Sears: Our election debates have become embarrassing failures. How did we sink so low?

Couldn’t agree more:

The consensus about the English debate appears to be that Justin Trudeau’s snarling performance lost it for him, that Erin O’Toole and Jagmeet Singh landed a few effective blows, that Annamie Paul was the winner but it doesn’t matter, and that Yves-François Blanchet won the gold medal for angry petulance.

But the real losers were Canadians, and the folks that should have been removed from the debate stage were the debate organizers themselves. Their “debates” more resembled a rigidly staged game show, with a little “Survivor” added in the form of nasty loaded questions, designed to throw you out of the game.

The blame for the embarrassing debate failures this year is widely shared. The networks push their journalists to become stars of the show, and several played almost partisan and celebrity-seeking roles. The moderator had great difficulty with her role, displaying the exasperation of a newbie teacher attempting to corral a careening group of sugar-high kids.

The set designers should be retired. Flashy, plastic and ugly, the set looked like it was designed to play a starring rather than a supporting role.

How did we sink so low? Well, Canadian political debates have been on a long, slow decline. The newly minted Leaders’ Debates Commission was created to address previous criticisms. It will no doubt give itself a firm pat on the back in its next report, pointing to what will no doubt be impressive viewing numbers. A more sober conclusion would be that it is absurd to think that little more than an hour of direct exchange between five leaders in each language for an entire election campaign is an adequate fulfilment of their mandate.

The commission said they had considered two debates in each language, but were concerned that might “dilute” the viewership. What specious nonsense. Every insider knows why they folded on that essential question: the networks are still really in charge, and they do not want to give up the airtime.

It is indeed ironic that some of the most iconic debates of decades past were moderated with great professionalism by the commission chair David Johnston. He and the other commissioners might want to have a viewing of those past debates together, and then consider whether the flashy game shows they have created are an improvement.

So, where to begin again? First, some basic principles.

Debates are ideally between two contestants, maximum three. Debates are not 45-second sound bites; nuanced messaging requires time, at least 90 seconds, with two minutes reserved for opening and closing remarks. Journalists should not be encouraged to compete with the leaders for airtime, nor should they number more than two. Citizens’ questions are a condescending distraction by the debate organizers. They pretend to be a “vox pop” compliment to Canadians. They aren’t. And two debates in each language is a minimum.

If the networks are not happy with those parameters, show them the door. There are many universities and citizens’ organizations perfectly capable of staging serious, professional political debates. Parliament should grant a new commission an annual budget to fund the debates themselves, granting those groups asked to host sufficient funds to produce an intelligent, informative program.

The Leaders’ Debates Commission is part of the problem. Some argued at its creation that it was Liberal-tainted. If that were true, then the Liberal Party of Canada must be fuming at this year’s series of gong shows. Their leader got hammered. No, the problem is not partisan bias — it is professional knowledge. Retired MPs and professors are excellent counsellors on many files, but television production is not among them.

As a reset, let’s lay out the criteria for membership clearly, and have professional recruitment conducted by an outside consultant, the way we do most major public appointments today. Then let’s have a parliamentary committee approve a granular set of expectations and goals, as a mandate letter to the new commission.

It is deeply ironic that in an election unique in its limitations on the ability of parties and candidates to reach out to meet voters — and the ability of voters to come to hear a leader in person — that one of the few tools left to help Canadians come to a voting decision was such a disaster.

Let’s start over one more time, and try to figure out how best to avoid another campaign of flops.

Source: Our election debates have become embarrassing failures. How did we sink so low?

Sears: Canadian Muslims’ anguished demand: how many more times?

Reads as overly “triumphant” given that the solutions are neither simple nor easy. But yes, the political presence of all major political leaders, the regrets of Conservatives regarding “barbaric cultural practices” are significant signals of changing social norms (even if not much evidence in right-wing media):

What a difference a year makes.

It seems unlikely that the massive nationwide reaction to the murder of a Muslim family in London, Ont. a week ago tonight would have been as deep and all-embracing before the death of George Floyd. His death, and the global revulsion to it, forced new lessons on all of us about the depths and costs of systemic racism.

This week, impressively, the majority of those demanding change were not Muslim. Also remarkable was the sight of every political leader from every level of government at the London vigil. They all underlined that there is simply no political space anymore for even dog-whistled racist tropes in our politics. Stephen Harper was the last politician to suffer for his 2015 campaign’s sleazy racist whispers. Premier Kenney, who blamed South Asians’ cultural practices for the spread of COVID in their communities, seems likely to be the next.

A European friend reminded me recently that we should be proud that we are the only nation in the developed world where there is zero traction for a racist or anti-immigrant political party. It is a feature of our politics that we should celebrate. We saw it again this week.

American politicians’ declarations of their nation’s “exceptionalism” cause many Canadians to twitch. Barack Obama’s bizarrely ignorant claim that his victory could only have taken place in one country made many of us shout “not true!” at our screens. So, it is with some trepidation I suggest that there are few places in the world where an entire nation will leap immediately to the defence of a wounded Muslim community and demand action from all their politicians.

What we cannot pat our collective back for, however, is success in fighting the visible rise in calls for violence from white supremacists. Incited from the depths of the social media swamp, we can no longer deny the cancerous growth of racial hatred. We find it in members of our military and police services, in too many hospital and LTC workers and on too many city streets. We cannot excuse our political leaders for their continuing incompetence and failure to take even the most basic steps to block racist attacks.

As one sign at the London vigil demanded, “How Many More Times?” Neither the prime minister nor Premier Ford embraced the call for an emergency national summit to create an action agenda, despite their powerful rhetorical performances that night. Nothing effective was done after the mosque murders in Quebec City. So far, the political response to the Afzaal family’s murder has been promises to write another cheque. A more severe application of criminal justice is not the answer. Harsh punishment following the next attack will do nothing for the dead victims.

The fundamentals to rolling back racism are well known. They start with frequent public acknowledgment of our reality by leaders in every institution. Delivering stories of the power of communities devoted to inclusion and diversity, beginning at the elementary school level. Heavy consequences for social media platforms that grant safe harbours to this poison on their sites. (Removing hate speech after an attack is not good enough, Facebook.) Every one of us confronting the slurs we see and hear too often. And yes, using the law to hammer the attackers.

Source: Canadian Muslims’ anguished demand: how many more times?

Robin V. Sears: How Jagmeet Singh can teach a lesson on tolerance

Interesting and credible advice, including how to handle Air India questions:

Next year, Canada may face a test of our national foundations, that is our commitment to social inclusion and tolerance. Will this fragile consensus survive the bloodletting of a national election when one of the leadership choices is an ambitious Sikh man, in a time when some partisans would stir the embers of racism?

In the naïve euphoria of a “post-racial Presidency,” how many Americans would have predicted an openly racist American president would follow? The Conservative Party has yet to be persuasive about how deeply it has learned the lessons of its disastrous flirtation with Islamophobic racism. The Quebec political elite still needs to acknowledge the black crow feathers dangling from their lips.

The ability to set these boundaries of acceptable discourse falls heavily on one man.

In 2019, Jagmeet Singh faces Obama’s choice. Obama did not run as a black candidate — to the chagrin of many black activists, like his hopeless pastor who almost single-handedly torpedoed his candidacy. He ran first as the candidate of “the outsiders” — by race, by ethnicity, and by class. Later, he became the candidate and the president, of social justice and race. The sequencing was essential to his success.

Jagmeet Singh might consider a similar story arc. He need not present himself as a Sikh candidate, or even as the champion of non-white Canadians: those credentials are given. Until now, even dog whistle racism gets slapped down here.

So Singh can frame himself as the champion of all that we have achieved, the defender of that edifice against any who would undermine it, and the advocate of what more remains to be done to build a discrimination-free Canada. He can be the candidate who frames the debate on these questions — helping to ensure no one is tempted to whisper against Canadian Muslims, or him, on the basis of his skin or his religion.

Those journalists tempted to use the tragedy of Sikh terrorism to humiliate him should remember this: Singh comes from one of the most persecuted, and discriminated against religions in the world. Thousands of young Sikhs have died in recent decades in circumstances that pass no credible legal test.

Some Sikh zealots, as a result, have taken up arms and dreamed impossible independence dreams. This has been a tragedy for one community, Sikhs themselves. There is virtually no sympathy for the Air-India bombers in the Sikh community here — after all, those who died were predominantly their own children and their parents.

What those journalists who taunt Singh, insisting on a condemnation they dictate, need to understand why that stand-alone demand is so offensive. If the question were, “Given the persecution of your community, the destruction of your temples, and the death of thousands of innocent Sikhs in civil conflict, do you understand why some are tempted by terrorism in response?” You would get a resounding, “No!” and then an explanation of why. Singh might want to deliver that cultural history lesson proactively.

He could also deliver a hammer blow to anyone tempted to again try on a racist subtext by speaking out in Quebec. Attacking the slurs against that mostly progressive and socially inclusive community could be powerful. In preparation, quiet discussions with Quebec civic leaders about how to deliver the message, would be valuable in themselves and a powerful signal to Quebecers that he is listening, not lecturing, advocating not admonishing.

He could cite brave Quebec activists’ resistance to anti-Semitism and the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Duplessis era; the fight for civil rights for all Quebecers, by Lesage and Levesque. And he could celebrate the solidarity among Jewish and Catholic and Muslim leaders in Quebec City after the tragedy there. Tomorrow is the first anniversary.

Like Obama, he could acknowledge both the sins of the past, but also Lincoln’s “better angels” — our progress won by courageous Canadians in every generation. Underline the need to continue “bending the arc” of history toward justice.

He can remind Quebeckers and all Canadians of the personal bravery of Baldwin and Lafontaine staring down the Protestant and Catholic bigots among their own clans, creating the space that made a nation like Canada a possible dream.

The Canadian sanctimony that says there is no possibility of a racist nativism here is dangerous. The Ontario Human Rights Commission reported in December that nearly half of recent immigrants and refugees reported incidents of discrimination against them.

So, let’s pray that Jagmeet Singh and progressive Canadians can succeed in framing the discussion of inclusion versus racism as a path forward, not one sliding into Trumpian depths.

Source: Robin V. Sears: How Jagmeet Singh can teach a lesson on tolerance

Smothering the burning embers of terrorism: Sears 

Good and balanced commentary:

Canada had been astonishingly blessed to be mostly free of all but a few murders by angry young men mimicking serious terrorists — so far. But that is surely not a predictor of our future. Those more brutally stung by repeated attacks have moved far ahead of us in radicalization prevention, at-risk youth outreach, monitoring and countering incitement rhetoric online, in school, and in the community.

It is way past time that we made compulsory again the study of civics, in every elementary school year. A program of learning on the responsibilities of citizenship, on why a socially tolerant Canada is the only path to a safer Canada, on the story of the giants of our history on whose shoulders we stand, having been bequeathed this blessed, but always fragile, new nation.

This is not about attacks on other communities, other cultures, disguised as a “discussion about Canadian values.” Nor is it jeremiads like Supreme Court Justice Abella’s against “narcissistic populism” as powerful as they have been. It’s about demonstrating to everyone the meaning of the shared responsibilities of citizens in our democracy, and those we have to each other. What Toronto political sage Bill MacDonald has so elegantly dubbed the “Canadian culture of mutual accommodation.”

As we celebrate our 150 years of success in building a new form of nationhood, we cannot let our pride blind us to its perennial fragility. Canadian religious and public safety leaders, for example, need to deepen their conversations about the boundaries between acceptable and illegal hate speech, develop stronger models of shared engagement focused on mutual education and prevention, not merely surveillance and arrest.

Perhaps most important of all, Canadian business, civic, and community leaders need to make it clear to politicians and pundits who use racial, religious and ethnic divisions for votes or clicks, just how certain will be the destruction of their reputations and careers.

For it is not insensitive to the suffering of the Manchester families of the children who were victims of this latest atrocity to remember this: it is how we react to attack that is the path to less terror. We invest in prevention, we make punishment certain, and we double down on the peddlers of hate.

Perhaps with a deeper commitment to prevention our day will never come. But as the Japanese cliché has it, “People don’t learn from experience, only from catastrophe.” If, despite all our efforts, the one-time we fail leads to tragedy, we must ensure that our defiance in the face of attack includes a resolute commitment to the open inclusive Canada that so much blood was shed to build and to guarantee.

Source: Smothering the burning embers of terrorism: Sears | Toronto Star

Dutch voters deliver a treat: Sears

Will share with some of my Dutch friends but interesting analysis of the results and possible implications for Canada:

The headline across the continent this week was, “Europe Breathes a Sigh of Relief.” Common sense and the ‘centrist’ Dutch prime minister had survived. But drill down just a little and a different picture emerges. Yes, conservative Mark Rute did survive, but he lost 25 per cent of his caucus. The biggest loser was the Dutch Labour party, which lost 75 per cent of its MPs.

The real winner, however, despite the media hysteria pre-election day was not Geert Wilders, who won only five new seats. It was the Green Left party, which tripled its caucus, D66, a liberal party, and the Christian Democrats, traditional progressive conservatives. Together these three doubled their size in the new Parliament.

What is the voters’ message to this complex collection of pizza slice parties? It’s very clear.

Those who indulged anti-immigrant, racist dog-whistle politics and more austerity — including PM Rute — were punished. Those who supported the EU, economic stimulus and a Holland open to immigration and the world were winners. Greasy Geert was the outlier for only the bewildered and angry.

This is a powerful message for progressive politicians. The giant of Dutch progressive politics, the Labour party, was decimated, after supporting austerity and flirting with anti-immigrant rhetoric. The Greens, in Holland as elsewhere, may be economically incoherent, but voters rewarded their toughness on austerity and immigrant bashing.

Of course, progressive politicians should never patronize the anger of working class white voters as “deplorable.” Their anger is well-founded and demands a response. But, no, those same politicians should never slime up to racist populists as a survival strategy. As my socialist grandmother used to say to right-drifting New Democrats, “There are two more believable capitalist parties than us, why would you think copying them will fool anyone?”

Wilders — a man who equates the Qur’an with Mein Kampf — is a long time former staffer in Rute’s party. His populist costume conceals a traditional conservative ideology. Why would any thoughtful progressive try to compete with his current poisonous politics by imitating him?

The great Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor observes that no one is borne racist, we learn it. Taylor cautions that each of us is genetically wired to be susceptible to a fear of “the other,” given the right fear-mongering baits. We have built a broad social consensus for an open, tolerant society here, but it is fragile. It can be fatally undermined by enough angry voices in hard times. This is what makes the dog-whistle racism of some Canadian Conservatives so despicable.

As Taylor puts it, each society has the ability to swing from a dark place to a sunnier plateau — and back again. Working in Egypt during the Tahrir Spring, my young Yemeni female colleagues sighed sadly, as they recalled pictures of their bathing-suited mothers playing soccer with their male friends on the beach in 1960s Aden. Many Arab nations have travelled toward openness and freedom and then slid back again.

Taylor reminds us that from the revolution in 1789 to the late 1950s France was the most welcoming and socially inclusive society in Western Europe, where thousands of Russians, Poles, Asians and North African refugees had fled. What Changed? The Algerian War, in part, and a quiescent leadership elite that first tolerated and then promoted racial division, exclusion and hate.

The real roots of populist anger — rising inequality and falling incomes, rising barriers to the newly arrived and those starting out, and falling standards of living for a new generation — must be addressed boldly and creatively. But let’s drop the flirtation with racist politics in doing so.

Imagine a different, more courageous response …

A pioneer such as Conservative leadership candidate Deepak Obhrai celebrating his success, his qualification to lead and, yes, his difference. Would it not be a proud Canadian moment, if Obhrai delivered a thundering endorsement of anti-racist, pro-immigrant politics — a strong Progressive Conservative tradition — and then got a standing ovation from party members?

Or imagine New Democrat Jagmeet Singh, speaking in French to a crowd at the Quebec City mosque, delivering a ringing denunciation of the racial, religious and ethnic provocateurs, and having the crowd — including niqab-clad women and pur laine Quebecers — rise to their feet.

Let’s hope the Conservatives have learned the lesson of their niqab humiliation and that they have the wisdom to smack down those who would play dangerous games with the hard-won harmony and social cohesion we have built.

And let’s ensure that any Canadian progressive tempted to play footsy with racism understands the certainty of their political humiliation.

Source: Dutch voters deliver a treat: Sears | Toronto Star

We must not allow terrorists to turn us into beasts: Robin Sears

Reprinted in its entirety:

There is an easily missed photograph at Canada’s museum to our immigration history, Pier 21 in Halifax. It highlights a Polish immigrant family from the 1950s. The picture was clearly taken before they received the appalling news that they were being put on a boat back to Poland for having failed to adequately disprove “suspicions of communist sympathy.” One’s reaction is first shock and then anger at the official who summarily consigned this family, who must have escaped from Poland illegally, to a life in prison if not a more summary reception on their return.

But as you stare at this modest display in mounting anger a second thought occurs. How courageous was the curator who found this story, and probably had to fight for it to be displayed. How proud one should be of the determination of the museum’s creators to tell all sides of Canada’s decidedly mixed immigration history. They smack you in the head at the exit with Daniel Libeskind’s understated but powerful memorial sculpture marking the cowardly decision of the MacKenzie King government to turn back a boatload of desperate Jewish refugees a few years earlier.

Canada’s priceless contribution to the world’s understanding of the essential role of tolerance or mutual accommodation in every successful community is the philosopher Charles Taylor. Taylor puts his case starkly. None of us, he cautions, is capable of resisting the seduction of prejudice, exclusion, or even collective punishment if we are sufficiently terrified by propaganda about “the other.”

Equally, each of us is willing to walk the path of inclusion, tolerance and openness to religious, ethnic and racial diversity with sufficient reassurance about its wisdom and safety. He cites France’s painful passage from being one of the world’s most inclusive societies post-revolution, to its more shameful treatment of its Muslim citizens since they landed on its shores post-Algerian war.

The optimistic conclusion we should draw from the French case is two-fold, he points out. First, any society dragged to the dark side can be redeemed, even if the reverse is equally true. Second, it is all about leadership in the end. It is the inescapable task of genuine democratic leaders to build confidence in openness and tolerance. Leaders who breed fear and division for partisan gain shame themselves irredeemably, and doom their citizens to societies of paranoia and social discord.

So Canada and the world stand once again at this crossroad — do we build walls or bridges? Do we cede victory to these sub-humans who revel in their ability to shed massive amounts of human blood purely to instill terror — and refuse sanctuary to their fleeing victims? Or do we teach our children well, about the dead end that such cowardice necessarily delivers?

Do we again commit the sin of rejecting refugee ships like the St. Louis in Halifax or the Komagata Maru in Vancouver. Will a future Pier 21 curator mount a photo of a dead Syrian family, next to the courageous but rejected Polish family?

Because there is another lesson from Paris, and all the horrors like it, that we will no doubt yet have to endure.

Terrorism works.

My confidence in a serenely safe Japan was shattered the day I missed by 25 minutes the Tokyo subway hit by the bloody sarin attack. My rage at the IRA was deep and murderous when my wife left Harrods half an hour before they killed London’s Christmas shoppers. I was an enthusiastic consumer of angry rhetoric and demands for excessive measures. It was some time before Charles Taylor’s wisdom slowly overwhelmed my determination to support lashing out in rage.

Terrorists always have only one goal: to stab us into becoming the beasts their propaganda requires. To provoke the kind of sectarian intolerance and violent over-reaction that offers visible proof to their audiences that we are indeed bloodthirsty racists and simply liars about the values of tolerance and inclusion we claim.

So, in the days ahead, when we have had the time to reflect on the egregious horror of Paris on Friday night, when the images of so many corpses on blood-soaked streets begin to fade, let us also recall the photo of the tiny shattered body of Alan Kurdi on a Turkish beach.

Yes, we must all use our military, security and intelligence capabilities to crush ISIS — and Canada’s contribution in both military and humanitarian assistance must be greater.

But as hard as it may be to feel confident in doing so today, we must not repeat the mistakes of the last century. We must welcome into our neighbourhoods the victims fleeing this 21st century terror as future Canadians.

Highlights of Media Coverage of the Politics of the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Canadians_divided_along_political_lines_over_whether_to_accept_thousands_of_refugees_in_current_crisis_-_Angus_Reid_InstituteMuch of the focus has been on Minister Alexander’s handling of the crisis. Starting with Calgary Mayor Nahid Nenshi:

“Minister Alexander should have been a star. He was an incredible diplomat. By all accounts he’s a brilliant man, but he’s also the minister behind Bill C-24, which I remind you means that me — born at St. Mike’s hospital in downtown Toronto — could have my Canadian citizenship stripped,” he said.

Calgary mayor lashes out at immigration minister on refugee crisis

Both Robin Sears and Scott Reid attribute his approach to the numbing effect of the overall Conservative party approach:

As one friend put it, he must have been given a Pierre Poilievre blood replacement treatment, so thoroughly have they crushed his humanity. Since becoming minister he has spoken in a wooden, angry snarl in interview after interview. Perhaps frustrated at the nonsense he has been instructed to deliver, he repeats it in a surlier tone. Few of us are able to be smiling, convincing liars in public. It is perhaps a testament to the angst he feels about the role he has been ordered to play that he does it so woefully.
The refugee story looks as if it might now become the pivot issue of the campaign. It speaks to the deep humiliation that many Canadians have come to feel about the harsh vision of Canada the Harper government flaunts to the world. (Alexander’s TV meltdown made the BBC’s front page online.) It speaks to their ferocious defensive attack in response to any criticism from any quarter. And it underlines how far their mean-spirited response to this crisis is from the values of a majority of Canadians.

Sears: The cost of mindless, heartless message control

But it’s not the first time he’s played the part of the unthinking partisan. Watching Wednesday night’s spectacle, one had to wonder what’s gone wrong. Where did that original Chris Alexander go? Up there on the screen that might as well have been Paul Calandra or Pierre Poilievre, government spokespersons that we’ve come to associate with transparent posturing.

That’s the really troubling thing. Alexander, a knowledgeable, talented and presumably well-motivated person, someone whose history and abilities once inspired sincere hopes for great things has allowed himself to become just another one of “them.” A snapping, snarling partisan.

Not because he’s a bad person. Not because he’s taken this particular stand on this particular issue. But because that’s what politics – specifically politics as it’s currently practiced on Parliament Hill – does to people. It brings them low.

If the Conservatives lose this election, don’t underestimate how much this sort of thing contributes to their downfall. When even the likes of Chris Alexander can be so diminished people can see that something about our politics simply has to change.

Reid: Chris Alexander the latest example of how politics debases even the best of us

Both Sears and Reid’s commentary recalls an early piece by Konrad Yakabuski on the almost Faustian bargain Alexander appears to have made (Chris Alexander balances his portfolio and power).

Turning to commentary on the Government and party leaders as a whole), Andrew Coyne calls for a combined non-partisan response by the three main parties (which has been echoed by Liberal leader Trudeau):

Into the void have stepped the country’s mayors. Toronto Mayor John Tory, in particular, has been attempting to organize some sort of coordinated municipal campaign, nationwide. The emphasis, it would appear, would be on encouraging private sponsorship. “I believe we should mobilize to sponsor Syrian refugees. This is who we are as Canadians,” he said Friday. “This will not happen by itself. It will happen when Torontonians step up.” Indeed, the mayor had reportedly already personally sponsored a refugee family, even before the events of recent days.

The thought occurs: what if our national leaders were to put themselves on the line in the same way? What if they were all to get behind the same campaign? What if they were to put politics aside, even for one day, and appear together on the same stage, exhorting the whole country to “step up”? What might we do then?

Andrew Coyne : It took a photo of a dead child to capture our attention. What matters is what we do next

One of the few to defend the PM and Government (silent on Minister Alexander) was Christie Blatchford:

Harper’s view is that only a three-pronged effort has a chance in Syria: accept more refugees and do it faster; give more humanitarian aid; continue to participate in the military campaign.

As he said once, “Laureen and I had the same reaction, but it doesn’t lead to the same conclusion. Our message is (also) we need to help people who are actually there, who can’t get away, and stop the violence being directed at them. I do not know for the life of me how you can look at that picture and say ‘Yeah, I want to help that family’ and say walk away from the military coalition. … It’s incomprehensible to me to see an image like that and conclude you do more of one thing and less of another.”

It wasn’t perfect, but it was a responsible, intelligent and reasoned response to that picture, and on a day when others took an easier path, the one strewn with flowers, teddy bears, balloons and sentiment. Alan Kurdi’s story certainly should galvanize the world, not only to be stricken and weepy, but to fury.

Blatchford: Alan Kurdi’s story should galvanize the world — but Harper can’t be blamed for this tragedy

Tasha Kheiriddin explains a likely factor in the Government’s reluctance:

Harper’s words reveal the unspoken subtext of fear in the Syrian refugee crisis: this new wave of migrants and refugees come from a country where the West is not only directly involved in a war, but in a war with an organization that threatens to take the fight beyond its borders, to our own shores. The fear isn’t simply that these refugees pose a security threat because there could be terrorists among them. The fear is that they pose a social threat — by bringing with them a worldview that could be at odds with the pluralist, secular and socially-liberal societies in which they seek sanctuary.
The fear is that even though the refugees are fleeing the depredations of ISIS, they will not integrate, but seek to change the fabric of their new societies against the will of the current citizenry. It’s a fear grounded in the experiences of European nations like Great Britain, France, the Netherlands and Sweden, which have witnessed social problems ranging from demands for gender-segregated swimming pools, to Islamic “takeovers” of local public schools in Birmingham, to riots in the banlieues of Paris.
It is grounded here at home in the debate over the former PQ government’s Charter of Values in Quebec, incidents of segregation at a Toronto public school and the federal government’s opposition to the wearing of niqabs during citizenship ceremonies.
No one wants to acknowledge the elephant in the room, but if the Syrian refugees are to be saved, someone must. It would be fallacious to deny that practices such as gender segregation, the wearing of the niqab and the subordination of man-made law to that of the divine would make it difficult for any immigrant to integrate into mainstream western society. But it’s just as wrong-headed to assume that all Muslims live this way, or that other religious groups already established in our country, such as the polygamous sect members of Bountiful, B.C., don’t also hold beliefs that conflict with those of the majority.
The answer is not to turn our backs on refugees from Syria, or refugees from any Islamic country, but to impress upon them and on all immigrants that immigration is a two-way street. Newcomers have the rights to their religion, beliefs and practices — but not if those practices violate the norms of the societies to which they must adapt. Values such as equality of the sexes, equal treatment for persons of different sexual orientation, freedom of association, and separation of church and state are not up for negotiation. Any “reasonable accommodation” must be just that: reasonable.
It’s the task of a mature democracy — and compassionate leadership — to find a way forward in this and future refugee crises, and to re-establish Canada’s reputation as a haven for those who need our help.

What’s holding us back from helping the Syrians? Fear.

Public opinion polling helps explain the different party positions.
Bogus_refugees_or_notAngus-Reid conducted a useful poll, breaking down opinion by party affiliation, showing the Government’s position is aligned to the Conservative party base and messaging of “bogus refugees”, with the overall key findings being (all parties):

  • Overall, most Canadians (70%) say Canada has a role to play in the migrant crisis, but are divided on increasing the number of refugees the government sponsors and resettles here, and on seeing government spend more to make it happen. (54% and 51% support each, respectively)
  • A significant gender difference exists on whether the people fleeing to Europe from the Middle East are seen as “genuine”: Canadian men are twice as likely as women to say the migrants are “bogus”
  • As to what exactly this country should do, Canadians are most supportive of sending medical and armed forces professionals into the affected European countries areas to assist refugees, divided on taking more refugees and least supportive of “doing nothing”

Canadians divided along political lines over whether to accept thousands of refugees in current crisis