Andrew Coyne: Why does Andrew Scheer find it so difficult to say the right thing?

Coyne nails it:

Hours later, Andrew Scheer said the things he should have said the first time.

Responding to the horrific massacre of Muslims at prayer in New Zealand, the Conservative leader issued a statement Friday afternoon expressing his “profound condemnation of this cowardly and hateful attack on the Muslim community” along with “the type of extreme and vile hatred that motivated this despicable act of evil.” He added: “To the Muslim community around the world and here at home in Canada, we stand with you.”

It was spot on: straightforward, fitting and right. It was also about 15 hours too late, coming as it did only after Scheer had come under intense criticism for the inadequacy of his first response, which spoke vaguely of an attack on “freedom” and unspecified “worshippers.” The appositeness of the second only highlighted the strange, withholding coldness of the first.

We cannot know exactly what explains that initial, catastrophic choice of words. But neither is Scheer automatically entitled to the benefit of the doubt. Politicians are in the business of being politic, of saying the right thing at the right time, and nothing goes out over their name without a great deal of thought, not to say calculation.

Other party leaders managed to name the victims — Muslims — and the beliefs — white supremacism, Islamophobia, the familiar, toxic mix of racism, xenophobia and hatred that so often finds Muslims as its target — involved in what was self-evidently an act of terrorism. Why on earth couldn’t Scheer?

The suspicion that this was no accident is not unreasonable, given Scheer’s past statements and actions. Perhaps he truly did not hear the questioner at a recent town hall who invoked “pizzagate,” the lunatic conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was connected to a child sex ring supposedly operating out of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria.

But nothing required him to speak at last month’s “United We Roll” rally on Parliament Hill, whose stated purpose — to protest federal environmental policies on behalf of unemployed workers in the oil industry — may have been legitimate, but which had clearly been infiltrated by anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant elements. At the very least, he might have taken the opportunity of his appearance to denounce these views. He did not.

Just as disturbing was Scheer’s recent endorsement of conspiracy-minded interpretations of a United Nations document called the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, an unenforceable statement of good intentions with regard to the handling of immigrants and refugees to which most of the world’s nations agreed last year.

This, on top of his party’s unceasing alarmism on the subject of the asylum seekers entering Canada illegally via our southern border — a legitimate issue, to be sure, and one on which the government may deserve criticism, but nothing like the existential “crisis” of so much Conservative rhetoric.

And before that there was the hysteria over M-103, a non-binding motion — not a bill — condemning Islamophobia that was somehow elevated, via the panic mills of the populist right, into an assault on freedom of speech worthy of a police state. The motion passed two years ago. Not one person has since been carted off for criticizing Islam or faced sanctions of any kind because of M-103.

And before that there was the gratuitous ban on face-coverings at citizenship ceremonies. And the “barbaric practices” snitch line. The federal Conservatives are not by any means the only party to pander to racial and religious intolerance — Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals won an election in Ontario in 2007 on a coded anti-Muslim fear campaign, while the government of Quebec’s baiting of the province’s religious minorities enjoys near all-party support — but they are surely the most consistent. Or were, until Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party came along.

And it seems to be growing worse: as xenophobic and anti-Muslim rhetoric is normalized by repetition on social media and other online sites — most notoriously The Rebel — so a certain section of the public has been radicalized, persuaded that only “globalists” and other elites could oppose such disgraceful sentiments. Exploiting public fears of immigrants and minorities has a long and dishonourable tradition in this country. But exactly what kind of voter did Scheer worry would be put off by explicitly naming the sole victims and declared targets of a mass murderer?

That all of this is happening in the wake of the 2017 murders at a Quebec City mosque — the New Zealand attacker cited it as a model — makes this winking indulgence of the worst elements of the populist right particularly reprehensible.

Obviously neither Scheer nor The Rebel is responsible, in themselves, for the actions of terrorists. But they can be held to account for their part in creating the climate of opinion in which extremists flourish and madmen find inspiration. After Christchurch, after Quebec City, after Brevik and other atrocities, this is hardly a theoretical concern.

None of this is to justify further limits on free speech: we lack the kind of certainty about cause and effect that would even begin to make a case for legal restrictions, and we know from long experience how such laws can be abused. But all of us are morally responsible for the things we say, or do not say. Each of us is part of a moral order it is our duty to sustain — political leaders most of all.

This isn’t about censorship, or political correctness. It’s about judgment, and choices. Scheer has been too eager to appease, or too afraid to offend, a section of opinion that is at best filled with fear and at worst filled with hate. Now would be a good time for him to stop.

Source: Andrew Coyne: Why does Andrew Scheer find it so difficult to say the right thing?

Our Brother, Our Executioner

Good commentary by Aziz:

Whenever someone used to ask me if I was Muslim, I often gave an evasive answer, something like, “I was born Muslim” or “My parents are Muslim.”

It was a strange way to phrase it. I told myself that the purpose of this hairsplitting was intellectual clarity, despite the fact that I had attended a mosque my entire childhood, that I had read the Quran in both Arabic and English, and that I felt personally connected to the history of Islam. Perhaps this was the natural recourse for someone who came of age after 9/11 and was taught to retreat into invisibility because of the dangers of being Muslim. I knew, in my heart, that I was drawing the distinction only to appear safer to white people, to show that I was one of the good ones, worthy of belonging.

This was not just respectability politics: It was an act of self-erasure.

On Friday, nearly 50 of my fellow Muslims were massacred in cold blood in New Zealand. Not murdered but lynched, their deaths live-streamed to the sound of laughter. I long ago ceased to feel shocked at the violence directed against my community. But the heartbreak still comes.

The killer knew which day to pick. Friday is the Islamic Sabbath, when Muslims gather in the mosque to bow their heads in devotion to the divine. As they prayed, they might have been thinking about their children at school or what to make for dinner, unaware that soon their loved ones would be washing their bodies in accordance with Islamic tradition, preparing for the funeral prayer, the only one in Islam that has no Athan, or call to prayer, because the Athan was recited into their ears when they were born. When these Muslims saw the white stranger enter the mosque, they would have had the Islamic greeting on their tongues: “Assalamu alaikum.” Peace be upon you.

We know from the terrorist’s recording that one of his first victims welcomed him with the words “Hello, brother.” Muslims have long been depicted as an uncivilized, warlike people, but the opposite is true. We want to belong, to be good neighbors, to call the white man who enters our place of worship our brother. Instead he turned out to be our executioner.

The Muslims at the two New Zealand mosques were liquidated not just by a man filled with hatred, but by the ideas that he clung to, ideas about racial superiority and who his country belonged to. This was true in Quebec, when Muslims were gunned down in their mosque in 2017. It was true in Pittsburgh, when Jews who had been helping Muslim refugees were murdered in their synagogue in 2018. It was true in Norway, when 77 people were killed by a white bigot. It was true in Charleston, when black churchgoers were mowed down by another radicalized white man. A pathology of hatred has spread around the world, and it has put all our lives at risk.

Islamophobia is not a fringe problem: It is embedded in much of Western society. For over two decades now — the span of an entire generation — the whole Muslim community has been forced to accept collective guilt and punishment for every act of terror or violence committed by one of its members. Never would, or should, this standard be applied to white people, who seem to have kept the privilege of individual differentiation for themselves.

This is what those who are suspicious of Muslims cannot grasp: that the definition of racism is an inability to discriminate between the old man with the skullcap and beard before you and the suicide-bomber you saw on TV.

And yet people with millions of online followers have been incessantly preaching that Islamophobia is not the problem; Islam is. The Canadian intellectual Jordan Peterson has said that Islamophobia is a “word created by fascists.” The neuroscientist Sam Harris called it an “intellectual blood libel” that serves only to shield Islam from criticism. After I wrote a series of articles critical of Mr. Harris, a young white man from California emailed me to tell me he carried a gun — what kind did I carry? he asked.

If Islam is the problem, perhaps we should keep an eye on these Muslims. Send patrols into their neighborhoods. Make them prove that they are not terrorists. Ban them, as President Trump wanted. Ideas are not harmless: They are taken seriously by thousands of people. If only one person applies these deranged ideas about the other to the real world, we get a mass-murder like the one we just witnessed.

I greet a neighbor; he smiles and wishes me a good day. How do I know that once he turns on his computer, he isn’t pumping himself full of hatred of me and my people, raging in the dark cesspools of the web, venting his frustration that we even exist, and how dare we try and belong? Racism begins with ideas. It ends with violence.

When I saw the news from New Zealand, and thought of the number of times I have erased my Muslim identity, I shook with anger. When I thought of the number of times I have let casual racism toward Muslims slide, so not to come off as threatening, I shuddered in anguish. There was a time when I was ashamed of my religion, ashamed of my heritage. Now I am ashamed only of having once felt this way.

“If one is attacked as a Jew,” Hannah Arendt wrote, “one must defend oneself as a Jew.” When you are attacked as a Muslim, you must respond as a Muslim. And today, we are all Muslims — all of us who are committed to the light of our civilization, to peace, to saving our society from the primitive barbarism of such poisoned, inadequate minds.

Omer Aziz is the author of the forthcoming “Brown Boy: A Story of Race, Religion, and Inheritance.”

In Australia, Anti-Immigrant Racism Is Everywhere

While we often, in immigration and citizenship policy, compare ourselves with Australia, the political culture and overall dynamics are quite different, even if we also see mainstream Canadian politicians flirting with the far right or presenting their positions in a somewhat xenophobic manner:

Words from a vile manifesto, written by an Australian, have been floating around the internet following the New Zealand terrorist attack that saw 49 people killed at mosques during Friday prayers.

It calls Islam a “savage belief” and the “religious equivalent of fascism.” “Worldwide, Muslims are killing people in the name of their faith on an industrial scale,” it reads. “The entire religion of Islam is simply the violent ideology of a sixth century despot masquerading as a religious leader, which justifies endless war against anyone who opposes it and calls for the murder of unbelievers and apostates.”

But it wasn’t written by the alleged shooter, Australian citizen Brenton Tarrant. It was written by an Australian politician.

Sen. Fraser Anning also tweeted, even before Friday’s death toll was public, “Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?” That link is Fraser Anning, and people like him.

Anning—the Aussie Steve King, perhaps—is a now-independent senator who is too racist even for the extremely racist party that elected him. Elected in 2017 as a One Nation party replacement candidate (after “free speech” crusader Malcolm Roberts was caught up in the citizenship debacle), Anning chose to sit as an independent, then opted to join another fringe party, until he was kicked out of that one too, for his infamous speech calling for a “final solution” to the Muslim immigration problem.

His latest comments have been roundly condemned by everyone in Australian politics—by the prime minister, the recent ex–prime minister, the soon-to-be prime minister. Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted that Anning’s comments were “disgusting” and “have no place in Australia, let alone the Australian Parliament.”

Anning and Tarrant may be extremists, but they are extreme representatives and undeniable products of a racist Australian culture—one that is at best quietly tolerated and at worst wildly stoked by politicians, not to mention a Rupert Murdoch–fueled mass media. Whether it’s demonizing asylum-seekers, demonizing African youths, demonizing Indigenous Australians, or demonizing Muslims, racism is insidious in the mainstream culture.

Note that while Anning’s 2018 final solution speech was condemned, he wasn’t removed from Parliament over it. A man who made an approving Hitler reference remains an Australian senator, a tacit endorsement of his bigotry. Politicians are falling over themselves to condemn Anning now, amid another open show of racism, but there seems to be no rush to condemn the dog whistle kind going on in the media every single day.

The alt-right has a strong presence Down Under, inviting figures like Milo Yiannopoulos to speak and holding fascist rallies—one of which Anning defended attending earlier this year. (Anning was also expected to address a meeting of neo-Nazis with Hitler fan Blair Cottrell later this weekend.) It’s alive and thriving online, a community that Tarrant was reportedly a part of. This report dives into one of the favorite memes of the Australian far right, one recently used by Tarrant both on the forum 8chan and on Twitter. It shows a highly stereotypical Aussie bloke, wearing Outback get-up, brandishing the bottle of a popular Aussie beer, with the caption “hold still while I glass you.” The same meme is frequently used by the Dingoes, an online group known for anti-Semitic views. Lest you think this is a murky subculture, a onetime Labor Party leader has appeared on the Dingoes’ podcast. That leader, Mark Latham, is now a One Nation candidate.

Latham, admittedly, has fallen far in the years he has been out of politics. But this excellent tweet thread from Guardian columnist Jason Wilson, who covers the far right, chronicles the horrific racism even mainstream figures have engaged in. “Remember when the Australian Senate almost passed a literal white nationalist meme?” he tweeted. “Remember all the free media Milo and Lauren Southern got? Remember ‘African Gangs’? Remember ‘white farmers’? Remember the Soros conspiracy theories during the SSM referendum?”

I don’t speak for all Aussies when I say I was not surprised to learn the shooter in the mosque attack was an Australian—but I do speak for many. Tarrant may have been radicalized online, but he was emboldened by the words surrounding him on national platforms, by right-wing commentators writing in major newspapers that a “tidal wave of immigrants sweeps away our national identity” (this from one of the most well-known “journalists” in Australia). His article was called “The Foreign Invasion.” Tarrant’s manifesto is called “The Great Replacement.”

Other parts of Tarrant’s manifesto echo words by other public figures. Australia, you may recall, is not in Europe, but Tarrant refers to himself as European and treats Australia as an outpost of Europe. One recent former prime minister seems a little obsessed with Australia being part of “the Anglosphere,” while Anning was ultimately kicked out of his second party for continuing to distinguish between “European” and “non-European” migration.

The nationality of the other suspects has not yet been revealed, so it’s hard to speculate on any extent to which New Zealand’s own alt-right was involved. I often tell Americans that New Zealand is Australia’s Canada, a better, more progressive version of Australia with a reputation as a welcoming place. The relationship between white and indigenous New Zealanders is much better than that of many colonial societies, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. Ironically, the National Front, a far-right group with only about 1,000 members, is said to have been influenced by the Canadian alt-right—the Lauren Southerns and Stefan Molyneuxes and Jordan Petersons—to adopt a “pseudo-academia, clean-cut appearances.” New Zealand journalist Paula Penfold spoke to i24 on Friday, saying that while New Zealand is not known for hate crimes or mass violence, “there has been knowledge of white supremacy in Christchurch for some decades now. We’ve never seen violence like this, but there is a sense now that this is a situation that has been building.”

As Joshua Keating noted Friday, “New Zealand has had one of the fastest-growing immigration populations among developed countries in recent years, much of it from Asia. This has led to at least some political backlash, with [Winston] Peters’ New Zealand First party calling for immigration restrictions and accused of fomenting racism. Police clashed with right-wing nationalists who rallied outside the Parliament in Wellington in 2017.”

The world is again in shock, but it’s no surprise that Tarrant was Australian. After all, as he wrote in his manifesto, he was a “regular white man from a regular family.” So true.

Source: In Australia, Anti-Immigrant Racism Is Everywhere

Why Is the Vatican Opening the Files on ‘Hitler’s Pope’?

Interesting analysis of this major and overdue decision:

When Pope Francis announced that he’d be opening the Vatican’s secret archives from the World War II papacy of Pius XII, many wondered, “Why now?”

Papal archives traditionally are opened at least 70 years after a pope’s death, meaning no one expected the secrets of Pius XII, who died in 1958, to be made accessible until 2028.

By deciding to open them on May 2, 2020, Francis seems to be sending a message, though no one is quite certain just what that is.

— Plaque on a building where Jews were held in sight of the Vatican walls

In his announcement, Francis acknowledged that the archives of Pius, who is often dubbed “Hitler’s Pope,” may not be entirely favorable, but he claimed the Church is “not afraid of history.” He said Pius had “moments of grave difficulties, tormented decisions of human and Christian prudence, that to some could appear as reticence.”

Whatever might be revealed in the secret archives, it remains an indisputable fact that thousands of Jewish people were pulled from their homes in Rome and taken to the concentration camps under the shadow of the Vatican. A poignant plaque on the Via Lungara, just a stone’s throw from the gates of Vatican City, still commemorates one of the most horrific incidents: “On 16 October 1943 entire Jewish Roman families were ripped from their homes and brought to this place and then deported to concentration camps. Of more than 2,000 people, only 16 survived.”

Rabbi Abraham Skorka, an Argentine rabbi and professor at the St. Joseph’s University Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations in Philadelphia, is a longtime friend of the pope from the pontiff’s days as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in Buenos Aires. The two co-authored the 2000 book on contemporary theology On Heaven and Earth.

Skorka told The Daily Beast he is “not sure opening the archives will substantially modify the polemic” that still rages regarding the wartime actions of Pius XII, who some Catholics claim may actually have helped save Jewish lives by notcondemning Hitler publicly.

But Skorka says the simple answer is: promises made, promises kept. “He said he’d do it. It is that simple. This is further evidence of the commitment Bergoglio has with the truth itself, more than with the results that may emerge from any investigation of the material.”

Francis, who met with a delegation from the American Jewish Committee the day after announcing the opening of the archives in Rome, lamented recent incidents of anti-Semitism as part of a “climate of wickedness and fury, in which an excessive and depraved hatred is taking root.”

According to Skorka, “What Bergoglio says is, ‘We have to open the archives and see what really happened and the truth must flourish in all its aspects.’ He’s saying, ‘Let us move ahead and learn from history.’”

Francis said he is sure that upon further study, scholars would find “during periods of the greatest darkness and cruelty, the small flame lit of humanitarian initiatives, of hidden but active diplomacy.”

But Lorenzo Cremonesi, a member of the Vatican-appointed commission of Catholics and Jews that, in 2000, revealed that Pius XII knew about the Holocaust as early as June 1942, cautioned against giving the Catholic Church credit for “the initiatives of local churches in many countries who on their own took action to save Jews.”

“Church machinery,” he said, was something else.

Pius has been stalled on the Vatican trajectory towards sainthood since Pope Benedict XVI, a German, endorsed him in 2009 and thus made him “venerable.” Benedict was just 12 years old when Pius was elected, and he often has referred to him as “my first pope.” Benedict has been a long-time backer of Pius’s innocence during the war, and instead has consistently said that the pope worked behind the scenes to protect Jews.

Some believe the opening of these archives early is a special favor to the retired pope, whose health has been failing since he resigned in 2013. If the archives prove that Pius did work to protect Jews, his cause for sainthood would surely advance–he already has several miracles credited to him. A Vatican source told The Daily Beast that Benedict would love to be alive for the beatification of Pius, but that won’t happen until the archives of his papacy are opened.

For the old group of Argentine friends that remain in close contact with the current pope, Pius’ reputation seems of lesser interest than that of Francis. And Benedict’s legacy is of even less interest.

Another of Bergoglio’s old friends from Buenos Aires, Alberto Zimerman, head of interreligious dialogue for the umbrella association of Jewish organizations in Argentina (DAIA), said that Francis had decided upon this “risky course for the church” not having seen any of the classified documents himself.

“We could find anything there,” Zimerman told The Daily Beast, invoking the pope’s willingness to “undertake any challenge.”

For decades, scholars studying the World War II pope’s actions have argued that the Vatican did nothing to stop the atrocities, and while some Catholics tout Pius’s “secret diplomacy,” many Jews see it quite differently.

Rabbi David Rosen, the International Director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, who has advocated for the archives’ opening for more than 30 years, and who met with Pope Francis last week, said that there was only “the greatest respect and collaboration” between Jewish groups and the Vatican team now cataloging the documents. But “in the end,” he told The Daily Beast, “there is a debate between the church and the Jewish people regarding what Pius XII did.”

“For the Catholic Church, he made a tactical decision he thought would be best,” Rosen says. “For Jews, the very thought that anything could be worse than the Holocaust means we will never have a shared historical view of this moment.”

Rosen specified that there are questions of historical fact still “lacking in clarity,” including “instructions emitted from the Vatican, areas where Pius XII may have been directly involved, and information transmitted and actions taken, not necessarily by the pope but by other agencies of the Vatican.”

The same Jewish group that met Francis in Rome last week has, for years, pressured the Vatican to reveal what many assume will be Pius XII’s blind eye to the atrocities that unfolded under the reign of both Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini during his papacy.

In a recent radio interview, David Kertzer, author of The Pope and Mussolini, likened the church’s approach to the atrocities of the Holocaust to those of the clerical sex abuse scandal now ravaging the church’s reputation.

“In this case maybe there’s some parallel to the more recent pederasty sex scandal in the Church,” Kertzer said. “The perspective of the Vatican was largely ‘the first priority has to be to protect the institutional Church and everything else comes second.’”

Kertzer told The Daily Beast that he would be among the first to visit the archives. He believes Pius was concerned that the Nazi regime would work against the church and so did what they could to work against its power base without taking into account the helpless victims caught in the middle. “I think we may well find more documentation that will show that this is exactly the kind of consideration that was overriding the Pope’s decision making at the time.”

Opening the archives will not satisfy everyone.  I think they will hide a lot of things,” says Cremonesi, a special envoy for the Italian daily Corriere della Sera and an expert on Vatican-Jewish relations. “We know that Pius XII was very open to the German cause—not to Hitler—but to Germany, because he saw the Germans as a bastion against the Communists, and the Communists were the primary concern of the Vatican.”

Explaining the church’s indifference to the genocide of European Jewry, Cremonesi said, “Pius really believed that the only good Jew was a converted Jew.”

Rabbi Israel Zolli, the Chief Rabbi of Rome, who famously survived the war under Vatican protection and later converted to Catholicism, “was the paragon for Pius,” Cremonesi says. “Perfection.”

While it will take a year for the Vatican to catalogue the hundreds of thousands of documents, there is still worry that the Vatican won’t be entirely up front. The entire archives are already indexed, a librarian with the Vatican archives told The Daily Beast on background. There would, in essence, be no way to cover up huge gaps since many historians are going to be checking the files against already available documents–unless those record were destroyed long ago.

Many countries that had diplomatic relations with the Holy See during World War II have already made those documents available. Now scholars want to know what internal memos the Vatican attached to notes it received at the time concerned that the Vatican was not doing enough.

“We know the attitude of the church,” Cremonesi said, using as an example the 1904 encounter between Pius X and Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, who described the meeting in a detailed diary entry.

“When you go to the Vatican to look it up, there’s nothing,” Cremonesi said, chuckling. “No little note like you find in British archives saying ‘document classified,’ or even a line saying ‘this morning his Holiness held meetings.’ There is nothing.”

“I put my hands in fire,” he says: “If there is anything annoying in those papers, the Vatican will not reveal it.”

Skorka noted that Francis, 82, the first non-European pope, grew up in the melting pot of Buenos Aires, with Jewish friends from childhood. He recalled that during the conversations that led to the publication of their book, Bergoglio said that of the “many genocides in the 20th century”—he mentioned the Armenians—”the genocide of the Jews is singular. It set about to eliminate the Jewish people and the spirituality that transcended from its history.”

“For people like him and me, who believe in the God of Israel, it means the Holocaust was an attempt to destroy this God on earth,” Skorka said.

Pope Francis’ decision to open the Vatican archive, Skorka implied, is an attempt to restore that God for humanity.

Source: Why Is the Vatican Opening the Files on ‘Hitler’s Pope’?

Islamic State women defiant in face of lost caliphate

More relevant reporting:

As the battle against the Islamic State (IS) group in eastern Syria enters its final stages, the BBC’s Jewan Abdi says the mood amongst many of the jihadists’ supporters who have left the area, including many women, remains defiant.

The encampment in the village of Baghuz is barely more than a few holes in the dirt covered with blankets. It is squalid and filthy.

But above it flies the black Islamic State flag, fresh and clean. IS fighters had raised it only the day before, an act of defiance in the face of overwhelming odds.

“That’s a sign they will fight,” says a soldier belonging to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on the front lines battling the jihadists.

Just 24 hours later the battle resumed. It was the end of a ceasefire that had seen more than 12,000 leave in the preceding few days.

One day last week in the early morning, more than 20 trucks led by Humvees armed with machine guns went inside the tiny IS enclave to evacuate jihadist fighters and their families.

I followed these vehicles on their return journey to the desert where they were checked, separated, and sent on to camps run by the SDF forces. One military commander told me the total number of people evacuated was about 7,000.

The hunger and anger was evident on their faces. As I walked among them with my camera, trying to talk to them and film, several IS women suddenly attacked me and threw stones, dust and cans.

“Go film the brothers, don’t come here. Go. Leave. Go film them, we’re the woman of the Islamic State, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar (God is greatest),” they said.

A few weeks ago, the SDF estimated the number of IS families and fighters left remaining in Baghuz to be between 1,500 and 2,000 people. But in just two days last week, 9,000 people emerged.

The final territory under IS’s control may be on its last legs in Syria, but the ideology remains strong among those who have left.

Many of the IS women I encountered threatened of violent jihad and raising their children to become jihadist fighters.

Two captors for one woman

Among the thousands of people turning up out of Baghuz, I also found victims of IS’s notorious brutality, including one Yazidi woman called Adiba.

A mother of two, Adiba was enslaved for five years after IS attacked her small village in Sinjar, northern Iraq, in 2014.

Her husband was one of the hundreds of Yazidi men killed by the jihadist group, and she – like thousands of Yazidi women – was forced to convert to Islam and was used as a sex slave.

She says she was enslaved by a Moroccan man who beat her constantly and raped her. He was the father of her two-year-old child.

“I had to marry him. When we were alone he wasn’t good to me, he was always angry with me, but in front of people he treated me well,” Adiba tells me.

After Adiba’s first captor died, she was taken by another Moroccan man named Ahmed – orders she says came from her first captor in the event of his death.

Ahmed, who surrendered to the SDF last week, has denied enslaving Adiba.

Most of the people evacuated from Baghuz recently, including many foreigners who travelled to Syria and Iraq to live under IS rule, have been transported to the SDF-controlled camp al-Hol, in the north-east of the country.

The camp was designed to accommodate 20,000 people but the UN says conditions there are dire as the numbers have risen to more than 66,000.

The global dream of an Islamic State caliphate – a state governed in accordance with Islamic law – is on the brink of collapse, with most of its leadership gone and many captured by the SDF and coalition forces.

Hundreds of IS fighters have surrendered. Separated from their families, they sit in long queues in an area inaccessible to journalists, where US Special Forces and SDF soldiers interrogate them and send them on to detention centres and prisons under Kurdish control.

After losing their self-proclaimed caliphate, a sense of sadness, anger and indignation was clear among these fighters who are stuck in the middle of the desert, waiting to be moved into detention camps, away from their wives and children.

Source: Islamic State women defiant in face of lost caliphate

Passed over, bullied, mistaken for janitorial staff. Black women sue Ontario public service alleging systemic racism

A case to watch:

Two Black women employed by the Ontario public service (OPS) are suing their unions and the provincial government, alleging they suffered years of systemic racism and discrimination while their complaints were ignored, disbelieved or met with reprisals — and ultimately led to them being suspended or forced from the workplace.

In a statement of claim filed Feb. 25 with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Jean-Marie Dixon and Hentrose Nelson accuse the provincial government of allowing an organizational culture that “fosters racism, dysfunction, discrimination, harassment, racial bullying, and abuse of authority/power.”

“Anti-Black racism, and racism in general, along with white privilege and white supremacy, are pervasive and entrenched within the OPS,” they allege, referring to the government workforce of more than 65,000 public servants employed by ministries, agencies and Crown corporations. (According to a glossary in their lawsuit, they define white supremacy as a “racist belief that white people are superior,” which is “ever-present in our institutional and cultural assumptions” and confers structural advantages to white people.)

They further allege that despite ongoing efforts to seek help from senior management, “Black and racialized employees, particularly Black women, continue to be subjected to individual, systemic, and institutional racial discrimination and racial harassment.”

Their unions, meanwhile, have failed to adequately represent them because they are influenced by the same “culture of systemic and institutional anti-Black racism,” according to their statement of claim.

Dixon and Nelson’s legal action comes one year after they organized a meetingbetween several OPS employees and government officials that triggered a temporary halt on the suspension of racialized employees — a moratorium that was quietly lifted in July.

Their lawsuit also intends to challenge the way these kinds of allegations are handled in Canada. Many of their claims relate to issues covered by their collective bargaining agreements, but the “law is designed to keep these sorts of disputes … out of the courts and sent instead to expert labour and human rights tribunals,” says David Doorey, a labour and employment law professor with York University who is not involved with the lawsuit.

But Dixon and Nelson allege their many attempts to seek justice — including through their unions, internal workplace processes and the human rights tribunal — have been “ineffective” so their “only viable recourse” is through the courts.

“It’s been very, very traumatic,” Dixon said in an interview. “When you’ve worked so hard, as I’ve worked — I put myself through school, I got here on my own and on my own merit. And someone can take that from you.”

“No dollar amount could fix the irreparable damage,” Nelson said. “I think about how my life has been altered; I can’t get it back.”

The lawsuit’s allegations have not been tested in court and the respondents — the provincial government, Association of Law Officers of the Crown (ALOC), and Association of Management, Administrative and Professional Crown Employees (AMAPCEO) — have yet to file statements of defence.

When reached by the Star, government spokesperson Craig Sumi with the cabinet office declined to comment on a matter subject to legal action but said “ending system (sic) racism” is a top priority.

“While the organization has made a lot of progress, we continue to hear that OPS programs and policies are not addressing the concerns of racialized employees, particularly Indigenous and Black employees,” Sumi said in an email. “The organization is committed to working with our employee networks to make significant progress toward building a more diverse, inclusive workplace where everyone feels comfortable and welcome and is able to fully contribute.”

Both unions named in the lawsuit said they take discrimination complaints “very seriously” and will continue to represent Dixon and Nelson, who remain members. But ALOC “strongly denies” allegations that it discriminated against Dixon and “will defend itself before the courts,” president Megan Peck wrote in an email.

“In representing Ms. Dixon, ALOC has always acted, and will continue to act in accordance with its legal responsibilities, which include the duty to represent Ms. Dixon without discrimination,” Peck said.

A spokesperson for AMAPCEO, Anthony Schein, declined to comment on Nelson’s case but said as a policy matter, the union’s view is that the OPS “continues to struggle with systemic discrimination.”

“For decades, AMAPCEO has been advocating for the OPS employer to end systemic discrimination within the OPS and promote equity in our members’ workplaces,” he wrote. “To this end, AMAPCEO ably responds to individual members’ situations through our dispute resolution process. We also push the employer to address systemic issues.”

In their 113-page statement of claim, Dixon and Nelson allege a pattern of anti-Black racism and harassment that followed them across departments and persisted throughout their public service careers.

Dixon and Nelson, both in their 40s, joined the OPS in 2002 and 2004, respectively. Dixon is a single mom and lawyer with the Ministry of the Attorney General whose office deals with seized property stemming from illegal activity. Nelson, a married mother of three, most recently worked for the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, where at one point she was “the only Black employee in an administrative role,” she writes in her claim.

Both women allege the racism they experienced took many forms, everything from bullying and micro-aggressions to racist comments, including from a white female manager who said she “feared” Black women and a colleague who complained about the “face” of the office changing after racialized women were newly hired.

Despite being diligent employees, they were denied professional opportunities, over-scrutinized and subjected to “anti-Black stereotypes and tropes,” according to their claim. Nelson, whose most senior role involved financial reporting and budget management, alleges she was once mistaken for janitorial staff and routinely given “office housework” that wasn’t assigned to non-Black staff — for example, cleaning a dirty basement storage room, or ordering taxi chits and monitoring print supplies, “while a white woman, junior to Hentrose, assumed more meaningful responsibilities.”

Dixon alleges she was also treated with unnecessary suspicion (for example, she was not trusted to maintain custody of valuable credit cards that had been seized for a case she was working on) and “unwarrantedly” labelled as “loud,” “rude” and “aggressive.” At one point, according to her claim, another Black lawyer told Dixon her office colleagues were “organizing or orchestrating acts of discrimination and harassment against her” and told him to “participate in marginalizing Jean-Marie or he would receive the same negative treatment.”

Both women sought help from managers, filed complaints with an internal workplace discrimination program, and grieved through their unions. But according to the claim, none of these measures were effective and speaking up only made matters worse.

Nelson alleges that “as a result of anti-Black racism,” she was demoted to a junior position in 2015 and ultimately forced from the workplace by “mobbing, harassment, discrimination, hostility and ongoing mistreatment.” According to her claim, she also became critically ill in 2011 and delivered her baby prematurely at six months.

Dixon alleges her complaints of anti-Black racism were interpreted as “reverse racism” against Caucasian people and caused her displacement across four ministries. According to her claim, managers eventually “engaged in reprisal” by initiating a workplace complaint against her on behalf of staff who “made false allegations” about her conduct — a complaint that led to her suspension in 2016.

Neither have since returned to work. Nelson is currently on an unpaid leave of absence and Dixon, despite being reinstated in October 2017, says she has been unable to return to work due to a workplace-induced disability. She is still being paid, however.

Both women allege they are now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, loss of income and other harms, and are seeking $26 million in damages, along with several public interest remedies.

When reached by email, their lawyer Ranjan Agarwal with the firm Bennett Jones, declined to comment on active litigation.

In recent years, OPS leadership has acknowledged the equity challenges within its own ranks, where racialized workers comprise 23 per cent of the workforce but only 17 per cent of directors, 12 per cent of assistant or associate deputy ministers, and 9 per cent of deputy ministers, according to a 2017 “diversity and inclusion” report. “To create an equitable OPS, we need to recognize that there are systemic racism barriers that prevent people from reaching their full potential,” the OPS stated in its anti-racism policy, released last year under then-secretary of cabinet Steve Orsini, who retired in January.

The anti-racism policy found that 23 per cent of Indigenous employees and 25 per cent of Black employees reported experiencing discrimination, compared to just 13 per cent of the general OPS population. Employee survey results have pointed to systemic issues as well and in 2017, Black employees reported discrimination at nearly twice the rate of OPS employees generally. Last year, according to more than 3,600 survey respondents, race was the leading cause of discrimination next to age.

A Star analysis of data obtained through freedom of information legislation also shows that provincial ministries were named in at least 136 complaints filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario between mid-2008 and 2017, where someone alleged employment discrimination based on race, ancestry, colour, ethnic origin or place of origin. These accounted for roughly a quarter of all employment-related human rights complaints filed against the Ontario government during this time period.

Black employees have been particularly vocal in raising concerns through various forums, including town hall meetings organized by the Black Ontario Public Service Employees Network. On Jan. 18, 2018, more than 20 Black employees, including Dixon and Nelson, also confronted government officials face-to-face, including Liberal MPP Michael Coteau, who was then leading Ontario’s anti-racism directorate.

During the emotional meeting, the group of mostly Black women described experiencing racism on the job and being systematically passed over for opportunities. They said their concerns were ignored or mishandled by senior managers and, in many cases, led to their own suspensions or firings.

“These people that are putting us through this … none of them are ever demoted. We are fired,” one woman said in a video of the meeting posted online. “There’s a lot of Black people in the same position as I am, where they have ambition and they want to be promoted, and they’re not promoted at the same levels as our white counterparts.”

At the meeting, the group demanded a moratorium on the suspension of racialized employees — which was publicly announced the following day by Orsini. Behind the scenes, his office also emailed government ministries to request a list of cases where “someone we presume to be a racialized employee is suspended or off work,” according to internal documents obtained through a freedom of information request. About a week later, 52 cases had been identified.

Sumi said the moratorium allowed the government’s Public Service Commission to “assess the scope of the issue” while providing a central mechanism to assess new cases involving possible suspensions. It was formally lifted on July 27, 2018 after the government completed its review, he said.

In their statement of claim, Dixon and Nelson point to numerous reports, surveys and investigations that suggest the government’s efforts to address systemic racism within the OPS have “proven futile.”

Among them is a confidential 2017 report leaked to the Star, which described a “toxic” work culture within the Ministry of the Attorney General’s civil law division, where Dixon’s office is based. According to Leslie Macleod, a lawyer and former bureaucrat hired by the government to conduct the report, racialized staff within the division reported being marginalized, over-scrutinized, and “perceived and treated as less able than their white counterparts.”

Some racialized staff were told they “got in” because of their race and people felt “unsafe and targeted by colleagues and insufficiently supported by management,” Macleod found. Racialized women felt particularly disadvantaged, she added.

“It was said that when racialized women do get good files, there is an undercurrent of ‘why is she getting good files?’ — something that is not questioned when a senior white male is assigned a high profile case,” Macleod wrote.

In November, the government also publicly released an external review of the government’s workplace discrimination and harassment prevention (WDHP) policy and program “through an anti-racism lens.”

The program is meant to resolve cases of workplace discrimination within the OPS but in their statement of claim, Dixon and Nelson — both of whom launched WDHP complaints — criticized such internal processes as “ineffective in addressing racism.” Lawyer Arlene Huggins, who was hired to conduct the external review, said the government triggered the probe because of its “strong perception” the WDHP program was actually “exacerbating or perpetuating the challenges” of employees struggling with racism.

For her final report, Huggins examined 72 cases and related files; she also chose 13 cases for closer examination, which primarily involved Black women with “significant years of service.” She said employees reported several issues, including WDHP advisers who did not seem to understand the program, lacked training in unconscious bias and anti-Black racism, or pressured employees into excluding important details from their complaints. Some people said they were “yelled at, interrogated and treated like a criminal,” according to Huggins’ report.

Employees also described negative experiences that were “particular to them being Black women,” Huggins wrote; for example, labelled “argumentative, difficult and unco-operative” when they articulated career goals, accused of playing the race card when they complained about unfair treatment, and perceived as ineffective managers.

The WDHP policy does not apply to systemic barriers, yet those barriers played a “material role” in these WDHP complaints, Huggins concluded. Participants she interviewed complained of an “inherent and unconscious bias and anti-Black (or anti-racialized) animus.”

“One complainant with almost 20 years experience reported 58 unsuccessful (job) competitions since 2008,” she said.

In their lawsuit, Dixon and Nelson write that the provincial government is one of Canada’s largest employers, “entrusted with extraordinary power and influence that affect and impact the lives of all Ontarians,” so its actions are particularly consequential.

“Racism is a public health emergency,” they write. “But based on the actual and lived experiences of Black people, there is much skepticism about the commitment or ability of current institutions to address systemic and structural anti-Black racism in Canada.”

Source: Passed over, bullied, mistaken for janitorial staff. Black women sue Ontario public service alleging systemic racism

E.J. Dionne: Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are equally wrong

Good commentary:

The polling is imperfect, but it’s fair to say that more than 70 percent of American Jews and Muslims vote Democratic.

They do so, in part, because Democrats have spoken out strongly against both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. And now, both groups are horrified by Trumpism’s embrace of discrimination against Muslims and its trafficking in anti-Semitism.

Just watch the Trump campaign ad attacking what it claims is “a global power structure that is responsible for economic decisions that have robbed our working class,” while flashing images of prominent Jews.

And you can’t help but cheer the fact that Jews and Muslims across the country have stood in solidarity when local institutions of either group have been defaced or attacked.

Bigotry is bigotry. It must always be opposed.

This is why the dangerously careless use of language by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) about Jews and Israel — she spoke of people who “push for allegiance to a foreign country” — has been cause for both heartbreak and anger.

I get that some readers will see my use of the word “careless” as too soft because the dual-loyalty charge has historically been so poisonous. But in refraining from stronger language I’m putting my bet on hope. I’m wagering that Omar’s personal history ought to mean that she understands the dangers of prejudice better than most.

In November, many of us celebrated her breakthrough election. She won strong backing from the Jewish community in her district. Maybe I’m also giving her a break because she’s progressive. Anti-Semitism is utterly antithetical to anything that deserves to be called liberal or progressive. Surely Omar doesn’t want the Democrats ensnared in the sort of left-wing anti-Semitism now haunting the British Labour Party.

Opposing anti-Semitism should be axiomatic for everyone. And for me, it’s also personal.

My observant Catholic parents moved to our city’s most Jewish neighborhood shortly after I was born, and my sister and I were raised to see anti-Semitism as sinful. My very first friends in the world were Jewish, and my mom regularly sat down with our next-door neighbor to compare notes on Catholic and Jewish views about the nature of God. As I’ve written before, my informal second father was Jewish. A dear man named Bert Yaffe informally took me into his family after my dad died when I was a teenager, and his kids welcomed me as a brother.

Partly because of this history, but also in common with almost all liberals and social democrats of a certain age, I have always — and will always — support the existence of Israel as a democratic Jewish state.

I spent a month in Israel in the spring of 1974, as the country experienced searing existential anxiety after its close call in the Yom Kippur War, and I visited Kiryat Schmona, a development town in the north that suffered under regular Palestinian attacks. It was an enduring lesson in the constant fear that haunts Israelis over the prospects of their country’s survival.

But Israel’s commitment to democracy is also an important reason for my admiration, which is why I support a two-state solution and oppose continued settlements in Palestinian areas. Israel will not remain democratic if it continues to occupy the West Bank and Gaza, and justice requires Palestinian self-determination.

When I covered the war in Lebanon in the 1980s, a Palestinian friend underscored for me the cost of being stateless. All he wanted, he would say, was the legitimacy that citizenship and a passport confer. It did not seem too much to ask.

Thus, my sympathies have always been with the beleaguered peace camps on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. This has led to deep frustration with Palestinian rejectionists, but also with the politics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has done enormous damage to Israel’s standing with young Americans who did not grow up with my gut commitment to Israel’s survival. His appearance before Congress in 2015 to trash President Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran greatly aggravated this problem. His alliance with a virtual fascist party leading into next month’s elections is unconscionable and a gift to anti-Israel propagandists.

So, yes, I know full well that you can love Israel, be critical of its current government and truly despise anti-Semitism, all at the same time. What you cannot do is play fast and loose with language that cannot help but be seen as anti-Semitic. I pray Omar now realizes this. At this moment, opponents of bigotry must be able to rely on each other.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

Source: E.J. Dionne: Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are equally wrong

TTC officers have collected more than 40,000 records on riders who weren’t charged. A disproportionate number in the database are Black

I would be interested in a comparative study to see for any differences between those given cautions and those charged.

There is a certain paradox in race-based (visible minority) data collection: if collected, perceived as intrusive but yet data may indicate singling out certain groups, if not collected, we will only have anecdotes to rely on.

Hard to see the justification for keeping the “field information cards” for 20 years rather than just the aggregated data:

For years, the TTC has been quietly maintaining a database that includes thousands of records detailing personal information collected from transit riders who weren’t formally charged with any offence — records it keeps for 20 years and, at times, will share with police.

In the course of their daily duties, the agency’s fare inspectors and enforcement officers stop people on the transit system who, the TTC says, they believe have committed fare evasion or other offences. If the officers decide not to issue the person a ticket, they can record sensitive information such as the person’s name, address, driver’s licence number, physical appearance and race on “field information” cards, and then enter those details into a database that transit officers access daily but which most transit users aren’t even aware exists.

Data obtained by the Star through a freedom of information request shows that TTC officers filled out more than 40,000 of the cards between 2008 and the end of 2018. Once a rider’s information is in the system, the TTC says city bylaws dictate the agency must retain it for 20 years.

TTC officers recorded the race of the person they stopped on about three-quarters of the cards. An analysis of that information performed by the Star suggests a disproportionately high number of cards, 19.3 per cent, were filled out for interactions with Black people. Black residents make up about 8.9 per cent of Toronto’s population.

Civil rights experts say the practice sounds a lot like carding, the controversial tactic police have historically used to collect citizens’ personal information, and warn it could amount to racial profiling and a widespread invasion of privacy.

The TTC and the union that represents the officers firmly reject that characterization. Transit agency spokesperson Stuart Green said officers will use the form “as a formal caution in lieu of charges,” and will only fill one out if he or she has “reasonable and probable grounds that an offence has been committed and then uses their discretion to caution rather than lay a charge.”

Green said the purpose of the database is “to assist (the TTC enforcement unit) in its daily functions.” For instance, TTC officers can check the database to determine whether someone they’ve stopped for suspected fare evasion or another offence has been stopped before, which helps determine if they should receive a ticket or merely a warning.

Green said the TTC is not engaged in any form of carding.

“We do not random stop customers and investigate them,” Green said, and Black riders are “absolutely not” targeted, intentionally or otherwise.

Jake Mahoney, secretary of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 5089, which represents TTC officers, also strongly rejected the idea its members are performing discriminatory carding.

He said the field information cards are “a useful investigative tool” that officers only use “in a scenario where we observe an offence committed.”

“The union members that are out there doing this job, they don’t have any control over the race of the person,” he said. “I go back to the fact that everyone we stop and talk to, we have a legal authority to do so.”

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s equality program, said the database raises serious concerns about racial profiling and privacy.

“Any database that’s retaining information about people for no justified reason could be seen as carding. And where there’s a disproportionality of personal information being stored unjustifiably about racialized and marginalized people (that) certainly sounds like carding to me,” she said.

According to Mendelsohn Aviv, while the TTC is entitled to enforce its fare policies, there’s no justification for collecting and storing a rider’s personal information if they haven’t been issued a ticket.

“For a $3 fare, to record somebody’s personal information seems completely out of proportion,” she said.

She described the 20-year period for which the TTC retains the information as “outrageous.”

“The very fact of it being obtained, and then the added problem of it being retained, is certainly a violation of privacy,” she said.

The TTC database isn’t secret. But nor is it widely known to the public. The transit agency publishes voluminous data about its operations, but regular reports about how it’s collecting information from people on the transit system are not among them.

Even those riders who provide their information to TTC officers can be unaware of where it goes or how it could be used.

Although the TTC says the cards are used to issue warnings to people suspected of breaking the rules on the transit system, the person receiving the caution isn’t given a copy of the card, meaning they have no official record of the interaction and no easy way to identify the officer involved.

The TTC says officers aren’t required to provide a copy because a caution isn’t a formal charge, and that transit users can request information the agency may have on them by filing a freedom of information request.

Septembre Anderson was on her way home one sweltering evening in July 2016 when she was pulled off a streetcar by a fare inspector for not paying for her ride.

Anderson says she had a TTC token in her hand at the time, but she boarded the car by the back doors and it was too crowded for her to get to the fare box at the front.

Anderson, who is now 36 and works as a front-end web developer, recalls that the officer was going to write her a ticket for fare evasion, but decided to let her off with a warning instead.

To her surprise, she says he began asking her for personal details, such as her name, address and health card number. She asked what he would do with that information, and reacted with concern when he told her it would be put into a database.

“I wanted to know why my information was being put in a database if I wasn’t actually being given the ticket. How do I remove it from the database? Where does that information go?” she told the Star.

“There was no information given to me at all about my rights, or what my personal information was being used for.”

She didn’t want to give her information, but says she did because she felt she had no choice. “He was just like, ‘well ma’am you can get a ticket instead,’” she says.

To Anderson, who is Black, the experience felt like a form of carding.

“If he was giving me a warning, he just could have given me a verbal warning … If someone can stop and detain somebody and collect their personal information, yes that falls under carding,” she said.

Legal experts who spoke to the Star said the law can be unclear on what information officers, including those working for the TTC, can request from citizens.

Mendelsohn Aviv of the CCLA said she believed that officers shouldn’t ask for a person’s name unless “at a minimum” they’ve witnessed the person committing an offence.

Green, the TTC spokesperson, said that “depending on what (transit users) are being investigated for, they do have a legal obligation to identify themselves.”

There are two types of TTC officers who interact with the public on the transit system: fare inspectors and enforcement officers. Inspectors are tasked with ensuring riders pay the proper fare, while enforcement officers patrol the system for security purposes. Neither are full-fledged police officers, but transit enforcement officers have been designated special constables under an agreement with the Toronto Police Services Board and have limited police powers on the network.

Both inspectors and enforcement officers can fill out field information cards about members of the public.

For years, TTC officers used the same Toronto Police Service “208” forms to collect information about people on the transit system that police used for their street checks, before switching to their own “718” forms that were identical in many ways.

The Star obtained nearly 11 years worth of data the TTC recorded on the cards, which is not the complete set of records the transit agency has on file. The data didn’t include entries for people who were ticketed for an offence on the transit system, which the transit agency keeps in the same database. The data provided to the Star was also redacted to remove any information that could risk identifying an individual.

It showed that between January 2008 and December 2018, the TTC enforcement unit filled out 41,833 of the cards. Officers recorded the race of the person they stopped roughly 33,000 times, or in about three quarters of the interactions.

Of the cards on which the person’s race was recorded, 19.3 per cent were identified as Black.

Black residents make up only about 8.9 per cent of Toronto’s population, according to the 2016 Census. And while the TTC says it doesn’t have data indicating the racial makeup of its ridership, the census shows Black people constitute just 10.7 per cent of those in Toronto who commute by public transit. That figure doesn’t include trips for noncommuting purposes, and does include journeys on other transit agencies such as GO.

The proportion of card entries that Black transit users accounted for varied from year to year, and generally trended downward over the 11-year period. The figure was highest in 2011 when it reached about 27 per cent, and by 2018 had fallen to about 16 per cent.

Black residents’ personal information was more likely to be recorded if they were young and male. Males between the ages of 15 and 25 made up about 35 per cent of all Black people whose information was recorded on the cards. Males of the same age made up roughly 24 per cent of white residents recorded on the cards.

Green, the TTC spokesperson, said that in many cases the person’s race recorded on the card is based on officers’ observations.

“So if a person does not offer a race association, the officer will use best judgment,” he said.

Green couldn’t say why Black people appear to be disproportionately represented on the cards. “However, the TTC’s customer base is wider than just Toronto residents and almost half of Toronto residents identify as racialized,” he said.

He said the transit agency “is fully committed to treating all customers equally and without prejudice,” and officers receive training on diversity, inclusion and preventing discrimination.

Green acknowledged that the TTC sometimes shares information collected on the cards with police. He couldn’t say how often that had happened between 2008 and 2018, but said police “rarely” request the information and the TTC would only provide it if served a court order.

Nigel Barriffe, president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, said the TTC data is “very representative of what we saw with carding and the police,” and shows Toronto’s public institutions “are constantly pushing away our young Black males in our society and making them feel as if they don’t belong in our city.”

He said if Black people are being stopped by TTC officers at higher rates than other groups, it sends the message to Black residents that they have no place in public spaces like the transit system.

“It’s like you have to think twice if you’re a Black male taking public transit in this city,” he said.

He called for the TTC to improve its anti-bias training and make hiring decisions to ensure its enforcement unit reflects Toronto’s diversity.

Some people who used to work for the agency’s enforcement unit say they were uncomfortable with the use of the field information cards.

A former member of the TTC’s transit enforcement unit contacted the Star to raise concerns about the database after the Star published unrelated allegations of misconduct by transit officers.

The former officer, who agreed to discuss the issue on the condition of anonymity out of concern for future employment prospects, said there were “no checks and balances” on the use of the database and he believed riders should be made aware of it.

“There’s no real oversight really,” he said, adding he was concerned the TTC’s practice was akin to police carding.

Ann Cavoukian, who was formerly Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner between 2007 and 2014, said the TTC should consider suspending the collection of riders’ personal information, or at least provide the public and riders with more information about their rights and how the agency is using the data.

“In my view, I think they should stop collecting this information. At the very least, if they must continue collecting it, they should start by giving notice, clear transparency about what they’re doing, how long they’re going to retain the data, and in what form,” she said.

“I’m just really disturbed by this … I had no idea they had a database or they keep this information.”

The Star’s investigation into the database follows separate incidents that have raised concerns about the TTC enforcement unit’s conduct related to issues of privacy and alleged racial profiling.

A 2018 TTC report determined a fare inspector had used information he collected from a female rider to contact her later and ask her on a date, an incident that caused the woman to “fear for her safety.” The inspector kept his job.

The TTC is also being sued by a young Black man who was pushed and pinned down by transit officers as he exited a streetcar in February 2018, in what he alleges was a case of racial profiling. The allegations haven’t been proven in court.

In part as a result of the Star’s questions about the database, the TTC said it is reviewing the forms and how officers used them.

However, at a TTC board meeting last month agency officials said they planned to make greater use of the database to help get a handle on the network’s costly fare evasion problem, which the city auditor general recently reported cost the TTC $61 million in foregone revenue last year.

The agency is also hiring an additional 45 fare inspectors and 22 enforcement officers this year, bringing their total complement to 186 officers and meaning interactions between officers and riders will likely become more frequent.

Source: TTC officers have collected more than 40,000 records on riders who weren’t charged. A disproportionate number in the database are Black

‘Good curling’: Calgary play uses iconic sport for message on new Canadians

In the spirit of Little Mosque on the Prairie, Kim’s Convenience Store and other cultural events that feature Canada’s diverse communities:

An iconic Canadian winter sport serves as the vessel for a Calgary play telling the story of new Canadians dealing with adversity and finding a way to become a part of their new community.

Alberta Theatre Projects is presenting “The New Canadian Curling Club,” a comedy that follows four new Canadians resettled in a small Alberta town.

They include a Chinese medical student, a widowed Tim Hortons manager from Jamaica who gave up her dream of being a fashion designer, a father of triplet boys from India seeking a better job, and a 17-year-old recent immigrant from Syria worried about the safety of her brother back home.

The community offers a ‘learn to curl’ class and when its instructor gets injured, the club’s ice custodian and former champion curler has to step in.

The instructor unfortunately has some negative views on Canadian immigration and refers to the team as “The International House of Pancakes,” and shows disdain for their lack of knowledge about curling.

“You start each game with a handshake. Wish the other team good curling. You don’t cheer, you don’t heckle. You call your own fouls,” growled curmudgeonly Stuart MacPhail, played by Saskatchewan actor Duval Lang, at a recent rehearsal.

“I start out as a crusty old fart and then gradually change into someone who is more accommodating and begins to enjoy life a little bit more,” Lang said with a laugh.

Lang has curled for decades and also serves as the show’s curling consultant.

“It’s come along. Everything from how to sit in the hack to how to extend yourself when you make a shot…how to sweep.”

The group eventually comes together to become a true team on a stage fitted with an authentic curling ring, complete with rocks, set in a small curling club.

“I think it combines the quintessential idea of curling with the other thing that Canada is know for, which is multiculturalism,” explains Toronto’s Richard Young, who plays Anoopjeet Singh.

“I’ve always wanted to be part of curling and I was just too scared to do it.”

There’s a lot of sight gags including Young’s difficulty in standing on the ice and being cautioned by his coach to throw the stone “nice and easy” and “not all the way home to India.”

“Thank God,” Young’s character retorts. “The postage on this thing would be a nightmare.”

Sepidar Yeganeh Farid was drawn to play the part of recent Syrian immigrant Fatima Al-Sayed.

“When I read the script it was obvious that I had to audition and my life story is very similar to the character Fatima so I have a very close connection to her,” Farid said.

Farid was born in Iran and her family eventually ended up in Montreal — sponsored by a church, like the character she portrays.

“As I see the interactions between Fatima and another character, Charmaine, I definitely see those characteristics in the relationships I had with the people that sponsored us.”

For Jenni Burke, playing the Jamaican-born Tim Hortons manager was natural.

“My parents were from Jamaica. I feel like I’m doing an homage of what happened to them,” she said.

“It’s a great Canadian story and it supports multiculturalism and everyone bringing their own colour to the mosaic.”

Jonathan Ho, who moved to Toronto from Hong Kong before his first birthday, plays medical student Mike Chang who’s also dating the granddaughter of the curling coach.

“It does speak to aspects of the immigrant experience particularly with interracial relationships and the difficulties of the culture clash there.”

Young managed to try the sport thanks to a friend who was a curling coach in Pickering, Ont.

“The first time I was slipping and sliding on the ice just like my character does here, but I was able to throw some rocks and to understand,” he said.

“So I got to learn a lot about the game and it is, as the play says, like chess on ice.”

Farid remembers her first impressions when moving to Canada.

“The first time I saw curling on TV with my family and we had no idea what it meant and we thought, ‘Oh, they’re sweeping, that’s very interesting,'” she said.

“It is super fascinating and now that I’ve watched curling it’s like ‘Oh my God I understand.'”

Source: ‘Good curling’: Calgary play uses iconic sport for message on new Canadians