Oct 5, 2016 (Toronto, Canada) Have you ever dreamt of speed dating with Estonians? Now’s your chance. Well, sort of. Toronto’s annual Estonian Documentary Film Festival (EstDocs) kicks off with a public showing of this year’s short films where you vote for the Audience Award at the 8th Annual Short Film Competition October 14th at 7:30pm.
Hosted at the Camera Bar, you’ll have the opportunity to explore Estonian culture through featured short films from all over the world. And unlike a bad date, these films won’t drag on – they vary in lengths of seven minutes or less.
The Estonian Life
Commentary by Bernice Cheung in Toronto
For many of us, the first thing that comes to mind when we think of immigrants is a struggling population — those who come here with little understanding of the culture they’re entering into, only to spend a generation struggling so they can give their children a better future. It’s a story that Saima Naz knows all too well.
Saima moved to Montreal from Pakistan with her family when she was a small child. Her parents came here with an attitude that paying cash is always best. They had little understanding of the way finances worked in the developed Western world, and were wary of taking on any debt.
As Saima describes it, her family always had enough to survive, but they were missing out on opportunities. If her parents had had a better understanding of finance and not been so averse to debt, they could have been much better off — and Saima was determined not to make the same mistakes. At 15, she opened her first bank account, and by 21 she had taken out a $5,000 loan to start a small business. She purchased her first family home for about $500,000 when she was 23 and today, 11 years later, that property is valued at well over $1 million.
It’s a familiar story, considered by many to be the norm for a successful immigration cycle. An immigrant generation struggles and sacrifices so that their children can build the knowledge they need to thrive in the following generation.
Today, though, that narrative seems to apply less and less. In actuality, our data suggest that emerging technologies in today’s highly connected world have significantly widened the spectrum of a typical immigrant success story. Having conducted an annual survey to understand new Canadians’ financial habits, product usage, attitudes and satisfaction towards their financial institutions since 2010, the Cultural Markets team at Environics Research has kept a close eye on this recent new trend.
Rather than observing more of the same struggling newcomer narrative over and over, our team has discovered a new story emerging — one that tells the tale of a more prepared population, ready and excited for the challenges of entering a new cultural situation. Our data shows that, even before their arrival, this new generation of immigrants is doing their research and diligently preparing for upcoming challenges. When we asked newcomers who arrived in the past five years when they opened their first bank account, almost three in 10 (28%) say they had done so before they made the move.
Moreover, we’ve seen a steadily increasing proportion of newcomers agreeing with the statement “I feel as though [we] have the knowledge to get the most out of the financial services choices available in Canada”— revealing a confidence we’ve rarely seen from past generations of newcomers.
It’s much more than simply being prepared ahead of time, though. This generation of immigrants also appears to be much more financially savvy than their previous generational counterparts, and they expect more from their financial institutions. Of those newcomers that came here in the past five years, a whopping 75% have opened a second Canadian bank account with a different financial institution within a year of moving, and 11% had switched institutions completely.
When asked why they switched from their first financial institution, just over four in ten (43%) stated that they wanted better rates, while many others cited better customer service/tone or attitude as key factors.
This move away from financial complacency shows that, for this new generation, the research doesn’t stop. They study ahead of time and continue to actively evaluate the quality of their financial institution from the moment they arrive. They are constantly learning and making changes to better their situation.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this new financial sophistication also appears to be moving beyond just banking and into investment practices. Of the newcomers that came to Canada within the last three years, 46% now use a mutual fund company. It’s a trend that reveals a major opportunity for not only mutual fund companies, but also for financial advisors. Newcomers that came to Canada in the past 10 years represent a total of $55 billion in portfolio investments, but over half of those newcomers still do not have a dedicated advisor. By any standard, that is a massive, potentially missed market for advisors to build a strategy around.
These savvy newcomer investors need products that are geared to their needs, and advisors that can speak their language, both literally and figuratively. Customer service, and the right tone and attitude, rank high on the list of things newcomers look for in an institution. Advisors can significantly differentiate themselves among these groups of newcomers by simply gaining an understanding of cultural differences towards financial planning and investments.
It may seem counter to the popular narrative surrounding immigration, but newcomers to Canada in the past 10 years from South Asia alone hold $17 billion in their investment portfolios. That’s a far cry from the days of Saima’s parents being averse to the idea of even taking a loan — and it’s a figure that financial advisors should take note of.
Bernice is VP of Cultural Markets and Financial Services at Environics Research Group. She brings over 12 years of marketing and management consulting experience from financial services and consumer goods, helping clients with quantitative and qualitative market research, organizational strategy, segmentation and targeting. Prior to leading Environics' Cultural Markets group, Bernice led the Ethnic Practice Areas at Nielsen and Altus Strategy Group. Contact Bernice.Cheung@Environics.ca
by Shan Qiao in Toronto
Hiring multi-language speaking staff, creating real-time interpretation apps, even launching an ethnic bank to serve primarily immigrants, Canadian banking business operators are getting fiercely competitive to woo business from immigrants.
Aiming to “become a preferred bank for the Chinese community in Canada”, Wealth One Bank of Canada (WOBC) has begun operations in Vancouver and Toronto. It is the very first Chinese-founded and -invested bank in Canada, a federally chartered Schedule I Bank under the Bank Act and regulated by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.
The man behind it, the founder and also the Vice Chair of the WOBC Board, Shenglin Xian, says from his Vancouver office that there are only 28 such foreign banks in Canada. “It is a historic moment for the Chinese community.”
Shenglin Xian, who is a well-known Chinese community financial advisor, has his own company Shenglin Financial Group Inc. located in North York, Toronto. He got into financial consultancy after he immigrated to Canada in 1990.
Same language, better understanding
“Currently, we will focus on serving the Chinese Canadians from the Great Vancouver Area and the Great Toronto Area. We will hire Mandarin and Cantonese speaking employees. Our service slogan is ‘same language, better understanding (translation)’,” he continues, explaining what he envisions as a respect for Chinese values and culture.
“Although all five major banks in Canada provide Chinese language service, the banking system is still operated under mainstream preference. We want to favour our Chinese clients with a tailored and Asian-styled service,” he continues.
Ming Gu, a senior news producer from Toronto, also a Chinese immigrant who came to Canada in early 90's like Shenglin, has worked on a couple of translation projects for one of the five major banks for their Chinese language website.
He completely agrees with the fact that providing ethnic language service is not quite the same as bridging two different banking systems: Canada’s and the immigrant source country's.
“China’s (banking system) is even more different. The policy and products are very much in the different zones as well. Service literally translated into Chinese language might not be helpful for immigrants to understand the meaning behind. For example, credit rating in Canada is very critical for banks to determine whether or not applicants can apply for line of credit and how much they can get. One SIN number check will bring up a very detailed credit history of the applicant. However, it doesn’t really exist in China’s banking system, letting along for Chinese newcomers to understand the importance of credit rating,” Ming explains.
Maggie Yuan works at a public relations firm which provides multi-language translation services for corporate Canada's ethnic marketing needs in the Chinese and South Asian markets.
“For economic reasons, mainstream comapnies can’t afford to overlook the needs of immigrant communities. For big corporate accounts, I have been dealing with, especially in bank, insurance, public service, entertainment industry, the needs to have Chinese language translation have always been increasing. Companies strategically promote their investment in diversity to gain positive image in immigrant community. It’s quite political, but it’s also about business,” she says.
Overcoming language, culture barriers
The major Canadian banks are also stepping up, developing faster and more convenient tools to woo immigrant clients who face a language barrier. Just last month, Royal Bank of Canada, which already has a Chinese version of its website besides the official English and French language, introduced a new app – the first of its kind in North America – that provides clients with real-time video access to qualified interpreters.
Christine Shisler, RBC's Senior Director of Cultural Markets, explains why such a language app makes business sense.
“Regardless of which RBC branch a client visits, we’ll be able to offer service in the language of choice. This is critical in helping our client – especially newcomers – understand how banking works in Canada.”
Shisler stresses out that RBC wants to be the bank that newcomers turn to for all of the important firsts – from first bank account to first home purchase. That means a lot of tailored service in language and cultural senses.
Going further, the bank’s Beijing staff, for example, will help students and family initiate their financial transition even before they arrive in Canada, a more aggressive business approach similar to what Wealth One Bank of Canada is doing in the reverse direction.
Commentary by Pradip Rodrigues in Mississauga
Last week, a racist Kijji ad seeking renters for a basement apartment in Mississauga briefly drew attention from the media because of the line: “If you are a “black guy, you should not inquire about the unit.”
Several lawyers when asked were of the opinion that this was a racist ad that violated the human rights code. Part of the reason the story died a natural death and sank like a stone has to do with the fact that the homeowner who put out the offensive ad was South Asian or brown. Now had that homeowner been White with a last name like Anderson, Bean or Stewart, it would have been a far different story. In fact you wouldn’t hear the end of it.
The story would’ve made international headlines, no doubt about it. The homeowner would’ve been skewered by all, politicians and definitely the mayor would’ve stepped in with harshly worded statements abhorring racism, we’d all be lectured about tolerance, respect and equality, above all our political leaders would take this opportunity or Godsend to extol the policy of multiculturalism. Our politicians, mostly the Caucasians would exploit that opportunity to score brownie points (pardon the pun) with ethnic minorities, notably South Asian who in a few short years will be the majority.
Back to our ‘story’, because this homeowner happened to be brown he could get away with it.
Most brown people don’t believe they can be called racists ever even if they harbor racist attitudes toward other ethnicities including white people. They believe their browness insulates them from any criticism on that front. In the minds of many South Asians, they have experienced racism usually only from whites. So lets say a brown person encounters a rude black salesperson, he or she will simply call it ‘terrible customer service and talk to the manager about it. But when a brown person encounters a rude White salesperson, the complaint is about being a victim of racism. Brown people can shrug off indifferent service at a Chinese supermarket and never put it down to racism.
Sounding like matrimonial ads
A few weeks ago, an Uber driver in Toronto was the focus of attention when he got into a verbal and slightly physical exchange with a female passenger of Pakistani origin. The Uber driver is alleged to have told her that “Muslim Pakistani women should keep quiet.” This made the woman and the journalists covering the story conclude that this was blatant racism. The only problem was that the driver happened to be a Pakistani immigrant as well. Not a single presumably White journalist questioned her narrative and blindly reported her statements without challenging it. Now had the Uber driver been White, he’d not only be blacklisted but would in all probability have to leave town for his or her own safety.
Any human rights lawyer would tell you very quietly ofcourse, that even brown and black people can be racist. It isn’t only White people who are born with the so-called racism gene so to speak. Look at the way African students in India are treated, many of them swear they get treated with dignity in Europe while in India they are subjected to racist slurs, hostility and even violence. The experience of Indians from the North-East who live in cities like New Delhi and Mumbai are similarly well documented.
South Asians have very strong views when it comes to certain races and cultures and color. Our matrimonial ads speak of our preferences for particular castes and fair-skin. Increasingly our advertisements for rental units for example are beginning to sound like matrimonial ads.
A community of landlords
In recent years South Asians have emerged as one of the biggest investors in the real estate boom especially in the Peel Region. It is fairly common for South Asian families to rent out their basements or second properties. Naturally then, they treat such rental ads the same way if they would a matrimonial ad. Unfortunately it goes against code, fortunately their transgressions are overlooked by politicians, lawyers and other activists. We brown immigrants after all are treated like guests to a party, how can we find fault with them? It is easier to blame the host for being a bad host!
I have seen rental ads placed by a Muslim saying he only wanted Muslim renters. Another one placed by a Hindu vegetarian was looking for a strict Hindu vegetarian renter for his basement apartment. I spoke to a lawyer who said such ads went against the human rights code but somehow no one seems particularly offended by such ads placed by brown people.
Many South Asian landlords who rent out their basements have no qualms in saying they are justified to specify the ethnicity and profile of the renter they would like living in their basement. It is a security concern which means that these landlords could end up preferring a new South Asian immigrant over a Caucasian couple or blacks or Hispanics. But such preference won’t be construed as being racist and so politicians, lawyers, activists and community leaders won’t step in.
But increasingly, many South Asian landlords place ads that discriminate even South Asians who happen to worship another God or eat the ‘wrong’ food. A vegetarian landlord feels he is well within his rights to ban any meat-eaters from renting his basement apartment. After all, he wouldn’t want his space defiled by the smell of non-vegetarian cooking.
Caucasians could never get away with it
I am quite sure that if a W.A.S.P (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) landlord placed an ad for a renter and specified that they should be White only, South Asians and everyone in society would be outraged. He’d find himself tied up in legal tangles for years.
Racism is defined as a system where a dominant race benefits off the oppression of others. But what happens if the soon-to-be-dominant race (South Asian) in Peel Region for example indulges in blatant profiling and discriminates against other races including Whites? Will they be taken to task? Will municipal councilors, mayors and other politicians start preaching to them about pluralism and anti-racist legislation? Will they be excoriated for their views, shamed and made to feel guilty? Will they be accused of misusing their brown privilege?
Pradip Rodrigues is currently the editor of Can-India, a weekly newspaper and website catering to the South Asian diaspora in the GTA. He immigrated to Canada in 2000 and currently lives with his wife and young son in Mississauga. Prior to coming to Canada, he was the Assistant Editor at Bombay Times, then the city section of the Times of India.
This comment has been re-published with permission from Can-India.
Review by Anita Singh in Toronto
Almost 40 years ago, my grandparents changed our family’s history by deciding to move to Canada. I recently asked my grandma about her immigration story.
She wistfully told me of the navy blue suits tailored for her husband and sons, her special saree, and the frock for her then-young daughter to wear on the flight.
With amazing clarity for her 80-plus years, Dadi recounted the first house she bought with my grandfather, how every member of the family worked to make sure the mortgage was paid and how they slowly but surely made Canada their home.
‘Weather-Permitting & Other Stories’ by Pratap Reddy is a collection of stories that taps into a similar wistfulness. The 12 short stories in this collection wonderfully narrate some of the universal aspects of the immigrant experience – the nervous excitement, inherent disappointment, and yet, steadfast determination for success.
What makes this collection unique is Reddy’s willingness to talk about the darker side of this experience. His stories do not shy away from broken marriages, children sent back to India to stay with grandparents, the disabling lack of Canadian experience or education to gain employment, and most significantly, the loneliness associated with being far away from ‘home’.
In ‘Going West’, the character named ‘The Prince’ is a creative foil to the newly-arrived Kumar, foreshadowing the learning curve of each immigrant when coming to Canada. “You should approach an employment agency. They pay about 12 dollars an hour for factory jobs,” he suggests, highlighting the reality of some immigrants as they try to gain any foothold in Canada.
Kumar wonders, “Did he think I came halfway across the globe to become general labour? The Prince was aware that I had held a middle level position in HR in India.”
Reddy also does an excellent job narrating the different stages of the immigrant journey, which does not begin or end on arrival in Canada, but lingers every day.
In ‘The Toy Flamingo,’ Venky, despite being settled in Canada for 10 years, discovers that an important part of his personal history still lies in India. As he surrounds himself with people and places in his new homeland, an uninvited memory invades Venky’s outwardly perfect life, “‘Hasve agataday’ I cry out. Something falls to the ground with a crash. I hear him mutter in a strange language. I’m certain now that dinner will take even longer to come.”
Venky’s lifestory is an excellent metaphor for how an immigrant’s relationship with their former homelands continue to affect their lives – even while attempting, desperately even, to become Canadian.
Relying on stereotype
However, as a second-generation Canadian, I do take issue with Reddy’s continuous reliance on the stereotype that portrays settled Indo-Canadians as selfish, distant, uncouth and presumptuously inhospitable, who lose their ‘Indianness’ in their adoption of a new life in Canada.
This anti-Indo-Canadian bias runs tacitly throughout the collection.
In ‘Mango Fool,’ Kavita describes her Indo-Canadian customer as “a big woman, bulging out of her blue jeans and nondescript top” who becomes hostile when questioned about her sale purchases. In this story, Reddy pits the niceties of Kavita’s Indian sensibilities against the brashness of the Indo-Canadian customer. Settled immigrants in Canada, Shyam and Shilpa in ‘Her White Christmas’ are barely tolerant of Shyam’s Indian mother’s presence in their home, while in ‘Weather Permitting’, the landlord Maya is scheming and unfair to the newly-immigrated Ravi, eventually kicking him out of the house into the cold Canadian winter.
In ‘Demon Glass’, the hardworking newcomer Lalita is targeted by the overwhelming libido of Indo-Canadian Prem, who preys on the single mother and her daughter. And in ‘Going West’, Kumar passes considerable judgment on his first entry into the Patel guesthouse, noting “I was at once assailed by the stale aroma of Indian cooking. I had not experienced such a powerful bouquet in India where a billion mouths fed on Indian cuisine everyday.”
Reddy has told a one-dimensional story about Indo-Canadians, missing an opportunity to include the positives of the immigrant experience that have emerged from 100 years of Indian immigration to Canada. He ignores how the Indo-Canadian community has succeeded in developing a comfortable co-existence of Indianness and Canadianess, where cultural events, places of worship, cricket pitches, Indian languages and arts schools create a home and community for many immigrants, while becoming an integral part of Canada’s multicultural society.
Despite these misgivings, Weather Permitting and Other Stories is a welcome addition to the growing Canadian literature on immigration. I look forward to Reddy’s forthcoming full-length novel and new collection of short stories as an ongoing contribution to this important literature.
Anita Singh is Toronto-based consultant and a Research Fellow at the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University. Her research examines the role of diaspora groups and their influence on foreign policy, particularly the Indo-Canadian community and Canada-India relations.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves has appointed Toronto born Kyllike Sillaste-Elling as the Permanent Representative of Estonia to NATO.
The appointment of Sillaste-Elling as ambassador and permanent representative to NATO takes effect on Aug. 1, 2017, it appears from the website of the Office of the President of the Republic.
The Estonian Life
by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City
The recent death of Abdirahman Abdi after his violent arrest in Ottawa and the 2015 police shooting of Andrew Loku in Toronto challenge the “meanwhile in Canada” dichotomy that says racial profiling only happens in America.
Racial profiling by police is not a new phenomenon. The ability to now document aggression by law enforcement against Black Canadians and Americans and other visible minorities and broadcast the footage around the world makes this long-standing injustice hard to ignore.
At the same time, we meet a younger cohort that is forcing down those walls in order to be heard.
More story needed
Short stories go well with short attention spans, delivering the main elements of a good story in one quick dose.
At the same time, they can leave many questions unanswered. To sum them all into one: “What happens next?”
Most of the stories in All My Fallen Angelas fall into the latter category.
Just as we are on the cusp of getting to know the characters, and finding our way around the intricacies of their lives, we are abruptly halted and told to move on.
This is a sign of Patriarca’s ability as an engaging storyteller, but also begs whether some endings could be more convincing.
After much pondering, it is hard to determine whether it’s better for the author to provide more finality to her stories, or to allow readers to explore the possibilities on their own.
Alice Munro, arguably Canada’s most well-known short story writer, also gives readers much to think about through her writing.
On writing short stories, Munro told The New York Times 30 years ago, “I don't really understand a novel. I don't understand where the excitement is supposed to come in a novel, and I do in a story . . . I kind of want a moment that's explosive, and I want everything gathered into that.”
Historical roots to popular images
Like Patriarca, Munro also writes about women; she has been called a feminist writer. While her stories focus mostly on women in Southwestern Ontario, Patriarca’s reside in Toronto, from the 1960s onward.
We are introduced to characters that bear resemblance to the stereotypical Italian nonna — the grandmother who is the family’s cook, religious authority and resident matchmaker. The classic image of the Italian male with slicked back hair and leather shoes also makes an appearance.
Though these characters seem caricatured in most other settings, Patriarca’s stories provide a glimpse into their historical roots.
We learn about some of the traditions that Italian immigrants brought with them to Canada and their cultural importance.
While traditional interests, such as prayer and homemaking, persuade many older characters, the younger ones express the desire to break away from old customs by becoming entrepreneurs, refusing arranged marriages and deciding not to have families.
“Do I tell her that a man is not what I want?” ponders the narrator in “My Grandmother is Normal.”
“Rather, marriage to a man is not what I want. My time, this place, allows me that choice. How do I make her understand that the world has changed?”
What was vs. what is
The stories also show us how some predominantly Italian neighbourhoods in Toronto have evolved as immigration to Canada has expanded.
“The new residents in the neighbourhood, whose long braids are often covered by lovely scarves, seem reluctant to come into her shop although on occasion Vicky is challenged by the requests of a new customer who will bare her head to reveal black torrents of lustrous hair,” writes Patriarca about Vicky’s salon in the story “Blonde Forever.”
The older characters also note the way they see their neighbourhood changing as a result of gentrification, technology and new social norms.
In “Anna at the Window,” Anna laments the declining attendance at her church, the long distances she must travel for her groceries, and the fact that young gentlemen no longer tip their hats and open doors for her.
“The area now catered to a different crowd, a different way of life, and although she understood that time had moved and that was the natural way of the world, it did not make her feel any better. Time is about loss, she thought, and loss is never a good thing.”
The contrast between young and old, between what was and what is now, is explored throughout All My Fallen Angelas and asks the reader to reflect on whether all change is really for the better, or whether as Anna suggests, it represents some loss.
These contrasts also suggest that while men have historically done most of the decision making in politics and business, it is women who witness and bear the brunt of how these choices affect society at large.
While women today may be better positioned to have an impact on the world around us, Patriarca’s stories are a reminder to never dismiss the sacrifices of our nonnas and other women that brought us here.
Rosanna Haroutounian is a freelance writer and the assignment editor at New Canadian Media. She studied journalism and political science at Carleton University and now splits her time between Quebec City and Peterborough, ON.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
Commentary by Rinaldo Walcott in Toronto
There is widespread consensus that social media has impacted legacy media in a significant way. And, legacy media is fighting back in ways that undermine responsible journalism.
One way the impact has been felt by legacy media (also called "traditional"/"mainstream" media) is that almost everyone can get their opinion out on social media in a way that circumvents news organizations. The proliferation of multiple and different points of views now on offer in both social media and legacy media appear on first instinct to be a good and necessary societal change.
There are more voices and positions to be heard and read.
But, as social media has impacted the public sphere, a growing and dangerous trend has emerged that requires careful thought.
The two sides conundrum
Recently, on a segment of The Current a CBC Radio 1 show, I suggested that the prevalence of ‘two sides to each story’ in media reports needs to be rethought. More specifically, I suggested that the ‘two sides’ method of reporting has become a significant problem while writing about racism, xenophobia, fascism and the far right.
I see it as a problem for telling the story because this kind of reporting legitimates a politics that need not be legitimated.
In western liberal representative democracies, there is consensus that the far right is an illegitimate political position and formation. The consensus supposes that racism, xenophobia, anti-immigrant views, Islamophobia and so on are positions of the far right that must – and rightly so – should be repudiated.
The idea of repudiation is lodged in the history and notion that giving credence to such ideas can and could plunge us back into the sort of abyss marked so powerfully by the Jewish Holocaust in western societies.
And yet, in contemporary media culture, the far right is increasingly presented to us as the ‘other side’ of the argument; as the legitimate other side.
Balancing the story
Why is this a problem?
In my view, to present the far right as the legitimate other side of an argument does two important things: Firstly, it suggests that the far right’s arguments on racism, xenophobia and anti-immigration are legitimate views and arguments that the larger society must grapple with.
Secondly, it suggests that a balanced story is being presented to media consumers.
Indeed, nothing can be further from the truth.
And, furthermore, there are ways to present the arguments of the far right without giving them a platform to further cement their dangerous arguments and potentially recruit others to its anti-human political project
Indeed, one might argue that this kind of ‘two sides’ reporting has aided in the emergence of Marie Le Pen in France, Nigel Farage in the U.K. and Donald Trump in the U.S. All of them are politicians whose views would have been clearly and unequivocally rejected and got no airing in the post-World War II era.
In our historical moment, the re-emergence of a much more public far right requires a necessary and urgent response: a response that does not equivocate in unmasking its hate-filled rhetoric, politics and political formation.
The question is, how do we do this?
I propose that we do this by not giving them a media platform. The way in which we do it is to first present the counter argument. The media has been fairly good at offering the counter argument. So, I will not quibble there too long. Let me instead turn to where the media is failing us.
Shut them down
It appears that the media seems to believe that it must produce far right personalities and voices as the balance to the story. I want to suggest that this is not the right approach.
Those who study the far right and who can speak clearly to their appeal, resurgence, and political formation should constitute the other side of the conversation.
What this means is that debating the far right should be a no-go in our media landscape.
Therefore, those who can help us make sense of the far right’s more public re-emergence in the age of social media should constitute the opposite side of the coin.
Now, some will say we need to hear from them directly, to not censor them, to unmask their hate-filled agenda. Not giving them the public airwaves is not censorship at all.
So, my answer is a blunt, No.
Rinaldo Walcott is Associate Professor and the Director of the Woman and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto.
Read also: Does Facebook Owe Its Users a Public Editor?
by Shan Qiao in Toronto
Queer activist Arsham Parsi took a risk when he left Iran and began to help other Iranians escape persecution for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).
At a reading for his book Exiled for Love at the Toronto Public Library’s St. James Town branch, Parsi recalls the first time he attended Toronto’s Pride Parade 10 years ago, where he met an Iranian woman enjoying the parade.
He gave her his business card, hoping to get support from his own community.
“‘This is not us, this is them!’ she said and turned her face and walked away,” Parsi recalls. “I think I must have ruined her day because she couldn’t believe that Iranian LGBT exist.”
In search of a community
Instead of clustering in Iranian-populated communities, Parsi says he chooses to reside in Toronto’s LGBT-oriented enclave in the Church and Wellesley area. While Canada is embracing his sexuality, he says his own countrymen still deny him and other Iranian queers.
“[Former Iranian] President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was not the first one to say that we don't have homosexuals [in Iran],” says Parsi. “I clearly remember that lady saying, ‘We don’t have it.’”
Parsi was already active during his early 20s in providing support to gay men in Iran through an online community. Still in Iran, he planned his 22-year-old birthday party at home and invited all his gay friends, only to be warned by a relative that there would be a police raid.
He says he called off the party at the last minute and learned that the police were using the Internet to entrap gay men.
While he was never arrested, he knows other homosexuals in Iran who were. Of his gay friends who were taken into custody, some received 175 lashes on their backs, while others were tortured during interrogations.
Parsi says the immanent danger he felt every day was intolerant, forcing him to escape Iran. He told his family that he was going to study at a university in Cypress, but instead took a train to Turkey and sought asylum through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ankara.
From exile to acceptance
Parsi writes about being attacked with another gay Iranian refugee in Turkey while onlookers stood by. It took him a little over one year to finally receive refugee status and be accepted to Canada.
“Since arriving at the Canadian Embassy in Ankara, I had been treated with genuine openness and warmth,” Parsi writes in Exiled for Love. “The man smiled. I hoped that everyone in Canada would be like him.”
Upon arrival in Toronto in May 2006, Parsi says he, “inhaled deeply and felt the tears create wet paths across my cheeks . . . I felt as if I could breathe without pain.”
Parsi was 25 when he came to Canada as a government-sponsored refugee in the Refugee Assistance Program. During his first 12 months in Canada, he received financial assistance to cover basic needs – $604 a month to be exact.
“Not much, but it helped,” he says.
Parsi still receives threats from the Iranian community – something he says he deals with, but tries to ignore.
“I have professional relationships with the Iranian community, but I don't participate in their events because sometimes they make me very upset,” he explains. He says there are members of the Iranian-Canadian community who are intolerant and don’t support each other.
“I don’t care what they say,” says Parsi. “I continue with my work. It’s still risky, but I don’t like to admit it.”
Railroad of support
In 2008, Parsi founded the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees (IRQR). As of December 2015, the IRQR has helped more than 1,200 Iranians who identify as LGBT claim refugee status.
According to the UNHCR in Ankara, more than 26,500 Iranian refugees were registered as of May 2016. UNHCR has registered 1,177 refugees who identify as LGBT as of June 2016 – 1,046 being from Iran, representing gay, lesbian and transgender individuals.
Parsi and the IRQR are following 820 of the 1,046 LGBT refugee applications to help them go through UNHCR processes and eventually lead them to gain refugee status in Western countries. During the process, IRQR provides support and counselling to members of Iran’s LGBT community.
“I would accept the generosity and security Canada offered me. I would use it to continue my work for others back in Iran,” writes Parsi in Exiled for Love. “This wonderful country would be where I would live, but one day I would go home. Until that day came, I would be in exile.”
Guest Commentary by Pouyan Tabasinejad, Bijan Ahmadi, Mehdi Samadian
The nuclear agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 countries on July 14, 2015, marked a milestone in the history of world diplomacy.
The final agreement, which was a result of 20 months of arduous negotiations, was implemented beginning January 16, 2016, with a formal easing of sanctions in exchange for limits on the country’s nuclear program. However, while many of Canada’s allies have already begun to reap the rewards of the deal by reengaging with Iran economically and diplomatically, Canada has not re-engaged as quickly.
Canada is lagging behind her allies. A recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirms that Iran has complied with the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA. This means that Iran’s reintegration into the international community and economy will likely continue to accelerate.
Since implementation of the nuclear deal several international companies have been able to conclude contracts in a variety of fields with Iran. This includes deals with Boeing and Airbus, worth billions.
Reintegration has also taken place in the diplomatic realm as well. The British embassy in Tehran was opened in August 2015 after four years of closure. Over the last 12 months, several countries have started to re-engage economically with Iran and further economic and trade deals are expected in the near future.
In Canada, the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lifted some of Canada’s sanctions on Iran in February 2016, leaving in place those relating to arms, Iran’s ballistic missiles program and restrictions on a list of designated individuals.
With a large Iranian Canadian community (a population of around 300,000), who have links with Iran and familiarity with Iranian culture and business norms, there are enormous opportunities for Canada to engage and collaborate with Iran in a variety of fields including trade, cultural exchanges and collaboration in science and research.
The Iranian diaspora in Canada have also been largely supportive of the nuclear deal with Iran and re-engagement.
Last year, in two surveys conducted by the Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC), close to 80 per cent of the respondents reported that they were positive about the outcome of the nuclear deal and expressed their hope for rapprochement between Canada and Iran.
All indications point to great potential for trade between Canada and Iran. Canada’s exports to Iran peaked at $772 million in 1997. This figure declined precipitously to $67 million in 2014, after Canada imposed sanctions on Iran.
While Canada lifted most of its sanctions in February 2016, Canadian companies and institutions have been slow to respond. A major barrier preventing further economic engagement today is the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Since the last federal election, Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion has repeatedly expressed Canada’s intention to re-engage with Iran and has confirmed that talks between the two countries have begun.
However, there is still significant uncertainty about the timeline and progress of this reengagement process.
While the benefits of reengaging with Iran are enormous and clear, it is important to recognize the challenges and hurdles that lie ahead.
The international banking system has been reluctant to reconnect with Iran, fearful of punishment by U.S regulators, an issue that has even affected the services some Canadian banks are willing to offer Iranian-Canadians. These problems may undermine the nuclear deal and the economic benefits Iran expects to receive from the deal.
Secondly, the deal’s fate is contingent upon the political will of the leadership of the countries involved. Given the rhetoric from U.S. presidential candidates and the repeated attempts of the Republicans in the U.S. Congress to block the implementation of JCPOA, there is significant uncertainty about the future of the Iran deal.
Another threat to the process of rapprochement with Iran is the issue of human rights. The United Nations has consistently criticized Iran for its human rights situation. Though this issue is not a direct threat to the JCPOA, it has become a subject of controversy in terms of expanding relations with Iran in Canada and other countries.
While there are significant challenges in the path forward, there is hope that continued dialogue and engagement with Iran will address these hurdles.
Canada must partake in this momentous opportunity in the history of world diplomacy and side with peace, dialogue, and constructive, mutually beneficial engagement.
Pouyan Tabasinejad is the Policy Chair of the Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC). Bijan Ahmadi is the President and Mehdi Samadian recently joined the ICC as a Policy Associate.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit