Facebook’s language gaps weaken screening of hate, terrorism

Any number of good articles on the “Facebook papers” and its unethical and dangerous business practices:

As the Gaza war raged and tensions surged across the Middle East last May, Instagram briefly banned the hashtag #AlAqsa, a reference to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, a flash point in the conflict.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, later apologized, explaining its algorithms had mistaken the third-holiest site in Islam for the militant group Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed offshoot of the secular Fatah party.

For many Arabic-speaking users, it was just the latest potent example of how the social media giant muzzles political speech in the region. Arabic is among the most common languages on Facebook’s platforms, and the company issues frequent public apologies after similar botched content removals.

Now, internal company documents from the former Facebook product manager-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen show the problems are far more systemicthan just a few innocent mistakes, and that Facebook has understood the depth of these failings for years while doing little about it.

Such errors are not limited to Arabic. An examination of the files reveals that in some of the world’s most volatile regions, terrorist content and hate speech proliferate because the company remains short on moderators who speak local languages and understand cultural contexts. And its platforms have failed to develop artificial-intelligence solutions that can catch harmful content in different languages.

In countries like Afghanistan and Myanmar, these loopholes have allowed inflammatory language to flourish on the platform, while in Syria and the Palestinian territories, Facebook suppresses ordinary speech, imposing blanket bans on common words.

“The root problem is that the platform was never built with the intention it would one day mediate the political speech of everyone in the world,” said Eliza Campbell, director of the Middle East Institute’s Cyber Program. “But for the amount of political importance and resources that Facebook has, moderation is a bafflingly under-resourced project.”

This story, along with others published Monday, is based on Haugen’s disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which were also provided to Congress in redacted form by her legal team. The redacted versions received by Congress were reviewed by a consortium of news organizations, including The Associated Press.

In a statement to the AP, a Facebook spokesperson said that over the last two years the company has invested in recruiting more staff with local dialect and topic expertise to bolster its review capacity around the world.

But when it comes to Arabic content moderation, the company said, “We still have more work to do. … We conduct research to better understand this complexity and identify how we can improve.”

In Myanmar, where Facebook-based misinformation has been linked repeatedly to ethnic and religious violence, the company acknowledged in its internal reports that it had failed to stop the spread of hate speech targeting the minority Rohingya Muslim population.

The Rohingya’s persecution, which the U.S. has described as ethnic cleansing, led Facebook to publicly pledge in 2018 that it would recruit 100 native Myanmar language speakers to police its platforms. But the company never disclosed how many content moderators it ultimately hired or revealed which of the nation’s many dialects they covered.

Despite Facebook’s public promises and many internal reports on the problems, the rights group Global Witness said the company’s recommendation algorithm continued to amplify army propaganda and other content that breaches the company’s Myanmar policies following a military coup in February.

In India, the documents show Facebook employees debating last March whether it could clamp down on the “fear mongering, anti-Muslim narratives” that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s far-right Hindu nationalist group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, broadcasts on its platform.

In one document, the company notes that users linked to Modi’s party had created multiple accounts to supercharge the spread of Islamophobic content. Much of this content was “never flagged or actioned,” the research found, because Facebook lacked moderators and automated filters with knowledge of Hindi and Bengali.

Arabic poses particular challenges to Facebook’s automated systems and human moderators, each of which struggles to understand spoken dialects unique to each country and region, their vocabularies salted with different historical influences and cultural contexts.

The Moroccan colloquial Arabic, for instance, includes French and Berber words, and is spoken with short vowels. Egyptian Arabic, on the other hand, includes some Turkish from the Ottoman conquest. Other dialects are closer to the “official” version found in the Quran. In some cases, these dialects are not mutually comprehensible, and there is no standard way of transcribing colloquial Arabic.

Facebook first developed a massive following in the Middle East during the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, and users credited the platform with providing a rare opportunity for free expression and a critical source of news in a region where autocratic governments exert tight controls over both. But in recent years, that reputation has changed.

Scores of Palestinian journalists and activists have had their accounts deleted. Archives of the Syrian civil war have disappeared. And a vast vocabulary of everyday words have become off-limits to speakers of Arabic, Facebook’s third-most common language with millions of users worldwide.

For Hassan Slaieh, a prominent journalist in the blockaded Gaza Strip, the first message felt like a punch to the gut. “Your account has been permanently disabled for violating Facebook’s Community Standards,” the company’s notification read. That was at the peak of the bloody 2014 Gaza war, following years of his news posts on violence between Israel and Hamas being flagged as content violations.

Within moments, he lost everything he’d collected over six years: personal memories, stories of people’s lives in Gaza, photos of Israeli airstrikes pounding the enclave, not to mention 200,000 followers. The most recent Facebook takedown of his page last year came as less of a shock. It was the 17th time that he had to start from scratch.

He had tried to be clever. Like many Palestinians, he’d learned to avoid the typical Arabic words for “martyr” and “prisoner,” along with references to Israel’s military occupation. If he mentioned militant groups, he’d add symbols or spaces between each letter.

Other users in the region have taken an increasingly savvy approach to tricking Facebook’s algorithms, employing a centuries-old Arabic script that lacks the dots and marks that help readers differentiate between otherwise identical letters. The writing style, common before Arabic learning exploded with the spread of Islam, has circumvented hate speech censors on Facebook’s Instagram app, according to the internal documents.

But Slaieh’s tactics didn’t make the cut. He believes Facebook banned him simply for doing his job. As a reporter in Gaza, he posts photos of Palestinian protesters wounded at the Israeli border, mothers weeping over their sons’ coffins, statements from the Gaza Strip’s militant Hamas rulers.

Criticism, satire and even simple mentions of groups on the company’s Dangerous Individuals and Organizations list — a docket modeled on the U.S. government equivalent — are grounds for a takedown.

“We were incorrectly enforcing counterterrorism content in Arabic,” one document reads, noting the current system “limits users from participating in political speech, impeding their right to freedom of expression.”

The Facebook blacklist includes Gaza’s ruling Hamas party, as well as Hezbollah, the militant group that holds seats in Lebanon’s Parliament, along with many other groups representing wide swaths of people and territory across the Middle East, the internal documents show, resulting in what Facebook employees describe in the documents as widespread perceptions of censorship.

“If you posted about militant activity without clearly condemning what’s happening, we treated you like you supported it,” said Mai el-Mahdy, a former Facebook employee who worked on Arabic content moderation until 2017.

In response to questions from the AP, Facebook said it consults independent experts to develop its moderation policies and goes “to great lengths to ensure they are agnostic to religion, region, political outlook or ideology.”

“We know our systems are not perfect,” it added.

The company’s language gaps and biases have led to the widespread perception that its reviewers skew in favor of governments and against minority groups.

Former Facebook employees also say that various governments exert pressure on the company, threatening regulation and fines. Israel, a lucrative source of advertising revenue for Facebook, is the only country in the Mideast where Facebook operates a national office. Its public policy director previously advised former right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli security agencies and watchdogs monitor Facebook and bombard it with thousands of orders to take down Palestinian accounts and posts as they try to crack down on incitement.

“They flood our system, completely overpowering it,” said Ashraf Zeitoon, Facebook’s former head of policy for the Middle East and North Africa region, who left in 2017. “That forces the system to make mistakes in Israel’s favor. Nowhere else in the region had such a deep understanding of how Facebook works.”

Facebook said in a statement that it fields takedown requests from governments no differently from those from rights organizations or community members, although it may restrict access to content based on local laws.

“Any suggestion that we remove content solely under pressure from the Israeli government is completely inaccurate,” it said.

Syrian journalists and activists reporting on the country’s opposition also have complained of censorship, with electronic armies supporting embattled President Bashar Assad aggressively flagging dissident content for removal.

Raed, a former reporter at the Aleppo Media Center, a group of antigovernment activists and citizen journalists in Syria, said Facebook erased most of his documentation of Syrian government shelling on neighborhoods and hospitals, citing graphic content.

“Facebook always tells us we break the rules, but no one tells us what the rules are,” he added, giving only his first name for fear of reprisals.

In Afghanistan, many users literally cannot understand Facebook’s rules. According to an internal report in January, Facebook did not translate the site’s hate speech and misinformation pages into Dari and Pashto, the two most common languages in Afghanistan, where English is not widely understood.

When Afghan users try to flag posts as hate speech, the drop-down menus appear only in English. So does the Community Standards page. The site also doesn’t have a bank of hate speech terms, slurs and code words in Afghanistan used to moderate Dari and Pashto content, as is typical elsewhere. Without this local word bank, Facebook can’t build the automated filters that catch the worst violations in the country.

When it came to looking into the abuse of domestic workers in the Middle East, internal Facebook documents acknowledged that engineers primarily focused on posts and messages written in English. The flagged-words list did not include Tagalog, the major language of the Philippines, where many of the region’s housemaids and other domestic workers come from.

In much of the Arab world, the opposite is true — the company over-relies on artificial-intelligence filters that make mistakes, leading to “a lot of false positives and a media backlash,” one document reads. Largely unskilled human moderators, in over their heads, tend to passively field takedown requests instead of screening proactively.

Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower who worked at the company for nearly three years before being fired last year, said contractors in Facebook’s Ireland office complained to her they had to depend on Google Translate because the company did not assign them content based on what languages they knew.

Facebook outsources most content moderation to giant companies that enlist workers far afield, from Casablanca, Morocco, to Essen, Germany. The firms don’t sponsor work visas for the Arabic teams, limiting the pool to local hires in precarious conditions — mostly Moroccans who seem to have overstated their linguistic capabilities. They often get lost in the translation of Arabic’s 30-odd dialects, flagging inoffensive Arabic posts as terrorist content 77% of the time, one document said.

“These reps should not be fielding content from non-Maghreb region, however right now it is commonplace,” another document reads, referring to the region of North Africa that includes Morocco. The file goes on to say that the Casablanca office falsely claimed in a survey it could handle “every dialect” of Arabic. But in one case, reviewers incorrectly flagged a set of Egyptian dialect content 90% of the time, a report said.

Iraq ranks highest in the region for its reported volume of hate speech on Facebook. But among reviewers, knowledge of Iraqi dialect is “close to non-existent,” one document said.

“Journalists are trying to expose human rights abuses, but we just get banned,” said one Baghdad-based press freedom activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “We understand Facebook tries to limit the influence of militias, but it’s not working.”

Linguists described Facebook’s system as flawed for a region with a vast diversity of colloquial dialects that Arabic speakers transcribe in different ways.

“The stereotype that Arabic is one entity is a major problem,” said Enam al-Wer, professor of Arabic linguistics at the University of Essex, citing the language’s “huge variations” not only between countries but class, gender, religion and ethnicity.

Despite these problems, moderators are on the front lines of what makes Facebook a powerful arbiter of political expression in a tumultuous region.

Although the documents from Haugen predate this year’s Gaza war, episodes from that 11-day conflict show how little has been done to address the problems flagged in Facebook’s own internal reports.

Activists in Gaza and the West Bank lost their ability to livestream. Whole archives of the conflict vanished from newsfeeds, a primary portal of information for many users. Influencers accustomed to tens of thousands of likes on their posts saw their outreach plummet when they posted about Palestinians.

“This has restrained me and prevented me from feeling free to publish what I want for fear of losing my account,” said Soliman Hijjy, a Gaza-based journalist whose aerials of the Mediterranean Sea garnered tens of thousands more views than his images of Israeli bombs — a common phenomenon when photos are flagged for violating community standards.

During the war, Palestinian advocates submitted hundreds of complaints to Facebook, often leading the company to concede error and reinstate posts and accounts.

In the internal documents, Facebook reported it had erred in nearly half of all Arabic language takedown requests submitted for appeal.

“The repetition of false positives creates a huge drain of resources,” it said.

In announcing the reversal of one such Palestinian post removal last month, Facebook’s semi-independent oversight board urged an impartial investigation into the company’s Arabic and Hebrew content moderation. It called for improvement in its broad terrorism blacklist to “increase understanding of the exceptions for neutral discussion, condemnation and news reporting,” according to the board’s policy advisory statement.

Facebook’s internal documents also stressed the need to “enhance” algorithms, enlist more Arab moderators from less-represented countries and restrict them to where they have appropriate dialect expertise.

“With the size of the Arabic user base and potential severity of offline harm … it is surely of the highest importance to put more resources to the task to improving Arabic systems,” said the report.

But the company also lamented that “there is not one clear mitigation strategy.”

Meanwhile, many across the Middle East worry the stakes of Facebook’s failings are exceptionally high, with potential to widen long-standing inequality, chill civic activism and stoke violence in the region.

“We told Facebook: Do you want people to convey their experiences on social platforms, or do you want to shut them down?” said Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the United Kingdom, who recently discussed Arabic content suppression with Facebook officials in London. “If you take away people’s voices, the alternatives will be uglier.”

Source: Facebook’s language gaps weaken screening of hate, terrorism

Canada has a big-time nursing shortage. So why can’t these two fully certified nurses get the OK to practise?

Of note, along with the backlog numbers for the various programs:

A former intensive-care nurse in the Philippines, Katrina Deauna has watched from the sidelines as Ontario — and all of Canada — struggles with chronic nursing shortages laid bare by the pandemic.

While the foreign caregiver enjoys looking after the 18-month-old baby girl and six-year-old son of her Canadian employer, she says, she would rather use her front-line nursing skills and experience to help those fighting for their lives against COVID-19.

Deauna has met all the licensing requirements of the Ontario College of Nursing. All she is missing is the authorization to work — either through a letter that confirms she’s eligible for permanent residence or a bridging open work permit.

“We are ready to practise in our profession. We are just waiting for our papers,” says the 28-year-old, who worked in the intensive-care unit of the Manila Doctors Hospital, one of the top hospitals in the Philippines, for three years until September 2019, when she was hired as a nanny in Toronto.

“They’re talking about the shortages of nurses in Ontario and Canada. And here we are. The only thing that’s keeping us from our practice is a piece of immigration paper.”

According to Ontario’s regulatory body of nurses, there are currently at least 41 applicants who meet all of its registration requirements but are waiting for the immigration authorization to work in Canada. It’s not sure what the numbers are for other provinces.

Statistics Canada reported that in the first three months of this year, the health-care and social-assistance sector had the largest year-over-year increase in job vacancies compared to other sectors, rising by 27,700 to 98,700 vacancies — an increase of 39 per cent. The positions with the largest vacancy increase were registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses. Half of those positions had been vacant for 90 days or more, according to Statistics Canada.

Ontario has, so far, been hardest hit. With a ratio of 725 registered nurses per 100,000 people, it ranks as the lowest province in Canada and well below the national average of 811 nurses per 100,000 people, according to 2019 data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Hospitals across the province currently have a vacancy rate of 18 to 22 per cent for nurses, the Ontario Nurses’ Association says.

“Some smaller hospitals closed their emergency departments after four o’clock because they don’t have enough staff,” says Vicki McKenna, head of the association, adding that some operating rooms are running at limited capacity for the same reason..

While complaints from internationally trained nurses have traditionally had to do with the lengthy registration and licensing process with regulators, McKenna said it’s deplorable that those who have met the licensing requirement are being held back due to an immigration backlog.

“We need these nurses, and we can’t afford to have them languish on that list, and we can’t afford to lose them to other provinces. The nursing shortages aren’t in Ontario alone. It’s across this country and it’s an international issue,” she said.

“The U.S. is recruiting hard. Our nurses are leaving, in some cases, to what is seen to be greener pastures there, and we can’t afford to sit and watch. We have to do something.”

Reduced processing capacity due to lockdowns here and abroad, as well as travel restrictions worldwide, have wreaked havoc in the immigration system during the pandemic.

As of July 31, more than 561,700 people were in the queue for permanent residence and 748,381 had a pending temporary residence application as students, workers or visitors, while the backlog for citizenship stood at 376,458 people.

Traditionally, many internationally educated nurses from the Philippines, the Caribbean and Africa arrive and work as foreign caregivers while trying to register and restart their licensing process in Canada once they’re here.

The permanent residence backlogs for foreign caregivers began long before the onset of the pandemic in early 2020. In April, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced a move to prioritize the permanent residence applications of 6,000 caregivers by Dec. 31.

The immigration department said it had processed the applications for a total of 3,253 people under the initiative up to Oct. 17, but it’s not known how many of those were caregivers because the number included their family members. Officials were unable to say how much the caregiver backlogs have been reduced since the announcement.

“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has prioritized applications from workers in essential occupations in agriculture and health care, where labour is most needed to protect the health of Canadians and ensure a sufficient food supply,” said department spokesperson Rémi Larivière.

“Applicants who intended to work in agriculture or health care but who applied for an open work permit and didn’t have a valid job offer in advance would not be triaged for priority processing.”

Deauna said she was thrilled with the government announcement, but feels those with pending nursing licences should be fast-tracked if Canadian officials are serious about addressing the shortages of nurses in the country in the wake of the pandemic.

She applied for permanent residence and the bridging open work permit in August 2020 but only received an acknowledgment of receipt this past June. Her caregiver work permit has expired since June.

The Ontario licensing process requires of applicants practical nursing experience within the three years before a certificate of registration is issued.

Deauna fears she may have to go back to the Philippines to get back to practice and restart the licensing process if her immigration and nursing certificate don’t come through before June.

“I can’t afford more delay in my permanent residence or open work permit,” she noted.

Leslie Apurada arrived in 2018 under the home support worker program to look after an elderly man with dementia in Montreal and initiated her licensing process with the Ontario College of Nurses a year later.

The former Filipino registered nurse with a psychogeriatric background underwent Canada’s national nursing assessment, registered for prep courses and sat for — and passed — a couple of required nursing exams, all while working full time to look after her client.

Even though her employer was supportive and tried to spare her from overtime work while she was studying for exams and attending courses, Apurada said she was mentally and physically exhausted jumping through all the hoops to get past the final qualifying test in June. She’s since been waiting for her immigration authorization to work.

“During the height of the pandemic … Canada’s prime minister said we’re all in this together. But we, caregivers, feel we’re always pushed to the sideline. No one really answers to us why the backlog for the caregiver programs has been so extensive,” said the 31-year-old, who is now enrolled in an online course about nephrology at Humber College.

“It’s disheartening to see how strained the Canadian health system is while all along we are here. We’ve passed all the exams and we could’ve helped.”

Karla Ducusin, another former RN from the Philippines, came to Canada in late 2018 by way of Israel to look after an elderly couple with medical needs in Markham. She’s responsible for preparing them meals, administering their medications, escorting them to doctor’s appointments and helping with household chores.

The permanent residence application that she filed last October costs $1,050 and each time she extends her caregiver work permit, it’s another $155.

Given she’s now in Canada on the so-called implied status — in transition with a pending permanent residence application in the system, Ducusin said she has lost her OHIP, which requires a temporary foreign worker to have a valid work permit to be eligible. Her caregiver work permit expired last November.

“I want to be able to help my family more financially. My father is sick and my two younger brothers are not working. I could make a lot more money and pay more taxes as a nurse than as a caregiver,” said the 32-year-old, whose file will be closed by the College of Nurses of Ontario if there’s no update for two years.

“This is putting a heavy toll on our mental health. You wake up every day and there’s still no movement in your immigration application. It’s just so frustrating.”

Source: Canada has a big-time nursing shortage. So why can’t these two fully certified nurses get the OK to practise?

Online criteria for Afghan refugee program changes, applies only to those who’ve fled

While one can understand the rationale given the difficulties in leaving Afghanistan under the Taliban, arguably the need is greatest for those stuck in the country. Will likely provoke controversy among the many who have already been working to raise the issues and help them leave:

The Canadian government has quietly changed the criteria on its website for a special program for vulnerable Afghan refugees so that only those who have already managed to escape to other countries are eligible.

The online criteria for the “special humanitarian program” used to include Afghans “who are in Afghanistan or outside of Afghanistan,” but it was changed this month to apply only to those “outside of Afghanistan.”

The program is one of two set up to help bring 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada and is intended for vulnerable groups including women leaders, persecuted religious or ethnic minorities, LGBTQ people and journalists.

The online criteria for the other program, which is aimed at interpreters and others who helped Canada during its military mission as well as embassy staff, still allows those inside Afghanistan to apply.

When the government first announced the special humanitarian program in August, it said it would apply to those outside Afghanistan, but it ultimately included those stuck inside the war-torn country in its online criteria.

Canada was the first country worldwide to  launch a special pathway to Canada for women, girls, LGBTQ and targeted minorities in Afghanistan.

Groups working with Afghans trying to flee the country said the change to the program’s eligibility criteria on Canada’s official website would sow confusion and desperation among Afghans hoping to come to Canada.

It could drive Afghans to resort to people smugglers to get outside the country in order to qualify, they warned.

Alex Cohen, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, said Canada was “the first country in the world to announce a humanitarian program for Afghan refugees, which will see some 40,000 refugees start new lives in this country.”

The humanitarian initiative, he said, requires refugees to have left their country of origin to be consistent with the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees.

He said the government is “adapting our programs to the evolving situation in Afghanistan, and have added a provision to enable two new partner organisations to refer exceptional cases of individuals who are inside Afghanistan.”

“We regularly review IRCC’s public communications to ensure they reflect our policies and provide the best possible information to applicants, and update them accordingly,” he said. “The edit to our website was a communications change, not reflective of a policy shift.”

Stephen Watt of Northern Lights Canada, a refugee organization, said the government’s plan to bring 40,000 Afghans to Canada has been wrapped in secrecy ever since it was announced.

“There is still no clear way to apply to the program, or to discover who it is accepting or how it is operating,” he said. “This is a life and death question for many of the people we are talking to within Afghanistan.

“Our government needs to come clean about its plans for these very vulnerable people who it promised to help in the heat of the election, and provide a clear path for providing that help. This isn’t a time for empty promises and secret processes.”

Canada ended its airlift mission from Kabul near the end of August as the U.S. was completing its own withdrawal from the country. Thousands of people with permission to travel to Canada were left behind — including Canadian citizens.

Since the Taliban seized control, it has been increasingly difficult to get people out.

Wendy Noury Long, director of the Afghan Interpreters Association, said she feared that government’s change to its criteria, made in mid October, would drive desperate Afghans to go to extreme lengths to get out of the country so they qualify.

“People will be thinking how do I get out? Do I contact human smugglers? Countries are actively deporting people back to Afghanistan,” she said.

“This is a policy change. This is the explanation of whether you qualify. You are taking a huge risk to try to get out to another country and you might find yourself deported back to Afghanistan.”

The humanitarian program Canada set up to help Afghans at risk has strict eligibility criteria. To qualify, Afghans must also be a woman leader, a human rights advocate, a member of a persecuted religious or ethic minority, in the LGBTQ community, or a journalist or someone who has helped Canadian journalists. As of mid October, they must be located outside Afghanistan.

Those who fit these criteria need to register for refugee status through existing refugee programs, with the United Nations Refugee Agency or the government where they live, and wait to be referred. They can also be identified as eligible by a private sponsor.

Around 3,700 Canadians and Afghan refugees, including former interpreters, were airlifted out by Canada before the end of August.

Approximately 1,700 interpreters and other Afghans with papers to come to Canada are currently in safehouses in Kabul. Some safehouses, being run by an NGO and funded by veterans and private donations, face closure within weeks because of lack of funding.

Source: Online criteria for Afghan refugee program changes, applies only to those who’ve fled

Qatar’s ruler says citizenship laws to be amended, slams excessive tribalism

Very different environment (and of course, most of Qatar’s workforce are on temporary work permits, often exploited):

Qatar’s ruling emir on Tuesday warned the Gulf state against excessive tribalism he said endangered national unity, proposing a plan to promote equal citizenship through changes to legislation that has inflamed tribal sensitivities.

The emir, in a speech at the opening session of the advisory Shura Council, for which partial polls were held for the first time earlier this month, also urged Qataris to show “openness and tolerance” when Doha hosts the soccer World Cup next year.

The first legislative polls for two-thirds of the Council stirred debate about electoral inclusion and citizenship, after some members of a leading tribe found themselves ineligible to vote under a law restricting voting rights to Qataris whose family was present before 1930.

Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said he instructed the cabinet to prepare legal amendments aimed at promoting “equal Qatari citizenship” and send them to the Council for approval.

“Nevertheless … Citizenship is not purely a legal issue, but is primarily civilizational and an issue of loyalty, belonging and duty, and not just rights,” he said, adding that tribal intolerance was a “disease”.

“Hateful intolerance, whether tribal or otherwise, could be manipulated and used to subvert and destroy national unity,” he added.

The Council will have legislative authority and approve general state policies and the budget, but has no say in the setting of defence, security, economic and investment policy. The emir continues to appoint 15 members of the 45-member body.

Kuwait has been the only Gulf monarchy to give substantial powers to an elected parliament, though ultimate decision-making rests with its ruler, as in neighbouring states.

Qatar is gearing up to host the World Cup soccer tournament next year and hopes to see 1.2 million fans visit the conservative Gulf state during the 28-day tournament.

Sheikh Tamim said the event would enhance Qatar’s global status and “demonstrate the openness and tolerance of the hospitable Qatari people”.

He also stressed the need to reduce “excessive dependence on the state” in a wide-ranging speech that touched on Qatar’s gas output expansion plans and economic diversification efforts.

The world’s biggest liquefied natural gas producer is one of the wealthiest nations per capita. It is home to some 3 million people, 85 percent of them foreign workers.

Source: Qatar’s ruler says citizenship laws to be amended, slams excessive tribalism

Australian voters rethinking immigration in wake of extended border closures, poll suggests

Interesting shifts:

Australia’s prolonged international border closure appears to have lowered the political temperature around immigration, with the number of voters believing levels are too high dropping from 56% in January 2019, and 64% the year before that, to 37% in the latest Guardian Essential survey.

While the pandemic has shifted the dynamics of the debate, the latest poll of 1,781 respondents suggests immigration remains a divisive issue. Migration is back on the political agenda because both the federal and state governments have flagged a rethink of the size and mix of Australia’s migration program once the border reopens.

In the latest Guardian Essential survey, more than half of respondents (52%) say migration levels are either too low or about right, while 37% say too high, and 11% are undecided. Just over half the sample (51%) agrees that immigration is vital for Australia’s business and economy (20% are opposed that view).

But 63% of respondents also believe that increasing immigration levels would add more pressure on the housing system and infrastructure (only 11% disagreed).

While half the Guardian Essential sample (50%) thinks boosting immigration will help businesses recover from the economic shock of the pandemic by giving them the skilled labour they need (22% disagree) – a majority of respondents are evidently not convinced that immigration helps Australia deal with skills shortages as the population ages (only 49% agree with that proposition and 22% disagreed).

Source: Australian voters rethinking immigration in wake of extended border closures, poll suggests

Roberge dévoile les bases du nouveau cours «Culture et citoyenneté québécoise»

Of note, likely the next series of debates (Bill 21 and 96 would be good places to highlight issues):

La culture, la citoyenneté québécoise et le développement de la pensée critique formeront les « trois axes » du nouveau cours appelé à remplacer celui d’Éthique et culture religieuse (ECR). Le ministre de l’Éducation, Jean-François Roberge, a dévoilé dimanche « les thèmes » qui seront enseignés dans toutes les écoles primaires et secondaires du Québec à partir de la rentrée 2023.

Le premier volet permettra aux élèves de comprendre la culture « des sociétés » avec un accent prononcé pour celle d’ici, a expliqué le ministre en conférence de presse.

L’« objectif du cours » se trouve dans le deuxième axe. « La visée, c’est de préparer nos jeunes à l’exercice de la citoyenneté québécoise. Nos valeurs et les principes qui sont les fondements de notre société seront présentés aux élèves », a expliqué Jean-François Roberge en citant le respect, la liberté d’expression, la liberté de conscience, les droits, les libertés et les responsabilités de chacun. Il sera aussi question d’éducation aux médias et d’éducation sexuelle.

« Le dialogue, la pensée critique et l’éthique » composent la troisième orientation du nouveau cours. Les élèves seront notamment amenés à se questionner et à aborder des dilemmes moraux. « Cette approche fera obstacle aux censeurs et à tous ceux qui s’attaquent à la liberté d’expression », a déclaré le ministre Roberge.

Il a insisté à plusieurs reprises pour dire que le cours d’ECR était « vicié à la base » et « reposait sur un dogme qui est une erreur », soit que la religion est l’unique « lunette à travers on regarde la personne ». L’analyse des identités religieuses demeurera au programme, mais perdra son aspect « prépondérant ». « On peut ne plus tolérer ce genre des biais dans nos écoles. »

Le nouveau programme n’ira pas dans la « redondance », mais dans la « complémentarité » par rapport au reste des matières, a par ailleurs mentionné M. Roberge.

La rédaction du programme est déjà « bien amorcée », a-t-il affirmé. Le ministère officialisera le contenu au printemps 2022. La matière sera testée à partir de l’automne 2022 avec « des enseignants qui [lèveront] la main » ou « des équipes-écoles qui [lèveront] la main ». Des « ajustements » suivront au cours de l’année scolaire afin de pouvoir étendre ce nouveau cours à toutes les écoles primaires et secondaires du Québec à l’automne 2023.

Le cours d’ECR, 2008-2023

Le nouveau cours de « Culture et citoyenneté québécoise » ressemble au cours d’ECR avec un « vernis national », juge Georges Leroux, professeur émérite à l’UQAM et corédacteur du programme désavoué par le ministre. « La grande question, c’est quel est véritablement le changement qui va séparer le nouveau programme de l’ancien ? À part la promotion nationale, tous les thèmes qui sont abordés en éthique sont abordés dans le programme actuel. »

À cela le ministre répond que « quelqu’un qui compare les deux cours verrait à la fin que la compétence de l’éthique et du dialogue reviennent, mais dans une perspective différente. L’ancien cours d’ECR amenait le débat et l’éthique, mais empêchait parfois la remise en question de certains dogmes. Je ne veux pas répéter cette erreur-là dans le nouveau cours. »

Avant l’arrivée de ce cours d’ECR en 2008, « on était dans un enseignement confessionnel qui sortait du XVIIe siècle », rappelle Benoit Mercier, un autre des concepteurs de l’ancien programme. Les jeunes Québécois devaient alors suivre soit un cours de morale, soit un cours de catéchèse.

Les deux spécialistes doutent surtout des consultations qui ont mené à cette nouvelle version. Plus de trois ans de discussions et d’analyses avaient été nécessaires pour accoucher du cours d’ECR. À la fin ce processus, « tous les syndicats étaient d’accord, toutes les universités, les collèges et leurs représentants étaient d’accord. […] Tout le monde était d’accord », se remémore Benoit Mercier.

Accueil mitigé

Le cours de culture et citoyenneté québécoise découle d’un processus entamé en 2020. Une consultation publique en ligne, deux consultations en personnes — à Québec et à Montréal —, des rencontres virtuelles avec les communautés autochtones et l’étude de quelque 200 mémoires ont mené à l’annonce de dimanche, a précisé Jean-Bernard Émond, adjoint parlementaire à l’Éducation.

Plusieurs se réjouissent de la fin du cours d’ECR, vu par certains comme une promotion du multiculturalisme. Le député du Parti québécois dans Matane-Matapédia, Pascal Bérubé, considère le remplacement du cours comme une « victoire » pour sa formation politique, puisque « le ministre de l’Éducation ne voulait pas l’abolir, car il l’avait enseigné ».

Le cours d’ECR « va passer à l’histoire comme une aberration », selon le président du Mouvement laïque québécois, Daniel Baril, qui s’enthousiasme de la fin du « tout à la religion ». Selon lui, « dans une société polarisée, c’est la culture québécoise qui est le pôle d’inclusion ».

D’autres accueillent l’annonce avec scepticisme. Le vice-président de la Fédération nationale des enseignants du Québec, affiliée à la CSN, se questionne sur le temps alloué de deux heures par cycle. « Il y a une espèce de fourre-tout, de divers thèmes. On se demande comment ce sera possible de faire passer l’ensemble de ces éléments avec seulement deux heures par cycle », a commenté Léandre Lapointe, qui espère que la formation pour les enseignants promise par le ministre sera adéquate.

La présidente intérimaire de l’Association québécoise en éthique et culture religieuse, Line Dubé, reste aussi perplexe devant ce nouveau cours. « Pour des pédagogues, des enseignants, des didacticiens, ça ressemble encore à un gros Jello, pas encore “pogné”. On attend encore la couleur réelle de ce à quoi on nous engage rapidement. »

Source: https://www.ledevoir.com/societe/education/642501/le-nouveau-cours-de-culture-et-citoyennete-quebecoise-dans-toutes-les?utm_source=infolettre-2021-10-25&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=infolettre-quotidienne

English version:

A new course intended to replace Quebec’s polarizing, long-standing ethics and religious culture curriculum will teach students how to be proud members of Quebec society, the province’s Education Minister said Sunday.

Jean-François Roberge held a news conference to unveil details of the new course, dubbed Culture and Citizenship in Quebec. He was joined by Isabelle Charest, the minister responsible for women, as well as various key players from Quebec’s cultural scene.

“You know Quebec is different from the rest of North America,” Roberge said. “We are not New York, Vermont, Ontario or New Brunswick. We have a Quebec way of life. We have our artists, Francophone and Anglophone, our cultural legacy. We are not ashamed to share this culture with our kids.”

The new class is intended to replace a course on ethics and religious culture that’s been taught in the province’s schools since 2008.

Roberge said the new curriculum was built around three main themes. The first will explore diverse cultures with an emphasis on Quebec. The citizenship plank of the program will teach the province’s values and responsibilities, while content intended to teach ethics is also meant to develop students’ critical thinking skills.

Roberge said the class aims to provide “national cohesion” as well as fight against sexism, racism and sexual violence. He also positioned the revamped curriculum as an “obstacle to censorship.”

The current program has faced years of relentless criticism from Quebec nationalists and committed secularists for allegedly putting too much emphasis on multiculturalism and diversity.

Roberge, however, cited different grounds for objection when critiquing the present-day course.

He said the ethics and religious culture class is not offering enough space for students to ask critical questions.

“We need to be able to discuss and debate everything respectfully,” Roberge said. “It cannot be a taboo and censorship class, it needs to be a course on freedom of expression and learning about personal relationships.”

The provincial government had announced plans to abolish the course last year following criticisms that too much time was being taken up by a section devoted to religions.

Roberge said religion will not be completely erased from the new program, but will not be the primary focus anymore.

“Of course, when you talk about culture you will have to talk about religious culture, but it’s not the only way,” he said. “… We have to modernize our program.”

Caroline Quesnel, president of provincial teachers’ union Fédération nationale des enseignantes et des enseignants du Québec, offered a different but equally critical take on the current program. She asserted the present curriculum does not present enough nuance when teaching students about religions around the world, citing lack of discussions around gender equality in certain faiths.

She also said the program does not address issues related to Indigenous peoples, calling the approach “quite limited.”

Roberge said the new course will teach residents how to navigate Quebec society and take pride in their province. It will include sections on the province’s judicial system, critical thinking, social media and sex education among others, he added.

Charest said not a week goes by in the province without reports of unacceptable behaviours, such as domestic violence which disproportionately affects women and girls. She hopes the new course offering will help tackle those issues.

“Students will be invited to reflect on notions of consent, respect, self-affirmation, empathy and equal relationships between men and women,” Charest said.

The new program will be introduced in some schools as a pilot project in September 2022 before being fully implemented across all of the province’s elementary and high schools a year later.

Quesnel, however, said the curriculum’s ambitious scope risks trying to cover too many topics at once.

“Freedom of speech, democratic institutions, sex education, technology, Indigenous Peoples, the environment …,” Quesnel said. “None will really be covered properly.”

She said Sunday’s announcement looked like a “show” in which the province attempted to sell the new program, but noted that not a single teacher was present at the news conference.

“I feel like the government is kind of using this curriculum to position itself as the guardian of Quebec values and impose its vision,” Quesnel said.

She also said teachers are worried about how many hours will be allocated for the course, and if they will receive proper training beforehand.

“Teachers are used to multitasking, but when we are talking about all these topics, they are quite specific,” Quesnel said. “It’s not only about writing a good manual and teachers will follow. It really needs more training than that.”

Source: Quebec unveils new ethics and culture class

Douglas Todd: What do Indigenous voices say about immigration?

Some interesting voices. A more comprehensive survey would be of interest:

As a First Nations leader, what would you think of Canada’s immigration policy?

“It’s a bit late to ask that question,” answers Tsawwassen First Nations Chief Ken Baird, with a wry smile.

Indeed, Canada’s Indigenous people have never really been asked how they feel about immigration policy, despite experiencing wave after wave of newcomers.

A small number of First Nations leaders over the years, however, have said they want more influence in shaping immigration. There came a point more than a decade ago when the Assembly of First Nations resolved to “freeze all immigration coming into Canada until the federal government addresses, commits, and delivers resources to improve housing conditions, education, health and employment in First Nations communities.”

But not much came of the Assembly’s demand. Immigration policy in Canada continues to be made mostly behind closed doors, particularly in the Prime Minister’s Office.

First Nations are often said to be in a double-bind when it comes to the issue of large-scale immigration, which has shaped Canada more than most nations.

“Regarding immigration, Aboriginal peoples are caught between a rock and a hard place,” academics Bonita Lawrence, a member of the Mi’kmaq Nation, and Enaskhi Dua have said. Either Indigenous people become implicated in anti-immigration rhetoric, they said, “or they support struggles of people of colour that fail to take seriously the reality of ongoing colonization.”

Outstanding questions are many: How does increasing Indigenous self-determination fit with immigration? And how does it connect to official multiculturalism, which supports the thriving of all of Canada’s subcultures? Should an umbrella organization for the country’s 1.6 million Indigenous people help set immigration levels, as Quebec does?

While the Tsawwassen First Nation’s elected chief says Indigenous people, like others, have a wide range of views about immigration, he is personally mostly sanguine about it.

“I’m all for people who want to come here and work hard and build themselves a life and have good family values. And 99 per cent of immigrants do. And I think that’s pretty admirable,” Baird said.

While Baird is among the First Nations leaders who don’t intend to push on immigration issues, University of B.C. sociologist Rima Wilkes and colleagues have made public presentations in which they ask questions about immigration and Indigenous peoples. Their questions are designed to urge Ottawa to take First Nations perspectives more seriously.

“What does it mean to settle people on someone else’s land?” Wilkes asks in a presentation. “Why is there ‘consultation’ (with First Nations) on natural resources such as mining, oil and gas and timber, but not on the human resources such as immigration policy? What about real decision-making?”

Veteran B.C. Indigenous leader Bill Wilson, who helped found the First Nations Summit, has said he is open to most forms of immigration, particularly for refugees.

When asked about immigration, the member of northern Vancouver Island’s Kwak’wala-speaking peoples, who is also father of former Liberal cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, told a story about the late Vancouver Sun aboriginal affairs reporter Ron Rose, with whom he became close friends.

“It may have very well been Ron Rose asking me the same question (in the 1980s): ‘What do I think about immigration and the people coming in?’” said the blunt-talking hereditary chief. “I said to him, ‘Well, at least the colour is getting better. He and I laughed. And he said, ‘You’re an a–hole.’ And then we moved on.”

The citizenship exam that is required of all new immigrants, Wilson believes, should include more on Indigenous history in Canada.

“I don’t have any problem with people coming to this country. But what I object to is they’re not required to understand the history,” he said. “Hopefully they could start to embrace some of the laws we are finally resorting to as a country in terms of (Indigenous peoples’) relationship to the land and the water and the sea resources.”

The First Nations lawyer believes a portion of new immigrants, the majority of whom are now non-white, “are basically oblivious to Indigenous issues” at the same time they are becoming more influential. “WASPS are obviously becoming a minority and losing a great deal of their power.”

Baird, who worked as a fisher and water-system specialist before becoming chief of the self-governing Tsawwassen First Nation, believes the coming together of Indigenous people with early settlers and immigrants has “turned us all into minorities in a way. And that’s a good thing.”

Although some wonder whether Canada’s official multiculturalism policy ignores the special status of First Nations, Baird said, “I don’t see a problem with it. At the end of the day, we all want to be treated equal and have the same rights and prosperous lives. And your colour and blood and race and religion shouldn’t matter. That’s part of being in a free country.”

Wilson values bringing in more refugees, but he questions the country’s immigrant-investor programs, both national and provincial, which have urged wealthy foreign nationals to gain Canadian passports by promising to divert money into the economy.

Wilson strongly opposed such “selective citizenship,” saying “money-backed immigration is not sincere and it’s not necessary.” But “accepting refugees makes sense,” he said, because their inclusion “is based on need.”

Although Wilson generally agrees First Nations should get more say in immigration policy, especially over their own traditional territories, he is not sure how that would work.

“How do you implement that? We have a multiplicity of tribes. There are 27 separate tribes in the province of B.C. alone.”

When it comes to questions of Canada’s Indigenous peoples and immigration, the conversation is only beginning.

Source: Douglas Todd: What do Indigenous voices say about immigration?

Ibbitson: No one considers Canada’s immigration record to be a big deal, and that’s remarkable

Correct, even if more discussion about the advisability of such an expansionist approach is needed.

But is is striking that the latest Focus Canada survey by the Environics Institute shows remarkable stability in Canadian generally positive attitudes regarding immigration despite a difficult pandemic year:

With a little more than two months to go, Canada is comfortably on track to meet its goal of welcoming 401,000 new permanent residents this year, despite closed borders and other pandemic restrictions.

That Canada is on the cusp of achieving such a goal in such times is remarkable. Even more remarkable is that no one seems to consider this a big deal.

“We’re in the home stretch,” Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino told me. “Our goal of landing 401,000 new permanent residents in 2021 is well within sight.”

And the Liberal government remains committed to setting immigration records every year, with 411,000 new arrivals slated for 2022 and 421,000 in 2023. Canada is now taking in well in excess of 1 per cent of its population of 38.5 million annually.

The Immigration department has been meeting these targets by converting temporary workers, graduated international students and asylum claimants already in Canada to permanent residents. Those measures, however, are winding down. Visa offices are open once again around the world and fully vaccinated travellers are allowed to enter Canada.

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed hard truths. One is that some of Canada’s most essential workers aren’t in high tech or trades; they’re supermarket workers and truck drivers and others who keep the wheels turning. Immigration policy must recognize their importance.

Another is that immigration will account even more for labour-force growth after the pandemic than it has in the past. Canada’s total fertility rate in 2016 was 1.6, short of the 2.1 children per woman needed to keep a population stable. Today it’s down to 1.4.

Don Kerr, a specialist of demography at King’s College at the University of Western Ontario, shared with me data on fertility rates by census metropolitan area, based on Statistics Canada’s 2020 birth data. Many major cities have fertility rates below the national average.

Vancouver’s fertility is 1.09, comparable to the ultra-low fertility rates of Pacific countries such as Japan and South Korea, while Victoria has fallen to a remarkable low of 0.95. Edmonton (1.41), Calgary (1.33) and Montreal (1.41) are at or close to the national average, but Toronto is only at 1.21, and Halifax is at 1.1.

“Canadian women are delaying their first birth further and further, having fewer children and opting for childlessness to a greater extent than ever before,” Prof. Kerr observed. Thirty-two out of 33 census metropolitan areas saw a decline in fertility over the past decade, even prior to the pandemic.

“Canada’s natural increase is at an unprecedented low,” said Prof. Kerr. “If the smaller cohorts to follow the millennials continue with this very low fertility, we can expect even fewer births.”

If so, then immigration is the only route to filling labour shortages and sustaining the economy. The good news is that new polling data provided to The Globe and Mail by the Environics Institute and Century Initiative show that attitudes toward immigration remain positive and stable.

Sixty-five per cent of those polled disagreed with the statement: “Immigration levels are too high.” Only 29 per cent agreed. Flipped around, 57 per cent agreed that “Canada needs more immigrants to increase its population” (37 per cent disagreed) and 80 per cent agreed/16 per cent disagreed that “the economic impact of immigration is positive.”

(The survey was based on landline and cellphone interviews with 2,000 Canadians from Sept. 7-23, and has a posted margin of error of 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)

In the recent federal election, every major national party supported an open immigration policy. Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party, which would ratchet the numbers down, received 5 per cent of the vote, but even that modest level of support was probably based mainly on the party’s opposition to vaccine mandates.

Far from opposing immigration, provinces such as Ontario are asking Ottawa to increase the numbers they can bring in under the provincial nominee program.

Mr. Mendicino may or may not remain as Immigration Minister after a new cabinet is sworn in Oct. 26. His and other departments struggled to extricate Canadians and those who had served Canada when the Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan in August.

But overall the country’s immigration performance on this minister’s watch has been impressive. And Canadians should congratulate themselves on remaining an open and welcoming society, even as so many others have closed their doors.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-no-one-considers-canadas-immigration-record-to-be-a-big-deal-and-thats/

USA: Criminal Illegal Immigration Rates Fall Along the Border

Of note:

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) just announced that they have encountered 1,431,179 people out of 1,960,519 total enforcement actions in FY2021 along the borders of the United States. When it comes to immigration enforcement, the two components of CBP are the Office of Field Operations and the Border Patrol. Relative to the 478,648 individuals encountered by CBP in FY2020, the number of individuals encountered is up by a factor of three in FY2021. Although the number of individuals encounters by CBP rose enormously in FY2021, the rate of criminals among them dropped to new lows.

CBP defines criminal noncitizens (they used to be called criminal aliens) as individuals who are not U.S. citizens and who have been convicted of crimes here or abroad if the conviction is for conduct which is also a crime in the United States. The CBP data also include noncitizens and U.S. citizens who are arrested as a result of being wanted by other law enforcement agencies. So as to not exclude any criminal illegal immigrants through unintentional omission, this blog post counts all apprehensions of criminals by CBP as noncitizen illegal immigrants. This results in an overcount of illegal immigrant criminals, but it’s better to make errors that overcount illegal immigrant criminality rather than errors that undercount it. In 2016, about 6.4 percent of all illegal immigrant individuals encountered by CBP were criminals. In FY2021, only about 1.9 percent of illegal immigrants apprehended by CBP were criminals (Figure 1).

The absolute number of criminal illegal immigrants encountered by CBP also fell from FY2016 to FY2021, but not in every year. In FY2016, CBP encountered 38,758 criminals out of approximately 607,761 individuals encountered. In FY 2021, CBP encountered 28,213 criminals out of 1,431,179 total illegal immigrants encountered. During that time, the number of illegal immigrants encountered by CBP increased by 236 percent and the number of criminals encountered fell by over 27 percent. In some of the intervening years, the absolute number of criminal illegal immigrants rose, but it generally trended downward.

It’s remarkable that such a vast increase in the number of illegal immigrants apprehended in FY2021 included a lower percentage of criminals than earlier years. Perhaps the supply of criminal illegal immigrants seeking to enter the United States is relatively inelastic and massive changes in the number of individuals seeking to enter unlawfully or ask for asylum are non‐​criminals. In other words, reforms in U.S. immigrant policy that could attract more illegal immigrants or changes in foreign conditions that prompt mass migration do not seem to much affect the flow of criminals.

Many Americans want to keep the border closed, increase harsh border security methods, or restrict asylum because they fear that those encountered are criminals. Based on data supplied by CBP, the criminal illegal immigrant proportion of all encounters along the border are lower in FY2021 than in previous years despite the large increase in the number of encounters. Illegal immigration is a serious problem that imposes high costs on Americans and migrants, but it does not pose a serious criminal threat.

Source: Criminal Illegal Immigration Rates Fall Along the Border

May: The pandemic upended the federal workplace. What comes next?

Good overview of the issues and challenges:

The pandemic blew up the norms and structure of work behaviour in Canada’s public service and now bureaucrats want new rules and a say in how work fits into their lives as the federal government readies for a return to the office.

Everything about working in the public service is up for grabs.

After nearly two years, the pandemic proved public servants can work in many jobs from anywhere. That’s upended the conventional approach to work, including the 37.5-hour work week, endless in-person meetings, a soulless cubicle culture and how to climb the hierarchy. It’s an opportunity for change reformers have dreamed about for 25 years.

“Look, if I could press an undo button and make sure COVID never happened, I would… but it happened, and the silver lining is we have exponentially adopted telework,” said Dany Richard, a union president and co-chair of the National Joint Council, a joint union and management committee. “That allows us now to reassess how the future of work will be.”

With a global talent shortage and an economy favouring workers, public servants couldn’t be in a better position to make demands on their employer about their future work lives.

There are high hopes for a new telework policy being hashed out behind closed doors with unions and senior management. Advocates promise a new mobile workforce that would break the Ottawa-Gatineau monopoly on headquarter jobs. It would improve workforce diversity and work-life balance and reduce real estate and operational costs along with pollution from commuting.

The pandemic also picked up the pace of digital transformation of the public service by three to five years, said Ryan Androsoff, director of digital leadership at the Institute on Governance.

In a blink, public servants went en masse to work at home. After a mad scramble for enough laptops, bandwidth and network access, public servants learned to work in real time, mastering videoconferencing, text and chat software and editing documents collaboratively.

“It would have taken multiple years before departments would have reached the point where 100 per cent of their workforce could work in a distributed and remote way,” Androsoff said.

Public servants aren’t expected to return to offices until the pandemic is declared over, but everyone is braced for a hybrid workplace, a mix of working in office and at home.

Is government ready? Not quite. The Treasury Board’s Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer is putting together a short- and long-term plan for the future of work with a “spotlight on telework” that rolls out as COVID restrictions are lifted and public servants can return to in-office work.

Richard argued working remotely during an emergency like the pandemic worked because everyone is in the same boat. The challenge now is how to “optimize” remote work and make the most of it.

“I think the employer will generally be open to telework,” said Richard, who is president of the Association for Canadian Financial Officers. “I don’t think it’ll be 100 per cent of the time. But as long as an employee commits to, I’d guess, two days a week in the office, the employer will say, ‘Okay let’s try three days at home and two days in the office.’”

Not all federal jobs can be done from home. Ship crews, prison guards, border guards and meat inspectors can’t. Call centres, science laboratories and operations like the Canada Security Establishment need people at the workplace.

Most office workers, however, don’t want to return to the old ways. Surveys found most want to work from home full-time or several days a week. As one senior bureaucrat said, the “pinch point” is whether location of work is an employee’s right or preference. Or is it an “operational requirement” that managers should define?

“We just spent a year and half working from home on a mandatory basis. We had to work from home. Employees see the benefits and want the flexibility to choose where they work,” said Stéphane Aubry, vice-president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC).

As part of that flexibility, Aubry said the union wants jobs classified as remote or telework positions and no longer attached to a city or a building. It argues the government should pick up some of the cost employees bear working at home. It also wants all tasks and activities that have to be done at the office clearly laid out.

“We want a position to be officially classified as a telework job so when there’s a job opening it is put on paper as a telework job,” said Aubry. The government can then look for employees across Canada. It would change the way they do recruitment.”

At the moment, Treasury Board has left it up to departments to decide how their employees will work. The board sets guidelines but deputy ministers are responsible for how their departments run.

Some have already indicated they want workers back in the office some of the time; others are encouraging people to work from home full-time or to decide where they want to be based. Departments like Transport and Public Services and Procurement Canada have been singled out as among the most flexible. Meanwhile, unions are irked the RCMP have ordered some civilian employees back to the office before restrictions have been lifted.

That’s why some are looking for a more consistent policy. One senior bureaucrat said the approach is too “muddied” and sets the stage for expectations and conflicts between departments and unions.

“Instead of having a common approach they’ve left it scattered, which is a problem because deputy ministers are not willing to make a decision that might be precedent-setting and everybody gets stuck,” said the bureaucrat, who we are not identifying because he is not authorized to speak on the subject.

A big challenge with hybrid work is how to treat everyone equitably. The unions are worried about two tiers of employees: those who work in-office and those who don’t. It’s expected those who work in the office, where they are known by management, will have an edge for promotions and special projects.

What if deputy ministers and other senior executives return to the office? Won’t more employees follow suit and come to the office to be seen?

It could create a gender gap for women, who are disproportionately drawn to remote work to better manage parenting or other caregiving needs they juggle.

“I would love to see a situation where if government goes to a hybrid model that they actually say everybody in the organization has to work remotely two or three days a week, so that everybody’s having that same experience,” said Androsoff.

Nearly 42 per cent of public servants work in the National Capital Region. Stories abound of public servants who moved to the countryside or to the east or west coasts to work remotely during lockdown and have no plans to come back. Managers started filling Ottawa jobs with people outside the region and not requiring them to relocate.

There are far more ministers and MPs from outside Ottawa who have long tried to decentralize federal jobs to the regions. The argument for the capital’s disproportionate share of jobs was based on the location of Parliament, ministers and senior management. If the pandemic allowed MPs and Parliament to meet virtually, why wouldn’t they press for more jobs to be done remotely?

Former privy council clerk Michael Wernick says relocating Ottawa jobs is inevitable, adding it could happen in a “very conscious way” or “by stealth.” There are plenty of examples of departments operating outside the capital – Veterans Affairs in Charlottetown, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency in Moncton, National Energy Board in Calgary or the pay centre in Miramichi.

“The political pressure for geographic decentralization, plus work moving out to people’s homes, means a much less gravitational pull from Ottawa,” said Wernick.

“Maybe it won’t be the big departments and central agencies in the core public service, but there are 300 federal entities. And I think they may start maybe with some of those. Why does a tribunal, for example, have to hold hearings in Ottawa?”

Remote work would attract a more diverse pool of applicants who better represent Canada, including those who don’t live in urban centres, Indigenous people, visible minorities and people with disabilities.

A national recruitment strategy, however, will quickly collide with the public service’s bilingualism requirements.

“It opens doors for people from across the country to be part of the federal government in a way never possible before, but how to do that with existing bilingual policies is going to have to be explored,” said Androsoff.

A new telework policy assumes managers will shift to results-based management and hold people accountable for what they do and not just showing up for work.

But Wernick said the public service must sharpen its competitive edge to keep and attract employees in a global talent shortage. That shortage could worsen with an exodus of public servants, burned out and ready to leave after two years of going full tilt in the pandemic. Others put off retirement during lockdown and will leave rather than go back to the office.

Many argue departments will offer remote work to attract and retain people. That could also spark an internal war for talent as people flee to departments that offer the most flexibility and remote work.

The government’s technology is still years behind the private sector, but the pandemic brought all public servants to a basic level of digital literacy with new skills they want to use. Some argue home network and internet connections are now much better than what employees had at the office.

Canadians also have much bigger expectations of government. They are living more digitally now, banking and shopping online, and expect the same easy and rapid service from the government.

But Androsoff said there’s still a powerful pull from the traditionalists who would rather return to the old ways: nine to five, back to the office, in-person meetings and assigned desks.

“The federal government, by virtue of its size and history, has institutional inertia. In previous waves of reform, that inertia always pushes to go back to the way it was,” said Androsoff.

“I’m hoping for lasting change, but it remains to be seen whether this push is permanent or the pressure to go back to its institutional comfort zone wins the day.”

Source: http://click.revue.email/ss/c/LCzjJVqW3iU4uG4vv7g712DvWoe4-HnZ6yJuZDLvqqZTWNZA8CLYLQoJ2EVmLXJp-f6BAtGnwYi0Q6Mw3UjQsLzr_UnLo0Fnpd0RcU5oiRvFLh9yghjGFq7Vv2-uOpezpkZY7Qp04k28XTtLF5caIey_vLzyw6XWxvb_cl_CgSP9leyi9fT0NvRuqwg1SidLPh_ASB2mAAFiThIythTBpjCaMmAmtkFELrXsmCrcA48GoNCZQIxnBmAI_OU34jPWa1KBH4rBUZwH-PE9QsUBqv0NOVPBLuYWb7bspcRLb3-yovnR12M8WE2EzQoCd9yV/3ge/iqphGK5cTsG72MpEUAlaYQ/h10/DzzJWvLO7r53KBmOgWCEkBgiOISsXNZvF1iSJtuUysI