New Canadian Media

by Jooneed Jeeroburkhan in Montreal

The cold-blooded shooting of six Muslims following evening prayers on Jan 29 at a Québec City mosque has, predictably, amplified the acrimonious debate over racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in Quebec – as the suspect, who also injured a dozen others, is a 27-year-old white Québécois university student.

Calls for an Inquiry Commission on “Systemic Racism in Québec” quickly redoubled and political leaders, responding only piecemeal, did not hesitate to label the mass killing an “act of terrorism” – although “terrorism” is not among the six counts of murder the Québec City police have charged Alexandre Bissonnette with.

Never to miss an opportunity, militant secularists, including Muslim ones, chimed in, accusing political leaders, from Quebec’s Philippe Couillard to Canada’s Justin Trudeau, of “Islamizing Canadian Democracy” – while progressive secularists, Québécois mainly, complained some people were heaping collective guilt on all Québécois for the crime of one individual – a role reversal since all Muslims are usually held responsible for each and every terrorist act committed by Takfiris/Salafis, ISIL/Daesh, Al Qaeda…

Skewed against immigrants

And, as usual, familiar noises came from the English North American media about Quebec being “more racist” than the rest of Canada – and the Quebec National Assembly unanimously condemned a Washington Post article, penned by Vancouver-based J.J. McCullough, saying exactly that, adding Quebec’s “history of anti-Semitism” and “religious bigotry” leads to “more massacres” like this one.

The motion was moved by the opposition Parti Québécois, the party whose ethno-centrist “Charter of Values” bill died on the order paper as the PQ was resoundingly defeated by the Liberals (41% to 25%) in the 2014 elections. The Bloc Québécois proposed a similar motion in Ottawa denouncing the newspaper article as “hateful”, but the House of Commons refused to debate it. 

As everywhere else throughout the hegemonic, and increasingly isolationist, West, the playing field, and the rules, remain heavily skewed against immigrants, refugees and all minority communities, yet the ruling communities paint themselves more and more as victims. And this trend has become noticeable in Quebec too in the wake of the Jan 29 shooting.

Re-igniting "reasonable accommodation"

To be fair, a huge mass of Québécois remain committed to an open and plural society, welcoming of diversity and militant in solidarity, as tens of thousands made it clear by attending a public meeting next to a mosque, and in snow and deep sub-zero temperature on Jan 31, in the heavily immigrant neighbourhood of Park Extension in Montreal, home of our very own Little South Asia.

Heart-warming as this demonstration was, it is highly unlikely that the discourse resulting from the Québec City shooting will help in putting to rest the old debate over “reasonable accommodation” in Quebec. If anything, it has re-ignited it. And police and media secrecy and selective leaks have only fed suspicion and distrust.

In the early hours following the massacre, media reports quoting informed sources, even witnesses, suggested there were two masked gunmen, and they shouted the Muslim cry of “Allah o Akbar”. The first-named suspect was a Muslim from Morocco, and stories suggested it may have been a settling of accounts between two neighbouring mosques of rival denominations.

The police then announced the Muslim man was “only a witness” and that the prime suspect was Alexandre Bissonnette – who apparently called police himself and gave himself up on the bridge linking Québec City to Orléans Island. The media then posted the photo of a suited and clean-cut boyish looking Bissonnette – who we were told was known in local social media circles as a pro-Fascist, anti-Feminist, anti-Immigrant, Islamophobic admirer of US President Donald Trump. But the police remains silent – and the media has stopped digging.

Appearing Feb 6 before the Senate committee on national security, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson refused to give details of the inquiry into the Québec City shooting. He instead voiced concern that the “caustic tone” of “political discourse” in Canada may contribute to “radicalize criminal extremists”. For its part, CSIS has warned of the recent development “of a Canadian online anti-Islam movement, similar to ones in Europe.”

As in the US and Europe, Quebec and Canada are in the throes of a major global re-balancing of power, marked by a decline of century-old global Western hegemony. The rise of xenophobia, particularly Islamophobia, and of right-wing populism and fascism, is a by-product of this momentous crisis – and the Québec City shooting, like the election of Donald Trump to the White House and the rise of Marine Le Pen in France, are its symptoms.

The trials and traumas are bound to get worse before they get better.


Jooneed Jeeroburkhan, 70, is a journalist, writer, human rights activist, feminist and grandfather living in Montreal. He came to study in Canada, on a Commonwealth scholarship, 50 years ago from Mauritius. He retired from the Montreal daily La Presse in 2009 after 35 years as a reporter and analyst on international affairs, visiting some 60 countries in the process. He published a book of essays, in French, on his native country, in 2010, titled Un autre Maurice est possible (Another Mauritius is Possible). 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary
Friday, 10 February 2017 08:07

Friendly Advice to Trudeau from Australia

Commentary by Binoy Kampmark in Melbourne, Australia

It was a moment of delightful reflection. The indecently smug politicians of a distant island continent, wealthy, cruel in refugee policy and lazy in development, stunned by encountering a short fused U.S. President who had little time for a “dumb” deal.

That deal, prematurely hatched during the last stages of the Obama administration with the Turnbull government, would see 1,250 refugees on Australia’s questionable offshore centres on Manus Island and Nauru, settled in the United States.

(As Canada's prime minister Justin Trudeau heads to Washington for his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and the province of Manitoba deals with a large number of refugees streaming across the border, Turnbull's experience could prove useful. As ipolitics.ca has reported, the visit comes on the heels of reports of diplomatically bruising phone calls between Trump and both Turnbull and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, in which he apparently broke diplomatic protocol and slammed both for an Australian-US refugee-swapping deal and Mexico’s handling of “tough hombres.”)

Australia’s fanatical insistence on not processing refugees and asylum seekers arriving by sea lanes has produced a flawed and unsustainable gulag system in the Pacific, along with deals of mind scratching eccentricity.

Poorer countries such as Cambodia and Nauru are deemed appropriate processing centres and places of re-settlement, despite local hostilities and incompatibilities.  Wealthier countries such as New Zealand tend to be ignored as optional points since resettlement there, should it happen, would be embolden new arrivals.  The one exception – the United States – was largely premised on both its distance from Australia and daftness of mind amongst Canberra’s policy fraternity.

In its desperation to find customers in the global supermarket of refugee shopping, Washington offered a tentative hand to feed the Australian habit.  That hand was rapidly withdrawn on Donald Trump’s signing of the Executive Order banning travel from seven mainly Muslim states.  Many of these nationals feature in the 1,250 total, with Iranians making up the largest cohort.  (It was a deal that Turnbull, incidentally, refused to condemn: Australia, he realises, knows what bans and bars to immigrants and refuges look like.)

According to the Washington Post, Trump explained in exasperated fashion to Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull by phone that the agreement was “the worst deal ever” and made it clear he was “going to get killed” politically if it was implemented.  In his pointed assertion, Turnbull was effectively attempting to export the “next Boston bombers” to the United States.  Australia, usually painfully supine before the wishes of the United States, had surprised Trump with “the worst call by far.”

Caught by the icy fury of the Trump blast, the conversation between the two leaders was cut short: what was slated for an hour became a 25 minute heckle and boast.  The size of Trump’s electoral college win was reputedly mentioned, while the number of refugees was inflated.

Did The Donald hang up on the stunned Turnbull?  The meek response followed: “I’m not going to comment on the conversation.” The official record from Washington made the school boy encounter dully deceptive: “Both leaders emphasized the enduring strength and closeness of the US-Australia relationship that is critical for peace, stability, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and globally.”

Taking to his preferred medium of announcement and expression, he tweeted in disbelief that he could be bound by a previous undertaking: “Do you believe it?  The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia.  Why?  I will study this dumb deal!”

Turnbull preferred an Alice in Wonderland approach to Trump’s tongue lashing, beating a hasty retreat down the rabbit hole in confused hope. Citing what seemed to be a distinctly different, mutated conversation, a brow beaten Turnbull preferred to refer to the president’s official spokesman who confirmed that “the president … would continue with, honour the agreement we entered into with the Obama administration, with respect to refugee settlement.”

This parallel diplomacy approach was also adopted before the National Press Club: “The Trump administration has committed to progress with the arrangements to honour the deal… that was entered into with the Obama administration, and that was the assurance the president gave me when we spoke on the weekend.”

To be fair to the confused Turnbull, the Trump administration is proving to be quite a tease.  Volcanic contradictions are fizzling out of the White House on a daily basis, the toddler, as he has been accused of being, ever erratic with his tempers.  Trump pours cold water on the deal; the White House spokesman Sean Spicer, probably informed by a different set of whispers, comes up with another statement that Washington would, in fact, follow through: 

“The deal specifically deals with 1,250 people,” explained Spicer to the White House press corps, “they’re mostly in Papua New Guinea, being held… there will be extreme vetting applied to all of them as part and parcel of the deal that was made.”

Even if this near aborted deal were to revive in spectacular confusion, it would only apply to refugees who “express an interest” in being settled in the US, and who satisfied an “extreme vetting” regime.  Numbers matter less than process, or, in the words of secretary of the immigration department Mike Pezzullo from November, this was “a process-driven arrangement rather than a numerical arrangement.”  What price humanity.

This entire incident is being taken as a litmus test of Trump’s relations with his allies.  Will the man boy behave or berate? Towards Mexico and Australia, his approach is one of irritable businessman rather than sober statesman.

Nor should the other side be neglected in this farcical cut of entertainment.  Canberra could have embraced the other option, one unacceptable for the Turnbull government: abide by the Refugee Convention and duly settle the refugees in Australia. Can the cant; observe international law.  Trump’s fumes of indignation would be avoided and Canberra would be doing something near unprecedented: implementing an approach of independence and obligation.


Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. This commentary was adapted from Counter Punch. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com.

Published in Commentary
Friday, 19 August 2016 12:15

Refugees: Opportunity will Trump Tragedy

Commentary by Steve Dooley in Surrey

A Surrey forum held earlier this year on helping Syrian refugees settle in our area started with an ice-breaker. Participants were asked to stand if they were born outside Canada.

About a third of the room stood.

They were next asked to stand if their parents were born outside the country. More stood.

Grandparents? More took to their feet.

And at great grandparents, nearly the whole room was standing.

In the multicultural dynamic that is Canada, we know that apart from our Aboriginal communities, all of us, at one point in our family lineage, came from somewhere else.  And over the nearly 150 years of nation building, there have been many paths to becoming part of the Canadian fabric.

Some have been relatively easy, others, born of great tragedy – those fleeing war, trauma and abuse, not necessarily coming to Canada as a choice.

Eager to contribute

And with the picture of a lifeless child on a beach in Turkey, the world opened its eyes to the latest forced migration from Syria, with many Syrian refugees arriving in Canada over the past six months.

Many refer to the settlement of Syrian refugees as a crisis. There have been fears that federal government targets would overwhelm settlement services and host municipalities.

There have been many challenges in meeting immediate and short-term needs of refugees, who woke up after a long flight, finding themselves in this new place called Canada.

Long wait lists for English training, housing shortages, particularly for larger families, and lack of employment opportunities are very real problems being addressed in communities across Canada.

A recent experience I had with a small group of refugees in Surrey has led me to believe that far from a crisis, the settlement of new refugees in Canada is in fact a huge opportunity.

Being a good neighbour

As the lead researcher on a year-long, recently completed study involving Simon Fraser University and several community partners, I had the pleasure of working with seven recent refugees from Myanmar, Somalia, Iraq and El Salvador. They were recruited as project research assistants (RAs) to help set the study’s scope, recruit participants, lead focus groups, interpret findings and participate in community planning.

While each had a personal story of tragedy and survival, they were eager to contribute, brought a broad set of skills and capacity to the work, and become leaders within their own communities.

The study, Our Community Our Voice: The settlement and Integration Needs of Refugees in Surrey, B.C., was a joint effort between SFU, the Surrey Local Immigration Partnership (LIP) and the City of Surrey.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada provided funding through the Surrey LIP. SFU’s involvement exemplifies the University’s commitment to engaging our communities, being a good neighbour and helping to solve issues that affect our communities.

Our report, which will help the city draft its settlement plan, spoke to the many issues facing refugees, and lays out a series of recommendations, from additional resources for new or existing programs targeting health, language, employment and housing, to improving how we communicate with refugees at all levels of the settlement process, and helping the community to better understand and engage with refugees during their transition.

Talents and dreams

No one understands this better than the refugees themselves, who deeply informed our discussions. And our RAs were the bridge.

In community development we often refer to skills development as “capacity building”.

It was clear to me that these refugees brought a lot of capacity to the amazing work they did, and I was thrilled and humbled to have the opportunity to work with this stellar group of individuals.

There is still much work to be done, but these RAs showed us first-hand how the refugees coming to Canada bring far more than the label imposed on them.  They have talents and dreams and hopes for their children.

And, while some will find their way back to their homelands, most will become part of the Canadian fabric, stay and make contributions to nation building.

Some will live quiet and simple lives, while others go on to become lawyers, doctors, nurses and teachers, or go into politics, start a new business venture, open a new media outlet.

They will build things, work in construction and on the factory floor. So will their children. But through the actions of daily living, all will contribute to the Canadian dynamic.

Based on Canadian history and my own experience from this study, I know, with time, there is space for opportunity to trump tragedy. It is not a crisis we have on our hands, but another in a long series of humanitarian support efforts that over time will lead to positive impacts on our neighborhoods, our cities and our nation.

Thirty years from now, in another community forum on how to support the latest wave of refugees, people will be asked to stand if they are born outside Canada. The Syrian refugees of today will stand thinking back on their own experiences of settlement.  

And, they will lend a hand.

Steve Dooley has been the Executive Director of Simon Fraser University's Surrey campus for the past 3 years. Having developed his community based research interests over 20 years, he continues to address social and civic issues such as refugee settlement, poverty, and crime reduction. Steve co-chairs the City of Surrey's Poverty Reduction Coalition and sits on Surrey's Local Immigration Partnership (LIP).

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

 

Published in Policy

by Janice Dickson in Ottawa 

Sitting cross-legged on a thin UNHCR mat covering a concrete floor and nursing her 14-month-old, Yasmeen Al-Alow was glad to be out of the jail that is Village 5 — Azraq’s notorious camp-within-the-camp.

Surrounded by barbed wire, Village 5 and Village 2 are where new Syrian refugees were taken before Jordan sealed its borders. Those inside the villages haven’t been allowed outside the wire for months. The Jordanian government fears the new arrivals pose a security threat to the other refugees in the camp. Containing new refugees in the prison-like camps is one way to decrease the chance of ISIS infiltration, authorities say.

Those living in Village 5 and Village 2 are virtual prisoners; unlike Syrian refugees who live in Azraq’s other villages, they are not allowed to walk through the streets, to the supermarket, or anywhere at all.

The Azraq refugee camp, located in a remote, sweltering desert landscape southeast of the capital Amman, is home to nearly 40,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war. Half of Azraq’s residents are children.

Most of the Syrians living in Villages 5 and 2 arrived from a desert region surrounded by sandbanks along the Jordanian border. The United Nations estimates that more than 85,000 people are stranded in Ruqban — a camp near the point where Jordan, Syria and Iraq meet — and Hadalat camp, 80 km to the west, where Al-Alow and her family were stranded for months.

The Azraq refugee camp, located in a remote, sweltering desert landscape southeast of the capital Amman, is home to nearly 40,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war. Half of Azraq’s residents are children.

iPolitics asked to visit Villages 5 and 2. A government official at the camp said it’s forbidden, citing security reasons. Photos were not permitted, either.

Since November, the Canadian government has welcomed nearly 30,000 Syrian refugees. King Abdullah of Jordan told the BBC in February that his country is at the “boiling point” because of an influx of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. The king said the international community has to offer more help if it wants Jordan to continue taking refugees.

The Jordanian government compromised, however, and set up Village 5 in March. It was a move intended to help international aid agencies trying to expedite the admission of thousands of refugees, like Al-Alow, who were stuck waiting at the border.

Al-Alow, 21, and her husband Muhammed, 26, had been living in their new caravan in Village Six for just over a week. Two jugs of water and a small kettle sat atop the small table at the front of the caravan that serves as a kitchen.

Al-Alow said she and her family are refugees by accident. They left their home in Syria a few months ago with the intention of visiting family in Jordan — but when they arrived at the Syrian border, they had no choice but to live in the berm while they waited to get into Jordan. That wait took four months; by then, the smugglers who drove them to the Syrian border could not take them back home.

“My family came to visit from Kuwait and they were on the other side of the barbed wire,” Al-Alow said via a translator. That visit lasted five minutes.

“We didn’t talk. We just cried.”

Kuwait has also sealed its borders, blocking Syrians from joining family members there.

Najwa Al-Shaikh, 32, and her four children arrived from Syria a few months ago; her family also lived in Village 5. Al-Shaikh’s mother arrived beforehand so their caravan is quite homey. Her mother has set up a little convenience store where children come to buy candy.

Despite the 35-degree heat, Al-Shaikh offered me hot tea and sugar on a silver tray, a display of Syrian hospitality found in every caravan I visited.

Al-Shaikh said she and her young children waited in the desert for months with little food or water in harsh conditions before they were granted permission to enter Jordan.

Her husband was arrested by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, she said. Sometimes, regime authorities tell her that her husband is still alive — other times they tell her he’s been killed.

She gestured toward her 11-year-old daughter Ala, who pulled up her pant cuff to reveal a thin leg covered with scars.

Despite the 35-degree heat, Al-Shaikh offered me hot tea and sugar on a silver tray, a display of Syrian hospitality found in every caravan I visited.

“One of my daughters was killed by the regime, and Ala was injured by the rockets,” she said. All Ala remembers is playing in the playground that day.

The situation in Azraq is “very bad,” the young woman said. Her mother shook her head and suggested that in a month or two, her daughter will adjust.

Aecha Mohammed Shaban, 29, and her four children are thankful for the safety the camp offers.

“In the beginning it was very difficult to live here, how can we live here?” said Shaban, sitting on a long cushion which doubles as a bed for her and her children at night.

Suddenly, the sound of gunshots coming from a nearby military base shattered the desert silence. The children — who had been smiling by their mother’s side — covered their ears and began to cry.


iPolitics’ Janice Dickson visited Jordan from July 9 – July 25th. Dickson spent long days in Jordan’s refugee camps talking to Syrian refugees about the challenges in the camps and their gruelling journey across the desert to get there. 

Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca

 

Published in Top Stories

  Written by

Muslim Link interviewed Rayanne Bendaoud about how her encounter with a Syrian refugee in Ottawa inspired her to organize the United for Syria Soccer Tournament this Saturday, July 23rd to raise money for refugees supported by the United Nations’ Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

(If you would like to register as a team or individual for this all ages tournament click here for details.)

The Muslim Link

Read Full Article

Published in Arts & Culture

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. 

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.  

“I continue with my work. It’s still risky, but I don’t like to admit it.”

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. 

“This wonderful country would be where I would live, but one day I would go home."

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.”


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Books

by Shan Qiao in Toronto
 
Without saying anything, Farrah Khan hands out a clipboard with a piece of paper on it to each person in the room.
 
“Now, I want each of you start to draw what was in your head at 9 a.m. this morning,” she says. “When time is due, you’ll hand the clipboard to the person next to you and continue on another person’s drawing.” Khan then plays a song by Beyoncé on her iPhone.
 
Several participants, including Khan, finish drawing different parts of each other’s pictures before they are returned to the original artist. The result is a joint effort made by each member of the group to explore their fellow participants’ mindsets.
 

Politics in comics 

It is the starting point for The Panel Is Political, a discussion on how to use comic books for social change, at Another Story Bookshop in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood.
 
The discussion is also led by Seemi Jamil, a youth group coordinator at the Afghan Women’s Organization in Mississauga, and Nicole Marie Burton, a comic book illustrator and founder and co-owner of Ad Astra Comix – North America’s first publisher dedicated to comics about social justice themes. 

“They are interested in talking about what it is like to be low-income in Canada but also assimilated within society.”

 
Jamil and Burton worked together early this year to develop a youth program that teaches immigrant and activist youth to draw and express their feelings. The program involved one-and-a-half hour sessions, held once a week for eight weeks. 

“Nicole [Burton] comes by and does workshops with the youth groups and teaches them how to do graphic-novel style storytelling,” Jamil explains. 

“We wrote a paragraph about a challenge we had to deal with in anonymity,” begins Burton, describing one of the group’s activities. She says the written paragraphs were ripped into pieces, folded, and mixed in a hat. 

“Everybody drew out a story and had to tell it in a comic form,” she adds. “It was incredible to me how much could have been done with that,” says Burton about the activity.

Other activities focused on character design, practising different dimensions and shapes, and drawing about current events. She adds that there never seemed to be enough time in each session to meet the youth’s high level of interest in each activity. 

Graphic novels, Jamil says, not only help immigrant and refugee youth to understand, but to be able to learn how to tell their own story.

Visual storytelling
 
“I was trying to get low-income youth groups to have some art form where they can talk about their own stories,” Jamil says. “They are interested in talking about what it is like to be low-income in Canada but also assimilated within society.”
 
An example of a political comic book that helps youth understand global events, says Jamil, is Persepolis – a graphic novel about the revolution in Iran.

“We’ve seen a large trend in youth groups trying to express themselves through different art forms as opposed to just writing,” she continues.
 

She says the program’s young female participants are of Afghani and Pakistani descent, and that the workshops focus on minority voices, people of colour, women of colour, and political situations all over the world.  

Graphic novels, Jamil says, not only help immigrant and refugee youth to understand, but also to be able to learn how to tell, their own story. She stresses that for marginalized groups who do not have the same vocabulary or English proficiency as other Canadians, art can help them understand and share ideas. 

Political comics gaining momentum 

Burton started Ad Astra Comix in 2013 in Toronto. She says she is passionate about social justice and wants to see more political comics that touch on topics such as sexism, racism, colonialism, homophobia and transphobia. 

[Khan] says white comic book artists often portray South Asian women stereotypically.

Ad Astra Comix not only publishes, but also creates its own graphic novels, including its first full-length graphic novel Drawing the Line: Indian Women Fight Back, a collection of stories by Indian women about topics including harassment, race, class and political struggle. 

Khan, the inaugural Sexual Violence Support and Education Coordinator at Ryerson University, has more than a decade of experience speaking about violence against women. 
 
As a trauma counsellor, she has led several educational programs, including comic book projects, to help women express their feelings and fears through drawing. 
 
In 2012, Khan put together a program to run a comic book workshop specifically for South Asian women. She says white comic book artists often portray South Asian women stereotypically.
 

The project resulted in a comic book called Heartbeats: The IZZAT Project, featuring stories and illustrations by South Asian women about violence and resilience in their lives.

The book was chosen by the Tahirih Justice Centre to be part of a tour to raise awareness about forced marriage in the United States. 

One of the stories the book features, titled “Cage,” resulted in the escape of one of the program’s participants from her abusive family. Khan says the young woman was able to find help at a women’s shelter two cities away from her home during the project.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Books
Wednesday, 22 June 2016 09:28

Is Europe About to Reap the Whirlwind?

by L. Ian MacDonald in Montreal, Quebec

A referendum question usually calls for a simple binary response: yes or no. In Britain on Thursday, voters will decide whether to “remain” in or “leave” the European Union.

The first draft of the referendum question required a yes/no response to a pretty straightforward question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” But the British electoral commission argued for something more nuanced: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union, or leave the European Union?” The commission persuaded the House, and the question was adopted by Parliament Sept. 7.

The first draft of the question was only 11 words; the final version runs to 16. But the distinction between “remain” and “leave” has become not only the ballot question but the basis of the Brexit campaigns’ duelling slogans: Europe, in or out.

There’s a lot riding on this — the stability of the EU, the unity of the U.K. itself. If the Leave forces win, there will be an unravelling of both. And in the final days of the campaign, most polls put the two options within the margin of error — too close to call.

So how did British Prime Minister David Cameron get himself into this predicament? He ran on it. Seriously.

In the May 2015 election, Cameron promised to hold a referendum on the EU if he won. He was trying to placate the Conservative base in England while pushing back against an anti-EU insurgency by the United Kingdom Independence Party on the right.

The New York Times notes that half of Britain’s 330,000 immigrants in 2015 came from Europe, and in southern England many residents complain about them taking their jobs.

“It is for the British people to have their say,” Cameron declared at the time. “It is time to settle this European question in British politics.”

Be careful what you wish for. Having sown the wind, Cameron could be about to reap the whirlwind. Should the Leave forces prevail, he almost certainly would be be packing his bags at Downing Street the next day.

It shouldn’t come to that. It shouldn’t be this close, either. A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times on the weekend had the Remain side leading 44-43, having been down seven points — 46-39 — a week earlier. The pollster was in the field mostly before the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, a 41-year-old mother of two who was shot and stabbed in her riding last Thursday by an apparently deranged Leave supporter.

In the shock of the aftermath, the campaign was immediately suspended on both sides. It’s not clear whether Cox’s death will bring some wavering voters to their senses, but the tragedy certainly became a dominant media frame in the closing days of the campaign.

Usually in referendums, undecided voters gravitate to the status quo, normally by margins of about two to one. That was the case in the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, and the Quebec plebiscites of 1980 and 1995. (In the Scottish referendum, the No side’s 55-45 win was helped by the clarity of the six-word question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”)

If that pattern holds for the Brexit vote, the Remain side should win by about four or five points, something like 52-48. But you never know.

There’s no doubt that a Brexit vote would be a devastating blow to a united Europe. The European project has been a work in progress since the 1950s, when it was founded as the six-nation European Economic Community, including France and West Germany, in 1957. The U.K. joined in 1973. Today the EU has 28 member countries, 19 of them using the euro as their common currency — a continent without borders, an economy of 500 million people.

Comparatively few refugees have landed in the U.K., but that hasn’t prevented the Leave forces from making immigration their main grievance.

The EU has weathered several serious recent crises, from the financial collapse of 2008-09 to the great refugee migration still in progress. The economic crisis underlined the fundamental weakness of the euro — the fact that no one seems to know how to sustain a common monetary policy across economies as strong as Germany and as weak as Greece. Britain never adopted the euro, Margaret Thatcher having carried the argument that relinquishing control of monetary sovereignty would be a surrender of political sovereignty.

The refugee crisis has prompted different responses across Europe; Germany and Sweden are leading by generous example in receiving migrants, while countries such as Hungary have erected barbed wire fences. Across the continent, extremist and xenophobic right-wing movements have flourished in the last year. Donald Trump would feel right at home.

Comparatively few refugees have landed in the U.K., but that hasn’t prevented the Leave forces from making immigration their main grievance. The New York Times notes that half of Britain’s 330,000 immigrants in 2015 came from Europe, and in southern England many residents complain about them taking their jobs. That’s one sentiment driving the “Take Back Control” slogan employed by the Leave side. Another is bungling bureaucrats in Brussels — foreigners meddling in their local economy.

All of which has left Britain divided and on the brink. Until the last week, England had been leaning to the Leave. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all clearly favour the Remain side. For Scotland in particular, the EU is a check and balance against the power of Westminster. A vote to leave it could well trigger another referendum on Scottish independence. In Northern Ireland, it could result in the end of a borderless relationship with the Irish Republic.

And Great Britain could become Little England — no longer a leader in Europe and much diminished in the world, including the world of financial services in which the City of London is a global leader.

As a fellow member of the G7 and G20, as a NATO ally and leader of the Commonwealth, as an important trading and investment partner, Canada’s preference should be obvious — for a United Kingdom in a united Europe, with no unravelling of either.


Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca

 

Published in Commentary

Commentary by Howard Ramos and Michael Ungar

In the fall of 2015, in the heat of a federal election, the country was deeply moved by images of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war. No image had a greater emotional impact — or did more to influence Canada’s decision to open its borders to these refugees — more than the picture of three year-old Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed up on a Turkish shore.

That image, more than anything else, made Canadians’ engagement with the Syrian refugee crisis a question of saving children and youth.

The new Liberal government maintained the previous administration’s basic framework for refugees by prioritizing families, those from minority religious groups and those fleeing persecution due to their sexual orientation. By March 1, Canada had accepted just over 26,000 refugees, with 58 per cent of the Syrian cohort being under the age of 25 — 48 per cent just 15 years old or younger. Another 10,000 refugees are expected to arrive before the end of 2016 with a similar age distribution.

So when we talk about Syrian refugees coming to Canada, we are talking largely about young people who have been living in refugee camps for a while, and have had limited or interrupted educations. Despite such obstacles, previous social science research tells us that we should expect many of these kids to do well, based on the experience of other refugee cohorts to Canada. In fact, refugee children have higher rates of post-secondary education than their Canadian-born peers; about 30 per cent of them attend university.

But we don’t yet know whether we can assume this pattern of educational success will apply to the newly-arrived Syrians. Refugee children and their families face the risk of social and psychological problems as a result of the challenges they experience during resettlement.

Research has shown that refugee kids are likely to experience changes in family dynamics, struggles with mastering a new language and a new education system, racial discrimination, bullying and mental health challenges — both before and after they settle in their new homes.

Fortunately, these problems are all interrelated and preventable — with the right intervention. And Canada’s extensive experience with refugee resettlement has made us experts on the subject.

One of our first priorities must be second language training. Empirical evidence shows that it takes refugee children years to develop fluency in either English or French at the level of their monolingual peers. Social integration and family stability also will be challenging for Syrian refugees, as it is for all migrants. Child-rearing techniques common in Syria — such as leaving children with siblings — will pose challenges for refugee families. Child refugees also frequently become “cultural brokers” for their parents, shifting household power dynamics and introducing new understandings of children’s rights. Despite the many advantages of settling in a new country, the associated changes to the structure and power balance of the family may negatively affect refugee children.

Beyond these broad problems (which are shared by many different groups of refugees), there’s also the particular concern about radicalization of adolescent Syrian refugees — something that becomes a particular source of worry if we fail to meet their educational, mental, physical and social needs immediately after resettlement. The good news is that we have evidence-based options to prevent these problems before they occur, through social interventions in schools and communities and better public policies.

But alongside these interventions, we need to start investing now in research and program evaluation on refugee resettlement. If we can identify the protective factors that ensure the successful integration of children and youth over time, we’ll be far better able as a country to reach out to other cohorts of forcibly displaced people. We’ll also learn how to ensure that the immense potential of young refugees is tapped in a way that benefits them, their families and their new home.

Howard Ramos is a professor in the department of sociology and social anthropology, Dalhousie University. Michael Ungar is a Canada Research Chair in Child, Family, and Community Resilience, Dalhousie University.

Published in Commentary

by Maria Assaf in Oxford, England

Imagine being a child bride in pre-revolutionary Iran – suffering abuse on a daily basis, being forced into a joyless marriage and having children at the age of 13. There is no law or organization that can protect you, as the entire affair is perfectly legal.

Now, imagine having a beautiful husband and children, a mother and father, and then losing them all in a genocide.

What hope could remain in a human heart after enduring such calamities?

Could an intense desire to right the wrongs or change the world bring back life to a suffering soul?

In Amity, author Nasreen Pejvack makes her reader wrestle with such questions, page after page, as she recounts both the painful and happy memories that form the lives of her two main characters: Ragusa, a survivor of the Yugoslav ethnic conflicts of the 1990s, who is on the verge of taking her own life, and her unknowing rescuer, Payvand, who is an Iranian activist with a tragic life story of her own.

Paradox of the West

Amity shows that there are moments in some peoples’ lives in which hope does not materialize from suffering. There are times when the soul has been so utterly shattered, that the mere suggestion of finding meaning within its pain is insulting.

Pejvack presents a panorama of a Western world – with its affluence and the seeming peace of its clean streets – which hides many truths and stories of refugees or others who have fled conflict and reached what seems like a safe haven.

As the stories in Amity show, the suffering of many of those individuals will not cease once they have a Canadian passport.

As the stories in Amity show, the suffering of many of those individuals will not cease once they have a Canadian passport or British citizenship. The marks that their pasts have left on their souls will accompany them forever, like a shadow surrounding the most trivial moments of their lives.

Yes, many of them have been saved; the lucky few have even re-married in their new countries and found jobs and successful careers. But who can take away the pain of the memories, the tears, and the nightmares that keep survivors trapped in their minds as if in a prison of their pasts?

Pejvack’s book is heartfelt throughout. It is honest and direct and her phrases are simple, clear, and concise.

For those readers who are fortunate not to have suffered the misfortunes of war, oppression and tragedy, this book will provide insight into the lives of the millions of people worldwide who are experiencing similar fates as Ragusa and Payvand.

Understanding each other, and the world

Amity is a testament of sympathy with victims and the experience of sharing an understanding of tragedy and pain; of expressing empathy towards those who feel that no one could possibly understand the depths of their suffering. 

This book grabs the audience’s attention rapidly, with its strong life stories and its vibrant political, economic and historical debates, made intentionally easy to read.

Her book is incredibly timely and relevant in the context of the present turmoil in the Middle East.

The writer’s political debates illustrate the evils that have plagued Iran and the nations that formed the former Yugoslavia, creating strong sentiments between two women who shared impassionate days and brought joy to each other in their pain.

The book succeeds at making the audience care about global politics and the way it creates wars that lead to the kinds of crises that have made these two protagonists suffer so much in their lives.

As Payvand tries to pull Ragusa back to life by telling her stories, this book also grabs the reader’s attention and curiosity from the beginning by making us want to learn more about the fascinating characters Pejvack describes in each chapter.

For those interested in the histories of the places where conflict has struck recently, this book embarks on detailed accounts of Iran’s recent past, explaining how the country came to be what it is now.

Pejvack’s explanations are nuanced and politically knowledgeable. Her book is incredibly timely and relevant in the context of the present turmoil in the Middle East.

… Pejvack writes in a way that is every bit poetic as it is political and invites people to care, to take action, and to participate in her revolution.

Call to action                        

Each of Pejvack’s characters is an activist in her own right.

Ragusa, a Croat, married a Serb – something inconceivable during tense times in which Croatian and Serbian populations were at war.

Payvand, an Iranian revolutionary, had to see her comrades die and experience the disappointment of witnessing the onset of what she calls an ignorant revolution.

From the portrait of violence Pejvack presents comes a call for revolution. Formerly a writer and poet for an underground activist publication in Iran, Pejvack writes in a way that is every bit poetic as it is political and invites people to care, to take action, and to participate in her revolution.

The call for unity regardless of nationality and other differences is one of the most beautiful premises this book proposes. This work is a must-read for inspired young citizens of the world, as Pejvack appeals to those who are trying to make a difference and are in need of some accessible guidance on how to contribute positively to the world.

Maria Assaf is a Colombian-Canadian freelance reporter who writes for Latin American, Filipino and other immigrant publications in Canada, including New Canadian Media. She completed her bachelor's degree in journalism at Ryerson University and is currently pursuing a master's degree in development and emergency practice at Oxford Brookes University, where she is researching refugee freedom of expression.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Books
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