Douglas Todd: The promise and pitfalls of foreign-trained clergy in Canada

Interesting read:

It didn’t take too long for Father John Alex Pinto to realize he didn’t have nearly the authority in Canada as he did in his homeland of India.

In Pinto’s old city of Mangalore, the 4,500 loyal Catholic families who belonged to his mega-parish looked up to him as a powerful community and religious leader.

After Pinto moved to Canada 15 years ago, the Indian priest not only had to improve his English and get used to winter, but had to realize that Roman Catholics in Canada were less devotional than in India, were highly educated and much more “independent.”

Now serving as a priest in downtown Vancouver after time in Calgary, Pinto is one of more than 60 foreign-trained priests in the 200-clergy Catholic archdiocese of Vancouver.

Most of the imported priests in the Catholic church, Canada’s largest denomination with 14 million adherents, are from the Philippines and India, with others from Africa, parts of East Asia, the U.S. and Europe, says Rev. Gary Franken, the archdiocese’s vicar general. They’re needed to make up a priest shortage as the church welcomes an influx of Catholic immigrants, mostly from Asia.

Foreign-trained priests in Catholicism, however, are just the tip of the phenomenon. Thousands of clergy in a variety of Canada’s faiths received their religious preparation outside the country.

While the proportion of Catholic clergy in Canada who are foreign-trained range as high as one third in some dioceses, that is low compared to the ratio with Sikh, Muslim, Eastern Orthodox, Hindu and Jewish clergy in Canada.

Among Canada’s minority religious groups, a solid majority of imams, rabbis, priests, granthis and pastors are born outside the country, where they also receive their religious training.

There are many reasons why religious organizations in Canada rely heavily on foreign-trained clergy.

Outside Canada’s Catholic and large mainline Protestant and evangelical denominations, many leaders of faith groups say they do not have enough adherents to justify creating their own theological colleges in Canada.

It can also be enriching and reassuring for immigrants to attend a place of worship in Canada led by someone from one’s ancestral homeland. Angus Reid Institute polls show faith communities can ease immigrants’ transition to this new land.

And many congregations, according to scholars, believe there is status in having their clergy educated in places like the Punjab, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Iran — where they are typically steeped in a religious tradition that penetrates every aspect of the nation’s life and norms.

But foreign-trained priests also run into challenges, including adapting to Canadian culture, where secularism dominates and freedom and equality, particularly for women, are premier social values. Practically, language barriers can also be difficult.

While Pinto, 62, intends to stay in Canada for the rest of his life, most foreign-trained clergy, including in the Catholic church, come here for only a short time.

“On loan,” as Franken says.

Harjit Singh Gill, who is involved in gurdwaras in Surrey, says most Punjabi-trained priests who work in Canada come for less than a year. They are appreciated by older Sikhs, he says, but tend not to appeal to younger ones.

The situation is similar, but slightly different, for most of the rabbis who serve Canada’s 350,000 Jews. Almost all are trained abroad, usually in the U.S. or Israel. That is true even for those born in Canada, like Vancouver-born rabbi and writer Yosef Wosk.

Now retired from the rabbinate, Wosk studied formally in New York City and Jerusalem. “Many, perhaps most, Canadian congregations hire rabbis from the U.S.,” Wosk said, “with not enough Canadian-born individuals available to fill all positions.”

Abdie Kazemipur, a University of Calgary sociologist and the chair in ethnic studies, says the issue of foreign-trained clergy is a “very important” and sometimes sensitive one within religions, rarely discussed in wider society or studied by academics.

There are no theological schools for imams in Canada, Kazemipur said, even though the country has a Muslim population of more than 1.2 million, centred largely in its major cities.

Although every imam must know Arabic, since it is the language of the Qur’an and the religion, Kazemipur says many Muslims outside the Middle East aren’t fluent in the language.

Foreign-trained imams are respected in mosques, said Kazemipur, but in secularized Canada adherents sometimes struggle with how to respond to imams who often expect Canada to be like the Muslim-majority country they are from.

‘In India society is totally different’

“In India, society is totally different. It was a multicultural shock to come Canada,” says Pinto, who serves the West End parish of Guardian Angels in Vancouver.

“There is more of a fear of God in India. In India, the priest is like a leader on all sorts of issues. People listen to him on everything. But in Canada the priest is not as much an authority.”

Since many of the parish members Pinto served in India lived in villages and were not highly educated, he acknowledges he initially expected in Canada to be seen as the person in command. But he soon realized that didn’t work.

“I was so impressed by the Canadian parishioners’ in-depth knowledge of religion. They don’t necessarily fear God; there is more of a relationship,” Pinto said.

All in all, Pinto said he has loved the transition to Canada, appreciates his congregation’s friendly tolerance of his lack of administrative skills, and thinks the Canadian Catholic church would not survive without foreign-trained priests.

Andrew Bennett, Canada’s former ambassador for religious freedom, says that while most Sikh, Muslim, Jewish and Eastern Orthodox clergy are trained outside the country, there are ways to ease the cultural disconnect that can be experienced.

As a deacon in the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, Bennett supports occasional efforts by small denominations like his to invite would-be clergy from other countries to spend a year in Canada before they start leading a congregation — to help them immerse in the culture.

Gill, an orthodox Sikh, said virtually every priest who serves the large Sikh populations in Metro Vancouver, Greater Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton is trained in seminaries in the Punjab region of northern India. And most only work in Canada on six-month visas. Many are not paid much.

Like Bennett, who is director of Cardus think-tank, Gill shared concerns that Canada’s Immigration Department lacks expertise to regulate the cross-border movement of foreign-trained clergy, including assessing applicants’ qualifications.

Since Gill was raised in the Punjab, he says he’s fortunate to be able to understand the India-trained spiritual leaders when they routinely speak the language of the homeland, while often toiling in English.

“It means,” Gill said, “they’re good for my generation, but they’re not good for my kids.”

Many Canadian-born Sikhs, Gill said, are not fluent in Punjabi, which contributes to them drifting away from the faith — a trend confirmed by the Angus Reid Institute, which found immigrants are more devoted to their religion than their second- and third-generation offspring.

Gill believes Sikhism and other minority religions would hold on to more followers if they had more Canadian-born priests trained in Canada.

Foreign-trained clergy face steep learning curve

Kazemipur, author of The Muslim Question in Canada: A Story of Segmented Integration, says many foreign-trained imams who travel to serve in Canada don’t realize that Muslims in North America, being a minority, live dramatically different lives from those in Muslim-majority countries, where Islam pervades every aspect of life, including laws.

“The imams are often not very good at grasping that,” Kazemipur said. “They would come to Canada as if it didn’t matter which country they go to.”

All foreign-trained imams are fluent in Arabic, in which they often lead prayers and services, but many struggle in English, which can contribute to “a cultural sense of alienation in the Muslim community.”

There are two major conversations about foreign-trained clergy, said Kazemipur.

One is what he calls the “outside conversation,” in which non-Muslims focus on the potential politicization or radicalization of Muslims. The other is the more refined “conversation within,” which focuses on adapting Islam to democratic societies that orient to free expression and sexual liberation.

It is largely the internal conversation that’s reflected in a new book by Ed Husain, an Arab scholar who quietly toured many of the 2,000 mosques serving Britain’s three million Muslims. While his book, Among the Mosques, applauds the way many Muslims have integrated into British society, Husain also found some Muslim communities distancing themselves from British culture while advocating strict versions of the faith, including religious literalism, gender separation and negative attitudes to gays and lesbians.

Kazemipur does not support attempts by politicians in countries like France, who are responding to such self-segregation by what he calls “over-regulating” mosques and religious training.

But he says clergy born and religiously educated in places like Turkey or Iran have to find ways to respond effectively to Canadian adherents facing issues that don’t exist in their native land. “If they end up in Denmark, Germany or the U.S., many would just give the same kind of sermon.”

For instance, Kazemipur said, some clergy trained in socially conservative nations are not equipped to instruct teenage Muslims about how to respond when exposed to sex education and gender-diversity programs in public schools.

A foreign-trained imam might also teach that Canadian Muslims should avoid taking out a loan that requires paying interest, since that’s forbidden in traditional Islam. “But that would basically mean Muslims in Canada can’t get a mortgage,” Kazemipur said, “or a car loan or put their money in the bank.”

Pinto has run into similar cross-cultural experiences in the Catholic realm. Until he came to Canada, particularly Vancouver’s West End, he had never ministered to Catholic parishioners who are openly gay and lesbian.

Despite the inevitable cultural challenges that occur when Canadian religious organizations import spiritual leaders, Franken, of the Catholic archdiocese, is not alone in concluding: “Ultimately, foreign-trained priests have been a gift.”

Source: Douglas Todd: The promise and pitfalls of foreign-trained clergy in Canada

Milloy: Where is the outrage over Quebec’s discriminatory law?

Of note, including comment about spending the same amount of energy on current discrimination as on our first prime minister:

Want to see outrage these days? Mention any issue that even smacks of racism or prejudice and you will see Canadians respond with anger and passion.

Why has this energy not extended to Quebec’s Bill 21?

If there ever was a law that flies in the face of everything that social justice activists claim they stand for, it’s Quebec’s “Act Respecting the Laicity of the State.” This law, which prohibits entire categories of public servants, including teachers, judges or police officers, from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs or turbans is an affront to anyone concerned about discrimination. Not only does it close the door to certain professions for many practicing Muslims and Sikhs, but it sends a clear signal that they are second-class citizens.

Don’t just take my word for it.

In his ruling on the law, Quebec Superior Court Justice Marc-André Blanchard outlined how the law “dehumanized those targeted.” As he explained: “these people feel ostracized and partially excluded from the Quebec public service … Bill 21 also sends the message to minority students wearing religious symbols that they must occupy a different place in society and that obviously the way of public education, at the level of preschool, primary and secondary does not exist for them.”

Quebec’s use of the notwithstanding clause, however, meant that there was little the judge could do beyond ruling on a few of the provisions around the edges.

Why has Bill 21 not brought Canadians to the streets? Why has it not been given the same attention as debates over the removal of the statues, the renaming of schools or the defunding of police?

I am not suggesting that these issues be abandoned, but why has a current provincial law which effectively allows state-sponsored discrimination not become one of the primary targets in our fight for a society free of prejudice?

Source: Where is the outrage over Quebec’s discriminatory law?

Saudi seeks religious reset as clerical power wanes

Of note (change from when I lived there in mid 80s):

Muezzins issuing high-decibel calls to prayer have long been part of Saudi identity, but a crackdown on mosque loudspeakers is among contentious reforms seeking to shake off the Muslim kingdom’s austere image.

Saudi Arabia, home to the holiest Muslim sites, has long been associated with a rigid strain of Islam known as Wahhabism that inspired generations of global extremists and left the oil-rich kingdom steeped in conservatism.

But the role of religion faces the biggest reset in modern times as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, spurred by the need to diversify the oil-reliant economy, pursues a liberalisation drive in parallel with a vigorous crackdown on dissent.

Chipping away at a key pillar of its Islamic identity, the government last month ordered that mosque loudspeakers limit their volume to one-third of their maximum capacity and not broadcast full sermons, citing concerns over noise pollution.

In a country home to tens of thousands of mosques, the move triggered an online backlash with the hashtag “We demand the return of mosque speakers” gaining traction.

It also sparked calls to ban loud music in restaurants, once taboo in the kingdom but now common amid liberalisation efforts, and to fill mosques in such large numbers that authorities are forced to permit loudspeakers for those gathering outside.

But authorities are unlikely to budge, as economic reforms for a post-oil era take precedence over religion, observers say.

“The country is re-establishing its foundations,” Aziz Alghashian, a politics lecturer at the University of Essex, told AFP.

“It’s becoming an economically driven country that is investing substantial effort in trying to appear more appealing — or less intimidating — to investors and tourists.”

– ‘Post-Wahhabi era’ –

In the most significant change that began even before the rise of Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia neutered its once-feared religious police, who once chased people out of malls to go and pray and berated anyone seen mingling with the opposite sex.

In what was once unthinkable, some shops and restaurants now remain open during the five daily Muslim prayers.

As clerical power wanes, preachers are endorsing government decisions they once vehemently opposed — including allowing women to drive, the reopening of cinemas and an outreach to Jews.

Saudi Arabia is revising school textbooks to scrub well-known references denigrating non-Muslims as “swines” and “apes”.

The practice of non-Muslim religions remains banned in the kingdom, but government advisor Ali Shihabi recently told US media outlet Insider that allowing a church was on “the to-do list of the leadership”.

Authorities have publicly ruled out lifting an absolute ban on alcohol, forbidden in Islam. But multiple sources including a Gulf-based diplomat quoted Saudi officials as saying in closed-door meetings that “it will gradually happen”.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that Saudi Arabia has entered a post-Wahhabi era, though the exact religious contours of the state are still in flux,” Kristin Diwan, of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told AFP.

“Religion no longer has veto power over the economy, social life and foreign policy.”

– ‘Eliminated rivals’ –

In another shift, observers say Saudi Arabia appears to be turning its back on global issues affecting fellow Muslims, in what could weaken its image as the leader of the Islamic world.

“In the past its foreign policy was driven by the Islamic doctrine that Muslims are like one body — when one limb suffers the whole body responds to it,” another Gulf-based diplomat told AFP.

“Now it is based on mutual non-interference: ‘We (Saudi) won’t talk about Kashmir or the Uyghurs, you don’t talk about Khashoggi’.”

Prince Mohammed, popularly known as MBS, has sought to position himself as a champion of “moderate” Islam, even as his international reputation took a hit from the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.

He has vowed to crack down on radical clerics, but observers say many of the victims have been advocates for moderate Islam, critics and supporters of his rivals.

One such cleric is Suleiman al-Dweish, linked to former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef, MBS’s key rival.

Dweish has not been seen since his detention in the holy city of Mecca in 2016 after he tweeted a parable about a child spoiled by his father, according to London-based rights groups ALQST and a source close to his family.

It was seen as a veiled insult to MBS and his father King Salman.

Another is Salman al-Awdah, a moderate cleric detained in 2017 after he urged reconciliation with rival Qatar in a tweet. He remains in detention even after Saudi Arabia ended its rift with Qatar earlier this year.

“Politically, MBS has eliminated all his rivals, including those who shared many of the same goals of religious reform,” said Diwan.

Source: Saudi seeks religious reset as clerical power wanes

MPs’ study of systemic racism in policing concludes RCMP needs new model

Yet more indication of the RCMP’s challenges with no easy or quick solutions:

It’s time for Canada to have a “reckoning” about the RCMP, says the chair of a House of Commons committee that studied systemic racism in policing.

John McKay, a Toronto Liberal MP and chair of the House public safety committee, said the Mounties are a globally known Canadian icon, but it’s time to acknowledge the RCMP’s “quasi-military” existence is not working for all Canadians.

“There is a season and a time for a reckoning for every country and its institutions,” McKay said at a news conference Thursday.

“This in my judgment is a time for Canada to have a reckoning with itself and with its premier institutions.”

The public safety committee began the study of systemic racism in policing in June 2020, after weeks of protests in Canada and the United States following the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.

Floyd’s death also turned a spotlight on racism and police in Canada. Jack Harris, the NDP public safety critic, moved a motion to study systemic racism in policing on June 23, 2020, and the committee agreed. The report was issued Thursday, based on 19 meetings, testimony from 53 witnesses and more than a dozen written briefs.

The report says MPs on the committee can conclude only that “systemic racism in policing in Canada is a real and pressing problem to be urgently addressed.”

But the MPs also admit that this report is just the latest in a long list of studies and reviews that concluded the same thing, none of which led to much change.

Harris said Thursday “it is more clear than ever before that the RCMP needs transformational change” but is worried because he says the Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “has a history of failing to act on reports.”

“The time is now to take serious and concrete action. The RCMP needs to move away from the paramilitary colonial model to a police service model with strong civilian oversight.”

The committee also calls for mandatory data collection on excessive use of force, better training on de-escalation and responding to people in a mental health crisis, more diversity in police forces and oversight bodies, and better funding for Indigenous police forces, including in urban areas with large Indigenous populations.

The MPs also want better parameters for when force is permitted to be used by police, and “serious consequences” for RCMP officers who use force excessively.

The Conservatives, in a supplementary report, urged more work on that front, saying it is not clear from the witnesses whether the problem is in guidelines for use of force, or a lack of training and enforcement regarding those guidelines.

The committee has requested that the government provide a “comprehensive response” to the report.

Moya Teklu, executive director and general counsel at the Black Legal Action Centre in Toronto, said the “most promising” recommendations in the report are decriminalizing simple possession of drugs, offering pardons to people previously convicted of simple possession, and ensuring police discretion to offer alternatives to the courts be used equitably for Black and other racialized youths.

She is less enthusiastic about the impact of more training and oversight for the RCMP, saying there isn’t much evidence they’ll help.

“Demilitarization is an important step,” she said. “But only if it also means spending less money on policing.”

Teklu said the report’s findings are not new for Black and Indigenous communities.

“An acknowledgment of the existence and reality of systemic racism at different levels of government is important,” she said. “A reduction in the Black and Indigenous prison populations, and a reduction in the number of Black and Indigenous people that are stopped, questioned, surveilled, arrested, beaten and murdered by police is more important. That is the real change we want to see.”

Quebec Liberal MP Greg Fergus, who chairs the Parliamentary Black caucus and participated in the committee’s study, agreed the existence of systemic racism is not a revelation.

But he said the committee has done valuable work in listening and responding to multiple witnesses who were able to speak about the issue in depth.

“What’s also new is that there’s a road map now, because of this report, this unanimous report of parliamentarians from all walks of life,” he said. They have laid out a very clear process forward to make the changes, “not only in the RCMP but in police services across the country which can be inspired by this.”

“That’s what’s new. That’s what’s important. That’s what’s necessary.”

Source: MPs’ study of systemic racism in policing concludes RCMP needs new model

Museum exhibits works by Polish artist confronting Holocaust

Of note:

Warsaw’s Jewish history museum opened an exhibition Thursday featuring works by a renowned Polish artist that confront the lingering and melancholy presence of the Holocaust in Poland, where Nazi German forces carried out their destruction of Europe’s Jews and other atrocities.

“Wilhem Sasnal: Such a Landscape” opened Thursday at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The dozens of paintings and drawings on display confront the Holocaust in the nation’s physical and mental landscape and the difficulty in addressing an unsettled past.

Sasnal, who is not Jewish, has for two decades been grappling with this history. The 48-year-old described a generational need to confront the past, also because parts of Polish society refuse to acknowledge that while Poland was victimized by Nazi Germany, there were also some Poles who joined in the despoliation and murder of the nation’s Jews.

For decades after World War II, such discussions were taboo, with the themes of Polish sacrifice and honor dominating historical memory. But with the new openness that came with the fall of communism in 1989, scholars and artists began studying and speaking openly of anti-Semitism and the participation by some Poles in the German crimes. Each new book or film has touched a raw nerve.

“The history of the Second World War was obscured until 1989,” Sasnal said.

It was then “extremely shocking,” he said, when scholars began to reveal wartime wrongdoing by Poles, including the 1941 killing of hundreds of Jews by Poles in the town of Jedwabne.

“At the beginning I felt anger and shame,” he told The Associated Press.

“And it’s still so difficult to see that people don’t want to acknowledge it. People totally refuse, and this is the mainstream Polish government attitude.”

Sasnal is one of Poland’s most prominent living artists. His works are included in collections at the Museum of Modern Art and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Tate Modern in London and Centre Pompidou in Paris, among others.

Sasnal also acknowledged that Poland is often unfairly judged — that sometimes those outside of Poland lose sight of the bigger picture.

Poland was occupied by German forces who killed millions of Polish citizens — some 2 million Christian Poles as well as 3 million Jews. Many Poles fought the Germans at home and abroad and the state never collaborated with Nazi Germany. Thousands of Poles have also been recognized by Yad Vashem for risking their own lives to save Jews.

Yet Sasnal believes that Poles must acknowledge the bad along with the good.

“Unless we accept such a complex past, we will be judged and we will be misjudged,” he said.

The exhibition comprises two decades of works that touch in some way on the Holocaust — works that Sasnal did while also dealing with other topics.

The oldest ones were inspired by cartoonist Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust cartoon stories in his “Maus” books. The newest ones were created this year especially for the exhibition.

There are paintings of former death camps, but they are always contextualized, with Sasnal’s bike or his wife looking from inside a car at the gates of Auschwitz — because to depict the death camps alone would be too banal and brutal, he said.

The Auschwitz paintings were produced after he and his wife passed by the memorial site on their way home from a New Year’s Eve party on Jan. 1. Millions travel to the site from around the world. But for many Poles — including Sasnal, who lives in nearby Krakow — the presence of genocide memorial sites are part of the landscape of daily life.

A painting of an imagined map of Poland bordering Israel recalls the long co-existence of Jews with Poles in Poland, a Jewish homeland for centuries.

A portrait of Hitler has been covered in black paint and crossed out with a wooden bar, an evil too extreme to depict figuratively.

Paintings that draw on images first created by French painter Edgar Degas, an antisemite, are reminders of the antisemitism pervasive across Europe that created fertile soil for the Holocaust. One evokes a bathing women modeled on a Degas work superimposed with a swastika.

Paintings of Gypsies or stereotypical images of Africans in the popular imagination show how other groups, along with Jews, have long been considered the “other” in society.

Ahead of the opening, the curator, Adam Szymczyk, braced for the possibility that this exhibition, too, might spark anger from nationalists and right-wingers.

But now that a right-wing party runs the country — and is a co-partner in the museum, which is a public-private partnership — he said he expected the reaction to be more muted.

He said both he and Sasnal were driven by a need to express remorse.

“I think this is our way of saying sorry on behalf of others,” he said. “The others don’t say ‘I’m sorry’ so we have to. It’s a duty.”

The exhibition runs until January 10.

Source: Museum exhibits works by Polish artist confronting Holocaust

HASSAN: London tragedy exposes need to examine violence against Muslims

Of note on the need for precision when using terms such as Islamophobia, anti-Muslim hate, antisemitism:

The horrific deaths of a Muslim family in London on June 6 have sparked conversations about loosely, sometimes interchangeably, used terms like Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate. It would be worthwhile to examine these in detail. The ramifications for each term are different regarding freedom of speech issues, especially in the context of M-103, tabled by MP Iqra Khalid in 2018.

Islamophobia is a loaded word that can mean one of several things. It can mean fear of Islam, its practices, Islamic culture and fear of Muslims as its adherents. The last of these can sometimes translate into attacks on Muslims. When the term is used loosely, it can simply mean fear and hatred of Muslims. These have ramifications for Muslims in Canada when it comes to safety and security.

Anti-Muslim hate is specifically hatred toward the Muslim people, whether rooted in a dislike of Islam or not. This, too, can lead to violence against Muslims. In essence, both phenomena can lead to unfortunate results as we have seen a second time in Canada. The meanings tend to overlap.

Can these terms be compared to anti-Semitism? The latter term would correspond better to anti-Muslim hate, although the notion that criticism of the state of Israel is also anti-Semitism has wider ramifications. In the latter sense, we can also compare the term to the all-encompassing “Islamophobia.”

Anti-Muslim hate is utterly reprehensible and has no place in Canada. No community should be despised to the point of being denied the right to life, liberty, and property. Holding a negative opinion of Muslim practices or tenets of the Islamic faith should not automatically mean that Muslims should be wiped out or denied the same rights others take for granted.

But does this mean one has no right to criticize a world religion like Islam? After all, there is complete freedom to criticize other world faiths, including Christianity, followed by most Canadians. Most liberal democracies realize it is the fundamental right of citizens to question their own faith, to have the freedom to speak their minds on matters of faith, values, and ideologies and to scrutinize not only political philosophies but also religious dicta, especially when these have harmed society in general and women and marginalized groups in particular. Public discourse on Islam generally does not castigate an entire community. Often, an effort is made to separate a particular practice or belief from the larger body of believers in public discourse. Castigating an entire community would most certainly violate the rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Thus, since the meanings above overlap, it is crucial to examine how we can address violence against Muslims and still uphold freedom of speech as an inalienable right.

The overlap in meaning between Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate makes it that much harder to tread the fine line of criticism of Islam in public discourse and spare Muslims fallout. While public discourse is careful not to cross the boundaries of free speech, it is perhaps just as important for people in private gatherings not to paint all Muslims with the same brush.

Are these boundaries being crossed more often in private rather than public gatherings? Would they continue to generate the type of inordinate hate that translates into heinous crimes like the one we witnessed in London?

Source: HASSAN: London tragedy exposes need to examine violence against Muslims

Rosie Abella said she’d answer questions when she turned 75

Good long interview by Paul Wells.

Money quote regarding her 1984 employment equity report:

What Abella knew was that she didn’t much like examples from American jurisprudence. “It was based on the individual. No concept of membership in groups as defining identity, as defining equality.” The more she thought about it, the more Abella decided that one concept of equality—simply treating everyone the same—constituted a dead-end path. “I thought, equality, to me, is not sameness. Civil liberties are sameness. Everyone should have the same right in their relationship with the state to be treated as well as the leaders. There is no such thing as ‘more rights,’ vis-à-vis the state, for one individual over another.

“But that’s different from human rights, where you are treated a certain way because of the groups you belong to. So if you are a woman, if you are a Muslim, if you are Jewish, if you are disabled, people treat you based on your identity. And so I thought, you can’t say, ‘Treat everyone the same.’ If you treat everyone the same, the person in a wheelchair is treated like the person who’s able-bodied, and there’s no need for a ramp, if you’re going to treat everybody the same.

“So it occurred to me that what equality really was, was acknowledging and accommodating differences. So people could be treated as an equal and not excluded arbitrarily for things that had nothing to do with whether or not they could contribute to the mainstream.”

This philosophy is encapsulated in a quote from the French poet Anatole France that opens Abella’s commission report, which she has cited frequently in her work since: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread.” She would define a different law, less majestic and more alert to nuance. She coined a new term, “employment equity,” to describe “programs of positive remedy for discrimination in the Canadian workplace.”

The first surprise was when Flora MacDonald, Brian Mulroney’s employment minister, called Abella and said the Progressive Conservative government would implement the report’s recommendations. Another surprise came when countries around the world began to adapt elements of the report to their local circumstances.

Source: Rosie Abella said she’d answer questions when she turned 75

Who’s Afraid of Big Numbers? Pretty much everyone. But it doesn’t have to be that way, two mathematicians contend.

Some interesting thoughts on how to communicate numbers. For immigration examples, 400,000 (current target) in seconds is the equivalent of 4.6 days. In terms of immigrants, just under 1,100 per day:

“Billions” and “trillions” seem to be an inescapable part of our conversations these days, whether the subject is Jeff Bezos’s net worth or President Biden’s proposed budget. Yet nearly everyone has trouble making sense of such big numbers. Is there any way to get a feel for them? As it turns out, there is. If we can relate big numbers to something familiar, they start to feel much more tangible, almost palpable.

For example, consider Senator Bernie Sanders’s signature reference to “millionaires and billionaires.” Politics aside, are these levels of wealth really comparable? Intellectually, we all know that billionaires have a lot more money than millionaires do, but intuitively it’s hard to feel the difference, because most of us haven’t experienced what it’s like to have that much money.

In contrast, everyone knows what the passage of time feels like. So consider how long it would take for a million seconds to tick by. Do the math, and you’ll find that a million seconds is about 12 days. And a billion seconds? That’s about 32 years. Suddenly the vastness of the gulf between a million and a billion becomes obvious. A million seconds is a brief vacation; a billion seconds is a major fraction of a lifetime.

Comparisons to ordinary distances provide another way to make sense of big numbers. Here in Ithaca, we have a scale model of the solar system known as the Sagan Walk, in which all the planets and the gaps between them are reduced by a factor of five billion. At that scale, the sun becomes the size of a serving plate, Earth is a small pea and Jupiter is a brussels sprout. To walk from Earth to the sun takes just a few dozen footsteps, whereas Pluto is a 15-minute hike across town. Strolling through the solar system, you gain a visceral understanding of astronomical distances that you don’t get from looking at a book or visiting a planetarium. Your body grasps it even if your mind cannot.

Likewise, vast sums of money become more comprehensible if they are reframed in terms of more familiar amounts. In a 2009 blog post, the mathematician Terry Tao rescaled the entire United States federal budget to the annual household spending for a hypothetical family of four. In Dr. Tao’s rescaling, a $100 million line item in the budget became equivalent to a $3 expenditure for the family.

Research in psychology and science education supports Dr. Tao’s strategy. In 2017, cognitive scientists found that students could grasp extremely long time periods — say, between the extinction of dinosaurs and emergence of humans — more readily if they created a personal timeline of the most significant events in their lives and rescaled it to progressively longer time spans: all of American history, all of recorded history and so on. These students were also better than controls at estimating numbers in the billions, an ability that is vital to understanding geological time, astronomical distances or the bewildering sums in the federal budget.

To that end, we thought it could be instructive to update Dr. Tao’s exercise, this time using the numbers in Mr. Biden’s proposed 2022 budget. For simplicity, the total money entering the federal budget — call it “income” — has been scaled to be $100,000. Meanwhile, as the graphic shows, this hypothetical nation-family spends about $144,000 a year, exceeding the budget by about $44,000. Most of the expenditure goes to four big-ticket items: about $29,000 to pay for Social Security, $18,000 for Medicare, the same for Defense and around $14,000 for Medicaid.

Scaling the Budget

Taken together, these four items add up to almost $80,000 in expenses for our nation-family. In addition, we must still pay off the interest on the national debt, for another $7,000, plus $36,000 on other assorted mandatory programs. So exceeding the budget by as much as Mr. Biden is proposing leaves only about $22,000 to spend on the other things we care about, the so-called nondefense discretionary spending.

When the numbers are reframed this way, the trade-offs become clearer. Want to increase funding to historically Black colleges and universities? Mr. Biden does, and he is asking the nation-family to chip in 36 cents (in these rescaled terms) to that end. What about former President Donald J. Trump’s border wall? Our nation-family spent about $388 on it in 2021. In comparison, Mr. Biden is proposing to spend $255 next year to ensure clean, safe drinking water in all communities and $5 to expand school meal programs. These choices are political ones, but at least now we can wrap our minds around how much money we’re talking about.

Why not employ a more typical diagraming strategy, like a bar chart? Well, a bar chart would reduce most items to barely visible slivers. Sometimes such large numbers are recast as percentages of the whole, but that approach suffers from the same drawback, generating confusingly small figures, like 0.01 percent. As Dr. Tao recognized, $100,000 trades on a scale with which most people are intimately familiar. Few among us, alas, will ever be a billionaire, much less a trillionaire. But we can all reasonably budget like one.

Aiyana Green is an undergraduate majoring in policy analysis and management in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University. Steven Strogatz is a professor of mathematics at Cornell University and the author, most recently, of “Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe.”


‘Colour-coded’ retirement security: Study finds economic marginalization and inequity follow people into old age

Not surprising but useful confirmation:

Indigenous and racialized seniors have much lower retirement incomes and higher poverty rates than their white counterparts, which a new study says reflects how economic marginalization and inequity follows people into their old age.

Overall, white Canadian seniors enjoy the most retirement security with an average yearly income at $42,800, way above the $32,200 for their peers in the Indigenous communities and $29,200 for visible minorities over the age of 65.

Based on 2016 census data, the report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found 13.7 per cent of white seniors lived in poverty compared to 21.5 per cent among Indigenous seniors and 19.8 per cent among racialized seniors, according to the Low Income Measure After Tax or LIM-AT.

Hence, it’s not surprising that seniors from marginalized groups have to count on public pensions and benefits to make up for lagging retirement incomes, says the study, titled “Colour-coded Retirement,” released Wednesday.

“The data reveal that there are real consequences of economic marginalization and systemic racism. Elders and seniors are financially insecure in retirement, if they can retire at all, because the opportunities for saving are so limited,” says Hayden King, a report co-author and executive editor of the Yellowhead Institute, a First Nation-led research centre.

Senior white Canadians, who made up 85 per cent of the senior population in the country, have the most diverse sources of income of all groups.

About a third of their income comes from public pension sources such as the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans, Old Age Security (OAS), and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS); a third from retirement contributions to work and individual pension plans; and the rest from investment and employment earnings as well as other sources.

In comparison, public pension accounts for 47 per cent of Indigenous seniors’ and 40 per cent of racialized seniors’ retirement income, respectively.

These two groups — accounting for 14.8 per cent of the population over age 65 in Canada — had less money to draw from their employers’ pension plan and own retirement savings, or investment income. They were more likely to rely on employment income.

RPPs and RRSPs account for a third of white seniors’ retirement income, versus 25 per cent for Indigenous seniors and 21 per cent for racialized seniors.

On the whole, racialized Canadian households have less spare money to contribute to those plans than white Canadian households. And when they do, their contributions are lower.

Chinese households were an exception with an average contribution of $10,000 in 2015, which was higher than the $7,600 contribution made by white households. In comparison, Black families only made a $4,600 average contribution.

“The overall low share of the racialized and Indigenous population that contribute to RPPs points to reduced retirement security for the next generation of workers,” the report warned.

Among racial minority groups, retirement incomes also vary among those who were born in Canada versus those who are immigrants.

While only 3 per cent of Chinese seniors and 1 per cent of South Asian seniors are Canadian-born, their average retirement income is higher than their immigrant peers.

In the case of Black Canadians, however, being Canadian-born offers no income advantage.

“Canadian-born Black seniors’ income is virtually identical to that of Black immigrants, with the result that Canadian-born Black seniors’ average income continues to be 25 per cent lower than Canadian-born white seniors’ income,” said the report.

“This provides us with insight into the continuing impact of anti-Black racism on seniors’ income.”

The study also shows the differences between First Nations, Métis and Inuit seniors’ income, as well as their respective contributions to RPPs and RRSPs.

First Nations seniors have the lowest average income of any Indigenous group, at $33,500 for men and $26,300 for women, followed by their Inuit ($39,900 and $32,150) and Métis ($41,765 and $28,285) counterparts. Métis seniors were most likely to contribute to private pension and retirement savings plans, while their First Nations peers had the lowest participation rate.

Researchers said there is also a consistent gender gap with senior women of all demographic backgrounds having lower retirement incomes and higher poverty rates than senior men.

The study found the overall racialized senior population’s total income averaged $33,900 for men and $25,000 for women. While visible minority male seniors’ average income is 36 per cent lower than their white male counterparts, senior racialized women’s average income is 26 per cent below their white female peers.

“It is only when the economic impacts of underlying racism and sexism are addressed that we will achieve equal access to a secure retirement for all,” said the 49-page report, funded by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation

It said the data shows that GIS and OAS pension — both adopted as anti-poverty measures — are crucial sources of income for senior women who are First Nations or racialized immigrants.

The increase in OAS by the federal Liberal government for those 75 and older in the 2021 federal budget is a step in the right direction to narrow retirement income disparities, said the study.

It recommends measures to eliminate barriers to equitable employment opportunities and increased access to workplace-based pension plans and retirement savings

Source: ‘Colour-coded’ retirement security: Study finds economic marginalization and inequity follow people into old age

American Samoa culture plays role in US citizenship ruling

Of interest given intersection with Indigenous-like issues:

In a decision citing American Samoa cultural traditions, those born in the U.S. territory shouldn’t have citizenship automatically forced on them, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling reverses a lower court ruling that sided with three people from American Samoa who live in Utah and sued to be recognized as citizens. The judge ruled the Utah residents are entitled to birthright citizenship under the 14th Amendment. He then put his ruling on hold pending appeal.

U.S. Congress should play a bigger role than the courts in deciding citizenship for those in territories, the appeals court ruling said.

American Samoa is the only unincorporated territory of the United States where the inhabitants are not American citizens at birth.

Instead, those born in the cluster of islands some 2,600 miles (4,184 kilometers) southwest of Hawaii are granted “U.S. national” status, meaning they can’t vote for U.S. president, run for office outside American Samoa or apply for certain jobs. The only federal election they can cast a vote in is the race for American Samoa’s nonvoting U.S. House seat.

The ruling notes that American Samoa government leaders and others opposed the lawsuit because they are concerned automatic citizenship could disrupt cultural traditions, such as communal land ownership and social structures organized around large, extended families led by matai, those with hereditary chieftain titles.

“There is simply insufficient caselaw to conclude with certainty that citizenship will have no effect on the legal status of the fa’a Samoa,” or the American Samoan way of life, the ruling said. “The constitutional issues that would arise in the context of America Samoa’s unique culture and social structure would be unusual, if not entirely novel, and therefore unpredictable.”

Drawing on the views of the American Samoa people is one of the more gratifying aspects of the ruling, said Michael Williams, an attorney representing the American Samoa government, which intervened to oppose the lawsuit.

“It is also vindication for the principle that the people of American Samoa should determine their own status in accordance with Samoan culture and traditions,” he said.

A path toward U.S. citizenship exists for those who want it. But some say it’s costly and cumbersome. Non-citizen nationals of American Samoa are entitled to work and travel freely in the United States and receive certain advantages in the naturalization process.

Neil Weare, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said they are disappointed by the ruling, and are reviewing next steps. Options include asking a wider panel of appeals court judges to hear the case or taking it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Weare is president of Equally American, which advocates for equality and civil rights for people in U.S. territories.

He said he was impressed with a dissenting judge’s opinion.

”When the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, courts, dictionaries, maps, and censuses uniformly regarded territories as land ‘in the United States,’” wrote Judge Robert E. Bacharach in his dissent.

Self-determination is a highly valued principle in American Samoa, said Line-Noue Memea Kruse, adjunct faculty in Pacific islands studies at Brigham Young University-Hawaii and whose book is cited in the ruling.

“There are many foreign interests looming over these citizenship cases,” she said. “This is not the end. They will keep pushing. This to me is a form of inter-territorial hegemony.”

Source: American Samoa culture plays role in US citizenship ruling