By Owen Charters
The news has been heartbreaking.
First, the revelation of an unmarked gravesite at the Kamloops Residential School, situated on the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, containing the remains of 215 children—a stark and difficult reminder of the trauma and horrors perpetuated on Indigenous people across this country.
Then, the terrible news of a cowardly, racist act—a man intentionally driving his vehicle into a family out for a Sunday evening walk, targeting and killing them because they were Muslim. Four died. And a nine-year old boy is left injured and trying to make sense of a world that ripped his entire family away in one fell swoop.
There are not enough arms to provide condolence. Not enough words to express the incomprehensible. Not enough air to vent the anger.
Speaking to the Clubs where these dreadful events happened, I heard how their communities are staggering under the weight of these tragedies. And I know they are not alone. Our Clubs across Canada are full of Indigenous youth, staff, and volunteers who bear the intergenerational trauma of residential schools and ongoing discrimination. Our Clubs are full of Muslim youth, staff, and volunteers who face racism and Islamophobia daily, not feeling safe on the streets or online.
And we have seen other horrifying stories over the past couple weeks—a man leaving a beach in Toronto beaten because he was gay, a conviction in a Thunder Bay case of a man who threw a trailer hitch out his truck window that struck and killed an Indigenous woman.
These incidents come on the heels of a tumultuous year that saw global movements challenge racism and oppression, that saw communities across the world rise up to confront systemic inequities. And these incidents happened during Pride Month, as we celebrate inclusion and acceptance.
It is a sobering reality. Racism. Xenophobia. Discrimination. Oppression. We have seen it over and over. It exists in London. It exists in Toronto, in Ottawa, in Vancouver, Halifax, and St. John’s. It exists in Williams Lake, in Battlefords, in Pembroke, in Summerside—and all the places in-between. It is hatred and we must continue to confront it, redoubling our efforts to eradicate the root causes. These are pervasive, systemic ills in our society. We cannot blindly say “not in Canada”—we need to do better.
At BGC Clubs, the fight against racism and xenophobia is central to our work. It is central not just because we have the privilege to work with youth, and therefore have a duty to teach openness and acceptance, to celebrate difference and change the pattern, but because those who come through our doors are often the victims of systemic inequity—they are hurting because of it, they are denied opportunities because of it.
We must call out hate. And we must each do more—acknowledge historic injustices, be aware of and actively work against systemic racism and inequity, actively strive for a just society.
We take solace in the work we are doing—and it strengthens and inspires us to do more. Acceptance comes from understanding. Spending the time to understand others, their background, their culture, their motivations. ‘Respectful curiosity’ is likely one of the most useful tools we have as humans. We must instill curiosity in ourselves and others—even if that makes us uncomfortable. Learning about each other is how we come together, as people, as communities, as a country.
Together, we grieve with a family and a community in London, Ontario, where violence has shattered any illusion our society is one of peace and tolerance. And it will remain this way until we confront hate and root it out. Until we can say with conviction that we can all do better on behalf of the 215 lost children, on behalf of the Afzaal family, and on behalf of the many others who have been the victims of violence perpetrated by hate.