It has become a little easier to speak hate lately

Yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was heckled at his town hall meeting in Quebec City by a man who held up an upside down Canadian flag with a swastika drawn on it. The man was removed from the room, but the pain of that episode remains. No matter your political viewpoint, holding up a swastika in Canada and desecrating our flag is damaging to our national ethos.

What permits this type of behaviour and how have we descended so far down the path of hate and intolerance in Canada?

At the University of New Brunswick where white supremacist posters were distributed, a spokesperson from the university advised us that she received communication from a group called National Socialist Canadian Labor Revival Party. The group claimed responsibility for the flyers and objected to its characterization as intolerant, despite the fact it laid out its platform on an antisemitic and hateful website and calls for “white survival”. The name of that party eerily resembles the official name of the Nazi Party – The National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

This shameful behaviour by Canadians follows on the redistribution of a winter edition of the so-called Your Ward News last week. This edition appears more intensely pro-Nazi than previous editions. Calls for an establishment of a “Hitler Fan Club” and recruitment of volunteers to join its movement have increased, while images of swastikas proliferate the pamphlet and calls for book burnings and Nuremberg-like rallies are featured.

Neighbours are pitted against neighbours. This week a Toronto family found swastikas drawn in the snow on their car. The snow will melt and the swastika will disappear – but suspicion about neighbours will last.

Which of them holds white supremacist views? Who among them would have marched in Charlottesville last summer?

Why should we be surprised by the spread of this hateful attitude across our country? Our warnings about rising hate have been largely disregarded by federal and provincial governments. It’s not sufficient to denounce and condemn hateful incidents. We have been calling for active enforcement of hate crime and hate speech.

It took two years for authorities to lay hate crime charges against the editor and owner of Your Ward News, despite complaints from the community. All the while those who peddle in hate observed and became more emboldened and motivated into action.

So after a town council in ONTARIO voted to keep the name of a local street – “Swastika Trail” – should we be surprised when a swastika is unfurled at a town hall meeting with the prime minister of Canada?

Many argue for free speech. But this is not a poli-sci course. This is real life. We have learned from history that free market rhetoric will always victimize minorities and especially Jews.

If six million reasons are not enough, frankly, I am not sure what is.

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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