Becoming Who We Think We Are

Canada is known internationally as a non-violent and open minded nation, one that goes beyond accepting differences to celebrating them. We are a country of immigrants and proud of it. If there's one thing we seemingly won't tolerate, that would be intolerance itself.

These are the values I think about when attending Canada Day celebrations or standing for our national anthem. But recent events in our midst are so disturbing that they call for a self-examination of who we are and all that we stand for, and whether those of us who haven't felt the pain of discrimination are doing all that we can so that no one among us does either.

How could a country with the values we espouse have imposed a system whereby indigenous children were forcefully removed from their families and then let hundreds of them simply vanish, secretly dead and buried while supposedly being cared for by a religious institution? How could this have gone on for decades, not in the distant past but within most of our lifetimes?

This week in nearby London, four family members were murdered while out for a walk, for no other alleged reason than that they were Muslim. How could violence and hatred of that magnitude get so fully formed in a young man raised in our society?

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a startling increase in the number of hate-filled incidents directed at residents of Asian descent, as if the virus released a licence to be racist.

Jews, whose experience with hatred as a people includes the most horrendous examples known to mankind, continue to suffer from acts of violence and hate-filled behaviour. In 2021, in our city, there was a sharp rise in incidents reported to police.

This week, at the start of Pride month, a young Toronto man was badly beaten because of his sexual orientation.

In the past year, most of us have become much more aware of the systemic discrimination that Black members of our society have endured. Why did it take one too many tragedies and large protests before many started to really notice?

Only three years ago, a horrendous act, inspired by hatred of women, resulted in the murder of 10 and serious injury of another 16 on Willowdale's main street.

Are we who we think we are?

If you go by the conversation which took place at City Council this week, the answer is a yes - but only if we move beyond words into more effective action to combat acts of hatred, racism and discrimination, in all its forms.

We heard some very moving, articulate speeches from several members of Council who have spent many years as leaders on that mission, while others listened with a level of attention that is not common in political chambers.

Toronto's political leaders showed not just unanimity but passion while, for example, calling on the federal government to strengthen laws to address online hate speech and the distribution of hateful literature. There are many actions which government and police forces can and should take.

I was proud to be part of that group of politicians this week, just as I still am proudly Canadian, with everything I hope that means.

But being part of the Canada we think we live in requires most of us, as individuals, to step outside a comfort zone that consists mainly of espousing tolerance to move into one which refuses to turn a blind eye to actions or comments which we know should not go unchallenged.

If you experience or witness an act of violence or hatred, report it to the police. If it is more subtle - a hurtful or thoughtless comment from somebody you know, a "joke" that isn't funny at a social gathering - say something.

I am still bothered by my lack of reaction, several decades ago, when a close friend told an overtly racist story that demonstrated a side to him I hadn't paid enough attention to. My reaction was to immediately stop being friends with him but, for reasons that now make no sense, I never told him why I no longer wished to have him in my home.

If you have failed to speak up in the past and now regret that, start a conversation about it, either with the person who should have known better or the person who was victimized. There is no time limit on showing our support to those experiencing racism.