DOL H-1B Visa Wage Rule: Donald Trump’s Bad Parting Gift To Immigrants

Two contrasting views on the Trump administration’s rule imposting higher salary requirements on H-1B visas. The first from the National Foundation for American Policy opposes the change, the second, from the Niskanen Center, supports it. From a self-interested Canadian perspective, the Trump rule provides an immigration advantage to Canadian firms.

Starting with opposition to the change: 

The Department of Labor (DOL) reissued a controversial rule designed to price H-1B visa holders and employment-based immigrants out of the U.S. labor market, setting up new legal battles and a decision by the Biden administration on whether to keep a rule that fulfills a key part of White House adviser Stephen Miller’s anti-immigration agenda. The final rule makes only minimal substantive changes from the original rule and was drafted to avoid the violations of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) that caused three judges to issue opinions blocking the regulation.

Under immigration law, employers must pay H-1B visa holders the higher of the prevailing wage or actual wage paid to similar U.S. workers. DOL determines the prevailing wage with data from the government’s Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) wage survey and uses a mathematical formula to create four levels of wages for each occupation.

A formula is already problematic, since it is much less accurate than asking employers what they pay employees at different levels of experience. A formula can be manipulated to achieve a result, as analysts note, by artificially raising the required wage. That is what the Department of Labor has done in the two versions of its wage rule.

The Department of Labor (DOL) reissued a controversial rule designed to price H-1B visa holders and employment-based immigrants out of the U.S. labor market, setting up new legal battles and a decision by the Biden administration on whether to keep a rule that fulfills a key part of White House adviser Stephen Miller’s anti-immigration agenda. The final rule makes only minimal substantive changes from the original rule and was drafted to avoid the violations of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) that caused three judges to issue opinions blocking the regulation.

Under immigration law, employers must pay H-1B visa holders the higher of the prevailing wage or actual wage paid to similar U.S. workers. DOL determines the prevailing wage with data from the government’s Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) wage survey and uses a mathematical formula to create four levels of wages for each occupation.

In October 2020, the Department of Labor issued an interim final regulation that raised the required wage employers must pay not just to H-1B visa holders but for employment-based immigrants who required labor certification. Three courts blocked the rule on grounds that it violated the Administrative Procedure Act by claiming a “good cause” exception to allow the regulation to go into effect immediately without notice and comment. Judges cited, among other things, a National Foundation for American Policy analysis that showed the unemployment rate for computer occupations had not increased during the pandemic.

The new rule does not go into effect for 60 days. It also phases in the latest higher salary requirements over several months. Trump officials hoped that would force employers and universities to argue that the regulation violates the statutory language or did not properly address comments, rather than the more straightforward violations of the Administrative Procedure Act contained in the original rule that were defeated in court.

The Fragomen law firm summarized the regulation’s phase-in:

  • “Phase 1, Rule Effective Date through June 30, 2021: LCAs [labor condition applications] filed and PWDs [prevailing wage determinations] issued during this timeframe are to remain subject to current wage levels, with Level I at the 17th percentile, Level II at the 34th percentile, Level III at the 50th percentile and Level IV at the 67th percentile.
  • “Phase 2, July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022: The new wage levels will take effect, however, they are to be adjusted downward as follows – Levels I and IV are to be set at the higher of either 90% of the wage value calculated at the 35th and 90th percentile or the mean of the lower one-third of the current OES wage distribution. Levels II and III are to be set using the wage calculations outlined in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which rely on the amounts listed in Levels I and IV.
  • “Phase 3, July 1, 2022 and after: The new wage levels are to take effect without any adjustments, with Level I at the 35thpercentile, Level II at the 53rd percentile, Level III at the 72ndpercentile and Level IV at the 90th percentile.”

“The revisions to the rule don’t change the fact that it still fails to do what the law requires—to reflect the actual, prevailing wage for workers in that geographical area doing similar work,” said Kevin Miner, a partner at Fragomen, in an interview. “The fact that Level 1 wages are now tied to around the 35th percentile rather than the 45th percentile doesn’t change the fact that it is artificially inflating required wages. Prevailing wage data published by DOL should reflect the actual wages paid in the market. It should be math, not politics. If Congress wants to make changes to the H-1B statute, it can do so. But DOL shouldn’t be trying to do that through rulemaking.”

The new rule has the same defects as the earlier version, even if the wage effects are slightly less extreme, according to a preliminary analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy. In effect, at the 35th percentile, the new rule would require employers to pay an entry level employee the same or more than 35% of the people working in the same occupation and geographic location, even if those individuals have much more experience.

One way of looking at the new rule is since the current Level 2 wage is at the 34th percentile, and the new Level 1 is at the 35th percentile, then what the new rule does is eliminate the entire Level 1 wage level and pushes everything else upwards. “That is one of the ways the rule violates the statute,” said Miner.

The wages mandated under the DOL rule do not reflect market wages or meet the definition of a prevailing wage. “The prevailing wage rate is defined as the average wage paid to similarly employed workers in a specific occupation in the area of intended employment,” according to the Department of Labor.

Compared to the regulation in effect for years, the new DOL rule will require employers to pay, on average, 34% higher salaries at the Level 1 wage for biochemists and biophysicists, 29% higher for software developers and database administrators, and 28% more for computer programmers, according to a National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) estimate of the new rule’s impact.

To examine how much above the market wage the new rule requires employers to pay, NFAP looked at private wage survey data. Under the new DOL mandated minimum salary, an employer in the San Jose, California area would pay an electrical engineer at Level 4 more than $41,000 above the market wage, as indicated by a private wage survey (Willis Towers Watson). At Level 1, an employer in San Jose would pay an electrical engineer more than $36,000 above the market wage, according to an NFAP estimate.

The Department of Labor wage rule is designed to make it as difficult as possible for employment-based immigrants and visa holders to enter or work in America. The DOL wage rule should be viewed the same as Trump administration’s policies that ended nearly all refugee admissions, prevented individuals from applying for asylum, banned people from several Muslim-majority nations and stopped family immigrants from entering the United States.

H-1B visas are important because they generally represent the only practical way for high-skilled foreign nationals, including international students, to work long-term in the United States and have a chance to become employment-based immigrants and U.S. citizens. Analysts note the visas are a crucial part of America’s ability to innovate at a time when elected officials want companies to develop and produce more products and services in the United States.

Pricing visa holders and immigrants out of the U.S. labor market will push more work to other nations and further discourage international students from coming to America. Economists recognize there is a global market for labor, which is ignored in the DOL rule: “[A]ny policies that are motivated by concerns about the loss of native jobs should consider that policies aimed at reducing immigration have the unintended consequence of encouraging firms to offshore jobs abroad,” according to research by Britta Glennon, an assistant professor at the Wharton School of Business.

Litigation is expected from employers. The more critical issue is whether the Biden administration will implement the Trump administration’s most recent assault on high-skilled immigration or move to rescind or substantially revise the regulation through the rulemaking process.

The DOL wage rule is Donald Trump and Stephen Miller’s parting gift to immigrants, universities and high technology companies. The Biden administration must decide if it wants to carry out the Donald Trump-Stephen Miller agenda on immigration.

Source: DOL H-1B Visa Wage Rule: Donald Trump’s Bad Parting Gift To Immigrants

In support, from the Niskanen Center:

Just days before the 2020 election, the Trump administration proposed a new ruleto change how H-1B visas are allocated. The final rule was announced last week and is set to go into effect before the 2022 H-1B lottery. The Biden administration will have many Trump-era immigration rules to reverse. But this rule — uniquely — is worth supporting after the end of the Trump administration, since it ensures visas go to the best and brightest, reduces risk for H-1B employers, protects native workers, and fulfills one of Biden’s campaign promises.

Allocating visas efficiently

The demand for cap-subject H-1Bs consistently outpaces the 85,000 that are allowed each year. The result is a zero-sum game; one employer’s approval is necessarily one fewer visa available to other employers. And the lottery-based allocation established under the old rules dictates that virtually all employers are equally likely to win, regardless of their petitions’ relative merit.

The new rule replaces the random lottery with a wage-based ranking, awarding visas to employers offering the largest salaries. Under wage-based allocation, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services no longer has to be indifferent between a superstar who is a perfect fit for a lucrative niche job and a worker to fill an entry-level position. Instead, USCIS can ensure visas are going to the most valuable workers.

Of course, much of this zero-sum competition is artificially imposed by the low H-1B cap — even the less productive H-1B-eligible workers with sponsors would still be of enormous benefit to the United States. But the Department of Homeland Security can’t get rid of the cap. It can make sure that in the face of the cap, visas go to the best and brightest of the best and brightest.

Pro-worker and pro-business

In addition to allocating H-1Bs efficiently, wage-based allocation yields three other significant benefits.

First, it protects native workers. Labor market competition between H-1B workers and natives is largely overblown, with H-1B workers earning much more on average than natives of the same level of education. However, there are several disturbing cases where businesses use H-1B workers to replace or undercut natives, even if such cases are quite rare. However uncommon, such cases are bad for the native workers affected and bad for the H-1B program’s political prospects. After all, how can lawmakers be persuaded to raise the cap if H-1Bs are already displacing workers?

Naturally, the issue is the lottery system, which often awards visas to the least deserving petitions and incentivizes the proliferation of outsourcing companies and H-1B dependent firms. Assigning visas to the workers who will earn the highest salaries automatically makes cases of abuse financially unviable. Making employers compete for visas by offering better wages is pro-worker and can help recover some of the program’s damaged reputation.

Second, wage-based allocation is good for business and reduces a tremendous amount of waste. Under a lottery, businesses face costly uncertainty about whether all the money and time spent trying to secure a visa will pay off. If an employer wins the lottery, their new employee will make the process worth it, but if they lose, the resources are squandered. On top of the waste, the uncertainty and risk deters some businesses from participating at all. Wage-based allocation addresses these issues, giving high-paying employers security and reliability, while providing lower-paying employers the signal they need to know they won’t win a visa if they petition for one.

Third, a wage-based allocation generates valuable information to lawmakers about the value of H-1Bs. Each year’s salary cutoff — that is, the lowest salary that still secures a visa — sends a  much stronger signal about the demand for H-1B labor than does the number of lottery applicants, which can obscure the underlying need for workers by only including employers who are willing to take on the risk inherent in entering the lottery. As demand for labor increases, it might not show up clearly in the number of H-1B applications because the value of an H-1B application decreases as the probability of winning the lottery decreases. Therefore, the number of H-1B applications is a mixed signal about the demand for workers and the risk-aversion of employers that is hard to disentangle. On the other hand, movement in a salary cutoff can more transparently inform lawmakers how to set the cap and assure them that increasing it won’t lead to low-wage labor.

As it happens, this policy is included in Biden’s immigration plan. “An immigration system that crowds out high-skilled workers in favor of only entry level wages and skills threatens American innovation and competitiveness,” his plan reads. Then it follows with Biden’s proposal to fix it: “first reform temporary visas to establish a wage-based allocation process.” Granted, Biden’s plan indicates that he hoped the change would come from Congress.

Nevertheless, allowing the rule to stand would make sure that talent and resources aren’t squandered in the next lotteries before Congress has a chance to get to it — if it does at all. Meaningful H-1B reform to charge innovation and productivity growth doesn’t stop at wage-based allocation, but it’s a promising start.

Source: Trump’s One Immigration Reform That Biden Should Keep

Sweden proposes language requirement for would-be citizens

Pretty standard requirements elsewhere:

Justice and Migration Minister Morgan Johansson presented details of an inquiry into the proposals on Wednesday morning.

“Language is the key to work, but also the key to society,” said Johansson as he outlined why the government thought it needed to find “a better balance between rights and responsibilities” for would-be citizens.

Foreign nationals applying to become Swedish would need proof of Swedish skills at A2 level for speaking and writing, the second lowest out of six levels on the Common European Framework of Reference, and B1 for reading and listening.

To take the test, it would cost 500 kronor ($60) for the section relating to civil society and 2,000 kronor for the language component.

Citizenship applicants could alternatively provide proof of passing Grade 9 in a Swedish high school, or a course at upper secondary school, or the highest level of the Swedish For Immigrants (SFI) course.

The language requirements would apply to people aged between 16 and 66 who apply for Swedish citizenship, but certain exceptions are proposed, including for people with certain disabilities or those who are from a vulnerable background – for example being stateless or illiterate – who can prove they have tried to reach the required knowledge level but been unsuccessful.

Citizens of other Nordic countries who live in Sweden would also be exempted, as they are subject to a different process and are only required to notify authorities, rather than apply, in order to receive citizenship.

The proposals were put together based on reviewing the processes in place in other European countries, of which only three including Sweden do not currently require a language test.

But the details aren’t finalised yet. The next stage is to send the proposals out for consultation from relevant authorities, and they may be adapted depending on the responses received. Then a proposal would need to be passed by parliament and work to begin on putting together the tests.

“This is a reasonable proposal and we hope that it can be put into place as soon as possible, but of course this is a large organisational challenge,” said Johansson.

The government committed to investigating language tests for citizenship applicants in the cross-bloc deal struck with the Centre and Liberal parties, whose support the Social Democrat-Green coalition needed to form a government.

Separately, the government is looking into whether language skills should be required for permanent residence in Sweden.


From facial recognition, to predictive technologies, big data policing is rife with technical, ethical and political landmines

Good long read and overview of the major issues:

In mid-2019, an investigative journalism/tech non-profit called MuckRock and Open the Government (OTG), a non-partisan advocacy group, began submitting freedom of information requests to law enforcement agencies across the United States. The goal: to smoke out details about the use of an app rumoured to offer unprecedented facial recognition capabilities to anyone with a smartphone.

Co-founded by Michael Morisy, a former Boston Globe editor, MuckRock specializes in FOIs and its site has grown into a publicly accessible repository of government documents obtained under access to information laws.

As responses trickled in, it became clear that the MuckRock/OTG team had made a discovery about a tech company called Clearview AI. Based on documents obtained from Atlanta, OTG researcher Freddy Martinez began filing more requests, and discovered that as many as 200 police departments across the U.S. were using Clearview’s app, which compares images taken by smartphone cameras to a sprawling database of 3 billion open-source photographs of faces linked to various forms of personal information (e.g., Facebook profiles). It was, in effect, a point-click-and-identify system that radically transformed the work of police officers.

The documents soon found their way to a New York Times reporter named Kashmir Hill, who, in January 2020, published a deeply investigated feature about Clearview, a tiny and secretive start-up with backing from Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire behind Paypal and Palantir Technologies. Among the story’s revelations, Hill disclosed that tech giants like Google and Apple were well aware that such an app could be developed using artificial intelligence algorithms feeding off the vast storehouse of facial images uploaded to social media platforms and other publicly accessible databases. But they had opted against designing such a disruptive and easily disseminated surveillance tool.

The Times story set off what could best be described as an international chain reaction, with widespread media coverage about the use of Clearview’s app, followed by a wave of announcements from various governments and police agencies about how Clearview’s app would be banned. The reaction played out against a backdrop of news reports about China’s nearly ubiquitous facial recognition-based surveillance networks.

Canada was not exempt. To Surveil and Predict, a detailed examination of “algorithmic policing” published this past fall by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, noted that officers with law enforcement agencies in Calgary, Edmonton and across Greater Toronto had tested Clearview’s app, sometimes without the knowledge of their superiors. Investigative reporting by the Toronto Star and Buzzfeed News found numerous examples of municipal law enforcement agencies, including the Toronto Police Service, using the app in crime investigations. The RCMP denied using Clearview even after it had entered into a contract with the company — a detail exposed by Vancouver’s The Tyee.

With federal and provincial privacy commissioners ordering investigations, Clearview and the RCMP subsequently severed ties, although Citizen Lab noted that many other tech companies still sell facial recognition systems in Canada. “I think it is very questionable whether [Clearview] would conform with Canadian law,” Michael McEvoy, British Columbia’s privacy commissioner, told the Star in February.

There was fallout elsewhere. Four U.S. cities banned police use of facial recognition outright, the Citizen Lab report noted. The European Union in February proposed a ban on facial recognition in public spaces but later hedged. A U.K. court in April ruled that police facial recognition systems were “unlawful,” marking a significant reversal in surveillance-minded Britain. And the European Data Protection Board, an EU agency, informed Commission members in June that Clearview’s technology violates Pan-European law enforcement policies. As Rutgers University law professor and smart city scholar Ellen Goodman notes “There’s been a huge blowback” against the use of data-intensive policing technologies.

There’s nothing new about surveillance or police investigative practices that draw on highly diverse forms of electronic information, from wire taps to bank records and images captured by private security cameras. Yet during the past decade or so, dramatic advances in big data analytics, biometrics and AI, stoked by venture capital and law enforcement agencies eager to invest in new technology, have given rise to a fast-growing data policing industry. As the Clearview story showed, regulation and democratic oversight have lagged far behind the technology.

U.S. startups like PredPol and HunchLab, now owned by ShotSpotter, have designed so-called “predictive policing” algorithms that use law enforcement records and other geographical data (e.g. locations of schools) to make statistical guesses about the times and locations of future property crimes. Palantir’s law-enforcement service aggregates and then mines huge data sets consisting of emails, court documents, evidence repositories, gang member databases, automated licence plate readers, social media, etc., to find correlations or patterns that police can use to investigate suspects.

Yet as the Clearview fallout indicated, big data policing is rife with technical, ethical and political landmines, according to Andrew Ferguson, a University of the District Columbia law professor. As he explains in his 2017 book, The Rise of Big Data Policing, analysts have identified an impressive list: biased, incomplete or inaccurate data, opaque technology, erroneous predictions, lack of governance, public suspicions about surveillance and over-policing, conflicts over access to proprietary algorithms, unauthorized use of data and the muddied incentives of private firms selling law enforcement software.

At least one major study found that some police officers were highly skeptical of predictive policing algorithms. Other critics point out that by deploying smart city sensors or other data-enabled systems, like transit smart cards, local governments may be inadvertently providing the police with new intelligence sources. Metrolinx, for example, has released Presto card user information to police while London’s Metropolitan Police has made thousands of requests for Oyster card data to track criminals, according to The Guardian. “Any time you have a microphone, camera or a live-feed, these [become] surveillance devices with the simple addition of a court order,” says New York civil rights lawyer Albert Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP).

The authors of the Citizen Lab study, lawyers Kate Robertson, Cynthia Khoo and Yolanda Song, argue that Canadian governments need to impose a moratorium on the deployment of algorithmic policing technology until the public policy and legal frameworks can catch up.

Data policing was born in New York City in the early 1990s when then-police Commissioner William Bratton launched “Compstat,” a computer system that compiled up-to-date crime information then visualized the findings in heat maps. These allowed unit commanders to deploy officers to neighbourhoods most likely to be experiencing crime problems.

Originally conceived as a management tool that would push a demoralized police force to make better use of limited resources, Compstat is credited by some as contributing to the marked reduction in crime rates in the Big Apple, although many other big cities experienced similar drops through the 1990s and early 2000s.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks sparked enormous investments in security technology. The past two decades have seen the emergence of a multi-billion-dollar industry dedicated to civilian security technology, everything from large-scale deployments of CCTVs and cybersecurity to the development of highly sensitive biometric devices — fingerprint readers, iris scanners, etc. — designed to bulk up the security around factories, infrastructure and government buildings.

Predictive policing and facial recognition technologies evolved on parallel tracks, both relying on increasingly sophisticated analytics techniques, artificial intelligence algorithms and ever deeper pools of digital data.

The core idea is that the algorithms — essentially formulas, such as decision-trees, that generate predictions — are “trained” on large tranches of data so they become increasingly accurate, for example at anticipating the likely locations of future property crimes or matching a face captured in a digital image from a CCTV to one in a large database of headshots. Some algorithms are designed to use a set of rules with variables (akin to following a recipe). Others, known as machine learning, are programmed to learn on their own (trial and error).

The risk lies in the quality of the data used to train the algorithms — what was dubbed the “garbage-in-garbage-out” problem in a study by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology. If there are hidden biases in the training data — e.g., it contains mostly Caucasian faces — the algorithm may misread Asian or Black faces and generate “false positives,” a well-documented shortcoming if the application involves a identifying a suspect in a crime.

Similarly, if a poor or racialized area is subject to over-policing, there will likely be more crime reports, meaning the data from that neighbourhood is likely to reveal higher-than-average rates of certain types of criminal activity, a data point that would justify more over-policing and racial profiling. Some crimes are under-reported, and don’t influence these algorithms.

Other predictive and AI-based law enforcement technologies, such as “social network analysis” — an individual’s web of personal relationships, gleaned, for example, from social media platforms or examined by cross-referencing of lists of gang members — promised to generate predictions that individuals known to police were at risk of becoming embroiled in violent crimes.

This type of sleuthing seemed to hold out some promise. In one study, criminologists at Cardiff University found that “disorder-related” posts on Twitter reflected crime incidents in metropolitan London — a finding that suggests how big data can help map and anticipate criminal activity. In practise, however, such surveillance tactics can prove explosive. This happened in 2016, when U.S. civil liberties groups revealed documents showing that Geofeedia, a location-based data company, had contracts with numerous police departments to provide analytics based on social media posts to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Among the individuals targeted by the company’s data: protestors and activists. Chastened, the social media firms rapidly blocked Geofeedia’s access.

In 2013, the Chicago Police Department began experimenting with predictive models that assigned risk scores for individuals based on criminal records or their connections to people involved in violent crime. By 2019, the CPD had assigned risk scores to almost 400,000 people, and claimed to be using the information to surveil and target “at-risk” individuals (including potential victims) or connect them to social services, according to a January 2020 report by Chicago’s inspector general.

These tools can draw incorrect or biased inferences in the same way that overreliance on police checks in racialized neighbourhoods results in what could be described as guilt by address. The Citizen Lab study noted that the Ontario Human Rights Commission identified social network analysis as a potential cause of racial profiling. In the case of the CPD’s predictive risk model, the system was discontinued in 2020 after media reports and internal investigations showed that people were added to the list based solely on arrest records, meaning they might not even have been charged, much less convicted of a crime.

Early applications of facial recognition software included passport security systems or searches of mug shot databases. But in 2011, the Insurance Corporation of B.C. offered Vancouver police the use of facial recognition software to match photos of Stanley Cup rioters with driver’s licence images — a move that prompted a stern warning from the province’s privacy commissioner. In 2019, the Washington Post revealed that FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigators regarded state databases of digitized driver’s licences as a “gold mine for facial recognition photos” which had been scanned without consent.

In 2013, Canada’s federal privacy commissioner released a report on police use of facial recognition that anticipated the issues raised by Clearview app earlier in 2020. “[S]trict controls and increased transparency are needed to ensure that the use of facial recognition conforms with our privacy laws and our common sense of what is socially acceptable.” (Canada’s data privacy laws are only now being considered for an update.)

The technology, meanwhile, continues to gallop ahead. New York civil rights lawyer Albert Cahn points to the emergence of “gait recognition” systems, which use visual analysis to identify individuals by their walk; these systems are reportedly in use in China. “You’re trying to teach machines how to identify people who walk with the same gait,” he says. “Of course, a lot of this is completely untested.”

The predictive policing story evolved somewhat differently. The methodology grew out of analysis commissioned by the Los Angeles Police Department in the early 2010s. Two data scientists, Jeff Brantingham and George Mohler, used mathematical modelling to forecast copycat crimes based on data about the location and frequency of previous burglaries in three L.A. neighbourhoods. They published their results and soon set up PredPol to commercialize the technology. Media attention soon followed, as news stories played up the seemingly miraculous power of a Minority Report-like system that could do a decent job anticipating incidents of property crime.

Operationally, police forces used PredPol’s system by dividing up precincts in 150-square-metre “cells” that police officers were instructed to patrol more intensively during periods when PredPol’s algorithm forecast criminal activity. In the post-2009 credit crisis period, the technology seemed to promise that cash-strapped American municipalities would get more bang for their policing buck.

Other firms, from startups to multinationals like IBM, entered the market with innovations, for example, incorporating other types of data, such as socio-economic data or geographical features, from parks and picnic tables to schools and bars, that may be correlated to elevated incidents of certain types of crime. The reported crime data is routinely updated so the algorithm remains current.

Police departments across the U.S. and Europe have invested in various predictive policing tools, as have several in Canada, including Vancouver, Edmonton and Saskatoon. Whether they have made a difference is an open question. As with several other studies, a 2017 review by analysts with the Institute for International Research on Criminal Policy, at Ghent University in Belgium, found inconclusive results: some places showed improved results compared to more conventional policing, while in other cities, the use of predictive algorithms led to reduced policing costs, but little measurable difference in outcomes.

Revealingly, the city where predictive policing really took hold, Los Angeles, has rolled back police use on these techniques. Last spring, the LAPD tore up its contract with PredPol in the wake of mounting community and legal pressure from the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, which found that individuals who posed no real threat, mostly Black or Latino, were ending up on police watch lists because of flaws in the way the system assigned risk scores.

“Algorithms have no place in policing,” Coalition founder Hamid Khan said in an interview this summer with MIT Technology Review. “I think it’s crucial that we understand that there are lives at stake. This language of location-based policing is by itself a proxy for racism. They’re not there to police potholes and trees. They are there to police people in the location. So location gets criminalized, people get criminalized, and it’s only a few seconds away before the gun comes out and somebody gets shot and killed.” (Similar advocacy campaigns, including proposed legislation governing surveillance technology and gang databases, have been proposed for New York City.)

There has been one other interesting consequence: police resistance. B.C.-born sociologist Sarah Brayne, an assistant professor at the University of Texas (Austin), spent two-and-a-half years embedded with the LAPD, exploring the reaction of law enforcement officials to algorithmic policing techniques by conducting ride-alongs as well as interviews with dozens of veteran cops and data analysts. In results published last year, Brayne and collaborator Angèle Christin observed “strong processes of resistance fuelled by fear of professional devaluation and threats of performance tracking.”

Before shifts, officers were told which grids to drive through, when and how frequently, and the locations of their vehicles were tracked by an on-board GPS devices to ensure compliance. But Brayne found that some would turn off the tracking device, which they regarded with suspicion. Others just didn’t buy what the technology was selling. “Patrol officers frequently asserted that they did not need an algorithm to tell them where crime occurs,” she noted.

In an interview, Brayne said that police departments increasingly see predictive technology as part of the tool kit, despite questions about effectiveness or other concerns, like racial profiling. “Once a particular technology is created,” she observed,” there’s a tendency to use it.” But Brayne added one other prediction, which has to do with the future of algorithmic policing in the post-George Floyd era — “an intersection,” as she says, “between squeezed budgets and this movement around defunding the police.”

The widening use of big data policing and digital surveillance poses, according to Citizen Lab’s analysis as well as critiques from U.S. and U.K. legal scholars, a range of civil rights questions, from privacy and freedom from discrimination to due process. Yet governments have been slow to acknowledge these consequences. Big Brother Watch, a British civil liberties group, notes that in the U.K., the national government’s stance has been that police decisions about the deployment of facial recognition systems are “operational.”

At the core of the debate is a basic public policy principle: transparency. Do individuals have the tools to understand and debate the workings of a suite of technologies that can have tremendous influence over their lives and freedoms? It’s what Andrew Ferguson and others refer to as the “black box” problem. The algorithms, designed by software engineers, rely on certain assumptions, methodologies and variables, none of which are visible, much less legible to anyone without advanced technical know-how. Many, moreover, are proprietary because they are sold to local governments by private companies. The upshot is that these kinds of algorithms have not been regulated by governments despite their use by public agencies.

New York City Council moved to tackle this question in May 2018 by establishing an “automated decision systems” task force to examine how municipal agencies and departments use AI and machine learning algorithms. The task force was to devise procedures for identifying hidden biases and to disclose how the algorithms generate choices so the public can assess their impact. The group included officials from the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, tech experts and civil liberties advocates. It held public meetings throughout 2019 and released a report that November. NYC was, by most accounts, the first city to have tackled this question, and the initiative was, initially, well received.

Going in, Cahn, the New York City civil rights lawyer, saw the task force as “a unique opportunity to examine how AI was operating in city government.” But he describes the outcome as “disheartening.” “There was an unwillingness to challenge the NYPD on its use of (automated decision systems).” Some other participants agreed, describing the effort as a waste.

If institutional obstacles thwarted an effort in a government the size of the City of New York, what does better and more effective oversight look like? A couple of answers have emerged.

In his book on big data policing, Andrew Ferguson writes that local governments should start at first principles, and urges police forces and civilian oversight bodies to address five fundamental questions, ideally in a public forum:

  • Can you identify the risks that your big data technology is trying to address?
  • Can you defend the inputs into the system (accuracy of data, soundness of methodology)?
  • Can you defend the outputs of the system (how they will impact policing practice and community relationships)?
  • Can you test the technology (offering accountability and some measure of transparency)?
  • Is police use of the technology respectful of the autonomy of the people it will impact?

These “foundational” questions, he writes, “must be satisfactorily answered before green-lighting any purchase or adopting a big data policing strategy.”

In addition to calling for a moratorium and a judicial inquiry into the uses of predictive policing and facial recognition systems, the authors of the Citizen Lab report made several other recommendations, including: the need for full transparency; provincial policies governing the procurement of such systems; limits on the use of ADS in public spaces; and the establishment of oversight bodies that include members of historically marginalized or victimized groups.

Interestingly, the federal government has made advances in this arena, which University of Ottawa law professor and privacy expert Teresa Scassa describes as “really interesting.”

The Treasury Board Secretariat in 2019 issued the “Directive on Automated Decision-Making,” which came into effect in April 2020, requires federal departments and agencies, except those involved in national security, to conduct “algorithmic impact assessments” (AIA) to evaluate unintended bias before procuring or approving the use of technologies that rely on AI or machine learning. The policy requires the government to publish AIAs, release software codes developed internally and continually monitor the performance of these systems. In the case of proprietary algorithms developed by private suppliers, federal officials have extensive rights to access and test the software.

In a forthcoming paper, Scassa points out that the directive includes due process rules and looks for evidence of whether systemic bias has become embedded in these technologies, which can happen if the algorithms are trained on skewed data. She also observes that not all algorithm-driven systems generate life-altering decisions, e.g., chatbots that are now commonly used in online application processes. But where they are deployed in “high impact” contexts such as policing, e.g., with algorithms that aim to identify individuals caught on surveillance videos, the policy requires “a human in the loop.”

The directive, says Scassa, “is getting interest elsewhere,” including the U.S. Ellen Goodman, at Rutgers, is hopeful this approach will gain traction with the Biden administration. In Canada, where provincial governments oversee law enforcement, Ottawa’s low-key but seemingly thorough regulation points to a way for citizens to shine a flashlight into the black box that is big data policing.

Source: From facial recognition, to predictive technologies, big data policing is rife with technical, ethical and political landmines

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 13 January Update, including vaccinations

As vaccination data is becoming available, I have started to compile this data (number of vaccinations administered) by province and my standard list of countries. Some countries have yet to publish vaccination data. While Canada is far behind the UK and USA, it is ahead of China and France:

The standard charts can be found below.

Minor week to week changes:

Infections per million: California ahead of USA, Ontario ahead of Canada less Quebec, Japan ahead of Pakistan, Atlantic Canada ahead of Australia 

Deaths per million: Alberta moved ahead of Canada less Quebec

How Executive Action Can Build a More Fair, Humane, and Workable Immigration System

From the Democrat think tank, the Center for American Progress, a likely indicator of what to expect from the Biden administration:

Over the past four years, the Trump administration wreaked havoc on the nation’s immigration and humanitarian protection systems, all without enacting a single law—and often in violation of existing laws. Building on a set of laws that were already outdated, overly inflexible, and poorly suited to meet the country’s realistic wants and needs, the administration made full use of the significant amount of executive authority that Congress has both explicitly and implicitly delegated to the president over many decades. As many commentators observed when looking at the administration’s relentless anti-immigrant agenda, cruelty was often the point. Now, the incoming Biden administration—which recognized early on that “we are living through a battle for the soul of this nation” and centered its presidential campaign around a pledge to “restore the soul of America”—will need to similarly use executive authority to repair much of the damage done over the past four years, as well as in previous years. By doing so, it can help build an immigration system that is more fair, humane, and workable.

Given the substantial task at hand and the nature of both the administrative state and administrative law, some of this will take time. But because the stakes are so great for so many—indeed, for the country as a whole and for its future—the work must begin immediately and it must be sustained for the duration of the administration. By the end of his first week in office, President Donald Trump had already issued three separateexecutive orders pertaining to immigration.

During his first days in office, President-elect Joe Biden should issue a single omnibus executive order that 1) lays out a condemnation of the damaged system that he is inheriting, 2) articulates a vision for the direction in which he will take things over the course of his term in office, and 3) makes initial, urgently needed changes consistent with that vision, including the imposition of a 100-day moratorium on deportations while the administration conducts a comprehensive review of outstanding cases and develops a set of sensible enforcement priorities.

What the first executive order on immigration should include

The executive order should begin with a high-level description of the breadth of damage done by the Trump administration, including but not limited to:

Providing a concise but comprehensive condemnation of the damage done by the Trump administration is necessary to convey to the public and to both political appointees and career staff that the Biden administration recognizes the challenge at hand and will waste no time in beginning to build immigration and humanitarian protection systems that are far better than what exists today.

The executive order should then address issues by category, articulating generally what values and objectives should guide the development of policy in each area. Where possible, it should immediately rescind executive orders and policies that run counter to those values and objectives—for example, various entry bans issued pursuant to section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the nationwide expansion of expedited removal, and the so-called asylum cooperative agreements with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The order should also task Cabinet secretaries with the responsibility of studying different aspects of the issues within their jurisdiction and reporting back in fixed periods of time with new plans and policies consistent with the administration’s vision.

For example, the secretary of homeland security should be tasked with establishing new civil immigration enforcement guidelines; developing a range of community-based supervision programs to significantly decrease the country’s overreliance on a punitive detention system; conducting an immediate audit of the current detention population to release those at heightened risk of developing serious health consequences if they were to contract the coronavirus, as well as vulnerable populations and others for whom detention is not strictly necessary; establishing a protocol to promote cooperative enforcement strategies designed to enhance compliance with U.S. immigration laws; and reviewing extant agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies, including all forms of 287(g) agreements, to begin the process of phasing them out entirely.

Similarly, the attorney general should be directed to take steps to significantly reduce the immigration court backlog by removing low-priority cases from the docket and to review immigration decisions issued by prior attorneys general and the Board of Immigration Appeals to identify cases ripe for certification and prompt reissuance to correct inconsistencies with law. In addition, the secretaries of state and health and human services should be ordered to engage stakeholders and review policies and procedures to ensure that a rebuilt U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is more resilient. The secretaries of homeland security and state, meanwhile, should develop a plan to restore an orderly and efficient asylum system that lives up to our highest ideals, including by dismantling the “Remain in Mexico” program.

While this bureaucratic process takes place and the administration studies each of these issues and designs appropriate solutions or harm-mitigation plans, it should issue a moratorium on deportations and associated detentions and arrests for a 100-day period, ensuring that enforcement actions going forward follow sensible enforcement priorities and are aligned with the new administration’s vision and values and not those of its predecessor.

Congressional engagement and steady policy rollouts in furtherance of the administration’s vision

During this time, the administration should work closely with the new Congress to use all necessary legislative tools to enact legislation without delay. This should include permanent protections for Dreamers and TPS holders—such as those covered by the American Dream and Promise Act, H.R. 6, which passed the House in 2019 with bipartisan support—as well as undocumented farm workers, who would have received protection under the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, H.R. 5038, which also passed the House in 2019 with even greater bipartisan support. Both of these bills ultimately died in the Senate under Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) leadership, but they should be high priorities for the new-look 117th Congress. In addition, as the Biden administration and Congress work to enact a long overdue national coronavirus relief and recovery package that rises to the significant challenges facing the country today, they should ensure that undocumented essential workers and their families—who continue to play an important role in the nation’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic and will play a similarly critical role in the country’s efforts to rebuild—are placed on a path to citizenship.

Of course, necessary policy changes should be announced when they are ready. For instance, the administration should, without delay, begin the process of identifying and reuniting in the United States parents and children separated under the Trump administration’s family separation policy. Additionally, as part of a broader strategy of constructive reengagement with Central America, the secretary of homeland security should issue new TPS designations for El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua on account of the two unprecedented hurricanes that devastated those countries in November and exacerbated their ongoing public health and food insecurity crises.

At the conclusion of this 100-day period, the administration should be prepared to issue new policies governing future civil immigration enforcement practices. At this time, in the event that Congress does not act, the administration should also take strong executive action consistent with its ample authority under law—for instance, by granting “significant public benefitparole in place to individuals who perform work that Trump’s Department of Homeland Security deemed essential to the critical infrastructure of the country as well as to their spouses and minor children.


The executive actions described above—and even the tailored legalization bills—would not eliminate the need for the significant legislative reforms required to create an immigration system that is more fair, humane, and workable and that restores faith in the rule of law. Core features of such a system would include a generous and well-functioning legal immigration system responsive to the nation’s changing needs; an asylum and refugee system that guarantees humane and efficient processing without sacrificing fairness; a new paradigm for enforcement committed to proportionality, accountability, and due process; and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and others who have long resided in this country. There must also be legal mechanisms, such as a rolling registry date, designed to prevent a recurrence of the current problem.

Collectively, these structural reforms will create an immigration system that lives up to the country’s best values, meets its realistic wants and needs, and is both capable of being followed and deserving of being enforced in a fair and just way. But the fact that legislative reforms are undeniably needed does not obviate the need or the justification for steady and aggressive use of executive authority permitted under law. In fact, the decades of legislative paralysis—and the national nightmare from which we will soon emerge—ultimately demand it.

Source: How Executive Action Can Build a More Fair, Humane, and Workable Immigration System

ICYMI: While millions of Indians seek better lives abroad, India treats its immigrants poorly

As I normally use MIPEX to compare OECD country policies, missed just how low India’s rank is:

India ranked the lowest among 52 countries assessed for key indices of migrant inclusivity in 2020, shows the recently launched Migrant Integration Policy Index.

India scored the least, 24 out of 100, far lower than the average of 50, putting it in a category where migrant integration is deemed “denied”.

The index, a policy tool that measures a country’s national policies on international immigrants across eight parameters, is published jointly by two European think-tanks, the Migration Policy Group of Brussels and the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs, and was first released in 2014.

While other Asian countries such as China and Indonesia have improved their integration policies, India’s score has remained unchanged in the last five years. India’s Migrant Integration Policy Index scores fell below 20 in key policy areas including the labour market, education, health, access to nationality and anti-discrimination actions.

This is significant for two reasons: Although not the world’s most important migrant destination, India is home to 5 million immigrants, according to the Census 2011. Data from 2019 from the Population Division of the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs noted a decline in immigrant numbers in India from 7.6 million in 1990 to 5.1 million in 2019.

Although the number of refugees and asylum seekers has gone down between 1990 and 2019 (from 212,700 to 207,600), they constitute an increasing proportion of the total immigrant population in India (2.8% in 1990 to 4% in 2019). Similar estimates from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees suggest that the number of refugees and asylum seekers in 2020 was 210,201, according to their January 2020 India Factsheet.

Further, 95.3% of India’s immigrants in 2019 also originated in the same SDG region (Central and Southern Asia comprising neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan) – a number that has not changed significantly from 1990 (96.8%).

This characteristic of immigration to India is also highlighted in a 2017 article by the Pew Research Center. However, the existing immigrant population continues to face integration barriers in various aspects of daily life, which impact their entry into the workplace, access to justice, and educational experiences, concluded the Migrant Integration Policy Index analysis.

India also sends out the world’s largest number of emigrants – 17.5 million as per estimates from the International Organisation for Migration’s (UN-IOM) World Migration Report 2020, and is, therefore, a critical voice in immigrant integration.

Migrants move seeking better livelihoods and education, so an increase in immigration rates is an indicator of a country’s growth and development trajectory. As India develops in the coming decades and takes on a leadership role in the South Asian region, integration of immigrants and their issues will only become more important, experts say.

“There is very little by way of comprehensive immigration policy in India today – access to social security benefits or the labour market is limited and often foreign nationals face discrimination as reported in the media,” said migration policy expert Meera Sethi, formerly of the UN-IOM.

Originally devised to measure the integration of Third Country Nationals – or non-European Union nationals – in the EU, Migrant Integration Policy Index is now a major policy tool to analyse and measure migrant integration in destination countries around the world: in developed countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and Norway, as well as in developing countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, China, India and Turkey. The assessment for India was conducted by Migration Policy Group’s country partner India Migration Now, a Mumbai-based research non-profit.

Low scores across key indices

India’s overall Migrant Integration Policy Index score is the lowest because of below-average scores in all policy areas except for family reunion (assessing how easy it is for immigrants to reunite with their families) where the score is 75, compared to the Migrant Integration Policy Index average of 58. The country fares worse in certain policy areas such as anti-discrimination, health, labour market mobility and access to nationality.

In the area of labour market mobility, India scored 17 while the Migrant Integration Policy Index average is 51. Accessing an employment visa in India carries certain conditions – only those from highly skilled backgrounds earning more than $25,000 per annum are eligible.

Furthermore, employment visas are not granted for jobs for which qualified Indians are available, according to informationput out by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Foreign residents on business visas have the option of self-employment, but no measures exist to promote access to the labour market or provide support to improve professional skills or opportunities.

In education too, India scored 19, less than half the Migrant Integration Policy Index average of 40. There are no measures in place in the country that recognise the unique requirements of immigrant children. They only benefit from general measures available for all children in India under the Right to Education Act, 2009. This is a lacuna evident for India’s interstate migrants as well, who face exclusion when they move from one state to another, found IMN’s IMPEX analysis of 2020. Typically, states require migrants to furnish proof of residence, which can be in the form of a domicile certificate or a school transfer certificate from the destination state, which migrants often find difficult to produce because they are not domiciles of the destination state and had acquired education in their source states, the IMPEX analysis showed.

These issues are further aggravated for immigrant families and while many have managed to utilise Right to Education provisions, their children often face discrimination and cultural barriers at Indian schools, according to this January 2020 articlein The Wire, which focuses on the Rohingya refugee community. Refugee communities such as the Rohingya are reliant on philanthropic initiatives and the work of NGOs to fill these crucial policy gaps, according to an earlier 2018 field report from The Wire.

In the area of political participation, India scored 0. The right to vote, to stand in elections, and form political parties/associations are limited to the citizens of India. These limitations often also extend to interstate migrants as voter identity is connected to the electoral roll at the place of origin, found IMN’s IMPEX analysis. Although Indian citizens are eligible to transfer to new electoral rolls when they move, the process is not easy, particularly for short-term seasonal migrants who move often.

Poor access to health

In the field of health, immigrants and asylum seekers face additional requirements to access the Indian health system and enjoy little information or support targeted to meet their specific health needs. Schemes such as Ayushman Bharat extend to those families categorised in the lower-income brackets as defined by the socio-economic and caste census of 2011 and therefore exclude immigrants. However, schemes under the Integrated Child Development Services, which provides supplementary nutrition, pre-school and non-formal education, immunisation, and health check-ups to children aged 0 years to 6 years, can usually be availed without proof of identity.

The services of public health facilities like primary healthcare centres are also open to immigrant communities and asylum seekers in India – both of these options are recommended for the communities by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in India as well. These schemes may be utilised by immigrants in the same manner as RTE is.

Schemes of the Delhi government such as the Aam Aadmi Mohalla Clinic serve all residents living in areas deemed eligible (usually slum and jhuggi jhopri areas) and are available to immigrants as well.

Specific health schemes exist for Tibetan and Sri Lankan Tamil refugees as part of central level integration policies for these communities – these include the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy of 2014 and specific schemes for maternal and child health by the government of Tamil Nadu for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. However, these communities number approximately 200,000 in total and only form 3%-4% of the estimated legal immigrant population. Covid-19 has aggravated the existing policy gaps for refugee communities, as IndiaSpend reported in April 2020 and as argued by this September 2020 opinion editorial in Migration Policy Institute, a migration research think-tank based out of Washington DC, USA.

India’s score in the policy area of anti-discrimination is 9, compared to the Migrant Integration Policy Index average of 71. There is currently no legislation related to discrimination against immigrant communities. Article 15 of the Constitution of India addresses direct and/or indirect discrimination and/or harassment and/or instruction to discriminate on grounds of race, ethnicity, religion and belief – a provision that only exists for citizens.

It has also been argued that these provisions are, in themselves, inadequate, and India needs a comprehensive internal anti-discrimination law. Discrimination against immigrant communities is an issue and has occurred against various refugee groups as well as student groups from African countries such as Nigeria who have faced racist attacks.

In India, the path to permanent residence is mainly linked to the ability to fulfil certain economic requirements. However, even permanent residents are denied equal treatment with Indian nationals in key areas of life such as social security and assistance. For accessing citizenship in India, a person can apply for citizenship by naturalisation if they meet certain qualifications such as residence in India or service in the central government for a certain period of time: (i) for the 12 months immediately preceding the application for citizenship, and (ii) for 11 of the 14 years preceding the 12-month period, as specified in The Citizenship Act, 1955 Act. The process of accessing citizenship requires more than 10 years of residence and India does not offer dual nationality.

Among the eight policy areas, India has the highest score in family reunion. This policy area assesses if foreign residents can reunite with their families – for instance, whether legally resident foreign citizens can sponsor their entire families. Whether family members need prerequisites such as learning a language before departure for the destination country.

Whether the state protects family members from discretionary procedures (such as in deciding permit durations, considering personal circumstances when allowing or refusing entry, and giving the applicant a chance to appeal) and whether the family members get the same rights as their sponsor. Although India scores 75 in the policy area and many foreign citizens are eligible to apply for their dependent family members, according to information provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs, there are no additional integration measures for these reunited families.

Flawed public perception

The understanding of the impacts and contributions of immigrants to developing countries’ economies is limited. Besides adding to the overall social and cultural diversity, immigrants from neighbouring countries such as Nepal have been contributing to the Indian economy in the informal sector as construction workers, domestic help, cleaners, bar and restaurant workers, and petty traders. Unfortunately, such contributions have not been assessed or measured, found a 2015 paper published in the Economic and Political Weekly.

Cross-border migrants often face harassment, are exploited by brokers, paid irregularly and sometimes substantially less than what they are promised by the employers, and are often ill-treated by the border security forces – as reported in this 2015 research study by the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group, which conducted fieldwork with cross-border Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants. India has no formal immigration policy framework but existing policies regulate the entry and exit of people through the border.

The Indian government has also set up special tribunals for the determination of the question of whether a person is an illegal immigrant as per the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983. Beyond this, there are ad hoc policies and executive orders for the entry and rehabilitation of Tibetan and Sri Lankan refugees and for religious minorities from neighbouring Muslim majority countries. Even the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 – facilitating citizenship for religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh – is estimated to actually benefit only 31,313 people, as detailed in the joint parliamentary committee report on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (then, a Bill) in 2016.

The lack of policy intervention is further aggravated by the public perception and rhetoric around illegal immigration (mostly from Bangladesh), which have often been election issuesin India. The data, however, do not bear this out: Improved developmental outcomes in Bangladesh in recent years have brought the two countries on par, argues this opinion editorial in The Indian Express – as a result, immigrants from Bangladesh may no longer be seeking out India as a destination.

In a fast globalising world, as Indian emigrants in various destination countries benefit from effective integration schemes, policy in India for the country’s over 5 million immigrant population has clearly not kept pace, said experts.

“Countries have already started to invest in ensuring basic rights and a secure future for international migrants. Now, they need to guarantee migrants the same equal opportunities as nationals,” said Giacomo Solano, policy and statistical analyst at MPG, Brussels, where the Migrant Integration Policy Index was formulated.

Source: While millions of Indians seek better lives abroad, India treats its immigrants poorly

Let’s make 2021 the year we eliminate online hate in Canada

Of note, along with contesting Isreal’s non-vaccination of Palestinians, which is a legitimate criticism of the Israeli government, not “a demonstrably false accusation tantamount to a modern-day blood libel.” One can also question the further codification of the IHRA definition, given its sometimes being used more broadly than intended. The other specific recommendations, however, are reasonable:

2020 was challenging. In addition to the horror of disease, the pandemic brought other troubling developments, including a sharp rise in hatred disseminated online. Canadians are clearly immune neither to the pandemic nor to the growing hate it appears to be exacerbating.  

Online hate is not a new phenomenon. At my organization, CIJA, we have been working on the issue since 2013. But, like the coronavirus, online hate has exploited weaknesses in our society to the detriment of all. As our lives continue to migrate online, the very platforms that proved to be a lifeline in so many ways also served as a springboard for spreading vicious hatred.  

Asian Canadians have been wrongfully and absurdly accused of deliberately unleashing COVID-19. 

Indigenous people, subjected to hatred and mistreatment since generations before the invention of the internet, many living in conditions that should embarrass all Canadians, are experiencing vicious online attacks on their culture and identity.    

Muslims, women, and the LGBTQ2+ community are regularly targeted by haters online, where Islamophobia, misogyny and homophobia continue to flourish.   

Good old-fashioned racists seized the opportunity provided by a global discussion about anti-Black hatred to, paradoxically, spread anti-Black hatred.   

And, of course, Jews were accused of this conspiracy or that one, from creating COVID-19 to profiting from the pandemic to claiming that Israel has leveraged the pandemic to oppress Palestinians by denying them the vaccine – a demonstrably false accusation tantamount to a modern-day blood libel, and one that the Palestinians themselves have refuted.   

All deeply offensive, to be sure, but being offensive is the only causes for concern.  

If online hate were simply offensive, it would be easier to dismiss. However, CIJA and the many partners we have worked with over the years – including those who have recently joined us to form the Canadian Coalition to End Online Hate – have increasingly observed, online hate can, and too often does, turn into real-world violence.   

This. Must. Stop.   

The federal government should deliver on its commitments

Following the 2019 election, the Liberals committed to devising a national strategy to end online hate, an issue that was explicitly included in the Prime Minister’s mandate letters to the Ministers of Justice, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Heritage and Diversity and Inclusion and Youth. 

They have a very good blueprint to work from: the June 2019 report on online hate produced by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, then chaired by Montreal-area MP Anthony Housefather. The report followed the murders in Christchurch, Pittsburgh, and Poway, all cases of online hate morphing into real world violence. 

It is now time to take the next steps. We, and the groups we work with through the Canadian Coalition to End Online Hate, a broad-based alliance of close to 40 (and growing) organizations representing a diverse array of communities, are calling for the following concrete actions.  

We propose:   

  • Increasing resources for law enforcement, Crown attorneys, and judges to ensure they receive sufficient training on how to apply existing laws to deal with online hate 
  • Directing Statistics Canada to address the gap in data to help us determine the scope of the problem and monitor progress  
  • Ensuring we achieve balance between combating online hate and protecting freedom of expression, notably by formulating a definition of “hate” and “hatred” that is consistent with Supreme Court of Canada jurisprudence 
  • Creating a civil remedy to address online hate and  
  • Establishing strong and clear regulations for online platforms and Internet service providersabout how they monitor and transparently address incidents of hate spread on their platforms.   

The Role of Social Media Giants  

Platforms and providers do not have the best record when it comes to tracking and eliminating online hate. They must do better. And they will only do so with government pressure.  Canadian law must be strengthened to put the onus on platforms and providers to ensure that hateful content does not get published in their spaces. 

A national strategy to address online hate must include both the development of clear, harmonized, and uniform regulations, which apply to all platforms and providers operating in Canada, and an independent regulator to enforce them. 

These regulations should include a mandatory directive that providers incorporate appropriate definitions of hate and hatred. In the case of the Jewish community, we are advocating for the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism to be included in their user codes of conduct, algorithms, moderator policies, and terms of service.  

We also strongly believe that providers must make it easier for users to flag hateful content and be transparent about how complaints are adjudicated.  

COVID-19 has significantly accelerated our migration online, which was already well underway. It is imperative that we collectively do what is necessary to ensure the online space is a safe and hate-free place for everyone. 


Syrians in Turkey in precarious situation as citizenship applications indefinitely suspended by authorities

Of note:

Nearly 10 years after the civil war began in Syria, refugees are still struggling with their precarious status in Turkey as most have not been able to acquire Turkish citizenship and their applications have been indefinitely suspended by the authorities, Deutsche Welle Turkish service reported.

Thousands of Syrian refugees who have been in Turkey for more than five years submitted their application documents to obtain citizenship and were interviewed by authorities. However, they have found that their citizenship process was suspended without reason.

“I applied for citizenship and then waited three years, after which they told me that my application had been suspended,” said Fatma Tata, a young Syrian woman. “I will graduate this year, but I won’t be able to work under these conditions.”

Musab Hawsa, 29, who fled to Turkey eight years ago and works as a practitioner at a medical school, said his citizenship application was also abruptly suspended after waiting three years.

“If they had told me earlier, I would have planned accordingly. I would like to get a residency [at the medical school] but was waiting to get my citizenship for that. I think I may need to leave Turkey,” he said.

In some cases, parents have become Turkish citizens while their children were not able to. This has become a problem, especially since most children were born in Turkey and do not have Syrian citizenship, either. “It has become a bureaucratic hassle to prove the children are ours each time the police ask for our documents,” said one Syrian mother whose children were stateless.

According to a report drafted by Solaris, an NGO that words to support vulnerable populations, the law stipulates that if the parents have Turkish citizenship then the children also should be given citizenship. “Giving children of Turkish citizens temporary protection, which is the case for refugees, is against the law,” said the report.

A Syrian parent who gave an interview for the report said their children were stateless. He said they could not plan anything for their future until their children obtained citizenship.

Another parent, Abdurrahman Abdulkerim, 33, said he felt unwanted in Turkey and planned on moving to Europe. He said his three children were stateless and he believed they would not be able to acquire citizenship at this point.

An estimated 3.6 million refugees have been granted temporary protection in Turkey. The majority of them live outside camps, in precarious and challenging circumstances.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had promised Syrian refugees Turkish citizenship in 2016. However, he did not explain how this would happen or the criteria for applying for citizenship. Dr. Murat Erdoğan, an immigration expert at the Turkish-German University, said granting citizenship to almost 3 million people at once was unheard of.

Source: Syrians in Turkey in precarious situation as citizenship applications indefinitely suspended by authorities

Military medical intelligence warnings gathered dust as public health struggled to define COVID-19

Sigh… Yet another oversight. So PHAC relied exclusively on the WHO which appears to have relied exclusively on the Chinese government, and did not explore other data sources:

Public health officials failed to cite early warnings about the threat of COVID-19 gathered through classified military intelligence as the pandemic crisis emerged a year ago, CBC News has learned — an oversight described as a strategic failure by intelligence and public health experts.

For over seven decades, Canada and some of its closest allies have operated a largely secret formal exchange of military medical intelligence. That relationship regularly produces troves of highly detailed data on emerging health threats.

The small, specialized unit within the Canadian military’s intelligence branch began producing warnings about COVID-19 in early January of last year — assessments based largely on classified allied intelligence. Those warnings generally were three weeks ahead of other open sources, say defence insiders.

But documents show the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) COVID-19 rapid risk assessments — which politicians and public servants used to guide their choices in early days of the pandemic — contained no input from the military’s warnings, which remain classified.

Three of the five PHAC risk assessments — obtained under access to information law by one of the country’s leading intelligence experts and CBC News — show federal health officials relying almost exclusively on assessments from the World Health Organization.

Even those writing the risk assessment reports acknowledged the dearth of intelligence.

Confidence level ‘low’

“Due to the limited epidemiologic data from China, and limited virologic information available for the etiologic agent, the confidence level for this assessment is considered as ‘low’ and the algorithm outputs remain uncertain at this time,” said the Feb. 2, 2020 PHAC risk assessment report.

The analysts at PHAC were uncertain because — as the world learned later — China was stonewalling the WHO about the extent of the Wuhan outbreak and assuring international health experts that everything was under control.

Meanwhile, in the military medical community, alarm bells were ringing. In the U.S., the National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI), located in Fort Detrick, Maryland, was not only gathering raw intelligence through various classified means — it was producing comprehensive assessments of the trajectory of the virus as of last February.

“This coronavirus pandemic is right in their wheelhouse, which is part of their core mission — to be on the lookout for any early indications of infectious disease,” said Dr. Jonathan Clemente, a physician practicing in Charlotte, North Carolina who has researched and written extensively about the history of medical intelligence.

‘Strategic surprise’

The original purpose of military medical intelligence among the allies was to assess sanitary and health conditions in the places around the globe where their troops were deployed.

But over the years, Clemente said, the mandate evolved to include “preventing strategic surprise” — such as pandemics and deliberate biological attacks.

“So there’s a wide range of reports, from your short-form daily bulletins to long-form assessments,” he said.

“It’s important to know that this is different from, say, the World Health Organization because the NCMI has access to all-source intelligence, meaning they have access to the most secret levels of intelligence, including clandestine human reporting, satellites, signals intelligence and … open  reporting.”

The information gathered through such intelligence channels would be knowledge “that other traditional health care and public health agencies” don’t have, he added. It’s also the kind of knowledge that would have informed the Canadian military’s medical intelligence branch as the pandemic was gathering momentum.

‘A terrible failure’

The fact that PHAC didn’t track what the military medical intelligence branch was seeing, coupled with changes to the federal government’s own Global Pandemic Health Information Network (GPHIN), represent “a terrible failure,” said Wesley Wark, a University of Ottawa professor who studies intelligence services and national security. He requested the documents through the access to information law.

The auditor general is reviewing what went wrong with the country’s early warning system, including the risk assessments. Flaws in those assessments may have affected the introduction of anti-pandemic measures such as border closures and mask mandates.

A second, separate independent review of Canada’s early pandemic response has been ordered by Health Minister Patty Hajdu.

CBC News first reported last spring that the military medical intelligence branch (MEDINT) began writing reports and issuing warnings about COVID-19 in January 2020. At the time, a spokesperson for MEDINT would not comment “on the content of intelligence reports that we receive or share.”

A follow-up investigation by CBC News has shed more light on the long-established secret network the allies use to warn each of health threats.

It’s governed by an obscure forum going by a rather clunky name: the Quadripartite Medical Intelligence Committee (QMIC).

A ‘Five Eyes’ network for pandemics

Originating in the Second World War, the forum allows the American, Canadian, British and Australian militaries to exchange classified global health data and assessments about emerging health threats.

Clemente describes it as the medical equivalent of the better-known Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance between Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Clemente said that, through U.S. freedom of information law, he has compiled a comprehensive, declassified portrait of the deep health intelligence ties between allies — especially between Canada and the U.S.

He said he also has collected reports and analyses on how NCMI tracked and assessed previous pandemics and disease outbreaks, including SARS, H1N1 and Ebola.

Those assessments — copies of which were obtained by CBC News — are very precise and complete. The U.S. military’s assessments of the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes remain classified, but Clemente said it’s certain that NCMI was doing similar surveillance on COVID-19 which would have been shared with allies.

Wark said Canada’s public health system was redesigned almost two decades ago with the aim of preventing “strategic surprise,” but many of initiatives planned or implemented following the SARS outbreak were allowed to wither away and die.

One 2004 proposal which fell by the wayside was to find a mechanism that would allow PHAC to seamlessly incorporate classified intelligence into its system of reporting.

Greg Fyffe, the former executive director of the Intelligence Assessment Secretariat in the Privy Council Office (which supports the prime minister’s office), said military medical intelligence assessments rarely came across his desk during his tenure a decade ago.

He said that when intelligence reports reach the highest levels of government, they often arrive in summary form and analysts occasionally have to seek out more details.

“There’s so much intelligence information out there that it’s not a matter of saying … ‘I have a little bit of something that you’d like to see,'” said Fyffe. “We’re talking about huge volumes of material which can’t all be shared.”

In a year-end interview with the CBC’s Rosemary Barton, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dismissed the suggestion that better early warnings could have stopped COVID-19 from spreading to Canada.

“I think we used all the resources that we always have to follow and monitor,” he said. “I don’t know that it would have made a huge difference for us to have extra reporting on top of what we were getting.”

The prime minister said that, in hindsight, there were things “we probably would have wanted to have done sooner in terms of preparing,” such as bolstering stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies.

‘We could have been much better prepared’

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan indicated in a year-end interview that he shared the information he had and there were “many conversations” within the government.

While he cautioned that military intelligence alone can’t cover global disease surveillance, he did acknowledge that Canada’s early warning mechanisms need a serious review “from a whole-of-government perspective … making sure we have the right sensors out.”

Preparation is the whole point of early warning, said Wark, who agreed with Trudeau’s assessment of the volatility of the novel coronavirus’s transmission.

“We wouldn’t have stopped it from coming to Canada,” said Wark. “That would have been impossible. But we could have been much better prepared to meet its onslaught, and we were not. We suffered a terrible failure of early warning, of intelligence, of risk assessment.

“And the main lesson that has to be drawn … from the experience of COVID-19 is that we have to fix all of those things. We have to have a better early warning system.”

Source: Military medical intelligence warnings gathered dust as public health struggled to define COVID-19

Knock down anti-Black racism in medicine, two powerhouse advocates tell health-care sector in new CMAJ article

More on process-type recommendations to identify approaches to address issues, many of which reflect social determinants of health:

When rapper John River went to a hospital emergency room in 2017 with shortness of breath and severe headaches, he was treated like he was faking his symptoms to get drugs. When he turned to social media for help, well-wishers told him how he and his family acted and dressed at the hospital would impact the kind of care he would receive. No hoodies, for instance. His mother tried to button a dress shirt on to him as he lay unconscious on a stretcher. He was eventually diagnosed with a spontaneous cerebrospinal fluid leak from a prior procedure.

For years, Black people have shared, with data scientists, governments, academics, journalists and each other, terrifying stories of not being believed in hospitals, of receiving substandard care, of feeling like they were left to die.

In this COVID-era, race-aggregated data showing Black people disproportionately impacted by the virus has rightly raised awareness and alarm over the impact of racism across systems leading to that outcome.

“The field of medicine can no longer deny or overlook the existence of systemic anti-Black racism in Canada and how it affects the health of Black people and communities,” write OmiSoore Dryden of Dalhousie University and Onye Nnorom from the University of Toronto. 

In a Canadian Medical Association Journal article released Monday, the two powerhouse experts in the field of anti-Black racism in medicine say the health-care system needs to focus on — and redress — not only the reasons that send Black Canadians to hospitals but how they’re treated when they get there. 

Despite protests against anti-Black racism this summer, despite the UN expressing concern in 2017 of the plight of Black Canadians, “the impression that we got is that many Canadian physicians did not think that anti-Black racism is a problem in Canada,” Nnorom told the Star. And that “most physicians do not have an understanding of how racism operates as a system such that some groups are disproportionately disadvantaged.” 

With this article, Dryden said, the authors aimed to “tell practitioners and clinicians that your patients are not just bodies in front of you. They come with experiences. One of the experiences your Black patients come with is anti-Black racism.” 

Dryden is the James R. Johnston (JRJ) Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University’s faculty of medicine. Nnorom is trained as a public health physician and a family physician and has published several articles in medicine.

About a year ago, they set up Canada’s Black Health Education Collaborative by bringing together a group of scholars of Critical Race Theory from across Canada and working on creating curriculum around how anti-Black racism affects health outcomes in medical schools.

The many manifestations of racism in society — being passed over for a job or a promotion, being treated with suspicion in public spaces, being denied homes to rent, being unduly disciplined in school — all boil down to one unspoken assumption: that the person in question is not credible because they are not innocent. An assumption we like to give the innocuous label of “implicit” bias, even though its consequences can be tragically explicit. 

“This article and the conversations many of us have been having is identifying that racism is not an anomaly, it’s an everyday experience,” Dryden said. 

When Black people go to the hospital in pain, they are profiled as drug seeking, she said. Or the assumption is they don’t feel pain at the same level. Or if they are given medication that they’re not compliant and won’t follow guidelines. 

In her many public talks to health and medical professionals, Dryden tells them, “If you have a patient that doesn’t return, instead of thinking they’re not compliant, you might want to start with, ‘Did something racist happen and how do I find out?’

Although modern science conclusively busts the myth that race has biological origins, medical stereotypes rely on the belief that Black people are a different genetic species of humans. 

“Yes, the human genome has been mapped,” Nnorom said. “Yes, we know a person’s postal code has more impact on their health than their genetic code but it is difficult to completely remove that type of thinking. The history of medicine and these genetic biological associations with race dates back centuries.” 

The first program of medical education began in Montreal about 20 years before the end of slavery in Canada, Dryden said. “So it began at a time when Black and Indigenous are enslaved and that becomes the continuing flavour of education in Canada.”

If studies show how African-Americans have higher rates of diabetes or hypertension, the medical approach is there’s something wrong with their genetics or their culture or their practices that needs to be fixed. 

“The way we’ve been traditionally taught in medicine is to pathologize the marginalized group.” Nnorom said. “We’ve been taught to assume there is something wrong with the group that has been marginalized as opposed to thinking there was something wrong with society to create the conditions in which those communities find themselves.

“The process (of learning), you’d almost have consider it an unlearning.”

To address racism, the authors say health-care professionals should acknowledge its existence first. “We can do this by listening to the voices of Black Canadians, patients and health care professionals who have been grappling with anti-Black racism for generations, and by engaging with the many communities that have made recommendations for meaningful change to address the problem,” they write.

What would listening look like? 

“That’s a very good question,” said Nnorom, because while organizations might engage in consultations with focus groups in different communities, “what ends up coming out of that is not what the community has recommended. That is not true listening.”

Hospital leaders, administrators and academics would have to take up hard, uncomfortable work of “actually looking at recommendations by Black communities, to hold town halls start, to have Black community members at the board — and not just with one person because that would be tokenism.” 

Said Dryden: “There’s always an excuse for why something isn’t anti-Black racism as opposed to sitting with it for a moment (and thinking) ‘If this is racism what should I be doing differently?’ And nobody asks themselves that question. That’s the thing we want them to ask themselves.” 

This article is intended as a building block in that journey towards change, Nnorom said. 

“So that we can see a Black patient can come into a hospital and be treated with dignity, where their pain is recognized and they receive respect and empathy and not be treated worse because of the colour of their skin.”