Chris Selley: Liberal anti-Islamophobia does not include Quebec

Valid contrast. One does have to question the Liberal’s vetting process and their political understanding of Quebec as this reaction among the Quebec commentariat and politicians was likely:

One of the more astonishing scenes in Canada’s recent political history occurred over the weekend as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his Quebec lieutenant and Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne took turns wagging their fingers at Amira Elghawaby. She had been installed only the day before as Canada’s first official representative to combat Islamophobia, on the eve of the anniversary of the 2017 massacre at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City.

Champagne said he was “worried.” He suggested Elghawaby should take time to reflect upon what she had done. From his fainting couch, Rodriguez declared himself “wounded and shocked as a Quebecer.”

“I certainly don’t agree with her words and I expect her to clarify them,” Trudeau tutted.

Elghawaby’s crime? Elghawaby’s campaigning against Islamophobia actually extends to Quebec.

The controversy began Friday when La Presse unearthed a 2019 op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen, co-written by Elghawaby and fellow Canadian Anti-Hate Network board member Bernie Farber, lamenting the recent passing of Bill 21 — the Quebec legislation, now in force, banning civil servants in certain positions of state authority (notably teachers) from wearing religious garb on the job.

“Unfortunately, the majority of Quebecers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment,” Elghawaby and Farber argued. “A poll conducted by Léger Marketing earlier this year found that 88 per cent of Quebecers who held negative views of Islam supported the ban.”

This is not a controversial statement — certainly not by the standards of those who campaigned against Bill 21, as any reasonable appointee to Elghawaby’s new position would have done, Bill 21 being the most Islamophobic thing going in this country.

The pointless 15-year “reasonable accommodations” psychodrama that produced the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, the Parti Québécois’ failed “values charter” and eventually Bill 21 had some Jewish content, particularly around the issue of kosher food at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital. The Supreme Court’s 2006 decision allowing Sikh students to wear kirpans at school is somewhere in the primordial ooze of this debate.

But no one can honestly deny that the vast majority of the angst was over Islam, and what some of its adherents choose to wear. The notion that the hijab (as opposed to the niqab or burqa) represents a radical, political and evangelical form of Islam is commonly heard in Quebec, and almost never anywhere else in Canada.

The aforementioned 2019 Léger poll found Quebecers’ “net positive” view of Catholics — i.e., positive minus negative – was 66 per cent; of Jews, 55 per cent; of Muslims, 37 per cent. Moving on to personal religious symbols, the net positive view of crucifixes was 59 per cent. The net positive view of kippas was 37 per cent. Of hijabs, 28 per cent. (Keep that in mind the next time someone tells you Bill 21 was a principled extension of the Quiet Revolution. It’s a neat trick, casting off the shackles of the Catholic Church while remaining resolutely pro-crucifix.)

When put on the defensive, Bill 21 supporters will often point out that the idea has support in the Rest of Canada. It’s true to a point: An Abacus Data poll last year found 30 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec liked the idea. But the figure in Quebec was 53 per cent. And rather crucially, Quebec is the only province where any politician in any party has even proposed such a law, never mind followed through on it to popular acclaim.

Elghawaby, an activist and journalist, has committed other rhetorical crimes, especially from the Quebec-nationalist point of view. In 2021, she declared herself nauseated by University of Toronto historian Joseph Heath’s contention that “the largest group of people in this country who were victimized by British colonialism, subjugated and incorporated into confederation by force, are French Canadians.” She has advocated for prayer rooms in public schools, and for including non-Christian holidays on official Canadian calendars. You could hardly pick two better positions to empurple a nationalist with a newspaper column or a seat in a legislature.

“One wonders how this person, with so many prejudices against Quebecers and clearly incapable of understanding the importance of secularism in the historical and social development of Quebec, could help improve the ambient climate and mutual understanding,” professors Nadia El-Mabrouk and François Dugré argued this weekend in La Presse.

She can’t. Almost certainly, no one can. Discussions in this country about Islamophobia, racism, minority rights and everything in that neck of the woods exist in two hermetically sealed chambers: One for Quebec, and one for everyone else. It’s basically impossible to speak to both worlds at once. But if anyone were capable of it, the minimum they would need is to be appointed by a government willing to support her when one world or the other got a bit offended.

As it stands, both the Quebec government and the opposition Conservatives in Ottawa are demanding Elghawaby’s resignation. The Liberals, having denounced her for no good reason, are making it easier, not harder, for them to do so. And they look as ridiculous doing it in Quebec as in the Rest of Canada. Asked Monday by reporters how he responded to the calls for Elghawaby to resign, Trudeau offered up some typically tawdry bafflegab: “She is there to speak for the community, with the community, and build bridges across. Obviously she has thought carefully over many years about the impacts that various pieces of legislation, various political positions, have had on the community. Her job now is to make sure that she’s helping the government and helping everyone.”

Not for the first time with the Trudeau gang, we are left with two simple but baffling questions: What the hell do they think they’re doing? And why haven’t they heard of the internet?

Source: Chris Selley: Liberal anti-Islamophobia does not include Quebec

Chris Selley: Asking a baby to get help from Russia is another Ottawa disgrace

These kinds of stories are showing up more regularly, given the (small) number of cases and the publicity of the court case and efforts by the lawyer and advocates to generate public attention.

The advantage of the first generation cut-off remains its clarity and simplicity to administer in a consistent manner, in contrast to the previous provisions which were not. But part of the “package” when the change was made over 10 years ago were provisions for statelessness whose implementation would take into account the particular circumstances, implicitly in an understanding if not compassionate manner.

This would appear to be one of those situations where IRCC could have shown more common sense in reviewing the case.

Unfortunately, we can’t be surprised by the obtuseness regarding Russia given Global Affairs and their Minister’s Office regarding the Russia Day embassy reception:

Recent events have called ever more into question Canada’s basic competencies on the world stage, both on the ground and especially in the back office. We made a hash of evacuating our Afghan friends as the Taliban retook the country, then forced many who escaped to wait for months while we churned through their paperwork. The same delays are plaguing many Ukrainians who accepted Canada’s offers of help. Speaking of Ukraine: A senior foreign affairs official’s presence at the Russian embassy’s garden party continues to boggle the national mind. On the much more mundane end of the spectrum: With six months’ notice, IRCC failed to approve a visa for popular Formula One reporter Karun Chandhok in time for this weekend’s Montreal Grand Prix.

Is it sloth? Understaffing? Active malice? It’s difficult to tell. But the story of the Burgess family — father and husband Gregory, mother and wife Viktoriya, and baby Philip, who currently live in Hong Kong — combines all these threads into a perfectly absurd package.

I first spoke to Gregory around six months ago. He is a 46-year-old Edmontonian with deep, permanent roots (and citizenship) in Canada and nowhere else — his great-grandparents immigrated to Alberta from Ukraine in 1894 — but who just happened to have been born in Connecticut. Because his infant son Philip was the second consecutive generation born on foreign soil, our citizenship law does not automatically recognize Philip as Canadian. Gregory and Viktoriya, who is Russian, nevertheless wish to relocate eventually to Canada and think it reasonable they be allowed to do so.

The bureaucrats at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) are having none of it.

Six months ago, the situation was approaching emergency: Gregory’s and Viktoriya’s work visas were soon to expire. Things have stabilized since, Gregory told me this week over Zoom while wrangling a seven-month-old at 6 a.m. “Hong Kong has been very humane to us,” he said, including issuing Philip a Hong Kong identity card. That’s at least proof that a government recognizes his existence, but it offers no path to citizenship.

The Burgesses and their lawyers and advocates quite reasonably insist Philip is stateless as defined in the 1954 UN Convention: “a person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law.” In keeping with Canada’s international obligations, the Citizenship Act compels minister Sean Fraser to unilaterally grant citizenship in some cases of statelessness, and invites him to in others.

But when Gregory filed an application for Philips’ citizenship on grounds of statelessness, he got an amazing answer: Basically, IRCC wants proof some other country won’t take the kid off their hands.

On June 3, “senior decision maker” E. Nguyen wrote to Burgess asking for “a resual (sic) letter and/or correpondence (sic) from the American authorities advising that Philip … does not have a claim to American citizenship.” (Refusal and correspondence are the mistyped words.)

The answer is a bit complicated, but nevertheless U.S. citizenship rules are clear and easily Googleable: The simple answer is no.

It gets better: E. Nguyen wants the same refusal letter — no word of a lie — from the Russian authorities.

These are the Russian authorities raining death on Ukraine, heavily sanctioned by Ottawa, whose garden parties we must on no account attend. Canada’s travel advisory for Russia flashes bright red: “If you are in Russia, you should leave.”

Oh, and senior decision-maker E. Nguyen requires these documents within 30 days. IRCC would struggle to order a pizza in 30 days.

Even if the Burgess family were content to live in a pariah state run by a warmongering madman, Russia wouldn’t be a realistic option: Russian citizenship rules, also easily Googleable, stipulate Gregory would need to formally agree to Philip gaining Russian citizenship through his mother — but Gregory would have no immediate claim to citizenship himself. What parent would consent to the potential splitting up of his family?

When I wrote about this in January, two people with intimate knowledge of the IRCC bureaucracy and the Citizenship Act objected to my characterization of the second-generation-born-aboard rule as a “dumb law, easily fixed.” I remain convinced: Instead of judging prospective infant citizens by their parents’ accidental birthplaces, we should judge them by their parents’ substantial connection to Canada, just as we do for would-be naturalized citizens.

Admittedly, though, that’s only a fix in law. If it takes two or three or four years for IRCC to determine such “substantial connections,” families like the Burgesses will still be left in the lurch. And many will be in much more perilous situations than the Burgesses are.

In the meantime, there is an easy fix: Sean Fraser, the minister, can grant citizenship to anyone he chooses, any time he likes, as often as he likes. Unfortunately, with more than 24 hours’ notice, IRCC could not manage to respond to my questions, which included “why won’t he?”

Gregory is admirably equanimous about all this. “I don’t want to overdramatize things,” he told me. “It’s not terrible. … We’re OK here and everything’s fine.” But that uncertainty hangs over their heads, and they’re baffled. “I don’t know what the agenda is,” Gregory said. “I don’t know what’s achieved by this.”

Me neither.

There aren’t tens of thousands of Canadians in similar situations as the Burgesses, but there aren’t just dozens either. Whatever resources are being expended fighting seven-month-old Philip Burgess for Canadian citizenship — and a good few other children in the same situation — would surely be put to better use helping our various and shameful citizenship-and-immigration backlogs.

Source: Chris Selley: Asking a baby to get help from Russia is another Ottawa disgrace

And from the Star:

A Canadian with Ukrainian roots has been told his baby boy may have to apply — and be rejected — for Russian citizenship before he can become a Canadian.

“My son is not going to Russia and not becoming a Russian citizen when they’re killing Ukrainians,” says Gregory Burgess.

The bizarre situation has come about for a baby who is technically considered “stateless” because neither he nor his father was born in Canada.

Burgess, 46, has always considered himself a Canadian. He grew up in Edmonton and his Ukrainian great-grandparents arrived in what is today’s Alberta back in 1894.

But Burgess was born in the United States, where his father was then working, before coming to Canada at age seven. He acquired citizenship through his Canadian mother.

That, coupled with the fact that his son was born during the pandemic in Hong Kong, where Burgess is currently working, has meant the baby is not guaranteed Canadian citizenship.

It’s the result of a controversial policy change brought in by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper back in 2009 that was meant to curtail the number of “Canadians of convenience.”

“Canada is my home,” says Burgess. “I don’t have another home. It’s where my family has been for more than a hundred years.”

The so-called “second generation” citizenship cut-off against Canadians born abroad was introduced by the Conservative government after Ottawa’s massive effort to evacuate 15,000 Lebanese Canadians from Beirut during a month-long war between Israel and Lebanon in 2006.

The $85-million price tag of the evacuation effort sparked a debate over “Canadians of convenience” about individuals with Canadian citizenship who live permanently outside of Canada without “substantive ties” to Canada but were part of the government liability.

It’s now complicating things for Burgess.

The expat spent his formative years in Canada and graduated from the University of Alberta.

“My mother got us citizenship. And as soon as my Canadian citizenship was taken care of, one wouldn’t assume that somewhere down the road you become a lesser citizen because of it.”

Starting in 2004, he took up jobs in Asia. He met his now wife, Viktoriya Kharzhanovich, in 2017 when he was working in Shanghai. The following year, she applied unsuccessfully for a Canadian visa to accompany him to his cousin’s wedding.

In 2019, he started to explore the spousal sponsorship process to bring his common-law wife to Canada, just before the pandemic was beginning in China.

The couple moved to Hong Kong from China in June 2020 when he got a two-year employment contract in building information management there. Meanwhile, he and his wife, now 41, decided to start a family.

Due to the arduous paperwork required, they didn’t submit their spousal application until last November. It was during their preparation for the application when his lawyer noticed he wasn’t born in Canada and raised the issue about the two-generation citizenship cutoff for the yet-to-be born Philip.

Kharzhanovich, who had already been refused a visitor visa before, was more than seven months into her pregnancy and did not have an obstetrician and gynecologist or health insurance in Canada. She was also not scheduled for her COVID vaccination until after giving birth to Philip.

“After consulting physicians, researching flights, examining visa options, and studying quarantine rules, we determined that it was not safe or possible to fly to Canada for Viktoriya to give birth there,” says Burgess, who has since joined six other Canadian families in a Charter challenge against the citizenship cut-off rules.

Since neither Burgess nor his wife is a Hong Kong citizen or permanent resident, Philip doesn’t have permanent status in the former British colony, now part of the People’s Republic of China.

“It’s a lot of sleepless nights,” Burgess says. “It’s very important to me that I never lose my job (in Hong Kong) and nothing ever goes wrong because if it does, then that’s catastrophic. And so there’s that stress.

“It’s just constantly trying to get on the paperwork and it seems endless. I keep putting in paperwork or talking to the embassy or consulate. And I’ve been at it for nine months basically.”

At the advice of the Canadian consulate, Burgess applied for a two-year “limited validity passport” for Philip in November, which was ultimately refused by Passport Canada. Burgess’s own parents weren’t abroad serving in the Canadian military or for the federal or provincial governments at his birth in the U.S., hence his baby didn’t qualify.

Earlier this year, as a last resort, Burgess filed an application for a grant of citizenship under section 5 (4) of the Canadian Citizenship Act that gives Immigration Minister Sean Fraser the discretionary power to do so to “alleviate cases of statelessness or of special and unusual hardship or to reward services of an exceptional value to Canada.”

In a response to the family’s request this month, the immigration department gave the couple 30 days to provide proof of Philip having been refused a claim to American and/or Russian citizenship.

“Following a review of his application and supporting documentation, it appears that Philip Alexander Burgess may have a claim to American citizenship through yourself and to Russian citizenship through his mother, Viktoriya Kharzhanovich,” said the letter prepared by the immigration case management branch.

There was no mention or concern raised about Burgess’s and the family’s expiring status in Hong Kong, and the urgency to resolve the crisis.

“I feel like I’m being asked to show that I’m in duress. It’s continually asking, ‘show us it’s a bad situation.’ And I’m like it’s not bad yet, but it’s only because I’m staying ahead of the game,” says Burgess, who does not have an American passport or meet the “substantial connection” requirement to convey citizenship to Philip.

Although Philip is not at the end of his rope and may still acquire Canadian citizenship by naturalization if his father can successfully sponsor his mother and him to Canada, Burgess says he has yet to get an acknowledgment of receipt of his sponsorship application and the family is running out of status in Hong Kong.

Their lawyer, Sujit Choudhry, says Philip’s statelessness is only one of the factors for the consideration of the immigration minister, who should not overlook the “special and unusual hardship” the family is facing under the circumstances.

“The government’s insistence that Gregory seek Russian citizenship for Philip is Kafkaesque,” says Choudhry, who is also representing the other families in the ongoing Charter challenge against the citizenship act before the Superior Court of Ontario. “Canada has advised its citizens to not travel to Russia for geopolitical reasons.

“If Philip becomes a Russian citizen, Gregory will not be able to travel to Russia to take care of him. Canada’s Citizenship Act will produce a profoundly unjust family separation. This law is clearly unconstitutional.”

Source: ‘Kafkaesque’: Will the infant son of a Ukrainian Canadian need to turn to Russia for citizenship?

Chris Selley: A dumb citizenship law, easily fixed, is finally headed to court [not so easily, not so simple]

Whenever someone says “simple problem” or “easily fixed,” they don’t fully understand the policy and operational issues involved. Surprising from someone as seasoned as Selley, who normally does his homework before condemning an “idiot law.”

Over reliance on anecdotes, bereft of any understanding of the issues and practicalities involved. No discussion of the problems encountered in the previous retention provisions, which were difficult to administer fairly and transparently. And no discussion of the parliamentary discussions and report that discussed the provision.

Not in the Minister’s mandate letter but issue has been percolating for some time.

Will be interesting to see how courts respond to the lawyer’s argumentation (hopefully stronger than his overblown rhetoric as quoted in the article:

Gregory Burgess certainly presents as a full-blooded 46-year-old Canadian. He has long, deep roots in this country, and none anywhere else: His great-grandparents emigrated from Ukraine in 1894 and settled the Edna-Star colony in Alberta. He was born a Canadian citizen. He attended elementary, secondary and post-secondary institutions in Edmonton. He holds only a Canadian passport, he says, and has never had permanent legal status anywhere else.

But he was born abroad — in Connecticut, where his American father was working at the time. And much to his horror, he recently discovered what that means: His son, Philip, who was born three months ago in Hong Kong — where Burgess works in building information management — has no claim to Canadian citizenship. Indeed, because foreigners’ children have no official status in Hong Kong, Philip is currently stateless.

That’s been the law in Canada for 13 years: No matter how purely and unequivocally Canadian you might be, if you happen to have been born abroad to a Canadian parent, then you cannot pass your citizenship on automatically to your children unless they are born on Canadian soil.

Burgess can apply to sponsor Philip as a dependant-child immigrant to Canada, but there are no guarantees. (There are medical tests to be passed, for example.) And Burgess says the government has mooted timelines of up to two years to arrive at a solution. His Hong Kong work visa expires in six months.

“If my son doesn’t have citizenship, and I have to leave in six months, and my son technically does too — because he will be connected to me; that’s the only reason he would be allowed to stay here — (then) I don’t know exactly what the (Canadian) government expects,” says Burgess, exasperated. “Like, where he’s supposed to go and where I’m supposed to go.”

Philip may have a claim to Russian citizenship through his mother: Burgess met Viktoriya Kharzhanovich in 2017 in Shanghai, where she was a student, later becoming a translator and a quality-assurance manager in the textiles industry; they married in September. But Gregory isn’t sure about his own claim. He and Viktoriya are only just now wrapping their minds around this dilemma, on top of caring for an infant.

In any event, they don’t want to move to Russia — and there is no earthly reason they ought to have to. But Ottawa has already denied their application for a temporary passport for Philip. And in the meantime, even if some country is willing to provide Philip with travel documents, it’s entirely possible they will have to be separated.

In theory, Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser could intervene in a case like this on humanitarian grounds. In practice, citizenship ministers rarely do that.

Now-retired airline pilot Don Chapman has been advocating on behalf of “Lost Canadians” in this situation — and many other equally bizarre situations — for many years. Seemingly no one in Ottawa is willing to go on record in support of the status quo. But despite various tweaks to Canada’s utterly byzantine citizenship laws over the years, this simple problem never gets solved. And now it has finally landed in the courts.

The Burgess family will soon be joining seven others as applicants to a constitutional challenge filed in December in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. Lawyer Sujit Choudhry, who represents the families, argues the law discriminates unjustifiably not just on grounds of national origin, but of gender as well. “It’s quite frankly insulting to my women clients to be told to basically stop working, to arrive in Canada without health insurance, to not have an obstetrician or gynecologist (and have a baby)” just to avoid this ridiculously overbroad and arbitrary law, Choudhry convincingly argues.

The “second generation born abroad” problem dates back to the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah. After the then-Conservative government helped evacuate Canadian citizens from Lebanon, a few of the evacuees turned up in the news kvetching about the quality of the service. Some had tenuous connections to Canada. People got angry about “citizens of convenience,” and the government hatched this very blunt solution: Henceforth, no Canadian citizen who wasn’t born in Canada could pass on citizenship to any foreign-born children of their own.

The absurd results are particularly visible within families. Burgess has a younger sister who was born in Edmonton; if Philip was her Hong Kong-born baby, he would automatically be eligible for a passport. And it doesn’t even solve the issue that the Lebanon situation flagged. If Gregory and Viktoriya had made a three-week trip to Canada to give birth and returned immediately to Hong Kong, precisely nothing useful would have been accomplished vis-à-vis Canadian citizenship.

Luckily, there is an obvious solution other than simply letting Canadians pass down citizenship in perpetuity, no questions asked: Part of the process of naturalizing as a Canadian citizen is proving your substantial ongoing connection to the country. Why not simply ask the same of Gregory Burgess and other Canadians who have done nothing wrong except take a job overseas, fall in love and make what they assumed would be a brand-new Canadian?

The lawsuit is one last opportunity for the government finally to pull its thumb out and fix the problem. Arguing for the status quo in court would be especially humiliating for a Liberal government, wedded as it is to the internationalist vision of Canada in the world. But having followed this file for some years now, I’m sorry to say that’s the most likely outcome. If so, I intend to write more about this idiot law and its victims in the new year.


Selley: Justin Trudeau’s symbolic agenda collides with itself at the Supreme Court

Can’t satisfy all groups on a nine-member court (more latitude with respect to all judicial appointments where government, as per the contrast between the 2016 baseline and subsequent appointments highlights. And while symbolism is important, the harder work lies with reducing inequalities and long-standing issues:

A few headlines from the past week: “Justice Mahmud Jamal is first person of colour nominated to the Supreme Court of Canada” (CBCthe Toronto Star, and The Guardian). “ ‘Taunted and harassed’ as a youth, judge Mahmud Jamal receives historic Supreme Court nomination” (CTV and the National Post, quoting Jamal’s application statement). “Judge Mahmud Jamal, who finished high school in Edmonton, nominated to Supreme Court of Canada” (the Edmonton Journal, scoring the all-important local angle).

The first sentence in The Globe and Mail’s story mentions that Jamal is a “frequently cited author on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” We learn later on about his copious qualifications and impressive record as a jurist. But the second sentence explains a conflict: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was “under pressure from minority and Indigenous organizations to make the Supreme Court more diverse.” And so “the Indigenous Bar Association is disappointed.”

The Supreme Court has some pretty spicy meatballs on its plate, not least the future of certain religious practices in certain parts of Quebec’s public service, and will have more spicy meatballs in the future. The retiring Rosalie Abella is no ordinary Supreme Court justice, but rather the standard-bearer for a very activist and flexible brand of judge. We might hear more about Jamal’s approach when he meets with parliamentary committees. But surely it’s odd how much more we seem to care about who he is than about how he thinks or how he might rule.

Justin Trudeau isn’t the first prime minister to be concerned with the symbolism of his appointments, and nor have the Canadian media only recently acquired an interest. Globe and Mail headline writers greeted Bertha Wilson’s appointment in 1982 with “First woman is appointed to Canada’s top court” (March 5). (This was followed by “Woman judge still avoiding press” (March 9) and finally “Woman justice to take oath” (March 26).) Abella’s and Louise Charron’s appointments in 2004 were hailed for approaching near-gender-parity on the top bench.

This is all for the good, to a large extent. In a jury trial, we are ostensibly judged by our peers. We shouldn’t want judges to be members of an exalted class. Ideally, the jurisprudence they create would reflect the full scope of Canadian experiences — of class, race, ethnicity, faith and so on.

But it’s not a stretch to say that Trudeau — Mr. “Because it’s 2015″ — is more obsessed with symbolism than is typical. And sometimes it makes his life far more difficult than it needs to be. On the Supreme Court, his wish to appoint an Indigenous justice runs smack into his pledge never to appoint a justice who can’t manage a hearing in both official languages — which is to say, his wish to placate Quebec nationalists at every possible turn.

“A fully bilingual Indigenous candidate who also meets regional requirements and conventions” is a very tough order to fill, as many articles in the press have explained. Fewer articles have noted how far offside this requirement is with Trudeau’s reconciliation agenda. Trudeau’s new rule for judges doesn’t just discount Indigenous languages entirely; it also demands Indigenous lawyers learn not just one settler tongue fluently, but both! In a recent interview with APTN, Harry LaForme, Canada’s first Indigenous appellate court judge, likened the policy to the assimilation of children at residential schools. It would be very awkward, if only more people noticed.

You see a somewhat different problem when it comes to the unfilled vacancy at Rideau Hall, which is seeing similar demands for a minority or Indigenous appointment. Either would be fine, obviously, just so long as they’re not on a mission to do anything other than be the Queen’s representative on Canadian soil. You can just imagine Trudeau and his advisers struggling with the concept, even after Julie Payette’s flameout and Paul Martin’s near-miss with obvious-separatist Michaëlle Jean. This is a chance to make a splash, to send a message!

But the returns diminish. Real people who need real improvements in their lives cannot be impressed by symbolism. And weakness for symbolism makes us overlook things. It’s a distraction. Many of Trudeau’s detractors, especially to his left, would suggest it has distracted him from actually making significant progress on issues central to his brand, and to which these symbolic appointments are meant to nod.

A pledge to eliminate boil-water advisories on reserves is worthless without eliminating boil-water advisories. Adopting or not adopting the UN declaration on Indigenous rights is worthless without implementing what’s in it. At some point after accepting the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which had a whole section on unmarked and forgotten children’s gravesites, someone was going to have to pony up the money to look for those gravesites. It took until now.

I often argue there are maddeningly few fundamental differences between Liberal governance and Conservative governance in Canada — certainly not nearly enough to justify the intensity of the battles between them. Privileging action and disdaining empty symbolism is one principle Canadian conservatives should guard jealously, even if they don’t always apply it consistently themselves. It’s the only way to help real people with real problems.


Chris Selley: Don’t you start with the ‘Quebec-bashing’ accusations, Justin Trudeau

Of note:

Certain Quebec politicians and commentators are terribly insulted on the province’s behalf. No need to hold the front page; it’s the same basic melodrama as always.

As is his wont, University of Ottawa professor and Twitter fanatic Amir Attaran has been infuriating people. This time, he tweeted mean things about Quebec: it is “led by a white supremacist government”; it’s “the Alabama of the north”; he accused the hospital employees caught on video verbally torturing Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw woman who died in a Lanaudière hospital last year, of carrying out a “medical lynching.”

As is their wont, Quebec nationalists including Premier François Legault and Parti Québécois leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon demand satisfaction. “I ask you to condemn publicly Mr. Attaran’s words and apologize to Quebecers,” Plamondon wrote to U of O president and vice-chancellorJacques Frémont. “I also ask you to intervene (to ensure) he stops this behaviour, and to apply proportional sanctions.”

As is its wont, U of O did what a university should not: offered an opinion. “I deplore these kinds of highly polarizing statements made in public forums,” Frémont wrote back to Plamondon.

At least Frémont declined to discipline Attaran. And his response wasn’t all bad: “Freedom of expression, we will agree, is not a buffet where one can pick and choose what kind of speech is deemed acceptable,” he wrote — a fine statement in principle, and in theory quite a good comeback. Quebec nationalists have recently adopted freedom of expression, academic and otherwise, as a major cause, lest (as Legault recently put it) “radical militants” send “censorship spilling out into our political debates and our media.”

In practice, however, Quebec’s notion of academic freedom tends to evaporate precisely at the moment it wounds the collective amour propre. Thus, many in Quebec who deplored the suspension of U of O professor Verushka Lieutenant-Duval for using the N-word in an academic context now want Attaran’s ears boxed. Four years ago, some of the same people successfully demanded Andrew Potter’s departure from McGill’s Institute for the Study of Canada for suggesting a “malaise (was) eating away at … Quebec society.”

Also in practice, Frémont, who was happy to throw Lieutenant-Duval to the wolves (she was later reinstated), is in no position to be making such pronouncements. And it did no good anyway: In a Monday press conference with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the topic of broadband funding, Legault said he was disappointed Frémont hadn’t condemned Attaran more harshly.

If anyone’s behaving a little differently than usual in this rote performance, it’s Trudeau. “Enough of the Quebec-bashing,” he said at the press conference, borrowing a phrase most commonly used by nationalists — including against him and his government.

When it comes to harsh allegations of racism against Canadian institutions , “Quebec bashing” is largely a misnomer. Trudeau knows very well they aren’t only directed at Quebec and Quebecers. In 2017 the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto called Trudeau “a white supremacist terrorist.” Reactions to Trudeau’s blackface problem were replete with such charges. Among Indigenous activists, the terminology of structural racism is de rigueur. And Trudeau uses it himself.

“There is systemic discrimination in Canada, which means our systems treat Canadians of colour … differently than they do others,” he said last year, responding to protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

The real difference is that Quebec is uniquely sensitive to criticism in general, and bizarrely resistant specifically to the notion that state apparatuses might have discrimination baked into them that can manifest irrespective of any individual actor’s intentions.

“This is yet another example of systemic racism,” Trudeau said of Echaquan’s death at the time.

Legault responded with a perfect circle of logic. “My role as premier … is to bring Quebecers together, to take action … to fight racism,” he said. He didn’t want to “alienate the large number of Quebecers who think there is no systemic racism in Quebec.”

The Liberals have pulled off a neat trick throughout Quebec’s 15-year battle over minority religious rights, which has culminated (for now) in Bill 21, the ban on teachers, Crown attorneys and some other civil servants wearing hijabs and turbans and kippas: They have maintained their “party of the Charter” brand, opposing such restrictions with while not suffering much for it in Quebec.

On the issue of Bill 21, Trudeau hardly covered himself in glory during the 2019 campaign: “I am the only one on the stage who has said ‘yes: a federal government might have to intervene on this’,” he half-heartedly boasted during a leaders’ debate. But it was slightly further than Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh who wears a turban, would go, and much further than stalwart religious-rights defender Andrew Scheer would. The Conservatives lost two seats in Quebec; the NDP lost 15. Trudeau kept his job, with plenty of Quebec MPs behind him.

The Conservatives are accelerating their pitch. Erin O’Toole’s Saturday keynote speech at the Conservatives’ convention reiterated special promises to Quebec: a single tax-return (which it could have now if it just agreed to have Ottawa collect the money) and expanding French language laws into areas of federal jurisdiction, based on no compelling evidence that French (as opposed to unilingualism) is imperilled in Quebec. It’s an unsavoury and quite likely doomed endeavour.

The Liberals’ advantage here is by no means entirely earned: The party’s various Montreal fortresses aren’t impregnable for any especially good reason. But that’s all the more reason for them to stay well away from the sandbox of nationalist grievances. It’s one of the few scraps of principle any federal political party has left.


Chris Selley: Official nonsense on masks, travel bans is killing Ottawa’s COVID-19 credibility

From armchair generals to armchair public health officials. Given recent Ekos and Angus Reid polls, most Canadians appear overall pleased with the their federal and provincial government responses despite the delayed in response and the changing risk assessments and thus evolving measures.

As always, hindsight is 2020. And one of the benchmarks is with respect to how other countries have handled the pandemic where Canada lags of course South Korea but it ahead or in tandem with many European countries.

But I do think that Trudeau could be more open about acknowledging delays in hindsight, for both substantive and communications reasons:

On Saturday, the federal government announced passengers with COVID-19 symptoms would be barred from domestic air and train travel, effective noon on Monday. “It will be important for operators of airlines and trains to ensure that people who are exhibiting symptoms do not board,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters.

Does that make sense? It’s a question Canadians seem to be asking more and more about this country’s coronavirus response. And for governments and public health officials, it’s a dangerous one. All too often, the answer is “no.”

“What about buses?” many asked on social media of Saturday’s announcement. Buses are provincial jurisdiction, the feds noted. “What about ferries?” asked the Canadian Ferry Association. Good question. Ferries are Transport Canada’s business. No answer yet. Mind you, transport operators don’t yet have any guidance on how exactly they’re supposed to “ensure” symptomatic people don’t travel. It doesn’t make much sense.

Furthermore, we have been told over and over again that any measures carriers might implement — temperature sensors, for example — simply don’t work. “The positive predictive value of screening is essentially zero,” the authors of a widely cited 2005 study reported, based on Canadian airports’ experience with thermal scanners during the 2003 SARS outbreak.

One of the authors of that study was Theresa Tam, who is now Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer. She’s the one doling out all the science that Trudeau insists underpins every single decision he and his ministers make: “Our focus every step of the way is doing what (is) necessary at every moment based on the recommendations of experts, based on science and doing what we can to keep Canadians safe,” the prime minister said Monday.

It’s more than a bit awkward — but not as awkward as federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu’s immortal March 13th dismissal of travel restrictions: “Canadians think we can stop this at the border, but what we see is a global pandemic, meaning that border measures actually are highly ineffective and in some cases can create harm.” Five days later, the border slammed shut.

We are to believe all of the positions above were supported by the same scientific experts. That doesn’t make sense. Clearly the experts supported the more lenient measures, and then politics intervened.

Clearly the experts supported the more lenient measures, and then politics intervened

Appearing before the Health Committee on January 29, Tam strongly dismissed the notion even of having all travellers from COVID-19 hot zones self-isolate for 14 days. She warned against “stigmatizing” communities. She very nearly suggested we couldn’t implement travel restrictions even if we wanted to. “Right now… (the World Health Organization) does not recommend travel bans,” she warned the committee. “We are a signatory to the International Health Regulations and we’ll be called to account if we do anything different.”

The WHO still recommends against travel restrictions, even to and from especially affected countries. No one seems to be “calling us to account.”

It could well be that by the time Canadians started calling for travel restrictions, it was already too late to implement useful ones. That’s what research generally concludes. But research also acknowledges the political inevitability of travel crackdowns. They just make too much sense to too many people. Federal ministers and public health officials recklessly undermined themselves by so forcefully rejecting measures that made so much sense to so many people.

“Security theatre can be dangerous — but the absence of security theatre can be dangerous too,” Martha Pillinger, an associate at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, wrote in Foreign Policy last month. “Apparent inaction (or insufficient action) erodes trust in public health authorities, which undermines response efforts.”

Indeed, Tam is asking a lot of Canadians to set aside a lot of common sense right now. There is ample evidence that face masks — even homemade ones— can provide significant protection to the uninfected. But Tam warns only of the potential pitfalls: Masks can provide “a false sense of security,” lead to more face-touching or make us forget to wash our hands. “Putting a mask on an asymptomatic person is not beneficial,” she said at her Monday press conference.

That makes sense to a lot of medical professionals. A lot of regular people, however, are pretty sure they know how to wash their hands and not touch their faces. When officials say “masks don’t work,” a lot of regular people hear “we have an inexcusable shortage of masks for frontline healthcare workers so please give us your masks.” When officials say “you don’t need to be tested,” they are likely to hear “we have inexcusably few tests available and not enough lab capacity to process the ones we have.”

Officials recklessly undermined themselves by so forcefully rejecting measures that made so much sense to so many people

On Sunday, Tam sternly advised Canadians against retreating to any “rural properties” they might own. “These places have less capacity to manage COVID-19,” she told reporters in Ottawa. That makes sense, as do concerns about straining off-season supply chains. But let’s say you’ve been extremely careful. You’re symptom free. You pack up a week’s worth of groceries, drive 90 minutes or two hours non-stop to your cottage, camp, farm or chalet, and don’t interact with a single other human being. How dangerous, how irresponsible could that really be? If the cottage is good enough for Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and the kids, who beetled off to Harrington Lake on Sunday, some people might conclude it’s good enough for them.

Public health officials want to prevent people from asking such questions, from making excuses for themselves, in hopes the maximum number of people will take the maximum precautions. They need smart people to forsake relatively low-risk things in order to counterbalance all the dumb people who do high-risk things no matter what they’re told. None of the measures will ever make perfect sense in every single situation. They are calls to collective sacrifice for the greater good. But they can’t keep changing on the fly, with no explanation other than “the experts got more worried overnight,” and remain credible.

On Monday, Trudeau declined even to say he regretted not moving quicker on measures he now insists are essential.

Does that make sense? No, that doesn’t make sense.

Source: Chris Selley: Official nonsense on masks, travel bans is killing Ottawa’s COVID-19 credibility

Chris Selley: Politicians need to stop insulting our intelligence if we’re going to survive

Remarkable how quickly things develop.

Chris Selley’s sensible commentary on irregular arrivals and slamming of the main CPC leadership contenders on their playing to their base is suddenly moot given the government managed to successfully negotiate an end, on a temporary basis, to the STCA loophole that allowed asylum claimants from between official border crossings (Roxham Road).

Ending the exemption was something the Conservatives tried to negotiate but were unable to do so in 2010 (A tougher refugee border pact? America said no. – Macleans.Canada (which Conservatives and their supporters tend to conveniently forget).

Not surprisingly, the surprise announcement provoked considerable commentary, ranging from partisan sniping, support, raising concern or expressing outrage:

Selley’s piece:

If we’re going to come out the other side of this virus nightmare relatively unscathed, it is imperative that Canada keeps its eyes on the prize: social distancing, food and medicine supplies, rapidly boosting hospital capacity, rolling out financial aid. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Canada got distracted: Suddenly it was controversial-to-scandalous that the officially illegal but well-trodden path between New York State and Quebec along Roxham Road would remain “open” to asylum-seekers, even as the Canada-U.S. border was otherwise largely “closed.”

“Instead of turning people away, we’re letting them in and paying for their health care and quarantine,” harrumphed Peter MacKay, presumed frontrunner in a Conservative leadership race that becomes more inappropriate with every passing hour. “There are concerns about having enough equipment just for our own citizens. This needs to stop now.” MacKay’s rival Erin O’Toole demanded that we “secure our border immediately.” Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet called on the government to “close all irregular entry points without delay.”

It is entirely understandable that Roxham Road infuriates people. But what exactly are these three men proposing? We could park a couple of tanks there, deploy some of our more hulking soldiers to glower southward. That might scare a few people off. We could build a wall. Unfortunately there are such things as maps, and maps show there are dozens of other potential Roxham Roads between Quebec and New York State and Vermont that border-crossers could illegally use instead — to say nothing of the wee ditch that marks the border in much of the Prairies.

At some point, assuming Canadian courts sign off on the idea, Washington may agree to “take back” those who cross illegally into Canada. Like it or not, that’s a potential long-term solution. But the border is not securable, and has never been secure. The only difference between now and the time when MacKay and O’Toole were cabinet ministers is that instead of a few hundred people a year clambering across the border and claiming asylum, it’s a few hundred people a week — and almost all of them in one place.

Indeed, as absurd a spectacle as Roxham Road presents, it has the benefit of making an insoluble problem — thousands of kilometres of undefended, geographically unthreatening border, and thousands of people hellbent on crossing it — as manageable as possible. Of the 1,100 irregular border-crossers the RCMP dealt with in January this year, just 14 crossed outside Quebec. That’s of even more benefit during a pandemic: We can monitor arrivals for symptoms and insist they self-quarantine just like everyone else — precisely the measures federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced Tuesday — and be reasonably sure no one is slipping through the net (such as it is).

The feds certainly could have done better, quicker. As was the case at airports, federal officials do not seem to have been implementing or communicating provincial coronavirus policies to people who needed to hear them. Quebec Premier François Legault strongly recommended 14 days of self-isolation for all foreign arrivals last Wednesday; as of the following Tuesday morning, six days later, according to Customs and Immigration Union president Jean-Pierre Fortin, irregular arrivals were not being told to self-quarantine. That is frustrating to say the least. But assuming the new federal policies are being implemented, they are about the best we can hope to make of this situation.

Basically, we’ve got 99 problems, but Roxham Road ain’t one. It is singularly unhelpful, borderline insulting, for people like O’Toole and MacKay to pretend otherwise.

In other news (and speaking of insulting), it turns out it is in fact possible to distinguish between a truck full of potatoes and a minivan full of senior citizens — contrary to what the federal Liberals had implied on Monday, when their new travel ban inexplicably exempted Americans. “Canadians and Americans cross the border every day to do essential work or for urgent reasons. That will not be impacted,” Trudeau assured us in his Wednesday press conference, but tourism would be verboten. This brings Canada’s coronavirus border policy vis-à-vis Americans roughly in line with its policy for other countries, which was announced Monday.

It is entirely understandable that the question of Americans might take a little longer to hammer out. You want to make double-sure you’re not going to impede essential travel; you do not want to risk enraging the president.

But that doesn’t excuse the standard-issue political spin reporters got from senior government ministers on Monday, when asked about a policy that — as it stood — made no sense whatsoever. We were to believe it was impossible to separate commercial from non-commercial traffic. We were to take solace that no American tourists would come anyway, which is just as true of tourists from everywhere else in the world. It did not inspire much confidence.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu came closest to explaining what was actually going on: “What we do on the American border is going to have to be done thoughtfully and in partnership with our American cousins,” she said at one point — and, later, “we’ll have more to say in the days to come.” That’s all she or any of her colleagues needed to say.

Source: Chris Selley: Politicians need to stop insulting our intelligence if we’re going to survive

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