Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Dion vows to boost religious security: Pledges $75M to protect ‘at risk’ ethnic groups

Standing beside leaders from the Islamic and Jewish faith, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said yesterday if he was Prime Minister he would start a $75 million program to beef up security measures for "at risk" non-profit organizations such as religious schools and places of worship to help protect them against hate crimes.

"Protection is a main goal of government," Dion told reporters yesterday at Thornhill’s Temple Har Zion on Bayview Ave. Canadian society was built as a model of tolerance, respect, openness and mutual understanding. "This is the Canada we need to build, improve and protect," he said.

"When the library burned in the Jewish school in my riding I felt that my children were under attack. I took it personally," Dion said.

The funds would be retroactive to 2005, when the Liberals lost power. Dion said the Conservative government abandoned work started by former Liberal Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler that looked at the roots of racism and instead began a $3 million pilot project.

The federal Conservatives denounced the Liberal plan. The Liberals had 13 years to get the job done in terms of protecting ethnic communities, said Alykhan Velshi, communications director for Secretary of State for Multiculturalism Jason Kenney. "In 2005, the Liberals set something up but they didn’t spend a single red cent in terms of helping communities set up their (security) infrastructures," he said. "They announced their policy after we did. They are late to the game."

Dion spoke of a litany of hate crimes in recent years throughout Canada, including the 2001 arson attack on an Arya Samaj temple in Hamilton. Just last week, thieves broke into the Maple Hill Baptist Church in Keswick and scrawled hate-related graffiti directed at the black community, he added.

The $75 million comes from a recommendation made by a Liberal task force on security for at-risk communities, chaired by Thornhill MP Susan Kadis. "All Canadians have the fundamental right to feel (safe) and to be safe in their place of worship, religious day schools and community centres," she said.

The money would cover security measures, audits and training to a maximum of $250,000 per facility.