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Students urged to help curb racism

By Archives January 8, 2003

A panel discussion held at Concordia on Dec. 14 saw social activists joined by New Democratic Party leader Alexa McDonough. The panelists urged students to seek peaceful ways to resolve their differences.

The talk touched on the treatment of Arabs and Muslims following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Approximately 100 people filled the auditorium in H-110 to take part in the discussion organized jointly by the Canadian Muslim Forum and Alternative Perspective Media.

Fo Niemi is the executive director of a human rights advocacy group.

“Everyone should be considered a first-class citizen,” he told the audience, urging them to curb the stereotyping and discrimination of minorities that has followed in the year since the terrorist attacks.

Niemi is also a member of the Canadian Bar Association and he pointed out that from a legal perspective, “There is no federal statutory definition of what racism is,” making it difficult for members of parliament to pursue charges of racist actions.

To help put an end to this problem, Niemi proposed making alliances with other groups as a way of achieving results. “[We must] demand to be represented and included […] Unless we sit at the table, minorities will always look in from the outside.”

After receiving a standing ovation from some of the members of the audience, McDonough took the stage. She insisted that one of the most important aspects in discussions such as this one was the comments and the questions. Replying to a question from an audience member, McDonough pointed out that at Concordia, “It’s not likely that all problems are caused by the administration, and nor are they all going to be solved by the administration.”

The 59-year-old NDP leader, who recently announced her resignation, spoke about comments made by U.S. President George Bush following Sept. 11. To McDonough when Bush told the world, “Either you’re with us or you’re against us,” it was clear to her that, “There was a struggle ahead to protect our Muslim and Arab family.”

The final speaker was Mr. Soulami, president of the Cultural Communities Commission of the provincial Liberal Party. “I consider that we have a house free of racism,” he said, addressing the crowd in French, “but this must be constantly maintained.”

Also present for the discussion was Shirley Sarna, vice-chair of the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

“Racial profiling is alive and well,” she said. “It is important that education facilities, including Concordia, promote tolerance towards race, religion and sexual orientation,” she added. Sarna also promoted healthy skepticism as a method of judging media reports and urged the audience to peacefully resolve conflicts by contacting the human rights commission.

“I throw the ball to you, because we have human rights, but also responsibilities,” she said.