Blanchet’s choice to block critics on Twitter limits free speech: experts

Snowflake?

Dozens of people — including some MPs — say Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet has blocked them on Twitter after they criticized his statements about Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, with some arguing they have a right to be heard.

Nour El Kadri, the president of the Canadian Arab Federation who was among those blocked by Blanchet on the social media platform, said people should be able to respond to accusations made by politicians.

Last week, after Alghabra, born to a Syrian family in Saudi Arabia, was sworn in as federal transport minister, the Bloc issued a release that sought to sow doubt about his association with what it called the “political Islam movement” due to the minister’s former role as head of the Canadian Arab Federation.

El Kadri tweeted at Blanchet to say the Canadian Arab Federation has been a secular organization under its constitution since it was founded in 1967.

“(I told him) it’s secular like Quebec that you’re asking for, then he blocked me,” he said.

“He started to block other people who were voicing opposing opinions.”

On Twitter, Blanchet argued against the idea that he was robbing anyone of their right to free expression.

“When I ‘block’ people, it’s because their posts don’t interest me (fake accounts, political staff, insults …),” he wrote in French last Thursday.

“That does not prevent them from publishing them. I just won’t see them, nor they mine,” he said, adding things are calmer this way.

Richard Moon, a law professor at the University of Windsor, said it is credible to claim that Blanchet infringed the charter-guaranteed right to freedom of expression of those who can no longer see or comment on his tweets.

While Twitter is not itself subject to the charter as a private entity, Moon said, when a politician uses it as a platform to make announcements and discuss political views, the politician’s account becomes a public platform.

“To exclude someone from responding or addressing because of their political views could then be understood as a restriction on their freedom of expression,” he said.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of the pro-transparency group Democracy Watch, said Blanchet’s Twitter account is a public communication channel and he cannot decide arbitrarily to not allow voters to communicate with him there.

“Politicians are public employees, so they can’t just cut people off from seeing what they’re saying through one of their communication channels,” he said.

“The public has a right to see all their communications.”

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson faced a lawsuit in 2018 from local activists he had blocked on Twitter. The court action was dropped after Watson conceded his account is public and unblocked everyone he had blocked, so no legal precedent was set.

Blanchet has also blocked some fellow members of Parliament, including Quebec Liberal Greg Fergus, Ontario New Democrat Matthew Green and Manitoba New Democrat Leah Gazan.

Green said he found himself blocked when he criticized Blanchet’s statements that defended the right of universities’ professors to use the N-word.

Gazan accused Blanchet last week of racism and Islamophobia over his statement about Alghabra.

“When criticized, he refuses to engage in a conversation, and a conversation he clearly needs to have around his Islamophobia,” she said.

Source: Blanchet’s choice to block critics on Twitter limits free speech: experts

Bloc takes aim at new transport minister over ‘Islamic movement’ ties

Playing ugly identity politics:

The Bloc Québécois is seeking to sow doubt about Canada’s new Transport Minister Omar Alghabra over his association with what it calls “the political Islamic movement.”

Leader Yves-François Blanchet said in a release that “questions arise” due to the minister’s former role as head of the Canadian Arab Federation.

But the Bloc leader said he “refuses to accuse” the minister of anything specific.

Alghabra was the federation’s president before being elected as a Toronto-area Liberal MP in 2006.

Rather than make specific accusations, the Bloc linked to a 2016 article by a right-wing Quebec newspaper columnist that made implications about Alghabra’s past.

“It’s really questions about his past and also the separation of church and state, which is a profound value for the Bloc,” said spokesman Julien Coulombe-Bonnafous.

“We don’t want to raise any accusations, because I don’t think there’s that much.”

In 2009, then-citizenship and immigration minister Jason Kenney opted to cut funding for the Canadian Arab Federation, whose leader at the time made statements that Kenney called anti-Semitic and supportive of terrorist groups.

The Bloc’s attempt to undermine confidence in Alghabra, who was sworn in as transport minister Tuesday, follows his move to distance himself from a YouTuber who has expressed intolerant views toward LGBTQ communities.

Alghabra said in a statement Tuesday night he is a longtime advocate for LGBTQ rights and was “shocked and disappointed” to learn of a video using homophobic slurs that was posted online by Fadi Younes, whose digital marketing agency Alghabra had hired on a contract that has since been terminated.

“I was not aware of these comments before today and I wholly reject them,” said the MP for Mississauga Centre.

“We must combat ignorance, hate or intolerance in our society. I will continue to support LGBTQ rights, as we continue to build a more inclusive and tolerant society for everyone.”

Alghabra has been subjected to innuendo about his background before.

In 2018, Conservative Sen. Denise Batters apologized to Alghabra, who was born in Saudi Arabia, after she wondered aloud why the then-parliamentary secretary for the foreign affairs minister wasn’t questioned about his place of birth while speaking with the media about Canada’s diplomatic dispute with the country at the time.

“Senator, I’m a proud Canadian who is consistent in defending human rights. How about you?” Alghabra tweeted in response to a Twitter post from Batters.

The next day, he tweeted that she had called to apologize, saying he accepted the gesture and said Batters had told him “this is a lesson to all of us.”

Source: Bloc takes aim at new transport minister over ‘Islamic movement’ ties

Highest ever number of Muslim Canadian MPs elected in new House | hilltimes.com

Good range of interviews on the large number of Muslim Canadian MPs elected:

In interviews last week, MPs, political insiders, and academics said the newly-elected legislators from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds will bring unique perspectives, community feedback and different life experiences to the table which will prove to be valuable in the overall legislation and policy-making process at the highest level of government. They also pointed out that these MPs are not just token representatives of their respective communities but people who have solid credentials in a variety of professions including law, medicine, and business.

“Every Member of Parliament will bring their values to the debates and values are shaped by religion, by experience, by the community that they come from. So, it will shape their values and values will shape what they have to say and their positions, no question,” said Prof. Donald Savoie, the Canada Research Chair in public administration and governance at the Université de Moncton and one of Canada’s leading experts on public administration, in an interview with The Hill Times.

He said Muslim MPs and MPs from other religious backgrounds will have important input in Parliamentary debates in the new Parliament.

“They will have very important points of view that need to be heard,” said Prof. Savoie, adding that Muslim MPs should also not be stereotyped.

“Let them come and debate the issue and let’s hear what they have to say. What they will have to say is as important, as relevant, and ought to be listened to, as much as a white MP from Newfoundland, or from British Columbia.”

Meanwhile, pollster Greg Lyle of Innovative Research said that MPs from different cultural and religious backgrounds will offer valuable input in legislative debates on social and economic issues that affect all Canadians.

“When you are in the room, you don’t have to wait for someone to think about you. You’re right there to bring your concerns front and centre,” Mr. Lyle said.

He said that newly elected MPs from a variety of demographic groups won their ridings because they were the best candidates. Using the example of Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould (Vancouver Granville, B.C.), Mr. Lyle said she is an indigenous woman who ran in a riding that has almost negligible presence of aboriginal people, but won by a margin of about 9,000 votes.

 “In a lot of cases, people are just nominating the best person for this job and they happen to come from different backgrounds,” Mr. Lyle said.

“When you look at their resumés, they’re not getting appointed as tokens. These are people who have really impressive stories to tell,” Mr. Lyle said.

Muslim MPs interviewed for this article said that the previous government’s Anti-Terrorism Bill C-51, the so-called Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act Bill C-24, the niqab debate, and the barbaric cultural practices snitch line affected the Muslim community directly and motivated it to get engaged a lot more actively than in past elections.

“The community is reaching a new level of maturity, overall. The Muslim community in Canada tends to be a newer community. It’s going through various levels of growth and sophistication, maturity as a newer Canadian community,” said Mr. Alghabra who represented the riding of Mississauga-Erindale, Ont., from 2006 to 2008, lost the two subsequent elections and was elected again on Oct. 19.

“This was a new milestone in that growth process. There’s a greater level of sophistication, greater level of awareness about the importance of getting involved. It was demonstrated through various groups and organizations and individuals,” said Mr. Alghabra.

Ms. Ratansi, who represented the riding of Don Valley East from 2004 to 2011, lost the 2011 election but was re-elected last month, also reiterated that the divisive issues that the Conservatives pushed in the campaign made the Muslim community get involved more actively.

“People got a little concerned about the negativity against Islam. A lot of intelligent people who are lawyers, [legal scholars] who teach law in universities, who are accountants, businesspeople like me, got a little fed up with this constant badgering of Muslims as if we were a homogenous group and we all work the same way. We don’t,” said Ms. Ratansi, adding that unlike the impression portrayed by some in the last government and some news organizations, the Muslim community, overall, is a peaceful hardworking community trying to make the world a better place.

Carleton University Prof. Howard Duncan, who has conducted extensive research on immigration integration theory, multiculturalism theory, globalization, and migration, in an interview, predicted that the election of MPs from different religious and cultural backgrounds will encourage those who did not participate in this election to get engaged in the political process.

“What you’re going to find as time goes by is that immigrants from other countries and other religious and ethnic backgrounds are also going to participate more in politics,” said Prof. Duncan.

Andrew Cardozo, president of Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy, told The Hill Timesthat in the current international political scenario, a number of political conflicts are religion based. He said he hoped that the newly-elected MPs from different religions will prove they can all work together.

“If you think of it in global terms, the biggest division that’s taking place amongst people in the world is around religion. It’s good when you have a country that’s religiously diverse. It’s good to have so many religions represented. With many of them in the same caucus, there should be room for discussion and accommodation when there are differences,” said Mr. Cardozo.

Source: Highest ever number of Muslim Canadian MPs elected in new House | hilltimes.com

Court backs Conservatives’ funding cut to ‘anti-Semitic’ Arab group

Finally picked up by the English language press:

An appeal court has upheld the Conservative government’s decision to cut funding to a “radical and anti-Semitic” Arab-Canadian group once headed by a Liberal candidate.

In 2009, then-Citizenship and Immigration minister Jason Kenney cut $1 million in annual funding to the Canadian Arab Federation, arguing that the group’s leadership had repeatedly expressed support for Hamas and Hezbollah. The Federation had a long track record of “expressing hateful, antisemitic views, and glorifying terrorists,” said Kenney in a Wednesday email to the National Post.

The group has subsequently failed in two lawsuits to have the funding reinstated. The Federal Court upheld Kenney’s decision in 2014, followed more recently by the Federal Court of Appeal.

“I have been on public record disagreeing with the approach taken by the current administration of the Canadian Arab Federation,” said Omar Alghabra, Liberal candidate for Mississauga Centre and a president of the group between 2004 and 2005.

He added, “at the end of the day, it’s government’s prerogative to make decisions on what to fund and what not to fund.”

The Canadian Arab Federation had been paid an annual sum of $1 million in exchange for providing language-training services to new immigrants.

In severing ties with the group, Kenney’s office had cited several specific incidents, including a CAF executive attending a Cairo conference where Hamas and Hezbollah delegates were present, and a CAF-organized rally in which the Hezbollah flag was flown. Last year, a decision by Federal Court Justice Russel Zinn wrote that, based on the Ministry’s evidence, “CAF appears to support organizations that Canada has declared to be terrorist organizations and which are arguably anti-Semitic.”

Source: Court backs Conservatives’ funding cut to ‘anti-Semitic’ Arab group 

Has Multiculturalism in Canada Lost Its Way? | Omar Alghabra

An opinion piece by Omar Alghabra, former Liberal MP, on multiculturalism, reinforcing messages of integration and our common humanity. Much of the Conservative government reset of multiculturalism is in this direction, with its focus on integration and commonalities, while managing the delicate balance of  having targeted messages and strategies to address particular communities at the same time.

Has Multiculturalism in Canada Lost Its Way? | Omar Alghabra.

Omar Alghabra: Are You a Dual Citizen? Kenney’s Got Plans for You

Omar Alghabra: Are You a Dual Citizen? Kenney’s Got Plans for You.