Danish left veering right on immigration

Another Nordic country struggling with integration:

Denmark’s right-wing government might once have expected pushback from the left-wing opposition when it introduced a controversial new integration policy.

No longer.

A recent government proposal, to be finalized by parliament in the fall, would target the country’s so-called ghetto neighborhoods with a series of sanctions and incentives. The intention is to bring immigrant communities fully into Danish society — by force if necessary.

Children living in the targeted areas would be compelled to attend day care for 25 hours a week, to ensure they learn the country’s language and values. Parents who take their kids back to their countries of origin for extended periods could face prison or deportation. Crimes committed in the neighborhoods would carry heavier sentences. Buildings would be demolished if necessary.

The last touches to the package are expected to be fully approved with a large parliamentary majority, including the enthusiastic support of the largest opposition party, the left-wing Danish Social Democrats.

“We tried to negotiate this to be, you might say more draconian,” said Mattias Tesfaye, the party’s spokesman on immigration and integration. “We think the government has been soft on this.”

Flanking on the right

Political parties across Europe are grappling with immigration policy. Concerns about new arrivals have helped propel far-right parties into government in Austria and Italy and elevated the xenophobic Alternative for Germany into its country’s largest opposition party.

The issue has posed a particular dilemma for Europe’s left-wing parties, which have suffered a wave of electoral defeats as political rivals accuse them of being responsible for untrammeled immigration. Some have shifted to an economic critique of migration due to wage competition, while others have doubled down on a defense of diversity and assistance for refugees.

The response of the Danish Social Democrats is an outlier: They have tried to outflank their competition by backing the government in a string of eye-catching bills on immigration and integration and demanding harder measures still.

Last year, the Social Democrats overhauled their party’s political agenda for only the seventh time in their 140-year history. The result, “Together for Denmark,” adopts much of the language of the anti-immigration right, including the term “parallel societies.” The policy describes these as places “where foreigners and their descendants live, isolated from the Danish community and with values that are not Danish” and calls them “unacceptable.”

In addition to throwing its support behind the ghetto plan, the party has supported the government in allowing the jewelry and valuables of asylum seekers to be seized by authorities in payment for their reception, and in banning face veils.

“Why should the social democratic position be we should leave people alone, and leave the right with the argument that we have to have a common cultural background?” asked Tesfaye, the son of a Danish woman and a refugee from Ethiopia, who serves as the party’s point person on the issue. “It should be a core issue for social democratic parties to break down these parallel societies and make sure we all belong to each other.”

The strategy may be paying off: Opinion polls indicate the party may lead a left-wing coalition into government next year.

Attacking from the left

The Social Democrats blame the perception that they are soft on immigration for recent electoral troubles. After governing Denmark for most of the 20th century, they have been out of power for all but four years since 2001.

That was the year immigration became a defining political issue, in an election that immediately followed the September 11 attacks on the United States. Voters began to abandon the left in favor of tough-on-immigration right-leaning governments, showing they were willing to compromise on the welfare state if it meant migration controls.

The right-wing populist Danish People’s Party drew voters away from the left as it lent support to governments on the condition they impose immigration freezes and cut refugee support, steadily reshaping the policies of its rivals in its own image.

In April 2017, around the same time the Social Democrats released their new party policy, Tesfaye published “Welcome, Mustafa,” a book analyzing 50 years of his party’s stance on immigration. In it, he refutes the party’s image as being pro-open borders, revealing years of debates and divisions on the issue and rehabilitating early figures who warned integration could be a problem, but who were ignored.

Tesfaye draws on the experience of his own family. When his father was granted asylum, he struggled to integrate because it was not clear what Denmark expected of him, Tesfaye recalled.

“We have to be very explicit. We have to say for example: We need you to support a secular state where there’s a religious freedom, and where the common rules of society are supported by secular arguments. We need you to make sure your children learn Danish. We need you to live not just in one place where all the refugees are,” Tesfaye said.

Reframing immigration

The Social Democrats formulate opposition to immigration as an integral left-wing position, necessary to protect the party’s traditional working-class voter base from immigrants who would compete for their jobs and send their children into their schools.

Tesfaye defends the ghetto plan, for example, as necessary to defend the welfare state, arguing that people can be asked to pay up to 53 percent in income tax for health, education and a safety net only if they feel part of a common unit with their fellow citizens.

Tesfaye also defends the measure as an investment in children’s education — a classic Social Democrat policy — and argues it should be applied across Denmark.

“With migration to Denmark it’s our own voters, and our own families, who have paid the highest price,” he said. “It’s a problem for a Social Democrat if we have areas in our country where the language is shifting to Arabic or Turkish, because it undermines the common ground [on which] the welfare state is based.”

The number of asylum seekers granted permission to reside in Denmark — though the number dwindled to 2,700 last year from a peak of 11,000 in 2015 — is still too much for the country, he said. Syrians, Iranians, Afghans and Eritrean make up the largest numbers of people seeking asylum in Denmark.

“When as a little boy I walked around in the second-biggest city of Denmark, I had a black father,” he said. “People were turning their heads because he was black. Not in a negative way, but just because it was so extraordinary that a black man was walking around in our suburb. This has changed in my lifetime.”

Since 1980, non-Western immigrants have risen from being 1 percent of the population to 8.5 percent now. “It’s been uncontrolled, we can’t control who is coming to Denmark and from where,” Tesfaye said.

His party now supports retaining border controls with Germany — an emergency measure as Denmark is within the European border-free Schengen area — until it is satisfied that the EU’s external borders are controlled. It wants to set up a processing center for refugees outside Europe where asylum seekers can apply, to stop them traveling to Denmark in advance. The number accepted should be capped, family reunifications limited, and immigrants incentivized to return to their country of origin or be deported where needed.

In the ghetto

The reality of the ghetto laws will soon hit the residents of the low-rise apartment buildings of Mjølnerparken, a leafy housing development north of Copenhagen.

“Our shared language is Danish, our common identity is Danish,” says Muhammed Aslam, chairman of the residents’ association in Mjølnerparken. “We don’t see it as a parallel society at all” | Andrew Kelly/Reuters

By the government’s analysis, Mjølnerparken is one of the most severe “ghettos” — of its 1,752 residents, 82 percent are non-Western immigrants or their descendants, and 43.5 percent are unemployed.

Muhammed Aslam, chairman of the residents’ association, sees it differently.

“About 30 different nationalities live here, of different backgrounds and cultures. Our shared language is Danish, our common identity is Danish,” he said. “We don’t see it as a parallel society at all.” 

Residents reject the label “ghetto.” Though the area has gained a certain notoriety due to some gang shootings — rare and shocking for Denmark — its pristine playgrounds and tranquility make it hard to see this as a “ghetto” by any international understanding of the term.

“I don’t agree with this form of collective punishment,” said Iliana, 53, a nurse and translator from Romania who declined to give her full name. She had lived in the country for 25 years, and was sharing a picnic with women from Denmark and Iraq in a courtyard between apartment blocks as children played nearby. “They’re punishing everyone before people have done anything wrong,” she said. 

Aslam, who moved to Denmark with his parents from Pakistan in 1969 when he was 7, said he felt the government was betraying the values of the country he grew up in.

“Given my fantastic experience growing up with such a fair democracy as Denmark I couldn’t have imagined even five years ago that we could have ended up with a law that’s so discriminatory,” said Aslam, an estranged member of the Social Democrats. “It takes away the principle of equality before the law.”

Aslam said he does not recognize the government’s image of Mjølnerparken, and urged politicians to enter into dialogue with the community about what the area really needs — apprenticeships for young people and help to find employment, he suggested.

“It has become a competition about who can be the toughest against immigration, refugees and Muslims,” he said with a sigh. “That’s going to be the basis on which the next election is won or lost.”

Source: Danish left veering right on immigration

Integration and immigration key battlefield for Swedish election

Failure of integration policies and approaches and political leadership:

Polish-born pensioner Agata sits in the sunny open square of the Rinkeby shopping centre, on the outskirts of Stockholm, and laughs when she hears Donald Trump’s name.

Last year the US president warned of a surge in violence in Sweden after a US television report about neighbourhoods like Rinkeby, and the supposed cover-up of immigrant criminality there.

Before Agata moved to Rinkeby 20 years ago she lived in Trump’s home town – New York City – where she learned a thing or two about gang crime that even Rinkeby cannot match.

“It is mostly nice and quiet and clean here, the black people are polite and friendly, but outsiders are only interested when bad things happen,” she says, sitting beside an open-air fruit and vegetable market.

Leaving the Rinkeby underground station is like crossing continents with public transport. Shiny, white, downtown Stockholm is just 18 minutes away but here the streets are populated by Iraqis and Somalians, many in headscarves and even a handful of women in niqabs.

Some 90 per cent of people living here are foreign-born and crowds of working-age men sit around in cafes, testament to failed integration and a jobless rate three times the Stockholm average.

When night falls, another Rinkeby emerges, populated by gangs of young men who hang around and zip around on scooters as the occasional police helicopter watches from above.

Half a century after it was planned, Rinkeby – and similar immigrant suburbs in Gothenburg and Malmo – have become a contested symbol in Sweden’s closely watched general election on Sunday.

Most of the heated campaign has been dominated by immigration and integration issues – with the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD) calling the tune.

Burning cars

Its election videos show tower-block neighbourhoods like Rinkeby in drab grey, overlaid with ominous music and slow-motion footage of riots and burning cars.

What are officially referred to as “vulnerable areas” are “no-go zones” for most Swedes, who know these places only from crime reports. There have been riots every other year in Rinkeby and fatal shootings are no longer a rarity. Swedish national statistics show 41 fatal shootings last year – more than double the 2011 number.

In the SD narrative, this is a direct result of unchecked immigration that “ruined Sweden” and brought in 160,000 people – proportionately more than any other European country.

On the defensive, Sweden’s Social Democrat-led government has since tighted up migration laws. But locals in Rinkeby say the real problem is not about new immigration but old, failed integration policies of state alimentation and benevolent apathy.

Talk to Ahmed Abdirahman about the neighbourhood he has called home for 20 years, after moving here from Somalia as an 11 year old with his family, and the word he keeps using is segregation.

He grew up in Tensta, next to Rinkeby, and is an integration expert at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce.

His mother pushed education and the Swedish language and her son displays an eloquent determination to assist those who were less fortunate by lobbying Sweden’s politicians.

Xenophobic rhetoric

A new integration effort is needed, he says, from a language-learning push to an opening of native Swedes’ networks to jobseekers with immigrant roots.

Abdirahman sees the rise of the populist SD and its xenophobic rhetoric as a serious risk, but also a chance to create a more inclusive Swedish “togetherness” model for this century.

“Until now people were afraid to discuss problems with migrants before for fear of being labelled racists,” he said. The challenge now is to balance overdue law-and-order measures against immigrants who commit crime without overshooting the target because of social media distortions and half-truths from incomplete statistics.

“Most people believe immigrants take out of the system yet, as soon they take a job, putting back into the system as millions of foreign born citizens do here, they are no longer registered anywhere as such,” he said.

Back in Rinkeby main square, local Social Democrat candidate Mohammed Nuur, of Somali descent, is promising his neighbours “early-age [crime] prevention is an investment in the future”.

From behind a shop window sign, reading “Politicians must be begin to act”, a Swedish-Egyptian sales assistant says her work colleagues are Palestinian and Iranian.

“Things are rougher here than 20 years ago,” she said, “but we are all Swedes and not giving up our neighbourhood – if we get help.”

Source: Integration and immigration key battlefield for Swedish election

Colby Cosh: The Supreme Court faces the emo drama of expatriate voting

Good if somewhat disjointed commentary:

On Wednesday the Supreme Court will hold a hearing in Frank vs. Canada, a test case on the voting rights (in federal elections) of expatriate Canadian citizens. Everybody agrees that they definitely have some. The Charter is unambiguous about assigning such a right to all Canadian citizens. The question is whether this is a right that can be temporarily withdrawn, as the law now does, from a Canadian who has been apart from Canada for some time and is outside the reach of its law and institutions.

Lower courts have already offered conflicting answers, so it is hard to be sure what the Supreme Court will do. But emotional framing is bound to weigh a great deal in the final argument. In the court of origin, the government made an argument that letting long-term expatriates vote was unfair to the poor wretches who are trapped in Canada and who have no choice but to live with its government.

This was a sort of “dilution of voting power” argument, but it had the effect of sounding like the legal arguments that used to be made against prisoner voting — arguments that were ultimately thrown out. The Supreme Court approved inmate voting in 2002; having been asked “Hang on, you’re going to let a convicted rapist have the same voice in government as his victim?”, it returned what is now the accepted answer. “Yes, that’s the nature of a right. Like it or not, rapists have ’em too.”

This involves us in some logical awkwardness, because convicts have plenty of other rights whose free exercise we forbid after due process of law. But on the other hand, prisoners are definitely stuck with the Canadian state, and with its exclusive privilege of retaliatory violence, in an even more obvious sense than free residents are. It would thus be a bit weird to make Canada’s determination to count convict votes part of an argument, by extrapolation, for expatriate voting.

Weird or not, that’s what the originating judge did. He saw these as analogous questions of personal dignity. We don’t want to devalue or question the Canadian-ness of people who have been away for many years, but who feel Canadian and insist on being Canadian.

The majority on the Ontario Court of Appeal panel that next heard Frank vs. Canada cleared its throat and said, as it were, “Whoa, let’s start over.” Those judges chose a guiding metaphor that had not been used in the original contest: the philosophically notorious “social contract.” Resident citizens have duties and obligations that expatriates don’t: obvious ones include taxes and compulsory jury service (how would expatriates like to be reeled back in for that?), but there is also the big, obvious one of “being subject to Canadian law,” the vast obsidian bulk of which applies only on Canadian soil. Moreover, we exclude non-resident citizens from social entitlements like public health insurance.

But there is nothing in the text of the Charter that requires or urges a “social contract” framing of core democratic rights. The appeal court was, as I see it, trying to find a way of dressing common sense in legal language — asking, in effect, “Hang on: we’re really going to let U.S. taxpayers with Canadian passports vote in Canadian elections?” We have seen what often happens to such “Hang on …” arguments at the Supreme level.

Until recently, no one had considered letting expatriate citizens vote as a matter of right. The whole issue cropped up because Canadian law had, from the First World War on, to devise obviously desirable provisions for voting by Canadians who are abroad in uniform and in the foreign service. Citizens who are away from Canada just because there is more money or opportunity or sunshine somewhere else are not in the same position as those who are actual living tendrils of the Canadian state. But since the law makes a distinction between mere economic expats and offshore agents of Canada, the expats have an opportunity to denounce the distinction and wriggle through the hole.

For some reason, everyone recognizes that the “expatriates have a right to express Canadian identity” argument does not quite work for provinces. A Quebecer living in B.C. is likely to have a meaningful, even essential personal connection to Quebec, but there exists no legal concept of Quebec citizenship, or at least none recognized by the federal government.

I wonder, though, whether the resident citizen’s right to vote in federal elections could be logically severed from mere geographic accident, if we are going to adopt that view of things. Shouldn’t I be allowed to vote for a member of parliament in my hometown, although I no longer know much of its concerns and circumstances in detail, and almost never visit? Bon Accord, Alta., did form my character! And I suppose I care about it! From a polite distance!

Some Canadian citizens might be able to claim a right to cast a vote in many places with which they have some prior connection — maybe even an ancestral one. The opportunities for tactical voting would be hilarious. On what grounds could this kind of frenzy be ruled out, in logic, if the emotional principles of disfranchised expatriates are admitted by the law?

Source: Colby Cosh: The Supreme Court faces the emo drama of expatriate voting

The Supreme Court is set to decide whether long-term Canadian expats can vote

Will be interesting to see how they rule (for my previous piece on why I oppose unlimited voting rights, see What should expatriates’ voting rights be? – Policy Options and Canadian expats shouldn’t have unlimited voting rights, the latter written with Rob Vineberg):

Canada’s top court is set to grapple with whether long-term expats should be allowed to vote, an issue that loomed large in the last federal election in which Justin Trudeau and his Liberals took office.

Civil liberties groups, which argue current rules barring the expats from voting are unconstitutional, and Quebec, which supports the federal government’s defence of the restrictions, are among interveners in the closely watched case the Supreme Court of Canada is scheduled to hear on Wednesday.

Canadians lose the right to vote after living abroad for more than five years under rules on the books since 1993. However, it was only under the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper that Elections Canada began enforcing the laws.

Two Canadians living and working in the United States launched the case after being denied the right to vote in the 2011 election. They argue that citizenship, not residency, is the key requisite for voting.

“One way or the other, this is going to get decided and either Canadians will be enfranchised or Canadians will be disenfranchised,” Jamie Duong, one of the appellants, said from Ithaca, N.Y.

Duong and Gill Frank, an academic in Princeton, N.J., initially won their case before Ontario Superior Court in 2014 but the government appealed. In a split decision in 2015, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled the restrictions do indeed infringe on the rights of citizens. However, the majority found the violation democratically justified because the rules preserve the “social contract” between voters and lawmakers.

In its Supreme Court filing, the government takes issue with the characterization that long-term expats were “disenfranchised” by the rules enforced under Harper. With few exceptions, no Canadians living abroad were allowed to vote before the 1993 law changes, the government says.

“The impugned provisions enfranchised non-resident citizens by allowing them to vote for the first time in Canadian history, for as long as they met the definition of being temporarily resident outside Canada,” the government states.

In their factum, Duong and Frank argue they maintain a “deep and abiding” connection to Canada even though, like many citizens in a globalized world, they have left the country for employment or educational reasons.

“There is no pressing and substantial objective to justify the legislation,” the pair argue. “Five years is an arbitrary marker, which is not rationally linked to a citizen’s connection to Canada, nor to being subject to Canadian laws.”

Another intervener, the Canadian Expat Association, said the rules have “devalued” the citizenship of those abroad.

“For expats whose identity is deeply Canadian, this expressive harm to their dignity and personhood is demeaning and harmful,” the association says.

In rebuttal, the federal government argues Parliament made a reasonable policy choice in enacting rules designed to maintain the fairness of the electoral system. Canadians living in Canada, the government maintains, are more affected by laws their elected officials enact than are expats.

During the last election, actor Donald Sutherland, Canadian business groups abroad and other expats rallied against Harper and the voting ban. The campaigning Liberals promised a review and in November 2016, the Trudeau government introduced legislation to enable Canadians abroad to vote. However, little has happened since.

Duong said expats — estimates are that more than one million of them are unable to vote — will be keeping a close eye to see what the Supreme Court decides.

“The Canadian expat community that has been supporting us and supporting the fight has been fantastic,” Duong said. “We’ve raised closed to $18,000 from 220 people around the world…that has been helping to cover court expenses.”

Source: The Supreme Court is set to decide whether long-term Canadian expats can vote

Every Canadian should have the right to vote — even those living abroad (pro-expat opinion piece by Ivo Entchev)

Port du hijab: première demande d’accommodement raisonnable adressée au DGEQ | Le Devoir

And so the cases and eventual challenges begin:

Le directeur général des élections du Québec (DGEQ) a reçu une demande d’accommodement raisonnable pour contourner un règlement jugé discriminatoire par certains partis politiques, a appris Le Devoir. Il s’agit d’une femme portant le hijab qui, souhaitant se présenter aux prochaines élections provinciales, a demandé une dérogation lui permettant de joindre à son dossier de candidature une photo d’elle avec son voile, ce qui est actuellement interdit par le DGEQ.

« C’est la première demande d’accommodement raisonnable qu’on a eue à ce sujet », a confirmé Stéphanie Isabelle, porte-parole du DGEQ. Elle reconnaît toutefois avoir déjà reçu des commentaires et critiques incitant à modifier le règlement.

L’article 6 du Règlement sur la déclaration de candidature mentionne en effet que la photographie jointe au dossier doit donner « une vue de face complète du candidat à partir des épaules, tête découverte », ce qui empêche toute personne portant un turban, un voile ou même un bandana, de se présenter. Cet article a été vivement contesté auprès du DGEQ par divers partis politiques, dont Québec solidaire et le Parti vert, qui souhaiteraient présenter les candidats de leur choix, sans entrave pour une question de couvre-chef.

Le Devoir avait révélé il y a deux semaines qu’en 2014, le DGEQ avait refusé la candidature de Fatimata Sow, qui se présentait pour le Parti vert dans La Pinière, parce qu’elle avait fourni une photo d’elle coiffée d’un hijab. Craignant les répercussions négatives sur sa candidature, l’aspirante candidate n’avait pas voulu rendre son histoire publique à l’époque et avait renoncé à se présenter.

Modification possible

N’hésitant pas à parler de « discrimination systémique », le chef du Parti vert, Alex Tyrrell, a multiplié les démarches, notamment auprès de la ministre Kathleen Weil, anciennement à l’Immigration et récemment aux Institutions démocratiques. Celle-ci a récemment déclaré que le pouvoir de modifier le règlement appartenait au DGEQ actuel, Pierre Reid, qui a confirmé qu’il était en train de revoir ce règlement dans son ensemble. « Depuis l’automne, en prévision des prochaines élections, on est en révision de notre matériel électoral et ça inclut le formulaire de déclaration de candidature », a réitéré au Devoir Stéphanie Isabelle.

Seul le Québec possède une telle obligation. L’exigence de fournir une photo « tête découverte » n’existe pas aux niveaux fédéral et municipal, une preuve étant l’élection du député et chef du Nouveau Parti démocratique, Jagmeet Singh. Elle n’existe pas non plus pour obtenir une carte d’assurance maladie du Québec, un permis de conduire ou un passeport, où la loi interdit d’être photographié avec un couvre-chef, sauf si celui-ci est porté tous les jours pour des raisons religieuses ou médicales.

Des partis peu bavards

C’est d’ailleurs ce qu’a fait valoir la future candidate en soumettant sa demande d’accommodement au DGEQ au début du mois de décembre. Elle préférerait toutefois que le règlement soit modifié au lieu de bénéficier d’un accommodement, qui n’a généralement pas bonne presse.

Interrogé sur la procédure à suivre lorsqu’une demande d’accommodement est soumise, le DGEQ a dit qu’il n’y a pas de « procédure prévue pour le moment dans la loi électorale ». Une modification au règlement servirait à régler le problème, mais elle devra être approuvée par l’Assemblée nationale et suivre les étapes, jusqu’à la publication dans la Gazette officielle.

Après plusieurs jours de sollicitation, les principaux partis politiques se sont montrés très avares de commentaires. Le Parti québécois a dit qu’il discutera peut-être de la question à son prochain caucus à la fin de janvier, tandis que le Parti libéral du Québec s’est contenté de dire qu’il se conformera à la Loi électorale et aux règlements du DGEQ. La Coalition avenir Québec n’a pas souhaité faire de commentaires.

via Port du hijab: première demande d’accommodement raisonnable adressée au DGEQ | Le Devoir

Swing ridings with high visible minority populations will tilt 2019 federal election, says politicos

Based on my riding analysis. Interesting comments by MPs. For the complete riding list see C16 – Visible Minority – Ridings:

Some 41 “swing” ridings with visible minority populations of 50 per cent or more, including five constituencies in the Greater Toronto Area that have 80 per cent or more visible minorities, will be key battlegrounds for all major parties in the 2019 election, say politicos.

“These ridings will elect the next government,” said rookie Conservative MP Bob Saroya (Markham-Unionville, Ont.) in an interview with The Hill Times. “These are the swing ridings.”

Based on the 2016 census data, recently released by Statistics Canada, and a list compiled by author and multiculturalism expert Andrew Griffith, 27 of the 41 ridings are located in Ontario, nine in British Columbia, two each in Alberta and Quebec, and one in Manitoba.

Among the 41, there are five GTA-area ridings with visible minority populations greater than 80 per cent: Scarborough North (92.2 per cent), Brampton East (90.6 per cent), Markham-Thornhill (84.8 per cent), Markham-Unionville (84.6 per cent), and Scarborough-Agincourt (80.6 per cent). And there are 12 ridings in Ontario and British Columbia combined where visible minorities comprise between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of the population.

via Swing ridings with high visible minority populations will tilt 2019 federal election, says politicos – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

For racialized communities, electoral reform is about more than voting | Toronto Star

While Avvy gets the numbers wrong – there are 47 visible minority MPs, not 46  (14 percent), close to the 15 percent of visible minorities who are also Canadian citizens and who can vote, her broader point on the need for better representation would benefit for more attention to the declining naturalization rate, and how that disproportionately affects visible minorities, and hence participation in elections (see Citizenship Applications: Third Quarter Continues to Show Decline).

Moreover, while it is legitimate to criticize the specific choices of which  visible minorities made it into Cabinet (four Canadian Sikhs, one Afghan Canadian), a broader look at senior political positions (parliamentary secretaries etc) and Senate appointments presents a more nuanced picture (see my Government appointments and diversity).

My focus is more on the declining naturalization rate given the longer term impact on social inclusion/cohesion and representation:

When the 46 so-called “visible-minority” MPs were elected to the Canadian Parliament in the 2015 election, some media called it a “watershed” moment in our history and a victory for Canada’s multiculturalism. In reality, out of a total of 338 seats, the politicians from different communities of colour represent just over 13 per cent of Parliament, while about 19 per cent of Canada’s population is made up of people of colour, with the largest three groups being South Asian, Chinese and black, who together made up 61 per cent of all communities of colour. When Trudeau named his cabinet, one that he described as looking like Canada, not one Chinese or black made it to his short list.

Today, tens of thousands permanent residents of Canada are denied the right to vote because of the strict naturalization law, not to mention the 200,000 or immigrants with precarious status who have lived and worked in Canada for years, in some cases decades, without ever given a chance to regularize their status.

As Canadians ponder which electoral system will be best for our democracy, considerations should be given for the following two questions:

  • Which electoral system will be best able to engage the marginalized communities, including racialized communities and new Canadians, in order to ensure their full participation in the democratic process.
  • Regardless of which system is chosen, what can we do to make our political bodies more fully reflect the makeup of Canada?

On both questions, the special committee report fell short. While the Report did make some passing references to the need to increase representation of “visible minorities,” no specific recommendation — or an attempt to come up with one — was made to address this issue.

This is in contrast with the committee’s treatment of some of the other under-represented groups, or groups that are not as engaged in the political process as they should, such as indigenous peoples, students, youth, people with disabilities, and women, where there were specific sections in the report devoted to analyzing how to increase their democratic purification, and in the case of indigenous people and women, their political representation. But even then, the committee did not offer any concrete solutions for these critical challenges.

The government has since been hosting its own online consultation to gather public opinion. Apart from offering no public education or information about the electoral reform process or the various possible options, the questions posted on Mydemocracy.ca are replete with false dichotomy.

Canadians are asked a number of “either-or” questions, as if the choices presented are mutually exclusive. One question assumes, for instance, a system that requires greater collaboration among parties would be less accountable. Another asks Canadians to choose between improving representation of under-represented groups and greater political accountability.

While there is no perfect system, there is no reason why we cannot aspire to design a system that is inclusive, accountable, and above all, responsive to all Canadians.

Source: For racialized communities, electoral reform is about more than voting | Toronto Star

C-33 Election Act Amendments: Expatriate Voting, Minister Monsef’s Rationale for No Restrictions

Given my opposition to the proposed indefinite expansion of voting rights to Canadian expatriates who had lived at any time, no matter how short in Canada, I was curious to listen to Minister Monsef explain the government’s rationale for proposing an approach at PROC (Procedure and House Affairs Committee).

Monsef spent more time on the proposed indefinite granting of voting rights to Canadians who have lived once in Canada than the other provisions in the Bill.

This proposed approach undermines the value and meaningfulness of Canadian citizenship and does not appear as a specific commitment  in Minister Monsef’s mandate letter unlike the other provisions of C-33.

However, and arguably, it fits philosophically, within “repeal the elements of the Fair Elections Act which makes it harder for Canadians to vote” (the five year limit on expatriate voting dates from 1993 under the Chrétien government but was only enforced by the Harper government).

Her main arguments, similar to those made by advocates, were that ongoing globalization meant more Canadians, particularly youth, were living and working abroad, sharing Canadian values and bringing Canadian ways of doing things to the world, along with bringing the world back to Canada.

The right to vote was a fundamental right as “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” but noted that the current case before the Supreme Court will still be heard.

The Minister stated that she had received many emails from expatriate Canadians who pay attention to what is happening in Canada and who want to participate in elections.

The government believes it is neither right nor fair to limit the vote to expatriates who have spent five years or less abroad. Granting the right to vote to the “over one million” Canadians abroad was only fair.

There was no real questioning on this provision by Committee members.

Bizarrely, she raised the issue about extending voting rights to the children of Canadians who had never lived in Canada, as an area that should be discussed in Committee.

It is hard to tell whether the floating of voting rights for Canadian citizens who have never lived in Canada is serious or is a trial balloon. In either case, it should be shot down, as it makes a complete mockery of our democratic system and citizenship to have such an extreme disconnect between residency and voting.

Nor should this trial balloon detract from the substantive issues regarding granting indefinite voting rights without any requirements, either time limits, declarations, or visits to Canada.

In terms of those plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case, either the Australian or New Zealand approach (declarations or visits) would address their concerns given their personal and active connection to Canada. But opening this to all, many if not most to not have this ongoing connection, is a mistake.

Sigh …

What happened to Canada’s support of democratic rights in Hong Kong? [expatriate voting aspect] – David Mulroney

Good column by former colleague and former Ambassador to China David Mulroney on Hong Kong and support for democratic rights.

And appropriate put-down of the Government’s Bill C-33, and its provision to grant indefinite voting rights without any corresponding commitment and responsibility:

Mr. Patten was particularly scathing in his commentary about independence advocates, whose campaign, he said, “dilutes support for democracy.” This was interpreted as criticism of two lawmakers, supporters of independence, who have been forced to vacate their seats. The duo had refused to take the official oath of office, substituting wording that could be considered offensive to China. Their actions sparked legal intervention by China’s government even before Hong Kong’s own courts could consider the issue.

It’s hard to argue with Mr. Patten’s assessment. Pushing for Hong Kong’s independence is wildly unrealistic and, given China’s sensitivity and volatility, irresponsible. But it is also an understandable expression of local frustrations given how little effort has been devoted to exploring more moderate options for democratic governance. If Hong Kong’s leaders, and friends such as Britain and Canada, had remained true to the vision of one country, two systems, the city’s residents would today have at least some say in charting their future. Instead, they are condemned to a form of governance in which they are asked to take up the responsibilities of citizenship without the corresponding rights.

The reverse is true for that fortunate minority among Hong Kong’s seven million residents who also happen to be Canadian citizens. The recently-introduced Bill C-33, which amends the Canada Elections Act, would offer the right to vote to all Canadians residing overseas, as long as they have lived in Canada at some point. It eliminates a previous provision that restricted voting rights to expatriates who had been absent for fewer than five years. The bill is big news in Hong Kong, where a Canadian community of roughly 300,000 includes emigrants to Canada who have since returned, and Canadian-born expats lured by Hong Kong’s low-tax, business-friendly environment.

Passage of the bill will encourage much chest-thumping about Canada’s support for democracy, but it is hard not to see in this something slightly different. Ottawa is offering up one of the most important rights of citizenship, the right to vote in elections back home, without reference to any corresponding responsibilities. This is politically astute, but not particularly courageous. Real support for democracy requires more ambition and more honesty.

Britain, Canada and other democracies have not lived up to their 1997 commitments, failing to follow up with the training programs, institutional exchanges and official encouragement that could have assisted the gradual emergence of healthy democratic institutions in Hong Kong. And they neglected to hold China accountable for its own commitments.

Source: What happened to Canada’s support of democratic rights in Hong Kong? – The Globe and Mail

Bill C-33: Electoral Reforms – Expatriate voting provision

While the Liberal government did commit to relax the restrictions on expatriate voting, this was, unless I missed it, phrased in general terms, leaving options open in terms of how they met their commitment.

Bill C-33 essentially removes any and all restrictions, save for the person having lived in Canada at one time, providing indefinite voting rights.

The extreme example would be someone born in Canada who left as a baby and has not been back since, but could still vote on issues that affect Canadians residing in Canada.

Hard to understand why the government did not choose other models that allow expatriate voting with reasonable restrictions:

  • Australia: six-year limit, renewable with a declaration;
  • New Zealand, three-year limit with the clock restarting upon a visit to New Zealand;
  • UK, 15-year limit; or,
  • US, no limitation but requires filing of tax returns.

The government did, however, cite France as an example where no limits apply.

Hard to justify as I have argued earlier (and will continue to do so) – What should expatriates’ voting rights be? – Policy Options.

This provision deserves a rough ride in the House and Senate.

Language of the Bill:

(f) remove two limitations on voting by non-resident electors: the requirement that they have been residing outside Canada for less than five consecutive years, and the requirement that they intend to return to Canada to resume residence in the future; and …

The most detailed reporting I have seen to date is from Le Devoir:

Le gouvernement Trudeau souhaite en outre permettre à tout expatrié citoyen canadien de conserver son droit de vote à vie. Depuis 1993, un Canadien vivant à l’étranger perdait le droit de vote après cinq ans d’absence. Et il devait déclarer son intention de revenir au pays. Avant cette date, les Canadiens perdaient carrément leur droit lorsqu’ils quittaient le Canada.

Mais les libéraux proposent qu’à l’avenir, tout citoyen canadien né ou ayant vécu au Canada puisse continuer de voter depuis l’étranger. La limite de cinq ans était « relativement arbitraire », selon la ministre Monsef. Ottawa estime qu’un million de personnes pourraient désormais voter en en faisant la demande auprès du fédéral.

Le gouvernement britannique prévoit de déposer un projet de loi pour prolonger à vie le droit de vote de ses expatriés. Les Britanniques perdent présentement ce droit après 15 ans d’absence. Les Américains conservent leur droit de vote à vie. La France permet à ses citoyens de voter, qu’ils aient habité ou non l’Hexagone.

Élections Canada procédera en revanche à un nettoyage de sa liste d’électeurs, qui comptait à peu près 40 000 non-citoyens en date du dernier dénombrement en 1997.

Ottawa annule la réforme conservatrice

Source: Bill C-33: 7 Reforms to Increase Voter Participation and Electoral Integrity – Canada News Centre