Thunder Bay·Audio

Izzeldin Abuelaish talk sheds light on discrimination

About 450 people gathered at Thunder Bay's Victoria Inn this morning, for the eighth annual Diversity Breakfast.
About 450 people gathered at Thunder Bay's Victoria Inn Thursday morning to hear Izzeldin Abuelaish speak. (Adam Burns/CBC)

About 450 people gathered in a Thunder Bay banquet room this morning for the Diversity Breakfast.

The event marked the UN's International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The guest speaker was Izzeldin Abuelaish, known as "The Gaza Doctor," whose daughters were killed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In a 2009 CBC News story, Abuelaish said that, even in his grief, he remains convinced that people must talk to each other across the Israeli-Palestinian divide, he said.

"From our pain we can learn," he said. "We may disagree, but we should learn from that. Let us express the pain, let it out. It's beneficial to us all."

Thunder Bay resident Ken MacKay, 92, said he's been critical of other cultures in the past, but Abuelaish's speech has changed his attitude. (Adam Burns/CBC)
Ken MacKay, 92, was in the audience and said the doctor's words had a profound impact on him.    

"He's changed my idea of discrimination considerably,” he said.

“I've been critical at times about other cultures and people, and I'm going to change my attitude from now on. I've tended to be discriminatory … and I'm ashamed of it now, after listening to that man.”

MacKay said he was impressed that, despite the trauma Abuelaish experienced, his positive attitude has not changed.

Iqbal Khan is an entrepreneur who moved to Thunder Bay about 20 years ago. He says race relations in the city have improved greatly over that time, and he credits the change to education. (Adam Burns/CBC)
Iqbal Khan, an entrepreneur who moved to Thunder Bay from Mississauga about 20 years ago, also attended the breakfast.

Khan said the city has changed since he settled in Thunder Bay.

"[At] the time I came here, it was really difficult for, especially, minority people. [But] right now, people recognize us and give a lot of respect," he said.

Khan credited the change to education, and interaction between cultures in Thunder Bay.

"People are getting educated, people are travelling. Through education, through conversation ... this way, change is coming."