Kaplan-Myrth: As a doctor promoting vaccination, I live in fear

From our family doctor:

I am afraid. I can no longer walk to work alone. I startle awake at night. I’ve ramped up my security but still my sense of safety has gone out the window.

A couple of months ago, I stood up in front of Queen’s Park and asserted that “we aren’t seeking normal, we are seeking safety.” It was late August and I had organized a panel to talk about what we needed for a safe September for our children at school. We called for better ventilation in schools, higher quality masks, and mandates for COVID-19 vaccination for all educators and staff who interact with children. We spoke to the news media and reached out to politicians. We were all busy and exhausted from a summer immunizing our patients and advocating for marginalized populations, seniors, children and others in our communities.

Nobody is safe until we are all safe, I said.

The next day, the anti-vaccination protests started in the streets outside of hospitals across Canada. Throngs of people blocked ambulances. They were disruptive to patients seeking care and disrespectful of the staff hard at work indoors. The media caught ample footage of those hostilities.

What’s hidden from view – then and now – is the daily, private onslaught of nastiness directed at those of us who stand up for science, for vaccines and for your safety and care. We are bombarded with vitriol from anti-vaccination and anti-science trolls on social media. Some of these perpetrators go even further.

This past week, I was targeted by one such individual. Someone I have never met sent a threat, guised as a complaint, to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. The letter started with, “Complaint versus criminal fraudulent chart violating Nazi slut,” and then the person went on to threaten to kill me in retribution for immunizing my patients and others in Ottawa.

It is shocking, but it is not an isolated event. It has happened to many of my esteemed colleagues. Tires slashed in hospital parking lots. Hand-written letters of hate dropped off at offices. Racist slurs. Misogynist attacks. Death threats.

We care about what we do, so we have been stoic, put on our scrubs and our masks and persisted in our work. We certainly continue to immunize our patients. We speak on behalf of pandemic safety measures, even while police cruisers sit in front of our homes to protect our families.

What does this say about our society? What does it say about our political leaders who stoke the flames of divisiveness and gaslight those same health care professionals who they once said were heroes?

Canada’s beleaguered health care providers, advocates for your safety, are being targeted. We haven’t even started to immunize children aged 5 to 11 against COVID-19 and we are so tired, so scared. The thousands of adults who I immunized last spring and summer at my “Jabapalooza” clinics were hoping I’d do similar events for their children. I cannot because it would not be safe for me or my volunteers. The schoolyard bullies have chased us off our street. That is where we are, in this pandemic, after 20 months of saying we are “in this together.” Demoralized isn’t a strong enough word to describe how we feel.

A police sergeant finally phoned me four days after I submitted a request to them for help. The College of Physicians and Surgeons sat on the letter for 12 days before they sent it to me, and they never phoned the police themselves. Even though it contains a death threat and an antisemitic message of hate. Who has our backs?

If we want this pandemic to end, if we want to ensure that we thrive as a country, then to safeguard the health of all Canadians it is up to our leaders and organizations to step forward and say they condemn any – and all – threatening behaviour directed at health care workers.

Take care of us, so that we can take care of you. That isn’t asking too much.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-as-a-doctor-promoting-vaccination-i-live-in-fear/

China ramping up bullying and intimidation of activists in Canada, report says

Ongoing concern:

Chinese government officials and supporters of the Communist Party of China are increasingly resorting to “threats, bullying and harassment” to intimidate and silence activists in Canada, including those raising concerns about democracy and civil rights in Hong Kong and Beijing’s mistreatment of Uyghurs, Tibetans and Falun Gong practitioners, a new report says.

A coalition of human-rights groups led by Amnesty International Canada says a timid response by Ottawa to this foreign interference is exacerbating the problem. “Chinese state actors have almost certainly become emboldened by the inadequate responses of Canadian officials,” the coalition writes.

The report, Harassment & Intimidation of Individuals in Canada Working on China-related Human Rights Concerns, also sounds the alarm over what it calls escalating intimidation and interference at Canadian schools and universities. “Consequently, academic freedom and freedom of expression of university students in Canada speaking out on China has been increasingly stifled, as many individuals fear that Chinese government or consular agents are monitoring their speech or their activities.”

The Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China is calling for a public inquiry into threats at Canadian educational institutions and recommends that Ottawa set up a monitoring office to collect complaints of harassment and refer incidents to police.

“It takes place on social media, through surveillance, monitoring and hacking of phones, computers and websites … on university and college campuses, at public rallies and cultural events,” Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said. “Individuals responsible for the threats often remain anonymous or invisible, but make it clear that they are strong backers of the Chinese government, often leaving no doubt that they are directed, supported or encouraged by the Chinese government.”

He said the threats are “bullying, racist, bigoted and frequently involve direct threats of violence, including sexual violence and even death.”

The coalition is asking the federal government to expel Chinese diplomats where necessary or enact sanctions on them if the evidence warrants.

The coalition’s report documents incidents of Chinese harassment between July, 2019, and March, 2020, aimed at “suppressing dissidents and mobilizing overseas Chinese communities to act as agents of China’s political interests.

“The Canadian government must treat this issue with increased urgency, as it has resulted in insecurity and fear for human-rights defenders in Canada working on Chinese human-rights issues.”

Gloria Fung, president of Canada-Hong Kong Link, speaking Tuesday, recalled an Aug. 17 protest in Toronto last year in support of civil rights in Hong Kong, where more than 100 counterprotesters showed up, blocking the activists and chanting “One China.” They began insulting the demonstrators and taking photos in an apparent attempt to intimidate. When Ms. Fung and the activists sang O Canada, the counterprotesters booed them and sang China’s national anthem in return. “Our protesters needed a police escort to leave safely,” she said.

In a statement, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the government welcomed the report and would study its recommendations closely.

“Reports of harassment and intimidation of individuals in Canada are deeply troubling and allegations of such acts being carried out by foreign agents are taken very seriously,” Mr. Champagne said.

“Chinese government representatives in Canada, like all foreign government representatives in Canada, have a duty under international law to respect the laws and regulations of Canada,” the minister said.

“Canada will continue to use every opportunity to call on China to uphold its international human-rights obligations, including in the areas of freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of religion or belief.”

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa did not have an immediate response to the report.

Uyghur-Canadian activist Mehmet Tohti, speaking Tuesday, said telephone calls are another means of intimidation to stop people in Canada from raising concern about the hundreds of thousands of predominantly Muslim people locked up by China as part of a deradicalization campaign. “Chinese public-security officials are making direct phone calls to Uyghur-Canadians here and asking us to be silent or accept the danger our loved ones [in China] could face.”

Chemi Lhamo, a member of the Canada Tibet Committee and Students for a Free Tibet Canada, said Tuesday that mainland Chinese students studying in Canada face pressure, too.

“Imagine being a Chinese international student, paying four to five times more than a domestic student, only to be bullied here in Canada by the Chinese embassy to follow their party line and go protest against pro-Tibet and pro-human-rights events.”

Beijing’s attempts to dampen criticism in Canada of its authoritarian regime has been taking place amid a historic chill in bilateral relations that began in late 2018, after China jailed Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in apparent retaliation for the arrest at the Vancouver International Airport of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant.

The report also urges Ottawa to consider passing legislation that would require the registration of Canadian citizens acting as agents for foreign governments, similar to what Australia has enacted.

The coalition says Chinese authorities “cannot be directly implicated” in many of the incidents highlighted in the report, but it “considers the scale and consistency of rights violations, over a prolonged period, to be consistent with a co-ordinated Chinese state-sponsored campaign to target political, ethnic, religious and spiritual groups and individual activists who raise concerns about China’s human-rights record.”

Source: China ramping up bullying and intimidation of activists in Canada, report says

‘A very critical clash of cultures’: Plea deal over honour killing threats saves Syrian couple from deportation

Interesting case and judgement and some of the integration challenges. On balance, reasonable deal.

Hopefully, lesson learned, both for the family concerned and more broadly:

A Syrian refugee couple who threatened their adult daughter with an honour killing for dating a Canadian man have made a plea deal with New Brunswick prosecutors that will save them from possible deportation back to their war-ravaged homeland.

Ahmad Ayoub, 52, and his wife Faten, 48, were freed this week after 72 days in jail, after pleading guilty to uttering threats as a summary conviction offence, and being sentenced to time served.

If they had been convicted of the more serious indictable offence of uttering threats, for which a trial was scheduled in the summer, they would have faced a sentence in the range of six months to a year, up to a maximum of two years.

More importantly, they would have faced the possibility of also being sent back to Syria, from which they escaped through Jordan, eventually settling in Fredericton in 2016, sponsored by the federal government.

“That’s the main thing that we gained,” said David Lutz, Ahmad’s lawyer. “Nobody who is a refugee wants to be convicted of any indictable offence, because it’s going to bring them under the purview of deportation.”

Lutz called the case a “very critical clash of cultures” that has sent a clear message to the Syrian community in Canada that even empty threats are taken seriously by the police and courts.

“Their words were taken literally instead of figuratively,” Lutz said. “In my interaction with the entire family, I came to the conclusion that this is a manner of speech that they never really intend to carry any of this out, but they do it so to say, ‘You should mind me, because this is what I think’.”

The Ayoubs have one adult child who remains in Jordan, and five others, one as young as 10, in Fredericton. Both have post-secondary education. Ahmad has worked in business, and Faten as a cook, but neither are employed yet in Canada.

No one answered the phone at their home on Wednesday. George Kalinowski, Faten Ayoub’s lawyer, declined to comment.

The threats were made against their daughter Bayan, 25. They were spoken in Arabic, once face to face, otherwise on the phone, and they only came to light when Bayan told her Canadian boyfriend, who encouraged her to go to police. She soon recanted, however, and was described in court by prosecutor Claude Haché as a reluctant participant in the prosecution.

“Throughout the time from which her parents were arrested and detained, (Bayan) was recanting and saying ‘All this is my fault.’ But of course, just like in domestic assaults, the police — and rightly so — don’t take the recanting seriously,” Lutz said.

Or, if they take it seriously, they see it as a symptom of the same problem, he added.

Bayan went to police in February. This prompted the threat by her mother, who urged her to tell police she lied, otherwise she would be killed. This threat was made on a phone call that Bayan recorded.

According to reporting by Don MacPherson of The Fredericton Daily Gleaner, who was in court for the sentencing, the first threat was made in April 2016, soon after the family arrived in Canada. Ahmad was angry that his daughter won an iPad in a contest, and threatened to poison her food. He also said he wanted to limit her contact with local men.

The second threat came last summer, when Bayan’s parents learned she was communicating with a Canadian man on social media, and her father said that “for his own dignity, it would be better to slaughter her,” the prosecutor said.

A third threat from Ahmad was prompted by her use of a smartphone, and his concern she was communicating with people she met at a work placement at a food bank.

Lutz said the more serious indictable offence of uttering threats is generally used in cases where there is evidence the offender had the ability or means to do it. In this case, he said their words were hyperbolic, exaggerated and non-literal.

He said the Ayoubs’ threats were “careless, bordering on reckless, and they have learned from this experience that his kind of language may be acceptable in Syria and Afghanistan, but now they know, better than most, that it’s not acceptable in Canada. And the entire Syrian community in New Brunswick knows it too.”

MacPherson’s report noted that the parents embraced their daughter outside court, and Ahmad shook her boyfriend’s hand. They will be on probation for a year.

Source: ‘A very critical clash of cultures’: Plea deal over honour killing threats saves Syrian couple from deportation