December 1, 2015


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Human rights always an issue

Alleged attack on Jewish girl -- and support -- heighten urgency

The 15-year-old Winnipeg boy accused of an attack against a Jewish girl has supporters on the Internet. Since you can find people online who believe Elvis is alive and Hitler merely misunderstood, this is not an epiphany.

It is a strong argument this country needs the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Religious or ethnically based violence and hatred have no place here or elsewhere. When it occurs and when it is publicly supported we are reminded why the past and its repercussions can't be forgotten.

It seems Facebook has become our culture's town square, a collection of rumour, inanity, misinformation and occasional brilliance. It is popular with the young, free from the hardships of earning a living and more inclined to instantly share their likes, dislikes and YouTube videos.

The accused allegedly set fire to a female student's hair after uttering an anti-Semitic remark. It is possible he will face hate-crime charges. He is pictured on his Facebook page wearing a sweatshirt proclaiming he loves "haters." This seems a case of misery loving company.

As two Free Press reporters revealed in Tuesday's paper, some teens have been vocal in their support of the boy.

"None of it was true," wrote one girl of the alleged incident.

"He told me he burned her hair as a joke. But like barely any like maybe a centimeter (sic) of her hair," said a second, adding "I think its (sic) so dumb that their (sic) pressing charges."

"HA we heard about that at Glenlawn," wrote a boy, "... apparently it was a hate crime because he said something that was anti-Semitic before doing it."

"HE DIDN'T SAY ANYTHING F**K," wrote girl No. 1. "I hate her (the alleged victim) because shes (sic) a bitch nothing more to it."

What elevates the exchanges to public debate is the allegation this was a hate crime. The B'nai Brith denounced the alleged attack as proving "the durability of anti-Semitism." Tuesday afternoon, the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations also condemned the incident.

"Canadians -- Muslims and non-Muslims -- stand united in our condemnation of this alleged anti-Semitic attack and all crimes motivated by xenophobia and hatred," a CAIR-CAN statement read. "An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us."

On Tuesday afternoon, the CMHR held its first annual public meeting. The museum project has been mired in controversy since its inception. Open loathing has been expressed toward the Asper family, their religious community and the assumed inequities between the proposed depictions of the Holocaust and other atrocities.

In fact, anti-Semitism has dogged the museum since the day Izzy Asper first conceived of the project.

Some of the public concerns were valid. Our tax dollars are contributing to this project. There needs to be accountability. Other complaints have their genesis in ignorance or the reflexive reaction of naysayers to visionaries who insist this city can be an inspiration to others.

Few can logically argue against the value of a human rights museum as an entity, leaving aside opinions on public funding and the perceived import given to any number of atrocities.

"Canadians expect us to get it right," museum president Stuart Murray said Tuesday afternoon.

We do. We can't forget. We can't forget the Holocaust, the Holodomor, residential schools or remote communities with no running water. We win nothing by denouncing an attempt to shine a light on the atrocities of the past in an attempt to lead us to a better future.

If we don't, we should always remember the rasp of a disposable lighter as a teenage boy sets fire to the hair of a Jewish girl. And then we should anticipate the cries of approval from the misguided and the truly evil.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 7, 2011 B1

Comments are not accepted on this story because they might prejudice a case before the courts.

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