By Lincoln DePradine
The killing of four Muslims in London, Ontario, and the recent discovery in British Columbia of the bodies of Indigenous children who died while at a former residential school, were acts triggered by hate and “otherization’’, speakers at a labour conference said last Saturday.
“It’s about hate, it’s about otherization. It’s about dehumanization, when you look at communities and you don’t see them as fully human,’’ Amira Elghawaby told participants at the conference of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council.
Hateful behaviour such as anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, anti-ableism, anti-Indigenous and anti-Semitism are all “part of a whole that we have to combat together’’, said Elghawaby, political assistant to president of the Canadian Labour Congress, Guyana-born Hassan Yussuff.
Saturday’s get-together was titled, “Indigenous/Workers of Colour Conference – Rising Above the Storm: Creating the Future We Want’’.
The conference came against the background of the murders in London committed by Nathaniel Veltman. The 20-year-old faces four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
Police allege that Veltman used his vehicle in a planned and premeditated attack that killed Salman Afzaal, his wife, their daughter and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal. A nine-year-old boy was also seriously hurt but is expected to recover.
The 215 children – some as young as three years old – found in the mass grave in British Columbia were students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. It was one of the institutions that held Indigenous children taken from families across the nation. The school closed in 1978.
From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 First Nations’ children were required to attend state-funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into Canadian society. They were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were beaten and verbally abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died.
The incident in London was an “horrific act of terror’’, said Elghawaby, who is a journalist and human rights advocate, with an honours’ degree in journalism and law.
Veltman was “so consumed with hatred for people who look Muslim and chose them and took away their lives in that moment, simply because of who they were,’’ Elghawaby said.
“We were already feeling very much saddened by the discovery of the indigenous children because we all are connected. Anyone with a heart, anyone who understands the trauma of humans in our society, can not be affected.’’
Rosemarie Powell, the conference’s keynote speaker, described the killing of the four in London as “another hateful act’’ and “an example of Islamophobia and systemic racism in our society today’’.
Also, the discovery of bodies of the Indigenous children in Kamloops is “a stark reminder of the continued experience of Indigenous people on their own lands’’, said Powell, executive director of the Toronto Community Benefits Network.
“My own experience in Canada as a Black woman immigrant has been one characterized by struggle, systemic racism and discrimination that started as soon as I arrived in Montreal, Quebec, at the age of 16,’’ Powell said. “Canada has a long and deep history with racism and it continues to manifest in terrifying ways.’’