Symposium on the elimination of racial discrimination explores ways to help

Selwyn McSween, York’s acting ombudsperson, will talk about the importance of eradicating racial discrimination at a symposium celebrating International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Wednesday, March 19, from 1 to 4:30pm, in the Contact Room of The Underground in the Student Centre, Keele campus.

Right: Selwyn McSween

McSween, director of the Centre for Human Rights at York and keynote speaker for the event, will talk at 1pm about emergent international human rights issues such as ethnic rivalry, fundamentalism and women’s rights. He will be joined by several other speakers throughout the afternoon, including Randy Pitawanakwat, coordinator of Aboriginal Student Community at York, who will speak at 1:30pm.

Pitawanakwat’s talk, titled "The Impact of Racial Discrimination Against the Indigenous Peoples of Canada", will look at the impact of many generations of racial discrimination on the lives of Aboriginal peoples and how this has become intertwined in the fabric of Canadian society. Discrimination against Aboriginal peoples has occurred since colonization and continues today. Pitawanakwat will examine how racism affects all aspects of the lives of Aboriginal peoples.

An academic and personal counsellor to Aboriginal students on campus, Pitawanakwat liaises with First Nation communities and other Aboriginal organizations. He also provides education and awareness regarding Aboriginal culture, issues and services to all students, staff and faculty at York.

At 2pm, Yoni Levitan, executive director of STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur) Canada, will discuss the crisis in Darfur, Sudan, and will elaborate on what people need to know to take meaningful action. Levitan, a first-year student at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, founded the STAND chapter at Queen’s University in 2006. Recognizing the need to reach out to Canadian high-school students, Levitan started the STAND high-school group later the same year. In this capacity, he has spoken at several high schools throughout Ontario and has guided the group’s growth from a handful of chapters to over 30.

Right: Randy Pitawanakwat


Next, at 2:35pm, York Professor Pablo Idahosa, coordinator of the African Studies Program, will explore the impact of racism on development, while a representative from another high-school group SWING will take the podium at 3:10pm.

At 3:25pm, Debbie Bodkin, a former investigator with the United Nation’s International Commission of Inquiry for Darfur, will talk about what survivors of the conflict in Darfur, have said about their experiences and what Canadians can do to help. Bodkin spent three months in Darfur interviewing survivors. The UN’s International Commission of Inquiry for Darfur was established in 2004 to investigate reports of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law.

Bodkin’s desire to do more for victims in conflict zones was sparked eight years ago when she travelled to Kosovo as a scenes of crime officer with NATO and the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, for one month. A sergeant with the Waterloo Regional Police Service for 21 years, Bodkin also travelled to Chad in 2004 for the US State Department to interview victims fleeing from war-torn Darfur.

In 2006, Bodkin received two awards for her career achievements and overseas missions – Law Enforcement Professional of the Year from the Ontario Women in Law Enforcement and the Officer of the Year from the International Association of Women Police.

A question and answer period will follow.

The event is hosted by the Office of the Ombudsperson, the Centre for Human Rights and STAND Canada. For more information, e-mail Linda Grobovsky at