The invisible anti-racism organization

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday August 13 2014 in Opinion
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Did you know – or remember – that there is a national organization that was created “to facilitate throughout Canada the development, sharing and application of knowledge and expertise in order to contribute to the elimination of racism and all forms of racial discrimination…”?


Really? you ask. Yes, really. It’s the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) and it has been around since 1996, although the Act which created it was passed in 1990.


The CRRF was one component of the Japanese-Canadian Redress Agreement reached in 1988 for the atrocities committed against Japanese Canadians during World War II.


In the interest of full disclosure, I worked for the CRRF for about eight years. Its founding chair was the late Lincoln Alexander, a role he was appointed to once he completed his terms of office as lieutenant governor of Ontario.


His chairpersonship gave the organization some “oomph”, some visibility as an organization that made pronouncements on the state of racism in the country. One of the “shining” moments for the organization came following the Toronto Star’s publication of the facts and figures concerning the racial profiling of persons of African descent.


Although there was great respect for Alexander, which was demonstrated when he went to join the Ancestors, there were times when his statements on the treatment of Blacks were not always celebrated community-wide.


Recently, the CRRF announced the appointment of Anita Bromberg as its new Executive Director. Bromberg comes from many years with the Jewish organization, B’nai Brith, where she was national director of legal affairs. Many will remember her as one of the spokesperson when the organization releases its annual figures on the state of anti-Semitism in Canada.


Interestingly, Bromberg is the second executive director of the organization supplied by B’nai Brith. Dr. Karen Mock was director of the League for Human Rights for B’nai Brith before taking on the CRRF role in 2001.


One of the board members of the CRRF and the interim spokesperson prior to Bromberg’s appointment, Rubin Friedman, was a former director of government relations with B’nai Brith.


Toni Silberman, who currently serves as vice-chair of the CRRF, was a former chair of the League for Human Rights and has also served with the Canadian Jewish Congress.


You should know that the board of directors of the Foundation, as well as its executive directors, are all appointees of the federal government. That is unfortunately one of the stipulations of the Act. To date, no one of African descent has served in the executive director’s role, Bromberg being the fourth to hold that position.


The executive director position had been advertised more than a year and half ago. The call came after successive repeated precarious extensions of the outgoing executive director’s contract. I say precarious because the Act also stipulates the conditions under which those public appointments extensions or interim appointments are made and how long they should last.


Of course it is unknown if any applicant for the position was from any racialized group.


Previously, the ministry responsible for the CRRF was Canadian Heritage. Under the Conservatives, the alignment changed to the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration. The minister was Jason Kenney. When Kenney moved to his current portfolio, there appeared to be a disconnect as to who was in charge. That may have been a reason for the delay in the appointment.


Finding its footing in the general scenario of anti-racism has been a challenging one for the CRRF. Racism is one of those scourges that cannot be quietly fought, even under a non-violent banner. Because of its government oversight, there may be a reluctance to be more active in bringing issues of racism to the fore. But I think the issue runs deeper than that.


What I know of the organization is that much of its activity relies on the sense of activism the executive director brings. Under Dr. Mock’s leadership, the organization was much more in the spotlight. It was quite loud in its commentaries on racism and sought opportunities widely to get its message out. It reached out to and developed relationships with like-minded organizations.


The organization’s resources rely on the interests earned on the $24 million endowment fund assigned at the outset. Those returns have not been as fruitful as they were envisioned in the early days. And it doesn’t take a genius to realize that fund-raising for anti-racism work is not at the top of the list for philanthropists.


Whether there will be a resurgence of the CRRF under its new executive director is something we will have to wait to see. The announcement of Bromberg’s appointment was made at the end of May. It has been quiet thus far. / Twitter: @pghntr

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