Why isn’t ‘unthinkable’ Quebec’s religious symbols ban a federal election issue? Selley and Urback

Two very similar columnists raise the same question and criticize the answer. Starting with Chris Selley:

Quebec’s Bill 21, which bans civil servants in certain positions of authority from wearing religious symbols on the job, passed in the National Assembly in June. And Quebecers are now gradually getting to know the victims of their pseudo-secularist misadventure — and what they intend to do about it.

Amrit Kaur, a 28-year-old recent teachers’ college graduate who wears a turban, has been in the news recently after picking up stakes for Surrey, B.C. Chahira Battou, a 29-year-old teacher who wears a hijab, was the subject of a similar news cycle back in April, telling various outlets she would rather be fired than obey the law — “If I submit to the law, and I remove my scarf when I go to teach, that is when I become a submissive woman,” she told the Washington Postand rilingnationalist commentators when she suggested to TVA host Denis Lévesque that Quebec cannot be a country of laïcité, because it isn’t a country at all. Nadia Naqvi, another teacher who wears the hijab, told the Post she wouldn’t take off her hijab out of respect for her students: “We’re supposed to teach them to stand up for their beliefs.” (Already-employed civil servants are not officially affected by Bill 21 unless they are so presumptuous as to want a promotion.)

Most of those affected will be teachers, most women, and most — not by accident — Muslim. But not all. Sondos Lamrhari is reportedly the first hijab-wearing Quebecer to study police tech, and hopes to apply to the Montreal or Laval police force in the near future. Not far behind her is 15-year-old Sukhman Singh Shergill, who has dreamed his whole life of being a police officer. His cousin, Gurvinder Singh, was part of a successful campaign at the New York City Police Department to allow officers to wear turbans and beards on the job, and Shergill has already started his own campaign in Montreal.

We will meet more and more of these people in coming months and years, and it will quickly demonstrate that Premier François Legault’s stated goal in passing Bill 21 — to put the issue to bed — will not be achieved.

In the meantime, every federal party leader has strongly opposed the law. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the restrictions “unthinkable.” “A society based on fundamental freedoms and openness must always protect fundamental individual rights and should not in any way impede people from expressing themselves,” Conservative leader Andrew Scheer told reporters in Quebec City in March. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, a criminal lawyer who could not work as a Crown attorney in Quebec by dint of his turban, has correctly argued that “there are a lot of people in Quebec who don’t feel this is the right way to go,” and is gamely auditioning to “be their champion.”

That being the case, it’s no surprise the issue has been totally absent from federal election discussions. All three major parties agree the ban is wrong; all of them want the votes of people who support the ban; and no one wants the Bloc Québécois to leverage federalist/non-francophone opposition into renewed relevance.

A braver person than me might call this a victory for federalism. As consumed as Quebec has been for 15 years in the reasonable accommodations debate, Éric Grenier’s poll tracker at CBC has the Bloc at just 18.5 per cent, the Conservatives at 23 per cent, and the Liberals — led by Canada’s most ardent multiculturalist, son of the fiend who foisted multiculturalism upon Quebec in the first place — leading at 35 per cent.

The poor NDP, which under Jack Layton squashed the Bloc in 2011, languishes at 11 per cent, not even two points clear of the Greens. But the other parties have in essence adopted the Sherbrooke Declaration principles that helped Layton appeal to soft Quebec nationalists: In exchange for abandoning separatism Quebec gets, if not every single thing it wants, then very asymmetrical treatment indeed — not just in substance, but in political rhetoric.

Bill 21 is stretching that compromise right to the breaking point, however. The idea that Quebec’s restrictions on minority rights are a “provincial issue,” and that this explains their absence from the federal scene, is rather belied by the fact that Trudeau is running his campaign as much against Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his various budget cuts as he is against Scheer. If Alberta had instituted Bill 21 — which it wouldn’t, but if it had — we would be looking at a very different federal campaign. Liberals would hold it up as evidence of shameful, intolerable intolerance, and they would have a point.

Can it really be a purely “provincial issue” when a government uses Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to impose restrictions on minority rights that the prime minister considers “unthinkable”? What’s the point of national unity if it means keeping shtum on such a fundamental question of individual rights and freedoms? Federal leaders utterly deplore the restrictions — fine. Voters should ask them what exactly they intend to do about them.

Source: Chris Selley: Why isn’t ‘unthinkable’ Quebec’s religious symbols ban a federal election issue?

From Urback:

What’s happening in Quebec is a national disgrace.

It’s the type of thing for which a future government will apologize, much in the same way the prime minister of present has taken to apologizing for policy wrongs of the past.

Indeed, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shown no reservation in apologizing to the LGBT community for discrimination in the civil service decades ago; to Jews for Canada’s refusal to accept German Jews fleeing Nazi persecution; to Indigenous communities for the hanging of chiefs in the 19th century.

Trudeau appropriately called these policies “unfair, unequal treatment” and “state-sponsored, systemic oppression.” Of course, it’s easy to call out injustice when you’ve had no hand in its propagation.

Forced secularism

Discrimination is currently enshrined in law in Quebec. As of June, public servants in the province who work in so-called positions of authority — teachers, judges, police officers and so on — are prohibited from wearing religious symbols. Those who flout the ban are effectively shackled to their spots thanks to a grandfather clause that says they can’t be promoted or moved. Those who wear kippahs, turbans, crosses or hijabs need not apply.

This too is state-sponsored, systemic oppression, an affront to religious freedom that ought to outrage anyone who believes in equal opportunity and freedom from state interference.

It is not merely a “dress code,” as some who have tried to defend the law have insisted; wearing open-toed shoes or spaghetti straps at work is not a deeply held religious conviction. Nor is it simply a “Quebec issue.” When state-sponsored discrimination becomes the law anywhere in Canada, it is everyone’s business, and our national shame.

2015 Niqab controversy

This should be a major election issue. Back in 2015, the question of whether a new Canadian should be allowed to wear the niqab while swearing a citizenship oath was fodder for a national discussion, and the Liberals, to their credit, took the position of freedom and tolerance.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, huffed about the symbolism of taking an oath of citizenship while wearing a niqab, as if feelings should have any bearing on a state’s infringement on an individual’s rights. You don’t have to like the niqab to believe that — except in situations where security and identification are tantamount — a country shouldn’t tell a woman what to wear.

Public opinion polling at the time found that Canadians overwhelmingly supported a niqab ban, just as public opinion polls now show that Quebecers overwhelmingly support a religious symbols ban.

That’s why federal leaders (with the exception of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who pretty much has no prospects in Quebec) have been loath to bring up the topic and tepid in response to questions about it. No one wants to risk alienating Quebecers ahead of the fall election.

But majority opinion in this case is merely that; it certainly doesn’t mean the law is righteous or good. In fact, we have laws that protect individual freedoms and minority rights precisely because the majority can’t be counted on to uphold them — which of course is why Quebec has pre-emptively invoked the notwithstanding clause to avoid a Charter challenge.

But the federal government’s hands are hardly tied just because of the notwithstanding clause. It can put pressure on the Quebec government through economic means. It can support the legal challenge currently underway by the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. And it can speak out, forcefully and repeatedly, about an unjust policy that should not be on the books in Canada in 2019.

(Some have claimed this would be “political interference” akin to the SNC-Lavalin affair, which is a laboured and ridiculous comparison. This would not be a prime minister waging a clandestine operation to influence the attorney general to prevent a criminal trial for a major corporation, but a prime minister openly standing up for minority rights against a clearly unconstitutional law.)

Trudeau recently made a campaign-style trip to Quebec, where he made an announcement about transit, talked about protecting the environment, visited small businesses and boasted about the middle class. He did not talk about how the province is discriminating against its own residents.

In fact, all the prime minister has offered by way of critique so far is a few milquetoast comments akin to what he said back in June: “We do not feel it is a government’s responsibility or in a government’s interest to legislate on what people should be wearing.” It’s hardly the full-court press he and his ministers have assembled to speak out against other issues, such as efforts to quash the carbon tax or Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s record on gay marriage or even Canada’s Food Guide.

In another universe, with a different electoral map (or if, say, this was an Ontario law under Premier Doug Ford), Trudeau would be harping on it at every opportunity, with every minister on board, and with the fury this sort of state-sponsored intolerance demands. And Scheer, for whom freedom from religious discrimination is surely a most important priority, would be too. We cannot look down our noses at the societal divisions in the United States while people in Canada can’t get jobs because of what they wear out of faith.

There’s no question that any sort of intervention would be abysmally received by Quebec and within Quebec, and could very well decide the election. But it would also be a true demonstration of putting principles above political interest — which is probably too much to ask. Doing the right thing often comes with an enormous cost, and it’s quite evident that whoever becomes our next prime minister will not be willing to pay it.

Source: Quebec’s secularism law is a national disgrace — and yet barely an election issue: Robyn Urback

Chris Selley: With Jihadi Jack, Britain gives Canada a taste of its own medicine

Good column by Selley. Nails country responsibility:

On Sunday we learned that Jack Letts, known in the British press as Jihadi Jack, is no longer a British subject. Then-home secretary Sajid Javid and then-prime minister Theresa May reportedly approved stripping the alleged ISIL fighter of his citizenship as one of their administration’s final acts and it seems they didn’t even send a telegram. Instead Letts was informed by an ITV News crew interviewing him at the Kurdish prison where he has been held for two-and-a-half years. Now, some fear, he will eventually wind up in Canada: He holds citizenship through his parents.

“Justin Trudeau must assure Canadians today that he isn’t trying to bring Jihadi Jack back to Canada,” Conservative public safety critic Pierre Paul-Hus said in a statement, calling it “naïve and dangerous” to think “anyone who signed up to fight with ISIS can be reformed.”

Paul-Hus does not exaggerate Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s remarkable rhetorical commitment to rehabilitating ISIL fighters. “Someone who has engaged and turned away from that hateful ideology can be an extraordinarily powerful voice for preventing radicalization in future generations and younger people within the community,” he told CTV’s Lisa LaFlamme in 2017. The Liberals didn’t just revoke the Conservative law allowing dual-citizen terrorists and traitors to be stripped of their citizenship; they made a big, principled show of it. “A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” Trudeau would gravely intone, explicitly asking audience members to put themselves on the same level as Zakaria Amara, the Toronto 18 ringleader who lost his citizenship under the Conservatives and got it back under the Liberals.

The talking point is altogether ridiculous — Canadian citizenship is stratified according to criteria as basic as whether it can be passed on to foreign-born children — but like it or not, it was a brave stance.

The Liberals seemed less proud of Canadian consular officials making contact with Letts, refusing to comment when CBC got hold of audio tapes and transcripts of their meetings last year. Perhaps that’s because Letts said he would be happy to relocate to a Canadian prison if it would get him out of his current accommodations. Since then, Foreign Affairs seems to have lost interest in his situation entirely. Now, weeks out from an election, the Conservatives have been served a soft-on-terror talking point on a silver platter.

This case hardly illustrates the wisdom of the Conservative and British approaches

To their credit, neither Paul-Hus nor party leader Andrew Scheer has suggested this is a legislative problem. “(Letts is) in prison now and that’s where he should stay. I won’t lift a finger to bring him back to Canada,” Scheer said in a statement on Monday. Perhaps surprisingly, Paul-Hus wouldn’t even confirm to the National Post that a Conservative government would reintroduce the citizenship revocation provision.

Conservative partisans have been more than happy to draw the link, however.

“Under Stephen Harper, dual nationals could be stripped of their Canadian citizenship if they were convicted of terrorist offences. Justin Trudeau changed that law,” the pro-Conservative advocacy group Canada Proud tweeted. “So now, Canada is stuck with this ISIS terrorist.”

Letts hasn’t been convicted of anything, but he could theoretically have lost his citizenship under a different section of the law allowing the minister to seek revocation if he “has reasonable grounds to believe that a person … served as a member of an armed force of a country or as a member of an organized armed group and that country or group was engaged in an armed conflict with Canada.”

This case hardly illustrates the wisdom of the Conservative and British approaches, however. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale quite rightly accused the Brits of attempting to “off-load their responsibilities” — Letts was born, raised, educated and lost the plot on British soil. Canada would be no better off at this point with the Conservative-era law in place: It only applied to dual citizens, and Letts is no longer one of those. From a hawk’s perspective, the best-case alternative scenario would be that we had denationalized Letts first, leaving Britain holding the bag. This would arguably be fairer, but surely a never-ending game of terrorist tag with our foreign allies — You’re it! No givebacks! — is a pretty lousy excuse for a national security strategy.

As annoyed as Canadians are right now with the prospect of helping or even housing this cretin, that’s precisely as annoyed as the Conservative legislation was sure to make other countries. That those countries might more often be Jordan or Egypt or Saudi Arabia than the United Kingdom does not redeem the exercise — rather, it raises the question of why we would want any more terrorists running around those countries instead of under close watch here at home. I happen to agree with Trudeau that dealing with our own trash is the right moral and ethical thing to do. But morals and ethics aside, purely as a practical matter, it strikes me as the only sensible approach.

Source: Chris Selley: With Jihadi Jack, Britain gives Canada a taste of its own medicine

And it appears that the Conservatives have no plans to re-introduce citizenship revocation should they win the election:

Mr. Letts’s case has refuelled a debate in Canada over dual citizens convicted of terrorism.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper passed a law in 2014 that gave Canada the power to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals who had been convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage. The Trudeau government reversed the law in 2017 after campaigning on the slogan “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.”

Despite Mr. Scheer’s opposition to repatriating Canadian foreign fighters, his office said the Conservatives “would not re-introduce grounds for the revocation of Canadian citizenship that relate to national security.” The Conservatives did not explain why Mr. Scheer would not reinstate the law.

Legal experts say the former law, if re-introduced, would likely lead to a legal challenge on the grounds that it would create a two-tier citizenship system.

Audrey Macklin, a law professor and chair in human-rights law at the University of Toronto, said these kinds of citizenship revocation laws encourage an “arbitrary race to see who could strip citizenship of dual nationals first.”

“It’s hard not to recall that Canada had such a law inspired by the U.K. itself but now it finds itself on the receiving end of another state’s practice. It just reminds us that this is a parochial, unhelpful, kind of grubby response,” Prof. Macklin said.

Chris Selley: Evidence of a nationwide immigrant backlash is flimsy at best

Good piece by Selley on the narrative.

I tend to place more weight on the Focus Canada long-term polling on attitudes towards immigration (key findings above), given their methodological soundness (not just because I am a fellow of the Environics Institute):

When Canadian media get hold of a bone, it can be awfully difficult to pry our jaws loose. The ongoing narrative that Canada is in the midst of a historic turn of public opinion against immigration, driven by malign political forces both at home and abroad, is a perfect example.

Readers likely caught wind of an Ekos poll released in April, which featured one genuinely remarkable finding: that 69 per cent of Conservative-supporting respondents felt too many visible minorities were immigrating to Canada. That was up from 47 per cent in 2013, whereas among Liberal supporters the number had fallen from 34 to 15 per cent.

Most reports included at least some of the important caveats: The total sample size of this poll was 507; the 2013 sample was six times larger. The number of Conservative supporters polled was just 180, with an attached margin of error of 7.3 per cent. But it certainly suggested public opinion may be polarizing on a specific immigration-related question.

Many reports went further, though. Huffington Post noted that as many respondents felt there were too many visible minority immigrants as felt there were too many immigrants overall. “That is something new,” it reported — “a pretty clear measure of racial discrimination,” Ekos pollster Frank Graves suggested, and perhaps evidence of “some contagion effect from the Trump show.”

Except it’s not new at all. The gap between “too many immigrants” and “too many visible-minority immigrants” in 2013 was all of three per cent, with a margin of error of 1.8 per cent; six years later it was one percent, with a margin of error of 4.2 per cent.

The Canadian Press, meanwhile, reported that “the share of people who think there are too many visible minorities in Canada is up ‘significantly.’” The poll showed nothing of the kind. The percentage expressing that opinion was actually down a point from a 2015 survey, long before Donald Trump threw American politics into chaos. Moreover, according to the Ekos data, the number of people who think there are too many immigrants, and the number who think there are too many visible-minority immigrants specifically, have plummeted in tandem since the pollster began reporting in the mid-90s.

In short, to the extent there’s anything historically new and negative here when it comes to tolerance for visible minorities, it seems to be confined within Conservative supporters and based on a single poll with a small sample size. And it’s certainly not unprecedented in recent times: An Angus Reid analysis released last year notes that the current public opinion environment looks much like it did in 1995, “the year that Jean Chrétien announced a ‘landing fee’ for new immigrants and a plan from the federal government to reduce in immigration overall.” No federal party leader save Maxime Bernier is promising anything of the sort.

There was nothing wrong with Graves’ poll; people were just overenthusiastic in interpreting it. Over the weekend, though, Léger Marketing and Canadian Press teamed up for a master class in how not to report public opinion. The headline finding, per CP: “63 per cent of respondents … said the government should prioritize limiting immigration levels because the country might be reaching a limit in its ability to integrate them. Just 37 per cent said the priority should be on growing immigration to meet the demands of Canada’s expanding economy.”

Bernier and other anti-immigration types turned cartwheels on social media. Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen blamed Conservative leader Andrew Scheer for “taking a stance that is rooted in misinformation and conspiracy theories” — one that risked “a corrosive effect on our social fabric.”

A few problems, though: Léger’s respondents weren’t offered a chance to say they think immigration levels are just about right, which is always the most or second-most popular option. Nor were they allowed to support hiking immigration for reasons other than economic, or to support lowering it for reasons other than integration concerns. And anyway, it’s hardly controversial to “limit immigration” lest it exceed Canadian communities’ capacities. There’s a housing crisis on, in case you hadn’t noticed. Indeed, presumably that’s one of the reasons Hussen himself is “limiting immigration,” just like every other immigration minister does.

None of this is meant to rubbish the idea that an immigrant backlash could take hold in Canada. It certainly could. In recent years the Conservatives have pushed some new rhetorical boundaries, notably on “barbaric cultural practices” and the UN Global Migration Compact — and Bernier is miles further out there than that. Canadians have stayed remarkably calm while watching tens of thousands of people stream unchallenged across the U.S. border, and being called racist for expressing misgivings, but that mightn’t last forever. Anti-immigrant sentiment often correlates with economic downturns, and Alberta is in the midst of a whopper. Quebec has been on a nativist bender for more than a decade.

As yet, though, there simply isn’t the data to back up the claim of a backlash. And the last thing Canada needs, as Hussen and his fellow Liberal Cabinet ministers will ever-so-earnestly tell you, is a fact-free discussion about immigration.

Source: Chris Selley: Evidence of a nationwide immigrant backlash is flimsy at best

Chris Selley: The debate over Quebec’s religious symbols bill nears its wretched end

Pointed commentary:

Better late than never, one supposes: Three days before Premier François Legault’s self-imposed deadline for passing Bill 21, which would prohibit certain civil servants from wearing religious symbols on the job, his government proposed an amendment that would actually define “religious symbol.” (It had hitherto argued none was necessary.) If the amendment is adopted, teachers, police officers, Crown prosecutors and others deemed to be in positions of authority would be forbidden to display any “clothing, symbol, jewellery, ornament, accessory or headgear that is worn in connection with a religious conviction or belief and can reasonably be considered as referring to a religious affiliation.”

Kudos to whichever reporter thought on Wednesday to ask whether wedding rings count. The question utterly stymied both Legault and his Diversity and Inclusiveness Minister — you read that correctly — Simon Jolin-Barrette, who’s in charge of this project. “The person who wears an object that for her constitutes a religious symbol, that constitutes a religious symbol,” Jolin-Barrette explained. “And the person who wears an object that in the eyes of a reasonable person represents a religious symbol, that constitutes a religious symbol.”

Many scoffed at the question. Reporters were just playing silly buggers, they said —  “f—ing the dog,” in Quebec parlance. The government quickly clarified that wedding rings would not be covered.

And indeed, there are many 100-per-cent non-religious wedding bands in the Quebec civil service. But many wedding rings are unambiguously religious symbols to the people wearing them. The standard Catholic marriage script suggests priests ask “the Lord (to) bless these rings” before giving them to the bride and groom. Each will ask the other to “receive this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Of course, who’s to know? The religious rings don’t glow a special colour. So long as devoutly religious police officers and public-school teachers do their jobs properly and professionally, without fear or favour, everything will be fine. Only that’s precisely what Bill 21’s opponents have been saying forever: A kippa or hijab is no evidence of a partial or biased civil servant, and the lack of a kippa or hijab is no evidence of an impartial or unbiased one. By definition, a law about religious symbols can’t do anything that’s not symbolic — only in this case, the symbolism involves trampling all over minority rights.

Legault has never shown any particular enthusiasm for this project; rather, he defends it on grounds that it has majority support and that it’s time to put the whole issue to bed. As Bill 21 nears passage, more and more voices have made it clear that won’t happen.

On Saturday Le Devoir ran a huge spread about how much religion is costing Quebecers in terms of tax breaks for churches and faith-based organizations. It gave ample voice to the view that faith itself, separated from the charitable works of faithful people, has no intrinsic value to society (or is even a net detriment). “It is difficult to understand how we can enshrine the secular status of the Québécois state in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, reaffirm the separation of the state and religion and the equality of all citizens, and give away hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue every year,” an editorial argued.

In fact it’s perfectly easy to understand: The government demonstrates its neutrality, and its respect for the equality of all citizens, by treating people the same way regardless of their private faith or lack thereof. If laïcité were incompatible with respecting religious faith and its contributions to society, it’s unlikely the French state would own and maintain so many churches.

Outright anti-religious sentiment is one thing Bill 21 won’t get rid of. It also won’t quiet people who think it should apply to daycare workers and teachers at state-subsidized religious schools — or indeed to the entire civil service, as was contemplated by Pauline Marois’ popular Values Charter. And Bill 21 certainly won’t dissuade bigots from taking out their inadequacies on Quebec’s minority populations. This week a Montreal woman who wears a niqab tracked down the driver of a bus that blew past her at a stop — deliberately, she alleges, based on anti-niqab sentiments the driver had previously expressed on Facebook. When the woman complained in the same medium, CBC reported, respondents included a Société de Transport de Montréal union rep who suggested “a normal Quebecer would have waited for the next bus.”

It’s one of many alarming incidents that Muslim Quebecers in particular insist have become more and more frequent as this interminable debate drags on. The government has proposed no solutions except to make the majority more comfortable — perhaps by banning women wearing niqabs from riding public buses. That particular question will have to wait for a while, tied up as it is in the courts. But Bill 21 will pass before MNAs break for the summer.

At least those affected will finally know where they stand (pending further restrictions). At least greener pastures await elsewhere in Canada if they decide, not unreasonably, that they are no long welcome.

Source: Chris Selley: The debate over Quebec’s religious symbols bill nears its wretched end

Chris Selley: Look who’s talking tough on border security now

We will see if the US administration is really willing to accept such a change to the STCA given their overall anti-immigration rhetoric and policies. Why would the US do this favour for Canada as there is nothing in it for them?

But Selley’s observations of the change in tone and focus are valid:

The federal Liberals have always bristled at the suggestion that tens of thousands of “irregular” border crossers from the United States might constitute a problem. The system, they insist, works just fine. “This process is working to keep us safe,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told The Canadian Press before Christmas, and he accused the Conservatives of deliberately trying to frighten Canadians into believing otherwise. “It’s always easier to try and scare people than to allay fears in a time of anxiety,” he said. In January, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen accused the Conservatives of planning “to militarize the border,” which is certainly not an example of trying to scare people rather than allaying their fears.

One of the ideas the Conservatives have long supported is “closing the loophole” in the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) that allows “irregular” arrivals — those who cross between official border posts — to claim asylum. (There’s no point blaming them: If they tried to arrive “regularly,” they would be turned back.) The idea has long been dismissed as unworkable, if not unconstitutional.

But wouldn’t you know it, in an interview with The Globe and Mail this week, Border Security Minister Bill Blair said he was in negotiations with Washington on precisely this point.

“If, for example, there was an agreement of the United States to accept back those people that are crossing at the end of Roxham Road (in Champlain, N.Y.), then Canadian officials … could theoretically take them back to a regular point of entry … and give effect to (the STCA) regulations at that place,” Blair said — i.e., would-be asylum-seekers actually apprehended crossing the border would be sent back.

It’s not clear why the Americans would agree to this: If thousands of non-citizens want to decamp and take their chances in Canada’s refugee determination system, one suspects President Donald Trump would be most inclined to let them. But it’s intriguing enough the Canadian government now wants to be seen pursuing the idea.

“Closing the loophole” might be difficult to negotiate, but unlike everything else the Liberals have tried, it would almost certainly accomplish the goal they can never quite admit to having: To keep these people away. The most resourceful and desperate migrants would try to sneak across the border and claim asylum inland, once it couldn’t be proven how they arrived — a dangerous and potentially deadly undertaking and an invitation to human smugglers, Liberals would argue if they were in opposition. But that’s infinitely more complex an undertaking than packing your suitcases, bundling up the kids and clambering over the border into a waiting RCMP car. The vast majority of people would be dissuaded.

It’s clear enough heading into the election campaign that the Liberals want to be seen fighting irregular border crossers rather than managing them as the legitimate asylum-seekers they always insisted they were.

The federal budget’s section on border security, meanwhile, is altogether extraordinary. It claims that “elevated numbers of asylum seekers, including those that have crossed into Canada irregularly, have challenged the fairness and effectiveness of Canada’s asylum system.” It proposes to target “individuals who cross Canadian borders irregularly and try to exploit Canada’s immigration system.” It moots “legislative amendments … to better manage, discourage and prevent irregular migration.”

This is the same government that has sworn blind no one is jumping any queue, that everyone is entitled to equal treatment under the system no matter whence they arrive, that the system is working perfectly — all repudiated in a single paragraph.

It adds up to a $1.18 billion commitment over five years. And the proposals are vague enough that Finance Minister Bill Morneau doesn’t seem to understand what they entail: “If someone comes across the border (and) claims asylum, we want to make sure we process that quickly so they either are moved back to where they came from, if it’s inappropriate, or in the case where they are legitimately seeking asylum, we deal with them in a compassionate and rapid way,” he told reporters on Tuesday. That’s baffling. How do you decide what’s an “appropriate” or “legitimate” claim without adjudicating the damn thing?

Nevertheless, it’s clear enough heading into the election campaign that the Liberals want to be seen fighting irregular border crossers rather than managing them as the legitimate asylum-seekers they always insisted they were. The way to do the latter would be to spend scads more money hiring scads more people than they already have to adjudicate asylum claims as normal — only much, much quicker. That was what refugee advocates argued for nearly 20 years ago, when hundreds of people headed north for fear of a post-9/11 immigration crackdown. Refugee advocates lost the argument; the STCA, ratified under Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government, put an end to the northbound queues at border crossings; and most everyone in Canada instantly forgot those people ever existed.

A significant political headache had been expertly healed. It’s both telling and appropriate, as Trudeau’s government rapidly abandons its touchy-feely schtick, that the Liberals would land again on a “get tough” approach at the border.

Source: Chris Selley: Look who’s talking tough on border security now

Chris Selley: Here’s why Justin Trudeau’s identity-politics troubles were inevitable

Identity politics is practiced by all political parties, the variation lies more with respect to which identities they are trying to court compared to others.

That being said, Selley notes correctly some of the risks.

And it is amazing the extent to which the PM appears to have destroyed whatever remained of his brand over the past week: “sunny ways,” transparent government, gender equality and Indigenous reconciliation:

One assumes Jody Wilson-Raybould would prefer still to be Canada’s Minister of Justice. But there are certainly worse ways to go out. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau squirms before the cameras, mooting unsatisfying explanation after unsatisfying explanation as to just what transpired between his office and Wilson-Raybould in the matter of the SNC Lavalin prosecution, she’s practically soaked to the bone with praise.

There are serious questions as to how Wilson-Raybould could have stayed on in cabinet, or indeed not resigned as soon as the bad thing happened — whatever it was, assuming it happened. But when she finally threw in the towel on Tuesday, even NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh lauded her record: “Jody Wilson-Raybould, the first Indigenous woman AG of Canada, fulfilled her duties with courage and conviction,” he tweeted. “She spoke truth to power and in return she was fired by PM Trudeau.”

One notes Singh praised her record as Attorney-General, not as Justice Minister. Had Wilson-Raybould been shuffled to another relatively high-profile portfolio instead of being kicked down the stairs, the dominant narrative might have concerned what a terribly disappointing Justice Minister she was: Among many other complaints are the insane, likely unconstitutional impaired driving law and inaction on mandatory minimum sentences and victim surcharges, each of which is likely to disproportionately affect Indigenous and other visible minority Canadians; and of course, the continued wildly disproportionate number of Indigenous defendants and prisoners.

Indeed, Wilson-Raybould had plenty of Indigenous critics when she was in office. Now the dominant narrative is that her firing represents a major repudiation of Trudeau’s reconciliation agenda. It’s more than passing strange, but that’s the politics we have right now: Anywhere centre or left of centre, one’s identity and background count massively in or against your favour. That being the case, the Liberals’ current travails seem almost inevitable.

Trudeau’s first cabinet featured some very impressive resumes from a wide variety of people — but it was “because it’s 2015” that knocked half of Canada down in a swoon. From Day One, there were obvious questions: Why no black cabinet ministers? Why so many Sikhs? Why privilege one kind of proportional representation above another? Liberals waved such complaints away like mosquitoes: Can’t you people just enjoy a landmark achievement from a government that means well?

Well, no. Love identity politics or hate it, that’s not how it works. Eventually it was bound to fall apart. We’re seeing it right now.

At his Tuesday press conference, Trudeau repeatedly referred to Wilson-Raybould as “Jody” and Harjit Sajjan, who takes over from her at Veterans Affairs, as “Minsiter Sajjan.” To some, this smacked at worst deliberate sexism, at best of accidental sexism. To many others, this parsing will seem like a petty reach. (He couldn’t very well call her “Minister Wilson-Raybould,” could he?) But Trudeau can hardly complain. His party banged on forever about how disrespectful it was for the Conservatives to call him Justin.

When an MP or minister (or ex-MP or ex-minister) causes a political leader trouble, what does he do? Same thing an NHL GM does to justify a lousy trade: He has a friendly reporter explain what a nuisance that person was in the locker room. So we have heard various anonymous reports about Wilson-Raybould’s pugnacious, difficult and self-centred performance in cabinet. It’s standard operating procedure — but it’s also anonymously slagging off an Indigenous woman. That doesn’t fly in 2019.

At this point, the Wilson-Raybould demotion looks like a spectacular unforced error. But it would have taken a very, very different kind of politician to have avoided forever the trouble in which Trudeau now finds himself. Trudeau is not a very different kind of politician, and his staffers are not very different kinds of staffers. Several, including principal secretary Gerald Butts and chief of staff Katie Telford, cut their teeth in the office of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty — another supposed breath of fresh air that went rapidly stale and eventually left everyone at Queen’s Park gagging in a green haze of egg fart. McGuinty’s former deputy chief of staff just got out of jail.

The Trudeau gang does seem to truly believe in their own inherent virtue — that when they call up The Canadian Press to slag off a former cabmin, it’s literally not the same thing as when a Conservative staffer does it. They still seem utterly transfixed by the power of symbolism over action. But that doesn’t help any real people who need real help. Setting aside their words and their symbolic gestures, their actions have been little but conventional.

It’s a great disappointment to many — perhaps not least some of Trudeau’s own cabinet ministers. Several have expressed support and praise for Wilson-Raybould’s works since her resignation. Treasury Board President Jane Philpott even posted a photo of the two together.

It would be easy to read too much into that. But it raises the intriguing prospect that some of Trudeau’s MPs might be truer believers in his agenda than he is. These people were promised “government by cabinet,” after all. If they decide to insist on it, even more interesting days may lie ahead.

Source: Chris Selley: Here’s why Justin Trudeau’s identity-politics troubles were inevitable

Chris Selley: It’s gut-check time for secularists as Quebec counts people affected by religious symbols ban

Good column by Selley on just how unworkable this will be when it comes down to lists with names:

The latest drama surrounding Quebec’s efforts to cleanse parts of the civil service of ostentatious religious symbols — read: hijabs — concerns a fairly anodyne request for information: On Monday, La Presse reported that the provincial Ministry of Education had asked three Montreal-area school boards for statistics on the number of teachers and other employees who would be affected by such a prohibition. But much consternation ensued.

Catherine Harel-Bourdon, president of the Montreal board, called the request “aberrant,” suggested it ran afoul of Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, and insisted no such information would be forthcoming. Liberal education critic Marwah Rizqy likened the request to “profiling.” “Counting religious symbols in schools — that’s the government’s priority on education?” asked Québec solidaire MNA and spokeswoman Manon Massé on Twitter. “That’s how it’s going to offer a better public education system?” (You’ll note she didn’t actually criticize the idea itself.)

When La Presse later reported that “not one, but three ministries” had made such requests of relevant authority-wielding workforces — police officers, judges, Crown attorneys and prison guards — the blowback only intensified. Even nationalist commentator Denise Bombardier, who supports the ban, called it a “blunder” that “offers weapons on a silver platter to political enemies who are champing at the bit … to fight with (Premier François Legault).” (He wants to abolish school boards altogether.)

“This … unacceptable intervention puts the government on the defensive before the parliamentary session even begins,” Bombardier complained.

All this over counting the number of people to be affected by a proposed government policy?

A valid criticism would be that only now, after 125 years of debate — or maybe it just feels that long — is anyone thinking to try to quantify the supposed problem that every party in the National Assembly has promised to address. Those who support the ban most fervently might credibly protest that the numbers are irrelevant: However many teachers, police officers and Crown attorneys there are who refuse to remove their religious symbols at work, that’s how many need to be removed from their jobs. (Bonus: Job opportunities for Proper Quebecers!) They see the CAQ government’s census as a sign it’s going soft and planning to adopt a “grandfather clause” that would exempt existing employees from the new restrictions — another very valid criticism, no matter what your position on the government’s policy.

“Grandmother clause” would be a better thing to call it. (“We should make clear that the bill is aimed primarily, if not exclusively, at veiled women,” Bombardier wrote this week in Le Journal de Montréal. If only Quebec’s politicians were as honest.)

“Cowardice clause” would be even more apt. The political advantage is that no one would have to be seen losing her job — something of which polls consistently show Quebecers are leery, even if they support the restrictions in principle. But that’s just staggeringly disreputable: If this version of laïcité — the kind that, inter alia, keeps a crucifix hanging above the speaker’s chair in the National Assembly — is a social imperative, then why delay? Telling a Muslim girl she can’t be a teacher or a police officer because she was born too late might make less news than canning her mom, but it’s no less an affront to Quebecers’ basic freedoms.

Indeed, many still grapple with the most basic implications of laïcité — among them Vincent Marissal, until recently one of Quebec’s more perspicacious journalists and now a Québec solidaire MNA. He says he supports the 2008 recommendations of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, which are basically identical to what Legault proposes except they didn’t implicate teachers. And yet here he is this week,  speaking with La Presse: “Am I comfortable with the fact that someone won’t be able to do a job because of (the new law)? The frank answer is no, I’m not comfortable with that.”

He shares that cognitive dissonance with many bien-pensant Quebecers. But for the love of Bonhomme, they’ve had more than a decade to square that circle — more than long enough, surely, to realize it simply can’t be done. If you don’t support telling certain Quebecers they can’t hold certain jobs in the public service — now and in the future — then you do not, in fact, support the Bouchard-Taylor recommendations, and you do not, in fact, support the CAQ government’s Bouchard-Taylor-Plus proposal.

This isn’t a video-game simulation of Quebec society. Real people’s lives and livelihoods are on the table. At some point, if Premier Legault is to effect his more perfect Quebec society, the lists that are making people squeamish this week will have to be prepared: names, positions, salaries, offending religious symbols, termination dates. Quebecers who support these restrictions on religious liberty but aren’t sure they should affect real live human beings need to imagine themselves reading those lists, and then check their guts.

Source: Chris Selley: It’s gut-check time for secularists as Quebec counts people affected by religious symbols ban

Some of the dynamics can be seen in the following two articles from the Quebec media:

Source: Signes religieux: douloureuse remise en question au PLQ

Source: Signes religieux: la CAQ divisée sur «la clause grand-père»

 

 

ICYMI – Chris Selley: Police carding ought to be an anathema in a free society. How is it still up for debate?

Good commentary:

In the debate over if, when and how police should be able to stop, question and compel identification from citizens, and then store the information they receive in databases, those arguing to allow officers maximum discretion tend to defer to public safety. The more info police have, the more crime and violence and misery they can avert. Conveniently for that view, in the two years since more restrictive rules took effect in Ontario, Toronto has experienced a significant spike in homicides.

Coincidence? Justice Michael Tulloch thinks so. In his 300-page report on the Independent Street Checks Review he oversaw, officially released Friday, Tulloch does a pretty good job busting causation down to correlation.

In 2013, he observes, Toronto police agreed to ramp down “street checks” (an interaction producing “identifying information … concerning an individual … that is not part of an investigation”) and “carding” (when “a police officer randomly asks an individual to provide identifying information when there is no objectively suspicious activity,” and the individual isn’t suspected of or to have knowledge of any offence, and the information winds up stored in a database).

Despite that, the city’s homicide count held steady at 57-59 per annum until 2016, when it spiked to 75. In 2017, the year the rules came fully into effect, the number dropped to 65, before soaring to 96 in 2018 — the highest in a decade.

The number of shooting incidents, meanwhile, has hardly budged since the new rules came into force: There were 406 in 2016, 390 in 2017 and 424 in 2018. Furthermore, some areas of the city where carding was most prevalent — Jane and Finch, Rexdale, Lawrence Heights — saw dramatic decreases in shooting incidents. Whereas getting guns off the street is a common justification for intrusive police tactics, such as New York City’s stop-question-and-frisk, firearm seizures in Toronto skyrocketed after the new regulations came into place. And other Ontario municipalities reported no similar surges in crime. Overall, homicides in Ontario dropped from 2016 to 2017.

In short, it’s far easier to make a case that carding has no effect at all on serious crime than that it has a huge one. But even if previous carding practice had “worked,” even if the new regulation had stopped it from working, it barely even amounts to a defence. As Tulloch notes, “the regulation simply gives effect to the existing law that people do not have to provide their identification when there are no reasonable grounds to believe the person has committed an offence.”

If carding “worked,” in other words, it relied on citizens not knowing or caring about their already-existing right to be left alone whilst minding their own business, or being too intimidated to exercise that right — as well they might be. Politely refusing an armed man or woman’s request to identify yourself is no small thing, all the more so if you have “nothing to hide.”

The problems inherent in such a situation are myriad. There are quantifiable harms: People were denied jobs and security clearances, and in at least one case menaced by child services, thanks to information stored in police databases that implicated them in nothing other than being included in a police database. And there are more existential harms. Imagine growing up with a squeaky-clean nose yet constantly feeling like a person of police interest. It’s profoundly alienating, especially when targets quite logically conclude, based on well-documented statistics if not their own intuition, that they’re being harassed because of their race, skin colour or some other innate characteristic. It’s no less insidious if the bias is unconscious; it might even be more so.

Nothing good can come from it, and plenty bad. It hinders police in solving crimes, for one thing: “When a segment of society believes that it has been unfairly targeted by the police,” Tulloch writes, “it will delegitimize the police in their eyes.” All those desperate calls for witnesses to come forward will be met more skeptically. Tulloch cites research showing “inappropriate interaction with police” can even “desensitize young people from guilt regarding potential acts of crime.”

Tulloch has scores of recommendations, including clarifying what he argues are overly complex rules for officers; requiring officers to tell people when a conversation is voluntary; including written reasons for the existence of any database record; and destroying those records automatically after five years.

As he says, the police have lots of powers at their disposal — including the power to stop and question people if officers have a legitimate, articulable “reason to believe the identifying information would be valuable police intelligence.” That still goes too far for some civil libertarians. But it’s maddening there are still people who object to the very idea of eliminating truly random stop-and-question policies; people who can’t grasp just how anathema that idea ought to be in a free society, how profoundly it undermines the social contract that underpins modern Western policing; people who could actually take issue with Tulloch’s most fundamental recommendation: “No police service should randomly stop people in order to collect and record identifying information and create a database for general intelligence purposes.”

Well, obviously.

Source: Chris Selley: Police carding ought to be an anathema in a free society. How is it still up for debate?

Tories pursue high-stakes strategy in condemning United Nation’s migrant pact: John Ibbitson and Chris Selley commentaries

John Ibbitson on the politics of the CPC’s opposition to the Global Compact on Migration:

A database search suggests that the first article in a mainstream Canadian news outlet that criticized the United Nations’ new migration compact appeared on the Toronto Sun website on Nov. 30.

That document – officially the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration – is now a high-stakes controversy from which both Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau hope to profit. One of them is making a mistake. But right now, it’s hard to know who.

Liberal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, along with representatives from more than 160 other countries, has signed the agreement in Marrakesh. Mr. Hussen called the compact “an effective way to address the challenges that migration can bring.”

This may well be true. But had it not been for the conservative media and Official Opposition sounding the alarm, most of us would never even have heard about the compact, much less Canada’s decision to join it.

Parliament hasn’t debated or voted on the agreement; the government hasn’t bothered to consult Canadians on whether they oppose or support it. This is foreign policy conducted in the dead of night.

However, there is one significant problem with Mr. Scheer’s claim that the compact will “erode our sovereign right to manage our borders.” The problem is that the thing is innocuous, a succession of bland paragraphs promising to promote this and consult on that.

The document stresses that it is not legally binding and “reaffirms the sovereign right of States to determine their national migration policy and to govern migration within their jurisdiction.”

There is a foolish clause on “sensitizing and educating media professionals.” Otherwise the document mostly commits states to sharing information, fighting human trafficking and abiding by the rule of law. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Except that’s not how others treat the document, pro and con.

Pro: Former Canadian Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour, who is now the United Nations Special Representative for International Migration, called the compact “one of the defining projects of our generation,” which “will remain the reference for all future initiatives dealing with cross-border human mobility.”

Con: The United States – well, of course, with Donald Trump as President – Australia, the Dominican Republic and Chile have not signed, along with Israel and a clutch of countries in Eastern Europe, where migrants are deeply unpopular. Rightly or wrongly, some analysts see things in those bland paragraphs that could force countries to increase their immigration and refugee intake.

This is one reason why the Conservatives are making such a big deal of the accord. Another is that demonizing the compact fits with a narrative they wish to construct: that the Liberals have lost control of the immigration system, that tens of thousands have streamed across the border illegally and that now the government is surrendering sovereignty to a dysfunctional, even corrupt, United Nations.

The truth is that, over the past six months or so, the government has managed to greatly reduce the flow of asylum claimants entering Canada from the United States. And, as I and wiser minds read it, the migration compact surrenders not a jot or tittle of Canadian sovereignty to the UN.

But many Canadians do worry about losing control of the border. This doesn’t make them anti-immigrant; it just makes them anti-uncontrolled-immigration. And even those who support increased immigration may shake their heads at the Liberal inability to manage major files. As the Tories might put it, the Liberals can’t build a pipeline, can’t control the border, won’t balance the budget.

But on the immigration issues, at least, this strategy comes with great political risk for the Conservatives. More than half the population of Mississauga is not Caucasian. Fifty-three per cent of the population of Richmond, B.C., is ethnic Chinese.

If suburban immigrant voters decide that the Conservatives have become anti-immigrant, even nativist, they will shun the party and the Conservatives will lose the next election. You cannot win at the federal level without substantial support from immigrant voters. There are just too many of them.

The Liberals take pride in how they’ve handled immigration and are happy to campaign on it. The Conservatives think the Liberals are vulnerable on immigration and are happy to campaign on it. Who is right? It will take an election to find out.

Source:     Tories pursue high-stakes strategy in condemning United Nation’s migrant pact Subscriber content John Ibbitson December 10, 2018     
And Chris Selley suggests the CPC could have made a more sophisticated critique of the Compact rather than playing the identity politics card (which the Liberals are also happy to play):
One hundred and sixty-four countries agreed to the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in Morocco on Monday. And while the ship has long since sailed, in theory, there are quite a few things in there that Canadian conservatives might have gotten behind.

Chris Selley: Canada’s fantasyland politics can’t fix our refugee backlog

A good rant by Selley:

Coming up on two years since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s infamous “Welcome to Canada” tweet, and nearly 38,000 irregular border crossings from the United States later, it is still easy to argue the country does not face any kind of migration crisis. Few if any of those crossing the border seem to represent a security threat — and since everyone seeking asylum, by definition, has to check in with authorities, we can hope bad actors will be weeded out. Many of those applying for asylum may well be economic migrants, not bona fide refugees; but there are far worse things than being overrun with hard-striving immigrants eager to make a go of it in a new country. It remains true that compared to the number of asylum-seekers other countries have dealt with in recent years, Canada hardly faces a challenge at all.

The Conservative opposition in Ottawa, and more recently the PC government in Toronto, have rudely declined to be sanguine. The former has demanded the government stop the flow of migrants; the latter has stridently demanded compensation for the cost of caring for the new arrivals who can’t fend for themselves. There has been no shortage of progressive commentators eager to hold them to account, arguing they are misrepresenting the issues or “dog-whistling” to racists, and citing all the reasons listed above.

At some point those commentators will have to hold the government to account as well, I’m afraid. As the Parliamentary Budget Officer confirmed this week, the Liberals have allowed — at the very least — a bureaucratic crisis to firmly take hold. Manageable as Canada’s irregular migration problem ought to be, the feds have utterly failed to manage it. As of Sept. 18, the backlog of all asylum cases was nearly 65,000 people. That’s the most this century, and more than triple what it was at the end of Trudeau’s first year in office. The PBO projects the wait time for refugee claims to be finalized will be three years by 2020.

The government’s line is that the number of irregular crossers is decreasing. But the majority of the 65,000 aren’t irregular crossers. Even two years is completely unjustifiable from every perspective, including a humanitarian one. Imagine being convinced you have a solid claim to asylum in Canada, selling the proverbial farm in Nigeria, getting yourself firmly established in a new country — and then being told you have to go home to nothing.

No serious country would think this was no big deal. While the influx of irregular crossers isn’t the Liberals’ fault, it is their responsibility to address it. Adding people to a massive and ever-growing list doesn’t cut it. Doing so while prancing and preening about as the brave defenders of Canadian compassion, empathy and inclusivity is simply repulsive. They shouldn’t have gotten away with it for even a second. Yet they continue to.

Many have focused on the daunting cost of all this: the PBO estimates nearly $400 million in the 2019-20 fiscal year. But the simple fact is, the only real solution here is to spend more than that. No party is proposing physically stopping unarmed men, women and children from crossing the border. No party is proposing revoking the long-established right to a hearing before Canada sends you on your way. There is no reason to think Washington will “take them back” even if we could send them. The only way to fix this is to spend scads more money to hire scads more people to process these claims more quickly, and yet somehow this debate has boiled away for two years without that rising to the top.

But then that’s hardly unique in Canadian politics, is it? The Conservatives claim to support action on carbon emissions while treating the simplest and most market-oriented approaches as communist plots. The Liberals fill their speeches and social media feeds with talk of fending off global devastation while fronting a carbon tax plan that will absolutely not achieve Canada’s targets under the Paris Accord.

The Liberals promise to get pipelines built using understanding, consultation and patchouli oil. The Conservatives demand an aggressive approach the likes of which didn’t get the job done very recently, and probably won’t in future. We all know Trans Mountain is a political nightmare that’s unlikely ever to get built.

A group of asylum seekers arrive at the temporary housing facilities at the border crossing Wednesday May 9, 2018 in St. Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que.

Decade after decade we make a royal hash of military procurement — or we do if actually procuring military hardware is the goal. As a vote-buying scheme, military procurement works just fine. Thank goodness we don’t need all those ships and planes — not really; not living next to our American friends.

It’s often observed that Canadian politics is a ferocious battle over small differences. But it’s often worse than that: A ferocious battle over small differences in which “winning” has nothing to do with actually accomplishing the task at hand. We must be blessed to live in a country where it matters so little.

Source: Chris Selley: Canada’s fantasyland politics can’t fix our refugee backlog