage. Leitch preempted criticism by accusing her Liberal and NDP opponents as being more concerned with “political correctness” than defending “Canadian values.”
Mutilating a girl’s genitals or forcing her to marry against her will cannot be described otherwise than as barbaric, so there is no argument on that score. But there was no apparent reason why such practices should be suddenly thrust into the spotlight towards the end of an election. More importantly, everything Leitch described was already illegal, if not criminal. What did this hotline do other than send the message that if you see a white guy beating his wife, call the cops, but if you see a brown guy doing it, call the barbaric cultural practices line. As a result, it was difficult to discern any intent other than boosting a campaign in difficulty by stoking fears about ethnic minorities and their ugly ways.
But few practices are as Canadian as forgiveness, and when Leitch tearfully regretted her role in the affair a few months later, it seemed time to turn the page. Until, of course, she turned it back by making the immigrant threat to our way of life the centerpiece of her Conservative leadership bid (while describing the hotline as a poorly-articulated good idea).
Leitch’s promise to screen immigrants for “Canadian values” ran into all sorts of obvious objections. For one, what precisely are Canadian values? The current Liberal government might point to support for abortion rights – presumably not something that Leitch and her supporters had in mind. But even if a list could be agreed upon, how on Earth would such values be screened for?
In a world where telepathy remains the domain of science fiction and human beings are willing to lie, there is no way to confirm someone’s true beliefs. As a result, immigration officers would be left making poorly-educated guesses based on interviews of limited value and the other information available to them: most notably, the interviewee’s nationality and religion.
It is not difficult to predict what would result from immigration officers being charged with weeding out people who believe the Wrong Things: ethnic minorities and Muslims in particular would see their rejection rates climb, as lighter-skinned Europeans – apart from the occasional white nationalist – would continue unmolested. There are doubtless many people who would describe such an outcome as being essential to preserve Canada as it exists today, but then let’s at least be open about it rather than implausibly deny, as Leitch did, that this has nothing to do with race.
(As a bit of belated, free advice to Leitch’s campaign: it’s easier to deny accusations of bigotry when you don’t describe Donald Trump’s election win as “an exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada as well.”)
It may be that Leitch never really shared the sentiments that she attempted to ride into 24 Sussex, but whatever was in her heart she chose to make those issues her political trademark. It was heartening to see her finish a distant sixth in the leadership campaign, with less than 8% of the overall vote. Leitch’s departure from public life allows her to return to her medical practice as a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, where she will do more good in a day than she ever could have in a lifetime of politics. And hopefully, her defeat means that we will not see the likes of the campaign that she ran again any time soon.