It takes a village to combat hatred – here’s how to do it

By Amira Elghawaby and Bernie Farber
Ottawa Citizen | November 23, 2016

It’s heartbreaking to know that a young man could be so consumed by hatred that he would allegedly desecrate sacred houses of worship.

Saddening, too, that the vile epithets and evil slogans were not the work of someone only marginally familiar with hate; the vandalism included perfectly drawn swastikas, old-school racist slurs to depict Jews and Nazi imagery that only someone steeped in such narratives would know.

In response to these crimes, Ottawa “privileged love over hate,” as Rev. Anthony Bailey of Parkdale United Church so eloquently recommended we all do. And while the outpouring of support for our Christian, Jewish and Muslim neighbours was comforting, the crimes still hurt. As Bailey and many others rightfully point out, “words do matter.”

Beyond the crowds at the Machzikei Hadas synagogue last Saturday, and those who later that weekend braved the season’s first wave of sleet and snow for a rally Sunday, we must do so much more to combat a phenomenon that many fear will only worsen following a general rise in divisive, populist politics.

It isn’t just president-elect Donald Trump who has thrown poison into the melting pot. Here in Canada, we have politicians tearing at the mosaic many Canadians have long prided themselves on for at least trying to maintain. Such rhetoric can embolden those who belong to the more than 100 white supremacist groups reportedly operating in Canada, and even others who hold odious views about the “other.”

Beyond the justifiable condemnation and outrage, our elected leaders and officials must back their words with concrete actions.

Here are six things the City of Ottawa, the Ottawa Police Service and the federal government could do right now to ensure our communities remain as inclusive and as safe as possible for everyone:

1. The City of Ottawa should fund more initiatives related to diversity and inclusion. More funding should be allocated to examining issues of hate and racism. Such work would be coupled with robust education campaigns to emphasize inclusion and diversity as a community’s strength.

2. The Ottawa Police Service should publicly report its numbers on hate crimes and hate incidents annually in a comprehensive report. All major cities must ensure that the public understands what police are witnessing in our communities.

3. We must all do more to encourage residents to report hate crimes. According to Statistics Canada, up to two-thirds of hate crimes go unreported. Public awareness campaigns by police and the city have been proven to work.

4. Removing barriers to reporting is also key. For example, an online reporting mechanism for hate crimes, similar to one offered by the Montreal police, would make it easier to alert police of a problem without necessarily having to initially go in to report or call a police cruiser to one’s home. Front-line police staff should receive adequate training to better respond to complaints; at the moment, community members say their concerns are too often dismissed and go undocumented.

5. The federal government should restore funding for Statistics Canada’s annual hate crimes report. Last year, the agency released only the data tables, which meant Canadians had little to rely on for analysis of how hate is affecting our communities. Only a few media outlets waded through the numbers to report on the troubling findings they contained.

6. Finally, the House of Commons should unanimously support the private member’s bill proposed by Nepean MP Chandra Arya that would amend the Criminal Code to make it a hate crime to target not only houses of worship, but other community buildings as well.

We can and must do better. Love will prevail, but not without our concerted, collective efforts.

Bernie M. Farber is the executive director of the Mosaic Institute in Toronto and former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress. Amira Elghawaby is the communications director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) based in the nation’s capital.