A little over a year ago, while watching the late-night news, Elizabeth Comper decided she must do something. A rash of anti-Semitic incidents had shaken Toronto, and the former elementary school teacher watched as members of the city's Jewish community rallied to decry the violence and vandalism.
The group was offering a $10,000 reward for information about the perpetrators, but Ms. Comper, who is married to Bank of Montreal chief executive officer Tony Comper, felt it wasn't enough. So she did what anyone in her position would do: She cornered her husband while he was shaving and asked him how they could get involved.
"Like every good wife, I get Tony while he's in the bathroom, because he can't get out," she explained. "I just said, 'Could we do something? Let's get a bigger reward.' "
Fourteen months after that bathroom chat, the couple are preparing to launch FAST, or Fighting Anti-Semitism Together.
FAST is a coalition of influential corporate leaders who are donating money and time to educate young people on the issue. Dominic D'Alessandro, CEO of Manulife Financial Corp., Michael Sabia, CEO of BCE Inc., and Peter Godsoe, former chairman of Bank of Nova Scotia, are among the 21 executives who have signed on to the program, and they all have one thing in common: None are Jews.
"It's not something that's going away, and it needs to be addressed. We thought it was very important for . . . members of the non-Jewish community to stand together and speak out against this manifestation," Mr. Comper said. "If any country can get this right, Canada should be the one to get this right."
According to B'Nai Brith Canada's League for Human Rights, there were 857 reported incidents of harassment, violence and vandalism targeting Canada's Jews in 2004, the worst year for anti-Semitic activity in more 50 years.
The Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, which surveyed 12 Canadian police forces, found Jews were the largest target of hate crimes motivated by religion. One-quarter of the 928 hate crimes reported were classified as anti-Semitic.
With acts of intolerance on a steady rise, it is crucial that others beyond the Jewish community step forward and speak out against anti-Semitism, said Hershell Ezrin, CEO of the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy, or CJIA. Mr. Ezrin and his organization helped the Compers focus on specific educational initiatives for FAST that will be introduced in Toronto schools this fall.
"Coming from an objective third party, I think there's a validation of the message that would not occur if it looked like it was the self-interest of any group, no matter how justified or how well-meaning it might have been presented," he said. "I think it always carries more weight when it comes from an objective third party."
So far, the Compers have raised more than $200,000, with about $10,000 coming from each individual and corporation participating. The money is being used to pay for the creation of a four-part DVD series that will be used to help teachers educate students between the ages of 10 and 14. Canadian Idol host Ben Mulroney has agreed to do the introduction.
The intention is to expand the initiative in other parts of the country, and target executive support in different cities. There are also plans to do a French version of the educational material. "If we touch one child -- one child -- it's worth it," Ms. Comper said, "because you affect eternity."
Next week, FAST will start promoting itself in newspaper ads across Canada. The word itself is sandwiched on a logo between a star of David and a square of shattered glass, representing Kristallnacht, (Nov. 9-10, 1938, the night that violence against Jews in Germany escalated). Mr. Comper will discuss FAST at a speech in Toronto next month.
John Hunkin, CEO of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, has joined the effort along with the other heads of the country's big banks, and said there is a need for corporate leaders to "take a stand.
"Silence isn't good enough. There tends too often, on these issues, to be a bit of apathy and inertia, and ultimately things just get worse," he said. "Sometimes a good offence is the best defence."