The year that's coming to an end has been a year like no other. The coronavirus pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on our lives both in Canada and around the world. As we've learned throughout history, hate thrives during times of crisis, and we've seen this truth unfold in 2020 as antisemitism and hate-related incidents continued to erupt with troubling frequency.
Here's a look back at a number of advocacy and education initiatives undertaken by FSWC over the last 12 months as we continue the critical work of fighting antisemitism and other forms of bigotry and promoting human rights.
We would not be able to do any of this important work without your support. Make your year-end donation today to help us strengthen and advance our work in combatting antisemitism, hatred and intolerance through education and advocacy. We appreciate your support.
Combatting Online Antisemitism
Hatred and misinformation have flourished in the digital age. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have provided an outlet for those looking to promote antisemitism and other forms of hate on a scale unlike anything we've ever seen before. Amid the pandemic, we have also witnessed growing coronavirus-related antisemitism, as outlined in a report FSWC published earlier this year. In response to increasing online antisemitism and hate, FSWC has been involved in numerous meetings with government officials - including a recent virtual briefing hosted by the Inter-Parliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism, as well as a discussion with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada - to provide recommendations on actions to be taken to combat this problem.
Holocaust Survivors Speak to Students Across Canada
By going virtual, Holocaust survivors have had the opportunity to reach more students with their testimonies than ever before across the country. In November, FSWC coordinated Holocaust survivor Max Eisen’s presentation with four public and Catholic school boards across the province of Saskatchewan, resulting in Max sharing his story with over 3,000 students. Our new virtual programs in partnership with the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights and the Canadian War Museum also gave thousands of people throughout Canada and internationally the opportunity to hear directly from Holocaust and genocide survivors who shared their powerful and inspiring stories and answered viewers' questions. In late October, FSWC also ran sessions with Holocaust survivors Gershon Willinger and Andy Reti who spoke to 24 classes in the Algoma District School Board, reaching some 500 students.
Tackling Hate and Extremism in the Military
Earlier this year, the Royal Canadian Navy reinstated a sailor with a history of neo-Nazi activity. FSWC immediately reached out to Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan calling for an investigation into the Navy's decision. Following a series of meetings between FSWC and Minister Sajjan, the Navy's commander and other military senior staff, we were pleased to learn that the sailor's removal was recommended as a result of a command-level review. Most significantly, we commended the Canadian military for taking action to counter hate activity and extremism in their ranks, which included the formation of an advisory panel and directives against hateful conduct.
Advocating for the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism
FSWC was proud to partner with ally organizations in the Jewish community, B'nai Brith Canada and CIJA, in playing a crucial role in Ontario's adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism in October. Together we applauded this important action, a vital tool in the ongoing fight against hatred and discrimination targeting the Jewish community in the province.
Virtual Equity and Diversity Workshops Reach Thousands
While schools remain closed for in-person sessions, FSWC's educators were quick to pivot our workshops virtually to continue to educate young people and inspire them to stand against hate. In the fall, demand for virtual workshops came quickly, with up to eight presentations delivered by FSWC education staff per week, in addition to survivor speaker requests and presentations to other institutions. Popular workshops include discussions on the history and lessons of the Holocaust, human rights issues in Canada, and the dangers of digital hate. In just the months of October and November, FSWC educators presented programs to more than 5,000 students across Canada.
Fighting Hate Speech Targeting the Jewish Community
This summer, a flyer was found posted on the Canadian Nationalist Party social media pages calling Jewish people "liars and deceivers" and a "tribe of parasites." Additionally, it quoted a video in which CNP leader Travis Patron referred to "these people" who "infiltrate the media, they hijack the central bank, and they infect the body politic like a parasite," and stated "what we need to do...is remove these people, once-and-for-all, from our country." FSWC immediately filed a hate speech complaint with the RCMP against Patron and virtually met with Saskatchewan's attorney general to stress the importance of having charges laid expeditiously against Patron.
Freedom Day Marks First National Reach
FSWC's first Virtual Freedom Day was a major success. While we could not gather thousands of students at Yonge-Dundas Square this year to celebrate freedom and human rights together, our revised online program exceeded our usual reach and took advantage of the opportunity to go far and wide across the country. The program was circulated to over 10,000 schools from coast to coast to coast, marking the first national reach for this particular program.
Taking Action Against Foodbenders
Outrage was widely expressed throughout the Jewish community and beyond in response to the antisemitism displayed by a local Toronto food company, Foodbenders. After the company shared a post on Instagram with the hashtag "#zionistsnotwelcome," numerous other antisemitic and anti-Israel posts came to light. FSWC reached out to the Toronto police to ensure an investigation was underway as well as contacted Mayor John Tory and politicians from all levels of government calling on them to speak out against this vile display. FSWC also contacted DoorDash, a company that delivered for Foodbenders, asking it to join Uber in cutting all ties with the company. In response, the food-delivery service removed Foodbenders from its platform.
Speaker's Idol Continues to Inspire and Empower
Speaker's Idol has become a widely recognized public-speaking competition for students in Ontario and beyond. This year we reached people from across Canada who tuned in to hear speeches from this year's 10 finalists. While reflecting on a quote by Simon Wiesenthal, students shared their vision of how to improve their communities and the world around them. This year’s winners reminded us that while the future remains uncertain, many young Canadians recognize the importance of taking action and raising their voices in support of human rights and against injustice.