Harper condemns ‘heinous attacks’ on Gatineau mosque
Prime Minister Stephen Harper took time this week to condemn an attack by vandals at a mosque in Gatineau, Que., across the river from Ottawa.
“Our government strongly condemns these heinous attacks that have been terrorizing the whole community,” the Prime Minister said in a statement in French.
Bernie Farber, former CEO of Canadian Jewish Congress, wrote an Op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen about the importance of protecting those who face such despicable acts of racism as the vandalism of the Gatineau Mosque.
It’s difficult for those who have never experienced unbridled hatred to feel the pain that congregants of a Gatineau Mosque must be feeling today. Over the last two weeks hateful vandals have smashed windows, tried to torch cars in their parking lot and spray-painted anti-Islamic graffiti including of all things “Stars of David,” on the Mosque’s doors and windows.
Five hours west of Gatineau in the sleepy GTA bedroom community of Newmarket, Rita Brown and her partner Seun Oyinsan awoke Christmas morning to find that racist vandals had scratched an ugly epithet on the hood of their car. You see Rita and Seun are a mixedrace couple and it seems that there are at least a bigoted few in Newmarket who have yet to enter the 21st century.
Incredibly this was not the first such racist attack on this couple. In early September they were the victims of two other attacks. Swastikas and that despicable “N”-word were spray painted and scratched on the couple’s garage and van. The van also was defaced with acid and sharp nails embedded into small pieces of wood were placed under the tires. Ominously all this was followed by a warning that Rita and Seun were “not wanted in Newmarket” with a threat of violence.
In Newmarket there has been an outpouring of support. Local community newspapers have editorialized and condemned the actions. Neighbours and friends have rallied to the side of the beleaguered couple. In Gatineau condemnation came from the very top; Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke out strongly, as has mainstream Jewish leadership all too familiar with such faith-based attacks.
Sadly some used newspaper online comments to remind us that there still remain a small number of bigotry’s fellow travellers.
Regarding the Newmarket attack one poster wrote: “I will bet a loonie or toonie that they did it themselves, they over paid for their house, couldn’t sell it and are using ‘racism’ to gain sympathy. They know some braindead liberal with White Guilt will swoop in and save the day.”
Sadly similar comments were also found online pertaining to the Gatineau incident: “This appears to be an inside job by one of the congregation trying to put the blame on Jews by spray painting the Star of David on the door …”
Thankfully, here in Canada, like most of the western world, we have created anti-hate laws as a fence of protection from the very worst society has to offer. Laws prohibiting the vilest of racist expression make it a criminal offence punishable by up to two years in jail. Acts of violence and property destruction motivated by hatred can add months and even years to a sentence.
Recently there has been a debate raging here in Canada regarding the necessity of antihate laws. There are those who believe that any restriction on speech whatsoever is an infringement on our valued right to free-speech. In 1990 the Supreme Court of Canada upheld our anti-hate laws by a slim margin. While it found that such laws were a limitation on speech, given the serious need to ensure protection of vulnerable minorities such an infringement, it argued, was justified.
I agree. We are a democracy based on justice and law. We understand that human beings are far from perfect, hence we created laws to protect society. Anti-hate laws are a kind of insurance for the future. Such laws help define us as a tolerant society. To be sure we must find the correct balance between freedom of expression and the right to equality that we all share.
Rita Brown, her partner Seun Oyinsan and congregants of the Gatineau Mosque have the right, as do we all, to live in safety, free from hatred and vilification. We have the responsibility as a nation to protect identifiable groups as defined in law from the contemptible few who find hatred their oxygen of life.
As we enter a New Year let us join hands with Rita, Seun and the Islamic community of Gatineau and wish them strength for a better 2012. Let us also hope that those who committed these despicable crimes are apprehended and face the full force of Canada’s anti-hate laws.
Bernie Farber is the former CEO of Canadian Jewish Congress. He writes often on human and civil rights issues.