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Freedom from persecution for Muslim communities in Canada means freedom from the threat of violence

January 30, 2017
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by Dr. Siham Rayale

“you broke the ocean in half to be here. only to meet nothing that wants you. – immigrant” 
― Nayyirah Waheed, salt.

Nayyirah Waheed’s poetry in this time, speaks to me as a Muslim woman, living in Canada, of Somali descent. I am saddened and enraged at the hate-filled agenda of the new U.S. President and other political leaders who support him. While many of us who watched the U.S. Presidential race believed he would put legislation behind his violent thoughts, what happened in Quebec City shook me. The Cultural Centre of Quebec’s Grand Mosque is like every Mosque in Canada. A space where many Muslims can be found bowing in prayer for up to five times each day. Mosques/Masjids also work as community centres now and cater to the psychological, emotional and spiritual development of its congregation. These are spaces that are frequented every, single, day by thousands. The Quebec City terrorist attack shows that the threat of violence is no longer just that – a threat. That in this anti-Muslim narrative propagated by the U.S. President, we should just ‘expect’ violence. My heart grieves for those six Muslim men who lost their lives in today’s attack. Their families are enduring a sadness that I pray many of us never experience.

I feel as I did after 9/11 – the suspicion that comes with openly demonstrating my faith; the implication that Muslim lives are expendable in Western nations and especially abroad. Muslims living in Libya, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen are targeted for being Muslim. This is an injustice that is legally indefensible, morally objectionable and violates the laws of human decency. Since 9/11 Muslim communities globally have had to defend their existence, apologize for their faith or cooperate with occupying military forces in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan under the threat of exposure for said cooperation. The legacy for this U.S. President to do as he did, was laid out by his predecessors and built on the rise of white supremacy in the U.S.

I feel emboldened to act though –encouraged by global demonstrations for equality like the Women’s March and the quick response by civil society, activists, lawyers and judges in the face of the travel ban on Muslims in the U.S. I also feel the need to connect –with justice advocates, truth seekers and decent human being’s who want to see and feel that we live in a country that wants justice for all. Today as with everyday, I see that freedom from persecution for Muslim communities in Canada means freedom from the threat of violence – freedom for those that came before us as we continue to occupy their land, and freedom for Muslim countries that are currently experiencing war, conflict and widespread violence. At the moment when we should be welcoming immigrants/refugees from these seven countries, the bigoted laws now in place enshrine Islamophobia. That’s what happened in Quebec City, hatred emboldened by white supremacy saw an opportunity to act on it. So we should act too – with truth, defiance, demonstrations, and disobedience to reject these laws. I’m asking Canadian lawmakers to boldly and consistently condemn racism, misogyny, and Islamophobia and reject the willful dehumanization of Muslims in Canada and globally. Step up!

 

Siham Rayale is a researcher specializing in gender, conflict, peace, security and the Horn of Africa. As a consultant, Siham specializes in qualitative research methods, program design and evaluation. Siham has conducted research for UN agencies and INGOs. She has written op-eds for Open Democracy, LSE Africa and Oxfam blogs. Siham received her PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. Her PhD work focused on the use of Somaliland women’s narratives to impact the way we conceptualize political spaces and subjectivities. She received her M.A., from York University in International Development Studies, and her B.A., in Political Science from the University of Toronto.

UARR condemns the U.S. ban on Muslims entering the United States

January 30, 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TORONTO
January 30, 2017

Urban Alliance on Race Relations (UARR) condemns the United States President’s executive order to bar citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and Libya from entering the United States, and to suspend the U.S. Syrian refugee program.

Let us be clear: this is not about safety from terrorism. This is an explicit and systematic expression of racism and Islamophobia on the part of the President and his administration. This policy is already threatening the lives of thousands of people. As we write this, people are being detained in airports and denied the right to return home. Families are worried as they watch their loved ones denied their human rights. People fleeing violence in the Middle East are being turned away because of their faith, ethnicity, and national origin.

Today, as always, we stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters – no matter what their country of origin. We also extend our love and support to those seeking asylum and say loud and clear: “Refugees are welcome here!”

The Canada we know, which takes pride in its diversity and multiculturalism, must unequivocally rebuke the President’s xenophobic policies. We call on our Canadian government to take a formal and decisive stand against the racist policies of the current US administration, which serve only to divide, marginalize, and discriminate. We ask for the release of an official statement condemning President Trump’s so-called “Muslim Ban” and laying out Canada’s plans to welcome those facing violence and deportation as a result of this policy. Failure to act will diminish Canada’s achievement in welcoming and helping settle thousands of refugees from Syria, an initiative that other countries have commended us for.

Founded in 1975, Urban Alliance on Racial Relations has worked with the community and the public and private sectors to provide educational programs and research to address racism and discrimination in our society. Our history and mandate mean we cannot stay silent. We join other groups and organizations locally and abroad in resisting the US president’s regime and raising our collective voice for justice and equality for all.

 

UARR Board of Directors

 

York children deserve better! The Ontario ministry of education should immediately investigate the scandal-plagued York District School board

January 26, 2017

Many families at the York Region District School Board are fed up.

They are frustrated with the Board’s inadequate response to serious issues of racism and discrimination.

The stories are well known by now and a clear pattern has emerged. Children have been discriminated against in the classroom – by teachers and by fellow classmates – with no proper follow-up by school administrators or by the board. Families have been ignored in their efforts to raise these issues. Board policies have either not been followed, or poorly communicated. The Board’s own head of equity, Cecil Roach, wrote a scathing letter describing a “culture of fear” and described feeling sidelined in his efforts to do his job.

Ontario’s Education Minister Mitzie Hunter was right to demand an explanation from the Board for this mess. Community members and organizations have been waiting to hear how it would respond.

Not surprisingly, we have been sorely disappointed in a response letter that has now been circulated by the Board. Rather than acknowledging and “owning” the problem and setting clear corrective measures in place, the YRDSB’s response is a weak effort to deny and defend.

The board, now chaired by Trustee Loralea Carruthers, can’t be blamed for trying to walk a fine line. In fact, we applaud Carruthers for doing her best to resolve a bad situation. Though, it’s likely lawyers advised the Board to avoid admitting any wrongdoing in light of the ongoing human rights complaints pending against it. Regardless, it means families are once again left with nothing but broken trust. This is even more troubling since the premier has prioritized an Anti-Racism Directorate and acknowledged the realities of systemic racism.

Parents would have at least felt more hopeful had there been a simple acknowledgment that there is a problem and an admission that the Board has not handled parent complaints appropriately.

Instead, the Board attempts to brush aside concerns about the lack of transparency and mishandling of a Markham Principal’s racist social media comments by citing a “miscommunication.” Apparently, even though parents were provided with a copy of a particular policy by the board’s own superintendent and assured that this policy was purportedly followed, the Board now claims a different policy was used. Why does this matter? Because had the Board followed Policy 240, there would have been meetings and dialogue with parents about their complaints. None of that happened, so the time has come to back pedal.

Even its response to fiscal mismanagement highlights a culture of impunity. Rather than explain how junkets to Europe benefit students, the Board describes such travel as “professional development opportunities.” This leaves a bad taste for parents who are repeatedly asked to donate boxes of tissues to classrooms because budgets are supposedly tight.

As the victims of discrimination, community members are told that we are being over-sensitive or paranoid and that racism couldn’t possibly exist in our multicultural Canadian society let alone at a school board. Really? One of the Board’s senior trustees was comfortable enough to use the N-word to describe one of the parents who complained about racism at her child’s school during a board meeting.

The conclusion for everyone here is that something has gone horribly wrong at this Board. And while it was important to see former Chair Anna De Bortolo lose her position at an election earlier this fall, we must insist on more.

The ministry should immediately investigate the actions (or lack thereof) of the Board Director J. Parappally. The investigation team needs to reflect a deep understanding of equity, systemic barriers, leadership and governance and all findings must be made public.

York families have gone through enough. And if we truly care about student achievement and well-being, our children deserve better.

Nigel Barriffe is the president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, Hilary Neubauer is with the Stornoway Growth Society (SGS), Chase Lo is the Executive Director of the Chinese Canadian National Council – Toronto Chapter (CCNCTO), and Naeem Siddiqi is with the group YRDSB Kids.

 

Originally published  in the Toronto Star editorial page, January 25, 2017

Whiteness is More than Alt-Right

November 28, 2016
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Guest post by Barb Thomas

In the week following the U.S. election, the community of East York in Toronto was plastered with posters entitled Hey White Person. The poster, embedded with a graphic of the Statue of Liberty’s face, appeals to victimized white people, down-trodden by “multiculturalism,” “diversity” and “immigration,” to join the Alt-Right.

Overall reaction to this poster by the media and concerned citizens interviewed on radio was shock, disgust and surprise. “I was absolutely floored,” reported a white resident of East York upon discovering the poster. And the brazenness of the poster’s shout-out to white people does shock.

Our shock communicates loudly and clearly that we are NOT those kinds of white people. But this week I am haunted by these questions: how does my distancing myself from “these kinds of white people” prop up everyday racism and my white privilege? And why am I leaving it to the Alt-Right to frame the discussion of whiteness?

In the lives of my racialized and Indigenous friends and family I am learning to see how white bias shapes their everyday experiences in stores, applying for a bank loan, getting a job or promotion, going through the US border, getting stopped by police for traffic violations, even getting health assessments. And yet sometimes it is only when whiteness appears in this ugly extreme of the Alt-Right that we white people speak our outrage at racism. Alt-Right white supremacy violate our notions of ourselves as (white) Canadians who value diversity and multiculturalism And since many of us white people are uncomfortable naming our own whiteness and the benefits it has afforded us, we are not able to examine everyday white supremacy in Canada and racism that everywhere underpins it.

I can clearly say that it’s wrong that Grassy Narrows First Nations people have to keep trekking to Queen’s Park to get their contaminated water cleaned up. I get much more uneasy talking about myself as a settler on land cleared of Indigenous people so I could be here. I feel angry and scared that police carding practices could target my mixed race grandson. Yet, as a white person, I reap the benefit of the doubt when a police officer stops me for speeding, chats and gives me a reduced ticket. I have not lain awake at night worrying that my white children will be mis-assessed at school, or taken from me by the Children’s Aid because of the colour of my skin. If I go to jail for something I have done it won’t be because of my skin colour, clothing or because my appearance signals that I am a terrorist. I will not get racist slogans hurled at me in the streetcar. I walk in (an increasing wrinkled) white skin that affords me protections and a huge benefit of the doubt. It’s restful to be white because my whiteness allows me not to think about race. There are multiple health benefits to that.

It’s not that we don’t have the facts about systemic racism. We know from well-documented reports that black, brown and indigenous people are disproportionately carded by police, more likely to get jail sentences, and more likely to languish in jail longer. We know there are boiled water advisories in many northern First Nations Communities, and we know little is being done about it. We know that unemployment, underemployment and poverty disproportionately stalk racialized and Indigenous people.

But this relentless, daily racism is like a movie we watch. Somehow we only feel implicated when crazy white people shout their hatred. I personally would love to project the whole damn thing onto the Americans, whispering that we hope their poison doesn’t spread here.

This is the humming backdrop to the increased permission some white Americans and Canadians feel, not just to ignore everyday racism, but now to roll down their car windows and shout hate messages, or to physically attack our neighbours on the streetcar. With good reason, racialized and Indigenous are expressing fear and extreme anxiety about their safety in the wake of these elections. With good reason decent white people are voicing their disapproval when the hatred gets impossible to ignore.

But I’m now asking myself, what about Kellie Leitch, a contender for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada who has been calling for testing of new immigrants for “anti-Canadian values.” Would I, as an immigrant, have passed her test? Would any of us besides First Nations be here if Indigenous people had used such a screen?

A September 2016 Angus Reid poll says that 68% of Canadians agree with Ms Leitch. That’s two out of three people at work, in my grocery store, on the street. What conversations am I having with those folks? Am I calling the CBC when my workplace keeps hiring white people over qualified racialized candidates? Do I keep breathing and stay in conversation with a family member who claims that someone is “playing the race card” because they identified an action as racist? Can I challenge someone who argues that this city’s history of absorbing so many newcomers is proof that there’s no racism? What’s my reaction when someone dismisses Black Lives Matter with “All Lives Matter including White lives?”

I’m hoping we can step up our everyday awareness of how racism and whiteness (yes, white supremacy) is shaping who gets the benefit of the doubt, who is believed and seen as credible, who is promoted as a leader, who gets the resources to do what, whose expertise is valued. Let’s help each other to name whiteness at work, and to speak up in all the places we have any influence. We’re all going to need each other in the days ahead.

The UARR Board extends its gratitude to Barb Thomas for allowing us to publish this article. Barb is an educator, writer, facilitator, organization developer, committed to promoting equity and democratic process in organizations. She has co-authored numerous publications based on her labour education and anti-racism work. 

Escaping violence shouldn’t put your job at risk. UARR supports survivors. Please support Bill 26.

November 24, 2016

We Support Survivors. We support Bill 26.

The Urban Alliance on Race Relations is joining with community partners across sectors including Justice, Health, Education, Violence Against Women, and Labour, in support of Peggy Sattler’s Bill 26, Domestic and Sexual Violence Workplace Leave, Accommodation and Training Act, 2016. Bill 26 speaks to the pressing need to support victims of sexual and domestic violence with paid time off that would enable them to see a doctor, access a crisis centre or counselling, find a place to live, or attend court.

Legislation that includes mandatory training is needed to sensitize employers to the warning signs, impacts and risks of domestic and sexual violence so that they can develop informed, effective and appropriate measures of response. The Ontario bill goes beyond Manitoba with ten days of paid leave as well as unpaid leave and the opportunity for flexible work arrangements for victims of sexual and domestic violence.

The Bill unanimously passed second reading debate on October 20, 2016.
Please join this Thunderclap to support the quick passage of this important bill, and help spread this message to your networks.

In Solidarity,

Nigel Barriffe, Board Chair, UARR

Statement on racist incidents in Toronto

November 16, 2016

This has been a deeply distressing week.  A white man hurled racist insults and threats at a racialized person on a TTC streetcar.  A teenager in the Greater Toronto Area, posting under an alias, produced racist videos that have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. Posters promoting white supremacist ideology appeared near an elementary school in East York.  All of these incidents highlight the need for us to vigorously oppose the racism, xenophobia, and homophobic violence that have been on the increase with Donald Trump’s election as US President last week.

Some characterize the reason for Trump’s rise as “economic anxiety.” Stable, well-paying jobs are much harder to find and keep. People are working longer hours for lower wages. Parents are worried about how they will provide for their children. Trump and his supporters are pushing the false narrative that racialized people are the ones to blame for increasing poverty and economic instability. But unemployment and precarious work are hurting people of all ethnicities, especially people of colour.

There is a great deal of anger in the air. This anger is justified, but we must be clear about where to direct it. Toronto is the inequality capital of Canada. A small number of Canadians benefit from access to inherited wealth, have access to government, and control the country’s major corporations, including the media. Internationally, those forcing many into poverty, poisoning our Earth as they do so, are the wealthiest and most powerful. They are the ones who run the transnational corporations, looting our shared resources to enrich themselves and their friends, shifting the costs onto the most vulnerable among us.

To take this anger  out on our neighbours — our Muslim neighbours, our Black neighbours, our Latinx neighbours, our LGBTQ+ neighbours — is wrong.

There’s a lot of work to be done to move our communities out of poverty, and toward fairness, equity, and mutual respect. Anger and violence against our neighbours because of their skin colour, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability status have no place in this work.

The Urban Alliance on Race Relations strongly condemns discriminatory and inflammatory statements by President-Elect Trump and his supporters. We further denounce the endorsement of these views by Member of Parliament and Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch, as well as the racist and discriminatory actions taken by those who hold these views.

We must stand up against racism and discrimination. Let us channel our anger and fear toward fighting for a Canada — and a world — that  we can be proud of.

UARR Board of Directors

UARR Human Rights Forum: Gender, Carding & Racial Profiling- December 8th, 2016

November 11, 2016
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GENDER, CARDING & RACIAL PROFILING
Thursday, December 8th
from 6pm to 8pm
OISE, Room 2212 ¶ 252 Bloor Street West, Toronto

A panel of legal experts and human rights advocates will discuss the current status of carding in the city and the impact of racial profiling on racialized women and gender diverse people.

Panelists:
· ANDREA ANDERSON, Doctoral Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School
· FATHIMA CADER, Public Interest Lawyer
· LAURIE HERMISTON, Native Women’s Resource Centre of Toronto
· KING, Coordinator of Black Queer Youth at Sherbourne Health Centre
· NANA YANFUL, Human Rights Lawyer and Racial Justice Advocate

Moderator:
BRITTANY ANDREW-AMOFAH, Public and Community Affairs Commentator

REGISTRATION:
uarr-human-rights.eventbrite.ca
FREE EVENT ($5 suggested donation)

INFORMATION & ACCESSIBILITY:
For accommodation please contact: info@urbanalliance.ca

SOCIAL MEDIA:
#UARRforum
@uarrtoronto
Facebook.com/UARRToronto

This event is sponsored by the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at University of Toronto