New Canadian Media

By: Avi Benlolo in Peterborough 

The City of Peterborough has advised that it will grant a permit to a white supremacist group for the use of Confederation Park this weekend.

It appears civil society and particularly municipalities granting permits for rallies have lost sight of the meaning of a "permit".  A permit is a recognized legal document provided by authorities to allow for example, a rally or demonstration to proceed.  The root word for "permit" is "permission" and in this case, it implies that the City of Peterborough is giving authorization or consenting to a potential hate rally that will take place in its city.

In this case, the Peterborough Examiner reports that the group in question is the Canadian Nationalist Front, described as a  racist, white supremacist and Neo-Nazi group promoting white nationalism. In an email to Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, Mayor Daryl Bennet has stated "We must stand together against racism and hate.  While our Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects freedom of expression, it also seeks to preserve and enhance our multi-cultural heritage".

It is true that our Charter protects our freedom of expression, but there are limits to that in Canadian law. In fact, freedom of speech is not absolute in Canada. In Section 1 of the Charter, the government can pass laws that limit free expression – as long as they are reasonable and justified.  As significantly, the Criminal Code of Canada's sections 318, 319 and 320 forbid hate speech, propaganda and the promotion of genocide.  Nor is freedom of assembly absolute in Canada.   In fact only “peaceful” assembly is guaranteed and then only “to such reasonable limits prescribed by law” as can be justified under section 1 of the Charter.

A city need not necessarily grant permission for a rally – especially if there is wide condemnation by the community at large including some 100 organizations who have joined together in protest of this activity.  The decision to allow the rally to proceed is especially disconcerting given the rising significance of "white power" and Nazism is this country.  In the course of this very heated summer, not a week has passed when several antisemitic and racist incidents have taken place somewhere in this country. There were at least three major antisemitic and hateful incidents this week alone and Canadians are becoming increasingly concerned.

This week's inauguration of a monument to the Holocaust in Ottawa was a significant milestone in our nation's history.  It gives voice to the six million Jewish children, women and men who were murdered by Nazis as a consequence of antisemitism.  It serves as an eternal reminder that hate and intolerance should never ever be "permitted" by anyone, especially not by leaders.

The Holocaust happened because people failed to stand up to hate, even when the smallest of  incidents.  Some even excused the rise of Nazism citing German laws upholding freedom of expression, democracy and civil society at the time.  Given this critical historical lesson, can we afford to look the other way and even tacitly grant "permission" to groups who undermine inclusivity?  White supremacists have no place in modern society. They are the remnants of humanity's dark ages – responsible for the death of 60 million people including 44,000 Canadian soldiers who fought overseas to liberate Europe from the Nazis. 

It is an absolute travesty for any municipality to grant permission to white supremacists to use the public sphere. As Jewish communities begin observing the beginning of Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar, it is also a time of reflection in the wake of rising antisemitism and recent hateful incidents.  And while this heightens our level of anxiety, it also reinforces our commitment to fight for human rights and Canadian values of inclusivity, diversity and pluralism.  Never again shall we allow hate and intolerance to come in the way of this great nation, Canada.


Avi Benlolo is a Canadian human rights activist, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, the Canadian branch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Published in Top Stories
Friday, 15 September 2017 19:42

Wake Up Democracy!

Commentary By: Avi Benlolo in Toronto

Today is International Day of Democracy. Yet, the western world seems to have lost hope of the very fundamentals we are supposed to hold dear to our hearts – freedom, equality, respect and peace building. Democracies are far from perfect and disparities within exist and must be addressed to alleviate hardship and continued inequality. However, Gross Domestic Product, mortality and literacy rates are amongst the highest in the world among leading nation states which practice democracy. Third-world developing nations struggle with persistent war, poverty, disparity, environmental degradation and inequity. It’s no wonder that democracies like Canada enjoy an inflow of migrants who hope to live in a nation which respects the UN Declaration for Human Rights, unlike the majority of the UN General Assembly.

Still, democracies have become far too forgiving or compromising. While we preach gender equality, we look the other way as non-democracies practice gender apartheid and withhold women's rights, for example. We say we want to promote "women and girls' leadership and participation in political, social and peace-building processes" which would be essential to building democracies worldwide, but we timidly look the other way. We provide military equipment as Canada has to Saudi Arabia and promote trade with nations that discriminate against others, and in many cases are spreading the seeds of hate and intolerance worldwide. 

For all of its good deeds in assisting the developing world with billions of dollars of investment aid in order to further democracy, the west is targeted relentlessly by terrorists who use the very freedom of movement and assembly to harm innocent people. Today, on International Day of Democracy, European cities have been placed on high alert as a result of a number of incidents, including a bomb in the London subway which injured 22 people; a hammer attack in Lyon that critically injured two women by a man running down the street yelling "Allahu Akhbar"; a knifeman stopped by police in Birmingham and a highway closed in Malmo after explosives were found in a car.

Yet our democracy is failing to curb the attack on the west, on our institutions and our citizens. We have seen a slow and steady degradation of our way of life since 9/11 with increasing spate of terrorism and relentless usage of rights like 'free speech' to sow hate and discord. In many ways, Jewish communities across Europe have been like the so-called canaries in the coal mine – having been the initial recipients of most terror attacks. Now it has spread to society at large. 

In Canada, while we speak about equity, anti-racism, tolerance and peace building, our hate crime laws fail to be enforced giving way to more hate crime. We learned this week that in Quebec, the Crown Attorney dropped charges against two imams who were captured on video preaching hatred and violence against Jews at a Montreal mosque. In Toronto, a Muslim community calls for the elimination of Jews each year at its annual "Al Quds" protest at Queen’s Park while violence promoting antisemitic pamphlet circulates the province, with little reaction from authorities. Graffiti stating "Hitler was Right" is spray painted on bridges without condemnation from our premier or leading public figures.  

If we are going to celebrate democracy and its fundamentals, we must learn to protect and defend our values and ideals. If democracies celebrate tolerance, they cannot and should not tolerate those who are intolerant of others. They must stand up to hate, enforce hate crime and hate speech laws and place our very values and ideals – like women's rights, justice and equality – first and foremost. Otherwise, I fear that if we are not passionate about our exceptional democratic system, hope for humanity might be lost.


Avi Benlolo is a Canadian human rights activist, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, the Canadian branch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Published in Politics

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