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Students want to battle right-wing extremism

Embrace Immigrants Campaign started by five UOIT grad students

Embrace Immigrants was founded on the idea of re-humanizing those who have been targeted by far right extremists. From left to right: Madison Charman, Kishale Moore, Esther James Charles, Ana Figueras, and Eltisha Wright-Smith. (Photo supplied)

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

Embrace Immigrants, a student organization, is hoping to fight back against the far right extremism they believe has made its way to Canada.

With this in mind, five graduate students at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) have decided to bring their campaign beyond the walls of their campus, and to the streets of Oshawa and the GTA.

According to their website, their mission is to re-humanize immigrants by sharing their stories, as well as to re-educate community members so that they can “negate stereotypical beliefs, negative attitudes, and ‘othering’.”

Ana Figueras, Embrace Immigrants social media co-lead, says they started the campaign because they wanted to create something that counters right wing extremism in Canada.

“One of the pillars of right wing extremism is anti-migration beliefs,” says Figueras. “These specific beliefs arise from the perception of alleged threats over white genocide that immigration poses on right wing extremists.”

She further elaborates that those who subscribe to this belief and enter the world of right wing extremism often partake in anti-immigration hate speech, as well as hate crimes.

While Figueras herself has not experienced any far right extremism, she notes that she knows some who have been subjected to hate speech and hate crimes, including family members and friends.

“We’re lucky that we may not have directly experienced it,” says Madison Charman, the project manager for Embrace Immigrants. “I think that even as our campaign grows, we’re seeing on our social media a couple of really interesting comments that are – if not borderline hate speech – are straight up hate speech.”

Charman says that people have been complaining on their Facebook page about people coming into the country, and that when they respond with research showing that the commenter may be wrong, they will often still oppose it.

“As our campaign grows a little bit, I think we’re starting to get a first hand look at this stuff emerging,” Charman notes. “Now they’re coming after the message that we’re trying to spread. So I think we’re actually starting to see it come out of the woodwork a little bit with our campaign as well.”

Charman says that their main goal is to “change the story and change the current conversation.”

“As grad students, we’re working on researching and trying to reeducate our community on these issues,” says Charman.

She also says that they are working on creating a community of support and tolerance in the hope that people will gain a new perspective.

According to Figueras, the reason that they are expanding into the GTA community is because they want to stop the behaviour of far right extremists from becoming normalized.

“What we fail to understand is that when anti-immigration beliefs are normalized, the hate speech becomes evident, and then it can transform into hate crimes.”

Figueras says that those who are interested in the topic can visit their website to find a short survey that addresses experiences with hate speech and also asks for individual immigration stories.

Their website provides people with their own immigration stories the opportunity to share them, as well as the opportunity to explore Canadian anti-hate organizations.

For more information or to share a story, visit https://embraceimmigrants.com/ or go to their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/LetsEmbraceImmigrants