Sue Jackson on the recent trip by Ontario Chiefs of Police to Israel (2005)

M Chair, Honourable …, fellow citizens

My name is Sue Jackson; I am a minister in the UCC and presently serve as Minister of Mission and Communication throughout Hamilton Conference (Fort Erie- Tobermory, Mississauga to Kincardine).

As I seek to understand the visit of the police chief, Brian Mullen, to Israel and the reactions to it, I have come to the conclusion that is basically an issue of right relationship.

To explain what I mean, I invite you to look at the situation before us through the lens of relationships. I’m not just thinking about warm fuzzies – though they are a wonderful outcome of caring relationships. I am thinking more about what First Nations peoples call “right relations” – built on respect for each other and all creation. Such relationships are just and life-giving; they help us build strong and healthy communities. They involve the willingness to understand people whose ways may be different from our own, and also a commitment to deal with problems that may arise. If this sounds like hard and difficult work, it is!

I think all of us here realize that building right relations is hard work or we wouldn’t be here this evening. We’d be home having a meal or relaxing. We surely wouldn’t have bothered to spend hours trying to formulate our ideas and document our arguments as some here have. We could have merely muttered among ourselves about the police chief’s visit to Israel – some bothered about it and others not seeing what all the fuss was about; soon the talk would have died down and the matter faded from people’s consciousness. End of story.

But that hasn’t happened. Instead we have this hearing, which I see as our recognition that caring about something involves work. If we are good housekeepers, we don’t sweep our dust under the carpet, we gather it up and deal with it. Some of us are feeling some grit under our feet as a result of the police chief’s visit to Israel. But we all need to be involved in the clean –up process because the city belongs to us all. So I thank you for coming and your willingness to participate.

The mission statement of the Hamilton police force is built on right relationship – a relation of partnership among the communities that make up Hamilton. I quote: The Hamilton Police force has a mission to serve protect and support in Partnership with our Communities. Like most Canadian cities, Hamilton has become increasingly multicultural. This means that all of us as individuals and communities are on a steep learning curve as we try to figure out how to build communities made up of people from widely different cultures. And it takes us even longer to be sensitized to the nuances and the diversity within each culture. Yet this is the road we must take if we are to avoid the pitfalls of racial and religious stereotyping and profiling.

We in the United Church of Canada have been working on providing people with some resources to deal with these issues. We have developed study materials to help our communities have a better understanding of Judaism, Islam, Aboriginal peoples and Right Relations in general. We have created those resources in partnership with representatives of the communities with whom we are trying to build relationships. We have tried to avoid being one-sided and have created those resources in partnership with representatives of the communities with whom we are trying to build relations.

Notice, I do not claim that every single member of the United Church of Canada has engaged in these studies – faith communities, after all, are voluntary associations. But we who are here this evening might want to ask ourselves whether some sort of education process might be a requirement for our public servants so that they might be better equipped to undertake their duties within the whole community.

Racial and religious profiling leads people to making unwarranted assumptions as they seek to identify terrorists. My son-in-law who is a Hindu West Indian of East Indian origin gave up his job in the US after 9/11 because he frequently became the casual target of casual suspicion based solely on his appearance.

Our Canadian government is presently reviewing its anti-terrorism legislation. Today’s Globe and Mail reported that Canadian Muslim and Arab groups as well as the Canadian Jewish Congress have advised the Canadian government not to define terrorism in terms of religion or ethnicity. The Congress, however, still feels that profiling on the basis of country of origin, may be justified.

We all need to be critical of our statements about terrorists because they are always shaped by our particular perspective. You’ve probably heard the saying that “one group’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.” It’s not wrong to have a perspective but we can’t always claim that our perspective is the whole truth. When we start building relationships with people from other cultures, we often find that our perspective shifts and broadens.

When we hear others talk about terrorists or doing racial profiling, it’s wise for us to take a close look at the source of their information to examine it for a built-in bias that is attempting to sway us to a particular point of view. Political conflicts are not like football games that take place on a level playing field; often the field is tipped to one side that holds more power due to the weight of its resources of weapons and wealth.

Terrorism is THE ISSUE of the day and we can easily forget that there are other things going on in the world that we need to be watchful about. Sometimes, we can be drawn to focus on terrorism and get distracted from paying attention to other injustices – such as issues of land and boundaries, human rights, economic and political survival, bulldozing of homes and fields.

The visit of the police chiefs to Israel seems to fall into this trap. There is no doubt that terrorism has been a horrible experience for the people of Israel – one that required a response from their government. and police. But the context of Hamilton is so very different; one wonders how much useful information Canadian police could gain from dealing with terrorism in an Israeli context. The token meeting with Palestinian officials that the police chiefs did have gave scant opportunity to inform them of the depth of injustice and hardship experienced by many Palestinian relatives and friends of people who live in Hamilton and other parts of Ontario.

Really, it’s no surprise that that information and awareness of the plight of Palestinians did not come – because the trip was not designed to focus on that issue. It was designed and largely paid for by Israeli groups who naturally would promote their own concerns. It’s a pity that the Police Board and police chiefs were not more alert to the one-sided nature of the visit in time to perhaps suggest a more balanced experience of what is happening in the Middle East. That might have been very helpful at creating right relations in Hamilton.

The trip was also supported by almost $2000 of public funds. As citizens, you need to ask yourselves whether that money was well spent in helping Ham to be a healthy multi-cultural community—one that treats all cultural groups with justice, dignity and respect.

I am reminded of a quotation which I have often heard: “Justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done”. [Gordon, 1st Baron of Bury Hewart (1870-1943)] It seems that in the visit of the police chiefs to Israel, there is a fair amount of evidence that justice was not “manifestly and undoubtedly seen to be done.”

On the other hand, I doubt whether we could or should carry this matter forward in a legal context. At this point I do not think it very helpful for people to spend a great deal of time defending their actions.

However, I would hope that we would not dismiss this issue from our minds or our public agenda. We all need to learn from this experience and the information offered this evening so that we can build relationships of respect and understanding with each other and so that we can help our police live into their own mission statement more fully. We need to focus on the future and build communities of right relations that will offer all citizens a home we can be proud of.

Rev Sue Jackson
Minister of Mission and Communication
Hamilton Conference , United Church of Canada
PO Box 100, Carlisle, ON , L0R 1H0
(905) 659-3343 x 227 sjackson@hamconf.org

In Solidarity with the Oppressed