Anita Bromberg is the Executive Director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, a Canadian Crown Agency dedicated to eliminating racism and maintaining harmonious relations across diverse communities. A recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and the Community Program Excellence Award, Anita brings to the position three decades of experience working on issues of racism and discrimination, as well as human rights, countering hate and inter-group relations. Born and raised in Winnipeg, Anita is a lawyer by profession, and was admitted to the Ontario Bar in 1982. She is a frequent spokesperson, lecturer, trainer and media representative on topical issues of the day, particularly as they relate to racialized communities. A court recognized expert on racism and extremism, she has also instituted and participated in numerous intercultural, outreach and educational initiatives. Formerly she was the National Director of Legal Affairs for B’nai Brith Canada, and human rights coordinator for the League of Human Rights where she coordinated the legal initiatives of the organization’s advocacy efforts and was responsible for the operation of the organization’s Anti-Hate Hotline and its annual report on racism.
Vinita Kinra: Welcome to Global Asian Times, Anita. Canada is stepping up to help Syrian refugees by opening its doors to a sizeable number of asylum seekers. Do you think Canadians will be inclusive and welcoming towards this influx of new immigrants, or will these refugees be seen as outsiders?
Anita Bromberg: Thank you. Our studies confirm that Canadians are generous, welcoming people. For Example, according to our Report on Canadian Values:
When asked to identify their most important value from a list of 10, respect for human rights and freedoms scored highest at 21 per cent. When asked specifically about multiculturalism, 60 per cent agreed that it requires reasonable accommodation of cultural practices, including practices about which the respondents might feel uncomfortable.
That same report, however, showed that there was a schism between theoretical acceptance and practical application. For example, Canadians did express some discomfort with cultural practice of newcomers and others they may encounter in their day-to-day life.
As well, another study indicated that newcomers quickly picked up negative pre-existing stereotypes circulating.
What does all this mean? Clearly, there is a pressing need for an ongoing, national dialogue led by the CRRF. Opening our doors requires more than housing, food etc. It will require effort by all to learn about each other and come together based on the best of Canadian values.
Vinita Kinra: As the Executive Director of Canadian Race Relations Foundation, how do you rate Canada in terms of religious tolerance on a scale of 1 to 10?
Anita Bromberg: Again, there is a divide between views held in theory and how they play out in the public field. Compared to most of the world, Canada is one of the best places on Earth. While we continue to struggle with issues around religion and its place in the public sphere, we as Canadians for the most part are ready to dialogue about it respectfully. Those that act out in hate such as a recent arson against a mosque, are isolated and denounced. So I would give us high marks—not perfect, but high marks.
Vinita Kinra: You are plying a pivotal role in changing mindsets towards visible minorities and people from different ethnic backgrounds. Do you feel satisfied by the efforts and resources directed to deal with this issue in Canada?
Anita Bromberg: This has become my life’s work—there is nothing more satisfying or vital than bringing different ethnic groups together. This is at the core of the CRRF vision and mission; this is the way to building a common identity and cohesion. There are many people and groups in many areas working to this greater good. The work is even more vital today, and so of course, more resources are always welcome. I would love to see all sectors kicking in.
Vinita Kinra: As a young woman studying law, what barriers did you overcome to prove that women are equal to men and deserve to have their voice heard?
Anita Bromberg: Well, juggling family and career and finding the support I needed was the first barrier I had to personally face. I recall a conversation when I had to convince a principal as a female young lawyer I could be as effective, if not more, than my male junior colleagues. I recalled at that moment a lesson taught by my women’s psychology professor who acknowledged differences between men and women but reminded her students that as women we had many strengths such as being assertive vs aggressive, though each of these characteristics had their place.
Vinita Kinra: Do you think an era of equity and equality has been ushered with half the new cabinet comprising of women? What, in your opinion, took so long for Canada to get here?
Anita Bromberg: There have been strong women role models in politics in Canada for many years. Women have had leading roles for example in law as well as politics. That said, opening the glass ceiling to expose systemic barriers is important. The women of the new Cabinet should be an inspiration to young women today. Look at Minister Joly of Heritage, who oversees the portfolio we are part of, a lawyer by training, an expert in the digital age, she is very inspiring.
Vinita Kinra: According to you, how can Canadian corporate houses be encouraged to hire more immigrants, many of whom remain unemployed or underemployed despite stellar academic and professional qualifications from their home countries?
Anita Bromberg: At CRRF, we are reaching out to corporations and other sectors through workshops and other programs to explore issues of inclusion. A case in point is Cross Canada Workshops which promote inclusion and diversity. It comes down to understanding the promises and challenges that this diversity represents.
Vinita Kinra: Do you think Canada will ever be immune to hate crimes of the likes that spike after terrorist-related incidents abroad or at home?
Anita Bromberg: While we have to strive for zero tolerance to hate crimes, I believe it is unrealistic to believe that we will ever eliminate such behavior. That said, we must try as the stress will undoubtedly continue. Building ties between our communities and understanding through them is essential.
Vinita Kinra: To your mind, what, if any, is a miracle panacea against racial discrimination?
Anita Bromberg: As identified in many of the Truth and Reconciliation Recommendations, the cure for the virus of hate/discrimination is ultimately education—especially focusing on our children. We must make every effort to give kids of all backgrounds a chance to learn Canadian history, history of communities, to interact, to learn to depend on each other.
Vinita Kinra: What is your vision for Canada at the turn of the century?
Anita Bromberg: To me the perfect country is where there will be no barriers, that each person will be judged on merit. That’s when we will have true equity. We must get to the overt racism but also the systemic barriers that hold us back.
Vinita Kinra: The mandate of Canadian Race Relations Foundation is to promote tolerance and cross-cultural understanding between people of diverse faiths and origins in Canada. What specific projects are underway to realize this goal?
Anita Bromberg: NFB Faith Project with a look at spirituality of youth in Canada. In the Classroom video competition, 150 stories where we tell stories of real Canadians to explore Canadian values. Upcoming is our Living Together Symposium which will be a hands-on experience exploring Canadian identity as we move to 150 years.
Vinita Kinra: Canada is considered a land of opportunity. Do you think visible minorities are equal stakeholders?
Anita Bromberg: My grandparents were all immigrants to this land. They faced barriers but also found a land of great opportunity. There are definitely barriers out there: We have to look at barriers to education, housing, work requirements. It is a work in progress that requires ongoing dedication.
Vinita Kinra: What is your life philosophy?
Anita Bromberg: Look up to remember who is always above you, look down to make sure you harm no one, look behind you to remember where you came from, look ahead to know where you are going and most importantly, look beside you as there are always people nearby who may need your support and are ready to travel with you.
About the interviewer:
Vinita Kinra is a Toronto-based author, editor, speaker and activist, best known for her short story collection, Pavitra in Paris, launched to critical acclaim in 2013. She is also a contributor for India’s largest English daily, The Times of India.