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Two Leading Organizations Come Together to Uproot Antisemitism and Intolerance Through Education

Sept 11, 2020


TORONTO and WINNIPEG – FAST (Fighting Antisemitism Together) and the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (CISA) today announced that they are joining forces to help eradicate antisemitism and all forms of intolerance through education.


“My late wife Elizabeth and I founded FAST in 2005 because we felt that it was important to build a coalition of non-Jewish business and community leaders to stand up and speak out against antisemitism,” said Tony Comper, co-founder of FAST and former president and chief executive officer of BMO Financial Group.  “Since then, 4.4 million Canadian students have learned about prejudice, human rights and social justice through our free curriculum-based teaching resources.”


Coinciding with this announcement, Dr. Catherine Chatterley, founding director of CISA and a University of Chicago-trained historian of modern Europe, will become chair and president of FAST.  Mr. Comper will remain an active adviser to FAST.  FAST’s two educational programs, Choose Your Voice, for grades 6, 7 and 8, and Voices into Action, for grades 9, 10, 11 and 12 as well as post-secondary institutions, will continue.


“As a scholar and educator, I know that the only way we can uproot hatred and antisemitism in our society is through education,” said Dr. Chatterley.  “What makes FAST unique is that this effort is led by a coalition of non-Jewish leaders.  I have long admired FAST and the top quality tools and materials it provides to teachers, and I look forward to driving its critically important and distinct mission going forward.”


“The events of the past few months have served as a stark reminder that there is systemic racism and prejudice in every facet of our society,” added Mr. Comper.  “By joining with Catherine, we are ensuring that FAST’s award-winning programming will continue for many years to come.  And by helping teachers and students, we can marginalize the haters, bigots, racists, and bullies and take away their power to intimidate.  Everyone in Canada, regardless of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression should always live secure and be unafraid, welcome, and included.”

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Former BMO CEO Tony Comper Revamps Charity Focused on Antisemitism
Globe & Mail, August 2, 2020
An educational organization launched by former Bank of Montreal chief executive officer Tony Comper and his late wife, Elizabeth, to combat antisemitism in Canada is bringing in new leadership as incidents of discrimination and hate in the community continue to rise.
Fighting Antisemitism Together or FAST launched in 2005 with backing from a coalition of more than 30 influential corporate leaders that included then-CEOs Ed Clark of Toronto-Dominion Bank, Dominic D’Allessandro of Manulife Financial Corp. and Michael Sabia of BCE Inc. Since then, the charitable initiative has built free education programs geared to middle schools and high schools, and has reached 4.4 million students at more than 22,000 schools.
FAST was conceived to push back against a rash of anti-Semitic incidents in 2004. But the number of such incidents has risen sharply since then, and a global movement protesting against systemic racism over the past several months has offered a “stark reminder” of the prejudices that still persist, Mr. Comper said.
Now FAST is joining with the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, a scholarly organization that publishes the academic journal Antisemitism Studies. CISA founding director Catherine Chatterley, who teaches at the University of Manitoba, is taking over as FAST’s chair and president.
In 2004, B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights catalogued 857 incidents of harassment, violence and vandalism targeting Jewish people in Canada – the largest number in more than half a century. By 2019, the same audit tallied 2,207 incidents, an 8-per-cent increase from 2018 and the fourth consecutive year of record numbers. Some of that increase has been driven by increasing online harassment, which was up 11 per cent, according to B’nai Brith Canada.
“The obvious question is, if you’re doing such a wonderful job, why isn’t it having an impact on anti-Semitism?” Mr. Comper said. “The increase in the incidences justifies exactly why we’re doing what we’re doing and the need for it.”
FAST was Ms. Comper’s idea. The former elementary-school teacher was shaken by the rash of anti-Semitic incidents making headlines in 2004: “Kicking over tombstones, swastikas on garage doors, the burning of the [United] Talmud Torah school in Montreal,” Mr. Comper said.
Ms. Comper cornered her husband in the bathroom while he shaved and insisted they do something about it. Neither was Jewish, nor were the key backers Mr. Comper enlisted, who put up $10,000 each and added their names to the initiative. But non-Jewish leaders speaking out in support of Jewish communities became one of FAST’s distinctive features.
The Compers became convinced the best way to root out anti-Semitism was through the school system. They built educational materials, first on DVD and later online, and provided them to teachers free, tailoring the content to meet standards across different boards of education, in English and French.
“To fundamentally change, you need to focus on education of young people and equip them with an alternative narrative to what they’re hearing either at home, or in the street or in the school yard,” Mr. Comper said.
At its outset, Mr. Comper didn’t envisage FAST as a long-term project. “I thought, frankly, that it would burn out after maybe 18 months or two years,” he said. But its educational resources have been continually revamped and expanded as anti-semitic incidents continue to rise.
The organization has been spearheaded by Ms. Comper, who died in 2014, Mr. Comper, who was BMO’s CEO from 1999 to 2007, and FAST’s executive director, Nicole Miller. Yet at the age of 75, Mr. Comper has been looking for a partner to whom he could pass the torch.
He has promised to fund FAST for the next two years, and plans to stay on as an adviser working with Dr. Chatterley to build a new, more sustainable structure for fundraising and administration. “We’re hopeful,” he said. “It’s early days.”
* * * * *
About FAST
FAST (Fighting Antisemitism Together) was founded by Elizabeth and Tony Comper, along with a coalition of non-Jewish business leaders, who came together to speak out against all forms of intolerance and, in particular, antisemitism.
About CISA
The Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (CISA) produces scholarship and education on the subject of antisemitism in its classic and contemporary forms.?  With Indiana University Press, CISA publishes Antisemitism Studies, the leading academic journal on antisemitism, which is available in over 3,000 universities and colleges worldwide.
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