Manitoba Multifaith Council

Manitoba Multifaith Council is an association of faith communities, representatives of faith communities, and individuals from various faith traditions throughout Manitoba. For more information see our annual report.
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Eckankar
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Native Spirituality
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Statements by the Manitoba Multifaith Council
Response to Brian Giesbrecht’s April 12 2017 op ed on behalf of the Manitoba Multifaith Council (published in Winnipeg Free Press Letters and Comments April 17, 2017):  
"Islamophobia rooted in ignorance"
Re: Religion’s intolerance is why I’m an Islamophobe (April 12)

Reading this article, we are left feeling that Brian Giesbrecht is equally misinformed about Islam as he is about the history of residential schools and its tragic legacy (as evidenced by his many articles on the subject). Rather than correctly defining Islam as a religion, he attempts to convince us that the most extremist and fundamentalist versions such as the philosophies of the Islamic State group are in fact "Islam."

We would expect Giesbrecht, in consequence of a long and distinguished career on the bench, to avail himself of all the evidence available and weigh it judiciously before rendering such a sweeping and condemnatory verdict on the world’s second-largest faith, the insights and intellectual attainments of which are far too numerous to even begin to list here.

Does Giesbrecht suggest Muslim women in Canada do not have equal rights or are endangered? The rosters of law, business and medical schools, and universities in general, suggest otherwise. He generalizes that "a person who renounces Islam is... liable to the death penalty," yet Muslims right here in Winnipeg have done so, and other Muslims still associate with them.

The French government’s 2016 Report on Racism, Antisemitism and Xenophobia, published by its Commision nationale consulatative des droits de l’homme (National Human Rights Advisory Commission), provides us with a concise definition of Islamophobia worth bringing to our attention as "a systematic hostile attitude towards Muslims, people perceived as Muslims and/or Islam." It similarly defines anti-Semitism as "a systematic hostile attitude towards Jews, people perceived as Jews and/or their religion."

Understood in this light, Motion 103 calls upon the government to condemn a systemic hostile attitude toward Muslims and Islam. It asks the government to "recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear," and to request for the "Commons Heritage Committee to study how the government could develop a government-wide approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia, to collect data to provide context for hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities."

Fear-mongering reflects and contributes to intolerance and lack of knowledge. Giesbrecht certainly has the "right" to criticize certain extremist forms of Islam, as do many Muslims, but none of us has the right to be Islamophobic, as that is something entirely different and unacceptable.

Belle Jarniewski
President, Manitoba Multifaith Council, Winnipeg

Manitoba Multifaith Council’s Statement in Response to Shooting at Mosque in Quebec City
Canadians were shaken to the core by the shooting at the mosque in Quebec City on January 29
th.  From coast to coast to coast, we displayed solidarity with our Muslim sisters and brothers, and condemned Islamophobia.

In the weeks that followed, sporadic anti-Muslim protests have continued. The anti-Muslim protests which took place this weekend in several Canadian cities, including Winnipeg are an attack against every Canadian. On March 1st, an Islamophobic letter to media outlets threatened to detonate “small artisanal explosive devices” at Concordia University to injure Muslim students, presenting perhaps the most shocking among recent events.  An explosion of Antisemitic acts across Canada and the United States has likewise continued:  swastikas carved in snow, in university classrooms, and on automobiles; more than100 bomb threats to Jewish community centres, schools and synagogues; the desecration of Jewish cemeteries; a bullet fired into the (empty) classroom of a synagogue.

Manitoba Multifaith Council believes that, in these difficult times, it is imperative to witness the support that faith communities have provided, are providing and will provide for one another:  funds raised by the Muslim community in the US to repair damaged Jewish cemeteries, personal messages and public gatherings which are emblematic of the growing concern that Canadians share in the face of outright racism and xenophobia.

Manitoba Multifaith Council condemns all forms of individual, targeted and systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia and Antisemitism. 

Manitoba Multifaith Council applauds and aligns with efforts of individuals and communities to support one another, engaging our abilities, influence and efforts to effect positive change and dialogue and understanding.

Standing Against Hate (Winnipeg Free Press, January 10, 2017)
Re: Anti-Semitic message shocks homeowner (Jan. 4)

The Dec. 31 hate crime that targeted a Jewish family in Wolseley referenced Nazi imagery and hateful language associated with the extermination of six million Jews in the Shoah to send its message of hate, to threaten and to instil fear. It is perhaps indicative of what has been happening all over the United States and Canada — certain limits are being transgressed.

In the wake of the American election and the rise of the white supremacist alt-right movement, references to Nazi imagery have proliferated, and the Wolseley hate crime is an example among many others in recent weeks, such as the defacement of a sign in front of Hebrew Union College Seminary in Cincinnati with a swastika or a Hanukkah menorah outside an Arizona home that was vandalized overnight and twisted into the shape of a swastika. In Whitefish, Mont., neo-Nazis have threatened an "armed march on the Jews" on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 16), in an action targeting "Jews, Jewish business, and everyone who supports either."

Neo-Nazism and white supremacy are not new ideologies that have suddenly emerged in Canada or in the United States. Ernst Zundel is well known to Canadians as a neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier, but as early as the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups made inroads into Canada. These groups never really disappear; they simply ebb and flow as events and the political climate allow.

We must be vigilant against this trend and stand together in rejecting this kind of ugliness — and I’m proud to say that in Winnipeg that is exactly what we are doing. If there is anything positive to learn (if one can even use the word "positive" when referring to a hate crime) when reflecting on this latest act: it made the front page. That signifies how deeply affected we are by this sort of ugliness. We care. We are neither apathetic nor jaded. We remain shocked by such acts of hate. As well, we support each other. Within hours, messages poured in from members of other faith communities offering support. And that is the way things go in our city whenever one of us is attacked — we stand together. Things have changed very much from the dark days of the 1930s when "none was too many."

We appreciate the efforts of the Winnipeg Police Service as they investigate this hate crime and we hope that the family that was targeted will be comforted by the response of the countless individuals who care.

Belle Jarniewski
President, Manitoba Multifaith Council

Religious intolerance harmful October 12, 2016
Considerable shock and outrage has been expressed worldwide for the draconian behaviour of the French "fashion police" regarding the burkini, a type of swimwear worn by some Muslim women to preserve modesty that was banned in 30 French jurisdictions. Claiming the burkini breached the "respect of good morals and secularism," a Muslim woman in Nice was fined and forced to publicly remove some of her clothing.

The burkini is also worn by ultra-Orthodox Jewish women for the same reasons of modesty as well as by those who are concerned about skin protection. There may be more ridiculous incidents of religious and cultural ignorance in history, but not many.

One need not travel far to witness challenges nearer to home. In September, a kirpan-wearing Sikh was denied service in a Dollarama store in Winnipeg. At the University of Alberta, a poster was circulated attacking the Sikh community and the iconic turban and employing obscenities in a clear incident of hate speech.

A faculty member of the University of Lethbridge used a Facebook account not only to deny the Holocaust and to suggest anti-Semitic conspiracy theories behind 9/11, but also to utter threats against the Jewish community.

At the University of Calgary, about 40 posters appeared at various locations, similar to the ones at the U of A, but this time attacking Muslims.

The Manitoba Multifaith Council has existed for more than half a century to promote inter-religious understanding and the building of a just and inclusive society.

We would ask the universities of Alberta, Lethbridge and Calgary to state publicly what steps they will take to prevent such vile expressions of hate in the future.

To the business community of Manitoba, we offer our support in advancing interreligious understanding in the workplace.

Belle Jarniewski

Dr. James Christie

Manitoba Multifaith Council

Statement of the Executive Board of Directors of the Manitoba Multifaith Council Regarding the Yazidi Genocide
Some four months after the declaration of genocide, Canada has a unique opportunity to take the lead among the international community to provide safe haven, care, aid and a new beginning for Yazidi survivors of genocide. Indeed, several members of the Board of the Manitoba Multifaith Council (MMC) have been actively engaged in helping to sponsor and resettle Yazidi refugees. 

According the report issued by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner, They Came to Destroy: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis, issued on June 16, 2016, http://www.ohchr.org/…/HRCou…/CoISyria/A_HRC_32_CRP.2_en.pdf, IS “is committing genocide against the Yazidis and… has subjected every Yazidi woman, child or man that it has captured to the most horrific of atrocities.” The report has publicly cited the Yazidis’ faith as the basis for the attack of 3 August 2014 and its subsequent abuse of them.” The Commission urged international recognition of the genocide, and stated that more must be done to assure their protection, including the acceleration of asylum applications of Yazidi victims of genocide.

As a multifaith council, we feel a particular responsibility to stand together to emphasize that the Yazidis are being persecuted and massacred (as they have been for over 700 years) on the basis of faith alone. They have nowhere to go home to, no safe haven and must be segregated in refugee camps because they face danger from other refugees. Ironically, because of their segregation, entire UNHCR camps—some 25,000 Yazidis in Turkey alone—are easily identifiable. We call on Canada to respond to the UNHCR report, especially to sections 210, 212 and 213.

Several months have passed since Canada has recognized the genocide. Since then, only a handful of privately sponsored Yazidis have reached our shores. Many young women have committed suicide or mutilated themselves rather than be subjected to the sexual slavery and brutality of IS. It is time for Canada to respond.

Retired Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire has often spoken of the failure of humanity to have heard the call of a beleaguered people. He recalled that while most nations agreed that something needed to be done in Rwanda, no one stepped forward. He famously asked, “Are all humans human? Or are some more human than others?” So appears to be the situation with the Yazidis today

Who has remembered the ongoing suffering of the Yazidi and the documentation of atrocities in the UNCHR report?

As Canada looks ahead to 2020, hoping for a seat on the UN Security Council, a humanitarian response to the Yazidi genocide would likely be another jewel in the crown of Canada’s recent humanitarian achievements. Let history show that Canada once again displayed leadership.

Executive Board of Directors of the Manitoba Multifaith Council
Belle Jarniewski
Ray Harris
Dr. Mohinder Singh Dhillon
Dr. James Christie
Dr. Paul Peters Derry
Inquiries to manitobamultifaithcouncil@gmail.com
STATEMENT BY THE MANITOBA MULTIFAITH COUNCIL
The summer of 2016 has been a “summer of discontent” throughout much of the world, especially with respect to interreligious understanding.

Considerable shock and outrage has been expressed worldwide for the draconian behaviour of the French “fashion police” in the continental bikini/burkini affair.  The burkini, a type of discreet swimwear worn by some Muslim women to preserve modesty, was banned in 30 French jurisdictions. Claiming the burkini breached the “respect of good morals and secularism,” a Muslim woman in Nice was fined and forced to publicly remove some of her clothing.

While French officials have stated the ban was a response to growing concerns about radical Islamic terrorism, the burkini is also worn by Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women for the same reasons of modesty as well as by those who are concerned about skin-protection. There may be more ridiculous incidents of religious and cultural ignorance in history: but not many. However, there is a fine line between ignorance and racism.

One needs not travel far to witness challenges nearer to home:

In September, a kirpan-wearing Sikh was denied service in a Winnipeg Dollarama store. As embarrassing as this must have been for the gentleman in question, the circumstances suggest misunderstanding rather than malevolence.

Not so recent events at the University of Alberta, the University of Lethbridge and most recently at the University of Calgary.

On the U of A campus, a poster was circulated, directly attacking the Sikh community and the iconic turban, employing obscenities in a clear incident of hate speech.

A faculty member of the University of Lethbridge employed a Facebook account not only to deny the Holocaust or Shoah, and to suggest antisemitic conspiracy theories behind 9/11, but also to utter threats of the most infamous kind against the Jewish community.

In the third incident, about 40 posters appeared at various locations at the University of Calgary, similar to the ones at the U of A, but this time attacking Muslims.

The Manitoba Multifaith Council has existed for well over half a century to promote interreligious understanding and the building of a just and inclusive society.

We would ask both the Universities of Alberta, Lethbridge and Calgary to state publicly, and nationally, what steps they will take to prevent such vile expressions of hate in the future. We ask this because the implications of these cases are far beyond provincial in scope, and to be prepared should such incidents manifest themselves in a Manitoba institution of higher learning.

To the business community of Manitoba, we offer our support in advancing interreligious understanding in the workplace.

Among our plans for the near future is the establishment of the Winnipeg Interfaith Business Initiative to encourage greater understanding of religious imperatives in the workplace.

We welcome all inquiries.

Belle Jarniewski, President, Manitoba Multifaith Council
Dr. James Christie, Chair, Community Relations Committee, Manitoba Multifaith Council
Combat hatred through solidarity
Re: Anti-fascist group’s counter-protest outnumbers original rally (March 4)

Canadians were shaken to the core by the shooting at the mosque in Quebec City on Jan. 29. From coast to coast to coast, we displayed solidarity with our Muslim sisters and brothers and condemned Islamophobia.

In the weeks that followed, sporadic anti-Muslim protests have continued. The anti-Muslim protests that took place this weekend in several Canadian cities, including Winnipeg, are an attack against every Canadian.

On March 1, an Islamophobic letter to media outlets threatened to detonate "small artisanal explosive devices" at Concordia University to injure Muslim students, presenting perhaps the most shocking among recent events.

An explosion of anti-Semitic acts across Canada and the United States has likewise continued: swastikas carved in snow, in university classrooms and on automobiles; more than 100 bomb threats to Jewish community centres, schools and synagogues; the desecration of Jewish cemeteries; a bullet fired into the (empty) classroom of a synagogue.

The Manitoba Multifaith Council believes that, in these difficult times, it is imperative to witness the support that faith communities have provided, are providing and will provide for one another: funds raised by the Muslim community in the U.S. to repair damaged Jewish cemeteries, personal messages and public gatherings which are emblematic of the growing concern that Canadians share in the face of outright racism and xenophobia.

The Manitoba Multifaith Council condemns all forms of individual, targeted and systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

The Manitoba Multifaith Council applauds and aligns with efforts of individuals and communities to support one another, engaging our abilities, influence and efforts to effect positive change and dialogue and understanding.
Belle Jarniewski
President
Manitoba Multifaith Council
Winnipeg
Bigotry has deadly consequences February 1 2016
Re: Quebec police say six dead and eight injured in mosque attack (Jan. 30)
It has been a very difficult weekend as news came from the United States of an executive order on immigration that impacted so many people around the world.

Canadians drifted between feelings of horror and disgust to thankfulness for living in this country, where diversity is honoured and appreciated. On Sunday evening, an attacker violated a sacred space in Quebec City opening fire at a mosque while men, women and children were at prayer, resulting in the death of six individuals and the injury — in some cases, critical — of many others.

The rising tide of racist ideologies and the marginalization of minorities have emboldened violent extremists — even in our country.

Many have felt — perhaps naively — that we had turned the page on the kind of ugliness that had resulted in an attack on a pregnant Muslim woman in 2015. We must not be complacent: this attack on the mosque is an attack on all Canadians. On behalf the Manitoba Multifaith Council, we stand in solidarity with our Muslim sisters and brothers and share in your grief.

We offer our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims alongside our determination to build a world where all lives are valued and diversity is celebrated.
Belle Jarniewski
President, Manitoba Multifaith Council
Statement of the Manitoba Multifaith Council on the Recent Tragedies
The Manitoba Multifaith Council joins the global chorus of horror and dismay at the recent waves of violence perpetrated by some accounts and to some perspectives attributable to the religious impulse, in the immolation of 19 Yazidi women by the forces of Daesh (IS) in early June and the shootings in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in the early hours of June 12. We lift up several foundational concerns that extend beyond the visceral revulsion provoked by such acts.

We acknowledge and confess that all too often in the course of human history religious communities of all stripes have betrayed the founding impulses of their communities. We pledge yet again to stand by the conviction, as stated in many of our religious traditions, that within Creation all human beings are made in the image of the Divine; and that consequently, the image of God in all humans implies that each person has “infinite value, equality and uniqueness.” (Rabbi Irving Greenberg).

We hold these convictions to be universal human values, regardless of race, religion, orientation, or nationality.

We call upon all Manitobans, whether people of faith or no faith; we call on people of good will everywhere to:

  • Resist superficial analysis of these tragedies and the religious implications of each;
  • To suspend judgement concerning motivations and meaning in the face of apparent meaningless;
  • To refrain from xenophobic suspicion of the other;
  • To pursue open dialogue amongst people of differing religious traditions and ideological positions;
  • To seek always and everywhere to be agents of reconciliation, instruments of peace and understanding in contrast to the demagogue urgings of those who would pervert religious faith or human ideals to the demonic ends of hatred and bigotry;
  • To embrace complexity in all aspects of the human adventure.

We urge the leaders of our province and our nation to recall the provisions of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which recognize the integrity and liberty of religious expression and to apply that recognition to all policies of our province and nation, whether domestic or global.

We remember, soberly and hopefully John Dunne’s conviction that “no (one) is an island,” and the wisdom of the late Rabbi Harry Joshua Stern that we will have “one world or no world.”

Creeping intolerance not just in U.S. November 25, 2015
My name is Belle Jarniewski: I am the last person to carry my family surname.

On Nov. 22, 1942, my grandfather and the rest of the members of my father’s large and extended family were murdered at Treblinka. My grandfather was a rabbi and a Torah scribe. He made his living painstakingly writing Torah scrolls, the tiny parchments that are inserted into the mezzuzot which are found on the doorposts of Jewish homes. When I was born, my parents asked a rabbi what to name me and he chose the name Belle (Beila), as the reverse of Leib — my grandfather’s first name. I carry my names proudly and with a sense of deep responsibility.

My father’s family included several siblings, many aunts, uncles, cousins and his wife and toddler son. Deported from Zelwa (today’s Belarus), all went to the gas chamber that day. The racist ideology of the Nazis imagined Jews as less than human and sought to annihilate every last one from the globe. The Shoah remains at once a very personal tragedy for my family, a catastrophe for the Jewish people, and the darkest chapter perhaps to befall humanity. Every limit — moral as well as religious — was transgressed.

Moments of humanity and courage during that period remind us that human beings are not only capable of resistance against evil, they are willing to move to action. My father survived the war because he was conscripted into the Polish army. He was taken prisoner in September of 1939 and suffered imprisonment in six concentration camps. He refused to give up and he refused to hate.

In his early days as a POW he had written to his Christian neighbour, in a plea to hide and protect his wife and child. Tragically, his wife left her refuge, unable to cope with the idea of meeting a different fate than her family and perhaps not comprehending what that fate would be. Who could have imagined it?

We are seeing today the resurgence of hateful ideology, not just against Jews but against Muslims and other minorities, as well as an ongoing refusal by Americans and Canadians to recognize the damage, injustice and racism suffered by indigenous people.

In the space of just one week, five incidents of anti-Semitism and racist graffiti appeared in Ottawa alone on Jewish and Muslim places of worship and gathering and on a United Church with a largely black congregation. In the United States, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported more than 300 incidents of hate or intimidation since the U.S. election.

On Nov. 19, Richard Spencer addressed more than 200 attendees at a conference in Washington, D.C., blocks away from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Spencer, the leader of the National Policy Institute — a white-nationalist think tank that describes itself as "an independent organization dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world" — saluted the new U.S. president-elect with "hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory." A video clearly reveals several members of the crowd responding with the Nazi salute. However, even more chilling are Spencer’s words that day implying that the media was protecting Jewish interests: "One wonders if these people are people at all?" He added, "America belongs to white people" and that white people face a choice of "conquer or die."

Make no mistake: these words echo Nazi racist ideology that referred to Slavs Roma and most non-whites, as well as Jews, by the term "untermenschen", or "subhumans." There is no doubt the white nationalist and alt-right movements in the U.S. have gained ground and support, emboldening those around the globe who harbour these dangerous ideologies.

The Shoah did not begin with murder; it began with hateful rhetoric. In the 1930s, the world did not imagine that six million Jewish men, women and children would be murdered. No one believed the rhetoric.

Today, we know better: we know to believe someone when they use words such as "conquer or die," or to speak of deporting people or setting up registries according to religion. We cannot be complacent in Canada — whether it is the vandalism in Ottawa or elsewhere — or simply looking at the hateful comments spewed on social media in the many discussions around refugee or indigenous issues; the problem is not one we can smugly dismiss as American.

It is incumbent on each and every one of us to be vigilant, to speak up and to reject the creeping intolerance that threatens to infect this country.

The late Pierre Elliott Trudeau, some 45 years ago, wisely warned of the dangerous American ideal of conformity: "A society which emphasizes uniformity is one which creates intolerance and hate. What the world should be seeking and what in Canada we must continue to cherish are not concepts of uniformity but human values: compassion, love, and understanding."

While his words are as relevant today as they were then, we are going to have to ensure we actively uphold these values as well as human rights, freedoms and inclusion for every one.

Belle Jarniewski is chairwoman of the Freeman Family Holocaust Education Centre and president of the Manitoba Multifaith Council.

PRESS RELEASE - October 8, 2015
In recent weeks, The Manitoba Multifaith Council (MMC) has observed with increasing dismay the employment of xenophobia – most particularly Islamaphobia - as a political wedge issue in the current federal election campaign. We are deeply disturbed by the apparent support of Canadians from coast to coast to coast at suggestions of draconian legislative measures intended to further stoke the fears of some Canadians of their neighbours whose religion and religious symbols are unfamiliar to them. During the closing days of last week and over the weekend, we have seen not simply an escalation in virulent verbal attacks on Muslims, but two documented assaults on Muslim women.

In Montreal, a pregnant young Muslim woman was assaulted and knocked to the ground by two teenage males. In a Toronto mall, a second young woman was roughly handled by an adult  male while in the presence of her two young daughters.

Manitoba Multifaith Council sees a direct link between these increasingly vicious attacks to last weekend's comments that risk employing religious symbolism and identity as wedge issues among Canadian voters.  We call all political leaders to a higher level of political discourse.

Setting aside our common religious injunction in whatever form to “love our neighbour”, these elected officials and others are concerned only with dividing our neighbours.

To date, the Courts are having none of this; as religious leaders of many faiths, we concur with the courts and their interpretation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for all Canadians.

MMC recognizes that it is beyond our competence – and beyond wisdom – to engage in the political arena in a partisan manner.  But these are issues of human decency; of religious integrity; of religious liberty; of the security of persons.

MMC does not take sides on the merits or otherwise of any particular religious symbol, including the niquab.

MMC will stand up for our fellow citizens who have been  subjected to abuse, and now to violence.

MMC deplores and condemns any and all violence and incendiary language committed on the basis of religious garb or symbols, and we commit to standing by our sisters and brothers of all faiths – and none.

MMC fears that such ignorant and intentionally cruel, cynical and divisive language may yet issue in death.

Heeding the Irish Statesman, Edmund Burke, we will not permit evil by doing nothing in the face of evil.

Manitoba Multifaith Council calls upon persons of good will of all faith groups and none to stand together for liberty and justice for all.