Home News Rev. Al Sharpton criticizes Quebec’s “reasonable accommodation”

Rev. Al Sharpton criticizes Quebec’s “reasonable accommodation”

by Archives March 11, 2008

The H-110 auditorium lit up with camera flashes and the capacity crowd roared with excitement as former United States presidential candidate and renowned civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton took the stage at Concordia last Thursday. He came to deliver a passionate speech on the United States primary race, the recent scandal surrounding Canada’s conservative government and his civil rights activism.
Sharpton put particular importance on American politics during the nearly 90-minute-long appearance. He first made it clear that he does not officially endorsed either Barrack Obama or Hillary Clinton for the Democratic race, but then went on to say: “The ascension of Barrack Obama is nothing short of astounding and I think it is a positive thing for the country,” a comment that resulted in boisterous cheers from the crowd.
Sharpton’s 90-minute speech took aim at President George W. Bush’s policies and the war in Iraq, alluding to the theory that the war was just a quest for financial profit. He spoke highly of Obama’s “platform for change” specifically, and pointed out a need for change in American foreign policy.
“There are business interests in the United States and in the global community that do not care about sacrificing the lives of innocent military people or sacrificing the health of the planet if it gets in the way of profit,” he said.
Sharpton spoke simply and passionately about cases of injustice in the United States and Canada, notably the death of Sean Bell, an African-American who was shot 51 times by police and was subsequently found to be unarmed. Sharpton and his National Action Network have been part of dozens of media campaigns to bring what they believe are civil rights injustices to the public eye.
“The first thing you must do if you are going to be active against an injustice, is you must expose the injustice,” he said.
Sharpton spent a lot of time on why he believes the black civic rights movement, although it has come a long way, is still not where it should be.
“If a man had a six-inch-knife in your back, and he pulls out three inches . . . you still have three inches of knife in your back,” was the metaphor he used to describe it.
He said there should be more black history taught in schools, and that black culture in general needs to have more emphasis in the education system.
Sharpton weighed in on Quebec’s recent reasonable accommodation debate, saying that if someone needed to suppress their culture in order to be accepted, it will inevitably put someone in a “supremacist position.”
He sees Quebec’s concept of cultural integration as a way for the existing society to suppress newcomers’ own identities. “I want you to be more like me, so I can see more of myself in you,” as he described it.
Sharpton also took issue with the recent press leak which pundits believe cost Obama the Ohio primary, allegedly coming from a source within the Canadian government. The leak cast doubt on Obama’s sincerity in his position against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which both Obama and Clinton blamed for job losses in the United States as part of their platforms. Sharpton singled out Prime Minister Stephen Harper for launching an inquiry into his own Conservative Party. “Usually when people investigate themselves, they exonerate themselves.”
He compared Harper’s proposed inquiry to two siblings breaking something in their house, and trying to avoid being disciplined by telling their parents that they would investigate what happened.
“If you think that would work with your parents, then you ought to be a part of the Conservative investigation,” he joked.
Sharpton made his exit very much the same way he entered, stoically walking out amidst passionate cries from the crowd and bathed in camera flashes.
The event was organized as part of the Concordia Student Union’s (CSU) Speaker Series.
Noah Stewart, VP Communications of the CSU, wanted Sharpton as a speaker from the get-go when the executives were planning the Speaker Series.
“Concordia especially has a real history of civil rights work and students standing up to defend their rights,” he said, and made reference to the racially charged “Computer Riots” in 1968 when a professor allegedly discriminated against black students.
“I think Al Sharpton embodies that in a lot of ways. To a lot of people and to me, he’s certainly been an inspiration with all the work he’s done,” he added.
When asked whether he was concerned about the controversies surrounding Sharpton, who is said to be racially divisive by his critics, Stewart was non-plussed.
“The thing is, Concordia has a history of being willing to engage in controversial subjects and talk about them…if there are controversies, I think it’s great that students can discuss them and address them.”
Will he come back again?
“It’s definitely a possibility,” said Stewart.

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