Israeli-Canadian Ya’ara Saks is Liberal Hopeful in York Centre

Oct. 5, 2020

By LILA SARICK

It’s been the challenges of being a single parent and business owner during the pandemic that led Ya’ara Saks to seek the nomination for the Liberals in this month’s federal byelection in York Centre.

As the city went into lockdown, the demand for services at the mental health agency where Saks is the director skyrocketed, she told the CJR in an interview.

Meanwhile, the yoga studio she owns had to shift to online classes and employees were struggling.

Ya’ara Saks

“My staff are part of the gig economy – many of them are women – and watching them try to figure out how to get through this, and the vulnerabilities it exposed, was a real eye-opener [that] we never really addressed,” said Saks. “This is the moment to address them.”

Last month, Saks was appointed the Liberal candidate by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, bypassing the traditional nomination process.

“I was as surprised as anyone,” said Saks, pointing out that the party’s decision accorded with its guidelines.

Gary Gladstone, who was unsuccessful as the Liberal candidate in last year’s federal election in Thornhill riding, was also seeking the nomination in York Centre. He said that although he was “disappointed” there was no riding vote, he would be supporting Saks. “I think she’s a wonderful candidate.”

Saks will face Conservative candidate Julius Tiangson, a Filipino-Canadian businessman who lost his bid for a seat in Mississauga in the 2015 federal election. Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, which does not have a seat in Parliament, has also indicated he is running in York Centre.

According to the 2016 census, 17 percent of the riding’s residents are of Filipino ethnic origin. The 2011 National Household Survey found that 13.6 percent of York Centre residents indicated they were Jewish. It has traditionally been a safe Liberal seat, although in 2011, Conservative Mark Adler defeated Liberal incumbent Ken Dryden. The Liberals recaptured the riding in 2015.

The byelection, scheduled for Oct. 26, was called after MP Michael Levitt stepped down to become CEO of the Canadian Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Apart from owning a yoga studio in the riding, Saks, 47, is the director of Trauma Practice for Healthy Communities, a charity that focuses on mental health. Addressing mental health issues, especially challenges that have arisen during the pandemic, will be a priority if she is elected, she said.

Saks, who was born in Toronto and has an Israeli father, spent her early years in both Canada and Israel, and her first language is Hebrew. “My family’s moshav, Even Yehuda (just outside Netanya) was and remains a central part of my life,” she said.

She moved to Israel in 1995 and earned a master’s degree from Hebrew University of Jerusalem in international relations and diplomacy. She spent several years in the Jerusalem mayor’s office, working on community engagement projects, and moved back to Toronto in 2006.

The Liberal stance on Israel dovetails with her own philosophy, she said.

“The policy of the Liberal Party as it stands today is that a negotiated agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis would be in the best interest of both societies, and I am in complete agreement,” she said. “I think that Israelis have the right to be safe and secure within their own borders. I also think that Palestinian society should have an opportunity to come to the table and negotiate as well.”

Saks has been a committee member of the New Israel Fund of Canada (NIF), and said those who fear the organization leans too far left should examine its mandate, which is to “support Israeli society and uphold its Declaration of Independence, which were the founding values of the country.”

The NIF’s goals are in fact “in very close alignment with Liberal values,” she said.

“If we want to push back against BDS [the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel], then we want to show that Israelis do care about having a strong, democratic and socially just society. If we can show that, what better way to push back against BDS and the underlying voices of antisemitism that come with it?” she asked.

Running an election campaign during a pandemic is a challenge, but Saks says it was crucial to hold the byelection now so constituents would be represented as the number of COVID cases climb again.

Elections Canada is working with the candidates to ensure that voting can be done safely, she said.

Saks is not concerned that she could be engaged in a second campaign soon after this one should the minority Liberal government be defeated in a non-confidence motion.

Reflecting on the years she lived in Israel, she noted she had experience with the country going to the polls multiple times.

“An election is not something to be afraid of,” she said. “An election is an opportunity to highlight your commitment to the values and the policies that have been put forward and to encourage voters to use their ballot to let us know what they want.”

Easing of COVID Restrictions = More Hate Graffiti

Sept. 17, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Hamilton police are reporting a rise in antisemitic hate graffiti as COVID lockdowns ease.

Det. Paul Corrigan, head of the Hamilton Police Service’s hate crimes unit, said reported incidents have risen in the last three weeks after lagging sharply for several months.

Corrigan added that while the year-over-year number is still down sharply from 2019, likely because of COVID-related lockdowns, the recent increase is still of concern.

“The reason we’re seeing an uptick is because it had been reasonably quiet for a while with people locked down because of COVID,” he said. “It’s not an increase over normal times, it’s just an increase over abnormal times.

“I’m no statistical expert, but I’m guessing it’s because of COVID,” he added.

To date, 42 hate crimes have been reported in Hamilton, compared to over 80 for the same period last year. Jews were the targets of 15, or 36 percent, of those incidents. Of that total, 14 were graffiti incidents. Only one, a minor assault in January with antisemitic insults thrown in, involved a serious crime. That case is still before the courts.

The most recent incident occurred over the Labour Day weekend in the Dundas neighbourhood of Greensville, a collection of higher-end homes atop the Niagara escarpment. Three swastikas were drawn on roadways, shocking residents out enjoying the last long weekend of the summer.

Resident Kristin Glasbergen told CBC she saw one of the hate symbols while out for a morning stroll and another two days later.

“I called the city to let them know and I posted on Facebook to let the community there know,” she said. “This doesn’t happen in Greensville.”

David Arbuckle, another area resident, told CBC he was “shocked and disgusted that someone took the opportunity to purposely spread a message of hate in our community.”

Reactions like that are common, Corrigan said, and it’s a chief reason he classifies something a swastika chalked onto a roadway as a hate crime.

“Some police services don’t look at that as a hate crime. They see it as a criminal offense of graffiti, but I look at the swastika as a symbol of hate,” he said. “I know the argument that it’s a peace symbol to a Buddhist, but when I see a swastika, I see it as criminal and there is a hate-bias motivation to it.”

While that approach may give some the impression Hamilton is a hate-filled place, Corrigan said he will continue to rate incidents that way until the federal government comes up with a national definition.

In 2019, Hamilton was dubbed the “Hate Crime Capital” of Canada after Statistics Canada figures showed that hate crimes in the city the year before were up 6.6 per cent against a national decrease of 13 percent.

With reported incidents averaging 17.1 per 100,000 people, the rate in Hamilton was more than three times the national average.

Jews remain near the top of the list as targets of such crimes.

Hate crime in Hamilton and area continued through 2019. In Burlington, for example, two men were charged after six antisemitic incidents were reported in May and June.

In those cases hateful messages were posted on the front door of Burlington City Hall, on streetlamp posts, and private vehicles.

Just as charges were laid in the Burlington incidents, members of Hamilton’s Beth Jacob Congregation arrived for Shabbat morning services last Oct. 5 to find four hate messages crudely scrawled in their parking lot and on the street in front of the synagogue.

The drawings included a swastika, and the word “Jews” crossed-out in a circle.

While local police services grapple with the problem of crudely-drawn hate symbols aimed at Jews, B’nai Brith Canada is urging the federal government to use its upcoming Speech from the Throne to bring in new legislation to deal with antisemitism.

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn said COVID has “accelerated the bitterness of attacks faced by the Jewish community,” and called for a national action plan to combat antisemitism.

The plan, Mostyn wrote, should include standardized and mandatory school programs on antisemitism and the Holocaust overseen by a new official reporting directly to the prime minister.

Mostyn argued Canada should now take “practical steps” to implement the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which Ottawa adopted last year as part of an anti-racism plan.

“We believe the government should emphasize that addressing racism, antisemitism, hate speech and hate crimes is a public safety issue, not just a multicultural issue and that combating these is one end of the spectrum of countering radicalization to violence,” he wrote.

Mostyn also urged Ottawa to pour resources into digital literacy programs; to refuse diplomatic engagement with Iran unless it accepts Israel’s right to exist; declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization; denying funding to UNRWA, the UN agency overseeing Palestinian refugees; deporting Nazi war criminals like Helmut Oberlander; and ratifying the 2002 Convention on Cybercrime that criminalizes online racism.

99-Year-Old Will Walk One Million Steps for Senior Care

September 16, 2020 – By SUSAN MINUK

Marvin Gord will not only celebrate his 100th birthday on Dec. 31, but plans to gift $1 million to Baycrest Health Sciences Centre – one step at a time.

“Marvin’s Million” was born on July 1, and Gord is determined to walk one million steps by his milestone birthday, raising a dollar for each stride.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford have all joined in cheering Gord on.

With his trusted walker, Gord has, to date, walked nearly 600,000 steps, raising $67,000. He estimates he will complete between 500 and 750 kilometers by his birthday.

Marvin Gord

He was inspired by English war veteran Tom Moore, who raised money this summer by walking around his garden with the aid of a walker for his 100th birthday.

“If he could do that,” said Gord, “I could raise $1 million for Baycrest.”

Gord has a long history with the health care facility. His grandmother, Yenta Maldover, sat on the Ezras Noshem Society committee that founded Baycrest’s predecessor, the Toronto Jewish Old Folks Home on Cecil Street in downtown Toronto.

His mother, Eva Brownstone, volunteered for many years and was later a resident in Baycrest’s Apotex Centre. His wife, Nancy Gord, entered Baycrest’s palliative care and died in 2015. Gord himself volunteered for Baycrest’s Brain Project memory clinic research.

He’s walked for years, averaging 3.5 miles a day since surviving a heart attack in 1980.

“No matter what, I walk 20 miles a week,” he said. “If it’s not a nice day, I’ll go to one of the malls. It doesn’t matter whether I want to or not, I do it.”

It wasn’t until age 97 that he started to use a walker. Gord challenges the community to walk with him. “But you have to keep up,” he said with a laugh.

Many young people have answered the call.

This summer, counselors-in-training at Camp Manitou in Parry Sound, Ont. became “Marvin buddies,” walking virtually with Gord, said Rafi Yablonsky, manager of major gifts and donor development at the Baycrest Foundation.

Students at Upper Canada College have also created a “Marvin page” to help raise awareness and money, Yablonsky noted.

Gord’s life is rich. He has three daughters, nine grandchildren and seven-great-grandchildren, with an eighth on the way in Israel. He’s an avid reader who combs newspapers’ financial pages, and instructed the CJR to “sign me up” if the website ever goes to print.

Marvin Gord
Marvin Gord

Born in Toronto, Gord was a radar specialist during the Second World War, serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Air Force in England, Africa, and Italy.

After the war, he studied at the University of Toronto and became a pharmacist. A dozen or so years later, he returned to U of T for a psychology degree, and then, at age 60, earned a law degree.

On top of that, he became a finance and human resource professor, and at 83, completed the Canadian Securities Course.

Asked the secret to his longevity Gord said, with a straight face, “one shot of Johnnie Walker Black once a day.” He added: “I have no sugar and no salt in my diet and lots of fiber. It’s the way I live.”

About turning 100, Gord asked, “What’s the big deal? When I turn 110, that will be a big deal.”

“Marvin is an incredible man,” said Josh Cooper, president and CEO of the Baycrest Foundation “At 99, he is what we call at Baycrest a super senior.”

Gord’s donation will benefit Baycrest’s Safeguarding Our Seniors campaign, designed to fund protective measures and medical equipment needed for residents, patients and staff, as well as older adults visiting the facility’s doctors.

Donations can be made at marvinsmillion.com.