I have never accepted the assumption that minority communities like ours engage government solely on issues of parochial concern. To the contrary, the Jewish community has a long, rich history of contributing to public policy for the betterment of broader Canadian society. As the advocacy agent of Jewish Federations of Canada–UIA and the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) is currently active on a variety of files that reflect the diversity of Jewish policy interests and our collective commitment to support vulnerable non-Jewish communities.
First, we have taken a lead role in building an interfaith coalition to strengthen Canada’s hate crime laws. While this initiative began long before the horrific attack on a Quebec City mosque, that atrocity only underscores the dangers of bigotry – and the need for robust laws to counter hate crimes.
This is why we mobilized more than 20 interfaith organizations – including Christian, Muslim and Sikh groups – to take a stand in support of Bill C-305, a bill sponsored by Nepean MP Chandra Arya. Under current Criminal Code provisions, hate mischief against a place of worship is automatically considered a specific crime with significant penalties – but this does not extend to venues such as schools and community centres. Under C-305, this gap in the Criminal Code will be closed, ensuring that these offenders can no longer evade Canada’s hate crime laws.
Second, we are urging parliamentarians to pass Bill S-201, which will establish a federal ban on genetic discrimination. Today, there is no prohibition against employers or insurance providers demanding release of genetic test results. Consequently, many Canadians decline tests for fear of the harm it could have on their livelihood. Because of a higher than average predisposition for gene markers associated with major illnesses such as breast cancer, Ashkenazi Jews are particularly at risk of genetic discrimination. At the time of writing, S-201 is about to return from committee to the House of Commons for Third Reading. Our hope is that it will receive support across party lines and, once enacted, a federal ban will complement similar legislation we are advocating at the provincial level.
Third, we are working with various LGBTQ and human rights groups to strengthen legal protections for a vulnerable community: transgender Canadians. The Senate will be debating Bill C-16 in the coming months, which will list gender identity and gender expression as protected grounds in hate crime provisions of the Criminal Codes as well as the Canadian Human Rights Act. CIJA is the only faith or ethnic community organization serving on the executive of Trans Equality Canada, the coalition spearheading this initiative. Data reveal that hate crimes against transgender victims tend to be particularly violent – underscoring the need to ensure our laws are updated to protect this community. No one should be targeted simply for their identity.
Effective advocacy requires an engaged community. If you are interested in becoming involved on these or any other issues, I invite you to connect with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shimon Koffler Fogel is CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.