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The new MP for Parkdale-High Park can thank Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, for his life in this country, an experience that began at a Montreal YMCA as his family arrived in a strange, frigid land with only two suitcases.
Virani was only 10 months old when he was bundled up as the family fled the brutal dictatorship of Idi Amin.
From that room on Peel Street, Virani’s path took him to Toronto’s Flemingdon Park, then Willowdale, then McGill and the University of Toronto. It weaved its way through a parliamentary internship, then a post as counsel in the constitutional law branch of the Ontario government, now a member of Parliament in a tough race in which he wrested the seat from NDP incumbent Peggy Nash.
There was a backlash in 1972, as there is now, and it surfaced sporadically over the years. It happened again during the campaign, where a handful of voters told Virani they would never vote for a Muslim.
“Whether you are 3 or 43, when somebody volleys an intolerant, bigoted sentiment to you, it stupefies you for a moment. You want to say, ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’ But you can’t say that, because you always want to be respectful.
So, he agonizes over the mosque-burning in Peterborough, the vandalism of a Kitchener temple, and the assault of a Muslim woman in his old Flemingdon Park stomping ground. The woman was picking up her son at Grenoble Public School, where Virani’s sister used to attend, when she was assaulted in what Toronto police called a hate crime.
Virani believes the Rob Ford regime at Toronto City Hall, then the injection of the niqab in the Stephen Harper campaign, emboldened those who had kept such thoughts to themselves, ripping the filter off those who silently harboured racist views.
But he takes heart in the response to the backlash. The Peterborough mosque raised more money than its goal after it was torched. There was a similar outpouring of revulsion over the Flemingdon Park assault.
The type of intolerance faced by Virani or others really comes from people who won the life lottery. They were born in this country — they have never been given 90 days to flee their home, they have never tried to escape terror, they have never lost loved ones in an internecine war, or been forced to endure brutal conditions in a refugee camp.
Yet, they want to turn their backs on those who have endured such despair.
Will it pass?
TORONTO STAR | NEWS | CANADA