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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

Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

The Globe and Mail featured a fascinating story in its weekend edition (August 12) on suicides in Toronto in which people throw themselves in front of subway cars. This has to be a particularly gruesome way to take one’s life and I really feel for the drivers of the subway.  I have heard that they go through serious trauma at having been witness to a death for which they bear no responsibility but in which they play a critical role. 

From the article I learned that:

  • There have been more than 1,400 suicides and suicide attempts in the Toronto subway system since it opened in 1954.  This works out to approximately 22 a year or two a month.
  • There are no ‘obvious links’ tying together the worst stations.
  • It is impossible to determine what drove the poor souls to take their own lives or why they chose the particular station where the deed was done.
  • The worst stations over the past 25 years are very different from one another: a mix of high density ones, less-used ones and even one in a ritzy part of Toronto.
  • According to a psychiatrist who works on suicide prevention with the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) suicide prevention is inherently difficult.
  • Suicide by train remains a rare event.
  • One teen who committed suicide in April 2015 was described as smart, sociable, and active, got good grades and was a competitive swimmer.  Her family only realised she was in pain and felt unable to ask for outside help after they read some of her private writing following her death. 

Why am I talking about suicide prevention in a terrorist blog??  Because as I read the article I saw many parallels with 'violent radicalisation’.  Allow me to explain.

Like subway suicide attempts, radicalisation to violence is rare. I would not go so far as to put a number like twice a month on the incidence rate but it is a relatively infrequent event.  Yes it only takes one violent extremist to cause pain and destruction, but there is zero evidence to suggest we are dealing with a pandemic in Canada.

Analogous to suicide,  we cannot reduce violent radicalisation to a small number of causes pointing to ‘why’ they did it.  In a way, radicalisation to violence, is just like suicide, a choice and not something imposed from outside.  The same tired old ‘explanations’ – alienation, poverty, discrimination, psychological illness – keep getting hauled out and none of them are satisfactory or comprehensive.

The ‘where’ of radicalisation varies as well.  In the mid-2000s the Salaheddin Islamic Centre in Scarborough, east of Toronto, was a ‘hotbed’.  Calgary also saw a disproportionate number of foreign fighters join Islamic State.  None of this is necessarily helpful in predicting the next ‘wave’ of violent extremism.  People from ‘high density downtown neighbourhoods’ as well as the ‘well-heeled parts of north Toronto’ can embrace violent extremism.  There is no ‘vaccine’ for suicide or radicalisation.

Sometimes those who opt to become violent extremists show every sign of being ‘normal’: successful, well-adjusted, popular people with promising futures like that teen in Toronto.  It is important to get at the hidden signs to determine if there are things happening under the surface that should cause concern.  I have always maintained that there are ALWAYS signs, if you know what to look for. It is this belief that led me to write my first book The Threat from Within: Recognizing Al Qaeda-inspired radicalization and terrorism in the West (Rowman and Littlefield 2015). 

I have found analogies to be a useful learning instrument and I hope that this post helps you understand a little more about violent radicalisation.  It is also fascinating that seemingly disparate issues like suicide and violent extremism have a lot in common.  After all, according to the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again;  there is nothing new under the sun”.  Maybe we should bear that in mind when we try to understand phenomena like violent radicalisation and terrorism.


 Phil Gurski's latest book The Lesser Jihads: Bringing the Islamist extremism fight to the world is available for pre-order on Amazon. 

From: Parisa Mahboubi 

To: Ahmed D. Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship 

Date: August 3, 2017 

Re: Let’s Toughen Literacy Standards to Boost Immigrant Success 

Strong literacy skills improve new immigrants’ employability and earnings capacity. But immigrant literacy skills in Canada lag non-immigrants despite the large proportion of immigrants with university degrees, according the 2012 OECD Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). My latest research for the C.D. Howe Institute — The Power of Words: Improving Immigrants’ Literacy Skills — argues for policies to enhance immigrants’ literacy skills through improvements in Canada’s immigration selection and settlement policies. 

The literacy skills gap between immigrants and non-immigrants is evident across all levels of education, including university-educated immigrants. It underscores why some immigrants struggle to successfully transfer their skills upon arrival. Among immigrants, however, those who obtained their highest educational attainment in Canada perform better than others perhaps due to having a better knowledge of language and receiving a high-quality education. 

My study shows that, indeed, language is a major factor in the skill gaps between immigrants and non-immigrants. Better language abilities in English or French result in higher literacy outcomes among immigrants, allowing them to do better in the labour market. 

Australia has a comparable immigration system, but its immigrants outperform Canadian immigrants in literacy scores. Why? Australia’s changes to language testing for prospective immigrants in 1999 is a major cause of improvements in the average performance of  immigrants, particularly those with a mother tongue other than English. 

Although Canada announced similar policy reforms to its immigration system around 2010, its approach is more lenient than Australia’s. Canada assigns two-thirds of total possible language points to applicants under the Federal Skilled Worker program (FSW) who meet the minimum English Language Testing level while Australia provides no reward for candidates under its a skilled immigration program with the same level of language proficiency. 

In other words, applicants who demonstrate language skills that meet the most minimal thresholds have a much higher chance of being admitted for immigration in Canada relative to Australia. This implies that Australia’s system targets candidates with superior language skills, who are more easily able to integrate and access more opportunities for gainful employment, while Canada only screens out applicants with very limited language ability. 

The growing importance of immigration as a source of growth for Canada’s labour force requires a more effective immigration points-based system that selects the best candidates, according to their ability to settle in Canada, either by giving more weight to language proficiency or by making language testing more rigorous, or a combination thereof.  

The government can also grant permanent residency to more former international students who obtained Canadian credentials. Further, immigrants not admitted through the points system – those in family class and refugees – tend to struggle the most with literacy, so federal and provincial governments need to make sure new better, more rigorous language training is available.


Parisa Mahboubi is a Senior Policy Analyst at the C.D. Howe Institute. This article has been republished under arrangement.

Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

Sometimes, small things point to large changes.

During my short visit last week to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, I had the opportunity to sit down with one of that country’s leading political scientists to talk about terrorism and PVE – i.e. Preventing Violent Extremism, the newest iteration of CVE – Countering Violent Extremism.

We had a wide-ranging chat in his book-lined office and I also learned that he had studied at Carleton University in Ottawa just before I became a sessional instructor in linguistics at that institution.  Small world indeed. Our conversation was very illuminating, especially when it came to the topic of a shift in Islamic influence in Bangladesh.

So, what was that ‘small thing’?  You may see this as insignificant, but I think it speaks volumes.  There is apparently a tendency in Bangladesh these days to replace the everyday phrase ‘khoda hafez’ (literally ‘may God protect you’ but colloquially used to mean ‘goodbye’) with ‘allah hafez’. 

The difference, of course, is the substitution of the Arabic word for God (‘Allah’) for the Persian one (‘khoda’). 

This tiny shift is nothing less than a sign of the invasion of conservative, intolerant Sunni Islam into the former East Pakistan (more on that later).

The growing dominance of Salafi Sunnism is fairly recent and worrisome.

Bangladeshi Islam has traditionally been Sunni of the Hanafi school with an important influence from Sufi interpretations of the faith.  The growing dominance of Salafi Sunnism is fairly recent and worrisome.  Several terrorist attacks and assassinations have been attributed to Salafi jihadists in the past few years. 

The victims have come from communities which the Salafis see as enemies (in truth, a very long list): Sufis, Shia, non-Muslims (Hindus, Christians), gays…  Perhaps the most serious attack – in what has been called Bangladesh’s ‘9/11’ – was the July 1, 2016 massacre of non-Muslims at a cafe in Dhaka, an operation masterminded by a Canadian terrorist from Windsor, Ontario.

The uptick in violence has many Banglas worried.  Everyone with whom I spoke – government agencies, the UN, academics – are all concerned about where this violence is headed. 

And, it is not only among the Salafi jihadis that violence is being promoted.  Political parties too are jumping on the bandwagon.  It does not help that power in the country has been seesawing over the past decade between two female-led parties that routinely gang up on the other once in office.  The current government, led by the Awami League, has also given in to some outrageous ideas by radical Islamists, such as a demand to remove a statue of Lady Justice from the grounds of the Supreme Court. This ‘dalliance’ with extremists is not helpful.

The apparent sanction of violence in the name of religion threatens to lead to more deaths. 

Bangladesh faces a difficult decision in the run up to national elections next year.  The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina can continue to do deals with the Salafis in order to court their support, but this will only cause more hardship and maintain the transformation of tolerant Bangladeshi Islam to intolerant Salafism. 

At the same time, the regime has to confront the serious Islamist extremist (i.e. terrorist) threat, but must do so while keeping human rights in mind.  The elite Rapid Action Battalion, a counter terrorism body, has been criticised by some rights groups for extra-judicial killings and disappearances.

Bangladesh was born in a bloody civil war in 1971 when the former East Pakistan split from what we now call Pakistan.  The powers that be in Islamabad were not too happy with the independence desires of the eastern half of a country – geographically separated by India in between – and engaged in a slaughter whose victims are estimated at anywhere from 300,000 to three million people. 

In fact, trials of those responsible for the massacre are still being held these days.  It would be truly tragic if another wave of violence is on the horizon. 

But back to that change in ‘goodbye’.  Salafis hate the Shia more than any other group and believe that the only good Shia is a dead one.  Their intolerance has even extended to rejecting a Bangla phrase that contains a Farsi (Persian) word (recall that most Persians are Shia Muslims) for an Arabic one (NB linguistically this  makes little sense: Bangla and Farsi are related Indo-European languages whereas Arabic is a non-related Semitic language). 

This may sound silly and trivial, but sometimes we do have to pay attention to the small things in life.


Phil Gurski worked in the Canadian intelligence community for more than 30 years.  His latest book, The Lesser Jihads, will be published on September 15.

Commentary by: Oksana Bashuk Hepburn in Toronto

Canada turned 150 on July 1. From “a few acres of snow” it has been transformed into one of the world’s most prosperous countries, consistently ranking in the top 10 happiest places to live. It is also a global leader in human rights and multiculturalism. 

Canadians of Ukrainian descent were instrumental in developing both concepts. Walter Tarnopolsky led the articulation of human rights and civil liberties domestically and internationally. In his honour, the Walter Tarnopolsky International Jurist Award is given to distinguished contributors for work in these areas.

In his maiden Senate speech another Ukrainian Canadian formulated the notion of Canada’s multicultural reality. Sen. Paul Yuzyk is viewed as the father of multiculturalism. Furthermore, in a dissenting report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (1966), member Dr. Jaroslav Rudnyckyj argued against biculturalism. He called for the recognition of Canada’s multicultural reality rather than the enshrinement of Anglo-Celtic and French cultures at the expense of all others. 

Canada’s multicultural legislation and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms reflect the work of these notable individuals. 

Other far-reaching contributions include the pioneering work in cancer detection by Dr. Sylvia Fedoruk – later the lieutenant governor of Saskatchewan – and Dr. Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut.

Therefore, it is surprising that the contributions of Canadians of Ukrainian descent – pioneers since 1887 and developers of western Canada – have received little recognition to date in this historic year. Is the Ukrainian connection being white washed?

Perhaps a partial answer lies here. The highlight of Canada’s 150 birthday party in Ottawa was the naming of two new astronauts: Jennifer Sidey and Joshua Kutryk.

Ms. Sidey said she was inspired by Dr. Bondar. Her forebears arrived from Ukraine at the turn of the 20th century. Mr. Kutryk has a distinct Ukrainian surname and hails from Alberta, the heart of Ukrainian Canada. 

Yet there was no linking of these exceptional Canadians to their roots. Despite this omission, there was much praise for Canada’s diversity at the celebrations on Parliament Hill. Prince Charles said it made Canada a wonderful country; Prime Minister Justin Trudeau celebrated it: Diversity is Canada’s answer to dealing with hardship and discrimination. 

It was not always so. 

Ukrainians were among the first non-Anglo-Celtic or French minorities to arrive here. Being first is tough. Hardship and discrimination were as brutal then as they are today in the most unfortunate countries. There were no roads, no hospitals, schools or churches. Officials allocated some of the worst land to the “men in sheepskin coats,” and mocked their dress, language and ethnic origin. The internment of Ukrainians during World War I is now seen as a dark moment in Canada’s history.

It can be said, therefore, that Canada learned how to be a “kinder and gentler society” on the backs of the hundreds of thousands that poured in from Ukraine at the turn of the 20th century. Their experiences led directly to the development of human rights and multiculturalism for Canada. 

So why, on its big birthday, is their outstanding contribution not acknowledged? Has multiculturalism lost its place? Has it become less valuable as other diverse groups – women, visible minorities, the disabled, the LGBT community – advance?

As always, the squeaky wheels get the grease. The Native Indian nations, for instance, received considerable attention during the birthday celebrations. Most likely it’s because they asserted themselves. They erected an illegal but most prominent teepee on the Parliament grounds that they claim to be their land.

Under-recognition is a form of discrimination too. Dr. Bondar and Mr. Kutryk must not be thrown into an Anglo-Celtic/French melting pot that removes these astronauts’ distinct Ukrainian identity. To do so is to go backwards. It is not Canadian. It is wrong. It dishonors and diminishes the work of Messrs. Tarnopolsky, Yuzyk and Rudnyckyj.

Multi-diverse Canadians – that’s all of them – are strengthened when one of their own succeeds: A young woman is inspired to become an astronaut because a woman who is Ukrainian Canadian – a double minority – made it to the stars. Such success proves that Canada works for all.

Going forward, more work is needed in coming to grips with the notion of unity in multicultural diversity. This is particularly pressing as the world’s population shifts among countries at unprecedented rates due to economic imperatives, wars and climate change.

Canadians, comprising 200 different ethnic groups, live this daily. The Ukrainians in Canada led the way with human rights and multiculturalism. Perhaps they will lead in dealing with this issue as well. First, however, they need to be recognized both at home and abroad for these world-changing contributions.

Republished with permission from the Ukrainian Weekly.

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn is a former director with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, senior adviser to the Government of Canada and president of consulting firm dealing with Canada/Ukraine relations that writes on international issues in Canadian and other outlets.

Thursday, 20 July 2017 08:27

Suffer the Children of Islamic State

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Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

If there is one searing image of the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe it is that of the orphanages of Romania. The regime of President Nicolae Ceausescu outlawed both contraception and abortion.  As a consequence, thousands of women left babies that were either unwanted or those that they could not care for at state institutions.  These institutions were understaffed and underfunded. 

When the wall fell  (Ceausescu and his wife were executed on Christmas Day 1989) the world got a look at these orphanages and what it saw was beyond shocking.  Children were often tied to cribs, rocking back and forth in repetitive ways that spoke of a lack of human contact.  Food was insufficient and the care devoted to life’s most vulnerable was largely absent.  A global effort to help these kids ensued and while some undoubtedly ended up okay, thanks probably to the amazing resilience of the human body and mind, many did not and never recovered from their tragic start in life.

We are now faced with a similar situation in Iraq and Syria now that the parody of a state that called itself one – Islamic State – is sinking fast.  Thousands of ‘fighters’ have died at the hands of airstrikes, in battle and in the flames of suicide attacks.  Tens of thousands of civilians in cities like Mosul, taken by IS and ruled with an iron fist, have also died.  And then there are the children.

One of the most striking aspects of the social Frankenstein that was IS was their effort to create an actual self-sustaining society.Unlike other jihads (Somalia, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya…), IS went out of its way to create an image of a normal, functioning state.  Men were encouraged to leave their homes in the West and elsewhere to take up arms to ‘defend Islam’.  Women were encouraged to come and marry those men and help create future generations of IS ‘Islamic Utopia’.  Out of that arrangement came children, naturally, including young boys IS called the ‘lion cubs of the Caliphate’ (the men were the ‘lions’). 

Some of these children were urged (coerced?) to take part in truly heinous acts of violence such as executions and many more were present at public beheadings.  There was even one case of an Australian jihadi who posted a picture of his son, who appears to be between 8 - 10, holding a severed head.  Truly disturbing.

To me all of this is a no-brainer.  These children deserve our help.

Now that IS is all but defeated as a functioning group, what do we do with these children?  We know that war is hell in all cases and that children suffer disproportionately when exposed to death and brutality.  In some cases kids in Iraq were kidnapped by IS and either raped or forced to do terrible things. 

There is already one case of a Yazidi mom in Winnipeg who has learned that her 12-year old son is still alive: she wants him back with her.

To me all of this is a no-brainer. These children deserve our help. Professionals with seasoned experience in dealing with the trauma of war need to be found and persuaded to assist in this regard.  It won’t be easy: just as in the case of Romania, some children will be scarred for life.

We can both hate the barbarity that is IS and feel for the children that are its product. These young people are not at fault and we should do whatever we can to provide them with the best chances to achieve a normal life.  If anything positive can come out of the enormous tragedy that was Islamic State maybe this is it. 

Phil Gurski worked in the Canadian intelligence community for more than 30 years.  His latest book, The Lesser Jihads, will be published on September 15.

Commentary By: Omer Aziz in Toronto 

News that Omar Khadr would receive an official apology from the Canadian government along with a $10.5 million settlement of his civil suit elicited the predictable outcry from the Canadian media. Journalists and commentators questioned the wisdom of the decision and the amount of the settlement, and the narrative that has now taken form is of a convicted terrorist winning a taxpayer-funded lottery at the behest of a naïve prime minister.

The press has not simply questioned the wisdom of the apology and settlement—it has ignored or obscured the relevant facts that made an apology and settlement necessary in the first place. Opinion writers and pundits seem entirely uninterested in what, exactly, Khadr endured during his detention at Guantanamo Bay, and who he became afterwards.

Omar Khadr was fifteen years old in July 2002 when he allegedly threw a grenade at U.S. soldiers, killing Sgt. Christopher Speer. I say “allegedly threw” because the precise facts of what took place that day in the firefight have never been conclusively established: From 2002 to 2008, the official U.S. government story was that Khadr was the sole survivor in the compound after it had been bombarded and shot at—by inference, only Khadr could have thrown the grenade. In 2008, however, a report from the only witness to the firefight was inadvertently released to reporters. In it, the witness claimed that there were two men in the compound. The official government theory was weakened further when it was revealed that Lt. Col. Randy Watt, who had led the American battalion, wrote a report after the firefight describing how the grenade-thrower had been killed in battle. The report was later “updated” to state that the grenade-thrower was shot, not killed.

In normal circumstances, the factual inaccuracies would have been resolved at trial, except that the military commissions under which Khadr was tried were ridden with procedural and prosecutorial errors and deceptions. Khadr was interrogated without his lawyers present, and in the initial phase of the tribunal, could not even see the evidence against him. This was by design. The Bush administration had deliberately created a legal black hole: They argued that prisoners could be held in Guantanamo indefinitely, without charges, without the right to contest their detention, without even the right to know why they were there. The United States Supreme Court eventually found the first military commissions of the Bush administration to be in violation of the Geneva Conventions. As Muneer Ahmad, Omar Khadr’s first lawyer and now a professor at Yale Law School, wrote in 2008:

“The [U.S] government had sought to remove Omar and the other prisoners from the ambit of law, and in doing so, from the world. They chose Guantanamo because it was remote, then cloaked it in darkness, refusing to disclose the names or identities of those there, refusing access to the outside world. Legal erasure enabled physical erasure.”

Of the 780 detainees held in Guantanamo since 2001, 731 were  eventually released without charges—often after a decade of incarceration.

The Canadian press has forgotten all of this, or perhaps they remember it but do not think it relevant. What about torture? At fifteen, Khadr was taken to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan where a bag was placed over his head. He was ordered to stand for hours. Dogs leapt at his chest.

At Guantanamo, and still a teenager, Khadr urinated on himself. The guards poured pine oil on him and dragged the shackled boy through his own piss, using him as a human mop. Khadr was sixteen when Canadian security officials interviewed him at Guantanamo, and then illegally turned over the intelligence to the Pentagon. “Promise me you’ll protect me from the Americans,” the boy said to the representatives of his government. And then he showed them his scars. He cried for his mother. He was beaten, choked, deprived of light, deprived of sleep, forced into harmful stress positions. Guantanamo guards threatened to deport him to Arab countries like Syria where, they claimed, he would be raped by other men. All of this was done to a Canadian teenager, with the Canadian government’s full support.

Under duress, Khadr eventually pled guilty. He agreed to the facts as presented by the Military Commission because he and his lawyers concluded that fighting an unjust system without due process or adequate protections for the accused was an unwinnable battle. Khadr can therefore be called a “convicted terrorist,” but not asking how that “conviction” came about is irresponsible at best, unethical at worst.

So this was the context of the $10.5 million settlement: A child soldier who allegedly threw a grenade at U.S. forces (or didn’t), who was held for thirteen years in an offshore detention center, who was repeatedly abused and tortured with his government’s assistance, whose Charter rights were violated, whose entire youth was spent in chains. Khadr asked for an apology and restitution. He has been treated as though none of this happened, as though he was just a spoiled child who should feel lucky he’s still not in gitmo. The press seems to think that reparations for Khadr’s maltreatment are a bonus that he does not deserve. But this is not about bonuses or windfalls. It is about this country’s past sins, and the moral necessity of acknowledging and atoning for those sins. That’s what enlightened, self-professed democracies do.

The saga of Omar Khadr, however, has never been about law or even policy. It’s been about how we see the crimes of people who do not look like us, and are therefore treated as conditional citizens. Radio host Charles Adler said Khadr was “technically a Canadian”—as if citizenship was subject to technical whims. Margaret Wente opined that “If there is a victim here, people feel, it’s not Mr. Khadr.” John Ivison wrote that “Khadr’s reputation is now tinged with the grubbiness of what many will consider unjust gain.” Who are the “people” and the “many” that Wente and Ivison are ventriloquizing here? They are the Canadian public, who along with the press, do not yet have the moral imagination to countenance that maybe—just maybe—Khadr was also a victim here.

A basic empathy gap has always existed between Canada and Khadr. The minute the label “terrorist” is slapped onto someone—regardless of their age, their circumstances, or even the facts—we begin thinking with the blood. We rush to violate our most sacred principles at the first whiff of anger. Our memories of others’ crimes are always long and detailed, while our own faults are extinguished with the legitimizing elixir of moral superiority. It might feel good to denounce Omar Khadr. It might be cathartic to condemn him as a confessed terrorist. But the rights of citizenship are not abrogated because a citizen has committed a crime. They are not abrogated because the government thinks you have no place in society. Those rights exist to protect all of us, especially the vulnerable.

Omar Khadr spent much of his youth being abused in an unlawful penal colony. He could have come out of this harrowing experience a bitter and spiteful man, hateful of the country who supported his torturers, and vindictive towards the citizens who applauded that decision. Instead, Khadr has conducted himself with the utmost dignity. “My past,” he recently said, “I’m not excusing it. I’m not denying it. We all do things we wish we could change. All I can do right now is focus on the present and do my best to become a productive member of society, a good person, a good human being . . . I want to finish my nursing program. I want to work as a nurse somewhere it’s needed. I want to be able to use my languages and my ability as a nurse to relieve people from pain.” 

After everything that’s happened to him, Khadr is prepared to accept the ills of his past. Perhaps Canada might do the same for its own recent history. 

Republished in partnership with The Walrus

Originally published under headline: "Omar Khadr and the Shame of the Canadian Press".

Monday, 17 July 2017 23:15

We Need more Pride as Canadians

Written by

Commentary by: Mike Stackhouse in Yorkton, Saskatchewan

Celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday should be cause for celebration, but every single media article that cropped up on my social media feed last week had something to do with how racist we are, how intolerant we are, and how much more we need to improve in order to be a welcoming country that we can be proud of. You know, by the time I was done reading all the articles I had to ask myself, “Why do immigrants even want to come to such a shameful, disgusting country like Canada?” I think we can all say we don’t like associating with people who, needlessly, put themselves down. Well, that’s what we do as a collective group in Canada. It seems that if you are of European descent, you need to feel shame and embarrassment to be Canadian and your citizenship is less valuable than someone else’s. 

Not to my surprise, even Justin Trudeau got in on the act. In an interview, he said he wished he was an immigrant because people who have lived here since birth don’t appreciate being Canadian. So, add unpatriotic to the list of bad things about Canadian people. What I’d like to have happen for Trudeau is that we should fly him first class to Syria and then drop him in the middle of a war torn city and wish him all the best as he begins his journey to Canada. I’m betting within his first day, he will take back that desire to be an immigrant. 

Trudeau also delivered a passionate speech on Canada Day, where he rattled off all the names of the provinces and territories. The only problem is that he forgot Alberta. It’s an honest mistake, Trudeau apologists have been telling me all week. I get it. I mean we have 10 provinces and 3 territories. How can anyone, let alone a Prime Minister, be expected to recall them all? It’s tough! You try it! I bet you forget Ontario. 

On America’s birthday, the Canadian government felt that would be the right time to announce they would be giving Omar Khadr $10.5 million as compensation for… well… Depends on your opinion on this whole matter. I feel they are using some legalese to allow Khadr to profit from crime, which is illegal, actually. But the bleeding hearts will tell you he was tortured as a teenager, his rights were violated, and we should pay him an obscene amount of money to make it better. I don’t think he’s owed a penny for killing a decorated US soldier. Khadr was 15. I have a 15 year old son. He doesn’t need me to teach him anything with regards to knowing whether or not killing another human being is a good or bad thing. We are so stupid in this country. I just find it incredible that we have native communities with no drinking water and we can’t afford to rectify that situation, yet we can just write a cheque for $10.5 million to Khadr and put it in his hands instantly. I’d like to know how we arrived at $10.5 million as opposed to $1 million. Or $100 000. Or $1. This doesn’t pass the sniff test to me at all. Canada is so far in debt we will never see the light at the end of the tunnel in any of our lifetimes. So, ‘sorry’ and ‘hey, we’d give you $10 million if we had the dough, but we don’t; have a nice life’ would work for me. 

Now for the real rub on this. There is a hearing in Ontario on Wednesday to see if the American soldiers’ families involved in the Khadr incident can go after his Canadian money. Why was the government in a hurry to get this deal finished and completed before Wednesday? Khadr owes the American families $134 million, so he really should turn over all $10.5 million to them. Yet, it appears to me that there has been some corrupt legal work done behind the scenes where the Canadian government has done Khadr a favor so that, just in case he loses Wednesday’s hearing, the $10.5 million can’t be touched by the Americans because it was given to Khadr before the hearing and any money he gets before that hearing would be off limits. Sneaky. Dirty. Wrong. And, if Khadr has turned into a ‘good guy’ why isn’t he, voluntarily, giving some (or all) of this payment to the Americans who it has been determined he owes? 

This is as underhanded as it gets. Forget the whole ‘giving millions to a terrorist’ argument. There are left wing whackos out there who will say he wasn’t a terrorist at all, but rather a ‘child soldier’ who was clueless as to what he was doing. I’m just not that gullible. I also feel that when it comes to war, there are no rules. So if you want to waterboard or deprive sleep to a 15 year old terrorist in order to get crucial information, you do it. I recognize a lot of you won’t share that opinion and that’s fine. But forget all this. The seedy method of rushing this before Wednesday’s hearing can’t be argued by anyone. It’s Canada siding with Khadr and against the United States and our feelings on that decision need to be made clear when we vote in 2019.

Republished with permission.

Saturday, 08 July 2017 00:36

Canada Should not be Compensating Khadr

Written by

Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

Well, the inevitable has happened. We all knew it was coming. Canada’s most famous ‘child soldier’, Omar Khadr, is about to receive an apology and a compensation package from the Canadian government – i.e. the Canadian tax payer – ” for abuses he suffered while detained in the U.S. military prison for captured and suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”

Cue the outrage.

There is so much to say on this case, far more than is reasonable to expect in a blog post, but I will try to distil what I think is important. Firstly and by far most importantly, Omar Khadr was captured on a battlefield while fighting, and trying very hard to kill, Allied forces in Afghanistan while in the employ of a recognised terrorist group.  Full stop. He was fighting with a terrorist group that wants nothing more to re-impose its hateful, intolerant, pre-Medieval aberration of Islam on fellow Afghans and kill a lot of people in the process. Ergo, he was a terrorist.

We cannot continue to offer knee-jerked apologies to everyone who ‘palled around’ with terrorists or engaged in terrorist activity and then suffered as a result.

We can argue forever whether Mr. Khadr was a willing member of the Taliban or coerced into joining by his deceased father’s warped sense of Islam. He may very well have had no choice, having been raised in a family sympathetic to Al Qaeda – by the way, Al Qaeda is another recognised terrorist group. But to call him a child soldier is an insult to all the real child soldiers who are ripped from the bosom of their families (and in many cases forced to kill or witness the slaughter of their parents and siblings)  in conflicts around the world. No, Omar Khadr was not a child soldier: he was a (perhaps unwilling?) member of at least one group that the Canadian government has listed as a terrorist organisation.

Secondly, did Canada or Canadians send Mr. Khadr to Guantanamo?  No, we did not, the Americans did. If anyone is to pay compensation, and I am not saying that such is warranted, it is Uncle Sam not taxpayers from Moose Jaw. We did not run Guantanamo, we did not subject Mr. Khadr to whatever treatment he suffered.  We owe him nothing to ‘make up’ for what happened to him.

Thirdly, did Canadian officials (read: CSIS) act improperly when they were invited to question Mr. Khadr in Guantanamo?  No, they did not.  They were doing the very job we ask them to do, investigate terrorist threats to this country and keep us safe. Mr.Khadr was the son of a man well known to our spies for his terrorist links.  He may have been privy to information about others he met in Afghanistan who could have posed a threat to all of us back here in Canada. CSIS would have been remiss, and professionally negligent in my view, if they had not run down every possible intelligence lead and elected not to talk to Mr. Khadr, even if it meant going to Cuba.

I have written it before and I will repeat it here.  I do not know if Mr. Khadr is a reformed man.  I do not know if he regrets what he did, the ideology he subscribed to, or the associations he made.  Only he knows that. I do wish him well on his continued journey to ‘normalcy’ but Canada did not make Mr. Khadr a terrorist.  He did that himself, with the help of his family.  That, in the end, is something we must not forget.

The payment of compensation to Canadians who claim to have suffered ill treatment at the hands of other nations at our behest has become a mini-industry. We are doling out millions to people for reasons that are not always clear, at least not to me. This has to stop. We cannot continue to offer knee-jerked apologies to everyone who ‘palled around’ with terrorists or engaged in terrorist activity and then suffered as a result.  And we should not offer money to those who were mistreated by other nations: those responsible for the ill-treatment should pay.

I am not a slippery slope argument fan but I do fear that if we don’t nip this trend in the bud we will see many more cases along these lines. What is next: someone sues CSIS because of a routine interview after which they felt ‘stressed’? Do we want CSIS to do its job or not?

I repeat, this merry-go round of apologies and money has to stop.

Phil Gurski spent more than 30 years in the Canadian intelligence community.  His latest book "The Lesser Jihads" is available for pre-order on Amazon. 

Thursday, 06 July 2017 09:42

Let’s Shout these Far-right Losers Down

Written by

Commentary by Phil Gurski in Ottawa

As I have stated on many occasions, the threat to Canada from Islamist extremist groups represents by far the single greatest priority for our security services – CSIS, the RCMP and provincial and municipal police forces. 

We have seen around a dozen plots, both foiled and successful, since 9/11, the most recent one being the attack at a Canadian Tire in Scarborough on June 3.  Thankfully, even in the cases where people subscribing to hateful and loathsome interpretations of Islam were able to set in motion their terrorist intent, few have died. 

To date, only Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent (October 20, 2014) and Warrant Officer Nathan Cirillo (October 22, 2014) – RIP gentlemen – have lost their lives in terrorist attacks. Three terrorists have also been killed by law enforcement so far in Canada (Martin Couture-Rouleau, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and Aaron Driver).

At the same time we cannot ignore other manifestations of the terrorist threat.  For instance, we have been witnessing a worrying spike in demonstrations and antagonism by self-styled ‘patriot’ groups (is it just me or does this sound very American?).  A few examples will help illustrate my point:

On July 1, a group of people belonging to the Quebec groups La Meute (French for ‘the pack’) and Storm Alliance showed up at the Vermont-Quebec border to protest the entry of asylum seekers into Canada.

Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) has warned that the ‘Sons of Odin’ are not afraid to use violence and may engage in ‘anti-immigrant vigilantism‘.

Five serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces participated in a Proud Boys crashing of a First Nations protest at the Edward Cornwallis statue in Halifax. Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance is not impressed.

And these are just three samples of late. In addition a Vice.com article recently provided a useful overview of anti-Islamic groups in this country.  The reading is not comforting.  So what’s up?

Ignorance and hate, that’s what’s up. 

These groups hide behind some self-styled notions of patriotism and nationalism in their claims that they are protecting Canada from a litany of ills: Muslims, illegal immigrants, uppity First Nations… They often shroud themselves in our flag as if they are somehow the only ones that ‘get’ what it means to be Canadian. 

They usually show up wearing black, looking all fascist-like and give off strong signs that they are willing to resort to violence to make whatever point they are trying to make. Some appear to be channeling some inner Norse god fetish (Sons of Odin).

What level of threat they truly pose is unclear. La Meute claims on its Facebook page that it has more than 8,000 members: the ‘World Coalition Against Islam (WCAI)’ claims 12,000.  While these numbers are astonishing it is unclear what a ‘member’ means. 

I am not saying that we should ignore these people, but I am not sure what effort needs to be leveraged to monitor them to keep their potentially violent acts in check. We need more data and more analysis on what this is all about.

In any event I suspect that neither CSIS nor the RCMP have spare resources to adequately carry out national security investigations against these people to determine just how dangerous they are. The Islamist extremist threat is still using up the lion’s share of officers as it should. Maybe both agencies need a boost in personnel to deal with this new menace.

One thing is certain: we Canadians have a role to play. We need to shout these losers down.

Just as the vast, vast majority of Canadian Muslims regularly denounce acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam, so must all Canadians say loudly and unreservedly that these folk do not represent anything but hate. They are not devoted to our ‘protection’. Their activities are neither welcome nor tolerated. We must express our rejection of their bile, as counter demonstrators did in Calgary.

Hate is hate, irrespective of motive, and we have a duty to say we will not stand by and allow it to fester.

Phil Gurski spent more than 30 years in the Canadian intelligence community.  His latest book "The Lesser Jihads" is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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