Hate speech policies under review in Ajax

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Published June 20, 2024 at 3:21 pm

Ajax town hall

The Town of Ajax is reviewing its policies on hate speech amid a rise in hate incidents both in town and across Ontario.

As of the last census, Ajax is the most ethnically diverse community in Durham Region with a sizeable lead over its neighbours.

With nearly 57 per cent of Ajax residents being visible minorities, the town ranks as the fifth most diverse municipality in Ontario, well above the provincial average of about 29 per cent.

  1. Markham – 77.9 per cent of the 338,000 population
  2. Brampton 73.3 per cent of 656,000
  3. Richmond Hill – 60 per cent of 202,000
  4. Mississauga – 57.2 per cent of 717,000
  5. Ajax- 56.7 per cent of 127,000
  6. Toronto – 51.5 per cent of 2,794,000
  7. Pickering – 42.9 per cent of 99,000
  8. Milton – 42.8 per cent of 133,000
  9. Whitchurch- Stouffville – 36.9 per cent of  50,000
  10. Vaughan – 35.4 per cent of 323,000

(Figures above are based on the 2021 census. Populations have grown in the years since.)

In Ajax the population breaks down as South Asian (26.2%), Black (16.8%), Filipino (5.3%), Chinese (3%), West Asian (3%), Arab (2%), and Latin American (1.3%). Of note, Ajax has the highest per capita population of Black people in the country.

As such, in 2022 the town administration adopted a Diversity and Inclusion Statement which reads in part, “diversity is our strength. We have the fastest growing diverse population and value the many contributions of our community.”

“We are committed to respect, inclusion, diversity, equity and have zero tolerance for all acts of discrimination and hate,” it continues.

Regional Councillor and Deputy Mayor Sterling Lee, who himself belongs to a visible minority, put forward a motion to update the Diversity and Inclusion Statement.

Lee was prompted by the recent NDP motion in the Ontario Legislature the Our London Family Health Act.

The proposal honours the Afzaal family, three generations of who were slain in a terrorist attack committed by white supremacist Nathaniel Veltman.

He targeted the Afzaals specifically because they were Muslims wearing traditional garb. He ran the family down in his pick-up truck on June 6, 2021.

A Salam Afzaal, 46, Madiha Salman, 44, their daughter Yumnah Afzaal, 15, and her grandmother Talat Afzaal, 74, were all killed. A 9-year-old boy survived with serious injuries. It was the deadliest attack in the city’s history.

Veltman was ultimately convicted of four counts of murder and one of attempted murder. Uniquely his charges were classified as terrorism for the first such time in Canada.

In the wake of the slayings, the NDP submitted the Our London Family Health Act in 2022. The anti-hate bill had the support of the Liberal and Green parties and the endorsement of the the National Coalition of Canadian Muslims.

However, it was never debated because the 2022 election was called before it could be discussed. The NDP has recently renewed their push for the bill but told Queen’s Park they were going back to Muslim communities for further consultation.

The new push comes as Islamophobic incidents rise across the province following the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on the Gaza Strip.

Most recently a Muslim home in London was set ablaze by an arsonist just a week after the anniversary of the attack on the Afzaals. The arson was reportedly driven by the family’s vocal support of Palestine.

Shortly after that, a man in Hamilton was arrested on hate crime charges after allegedly storming into a Mosque, screaming at third graders and their teacher and tearing up a Quran. Days later a truck was spotted in Toronto displaying Islamophobic messages.

“In recognition of a rising number of acts of hate and to foster a sense of safety and belonging, it is appropriate to strengthen Town policies to make very clear that hate has no place here,” Lee’s motion reads.

It calls on the town to update its policies for interacting with the public to read “Actions because of race, religious beliefs, colour, disability, age,
ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation and
intersectionalities” to be considered “unacceptable behaviour.”

Furthermore, it defines “unacceptable behaviour” as “including but not limited to inciting hate, behaviour that can be damaging physically or mentally, is
illegal, or would not be welcomed in a standard place of business.”

Residents who behave unacceptably at town facilities may be banned from those premises, from partaking in town events and services and from interacting with town staff. Those who break this restriction may receive a trespass notice from Durham Police.

The new policies will be debated at the June 24 council meeting.

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