‘When we as a community are targeted by those with hate in their hearts, there is a dire need for careful and meaningful dialogue amongst all of us,’ said Bernie Farber, executive director of the Toronto-based Mosaic Institute.
Farber, an Ottawa native and former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, was keynote speaker, November 25, at a Crime Prevention Ottawa event, “Addressing hate crimes: Creating a safe city for all,” held in the wake of an anti-Semitic, racist and Islamophobic graffiti spree in Ottawa.
“We need to create safe spaces for people from different communities and with perspectives to come together, mourn together, learn together, and act together. This cannot be superficial. It needs to be more than holding hands and playing nice,” said Farber.
Any group or individual within society, given the right circumstances, are potential victims of hate crimes, Farber said.
The event was held at Ottawa City Hall. Following Farber’s speech, he was joined in a panel discussion by Reverend Anthony Bailey of Parkdale United Church; Amira Elghawaby of the National Council of Canadian Muslims; Joanne Law, a transgender activist in Ottawa; and Staff Sergeant Dave Zackrias, an Ottawa Police Services diversity and race relations specialist.
Reverend Bailey bemoaned the “woefully inadequate” family portrait of Canada.
“All groups should be able to demonstrate their contributions to this nation and this city,” he said. “We are all in this together … I resist the invitation to be ‘tolerant.’ When you tolerate someone, you put up with them.”
Bailey suggested aiming for respect rather than tolerance.
All of the panelists stressed that no long-term hate-crime strategy can evolve without education.
“While not a panacea for the ills of our society,” said Farber, “education remains our last best hope for improving the quality of our lives, for filling that glass of tolerance, and for banishing hatred from our midst.”
Zackrias said society needs hate crime laws “because the impact of these crimes is so far reaching, and, if left unchecked, can result in an escalation in social tensions between different groups that can destroy communities …We need to take this seriously”
He said the most common victims of hate crimes are the Jewish community, Muslims, particularly women who wear headscarves, black males and gay men.
“Inclusion,” he said, “is the key to public safety.”
Farber said the third attack was personal for him because it occurred at Congregation Machzikei Hadas, “the synagogue where I was married, where my father was eulogized after his death, and where I feel most at home.”
Echoing Farber’s connection to his synagogue, Elghawaby said, “Sacred spaces mean so much to us …These aren’t just buildings, but part of who we are, our identities.”
It’s important to highlight positive examples of hope, she said, giving many examples of solidarity in Canada, like the solidarity event at Machzikei Hadas on November 19. However, Elghawaby said, “the ally-ship is reactive …We need to actively work on being proactive … Our actions speak louder than words. There is still much more to do and much more to say.”
There will always be people who “have no interest in peaceful dialogue,” said Farber, “preferring instead to cower behind their computers waiting for the next opportunity to spew their caws of hatred … The best use of our energies is to drown out these voices by creating platforms for people, communities and organizations who are interested in constructive rather than destructive dialogue. As we have seen, these positive voices are already out there, we just need more opportunities to hear them, and the discipline to tune out everyone else.”