Magazines 2024 Mar - Apr Restoring Canada’s promise of civility

Restoring Canada’s promise of civility

28 February 2024 By Bruce Clemenger

Being a place of refuge

en français

It has been called humanity’s longest hatred – the hatred of Jews. And it is on the rise in Canada. Hate crime statistics show that Jews are the most targeted religious group.

Since the terrorist attacks in Israel Oct. 7, the greatest loss of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust, you would think incidents would decrease out of horror and sympathy, but the opposite has occurred. Instances of hatred have increased. Rather than a universal condemnation of the Oct. 7 attacks, too many have celebrated and justified terrorism.

In response many are saying, "This is not Canada." Yet it is what we seem to be becoming. Jewish institutions firebombed and shot at, businesses owned by Jews damaged, communities living in fear. Not for what they have done, but because of who they are by birth and heritage.

I attended the ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day held at the Holocaust Memorial in Ottawa on Jan. 27, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1945. "Never Again" is the refrain – never again will we allow the genocide of the Jewish people.

But many at the ceremony questioned the authenticity of the commitment to "never again" in the face of the expressions of hate, verbal thuggery, harassment and acts of violence toward Jews in Canada, and protests being held in predominantly Jewish neighbourhoods.

The same day, a synagogue in Fredericton was attacked.

Within a free, tolerant and civil society, there’s room for civil and peaceful protest. If you oppose the actions or policies of a nation, you can demonstrate in front of its embassy in Ottawa or its consulate in another city. If you oppose the actions of the Canadian government, or want the government to take certain positions on domestic or international issues, you can demonstrate on Parliament Hill, sign petitions and talk with your MP. Many have demonstrated in Ottawa to draw attention to the plight of Palestinian citizens in the war between Israel and Hamas.

We must not let ideology, racism or fear undermine our empathy, civility and the tolerance on which it rests.

However, targeting Jews and making them feel unsafe and unwelcome is eerily reminiscent of the antisemitism expressed in Canada in the 1920s and ’30s. Back then signs were posted on Canadian beaches and parks stating Jews were not welcome. Being Jewish was an obstacle to some jobs. In some cases quotas were imposed.

Early expressions of antisemitism in Germany in the early 1930s were much the same. Jews targeted because they are Jews.

And they are not alone.

The day after Holocaust Remembrance Day was the 7th anniversary of the killings of six Muslims in a Quebec City mosque. Another 19 were wounded in the attack. I visited the mosque last spring with other Christian leaders. One of its founders walked us through the mosque and described the sequence of events that tragic day. He also described the security measures implemented to try to give comfort and a sense of security against hate.

Muslims have also experienced an increase in hate speech and intimidation since Oct. 7.

The social compact of Canada, an aspect of civility in a country largely populated through immigration, is that we leave behind the disputes and conflicts of the countries from which we came, and live together in peace and civility – Canada as a place of refuge. We do not target or blame Canadians here for actions taken by foreign governments.

We must not let ideology, racism or fear undermine our empathy, civility and the tolerance on which it rests (see last issue’s column on diplomacy and civility at

Many Christians have also come to Canada to escape oppression and persecution – to find refuge, a safe space to live and worship in freedom.

The Bible calls Christians to practise civility and show hospitality (Luke 5:29–30; 10:25–37). We are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43–46; Mark 12:31; Luke 6:27–35). We are to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15).

In so doing we offer the refuge so many seek and that we ourselves often need – a safe place to be heard and find comfort. In offering refuge and creating safe spaces, we model Canada’s promise of civility and peace.

bruce j. clemenger
Bruce J. Clemenger is senior ambassador and president emeritus of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and author of The New Orthodoxy: Canada’s Emerging Civil Religion (Castle Quay, 2022). Opening photo:

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