A vote — from anyone — is a terrible thing to waste: Regg Cohn

Good profile by Regg Cohn on the Muslim community’s successful effort to increase political participation and voting (Liberals won a massive majority of the Muslim vote in the 2015):

Every political party gets out the vote on voting day.

Their vote. And only their vote.

GOTV, as it’s called, is an axiom of democracy. And yet the better that parties get at GOTV, the less democratic the turnout tends to be. From one election to the next, a political movement masters the technique or musters the technology to outhustle all rivals on voting day. But do we really want elections decided on the strength of a well-oiled electoral machine rather than a well-honed democratic impulse?

What if we got out the full vote (GOTFV) with a full pull — motivated not by partisanship but participation?

That’s what the Canadian Muslim Vote tried in the last federal election — and plans again for the coming provincial ballot. Mindful that Muslims vote far less than others, the group’s volunteers focused on their own faith group — but without trying to divine anyone’s partisan loyalties.

“We didn’t care who they’d vote for,” said Seher Shafiq, part of the leadership team at the non-partisan, non-profit organization.

As long as they voted for someone. For too long, too many of Canada’s 1.3 million Muslims voted for no one, she told a panel on democratic engagement that I moderated at Ryerson University on the weekend because this issue is crucial for me. Her group tried to understand how Muslim participation in the 2011 election was a mere 35 to 45 per cent in key ridings, compared to the national turnout of 61 per cent.

“We were shocked by this research . . . and we wanted to know why,” Shafiq told a couple of hundred democracy activists at the conference sponsored by Ryerson’s Leadership Lab and the Open Democracy Project.

The reasons were both banal and discouraging; people didn’t know who to vote for, how to vote, how to master the issues, and how to get engaged. In short, how they could make a difference.

Focused mostly on ridings in the Greater Toronto Area — where most volunteers, and most Muslims, happen to live — the group attended hundreds of grassroots events, paid for robocalls, mounted a social media push, and knocked on thousands of doors. Celebrity endorsements were part of the campaign, including Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri.

The bigger stars, however, were influential imams at local mosques. Her group persuaded them to praise the virtues of civic engagement and democracy in their regular sermons.

“For the first time ever, people saw the Muslim community was organizing politically,” she told the audience. “We really felt the buzz.”

It added up to a dramatic increase in the Islamic turnout — 79 per cent in the 2015 election versus 45 per cent in the previous vote, according to public opinion research commissioned by the group. In nine GTA ridings targeted by the group, the Islamic turnout averaged 88 per cent.

The Canadian Muslim Vote doesn’t take full credit for the improvement. Community concerns were bubbling up over perceived anti-Islamic rhetoric after the Stephen Harper government talked about banning religious face coverings, and proposed a “barbaric cultural practices” snitch line.

But I asked Shafiq if lessons learned from the Muslim mobilization could be transferable to other groups in the next provincial election. She is already comparing notes with Black Vote Canada and other organizations that motivate voters.

“Without talking to them — and having people who look like them talk to them — I don’t think they will be as engaged as they could be.”

Fellow panelist Dave Meslin, a grassroots activist trying to reform the electoral system, dismissed traditional GOTV as “a scam” that merely harasses people on election day, with little evidence that it improves democratic outcomes.

“Are we really building these lists (of supporters) to make sure we increase engagement, or are the lists designed to make sure we don’t pull the wrong people — that the Liberals don’t pull Conservatives, that Conservatives don’t pull New Democrats” he asked rhetorically.

Our third panelist, ex-MP and mayoralty candidate Olivia Chow (full disclosure: like me, she is a visiting professor at Ryerson), talked about the power of motivation in democratic engagement. Participatory movements are fine in theory, but a top-down approach may leave the grassroots as unmoved — and unmotivated — as ever.

“We talk about winning hearts and minds, not minds and hearts,” Chow reminded the activists. “Hearts come first.”

But Shafiq won a round of applause when she projected an image onscreen of her grandmother voting for the first time in the 2015 election at age 85. And then came a public confession from Shafiq about herself — the great persuader.

It turns out that she had never taken an interest in politics before she took on the role with the Canadian Muslim Vote. But at the age of 25 she finally joined her 85-year-old grandmother in focusing on the election, figuring out the issues, and making up her own mind.

Because a vote — from anyone, of any persuasion — is a terrible thing to waste.

via A vote — from anyone — is a terrible thing to waste | Toronto Star

White privilege, Jewish privilege, and neo-Nazis: Cohn 

A thoughtful exploration of the different forms of privilege, and the complexities involved by Martin Regg Cohn.

Money quote: “prejudice and privilege come in all shades and colours.”

The latest manifestations of white supremacy have reminded us that Jews, not just Blacks, are perennial targets at neo-Nazi rallies.

Put another way, African Americans and Ashkenazi Americans are seen as equally un-American by the blue-eyed, red-blooded, all-American white nationalists who chanted in Charlottesville, “Jews will not replace us.”

That shared demonization comes as no surprise to many Jews who know their history. And who have watched with apprehension the present-day tendency to lash out at so many other “others” — be they brown, Black, Indigenous or Muslim.

But the resurgence of anti-Semitism is also an awkward reminder that “white privilege,” supposedly enjoyed by white Jews and all other white folks, offers little protection from persecution or privation. Now, as the casual invocation of white privilege gains greater currency, it’s worth examining some of the questionable assumptions that underpin it — and undermine it.

This is not an attempt to shoot down the important social analysis behind the theory of “white privilege” — the idea that most whites have “unearned” advantages notably in dealing with the police, employment and education. But relying on colour to confer privilege on people — an entire class of people — is conflating, confusing and counterproductive.

When a phrase risks alienating potential allies in the quest for greater equality of opportunity, it’s time for better terminology. Much like “cultural appropriation,” the “white privilege” paradigm emerged from the academic world, which speaks in its own rarefied and coded jargon, often obscuring rather than clarifying real-world issues. Beyond the ivory tower, where colour analysis has superseded class analysis, the term “white privilege” is being used, misused and misunderstood.

I hope I have a head start in understanding the obstacles others face. My grandparents didn’t just face discrimination but death in the 1940s. I still have a Montreal Gazette clipping about the landlord who wouldn’t rent to my father in the 1950s because of our Jewish surname (which made the stories about Donald Trump’s father rejecting Black tenants personal for me).

Privilege is part of any society that stratifies itself along various lines — hierarchical, patriarchal, economical, geographical, political, religious. But when “white privilege” is appropriated as a proxy for societal unfairness, it too easily breeds resentment.

It is a classic anti-Semitic trope to confer privilege and power on Jews — propagating the pre-Nazi, Nazi and neo-Nazi fiction that they control the media, the banks, the world (you might call it fake news . . .). We are not reliving the 1930s today, but whether in Hitler’s Germany or Trump’s America, the privileged can be persecuted in the blink of an eye.

And not just Jews. Citizens of Japanese descent were unjustly incarcerated in Canada and the U.S. in the Second World War for fear they were fascist fifth columnists. Today, students of Asian descent are viewed skeptically for their disproportionate university enrolment. Talk of informal “Asian quotas” among college admissions officers has personal resonance given the formal Jewish quotas enforced at major universities in the 1950s.

Beware white privilege, for class and cultural differences are no less critical.

It is one of the great conceits of whites that we flagellate ourselves as the world’s most unrepentant racists. Go to Indonesia, where the majority has hounded an ethnic Chinese minority for decades as a “privileged” group of shopkeepers. Think of Vietnam, where so many boat people were ethnic Chinese fleeing persecution. Consider Hong Kong, where those of Indian descent are disparaged and whites are mocked as “gweilos” (ghosts). In East Africa, Ismailis of South Asia origin have been persecuted for decades. Entrenched homophobia across Africa conjures up Black heterosexual privilege. India’s caste system has long co-existed with a colour continuum that prompts marriage prospects to describe themselves as having “wheatish” complexions, as against less socially desirable “dusky.”

The reality everywhere is that race and skin colour are clumsy proxies for social distinctions that matter at least as much: Ageism is a chronic affliction. The urban-rural in Ontario and across North America is deeply rooted. Postsecondary education is ever more accessible, yet driving more enduring disparities for those left behind.

Yes, we need constant reminders of our blind spots, but white privilege is hardly the clearest prism for viewing the world. Whites assuredly have advantages — on average. But averages are just generalizations, which lend themselves to stereotypes, which can be skin deep. Averages disguise the individual variations underneath.

We live in a world of competing victimhoods. But if everyone plays victim — even the billionaire President Donald Trump and the white nationalists he flirts with — then no one is a victim.

When white Jews are targeted by so-called white nationalists, the notion of white privilege loses its colour palette. But it reminds everyone — not least Jews who joined the civil rights battles of the 1960s, in the wake of the Holocaust of the 1940s — that we must all stick together, even if we come at it from different life experiences.

Which is why we need a better term than white privilege. Because prejudice and privilege come in all shades and colours.

Source: White privilege, Jewish privilege, and neo-Nazis: Cohn | Toronto Star

How police became the enemy in Toronto schools: Cohn

Good insightful column by Regg Cohn. Activists have the right to opinions and protests but ultimately the democratic process and accountability must decide:

Uniformed police have now been banned from participating in Toronto’s Pride parade.

Will they next be barred from fraternizing with students in our schools?

Anti-police protests have become a recurring theme in Toronto. Black Lives Matter led the charge at last year’s Pride, blocking the parade and out-organizing the organizers until they won the day.

Now, however, the protesters may have met their match in parents and principals who don’t view all police as perennial enemies in all places.

At a raucous meeting of Toronto’s Police Services Board this month, BLM protesters found themselves being challenged by people of colour who are taking a more colour-blind view of security, safety and pedagogy.

Critics describe the School Resource Officer (SRO) program as a “school to prison pipeline,” arguing that police pick on marginalized — read, racialized — students. But when police board member Ken Jeffers suggested last week that it be suspended or terminated like a truant student, the reaction may have surprised him.

One woman in the audience shouted back that he should ponder the blood shed by Blacks because of violence in our schools. As my colleague Andrea Gordon reported, a procession of principals, teachers and students from diverse racial backgrounds expressed strong support for the police presence — though it didn’t seem to influence BLM’s view.

The SRO program is not unique to Toronto but it is uniquely controversial here. Vancouver, Ottawa, Mississauga and other big cities have embraced the idea of placing police in schools, where it remains popular.

That’s not to say the program is perfect. But we should remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good — even if the police are sometimes seen by many as the enemy.

Whatever its flaws, the program has indisputably benefited many students and teachers in the trenches. An independent study of a similar SRO program in Peel suggests the presence of cops is an “overwhelmingly positive” confidence-building and relationship-building measure.

Measuring its impact is undoubtedly difficult. To its credit, the police board ultimately decided to defer any suspension until the Toronto program is properly evaluated. That didn’t stop Black Lives Matter from dismissing any review as a “dangerous side tactic.”

BLM is entitled to its protests, which had a cascading effect on the Pride parade — a private (albeit publicly subsidized) group that can make its own decisions in its own ways. Unlike Pride, the police services board — like our Toronto-area school boards — is a democratically constituted entity answerable to our elected councillors, who are accountable to the broad public and especially parents. Pressure tactics are part of our civil discourse, but representative democracy ought not to be held hostage to protests weighed down by historical grievances about police raids on gay bathhouses three decades ago.

It’s easy to forget the impetus for police in our schools. A decade ago, Grade 9 student Jordan Manners, 15, was fatally shot in the hallway of C.W. Jefferys Collegiate. In the aftermath, Toronto’s two publicly funded school boards teamed up with the police to introduce the SRO program.

The C.W. Jefferys school initially resisted the idea, but later embraced it after another teen was stabbed and yet another caught with a loaded handgun. Its current principal, Monday Gala, is a strong supporter:

“If you come into Jefferys today and see the positivity that is going on organized by this partnership with the police, you can’t deny the fact that there is a place for the police in the school,” he told the Star.

Some feel frustrated that the SRO program isn’t comprehensive but perhaps unfairly selective, rotating 36 uniformed cops through 75 schools across the city. Other SRO programs, such as in Peel and Ottawa, cover all schools.

That has led to the perception that only at-risk Black kids are targeted at schools like C.W. Jefferys. But at-risk — and rich — kids of all colours are just as likely to be watched over by cops at the posh Etobicoke School of the Arts, Riverdale Collegiate or Northern Secondary School.

Would an even larger program that puts cops in every single school appease everyone? It hardly seems like the solution sought by protesters, who sometimes sound as if they don’t want to see any cops anywhere at any time — whether on a Pride parade ground or a Toronto school ground.

Protesters have every right to their anti-police perspective. Especially in the wake of a long battle against carding that disproportionately affected people of colour.

Minority voices, whether held by minority groups or believed by bastions of white privilege, are part of our democratic discourse. But they cannot be the last word in a democratic process.

Source: How police became the enemy in Toronto schools: Cohn | Toronto Star

Demands asked of Write magazine go too far: Kate Jaimet

Hopefully but unlikely the last post on this subject but Kate Jaimet’s overall take and her critique of the equity task force “fundamentalists” is largely on the mark:

Like many writers I know, I’ve done a lot of soul-searching recently about questions of freedom of speech and cultural appropriation.

To me, it’s not a simple issue. While I’m sick to my stomach that white editors in positions of considerable power would “jokingly” tweet about funding a “cultural appropriation prize,” it also nauseates me that Hal Niedzviecki would lose his job as editor of Write (the magazine of the Writers’ Union of Canada) for penning a controversial opinion piece.

It’s been a bad week for intercultural respect. And for freedom of speech.

Niedzviecki’s opinion piece, “Winning the Appropriation Prize,” which appeared in an issue of Write dedicated to Indigenous writers, was ham-fisted and offensive — in parts. In other parts, it was a timely plea for writers to step outside the box of their own ethnicity and culture, learn about other people, and write about them.

Having read the entire article, I don’t think that Niedzviecki meant to suggest that Indigenous cultures had never been exploited by imperial colonizers, nor that it was OK to do so. But his article could legitimately be read and interpreted in that way. And it was — which led to the fallout we’ve witnessed.

I don’t know Niedzviecki. But I do know that over the past few years, he transformed Write from a boring union newsletter to a vibrant publication with more diverse contributors than before his tenure. And I know enough about how small magazines work, (IE. on a shoestring) that I’d lay money on a bet that Niedzviecki either originated, or strongly backed, the idea of an issue dedicated to Indigenous writers, and worked hard to solicit contributions and get them into print.

The feelings of anger and betrayal expressed by Indigenous writers who were blindsided by Niedzviecki’s article are completely understandable and we, as fellow writers, must take them to heart. But I also believe that the List of Demands published by The Writer’s Union’s Equity Task Force in reaction to Niedzviecki’s article went completely beyond the pale.

Not only did the list call for a retraction and an apology, it also demanded (No. 6) that the next editor of Write must not only be an “Indigenous writer or writer of colour,” but also, “active and respected in Indigenous sovereignty or anti-racist cultural movements for at least three years;” and (No. 7) that all future Writers’ Union office staff be “active and respected in anti-oppression cultural movements for at least three years” with priority given to “Indigenous writers, racialized writers, writers with disabilities and trans writers.”

Further, the Task Force demanded (No. 4) “Protocols for editing all issues of Write that build in accountability to issues of race and colonialism.” Accountability, it seems, would be monitored by (No. 9) a new in-house Equity Officer “active and respected in Indigenous sovereignty or anti-racist cultural movements for at least three years.”

I’m sorry if people are offended by what I’m about to say, but to demand that all staff of the Writer’s Union must hew to a certain political line — and that all content of Write must be vetted in accordance with that line — smacks of totalitarianism.

Just as cultural appropriation evokes a strong reaction in Indigenous people, political totalitarianism evokes a strong reaction in many people of European descent — people sometimes labelled by the “anti-racist cultural movement” as simply “white.”

Many Canadians of European origin have experienced — or have parents or grandparents who experienced — repression for their political or artistic beliefs under 20th century totalitarian regimes. People were imprisoned for expressing opinions deemed politically unacceptable. Some lost their lives.

Freedom of speech is not just a megaphone used by the powerful to shout down their voiceless opponents (though it can be misused this way). Freedom of speech is a fundamental principle that we, as writers, must defend.

I believe more Indigenous journalists should be hired in Canadian newsrooms. I believe journalists who are not Indigenous should strive to learn about Indigenous issues and cover them with fairness, accuracy, and empathy. I believe more books, poems, plays and films by Indigenous creators should be published and distributed. I believe novelists who are not Indigenous should, respectfully, include Indigenous characters in their works; because leaving Indigenous people out of stories can be as racist as falsely portraying Indigenous people within stories. I believe that people shouldn’t lose their jobs for expressing their opinions.

I want to believe that I can believe in both: intercultural respect, and freedom of expression. I hope that’s possible in Canada today.

Source: Demands asked of Write magazine go too far | Toronto Star

Martin Regg Cohn also has a good piece: Why the debate over cultural appropriation misses the mark: Cohn – Wouldn’t social critics find a wider audience — beyond literary and journalistic circles, or the echo chamber of Twitter — by distinguishing between cultural exploration and exploitation?

How Donald Trump’s vision of diversity divides us too: Cohn

Regg Cohn praising tolerance, drawing an appropriate distinction with full acceptance and celebration. And of course, tolerance happens within the context of the Charter and the legal system:

recent column calling on politicians to espouse tolerance in their public speeches sparked comments from some readers (activists and politicos) criticizing me for using that very word: Tolerance, they argued, bespeaks condescension, superiority, insincerity and negativity.

After all, one tolerates something unpleasant — a loud noise, a bad smell. One has “zero-tolerance” for drugs. Surely we should celebrate diversity, not merely tolerate our differences, these readers argued.

Well, yes and no. To me, tolerance is a worthy objective in itself, because it is eminently realistic and achievable. Here’s how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines tolerance:

First, a “willingness to accept feelings, habits or beliefs that are different from your own.” Second, “the ability to accept, experience or survive something harmful or unpleasant.”

Tolerance can, in fact, have a double-meaning — fairness versus forbearance. Which is quite apt.

It’s understandable that many Canadians try to put a relentlessly positive spin on diversity, calling on us to “celebrate” and “embrace” it — appealing to our better angels. But let’s be honest with ourselves.

There’s not always cause for celebration. Not all diversity is delightful.

For example, one can be tolerant of the face-concealing burqa, without necessarily celebrating it. The Islamic call to prayers wafting from a nearby mosque might annoy some neighbours, until they realize that church bells pealing nearby are also part of the religious landscape — and so one tunes out the noise, rather than praying for silence.

Tolerance is an antidote to intolerance and discrimination. We needn’t sugar coat all diversity. Far better to truly understand differences while seeking reasonable accommodation.

Let’s not make tolerance a dirty word. If we persist in pretending that all diversity is positivity, we will quickly get caught out in a lie — and feed the resentment that Trump harvests across America, or that Leitch is mining in the Conservative leadership race.

Live and let live. Even if you don’t always love the lives others lead.

It’s better than living a lie. The best way to defend diversity is with honesty — not defensiveness.

Source: How Donald Trump’s vision of diversity divides us too: Cohn | Toronto Star

Canada shouldn’t be smug looking at anti-immigrant sentiment of Brexit: Regg Cohn

Good piece by Regg Cohn on Canadian smugness:

People who prey on people’s fears and phobias about “the other” are nothing new in European or North American history. And Canada is not inoculated against that virus, however well we have resisted it of late.

Yes, we are good at both welcoming and integrating newcomers. We have resisted calls to decrease intakes of both immigrants and refugees. We make a virtue of diversity rather than rueing differences.

But we are only human. If Canadians persist in casting themselves as better than the rest of the world, ugly reality will soon set in. Remember the burqa debate in our last federal election campaign?

The splendid isolation we enjoy from our geographic perch far from poverty and conflict zones will not forever protect us from the upheavals that lie ahead. As we have seen in the Middle East, across Africa, and much of Asia, migrant movements are ever more volatile and overwhelming in an interconnected world.

If today our behaviour is better than that of our southern neighbours, whose presidential discourse demonizes Mexican migrants, it is largely because of where we sit — a safe distance from the frontier with Mexico, buffered by thousands of kilometres of American territory.

If our well-publicized impulse to resettle Syrian refugees is more orderly and dignified than what has beset Southern Europe’s barbed wire borders, it is because our roads and railways are not overrun by migrants clamouring for processing on our doorstep.

While it is tempting to disapprove of the debate in Britain, it is perhaps more prudent to ask why the anti-immigrant message was so well received in the first place.

The quick answer would be that it is human nature to fear the other. A more considered response might be that political leaders must be mindful of the limits of tolerance amid the changing rhythms of migration.

Who knows how Canadians would behave if geography did not insulate us from the human tide along the shores of the Mediterranean, or the porous border between Mexico and the U.S.

Consider a couple of recent Canadian responses:

When Mexicans surged to first place among refugee claimants to Canada a few years ago, the government of the day imposed visa restrictions to stem the flow. That 2009 decision is only now rescinded with the visit of Mexican President Henrique Pena Nieto to Canada this week.

And while we deride Trump for his anti-Mexico ravings, another populist politician by the name of Rob Ford campaigned against the boatloads of Tamil migrants turning up off the coast of B.C. a few years ago: “Take care of the (Canadian) people now before we start bringing in more.”

Ford’s brand of xenophobia was borne out by an Angus Reid poll showing 55 per cent of Ontarians would deport the Tamils even if their refugee claims proved legitimate — and he was elected mayor a few weeks later. Torontonians may dismiss Trump, but don’t forget Ford Nation.

Mindful of our well-documented history of ethnic intolerance and internment, let alone our recent inconstancy, Canadians dare not be smug. And our leaders cannot be complacent.

While appealing to our better natures, politicians must also be mindful of our worse natures, and practical realities, lest they get out too far ahead of themselves. The immigration and refugee challenges of today are only a taste of what lies ahead for Canada.

There but for the grace of demography go we. And geography.

Source: Canada shouldn’t be smug looking at anti-immigrant sentiment of Brexit: Cohn | Toronto Star

Sorry, no sex-ed, please — we’re Canadians: Cohn

More balanced assessment than Heather Mallick’s (Sex-ed compromise is short-sighted: Accommodating body-shaming parents is a betrayal of Canadian multiculturalism):

The most maddening and exasperating aspect of last year’s protests was the attempt by a minority of people — motivated by religion, culture or ideology — to impose their views on the vast majority of parents who support modern sex education for their children. The protesters argued, absurdly and selfishly, that if they disliked the sex-ed curriculum, everyone else’s children should also be deprived of that education.

It was an utterly anti-democratic example of the intolerance (and tyranny) of the minority imposing its unsupported views on everyone else — aided by some opposition Progressive Conservative MPPs and abetted by their current leader, Patrick Brown. What made their anti-sex-ed campaign even more objectionable was that their protests were so pointless — for the simple reason that anyone with a religious objection could easily opt out, taking their child out of class.

Don’t like it, don’t take it. But don’t take away my child’s right to a modern education.

Despite that opt-out option, hundreds of parents escalated their protests by withdrawing their children from all classes last spring (not just sex-ed instruction). Many of them also delayed enrolment in the public school system last September to ratchet up the pressure.

Against that backdrop of disruptive protests, Thorncliffe Park principal Jeff Crane undertook extensive consultations. He proposed an alternative class for those first graders whose parents refused to let them see or hear any explicit references to their anatomy — exposing them, at least, to the rest of the health and physical education curriculum.

Did he go too far in acquiescing to unreasonable demands?

In sex-ed, as in sex itself, the perfect is the enemy of the good. Compromise can be a good thing if it minimizes the harm that might come from depriving first graders of any sex-ed at all should their parents persist with boycotts.

The religious objectors had the right, under our existing system, to deprive their children of essential learning. Now, these students will at least benefit from the rest of the curriculum, notwithstanding their parents’ obstinacy.

That’s better than the alternative of an outright boycott. The key point is that all other students, in this school and across the province, will still get unexpurgated sex-ed classes that don’t dilute the overall curriculum.

A child’s interests should always come first. In this case, a principled principal at Thorncliffe Park has shown us that “reasonable accommodation” with unreasonable parents can produce a rational compromise that serves society.

Source: Sorry, no sex-ed, please — we’re Canadians: Cohn | Toronto Star

India trip provides lessons learned, all around: Cohn

Good piece abound the visit by Premier Wynne’s visit to Amritsar’s Golden Temple, the spiritual centre of Sikhdom, and the controversy it provoked:

As for Wynne, her visit to the Golden Temple proved anti-climactic. Despite the media speculation, she received the traditional gift of a siropa robe of honour — though the deed was done, diplomatically, in the basement (as opposed to the sanctum sanctorum, minimizing any awkwardness for the temple’s current leadership, who remained publicly coy on precisely how and by whom the honour was bestowed).

Lest anyone be too judgmental of the public coyness of Golden Temple officials — and their subsequent circumlocutions about Wynne’s circumambulations — one must concede that homophobia is nothing new, whether in the West or the East. Coincidentally, India’s Supreme Court is now revisiting antiquated laws on homosexuality inherited (and imported) from British colonial rule. Canada phased out discrimination against gay marriage only in 2005, and American states are just now catching up.

The lesson for politicians making the pilgrimage to Punjab is that it can sometimes be a delicate dance. You may walk into trouble, as Wynne nearly did, or you may wrong-foot yourself, as Brown might have (until his recent circumspection on sexual orientation).

Good for Wynne for standing her ground, without trampling on local sensitivities. Good for Brown for belatedly standing up against homophobia, after previously stooping to the level of local homophobes and gay-baiters who hyperbolized the sex-ed update.

Lessons learned, one hopes, all around.

Source: India trip provides lessons learned, all around: Cohn | Toronto Star

How Ontario politicians teamed up to rein in police carding: Cohn 

Good overview by Regg-Cohn on how the carding issue was addressed, with all party support (all too rare):

Provincial politicians are not usually top of mind when dealing with tensions in the inner cities or outer suburbs. But all three parties answered the call.

NDP deputy leader Jagmeet Singh launched a public campaign for change earlier this year, disclosing that he’d been carded more than 10 times by police — accosting him, questioning him, profiling him. A turban-wearing Sikh (which apparently arouses suspicions), Singh is a lawyer who now represents the riding of Bramalea-Gore-Malton — and knows his rights. But in news conferences, he made the case that most young people don’t know they have a right to refuse police street checks unless they are under suspicion for a crime.

Leading a legislative debate last month, Singh exhorted his fellow MPPs to “send a clear message to the entire province that arbitrary and discriminatory carding and street checks are not acceptable.”

The appeal from Singh’s third-place New Democrats struck a chord with the Progressive Conservatives. As the official Opposition, they have hewed to a rigid law and order line ever since John Tory led the party from 2004-09 and cleaved to police unions (a pattern he continued after becoming Toronto’s mayor last year).

The current PC leader, Patrick Brown, is taking a broader view. After reaching out to ethnic communities, notably people of South Asian descent, he is acutely aware that carding is seen as profiling. The PCs’ new legal affairs critic, Randy Hillier — a rambunctious libertarian but also a civil libertarian — delivered a passionate critique of carding for infringing on fundamental freedoms.

“Societies that arbitrarily or unduly limit people’s freedoms and liberties are also places where individual safety is in jeopardy,” Hillier argued.

The governing Liberals were ready to respond. Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi announced that his party would support the opposition motion to ban discriminatory street checks.

“There is zero tolerance when it comes to any kind of racial profiling or discrimination in interactions that our police engage in,” he announced.

Naqvi, who, like Singh, is a lawyer of South Asian descent, says he has never been carded. But after conducting consultations across the province through the summer, he heard an earful about the practice — and learned about his own tin ear.

His ministry’s initial consultation paper caused a storm for repeating the police claim, unquestioningly, that street checks are a “necessary and valuable tool.” Naqvi was embarrassed into admitting that he’d never asked police to back up their assertions.

Source: How Ontario politicians teamed up to rein in police carding: Cohn | Toronto Star

A Tory blend of burqa-bashing and sex-education protests: Cohn

Martin Regg Cohn on the odd alliances at play and how he perceives Canada has changed:

Welcome to Canada, a country of diversity that imagines itself a beacon of multiculturalism, a bulwark of secularism, and a bastion of pluralism (which means, by the way, freedom for and from religion).

Now, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is lifting the veil on the phobias still lurking beneath our vaunted tradition of tolerance. Who knew so many of us could get so hot and bothered about burqas and whipped into such a frenzy about homosexuality and sexuality?

When I returned to Canada a decade ago, after 11 years abroad as a foreign correspondent, I never fathomed that niqabs — a misplaced symbol of Islamist fundamentalism that I encountered overseas — would one day distract voters in a federal campaign.

And when I took over the Ontario politics column four years ago, I never imagined that dogmatic religious conservatism — the intolerance and inwardness I’d left behind abroad — would make a comeback in my home province.

Some days I feel like I’m still stuck in the Middle East watching Palestinians and Israelis at war with one another — or worse, turning on themselves: The baiting, the poking, the code language.

Overseas, it’s fear and loathing. Here at home, it’s smear and goading.

Sex-education protests and burqa-bashing are crossover issues. Like cross-dressing, they can be curious fetishes and phobias.

The fight against sex-education makes for strange bedfellows, for it is the flip side of the battle over the burqa. A vocal fringe within our Muslim minority — many of them clad, it’s worth noting here, in niqabs or hijabs — has made common cause with social conservatives protesting against the provincial sex-education curriculum.

It’s a classic case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But with friends like that, who needs enemies?

Oddly for anti-sex-ed Muslim parents, their allies in intolerance of gays are in some cases Conservatives stumping on the campaign trail by stirring up mistrust of Muslims who wear the niqab (which tends to drag down all Muslims).

It’s a teachable moment for any Canadian tempted to join in burqa-bashing: Tolerance is a two-way street.

Not every single parent who has reservations about the provincial sex-education curriculum is homophobic. But if you read the work of the Star’s education reporters, Kristin Rushowy and Louise Brown, it’s hard to ignore the homophobic impulses driving many of the protest organizers — rallying religious newcomers by preying on prejudices they may have carried over from their homelands, where homosexuality equals criminality.

People who defend the right to wear a niqab in public (while requiring them to identify themselves when necessary) aren’t pro-burqa, as NDP Leader Tom Mulcair argued in Friday’s French-language debate, any more than people who are pro-choice are “pro” abortion. Their position is more a variation on the Voltarian dictum, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

One can disapprove of the niqab without disenfranchising women of citizenship and voting rights. But as a wedge issue, the burqa is unbeatable.

It presses our buttons, offends our sense of openness, makes it hard to connect with our interlocutor. Hence Harper’s undisguised glee in stirring up public mistrust of Muslims who cover up, and wounding his political opponents in the process.

Today the niqab. Tomorrow the hijab?

Will those armchair religious scholars who argue that the niqab has nothing to do with Islam (they are almost certainly right) next turn their sights on Canada’s ultra-orthodox Jews, the Hassidic (putatively pious) who persist in wearing black hats and silk stockings in public because they believe it an essential tenet of the faith (most Jews would disagree)? Shall we judge them next, stripping them of their garb as others did only a few decades ago?

Ah, but black hats and kippah and kirpans do not offend us as niqabs now do, you say? Recall that they were both proscribed in a proposed Quebec law banning religious symbols just a couple of years ago — so spare me the niceties on niqabs.

As for those who oppose an updated sex-education curriculum — the campaigning Conservatives having mischievously transposed a provincial responsibility to the federal polity — beware your bedfellows. All those Conservative candidates who tempt you into intolerance will lead you astray one day soon. Doubtless after voting day.