By Ashoke Dasgupta in Winnipeg, MB
The Social Planning Council of Winnipeg (SPCW) evolved into an organization dedicated to equity, social justice and change. SPCW marked its centenary with “Sorry Not Sorry: Unapologetically Working for Social Justice,” a panel discussion on women’s issues. SPCW partnered with the Canadian Muslim Women’s Institute (CMWI) for the sold-out event.
“The best way to avoid division is to commit to the relationship in which we all share as Winnipeggers,” said SPCW president, Tyler Blashko. “The best way to remain in a relationship is through respectful and caring dialogue.”
The panel featured activists Nora Loreto, Linda Sarsour and Chantell Barker. Shannon Sampert, an associate professor of political science and Media Centre for Public Policy and Knowledge Mobilization director at the University of Winnipeg, moderated. Each panelist shared their perspective on creating changes that challenge the status quo and address bias. The panel discussed organizing across communities and cultures, the role of education in movement building, intergenerational communication and how to survive and grow through controversy.
“The best way to remain in a relationship is through respectful and caring dialogue.”
Sarsour’s inclusion caused some controversy, as protesters gathered at the Ukrainian Labour Temple leading up to and during the panel to denounce her. The event was relocated from its original venue, Seven Oaks Performing Arts Centre at Garden City Collegiate, after complaints about Sarsour. The Palestinian-American is a polarizing figure and often criticizes the Israeli government. Winnipeg mayor, Brian Bowman, urged SPCW to revoke Sarsour’s invitation. Bowman said this flanked by representatives from B’nai Brith Canada and the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg.
“She has continually attacked the foundation of the state of Israel’s right to exist,” Bowman asserted. Bowman argues that Sarsour shouldn’t be allowed to propagate “anti-Semitic views and hate.” However, there are many who disagree with Bowman’s view. Many people, including Jews, share Sarsour’s perspective on Israel’s legality and its genocide of Palestinians. Sarsour received a “Champion of Change” award from former U.S. president Barack Obama. She also condemned anti-Semitism on behalf of other American activists and apologized for being slow to condemn racism in 2018.
“This event is planned and designed to talk about building inclusive communities,” said Harold Shuster, chair of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV)’s National Steering Committee. “The organizers of the event are bringing together three amazing women to talk about the work they have done in building such communities. Ms. Sarsour is coming to Winnipeg to talk about her experiences doing that work, and we would encourage everyone to join in that conversation,” Shuster added.
SPCW executive director Kate Kehler said Sarsour was chosen for the event because she’s good at building bridges between groups. Sarsour is supported by some Jewish groups in Winnipeg and the States which are critical Israel.
“The times we live in call for people like Linda to lead the way.”
“People don’t like strong truth-tellers,” Sarsour pointed out. “I’m anxious not to be silenced and intimidated, as well as proud to be against white nationalism. My life may end any day, but no lines can be drawn on freedom of speech.” She was surprised a mayor in a democratic nation tried to get her uninvited to the event. Such requests are rooted in anti-Palestinian Islamophobia, she feels.
Chantell Barker is a First Nations woman from Sapotoweyak Cree Nation and Director of Justice for the Southern Chiefs Organization. Barker pointed out that “Canadian politics has always been vicious to someone – with a smile – for centuries. Social media connects people more than ever before but we must meet face-to-face.”
Quebec City-based writer and activist, Nora Loreto, is the editor of the Canadian Association of Labour Media. She said, “The media plays a role in maintaining white supremacy in Canada. White people must consider their place in the social situation to use their privileges to assist social justice movements.”
Darrell Rankin, a member of the Communist Party of Canada, said the 350-person audience proves that people want change. “The times we live in call for people like Linda to lead the way,” he added.
CMWI CEO, Humaira Jaleel, said she was pleased to support SPCW’s event because of their efforts towards social justice. “We are happy to be part of this event as it aligns with our work of helping the newcomer and refugee women who are among the most marginalized of our society,” Jaleel said.
Ashoke Dasgupta is a freelance journalist and former editor of Compassionate Friend. He won a UNDP – Goethe Institute Award for Environmental Journalism in Nepal 1995, and the Canadian Ethnic Media Association’s Best News/Feature Awards for 2004 and 2006. He got a scholarship to study journalism at Sheridan College Toronto, in 2007, graduating with high honours. He has been published in the Winnipeg Free Press, the Calgary Herald and Toronto Star.