Mr. Chair, I rise tonight to speak to the issue of anti-Semitism, particularly on how we view it here in Canada and what we are doing to combat it how we are doing our part in this global community.
We all have personal stories about dealing with any form of racism and xenophobia. Certainly, growing up, anti-Semitism was very evident to me. My best friend, Ross Polowin, was Jewish. I could see how he was treated differently from other friends of mine. I was fortunate enough to be brought up in a community where we were not just brought up by our parents. We were brought up by our neighbours. Certainly the Polowins were there for me in many ways. They gave me a sense of security. They were there to be part of that tight-knit community.
What I learned from them was a lot, including the personal effect of anti-Semitism. The parents knew the story of Ross's grandparents and how they had escaped, in one case, the tyranny of Nazi Germany but also Stalinism and virulent anti-Semitism. Growing up I was certainly aware of that.
In later years, I was part of the group that confronted the horrible association called the Heritage Front, here in Ottawa. It is a very well-documented story. I joined with other activists to protest against their using the Boys and Girls Club to have their meetings. I worked in solidarity with the anti-racism community here in Ottawa to state unequivocally at that time that anti-Semitism had no place in our community. The Heritage Front was a very strong force for a period of time, but there was unity of purpose in people declaring that racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism had no place in our community.
We need to name it, be it anti-Semitism, be it homophobia, be it Islamophobia, or be it what we have seen recently as a real rise in misogyny, with the notion of rape culture. These are things that undermine our values as Canadians. We need to name it. We need to understand it. We need to deal with it. What we cannot do is turn our backs.
When we are talking about anti-Semitism or talking about xenophobia, we have to talk about our values as Canadians. When people are being isolated because of the way they look or their association of religion or their gender identity or the fact that they have come from somewhere else, we need to be present.
We know what happens when the bystander does nothing. It means that these norms we hold onto, our values of respect, tolerance, and value, actually become undervalued and vulnerable.
It is difficult. Those of us who are parents and those of us who just recall growing up know how difficult it can be to be the one to stand up and say, “No, this is wrong.” However, we have to exhibit that behaviour, obviously in Parliament and obviously in our role as community leaders. When we see people who are under attack, we need to stand with them.
The minister identified that through history, the Jewish people have had to carry the weight and gravity of being targeted. There is no simple explanation as to why. What we do know is the effect. We know that when people suffer from this kind of attack, just because of a faith, in this case Jewish, they will be undermined, attacked, and identified as other. When people are identified as other, that is the slippery slope to becoming other than human.
Recent events have already been mentioned, such as the one today in Montreal. I wanted to share that with colleagues, because I know that everyone did not have a chance to see the news.
We have to stand up and say that this is wrong. When we see attacks in communities, just think of what it is like for those communities to go through that yet again, with swastikas painted on cars and threats made. This is more than just a pronouncement. This is an attack, and it brings back and evokes very difficult feelings for people, and they feel threatened.
I happened to be in Brussels for NATO meetings when the Copenhagen attacks happened. I watched, as many did. I was very concerned about what was happening. It reminded me a bit of what happened here in October. They were not sure how many people were killed, who was responsible, et cetera. We knew some of the facts. There was an attack on a Jewish community. We knew that someone had done the heroic thing, as we saw in this place, to save lives. We also saw something extraordinary, which I wish we could get back to in this place, and it was the unity of purpose among those who stood together to say that they would not be divided in their values and that they would join each other to combat what they had gone through. We saw that here in October 23, 24, et cetera.
What stuck with me were the comments of the rabbi who was not only a leader for his community in Copenhagen. He actually went to the family who had lost a family member and had to deliver the news. That is a very different position to be in. Not only was he bearing witness and helping the community through a tough time but he was having to share with the family that they had lost forever one of their family members.
Here is an excerpt of what Chief Rabbi Mirvis said in Copenhagen. He said:
We stand together at this challenging time.... We must never give in to terror and we must not shy away from tackling it and its root causes.
We pray that the values of respect, tolerance and peace will prevail.
He could have said something else. He could have not said anything. He could have lashed out at those who were responsible. However, he decided not to do that and gave an expression of unity.
There were others who spoke out. Another Danish rabbi said the following:
...our lives have to continue naturally. Terror’s goal is to change our lives and we won’t let it....This is the real answer to the vicious, cruel and cowardly act of terror.
Another voice from the Jewish community at the time said:
I don’t even want to go into this way of thinking [in the response to this horrible act]. I think that the answer to terror is to fight it wherever it is.
Of course, the Danish Prime Minister was extraordinary. She said:
The Jewish community have been in this country for centuries. They belong in Denmark. They are part of the Danish community and we wouldn't be the same without the Jewish community in Denmark.
Simple words maybe, but an important message at a time when people were feeling vulnerable, at a time when the Jewish community was under attack.
When we look at the idea of anti-Semitism, it is to divide, it is to isolate, it is to pull apart people based on who they are, and it is to allow hate to climb into our communities. The best way to deal with that, of course, is by engagement, by discussion, and by protection, of course, as was mentioned by the minister, where people are vulnerable.
At the end of the day, whether it be anti-Semitism, xenophobia, misogyny, or Islamophobia, it is trying to divide people based on the other, and we must all stand up. We must do everything we can, because we know what history's lesson is. If we do not stand up and we allow hate to take over, then our humanity is challenged to the point of being inhuman.
Let us join together tonight to discuss how we can make our country and our communities better by standing up to hate and intolerance.