Douglas Todd: Generous Canada now No. 1 country for foreign students

Of note, along with some of the factors, some justified, some more questionable that made Canada relatively more attractive than other destinations. Focus on increasing international students predates current government. Interesting comment by Chris Friesen regarding preference given to international students with respect to permanent residency. :

Canada has become the most popular country in the world for international students, says a survey conducted in more than 50 countries.

Two in five international students rate Canada as their first choice for higher education, according to IDP Connect’s fall poll of 3,600 study-visa holders. That’s more than double the proportion that picked the next highest-ranked nations — Britain, the U.S. or Australia.

A majority of students who choose Canada as their top option said a key reason was being allowed to work while studying, says IDP, as well as the relative affordability of tuition fees, given most of the country’s universities and colleges are subsidized by taxpayers.

The Canadian Bureau for International Education adds that 60 per cent of foreign students in Canada, more than half of whom come from India or China, want to apply to become permanent residents — an option not available in most countries.

Given the competition in the West for foreign students, some specialists are skeptical about Ottawa’s increasingly eye-catching efforts to appeal to the estimated six million students in the world who are going abroad for their educations.

Higher education experts question why Canada appears to be the only nation that has given foreign students social-assistance payments during COVID. They also ask about Canada’s unusual decision to allow students almost unlimited opportunities to work while ostensibly studying.

Canada’s foreign-student numbers have almost doubled since the Liberals were elected in 2015. Their numbers are returning to the 600,000 a year range despite COVID border restrictions. During the pandemic, many offshore students studied remotely, but most are physically back on Canadian campuses.

Foreign students make up about 20 per cent post-secondary students in Canada, which along with Australia and Britain, has the highest ratios in the world. In the U.S., foreign nationals on study visas account for only seven per cent of students. In the European Union, they’re just six per cent.

Ottawa, which now considers foreign students prime candidates for immigration, has gone the opposite direction of other countries during COVID and allowed study visa holders to apply for taxpayer-funded programs such as the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has also given international students almost unlimited access to full-time jobs, including for at least three years after graduation. And the Liberal government has made it possible for them to keep their long-term work opportunities even if they have not been in the country. In addition, unlike elsewhere, many provinces, such as B.C., offer almost-free medical coverage.

British Columbia, which normally has about 22 per cent of all of Canada’s foreign students, has the strongest concentration, focused mostly in Metro Vancouver where their presence affects the rental and housing markets. B.C. has four times as many foreign students per capita as Alberta.

The Vancouver campus of the University of B.C., similar to previous years, has almost 17,000 international students this fall, accounting for about one third of all graduate students and one quarter of undergrads. More than one third are from China and one fifth from India. The rest hail from scores of countries, particularly the U.S., Korea and Iran.

Simon Fraser University has almost 7,000 foreign students, 26 per cent of undergrads and 34 per cent of grad students. About two in five are from China and one in five from India, with smaller cohorts from Korea, Iran and Hong Kong. The proportion of foreign students at Capilano University and Vancouver Island University is lower.

In addition to the Liberal government boasting foreign students bring more than $21 billion a year into the economy, Canadian higher education specialist Alex Usher says the country’s post-secondary institutions now rely on foreign students for 45 per cent of fee revenue. That’s up from 15 per cent in the 2000s. Usher cautions against such a heavy reliance on foreign students.

When COVID first hit, both Australia and the U.S. brought in far more rules about foreign students than Canada; directing many back to their homelands.

The two English-language nations wanted to protect the health of residents and, unlike Canada, were not prepared to provide social-assistance, health benefits and jobs to foreign nationals while the domestic population struggled. As a result about 10 per cent of post-secondary staff and faculty in the U.S. and Australia was laid off.

Canada began allowing study-visa holders into the country in October 2020, despite the border being then shut to almost everyone except essential workers. But Australia only decided this week to welcome back more than 200,000 foreign students. There had been fears that many Asian students would opt to study in person in Canada and the U.S. rather than pay for online courses from Australia.

University of Sydney Prof. Salvatore Babones, who has studied international student policy in Canada and around the world, said this week: “I’m surprised Canada has extended welfare (CERB) benefits to international students. It’s a strange decision, since most such students must demonstrate the ability to support themselves financially before being granted a study visa.”

The international education specialist finds it “sad” that Canada has lifted the normal 20-hour-a-week cap on how much each foreign student is permitted to work. “The cap serves an important purpose: It ensures that students are in the country to study, not on an exploitive fake study program in order to get a work permit.”

While Canada’s unusually magnanimous benefits for foreign students might sound humane, Babones said, they in effect turn study visas into work visas, “that require recipients to pay ‘protection money’ to educational institutions in exchange for permission to work.”

Vancouver’s Chris Friesen, who chairs the umbrella body overseeing settlement services for immigrants and refugees in Canada, has said the Canadian public is in the dark about how policy has been changed to give preference to international students.

Ottawa, he said, should set up a royal commission to look into issues such as whether Canadians agree that foreign students, who tend to come from the “cream of the crop” in their homelands, should go to the front of the line for permanent residence status.

Source: Douglas Todd: Generous Canada now No. 1 country for foreign students

Saudi Arabia and China are accused of using sports to cover up human rights abuse


What do China, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have in common? The answer might not be as obvious as you think. But all three countries are accused of human rights violations, and all three are also playing host to some of the largest and most lucrative sporting events in the world.

China is hosting the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, Qatar is putting on next year’s soccer World Cup and Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in staging high-profile, international sporting events.

But human rights organizations and others have been voicing concerns that behind this seemingly innocuous trend is a concerted effort by these and other nations to use sports as a way to cover up their poor human rights records.

“They are using and increasingly seeing sport as an opportunity to launder their image,” Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s head of campaigns, told NPR.

The human rights group even uses a recent term to describe this practice: “sportswashing.”

“It’s the process whereby a country or regime with a particularly poor human rights record uses sport as a way of creating positive headlines, positive spin about their countries,” Jakens explained.

Saudi Arabia dabbles in English soccer and Formula One racing

Last month, the rights group criticized Saudi Arabia’s takeover of English Premier League club Newcastle United. According to news reports, the Saudi government-owned Public Investment Fund purchased an 80% stake in the English soccer club for 300 million pounds ($400 million).

“Ever since this deal was first talked about we said it represented a clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to sportswash their appalling human rights record with the glamour of top-flight football,” Amnesty International UK’s CEO Sacha Deshmukh said in a statement.

The Newcastle United buyout is just the latest sports-related investment by Saudi authorities. In recent years, the kingdom has spent more than $1.5 billion to stage elite sporting events, according to a report by Grant Liberty. This includes staging the annual Spanish Super Cup soccer match, international men’s and women’s golf tournaments and professional wrestling, among many others.

Next month, global racing series Formula One will host its race in Saudi Arabia for the first time. The Grand Prix event will take place on Dec. 5 at a brand-new racetrack in the port city of Jiddah. F1 — which is owned by U.S.-based Liberty Media Corp. — signed a 10-year deal with the kingdom worth a reported $650 million.

The Saudi F1 event will also feature a number of musical performances. Pop star Justin Bieber, who is headlining the off-track entertainment program, is facing growing calls to cancel his show.

In an open letter published by The Washington Post, Hatice Cengiz — the fiancée of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi — urged the Canadian singer to “send a powerful message to the world that your name and talent will not be used to restore the reputation of a regime that kills its critics.”

The kingdom says it’s reforming

The Saudi government rejects all accusations of sportswashing. Fahad Nazer, the spokesperson for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., says that those investments are part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plans to diversify the country’s economy, which depends heavily on oil and gas.

“The notion that the transformative reforms currently underway in the kingdom are simply an attempt to improve the kingdom’s image are widely off the mark,” Nazer told NPR.

He said that the country aims to establish a sports industry under its Vision 2030 plan, which not only calls for a more diverse economy but also a vibrant society.

But the 2018 killing of the journalist Khashoggi, the imprisonment of rights activists and the ongoing bombing campaign in Yemen cast doubt over how transformational those reforms really are.

Despite ushering in some limited newfound freedoms for Saudi citizens, the crown prince has made the country more autocratic than before, says Daniel Byman, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“There are more freedoms for women, just to pick a very important example. But there is less tolerance even of limited political dissension,” he says.

A spokesperson for Formula One, which has been accused of enabling sportswashing in the past, did not directly respond to the question of whether the series considers a country’s human rights record in its decision to host a race there.

“We take our responsibilities on rights very seriously and set high ethical standards for counterparties and those in our supply chain, which are enshrined in contracts, and we pay close attention to their adherence,” the spokesperson said.

This past weekend, F1 made its debut in Qatar — another country with a less-than-stellar track record. Seven-time world champion and race winner Lewis Hamilton raised the issue of human rights and equality in a news conference ahead of Sunday’s Grand Prix.

“As sports go to these places, they are duty-bound to raise awareness for these issues. These places need scrutiny. Equal rights is a serious issue,” said the British driver, who wore a rainbow-colored race helmet in a show of solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.

China faces an Olympics boycott

China has also been accused of using sports to polish its public image. With the 2022 Winter Olympics only a couple of months away, the Biden administration is considering a diplomatic boycott of the Games over the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims living in the country’s Xinjiang region.

The issue of sportswashing has even reached the halls of Congress. Last year, Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida introduced a resolution calling on the International Olympic Committee to strip China of its Olympic hosting rights.

“I don’t believe a country that is committing genocide against its own citizens, that’s building a military to dominate the world, that steals jobs and technology from all over the world, denies basic rights to its own citizens should be hosting an Olympics,” Scott told NPR in a recent interview.

China has repeatedly denied accusations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

He further criticized U.S. Olympic broadcast partner NBC and Olympic sponsors for not being more vocal about China’s alleged human rights violations.

His Democratic colleague, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, argues that sports leagues need to take more responsibility when it comes to rights issues. He says they are “selling out their integrity for profits,” effectively helping to rehabilitate the reputations of human rights abusers.

Using sports for spin goes way back

The practice of countries using sports as a smoke screen is not new. Many nations, including Great Britain, saw sports as a way to distract from oppression during colonial times. Nazi Germany used the 1936 Berlin Olympics as an opportunity to show off its alleged racial superiority and, during the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union used sports as a soft power.

But the word sportswashing came into use later. By one account, according to British sports journalist Sam Cunningham, the term emerged in 2015 when Azerbaijan hosted the European Games, and Amnesty International brought it back to the spotlight a few years later.

Whatever the origins, whether sportswashing can have a lasting effect remains unclear. But according to Simon Chadwick, a sports industry expert at Emlyon Business School in France, it can provide temporary relief.

“If we look at the 2018 World Cup, there was widespread criticism of Russia,” he says. “But what we saw upon people’s return from the Russian World Cup is that now their view of Russia was much changed, they saw the country in a much more positive fashion.”

With Western democracies increasingly scrutinizing the value of hosting large-scale sporting events, he believes countries with questionable human rights records will continue to use sports to boost their public image.

“What we will see is the likes of Saudi Arabia, China and others continuing to bid for these events, being awarded the rights to stage them and then leaving those in the West to deal with the kind of moral and ideological fallout that we have as a result of their hosting,” Chadwick says.

Most sports organizations defend their decision to stage events in these countries by claiming to be a catalyst for change. But that change has yet to materialize.

Israeli children born abroad are automatically citizens, yet some are locked out

Of note (likely harder if not impossible for Israeli Arabs:

Thousands of Israeli children living overseas have been barred from entering Israel since March 2020 because they lack passports, and the issue has become even more pressing in light of Israel’s new Omicron-related border closures.

These children are legally Israeli citizens through parentage, despite having been born abroad, even if their parents never registered them with the state. This is because Israel’s 1952 Nationality Law automatically ascribes citizenship to a child born abroad to an Israeli parent. In a Kafkaesque turn, citizenship applies even if the state is unaware of these foreign-born citizens, and in a catch-22, citizenship can only be terminated following registration.

Prior to Israel’s first COVID-19 lockdown, these children were able to enter Israel as tourists on their foreign passports. This practice was abruptly ended when Israel closed its skies to non-citizens, and embassies abroad refused to grant entry permits to these Israeli children until their parents obtained Israeli passports for them, catching many off-guard.

Source: Israeli children born abroad are automatically citizens, yet some are locked out

Papademetriou: More Immigration Is Inevitable, But Overcoming Its Challenges Isn’t

Good overview of the issues and perspectives, but hard to see how USA can overcome the divisions and politics involved:

With the Census Bureau reporting a significant dip in total U.S. fertility rates—and a correspondingly lower population growth—in the past decade, the specter of demographic and economic “decline” seems to be preoccupying many commentators. Two groups have dominated the debate. First, prophets of doom who have legitimate concerns about increasing old-age dependency ratios (the ratio of the population sixty-five years and over to the population aged fifteen to sixty-four, multiplied by a hundred) but who are also worried about the size of the GDP—rather than the much more meaningful GDP per capita—and apparently equate population size with the ability to project global power. The second group is most pro-immigration advocates and activists who see in the data an opportunity for much larger immigration intakes. As the positions of the two groups dovetail nicely, the political argument for much more immigration appears to be irresistible.

And it may well be. Unsurprisingly, both sides have their usual blinders firmly in place and frequently rely on hyperbole. But are their arguments based on sound analyses? And are they politically viable? As is typically the case with complex matters, the deep divisions about immigration intake (approximately two-thirds of whom are family members), and particularly the manner in which certain immigrants enter (illegally and increasingly by crashing the southern border), the political viability of increasing immigration substantially appears questionable. This political reality will persist at least until we reestablish legality and order at our borders, reform our immigration system to align much better—and more clearly—with our economic needs, and reach out to include the millions of U.S. workers who are not in the labor force. Investing in the education and training of such typically “forgotten” and marginalized potential workers, most of whom are traditional and immigrant-origin minorities and women, and assisting them to find their way into the active workforce, is an imperative not only to maintaining a just society but also to the long-term economic health and stability of the nation. It is also a prerequisite to giving the government the “license” to admit more immigrants without fueling greater divisions and the intolerance that such divisions generate.

Looking at the demography/immigration nexus more closely, the most sensible policy position is that those who worry about the size of the U.S. population first and foremost, need not worry so much. It is perfectly reasonable for policymakers, however, to be thinking harder about how to address persistent lower fertility because of its longer-term effects on faster aging populations, the fact that fewer people will be contributing to retirement support systems while progressively more will be gaining access to them, and, in the out years, about “negative demographic momentum,” whereby ever smaller numbers of women in child-bearing ages have fewer children—the citizen workers that will keep the economy humming and the broader society healthy.

But while size may matter, there are many things that matter much more. The first tier items include a well-educated workforce that invests in lifelong learning and public policies that encourage them to do so; a private sector that prizes both formal and informal (tacit) skills and experience and rewards workers for continuing to invest in themselves; gradually tweaking social policies to extend working lives, and hence delay the age that formal retirement begins—so that there is less anxiety about worker shortages; and, of course, much better health care systems that create the conditions for extending people’s working and post-retirement lives.

Easy? Not really but these are the types of initiatives that are at the heart of dynamic economies, long-term competitiveness, the liquidity of our retirement system, and healthier lives for older workers and retirees. After all, if most Americans are living longer and healthier lives, working lives must also be extended.

And what about immigration policy? If it were possible to set aside, at least temporarily, the political arguments of the extremists who advocate for far more or far less immigration, there is no escaping the reality that all high-income countries will increase immigration flows in the future. And “traditional” immigration countries, such as the United States, Canada, or Australia, will probably lead the way—as they do already. The policy (and political) questions then become how many and in which legal categories.

The “how many” is devilishly complex to answer. If we are to really fix our immigration system, and the broader issues that ail our country, the answer to that question is not a single number: it is rather a “target” that responds to the needs of the economy, addresses the reasonable expectations of U.S. citizens and green card holders to reunify with their closest relatives, and is broadly consistent with our humanitarian obligations.

Among these three classic migration streams, the one that appears most straightforward is the economic/labor market one. Yet, responding to the needs of the economy is not as clear-cut as it may seem. Greater openings to skilled and highly skilled and talented immigrants is a no-brainer. And few can disagree with such policies as long as employers play by the rules (in terms of wages, working conditions, appropriate advancement opportunities, minimizing the displacement of local workers, or “preferring” foreign workers over domestic ones) and robust training, education, and job placement opportunities for all workers are in place. Yet the understandable bias toward the high-end of the skills’ continuum will not be enough to address labor market realities, which range from skills and geographic mismatches to the imperative of addressing the unmet labor needs in several areas along the continuum of skills. Among them are many middle-skills (think of the health and elderly care sectors) and sectors that have long been abandoned by domestic workers (think of labor-intensive and perishable crops agriculture, herding or the dairy sector, and personal services of many types, among others).

But even these realities are contested terrain for many—which makes the near-consensus about the importance of greater openness to such workers, melt away the closer one gets to the bottom third of the labor market, where tenure is more tenuous, wages lower, working conditions more difficult, even dangerous, and less protected—in law (the non-applicability of the Fair Labor Standards Act in agriculture) and in fact (when it comes to the enforcement of applicable labor laws)—and the power disparity between worker and employer is most pronounced. These are issues that must be addressed, as is the balance between permanent immigration and properly and fairly administered temporary work visas.

None of this is easy. But at the end of the day, the essence of successful leadership is about demonstrating both courage and wisdom and thus creating political space for doing the difficult things that must be done. If leaders are not willing to make tough choices that hew closer to the national interest and resist the loudest voices at the extremes of both parties, they should make room for those who will.

Source: More Immigration Is Inevitable, But Overcoming Its Challenges Isn’t

Canada committed to 40,000 Afghan refugees. 3,500 have made it. A piece of paper stands in the way

Of note:

In August, Naik Arbabzada was thrilled when she managed to quickly put together a private group of acquaintances to sponsor her elder sister’s family to Canada from Tajikistan, where the Afghans have sought refuge.

The Edmonton group quickly raised $60,000 in cash, with one person donating $8,000 worth of dental services for her sister, brother-in-law and six children.

But then they hit a snag because the family has not been able to secure the so-called “refugee status determination” paper, a document they need from the Tajikistan government to be recognized as refugees in need of resettlement.

Without that piece of paper, Arbabzada, a medical student at the University of Alberta, said her sponsorship group can’t even put in an application.

“We are asking the federal government to treat the Afghan refugee crisis similar to the Syrian refugee crisis by waiving the requirement of the RSD, so it doesn’t hinder an applicant’s ability to put a sponsorship application forward,” said Arbabzada, 30, who resettled in Canada with her parents 20 years ago. 

(Her two older sisters were left behind in Afghanistan because they were married and couldn’t come along as dependants. One is still stuck in Kabul with her family.)

Canada has committed to welcoming 40,000 Afghan refugees through its special immigration measures and humanitarian resettlement program after the Taliban took over Kabul and returned to power in August. So far only 3,500 have made it here.

Ottawa has set a target to usher in a total of 59,500 refugees in 2021 but so far only 44,300 have been admitted, according to data confirmed by the immigration department.

The goal for this year’s intake of government-assisted refugees was 12,500, and 22,500 for those privately sponsored by churches and community groups such as Arbabzada’s family. As of Oct. 31, only 7,800 and 4,500 were admitted respectively. The rest of the 44,300 admitted so far were refugees who entered Canada and were then granted asylum.

Officials said Canada’s ability to process immigration applications has been greatly hindered since the onset of COVID-19 amid office lockdowns and travel restrictions here and abroad.

This week, Ottawa confirmed it has reopened the land border to irregular migrants from the U.S., giving them access to seek asylum in Canada, which had been sending these would-be refugees back south of the border since March 2020.

“As the public health situation improves and the border reopens, Canada has removed the temporary public health measures restricting the entry of asylum claimants and the agreement with the U.S. has come to an end,” said Alex Cohen, press secretary of Immigration Minister Sean Fraser.

“Canada remains committed to upholding our fair and compassionate refugee protection system, fulfilling our domestic and international legal obligations and protecting the health and safety of Canadians and those who wish to come here.”

While it’s good news that those travel restrictions have relaxed, Arbabzada said Fraser must also remove the red tape hindering ready Canadians from bringing in Afghans in crisis.

She said her sister’s family had no plan to move to Canada until June, when they were forced into hiding and had to flee the country after her brother-in-law was threaten by the Taliban because he was a contractor providing office supplies, furniture and non-perishable food items to foreign companies in Kabul.

However, since he didn’t work for the Canadian government, the family didn’t qualify for Ottawa’s special measures to resettle here, leaving private sponsorship the only option.

“It’s a shame that Canada is unable to meet its annual refugee target when you have individuals like my sister who are going to be very well supported and are waiting to start their lives in Canada,” said Arbabzada.

Members of her sponsorship group have reached out to the immigration department, urging the government to waive the refugee card requirement for Afghans.

In an email, a senior immigration official said removing the requirement, even temporarily, would result in a greater number of applications, which affects processing times and the timely resettlement of all privately sponsored refugees.

“There is a continuing need to manage intake of these applications in order to achieve acceptable processing times,” said the letter.

The official’s response upsets Tema Frank, a member of Arbabzada’s sponsorship group.

“The government is speaking out of both sides of their mouth,” said the Edmonton writer. 

“They’re trying to claim the glory for saying we’ll support all these Afghans. And yet when you’ve got Canadians who are ready to support them and make it happen, they’re putting this artificial blockade in the way.”


Long suppressed and forcibly assimilated, Sámi people in Sweden get an apology 30 years in the making

Of interest and the influence of and parallel with Canadian experience:

In Uppsala Cathedral, the heart of Swedish Christianity, Archbishop Antje Jackelén sat this week before a circle of Sámi leaders in traditional dress and the television cameras of Sweden’s state broadcaster, listing the past crimes of her church.

“You have told us about forced Christianization and Swedish colonialism. Sámi culture was denied,” Jackelén said, in Swedish. “Today, we acknowledge this and, on behalf of the Church of Sweden, I apologize.”

Wednesday’s apology service in Uppsala, the culmination of more than 30 years of discussions and advocacy, marked a major step forward for reconciliation in Sweden, where the Indigenous Sámi people continue to fight for self-determination and recognition of past wrongs committed by church and state.

Having studied the Canadian experience of reconciliation, church and Sámi figures alike emphasized that the apology must be followed by concrete actions, and came with no expectation of forgiveness.

“As we apologize to you today, we cannot determine how you will receive this apology. It is not our place to demand to know when a response will be given,” Jackelén said in her speech.

“While we wait, we pray to God … that we do not repeat past mistakes.”

As one of its commitments, the church pledged to acknowledge the importance of Sámi spirituality, and even incorporate it into Christian worship after centuries of exclusion and demonization.

Ingrid Inga, the chair of the church’s internal Sámi Council, called it “the starting point of a new relationship between the Church of Sweden and the Sámi people.”

Crimes of assimilation

The Sámi are indigenous to the vast forests and tundra of Arctic Europe, traditionally herding reindeer, hunting and fishing across Norway, Sweden, Finland and parts of northern Russia. For centuries, they have been divided by the borders of those countries, which all embarked on differing programs of forced assimilation.

Though the earliest Christian missionaries are believed to have visited Sápmi, the traditional territory of the Sámi, in the 11th century, Sámi say the church’s process of forced Christianization truly began some 500 years later, when the Reformation unified church and state.

In an 1,100-page anthology produced for the Church of Sweden in 2019 — seen as an essential precondition to the apology — historians documented the way the church supported the state in the process of erasing and suppressing Sámi identity.

Christian preachers condemned Sámi religion as devil worship, banning the joik, a form of spiritual singing used by noaidi, or Sámi shamans, to communicate with the spirit world.

The 17th century saw a wave of puritanical witch trials, in which Swedish church and state authorities waged an intense campaign against Sámi worship, which they branded as sorcery. One noaidi, Lars Nilsson, was burned at the stake, and many others were tried for witchcraft.

In pursuit of converts, the Swedish church produced the first writing in the Sámi languages, in translated bibles. But by the 20th century, it was actively suppressing the Sámi languages in church-run schools.

Reindeer herders were segregated to subpar “nomad schools,” which sought to “protect” them from civilization as an “inferior race.”

As in Canada, these church-run schools became theatres for humiliating scientific experiments and clerical abuse. Racial biologists also conspired with bishops to dig up the remains of Sámi children and elders — many of which still sit in museum collections across Europe.

Other Sámi, deemed not sufficiently nomadic by Swedish authorities, were forced to assimilate, driving divisions in the community that exist to this day.

Christianity an ‘Indigenous religion’

Yet today, many Sámi are still devoutly Christian. A 19th-century revival movement produced an Indigenous form of Lutheranism that transformed communities damaged by the suppression of traditional activities.

“Many Sámi think that Christianity is their Indigenous religion, because the Sámi have for centuries been dealing with Christianity,” said Helga West, a Sámi theologian who studies the reconciliation processes underway in the three Nordic countries. (Her Sámi name is Biennaš-Jon Jovnna Piera Helga.)

“Yet… there are many Sámi who don’t want to be involved with these churches at all.”

Thomas Colbengtson, originally from Tärnaby, was raised in the Lutheran Church and attended a nomad school. He says the experience left him with a “mixed feeling” about his own identity.

“In a way, you’ve got double guilt — guilt [for] being Sámi, guilt [for] being Swedish, guilt [for] perhaps not practising Christian religion, guilt [for] being Christian…. That’s the sensitive thing to talk about.”

In a former glass factory in the suburbs of Stockholm, Colbengtson wrestles with that tension as a Sámi artist. His most recent work, based on a noaidi drum, will be displayed near the altar of the Swedish church.

“Part of it is provocation,” he said, “and … part is to visualize Sámi presence in the area, and Sámi culture that [they have] tried to erase.”

Spiritual destruction — and renewal

Guided by the Canadian truth and reconciliation process, the church has largely focused on documenting historical wrongs. But West says it has not yet come to terms with how it has forever transformed Sámi spirituality.

“Christianity in general brought this hierarchical and linear view of the world that was very different from the Sámi cosmic vision, that was pluralistic,” she said. “They were forced to think differently of the world, of their ancestors, of their practices, that were labelled as pagan and backward.”

Some Christian Sámi have managed to reconcile these identities within themselves. Nilla and Nik Märak, two sisters from Jokkmokk, learned from their father, Johan, a renowned Sámi priest, who broke barriers by bringing joiking into the church for the first time.

“He used to say, ‘God was with the Sámi before the church,'” Nik said with a laugh.

“He knew that by … being a minister in the church, and bringing the two worlds together, he could, just by his presence, actually go quite a long way [toward] reconciliation,” Nilla said.

For Nilla, who handed out communion wafers at Wednesday’s service in Uppsala, the church’s recognition of past wrongs is an important step in and of itself.

“A huge part of reconciliation, and the healing that will come, we hope … is to realize that there has been damage done,” she said. “The Sámi religion has been damaged, and the Sámi soul has been damaged.”

Wednesday’s service included eight concrete commitments to reverse the historic erasure of Sámi culture, meant to counter early perceptions among Sámi that public apologies, like those in Canada, would be merely performative.

Among them are pledges to preach in the Sámi language, educate congregations about past crimes and make Sámi traditions a more visible part of Christian worship.

“I hope that the Sámi people really trust the Church of Sweden, that it’s for real, that we want Sámi spirituality as part of the church,” said Bishop Åsa Nyström, whose Luleå diocese covers the northernmost third of Sweden and includes many Sámi communities. “It is so important the Sámi people can have priests and deacons … from their own people.”

State absent

Some say there is still more the church could do. Northern dioceses like Nyström’s derive income from vast forests they manage. But Åsa Larsson Blind, vice-president of the transnational Saami Council, says they do not pursue international certifications that would require co-management with the Sámi.

To critics, the greatest shortcoming of Wednesday’s church apology may be that the Swedish government was nowhere to be seen.

“It’s only the church doing the work,” said Nilla Märak. “The Swedish government is doing nothing. They’re barely even recognizing that there is a need for a reconciliation process.”

Many of the crimes documented by the church were committed in service of a colonizing Swedish state, which sought to push Sámi people off profitable land and divide them with borders.

Yet the state’s own reconciliation process has barely begun. First discussed more than 15 years ago, the Swedish government only this month announced a truth commission, which will be focused primarily on fact-finding over its four-year mandate.

“It’s very, very important, but it isn’t a reconciliation process,” said Nyström.

Meanwhile, the Swedish government continues to fight Sámi reindeer herders in court for the right to build mines and power plants on their lands. It has refused to ratify international conventions recognizing the rights of Indigenous people.

A landmark Supreme Court decision in the Sámi village of Girjas appears to have established a duty to consult with Sámi people. But the government continues to interpret it narrowly.

“They are dodging the whole issue,” said Larsson Blind. “And by not addressing the issues, they are letting business as usual … just go on.”

As part of its evidence in court, the government’s representative read an 1884 statement that said Sámi herders live “on a less cultured level” and must “give way to the more civilized people.”

Two ministries within the Swedish government responsible for Sámi issues declined CBC requests for comment.

Making an ally of the church

Many of those present at Wednesday’s service hope the apology will be a turning point for the church, making it a crucial ally in the push for restitution from the government.

“I think that the church having the platform and the voice in Sweden that they have, they can actually play a huge part in this,” said Larsson Blind.

Within the church, meanwhile, the long and difficult work begins to regain trust with Sámi Christians and their communities.

“In some time … the [Sámi people may] take this apology and forgive the church,” said Inga, the Sámi church council’s chair. “But this is not the right time for that.”

Source: Long suppressed and forcibly assimilated, Sámi people in Sweden get an apology 30 years in the making

Saunders: The pandemic exposed Canada’s inefficient immigration system. It needs to be scrapped and rebuilt

Good commentary:

For a surgeon who had been risking his life in pandemic-hit Canadian hospitals performing organ transplants, the April 14 invitation was a welcome gift. Despite his highly sought-after, life-saving skills and the risks he was taking to do his job, he’d so far had no pathway to becoming Canadian.

Then Marco Mendicino, the immigration minister at the time, announcedthat Canada would give permanent residency, and thus eventually citizenship, to 90,000 immigrants, refugees and foreign students currently living here on temporary visas and mostly doing in-person jobs deemed “essential.”

It was one part of a broad goal, announced earlier this year, to meet an ambitious target of 401,000 new Canadians in 2021, despite then-closed borders, mainly by drawing on the huge number of people already living and working here.

It sounds good – but the pandemic months have taught us that Canada does not have the immigration system to deliver it.

Almost immediately after that announcement, those invitations collided with a bureaucracy – including a Byzantine and outdated set of federal and provincial immigration rules – that all but prevented those worthy goals from becoming realities.

The transplant doctor soon noticed. He had been slowly accumulating points under Canada’s main immigration system, known as Express Entry, which grants points for things such as education and language fluency and requires full-time work experience in Canada. (Surgeons are classified as self-employed, so have a harder time earning those points.)

While the invitation was a gift, the rules all but prevented him from accepting it. His application – which had to be begun afresh, with no relationship to the existing paper trail of his Express Entry application – had to be personally submitted at a specific time on a weekday. This hours-long procedure on a newly created and deeply dysfunctional and crash-prone web portal was nearly impossible for a working surgeon. For some reason it forbade lawyers and immigration agents from helping, and reportedly barred applicants from working during the application process, which could drag on for months.

The long-standing rules also required him to submit the results of a fluency test in English or French. His language skills weren’t in doubt – you can’t be a high-level surgeon without them – but the testing centres had weeks-long delays, and the minister’s invitation had an hours-long application window.

Many people filed applications without the language test, hoping it could be added informally later. Months later, they found their claims were rejected without any communication from the department, and the whole system had to start again. It was an ordeal for a privileged surgeon; for the nurses and home-care workers for whom the program was intended, it was far worse.

“In 25 years of practice I have never seen the client service as poor as it is now,” says Barbara Jo Caruso, the surgeon’s immigration lawyer. “I think there is a fundamental disconnect right now. … The department needs to change the way front-line workers work, so they can be facilitative and solve problems by making a call. Otherwise they’re wasting enormous amounts of human resources doing the same things over and over.”

The major problem, says Andrew Griffith, a former director-general of Canada’s immigration department, is “not understanding the service needs of the target population.”

In essence, Ottawa is trying to force a growth-oriented policy through a haphazard, enormously complex and often uncommunicative set of provincial and federal bureaucracies that were constructed over the last five decades to restrict immigration and control numbers, and to administer a range of often contradictory immigration programs.

The result has been chaotic. Even though experienced front-line health workers ought to be the most desirable new Canadians, Ottawa was not able to come close to its target of 20,000 of them – after the deadline passed this summer, only 7,155 had reportedly been able to get their names on the list. Tens of thousands more simply could not manage to apply.

Other invitations suffered the opposite problem: The target of 40,000 student-visa holders who’ve completed their degrees was met in fewer than two days. Then a computer failure reportedly caused thousands more to be let into the system in a mess of false messaging and panicked confusion, so Ottawa had to give another 7,300 applicants admission.

Despite its high annual immigration targets (which will continue to rise), Canada has become notorious for its inability to turn people into immigrants and citizens without years of unnecessary delay and reams of procedures that can’t be navigated without a lawyer – even if you’re a nanny earning less than minimum wage. Ottawa currently says it has 1.8 million immigration applications stuck in the queue, many lost on the desks of an understaffed and overburdened public service.

A new Immigration Minister, Sean Fraser, was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a few weeks ago. He ought to have one job: to scrap and rebuild the entire system, reducing the off-putting hodgepodge of outdated programs and procedures with a single, understandable and sensible immigration pathway for all applicants that actually serves the country’s needs. If nothing else, the pandemic months have taught us that we need to start afresh.

Source: Opinion: The pandemic exposed Canada’s inefficient immigration system. It needs to be scrapped and rebuilt

A more independent Canadian foreign policy requires embracing bilingualism

While I will leave to others to comment on the foreign policy aspect,  was struck by this para:

“No doubt, Canadians of diverse backgrounds have important contributions to bring to the foreign service. If a candidate brings energy and intellectual heft to the table but cannot speak one of the official languages, this should not constitute an absolute barrier to employment. But those recruits should be required to spend the first year or two of their careers focused almost exclusively on language training.”

Grudging in tone and ignorant in substance. All foreign service officers must be bilingual (CCC) or undertake language training to become so. One can, of course, debate whether CCC is truly bilingual but the requirement is clearly there.

Knowledge of other languages is an asset given the cost of language training, particularly for more difficult languages (I benefitted from Arabic language training during my time at GAC but only achieved an beginner-to-intermediate level):

In the recent controversy over Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau’s language skills, his defenders have advanced the usual arguments: English is the language of international business; knowing French is an asset, but not essential.

Of course, at issue is not whether a unilingual anglophone can be an effective CEO; it is that an inadequate embrace of bilingualism is a national failure. However, a less often appreciated fact is that Canada’s place on the world stage also depends on us embracing our bilingual history and character. More than ever, Canada’s national sovereignty in a changing world needs to be expressed both domestically and internationally, in French and in English.

Many Canadians may feel relieved by the declining visibility of last century’s tortuous national unity debates. However, this has come at the cost of our commitment to conceive of Canada as a shared political community. Our future as a country depends on the ability of francophones to feel that all of Canada is their home.

Moreover, Canada’s core national unity and identity dilemma remains a challenge. But today, it must be addressed in the context of a more complex international environment

Canada’s decades-long national unity struggles unfolded against a mostly consistent international backdrop: the Cold War and its immediate aftermath, during which our country was fortunate to be neighbours with the world’s unquestioned hegemon. By contrast, in today’s world, change is the norm. The rules that will inform the international order of the coming decades are currently being contested and are far from being settled.

In this new and uncertain era, our interests will not always align with those of our southern neighbour. While Washington may wish to compete with Moscow and Beijing in a bid to maintain its position as the world’s pre-eminent power, Ottawa may legitimately fear that unbridled great power competition will destabilize the rules-based international institutions that have buttressed Canada’s economic prosperity and international position for decades.

By embracing its bilingual identity on the world stage more fully, Canada would distinguish itself from its American neighbour and counter its growing reputation as a “vassal state” of the United States.

Canada requires a more independent foreign policy – one in which we are allied to the US but not necessarily aligned on every file of importance. This, in turn, warrants a term-setting mentality: rather than reacting to threats as they unfold, we must identify and stand by our own interests and vision for international order, even at the cost of occasional disagreements with our allies.

We currently lack the foreign policy framework necessary to develop and sustain such an approach. Looking ahead, a renewed commitment to bilingualism – both in Ottawa and among the population at large – can help to change that. And while some assert that the task of enhancing the diversity and representativeness of Canada’s federal institutions should supersede bilingualism, these goals are not mutually exclusive.

No doubt, Canadians of diverse backgrounds have important contributions to bring to the foreign service. If a candidate brings energy and intellectual heft to the table but cannot speak one of the official languages, this should not constitute an absolute barrier to employment. But those recruits should be required to spend the first year or two of their careers focused almost exclusively on language training.

If individuals wish to join our foreign service, or the federal public service more broadly, they must be willing to advance the interests of Canada. Fostering an independent foreign policy is one such interest – and one that cannot occur in a vacuum. It will rely upon the development of a national strategic approach and school of thought fit for a world in transition, replete with its own vocabulary.

Such a task must, in large part, be pursued through the use of both of our own distinctive national languages. The growing Americanization of our political and intellectual culture – owing to factors such as the gravitational pull of U.S. media and the dominance in policy circles of American concepts – casts doubt on whether a Canada that only thinks in English will ever be able to think for itself.

At a time of significant global change, a strengthened commitment to bilingualism would not only infuse our national project with renewed energy at home, but also signal that Canada is willing to set the terms of its international position.

Jean Charest is a partner at McCarthy Tétrault and was premier of Quebec from 2003 to 2012. Zachary Paikin is a research fellow at the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy, a Toronto-based international affairs think tank. Stéphanie Chouinard is associate professor of political science at the Royal Military College and a fellow of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.

Source: A more independent Canadian foreign policy requires embracing bilingualism

Canada’s immigration minister says he wants to look into ‘issue’ of discrimination and bias within department 

Immigration is essentially discriminatory in terms of who we select. The challenge is to ensure that the criteria are as objective and neutral as possible with respect to country of origin:

Canada’s immigration minister says he wants to look into the “issue” of discrimination and unconscious bias within the department tasked with triaging and approving immigration requests to Canada.

“Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve become aware of this issue, and it’s something that I personally want to look into,” Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told reporters Wednesday as he entered a Liberal caucus meeting.

“There’s no secret that over the course of Canada’s history, unconscious bias and systemic racism have been a shameful part of Canada’s history over different aspects of the government’s operations. One of the things that we want to do is make sure that … this kind of unconscious bias doesn’t discriminate against people who come from a particular part of the world.”

Fraser was responding to questions on a recent report in Montreal newspaper Le Devoir that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is increasingly refusing foreign student applications from francophone African countries to Quebec, whereas English-speaking applicants are increasingly approved.

Immigration lawyers quoted in the report stated that IRCC recently refused applications from nearly 100 per cent of students from Maghreb and Western African countries applying to study in Quebec.

Fraser says he’s certain that the department was not consciously discriminating against those countries, but he still wants to look into it to make sure no other factors than those set out in immigration legislation are being considered when assessing requests.

“I certainly don’t think that there’s been a decision actively to pick one country over another. I think there’s certain factors that IRCC officials assess when they’re trying to admit more newcomers to Canada,” Fraser said.

“But it would be silly if I were to stand here and say that in a department of 11,000 people, if you look at the different operations of IRCC, to say that there is no discrimination,” he added.

He also promised to look at ways to bring more, not less, French-speaking students into Canada.

“International students are one of the groups that successfully integrate more and more so than just about any other group of newcomers,” Fraser said. “That’s a good thing, not just for the newcomer to Canada, but for our economy as well.”

Reporters then asked the newly-minted minister if it was ironic that there would be issues of discrimination and conscious or unconscious bias in the department tasked with handling foreign immigration.

“I think there’s a big distinction between what should be and what is,” the minister responded. “I think we need to constantly be looking to make sure that the public has faith in the system.”

In a follow-up statement, Fraser’s press secretary noted that the minister intended to continue the work already launched by IRCC to “eradicate racism” within the department, including creating a task force dedicated to the task “full-time,” mandatory unconscious bias training for employees and executives and appointing an “anti-racism representative” within each sector of the department.

Earlier this year, IRCC published a report based on focus groups of its employees that revealed that there were multiple and repeated reports of racist incidents within the workplace.

“Experiences of racism at IRCC include microaggressions, biases in hiring and promotion as well as biases in the delivery of IRCCs programs, policies and client service,” reads a summary of the findings, which were first reported by CBC last month.

“In addition, employees paint a picture of an organization fraught with challenges at the level of workplace culture” and a “history of racism going unchecked.”

For example, the report notes that an IRCC team leader was said to have “loudly” declared that colonialism was “good” and that “if ‘the natives’ wanted the land they should have just stood up.

In another case, non-racialized employees and supervisors were notoriously known to refer to parts of the department employing a higher number of racialized employees as “the ghetto.”

Participants also noted “widespread” internal references to certain African nations as “the dirty 30.”


Far-right groups like The Base will radicalise Australians until we confront their beliefs

Perspective of interest:

As one of the reporters who worked to uncover the operations of white power accelerationist group, The Base, I view the Australian federal government’s listing of them as a proscribed terror groupthis week as a belated but important recognition of the danger presented by white supremacist organisations.

But the national security state is a blunt instrument, and the apparatus of anti-terrorism is no substitute for making anti-racism principles central to a more inclusive democracy.

At its height, The Base was a transnational network of white nationalists who were seeking to collectively plan and prepare for what they saw as the inevitable collapse of liberal democracies they saw as decadent and corrupted by the values of feminism and multiculturalism.

In the Guardian US, I was the first reporter to identify Rinaldo Nazzaro, an American former US intelligence contractor now based in Russia, as the group’s founder and leader.

Previously he had only been known by the aliases Norman Spear and Roman Wolf.

An infiltrator gave me unprecedented access to the group’s internal communications. There I saw that although their group claimed only to be preparing for disaster, their conversations functioned to further indoctrinate members in a poisonous ideology of racial hatred, and the group’s relentlessly repeated fantasies of terroristic violence, for some of them, translated into real-world acts of destruction.

Members of the group are now facing trial for offences ranging from vandalising synagogues to assassination plots

Late last month, one member, former Canadian serviceman Patrik Mathews, was sentenced to nine years in federal prison for engaging in a terror plot with other members of the group.

Later, I showed how The Base’s efforts to recruit in Australia had led to them vetting Dean Smith in 2019, who was a federal election candidate for One Nation in Western Australia the same year. Smith ended up withdrawing his application and there is no evidence he has engaged in or planned any violence.

Source: Far-right groups like The Base will radicalise Australians until we confront their beliefs