Douglas Todd: Why some Canadians born in Iran and China watch their backs

Of note:

Many of the thousands of demonstrators who lined Lions Gate Bridge last month to oppose Iran’s brutal regime expressed anxiety in the presence of photographers and videographers.

Some Iranian Canadians in Vancouver’s Human Life Chain, who were joining worldwide protests against the death of teenager Mahsa Amini after she was detained by Iran’s morality police, pointed fingers at strangers recording their public defiance.

“People were very brave to come out and show their unity,” said Farid Rohani, a leader in the Iranian Canadian community. “But many were fearful of people taking photos. They were pointing and saying, ‘You’re an agent of the regime.’ Some fights broke out.”

Rohani, a member of the B.C. government’s committee on diversity and policing, has himself been subjected to slander by people aligned with Iran’s regime. And an acquaintance was detained last year at Tehran airport, shown a photo of him sitting beside “Iran-hating, Israel-loving” Rohani, and warned to stay away from him.

Rohani feels relatively safe speaking out because he came to Canada in the 1970s and no longer has family in his theocratic homeland. But there is always a risk for Canadian opponents, including Soushiant Zanganehpour, organizer of the Vancouver protest. He called on Ottawa to do more to prevent Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards and affiliates from threatening Iranians who protest.

“There are a lot of regime officials and their families who systematically come here, some are even citizens,” said Zanganehpour. “We are facing threats against our families, our lives, with people that drive by our houses at nighttime. I’m calling for stricter immigration policies, not just sanctions, but more investigations into who is here and why.”

Similar concerns arise from Persian podcaster Ramin Seyed-Emami of Vancouver, who was recently informed by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that Iran maintains a list of Iranians abroad who it deems a threat. The officer suggested Seyed-Emami take safety precautions, including being wary of “honey traps” — attractive female spies.

And these are just stories of pressure applied to Canadians born in Iran, of which there are more than 213,000.

Also being intimidated are Chinese Canadians, of which there are 1.7 million, including 820,000 born in the People’s Republic of China.

Last week, Amnesty International Canada reported its computer system was hacked after it had raised alarms about China’s harassment of people in Canada with Uyghur and Tibetan roots, as well as those connected to Hong Kong and the spiritual group Falun Gong. Their events are often recorded by suspected agents of China.

There are countless stories. The parents of Vancouver-raised human rights activist Anastasia Lin, Canada’s former Miss World, have been hounded by security agents and others who demand they make their daughter stop accusing the leaders of China of being a danger.

And when Cherie Wong came to Vancouver in 2020 to start Alliance Canada Hong Kong, a pro-democracy group, she received threats by phone in her hotel room, despite checking in under another name. The person said, “We know where you are. We’re coming to get you.”

What Lin and Wong undergo echo new reports by the Spanish human rights organization, Safeguard Defenders, which says China has set up 103 unofficial “police stations” around the world, including in Toronto and Vancouver, to monitor the Chinese diaspora. The regime, it says, has already put the squeeze on 220,000 “fugitives” to return to China.

“These reports are scary. The Chinese Canadian community has known the overreaching claws of the Chinese Communist Party for decades. We have witnessed their agents of influence,” said Fenella Sung, a Vancouver-based pro-democracy activist. 

Sung describes so-called “Little Pinkies” (jingoistic nationalists) in Vancouver “disrupting Tiananmen Massacre candle vigils, shouting down protesters at public areas such as SkyTrain stations, taking photos of church-goers who prayed for Hong Kong, and the like.”

Further, pro-democracy activists from Hong Kong have “even noticed the signal of their cellphones cut off when they were around Chinese consulates. Their ability at surveillance and infringement of our freedoms have been much strengthened in recent years. It severely violates rights on Canadian soil.”

Such chilling incidents all add up to illegal infiltration of Canada by foreign governments, says Charles Burton, a senior fellow of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute who worked in the Canadian embassy in China. Canada, he said, must do more to stop it.

Canada currently shows minimal resistance to hostile foreign governments, said Burton, who just returned from a conference in Berlin, where 240 global participants discussed how to combat interference by Chinese agents.

The often-public intimidation is in part designed to create the impression that China’s authorities have a long reach, said Burton. But even while China has more diplomats in Canada than any other nation, and diplomats often serve as spies, it is difficult to know the extent of their power.

Chinese and Iranian agents especially target opinion leaders. They interfere with their speech and often make sure they know they are being monitored, said Burton, which is especially hard on university students.

While not particularly worried about himself, Burton said he is also frequently targeted, including by attractive Chinese women who claim they are “very interested in seniors,” something he finds almost comical.

Still, Burton calls on Ottawa to do much more.

“The RCMP have recently said they are intending to put more resources into protecting Canadians who are subject to menace and harassment by agents of a foreign power,” he said. “But up to now we haven’t seen arrests of any of these people. Nor have we heard of any people declared persona non grata for engaging in activities not compatible with their diplomatic status.”

CSIS, Burton said, has set up a website where people who have experienced foreign interference and espionage can report online. But it stipulates it is not a law enforcement agency, only an information gatherer.

Nevertheless, Burton says it is useful to see more public talk these days echoing his long-held admonition that Ottawa combat the foreign harassment of citizens.

“And if that results in Chinese government retaliation, then I think we simply have to accept that. I think it’s more important to protect our freedoms, democracy, security and sovereignty than it is to protect market access for Canadian commodities that might go to China.”

Heightened vigilance would also earn Canada greater respect from China and Iran, Burton said. The more exposure that governments, educators and the media give to such infiltration, the better things will be for all Canadians.

“It will shed some sunshine on this thing. And sunshine is an excellent disinfectant.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Why some Canadians born in Iran and China watch their backs

Rohani: Leave ethnicity out of real estate debate

Farid Rohani on Vancouver housing prices and foreign buyers.

His arguments, while superficially appealing, suffer from two major weaknesses:

  • He does not sufficiently distinguish between Canadian residents, whether citizens or permanent residents, and foreign investors and non-residents. The issues are largely with the latter group, where the scope and nature of needed policy interventions is greatest and needed. One cannot simply conflate the two; and,
  • One cannot, and I would argue, should not ignore the elephant in the room that the vast majority of foreign investors are from China (I suspect that Toronto numbers would show a greater diversity of source countries). These investors affect all Canadians whatever their ethnic origin. The question is how to have a more open discussion without being xenophobic. A mature multiculturalism should allow for more open frank discussions without descending into xenophobia or accusations of xenophobia. Much of the discussion and debate has not been xenophobic in nature. Particularly revealing has been increased coverage of second-generation immigrant concerns regarding foreign real estate investors, highlighting that while the origin of the concerns comes largely from one country and ethnicity, the impact is felt across all ethnicities.

A more interesting contribution from community leaders like Rohani would be how best to have these open discussions. Again, following many of the articles and commentary, I think this is happening and is possible.

…We accept the free market principles of supply and demand and we deal with price fluctuations as best we can.
So why do we blame immigrants, and specifically the Chinese, for spiking real estate prices when the real problem is lack of supply and increasing demand?

It’s a dangerous tendency, and one that threatens to undermine the very ideals of citizenship and plurality that have made Canada so admired around the world. Our country’s heritage includes every ethnicity on earth. The principles that define us as Canadians include those of dignity and kindness, tolerance and compassion. The elements that underpin our democracy include a respect for liberty, for freedom of movement and for the potential of a market driven economy under the rule of law.

But these principles and values are not guiding the current discussion. Instead we see outbursts of ignorant emotionalism and incipient racism.

It’s important, first, to define the immediate problem. The economic power of recent immigrants and foreign purchasers has showcased excessive economic advantage while denying many the ability to be part of a vibrant, growing cosmopolitan city. Many of the young people and professionals who make up our city’s core are feeling frustrated by our failure to find a solution to affordable housing.

Yet, instead of working together to address the challenges of inequity, many are retreating to the more familiar ground of racial accusations. They use the seeming intractability of these problems to build scapegoats. Even people who may have been acting in goodwill have been guilty of launching dubious studies that rely on selective facts and the dangerous sweep of ethnic stereotyping.

In an age when terrorism is also a serious social issue, and when certain people have chosen to target ethnicity or religion in that conversation, this raises a risk that I feel personally. I, who have been proud to call Canada my home for more than four decades, have an Arabic name — one that might easily become part of a database of potential security targets, not for anything I have done, but merely because of my heritage.

This is a perversion of the Canadian experiment, and one we must deal with quickly, and together. We cannot promote prejudice against any racial or ethnic group without betraying ourselves. The vitriolic accusations against “others” can lead only to hate and a division that will harm us all.

We need a solution, of the sort that can only be found through joint action. We cannot continue to speak from both sides of our mouths, on the one hand promising economic hope and jobs, while at the same time isolating recent immigrants and visitors from normal social intercourse based on mutual respect.

Certainly, government must be forceful in addressing issues such as the disruptive influence of laundered money. At the same time, we must all stay focused on the economic principles of a liberal democracy, of supply and demand. We must remember the values of immigration and the benefits of building a progressive society in which people of diverse backgrounds can live and prosper together as members of one city and country.

This responsibility rests upon all levels of government, as well as upon community leaders and the media. All must work together to refresh the spirit of optimism, while rejecting any narrative where facts are manipulated to become food for racist agitators or dismissive special interest groups.

The only way to resolve deep social and economic problems is by forging a unity of purpose.

Racism has deep roots. Without a conscious, deliberate, and sustained effort, we are all at risk from its destructive influences. It can only be overcome through open dialogue and close association among those of opposing points of view.

So, I address this appeal to all — politicians, pundits and community leaders: the realization of our collective potential depends on the character and initiative of every individual. No action plan can succeed if leaders fail respond in their own capacity. I respectfully and urgently call upon my fellow Vancouverites of whatever background to look at current real estate situation with new eyes and with a new resolve to set ethnicity aside — to embrace all of your neighbours, new and old, in the search for a lasting solution.

Opinion: Leave ethnicity out of real estate debate

Douglas Todd: Immigrant workshops in Vancouver face up to difficulties of integration

Good initiative on the “soft knowledge” concerning integration:

When Mohamed Ehab arrived in Vancouver from Egypt six years ago, he knew nothing about Pride parades or the Grouse Grind.

The 40-year-old pharmacist, who now enjoys hiking up North Vancouver’s Grouse Grind trail, wishes other immigrants and refugees would get up to speed earlier on such cultural matters — so that they can avoid self-isolation and integrate more fully into Canada’s liberal-democratic culture.

Aware that many immigrants and refugees arrive in Canada from patriarchal societies in the Middle East and Asia, outgoing Ehab and his philanthropic supporters are gearing up to have him lead workshops that would ease newcomers’ often-difficult transitions.

“When I arrived in Canada I wanted to become part of the Canadian community, not just the immigrant Arab or Egyptian communities,” says Ehab, who has for the past few years used Facebook to organize informal foreign-film events in Vancouver.

While Ehab intends his workshops to be enjoyable and practical guides to Metro Vancouver and Canada, they will also take on some of the serious issues that he believes sometimes push newcomers into confining themselves to ethno-cultural “pockets.”

Ehab’s course will explain Canadian customs regarding such things as homosexual couples, trusting police officers, accepting common-law relationships, paying a fair share of taxes, wearing revealing clothes and sexist behavior.

“New immigrants and refugees don’t have to agree with everything they will find here. But they should know that those things are part of what it means to be in Canada,” Ehab said.

The Vancouver workshops, which will run for four hours a day for a week, loosely echo programs in European countries such as Norway and the Netherlands.

That’s where some asylum seekers are learning in classes to discuss such things as Western women, mini-skirts, sexual boundaries and domestic violence, with the refugees often reporting they take the programs so they will find it easier to fit in.

Homosexual relationships in the West, Ehab says, are especially difficult for many immigrants and refugees to comprehend.

Mohamed Ehab (centre) is a pharmacist originally from Egypt, now residing in Vancouver. He helps immigrants and newcomers to Canada helping them try to understand the Canadian way of life. Ehab is pictured on the Grouse Grind in North Vancouver, BC Wednesday, July 20, 2016. Ehad is pictured with Farooq Al-Sajee (left) and Farzin Jamatlou.

“In the Middle East, if somebody comes out as gay, they will be thrown in jail. It’s a crime there,” he says.

Ehab knows of an isolated couple from the Middle East, who have lived in an ethnic enclave in Ontario for almost five years, who recently asked, “What’s the LGBT community?”

Similarly, many immigrants from the Middle East and elsewhere could gain from being informed about heterosexual sex outside marriage, divorce and women and men sharing public spaces, including exercise classes.

“We would inform newcomers about how dating works here, for instance. That it’s not taboo,” said Ehab.

Many immigrants, he noted, come from nations where it’s almost unheard of to engage in male-female relationships beyond one’s own ethno-cultural or religious group.

Asked about recent refugees from Syria who are refusing to be seen by Canadian doctors of a different sex, or to work with language interpreters of a different sex, Ehab said it’s better for newcomers to “not be surprised” about Canadian expectations about such things.

The workshops, which will operate out of immigrant-support organizations, are being paid for by people who have long worked with institutions devoted to multicultural understanding, such as the Laurier Institute, SUCCESS and outreach arms of the RCMP.

“The sponsors of these workshops are immigrants who feel there is a lack of education about the understanding of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and about the need for people to reach out beyond their communities,” says one sponsor, Farid Rohani, who recently chaired the Laurier Institute and the Institute of Canadian Citizenship.

“Many Canadians feel immigrants seem to live in their own castles. The new arrivals on the other hand are afraid of making contact; they fear making a mistake or offending someone,” said Rohani, whose family arrived from Iran.

Rohani said the trouble with the way many new immigrants meet each other in Canada — in English-as-second-language classes — is that they often tend to form into “cliques of uninformed people. They often don’t learn how to integrate.”

Clarence Cheng, former chief executive of the SUCCESS Foundation, which supports immigrants, said the workshops will include guest speakers such as police officers, judges and tax department officials.

The speakers’ tasks, among other things, is to educate immigrants that they have come to a new land where it’s worthwhile to generally trust agents of the government and to cooperate with them.

Ehab readily acknowledged it’s common, for instance, for people in Middle Eastern countries to be deeply suspicious of the police, and fear police favouritism and brutality. “In many Middle Eastern regions, the police are a country unto themselves.”

Despite the gravity of some of the issues that will be explored, Ehab said a goal of the workshops will be on finding ways to overcome the alienation and sense of “coldness” immigrants often feel in new countries and cities.

“We want to offer practical advice on finding jobs and new ways to make friends. And we want to make the workshops a fun and happy experience. I’m very excited.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Immigrant workshops in Vancouver face up to difficulties of integration

Opinion: There’s no link between terrorism and multiculturalism – Jedwab

Jack Jedwab of ACS notes the many fallacies in Farid Rohani’s piece on multiculturalism and radicalization (Opinion: Multiculturalism should not be misused to justify divisions: Farid Rohani):

Yet Rohani makes a pernicious link between these heinous acts and Canadian multiculturalism. He establishes this false association by suggesting that the Canadian multicultural framework has seen “activists promote group traditions as having more importance than individual freedoms,” and suggests it creates an environment that enables terrorists to propagate their views. He further states that multiculturalism “is being used to create different groups that contest our tolerant democracy.”

It has been increasingly common for detractors of multiculturalism to make such claims without identifying the culprits. Rohani does precisely this and, regrettably, contributes to the spread of what he describes as “quiet intolerance,” the very thing about which he expresses concern. His observation will end up inviting unfair generalizations about minority religious groups that will fuel the divisions that he suggests he seeks to remedy.

Rohani implies that such things as forced and arranged marriages, honour killings and teaching of hate toward other religions or toward homosexuals or death warrants against apostates are also to be attributed to flawed communications about what pluralism and multiculturalism entail. In general, such things are far more prevalent in non-democratic societies that reject diversity and multiculturalism. The individuals who engage in such egregious acts for the most part wish to erode multiculturalism and replace it with a model of society that would limit individual freedoms and undermine intercultural harmony.

Rohani specifically singles out newcomers to Canada as being particularly exposed to distortion about our national identity and values. So what would he make of the fact that the killings in Ottawa and St-Jean-sur-Richelieu were carried out by individuals born and raised in Canada? Indeed, newcomers value the opportunity to live in our democracy and there is no evidence that they are more likely than non-immigrants to want to undermine it.

Opinion: There’s no link between terrorism and multiculturalism | Montreal Gazette.

Clear case of ‘multicultiphobia,’ to use Phil Ryan’s phrase.

Jedwab also cites the recent polling done for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation as supporting this view (report-on-canadian-values), as do most polls that I have seen.

Opinion: Multiculturalism should not be misused to justify divisions: Farid Rohani

Farid Rohani of the Laurier Institution on multiculturalism and integration:

Canadians must understand that multiculturalism is not about segregation and division.

What we are seeing now, more and more, is a polarization and mistrust among significant segments of our population. What is needed, then, is a more unified vision of Canadian society, one that emphasizes interdependence and cooperation among diverse groups, beginning at arrival and continuing at schools and throughout our communities.

Failure to do so will see some within our communities who don’t understand or accept the fundamental concept of pluralism use violence, including acts of terror and fear to import distant conflicts onto our shores. There will be attempts at imposing their beliefs on the rest of society and they will use, support or facilitate violence, as a method to effect societal change to achieve their goals.

Any polling I have seen suggests that Canadians get it and view multiculturalism in this manner, and place emphasis more on integration than an “anything goes” accommodation.

And no matter what governments and others do, there will always be some who sit outside that political consensus, whether in the context of religious fundamentalism (or other fundamentalisms) or violent extremism.

Overly general, without concrete or practical suggestions.

Opinion: Multiculturalism should not be misused to justify divisions | Montreal Gazette.

Most Chinese and South Asians in B.C. report discrimination

Regional survey on discrimination in British Columbia. Consistent with other polling and equivalent:

Insights West found 28 per cent of the Chinese and South Asian British Columbians who answered the online poll said they had “frequently” or “sometimes” lost a potential employment opportunity because of their ethnicity. Another 24 per cent claim to have been treated unfairly in the workplace.

Chinese and South Asians who were older than 55 were the most likely to say theyve experienced unfairness on the job.South Asians 28 per cent were also more likely to cite workplace discrimination than Chinese 23 per cent. There was a significant gender gap when respondents were asked if their ethnicity had ever excluded them from being considered a prospect for dating.

While 37 per cent of B.C.s Chinese men in the poll believed they had experienced dating discrimination, the proportion was much lower for Chinese women, at 19 per cent.

In addition, about 25 per cent of Chinese and South Asians in B.C. said they have been verbally harassed. But only 11 per cent reported being been physically harassed because of their ethnicity, and nine per cent said they had been denied goods or services.

“I’m not saying its a cause for alarm, but it could be a cause for concern,” Mossop said of the poll findings, adding that Insights West plans to do more surveys into how different ethnic groups in Canada feel about social issues ranging from teachers strikes to the proposed Enbridge pipeline through northern B.C. Mossop said that people of any ethnic group could be discriminated against in a workplace dominated by another ethic group.

[Farid Rohani, a board member of the Laurier Institution and former vice-president of the Asian Heritage Month Society] said people of Italian or Irish backgrounds may also at times feel discriminated against or stereotyped in Metro Vancouver, where 45 per cent of the population is non-white.

“I guarantee you, if you do the same polling on discrimination with people of non-Asian background, you’ll get similar numbers,” Rohani said. “It might be less or more, but it will still be there.”

For instance, Rohani said, if the Richmond residents of European and English-speaking backgrounds who are protesting the expansionof Chinese-only signs were asked if they felt discriminated against based on their ethnicity, Rohani said, they would cite “reverse racism.”

Noting that Canadians with Asian backgrounds come from countries where its common for parents to arrange marriages with people of the same cultural and religious group, Rohani also wasnt surprised some South Asians and Chinese feel excluded from dating people of certain ethnicities.

Most Chinese and South Asians in B.C. report discrimination.

Douglas Todd: We must stand on guard for Canada

Douglas Todd captures the ongoing debate on new Canadians and Canadian values.

I tend to favour Tung Chan’s more pragmatic approach but with a bit more teeth with respect to public and private institutions in terms of setting accommodation limits when they conflict with fundamental equality rights:

Rohani, a businessman who has sat on RCMP diversity committees, and Dosanjh, a lawyer whose biography will be released on Aug. 5, want prospective immigrants to Canada to be taught the essentials of liberal democracy and equality.

“Speaking as an immigrant, if we choose Canada as the best place to come and live, then why aren’t we following its values?” Dosanjh says. “If we want to recreate the society we left behind, why don’t we just stay there? It’s incumbent upon us newcomers to embrace the whole of society, not just its dollars.”

Tung Chan, former head of the government-financed immigrant services society, SUCCESS, is a friend of Rohani’s. But he’s more sanguine about the religion-rooted hazards facing liberal democracy.

Chan would prefer not to highlight the difficulties associated with what he claims in Canada is only the “one per cent who are mal-adapted” and don’t embrace free choice and equality.

Although Chan agrees with Rohani and Dosanjh that new immigrants and all Canadians should be taught about the country’s laws, Constitution, and Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Chan takes a hands-off approach beyond that.

“After the teaching is done,” Chan says, “whether they choose to accept or reject our value system is entirely up to them as long as they do not break the law.”

Dosanjh strongly disagrees, maintaining Canadians shouldn’t be so shy about upholding democratic principles. “Society is not just governed by laws. We have our values, our ethics, our integrity. It’s not a written law, for example, that we should allow people to marry whoever they want to marry.”

Douglas Todd: We must stand on guard for Canada.