Anti-immigrant protests. Flare-ups in anti-hijab and anti-Asian sentiment. An upsurge in violence leading to Black Lives/ Indigenous Lives Matter demonstrations.
Jan Underwood believes another kind of virus — a hate-filled one — circulated during the pandemic, chipping away at human rights around the world.
“People didn’t know how COVID-19 started, they just knew it came from elsewhere,” reflected Underwood, public awareness co-ordinator for Care for Newcomers (Formerly the Central Alberta Refugee Effort)
She believes a fear of the unknown helped spur global racism — including downtown Red Deer protests that regularly featured anti-immigrant signs.
But people from other cultures are continuing to make their homes in Central Alberta and Canada, often fleeing from war and poverty, and seeking better opportunities. Economic forecasts indicate this country will need this influx to keep the economy rolling when more people retire and fewer children are born to replace them in the workforce.
Underwood believes it’s high time we move towards having a more accepting and welcoming society. To that end, World Human Rights Day being commemorated with a 7 to 9 p.m. panel discussion on Wednesday, Dec. 7, at Red Deer Polytechnic’s Margaret Parsons Theatre. This free event is presented by Care for Newcomers. and RDP’s Indigenous Student Services.
The key-note speaker will be Brenda St. Germain, a Metis Cree mental health therapist. The panelists will include Darnel Forro, a social work professor at Red Deer Polytechnic, Dieulita Datus-Hall of Ubuntu Mobilizing Central Alberta, local filmmaker and therapist Love Nwigwe, Metis representative Amy Mendenhall and others.
The panel’s MC will be the City of Red Deer’s diversity and inclusion specialist Deirdre Ashenhurst.
A discussion about how the pandemic has challenged the basic principles of human rights in terms of racism, equality, and dignity will be held. This will be followed by a question and answer session.
Underwood believes many factors contributed to the anger and hate evident over the past few years, but the result has been dispiriting and it’s now important to build a more welcoming society.