Racism, Xenophobia and Hate Crimes: Lawyers Fighting Back

December 7, 2017

From an article in the Ontario Bar Association publication, JUST: I belong to a generation that probably was not even old enough to completely understand what was happening when our teachers came into our classrooms and told us that planes had hit the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. I remember not even knowing that the World Trade Center existed prior to that point. Yet we were the ones who grew up with the consequences and the changed world that this horrific tragedy left behind.

Racism, xenophobia, and hate crimes had existed in the world before 2001. However, it was around then that I learned words like “stereotype” for the first time. The news channels at home were fervently debating the religions of the radicalized terrorists who had carried out the attacks. My parents would come home with stories of people that looked “Muslim” being harassed and mobbed. We heard more stories of Sikh, Muslim, Arab, Indian kids being bullied in schools. Suddenly, airport security became an ordeal for certain families and individuals. Four days after 9/11, the Hamilton Hindu Temple, a place that I have a vivid memory of going to as a child, was burned down.

Sixteen years later, somehow we find ourselves at a similar crossroads. The United States federal government continues to advocate for a ban on travellers from a number of Muslim-majority countries, following the rhetoric of that country’s most recent election campaign. In spite of the focus in Canada on celebrating diversity, we still see hate-motivated violence in Canada like the mosque attack in Quebec, or anti-semitic graffiti and Islamophobic protests right here in Toronto. This all comes two years after Statistics Canada recorded a five per cent nationwide increase that year in reported hate crimes in a recently released 2015 study.[1] To top it all off we now have something even more potent for spreading hate than we did in 2001: the Internet, and all the cyber-bullies, opinionated comments, and tweets that come with it.

The difference this time is that I am, as a lawyer, in a position to take action if I see racism, xenophobia, and hatred happening around me. There are a few different options to assist clients and the community in combating these scenarios.

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