Commentary by Mohamed Hammoud in London, ON
“All Jews must die.”
This was the shout of a lone gunman as he opened fire on a congregation of Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Or L’Simcha synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Saturday morning. 11 people were killed, six injured, including four police officers. The incident has brought together the Jewish and Muslim communities through a reverberating message of responding to hate with love.
Some might wonder how two communities normally seen at odds over political differences can unite, but since the attacks, Muslims in both Canada and the United States have taken to various social media platforms to express their solidarity with their Jewish brethren and are speaking out against hate crimes and all related forms of vitriolic rhetoric. At least two organizations have undertaken crowdfunding activities to raise money for the families of the victims, already exceeding targets with over $110,000 in just two days. Other Muslim organizations have been active in helping the families with grocery shopping and organizing vigils.
Many have been quick to criticize U.S. President Donald Trump for his response; although he denounced the hate incident, when asked about gun control, he responded that the shooting has “little to do with it.” Again, not unlike his response to the Florida shooting earlier this year, Trump recommended using guns to solve the problem and use armed guards to protect churches and synagogues. He eschewed the real issues of curbing gun violence or striving to heal a country rent asunder by his vitriolic rhetoric. And with his unwavering support of neo-Nazis and the Ultra-right, his unapologetic “America First” rhetoric and xenophobic policies, few have any confidence in his ability to curb an alarming increase in antisemitic hate crimes.
In Canada, the wash over effect is a 60 per cent spike in online hate. According to the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and StatsCan, data shows that the Jewish community continues to be the most common target of hate crimes, closely followed by attacks on Muslims. Understandably, members of the two Abrahamic faiths recognize the importance of finding common ground. The notion of turning faith sanctuaries into heavily-guarded fortresses is very disturbing. Places of worship represent safe havens where we can nurture a sense of belonging and community-building and members can draw on shared experiences to foster opportunities to build relationships with their neighbors through interfaith dialogue. Some fear that turning churches and synagogues into guarded fortresses might have the adverse effect of bolstering more horrific attacks.
When asked about the recent incident in Pittsburgh, Rabbi Debra Stahlberg Dressler of Temple Israel in London, Ontario, explained that “it’s time to acknowledge that rhetoric can and does kill. Maybe not in the moment, but when hatred and falsehoods are the currency of public discussion, violence seems to become inevitable.” Speaking at the Interfaith Tree Planting held by Reforest London on Sunday, October 28, 2018, Rabbi Dressler expressed her gratitude for the show of support and solidarity from Muslims and Christians.
What we need most now is not more guns, we don’t need more fear of the other. We need to foster climates of acceptance and open our doors and build bridges and adopt a “zero tolerance” policy against any expressions of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and any other sort of bigotry, as well as attitudes and ideologies that can breed acts of hate and rob us of our religious freedom, pluralism and liberties. As Rabbi Dressler reminds us, there is hope, after all, it is “relationships are what ultimately will keep us safe.”
Mohamed Hammoud has been involved in various public speaking engagements focusing on interfaith as well as training on leadership, diversity and inclusion. He is also an active contributor to New Canadian Media and a member of the NCM Collective.
Ciommmentary by Norma Baumel Joseph
“Immigrants get the job done!” These were the strong words of Lin Manuel-Miranda at the recent University of Pennsylvania commencement ceremony. (I was there to proudly watch my son receive his doctorate!)
What message was Lin sending to the thousands in the stadium? How was this idea being received by the many watching the live stream of the address? After all, this incredible man who just received an honorary doctorate, and whose Broadway play, Hamilton, was nominated for more Tony awards (16) than any other play in history, was telling the world something important, and his words carry weight. In fact, he told us that he chose Alexander Hamilton as his topic because this man was the only immigrant amongst the founding fathers. So in the context of an American election year that’s so full of anti-foreigner sentiments colliding with a global refugee crisis, how shall we approach this topic of immigration?
Canadian Jewish News
by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga
Canadian authors of faith-based fiction say seeking answers in religion to the injustices of their pasts enhances their creativity and inspires their literary work.
A group of authors explained how their spiritual backgrounds influence the creation and shape of their stories during a discussion titled “Faith and Fiction” at the recent Festival of Literary Diversity held in Brampton, Ont.
Growing up, panellist Zarqa Nawaz says she questioned the divider that separates women from men at the mosque.
“It seemed to me, as a child, very fundamentally unfair,” says Nawaz, creator of the CBC series Little Mosque on the Prairie.
She says that while faith is an important part of her life, gender inequality caused a disruption for her until she created the documentary Me in the Mosque.
During her research, she discovered that in Islamic history, there was a section of the mosque for men, a section for women, and a third section for people that define as a third sex.
“We had such progressive views centuries ago when it came to not just women, but the third sex,” she says.
Nawaz grew up reading memoirs and watching documentaries on feminist struggles of different faiths and cultures. She says her understanding of prejudice against women is not limited to any faith, but is in fact a “universal theme.”
“Getting away from faith doesn’t mean that you get away from prejudice,” she says.
She describes an incident in which a Hijab-wearing Muslim girl was barred from going to school in France, where prominent religious symbols are banned in grade schools.
“How is it different from the Taliban?” Nawaz asks.
She says such injustices provoke her to fight back by raising awareness through her work.
For Ayelet Tsabari, fiction is a place to question the existence of God.
Tsabari grew up in Israel and says believing in God in the Jewish religion was something that she never questioned until her father, who she describes as a pious man, passed away when she was nine years old.
She developed a belief that when a person dies, so does God and that is why he was not there to save her father.
“That was something that sort of made sense to me as a child,” says Tsabari.
She describes this loss as a crisis of faith, which has inspired her writing. Tsabari’s book The Best Place on Earth, won the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature.
“My characters are facing either crises of faith or there is a clash within family over the issues of faith,” she says about the book.
Finding role models
Vivek Shraya says while she does not follow Hinduism anymore, Hindu mythology from a feminist lens has inspired her work. She returned to Hinduism in search of role models for her writing, which she lacked in her own life as a child.
As a queer artist and writer, she says she aims to counter genderphobia, or fear of gender-nonconforming individuals, in her work. She puts particular emphasis on the God Krishna and says she believes that she has an intimate connection with this role model.
Shraya adds that male Gods who have long hair, wear jewellery, and are friends with girls help her relate to the genderphobia she experienced in school.
“It seems to be a common theme throughout my work, because its one of the first places where I felt that I [could] see myself,” explains Shraya.
Shraya’s debut novel, She of the Mountains, has two narratives – one is a contemporary bi-sexual love story, and the other is about re-imagining Hindu mythology and its illustrations.
Panellist Cherie Dimaline is a member of the Georgian Bay Métis community in Ontario. Her books Red Rooms, The Girl Who Grew A Galaxy and A Gentle Habit reflect on indigenous people’s connections with the land.
“That’s what we base our understanding of spirituality on,” she says.
Dimaline says she learned to practise a version of the Roman Catholic faith infused with First Nations beliefs – what she describes as a “mixing and melting of understandings.”
“It was a very mixed, but also very structured upbringing,” she says.
Along with the influence of the church, Dimaline says she was also privileged to grow up with her grandmother who was the story keeper of the community.
When young Dimaline was selected to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps, the responsibility of preserving her community’s memories – seven generations back and seven generations to the future – fell on her shoulders.
“The story keepers reach back and reach forward and weave together those words that provided a blanket for our community of safety and understanding of our spirituality,” she explains. “The base of the understandings and world views that we have come from that faith.”
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
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by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa
Elly Bollegraaf, 76, moved to Canada in 1951 with her family after most of her relatives were wiped out in one of the world’s worst genocides. Her father died in the notorious Sobibor concentration camp in German-occupied Poland.
Now, just 70 years after the end of the Second World War, new efforts are being made to preserve the stories of Bollegraaf and her fellow Holocaust survivors.
Carleton University’s Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies, in partnership with the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (CHES), have set up the Ottawa Holocaust Survivors project to preserve the stories and the testimonies of those who lived through the Holocaust.
“Its extremely important to document what we already have not documented for historical reasons,” Bollegraaf says.
“We want people to learn from their past mistakes and if we don’t document these things, people will soon forget that they ever happened,” she adds.
Purpose of the project
The Ottawa Holocaust Survivors Testimony project seeks to ensure that Holocaust survivors in Ottawa have their accounts before, during and after the Holocaust documented in short videos and audios as well as written records.
Mina Cohn, director of the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship, says this project is very important not only for its historical significance, but for educational purposes.
“We decided to do this now because our survivors are aging, and because there are no replacements for their roles and positions, we decided to record them create short videos for presentations and research purposes,” Cohn says.
Most Holocaust survivors in Ottawa have been giving talks in schools and other places around the city since the ‘90s. Cohn says by sharing their experiences in schools, the stories of the survivors have become “an integrated part of history.”
These videos will therefore attempt to give personal testimonies of survivors during the Holocaust when the survivors are no longer able to go to the schools to share their experiences.
“The future generation will hear from the survivors themselves rather than somebody else,” Cohn says.
The project will film up to ten Holocaust survivors based in Ottawa who will tell their unique stories. Carleton University, through its crowdfunding platform Future Funder, intended to raise $7,500 for the project. They have raised over nine thousand dollars for the project within two weeks.
Cohn says, “The extra money will help us create more educational materials for teachers, and we’re very pleased.”
Memories of the war
Bollegraff was sent into hiding by her mother at a very young age when Jews were being attacked in the Netherlands in a small town of Mechelen. She recalls how she was made a part of a family that took her in. All the children in the family were older than her and the youngest was nine years her senior.
“I hung around mainly with the mother of the family that hid me. I was mainly with her all the time,” she says.
Shandler’s parents were killed at the Auschwitz concentration camp in German-occupied Poland during the Holocaust.
She and her new husband moved to Canada when Bollegraaf was only nine years.
Bollegraaf says documenting testimonies is one of the surest ways of making people know how serious the Holocaust was. She says she and the other survivors are “living history objects as survivors of the war.”
Lessons from the past inform our present
Cohn says one lesson everybody must take from this project is the need to get involved. She says going forward, the youth especially has the arduous task of taking up challenges and roles of responsibility in order to affect decisions that are taken by people in authority.
“The younger generation is responsible for political elections, when something bad is happening they should be reacting,” she says.
“They should be involved in a way not to let things like the Holocaust happen again and not to be bystanders but active opposers to bad events,” Cohn adds.
Bollegraaf, a scientific evaluator of medical devices, says the system of admitting refugees from war torn countries has changed. She commends Canadian authorities for their efforts in admitting refugees.
In her mind, the world is more proactive today compared to the past when they watched people from other countries being persecuted. She says the developed world has learned a lot from mistakes of the past.
“When the Vietnamese boat people came in the ‘70s, 4,000 came to Ottawa alone,” Bollegraaf says.
She continues, “Why? Because, when Jews were not allowed anywhere in the world when the war was raging, they were all murdered.”
She says a lot more needs to be done and that economically developed countries need to take more responsibility when dealing with refugee crises in order to avoid the mistakes of the Holocaust.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
by Elvira Truglia in Montreal
On one of the final stops during its two-year, cross-country “Our Canada” workshop series, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) held an open conversation about faith and social inclusion in Montreal last month.
According to Thomas Gallezot, francophone communities and outreach project officer for the organization, the CRRF aims to promote diversity and social inclusion through community dialogue. The objective of the workshop is to improve the ability of participants to manage workplace and community situations arising “out of conflicting religious practices and cultural values.”
While still predominantly Christian (65.8 per cent), more Montrealers now affiliate with religions other than Christianity (Islam: 9.6 per cent, Judaism: 2.4 per cent, Hinduism: 1.4 per cent, Buddhism: 2 per cent) according to the 2011 Census.
As non-Christian religions have become more visible, debates about culture, faith and values have heated up in Quebec’s public sphere. The proposed 2013 Quebec Charter of Values was an attempt to draw lines in the sand about secularism.
Most recently, a Quebec Human Rights Commission survey on diversity showed that 45 per cent of respondents had a negative view of religion. Forty-three per cent said people should be suspicious of anyone who expresses their religion openly, and 48.9 per cent said they were bothered by women wearing a veil.
Obstacles to social inclusion
A multi-faith panel, including Imam Shaykh Omar Koné, Rabbi Reuben Joshua Poupko, Father Engelbert Fotsing, Reverend Wilner Cayo, and David-Roger Gagnon, former spiritual and community animator at the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) discussed whether faith is an obstacle to social inclusion during the workshop.
In the Muslim community, Koné said negotiating how to co-exist in a Judeo-Christian world is not always easy when your way of living is different than the majority. Networking at an after-work “5-à-7” (Happy Hour) is a common practice in Montreal, but “to go with work colleagues is problematic when you are practising Muslim who doesn’t drink,” he explained.
Optics is another challenge. “Employment, which is the first factor in integration, is problematic when we have a name that sounds Arab-Muslim,” Koné added.
Recent statistics back this up. Visible minorities make up 31 per cent of Montreal’s population, but they represent only 11 per cent of the City of Montreal’s workforce. The unemployment rate of North African immigrant women in Montreal is five times greater than women who are not visible minorities.
Poupko said recognizing different beliefs and believers is “vital to communal harmony.”
“Last year a young woman came to see me, a medical resident at the Royal Victoria Hospital. She's Jewish, but she doesn't look Jewish,” he shared.
The student told her supervisor that she was going to Jewish General Hospital on her medical rounds. Poupko said the supervisor responded, “I can't stand those people, they are so aggressive.”
The next day, the student arrived at work wearing a large Star of David. The employer was left speechless.
“Anytime this [kind of thing] happens we’re still shocked by it,” said Poupko. “We all know this woman is going to be fine, she’s going to be a doctor … she's going to have a prosperous, secure life … no police is going to pull her over … because she looks suspicious.”
He said the doctor’s comments don’t compare to the discrimination and violence other minorities face in Quebec and across Canada.
Gagnon wants people to understand, “that it’s not necessarily their religion or their culture that people sometimes react to, but is the fact that they are spiritual or religious at all.”
He says this has to do with Quebec’s particular history and break with the Catholic Church after the Quiet Revolution. That “left deep scars,” said Gagnon. Acknowledging this history “will help the dialogue,” he added.
There was consensus among the panelists that schools are the best place to be pro-active.
Gagnon gave credit to Quebec’s Spiritual and Community Animation program in elementary and secondary schools. As a former spiritual and community animator at the EMSB, he said focusing on spirituality rather than religion provides “a window to talk about what we have in common.”
The program was introduced after Bill 118 (2000) deconfessionalized public school boards and introduced a mandate to promote diversity and pluralism.
“There’s always this push and pull,” said Poupko. “I think it has do with asking what’s reasonable and expecting a common sense response.”
That’s the approach Cristina Bajenaru takes as Project Coordinator at the Centre d’Encadrement pour Jeunes Femmes Immigrantes, a community organization that helps young immigrant women integrate.
Bajenaru said her clientele comes from 60 countries so she has to take a common sense approach to accommodation. If her training workshops coincide with Muslim holidays, she explained, “I can’t tell them to come, but I can’t tell them not to come either.” She said she lets them decide, and roughly half the class ends up staying home.
Through community consultations, the CRRF compiled dozens of other real scenarios that have come up in workplaces across the country. These are included in the Faith and Belonging Toolkit, a resource for workshop participants to encourage discussion and develop appropriate responses to accommodation.
Using the resource, Gagnon said he was impressed at the ability of the group to come up with solutions to complex scenarios.
“Spirituality in the public sphere, in [the] workplace, in society, when we talk about it reasonably and calmly, we find solutions,” he said.
by Tazeen Inam in Toronto
Religion plays a major role in the lives of many refugees, making it an important consideration for religious-based aid groups sponsoring those of other faiths.
Paul Bramadat from the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria, made this point while leading the forum on “Refugees and Religion: Push, Pull and the Politics of Crisis” at the 18th National Metropolis Conference in Toronto earlier this month.
“We know that Anglican United Church [of Canada] and Catholic church groups are heavily responsible for lots of immigrant and refugee settlement activities in the last many decades,” Bramadat said.
Suzanne Rumsey of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, representing the Anglican Church of Canada, said, “In our ways of working, we are an Anglican way of sponsoring the needs of the world, not the needs of Anglicans of the world.”
“Our mandate is to respond to refugees based on need, not on faith or religion,” she added.
An integral part of faith groups
One of the founding members of Lifeline Syria, Naomi Alboim, a professor at Queen’s University, applauded the private sponsorship approach by various faith communities.
“The Syrian refugee movement has really revitalized the whole sponsorship movement, I hope forever,” she said.
Alboim found refuge in Canada with her parents - her mother a Jewish survivor of the Second World War.
Thinking back to 1979 when private sponsorship kicked off in Canada, Alboim said that a number of ethno-specific and religious-specific groups were set up particularly to sponsor refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Many Jewish groups came forward to sponsor refugees from Indochina.
Sharing her experience of approaching Jewish faith groups to sponsor Syrians, Alboim said that it was a “brave” thing to do as there had been discussions in the Jewish community about whether it would be appropriate to sponsor Muslims or not.
She applauds the immediate cooperation from the Jewish community, and also her particular synagogue, and said that they are sponsoring refugees not as human beings only, but also as Jewish people.
“It’s really an opportunity for us as a community to put our values into practice, which is repairing the world as an integral part of our faith.”
There are 35 groups among Canada’s Jewish community working together to sponsor Syrian refugees.
Before approaching the Toronto Board of Rabbis, Alboim said she wanted to tackle concerns about Muslim refugees being sponsored by Jewish groups.
“I [didn't] want to reach out to my community and get rebuffed,” she said. “Now a family of five has arrived and another is under process.”
Over-simplifying identities of refugees
Meanwhile, some secular groups have also joined sponsorship efforts, including the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria.
The group found that some are not comfortable sponsoring refugees through faith-based organizations.
“We felt that there was some space for people who wanted to go through a different route,” said Sabine Lehr, representing the group at the forum.
Lehr spoke about the challenge of over-simplifying the identity of incoming refugees as Muslims.
“There is this assumption that they are all the same, but they all have tribal affiliation. They have potentially different political perspectives, particularly complex, given the nature of conflicts they are facing.”
While talking about a large mosque in Victoria, she said that it’s an assumption that all refugees coming in as Muslims will attend the mosque, whether or not they come from a different faction.
Lehr expresses her concern that this dimension is often brushed aside.
“We’ll see where this all leads in the coming months,” she added.
Religion need not be a private matter
There are other challenges related to religious issues that merit consideration, added Lehr.
In her experience, some people were concerned about certain expressions of culture or religion – in particular the wearing of niqab.
“I did get a question in one of my conversations with a potential sponsor,” she recalled. “It was couched in terms of, ‘You know I really have a problem with the niqab because we have a problem if we can’t see somebody’s face.’ It wasn’t really couched in religious terms; it was couched in the terms that I have a problem in interacting with a person face-to-face.”
Bramadat said despite these issues, religion is not a barrier to sponsoring refugees in Canada, the way it is in Europe.
However, the challenge he sees is if a refugee of Muslim faith gets involved in crime, Canadians will immediately grow frightened, as a result of Islamophobia.
“My fear is that as soon as somebody does some bad things, what people see is a Muslim rather than see it’s a guy who made a wrong choice and who is in crisis.”
Bramadat suggested that the solution is to discuss religion openly.
“I think we have to develop the capacity and bravery to have difficult conversations and should not treat religion as a private matter.”
Editor's Note: This report has been updated from a previous version. Alboim was not a survivor of the Second World War, her mother was; as well in 1979, not 1978, when private sponsorship kicked off the focus was on groups from Indochina, not of Jewish faith.
by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver
In this week’s round-up of what’s been making headlines in Canada’s ethnic media: faith-based organizations are at the forefront of Syrian refugee resettlement efforts; Taiwan’s elections are lauded as a step towards democracy in China and members of Vancouver’s Sikh community are helping to spread the love this Valentine’s Day.
Refugee crisis brings back painful memories for Jewish community
Faith-based organizations in Canada play a pivotal role in resettling refugees during crises, one not often undertaken in other countries, according to a panel hosted by the Intercultural Dialogue Institute of the Greater Toronto Area earlier this month.
Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders explained to an audience on Feb. 5 that unlike in other countries, where the government has greater control over resettlement processes, in Canada, many faith communities make efforts to privately sponsor families and assist them in their transition period.
As reported in The Canadian Jewish News (CJN), the Jewish community has stepped up significantly to assist in the ongoing crisis. In total, 35 groups working with Jewish Immigrant Aid Services (JIAS) have formed sponsorship initiatives. Even more have formed independent sponsorship groups looking to bring Syrian families to Canada.
The Canadian Jewish community has a long history of supporting incoming refugees. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the community actively sponsored many Vietnamese families escaping the aftermath of the Vietnam war.
Naomi Alboim, professor and chair of the policy forum at the school of policy studies at Queen’s University and one of the panellists at the event, explained to the CJN that the current anti-refugee movement sweeping Europe “brings back painful memories” for the Jewish community.
“We’re responding to this crisis as Jews, because it’s the right, humanitarian thing to do,” she said. “We’re paying it forward.”
This faith community is not alone in its endeavours. Toronto’s Muslim and Catholic communities have also stepped forward to contribute in some way. Some synagogues have even joined mosques or churches to submit joint applications to sponsor Syrian families.
The article makes note of an event in December, during which Jewish communities in Vancouver fundraised to bring two Kurdish families to Canada.
Taiwan election heralded as beginning of democracy in China
Panellists lauded Taiwan’s recent election of its first female president, Tsai Ing-wen, as a sign that “democracy is compatible with Chinese culture” at a recent event hosted by the Canada-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Group.
The forum, held on Jan. 28, discussed the election that saw the former opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party, beat the Kuomintang with 56 per cent of the popular vote. Known for being pro-China, the Kuomintang has ruled Taiwan for the past eight years.
This is also the first time that the Kuomintang has lost control of the legislature.
Panellist Andre Laliberte, a professor at the University of Ottawa, told Epoch Times after the event, “It is proof that people who have Chinese culture can have democracy, and democracy is compatible with Chinese culture.”
Laliberte was joined on the panel by Wu Rong-chuan, the newly arrived representative for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, or the Taiwanese embassy in Canada. Wu told the Times that he felt voters had acted more rationally during this election than in years past and that policies were well discussed.
“There was little sensational language during the election,” he said.
Canadian Senator Michael MacDonald expressed his hopes that this victory would mark the beginning of significant change in what is “going to be the big, emerging real quest in mainland China for democracy.”
“If you want to see what China could do with democracy — go to Taiwan,” he said.
Sikh volunteers spread the love this Valentine’s Day
Sikh organizations in Vancouver are scrambling this weekend as they finish collecting 900 roses, chocolates and greeting cards to distribute to shelters across the Lower Mainland for Valentine’s Day.
Hosted by Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen and Global Girl Power in partnership with Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar, this annual event sees donors and volunteers working for several weeks to raise money and organize the logistics for the big day.
“Sikhs believe in Guru Nanak’s philosophy to love all and feed all,” Roveen Kandola tells The Indo-Canadian Voice.
Kandola, who works with Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen, adds, “It’s important that during these times, we think of those less fortunate and make their day much brighter.”
Over the past three years, this initiative has reached over 100 shelters in Vancouver’s Lower Mainland including Burnaby Safe House, Elizabeth Gurney House and Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter.
The intent of the event is to give women and children at these locations “the opportunity to experience a more enjoyable Valentine’s Day,” the Voice reports.
Irene de Ocampo at Elizabeth Gurney House says she is very thankful for the work of these volunteers and donors. “Our residents (moms and kids) truly appreciate your generosity.”
All packages will be distributed to shelters this weekend.
by Susan Korah in Ottawa
To some people, Canada seems like the land of American civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr.’s dreams. But a group of race relations activists in Ottawa contend that this belies the truth, and that Canadians need to work harder to make King’s vision a reality in this country.
Both views were shared at an Ottawa celebration and awards ceremony that a group named DreamKEEPERS organized to mark the 30th anniversary of Martin Luther King Day.
Originally declared a public holiday in the U.S. in 1986, the same date was chosen by the Canadian organization to honour King’s memory and raise awareness of his message, which was most eloquently articulated in his speech entitled, “I Have a Dream.”
Recognizing King's values and principles
Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, presented a lifetime achievement award to the Rt. Hon. Joe Clark, the 16th Prime Minister of Canada (1979-80), described as a leader in fighting apartheid in South Africa and promoting human rights in Canada and the world.
Most recently Clark served as an honorary witness to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada that reported on residential schools.
Daniel Stringer, a former Canadian diplomat and a founding member of DreamKEEPERS, explained that the tabletop award sandblasted with a glass gold leaf is given annually to an individual who has become a role model in Canada and beyond for embodying King's values and principles.
These include the promotion of social justice, human rights, racial harmony, spiritual values and the advancement of his dream of the “beloved community.”
The “beloved community,” an idea that King popularized, was his vision of a society based on justice, equal opportunity and love of one’s fellow human beings, said Stringer.
Community leadership awards were also presented to Larry Hill, former Deputy Police Chief of Ottawa and Désiré Kilolwa. Originally from Congo, Kilolwa works with women and children who are victims of his native country’s brutal civil war.
“[Canada is a] unique country,” Clark said in his acceptance speech. “The tradition of generosity is deep within us.”
Clark explained that Canada’s very survival depended on all people pulling together.
“Many of us – Black [people], [Jewish people], Vietnamese, Africans – came here as refugees and we are prepared to extend a welcoming hand to others.”
He reminisced about working with past recipients of the same award, including Jean Augustine (first African Canadian woman to be elected to Canada’s House of Commons and the first to serve in the federal cabinet) and Lincoln Alexander (first Black member of the House of Commons and later, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario).
“In the 1970s, visible minorities were few and far between in Canada, but now they are becoming the majority,” Clark observed.
Stepping up to fight injustice
Clark acknowledged that further work needs to be done in promoting equality for all of Canada’s diverse peoples. He cited the example of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, founded in response to the Holocaust, which promoted reconciliation and understanding between the two faith communities.
“Perhaps we need a Council of Christians, Jews and Muslims at this time,” he concluded, making reference to the increase in Canada’s Muslim population with the arrival of Syrian refugees.
In her keynote speech, Grégoire-Trudeau painted a similar picture of Canada, as a nation that has come a long way in terms of respecting the human rights of its diverse population.
“The good news is that people in Canada, and indeed the world, are stepping up to fight racial and gender injustice,” she said.
She pointed to a new generation of young leaders in Canada and the world, who are far more sensitive to past injustices and are prepared to address them.
“Martin Luther King was an amazing speaker and champion for justice. When he made his “I Have a Dream” speech, the whole world took notice,” she said.
“If Dr. King were here today, he would be proud of Canada because we haven’t refused entry to refugees whose expression of faith is different from ours,” she observed.
Canada in 'denial' about racism
As a counterpoint to this image though, Stringer said that Canadian society is often in denial about the racism that occurs here.
He referred to the recent firebombing of a mosque in Peterborough, Ontario, in the aftermath of the shootings in Paris.
He said that unlike the U.S., which is more open about its problem with racism, Canada is in denial.
Rev. Dr. Anthony Bailey of Ottawa’s Parkdale Baptist Church, who hosted the ceremony, also referred to racist graffiti scribbled on his church and racist threats he had received.
“It’s important to celebrate what we have achieved, but also important to keep the momentum going and further the work that still needs to be done,” Bailey said.
Commentary by Anita Bromberg in Toronto
Sixty-seven years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 50 years after the adoption of the two Covenants, which along with the Declaration became known as the International Bill of Human Rights, the struggle for human rights at home and abroad continues.
It is a struggle that Canadians have been at the forefront of since World War II. Canadian John Peters Humphrey, first Director of the United Nations Division of Human Rights, was central to the drafting of the Declaration.
The underlying principle of the Declaration – that human beings are all born free and equal in dignity and rights – is reflected in section 15(1) of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.
International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, will kick off an international yearlong campaign spearheaded by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office: Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always.
The campaign will focus on the four freedoms at the core of the Declaration – freedom from fear, freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom from want. We do not have to dig deep into media reports to see that even in Canada we continue to struggle with realizing the full promises of these fundamental freedoms.
Impacts of fear
When then American President Roosevelt gave his Four Freedoms speech after experiencing two world wars, the arms race was the focus of his remarks regarding freedom from fear. Today, freedom from fear means much more and the challenges are even greater.
Fear has dominated our mindset these days. Violence and terrorism is now an ongoing reality that directly impacts Canadians. How can we not be concerned for, even feel fear for, our safety, with attacks such as the Californian and French events fresh on our minds?
But this fear impacts in two ways. The obvious is that we each have the right to go about our daily business without fearing a terrorist attack harming our loved ones. But, in addition, no individual going about his or her daily life should fear being targeted by such fear.
The sign on the lawn that tells Canadian Muslims or Jews to go home, the hijab-wearing woman buying groceries who is accused of being a terrorist, the hateful graffiti on Hindu places of worship, the racism directed at Aboriginal peoples – these are all examples of breaches of every person’s right to be free from fear.
Fear used to marshal hatred
As we mark this milestone date, the Secretary General of the United Nations reminds us, “Millions of refugees and internally displaced persons are a tragic product of the failure to fulfil this freedom [from fear]. Not since the Second World War have so many people been forced to flee their home.”
Our response as Canadians must be to open our doors without discrimination, while exercising all due diligence, as we commit ourselves to continue to build a society based on inclusion and founded on the principles of human dignity and mutual respect.
Hatemongers know that the best way to marshal hatred is to channel it through fear, to manipulate fear to racist ends – often justified through an appeal to narrowly defined identities and collective fears of being overwhelmed.
We are all deeply troubled by the threats to our security and by the impact the violence we are witnessing is having. We should be looking to protect our society and way of life based on our common humanity.
However, that will come with guaranteeing the rights and freedoms of all, when we respect the balance these rights and freedoms demand from each of us. Fear and hatred of the ‘other’ as justification for racism must be countered.
These are the lessons embedded in this year’s International Human Rights Day.
Canada and its residents must be ready for the challenges ahead. Respecting our rights and freedoms can and must be one of the key principles that guide us all as the year ahead unfolds.
Anita Bromberg has been the Executive Director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation since June 2014.
by Daniel Leon Rodriguez in Calgary
Religion can be a key element in the rehabilitation of inmates. However, for minorities, changes to prison chaplaincy services during the Conservative government made following their faith at federal prisons a challenge.
For this reason minority community leaders are calling on the new government to engage in the issue. Currently, human right tribunals are listening to three religious discrimination complaints from Muslim inmates.
For Amira Elghawaby, Communications Director for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, these complaints confirm the concern of minority communities regarding chaplaincy services.
“The service is spotty at best, discriminatory at worst,” she says.
“The government is aware of the concerns surrounding this important issue in federal corrections,” states Josée Sirois, a spokesperson for the Liberals' new minister of public safety, Ralph Goodale, in an e-mail. Sirois added that the minister would prefer to be fully informed before commenting any further “given the complexity of the issue.”
'No sign of systemic discrimination'
In 2012, the Liberals’ then party justice critic, Irwin Cotler, denounced cuts to non-Christian prison chaplaincy services as “clearly discriminatory,” but it is difficult to measure the real extent of the issues.
Offenders have multiple avenues to report abuses – through the internal grieving system, private council, the Office of the Correctional Investigator or the Canadian Human Rights Commission – and all these mechanisms try to first solve complaints internally, keeping information private.
In rare occasions, complaints scale up to the Human Rights Tribunal and are made public.
According to the federal correctional investigator, Howard Sapers, whose office monitors the situation of religious minorities, the problem has improved since 2012. However, Sapers says, “The situation is still far from perfect.”
Sapers explains there is no sign of “directed and systematic discrimination” against religious minorities. Complaints he occasionally receives are the fault of one key decision maker “who isn’t exercising their administrative discretion appropriately.” He adds that most of the complaints he receives are about religious diet and recognition of special religious holidays.
“It is not at the top of our [priority] list right now, because frankly the inmate population is not coming in large numbers to bring this concern forward,” he states.
Sapers says his priority is giving accessibility to inmates to submit complaints. His staff members visit prisons across the country to monitor them, and he received over 20,000 complaints from inmates last year by phone.
“I would be misleading you if I told you we are getting every single complaint, and that every inmate feels they have access to legal recourses. That is not true,” says Sapers.
Minority groups falling through the cracks
Karen Slaughter, a staff lawyer with West Coast Prison Justice Society, shares Sapers' concerns.
“There is a possibility for religious minority groups to fall into the cracks,” explains Slaughter.
She adds that ethnic community groups are receiving more and more complaints from inmates about religious discrimination and this is concerning because these groups don’t have the funding or the resources to prepare litigations on behalf of individuals.
Slaughter says her organization has heard all kinds of religious complaints from Muslim, Jewish and Sikh inmates, however, never from Christians.
“Religious minorities feel like second class citizens inside the prison system,” she says, pointing to a lack of education and resources as the main problem.
Slaughter says correctional services are a giant bureaucratic machine and change can only come from the top. She hopes the new government will implement some of that change.
For Sapers, the new government could improve a few things with the correctional service system. One of his concerns is that some religious groups provide support, counselling, guidance and reintegration services on a voluntary basis.
“It is not entirely fair that some groups are paid for their services and others are [not],” says Sapers.
He also called on the government to do an external review to ensure that the terms of the contract with private company, Kairos Pneuma Chaplaincy Inc., which provides the services is inclusive enough, so no one feels excluded. In April 2016, this contract will be taken over by Bridges of Canada Chaplaincy.
Religion's role in rehabilitation
Mubin Shaikh, an expert on radicalization and extremism, urges the government to improve the situation because without proper religious direction individuals could be more prone to radicalization, as seen in Europe. A religious practitioner without proper guidance “is like driving a car without brakes,” he says.
Yasin Dwyer, a former federal correctional imam, says that the situation in the prisons is “delicate.” He worked for over 12 years in the federal prison system until last year he renounced in protest to the Conservative government’s decision to privatize the chaplaincy services at all prisons.
According to Dwyer, chaplaincy services are important because they provide a positive environment for prisoners to express themselves and can help prisoners in rehabilitation.
The imam explains that one of the most important aspects of religion is that it allows inmates to connect with the community through volunteers.
“The prison has walls, but [these] walls are [imaginary] because these prisoners are part of our community,” says Dwyer.
This is important as 90 per cent of prisoners in the system will eventually return to society, Dwyer says. It is also why he stresses the need for the new government to take the role of minority religious communities in the prison system seriously.
As Dwyer notes, “Prisoners need a community to come back [to].”
Video produced & edited by Daniel Leon Rodriquez for New Canadian Media.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit