Canada not immune to racism

By Ariel Goldenberg

I am a student in the Faculty of Environ-mental Design. Last week, people tried to burn down the high school I attended in Montreal. Their stated reasons for doing so were linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is, by setting a Jewish school on fire, by seeking to terrorize members of one community, they sought to catalyze support for the cause they espoused.

In the past few weeks, similar incidents have occurred in other parts of the country including the desecration of tombstones and the painting of swastikas in Toronto. These actions have been roundly and rightly condemned by our political and community leaders. Our new prime minister proclaimed, "this is not our Canada."

This article seeks to explain what he meant.

The most fundamental value enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights is of a free and democratic society. All other rights–belief, expression, religion, etc.–are limited by the need for consistency with these values.

Freedom and democracy provide a framework for every member of society to play an active role in shaping the world we live in. They permit more than the right to a vote every four years. In a free and democratic society we cannot only believe what we want but we are also free to express these beliefs to others through the press, public meetings, debates and gatherings. We can draw up petitions, field candidates in elections, create lobbies, hold rallies, conventions, marches, protests. The only overriding limitation is that these beliefs and their expression cannot limit the freedom and democratic rights of others.

Violence and racism do exactly this.

Violence is abhorrent regardless of the rationale. Violence in the name of a particular vision for society is not merely a criminal act, is a direct challenge to the most fundamental values of our society.

In virtually every place I have ever traveled to–South America, Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East–people have expressed mixtures of admiration and envy for a community that has enshrined freedom and democracy as their greatest values. Indeed, the constant clamour of refugees to get into Canada and other democratic countries is a direct result of our protection of these values.

It is no mere coincidence that the perpetrators of violent acts consistently fail to elaborate objectives beyond short-term grievances. Those who believe in violence as a means of shaping the world have no vision beyond the crudest authoritarianism for society.

When our political leaders enacted the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, they reaffirmed our commitment to freedom and democracy as the highest law of the land. Yet, it is inadequate for us to simply point to this as proof of our commitment. Values are muscles that must be exercised to remain strong. As members of Canadian society, we each have a responsibility to ensure these muscles are exercised every day, in our conversations with others, in our affiliations, in our classroom debates, in the way we analyze our morning paper, and in how we react to our government’s actions. Passivity in the face of violence, racism and ignorance is nearly as great a moral failure as the acts themselves.

It may never be possible to completely eliminate all forms of violence from our community. Through education and an unwavering commitment and protection of freedom and democracy, however, we can seek to eradicate the use of violence as a tool for shaping the world we live in.

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