On a hot night in August 1933, a group of thugs raised a swastika banner to taunt Jewish spectators at a baseball game in Toronto's Annex neighbourhood — sparking the famous, hours-long Christie Pits riots.
However appalling, the shameful actions of Nazi sympathizers that night were taken without knowing the full extent of the Third Reich's genocidal agenda. One can only hope that those who waved the swastika at Christie Pits in 1933 hung their heads in disgrace as, in 1945, news emerged from the death camps of Europe.
Not one of the neo-Nazis and white supremacists gathered at Charlottesville can make the same claim to ignorance. The several hundred chanting "Jews will not replace us" in the obscene torch-lit parade at the University of Virginia — without masks and in full view of the media — have openly embraced an ideology they know calls for the murder of Jews. Among the millions who have since viewed this disturbing rally online are countless Jews, many whose parents and grandparents bear the emotional scars and numbered tattoos that testify to the dangers of Nazism.
In Jewish tradition, there is a concept of "descent for the sake of ascent." There are times in our lives — and in the life of a society — marked by painful challenge. But such moments of descent can awaken within us the courage and determination we need to rise again and overcome barriers.
What happened in Charlottesville was more than a descent. It was a horrible event that thrust into the spotlight the reality of hate today. It showed us that neo-Nazis and white supremacists exist not only in the dark corners of the internet but also in the flesh, in combat fatigues and bearing arms.
It demonstrated to many who thought anti-Semitism a thing of the past that they are wrong.
It demonstrated the clear link between threatening rhetoric and deadly action. For anyone who questioned the power of dangerous ideologies, the shocking killing of Heather Heyer the following day should have dispelled all illusions.
And it demonstrated to many who thought anti-Semitism a thing of the past that they are wrong. Anti-Semitism is a contemporary threat — and it is inextricably connected to white supremacism and other forms of hate. Those who target any minority will grow to hate every minority and, to the detriment of all, they will challenge the very underpinnings of democracy.
Now more than ever, those of us who work in human rights and anti-discrimination advocacy must unite in common cause to counter hate with legal, non-violent means. When hatemongers violate the law or are vulnerable to civil actions, we must work with law enforcement and the courts to hold them accountable.
When our laws are lacking and enforcement inadequate, we must work cooperatively with government to offer practical policy changes that will make our communities safer. And when bigots take to the airwaves and social media, we must exercise our own freedom of speech to expose the dangers they pose not only to minorities but to our entire society.
This is why my organization, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), has united with more than 50 diverse community groups — including prominent LGBTQ+, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, African-Canadian and Chinese-Canadian representatives — to issue a joint declaration against hate, the full text of which appears below.
Resolute words must be followed by unwavering action. As time creates distance between us and Charlottesville, we must not forget the shocking realization that shook us this month. We must now ask ourselves and our allies in other communities: Will we commit to the hard work necessary to ascend to a higher place?
All forms of hate are inextricably linked and must be opposed with legal and non-violent means by all people of good will.
Joint statement of solidarity and call for action against hate
We affirm our shared commitment to building and defending a country in which all Canadians enjoy equal rights and can live free of fear, intimidation, dehumanizing rhetoric and acts of bigotry.
We refuse to be silent in response to the horrible events that took place in Charlottesville, Va., and acts of hate that have been perpetrated here in Canada — including incidents of bigoted graffiti, the dissemination of racist propaganda, and white nationalist rallies. Now more than ever, it is clear that white supremacy, anti-Semitism, homophobia, anti-Muslim prejudice, bigotry against Indigenous peoples, and all forms of hate are inextricably linked and must be opposed with legal and non-violent means by all people of good will. We pledge our solidarity with those communities targeted for hate in these rallies. An attack against any minority is nothing less than an assault on Canada's democratic values and a threat to our entire society.
We urge all levels of government in Canada to take action to counter these concerning trends. We ask that governments review laws and policies pertaining to hate and hate crime, and make appropriate changes where necessary — including:
- Establishing uniform guidelines for the collection and publication of hate crime and hate incident data;
- Creating training programs for public, police, and prosecutors that allow for more consistent and effective enforcement of hate speech laws;
- The creation of dedicated hate crime units for all sizeable police agencies;
- New measures to monitor and counter the spread of hate propaganda, which often serves as a precursor to violent radicalization.
Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs
Ottawa Capital Pride
Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at of Canada
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto
Anglican Church of Canada
Canadian Rabbinic Caucus
Baha'i Community of Canada
World Sikh Organization
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