A National Conversation on Racism

In my 27 years in this field, never have I seen a Canadian election fraught by so many issues concerning race and racism. Given our organization’s mandate toward human rights and discrimination specifically, a national conversation about race and racism is welcomed. We have been responding to countless incidents of election-related discrimination, even before Justin Trudeau’s “blackface” controversy: Candidate Hassan Guillet was released from the Liberal party following allegations of antisemitism; Green Party Candidate Dale Dewar was found to have made antisemitic comments on social media; while five different political candidates from each of the leading parties had their signs and offices defaced with swastika graffiti. Today, it came to light that an NDP candidate was allegedly caught on video placing boycott stickers on Israel-made products – an antisemitic act. Even the Conservatives did not go unscathed reprimanding candidates for comments. Among the worst of the incidents was the social media targeting of Liberal candidate Michael Levitt for his support of Israel.

Over the last two decades, our organization has fought hard against universal discrimination. We do this every single day at all our programs, workshops and events. Our laser focus is to end antisemitism and discrimination in all its forms and to build a cohesive Canada that is respectful, accepting and unifying under the values of freedom and democracy. As a Jewish values-based organization founded on the life and legacy of champion of social justice Simon Wiesenthal and the memory of the Holocaust, we are determined to be vigorous defenders of humanity.

Through action and deeds, we are committed to rapidly educating as many Canadians as possible about the consequence of hatred. In fact, our community of donors and our boards take this commitment so seriously that we have invested well over $25 million of mostly private money in educating Canadians and advocating against racism. As a community that has gone through the largest genocide known to humanity, we are acutely aware that racism of any manner is a disruptor if not a destroyer of social cohesion.

It was a white supremacist ideology which brought the Holocaust to fruition, bringing about death and destruction. Education is the answer to eradicating all hatred, which is why we have created tolerance training workshops. We have invested heavily in a mobile tolerance training program (the Tour for Humanity), which visits schools daily (700 since inception), and in adult leadership programs like Compassion to Action, which has already taken 300 chiefs of police, educators and political leaders to Auschwitz and other sites to bring sensitivity and understanding about the consequence of racism.

In our workshops, the segment of our programing that is most significant is about heroes – those who have taken responsibility to make the world a better place: people like Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Simon Wiesenthal and others who have risen above our primal nature of tribalism to help make the world a better place. Our objective is to show our students a better way for humanity, to show them that they too can choose good over evil and that they can make good choices in their communities and contribute positively and respectfully.

We live in a polarized, socially corrosive climate often devoid of morality and ethics. Canada can stand apart and return to our founding principles of pluralism, multiculturalism and friendship between all faiths and races. For this reason, over the last decade we have invested over $500,000 in organizing an event in downtown Toronto called Freedom Day. It’s a day to celebrate Canada and our values of freedom and democracy. Our speakers are young, inspirational and showcase the diversity of cultures, races and opinions – yet are linked by these positive founding principles of our nation.

Freedom Day is also dedicated to the memory of Simon Wiesenthal who saw the murder of some 85 family members and the death and destruction of European Jewry, and who believed that “freedom is not a gift from heaven. We must fight for it each and every day”. We invite you to join us on September 24th at Yonge-Dundas Square at 11:15 a.m. in celebration of Canada and in support of our core principles of standing up for humanity each day.

About the Author
Avi Benlolo is the President and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC), a Jewish non-profit human rights organization. Avi is a prominent Canadian human rights activist dedicated to promoting tolerance, freedom, democracy and human rights.
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