What on earth is happening in my lovely and diverse city? Things are changing and I am wondering if someone might be to blame.
One morning last week, my husband and I were walking on Queen Street, a major thoroughfare in Toronto. A young woman dressed in a colourful abaya and hijab was standing at a streetcar stop nearby. Suddenly, a middle aged man rushed up behind us, stepping between us and the woman. Why? For the sole purpose of spitting on her. Fortunately, he missed.
"What are you doing?!" we loudly asked him. "She's Muslim," he replied, as if that were an explanation. "And you are disgusting!" we responded. "She is a mother!" shouted another man from the other side of the streetcar stop.
My husband and I saw the woman get onto a street car. Muttering to himself, the spitter went to sit on a park bench. We hoped he wasn't waiting for his next victim. What happened to Toronto the good?
Two days later, I was on a fairly crowded subway car when a disturbance began at a doorway. A young Black man with a bike was standing waiting to get off the subway car when an older white man got on. Within seconds, the older man was hollering at the younger man, "Go back where you came from. I was born here. This is my country! You go shoot someone. You people all shoot each other. Go on, get out of here!"
"YOU get out of here!" yelled another passenger at the shouting man. A woman near the door advised the young man not to respond. "He is drunk," she said "Don't listen to him."
But a lot of us had heard him. And judging by the faces of those sitting and standing near me, we were all pretty upset by what we had heard.
As the former director of education for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, I have had to stand up for the rights of people I don't like very much, people who say and write things that I had hoped never to hear or read.
But I have also taken the opportunity to let them know that, just because I will fight for their right to free expression, I have no intention of respecting what it is they say or represent. I am going to use MY free speech to let the ugly, abusive, and racist people out there know that they are wrong.
Oops -- we can't. They were born here.
Perhaps we need to ensure that the young man with the bike and the woman waiting for the streetcar know they have rights. No matter what others may do or think, they have an equal right to dignity.
And the abusers? They are going to hear from the rest of us who have no intention of being quiet bystanders. We all need to use our freedom of speech to make sure that none of us has to put with crap.
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