Who is a journalist?

Good discussion of the issues by Paul Adams:

It is hard enough deciding who is a journalist without delegating the decision to a judge in the midst of an election campaign — or for that matter the Parliamentary Press Gallery. Last week, a judge ordered that three men from two far-right outfits, Rebel Media and the True North Centre for Public Policy, be accredited as journalists to attend the party leaders’ debate. The judge has not yet given his reasons for the decision, but the Leaders Debates Commission reportedly argued in court that they should not be included because of their history of advocacy, which it argued precludes them from being accredited as journalists.

When you think of it historically, the idea that advocacy is inconsistent with journalism is a strange one. Historically, “advocacy” was no bar to being a journalist; in many cases it was its hallmark. Otherwise, what are we to make of Joseph Howe’s Novascotian, which excoriated the magistrates and police? Or George Brown’s Globe, which attacked slavery and Catholicism with equal vehemence? The motto that Brown chose and still adorns its successor, the Globe and Mail, presents a masterclass in journalistic passive aggressiveness: “The subject who is truly loyal to the Chief Magistrate will neither advise nor submit to arbitrary measures.”

In contrast, the model of journalism that many people, including many journalists, carry around in their heads nowadays, where concepts such as balance, fairness and objectivity reign, is primarily a 20th-century construct. It arose from a combination of circumstances, including the commercial pressures on newspapers in medium and small markets to appeal to readers across the political spectrum, the emergence of wire services catering to outlets of different political stripes, and the invention of broadcasting, which led to a combination of publicly owned and highly regulated privately owned broadcasters. It was also connected with the attempt to turn reporters, essentially a trade in the 19th century plied mainly by members of the educated working class, into a “profession,” supported by journalism schools, which were also a 20th– century phenomenon.

However, the earliest champions of press freedom, such as John Peter Zenger, who fought off a libel charge from the royal governor in the colony of New York in the 1730s (after languishing in jail for a time) were defending advocacy on the basis that it was truthful, even if defamatory. When James Madison composed his draft of the US Constitution’s First Amendment, he conceived of freedom of the press as part of a wider set of liberties such as freedom of speech and religion, which were obviously not bounded by standards of fairness or objectivity.

Photo: Parliamentary Press Gallery, Ottawa, 1914. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 9066.

When you think of it, anyone can speak and anyone can have a religious viewpoint. The real difference between these rights and press freedom is that until very recently relatively few people had ready access to a printing press. In other words, the right to freedom of the press was always circumscribed by sheer logistics. Until roughly the dawn of the 21st century, one of the many differences between you and Conrad Black was that he had access to a printing press and you didn’t. (When Black re-entered the Canadian market in a big way about that time, by the way, he explicitly sought for the National Post to be a “crusading newspaper.”)

This logistical difference between the press and other forms of expressive liberty led to a media tradition that was in fact much narrower than the precepts espoused by Madison and Thomas Jefferson at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, which were then finally transposed into our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. The modern media have always imposed limits on the spectrum of views they would tolerate.

If you look at the formal statements of major news organizations such as the CBC or the Globe and Mail, they are replete with boasts that they carry a diversity of views; but they say relatively little about the limits to that diversity. Yet you are unlikely to see a supporter of ISIS get a weekly column or even an occasional op-ed. And Rosemary Barton is not about to add a dash of spice to her weekly panel by, say, adding an alt-right figure such as Faith Goldy. This is true even though we know there are Canadians who hold such views.

The best explanation I have seen of the structure of permitted expression in the media was articulated by an American scholar, Daniel Hallin, at the time of the Vietnam war. Hallin described what he called “three spheres” in journalistic discourse. The first is the sphere of consensus. This includes topics on which the media take the view that consensus is so broad that no opposing view needs to be offered. So, journalists take for granted that slavery is bad, for example, and that democracy is preferable to dictatorship. They feel no need to offer “balance” or another point of view when touching on such topics.

The second is the sphere of legitimate controversy. In the current election campaign, this sphere would include the debate about the size of the deficit and the speed with which it should be addressed, the question of whether to adopt a national pharmacare plan, and whether to build a pipeline. In this sphere, reporters feel a responsibility to maintain neutrality, to “balance” their reports and to maintain a personal disinterest in the outcome of the debates they are reporting on. In this zone, columnists and editorial boards are free to weigh in with their views.

The third is the sphere of deviance. These are ideas such as those I described above, espoused by ISIS or neo-Nazis, which are considered outside the sphere of legitimate discourse, and might also include ideas that are regarded as laughable, ridiculous or simply unfounded. They might be covered as news events but the substance of their arguments is dismissed. Nowadays, this sphere can include people such as climate deniers and anti-vaxxers.

These last two examples point to an important feature of the spheres: that they are constantly in flux as a result of social and journalistic controversy. A decade ago, it was not unusual for a news story on climate change to go out of its way to quote what we now call a climate denier as a way to balance a story. Today it is unusual, and when it happens it is referred to as “false balance” in journalistic circles. Something similar is happening with the debate over vaccinations, with the anti-vaxxers well on their way to the sphere of deviance.

The reason that many people were so angry with the Globe and Mail when it afforded Ezra Levant the platform of its op-ed page early in the election campaign was that it appeared to move someone who was well on his way into the sphere of deviance back into the sphere of legitimate controversy.

Although from a libertarian perspective it is easy to criticize the imposition of the strictures of the three spheres as the arrogant pronouncements of a media (and perhaps corporate) elite, it is not hard to see how they play a cohesive role in our society. Most obviously, it is conducive to a peaceful, orderly, happy society that we don’t give platforms to those who question the full humanity of people of colour or of women or who advocate violence in the pursuit of their political aims.

That having been said, the ability of the mainstream media to police and arbitrate those spheres is now under radical attack in two ways. First of all, the internet has destroyed many of the barriers to entry into the media. You no longer need a printing press or a broadcasting tower to publish. You just need a WordPress account and a server somewhere. Any idiot can get on Twitter. (As you may have noticed, many do.)

Secondly — and this could be a related phenomenon — the sphere of consensus is breaking down in many Western countries. It might be too much to say that there is no longer a broad consensus, for example, that democracy is preferable to authoritarianism, but we have seen the emergence of Strongman-envy in the slaverings of Donald Trump and some of his supporters. A survey in the United States last year found that while 84 percent of seniors agreed that democracy is “always preferable” to other systems of government, that was true of only 55 percent of those aged 18-29. The erosion of a consensus about democracy appears to be happening in many Western countries and though there is disagreement about the degree to which this is happening in Canada, it would be foolish to assume we are immune.

Thus, at the same time as the media’s quasi-monopoly on the printing presses and their modern-day equivalents are eroding their ability to enforce ideas of consensus and deviance, the bulwarks of the old consensus are also under attack.

The issue of who is a journalist in this election campaign has mixed up two debates. The first is one about the guild privilege as exercised by the Parliamentary Press Gallery (and other similar organizations) to which the Debates Commission, like Parliament itself, had contracted out the responsibility to decide who could be accredited. This is where the would-be journalists from the Rebel and True North had their strongest case and on which, I am guessing, the judge decided the matter.

The Gallery, which is still dominated, though not as exclusively as it once was, by big traditional media, has spent the last two decades working through the thorny issues of who would get access to the hallowed halls of Parliament as waves of bloggers, start-up internet websites, quasi-lobbyists, hobbyists and, yes, advocacy groups clamoured for admittance to the club. This is an issue the Gallery has had to manage for logistical reasons if nothing else, and the politicians have been happy to let them do it rather than wading into the thorny issue of who is a journalist themselves.

But whatever you think of the Gallery’s attempt to negotiate these shoals, its guiding principle has not been a commitment to that popular contemporary image of journalism as free, open, balanced, objective news coverage. The “tell” could be that the current membership of the Gallery includes a correspondent from the TASS news agency, as it has done since the Soviet era, and also one from the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China.

The much more challenging debate than the one the Gallery, the debate commission and the judge are effectively squabbling over is whether there is still a degree of consensus in our society that makes it worthwhile trying to wall off a zone of legitimate controversy from those who would challenge fundamental values, for example, about democracy, race and gender; what the limits of that zone should be; and who should enforce them. And if we were to decide that such a zone is worth defending, would it even be possible in the age of the internet?

Source: Who is a journalist?

Canada’s work force needs to take hold of its immigration advantage

Another business perspective on elements of the “Canadian advantage” for highly skilled immigrants:

The global economy is going through a profound transformation.

Game-changing technology is driving the digital era, causing many industries to reshape and reform. Real-world applications of artificial intelligence, AR/VR and machine learning are disrupting everything from how we shop, how we manufacture, even to how we mine.

It is also radically redefining how we work and what skills are needed – and these new and increasingly specialized skill sets are in chronic short supply.

While our colleges and universities are doing a good job producing much needed graduates in fields such as robotics, data and analytics, blockchain and AI, they simply can’t keep up with the growth in demand.

This growing skill gap is a drag on business and a drag on economic growth. Organizations around the world are being forced to look beyond their borders to attract workers to propel their businesses forward. But at a time when many countries are turning inward and tightening their borders, it is getting increasingly difficult to do so.

On this front, Canada’s approach to attracting workers with these in-demand skills stands out.

Our current immigration system was built on the belief that improving the entry of in-demand foreign workers would help employers scale up, boost revenues and ultimately create new jobs for Canadians.

This model has worked well and, as we saw recently, the OECD called Canada’s system the benchmark for other countries, noting we lead the OECD with the highest share of highly educated foreign-born entrants. In particular, it praised Canada’s immigration system for the way it chooses which workers to admit as well as its pre- and post-arrival supports.

But Canada could do even more to protect and leverage our advantage in attracting the world’s brightest and best workers. In addition to the strength of our immigration processes, we also have a global reputation for being a welcome place for newcomers.

Business leaders need to stand up for and embrace the continued importance of immigration to the Canadian economy and society.

Canada’s strength as a country – present, past and future – is directly tied to attracting and embracing newcomers. Immigration powers our economy and makes our society one of the most desired in the world. With a rapidly aging population, immigration is more important than ever.

As the child of immigrants myself, I know the journey can be rocky at times – change always is – but I also understand what Canada means to immigrants, and what immigrants mean to this country. Like most newcomers, my parents were extremely grateful for the opportunities Canada provided and worked hard to ensure I understood how lucky I was to have this chance.

We need to be clear with businesses that are searching for much needed high-skill workers that the answer is Canada.

We already have many of the key components needed to attract high-tech businesses, such as high quality of life, solid infrastructure, low corporate tax rates and significant tax benefits for research and development activities.

Our tech super clusters also provide opportunities to partner with Canadian academic and research institutions to develop ideas and talent.

KPMG has been working with a number of organizations, particularly in the technology industry, that are looking to expand their operations and are beginning to recognize that Canada’s progressive immigration system can help address their talent challenges.

The key questions we ask each organization include:

  • Is your organization able to access foreign talent fast enough and with certainty to meet your current business needs and growth objectives?
  • Do foreign nationals working at your operations feel confident that they can obtain permanent residence status in a reasonable period of time for themselves and their families to remain long term?
  • Does the foreign talent pool that you are seeking to recruit feel comfortable that they will be welcomed as foreign workers and future immigrants in the countries you are based?

For many, the answer to all these questions is “no” when looking anywhere else but Canada.

With our reputation for openness and building on our history, Canada has an immense opportunity to expand our digital economy by building on our talent advantage – to attract the world’s best people and companies.

Doing so will drive innovation, create more high-quality jobs and reverse the brain drain.

Source: Canada’s work force needs to take hold of its immigration advantage

Malaysian Islamic party demands Oktoberfest events be shut down

Ongoing trend it would appear:

Malaysia’s largest Islamic party is pushing for Oktoberfest events across the country to be banned, renewing a familiar culture war in the Muslim-majority country.

Key points:

  • It’s a crime for Muslims to drink alcohol in Malaysia but it’s rarely enforced
  • Several states have banned Oktoberfest events
  • Lifestyle issues can be a point of contention between non-Muslim and Muslim Malaysians

The ultraconservative Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) has for years barracked against the hosting of Oktoberfest and other alcohol-related events in Malaysia, which has large Buddhist, Christian and Hindu minorities.

“Oktoberfest should not be organised and must be strongly objected to,” Senior PAS figure Mahfodz Mohamed said in a statement this week.

“If non-Muslims want to drink alcoholic beverages, they are welcomed to do so in their homes without promoting the activity and organising large-scale events.”

In the state of Terengganu, controlled by PAS, the Government has expressly banned Oktoberfest events.

“No-one has applied to hold Oktoberfest here,” said Tourism Minister Ariffin Deraman as quoted by The Star newspaper, adding: “We will be constantly monitoring to ensure that the festival is not held.”

The comparatively liberal state of Johor also announced this week it would not be issuing licences for organisers to host alcohol-themed festivals, including Oktoberfest.

“As with any other private institutions serving alcohol, restrictions and conditions can be imposed on the event, not to ban it completely,” Melissa Sasidaran, director of Lawyers for Liberty, told the ABC.

In Kuala Lumpur, meanwhile, the Mayor said venues could host Oktoberfest events as long as they were held indoors and already licenced to sell alcohol.

“A blanket ban on everyone is an unreasonable restriction and authorities cannot be moral police and impose conservatism,” Ms Sasidaran said.

Analysts have observed a conservative shift within Malaysian Islam in recent decades.

Farida Ibrahim, a member of progressive Muslim organisation G25, told the ABC it was “undeniable” religious conservatism was on the rise.

“The Government has to rein it in before it gets out of hand … most of our Islamic institutions have been infiltrated by Wahabis from Saudi Arabia,” she said.

“This culture war has impinged upon the rights of both Muslims and non-Muslims.”

Malaysia applies some aspects of Islamic law to Muslims only, covering matters regarding family law and religious observance.

Muslims are barred from purchasing or consuming alcohol, however the law is seldom enforced. In 2009, a Muslim model was sentenced to caning for drinking beer, but her sentence was later commuted.

Oktoberfest is not the only issue that has pitted conservative Muslims against more liberal Malaysians.

US fast food chain A&W now calls its signature product — non-alcoholic root beer — simply “RB” in order to maintain halal certification.

A governmental Islamic body ruled in 2016 that products named “hotdog” would be denied halal certification, due to the perception among some Muslims that dogs are forbidden in Islam.

In 2014, Malaysia’s High Court ruled non-Muslims could not use the word “Allah” in their publications, despite the fact Malay-speaking Christians had used the term in their holy texts for centuries.

PAS recently formed a coalition with the country’s main opposition party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

UMNO dominated Malaysia’s ruling coalition for six decades before being toppled by Mahathir Mohamad’s Pakatan Harapan in a historic election last year.

“Politicians must refrain from playing up trivial matters and manipulating religious cards,” Ms Sasidaran said.

Source: Malaysian Islamic party demands Oktoberfest events be shut down

Opinion: It’s time for India to adopt dual citizenship

An issue, particularly for the highly skilled and mobile:

As Abhijit Banerjee’s Nobel Prize was announced, a reporter in Kolkata asked his mother about his citizenship, pointing out that he became a US citizen in 2017. “He travels a lot,” his mother explained.

The Indian passport ranks a poor 86 as of 2019, down from 77 in 2010. This rank signifies how many countries give visa-free entry or visa-on-arrival to the passport-holder. With a large number of poor people, India is one of the world’s biggest sources of illegal immigrants (311 Indians have just been deported from Mexico). Developed countries are not going to give the Indian passport easy access into their airports anytime soon, no matter how much of a world ‘power’ anyone thinks India has become.

It is for this reason that talented and wealthy Indians who travel frequently and live abroad tend to take foreign citizenship. The act of taking foreign citizenship, for most Indians, is not ‘anti-national’ but a matter of convenience. Anyone who has filled up a US or UK visa form will empathise.

Between 2014 and 2017, 4.5 lakh Indians opted for citizenship of another country. As foreign countries offer easy citizenship in exchange for cash and investments, the trend is only set to grow.

It is plain silly for the Indian government to not offer dual citizenship to such Indians. Eighty-five countries in the world offer dual citizenship. India needs to join this long list to avoid embarrassments such as an Indian winning the Nobel Prize but not beingan Indian citizen.

 

Overseas unCitizen of India

India does offer something called the “Overseas Citizen of India” card. Yet, these “overseas citizens” are not citizens because India doesn’t have the option of dual nationality.

The OCI status amounts to partial citizenship. It removes all barriers to entering, exiting, living and working in India. What it doesn’t allow is the right to vote.

If you don’t like Abhijit Banerjee, think of Akshay Kumar. At some point in his life, the Bollywood actor took Canadian citizenship, probably to enable easy international travel. At another point in his life, he decided to re-brand himself as a great nationalist from an action hero, because that was the flavour of the season. As people questioned how his nationalist credentials could go hand-in-hand with his Canadian citizenship, Akshay Kumar claimed it was an honorary citizenship, a lie that was nailed. 

Had India allowed Akshay Kumar to call himself a dual citizen, vote in elections, have an Indian passport alongside his Canadian passport, what would happen? Would the heavens fall? Would it cause climate change?

It is an emotionally difficult decision for most people to give up their Indian passport, often for easier international travel or to pay lower taxes or benefit from the social security services in countries where they live. For both taxation and national pride, it would help India to let Indians have dual citizenship.

Addressing intricacies

Narendra Modi and Donald Trump recently addressed thousands of Indian Americans in Houston, Texas. Some in the crowd must have had Indian passports and some must have had American passports. For neither Modi nor Trump, there seemed to be any conflict of interest. For both leaders, the crowd could have dual allegiance, to both India and the United States, at the same time.

No wonder a recent survey has shown that Indian Americans are in favour of dual citizenship. However, Vijay Chauthaiwale, head of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s foreign cell, has ruled out the possibility of India granting dual citizenship. “There are a lot of intricacies involved (in dual citizenship). So, I don’t see that happening in the near future,” he has reportedly said.

Many countries have found a way around the technical issues involved. Bangladesh requires its citizens to obtain a “dual nationality certificate” so that it can control who gets to take dual citizenship and under what circumstances. Brazilians can acquire another country’s passport but they must enter and exit Brazil only on the Brazilian passport. Canada actually encourages dual citizenship; the US discourages but allows it. If the concern is security, one can look at Pakistan, which allows its citizens to hold dual citizenship of only 16 other countries, doesn’t let dual citizens run for public office or join the military. Signing dual citizenship agreements with other countries helps prevent its misuse.

Blood ties

There are no ‘intricacies’ that can’t be addressed. The main issue, however, is nationalism. Allowing dual citizenship in India seems unthinkable because it would hurt national pride. Our nationalism is monogamous, it demands exclusive love. But the world is increasingly polygamous. One can love two countries, or maybe three — some countries even allow multiple nationalities.

The countries that allow dual citizenship belong to both the developed and the developing world. They do so because they realise it is the wise choice in a globalised world of easy travel. Narendra Modi often tells ‘Overseas Citizens of India’ that blood ties matter more than the colour of the passport.

Exactly. So why not let people have different passports of different colours. If Akshay Kumar can be a Canadian citizen and an icon of hard Indian nationalism, if Abhijit Banerjee can be a US citizen and still make India proud, it is time for India to accept dual nationality.

It might just also make us go easy on our jingoism.

Source: It’s time for India to adopt dual citizenship

Changing U.S. Policy and Safe-Third Country “Loophole” Drive Irregular Migration to Canada

Good in-depth study:

Nearly 50,000 asylum seekers entered Canada irregularly via land crossing from the United States over a two-year period beginning in spring 2017—contributing to a doubling in the overall number of asylum requests seen in 2016. Most make their way into Canada via Roxham Road, an unofficial crossing at an otherwise unremarkable country road along the New York-Quebec border.

The surge in asylum filings is the result of a few factors, perhaps most notably U.S. policy changes that have made the United States less hospitable and growing recognition of a “loophole” in the 2004 Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA). While the treaty was designed to manage asylum-seeker processing by requiring individuals to apply for protection in the first of the two countries entered, it allows those who reside in or transit through the United States to claim asylum in Canada if they enter between official ports of entry.

Box 1. Methodology

This article presents findings from semi-structured interviews with 290 asylum seekers from more than 50 countries, with a representative sample by country of origin. They had been in Canada from a period of only a few days up to two years. Interviews were conducted from December 2018 to October 2019. They took roughly one hour, and were conducted in the respondent’s language of choice at shelters and community organizations in Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, and Montreal.

Recruitment took place using posters and communication through social workers and volunteers. Respondents were identified by their first name only, and offered the choice to use a pseudonym. No identifying or contact information was collected.

Interviews were also conducted with two dozen lawyers, social workers, civil servants, and personnel from government and law enforcement in Canada and the United States.

The majority doing so, according to research undertaken by the author and his research team, only briefly transited the United States before crossing into Canada. Around 60 percent of the 290 asylum claimants interviewed—from a diverse mix of countries including Haiti, Nigeria, Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—had spent an average of five days before moving on to Canada. The remainder had lived in the United States for an average of six years.

The increase in asylum seekers has proven a politically and morally fraught issue for the Trudeau government in the lead-up to the October 21 federal election, offering opposition parties and civil-society groups on the right and left alike reason to criticize the centrist Liberals in power. It also has placed new scrutiny in Canada on the Safe Third County Agreement, criticized by conservatives for its role in fostering more asylum claims and on the other side of the spectrum by lawyers and refugee-rights advocates who question whether the United States remains a “safe” country.

This article, which draws from the first year of the “Understanding Emergent Irregular Migration Systems to Canada” research project, presents findings from interviews to explore asylum claimants’ motivations for claiming asylum, information sources, and experiences along their journey and after arrival. It also analyzes the effects of the recent arrivals on Canada, especially regarding the political implications. The goal is to fill a research gap by providing empirical evidence for the drivers of irregular migration to Canada.

U.S. Policy Change as a Driver of Migration to Canada

Increasing irregular arrivals to Canada may be attributed to many factors, including (mis)information spread about the STCA “loophole” through social networks and international media. Insights from interviews with asylum claimants suggest that U.S. policies are a major driver of irregular migration to Canada—though the relationship is not always linear. An increase in arrivals after change in U.S. policy is not unprecedented: discrepancies between U.S. and Canadian refugee determinations in the 1980s led to a “border rush” of predominantly Central and South American asylum seekers. The ensuing backlog in Canada’s asylum system led to the creation of the country’s Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) and motivated Canada to seek an STCA in the first place.

Causes of the Recent Uptick in Asylum Seekers

The Trump administration’s decision not to extend a long-standing Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for some 46,000 Haitians was the catalyst for the drastic increase in asylum claims in Canada in 2017. In April 2017, just 140 Haitians crossed into Canada at Roxham Road. The following month, the number increased to 1,355, and to 3,505 that June. Roughly half of the 6,500 Haitians who arrived during the April 2017 – June 2019 period examined, were U.S. residents, with the rest arriving from Haiti and third countries, particularly Brazil. Thus an announced U.S. policy change resulted in roughly 7.5 percent of all Haitians in the United States with TPS choosing Canada rather than risking deportation, moving to a third country, or remaining unauthorized in the United States.

Figure 1. Number of Asylum Seeker Claims on Roxham Road, April 2017-June 2019

Source: Data provided to the author by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) under a memorandum of understanding.

A commensurate number of TPS recipients from countries other than Haiti have not sought asylum in Canada, even as the Trump administration has also moved to end designations for Salvadorans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, and others. The lack of similar movement may owe to a number of factors, including the fact that U.S. courts have at least temporarily blocked the upcoming terminations. Obama-era Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, advocates, and asylum seekers interviewed also noted that Latino immigrants are more politically organized and committed to resisting Trump administration policies.

Still, more than 300,000 people risk losing TPS in early 2020, and in an environment of hostility toward asylum seekers and unauthorized immigrants, more may aim to cross irregularly into Canada, particularly if it appears the courts will not continue being a brake on Trump administration immigration actions.

Table 1. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) Populations in the United States and Expiry Dates

Note: A grant of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) provides recipients protection from removal from the United States, as well as work authorization.
Source: D’Vera Cohn, Jeffrey S. Passel, and Kristen Bialik, “Many Immigrants with Temporary Protected Status Face Uncertain Future in U.S.” Pew Research Center FactTank blog, March 8, 2019, available online.

Beyond the initial rush of Haitians in mid-2017, many others have made the journey after being in the United States for only a short period of time. Roughly 60 percent of respondents used the United States only as a transit state, spending an average of five days. They learned of the crossing from a range of sources, often through social media, YouTube, or word of mouth. Some early respondents, mostly from Nigeria, were reticent to admit that they had planned to come to Canada, and said they had no knowledge of Roxham Road before arriving in the United States. These respondents also offered similar, almost verbatim reasons for asylum. The researchers thus revised their interview structure to focus on the source of information for the Roxham Road route. Several described purchasing asylum narratives from “story sellers” or “travel agents,” typically based on persecution for gender and sexual orientation. While these types of claims are long-standing, narratives also included Donald Trump’s anti-migrant pronouncements and the specter of family separation as the reason for spontaneous transit to Canada. Thus, decisionmakers in Canada must now contend with U.S. policy in assessing claims.

However, most respondents planned to use Roxham Road from the outset. “My husband had Canada in mind for years. He wanted to do it legally, like fill out the forms online. But once he heard about Roxham Road he decided to send us,” said Hadiza, a 39-year-old woman from Niger. “It was a difficult decision. It was me and three kids. My husband had to stay behind. He sent us first and maybe he can come later.”

For these migrants, the unlikelihood of protection contributed to their choice not to remain in the United States. Roughly 20 percent had been denied visitor or skilled immigrant visas to Canada but were able to obtain or already had U.S. visitor visas. Several, predominantly from the DRC, Angola, and Pakistan, said they obtained visas by bribing U.S. consular officials. Restrictive U.S. asylum procedures, more open visa regimes, and corruption thus impact asylum claims in Canada.

Roughly 40 percent of respondents had resided in the United States for a period of years, mostly unauthorized residents who had overstayed a visa or received a negative asylum decision. Unlike many who transited through the United States in days, this group explicitly stated that their reasons were directly tied to U.S. policies.

“This word ‘illegal’ is weird to me, even if I use it about myself,” said Derrick, a 22-year-old from Gabon. “Every day people tell you to go back to your country, that if you’re struggling you should just go. That’s not a life. I’m not a criminal, I don’t hurt people. I just want to work and study.”

Among respondents’ fears were the threat of workplace immigration enforcement operations or law enforcement status checks. The most common catalysts for the decision to use Roxham Road were that a relative or community member had been incarcerated or deported, or that they were running out of funds or appeals in lengthy U.S. asylum procedures. Several said they abandoned claims because of a 2018 policy to schedule new cases in immigration court before older ones, a “last in, first out” policy DHS implemented to deal with the rapidly rising Central American caseload. Regardless, most reported a growing fear from the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant discourse, more frequent discrimination, and anxiety about the fate of their children should they be apprehended. Finally, around 3,500 U.S. citizens had crossed the border during the April 2017-June 2019 period, according to Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), signaling the displacement of mixed-status households with unauthorized immigrant parents and U.S.-citizen children.

Many who arrived in late 2018 or in 2019 had actively researched Roxham Road, which had garnered significant media attention in 2017, often through online searches and conversations with community members, but considered it a last resort. Interview questions asked respondents who resided long term in the United States where Canada ranked among options including return to their country of origin, relocation to a third country, or move elsewhere in the United States, particularly a sanctuary jurisdiction. Most were incredulous about the notion of returning to their country of origin, but would have preferred to remain in the United States were it not for the Trump administration. Canada offered the simplest and safest option.

Transnational Border Crossers

Irregular migration to Canada rapidly became more transnational after receiving attention from mainstream and social media. By late 2017, Nigeria overtook Haiti as the top country of origin, and the number of nationalities diversified significantly.

Table 2. Top 20 Countries of Origin of Roxham Road Asylum Claimants, April 2017- June 2019

Source: IRCC data provided to the author under a memorandum of understanding.

For most who transited the United States over a short period of days, the decision to seek asylum in Canada has less to do with U.S. policy and more to do with finding a solution for a precarious situation. To take one example, many claimants who are considered Yemeni, Palestinian, or Sudanese in official data were born and lived in Saudi Arabia. “Saudi-ization” policies—aimed at increasing the share of native-born Saudis in the workforce—resulted in the termination of these workers’ residence permits. For Yemenis, this means risk of deportation to a country with which they have no connection and one experiencing a humanitarian emergency. Many Palestinians would be rendered stateless. Respondents coming from these types of situations relayed how their social networks were abuzz about the U.S. route to Canada as early as May 2017, offering a new means to fulfill pre-existing desires for mobility.

While those with financial means often fly to the United States, an increasing number, predominantly from Africa, undertook multimonth and even multiyear overland journeys from Brazil, through Central America, to the United States. This comports with global findings that the first people in irregular migration systems are often those with the capital to move quickly, while those with fewer resources take more precarious routes.

The less well-heeled or those unable to secure U.S. visitor visas recounted harrowing danger, including violence and extortion by state security services, criminals, and smugglers; capsized boats on the coast of Colombia; horrific experiences in the Darien Gap jungle in Panama; predation from gangs in Mexico; and waiting in dangerous conditions at the U.S. border. “The jungle in Panama was very, very hard. You’re walking past dead bodies. You spend ten days or two weeks. You have to walk through rivers, over mountains. There are snakes and bandits… You walk for days, from the time the sun comes up until it goes down, and you sleep wherever you lay,” said Naomi, a 22-year-old from Angola. “If a child dies, the parent leaves it behind. If your husband dies, you leave them behind. Because if not, it’s you who will be left behind. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.”

(Mis)Information and Social Networks 

Social networks play a strong role in would-be migrants’ decision-making. In the case of Nigerian claimants, for example, Pentecostal churches play a key role planning travel and social connections once in Canada. Refugee claimants from Yemen, Colombia, and a range of African states receive detailed instructions from community members who have already arrived. Some respondents said U.S. aid organizations encourage people to move on to Canada after release from detention.

As in other irregular migration corridors, misinformation and rumors seem to have a strong influence. Whispers of impending enforcement actions in the United States served as a catalyst for several respondents. More often, rumors are spurred by minority-language media and are amplified and distorted through social media. These often have some basis in fact. Recent arrivals reported rumors that the Canadian border will be closed if the Conservatives win the October election, spurring people to hurry on their journeys.

When Trump announced a ban on refugees from certain Muslim-majority countries within days of taking office Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.” A number of respondents cited this juxtaposition as a prominent example that Canada was “saving” refugees from the United States. “I was hearing a lot of things about the Prime Minister of Canada. My friend told me they’re welcoming people there. And I thought ‘this is the place I’m supposed to go’,” said Bilal, 25, from Yemen.

It would be disingenuous, however, to claim a tweet was the direct catalyst for migration. The irregular movements to Canada instead owed in a broader sense to the erosion of protection and retreat from norms of asylum in the United States, against which people measured their chances in Canada.

Interviews illustrate that claimants had accurate information about the route, yet little knowledge of the asylum process in Canada. Respondents were surprised by the scale of the flow, wait times for hearings, not immediately receiving housing, and the difficulties in finding child care and work. And while only a few respondents said they would have made a different decision, interviews and DHS data suggest that over the past two years dozens or hundreds of asylum seekers had either returned to their country of origin or used smugglers to re-enter the United States.

A Surprising Lack of Criminality at the Border

In comparison to other irregular migration corridors—and indeed on other legs of the journey—there is remarkably little criminality at the U.S.-Canada border. The route existed long before Roxham Road made headlines. It generally consists of transit by bus or private car to Plattsburgh, New York, and taxi companies transporting people to the border. Individuals with large families or health issues, or those who fear interactions with U.S. immigration enforcement, use a network of private drivers. None of this activity amounts to smuggling under U.S. or Canadian law, and there is very little evidence of abuse while people move within the United States.

A small number reported intimidation by taxi drivers in Plattsburgh. In the early days, taxi companies overcharged for the 25-mile drive to Roxham Road. In May 2019, the New York attorney general convicted the owner of one company of systematically overcharging. This trend has abated, and most respondents relayed either no meaningful interactions or acts of kindness from drivers, who calm agitated people and explain the process at the border.

The most significant exploitation is in Canada, particularly by immigration consultants and lawyers. In several cases—in collaboration with agents in the United States—consultants from migrants’ national or linguistic community convinced individuals to come to Canada. Such consultants offer a “full-service” fee, including transportation to the border, access to a safe house in Canada (which is unnecessary), and promises to circumvent Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) wait times (which is not possible). They then extract as much money as possible before abandoning claimants. Other respondents, primarily from Latin America, have reported lawyers charging exorbitant rates for paperwork that could be covered by legal aid organizations. As Nadya, a 35-year-old woman from Colombia, explained: “The agent charged us $1,500, and put us in touch with a lawyer in Canada, [who] said it was $6,000, then $1,500 each to get a work permit. He said could get us work and we could pay him back. Once we got to Montreal there was a group of Latino lawyers, [who] explained we would get free legal aid. We asked, ‘How much do we have to pay [for] a work permit?’ It’s then we realized he was trying to take advantage of us.” Finally, there is some evidence that Mexican and Nigerian claimants arrive owing debts for passage and are immediately recruited to work under the table for temporary labor agencies.

These types of exploitation pale in comparison to the abuse and danger reported along irregular migration routes elsewhere around the globe. Most interviewees reported positive experiences with Canadian officials and consider the system fair despite long wait times. Understood in a global context, claiming asylum in Canada remains a safe process.

Impacts on Canada

The backlog at Canada’s IRB, a tribunal that hears refugee claims, had grown to more than 79,000 cases as of August 2019, with average wait time of two years for first hearings. A 2019 auditor general’s report found that wait times could increase to five years by 2024 if the number of claims remains constant. The increase has strained shelter capacity in major cities, particularly Montreal and Toronto. Polling by the Angus Reid Institute suggests that while most Canadians remain in favor of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers, they overestimate the number of refugees present, see irregular migration as a crisis, and those entering at Roxham Road as “queue jumpers” or “bogus refugees.” Attacks on shelters and demonstrations against housing asylum seekers in Toronto, and far-right protests at shelters in Montreal and on the border in Lacolle, Quebec have occurred.

The opposition Conservative Party of Canada has accused the government of losing control of the border. In late 2018, the party took a page from the playbook of Europe’s far-right populists, claiming the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration would mean ceding sovereignty to the United Nations. The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party refused to cooperate with the federal government over shelters and housing for asylum seekers, and made the unprecedented move of canceling legal aid for refugee claimants, which is a crucial part of the asylum process. The goal was to foster chaos in the lead-up to the election and shift the burden to Quebec, a crucial electoral battleground.

It has also been expensive. After lobbying from the legal and advocacy community, the federal government announced CAD $26.8 million in funding to address the legal aid shortfall. The 2018 budget allocated $72 million for capacity-building at IRB, and the 2019 budget an additional $1.2 billion over five years. Providing shelter space for asylum seekers has cost cities somewhere in the range of $150 million. The political challenge is that effective policy requires administrative solutions, while critics can mobilize narratives of economic migrants gaming the asylum system as a result of uncontrolled borders.

The government has sought to balance capacity building with restrictive policies. In 2018 it created a new Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, appointing a tough-on-crime ex-police chief from Toronto. It also changed the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to prevent asylum shopping by denying access for people who previously sought protection in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, or the United Kingdom. The change was roundly criticized by refugee-rights advocates and has caused significant uncertainty for both asylum seekers and the legal community. Officials interviewed on the condition of anonymity confirmed it is a pre-emptive measure in case of U.S. policies that might spur more migration, particularly in the lead-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Loophole or Safety Valve?

Much of the asylum debate in Canada has been about closing the STCA “loophole.” The left-leaning New Democratic Party and many academics, lawyers, and refugee advocates have called for Canada to suspend the accord, on grounds the United States is no longer a safe country for asylum seekers. Amnesty International and the Canadian Council for Refugees are challenging its constitutionality. The Conservative Party has taken the opposite position, promising to extend the agreement to what has been long heralded as the “world’s longest undefended border.”

Applying the agreement between ports of entry would require vast new funding for federal police, who would be tasked with apprehending and detaining thousands of people. The result would create more criminalized smuggling markets, make migrants vulnerable to trafficking, create precarious undocumented populations, and push people to more dangerous routes. It would also fundamentally damage Canada’s global identity.

On the other hand, suspending the Safe Third Country Agreement would likely result in more asylum claimants, given peoples’ decisions have been significantly affected by ever-more hardline U.S. policies and rumors of more open Canadian ones.  Those arriving at regular ports of entry would still increase IRB backlogs. And the move would likely backfire politically, with voters potentially rewarding anti-refugee political platforms, as in Europe and the United States.

Restrictive policies are unlikely to stem the flow of people, and Canada has no leverage in negotiations with the White House over the STCA. Likewise, unilaterally suspending participation in the accord risks riling the U.S. government at a time when the Trump administration is limiting access to asylum and attempting to compel other states to take on the responsibility for hosting refugees.

While perhaps counterintuitive, the status quo with regards to the Safe Third County Agreement is a viable option. Roxham Road is well managed. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) conduct routinized security screening and first-line admissibility checks. The majority of interviewees took pains to mention they were treated humanely, in sharp contrast to experiences at other borders. Volunteers who monitor the crossing relayed that while there were instances of intimidating behavior by the RCMP in 2017, they are now rare because of the standardization of procedures, permanent infrastructure, and observation by volunteers. People arrive safely, and without criminal networks.

While politically fraught in the current context, Canada receives a small number of asylum seekers in comparison to other refugee-receiving countries. It has an established and well-funded settlement sector, and refugee-status determination procedures are largely fair. Staying the course until the 2020 U.S. elections would allow for capacity-building and long-term planning that bucks the global trend of reactionary policies in liberal democracies.

Acknowledgments

This article is part of a research project, “Understanding Emergent Irregular Migration Systems to Canada,” funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and hosted by the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University and the Global Migration Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto.

Is there an urban-rural divide in Canada?

Nice summary analysis by Andrew Parkin of Environics Institute, and how regional differences tend to be more significant:

With Canada’s population increasingly concentrated in a small number of large metropolitan areas, the question often arises: do the values, interests and concerns of citizens in cities differ from those of their counterparts living in smaller cities or towns across the country? Is there a specific metropolitan mindset or set of experiences that distinguishes those living in these major urban centres from other Canadians?

To find answers, our  2019 Confederation of Tomorrow survey was used to compare public opinion across the country’s four largest metropolitan areas – Montreal, Toronto, Calgary-Edmonton (combined) and Vancouver – with that of people living in the rest of their respective provinces, and that of the rest of the Canadian population as a whole. Those four metropolitan areas together hold 43 percent of Canada’s total population. Calgary and Edmonton are combined to increase the survey sample, representing metropolitan Alberta. (Details of the survey and sample sizes for each city are reported at the end of this article, in chart 4.)

Government and the economy

On a variety of questions relating to the role of government and the state of the economy, there are many differences in opinion across the four major urban areas, and also many cases of similarities in views between each city and its surrounding non-metropolitan area. This highlights the continuing importance of regional differences across Canada, which overshadow differences between bigger cities and smaller towns.

In the wake of the economic downturn linked to the petroleum sector in Alberta, it’s not surprising that the mood in Calgary-Edmonton is bleak. Our survey in December 2018-January 2019 found that residents there are less likely to be satisfied with the way things are going in the country. They are also more likely to describe their household income as being “not enough”; and more concerned about job security (chart 1). (However, on the question of job security, Torontonians also express a higher than average level of concern). Those living in Calgary-Edmonton are also the least likely to say that governments have a positive impact on most people’s lives, and most likely to say that this impact is negative (chart 2). Montrealers stand out in exactly the opposite way: compared with residents of the other three city-regions, they are the most satisfied with the direction of the country, the least concerned about their incomes and job security, and the least likely to see government as having a negative impact.

While opinions in Montreal and Calgary-Edmonton are quite different from one another on these questions, they are, on the whole, not very different from residents in the rest of their respective provinces. In other words, non-metropolitan Quebecers sound more like Montrealers than like people who live in non-metropolitan areas of other provinces – and the same goes for non-metropolitan Albertans (whose opinions resemble those of residents of Calgary-Edmonton, not their non-metropolitan counterparts in other provinces).

In the first instance, this is likely because outlooks are shaped by regional economic conditions – currently, more positive in Quebec and more negative in Alberta – whose effects are felt both inside and outside of each region’s major cities. But there is evidence that provincial political cultures matter, too. For instance, Quebecers – whether in or outside of Montreal – are more likely than the national average to favour a larger government offering more services, but also more likely to favour a transfer of powers from the federal to their provincial government (chart 3). Albertans – whether in or outside of Calgary-Edmonton – are less likely than average to favour a larger government, but also (similarly to Quebecers) more likely to favour a transfer of powers from the federal to their provincial government. These differences in support for a larger or smaller role for government, and for a more centralized or decentralized federation, again are regional or provincial in nature – they appear to have little to do with whether or not one lives in one of the country’s major cities.

Diversity

While Canadians have become much more welcoming of immigrants and refugees over the past 25 years, our survey nonetheless finds that two in three (65 per cent) agree that there are too many immigrants coming into this country who are not adopting Canadian values. There is surprisingly little variation in views on this question across the country’s four major urban areas, or between these areas and the rest of the country. Agreement is only slightly lower than average in Toronto and Vancouver, and – with the exception of British Columbia – only slightly higher than average in areas of the country outside of the major urban centres. Quebecers, including Montrealers, are slightly more likely to agree that too many immigrants are not adopting Canadian values.

Canadians were also asked whether they agree that “a person who has a strong attachment to their own ethnic community is no less Canadian than anyone else,” or that “a person who has a strong attachment to their own religion is no less Canadian than anyone else.” When the responses for all big-city dwellers are compared to those of other Canadians, no significant differences are observed: about seven in 10 agree in all cases. There are no significant differences between the views of Quebecers in or outside of Montreal, Ontarians in or outside of Toronto, or British Columbians in or outside of Vancouver.

What stands out on these issues, then, is the absence of significant differences, either across the major cities, or between the major cities and smaller communities.

Policy priorities

The clearest evidence for the absence of a common big-city agenda in Canada comes from the response to the open-ended question about the most important problem facing Canadians today. The most frequently mentioned items differ significantly from city to city. And only one – the economy – appears among the top five problems mentioned in each of the four major urban areas.

  • In Vancouver, the item most frequently identified as the most important problem is affordable housing (18 per cent), followed by the economy (12 per cent), the cost of living (9 per cent), the environment (9 per cent), and poverty, homelessness and inequality (6 per cent).
  • In Calgary-Edmonton, the economy dominates the list, with 24 percent saying it is the most important problem facing Canadians today. This is followed by political representation (12 per cent), energy and pipelines (11 per cent), jobs and unemployment (8 per cent) and immigration (5 per cent).
  • In Toronto, the five most frequently mentioned problems are: the economy (12 per cent), affordable housing (9 per cent), political representation (8 per cent), jobs and unemployment (7 per cent) and the cost of living (7 per cent).
  • In Montreal, the most frequently mentioned problem is the environment (17 per cent), followed by immigration (12 per cent), political representation (9 per cent), health care (8 per cent) and the economy (7 per cent).

While the four major urban areas differ from one another in term of priorities, the question of whether each mirrors the rest of their respective provinces is harder to answer; the patterns are inconsistent. The biggest problem in the minds of Quebecers, regardless of whether they live in Montreal, is the environment. But immigration is cited as the country’s biggest problem by twice as many Montrealers as other Quebecers. Affordable housing is high on the list of problems for Torontonians, but not for other Ontarians; the case is reversed for immigration. British Columbians outside of Vancouver include political representation as well as energy and pipelines on their list of top problems, whereas Vancouverites include the cost of living and poverty, homelessness and inequality. Only in Alberta do the major urban areas and the rest of the province share an identical list of top five problems, most of which relate to the economy, energy and political representation.

Overall, then, while there are some issues that tend to be more of a concern to Canadians living in some big cities than those living outside of them, such as affordable housing or poverty, there are also many concerns that are shared, at least within the context of individual provinces. More broadly, there is greater variation in the list of concerns across provinces than there is between major urban areas and other communities within each province.

Summary

In short, the survey results show that the four major urban areas of Canada are neither consistently similar to one another, nor consistently different from the non-metropolitan areas of Canada. One reason for this is the overriding impact of regional and local economic conditions. Another factor is that there is simply more agreement across the country on some issues (such as diversity) than is often assumed. Finally, on questions of the size and role of government, provincial political cultures, such as those in Quebec and Alberta, appear to shape the views of those living both in and outside each province’s largest cities, again overriding any urban-rural differences.

Big cities share many common features and face many similar challenges as they continue to grow. But this does not mean that Canadians who live in these cities will always share the same opinions. There are many issues that unite us, and this holds true regardless of whether we live in smaller communities or larger ones. There are also issues on which we differ, but in many cases, these differences are of a more regional character than an urban-rural one.

This article is extracted from a larger report available from the Environics Institute at www.environicsinstitute.org.

The 2019 Confederation of Tomorrow survey of Canadians was conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research in partnership with the Canada West Foundation, the Mowat Centre, the Centre D’Analyse Politique – Constitution et Fédéralisme, the Institute for Research on Public Policy, and the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government at Saint Francis Xavier University. The research consisted of a national public opinion survey conducted online (in the provinces) and by telephone (in the territories) with a representative sample of 5,732 Canadians (ages 18 and over) between December 14, 2018 and January 16, 2019.

Sample sizes of Canadians who shared their views for these questions.

Source: 2019 Confederation of Tomorrow.

Source: Is there an urban-rural divide in Canada?

Spanish government reduces irregular immigration by half

Through working with Morocco to reduce the “supply:”

The Spanish executive has reached its goal of reducing irregular immigration by half, a decision that was taken in January after arrivals in 2018 reached a record 64,298 people.

The latest official data shows 24,159 undocumented arrivals, marking the first time since 2010 that there has been such a steep drop in immigration by land and sea.

One out of every 100 migrants continues to die at sea

This decrease is largely owed to renewed efforts by Morocco to stop migrants from departing from its coastline.

“The preventive efforts by Moroccan authorities continue to be effective, and they are key to understanding the strong reduction in arrivals in Spain during 2019,” said the European Commission in an internal report to which EL PAÍS has had access. Those efforts include, among other things, preventing thousands of departures by land and the rescue of 10,700 migrants who were returned to Moroccan territory, adds the report.

Thanks to this assistance, in just a few months Spain has gone from being the main Mediterranean route for irregular immigration to showcasing itself as a role model in Europe. Spain and its European partners want to reinforce cooperation with Morocco, which has been rewarded diplomatically and financially with aid worth €180 million.

Immigrant deaths at sea have not dropped by as much. So far this year, 317 people have drowned or disappeared in the Strait of Gibraltar and the westernmost portion of the Mediterranean as they attempted to reach Spain, a 42% drop from 2018. One out of every 100 migrants continues to die at sea.

In 2018, record arrivals put irregular immigration at the top of the political agenda. Migratory pressure had been increasing since 2017, but the opposition claimed there was a push effect because of the Socialist (PSOE) administration’s decision to take in humanitarian vessels that had been rejected by Malta and Italy, such as the Aquarius NGO vessel.

Since then, the caretaker government of Socialist Party (PSOE) Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has adopted tougher measures, including pushback policies at the border between Morocco and the Spanish exclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla, and preventing NGO-run humanitarian ships from sailing to the central Mediterranean.

While sea arrivals are more visible, a majority of immigrants arrive by air. Although it is impossible to know how many people on tourist visas extend their stay, asylum requests have ballooned to 82,000 so far this year, a figure that is largely due to Venezuelans and Colombians who make up 32% and 23% of asylum seekers, respectively.

Source: Spanish government reduces irregular immigration by half

New row erupts over the wearing of the Islamic hijab in public in France

Sigh… Hopefully Quebec politicians won’t pick up on this, applying a ban to mothers on school field trips:

The debate around women wearing the Islamic headscarf has divided French politicians again, with France’s right wing Senate leader Gérard Larcher calling for President Emmanuel Macron to revise the law when it comes to religious neutrality in schools.

“It’s without a doubt a difficult subject,” Larcher said in an interview with France 2 Televisionon Tuesday night.

“But it is an essential subject, and we expect the President to federate and to make people of Muslim origin and religion feel just as much as part of the Republic as atheists, Catholics and Jews,” he said.

A bill sponsored by Les Republicans on maintaining religious neutrality within staff in the public school sector is up for a vote in the Senate, as early as next week.

“There is a need to discuss neutrality in public schools, without hate, without weakness. The subject has not been dealt with sufficiently,” he stressed.

During question time on Tuesday, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe addressed the National Assembly, rejecting accusations that the government had an ambiguous stance when it came to religion in schools.

Philippe said the government preferred to focus on avoiding radicalisation, and school absence because of religious community pressure.

He was attempting to head off a new controversy over the question of secularism and whether or not to allow mothers wearing the Islamic headscarf to accompany their children’s classes on school outings.

Ruling party divided on issue

The French state and church were officially separated by law in 1905 to give form to the concept of secularism rooted in the 1789 French Revolution.

In 2004, the government prohibited the wearing of conspicuous religions symbols in public schools and banned the hijab, a garment that covers a woman’s hair but leaves her face exposed, from classrooms and government offices.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer stressed on Sunday that “the law does not prohibit women wearing headscarves to accompany children”, referring to a state council ruling from 2013.

But he also indicated that “the headscarf itself is not desirable in our society” because of “what it says about the status of women, what it says about our values.”

Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye also weighed in, saying it was important to allow space for exchanges between women who wear headscarves and those who do not, as this promoted “inclusivity”.

Minister suggests Islamist provocation

Two incidents in the past week have lead to a further revival of this debate.

Last Friday, far-right National Rally (RN) minister Julien Odoul provoked widespread outrage when he posted a video on Twitter of him confronting a woman who accompanied pupils last Friday to the regional parliament in Bourgogne-Franche-Comte in eastern France.

Citing “secular principles” in the wake of the killings in Paris this month of four police staff by a radicalised convert to Islam, he insisted the woman, whose son was among the group, remove her headscarf.

Members of the RN then walked out of the chamber before issuing a press statement denouncing “an Islamist provocation”.

Fatima E., speaking to the press for the first time since the incident told France Info on Tuesday that she thought it was a joke until she saw how the students were reacting.

“They were really shocked and traumatised,” she said, and even though she didn’t want to give in, she eventually realized it was better if she left the room, only to be confronted in the corridor by another former member of the National Rally party.

“I was shaking from head to toe,” she said, going on to say that she now has a bad opinion of “what is called the Republic”.

Regional parliament speaker Marie-Guite Dufay, criticised Odoul’s actions, saying neither the law of the country nor the rules of the chamber prohibited a member of the public wearing a headscarf.

Dufay denounced a “surge of hatred” and what she described as “undignified behaviour” on the part of a lawmaker.

Fire station refuses school visit

Then on Monday, a visit by a group of school students to the main fire station in Creil, north of Paris, was cancelled outright because two of the mothers accompanying the group were wearing an Islamic hijab.

The director of Regional Fire and rescue service (SDIS) said it was a simple case of misinterpretation on behalf of the fire station chief and that it was regrettable that it had happened.

“The women were wearing a simple headscarf, known as hijab,” Eric de Valroger President of the SDIS told AFP.

“I think the chief was just trying to do his job, and apply the law,” he went on.

One of the women made a complaint to the fire service, saying she was “shocked” over their refusal to allow her to enter the building.

Valroger, who is also the vice-president of the Republicans party in the Val d’Oise region later said the woman had since spoken to the fire station chief and he had apologized and things had calmed down.

Source: New row erupts over the wearing of the Islamic hijab in public in France

USA: Immigration Head Says No Amendment Needed To End Birthright Citizenship

Stating it doesn’t make is so:

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said Wednesday that ending birthright citizenship does not need a Constitutional amendment.

“I do not think you need an amendment to the Constitution. I think the question is do you need congressional action or can the executive act on their own,” Cuccinelli said during a breakfast event hosted by Christian Science Monitor.

The discussion of birthright citizenship, which is citizenship conferred on those born in the United States regardless of the citizenship status of their parents, has been a topic of debate under the Trump administration.

In August 2019, President Donald Trump told reporters that his administration was “very seriously” looking at birthright citizenship “where you have a baby on our land, you walk over the border, have a baby,-congratulations, the baby is now a US citizen…It’s frankly ridiculous.”

In an interview with Axios in October 2018, Trump claimed that he intended to end birthright citizenship through an executive order, but received considerable push back on the legality of that approach.

Then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan responded to the comments saying that birthright citizenship could not be ended by executive order because “the 14thAmendment is pretty clear.”

Despite strong rhetoric from the White House on pursuing the agenda, experts in constitutional law assert that an amendment would be required.

“Yes, it would require a constitutional amendment, and almost everyone else working on this topic would agree,” Ian Bartrum, a law professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas told Newsweek.

Birthright citizenship is protected by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution which states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. ”

Bartrum mentioned that the 14th Amendment was created to overturn the Dred Scott case, which allowed states to deny citizenship to the descendants of former and freed slaves. He noted that overturning that amendment would be questionable.

A constitutional amendment can be proposed either by a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress or by a call for a constitutional convention by two-thirds of the state. The proposed amendment would require ratification for three-quarters of state, making the possibility of such action quite low.

How relatives and allies of Cambodia’s ‘iron fist’ leader gained Cypriot citizenship

Long read with another reminder of the inherent corruption of citizenship-by-investment regimes:

Cambodia’s long-ruling prime minister, Hun Sen, had gathered athletes at his imposing office for a televised pep talk. “I don’t want to mention politics,” he began quietly.

But he couldn’t help himself. It was December 2017. The main opposition party had just been outlawed, the latest move in Hun Sen’s campaign to eradicate his political rivals. The United States and European Union were threatening sanctions, and Hun Sen had a message for them.

“Just do it now if you are brave enough,” he taunted, bristling with outrage. There was no point in the West trying to seize the foreign assets of Cambodian officials, he went on, because they “wouldn’t be so damn stupid as to keep their assets overseas.”

But a Reuters investigation shows that those closest to Hun Sen have done exactly that. Family members and key police, business and political associates have overseas assets worth tens of millions of dollars, and have used their wealth to buy foreign citizenship – a practice Hun Sen has decried as unpatriotic and at times has sought to outlaw.

Among those who have acquired or applied for European Union passports through a citizenship for sale arrangement in Cyprus are: Hun Sen’s niece and her husband, who is Cambodia’s national police chief; the country’s most powerful business couple, who are old family friends; and the finance minister, a long-time Hun Sen adviser.

Photos on social media also show Hun Sen’s relatives enjoying luxurious European lifestyles – boating in Capri, skiing in Verbier, partying in Ibiza – which are at odds with the prime minister’s self-styled image as the humble leader of ordinary Cambodians.

Hun Sen is 67 and has ruled Cambodia with an iron fist for more than three decades. He has jailed or exiled political rivals, shut down media outlets and crushed street protests. Only three men have controlled their countries for longer: the presidents of Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon and the Republic of the Congo. If Hun Sen stepped down tomorrow, Vladimir Putin would have to rule Russia for another 15 years to match his time in power.

Yet challenges remain for Hun Sen. Popular dissatisfaction still simmers, say political analysts. In February, responding to his crackdown, the European Union began a process that could suspend Cambodia’s special trade preferences, potentially damaging industries that employ hundreds of thousands of workers. The country’s political and business elite is on edge, a government insider told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Everyone is making an escape plan,” he said.

Hun Sen’s government didn’t respond to questions from Reuters for this article. Hun Sen’s relatives and associates also chose not to respond, with the exception of one member of the extended family. Hun Panhaboth, the son of another niece, defended his lifestyle in messages sent to Reuters through his Facebook page. An Instagram photo shows him driving a Mercedes while holding a fistful of banknotes. “I really don’t see the harm in that anyways,” he said.

AN ESCAPE ROUTE

One Cambodian with overseas assets is the prime minister’s niece, Hun Kimleng. Photos posted on Instagram by a family nanny helped lead Reuters to a posh apartment in central London, situated only a few hundred metres from the palace of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Hun Kimleng bought the apartment in 2010 for £1.95 million ($2.5 million), according to official property records. It could now be worth at least £3.5 million, estimates the real estate website Zoopla. She also owns a multi-million-dollar apartment in a luxury condo in Singapore, according to the Singapore Land Authority.

In 2016, she became a citizen of a foreign country: Cyprus.

Hun Sen has frequently denounced his political rivals for obtaining second passports, once declaring them “an escape route from difficulties in Cambodia.” His niece’s Cypriot citizenship is confirmed by a confidential document sent by Cyprus’s Ministry of Interior to its cabinet, which Reuters has seen.

Getting a Cypriot passport also makes the niece a citizen of the European Union, which Cyprus joined in 2004. This gives her the right to live, work and travel without visas in 28 EU countries.

Becoming a Cypriot isn’t cheap: It involves an investment of at least €2 million ($2.2 million). Between 2013 and 2018, the country granted citizenship to 3,200 foreigners under its Cyprus Investment Programme, raking in €6.6 billion.

The Cyprus interior ministry document confirming Hun Kimleng’s citizenship is dated 21 November 2017. It also recommends that the cabinet grant citizenship to her husband, Neth Savoeun, and two of their grown-up daughters. The cabinet always accepts the ministry’s recommendation, Cyprus’s interior minister told Reuters.

Neth Savoeun is Cambodia’s powerful national police chief, presiding over a force responsible for arresting Hun Sen’s political opponents and violently suppressing anti-government protests. Last year, Human Rights Watch named him as one of 12 generals who form “the backbone of an abusive and authoritarian political regime.” The Cambodian defense ministry called the report “fabricated.” Neth Savoeun is also a senior member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

That the country’s top cop has sought foreign citizenship could show that the party’s leaders are losing faith in each other, said Em Sovannara, an academic and political analyst in Phnom Penh. “It signals fragility in the ruling party,” he told Reuters.

Cambodia’s opposition has repeatedly alleged that Neth Savoeun and his family have foreign citizenship. In August, one opposition leader posted photos on Facebook of what he said were the family’s Cypriot passports. The post seemed to strike a nerve. The next day, the Cambodian National Police issued a statement, saying that Neth Savoeun would never “escape to another country, never betray the nation.”

In 2017, the U.S. State Department put Neth Savoeun, Hun Kimleng and their three children on a “visa blacklist” for undermining democracy, according to a U.S. official and another source. This means they can’t travel to the United States unless on official business. The State Department declined to comment.

Cyprus seems less strict. In the confidential document, the Cypriot interior minister urges the cabinet to grant citizenship to Neth Savoeun and two grown-up daughters, and notes that they have never visited Cyprus.

Under Cypriot law, the daughters are eligible for citizenship if they are “financially dependent” on the primary applicant, who in this case is their mother, Hun Kimleng. Yet one of the daughters named in the interior ministry document, Vichhuna Neth, 26, appears to be independently wealthy. In September 2017, three months before the interior ministry’s document was issued, she bought a London apartment near her mother’s, according to British property records. It has two floors and four bedrooms, and cost £5.5 million.

The Cyprus government didn’t respond to a Reuters request for comment about its decision to grant citizenship to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s relatives and allies, including a family blacklisted by the United States. Nor did it respond to questions about its vetting procedure for these prominent Cambodians.

INNER CIRCLE

The document detailing the citizenship of Hun Kimleng and her family is part of a tranche of interior ministry documents that Reuters has seen. These detail thousands of applications for Cypriot passports by wealthy foreigners.

The documents take the form of a letter, in which the interior minister summarizes an application for Cypriot citizenship and recommends the cabinet approve it. While the letter mentioning Hun Kimleng confirms she is a Cypriot citizen, the other letters are only recommendations. However, asked if any of his recommendations were rejected by the cabinet, Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides told Reuters: “No . . . Not to my knowledge.”

These documents show that other members of Hun Sen’s inner circle have also received or applied for Cypriot passports. They include Cambodia’s finance minister, Aun Pornmoniroth, a long-time financial adviser to Hun Sen. Aun’s wife also applied.

So did two of Hun Sen’s closest and wealthiest allies. Choeung Sopheap and her husband, Lau Ming Kan, created Pheapimex, a giant conglomerate. In a series of reports in the early 2000s, Global Witness, a London-based anti-corruption group, used aerial surveys and field inspections to document years of illegal logging by Pheapimex. Hun Sen has accused Global Witness of telling lies.

Another of Choeung and Lau’s companies was embroiled in the eviction of thousands of families from a development site in Phnom Penh; many of those who protested the evictions were beaten and jailed. Citing the evictions, the World Bank temporarily suspended new lending to Cambodia. Choeung and Lau didn’t respond to Reuters’ questions about their business activities.

Choeung and Lau are both in their seventies, and their family has business or marriage links to four of Hun Sen’s five children. Lau is a senator for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party. Choeung sits on the board of the Cambodian Red Cross. She is a close friend of the charity’s president – Hun Sen’s wife.

Choeung and Lau are also close to Cambodia’s security forces. Red envelopes of cash are traditionally handed out as gifts at Chinese New Year, an occasion the couple used to give money to thousands of soldiers, police and Hun Sen bodyguards who gathered outside their mansion in Phnom Penh, according to local media reports. One report quoted the couple’s son saying they had been making the mass donations for nearly a decade.

Choeung and Lau were issued with Cypriot passports in February 2017, Reuters reporting showed. Four of their five children also applied for Cypriot passports in the same year.

These prominent Cambodians all sought Cypriot citizenship during a turbulent period when Hun Sen’s grip on power seemed to be faltering. His recent troubles trace back to a general election in 2013. His ruling Cambodian People’s Party had long dominated the polls, but in 2013 it won only 68 of the national assembly’s 123 seats and 48% of the votes. It was Hun Sen’s worst showing in 15 years.

Turmoil ensued. Supporters of a resurgent opposition party spilled onto Phnom Penh’s streets to protest suspected election fraud, and only dispersed after military police opened fire and killed or injured dozens of people. The opposition leader was forced into exile and his successor put under house arrest. The party itself was dissolved.

Other critics were picked off in a wave of arrests and prosecutions, and one was silenced permanently: Kem Ley, a well-known activist, shot dead in broad daylight in July 2016. Police said he was killed by a man he owed money. The man confessed and is serving a life sentence.

The murder had a chilling effect on Cambodia’s embattled opposition. In 2018, with his rivals cowed or silenced, Hun Sen held another general election. This time, his party won 77% of the vote – and every single seat.

The United States called the election “the most significant setback yet” to Cambodian democracy. Hun Sen remained defiant. In a speech at the United Nations in Geneva in July 2019, he said the election had been “free, fair and just,” and called Cambodia a “land of freedom.”

LAND OF FREEDOM

For a wealthy global elite, it’s Cyprus’s freedoms that are appealing. The citizenship for sale programme took off in 2013 after a banking crisis almost wiped out Cyprus’s economy. The country’s economic woes forced it to seek a €10-billion international bailout and scramble to secure other forms of investment. The idea of the Cyprus Investment Programme was “to further encourage Foreign Direct Investment and to attract high net worth individuals to settle and do business in Cyprus,” according to the Ministry of Interior’s website.

Each applicant must invest at least €2 million in Cyprus. At least €500,000 must be invested permanently in property. The remainder can be invested in Cypriot companies, and need only be parked there temporarily. At no point in the application process is the applicant compelled to live in – or even visit – Cyprus.

A backlash against the scheme has grown. Some conservationists and other critics say it has fueled a property boom that has priced out ordinary Cypriots and harmed the environment. In a January report, the European Commission warned that what it called “golden passports” could help organised crime groups infiltrate Europe and raised the risk of money laundering, corruption and tax evasion.

The Cypriot government denied this, but has also tweaked the programme. Since May, applicants must keep the bulk of their investment in Cyprus for five years instead of three. They must also pay up to €150,000 to state agencies tasked with fostering innovation and building affordable homes. Some critics dismiss these measures as cosmetic, and are calling for more public scrutiny of who is applying, where their money comes from and who benefits from it in Cyprus. The government has resisted.

“INVEST IN CYPRUS”

The Mediterranean resort town of Paphos is a two-hour drive from the capital. The highways and roads leading there are flanked by billboards erected by property developers and aimed at foreigners looking for residency or citizenship. “Invest in Cyprus, enjoy its benefits,” says one, in English and Chinese. On Paphos’s beaches, tourists sprawl across the burning sand or cool down in the Med’s azure shallows.

Not far inland, on the top floor of a Paphos low-rise, is a family law firm called Andreas Demetriades & Co. Between January 2013 and August 2018, its modest office processed 137 “citizenship by investment” applications worth hundreds of millions of euros to Cyprus.

This is according to a document from Cyprus’s interior ministry, which was shared with the country’s parliament and seen by Reuters. The company that has processed the most applications is the giant accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers; it handled 184 applications during that period with what PwC Cyprus calls “robust client screening and acceptance processes.”

Andreas Demetriades & Co. was second. Demetris Demetriades, a senior partner, said the firm had processed “hundreds” of applications, but declined to confirm the interior ministry’s tally of 137 or talk about specific clients. Reuters reporting shows that his firm handled the applications of the Cambodian finance minister, Aun; the leading business couple, Choeung and Lau; and their family members.

Demetriades said most of his clients were “savvy investors” who wanted a Cypriot passport that gave them the freedoms of a European national. For some, the passport was also “an insurance policy.”

“Let’s admit it,” he said. “There are countries which have political instability – where people feel that their families and their business interests are in jeopardy. So it’s good for them to have something to fall back on should the worst happen.”

Demetriades said some of his clients were so-called “politically exposed persons” – people whose prominent positions in government or public life might make them vulnerable to corruption. “That doesn’t mean that they’re bad people,” he said. “It just means that you have to investigate further their source of funds.”

Where those funds end up in Cyprus is also hard to track. Business and property databases in Cyprus are often out of date, incomplete or closed to public access. But Reuters reporting turned up a company that served as an investment vehicle for foreigners seeking citizenship, including five of the Cambodians.

The company, called JWPegasus, was incorporated in Cyprus in May 2015 to help fund the construction of a Radisson Blu hotel in Larnaca, the country’s third-largest city.

A Reuters analysis showed that at least 22 of JWPegasus’ 26 shareholders have applied for Cypriot passports. Twenty of them applied through Andreas Demetriades & Co., the law firm. The five Cambodians among them include: Choeung; two of her children and the wife of Aun, the finance minister. Each invested at least €2 million.

JWPegasus described itself to Reuters as a “solid company” that has created hundreds of jobs. JWPegasus declined to comment on individual investors but said that, to its knowledge, none of them had “any illegal activities.” Radisson Blu said that its due diligence, carried out before doing business with JWPegasus, “did not reveal any suspicious activity at that time.”

Demetris Demetriades said he knew of JWPegasus but stressed that his law firm had no connection to it. He said he didn’t tell his clients which companies to invest in because his firm also did due diligence on those companies, which could create a conflict of interest. “Caesar’s wife must not only be honest, but must also look honest,” he said.

HUMBLE LEADER

For some members of Cambodia’s elite, Cypriot passports are trappings of luxurious lifestyles that could undermine Prime Minister Hun Sen’s self-styled image as the humble leader of a party representing ordinary Cambodians.

Wealth is a touchy subject in Cambodia. The Asian Development Bank estimates that 70% of people live on about $3 a day, and Hun Sen has long projected himself as a leader who suffers alongside his poorest compatriots. Speaking at a factory near Phnom Penh in February, he said he didn’t have a second nationality or a house abroad, and chose instead “to eat grass with the Cambodian people.”

Yet many relatives with the Hun family name flaunt their wealth on social media accounts. One photo on Instagram shows two of the prime minister’s nieces, Hun Kimleng and Hun Chantha, posing in ballgowns and matching golden necklaces. Other photos document their near-constant travel, often by private jet, to fashion shows in Paris, a hillside villa in Mykonos, and London nightclubs like Loulou’s. Hun Chantha also co-owns London apartments worth £5 million, property records show.

Hun Panhaboth, the son of another niece, gave his girlfriend a Mercedes-Benz for her birthday, according to photos on Facebook. Most Cambodians were “happy and congratulated us,” Hun Panhaboth told Reuters. “I don’t think this gift makes Prime Minister Hun Sen look bad in any shape or form.”

And while the prime minister spoke about eating grass, Instagram showed some relatives feasting on caviar in London. Among them was Hun Kimleng’s wealthy young daughter, Vichhuna Neth. She applied for Cypriot citizenship in November 2017. Four months later, she posted photos and videos on Instagram from western Cyprus. They show her driving a dune buggy along a coastal road and reclining in an open-air jacuzzi at a luxury villa.

“Cyprus,” she gushed, “you’ve been AMAZING!!”

Source: How relatives and allies of Cambodia’s ‘iron fist’ leader gained Cypriot citizenship