Elghawaby: Those who serve our country should not face discrimination of any kind


The Canadian Forces, like the RCMP, struggle with diversity:

Almost every public institution in our country claims it wants to better reflect the populations it serves. The same is true of our military. Parliament’s defence committee has even begun a study to determine which groups need better representation.

As the nation marks Remembrance Day, it’s important to reflect not only on those who have sacrificed their lives and well-being serving our nation, but those who have had to face racism and harassment in doing so. If such barriers continue to exist, efforts to recruit people of colour and people of various faiths and backgrounds will ultimately fail.

One needs only look to the very top to understand the challenge at hand.

Canada’s defence minister, Harjit Sajjan, has acknowledged facing significant racism throughout his long career in the Canadian Armed Forces. This has been his reality since joining the Forces in 1989 and even more recently. The first Sikh-Canadian to command a Canadian Army regiment has faced racist and vulgar comments on his personal Facebook page, as well as on the Forces’ official page. “I still can’t take this guy seriously as head of the armed forces!” posted one person. “Man, it’s not us! Sikh?”

Consider the case of Bashir Abdi, a Canadian of Somali descent who served for 10 years in the Forces. In 2013, Abdi says he obtained permission to attend Eid celebrations for the day. Yet, when he returned, he was fined and eventually convicted at a military summary trial for being “Absent Without Leave.” He was fired from his post and took his case to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. “As Canadian society and workplaces continue to grow and diversify,” reads his GoFundMe page, “it is imperative that we bring more attention to the issue of fair religious accommodation so that no one else has to experience Bashir’s humiliation.”

Canada’s defence minister, Harjit Sajjan, has acknowledged facing significant racism throughout his long career in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Or take the disturbing episode this past spring, when a group of officer cadets were expelled from the Royal Military College in Saint-Jean, Que., after video emerged of them desecrating a Qur’an with bacon and semen during a cottage party.

The head of Canada’s military, Gen. Jonathan Vance, has admitted that the Forces are struggling to identify those within the ranks who not only hold racist views, but who are actively engaged in white supremacist and right-wing activities. “Clearly it’s in here,” Vance said earlier this fall in an interview.

None of this makes joining the military a particularly endearing proposition, nor will it help improve the numbers. As of 2018, 15.4 per cent of the military were female, 2.7 per cent were Indigenous, and 8.1 per cent were visible minorities. The Department of National Defence has said that by 2026, it wants the military to comprise 25 per cent women, 3.5 per cent Indigenous peoples, and 11.8 per cent visible minorities.

“I used to wonder how Indigenous soldiers who went to residential school felt about serving for a country whose government discriminated against their people,” wrote Indigenous journalist Wawmeesh Hamilton in a recent online post.

At the very least, their contributions must be acknowledged, and existing challenges addressed. That begins with education as well as clear consequences for racist and anti-immigrant behaviours and attitudes.

Success looks like Capt. Barbara Helms, who joined the Forces as its first Muslim female chaplain this past April. And we can look as far back as 1996, when the late Wafa Dabbagh became the first Canadian Muslim woman to wear the headscarf in the Forces. In a 2008 media interview, Lt.-Commander Dabbagh described her experience as“95-per-cent positive.”

As defence committee chair Stephen Fuhr put it recently, “having a diverse, healthy, happy military personnel will have a direct impact on combat effectiveness. So we need to determine that we’re moving in the right direction.”

Among those we memorialize are those who defeated the very worst fascist and white supremacist forces of our time. Lest we forget.

Source: Elghawaby: Those who serve our country should not face discrimination …

Losing our religion: How anti-Muslim sentiment threatens religious freedom | Toronto Star

Asma Maryam Ali and Amira Elghawaby on risks to religious freedom.

While Muslim women should feel safe wearing the hijab, is there not also a broader question of religious edicts requiring head coverings, or the need for edicts permitting their removal?

And yet, news of emerging anti-Muslim militias, the significant rise of hate crimes and hate incidents and apparent lack of consequences, the proliferation of xenophobic, and bigoted groups online, the tacit acceptance of discriminatory policies by some municipalities, and even occasional political rhetoric targeting Muslim communities, threaten to undermine all that is positive.

Some Muslim women in our circles are now seeking religious edicts that deem it acceptable to remove the head scarf in order to feel safe. In a striking parallel, Muslims in 15th century Spain sought a similar edict from the Mufti of Wahran to allow them to alter what many deem an Islamic compulsory act so that they could be less visible.

Canadian Muslims at work and school are also now debating whether to worship at the appointed times or to delay it in order to avoid tension. In June, anti-Muslim protesters gathered to protest in front of a secondary school in Toronto as students were heading home.

A 2016 study out of San Francisco State University highlighted how American Muslim children between the ages of 5 and 9 years old are internalizing this zeitgeist. According to the findings, one in three children did not want to tell anyone they are Muslim, 1-in-2 did not know whether they could be both American and Muslim, and 1-in6 would pretend not to be Muslim.

This process, called “dissimulation” by the late French scholar Jean Baudrillard, is deeply concerning because it signifies a gradual deterioration of cultural and religious identity.

Where does this leave us? With a faith and identity that’s constantly in question, and inevitably in flux. We must collectively address these worrying trends in order to promote healthy, cohesive communities where everyone is encouraged to fulfil their potential and be true to their varied and diverse identities.

Let’s not allow these values to be relegated to Canada’s own history books.

Source: Losing our religion: How anti-Muslim sentiment threatens religious freedom | Toronto Star

Quebec: Des points de vue divergents sur la laïcité de l’État

Some initial commentary before the start of Quebec’s hearings on Bill 62, which bans face covering (i.e., niqab, burka)in the delivery and reception of public services:

Des points de vue opposés se feront entendre lors des consultations qui s’amorcent mardi en commission parlementaire sur le projet de loi 62 favorisant le respect de la neutralité religieuse de l’État et visant notamment à encadrer les demandes d’encadrements religieux dans certains organismes, réponse du gouvernement Couillard au projet péquiste de charte de la laïcité.

« C’est un débat qui divise mais qui fait avancer, comme les débats sur l’avortement, sur la peine de mort ou sur l’aide médicale à mourir », a souligné la juriste Julie Latour, qui comparaîtra en commission parlementaire au nom du regroupement Juristes pour la laïcité et la neutralité religieuse de l’État.

La Commission des institutions a prévu neuf jours d’audiences cet automne au cours desquelles 42 groupes et individus seront entendus, un nombre qui est appelé à augmenter puisque l’horaire prévoit des ajouts.

C’est la quatrième fois que le gouvernement québécois tente de faire adopter un projet de loi pour préciser la neutralité religieuse de l’État et définir des balises pour l’octroi d’accommodements raisonnables dans le secteur public et parapublic. Les deux projets de loi précédents, 63 et 94, présentés par le gouvernement Charest ont été abandonnés tandis que la défaite du Parti québécois en 2014 a clos l’épisode du projet de loi 60 sur la charte « affirmant les valeurs de laïcité » défendu par le gouvernement Marois.

À l’entrée du Conseil des ministres mercredi dernier, la ministre de la Justice, Stéphanie Vallée, qui pilote le projet de loi 62 a indiqué que le gouvernement avait en main « des avis juridiques solides » à l’appui de cette nouvelle tentative législative. Elle a dit souhaiter que le nouveau chef de l’opposition officielle, Jean-François Lisée, reste fidèle aux propos qu’il a tenus lors de la course à la chefferie : le candidat jugeait que le projet de loi était un pas en avant et qu’il fallait l’adopter.

Pour Louis-Philippe Lampron, professeur de droit à l’Université Laval, le projet de loi 62 consiste pour l’essentiel en « une redite » du projet de loi 94 présenté en 2010. « C’est essentiellement une codification du droit canadien actuel sur la neutralité religieuse de l’État », estime-t-il. À cela s’ajoute la même disposition que dans le projet de loi 94 sur l’obligation d’avoir le visage découvert pour fournir ou recevoir des services de l’État, que ce soit dans les écoles, dans les centres de la petite enfance (CPE) et les garderies subventionnées, dans le réseau de la santé et pour les autres services publics. Un accommodement à ce sujet devra être refusé pour « des motifs portant sur la sécurité, l’identification ou le niveau de communication requis ». Mentionnons qu’il n’est aucunement question de signes religieux.
Au moment des consultations sur le projet de loi 94, la Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (CDPDJ) avait exprimé un « malaise » relativement à cette interdiction qui portait, sans le dire, sur des signes religieux. « On peut même dire que ça vise explicitement un symbole religieux d’une religion [l’islam] », a fait observer Louis-Philippe Lampron. « Il y a des raisons de croire que ça pourrait être contesté. » Ou que l’interdiction ne s’applique pas en raison de l’octroi d’accommodements.
Pour sa part, Me Julius Grey, bien qu’il s’oppose au multiculturalisme et qu’il soit en faveur de la laïcité, est contre l’interdiction des signes religieux, sauf pour les agents de l’État qui détiennent un pouvoir de coercition (juges, policiers, agents correctionnels, etc.), comme le recommandait la commission Bouchard-Taylor. Il trouve inconcevable qu’on puisse priver quelqu’un de soins médicaux, quelles que soient les circonstances.
Pour Julie Latour, le projet de loi 62 est « un jalon ». À ses yeux, il manque à la neutralité religieuse de l’État et à la laïcité un socle juridique qui passe par l’enchâssement de leur principe dans la Charte des droits et libertés de la personne.

Source: Des points de vue divergents sur la laïcité de l’État | Le Devoir

Some of the notable absences from the hearings:

Faux départ pour la commission parlementaire sur le projet de loi 62 concernant la neutralité religieuse de l’État. Une vingtaine de groupes et d’experts que les députés voulaient entendre ont décliné l’invitation. Et pas les moindres : notamment Gérard Bouchard et Charles Taylor, qui ont présidé la commission sur les accommodements religieux.

La ministre de la Justice, Stéphanie Vallée, y voit malgré tout une bonne nouvelle. Le refus de tous ces groupes «envoie un signal qu’ils sont confortables avec la version présentée par le gouvernement, ce qui n’était pas le cas» pour le projet de charte des valeurs du Parti québécois, a soutenu sa porte-parole, Isabelle Marier St-Onge.

Or, en entrevue à La Presse, Gérard Bouchard a assuré qu’il n’a pas changé d’avis sur le port de signes religieux, une position qui va plus loin que ce que propose Mme Vallée. Comme on peut le lire dans le rapport de la commission qu’il a coprésidée, il recommande d’interdire ces signes chez les agents de l’État dotés d’un pouvoir de coercition (policiers, gardiens de prison, procureurs de la Couronne et juges). Le projet de loi 62 précise seulement que les services publics doivent être donnés et reçus à «visage découver», une mesure qui cible le voile intégral.

«Mes idées sur la laïcité sont bien connues, et je m’en tiens toujours aux propositions que nous avons émises il y a huit ans. Je n’aurais que répété ce qui est écrit dans le rapport pour l’opposer à ce qui peut être écrit dans le projet de loi. Je ne voyais pas mon utilité, parce que je n’ai rien à ajouter», affirme M. Bouchard.

 Horaire modifié

L’horaire des auditions, qui débutent mardi à Québec, a été revu à la toute dernière minute en raison des multiples refus de témoigner. Ce cafouillage est d’autant plus étonnant que le projet de loi 62 a été déposé par Mme Vallée il y a longtemps, en juin 2015.

Une vingtaine de groupes refusent de discuter de neutralité religieuse

And English language coverage in the Globe:

The new legislation, “An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality and, in particular, to provide a framework for religious accommodation requests in certain bodies,” tabled by the Liberals last year, would make it illegal to give or receive government services if a person’s face is covered. Since no Quebec public employees mask their faces, according to the government, the bill would effectively target Muslim women who wear the niqab or burka.

 Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée said when introducing the legislation that it was required “for security, identification and communication purposes.”

She has been unable to say how many women wear face veils in the province.

Bill 62 is the latest iteration of Quebec’s efforts to impose official secularism in the public domain (though the new legislation would allow the crucifix over the speaker’s chair in the National Assembly to remain in place).

The bill is seen as a more moderate version of the former Parti Québécois government’s derided “charter of values,” which had set out to ban turbans, kippas, head scarves and other religious displays among Quebec’s civil servants. The bill is believed to have contributed to the PQ’s defeat at the polls in 2014.

The Liberals’ bill would allow for religious accommodations as long as they fit certain sets of guidelines, such as being “consistent” with the equality of men and women.

Still, some groups question the need for the law and say it unfairly targets minority women, who could be excluded from accessing public services.

“How necessary is all of this?” Amira Elghawaby of the National Council of Canadian Muslims said. “How many women might actually be wearing the face veil in Quebec? I doubt that it’s a huge critical mass.” She said that re-opening the issue creates a “malaise.”

“There should really be no suspension of people’s human rights based on popular sentiment toward a religious practice,” Ms. Elghawaby said.

 Hearings to begin on proposed Quebec law targeting veiled women 

Anti-Islamophobia ad campaign draws heated debate online

Means it’s working:

An ad campaign drawing attention to Islamophobia has Torontonians talking — and that’s just the point, backers of the campaign say.

The poster, recently rolled out at about 150 TTC stations and bus shelters across the GTA, depicts a young white man squaring off against a young woman in a head scarf.

“Go back to where you came from,” he says.

“Where, North York?” she replies.

The ads, launched this week by the City of Toronto and the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), have sparked a flurry of comments online and on the street — precisely the point, said Amira Elghawaby: “to have constant dialogue … and force people to rethink their assumptions.”

Elghawaby, spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said recent events have rekindled latent prejudices.

The idea for the campaign was brought forward last fall, to cushion the arrival of Syrian refugees, she said, but has become all the more urgent in the wake of the Conservatives’ proposed partial ban on the niqab in 2015, presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, the fallout from the Paris attacks and mass shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., and Orlando, Fla..

“Islamophobia has become a serious concern in many communities in Canada,” said Elghawaby, whose organization was consulted on the ad’s creation but isn’t an official part of the campaign.

It’s not uncommon for women wearing a hijab to field unsolicited questions about their origins or criticism of their appearance, Elghawaby said. “That almost goes with the territory of being a visibly Muslim woman in Canada.”

Hijabs and hockey don’t clash; head scarves and beavertails aren’t incompatible, she says: “In other words, I’m as Canadian as the next guy or gal. And newly arrived immigrants and refugees will eventually be as well.”

Some people saw the ad as entrenching stereotypes and inflaming tensions.

“I think it’s in poor taste. I think it feeds into a racial stereotype,” said Toronto resident Bryan Carras, referring to both figures depicted.

“It’s an oppressive form of expression. It makes me sick to think of the countries where there’s human rights problems and where (the hijab) is everywhere,” he said.

Reddit post of the ad sparked more than 200 comments in less than six hours last week.

Some were supportive: “I suppose it’s good for these messages to be out there, as a reminder — to victims as well as perpetrators — that this s**t isn’t acceptable.”

Others less so. “It creates a further divide between people by playing on a stereotypes (sic),” one commenter typed. “You think it’s just white people spewing Islamophobic rhetoric?” wrote another.

A fourth quipped in response: “It’s almost as though, in this instance, white men take things ‘too personal’ and need to stop ‘looking for reasons to be offended…’”

More than 80 per cent of Muslim respondents in an Environics survey last April said they were very proud to be Canadian, 10 per cent more than non-Muslims. Yet an assumption remains “that people who look different are not from here,” says Patricia Wood, a York University geography professor who focuses on diversity and urban citizenship.

Not only can that harm a person’s sense of belonging or safety, it’s simply not accurate, especially in Toronto, Wood says.

Source: Anti-Islamophobia ad campaign draws heated debate online | Toronto Star

So who says Muslims can’t be both devout and patriotic? – iPolitics

Amira Elghawaby’s take on media coverage of the Environics poll of Canadian Muslims:

CBC’s original headline acknowledged some of the good news — but somehow still managed to frame the results in a negative light: “Muslim Canadians love Canada, but faith more important to their identity: survey”.

That “but” seemed to suggest that one couldn’t both love Canada and strongly identify as Muslim — that somehow, for Muslims, patriotism and faith are mutually exclusive. To its credit, the CBC quickly reacted to the feedback and changed the headline — but the damage had been done. The majority of reader comments reacting to the initial story were negative, harping on stereotypes portraying Muslims as people who are unable or unwilling to integrate — people who want to ‘change’ Canada to suit themselves.

“Faith overrides their ‘love’ of Canada … what does that tell you folks. Tells me importing people more loyal to religious dogma then (sic) laws, culture and peoples of this country is a bad idea,” wrote one commenter.

The Toronto Sun’s coverage was simply obtuse. One Sun columnist offered this observation: “It’s a stretch to say this survey shows Muslims are in fact becoming more Canadian. It paints more of a complicated picture. But based on the increases in the Muslim population and their religious observance, Canada’s certainly becoming more Muslim.” At least one anti-immigrant blogger wallowed in this interpretation of the poll, using it to support his dire warnings of a Muslim takeover.

Given the slant on some of the coverage, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that two-thirds of the Canadian Muslims polled cited “media representation” among their top concerns — followed closely by anti-Muslim discrimination. That slant helps explain why there is such unease about the media among Muslims — and why close to half of non-Muslim Canadians surveyed still hold negative views of Islam and Muslims.

Source: So who says Muslims can’t be both devout and patriotic? – iPolitics

Supremacist attitudes are a universal enemy

Amira Elghawaby of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) on the link to supremacist attitudes:

What we seem to miss while seeking to understand these senseless acts of violence committed in the name of any religion, or political ideology, is that this nihilistic hate is often based on supremacist attitudes.

Instead of constant condemnations of those who say they are fighting and killing in the name of Islam, we must universally condemn those who paint the world in the false dichotomy of black and white, good and evil, or right and wrong.

Anyone who implicitly or explicitly advocates the supremacy of a particular group over another should think twice about how this dehumanizes fellow human beings around the world.

We have to acknowledge that nationalism can also be used to create and bolster a sense of righteousness and dominance in the minds of some. That isn’t to say that being proud of one’s country, or fellow citizens, is blameworthy. But we should beware of how nationalism may disconnect us from others in the world, or even within our own communities, and how it can be manipulated by agenda-driven interests and metastasize into something more sinister as we witnessed in Brussels with the unwelcome appearance of neo-Nazis at a recent weekend memorial.

Consider what fuels those who support such attitudes, including what fuels them to support the likes of Donald Trump. The head of the U.S.-based National Policy Institute and a white nationalist, Richard Spencer, told VICE News last December that “[Trump’s] basically saying that if you are a nation, then at some point you have to say, ‘There is an ‘Us,’ and there is a ‘Them.’ Who are we? Are we a nation? In that sense, I think it’s really great.”

Supremacist attitudes are dangerous, not least because they also make it harder to engage in meaningful discourse around the drivers of violence. Our best chance of fighting extremist ideology is to find our common humanity and not simply reinforce false polarization within our societies. The doubling of hate crimes against Muslims over the past three years here in Canada speaks clearly to this.

Source: Supremacist attitudes are a universal enemy |

What Canada needs now: a strategy against hate: Elghawaby

Amira Elghawaby, the communications director at the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), with her suggestions on what should be done to combat anti-Muslim activity:

Yet the events of the past few days, both the terrorist attacks and the apparent backlash, must reinforce our commitment to ensuring Canada remains one of the happiest places on earth—for everyone. Our history shows that we have to work for the country we want.

How should we do this?

First, the federal government should immediately partner with Canadian Muslim communities to fashion an effective strategy to combat extremist narratives. This new brand of terror promotion is a contemporary phenomenon that few know how to tackle. The previous government did provide limited funding for an initiative called Extreme Dialogue which highlights the experiences of a mother of a young Canadian who was killed fighting overseas for extremist groups and the experiences of a former white supremacist. There was also some funding provided to explore community resilience through workshops and public fora. We need more of this, implemented strategically across the country.

Second, community stakeholders must come together to find new ways to teach about acceptance and to promote multiculturalism. Again, leadership is key: for example, provincial ministries of education must ensure that teachers are using the resources that national organizations like MediaSmarts and others provide to ensure curricula are taught through a lens that allows young people to identify stereotypes and to challenge popular misconceptions. We need to create safe spaces for our increasingly global classrooms.

Third, police services must bolster hate crimes units and their responses. Victims are often reluctant to report and it’s important to provide both adequate resources and support. Perpetrators must also be swiftly brought to justice.

Fourth, Islamophobia must be considered as offensive and as socially unacceptable as any other hatemongering out there, whether anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia or sexism. This means that even in political discourse, there must be a responsibility to ensure that questions about refugees, for example, are not giving people license to air anti-Muslim sentiments and fuel suspicions about people fleeing the very same type of terror we witnessed in Paris.

Fifth, it’s time to take the Islam, out of ISIS. Most of the world calls this terrorist movement Daesh and ISIS has been widely condemned by Muslim scholars and institutions worldwide. Muslims and Islam should not be synonymous with a group of barbaric criminals. It hurts our communities, it hurts our children, and it only bolsters their false claims. Even law enforcement agencies agree that language has the power to cast suspicion over entire communities, and provide a veneer of credibility to the terrorists’ claims.

Finally, Canadians must choose “love over fear,” to echo the touching sentiments expressed in a Montreal metro earlier last week by three young men who posted a video of their solidarity. Holding each other’s hands, a Muslim originally from Egypt, his friends from Paris and New York, did what many Canadians must do now—defeat the extremist narrative by coming even closer together.

I would also add to her list: maintain the Statistics Canada annual report on police-reported hate crimes (with the shift of multiculturalism to Canadian Heritage, this should be a priority).

Source: What Canada needs now: a strategy against hate | hilltimes.com

What a difference a day makes: The reframing of Canadian Muslims has begun

More evidence of how the change in tone is being noticed:

Women in headscarves are smiling everywhere. They are in the subway station in Montreal with brightly coloured headgear and cell phones to match. They are at a rally in Ottawa, up close with the prime-minister-designate as they snap selfies that will trend on Twitter. They are walking with their heads held just a little higher, returning smiles offered by random passersby.

What a difference a day makes. The same women who were expressing feelings of fear and discomfort just walking to a mall, or to school, are now the same women whose text emoticons are high-fives, fist bumps, and smiley faces as they share videos of Justin Trudeau bhangra dancing.

It is as though Canadian Muslims, and Canadian Muslim women in particular, stepped out of one frame and into another.

The previous frame had been imposed on them, without their consent and despite their protests. Throughout the election, Canadian Muslims watched as they were vilified as “other,” practitioners of “barbaric cultural practices,” and making choices alien from “Canadian values.”

This othering led to a documented spike in anti-Muslim incidents, including verbal and physical attacks on visibly Muslim women in both hijab and niqab, along with increased Islamophobic online postings and comments.

Yet this deliberate framing throughout the election period was nothing new. Canadian Muslim communities have endured years of it. Whether it was making sweeping generalizations about an entire faith – claiming that “Islamicism” was the greatest threat facing Canada – or suggesting that Canadian mosques could be harbouring radical extremists – a decade of Stephen Harper changed perceptions about Canadian Muslims in deeper and perhaps more hurtful ways than even the aftermath of 9/11.

Back then, Prime Minister Jean Chretien made it a point to visit Ottawa’s main mosque soon after those horrific attacks, memorably doffing his shoes and joining the congregants in a public show of solidarity.

Little of that was on show during the Harper years. After the deadly attack at Parliament Hill by a deranged individual pledging allegiance to violent extremist ideology a year ago, the Prime Minister went nowhere near a mosque.

The local police chief, on the other hand, reached out to community leaders to reassure them that the force was on alert in case of any backlash. Mr. Harper preferred to amplify the incident as a terrorist attack and underplay the details of the perpetrator’s life, including the fact that he was a homeless drug addict who had no formal connection to international terrorist groups.

…Canadian Muslims stepped out of those unfair frames every day as they continued to lead typical lives, yet the national framing and its impacts could not be ignored. A poll found that the number of Canadians holding negative impressions of Islam and Muslims had climbed to 54 per cent in 2013 from 46 per cent in 2009.

Is this now over? Probably not: There is a small but growing cottage industry of anti-Muslim bloggers and commentators who seem bent on suggesting that Islam and Muslims are inherently anti-democratic and dangerous. This may be helping to feed a nascent anti-Muslim movement in this country.

Yet a change in tone and rhetoric from the highest office in the land is certainly something to smile about. That alone will help change the picture, or at least refocus the lens.

More commentary on Syrian Refugee crisis: Impact of previous policy changes and recommendations what should Canada do?

Syrian_Refugees_MacleansStarting with the use of refugee or migrant:

For most of the Syrians we are hearing about, I would argue, the right term is “refugee.” The origins of that word also belong to the 17th century, when it referred to Protestants who fled religious oppression in a triumphantly Roman Catholic France. Over time the word’s meaning extended to include all those who were escaping war, persecution, or intolerable conditions at home. Kurdi’s family were determined to get away from a civil war that has all but destroyed Syria. They were not making a rational economic decision or a calm political choice. Just like the Vietnamese boat people in the late 1970s, they were fighting for their lives.

Are they refugees or migrants? Why what we call the people fleeing Syria matters

On the implications of the policy changes made to reduce fraud for family sponsorships with respect to Syrian refugees and the Kurdi case:

In earlier humanitarian crises, Canada went directly to the migrants and accepted large numbers quickly. That stands in stark contrast to Thursday’s response from the federal immigration department to the death of a boy found on a beach in Turkey. A group of Canadians had applied to bring in his uncle’s family and hoped to sponsor the boy’s family next. But the family had not been certified as refugees by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, or a foreign state.

…Canada has required such certification since October, 2012 – when the Syrian crisis was developing – for “group of five” sponsorships, a reference to the minimum number of adult Canadians needed to bring over a refugee family.

…Among the other bureaucratic hurdles is the fact that the waits at visa offices for Canadian officials to review applications – a review that happens after that of the UNHCR – range from 11 months in Beirut to 19 months in Amman to 45 months in Ankara, according to Canadian government figures.

And the immigration department’s central processing office in Winnipeg – which handled the application for the boy’s extended family – takes two or three months to look at applications.

Decades before the current crisis, Canada airlifted 5,000 people from Kosovo in the late 1990s, 5,000 from Uganda in 1972, and 60,000 Vietnamese in 1979-80. From January, 2014, to late last month, Canada resettled 2,374 Syrian refugees.

Canada’s response to refugee crises today a stark contrast to past efforts

Amira Elghawaby and Bernie Farber criticize the Government for providing preference to Christian refugees:

The Canadian government’s departure from established refugee norms began in 2012 with the passage of new laws which created a two-tier system based on country of origin. Canada began to categorize refugee claimants based on group characteristics rather than using a case-by-case approach.

“Group labelling tends to exclude, not welcome. Placing individuals above categoric exclusions is the best way to ensure Canada continues granting asylum to people who need it most,” migration expert Dana Wagner wrote in a 2013 article for the Canadian International Council. It isn’t to deny the role of group identity in understanding why individuals and their families may fear persecution, or violence, in their countries of origin. It is simply to include it as one of many factors that must be examined in an individual’s claim.

While I understand the rationale for their critique, I equally appreciate the Government rationale for its focus on those communities which appear to be most at risk such as Christians and Muslim minorities such as the Yazidis.

 Forget labels when we witness such dire human need 

Ratna Omidvar’s suggests some practical actions:

First: Triple the number of visa officers processing Syrians.

Second: Relax visa requirements out of the European Union.

Third: Canada should grant prima facie refugee status to all Syrians outside their country. Full stop.

Fourth: Allow Syrians in Canada to quickly reunite with their families through a temporary resident permit.

A final requirement is political will. Without it, Canada will neither exceed nor meet its initial pledge.

Practical solutions for refugees flow from political will 

Peter Showler, former head of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB):

There are solutions. In addition to the 1979-80 boatlift when Canadians welcomed over 60,000 refugees, Canada has used emergency immigration programs and special teams of immigration officers to bring thousands of refugees quickly from Uganda and Kosovo. Refugees are processed efficiently and quickly and are granted temporary status in Canada. Private sponsorship groups can be enlisted to help them establish in Canada, providing financial support and helping families to integrate into their communities. Later, the refugees can apply for permanent residence from within Canada, if they so choose.

We have done it before. Canada has the expertise and capacity to do it again. Bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada does not end the war but it saves individual lives and sets an example for other nations to also open their doors. The government often invokes the historical generosity of the Canadian people but has done little to truly encourage it. In 1986, the Canadian people were awarded the Nansen Medal by the United Nations for their extraordinary generosity in welcoming the boat people. It is the only time the medal was given to an entire people.

Canada and its government once again have an opportunity to lead the world to relieve an excruciating humanitarian crisis.

Peter Showler: Canada can do more

Lawrence Hill reminds Canadians of the values at play:

We could do much, much more. We should, and we must. We should live up to the promises we have made – so far undelivered – to accept thousands of Syrian refugees. And then we should increase our quotas and meet them too. We have room for more people. We should send officials in large numbers into refugee camps to process people more expeditiously, cut through red tape, and bring them more quickly to Canada. It’s possible. We’ve done it before. We should demand greater action on the part of our politicians, not just to respond to the crises of famine, war and natural disasters but also to invest more in international development. By helping people develop stronger social and economic infrastructures in their own countries, we help them develop peaceful, organized means to cope with their own crises.

The refugee crisis that rocks the world today belongs to the world. And it belongs to Canada. For one thing, many active, engaged Canadians come from the countries most affected. For another, we have fought in wars – in Afghanistan, for example, and we are now participating in air strikes in Syria – that add to the mayhem forcing people to flee. And we have signed onto refugee conventions committing us to humanitarian principles and action with regard to accepting and assisting refugees. Most important, we owe it to ourselves to respond. To remember what it means to be human. To remember what it means to be Canadian.

 A moment to revisit our Canadian values 

Lastly, some fairly severe criticism of the the role that Gulf countries are (not) playing:

Gulf countries have funded humanitarian aid. Saudi Arabia has donated $18.4-million to the United Nations Syria response fund so far this year, while Kuwait has given more than $304-million, making it the world’s third-largest donor. The United States has given the most, $1.1-billion, and has agreed to resettle about 1,500 Syrians.

….This week, Kuwaiti commentator Fahad Alshelaimi said in a TV interview that his country was too expensive for refugees, but appropriate for laborers.

“You can’t welcome people from another environment and another place who have psychological or nervous system problems or trauma and enter them into societies,” he said.

Cartoonists have lampooned such ideas. One drew a man in traditional Gulf dress behind a door surrounded by barbed wire and pointing a refugee to another door bearing the flag of the European Union.

“Open the door to them now!” the man yells.

Another cartoon shows a Gulf sheikh shaking his finger at a boat full of refugees while flashing a thumbs-up to a rebel fighter in a burning Syria.

…Michael Stephens, the head of the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar, said the decision by the United States not to directly intervene against Assad had left many in the Gulf unsure of how to respond.

“The Gulf Arabs are used to a paradigm in which the West is continuously stepping in to solve the problem, and this time it hasn’t,” Stephens said. “This has left many people looking at the shattered vase on the floor and pointing fingers.”

 Gulf monarchies bristle at criticism over response to Syrian refugee crisis 

Asra Nomani takes a similar tack with a harder edge:

It is not politically correct to utter, but it has to be acknowledged that the arrival of millions of refugees from, yes, mostly Muslim regions raises serious long-term demographic and policing concerns for countries in the West, which will likely see the character and values of their communities completely transformed by refugees who may have values and attitudes about secularism very different from the countries they would be calling home. Already, countries like the United Kingdom struggle with issues of Islamic extremism among legal immigrants that have transformed British culture to the point that London is nicknamed “Londonistan.”

There are serious issues of ideology and identity at risk here.

Reasonable, rational, tolerant folks are saying that the refugee crisis isn’t Europe’s problem to fix, and it is, in fact, a form of reverse racism to let Muslim countries off the hook, as if they are just too backward, intolerant and incapable of finding homes for these refugees. The family of young Aylan, after all, was fleeing Turkey, a Muslim country, for the West, because the father said that the refugees weren’t treated respectfully in Turkey. That is a policy problem in Turkey that needs to be fixed, not displaced to other countries.

Last December, Amnesty International released statistics highlighting that the five Gulf countries—Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain—“have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees.”

Mideast Needs To Save Its Own Refugees

Prime Minister, this isn’t how we should do things in Canada | Elghawaby

Amira Elghawaby of the NCCM reacting to the Government’s messaging, making three points:

  1. Stoking fear of the “other”;
  2. Pretend to care about Canadians wrongfully imprisoned abroad but do as little as possible to get them released; and,
  3. Act tough on terror.

Similar to other commentary I have already posted.

Hard not to disagree with her conclusion:

The government that says it is committed to protect Canadians is the same one that alienates the very communities it needs to empower and work with. Prime Minister, this shouldn’t be how we do things here.

Prime Minister, this isn’t how we should do things in Canada | Toronto Star.