By Michael Levitt
There’s no question that this has been the start of an exceptionally difficult new school year. Not only are we in the middle of a global pandemic, but our communities have been dealing with challenging issues including systemic racism and online extremism.
We’re seeing the way that hateful ideas lead to real-world violence. The Jewish High Holidays are a time of renewal and celebration, but this year’s festivities were tainted by a number of antisemitic incidents that occurred across Ontario, including private homes sprayed with anti-Jewish graffiti, worshipers spat at and cursed, and a father and son verbally assaulted with the perpetrator attempting to reach into their vehicle.
Anti-Indigenous racism was brought to light once again in a horrific incident just last week. Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman from Manawan, died tragically in a Quebec hospital, but not before recording vile, racially motivated verbal abuse directed at her by hospital staff.
These incidents come on the heels of the stabbing death of Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, a 58-year-old volunteer caretaker at an Etobicoke mosque. While monitoring entry into his building, he was stabbed by a man who had links to Neo-Nazi activity online.
These incidents and the motives behind them are troubling, but not surprising. Perpetrators of these acts seek to silence their targets and inspire fear. This hate is coming from both extremes of the political spectrum. Whatever the ideological root of the perpetrator, expressions of hatred against any group should be alarming to all Canadians.
Holocaust survivor and post-war Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal once said, “Freedom is not a gift from heaven. You must fight for it every day of your life.” In making this statement, he recognized that our rights and freedoms are fragile and it is all of our responsibility to protect them. One of the ways that we can stand up for the freedoms of others is by listening to their experiences
History has shown us that times of crisis often lead to an increase in public expressions of anger, fear, and intolerance. But these moments also create opportunities for positive change.