'I'm sorry that I haven't done more': ‘Gutsy' former PC candidate Jeff Bennett exposes London, Ont. as ‘racist city that pretends it isn’t’

·5-min read

Amid continued calls for more action on the systemic racism, discrimination and Islamophobia in Canada, a former Ontario Progressive Conservatives candidate for London-West told Yahoo Canada he has a message for the Muslim community: "I'm sorry that I haven't done more."

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In a Facebook post which has been shared extensively online, Jeff Bennett reveals his experience campaigning and door-knocking in London, Ont., in 2014.

"I had volunteers on my campaign who told me they were happy to be able to contribute again. They 'had tried to volunteer a year earlier but the campaign office felt like the Middle East.' I should have asked them to leave. I did not," the post reads.

"When my friend Ali [Chahbar] came knocking on doors with me I was told to be selective which neighbourhood I chose to walk that day. I should have spoke up. Again, I excused it as a few off the cuff remarks from a few well intentioned folks. 'They mean well. They just don't know any better.'

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Ali Chahbar ran in the election prior to Bennett, just 10 months apart. Bennett saw a message from Chahbar telling the public to not think that that the targeted hate crime that killed four members of a family as "unthinkable," because it is something that the Muslim community "must think about on a daily basis."

Bennett, who lives just a kilometre away from where the London, Ont., attack happened, said he was overwhelmed with emotion realizing that he hadn't spoken up about the racism and hate he saw, while "very traditional, typical, predictable responses" from political leaders were being shared in the days following the attack.

Now I see people expressing shock that a racist terrorist would drive his truck into the pathway of a Muslim family going for a walk. 'London is better than this' they say. 'I can't believe this happened here.' Bullshit. I knocked on thousands of doors in the very neighbourhood this atrocity occurred. This terrorist may have been alone in that truck on that day, but he was not acting alone. He was raised in a racist city that pretends it isn't."-- Jeff Bennett's Facebook post on racism

Why politicians, families and communities avoid calling out racism

For a politicians standpoint, Bennett believes these individuals stay silent because they don't want to "rock the boat."

"Somebody has said, 'I'm going to vote for you' and you say 'Thank you for your support' and you move on because you don't want to confront anyone, and the goal is just to accumulate as many votes as possible," he explained. "And the excuse the politicians make for that is, well I can't really make any real change until I get myself elected, so I'll ignore this for now until I can get onto a grander stage."

"But then they get on to the grander stage and everything is scripted... So it never gets addressed, the improvements are never made."

Bennett also identifies that people, including him personally, have been raised to think that you don't call people out for racist, discriminatory, hateful actions, and that needs to change.

"If you're at a family gathering when you're nine years old and grandpa says something racist at the television, your immediate family will say, 'Oh that's just grandpa, he was raised in a different time,'" he said. "That's saying it's OK and it's also encouraging that nine year old to be like, just keep your mouth shut."

"That's been hammered into all of us just don't say anything, so then it becomes habitual. You're out to dinner party, somebody says something racist. Do I say anything? No. You're confronted with something that you said is wrong, you see it in front of you. Do you do anything? No... The only time we ever examine it is after some sort of horrific event that shocks us, but we need to be more proactive in examining it, and looking at it every day and realizing that it's there, and we need we need to do better."

'Brutally honest words' that need to be heard

Since Bennett posted his message on Facebook, several people have applauded him for both recognizing the mistakes he has made, realizing the mistakes they have made themselves and how they need to take more action to actively take a stand against racism.

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