How far we haven't come: Hamilton measures anti-racism progress 15 years after temple arson

Javid Mirza, Evelyn Myrie and Matthew Green discuss the far right, who gets the money and moving beyond talk. Here are some highlights from our panel discussion on racism and diversity.

Javid Mirza, Evelyn Myrie and Matthew Green discuss the far right, who gets the money and moving beyond talk

Large, public hate crimes against minorities — such as the Hindu Samaj Temple fire on Sept. 15, 2001 — should be seen as acts of terrorism to fully reflect their impact on a community, says one Hamilton city councillor during a live CBC chat on Thursday.

Matthew Green of Ward 3 says the arson, which happened four days after 9/11, created fear and intimidation in the local Hindu and Muslim communities. 

To call such incidents hate crimes "reduces its broad impact," Green said.

"When you hear these stories of violence, you are afraid, and by that nature, that is a type of terrorist."

Javid Mirza, former president of the Muslim Association of Hamilton, said during the chat that Muslim Hamiltonians were afraid to send their kids to school after 9/15. And many of them didn't.

The 15th anniversary of the Hindu Temple arson has provided an opportunity to take stock of Hamilton's efforts to become an inclusive city. Green, Mirza and diversity consultant Evelyn Myrie talked for 30 minutes about the temple arson, how to move past just talk about diversity, the economics of racism measuring progress.

You can watch the full panel discussion above. Here are some edited highlights:

Javid Mirza on fear after the vandalism to the Hamilton Mountain Mosque and Hindu Samaj Temple

"We have a school at the mosque and we used to have about 300 kids going to school at the time. The next day, when the classes resumed, more than three quarter of the kids didn't come. Parents didn't send their kids and I didn't blame them."

Evelyn Myrie on efforts after the arson

"There was a project where regular local Hamiltonians would pledge to keep an eye out for their neighbours. There was a particularly component that told newcomers – people of colour – that this is a safe house. If you feel threatened, you can come knock on our door."

Matthew Green on "new" racism

"The new racism — or not-so-new racism — is citizenship. You even have people of colour who are Canadian and feeling good in their Canadianness having xenophobia against newcomers, which baffles me."

Evelyn Myrie, on visible minorities and housing

"People have to go ask their white friends to pretend that they're the ones looking for apartments in order to access them. That happened to me 20 odd years ago and I'm shocked it's happening today."

Javid Mirza on Eric Girt, the new police chief

"I had a very lengthy discussion with him when he first became the chief. He said to me, 'Javid, I'm going to pay attention. I'm going to make sure the diversity stuff matters.' I'm waiting to see what he's doing and how he's doing it. I want him to present an inventory of what he's doing and how. I'm hoping one day, he'll present it to everybody and it'll make a difference."

Matthew Green on the police services board

"I believe our police board is culturally incompetent. It's not a diverse board. It's not representative of the city. Our front-line officers, our command and control, they are going to do what the policy directs them to do. Until we have diversity and cultural competence at these levels of decision making and policy making, nothing changes on the ground as far as I'm concerned."

Evelyn Myrie on myths

"There's a myth that people of colour are immigrants and newcomers. That's something we have to challenge."

Matthew Green on Donald Trump

"The crunch happens when you have the intersection of economics and race. Donald Trump sold out — sold out — the arena in Buffalo when he was here, just 45 minutes away. When you have lower income people — particularly white males, but let's say lower income white people — who are looking at a horrific job market, who have increased cost of living and stagnant wages, then you get demagogues like Donald Trump who rise to power… When they pit low-income white people against low-income people of colour to basically pander to this voter base, we're going to have extreme problems. I see it online right now. There are lots of young people with extreme views around nationalism, around race."

"Now, when we're seeing the reverberations, the effects of your Donald Trumps and the neo fascist faction within our radical conservative movement, we have to speak. In five to 10 years, it'll be too late… People will listen to that. When their hydro bills are unpayable, or when they get looked over for a promotion and they can't find a place to live, they're going to need somebody to blame. They're going to listen to the dog whistle, and they will attack."

Evelyn Myrie on measuring progress

"To me, I look at economics. I look at where people are located. I look at who's getting the jobs. I look at who's sitting on boards. I look at who's getting funded. Those are the kinds of things I look at to say we are making a shift."

"Looking outside, we see diversity walking down Hamilton streets. However, when you look around board tables, when you look at organizations and leadership, they're absent. It tells me socially we can drink together, we can hang out together, we can laugh and talk, but when the tire hits the road around opportunities for growth and development, the absence of people of colour and the absence of African Canadians is quite glaring."

Matthew Green on why we're at a tipping point

"We are having a values conversation in this country presently. Whether or not you want to be a part of it, whether or not you want to be an ostrich and put your head in the sand and pretend it's not happening, that's up to you. But the conversation is happening. And it's going to take good hearted Canadians who understand the value of the politics of recognition and multiculturalism and interculturalism to stand up and be accounted for."

Javid Mirza on experiencing racism

"Imagine if you were in Pakistan, a white person standing there, and somebody being racist to you. Think how you would feel. Get in somebody else's shoes. That's how it works."