9/11 Plus Four: Ending Hate Crimes
Hon. David Kilgour, M.P.
Hindu Samaj Temple
September 11, 2005
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I’m honoured to be here to celebrate the re-opening of the Hindu Samaj Temple. This is one of about 50 places of Hindu worship in Ontario. It is a proud testament to the pluralism of Canada, and is indicative of the religious freedom which has become a hallmark of Canadian society.
At the same time, there are still unfortunately those who act in ways contrary to our country and national values. They do not believe, as we all do, that one religion enriches another, just as other cultures and languages enrich Canada’s existing stock of cultures and languages.
This very building was destroyed by fire four days after 9/11. The act of vengeful ignorance attracted sympathy from across the world and became the Canadian Ground Zero of 9/11. With the help and cooperation of Hamilton and surrounding communities, and the devotion of the temple’s congregation, it was restored to its original grandiose form. I applaud the efforts of all involved in this task.
While deploring hate crimes and condemning the arson of this place of religious worship, let us also take courage from the knowledge that the vast majority of people in Canada were horrified by this attack and many came forth to offer support.
It is ironic to note that a religion based on the principle of Ahimsa, the philosophy of revering all life and refraining from harm to any living thing, could suffer such a violent act. Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest religions, and is practised by hundreds of millions of people in many countries across the globe. It has established a set of values that have shaped the lives of some of the world’s most beloved persons – for instance Mahatma Gandhi.
The loss due to this fire cannot be calculated in monetary terms only. Numerous religious icons of immense value were lost to those who worshiped here. It is my understanding that according to Hindu religion, any icon, statuary, or altarpiece that has sustained any damage, even in the slightest way, cannot be re-used. The damaged items were thus laid to rest in the deep waters of Lake Ontario in accordance with Hindu tradition. Also trapped in the burning building was the temple’s library of more than 5,000 volumes of literature, many from the 19th century. We’re all happy to note that many of the books were eventually saved and restored with assistance from the Conservation Institute of the Ministry of Canadian Heritage.
Combating Hate Crime
I’d like to focus on the elimination of hate crimes, which are criminal actions intended to harm or intimidate people because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or other minority group status. Since the 1980s, hate crimes have attracted increasing research, especially from criminologists and law enforcement personnel, who have focused primarily on documenting the prevalence of the problem and formulating an effective criminal justice response.
9/11 brought about a variety of responses. Some made us proud, such as our towns and cities welcoming stranded passengers. Others made us sick: one of the immediate consequences to 9/11 was an increase in hate crimes against Muslims, Sikhs, Arabs and Jews across this country and the world. These senseless acts stemmed entirely from ignorance and resulted in more harm to innocent people, and even loss of life. Some members of our Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities, for example, were subjected to contempt, suspicion, verbal abuse, and even unprovoked assaults by virtue of their physical appearance. Could anything be more un-Canadian?
Almost overnight, Canadians whose skin tone or facial features bore a resemblance to the stereotype images that flooded our many papers and TVs were looked at with distrust and suspicion. Canadians who are as patriotic as anyone else were intimidated and fearful in a nation that has long been proud of the fact that it is one of inclusion and cultural diversity. Your community also suffered a backlash in the wake of September 11.
The controversial Anti-Terrorism Act, enacted by Canada’s Parliament after 9/11, addresses two key “hate crime” issues. Changes to the Criminal Code would enable court-ordered deletion of publicly available “hate propaganda” from the Internet. Second amendments that create “a new offence of mischief motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on religion, race, colour or national or ethnic origin, committed against a place of religious worship or associated religious property, including cemeteries.”
Police in Calgary and Ottawa reported that hate crimes doubled in the thirty days after the terrorist attacks, noting 24 and 44 hate-related incidents respectively. Around the world, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Arabs, Jews and others reported hundreds of cases of harassment, intimidation, and violence. Incidents included assaults, arson, death and bomb threats, vandalism, malicious emails, slurs yelled out of passing cars and looks of distrust in shopping centres and on streets. Places of worship such as this were vandalized, individuals were humiliated and abused, and even children were victimized.
Various faith communities saw each other come under siege. "An attack on one is an attack on all" became a mantra repeated across the country as groups united to stand against intolerance, show solidarity and support each other. Rabbi Reuven Bulka, chairman of the inter-religious affairs committee of the Canadian Jewish Congress, explained, “This terrible tragedy prodded us to do things with each other that we had been talking about for a long time. Our position is that spiritually we are all on the same page. We are all united against what happened.” It is central to all monotheistic faiths that life is sacred and that people should not be persecuted for their religious convictions. Our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms, among other such legislation across the democratic world, makes this point explicitly.
The first major exercise in inter-faith cooperation began soon after September 11. Many of the large majority of Canadians who profess to be religious believers expressed their concern over the lack of prayer or religious reference during the event held on Parliament Hill on September 14th. In response, leaders of numerous faith groups, members of parliament and senators from all political parties hastily arranged an inter-faith prayer service. The response was overwhelming. Despite the short notice, the largest room on Parliament Hill was filled to capacity by hundreds of people from the widest range of faiths sharing their grief and praying for the victims.
Groups that had before been mutually respectful, but never directly engaged were now relying on each other in ways few would have anticipated before September 11. In the case of the burning of this temple, for example, the Catholic Knights of Columbus and the Mormon Church in Hamilton made space available for Sunday worship for your congregation.
This is the sense of cooperation and mutual cooperation we all need. It is only through mutual respect, understanding and support that we can create a Canada which all peoples, religions and cultures can call their own. In this new century, perhaps more than ever in world history, only if our rapidly growing faith communities can cooperate, will peace across this shrunken earth be feasible.
Thank you and God Bless.