Will hate crimes make Canada a less attractive destination for immigrants?

Not convinced. Unlikely that among the various factors that influence destinations of immigrants that this will dominate the others. More important, even as a factor, this will be in relation to other countries, most of which have higher degrees of polarization on immigration and diversity issues:

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a reported intensification in racially motivated hate crimes against immigrants from East and Southeast Asia in many Western countries, including Canada. But do such xenophobic crimes affect migration to the countries in which they take place?

To answer this question, we first need to understand that, to many immigrants, the decision to migrate depends on a set of factors; some that push them to leave their home country, while others pull them to the host country.

The fact is that Canada has not always been a welcoming country – rather it has a well-documented history of racial discrimination against immigrants. In fact, most Asian immigrants in Canada are aware of racism, both covert and overt. With the popularization of information and communication technology, it is imaginable that many seeking to move to the country have been prepared by their families and friends already in Canada for discrimination, particularly in the job market, which is notorious for its systemic discrimination against professional credentials, work experience, language, culture and race of ethno-racial minority immigrants.

Of the top ten countries of birth of recent immigrants to Canada, seven are in Asia

Yet given these challenges, why do tens of thousands of immigrants from East and Southeast Asian countries still decide to immigrate to Canada every year?

Before 1967, when Canada introduced its points-based immigration system, immigrants to Canada were overwhelmingly from Europe. The point system welcomed young, educated and skilled immigrants, andshifted the major sources of immigrants to Canada from Europe to Asia. According to the 2016 census, among the top ten countries of birth of recent immigrants, seven are in Asia, namely the Philippines, India, China, Iran, Pakistan, Syria and South Korea. With a long history of migration to Canada, immigrants from these countries have also established a strong transnational social network that facilitates the migration of fellow friends and families and their settlement and integration in Canada.

A better future

Seeking a better economic future is believed to be a key force behind transnational migration, particularly from the Global South to the Global North. Political instability and oppression are other major factors driving people voluntarily and involuntarily to leave their countries, such as the case of Syria and Iran. Recently, the military suppression of democracy movements in Myanmar, the civil unrest in Thailand, China’s military pressure on Taiwan and the imposition of National Security Law on Hong Kong have caused many people to consider leaving their home countries.

Immigrants to Canada have long cited seeking better futures for their families as the number one reason why they decided to emigrate. Some were even willing to trade off economic loss for political stability. One example is the 380,000 Hong Kong immigrants who travelled to Canada in the 1980s and 1990s, amid the uncertainties surrounding the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong from Britain to China.

For many immigrants, Canada and other Western countries are attractive not only because of better economic opportunities but because of political stability, safety, lifestyle, education, as well as social and health protection, to name just a few reasons.

Canada has repeatedly claimed to be a global defender of human rights. Recently, the Canadian government apologized and compensated for racially motivated wrongdoings in the past, such as the head tax on Chinese immigrants and the internment of Japanese-Canadians. Hate crimes against Asians and any other ethno-racial groups simply jeopardize Canada’s global reputation and moral credibility.

Related story

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Canada’s immigration planning is increasingly divorced from the real impacts of COVID-19 – and undervalues ‘essential workers’

Meanwhile, as a country that relies on immigrants to replace the shrinking domestic supply of talents to our labour market, Canada is competing for high-skilled talents in demand globally. If it is to become an appealing destination, we must create a welcoming and inclusive environment for immigrants in Canada. Racism will certainly weaken this, and also make it more difficult to retain immigrants, particularly those who are highly skilled, and can choose to leave. In 2006, there were already 2.8 million Canadians living abroad, many of whom had originally been immigrants to Canada, including 300,000 who returned to, and still reside in, Hong Kong.

The intensification of anti-Asian hate crimes since the start of the pandemic may not reduce the number of immigrants who choose to move to Canada or to other Western democracies. But a socially unwelcoming society will have difficulties competing for and retaining global talents.

To make Canada a welcoming place, where immigrants can secure a better future for their families and contribute to society, all levels of government and the general public need to step up to combat all forms of racism against all minorities.

Source: Will hate crimes make Canada a less attractive destination for immigrants?

AI’s anti-Muslim bias problem

Of note (and unfortunately, not all that surprising):

Imagine that you’re asked to finish this sentence: “Two Muslims walked into a …”

Which word would you add? “Bar,” maybe?

It sounds like the start of a joke. But when Stanford researchers fed the unfinished sentence into GPT-3, an artificial intelligence system that generates text, the AI completed the sentence in distinctly unfunny ways. “Two Muslims walked into a synagogue with axes and a bomb,” it said. Or, on another try, “Two Muslims walked into a Texas cartoon contest and opened fire.”

For Abubakar Abid, one of the researchers, the AI’s output came as a rude awakening. “We were just trying to see if it could tell jokes,” he recounted to me. “I even tried numerous prompts to steer it away from violent completions, and it would find some way to make it violent.”

Language models such as GPT-3 have been hailed for their potential to enhance our creativity. Given a phrase or two written by a human, they can add on more phrases that sound uncannily human-like. They can be great collaborators for anyone trying to write a novel, say, or a poem.

Source: AI’s anti-Muslim bias problem

Data science education lacks a much-needed focus on ethics

Of note:

Undergraduate training for data scientists – dubbed the sexiest job of the 21st century by Harvard Business Review – falls short in preparing students for the ethical use of data science, our new study found.

Data science lies at the nexus of statistics and computer science applied to a particular field such as astronomy, linguistics, medicine, psychology or sociology. The idea behind this data crunching is to use big data to address otherwise unsolvable problems, such as how health care providers can create personalized medicine based on a patient’s genes and how businesses can make purchase predictions based on customers’ behavior

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 15% growth in data science careers over the period of 2019-2029, corresponding with an increased demand for data science training. Universities and colleges have responded to the demand by creating new programs or revamping existing ones. The number of undergraduate data science programs in the U.S. jumped from 13 in 2014 to at least 50 as of September 2020. 

As educators and practitioners in data science, we were prompted by the growth in programs to investigate what is covered, and what is not covered, in data science undergraduate education.

In our study, we compared undergraduate data science curricula with the expectations for undergraduate data science training put forth by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Those expectations include training in ethics. We found most programs dedicated considerable coursework to mathematics, statistics and computer science, but little training in ethical considerations such as privacy and systemic bias. Only 50% of the degree programs we investigated required any coursework in ethics.

Why it matters

As with any powerful tool, the responsible application of data science requires training in how to use data science and to understand its impacts. Our results align with prior work that found little attention is paid to ethics in data science degree programs. This suggests that undergraduate data science degree programs may produce a workforce without the training and judgment to apply data science methods responsibly. This primer on data science ethics covers real-world harms.

It isn’t hard to find examples of irresponsible use of data science. For instance, policing models that have a built-in data bias can lead to an elevated police presence in historically over-policed neighborhoods. In another example, algorithms used by the U.S. health care system are biased in a way that causes Black patients to receive less care than white patients with similar needs. 

We believe explicit training in ethical practices would better prepare a socially responsible data science workforce.

What still isn’t known

While data science is a relatively new field – still being defined as a discipline – guidelines exist for training undergraduate students in data science. These guidelines prompt the question: How much training can we expect in an undergraduate degree? 

The National Academies recommend training in 10 areas, including ethical problem solving, communication and data management.

Our work focused on undergraduate data science degrees at schools classified as R1, meaning they engage in high levels of research activity. Further research could examine the amount of training and preparation in various aspects of data science at the Masters and Ph.D. levels and the nature of undergraduate data science training at schools of different research levels.

Given that many data science programs are new, there is considerable opportunity to compare the training that students receive with the expectations of employers. 

What’s next

We plan to expand on our findings by investigating the pressures that might be driving curriculum development for degrees in other disciplines that are seeing similar job market growth.

Source: https://theconversation.com/data-science-education-lacks-a-much-needed-focus-on-ethics-164372

Australia: ‘Be less of a white boys’ club’: How to address Parliament’s lack of diversity

Of note (Canadian Parliament and Senate are much more diverse than Australia):

“Stale, pale and male” has become a shorthand for the lack of diversity of all kinds across society’s institutions. Parliament has not escaped its accusations and even federal politicians have levelled the tag at it.

Labor frequently pats itself on the back for achieving near-gender parity in its caucus room but this week it has been beset by criticism it has not done enough to address other types of diversity.

The decision to parachute senator Kristina Keneally into the safe lower house seat of Fowler, in Sydney’s west, at the expense of local, young, Vietnamese lawyer Tu Le has led to calls for diversity quotas and divisions over “token” multiculturalism.

But it’s not only Labor’s politicians who are overwhelmingly white.

Out of the 226 men and women who make up Federal Parliament, 23 were born overseas but only five in non-European countries to parents who weren’t Australian. Another 52 have parents who were born overseas, overwhelmingly in the UK.

Contrast this with the general population. Just under half of all Australians were either born overseas or their parents were. Nearly three times more people in the wider Australian community were born overseas than their parliamentary representatives.

However, Parliament this week hit a milestone of proportionate representation of Indigenous people. There are now seven Indigenous members after the Greens’ newest senator Dorinda Cox, a Yamatji-Noongar woman, replaced Rachel Siewert.

Tim Soutphommasane, a professor at the University of Sydney and a former race discrimination commissioner, says Parliament “fails dismally” on cultural diversity.

“It doesn’t look remotely like today’s multicultural Australia. It might make some uncomfortable, but our political class looks like it’s stuck in the White Australia era,” he says.

“If you don’t have cultural diversity in our politics, you don’t have a politics that’s representative. That’s a pretty basic problem.”

Dr Blair Williams from the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at ANU says while an exact representation of the community isn’t possible, “it just needs to be a bit more focused on being less of a white boys’ club from a certain background”.

There has been a strong focus for some time now on increasing the number of women elected, but Williams says there also should have been thought put into improving cultural diversity. She’d also like to see more young people, people with disabilities and those from different class backgrounds.

The problem is self-perpetuating, says Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan. If people don’t see anyone like them in Parliament, they’re less likely to get involved in the political process.

“The lack of diverse and inclusive parliaments means certain groups are poorly represented and their interests are not well spoken for,” he says.

“Even aside from the importance of involving diverse voices in the legislative process, Parliament provides a tremendous platform for engaging in public debate. We have often seen that when politicians from diverse backgrounds enter Parliament, they achieve great outcomes by focusing attention on issues that might otherwise be overlooked.”

Soutphommasane points to the agitation in some quarters for abolishing section 18C of the Race Discrimination Act, which protects against hate speech, saying the lack of diversity can contribute to a distorted political debate.

“A monochrome political class will have some blind spots,” he says.

The question of how to fix the problem is not easy, nor will it happen quickly. Those who advocate a quota arrangement point to Labor’s gains in gender diversity.

It has taken the party more than 30 years from its first quota to reach equal representation. Former cabinet minister and deputy leader Jenny Macklin says quotas are still contested and there continues to be male resistance.

Emily’s List, an organisation that backs progressive women running for Parliament, published a paper in 2019 that recommended Labor introduce “tandem quotas” for women and cultural diversity with different targets for safe seats, marginal seats and the party executive.

Williams says these types of tandem quotas benefit culturally diverse women but are less good for “majority men and majority women”. An alternative could be a kind of reverse quota.

“So you only have a certain amount of white men in Parliament and when you hit that number, then you have to diversify,” Williams says.

“If you do look at other styles of quotas, like the tandem quotas … you do run the risk of having, say, 30 per cent of people preselected who are women and culturally diverse, that still means that the other 70 per cent can be white men.”

Labor MP Peter Khalil, whose parents migrated from Egypt to Australia in the 1970s, said this week MPs with diverse backgrounds “should not be token or just be making up the numbers”. Rather, parties had to show a real commitment.

His colleague Anne Aly, who was herself born in Egypt, also called on her party to do more than just pay lip service to multiculturalism.

Other MPs also called for action, with Ed Husic saying Labor had to do a stocktake of its membership and have a serious conversation about how to reflect the community, and senator Jenny McAllister saying it was time for “bold actions”.

But not everyone thinks quotas are the answer.

Osmond Chiu, an ALP member and research fellow at the Per Capita think tank, says the party needs to work out the extent of its problem with diversity before it can address it.

Any talk of quotas to improve cultural diversity or candidates “is putting the cart before the horse” when change throughout the whole party organisation is needed.

“A lot of the focus has been on Fowler because it’s symptomatic, it symbolises this wider systemic problem that exists, that Australia has become a much more diverse country … but our institutions, such as Parliament, haven’t really kept up,” he says.

Liberal MP Dave Sharma says there’s no doubt all parties including his own have to more actively recruit people with different backgrounds instead of continuing the “pretty laissez-faire attitude” they have now.

Since his election – replacing Labor’s Lisa Singh as the only person of Indian heritage in Parliament – he has often heard from people in the Indian Australian community asking how they can become involved in politics.

He doesn’t believe in quotas but points to the work of the Conservatives in the UK to transform from a “very stuffy, traditional party” to the more diverse outfit after the party machinery actively sought “people from outside the usual breeding grounds of politics”.

It is as much as smart politics as the right thing to do.

“People are much more inclined to vote and support for, empathise with or have a connection with people that have a similar life experience,” Sharma says.

“That doesn’t just mean ethnically, it can be religiously, it can be professionally, it can be if you’ve got a disability, all those sorts of things … help your political brand strength.”

Tan says this is why parties must look beyond candidate preselection and make sure there are people from diverse backgrounds welcomed and involved at grassroots and administrative levels too.

“Parties stand to gain from this by broadening their base, widening their gaze, and attracting the additional talents that exist within diverse communities,” he says.

“I think this would in turn lead to more diverse candidates being preselected.”

Changing the face of Parliament will require hard calls from political leaders, Soutphommasane says.

“You can’t conjure up more diversity in your parliamentary ranks simply by saying you like multiculturalism. Or by saying that it’ll come next election.”

Source: ‘Be less of a white boys’ club’: How to address Parliament’s lack of diversity

Canada’s federal leaders show cowardice by denying the racist premise of Bill 21

Hard to disagree.

The other question that few seem to be raising is why participation in the English language debate is limited to national parties that run candidates in 60 percent or more of all ridings. Hard to see any value in Bloc participation in the English debate, unlike in the French debate:

The only thing offensive about Shachi Kurl’s question in Canada’s English-language debate regarding Bill 21 is the cowardly reaction from our federal leaders.

On debate night, Kurl, the president of the Angus Reid Insitute, asked a question about a law that bans wearing religious symbols for some public-sector workers in Quebec. Even though she never implied all Quebecers are racist, many threw her under the bus for suggesting that she did.

While the reactions of the Bloc Québécois’ Yves-François Blanchet and Quebec’s Premier François Legault were predictable, regardless of how the question would have been framed, many religious minorities are disappointed by the deflection by our other federal leaders postdebate — from condemning the premise of the question to demanding an apology from the debate consortium.

Rather than using the moment to take a stand and talk about how problematic Bill 21 is for Canadians, federal leaders have opted for expediency and protecting votes in Quebec by adopting the language of apologists, manipulating the question and largely avoiding what should be a moment for a serious conversation.

While Justin Trudeau said he wouldn’t rule out “intervening” against Bill 21, he also claimed he had a hard time “processing” Kurl’s question and that it implied all “Quebecers are racist.” Erin O’Toole, in response stated that “Quebecers are not racist and it’s unfair to make that sweeping categorization.” Jagmeet Singh, who called the Bill discriminatory also said that “It’s a mistake to imply that only one province has a problem with systemic racism.” Despite this, many saw these responses as serious levels of deflection from the actual question put by Kurl.

As much as supporters for Bill 21 like to suggest that it is a product of Quebec’s unique culture and relationship with laïcité (secularism) that isn’t the complete story and it only works to mask some of the disturbing realities and motivations for the law.

Bill 21 is also a product of Islamophobia, bigotry, and, yes, racism. The sentiments driving support for Bill 21 also exist elsewhere in the country and impacted religious communities want us all to fight back. Canadians need to stop pretending this is a localized issue, and our leaders need to know that their positions concerning fighting hate and racism in all its forms appear hypocritical in light of their reactions postdebate.

The research on Bill 21 is incredibly clear. It results in greater racism against religious minorities. It creates second-class citizens. It disproportionately targets minority communities. And it drives people out of Quebec, including my friend Amrit Kaur who as an Amritdhari Sikh teacher is now working in British Columbia instead of in her home province due to that law.

What is upsetting is that it took a question from a racialized woman to ignite a conversation on Bill 21 that our federal leaders had been trying to avoid. What is even more upsetting is that instead of confronting the issue for what it is, many commentators and politicians took the moment to instead chastise Kurl for suggesting the bill is discriminatory, as well as express dismay that challenging the issue head on has, amongst other things, disrupted partisan campaigns in the province.

It is as if calling a piece of legislation discriminatory or racist is worse than the piece of legislation actually being discriminatory and racist.

Some have even suggested that making this a topic only plays into the hands of Blanchet and the Bloc Québécois, as if that means we should just ignore the problem and pretend that it will somehow solve itself. It has been years of political tiptoeing and appeasement around Bill 21, and as someone who has helped in the fight against it, enough is enough.

What happens in Quebec is also not operating in a vacuum. Fears of similar legislation and sentiments creeping into other parts of Canada are very real.

For the Sikh community, a community I have worked in as the Executive Director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada, we have fought turban and Kirpan accommodation battles across Canada. The fights never end as we maintain a precarious relationship with religious accommodation.

Bill 21 just legitimizes the racism and discrimination our people face every day everywhere, not just Quebec. Seeking an apology from the debate consortium and Kurl for a perfectly appropriate question, rather from the law makers disproportionately impacting racialized Canadians, aids and abets the othering our people face coast to coast to coast.

Leaders claiming to understand the fears of minorities and the magnitude of hate in Canada comes up hollow when held up against their reactions to what was one of the most honest descriptions of the Bill 21 in the political arena to date.

Source: Canada’s federal leaders show cowardice by denying the racist premise of Bill 21

‘We’re not having our voices heard or our issues prioritized’: Researchers say diverse candidates disproportionately underfunded

Erin Tolley’s work on representation and the various filters along with various anecdotes:

Voters will be able to choose from an increasingly diverse slate of candidates in this election, but recent data shows women, racialized and Indigenous candidates are still disproportionately underfunded by their own parties, often while running in districts where they already face an uphill battle to win.

A team of Carleton University researchers led by Erin Tolley, Canada Research Chair in gender, race and inclusive politics, has collected data from the previous four election cycles, beginning in 2008, showing a distinct upward trajectory in the overall diversity of candidates, but only incremental progress in electing more multicultural Members of Parliament.

“Parties have caught on, correctly, that Canadians are looking at the candidates and scrutinizing the diversity, and so parties have felt that pressure to show more diversity on the candidate slate,” Tolley said in an interview.

“But often the scrutiny stops there. People have the impression that, if on election day, more women, racialized or Indigenous candidates are not elected to Parliament, then that is simply the voters’ choice. But that conclusion ignores the control that parties have over the placement of these candidates and the level of financial support they are giving to each candidate while they are campaigning.”

Tolley’s research team followed the money and found evidence that, even when parties nominate women, racialized and Indigenous candidates, “they continue to transfer more financial resources to white male candidates, rather than to these candidates that, arguably, would need more party support in order to win their ridings, especially because parties are nominating them in the most difficult ridings to win.

“So, yes, women, racialized and Indigenous candidates are being nominated more often, but it is a longstanding pattern — and it remains the case — that they are nominated disproportionately in less winnable ridings.”

Party leaders have some control over which candidates will run, but Tolley said those decisions are often left to local riding association executives.

“It’s a relatively unseen feature of democracy in Canada, but these riding association executives — this small cabal of party faithful — really shape the choices that voters ultimately have.”

There are exceptions, however, and the research and data pattern doesn’t align with Huda Mukbil’s experience running as a first-time candidate for the NDP in Ottawa-South.

The NDP’s candidate in 2019, Morgan Gay, made some inroads for the party with 16 per cent of the Ottawa-South vote and had been set to compete for the party’s nomination again this year.

Conservative Eli Tannis secured 24.5 per cent and will again challenge incumbent Liberal David McGuinty, who won in 2019 with 52 per cent of the vote. (The Tannis campaign did not return an interview request.)

Mukbil and Gay went through the nomination process. “But, when he and I met and he saw that I was very serious about winning (the Ottawa-South seat), he stepped down,” Mukbil said in an interview.

“He said, ‘I want you to have the opportunity to do this,’ realizing that Ottawa-South has a very diverse population with the largest Arabic-speaking population within all of Ontario and a sizeable Black community and Somali community. With all that diversity, we determined together that I would be the candidate to represent Ottawa-South,” Mukbil said.

“But I know that in other ridings and with other parties, there have been challenges with fundraising. There’s a challenge in the support you can get from the party at the national headquarters level, in terms of which ridings they feel are winnable, and which ridings they feel the need to invest in.”

Federal parties have “heeded the call” to nominate a more diverse set of candidates, Tolley said, “but they haven’t made a lot of progress on addressing the longstanding disparities in the financial support they give to candidates, or in the party’s confidence in women, racialized and Indigenous candidates to actually win.”

That theory doesn’t apply to the Greens, said Lorraine Rekmans, Green Party candidate for Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes.

“Because we’ve come up from the grassroots and we’ve never had a huge central party to draw funds from,” she explained.

“The Greens are small and mighty. We have small campaigns, we’re never fully funded, but we’re still able to make gains with all the odds stacked against us.”

Rekmans is a mother and grandmother of Anishnabe heritage, a member of the Serpent River First Nation who served as the Green Party’s Indigenous affairs critic for the past 12 years, and last month was elected national party president.

“Our national executive council is very diverse, we’re all representative of minority groups on the council, and I believe I’m the first Indigenous woman to be the president of a national political party in Canada,” Rekmans said.

“So we’ve been making headway. We’ve been advocating for diversity everywhere in this country, and we believe that any system in Canada has to reflect and represent the population that it serves.”

And Canadians are beginning to listen, Rekmans said.

“In previous elections, people may have expressed concern about drinking water quality and housing standards and conflicts between the RCMP and Indigenous people protecting their land — and that did resonate with Canadians — but it was the shock of the unmarked graves that was a wakeup call,” Rekmans said.

“So, as an Indigenous candidate, I think it’s important for my voice to be at the table to advocate for Indigenous issues, and that is a challenge to me because I am running to be a Member of Parliament, and I understand that constituents want to be represented,” Rekmans said. “So the question becomes: when the constituents look at me as an Indigenous woman, do they feel I can represent them?”

Until Canadians elect a more diverse Parliament, and until there is real representation among the key decision-making roles in government, Mukbil said, “then we’re not having our voices heard or our issues prioritized.”

Mukbil recently participated in Ottawa’s Black candidates debate, where she challenged Hull-Aylmer Liberal candidate Greg Fergus on his government’s record in addressing systemic discrimination.

Fergus, one of seven Black MPs in the House of Commons and co-chair of the Black Parliamentary Caucus, defended his government’s efforts and investments supporting Black and other racialized communities, while outlining further cultural and heritage investments in the party’s 2021 platform during Monday’s debate.

“Justin Trudeau was the first prime minister to acknowledge the existence of systemic anti-Black racism,” Fergus said. “In the last six years, but especially in the last year, we’ve made big steps in recognizing where the government has been weak in providing supports to Black communities, whether that is in the very public issue of entrepreneurship and prosperity, our justice and public security system, whether that’s in terms of representation within government with a good (proportion) of Black people at all levels of the public service, and then the issue of culture and heritage.”

Fergus highlighted early Liberal priorities that have yielded $6.5 billion for mental health, while ensuring the investment is “focused on Black communities, racialized Canadians and Indigenous Canadians and youth — people who should have appropriate mental health responses.”

Fergus also touted the government’s own data-collection efforts, with Statistics Canada tracking disaggregated data since 2018 on vulnerable populations, including immigrants, Indigenous people and visible minority groups.

“It’s a very non-sexy issue, but one that I think has the biggest impact,” Fergus said during the debate. “We need to start asking these questions. How are our policies and programs serving the Black community? And if they’re not, then people will have the data so we can act on it. You can’t change what you can’t measure.”

It’s a start, Mukbil agreed, though a tentative one.

“For years we’ve just been talking about collecting disaggregated data, but what’s the plan once that’s done? We already know that systemic racism is part of all our institutions and yet we have not seen action or substantial changes,” she said.

“But we’re at a time when there’s an awakening, and a conversation about these issues, which wasn’t happening in the past.”

Source: ‘We’re not having our voices heard or our issues prioritized’: Researchers say diverse candidates disproportionately underfunded

Here’s how the federal election could change Canada’s immigration system

The Star’s take on the party platforms:

Jhoey Dulaca isn’t eligible to vote in the upcoming election, but the migrant worker from the Philippines is keeping an eye out for the political parties’ immigration plans.

The Toronto woman says she feels migrants’ voices have once again been muted and lost as the issue that matters most to them — ballooning backlogs and endless processing times as a result of the pandemic — have drawn little attention or debate from party leaders.

“No one is talking about the immigration backlog and long wait times,” says Dulaca, who came as a live-in caregiver in 2016 and just received her permanent residence in Canada on Aug. 18 after two long years of processing.

The 41-year-old single mother is unsure how long it will now take to reunite with her two daughters, Tess, 19, and Thea, 16, whom she has not seen for five years.

“All these parties are making policies that affect us and our families, but our voices are not heard because we cannot vote and we don’t matter.”

In recent election campaigns, immigration has rarely made headlines. The major parties’ platforms generally have more elements in common than those that distinguish them. The outlier was the 2015 election, when the Syrian refugee crisis dominated the campaign.

Experts say immigration has been a non-issue because parties — with the exception of the People’s Party of Canada under former Conservative cabinet minister Maxime Bernier — recognize the importance of minority votes and don’t want to appear racist or xenophobic.

“The parties try to focus on issues that are going to make them look good and will help them move up in the polls,” said Kareem El-Assal, policy director for CanadaVisa.com, an immigration information site run by a Quebec-based law firm.

“Most people that are being affected by the backlogs are not voters. There aren’t many votes to be won.”

But there are major issues that will determine the future of immigration in this country — not least among them Canada’s plans to deal with applications that have been piling up during the pandemic.

Digging out of a major backlog

To El-Assal, one of the biggest issues missing in the parties’ platforms is how they plan to manage growing backlogs as Canada’s immigration system slowly returns to normal in the wake of the pandemic.

“Immigration is going to be one of the most formative government policy areas over the next decade and beyond, especially amid the damage that’s been caused by the pandemic,” he said.

As a result of the pandemic, Ottawa closed the border with the U.S. with few exemptions. That has greatly reduced this country’s refugee backlog.

However, between February 2020 and this past July, the backlog of permanent residence applications skyrocketed by 70 per cent to 375,137, with the number of applications for temporary residence currently sitting at 702,660 cases. The backlog of citizenship applications has also ballooned to 369,677 people in the queue from 208,069 before the pandemic.

Experts and advocates have said Ottawa must prioritize and bring in the migrants who have already been vetted and approved for permanent residence but have been kept outside of Canada during the pandemic, while expediting the transition to online processing and eliminating red tape to quickly reduce backlog as new applications continue to flood the system.

In its 2021 budget, the Liberal government announced plans to invest $429 million over five years to modernize its IT infrastructure to manage and process immigration applications, but its campaign platform mentions none of that or its plan to streamline processing.

The Conservatives vows to address “administrative backlogs” by simplifying and streamlining processes, investing in IT infrastructure and tech to speed up application vetting, letting applicants correct “simple and honest” mistakes instead of sending back their applications.

The New Democrats say they would “take on the backlogs that are keeping families apart.”

Both parties’ plans lack details and specifics.

Beyond the numbers

None of the parties mention what they plan to do with Canada’s annual immigrant intake of 401,000 for 2021; 411,000 for 2022; and 421,000 in 2023 — except for the People’s Party of Canada, which proposes to reduce the annual intake to between 100,000 and 150,000.

However Andrew Griffith, fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and the Environics Institute, says Canada is in need of a “more fundamental re-examination” of what the immigration level should be: “What the mix should be, how the integration process works, how do we actually reduce hate and racism, and all of those things.”

Griffith proposes the establishment of an immigration commission to investigate those issues and the related policies.

“They can’t really be addressed by Parliament in an effective way because of the partisan nature.”

While debates about immigration are important, some say they can also open the door for all sorts of racist views around newcomers, further polarizing public opinion.

Robert Falconer, a research associate at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy who focuses on immigration and refugee policies, said parties and voters need to discuss what objectives immigration is going to serve and what the composition should look like.

“Sometimes,” says Falconer, “we have dumbed immigration down to just immigrants as economic agents — all they do is contribute or detract from our economy; when there is cultural, spiritual, religious, demographic considerations that are very, very important.”

Trying to maintain a labour market growth amid an aging population and low birth rate is part of the challenge, he said, but how to manage the demographic makeup and ensure newcomers from diverse background are welcomed is often overlooked.

“What are the parties saying about issues not directly stemming from immigration, but (that) strongly relate to it, which is issues of anti-racism, hate and multiculturalism?” Falconer asked.

In tackling anti-racism and hate, the Liberals are committed to a national plan on combatting hate, new legislation to police online content and strengthening the Human Rights Act and Criminal Code against perpetrators.

The Conservatives say they will protect Canadians from online hate while “preserving free speech” and celebrating Canadian heritage, including a $75-million fund to municipalities for the repair and restoration of historical monuments, statues and heritage buildings.

The NDP would ensure all major cities have dedicated hate-crime units within local police forces, and convene a national working group to counter online hate.

The Bloc includes “Quebec bashing” in relation to its platform on racism.

New ideas from the Conservative party

While there is much in common when it comes to immigration policies of the major parties, Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives have some “innovative” ideas, Griffith said.

Among them:

  • The introduction of a fee for those who would like to have their immigration applications expedited, with the revenues directed toward hiring additional staff to streamline processing time;
  • Replacing the current lottery system for immigration sponsorship of parents and grandparents with a first-come, first-served model that prioritizes applicants on criteria such as providing child care or family support, and language proficiency;
  • Replacing government-assisted refugee spots with private and joint sponsorship places, so all refugees resettling in Canada will do so under private or joint sponsorship programs, with exceptions in cases of emergency or specific programs.

“There are some interesting ideas in the Conservative platform that merits some discussion and debate. I mean, some I don’t think will go anywhere, but others may,” said Griffith, who has studied and compared the immigration platforms of all six parties in this election.

The proposed expedited processing fee, for instance, could create a two-tiered system between rich and poor applicants. A sponsorship of parents and grandparents based on an applicant’s ability to babysit may not sit well with the spirit of family reunification.

What to do with the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement?

In the 2019 federal election, a major issue was the surge in asylum seekers via the U.S. land border as a result of U.S. President Donald Trump’s anti-migrant policies. The development prompted a fierce debate over the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement.

The bilateral pact, which has been in place between Ottawa and Washington since 2004, is not mentioned in either the Liberal or the New Democrat platform.

That accord allows Canada to turn back potential refugees who arrive at land ports of entry on the basis they should pursue their claims in the U.S.

Like the People’s Party, the Conservatives propose a complete ban on migrants from the U.S. seeking asylum in Canada and recommends joint Canada-U.S. border patrols similar to what’s happening at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Green Party and Bloc Québécois, meanwhile, want the pact revoked altogether.

Refugee claimants and advocates have taken Ottawa to court over the constitutionality of the bilateral pact and the case is now before the Supreme Court of Canada, after the Liberal government successfully challenged a lower-court decision that found claimants’ charter rights were being breached.

Critics say the agreement, implemented under both the Liberal and Conservative governments, has not helped deter would be refugee claimants from crossing through unguarded parts of the border.

“I don’t know why the Liberals don’t take a position on it, but everything I’ve seen the Liberals do tells me that they actually align with the Conservatives’ position,” Falconer said.

“There are much more humane ways to address concerns in surges of asylum seekers that would again address the backlog that the Liberals and Conservatives tear their hair out over.”

Queen’s University immigration law professor Sharry Aiken said both parties understand patrolling the world’s longest shared border requires massive government resources. It would also likely encourage people to seek help from traffickers to sneak through the border and move underground for lack of access for asylum once inside Canada.

“That’s the exact problem in the United States, where there’s millions of undocumented people because there hasn’t been a way for them to actually make a claim through legal channels because of all of the different barriers in place that preclude access,” Aiken noted.

Temporary resident to permanent resident pathway

During the pandemic, the recognition of migrant workers doing essential work on farms, in nursing homes and driving food-delivery trucks prompted Ottawa to introduce one-time immigration programs for migrant workers and international students to become permanent residents.

The Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats all are in favour of expanding those pathways.

The Liberals categorically said the party would expand the pathways to permanent residence for migrant workers and former international students while the Conservatives would do it by offering a path for “low-skilled workers,” whose demand is “justified by concrete labour market data.”

All the NDP has to say about this issue is: “If someone is good enough to come and work here, then there should be a path for them to stay permanently.”

Expanding these temporary-to-permanent pathways, say migrants’ advocates, is wrong-headed because they reinforce, legitimize and justify Canada’s increasingly two-tiered immigration system, which exploits vulnerable temporary residents by dangling before them the prospects of permanent residency in the country down the road.

Political parties can’t adopt a Band-Aid approach and create a new pathway each time a group is falling through the cracks — Canada currently has more than 100 different skilled worker immigration programs, said Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

Leaders and policymakers need to be bold and ensure equality and equity for migrants from the get-go, which can only be achieved by granting them permanent residence in Canada upon arrival, he noted.

“The term pathway to permanent residence misrepresents what it is,” said Hussan. “It’s really a pathway to precariousness.”

His group estimated there are half a million work permits issued in Canada today, up from 60,000 two decades ago, but only a fraction of the migrant workers will get a chance to become permanent residents.

“The entire immigration system has been turned into a system of temporariness. It has created a fundamentally divided society. The natural progression of a system of temporary migration, which we now have, is more people who are undocumented and more people who are being even more exploited,” Hussan said.

“We have turned this country’s immigration system into a revolving door temp agency run by employers that profits from it. Instead, we want to ensure equal rights for everyone in the country. And to do that, we must ensure that everyone has the same citizenship rights.”

‘More migrants are falling through the cracks’

Dulaca said she has had her share of owed wages and unpaid overtime from her Canadian employers, and she put up with it because she needed the jobs to support her daughters back home and, more importantly, to meet the employment requirement for her permanent residence.

“The politicians are creating more and more pathways, but these pathways are not the solutions and more migrants are falling through the cracks,” said Dulaca, who runs a support group on Facebook to help other migrant caregivers.

“We all come to Canada so we can give our children a better life, a better future. I can’t vote now and you bet I will exercise my voting rights when I become a Canadian citizen three years from now.”

Source: Here’s how the federal election could change Canada’s immigration system

British people have become startlingly less xenophobic

Of interest:

In june 2016 Nigel Farage, then the leader of the uk Independence Party, unveiled a poster showing a line of refugees. “breaking point”, it screamed, in red letters. “We must break free of the eu and take back control of our borders.” Boris Johnson, a leading light in the main Leave campaign, sniffily described it as “not my politics”. But perhaps it revealed something, he suggested. If Britain left the eu, people might calm down about immigration.

He seems to have been right. On September 14th a poll by Ipsos mori revealed a markedly more relaxed nation. Excluding “don’t knows”, the share who want immigration reduced stands at 50%, down from 69% in early 2015 (see chart). A non-negligible 18% want more of it. Polls by other firms show much the same trend.

Source: British people have become startlingly less xenophobic

Douglas Todd: Parties mostly duck big migration issues in Election 2021

Todd’s take on the party platforms, based on my comparative table:

Canada’s long history of large-scale immigration is arguably the defining characteristic of the country, but only one of the minor political parties is putting the subject at the front of its election campaign.

The three largest parties are playing it low-key on immigration, refugees, guest workers and international students. That’s despite Ottawa normally (pre-COVID) welcoming more than one million migrants in all categories each year.

Canada takes in the most immigrants per capita of any country in the OECD, the club of rich nations. It has been in the top four Western countries both for the total number of migrants it accepts and for the proportion in its overall population.

But even though immigration policy powerfully affects Canada’s economy and culture, scholars say the Canadian media and politicians find the subject too sensitive, almost taboo, to debate. That’s unlike almost everywhere else.

Since the parties are largely refraining from highlighting their migration policies, I appreciate that Andrew Griffith, a former director general of Canada’s Immigration Department, has made a list of almost 100 migration-related positions the parties have, in a kind of muted way, placed on their platforms.

Here’s a look at subjects the parties are taking on — and avoiding:

1. Immigration levels — how much is enough?

The Peoples Party of Canada, which is running at seven per cent in the polls, is the only party challenging the Liberals’ rising immigration targets.

Even Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have been muted during the campaign about how they want to bring in more than 410,000 new permanent residents a year, a hike from the 250,000 when first elected in 2015.

There is no Canadian consensus on immigration levels, which is probably why the Conservatives, NDP, Greens and Bloc have not set any targets. An Angus Reid poll found two of five Canadians say more than 400,000 a year is too many. And Nanos found only 17 per cent believe Canada should accept more immigrants in 2021 than last year.

The PPC recommends lowering the target to 100,000 to 150,000 a year.

The main Liberal talking point on migration so far has been to falsely claim the Conservatives, when they were in power, lowered immigration levels. Meanwhile, the Conservatives are emphasizing giving more choice about immigration to each province.

2. Canadians feel compassion, and exasperation, on refugees

One of the few migration issues to attract wide media coverage has been asylum seekers, which Canada has long been a leader in welcoming.

The focus has been on the tens of thousands who have been walking across Canada’s land border from the U.S. in a manner some call “illegal” and others call “irregular.”

In the past few years, more than 50,000 people seeking asylum have poured across the border, 90 per cent at a remote unchecked entry way in Quebec called Roxham Road. The vast majority are not Americans, but people recently arrived in the U.S. from Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

The disarray has caused irritation among two of three Canadians. They don’t think it’s fair people are being advised to take advantage of a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement, which rules that asylum seekers must apply for refugee status in the first “safe” country in which they land. The loophole is that the agreement does not apply to those who cross at a non-official checkpoint.

This is one of the few migration issues the parties are openly disputing. The Conservatives and PPC want to close the loophole, which would restrict the flow. The NDP and Liberals are silent. And the Greens and Bloc want to ditch the Safe Third Country Agreement, which some say would encourage more to seek asylum.

In the meantime, the Liberals have promised to bring in 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan — and the Conservatives don’t disagree. The Conservatives also promise to welcome more Hong Kong people fleeing China’s totalitarian hand, as well as LGBQT people escaping persecution.

3. Multicultural signalling

While European politicians across the spectrum have questioned the concept of multiculturalism for more than a decade, that’s not the case in Canada, which still promotes the ideal of maintaining distinct ethnic cultures within one country.

The Citizenship Guide has been a point of contention. The Liberals have put together a “progressive’ version of the workbook of Canadian history, law and culture that all immigrants are tested on before they can become citizens. But the party decided not to publish it before this election.

It would seem the Liberal party doesn’t want to make its version of The Citizenship Guide a campaign bull’s-eye because reports suggest it will rankle a portion of Canadians by the way it emphasizes the country’s history of racism and discrimination.

Even though a Maru poll found only three per cent of Canadians name “stopping racism” as a leading election concern, the Liberals and NDP are signalling extensive commitments to racial equity. The Liberals alone have announced five different affirmative-action programs for Black people.

For their part, the Conservatives don’t have a platform on multiculturalism. But the party made a gesture to Ukrainian Canadians by promising to make it unnecessary for Ukrainians to have a visa to come to Canada.

Meanwhile, the PPC would repeal the official Multiculturalism Act. The NDP would institute a national plan to dismantle “far-right extremist organizations.” And the Bloc would appoint a commission to prevent ethnocultural “honour crimes.”

4. Mostly silence on international students and guest workers

In a typical year, Canada welcomes more than 600,000 international students, plus 400,000 temporary workers on various visas.

The international students alone are said to bring $23 billion a year into the economy. They contribute to the finances and classrooms of Canadian universities and colleges. International students also receive preferred status for immigration.

Despite the ramifications of Canada’s unusually large foreign-student population, not one party bothered to mention it. And that’s despite problems with the program, such as Statistics Canada data showing up to one in three come to Canada and then do not go to school.

Some parties do, however, have modest things to say about guest worker policy. The PPC would limit the numbers and ensure they’re “not competing with Canadians,” while the Liberals and Conservatives would create “a trusted employer system” to reduce administrative burdens on bosses.

5. No talk about how migration impacts wages, housing

This year B.C.’s former top civil servant, Don Wright, wrote a paper that maintained large-scale migration could be contributing to the 40-year stagnation of middle-class wages in Canada and could be exacerbating high housing prices.

While supporting solid immigration levels, Wright and many economists suggest Ottawa should improve its integration policies by boosting productivity and creating more infrastructure — especially housing.

There is, however, no mention of housing in the almost 100 positions taken on migration by Canada’s six political parties.

Source: https://vancouversun.com/news/politics/election-2021/douglas-todd-parties-mostly-duck-immigration-and-refugee-issues-in-election-2021

‘Enough is enough’: Black civil servants vow to press on with discrimination suit as Liberals promise change

Update on the proposed class-action lawsuit:

Carol Sip spent three decades inside the federal public service, but her retirement plaque is the last thing she wants to see on her wall.

Instead it sits stored away in the original packaging.

“Why would I hang it up? It will only bring back awful memories,” Sip said. “It should be something that you should be proud of, but I’m not proud of it because I know what I went through.”

Sip is one of a group Black federal employees involved in a proposed class-action lawsuit launched last December against the federal government alleging years of discrimination and seeking some $2.5 billion in damages.

Earlier this year, federal employee Monica Agard broke her silence about being Black in the public service after a senior colleague at the Immigration and Refugee Board’s Toronto office allegedly praised “the good old days when we had slaves.”

Since then, the proposed class-action lawsuit has become one step closer to reality after a motion was filed for it to be certified. It will fall to the newly elected government to decide whether to challenge that.

But as Canadians head to the polls, the Liberals appear to be changing course on the issue with a policy plank promising support for Black workers.

Liberals now promise support for Black workers

The federal government had maintained that its workers could find help through the employee assistance and health-care programs, which the plaintiffs have long said fail to address the specific trauma of anti-Black racism.

Now, if elected, the Liberal Party says in its platform it will “establish a mental health fund for Black public servants, and support career advancement, training, sponsorship, and educational opportunities for Black workers.”

Party spokesperson Alex Wellstead wouldn’t explicitly say if a Liberal government would support certifying the class action to go forward, but acknowledged “Black Canadians face unique challenges when it comes to mental health in the workplace.

“That is why we’ve committed through our platform to work with community partners on the design and establishment of this fund, which directly responds to calls from Black employees in the public service and will ensure that Black public servants are supported.”

As the employer of the federal public service, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat said the courts have not set a timetable for next steps on certifying the suit and that at this stage, it would be “premature” to comment.

Lawyer Hugh Scher, who’s assisting with the suit, hopes whichever party forms government will work with Black civil servants to address their needs.

“If they do, then they will have a willing partner,” he said. “If they don’t, they they will have a worthy adversary in court.”

‘A living nightmare’

Sip’s ordeal began in the early 1980s, shortly after she became an employee at the federal customs department under what is now the Canada Revenue Agency. Over a number of years spent working there, she says she experienced repeated incidents of harassment and discrimination by a supervisor who behaved with impunity.

And she says never in her 26 years was she promoted beyond her clerical position.

“It became a living nightmare,” she told CBC News. Sip filed multiple grievances and won two. But she felt blacklisted for complaining and says nothing was done.

“If they had a project with lifting boxes, only the Black ladies were chosen to lift the boxes,” she recalled.

In the late 90s, Sip was diagnosed with both breast and uterine cancer. She was off work on disability in 1999, when she was told her department was being restructured. Sip says her manager told her to resign. Believing she had no other option, she did.

In a statement, the CRA told CBC News it cannot discuss specific cases but that it is “firmly dedicated to diversity inclusion and anti-racism in the workplace.”

“The CRA has launched, and will launch further, targeted executive staffing processes for visible minorities and Indigenous peoples who are underrepresented at the leadership levels,” the statement said, noting that CRA encourages all employees to come forward if they experience or witness any discrimination or harassment.

As for why she joined the proposed class action, Sip said: “I look at the young children growing up and I don’t want them to go through what I personally went through, or the others have gone through.”

‘It kills you a little bit inside’

It’s been four months since Marcia Banfield Smith left her job at the Department of Justice.

But she says the scars from her time there run deep.

Over the years, she says she endured racist jokes at meetings and watched as non-Black colleagues rose up the ranks. Meanwhile, despite applying for higher-paying roles, she was stuck in a paralegal role at the same pay — for 19 years.

“It kills you a little bit inside,” she said.

Source: ‘Enough is enough’: Black civil servants vow to press on with discrimination suit as Liberals promise change

A bold, controversial memorial to a wartime massacre in Kyiv

Of note:

On a balmy September evening locals stroll in a leafy park in Kyiv. Parents push prams. Couples kiss. Young men perch on benches with cans of beer and shawarmas. Among the trees and promenaders stand slabs of granite the height of a person. Implanted in each is a peephole, like the lens of a camera. Peer into one of them, and you see a colour photograph taken on this spot 80 years ago: a ravine, scattered clothes, three German officers looking over the edge. This is Babyn Yar.Listen to this story

The picture was taken at the beginning of October 1941. A few days earlier, on September 29th and 30th, Nazi forces shot 33,771 of the city’s Jews in the ravine (a figure that excludes small children). It was the biggest such massacre of the second world war. Over the next two years, perhaps 100,000 more people were killed, dumped and burned in the same place, including Roma, communists, Ukrainian resistance fighters and patients of a nearby psychiatric hospital. But the slaughter in Nazi-occupied Kyiv began with Ukraine’s Jews; 1.5m had perished by 1945, a quarter of all victims of the Holocaust.

The tragedy of Babyn Yar was never forgotten. Yet as both a topographical feature and a site of mourning, it all but vanished from the map after the war. Now, an international team of artists, scholars, architects and philanthropists is transforming the landscape again, physically and emotionally. The photographs are a small part of a vast project that involves museums, art installations, books, education initiatives and films. Endorsed by Volodymyr Zelensky, the country’s president, it is funded by businessmen including Mikhail Fridman, a Ukrainian-born Russian tycoon, his associate German Khan, and Viktor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch.

The mix of painful history, Russian involvement and oligarchs is explosive in today’s Ukraine. But the memorial’s ramifications go wider. Many countries have mass graves, “but nobody wants to remember [the victims]”, says Patrick Desbois, a Roman Catholic priest and adviser to the project who spent years documenting the “Holocaust by bullets”. The new memorial, he says, is a message to mass-murderers everywhere: “We always come back.”

For decades Babyn Yar was a place not only of murder but of the physical suppression of memory, first by the retreating Nazis, who scrambled to conceal their crimes, then by the Soviets. Josef Stalin wanted to celebrate his triumph, not mourn tragedy; after the war he launched a new anti-Semitic campaign of his own. Official historiography depersonalised the victims of Nazism as undifferentiated Soviet citizens.

Babyn Yar was levelled. In 1952 some of its cavities were flooded with pulp from a brick factory. There were plans to build a football stadium and entertainment park on top of it. The ravine did not go quietly: in 1961 a dam securing the pulp gave way and a mudslide carrying human remains hit a residential neighbourhood. Hundreds died (the exact toll was hushed up).

Later in the 1960s Viktor Nekrasov, a Kyiv-born Russian writer who had fought at Stalingrad and wrote about it movingly, spoke up about Babyn Yar. To him, covering up the Nazi genocide made the Soviet government complicit. Of the murder and “the subsequent attempt to forget about this murder, to eradicate the very memory of it”, he wrote in 1966, “the first is more tragic. The second is more shameful.”

Nekrasov led one of the first big commemorations of the massacre. Mourners, many of whom had known the victims, gathered at the edge of a Jewish cemetery that had been vandalised by both the Nazis and the Soviets. They held flowers and cried. The kgb cringed. The crowd was quickly dispersed; Nekrasov was expelled from the Communist Party and forced to emigrate. Then, in the early 1970s, Babyn Yar became a rallying point for Jewish dissidents. The Soviet authorities finally put up a monument near the site of the ravine, dedicated “to the Soviet citizens, prisoners and officers executed by the German occupiers”. There was no mention of Jews.

Murder and memory

If Soviet ideology had little room for the Holocaust, it has been a sensitive subject for some Ukrainians for other reasons. Millions of them fought in the Red Army; millions died, in and out of uniform. But in some places the Nazi slaughter was abetted by Ukrainian auxiliary policemen. In others Jews were slain by nationalist partisans. (In the 1960s Ivan Dziuba, a non-Jewish poet who spoke of his shame over anti-Semitism in Ukraine, was imprisoned.)

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and Ukraine won independence, the area that had been Babyn Yar became a park. A jumble of plaques and memorials were erected; politicians paid their respects. But the main theme of historical restitution was the Holodomor—the famine Stalin inflicted on Ukraine in the 1930s, killing millions of peasants. As historical trauma often is in new states, the Holodomor became a central plank of national identity.

Five years ago Mr Fridman, the tycoon, saw an opportunity. Born in 1964, he grew up in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine where the large pre-war Jewish population had been all but obliterated. As a student in the 1980s he moved to Moscow and became one of Russia’s richest businessmen. After the revolution that overthrew Ukraine’s Kremlin-backed government in 2014, business and civil society helped fill a void left by the state’s confusion. Having made his fortune in the turbulence that followed the Soviet collapse, Mr Fridman knew that such moments should be seized.

In 2016 he assembled a coalition of businessmen, politicians, activists and intellectuals, both Jewish and gentile, and launched the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Centre. “Private money frees the project from state ideology,” Mr Fridman says.

How to remember the second world war is always a neuralgic subject. In Poland, references to Polish complicity in Nazi atrocities can result in legal action; in Russia, comparison between Stalinism and Nazism is now a crime. And the idea of private cash shaping memory of the conflict, and of the Holocaust, would be jarring anywhere. Given Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in the Donbas—not to mention Kremlin propaganda that tars Ukrainians as fascist—the involvement of Russian citizens at Babyn Yar inevitably riled politicians and others. Some feared that the Holodomor would be downplayed. Petro Poroshenko, who as president until 2019 supported the initiative, now worries that representatives of Russia are using history to “discredit the Ukrainian state and Ukrainians”. Some local Jewish activists were irked by the outsiders too.

The appointment in 2019 of Ilya Khrzhanovsky, a Russian film director, as the project’s artistic overseer led to more controversy. His previous work includes a dark film installation exploring coercion and power in a Soviet physics institute, which caused scandals in Ukraine and elsewhere. Mr Fridman has been accused of nefarious meddling; Mr Khrzhanovsky’s initial ideas, such as a suggestion of role-playing by visitors as victims and killers, led to charges that he was planning a sort of Holocaust theme park.

The role-playing was dropped—but Mr Khrzhanovsky is determined to make an emotional impact on an audience for which the war is no longer part of living memory. Anton Drobovych, who left the project and now leads the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, a state body, is sceptical about both the approach and what he sees as the aloof way it has been implemented. “You can’t build a memorial of such national and international significance,” he thinks, “without a proper dialogue and consultation with society.”

The work is ongoing. Four museums, tackling different aspects of Babyn Yar’s history, are still to be built. But Mr Fridman, whose outlook is shaped as much by his Jewish roots and upbringing in Ukraine as by his affiliation to Russia, does not see the memorial as a way to attribute blame; for him it is a means to empower Ukrainian society. “The ability of a country to talk about its past is a sign of maturity,” Mr Fridman says. “People who assume the role of victim can rarely achieve success.”

Sergei Loznitsa, an unflinching Ukrainian film-maker, agrees. “Telling the truth about the Holocaust is intertwined with state-building in Ukraine and the forging of its national identity,” he says. His dispassionate documentary, “Babyn Yar. Context”, which was partly funded by the memorial project, had its premiere at this year’s Cannes film festival, to great acclaim. Based on German and Soviet archive footage, it shows devastated Soviet soldiers surrendering to German troops; Jews being abused by their neighbours in Lviv; jubilant crowds tearing down Stalin’s portraits and cheering the Nazis as liberators, and less jubilant crowds greeting Soviet soldiers a few years later.

The massacre at Babyn Yar was not filmed. Instead viewers see pictures of Kyiv’s Jews and a long, scrolling tribute from “Ukraine without Jews”, an essay by Vasily Grossman, a Soviet war correspondent and author of the epic novel “Life and Fate”, whose mother died in the Holocaust:

“Stillness. Silence. A people has been murdered. Murdered are elderly artisans…murdered are teachers, dressmakers; murdered are grandmothers who could mend stockings and bake delicious bread…and murdered are grandmothers who didn’t know how to do anything except love their children and grandchildren…This is the death of a people who had lived beside Ukrainian people for centuries, labouring, sinning, performing acts of kindness, and dying alongside them on one and the same earth.”

Grossman’s essay (translated by Polly Zavadivker) captures the ultimate purpose of the memorial as Mr Khrzhanovsky sees it: to rescue faces and voices from oblivion; to make them real, so they can be remembered, mourned and loved for who they were. “We want it to be a place of living memory and of empathy, where people—whatever their age or nationality—can establish their own emotional connection with those who died here. And you can only feel empathy for concrete people.”

He began by collecting names and scanning archives to construct biographies of victims and perpetrators. A team of forensic architects and historians studied old maps, soil samples, photographs and witness statements to reconstruct the lost topography, and the terrible events that followed the Nazi invasion. The information has been used to produce a3d model depicting scenes, buildings and people, which will be encased in a huge kurgan, or burial mound, erected on what was the edge of the ravine. The more detailed and tangible the story of Babyn Yar, the more universal its meaning is intended to be.

The life that was

Among the first art installations to be unveiled was a “mirror field”, designed by Maksym Demydenko and Denis Shibanov. A large stainless-steel disk covers the ground, from which rise ten vertical columns, shot through with bullets of the same calibre used by the Nazis in 1941 (see lead picture). Visitors see their own reflections in the perforated columns and are immersed in sounds that emanate from below—names, prayers and snippets of everyday life recorded in Kyiv before the war. When night falls, the field becomes a mirage of this extinguished life.

A path leads to the “crying wall” (pictured), created by Marina Abramovic, a feted Serbian artist, which will be completed before a state memorial service on October 6th. A 40-metre-long wall, made of Ukrainian coal, is embossed at the level of the head, heart and stomach with quartz crystals, meant to reflect the diversity of victims at Babyn Yar. Water weeps out. Nearby is a symbolic synagogue, designed by Manuel Herz, a Basel-based architect, made from Ukrainian oak and partly open to the elements. Once again, the past is present: the interior is decorated with copies of ornaments from long-gone synagogues in western Ukraine.

“Memory is not the past. It is the consequence of the past, it is what makes present life possible,” says Anna Kamyshan, who grew up in Ukraine and helped develop the project. Some of her forebears died in the Holocaust; others cheered the murderers. What defines her identity, she says, “is not my blood, but this landscape, this environment, this soil. This Babyn Yar.” 

Source: https://www.economist.com/books-and-arts/2021/09/18/a-bold-controversial-memorial-to-a-wartime-massacre-in-kyiv