Taxing Canadian expats not the silver bullet for generating post-COVID revenue

My latest, in response to Canada needs to start taxing Canadians who live abroad:

Chandra Arya, the Liberal MP for Nepean, Ont., recently argued for changing the current residency-based taxation approach to the U.S. citizenship-based taxation (CBT) approach, understating the complexity involved in making such a change and overstating the potential benefits.

(Similarly, Andrew Caddell argued in his April 22 Hill Times column that “the three million Canadians abroad should contribute, through a 10 per cent tax on income; that could bring in at least $30-billion per year.”)

Some of the arguments are, on the surface, convincing. Why should Canadian expatriates, after not paying Canadian taxes for their years working abroad, return to Canada to benefit from medicare and other benefits on their return as retirees? Ironically, Arya uses similar “Canadians of convenience” arguments as those used by the previous Conservative government under then-immigration minister Jason Kenney. He is part of a Liberal government that extended voting rights to virtually all expatriates, most of whom pay little or no Canadian taxes.

But we have to start with a better understanding of the numbers of Canadian expatriates, whether foreign or Canadian-born. He, like too many, uses the Asia Pacific Foundation estimate of three million, which includes all ages and permanent residents. A more accurate, albeit imperfect estimate, is closer to two million adult Canadian citizens.

But how many of these maintain strong connections to Canada or are likely to return to Canada to take advantage of Canada’s generally strong social safety net? The answer is we do not know and there is limited data available.

However, we have some proxy measures that give an order of magnitude to those keeping their close Canadian ties.

The average annual number of immigrants who left Canada between 1996 and 2011 is about 100,000, according to a Statistics Canada study, with between 25 and 40 per cent being temporary emigrants, depending on the census period. For 2006-11, 35.6 per cent of emigrants move to the USA. There is no data regarding their citizenship status or the length of time they spent in Canada prior to emigrating.

The number of adult Canadian passport holders abroad was about 725,000in 2015. The number of Canadians registered with Global Affairs Canada for consular services is about 346,200, as of April 26, the department said.

In 2017, the number of Canadian expatriates who file Canadian non-resident taxes was about 92,000.

And we also know that some immigrants return to their country of origin upon retirement, and that about 181,000 persons received CPP, according to December 2019 numbers, but there’s no data regarding their citizenship status.

So Arya’s arguments are based on “[a]necdotal evidence [that] suggests citizens are returning to Canada to enjoy these benefits after spending their productive lives elsewhere,” and his assertion “for a small but growing number, the objective is to acquire citizenship and leave again.”

Like all anecdotal evidence, there is some truth, but the extent of that truth, and whether it would warrant such a major and disruptive change in Canadian taxation, is questionable.

The other major flaw lies with citing the U.S. citizenship-based taxation approach as the model to emulate, without asking the necessary questions regarding why the U.S. is the outlier, compared to other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Citizenship-based taxation is less appropriate for a world of increased mobility and dual citizenship. Moreover, residency-based taxation is intrinsically easier to administer, including with respect to double taxation issues.

The introduction of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and its assorted implementation difficulties and inconsistencies highlights even more the complexities of CBT, leading a small, but not insignificant, number of Americans to renounce their U.S. citizenship.

This should serve as a major caution to advocating for a major change to our taxation system, one that is out of step with all OECD countries, save the U.S.

Would the alleged benefits of increased tax revenues materialize? If so, would they exceed the expected massive costs of completely revamping our tax system? How effective would expatriate tax compliance be, and what would be the costs of enforcement? And just as the U.S. approach resulted in modest income from “accidental Americans” (citizens of another country unaware of their U.S. citizenship) being caught by FATCA, how could we be sure that such a change might result in “accidental Canadians?”

Clearly, better data on the number of expatriates, permanent and temporary, and the degree to which they return as retirees and take advantage of Canadian medicare and other benefits would be useful. But like so many citizenship and immigration issues, any change aimed at a subset of the population, has to be weighed against the impact on the wider population.

Similarly, a fundamental shift from residency-based to citizenship-based taxation should take place in the context of a broader review of taxation policies, rather than a fundamental, but piecemeal, proposal. Any such review should aim at ensuring that taxation reflects current and anticipated societal needs.

A shift to citizenship-based taxation would have major impact and costs. The flawed U.S. example and anecdotal evidence fail to justify such a change or even a study, given that there are more important taxation and related policy questions.

Source: Taxing Canadian expats not the silver bullet for generating post-COVID revenue

Religious Freedom Watchdog Pitches Adding India to Blacklist

Not unexpected:

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is urging that the State Department add India to its list of nations with uniquely poor records on protecting freedom to worship — while proposing to remove Sudan and Uzbekistan from that list.

The bipartisan commission, created in 1998 by Congress to make policy recommendations about global religious freedom, proposed designating India as a “country of particular concern” in the annual report it released Tuesday. That lower ranking for a long-running U.S. ally amounts to a stark show of disapproval of India’s divisive new citizenship law, which has sparked broad worries about disenfranchisement of Muslims.

President Donald Trump declined to criticize the citizenship measure during his February visit to India, where his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi was punctuated by skirmishes between Hindus and Muslims.

The commission, by contrast, is empowered as an independent arbiter to look only at nations’ religious freedom records, apart from their relationship with the United States, vice chair Nadine Maenza said.

Beyond the citizenship law, Maenza said in an interview, India has a broader “move toward clamping down on religious minorities that’s really troublesome.”

A spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Anurag Srivastava, responded to the report with a statement blasting the commission’s “biased and tendentious comments against” that nation. Noting that some members dissented from the commission’s decision to recommend India for the lowest ranking of religious freedom protections, Srivastava appeared to use the commission’s internal terminology as a dig.

“We regard (the commission) as an organization of particular concern and will treat it accordingly,” he said.

In the cases of Sudan and Uzbekistan, the Trump administration got out ahead of the commission in raising its ranking of religious freedom protections. The State Department decided in December to no longer rank Sudan as a nation “of particular concern” after having taken Uzbekistan off the list earlier.

Following last year’s military ouster of authoritarian leader, Omar al-Bashir, new Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok met with the commission and committed to improve religious freedom, Maenza said.

Among the other significant recommendations in Tuesday’s report was a call for the U.S. government to “exert significant pressure on Turkey to provide a timeline for its withdrawal from Syria.” Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria last fall sparked broad concern about resulting threats to religious minorities in the region.

The commission proposed four other nations join India in the ranks of most egregious religious freedom offenders; Nigeria, Russia, Syria and Vietnam. The State Department’s current list of “countries of particular concern” regarding religious freedom includes China, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iran.

Inclusion among the nations with the poorest religious freedom records can lead to new sanctions, although the executive branch is also empowered to rely on already-imposed sanctions or issue a waiver.

Sudan and Uzbekistan are currently on a State Department watch list for nations where religious freedom infringement is not as widespread, constant and significant as those in the lowest-ranked tier.

The commission’s latest annual report recommends the addition of 11 more nations that the State Department has not yet put on that watch list: Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, the Central African Republic, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Turkey.

Wealthy Move Their Money To Tax Havens

As always…:

Lockdown might impact peoples’ ability to move across borders, but it doesn’t stop money flowing into tax havens around the world.

The economic shocks of coronavirus have meant that offshore financial centres such as Switzerland are back to their old tricks: Banking peoples’ money away from their more risky homelands.

UBS, a Swiss bank and the world’s largest wealth manager, announced its profits were up by 40%. In the first three months of 2020, it saw $12 billion in net new money, nearly treble the amount banked in the previous quarter.

“We successfully managed March’s high volumes and activity across our trading and client platforms, including peaks of three times the normal levels,” Sergio Ermotti, the bank’s CEO, told investors on Tuesday (April 28).

This enabled the bank to gain a higher share of wallet from its clients, Ermotti added.

Pre-coronavirus, Switzerland’s popularity for offshore banking was fading as its banking sector could no longer guarantee client secrecy. However, the country’s notorious stability combined with low COVID-19 infection rates have renewed its appeal among the international wealthy who use its private banking services.

“There are some countries where the risk of your money and your wealth being more at risk than others does potentially also lead to inflows into safe and secure places like Switzerland,” says Anna Zakrzewski, who leads Boston Consulting Group’s Global Wealth Management division.

Source: Wealthy Move Their Money To Tax Havens

Mexico Deports Most of Its Detained Migrant Population

Of note, reflecting in part the effect of the Trump administration cutting off Central American access to the American asylum system:

On Sunday, Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM) announced the repatriation of 3,653 Central American migrants. The measure comes after growing concern over Covid-19 spreading in INM detention facilities throughout Mexico.

Mexico recently has faced issues attempting to deport Central American citizens back to their home countries. Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador closed their borders to citizens and aliens.

The INM said: “In the face of the health emergency caused by Covid-19, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Institute of Migration (INM), acts responsibly and safeguards the integrity of the population in the context of migration by seeking to fully guarantee their human rights.”

Guatemalan nationals were sent back by bus and Honduran and Salvadoran migrants were transported by aircraft to their countries of origin. The International Organization for Migrants administered the flight arrangements to Central America.

In March, the INM had 3,579 foreign nationals housed throughout its 65 detention facilities and shelters. As of Sunday, the number had decreased to 106 migrants — a 97 percent reduction in the detained migrant population.

The remaining aliens gave their consent to stay in Mexican custody. Religious organizations have assisted with shelter accommodations for migrants choosing to stay in Mexico.

The United Nations, the National Human Rights Commission of Mexico, and dozens of other activist organizations supported the mass release of foreign nationals from INM custody.

Additionally, the INM expressed its support of Mexican nationals being repatriated from the United States to prevent the spread of Covid-19 amongst their countrymen.

And Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Relations announced that it had been able to repatriate more than 129 Mexican people from Honduras and 30 from El Salvador.

Source: Mexico Deports Most of Its Detained Migrant Population

Pandemic pretext: More delays in long-awaited access to information answers

ATIP is far too often late and, as the examples below indicate, sometimes very late, in responding, with COVID-19 providing further excuses for delay:

Federal departments that have stalled access to information requests for three years or more are now citing the pandemic as the reason for further delays.

Emails are going out to people who make access to information requests, notifying them the requests are now “on hold.”

“We cannot send consultations out because most third parties, other government departments (municipal, provincial, territorial and federal) are closed or reduced to minimum employee capacity,” the department now says.

“So until we are given the green light to start processing consultations again, we won’t be able to process any of the records for your request. But in the meantime, we would like to know if you still wish to proceed with your request or if you wish to abandon.”

Rubin says Health Canada owes him answers to about a dozen requests dating back for years — one from 2014 about adverse pharmaceutical reactions including some deaths, one on drug licensing from 2015, others from 2016 and 2017. They now warn him of “possible delays in treating your request,” due to the pandemic.

“Openness, transparency and accountability are guiding principles of the Government of Canada. However, our ability to respond to requests within the timelines mandated by the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act may be affected” by the pandemic, the department says.

The Finance Department wrote him using the the exact same words.

National Defence says it has reduced staff in the access office and hasn’t enough secure lines to handle his requests remotely. They asked for Rubin’s consent to put the request on hold. Rubin said no.

“You have to push back,” he said. “A lot of people don’t consider this a human right. But it’s not just administrative.”

Public Service and Procurement Canada (PSPC) has several aging Rubin files, and he hadn’t heard about them either, until this month’s message that “PSPC’s network is currently limited to essential and critical services such as pay, pension and procurement. While we are committed to respecting your right of access and are actively looking for solutions to maintain operations, we have little to no capacity at this time.”

One department told him: “despite all our efforts, we will not be able to respond to your ATIP request within the legislated timelines.” The legislated timeline ended years ago.

“Our access to information legislation is so flawed that it’s possible for access to information requests to be delayed and delayed and delayed, which turns the whole purpose of the legislation into a joke,” said James Turk, director of the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University.

“The fact that people who haven’t heard for a year or two years are now getting a notice that it’s been delayed because of COVID reveals how badly flawed” it is.

“I like Ken’s remark that oh, it’s good to hear from you.”

He also noted that the lockdown shows the unevenness of government services, as some are cut off from paper documents while others shift to digital documents.

This newspaper asked Environment Canada more than a year ago for internal emails involved in sending out a single news release on climate change. This month, after our request passed its first anniversary, we asked how long it would take.
The answer: They were just about to send us the information, and then the lockdown hit.
The department promises a speedy answer once its office reopens.

Source: Pandemic pretext: More delays in long-awaited access to information answers

Wells: Let’s reopen Ontario and Quebec. You go first.

I am always impressed by the sophisticated understanding of Paul Wells when it comes to how governmental decision-making and his avoidance of overly simplistic arguments of many commentators (he calls out some). Just as he did in The doomed 30-year battle to stop a pandemic, a welcome dose of reality and constraints, where governments have accountability unlike those writing opinion columns:

At last the day came when the politely populist premiers of Ontario and Quebec—the provinces where four-fifths of Canada’s COVID-19 patients reside—announced their plans to roll away their stone and step into the post-pandemic light.

The plans were nearly empty and the premiers looked terrified.

The Ontario document, A Framework for Reopening Our Province, has timelines that mention no date after April 27, which was the day the document was released. It listed three phases: “Protect and Support,” which is what’s been happening; “Restart,” which theoretically comes next; and “Recover,” which in theory will happen someday. The “Restart” phase is described in conspicuously belts-and-suspenders terminology: a “careful, stage-by-stage approach” during which “public health and workplace safety will remain the top priority” and “public health officials will carefully monitor” whether there are new outbreaks “for two-to-four weeks.” The big question: “whether it is necessary to change course” and essentially revert to the current cave days.

This next phase will kick in when cases are durably declining, hospitals can handle any influx of new cases, and public-health tracing can follow any new cases. The second of those boxes, mercifully, has probably already been ticked. The third may never be, because this is such a sneaky virus. Where is Ontario on the first? A reporter asked. Premier Doug Ford couldn’t say.

Quebec, the epicenter of the Canadian outbreak, has a slightly more concrete plan about which Quebec officials seemed commensurately less confident. “If we see that the situation isn’t under control, we’ll push the timetable back,” premier François Legault said. “The watchword will be prudence.”

Another watchword will also be regionalism. Montreal is in the very early stages of a decline in active caseload following what was, and in many ways remains, one of the worst outbreaks in North America. The rest of the province looks more like the rest of the country. So Legault is re-opening elementary schools and public daycares outside greater Montreal in two weeks, on May 11. In the Montreal region they’ll open a week later. High schools stay closed until September.

And even that timetable exaggerates the imminence of a post-COVID social era. Schools will reopen “if and only if” the situation doesn’t deteriorate from now to May 11, Legault said. And school won’t even be mandatory: “Parents who want to keep their children at home won’t be penalized in any way.”

It’s pretty easy to anticipate 72 hours of large-scale game theory beginning on May 9, as tens of thousands of parents use Facebook, Zoom and text messages to ascertain whether they’re better off sending the kids to school or keeping them home. Class sizes will, in any event, be capped at 15, essentially requiring some number of parents to keep their children out.

And after that? When does your local barber shop, dry cleaner, skate sharpener or driver’s license office open? We’ll see. It’s a far cry from the easy certainty of commentators like the  shock jocks on Quebec City radio and the more nuanced impatience of columnists in the Sun papers, which essentially delivered their readership whole to the Ford Conservatives.

It’s an impatience all of us have heard in family conversations. It’s an impatience most of us feel. You know the songbook as well as I do: Look, this is ridiculous, nobody signed on for global economic euthanasia, nobody was told in March that we’d still be here in May and maybe July and maybe January, everybody has to die of something, suicide and obesity and delayed surgery kill people too, and we’re pushing those numbers up as we try to tamp this one down. (Suddenly everyone’s a public-health ninja who knows more about all this than Theresa Tam and Bonnie Henry.)

But it’s quite another matter to be the person in charge when the rubber hits the road. People are full of bravado for society and sometimes less so for their circle. Two weeks seems a reasonably manageable timeframe for a partial resumption of what was, after all, everyone’s everyday life until mid-March. But push it forward and make it personal: How do you feel about sending your own son or daughter back to school tomorrow? Are you ready for a family dinner this weekend? Everyone’s got to die of something, so how about Uncle Ned in late May by drowning in his own pulmonary fluids? That’s a harder call. It helps explain why the plans Legault and Ford released on Monday were, in Ford’s words, road maps and not timetables. And why it left some columnists, whose responsibility extends no further than their keyboards—I know, I live there too—righteously cranky.

The fact is, it’s hard to plan next steps because disaster continues despite the best efforts to contain it: 57 deaths in Ontario in one day, 84 in Quebec. Many more still to come. The closest parallel to this coronavirus in recent history was the 1918-19 flu outbreak, and that one was worse in the fall than it had been in the spring.

Legault and Ford aren’t even leading the process of deciding what happens next: like good populists, they’re being led by it, and if they looked worried on Monday it’s because they’re well aware there’s a shift change underway in the reopening debate. The debate was led until now by people who gain by sounding bold. They’re finding themselves outnumbered by people with everything to lose. Suddenly waiting doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

Australia’s coronavirus re-boot needs to consider population as well as the economy

Similar to some of the commentary in Canadian media, although Australia has had more restrictive immigration for a number of years:

We all know our coronavirus isolation has had a marked effect on our ability to produce GDP income and tax revenue, both so necessary for the proper running of our economy.

But it is also at times like this that we tend to forget that our greatest resource is not our significant mineral wealth or our world-class agricultural produce. It is our people.

And we are a migrant nation, built on the sweat and tears of many successful people, who, on the whole, maintain our exceptional standard of living with their hard work, good education and the burning aspiration of always wanting to do better.

But we are also an ageing country, with our largest demographic now approaching retirement and fewer people in the 20-60 demographic — the age group that produces the clear majority of tax revenue.

Population is on the decline

Last week Acting Minister for Immigration, Alan Tudge, confirmed what we knew to be true since the virus took hold — coronavirus is driving the biggest population decline in Australian history.

Since the beginning of the year, we have lost almost two years of population growth in just three months.

More than 300,000 tourists, students and itinerant workers have fled our shores in an exodus that is certain to deepen our consumer spending slump and put those industries who heavily rely on a migrant workforce.

Some are also predicting that a further 300,000 are set to leave before the end of the year — another blow to our GDP.

This severely impacts our country’s productive tax-generating capacity.

In times of crisis when public spending is at fever pitch, we need to be thinking about how we are going to foot the bill, to help expediate our recovery and get the economy working hard for us again.

How do we turn it around?

This is not a uniquely Australian problem, but a problem we share with many other developed economies including Japan, Britain and Germany.

So, what might be the remedies?

We could simply have more children.

In Australia, we are only averaging 1.7 children per couple, so we are not even replacing mum and dad. This is unlikely to change in the short to medium term.

We can also increase taxation on a smaller and smaller number of people, which is probably electorally unpalatable, not to mention the real possibility of reducing GDP and tax revenue as a result.

Or we can go into austerity and cut spending, also a hugely problematic solution socially and, quite possibly, financially.

Alternatively we can simply import more people in the productive cohort.

A young migrant who goes to school here for four years, then does the HSC, studies at our universities, gets a part time job, starts paying tax, then goes on to full employment some and stays in the tax base for over 40 years, is an ideal candidate.

At a time like this when our economic prosperity is so deeply threated by disease and debt, it might not be altogether intuitive, but it is indeed our best remedy to increase our intake of foreign students, agricultural, nursing and hospitality workers.

Migrants can help us rebuild

Each of these categories are vital to fill for our recovery and continued economic success.

We need the foreign students to rescue our top universities and as for the hundreds of jobs in hospitality, agriculture and nursing, well of course they should be available to our residents first.

But if 30 years of experience is anything to go by, these are not jobs that we have ever been able to fill locally.

And with the new infrastructure boom that will hopefully ensue following COVID-19, we will also need new migrant skills to assist our small but resourceful workforce in creating new economic growth, so vital in re-igniting our economy.

Australia, prior to COVID-19, had 29 years of continuous economic growth.

Perhaps with a bit of vision and new skill base, powered by local and migrant minds and hands, we can make it 30 years.

Source: Australia’s coronavirus re-boot needs to consider population as well as the economy

Australia: Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge addresses concerns of Indian nationals on temporary visas in Australia

Presumably, some Indians on Canadian visitor visas have also been caught by Indian airports being shut down but haven’t seen any media coverage:

The coronavirus pandemic has spawned uncertainty in the best of cases, but more so for the 2.2 million temporary visa holders in the country, who have been thrown into chaos by global travel bans and border closures.

A large number of these visa holders are from India, many of whom are now finding themselves in a precarious situation, where Australia is asking them to go home, but their own country isn’t yet ready to evacuate them.

Addressing their concerns, in an exclusive interview with SBS Punjabi, Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said he understands its a matter of “greater uncertainty” for those Indian nationals who are anxious to return home.


“We understand that the international airports in India are closed until next week and then and a further decision will be made by Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi whether to extend them again or reopen them,” said Mr Tudge.

He added that the situation in India is, however, different from that in Australia.

In Australia, we are not allowing foreign nationals to come into the country, we are only allowing Australians and permanent residents, unless there are exceptional circumstances, whereas India is not even allowing Indian nationals to return to their country

‘Temporary visa holders facing hardships must return home’

For most temporary visa holders, the problem is not just limited to being unable to return to their countries of origin, it is also a financial one. Many of them have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and are now having to survive the crisis without any income assistance from the federal government.

Addressing the concerns of visa holders, Minister Tudge said while the country recognises their importance to its economy and society, however, with Australian citizens and residents being the priority, many will have to reevaluate their options.

“Firstly, all the efforts with the welfare payments and the JobKeeper payments are very much focused on Australians and permanent residents here. If you’re here on a temporary visa and you do run out of money then we do encourage people to return home where you may be able to get support,” he said.

It is difficult for Indian nationals at the moment because the international airports are closed, but our expectations and maybe the expectations of Prime Minister Modi is that they will be opened again in the not so distant future

‘Immigration will resume when it will be safe to do so’

Mr Tudge said the government is yet to take a decision on when it would open its borders to anyone other than the Australian citizens and permanent residents.

“Two things have to occur for that to happen. First is the international airports in India have to open up which is a decision of the Indian government and then second, we would have to open our borders to foreign nationals and we haven’t made that decision yet,” he said.

The minister thanked the Indian immigrants for their “terrific” contribution to Australia’s immigration success.

“I think it will be some time yet before we reopen the borders but it’s is something that we’d like to do in the future because immigration has been such a critical part of Australia’s success.

“And particularly immigrants from India in the last decades who have come in very large numbers and made a terrific contribution in Australia and we will be looking for immigration to resume when it is safe to do so,” he said.

Minister Tudge said a lot of Australia’s success in stemming the coronavirus has come through government’s move to close the international borders. He said a decision to reopen would largely depend on the development of a vaccine.

“How quickly we will rebound, it’s just too early to say and if there’s a vaccine which is found and that’s globally available then we may be able to open-up those borders sooner rather than later and get back to what the normal situation is. But if the vaccine is not found for some time, then it will probably be a slower process,” said the minister.

‘Immigration rate will be low’

Mr Tudge said it is too early to ascertain the long term impact of the health crisis on the country’s immigration policies, but added that the numbers would certainly be low as compared to the previous years.

“It’s just too early to say at this stage obviously our immigration rate will be lower this year compared to previous years because we have closed down the borders and almost nobody is coming in at the moment,” he said.

COVID-19 impact on visa applications:

The minister said while the processing of onshore applications has not been largely affected, those lodging visa applications from outside the country are more likely to feel the pinch.

“If you’re overseas and you’re applying for a visa, then I can say that it is being interrupted because of coronavirus, often because things like the English language testing providers or the health testing providers in most destination countries are shut down.”

He, however, added that the situation would be “irrelevant” for applicants from India as they would not be able to enter the country, even if they had a valid visa until the restrictions are lifted.

“At the moment that situation is almost irrelevant, because even if you had a valid visa and if you were in somewhere like India or Nepal then you would not be able to come into the country in any case.

“Again, we are keeping a close eye on things we are continuing to process those in Australia we are processing some overseas, but it obviously is at a slower rate,” said the minister.

Source: Exclusive: Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge addresses concerns of Indian nationals on temporary visas in Australia

We are all niqabis now: Coronavirus masks reveal hypocrisy of face covering bans

Overly cute comparison, as the reason for wearing the mask, and gender-specific requirements and impacts are not insignificant:

Grey’s Anatomy, the longest running prime-time medical drama on U.S. television, contains many scenes of doctors and nurses in full gear (hospital scrubs, surgical caps, face masks) around the operating table. As they talk, laugh and argue, close-ups of the actors’ eyes convey concentration and emotion.

These scenes contradict one of the common arguments against face coverings — or more accurately, niqabs worn by some Muslim women — that they are a barrier to communication.

Now that face masks are being used to help fight against the spread of COVID-19, it has caused some to look anew at general discrimination against Muslim women wearing niqabs. And it has got me wondering about Québec’s face-covering ban, which came into law in October 2017 as well as France’s ban which came into law in 2011.

If Canadians, Americans and Europeans can get used to the new ubiquitous face masks, will they also get used to niqabs? Will discrimination against the few women in the West who wear itstop?

History of face politics

The European disapproval of the face veil has a long history, as I learned while researching for my book on Canadian Muslim women and the veil.

Niqab has been seen as both a symbol of cultural threat and also of the silencing of Muslim women. In her book, Western Representations of the Muslim Woman, Moja Kahf traces one of the first discussions of the veil in western fiction to the novel Don Quixote. One of the novel’s characters, Dorotea, asks about a veiled woman who walks into an inn: “Is this lady a Christian or a Moor?” The answer came: “Her dress and her silence make us think she is what we hope she is not.” As this scene from Don Quixote indicates, European women sometimes also covered their faces or hair but when they did so, it was not associated with something negative.

Eventually, the rise of western liberalism, with its prioritization of the individual, capitalism and consumerism led to a new “face politics.” Jenny Edkins, professor of politics at the University of Manchester, studied the rise of a politics centred around this new meaning of the “face,” including the idea that the face “if it can be ‘read’ correctly, may be seen to display the essential nature of the person within.”

The flip side of this new face politics became true as well: concealing the face became something suspicious, as if the person had something they wanted to hide, and prevent others from knowing the real them.

At the same time, we grow up learning our face is something to be manipulated, in the same way actors manipulate their faces to entertain viewers. We learn about “putting on one’s face” with makeup; “facing the world” through our education and personal grit; cultivating “poker face” to deceive people in cards or lying to parents and teachers. We learn how to compose our face so as not to show emotion in the wrong places, like crying at work.

The face is often a mask of our real selves.

Anti-niqab attitudes and hate crimes

Generally, hate crimes are on the rise in Canada with the highest increases in Ontario and Québec. In Ontario, the increase was tied to hate crimes against Muslims, Black and Jewish populations. In Québec, the increase was the result of crimes against Muslims. According to a recent peer-reviewed study by Sidrah Ahmad, a PhD student at the University of Toronto, a tally of hate crimes in Canada released by Statistics Canada in 2015 noted that Muslim populations had the highest percentage of hate crime victims who were female.

The rise in hate crimes mirrors the opinion of many public leaders who have loudly proclaimed their anti-niqab attitudes. Jason Kenney, the former Canadian Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, tried — and failed — to ban niqab in citizenship ceremonies. In 2015 he called the niqab “a tribal cultural practice where women are treated like property and not like human beings.” In the same year, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper called it a dress “rooted in a culture that is anti-women … [and] offensive that someone would hide their identity.”

A 2018 Angus Reid poll found that the majority of Canadians support a ban of niqabs on public employees. These contemporary attempts to unveil Muslim women echo British and French attempts to the same in both colonial and current times.

Medical face veils

In a recent op-ed for the Toronto Star, University of Windsor law student Tasha Stansbury pointed out that in Montréal hospitals, people are being asked to wear surgical masks. They walk in and interact with medical staff without being asked to remove their mask for identity or security purposes.

But a woman wearing a niqab walking into the same hospital would be forced by law to remove it.

A decade ago, U.S. philosophy professor Martha Nussbaumbrilliantly exposed the hypocrisy of face veil bans, in an opinion piece for the New York Times. If it is security, she asked, why can we walk into a public building bundled up against the cold with our faces covered in scarves? Why are woolly scarves not seen to hamper reciprocity and good communication between citizens in liberal democracies? She wrote:

“Moreover, many beloved, trusted professionals cover their faces all year round: surgeons, dentists, (American) football players, skiers and skaters … what inspires fear and mistrust in Europe … is not covering per se, but Muslim covering.”

Is a face mask used to help block coronavirus really that different from a niqab?

Both are garments worn for a specific purpose, in a specific place and for a specific time only. It is not worn 24/7. Once the purpose is over, the mask and niqab come off.

The calling of the sacred motivates some to wear the niqab. A highly infectious disease propels many to wear face masks.

If we all start wearing masks does it mean we have succumbed to a form of oppression? Are we submissive? Does it mean we cannot communicate with each other? If we are in Québec, will we be denied employment at a daycare? Refused a government service? Not allowed on the bus?

Source: We are all niqabis now: Coronavirus masks reveal hypocrisy of face covering bans

ICYMI: In the UK, white immigration is an asset – while everyone else is undesirable

Interesting commentary on immigration narratives and some of the contradictions with respect to white versus visible minority immigrants and their descendants:

A conversation that has stayed with me came after the Brexitvote in 2016, when a French friend, who is white, told me of her anxiety at the outcome. There were already signs of the mounting xenophobia against foreigners of all descriptions that was to come in the aftermath of the referendum. “It’s like people are seeing us as immigrants!” she said with disgust. “As if we don’t belong here.”

My immediate thought was, “welcome”. I’m not an immigrant but I have always been seen as one. The response to any perceived transgression I make towards a public person or policy is frequently: “If you don’t like it here, then leave.” White immigrants, and especially those from western Europe, had on the whole never before felt as if this prejudice applied to them, because “immigration” – as a contentious political issue – has never been about people coming from other countries, and it’s never been about the movement required to get here. “Immigration” has always been a byword for the problem of people who are racialised as undesirable, whether they were born here or not.

The hypocrisy is embedded in the history. I often wonder how it was that the arrival of the SS Windrushin 1948, carrying fewer than 500 West Indians specifically invited to come and work in the UK, was and remains such a symbol of profound soul searching for the national identity. That event stands in stark contrast to the more than 200,000 eastern Europeans and 100,000 Irish immigrants who came to Britain during the same period. The former is regarded as a turning point in the fabric of the nation’s identity, the latter is barely remembered at all.

But this illogicality in our narratives around immigration is not confined to the past. I have spent most of my life living in leafy southwest London, an area often described as “quintessentially English”, helped by the presence of rowing on the Thames at Putney and Hammersmith, lawn tennis at Wimbledon, botanical gardens at Kew and Henry VIII’s old hunting grounds in the deer-populated Richmond Park. These areas are still perceived as unchanged by mass immigration.

Dig a little deeper, however, and it emerges that locals call this area the “biltong belt” because of the large presence of white South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders. In fact, white immigration has had the same impact as immigration everywhere – provided skilled and unskilled labour to meet economic demand, triggering the arrival of a new wave of biltong-themed shops, and requiring planning to provide the requisite housing; school places; doctors surgery capacity. The difference is that this immigration is never weaponised as a threat to the national heritage, or as a reason for pre-existing communities to flee. This immigration has been largely unproblematic because it is white, English-speaking and less visibly “other”.

The notion of “other” is in itself deeply ironic. The history of immigration law is a history of government attempts to limit the movement of people who had not long before been British subjects as imperial citizens. As Rab Butler, former home secretary, said about the Commonwealth Immigration Act in 1962, these were laws whose “restrictive effect is intended to, and would in fact, operate on coloured people almost exclusively”.

Today’s governments are more subtle in their language. The word “coloured” disappeared from the letter of our legislation but retains its power in effect. Immigration lawyers frequently remark, after visits to immigration detention centres, how few white immigrants can be found there – these are warehousing facilities for the still undesirable African, Asian, South American and other non-white people. In my work, I have interviewed many who were arrested in dawn raids while in the process of lawfully regularising their immigration status.

The most blatant examples of contemporary racism – the Windrush scandal for example – have exposed a historical continuity that infects the entire immigration system. The “root cause” of the scandal, Wendy Williams, inspector of constabulary, found, can be traced back to the “racial motivations” of immigration laws at their most racialised birth.

The sooner we acknowledge that legacy, and dispense with the fantasy that immigration has nothing to do with race, the sooner we will be able to consign this ongoing, abhorrent injustice to the dustbin of history, where it belongs.

Source: In the UK, white immigration is an asset – while everyone else is undesirable