Stephens: What Should Conservatives Conserve?

Of interest and relevance even if the conclusion is likely over-optimistic:

In 1990, V.S. Naipaul delivered a celebrated lecture on the subject of “Our Universal Civilization.” The Berlin Wall had fallen, liberal democracy was ascendant, and Naipaul wanted to reflect on what the universal civilization — by which he meant the West — meant for someone like him, a Hindu son of colonial Trinidad who had made his way “from the periphery to the center” to become one of the great novelists of his time.

Naipaul intended his lecture as a celebration of the West. But he sensed an undercurrent of disquiet, which he found expressed in Nahid Rachlin’s 1978 novel, “Foreigner.” The book is about an Iranian woman who works in Boston as a biologist and seems well assimilated to American life. But on a return visit to Tehran she loses her mental balance and falls ill. The cure, it turns out, is religion.

“We can see that the young woman was not prepared for the movement between civilizations,” Naipaul observed, “the movement out of the shut-in Iranian world, where the faith was the complete way, filled everything, left no spare corner of the mind or will or soul, to the other world, where it was necessary to be an individual and responsible.”

I’ve been thinking of Naipaul and Rachlin while reading Sohrab Ahmari’s new book, “The Unbroken Thread.” Ahmari, now the op-ed editor of The New York Post, is a friend and former colleague with whom I’ve had a political falling out. About three years ago, he made an abrupt switch from being a NeverTrump conservative, railing against the new illiberalism, to being something of a new illiberal himself, railing against “nice” conservatives who, he believes, fail to appreciate that rights-based liberalism is a sucker’s game that only the left can win.

Ahmari’s elegantly written book matters because it seeks to give moral voice to what so far has mainly been a populist scream against the values of elite liberalism, above all its disdain for limits, from moral taboos to national borders to religious rituals. His device is a series of capsule biographies of important thinkers — Confucius, Seneca, Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Abraham Joshua Heschel and Andrea Dworkin, among others — who led richer lives by observing and celebrating the limits.

There’s much to admire here, particularly in the fact that many of Ahmari’s exemplars chose the lives they did, swimming against the current of their times.

The same might be said of Ahmari himself, an immigrant from Iran who arrived in America in impoverished circumstances, rose swiftly up the ranks of conservative intelligentsia, bounced between Seattle, Boston, London and New York, converted to Catholicism and switched from neoconservatism to paleoconservatism — all by his mid-30s.

It’s a trajectory that resembles Naipaul’s. But Ahmari has a political purpose at odds with the personal one. He’s grown disenchanted with the society that has provided him with such a bounty of choice.

He frets that his son will grow up to become a member of a ruthlessly meritocratic but spiritually vacuous Western elite. He mourns North Dakota’s decision to abandon its blue law against doing business on Sundays. He laments that the “American order enshrines very few substantive ideals I would want to transmit to my son.”

In short, Ahmari, rather like the protagonist in Rachlin’s novel, thinks it would be better to put some limits on choice, not just for himself but for others as well.

There’s a charge of hypocrisy to be made here, to which Ahmari partially owns up. What he doesn’t mention is that his admiration for the unflinching high-mindedness of a Heschel or an Aquinas somehow didn’t stop him from becoming a late but enthusiastic convert to the cult of Donald Trump — that is, of the hedonistic bully.

But the larger charge against Ahmari’s book is its failure of moral and political imagination. Choice is no enemy of morality. It’s a precondition for it. It’s why, theologically speaking, temptation must exist. It’s why America, for all of its flaws, tends toward a certain kind of easygoing decency. It’s also why virtue-obsessed countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia tend to be so publicly brutal and so privately corrupt.

Ahmari’s larger falsehood is that the American order transmits few substantive ideals. “This idea of the pursuit of happiness is at the heart of the attractiveness of the civilization to so many outside it or on its periphery,” Naipaul said in that speech.

“So much is contained in it: the idea of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectibility and achievement. It is an immense human idea. It cannot be reduced to a fixed system. It cannot generate fanaticism.”

Today, what remains of conservative intelligentsia is split. On one side are those who think that what conservatism should revert to is a kind of anti-liberalism, in the reactionary 19th-century European tradition. On the other, there are those who believe that the purpose of American conservatism is to conserve the substantive principles of 1776 — that is, of the open mind and the ever more open society.

Naipaul could have set Ahmari straight: The universal civilization “is known to exist, and because of that, other more rigid systems in the end blow away.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/03/opinion/what-should-conservatives-conserve.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

Huq: The Conservative Case Against Banning Critical Race Theory

Good questioning conservative “snowflake” discomfort:

By the end of June, 29 Republican-led state legislatures had considered and nine had enacted laws to penalize schools or teachers teaching critical race theory(CRT). Whether or not such laws would stifle anything taught in public schools today is uncertain because existing legislative control over curricula is already extensive. But the war against CRT is spilling into new arenas: Florida’s anti-CRT law forces colleges to survey how “competing ideas and perspectives” are presented, threatening funding cuts if a university is “indoctrinating.”

A paradox lies at this largely conservative campaign against CRT. If you slice through the rhetoric, it rests on a view of free speech that the political right, until now, stridently and correctly rejected: That speech can and should be curtailed because it makes some people feel uncomfortable or threatened. As a result, perhaps the most powerful argument against CRT’s critics is located on the political right, particularly in a recent opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, one of the most conservative members of the Supreme Court.
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Consider first how varied and inconsistent the portrayals of CRT on offer are. The Republic Study Committee defines CRT as a belief in “racial essentialism.” In contrast, Ellie Krasne of the Heritage Foundation postulates that CRT is “rooted in Marxism,” and so defines race as “a social construct, enforced by those in power (white men).” Similarly, the Manhattan Institute’s Christopher Rufo talks of CRT as “identity-based Marxism.” He detects it whenever terms such as “social justice” and “diversity and inclusion” are used, and so sees it “permeat[ing] the collective intelligence and decision-making process of American government” in advance of a socialist uprising.

Turn to the newly-minted laws, and one finds yet other, quite different depictions. Florida’s, for example, defines it as any “theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice.” Idaho’s characterizes CRT as teaching that treats people as “inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same … race.”

These definitions of CRT can’t be reconciled. None offer clear guiderails to what precisely it means to ban CRT—No more talk of race as an identity? No discussion of laws or institutions that create racial stratification? Taken literally, some of the definitions also extend absurdly far. Florida’s could prohibit Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago economist Gary Becker’s work on discrimination, because Becker identifies market concentration and education (not “merely” prejudice) as causal predicates of discrimination.

Perhaps it’s a mistake to look for a stable definition of CRT threading together the case against it. For at the core of the case against CRT is instead the simple idea that people shouldn’t be made to feel uncomfortable about their advantages or others’ disadvantages. This is a version of the “belief in a just world” that psychologists long ago identified. But here it has a partisan edge: it is about appealing to people—especially those in “swing districts” targeted by Republicans in 2022—who feel unease in their present relative advantage, but find it costly to dissect such discomfort.

Both the Idaho and the Florida laws target suggestions that someone should be responsible for disadvantages now faced by Blacks and other minorities, beyond a narrowly defined coterie of ‘bad’ discriminators. Similarly, Krasne centrally objects to being made to feel that she is “an enemy of all that is good.” Rufo complains in a similar vein about people having to write “letters of apology”—since whites have nothing to feel culpable about. As one (white) letter writer to the Laconia Daily Sunplaintively said, the problem with CRT is that it surfaces the possibility of “systems and rules that work in my favor, benefiting me every day, month and year, that are not available to anyone else in America.” Indeed.

The case against CRT, in short, is not about a fixed set of ideas. It is about wanting to avoid certain feelings of discomfort or even shame. But the right has encountered this idea before—and seemed not to like it. Until recently, commentators on the political right have claimed that universities are captured by “leftist” students who “don’t think much” about free speech, or who “don’t want to be bothered anymore by ideas that offend them.” A “jargon of safety” in universities, complained commentator Megan McCardle, is then used to “silence” those who don’t agree.

Conservatives disparage arguments made by “snowflake” college students. But the case against CRT is made of the same stuff. As such, it is subject to the same response. Hence, in a recent opinion concerning off-campus student speech, Justice Alito explained why a student’s crude rant about being excluded from a cheerleading squad could not be punished in simple terms: “Speech cannot be suppressed just because it expresses thoughts or sentiments that others find upsetting.” This is indeed the law: The Supreme Court has not allowed the state to prohibit or punish speech because it riles up an audience since 1951.

The idea that audience discomfort provides a justification for censorship, that is, is at profound odds with our free speech tradition. The case against CRT shows why: Because it turns on how an audience feels, this argument for speech bans has an indefinite, elastic quality, one that accommodates an endlessly voracious appetite for censoriousness. One of the lessons of the CRT debate, indeed, is that offense can and is taken at indubitably true facts. In many educational contexts, this would mean that either side of a hot-button issue would have the right to shut the other down.

Ironically then, if there is a lesson to be learned from the war on CRT, it has nothing to do with how to talk about race—and everything with how the Trumpian revolution continues to devour the principles of American conservatism.

Source: The Conservative Case Against Banning Critical Race Theory

Regg Cohn: When it comes to recognizing Islamophobia, some Conservatives recognize that words matter

Of note:

A massacre changes everything. And, sometimes, nothing.

Four years ago, in the face of a Quebec mosque attack that killed six Muslims at prayer, the federal Conservatives closed their eyes and their hearts to the reality — literally — of Islamophobia.

Then-leader Andrew Scheer led the charge against uttering the word Islamophobia. He relied on a pretext of free speech so specious as to be unspeakable today.

What a difference leadership makes — a change of leaders, a change of mind, a change of heart. And another massacre.

Much is being said, now, about how Scheer’s successor, Erin O’Toole, used the word Islamophobia freely and unselfconsciously after this week’s attack against a Muslim family that killed four in London, Ont. O’Toole showed the sensitivity and humanity that were conspicuously absent — in him and his party — back then.

What remains unsaid, however, is that not all Tories were so far behind the times that they were so overdue for change. At the very moment federal Conservatives were playing intemperate word games in Ottawa in 2017, their provincial cousins in the Ontario legislature were displaying tolerance and togetherness in their choice of words.

Then-leader Patrick Brown rallied his Progressive Conservative caucusbehind him to recognize and respect the term Islamophobia, unequivocally and unreservedly, in a legislative vote. How to explain the stark difference between federal and provincial Tories — and the subsequent about-face by O’Toole?

There is no single reason, but there is one common thread: Walied Soliman.

Brown and O’Toole are both close to Soliman, an influential lawyer and persuasive political operator who also happens to be a person of faith. For Soliman, as a Muslim, the massacres were also intensely personal.

“Islamophobia is real,” he wrote on Twitter this week. “Call it out. Call out anyone who doesn’t use the word. Call them out. Shame them. Cut the crap. Enough. If you’ve got a problem using the term you are part of the problem.”

Soliman has known Brown since they were both Young Tories in their twenties, and he later played a key role as Ontario PC chair, helping the party pivot toward broader community outreach. As co-chair of O’Toole’s leadership run, he raised the candidate’s game — and raised money for the campaign.

Soliman tells me he never raised the Islamophobia issue directly with either leader. Perhaps he didn’t have to, knowing that the mere fact that they know him — were thinking about him — might have influenced them.

“They came to their conclusions on their own,” Soliman insists.

But even if he didn’t have to say a word about using the word Islamophobia, they also had to look him in the eye. And they knew what his reaction would be when they said it.

“When they both started talking about it, there was this distinct feeling of happiness that I felt,” Soliman recalls. Even if it took O’Toole a lot longer to find the words, “The first time Erin publicly talked about Islamophobia, it made me very happy.”

It must be said that Soliman himself has been a target for vicious Islamophobia against the backdrop of leadership races and internal policy debates. As chair of the Norton Rose Fulbright law firm — where he has worked with Brian Mulroney, another early champion of tolerance — his high profile attracted slurs about a supposedly hidden agenda for Islamic sharia law.

“I’ve often wondered if my friendships were a burden, that maybe it’d be easier for them if I wasn’t involved, wasn’t a friend,” Soliman muses. But when a person is a friend or a neighbour, he inevitably has influence because “you see them every day, you see their humanity — that’s me.”

The old Conservative word games — the claim in 2017 that Islamophobia was a made-up word because it literally suggests “fear of Islam” — never made sense. Everyone knows what homophobia means to gays who faced discrimination and demonization for centuries, which is why Soliman encouraged Brown to march in a Pride parade.

Not every word must be taken literally. Misogyny means hatred of women, but it is often used interchangeably with sexism, referring to prejudice, discrimination and contempt. The term anti-Semitism is only about 150 years old, but “Jew hatred” goes back centuries and makes the point more powerfully.

The Muslim family killed in London this week had immigrated to Canada from the Islamic State of Pakistan in search of sanctuary. They thought they had found it here, only to be blindsided by bigotry and intolerance, police say, on the streets — on the sidewalk — of an Ontario city.

We live in a time of slogans and slurs. We cannot coexist in a world where words are weaponized or accountability is avoided altogether.

Hate crimes are rising, not falling, but there is a way for us to insulate and inoculate ourselves. It falls to our political leaders to show the way on civility and tolerance, lest we fall victim to the internecine intolerance that we witness in America today.

Democracy alone cannot protect minorities from the perils of majority rule. Only pluralism can preserve our common humanity.

Our leaders must say what needs to be said — on Islamophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and discrimination that badmouth the “other.” And that lead to massacres.

Words matter. Leadership matters.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/politics/political-opinion/2021/06/09/when-it-comes-to-recognizing-islamophobia-some-conservatives-recognize-that-words-matter.html

In Fight Over 1619 Project and Nikole Hannah-Jones, White Ignorance Has Been Bliss—and Power

Of note, particularly the historical reminders and context:

Hell hath no fury like a white conservative confronted with the unvarnished history of slavery and racism in America.

For nearly two solid years, right-wing reactionaries have been apoplectic over the 1619 Project, a journalistic exploration of the indelible impact of Black enslavement on these United States put together by New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. The same angry mob has also attacked a heretofore obscure, four-decades-old analytical methodology for understanding the institutionalism of white supremacy and anti-Black racism called Critical Race Theory.

The white conservative rage has been prolific, producing two House bills seeking to ban CRT and other “anti-American and racist theories” along with legislation in about a dozen states. The Trump administration put out its own 1776 Report, meant to “correct” the 1619 Project—which the American Historical Association called “simplistic” and full of “falsehoods, inaccuracies, omissions, and misleading statements.” Now the mob is vilifying Pulitzer Prize-winner Hannah-Jones, getting the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to cravenly retract a tenured position offer, replacing it with a five-year professor of practice contract.

All of these efforts obviously aim to re-center the white supremacist historical fable that roughly 350 years of slavery and Jim Crow were unfortunate—but inconsequential—events in an America of full equality of opportunity, where any difference between the races could only be a result of Black laziness and white superiority. That fairy tale speaks volumes about how desperately reliant white supremacy is on maintaining white ignorance. You just can’t have one without the other. It’s that embrace of ignorance that lets these racists ignore the long tradition of mandated white ignorance they’re now trying to extend into the future.

“White ignorance,” according to NYU philosopher Charles W. Mills, is an “inverted epistemology,” a deep dedication to and investment in non-knowingthat explains white supremacy’s highly curatorial (and often oppositional) approach to memory, history and the truth. While white ignorance is related to the anti-intellectualism that defines the white Republican brand, it should be regarded as yet more specific. According to Mills, white ignorance demands a purposeful misunderstanding of reality—both present and historical—and then treats that fictitious world-view as the singular, de-politicized, unbiased, “objective” truth. “One has to learn to see the world wrongly,” under the terms of white ignorance, Mills writes, “but with the assurance that this set of mistaken perceptions will be validated by white epistemic authority.”

To challenge that epistemic authority with uncomfortable but verifiable facts about race and racism guarantees the wrath of those who are otherwise quick to claim “facts don’t care about your feelings.” The 1619 Project has required tweaks and corrections. But the wholesale discounting of the initiative by white conservatives, who ignored the sloppy, error-filled 1776 Report, is more than a classic display of hypocrisy. It’s a testament to how deeply critical white ignorance is to white supremacy.

In reality—not the manicured “reality” of white supremacist historical delusion, but bonafide existence—historical fact has always hurt the feelings of white supremacists. In response, they have consistently used self-serving lies of omission to make themselves feel better. Were they less averse to historical truth, today’s white conservatives might already know this.

They’d perhaps be aware that the United Daughters of the Confederacy—the white Southern ladies group that put up most Confederate monuments, including one explicitly lauding the Ku Klux Klan—released a 1919 manifesto in all but name demanding “all authorities charged with the selection of textbooks for colleges, schools and all scholastic institutions” across the South only accept books depicting the Confederacy glowingly. Conversely, those books that correctly identified Confederate soldiers as traitors or rebels, rightly located slavery as the central cause of the Civil War, depicted the figure of the “slaveholder as cruel or unjust to his slaves,” or “glories Lincoln and vilifies Jefferson Davis,” were to be rejected. The UDC ordered school librarians to deface books that were insufficiently praiseful of the Confederacy by scrawling “Unjust to the South” on the title page. Well into the 1970s, these rules dictated the history lessons taught to Southern children, both Black and white. The group’s rewriting of history to make slavery benign, Black resistance invisible, and white terror no biggie—also known as the ahistorical Lost Cause myth—is being re-engineered for this moment.

Modern complaints about so-called “cancel culture” and political correctness are also linked to white ignorance, allowing the know-nothings who wield it to deny the harms of whiteness while turning themselves into victims of overly aggressive Black declarations of personhood. Across the 1940s and ’50s, the NAACP campaigned to purge racist language from history books, targeting passages that extolled the KKK and references to enslaved Black folks as happy “Sambos.” In response, the Washington Post dismissed their concerns as “humorless touchiness,” an old-timey way of calling them snowflakes. One WaPo editorial stated that to “insist that Negroes be given equal rights with other citizens is one thing. To insist that their particular sensibilities entitle them to exercise a kind of censorship is quite another.”

It took the longest student strike in U.S. history, held in 1968 at San Francisco State College, to finally get collegiate ethnic studies, which have been under attack ever since. To wit, in 2010, Arizona legally banned Mexican American Studies until a judge forced the state to overturn the unconstitutional policy, while the perennial fight over textbook history in Texas led to textbooks that in 2015 featured a section titled “Patterns of Immigration,” stating “the Atlantic slave trade from the 1500s to the 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.” In addition to a bill to prohibit the teaching of the 1619 Project currently making its way through the Texas legislature, conservatives in the state are trying to ensure minimal mention of slavery or anti-Mexican discrimination in textbooks and pushing legislation to create an 1836 Project to “promote patriotic education.”

“Do you want our Texas kids to be taught that the system of government in the United States and Texas is nothing but a cover-up for white supremacy?” State legislator Steve Toth reportedly asked his Congressional colleagues.

And here, Toth is doing what white conservatives actually do with surprising frequency, which is screaming the supposedly quiet part. It’s an admission that by merely telling the whole story and including all the facts, the long and carefully maintained narrative of white innocence—a kind of perpetual white alibi—is disrupted. White ignorance is basically just a “refusal to recognize the long history of structural discrimination that has left whites with the differential resources they have today” creating a fake “equal status and a common history in which all have shared, with white privilege being conceptually erased.” The intentional know-nothingness of white ignorance “serves to neutralize demands for antidiscrimination initiatives or for a redistribution of resources.” Instead, it holds that “the real racists are the Blacks who continue to insist on the importance of race.”

So we have Florida Gov. Ron Desantis declaring the 1619 Project is “basically teaching kids to hate our country and to hate each other based on race,” and Tom Cotton, who performatively introduced a bill last year to ban the 1619 Project in schools, complaining the initiative paints the U.S. as “a systemically racist country” instead of “a great and noble country founded on the proposition that all mankind is created equal.” Earlier this month, during a press conference for the Stop Critical Race Theory Act, co-sponsor Dan Bishop called the academic theory “a smokescreen for racism” and a “divisive ideology that threatens to poison the American psyche.” Marjorie Taylor-Greene, who of course was also there added, “These are the things that we overcame in the civil rights era and I’m so proud that we did.”

White conservatives only get real into anti-racism lip service when the reality of white racism threatens to blow up their spot. That’s surely why in April, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona labeling the 1619 Project “activist indoctrination that fixates solely on past flaws and splits our nation into divided camps.”

“My view—and I think most Americans think—dates like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Civil War are sort of the basic tenets of American history,” McConnell said in remarks earlier this month. “There are a lot of exotic notions about what are the most important points in American history. I simply disagree with the notion that the New York Times laid out there that the year was one of those years. I think that issue that we all are concerned about—racial discrimination—it was our original sin. We’ve been working for 200-and-some-odd years to get past it. We’re still working on it, and I just simply don’t think that’s part of the core underpinning of what American civic education ought to be about.”

That sure is a long-winded way of advising folks to stick to the white supremacist storyline. McConnell is unwittingly offering an example of how, as Charles Eagles writes, “the powerful can make decisions that actually “strive for a goal of stupidity,” rather than for genuine education. Under the guise of protecting children, imposing an engineered ignorance protects the privileged by preserving the status quo and by releasing leaders from responsibility… Too much knowledge could lead to troubling questions and a loss of control of the classroom, and the elite feared the unknown results.”

The price for not adhering to those rules is that white conservatives (give it up for The Real Kings of Cancel Culture, everybody!) will do all they can to have you blackballed, legally banned, discredited and defamed. Jay Schalin, of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, a right-wing think tank that led the charge against Hannah-Jones, maligned the 1619 Project as mere “political agitation”—inadvertently suggesting he already knows the horrors of American slavery and racism are reasons to be furious. Schalin and his co-conspirators, to protect white ignorance, went after Hannah-Jones. It all brings to mind yet more ignored history, cited by Mills, about how the terms of enslavement included that “Blacks were generally denied the right to testify against whites, because they were not seen as credible witnesses, so when the only (willing) witnesses to white crimes were Black, these crimes would not be brought to light… Moreover, in many cases, even if witnesses would have been given some kind of grudging hearing, they were terrorized into silence by the fear of white retaliation.”

Silence was the end goal then, and it’s the goal now, as a means of preserving white ignorance—which is to say plausible deniability. But the work of Hannah-Jones and folks like Kimberlé Crenshaw, an architect of CRT (and so much more) are undoing myths that are difficult to perfectly assemble without the cracks showing.

“If Black testimony could be aprioristically rejected because it was likely to be false,” Mills notes, “it could also be aprioristically rejected because it was likely to be true.”

Source: In Fight Over 1619 Project and Nikole Hannah-Jones, White Ignorance Has Been Bliss—and Power

Conservatives Back Bloc Québécois Push To Make French The Mandatory Language For Quebec Immigrants

Pandering. Quebec already selects its economic class immigrants where it sets language criteria. Citizenship is exclusive federal jurisdiction which the Conservatives know and should respect. And the “decline” of French is more a myth than reality as it pertains to the language most often spoken at home, where immigrant languages have increased rather than English (see André Pratte’s https://montrealgazette.com/opinion/opinion-questioning-whether-french-is-in-decline-should-not-be-heresy):

Conservatives MPs voted nearly unanimously with Bloc Québécois members Wednesday in favour of making French the mandatory language for all immigrants to Quebec.

Bloc MP Sylvie Bérubé’s private member’s bill, however, was defeated — 147 in favour to 172 against — with the Liberals, NDP and Green Party members opposed.

In a statement, the Bloc accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly of failing to act to counter the decline of the French language in Quebec. “[They] have a big credibility deficit,” MP Mario Beaulieu, the Bloc’s critic for official languages declared.

Last week, Joly proposed several new measures to achieve what the government calls “substantive equality” of both official languages. Among the proposals, the federal Liberals proposed giving workers employed by companies under federal jurisdictions in Quebec the right to work in French, as well as those in other regions of the country with a strong francophone presence.

Right now, the Citizenship Act states that applicants aged 18 to 54 must demonstrate an adequate knowledge of one of the official languages of Canada before obtaining citizenship. The Bloc campaigned in 2019 to change the law so that those residing in Quebec need to demonstrate only knowledge of French.

The bill also suggested that anyone 18 to 65 should have to demonstrate their language capability.

Several dozen Grit MPs sought to register their objection to the bill en français.

Over on the Conservative side, less French was spoken but all but one vote — New Brunswick MP John Williamson — lined up with the Bloc.

Ontario MP Marilyn Gladu, who registered her support in French, told HuffPost Canada there are about 8,000 francophones in her Sarnia–Lambton riding, and they’re seeking a bilingual designation from the province to obtain French-language services in the region. “This is an important issue,” she said.

“I think it is important to protect the French language in Canada, especially in Quebec.”

As someone who previously travelled frequently to Quebec for work, Gladu said, she believes receiving services in French is particularly important.

“Our party supports strengthening the French language in Canada,” she said, “and we would like to see this bill go to committee.”

British Columbia MP Dan Albas told HuffPost Canada that he had concerns about the bill’s changing the maximum age for requiring linguistic knowledge to 65 from 54 but felt that the bill “warrants study at committee.”

That line was also repeated by Quebec MP Pierre Paul-Hus, who told HuffPost that while the bill has the commendable objective of protecting French, it might be hard to impose language requirements on those 54 to 65, “because the change can be difficult for new arrivals.”

That said, he added that his party believes the bill should be sent to committee and amended.

Pressed about his personal opinion on the bill, Paul-Hus said he was “before anything else, a Quebecer who is proud of his francophone heritage.

“And I want Quebec to remain that way,” he said, in French.

During a debate in the House of Commons last fall, Bérubé said her bill’s objective was to ensure that anyone who becomes a citizen and resides in Quebec can “integrate into their host society.”

“In Quebec, the common language is French. The purpose of the [province’s] Charter of the French Language is to make French the official and common language of Quebec,” she said. “Right now, a permanent resident who wants to become a citizen and reside in Quebec could do so without knowing a single word of French.”

‘Most immigrants who live in Quebec speak French,’ says Liberal MP

The Liberals’ response came from Soraya Martinez Ferrada, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship. She spoke of her own experience arriving in Quebec as a political refugee, and seeing her single mother and grandparents take French classes.

“We all received our citizenship before we could speak French. Today, my children and my cousins are all young Quebec francophones who work and study in French. That was possible in 1980, and I think it is still possible today,” she said.

Martinez Ferrada said the federal government is determined to help all newcomers obtain the language skills they need to integrate into their host community and noted that Quebec already selects its economic-class immigrants.

“Most immigrants who live in Quebec speak French. Census data show that, 10 years after they arrive in Canada, 90.5 per cent of economic immigrants, 71.1 per cent  of immigrants under the family reunification program and 84.3 per cent of refugees speak French,” she said during the bill’s only debate in November.

Montreal MP Anthony Housefather told HuffPost that he believes the current requirement — to have adequate knowledge of French or English no matter where you are in the country should stay that way.

“We live in a bilingual country and when becoming a citizen you should be able to do this in French or English anywhere in Canada you happen to live,” he said. “These qualifications for citizenship should not be different based on the province or territory someone happens to live in.”

Housefather added that the Tories’ position was “very much a reversal on previous Conservative positions on Quebec and language issues, which is consistently happening these days to compete with the Bloc.”

Tories have high hopes in Quebec

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has made no secret that his goal is to obtain 30 seats in Quebec during the next election. The party currently has 10. For the Liberals and the Tories, securing a large portion of Quebec’s 78 seats is often seen as a ticket to a majority government.

Manitoba Conservative MP Raquel Dancho told the Commons last fall in declaring the Tories’ support for the bill that the Conservatives were doing so because they have “great respect for the Quebec nation and understand the cultural importance of protecting the French language.

“The Conservatives are offering Quebeckers a serious alternative to the Liberals. We are the only ones who can beat them in the next election and form the next government,” she said.

But standing in either party’s way is a popular Bloc Québécois, which currently has 32 seats and, according to the latest Angus Reid survey, 29 per cent support among respondents, compared with 31 per cent for the Liberals and 18 per cent for the Conservatives.

The Liberals tried to quash a previous version of the Bloc’s bill back in 2018. Bill C-421 — as it was then called — was deemed by a subcommittee to be unconstitutional and non-votable. The Bloc appealed and a secret vote was held in the House that the Liberals — who had a majority of the seats back then — were successful in defeating.

Three years ago, things were different.

The Conservatives did not participate in the bill’s only debate.

Bloc bill riddled with errors, says lone Quebec NDP MP

Pierre Nantel, at the time an NDP MP, spoke in favour of the bill, saying his party’s Quebec caucus would surely have sent the bill to committee for further study if it had been given a chance.

“It is shameful and disrespectful for any Quebec MP to ignore the vulnerability and value of Quebeckers’ quiet nationalism and to fail to proudly defend Quebec’s distinct identity,” Nantel said in the chamber. (Nantel was later dumped by the NDP and was defeated running as a Green candidate in the 2019 election.)

This time round, the party’s lone Quebec MP, Alexandre Boulerice, told HuffPost the Bloc’s bill is riddled with errors and he doesn’t think his party’s support in the province will suffer because of the New Democrats’ opposition.

For example, Boulerice said, the bill doesn’t take into account future interprovincial moves, doesn’t make note that Quebec already gives francophones priority through its economic immigrants, or that it places an unfair and unnecessary burden on those that arrive as refugees.

“La fausse bonne idée quoi,” he wrote, in an email, loosely translated as a bad good idea, or a good idea at first glance.

Source: Conservatives Back Bloc Québécois Push To Make French The Mandatory Language For Quebec Immigrants

Black Conservatives seek to mobilize more support in wake of Leslyn Lewis’ success

To watchÈ

Black Conservatives energized by the rising star of Leslyn Lewis hope to use her unexpectedly robust leadership bid to bolster Black representation in the party’s ranks.

The relaunch of one formal group of Black Conservatives and the ramped-up efforts of another come as the Conservative Party of Canada faces pressure to more firmly denounce those within its ranks who display, or even appear to display, extreme right-wing positions similar to those on full and deadly view during the riots in Washington, D.C.

Party leader Erin O’Toole’s promise to get more “Canadians to see a Conservative when they look in the mirror” requires acknowledging the party falters when talking about race, said Akolisa Ufodike, the national chair of the Association of Black Conservatives, a group that formed last year.

“High level, he’s saying that we need to be seen as a more inclusive party so how does he get there without confronting the issue?” he said.

Ufodike said one reason his group formed is to highlight what he sees as a long and proud history of inclusivity by the movement, which he said is a message some within the Black community might be more open to hearing when it comes from Black Conservatives themselves.

The group ignited a firestorm during the leadership race last year, when Lewis was making history by becoming the first Black woman to run for leadership of the party.

Despite entering as a relative unknown, she saw her campaign steadily increase in support thanks in no small part to the throngs of social conservatives attracted to her positions on topics they hold dear.

But her candidacy also suggested to many the party wasn’t entirely the bastion of what former prime minister Stephen Harper once infamously referred to as “old stock Canadians.”

The association, however, endorsed O’Toole instead of Lewis. That led to Lewis publicly slamming the group, a heated conversation between her campaign and O’Toole’s campaign and a decision by his team to decline the endorsement.

Ufodike said to have endorsed Lewis solely because she was Black would be reducing the issue to identity politics.

“We look more at how their policies, their readiness and ability to lead can best serve Canadians, including marginalized communities such as the Black community,” he said.

Lewis ultimately finished third in the race, though in certain regions of the country she had more support at one point than either O’Toole or party stalwart Peter MacKay.

Among her efforts to remain in political life, which includes running in the next election in a safe Ontario seat, was work to revive a group she helped form in 2009: the Conservative Black Congress.

Its chair, Tunde Obasan, denied the group was set up solely in response to leadership race politics.

“Our main focus is to support candidates, even if they are not front-runners,” he said.

” … The more we do that, and the more we get candidates who are from the Black community, the more people who are not currently fine with the party, the more they begin to see the party as for everyone.”

At its formal relaunch Jan. 24, the group plans to unveil a parliamentary internship program named after retired senator Donald Oliver, the first Black Canadian man appointed to the Senate.

The Association of Black Conservatives, meanwhile, has been busy setting up provincial chapters to also support community and civic participation at the local levels.

It is not uncommon, both groups said, to find themselves forced to answer for the Conservatives’ past perceived sins and its more contemporary ones.

Among them, the “barbaric cultural practices” tip line the Harper Conservatives proposed in the 2015 election campaign, O’Toole’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism during the leadership race, and those who leap at any chance to infer the same vein of intolerance running through the U.S. Republicans also runs through Canadian conservatives.

Recently, O’Toole’s office engaged with right-wing organization Rebel Media, sending answers via email in O’Toole’s name. Many Conservatives cut ties with the organization several years ago after inflammatory and derogatory comments by its staff.

Among its more recent reporting has been the repetition of the discredited claims the U.S. election was stolen from the Republicans, claims that led to the deadly riots in D.C.

O’Toole’s office said this week he won’t speak to Rebel Media in the future.

The strength of the party’s right wing is likely to become evident at the upcoming March policy convention. Conservative MP Derek Sloan, who finished the leadership race in fourth place, was actively encouraging his own social conservative supporters to turn out in large force to have a role in the debate.

For now, neither Black organization has committed to getting formally involved at the convention, despite it being a potential avenue to influence policy decisions or the nuts and bolts of the party’s operations.

Both groups said they are looking for direct and clear leadership from O’Toole on putting his promise of making the party more inclusive into practice.

“What I would like to see him do is to be deliberate about it, on how to support more participation from the racialized community, not only in the Black community, from the entire racialized community,” said Obasan.

“That will go a long way.”

Source: Black Conservatives seek to mobilize more support in wake of Leslyn Lewis’ success

Apex Capital Partners Launches Discounted Citizenship by Investment Program for Concerned Citizens Following Flood of Inquiries from Conservative Americans Looking to Relocate Abroad After Biden’s Presidential Victory

Almost funny but reflects a certain mindset (don’t recall any similar pitches from citizenship-by-investment firms targeted at Democrats following Trump’s election (the Cape Breton site encouraging Americans was more a welcome site):

 Apex Capital Partners, a boutique financial advisory firm specializing in advising international individuals and governments on Citizenship by Investment Programs (CIPs), today announced the availability of its “American Second Passport Program,” a new option intended for US citizens who are concerned with the country’s direction under President-Elect Joe Biden, and are now serious about moving abroad. Ultimately, CIPs provide individuals and their families with the legal means for acquiring second citizenships, passports and permanent residency in other countries, often in the Caribbean or Europe.

Apex Capital Partners typically receives approximately five inquiries from American citizens per year but is now hearing from numerous concerned citizens on a daily basis, experiencing a 650% increase in interest since the November 3rd election alone, when compared to 2019. This comes as no surprise, as leading up to the election the team has been inundated with requests from high net worth individuals, particularly conservatives, seeking to relocate abroad should now President-Elect Biden emerge victorious. Now, the Company is offering 35% off its American Second Passport Program until January 20, 2020 – Inauguration Day.

Many Americans are now very concerned about proposed significant increases to their income tax payments, as well as continued social unrest. Further, this year’s “American nightmare” fueled by COVID-19 has resulted in very restricted travel for Americans, limiting recreational or business trips for anyone possessing just a US passport. For these reasons, citizenship by investment in other parts of the world is widely considered a safe, financially secure passport diversification option.

Americans concerned by a Biden administration are turning to Apex Capital Partners, a leading, internationally recognized Company that works directly with both international governments and those pursuing citizenship abroad to implement strategies needed to acquire foreign citizenships. These alternative citizenship opportunities are made possible through CIPs, a legal transaction in the form of a real estate or infrastructure investment in exchange for citizenship, in countries such as the Caribbean and Europe – with popular examples such as St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Dominica, Grenada and Montenegro.

“CIPs are especially valuable now for three key reasons. One, with an alternative to a US passport, travelers and business executives can bypass the current travel COVID 19 restrictions in place. Two, people can reside in a safe, unthreatened place amid shaky US social and political conditions that they perceive are dangerous. Lastly and right now the most popular reason, is that citizenship abroad enables for more financial security and often reduced taxes – a concern felt by many conservatives and HNWI,” said Nuri Katz, Founder of Apex Capital Partners.

Interest to leave the country after Biden’s victory has also been expressed publicly to the nation by none other than President Trump himself, who recently suggested “maybe I’ll have to leave the country.” Prior to the outcome of the 2016 Election, many liberal individuals and families across the country threatened to leave if Trump was elected. Some people left, while many more turned to social media to state their displeasure with Trump’s administration. Four years later, the same trend came during the first 2020 presidential debate, when Google searches for “move to Canada” greatly spiked.

“Talk about leaving the country after an election outcome is certainly not new, but we’re now seeing it become a reality after such a difficult year. In 2017, around 5,000 people internationally obtained CIPs, but this year I estimate it to be 25,000,” said Katz. “Despite all the potential and personal reasons for wanting to leave the United States, it is still a very difficult decision and should be conducted with an experienced team of migration advisors as well as tax and legal professionals. Using a network of legal advisors, our team informs investors on viable options to seek citizenship and evaluate all financial consequences. Throughout this process, we’re here to help answer any and all questions.”

About Apex Capital Partners

Apex Capital Partners is a full-service advisory firm specializing in investment consulting and wealth management for a multinational, high-net-worth clientele. APEX provides services with end-to-end execution in areas such as second citizenship and immigration, wealth and asset management, financial services, and international real estate sale and development.

For more than two decades, APEX consultants have guided affluent individuals and their families through the complexities of foreign investing, and of obtaining second citizenship and residency. The APEX team also advises governments in establishing Citizenship by Investment programs, and provides support services to financial institutions, law firms, and family offices representing the interests of high-net-worth investors. For those interested in pursuing a citizenship by investment opportunity, please contact Apex Capital Partners by visiting http://apexcapital.partners/

Source: Apex Capital Partners Launches Discounted Citizenship by Investment Program for Concerned Citizens Following Flood of Inquiries from Conservative Americans Looking to Relocate Abroad After Biden’s Presidential Victory

Facebook Keeps Data Secret, Letting Conservative Bias Claims Persist

Of note given complaints by conservatives:

Sen. Roger Wicker hit a familiar note when he announced on Thursday that the Commerce Committee was issuing subpoenas to force the testimony of Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and other tech leaders.

Tech platforms like Facebook, the Mississippi Republican said, “disproportionately suppress and censor conservative views online.”

When top tech bosses were summoned to Capitol Hill in July for a hearing on the industry’s immense power, Republican Congressman Jim Jordan made an even blunter accusation.

“I’ll just cut to the chase, Big Tech is out to get conservatives,” Jordan said. “That’s not a hunch. That’s not a suspicion. That’s a fact.”

But the facts to support that case have been hard to find. NPR called up half a dozen technology experts, including data scientists who have special access to Facebook’s internal metrics. The consensus: There is no statistical evidence to support the argument that Facebook does not give conservative views a fair shake.

Let’s step back for a moment.

When Republicans claim Facebook is “biased,” they often collapse two distinct complaints into one. First, that the social network deliberately scrubs right-leaning content from its site. There is no proof to back this up. Secondly, Republicans suggest that conservative news and perspectives are being throttled by Facebook, that the social network is preventing the content from finding a large audience. That claim is not only unproven, but publicly available data on Facebook shows the exact opposite to be true: conservative news regularly ranks among some of the popular content on the site.

Now, there are some complex layers to this, but former Facebook employees and data experts say the conservative bias argument would be easier to talk about — and easier to debunk — if Facebook was more transparent.

The social network keeps secret some of the most basic data points, like what news stories are the most viewed on Facebook on any given day, leaving data scientists, journalists and the general public in the dark about what people are actually seeing on their News Feeds.

There are other sources of data, but they offer just a tiny window into the sprawling universe of nearly 3 billion users. Facebook is quick to point out that the public metrics available are of limited use, yet it does so without offering a real solution, which would be opening up some of its more comprehensive analytics for public scrutiny.

Until they do, there’s little to counter rumors about what thrives and dies on Facebook and how the platform is shaping political discourse.

“It’s kind of a purgatory of their own making,” said Kathy Qian, a data scientist who co-founded Code for Democracy.

What the available data reveals about possible bias

Perhaps the most often-cited data point on what is popular on Facebook is a tracking tool called CrowdTangle, a startup that Facebook acquired in 2016.

New York Times journalist Kevin Roose has created a Twitter account where he posts the top ten most-engaging posts based on CrowdTangle data. These lists are dominated mostly by conservative commentators like Ben Shapiro and Dan Bongino and Fox News. They resemble a “parallel media universe that left-of-center Facebook users may never encounter,” Roose writes.

Yet these lists are like looking at Facebook through a soda straw, says researchers like MIT’s Jennifer Allen, who used to work at Facebook and now studies how people consume news on social media. CrowdTangle, Allen says, does not provide the whole story.

That’s because CrowdTangle only captures engagement — likes, shares, comments and other reactions — from public pages. But just because a post provokes lots of reactions does not mean it reaches many users. The data does not show how many people clicked on a link, or what the overall reach of the post was. And much of what people see on Facebook is from their friends, not public pages.

“You see these crazy numbers on CrowdTangle, but you don’t see how many people are engaging with this compared with the rest of the platform,” Allen said.

Another point researchers raise: All engagement is not created equal.

Users could “hate-like” a post, or click like as a way of bookmarking, or leave another reaction expressing disgust, not support. Take, for example, the laughing-face emoji.

“It could mean, ‘I agree with this’ or ‘This is so hilarious untrue,'” said data scientist Qian. “It’s just hard to know what people actually mean by those reactions.”

It’s also hard to tell whether people or automated bots are generating all the likes, comments and shares. Former Facebook research scientist Solomon Messing conducted a study of Twitter in 2018 finding hat bots were likely responsible for 66% of link shares on the platform. The tactic is employed on Facebook, too.

“What Facebook calls ‘inauthentic behavior’ and other borderline scam-like activity are unfortunately common and you can buy fake engagement easily on a number of websites,” Messing said.

Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth College, is also wary about drawing any big conclusions from CrowdTangle.

“You can’t judge anything about American movies by looking at the top ten box films hits of all time,” Nyhan said. “That’s not a great way of understanding what people are actually watching. There’s the same risk here.”

‘Concerned about being seen as on the side of liberals’

Experts agree that a much better measure would be a by-the-numbers rundown of what posts are reaching the most people. So why doesn’t Facebook reveal that data?

In a Twitter thread back in July, John Hegeman, the head of Facebook’s NewsFeed, offered one sample of such a list, saying it is “not as partisan” as lists compiled with CrowdTangle data suggest.

But when asked why Facebook doesn’t share that broader data with the public, Hegeman did not reply.

It could be, some experts say, that Facebook fears that data will be used as ammunition against the company at a time when Congress and the Trump administration are threatening to rein in the power of Big Tech.

“They are incredibly concerned about being seen as on the side of liberals. That is against the profit motive of their business,” Dartmouth’s Nyhan said of Facebook executives. “I don’t see any reason to see that they have a secret, hidden liberal agenda, but they are just so unwilling to be transparent.”

Facebook has been more forthcoming with some academic researchers looking at how social media affects elections and democracy. In April 2019, it announced a partnership that would give 60 scholars access to more data, including the background and political affiliation of people who are engaging content.

One of those researchers is University of Pennsylvania data scientist Duncan Watts.

“Mostly it’s mainstream content,” he said of the most viewed and clicked on posts. “If anything, there is a bias in favor of conservative content.”

While Facebook posts from national television networks and major newspapers get the most clicks, partisan outlets like the Daily Wire and Brietbart routinely show up in top spots, too.

“That should be so marginal that it has no relevance at all,” Watts said of the right-wing content. “The fact that it is showing up at all is troubling.”

‘More false and misleading content on the right’

Accusations from Trump and other Republicans in Washington that Facebook is a biased referee of its content tend to flare up when the social network takes action against a conservative-leaning posts that violate its policies.

Researchers say there is a reason why most of the high-profile examples of content warnings and removals target conservative content.

“That is a result of there just being more false and misleading content on the right,” said researcher Allen. “There are bad actors on the left, but the ecosystem on the right is just much more mature and popular.”

Facebook’s algorithms could also be helping more people see right-wing content that’s meant to evoke passionate reactions, she added.

Because of the sheer amount of envelope-pushing conservative content, some of it veering into the realm of conspiracy theories, the moderation from Facebook is also greater.

Or as Nyhan put it: “When reality is asymmetric, enforcement may be asymmetric. That doesn’t necessarily indicate a bias.”

The attacks on Facebook over perceived prejudice against conservatives has helped fuel the push in Congress and the White House to reform Section 230 of the Communications and Decency Act of 1996, which allows platforms to avoid lawsuits over what users post and gives tech companies the freedom to police its sites as the companies see fit.

Joe Osborne, a Facebook spokesman, in a statement said the social network’s content moderation policies are applied fairly across the board.

“While many Republicans think we should do one thing, many Democrats think we should do the exact opposite. We’ve faced criticism from Republicans for being biased against conservatives and Democrats for not taking more steps to restrict the exact same content. Our job is to create one consistent set of rules that applies equally to everyone.”

Osborne confirmed that Facebook is exploring ways to make more data available in the platform’s public tools, but he declined to elaborate.

Watts, University of Pennsylvania data scientist who studies social media, said Facebook is sensitive to Republican criticism, but no matter what decision they make, the attacks will continue.

“Facebook could end up responding in a way to accommodate the right, but the right will never be appeased,” Watts said. “So it’s this constant pressure of ‘you have to give us more, you have to give us more,'” he said. “And it creates a situation where there’s no way to win arguments based on evidence, because they can just say, ‘Well, I don’t trust you.'”

Source: Facebook Keeps Data Secret, Letting Conservative Bias Claims Persist

Conservatives should show leadership on Bill 21 and defend religious freedom

Of note. Perhaps not surprising, after laying out the options, Kinsinger essentially adopts the Liberal government’s position of reserving the right to intervene in an exiting legal process:

Among the more discouraging aspects of the 2019 federal election was the failure of all major parties to take any meaningful stand against Quebec’s Bill 21. The legislation, which was passed by the National Assembly of Quebec last year, prohibits many public servants from wearing religious attire while they’re on duty. According to the Quebec government, one of the key purposes of the law is to promote the religious neutrality of the state. Civil libertarians and religious equality advocates, however, have widely denounced Bill 21 as an unjustified state intrusion into matters that fall outside of the its proper constitutional role.

To date, four separate legal challenges have been brought against Bill 21. The Quebec Superior Court will hear these cases together in the near future. In anticipation of this litigation, the Quebec government invoked section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, often referred to as the notwithstanding clause. This provision constitutionally insulates laws that would otherwise violate certain rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter, subject to a renewal by the enacting legislature every five years.

Even with the invocation of the notwithstanding clause, Bill 21 flies directly in the face of constitutional protections that limit the state’s ability to dictate matters of conscience or religious belief. All political parties ought to be opposed to this legislation and should develop policies based on the very real grounds they would have to challenge Bill 21 if they form government. However, it is especially disappointing that Erin O’Toole, the recently elected leader of the Conservative Party, has not taken advantage of this opportunity to differentiate himself from other federal party leaders by openly opposing Bill 21.

The Tories have numerous reasons to be particularly offended by Bill 21: conservatives have long affirmed the positive and important role that religion plays in the lives of individuals and in the public square, and they often bill themselves as the strongest defenders of religious freedom, even when it seemingly clashes with other shared values.

In this sense, it is unsurprising that O’Toole has vowed to protect the rights of religious minorities both in Canada and abroad if he becomes prime minister. Yet following a meeting with Quebec Premier François Legault on Sept. 14, O’Toole told reporters he backed provincial autonomy and would not interfere on the issue of Bill 21. While O’Toole has sought to frame this as an issue of national unity, he no doubt also fears alienating Bill 21’s numerous supporters in Quebec, a province in which, many observers insist, the Conservatives must make significant inroads if they hope to regain power. Indeed, O’Toole’s decisive leadership victory over frontrunner Peter MacKay is being attributed in large part to the high support he received from Conservative members in La Belle Province.

It would nonetheless be a mistake for O’Toole to assume that the endorsement he received from Quebec Tories will translate into support from Quebec voters more generally. If past electoral performance is any indicator, the Conservatives will still face an uphill battle in Quebec when the next election is called. On this point, O’Toole would do well to remember that the road to Conservative success also goes through racially and religiously diverse ridings, especially those found in the Greater Toronto Area: it is here that a conservative defence of religious freedom can make a strong appeal to both religious and immigrant voters.

Consider the 2019 election, in which former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s personal religious views became a hotly debated election issue. Scheer never found a satisfying answer to an endless barrage of questions about whether he supported same-sex marriage. Had he defended himself on the grounds of religious freedom and conscience rights, and then made clear he wanted to protect these rights for all religious minorities, he might have been able to find a powerful message that resonated with voters in the ridings the Conservatives needed — and ultimately failed — to pick up.

To be sure, the Conservatives should denounce Bill 21 first and foremost as a matter of principle. But this doesn’t mean that O’Toole needs to ignore the compelling political reasons that favour taking a stand against this odious law. By promoting the rights of religious minorities, the Tories can show that religious freedom is truly about protecting the practices of all believers, and not just coded language used by social conservatives and Christians to defend their own beliefs. To this end, Garnett Genuis, a rising voice in the Conservative caucus and an early supporter of O’Toole’s leadership bid, has already shown how opposition to Bill 21 can be expanded into a broader platform for combating systemic discrimination in all its forms.

There are a range of policies that the federal government could adopt toward Bill 21, regardless of who occupies the Prime Minister’s Office. Admittedly, some of these are more advisable than others. The most radical would be to invoke the rarely used disallowance power, under which the federal government is permitted to constitutionally invalidate provincial legislation. Of all the available options, this is by far the least desirable. Although it was once employed regularly, the federal power to disallow provincial legislation has not been invoked for the better part of a century, and its use now would likely ignite a constitutional crisis concerning its legitimacy.

The next option would be for the federal cabinet to refer Bill 21 directly to the Supreme Court of Canada for an opinion on its constitutionality. The current challenges that have been brought against Bill 21 could take years to make their way through the normal appeals process. By referring the matter directly to the court of final appeal, the federal government could save these parties the considerable time and cost of litigating the constitutionality of Bill 21. Although advisory opinions don’t constitute precedents as weighty as do rulings on cases that were contested by litigants, in practice they’re usually treated as binding.

One of the key questions that will likely be addressed in the Bill 21 litigation concerns the Quebec government’s invocation of the section 33 override, even though the courts may ultimately decide to strike down the legislation on other grounds. Although invoking the notwithstanding clause was once considered taboo, provincial governments have increasingly relied on it in recent years to safeguard controversial legislation against unwanted Charter challenges. While a reference to the Supreme Court on Bill 21 would likely provide much-needed clarity on the constitutional limits of section 33, it could also result in undesirable tension with the Quebec government.

Thankfully, a less contentious alternative remains open to the federal government: the attorney general of Canada may, as of right, intervene as an added party in any litigation involving a constitutional question. Of the various responses to Bill 21 potentially available to O’Toole if he becomes prime minister, this would be the most prudent. Unlike a direct constitutional reference, an intervention by the attorney general would not force the Quebec government’s hand by initiating fresh litigation. Such an intervention could be further tailored to demonstrate the significant ways in which this law misapplies important constitutional principles, but without adopting a hard position on section 33 that risks open confrontation with the provinces.

The insistence that there are no politically viable options available to O’Toole and the Conservatives on Bill 21 rings hollow. To the contrary, Bill 21 has presented the Tories with a rare opportunity to offer leadership on a defining civil liberties issue while making the case to religious minorities that they have a home and champion in the party. The only question is whether Erin O’Toole is prepared to truly lead.

Source: Conservatives should show leadership on Bill 21 and defend religious freedom

Sensitive to claims of bias, Facebook relaxed misinformation rules for conservative pages

The social media platforms continue to undermine social inclusion and cohesion:

Facebook has allowed conservative news outlets and personalities to repeatedly spread false information without facing any of the company’s stated penalties, according to leaked materials reviewed by NBC News.

According to internal discussions from the last six months, Facebook has relaxed its rules so that conservative pages, including those run by Breitbart, former Fox News personalities Diamond and Silk, the nonprofit media outlet PragerU and the pundit Charlie Kirk, were not penalized for violations of the company’s misinformation policies.

Facebook’s fact-checking rules dictate that pages can have their reach and advertising limited on the platform if they repeatedly spread information deemed inaccurate by its fact-checking partners. The company operates on a “strike” basis, meaning a page can post inaccurate information and receive a one-strike warning before the platform takes action. Two strikes in 90 days places an account into “repeat offender” status, which can lead to a reduction in distribution of the account’s content and a temporary block on advertising on the platform.

Facebook has a process that allows its employees or representatives from Facebook’s partners, including news organizations, politicians, influencers and others who have a significant presence on the platform to flag misinformation-related problems. Fact-checking labels are applied to posts by Facebook when third-party fact-checkers determine their posts contain misinformation. A news organization or politician can appeal the decision to attach a label to one of its posts.

Facebook employees who work with content partners then decide if an appeal is a high-priority issue or PR risk, in which case they log it in an internal task management system as a misinformation “escalation.” Marking something as an “escalation” means that senior leadership is notified so they can review the situation and quickly — often within 24 hours — make a decision about how to proceed.

Facebook receives many queries about misinformation from its partners, but only a small subsection are deemed to require input from senior leadership. Since February, more than 30 of these misinformation queries were tagged as “escalations” within the company’s task management system, used by employees to track and assign work projects.

The list and descriptions of the escalations, leaked to NBC News, showed that Facebook employees in the misinformation escalations team, with direct oversight from company leadership, deleted strikes during the review process that were issued to some conservative partners for posting misinformation over the last six months. The discussions of the reviews showed that Facebook employees were worried that complaints about Facebook’s fact-checking could go public and fuel allegations that the social network was biased against conservatives.

The removal of the strikes has furthered concerns from some current and former employees that the company routinely relaxes its rules for conservative pages over fears about accusations of bias.

Two current Facebook employees and two former employees, who spoke anonymously out of fear of professional repercussions, said they believed the company had become hypersensitive to conservative complaints, in some cases making special allowances for conservative pages to avoid negative publicity.

“This supposed goal of this process is to prevent embarrassing false positives against respectable content partners, but the data shows that this is instead being used primarily to shield conservative fake news from the consequences,” said one former employee.

About two-thirds of the “escalations” included in the leaked list relate to misinformation issues linked to conservative pages, including those of Breitbart, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Gateway Pundit. There was one escalation related to a progressive advocacy group and one each for CNN, CBS, Yahoo and the World Health Organization.

There were also escalations related to left-leaning entities, including one about an ad from Democratic super PAC Priorities USA that the Trump campaign and fact checkers have labeled as misleading. Those matters focused on preventing misleading videos that were already being shared widely on other media platforms from spreading on Facebook and were not linked to complaints or concerns about strikes.

Facebook and other tech companies including Twitter and Google have faced repeated accusations of bias against conservatives in their content moderation decisions, though there is little clear evidence that this bias exists. The issue was reignited this week when Facebook removed a video posted to Trump’s personal Facebook page in which he falsely claimed that children are “almost immune” to COVID-19. The Trump campaign accused Facebook of “flagrant bias.”

Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone did not dispute the authenticity of the leaked materials, but said that it did not provide the full context of the situation.

In recent years, Facebook has developed a lengthy set of rules that govern how the platform moderates false or misleading information. But how those rules are applied can vary and is up to the discretion of Facebook’s executives.

In late March, a Facebook employee raised concerns on an internal message board about a “false” fact-checking label that had been added to a post by the conservative bloggers Diamond and Silk in which they expressed outrage over the false allegation that Democrats were trying to give members of Congress a $25 million raise as part of a COVID-19 stimulus package.

Diamond and Silk had not yet complained to Facebook about the fact check, but the employee was sounding the alarm because the “partner is extremely sensitive and has not hesitated going public about their concerns around alleged conservative bias on Facebook.”

Since it was the account’s second misinformation strike in 90 days, according to the leaked internal posts, the page was placed into “repeat offender” status.

Diamond and Silk appealed the “false” rating that had been applied by third-party fact-checker Lead Stories on the basis that they were expressing opinion and not stating a fact. The rating was downgraded by Lead Stories to “partly false” and they were taken out of “repeat offender” status. Even so, someone at Facebook described as “Policy/Leadership” intervened and instructed the team to remove both strikes from the account, according to the leaked material.

In another case in late May, a Facebook employee filed a misinformation escalation for PragerU, after a series of fact-checking labels were applied to several similar posts suggesting polar bear populations had not been decimated by climate change and that a photo of a starving animal was used as a “deliberate lie to advance the climate change agenda.” This claim was fact-checked by one of Facebook’s independent fact-checking partners, Climate Feedback, as false and meant that the PragerU page had “repeat offender” status and would potentially be banned from advertising.

A Facebook employee escalated the issue because of “partner sensitivity” and mentioned within that the repeat offender status was “especially worrisome due to PragerU having 500 active ads on our platform,” according to the discussion contained within the task management system and leaked to NBC News.

After some back and forth between employees, the fact check label was left on the posts, but the strikes that could have jeopardized the advertising campaign were removed from PragerU’s pages.

Stone, the Facebook spokesperson, said that the company defers to third-party fact-checkers on the ratings given to posts, but that the company is responsible for “how we manage our internal systems for repeat offenders.”

“We apply additional system-wide penalties for multiple false ratings, including demonetization and the inability to advertise, unless we determine that one or more of those ratings does not warrant additional consequences,” he said in an emailed statement.

He added that Facebook works with more than 70 fact-checking partners who apply fact-checks to “millions of pieces of content.”

Facebook announced Thursday that it banned a Republican PAC, the Committee to Defend the President, from advertising on the platform following repeated sharing of misinformation.

But the ongoing sensitivity to conservative complaints about fact-checking continues to trigger heated debates inside Facebook, according to leaked posts from Facebook’s internal message board and interviews with current and former employees.

“The research has shown no evidence of bias against conservatives on Facebook,” said another employee, “So why are we trying to appease them?”

Those concerns have also spilled out onto the company’s internal message boards.

One employee wrote a post on 19 July, first reported by BuzzFeed News on Thursday, summarizing the list of misinformation escalations found in the task management system and arguing that the company was pandering to conservative politicians.

The post, a copy of which NBC News has reviewed, also compared Mark Zuckerberg to President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Just like all the robber barons and slavers and plunderers who came before you, you are spending a fortune you didn’t build. No amount of charity can ever balance out the poverty, war and environmental damage enabled by your support of Donald Trump,” the employee wrote.

The post was removed for violating Facebook’s “respectful communications” policy and the list of escalations, previously accessible to all employees, was made private. The employee who wrote the post was later fired.

“We recognize that transparency and openness are important company values,” wrote a Facebook employee involved in handling misinformation escalations in response to questions about the list of escalations. “Unfortunately, because information from these Tasks were leaked, we’ve made them private for only subscribers and are considering how best to move forward.”

Source: https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/sensitive-claims-bias-facebook-relaxed-misinformation-rules-conservative-pages-n1236182