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Ramadan Intercultural Friendship Dinner with the Toronto Police Service

 The 4th Annual Ramadan Iftar dinner with the Toronto Police Service was held in the 195 year old Metropolitan United Church, on Queen St in Toronto. There were attendees from all over Toronto with families and kids, friends, or on their own, representing the diversity of the city. The master of ceremony for the evening was the Reverend Doctor John Joseph Mastandrea.

 Rev. Mastandrea began by thanking those in attendance, the Toronto Police Service and IDI for co-hosting, as well as the Native group’s oh whose land the Church is on. Once the national anthem was sung by Amy How, Mr. Fatih Yegul gave his welcome speech, remarking that this dinner used to be held at a school, but now held greater significance with “Muslims breaking fast in a church.” He explained that breaking fast with other cultures and faiths was an essential way to building bridges toward peace.

 Deputy Chief of the Toronto Police Service Peter Stoly spoke next, thanking the guests and expressing how humbled he was to be at this event. He explained that he was from what would probably be described as a typical Toronto family with a wife who is Muslim and himself a Roman Catholic. He admitted with good humour that he had previously tried to fast and had lasted two days, giving him great respect for people who fasted for 18 hours a day during the month of Ramadan.

 He expressed his gratitude for the space that the Metropolitan United Church had given for this event, a space that has fed and looked after the marginalized for almost two centuries.

 He extended honours to the IDI and their intercultural work, especially important when amidst welcoming the world for the PanAm games, this night welcomed myriad faiths. Much of the last decades dealt with human rights issues, but the coming years would focus on the issues of faiths learning to live together.

 He recognized the officers who are fasting but continued their commitment to their work, specifically those honoured this evening: those of the Dixon road and Regent park. The rich and strong Police Service that Toronto enjoys is because of the balance between professional and personal life that the officers find within and without their respective cultures.

 The daughter of IDI’s Outreach Representative Aysh Koca, Aysha, gave an overview of Ramadan and the practice of fasting. Ramadan is the 9th month of the lunar calendar and it moves throughout the seasons at a slow rate. Sahoor is the pre dawn meal and Iftar, the sunset meal. “How do we know the times?” she asked, “There are apps.” Children are not advised to fast until they hit puberty, as well as women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, the elderly, or those with diabetes. She explained that fasting is an individual choice with God.

 She described the enhanced spirituality while fasting and the sense of community. Fasting provides us with more control over our lives, she said.  Some enzymes and hormones only release when we’re hungry or fasting and it is the same with our emotions and souls. Communities are connected through hunger and by improving themselves, the community as a whole improves. Ramadan is a spiritual journey that begins as something personal and goes on to become a community event.

 Fasting during the holy month of Ramadan is a kind of cleanse and extends to avoiding negative actions. We are more open to spiritual experiences when we’re not concerned with eating. The individual alone is seen as weak but through fasting we grow and build a community. It brings people closer together and individually closer to God. It also increases an understanding and empathy for people who are hungry and don’t know when the next meal will come. In this way communities become more generous and giving. It is important to keep one’s intentions pure, focusing on why to fast rather than how.

 Rev. Mastandrea introduced the night’s keynote speaker. The Honourable Madam Justice Julie Thorburn was there to speak on the theme of Justice, Fairness, and Developing Respect and Mutual Understanding in diverse communities.

 She began by explaining that at first she wondered what she could add to the discourse as she was white Anglo Saxon and born into belonging. At a young age though, she moved to France. She says she won’t ever forget what it felt like to not understand; that there was a difference between being tolerated and being understood.

 The role of the judiciary is where she focused her address. For her tolerance means, respecting practices that are different and that we may not agree with, dignity for each individual. The rule of law must be maintained in diverse societies but the difficulty lies in what should be tolerated and should not be tolerated when it is harmful to the community.

 The first avenue toward navigating diversity and understanding in law is civil discourse to gain a deeper understanding of the community to which the laws apply. Justice Bertha Wilson, the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court of Canada, said that the idea of human dignity finds expression in almost every right and freedom laid out in the Charter. The second avenue open to a society is its institutions. How we think shapes our institutions and in turn they shape us. The third avenue is our laws themselves. Everyone must have access to the justice system. This means that judges must be and seen to be independent and fair. Legitimacy of the judiciary cannot rest on law alone since it needs the citizens it serves, who respect and relate to their justice system to uphold its legitimacy.

 In Section 27,  of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms it stipulated that “This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.” For the judiciary it is important to see people as more than just categories but also keep their impartiality. Life, liberty, and security of the person should never be sacrificed and as such societies must be prepared to tolerate conduct of which we don’t approve of as long as it is not harming the society itself. The ideal of the reasonable person has evolved and changed with society and the judiciary, and indeed society, is still deciding which aspects of cultures should be included.

 Kofi Annan once reminded everyone that we live in a diverse world, but in Canada this has not divided us but made us stronger, she said. In Canada people live in peace and harmony because of fair application of principles and work towards this while other places the very same groups war together. We may have a complacency to grasp what we have achieved in Canada, but she stressed how fragile it is.

 “We must move forward together or not at all. Vive la différence!” she said in closing.

 Julie Thorburn was presented with water marbelling art done by one of IDI’s volunteers before the food was blessed and a prayer said. Rev. Mastandrea’s final remarks closed the evening’s presentation:

 “Here we arrive at home where we break bread together.”