House of Commons photo


Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was years.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 33% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Rise in anti-Semitism February 24th, 2015

Mr. Chairman, I want to pick up a bit on what the previous speaker said. I am of the belief that until we can find a way through to ending anti-Semitism, we will not have any hope of addressing all of the other antis either, the Islamophobias or whatever. We have to confront this right on.

I want to personalize this a little bit. The member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie talked about how her experience with anti-Semitism had affected her. I have a couple of stories from my history. As a young boy in 1959 in a little town called Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, where the train derailment was last year and where I grew up, we never had a black person in our community. We never had a Jewish person in our community. We had difficulties between the English and French, but we never learned racism.

As a boy of 12, one day in the summer, I was out on the lawn in front of my home and a car went by, a 1949 Dodge. I will never forget it. That has left a mark on me. A man and a woman were on the back seat having a disagreement, and all of a sudden a shoebox came out of the window and it was full of pictures. As a boy will do, I started to collect the pictures. To me, that became the saddest day of my life for many, many years, because the pictures had to have been taken by guards at Auschwitz.

We have heard the stories of the tattoos that became lampshades. There was a picture of that. The picture I still see from time to time was of a women, still alive, being pushed into a furnace on the rack.

I sat back for a long time trying to understand, as a 12-year-old cannot understand, how people could do this to one another. I did not have any idea that they were Jews, and I took the pictures.

My grandmother had an old sewing machine that had a cabinet. I stuffed the pictures in there to hide them, because I did not want to believe that these were anything other than pictures from some horrible movie. It took me many, many years to come to terms with all of that because I did not understand racism and came from a caring community.

Then, of course, it was around the period when the movie Exodus took place, and my father loved to take me to movies, and also Judgment at Nuremberg. That was the first point in time, in a movie, on screen, where there were pictures of bodies being bulldozed.

I cannot express the feeling, the connection between the pictures that I found as young boy and a couple of years later seeing that movie, which is when I started to understand the horror of what had taken place. It left me with a feeling to this day, enhancing the sense of justice and the need to protect all of our people.

As I went along in years and got involved in the labour movement. I was a simple delegate at the Hamilton District Labour Council. There was a gentleman there, probably in his sixties at the time, Al Smith. He was probably kindest, gentlest man you could ever hope to see. He stood about five foot two. He had spent 10 to 20 years on the human rights committee of that labour council.

I happened to be in the office one day and he was tasked with going to some event on behalf of the labour council and had paid for something. He brought the receipt in and was getting change. When the young lady gave the change back to this sweetheart of a man who had fought for 40 years for justice for people, he shoved a nickel back and said, “Oh, no, I cannot take that. That would be Hymie of me to take that”. I remember at the time thinking how insidious this was, how it became part of our culture to the point that Jewish people out and say, “Hymie”, or whatever other nasty name we wanted to put on them.

Tonight we have heard speaker after speaker say pretty well the same thing, that once again in our history anti-Semitism is growing.

We can get into debate on Israel. We can get into debate on Gaza, the PLO, or whatever we want, but we cannot deny that anti-Semitism is on the rise. We can do many things.

I am a firm believer in dialogue, communication, and debate. When we are confronted with hate, we have to stand up to it. If people have different views during Israeli Apartheid Week, they have to say so. I am very concerned that if we stifle that debate in the institutions of higher education, are we not, in the long run, preparing a path for some other form of hate?

The House is the place where we should be debating these issues. Yes, they are very personal for a variety of people and for a variety of reasons. Many members here have Jewish or Muslim communities in their ridings.

I had an experience in Hamilton. There was a firebombing of a Hindu samaj three days after 9/11. A group was started, called Strengthening Hamilton's Community Initiative. It got together to confront racism. The two men who firebombed that Hindu samaj thought that it was a mosque. Racism does not really understand much and the people that purvey it and do these things are pretty horrific.

That created a situation where we had leadership from the Muslim community, leadership from the Jewish community, and many others, during a time when Israel was in battle, one more time, in Gaza. That group of people put out joint statements of Muslims and Jews on the activities that took place. It is proof that people can come together who have extremely different points of view. That is important. We have to find a way to bring that level of understanding across the globe. There are governments who seem to be pleased when some ethnic groups, such as the Jews or the Arabs, or religious groups like the Christians, Muslims, Rohingyas, Tamils, or whoever, can point at another group and say, “They are different. They are lower than we are. They are not as good as we are”, or that they are taking people's jobs or land.

I will give an example of what can happen if we allow that to take place, which New Democrats raise here regularly, and that is Iran, with its rhetoric and hate pointed toward Israel. While it is doing that, it is actually masking the horrific things it is doing to its own people. Last month, 90-some people were hanged in Iran. I do not know the numbers for the last year, but they will be in the hundreds. We can go back to the time when people thought there was a rising in Iran and a chance of democracy blossoming, but we remember the slaughter that took place in the streets. We all remember the young girl who was killed—actually several of them.

I do not profess to have the answer, but I understand one thing: that we have to keep communicating. Canada has to remain a leader, because this is one of the few countries that I am aware of where there can be absolute debate and public discussion. I used to joke with my friends in Hamilton. Gore Park is in Hamilton, the centre of the community, and I used to say that in Canada, we can stand on a box in Gore Park and say whatever we want to say, as long as we are not preaching hate. We can say that we do not like the Prime Minister, not that I would ever say such a thing, but that can be done in this democracy and it can be done freely. If we were to try that in the United States, going to a park in New York City, standing on a soapbox and starting to rant, we would be put in police cars, and the U.S. claims to be the freest country on the face of the earth. No, we are here in Canada, and that is why we have to have a leadership role in fighting anti-Semitism.

We are the one country that many countries listen to and we have to put the programs in place and set the agenda within our own country to ensure that everyone, be they Jews, Arabs, whoever they are, are equally welcome and equally safe. What just happened in Montreal today is absolutely offensive.

Rise in anti-Semitism February 24th, 2015

Mr. Chair, I do not think there is anyone in this House who can disagree with the horrible escalation and growth of anti-Semitism as we see it around the world today. It gives me pause to wonder, because we know there are different nations, Canada included, that have looked at ways of trying to prevent it and of trying to educate people.

Can the member tell us of any successful effort in any part of the world to combat anti-Semitism and to plant the seeds so that people will actually live together in harmony?

Rise in anti-Semitism February 24th, 2015

Mr. Chair, I want to thank the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie for her remarks.

I jotted down a quote earlier today, one that has affected me for a long period of time:

New Democrats have long believed that so long as any among us are unfree, all of us are unfree. So long as any among us are persecuted, so we all are persecuted.

Earlier, my friend from Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale was talking about McMaster University. In Hamilton, people will know that following 9/11 there was a firebombing of the Hindu samaj. The racists thought it was a mosque. The member also mentioned Israeli Apartheid Week. As well, there was an event where one of the professors wore an niqab, which caused a problem.

I think it is really important to look at the Shoa, or just before the Shoa, and at what happened to Jews in Germany. They lost their voice. They lost their opportunity to be themselves and to present their case on whatever kind of an issue that was happening.

Therefore, when we have Israeli Apartheid Week, I agree that we have to engage and have to try to change the direction. Be it on the issue of a niqab, or whatever anti-racism work that we can do, we have to engage.

It does not work and has not worked to go from the top down, saying that we have an edict and that this is how we must act. We have to protect people's freedom of voice so they can deliver the message needed to change history.

Anti-Semitism has the longest history, and many speakers tonight have said this. For century upon century, the Jewish people have been the victims of anti-Semitism. We have to protect the voice of our communities to fight that.

Rise in anti-Semitism February 24th, 2015

Mr. Chairman, it has been 70 years since Auschwitz was liberated. It is troubling to us all to see the amount of hate and xenophobia in many communities around the world aimed not only at the Jews but also at others, such as the Rohingyas in Burma; and it has been 30 years since the Golden Temple. As the member will know, if we look from place to place there appears to be a movement of hate almost institutionalized at different levels with different people.

I am sure there is one word that the people watching tonight may not understand. It took me a while to understand it. I wrote it down because I thought I would raise it here. The word is pogrom, which is a violent riot aimed at massacre or persecuting a particular ethnic group or religious group. However, the definition adds “especially of Jews”. I found it striking that whoever put that dictionary together saw to it that the leading evidence of what a pogrom is was with respect to how the Jews have been treated.

What does the current government see as its role in educating Canadians to prevent the growth and spread of this evil?

Rise in anti-Semitism February 24th, 2015

Mr. Chair, over the last nine years that I have been in the House, we have spent a lot of time identifying those places and times where either Israel or the Jewish community has been singled out for violent action or at least been vilified.

When I spoke earlier, I raised the point to the minister that, yes, we have to have security in place and laws that protect all Canadians, but I would ask the member if he agrees that an essential component of our actions has to be education. I cannot see any other way that we can stop it. We can prevent an incident or we can get to the point where we can track people, but we have to change attitudes, and that has to come from understanding.

I would like to hear his comments on that point.

Rise in anti-Semitism February 24th, 2015

Mr. Chair, all parties in the House believe that all Canadians should be able to live in peace and have peace of mind. This is the first I have heard of this, but what happened today is offensive to us all. The added security is clearly necessary and I am pleased to hear that the government is providing that.

In my remarks later on, I will talk of my own personal case, but one of the things I am concerned about is that anti-Semitism is a learned behaviour. It is sometimes handed down generation to generation, but it is still a learned behaviour. I wonder if the government has looked worldwide at best practices to confront it and to make changes before it gets to this terrible level.

Foreign Affairs February 23rd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, Mohamed Fahmy showed up this morning for the beginning of his retrial, only to find that it was postponed for another two weeks.

Earlier this month, because of strong and personal advocacy from the Prime Minister of Australia, Australian citizen, Peter Greste, who had been convicted with Mr. Fahmy, was released and deported from Egypt.

The obvious question: Will the Prime Minister personally call President el-Sisi to push for the immediate release of Mr. Fahmy?

Food Safety February 20th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, you will know that Canadian beef exports to South Korea are worth $25.8 million annually. The Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement was supposed to increase the beef trade with South Korea, but the latest BSE discovery has now put a halt to these exports. Other trading partners may soon follow suit if information or reassurances are not provided.

What steps is the minister taking to protect our existing beef exports, and when will Canadian farmers be able to resume their beef exports to Korea?

Committees of the House February 19th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, that is an important point. When it comes to impunity, we have soldiers who believe they have been granted permission—in fact, encouragement—to shame their opponents, including their families and wives. In doing this, they think they are doing what their government and military wants. In my view, we have to hold accountable those officers and military leaders who are not just allowing but encouraging this to happen. Until we take those people before international courts and they feel the full weight of international justice, then there is no encouragement from the top to change that behaviour.

Committees of the House February 19th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, there are many levels to this. One of the levels where Canada could help is certainly at the cultural end. However, the justice and military justice systems in most of these countries are failing the victims, so that would be an area where we could be of assistance.

The education I was referring to was with respect to educating the children who were born and on whom the community has turned its back. We have to get a conversation started that allows women to respond and to have some form of healing. There is a certain level of education there, perhaps psychological. In the past, Canada has provided funding in those cases. I would encourage that it continue.

There are many fronts to this. Right now this is happening in many countries that are experiencing conflicts.