More than 600 attend multi-faith solidarity event in Ottawa against racism

On November 19th, I was among 600 people crowded into Ottawa’s Machzikei Hadas synagogue for a multi-faith solidarity event. Earlier in the week, someone painted racist and Nazi graffiti on two Ottawa synagogues and a mosque, as well as a United Church whose minister is a person of colour and the residence of a Jewish woman, who teaches in her home. Even in blustery weather, there was a long line outside of the synagogue. But once inside, I felt nothing but warmth.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson spoke, together with the rabbi, imam and minister whose places of worship had been defaced. The three religious leaders even embraced each other on stage. As well, Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau told the gathering to applause that an arrest had been made and that a 17-year-old faced charges. Time and the courts will tell whether that young man committed the acts and whether he acted alone.

Disturbing events

People around me in the Machzikei Hadas synagogue were clearly relieved that so many individuals, including civil and religious leaders, were responding to what had just happened in Ottawa. There was, however, a sense of anxiety as well. There have been other disturbing events across Canada, too. And, in some cases, there has been a connection to Donald Trump’s U.S. election victory. For instance, a Toronto man — self-identifying as a Trump supporter — was video-recorded on a street car while yelling at a young person of colour, “go back to your f—ing country.” Also in Toronto, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant graffiti appeared in a schoolyard and at a bus stop; in Regina, it appeared in a back alley.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., white supremacists who publicly supported Trump staged a conference in Washington D.C. The event, between November 19th and 20th, was attended by about 200 people — most of them younger, white men. Their leading spokesperson ended his keynote speech by calling out, “Hail Trump” and “Hail Victory.” The latter refrain is an English translation of the Nazi chant, “Sieg Hiel.” In response, the audience shouted the refrain, too, and many gave the straight-armed Nazi salute.

Trump mildly disavowed that support but sent a much stronger message by appointing Stephen K. Bannon as his chief White House strategist. For years, Bannon has used his Breitbart news site to promote white supremacist propaganda. Now, he’ll have the president’s ear on a daily basis.

Debates within Canada  

Of course, Canadians have no role to play in American politics. Still, we have our own debates to pursue. For example, Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch is proposing a “Canadian values” screening for immigrants and refugees who are already carefully scrutinized prior to being accepted in this country. Leitch has been accused by other leadership contenders of playing “dog-whistle politics” and criticized by pundits for emulating Trump in an attempt to enhance her previously marginal profile.

In fact, on the night of the U.S. election, Leitch Tweeted out a message congratulating Trump and comparing herself as an outsider. Leitch, who has spent years prowling the corridors of party convention and fund raisers, is no outsider. Beyond that, she should be careful, very careful, in her emulation of Trump.

“Build pluralism”

Shortly after that U.S. election, I spoke to a young Canadian who is studying abroad. She was troubled and had been thinking deeply about what she and others can do. “Build pluralism,” she concluded. “Celebrate moderation and inclusion.” That’s exactly what we did at the Machzikei Hadas synagogue last week.

This piece appeared in somewhat shorter format as a blog with the United Church Observer on November 24, 2016.

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