The conservative case for toppling statues: Why ‘bad men’ shouldn’t be revered in the public square

Interesting categorization of monuments of historical figures:

It may have been the easiest political no-brainer of the year when Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rushed to condemn the unruly mob that brought Sir John A. Macdonald’s statue tumbling down in Montreal last month.

Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has won elections by outflanking the NDP to the left, thought about it for a day or two and then denounced the “vandalism” that has “no place in a society that abides by the rule of law.”

For support and to help convince conservatives, Levy points to the words of 18th century Scottish economist Adam Smith, who gave the world “the invisible hand” of the free market and whose classical liberal economics were vital to 20th century conservatism.Smith believed we are hard-wired to venerate powerful people, whether they are morally upright or not, and that this is an impulse we should fight back against.

“Even when the order of society seems to require that we should oppose them, we can hardly bring ourselves to do it,” wrote Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. We look at political leaders in “delusive colours in which the imagination is apt to paint in,” creating a “peculiar sympathy.”

Levy also points to the words of Lord Acton, who famously said that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

Levy argues that if Smith and Acton are right, then we are honouring the wrong people almost across the board. And that extends to people like Macdonald, whose triumphs in government are marked in equal measure by outrages, said Levy in an interview with the National Post.

“There’s no doing without Macdonald in Canadian political history. But that doesn’t mean that celebration has to be a uncritical or has to conceal what is actually a very complicated institutional legacy,” said Levy.

In an article for the Niskanen Center in the United States, Levy divides these historical leaders into three categories. The first are people who committed dishonourable acts and are celebrated precisely for those acts, like Jefferson Davis, who is remembered as the president of the confederacy during the U.S. civil war and a defender of slavery.There are also people who lived unimpeachable public lives, like George Washington, who also owned slaves in his private life. When Washington is publicly revered, it’s for his role as a founding father rather than his private sins.

In Levy’s view, Macdonald represents a middle-ground because he is venerated for a record that has troubling moments along with the great triumphs.

“His wrongs were official wrongs. The head tax and the treatment of First Nations, those are as much a part of his legacy as building Confederation in a way that differs from the private slave-owning of American founders,” said Levy. “That means that his legacy is contested in the same way that the moral character of Canadian Confederation is contested. And I don’t think there’s any way to set aside either part of that.”

Smith believed that we sympathize with the dead and pile on affection, especially “when they are in danger of being forgot by everybody.” Because the dead can’t defend themselves people are moved to do it for them or to hold off on criticism.

Levy’s response to that is simple: Sir John A. could handle criticism when he was alive and he can surely handle it now.

“We not only overestimate the moral standing of rulers, we overestimate the harm in moral criticism of the dead,” wrote Levy.

Although conservatives are more likely to defend statues and monuments, progressives are not immune from the phenomenon that Smith describes. The death of United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg provoked a massive wave of grief, even beyond the borders of the U.S.

“I absolutely think we’re seeing that Smithian dynamic at work,” said Levy. “There’s been 15 years worth of half tongue-in-cheek idolatry about her. There’s a wildly excessive personalization of the relationship to her.”

It’s not just world leaders either. We venerate celebrities and athletes, no matter how many times they disappoint us.

The polling on these monuments suggests that many people are more disturbed by the mob action than the actual removal of the statues. When Trudeau gave his comments about the incident in Montreal he singled out the lawlessness for criticism and almost nothing else.

Levy believes, though, at the heart of it is our out-sized and often irrational affection for the people who lead us.

“There is widespread and justifiable aversion to the sight and the phenomenon of people no one elected taking matters into their own hands,” said Levy. “But the politics of taking statues down through lawful procedures gets so controversial that I’m inclined to doubt that the mob scene is really what’s doing most of the emotional work.”

Source: The conservative case for toppling statues: Why ‘bad men’ shouldn’t be revered in the public square

‘Words alone will not be enough’: Black caucus, community cautiously optimistic about feds’ Throne Speech pledges

Initial reactions (and wait for the budget for initiatives to be concretized or not):

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Throne Speech further elevates the priorities long advocated by the Black community, say MPs, Senators, and advocates, though some say the lack of specificity on certain planks gives the government too much wiggle room to follow through on its commitments.

Mr. Trudeau’s (Papineau, Que.) parliamentary reset last week featured a grab bag of mostly old commitments that are likely to compete with one another for resources against the immediate threat posed by the global pandemic.

It featured a separate section devoted to “addressing systemic racism,” reflecting, in sweeping terms, many of the priorities that the Black Parliamentary Caucus had lobbied for in response to the anti-Black racism rallies that hit many cities around the world over the summer. Some of its commitments include addressing standards on the use of force; implementing a plan to increase representation in public service; and finding new ways to support the “artistic and economic contributions of Black Canadian culture and heritage.”

Liberal MP Greg Fergus (Hull-Aylmer, Que.), chair of the cross-party caucus that includes MPs and Senators, said the attention focused on grappling with racial inequities in the speech is a testament to the caucus’ and the Black community’s drive to prevent the momentum from fading. The caucus’ statement, a document that set out policy prescriptions for achieving racial equity that was released in June, received the endorsement of nearly all cabinet ministers and more than 150 Parliamentarians.

For Mr. Fergus, who is also parliamentary secretary to the Treasury Board president and to minister of digital government, said seeing the caucus’ agenda adopted in the speech means members have a “green light” to keep pressing for reforms. Had the speech not reflected those priorities, Mr. Fergus said, there would be “screaming headlines” registering that omission—and it would have been justified.

“It’s all forward thrusters on in terms of moving on this file, and given that we are in a pandemic, for us to recognize we have to address the real fault lines that exist, and make that a priority in the Speech from the Throne, it means I got a green light for the Black caucus to continue [its work],” he said.

Mr. Fergus pointed to the “down payments” the government has made on the collection of disaggregated race-based data, which started with Statistics Canada’s move to publish, for the first time, a Labour Force Survey tracking job losses by race and ethnicity. Though such data is likely to confirm the existence of longstanding inequities linked to structural forces, having hard figures, advocates say, would help further illustrate the scope of the problems. The speech picks up on that priority advocated by the caucus, in committing to developing an approach across the government around “better collection of disaggregated data.”

Mr. Trudeau, in response to the wave of protests in June, promised action “very quickly” and enlisted his cabinet ministers to develop a “summer work plan.” A request for comment from the Prime Minister’s Office was not returned by deadline.

Independent Senator Rosemary Moodie (Ontario) said when hard data is available, it makes the inequities that have long been apparent, “much more indisputable,” and “easier for us to speak with authority.”

Independent Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard (Nova Scotia) echoed that sentiment, saying that degree of commitment on data collection suggests the government could make a push to apply an “intersectional lens” on policies. Such an approach, she noted, is already happening in the files overseen by Diversity Inclusion Minister Bardish Chagger (Waterloo, Ont.).

“Part of the problem is that, in government, change happens very slowly. Through the pandemic, it’s slowed down even more,” Sen. Bernard, a caucus member, said. “There’s a great need, in this country, for policy development to be more inclusive, and so, bringing the voices of all stakeholders in policy development is something we really haven’t been doing.”

While Sen. Bernard said the speech gave profile to the concerns of Black and Indigenous Canadians, where it didn’t “go far enough” for her was in providing specific and substantive reforms around criminal justice. During the pandemic, Canada has seen the pandemic collide with racial injustices, she said, pointing to several incidents involving police that have led to violent encounters and in some cases, the deaths of Black and Indigenous people such as Chantel Moore and Regis Korchinski-Paquet. Both women died during so-called “wellness checks” carried out by police.

“I often look at the decal on the side of police cars; it says, ‘To serve and protect,’ and there are many Black Canadians and Indigenous Canadians who don’t feel well served or well protected by police and, in fact, feel fear,” she said. “That has to shift; that requires major change, major reform, and the Throne Speech references this a little bit.”

Sen. Bernard said she had hoped the speech would have made specific references to the development of a Black-Canadian justice strategy—an acknowledgement that underscores that the community has been disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system and “state violence.” She noted that Nova Scotia has already moved in that direction. Instead, the speech states a pledge to “take action to address the systemic inequities in all phases of the criminal justice system, from diversion to sentencing, from rehabilitation to records.”

Sen. Moodie agreed that a lack of specifics would make it “harder to hold people accountable.” “I don’t think it lessens our responsibility as Parliamentarian; I don’t think it lessens our mandate to pursue that,” she added.

NDP MP Matthew Green (Hamilton Centre, Ont.) said while pledges in the speech are wrapped up in the “words of equity and the language of racial justice,” the government isn’t responding with the urgency required. He added the government doesn’t have a solid track record of implementing policies it endorses.

“The government has all the power to immediately act on the priorities outlined in the Black caucus’ statement. From procurement to policing, they have failed,” said Mr. Green.

He pointed to the government’s policy requiring that companies with more than 100 employees that are interested in bidding on contracts worth more than $1-million to set diversity targets, saying that, without audits, it’s a toothless measure.

“That is a good policy that the Liberals put forward, but how many audits have actually happened?” he said.

Federal audits of companies were scrapped under the Harper government and have not been brought back, according to The Toronto Star.

“It was not through the goodwill of the government,” he added of the government’s move to adopt priorities pushed for by the caucus and protesters. “It was the tens of thousands of Canadians led by the Black Lives Matter movement, demanding that they move beyond performative actions.”

Mr. Green cited getting rid of mandatory minimums and amnesty for those convicted of recreational marijuana possession as examples of other policies the government can move on without delay.

Even as he expressed frustration over the pace of the government’s response, Mr. Green said the work of the caucus, of which he is a member of, has been meaningful, saying it’s been an “overwhelmingly non-partisan” vehicle for change.

“We are looking at creating a governing structure to institutionalize the work we’ve done to date,” he said. “I stand by that work. My job, in opposition, is to ensure that I continue to point out the uncomfortable truths.”

‘Rare’ for speeches to have hard timelines

Sen. Moodie said the speech, which gave a “prominent place” to the concerns of Black and Indigenous communities, sends a reassuring signal that the government is serious about delivering on its commitments.

“It’s my sense there’s a will and perhaps a plan,” Sen. Moodie said. “We know the prime minister has spoken about it. He will need to follow through, or he risks losing credibility when he speaks on the issue. Words alone will not be enough for the country, for Black and Indigenous Canadians who have heard him.”

Sen. Moodie is feeling upbeat about the prospects for change, a shift from where she was at before the speech was released in late August, when she said, in an email response, “any continued delay” on responding to calls from the Black community could not be “wholly blamed on prorogation.”

Alfred Burgesson, a member of the Prime Minister’s Youth Council and founder of advocacy group Collective Action, said the main “missing piece” from the speech was the lack of “tangible targets” for measuring the pace of progress.

Mr. Fergus noted that Throne-Speech commitments rarely come with timelines.

“It’s cool to see we’re going to make progress on systemic racism, but without tangible targets, then how are we measuring our success?,” he said, speaking for himself, not on behalf of the council. “Are we just striving towards saying we’re doing it, or are we doing it to have an impact across Canada?”

He said the budget or the promised fiscal update in the fall will be indicative of whether the government is “truly putting their money where their mouths are.” Mr. Burgesson said the feds’ launch of the Black Entrepreneurship Strategy, which promises close to $221-million in partnership with banks to help thousands of Black business owners recover from the pandemic, earlier this month was a positive development, but said “that can’t be it.”

At the same time, Mr. Burgesson, who participated in a council meeting that was an hour and half long with Mr. Trudeau on Friday, said he left feeling a “great deal of optimism.”

“He’s not afraid of the criticism. …When others challenged him, he received it very well,” he said, adding that Mr. Trudeau did not respond defensively in the face of criticism about the speed of the government’s response to pressing issues.

Velma Morgan, chair of Operation Black Vote, said the speech was a “good start,” with many of the broad commitments reflecting what the community has been campaigning on for in countless meetings with government officials, but the real work has yet to begin in earnest. (Ms. Morgan is also working on Green Party candidate Annamie Paul’s leadership campaign; the two are personal friends, and Ms. Paul is the only Black candidate running for the Greens.)

“It’s time we move from aspirational to action. We need for that work to be expedited. The time should’ve been last year. There’s a little bit of catchup,” she said. “The government has been really good at speaking to the community. It has been said over and over again, ‘Let’s get it done.’ The ball is in their court.”

Source: ‘Words alone will not be enough’: Black caucus, community cautiously optimistic about feds’ Throne Speech pledges

Rich families buy second citizenship in post-Ritz Saudi Arabia

Of interest:

“I have clients who escaped the Ritz-Carlton event because they were prudent enough to secure second citizenship beforehand. … The moment you hire me you are admitting to yourself that there is a danger,” David Lesperance, a Canadian lawyer who has advised dozens of affluent Gulf families since the early 1990s, told Al-Monitor.

In November 2017, 381 prominent Saudi businessmen, royals and officials were caught up in the “anti-corruption” crackdown led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

Saudi authorities reportedly pressured a quarter of Ritz-Carlton detainees, including through physical abuse, to hand over to the state assets worth a total of over $106 billion.

Ryan Bohl is a Middle East analyst at the US-based geopolitical-­risk firm Stratfor. He told Al-Monitor anti-corruption campaigns led by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are now “used to seize assets of those the state sees as disloyal.”

In this context, the global trade of second citizenship — often associated with tax evasion, money laundering and corruption — is viewed by some Gulf nationals who are exposed to risks related to political oppression and regime change as a strategic way out.

Cyprus and the bin Laden family

Preferred destinations are publicly known — Cyprus, Ireland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and the Caribbean islands, among others — but firms operating in this secretive industry do not disclose how many Gulf nationals bought second citizenship.

Internal documents leaked to the Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera earlier this year revealed, however, the extent of Cyprus’ citizenship by investment program: about 2,500 individuals from 74 countries bought a Cypriot passport between 2017 and 2019.

Although Russian, Chinese and Ukrainian citizens account for the vast majority of names listed in the Cyprus Papers, applications from Saudi Arabia have “increased since the rise of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman,” Al Jazeera’s investigation reads.

In 2019, Cyprus granted citizenship to the relative of a Saudi national detained at the Ritz-Carlton and to a member of the bin Laden family — once one of the most influential in the kingdom. During the crackdown, three bin Laden brothers were detained and the family’s conglomerate effectively taken over by the state.

According to The Independent, some wealthy Saudis moved assets “out of the region” in the days following the Ritz-Carlton arrests, and Capital Economics’ senior emerging markets economist Jason Tuvey noted “a jump in Saudi residents placing banking deposits abroad.”

GCC states either prohibit dual citizenship or condition it on government approval but are not actively cracking down on second citizenships, Bohl believes. “They are, however, trying to find ways to ensure that such secondary passports do not become shields by which dissidents can attack their policies with impunity,” the analyst said.

Saudi operatives abducted three princes living in Europe between 2015 and 2017 and a year later a hit squad killed and dismembered Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, who was a US resident with three children who are US citizens.

“It is beyond having a second nationality,” said Ziad Karkaji, managing partner of a Beirut-based firm specialized in residency and citizenship programs. Speaking about Al-Waleed bin Talal, a high-profile Saudi investor who holds a Lebanese passport, Karkaji told Al-Monitor, “With all his power and connections, he still stayed in the Ritz-Carlton.”

In September 2020, a group of Saudi dissidents, most of them in exile, crossed a red line by announcing the formation of a pro-democracy political party to call for peaceful change and combat what they referred to as state “violence and repression.”

“Every society is three meals away from chaos”

Beyond political considerations, getting second citizenship is “a long-standing practice” for Gulf businessmen and investors who travel frequently and want to avoid visa processing time, Bohl recalled. According to The Henley Passport Index, a power ranking of passports, the Cypriot travel document is twice as powerful as the Saudi.

Given the complexity of navigating national and international legislation, high-end intermediaries such as private bankers and family offices often recommend wealthy individuals seeking second citizenship to hire an expert. Some jurisdictions, like Malta, publish the names of foreigners who have acquired citizenship in the island state.

Applications for second passports from GCC nationals also soared about a decade ago during the Arab Spring. Some senior officials and members of royal families fear social discontent could lead to shifts in power and their assets being frozen.

As the global economy is expected to gradually shift away from carbon-intensive energies, the ruling families in the Arab Gulf states face unprecedented economic and sociopolitical challenges to reinvent their oil-dependent model of governance. Experts warn the change could cause political instability and eventually increase demand for second citizenship.

“Well, as Lenin said, ‘Every society is three meals away from chaos.’” Things happened, you know; in Tunisia it started with a fruit seller,” Lesperance commented.

Source: Rich families buy second citizenship in post-Ritz Saudi Arabia

Scientists combat anti-Semitism with artificial intelligence

Will be interesting to assess the effectiveness of this approach, and whether the definition of antisemitism used in the algorithms takes a narrow or more expansive approach, including how it deals with criticism of Israeli government poliicies.

Additionally, it may provide an approach that could serve as a model for efforts to combat anti-Black, anti-Muslim and other forms of hate:

An international team of scientists said Monday it had joined forces to combat the spread of anti-Semitism online with the help of artificial intelligence.

The project Decoding Anti-Semitism includes discourse analysts, computational linguists and historians who will develop a “highly complex, AI-driven approach to identifying online anti-Semitism,” the Alfred Landecker Foundation, which supports the project, said in a statement Monday.

“In order to prevent more and more users from becoming radicalized on the web, it is important to identify the real dimensions of anti-Semitism — also taking into account the implicit forms that might become more explicit over time,” said Matthias Becker, a linguist and project leader from the Technical University of Berlin.

The team also includes researchers from King’s College in London and other scientific institutions in Europe and Israel.

Computers will help run through vast amounts of data and images that humans wouldn’t be able to assess because of their sheer quantity, the foundation said.

“Studies have also shown that the majority of anti-Semitic defamation is expressed in implicit ways – for example through the use of codes (“juice” instead of “Jews”) and allusions to certain conspiracy narratives or the reproduction of stereotypes, especially through images,” the statement said.

As implicit anti-Semitism is harder to detect, the combination of qualitative and AI-driven approaches will allow for a more comprehensive search, the scientists think.

The problem of anti-Semitism online has increased, as seen by the rise in conspiracy myths accusing Jews of creating and spreading COVID-19, groups tracking anti-Semitism on the internet have found.

The focus of the current project is initially on Germany, France and the U.K., but will later be expanded to cover other countries and languages.

The Alfred Landecker Foundation, which was founded in 2019 in response to rising trends of populism, nationalism and hatred toward minorities, is supporting the project with 3 million euros ($3.5 million), the German news agency dpa reported.

Source: Scientists combat anti-Semitism with artificial intelligence

Carleton PhD student detained in Turkey, accused of inciting protests

An interesting and disturbing consular case that highlights a number of issues:
  • increasing repression in autocratic countries
  • calls for consular assistance are being applied to Permanent Residents, not just citizens (as in the case of Iran’s shooting down of the Ukrainian airline)
  • Canada will likely have more cases like this for those international students researching their country of origin histories and issues
  • and the intersection with LGBT identities.

In the ten years they’ve been together, Ömer Ongun has not gone a day without hearing the voice of his partner, Cihan Erdal.

It’s now been three days since they’ve spoken.

Their last conversation came on Friday, just moments before Erdal was detained in Istanbul’s Besiktas neighbourhood.

“It was 2 a.m. for us, 9 a.m. for Cihan in Istanbul. He called me and said ‘I love you. They are at my door. They’re going to take me away,'” Ongun said.

Erdal, a 32-year-old PhD candidate at Carleton University and a permanent resident of Canada, is now being held at a detention centre in the Turkish capital, Ankara.

He was among dozens of people named in warrants issued across Turkey on Friday. Ongun, also a permanent resident, said Erdal’s lawyer has not been allowed to see the specifics of his case file, but the allegations against all of the detainees relate to a letter written in 2014.

The letter called on the Turkish government to step in to help the Kurdish town of Kobani, in Syria, at the height of ISIS attacks.

Deadly protests

Thirty-seven people were killed in protests in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast that October as people filled the streets, angry the Turkish Army wasn’t moving in to protect Kobani and its people.

The Turkish government accuses the signatories of that letter of supporting the protests.

And the statement from Carleton:

The Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University condemns in the strongest possible terms the detention of Carleton Sociology doctoral candidate, Cihan Erdal, in Turkey today. The charges stem from events back in 2014, which the Turkish government are using to continue persecuting members of the leftist HDP political party, the third largest party in Turkey’s parliament. Cihan and 81 others, including academics, activists, and politicians, have been targeted because they are all signatories to a letter from six years ago calling for the Turkish government to step in to protect a Kurdish town from ISIS attacks, during a time when ISIS was quite active and many Kurds were being killed.

Cihan was an active member of the HDP in 2014 as their youth representative. However, he has not been involved in Turkish politics since he moved to Canada to do his doctoral studies at Carleton in January, 2017. He had only returned to Turkey to visit family and then to interview Turkish activists as part of his doctoral fieldwork. Cihan’s research is on youth-led social movements in Europe, including in Turkey, focused on the stories of young activists about their involvement in social movements. His work is in no way critical of the Turkish state. His research passed a formal proposal defense, and his research ethics proposal was approved before the COVID-19 pandemic began. He was beginning interviews online, while awaiting approval under the new pandemic ethics process to begin face to face interviews in Turkey, Athens, and Paris.

We ask you to vigorously demand the release of Cihan from detention and demand that the Canadian government consular offices support Cihan, who is a permanent resident of Canada.

More information on the arrests can be found here.


And the website and social media campaign:

UK barrister mistaken for defendant calls for compulsory anti-racism training

One would hope that this would not occur in Canada:

The barrister who was mistaken for a defendant three times in one day at court has called for compulsory anti-racism training at every level of the UK legal system.

Alexandra Wilson, who specialises in criminal and family cases, put in a complaint on Wednesday and spoke of her frustration about the incident on Twitter. Her tweets, which quickly went viral, resulted in an apology by the head of the courts service in England and Wales.

Since tweeting about what happened to her, Wilson said she has been flooded by responses from other black and minority ethnic lawyers who have had similar experiences. She added the frequent occurrence of such incidents points to the failure of current training in the legal system that only focuses on unconscious bias or diversity.

Lapse in early pandemic warning system ‘a colossal failure,’ says former federal Liberal health minister Dosanjh

Appears, if Minister’s spokesperson correct, decision was taken at the official not political level:

Following the abrupt resignation of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) president Tina Namiesniowski on Sept. 18, a former Liberal federal health minister says the lapse in the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN)’s role under this government’s watch was “a colossal failure,” with the Bloc Québécois’ health critic saying the new president of PHAC will have to work hard to rebuild the agency “so that it can be more efficient in carrying out its duties [of] prevention, detection and management of public health crises.”

Former health minister Ujjal Dosanjh, who was in the role from 2004 to 2006 under then-prime minister Paul Martin, told The Hill Times that “the Public Health Agency isn’t an agency that’s supposed to sleep, ever. Its job is to continuously surveil, nationally, and internationally.”

“I think there is something the matter. If you are an activist minister, and you’re not just a politician who got elected, but you’re there to change the world even in the [most minute possible way], you would ask questions as to why GPHIN was folded. You would ask questions [about] when the information was coming from China,” Mr. Dosanjh said in a phone interview.

Canada was a leader in pandemic preparedness during his tenure, according to Mr. Dosanjh.

“I think it was a colossal failure on the part of government, and unfortunately no one is looking at these things because we are so wrapped up—and rightly so—dealing with the here and now, and we’re prepared to forgive the errors that have been made.”

“Whoever is responsible for it, it’s been a near fatal mistake in the pre-pandemic era which has come back to bite us in the pandemic era,” said Mr. Dosanjh, who also served as premier of British Columbia from 2000 to 2001.

“We would have been far better prepared, we would have had far more robust tools at our disposal, had we not put GPHIN to sleep,” said Mr. Dosanjh, who also noted that GPHIN was initially established following the SARS epidemic in the early 2000s.

“The infrastructure had been put in place before I got there, it was only completed when I got there, so I can’t take responsibly for it, but I’m somewhat saddened (which is not the best word), but knowing what I know, I’m angry,” said Mr. Dosanjh. “I’m actually sad at the kind of conflicting and unclear information that’s emanated from all of the responsible sources as COVID-19 started.”

Protecting the health and safety of Canadians ‘top priority’ 

According to Cole Davidson, spokesperson for Minister Hajdu, “protecting the health and safety of Canadians is our top priority.”

“Public health intelligence is vital to that goal,” said Mr. Davidson. “The minister was concerned to learn about the changes made to the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN), and has ordered an independent review to look into these changes. The minister is expecting recommendations from this review in the next six months.”

“As the minister has said, these changes were made within the Public Health of Agency of Canada, not at the political level. These are serious and disturbing allegations—ones that we take seriously,” wrote Mr. Davidson. “When the minister became aware of these changes, she requested an independent review to investigate the questions that she had. GPHIN is an important tool for the government of Canada, and the analysts that serve this country must be empowered to do their work.”

PHAC’s president Tina Namiesniowski announced she was stepping down from the organization on Sept. 18, saying she was “now at a point where I need to take a break” and that she felt she “must step aside so someone else can step up” in a message to staff that day, according to multiple media reports.

Ms. Namiesniowski worked as a bureaucrat within the federal public service for decades, including stints as executive vice-president with the Canada Border Services Agency, as an assistant deputy minister at the Department of Agriculture, and as assistant secretary to cabinet, operations secretariat, with the Privy Council Office. She was appointed as president of the PHAC in May 2019.

‘There should be a strong public health capacity at different levels of government’

Dr. Paul Gully, a senior public health physician who was director of Health Canada’s population and public health branch and the department’s main spokesperson during the 2003 SARS outbreak, said he believes the Public Health Agency of Canada has responded well and continues to respond well to COVID-19.

“But I think lack of increased funding over the last few years, which probably goes back to the creation of the agency in 2014, is that it hasn’t been able to do a number of things,” said Dr. Gully. “One is to enhance its scientific capacity, while at the same time losing scientific capacity. It also hasn’t been able to deal with issues which have been well-known, such as the national emergency stockpile, for example.”

“There should be a strong public health capacity at different levels of government, that could then advise government and ensure that fiscal policies and all of the other policies are scientifically-based,” said Mr. Gully.

Government ‘asleep at the switch’ in ensuring strong PPE stockpile, says NDP’s Don Davies 

“I think the rapid removal of Ms. Namiesniowski and her rapid replacement is a clear acknowledgment that PHAC has been mismanaged for a long time now,” said NDP MP Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway, B.C.), his party’s health critic. “The speed at which they replaced Ms. Namiesniowski, I think is also concerning.”

“Without casting any personal aspersions at the current appointment, the process makes me concerned,” said Mr. Davies.

“The Public Health Agency was slow to understand and acknowledge the risk level of COVID-19, they were slow to acknowledge community transmission, they were slow to acknowledge asymptomatic transmission,” said Mr. Davies. “They were also slow to acknowledge the efficacy of closing borders, and perhaps most egregious, they were completely asleep at the switch in making sure that we even had a good PPE stockpile.”

Bloc Québécois MP Luc Thériault (Montcalm, Que.), his party’s health critic, told The Hill Times that the “hasty and unexpected departure” of Ms. Namiesniowski will “definitely complicate the management of the current crisis.”

“But as the resignation of Mrs. Namiesniowski seems to be linked to personal burnout, it is difficult to blame her for this decision,” wrote Mr. Thériault in an emailed message to The Hill Times.“As for Mr. Iain Stewart, who has, it seems, a solid scientific profile, he will have to work hard to rebuild the Health Agency of Canada so that it can be more efficient in carrying out its duties [of] prevention, detection and management of public health crises. Especially since scientists warn us that such crises may be more common in the future because of increasing interference between human activities and nature, and accelerating climate change.”

Mr. Thériault also said that PHAC has shown “several shortcomings” in its handling of the COVID-19 crisis, and that the pandemic has shown that the agency isn’t adequately prepared to face such a crisis.

The government’s stock of masks and PPE was “clearly insufficient,” and PHAC erred by failing to heed warning from GPHIN about the pandemic, said Mr. Theriault.

“In addition, it was only two weeks after the onset of active community transmission and the rise in infections and deaths that the agency recommended social and economic restrictions, due to ineffective data collection,” he said.

“In short, PHAC must redefine its methods of preventing and preparing for future health crises, and it must make its responses to a public health crisis more rapid and effective. With the arrival of the new wave of COVID-19, it will have no room for error, as this wave had been expected for several months. We will be closely monitoring her actions in the face of this second wave.”

Mr. Thériault also said Quebec and the provinces were too much at the mercy of the ineffectiveness of PHAC.

“Indeed, they themselves suffer from systemic underfunding of their health system. That is why the Bloc Québécois, like Quebec and the provinces, is calling for an immediate [provision] of $28-billion in health transfers, an annual indexation of six per cent, and a federal contribution of 35 per cent,” said Mr. Thériault. “As health is a provincial responsibility, this will be the best way to prevent the different health systems from suffering once again from PHAC’s poor preparation for a future health crisis.”

Source: Lapse in early pandemic warning system ‘a colossal failure,’ says former federal Liberal health minister Dosanjh

Disputed Immigration Policy On Foreign Students Uses Flawed Report

Deliberately or accidentally flawed? And as noted in the article, shift of Indian students from USA to Canada:

A controversial proposed regulation that critics say will discourage international students from coming to America relies on a flawed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report on visa overstays, according to a new analysis. The new rule would require U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to adjudicate more than 300,000 new extension applications each year when it is unable to process filings in its current workload on time. The new regulation is the Trump administration’s latest assault on high-skilled foreign nationals and could produce long-term negative consequences for America’s role as a center for science and innovation.

On September 25, 2020, the Trump administration published a proposed regulation that would mandate F-1 students be admitted only for fixed terms, generally two- or four-year periods, rather than the long-standing “duration of status” that allows students to remain in the United States and continue their studies until completion. The rule has a 30-day comment period and includes a fixed period of admission for J (exchange visitors) and I (foreign media) visa holders. Given the controversy and likely number of comments, it may be difficult for administration officials to complete and publish a final rule in time if Donald Trump does not win reelection.

A Flawed DHS “Overstay” Report: “The DHS ‘overstay’ reports upon which the regulation relies are highly flawed for policymaking purposes and should not be the basis for rulemaking on international students,” concluded a new analysis from the National Foundation for American Policy. “Problems with DHS systems properly identifying individuals who changed status inside the U.S. or left the country is an issue the DHS regulation fails to acknowledge. An examination of Department of Homeland Security reports finds the overstay rate for F-1 international students is not an actual overstay rate but only an upper-bound estimate of individuals who DHS could not positively identify as leaving the United States.”

The analysis concludes there are significant flaws in using the DHS overstay reports for a new regulation: “Under the proposed rule, students born in countries that a recent DHS report finds have an overstay rate of 10% or higher would be limited (along with certain other students) to a fixed term of only two years. Other students would be limited to four years. An approved extension would be required to remain in the country. But the overstay rates contained in the DHS reports are inflated and do not actually measure overstay rates. ‘The DHS figures represent actual overstays plus arrivals whose departure could not be verified,’ according to demographer Robert Warren. ‘That is, they include both actual overstays and unrecorded departures.’” (Emphasis added.)

“The Department of Homeland Security is knowingly relying on flawed reports as a pretext for the overall policy in the rule and to limit the admission periods for students from specific countries,” according to the National Foundation for American Policy report. “With circular logic, the 10% overstay rate threshold contained in the proposed rule comes not from an immigration law but from a presidential memorandum on overstays issued on April 22, 2019, that uses the same flawed DHS overstay reports. Students from approximately 60 countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, would be limited to two-year terms (with the possibility of extensions).

“Extensions might be difficult to obtain as the focus in the proposed rule has moved away from allowing students to make normal academic progress to an enforcement-default, note attorneys, with the only reasons cited to approve an extension for additional time are for a ‘compelling academic reason, documented medical illness or medical condition, or circumstance that was beyond the student’s control.’

“In its FY 2019 report, DHS emphasizes the ‘suspected in-country overstay’ rate, a lower rate for countries than the overall overstay rate. DHS understands the ‘suspected in-country overstay’ rate is also overstated and largely an issue of an ability (or inability) to match records, since the report shows the FY 2018 overstay rate dropped by half when examined 12 months later after allowing more time to verify records for departures and change of status.”

One of the best arguments against the rule is that an individual committed to disappearing into the country after failing to attend classes would already be flagged by the current SEVIS system or would not be worried about submitting an extension application. The rule would only affect students with a genuine interest in continuing to study in the United States.

Expensive and Time-Consuming Process for International Students: Economists know when you tax or increase the price of something, you get less of it. DHS estimates the cost of filing an extension application for many F-1 students will exceed $1,000. That includes the cost of students filling out applications and submitting biometrics at USCIS offices. (See this article for more details on the impact of the rule on students and universities.)

The proposed rule will act as a tax increase on international students, both in dollars and in potential opportunity costs should extensions not be approved. The proposed rules make it clear extension approvals will not be a foregone conclusion.

Relying on USCIS To Process More Than 300,000 New Applications a Year: DHS estimates the new policy would require USCIS, an agency seeking a bailout from Congress, to adjudicate 364,060 new extension requests annually by 2024 and 300,954 in 2025 and later years.

At the California Service Center, an application to extend/change status (form I-539) takes 7.5 to 10 months for F students and up to 19 months for J exchange visitors. USCIS has threatened to furlough two-thirds of its workforce and cannot adjudicate extensions and other benefit requests in a reasonable time.

While DHS states in the proposed rule a student would remain in lawful status while waiting for a USCIS decision if an extension was timely filed, this ignores a critical problem: It will be too late for a student to make alternate academic plans if USCIS denies an extension. That would set the student back a year or more and generate the type of uncertainty that may dissuade people from studying in America.

Forcing Universities to Use E-Verify: There is little evidence U.S. universities are hotbeds of illegal immigration. Despite this, the Trump administration has used the proposed rule to compel all U.S. universities to use E-Verify. Any universities that do not sign up for E-Verify would be allowed to admit students for only two-year periods (with extensions available) under the pretext that DHS would be more likely to trust information from universities that sign up for the electronic employment verification system. Congress has never mandated all employers must use E-Verify.

DHS Admits the Rule Will Likely Reduce Enrollment and Make U.S. Universities Less Competitive: “The proposed rule may adversely affect U.S. competitiveness in the international market for nonimmigrant student enrollment and exchange visitor participation,” according to DHS. “Specifically, the proposed changes could decrease nonimmigrant student enrollments in the United States with corresponding increased enrollments in other English-speaking countries, notably in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.” DHS notes that in other countries admission is “typically valid for the duration of the student’s course enrollment” and students are “not generally required to file” an extension application.

The number of international students enrolled at U.S. universities declined by 4.3% between the 2016-17 and 2018-19 academic years. International students from India enrolled in graduate-level computer science and engineering at U.S. universities fell by more than 25% between 2016-17 and 2018-19. During the same period, international students from India at Canadian universities rose from 76,075 in 2016 to 172,625 in 2018, an increase of 127%.

“The administration is knowingly relying on flawed reports as a pretext for its overall policy and to limit the admission periods for students from specific countries in the proposed rule,” concludes the National Foundation for American Policy report.

The new policy threatens America’s ability to attract international students due to the added costs and increased uncertainty foreign students would face under the proposed regulation. If foreign countries that compete with the United States for international students were to create a new way to discourage students from coming to America, this is the policy they would design.

Source: Disputed Immigration Policy On Foreign Students Uses Flawed Report

Uncertain future for Egypt’s Salafists following Senate election defeat

No great loss (but extremely low voter turnout combined with government restrictions):

The failure of Egypt’s largest Salafi party to win any seats in the recent Senate elections raises questions about the prospects of the party as well as the future of political Islam in the country.

Al-Nour, founded following the 2011 uprising against autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, fielded 12 candidates who ran as independents in nine out of Egypt’s 27 provinces.

Eight candidates lost in the first round of the elections, which took place Aug. 11-12.

Four other candidates secured a place in the election runoff, which was held Sept. 8-9.

However, they lost too, pointing to what some analysts describe as a “drastic” change in voters’ moods.

“There is a noticeable change in the mood of the voters who are no longer ready to accept political parties with religious backgrounds,” Cairo University political scientist Akram Badreddine told Al-Monitor. “Ordinary people view the Salafists as representing the same political brand as the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Egypt’s Salafists have come a long way since the 2011 uprising, demonstrating a high degree of pragmatism.

They stayed away from politics for decades before the uprising, preferring to focus on religion and inviting people for prayer.

They have a strict interpretation of Islam and many have a low view of non-Muslims and see women as being subservient.

The Salafists have a strong following in the Nile Delta. They have their stronghold in the northern coastal city of Alexandria, where they control most mosques.

Come the 2011 uprising, the Salafists found a chance to advance their agenda in the new Egypt that was evolving then, like other Islamists did, including the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement of the late President Mohammed Morsi.

They formed several political parties, including Al-Nour, the political arm of the Salafi Invitation, by far the most important umbrella organization of the nation’s Salafists.

Having organized themselves into political parties, the Salafists had to tailor their strict worldview to realities on the ground.

They had to answer questions on issues taken for granted in developed countries, but still under debate in Egypt, such as the status of women and non-Muslims in society and whether visiting antiquities is a sin. The Salafists were debating whether visiting ancient sites was against the Islamic religion. Some Salafi figures called for covering the faces of ancient statues with wax. Others called for destroying them, considering them deities that date back to pre-Islamic times.

Salafi politicians tried to attune their answers to these questions to what the media in Cairo liked to hear.

Nonetheless, answers to the same questions by some Salafi sheikhs divulged a wide chasm between the new political class and moderates.

In 2012, a Salafi sheikh called for the destruction of the Great Pyramids of Giza. Another said Muslims should not congratulate Christians on Christian religious occasions.

Such views gratified a number of Egyptians, especially conservative ones. And many voters backed the Salafi parties in the elections that followed the 2011 uprising.

The Salafi parties Al-Nour, Construction and Development and Al-Asala won 128 seats in the first post-Mubarak parliamentary polls between November 2011 and January 2012 (112, 13 and 3 respectively) out of a total of 498 seats).

This made the Salafists the second-largest political force in parliament after the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party — now outlawed — which won 222 seats.

Al-Nour also won 45 seats in the Senate elections in January 2012, coming in second to the Freedom and Justice Party, which won 105 seats, out of a total of 270 seats.

“The Islamists saw their political heyday after the 2011 revolution because they were the most organized political force then,” Muneer Adeeb, a specialist in political Islam, told Al-Monitor. “The lack of strong secular parties and prevailing security and political conditions made the rise of the Islamists inevitable.”

The Salafists were allied with the Muslim Brotherhood all through the one year of Morsi’s rule.

Adeeb said, however, “This honeymoon ended because the Brotherhood wanted to exclude everybody else in its pursuit for fully dominating the political stage.”

This was why the Salafists welcomed the army-backed popular uprising against the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi in 2013.

They even backed the post-Muslim Brotherhood authorities and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi — who formally came to power in mid-2014 — apparently to evade the fate of the Muslim Brotherhood and to secure a continued presence on Egypt’s political stage.

Sisi, who has a hard line against political Islam in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular, also courted the Salafists in his bid to discredit Muslim Brotherhood propaganda about his hostility to the Islamic religion, analysts said.

Nonetheless, the Salafists’ courtship of the post-Muslim Brotherhood authorities failed to help the Salafists maintain their popularity, let alone attract new fans.

In the 2015 House of Deputies elections, Al-Nour, the only functional Salafi party, won only 12 seats out of a total of 596.

“This result should have acted as an early warning for the Salafists,” Badreddine said.

The failure of Al-Nour to win any seats in the recent Senate elections appears to be yet one more indicator of the collapse of the Salafists’ popularity.

This does not augur well for the party, especially with the nation’s political parties preparing for the House of Deputies elections in October.

It also gives insights into the looming demise of political Islam as a whole in Egypt, especially with the ongoing crackdown by the authorities on the Muslim Brotherhood, analysts said.

“My belief is that political Islam is on the way out, given the changes happening in this country,” Badreddine said.

The Senate elections were the first for the body to be held in Egypt since 2012. The upper house of the Egyptian parliament was dissolved in November 2013 and then excluded from the 2014 constitution. However, it was reinstituted by a package of constitutional amendments in 2019.

Nonetheless, the Senate elections were untimely for the Salafists. They were held after months of suspension of services at the nation’s mosques, the main sphere of activity for the Salafists, because of the coronavirus.

The Salafists were also negatively affected by hostile propaganda from the Muslim Brotherhood, which is angry about their cooperation with Sisi.

Voter turnout in the Senate elections and the runoff was also very low, 14% and 10.25% respectively, according to the independent elections commission.

“This voter turnout, along with the practices of the other parties participating in the elections, reduced our chances of success,” said Salah Abdel Maaboud, a senior Al-Nour official who ran as an independent in the Senate elections in the Nile Delta province of Menoufia.

Abdel Maaboud and his colleagues said they have started preparing for the House of Deputies elections in October.

He told Al-Monitor that the party has prepared lists of its potential candidates amid hopes of making up for some of the losses in the Senate elections.

“We hope we can achieve positive results in the elections,” Abdel Maaboud said. “This is possible if we communicate better with voters.”

Source: Uncertain future for Egypt’s Salafists following Senate election defeat

Black Microbiologists Push for Visibility Amid a Pandemic

Of note, particularly important given disparities in health and healthcare:

A few days before her fifth-grade science fair, Ariangela Kozik awoke to the overwhelming scent of poultry past its due. It was exactly what the young scientist had been hoping for.

“Whew,” she recalled thinking at the time. “There is definitely something growing in here.’”

She rushed into her kitchen, where a neat stack of glass Petri dishes awaited her, each filled with a gelatinous brown disk made of beef broth and sugar. Atop many of the cow-based concoctions was a smattering of what looked like shiny, cream-colored pimples. Each was a fast-ballooning colony, teeming with millions and millions of bacteria, including several from the swab of raw chicken juice she had dabbed on three days before.

Dr. Kozik, then just 11, had set up an experiment to determine what brand of dish soap was best at killing bacteria. (The answer: Joy dishwashing liquid.) But her results yielded an even bigger reward: a lifelong love of microbes, exquisitely small organisms with an outsize impact on the world.

“It felt like I had just discovered a new form of life,” said Dr. Kozik, who is now a researcher at the University of Michigan, where she studies microbes that live in human lungs. “It was so cool.”

Two decades later, Dr. Kozik still considers her science fair project, for which she won first place, one of her first formal forays into the field of microbiology. In the months after her experiment, she devoured every book she could find on the topic, until she had worn her parents down with endless chatter about infectious disease. About 10 years later, she was on track toward a Ph.D., which she earned in 2018. And on Monday, she kicks off Black in Microbiology Week, the latest in a series of virtual events highlighting Black scientists in a variety of disciplines, as one of its two lead organizers.

Like earlier, similar events, Black in Microbiology Week will be hosted entirely through virtual platforms like Twitter and Zoom. The event will feature seven days of talks, panels and online discussions, spanning a range of topics under the microbiology umbrella, including the coronavirus, and addressing disparities in medicine, education and career advancement. Everything is free and accessible to the public, and will be live-captioned. Registration is required to attend.

“This is really a chance to welcome new voices and amplify those that have not been heard,” said Michael D. L. Johnson, a microbiologist and immunologist at the University of Arizona who will take part in Friday’s Black in Bacteriology panel.