On Thursday, February 22, an Anti-Racism and Anti-Discrimination Town Hall took place at the Grant African Methodist Episcopal Church in Toronto which was co-hosted by Beaches-East York MPP Arthur Potts, and Beaches-East York MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith. The event was purposely disrupted by anti-Muslim bigots who used the opportunity to attack the panelists which included Lisa Kinsella and MP Iqra Khalid and make those who legitimately wished to participate in the Town Hall feel unsafe.
Nathaniel Erskine-Smith has commented elsewhere concerning the events that transpired at the Town Hall. When ARC reached out to him for comment, he was kind enough to provide the following statement:
On February 22, Arthur Potts and I co-hosted an anti-racism town hall. Unfortunately, it was disrupted by a number of racists who shouted slurs and bigotry, interrupting attempts at a thoughtful discussion. It was a jarring reminder that, regardless of the advancements in equality that we have made, there is much more yet to be done.
As federal and provincial representatives, we were asked by many constituents (from different backgrounds) to host an anti-racism public forum.
We invited Minister Michael Coteau and Iqra Khalid as panelists, both because they can speak from real life experience, and because the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has commended their work, namely Ontario’s anti-racism strategy and Canada’s passing of M-103 to condemn systemic discrimination (which resulted in a Heritage committee with specific recommendations).
We hosted the event with the co-operation of the Grant African Methodist Episcopal Church.
While we put some measures in place to ensure that racists were not given a platform, in the open and public forum, we were unable to prevent racist outbursts and interruptions.
Despite some warnings, we were not adequately prepared for the level of organized racist disruption. For example, we could have had more formal security on hand, and if the police are not the answer, then perhaps private security is. I’m certainly open to suggestions for the future.
The racism on display from repeated hecklers made my blood boil. I cannot imagine experiencing it as a minority. My sincere apologies to anyone who attended our event and was negatively impacted in any way.
In our public roles, open forums are important. They serve an important accountability function, and allow for community feedback.
We saw some of that. There were questions about carding practices, diversity in appointments and jury selection, child welfare and clean water in Indigenous communities, the need for education curriculum to address racism, and support for inter-faith and inter-cultural initiatives.
But we didn’t see enough.
Was a lot of time wasted dealing with racist hecklers? Yes.
Was the event worthwhile all the same? Yes.
Many people of all backgrounds thanked us for hosting the discussion and for the panel’s remarks. Michael and Iqra were engaging and thoughtful, with poise and patience.
Many people also saw the shocking racist interruptions as an eye-opener and call to action. Iqra shared the same sentiment in conversation afterward: “Just goes to show how much more we have to do on this.”
So it was a frustrating experience, but also a useful conversation to some degree. It can’t be the only conversation. There is no question that smaller and more focused consultations and meetings with individuals and groups will be more helpful in identifying solutions.
I encourage anyone interested in being a part of those solutions to be in touch: Nathaniel.Erskine-Smith@parl.gc.ca, or 416-467-0860.