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Commentary (702)

Thursday, 12 October 2017 08:03

Jagmeet Singh and the Media's Race Problem

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Commentary by: Paul Adams in Ottawa

Jagmeet Singh does not yet have a seat in the House of Commons. So when the new NDP leader comes to visit, he’ll have to sit up in the Leader of the Opposition’s Gallery and gaze down on the body he wishes someday to join. 

If all the MPs are there that day, Singh may notice that there are already five turbaned Sikh men with seats. In 2015, 47 so-called “visible minority” MPs were elected along with 10 Indigenous people, very nearly mirroring their relative shares of the Canadian population.

If Singh then swings his eyes to the north end of the Commons chamber to the gallery above the Speaker’s Chair — to the Press Gallery, that is — he may notice something different. So far as I am aware, there has never been a turbaned man working as a reporter for a major news organization, so he won’t see any of those.

No one keeps racial statistics on the Press Gallery the way they do for the House of Commons, but when I looked through the membership list the other day, I was able to identify only one visible minority reporter working for one of the big legacy media outlets – a reporter at CTV. None at the Globe, none at the Star, none at CBC-TV. And no Indigenous people either.

This may overstate the case a little bit. Since I was a reporter on the Hill in the 1990s, there has been an influx of young reporters of colour. They tend to be concentrated in online and specialist publications such as HuffPost Canada, the Hill Times, the Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network (APTN) and some ethnic and foreign news outlets. The so-called Mainstream Media — not so much.

The House of Commons is today much more representative of the face of modern Canada than is the Press Gallery. Most of us can name a few visible minority and Indigenous politicians. Try coming up with more than one or two political journalists of colour.

When Singh was chosen as NDP leader, there were two streams of news coverage, both echoing (in a small way) the reaction to Barack Obama’s breakthrough in 2008. The first was a self-congratulatory celebration of the nation’s inclusivity. The second involved an obsessive concern with the man’s race and ethnicity.

One interview that got a lot of attention was Terry Milewski’s welcome-to-Ottawa interview with Singh on CBC’s Power and Politics. Milewski has never suffered fools gladly and operates on the premise that all politicians are fools until proven otherwise. (Stephen Harper was never able to establish this to Milewski’s satisfaction, so far as I could see.)

Apparently Singh, or his office, had — with stunning naiveté — asked to see the questions in advance. Milewski delightedly tweeted out that fact before Singh backed down. Advantage: Milewski.

A lot of the reaction to Milewski’s interview turned around a “gotcha” section at the end of the interview in which Milewski doggedly asked Singh to denounce posters of Talwinder Singh Parmar, which appear in some Sikh-Canadian institutions. Parmar was a Sikh nationalist who was — it has been well-established — the mastermind behind the Air India bombing in which 329 people were killed, most of them Canadian, many of them of Indian extraction.

Except for Milewski’s first question — which was about how Singh would manage without a Commons seat — every single query directly or indirectly invoked race, religion or ethnicity.

For many viewers not steeped in the issue, it must have been a baffling exchange. But few reporters in Canada have covered the Air India bombing and its aftermath more thoroughly than Milewski — and Jagmeet Singh has been deeply engaged in Sikh politics. It may have been a ‘gotcha’ question, but it got Singh, who dodged and weaved but would not be caught denouncing Canada’s worst-ever mass murderer.

Singh is really going to have to do better than this if he wants to lead a national party with any success.

What concerned me about the Milewski interview was not this exchange, but what came before it. Except for the first question — which was about how Singh would manage without a Commons seat — every single query directly or indirectly invoked race, religion or ethnicity.

There were questions about refugees, religious symbols, Singh’s “acceptability” in Quebec — all coming before the Parmar exchange. Nothing on Singh’s interesting views on addressing precarious work among the young. Nothing on his controversial views on decriminalizing possession of drugs like cocaine and heroin. No “open-ended” questions that would allow Singh to lay out his own agenda.

Earlier that same day, another CBC journalist had posted a tweet that appeared to confuse Singh with another turbaned Sikh — federal economic development minister Navdeep Bains. If I were among the one-in-five people living in Canada who are visible minority, I might be tempted to wonder whether journalists who see a politician of colour see anything but the colour.

When we look south of the border — or across the Atlantic — it’s easy for Canadians to think of racism as a foreign problem. And I agree that we seem (for the moment) unusually blessed.

But take a look at some of the just-released data from Canadian Press’s important “Populism Project” – a survey from EKOS research. According to EKOS’ massive survey, 37 per cent of Canadians think too many immigrants are visible minority. Among respondents who are themselves visible minority, 43 per cent said they had “personally seen or experienced a clear incident of racism” over the past month. Remarkably, 26 per cent of other Canadians said the same.

While a plurality of Canadians don’t think there been much change in the level of racism in Canada, 33 per cent think racism is becoming more common, compared with 20 per cent who think it is becoming less common.

I am not suggesting for a moment that Sikh politicians should only be interviewed by Sikh journalists, or that Indigenous politicians (like the Manitoba NDP’s new leader Wab Kinew) should only be interviewed by Indigenous journalists. It’s a fundamental tenet of journalism that good reporters strive to understand the world around them, and strive particularly hard to understand those most different from them.

But a more diverse press corps would have two effects: one for journalists, the other for consumers of journalism.

For journalists, having people of various backgrounds in the newsrooms means being exposed to different sensibilities and story ideas in editorial meetings, over coffee, and in the thousands of chats that occur among colleagues in newsrooms every day as they try to figure out their angles. They also get to know individuals different from themselves in their full complexity — without reducing them to their most visible characteristics.

In the late 1980s, I did a story related to HIV/AIDS for the CBC. I had lived in New York at the height of the crisis a few years earlier and thought I was reasonably well informed. But after my story aired, a young producer — who was gay — came and spoke to me about some of the language I had used. He made me a better journalist by helping me see some things I had overlooked.

We are all limited to some degree by our backgrounds. Journalism is a lifelong process of educating ourselves away from those limitations. 

For news consumers, diverse newsrooms are both a substantive and a symbolic indication that the news business is serious about exploring our world, which includes people like ourselves and people who are quite different. It’s not just about comforting visible minorities through representation. It’s also about the rest of us not just seeing them, but trying to understand them.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. This piece was republished under arrangement with iPolitics

Wednesday, 27 September 2017 21:52

McGill Students Root for U.S. Dreamers

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By: Caitlin Atkinson in Montreal

On Sept. 5, in one of his cruellest acts yet, US President Donald Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA was an immigration policy enacted by the Obama administration that allowed individuals who moved to America illegally as minors to remain in the country, given a certain set of conditions that ensure they make productive contributions to society. If Congress doesn’t find a way to legalize DACA and develop a plan in which DACA participants—affectionately known as “Dreamers”—can apply for US citizenship, upwards of 800,000 individuals face possible deportation to countries they barely know.

While Trump’s actions have led to an emotional outcry both within the US and internationally, at the same time, there exists a rising unwillingness to accept immigrants among Canadians. Under the presumption that an influx of Dreamers will attempt to migrate to Canada, some believe that the Canadian government should have the absolute power to admit only those with high academic or economic abilities. However, Canada’s approach to accepting thousands of Dreamers must reflect the diversity that Canada claims to embrace, and go beyond allowing only those the government subjectively deems as ‘the best.’ As Trump tries to rip these young people from all that they have ever known, Canada—and particularly its universities—has the humanitarian duty to provide a safe place and a legal channel for Dreamers to become citizens.

Though Canadians who oppose the northward immigration of Dreamers argue that it will overwhelm the country’s immigration system, it is incredibly unlikely that all 800,000 individuals in the DACA program will relocate to Canada. In a quote in a Vice article, Ontario Independent Senator Ratna Omidvar suggested that Canada should look to welcome 10,000 to 30,000 Dreamers. Canada, she argues, must capitalize on the opportunity to welcome a new wave of skilled workers, who will help to boost the economy.

Canadian post-secondary institutions should support the aspirations made possible by the DACA program in the first place, by accepting and helping to fund Dreamers’ transitions into Canadian society.

McGill students can surely empathize with the plights of Dreamers, especially those who are in the process of completing university degrees. Dreamers have spent the majority of their lives in the United States, and many have come to hope for the same type of social and financial success that McGill students aspire to. Now, they face the possibility of deportation, compromising their futures. Canadian post-secondary institutions should support the aspirations made possible by the DACA program in the first place, by accepting and helping to fund Dreamers’ transitions into Canadian society.

Huron University College in London, Ont. has already set an important example, offering $60,000 in scholarships to students affected by the overturn of the DACA program. At McGill, compensating for an increased number of transfer applicants when planning classes would allow for more space in programs to accommodate Dreamers. To further ease the transition, McGill students can start groups that lobby the administration to take action and recognize the unique circumstances of Dreamers and work to welcome them into the McGill community. By removing barriers to Dreamers’ enrollment in Canadian universities, Canadians can help to reverse the damage being done by the Trump Administration, and help to give these young adults a third chance at a future. Those who have already dedicated their time and energy into their schooling have a right to finish their education.

Morally, Canadians need to recognize the inherent abuse of power in the argument that the Canadian government should be highly selective in choosing which Dreamers have sufficient test scores or employability, and thus the right to immigrate to Canada. All should have the opportunity to apply and be fairly considered, without the constant paranoia of fitting narrow acceptance criteria. While, opposers of immigration harshly critique prioritizing citizens of other countries over born Canadians, its supporters argue that it is necessary for growth. What critics must recognize is the need for empathy, and to recognize the injustice that will occur if Canada does not provide social and economic opportunities.

Given that none of these individuals have criminal records, nor histories of violence, they deserve the opportunity to continue on their quest to achieve their goals, just like those fortunate enough to be born in Canada. Canada and its universities have the capacity to welcome Dreamers, and as a country that prides itself on compassion and diversity, we have a responsibility to protect the dream that Donald Trump is so desperately trying to crush.


Republished under arrangement with the McGill Tribune.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017 21:29

Saudi Arabia, Modernity and Counter Terrorism

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Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

Three cheers for Saudi Arabia!  The conservative Kingdom has ruled that women can now drive and no longer need to be accompanied by a mahram (essentially a male guardian) when they are in a car. Many are celebrating this decision although some conservative killjoys have accused the government of ‘bending the rules of Sharia’.  Some have joked that the country has finally joined the 20th century. 

That quip is actually more accurate than might appear at first reading. In many ways – socially, religiously, ideologically – Saudi is stuck not in the 20th century but in the 18th century, and, truth be told, in the seventh century.  The 18th century is a reference to the pact made between the up and coming Al Saud family and a bunch of ultra-conservative clerics headed by Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab whereby the Al Sauds took care of people’s economic and political well-being while the ‘Wahhabis’ looked after their souls. 

By that, I mean, they imposed an austere, joyless interpretation of Islam that they claimed was void of what they saw as all the alterations and aberrations that had entered into the faith since the time of the Prophet Muhammad in the early to mid-600’s.  Wahhabi Islam is rejected by the vast majority of the world’s Muslims and would have remained an insignificant blip on the international stage had it not been for the 1970's oil crisis and the gazillions of dollars that flowed into Saudi coffers, only to be redirected worldwide in the spread – through mosques and schools – of this hateful and intolerant version of Islam.  

There really is no other way to look at Saudi Islam and it is undeniable that the vitriol inherent in Wahhabism is directly responsible for a huge part of the ideology that became Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

So what are the Saudis doing about all this? After all, the Kingdom has suffered from jihadi attacks itself and one would think that the regime does not want or like to be tainted with any association with a violent bunch of terrorists. It is an open debate, though, whether Saudi Arabia really cares what outsiders think in light of its massive wealth and still rather closed society.  Here the news is both good and bad.

On the good side, the government has been cracking down on ‘preachers of hate’ and dismantling their ability to spread their message.  Many have also been arrested and Saudi security forces have successfully foiled many terrorist plots.  The ‘reform’ programme – and I use the term loosely – of King Salman and, probably more importantly, his son and second-in-line for the throne Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is ambitious in scope and must be seen as a move in the right direction. Whether it actually achieves much and how the Wahhabi clerics react to it will bear watching.

The decision to allow women to drive should be seen through this prism.

On the other hand, Wahhabi influence is still growing in places like South Asia and Southeast Asia, as clerics continue to influence the locals, including children in madrassas and pesantren (what they call madrassas in Indonesia).  Saudi economic weight is clearly playing a role here as the Kingdom can offer education and religious instruction to countries where there simply isn’t enough room in the budget to do so.

Saudi Arabia is also incontrovertibly involved in massive human rights violations in Yemen, where it has been mired for years in a civil war that it tries to paint as a necessary struggle to prevent Iranian (read: Shia) infiltration into the Arabian Peninsula. The Gulf kingdom is trying to quash attempts to have independent, neutral observers carry out investigations in Yemen to determine the scale of suffering and point fingers at those responsible for it. 

Speaking of the Shia, Saudi police and the military continue to mount ‘counter terrorism’ operations in the country’s Shia-dominant eastern provinces. While there certainly are violent extremists in the region, a lot of the violence is state-imposed and driven by the Wahhabi belief that the only good Shiite is a dead one.

It is thus a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to Saudi Arabia and terrorism. The Kingdom talks the talk and is involved in some worthwhile national, regional (not Yemen) and international counter-terrorism initiatives. But, as long as Wahhabi Islam is the dominant form of Islam practised in the country and spread through Saudi ‘benevolence’ worldwide, that nation must be seen as both part of the solution and a big part of the problem.

What then do we in the West do?  The unfortunate answer, for the time being, is ‘not much’.  We cannot ignore Saudi Arabia, we cannot tell it what to do, we cannot isolate it and we cannot pretend that it is not behind the contagion of hateful Islamic teachings. In other words, we are damned if we do nothing and damned if we do something (if anyone has a better idea please e-mail me).

Last week, I was a guest lecturer in a graduate course on terrorism offered by my friend Thomas Juneau at the University of Ottawa. The class was discussing the nature of the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and the consensus seemed to be that Washington has no choice but to guarantee the Kingdom’s existence and remain a close ally because all the alternatives are worse (if Saudi Arabia decides to move closer to Russia or China, going in an even more radical direction, etc.). 

That is what has been termed Sophie’s Choice – where either decision is unbearable.  And that is seldom a good place to find oneself. 


Phil Gurski has worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). His latest book The Lesser Jihads is now available online and in bookstores. 

Tuesday, 19 September 2017 09:30

When the Fear of Terrorism Trumps Reason

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Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

There is no question that fear sells. The latest Stephen King film about an evil clown – It –  grossed over $120 million in its first three days after all.

We are odd in that we both fear fear and we are entertained by it – go figure.

But fear is not always helpful, unless you are running away from a grizzly or swimming away from a shark.  It is particularly counter-productive when it leads you to stop doing things you normally do. Things like going to a restaurant or to a movie (perhaps to see It) or on a vacation.  And the one thing that seems to be causing many people to alter their normal lives is the fear of terrorism.

In some ways this is, of course, understandable since there is not a day that goes by where we do not see or read about some act of violent extremism somewhere in the world.  These acts seem to resonate even more when they take place in ‘our world’ – i.e. Western Europe, North America or Australia – than when they occur in Africa, the Middle East or Asia (fact: the vast majority of attacks and casualties occur in the latter three rather than the former). 

The images of bloody corpses and mangled limbs sends shivers to those who witness them, in person or via social media.  We become afraid of terrorists and terrorism and we begin to believe that we will become the next victims unless we stay away from where the terrorists are.

This is problematic as terrorism can occur ANYWHERE.  A very short list of recent attacks underscores the ubiquity of terrorism: an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, a pedestrian mall in Barcelona, a London Tube train on a busy morning commute, in front of Notre Dame in Paris, a market stall in Kabul.  And I could go on. 

Yet, paradoxically, the chance of an act of terrorism in any one place at any given time is infinitely small (it is obviously higher in Baghdad and Mogadishu than in New York or Melbourne, but even then it is rare-ish).

What is unhelpful is to panic and cancel EVERYTHING because you are convinced you will die in a suicide bombing if you stay the course.  A few examples are illustrative of an irrational succumbing to the fear of terrorism:

  • diners in a Toronto restaurant last weekend that was the scene of a targeted killing of a real estate magnate told the media they thought they were going to die in what they believed to be a terrorist incident
  • the Israeli government issued a travel advisory for ‘Western and Northern Europe’ during the Jewish High Holy Days
  • US President Trump has been very irresponsible in raising the fear level with his characterisation of Muslims as terrorists

How is any of this a good thing?  Why in the world would a school board in Edmonton cancel a trip to Paris after the November 2015 attacks when Paris the day after was probably the safest city on the planet in large part due to the increased presence of armed soldiers?  Fear and ignorance, that’s why (and probably parents’ demands, which were born out of fear).

Giving in so easily to fear does many things.  It rewards terrorist groups that aim to make us afraid and over-inflates their pathetic importance.  It has serious implications for many parts of the economy both at home and abroad.  And it undoubtedly makes us more jittery the next time a terrorist attack occurs which makes us react with fear more quickly.

I am not advocating rushing off to Kandahar on vacation tomorrow, but if we value our societies and our freedoms we need to live.  Living means going out, seeing friends, visiting exotic lands and learning from each others’ cultures and histories.  And we cannot do that by barricading ourselves in our duct-taped basements.

I think the right reaction is that of the Brits. They are famous for their ‘stiff upper lip’, a way of sneering at danger and uncertainty and forging ahead. That is exactly what a lot of people did in the wake of last Friday’s Tube attack (quote of the day: “I won’t stop taking the Tube because of some idiot”).  They also didn’t waver during the decades of IRA bombings.  I believe there is a lesson in that for all of us.


Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting.  His latest book The Lesser Jihads is now available for purchase.

Commentary by: Alberto Ledesma in Berkeley, California

I first became a “dreamer” more than forty years ago. That is when my parents brought my sisters and me to the heart of East Oakland for what we thought was a summer vacation. Since then, I have not returned to Huisquilco, Mexico, the town where I was born. 

We were brought as undocumented children by our undocumented parents because they wanted a better life for us and they understood that a life in the shadows in the United States was so much better than a life of economic uncertainty in Mexico. “Keep your head down, work hard, don’t complain!” These were the precepts that guided our lives as we incorporated ourselves into our new American society. Eventually, after a decade of living in the shadows, amnesty came and thus we transitioned out of our precarious legal status.

Forty years later, all four of us children have graduated from UC Berkeley, three with advanced degrees, including two with PhDs from Berkeley and UCLA. But ours is not a story that means to boast about our achievements. Rather, ours is a story that reveals to what degree the hegemony of anti-immigrant terror consumed our lives and motivated us to show that we were more than our legal status. We went from being undocumented immigrant kids to being hyperdocumented students (award after award, degree after degree), as Professor Aurora Chang likes to call it, all in an effort to escape the “illegal alien” taboo. 

After having been on the faculty at various universities across California, I am now an administrator at Berkeley. It is in this capacity that I often interact with current DACA students. Almost all of them, save a few eccentric nonconformists, remind me of the student I once was: quiet, perpetually smiling, with a slight melancholic torpor pulling at the edges of our eyelids. 

All of them will tell you that they foresaw Trump’s viciousness because that is what being undocumented does—it gives you prescience about oncoming doom. Still, all of them would trade their prophetic talents for the promise, however tenuous, that things might get better.

A few days ago, when I heard Jeff Sessions read his carefully worded statement on behalf of the President, I was again reminded that in this country civil rights are not gained without consistent and active struggle. Civil rights for undocumented immigrants is precisely the kind of possibility that the repeated use of the words “illegal alien” are meant to foreclose. And those who are guided by malignant nationalism know that. There, at the podium, Sessions stood like a reincarnated George Wallace blocking the entrance to the University of Alabama. There, as the camera narrowed its focus on his legalistic monologue, he asserted that America could only be made great again if it segregated itself from so many unlawful overachievers. How dare they aspire towards a better life? He seemed to ask. 

And, of course, not all undocumented students, DACA or otherwise, are overachievers. Too many of them are weighted down by the pressures of just making it in Trump’s America that doing okay is already the result of a herculean effort. 

A few days ago, I was reminded that there is a difference between justice and the so-called “rule of law,” especially when that law is selectively applied. What kind of world gives a convicted felon like Joseph Arpaio amnesty and summarily condemns 800,000 young people to a life in the shadows? Conservative recalcitrants like Steve King take it a step further and argue that undocumented immigrant kids and their families should live in the shadows forever. That’s where they belong. 

What the Civil Rights Movement and the 1986 amnesty made clear to me was that sometimes America is capable of showing compassion. Still, it is not hard to surmise that there were some back in the 1980s who predicted the downfall of this nation because more than three million undocumented people, including my family and me, were pardoned from our immigration sin. Most likely, among those people were the Arpaios, Sessions, Kings, and Trumps of the world. Indeed, it is that undoing, that desire to erase what those new Americans brought to the United States, that has seemingly motivated the Make America Great Again campaign. 

I can honestly say that I am still a dreamer today though I have been a citizen since 1992. What I dream of today, however, is a United States where we can have a just discernment of policy instead of the selective application of draconian laws.


Alberto Ledesma was an undocumented immigrant student in the 1980s. He is now the Diversity Director for the Arts & Humanities at UC Berkeley. This piece was republished under arrangement with New America Media

Commentary by: John Ferri in Toronto

The crisis in local journalism is well documented, most extensively in a report last January by the Public Policy Forum, and by others who have painted in detail the corrosive effects of cutbacks to local newsrooms and the shuttering of an entire daily newspaper in a mid-sized Ontario city.

It’s evident in these reports that there’s a real thirst for local perspectives – if not necessarily for supporting the business models that have traditionally delivered them. It’s also clear that there is no single solution to the loss of local journalism in Ontario.

But I do want to offer a new TVO editorial initiative as a kind of case study. It’s called Ontario Hubs and it brings a current affairs perspective to parts of the province that are increasingly under-served. Its intent is to provide news analysis and context that is relevant to both local audiences and to the wider public.

Ontario Hubs were made possible by a major gift from civic-minded philanthropists: the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust and Goldie Feldman. This donation is allowing us to hire seven journalists and open regional offices outside Toronto.

For TVO, it’s an opportunity that speaks to our mandate to reflect and connect Ontarians and that is potentially a game-changer. It substantially increases the coverage of Ontario issues, ideas and events on tvo.org and on our flagship current affairs program, The Agenda with Steve Paikin.

Our initial plan calls for four regional hub offices. The first two officially launch on September 6 – one covering the region of Northwestern Ontario, based in Thunder Bay; and a second hub for Southwestern Ontario, based in London. The two additional hubs will be announced later this fall.

Each will be staffed by a full time TVO journalist, whose job it will be to identify issues and ideas of importance to the communities in their regions and report on how those matter locally, regionally and to the entire province.

The Hubs journalists will also help create networks of freelancers and contributors in their respective regions. In addition, we will have a full-time on-air journalist who will produce weekly feature reports for The Agenda with Steve Paikin. These won’t be in the form of a traditional 90-second news report but longer, more in-depth and, often, meant to set the table for a panel discussion on The Agenda.

With this new team of journalists and contributors we will produce multi-platform features – online and on broadcast – that will dive deep into big issues.  

Earlier this year, TVO hired Jon Thompson for our Northwestern Ontario hub. Jon is an award-winning journalist and author with deep roots in the northwest. Since joining us, he’s filed a number of stories including a substantive feature examining how accusations of racism against Indigenous residents have divided Thunder Bay. It’s apparent that this story was not based on a few days visit by an outside media organization. Nor was it the incremental, day-to-day coverage local news outlets – increasingly strapped for resources – might provide.

The story is a fine example of the editorial stance TVO is taking with this project. It occupied the journalistic sweet-spot we aspire to: step-back and analytical but informed by being firmly planted on the ground, and appealing to both local and wider audiences.

The story did very well. It was among the most-read on our site in July, with more than a third of the traffic from Thunder Bay. And it helped define the public conversation on an issue with a national profile: on the strength of it, Jon was interviewed on CBC Radio’s As It Happens.

Ontario Hubs will not replace what’s being lost. TVO’s mandate is not daily news reporting. We won’t be covering regular meetings at Timmins City Hall or the school board in Owen Sound or the library services in Northumberland. My fervent hope is that a sustainable model for that kind of essential reporting, in whatever form it takes, will be found.  

But what Ontario Hubs can offer is regional current affairs – in-depth, in context, and from multiple perspectives – that will help build a province whose citizens are better informed, responsive and engaged. It’s an addition to the journalistic eco-system at a time of decline. We hope it will serve as one model of a path to the future. 


John Ferri is the VP of Documentaries and Current Affairs at TVO. This piece was republished under arrangement with J-Source. 

Sunday, 03 September 2017 15:53

We Just Aren't Making Enough Babies

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Commentary by: Sean Cowan

Seems like immigration hasn’t been seen in a positive light as of late. Control over immigration has been a central theme in the successful Brexit bid in the United Kingdom. America elected a president who suggests tougher laws and screening for immigrants. Syrian refugees were welcomed by the thousands into Canada (46,700 in 2016 alone to be exact), but not without considerable controversy.

Of course, with the entry of new immigrants comes the culture. Clearly they simply do not know of any other way to live until they move into new land and set roots. Learning another Language and assimilating into another culture takes time and requires patience of the guests who welcome them.

In some places, it seems, they aren’t necessarily welcome. There appears to be an immigrant backlash brewing in many of the wealthiest countries. The demographics are changing drastically and quickly. In 2012 in America, the census bureau reported that for the first time there have been more minority births than white births.

What becomes disturbing is that the glaringly obvious seems to be overlooked-Caucasians are having less babies.

We need an abundance of young people for the economy to work.

If we have less children we need to import them.

Every healthy economy regardless of society which runs it (within a more left wing society or more to the right) requires a pyramid shape in order for it to work. The tip of the pyramid being those who are not generating income (from the disabled, to young children, to the elderly), casual workers would be found somewhere below the tip, further down from casual comes the part time employees and somewhere halfway down the pyramid being the civil servant who receive revenue from public funds, yet redistribute it into the economy. The base of said metaphorical pyramid are the full time workers of various classes who work for private industry and generate the revenue which works its way up to the very tip and sustains the entire society within.

What becomes abundantly clear when visualizing this pyramid is that every society needs a healthy dose of working, young, able bodied people to sustain the economy and, most importantly, there has to be many more at the base than at the tip for the society to exist at all.

Ultimately if we curb immigration we need to make more babies.

For the longest time it was a non-issue. Forty years ago it was nothing to see a family with four or five children and was quite unusual for anyone to reach the age of 40 and be single without multiple children.

As was often the case. Many years ago you had no choice but to have multiple children but then along came contraceptives and women entered the workforce en masse. Now people had the choice if and when they had children. Women had options. They could wait until later in life to have children and focus on their career. To see a person reach the age of 40 without a child and single in the first world now is quite common.

This person will need young people to continue to generate revenue for when he or she retires. Police are still needed, and roads need to be paved.

This is why we need immigration. The alternative is simply to make more babies. That doesn’t appear to be an option. Most people simply are not willing to make enough babies to keep the engine running (or can’t due to shrinking wages/ unstable work….but that’s another story) so therefore we need to take in young people to make up for the loss.

There are still many countries with large families of 4 or more. They are typically countries who are culturally distinct from us so as they come in, they change the landscape.

Ultimately, if we curb immigration we need to make more babies. If we don’t, eventually, the metaphorical pyramid will change shape with the base of the pyramid becoming narrow and the aging population making the tip wider. It’s a demographic nightmare that countries like China ( with their one child policy) and Japan (statistically the oldest population on earth and a country not built on multiculturalism) are currently struggling with.

Xenophobia therefore is essentially a demographic nightmare waiting to happen for any first world country. Generally the local populations have been steadily decreasing as the desire for large families have diminished. Without the immigrants to inject new fresh young workers into the economy our social services will erode quicker than you could say ‘build a wall’.

So we are left with little choice but to embrace immigration and while we may change immigration policy to be more efficient and attract more of the people each country is desperately looking for in regards to age, family size and qualifications; there is no question that we need a healthy number of new young people in just about every first world nation on earth and that will indeed change each nation that welcomes them.

It should go without saying that immigration has been a continuous process in Europe, North America, New Zealand and Australia for centuries now. Various waves have come and gone and from various ethnic groups and they have made their mark and changed the country. As a Canadian I’m hard pressed to believe that our much more diverse, multicultural country would go to war for the queen and the ‘motherland’ as we have in the past because, of course, the demographics have changed and now the majority of the population cannot identify with a cause such as that.

One thing that is clear is that more young people from afar are more crucial than ever to maintain our society and the standards we have come to expect within it. What must be understood is that for the majority of the first world in general and former British colonies in particular it has played a vital part of our society. It has in fact built the society itself. So we should embrace it, because, unless you’re going to make more babies, we simply don’t have a choice.


Sean Cowan is a former member of the military who has worked with a wide range of first-generation immigrants throughout his career. His experiences as a result of his work and his upbringing in Nova Scotia have led to become an advocate for multiculturalism. 

Tuesday, 29 August 2017 13:03

Myanmar may be the Next Jihadi Battleground

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Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

Before this piece goes any further I need to spell out that I am not a big fan of the use of force unless absolutely necessary (and when necessary it is best to use it wisely, while still protecting the lives of the force wielders). Clearly it is required in some situations, but if public perception is that it is being applied too quickly or too harshly things go awry. 

That is why police officers are often (rightly or wrongly) convicted in the court of public opinion when some amateur video suggests they have overstepped their authority and shot someone. It is also probably why the anti-fascist/extreme RW/neo-Nazi Antifa may be losing its clear advantage over repugnant skinheads: it seems to resort to the same violence it is protesting against.

In some situations it is easy to understand why a group decides to use violence even if it is hard to provide outright ‘support’.

A case where this appears to be true is unfolding in Myanmar (Burma), a southeast nation still emerging from decades of military rule under what everyone thought would be the wise leadership of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. Well, things have turned out a little differently.

Not only has Ms. Suu Kyi been described as autocratic, she has not decried a clear human rights violation in her own country – the army’s campaign of rape, killing and destruction in the northwest corner (Rakhine state), an area where the Rohingya live.

The Rohingya are a Muslim people who probably arrived in Myanmar from neighbouring Bangladesh centuries ago. The state, however, sees them as usurpers and johnny-come-latelys and wants them to return to Bangladesh. It refuses to recognize the Rohingya as an official ethnic group which seriously undermines their representation and rights.

To make things worse, a Buddhist monk some have called Myanmar’s Osama bin Laden, Ashin Wirathu, leads an Islamophobic group called Ma Ba Tha and has inspired Burmese (the dominant ethnic group) attacks on unarmed villagers. Tens of thousands of Rohingya have tried to flee both west to Bangladesh (more recently) or southwards on flimsy boats where they have landed (if they don’t drown) in Thailand and Malaysia, only to be enslaved at times.

In response to the one-sided violence, a group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) has arisen and has carried out attacks against Myanmar soldiers. Ms. Suu Kyi has called them ‘terrorists’ and there are allegations that foreign jihadis have joined the group (perhaps because they also call themselves Harakah al-Yaqin – Arabic for ‘the Faith Movement’, which is a little odd since no one in Rakhine speaks Arabic that I know of).

This development was eminently predictable since no outside body, including the UN, seemed capable of doing anything to lessen the violence against the Rohingya. What is very worrying is the possibility that the conflict will draw in foreign jihadis (if it hasn’t already), perhaps some leaving the Islamic State in Iraq/Syria. We saw an outflow from Afghanistan post Soviet withdrawal to Bosnia in the early 1990s and could witness similar movements in a host of wars including Myanmar.

The possibility that Myanmar may become a new jihadi battleground, as well as two dozen other cases, is covered in my soon to be released third book The Lesser Jihads.

Is the ARSA a terrorist group as Myanmar claims? I have no idea and I am the last person to support terrorism. The problem is that we have no idea about the ‘ideology’ the ARSA espouses and, to date, they have only targeted the military. The militants say they just want the killing to stop and self-determination for the Rohingya. We will wait and see how this pans out. 

So while I would prefer a peaceful resolution to the situation in Rakhine, the violent surge by the ARSA is easily comprehended. The Rohingya do not stand a chance against the army and extremist Buddhists (should this not be an oxymoron?).

If Myanmar does not change its approach or the international community does not step up, we will see more killing, perhaps worse. The time for another kind of ‘action’ is now.


Phil Gurski has worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). His latest book The Lesser Jihads is available now for pre-order on Amazon.

Commentary by: William Gee Wong in Oakland, CA

My father came to America from China in 1912, the 30th year of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and somehow he was able to get in legally even though he, uh, didn’t tell the whole truth.

The three generations of Gees and Wongs that are his legacy are so grateful he was able to skirt the dreaded, racist Exclusion Act, and that he didn’t try to come here under the Trump Administration’s immigration proposal.

In his mid-teens, Pop, as I called him, was not well educated. He was not well off. He did not speak English. Those are the principal requirements of what the Trump administration wants our future immigration policy to have.

Another is having a job. Pop would have qualified, maybe. He had work waiting for him as a lowly paid herbalist apprentice in Oakland, California’s Chinatown.

Pop’s immigration story was hardly unique. He and thousands of other Chinese immigrants were able to get into America despite the exclusion law that spanned from 1882 to 1943. 

Many used the infamous “paper son” scheme. This was making false birthright claims made possible, in part, by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire that destroyed official records. Without records, the government could not legally counter the birthright claims of immigrants like Pop, who said he was a “son of a native,” a category exempt from the exclusion law. 

Pop and other Chinese immigrants wanted desperately to come here, largely to escape the utter political, economic, and social turmoil of China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the republican revolution, civil wars, and in the 1930s, the Japanese invasion. 

Here in America, because of yellow Jim Crow laws, they were forced to create parallel universes in the many Chinatowns in cities and towns, first in California and the west and eventually throughout America.

Ironically, those enclaves – ostracized, ignored, and targeted for violence as they sometimes were – nurtured self-reliance and survival skills that enabled Pop and his cohort to begin stable and useful lives for their descendants. 

Their numbers were teeny. In 1880, just before Congress passed the exclusion law, Chinese were 0.0021 percent of the U.S. population. In 1940, just before its repeal, they were a barely measurable 0.0005 percent.

Supporters of the Trump immigration proposal deny its intent is racist against non-white people, but its effects, if ever enacted, could very well be. Why do the president and the Republican senators pushing this bill want to go backwards to a time when America was much whiter than it is today and going to be in the foreseeable future?

The Congressional debates over Chinese exclusion were blatantly and unapologetically racist. Example: Colorado Republican Senator Henry Teller in 1882 said, “The Caucasian race has the right, considering its superiority of intellectual force and mental vigor; to look down on every other branch of the human family…we are the superior race today. We are superior to the Chinese….”

Some of us descendants of so-called inferior races are worried that if President Trump gets his way on a new immigration policy as offered by Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, America will look to the world as returning to the bad old days when white supremacy was thought to be the norm.

Pop probably didn't bother to think much about what American politicians believed. All he wanted was a better life for his growing family. He had three daughters born in China, and three more plus me born in Oakland.

One goal of the immigration bill is to decrease family reunification. A positive feature of the 1965 immigration reform was its family preference provisions that allowed immigrants to bring in members of his or her families. That feature has propelled the growth of immigrant families, especially from Latin America and Asia. Perhaps that is what repels Trump and his backward-looking supporters.

Pop worked hard to provide for his family in Oakland. He learned to speak, read, and write English at Lincoln School, where he graduated from the eighth grade as a 20-something. Besides his herbalist job, he peddled produce in a truck, ran grocery stores and restaurants, and worked as a welder at a Bay Area shipyard during World War II.

Oh, yeah: he ran an illegal business as well, in the 1930s. He sold lottery tickets in Chinatown when such a business was against the law. Many other Chinatown families did the same. After all, this was during the Great Depression, and local police and politicians took bribes to allow the trade to thrive into the 1950s.

To his last days in the summer of 1961, Pop felt he belonged in Chinatown but not in the wider white-dominated society. I, on the other hand, along with my sisters and our extended families feel we are as American as anyone else, regardless of racial or ethnic background.

Let’s hope that what the Trump-backed Cotton-Perdue proposal wants to do never happens, and that wiser and more humane lawmakers create immigration policies that make all of us feel as though we belong here in America.


William Gee Wong is the author of Yellow Journalist: Dispatches from Asian America (Temple University Press, 2001) and is currently writing a book about his father. This article was republished under arrangement with New America Media

Monday, 14 August 2017 08:18

Non-Profit Media may be the Way Forward

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Commentary by: Nick Fillmore in Toronto

News outlets in Canadian communities are falling like bowling pins.

At least 171 media organizations in 138 communities closed between 2008 and this January, according to the Local News Research Project, a project led by Ryerson School of Journalism. By comparison, only 51 new outlets opened.

The loss of media is so severe that a special report submitted to the House of Commons Heritage Committee was entitled: “Local news poverty in Canadian Communities.

“Local news poverty, we argue,” is greatest in communities where residents have limited or no access to timely, verified news about local politics, education, health, economic and other key topics they need to navigate daily life, ” project co-ordinator April Lindgren writes in Policy Options.

Small communities such as Markdale, Ont. and Canmore, Alta. lost their local papers while cities Guelph, Ont. and Nanaimo, BC were among the largest centres to be hit.

Newspapers have been crucial for the development of Canada for more than three centuries. But ‘free’ news from for-profit papers is coming to an end.

Daily papers are failing because millions of dollars of advertising they used to have has either moved to the internet or has just disappeared. Because an ad that brings in $1,000 in a paper sells for about $100 on the internet, the newspaper corporations are so far unable to make a go of it in a digital world.

Corporate-owned news organizations around the world are trying to find a formula that will allow them to be profitable. However, they have made little progress in the dozen years since internet-based companies started stealing their ads and readers.

Hundreds of Canadian communities are now poorly served when it comes to local news by underfunded and under-staffed internet news sites, give-away newspapers and even bloggers.

Nonprofit media can be the solution

However, Canadian communities still should be able to have reliable newspapers. They need to explore creating community-controlled not-for-profit papers.

Nonprofit newspapers have financial advantages over for-profit papers. A commercial paper is expected to churn out at least 15 per cent profits or investors will take their money elsewhere. Business executives at corporations command salaries into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The manager of a nonprofit might earn $90,000. Ad sales staff at daily papers earn a large salary; not so at a nonprofit. A for-profit paper pays taxes. A nonprofit pays few taxes and can engage in fundraising activities.

Other factors: The internet is the future for many news organizations, but many people prefer to hold a newspaper in their hands. A printed publication tends to have more authority than an internet site. And, finally, advertisers like to see their ads in print.

There are no nonprofit daily newspapers in Canada, but hundreds of public interest organizations operate on a nonprofit basis.

The U.K. Guardian is the most prominent not-for-profit newspaper in the world. Last year, the award-winning but financially-strapped Philadelphia Inquirer switched to the not-for-profit model. Both organizations have large endowments.

I believe not-for-profit newspapers are highly desirable if a group can develop a break-even budget. I believe this is possible in Canada.

Set up a research group 

If folks feel there’s a need for a newspaper in their community the first step would be to bring together 15 or 20 people who represent a cross-section of citizens. The group could conduct a survey to determine whether people in the community support the idea.

An important early task would be to have experts help you develop a project model to see if the concept is financially viable.

Warning: Don’t focus too much on journalistic content in the early stages. Instead, the most important thing to determine is whether the model you develop is financially viable.

Think about how groups and businesses in the community might contribute. Reach out to local journalists and media outlets to see if they would like to become involved in the project.

My recommendation is that groups create a nonprofit corporation. This way any surplus at the end of the year would go back into the project. A lawyer can create a nonprofit organization for about $700.

An important decision: One of the biggest questions concerns is how to distribute the paper. Traditional door-to-door delivery could be costly but, if the project can afford it, this is the best way to go.

However, groups could use a much cheaper distribution system. What I call the "mini-paper" would have small pages – 8 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches - just about the same size as Maclean's magazine – distributed to subscribers by e-mail.

Subscribers would print out the paper in the morning. The group would provide a simple binding system that readers would use to hold the pages. It might be best to limit the size of any one edition to 24 pages or less.

The huge advantage of the mini-paper is that it would not require newsprint and there would be no distribution expenses.

In case subscribers prefer to access the information on-line, all of the articles and other information published in the mini-paper would be posted behind a paywall on a website.

The big question for any group is figuring out where the money is going to come from.

I think it should be possible to run a nonprofit paper with about one-third of the revenue coming from advertising, one-third from subscribers and sustained donors, and one-third from fundraising.

Many sources of funding

Note: I have considerable experience as a fundraiser and I would be pleased to provide fundraising advice to any group free of charge. Here’s a summary of funding possibilities:

  • Sustaining memberships where strong supporters pay an annual amount,
  • As is the case with any newspaper, subscriber fees would be charged,
  • Revenue from community advertisers would be an important source of funds,
  • For organizations that know how to utilize it effectively, the Internet has a huge potential for fundraising,
  • An investigative journalism fund,
  • A fundraising committee could carry out a number of activities to raise money, including silent auctions, evening panel discussions, and hold breakfasts with guest speakers,
  • Support from “A Guardian Angel”: Perhaps your community has one or more individuals who have amassed a lot of money. Shown a viable business plan, this person might be willing to provide a fairly substantial amount of funding to help cover costs over, say, a two-year period,
  • Government support: With the pending collapse of for-profit journalism, we need to educate governments that public money needs to be made available to help support nonprofit media projects. A group should make presentations to municipal governments and the appropriate provincial government departments.

My strong advice to a group is to not launch a new paper until you have lined up funding for at least your first full year.

I know a number of Canadian nonprofit experts and journalists who would be pleased to help develop a project. Several knowledgeable U.S. organizations, such as Institute for Nonprofit News and the Poynter institute would provide advice.

The creation of even one sustainable, independent newspaper project anywhere in Canada would be a huge, unprecedented accomplishment. It could be the forerunner of other papers that would once again provide our communities with a reliable source of news and information.


Nick Fillmore was a CBC journalist and producer for more than 25 years, and is a founder of the Canadian Association of Journalists. He currently works as a Toronto freelance journalist who specializes in writing about media issues.This piece was republished under arrangement with J-Source

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Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

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The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

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