Mohammed Hashim: The Right Man at CRRF

Oct. 16, 2020

By BERNIE FARBER

(CRRF) was created in 1997 as a Crown corporation, born of a dark chapter in Canadian history: The imprisonment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War.

These were Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry. There needn’t have been any suspicion of treason or support for Japan, even though it was part of the Axis powers. That their ancestors were from Japan, some, going back many generations, was enough to uproot entire families, confiscate homes, disrupt professions, and imprison all, from young infants to the elderly. It was a gross abuse of political power, racist, and in the eyes of history, despicable.

Jews, of all people, well understood what this form of discrimination was about. Among those Jewish leaders in Canada who fought vigorously for Japanese-Canadian redress was Milton Harris, president of Canadian Jewish Congress from 1983 to 1986.

But amends would take decades. Under the guidance of the newly-established National Association of Japanese Canadians and its leaders – Art Miki, Roger Obata, Audrey Kobayashi, Maryka Omatsu, along with others, including Harris – redress and compensation, as well as a full apology, were realized in Parliament on Sept. 22, 1988.

On that date, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney rose in the House of Commons to apologize for Canadian human rights abuses against Japanese-Canadians. Mulroney announced individual redress payments, as well as a living legacy: A multi-million dollar community fund that would educate and engage in social and cultural programming emphasizing the vital need for positive race relations in Canada.

And so was born the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.

CRRF has been a force for good in Canada since its establishment. Its mandate to promote and facilitate race relations training, support development of effective policies to combat racism, and has been a shining example of Canada’s commitment to multiculturalism as a political ethos.

Each of its past executive directors put their own stamp on the organization. Moy Tam was followed by Dr. Karen Mock, a friend and colleague who used the same advocacy spirit at the CRRF that she brought heading B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights. Then came Ayman Yassini, Anita Bromberg (also formerly from B’nai Brith Canada), and Dr. Lillian Ma. We should also note that Rubin Freidman, a fixture in Canadian Jewish communal organizations, worked effectively for CRRF in its communications division, as did Len Rudner, who had come from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

Mohammed Hashim
Mohammed Hashim

On Oct. 6, 2020, Mohammed Hashim was named the new executive director. Anyone who knows Hashim and his work will agree that he is unquestionably the right man for the right job at precisely the right time.

He arose from student activism during his days at the University of Toronto to become a labour organizer and human right rights advocate. Most recently, he spent considerable energy as a senior organizer with the Toronto and York Region Labour Council.

His organizing skills were equalled by his ability to relate to people. Their faith, sexual orientation or skin colour never mattered. He has always been present in the fight for fairness and empowerment. A devout Muslim, he has Jewish friends from across the religious spectrum. He is young, dynamic, wise, and warm.

Mohammed Hashim (centre) with Jeffrey Brown, president of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation (left) and Bernie Farber, publisher of the CJR and chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

This is a tough time to be the executive director of the CRRF. With racism reaching unprecedented levels and white nationalism expressing itself in violent words and actions, those of us doing human rights advocacy welcome his appointment with strong and open arms.


Bernie Farber
Bernie Farber

Bernie Farber is publisher of the Canadian Jewish Record and Chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

Editorial: Justice for Racialized Communities: We All Have Skin in this Game

Aug. 20, 2020 – For a time, we really did feel that things were changing. With the tragic murder of George Floyd, many rose from their complacency to demand change. Indeed, these times have been reminiscent of the heady civil rights era in which Martin Luther King, Rabbi Abraham Heschel and other faith leaders, Black and white, Jews and Christians (other faiths weren’t comfortable with the high visibility at the time) who peacefully but passionately spoke out against racism and discrimination. Reminiscent, but not quite the same.

The civil rights era of the 1960s led at first to a momentous change in the body politic of the United States: The Civil Rights Act signed into law by then President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

A crowning achievement, it was intended to outlaw discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin. It did not, of course. Words on paper are just words if they are not followed by concrete and meaningful action. Words blur, hate is muscular. Words are simply not enough without boldness of action.

Here in Canada, we like to believe we are better. We told ourselves we didn’t require a Civil Rights Act to understand the evil of bigotry. We fooled ourselves into believing that we held the moral high ground.

Among the evidence to the contrary were Ontario’s so-called restrictive covenants, which prohibited the sale of land to Jews and Blacks.

In one of the better-known examples in the post-war era, a labour organization, the Workers’ Educational Association of Canada (WEA), purchased property on O’Connor Drive to build “ideal” homes for working families and soldiers returning home. The WEA soon discovered the deed prevented the land from being sold to Jews “or persons of objectionable nationality.”

That led, in 1945, to an arrangement between the WEA and the Canadian Jewish Congress. Then WEA director Drummond Wren teamed with CJC’s legal committee chair, Bora Laskin, (later to become the first Jewish Chief Justice of Canada) and other lawyers representing the complainants. Together, their argument succeeded. Justice J. Keiller MacKay of the Supreme Court of Ontario, later an Ontario Lieutenant Governor, struck the offensive legislation from provincial law, declaring it “injurious to the public good.” Stated MacKay in his impassioned ruling:

“Canada is pledged to promote universal respect for and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without discrimination as to race, sex, language or religion…”

Justice J. Keiller MacKay

But that didn’t spell the end of bigotry. Appeals and counter-appeals wound up before the Ontario Court of Appeal, which, in a contemptible decision in 1949, sidestepped MacKay’s ruling and claimed that barring those of Jewish, “Negro or coloured race or blood” was only to make sure those owning land were of “a class who will get along together.” There was nothing “criminal or unusual” about any of this, the court assured.

It wasn’t until 1950 that Ontario banned the covenants in a bill that saw unanimous support. “There is no place in Ontario’s way of life for restrictive covenants,” pronounced then Ontario Premier Leslie Frost. Later that year, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down all forms of racial and faith-based restrictive land covenants as invalid.

Flash forward to today. While no barriers by race appear in law, bigotry and systemic racism still exist. This week, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (which arose from the battles undertaken by the WEA and CJC) identified, through its Human Rights Tribunals, that systemic racism continues unchecked, causing much harm.

As noted by Ena Chadha, the new Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission: This past March, a six-year-old Black girl was racially discriminated against when police restrained and handcuffed her at school.

And: In 2018, Black youths had to prepay their meals at a Toronto restaurant.

These are but two examples of systemic racism which were thankfully dealt with under human rights law. But racism continues unabated. This is not a time to take our eyes off the ball. Much work remains to be done. Justice for racialized communities does matter. We all have skin in this game.