The Reverend Maggie Enwright, M Div, LL B
Vice-President, Community Justice Centre
Minister, Comox United Church
I don’t know how much time each of you spends in thinking about what you will type into the subject line on the emails you send…. But interesting to me that I received two forwarded emails about this event: one with the subject line: “Antiracist rally” and one with the subject line “peaceful assembly”. While there is no doubt in my mind I want to stand against racism… I also know there is something more positive, more forward-looking, ultimately more life-giving in speaking of a peaceful assembly. Yes, we come here today to stand against racism, but we also come here today to stand for something – or maybe for some things, plural –
things like kindness, good will, respect for diversity, peace.
When I first heard on the CTV news telecast that there had been a racially motivated assault on Vancouver Island, I naturally presumed it had taken place somewhere else…. Perhaps my somewhat rough hometown down island, or some remote, uncivilized community, but no – it turned out to be an incident that had taken place in my beloved Comox Valley – a place, which as the news report said, prides itself on its diversity and openness.
On the whole, most residents experience their life in this Valley community as friendly and accepting, which contributes to a general sense that “there really isn’t a problem here”. The incident of last Friday reminds us that we need to be vigilant in our efforts toward making and keeping our community one that is free of threats and assaults based on discrimination and hatred. I am grateful to the one who filmed the attack and brought the video evidence to the attention of police and the media – though I am shamed that this is now the image of the Comox Valley which people across the nation hold in their mind and heart.
On May 29th of this year, there was a formal attempt to give voice to a very different vision for our community. The Critical Incident Response Protocol signing ceremony saw 39 governments, boards, agencies and organizations sign on to a protocol that upholds the principles of inclusion and right relationship. I think the text of that protocol bears repetition at this event… so I invite you to listen:
Comox Valley Critical Incident Response Protocol
We believe that it is desirable for all residents of the Comox Valley to enjoy the privileges of living within a free, welcoming, inclusive, and civil community; and
We believe that no resident or visitor to the Comox Valley ought to suffer from the effects of harassment, intimidation, threat, hateful actions, physical injury, damage to their property, or other forms of violence which are motivated by bias. This includes, but is not limited to, any bias based upon their race, religious belief or non-belief, cultural origin, ethnic origin, perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender or gender identity, economic status, disability status, or social status; and
We believe that it is the duty of all residents, acting individually and together, to strive for the achievement of a community in which we acknowledge our diversity by affirming our differences and welcoming the contributions that arise from each resident’s unique gifts; and
We believe that every resident has the right to experience the sense of belonging to this community that arises from our daily commitment to creating a better world.
As authorized representatives of the governments, agencies, and organizations named:
We accept and agree to work towards the effective implementation of policies and practices within our respective governments, agencies, and organizations that recognize, affirm and encourage the inclusion of all; and
We commit our governments, agencies and organizations to the implementation of the integrated responses to racist, homophobic and hate-based critical incidents which are the subject of this Protocol; and
We encourage all residents and visitors to the Comox Valley to welcome and engage with each other in ways that incorporate the principles of inclusion, affirmation of difference, and broadening our understanding of one another so that these principles shall be evident in the ways in which we live and work together.”
The protocol then goes on to spell out what to do and how to report critical incidents based upon racism, homophobia and/or hate crimes. Interesting that the person who witnessed last Friday’s assault followed the protocol in terms of making an immediate and accurate report – for you can’t get more accurate details than those captured on video. As one who has something of a hate-love relationship with today’s technology – I see how useful it can be in exposing deeds that were heretofore hidden. Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, in the days of burning crosses on front lawns – the deeds were done under the cover of night by hooded men and women who got away with their hate crimes. Now the hoods have come off and the light has been brought to expose the unjust, unwarranted and violent behaviour of the perpetrators.
I presently serve as vice-president on the board of the Comox Valley Community Justice Centre. The work of the centre involves approaching crimes from the stand point of restorative justice. In this work, participants constantly ask the tough question: how do you stand against the wrong without just turning that into hatred against the wrong-doers?
This is addressed in the preamble to the Critical Incident Response Protocol. And so if you will bear with me, I will quote from the document once again:
“Racist, homophobic and hate-based incidents work to destroy the very core of
what it means to be a community. They threaten the health and safety of
communities. Such incidents require a response from the community that
asserts community beliefs in democratic freedoms, individual rights, and
community responsibility. On the one hand, an ineffective response to such
incidents suggests public acceptance of those underlying views and may even
encourage subsequent “copy-cat” incidents by others holding similar beliefs. On
the other hand, when such incidents are effectively responded to, and those
involved receive the support and assistance needed to overcome the causes and
effects, it sends a clear message to the community that such behaviour is not
acceptable in the Comox Valley. It also proclaims the message that this
community is prepared to help the individuals involved to transform those
feelings and actions into something positive that contributes to a healthy
community for all.”
My first-hand experience in this valley with a hate crime was some eight years ago now when the Lesbian and Gay Choir from Vancouver came to town to perform here at the Sid Williams Theatre. I was on the organizing team for the event, and I remember sitting in the theatre delighting in the full theatre, the wonderful music and the message of acceptance and unity in our diversity. It was just at the point that a lesbian couple were speaking their hopes for their
baby Ava – that she might grow up to experience a world free of hate and discrimination, that she might know true acceptance and love, – that someone lobbed a pepper spray bomb. The place was quickly evacuated and as I connected with my fellow organizers outside the building, we let our anger flow, saying if we found out who did such a deed, we would make sure that “so and so” paid for what he or she had done! It was just at that moment, that I looked up and saw the members of the choir marching down Cliffe Street – and they
weren’t shouting hateful epithets or screaming with rage, they were singing a song, – “we’re gonna keep on moving forward, we’re gonna keep on loving boldly”…
I know that Mahatma Ghandi is about as over-quoted as a person can get: I’m going to quote him again anyhow: so I leave you with his words:
“It is not non-violence if we merely love those who love us. It is non-violence only when we love those who hate us. I know how difficult it is to follow the grand laws of love. But are not all great and good things difficult to do?”