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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

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Faith leaders unite to oppose Toronto casino

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Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, left, and Rev. Christopher White were among the speakers at an interfaith clergy press conference to oppose casino expansion in the GTA. [Frances Kraft photo]

TORONTO — The Toronto Board of Rabbis, along with other groups of GTA faith leaders, has spoken out against the proposed Toronto casino.

Their statement, signed by more than 265 faith leaders, was released at an April 4 press conference at City Hall. It expressed opposition to the expansion of casinos proposed by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, and support for NoCasinoToronto.com’s anti-casino campaign.

The statement, which can be viewed online at nocasinotoronto.com (and on page 32), called on governments to “protect the most vulnerable in our society from casinos that exploit human weaknesses and addictions,” and urged others to voice their opposition to expanded gambling.

We, the undersigned faith leaders and representatives in the Greater Toronto Area, stand united in opposing the expansion of casinos proposed by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation and support the anti-casino campaign led by www.NoCasinoToronto.com.
We represent diverse faith communities with unique perspectives, principles, sacred texts, traditions and teachings that form the basis of our opposition to expanded gambling. We are unified in our position that gambling is contrary to the ethical norms of our traditions because it negatively impacts our faith communities and the wider public.
We are convinced that casinos contribute to family breakdown, depression, addiction, bankruptcies and crime, and thus are antithetical to our mission as faith traditions to strengthen individuals, families and communities.
Our faith traditions teach us that our governments should maintain order, preserve justice and promote the common good. We believe that our governments must take a stand to promote the values of education, hard work, social justice and the dignity of labour, and reject the illusion of easy money, for both individuals and public coffers.
Our governments should protect the most vulnerable in our society from casinos that exploit human weaknesses and addictions. We therefore call upon our governments to reject gambling expansion and reject this predatory industry as a solution to economic and fiscal problems.
We strongly urge our Municipal City Councils to vote against any new casinos in the Greater Toronto Area. We further urge our brothers and sisters in our faith communities to become informed about this issue and voice their opposition to expanded gambling to our elected officials.

“We are convinced that casinos contribute to family breakdown, depression, addiction, bankruptcies and crime,” the document stated.

At the press conference, Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, president of the Toronto Board of Rabbis, said that he and his colleagues were speaking “out of deep personal experience of individuals in our community who have been affected by excessive gambling.”

He told of a congregant – a married father of three – whose family had cut him off because of his gambling. “He left his children penniless, and he himself was on the street on Passover, because he had no place to go.”

 The rabbi was one of more than half a dozen speakers including representatives of the Canadian Council of Imams, the Hindu Dharma Mission of Canada, the GTA Council of Christian Churches, the Anglican Diocese of Toronto, the Jain Society of Toronto, and the Guru Ram Das Ashram, who had signed the Interfaith Statement Opposing Casino Expansion in the Toronto Area.

Rev. Christopher White, who moderated the event, said the group objected to “the negative impact the proposed casino expansion will have on our fellow citizens and the life we all share.”

He said he “would respectfully disagree” with Mayor Rob Ford, who earlier that day had said the majority of Torontonians were in favour of a casino.

The interfaith statement was an outgrowth of a symposium in January called Faith in the City, to address areas of common social concern. Rev. White called the anti-casino initiative an “unprecedented and historic show of unity.”

Opposition to casino expansion was unanimous among the speakers, despite some differences in perspective.

In the Hindu tradition, for example, gambling is strictly forbidden, and will lead to physical, mental and spiritual suffering in this life and the next, said Pandit Suraj Persad of the Hindu Dharma Mission of Canada.

But Torah and Jewish tradition are not opposed to “casual” gambling at certain times during the year, Rabbi Frydman-Kohl said. However, he clarified, “regular and extended and ongoing” gambling is prohibited.

Bishop Philip Poole of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto noted that gambling “offers the illusion of getting something for nothing, [but] the house always wins.

“I understand that governments need to be creative in finding new sources of revenue, but casinos are not the way forward.”


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