Photo Credit: Facebook/Stephen Leece
If government action can curtail the recent, alarming rise in antisemitism, then Ontario may have a chance of checking the growing number of such incidents in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Middle East.
From street demonstrations to public statements, from university student groups, to violence and vandalism directed at Jewish businesses, mosques and individuals, the war has sparked an environment eerily reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
In a 2021 survey on antisemitism and Holocaust knowledge, conducted by a group called Liberation75, one in three teen-agers in North America, said it was fabricated or exaggerated. According to Statistics Canada, Jewish Canadians remain the mots targeted religious minority for hate crimes.
Over the last few years, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce had already introduced several measures over the last few years, aimed at combatting antisemitism and racism in general, but recent events have shown that more is clearly needed.
Citing the “vile, disturbing trends” he is seeing, Lecce announced that he will be introducing new and expanded, mandatory learning about the Holocaust in the current, compulsory Grade 10 history course.
Doing so, he said, will ensure students “are never bystanders in the face of hate and division.”
“We will ensure that ‘Never again’ is our legacy to the next generation, as we safeguard and promote those fundamental Canadian values of democracy, freedom, civility and respect.”
The new curriculum will explicitly link the Holocaust to extreme political ideologies like fascism and builds on the new mandatory learning already included in the Grade 6 Social Studies curriculum. Its goal was to strengthen students’ understanding of how to identify and respond to expressions of antisemitism and racism.
This school year’s funding also includes money to combat racism with support to community groups to address anti-Asian hate, antisemitism, Islamophobia as well as support for Black, indigenous and LGBTQI students.
In 2021, the Ontario Government launched an anti-racism and anti-hate program with a two-year funding commitment of $1.6 million. In addition, to hold educators accountable for racist remarks and behaviour, in 2020 the government passed regulations to explicitly identify such activities that can expose students to hatred and made such conduct professional misconduct.
All school boards are already required to have anti-bullying policies in place, but in 2021, the government included specific references to religiously motivated discrimination. And a year before that, the government established the Premier’s Council on Equality of Opportunity, to provide advice on how to help young people overcome social barriers, including race or religious based discrimination.
The only downside to the Minister’s current announcement is that the new Grade 10 material will not actually hit classrooms until 2025. It does take time to build new curriculum, particularly material dealing with such sensitive topics, but the need is urgent. Hopefully, some school boards will be able to move faster.
To help teachers manage the new curriculum, the Minister is also providing additional funding to various community groups with expertise in the area to prepare curriculum support materials for schools. That will also help.
In an unusual move, NDP Leader Marit Stiles, herself struggling with anti-semitism in her own caucus, praised the Minster for his most recent announcements. “It’s always a good time to be looking to improve education on the Holocaust,” she said.
One can only hope that the Minister’s moves will make a difference.
Janet Ecker is a former Ontario Finance Minister, Minister of Education, Minister of Community and Social Services and Government House Leader in the governments of Premier Mike Harris and Premier Ernie Eves. After her political career, she served as the founding CEO of the Toronto Financial Services Alliance, a public-private partnership dedicated to building Toronto region into an international financial centre. She currently sits on a number of corporate and non-profit boards, agencies and advisory committees.
Ms. Ecker received the Order of Canada for her public service contributions and was recognized as one of the “Most Influential People in the World’s Financial Centres” by Financial Centres International. She also received a “Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award” from the Women’s Executive Network and the Richard Ivey School of Business, among other awards. She is also one of the founders of Equal Voice, a national, multi-partisan organization working to elect more women.