STATEMENT FROM THE ROMA COMMUNITY CENTER IN TORONTO
PHOTO Toronto Roma Community Centre, Canada. www.romatoronto.org
University of Haifa's Honourary Doctorate of Philosophy Award to Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, organized by Canadian Friend's of Haifa University - Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto on November 4, 2012.
Toronto’s Roma Community Centre has a mandate to serve our people, to promote understanding of Roma, including the Roma Porrajmos (i.e.Shoah) - during the Holocaust, where Roma and Jews were targeted for extermination and murdered in the Nazi death camps. In the past, we have used available opportunities to raise awareness and educate about the human rights abuses, endemic racism and discrimination, as well as racially motivated violence currently targeting our communities in Europe. We also support Roma refugees fleeing neo-Nazi persecution in Eastern Europe. In pursuit of these goals, we speak about our issues in public to a large number of varied audiences; we do not necessarily endorse the position of other speakers or groups on the same platform. Our intention is to help our community the best way that we can.
We are anti-Nazi, anti-Jobbik, anti-racist, we absolutely oppose anti-Semitism, and support the safety and well-being of all people.
The RCC firmly believes that Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney’s statements and policies about Roma refugees to be biased, prejudiced and detrimental, therefore we called for our community to demonstrate against the honorary degree he is to receive on November 4th from University of Haifa.
Mr. Kenney has called Roma refugees bogus, but has remained silent about the resurgence of neo-Nazi political agendas in Hungary – the Jobbik political party and its paramilitary allies have vowed to continue the work that the Nazis began Mr. Kenney should recognize the danger posed to both Roma and Jews by the extreme-right Jobbik Party, and has not done so. We base our position on documented facts about this matter.
Roma are being sent back to Hungary to face intimidation, violence, and even death. Jobbik wants to put Roma into ‘public order’ camps. Forced labour work camps became a reality for Roma in Hungary this past January 2012. In 2011 Jobbik's paramilitary wing
Civil Patrol occupied a Romani neighbourhood in the Hungarian town of Gyongyospata for three weeks while the state stood idly by and contributed to this terror by their complacency.
On October 30, 2011, during his brief visit to Toronto’s Roma Community Centre, Kenney heard first hand accounts from Roma refugee claimants from Gyongyospata.
Until this moment, Jobbik’s Civil Patrol and their allies continue to target Romani neighbourhoods. Jobbik currently has 47 members sitting in the Hungarian Parliament, and 3 seats in the European Parliament. Members of their party are now mayors of cities and villages with higher concentrations of Roma living there.
How would Jews on the Canadian Friends of Haifa University feel with a member of the Nazi party in this position of power in their neighbourhoods?
What has Mr. Kenney had to say about this? Jason Kenney and the Hungarian government remain notably silent about the growing neo-Nazi threat in Hungary.
In Canada, Kenney’s Bill C-31, Roma are discouraged from seeking asylum in here by the threat of detainment, subjected to an unfair two-tiered asylum process, and left with little to no option for appeal when refugee claims are denied. Moreover, while Bill C-31 is in the process of being fully implemented, Kenney has created the Assisted Voluntary Returns and Reintegration program (AVRR) whereby failed refugee claimants are encourage to leave Canada with the promise of re-settlement assistance valued up to $2000, rather than exhaust other options to appeal their negative decision.
Since July 1, 2012, all refugee claimants have been affected by the partial removal of medical services. For example, children can no longer visit the dentist or the eye doctor. Once the list of "safe countries" is published in December, all refugee claimants will have no healthcare available to them unless they pose a threat to public safety.
The RCC, along with countless others that include the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and a group of Canadian Jewish doctors, do not feel that Kenney deserves this award from Haifa University. However, this is an even more sensitive issue for the RCC than any other Canadian group, particularly in light of the establishment of a Holocaust education fund in Kenney’s name that will result from the fundraising dinner where he when he is given this distinguished honour. Kenney continues to blatantly turn a blind eye to the "other" victims of the Holocaust who are witnessing history repeating itself. Asan old Romani proverb goes, "our ashes were mingled in the ovens". Thus, how can it be fair to legitimize one’s pain, and discredit the other’s suffering? Almost all of the Hungarian, Czech, Slovak, Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, Polish, and Romanian refugees to Canada have relatives who perished in the Holocaust – in some cases, entire families.
The intentions were for the Roma Community Centre to demonstrate on November 4th about of these injustices to our community, as noted above. What resulted is a large coalition of social, economic, and political justice groups that oppose Kenney’s draconian immigration and refugee policies, and the government’s role in foreign affairs toward Israel. For the RCC, our members feel that our message is becoming lost in the diversity of voices and interests disseminating from all of these different groups, some quite controversial.
As a result, the leadership of Toronto’s Roma Community Centre has decided that they will organize the Roma community to meet, march, and demonstrate on Saturday November 4, 2012 as an independent organization.
From the beginning, opposing Haifa’s award to Kenney has been about remembering and honouring all Holocaust victims, so as to not make it a one-dimensional experience by catering to one victim while revictimizing the other. The world’s historical collective memory did not include us Roma as Holocaust victims – it is now time to include and acknowledge our community. Where we are acknowledged, only a quarter of the genocide victims are counted – those 500,000 which were registered in work and death camps and received official tattooed numbers. What about the other 1,500,000 that were murdered in large rural spaces and buried in mass graves? Should they remain uncounted?
By Kenney consistently failing to make even a small reference to Roma in all of his support for Holocaust victims - he is making it abundantly clear that we should remain a people uncounted. By Haifa University establishing a Holocaust Education Fund in Kenney’s name – they are participating in the exclusion and marginalization of the Roma community. The award itself is an insult after how unfairly the Roma community in Canada has been treated.
Gina Csányi - Robah
Toronto’s Roma Community Centre (RCC) board distances itself from anti-Israel groups planning to protest a reception for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney
Toronto’s Roma Community Centre (RCC) board distanced itself last week from anti-Israel groups planning to protest a reception for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who will be honoured by the Canadian Friends of Haifa University (CFHU) on Nov. 4 at the Fairmount Royal York hotel.
The university will confer an honorary doctorate on Kenney for his “steadfast position against antisemitism, racism and intolerance and, in particular, for his solidarity with the State of Israel and his condemnation of Israel Apartheid Week” at its annual Mount Carmel Dinner, the university said.
Proceeds from the dinner will go to establish a “Jason Kenney Holocaust Education Fund” at Haifa U.
Earlier this year Kenney ran afoul of the Roma community after the government first considered, then passed, Bill C-31, the immigration law that, among other things, allows for easier extradition of failed refugee applicants to Canada.
In April, Kenney said he believed many claimants from Hungary – specifically Roma, also known pejoratively as Gypsies – were making false refugee claims and abusing Canada’s refugee system.
An April 22 report in the National Post cited statistics from the Immigration Review Board showing a spike in Roma claims from 2010 to 2012. The story quoted Kenney as saying that Canada had been trying to educate the Roma about how to properly apply to immigrate here.
Calls to Kenney’s office for comment were not returned by The CJN’s deadline.
The Roma Community Centre had initially been listed as one of the parties slated to protest Kenney, along with other virulently anti-Israel groups such as Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, Independent Jewish Voices, Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and Jews Opposing Zionism.
But last Thursday, RCC executive director Gina Csanyi-Robah withdrew her organization from that mass protest to stand alone at its own demonstration to symbolically show that it’s not anti-Israel, yet still opposes Kenney’s views on immigration.
In an Oct. 11 statement, her group declared that it has “specific reasons” for its opposition to Haifa U giving an award to Kenney. It said while there are many other organizations protesting the minister, some are too controversial to be associated with.
Instead, the RCC “decided to protest the award independently, so that its purpose is not confused with those of other groups,” Csanyi-Robah said.
Asked whether her organization was anti-Israel, she said that while she couldn’t speak for everyone, Roma have “historically felt a very close connection to the Jewish community” and that she personally wanted to see a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a two-state solution.
“Our ashes were mingled in the ovens,” Csanyi-Robah said, quoting a Roma saying about how close both peoples became as a result of their shared horrors at the hands of the Nazis.
“We are anti-Nazi, anti-Jobbik, anti-racist, we absolutely oppose antisemitism, and support the safety and well-being of all people,” she said. “Mr. Kenney has called Roma refugees bogus, but has remained silent about the resurgence of neo-Nazi political agendas in Hungary – the Jobbik political party and its paramilitary allies have vowed to continue the work that the Nazis began. Mr. Kenney should recognize the danger posed to both Roma and Jews by the extreme-right Jobbik Party and has not done so.”
Csanyi-Robah said Roma who are being returned from Canada to Hungary face intimidation, violence and even death.
“Jobbik wants to put Roma into ‘public order’ camps. Forced-labour work camps became a reality for Roma in Hungary this past January 2012,” she said.
Reports of heightened xenophobia in Hungary, particularly against Jews and Roma, have increased since 2008.
Bernie Farber, ex-CEO of the now-defunct Canadian Jewish Congress, has had a long working relationship with Csanyi-Robah and her centre, and had recently been painted in local news reports as an anti-Israel activist because of his affiliation with the group and its previous listing on the anti-Kenney protest’s web page.
He said attempts to portray either himself or the Canadian Roma community at large as anti-Israel or anti-Zionist were “absurd.”
He said he’d assisted the RCC in finding lawyers to help look at and challenge the government’s new immigration laws, but that was the extent of his role with the organization.
Farber, who will attend the university’s gala event as a guest, said he has a “deep and abiding respect” for Kenney’s stances on Israel and antisemitism.
“On those issues, we stand shoulder to shoulder, and I consider him a friend. But like all friends, we can have differences of opinion on some issues,” Bill C-31 being one such item, he said.
Farber added that he felt Kenney was being “very hard on the Roma” and that many respected representatives of the Jewish community are in agreement. Earlier this year the Toronto Board of Rabbis and Elie Wiesel, among others, had urged the minister to reconsider the legislation.
While Csanyi-Robah calls Farber a “true friend” to her community, the former head of Congress said he doesn’t support her call for Haifa U to retract its honouring of Kenney.
“I believe that the Roma Community Centre has the right to engage in whatever advocacy they feel best helps their cause within the bounds of civility and the law,” he said. “I respect and fully support [Kenney’s] strong advocacy on behalf of Israel and his fight against antisemitism. That is why he is being honoured. I strongly support Haifa University as the most diverse and pluralistic university in the Middle East. I am attending the dinner for all those reasons.”
But the centre doesn’t feel Kenney deserves this award and is chastising any Jewish community members who support the dinner, Csanyi-Robah said.
“This is an even more sensitive issue for the RCC than any other Canadian group, particularly in light of the establishment of a Holocaust education fund in Kenney’s name.
“[He] continues to blatantly turn a blind eye to the ‘other’ victims of the Holocaust who are witnessing history repeating itself,” she said.
It’s estimated that anywhere from 500,000 to two million Roma were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
“How would Jews [supporting] the Canadian Friends of Haifa University feel with a member of the Nazi party in… positions of power in their neighbourhoods?” Csanyi-Robah asked, referring to the situation in Hungary now, where members of the Jobbik Party now hold 47 seats in parliament and numerous mayoralties in towns with high concentrations of Hungarian Roma.
“Kenney and the Hungarian government remain notably silent about the growing neo-Nazi threat in Hungary,” she said.
“The world’s historical collective memory did not include us Roma as Holocaust victims – it is now time to include and acknowledge our community.”