After a brief intro into the background for the Town Hall by Arif Virani, Member of Parliament for Parkdale-High, each panelist presented their work in their respective roles as it relates to combatting racism, sexism, and rising intolerance. The session was aimed at awareness-raising about the subject but also aimed to stimulate the discussion around the issue and brainstorm about community-based solutions.
Shaheen Azmi, Director of the Policy, Education, Monitoring, and Outreach Branch, Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), presented 2 short videos that raise awareness to the issues of profiling and discrimination faced by refugees and Muslim communities. The videos are prepared by the OHRC for the wide media distribution in the coming days in order to stimulate a discussion about racial profiling and Islamophobia. The OHRC work is predominately focused on racial discrimination, racial profiling, as well as discrimination faced by refugees and issues of security in Arab communities and they are working very closely with police and community organizations to tackle those issues. Mr. Azmi underlined that the above concerns have always been present in Canadian society. Islamophobia incidents have been on the rise especially after the arrival of 40,000 Syrian refugees in Canada, but have been steady rising for the last couple of years, especially after terrorist attacks all over the world. On behalf of OHRC, Mr. Azmi called on participants to get engaged in anti-Islamophobia activities.
Leila Sarangi, Gender Violence Expert, Women’s Habitat, acknowledged that the types of issues raised by Women’s Marches all across North America over the weekend were not necessarily related solely to sexism or misogyny. She brought up some facts related to discrimination of women and violence. For example, women are more likely than men to be killed by their domestic partner. The cost to the government to deal with the consequences of violence against women is $7.4 billion a year. 175,000 people are on the wait list for social housing, therefore a lot of abused women live in shelters for many years. There’s a 32% gap in the ratio of women’s income to men’s for the same type of job. Women’s Habitat connects policy workers with implementing agencies on the ground and their beneficiaries for the strategies and policies to be implemented. Ms. Sarangi asked everyone present to get involved in Gender equity campaign around gender budgeting. She requested everyone tweet, or post a message on Facebook with #genderequityTo for the budget (federal, provincial, municipal) to be looked at through the gender equity lens.
Anthony Morgan, Lawyer, and Anti-Black Racism Advocate stated that he has always been fighting anti-black racism, as an advocate and a lawyer. He explained the term anti-black racism as attitude, prejudice, beliefs, actions that are directed at people of African descent and that are based on the behaviour of colonialism and slavery. Mr. Morgan praised Black Lives Matter organization that do a lot of work combatting racism, as it relates to blackness and belonging. Although Mr. Morgan is not working for the organization, he advocates for their work, by explaining that a lot of young people who run Black Lives Matter grew up within the framework of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and feel they are entitled to speak up for racial equality.
Rania Younes, Islamophobia expert, Canadian Arab Institute, explained the term Islamophobia as the act of hate or prejudice against the “other”. She stressed that Islamophobia is on the rise, as it is documented by the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). Many incidents go unreported as people don’t wish to be documented. Ms. Younes underlined that the apathy of the community is rising, at the same time that the change starts with the community. She applauded the federal Government for doing important work but stressed that even more action is needed. The fact of what is happening south of the border isn’t helping our country to fight Islamophobia. Ms. Younes cautioned that our media is quick to single out one incident, such as terrorist attack and generalize it to the whole nation/religion. She stressed the urgency to act fast; otherwise, the American wave could sweep Canada as well.
Todd Ross, Special Advisor on Tripartite at Métis Nation of Ontario, educated the audience about the kinds of indigenous people in Canada: first nations, Métis and Inuit. He explained that usually, people in Canada refer to indigenous people as first nations. In the past, the Government of Canada took a position that indigenous people can easily assimilate in the society, which constituted institutional racism. But with the new government, slowly changes have started to occur. For the first time in history Minister of Indigenous Affairs, the Hon. Carolyn Bennet sat down with Métis leaders – the fact that is specifically important as it relates to the celebration of the 150th anniversary. The changes are happening, but they are just the beginning and much more work is needed
Yasmeen Persad, Project Coordinator at the 519, and Trans activist explained that her work is around LGBT and Trans training. She stated that 50% of Trans people couldn’t vote in the last election because they had their name changed. Ms. Persad advised focusing on the problems at home here in Canada, as that would put us in a better position to deal with Trans issues abroad.
After the panelists’ introduction into racism and intolerance issues, a Q&A followed, where participants also had a chance to offer suggestions regarding how to address the critical situation in the short-term.
Q: Has the treatment of Yazidis minorities in Iraq influenced people’s attitude towards Islamophobia?
A: The Yazidi situation has focused Canadian attention on the plight of all international refugees. By creating 2 motions recently, one on prioritizing to bringing in Yazidi refugees, especially women and girls to Canada, but also a second motion condemning racism, religious discrimination and Islamophobia there has been an increase in awareness and understanding of these issues..
Q: What can you do when religious leaders here in Canada encourage jihadist behaviours and spread hatred?
A: The spread of hatred must be condemned in all its forms, regardless of where it originates. We have strong laws that protect against hatred in Canada, and law enforcement officials should always be engaged when anyone feels targeted by potential hate speech.
Q: How do you combat the prejudice against the Tibetan community?
A: Be loud, promote awareness about your culture and your community; demonstrate that portrayals of the Tibetan community are critical for public education. If you see an ad that’s not appropriate – go and explain your position; write an article, host a public meeting. Discrimination against Tibetans, or any other community, will not be overcome unless we all raise the tone of discussion and make efforts to learn more about each other’s cultures.
Q: How can a white woman be an ally?
A: Understand your own privilege and start to advocate for one another. If a Muslim person advocates for a black person, it makes a bigger impact. If a Caucasian person advocates for a South Asian the same applies. The most important thing is not to be a bystander, not to be witness to a wrong doing. Mount Sinai hospital has “Are You An Ally?” campaign, that provides educational tools for interrupting discrimination or harassment. (http://www.mountsinai.on.ca/about_us/human-rights/ally/ and see description below)
Q: Are incidents of hate crimes increasing in Canada and are they identified by a particular group?
A: Hate crimes are hard to measure and generally under-reported. They are most often called hate incidents, in police reporting. Some communities are better than the others at reporting those incidents, e.g. – the Jewish community has a separate phone line for hate crime reporting, independent of the police. We do know the stats Canada reports an overall reduction in hate incidents in Canada, except for one community: hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise. Incidents of discrimination are also being recorded. 30-40% of complaints are discrimination files in OHRC. Systemic discrimination is not going away, especially by the police, hospitals, etc. The Quebec Human Rights Commission did a poll on attitude towards different ethnic groups in society and came up with the conclusion that negative attitudes are really strong and persistent.
Q: Is there a research to educate Canadian society how to resolve the problems of intolerance?
A: There is a gap in knowledge from the elementary to high school level about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Education about what the obligations people have towards other cultures is a priority for OHRC, and ought to be a priority for government also.
Q: How would you address the women’s marches all across the world that were denied by the media as only marches involving white women?
A: When there are marches, racialized women sometimes may feel excluded from the marches; identify the bridges between different racial groups and commit to closing the gap togetherAlso be cognizant of the fact that the media doesn’t necessarily portray the reality about the marches.
Comment: The ramification of racism, human rights abuses, and misogyny is a dramatic effect on mental health. At the time of an alarming epidemic of youth mental health among the Indigenous community, the social media coverage is insufficient. Mental health challenges are as a result of systemic discrimination and we need to address them. (Note that since the Town Hall, the federal government has made a historic $5 Billion investment in mental Health)
Comment: The American phenomenon is explained by poor whites voting Republican who felt excluded from platforms of other people. We should work towards an inclusive society, where no one feels excluded in order to avoid the repetition of this phenomenon here in Canada.
A: We should all work to help inclusive society: the preamble of the HR code of Ontario says that people should feel included in our society. There remain a lot of people in Canadian society who perpetuate hatred and discrimination. We need to be cognizant of that and keep working to combat intolerance, as well as the rise of the politics of division.
Q: Are there any examples of success stories, of a good work that’s happening that has helped reduce discrimination vs LGBTQ2?
A: Access to washrooms for Transgendered individuals, ID cards, name changes – these were the many years of work. There should be zero tolerance for punishment and systemic discrimination. Gender identity and gender expression were implemented in 2012 in Ontario Human Rights Code, and federally Bill C-16 has been passed in the Commons and will do the same. Also, the PM has appointed a special advisor for LGBTQ2 issues a first for any country in the world.
Q: What can we do in the short-term to fight anti-black discrimination?
- Educate people.
- Keep holding events like this Town Hall, conveying the message and educating the public.
- Show alternative perspective to counter negative image.
- Coalitions can be put together at higher organizational levels
- Have perspective and understanding, believe in youth. We need to learn from them.
- Western Métis expression: educate our allies, educate our enemies.
- Stand up and speak up, in the case of violence, otherwise, it perpetuates.
Mr. Arif Virani MP concluded the Town Hall by pointing out the key messages that were heard during the session as to short-term solutions for combatting racism, sexism and intolerance – awareness raising and education, i.e. debunking stereotypes for people who believe in them, as in the example of Syrian refugees helping people in Alberta with wildfires; becoming an ally, working towards a more inclusive society by showing people that they belong to a community. Mr. Virani suggested that the Constituency office could help produce info on how to be a better ally. Today was a good example of a community building where people with different perspectives could voice their opinion about sensitive issues. On a final note, Mr. Virani suggested engaging a local representative, police, federal elected official to make a difference in our community and our country.
The Are You an ALLY? Campaign – http://www.mountsinai.on.ca/about_us/human-rights/ally/
The Mount Sinai campaign provides six videos and other educational tools to better understand the perspectives and experiences of people who experience discrimination. You are invited to use these tools to learn how to interrupt discrimination or harassment when it occurs.
Through the use of these interactive videos and tools, you will be able to:
- Recognize overt and covert discrimination
- Address discrimination with respect and compassion
- Take responsibility for comments or behaviors that are identified as hurtful or discriminatory.
ALLY Videos: Give first-hand accounts of discrimination and show how being an ALLY can make a difference
ALLY Tools: Page summaries on how to be an ALLY and what can you say as an ALLY