The Bahá’í Community of Canada’s Office of Public Affairs co-sponsored a live-audio discussion, on Twitter Spaces, on April 20th. The online discussion brought together the Hon. Irwin Cotler, Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, and Amira Elghawaby, Canada’s recently appointed Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia to discuss their mandates and explore how democratic societies can remain both pluralistic and united in an age of political and social polarisation.
The event, which attracted over 300 listeners, was organized by the Canadian Interfaith Conversation as a lead-up discussion to the national Our Whole Society Conference: Finding Common Ground in a Time of Polarization scheduled to take place in Waterloo, in early May. The University of Toronto’s Massey College, The Canadian Race Relations Foundation, and the Canadian Council of Churches also lent their support as co-sponsors for the event.
Elghawaby opened the discussion by describing the concerning rise in incidents of hate against Muslims in Canada that gave rise to her mandate. Expressing her desire to use her mandate to combat hate, intolerance, and discrimination in Canada as a whole, Elghawaby noted that instances of hate against different groups are often connected as “…the hateful or stereotypical narratives being fueled and propagated against a community will often be used and directed against other communities as well”. Elghawaby also shared that while social media platforms amplify hateful contributions in the public sphere these voices remain a minority in Canada. “There are so many positive examples of Canadians, every single day, countering the forces of division... through acts of love and kindness and service, really walk the walk on what it means to live in a country that is based on pluralism and human rights”, she said.
Cotler highlighted the importance of education in addressing the root causes of hate in all its expressions, including the rise in antisemitism in Canada, and the need to work together across civil society and government to develop coherent policy responses to a complex societal issue. He highlighted the important role of interfaith groups in engaging on this issue for providing a model which could be aspired to across society. He also spoke to the importance of addressing hate within faith communities as well, noting that “toxicity undermines tolerance and democracy for all of us” and that “there is an individual and collective responsibility not to be bystanders or indifferent to hate when we see it”.
Akaash Maharaj, executive committee member of the Canadian Interfaith Conversation and moderator for the discussion shared the following reflection on the live event: “I think it made a tremendously powerful statement for Amira and Irwin to be seen sharing a stage with one another, interacting as mutually-supportive peers, and stating emphatically that their two mandates are two aspects of a shared mission to build a stronger and better country.”
A recording of the live-audio discussion is available here.