Youth aim to stop discrimination

Nanaimo youth are speaking out about their experiences with hate-motivated behaviour.

Nanaimo youth are speaking out about their experiences with hate-motivated behaviour and discrimination.

The Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society presents Stand Up, Speak Out – Youth Against Hate, Saturday (April 21) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Beban Park Social Centre.

The dialogue is a chance to listen, be heard and make changes. It features a panel of 11 youth representing immigrants, refugees and aboriginals.

Samantha Letourneau, CVIMS diversity coordinator, said discrimination involving youth is something everyone should be concerned about.

“There’s a report from Stats Canada that talks about the increase in hate crimes in the country, and teenagers and young adults account for a significant portion of them,” she said. “They’re not only the perpetrators, but also the targets.”

People are often targeted based on race, faith or sexual orientation, and many incidents will go unreported.

“Someone might not be aware of what they experienced was a deliberate target, but often if the victim lays charges, there is the fear of the retaliation that would come of that,” said Letourneau. “We’ve heard a lot in our society about bullying, but this goes beyond bullying. It’s targeting someone in often violent cases.”

The seminar not only allows young people to talk about what’s happening and what they’ve experienced, but why it’s going on in the community.

“If we don’t talk about it and examine why this is happening, it’s hard to find out what steps are needed to build a more inclusive and welcoming place for everyone,” said Letourneau.

The afternoon includes a photovoice exhibit, where panel members use a camera to record, reflect and critique the issues of discrimination and hate.

“When you’re dealing with a difficult subject, often finding creative ways to engage young people in the discussion makes they feel comfortable in talking about the issues,” said Letourneau. “The idea of photovoice is to allow the youth, through their eyes, to record how they see their community, what they’re experiencing, accompanied with a narrative of why they took a photo and what it means to them. It’s a great way for them to have a voice.”

Panel member Jeremy Jones is First Nations and gay, and said while most Canadians believe they live in an open society,  there is still a great deal of ignorance out there.

“There’s a lot of homophobia in the world and  I feel the need to change who I am in certain situations so I don’t get beat up,” he said. “Depriving myself of who I am is not the most uplifting feeling.”

Jones, 26, said hate-motivated behaviour happens more often than people realize, and those who turn their back on the issue are almost as bad as those doing the targeting.

But he has hope.

“I really believe we have the potential to make a difference with this dialogue,” he said. “Not just on the day of the event, but continuing forward. Youth are going to be the movers and shakers of tomorrow and I believe we can change the world.”

Leslie Puska, a panel member, has not been targeted, but has witnessed hate-motivated behaviour and is not hesitant to speak up against it.

“It can affect a whole community,” she said. “There is always more than just one victim. The community that is suffering from it needs to do something about it, not ignore it.”

At 28, Puska considers herself at the top end of the youth spectrum, but believes everyone can benefit from open dialogue.

“It paves the way for more people to become inclusive,” she said. “Education is important, and to have young people educate others in the community on what’s happening is really important.”

Seating for the seminar is limited, so please RSVP by e-mailing sletourneau@cvims.org or calling 250-753-6911 ext.102.

For more information, please go to www.cvims.org.