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The Kevin Johnston effect

Examining the anti-Muslim candidate’s disturbing second-place finish in the Mississauga mayoral race
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Following the October 22 municipal elections held across Ontario, there was considerable coverage of and reaction to the concerning third-place finish of white nationalist Faith Goldy in the Toronto mayoral race. But this was not the only case of an overperforming far-right candidacy.

In Mississauga, although Bonnie Crombie was comfortably re-elected as mayor, anti-Muslim YouTube personality Kevin Johnston came second with a staggering 13.5 per cent of the vote. To put this into context, he also ran in 2014 and received half a per cent of the vote. In just a matter of four years, his fringe candidacy has became legitimate.

This is a man who, in 2017, was charged by the Peel Police with “wilfully promoting hatred toward the Peel Muslim community.” This October, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) hosted a candidates forum discussion and understandably chose not to invite Johnston. While some criticized the UTMSU for his exclusion, the truth is that our union is under no obligation to invite an individual who has publicly perpetuated hatred against a minority group.

Yet Johnston’s views seem to have found popularity in Mississauga. This is startling in a city known for its multiculturalism — especially a large Muslim population. Lest his following grows, Mississauga residents must critically dissect and dismiss Johnston’s views.

An anti-Muslim record

In one of his videos, Johnston bribed students to videotape Muslim students during Friday prayers in Peel schools — claiming that they were spreading hate against “Jews, against women, against infidel, and against Canadians”. His claims were expectedly unfounded and delusional. Consequently, Johnson was escorted off the property and banned from all future Peel board meetings.

While Johnston takes issue with Muslim prayers in schools, up until early November his website said that he wants the Lord’s Prayer implemented in Mississauga City Hall. Hypocritically, religious accommodations are acceptable to Johnston so long as it is his own religion. Although he feels that his religious beliefs are threatened, he fails to recognize that Christianity is, in fact, already privileged. After all, in Ontario, we have Catholic schools that are funded by the government.

Johnston went further, claiming that Canada was “founded on Judeo-Christian values” which he plans bring back to Mississauga. Yet he ignores that these values were forced upon the Indigenous communities of this land. To celebrate this history reflects a problematic and gross erasure of colonial history, along with the racism against Indigenous communities that continues today.

In reality, Johnston’s values also have nothing to do with religious piety. Rather, they are a cover for fear-mongering and incitement of hatred against Muslims, whom he labels a major threat to Canada. It is difficult to imagine how Johnston could ever represent Mississauga’s Muslim residents or residents committed to religious freedom as mayor.

Johnston has even attacked MP Iqra Khalid for introducing M-103 following the Québec City mosque shooting. This is a non-binding motion that condemned Islamophobia and called for a study into systemic racism and religious discrimination. He called her a “political terrorist” and implied that he would be happy to see her shot.

These comments are deeply disturbing — for a mayoral candidate,  attacking an MP with such violent imagery is unacceptable. Ironically, his statements reveal the importance of M-103, since Johnston embodies the Islamophobia in this country that needs to be acknowledged and addressed.

And it’s not just Muslims whom he targets. As a candidate, he pledged to make Mississauga safe from crime. While there have been some sensationalized shootings this past year in the GTA, Johnston’s claim that crime has “risen greatly” in recent years is inaccurate. The reality is that his tough-on-crime stance is designed to monger fear against racialized communities in the city.

The responsibility of voters

As a Mississauga resident, UTM student, and Muslim individual, it is alarming for me that a person like Johnston could still secure second place in the mayoral race after all that. If it’s not that his supporters voted for him because they share his anti-Muslim views, it is that these views were not enough to dissuade them. Part of the problem is that voters are willing to give political candidates the benefit of the doubt, instead of holding them to higher standards.

His claims may seem attractive because scapegoating a particular group makes it easy to present corresponding solutions. But these claims don’t reflect the truth — they rely on the fear of voters.

The people of Mississauga need to realize that they cannot fall into the same trap as Donald Trump’s vision of America, in a political climate that likely encourages candidates like Johnston. Blaming marginalized groups does not resolve problems, but only spreads hate, division, and violence.

Johnston’s run in Mississauga, like Goldy’s campaign in Toronto, points to how politics based on manipulation can yield significant results, even in Canada’s most diverse regions. But voters have a responsibility to critically reflect and fact-check the claims advanced by those who wish to represent them. We must recognize that such individuals are utterly unfit to govern, and we must hold them accountable, as we would with all politicians.

To protect the cultural diversity that defines Canada, especially the Toronto region, it is imperative that we do everything in our power to prevent candidates and views that wish to destroy that definition from gaining further momentum.

Sharmeen Abedi is a fourth-year Criminology, Sociology, and English student at UTM. She is The Varsity’s UTM Affairs Columnist.