I was honoured to have been invited to deliver the keynote address to the Annual Awards Banquet of the Harmony Movement, an organization dedicated to achieving the goal of bringing together people of diverse backgrounds to promote and celebrate and achieve one of the fundamental values of Canadian society. But I was absolutely thrilled when I discovered recently who the honoree was to be. I have known and admired Herb Carnegie for many years, and have been delighted to have participated in many events to honour him. In 1986 we highlighted Herb and the Future Aces program at a conference I coordinated for the Ontario Multicultural Association. In 1997, a B'nai Brith Media Human Rights Award went to the CBC Radio feature on Herb entitled "Black Ice". And the League for Human Rights of B'nai Brith, the organization I directed for the past 12 years, also honoured the inimitable Mr. Carnegie through our Black/Jewish Dialogue program just this year during Black History Month. Herb, you are an inspiration for us all, and you make what I have to say tonight all the more meaningful.
It was Trevor Ludski who approached me on behalf of your Board last March, in Vancouver at the Canadian Race Relations Foundation Awards of Excellence Symposium, where I was presenting a workshop on the League's Intercultural Dialogue Program and the Taking Action Against Hate Training, and participating on a panel about Canada's preparation for the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Last March, as National Director of the League for Human Rights, as Chair of the Advisory Committee for Canada's preparations for what we call "W-CAR", and also as Co-Chair of the Jewish Caucus, I was excited, enthusiastic, and delighted that the Harmony Movement would be providing a platform for a report on the Conference. But seven months ago, as we celebrated excellence and best practices in race relations across Canada, we could not have predicted what would happen between then and now. We eagerly anticipated the thrill of carrying our issues, priorities and programs to the world in Durban. We could not have anticipated then what would happen in Durban and immediately after, and how different life would be for us all in the fall of 2001 - certainly different for me - new job! new hair! new glasses - bifocals. (Funny, that doesn't look like Karen). It is wonderful to be here in a new role - but among old friends.
Little did we know last March that many of us who traveled to Durban, South Africa for the World Conference Against Racism would return home emotionally and physically spent -- some angry and frustrated that their issues were given short shrift by their government, -- others furious and humiliated that the world denied the rights of their peoples under international law, -- while others were shocked and devastated that they were silenced, intimidated, marginalized and even victims of antisemitism -- of racism -- at a conference on racism. There were some who studiously managed to avoid any of the controversial issues and incidents, and were able to seek out some very positive experiences, and there were many of those to be found - speeches, seminars, workshops, panels - lots of networking and resource sharing. For those participants, the events and experiences that traumatized their colleagues in Durban were relegated to the media. Others remained oblivious to thoseexperiences, even today.
I returned home from Durban the night before the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York, and other acts of terrorist violence in Washington and Pennsylvania. I remember going to sleep wondering "how would I process the Durban experience - address the tough issues - heal, and help others heal - regain the solidarity among Canadian NGOs that is so essential in our anti-racism work. And the next morning it all seemed trivial by comparison. But I could not help but make the connections, as I watched with horror as the second plane hit its unsuspecting target, ultimately sending thousands of innocents to their death. The power of hate and hate propaganda was evident in Durban - and on September 11th we saw the evidence of the violence and murder to which hate can lead.
A 17-year old high school student from New Jersey who was a youth representative on the US delegation to the World Conference and to the Youth Summit and NGO Forum put it this way:
"All the preparation in the world couldn't have prepared me for the overwhelming blur that was supposed to be the World Conference to eliminate racism. The -disgrace in Durban - as it has been called only got worse as time went on. Diplomacy was decaying - I watched my country and the western democracies become blatantly disrespected Our position on the issues had opened us up perfectly to negative comments. Both Fidel Castro and Yasser Arafat made this clear and strongly urged countries to support anti-US positions. I returned home Sept. 6th, and 5 days later and all the verbal attacks I had heard at the conference had become physical and tangible. I could have seen it coming, as anyone would, with the exposure I had had to the critical voices of some of the government world leaders."
But he continues:
"Despite the events of September 11th, my experience in Durban taught me priceless lessons about politics and diplomacy - but more important about life. I learned when our possessions are stripped away, all we have left is our strong held beliefs. It is these thoughts and feelings that drive humans to share and come together in an effort to improve our world and shape the future." And he concludes "I now realize both the opportunity and the obligation I have to produce positive changes in the world. Life is short, and I will continue to make the most of my time on Earth".
People ask me, and ask the Canadian government: why were you there? Why did you stay?
My 17-year old friend told you why. We were there and we stayed to try to make a difference. That young student is most of you in this room, who are the founders of and workers for the Harmony Movement and many other social justice groups. He could be a product of Herb Carnegie's Future Aces. He could be one of the wonderful young people whom we are here to honour tonight. He is me in high school and in my youth group, influenced by wonderful teachers and leaders - evidence that the seeds of peace and love and acceptance and harmony, -- just as the seeds of hate -- are planted very young - he is the future director of an Urban Alliance, or League for Human Rights, or a Race Relations Foundation. Or maybe even a Lieutenant Governor, God willing. And THAT is why we are here tonight - to hang on to each other for comfort and security and hope, to reaffirm our ideals and strongly held beliefs, and to speak about how Durban and New York can spur us on to greater determination to make the world a better place -- "tikun olam", to heal the world -- not to despair or cower in terror, or scapegoat others, or lash out, or allow further abuse of power. But I am ahead of myself (because I don't have much time - and it is not safe to run on when dinner is waiting).
(First, some ) Background
Most Canadians became aware of the world conference when the media began heating up the stories last summer after the preparatory committee meetings in Geneva. What is less known is that it was fully three years ago that Canada seconded South Africa's motion in the UN General Assembly to hold another conference against racism, in the land where apartheid was dismantled, to commemorate the achievements and promise of the Third Decade for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Canada also convinced and supported the UN to have a strong Youth component for WCAR. So you could say that Canada was committed to trying to ensure the success of the world conference right from the get-go -and there were several NGOs who became involved in the process very early on, even before the government action was in full swing. Canada's preparations were fraught with tensions, as all groups scrambled to have their voices heard to bring their issues to the forefront, and to ensure that the whole story of racism in Canada was told on the world stage.
In the year leading up to the world conference, the government hosted a series of regional consultations across the country, as well as an Aboriginal consultation, a Youth forum and a National consultation. These meetings resulted in an inventory, perhaps a better word would be litany, of examples of racism, in all its forms and in every sector of our society, both overt and systemic in the criminal justice system, education, employment, health, media, sports and recreation.
Margaret Wente's column in today's Globe and Mail was an outrage - denying the lived experience of Canadians, and accusing the Canadian Race Relations Foundation of manufacturing racism by researching it and gathering data on overt and systemic racism. Surely she is aware of the actual evidence of hate and bias crime in this country, well documented by law enforcement services. And she herself has written about the increased harassment and racist backlash against Muslims, South Asians, Jews and other minorities in the aftermath of September 11th. People are hurting! And I can assure you, these acts were NOT fabricated by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation!
There has been extensive documentation of a dramatic increase in hate and bias crime, hate on the internet, systemic racism, backlash against immigrants and refugees, continued evidence of the effect of years of abuse, neglect and cultural genocide of Aboriginal peoples - and the list goes on. But in the lead up to WCAR, there were also outstanding constructive, practical and positive recommendations that came forward from Canadian NGOs and other representatives of civil society across the country to solve the problems, documented in reports and position papers from government, from the Advisory Committees, from the National Youth Forum and, more importantly, from national groups such as the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), National Anti-Racism Council (NARC), the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC), the African Canadian Coalition Against Racism (ACCAR), the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF), among others. The documents that we produced and carried with us to Durban were testimony to our having listened to each other; and there was resolve, hope, determination and even government commitment that Canada's participation and experience in the WCAR process would strengthen the domestic agenda against racism and hate in Canada - to try to recover from the backsliding that has been so blatant in the last few years and that has put increasing pressure on municipalities and communities to give credence to Canada's reputation as a harmonious and equitable multicultural society.
Canada went armed with the priorities to guide its negotiations - what they heard most loudly and clearly from Canadians was the importance of acknowledging the past -- that our history has not been one of inclusion and respect, but rather has been -- and often remains -- characterized by racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance . And I quote from Canada's position paper: "Canada believes that acknowledging injustices in history - be it about the effects of colonialism and past treatment of indigenous peoples, of slavery, religious discrimination or other past injustices - is essential to reconciliation - and it is imperative that we act together as a global community to ensure these injustices are not repeated."
Other issues included in Canada's priorities were: Recognizing Victims and Groups Vulnerable to Racism; Intersectionality/Multiple Discrimination; Redress and Remedies; Globalization; Holistic and Forward Looking Approach to Racism and Diversity; Hate and Bias; Role of the Media; Role of Civil Society; Youth; Cooperation at the International Level; and Education and Other Concrete Preventative Strategies.
What Happened in Durban?
Both Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General, and Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, opened the conference reinforcing the goal of helping nations produce a new blueprint to tackle racism and xenophobia. And President Mbeki of South Africa echoed these hopes by imploring member states not to leave Durban "without agreeing on practical measures which all states should take to fulfill that pledge."
So -- what really happened in Durban?
Those of you who had the CNN view of the Durban Conference, and even some of you who were there, might agree with Nobel Laureat Eli Wiesel's comments on September 5th that "the conference in Durban will go down in history as an enterprise of disgrace. Instead of being an important international conference that expresses goodwill, the conference was turned into a circus of calumny [of slander]". Wiesel refused to attend when he saw the hateful language against Israel in the draft declaration, as well as language both trivializing and appropriating the Holocaust. He had been invited to join the Eminent Persons' panel, but declined in order not to enhance the conference's legitimacy. His fears proved to be well founded. Professor Irwin Cotler, noted international human rights lawyer, Member of Parliament from Montreal and a member of the official Canadian delegation in Durban, refers to WCAR as a "festival of hate". He was visibly shaken, as were all Jewish participants and many non-Jewish colleagues, by what he described as "pervasive antisemitism at the conference".
You have undoubtedly heard and read about the NGO forum preceding the World Conference, where antisemitic cartoons of Jews were widely -- hooked noses and blood dripping from fangs, with bags of money -- images the likes of which you have not seen since Nazi Germany. - an NGO forum where the notorious forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, was sold in the official display area - where members of the Jewish human rights, humanitarian and anti-racism groups were shouted down, silenced and intimidated, as were their colleagues who attempted to speak out. At the registration desk we were greeted with posters and pamphlets equating the Star of David with the swastika, an odious juxtaposition well know to white supremacists. And when made aware of the distribution of hate propaganda and of antisemitic harassment on the first day of the conference, neither the UN Secretariat nor the NGO International Steering Committee, responsible for coordinating the NGO forum, did anything to stop it. And it went from bad to worse. Conference documents contorted history by generalizing the Holocaust by spelling it with a small "h" and pluralizing it, to refer to other acts of genocide or barbarism. There were attempts to remove the word "Holocaust", and even the word "antisemitism" from the document altogether. The NGO declaration altered the meaning of both, and even expunged an entire paragraph on antisemitism proposed by the Jewish caucus - the ONLY paragraph that was removed from the document. The NGO forum had previously adopted the principle that statements of victim groups were to be accepted as authentic expressions of their own suffering. But when the Jewish caucus was denied this right by the excision of part of their statement, they stood alone.
I was shocked and disappointed that even some of my long-time colleagues in anti-racism work could become swept up in the impact of some of the propaganda, and the line between legitimate political discourse and racism/antisemitism became blurred. They just didn't get it - or didn't want to. And it was a travesty, as a result of a well orchestrated media strategy by those who wished to exploit the conference to focus the attention of the world on their political agenda, that many of the other issues at the conference were not covered. As Margaret Parsons of the African Canadian Legal Clinic, who was a member of the NGO International Steering Committee, said in a news release from Durban: "Many Canadian NGOs are greatly concerned and believe that the issues of the large majority of racialized communities have been overlooked or distorted in the press - this is unfortunate because hundreds of NGOs across the globe have struggled long and hard to get here, many at their own expense."
The struggle to have slavery recognized and named as a crime against humanity, the opportunity to understand the issue of reparations or redress measures to restore the dignity of Africans and African Descendants, the protection of asylum seekers from racial discrimination, the quest to recognize indigenous communities as sovereign peoples with the right to self determination, the protection of Asians and Asian Descendants from stereotyping and hate crime, the attempt to bring the plight of the Roma and of the Dalits of India -- the so-called untouchables -- to the world's attention - these groups were sidelined and given very little, if any, space in the press. Were you aware of the many excellent forums, high level panels, workshops and outstanding speeches - places to meet a wide array of experts with an impressive level of knowledge? There were exhibit areas that provided excellent opportunities to learn about other organizations and to present Canada's issues and impressive resources to the world. There were some safe havens in workshops and meetings where like-minded people from around the globe could support each other and try to achieve better understanding.
So how do we make sense of Durban and what did we accomplish and learn? As one colleague from New York put it, "I learned in Durban that it is lonely to be the one ruining the party by challenging popular assumptions"; but I didn't think that the challenge would be in the direction of trying to uphold human rights and anti-racism principles, while others perverted those very concepts to get their way.
We learned, or at least were reminded, that it is only through true dialogue among people who will take the time to put themselves in the other's shoes that our goals will be achieved. It is not through the kangaroo court of a chaotic NGO forum, or through the real courts if only a juridical approach is taken to resolve contentious issues, that learning and healing and anti-racism goals will be achieved. People who are not truly committed to human rights, but are single issue focussed and will use any means to achieve their goal, do not really want to understand the other or to compromise, to share power. They are not really interested in breaking down the barriers to equality, but merely gaining power and using the same means to maintain it. It behooves us all - communities and government alike, to avoid further discord and make a REAL attempt to achieve harmonious relations by sitting down with those who have suffered injustices - to achieve understanding and peaceful resolution.
By sitting down with colleagues and friends, I learned that reparation is not only an issue of individual compensation or state to state payments - but there are many avenues of compensation and redress that have been raised, including apologies, community compensation or redress, collective measures such as policy initiatives to redress past wrongs and level the playing field - and the list goes on. I learned that in Durban Africans and African Descendants asked for, among other things: accurate reflections in the educational curricula; an international tribunal to document the character, extent and impact of colonialism, slavery and the slave trade; recognition of slavery, colonialism and foreign occupation as crimes against humanity; return of land, heritage icons, and artifacts; monetary compensation for Africans and African Descendants, including cancellation of the Third World debt. And I leaned that Africans and African Descendants faced much ignorance about the very issues of slavery, the slave trade and the impact of colonialism. They face reactions ranging from refusal to acknowledge their concerns to the negation of their experience, and real resistance to the concepts of reparation and compensation, without much understanding of the variety of interpretation and implementation of these concepts. But we won't know any of this, and the government won't know it or what course to chart for equality and justice for African Canadians if extended, productive discussions don't take place very soon - as well as other discussions that lead to a comprehensive program of action in Canada to remedy injustices against all victims of racism and related intolerances, so that our experiences in Durban will not have been in vain.
But in the same way that I learned by talking to my African Canadian colleagues, I also learned that there are those who are willing to learn more about antisemitism and how to name it in all its forms. They understand that there IS a distinction between criticism of a government's policies (which all of us MUST do when there are human rights violations)-a distinction between political criticism and hateful antisemitism. But the power of bullies is great, and intimidation silences. In the end, many individuals and caucuses who felt they could not speak up during the forum, denounced the NGO declaration because it included hateful language in several paragraphs, and also because of the ad hoc and even corrupt process of coordination and drafting.
And I have learned also that when you are hurt and isolated, trust is undermined- and that Durban created some strong coalitions, but also some deepening rifts among some Canadian NGOs, when what is required now more than ever is solidarity to achieve our goals of harmony, social justice and equality. The divisions prevalent at the NGO forum indeed had a spillover effect on the Canadians participating. After some heated and emotional exchanges, a few of us sat down right then and there to begin re-building bridges among the various Canadian NGO factions. It is a very positive sign that a joint statement was negotiated and signed by 16 groups (you can find it on the Canadian Race Relations website: www.crr.ca) reaffirming our commitment to work together when we returned home. At the core of the full page joint declaration is the recognition that "Among the many lessons that were learned by Canadian NGOs from their experience in South Africa, perhaps the most important one was the need to be united in fighting all forms of intolerance and discrimination. We must give fair and equal treatment to the voices of all peoples representing civil society in Canada"
The horrific events of September 11th must make that resolve even stronger. As Shirley Adamson of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and the AFN put it, "Many of us came home from Durban needing spiritual healing" and September 11th has exacerbated that need.
Responding to Terrorism - Challenges to Us All
The Canadian Race Relations Foundation responded within just a few weeks of the terrorist attacks by issuing an urgent appeal and resource guide (which you can also find on our website) to government, police, education and community leaders to increase and maintain vigilance over racial and religious intolerance, as racist acts and hate crimes against Muslims and Arab Canadians (or people presumed to be simply because of the colour of their skin) increased dramatically, as did scapegoating of Jews and backlash against immigrants and refugees. The posters and stickers on your tables are part of that campaign.
Excerpts from the cover letter from our Chair, the Honourable Lincoln Alexander, are worth repeating here tonight:
"the fact" that so many civilians should be so deliberately killed at the hands of terrorists has left us with a great deal of anger, sadness and fear. Regrettably, some have acted on those emotions in a way that threatens the foundation and fabric of our society. Since September 11th there have been reports of acts which are tantamount to hate crimes against individuals and the property of many Canadians, and in particular those who are Muslim.- [and he added, weeks before the tabling of Bill C-36] "It is also of some concern that since September 11th many have voiced the opinion that Canadians can and should be prepared to give up some of their civil liberties in order to increase security. I would urge caution because this could be a very slippery slope. This information and materials may assist in stopping the urge to compound one tragedy with another. We hope that they will be of use in turning back the rising tide of racism and religious persecutions."
Slippery slope indeed - The Canadian Race Relations Foundation was created with an endowment from the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement, and we cannot help but recall at this time the awful period in our history when Japanese Canadians were subjected to revenge and hatred during World War II. Canadians of Japanese descent were rounded up, denied their civil and human rights, many incarcerated and never found guilty of any crime, dispossessed of their properties and many sent to internment camps. The Foundation is committed to building a national framework for the fight against racism. It seeks to shed light on the causes and manifestations of racism, provide independent outspoken national leadership and to act as a resource and facilitator in the pursuit of equity, fairness and social justice. When I think of our origins in the aftermath of World War II, our mandate can be summarized in two words: NEVER AGAIN.
Those two words are particularly poignant during this Holocaust Education Week and the night before the anniversary of Kristallnacht. Increased vigilance is necessary for increased safety and security, but history has shown us that hypervigilance is prejudice.
So tonight we should join the numerous Parliamentarians, Senators and organizations such as the Canadian Bar Association, the Assembly of First Nations and many other racial and ethnic groups that have felt that impact of discriminatory security and policing actions, in raising concerns about Bill C-36. We all recognize the necessity to counter hate and bias crime and the proliferation and impact of hate propaganda, but must also caution against indiscriminate racial profiling, too broad a definition of terrorism and a dramatic curbing of civil liberties. An antiterrorism bill is long overdue in Canada, but our challenge is to ensure that while security is increased, safeguards are in place to preserve democracy and civil rights as we know them. It is important and promising that a sunset clause is now seriously being considered.
The goal of hate mongers is to stereotype and marginalize minorities, instill fear and terror in an entire community, and to undermine democracy. Those whose goal it is to counter such racism and hate should never use the tactics of the perpetrators. We experienced that perversion in Durban and we must be vigilant not to become perpetrators ourselves. The challenge is for victims not to become victimizers.
One of the biggest challenges to healing from a personal or community trauma, from a Durban or from September 11th, is to learn how to feel safe again. According to therapist Diane Marshall, healing is a spiritual process of finding hope and discovering the God-given capacity to be human again.
I look at the young people here tonight, and to Herb Carnegie, and to our human and civil rights partners in this room - and I have hope. I will give the last word to Eli Wiesel. In a recent interview in the Canadian Jewish News on the topic of Durban and New York he was asked: Does the word "hope" still have any meaning since the terrible tragedy of September 11th?
And he responded: "Yes. In spite of all the repulsive tragedies in the world, we do not have the right to get bogged down in despair and depression. Albert Camus said that where there is no hope we must invent it, create it. It is true that in these times it is difficult to hope, but we have no choice. We cannot replace hope."
I look to Herb Carnegie's generosity of spirit in turning anger into positive energy, and I look to our human rights and civil rights partners in this room who have pledged to work in solidarity for a better Canada, and most important of all, I look to the young people here tonight and their accomplishment in antiracism work and commitment to achieve a harmonious society, and I have hope.
From Durban To New York and Beyond: Challenges that Face Us All (PDF format - 150KB)
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