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Racism forum: One person can make a difference

Lorraine Graves   Mar-27-2018

Under a photo of his torched mosque in Victoria, Texas, Omar Rachid tells how one simple act of friendship, a friend offering keys to his synagogue, restored his faith in humanity.

Photo courtesy Kwantlen Polytechnic University


International Day Against Racism was a day of modest heroes, unassuming bridge-builders, and most of all, hope.

On March 21, Kwantlen Polytechnic University hosted Shared Challenges, Shared Opportunities, a day-long forum with a diverse group of individuals who have, and are taking action against racism in concrete ways.

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In his opening remarks, emcee for the day RCMP Insp. Baltej Singh Dhillon spoke of leaving Malaysia as a child for Canada.

“My father passed away so we couldn’t stay there. Like many, we struggled when we came to Canada but I made a new life for myself.”

Dhillon became the first RCMP member allowed to wear a turban in uniform.

“Not once did I think I was a trailblazer. I was a kid from Surrey,” Dhillon said.

Saying that there is a hardcore minority who won’t change their racist opinions, Dhillon affirmed there is hope.

“There are people who are absolutely looking to be informed. It is critically important that we sit with people, have coffee with them.

“We’ve got more to do. I want to make it unsafe to those who use hate, use their time here on earth to bring separation rather than bring harmony to us. I want a better place.”

Richmond vice-principals Lisa Romalis, of the Jewish Day School, and Sukaina Jaffer, of the Az-Zahraa Islamic Academy, spoke of their schools’ shared annual event where students collect blankets, clothing and make food to take to the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, one of the poorest urban neighbourhoods in Canada.

“We put our faith into practise,” Jaffer said. “There is so much commonality that we share.”

Said Romalis: “We’re neighbours. This is what neighbours do.”

Rosalind Karby spoke of her work with two local Jewish congregations and the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster to bring a Syrian family from a Jordanian refugee camp to Canada.

“I believe the government’s heart is in the right place and that temporary restrictions will not remain,” said Karby of the recent government slow-down of refugees sponsored by private groups like hers.

Noor Fadel shared how one person made all the difference.

“Some of you may know me as the 18-year-old that was attacked on Skytrain on Dec. 4.”

Fadel said the attacker spewed verbal abuse, and then took action.

“He told me to choke on it, grabbed my head and put it in his crotch,” she said.

“I just remember looking at the passengers, a clear image I’ll never forget, this guy stands up on one of the seats, he looks, and he sits down.”

It wasn’t until (the attacker) hit me in the face that someone way the other end of the train pulled him off and told him to ‘Get the f**k off the train.’”

His name was Jake Taylor.

“I had someone stand up for me but not everyone gets that privilege,” she said.

To encourage others, of all origins and faiths, to tell their stories, Fadel has created Speakuptogether00.com because, “No one should be treated that way.”

She reminds people they can text 87-77-77 or use the SeeSay app on their phones to discreetly summon transit police.

Const. Gareth Blount of the RCMP hate crimes team said preventing hate crimes is good policing.

“We have to look at it and ask are they creating hatred? I want to do something before that happens. I would rather change someone’s opinion and make them more accepting than throw the book at them and make them even more entrenched.”

Saying there may be many more hate crimes than are reported, Blount offers his test.

“Do you feel safe walking around in the community. It doesn’t matter what stats are out there. It’s how you feel.”

Blount’s words of advice are when in doubt, report.

“If you see hate posters, try not to touch them. We will remove them. The more we see this, the more people find it accepting.”

RCMP Insp. Chris Degale leads the region’s national security team.

“Many of the cases that come to our attention actually have a mental health component.”

Reiterating the need for prevention and that it takes a village to raise a healthy community, Degale said: “We rely on our community every day.”

While introducing Omar Rachid and Dr. Gary Branfman, from Victoria, Texas, Insp. Dhillon stressed how “the good in us shines through when our neighbours, our friends, our fellow humans are in their greatest time of need.”

Rachid quoted from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter: “War is a necessary evil, but it is still evil.”

And Rachid knows first hand, having lost family and his home in a civil war.

Today, he is a businessman and a member of many community groups like Rotary.

Branfman too knows the cost of hatred and war.

“I lost family and possessions in Soviet Russia,” he said.

“When I moved to Victoria, Texas, somebody recognized me from soccer and said, ‘I didn’t know you were Muslim. You’re such a nice guy,’” said Rachid. The Muslim community saved for eight years to start building a mosque in 1988. The opening was a joyous event with many from the wider, non-Muslim community in attendance.

Things changed suddenly one night: “Jan. 28, 2017 at 2:15 a.m. I got a call from the mosque treasurer. The mosque was on fire,” says Rachid.

It was proven to be arson, Rashid said.

“It feels as if someone had just delivered an eviction notice for your entire community,” he said.

As soon as Branfman heard what happened, he handed his friend the keys to the synagogue so the Muslim community had a place to pray and to gather.

The story of the keys went around the world with stories in the United Kingdom and on CNN.

Branfman ended their panel with a quote from Albert Einstein.

“The world is a dangerous place not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”

Dhillon ended the day by saying: “The task ahead of us, the lesson that comes from out of your powerful stories, is that we shouldn’t wait for that fire. We shouldn’t wait for some incident to occur before we reach out.”

Reporting options:

• Text Transit Police: 87-77-77

• Download free SeeSay mobile app

• Call 911 and say you are reporting a hate crime

• INFO: Speakuptogether00.com

• Report street harassment: vancouver.ihollaback.org

• Call RCMP to report a hate crime

• To report suspected terrorist activity: 778-290-4576

• hatecrimebc.ca


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