At the beginning of last week I received many calls about the firebombing of Ville St. Laurent’s Talmud Torah. Most callers wanted to know when I would write something about it. I told them that at a time like this I despaired of words. Despaired because words have so often been cheapened by their use as channels for pious platitudes and replacements for assertive action.
In every talk I have given since publishing “They Poisoned The Wells: The Old/New Anti-Semitism” last month (attached hereto), I have warned that we will inevitably face ugly incidents in our own city. The problems are not only out in “the world”. We live in a time of instant communication and instant destruction. In this global village, the world comes home to roost in our own backyards every night.
With so many failed states and failed cultures; with so many people whose frustrations with their own individual failures compel them to find any vessel into which to pour the bile of their interposition and nullification; and with so many readily accessible modes and methods of devastation, it was only surprising that the St. Laurent attack was not much worse and had not come much sooner. There will be more.
For these new “wretched of the earth” demand targets to hate. And it is not a particularist Jewish issue alone. If Victor Adler could state over a century ago to the Social Democratic Congress in Vienna that “Anti-Semitism will die only with the last Jew” then we today can add a modern corollary. If Jews were to die out, many in our world would have to re-invent them. Re-invent not Jews per se, but re-invent new “enemies of the people” in Ibsen’s phrase. Many in our city have already felt this on their own skin. Whether they be black, Asian, Arab or of any racial, religious or linguistic minority.
The great hope from the middle of last week was that so many finally seemed to “get it”. I was particularly heartened when I participated in a press conference of some dozen social action and cultural groups last Thursday at the South East Asian Community Center. I was proud when our board member Nino Colavecchio, in his capacity as President of the National Congress of Italo-Canadians, published a letter of support under the title “We Stand United”. So many came together to express their commitment to a society in which diversity is not corrupted by division, tolerance is not compromised by timidity and civility is not confused with capitulation. Brave words proclaimed bold promise.
But after the press conferences and public declarations I began to get other calls toward the end of the week. Troubling calls. Calls warning that this current flood of important popular passion could be smothered by parochial political impotence. That elected officials were making pledges for policies they had no jurisdiction to effect and for programs they had no means to enact.
This coalition of the willing which we had seen in action all week had to be kept together and the goodwill they fostered had to be constructively channelled. The energy could not be allowed to evaporate. This was a tide in our affairs that had to be taken at its head.
This was a time for action, not words. And act we did as we had done before. After consultations with members of our Advisory Council and social action leaders in our network, we determined we had the ideal organization, and the most effective alliances, to bring to reality what had been talked about all week. Just as we did with Food Banks and Social Housing and Israeli advocacy, we pulled together our communal and political assets and devised a plan to attack the problem of Hate Crimes on both the citizen participation and law enforcement levels. We are proud to report that this initiative has met with immediate and broad acceptance.
We are instituting a Hate Crimes Hotline that will be managed by professionals from one of the leading security agencies in Canada, advised by several leading constitutional and criminal lawyers, staffed by volunteers from a half-dozen cultural community and social action groups, overseen by a board of leaders from those groups and liaising with a top flight committee of the Montreal Police. This Hotline will be available to all Montrealers and will be operated on a 24/7 basis. Unlike some of the Institute’s other initiatives, this one demanded that people put themselves at risk physically as well as politically. The response has been overwhelming. Now we need your help to finish the job and make this a reality.
Our Advisory Council member Terry Corcoran, a board member of the Catholic Community Services and President of the Canadian Security Agency, has offered his services for the training and establishment of the Hotline bureau. He will soon be joined by Lt.-Det. Steve Roberts who is retiring as the head of the Major Crimes Unit of the Montreal Police and will bring his unrivalled expertise to bear in this effort as well. Corcoran and Roberts will soon be launching the NCIS, National Criminal Investigation Service, whose resources will be made readily available to this effort.
Lt.-Det. Steve Roberts (4th from left) and CSA head Terry Corcoran (3rd from rt.) at an Institute Conference with former
CIA Director R. James Woolsey (4th from rt.) and FBI counter-terrorism chief Dale L. Watson (3rd from left).
In addition to Mr. Corcoran and Lt. Roberts, leading criminal attorney Michael Stober and former Bar of Montreal Batonnier Me. Richard J. McConomy, an Institute Council member, have agreed to train the volunteers in understanding how current Hate Crimes legislation functions and what constitutes appropriate information to pass on to police. We will likely have the services of Me. Julius H. Grey, Canada’s foremost constitutional lawyer, in this part of the work as well.
Among the community leaders who have agreed to serve on the Board of the Hate Crimes Hotline are Jack Dym, the Institute’s Vice-Chairman and President of the Montreal Holocaust Museum; Christian Martin, Director of International Trade Finance for RBC (Que.) and President of the Carrefour des Communautés du Québec; Nino Colavecchio, President of the National Congress of Italo-Canadians; Rev. Darryl G. Gray Minister of Union United Church and President of Alliance Quebec; Georges Berberi of the Lebanese Community and Edward Brandone of IUPAT, an international union affiliated with the Canadian Labour Congress. The board is still in formation and other appointments will be announced shortly particularly those of several academics. The lawyers and security officials mentioned in the preceding paragraph will also be members of the Board.
Perhaps the most dramatic aspect of the effort so far is the co-operation we have received from the Montreal Police. They are the frontline force that protects all of us against such crimes. They have always encouraged the formation of citizen initiatives for rape crisis centers, battered women’s shelters, suicide hotlines and block parent groups. Not only because it helps their work, but also to educate people in handling problems and to focus public officials’ attention on where public security dollars should go. To that end, we can report that the Hate Crimes Hotline will be liasing with a police committee that is first rate both in terms of competence as well as influence. It is currently in formation but we hope to include Asst. Police Director Marc Parent who is the Chief of Staff to Police Director Michel Sarrazin; Commander Charles Rabbat head of the International Section of the Montreal Police; Commander John Di Feo head of the Southern Sector of the force which encompasses the Downtown core; and Sgt.-Det. Pietro Poletti former member of the Organized Crime Unit. Truly some of the best and the brightest.
This Hate Crimes initiative is not merely reactive. It will be proactive as well. Inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue events are being planned as I write this. Board members, police officials and volunteers are planning speaking engagements with community groups and in schools. And the legal and security professionals are working with the Institute on legislative proposals.
The reality is that there are times when we as citizens have to take certain responsibilities into our own hands. We cannot just plead with government to do everything. Political will is too often lacking, and the process is so often too long. Sometimes we have to push. To be, in Malraux’s words “…les citoyens engages…”
All these remarkable people have come together quickly over the past week. They have committed whatever they can. We have built a plan, a structure, and a program. Now we have to put it into effect. We need your material as well as moral help. To get this Hotline functioning will take some $40,000. The money will be used for communication, formation and dissemination. We will have telephone, furniture, printing, advertising, and transport costs. When it is up and running we will make all the necessary applications for whatever public funding is available. But for now we have to depend on you.
The Talmud Torah crime will be solved. But there will be others. Against other minorities as well. And it will be as much of a crime if we let the energy and momentum of this past week dissipate. Time is of the essence. We have an historic opportunity to make Montreal a palace of a City once again. To restore its world reputation as a metropolis of compassion and
I am sending this letter to only several dozen civic leaders. Please be generous.
Beryl P. Wajsman
Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal
All donations should be made out to the Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal
(re: Hate Crimes Hotline), 1155 René-Levesque Blvd. W., Suite 2500,
Montreal H3B 2K4
UPDATE ON INSTITUTE
HATE CRIME INITIATIVE
CREATION OF THE
COUNCIL FOR COMMUNITY CONCILIATION
CONSEIL POUR LA CONCILIATION COMMUNAUTAIRE
After consultations with members of our Advisory Council, and community leaders who have joined in our Hate Crimes project following last week’s initial announcement of the Hate Crime Hotline, we can now report that the name chosen for this Institute initiative is the Council for Community Conciliation.
The name was chosen to reflect both the multi-disciplinary approach of this ambitious agenda as well as our hopes for the broad goal to be achieved.
For we seek not merely to oppose old prejudices but to propose new policies. Not merely to be reflexively reactive but to be purposefully proactive. Not merely to comfort those who are put upon for allegiance to culture or creed, but to encourage precisely those who are most afraid to engage with us in the broader community and help build beachheads of co-operation to beat back the jungles of suspicion.
This initiative is aimed at putting a stop to the obsessions of both victims and victimizers with the deviances of diversity that have led to so much division and discord. It is about bringing an end to jealously guarded territorial imperatives that impede progress on the great issues on the agenda of social justice. It is about protecting everyone’s right to peaceful expression of their particularity while at the same time encouraging all to participate in celebrating our common universality. For only with such a commitment, and with such an engagement, can we bring about the realization of our transcendent yearning for redemptive change.
And to those who have called and asked what consideration we will give to the many competing and conflicting demands of various ethnic, religious and cultural groups we give only one promise. That promise is that we will not consider them.
We will demand of all citizens we serve, and of all who engage themselves with us, that they unshackle their minds and spirits and commit their resolve to the realization of a society that is pluralistic, inclusive, compassionate and loyal to only one overriding ideal.---
That each and every one of us has an equal claim on the stock of welfare of the land and that through the exercise of our suffrage we will preserve and protect the singular importance of allowing each and every individual to achieve their fullest expression as human beings unhindered by any corporate demands of state, faith or race.
We are not blind to the fact that our society has problems. Very severe problems. But we also have the great traditions of a progressive past and it is that legacy that we look to build upon.
C’est ici que Louis-Joseph Papineau aida aux luttes politiques et militaires pour une plus grande liberté pour tous, qui ont permis l’émancipation totale des citoyens minoritaires dès 1832, huit ans plus tôt qu’en Grande-Bretagne. C’est ici que Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine a réussi de haute lutte à lancer une première expérience de gouvernement responsable. C’est notre culture qui a inspiré à Sir Wilfrid Laurier une vision mondialiste inclusive du 20e siècle.
C’est ici que les leaders syndicaux appuyés par des syndicalistes d’origine des communautés culturelles ont créé à travers les années 30, 40 et 50 l’état qui peut se vanter d’avoir le plus important pourcentage de travailleurs syndiqués de l’Occident. Ici est le creuset qui a formé des héros de la trempe de Jean Marchand et Pierre Elliot-Trudeau, ceux-là même qui ont renversé le pouvoir d’une droite revancharde et d’un clergé rétrograde.
La recherche d’une société distincte aurait pu sombrer dans l’esprit de clocher, mais nos leaders ont plutôt cherché leur modèle dans ce que l’expérience humaine avait de mieux à offrir. Notre société a donné naissance à la « révolution tranquille » de Jean Lesage qui a accordé à tous ses citoyens la pleine expression de leurs aspirations, et aussi emprunté la voix de René Lévesque pour exprimer vigoureusement son nationalisme mais toujours dans le respect absolu des principes démocratiques et du pluralisme.
And it was Trudeau as Prime Minister who pulled this nation fully into the 20th Century and enshrined our dignity as citizens for all time in the most inclusionary program of social justice yet seen.
It is to the legacy outlined in the paragraphs above that we give our allegiance and it is in that spirit that we commence our work.
Work that will include the following:
Ø Operation of the Hate Crime Hotline so that all Montrealers will feel empowered in the knowledge that even if they hesitate calling authorities, there is an entity out there that is caring and effective and can end the impotence many feel when confronted by brute force;
Ø Conferences, dialogue groups and town hall meetings on inter-cultural relations with a special emphasis on bringing young people together;
Ø Three-person intervention units composed of community leaders ready to go into institutions, organizations and ethnic quartiers as a pre-emptive measure to reduce levels of tension that may be reported even before any hate crimes are committed;
Ø Legislative and regulatory proposals to all three levels of government from our legal and security professionals;
Ø Direct liaison with police officials not only to report crime and criminality but to create a symbiotic relationship where citizens will be educated in the handling of community crises and law enforcement officials will receive input from the streets they serve and protect as to where they should be focusing their attention and public security resources;
We are also pleased to report that Me. Julius H. Grey has confirmed that he will be joining the Board and working as an advisor to our law and security group. Social activist Egbert Gaye, publisher of Community Contact and CJAD commentator, has also signed on. Our corporate and government relations representation has been expanded through the additions of John F. Angus, President of the Stonehenge Corporation, and former MP Patrick Gagnon, now President of Protocol Strategies of Ottawa. And following an extensive meeting with Asst. Police Director Marc Parent, Executive Assistant to Police Director Sarrazin, we can rely on a remarkable degree of advice and assistance from his Department.
This is a project of great portent. But we commence sure in the justice of the cause, confident in the goodwill of our neighbours and conscious of the words of Malraux that
"Chaque fissure dans l’ordre établi n’est jamais le résultat du hasard. C’est le résultat des efforts des personnes déterminés à rendre compte à la vie."
Beryl P. Wajsman
Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal