By LILA SARICK
Canada’s Jews are committed to working with the country’s Black community even though there are people in both groups who oppose co-operation, a senior member of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said in a webinar with board members of the Federation of Black Canadians (FBC).
“There are people who do not want this partnership between the Black community and the organized Jewish community to work. I’ve heard from them and I’m pretty sure the Federation of Black Canadians has heard from them as well,” said Richard Marceau, vice-president of external affairs for CIJA.
“We have to stand firm against those marginal and fringe voices that have no interest in building up all of us,” he said.
The two organizations have recently been working together on confronting online hate, he said. Leaders of the FBC attended the World Jewish Congress’ international meeting in Ottawa in 2019, Marceau pointed out.
About 400 people participated in the June 17 webinar, organized by CIJA “to provide our community with this opportunity to listen directly to the experience of Black Canadians,” Marceau said in an email to The CJR after the event.
“Though we can sometimes disagree on some issues with the numerous partners we work with, we are united in our desire to make Canadian society free of bigotry and hate,” Marceau said in the email.
“Supporting the Black community does not come at the expense of the ongoing fight against antisemitism,” Marceau said on the webinar, as he introduced the four board members of the FBC. “We’re all part of the same struggle to overcome hate and push back against racism and discrimination.”
The hour-long call gave the FBC, a national advocacy group formed in 2017, a chance to outline the challenges its community faces and to present its three-point platform.
Black Canadians were already struggling with higher than national rates of poverty, unemployment and incarceration before COVID struck, board members said. Since then, the virus has had a disproportionate impact on the community.
“The challenges that we are facing are life and death,” said FBC chair Dahabo Ahmed Omer.
“During COVID, we have seen the impact of this pandemic on top of anti-Black racism, which is another form of pandemic,” Omer said. “What we are asking for is dedicated funding for Black communities to be supported in different gaps: housing, healthcare, business, the justice system and education.”
Although the federal government has launched several income-supplement programs, the Black community is still falling through holes in the safety net, she said.
For instance, Black businesses which rely on seasonal and temporary help have had trouble qualifying and accessing programs because they don’t meet government thresholds for payroll, as have grassroots organizations which rely largely on volunteers, said Chris Thompson, vice-chair of the FBC.
The FBC is also asking for all levels of government to collect race-based data to measure, among other things, the impact of racism and COVID on the Black community, Omer said.
“The third ask and recommendation that we are making is around this massive conversation around defunding police,” Omer said.
“We believe it is critical that we look at the resources that police institutions are getting today and what they are doing with those resources. We do not want our police institution to be about law enforcement, because hopefully our police institutions are about safety, they’re about wellbeing, and about caring for the needs of people.”
Citing recent instances in which police involvement with people who are mentally ill escalated into lethal confrontations, Omer said the FBC is calling for more investment into community social services to address issues such as homelessness and substance abuse, rather than having police handle those concerns.
In response to a question, Omer acknowledged that there were some antisemitic sentiments in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“But I also know that Black Lives Matter should not be painted in one brush because there are so many types of organizations that fight for Black lives,” she said.
Referring to Marceau’s comment about opposition to the communities working together, Omer agreed that it was important for Jewish and Black organizations to be allies.
“We have to combat the narratives that our communities can’t work together, because the narratives are there, and I think we have to do a lot of work to fight that.”