Ottawa holds consultations on racism behind closed doors

Understand the rationale behind closed-door consultations but at a minimum, the government should be disclosing the names of those consulted shortly after each session to ensure basic transparency and a check to ensure that a balance of perspectives is being heard.

Hard to understand the Minister’s reluctance to use the term “systemic racism” beyond the political. A more constructive approach would be to acknowledge that it exists (e.g., blind cv tests, incarceration rates) but find a way to explain it as patterns of discrimination and prejudice if the “S” word is viewed as too polarizing:

The federal government has quietly launched a series of closed-door consultations on the issue of racism, hoping to avoid heated public debates on issues such as Islamophobia and systemic racism.

“The meetings are not held in public for the simple reason that we want to be able to have in-depth discussions with experts across the country, in which the participants’ comments are not misconstrued or judged,” Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism, said in an interview on Monday.

While no news releases or media advisories were sent out, Mr. Rodriguez has already attended three invitation-only sessions in the Greater Toronto Area, with his department planning on holding a total of 22 meetings before the end of the year across Canada. Mr. Rodriguez said he wants to focus on concrete solutions to specific problems, deliberately avoiding a debate over the issue of “systemic” racism.

“That expression is not a part of my vocabulary,” he said. “Canada is not a racist society, wherever one lives.”

However, two of Mr. Rodriguez’s caucus colleagues, Liberal MPs Celina Caesar-Chavannes and Greg Fergus, have both said they believe in the existence of systemic racism in Canada. The expression is also used in the federal consultation documents, which define the term as “patterns of behaviour, policies or practices that are part of the social or administrative structures of an organization, and which create or perpetuate a position of relative disadvantage for racialized persons.”

Jasmin Zine, a professor of sociology and Muslim studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, said she is afraid the federal consultations are off to a false start in these circumstances.

“If you take out systemic racism, what is left is the idea that people don’t like each other and don’t get along on the basis of negative attitudes about people from different backgrounds. It becomes an individual problem, in other words,” she said in an interview. “So to move away from systemic racism … takes away all issues around power, which is crucial to understanding the system of racism, and it takes away all responsibility from the state and institutions.”

However, Mr. Rodriguez said he wants the consultations to focus on specific issues such as higher unemployment and incarceration rates among members of particular communities, or access to affordable housing. In addition to the working groups, Canadian Heritage has launched a website to gather public comments on the issue of racism.

“Identity issues will always fuel passionate debates. Our goal is to get to the bottom of things without getting into a political debate. We want this to be neutral in political terms and to be done professionally,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “We are looking for facts and, most importantly, solutions.”

Mr. Rodriguez, 51, replaced Mélanie Joly as Heritage Minister in a cabinet shuffle in July. His family arrived in Canada in the 1970s when his father – a lawyer and politician – fled political persecution in Argentina.

Mr. Rodriguez said the consultations on racism will cost up to $2-million, with the funding announced in the most recent budget as part of efforts to develop a new national anti-racism strategy. Over all, the federal government awarded $23-million toward new multiculturalism programs earlier this year.

“Unfortunately, Canada is not immune to racism and discrimination – challenges remain when it comes to fully embracing diversity, openness and co-operation,” the federal government says in its consultation documents. “Acknowledging that racism and discrimination are a part of our lived reality is a critical first step to action.”

The issue of racism has fuelled heated debates in the country in recent times. There were acrimonious discussions last year over a motion in the House of Commons (M-103) to condemn Islamophobia across Canada. While the motion did not affect existing legislation, it was roundly criticized in conservative circles and media as preventing any legitimate criticism of Islam.

Consultations on the issue of racism proved controversial in Quebec last year, when the government scrapped planned meeting on “systemic racism” over an outcry among media commentators and talk-show hosts. Instead, the Quebec government rebranded the mandate of the exercise to “valuing diversity and fighting against discrimination.”

Source: Ottawa holds consultations on racism behind closed doors

ICYMI: Federal government to launch Canada-wide consultations on systemic racism

Needed and appropriate follow-up to M-103 report broad emphasis on racism and discrimination across all groups and Budget 2018 funding for multiculturalism and measures targeted issues related to Black Canadians.

But will be difficult to manage and I don’t envy the public servants tasked with devising the consultations strategy and approach. I remember the Bouchard Taylor hearings about 10 years ago, and the recent town hall that MP Iqra Khalid held, that was far from being a respectful conversation:

Ottawa is set to launch pan-Canadian consultations on racism, a topic that has stirred controversy and divisions across the country in recent months.

The exact form and nature of the consultations is still being developed in the Department of Canadian Heritage and has yet to be unveiled to the public. Still, the government said it wants to create a new strategy to counter “systemic racism” and religious discrimination.

As the format for the new round of consultations is being debated, some federal officials are worried the forum could lead to acrimonious debates similar to last year’s controversy over a motion (M-103) to condemn Islamophobia across Canada. The motion, which did not affect existing legislation, was nonetheless roundly criticized in right-wing circles and conservative media as preventing any legitimate criticism of Islam.

Similar consultations have proven controversial in Quebec, where the government scrapped planned consultations on “systemic racism” last year over an outcry among media commentators and talk-show hosts. Instead, the Quebec government rebranded the mandate of the exercise to “valuing diversity and fighting against discrimination.”

According to last month’s federal budget, the coming “cross-country consultations on a new national anti-racism approach” will be funded out of a new $23-million envelope that is geared toward new multiculturalism programs.

“Diversity is one of our greatest strengths and has contributed significantly to our country. We recognize the need to counter all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and we are taking action to address the ongoing challenges and discrimination that still exist in our society,” said Simon Ross, a spokesman for Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly.

“We will also be consulting with Canadians to develop a national strategy to combat racism in Canada, and we look forward to speaking with experts, community organizations, citizens and interfaith leaders to find new ways to collaborate and combat discrimination as we develop this strategy,” he said.

The new round of consultations will enact a key recommendation made earlier this year by the Heritage committee of the House, which called on the government to engage in consultations as part of efforts to create Canada’s Action Plan Against Racism.

According to the Heritage committee’s report, an action plan against racism would ensure that the government would consider the impact of all policies on visible minorities, similar to existing gender-based analysis.

“Systemic racism occurs when government actions fail to address the needs of certain racialized groups within the population, resulting in unfair, discriminatory practices and outcomes. To expose and prevent systemic racism, a number of witnesses suggested the development of a race equity lens as a key element of a national action plan,” the report said.

Jasmin Zine, a professor of sociology and Muslim studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the government should learn lessons from the debate over M-103 that was “hijacked” by concerns over the definition of Islamophobia.

“They have to be handled better than the initial parliamentary hearings were,” she said in an interview. “In the best-case scenario, the consultations could be a way to recuperate what was lost in the committee process. In the worst-case scenario, it will only reproduce the divisions and the political divides that were derailing this process from the beginning.”

She added the government cannot ignore Islamophobia as part of its study of racism and must not be afraid of confronting the root causes of racism.

“We can’t just wrap things up in nice, liberal, Kumbaya sentiments. We have to look at the issues that are critical for marginalized communities, such as questions of social inequality, power, privilege and the way racism is embedded in all institutions and levels of society,” Ms. Zine said.

Tensions are running high among federal politicians over the issue of racism, with Conservative MP Maxime Bernier accusing the government of exploiting the debate to win support in various communities.

“I thought the ultimate goal of fighting discrimination was to create a colour-blind society where everyone is treated the same,” Mr. Bernier said on Twitter earlier this month.

Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes shot back that research has shown that pretending not to see someone’s skin colour “contributes to racism.”

“Please check your privilege and be quiet,” she responded to Mr. Bernier on Twitter, before apologizing for her language.

The Conservative Party said in a statement that the coming consultations on racism need to be established in a way that unites Canadians.

“We hope that consultations on a subject as sensitive as this one will be conducted in an orderly fashion. It is now up to the government to ensure that they are well structured and constructive,” Conservative spokeswoman Virginie Bonneau said.

via Federal government to launch Canada-wide consultations on systemic racism – The Globe and Mail

John Ibbitson on the political risks:

With its message of hope transmuting dangerously into hectoring, the Trudeau government needs to be wary about the upcoming national consultations on racism. The exercise could further damage an already-weakened Liberal brand.

Justin Trudeau won the 2015 election on a promise of transformative change after a decade of Conservative inaction. The new government pledged to tackle climate change, forge a more respectful relationship with Indigenous Canadians and rescue refugees in peril.

Two-and-a-half years later, the national carbon tax, which is the chief strategy to combat global warming, is in peril from provincial conservatives in Ontario and Alberta who vow to scrap it if they come to power.

The inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women is behind schedule and beset with inner turmoil, even as Indigenous protesters and environmentalists vow to prevent the Trans Mountain pipeline from ever being built.

And instead of feeling good about rescuing refugees, we’re told we should feel guilty because so we’re so racist.

Ottawa committed $23-million in the last budget to new multiculturalism programs, including funding that will go to a national consultation on “systemic racism” and religious discrimination. The goal will be to develop a “national strategy to combat racism in Canada.”

This comes in the wake of Motion 103, the non-binding resolution that asserted “the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear,” and to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”

Conservatives complained the resolution would prohibit any form of criticism of Islam. It would not. More problematic, though, is the notion of an “increasing public climate of hate and fear.” Who says? There is compelling evidence that Canada, with its wide-open immigration policy, is the most tolerant country on earth.

Nonetheless, a committee crisscrossing the country in search of intolerance is bound to find it, and to publicize that finding. This is of a piece with this government’s fondness for making people feel bad about themselves.

You may be proud of your home and your community, but you’re living on unceded Indigenous land, as Liberal cabinet ministers insist almost everywhere they go.

You may consider yourself environmentally responsible, but that SUV you drive is an abomination, which is the whole reason behind the carbon tax.

You may consider yourself free of prejudice, but apparently this country suffers from systemic racism and Islamophobia, which is why we need a task force.

As conservative commentators and politicians are certain to point out, the worst example of religious discrimination under way right now might come from the Liberal government itself. Employment and Social Development Canada has cancelled funding for a summer-jobs program to churches and other religious organizations because they refuse to affirm on the application form that they respect “reproductive rights and the right to be free of discrimination” on the basis of, among other things, “sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”

There are people of faith of all religions who oppose abortion and who do not condone same-sex acts. On that basis, faith-based organizations have been denied funding, even though the students they would hire would be serving as camp counselors and the like, and would not be asked to proselytize.

This writer can think of another government that believed it was morally superior to the people it served. Bob Rae’s Ontario NDP claimed affirmative action was needed to counter sexism; photo radar was needed because people drove too fast; an anti-racism secretariat was needed because of racial prejudice. Voters did not take this well.

If your government accuses you of being a bad person, you are unlikely to become a better person. You are more likely to change the government.

The Liberals’ sudden and dramatic decline in popularity is entirely reversible. Governing parties often slump mid-mandate, then rebound when earlier investments start to pay off. By this time next year, Mr. Trudeau could be back on top and looking forward to the fall election campaign.

But if the Grits really do want to get back in the voters’ good graces, they need to stop lecturing so much. We’re not as bad as they say we are, and they’re not as enlightened as they think they are.

This new consultation on systemic racism should keep a low profile. ​

Liberal investigation into systemic racism should keep a low profile

And appropriate caution regarding the government’s ability to manage these consultations given both its consultation record and the sensitive and uncomfortable nature of the subject. That being said, while yes it makes sense for the government to focus on issues and entities under its jurisdiction, there is place for a broader conversation regarding systemic racism and barriers across all levels of government and institutions in Canada:

Canada’s self-image is of an open, inclusive society – one of the planet’s most welcoming places.

And in relative terms, that’s mostly true. Ours is an unusually successful national story. But step back a few paces and the picture begins to look ever so slightly askew.

It’s time to face an uncomfortable fact: We have complex societal systems and, yes, they too often discriminate against people on the basis of skin colour, religion or national origin. It is not a collective moral failure to admit that systemic racism exists in Canada – that is, historically entrenched discrimination in the rules, policies and practices governing institutions. It is an acknowledgment of reality.

Anyone who claims otherwise or takes umbrage at the descriptor is invited to speak to an Indigenous Canadian. Or to any of the thousands of black Canadians who have been forced to submit to police carding. Or to an unemployed Muslim woman. The list could go on.

While we are a country of immigrants – Canada has the world’s highest per capita immigration rate; the 2016 census revealed 21.9 per cent of us were born elsewhere – our immigrants tend not to earn as good a living as the native-born.

According to Statistics Canada, new Canadians, who are also often visible minorities, are more than twice as likely to be jobless, and those who do find work earn 16 per cent less, on average, than so-called “old stock” Canadians.

The immigration income gap is real and the numbers indicate it is growing, even for second-generation Canadians. It’s not because Canada admits people with low education levels or insufficient skills – quite the opposite. We choose the best of the best, and then have them drive cabs.

Institutional barriers are part of the problem, the most obvious being a persistent unwillingness to recognize foreign qualifications.

But prejudice is also a factor. A 2011 study by University of Toronto economist Philip Oreopoulos found that fictitious resumes featuring foreign-sounding names or work experience were three times more likely to be tossed aside by would-be employers. The most-cited reason for doing so was concern over language skills, which other research has identified as a proxy for discrimination.

So what to do? For a start, our governments could stand to listen more closely to marginalized voices. As it happens, Ottawa is in the midst of planning a national public consultation on racism and religious discrimination. We hope the effort produces some benefit. But recent precedent gives us ample cause to fear it won’t.

The Trudeau Liberals took a worthy idea in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women inquiry, made a hash of it and likely set it up to fail. It didn’t put enough care into the planning, hoping instead that the symbolic value of the inquiry would alone be enough to see it through.

This government is also insufficiently wary of the dangers of identity politics, as evidenced by the culture war it started after it denied summer-job grants to religious groups that are overtly anti-abortion or don’t support gay marriage.

Plus, it can be a challenge to keep any examination of racism from going off the rails. The Quebec government proposed a similar public discussion after six Muslims were shot dead in a Quebec City mosque last year. That quickly devolved into a partisan bun-fight over nomenclature – you’re painting everyone as racist! – and was subsequently watered down into empty banter about “valuing diversity.”

Ottawa can only avoid those pitfalls by focusing on itself – on institutions like the Canadian Armed Forces, the civil service and the RCMP, and on federal policies and programs.

It must not involve itself in provincial and local issues (such as municipal policing practices), or engage in sweeping conclusions about Canadian society at large. The terms of reference must be perfectly clear and appropriately narrow.

It’s critical to not get this wrong. Ottawa should examine the negative consequences of its policies on racial and religious minorities. All governments should.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, whose city is attempting to reckon with its racist history, said recently, “Here is what I have learned about race: You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You can’t go around it. You have to go through it.”

If Ottawa does that intelligently and constructively, Canada might become a better country for it. But we have real doubts about the Trudeau government’s ability to lead such an effort without making a hash of it.

Source: Globe editorial: The problem with Ottawa’s plan to consult the public on racism? Ottawa itself

Why Canada’s Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence is in the wrong department 

Phil is a friend of mine and I have great respect for the work he did while in government and the analysis and commentary he is doing outside.

His logic is sound in having community engagement and deradicalization outside of Public Safety, to distinguish the security function and  community support/resilience-building. As Phil and I have discussed, in theory, Canadian Heritage would be a good home for all the reasons he lists.

But with respect for the people who work in Canadian Heritage, the department, as constituted, is not equipped to provide strong leadership in this area given its focus on its core mandate.

The area that could have possibly taken this on – multiculturalism – has been largely decimated following the 2008 transfer to then CIC (IRCC) and return back to Canadian Heritage in 2015:

First of all, kudos to the Trudeau government for its commitment to the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence (CCCEPE—that name is way too long, however). The $35-million over five years is an excellent start and, although details are wanting, the government sees the new office  as a leadership post for Canada’s efforts.

This move represents a significant shift in Canada’s prevention of violent extremism approach from the purely hardline emphasis of the Harper government to a more inclusive and more comprehensive one under the new regime. As I have said before, we will always need the hardline tool, but we need to do more in early intervention and counter-radicalization.

One question remains: where should this new office reside? When I was still with the federal government it was housed where it is now, within Public Safety Canada. In some ways, it should stay there if for no other reason than  that department has experienced and capable staff who were part of the amazing success of the shortened efforts under Harper.

But in other and more important ways it should be moved to another department. Let me try to explain why.

Aside from getting a brand new start and being able to put the unfortunate mistakes of the previous government behind us, the biggest drawback to leaving Canada’s Prevention of Violence strategy with Public Safety lies with the very nature of that ministry. Public Safety Canada is the umbrella department for CSIS, the RCMP, Correctional Services Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency. All these are staffed by dedicated and professional people but they have one underlying commonality: they are all enforcement/punitive agencies. The Prevention of Violence strategy needs to be seen as an opportunity to occur before people engage in activities that are the remit of CSIS and the RCMP in order to work. We have seen in other places like the U.K. with its PREVENT program (which is housed within that country’s version of Public Safety) that communities associate PVE with intelligence gathering and enforcement, whether or not that is what is happening.  Having a ministry responsible for the national spy and law enforcement agencies run PVE creates a stigma that can hamper even the best efforts.  If communities do not feel comfortable and have issues of trust with certain partners, they will not want to participate.

What if the government were to put the new office under the Heritage portfolio? PVE is all about providing communities with the tools to foster Canadian citizenship and reject the empty and violent promises of groups like Islamic State. It is about being or becoming Canadian. Another aspect is the debate over narratives. I have long argued that we need to move away from “counter narratives” to “alternative narratives.” Alternative narratives are an important part of PVE—what better place to locate them than within Heritage, the department that helps foster the Canadian narrative? Our narrative is so superior to that of the Islamic State that if this were a boxing match the referee would have called the fight years ago.

Of course, those with lots of experience in PVE, especially the RCMP which has a longstanding and robust outreach program, would be asked to lend its assistance and best practices. Other partners could also contribute. Canada is—or rather was—a world leader in PVE and many countries look to us for models on what to do. We don’t need to reinvent it, we just need to tweak it to make it better.

At the end of the day it may not matter where the government decides to put PVE. Only time will tell. I am glad to see that those in the centre already recognize some important aspects on how to implement their strategy (tailor the approach to match local conditions, acknowledge that the government does not have the credibility to do PVE, etc.).  Evaluation and measurement of what works and what doesn’t will be critical.  Lots of people put their hands out when government funding is provided and the centre has to ensure that the right people are getting that money. The important thing is that it cultivate good relations with the communities it hopes to work with for the best answers to violent radicalization and extremism are to be found there, not in a government policy brief.

Source: Why Canada’s Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence is in the wrong department – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

Hearing into Liberals’ anti-Islamophobia motion [M-103] showcases confusion, fears of free speech loss

Interesting that the Post seems to be only covering the hearings with CPC-nominated witnesses:

27 Sep:

  • Jay Cameron, Justice Centre of Constitutional Freedoms
  • Raheel Raza,  Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow
  • Peter Bhatti, International Christian Voice
  • Father Raymond de Souza

and not the hearings with government-appointed ones:

25 Sep:

  • Ayesha S. Chaudhry, Canada Research Chair in Religion, Law and Social Justice
  • Avvy Yao-Yao Go, Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
  • Shawn Richard, Canadian Association of Black Lawyers
  • Shalini Konanur, South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario.

Lack of reporter time, or lack of balance?

The Liberals’ anti-Islamophobia motion, M-103, could lead to thought control, oppression, disharmony and the criminalization of non-Muslims, the House of Commons heritage committee heard Wednesday, during some of the most extreme criticism of the motion it has heard to date.

It was a hearing that showcased much of the confusion and polarizing rhetoric that has swirled around M-103 since it was tabled by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid in December 2016, and highlighted doubts about the language of the motion. While the committee is supposed to be gathering recommendations for how to combat racism, several committee members spent much of their time trying to explain what M-103 actually means.

Liberal MP Julie Dabrusin was at pains to clarify that the motion is not a law, that the committee is not drafting a law and that the committee’s recommendations won’t create a new law. The committee is currently conducting a study of racism and religious discrimination, as required by M-103, which was passed in March.

“We’re just doing a study,” said Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz.

The Liberals spent so much time trying to explain M-103 that, at one point, Conservative MP David Anderson accused them of “filibustering their time.”

“It seems they’ve been more interested in hearing their own voices than anyone else’s,” he said.

Still, some of the witnesses painted dire portraits of what might happen if criticism of Islam were somehow banned in Canada. Jay Cameron, a lawyer with the Justice Centre of Constitutional Freedoms, spent several minutes explaining that M-103 could prevent Canadians from criticizing such practices as female genital mutilation. He also claimed the motion implies that the government should police the thoughts of its citizens.

Source: Hearing into Liberals’ anti-Islamophobia motion showcases confusion, fears of free speech loss | National Post

Canadian Heritage Departmental Plan 2017-18 – Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism-related excerpts from the latest PCH departmental plan, starting with where it fits in the overall departmental strategy and then progressing to the “sub-program” level.

To date, no change in the Conservative government priorities, although these have been updated with respect to the grants and contributions element, where the new priorities are:

  • work toward the elimination of discrimination, racism and prejudice;
  • provide opportunities for youth community engagement; and
  • bring people together through art, culture and/or sport.

The re-integration into Canadian Heritage has not yet raised the profile or influence of multiculturalism. The reduced resources, the dispersion across different branches, and Ministerial focus on more important priorities are likely the main reasons.

Promote diversity and inclusion to enhance Canadians sense of belonging and pride and to promote inclusive economic growth.

  • Deliver a successful year-long celebration of the 150th anniversary of Confederation through a wide range of national and local community events and initiatives.
  • Implement a new and modernized Court Challenges Program, in collaboration with the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
  • Support and enhance our approach to diversity and inclusion through the Multiculturalism Program and other initiatives.

Operating context: conditions affecting our work

“The more people engage with the breadth of our country’s diversity, the more Canadian they become.”

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

The work of Canadian Heritage will continue to play an important role in the lives of Canadians in a dynamic and evolving context. Globalization is creating new domestic and international markets that provide significant opportunities to promote and invest in Canadian creative industries and Canadian creators. The rise of new technologies and digital platforms are changing the way Canadians create, access and experience culture. As the Canadian population becomes increasingly diverse there is an opportunity to build on Canada’s strength in achieving inclusive diversity. In international surveys, Canadians are amongst the most likely to say they are “very proud” of their country. Canada can play an influential role in promoting diversity globally and to share the lessons of its unique historical experience as a multicultural, bilingual, treaty nation with the shared values of human rights. Given the mandate and responsibilities of the Department, Canadian Heritage will continue to play a key role in promoting and celebrating an inclusive society that strengthens and sustains the Canadian social contract and promotes innovation and economic prosperity.

Sub-program 2.2.5: Multiculturalism Program

The objectives of the Multiculturalism Program are to build an integrated, socially cohesive society; to improve the responsiveness of institutions to the needs of a diverse population; and to engage in discussions on multiculturalism, integration and diversity at the international level. The Program provides grants and contributions to organizations for projects and events that enhance intercultural/interfaith understanding, civic memory and pride, respect for core democratic values, and participation in society and the economy. It undertakes public outreach and promotion activities that are designed and delivered to engage Canadians on multiculturalism issues. The Program’s ongoing public outreach and promotional activities include Asian Heritage Month, Black History Month, various web-based resources, and other initiatives. The Program is designed to implement requirements set out in the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, including the development of the Annual Report on the Operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, which is tabled in Parliament. The Program’s international engagement supports Canada’s participation in agreements such as the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, and in institutions that address multicultural issues globally. This sub-program uses funding from the following transfer payments: Grants in support of the Multiculturalism Program and Contributions in support of the Multiculturalism Program.

Note: This represented a decline from the amount originally transferred from PCH to then CIC in 2008: $8.7 million for salaries, $5.9 million for operating, and $22.8 million for grants and contributions (G&Cs also included funds for the Canadian Historical Recognition Program, which sun-setted shortly thereafter). The Multiculturalism Program had about 80 FTEs at the time of the transfer.

Liberals to restore and expand Court Challenges Program

This used to be part of my former Multiculturalism and Human Rights Branch at Canadian Heritage. But the decision to scrap had been made before my time, with only the official languages component being spared given possible constitutional issues with its cancellation:

The Liberal government’s revival of the controversial Court Challenges Program will be expanded to include additional charter rights on top of equality and language rights.

The new program to fund court challenges will include cases based on freedom of religion, freedom of democratic rights, and right to liberty and security.

According to a department official, who briefed reporters Tuesday, all funding decisions will be made by two independent bodies, whose members will be selected through an “open, transparent, and merit-based” model that mirrors governor and council appointments.

Speaking at a press conference on Parliament Hill Tuesday, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly said the new approach will ensure its “independence, integrity and longevity” of the program.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the renewed program will ensure that the government “promotes access to justice for Canadians who need it the most,” adding that Canada’s justice system will need to continue to evolve.

The promise to restore the program, which was scrapped by the Stephen Harper Conservatives in 2006, was included in the 2015 Liberal campaign platform and the mandate letters for Joly and Wilson-Raybould.

Wilson-Raybould noted past successes from the scrapped program.

“The previous Court Challenges Program supported people from vulnerable and marginalized groups and official language-minority communities to challenge the compliance of Canadian laws with the constitution. It gave them a voice in defining what their constitutional rights mean.

“It was, in part, responsible for such landmark decisions as Daniels which clarified the relations of Métis and non-status Indians with the federal government,” Wilson-Raybould said.

Pardeep Singh Nagra, a boxer who successfully fought a ban against competing with a beard in court, told reporters that the Court Challenges Program isn’t just about the individual, but all of Canada as well.

“It wasn’t about me, it was about making my country, Canada, better. As athletes, when we represent Canada, we represent the maple leaf. We are ambassadors of those values, the values of diversity and equity,” he said.

Singh Nagra said the court access the programs grants allows marginalized people and groups to “get off the sideline and into the game.”

The program, which dates back to 1978, also played a role in the fight for same-sex marriage.

The 2016 budget earmarked $12 million in new funding over five years, which would bring the annual program budget up to $5 million annually when combined with existing spending on ongoing cases that the Conservatives had committed to fund through completion.

During Tuesday’s briefing, the department official noted that in the first year of the new program, a maximum of 20 per cent of the budgeted $5 million will go to administrative costs.

Before being shut down, the program’s budget was $2.8 million.

Source: Liberals to restore and expand Court Challenges Program – Politics – CBC News

An example of where the CCP could have assisted from the “Lost Canadian” crowd:

Are you familiar with the story of Lost Canadian Joe Taylor?    When I learned that I had become one of the group of LC made up of Children of War Brides,   Joe, the son of a Canadian soldier, was already involved in actively trying to get his citizenship back.    He did get as far as a Federal Court ruling in which he was found to be a Canadian citizen, with the judge warning the government officials that,  if he found Joe to be a citizen, the rest of us would also regain that status. However,  by that time Joe had practically bankrupted his family in the legal battle for citizenship.    Two weeks later,  the government under Diane Finley as Minister appealed the ruling.      Just prior to that,   the government had got rid of the Court Challenges (seemed too convenient).    Joe could not afford to go any further,  he felt he was almost financially and, I think, emotionally depleted.    So he accepted the offer of a 5.4 Grant which gave him citizenship from that day forward but did not help, of course, with anyone else.

For a contrary view of its value, see Ian Broadie’s piece in Policy Options, where he argues for a broader approach to the cases funded by the CCP:

The political agenda of the CCP and the idea of the federal government funding only one side in contentious litigation soon sapped the program’s political support.  In 1992, the Mulroney government was looking for ways to reduce government spending and closed it.  But the Liberals promised to re-establish the program during the 1993 election, turning it into a political football. The resurrected program was even more firmly married to progressive social reform groups, and it therefore ended up back on the scrap heap when the Stephen Harper Conservatives took office.  During last fall’s campaign, Justin Trudeau promised to re-resurrect the program, and discussions are now underway about how to design it.

Before the details of the new CCP are ironed out, Trudeau’s ministers should ask some fundamental questions.  Will it just be cancelled again by the next Conservative government?  Is it fated to be a political football?  Or could the Trudeau government do the country a service and set it up to survive future changes of government?  After all, the protection of human rights is supposed to be above partisan politics.  Shouldn’t a program to fund human rights litigation also be above partisan politics?

The new government’s challenge is to make the CCP less partisan than it has been in the past.

The new government’s challenge is to make the CCP broader and less partisan than it has been in the past.  The new CCP will certainly subsidize the equality rights litigation of socialreform groups. It will fund a new generation of test cases about equality rights, drawing the courts into issues around the rights of transgender Canadians.  And it will continue to finance cases about minority language rights.  But the Charter covers more than equality and language rights.  The new CCP should benefit more than just social-reform and minority-language groups.

Why not let the CCP finance free speech litigation by journalists like Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn?  After all, they have both paid a high price to highlight the oppressive provisions of federal and provincial human rights codes.  Why not let the CCP help traditional religious groups protect the rights of religious minorities in court?  Going beyond Charter issues, why not let the program finance challenges to interprovincial trade barriers?  If the CCP 3.0 had a board of directors and management team with a broader view of rights litigation, it should be able to survive a future change of government.

Whatever the Trudeau government decides about the scope of the program, it should be careful to keep it out of cases that pit one Charter right against another.  In the 21st century, human rights issues are not always as clear cut as they were in the early years after the Charter.  Back then, most rights litigation was trying to roll back oppressive government policies.  These days, the courts are often called upon to decide between two competing Charter claims in a single case.  The federal government should not be weighing in to finance one side or the other in cases like that.

Just such a case will likely come before the CCP as soon as it opens for business.  Trinity Western University, a private, evangelical university in British Columbia, is suing three provincial law societies over its right to have a law school.  Trinity Western, as befits a religious institution, expects its students to abide by traditional religious rules regarding marriage and sexuality.  Some law societies are refusing to recognize the credentials of its graduates, because they cannot tolerate an institution that does not embrace same-sex marriage.  In 2001, when ruling on a similar case about Trinity Western’s teacher training program, the Supreme Court said that neither freedom of religion nor equality on the basis of sexual orientation is absolute.  Since then, same-sex marriage became the law of the land.  The issue is therefore being litigated over again.

The new cases are on the way to the Supreme Court.  Will the resurrected CCP fund the equality rights side or the freedom of religion side?  Better to instruct the CCP to avoid this kind of case altogether.  Since the Supreme Court has recognized that in a conflict between equality rights and freedom of religion, neither side can make an absolute claim.  That, along with a broader set of directors and mandate, could relaunch the CCP without making it a political football again.

The Court Challenges Program rises once again – Policy Options

Contrasting Liberal and Conservative Themes for 150th Anniversary of Confederation in 2017

Quite a change – close to 180 degrees –  from the previous government:

Canadians throughout the country, as well as those living abroad, will proudly take part in the celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Confederation. This is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate all that it means to be Canadian. The Government of Canada is proud to be part of this anniversary of national and historic importance. It plans to:

  • promote and celebrate our Canadian identity; our ethnic, linguistic, cultural and regional diversity; and our rich history and heritage;
  • encourage Canadians to invest in our country’s future by bringing about significant changes and leaving a lasting legacy for coming generations;
  • create opportunities for Canadians to participate and celebrate together our shared values, our Canadian identity, our achievements, our majestic environment and our place in the world; and
  • maximize government investments and generate economic benefits for the country’s communities.

The main themes of the Government of Canada’s vision for the 150th anniversary of Confederation are:

Diversity and inclusion – We want to continue building a welcoming Canada where there is a place for everyone, a Canada where everyone can reach his or her full potential.

 

Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples – We want to support the vital work of reconciliation ‎with Indigenous peoples as outlined in the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Reconciliation is a journey for all Canadians as we move forward into Canada’s next 150 years.

 

Youth – We want to continue to engage young people and give them the means to contribute to our society, because they are the ones who will shape tomorrow’s Canada.

 

Environment – We want to be the custodians of our environment, because it is a source of our country’s wealth and pride. We want to bring Canadians closer to nature in order to strengthen their environmental awareness.

The previous Conservative government’s theme and vision

The Government of Canada will bring Canadians together with a common purpose. The Canada 150 overarching theme is “Strong. Proud. Free.”—words that define and characterize present-day Canada. A Canada that is a strong leader in the world, with one of the most robust economies. A Canada that is proud of its identity and achievements, as well as its natural beauty and resources. A Canada that is free with an open, diverse and pluralistic society. This theme connects us with our past, embraces the present, and builds towards the future.

The Canada 150 vision includes three elements:

Giving Back to Canada: Canadians will be challenged to dream about what the future holds for the next 150 years, and to give back to our country, providing meaningful change and lasting legacies for future generations.

Honouring the Exceptional: Exceptional Canadian people, places, achievements and events will be showcased to help shape Canada’s leaders of tomorrow.

Celebrating and Bringing Canadians Together: Canadians and their communities will have opportunities to celebrate together and build a deeper understanding of Canada, its people and what it means to be Canadian.

Canada 150 programming will support and promote activities that align with this vision.

Source: Backgrounder: The 150th Anniversary of Confederation in 2017 – Canada News Centre

Archived – Backgrounder – Strong. Proud. Free.: Get Ready to Celebrate Canada 150! – 2015

Canadian Heritage gives bureaucrats more power over arts funding

This is a significant change with past practice and it will be interesting to see if that applies to all G&C programs at Canadian Heritage, including multiculturalism (readers let me know!).

Ministerial sign-off bedevilled the Multiculturalism Program, as then Minister Kenney and his staff would refuse to sign-off on projects that had been approved by officials. However inconvenient for officials and organizations, it was in retrospect understandable and necessary given the inertia and indeed resistance among officials (see Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism chapter 2):

Having the final sign-off on all cheques has long been emblematic of the minister’s absolute power over cultural grants and contributions at Canadian Heritage.

But Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly has decided to forfeit that power and allow her bureaucrats to approve 90 per cent of the 8,000 grants and contributions that the department awards each year.

In addition, Ms. Joly has decided to allow cultural groups to sign more multiyear agreements with Canadian Heritage, freeing them up from the obligation to send in an application every year for ministerial approval.

Ms. Joly said the measures will limit political considerations in the awarding of funding, such as favouring areas that voted for the government in power.

“There was often a lot of discretion built into our various programs, and that sometimes allowed for a more partisan approach,” Ms. Joly said at an event with reporters and representatives of cultural groups on Wednesday. “It’s not normal for some ridings not to receive any funding, when groups have a right to that money. It’s normal for us to support arts groups across the country.”

Historically, Ms. Joly said, ministers and their political staff rejected only about 2 per cent of the grants and contributions that had been approved by the bureaucracy. Still, she said partisan officials should not have the right to overturn the decisions of bureaucrats who operate in the same regions as the recipients and have greater knowledge of local needs and priorities.

Under the new system, Ms. Joly will continue to sign off on all funding awarded as part of next year’s celebrations of Canada’s 150th anniversary, and all deals worth more than $75,000, which account for about 10 per cent of the department’s annual output.

Source: Canadian Heritage gives bureaucrats more power over arts funding – The Globe and Mail

Where should we put Canada’s counter-radicalisation programme? Gurski

Phil Gurski is right on this one. Better to have this outside of Public Safety. Canadian Heritage, now that the Multiculturalism Program is back, is likely the better home (Economic and Social Development, while another alternative, is simply too large a department to provide effective oversight).

However, that being said, given that it is in Minister Goodale’s mandate letter rather than Mme. Joly’s, I don’t see this happening.

And Public Safety has funded a number of good research projects under the Kanishka Project (named after the Air India coming of 1985):

This move represents a significant shift in Canada’s CVE (Countering Violent Extremism) approach from the purely hardline emphasis of the Harper government to a more inclusive and more comprehensive one under the new regime (note that the previous government did have a soft CVE aspect, and one in which I worked, but did not fund it adequately and actually undermined it with stupid comments by public officials).  As I have said before, we will always need the hardline tool, but we need to do more in early intervention and counter radicalisation.

One question remains: where should this new office reside?  When I still worked for the federal government it was housed within Public Safety Canada, split between the National Security Policy branch and Citizen Engagement.  In some ways, it should stay there if for no other reason that that department has experienced and capable staff who were part of the amazing success of the shortened efforts under Harper.

But in other, more important ways, it should be moved to another department.  Let me try to explain why.

Aside from getting a brand new start and being able to put the unfortunate mistakes of the previous government behind us, the biggest drawback to leaving Canada’s CVE strategy with Public Safety lies with the very nature of that ministry.  Public Safety Canada is the umbrella department for CSIS, the RCMP, Correctional Services Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency.  All of these are staffed by dedicated and professional people but they have one underlying commonality: they are all enforcement/punitive agencies.  CVE needs to be seen as an opportunity to occur before people engage in activities that are the remit of CSIS and the RCMP in order to work.

We have seen in other places like the UK with its PREVENT programme that communities associate CVE with intelligence gathering and enforcement, whether or not that is what is happening.  Having a ministry responsible for the national spy and law enforcement agencies run CVE creates a stigma that can hamper even the best efforts.  If communities do not feel comfortable and have issues of trust with certain partners, they will not want to participate.

What if the government put the new office under the Heritage portfolio?  CVE is all about providing communities with the tools to foster Canadian citizenship and reject the empty and violent promises of groups like Islamic State. It is about being or becoming Canadian.  Another aspect is the debate over narratives.   I have long argued that we need to move away from “counter narratives” to “alternative narratives”.  Alternative narratives are an important part of CVE – what better place to locate them than within Heritage, the department that helps foster the Canadian narrative?  Our narrative is so superior to that of IS that if this were a boxing match the referee would have called the fight years ago.

Of course, those with lots of experience in CVE, especially the RCMP which has a longstanding and robust outreach programme, would be asked to lend its assistance and best practices.  Other partners could also contribute.  Canada is – or rather was – a world leader in CVE and many countries look to us for models on what to do.  We don’t need to reinvent it, we just need to tweak it to make it better.

At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter where the government decides to put CVE.  The important thing is that it cultivate good relations with the communities it hopes to work with, for the best answers to violent radicalisation and extremism are to be found there, not in a government policy brief.

Source: Borealis Threat & Risk Consulting

Canadian Heritage shows how public service seeks to foster innovation

Good initiative and equally good debate about its utility (I had tried equally to institute the Google 20 percent time set-aside – without much success):

As part of a push in the bureaucracy to find new ways to work, Canadian Heritage is one of a dozen departments taking a page from Google and letting employees spend up to 20 per cent of their time working on temporary projects outside their usual job descriptions and the usual procedures.

Deputy minister Graham Flack said the initiative – called “micro-missions” – was developed to bring some flexibility to the rigid organization of departments.

“The theory behind micro-missions is, in government, it’s actually very difficult with our traditional HR systems to move people around,” Mr. Flack said.

Mr. Flack also chairs a committee of top bureaucrats who work on new ideas, and the group invites junior employees to join their discussions to get fresh ideas and a better view on the ground.

“We operate in a very hierarchical organization, and sometimes [we have] to give them a reality check,” said Francis Nolan-Poupart, a 27-year-old policy analyst at Employment and Social Development Canada, who sits on the committee.

But just because an idea worked for Google does not mean it will work for the government – or even for other tech companies. Konval Matin, the director of culture at Shopify in Ottawa, and Anna Lambert, the director of talent acquisition, said their company – a rising star in Canada’s tech world – tried giving employees time every week for special projects, but it just did not work.

“We realized you would get so enthralled in your day-to-day that you wouldn’t actually set aside the 20-per-cent time,” Ms. Matin said.

Marianne Hladun, an executive who leads the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s young-worker file, said the union has some concerns that projects might just add work for already stressed employees.

“In a lot of cases, people are just trying to keep their heads above water,” Ms. Hladun said. “In some departments, which I believe Canadian Heritage falls into, … people are doing special assignments but they’re not being compensated at appropriate levels. That’s a bit of a concern to us.”

Leaders at both the political and bureaucratic level have warned that many areas of the federal public service are suffering from poor workplace environments that are hampering service delivery and the mental health of the work force. In her final annual report last year as the top bureaucrat in Ottawa, Janice Charette said there was an urgent need to create a “healthy, respectful and supportive work environment.”

Donald Savoie, a professor at the Université de Moncton and a leading expert on public administration, said he thinks some of the innovative projects are just “band aids” that do not fix deeper problems affecting morale in the public service. “For a government to say, we’re going to have hackathons, or collaborative events, or spaces, that, my friend, is the easy part. The much more difficult part is redefining the role of the public service so that it would resonate.”

Shopify holds townhalls on Fridays where employees are encouraged to share what they are working on, and talk about what is going well and what is more challenging than expected – just as Canadian Heritage tried to do with its pizza lunch.

Ms. Matin of Shopify said even the executive team takes part occasionally – and the exercises have been good not just for morale, but also for productivity as workers from different teams pick up tips from each other.

“The stuff that’s really easier said than done is the trust and the autonomy,” Ms. Matin said. “Not being afraid of letting people experiment and try new things and potentially fail. But the cool thing is, let them fail, let them talk about it.”

Traditionally, the public service is not known for taking risks. Mr. Brison acknowledges the potential for failure as more public institutions and individuals are empowered to try new things and make more decisions on their own. As a political leader, he could be held responsible if something goes wrong. But he says that is part of pushing the public service to do better.

“The only way to avoid ever making any mistakes is to do nothing,” he said.

Source: Canadian Heritage shows how public service seeks to foster innovation – The Globe and Mail