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How effective are Canada’s hate speech laws in combating anti-Semitism?

Lea Ross and David Matas discuss Canada's hate laws at the Asper Campus on December 19

By BERNIE BELLAN Are Canada’s hate speech laws at all effective in combating what has been an outpouring of anti-Semitism since the Hamas massacre of October 7?
That was the question discussed by two individuals with legal backgrounds – Lea Ross and David Matas, in front of an audience in the Multipurpose room of the Asper Campus on Tuesday, December 19.
The event was sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, Winnipeg Friends of Israel, and Bridges for Peace. There were about 75 people in attendance.
Lea Ross is a former lawyer who now works teaching musical conducting within the Winnipeg school system. She is also a former student of David Matas – having studied human rights law with Matas at the University of Manitoba law school. Ross also had a number of years experience at the Manitoba Legislature helping to draft laws.

The format for the evening, following introductory remarks, had Ross posing a series of questions to Matas about human rights laws and, following Matas’s answers, entering into further discussion with him about what he had said. Their exchanges moved along quite quickly and, after about an hour, members of the audience were also invited to ask questions.
Ross had also prepared a hand-out for audience members which listed “relevant federal and provincial laws related to hate speech and expression.
In her introductory remarks Ross noted that, since 2009, there have been approximately 2,000 hate crimes a year recorded in Canada. Ross observed that various professors at law school had stated that hate crime laws in Canada “are ineffective and largely symbolic.”
“It’s as if Canada passed a law and then walked away,” Ross oberved.

Having made her thoughts on hate laws here quite clear to the audience, Ross asked Matas the first of her series of questions: “What more can be done?”
Matas responded that we can “increase the sentences for hate crimes, but we can’t look at hate crimes alone.” Matas added that one of the defenses often offered by individuals charged with hate crimes is that what they had said was “the truth.” He explained that Section 319 (3) of the Criminal Code says, among other things, that “No person shall be convicted of an an offence… if he establishes that the statements communicated were true,” but Matas suggested that “truth is a problematic defense.” (One might think, for instance, of the contention that saying Israelis are guilty of “genocide” could be considered hate speech, but the most commonly heard rebuttal to that argument is that genocide can have various interpretations and therefore, it might be true.)
Further, Matas alluded to the difficulty even in initiating a hate crime charge under the Criminal Code of Canada (which added hate crimes to the list of criminal offences in 1985). According to Section 319 (6), “no proceeding for (a hate crime) offence shall be instituted without the consent of the Attorney General of the province in which the hate crime is alleged to have occurred.” (That difficulty was also cited by Prof. Bryan Schwartz in a talk he gave about antisemitism on university campuses in the Berney Theate on Thursday, November 30. My report on that talk can still be read on our website.)
Notwithstanding the difficulty in getting a hate crime charge laid, Matas did suggest that, if one were sufficiently motivated to do so, one could launch a private prosecution against an individual for a hate crime.
Matas also added that, “We’re not so much interested in how to make the (hate crime) laws better, it’s how to make the laws work” in the first place. For instance, he suggested, “you could use other offences in the criminal code that don’t require the consent of the attorney general.”
He brought up a recent instance in which a man in BC was charged with “indecent communication” for making threats against an Ottawa Jewish doctor in a phone call made to that doctor.

Ross brought up a section of the criminal code hate laws that refer specifically to “promoting anti-Semitism.” Section 319 (2.1) says: “Everyone who, by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, willfully promotes anti-Semitism by condoning, denying, or downplaying the Holocaust” is guilty of an offense. Ross wondered whether that section ought to be “broadened to target conspiracy theories” beyond the Holocaust?
She then brought up the hornet’s nest known as the internet, asking Matas what he thought could be done to better control the explosion of anti-Semitism on the internet?
Matas responded that “the first recourse shouldn’t be to the police, it should be to the internet providers…If hate speech violates the terms of service (of a particular provider), then they can cut them off.” (Matas also said he actually has read many of those interminable “terms of service” documents that are included in so many websites and apps. That in itself should get him some kind of special award.)
Now, lest one think that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees, among other guarantees, “freedom of expression,” Matas noted that “the Canadian Charter doesn’t apply to private companies.”
“France and Germany hold internet companies liable for what’s posted,” Matas pointed out.

Further to the issue of what constitutes antisemitic expression, Ross referred to the expression, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” noting that both Austria and the Netherlands have moved to have that expression banned. She wondered whether “Jews should move to have it banned in Canada” as well?
Again, Matas responded that the Charter’s right to free expression wouldn’t pertain to someone mouthing that expression on a university campus, as “the Charter doesn’t apply to universities.”
Thus, “if the (Federal) government were to ban it, it would be subject to the Charter, but if universities and private companies were to ban it,” the Charter wouldn’t apply, so it is conceivable that a university could act to prevent a student or students from voicing that expression. (At the end of this article I refer specifically of the case in which a University of Manitoba Nursing student was suspended for sharing anti-Semitic posts on Instagram.)
Yet, Matas wondered, “Do we start legislating expressions?”

Ross asked: “What can we do to better protect our youth from hate speech?”
Matas drew upon his own experience as a youth, when he saw a film about “stereotypes,” saying that film had a lasting impact upon him – and suggested that showing a film of that sort to students would be of great benefit.

Ross brought up the question of competing rights: The right to freedom of expression and the importance of protecting vulnerable groups. She wondered how we can maintain a balance? (Interestingly, in this same issue, we have two different articles, by Michael Posner and by Henry Srebrnik, both of whom explore the issue of how far the pendulum has swung in protecting so called “vulnerable groups,” which apparently doesn’t include Jews.)
Matas said: “Academic freedom has gone wild, but very often you’re dealing with conflicting rights. The balance lies in determining where the greater harm lies,” but right now, “the balance is totally tilted” in favour of those so called vulnerable groups.

Ross asked whether “we should ever go to human rights commissions” when it comes to trying to protect against hate speech?
Matas responded that “human rights commissions (which are products of provincial legislation) don’t deal with incitement to hatred.”
Speaking of provincial legislation, Matas further explained that “the Defamation Act (also a Manitoba statute) which refers to a “libel against a race, religious creed or sexual orientation” doesn’t allow for damages, which is why it’s almost never used.”
Yet, Matas added, “it’s not as if we have nothing now. What we have to do is make better use of existing laws.”
One could sue for libel under the Defamation Act if one believes they were libeled as an individual; however, there is no such thing as “group libel,” Matas observed.

When it came time for questions, I asked the same question of David Matas that I had asked of Bryan Schwartz when he spoke about anti-Semitism on university campuses. I noted that the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Manitoba had suspended the Nursing Association’s president for what were described as antisemitic posts on Instagram. (Apparently her suspension is still under appeal. At least that’s the only news I could find when I tried to search for an update on that story.)
Regardless whether the suspension is reversed or not, that student was suspended for what were described as “anti-Semitic posts.” I said to Bryan Schwartz and I said to David Matas: The Faculty of Nursing exhibited some intestinal fortitude. (And yes, I’m well aware that one might say, this was different. How would a Jewish patient feel knowing the nurse dealing with them might be an antisemite? Come on: There are all sorts of professions and positions about which we could say the same thing.) The fact is, as I said to David Matas: The surprise isn’t that more universities haven’t taken action in response to hate speech, the surprise is that one actually did.

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Tom Traves: From the north end to the presidency of several Canadian universities

Tom Traves

By GERRY POSNER There haven’t been lot of Jewish presidents of Canadian universities.
To be clear, there have been some, but not as many as one might expect – given how many Jewish academics we’ve had in Canada over the years.
One person who made the short list of Jewish university presidents in this country has been none other than a former Winnipegger – right out of the north end of Winnipeg: Tom Traves. Now retired, Traves had a long and distinguished career in the university setting as President of Dalhousie University in Halifax, serving for 18 years in that position.
Traves’s tenure as Dalhousie president followed a four-year term as Vice- President of the University of New Brunswick. But, if you read the CV of Tom Traves, you can understand how this came to be.
Tom was a graduate of the University of Manitoba with a B.A. ( Hons.) in 1970, followed by an M.A. from York in 1973, and a Ph.D., also from York, in 1976.
Tom began his teaching career at York (where he spent many years) in 1974 as a lecturer, then as an associate professor, from 1976 to 1991. From 1981 to 1983, Tom was the Chairman of the Division of Social Science at York. He was soon appointed, in 1983, as Dean of the Faculty of Arts, where he served until 1991. From York Tom moved to the University of New Brunswick, where he became both Vice President (Academic) and a Professor of History, from 1991 to 1995.
Then, in 1995, Traves was invited to be the President and Vice- Chancellor of Dalhousie University for a six year term. When that term ended, Tom was appointed again for another six year term. And still later, in 2007 – for yet a third term of three years. When that ended, he was renewed for another three year term. Would you not agree that Tom Traves and Dalhousie had a strong connection, to put it mildly? Just to lend credence to this statement, it was during the Tom Traves tenure that enrolment at Dalhousie grew by over forty percent and external research grants and contract income increased by over three hundred percent. Now, those are impressive statistics. Perhaps the most telling assessment of Traves during his time at Dalhousie is a comment made by a former member of the University’s Board of Governors, who noted that Traves had been at the centre of a fund raising campaign which raised over $250 million during his time at Dalhousie, the highest total in the history of the province. When asked about Traves and his successor, Richard Florizone, this board member called them both remarkable individuals: “I would hire them for my company in a minute, and they would make me money.”
To read through the list of books, articles and other credits of Tom Traves is more than the Jewish Post & News could put on its website, as it might overload the system. But for sure some of the highlights of his career (aside from all the boards he has sat on across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia), would be the awards and honours that have come his way. He was the recipient of an award not commonly given to Canadians: the Filosofie Hedersdocktor Honoris Causa, from Umea University in Sweden in 1997, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Commemorative Medal in 2000. Not to be forgotten was Tom’s inclusion on the list as one of the top 50 CEOs in Atlantic Canada in 2005, 2006 and 2007. There were so many other major awards, culminating in 2014 when he was appointed to the Order of Canada.
With all of that, Traves was still in demand when he retired and moved back to Toronto in 2016. He was asked to be the Interim President of Brock University in 2016 while that university sought out a long term person to fill that position. Once he completed that role, he semi-retired, taking on consulting activities over the last number of years.
How did a quiet unassuming boy, son of Sam and Marjorie Traves (Kay), brother to the late Nancy Traves, a product of West Kildonan, advance so far and so fast? Did he show signs of this kind of superior level of scholarship and leadership in his early days? Some might answer that it was his time spent at West Kildonan Collegiate that spurred him on to greater heights. Was it perhaps his days as an undergraduate at the University of Manitoba (from 1966-1970?) No one can say for sure, but the truth is that Traves had a speedy trajectory upward and even in retirement he has moved along at a decent clip. He is quite active these days, playing Bridge, golf, and now Pickleball. In large part, he and his wife Karen (Posner), my first cousin, (and that connection to the Posner family might be the real reason for his great success) have focused time and attention on their grandson Ben, son of his daughter Julie. There are also trips to the Washington D. C area, where his son Will and his wife live, along with his oldest grandson, Daniel.
In short, the Tom Traves story is just another Winnipeg success story – if the city wishes to lay claim to it: North End Jewish boy makes good in the east. The best part of the whole story is that, if you know Tom, or just met him, you would never have an inkling of his accomplishments, so unassuming is he. That is Tom Traves.

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Newly-arrived Health Sciences Centre surgeon Dr. Lev Bubis has deep roots in Winnipeg Jewish community

Dr. Lev Bubis

By MYRON LOVE Dr. Lev Bubis, the Health Sciences Centre’s new hepato-pancreato-biliary (HPB) surgeon, says that he and his family –wife, Amy, and four-year-old daughter, Ada, – are settling in quite nicely in their new home.
“We are really enjoying being here,” notes Bubis who arrived here in early October. “We have a house in south River Heights and we enjoyed being with the family for the High Holidays and Chanukah.”
Bubis is the grandson of the late Morris and Mae Bubis. And, although the young Bubis grew up in Ottawa – family members here include his aunts, Carol Arenson, Adrienne Katz and Harriet Rodin, and their families.
Bubis’s father, Mordy Bubis, left Winnipeg for Ottawa after university and the nation’s capital is where the young Bubis grew up.
He notes that he was interested in pursuing a career in medicine from an early age – although he first earned a B.A. in Philosophy at Kings College in Halifax. He did his medical training at Columbia University.
“I decided to specialize in liver and pancreatic medicine in third year when I got the opportunity to work with Dr. John Chabot, one of America’s leading pancreatic cancer specialist,” Bubis says.
After Columbia, Bubis relocated (in 2014) to Toronto, where he honed his surgical skills in liver and pancreatic surgery at the University of Toronto and St. Joseph’s Hospital. He did a six-year residency at the university, followed by two years of research and two more years training in surgical oncology.
Bubis (and family) arrived in our community in early October to begin his position at HSC. In an interview on the Health Sciences Centre Foundation website “Tell Your Story” section, which was published on December 21, Bubis noted that there were several factors that led him to come to HSC – in particular, the hospital’s commitment to minimally invasive surgery.
“I was attracted by the exceptional team that’s in place at HSC and by the fact that the hospital is really pushing things forward with minimally invasive surgery,” said Bubis in the HSCF interview. “This is where the HPB field is going and it is a real interest of mine. It’s exciting to me that the HSC Foundation is supporting this direction in surgery with capital investments.”
He explained that minimally invasive surgery is “an approach to surgery that typically relies on smaller incisions and instruments. Very small cameras allow surgeons to see their work on video monitors in high definition. Minimally invasive surgery means less pain for a patient, a quicker recovery, and a shorter hospital stay. Among other benefits, shorter hospital stays free up beds more quickly, which reduces the amount of time patients need to wait in the Emergency Department.”
Bubis has also had extensive training in treating neuroendocrine tumors, which can occur throughout the gastrointestinal tract, as well as elsewhere in the body. One of his specialties is the Whipple procedure, an operation to remove tumors and treat other conditions in the pancreas, small intestine and bile ducts. The complex procedure involves removing the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine, the gall bladder and bile duct.
Bubis points out that, at HSC, he is a member of a team that treats patients from throughout Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. He reports that he sees patients at the clinic two days a week, does surgeries one or two days a week and does some endoscopes and teaching.
He is looking forward to a lengthy stay here.

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‘Put a Yid on It!’ Festival of New Yiddish Culture!

Beyond the Pale - Feb. 8 at the Berney Theatre

By SHIRA NEWMAN – Festival Director I am thrilled to announce the inaugural year of ‘Put a Yid on It’ Festival of New Yiddish Culture, running from February 7 to 11th. I have had the great good fortune of being the producer of this event with the guidance and support of the committee which previously brought us the wonderful festival Mamaloshen.
Like a lot of Gen X-ers, I grew up hearing a smattering of Yiddish as a child, mostly in the words of my Baba. I could not speak a word of it, but when I made my first film 10 years ago, I was for some reason drawn to include Yiddish in it and I started to dive into the history of Yiddish Cinema.
A linguist I know, hearing me wondering where this desire came from, explained to me that an ancestral language will remain ‘written in our bones’ (or unconscious memory, or genes, however we may wish to see it). This resonated with me and started me down a voyage of discovery of this 1000-year-old language and culture.
It is hard to imagine that only 80 years ago eleven million people spoke, wrote, sang, and dreamt in Yiddish. It spanned throughout all of Eastern Europe and spread wherever our people travelled. Never the majority language of a nation state but the language of a pan national community of Ashkenazi Jews ‘scattered among the nations’ enriched by and enriching so many other languages and cultures while still carrying its uniqueness with it.
Since the Second World War, Yiddish has become less common but as any Yiddishist will tell you, the idea that it is dying is wrong (if not complete heresy!). And they are very right. It is spoken by many (largely in the Hassidic community) and is continually being reclaimed by more – as can be seen by talented artists of every generation who make beautiful work inspired by the Yiddish language.
Today there is a lively re-emergence of the warm, funny, poetic language – some call it a new Yiddish Renaissance in the arts, cinema, and music. There are popular films, TV shows, successful web-series, and festivals springing up everywhere. In the world of music, you can find an amazing array of bands putting their own modern spin on classical Klezmer, and others using Yiddish in everything from Punk to Metal, to Psychedelic Rock, to Hip-Hop! Put a Yid on It! Is a celebration of this trend!
On February 7th, at 7:30 pm we will be opening with a free book launch, talk, and reception at The Handsome Daughter (61 Sherbrook Street) for a brand-new book called “Yiddish Cinema: The Drama of Troubled Communication,” featuring authors Jonah Corne and Monika Vrečar. This book offers a bold new reading of Yiddish cinema by exploring the early diasporic cinema’s fascination with media and communication. Jonah and Monika will discuss their book and the history of Yiddish cinema. (Snacks and drinks will be provided).
We have some amazing bands coming! On February 8th, Canadian Folk Music Award Winners, Beyond the Pale will be here from Toronto and will be playing at the Berney Theatre. They are a tremendous fun and lively Klezmer and Balkan Band who are known for their genius musicianship, experimentation, and playfulness. This is not your traditional Klezmer Band – they bring in a world of musical styles including reggae, jazz, bluegrass. Watching them play is truly a tour of world music. They will be bringing Yiddish classics and so much more!

Socalled – Feb. 10

On February 10th, we are partnering with the West End Cultural Centre to bring the brilliant and one-of-a-kind Yiddish (and English), Montreal Hip-Hop artist Josh ‘Socalled’ Dolgin. He will be performing with his band, which includes the mesmerizing vocalist Katie Moore, Balkan trumpet ‘God’ Nizo Alimov, and Michale Felber on bass. This is going to be an incredibly special show. His music is as evocative and moving as it is fun (and danceable).
Socalled is the star of an award-winning feature length documentary (NFB) called ‘The Socalled Movie.’ The video for his song ‘You Are Never Alone’ has been viewed more than three million times. He is truly a cultural phenomenon (and his parents are from Winnipeg!).
From February 7th to 11th, we will be presenting a series of some of the greatest Yiddish films of all time – all restored to beautiful quality. I am extremely excited to see these on a big screen for the first time! This series includes films from the 1930s, which is considered The Golden Age of Yiddish Cinema such as “Yiddle with His Fiddle” (a joyful romp of a musical comedy) on February 7th, “The Light Ahead” (a poignant social commentary) on February 8th, and “The Dybbuk” (a gorgeous Yiddish ghost story) on February 10th. It will also include “Hester Street,” from 1974, (with a Yiddish speaking Carol Kane) on February 11th. All these screenings take place at 2:00 p.m. in the Berney Theatre.
On Sunday, February 11th, we will have some fun closing events! At 10 am come and join us at the Rady JCC for a bagel breakfast and a ‘Bisl’ Yiddish with Professor Itay Zutra. We will be learning some of the MOST expressive Yiddish sayings. At 3:30 pm there will be a reunion for I.L. Peretz Folk School alumni. There will be snacks and time to reminisce!
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit or feel free to give me a call at 204.477.7534.

There is a quiet humor in Yiddish and a gratitude for every day of life, every crumb of success, each encounter of love… In a figurative way, Yiddish is the wise and humble language of us all, the idiom of a frightened and hopeful humanity.

  • Issac Bashevis Singer
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