Trio honoured at B’Nai Brith Dinner

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By: Bill Brooks

The 63rd Annual B’Nai Brith Dinner held Nov. 27 at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue saw more than 700 guests attend to congratulate this year’s honourees — Alfred Balm and Senator and Lt.-Gen. (Ret’d) Romeo Dallaire and to salute Lee Richardson on being awarded the Ben Doktor Award.

Past honourees at the prestigious dinner read like a who’s who, including: Gordie Hoffman, Q.C.; Lanny McDonald; Ken King; Frank Sisson; Ralph Klein; Art Smith; Phil Libin; Ron Ghitter; Gail Asper; and Harley Hotchkiss, to name but a few.

Balm’s list of accomplishments is nothing short of astounding and includes interests in dozens of companies around the world — not the least of which is his role as chairman and owner of Emergo Group — an international investment firm. Yet it is his extraordinary generosity — much of it anonymous — that garnered Balm the prestigious recognition from B’Nai Brith Calgary Lodge No. 816. Whether the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) Regimental Society and The Poppy Fund to the Veteran’s Foodbank and the Calgary Drop-In Centre, Balm’s significant support to myriad organizations has changed thousands of lives for the better.

Dallaire is one of our country’s most celebrated humanitarians. He is the founder of the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative — an organization aimed at eradicating the use of child soldiers; an outspoken advocate for human rights, particularly war-affected children, women, First Nations and military veterans; a champion of genocide prevention initiatives and nuclear non-proliferation; and a bestselling author.

Among the 700-plus guests in attendance this night were: better half of Alfred Balm, his fabulous and stunning wife Phyllis and their two sons Roger and Mike and their wives Lana and Sherri; Aron Eichler and his son, Creative Outlet’s Jeff Eichler; Soup Sister founder Sharon Hapton and her husband Brass Monocle’s Garry Hapton; dinner committee co-chair Joel Grotsky; Mayor Naheed Nenhsi and his chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim; Calgary Herald editor-in-chief Lorne Motley; Hotel Arts’ Mark Wilson and Simon Chamberlin; honourary master of ceremonies Lou Pomerance; the Met Centre’s Howard Silver; Century 21’s Darrell Nowosad; Royal Le Page’s Darren Abrahamson; Prostate Cancer Canada Network Calgary executive director Bob Shiell; WestJet’s Richard Bartrem and Yehudi Altman; ahead-turners Penny Smith and Mandy Smith-Haber; Councillor Andre Chabot; brothers Dr. Stuart Yaholnitsky and Dr. Bruce Yaholnitsky; and media legend Darrel Janz in the role of MC this night.

Child soldiers are early warning of genocide to come

In the Central African Republic and elsewhere, the widespread use of child soldiers was a tragic precursor to the atrocities that followed.

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By: Shelly Whitman

It has come to this. Another land-locked African nation sits on the precipice of mass atrocity, just as Rwanda did 20 years ago. There have been many warning signs, yet we seem to have failed in keeping our promise of “never again.”

The Central African Republic (CAR) has been in conflict for well over a decade and recent reports have characterized the situation as a potential genocide. The country suffers from porous borders, an ever-changing kaleidoscope of armed groups and militias, regular coup attempts and an abhorrent human rights environment that moves closer to mass atrocity each day. But it is youth who are disproportionally affected in this conflict; boys and girls who are being used as child soldiers.

The abuse of children is symptomatic of more complex issues within society at large, such as the breakdown of institutions and security. In a 2009 report on children and armed conflict, the UN Secretary-General writes that in the Central African Republic“children are the primary victims of the conflict, often recruited, forcibly displaced or abducted, and lacking access to basic life necessities such as food and clean water, or health and education services.”

Today, upwards of 6,000 child soldiers are estimated to be participating in the conflict, a number which is thought to have doubled over the past year. We have seen this before. Twenty years earlier, children played a central role in the killing of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus during the Rwandan genocide. The similar abuse, mobilization and use of children in CAR is chilling.

The recruitment and use of children as soldiers is an early warning mechanism that points to the potential for mass atrocity and sustained conflict. We have not only seen this in Rwanda – and now CAR – but also in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria and Sri Lanka, to name only a few. Reports of the use of child soldiers date back as far as 2001 in the CAR.

The international community continues to view the abuse of children as a tragedy but it fails to actively recognize how their use as child soldiers is linked to the severity of conflict and potentially genocide. Children play an active role in conflict – though often through coercion or force – and we need to devise effective solutions to prevent their use as soldiers and to also prevent mass atrocities such as those that are gripping CAR.

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) explicitly outlines our responsibility to prevent mass atrocities, but also applies to the prevention of the use of child soldiers. In CAR, the abuse of children and their use as soldiers are signs that point to the potential genocide. It is time we understood this as the early warning it is – in CAR and Rwanda, we failed to do so.

A proactive, preventative approach to mass atrocities and child soldier use must be adopted. It is no longer acceptable to merely pick up the pieces after the tragedies occur – we must be willing to be bold and act positively. Never again do we wish to sit back and watch child soldiers being recruited and never again do we wish to sit back and witness genocide.

Shelly Whitman is Executive Director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.