The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Perspectives on Racism:
Anti-Semitism in Canada
Realities, Remedies & Implications for Anti-Racism
Dr. Karen Mock

Anti-Semitism/Anti-Racism - What Can Be Done?

I believe that there is no one effective way to fight hatred and hate mongering, but that we can and should use whatever strategies we have at our disposal. The three most important tools we can use are the law, community action, and education. [Portions of this section have been adapted from: Karen Mock 'Combatting Hate - Canadian Realities and Remedies,' Canadian Human Rights Forum (Ottawa), Summer 1992.]

Anti-Racism Remedies in Law

Hate propaganda, defined as 'the promotion of hatred against identifiable groups,' became a criminal offence in Canada in 1970, when laws against it were adopted as amendments to the Criminal Code (sections 318-320). In that same year, Canada ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which had been adopted by the UN in 1965 and signed by Canada in 1966. The Canadian Human Rights Act and various provincial human-rights acts also address the issue of hate propaganda. While the League for Human Rights and several other organizations, as well as many studies and commissions, have proposed changes to strengthen the effectiveness of the existing legislation (a summary and analysis of which are beyond the scope of the present chapter), there is almost universal agreement on the need for effective laws to deal with hate propaganda.

The catalyst for such legislation was undoubtedly the Holocaust. It showed the world that unchecked racism and hate propaganda could lead even a highly educated and cultured society to justify the most heinous crimes against humanity.

The Canadian anti-hate laws in the Criminal Code are the result of years of debate concerning the balance between individual and group rights. The premise underlying Canada's hate-propaganda laws is that in a democratic society identifiable groups must be protected against racism, including its verbal manifestation, so that those groups' basic freedoms and thereby their full participation in Canadian society are not limited. This notion is not only consistent with our international obligation under the United Nations Convention, but is based on our vision of a multicultural society, a vision entrenched in the Canadian Bill of Rights (1960) and articulated clearly in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982), sections 15 and 27.

Keegstra in Alberta and Andrews and Smith in Ontario were charged and convicted under the hate-propaganda laws. Although the respective provincial Courts of Appeal reached opposite conclusions on the constitutionality of section 19 of the Charter, in 1990 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the hate-propaganda legislation, albeit by the narrowest majority. Concern for the values inherent in sections 15 and 27 of the Charter, and for those in the international agreements to which Canada is a signatory, played a significant role in that decision, which underscored the need to preserve the delicate balance between individual and group rights that is the mark of a free and democratic society.

There are those who insist that taking hate mongers to court gives them a platform, and who thus discourage such prosecutions and their attendant publicity. Such detractors need to be reminded that had the hate laws on the books in pre-Nazi Germany been implemented with effective penalties, the hate propaganda that led to the most violent racism in history might have been halted. It is essential to continue to prosecute hate mongers and to impose penalties that will serve as deterrents. When the Alberta Court of Appeal overturned the Keegstra decision, there was a dramatic increase in hate-group activity and in the dissemination of hate propaganda in Western Canada. By the same token, it is possible that the recent decline in the severity of anti- Semitic incidents is a direct result of the Supreme Court's decision, of the increased awareness and vigilance of police, and of longer sentences for those convicted.

Community Action Against Racism and Anti-Semitism The League for Human Rights of B'nai Brith encourages legal action to combat hate propaganda, but has also demonstrated during recent years that coordinated community response is effective in fighting racism. In 1989 the first Canada Day Aryan Fest took place in Minden, Ontario. The citizens of Minden stood up against racism with a campaign spearheaded by Reverend Edward Moll of the United Church, supported by the Minden Times and the League for Human Rights, all under the supervision of the local police. The League assisted the residents to create a human-rights committee to develop local policies and guidelines to combat hate mongers in the future.

A year later, the 1990 Canada Day Aryan Fest attracted close to 250 skinheads and white supremacists to Metcalfe, a small town near Ottawa. The League gathered a multicultural coalition of concerned citizens to rally against racism on the steps of the Parliament Buildings and to march out to the property to protest the rise of racism and the distribution of hate propaganda. Once again, the police monitored the activities of the racists, and the League's presence was felt. Because of the adverse publicity, the property owners did not allow the white supremacists to return the following year. Instead, the League for Human Rights sponsored a Multicultural Anti-racist Youth Leadership Camp, and made anti-racism, rather than racism, newsworthy. Young people learned how to stand up against racism in their schools and community organizations.

In 1992 in Toronto, the Heritage Front opened an anti-immigration 'hate-line' that included racist diatribes against the Black and Native communities. They spread hate pamphlets throughout Toronto's downtown Riverdale neighbourhood to recruit members. The League for Human Rights responded to a request for help by assisting with the filing of a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission (similar to one filed by the League against the KKK in Winnipeg) and by putting a group of concerned citizens in touch with the police, the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, the Native Canadian Centre, and others.

Neighbourhood Watch issued a counter-pamphlet, advising their neighbours to report any suspicious people and to take action against efforts at recruitment, particularly of young people. An ad hoc working group, calling itself Citizens Against Racism, met regularly and planned a 'Rally Against Racism' to commemorate March 21st, the International Day for the Elimination of Racism. A rainbow coalition of speakers from the First Nations, Black, Chinese, Jewish, and Sikh communities, among others, exemplified--the motto on the B'nai Brith banner: 'We will not be silent.'

Coordinated community action not only raises awareness and increases vigilance, but it also reduces fear and promotes security and solidarity in the fight against racism and anti- Semitism.


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