Canada’s immigration minister says he wants to look into ‘issue’ of discrimination and bias within department 

Immigration is essentially discriminatory in terms of who we select. The challenge is to ensure that the criteria are as objective and neutral as possible with respect to country of origin:

Canada’s immigration minister says he wants to look into the “issue” of discrimination and unconscious bias within the department tasked with triaging and approving immigration requests to Canada.

“Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve become aware of this issue, and it’s something that I personally want to look into,” Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told reporters Wednesday as he entered a Liberal caucus meeting.

“There’s no secret that over the course of Canada’s history, unconscious bias and systemic racism have been a shameful part of Canada’s history over different aspects of the government’s operations. One of the things that we want to do is make sure that … this kind of unconscious bias doesn’t discriminate against people who come from a particular part of the world.”

Fraser was responding to questions on a recent report in Montreal newspaper Le Devoir that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is increasingly refusing foreign student applications from francophone African countries to Quebec, whereas English-speaking applicants are increasingly approved.

Immigration lawyers quoted in the report stated that IRCC recently refused applications from nearly 100 per cent of students from Maghreb and Western African countries applying to study in Quebec.

Fraser says he’s certain that the department was not consciously discriminating against those countries, but he still wants to look into it to make sure no other factors than those set out in immigration legislation are being considered when assessing requests.

“I certainly don’t think that there’s been a decision actively to pick one country over another. I think there’s certain factors that IRCC officials assess when they’re trying to admit more newcomers to Canada,” Fraser said.

“But it would be silly if I were to stand here and say that in a department of 11,000 people, if you look at the different operations of IRCC, to say that there is no discrimination,” he added.

He also promised to look at ways to bring more, not less, French-speaking students into Canada.

“International students are one of the groups that successfully integrate more and more so than just about any other group of newcomers,” Fraser said. “That’s a good thing, not just for the newcomer to Canada, but for our economy as well.”

Reporters then asked the newly-minted minister if it was ironic that there would be issues of discrimination and conscious or unconscious bias in the department tasked with handling foreign immigration.

“I think there’s a big distinction between what should be and what is,” the minister responded. “I think we need to constantly be looking to make sure that the public has faith in the system.”

In a follow-up statement, Fraser’s press secretary noted that the minister intended to continue the work already launched by IRCC to “eradicate racism” within the department, including creating a task force dedicated to the task “full-time,” mandatory unconscious bias training for employees and executives and appointing an “anti-racism representative” within each sector of the department.

Earlier this year, IRCC published a report based on focus groups of its employees that revealed that there were multiple and repeated reports of racist incidents within the workplace.

“Experiences of racism at IRCC include microaggressions, biases in hiring and promotion as well as biases in the delivery of IRCCs programs, policies and client service,” reads a summary of the findings, which were first reported by CBC last month.

“In addition, employees paint a picture of an organization fraught with challenges at the level of workplace culture” and a “history of racism going unchecked.”

For example, the report notes that an IRCC team leader was said to have “loudly” declared that colonialism was “good” and that “if ‘the natives’ wanted the land they should have just stood up.

In another case, non-racialized employees and supervisors were notoriously known to refer to parts of the department employing a higher number of racialized employees as “the ghetto.”

Participants also noted “widespread” internal references to certain African nations as “the dirty 30.”


Federal immigration department employees reporting racist workplace behaviour, says survey

Looked at the IRCC 2020 Public Service Employee Survey results to help understand the context.

  • Q55 Harassment: With respect to having been a victim of harassment, IRCC is marginally better than PS average: 9 vs 11 percent, down from 11 vs 15 percent in 2018. With respect to types of harassment, IRCC generally tracks either close to the government-wide numbers or lower levels. In terms of resolution of harassment issues, IRCC also tracks government-wide numbers.
  • Q62 Discrimination: With respect to having been a victim of discrimination, IRCC numbers are the same as government-wide numbers: 7 percent, no change from 2018 IRCC numbers while the government-wide number was 8 percent. However, IRCC had a significantly higher percentage of race-based discrimination, 40 to 28 percent, a significant increase from 2018 27 percent, which may have prompted the focus group study. IRCC also had higher numbers with respect to discrimination based on national/ethnic origin, colour, but not with respect to religion. In terms of resolution of discrimination issues, IRCC also tracks government-wide numbers.
  • Q69 Victim satisfaction with resolution of discrimination complaints: No major difference but overall satisfaction (very strong, strong) is low at 8 percent.

IRCC, of course, will have this data disaggregated by visible minority group, likely highlighting some of the issues mentioned in the focus groups, which is informing its policies and practices. Expect to have my analysis of the overall government harassment and discrimination responses in a few weeks once survey demographic data up on open data:

A report examining workplace racism at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) describes repeated instances of employees and supervisors using offensive terms with their racialized colleagues.

The 20-page document, compiled by the public opinion research company Pollara Strategic Insights, was presented to IRCC in June and recently posted online.

The report is based on ten two-hour focus groups with 54 IRCC employees Pollara conducted for the department in March.

Multiple employees told Pollara they’d heard racist language used in the workplace. The report describes what it calls multiple reports of racist “microagressions” in the IRCC workplace, including:

  • Staff members describing a department section known for having a lot of racialized employees as “the ghetto.”
  • Staff members asking to touch a racialized employee’s hair, or mocking the hairstyles of racialized employees.
  • A manager calling Indigenous people lazy, or calling colonialism “good.”
  • “Widespread” references in the workplace to certain African nations as “the dirty 30.”

“You just feel like, now that I’m speaking out, am I also going to be looked like as one of those angry Black women for speaking up?” the report quotes one employee as saying.

Racialized employees also told Pollara they’ve been passed over for international assignments and “professional development opportunities.” The report says one manager claimed that their evaluation of a racialized employee was overridden “by someone above them to promote a non-racialized employee instead.”

Racialized IRCC staffers told Pollara that they’re marginalized in the workplace — kept in “precarious temporary contract positions disproportionately and for a long time” which prevent them from “advocating for their own rights” to promotion or from speaking out against racist incidents.

Pollara also said participants in the focus groups warned that racism in the workplace “can and probably must impact case processing.” They cited “discriminatory rules for processing immigration applications for some countries or regions,” including additional financial document requirements for applicants from Nigeria.

Source: Federal immigration department employees reporting racist workplace behaviour, says survey

PSES 2020 IRCC Link

Why Pandemics Give Birth To Hate: From Bubonic Plague To COVID-19

Useful historical reminder:

The pandemic has been responsible for an outbreak of violence and hate directed against Asians around the world, blaming them for the spread of COVID-19. During this surge in attacks, the perpetrators have made their motives clear, taunting their victims with declarations like, “You have the Chinese Virus, go back to China!” and assaulting them and spitting on them.

The numbers over the past year in the U.S. alone are alarming. As NPR has reported, nearly 3,800 instances of discrimination against Asians have been reported just in the past year to Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition that tracks incidents of violence and harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S.

Then came mass shooting in Atlanta last week, which took the lives of eight people, including six women of Asian descent. The shooter’s motive has not been determined, but the incident has spawned a deeper discourse on racism and violence targeting Asians in the wake of the coronavirus.

This narrative – that “others,” often from far-flung places, are to blame for epidemics – is a dramatic example of a long tradition of hatred. In 14th-century Europe, Jewish communities were wrongfully accused of poisoning wells to spread the Black Death. In 1900, Chinese people were unfairly vilified for an outbreak of the plague in San Francisco’s Chinatown. And in the ’80s, Haitians were blamed for bringing HIV/AIDS to the U.S., a theory that’s considered unsubstantiated by many global health experts.

Some public health practitioners say the global health system is partially responsible for perpetuating these ideas.

According to Abraar Karan, a doctor at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, the notion persists in global health that “the West is the best.” This led to an assumption early on in the pandemic that COVID-19 spread to the rest of the world because China wasn’t able to control it.

“The other side of that assumption is, ‘Had this started anywhere else, like in the U.S. or the U.K. or Europe, somehow it would’ve been better controlled, and a pandemic wouldn’t have happened,'” says Karan, who was born in India and raised in the U.S. He has been working closely with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to respond to COVID-19.

China’s response was not without fault. The government’s decision to silence doctors and not warn the public about a likely pandemic for six days in mid-January caused more than 3,000 people to become infected within a week, according to a report by the Associated Press, and created ripe conditions for global spread. Some of the aggressive measures China took to control the epidemic – confining people to their homes, for example — have been described as “draconian” and a violation of civil rights, even if they ultimately proved effective.

But it soon became clear that assumptions about the superiority of Western health systems were false when China and other Asian countries, along with many African countries, controlled outbreaks far more effectively and faster than Western countries did, says Karan.

The Twitter Blame Game And Its Repercussions

Some politicians, including former President Donald Trump publicly blamed China for the pandemic, calling this novel coronavirus the “Chinese Virus” or the “Wuhan Virus.” They consistently pushed that narrative even after the World Health Organization (WHO) warned as early as March 2020, when the pandemic was declared, that such language would encourage racial profiling and stigmatization against Asians. Trump has continued to use stigmatizing language in the wake of the Atlanta shooting, using the phrase “China virus” during a March 16 call to Fox News.

A report by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), released this month, directly linked Trump’s first tweet about a “Chinese virus” to a significant increase in anti-Asian hashtags. According to a separate report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, anti-Asian hate crimes in 16 U.S. cities increased 149 percent in 2020, from 49 to 122.

“Diseases have often been racialized in the past as a form of scapegoating,” says Yulin Hswen, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF and lead author of the study on Trump’s tweet. Sometimes, it’s to distract from other events that are occurring within a society, such as the early failures of the U.S. response to the pandemic, says Hswen.

Suspicion tends to manifest more during times of vulnerability, like in wartime or during a pandemic, says ElsaMarie D’Silva, an Aspen Institute New Voices fellow from India who studies violence and harassment issues. It just so happened that COVID-19 was originally identified in China, but, as NPR’s Jason Beaubien has reported, some of the early clusters of cases elsewhere came from jet setters who traveled to Europe and ski destinations.

“What you’re seeing in the U.S. is this pre-existing, deep-seated bias [against Asians and Asian Americans] – or rather, racism – that is now surfacing,” says D’Silva. “COVID-19 is just an excuse.”

A Racist History In Global Health

For Karan, though, the problem lies deeper — with the colonialist history of global health systems.

“It’s not that the biases are necessarily birthed from global health researchers,” he says. “It’s more that global health researchers are birthed from institutions and cultures that are inherently xenophobic and racist.”

For example, the West is usually regarded as the hub of expertise and knowledge, says Sriram Shamasunder, an associate professor of medicine at UCSF, and there’s a sense among Western health workers that epidemics occur in impoverished contexts because the people there engage in primitive behaviors and just don’t care as much about health.

“[Western health workers] come in with a bias that in San Francisco or Boston, we would never let [these crises] happen,” says Shamasunder, who is co-founder and faculty director of the HEAL Initiative, a global health fellowship that works in Navajo Nation in the U.S. and in eight other countries.

In the early days of COVID-19, skepticism by Western public health officials about the efficacy of Asian mask protocols hindered the U.S.’s ability to control the pandemic. Additionally, stereotypes about who was and wasn’t at risk had significant consequences, says Nancy Kass, deputy director for public health at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.

According to Kass, doctors initially only considered a possible COVID-19 diagnosis among people who had recently flown back from China. That narrow focus caused the U.S. to misdiagnose patients who presented with what we now call classic COVID symptoms simply because they hadn’t traveled from China.

“Inadvertently, we [did] a disservice both to patients who need[ed] care and to public health,” says Kass.

It’s reminiscent of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, Kass says. Because itwas so widely billed as a “gay disease,” there are many documented cases of heterosexual women who presented with symptoms but weren’t diagnosed until they were on their deathbeds.

That’s not to say that we should ignore facts and patterns about new diseases. For example, Kass says it’s appropriate to warn pregnant women about the risks of traveling to countries where the Zika virus, which is linked to birth and developmental defects, is present.

But there’s a difference, she says, between making sure people have enough information to understand a disease and attaching a label, like “Chinese virus,” that is inaccurate and that leads to stereotyping.

Karan says we also need to shift our approach to epidemics. In the case of COVID-19 and other outbreaks, Western countries often think of them as a national security issue, closing borders and blaming the countries where the disease was first reported. This approach encourages stigmatization, he says.

Instead, Karan suggests reframing the discussion to focus on global solidarity, which promotes the idea that we are all in this together. One way for wealthy countries to demonstrate solidarity now, Karan says, is by supporting the equitable and speedy distribution of vaccines among countries globally as well as among communities within their own borders.

Without such commitments in place, “it prompts the question, whose lives matter most?” says Shamasunder.

Ultimately, the global health community – and Western society as a whole – has to discard its deep-rooted mindset of coloniality and tendency to scapegoat others, says Hswen. The public health community can start by talking more about the historic racism and atrocities that have been tied to diseases.

Additionally, Karan says, leaders should reframe the pandemic for people: Instead of blaming Asians for the virus, blame the systems that weren’t adequately prepared to respond to a pandemic.

Although WHO has had specific guidance since 2015 about not naming diseases after places, Hswen says the public health community at large should have spoken out earlier and stronger last year against racialized language and the ensuing violence. She says they should have anticipated the backlash against Asians and preempted it with public messaging and education about why neutral terms like “COVID-19” should be used instead of “Chinese virus.”

“Public health people know there is a history of racializing diseases and targeting particular groups,” says Hswen. “They could have done more to defend the Asian community.”

Source: Why Pandemics Give Birth To Hate: From Bubonic Plague To COVID-19

Appeals Court Rules Harvard Doesn’t Discriminate Against Asian American Applicants

Of note (will be appealed to SCOTUS where, given Trump appointments, may be overturned):

A federal appeals court in Boston has ruled Harvard doesn’t intentionally discriminate against Asian American applicants in its admissions process.

The panel of judges upheld a federal district court’s decision from last year, teeing up a possible case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch, who wrote Thursday’s decision, agreed with the lower court that “the statistical evidence did not show that Harvard intentionally discriminated against Asian Americans.”

Students for Fair Admissions, an advocacy group, first filed its lawsuit in 2014, saying that Harvard’s race-based considerations for applicants discriminated against Asian American students in process.

“Today’s decision once again finds that Harvard’s admissions policies are consistent with Supreme Court precedent, and lawfully and appropriately pursue Harvard’s efforts to create a diverse campus that promotes learning and encourages mutual respect and understanding in our community,” a spokeswoman for Harvard told NPR.”As we have said time and time again, now is not the time to turn back the clock on diversity and opportunity.”

Proponents of ending race-based considerations at U.S. universities were unfazed by Thursday’s decision and plan to bring the case to the Supreme Court, according to Edward Blum, the conservative strategist behind SFFA.

Blum said in a statement to NPR member station GBH that he plans to ask the Supreme Court to end the consideration of race in admissions at Harvard and all other universities.

The question of how much race should be a factor in college applicants is a hotly contested one. President Trump’s administration has challenged colleges on using race in admissions policies, claiming such practices violate federal law. Last month, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Yale University, saying its policies violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Yale has said the lawsuit is “baseless.”

Wen Fa, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed an amicus brief in the Harvard case, said Asian Americans are harmed by the school’s admissions rules.

“The Supreme Court’s intervention is needed so that universities comport with” federal law, Fa said.

Stella Flores, an associate professor of higher education at New York University, said she hopes the court will rely on decades of research and data that show the benefits of such policies. Race is but one factor within the broad and “holistic admissions policy” at Harvard and other schools, she said.

Flores and Fa say the new conservative majority of the Supreme Court makes predicting whether the justices will take up the case difficult.

The court has previously decided on similar questions. It upheld race-based admissions policies in the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger, as well as the 2013 and 2016 Fisher v. Univ. of Texas at Austin decisions.

In Grutter, the justices were asked to determine whether the University of Michigan Law School’s use of racial preferences in student admissions violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment or Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In the 5-4 Grutter opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said race-based admissions policies should be for a limited time only, Fa said.

That phrasing may be enough for the current court to take up the case, he said.

Source: Appeals Court Rules Harvard Doesn’t Discriminate Against Asian American Applicants

Black Canadians fought racism, discrimination to serve in Second World War

Good reminder of one of the unfortunate parts of our history:

When one starts asking questions about the experience of Black Canadians during the Second World War, it doesn’t take long to land on the name Allan Bundy.

That’s because at a time when the Canadian Armed Forces is promising to crack down on systemic racism, as well as individual acts of discrimination in the ranks, Bundy’s story speaks to both.

He was one of many Black Canadians who had to overcome discrimination and racism to fight during the Second World War, says Canadian War Museum historian Andrew Burtch.

His story also highlights the long presence of racism in the Canadian Armed Forces, even as it strives today for more diversity, including by promising to end hateful conduct in the ranks.

“One of the top bullets in the most recent Canadian defence policy is looking at leveraging the diversity of the country as a strength and creating better circumstances to allow for that to happen, which would include making sure that people are supported,” Burtch said.

“Obviously there wasn’t that support before.”

Air force, navy quietly barred Black and Asian Canadians

Bundy was 19 years old when he and a white friend named Soupy Campbell went to the Halifax recruiting centre to join the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as pilots. It was late 1939, Germany had just invaded Poland, and Canada and its allies were mobilizing their militaries after declaring war on the Nazis.

When Bundy and Campbell walked out, however, only Soupy had been accepted to join the RCAF. Bundy, according to the stories, felt like he had been rejected because of the recruiting officer’s own racist attitudes. Such incidents had been common during the First World War, in which Bundy’s own father had served in Canada’s only all-Black unit, the No. 2 Construction Battalion.

What Bundy didn’t know at the time was that the entire RCAF, as well as the Royal Canadian Navy, were quietly barring Black and Asian Canadians from all but the most general positions. The policy wasn’t publicized, but most jobs could only go to British subjects who were white or of “pure European descent.”

When conscription was introduced a few years later, the Canadian Army came calling for Bundy. But he wanted to fly, and he wasn’t afraid to say it when an RCMP officer visited a short time later to ask why he hadn’t responded to the Army’s summons.

“I told him that I had gone to join the Air Force in 1939 and if the bullet that kills me is not good enough for the Air Force, then it is not good enough for the Army either — so take me away,” Bundy later recalled telling the Mountie.

Soon afterward, Bundy visited the recruiting station again. By now, because of a shortage of trained pilots and aircrew, the RCAF had started to open its doors to Black Canadians and others.

Even after being accepted and trained, Bundy faced a new form of discrimination. None of the white navigators wanted to serve on his Bristol Beaufighter.

It was only after a sergeant by the name of Elwood Cecil Wright volunteered that Bundy became the first Black Canadian to fly a combat mission during the war.

During their first mission, the two sank a pair of enemy ships off the coast of Norway. They would fly 42 more missions together before the war ended and Bundy returned home to Halifax.

Service changed attitudes in Canadian society

The Canadian War Museum credits Bundy and dozens of other Black Canadians who served with the RCAF during the Second World War as having helped “change attitudes toward visible minorities in the military, and in Canadian society.”

Kathy Grant is the founder of the Legacy Voices Project, which seeks to share the stories of Black Canadians who served during the two world wars. One of those was Grant’s own father, Owen Rowe, who travelled to Canada from Barbados to volunteer for the Second World War and asked her to start the memorial project.

Grant believes the war helped pave the way for more rights and freedoms for Black Canadians.

Some such as Lincoln Alexander, who went on to become lieutenant-governor of Ontario, were able to take advantage of the benefits offered by Ottawa to veterans. Many also felt empowered to fight for those rights, and found allies in former comrades-in-arms who were white.

“They wanted things to change,” Grant said. “They were thinking: ‘Well, why are we fighting? Here it is, some of us are dying and they’re out of line by just denying us these rights.’ But it was a large shift for Canada as a whole.”

Source: Black Canadians fought racism, discrimination to serve in Second World War

‘Dramatic’ decline in Canadians who say discrimination against Black and Chinese communities is not a problem here

Yet another interesting survey from Environics with this encouraging trend:

There has been a “dramatic” decline in the proportion of Canadians who say that discrimination against Black and Chinese communities is no longer a problem in Canada, a new study has found.

The study, conducted by the Environics Institute alongside Vancity, Century Initiative and the University of Ottawa, is based on research conducted over the course of two public opinion surveys, which were completed in August and September. The first survey was conducted online, and gauged the opinions of 3,008 Canadians. The second survey was based on telephone interviews with 2,000 Canadians, and is accurate within plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

The surveys have found that there is little divide on the issue of racism in Canada: the views of those that identify as white and those who are racialized have both shifted in the same direction.

The proportion of Canadians who said that discrimination against Chinese-Canadians is no longer an issue has fallen by just over half. In 2019, 63 per cent of Canadians said it was no longer a problem. In 2020, only 31 per cent agreed that discrimination against Chinese-Canadians was no longer a problem.

Similar trends emerged for how Canadians perceive racism against Black communities: Fewer than half as many — 20 per cent — say it is no longer an issue in Canada than in 2019, when 47 per cent said racism against Black Canadians was no longer an issue.

While many Canadians disagreed discrimination against Indigenous communities was no longer a problem last year, the proportion of people that strongly disagreed grew from 29 per cent in 2019 to 43 per cent this year.

The proportion of Canadians that “agree that it is more difficult for non-white people to be successful in Canadian society” has also grown from 2019, the study found.

There has been a decline over the last decade in confidence in local police and the RCMP, the study survey showed, with 73 per cent of Canadians saying they have a lot or some confidence in police. Meanwhile, 64 say the same about the RCMP. In 2010, 88 per cent expressed confidence in local police, and 84 per cent expressed confidence in the RCMP.

Andrew Parkin, executive director of the Environics Institute, told the Star that typically, opinions change gradually. This year, though, there are clear, sharp changes in the way Canadians view race and policing.

“In the report, we call (the shift) dramatic — and I don’t think we’re exaggerating,” Parkin said. “That’s a dramatic change in a short period of time.”

The major changes in public perception suggest “that something grabbed the public’s attention and led them to think about these issues in a different way from which they’ve been thinking about them before,” he said.

The report cites the wide public discussion around police brutality, anti-Black racism protests and the publicity of racist behaviour towards Chinese-Canadians in the wake of COVID-19 as the likely trigger for the shift.

The report “certainly shows a more openness to the idea of systemic racism,” Parkin said.

The shift in thinking shows “we’re moving forward,” said Marva Wisdom, a senior fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. “I think that is a good thing. So I am very, very hopeful.”

The survey matches up with what those on the ground doing anti-racism work are experiencing and hearing, she said. However, Wisdom said she’s feeling cautious about the results.

There is “vigilance that has to go along with this,” she said. “It’s critical, and it’s important and while I’m hopeful, I also recognize that we have to build in sustainability in the work that we’re doing.”

Public perception “has never been like this before, the response has never been this consistently positive,” Wisdom said.

“People are working to read books and finding out how they can learn about systemic racism. And, I cannot understate how important that is for our country, our communities, and for especially Black and Indigenous populations going forward.”

Source: ‘Dramatic’ decline in Canadians who say discrimination against Black and Chinese communities is not a problem here

For the survey:  Final Report,  Detailed Data Tables

When Covid-19 rules are flouted by ultra-Orthodox Jews, it isn’t anti-Semitism to call it out

Of note:

As authorities scramble to confront a second wave of Covid-19 building across America, anger is mounting against government efforts to stop the spread within a population among those hardest hit by the pandemic: the sprawling ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of metropolitan New York.

For the ultra-Orthodox to complain that they’re being discriminated against when they come under extra scrutiny is essentially to complain that it’s anti-Semitic to notice what they’re doing.

With the pandemic in its eighth month and restrictions cutting into the religious practices of the tight-knit, strictly observant subculture, it’s understandable that weariness and impatience would set in. Unfortunately, that’s leading to a growing sense in the community that it is being singled out unfairly for deprivation of its religious rights, often accompanied by open complaints of anti-Semitism as the cause for the lockdowns.

It’s a dangerous misperception, for both the ultra-Orthodox and their neighbors. The virus doesn’t single out groups by religion, race or national origin; it’s an unbiased scourge. Nor are New York officials’ containment efforts guided by any such bigoted motives. Enforcement goes where the germs are. And the germs, tragically, are hitting ultra-Orthodox Jews with special fury.

From the beginning of the crisis in March, densely populated ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens and key suburbs emerged as leading viral hot spots in hard-hit New York. Their outsize vulnerability was due in large part to a traditional religious culture built on a continuous cycle of obligatory, large-scale gatherings for prayer, study, weddings and funerals, all cherished rituals that can and apparently did serve as super-spreader events.

Compounding these risks has been the mundane physical structure of the insular ultra-Orthodox lifestyle, built on large families’ living in cramped homes packed into dense neighborhoods, making social distancing extraordinarily difficult.

But because those are religious obligations and cornerstones of their Jewish identity structure, government-mandated lockdowns and social distancing can and too often did look from an ultra-Orthodox perspective like government assaults on the religion itself.

It might seem surprising that the community’s behavior hasn’t been dictated from start to finish by the fundamental Jewish principle known as “protection of human life” — the commandment that nearly all religious rules be suspended if a human life is the balance. And, indeed, while many respected rabbis urged members of the community to follow that guidance, it appears that the principle was hard to visualize when the threat wasn’t an enemy gun or a car crash — events that Jews regularly violate religious restrictions to address — but an invisible bug.

That difficulty wasn’t helped by a small but influential minority within the community that has been nodding toward a competing principle — that of sanctifying God’s name by openly defying oppressors’ bans, even at risk to one’s own life and limb. While rarely stated aloud right now, this notion has been encouraged by a handful of well-known rabbis, most of them Israelis with strong followings in the United States, and, more subtly, by a deep-seated distrust of the modern world and its dictates, which often take the form of medical directives.

After a long spring of cat-and-mouse police chases after clandestine synagogue services and other attempts by the ultra-Orthodox to evade quarantine, followed by the summer slowdown in infections, the New York City health department reported startling new statistics in late September showing that certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, most of them featuring large ultra-Orthodox populations, were reporting virus test results averaging 4.7 percent positive, compared to just over 1 percent in the rest of the city. Two weeks later, the average jumped to more than 6 percent.

The nine “red zone” ZIP codes on the state map of the highest infection rates at that time — which carried the heaviest public restrictions as a result — were nearly all major ultra-Orthodox population centers. Among other things, houses of worship in red zones were limited to 10 attendees at a time under a policy announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Ultra-Orthodox community leaders maintain — and government authorities largely agree — that most ultra-Orthodox Jews are following government mandates and that violators represent only a minority. That minority, however, seems to be large enough to push the entire community into vastly disproportionate infection territory, given that observance by a vague “most” isn’t sufficient to stop the virus.

Yet the reaction of much of the ultra-Orthodox community has been to protest the lifesaving government restrictions — sometimes violently — and to paint them as anti-Semitic. In a typical example, a weekly tabloid with a mostly Orthodox readership touted on its front page an essay headlined “De Blasio And Cuomo Have Declared War On Us,” which accused the governor and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio of “treachery and blatant anti-Semitism” and claimed that they “want to destroy our schools and way of life.”

And in a toned-down critique, Agudath Israel of America, the main advocacy body representing ultra-Orthodox Jews, argued that while the ban on large services “discriminates against all religions,” it “disproportionately impacts the religious services of Orthodox Jews,” who would be shut out from traditional synagogue observance of two major religious holidays.

But for the ultra-Orthodox to complain that they’re being discriminated against when they come under extra scrutiny is essentially to complain that it’s anti-Semitic to notice what they’re doing. And in this case, defiantly maintaining tradition doesn’t risk just their own lives, which is their prerogative, but their neighbors’ lives, as well. The trap they’re caught in is tragic, but society has a right and an obligation to protect its people’s welfare.

Indeed, the greater anti-Semitism threat likely comes not from failing to defend Jewish rights but from trying too hard. When Jewish communities, Orthodox or not, ask for special accommodations to meet their particular needs, it’s often seen by other communities as cutting in line, wheedling extra privileges while broader needs go unmet.

To be sure, part of the ultra-Orthodox misperception that anti-Semitism is at work comes from memories of long centuries when anti-Jewish powers forced Jews to give up their traditions or take them underground. These memories, and the alarms they trigger, are familiar to Jews of every religious and ideological stripe.

Throughout their history, Torah-observant Jews have faced emergencies that have forced them to compromise and bend some laws, sometimes permanently.

At the same time, it’s precisely this history that should serve as a guide for the ultra-Orthodox community today in combating Covid-19. Throughout their history, Torah-observant Jews have faced emergencies that have forced them to compromise and bend some laws, sometimes permanently.

Disasters, usually in the form of anti-Semitic persecution, have forced them to drop some practices and amend others to survive until better times returned. So it was after the Roman destruction of Solomon’s Temple in ancient Israel and during the Spanish Inquisition, the medieval Polish-Ukrainian pogroms, the Soviet era and the Holocaust.

But America isn’t any of those things. Instead, it is the ultra-Orthodox community itself that right now poses the most danger to its own continuity.

Source: When Covid-19 rules are flouted by ultra-Orthodox Jews, it isn’t anti-Semitism to call it out

Sunnybrook Hospital pledged to ‘listen’ to employees about discrimination. Two workers say they’ve been speaking out about racism for years — and nothing has been done

These types of stories continue to emerge from many organizations:

Angela Lindow, a part-time worker at Sunnybrook Hospital, received a company-wide email in June after George Floyd’s killing and the resulting racial unrest. The hospital was committing to “address inequity,” “eliminate racism,” and “listen.” She thought, “Listen? We’ve been right here for years.”

Lindow and 11 other racialized Sunnybrook employees in the communications department, which co-ordinates calls made to the hospital and activates emergency response teams by managing codes, first made allegations of systemic racism in their hospital department in January 2016. Some have still been fighting through multiple channels to get a satisfying response from the hospital.

The original allegations pointed to instances of discrimination in hiring decisions, discrimination in decisions to reorganize shifts, changes that seemed to remove racialized staff from visitor-facing positions to less visible work locations and unequal accommodation and treatment between white staff and racialized staff.

The workers brought these complaints to management, and a five-month external investigation concluded that each claim was “unsubstantiated” with no further explanation in the summary provided to them.

After the investigation concluded, the staff filed claims with the Human Rights Tribunal in July 2016. This fall, they are expected to have a summary hearing. From there, it will be decided if the applicants have enough evidence to move on to a full hearing.

Emily Shepherd, a lawyer who works at Human Rights Legal Support Centre which is representing Lindow, said generally, racial discrimination and systemic racism cases can be difficult to prove because the instances, often, are not overt. It’s not uncommon for complex cases like this to take a long time to go through the process, Shepherd said.

The remaining complainants are hoping to receive monetary compensation for pain, suffering and lost wages, as well as have the hospital form an anti-racism department and new practices for dealing with discrimination cases.

The Star asked Sunnybrook about the original 19 allegations, the internal investigation and the current Human Rights Tribunal cases. The hospital responded with a written statement that said Sunnybrook is following the tribunal’s process and that the original complaints “were addressed in accordance with the hospital’s policies.”

The statement went on to say that “Sunnybrook has a number of policies specific to ensuring a safe and respectful work environment and one that is free from harassment, discrimination and violence. Sunnybrook takes any allegation of this nature seriously.”

Like many organizations, Sunnybrook has internally made commitments to address racism and diversity issues within the hospital, but Lindow is still disappointed, especially with the work racialized staff have contributed throughout this pandemic. She felt dismissed when these complaints were originally filed and again now, while trying to have the hospital revisit the issue.

Janet Getten, who has worked at Sunnybrook since 1989, was one of the complainants. She has found the process of trying to be heard demoralizing.

Despite waiting for years for this fall’s hearing, Lindow and Getten, as well as some of the others they say, still feel the need to pursue it.

“I want the hospital to acknowledge that we were treated badly,” Lindow said. Especially during a time where COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting Black and brown people, she says it’s all the more important for the hospital internally to address cases of inequality.

Getten had nothing but positive things to say about the quality of care Sunnybrook has the capacity for, but emphasized that the hospital should still address how she, and other racialized staff, were treated.

“Amazing people work at this hospital,” Getten said. “But they’re not always treated fairly.”

For Lindow this is true not only for them as staff, but the patient care. “This is a structural, systemic issue” and she wonders if racialized staff is treated like this, how can racialized patients feel “confident” that they will “receive equal treatment” from the hospital.

“The tone is set from the top. The CEOs, the executives,” Lindow said. “This was a huge case that [the hospital] continues to ignore.”

Much of the complaints from 2016 had to do with staff being passed over for new positions for which they were qualified, based on documents reviewed by the Star.

As a unionized job, current employees with seniority and qualifications can often change roles with ease. Four of the complaints involved racialized staff members who were passed over for new roles and instead either external applicants or applicants with lower seniority, who were white, were hired.

In 2015, Getten applied for a position at St. John’s campus as a front desk operator. A typing test requirement was added, which Lindow and Getten say was not usual for internal applicants given the experience they already had within the department. Getten had been working at Sunnybrook for over 20 years at that point, and said in her time she had trained other staff and covered for section leaders.

Despite her experience, Getten’s typing score was below what was listed as required in the posting and she was not granted an interview at all. Instead, the job was given to a recently hired white co-worker. The same white co-worker was also mentioned another time in the complaints, when management granted her a position over a racialized man, who successfully grieved the seniority issue with the union and was given the position.

A former section leader in the department who spoke with the Star under the condition of anonymity, said that he had conversations with the hiring manager and shared Getten’s typing ability and practice test scores with the manager. Afterwards, the job was posted with a requirement that was out of Getten’s range.

Getten has since transferred to another campus at Sunnybrook, but the circumstances around losing out on that last job due to typing ability “still hurts,” she said.

The same section leader, who is a white man, was originally hired externally as a call operator. When he applied for the section leader position, he said the same manager cited in the complaint about the typing requirement gave him the opportunity to write his own job description for the role, and told him to include criteria that only he could meet. By doing this, it would result in excluding current staff with seniority from being successful at applying, including Lindow who was also interested in the role.

Several attempts by the Star to reach the manager in question went unanswered.

In addition to this instance, Lindow alleges in the Human Rights Tribunal claim that she was passed over for another management position in 2015. Lindow started working at Sunnybrook after being a stay-at-home mother for a number of years since it was walking distance from home and would be a path to re-enter the workforce. She applied for a management position after working as a part-time operator for a year and with previous experience working in emergency management as well as the anti-racism secretariat for the Ontario government. An external white male applicant was hired instead.

In 2015 under the new management, shift times were changed, making the overnight shifts start at 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. rather than 11 p.m., so that there would be more overlap between operators in the morning. While shift changes are said to align with call volume and help mitigate absences, Lindow says that since much of the staff is older racialized women who do not drive, these times posed safety issues for them and would ultimately impact whether they could stay with the job. She also says the shift changes were only implemented at the Bayview campus, not other campuses where staff was predominately white.

Another staff person with over 25 years of experience had her schedule changed and was required to work every weekend, rather than alternating weekends. The employee worked a second job, and as a result of the new schedule, had to change her work status from permanent part-time to casual in order to maintain both jobs, which made her lose out on seniority and pension contributions, the original claim alleges.

Combined, these work changes and lack of job mobility felt like an attempt to force out racialized employees while hiring more white staff in the department, Lindow said, which is why they filed complaints as a group.

Thinking back to hearing that the claims were unsubstantiated after the external investigation, Lindow said, “At the end of the day, you had 12 racialized people go to their white manager and say, something’s amiss here. We’re feeling the weight of discrimination. All white people investigate and come back and say, there’s nothing to see here.”

“You really do hope that they would have looked at it and said, ‘All of this, all of these things are happening. Let’s pick this up and really look into it because 19 of these things happened,’” Getten said. “How is it possible to find that it was their opinion or decision that none of these things happened?”

Lindow continued, “If management treats us like this, how is a Black patient supposed to feel confident?”

Eight of the staffers including Lindow and Getten took the cases to the Human Rights Tribunal in July 2016. Two complainants have since abandoned their cases, so as of now, six continue to await a hearing.

When going through the Tribunal process, cases first go through a summary hearing stage, which is the stage this case is awaiting in the fall. This is when the Tribunal hears some points of the case and decides whether to move forward with a full hearing where evidence will be heard in detail.

Shepherd, the lawyer familiar with Lindow and Getten’s tribunal claim, said for cases of systemic discrimination, a chance to present all the evidence is best.

“Dismissing it at that early stage actually, for cases with those types of allegations, often isn’t appropriate, because it doesn’t give the tribunal [the opportunity] to look at the full picture,” she said. “And often you need the full picture to really assess these kinds of allegations.”

Source: Sunnybrook Hospital pledged to ‘listen’ to employees about discrimination. Two workers say they’ve been speaking out about racism for years — and nothing has been done

Report Slams Facebook For ‘Vexing And Heartbreaking Decisions’ On Free Speech

Of note. Major fail as combination of ideology and business model have led Facebook to where it is today:

Facebook’s decisions to put free speech ahead of other values represent “significant setbacks for civil rights,” according to an independent audit of the social network’s progress in curbing discrimination.

The auditors gave a damning assessment of what they called “vexing and heartbreaking decisions” by Facebook. Among them: Keeping up posts by President Trump that “clearly violated” the company’s policies on hate and violent speech and voter suppression; exempting politicians from third-party fact-checking; and being “far too reluctant to adopt strong rules to limit [voting] misinformation and voter suppression.”

The report reflects two years of investigation by Laura W. Murphy, a former American Civil Liberties Union executive, and the civil rights law firm Relman Colfax. They were hired by Facebook following widespread accusations that it promotes discrimination by, for example, letting advertisers target users based on race. The auditors examined policies and practices ranging from how the company handles hate speech to its work to stop election interference.

“What has become increasingly clear is that we have a long way to go,” Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, wrote in a blog postintroducing the auditors’ report.

“While we won’t make every change they call for, we will put more of their proposals into practice,” she said.

Sandberg said Facebook would create a new role for a senior vice president dedicated to making sure civil rights considerations informed the company’s products, policies and procedures.

The audit echoed complaints that advocacy groups have made for years. Leaders of those groups expressed skepticism over whether Facebook would make meaningful change now.

“The recommendations coming out of the audit are as good as the action that Facebook ends up taking,” Rashad Robinson, president of the nonprofit Color of Change, told NPR. “Otherwise, it is a road map without a vehicle and without the resources to move, and that is not useful for any of us.”

Vanita Gupta, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which along with Color of Change was instrumental in getting Facebook to make the audit public, said advocates would continue to put pressure on the company.

“It is a work in progress clearly, and this report in some ways is a start and not a finish for the civil rights community,” Gupta said. “We’re going to continue to push really hard using multiple tactics to be able to get done what we need to to preserve our democracy and protect our communities.”

The audit comes as hundreds of brands have pledged not to advertise on Facebook this month to protest its laissez-faire approach to harmful posts. Some of the boycott organizers, which include Color of Change, the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP, held a call with Facebook leaders on Tuesday and hung up disheartened.

“They showed up to the meeting expecting an ‘A’ for attendance,” Robinson said of CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the other Facebook executives in a press conference after the meeting.

Advertising accounted for more than 98% of the company’s nearly $70 billion in revenue last year. The boycott campaign’s stated goal is “to force Mark Zuckerberg to address the effect that Facebook has had on our society.”

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told NPR the roster of brands that have paused advertising has passed 1,000, including household names such as Hershey, Ford and Levi’s.

“[Facebook executives] haven’t addressed the concerns of their advertisers. They haven’t addressed the concerns of the civil rights community. They haven’t addressed the concerns of consumer advocates,” Greenblatt said. “If they fail to do so, we will press and we will push. This effort will amplify, this campaign will expand, and more organizations will join.”

The audit included further recommendations for how Facebook could build “a long-term civil rights accountability structure,” including hiring more members of the civil rights team and making a civil rights executive a part of decisions over whether to remove content.

The auditors said Facebook had made progress in curbing discrimination — for example, by barring advertisers from targeting housing, employment and credit ads based on age, gender or ZIP code and expanding policies against voter suppression and census interference.

But they warned that the company’s decisions to prioritize free speech above all else — particularly speech by politicians — risked “obscur[ing]” that progress, especially as the presidential election approaches. They called on Facebook to enforce its policies and hold politicians to the same standards as other users.

“We have grave concerns that the combination of the company’s decision to exempt politicians from fact-checking and the precedents set by its recent decisions on President Trump’s posts, leaves the door open for the platform to be used by other politicians to interfere with voting,” they wrote.

“If politicians are free to mislead people about official voting methods … and are allowed to use not-so-subtle dog whistles with impunity to incite violence against groups advocating for racial justice, this does not bode well for the hostile voting environment that can be facilitated by Facebook in the United States.”

Source: Report Slams Facebook For ‘Vexing And Heartbreaking Decisions’ On Free Speech

‘Textbook’ Discrimination: Human Rights Report Accuses China Of Mistreating Africans

Yet another need for an independent examination of Chinese government human rights abuses:

Human Rights Watch is accusing China of discrimination against African communities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Authorities in China’s Guangdong province, home to China’s largest African population, have singled out people of African descent for testing, the rights group alleges. It characterizes the tests as forcible, and says that as many Africans were forced to quarantine, landlords evicted them.

Guangdong authorities said in April that all foreigners were required to submit to testing and quarantine. However, Human Rights Watch says that “in practice, the authorities just targeted Africans for forced testing and quarantine.”

Many of the incidents that Human Rights Watch discusses allegedly took place in Guangzhou, the capital and the largest city in Guangdong.

“Chinese authorities claim ‘zero tolerance’ for discrimination, but what they are doing to Africans in Guangzhou is a textbook case of just that,” Human Rights Watch researcher Yaqiu Wang says in the release. “Beijing should immediately investigate and hold accountable all officials and others responsible for discriminatory treatment.”

In an apparent response to the complaints, Chinese state media reported earlier this week that Guangdong has “unveiled measures requiring sectors … to extend the same treatment to all from home and abroad.”

Videos have surfaced of black people being denied entry into a McDonald’sand a shopping center, as well as forced tests and evictions. A black Canadian man told the rights group about his experience being denied entry to the subway.

“The metro station worker told us, ‘As of this morning, we’ve been told not to let any black people onto the subway,'” the unnamed man is quoted as saying by Human Rights Watch. “Then four or five security guards showed up and questioned me. The subway refused me just because of the color of my skin. They don’t care about any documents, or what my health app said.”

Human Rights Watch says the city of Guangzhou is home to more than 14,000 Africans. It has had a large African community for years.

Hundreds of African human rights groups submitted an open letter to the African Union Commission in late April denouncing the “xenophobic, racist and inhuman treatment” of African people in China. They called for an independent investigation into the situation in Guangdong province and throughout China. Kenya said last month that it will help its nationals stranded in China return home starting in May.

In recent years, China has spent hundreds of billions of dollars in development projects throughout the African continent. Human Rights Watch notes that the investments have “boosted Africa’s economy,” but that governments are often hesitant to criticize China as a result.

Source: ‘Textbook’ Discrimination: Human Rights Report Accuses China Of Mistreating Africans