Back in the early ’90’s, the nature of the world changed: ethnic war broke out in the former Yugoslavia, ethnic cleansing in Rwanda, Iraq was invaded, and against this backdrop some of the most atrocious acts of racism in Canada’s history were to dawn in l992.
Lisa Cherniak, a few months before co-founding Artists Against Racism, was a news monitor at Bowdens Media Monitoring, watching the news eight hours a day for her reports. Already appalled by what was happening worldwide, she was pushed to the edge with the constant deluge of news exposing white supremacists targeting youth by pamphletting schools and using churches to hold concerts blaring hate music by the likes of Rahowa (which eventually lead to the Oklahoma bombing, in 1995, orchestrated by a man who subscribed to Rohawa’s magazines (run by a Canadian, George Burdi) which just fuelled Timothy McVeigh’s hatred.
Then there was the news of Canadian Jewish and Aboriginal leaders were receiving death threats, and Holocaust deniers becoming louder. Cherniak realized the change in Canada’s scenery wasn’t just a fly-by-night event.
So did filmmaker, Peter Raymont, who produced an award-winning documentary about it, and Margaret Cannon, a university professor who infiltrated white supremacy meetings to write a first-hand, investigative account into this new, extremist racism in Canada.
Against this backdrop of extreme darkness, Artists Against Racism was born. After writing an article in the Globe and Mail about her experience with anti-semitism at university, Cherniak contacted a renowned ’60’s musician, Mendelson Joe, and a partnership was formed: Joe agreed to paint the poster that would eventually grace more than 20,000 schools nationwide in a huge campaign. With Joe’s prominence, together they were able to attain the support of his friends: RUSH, Raffia, and other artists, and dozens more would join the bandwagon when approached by Cherniak over the next three years.
The rest, as they say, is history. In November l995, at a nationwide-televised launch at a downtown-Toronto HMV Record store, Artists Against Racism was born. It has since won international awards, such as the Global Tolerance Award, garnered international press and, as you can view on this website, has done major campaigns worldwide.