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Honouring Holocaust victims is an important reminder of work left to do to eradicate racism

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January 27, 2016

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Observing the UN International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust

Today is the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. It’s a day to remember the genocide that resulted in the murder of millions of Jewish people in World War Two, along with the systematic killing of people with disabilities, Roma persons, LGBTQ persons and many other minority groups across Europe and Asia.

And it’s a day to re-commit to building a society where this kind of religious hatred and discrimination is not allowed to take root.

The theme for this year, “The Holocaust and Human Dignity,” links Holocaust remembrance with the founding principles of the United Nations, and reaffirms faith in the dignity and worth of every person. Indeed, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the right to live free from discrimination and with equal protection under the law for people across the world, including here in Ontario.

Ontario’s Human Rights Code echoes the UN’s aspirations. There is no room in Ontario for discrimination or harassment based on a person’s creed, ethnic origin, or other personal characteristics such as race or sex.

But stamping out such discrimination is a long struggle and we are not there yet. For example, a B’nai Brith Canada report stated that 2014 saw the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in Canada they had ever recorded in the past 30 years. The 1,627 reported incidents included slurs, name-calling, graffiti, assaults, arson and bomb threats.

We also see mistrust, exclusion and sometimes outright hatred for Syrian newcomers, often because they follow – or are perceived to follow – the Muslim faith. And we see Hindu and Sikh Ontarians being harassed in the mistaken belief that they too are Muslim.

What happened during the Holocaust should never be allowed to happen again – yet the world continues to witness systematic abuse of civilians, including war crimes in Syria, North Korea, Central African Republic, and elsewhere.

We must do everything we can to change this. We must speak out on the world stage, but must also make sure our own house is in order. For the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), this includes recently launching a revised Policy on preventing discrimination based on creed, and continuing our work to prevent racial profiling.

I urge you to learn more about human rights, and the dignity and inclusion that are such essential parts of Ontario’s Human Rights Code. Before you make incorrect assumptions, ask questions and learn what it really means to be a newcomer, a Jewish person, a Muslim person, a racialized person, or an Indigenous person. Come together and stand in solidarity with people who experience discrimination. That is what Ontarians did after the recent arson at a Peterborough mosque; Ontarians donated funds to repair the mosque and the local synagogue welcomed Muslims displaced by the arson. 

Remembrance of the Holocaust must lead to concrete efforts today to understand others, and dispel misconceptions and stereotypes, along with a collective commitment to stand up and refuse to accept racism in Ontario – it is the least we can do to honour the victims of the genocide.

Renu Mandhane, J.D., LL.M
Chief Commissioner
Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC)