Lost in the York U furor: Accommodation isn’t a trump card

Good commentary by Amira Elghawaby:

The trouble for diverse communities is that cases like York alarm society at large that hard-won gains will be clawed back to appease a tiny minority with unreasonable demands. The impression is that our legal frameworks are not prepared for the onslaught.

These fears play right into the xenophobic justifications for limiting the freedom of religion of others, as displayed in the whole values charter debate in Quebec. “A lot of people have been afraid to speak out against unreasonable accommodations made to religious groups by public institutions … and who are now saying, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” commented Parti Québécois minister for democratic institutions Bernard Drainville following the York incident.

What we’ve had enough of is the sensationalizing of the give-and-take that is expected in any multicultural, diverse society. On the ground, we are all expected to read the rules, understand their spirit and come to logical solutions grounded firmly in universal principles.

York University’s administration has done us all a disservice by skipping its required reading.

Lost in the York U furor: Accommodation isn’t a trump card – The Globe and Mail.

George Brandis won’t say if Australians fighting in Syria will lose citizenship

More on the Australian plan to revoke citizenship (Canadian Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander has announced forthcoming revisions to the Citizenship Act will include such provisions). And some interesting insights into how the threats of radicalization and extremism have changed:

Negus [federal police commissioner] said Australian authorities were “very concerned about those lone actors who have been radicalised through the internet, who are travelling overseas to fight in other conflicts and then returning to Australia with increased capability to conduct something here”.

“We’ve seen in the last three or four years a number of prosecutions in Australia for small groups who have come together and been radicalised amongst a small group of people separate to their community and looking to carry out some violent behaviour here in Australia,” Negus said.

“Whilst I agree with the attorney [that] it’s undiminished, the threat and the nature of the threat has modified to not just mass casualty events but smaller lone actors who are much more difficult for law enforcement to keep a handle on because they’re not having large communications, they’re not actually doing large organisations. These can be radicalised in their own lounge room.”

George Brandis won’t say if Australians fighting in Syria will lose citizenship | World news | theguardian.com.

Calgary Mayor Nenshi’s diversity problem

I am not sure that greater attention to employment equity means that each and every group will argue for parity. That hasn’t been the case at the federal level, and there is something out of whack when senior management, in any organization, is monolithic:

Albertans really are colour-blind, most of ’em. They can afford to be. The province is an affluent land of individualistic, relatively independent farmers, entrepreneurs and non-union workers. But the broaching of racial grievance is not vexing only to those who are racists simpliciter. When well-meaning people hear the mayor talk about how there are not enough women and minorities in the upper ranks of Calgary’s government, they know perfectly well that, as soon as it does recruit some women and minorities, questions about minority women will follow. And then individual ethnic groups will start agitating for parity. And, before long, everybody is plunging into a thicket of mutually irresolvable claims and ad-hoc affirmative-action programs, with no one ever explicitly mentioning “quotas,” while overall institutional quality is neglected.

This is not what the mayor is proposing, but then, no one ever proposes such a thing explicitly. Nenshi’s complaint about city hall is obviously valid on its face—and yet the validity is quite irrelevant to the fears it will tend to arouse.

Nenshi’s diversity problem – Blog Central, Canada, Colby Cosh – Macleans.ca.

Library cuts trigger fears of knowledge drain

More on government reductions and cuts in government libraries. While pruning and digitizing collections is good practice, some press accounts suggest a less thorough process (e.g., Fisheries and Oceans libraries), with resulting loss of accumulated knowledge. Cutbacks to Library and Archives Canada a number of years back also undermine the Government’s record on knowledge and history.

I was amused, however, by this comment on access to material stored offsite:

Citizenship and Immigration spokesperson Remi Lariviere confirmed that the department’s library materials “are housed off-site with a private sector provider” in Laval, Que. He said the closure of the department library saves taxpayers about $200,000 a year and rejected suggestions that they are inaccessible to researchers.

Lariviere said there are “clear service standards for retrieval” and that most Citizenship and Immigration employees the predominant users of the department’s materials access documents online.

Given my experience with ATIP (where CIC fails to meet statutory requirements), or the lack of service standards for most citizenship and immigration dealings with the public, I must say I am somewhat sceptical. And the money saved for most departments is small change.

Library cuts trigger fears of knowledge drain.

Israel’s dilemma: Who can be an Israeli? – latimes.com

As the Canadian government prepares to introduce its revisions to the Citizenship Act, and in the wake of the Prime Minister’s trip to Israel, interesting commentary on the different classes of citizenship in Israel:


Some 60 years ago, the prescient Jewish thinker Simon Rawidowicz declared that it is not only Jews who dwell on the land by right, not sufferance, but also the Palestinian Arab population of Israel. That principle is one consistent with the vision of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which calls for equal rights for all of the country’s citizens and is the bedrock of Israel’s claim to democracy.


It’s time to apply that standard uniformly. Simply put, citizenship should not be divided into classes. Israel must begin to construct a meaningful sense of Israeli identity and confer an equal stake in the well-being of the society on all those entitled to call themselves citizens. Rights of residence and freedom in personal status issues should be the same for all citizens, whether they are Jewish according to religious law, Jewish only by citizenship or non-Jewish.

Israel’s dilemma: Who can be an Israeli? – latimes.com.

Why it’s possible to imagine a Marois majority – Inkless Wells

Good commentary on the Quebec Charter and related politics from Paul Wells:

It’s fun to notice, in public hearings on the proposed charter, how few of witnesses’ complaints would be addressed by the law. Once head scarves and big crucifixes are banned in the provincial workplace, the law’s supporters will wonder why bus drivers still wear them, or the guy at your corner store. Two witnesses this month became a YouTube sensation by wondering aloud why Muslims pray funny. State-endorsed recrimination isn’t easy to stop. Or, as Marois no doubt prefers to see it, it’s a growth market.

Why it’s possible to imagine a Marois majority – Editor’s Picks, Inkless Wells – Macleans.ca.

Excerpt: Divine Interventions, on religion and government | Rick Salutin

Some interesting commentary by Rick Salutin on secularism and post-secularism:

That’s the real argument for post-secular tolerance: not just that it’s right but that everyone feels better; you’re no longer stifled by the monolithic, exclusive nature of an identity that, back home, defined and determined who you were, totally outside your will; here, in the Canadian blender with no dominant force, other possibilities jostle with it. Slowly, everyone gains access to new resources and the freedom to try them.

If not a definition, what about rules — or, as Captain Jack Sparrow says, guidelines. Here’s one for religion’s post-secular role, with thanks to Alia Hogben: in political discussions, no one may quote God. Why? Because it cuts off debate and tries to restore the pre-post-secular status quo. It’s like Godwin’s law about Internet debates: whoever mentions Hitler first loses.

This poses a challenge to religious people: they must find ways to make their point without quoting God. It forces them to express themselves in ways accessible to unbelievers. Not everyone will agree, but it’s easier than banning believers from the political arena totally — which will just alienate and frustrate them while depriving others of the benefit of their insights.

Besides, religion isn’t going to go anywhere. It’s more likely that other components of the post-secular public square, like Marxism, Ayn Randism, atheism, humanism or even, God willing, neo-liberal economics, will depart first. The point isn’t that religion in its many versions has answers that others don’t, but it’s one resource among others.

Excerpt: Divine Interventions, an ebook about religion and government | Toronto Star.

Not all ethnic media outlets keen to pose with PM – Politics – CBC News

Good article by Kady O’Malley on the government’s approach to ethnic media, part of their outreach to ethnic communities. Strong comments by Madeline Zinick, Canadian Ethnic Media Association chair and Omni TV vice-president (one of the main TV stations offering program in numerous languages):

“Generally, those journalists who are aggressive, and who like to do analysis and be challenging to the PM or any politician, more and more, they aren’t enjoying this kind of cattle call gong show approach,” she told CBC News.

According to Zinick, before the holidays Harper, who skipped his annual Christmas reception for the parliamentary press gallery, was the guest of honour at what his office billed as an “intimate family event” in Toronto, to which key “media leaders” were encouraged to bring members of their families in lieu of a TV crew.

“No cameras, no photos, no audio … you can’t report it in any way. Everyone had to wait in the holding area until Harper and his wife [Laureen] appeared, and there were no questions, just individual photos.”

Given those restrictions, Zinick says, “Why go and waste your time?”

Previous governments also courted the ethnic media (as do all political parties). However, previous governments did not spurn the national media to this extent by limiting media access.

Not all ethnic media outlets keen to pose with PM – Politics – CBC News.

Canada led campaign to save exhibition on Jewish history in Middle East after Arab coalition quashed it | National Post

Interesting story about the UNESCO exhibit on Jewish history in the Mid-East, caught up in the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Historical narratives are powerful, and both sides want to ensure that the historical narratives reinforces their political position. Denial of the Jewish presence and history in the Mid-East has antisemitic overtones, just as denial of the Palestinian narrative has anti-Arab overtones. And while Canada played a role in reversing the UNESCO decision:

Ultimately, however, it was likely the United States who had the better clout in having the exhibition reinstated. On Jan. 17, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power disavowed any assertion that the Paris show would compromise John Kerry’s peacemaking efforts.

“UNESCO’s decision is wrong and should be reversed,” she said in a statement cited by Reuters. “The United States has engaged at senior levels to urge UNESCO to allow this exhibit to proceed as soon as possible.”

Four days later, the cultural agency reversed its decision, writing in a statement that “the exhibition has not been cancelled but postponed.”

“People, Book, Land” is now set for a June 11 opening.

Canada led campaign to save exhibition on Jewish history in Middle East after Arab coalition quashed it | National Post.

Canadian citizenship rules face broad reform in 2014 – CBC News

Minister Alexander does some pre-messaging on what’s in, what’s out in the upcoming revisions to The Citizenship Act, expected to be tabled shortly in Parliament.

What’s in:

  • Further measures to reduce some of the remaining gaps in “lost Canadians”, Canadians who lost their citizenship due (i.e., personal circumstances before 1947 when Canadian citizenship was introduced such as war brides);
  • Providing an exemption (likely) for the children of those born abroad to Canadian government personnel to the second generation limit;
  • Similar provisions to Britain (and likely coming to Australia) stripping citizens of citizenship involved in terrorism abroad (Australians fighting in Syria could lose citizenshipBritish fighters in Syria stripped of UK citizenship);
  • Inclusion of some elements, not specified, of Devinder Shory, Conservative MP’s bill, stripping Canadian citizenship of those “engaged in an act of war against the Canadian Forces”, and reducing residency requirements by one year for those signing up to the Forces (US has some similar provisions;
  • Longer residency requirements and making it clear that physical presence is required, combined with a promise of shorter wait times (but no service standards or published statistics to ensure accountability); and,
  • Other unspecified integrity measures.

What’s not:

  • Change in jus soli (automatic citizenship to those born in Canada). While the Minister indicated ongoing concern about “passport babies”, and said CIC is still working on the issue, too complex given the implication for the provinces and vital stats agencies to propose something concrete now. There was never any hard evidence on the extent of “passport babies” (i.e., data from health ministries on number of babies born whose parents did not have healthcare); rather the government relied on anecdotes, albeit informed by formal consultations.

Canadian citizenship rules face broad reform in 2014 – Politics – CBC News.