Clerk of the Privy Council End-of-Year Message: Increased Religiosity

A friend of mine passed on this Christmas and Hanukah message of the Clerk, Ian Shugart (most senior federal public servant).
It is unusual compared to previous clerk messages in how explicit the religious references are (the previous Clerk Michael Wernick’s message, below, is much more neutral and secular).
To my ears, overly so for a senior public servant and one that could be read by non-Christians and non-Jews as exclusionary, or at least less inclusive, in a way that the more banal holiday or seasons’ greetings of his predecessor are not.
On the other hand, Shugart’s message is more personal and was likely written by him, in contrast to the “safer” version likely prepared by PCO Communications.
While politicians regularly issue statements or press releases for religious festivals and occasions (when I was in government working on multiculturalism, we were assiduous in ensuring all groups were included).
Curious to know how others in the public service and beyond react to this kind of end-of-year message (without situating this in a “war on Christmas” context):

“Nous sommes dans cette période de l’année où les jours sont les plus sombres – littéralement. À l’approche du solstice d’hiver, je songe à l’importance que revêt la lumière et à l’ampleur de ce que souvent les gens vont ressentir en raison de l’obscurité hivernale. La lumière est un symbole d’espoir.

La lumière est aussi au cœur même des fêtes que sont Hanoukka et Noël. Qu’elle rappelle le miracle de la fiole d’huile dans le temple nouvellement consacré ou l’étoile annonçant la naissance de Jésus, c’est un symbole d’espoir pour les fidèles de confession juive ou chrétienne.
Que vous célébriez Hanoukka, Noël ou ni l’une ni l’autre, je vous suis reconnaissant de votre dévouement et des excellents services rendus au public tout au long de cette année mouvementée qui tire à sa fin. Si vous devez travailler pendant cette période, je vous dis merci. Si vous êtes en congé, profitez du répit.
Joyeuse Hanoukka! Joyeux Noël!
Ian Shugart
Greffier du Conseil privé et secrétaire du Cabinet
These are the darkest days of the year – literally. As the winter solstice approaches, I have been reflecting on how important light is, and how people often really feel the dark days of winter. Light is a symbol of hope. 
Light is also a central theme of the festivals of Hanukkah and of Christmas. Whether remembering the oil that miraculously burned in the newly dedicated Temple, or the star announcing Jesus’ birth, light is a symbol of the hope that both faiths celebrate. 
As the year comes to an end, and whether you will be celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas or neither, I want you to know that I am grateful for your dedication and capable service to the people of Canada throughout this eventful year.  If you remain on duty during this period, thank you. If you are taking some leave, enjoy the break.
Happy Hanukkah!  Merry Christmas!
Ian Shugart
Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet”

For comparison, the previous clerk’s message:

“The holiday season is here, and so is the end of a very successful year.

I would like to thank you for all the work you do to serve Canadians and to help make Canada such an extraordinary country. Your extraordinary service is unparallelled; and you should be proud to be a part of the most effective public service in the world.

Each of you helps us, as a Public Service, to achieve our common goals – whether it is ensuring the health and safety of Canadians, improving services and operations, or advancing the priorities of our democratically elected government.

I hope that many of you are able to take some time during the holidays to rest and celebrate with your loved ones. If you have to hold down the fort at work for your team, please know that your dedication is noticed and appreciated.

At the close of this busy and productive year, I look ahead to 2019, which will bring new opportunities to achieve great things together.

I wish you, your friends and your families a safe and peaceful holiday season, as well as happiness and health in the New Year.

Michael Wernick
Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet”

Ethnic media’s coverage of Canada’s federal election closely mirrors mainstream press

Coverage of my analysis:

An analysis of how ethnic media covered the federal election suggests their approach mirrored that of the mainstream press, findings the study’s author says highlight a key point about the so-called “ethnic vote” in Canada.

“One can’t assume nor should one assume that the ethnic vote in Canada is separate than the mainstream vote,” said Andrew Griffith, a former director of multiculturalism policy for the federal government.

Griffith undertook the analysis as part of an election effort called Diversity Votes, a project aimed at providing a deeper understanding of the ethnocultural makeup of the electoral map, and its implications.

The growing diversity of the Canadian electorate has seen the federal parties finding more ways to woo voters in specific ethnic groups, especially in ridings where single communities have enough voters to swing a race.

In the 2019 campaign, that took the form of everything from promises targeted directly to certain communities, ads in a variety of languages and, in a first, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh answering questions in Punjabi, which he speaks fluently.

But Griffith said that despite what the campaigns may have been trying to do, his findings show the ethnic press were covering the same issues as the mainstream media.

Ethics, relations with China and climate change were widely covered, as were the parties’ strategies and tactics, which he said was partially a reflection of the use of translated stories from the English or French press.

The Liberals and the Conservatives received equal coverage throughout the campaign. Before the race began in earnest in September, the People’s Party of Canada, along with its controversial positions on multiculturalism and immigration, received more coverage than the Greens or the NDP.

The NDP finally got a boost after the first English-language debate, where Singh was praised for his performance.

Singh’s candidacy marked a milestone in Canadian politics, as he is the first visible minority leader of a major political party. Still, Griffith said that Punjabi-language outlets, as well as those serving the Punjabi community in places like Singh’s home base of Brampton, Ont., focused far more on the local campaigns overall.

The 2019 election saw an increase of visible-minority candidates, with the biggest rise coming from the NDP.

In 2015, according to Griffith, 13 per cent of their candidates were visible minorities, and that rose to 22.9 per cent in 2019.

The number of ridings where visible minorities represented 50 per cent or more of the population rose from 33 per cent in 2015 to 41 per cent in 2019, according to census data he analysed. [Note: 33 ridings to 41 ridings, not percent.]

Griffith’s review of media coverage examined 2,500 stories in outlets representing a variety of different language groups, as well as publications in English that cater nearly exclusively to specific communities.

The goal was to assess whether someone relying exclusively on the ethnic media would have a comparable understanding of the issues to those who rely on mainstream news outlets, and the research suggested they would.

“In other words, rather than ethnic media providing a parallel and separate space and reinforcing silos, ethnic media for the most part serves an important role in political integration through its coverage of the main political issues common to all Canadians,” the analysis concluded.

Source: Ethnic media’s coverage of Canada’s federal election closely mirrors mainstream press

My report: Ethnic media 2019 Election Coverage: Commonalities and Differences

Bard’s Kenneth Stern: “I drafted the definition of anti-Semitism. Rightwing Jews are weaponizing it.”

More good commentary from someone involved in the drafting:

Fifteen years ago, as the American Jewish Committee’s antisemitism expert, I was the lead drafter of what was then called the “working definition of antisemitism”. It was created primarily so that European data collectors could know what to include and exclude. That way antisemitism could be monitored better over time and across borders.

It was never intended to be a campus hate speech code, but that’s what Donald Trump’s executive order accomplished this week. This order is an attack on academic freedom and free speech, and will harm not only pro-Palestinian advocates, but also Jewish students and faculty, and the academy itself.

The problem isn’t that the executive order affords protection to Jewish students under title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The Department of Education made clear in 2010 that Jews, Sikhs and Muslims (as ethnicities) could complain about intimidation, harassment and discrimination under this provision. I supported this clarification and filed a successful complaint for Jewish high school students when they were bullied, even kicked (there was a “Kick a Jew Day”).

Source: Bard’s Kenneth Stern: “I drafted the definition of anti-Semitism. Rightwing Jews are weaponizing it.”

Spy agency says Canadians are targets of foreign influence campaigns

More on foreign influence and interference:

Canadians are more exposed to “influence” operations than ever before according to an internal assessment from the country’s electronic spy agency.

A 2018 memo from the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) warned the rise of “web technology” like social media, along with Canadians’ changing habits for consuming media, make the population much more likely to encounter efforts by foreign powers to shape domestic political opinion.

“These new systems have generated unintended threats to the democratic process, as they deprive the public of accurate information, informed political commentary and the means to identify and ignore fraudulent information,” reads the memo, classified as Canadian Eyes Only.

“Foreign states have harnessed the new online influence systems to undertake influence activities against Western democratic processes, and they use cyber capabilities to enhance their influence activities through, for example, cyber espionage.”

“Foreign states steal and release information, modify or make information more compelling and distracting, create fraudulent or distorted ‘news,’ or amplify fringe and sometimes noxious opinions.”

The memo was prepared as Canada’s intelligence agencies were engaged in an exercise to protect the 2019 federal election from foreign interference.

Elections across the democratic world — the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the European Union — have in recent years been the targets of misinformation and cyberespionage campaigns from hostile countries.

There is no evidence that Canada’s recent federal election was the target of sophisticated cyber espionage or misinformation campaigns.

But another document prepared by CSE makes clear that Canadian politicians have already been targeted by foreign “influence” campaigns.

An undated slide deck prepared by the CSE suggested “sources linked to Russia popularized (then Global Affairs Minister Chrystia) Freeland’s family history” and targeted Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s appearance and turban in Russian-language media outlets in the Balkans.

The agency appears to be referring to stories, which were reported by mainstream Canadian news outlets, suggesting Freeland’s grandfather edited a Nazi-associated newspaper in occupied Poland.

The stories were “very likely intended to cause personal reputational damage in order to discredit the Government (of) Canada’s ongoing diplomatic and military support for Ukraine, to delegitimize Canada’s decision to enact the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Offices Act, and the 2018 expulsion of several Russian diplomats,” the documents, first reported by Global News, state.

The attacks against Sajjan, meanwhile, were “almost certainly” intended to discredit the NATO presence in Latvia, where Canadian forces are deployed as part of a NATO mission to deter Russian expansion after the invasion of Crimea.

“Since Canada’s deployment to Latvia, subtle and overtly racist comments pertaining to … Sajjan’s appearance, particularly his turban, have consistently appeared across Russian-language media in the Baltic region,” the documents read.

“Even ostensibly professional news sources are not above such descriptions. When … Sajjan attended a conference in Latvia in October 2017, he was described by as ‘a large swarthy man in a big black turban.’”

Compared to some of the attacks on Western democracies, those two influence campaigns were minor in scale and impact. But the intelligence agency suggested that more and more countries are turning to cyber capabilities to further their own goals at the expense of other nations. And CSE’s analysis suggests their willing to play the long game.

“In the longer-term, influence activities, both cyber and human, are likely to challenge the transparency and independence of the decision-making process, reduce public trust (and) confidence in institutions, and push policy in directions inimical to Canadian interests,” the documents, released under access to information law, read.

“Many European states and some private companies have begun to develop countermeasures to malicious activities aimed at democratic processes, including increasing public understanding and resilience. However, little has been done to create robust, institutionalized multilateral responses.”

Parliament’s new national security review committee has completed a review of foreign espionage activities in Canada and submitted it to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The classified report detailing their findings is expected to be released early in 2020, once the House of Commons resumes sitting.

Source: Spy agency says Canadians are targets of foreign influence campaigns

A Chinese-owned channel is broadcasting forced confessions on Canadian TV’s. A human rights group says it should stop


Chinese state-run media available in Canada has been broadcasting forced confessions from people detained by mainland China authorities, alleges an international human rights group calling for Ottawa to punish those responsible.

Safeguard Defenders, a human rights organization based in Hong Kong and Europe, filed a complaint with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. It is calling on the federal government to use so-called Magnitsky legislation to punish those responsible for broadcasting the confessions.

“We believe that the violations are severe enough that their licence should be pulled,” said Peter Dahlin, executive director of Safeguard Defenders, whose own forced confession was run on Chinese television in 2016 after he’d been detained for more than three weeks.

The target of the complaint is China Global Television Network, an international television station based in China and owned by the Chinese government. The network is available in Canada via digital service.

Dahlin said that over the past five years, Chinese state-run media has broadcast nearly 100 forced confessions from prisoners, and about half of them have been broadcast into Canada. He says this is a violation of broadcast standards.

He said when British broadcast regulators began investigating CGTN for the practice in May, such broadcasts stopped for a time.

Dahlin also wants Canada to sanction Chinese television journalist Dong Qian and the former president of China Central Television, which oversees CGTN, Nie Chenxi, for their part in producing and airing the confessions.

The sanctions would be under the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials act, also known as the Magnitsky law. Dahlin said pressure from Canadian regulators can go a long way in stopping such confessions from happening because the chance they could lose their broadcast licence is real.

“This is not about censoring Chinese media,” he said. “We do believe China should be held to the same standards as everyone else.”

Dahlin said he is surprised Canadian regulators hadn’t already taken the issue up themselves.

He said the confessions are often obtained through coercion or even torture, noting two brothers, one a Canadian citizen, Chen Zhiheng and Chen Zhiyu, both had confessions broadcast in which they admitted to forgery.

Dahlin said his organization believes were it not for the investigation by the United Kingdom last year, both Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, two Canadians detained in China for more than a year, would have had confessions broadcast by now.

“It is almost certain both Michaels would have been on TV attacking the Canadian government and being used as a foreign policy tool,” Dahlin said. “That’s how powerful these kind of administrative regulatory bodies can be.”

Spavor and Kovrig were arrested in December last year, shortly after Canadian authorities detained Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of China-based tech giant Huawei, on a request from the United States. The arrest of the two men in China is widely regarded as retaliation against Canada for arresting Meng.

At the time, Dahlin shared his own story of detention with Star Vancouver. He said he was held in a padded room with two guards he wasn’t allowed to speak to, able to hear other prisoners being beaten.

He was released and deported after being manipulated into a taped confession that was broadcast on Chinese state-run television.

Source: A Chinese-owned channel is broadcasting forced confessions on Canadian TV’s. A human rights group says it should stop

Supreme Court rules both Canada-born sons of Russian spies are Canadian citizens

Nuts, substantively. While I await more commentary from legal experts, believe it merits an amendment to the Citizenship Act to clarify any future similar situations:

Alexander Vavilov, the Toronto-born son of Russian spies, is a Canadian citizen, the Supreme Court of Canada has decided.

In its judgment Thursday, the high court upheld a Federal Court of Appeal decision that effectively affirmed the citizenship of not only Alexander but also his brother Timothy.

Aside from addressing the citizenship matter, the Supreme Court ruling aimed to bring clarity to the nature and scope of judicial review of decisions by administrative officials.

Alexander, 25, and Timothy, 29, were born in Canada to parents using the aliases Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley.

The parents were arrested nine years ago in the United States and indicted on charges of conspiring to act as secret agents on behalf of Russia’s SVR, a successor to the notorious Soviet KGB.

Heathfield and Foley admitted to being Andrey Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. They were sent back to Moscow as part of a swap for prisoners in Russia.

Alexander, who finished high school in Russia, changed his surname to Vavilov on the advice of Canadian officials in a bid to obtain a Canadian passport.

But he ran into a snag at the passport office and in August 2014 the citizenship registrar said the government no longer recognized him as a Canadian citizen.

The registrar said his parents were employees of a foreign government at the time of his birth, making him ineligible for citizenship.

The Federal Court of Canada upheld the decision.

But in June 2017, the appeal court set aside the ruling and quashed the registrar’s decision. It said the provision of the Citizenship Act the registrar cited should not apply because the parents did not have diplomatic privileges or immunities while in Canada.

On the strength of the ruling, Alexander has since been able to renew his Canadian passport and he hopes to live and work in Canada – calling his relationship with the country a cornerstone of his identity.

In its decision, the Supreme Court said the registrar’s decision was unreasonable. Although the registrar knew her interpretation of the provision was novel, she failed to provide a proper rationale, the court said.

Although it involves the same central issue, Timothy’s case proceeded separately through the courts and was therefore not directly before the Supreme Court.

However, in a decision last year, the Federal Court said the ruling on Alexander equally applied to Timothy, making him “a citizen.”

Source: Supreme Court rules both Canada-born sons of Russian spies are Canadian citizens

International Metropolis Conference 2020 in Beijing – Cancelled

Our petition (, the issues it raised and consequent publicity seems to have contributed to the decision to cancel holding the conference in Beijing although there is still no public confirmation on the Center for China and Globalization (CCG) website.

Thanks to all who supported or shared the petiition.

Best wishes for the holidays.


‘Bill 21 is a pedestal on which we must build’: Quebec nationalists mull what comes next

“Cultural convergence” vs interculturalism vs multiculturalism. More semantics than substantive, as when even this group defines the first term, many common elements of civic integration with the other terms emerge. Of course, many of the specific policy proposals discussed are distinct in terms of immigration levels, language laws, and religious diversity:

Fresh off the victory of passing Bill 21, the province’s secularism law, Quebec’s nationalist movement is already strategizing on how to use it as a beachhead to launch a multi-pronged attack on Canadian multiculturalism.

Many of the movement’s leading intellectuals met last month at a conference in Montreal.

“We’ve won a battle, the first in a while,” said the opening speaker, Étienne-Alexis Boucher, a former Parti Québécois MNA and president of the Mouvement national des Québécoises et Québécois.

“But only the first of many more, I hope.”After “15 years of Liberal submission” — Boucher’s words — Quebec nationalists feel they finally have an ally in Premier François Legault and his Coalition Avenir Québec government.

It’s time, they say, to take advantage.

The November conference was organized by the Institut de recherche sur le Québec, a think tank founded in 2002 that studies ‘the Quebec national question.’ Its head of research is right-wing pundit Mathieu Bock-Côté.

For the occasion, Bock-Côté assembled a slate of thinkers who have pushing a nationalist agenda in the media, in academia and in politics. Many have ties to the PQ.

Those speakers included Dawson College history teacher Frédéric Bastien, who has been musing about running for the PQ leadership, and Guillaume Rousseau, a Université de Sherbrooke constitutional law professor who advised the CAQ government on Bill 21 after running unsuccessfully for the PQ in the last election.

The day-long session at the Université du Québec à Montréal, which attracted about 100 people, offered some clues to where nationalists are hoping to make gains during Legault’s mandate.The participants batted around proposals to beef up Quebec’s language laws, cut immigration levels and eliminate all instruction on comparative religions from the school curriculum.

But the road ahead will not be easy, they warn, especially with dyed-in-the wool federalist Justin Trudeau occupying 24 Sussex Drive.

“Clearly the federal regime will try to dismantle Bill 21, like how it methodically attacked Bill 101,” said Boucher, “but we will be there to fight back.”

“Bill 21 is a pedestal on which we must build.”

Who wants to re-open Bill 101?

The day’s discussions, naturally, began with language — and how to reverse what is seen as a decades-long erosion of the supremacy of French in the province, on the island of Montreal and beyond.

On a table near the auditorium’s entrance, copies of the 35-year-old nationalist, left-wing publication L’aut’journal (“the other newspaper”) warned of the “balkanization of Quebec,” in capital letters, above a map of the Liberal-red islands of Montreal and Laval, all but surrounded by a sea of blue.

Frédéric Lacroix, a contributor to the newspaper, pointed to data showing that francophones, as a proportion of their demographic weight in the province, are in a steady decline. Montreal is basically a lost cause, he said. Laval, too, is far gone.

“Laval is a case study of what’s happening in the Montreal region,” Lacroix said, warning these changes have political consequences.

“We see that the Quebec Liberal Party took almost all the seats in Laval,” he said of the 2018 provincial election. “It’s something that would have been unimaginable only 15 years ago.”

His fellow panelist, lawyer François Côté, said the solution to the language problem starts with ditching English as an official language in laws passed by the National Assembly.

Since a 1979 Supreme Court decision, legislation in Quebec must be adopted in both French and English.

That sets a bad example for immigrants, Côté said.

“What’s the point of learning French,” he asked, “when even the state, the top of the national pyramid, expresses itself in French and English?”

Côté even floated the idea of defying the Supreme Court ruling if Ottawa wasn’t willing to allow Quebec to work around it.

“Courts are not gods,” he said.

And he said it is time to strengthen the enforcement arm of the Office québécois de la langue française, derided by many Anglos as the “language police.”

“The OQLF must imperatively grow some teeth,” Côté said.

Immigration as ‘demo-linguistic suicide’

The idea that the survival of the historic francophone majority is at stake is perhaps expressed most starkly in Jacques Houle’s book, Disparaître? (To Disappear.)

Now in its third printing, the book has turned into an unexpected hit for the retired federal bureaucrat who lectures to seniors in the continuing education program at the Université de Sherbrooke.

When Bock-Côté, who wrote the book’s preface, took to Twitter saying Disparaître? should be mandatory reading for nationalist leaders and militants, PQ interim leader Pascal Berubé tweeted back, “I have this book.”

Houle argues that unless current immigration levels are slashed from 40,000 per year (the figure was 50,000 under the previous Liberal government) to 30,000 per year, by the turn of the century Quebec’s French-speaking majority will be in the minority, committing “demo-linguistic suicide.”

“We can’t separate immigration from population growth and the health of the French-speaking majority,” said Houle at the November conference.

Houle also attacked what he called “myths” used to justify higher immigration levels.

He claimed that over time, immigrants take more, on average, from social programs like unemployment insurance than they contribute in taxes, and that accepting refugees for humanitarian reasons is “insignificant” in the face of the global challenge of coping with another two billion people by 2050.

Houle had particular disdain for business groups who see higher immigration levels as a way of resolving Quebec’s critical labour shortage. According to Houle, the jobs that go unfilled are undesirable and underpaid.

“Why do immigrants not take these great jobs in an abattoir or at McDonalds in Val-d’Or?” he asked sarcastically. “Because the jobs we’re offering them are the ones that people here don’t want.”

Houle said higher immigration provides employers with a pool of cheap labour that keeps wages down and compensates for high turnover in undesirable jobs.

That argument is similar to one Legault made as he faced a firestorm of criticism from the business community for his cuts to the Quebec Experience Program last month — a program that fast-tracked foreign students and temporary workers on the path to immigration.

In the face of that barrage of criticism, those reforms were walked back, for now.

Even talking about immigration levels has become taboo, Houle told CBC.

“It’s been decided, probably by political economic elites, that immigration is, per se, advantageous,” he said.

He wants Quebec to lower its annual intake of immigrants to be more in line with the per-capita immigration rates in Europe and the U.S.

“This is the price to pay if we want to conserve the [linguistic] majority,” Houle said.

Religious culture courses targeted

Tied in to immigration and language issues for conference delegates is a deep-seated concern about the impact of the ethics and religious culture courses (ECR) that have been mandatory in the province’s schools since 2008.

The ECR program is intended to give children the skills to weigh ethical questions, understand Quebec’s religious history and the broad strokes of different religious belief systems present in contemporary Quebec society, and to engage in dialogue.

The curriculum has been criticized by some as too relativistic, and it’s long been a favourite punching bag for nationalists who worry the program promotes official multiculturalism.

One of those critics is Joëlle Quérin, a CEGEP teacher from Saint-Jérôme, whose 2009 paper, The Ethics and religious culture course: transmission of knowledge or indoctrination? was also published by the Institut de recherche sur le Québec.

In the essay, Quérin says the ECR course “aims explicitly to radically transform Quebec by reprogramming it with the ideological software of multiculturalism” and creates a purely civic notion of Quebec society, unmoored from history or cultural specificity.

Speaking to the panel 10 years after her paper’s publication, Quérin said the course’s “ideological character” has been confirmed, and the damage has been done.

She cited a November 2018 Leger poll that showed what she calls the “ECR generation” is the only one that doesn’t disapprove of teachers wearing religious signs. She said recent data from Radio-Canada’s Vote Compass election project showed 18- to 24-year-olds are the generation most opposed to Bill 21.

Quérin says this puts Legault’s government in an untenable position: on the one hand, it has adopted a law that bans religious symbols for government workers in positions of authority, but on the other hand, it continues to require students to take a course that leads many young people to believe the law is an affront to fundamental rights.

“If the premier is serious when he says, ‘In Quebec, this is how we live,’ maybe he should talk to his minister of education,” Querin said.

What would replace multiculturalism?

Rousseau, the Sherbrooke law professor, would also like to get rid of the ECR and wants to persuade the province to adopt a framework law on what he calls “cultural convergence,” which he argues would be Quebec’s answer to Canadian multiculturalism.

The idea, he says, would be to enshrine the notion of a common language and culture that immigrants would be encouraged to eventually adopt as their own.

“What we are saying is that there are many cultures, but one of them is very important and has a special place: French-speaking Quebec culture,” Rousseau said.

He says it’s not assimilation, because he sees that common culture as malleable and expects different cultural communities to add to it and alter it over time.

Rousseau also sees Bill 21 as an example of that “cultural convergence” — he points out that some Quebecers of North African descent, for example, support the bill along with the French-Canadian majority.

“We have a different way of seeing this issue in Quebec,” he said, warning the rest of Canada to tone down the rhetoric against the popular law.

“I think it’s just making people in Quebec feel like they should support Bill 21 even more because they’re being called racist,” said Rousseau.

Nationalist and proud

As the microphone cables were wrapped up and the coffee carafes carted away on Nov. 2, there was no clear consensus as to what should happen next, but a common sentiment united the divergent panelists and audience members: nationalists are slowly reconquering Quebec’s political space.

The loose-knit group of academics, writers, old-school Péquistes, social democrats, immigration hawks and retirees had differed on many things, but not on Bill 21, which was seen as a symbolic affirmation of their nation’s right to chart its own social course.

Having a premier who isn’t ashamed to call himself a nationalist is for them more than just a way to pass legislation, it is a sign that Quebec is pushing back against the “federal regime” and its multicultural tenets.

“Sometimes the stars align,” said Côté.

Source: ‘Bill 21 is a pedestal on which we must build’: Quebec nationalists mull what comes next

The Guardian view on Modi’s citizenship law: dangerous for all

Good commentary:

Thousands nationwide have protested against India’s new citizenship law in recent days, facing a brutal police response. This is arguably the biggest display of opposition to Narendra Modi since he took power six years ago, and for good reason. Demonstrators have been urged into action not by the sense of a new direction being established, but of the confirmation of the country’s alarming trajectory. The legislation is the proof that Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist project is not a containable anomaly, but an enterprise that threatens the nation’s very foundations of pluralism and secularism. Fear overshadows the hopes of that seven-decade endeavour.

The prime minister has piously tweeted: “This is the time to maintain peace, unity and brotherhood.” Superficially this is, as the BJP government claims, a law that expands rather than removes rights. It creates a fast-track path to citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsees and Christians arriving from Muslim-majority states, who would otherwise spend years labelled as illegal immigrants. But no one considering either its text or context could seriously regard this as a measure of inclusion. It is inherently one of exclusion, which discriminates against Muslims fleeing persecution, and signals that Muslim citizens are not “truly” Indian. It undermines constitutional protections which apply to foreigners as well as citizens in India.

Source: The Guardian view on Modi’s citizenship law: dangerous for all

And an upcoming court challenge:

India’s controversial religion-based citizenship act will have to pass the scrutiny of the nation’s top court, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government pledged to push ahead and implement the law.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India S.A.Bobde issued a notice to the government seeking its response. The court agreed to examine the legality of the legislation following more than 50 petitions filed by activists, lawyers, student groups, Muslim bodies, and politicians from across the country. The court will next hear the case on Jan. 22 and may decide in January if the law should be stayed, Bobde said.

The move may calm protesters who have called the law discriminatory because it bars undocumented Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh from seeking citizenship but allows Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who migrated from these regions to do so. On Tuesday, Home Minister Amit Shah, who shepherded the Citizenship Amendment Act through the Parliament last week, defended it and ruled out any possibility of repealing the law.

“When the country was divided on the basis of religion and the minorities are being persecuted there in the name of religion, then will you not give them your citizenship?” Shah said in comments broadcast on Times Now, referring to the partition of India in 1947. “Where will they go?”

Stateless Risks

The new law is seen as a precursor to Shah’s plan to implement a nationwide citizens register to weed out illegal migrants.

Demonstrations first began in the eastern state of Assam where there are fears the new law would allow an influx of migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Some 1.9 million people in Assam — many of them Muslims — risk losing their Indian citizenship after the state enforced the citizens register in August.

Anger soon spread across many parts of India, including the capital New Delhi, over fears it would damage India’s traditional secular ethos enshrined in its Constitution that treats all religions on par.

Meanwhile, police stormed university campuses across the country this week to quell the protests, which have so far been led largely by students of all faiths.

“This isn’t about religion, this is about justice,” said Neha Sareen, a 22-year-old student at Tuesday’s protests outside Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University, which faced the worst police crackdown. “The law is against the constitution of India. It discriminates against fellow citizens.”

Repeal Demands

Protesters remain firm on their demand for a repeal of the act, said Shifa Ur Rehman Khan, president of Jamia university’s alumni association. Yet, the government has shown no signs of backing down on the bill. On Tuesday, Shah said no Indian citizen of any faith need worry about the citizenship rules.

The government is now turning its attention to building a temple for the Hindu warrior god Ram on the site of a demolished mosque in northern India, after the country’s top court gave a verdict in the favor of Hindu groups last month.

If the protests continue to gather steam there are fears it will distract the government from its economic problems and undermine efforts to attract foreign investment. Asia’s third-biggest economy is growing at its slowest pace in more than six years and unemployment is the highest in more than four decades.

Shah told industry leaders in Mumbai on Tuesday that the Modi government is working toward fixing a temporary economic slowdown and that it should recover ground in three quarters. Shah, whose interview was broadcast at the Times Network India Economic Conclave in Mumbai, got support from at least one executive.

“The idea of a strong India is important and it is sad that the students are getting sucked into politics,” said Sajjan Jindal, chairman of JSW Steel Ltd.before Shah’s speech. “This law will protect the country from illegal immigrants.”

The last time Shah addressed business leaders in Mumbai billionaire Rahul Bajaj spoke to say corporate India was hesitant about criticizing the current government.

Source: Supreme Court to Examine Contentious India Citizenship Law

Olive Branches of Religious Tolerance: The Resurgence of Jewish Identity in the Arab World

Interesting and encouraging:

Jews enter a Moroccan synagogue accompanied by the Muslim call to prayer echoing out of minarets across the city of Casablanca. The religious contrast is stark. A renewed and reinvigorated religious coexistence is uncovering a nation’s multicultural legacy.

Morocco is setting a modern example of acknowledging religious rights and history in a region that often emphasizes religious and cultural homogeneity. In an incredible turning point for the recognition of Jewish history in Morocco, Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto was appointed to the Chief Rabbinic Judge of the country this past April. During a ceremony in Casablanca, attended by senior government officials, representatives of the King, and members of the Moroccan military and police force, Pinto expressed his gratitude as hundreds watched one of the most symbolic moments for the transnational and trans-generational Jewish identity.

In 2011, King Mohammed VI “enshrined” Judaism in the country’s constitution. He further stated that he cannot “speak of the land of Islam as if only Muslims lived there” and he “protect[s] Moroccan Jews as well as Christians from other countries who are living in Morocco.”  In addition to this official recognition of Jewish heritage, he launched a program to restore 100 Jewish synagogues, cemeteries, and heritage sites, and pledged to rename a number of previously Jewish-inhabited neighbourhoods to their original names. The Moroccan King is also the highest religious authority in the state, which serves to further legitimize Morocco’s pledge to acknowledge the diversity that made the nation the cultural hotspot that it is widely regarded as today. Alongside this promotion of Jewish culture came a hike in the Moroccan tourism industry. A significant number of these tourists are Jews embarking on a historical and ancestral discovery.

Sometimes characterized as a mirage, this Jewish and Muslim harmony in Morocco is a prototype of multiculturalism; a quality which Morocco had exuded in its history and only temporarily lost in the emergence of the 1930s Arab Nationalist ideology, attempting to unify the Middle East and North Africa under a single Arab identity.  Throughout the 20th century, Jews had urgently fled Morocco in the Sephardic diaspora. Yet, in 2019, the coexistence of the Jewish minority and Muslim majority seeks to pave way for a shared future by virtue of a shared past.

Religious diversity has been a feature of Morocco’s history. Ranging from the Berber populations who had adopted Christianity as a result of Roman conquerors, to Judaism arriving alongside Islam in the 7th century, the Moroccan national identity had a number of religious facets. Once numbering over 200,000 thousand, Morocco’s Jewish population has dwindled to only 3,000 across the vast North African Kingdom. Yet, Morocco remains one of the only Arab countries with any Jewish population at all, and judging by the rhetoric from some of the country’s most influential authorities, including the King and other royal notables, Morocco intends to protect and cultivate its Jewish population.

Jews in the Muslim world undoubtedly had difficulty navigating transforming the ideologies of their homelands. Unlike other Arab countries who had government-sanctioned anti-Jewish policies, the Moroccan monarchy emphasized the Jewish facet of Moroccan national identity throughout a number of centuries. Mellahs—walled Jewish quarters unique to Morocco—were constructed between the 15th and 19th centuries in order to safeguard its Jewish communities. Mellahs, whose remnants can be found across the country in cities like Fez, Rabat, and more recently discovered Marrakech, are often regarded as a positive artifact of cultural history in comparison to other Jewish quarters in both Europe and the Arab world.

Later, in the 20th century when Morocco was under French occupation, King Mohammed V refused to implement the anti-Jewish policies that Nazi-occupied France was encouraging. Defending the Jewish population in the context of global anti-semitism legitimized the monarchy’s claims of conserving religious and cultural diversity.

The recent recognition of an official Jewish voice on the world stage may be an effort to reclaim a rich and established Moroccan national identity of religious inclusion—a legacy intimately linked with religious diversity. It is also a reversal of a previous policy that strayed from this legacy. In its effort to bandwagon Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s advancement of the 1930s Arab nationalism ideology, Morocco had embarked on a path of Arabization. Schools, organizations, languages, and other components of a society’s characteristics were transforming amidst a struggle to duplicate the Arab culture found further east. This agenda significantly impacted the diversity of the country, especially the Indigenous Berber and Jewish populations’ sense of cultural recognition and national belonging.  Understandably so, the Jewish population saw no future living within the constraints set out in the package of Arab nationalism.

One of the halls at the Moroccan Jewish Museum in Casablanca. Morocco is home to the only Jewish museum in the Arab world, serving as another signifier of their commitment to recognize an integral Jewish history. 

Compounded by Arab nationalism and political Islam’s popularity, the number of tangible artifacts indicative of Morocco’s Jewish past diminished. However, Jewish life in Morocco was comparatively preferable to others in the Arab world. In neighbouring countries like Iraq, bloody pogroms killed thousands of Jews and eradicated one of the world’s oldest Jewish populations, most notably in the Farhud of 1941. While Morocco never expelled its Jews, as the 20th century progressed, Moroccan Jews envisioned a deteriorating and hopeless future amidst observations of religiously-based hatred nearby. Their reasons for leaving their Moroccan home was largely motivated by grinding poverty, political instability, and Zionist ambition spurred by the newly established state of Israel in 1948. Coercion and violence was far less a factor in Morocco than in countries further East. The establishment of the Islamist Istiqlal party in 1943, an anti-monarchist movement, was the final straw for Morocco’s Jewish population. The destruction of Jewish culture over the preceding decades had ousted most Jews from the region, and attention soon turned to Israel. Istiqlal has and continues to frequently characterize most expressions of Jewish culture or public acknowledgments of Jewish history as “Zionist propaganda”, essentially ignoring the contributions that the Jewish population has made to Moroccan national culture and economic longevity.

Today, Morocco is the first of its kind—Muslim majority country and a key player in the Muslim world—to commemorate its vibrant Jewish history. The actions of Moroccan authorities to not only accept its Jewish past but to propel it is a testament to the emphasis placed on the nation’s religious and cultural diversity. While the nation’s Jewish population remains under 3,000, these public acknowledgments of their religious and cultural legitimacy in Moroccan public life, especially evident through the appointment of Rabbi Pinto, seek a rebirth of its Jewish demographic.  But, Morocco isn’t the only Muslim nation with a complex Jewish history. Time will tell if Morocco is a mere outlier in its inclusion of Jewish identity in the Muslim world, or simply just the first country in what may reveal to be a domino effect of religious inclusion and historical recognition.

Morocco keeping their Jewish community alive serves as an incredible step towards the inclusion of Sephardic Jews in their homelands, and it may forever change the perception of Jewish history in the Arab world.

Source: Olive Branches of Religious Tolerance: The Resurgence of Jewish Identity in the Arab World