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Hatred at any level should not be tolerated
(Posted Date: Thursday, April 1, 2004)

By Adrianna Borkowski

As a patriotic Canadian, a resident of Toronto, and as a member of a pro-democracy, anti-terrorism group, I abhor the recent acts of vandalism against Jewish homes and gravestones in Toronto and Vaughan.

These are hate crimes, and they scare me because they are small acts of terrorism. I have personally lived through the horror of terrorism — I was in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 11, and I have many good friends who lost loved ones on that day in both Washington and New York. The painful and immediate memory of that day was one of my reasons for returning to my hometown of Toronto.

But now I see hate crimes and acts of intimidation and discrimination against minority groups in my own city. I will not tolerate such acts.

Terrorism and discrimination are from the same family of disease. In fact, terrorism is hate, racism and discrimination taken to an extreme and fatal end. Terrorism grows like a cancer from a kernel of hate and discrimination — the idea that a whole group of people is to be blamed for the actions of a few. Terrorism is spawned by the same pathological germ — the idea that the actions of a few can and should be blamed upon the whole. Therefore, haters say that all Jews should be blamed for Israeli policy; they have no sympathy for the innocent victims of the intifada who are murdered daily in the Middle East. And haters who subscribe to this same cancerous way of thinking — such as the members of a self-professed "al-Qaida" family — say that the Americans partially deserved Sept. 11 because of the actions of the American government.

By allowing themselves to be seduced by these sentiments, Canadians have fallen short of practicing the gospel of tolerance and multiculturalism that they preach. Some of our politicians have fallen by the wayside too. Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish has said that Palestinian terrorism "is a question of an occupied people who must resist by any means possible," as if to justify suicide bombing!

Our former Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, shook the hand of the Malaysian prime minister after he said in a speech that; "today the Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them." Such gestures and statements lend credence to the anger and hatred that is the root of discrimination and its ugly evidence — hate crimes. How can our leaders say that Canada is a shining example of tolerance, democracy and diversity to the world while greeting such discriminatory comments with silence?

That Ontario’s premier, Dalton McGuinty, as well as federal and municipal leaders condemned these hate crimes deserves credit. But if our Canadian leaders have turned a blind eye to anti-Semitism in the past, they are partly to blame for today’s symptoms. According to B’nai B’rith, acts of anti-Semitism are at their highest point in Canada in the last 20 years.

"If there were any doubts that we must continue to work toward racial tolerance in our own country, the incidents of this past weekend have erased them. Canada is not immune to this particular type of hatred. In fact, it is becoming an increasingly noticeable problem," said Senator David Tkachuk.

It seems that the virus of discrimination may have spread through the country already. The desecration of more than 20 Jewish graves in Toronto and Vaughan and the swastikas painted on 13 homes in Jewish neighbourhoods are symptoms of that sickness.

Especially now in the days that follow his violence and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, politicians and ordinary citizens alike must commit to practical steps toward change.

"Nobel sentiments and fine-sounding words will not do the job. We need to take concrete actions," said member Robert Runciman in Ontario’s Legislative Assembly.

As Torontonians, we must not allow people to commit hate crimes in our backyards. We must not allow our politicians to court terrorist groups, nor can we allow our politicians to fund humanitarian groups that may also funnel money to terrorist groups.

Teachers, food service workers, labourers, executives and mothers alike — tell at least one person today that you will not allow anti-Semitic vandalism to happen in Toronto. Write to your MP and tell them that you will not allow hate and discrimination in Canada. And take your beliefs in tolerance and democracy to the polling booths in the next election.

We must promote democracy at home and abroad, and we must give a forum for free political debate in our town and encourage governments to do so around the world. Often, the people who communicate with violence and destruction believe that they have now voice. Freedom of speech, open political debate, or the "marketplace of ideas," empowers the powerless. Democracy and open debate must be promoted because it is an antidote to terrorism and hatred.

Finally, Canadians must no longer feel smug in our belief that racism doesn’t exist in Canada. We also must no longer feel so warm and cozy in a blanket of naive complacency that allows us to think that terrorism will not happen on Canadian soil. These disturbing events have shown that racism and terrorism are not problems that only the Americans have to face.

Our country and our city can only be as tolerant and inclusive as its individual members. All of us must claim a personal responsibility to stand up against these acts of vandalism, just as we must all claim the problem of anti-Semitism as our own. As one of my friends recently said, "It is the responsibility of non-Jewish people to fight anti-Semitism, because it is the non-Jews who are responsible for it, even if not on a personal level."

Likewise, we must stand up against discrimination of all people — Arabs, Muslims, Catholics, evangelical Christians, First Nations people, blacks and Asians. That is the Canadian gospel, after all.

In this great city of Toronto, where diversity invigorates the local economy and cultural scene, it is unbelievable to think that there are punks around who think that they can get away with these hate crimes. It worries me to think that these anti-Semitic acts could be an omen of worse things to come or a symptom of a cancerous growth within our community.

I am confident that Canadians will take this seriously, because they know that terrorism grows from the same ugly seed of hatred. As the Leader of the Government Jack Austin said in Parliament this week, "Hatred is at the heart of this domestic and international violence. I am not suggesting that governments can by themselves cure hatred, but they can do a great deal with aggressive campaigns to promote tolerance."

It may not be too late for leaders and citizens to work together to erase the hate that has already been acted out by cowards who work under the cloak of darkness and night.

I don’t want us to wait until we have a Sept. 11 on Canadian soil before we take action. Together, let’s send the message to the leaders of our diverse nation and to the entire world that totalitarians and terrorists — great and small, punks and "operatives" alike — are not welcome here.

Adrianna Borkowski is a resident of Toronto, and a member of the pro-democracy, anti-terrorism group, Canadian Coalition for Democracies.

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