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Montreal unanimously adopts genocide education motion

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Heidi Berger, centre, founder and director of the Foundation for Genocide Education, poses for a picture at Montreal city hall with fellow members and city councillors.

Montreal city council unanimously adopted a motion calling on the Quebec government to improve “teaching of the history of genocides” in high schools at its Nov. 19 meeting.

The motion was brought forward by official opposition leader Lionel Perez at the request of the Foundation for Genocide Education, which for several years has been advocating for compulsory instruction on genocide in all of the province’s high schools.

The motion affirms the importance of such education in “fight(ing) intolerance, racism and hate,” and requests that the Quebec government “study … the relevance” of including such in the mandatory curriculum.”

“It is of vital importance to systematically teach a course on the history of genocides to young Quebecers,” it states.

READ: ETHNIC COMMUNITIES URGE QUEBEC TO ADOPT MANDATORY GENOCIDE CURRICULUM

The council congratulated the Foundation for Genocide Education and the community organizations with which it works for “keeping the memory of genocides alive and engraving their teachings in the minds of future generations.”

The non-profit foundation was established in 2014 by Heidi Berger, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, who over the past decade has spoken about the Holocaust in schools around the province.

The motion notes that the number of cases of anti-Semitism and other hate incidents is on the rise, including in Montreal, citing the most recent statistics issued by the police force’s Hate Crimes and Incidents Unit and the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence.

It also points to national figures provided by Statistics Canada, which show an increase in criminal acts of hate, with Jews being the most targeted group and incidents against Muslims dramatically up.

The motion also mentions the murder of 11 people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, as “the worst anti-Semitic attack in United States history.”

The motion was seconded by councillor Mary Deros, a member of Ensemble Montréal, the party led by Perez.

The Foundation for Genocide Education is currently collaborating with the Ministry of Education to create a teaching guide, which is expected to be used by educators starting in the 2019-20 school year.

“We are very pleased that the city is supporting the need for a systematic teaching of genocide in all Quebec high schools and the Foundation for Genocide Education’s work in creating a guide on genocide,” said its communications director, Marcy Bruck.

Montreal City Hall (David Lliff/CC BY-SA 3.0)

“Montreal, as the province’s most multicultural city, is sending a strong message to the new government in Quebec City that it values the importance of teaching about the dangers of racial and ethnic hate and intolerance, so that we can develop empathy and critical thinking in our youth.”

At present, genocide, including the Holocaust, is only touched on – superficially, in the foundation’s opinion – and any more in-depth study is left to the discretion of individual teachers, Berger has said.

“Regrettably, large numbers of students – and educators – have little or no knowledge of any genocide, past or present. Some graduating students don’t even know what the word genocide means,” she said.

The foundation has partnered with the Armenian, Rwandan, Cambodian and other communities affected by genocide, and has reached out to local mosques and Muslim schools.

We are very pleased that the city is supporting the need for a systematic teaching of genocide in all Quebec high schools.
– Marcy Bruck

The foundation succeeded in collecting over 3,000 signatures on a petition supporting genocide education that was presented in the national assembly by Liberal MNA David Birnbaum. It subsequently found a sympathetic ear in Sébastien Proulx, who became education minister in February 2016.

Soon afterward, the foundation made a “breakthrough” when the education department agreed to form a committee with the foundation, to develop a teaching guide, provided it help fund the effort.

Berger said the foundation is confident it can foster a similarly positive relationship with the Coalition Avenir Québec government and Education Minister Jean-François Roberge, a former school teacher.