Protect Our Future. Defend Our Past.
Protect Our Future. Defend Our Past.
As a nation, we need to look in the mirror. Do we still recognize ourselves? We are tearing ourselves apart. From so-called "freedom convoys" and name-calling and inflammatory language about swastikas in Parliament, to the activation of the Emergencies Act, it would not be surprising if few Canadians recognize their country anymore.
If there was any doubt that antisemitism as a social plague is being overblown, any uncertainties should be cast aside. What has happened in this country over the past couple of weeks has been despicable and completely out of step with the importance Canadians place on championing diversity and combatting racism.
Canada can play a leading role role in advancing human rights and in becoming the world’s moral compass. It’s our time to shine. Canada can lead against the threat of global insecurity — or at least have a pronounced voice in pushing our brand of freedom and democracy.
This is a difficult time for minorities in Quebec, not just for Jews. Muslims, Asians, people of colour, all face suspicion as “the other” in the post-COVID environment tearing at the fabric of social cohesion. We will see how this evolves during the federal election campaign, with the vote scheduled for September 20th.
The world is a mess and this can be our opportunity to lead. America and Europe are struggling with political, racial and economic divisions. Africa is fighting poverty, crime and conflict while the Middle East is a tinderbox for extremists. In this, Canada can emerge as a global leader.
Canada must turn its attention to being a significant international voice for freedom and humanity. We must be a voice for the oppressed and the destitute. We must project and promote democratic programs and projects. And we must use our strong brand to make peace and promote human rights around the world.
We are blessed to be living in Canada. We are afforded every opportunity to collaborate, co-exist and and build a nation that sets an example for the world. But the devastating events of the last couple of weeks have taken place in Canada that are tearing this country apart at its sees.
It appears the Iranians have several axes to grind with Canada. The deputy minister claims Canada has become a safe haven for Iranian fraudsters who Iran wants extradited. Moreover, after Canada demanded the closure of the Iranian Embassy in Ottawa, the deputy minister claimed the “Iranian government had some money in the embassy...
So for the most part, we cherish inclusivity as a hallmark of our human rights values. But we have failed when it comes to regulating hate online. Our inability to act upon hate speech on internet platforms was a focus point of a 2018 parliamentary commission that sought community advice. Nothing special happened after that.
Canada must return to its principled policy of standing up for a friend, an ally and the only democracy in the Middle East. The double standard of voting against the Jewish state on one hand while fighting antisemitism and memorializing the Holocaust on the other really misses the mark.
A think tank based in the United Kingdom, identified significant white supremacist activity in Canada. Its report “identified 6,660 right-wing extremist channels, pages, groups and accounts across seven media platforms. Canada must take immediate steps to enforce its anti-hate laws.
There is no place on Earth like Canada – the land of the free. Canada is perfect for anyone seeking a life of relative tranquility, peace, freedom, equality and opportunity. That’s why more people immigrate to Canada – 250,000 per year approximately – than almost anywhere else on the planet.
While students should be free to exercise their democratic freedom to protest, calls for the destruction of another group or nation must be widely condemned and our hate-speech laws invoked. Since Hamas launched an aggressive war against Israel last May, Jewish teachers and students have felt victimized by the increased level of anti-Semitism in Toronto’s school system and beyond. In a letter to the TDSB this week, a group called Educators Against Antisemitism appealed to the director of education, saying that “Jewish staff consistently feel unsafe in their workplace solely for the reason they are Jewish.”
To create good and effective policy requires a sophisticated approach to emerging global issues. The world around us is rapidly changing, particularly given both impending threats to global order and new multilateral approaches. On the latter, political parties can strengthen policy and showcase complexity by recognizing that the world has changed.
As a nation, we need to look in the mirror. Do we still recognize ourselves? We are tearing ourselves apart. From so-called "freedom convoys" and name-calling and inflammatory language about swastikas in Parliament, to the activation of the Emergencies Act, it would not be surprising if few Canadians recognize their country anymore. Worse, many smart, successful and strong contributing Canadians have confided to me that they are contemplating leaving (or have left) out of fear of what our nation is becoming.
They see political instability, a changing economy, racism in our schools and communities, and most significantly, a loss of place among leading nations. We have turned inward and against each other during the past couple of years. We are less unified from coast to coast and more frustrated. Many Canadians passionately love their country and long for the good old days when “true patriot love” meant something. When in childhood we sang “Kumbaya” at school assemblies, we knew that no matter where we came from, no matter what our faith, culture or race — we were all Canadian. We grew up and charged ahead, building a magnificent, pluralistic "multicultural" social fabric that brought us all together under one tent. Rightly or wrongly, it's this dream of togetherness that fostered our sacred Bill of Rights, then its successor, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as the Multiculturalism Act. Despite their obvious imperfections, they aimed to free us from prejudices brought from the "old-country." They aimed to mould us into one community. Into one nation. Into one united people.
The world became envious of our success. Other Western nations sent experts, academics and diplomats to learn how we had succeeded in bringing more than 250 ethnicities together in unity. Canada became a model of pluralism, freedom, democracy and human rights. We took centre stage on the global platform and became accepted as the world’s peacekeeping nation. Now my American friends are asking me daily, “What is happening up there?” Canada was hardly perfect. Our treatment of the Chinese and Japanese early the past century was abhorrent. We were racist and also refused Jewish refugees running for their lives from the German Nazis.
The worst and most horrific part of our national story is our treatment of our First Nations peoples. The revelation of unmarked graves near residential schools and churches brought home the reality of an incredibly dark past. All of this has been simmering for many years and it's now boiling over. It's not too late to save our dream of building a utopia. First and foremost, we need to work harder to unify our country from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic Ocean. Everyone needs to be heard and respected. Second, we need to break down barriers between ethno-cultural communities, bringing them together through dialogue and friendship. Our common denominator is Canada and our mutual aspiration must be to “stand on guard” for our nation.
Thirdly, we need to rebuild our national vision — one that showcases how each of us belongs. Where are we going as a nation? What will we become in the next 30 to 50 years? We need a manifesto for the future that unifies everyone and reinforces our national pride. Finally and most significantly, the world needs us. While we are busy ripping each other to shreds, Eastern Europe is on the brink of a catastrophic war that could reshape our world order. Not only that; we have pulled away from engaging in the Middle East and taking any part in negotiation efforts between Iran and the rest of the world. How can we possibly stand by while North Korea tests more missiles, China oppresses and subjugates its Uyghur population, and Syria massacres innocents while Hezbollah and Hamas continue to arm themselves? How dare we shirk our responsibility and leadership and goodwill that we had always based our national interest upon? And how dare we as a nation sit quietly while our allies are abused?
Yes, two weeks ago, along with former senator Jerry Grafstein, we challenged Canada to disavow the shameful Amnesty International report against Israel. Yet, our government sat quietly. We could have taken a global position. Canada must lead by example. We need to be the change we want others to emulate. If not us, then who? How can we demand justice, rights and freedoms from other nations, when we are having a challenge upholding these very virtues? It's time for Canada to stand up tall and proud.
To exemplify our strength and our vision. To become the nation that as youngsters we were taught to believe in, as we sang our beautiful national anthem in the company of other children from all sorts of other backgrounds. Yes, maybe I am longing for a childhood dream. But when there is a loss of identity and direction, that's the time to draw on the strength of your childhood. That’s when things start becoming crystal clear again. Canada, let's get back to our foundation.
National Post Avi Abraham Benlolo is the founder and chairman of The Abraham Global Peace Initiative. February 18, 2022
Last week’s debacle at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute in Toronto’s Flemington Park, where students led a walkout in which chants and signs of “Free Palestine” and “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” figured prominently, sent a shockwave through the Jewish community. To add insult to injury, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) responded to the protest with a letter to parents saying there were “multiple meanings” for what critics deemed obvious calls for the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish people from the land of Israel.
“Multiple meanings?” When they were talking about “from the river to the sea,” they are calling for the removal of the Jewish people from their homeland. The “river” referred to is the Jordan River, and the “sea” is the Mediterranean. Israel lies between these two bodies of water. Since 80 per cent of the population between the “river and the sea” are Israeli Jews, it is quite clear /there is only one meaning to the chants and signage promoted by the students at Marc Garneau: the destruction of the State of Israel and its Jewish inhabitants.
Here is the blatant truth: the Palestinians should be freed from their subjugation and oppression by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. They are the ones holding Palestinians captive, not Israel. They are the ones running terror-sponsoring organizations, not Israel. They are the ones allegedly using money from foreign donors to build terror tunnels and purchase rockets to launch against Israel, instead of spending it on hospitals, roads and schools. The Palestinian Authority recently cancelled its supposed fourth “democratic” election in nearly two decades of dictatorship. So, the slogan is missing a few more words: “Free Palestine from the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.”
While students should be free to exercise their democratic freedom to protest, calls for the destruction of another group or nation must be widely condemned and our hate-speech laws invoked. Since Hamas launched an aggressive war against Israel last May, Jewish teachers and students have felt victimized by the increased level of anti-Semitism in Toronto’s school system and beyond. In a letter to the TDSB this week, a group called Educators Against Antisemitism appealed to the director of education, saying that “Jewish staff consistently feel unsafe in their workplace solely for the reason they are Jewish.” The group says “there appears to be a recent pattern to ignore anti-Semitism within the school board, or at the very least, to stand idly by thus allowing its existence with minimal-to-no intervention.”
Over the past number of months, what has become apparent is that when it comes to advancing equity and diversity in the school system — or just respect for each other — these values don't seem to apply to Jewish staff and students. They are left feeling marginalized as guest lecturers rail against the Jewish state, and narratives are promoted without context or an opposing point of view that sets aside misconceptions. In my experience, most anti-Israel “social-justice warriors” are shocked when they learn they are advocating for a radical Islamic group in Gaza (Hamas) and the continued suppression of women’s rights and LGBTQ rights — not to mention a lack of democratic freedoms in Gaza and the West Bank.
Many university campuses have already been lost to anti-Semitism and poor contextual understanding of the situation in the Middle East. Sadly, many educators have sided with dangerous and oppressive regimes instead of Israel, the only democracy in the region. Now our public school system has become politicized and finds itself under attack by ideology inconsistent with Canadian values that promote freedom and democracy. This counter-narrative is an attack on us all, not just the Jewish community, and the teachers and students. For our part in countering this dangerous path, The Abraham Global Peace Initiative reached out to the Toronto school board with an eight-point recommendation tool that educators may use in re-positioning their work in anti-racism education and culturally responsive pedagogies.
Leaders in education must take action against the continued growth and normalization of anti-Semitism in the school system. If schools are the engines of promoting inclusivity and good citizenship, language that promotes hate and exclusion must be vigorously condemned and disallowed. School boards must also recognize their accountability and culpability for generating and even enabling anti-Semitism, and immediately take measures to combat this and all forms of racism. Our future as a nation is at stake.
November 19, 2021
Avi Abraham Benlolo is the Founder and Chairman of The Abraham Global Peace Initiative.
By Avi Abraham Benlolo and Jerry S. Grafstein
If there was any doubt that anti-Semitism as a social plague is being overblown, any uncertainties should be cast aside. What has happened in this country over the past couple of weeks has been despicable and completely out of step with the importance Canadians place on championing diversity and combatting racism.
Sadly, anti-Semitism in this country is no longer being practised solely on the margins of society. It is playing out before our eyes, so absurdly and uncomprehensively, that it is becoming difficult for many people to distinguish hatred of Jewish people from common everyday conversation. Conspiracy theories and double standards have become so commonplace they attract little notice.
The outrageous witch hunt of Annamie Paul, recently resigned leader of the Green party, is a case in point. Writing in these pages a few months before Paul's resignation this past Monday, the Greens' former president, Paul Estrin, wrote a scathing piece arguing that "outbursts of Jew-hatred" from within the Green party exemplify "the violent attitudes that pervade the human rights and environmental communities." Instead of championing a Jewish woman of colour who came into the party with distinction and charisma, the party relentlessly pursued her for her nuanced approach to the Middle East conflict.
About a week before Paul's resignation, a video emerged from a French Catholic secondary school in North Bay, Ont., showing students running across a field shouting "Heil Hitler" and performing the Nazi salute. Most of us were shocked. Had another group been targeted by an act with similar racist underpinnings, a major inquiry would have ensued. But it's just anti-Semitism, silly. It's just a TikTok challenge and the internet itself is full of anti-Semitism anyway. It's no one's fault, is the overall public sentiment. The kids, the school, the Catholic church, the community are totally innocent. No they are not.
Statistics Canada reports that hate crimes targeting the Jewish and Black populations remain the most common types of such crime in Canada. In fact, in 2019, hate crimes in general reportedly increased in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Manitoba. While the Jewish community comprises less than three per cent of the population, it is still the most targeted in police-reported hate crimes motivated by religion. Yet the problem of anti-Semitism is addressed disproportionately. For example, the assaults on Jewish Canadians on the streets of Toronto and elsewhere in this country during Hamas' recent war with Israel should have been treated as a national emergency.
But wait. The worst was yet to come. Just last week the Toronto District School Board hosted a guest speaker who chose to divert his presentation to teachers about anti-Black racism to focus attention on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His diatribe was disturbing. Many teachers present thought he was calling Jews white supremacists, thieves and colonizers.
While many Jewish teachers felt marginalized by the incident, the board has yet to issue an apology for what many deemed were anti-Semitic remarks. Indeed, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's working definition of anti-Semitism as accepted by three dozen nations posits that "denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour" is anti-Semitic. The false notion that Jews are racist and are not indigenous to their land must stop.
Anti-Semitism has become audacious. It's showing once again a surprising willingness to take bold risks. It's showing an impudent lack of respect starting from our very young to our professionals. Many have become so consumed by the Palestinian narrative for example, that they feel justified to express false and even mythological concepts that rise to the level of anti-Semitism. If we have learned anything from the past, it is that we cannot continue to turn a blind eye to such injustice. This must become a national priority.
Elie Wiesel, the eloquent witness to the Holocaust, said at a conference in Cordoba, Spain — the birthplace of Maimonides, one of Judaism's greatest teachers — that you can "teach a child to love or hate." It all depends on the parents and teachers, or both.
Avi Abraham Benlolo is the founder and chairman of The Abraham Global Peace Initiative. Jerry S. Grafstein, Q.C., is a former Canadian Senator.
Now that our federal election is over, let's turn our attention to helping a world in crisis.
In Canada, we live in a relative bubble of safety and security. Our police and security services operate at the highest levels to ensure our daily lives are not impacted by the war-torn world that envelops us.
But they cannot shield us from everything for very long. We must ask ourselves: how can we preserve our freedom and democracy and relative economic security before the world’s rage comes to our shore?
Canada has turned inwards over the last couple of years, and the situation has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced most countries to “self-isolate.”
The war against the pandemic is hardly over, but with the United Nations General Assembly in full swing, leaders are making it clear that we are living in a world that's teetering on the brink of disaster. Not surprisingly, the biggest issues being articulated from nearly every leader that took the podium, starting with UN Secretary General António Guterres, are the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.
When I met with Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman many years ago, his main focus was combating terrorism and extremism, which was destabilizing the region at the time. At the General Assembly, he reiterated this sentiment, but, uncharacteristically for a Middle Eastern leader, he also called for a “rethink” of international efforts against climate change and the pandemic.
These are issues Canada can aggressively champion on the world stage. We should spearhead an international task force that can pool resources and quickly deploy to address emerging health and climate threats.
While Canada has been mostly mum about Iran going nuclear, King Salman of Saudi Arabia told the General Assembly that his country supports efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring the bomb. “The kingdom insists on the importance of keeping the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction," he said. "On this basis, we support international efforts aiming at preventing Iran from having nuclear weapons.”
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiations are clearly failing. Canada can reach out, both directly and multilaterally, to try and break the impasse and bring the Iranians onside.
Many countries are struggling to maintain order, peace and security. Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei spoke about the disparity of vaccine distribution between rich and poor countries, which is leading to social upheaval, mass migration and a “scourge” of drug trafficking.
We are seeing the results of this desperation on America’s southern border, as Haitian migrants try to reach prosperity, safety and security. In fact, there is a global mass immigration crisis in general, as more and more people flee disintegrating countries.
Millions of refugees have converged on Europe in the last decade since the Arab Spring. But now, new global threats are emerging in the region, particularly as Lebanon teeters on economic collapse and Hezbollah grows stronger.
Lebanon, once known for its diversity of faiths and cultures living mostly peacefully, is now on the verge of a Syrian-like disaster that will consume the fractured nation. Its educated populace is fleeing, particularly after the port explosion, which left behind even more desperation.
Canada can lead against the threat of global insecurity — or at least have a pronounced voice in pushing our brand of freedom and democracy. At the Abraham Global Peace Initiative, we are continually thinking about how to promote the Canadian model that can help war-torn countries like Yemen and Ethiopia, pulling them out of conflict and alleviating famine.
Canada can play a leading role role in advancing human rights and in becoming the world’s moral compass. It’s our time to shine.
(September 24, 2021 National Post)
With the launch of the federal election campaign, it has not taken long for the first instances of anti-Semitic behaviour to appear. Election signs from Liberal and NDP candidates in areas of Montreal with significant Jewish populations were defaced with swastikas and had to be removed. Party leaders have condemned the action – targeted primarily against Jewish Liberal Party of Canada candidates Anthony Housefather in Mount Royal and Rachel Bendayan in Outremont, both sitting MPs. This is nothing new in election campaigns, but it has started early and is likely to persist.
Anti-vaxxer demonstrations outside a gym in Laval, a northern suburb of Montreal, have adopted the yellow Star of David as a symbol of the public shaming of the non-vaccinated, equivocating the discrimination with the targeting of Jews by Hitler in the prewar period. Either this was chosen out of ignorance of the historical significance, or deliberately to attract media attention to their cause. No matter what, it is the hurtful misappropriation of a historical symbol of the Holocaust in a highly inappropriate and trivializing manner. While not exclusive to Montreal, the high number of Holocaust survivors who settled in Montreal after the war, and their descendants, makes it a very sensitive issue here.
Our populist provincial government, the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), introduced Bill 21 early in its mandate to ban the wearing of religious symbols by those in positions of authority who represent the state, which includes health care workers. This includes the kippah. The fallout from this legislation continues to put many observant Jews who are doctors or senior administrators in a difficult or impossible position to keep their jobs. Legal challenges continue against the law, but no federal politicians will criticize the legislation for fear of offending the francophone majority in the regions outside of Montreal who massively support the legislation.
The CAQ has also introduced Bill 86, an act designed to re-enforce the original Bill 101 that made French the only official language of Quebec in the mid-1970s. This bill seeks to extend francization to small businesses of 25 employees or more, down from the current threshold of 50. It also empowers employees to “tattle” on those speaking languages other than English in the workplace if they feel that their right to work in French is compromised. The government has pre-emptively included the Notwithstanding Clause from the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the legislation, knowing that the bill could be successfully challenged otherwise.
Overall, this is a difficult time for minorities in Quebec, not just for Jews. Muslims, Asians, people of colour, all face suspicion as “the other” in the post-COVID environment of uneven economic recovery that tears at the fabric of social cohesion. We will see how this evolves during the federal election campaign, with the vote scheduled for September 20th.
A new geopolitical order is taking shape. The globe is rapidly realigning under American and Chinese spheres of influence and the pandemic has only raised the stakes. How can Canada finally get serious about its internal stability and external security so it can effectively play a role as a middle power?
Somewhere along the way, we forgot to be proud of our great nation. We lost our national identity. We became confused about who we are as a nation and where we are going. In our vastness, we somehow lost our national character and became rudderless and more self-interested.
The next prime minister not only needs to work harder at bringing all Canadians together, he or she needs to zero-in on the very meaning of being Canadian and make it actionable. Our combined identity must be more than beer, beavertails and scenic landscapes. We need a comprehensive business plan that engages all citizens about the Canada they want to see by 2050 and a fundamental reinvention of our role in the world.
Canadians are generally a quiet bunch in comparison with our neighbours down south or across the pond in say, France or Belarus. But while we still have a chance to shape our future, it’s time for us to say enough is enough with scandals, deceptions and empty promises. They are there to obfuscate from the fact we have lost our way, especially on the world stage. We need to arm ourselves with a clear sense of priorities before they get shaped for us by other players and forces.
Where once we stood tall against communism and proudly with our NATO allies and our peacekeeping missions, today our foreign policy essentially rests on how much money we can spend around the world. But with U.S. dominance in transition, how are we preparing to protect ourselves in a more chaotic world order? Rather than strengthening our national defence with top-of-the-line equipment like F-35s to give us military edge, we devalue our national interests by purchasing used planes, subs and helicopters. How will we defend our north against Russian incursion?
Having lost our bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, we turned inward instead of putting our vision forward in foreign affairs. We can still engage in multilateralism with like-minded nations and re-energize our foreign policy in areas we excel in — including human rights, climate change, peace, refugees and non-proliferation treaties for weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, we need to forward-think and engage in the digital revolution and new technologies and create global policies around cyber-technology.
The coronavirus pandemic and a prorogued Parliament has turned our attention inward. But the day after COVID-19 is quickly approaching. What will our place in the world be? Will we keep ignoring critical international developments like the recent Israel-UAE-Bahrain peace agreement that was signed at the White House? Canadian television stations gave little live coverage of this historic event — shutting out Canadians from participating in this critical dialogue.
Aside from negotiating trade agreements with the U.S. administration, we appear to be misaligned with our greatest friend and neighbour. With democracy under threat, a Russia that is flexing its muscle, and new technologies spreading false information like viruses, this is the time to strengthen our relationship with America. And given our shared values and interests, we should be working together in all things, especially a COVID-19 vaccine.
Instead, we feel more alone each day. This week’s throne speech mostly focused inward and touched only in passing on Canada’s intent to create and maintain “bilateral and multilateral relationships to advance peace and economic prosperity.” While calling for Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor to be brought home, we failed to condemn China for its arbitrary arrests and its repression of the Uyghurs and its own citizens in Hong Kong.
China will come to the table if we strengthen our position and communicate effectively. As a start, we must stop sending contradictory messages and proudly reaffirm our belief in democracy and human rights. The revelation, for example, about secret talks with the repressive North Korean regime to open an embassy in Pyongyang shows we might be willing to tolerate unsavoury nations. At one point, we even considered reopening our embassy in Tehran. The pursuit of alliances with despots who promote terror and nuclearization hurt our brand as a peaceful nation.
We need to begin imagining a post-COVID world with Canada’s reinvented role within it. It’s time to reinvigorate our global affairs to mobilize international coalitions and navigate a new position — a new vision that brings national pride. Canada can build new alliances in Africa, in the Middle East and in South America.
As a First World powerhouse, we can strive for economic independence and sustainability and work towards standing up for ourselves.
The world is a mess and this can be our opportunity to lead. America and Europe are struggling with political, racial and economic divisions. Africa is fighting poverty, crime and conflict while the Middle East is a tinderbox for extremists. In this, Canada can emerge as a global leader. We have a chance to seize this moment by realigning our brand and vision. We need to be assertive, expand our international presence and re-friend our traditional allies while developing military might. That kind of vigour will unify Canadians, promote national identity and put us back on the world stage.
If there is any truth to the age old saying that those who forget the past are destined to repeat it, remembrance and national pride are integral to ensuring a better, more peaceful world for future generations. But we take our freedom for granted and in this pandemic-laden world, where everyone is hunkered down behind screens, it is easy to forget what truly matters — kindness and compassion. These are Canadian values, and they are values that our country can, and should, promote around the world.
In this day and age — when morality is defined by self-need, when hypocrisy in the name of human rights has turned the world upside down, when individualism has overtaken community and when the underpinnings of freedom and democracy have been eroded — the need to remember who we are and what we stand for is urgent.
Democracy is in jeopardy. The Arab Spring brought hope for a better world. But 10 years on, we have a genocide in Syria, turmoil in Libya and Tunisia and near-disaster in Egypt. America tried to bring democracy to Iraq by toppling Saddam Hussein, but that too proved to be a disaster. The Middle East, in other words, is back to square one.
Now, China has taken restrictive measures against Hong Kong; Russia has arrested a leading opposition leader; and a United Nations fact-finding mission underscored serious concerns about rights abuses in Venezuela. Freedom House says that “authoritarian actors grew bolder during 2020 as major democracies turned inward, contributing to the 15th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.”
As the pandemic rages on, governments are increasingly employing violence against their own citizens and dissenters living abroad. An Iranian-Canadian dissenter recently confided to me that he fears for his life. The Jamal Khashoggi murder in the Saudi Embassy in Turkey accentuates the reality of extrajudicial state killings.
Freedom, democracy and pluralism help foster peaceful societies, and they are worth preserving. Our system, though imperfect, has wiped out centuries of oppression, slavery, war and conflict. In contrast, in failed states and dictatorships that turn a blind eye to, or actively participate in, atrocities, terrorist groups like ISIL are once again growing in strength and wreaking havoc on villages. Organizations like Boko Haram continue to kidnap young boys and girls, turning them into child soldiers.
The handful of leading democratic states like the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, France, Germany and Israel stand between us and them. These countries, and many others, are responsible for the advancement of health, science, education and technology, and offer a standard of living and a way of life that is the envy of billions of people worldwide. This is why Western countries generally enjoy an inflow of immigrants who desire the personal fulfillment and prosperity that freedom offers.
Canada must turn its attention to being a significant international voice for freedom and humanity. We must be a voice for the oppressed and the destitute. We must project and promote democratic programs and projects. And we must use our strong brand to make peace and promote human rights around the world.
I worry because the pandemic has made us more insular. Yet the world needs more Canada now more than ever. Our brand of freedom is welcoming and inclusive. It is time to step out into the sunlight and make the world a better place. We can do this.
We are blessed to be living in Canada. We are afforded every opportunity to collaborate, co-exist and and build a nation that sets an example for the world. But the devastating events of the last couple of weeks including horrific revelations of 215 children buried at a B.C. residential school; an outbreak of anti-Semitism from pro-Palestinian protesters across the country and the horrific murder of a Muslim family, have left me wondering if Canadians can ever overcome racism and live in harmony.
Canada’s history is grounded in racism and discrimination. From the incomprehensible ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide of our Indigenous communities; to the head-tax of the Chinese population; the internment of Japanese and Italian communities during the Second World War to an unbelievable human rights catastrophe by refusing Jewish refugees fleeing from the Holocaust, as a “none is too many” policy.
These are just a few of the many disturbing episodes in the dark corners of our national history. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission began an introspection into this nation’s past and possibly a window into a better future. There is so much more.
But through determination, we began rising as a nation. We began paving a path to an identity greater than our individualism. We distanced ourselves from the polarization and historic generational conflicts around the world — and even came to believe we could create a new utopia. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms breathed life into the idea that Canada should be underpinned by freedom, justice and liberty. While celebrating multiculturalism we were bemoaning the intolerance of the past. We set up human rights commissions; an office to investigate warcrimes and installed a series of laws to counter hate crimes.
Internationally, brand Canada is recognized and respected and we have earned this respect by creating a society that puts respect and acceptance first.
After the violence of the last number of weeks, our social fabric is coming apart. Canadians no longer feel safe and secure in their own homes. In one of my lectures this week, a Jewish child asked me if its still safe to wear a kippah on the street. Our political leaders have begun engaging in partisan politics, exacerbating internal fear and strife playing into the recent conflict between the terrorist group, Hamas and Israel.
Shockingly, some Parliamentarians have been issuing letters critical of Israel to their constituents and to Parliament itself — which have only fanned inter-communal animosity. Some public groups have issued statements supporting the anti-Semitic boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel while Jewish staff have reached out to me about feeling discriminated against in their own companies and organizations.
This is not my Canada. It was heart wrenching to see the violent anti-Semitic demonstrations on our city streets. Mobs of pro-Palestinian protestors disregarded our very foundational values of respect, tolerance and peaceful protest and violently attacked Jewish protestors. Fearing for their lives, Jewish residents set up street patrols and called on authorities to break their silence and condemn and act upon the prevailing anti-Semitism that shattered the safety and security of our cities.
The murder of the Muslim family in London afforded a missed opportunity for us to come together as Canadians. Immediately following the tragedy, I issued a statement on behalf of the Jewish community expressing “my heartfelt condolences to my brothers and sisters of the Muslim faith”. I said, “I wish to reassure them that they can count on us to stand with them at this difficult moment and that we unequivocally condemn this outrageous attack”.
Following my statement, I began reaching out to my friends in the Muslim community, including the London Mosque with the same message. Not surprisingly, my message was embraced by the Jewish community at large.
We were all shocked however when in front of the Canadian Prime Minister, Ontario’s Premier and major party leaders, the final speaker at the televised vigil for the family said: “whatever is happening in Jerusalem and Gaza is related to what is happening in London, Ontario”. While he says his words are misconstrued, his comment was met with criticism over what seemed to be an attempt to “relate” the two events in reference to “foreign policy.” It was disappointing to see what appears to be a politicization of an important gathering with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The cheers from the crowd and the “free Palestine” chants following his remarks, did not make things better for Canada. Worse, the silence from our elected officials in attendance cannot be disregarded.
As Canadians, we have made tremendous strides toward cooperation and collaboration over the last number of years. Following the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, I hosted a high level meeting of interfaith leaders who came together to condemn hatred for all. Today, I am choosing to have hope over despair; to continue reaching out to Canadians; to strengthen my interfaith friendships and interfaith outreach. And most importantly, to encourage a universal framework against hate and intolerance. After all, I am Canadian and so are you.
It's time for Canada to reassert itself against online hate. The first step would be to restore Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects us from many of the tyrannies inflicted by despotic regimes elsewhere in the world. But it does not protect against the promotion to the spread of hate and intolerance on the internet and social networking sites. The internet has no borders, no laws and no regulation, and now threatens our peaceful way of life.
Canadians pride themselves on tolerance and respect for diversity, a running platform for most of our political parties. For example, in his acceptance speech for the Conservative Party of Canada leadership, Erin O’Toole eloquently made a point of wanting to broaden the tent from coast to coast. He said, “I believe whether you are Black, white, brown, or from any race or creed, whether you are LGBT or straight, whether you are an Indigenous Canadian, you are an important part of Canada.”
So for the most part, we cherish inclusivity as a hallmark of our human rights values. But we have failed when it comes to regulating hate online. Our inability to act upon hate speech on internet platforms was a focus point of a 2018 parliamentary commission (in which I testified) that sought community advice. Nothing special happened after that.
Since then, things have gotten worse. Just a few weeks ago, a global uproar ensued against postings on the TikTok app in which teenagers dressed up like concentration camp prisoners, in what many called Holocaust-pornography. Given the uproar, the app released a new hate speech policy and said it had removed an astonishing number of videos (380,000) in the United States and banned 1,300 accounts and removed 64,000 hateful comments. Twitter and Facebook have also moved to produce regulation and policy with regard to hatred emanating on their platform. This is all a good start.
But much of this social change has been driven by public user advocacy, like a 48-hour walkout campaign on Twitter last month called “#nosafespaceforjewhatred”. A number of British politicians, celebrities, high profile leaders and members signed off of Twitter for two days — forcing the platform to take action. Twitter says it may block “Content that promotes violence against, threatens or harasses other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.”
Canada has significant hate speech laws, however, in 2013, it shockingly dropped Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the so called “hate speech provision.” The law held that “communication of hate messages by telephone or on the internet” could be brought to the federal Human Rights Commission.
The section was effective against neo-Nazi websites and provided a way to challenge internet service providers hosting hate sites. Now, the situation has become intolerable, as public protests mount and people feel violated and bullied by the vile language and images they see online. They say the internet is fast becoming a tool for the wicked and those who wish to exploit impressionable minds.
It’s time for Canada to take control of the situation, to reassert itself against online hate. The first step would be to restore Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The next step would be to penalize service providers with heavy fines (like France does) if they do not remove hate speech. Finally, Canada must set up an office (like the CRTC) to monitor the internet, take complaints, act upon them and educate the public.
Our human right to live free of online hate and intolerance must be acted on immediately. Canada must continue being a beacon of light and hope for all peoples by championing humanity and standing up for dignity and compassion online and in the real world. Because we are Canadian.
In a scathing indictment of Canada, Mohsen Baharvand, Iran’s deputy foreign minister for legal affairs, accused this country of “hampering Tehran’s efforts to clarify the truth” about the crash of the Ukrainian airliner.
Yet it was Iran’s own missiles that brought down the plane, which resulted in the deaths of 167 civilians, including 57 Canadians. Iran says it mistook the Ukrainian passenger plane for an “invading missile after the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) fired ballistic missiles at a U.S. airbase in western Iraq … in retaliation for the assassination of Qassem Soleimani.” Well, at least the deputy minister admitted that the responsibility for shooting down of the airliner lies squarely with the IRGC — an organization that has been accused of supporting terrorist activities.
Even though Canada has repeatedly demanded, and failed to receive, access to the crash site, an explanation from the Iranians and access to the flight recorder, Iran still claims that there is nothing preventing Canada from “investigating the incident in accordance with international conventions.” Baharvand claims that the “Canadian government does not respect international law” and that all this is “based on political prejudice.”
If so-called political prejudice means justice for the victims who were murdered in cold blood, so be it. It’s about time we stand up for our own citizens. Of all the countries that have been accused by the international community of being state sponsors of terrorism, Iran has much to answer for about its conduct.
Its pursuit of nuclear weapons, terror escapades in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, and pseudo-military operations against Israel all beg the question of how it can justifiably demand a co-operative and trusting multilateral relationship with Canada.
“If the Canadian government thinks that it can put pressure on Iran with propaganda and unrealistic statements, it will not work,” charged the deputy foreign minister. But for this regime, propaganda and “unrealistic statements” is par for the course, as we regularly see Iranian Twitter accounts making anti-Semitic statements and denying the Holocaust. How can anyone ever take such ignoramus behaviour seriously?
My hope is that Iran will eventually settle down, stop sabre rattling and causing uncertainty in the Middle East and join the community of peaceful nations. In the meantime, why should Iran be trusted? Who among us can forget the horrific murder of Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian citizen who was raped and tortured in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran before she was killed?
Iran has been accused of arresting dual nationals to barter for its own citizens held in other countries, or economic concessions. Just recently, Iran exchanged a jailed British-Australian academic for three Iranians who had been detained abroad.
With its intransigence, Iran has irritated many Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia. Recently, King Salman bin Abdulaziz urged the world to take “a decisive stance” against Iran: “The kingdom stresses the dangers of Iran’s regional project, its interference in other countries, its fostering of terrorism, its fanning the flames of sectarianism and calls for a decisive stance from the international community against Iran that guarantees a drastic handling of its efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction and develop its ballistic missiles program.”
It appears the Iranians have several axes to grind with Canada. The deputy minister claims Canada has become a safe haven for Iranian fraudsters who Iran wants extradited. Moreover, after Canada demanded the closure of the Iranian Embassy in Ottawa, the deputy minister claimed the “Iranian government had some money in the embassy and some other diplomatic centres, mostly related to the Iranian Cultural Counsel, which Canada illegally confiscated … and Canada must repay.”
What he is probably referring to is the approximate $28 million in Iranian property seizure in Canada in 2019 that was sold off and given to victims of terror attacks perpetrated by Hamas and Hezbollah, which have been bankrolled, armed and trained by Iran. Since Canada ended diplomatic relations with Iran under the Harper government in 2012, relations between the two countries have continued to sour. And with the downing of the Ukrainian airliner, things have only gotten worse.
Canada’s foreign policy has clearly gotten the attention of Iran. Nearly two years ago, the House of Commons passed a resolution with substantial bipartisan support to designate the IRGC a terrorist entity. It’s unclear why this process has stalled, despite the reassurances from the Liberals that they were making progress on this file. It’s time for Canada to take substantive action in this regard.
Nothing can be achieved from war, conflict or continued sabre rattling. Persians have a long and proud history. As a people, they are very much respected. Sadly, the Iranian people have been mislead by their government’s hostile ideology. It appears as though the regime wants international acceptance and recognition, which is why it lashes out uncontrollably.
It’s time for Iran to stop these shenanigans and start reflecting on how it can productively rejoin the world community, advance its people and take part in a peaceful dialogue in the Middle East.
The double standard of voting against the Jewish state on one hand while fighting anti-Semitism and memorializing the Holocaust on the other really misses the mark
Are countries that condemn anti-Semitism hypocritical when they vote unfairly against Israel at the United Nations? That was the question we asked in an informal poll of followers on Twitter a few days ago. Obviously, being our followers, 94 per cent of them agreed that voting against Israel while condemning anti-Semitism was hypocritical.
These countries pretend to have morals, principles and virtues when it comes to condemning hate against Jews. But on the international stage, where the consequences of a vote could lead to higher oil prices or put a strain on diplomatic relations with some countries, voting against the Jews, whether in the General Assembly or the Human Rights Council, has become second nature.
Many of us applauded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent appointment of my friend Irwin Cotler as Canada’s envoy to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Yet, just the week prior, Canada voted for a jaw-dropping resolution that called for Palestinian self-determination, while failing to acknowledge Jewish self-determination.
In reaction, UN Watch’s Hillel Neuer Tweeted, “Shame: Canada’s Justin Trudeau government just joined the jackals at the UN by voting for a one-sided resolution singling out Israel, co-sponsored by Syria, Venezuela and North Korea.” Canada’s vote came as a shock given its longstanding friendship with Israel and, generally speaking, its positive voting record with Israel at the UN.
Still, that resolution, if you subscribe to the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism — and Canada says it does — is anti-Semitic. The definition actually gives a precise example: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” falls into the category of anti-Semitism. Thus, excluding the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in the resolution contravened the very nature and spirit of the internationally accepted definition of anti-Semitism.
We cannot continue applauding initiatives to condemn anti-Semitism and promote Holocaust education, while the Jewish state — as the embodiment of the Jewish people — continues to be bashed unfairly. This year’s targeting of Israel at the UN included the usual package of some 20 different motions condemning it — and only seven aimed at other countries.
Since 2015, there have been 96 resolutions at the UN condemning Israel and only seven for Syria, five for North Korea, four for Iran and three for Myanmar. Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, commented that, “No other country in the world faces such discrimination in the UN — and it is time for more UN members to join our struggle to challenge the organization’s anti-Israel agenda.”
It’s hard to believe that Canada is joining this parade of hate internationally while telling the Canadian Jewish community that it’s fighting anti-Semitism. Yet Canada is not alone in this double standard. The European Union has been making a point about fighting anti-Semitism and promoting Holocaust remembrance recently, all while joining in on the Israel-bashing at the UN.
More and more European countries, and even municipalities, are endorsing the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. And just this week, the Council of the European Union adopted a declaration that calls for “new ways to remember the Holocaust in a meaningful way.” The declaration even goes as far as demanding a “strong and systematic judicial response” to rising anti-Semitism and online hate.
Something here just doesn’t compute. The European Union’s report says that, “The increase in threats to Jewish persons in Europe including the resurgence of conspiracy myths, public expressions of anti-Semitism, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and an increase in anti-Semitic incidents and hate crime is a cause of great concern.”
But did the EU, and Canada for that matter, ever stop to consider that widespread condemnation of the Jewish state at the UN and affiliate agencies may actually be contributing to the rise in anti-Semitism on the streets? If Israel can be bullied at the UN by our leaders, why would people think it’s wrong to attack Jews elsewhere?
On the heels of this anti-Israel momentum, a counter-attack is brewing against the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism — particularly the sections that protect the right to a Jewish homeland. Just this week in the Guardian, 122 Palestinian and Arab academics, journalists and intellectuals denounced the definition, saying that they “profoundly disagree” with the idea that “Israel in its current reality embodies the self-determination of all Jews.”
So, just as the UN passes a resolution advocating for Palestinian self-determination, the self-determination of the Jews comes into question.
International bodies like UNESCO, the European Union and even the United Nations can continue condemning anti-Semitism and promoting Holocaust education, but it’s all smoke and mirrors as long as they continue condemning the Jewish state at the UN. Canada must return to its principled policy of standing up for a friend, an ally and the only democracy in the Middle East. The double standard of voting against the Jewish state on one hand while fighting anti-Semitism and memorializing the Holocaust on the other really misses the mark.
Canada’s New Democratic Party has a wonderful, storied past of standing up for human rights and creating positive social change. For this reason, it could become a credible voice for peace in the Middle East. Given the party’s grassroots diversity, it is also in a remarkable position to positively advance and influence interfaith dialogue and strengthen efforts to eliminate anti-Semitism, racism and discrimination. On the world stage, standing up for the oppressed is desperately required and it was welcome news to note raised concern about the plight of the Uyghurs at the party’s recent federal policy convention.
In the case of the Middle East however, the situation is complex, and credible evidence-based approaches are required to help mediate between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The party could be productive on this file if a more balanced and nuanced strategy was implemented to validate and encourage all sides to negotiate and resolve their long-standing disputes. Instead, what the general public is seeing is one-sided policy resolutions mainly siding with the Palestinians.
In the “Redefining Canada’s place in the world” section of the party’s convention policy book, a total of four out of 20 proposed resolutions (20 per cent) related to the Middle East question, more than any other issue. Despite the incredible human tragedy involving more than one million Uyghurs imprisoned in labour camps in China, a resolution concerning that situation ranked eighth on the party’s priority list, whereas “Justice and peace in Israel-Palestine” ranked second, and a more perturbing resolution “opposing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism” ranked sixth.
In the case of the Middle East, the situation is complex
Given that one of the most pressing global issues is the plight of the Uyghur people, it is disheartening that their pleas for help are hierarchically lower than opposition to an internationally accepted definition of racism and discrimination against the Jewish people. While imperfect, the IHRA definition has been widely accepted by over 40 nations around the world, including our own government. It is the best tool civil society has to combat the rising scourge of anti-Semitism. It does not criminalize critique of Israel and acknowledges that fair criticism is welcomed.
The party adopted a resolution in favour of “ending all trade and economic co-operation with illegal settlements in Israel-Palestine” and “suspending the bilateral trade of all arms and related materials with the State of Israel until Palestinian rights are upheld.” Given the fact that most if not all Western nations oppose drastic measures of this nature, preferring to become credible brokers of peace, the NDP’s hardline position against the Jewish state may limit its international influence and diplomacy.
More significantly, with the party’s storied past of standing up for the oppressed, to hear suggestions of anti-Semitism within its ranks is alarming. Writing in the Globe and Mail about the policy convention, John Ibbitson surmised that this approach “will leave a residual concern over whether the party’s criticism of Israel reveals anti-Semitism among at least some of its members.” Similarly, in the Times of Israel, Fred Maroun wrote that the NDP’s “anti-Semitism problem was on full display” at its policy convention. However, many good people within the party are working diligently to curb this perception and shape a productive Mideast policy.
To create good and effective policy requires a sophisticated approach to emerging global issues. The world around us is rapidly changing, particularly given both impending threats to global order and new multilateral approaches. On the latter, political parties can strengthen policy and showcase complexity by recognizing for example, that the Middle East has changed. Noting serious security, political and economic concerns involving the Palestinian Authority, Arab governments in the region are themselves paving a path to peace by recognizing Israel and working with both peoples equitably.
Moreover, credible international players are substantively concerned about increased international disorder that is diminishing human rights in general. Over the past 14 years, Freedom House has reported a marked decline in freedom and democracy on a global scale. Political parties working to address these findings should encourage a strengthening of projects and programs that advance the causes of peace and social justice. The focus, in other words, must shift away from free and democratic nations to such dangerous regimes as Syria, Iran and North Korea, among others. The overly weighted focus on Israel in the NDP handbook coupled with limitations of time and resources, leaves out many pressing international human rights issues that could be addressed.
There is an encouraging, positive world emerging out of the ashes of war and conflict in the Middle East. The Abraham Accords have infused the region with incredible peace and understanding. This week, Israel celebrated its 73rd Independence Day to much fanfare. For the first time in its history, its Arab neighbours passionately congratulated the Jewish State. It’s welcome news given that earlier in the week, Israel also held Remembrance Day events for its 23,928 soldiers and victims of terror who have been killed over its past seven decades.
Peace begets peace, and positive and collaborative energy is always more fulfilling and productive. Many of my readers may call me naïve, but I have always believed in all my work that a more positive and conciliatory approach, when possible, is the better way. That’s why I believe the NDP can become a credible broker for peace.
It may have taken place 14,000 kilometres away, but the recent trial of a killer in New Zealand highlights the threat that white supremacist neo-Nazi groups pose to open societies. The killer entered a mosque and shot 51 people in cold blood and injured 40 others — all because of a racist ideology.
Rooted in Nazism, that ideology is based on Hitler’s false notion of racial superiority. At the top were the Germans, or “Aryans” — people with white skin, fair hair and light eyes who were supposedly physically stronger than all others. Based on theories of genetics, evolution and the notion of racial impurity, the Nazis classified races, placing Jews at the bottom of their made-up hierarchy.
It was a calculated strategy designed to delegitimize, marginalize and dehumanize Jews, along with groups like the Roma and even people with disabilities. Jews, for instance, were described and portrayed in Nazi imagery as rats and vermin. Physical measurements such as the size of their skulls, their noses and their height were used in propaganda materials to show that they had evolutionary deficiencies, in order to ready the German population for the eventual annihilation of the Jews.
Hitler and the Nazis may be gone, but their ideology survives and, in some cases, thrives. The New Zealand shooter produced a manifesto alluding to “white genocide” conspiracy theories. His manifesto allegedly contained anti-immigrant sentiments and concern over non-European immigrants invading the country — a common perception among white supremacists and nationalists.
With all this in mind, Canadians have much to be concerned about. In fact, a report from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank based in the United Kingdom, identified significant white supremacist activity in Canada. Its report “identified 6,660 right-wing extremist channels, pages, groups and accounts across seven media platforms … the reach of these channels, pages, groups and accounts was significant, and collectively they reached over 11 million users across these platforms.”
This is hardly surprising. Part of the problem is our lax laws pertaining to online hate, and a lack of any sort of regulatory body to address the issue. It’s no wonder that hateful videos have recently shown up online calling Jews parasites and arguing for them to be removed from the country. And it took a number of years for the courts to take down an anti-Semitic and misogynistic newspaper that was circulated both online and in print.
The North American white supremacist movement became even more emboldened after the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. Those who took part in it were mainly members of the so-called alt-right movement and comprised many streams, including white nationalists, Klansmen and neo-Nazis. Marchers chanted racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric, including the now infamous slogan, “The Jews will not replace us” — a conspiracy theory, which suggests that Jews want to take over the world.
We have all been affected by mass shootings connected to racism and intolerance. In Quebec City, six people were brutally murdered and another 19 injured in an attack on a Muslim cultural centre in 2017. The following year, a white supremacist attacked the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 worshippers and wounding six others.
The New Zealand mosque shooter may have been sentenced to life without parole, but the ideology that drove him to this rampage, like all hateful ideologies, survives and continues to infect generation after generation of disenfranchised people.
As the world continues to teeter on the brink of ethnic conflict, as race riots and demonstrations persist in America and Europe, and as class warfare is heightened by loss of employment due to COVID-19, white supremacists will attempt to seize on this instability and grow their base. We need to be far more concerned about this threat, and far bolder in addressing it. The time is now.
There is no place on Earth like Canada – the land of the free. Canada is perfect for anyone seeking a life of relative tranquility, peace, freedom, equality and opportunity. That’s why more people immigrate to Canada – 250,000 per year approximately – than almost anywhere else on the planet.
Canada is the second-largest land mass on the planet, blessed with plenty of water and magnificent lakes, rivers and mountains. Its people are resilient given the harsh winters, yet caring, compassionate and mostly respectful of one another.
Yet Canada continues to be a work in progress, having progressed and sometimes regressed over the last 150 years since nationhood. We should celebrate but not be satisfied that our work is done.
Our national shame is our treatment of the indigenous community. Canada is a first-world nation, but within Canada there are indigenous people who are worse off than people living in third-world countries. According to Scott Gilmore in MacLean’s, indigenous communities have an “unemployment rate worse than Sudan… and infant mortality rate worse than Russia.”
I was shocked to learn “there are 89 communities without safe drinking water”; that “the murder rate is worse than Somalia’s and the incarceration rate is the highest in the world”; and that “a child is more likely to be sexually assaulted than to graduate high school.” According to an RCMP report, 1,017 indigenous women and girls have been murdered in Canada between 1980 and 2012 – a homicide rate roughly 4.5 times that of all women. How can this possibly be in our beloved Canada?
Our country is great, but it’s taking us a while to reconcile with the past and fix the present. It was not until 2008 that then-prime minister Stephen Harper apologized for the dreadful residential school system that destroyed many lives. In fact, only last week on National Aboriginal Day did Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announce that the name of the building which houses his office would change from Hector-Louis Langevin – the architect of the residential school system – to the “Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council.”
While we are strong and free, this was not always the case for everyone. It is hard to believe Indigenous Peoples – the originals on this land – were only given the right to vote federally in 1960. As difficult to comprehend today, the disturbing “Chinese Exclusion Act” was repealed in 1947, granting Chinese-Canadians the right to vote in federal elections. Fifty-one years after Canada’s Confederation in 1867 – the “Women’s Franchise Act” was passed permitting all women to vote in federal elections. But it was not until 1929 that Canadian women were declared to be “persons under law.”
Some Canadians certainly noticed and tried to beat down the prevalent racism and inequality in this country. Canada was forced into introspection when it signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1947. Our greatest achievement from a human rights perspective was that it was crafted by Canadian John Peters Humphrey – an opportunity for Canada to truly become the land of the free.
The declaration was signed only a year after most Canadians said they opposed Jewish immigration. Who could forget that Canada would not give refuge to Jewish immigrants trying to flee the Nazis between 1933 and 1945 and how it refused entry to the St. Louis, a ship carrying 907 German-Jewish refugees, in 1939?
The horrible internment of more than 20,000 Japanese in 1942 and the continuous legacy of the “Chinese Head Tax” beginning in 1885 give us pause. Canada’s consciousness began evolving when in 1971 the federal government introduced multiculturalism as a policy of acceptance of ethnic identity. Things progressed from there. In 1977, the Canadian Human Rights Commission was established and in 1982 the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was introduced.
In 1985, people such as Jim Keegstra could no longer promote hate against Jews. Women were required to be fully integrated into regular and reserve Canadian Forces in 1988. In 1990, Sikhs were permitted to wear turbans while in RCMP uniform. In 2005, the Civil Marriage Act was passed, making same-sex marriages legal in Canada, and in 2006 the prime minister apologized in the House of Commons for the Chinese Head Tax. Canada must still endeavour to correct the injustice of its indigenous population, and this began in 2008 with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
For all of our gains, lately it feels like we still have to continue fighting to ensure Canada remains strong and free. Let’s proudly celebrate our birthday – and pray that “God keep our land glorious and free.”