In May 1975, seven concerned Torontonians met in a small restaurant to discuss an issue that was of grave concern to them, namely the increasing frequency of hate-motivated violence against African and South Asian Canadians in Toronto’s streets, subways and shopping plazas.
Galvanized by their convictions, this “group of seven” – Sam Fox of the Metro Labour Council, Wilson Head, Marvin Novick and Anella Parker of the Social Planning Council of Metro Toronto, Ben Kayeftz of the Canadian Jewish Congress, and Al Hershkovitz and Terry Meagher – recognized the need for community partnership with law enforcement and government to prevent these incidents.
A series of planning sessions were initiated to explore ways to achieve this goal, and the rest was the founding meeting of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, held on July 28th, 1975, at the Holy Blossom Temple.
Hosted by Rabbi Gunther Plaut, the participants included the original group along with other concerned citizens from a variety of backgrounds; racial, ethnic and religious groups gathered with labour unions and business to lay the foundation. Mary Louise Clements, Ted Harvey and Morrie Latchman of the Social Planning Council attended, along with Ed Clarie of the National Black Coalition. So, too, did John Burke of the Anglican church, Audi Dharmalingam of the University Settlement, and Rev. Eilert Frerichs, Geoff Brown, Derek Hayes, Sid Midanik, and Wilson Brooks.
Throughout the months of August and September, several other meetings would follow this first meeting. By this time, a decision had been reached: a new race relations organization would be formed. Officially launched in September 1975, the mandate of UARR would be to work to maintain stable, peaceful and harmonious relationships among the various racial and ethnic groups within the Greater Toronto community. Its Board of Directors would be an alliance of ordinary citizens who would reflect the diversity of modern society in Toronto and Canada at large.
Governed by a commitment to increase public awareness of race relations, UARR has continually invested in the community through the development of volunteer leadership and potential, the organization of seminars, workshops and conferences, the establishment of groundbreaking policy through extensive research, and the facilitation of dialogue among community groups.
As Toronto’s racial demographics continue to change rapidly, the vision of the founders has evolved in an effort to meet these needs. The Toronto Police Services, Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC), Special Investigations Unit, various levels of government, and numerous school boards, community organizations and institutions have all used the consultative, advisory and activist services of the organization.
ADVOCACY AND PROGRAMMING HIGHLIGHTS INCLUDE:
- A Gold Clio Award for the “Policeman” public service announcement;
- Involvement with the Lester Donaldson inquest exploring race, mental health and police shootings;
- The achievement of intervener status before the Supreme Court of Canada as an advocate in the hearings on the right of lawyers to screen potential jurors for racial bias (positive decision rendered June 1998);
- Volunteer Equity Program (VEP), a community-based diversity-training program;
- The publication of Currents: Readings on Race Relations – Canada’s only journal committed to research and dialogue of race relations issues; and,
- The Anti-Racism Response Network (ARRN) FAXadvisory, offering a community connection to information surrounding human rights issues.
The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. With the challenges presented by the current social climate, we recognize the lasting contributions that UARR has made in raising public awareness about racism while simultaneously developing proactive and empowering solutions to these obstacles and the sobering reminder of the work that remains.
The new millennium presents new challenges also with renewed hope for the future. Fuelled by a legacy of past achievement, the struggle continues.