Representatives and members of the Baha’i community of Canada were active participants in the 2017 annual conference of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation conference, held in Toronto on October 26-27.
The theme of the conference was “Inclusive Canada: 2017 and Beyond,” and it featured a range of speakers and workshops on the topics relating to the elimination of racism and discrimination, and the challenge of building a more cohesive society. The Canadian Race Relations Foundation was established by an act of Parliament in 1996, and was created as a result of the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement acknowledging the unjust treatment of Japanese Canadians during and after World War Two.
“The Canadian Race Relations Foundation plays an important role in our society,” said Dr Gerald Filson, Director of Public Affairs for the Baha’i Community of Canada. “It fosters public dialogue at the local, regional, and national level on some of our most pressing social issues, including reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples, inter-religious understanding, eliminating hate crimes, and the value of diversity.”
One of the keynote speakers this year was Chief Dr Robert Joseph, head of Reconciliation Canada. He challenged conference participants to think about reconciliation as a process of building new relationships and creating peaceful coexistence in Canada. “This is going to require a lot of discussion among all of us. We need to reconcile worldviews, and include Aboriginal worldviews in the conversation to make our country greater.”
Other keynote speakers talked about the role of religion in Canadian society, the importance of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the relationship between police services and the community.
The Baha’i community convened a workshop panel at the conference on the role of youth in building a more inclusive society. It brought together a number of leading voices from the youth sector to speak about the ideas that inform their work with youth, and how, in practice, they foster the empowerment of youth from different backgrounds.
The first speaker, Sean Twyford, director of youth strategies for the Ontario government, spoke about evolving views of the relationship between youth and civic engagement. “We have to make sure that the voices of youth are infused into what we do,” he said. “What matters most in government is what happens between elections.”
Shaneeza Ally, Executive Director of the For Youth Initiative, spoke about the work of their organization to view youth as agents of change, not as problems. “All young people need the chance to succeed,” she said. She noted that in many urban neighbourhoods, diversity is the norm and not an exception. To work effectively with youth, they need to be accompanied into leadership roles and supported by adult allies.
Hoda Farahmandpour, a director of Wordswell, a Baha’i-inspired organization in Toronto, spoke about the ideas behind their youth empowerment programs. She emphasized their view of human motivation, that they assume young people to be “motivated by a thirst for knowledge and true friendship,” and that this influences how programs are organized. She gave examples of how young people can become effective community builders, and referred to the experience of two youth empowerment groups in Toronto that helped to dismantle prejudices between their neighbourhoods.
Ashraf Rushdy, Project Coordinator with the Baha’i Community of Canada, chaired the panel. He said, “We wanted to create a space to have a different kind of conversation about the excellent work being done to promote the empowerment of youth. We wanted to look at the relationship between ideas and practice, and what we can learn from each other.”
The conference also featured a video presentation by a junior youth empowerment group from Hamilton, Ontario. Jason Amri, Naseem Anvari, Nur Elmasri, Faran Mostaghim, Roya Mostaghim, Shadi Rahmatyan, and Shayda Rahmatyan were winners of a national contest encouraging young Canadians “to creatively express their understanding of Canadian values and identity.” Their short video can be viewed here.