5. Building Coalitions in Ontario
By Karen Mock and Lorne Templeman
Case Study: Minden, Ontario - July 1989
The ex-leader of the Canadian Nazi Party, John Beattie, organized a "Whites Only” rally on his rented property in Minden, Ontario on the July 1, 1989 Canada Day Weekend. Minden is a rural community 2 hours North of Toronto and West of Peterborough. The event was designed to attract young people particularly skinheads based in Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston and Montreal.
The event was modeled on racist gatherings events in the United States but was the first of its kind in Canada. The event attracted over 90 Skinheads from as far away as New Jersey. The program included guest speakers such as convicted hate monger John Ross Taylor and a KKK style cross burning on the Saturday evening.
Chronology Of Events
June 10, 1989 - Shaarei Shomayim Synagogue in Toronto and a neighbouring Jewish School are defaced with swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans.
June 15, 1989 - League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada is notified of a rally from a media source. The League confirms information with Minden Ontario Provincial Police. The Race Relations Directorate (renamed Ontario Anti-Racism Secretariat in 1991) is notified of the rally. The Minister of Citizenship’s office staff is notified of the event.
June 16, 1989 - The rally becomes public knowledge in print, radio and television.
June 19, 1989 - The League for Human Rights receives phone calls from Minden residents looking for information and advice. The League gives background on John Beattie and advises that people be informed and oppose the rally.
June 19, 1989 - The Minister of Citizenship organizes a meeting in his Boardroom for representatives of a number of ethno-cultural communities to discuss synagogue defacement and the racist rally. There is general agreement that groups must be supportive during times of crisis. Communities lend their support to the Jewish community.
June 20-24 - The League maintains contact with Minden residents, Police and Directorate staff. The League lays the groundwork for counter-demonstration.
June 27 - A League and Directorate staff member go to Minden to meet with concerned citizens, police and local town council members. Three separate meetings focus on the situation and potential response.
June 2 - A Skinhead is arrested for the synagogue desecration and it is discovered that he is the Toronto organizer of the Minden rally. A reward organized by the Canadian Jewish Congress which is supported by various groups leads to the arrest.
July 1 - Skinheads arrive at Beattie’s property. Local residents hold a counter-demonstration with songs and anti-racist, pro-multicultural speeches, led by the United Church Minister. A cross is burned on Beattie’s property.
July 2 - The League for Human Rights hold a counter-demonstration with speeches and a march thanking the citizenry of Minden for their support and standing up against racism. The March concludes at the Minden United church in order to thank Rev. Moll and his congregation for their leadership.
December 3 - Rev. Moll hosts an interfaith brunch with members of the League in order to learn more about each other and to discuss strategies for preventing another rally and combat racism in general.
1. Time - The event became public knowledge only three weeks prior to the target date. Resources would be difficult to mobilize at short notice.
2. Location - The rural site meant that local response resources did not exist and Toronto resources were somewhat remote.
3. Date - The event was billed as a “Save Our Canada Day” festival on the July 1st weekend. The date would make organizing a response difficult, due to prior commitments. Locally, an international sporting event was taking place, so local resources were depleted. Local government wanted to ensure that the negative publicity was limited and, therefore, developed a policy of ignoring the racist rally.
4. Legal Response - Since the event was being held on private property and since no laws were being broken, the legal response was negligible. The local police were concerned but lacked expertise in this area. They had prior knowledge of the event but saw no jurisdiction for interference in the matter
5. Experience - This was the first rally of this nature as far as we were aware. There was no prior Canadian case studies to draw upon.
The regional supervisor for the Race Relations Directorate was assigned to the case. He liaised with community groups, primarily the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada, and arranged for a meeting with the Ontario Provincial Police and town council. In conjunction with the League’s regional director, information sessions were held in Minden for concerned citizens, police and town council.
The regional Directorate consultant attended the League rally on July 2, 1989, and a Metro consultant attended the December brunch. The Directorate helped with the follow-up to the strategies planning discussed at the brunch.
The primary function of the Directorate was to liaise officially with other government agencies i.e. police, local government. This was a clear example of a positive partnership between the government and community groups., Each served a credible function and offset the work of the other, rather than competing over jurisdiction and role.
The police, after being convinced of the severity of the neo-Nazi rally, investigated the situation and liaised with local and Toronto community groups to ensure security and safety. The local OPP detachment liaised with intelligence officers from other police services and provided security for counter-demonstrations on the weekend.
In all, the police responded effectively. They gathered information, continued surveillance, and used their position to ensure that the counter-demonstrators could function without fear of reprisals.
The local media played an important role. They kept the local population informed and denounced the event. They exposed Mr. Beattie's racist past, and provided an outlet for the community to express its disgust with the rally. They devoted a full page to a poster which could be used by local citizens, groups and business to express their outrage by placing it in their windows.
External media gave extensive coverage. They exposed Beattie’s activities to a wider audience. Initially, they informed the local citizens of the event and made them aware of the rally. They also gave extensive coverage to the groups combating Beattie and the skinheads.
The role of the media is often questioned in these circumstances. It is important to note that all evidence, including the rally organizer’s material and actions, suggest that they wanted to avoid the media. It is also important to recognize that the media see these events as newsworthy. It is therefore important that they are provided with enough information to cover the issue sensitively by showing these events are abhorrent and there are those who are ready to stand up to racism
It is also important to contact the media prior to the event, in order to establish credibility and to inform them of alternate angles on the story.
The Minister of Citizenship organized an information session and spoke out against the rally in the Legislature.
The local government was reluctant to get involved. They viewed the event as a nuisance, which meant that, according to them, the media, concerned citizens and the League for Human rights were simply exacerbating the problem by bringing attention to it. They wanted to avoid the issue.
Leadership must be shown from our elected officials. These individual often hold the key to adequate resources to combat the growth of hate group activity. Police and local institutions fall under their jurisdiction. Public opinion can be swayed by their participation in efforts to counter racism.
Concerned local citizens formed an ad hoc committee which wrote letters-to the editor in the local paper and organized a counter-demonstration. the driving force was the local United Church and the Royal Canadian Legion.
In Toronto, the League for Human Rights developed an information package on the event, liaised with police and the Directorate, advising the local ad hoc committee and organized a counter-demonstration.
The Canadian Jewish Congress and the Jamaican Canadian Association launched an Ontario Human Rights code complaint against the rally because it discriminated against non-whites.
Unfortunately, the use of the Human Rights Code is often slow. Laws can play an effective role in setting limits, but have not proven to be as effective as developing a strong public outcry against racist events.
At a grassroots level there must be coalition built between aggrieved communities. Groups must recognize the interrelationship of acts of racism directed toward other communities and acts against themselves. Non-aggrieved groups must also be involved in order to make the response inclusive and strengthen the support against racism.
The neo-Nazi event took place in Minden in 1989 and it laid the foundation for a similar event held the following year in Metcalfe, Ontario.
However, the groundwork was developed by community groups to combat future racist events. In fact, the town of Minden was better prepared for other occurrences and Beattie was ostracized in the community. Anti-racist demonstration grew in strength and impact, with the League leading a coalition in an anti-racist demonstration on July 1, 1990 that began on Parliament Hill and ended in Metcalfe. The anti-racist demonstration was so successful that no racist event took place in 1991 due to the reluctance of the landowners to provide a venue, while anti-racist initiatives were welcomed. The police also became more sensitive to these type of events and the media was also able to play a positive role.
However, there are a number of issues that may never be resolved. It would appear that lead time will always be short in organizing counter-demonstrations so any anti-racist response must be quick and efficient. Therefore, it is important that the groundwork for a response be laid before an event takes place. Following the simple action plan described below can help.
Develop a race relations committee in your municipality so that there are individuals who have the responsibility to respond quickly to racist incidents or anticipated hate group activity. Develop a list of reliable contact persons in other organizations, so that if you need each other in a crisis, it won't be the first time you have worked together (a crisis is not a good time to develop relationships). If an incident similar to the Minden gathering occurs then:
• Contact the police (in your own and targeted jurisdiction)
• Contact the Ontario Anti-Racism Secretariat
• Contact appropriate community organizations
• Develop a media strategy (Make anti-racism newsworthy)
• Notify politicians and encourage public pronouncements
• Form coalitions of interested individuals and groups (e.g., religious organizations, service clubs, business, community groups)
• Organize a non-violent and non-confrontational counter program or demonstration
• Utilize Human Rights Codes, if appropriate
• Follow-up to ensure that proper programs are in place to prevent future occurrences (e.g., municipal by-laws, race relation committees etc.)
Case Study Gulf War - Muslim - Jewish Dialogue
Harassment, Vandalism, Hate Mail, Bomb Threats January 1991
After the beginning of the Gulf Was, Jewish, Muslim and Arab Canadians discovered a dramatic increase in vandalism of religious institutions, harassing phone calls, bomb threats and hate mail.
Similar events were happening to community groups with a history of animosity and distrust.
Local leaders had no influence on the international events which were causing domestic problems. Local communities were emotionally linked to events in the Middle East. Therefore, their energy and recourse were being drained.
The League for Human Rights of B'nai Brith contacted leaders in the Muslim and Arab communities to ascertain the extent of the problem facing their community. Invitations were extended to attend a meeting at the League office.
The Minister of Citizenship met with representative form various communities affected by the Gulf War. The Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission initiated similar action.
Muslim leaders met with representatives of the League for Human Rights. Information about racial incidents was exchanged. the League shared its handbook on security with the Muslim community. A series of meetings were organized to break down barriers between the communities on local issues and to work together to combat racism and anti-Semitism. A joint statement of concern and support was issued.
Case Study: Vandalism: Har Tikvah Synagogue - Brampton Ontario
November 16, 1991
In the early hours of Saturday, November 16, 1991, the Har Tikvah Synagogue in Brampton, Ontario was severely desecrated with anti-Semitic graffiti. The congregation had been advertising a bazaar that they were hosting on the Sunday. The promotion was widespread throughout the Brampton-Bramalea area. David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, was campaigning for Governor of Louisiana. There was wide coverage of this event in the media and the election was that Saturday.
The Brampton Jewish community is small and ill-equipped for a crisis of this nature. The event took place on a weekend so other resources were difficult to mobilize. Municipal election had taken place within a week so Municipal officials were unprepared. The media covered the desecration before an effective media strategy could be developed.
The rabbi and congregation leaders called Jewish organizations in Toronto, including B'nai Brith and the Canadian Jewish Congress. But their offices were closed for Sabbath. The police were notified and began their investigation. Representatives of Canadian Jewish Congress saw the media reports and quickly notified the Minister of Citizenship.
On Sunday, November 17, 1991, the Canadian Jewish Congress officials and the Minister of Citizenship met with Brampton synagogue leaders. The Minister went out to the site and made a public statement denouncing the act of vandalism. Congress offered a $5,000.00 reward for information leading to the arrest of a suspect.
On November 18, 1991, The League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith called the Rabbi and congregational leaders to offer additional assistance. The League later met with the Rabbi of the congregation to develop a response strategy.
The League contacted and put the Rabbi in touch with the local school boards’ race relations coordinator to discuss curriculum and specific responses. The League called local Christian communities in order to encourage them to use their pulpits to speak out against racism and anti-Semitism and to lend support to the local Jewish community.
On November 21, 1991, League and Har Tikvah official met with the Mayor of Brampton and encouraged him to make a public pronouncement which he did.
On November 23, 1991, the Rabbi devoted his sermon to dealing with the fear and vulnerability of the community in order to reassure them that action was being taken and good work was coming out of a bad situation.
On November 24, 1991, the League and Har Tikvah officials made a deputation to the Brampton City Council to provide information and to socially support the local community. They also encouraged the race relations committee to take a more pro-active approach.