Lessons from Christchurch for MLAs contemplating who should become B.C.'s human rights commissioner

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      The mass shootings of Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, further demonstrate the transnational orientation of the white supremacist movement. 

      It's been obvious to groups and academics that have been watching it for years.

      The man charged in the mosque killings, Australian Brenton Tarrant, had travelled widely in the years before the gruesome murders of 49 people.

      And as has been widely reported, he celebrated similar killers in the United States, Canada, and Norway.

      It comes as no surprise that the Internet has played a big role in bringing hate-mongers together across borders. This began in a big way in 1995 with the launch of the white supremacist website Stormfront.

      According to a 2014 Southern Poverty Law Center report, Stormfront members murdered close to 100 people in the first five years of the Obama presidency. 

      Notorious mass killer Anders Breivik of Norway was reportedly a member for three years, ranting on the Stormfront site about Muslims, Jews, academics, and the media.

      A Canadian researcher, Barbara Perry, told Vice earlier this year that since 2014, there have been 19 homicides in Canada by far-right extremists.

      Countering hate requires sophisticated approach

      Life After Hate is a group founded by former extremists that discourages youths from joining hate groups.

      It acknowledged in a March 15 statement that white supremacist ideology is a global issue, requiring an international response.

      "While nearly all domestic extremist murders in the United States last year were committed by the violent far right, the reality is that nations across the world have come under attack by it," Life After Hate said. "We can no longer approach this as a political anomaly."

      Life After Hate has long emphasized the importance of understanding why people join hate groups.

      It includes former members who've cleansed themselves of this ideology and recovered their empathy—and they help others understand why these hate groups continue to attract young followers. They say the roots are often complex and misunderstood.

      The executive director of Life After Hate, Sonny Rangel, talks about the power of forgiveness.

      In the video above, Life After Hate's executive director, Sammy Rangel, describes how horrific childhood abuse led him to become a violent teenager and a feared prison inmate.

      He turned his life around, gaining great empathy for others, after realizing how much he had been damaged by his upbringing.

      “There is hope. People can change. Even from the darkest days," Rangel said yesterday. "It’s only through compassion and forgiveness that a former can become a former.”

      The board chair of the Life After Hate, B.C. resident Tony McAleer, used to recruit others to join hate groups.

      It was only after he became a father that he began to recover empathy and later decided to help other young people avoid a similar fate.

      "So what draws young people into these groups?" McAleer wrote in a Globe and Mail commentary following the white supremacist rally and killing in Charlottesville in 2017. "Research and my personal experience show that it is a sense of identity, belonging, acceptance and purpose. The lack of these factors in a young person's life creates vulnerabilities that extremist groups exploit."

      He added that young recruits often have "a deep subconscious belief that we are unlovable, powerless and invisible".

      McAleer readily acknowledged that he victimized others—and has never claimed to be a victim himself. He's admitted that he traded his humanity for acceptance and approval by others in the movement.

      "When we are compassionate, we hold a mirror up to that person and allow them to see their humanity reflected back," McAleer declared in the Globe and Mail. "One of the hardest things in the world to do is to have compassion for someone who has no compassion, but those are the very people who need it most."

      Tony McAleer has spoken on many occasions to young people about avoiding the dangerous lure of hate groups.
      Gurpreet Singh

      B.C. MLAs shouldn't lose sight of big picture

      The massacre in Christchurch occurred just as a special legislative committee in B.C. is preparing to recommend the appointment of a provincial human rights commissioner.

      B.C. is the only province that doesn't have a human rights commissioner as a result of its elimination in 2003 by Gordon Campbell's B.C. Liberal government.

      Applications closed on March 8, and the job posting calls for someone with experience in executive management and leadership and a solid record in administration.

      In addition, the person must have excellent communications skills. And the position "requires a good understanding" of administrative law and human rights laws, as well as experience working with Indigenous peoples and diverse communities.

      There's nothing in the job posting citing any need for an understanding of the sociological roots of white supremacy.

      But in reality, that's likely going to be required if B.C.'s next human rights commissioner hopes to lay a foundation to prevent racist attacks like those in Christchurch, Quebec City, Charlottesville, and Oslo.

      There were originally five members on the special legislative committee: NDP MLAs Raj Chouhan and Mitzi Dean, Liberals Greg Kyllo and Stephanie Cadieux, and B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver. But after the first meeting, Weaver stepped down, saying he would be replaced by a B.C. Liberal.

      Dean was later replaced by another New Democrat, Shiela Malcolmson, who was named chair, and Chouhan became a member. At the moment, there are only four members on the committee—two New Democrats and two B.C. Liberals.

      Before they make their recommendation to the legislature, they would be wise to brush up on the roots of white supremacy if they're not already aware of these issues.

      That's because there's little point hiring a human rights commissioner in B.C. if that person isn't going to make a priority of preventing young people from being recruited into hate groups.

      In this instance, as Benjamin Franklin once said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.