Advocates fear for future of province’s anti-racism directorate

Expect it will go. Sad, given that one of the main activities was data collection, data needed to inform policy:

What will happen to the province’s anti-racism directorate?

For many who work in anti-racism, this has been the question since June, when Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives won the provincial election with a majority government.

Community members who worked closely with the anti-racism directorate say they’ve received no answers from the government, which controversially moved the directorate to a new ministry and recently disbanded its subcommittees.

Longtime anti-racism advocates who lived through the Mike Harris years are now having flashbacks to 1995, when his Conservative government was elected to Queen’s Park — and promptly moved to eliminate what was then called the anti-racism secretariat, established just a few years earlier.

Two decades would pass before the anti-racism body was revived by the Liberal government in 2016, amid controversy over carding and debate over the acceptance of Syrian refugees. But less than two years into its mandate, the body, this time labelled a “directorate,” has fallen back into the hands of a Conservative government and community activists worry the province’s anti-racism efforts are once again doomed to fail.

“It just feels like 1995 all over again, where we take two steps forward only to go three or four steps backwards,” said Nigel Barriffe, president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations. “What we see is a very hard, right-wing government that I don’t believe has any intention of honouring the commitment that the previous government has made towards the anti-racism directorate’s strategy.”

There are already early signs that changes are coming to the directorate, which had a number of subcommittees, including four community groups that consulted on issues of anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous discrimination, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

In early August, some members of the subcommittees told the Star they were contacted by staff and informed that their services would no longer be needed. “It was basically ‘Yep, your year is up, thank you very much,” said longtime Jewish rights advocate Bernie Farber, who co-chaired the anti-Semitism committee.

Farber said he and other members received no information about the future of the directorate, whose aim is to advance racial equity and address systemic racism in government policy legislation programs and services.

Nothing can be gleaned from Premier Ford’s mandate letters to ministers, either, which might clarify some of his intentions for the anti-racism directorate — the government is keeping these letters secret, even though they were publicly released under the previous administration.

The anti-racism directorate also ignored a list of questions sent by the Star on Aug. 20. These questions included: What is the directorate’s budget? What’s happening with the government-wide plans to collect race-based data? And what are the province’s priorities for the anti-racism directorate going forward?

“We don’t know anything,” said MPP Michael Coteau, who was previously the Liberal minister in charge of the directorate. “One of the most troubling pieces with the new government is that there’s been no transparency with regard to their mandate.”

“People are quite worried,” said MPP Laura Mae Lindo, the NDP critic for anti-racism. “You can’t approach anti-racism that way; you have to be transparent in what it is that you’re doing. You have to be willing to listen to the community organizations.”

To Barriffe, what the Ford government has been transparent on is its views toward issues that matter to racialized communities. He points to comments Ford made during his campaign where he expressed support for TAVIS, a now-defunct police unit that was heavily criticized for its negative impact on racialized communities. When the NDP recently introduced a motion to ban police carding — also known as “street checks,” which disproportionately affect people with black and brown skin — and destroy data collected through the practice, Conservative MPPs largely voted against it.

“I think that we have to believe what we see and what we see is them reversing all of the forward movement that we made in addressing anti-Black racism in society,” he said.

But Barriffe doesn’t necessarily think the Ford government will kill the anti-racism directorate outright. Rather, he suspects it will die from a thousand cuts — neglected and “defanged from its original purpose and intent.”

Already, the directorate has been relocated to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, which is headed by MPP Michael Tibollo — the minister who was heavily criticized by opposition parties for making “blatantly racist” comments in July, when he described wearing a bulletproof vest during a visit to the Jane and Finch neighbourhood.

The move diminishes the directorate’s influence within the government, said Avvy Go, director of the Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, who served on the directorate’s consultative body.

Previously, the directorate was based at the Cabinet Office. “The idea behind that was that anti-racism is important across the board, not just for any one ministry, and that all the ministries must pay attention to the issue of racism and finding ways of eliminating it,” she said. “Once you’ve slated it under one particular ministry, then we lose that cross-departmental knowledge-sharing and accountability measure.”

But the decision to move the directorate to this ministry — the same one in charge of police and prisons — also sends a troubling message, says longtime community activist Nene Kwasi Kafele, who also served on the consultation group with Go.

“The implication (is) that racism is simply an issue of policing and safety,” he said. “In my view, there’s some dog-whistle stuff around Black people and racialized communities being a danger, and therefore targeted approaches to them generally need to be subsumed under an area that addresses security and safety. It’s a terrible message.”

Lindo notes that the directorate, under the previous government, did have its flaws, however. For one, she believes it could have done a better job of folding in the work of community groups, many of which have already been on the front lines of anti-racism for decades.

Farber also has his criticisms of the directorate. He felt issues relating to anti-Semitism and Islamophobia were not prioritized as much as they should have been during the early stages of the directorate — though he started seeing signs of progress in the months leading up to the election.

“We started to make some headway; there were resources there that we were looking at to provide education on anti-Semitism,” Farber said. “And that’s what we were working towards, during the time leading up to the last provincial election. And then, quite frankly, things sort of grinded to a halt.”

Kafele points out, however, that while the directorate was just getting started, it did achieve some major accomplishments. The provincial government now has a legislative mandate towards combating racism in the province, he said, as well as a commitment to collecting disaggregated race data; commitments were also made towards underserved and marginalized populations, like Black youth in Ontario.

None of this existed back in the early ’90s, when both Kafele and Farber were involved with the anti-racism secretariat the first time around. And despite some of its early hiccups, Farber agrees the need for an anti-racism directorate is as urgent as ever, especially with the rise of right-wing extremist groups and an increasingly polarized political climate.

“The government gives (importance) to concepts like a buck-a-beer but not when it comes to racism, which has huge impacts on society,” Farber said. “The world is getting not just more complex but more dangerous, and we need to have policies and understandings in place as these issues go forward.”

Source: Advocates fear for future of province’s anti-racism directorate

Given all its other apologies, when will Ottawa finally apologize to the Jews? Farber

Bernie Farber on the need for an apology (one apology understandably leads to another ….). The Conservative government-funded projects under the Community Historical Recognition program to commemorate the MS St. Louis (along with funding to other communities affected by wartime internment or immigration restrictions); the Liberal government has focused more on apologies (e.g., to Indo-Canadians for turning back the Komagatu Maru):

Ethical nations must confront their history with moral rectitude. It is time for Canada to offer an official apology to Jewish Holocaust survivors, their families and the families of those who were murdered. Because our hands are not clean.

May 13th will mark 79 years since the ill-fated MS St. Louis set sail from Hamburg, Germany, on a journey to Havana, Cuba. Aboard the ship were 937 passengers, mostly desperate Jewish refugees fleeing Germany, a country consumed by vicious anti-Semitism, controlled by a raving, genocidal dictator who vowed to rid the world of its “Jewish problem.” Each passenger possessed a valid travel visa to enter Cuba. They had every reason to believe they’d escaped.

As the St. Louis made its way across the Atlantic Ocean, unbeknownst to the passengers, the Cuban government, facing a huge anti-Semitic backlash and beset by a corruption scandal relating to visas, cancelled the entry permits for the refugees. When they finally arrived, after a week at anchor offshore, the vast majority of the passengers were told they would not be permitted to disembark.

Their choices were limited. The MS St. Louis was barely a 90-minute sail from the shores of Miami. Surely, thought the ship’s German captain — Gustav Schroeder, a decent man who understood the plight of his distraught travellers — the United States, a country which held the hope of sanctuary for so many, would extend a hand of freedom and safety to his passengers.

A photo of Jews aboard the MS St. Louis.

Instead, the American government rejected any request for asylum. To ensure that this message would not be misunderstood, a Coast Guard vessel was ordered to very visibly follow the ocean liner.

Like today, the media became the moral watchdog of a willfully blind nation. The New York Times wrote in a heartfelt editorial, “We can only hope that some hearts will soften somewhere and some refuge be found. The cruise of the St. Louis cries to heaven of man’s inhumanity to men.”

Prominent Canadians began calling for the refugees be admitted here. But the prime minister, William Lyon McKenzie King, accepted the position of his director of immigration: “No country could open its doors wide enough to take in the hundreds of thousands of Jewish people who want to leave Europe: the line must be drawn somewhere.” The St. Louis, although only two days from Halifax on its way back across the Atlantic, sailed on, forced by necessity to return to Europe. Some passengers allowed into the United Kingdom found safety. The others landed in Holland, Belgium and France,. Those countries were later overrun by the Nazis. They rounded up the Jews and send them to concentration camps. More than 250 of those passengers that Canada, and others, refused to help, were murdered.

Professors Irving Abella and Harold Troper have studied this grim part of our history, and noted our anti-Semitic immigration policies during the Holocaust in their seminal study None is too Many. “It was a Canada,” as Abella wrote elsewhere, “with immigration policies that were racist and exclusionary, a country blanketed by an oppressive anti-Semitism in which Jews were the pariahs of Canadian society, demeaned, despised and discriminated against.”

Today we have a different Canada, one that values diversity and pluralism. Canada today is offering official apologies for policies that were bigoted, racist and homophobic. It has been a steep learning curve for Canadians. Yet with historic apologies to Indigenous peoples for a cultural genocide committed against them through the residential school system, and with  similar national apologies to the Sikh, Japanese and LGBTQ communities for historical wrongs, Canada has become a leader in teaching the world of the power of a simple phrase: “We’re sorry.”

A recent poll by The Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, a respected Jewish organization, shows that fully “one-fifth of millennials either haven’t heard of or are not sure if they have heard of the Holocaust.” And recently released hate crimes statistics collected by Canadian police have once again placed the Jewish community on top of the haters lists. An official national public apology for Canada’s actions against Jewish refugees during the Holocaust would be a powerful lesson for all, especially the young Canadians who are most at risk of forgetting the painful historical lessons we were supposed to have learned. Owning up to the errors of our past will help ensure that such evil, discriminatory policies never again see the light of day.

Source: Given all its other apologies, when will Ottawa finally apologize to the Jews?

Has Ontario’s anti-Semitism subcommittee accomplished anything?

These processes take time. A more interesting article would compare the progress of the four subcommittees:

A year ago, Ontario’s Liberal government unveiled its three-year anti-racism strategy. A Better Way Forward included initiatives “to combat systemic racism and create equitable outcomes for indigenous and racialized communities.”

Anti-racism, the 60-page plan stated, “actively confronts the unequal power dynamic between groups and the structures that sustain it.”

Four subcommittees were set up last March under the province’s Anti-Racism Directorate, which was established in February 2016 by Premier Kathleen Wynne and Michael Coteau, the minister responsible for anti-racism. The subcommittees are tasked with studying racism directed at blacks, indigenous people, Muslims and Jews respectively.

The directorate’s goal is “to eliminate systemic racism in government policies, decisions and programs,” and to boost public education and awareness of racism.

On June 1, Ontario passed its sweeping Anti-Racism Act. Among other things, the law mandates a review of anti-racism strategies at least every five years.

The subcommittee examining anti-Semitism has been toiling in relative obscurity ever since. Its unpaid members, which were chosen on the basis of their expertise in the area, were confirmed last spring. The first meeting was held in October, with two more in December and February. A fourth meeting has not yet been scheduled.

The committee is co-chaired by Bernie Farber, formerly of Canadian Jewish Congress and the Mosaic Institute, and Andrea Freedman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa and the Ottawa Jewish Community Foundation.

Its members are: Karen Mock, chair of the progressive Zionist group JSpace Canada; Len Rudner, formerly of the Canadian Jewish Congress and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA); Zach Potashner of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre; Pamela Divinsky, director of the Mosaic Institute; Madi Murariu from CIJA; Tom Henheffer, a journalist and media consultant; Hersh Perlis, director of the Legal Innovation Zone at Ryerson University and a former adviser at Queen’s Park; Nikki Holland, director of public affairs for the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario; Brianna Ames, a volunteer with the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee; and Amanda Hohmann, who at first represented B’nai Brith Canada, but now represents La’ad Canada, a new group focused on the next generation of Jewish Canadians. (B’nai Brith says it’s in the process of naming a new envoy to the committee).

In an email to The CJN, the anti-racism directorate explained that all four subcommittees are tasked with providing “population-specific and community perspectives on supporting and implementing … anti-racism initiatives” and providing input on “ongoing public awareness and education initiatives related to systemic racism.”

Asked what it has achieved, Farber said that even establishing an anti-racism directorate is an accomplishment, because it recognizes that within issues around racism, anti-Semitism “is seen individually and separately as a very impactful issue of discrimination that has to be dealt with on its own basis. That recognition has never been there before, officially.”

And “there’s a lot more to be done. We are just scratching the surface,” he added.

One hope is for the committee to reach out to FAST (Fighting Anti-Semitism Together), an activist group that opposes anti-Semitism, and Facing History and Ourselves, an educational organization that aims to engage students in issues of racism and genocide, Farber said.

Freedman told The CJN that the committee has narrowed its focus to education initiatives.

“One of our main areas is education and raising public awareness on anti-Semitism to ensure there’s a multi-faceted approach to the issue that involves all levels of government,” she said.

As for a definition of anti-Semitism, Freedman said that she and Farber will recommend that the committee adopt the one used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which has also been adopted by the government of Canada. It says that anti-Semitism “is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The only times the anti-Semitism subcommittee has been in the news was when two groups, Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) and the United Jewish People’s Order (UJPO), complained that they were deliberately excluded because they are openly critical of Israel and support Palestinian rights.

The organizations launched a petition on change.org, saying the directorate would “increase its credibility and effectiveness” by including “a greater range of Jewish voices, including those who are critical of Israel.” To date, it has nearly 900 signatures.

On Feb. 20, Teresa Armstrong, an NDP MPP from London, tabled the petition in the legislature.

Criticism of Israel’s government or policies “is not inherently anti-Semitic,” she said, quoting the petition, and confusing criticism of Israel’s government or policies with anti-Semitism “can have the adverse effect of silencing critical voices.”

Farber said that the two groups were not deliberately excluded, but that they focused on including “those Jewish organizations which deal specifically with anti-Semitism.” The focus of UJPO and IJV is not anti-Semitism, he said.

via Has Ontario’s anti-Semitism subcommittee accomplished anything? – The Canadian Jewish News

ICYMI: Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate’s anti-Semitism committee stuck on Israel – NOW Magazine

Good question:

The province’s Anti-Racism Directorate (ARD) has produced a clear and concise strategy to combat anti-Black racism. So why have they fumbled things so badly with their sub-committee on anti-Semitism?

Anti-racism is about giving voice to those who are outside the mainstream and ensuring broad representation in all public matters.

The ARD’s Strategic Plan, A Better Way Forward, states that its approach “actively confronts the unequal power dynamic between groups and the structures that sustain it [and] involves consistently assessing structures, policies and programs.”

Yet, the directorate has set up a sub-committee on anti-Semitism that consists solely of representatives from the Jewish establishment, including from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai Brith Canada, and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC).

Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) and the United Jewish People’s Order (UJPO) have requested to be included on the committee.

“Underlying our desire to participate is deep concern, shared by a growing number of Jews, that accusations of anti-Semitism are being used to suppress criticism of Israel,” says Rachel Epstein, executive director of UJPO’s Winchevsky Centre.

In a submission to the directorate last year, IJV campaigns coordinator Tyler Levitan expressed concern that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel, also known as BDS, might also form part of the sub-committee’s mandate.

Sadly, limiting the committee membership to mainstream voices reinforces the systemic biases that the directorate has been set up to combat.

A broader, more balanced committee is essential, including representatives from non-establishment Jewish groups.

CIJA, B’Nai Brith and FSWC don’t measure up.

While they have decried Islamophobia, the groups have opposed M-103, a parliamentary motion passed last year condemning Islamophobia and all other forms of religious discrimination.

Bernie Farber, a former executive director of the Canadian Jewish Congress (who is a member of the sub-committee) criticized the groups in a column last February in the Canadian Jewish News.

“How can it be,” he wrote, “that fellow Jews … deny the very same protections they would rightly demand for themselves?”

One would expect the sub-committee would include those with a dedication to anti-racism generally.

But while the organizations represented on the sub-committee claim many criticisms of Israel as anti-Semitic, they have historically failed to take issue with blatant racism expressed by senior Israeli politicians and government officials.

Recently, that has included the Communications Minister calling African refugees a “sanitary nuisance” and the Justice Minister calling Palestinian children “little snakes.”

The Anti-Racism Directorate’s credibility will be seriously damaged unless it deals with the narrow membership on the sub-committee.

Premier Kathleen Wynne and Michael Coteau, the provincial Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism, need to act to preserve the directorate’s reputation as it carries out its important task of combatting racism in all its forms.

via Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate’s anti-Semitism committee stuck on Israel – NOW Magazine

Canada Confronts Growing Tensions Between Its Ethnic Communities | US News

Always interested to see how Canada is portrayed in the international media.

While this piece is refreshing in that it provide a more critical look than most, it presents a limited range of views (no matter how much I value the work of the Mosaic Institute).

And could reporters be less lazy in their reporting of hate crimes by looking at trends, not just one year results – the overall numbers have been relatively flat with some variation among groups:

During this past season’s observation of Hanukkah, at least a dozen synagogues and Jewish centers across Canada received the same letter — a sheet of paper bearing the depiction of a blood-soaked Star of David with a swastika in the middle. The message, written in bold black letters, was explicit: “Jews must perish.”

The incidents triggered police investigations across the country and critical declarations by Jewish leaders. But it also revealed blemishes on the social fabric of a country known for its harmony. “… this isn’t something that should upset just the Jewish community, it has to upset every Canadian because that’s not what we stand for, ” Judy Shapiro, associate executive director of the Calgary Jewish Federation, told reporters.

Canadians today find themselves grappling with issues that, from outside of the country, may appear very un-Canadian: reported hate crimes are increasing, some ethnic populations in the country increasingly are critical of how they’re treated by authorities and lawmakers are debating minority protections versus free speech rights.

“We like to hold on to the notion that Canadians value something called multiculturalism or pluralism,” says Pamela Divinsky, executive director of the Mosaic Institute, a Canadian think tank that promotes dialogue within diverse communities. “But there is growing discomfort with differences.”

To be sure, Canada is celebrated for its diversity and multiculturalism. In the 2015 Prosperity Index, put out by Legatum Institute, a London-based think tank, Canada finished first in the personal freedom category thanks to high scores in tolerance and civil liberties. Indeed, most Canadians would agree with the results of this week’s Best Countries survey results that for three consecutive years has ranked Canada as the country offering the greatest quality of life among the assessed nations.

But prominent social justice advocate Bernie Farber summed up today’s Canada by noting recently that relations between the country’s various communities “are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.”

Statistics Canada recently reported a 3 percent increase in hate crimes from 2015 to 2016, when 1,409 such crimes were reported to police. Jews were the most targeted group (221 incidents), followed by blacks (214 incidents) and members of the LGBT community (176 incidents). While hate crimes account for less than 0.1 percent of overall crime in Canada, government statisticians suspect that two-thirds of such crimes are not reported. They add that reporting rates might vary by population; some targeted groups might be more willing to report hate crimes than others.

Months before the letters addressed to synagogues and Jewish centers were put in the mail, members of the Jewish community reported a handful of other anti-Semitic incidents in the Toronto area, including the appearance of swastikas on the walls of a university classroom and the phrase “Hitler was right!” painted on highway infrastructure.

A year ago, meanwhile, a gunman burst into a Quebec City mosque during evening prayers and opened fire. Six men were shot and killed and 19 others were wounded. The alleged shooter, identified as 27-year-old French-Canadian Alexandre Bissonnette, will stand trial on charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder.

 Vigils across the country expressed support for the Muslim community, but that groundswell was soon overshadowed by heated debate over a proposal in the House of Commons to pass a non-binding motion condemning Islamophobia and religious discrimination. Opponents argue that it will limit free speech or single out Islam for special treatment in Canadian law. Thousands of Canadians signed petitions against the motion and some took part in organized protests, where they clashed with supporters of the motion. It was passed in late March.

The Muslim community, which was the target of 139 hate crimes in 2016, was at the center of controversy again last October, when Quebec lawmakers passed legislation requiring people in that province to uncover their faces when giving or receiving public service. Many Muslims see the law as an attack on women who wear the niqab.

Muslims are not the only Canadians who take issue with how they’re treated by authorities. Many members of the black community believe police discriminate against them. In March 2016, Black Lives Matters members staged a protest outside police headquarters in Toronto, spurred to action by police shootings of black men in two separate incidents. One victim was shot while wielding a hammer and the other was killed while holding a BB gun.

Three months after that protest, the organization’s members brought Toronto’s annual Pride parade to a halt by staging a sit-in on the parade route. Organizers said they were protesting “anti-blackness” by parade organizers and police. Today, blacks are the target of more reported hate crimes in Canada than any group except for Jews.

“There’s an unacceptable gap between the promises we project to the world [as a country] and the realities African-Canadians get to experience every day,” says Canadian human rights lawyer Anthony Morgan. He has written about various attacks on black Canadians, including one in which several nooses were placed in the work area of an assembly plant worker in Windsor, Ontario.

A Hard-Right History in Canada

“There has always been a ripple of hard-right activity in Canada,” says social activist Farber, who is the former CEO of the Mosaic Institute, a Canadian nonprofit organization that promotes diversity. He points to Heritage Front, a Canadian white nationalist organization founded in 1989 and disbanded 15 years later, as an example. But he says that, for the first time in recent history, Canadians who hold such views feel emboldened to act on them and to share them with others. Farber attributes that development, in large part, to Donald Trump.

“When the president of the United Statesmakes common cause with Neo-Nazis, bigots and racists, it gives those people permission to climb out of garbage cans and pursue their hateful business,” he explains. “Unfortunately, it is no longer just street kids who are attracted to white nationalism. We now see articulate university students creating closed Facebook pages and organizing through social media.”

He notes that Bissonnette, the accused Quebec City mosque shooter, was a political science and anthropology major at a nearby university and had reportedly made online statements inspired by extreme right-wing nationalists. He “liked” Facebook pages of several politicians including Trump and far-right French politician Marine Le Pen.

Bissonnette denounced refugees in online posts, and he is not the only Canadian who has expressed antipathy toward newcomers. Last fall, ultranationalists staged a protest at the U.S.-Canada border.

Politicians have condemned attacks against minorities and some community groups have requested more funding and resources for police forces to combat hate crimes. But that won’t fix the problem, says Divinsky of the Mosaic Institute.

“We continue to look at differences as a problem, as something that needs to be managed, controlled, contained and silenced,” says Divinsky. “But we need to shift out mindset and see differences as our best asset. Our country is great place to live. For the most part, we live pretty damn well with our differences,” she adds. “But we must improve on that.”

via Canada Confronts Growing Tensions Between Its Ethnic Communities | Best Countries | US News

Why we need a parliamentary motion to fight Islamophobia: Farber and Sucharov

Very good column by Bernie Farber and Mira Sucharov:

There are times when one community within the Canadian mosaic experiences particular trauma such that succor is in order. Today, that community is Canadian Muslims. MP Iqra Khalid knew this when she proposed M-103, a private member’s motion designed to fight Islamophobia. Now, the parliamentary hearings flowing from M-103’s recommendations provide all Canadians with an opportunity to stand up to Islamophobia.

No one understands this situation better than Canadian Jews. There was a time in this country where Jews were unwelcome, seen as swarthy crooks and objects of suspicion. Attitudes softened somewhat after it became clear that such bigotry — through shameful episodes like the banning of the M.S. St. Louis — had led Canada to be complicit in the Nazi genocide of six million Jewish men, women and children.

But discrimination against Jews in Canada continued. Until the Canadian Jewish Congress challenged it in court in the early 1950s, Jews were often barred from purchasing land. Employers discriminated against applicants with Jewish-sounding names. Some resorts and country clubs kept their doors closed to Jews, and Jewish doctors were banned from practicing in some hospitals. And into the 1960s, there were strict quotas placed on the number of Jews allowed into universities.

While anti-semitism remains a scourge worldwide, in Canada it now hovers along the edges of society. Not so Islamophobia which is, unfortunately, front and centre.

With the horrific mosque attack in Quebec City last January, Canadian Muslims now have the tragic distinction of being the only people in the country’s history to have been gunned down in their house of worship. Incredibly, in the weeks following, anti-Islam protests took place across downtown Toronto. And two months after the massacre, a protestor ripped up and stomped on a Koran at a Peel District school board meeting.

And then there are the quiet prejudicial attitudes. A 2017 poll revealed that only 4 per cent of Canadians would find it “unacceptable” for their son or daughter to marry a Christian. That number jumps to 32 per cent when the hypothetical betrothed is Muslim.

M-103 follows in the tradition of supporting particular targeted groups as needed. But that support has sometimes come decades too late. In fact, it wasn’t until 2015 that a parliamentary motion was passed unanimously decrying anti-semitism. What’s more, unlike the anti-semitism motion, the text of M-103 is fully inclusive. Not only does it condemn Islamophobia, it points to the need to oppose “all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”

Yet critics of the motion continue to air doubts that opposing Islamophobia is worthy of Canada’s attention. In a briefing note to the parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing the motion’s recommendations, retired Canadian Forces major Russ Cooper has expressed concern that the motion will trample free speech.

Similarly, Jay Cameron of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms warns that if “M-103 is legislatively codified, the unconstitutional infringement of freedom of thought, belief, expression and religion is inevitable.”

And Father Raymond De Sousa told the hearing that “to focus on one religion alone, as M-103 suggests, would be unwise.”

All these arguments are red herrings. M-103 does nothing to change the Criminal Code. Canada’s strong speech protections remain in place. And neither does M-103 restrict anti-bigotry to one religion. Its language, as we’ve stressed above, is fully inclusive.

As Canadian Jews we understand the need for memory. With the legacy of Jewish suffering, it has become an article of faith to commemorate persecution. What we’re seeing here, sadly, is that when it comes to oppression of Canadian Muslims, there are too many attempts by too many Canadians to forget. M-103 is an attempt to resist this collective amnesia.

When it comes to Islamophobia, we fear that too many of the testimonies at the hearings to date, coupled with the many Canadians who said they would have voted against the motion, reveal the scope of the very problem the critics are claiming does not exist.

Source: Why we need a parliamentary motion to fight Islamophobia | Toronto Star

Sheema Khan’s on the limitations of the Runnymede Trust definition and the strengths of its framework:

For the past few weeks, the House of Commons Heritage Committee has been holding public consultations regarding Motion M-103.

Appearing before the Committee at the outset, M-103 sponsor Liberal MP Iqra Khalid emphasized the need for a comprehensive study of Canadians affected by racism and religious discrimination. She spoke eloquently about the painful experiences of individuals affected by prejudice and hatred, and the need for a systematic analysis of data (as required by M-103) to combat forces that are corroding our social fabric.

These are laudable goals that should be supported by all Canadians.

However, an uproar ensued when M-103 was initially tabled, because of the inclusion of the term “Islamophobia” in the motion. There were concerns about the imposition of Sharia Law, a chill on free speech, and special protection granted to Islam. Ms. Khalid received a torrent of hate mail, including death threats. Some argued that the reaction itself was proof of widespread Islamophobia.

And yet, as the Committee has heard, no one really has a handle on the term. Many definitions exist, with widely differing breadths and scopes. Ms. Khalid’s definition: “the irrational fear of Islam and/or Muslims that leads to discrimination” is the most succinct. However, this needs to be balanced by the right to criticize and question.

The term gained currency following the 1997 report on British Muslims, entitled “Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All” issued by the Runnymede Trust, a respected British think-tank. In it, Islamophobia was defined as “unfounded hostility towards Islam, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.”

The report, however, went further, by equating Islamophobia with “closed views” on Islam in eight different categories. These include Islam seen as monolithic; the “other” with no commonality with Western culture; inferior (i.e. barbaric, irrational and sexist); an enemy; and a deceitful ideology bent on political/military domination. Such closed views reject any criticism of the West by Islam, defend discrimination of Muslims, and see Islamophobia as natural. For good measure, “open views” include seeing Islam as diverse with internal debates; having shared values with other faiths; a faith worthy of respect; and a partner in the solution of shared problems.

Such a binary categorization of opinions of Islam is problematic, and was recently recognized as such by the editor of the report. However, since the term is here to stay, the Heritage Committee should devise a precise definition.

Questions and criticism about Islam are not Islamophobia. In fact, Muslims themselves engage in robust debates about modernity and Islamic practice. The cruel irony is that such debates are banned in countries that need it most.

The Heritage Committee must be careful to define Islamophobia, lest it chill the free exchange of opinions. For example, a recent online survey found that 88 per cent of Canadians believe Muslims should be treated no differently than their fellow Canadians, while 72 per cent are worried that hatred and fear of Canadian Muslims is on the rise.

Yet 56 per cent believe that “Islam suppresses women’s rights.” Are they Islamophobic? Of course not. They are entitled to their opinion. Such a critical view is understandable, given discriminatory gender practices in some Muslim cultures. Furthermore, subordination of women is often justified by theology. We need to be able to have frank discussions without the fear of being branded an “Islamophobe.”

A balance must be found between protection of free speech and protection from bigotry and hatred.

In spite of its clumsy definition of Islamophobia, The Runnymede report provides an excellent framework for identifying its deleterious effects in four areas: exclusion (from politics, employment, management); violence; discrimination (in employment and provision of services); and prejudice (in media and conversation).

In fact, this framework can be applied to comprehensive data collection and analysis for all types of racism and discrimination – which just happens to be the stated goal of the Committee.

Source: We must define Islamophobia by what it truly is – The Globe and Mail

Citizenship Act C-6 Changes: Witnesses 19 April Meeting

The second set of witnesses at CIMM C-6 hearings had all testified at the C-24 hearings two years ago, with a good cross-section of perspectives, largely focussed on the same issues of revocation, language and knowledge testing.

The most interesting exchange was with respect to Martin Collacott who accused the government of pandering to new Canadian voters in the relaxed residency and language requirements.

Details:

Bernie Farber, now heading the Mosaic Institute, shared his personal family refugee and Holocaust history as a means to personalize what it means to be Canadian citizens and the challenges of being a refugee. He cited research carried out by the Institute on imported conflicts, showing an attitudinal shift towards being more empathetic and recognizing common ground, with very high levels of attachment to Canada (94 percent, with 80 percent feeling more Canadian than anything). Ensuring full participation helps reduce imported trauma, improving both individual lives as well as Canada. He was broadly supportive of the proposed changes. See his op-ed Its Time to End the Stigma of Immigration”.

Sheryl Saperia, of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, reiterated her past support for the revocation provisions of C-24 for those convicted of terror or treason, believing it an appropriate consequence for these crimes. She did not accept Minister McCallum’s arguments that it created two-classes of citizenship, given that naturalized Canadians chose to become Canadian, and were not forced to become dual citizens. She noted that a Canadian is not always a Canadian, citing the examples of revocation for fraud or war crimes as exceptions. She proposed an alternative approach to revocation, with Ministerial discretion to review the depth of the connection to the other country, with the less active the connection the weaker the case for revocation. Should the government proceed with repealing the revocation provisions, this should be combined with greater deradicalization efforts in Canadian prisons.

Patti Tamara Lenard of University of Ottawa noted that citizenship in democracies is a fundamental right. She went through the previous government’s arguments in favour of revocation. There was no evidence that revocation made states any safer, using Belgium as an example, and that ‘targeting’ of dual citizens undermined security, not strengthening it. Canada was not catching up with other countries, apart from the UK [and Australia], noting that France had abandoned this approach. And public support did not justify measures to curb minority rights, even the ‘most hated’ of Canadians should still have their rights protected. She noted the broader context under which Canadian Muslims felt targeted, citing security certificates and no fly lists, all of which have contributed to their distrust of the Canadian state. Prior discourse had portrayed Canadian Muslims as disloyal and that discrimination was legitimate and inclusive language was needed.

Janet Dench and Jennifer Stone of the Canadian Council for Refugees noted the importance of citizenship for mental health, particularly so for refugees. CCR supports early access to citizenship without discrimination. They supported counting time before permanent residency towards citizenship but focussed on the lengthy processing times for permanent residency for refugees and live-in-caregivers. CCR supported the reduced residency requirements but advocated a waiver if compelling reasons provided. They also supported the reversion to the previous age requirements for knowledge and language (18-54), but noted that some older applicants still struggle to meet these requirements. CCR noted the need for some form of waiver from the high citizenship fees and language assessment, citing the USA example. While pleased that C-24 dual national revocation was being repealed, they noted the need for fraud revocation to be subject to court review. CCR also noted the need for children under 18 to apply for citizenship should they have neither parent nor guardian. Lastly, they argued for repeal of the first generation limit of passing on citizenship to reduce possible future statelessness. See their detailed brief Bill C-6 Citizenship Bill concerns.

R. Reis Pagtakhan, a Winnipeg-based immigration lawyers, is one of few witnesses to date who has changed his position in the past two years. While he remains broadly supportive of revocation for treason or terror, he now believes this should only apply to those convicted in Canadian courts to ensure Charter and related protections apply. He made a forceful statement in favour of the TRC recommendation 94, changing the citizenship oath to include a reference to treaties with Indigenous Peoples. He supported repeal of the intent to reside and credit for pre-permanent residency to count towards citizenship. See his op-ed Canadian citizenship should have 2 tiers, Reis Pagtakhan says.

Martin Collacott opposed shortening the residency requirements, noting that they were among the shortest in the world, allowing some to ‘park’ their families here and work abroad. He was against repealing the intent to reside provision. He thought the change in age requirements particularly ill-considered, particularly for 55-64 year olds who were often still working. He cited the Fraser Institute report on the cost of immigrants to the Canadian economy [Note: its methodology is questionable]. He supported the previous government’s revocation for terror or treason as a reasonable measure, and that most would not be convinced by a “Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian” in these cases. He noted that citizenship can be used for political gain, using the example of the Clinton presidential campaign in 1996 where 1 million became citizens [surprised he refrained from Canadian examples as there was a surge in new citizens in 2014 and 2015 under the Harper government]. He ended by stressing the need for a full immigration review in terms of who benefits as it was abundantly clear that the current high levels were only serving special interests, certain sectors and political parties, with congestion and higher prices being part of the costs.

Questions:

As in 2014, after the first few hearings, the questions and responses tend to reinforce earlier sessions.

Revocation for terror or treason: Not surprising, a fair amount of questions from both the Government and Conservative side, with the Government challenging Saperia and Collacott’s arguments in particular. Saperia stumbled occasionally in her responses, reverting to talking points and arguing that there was no discrimination between Canadian and dual nationals convicted of the same crime but punished differently. However, she acknowledged that the argument that revocation was exporting terrorists to other countries was the most convincing one.

Revocation for fraud: NDP raised again the question of the pre-C-24 procedural protections and that C-6 did not address these. No witness substantively address this (Audrey Macklin on April 14 did).

Language: There were considerable questions on language requirements, with the Conservatives focussing on the importance of language and the NDP concerned about the cost of language assessment and the requirement to take the knowledge test in an official language. Collacott in his replies stressed the importance of language, particularly for older 55-64 year olds, that ample research demonstrates the link between language and economic integration, noting that lack of language meant having to work in the particular immigrant community with likely poorer economic prospects.

Pagtakhan interestingly posed the question why both with language assessment anyway at the citizenship stage, this should be a requirement when immigrating to Canada, rather than fixing it post facto. CCR reemphasized its previous points on challenges for refugees, who may have additional barriers in terms of ability to learn language, find time given employment and cost. Many applications had been returned given that proof of language had not been provided. Farber noted that the language bar should not be set so high to ‘exclude’; Lenard favoured a relatively low bar as in the USA.

Knowledge: No major Q&As on knowledge requirements although CCR did mention the decline in pass rates following the changes in 2010.

Statelessness: NDP raised as before. Lenard noted that international documents cover statelessness and the right to nationality. It is generally understood that the right to nationality means either having been born or mainly lived in a country.

Pandering for votes: Collacott, in his introductory remark mention of political benefits, drew considerable fire from the government side. He initially ducked the question but then, following a second question challenging him for the evidence, replied that there was considerable evidence over the years regarding Liberal governments. The previous Conservative government had tried to gain support among new Canadians through its policies [Note: he was silent on ‘boutique’ initiatives such as the historical recognition, targeted towards Chinese, Ukrainian, Indo, Italian and Jewish Canadians  and legislation such as the Vietnam Journey to Freedom Act S-219]. He cited the Liberal government having 4 ministers from the Punjabi community and none from the Chinese community in Cabinet as more recent examples.

After Paris, we must tune out the hatred: Farber

Bernie Farber on the need for respectful and sensitive dialogue:

When it comes to these tragic and sensitive issues, there is a dire need for careful and meaningful “dialogue.” We need to create safe spaces for people from different communities and with perspectives to come together, mourn together, learn together, and act together. This cannot be superficial; it needs to be more than holding hands and playing nice. This is complex and long-term work. It does not require that we abandon our beliefs and values, but we do need to move outside of our respective comfort zones.

There will always be people who have no interest in peaceful dialogue, preferring instead to cower behind their computers waiting for the next opportunity to spew their caws of hatred. Dealing with these people can feel like playing a game of “whack-a-mole,” as they duck down and re-emerge from time to time.

The best use of our energies is to drown out these voices by creating platforms for people, communities and organizations who are interested in constructive rather than destructive dialogue. As we have seen, these positive voices are already out there. We just need more opportunities to hear them, and the discipline to tune out everyone else.

Source: After Paris, we must tune out the hatred | Toronto Star

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

Max Yalden championed human rights in Canada

Bernie Farber’s tribute to Max Yalden:

Max Yalden was the consummate civil servant with a twist: he didn’t suffer fools gladly. He played significant roles in two key areas of Canada’s growth as a nation, as Commissioner of Official Languages (1977-1984) and perhaps his most important posting, as Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) from 1987 to 1996.

He was a studied man who preferred focused research and facts to educate and make his points. His annual reports in both of his key positions are now the stuff of legend. It was Yalden’s goal while overseeing the Official Languages Act to normalize the transition of Canada from a unilingual state to a bilingual nation and eventually as Human Rights Commissioner into a multicultural entity. While not yet perfect, Yalden’s determined work was largely successful.

And while today we essentially take human and civil rights for granted it was not always so. Hatred, bullying and discrimination were commonplace 30 years ago especially when it came to gay and lesbian rights, the status of women, people with disabilities, as well as faith and minority groups. Max Yalden created a “fence of protection” for minorities in this country by ensuring that the Canadian Human Rights Act was a force for good and a vehicle for change.

He viscerally understood that words had power and that evil words could be fraught with danger for minority groups. He was a strong defender of the now-repealed Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act that gave some authority to the commission to deal with hate speech through the Internet. Yalden saw the regulation as a means to teach about the need for decency and civility as opposed to using the heavy hammer of criminal law to punish those who should know better.

…Max Yalden was a man of uncommon dignity. He understood and had compassion for those who often found themselves without a champion. He became their champion. Much of Canada’s progress in the arena of human and civil rights is a direct result of Max Yalden’s vision, courage and determination.

Today, at a time where anti-terrorism laws are being considered that may further restrict our hard-fought-for human rights, where once again Muslims, Jews and others are the subjects of hate and distrust, we could use a Maxwell Yalden to be our champion.

Max Yalden championed human rights in Canada | Toronto Star.