“When I came to Galena Bay, I had been afraid of many things,” writes Ellen Schwartz in Galena Bay Odyssey: Reflections on a Hippie Homesteader (Heritage House Publishing Company, 2023). “Of the physical work I would have to do. Of trying new things I have never done before, like gardening and building and raising animals. Of living in isolation. One by one, I had attempted these things, and I had survived. I had even mastered some of them. Those fears had fallen away.”
This paragraph comes as Schwartz is atop a hill, “too scared to move,” and her skis start sliding. She survives the “ungraceful and disastrous” run, even pushes through a second one. But she can’t keep her vow to never to do that again because, in the 1970s, she lived in such a far-flung place that skiing was a necessary mode of transportation, not just a leisure activity.
It is easy to see why Schwartz chose to write a memoir about this period of her life. Born into a middle-class family – her father an internist-turned-cardiologist, her mother a teacher before becoming a stay-at-home mom to Schwartz, her younger sister and brother – and raised in New Jersey, Schwartz went to university in Chicago. There, she did all you might expect a young person with the new freedom of being on their own to do. And then some, as it was the late 1960s. She writes openly about her experiences with drugs and having sex for the first time: “I figured Ned was The One. I imagined that we’d go through our four years [at school] together and eventually marry.” That didn’t happen. Nor did Schwartz go on to lead the conventional life she imagined for herself at the time.
Instead, she went to join a close friend at a farming commune in Pennsylvania, the members of which ultimately wanted to move to British Columbia. Not intending to stay longer than summer break, Schwartz fell in love with one of the commune’s founders and, well, ended up in British Columbia with Bill, who would become her husband. The group didn’t last long, but the Schwartzes are still together, though no longer in Galena Bay, which is in the West Kootenays. They now live in Burnaby.
The young urban-raised couple faced many challenges homesteading, and Schwartz has many stories of taking on the unknown, whether it be camping along the route across the continent to British Columbia, building their own cabin (including chopping down their own trees), growing their own food, raising a child in a remote area (their second would be born in Vancouver), etc., etc. Not to mention finding work that would sustain them physically (keep them housed, clothed and fed), if not spiritually. She shares the details of her hippie days matter-of-factly, with humour and with the perspective of reflection. For example, after recounting her parents’ muted reaction to her and Bill’s homemade home, she offers potential reasons for their lack of enthusiasm.
Schwartz’s unique history encapsulates the overarching idealism of many in her generation. Her grandparents were “impoverished Jewish immigrants who had fled the hardships and pogroms of Lithuania and Poland” to give their kids a better life in the United States, so their grandchildren also were well set up for material success. The grandchildren – Schwartz and her peers – had an idea but no real understanding of the sacrifices that had been made to achieve the comfortable lifestyle they rejected, because of the racial and social inequality they saw around them, the environmental degradation and the war in Vietnam.
“Bill and I, part of the first wave of baby boomers, were in the privileged position of having enough education, enough wealth and enough leisure to be able to criticize our parents’ lifestyle,” she writes late in the memoir. “We were well-off enough to be able to turn our backs on materialism. We were prosperous enough to indulge in idealism and, idealistically, to define an entire new set of values. (At the time, I didn’t appreciate the irony.)”
But her desire to make the world a better place was – and is – genuine and remains a guiding force. Schwartz, who was a teacher for many years, began her subsequent career writing educational material. We find out in her memoir that the first fiction story she sold was released in 1980. She is now a celebrated children’s author, with almost 20 books to her credit directed towards younger readers, ranging from picture books to novels for teens to a couple of non-fiction publications. She is also a freelance writer and editor.
Galena Bay Odyssey is a wonderful glimpse into an integral part of Schwartz’s life. It also offers insight into North American hippie culture and the strength and ingenuity required to live in an out-of-the-way place like Galena Bay. That the “action” takes place in British Columbia will make the memoir of even more interest to local readers.
As of last Friday, June 16, the population of Canada surpassed 40 million people. According to data from the 2021 Canadian census released last year, 335,295 Canadians consider themselves to be Jewish by religion, up from 329,500 in 2011.
The 2021 census also asked about ethnic or cultural origin. In this instance, the number of people choosing Jewish as their ethnic or cultural origin (or one of several) decreased from 2011 to 2021, from 309,650 to 282,015, though the number increased in British Columbia, from 31,865 in 2011 to 34,395 a decade later. This article focuses on Jews by religion.
More than half of Canadian Jews live in Ontario, home to 196,100 Jews, while an additional quarter (84,530) live in Quebec. British Columbia’s 26,845 Jews are 8% of the national Jewish population. Other provinces with significant Jewish populations are Alberta, with 11,565 Jews, and Manitoba, with 11,390. Smaller Jewish communities exist in Nova Scotia, with 2,195 Jews, Saskatchewan, with 1,105 Jews, and New Brunswick, where 1,000 people listed their religion as Jewish.
In Canada, approximately 12,000 Jews (3.6%) identify as a visible minority, including 2,615 Black Jews, 1,505 Latin American Jews, 1,270 South Asian Jews and 1,155 Chinese Jews. Those numbers in British Columbia are 1,425 overall, including 235 Latin American Jews, 200 Black Jews, 170 Chinese Jews and 150 South Asian Jews.
British Columbia is home to the fastest-growing Jewish population in Canada, adding 3,715 Jewish residents since 2011, representing 16% growth. By comparison, Canada added 5,795 Jews to the national population, growing 1.8%. Ontario’s Jewish population only grew 0.3%, while Quebec’s Jewish population declined by 0.7%, making it the only province whose Jewish population decreased over the 10-year period. Western provinces recorded more robust growth: 6% in Alberta, 2.5% in Manitoba and 17.5% in Saskatchewan.
Home to a combined three-quarters of Canada’s Jews, the metropolitan areas of Toronto and Montreal both saw a decline in their Jewish population over the past decade. Meanwhile, Metro Vancouver’s Jewish population grew from 18,730 in 2011 to 20,125 in 2021, an additional 1,395 Jews. Elsewhere in Canada, Greater Ottawa’s Jewish community expanded, as did the metropolitan areas of Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton.
Even though their metropolitan Jewish populations decreased over the last decade, the municipal Jewish populations of Toronto and Montreal both grew slightly, suggesting a Jewish movement away from the suburbs and towards the city. Vancouver’s municipal Jewish population also grew during the same period, from 10,350 to 11,675, allowing it to surpass both Winnipeg and Ottawa to become the third-largest Jewish municipal population in Canada. While the City of Vancouver’s share of the B.C. Jewish population decreased slightly over the past decade, from 44.7% in 2011 to 43.5% in 2021, its percentage of Greater Vancouver’s Jewish population grew from 55% to 58%. Greater Vancouver is home to 75% of British Columbia’s Jews, down from its share of 81% in 2011.
Other B.C. cities with sizable Jewish populations include Richmond, whose 2,515 Jews make it the second-largest Jewish municipality in the province, and Surrey, where 900 people reported their religion as Jewish – although both cities’ Jewish populations declined since 2011. The District of North Vancouver had 845 people reporting Jewish as their religion in 2021 and Burnaby 620, both increases from 2011; and West Vancouver had 555, which was a decrease from 665 in 2011. Beyond the Lower Mainland, Victoria’s Jewish population grew from 550 to 960, Saanich’s Jewish community increased from 555 to 750, and the Jewish population of Kelowna more than doubled, going from 215 in 2011 to 530 in 2021.
In addition to provincial, metropolitan and municipal data, the 2021 census also provided information about electoral ridings. Vancouver Granville was the electoral riding with the largest Jewish population in Vancouver (3,275), while Vancouver Quadra was a close second (3,125), although the Jewish population of both ridings decreased since 2011.
Vancouver Granville remains home to 27.5% of Vancouver’s Jews, while Vancouver Quadra is home to 26% of the city’s Jewish population. The Jewish population of four other electoral ridings – Vancouver Centre, Vancouver East, Vancouver Kingsway and Vancouver South – all increased significantly, suggesting a population shift from Vancouver’s West Side to Downtown and East Vancouver. Using these electoral ridings as an approximate guide, 54% of Vancouver’s Jews live in the West Side, 27% live in East Vancouver and 19% live in Downtown Vancouver. By comparison, 64% of Vancouver’s Jews lived in the West Side in 2011, 20% lived in East Vancouver and 16% lived Downtown.
Along with religion, the Canadian census also gave information about language. Canadians who can speak Hebrew increased from 70,695 in 2011 to 83,205 in 2021, while Canadians who can speak Yiddish decreased from 23,750 to 20,155 over the same period. More than half of Hebrew-speaking Canadians, 47,380, live in Ontario, while more than half of Yiddish-speaking Canadians, 12,825, live in Quebec. Hebrew speakers in British Columbia increased from 4,505 in 2011 to 6,995 in 2021, while Yiddish speakers in the province declined from 540 in 2011 to 480 in 2021.
While the 2011 census only provided information about languages spoken, the 2021 census also gave information about Canadians’ mother tongues. In 2021, 19,595 Canadians spoke Hebrew as their first language. Meanwhile, 12,060 Canadians spoke Yiddish as a first language. In British Columbia, 2,260 people spoke Hebrew as a mother tongue in 2021, while 215 listed Yiddish as their first language.
Michael Rom is Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council postdoctoral research fellow at the University of British Columbia. He received a PhD in history from Yale University, and has also held research fellowships at the Centre for Jewish History in New York City, the University of Cape Town and the University of São Paulo. His research examines Brazilian Jewish politics during the Cold War.
The number of antisemitic hate crimes in Canada declined a fraction last year, according to the B’nai Brith Canada League for Human Rights Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents 2022. The decline, though, is from 2021, which saw the highest number of incidents since the audit began 40 years ago so, despite the marginally good news, 2022 remains the second-worst year on record. In all, 2022 saw 2,769 incidents, down 1.1% from the 2,799 incidents reported in 2021.
“When viewed from a historical perspective … the numbers are less reassuring,” Marvin Rotrand, national director of the League for Human Rights, writes in the report. “In 2012, the Jewish community sounded the alarm when that audit noted 1,345 antisemitic incidents, the highest ever since we first began auditing in 1982. Ten years later, the number is an alarming 105.9% higher than that reported in 2012, and the second-highest total since we started tracking 41 years ago.”
Aron Csaplaros, British Columbia regional manager for B’nai Brith Canada, noted the most significant finding is that the majority of hate incidents are online.
“The audit says that 74% of hate is now online and that violent incidents are down,” he told the Jewish Independent. Violent incidents across Canada dropped to 25 last year from 75 the year previous. “But incidents have been moving online in the past decade or so and it’s kind of equally, if not more, dangerous when hate is online because it’s much easier to spread, more people read it,” he said. “It’s about context. It’s obviously different than a violent incident but it is equally as dangerous.”
Csaplaros does not have a clear explanation on why violent incidents saw such a drop. It may have to do with the fact that 2022 saw slightly less incendiary conflict in Israel and Palestine, overseas problems that invariably have repercussions worldwide.
“Obviously, we’re happy that violent incidents have gone down,” he said. “Hopefully, the reason for that is that certain provinces have adopted, for example, the IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition of antisemitism, and that might have filtered down into education for police forces and how they respond and deal with these situations. But we don’t really have a theory on why the violent incidents have gone down.”
In British Columbia, the number of violent crimes declined from two in 2021 to a single incident in 2022: a threat against Victoria’s Jewish Community Centre during the annual Jewish film festival in the capital city. Other B.C. instances include 51 cases of vandalism, 53 cases of harassment and 137 cases of online hate.
Csaplaros acknowledged that it is difficult to place a number on online antisemitic incidents.
“There are, unfortunately, probably thousands, millions of anti-Israel and antisemitic comments online and, obviously, just because of the sheer number of them, we don’t catch all of them,” he said.
The criteria B’nai Brith uses to measure hate online includes the question, “Is it antisemitic in that it targets Jews as a people and attribute negative things to them? For example, that they caused COVID, or do they use antisemitic stereotypes like Jews control the banks and so on and so forth,” explained Csaplaros. “With a lot of these comments, they are clearly antisemitic.”
B’nai Brith, he said, uses the “three Ds” measure created by Natan Sharansky: delegitimization, demonization, and applying double standards to the state of Israel.
While 74% of incidents were online, 15% involved vandalism, 10% in-person harassment and 1% were violent incidents.
In British Columbia overall, incidents declined more than 40%, to 242, compared with 409 the previous year. (For the purposes of the report, British Columbia and Yukon are reported together.) Examples of B.C. incidents included in the B’nai Brith report are the Simon Fraser University student society’s passing of a resolution referring to Israeli “war crimes and apartheid” and a Tweet accusing Jews of Satan worship and seeking world domination.
“At the end of the day, hate is hate,” said Csaplaros. “It’s important to have a record of how many antisemitic incidents occurred, regardless of whether it was a Laith Marouf-type thing or a violent incident or a swastika drawn on the sidewalk. Hate and antisemitism is hate … and it’s important to record all of that.”
Laith Marouf is a Montreal activist whose Community Media Advocacy Centre received more than $133,000 in federal government consulting fees before his antisemitic social media postings became widely known, including one in which he called Jewish people “loud mouthed bags of human feces.”
Csaplaros called on the province of British Columbia to join half of Canada’s other provinces in adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism and to follow Ontario’s lead by introducing Holocaust education into the elementary school curriculum. The core curriculum in British Columbia does not mandate any Holocaust education, Csaplaros said. Students can learn about the Holocaust in elective courses and may learn about it in core courses, depending on the teacher’s choices.
Residents of Prince George might be forgiven for thinking there is more than one person named Eli Klasner in their midst. Among his many concurrent pursuits, the Toronto native is directing the Community Arts Council of Prince George, leading a fundraising initiative for Ukrainian refugees and serving on the board of the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia.
Living in Prince George is the fulfilment of a lifelong dream for Klasner. Since childhood, he had entertained the notion of living on the Canadian frontier or the Far North. When he was younger, he also made a commitment to himself that, by the time he celebrated his 40th birthday, he would do whatever it was that excited him.
As events unfolded, he was able to do just that after running businesses in Toronto and Vancouver. In 2017, while Klasner was working for a nonprofit, the possibility of moving to Prince George presented itself.
“I was just charmed by the roughness and climate adversity and, significantly, by the opportunities I saw both as a participant in arts and culture but also to identify that there are Jewish people here and in this area,” Klasner told the Independent.
The friendliness and accessibility of locals reaffirmed his desire to stay. “Soon after I was here, I visited City Hall and asked who is the mayor? ‘Well, that’s his office there. If you want to say hello, just go on in and introduce yourself.’ I like that. Coming from Toronto, you don’t just walk in and put your feet up on the mayor’s table. I thought that was very appealing,” Klasner recalled.
His executive director position with the arts council quickly transformed into a full-time schedule as he came to realize that the city could use support with its arts facilities. Klasner’s role in Prince George’s artistic rejuvenation includes working on a new creative hub, a new performing arts centre and, in March, the gala opening of a retired heritage church that was turned into a concert hall.
“Taking the executive director job here helped solidify that I need to settle down and find a place to live permanently. At that point in my life, I thought a lovely arts council with a lovely little gallery and gift shop would be a lot of fun,” said Klasner, who during his youth studied music in various European capitals.
For two years of his stay in Prince George, Klasner lived in a cabin in the woods, along with two hound dogs and two cats. “I moved a little off the grid,” he said. “That, for me, was the boyhood dream of living in the woods, chopping wood, growing a garden in the summer and being close to wildlife and nature. It was an amazing experience.”
Then came 2020. Klasner contracted the coronavirus at the outset of the pandemic. “COVID is an interesting part of the journey of being up here in this odd, unusual place,” he said. “It was certainly a challenge, but, also, when you live through something like that, you really come to appreciate life when you have good health, and the bounty that comes with good health.”
From a Jewish cultural perspective, one of Klasner’s recent projects has been the performance of Different Trains, a piece written for string quartet, with pre-recorded tape, by American Jewish composer Steve Reich that revolves around the Second World War and the Shoah. After being approached last year by the Prince George Symphony Orchestra, Klasner was able to arrange to have the work performed to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day this past January.
“I found it to be a remarkable process of respect and inclusion and terrifically ambitious for a small-town symphony to want to take on such a challenging and groundbreaking piece of music,” Klasner said.
Afterwards, several members of the local Jewish community were invited on stage to say a few words. The crowd, according to Klasner, was very moved by the event. “People got to sit, ask questions and talk about Holocaust and persecution. I found it a unique thing to happen in a place like Prince George. Where else is something like this done in Canada that does not have a significant Jewish population?”
Prince George, like other parts of northern British Columbia, Klasner noted, used to have a thriving Jewish community, starting with the immigrants who arrived in the 1880s. Many of the first local businesses were started by Jews, and the first Jewish female elected to public office in Canada was in Prince George, when Hanna Director became chair of the city’s school district.
From the Second World War to the 1970s, the community dwindled. The Sefer Torah that was in Prince George was sent down to Vancouver and is in storage.
However, there has been a resurgence in Jewish life, Klasner said. “What we started to do is hold community events around holidays and festivals, wanting to expose the young generation to the culture and history of Jewish celebrations and milestones, holidays and festivals. We are quite open to people who might want to come but who are not Jewish to see a Hannukah celebration and what kind of foods we eat around Rosh Hashanah, etc. There has been a lot interest in the community.”
The Jewish Museum and Archives, Klasner said, helped him understand some of the history and heritage of the Jewish community in the area. This, in turn, helped Klasner get other members of the community involved to share stories about what life in Prince George was like at one time or another. For example, there were photos of a seder in Prince George just after the war, when so many Jews wanted to be involved that a community hall had to be used.
“When there was an opening on the board of the Jewish Museum and Archives, I thought it was an opportunity to help them have province-wide representation, rather than just the Lower Mainland, the Island and the Okanagan,” he said.
Jewish values were integral in Klasner’s recent efforts to assist Ukrainian refugees in his community. When a new endowment fund was created to help the newcomers, he reached out to the organizers to help propel their fundraising.
“I was overwhelmed at the possibilities of life when people open up their hearts to strangers in their land and by the idea of opening up one’s heart and mind and wallet to people in the community – and what a Jewish attribute as well. Our families were once accepted here as refugees,” he said. “Our life on earth depends on the fact that Canada accepted refugees.”
From June 9 to 11, Prince George will host another of Klasner’s ventures, the B.C. Gourmet Arts Festival. Now in its second year, the event features scores of local artisans and presents culinary delights of the region and country.
“I love life and the opportunity to be busy and creative and help people and get involved,” Klasner said. “Life is awesome.”
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
B’nai Brith Canada has returned to Vancouver. This time with a local office headed by Aron Csaplaros, who was born and raised in Vancouver.
B’nai Brith and its now-defunct newspaper the Jewish Tribune last made their presence felt here in 2009. In an interview with the Jewish Independent, Csaplaros emphasized “that our organization is not the B’nai Brith of the 1960s or 1970s, or the 2000s. Mr. [Michael] Mostyn took over control of our organization in 2014 as CEO and has created a ‘B’nai Brith 2.0.’ We are still heavily involved in affordable housing, feeding the vulnerable and seniors and social programming (something we hope to bring to B.C. as well in the future), but our main focuses have been advocacy and combating antisemitism.”
As regional manager, Csaplaros said, “My mandate is 100% focused on combating antisemitism in our province. This includes responding to incidents of antisemitic vandalism, liaising with Jewish organizations on university campuses regarding antisemitism, and also keeping tabs on antisemitic individuals and organizations active in B.C. and devising strategies, which can range from working with local police and Crown prosecutors on criminal charges, removal of their platform, which they use to spread hate, or other legal measures we can take. I am also working on having the provincial government and municipalities across B.C. adopt the crucial IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition of antisemitism.”
Csaplaros acknowledged that there are already organizations based in British Columbia that deal with antisemitism and discrimination.
“B’nai Brith’s goal, and my presence in B.C., is not to compete with, duplicate or replace the important work that other organizations do,” he said. “On the contrary, we plan to work together with other organizations when we can establish a united front against antisemitism and Jew-hate.
“The value that B’nai Brith, and my presence here, adds is our laser focus on fighting antisemitism and the legal acumen that B’nai Brith possesses to aid us in this goal. We have several staff lawyers with expertise in criminal law and constitutional law, and many of our staff members (including myself and our CEO, Michael Mostyn) have legal backgrounds in litigation. This gives the ability to devise creative strategies when dealing with antisemitic organizations and individuals, and allows us to work closely with police departments and Crown prosecutors.
“We also have a Canada-wide network of volunteer Jewish lawyers called the Matas Law Society,” he said. “These lawyers are available to assist us in anything from writing submissions for parliamentary committee hearings, to intervening in court cases that impact the Jewish community.
“We are also the only Jewish organization in Canada to have an anti-hate hotline and a mobile app with the same purpose, where people can report incidents of antisemitism or other forms of discrimination. In addition, we have produced an annual, comprehensive audit of antisemitic incidents in Canada, and this publication is used by, among other entities, Statistics Canada, the U.S. State Department and Tel Aviv University. B’nai Brith does not engage in Israel advocacy, and we only respond to issues concerning antisemitism in Canada affecting Canadian members of the Jewish community. We also have a lean but well-connected team working at our organization, which allows us to respond quickly to incidents as they arise.”
Csaplaros started his position as the B.C. regional manager for B’nai Brith in January, and has met with local leaders in the Jewish community, politicians, and leaders of non-Jewish organizations that are also involved in combating hatred and discrimination, he said.
Csaplaros was born to a family of Hungarian immigrants, with his grandfather having been the first to arrive in Canada, in the 1950s. His parents arrived in 1995.
“I was brought up in a traditional Jewish household, and my paternal grandmother is a child survivor of the Holocaust,” he said. “I grew up very close to Congregation Schara Tzedeck, the synagogue which I am a member of and still attend to this day with my wife. I sit in the same seat that my grandfather purchased over 30 years ago, and it gives me great pride to continue his legacy by sitting in his seat and regularly attending services and events at the synagogue.
“I attended Vancouver Talmud Torah all the way from preschool until graduating in seventh grade,” he continued. “I then spent a year at King David High School, before transferring to Pacific Torah Institute (PTI) [which is no longer in Vancouver] and completing high school there. I then spent three years in their post-high school program, before attending Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim in New York for a year, where I received my bachelor’s degree in rabbinical studies.”
Throughout his time at PTI and at the yeshivah in New York, Csaplaros said, “I was engaged in learning with community members and teaching how to read Jewish source texts in their original format. I was also involved in community outreach, spending time and studying with elementary and high school-aged students from disadvantaged backgrounds. I also served on the board of directors of PTI.”
After his bachelor’s degree, Csaplaros attended law school at the University of Calgary, completing his articles at Kornfeld LLP.
“I’ve always had a passion for research, advocacy and governmental affairs, and I regularly participated in debates organized by Federation,” he said. “Yeshivah studies also involve debate and plenty of research, so that is another reason I chose to pursue a yeshivah education for several years. I then decided that the best way for me to develop my advocacy skills and learn more about the structure of Canada’s government was to attend law school…. I knew from the beginning of my legal studies that I wanted to be a litigator and, in the future, focus on human rights and civil liberties matters. Throughout law school, I was involved in initiatives to increase access to justice for members of the Indigenous community.”
During his time at Kornfeld LLP, Csaplaros said, “I focused on litigation, including construction, real estate and general commercial litigation. I was fortunate to appear in court several times and run a small claims trial on my own.
“These experiences further strengthened my desire to be an advocate,” he said, “and, as my time as an articling student at the firm was coming to a close, I learned that B’nai Brith Canada was looking for a regional manager for B.C. whose main mandate would be advocacy and fighting antisemitism and hatred in all forms. I knew that B’nai Brith Canada is a leader in fighting antisemitism in Canada, and I also knew that I could use my knowledge of the legal system to help me further this goal.”
In British Columbia last year, 2,272 people died from toxic drugs, according to information released last week. More than 11,000 people have died of drug toxicity in the province since a public health emergency was declared in April 2016.
While many people associate these tragic deaths with the troubles of the Downtown Eastside, the reality is that Vancouver Coastal Health – the region that includes that neighbourhood as well as much of Metro Vancouver – accounted for 14% of the drug-related deaths in the province last year. Rural communities are disproportionately affected. Most disproportionately affected of all are Indigenous communities. The First Nations Health Authority reports that, while making up 3.2% of the province’s population, First Nations people comprised 15% of all toxic drug deaths in 2021 and 2022.
It is worth remembering that, while people have died from toxic drugs on the streets, they also have died in the living rooms of our most exclusive neighbourhoods, and they have died everywhere in between.
The City of Vancouver just announced $2.8 million for the hiring of 58 mental health workers and expanded programs to address frontline issues and public safety responses, according to Mayor Ken Sim. Also, this week, a new policy went into effect in British Columbia, under which possession of some illegal drugs will not result in arrest or charges. This is an innovative effort to reconsider the problem as a health issue, not a legal one.
While there may be disagreements and concerns about the approach the city, the province and the federal government are taking on the problems that plague individuals and communities around mental health, addictions, crime and safety, there has also been a degree of unnecessary and unwelcome cynicism. Too many seem to view the problems – and the people they affect – as an inconvenience to be swept away rather than as complex social issues requiring comprehensive responses.
In the search for explanations and solutions, there has been too frequent a tendency to blame the victim, to drive through troubled neighbourhoods in our city and province and condemn not the problems, or the context of those problems, but the people they affect.
In many instances, people suffering represent the contemporary impacts of policies and practices past and present. Land acknowledgments and efforts at reconciliation mean little to nothing if they are not accompanied by truth and by compassion for the long-term effects of these wrongs. Coming to terms with the impact on Indigenous peoples of residential schools, intergenerational trauma and generalized discrimination and lack of opportunity has opened many eyes to how these historical and contemporary realities have affected communities. Perhaps we have not done as well in recognizing how these impacts manifest in individuals.
People experiencing the harms of the drug poisoning crisis, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, come from a place of struggle and suffering. Really, every person is impacted in some way by circumstances of their social context, as well as their experiences. Some of the problems we experience are a result of individual health or vulnerabilities and others of systemic discrimination or falling through cracks in the education system or social safety net. Whatever the causes, they each require us to come together to address them.
Of course, these issues are not at all limited to our city. Across North America and elsewhere, urban and rural communities are troubled by substance issues and other problems, including a lack of safe and affordable housing, which is foundational to individual and communal well-being. If anyone had simple answers, they would have been adopted and implemented by now. This is an enormous challenge we must attempt to address humanely, compassionately and effectively without victim-blaming.
Organizations and many individuals in the Jewish community have been committed to these issues for some time and those collective efforts reflect the core Jewish value of tikkun olam, repairing the world, but they also reflect hakaim takim imo, “you shall surely lift him [and her] up.”
The tragic statistics confirm what we already know. They are a reminder, though, that a great deal remains to be done to address the problems and to reduce the social causes of the crisis. Trying new approaches that focus on compassion and justice is a right course. They may not work. But the cost of not trying is far too high.
My Way Bikery owners Moshe and Leah Appel. (photo from My Way Bikery)
Vancouver Island’s only kosher bakery started the new secular year with new owners, Moshe and Leah Appel, and a slightly new name. What was formerly known as the Bikery is now My Way Bikery. The Victoria location, at 8-1701 Douglas, inside the Public Market at the Hudson, remains the same, though the selection has expanded to include more than baked goods.
Certified pareve kosher by Kosher Check and supervised by Rabbi Meir Kaplan from Chabad of Vancouver Island, My Way Bikery encourages customers to “challah” at them anytime. The bakery also delivers to customers and businesses all around Victoria, and people throughout Greater Victoria can place orders using SkipTheDishes, DoorDash and Uber Eats. Beyond Victoria, the bakery delivers as far up Island as Parksville and Qualicum Beach every Friday, with a minimum order of $25 placed by 5 p.m. on Wednesday.
“I’m the baker,” Leah Appel told the Independent.
“I’m everything else,” followed Moshe Appel.
Originally from Montreal, the couple have known each other since they were 7 years old, but only got together after being in and out of each other’s lives for decades.
“My background is essentially in call centre work – inbound sales, inbound customer service and inbound security, things like that. But I’m extremely active in the Jewish community here in B.C., especially since first moving to Nanaimo,” said Moshe Appel.
“The idea for the business really didn’t come to fruition until I reunited with my childhood friend (and now wife), who is a classically trained baker and someone who has been in market research and management. Coming from Montreal as we both have, we were shocked at the lack of good Jewish food in B.C., and on the Island in particular.”
The Appels, who have always enjoyed cooking traditional Jewish recipes for their friends and family, started selling their goods at local markets a couple of years ago. The realization soon struck that they would need a larger space for their production. Serendipitously, they came across an opportunity last year when their friend Markus Spodzieja, founder of the Bikery, announced his intention to sell the business. The Appels purchased it, merging their original bakery name (My Way Bakery) with the Bikery to, as they say, “keep the nostalgia of Markus’s brand alive while adding our own recipes to the mix.”
According to the Appels, Spodzieja will be moving home to Nova Scotia to care for his grandmother.
The business obtained its first name, the Bikery, in 2017, when Spodzieja sold baked goods out of a 250-pound mobile vending bicycle as part of a pilot project for the City of Victoria’s Mobile Bike Vending Permit. It moved to its present location in 2021.
“I met Markus when he first opened the Bikery and I was one of his first customers, but it was purely luck that I asked his advice for starting a business in Nanaimo and he handed us the business in Victoria. Unwilling to miss this G-d-given opportunity, we jumped on the chance,” Moshe Appel recalled.
“We are keeping much of the same menu as Markus did, but expanding it to include soups, salads, more breads and Jewish dishes and, in a few months, plan to expand it to include cholov Yisroel dairy products as well.”
The menu lists dozens of items. There are savoury pastries and shakshuka, halva and combos (including pita and Leah Appel’s hummus). Some of the popular items are the My Way Sandwich, potato salad, kimmel rye, peanut butter cookies and Israeli salad. A current hit is Those Darn Cookies, a sweet made with chocolate chips and almonds.
Among the new touches are jelly chal-nuts, Leah Appel’s take on a jelly donut; challah dough stuffed with sweet jelly and topped with raw cane sugar; and Oyvegg, a roll with Daiya “cheese,” an egg, garlic aioli, lettuce and tomato.
The Appels are even offering goodies for canines – Dunstan Donuts. “Named after Dunstan, who was a very good boy,” the menu reads, “these certified-kosher pareve dog treats are made with oats and bananas and taste amazing! Dunstan’s Donuts are delicious enough for you, but made just for your four-legged friend!”
Favourites from the Bikery, including numerous varieties of pretzels and bagels, lemon-poppyseed muffins and challah in all shapes, sizes and flavours, are still available.
The Appels say they are in preliminary talks to open a storefront location in Nanaimo.
My Way Bikery is located toward the back of Victoria’s Public Market, which is situated close to City Hall and Centennial Square – a few blocks away from the Empress Hotel and Parliament – in a building that operated for several decades as a Hudson Bay department store. It is open Monday to Thursday, 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday, 7 a.m.-3 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday hours will be extended in the spring, as the days grow longer.
Voters throughout British Columbia will elect new mayors, councilors, school trustees and (depending on the jurisdiction) other officials on Oct. 15.
Over the past several decades, terms for municipal officials have gone from two years to three years to, now, four years. This makes the significance of these elections greater, as the choices we make as voters will last four years. (This longer commitment also may be one reason for what seems like an unusually large number of elected officials opting not to seek reelection this year.)
It is notable that voter turnout in municipal elections is almost always lower – often far lower – than in provincial and federal elections. In some ways, this is understandable. The “senior” levels of government are associated with greater powers, which may be true, and with portfolios that may seem “sexier.” Foreign affairs are more exciting than sewage (generally speaking) and the proper functioning of our healthcare system is, for many of us, literally a life-and-death matter, which the mowing of boulevards is not.
Local government issues, however, often affect our lives in the most intimate and powerful ways. Anyone who has traveled in places without well-functioning local governments sees the evidence around them. Uncollected garbage amasses on boulevards and in public spaces. Feral cats, dogs and rodents roam largely unhampered. Petty, even serious, crime may be rampant. In other words, when civic government is running as it should, it is often invisible. When it is not, it can make ordinary life difficult or, at worst, impossible.
As often-privileged citizens of developed Western countries, we can sometimes use hyperbole about the challenges facing our communities. Overheated rhetoric about issues as comparatively banal as bike lanes, which demand that car drivers share a bit of the road with cyclists, can become so frenzied one might think a cabal of medieval tyrants had stormed the ramparts at 12th and Cambie. We should really put things in perspective.
Successful cities are, in their way, modern miracles. It is precisely their success that blinds us to their exceptionalism. Imagine: no matter where you live in Vancouver, a truck comes past your home once a week to collect the recycling you leave on the curb, knowing it will be collected (depending on the weather) without incident. Your children are within walking distance of public schools that are of truly outstanding quality by any measure of time or place. The bus we curse for not showing up at the exact moment we arrive at the stop is, for all our complaining, a remarkable operation. Hundreds of small cogs combine to make a city run.
Of course, we have complaints. A recent Leger poll indicates that 48% of Vancouver respondents (and, for example, 60% in Surrey) said things in their city have gotten worse in the past four years. This may be true. Certainly there are serious issues affecting residents, including but not limited to a housing affordability crisis, widening inequality, a drug poisoning crisis, and the impacts of climate change. And yet, for many, things are still pretty good.
This is not to say that voters should not always be pushing our elected officials to be better and do much, much better; merely that we need to remember that we live in one of the most fortunate places in the world, with millions of people envying that which we take for granted. Things can be better, at all levels of government, but the occasional language we hear that our governments are “broken” or “failing” is shortsighted and out of proportion.
The at-large system, which operates in Vancouver and every other city in British Columbia, is a barrier to an informed electorate. Voters in the City of Vancouver, for example, are expected to make educated choices for one mayor, 10 city councilors, nine school trustees and seven park commissioners from – by our count – 138 candidates who are contesting these positions this year. There is no earthly way even the wonkiest voter could adequately inform themselves about the pros and cons of this many contestants.
But we should do our best. The adage that those who don’t vote have no right to complain is nonsense. Everyone has the right to complain.
But voting is not only a right, a franchise. It is an obligation. For whatever flaws B.C. communities might have, all of our cities and towns remain among the finest societies anyone could hope to live in. To preserve and strengthen the places where we live, voting is, almost literally, the least we can do.
As part of the Jewish Independent’s election coverage, we have traditionally profiled members of the community seeking elective office. And this year’s Oct. 15 municipal elections are no different.
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Christine Boyle, Vancouver council candidate (incumbent)
Christine Boyle was elected to Vancouver city council in 2018 representing OneCity. She asked to be included in the Independent’s coverage as a member of a mixed family.
Boyle, who describes herself as a community organizer, climate justice leader and United Church minister, is married to author and public policy researcher Seth Klein. They are raising two children in East Vancouver.
Boyle said she has spent her first term on city council “working tirelessly to strengthen tenant protections, and make it faster and easier to build social, co-op, nonprofit and rental housing in every neighbourhood of Vancouver.” Her other priorities include public transportation, safer walking and cycling infrastructure, increased funding for curb ramps, public washrooms “and other tangible improvements to access and community health.”
“I am running for a second term on council, alongside a strong team of OneCity Vancouver candidates, because of my deep concern about the housing crisis, the climate emergency and the toxic drug crisis,” she told the Independent. “And I’m running because I know there’s so much more we can do.”
“My husband Seth was raised in a culturally Jewish home, the child of a secular Jewish father and a spiritually rooted Jewish mother,” she said. “When we were first dating, I remember him asking if he thought our religious differences would be a problem for our families, and my response was that we had much more in common than not.
“Throughout my upbringing, my theological training and my time working in religious leadership, I have constantly sought out opportunities to connect across faiths on shared issues of importance, from climate, to discrimination and anti-racism, to Indigenous rights, and more.
“More than a decade later, these values continue to be core to my family. The ketubah [marriage contract] that hangs on our bedroom wall reminds us daily of our shared commitment to tikkun olam, the struggle to rebuild and repair the world, to find our shared place in the centuries-old movements for equality and interdependence.
“We have worked hard to instil a sense of awe in our children and a connection to the faith and cultural traditions of their people,” said Boyle. “Our kids have attended programs at Or Shalom and the Peretz Centre. I became a regular challah baker. And we reach out to friends and leaders in our faith communities as we navigate how to raise good kids in the world these days.”
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Ken Charko, Vancouver council candidate
Ken Charko is running as a Non-Partisan Association Vancouver candidate.
“I have always had a connection to the Jewish community,” Charko told the Independent.
In his capacity as owner of the Dunbar Theatre and as a director on the board of the Motion Picture Theatre Association of British Columbia, he has been mentioned in the Independent over the years. Noting that he was profiled by former Menschenings columnist Alex Kliner in 2014, Charko said, “I have always been supporter of the arts and their importance in our community and the special connection the Jewish community has with the arts.”
Charko has run for Vancouver city councilor three times as an NPA candidate and, in 2018, as a candidate of the now-defunct Coalition Vancouver party. He said his top policy priorities concern “public safety and crime, including hate crimes; housing, including co-op housing on city land; arts venues and small business.”
While he initially thought of running in a federal election, he said, “Municipal politics is ‘touch politics,’ you feel the people and hear directly what each community needs and is looking for in an elected representative.”
He still has a lot of issues at the federal level that he wants to champion, he said, including “support for Israel, strong foreign policy, taxation fiscal policy and support for Ukraine,” but that, locally, he “can champion those policies more effectively as an elected council candidate.”
Charko acknowledged that “almost everyone running in this election wants the same thing I have mentioned above, including reduced tax increases. The choice for voters is who can get these things done. I am that person. I have always done that. As the only independent movie theatre owner on the Motion Picture Association board, I was able to get things done working with others.”
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Jonathan Lerner, District of Lantzville council candidate
Jonathan Lerner is running for council in Lantzville, which is immediately north of Nanaimo.
“I grew up in the Jewish community in Vancouver, attending Talmud Torah, Temple Sholom and working for many Jewish organizations,” Lerner told the Independent. He has a degree in philosophy from the University of British Columbia and has worked with many nonprofit organizations.
“These have included many Jewish organizations, such as Hillel BC, CIJA, Jewish Family Services of Vancouver and the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre,” Lerner said.
“During my career, I have helped to uplift communities through the power of the charitable sector, including raising millions of dollars for employment services, food banks, immigration services, animal welfare, student education and scholarships, anti-racism initiatives, and more,” he said. “While I intend to continue my career in the not-for-profit sector, I hope to put my experience in finance, management and community development to use in helping Lantzville fulfil its slogan of being a ‘lovable, livable’ community.”
His top political priorities include bringing more services directly to the people of Lantzville, such as library book-mobiles, preserving Lantzville’s scenic landscape and natural beauty, expanding councilor office hours, public hearings and town halls, and ramping up emergency preparedness for earthquakes, floods, fires, landslides and other major disasters.
“My Jewish education and upbringing have definitely affected my community connections and outlook, while spurring me to get involved in politics,” said Lerner. “I believe strongly in the value of tikkun olam and the need to help those who are vulnerable become vulnerable no longer. This has been a major source of my motivation for community and charitable involvement. I sincerely hope that municipal politics will be the next step in the evolution of my work toward building a better world.”
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Ellison Mallin, District of North Vancouver council candidate
Ellison Mallin was born and raised in North Vancouver. He has a degree in political science and a record of volunteerism, which led him to his current full-time position as constituency assistant for MLA Susie Chant. Ellison has served on North Vancouver’s Rental, Social and Affordable Housing Taskforce and the Community Services Advisory Committee, acting as the chair in 2022. He has coached in the North Shore Inline Hockey League and also has worked in the music industry.
“Housing affordability is the number one issue for me in this election,” he said. “We are losing workers and our sense of community because people can no longer afford to live on the North Shore. This causes a chain reaction that leads to many of our other top problems, like traffic and public safety. Solving our housing problems needs to be done as a priority so that we may address other issues.
“I also have a dedicated platform on transportation solutions, better spending and planning, environmental leadership, improving civic engagement and improving the health of our community,” Mallin said.
“I am the great-great-grandson of Rabbi David Belasoff, who was the first full-time Orthodox rabbi in Vancouver,” Mallin said. “He led the B’nai Yehuda (now Schara Tzedeck). My grandparents, Lil and Lloyd Mallin, used to host amazing Passover, Chanukah and Rosh Hashanah dinners, but when they passed those did not continue. I did take my Birthright trip in 2016 to explore Israel and became more connected with the Jewish community in Vancouver as a result. Connecting to the community really did help me find my identity and gave me a lot of the confidence I needed to put myself out there in electoral politics.… I attend the occasional social events that I am available for, and I do go to some public events held by Har El in West Vancouver. For me, the biggest barrier to attending more events is the traffic and distance to them from North Vancouver and would love to see more Jewish community opportunities in North Van.”
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Carla Frenkel, Vancouver Park Board candidate
Carla Frenkel has more than a decade of experience in architecture, working on affordable housing, urban design, and environmental responsibility. She is running for park board with Vision Vancouver.
“Finding alignment with Canadian values, we decided to immigrate to Vancouver [from the United States] in 2014,” she said. “We found an amazing community in Strathcona, anchored around Maclean Park, our community centre and gardens. Since 2018, I have been president of the Strathcona Community Garden, where I coordinate hundreds of volunteers, leading stewardship of Vancouver’s largest community garden. There, I spearhead a wetland project, which manages storm water while improving biodiversity. A mother of three, I chair the Strathcona PAC’s school grounds committee,” she said.
“Today we face monumental challenges of aging infrastructure, climate change and reconciliation,” said Frenkel. “From this arises unique opportunities to create resilient parks and community centres that serve the diverse needs of residents.”
Frenkel’s identity and core values are intrinsically tied to being Jewish, she said.
“I grew up in a progressive Reform synagogue, which reinforced tikkun olam, interconnectedness, social and environmental justice and mitzvot,” she said. “In high school, I followed suit, joining NFTY [the Reform Jewish youth movement], actively leading, planning services and gatherings. In university, I worked at the Berkeley Hillel, where I met my husband. Today, we are part of the Or Shalom community, where we share these traditions and values with our children.”
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John Irwin, Vancouver Park Board candidate (incumbent)
John Irwin was elected to the Vancouver Park Board in 2018 with the Coalition of Progressive Electors and is seeking reelection with Vision Vancouver. Like Boyle, he is part of a mixed family and his spouse is Jewish.
He holds a PhD specializing in sustainable urban development, works as a lecturer at Simon Fraser University and Alexander College and also has worked as a policy analyst for the Tenant’s Rights Action Coalition (now the Tenant Resource Advisory Centre) and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, B.C. office. He worked in fair trade retail from 1996 to 2006. He is a father of three school-aged kids and lives in the Fairview neighbourhood.
Irwin has served on boards including the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation, Friends of False Creek (now the False Creek Watershed Society) and the West End Residents Association. He was chair of the Henry Hudson Out-of-School Society and is an advocate for affordable childcare.
“I am running for reelection with Vision Vancouver as a park board commissioner, as I think that we have much more to achieve regarding the climate crisis, active transportation, ‘reconcili-action’ and accessible and affordable parks and recreation,” he said. “In my first term, I brought forward many successful motions: the Stanley Park Mobility Study focuses on reducing automobile traffic and promotes active transportation by increasing cycling, walking and public transit in the park while increasing accessibility for those with disabilities; a motion requesting the Port Authority give the park board the go-ahead to work with the local First Nations to plan and build an Indigenous cultural healing centre in CRAB Park; a recent motion asking staff to design fully accessible playgrounds for all children, which will help those with disabilities play with their peers in an active and inclusive way.
“I have also been a strong voice against discrimination of all types: antisemitism, Sinophobia and Islamophobia, etc.,” said Irwin.
“For many years, I have found the Vancouver Jewish community to be very welcoming,” he said. “Although I am not Jewish, many synagogues have welcomed me, my partner who is Jewish and my three children, who have all attended Hebrew school. Our children celebrated their b’nai mitzvahs at Beth Israel Synagogue, where we regularly attend as members. The practice of mitzvah has reinforced my activism to do my part in making our society in Vancouver socially just and sustainable. I am inspired by the practices of atonement and ecological consciousness, such as that found in Tu b’Shevat, the Jewish new year for trees.”
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Kyla Epstein, Vancouver School Board candidate
Kyla Epstein’s family left South Africa before she was born.
“I was raised in Toronto on the shoulders of my parents going to anti-apartheid rallies, marching in Pride protests, and attending public, alternative schools that were child-centred, social-justice-focused and showed me that public education and learning can take many forms,” she said.
“Over the past two decades, my curiosity and desire to build relationships have led me to work in a variety of sectors, including business, philanthropy and nonprofit (including two years in Guatemala) and labour, before moving into my current role doing government and stakeholder relations at BCIT [B.C. Institute of Technology].”
Epstein has served on many boards and was a trustee and chair of the Vancouver Public Library board. She is now on the boards of the Vancouver Writers Festival, the Laurier Institution and the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. She has served on school parent advisory council executives for more than 10 years and is currently pursuing a master’s degree. She is running with OneCity.
“High-quality public education is one of the best ways that we, as a society, can care for future generations,” Epstein said. “Funding for the public school system should appropriately reflect the value of public education, not just for students and families currently in the system, but for communities and society more broadly.”
If elected, she said, she will advocate for funding to ensure that students with a range of diverse needs can thrive and every teacher and worker has the tools and resources they need; address climate change; stand up against any form of discrimination in schools; fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples across the school district and develop reciprocal relationships with local First Nations for all planning decisions, especially those related to school board land; and improve Vancouver School Board governance by listening to people, being accountable and considering those who are most impacted.
“While not raised religiously, it is hard for me to untangle my identity from my being Jewish,” she said. “Many of my most special memories, or the moments that formed my sense of self, are grounded in Jewishness. Holidays such as Pesach have always been important to me because it is a regular reminder, through stories and songs, of the ongoing struggles for justice and liberation.
“I also feel a kinship with the emphasis on asking questions that is a part of my Jewishness,” she added. “The stories shared in my family about persecution faced by Jews have certainly contributed to how I see the world. Family stories of unwilling migration are regular reminders to me that everyone’s dignity and safety be upheld all around the world. My parents’ very difficult choice to leave South Africa and the activism I was raised with were rooted in the lessons of tikkun olam and I draw upon those lessons regularly.”
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Fred Harding’s diverse DNA
During the mayoral candidates’ forum held at Temple Sholom Sept. 7, Non-Partisan Association candidate Fred Harding made a brief reference that he could become Vancouver’s first Jewish mayor. (He couldn’t. David Oppenheimer, Vancouver’s second mayor, was Jewish.)
The Independent asked Harding about his roots after the meeting.
“My mother is from Germany – and my family was Jewish,” he said. “After she married my father, all my siblings were raised in Catholicism. My mother actually converted later on to Mormonism, so the Jewish faith was never practised in our home. The tragedy is that my family remained in Germany and so I never had a connection to the Jewish faith.”
At the age of 14, however, Harding traveled to Germany and met some of his great-aunts, who had been persecuted in the war and later received financial compensation.
He also has visited Congregation Har El.
“I had some very dear friends bring me to the temple in West Vancouver probably 12 years ago and that was my first experience,” he said. “I actually felt very, very welcome.”
He sees his family’s diversity as a benefit as he seeks to lead one of the world’s most multicultural cities.
“This is only a fraction of my DNA. I’m a German Jewish Catholic with a Mormon mother, a Christian father who came from Africa. I’m married to a Chinese lady, my granddaughter is Chinese, my eldest daughter is blonde and blue-eyed,” he said. “I feel the privilege of representing just about everything and I’m honuored for that background in my DNA.”
Voters across British Columbia choose local officials on Saturday, Oct. 15. Remaining advance voting days in Vancouver are on Oct. 8, 11 and 13 and vote-by-mail ballots can be requested until Oct. 11. For full details see vancouver.ca or your local municipal website.
The Independent asked candidates we profiled two additional questions: “Will you (or won’t you) use your position as a platform to discuss international affairs, specifically Palestine and Israel?” and “If so, can you provide a brief explanation of your perspective on the subject?” (image from Wikipedia)
Civic politics generally deals with maintaining roads and sewers, reviewing development applications and a vast range of close-to-the-ground issues. But municipal politics has also been a place where a vast range of other issues are discussed. For example, Vancouver city council voted in 1983 to declare the city a “nuclear weapons free zone” and, formally or informally, members of council have felt free to address topics of national and global concern.
During debate around the city’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism – which a majority of council voted to refer to committee, effectively defeating it – critics of the definition warned that it could place limits on the right to criticize Israel, despite that the definition explicitly states that it is legally non-binding. While the condemnation of antisemitism is not an international issue, examples accompanying the definition included several relating to anti-Zionism.
Because of the history of using civic positions as platforms for international issues, the Independent asked candidates we profiled two additional questions: “Will you (or won’t you) use your position as a platform to discuss international affairs, specifically Palestine and Israel?” and “If so, can you provide a brief explanation of your perspective on the subject?”
Christine Boyle, the incumbent Vancouver city councilor who voted to refer the IHRA issue to committee, said that commenting on international affairs is not generally part of the role of a city councilor.
“And there are so many important issues and struggles locally that continue to be the focus of my attention,” she said. “But my practice on any topic is to listen to and engage with communities most impacted on an issue, always seeking to uphold human rights, peace and justice.
“I have spent much of my adult life actively engaged in justice work, including opposing and challenging hate and discrimination, and working to strengthen the human rights of all people,” she continued. “I am deeply committed to challenging antisemitism and ensuring that Jewish residents in Vancouver feel safe at home, at worship, and everywhere.
“When a motion came to council asking Vancouver to adopt the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism, council received hundreds of emails on the subject, with a diverse range of perspectives on the topic,” said Boyle. “Even my own Jewish family members didn’t all agree on the issue. What I heard clearly from the community was that, while there wasn’t agreement on this definition, there was absolutely a need for the city to do more to address antisemitism and racism. And so council referred the definition to the City of Vancouver’s Racial and Cultural Equity Advisory Committee, with direction for staff to continue working vociferously to address antisemitism and other forms of racism and hate. Since then I have worked hard each budget cycle to ensure our anti-racism and anti-hate efforts are well funded and supported, and will continue that work.”
Vancouver council candidate Ken Charko told the Independent, “Yes, I would use my position as a city councilor as a platform to discuss international affairs [and] yes support of Israel will be part of that platform…. I support Canada moving its embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing it as the capital of Israel. I would use my position as a Vancouver city councilor and federal Conservative member to outline why Canada should do that under the next Conservative government.”
John Irwin, an incumbent member of the Vancouver Park Board, switched from the Coalition of Progressive Electors last election to Vision Vancouver this election because, he said, “There was a disagreement with COPE regarding their lack of acceptance of the IHRA definition of antisemitism (which was accepted by the Canadian government).”
He added: “As a local politician, I generally use my platform to discuss local issues.”
Carla Frenkel, also a candidate for the Vancouver Park Board, said simply: “I have no intention to use the role of park board commissioner as a platform for international affairs.”
Kyla Epstein, who is seeking a seat on the Vancouver School Board, said that, to her knowledge, international affairs do not regularly come up at the school board table, nor is it generally within the scope of the role of a trustee to take a position on international affairs.
“What I do know is that I bring to the role a deep commitment to human rights and an opposition to antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian racism, anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, and all forms of discrimination, racism and hatred,” she said. “In addition, my approach to governance is to listen, welcome different perspectives and reduce barriers for public and stakeholder participation – on any issue. I will fight to uphold a public education system that is a place of learning, curiosity and questioning. I will, no matter the issue that comes to the school board table, reach out to communities, listen and learn, and make my decisions to uphold human rights and equality.”
Ellison Mallin, running for council in the District of North Vancouver, said, “I am always discussing international issues with people, as, in this increasingly connected world, events that happen anywhere can affect us here.
“I do not intend to use any municipal specific platforms, or my position, to bring up Israel and Palestine, and will keep discussions on the subject to appropriate venues. I do recognize that, given my religion, there will likely be comments and questions directed to me, which I will not shy away from,” he said. “I strongly believe in Israel’s right to exist. A safe place for Jewish people to live and to foster Jewish identity and culture is needed. Perhaps, sadly, it is needed now more than ever, as we do see a rise in antisemitism in many areas. On that note, I do not deny Palestine’s right to exist, and believe a two-state solution is needed. I would also like to see Israel stop building settlements in the West Bank, as this further creates divides and hostilities.”
Jonathan Lerner, council candidate in Lantzville, said he does not see Middle Eastern affairs coming into play in Lantzville politics. But, he added: “Everyone familiar with my work will know that I am a strong advocate for respectful dialogue on these issues.
“Where I think municipal governments can play a larger role is in diversity, inclusion and anti-racism initiatives,” said Lerner. “Many communities, including the Jewish, Muslim and LGBTQ communities, have been targeted by an increase in hate crimes in Canada. Municipalities have a key role to play in addressing this issue. For example, governments of all levels are considering adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, as well as other racism classifications that help to define and address discrimination.”