National Post View: Sneaking in new ‘Canadian values’

National Post editorial on the mixed messages from the Government on the niqab:

In an interview with iPolitics on Tuesday, Treasury Board President Tony Clement rolled out the red carpet for niqab-wearing women who wish to work in the public service. Indeed, he asserted they “are frequently worn” by civil servants. “If you are in your place of work or privately in your home or in your private life, what you wear is of no concern to the state,” he said, with the reasonable proviso that the garment presents no safety concerns.

In an interview with Maclean’s the same day, Minister for Multiculturalism (among other portfolios) Jason Kenney made similar noises. Though he defended his government’s stance against niqabs at citizenship ceremonies on grounds that it involves “an interaction between the individual and the state,” and what’s more “a public declaration,” he drew a firm line there. “I’ve said consistently … that I think the state has no business regulating what people wear,” he said.

Meanwhile in the House of Commons, Stephen Harper was taking a very different line. Responding to a question, he stood up and doubled down against the niqab: “Why would Canadians, contrary to our own values embrace a practice [at citizenship ceremonies] that is not transparent, that is not open, and frankly is rooted in a culture that is anti-women? That is unacceptable to Canadians and unacceptable to Canadian women.” (Our italics.)

In the past we’ve argued that no one in government has yet made the case for uncovered faces as an obligation of citizenship, albeit one that applies only at the moment of its ceremonial confirmation. That remains true today. Mr. Kenney speaks of “interaction between the individual and the state” as the threshold at which people must show their faces, which at least has a certain logical coherence. The Quebec Liberals, for example, have committed to banning the niqab in the provincial public service on the same grounds. But in Ottawa, we have the Prime Minister denouncing niqabs as misogynist symbols contrary to Canadian values, while two of his senior ministers mildly declare that what people wear is none of their business.

And still, no one has managed to articulate why niqabs should be banned at citizenship ceremonies — or just as confusingly, why they aren’t actually banned. The regulations governing citizenship judges advise them to afford “the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization or solemn affirmation” of the oath. The “ban” is merely a ministerial directive — one that could hardly contradict those regulations more blatantly. In fact, government lawyers defended the policy on just those grounds. “In the respondent’s view, the policy is not mandatory and citizenship judges are free not to apply it,” Justice Boswell of the Federal Court wrote, in striking the policy down.

If this cynical sleight of hand was an effort to keep the issue out of court, it has failed miserably. If it’s as essential to “Canadian values” as Mr. Harper says that citizenship oaths be taken with uncovered faces, then surely it belongs in the regulations. That he seems more inclined instead to bluster and spend public money appealing the Federal Court ruling, while his ministers try not to let the anti-niqab fire get too hot, speaks volumes.

Politicians trying to sneak new “Canadian values” in through the service entrance are not to be trusted. The Conservatives need to let this bugbear die.

National Post View: Sneaking in new ‘Canadian values’

Woman asks to be sworn in as citizen as soon as possible after overturn of policy requiring her to remove niqab

No freedom is absolute, including freedom of religion, and the judge’s example of a monk not willing to break his silence to state the oath doesn’t wash and doesn’t merit accommodation. People are free to make choices, choices often have trade-offs.

It is one of the requirements of living in The policy didn’t sit well with Ms. Ishaq, a Pakistani national and devout Sunni Muslim, who says her religious beliefs obligate her to wear a niqab. While she did not object to unveiling herself in private so that an official could confirm her identity before taking the citizenship test, she drew a line at unveiling herself at the public citizenship ceremony.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim for National PostZunera Ishaq stands for a portrait in her home in Mississauga on Wednesday February 11, 2015.

“I feel that the governmental policy regarding veils at citizenship oath ceremonies is a personal attack on me, my identity as a Muslim woman and my religious beliefs,” she told the court.

Her lawyers also pointed out that while the Citizenship Act requires people to take the oath, it does not require them to be “seen” taking the oath.

She rejected a government offer to seat her at the front or back of the ceremony so her face would not easily be seen.

In a ruling last week, Judge Keith Boswell said the government’s own regulations require that citizenship judges administer the citizenship oath “with dignity and solemnity, allowing the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization or the solemn affirmation thereof.” How is this possible, Judge Boswell asked, if a policy requires citizenship candidates to “violate or renounce a basic tenet of their religion?”

“For instance, how could a citizenship judge afford a monk who obeys strict rules of silence the ‘greatest possible freedom’ in taking the oath if he is required to betray his discipline and break his silence?” he wrote.

The government had argued that the policy was not mandatory and that citizenship judges were free to apply it or not.

But the judge cited internal department emails stating that it was “pretty clear that [the Minister] would like the changes to the procedure to ‘require’ citizenship candidates to show their face … regardless of whether there is a legislative base.”

The judge also cited a media interview in which Mr. Kenney said it was “ridiculous” that a face should be covered during the citizenship oath.

Woman asks to be sworn in as citizen as soon as possible after overturn of policy requiring her to remove niqab

And further faulty reasoning in the National Post editorial:

Lawfulness aside, the probation was always on weak footing both on practical and moral grounds. There are cases where security or identification concerns rightfully trump the religious practice: for example, when taking a driver’s license photo or going through airport security. Muslim women are also sometimes required — on a case-by-case basis — to remove their veils while testifying in court, thereby allowing a defendant to face his or her accuser. No such practical justification has been offered for banning the niqab during a largely symbolic swearing-in ritual.

To be sure, Canadian society is predicated on the concept of equality for all — regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation and so forth — and it’s difficult to reconcile that fundamental value with the custom of members of one sex obscuring their faces in public. Nevertheless, Muslim women in Canada are free to wear — or not to wear — a niqab while shopping at the grocery store, teaching a lecture or simply walking down the street. To prohibit them from wearing a face covering during a citizenship oath is as illiberal in its way as requiring them to wear one. It is an arbitrary application of a pointless ban, and the court was right to strike it down.

National Post View: Court was right to strike down niqab ban during citizenship ceremony

Not surprisingly, the Government will appeal the ruling. Not by accident, PM Harper makes announcement rather than CIC Minister Alexander, in Quebec, as noted by John Ivison: Harper’s ‘offence’ at niqab ruling part of larger strategy to steal Quebec from the NDP):

Speaking at an event in Quebec on Thursday, Harper said the government intends to appeal the ruling.

“I believe, and I think most Canadians believe that it is offensive that someone would hide their identity at the very moment where they are committing to join the Canadian family,” he said in Victoriaville, Que. “This is a society that is transparent, open, and where people are equal.”

Harper says Ottawa will appeal ruling allowing veil during citizenship oath

National Post Editorial: Good Riddance to Carding

From the National Post Editorial Board:

Police have long defended carding as a vital law enforcement tool, and claim it has led to breakthroughs in major cases. But critics have long claimed  the process was inherently discriminatory, as young, black, male Torontonians were far more likely to be carded than others.

The critics were right. Data compiled by the Toronto Star revealed that young black men were being carded far more often than other citizens. Blacks, who are less than 10% of Toronto’s population, made up roughly a quarter of those being carded.

This is not to suggest that the police were simply bigoted. It is a sad truth that young black men in Toronto kill and are killed at a number that is wildly disproportionate to their share of the population. Young black men are charged with violent crimes more often than their numbers alone would warrant. Carding was the police response to the genuine issue of alarmingly high rates of violent crime among Toronto’s black youth.

But it was still the wrong response. Since 2008, more than a million people have been carded in a city that only sees somewhere in the region of 50 homicides a year. Not only was this an unwarranted police intrusion into the lives of citizens, but it needlessly stigmatized members of a racial minority, casting individuals under suspicion — or certainly making them feel under suspicion — solely on the basis of their race.

My only comment, as earlier posts this week have illustrated (A MacArthur Grant Winner Tries to Unearth Biases to Aid Criminal Justice – NYTimes.comThe Science of Why Cops Shoot Young Black Men), is not that the police are “simply bigoted” but they, like all of us, have subconscious biases and prejudices that play a role here.

National Post editorial board: Good riddance to carding 

Federal government has spent more than $20M on monitoring massive log of keywords

One of the things I miss most about my time in government is having this media monitoring service (media scans). Helpful for officials as well as the political level.

And the expanded monitoring of ethnic and social media made our jobs easier (hard to replicate this completely through services like Feedly):

“News monitoring is conducted to track key public policy issues that impact the government of Canada agenda and to assess the effectiveness of government of Canada communications,” Raymond Rivet, director of corporate and media affairs for the Privy Council Office, said in an email.

“To identify reporting that is relevant to the government of Canada, suppliers use search terms as an aid to identifying reporting that may be of interest.”

Opposition party critics for various portfolios are also part of the media monitoring search terms from several departments, as are the names of dozens of journalists.

And don’t ask the Canadian Security Intelligence Service CSIS about its media monitoring activities. The agency has refused to release details of any contracts, ostensibly for security reasons.

About 300 of the roughly 1,100 pages of media monitoring search terms are from Citizenship and Immigration, and the massive department of Employment and Social Development, whose minister Jason Kenney, is also the minister for multiculturalism.

Of the government’s more than $20-million in media monitoring contracts since December 2012, one of the largest individual contracts was for ethnic media monitoring.

Federal government has spent more than $20M on monitoring massive log of keywords

Jonathan Kay: Sun News’ cynical attacks on Justin Trudeau have crossed the line into anti-Muslim hysteria

Kay nails it:

Moreover: If indeed it is true that al-Sunnah al-Nabawiah mosque remains a religious home for unassimilated Muslim immigrants with radical, un-Canadian views, shouldn’t that be all the more reason for Canadian politicians to let those congregants know that if they want to live and flourish in this country, they need to adapt to our values?

Justin Trudeau’s riding of Papineau is one of the poorest and most diverse in Canada. It is full of immigrants who are wrestling with the process of integrating into Canadian life. What sort of MP would we want for such a riding — one who brags to Sun News viewers about how he wouldn’t set foot within 50 feet of this or that house of prayer, lest he be tainted by association with the teeming Muslim hordes who pray therein … or someone who actually seeks to engage with these people and draw them into the political mainstream?

Jonathan Kay: Sun News’ cynical attacks on Justin Trudeau have crossed the line into anti-Muslim hysteria

Andrew Lawton, also in the National Post, piles on this critique:


When the PMO arranged my interview with James, I was looking forward to hearing what the government had done or was doing to address the radicalization alleged at the Al Sunnah Al Nabawiah mosque. Shockingly, what I presumed was the most relevant question to the discussion, appeared to dumbfound James, who skirted it no fewer than three times, offering up only scripted condemnations of Justin Trudeau.

“I think it was completely outrageous. I think it’s completely unacceptable that the leader of the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau, would associate with a group that allegedly radicalizes Canadians to join al-Qaeda and has even been listed by the Pentagon as a location known to them,” James told me during the live interview.

I asked, “Why is this a politics question and not a question of Canadian public safety and intelligence?”

I was expecting anything but the answer she gave.

“I thank you for that question, but as you know, I probably —I cannot comment on operational matters of national security, Andrew,” she said. “But I think the real question is here — Justin Trudeau knew about this. He knew about this and instead he went into this mosque, did a whole lot of handshaking and trying to win votes. He will stoop at nothing to try to win over terrorist organizations. I can’t believe this.”

Embarrassing. But even intelligent MPs sound stupid when they have to stick to stupid talking points (e.g., Chris Alexander defending the government’s handling of the F-35, among others).

Not sure this helps them.

Andrew Lawton: If Trudeau is schmoozing with terrorists, why aren’t we arresting any?

Blatant lying loses family its citizenship — but earns them a $63K bill from Canadian government

Further to my article Overstating “Fraud” – New Canadian Media, an example of particularly egregious misrepresentation (polite term for lying) about residency:

Ottawa has stripped a Lebanese family of their Canadian citizenships — and handed them a $63,000 bill — after they were caught blatantly lying about living in Canada, part of a government crackdown on bogus citizens that could extend to thousands of cases.

The family — a father, mother and their two daughters — signed citizenship forms claiming they lived in Canada for almost all of the previous four years when they really lived in the United Arab Emirates, a fact even posted online in the daughters’ public résumés on LinkedIn.

The bold nature of the fabrications — that successfully won them citizenship in 2008 and 2009 — and their attempts to fight Ottawa’s decision brought rebuke from both the government and the Federal Court of Canada: not only have their citizenships been revoked, but they have been ordered to pay all of the government’s $63,442 in legal bills.

It is a punishment historically associated with only the most egregious cases, usually accused Nazi war criminals who hid their involvement in atrocities when fleeing to Canada after the Second World War.

This case is only the beginning. The RCMP has targeted about 11,000 people from more than 100 countries suspected of fraud by misrepresenting their residency in Canada.

RCMP identified more than 3,000 citizens and 5,000 permanent residents under suspicion in ongoing large-scale fraud investigations. Most are residency claims like in this case.After questions from officials, nearly 2,000 other people have withdrawn their applications, said Nancy Caron, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration.

A few points to note:

  • If I am correct, it is the same Judge McTavish that threw out the Government’s elimination of refugee claimant health care, partly on grounds of lack of evidence. This case shows that when the Government has sound evidence, it can successfully defend policy before the Courts;
  • The new Citizenship Act makes such revocation decisions at the discretion of the Minister, not the Courts. Yet the Courts have handed the Government a significant victory;
  • My estimate of fraud, based upon numbers provided (no change in this article), was a maximum of 3 percent, calculated on the unlikely assumption (CIC not providing information to the contrary) that the number of fraud investigations pertained to a single year. This case dates from 2008, suggesting that the 3,194 fraud investigations cover multiple years, reducing the percentage of fraud considerably;
  • In addition to requiring the family to cover court costs (appropriate deterrent), the bigger financial risk is that the father will lose his Canadian expatriate status with his UAE employer, and the benefits that go with it. As a Lebanese national, his package will likely be significantly less. I expect he will not rush to tell his employer, however;
  • In addition to Hong Kong and Chinese nationals, the breakdown of fraud investigations reveals mainly Mid-East and Pakistani nationals, likely working in the Gulf, given the incentives mentioned above; and,
  • Lastly, the role of social media in exposing fraud provides another useful tool for CIC and the RCMP. I expect that some will likely be revising (i.e., scrubbing) their various profiles as a result.

It is appropriate for the Government to take a serious approach to reducing fraud and this, and likely other cases in the hopper, strengthen the Government’s case.

However, one can question whether the Government is casting the net too broadly in its review of current applications, and delaying too many applications of those following the rules, rather than focussing on the higher risk cases.

Blatant lying loses family its citizenship — but earns them a $63K bill from Canadian government | National Post.

John Ivison: PQ could learn from Jason Kenney the right way to promote cultural values | National Post

As this is behind the firewall (and it quotes me extensively!), full text below for those who do not have National Post access:

Gérard Bouchard, co-author of the Bouchard-Taylor report on diversity in Quebec, once remarked that Jason Kenney’s reforms to Canada’s multiculturalism policies had brought the Quebec and Canadian models closer — an emphasis on integration over accommodation.

Both Quebec nationalists and Canadian conservatives were suspicious of Pierre Trudeau’s multiculturalism policies — particularly the Liberal tradition of indulging cultural groups just long enough to extract their votes.

In large measure, Mr. Kenney, as Multiculturalism Minister, pursued his own charter of values. But, crucially, he used “soft” policy tools to persuade people to buy into his vision of Canada, rather than the bludgeon of legislation that the Parti Québécois government is proposing in its secularism charter.

As the author of a new book — Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism — makes clear, Mr. Kenney pursued an unabashed policy of integration (often in the face of opposition from his own public servants).

Andrew Griffith was a director general of multiculturalism at Citizenship and Immigration at a time when significant shifts in policy were being introduced by the Conservatives.

“Kenney did make a major shift towards integration … I would argue he brought multiculturalism back to its roots, as it was always about making various communities more comfortable about integrating into the Canadian ‘mainstream’, while preserving their culture, all within the common framework of Canadian laws [and] regulations,” said Mr. Griffiths.

While placing high value on cultural diversity and religious freedom, he set limits and condemned “extreme” behaviour like honour killings that were not in compliance with Canadian laws, identity and values.

In 2011, he even aligned himself with the Quebec approach when he announced that the niqab would not be allowed at citizenship ceremonies, claiming it was not a religious obligation to wear the veil. The next year, Mr. Kenney introduced a language requirement for citizenship applicants, obliging them to provide objective evidence like test results to prove they could speak either French or English.

Mr. Griffiths said Mr. Kenney’s extensive outreach into ethnic communities gave him credibility to take a broad range of positions.

“My take on him is that it is a very rare minister who can both implement more restrictive immigration, refugee and citizenship policies and yet ‘narrowcast’ to individual communities, addressing their concerns while reinforcing broader pan-Canadian messages.”

Mr. Kenney not only stressed integration into the Canadian “mainstream,” he redefined what that mainstream would look like.

Most famously, he revamped the citizenship guide for new Canadians from a very Liberal “A Look At Canada” to the Conservative-friendly “Discover Canada.”

“I think we need to reclaim a deeper sense of citizenship, a sense of shared obligations to one another, to our past, as well as to the future. In that I mean a kind of civic nationalism where people understand the institutions, values and symbols that are rooted in our history,” he told Maclean’s in 2009.

But the guide cherry-picked those symbols to promote the Conservatives’ preferred narrative, with emphasis placed on the military and the monarchy at the expense of peace-keeping, medicare and gay rights.

The results were not always appreciated internally, particularly among staff who were forced to turn down grant applications from non-governmental organizations they’d supported for years. Mr. Griffiths notes how some demonstrated the initial stages of the Kubler-Ross grief model — denial, anger and depression.

But there is some evidence that the shift in policy worked. A Citizenship and Immigration Canada survey from the 2012 departmental performance report found that 88% of foreign-born, compared to 81% of Canadian-born, respondents reported “feeling proud” to be Canadian.

Not only did foreign-born Canadians demonstrate a higher level of attachment to Canada, they also had a better understanding of what is required of citizens.

Those findings suggest that a balance has been struck between the majority culture and integration of minorities in the rest of Canada; that, in large measure, sensible public policy has ensured that the fundamental values of the majority have been respected, while allowing new Canadians to preserve their food, music, folklore and religion.

One wonders how many Sikhs, Jews and Muslims can say they feel proud to be Quebecers today?

John Ivison: PQ could learn from Jason Kenney the right way to promote cultural values | National Post.