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Valedictory speech delivered to graduating medical students sets off storm of controversy

Dr. Gem Newman, valedictorian, class of 2024 Max Rady College of Medicine

By BERNIE BELLAN A valedictory speech delivered to the 2024 class of medical school students graduating from the Max Rady College of Medicine at the University of Manitoba on Thursday, May 16, has set off a storm of controversy.

During his 10-minute speech, Dr. Gem Newman, who described himself as a “pasty-faced white man,” veered into a strongly worded criticism of Israel toward the end of his approximate 10-minute speech.
Here are the comments he made with respect to Israel’s war in Gaza:
“I call on my fellow graduates to oppose injustice -and violence – individual and systemic. I call upon you to oppose settler colonialism, both at home and abroad. I call upon you to stand in solidarity with Indigenous people everywhere, here in Treaty One Territory, where an Indigenous man can expect a life ten years shorter than mine – and in Palestine (ed. note: loud cheers erupted at that point from among the students), where Israel’s deliberate targeting of hospitals and other civilian infrastructure has led to more than 35,000 deaths and widespread famine and disease.
“Many medical organizations, including the W.H.O. and Medecins sans Frontiere, and countless unions, including the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union, have repeatedly called for a ceasefire in Gaza, while there has been deafening silence from the Canadian Medical Association, Doctors Manitoba and PARIM (Professional Association of Interns and Residents of Manitoba), and so I call upon you to join me in calling for a lasting ceasefire in Gaza. Join me in calling for unrestricted humanitarian and medical aid in Gaza. Join me in calling for an end to the targeting of medical facilities, medical staff, and journalists.
“I’m sure that some of you here today are worried that you may face censure for speaking out against the genocidal war that Israel is waging upon the people of Palestine, that it could jeopardize your career before it’s even begun. I understand that fear…”
Dr. Newman’s speech was greeted with a standing ovation from his fellow graduating doctors.

Dr. Peter Nickerson, Dean of the Max Rady College of Medicine

The next day, the dean of the Rady College of Medicine, Dr. Peter Nickerson, issued a strongly worded criticism of Dr. Newman’s remarks:

Yesterday, we celebrated the convocation of 106 new physicians. We came together with our friends and family to celebrate a diverse group of individuals who are beginning their career as doctors.
Part of our convocation tradition in the Max Rady College of Medicine is to hear an address from the class valedictorian. This has historically been an encouraging, congratulatory message and not a political platform. The speech is an honour and is meant to highlight, showcase and celebrate the academic excellence, resiliency and determination of every student, no matter their background.
I have heard from individuals who were present yesterday and who were disappointed and alarmed by the political message in the valedictorian’s address. I share these concerns. I, too, am disappointed that the address was delivered in a way that didn’t represent all students and that was disrespectful to some audience members who were there to celebrate and be celebrated. This isn’t the purpose of a valedictorian address and the speech should have better reflected shared experiences, successes and a commitment to serve all communities.
The valedictorian was expressing his own views, and this was not a message vetted or endorsed in any way by the College.
The University of Manitoba is steadfast in its commitment to freedom of expression; both speech and counter-speech are equally protected. However, freedom of expression has limits and comes with responsibilities. It is my view as Dean that a convocation address is different than a classroom setting, different than an opinion piece in a newspaper – it is an academic celebration for a diverse community. Statements made in this address were divisive and inflammatory. They should be taken as the views of one student, and do not reflect the views of the College nor the diverse perspectives of its students.
As we continue our convocation events, may we be mindful of the diversity of our community, our common humanity, and the purpose of these celebrations.
Dr. Peter Nickerson
Vice-Provost (Health Sciences)
Dean, Max Rady College of Medicine
Dean, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences
University of Manitoba 

Ernest Rady, who donated $30 million to the University of Manitoba in 2016


On Monday, May 20, Ernest Rady, who made a donation of $30 million to the University of Manitoba in 2016 – the largest single donation to the university in its history, and whose father, Max Rady, now has his name on the “Rady Faculty of Health Sciences” and the “Max Rady College of Medicine,” sent the following email in response to Dr. Newman’s remarks:

Via Email
University of Manitoba
Dr. Michael Benarroch, President and Vice-Chancellor
Dr. Peter Nickerson, Dean, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences
Re: Max Rady College of Medicine Convocation Speech by Valedictorian
Michael and Peter:
I write to you today because I was both hurt and appalled by the remarks the valedictorian, Gem Newman, gave at last week’s Max Rady College of Medicine convocation, and I was extremely disappointed in the University’s inadequate response. I have been fortunate in my life to be able to support the causes close to my heart, including the University of Manitoba. As you know, when Evelyn and I donated $30 million to the University’s Faculty of Health Sciences in 2016, that gift was in honor of my parents, and in particular, the gift to the College of Medicine was in honor of my father, Maxwell Rady. Newman’s speech not only dishonored the memory of my father, but also disrespected and disparaged Jewish people as a whole, including the Jewish students who were in attendance at that convocation – some of whom I’ve heard from.
My father, born Avraham (Hebrew for Abraham) Radiskevich, immigrated to Manitoba from Russia in 1893. He, like so many other Jews, fled religious persecution, seeking a better life in Canada. He was lucky. Millions of others – whether during the Russian pogroms, the Holocaust, or the countless other purges of my people throughout history – were not so fortunate. Those horrors were made possible because of a set of beliefs (stereotypes and tropes) so entrenched and pervasive as to be taken as fact.
That same set of beliefs allowed the University of Manitoba to justify its decision to impose admissions quotas to keep Jews out. Despite those quotas, my father was one of the very few of his faith to be admitted to the University’s medical school, which is now named in his honor.
And yet, the University allowed the Max Rady College of Medicine’s valedictorian to spew these hateful lies to a captive audience, and now posts that antisemitic rhetoric on its website for all to see. And the University’s only response is a lukewarm message posted elsewhere on its website about differing opinions and appropriateness of setting for expressing such “opinions.”
Having seen where this kind of speech (and the excuses made for it) have led in the past, I cannot be silent. When I make a gift to an institution, I do it because I believe in that institution and I trust its governing body to do important, significant, and good work with that money. I therefore make it a point not to intervene or tell an institution what it should or should not do. But in this instance, by remaining silent, I would be complicit. So I am speaking out now because I must. Because so many like Gem Newman and the students cheering in the audience and the University itself, whose response to what is happening on its campus has been inadequate, may not even realize all the realities of the situation. The issues are far too complex for a mere letter, and I should not have to be the one to point this out; nonetheless, apparently it bears emphasizing. It is very easy for individuals like Mr. Newman to spout slogans and quips like “settler colonialism” and “genocidal war,” but if they do not take the time to understand the very long, complex, and nuanced history behind what is happening in the world today, then not only are they intellectually dishonest, but they are perpetuating the same harms that have existed for centuries. Those words are not political opinion. They are hate speech and they are lies. They espouse the same age-old prejudices about Jewish omnipotence and thirst for domination that have been used for centuries to justify the atrocities committed against this religious group, which makes up less than 0.2% of the world’s population and 1.4% of Canada’s.
By failing to call out Gem Newton’s words for what they are, the University is no better.
Having failed to vet the valedictorian’s speech in advance (despite the patent risk that something like this would likely occur, given what has happened at other universities), I beg that the University of Manitoba step up and finally do the right thing. Take down the convocation video and do not repost it unless the valedictorian’s entire speech is removed. Post a revised letter from the dean, not only on UM News, but on the same page as the edited video. Condemn, in no uncertain terms, Gem Newman’s remarks. Acknowledge that they were not only inaccurate, but flat-out lies, that they were hurtful to the University’s Jewish students and all people of the Jewish faith, and that the remarks do not have a place in any setting at the University. Denounce antisemitism in all forms it takes, even in its latest iteration as espoused by your valedictorian.
Advocating for the protection of one group of people, while in the same breath calling for the destruction and elimination of another, is not advocacy. It is hate. It is the very opposite of the words that your graduates spoke last week when they recited the Physician’s Pledge, vowing not to permit considerations of creed and ethnic origin to intervene between their duty and their patient.
Be as bold as you tell your students to be. Do the right thing: Speak out unequivocally. Take action. Do not be like all of those who came before you, acquiescing to prejudice and hatred because you do not want to ruffle feathers, or worse, because you believe it is justified.
Ernest Rady
Cc: Anne Mahon, Chancellor

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Donna Comte

    June 13, 2024 at 9:46 pm

    Thank you so much Ernest Rady. As an English ancestry woman 2nd gen to be born in winnipeg and 4th to be here as my grandfather came first then his children then his father; I Am appauld that the valedictorian an English man would say this. An English man is supposed to be of class and distinction – he is to know about God — I suspect this man is an atheist.My sister Elaine Gilbey nee Smith is an archivist and a Christian, she brought it to my attention because she reads the paper. She also agreed of the inflammation comment. Our family would house the Jews in their upper room listening to the Germans talk about their next location and When they finally left, they would ask the Jewish people if they heard what was said. And they poured the tea. I love the Jewish people because they knew God way before Christianity, therefore they are our foundation.Gaza people here say it is about expansion of land and it is not about religion. Thou shalt not kill. I don’t know what it is about other than it is not here. Praise be to God.

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RBC freezes client’s bank account by mistake – and keeps it frozen without explanation

By BERNIE BELLAN (June 14, 2024) What would you do if, one day, you tried to use your debit card to pay for something or to take a cash withdrawal – and the card didn’t work? But then, after contacting your bank to try and find out why that’s happening, you’re simply told your account is frozen – without any further explanation? And, only after deducing that the bank froze the account of the wrong individual, does the bank finally admit its error.
Such was the case recently with an RBC client who happened to be a relative of mine and who enlisted my help in trying to figure out why their account had been frozen by RBC.

On May 1 I was contacted by my relative asking for my help. They couldn’t understand why their debit card wasn’t working. They told me that their card had stopped working five days prior. (It should be explained this individual does not have sophisticated knowledge how to deal with a problem of this sort and they simply thought there was a glitch in using their card that would be corrected in short order by the bank.)

After several days of not being able to use their card, my relative explained, they had phoned RBC on April 30, but were not offered any explanation as to why their account had been frozen. They were told, however, that the matter was in the hands of a Vancouver branch of RBC. My relative was even further puzzled. They lived in Winnipeg and had never even been to Vancouver. What did their account being frozen have to do with a Vancouver branch of RBC, they wondered?

The day my relative contacted me, I told them to come over to my house and that I would try and get an RBC customer service representative on the phone to obtain some sort of explanation as to why their account had been frozen. After getting an RBC customer service representative on the phone and explaining who I was, I asked permission to listen in on the conversation between my relative and the RBC customer service representative. The customer service representative agreed to allow that, but during the course of the conversation they said they were not able to offer any information as to why the RBC client’s card had been frozen.
Both my relative and I were totally puzzled. RBC had frozen their account but would offer no explanation for why that had happened.

Later that day, however, my relative contacted me again to say that they wondered whether it was possible their account had been frozen by mistake because they had the same name as another relative? That other individual does live in Vancouver, so it began to make sense to me. I don’t know that individual well, but was able to contact them after getting their phone number from someone who knew them.
I phoned that person but just got their voice messaging, so I left a message asking them to call me. In a few minutes that individual did call me back and did say, not only that they had an RBC account, but that they had some legal issues related to debts (without going into specifics).

Immediately it occurred to me that my Winnipeg relative’s account had been frozen by mistake and that it was this Vancouver relative whose account was the one RBC had intended to freeze.

I phoned RBC back again and said that it was apparent RBC had frozen the account of the wrong individual. When I gave a detailed explanation of what evidently had happened, this time the RBC customer service representative told us to go down to the branch where my relative does their banking, where we would be met by a banking representative.

At the branch we met with a very nice RBC representative who said they had been brought up to speed as to what had happened. The bank representative explained that my relative’s account had been frozen as the result of a court order that had been issued in Vancouver to freeze the account of someone with the same name. The representative said that my relative could still not use their debit card to access cash, but the representative would be able to give them cash that they could use until their account was unfrozen.

At that time I suggested that what RBC had done was an outrageous mistake and that RBC ought to offer compensation to my relative. The branch representative said RBC was willing to waive bank fees for my relative for six months – apparently worth something in the order of $80 altogether.
The representative also gave me the name of the law firm that had applied for the court order that had led to the wrong account being frozen.

I contacted that law firm the same day and explained what had happened to a lawyer from the firm. The lawyer told me that the court order that had been applied for and had been issued by a court specifically gave the number of the bank account that was to be frozen. The lawyer sent me a copy of the bank order.

It was apparent that someone at RBC had made a huge mistake. They had ignored the order to freeze a specific account belonging to a specific RBC client and instead had frozen the account of a totally different RBC client who happened to have the same name!
When I discovered how egregious a mistake RBC had made – after reading the court order, I contacted the same RBC branch representative who had offered to freeze the fees on my relative’s account and said that my relative expected a lot more in compensation for such an outrageous mistake than simply having bank fees waived for six months.

On May 22, the RBC branch representative wrote in an email to me:
“Your request for compensation has also been escalated to our RBC client care department. They will reach out directly.”

On June 11 we contacted the branch representative to say that my relative had not heard anything from the client care department. On June 12 the branch rep wrote to me to say that an RBC client care representative had indeed attempted to contact my relative – both via phone and email. The phone number that was given in the email though was no longer in service and when we checked with our relative they said they hadn’t received an email.

On June 12 we emailed the RBC client care representative to ask them to attempt to contact our relative again. We did not hear back from that representative. To date our relative says they have not heard anything from the client care representative.

The upshot is RBC made a huge mistake and froze an account of the wrong individual – causing them distress and frustration, and only after we were able to figure out what had led to the wrong account being frozen, did RBC unfreeze the account. And, even though we asked for compensation over a month ago, no response has been received from RBC.

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Record crowd of 50,000 turns out for pro-Israel Toronto event

By DAVE GORDON (June 11, 2024 / JNS) More than 50,000 pro-Israel people turned out for the UJA Walk with Israel in Toronto on Sunday, a record turnout for the event which is in its 55th year.
Adam Hummel, a lawyer in Toronto, told JNS that it was “remarkable and uplifting to see so many Jews come together” this year for the 5K walk (about 3 miles.)
“I was dumbstruck how many people were gathered and feeling the energy and community, especially when we have been struck by so much sorrow,” Hummel said.
Although it seemed in prior years that people attended out of inertia, this year was different, according to Hummel.
“It felt like people needed to be there,” he said. “Because of everything we have gone through as a community, and what Israelis went through, people needed to show up to stand with Israel.”
The event, a project of the UJA Federation of Toronto, moved from the heavily-Jewish neighborhood at the Bathurst Street corridor at Lawrence Avenue to the Federation’s Sherman Campus, which was rebuilt several years ago. 
Guidy Mamann also told JNS that this year’s event felt different.
“I’ve been to many, many walks for Israel since I was a kid,” the Toronto lawyer said. “Normally, people go because they want to have fun and see old faces, but I think this year it was driven by a need to go.”
“There was a sense of needing to go to this walk-a-thon because of the trauma we’ve been through together,” he said. “We needed to feel each other and see each other in large numbers. I think the community really needed that.”
Brendan Shanahan, president of the Maple Leafs, the Toronto hockey team, and the singer Montana Tucker, who sang the Israeli national anthem, were among the celebrities present.
“We are thrilled by the overwhelming support for the walk this year from our community and our friends and neighbors across Greater Toronto,” stated Jeff Rosenthal, chair of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. “To see a record-breaking turnout this year speaks volumes about our community’s pride, resilience and determination to show our city who we are and what we stand for.”
Exceptions for Jews
Michael Kerzner, the solicitor general of Ontario, and Melissa Lantsman, deputy leader of the Conservative Party, attended the event. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Olivia Chow, Toronto’s first Chinese-Canadian mayor, reportedly were not present.
Chow, who had skipped what she called a “divisive” annual Israeli flag raising at City Hall the prior month, said in an interview with a popular Toronto radio station on Monday morning that she had a prior commitment and couldn’t attend Sunday’s event.
“She wasn’t missed,” said David Burstein, a Toronto dentist.
“It was one of the most outstanding communal Jewish experiences of my life, and I’ve lived in Toronto my entire life. The energy was fantastic,” Burstein told JNS. “The fact that they got the four hostages out the day before, really helped morale and added to the joy of the day.”
Kevin Vuong, a federal politician of Chinese descent, told JNS that he was disappointed that Chow skipped the pro-Israel event, which she attended previously as a federal politician.
Vuong noted that Chow told the Jewish community that “you’re never alone” after a shooting at the Jewish girls’ elementary school Bais Chaya Mushka in Toronto in late May.
Chow’s statement implied that “she stood with Toronto’s Jewish community,” Vuong said. “She lied.”
“It’s clear that if it was any other community, she’d have been there. No mayor, nor prime minister for that matter, would skip an event attended by 50,000 Canadians,” Vuong added. “Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the aftermath of Oct. 7, these so-called leaders make exceptions when it comes to Jews.”
Vuong and his wife attended the event “to show our support for Jews both here at home in Canada and abroad, and that meant walking the talk and walking the walk.”
‘I was shocked at the depravity’
The politician had harsh words for the hundreds of pro-Hamas demonstrators, who used bullhorns and loudspeakers to broadcast anti-Israel chants and Islamic prayers and who reportedly sought to enter a place where the event was taking place and had to be barred by law enforcement.
“One thing I couldn’t believe was that pro-Hamas supporters brought in speakers and blared the rocket sirens that go off when Israel is under attack,” Vuong told JNS. “I was shocked at the depravity that someone would think to do that in the hopes of triggering participants.”
“Sadly, I was not surprised when other counter-protesters gave up all pretenses and started cheering outright for Hamas,” he added.
Hummel, the Toronto lawyer, called the protesters “pathetic, paltry and sinister.”
“We celebrate life and they clearly do not. We were there in blue and white with our children, singing songs about life. There was a world of difference,” he told JNS. “They were wearing black and had their faces covered.”
“They stood with swastika signs. Repulsive and pathetic,” he added. “The visuals could not have been starker of what we’re fighting for, and what we are fighting against.”
Mamann, the other Toronto lawyer, told JNS that some of the protesters tailed Jewish community members after the event in a harassing way.
“These people come clear across town and out of town to disrupt us. The police were on our side. But at the end of the day, the protection doesn’t finish when the walk finishes,” he said. “There are thousands of people trying to make it home, and there is still work to do.”
Ali Siadatan was among the non-Jewish Canadians of Iranian descent who participated in the event to voice their support for the Jewish state.
“I stand with Israel because I wish to live in a free world. Israel is at the epicenter of a global ideological war,” Siadatan told JNS. “Israel’s victory will push back the forces of Islam and Marxism. Israel’s defeat would encourage these very forces to explode in the West and in Canada.”
“Even the future of Iran very much depends on the victory or defeat of Israel against the regional forces of Islamic militancy,” Siadatan added.
At the end of the walk, JNS caught up with the rapper Nissim Black, who performed at the festival, which also had kid-friendly activities and musical performances.
“Incredible energy,” Black told JNS. “It was so special seeing all those people together celebrating Eretz Hakodesh,” the Holy Land.

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Women Wage Peace to hold Zoom meeting in June

The late Viivan Silver z"l

We received the following email about a group that will be holding a formative meeting via Zoom this month:

Dear Friends,
Many of you may have heard of the Israel-based group called Women Wage Peace
(WWP) – Nashim Osot Shalom, which Vivian Silver (z”l) helped found ten years ago.
Some may have read the recent article about the group by Sharon Chisvin in the
Winnipeg Free Press. The group now has over 50,000 members, many all over the
world, for example, in Germany, Australia, the UK. The group is non-political and nonsectarian.
There are Jewish, Arab, Bedouin, Druze, Muslim, Christian and secular
women (and some men) across the political spectrum. It has partnered with a
Palestinian Women’s Group called Women of the Sun, and the heads of the two groups
made Time Magazine’s list of women of the Year – ‘extraordinary leaders who fight for a
more equitable future”. We just learned that Vivian has been posthumously awarded
the Hessian Peace Prize in Germany for her efforts.
WWP believes in the active participation of women through all stages of negotiations
and that we all have common interests, desires and needs for a peaceful resolution of
the conflict. WWP recognizes the need for diverse voices; the more partners there are
in the process, the greater the chances of achieving a long-lasting peace.
We are writing to you now, as we are setting up a group in Winnipeg, to support and
amplify the work of this remarkable organization. Please let us know whether you
would like to be involved with a Winnipeg/prairie group. We welcome input from all of
you.

There will be an initial Zoom meeting on June 18 at 7 pm to give everyone a chance to get to know one another and to brainstorm. Even if you are too busy to be an active participant, your support, both moral and financial, will help. And, if you know others who would be interested, please let them know about this initiative.
A major goal of WWP is to implement activities aimed at promoting the vision of a
shared society and co-existence.
Shalom/Peace/Salaam-
Esther Blum and Chana Thau
Please RSVP to wwpwinnipeg@gmail.com as to whether you would like your name to be added to our mailing list as a potential member or to follow WWP events, also to obtain the link to the Zoom meeting.
For more info on WWP, go to www.womenwagepeace.org.il

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