Quebec’s values test: Why not focus on everyday gender equality?

Another good and thoughtful column by Sheema Khan.

One point of interest is her call for the long-promised revision of the citizenship study guide to include everyday examples of what gender equality means, not the criminal ones cited in the current guide.

As the government did not manage to get its revision published during its first mandate, it should consider this suggestion if not already included in the revision:

Galloping from one controversial social policy to another, the government of Quebec recently unveiled its “Values Test” for prospective immigrants. Derided by some, the test requires newcomers to the province to be aware of a few “key” values. French is the official language of la belle province. Polygamy is illegal, whereas marriage between two individuals is not. Men and women are equal before the law. There’s nothing wrong in letting immigrants know what to expect about their future society. However, in view of Bill 21, one can’t help but be cynical about the Coalition Avenir Québec’s attempt to narrowly define who is – and who isn’t – vrai Québécois.

Quebec’s stance on gender equality is laughable in view of Bill 21 – hijab-clad Muslim women are barred from teaching in public schools, whereas Muslim men are not. Jewish men who sport a kippa or yarmulke cannot serve as prosecutors or clerks in a provincial court, while Jewish women face no such restrictions. The courts will decide if the notwithstanding clause overrides the violation of gender equality (as enshrined in section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms).

Nevertheless, we should emphasize gender equality to those arriving from countries where women are accorded fewer resources and rights than men. According to the 2016 census, three of the top 10 countries of birth of recent immigrants were Pakistan, Iran and Syria – all of which finished in the bottom five (of 145 countries) of the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap Index.

The culture shock can be great. I still remember my cousin’s surprise when he could not access his mother’s bank account as a matter of right, as he used to do in Saudi Arabia. Or one Middle Eastern relative who was dismayed that his wife was automatically a co-owner of the marital home. Or one husband’s disbelief that he would have to split marital assets 50-50 in the case of divorce. These are hard-won rights for women that should never be compromised. Immigrant men have complied and adapted to the new reality. And that’s a good thing.

While current guidelines from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada reiterate the equality of women and men before the law, they might want to add a line or two referring to everyday examples – such as financial independence and property rights of women. Instead, these guidelines leap to examples of criminal behaviour, stating: “Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, ‘honour killings,’ female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence.”

Such dramatic pronouncements, however, don’t help immigrants learn about the positive aspects of gender equality. And they lull Canadians into a sense of complacency that women in Canada are doing just fine. Not so fast.

In her compelling memoirs, Truth Be Told, Beverley McLachlin chronicles her own efforts to combat sexism within the legal profession but points to the broader fight for women’s equality throughout Canadian society. A fight that is by no means close to over.

According to the 2018 Gender Gap Index, Canada ranks 16th in the world (out of 149 countries) for its equitable distribution of resources between men and women. While we are tied for first in the field of education, we are 21st in political empowerment, 27th in economic participation and 104th in health/survival. The relatively high placements in politics and economics, however, mask absolute inequities.

For example, in 2018, Statistics Canada reported that Canadian women earned 87 cents for every $1 earned by men. A 2018 Angus Reid study indicated that women are more likely than men to experience poverty. Women in Canada live at greater risk than men of domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, and sex trafficking. Even with the #MeToo movement, women still underreport sexual assault and harassment. Women and girls are often subject to online hate and sexualized abuse. While women make up roughly half the population, they are underrepresented in political and professional leadership positions. As MacLean’s Anne Kingston rightly observed, sexism permeated the 2019 election, culminating in a vicious, sexist slur painted on Catherine McKenna’s campaign office.

“Working toward gender equality is not only still relevant. It is urgent,” observes the Canadian Women’s Foundation. It’s a message we should all take to heart. The fight for gender equality begins here.

Tories Push Trudeau To Keep FGM Warning In Citizenship Guide

Of course, the citizenship guide should maintain a reference to FGM.

But this needs to be placed in the broader context of violence against women and the history of how Canadian society has evolved in terms of women’s rights, definition of sexual assault, employment equity and the like, not just with an identity politics bumper sticker of “barbaric cultural practices”:

Federal Conservatives are pressuring the Liberal government to ensure that the final draft of the new citizenship guide includes a warning that female genital mutilation (FGM) is a crime in Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not speak to the guide when pressed about the issue in question period Wednesday, but said he is committed to ending the “barbaric practice” around the world.

Tory immigration critic Michelle Rempel noted in the House of Commons that the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women — better known as UN Women — tweeted about FGM as part of its “16 days of activism.”

The UN group called FGM — the intentional cutting of female genital organs for non-medical reasons — a human rights violation that has been perpetuated against 200 million women and girls.

“Canada’s citizenship guide informs newcomers that FGM is a crime in Canada. However Canada’s prime minister has decided to delete this information,” Rempel charged.

The MP was referencing a working copy of the new citizenship guide the government is preparing. The draft, which was obtained by The Canadian Press in the summer, reportedly omits lines stating that certain “barbaric cultural practices,” such as FGM and honour killings, are illegal in Canada. The previous Tory government included those warnings in their overhauls of the guide.

Rempel urged Trudeau in the House to stand with FGM survivors and the UN by reversing what she called his “decision.” She made similar comments on Twitter shortly after question period.

Trudeau responded that he “personally brought up this issue” during a visit to Liberia last year, “challenging local leaders and governments to step up on the fight against FGM.”

Then he said something that drew an immediate reaction from Tories.

“We will continue to lead the way pushing for an end to these barbaric practices of female genital mutilation everywhere around the world. This is something… and here in Canada… this is something we take very seriously.”

Tories bashed Trudeau over comments in 2011

The use of the word “barbaric” harkens back to a controversy in 2011, when Trudeau was serving as the immigration critic of the then-opposition Liberals. He initially took exception to the way the Tories’ revamped citizenship guide described honour killings as “barbaric.”

Trudeau said at the time that the government should have instead called all violence against women “absolutely unacceptable” and made a better “attempt at responsible neutrality.” Top Tories, including then-immigration minister Jason Kenney, relentlessly blasted Trudeau over his remarks.

Trudeau later apologized and retracted his initial take on the guide.

“I want to make it clear that I think the acts described are heinous, barbaric acts that are totally unacceptable in our society,” he said in a statement at the time, according to CBC News.

The debate over so-called “barbaric cultural practices” also factored heavily in the 2015 election, when the Tories famously pledged to create a tip line for Canadians to call if they suspected a child or woman could fall victim to forced marriage, FGM, or polygamy. Liberals said then that the Conservatives’ campaign pledge was really about stoking “fear and division.”

PM brings up lessons from 2015 election

Trudeau referenced that ill-fated Tory promise in the House Tuesday while responding to Conservative questions about how his government is handling suspected ISIS terrorists after they return to Canada. The prime minister said Tories have learned nothing from the results of the last federal vote.

“They ran an election on snitch lines against Muslims, they ran an election on Islamophobia and division, and still they play the same games, trying to scare Canadians,” Trudeau shouted.

“The fact is we always focus on the security of Canadians, and we always will. They play the politics of fear, and Canadians reject that.”

via Tories Push Trudeau To Keep FGM Warning In Citizenship Guide

Proposed citizenship test guide will only mislead new Canadians: Tom Flanagan

Focused commentary by Flanagan on how Indigenous obligations are reflected in the current language of the draft new citizenship study guide (Discover Canada).

Surprising he did not mention the planned revision to the oath (TRC recommendation 94) that will include: “I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples.”

The federal government is currently working on a revision of Discover Canada, the study guide for the test that immigrants must pass before obtaining citizenship. To judge from a recent Canadian Press story, the new manual will read like a Liberal campaign platform. Perhaps that’s not surprising, because the Liberals control the government. Maybe it’s even fair, because the Conservatives revised the manual in 2011, when they controlled the government. But it would be nice if those who are politicizing the Canadian citizenship manual would at least represent Canadian law accurately.

According to The Canadian Press, the draft revision says, “Today, Canadians, for example, can own their own homes and buy land thanks to treaties that the government negotiated.” But a moment’s reflection shows that this statement can’t be correct. Land-cession treaties have never been negotiated in the Atlantic provinces, most of Quebec, and most of British Columbia. Yet, Canadians can own homes and buy land in those provinces, just as they can in Ontario and the Prairie provinces, where land-cession treaties were signed with First Nations.

The ability of Canadians to own land and homes depends upon grants of land from the sovereign. In the English legal tradition, sovereignty includes the title to land, which the sovereign can subsequently grant to individuals or corporations. Modern Canadian sovereignty rests upon earlier French and British sovereignty, founded upon discovery, (occasional) conquest, establishment of governments able to enforce territorial boundaries and administer law and recognition by other sovereign states.

Even while recognizing Indigenous land rights, including full ownership in certain circumstances, the Supreme Court of Canada has consistently upheld Canadian sovereignty as the basis of the Constitution. Chief Justice Antonio Lamer in Van der Peet phrased this as “the reconciliation of the pre-existence of aboriginal societies with the sovereignty of the Crown.” From the beginning, French, British and Canadian sovereigns have made grants of land upon which our system of private land ownership has developed. Those grants did not depend upon prior negotiation of treaties with First Nations, otherwise there would be no private property today in much of Canada.

Ironically, private property in land does not exist on most Indigenous reserves today. That deficiency in the Indian Act is only one of the many ways in which the property rights of First Nations have been abused. But mistakes in that area do not mean the private-property rights of other Canadians depend upon treaties.

Another misleading statement in the revision is this advice to new Canadians about their legal obligations: “Obeying the law, serving on a jury, paying taxes, filling out the census and respecting treaties with Indigenous Peoples are mandatory.” But treaties were legal agreements between the Crown (advised by cabinet) and First Nations (represented by their chiefs). They imposed obligations on the Crown to set aside land and provide assistance of various types. But they don’t impose any specific obligations upon citizens other than the general obligation to obey the law, which incidentally is also imposed upon First Nations by the text of the treaties.

These wording changes, if the government follows through with them, won’t have any immediate legal effect. But we should be clear about what’s happening. In the past election campaign, the Liberals made many irredeemable promises to Indigenous voters, such as adopting the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights. Now, instead of impossible legal changes, they are offering words – and words matter in the long run. As the great philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote, “Words are wise men’s counters, they do but reckon with them, but they are the money of fools.” These foolish words will tend to make new Canadians, and indeed all Canadians, feel like interlopers in their own country.

Source: Proposed citizenship test guide will only mislead new Canadians – The Globe and Mail

C.P. Champion: ‘New’ citizenship guide shows Liberals are the copy cats

Chris Champion, the Jason Kenney staffer with whom I and my team worked with closely  in 2009, provides useful background and understanding of the Conservative’s approach.

My account of the process and issues can be found on pp 20-25 of my book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism – relevant excerpt here.

While Discover Canada was a vast improvement on the somewhat insipid previous guide (A Look at Canada), with DC’s references to the role of the Crown and historic wrongs and injustices, one can have differing opinions as to how “readable, balanced, inclusive” it is. The absence of mentioning the equality rights of the Charter is but one example.

It is telling that, following the introduction of the new guide and related citizenship test, pass rates fell from the (overly) high rate of 96 percent to 83 percent (2010-13), in part  given that the guide and test questions were written at a more advanced level than the formal requirement of Canada Language Benchmark 4.

Lastly, it should come as no surprise to Chris that the change of government would result in a change to the guide. In discussing some of the language and content of the guide, I raised the concern that the guide would not survive a change of government and my consequent advice for more neutral language (and in some cases content).

That being said, I share some of his fears regarding a guide with a weakened sense of how Canada came to be, but prefer to defer more detailed commentary and analysis until  I have read the new guide:

It is no surprise that the Trudeau Liberals intend to replace the Conservatives’ citizenship test study guide this year for Canada’s 150th, or more likely sometime next year, or whenever it’s ready. The only surprise is that it’s taking them so long. After all, there’s very little about it that needs to change. Indeed, the whole idea of changing it, and the ideas they’re including in it, are borrowed from more original thinkers.

Back in 2008, the Conservatives had the idea to create a readable, balanced, inclusive, highly-varied, all-colour guide that showcases Canada’s diversity and values, our history’s triumphs and disasters, including the First Nations experience.

Jason Kenney, the then-minister of citizenship, had the insight that immigrants would welcome the opportunity to learn from a good civics primer that provided a non-boring overview of Canada’s history, warts and all.

I had a front seat in this process, since I was Kenney’s citizenship policy director at the time. Without (I hope) boasting, everything in the book, every word and every spread, photo placement, and caption, crossed my desk (as well as others’, of course, including those of my brilliant colleagues, Alykhan Velshi and Howard Anglin). We consulted Canadians of all political persuasions on it, like former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, NDP historian Desmond Morton, and former Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor Lynda Haverstock, who was also a former Saskatchewan Liberal Party leader.

André Pratte, the former editor of the liberal Montreal paper La Presse (who was subsequently appointed to the Senate by Justin Trudeau), endorsed the Tories’ guide, Discover Canada, as “a fine piece of work.” One immigrant from Sri Lanka told us, “I was always proud to be Canadian. But this was the first time anyone told me why I should be.”

The previous guide, A Look at Canada, authorized in the 1980s and unaltered until 2009, contained only a brief paragraph on constitutional monarchy and one on Remembrance Day. Immigrants were left wondering what sort of country they were joining, apart from knowing it was a “nice” place. Citizenship was a right that entailed few clear responsibilities, beyond recycling plastics and paper. Thanks to Kenney’s initiative, applicants for citizenship began learning about the pageant of Canada’s past, including the historic achievements of women, blacks and the disabled.

For the first time, immigrants began learning about the steps that were taken to abolish slavery in Canada in 1793, the wartime imprisonment of Ukrainians, the relocation of Canadian Japanese, the Chinese head tax, residential schools abuse, and the rejection of Jewish refugees in the 1930s.

The notion that Discover Canada contained “too much” about the War of 1812 is a red herring. One recent article said Conservatives added “increased detail” about that war. In reality, we upped the coverage from zero to one paragraph.

The Liberals are being disingenuous when they say respect for treaties with First Nations will be “mandatory” for citizens. In fact, treaties are between First Nations and the Crown, not citizens. It is the Crown (meaning the Government of Canada) that must respect treaties. Yet, in the Liberals’ topsy turvy illogic, it will be “mandatory” for citizens to respect treaties, but “respecting the human rights of others” will be merely “voluntary.”

By the sound of it, the new text will read like Quotations from Justin Trudeau: “Canada has learned how to be strong not in spite of our differences, but because of them.” This platitude was already amply and more informatively manifested in the Conservative version.

More important than merely reproducing bon mots is the need to explain why. Why is Canada a successful society, why do we enjoy “ordered liberty,” and why do we have “unity in diversity,” as Kenney often said in his speeches. Immigrants seeking the freedom and order of Western societies like to be told why. The United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and the Netherlands all improved their citizenship guides around the same time as we did.

The Tories’ guide was an effort to show that our tradition of rights and freedoms was not born of the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Pluralism in Canada is deeply rooted in history and laws — a “tradition of accommodation” founded on English tradition, including the Magna Carta of 1215, the Royal Proclamation respecting native rights in 1763, and the Quebec Act of 1774. The guide recognizes that the early centuries of relations between natives and newcomers were largely positive thanks to “strong economic, religious, and military bonds in the first 200 years of coexistence which laid the foundations of Canada.”

What matters is not the mere fact of diversity but why it has worked in Canada. Will the Grits be able to come up with a better explanation? Will they attempt any explanation at all?

Source: C.P. Champion: ‘New’ citizenship guide shows Liberals are the copy cats

Newcomers – Reconciliation Needs You Too – New Canadian Media

One of the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and one that will likely be implemented to some degree.

As Adrienne Clarkson notes in her book, Belonging: The Paradox of Citizenship, when immigrants become citizens they inherit both the good and bad parts of our history, and thus better knowledge of the history of Indigenous Peoples and their treatment is essential.

It is likely, should the Liberal government revise the citizenship study guide, Discover Canada, (almost a certainty), the overall diversity and inclusion theme will feature prominently, including with respect to Indigenous Peoples:

Canada’s Indigenous people are asking immigrants to join the nationwide process of reconciliation by learning about and celebrating Indigenous culture.

One of the many recommendations that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) published in their final report calls on the government to incorporate more information on the history of Canada’s diverse Indigenous communities in information kits for newcomers and in citizenship tests.

This includes information on residential schools and the Treaties through which settlers dispossessed the Indigenous peoples of their land.

The recommendation is just one 94 outlined in the report from the TRC, whose work on restoring the relationship between the Canadian government and Indigenous communities culminated with the report’s delivery on Dec. 15, 2015.

Learning the true history of Canada

“I really think it’s important to realize that this was not an empty land when people came here. There were thriving nations in this land,” says Jane Hubbard, acting director of operations of the Legacy of Hope Foundation.

Her organization works to raise awareness about the history of residential schools in Canada and to promote reconciliation among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada.

“I think it’s very important that the true history be told, so that people understand that Canada did not start in 1867. There was a long history before contact as well,” she says.

Hubbard says Aboriginal peoples’ present-day contributions to society should also be included and celebrated.

“Often in a lot of government materials, Aboriginal peoples are referred to in such a way as to make someone think that perhaps they are a historical entity,” she says.

It is vital that newcomers do independent research to learn about Indigenous culture, instead of absorbing the misinterpretations of the general narrative.

“We would like to see more of the current-day representation. Thriving cultures, restoration of language. That people are here and walking amongst us and that they are lively contributors to society.”

Andrew Tataj is a second-generation Canadian whose parents came to Canada in the 1970s from Ireland and former Yugoslavia. “Learning about our history is important, because it can help newcomers assimilate into our culture, especially knowing about the country’s past – good and bad things,” says the computer engineer.

However, he is skeptical about the positive effect of providing more information. “I don’t think much can be changed when it comes to awareness. … It won’t get their land back,” he says.

Participating in reconciliation

Heather Igloliorte, an Inuit professor and chair in Indigenous art history and community engagement at Concordia University, outlines some ways in which newcomers can participate actively in the process of reconciliation.

“I think that one of the things that new Canadians could do is attend festivals and celebrations and Aboriginal peoples’ day and other events, so that they have an opportunity to meet and converse with Indigenous people. So that their understanding does not come only from literature, but also from first-person experience,” she says.

One of the primary focuses of the TRC was to expose the truths of the residential-school system.

Igloliorte says that it is vital that newcomers do independent research to learn about Indigenous culture, instead of absorbing the misinterpretations of the general narrative about them.

“It’s incredibly important for newcomers to Canada to understand the history of how we got to where we are today, so that they do not simply absorb the stereotypes and the racist perspectives towards Indigenous people that we still have in Canada right now,” says Igloliorte.

“I think Aboriginal people did not receive enough respect from the very beginning,” says Khaled Elrodesly, a biomedical engineer from Egypt who recently took his citizenship test. “They are supposed to be the first settlers of the Americas and everyone else that comes after them should respect their thoughts and ideas and try to connect with them.”

Source: Newcomers – Reconciliation Needs You Too – New Canadian Media

Thérèse Casgrain, feminist icon, quietly shunted by Harper government

Governments unfortunately have a tendency to remake history in their own image, as this vignette about the Thérèse Casgrain indicates:

Michèle Nadeau, Casgrains granddaughter, says her family and the Montreal-based Thérèse Casgrain Foundation, which she heads, were not consulted about whether the award should be eliminated.

“We were informed of a sort of internal review that was done by the Human Resources Department, and they decided to discontinue. But we were never consulted.

“Basically, we were advised that at some point the award would be discontinued … Members of the family, the grandchildren, etc., the great grandchildren, were rather upset.”

An image of Casgrain and her namesake volunteer-award medal also disappeared from Canadas $50 bank note in 2012, replaced by the image of an icebreaker on a new currency series.

An image of the so-called Famous Five women was removed from the same bank note.

The Casgrain Award was killed once before by the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney in 1990, but was revived in 2001 by the Chretien Liberals.

During preparations for Discover Canada, officials recommended including the Famous Five as part of the historical narrative and to reinforce the some of the values messages but this was not accepted.

Never completely understood why removal rather than appropriating but there is a consistent thread to these and related actions.

Thérèse Casgrain, feminist icon, quietly shunted by Harper government – Montreal – CBC News.

‘You are as equal as anyone’ | Toronto Star

An alternate “welcome to Canada and Canadian citizenship” speech by Haroon Siddiqui of The Star, with the classic liberal emphasis on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and human rights (as part of the changes introduced along with Discover Canada, the 2010 citizenship guide and test, the Charter was no longer handed out at citizenship ceremonies, replaced by a pamphlet emphasizing the role of the Crown):

Respect that Canada is a Christian-majority nation. But know that it is not a Christian country. Canada has no official religion. All faiths are equal. Canada has no official culture, either. So be free to practise your faith, if you so choose, and live your culture as fully as you like — within the rule of law.

The rule of law is what binds all Canadians together, new and old, the foreign-born and the Canadian-born. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is our common holy parchment.

Canada wants you to succeed. The more you succeed, the more successful Canada becomes.

i‘You are as equal as anyone’ | Toronto Star.

Canada’s 150th anniversary plans big on battles and birthdays

Not surprising, and consistent with the narrative of Discover Canada, our guide for new citizens, focussing on an arsenal of battles and wars, a smattering of sports and a nod to the Arctic. A bit narrow, however.

Canada’s 150th anniversary plans big on battles and birthdays | Toronto Star.