From hate to hope: Vigod lecture in human rights goes digital this year

    St. Thomas University hosts the Dr. Bernie Memorial Vigod Lecture every year, but this time it's all online. (Submitted: St. Thomas University)

    St. Thomas University hosts the Dr. Bernie Memorial Vigod Lecture every year, but this time it’s all online. This year’s topic is “From Hate to Hope in a Digital Age.”

    Christina Szurlej, director of the Atlantic Human Rights Centre and a human rights professor at St. Thomas University, is the lead organizer.

    “It is very difficult for the law to catch up with the pace of technology and this has a direct affect on how human rights are expressed in peoples’ lives,” said Szurlej.

    Szurlej’s primary areas of expertise are international human rights law and the international human rights monitoring mechanisms of the United Nations. She said the lecture is important because human rights can adapt and change with advancements in society like technology.

    This is her sixth year organizing the lecture and she has been working on this year’s lecture for the past year.

    Bernie Vigod was a Canadian historian, educator and lifelong advocate for human rights and civil liberties. The Vigod lecture commemorates his work and allows guest speakers to continue to share his message.

    The Vigod family said they are thankful for STU and the Atlantic Human Rights Centre for their continued support of the Dr. Bernie Vigod Memorial Lecture Series.

    “It is incredible to see the evolution of the lecture over the past 30 years, which has featured distinguished speakers from across Canada,” said the Vigod family in an email.

    “Bernie dedicated his life to promoting human rights. We could not imagine a better testament to his memory.”

    Due to COVID-19, the lecture will occur via Zoom on Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. Atlantic time, where anyone across Canada and the rest of the world can tune in.

    “The fact that it is to be delivered via Zoom with speakers from different time zones presents a steep learning curve,” said Szurlej.

    Three panelists will be present: Bernie Farber, CEO of the Anti-Hate Network, will discuss the communications perspective; Karen Shai, Crown counsel of the government of Ontario, will explain the legal advancements when combatting hate online; and Marc-Alain Mallet, director of the New Brunswick human rights commission, will talk about the communal perspective of the issue.

    Mallet has attended past lectures and said he’s excited to talk about what the human rights commission does, how it is bound by the limits of its legislation and its protected grounds and areas.

    “The reach of this legislation is driven by society, hence the role citizens play in what kind of human rights they want and how they define it,” said Mallet.

    “I will try to bring my own, local perspective.”