By: Avi Benlolo in Peterborough
The City of Peterborough has advised that it will grant a permit to a white supremacist group for the use of Confederation Park this weekend.
It appears civil society and particularly municipalities granting permits for rallies have lost sight of the meaning of a "permit". A permit is a recognized legal document provided by authorities to allow for example, a rally or demonstration to proceed. The root word for "permit" is "permission" and in this case, it implies that the City of Peterborough is giving authorization or consenting to a potential hate rally that will take place in its city.
In this case, the Peterborough Examiner reports that the group in question is the Canadian Nationalist Front, described as a racist, white supremacist and Neo-Nazi group promoting white nationalism. In an email to Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, Mayor Daryl Bennet has stated "We must stand together against racism and hate. While our Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects freedom of expression, it also seeks to preserve and enhance our multi-cultural heritage".
It is true that our Charter protects our freedom of expression, but there are limits to that in Canadian law. In fact, freedom of speech is not absolute in Canada. In Section 1 of the Charter, the government can pass laws that limit free expression – as long as they are reasonable and justified. As significantly, the Criminal Code of Canada's sections 318, 319 and 320 forbid hate speech, propaganda and the promotion of genocide. Nor is freedom of assembly absolute in Canada. In fact only “peaceful” assembly is guaranteed and then only “to such reasonable limits prescribed by law” as can be justified under section 1 of the Charter.
A city need not necessarily grant permission for a rally – especially if there is wide condemnation by the community at large including some 100 organizations who have joined together in protest of this activity. The decision to allow the rally to proceed is especially disconcerting given the rising significance of "white power" and Nazism is this country. In the course of this very heated summer, not a week has passed when several antisemitic and racist incidents have taken place somewhere in this country. There were at least three major antisemitic and hateful incidents this week alone and Canadians are becoming increasingly concerned.
This week's inauguration of a monument to the Holocaust in Ottawa was a significant milestone in our nation's history. It gives voice to the six million Jewish children, women and men who were murdered by Nazis as a consequence of antisemitism. It serves as an eternal reminder that hate and intolerance should never ever be "permitted" by anyone, especially not by leaders.
The Holocaust happened because people failed to stand up to hate, even when the smallest of incidents. Some even excused the rise of Nazism citing German laws upholding freedom of expression, democracy and civil society at the time. Given this critical historical lesson, can we afford to look the other way and even tacitly grant "permission" to groups who undermine inclusivity? White supremacists have no place in modern society. They are the remnants of humanity's dark ages – responsible for the death of 60 million people including 44,000 Canadian soldiers who fought overseas to liberate Europe from the Nazis.
It is an absolute travesty for any municipality to grant permission to white supremacists to use the public sphere. As Jewish communities begin observing the beginning of Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar, it is also a time of reflection in the wake of rising antisemitism and recent hateful incidents. And while this heightens our level of anxiety, it also reinforces our commitment to fight for human rights and Canadian values of inclusivity, diversity and pluralism. Never again shall we allow hate and intolerance to come in the way of this great nation, Canada.
Avi Benlolo is a Canadian human rights activist, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, the Canadian branch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
by Diba Hareer in Ottawa
Her story reads like a movie script.
Twenty years ago, Maryam Monsef fled the brutal rule of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and now, two decades later, she has become the first Muslim to be appointed a cabinet minister in the federal government.
In 1996, Monsef’s mother and her three daughters settled in Peterborough, Ont. after Iran refused to grant them refuge.
“It is the kindness and the support that my family and I received from the people of Peterborough-Kawartha that is at the heart of the service that I intend to give to the people of this riding,” says the Minister of Democratic Institutions.
Campaigning in a small town
Monsef says the fact that she grew up in a smaller community allowed her to build networks. It was easier for her to create connections in Peterborough, a city of less than 80,000 people.
“It is possible to plant seeds in this community because of its size, and to see those seeds grow, and to see that you can have an impact when you come together and collaborate.”
Monsef is also the first female Member of Parliament (MP) ever elected in the riding Peterborough-Kawartha. It’s an achievement she attributes to a lot of hard work.
During the 60-day election campaign she and her team knocked on 70,000 doors and held 10 different roundtable discussions with the community.
At these meetings she outlined her priorities for the riding. She campaigned for the Liberals on good sustainable jobs, preservation of the environment, health care and access to services for seniors.
According to Monsef attracting and retaining newcomers to her riding is critical for the prosperity of the district.
“Over a 160 different groups and individuals have been meeting for over five years and [have] developed strategies and action items devoted specifically to that mandate of creating a more welcoming community for newcomers to our area.”
She adds that her riding continues its efforts to be a welcoming community to newcomers and Canadian immigrants.
Strengthening democratic institutions
While she was born in a country with a lack of human rights, it will be Monsef’s responsibility to strengthen Canada’s democracy as Minister of Democratic Institutions.
Monsef describes the scope of her job as “broad”, encompassing Senate reform, electoral reform and elections spending.
“The way I see my job I believe is to restore and to strengthen Canadians' respect and appreciation for these democratic institutions that we are so privileged to have.”
She would also like to see more women’s participation in Canadian politics.
Monsef says she is grateful for the women who paved the way before her and hopes to do the same for others who follow.
Inspiring Afghan Canadians
For Afghans in Canada the news of Monsef’s appointment as a cabinet minister broke at the same time with the news of the horrific stoning of a young girl in Ghor, a northwestern province in Afghanistan.
Amid the horror in Ghor, Afghans welcomed the news of Monsef’s appointment with delight and surprise.
Adeena Niazi, the Executive Director of Afghan Women’s Organization in Toronto is of the view that refugees are too often perceived to be a burden and treated as unequal members of society, but that Monsef’s election has the power to change that.
“Monsef’s election is helping to build the image of refugees and trust of Canadian society in them. It decreases the discrimination against refugees in society.”
Monsef forces the public to re-think their perception of Afghan women, Niazi adds.
“The international media has portrayed Afghan women as victims, listeners and oppressed, but since Monsef’s election everyone has come to realize that Afghan women are not just silent victims; they have strength and ability.”
Khalid Mirzamir, an Afghan Canadian immigration counsellor in Ottawa, says Monsef’s story is one of hope and inspiration.
“Maryam’s election reminds all of us as immigrants that Canada is a country where it gives everyone the opportunity to grow.”
Hope is what Frozan Rahmani felt after Monsef was elected. The Toronto-based student followed the campaign closely and shed tears of joy when Monsef’s victory was announced.
Rahmani is awed by the fact that it was Monsef’s mother who was the key to the minister’s success.
After fleeing the Taliban, Monsef’s mother started life from scratch with her three daughters in Canada. The difficult task is a shared experience for many immigrants in this country.
“I am not happy because we share the same heritage as Afghans, but because I know that she has risen from a society that has pains, from a culture that in the 21st century does not value women,” says Rahmani. “We have witnessed the stoning of women. But Maryam did rise in Canada and made us proud.”
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by Don Curry in North Bay, Ontario
The online reaction to the horrific events in Paris of November 13 has been a wake-up call for those of us who work in the immigration, race relations and multiculturalism sector.
We thought our work was creating citizens who respect those of different cultures and religions. I believe it has, but lying just under the surface is a minority of people looking for opportunities to vent.
The reporting from Paris has given licence to bigots to take to their computers and demonstrate to the world how ill-informed they are. Even those who should know better, such as the Conservative Premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall, have joined the fray. In the U.S., Republican governors plan to suspend the acceptance of new Syrian refugees.
Their rant is essentially this: put a halt to the Syrian refugees coming to North America because there may be terrorists among them. And, by the way, all Muslims are terrorists.
The refugees are trying to escape the violence, not create it. Their country is torn by a civil war, made even more complicated by the presence of Islamic State (ISIS), which consists of gangs of thugs who think, in their twisted minds, that what they are doing is in the name of Islam.
In Peterborough, Ontario, the Paris tragedy gave licence to someone to firebomb a mosque. The community, to its credit, has demonstrated its solidarity with its Muslim citizens.
In my city of North Bay, Ontario, an innocuous news article on BayToday.ca November 16 about the status of Syrian refugee families coming to our city brought out the haters with online comments.
Here’s the best one, without alternation to correct for grammatical errors: “Cannot even believe this. Once these people come over you can be sure I'll be pulling my kids out of school that's for sure. Nowhere (sic) in North Bay let alone Canada will be safe anymore.”
Indeed. Beware of a six-year-old struggling to fit in and learn English.
The paranoia spread by our previous federal government obviously resonated with some all too willing to believe there is a terrorist hiding behind every tree.
Even some of the educated people I know are questioning why Canada should be accepting Syrian refugees, as though the Paris tragedy and the Syrian refugee crisis are related events. They are not.
Yes, a Syrian passport was found near the remains of one of the terrorists. It may have been his, it may have been someone else’s, or it may have been a forgery.
In any case, the refugees coming to Canada are not those who risked their lives on leaky boats to get to Greece, and then trekked on through country after country to get to Germany. The ones coming to North Bay have been living in Lebanon and have been vetted by the United Nations Refugee Agency and by Canadian immigration officials on the ground.
We are looking at very large families—not single men in their 20s.
The dozens of people in North Bay and area who have donated $45,000 to date to sponsor refugee families remain committed, despite the backlash. A farming couple from outside the city brought in $1,000 cash and an offer to provide free fresh meat to the families every week. A hair stylist has offered free haircuts for a year.
There are many good people in our community who don’t bother responding to racist online commentary. They feel it is better to ignore it, rather than fan the flames. In my view, however, there comes a point when you have to call them on it, and we reached that point.
For all you haters, this is directed to you. Stop watching the screaming talking heads on Fox News and CNN and get your news from our good Canadian TV networks. Better yet, pick up a reliable newspaper like the Globe and Mail (and visit this digital platform, NCM).
Informing yourself takes a little more effort than reading your Facebook or Twitter feeds. Do some serious reading before you get on your computer and click the Send button.
We need refugees and immigrants in Canada. In Northern Ontario, many cities and towns are looking at declining populations. Immigrants and refugees create jobs and their sons and daughters may be our business, cultural and political leaders of tomorrow. Canada is a nation of immigrants.
And, for those in Peterborough who firebombed the mosque. You should sit down and have a cup of tea with your new Member of Parliament. She was named to the Trudeau cabinet as Minister of Democratic Institutions. Her name is Maryam Monsef. She came to Canada as a refugee from Afghanistan. She is Muslim.
Don Curry is the Executive Director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre, Co-Chair of the North Bay Newcomer Network Local Immigration Partnership Initiative, Timmins Local Immigration Partnership and northern region board member for OCASI. He is also a board member of Pathways to Prosperity, a national immigration research organization.
A mosque in the Central Ontario town of Peteborough was set on fire on Saturday night and Zahid Sultan, vice-president of the local Muslim association, told the media that police were treating it as a hate crime. Police have gathered evidence from the site. Sultan told the media that a flammable bottle of liquid was […]
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