ICYMI: ‘Waiting for our death’: Afghan military lawyers beg Canada for help to escape

Sigh… As always, apart from the substance, lack of transparency and predictability on timelines cross-cut virtually all IRCC administrative problems:

A former Canadian military legal officer says a group of Afghan lawyers and other staff who helped his mission in Afghanistan have been “left in the dark,” and is urging Canada’s Immigration Ministry to act quickly to help them escape the Taliban.

It’s been one year since Canada began accepting fleeing Afghans through its one-year special immigration program for Afghans who helped the Canadian government, set up a few weeks before Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021.

To date, roughly 17,170 Afghans have arrived in Canada. Last month, the Liberal government closed its immigration program to new applicants, less than halfway toward its goal of bringing 40,000 Afghans to Canada.

“If [Canada] would not act upon my request and as soon as possible, I could lose my life,” said Popal, one of the Afghan military prosecutors who applied for this program, and whom CBC has agreed not to identify.

“When Popal called me for help, it was very heart-wrenching,” said retired major Cory Moore, a former military legal officer with the Canadian Armed Forces who was deployed three times to Afghanistan.

Moore is helping 12 applicants and their families apply for this program, and is still waiting for word from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) on the fate of these 66 people. Their applications were filed between September and December 2021.

The group includes military prosecutors, criminal investigators, security staff, recruitment video participants, a doctor and a journalist. 

All 12 Afghans were involved in various capacities during Moore’s mission to help bolster the Afghan National Army’s legal branch. He created a project to recruit Afghan law grads, making a recruitment video which aired nationally from 2012 to 2021.

As a result, eight female military lawyers were hired as prosecutors and criminal investigators with the military, in what Moore calls a “historical precedent.”

“During the period in time in which we were doing the video shooting, it was a particularly dangerous time in Kabul when I had a target on my back,” he said. 

“They never left my side. They never cut and run…. It’s why Canada can’t turn its back on them now.”

‘We are getting hopeless’

Popal, who appeared in that recruitment video, was an Afghan army prosecutor for 10 years.

Through WhatsApp video chat, Popal said he and his family are in “extreme danger” because of his involvement with the recruitment project.

“We are getting hopeless and … we are just waiting for our death,” he said in Dari, through an interpreter.

Popal, who was reduced to tears during the conversation, said it’s been a year of hardship for his family. His kids can’t go to school or appear in public spaces, and he’s unable to work so it’s been difficult to put food on the table. The family is facing “serious threats,” he said.

“The danger we are facing is because we helped Canadians.”

Maryam, whose identity CBC has also agreed to protect because she’s also in hiding, is the first of the eight female lawyers hired as a result of Moore’s project. (Three of the lawyers have not yet been accounted for, Moore said.)

She prosecuted Taliban members accused of infiltrating the Afghan National Army. She also criminally investigated sexual assault cases involving Afghan military members who committed offences against army nurses.

“I’m in danger because of that position,” she said in Dari, through an interpreter. 

Maryam spoke about the mental health impact the wait has had on her and her family. 

“We’ve all got kind of psychological issues, psychological problems,” she said, pleading through tears: “Justin Trudeau … please get us out of here. Please, evacuate us from here…. We cannot live here anymore.” 

Silence from department

Moore contacted IRCC several times this spring about the status of the 12 applications.

“I wasn’t hearing anything,” he said. “They explained that none of the 12 applicants … were coming up in their system.”

After seeking clarity from other agents, Moore said one of them told him this: “She explained that if you had been screened out at the initial review stage, you’re not invited formally to make [an] application … and if you don’t receive an email like that, then your case just disappears.”

To date, none of the 12 Afghans received an email from IRCC about their application status. The government website instructs applicants to “wait for us to contact you” once an application has been submitted. 

“They don’t receive anything. They’re just left in the dark,” said Moore.

“[For Canada] to shut the door on a group of people who were so intimately involved in helping me succeed with my project, it’s unfathomable.”

By speaking publicly, Moore wants to stress how each applicant played a critical role in helping him and the Canadian military. 

“There’s no question that Afghanistan was made better by their work with me,” said Moore. “And quite honestly, I think Canada is a better place with this fine group of people in it.”

Tight timeline a ‘slap in the face’

Tamar Boghossian, an immigration lawyer with Boghossian Morais LLP, is helping Moore with the case. Last week, she refiled and updated all 12 applications.

Boghossian said all 12 applicants meet the government’s eligibility requirements, which she called “very vague.” The government lists just two examples of who can apply — Afghan nationals who worked at the Canadian embassy, or interpreters — but adds the program “is not limited to” those professions.

The issue, Boghossian said, is that the program has “no transparency.” The short timeline is also problematic, as the one-year program has already expired, she added.

“It’s a slap in the face … to those who actually helped the Canadian government,” said Boghossian. “Why can’t we help these individuals in return?”

She explained that most individuals who’ve applied to this special program don’t have proper documentation or passports, and are having difficulty obtaining them because they’re in hiding. 

She’s urging the Trudeau government to not only extend the deadline for applications, but to also expand the number of people Canada will receive. 

“40,000 applicants is not a lot for, you know, Canada being in Afghanistan for almost 15 years,” Boghossian said.

Government decision ‘shameful,’ says MP

During a news conference last month, Conservative MP and IRCC shadow minister Jasraj Singh Hallan called the Liberal government’s decision to wind down its one-year program “shameful.”

The Conservatives are among those calling on the government to reopen the special immigration program, and Hallan said it’s Canada’s “moral responsibility to help those who served alongside our country.”

“The government’s decision to shut down the [special program] is unconscionable,” Hallan said.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan has said the government’s claim that other immigration avenues remain open to Afghans is “deceptive.”

“That is just a rejection,” she said.

Ministry working ‘as quickly as possible’

On behalf of IRCC, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s office said it could not comment on the 12 applicants’ cases for privacy reasons. 

The ministry said it’s received 15,210 applications under the special program, and has approved about two-thirds of them so far.

“We are working to process applications as quickly as possible,” wrote Aidan Strickland, the minister’s spokesperson, noting the resettlement initiative for Afghans is uniquely challenging.

Strickland said the eligibility requirements are meant “to be as inclusive as possible,” and can include cooks, drivers and other staff who helped Canada’s military.

“We have accomplished much, but there is still more work to be done,” she wrote.

The office did not say whether it will reopen the program.

Source: ‘Waiting for our death’: Afghan military lawyers beg Canada for help to escape

[Canadian] Military failing to remove barriers to diversifying ranks: ombudsman

Long-standing challenge:

Canada’s military ombudsman is joining the chorus of those accusing the Canadian Armed Forces and Defence Department of failing to address long-standing barriers to recruit and retain more women, visible minorities and Indigenous people.

Gregory Lick says in a new report that the military and department have adopted numerous initiatives over the last 20 years to increase the share of Armed Forces members who come from those underrepresented groups.

The moves followed several human-rights decisions and the passage of employment equity laws, amid a growing disconnect between the makeup of the military, predominantly composed of white males, and the rest of the country’s population.

Yet the ombudsman found those initiatives resulted in little progress on increasing representation from underrepresented groups, with the military consistently falling far short of its own targets.

“I am adamant that in order to not repeat the same mistakes, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces need to do things differently,” Lick said in a statement Monday.

“Fresh and creative thinking is required. Rehashing former initiatives simply will not cut it. Period. We will continue to monitor developments within the defence community in order to inform our own next steps on this matter.”

The ombudsman’s report comes weeks after a panel of retired Armed Forces members released the results of its own review, which took the military to task for not acting on dozens of previous studies and reviews of racism in the organization.

The scathing anti-racism report, which followed a yearlong review ordered by then-defence minister Harjit Sajjan, also accused the military of not doing enough to detect and prevent white supremacists and other extremists from infiltrating its ranks.

Lick’s review, also requested by Sajjan, looked at efforts to increase the share of women, visible minorities and Indigenous people in the Defence Department and military since becoming subject to employment equity laws in 1997 and 2002, respectively.

It specifically noted the military’s failure to make any real progress toward its various targets, which include having 25.1 per cent of all Armed Forces members be women, 11.8 per cent be visible minorities and 3.5 per cent Indigenous people.

“Despite the CAF’s efforts over the past 19 years, the percentage of women members stagnated until 2019, when a one-per-cent increase brought that representation level to 16 per cent of all CAF members,” the report reads.

“The limited increase in Aboriginal peoples (2.8 per cent) and visible minority members (9.6 per cent) has not been sufficient to keep up with Canadian demographics,” it adds.

The report goes on to note that not only has the Armed Forces failed to achieve its targets, but that those targets have been repeatedly criticized by the Canadian Human Rights Commission and others as far too low given the country’s changing composition.

The Defence Department reported more success in terms of diversifying its civilian workforce, but nonetheless faced many of the same challenges.

The ombudsman reported that his office had received 931 complaints relating to recruitment and 879 complaints involving promotions or career advancement since 2010. Another 189 workplace discrimination complaints were received.

“While designated employment equity groups did not submit all these complaints and not all would have been deemed to be unfair, these numbers show that the DND and CAF face challenges to the provision of fair and equitable employment,” he wrote.

The ombudsman noted numerous barriers to the recruitment of Armed Forces members from the designated groups had been reported over the years, including language requirements, security-clearance delays and a lack of representation among recruiters.

The review also noted that because military personnel have to start at the bottom and work their way up, fixing the recruitment process is a critical first step. Concerns were nonetheless also identified around retention and promotions.

Lick emphasized the importance of addressing the problem given what he described as a growing need for a diverse force that reflects Canadian society and is able to operate in new and innovative ways.

“With the CAF currently operating at a deficit of approximately 10,000 to 12,000 regular and reserve force members and thousands of positions unfilled in the civilian ranks, a crisis is slowly emerging,” he said.

“Critical to the ongoing success of the DND and the CAF is ensuring that people of diverse backgrounds consider a career in these organizations and see themselves reflected in their mandates.”

While past reports and reviews have proposed a number of measures to address the problems, Lick echoed the anti-racism panel’s findings about a lack of action, saying: “It is unclear whether the CAF has implemented all these initiatives.”

Although Defence Minister Anita Anand was given four weeks to respond to the ombudsman’s report before its public release, Lick said he had yet to receive a response. The Defence Department did not immediately comment Monday.

Source: Military failing to remove barriers to diversifying ranks: ombudsman

Canadian military not ready to waive citizenship requirement

Of note. The public service has done so. But whether such a change would result in a measurable increase in diversity is uncertain. It will be interesting to see if the RCMP’s recent removal of the requirement results in any significant improvement to their notoriously poor results.

Will also be interesting to see if any backlash to these changes in terms of the meaningfulness and advantages of citizenship:

Canada’s military is not yet ready to allow permanent residents to join its ranks, even as it struggles to boost recruitment and fix the growing diversity gap in the nation’s armed forces.

In response to a request from New Canadian Media, ahead of the inaugural  Navy Fleet Weekend in Vancouver, numbers provided by the Canadian Armed Forces (CAD) show that three-quarters of its ranks are white men.

Women make up 16.3 per cent of the Canadian military demographic; Indigenous peoples come in at 2.7 per cent while there is less than 12 per cent of visible minorities in the Canadian military make-up.

Canada needs about 100,000 troops to be at full strength, but it is short about 12,000 regular force troops and reservists currently.

Scrapping the citizenship requirement

A little-known immigration pathway called the Foreign Skilled Military Applicant (FSMA) has only seen 15 successful candidates over the last five years. 

“Over the last year alone, the Canadian Forces Recruiting Group (CFRG) interacted with approximately 100 individuals who were interested in joining the military through the FSMA,” military spokesperson Major Brian Kominar told NCM.

“Discussions involving the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces, and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) on lifting the citizenship requirement are continuing, though there are no changes to announce at this time,” he said.

The CBC reported in 2018, in line with the government of Canada’s objective of raising the number of forces personnel, there are discussions to review the possibility of foreign nationals’ recruitment beyond skills applicants.

Lifting the forces’ citizenship requirement would be a sharp departure from Canada’s traditional recruitment practices and could open the doors to applications from thousands of permanent residents, the CBC reported.

Other countries — the U.S. among them — allow non-citizens to serve, with certain restrictions on the positions and ranks they can hold.

In 2016, the RCMP scrapped its citizenship requirement, allowing permanent residents who have lived in Canada for more than 10 years to apply. The goal was, in part, to boost diversity in the ranks.

“We invite any associations, agencies, or organizations that work with new Canadians to contact the Canadian Forces Recruiting Group and find out what resources and tools are available to improve awareness of the over 100 full-time and part-time occupations available in the Canadian Armed Forces,” said Major Kominar.

“Non-Canadian citizen applicants must meet IRCC guidelines and requirements before proceeding through the CAF recruiting system,” he added.

Representing the country it serves

A report from the Advisory Panel on Systemic Racism and Discrimination in Canada’s Defence Teamacknowledged the need for increased new immigrant participation in the armed forces.

“The proportion of people belonging to visible minorities in the labour force who were born in Canada is expected to increase from 20 per cent in 2016 to 26 per cent of the labour force by 2036…the increasing ethnocultural diversity of the labour force is expected to continue,” the report noted.

Earlier this month, Chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre told the Ottawa Defence Conferencethat the CAF needs to “win the battle for talent” both in the recruitment and retention of new military members.

“If we don’t keep pace with the changing demographics, the changing face of Canada, we are going to be irrelevant,” he told the conference.

Among those taking the message to new immigrants to seek careers in the CAF is Manjot Pandher who moved to B.C. from India in 2010 and joined the Canadian Navy seven years later.

“It has provided me with great opportunities to travel while I was at school and learn new skills which will help me in my civilian career, later in life,” said Pandher, who is now a Navy Sailor 2nd Class.

“The military is a big family which welcomes everyone and being part of this family, you feel connected to Canada as a whole,” Pandher told NCM, adding that he will be at the Canadian Navy Fleet weekend.

The upcoming event, from April 29 to May 1, 2022, alongside the Burrard Dry Dock Pier in North Vancouver will feature Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) Vancouver, Winnipeg, Brandon, and Edmonton, plus three Patrol Craft Training Vessels, the Naval Tactical Operation Group, and Fleet Diving Unit (Pacific).

On May 1, marching contingents from the ships will be attending the Battle of the Atlantic Ceremony at Sailor’s Point Memorial in Waterfront Park, North Vancouver, to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic.

Source: Canadian military not ready to waive citizenship requirement

Canadian officials who met with Ukrainian unit linked to neo-Nazis feared exposure by news media: documents

Not good, neither the substance nor optics:
The Canadians met with and were briefed by leaders from the Azov Battalion in June 2018. The officers and diplomats did not object to the meeting and instead allowed themselves to be photographed with battalion officials despite previous warnings that the unit saw itself as pro-Nazi. The Azov Battalion then used those photos for its online propaganda, pointing out the Canadian delegation expressed “hopes for further fruitful co-operation.”After a journalist asked the Canadian Forces about the Azov social media postings, officers scrambled to come up with a response, according to documents obtained by this newspaper through Access to Information law.

Lt. Col. Fraser Auld, commander of Canada’s Joint Task Force Ukraine, warned that a news article might be soon published and could result in questions being asked inside the Canadian government about why such a meeting took place.

A year before the meeting, Canada’s Joint Task Force Ukraine produced a briefing on the Azov Battalion, acknowledging its links to Nazi ideology. “Multiple members of Azov have described themselves as Nazis,” the Canadian officers warned in their 2017 briefing.Bernie Farber, head of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said the Canadians should have immediately walked out of the Azov Battalion briefing. “Canadian armed forces personnel do not meet with Nazis; period, full stop,” Farber said. “This a horrendous mistake that shouldn’t have been made.”

Farber said it was also disturbing the Azov unit was able to use the Canadians in propaganda attempts to legitimize its far-right ideology. Besides its support of Nazi ideology, Azov members have been accused of war crimes and torture.

One gathering that journalists didn’t find out about was a December 2018 event in Ukraine attended by then Canadian Army commander Lt.-Gen. Jean-Marc Lanthier, according to the documents.Members of the Azov Battalion were present, but, again, instead of denouncing the battalion’s Nazi sympathies, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces focused concern on the possibility that photos might have been taken showing Canadian soldiers with members of the Azov unit.

Chris Henderson, then assistant deputy minister for public affairs, emailed more than 20 DND public-relations officers, worried that photos might appear online. “Do we have a clear expression of CAF policy toward this group?” he asked of the Azov Battalion. “This may or may not prompt questions, but we need to be ready and not come across as being taken by surprise.”

Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, policy director of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, said Canada had to make it a priority that its military personnel have no involvement with far-right fascist militias in Ukraine under any circumstances. “It’s concerning that, for the second time in a month, we have seen evidence of Canadian military officials engaging with Ukrainian neo-Nazi groups,” she added.Kirzner-Roberts was referring to a recent report from an institute at George Washington University in the United States revealing that Centuria, a far-right group made up of Ukrainian soldiers linked to the Azov movement, boasted they received training from Canada and other NATO countries. Researchers with the university tracked social media accounts of Centuria, documenting its Ukrainian military members giving Nazi salutes, promoting white nationalism and praising members of Nazi SS units.

In 2018, the U.S. Congress banned the use of U.S. funds to provide arms, training and other assistance to the Azov Battalion because of its links to the far-right and neo-Nazis.National Defence spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier said the Canadian military was examining its policies on the vetting of foreign troops it trains as well as the information uncovered by the George Washington University report.

He had earlier noted that the 2018 meeting with Azov Battalion members was planned and organized by Ukrainian authorities. Canadian military representatives had no prior knowledge of those who would be attending, he added. Le Bouthillier noted it was the job of the Canadian defence attaché to assess the situation in the conflict zone. “Canada has not, does not, and will not be providing support to Azov and affiliated entities,” Le Bouthillier said.

In 2019, the Soufan Center, created by former FBI agent Ali Soufan, who was involved in a number of counter-terrorism cases, warned about the connection between the Azov Battalion and white nationalists. “In Ukraine, the Azov Battalion has recruited foreign fighters motivated by white supremacy and neo-Nazi beliefs, including many from the West, to join its ranks and receive training, indoctrination and instruction in irregular warfare,” the report outlined.The Azov Battalion has been formerly incorporated into the Ukrainian military, at least in theory, the Soufan Center report noted. But the battalion has cultivated a relationship with members of the Atomwaffen Division, a U.S.-based neo-Nazi terrorist network, it added.

Source: Canadian officials who met with Ukrainian unit linked to neo-Nazis feared exposure by news media: documents

Military police investigate dozens of complaints of racism in the Canadian Army

Not all that surprising but encouraging that recent initiative to review cases is bearing some results. And makes sense that all three services should have comparable review to assess extent and measure change:

Military police and civilian law enforcement have investigated up to 70 cases of alleged hateful conduct and racist attitudes within the Canadian Army since a crackdown began in September last year, CBC News has learned.

A briefing prepared for the army’s acting commander last winter and obtained under access to information legislation shows 115 cases were catalogued up until that time, with 57 of them being investigated by military authorities.

Figures updated to the end of August — and released to CBC News — show an additional 28 allegations. Of those, 13 were deemed serious enough to warrant a police investigation.

Source: Military police investigate dozens of complaints of racism in the Canadian Army

In France’s Military, Muslims Find a Tolerance That Is Elusive Elsewhere

Of note, a rare success story of integration in France:

Gathered in a small mosque on a French military base in southern Lebanon, six soldiers in uniform stood with their heads bowed as their imam led them in prayer next to a white wall with framed paintings of Quranic verses.

After praying together on a recent Friday, the French soldiers — five men and one woman — returned to their duties on the base, where they had recently celebrated Ramadan, sometimes breaking their fast with Christians. Back home in France, where Islam and its place in society form the fault lines of an increasingly fractured nation, practicing their religion was never this easy, they said.

“The tolerance that we find in the armed forces, we don’t find it outside,” said Second Master Anouar, 31, who enlisted 10 years ago and who, in keeping with French military rules, could be identified only by his first name.

For the past two decades, as France’s Muslim population has sought a greater role in the nation, officials have often tried to restrict Islam’s public presence under an increasingly strict interpretation of French secularism, known as laïcité.

law aimed at the Muslim veil in 2004 banned the wearing of religious symbols in public schools, and prompted years of anguished debates over France’s treatment of its Muslim population, Europe’s largest. A new law against Islamism by President Emmanuel Macron is expected to strengthen government control over existing mosques and make it harder to build new ones.

But one major institution has gone in the opposite direction: the military.

The armed forces have carved out a place for Islam equal to France’s more established faiths — by hewing to a more liberal interpretation of laïcité. Imams became chaplains in 2005. Mosques have been built on bases in France and across the world, including in Deir Kifa, where some 700 French soldiers help a United Nations force keep peace in southern Lebanon. Halal rations are on offer. Muslim holidays are recognized. Work schedules are adjusted to allow Muslim soldiers to attend Friday Prayer.

The military is one of the institutions that has most successfully integrated Muslims, military officials and outside experts said, adding that it can serve as a model for the rest of France. Some drew parallels to the United States Army, which was ahead of the rest of American society in integrating Black Americans.

In a country where religious expression in government settings is banned — and where public manifestations of Islam are often described as threats to France’s unity, especially after a series of Islamist attacks since 2015 — the uncontested place of Islam in the military can be hard to fathom.

“My father, when I told him there was a Muslim chaplain, didn’t believe me,” said Corporal Lyllia, 22, who attended Friday Prayer wearing a veil.

“He asked me three times if I was sure,” she added. “He thought that a chaplain was necessarily Catholic or Protestant.”

Sergeant Azhar, 29, said he grew up facing discrimination as a Muslim and difficulty practicing his religion when he worked in a restaurant before joining the military. In the army, he said, he could practice his religion without being held in suspicion. Forced to live together, French of all backgrounds know more of one another than in the rest of society, he said.

“In an army, you have all religions, all colors, all origins,” he said. “So that allows for an open-mindedness you don’t find in civilian life.”

At the heart of the matter is laïcité, which separates church and state, and has long served as the bedrock of France’s political system. Enshrined in a 1905 law, laïcité guarantees the equality of all faiths.

But over the years, as Islam became France’s second biggest religion after Roman Catholicism, laïcité has increasingly been interpreted as guaranteeing the absence of religion in public space — so much so that the topic of personal faith is a taboo in the country.

Philippe Portier, a leading historian on laïcité, said there was a tendency in France “to tone down religion in all spheres of social encounter,” especially as officials advocate a stricter interpretation of laïcité to combat Islamism.

By contrast, the military increasingly views religion as essential to its own management, he said.

“Diversity is accepted because diversity will come to form the basis of cohesion,” he said, adding that, contrary to the thinking in many French institutions, the underlying rationale in the military was that “there can’t be cohesion if, at the same time, you don’t make compromises with the beliefs of individuals.”

Military officials said they had been sheltered from the politicization of laïcité that occurs in the rest of society.

“The right approach is to consider laïcité as a principle and not as an ideology,” said Jean-Jacques, the Muslim chaplain in Deir Kifa. When it becomes an ideology, he added, it “inevitably creates inequalities.”

The Rev. Carmine, the Protestant chaplain on the base, said that the army was proof that laïcité works as long as it is not manipulated. “Why do we talk so much about laïcité in recent years in France?” he said. “It’s often to create problems.”

A 2019 French Defense Ministry report on laïcité in the military concluded that freedom of religious expression does not undermine the army’s social cohesion or performance. In contrast to how laïcité has been carried out elsewhere in society, the report promotes “a peaceful laïcité” that can “continue adapting itself to the country’s social realities.”

“The liberal model of laïcité that the military embodies is a laïcité of intelligence, a laïcité of fine-tuning,” said Eric Germain, an adviser on military ethics and religious issues at the ministry, who oversaw the report.

Mr. Germain said the military has been faithful to the 1905 law, which states that to safeguard freedom of worship, chaplaincy services are legitimate in certain enclosed public places, like prisons, hospitals and military facilities. The state has a moral responsibility to provide professionalized religious support to its military, he added.

The integration of Muslims into the military mirrored France’s long and complicated relationship with the Islamic world.

Muslim men from France’s colonial empire served as soldiers as far back as the 1840s, said Elyamine Settoul, an expert on Muslims and the French military at the Paris-based National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts. Early last century, there were fitful attempts to cater to Muslim soldiers’ religious needs, including the appointment of a Muslim chaplain, though for only three years, Mr. Settoul said. After World War II, the independence movement in France’s colonies, coupled with a general mistrust of Islam, put the efforts on hold.

The issue could no longer be ignored in the 1990s, as the end of mandatory military service was announced in 1996, and as the military began huge recruitment efforts in working-class areas. Children of Muslim immigrants from former French colonies became overrepresented, and now Muslims are believed to account for 15 to 20 percent of troops, or two to three times the Muslim share of the total French population.

Unequal treatment of Muslim cohorts fueled “a discourse of victimization in the ranks” and a recourse to identity politics, Mr. Settoul said. The lack of alternatives to meals with pork, which are forbidden in Islam, created “tensions and divides” and even led to fights, he said.

Catholic, Protestant and Jewish chaplains had formally served in the French military since the 1880s. But a century later, there were still no Muslim chaplains to cater to the needs of frontline soldiers, who often had to turn to Catholic chaplains.

1990 report commissioned by the Defense Ministry highlighted the risks of internal divisions unless the army gave equal treatment to its Muslim soldiers.

Despite what Mr. Settoul described as a lingering suspicion of Islam, the military incorporated Muslim chaplains in 2005 — around the same time that other parts of French society went the other way, banning the Muslim veil and other religious symbols in public schools. That began a process of integrating Muslims ahead of “the rest of society,” Mr. Settoul said.

In 2019, there were 36 active-duty imams, or about 17 percent of all chaplains. There were also 125 Catholic priests, 34 Protestant pastors and 14 rabbis.

The soldiers at Friday Prayer, ranging from their early 20s to their early 40s, were all children of immigrants. They grew up listening to their parents or grandparents talk of praying in makeshift premises before mosques were built in their cities. Some had mothers or other female relatives who still faced suspicion because they wore veils.

Sergeant Mohamed, 41, enlisted two decades ago, a couple of years before the first Muslim chaplains. He recalled how it had become easier to fully practice his religion in the army. While Muslim soldiers had been given large rooms to gather in and pray, they now had access to mosques.

In the army, Sgt. Mohamed said he could take a paid day off on Eid al-Fitr, the celebration marking the end of Ramadan.

“My father worked for 35 years, and every boss deducted eight hours of work,” he said, adding that his father, who immigrated from Algeria four decades ago, never imagined that his children would be able to practice their religion in the army. “In 40 years, there’s been amazing progress after all.”

Perhaps more than anything, the integration of Islam amounted to a recognition of his place in the army, Sgt. Mohamed said.

“The fuel of the soldier is recognition,” he said. “And when there is recognition of our faith, it’s as though you’re filling up our tanks.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/26/world/europe/in-frances-military-muslims-find-a-tolerance-that-is-elusive-elsewhere.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Obviously there wasn’t that support before.”

Air force, navy quietly barred Black and Asian Canadians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Service changed attitudes in Canadian society

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

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

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

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

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

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

Officials: Pentagon eyes new way to bar Confederate flag

Clever move:

Defence leaders, who for weeks have been tied in knots over the incendiary issue of banning the Confederate flag, are weighing a new policy that would bar its display at department facilities without actually mentioning its name, several U.S. officials said Thursday.

No final decisions have been made, but officials said the new plan presents a creative way to ban the Confederate flag in a manner that may not raise the ire of President Donald Trump, who has defended people’s rights to display it. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing internal deliberations.

Secretary Mark Esper discussed the new plan with senior leaders this week, triggering some bewilderment over the lack of an appetite for a straight-forward ban on divisive symbols. The Marine Corp has already banned the Confederate flag saying it can inflame division and weaken unit cohesion. Military commands in South Korea and Japan quickly followed suit and the other three military services were all moving to do the same when they were stopped by Esper, who wanted a more uniform, consistent policy across the whole department.

An early version of the Department plan banned display of the Confederate flag, saying the prohibition would preserve “the morale of our personnel, good order and discipline within the military ranks and unit cohesion.”

That policy was never finalized, and a new version floating around the Pentagon this week takes a different tack, simply listing the types of flags that may be displayed at military installations. The Confederate flag is not among them – thus barring its display without singling it out in a “ban.”

Acceptable flags would include the U.S. and state banners and the widely displayed POW/MIA flag. Official military division and unit flags are also likely to be allowed.

The move is an attempt at finding compromise, as Esper tries to enact a ban that passes legal muster, gives military leaders what they want, but doesn’t infuriate the commander in chief. That delicate balance has proven difficult and officials said Thursday there was no guarantee that this latest version would make the final cut.

An apparent sticking point is whether the military services will be allowed to develop their own more stringent policies on what they consider to be divisive symbols, and whether the policy will state that or leave it unsaid.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told reporters on Thursday that he is still working on a policy that would remove all divisive symbols from Army installations.

He specifically didn’t mention the flag, but said, “we would have any divisive symbols on a no-fly list.”

Confederate flags, monuments and military base names have become a national flashpoint in the weeks since the death of George Floyd. Protesters decrying racism have targeted Confederate monuments in multiple cities. Some state officials are considering taking them down, but they face vehement opposition in some areas.

Trump has flatly rejected any notion of changing base names, and has defended the flying of the Confederate flag, saying it’s a freedom of speech issue.

Source: Officials: Pentagon eyes new way to bar Confederate flag

Beijing says Canadian military participation at Chinese sports competition more proof it’s not losing global support

Another reminder of how the 2020 International Metropolis conference in Beijing will be presented as legitimization of the regime’s repressive policies towards minorities (e.g., “re-education camps” for Uighurs, Tibet) and general human rights abuses.

How DND and others attending didn’t think or consider how this would be presented hard to understand.

If you haven’t already, please consider signing the petition a number of us initiated against the holding of the conference in Beijing: http://chng.it/kfzPmtVk

Beijing’s embassy in Canada says the fact the Canadian military just sent a “big delegation” to a sporting competition in China is more evidence the Asian power is not losing friends.

Canada-China relations are in a deep freeze after Beijing locked up two Canadians in apparent retaliation for Ottawa’s detention of a Chinese high-tech executive on an extradition request from the United States. China banned Canadian pork and beef and severely curbed purchases of Canadian canola seed and soybeans.

China has also come under heavy criticism for how the Beijing-backed administration in Hong Kong is handling unprecedented protests there, and in the mounting scrutiny of the internment of an estimated one million Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang Province.

But the Chinese government, through its representatives in Canada, wants Canadians to know Beijing is not isolated or losing support.

It posted a statement on the website of its embassy in Canada to criticize a column published in The Globe and Mail last week, titled How China Loses Friends and Alienates People. The guest column by a U.S. academic discussed the backlash from China after Daryl Morey, general manager of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, tweeted remarks in support of the protests in Hong Kong and said bullying is self-defeating behaviour that will cost Beijing support.

The embassy said the list of China’s friends is growing. “More and more countries commend China’s foreign policy and development path. China’s friends are all over the world. This is a fact that can neither be obliterated nor changed by some people’s groundless accusations,” the Chinese embassy said.

“In the future, we will have more and more friends in various fields.”

It highlighted the presence of Canada and other nations in the World Military Games, held in China from Oct. 18 to 27.

International participation in the games, which attracted “9,308 military athletes from 109 countries, including a big delegation from Canada, speaks volumes in this regard,” the embassy said.

Ottawa didn’t issue any news release before or during the games to draw attention to Canada’s participation.

Daniel Le Bouthillier, head of media relations at the Department of National Defence, said Canada sent 114 athletes, 57 coaches and support staff.

Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said he’s surprised Canada sent soldiers.

He said Canada must rethink how it engages with Beijing. “Now that we have seen the dark side of China, we have to have a much more realistic approach to China. Yes, we have to engage them … but at the same time we have to take into account they can be very brutal if we do something they don’t like.”

Mr. Saint-Jacques said China’s pressure on other countries and companies to avoid criticism of its conduct is growing: “Their list of red lines is getting longer all the time. It used to be Falun Gong and Tibet and Taiwan. Now it’s Hong Kong and Xinjiang too.”

The Defence Department did not directly answer when asked why Canada sent athletes to China even as Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland accuses Beijing of arbitrarily detaining former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor.

The department said Canada “remains deeply concerned by China’s actions, including the arbitrary detention,” added that it hoped the games foster friendship.

“The spirit of the World Military Games is to create a space for friendly competition among armed forces,” Mr. Le Bouthillier said.

China expert Charles Burton, who served in the Canadian embassy in Beijing, said National Defence should not have participated in the military sports games.

“At this time, there shouldn’t be any celebratory activities going on between Canada and China, and I would suggest a major sports competition is about celebrating friendship and therefore I think it was a mistake for our military to go,” he said.

Mr. Burton said Canada’s participation “must be quite offensive” to the families of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor. The two were arrested and later charged with stealing state secrets after Canada detained senior Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. executive Meng Wanzhou last December. They have been in prison for almost a year.

Canada’s new ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, undertook consular visits with Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig over the last week.

Mr. Burton, a senior fellow at Centre for Advancing Canada’s Interests Abroad, said he hopes the Canadian government will not send athletes to the Beijing Winter Olympic Games in February, 2022, because that would be signalling “that relations are normal and passively accepting what China is doing.”

Conservative MP Peter Kent said it was inappropriate to send athletes to Beijing.

“It is unacceptable. Basically, the government should be curtailing completely collegial events at a time when Canadians are held hostage and where trade embargoes have been improperly placed on contracted Canadian sectors,” he said.

Mr. Kent also said Canada should also consider boycotting the Olympics.

Source: pointing to

USA: Military Families May Soon Lose Key Immigration Protections

Really hard to understand the ongoing cruelty of some of the Administration’s policies:

The Trump administration is considering changes to immigration policies that had previously protected the spouse and dependents of military service members from deportation, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official confirmed Monday.

“Parole in Place” is an immigration policy implemented at the height of the Iraq War to help deployed soldiers not worry that their undocumented family members would be deported while they were overseas.

It is one of several immigration options made available to the military in recognition of “the important sacrifices made by U.S. armed forces members, veterans, enlistees and their families. To support these individuals, we provide discretionary options such as parole in place or deferred action on a case-by-case basis,” the agency says on a web page for service members.

Parole in Place grants undocumented dependents and spouses a reprieve to be able to legally adjust their immigration status without having to leave the United States or be deported first. The program was rarely used until senior military leaders and then-members of Congress — including Vice President Mike Pence — urged in 2010 that the Department of Homeland Security increase access to the program.

A USCIS official confirmed exclusively to McClatchy, on condition of anonymity, that the agency is now reviewing the program. Any changes would be limited to dependents of service members, the official said.

Retired Army Reserve Lt. Col. Margaret Stock, an attorney who specializes in military immigration issues, said the administration is expected to issue a decision on whether or not to end Parole in Place at the end of July. She first became aware of the proposed changes when attorneys for some of the service members who could lose their dependents to deportation began expediting requests to get the reprieves for their family members.

The policy review comes at a time when it has become more difficult overall for service members to pursue U.S. citizenship. The number of military naturalizations has plummeted since President Donald Trump took office, and service members are now rejected for citizenship at a higher rate than civilian applicants, according to the most recent USCIS data available.

In the last several years, Parole in Place has been used sparingly, and has not protected all of the dependents of service members from deportation. The federal agency responsible for all adjudication of immigration cases does not track the number of waivers or deportations of service members or their dependents that it has processed.

Source: Military Families May Soon Lose Key Immigration Protections