Ibbitson: At the core of the SNC-Lavalin affair, a familiar case of he said, she said

The most interesting commentary on the SNC-Lavalin affair I have seen, given its gender take:

Justin Trudeau and the Old Boys at SNC-Lavalin will never understand why so many people are so angry at them. They’ll never understand why those women over at the Justice Department fought them and defeated them.

But others do understand. They know what frustrated privilege looks like, what happens when powerful men don’t get their way.

“I’m not going to apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs, because that’s my job,” Mr. Trudeau repeated, defiantly, Thursday, after Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion found the Prime Minister had repeatedly violated the Conflict of Interest Act in trying to prevent the criminal prosecution of the engineering firm. “I disagree with the Ethics Commissioner’s conclusions,” he declared, even though “I take full responsibility.”

Prime Minister: If you won’t apologize and you reject the report’s conclusions, you are taking no responsibility at all.

But this fits with Mr. Trudeau’s attitude and the attitude of those who surrounded him during this affair.

Consider: SNC-Lavalin had been pushing for a deferred prosecution agreement that would let it escape trial on corruption charges practically from the day the Liberals took office. It worked.

After then-chief executive officer Neil Bruce met with Finance Minister Bill Morneau at the Davos Economic Forum (of course), Mr. Morneau inserted a measure into the 2018 budget that would allow a company in SNC-Lavalin’s situation to secure a deferred prosecution agreement.

Mr. Morneau was shocked when Kathleen Roussel, Director of Public Prosecutions and the first woman to stand up against this Old Boys club, decided later that year that SNC-Lavalin did not qualify for a deferred prosecution agreement. Mr. Morneau and Mr. Trudeau believed Jody Wilson-Raybould, as attorney-general, should intervene. Ms Wilson-Raybould, the second woman in the line of fire, backed Ms. Roussel.

The Old Boys fought back. Former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci, who is legal counsel to SNC-Lavalin, offered an opinion that an intervention by the attorney-general would be legitimate. Another former Supreme Court justice, John Major, weighed in on a related matter.

Meanwhile, aides to Mr. Morneau and Mr. Trudeau put pressure on Jessica Prince, Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s chief of staff, to make her boss see the light. They failed.

Mr. Trudeau and Michael Wernick, then-clerk of the Privy Council, met in person with Ms. Wilson-Raybould, to no avail. But aides Mathieu Bouchard and Elder Marques kept pushing. So did Gerry Butts, Mr. Trudeau’s then-principal secretary, and, to a lesser extend, Katie Telford, Mr. Trudeau’s chief of staff.

Kevin Lynch, chairman of SNC-Lavalin and a former clerk of the Privy Council, and Robert Prichard, legal counsel for SNC-Lavalin and former president of at University of Toronto (among many other things), took the matter to Scott Brison, then-president of the Treasury Board. Mr. Brison was sympathetic, but he got nowhere with Ms. Wilson-Raybould, either.

SNC-Lavalin proposed that Beverley McLachlin, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, mediate a settlement. But Ms. McLachlin had her own reservations and Ms. Wilson-Raybould saw no need to consult her. So that was that.

Put it all together. On one side, a coalition that included Mr. Trudeau, two cabinet ministers, the clerk of the Privy Council, political advisers and the leadership at SNC-Lavalin. Almost every one of them a man, steeped in the Ottawa establishment and used to being obeyed.

On the other side, a group of women, led by Ms. Wilson-Raybould, that included her chief of staff, the Director of Public Prosecutions and deputy minister Nathalie Drouin. They were joined by Jane Philpott, who ultimately resigned from cabinet in solidarity with her friend.

According to the report, Mr. Trudeau’s lawyer described the Prime Minister’s relationship with Ms. Wilson-Raybould as “challenging and tense.” He alleged friction between the minister and cabinet colleagues, and described her decision-making as “infected by legal misunderstanding and political motivation.”

So which is it? Did a difficult and unqualified attorney-general resist the reasonable advice of the Prime Minister and his senior advisers, who were trying to save a valued company from an unnecessary prosecution that could put it out of business, costing thousands of jobs?

Or, did a domineering group of entitled men unsuccessfully try to bully Ms. Wilson-Raybould into interfering in a criminal prosecution, for which the Prime Minister should apologize?

We know what Mr. Trudeau thinks. What do you think?

Source: Opinion At the core of the SNC-Lavalin affair, a familiar case of he said, she said

The myth of Eurabia: how a far-right conspiracy theory went mainstream

Good long read. Excerpt below:

Source: The myth of Eurabia: how a far-right conspiracy theory went mainstream

Trump’s immigration policies are causing corporate employee revolts

Of note:

Employees at several big companies, including Google and Whole Foods, are revolting against their bosses for accepting work from government agencies that enforce the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Why it matters: The immigration debate has become so polarizing under President Trump that companies are now finding themselves at odds with their workforces for being involved at any level with the immigration enforcement process.

Driving the news: Employees at Google circulated a petition Wednesday demanding that Google publicly commit not to support government agencies that engage in practices they feel amount to “human rights abuses.”

  • The petition calls for Google not to provide any “infrastructure, funding, or engineering resources, directly or indirectly” for Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). They’re worried because CBP is looking for a contractor to provide cloud computing services.
  • Whole Foods employees demanded this week that Amazon, their parent company, cut ties with Palantir, a government contractor that’s being called out for its work with ICE.
  • Ogilvy, a global PR agency, was forced to confront angry employees at a town hall meeting last month over a multi-million dollar contract with CBP. The agency’s CEO wrote to staffers in late July that the agency would continue to do work with the agency, despite employee backlash.

Between the lines: Even companies that are far removed from the government are under fire for ties to immigration.

  • In June, Wayfair workers protested the company’s furniture sales to an immigration detention camp. The tension between employees and the company spooked investors too, with Wayfair’s stock taking a hit as employees protested.
  • Axios’ Ina Fried reported in July that a nonprofit group slammed Palantir for its ties to government agencies in a study that details all corporate ties to CBP vendors.

Be smart: More than ever, there is pressure on corporations and their leadership to stand up for social issues that their costumers and employees care about. For instance, in recent months, several banks — including Bank of America, J.P. Morgan, Wells Fargo and SunTrust — said they would no longer lend money to companies that run immigrant detention centers.

  • Yes, but: That pressure companies face can be problematic for brands that need to serve a wide range of customers and employ diverse workforces. Advocates are pushing to hold companies accountable for their policies by encouraging employee and consumer activism on social media, but some employees feel that the pressure is alienating conservatives.

The big picture: Several issues have become divisive for companies and their workforces under the last two years of the administration, according to a Morning Consult survey.

  • Guns have become more contentious in the wake of high-profile mass shootings like Parkland. Walmart employees staged a walkout last week to protest gun sales after two mass shootings left dozens dead in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio.

  • Restrictive abortion bills at the state level have forced many companies to change their policies or pull their business from certain states. Earlier this year, Hollywood heavyweights like Netflix, Disney, NBC and WarnerMedia all considered film production boycotts if Georgia upheld a controversial “fetal heartbeat” abortion ban.

Source: Trump’s immigration policies are causing corporate employee revolts

Why Diversity and Inclusion Is a Strategic Imperative for [political] Campaigns

From Anthony Robinson the political director at the National Democratic Training Committee, on their approach (all Canadian parties, perhaps save the Bloc and PPC, do this given the large number of immigrants and visible minorities in many ridings):

The rise of diversity and inclusion initiatives and organizational focus over the last several years marks an important shift in our nation’s perspective on opportunity.

Strategists across the public and private sectors agree that the social, political, and organizational challenges of the 21st century are increasingly becoming more complex. As a result, the backgrounds of the leaders and teams finding solutions to these challenges requires a broad and diverse skill set needed to address these issues and make sure D&I (diversity and inclusion) doesn’t become a passive buzz word.

Campaigns are no different.

The nation’s electorate is increasingly becoming more diverse. So, why aren’t campaigns and political party operative and organizations — at least below the presidential level — more intentional about broadening their campaign staff to reflect this shift?

Our electorate continues to be more brown, female, LGBTQ+, and multicultural, while campaign staffs remain white, male, and typically made up of the same individuals who have run party politics for a very long time.

Candidates can no longer hang their hats on diversity and inclusion in campaign promises and not follow it up with a campaign staff which reflects the growing diversity of the electorate. But this challenge cannot be solved overnight. Without a long-term scalable solution, we’ll continue to face the same challenges year after year.

In a 2017 survey by Inclusv, the 41 Democratic state party organizations that participated revealed they collectively employ 401 staffers and 128 identify as people of color. With the increased votes shares from 2012 to 2016 nearing almost 50 percent for people of color, this demographic only represents 32 percent of the workforce.

Alida Garcia, co-founder of Inclusv said, “We must recognize the direct correlation between who works on campaigns and how those campaigns engage the communities disproportionately impacted by every issue on the national agenda. Authentic and deliberate inclusion is a vital component for candidates to succeed.”

Responding to the need for more diverse staffers on campaigns, my organization created a training program that prioritizes leaders who identify as women, as trans and non-binary, and as people of color. These communities continuously drive the Democratic Party but are historically underrepresented on our campaigns, relative to their vote share. We want to ensure we, as a party, are representative of our voters.

We’ve seen our graduates land jobs throughout the industry. But more needs to be done. In order to improve the makeup of campaign staff, it’s critically important that there be a transformational change to the culture of campaigns. Here’s how that can be achieved.

A change in the narrative.

Diversity must work in tandem with inclusion. Culture change must be more than checking a box. This means campaigns are intentional in the creation of systems to fuel equity and access for diverse leaders and staffers. Systems which create inclusive and diverse staffs but also retain them.

In order for this to be a reality campaigns must transform the way they have traditionally recruited, hired, and trained campaign staffers. Lasting transformational change must incorporate innovation and new processes and expectations, not “fast following.” This includes a productive shift in assumptions and behaviors, as well as improved organizational expectations, policies, and expression of power.

These actionable steps can be put into three core groups.

  • Empower diverse and inclusive leadership. They often build inclusive teams that perform at a high level.
  • Put D&I in place across workforce and operations. This can only be achieved by having an intentional recruiting strategy and implementation plan.
  • Put forward an organizational vision for D&I. There should be inclusive internal and external communication and meaningful diversity and inclusion education.

I am often asked about the idea that emphasizing diversity takes time away from organizational goals or that there should be a focus on “diversity of thought.” My response is two-fold. First, a focus on diversity and inclusion doesn’t take time away from the overall objective. It should be part of the objective. Second, seeking diversity and inclusion doesn’t mean you’re not also seeking the most talented person for the job.

There’s an issue in your organization if it’s thought that prioritizing diversity means you’re somehow de-prioritizing talent. Organizations that are future-focused, innovative, and understand the strategic advantage of having an inclusive staff will be more successful.

Source: Why Diversity and Inclusion Is a Strategic Imperative for Campaigns

As Quebec cuts immigration, businesses turn to temporary foreign workers

Understandable effect:

As the Quebec government slashes immigration levels this year, it is also overseeing a huge increase in the number of temporary foreign workers coming to the province.

The inflow of temporary workers is helping Quebec deal with an increasingly dire labour shortage, but experts say the strategy is unsustainable economically and makes newcomers more vulnerable to exploitation.

Under the federal temporary foreign worker program, Quebec’s consent is required to bring a worker to the province.

The number of new Quebec employees hired through the program has jumped dramatically in recent months, and not just in the agricultural sector, but other sectors as well, such as tourism, food processing and manufacturing.

In 2018, 17,685 permits were issued to foreigners for temporary work in Quebec, a 36 per cent increase from the previous year, the biggest jump of any of the largest provinces.

The numbers are on track to rise again in 2019. In the first three months after the fall provincial election, the number of active permits rose by 32 per cent compared to the same period the year prior.

Permits were up 21 per cent in the first three months of 2019.

This increase comes despite plans by the Coalition Avenir Québec government to reduce the number of immigrants by 20 per cent this year.

That goal has drawn sharp criticism from business groups, who say they urgently need immigrants to help fill the 120,000 positions currently vacant in the province.

These groups warn the government that with Quebec’s aging population and low birth rate, the labour shortage will only get worse in the years ahead.

Province’s workforce is aging

Quebec’s Immigration Ministry said in a statement the objective of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is “to meet the urgent and specific needs of Quebec employers facing difficulties in recruiting local workers.”

Economists and business lobby groups, however, are skeptical about the program’s ability to meet the province’s long-term economic needs.

The higher number of temporary workers in the province is indeed helping offset the labour shortage, according to a recent analysis by Scotiabank.

But Marc Desormeaux, a provincial economist with the bank, said it doesn’t address the underlying structural crisis facing the Quebec economy: an aging workforce and shrinking labour pool.

“The question is whether the explosive recent pace of temporary foreign worker intake can be sustained over the longer run,” he said.

Denis Hamel, vice-president of the Conseil du patronat du Québec, a lobby group for employers in the province, likened the rise in temporary foreign workers to a “Band-Aid solution.”

It wasn’t addressing the labour shortage or the backlog in the immigration process, Hamel said.

“Employers have to look at the TFW program because they don’t have a choice. Delays are so long with the regular immigration path that if you want to fulfil a job in a six- to eight-month period you have to turn the TFW,” he said.

Process can take 6 months: lawyer

In order to hire a foreign worker, companies must demonstrate they would otherwise be unable to fill the position, a federally run process known as a Labour Market Impact Assessment.

Foreign workers must also obtain Quebec’s consent through what’s called a Quebec Acceptance Certificate.

Immigration lawyer Ho Sung Kim said the whole process can take up to six months and cost thousands of dollars, which can be prohibitive for a small business, such as a restaurant.

“But they do need people, and they are not able to find people locally, and that’s a big problem,” said Kim, who sits on the board of the Quebec Immigration Lawyers Association.

Moreover, those hoping to become permanent residents also have little recourse if they are mistreated, given their uncertain status.

“It’s not the ideal situation,” said Kim.

“Their stay is temporary and the renewal of the work permit is not always guaranteed and a lot of times they come with their family and want to settle down, and the pathway to permanent residency is less clear.”

The CAQ government is holding legislative hearings in Quebec City to discuss its immigration plan, which envisions a gradual return to the immigration levels hit in 2018, that is, somewhere around 50,000 newcomers.

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said Tuesday the province is in talks with the federal government to make the Temporary Foreign Worker Program more flexible.

Business groups countered by saying the red tape involved with the program isn’t the only problem.

The Quebec Restaurant Association, for instance, called on the government to dramatically increase the number of immigrants to satisfy the needs of its members.

“Immigration is an undeniable tool that can alleviate the current labour shortage,” said Vincent Arsenault, head of the organization.

Source: As Quebec cuts immigration, businesses turn to temporary foreign workers

Martin Patriquin: The Quebec Liberals’ sad interculturalism gambit

Of note:

The Quebec Liberal Party is in the midst of an identity crisis. About 150 years into its existence, the party finds itself in the very unfamiliar position of being out of power and largely out of favour with the province’s electorate — it has been left bobbing in the deep blue wake of Premier François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Quebec. So the Quebec Liberals appear to have staked their future in targeting the gut-level issues of identity and cultural insecurity. In so doing, Quebec’s de facto multicultural party is distancing itself from the very concept, and the consequences are both huge and unfortunate for the province as a whole.

Last weekend, the Liberal Party’s youth wing voted in favour of the adoption of a law on interculturalism. For those of you rushing to the nearest dictionary, don’t bother; the term is obscure in origin and application. Essentially, it’s a contract between Quebec society and its new arrivals, in which integration happens by way of a common language (French) and culture. Apparently, it’s official Quebec policy, though when I asked in 2011, no one could tell me for how long. “It’s been like that for a number of years, I think,” a spokesperson told me at the time. The word barely appears on the government’s website and is rarely uttered by its ministers.

But the definition of the term isn’t nearly as important as the context in which the Liberals are suddenly pushing it. Quebec’s Liberal Party has long been the parking lot of choice for the anglophone and allophone vote. Though this has given the party a long and enviable advantage in Montreal and its immediate environs, this sizeable voting bloc was a millstone for the party in the last election. The CAQ savaged the Liberals for being too English, too urbane, too out of touch and too … multicultural.

The CAQ’s trope, shabbily hidden behind these code words, is simple enough: that recent arrivals to Quebec don’t assimilate, are ambivalent or worse toward the French language, and are as such a detriment to the future of the Québécois nation. It worked like hell, and now the Liberals want in.

Granted, it isn’t the first time the party has been late to the identity game. In 1974, in an attempt to stave off a surging Parti Québécois, the Liberals introduced Bill 22, which made French the official language of government and the workplace. The party was at first fervently against Bill 101, the Parti Québécois’s ensuing (and far more restrictive) language law before coming out in its favour.

But there is a massive difference between Quebec’s language laws and the CAQ’s more recent legislation targeting immigrants and religious minorities. Bill 22 and Bill 101, the latter of which has thankfully been law for over four decades, addressed a quantifiable problem concerning the French language. Namely, without legislation buttressing its precarious existence in Quebec’s classrooms and workplaces, French would disappear. Conversely, the alleged non-integration of recent arrivals to Quebec is an unsubstantiated fear — a “crisis of perception”largely conjured by certain members of the political and media classes eager for a wedge issue to exploit. In fact, and contrary to this fear, Quebec’s language laws have ensured that successive waves of immigrants are schooled in French. Interculturalism had exactly nothing to do with any of this.

Its interculturalism gambit is the Liberal Party’s attempt to ingratiate itself with the white francophone majority by appealing to its baser fears. Even sadder: I doubt the party will suffer one iota because of it. This province’s immigrants, allophones and English types, long supporters of the Quebec Liberal Party out of conviction or convenience, have no one else to vote for. They are a captive audience, for better and now for worse.

Source: Martin Patriquin: The Quebec Liberals’ sad interculturalism gambit

The New Saudi Diaspora Why MBS Should Worry About Asylum Seekers

Interesting article and of course, we have our examples (e.g., Ensaf Haidar, wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi):

At first glance, it may not seem as though Saudi university students, disgruntled princes, Islamists, and teenage girls have much in common. But members of all these groups are leaving Saudi Arabia and seeking asylum in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Their numbers may be modest compared with those of the refugees who have fled Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria in the past two decades, but these asylum seekers are a political problem for the kingdom—one that its supposedly modernizing young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), can no longer ignore.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 815 Saudi citizens applied for asylum in 2017, a 318 percent increase from 2012. And that’s not counting the unofficial asylum seekers—those living abroad in a state of self-exile, delaying their return to the country for fear of repression. The murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi was one of them.

This new, outspoken Saudi diaspora poses several problems for the kingdom. For one, Saudi Arabia spends millions of dollars on scholarships in order to lessen its dependency on foreign labor; it cannot then afford to lose its highly educated young citizens to exile abroad. The diaspora is also creating an image issue: behind every asylum seeker is a story of injustice and repression that punctures the official narrative about the new, modern Saudi Arabia, flush with economic opportunity. For this reason among others, asylum seekers strain Saudi Arabia’s relationships with their host governments, who are all allies and partners of the regime in Riyadh.


MBS has trained particular resources and attention on young Saudis, promoting artistic and entrepreneurial initiatives designed to open the economy and reward youth creativity and talent. He even started an initiative, the Misk Foundation, dedicated to empowering youth to participate in the Saudi economy. But the very demographic MBS courts produces the majority of asylum seekers leaving the country. These newer exiles join the many students who obtained government scholarships to study in Europe and the United States during King Abdullah’s reign from 2005 to 2015 and failed to return to build the “new Saudi Arabia” afterward. By the time MBS had consolidated his power and become the new face of Saudi Arabia in 2017, many of those students were inclined to be skeptical of the crown prince’s promises of creativity, opportunity, and prosperity. They feared repression if they returned to Saudi Arabia—especially if they had taken advantage of freedoms abroad to criticize the regime and expose its shortcomings.

Their fears were well-grounded, as the Saudi regime isn’t hard to provoke. A tweet, a WhatsApp message, or participation in an academic or policy event deemed hostile to the regime is all it might take to wind up on a suspect list in MBS’ Saudi Arabia. The regime maintains tight control over its citizens abroad, watching their every move with developed surveillance technology. The scandal of pervasive surveillance was exposed after the Khashoggi murder, when it became public knowledge that the regime had hacked the phone of a young activist, Omar al-Zahrani, in Canada and recorded his communication with the slain journalist.

Young, educated asylum seekers undermine Saudi propaganda about the new opportunities on offer in the kingdom. And exiled princes challenge the myth of solidarity and cohesion in the royal family. The latter image has eroded since the purge of November 2017, when MBS detained high-ranking princes, including Alwaleed bin Talal and Mutaib bin Abdullah, at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh. The flight of a handful of princes who have taken up residence in Europe underlines the fact that under the new crown prince, the regime has changed its strategy from buying off problematic princes to threatening them with humiliating detention.

Young, educated asylum seekers undermine Saudi propaganda about the new opportunities on offer in the kingdom.

Prince Khalid bin Farhan al-Saud is one example of a dissident prince who has eroded the regime’s power from afar. From exile in Germany, Prince Khalid announced his defection in 2013 and started a media campaign to undermine MBS. In interviews with the BBC and other news organizations that the regime considers hostile, Prince Khalid accused the royal family of hypocrisy for enjoying prohibited pleasures such as drinking alcohol and partying while denying them to ordinary citizens, and he characterized King Salman as a “Machiavellian monarch.” After the Khashoggi murder, Prince Khalid announced that he had escaped from a kidnapping attempt in Germany, allegedly ordered by the crown prince.

Exiled princes tend not to come from the core House of Saud lineage that has ruled the kingdom since 1933. But in a family dynasty in which the king is supposed to be primus inter pares, the first among equals, even the defection of a minor prince fractures the foundation of dynastic rule. Now that it is clear that MBS is willing to punish, kidnap, and humiliate defectors, exile has become the only solution for disgruntled princes. Prince Khalid was lucky. Other princes, such as Saif al-Islam al-Saud and Sultan ibn Turki al-Saud, were kidnapped from Europe and returned to Saudi Arabia and have not been seen since.

The newest emerging category of Saudi exiles are the so-called runaway girls. More than 1,000 girls between the ages of 18 and 25 have left Saudi Arabia under MBS, fleeing the strict control—and in some cases, physical and sexual abuse—their guardians impose on them. Their difficult journeys risk bringing even more restrictions and punishments upon them if they are forced to go back to Saudi Arabia.

A recent high-profile case has drawn international attention to the runaway girls. On January 5, 2019, 18-year-old Rahaf al-Qunun was detained at the Bangkok airport while on her way to seek asylum in Australia. Qunun spent several days in a hotel room at the airport before Canada granted her asylum. Without the support of many Saudi and non-Saudi activists, she might have shared the fate of other, less fortunate runaway girls: repatriation to the kingdom against her will. The regime now acknowledges this problem to the extent that it allowed the airing of debates on the issue in state-sponsored media after Qunun fled the country. Public discussion of the problem may imply that the government is starting to take it seriously; it may also be a way for the government to deflect the crisis and shift the blame to the girls’ parents or guardians.


Saudi exiles are extremely diverse in their political orientations but united in their grievances against the kingdom under MBS: restricted speech, corruption, the marginalization of women and minorities, and abuses of human rights. The latter concern dominated an opposition conference, hosted by the new forum Diwan London, in December 2018. Among the participants were the Washington-based activist Hala al-Dosari, now Jamal Khashoggi fellow at The Washington Post; the feminist activists Amani al-Ahmadi and Amani al-Issa; the newly exiled Islamists Sultan al-Abdali, Muhammad al-Omari, Ahmad bin Rashid al-Said, and Mohammed al-Qahtani; and the Shiite activist Fuad Ibrahim. They were joined by exiles who had fled the kingdom in the 1990s, such as the physics professor Muhammad al-Massari. All presented their visions for a different Saudi Arabia. Some advocated practical measures to stop repression and detentions; others called for the overthrow of the regime.

The regime’s worst nightmare is a critical mass of dissidents abroad—especially high-profile, articulate ones.

So far, neither Saudi Arabia nor the host governments have taken asylum seekers seriously as a political force. But as their numbers grow and they begin to form a united front, these exiles will become an increasing embarrassment to the regime and its allies. Many are now regular commentators for the global news media, analyzing Saudi affairs in ways that are bound to shift public opinion against the regime. For example, the detained Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul has a brother, Walid, in the United States and a sister, Alya, in Belgium, both of whom campaign for her release and regularly inform the news media about the abuse and torture to which she is subjected. Vigorous reporting by human rights organizations, UN agencies, and the global news media makes it harder for host countries to deny these Saudis asylum.

In the past, Saudi Arabia depended on its allies to deport its exiles. It considers granting them asylum an act of betrayal. Take Canada, for example, whose diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia suffered owing to its criticisms of the regime’s human rights abuses and its hosting of outspoken exiles such as Ensaf Haidar, the wife of Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and several years in prison for setting up a liberal Internet forum. Zahrani is also in Canada, together with almost 200 other young asylum seekers. The regime fears that exiles who gain asylum will encourage others to flee. Its worst nightmare is a critical mass of dissidents abroad—especially high-profile, articulate ones. Khashoggi’s murder attests to the policy of zero tolerance for such critical voices abroad: they are treated not as nuisances but as national security threats. The more exiles arrive in the lands of the crown prince’s best allies and supporters, the more Riyadh will pressure the host governments to play down their numbers and deny them refuge.

Even after the global outrage following the murder of Khashoggi, Saudi repression remains fierce, and MBS continues to make enemies. He will not be able to buy off, intimidate, or eliminate all of them, and the diaspora will continue to grow. But he may try to stem the exodus, for example, by banning activists and dissidents from travel—keeping his friends close and his enemies closer.

Source: The New Saudi Diaspora

Fletcher: ‘Diversity’ won’t tell you if a politician is competent

Former Harper government and current PPC candidate Fletcher has some valid points regarding life experience diversity and that standard measures of diversity (women, Indigenous, Persons with disabilities, visible minorities) are incomplete and imperfect measures.

Less convinced by his arguments that the standard measures have been at the expense of competency:

What does a picture of a group of people tell us?

Often, in the media and in the general public, a photo is used to demonstrate diversity. People may look at the colour of the skin, hair colour, eye colour, age, gender, size of the people in the picture and assume that the group is diverse and therefore qualified.

In elections, political parties use the appearance of diversity to suggest competency. This diversity “picture” seems to be strongest on the left of the political spectrum in Canada, but it certainly has infiltrated all parties. However, judging competency based on appearance is really quite ridiculous. The diversity “picture” championed by the left assumes a monolithic view of visible minorities.

The electorate should not vote based on appearance of diversity, but on the diversity of the competency of the candidate. We should look to the diversity of skill sets when voting.

Skill sets cannot be determined by gender, skin colour or any of the other stereotypical characteristics that too many people associate with diversity. The assumptions people make about other people they do not know are usually wrong. A photo tells us nothing about an individual’s ability to represent any of us.

Diversity needs to include people who have education, experience and knowledge that best allow for good public policy development and implementation. It can also include life experience.

There are not enough engineers, accountants, trades people, medical professionals and numerous other skill sets in any party. Parliament is weaker as a result. In fact, there are probably too many lawyers and liberal arts graduates taking up space.

At present, the diversity test seems to be a binary choice between male/female ratios or visible minorities. But visible minorities and gender are not homogeneous in their views. Just because someone is purple doesn’t mean they represent all the purple people.

When I first entered politics, it was assumed that I was an NDP supporter and sometimes a Liberal. This assumption arose because I happen to be a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down.

It is true that for a lot of good reasons many of the activists in the disabled community are left-of-centre. It was striking how common this assumption was made when I first started door-knocking for the federal election in 2004.

People also assume that because someone is in a wheelchair, it affects the hearing and cognitive functions of that individual. People sometimes raise their voice when explaining something.

Another misconception is on the cognitive side. I recall a radio interview on the main station in Winnipeg, CJOB, when the announcer asked me on live radio, “Why would anyone vote for you over the star Liberal candidate, especially given your condition?” My reply was, “I believe the constituents would rather have an MP that was paralyzed from the neck down than the neck up.” I wasn’t applying to be the quarterback of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers; I was applying for a position that I was qualified to perform. Half a dozen stereotypes were blown out of the water in that radio interview.

I was recently in a “higher learning” program for executives for corporations. In the program, we were shown a photo of an example of what the program called “a model of a corporate board.” The class was asked to comment, and most of the class responded robotically and positively towards the photo. Not me.

The photo provides no information; it simply allows people to impose their own biases and stereotypes onto the images without merit.

The foremost criteria must be competency, always. Competency may include diversity, but diversity does not guarantee competency.

A recent example in Manitoba is when the largest Crown corporation in the province, Manitoba Hydro, saw an entire board resign en masse. They did this on principle, due to government interference. The replacement board of political appointees certainly appeared to be photographically politically correct. But in an unusual demonstration of self-awareness, these political appointees demanded the government add members, because the board as appointed did not have the skill sets to fulfil its responsibilities.

The government was caught out by its own appointees in its misguided attempt to be politically correct.

In 2011, a federal NDP candidate was elected and became famous because she hadn’t actually done much campaigning. She spent a part of the election in Las Vegas, worked as a waitress at a bar and was a single mother. This MP was mocked from all sides.

It was my impression, which is shared by many others, that she is one of the most effective and talented MPs for the NDP, or any party, for that matter. The diversity she brought was in her different life experience and work ethic.

Recently, a Liberal MP was whining about the MP workload. Good grief.

I worked underground in the mining industry. That was hard work: dangerous, long hours and no breaks. Perhaps, a few hard-rock miners should go to Parliament to demonstrate work ethic.

The political establishment in Canada is collectively responsible for reinforcing stereotypes for political gain – gaming Canadians to put appearance ahead of the competency of the candidates. The political party space-takers are denying many more qualified people the opportunity to run for Parliament.

The foremost criteria must be competency, always. Competency may include diversity, but diversity does not guarantee competency.

Hopefully, in this election Canadian people will vote for the person rather than the party. In exchange, whoever becomes an MP must represent the people, not the party. Can you imagine?

Source: Fletcher: ‘Diversity’ won’t tell you if a politician is competent

The language gives it away: How an algorithm can help us detect fake news


Have you ever read something online and shared it among your networks, only to find out it was false?

As a software engineer and computational linguist who spends most of her work and even leisure hours in front of a computer screen, I am concerned about what I read online. In the age of social media, many of us consume unreliable news sources. We’re exposed to a wild flow of information in our social networks — especially if we spend a lot of time scanning our friends’ random posts on Twitter and Facebook.

My colleagues and I at the Discourse Processing Lab at Simon Fraser University have conducted research on the linguistic characteristics of fake news.

The effects of fake news

A study in the United Kingdom found that about two-thirds of the adults surveyed regularly read news on Facebook, and that half of those had the experience of initially believing a fake news story. Another study, conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, focused on the cognitive aspects of exposure to fake news and found that, on average, newsreaders believe a false news headline at least 20 percent of the time.

False stories are now spreading 10 times faster than real news and the problem of fake news seriously threatens our society.

For example, during the 2016 election in the United States, an astounding number of U.S. citizens believed and shared a patently false conspiracy claiming that Hilary Clinton was connected to a human trafficking ring run out of a pizza restaurant. The owner of the restaurant received death threats, and one believer showed up in the restaurant with a gun. This — and a number of other fake news stories distributed during the election season — had an undeniable impact on people’s votes.


It’s often difficult to find the origin of a story after partisan groups, social media bots and friends of friends have shared it thousands of times. Fact-checking websites such as Snopes and Buzzfeed can only address a small portion of the most popular rumors.

The technology behind the internet and social media has enabled this spread of misinformation; maybe it’s time to ask what this technology has to offer in addressing the problem.

In an interview, Hilary Clinton discusses ‘Pizzagate’ and the problem of fake news online.

Giveaways in writing style

Recent advances in machine learning have made it possible for computers to instantaneously complete tasks that would have taken humans much longer. For example, there are computer programs that help police identify criminal faces in a matter of seconds. This kind of artificial intelligence trains algorithms to classify, detect and make decisions.

When machine learning is applied to natural language processing, it is possible to build text classification systems that recognize one type of text from another.

During the past few years, natural language processing scientists have become more active in building algorithms to detect misinformation; this helps us to understand the characteristics of fake news and develop technology to help readers.

One approach finds relevant sources of information, assigns each source a credibility score and then integrates them to confirm or debunk a given claim. This approach is heavily dependent on tracking down the original source of news and scoring its credibility based on a variety of factors.

A second approach examines the writing style of a news article rather than its origin. The linguistic characteristics of a written piece can tell us a lot about the authors and their motives. For example, specific words and phrases tend to occur more frequently in a deceptive text compared to one written honestly.

Spotting fake news

Our research identifies linguistic characteristics to detect fake news using machine learning and natural language processing technology. Our analysis of a large collection of fact-checked news articles on a variety of topics shows that, on average, fake news articles use more expressions that are common in hate speech, as well as words related to sex, death and anxiety. Genuine news, on the other hand, contains a larger proportion of words related to work (business) and money (economy).

This suggests that a stylistic approach combined with machine learning might be useful in detecting suspicious news.

Our fake news detector is built based on linguistic characteristics extracted from a large body of news articles. It takes a piece of text and shows how similar it is to the fake news and real news items that it has seen before. (Try it out!)

The main challenge, however, is to build a system that can handle the vast variety of news topics and the quick change of headlines online, because computer algorithms learn from samples and if these samples are not sufficiently representative of online news, the model’s predictions would not be reliable.

One option is to have human experts collect and label a large quantity of fake and real news articles. This data enables a machine-learning algorithm to find common features that keep occurring in each collection regardless of other varieties. Ultimately, the algorithm will be able to distinguish with confidence between previously unseen real or fake news articles.

Source: The language gives it away: How an algorithm can help us detect fake news

Australia’s new suicide prevention advisor says culturally specific support ‘critical’

Of note (as is the case of mental health and other areas):

Christine Morgan has what some might think is an impossible task ahead of her.

She has been appointed as the country’s first national suicide prevention advisor as the government embarks on its ambitious “towards zero” target for suicide rates in Australia.

According to the latest data available, 3,128 people died by suicide in Australia in 2017, a figure Ms Morgan said is “far too high”.

“It is something that is sad beyond belief,” she told SBS News on Wednesday, following Health Minister Greg Hunt’s unveiling of a plan to fix Australia’s mental health system. The plan includes $114 million for eight adult mental health centres.

Ms Morgan, chief executive of the National Mental Health Commission, was appointed by Scott Morrison in July and is currently on a three-month tour of the country, listening to Australians from all walks of life about their experiences with self-harm and suicide.

It’s about what is driving people to a point where they feel they have lost hope,” she said. “And I’ve got to say, it’s not an easy answer.”

Cultural differences

When it comes to multicultural Australia, with more than a quarter of people in the country born overseas, Ms Morgan said the task can be “extraordinarily complex”.

“It’s not just about having a translator, in terms of specific words and language, it’s actually about translating concepts,” she said.

It’s not just about having a translator in terms of words, it’s actually about translating concepts.

“It’s understanding what may be culturally familiar to somebody, and when they are trying to communicate a thought, a feeling, a behaviour, and what that means through their cultural framework.

“The challenges with the current system are that it’s an expectation that they [culturally and linguistically diverse people] connect with the system – we have to turn that on its head.”

Rather, she said, support services need to actively reach out to minority communities, if they are going to be effective.

While no specific funding has yet been allocated for multicultural Australia, Ms Morgan confirmed she does see a need for targeted programs within culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Indigenous Australians 

While the government spends nearly $5 billion a year on mental health services – including more than $500 million towards youth mental health and a suicide prevention plan – support specifically for Indigenous Australians is also a top priority for Ms Morgan in her new role, she said.

Rates of suicide among Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people is more than double the national average, with rates among children even higher.

Indigenous children make up five per cent of Australia’s youth but account for 25 per cent of child suicides.

While travelling around the country, Ms Morgan said she visited a community where a teenager had recently died by suicide.

“It was raw, really raw, and the sense of helplessness that you have, I mean what do you say?” she said.

“The pain, the pain of those who are left behind, the pain of the family … It’s a palpable feeling and realising that when we lose someone to suicide it doesn’t just affect the person who has gone, but so many others.”

Personal drive

After a career in corporate law, Ms Morgan wanted to try something different. She became general manager of Wesley Mission, a charity supporting vulnerable Australians, including those who are homeless and experiencing mental health issues.

It was a turning point in her life.

She went on to spend a decade at eating disorder support organisation The Butterfly Foundation, a time she describes as “incredibly formative”.

“It taught me so much about listening to the voices of those going through it, and capturing that to translate not just the pain, but to inform what was needed to bring that issue to the table and come up with initiatives to address it,” she said.

“That now drives me.”

While she is still in the preliminary stages of her role, Ms Morgan said the way forward is to stop seeing suicide as just a mental health problem.

“This is about a whole of life experience.”

Homelessness, unemployment, chronic pain, and experiences of trauma, all contribute to suicide rates, she said, and those things need to be addressed.

“Let’s really take a good hard look at what are those societal factors, those social determinants –housing, education, experience of veterans, trauma – how can we start to bring those to the table and wrap them into our initiatives?”

“Maybe by doing that we can be more effective with driving towards fewer people dying by suicide.”

Challenge ahead

While she believes Australia has come a long way in the last decade when it comes to mental health, Ms Morgan says the nation has to do better.

“I think we still have very high levels of stigma around reaching out for health [support].”

“A lot is self-stigma, people saying ‘I can understand when it affects someone else, I can be empathetic when it affects someone else, but do I want to admit when it affects me?’”

Ms Morgan says Australia has “incredibly deep and rich” resources when it comes to support services, but “we need to harness that and continue to leverage that”.

She is expected to deliver an interim report by July 2020, with a final report and recommendations due the following December.

With a huge task at hand, she says the keyword in the government’s “towards zero” slogan, for now, is “towards”.

Source: Australia’s new suicide prevention advisor says culturally specific support ‘critical’