Elisa Hategan is exploring the dark and universal road that transforms the tormented into the tormentor, a path she travelled as a young girl engulfed by hatred.
On a recent afternoon in Sibiu, a Romanian city in the heart of Transylvania, the North York resident visited the school where she believes her course was set.
She ran her fingers over the heavy wooden doors and thought of her abusive parents, who met as students at the boarding school for the deaf.
“I don’t think either of them had a chance to begin with,” she said. As a teenager, Hategan, 40, was a standout in Toronto’s now-defunct Heritage Front, an ultra right-wing group with ties to Holocaust deniers and former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. But in 1993, when the Front’s harassment of LGBTQ activists raised questions about her own sexuality, Hategan turned on the white supremacist organization.
Then known as Elisse, she secretly provided information to anti-racist activists, testified against Front leaders in Federal Court and appeared voluntarily as a witness in Parliament after a founder of the racist group, Grant Bristow, was exposed as a CSIS informant. In 2013, in a stunning about-face, Hategan converted to Judaism after discovering her family’s Jewish roots. Her transformation is still underway.
For more than a decade, she’s been trying to understand what led her into the arms of the most prominent white supremacist group in recent Canadian history — and what drives the innocent to hate.