New Canadian Media
Monday, 16 January 2017 11:37

Novel Explores Road to Radicalization

Book Review by Phil Gurski

Belief is a novel by Mayank Bhatt, a Mumbai-born resident of Toronto.  It tells the story of the son of Indian immigrants to Canada who cooperates with terrorists to identify Canadian places to bomb, in part to avenge the death of Muslims in Afghanistan by Canadian soldiers. 

The book parallels to a certain extent the 2006 case of the “Toronto 18”, a terrorist cell that planned to explode truck bombs in Toronto and at a military base in eastern Ontario to punish Canadians for the decision to deploy the Armed Forces in Afghanistan after 9/11.

This work of fiction is billed as a look into what “makes young people give up their sheltered, secure lives and take up causes that are sure to lead to catastrophe, for others as well as themselves”. 

It does not quite achieve that goal, but does contain a good look into the effects of terrorism on a family. We see the devastating effects on the mother and father, immigrants who fled violence in India to seek a new home in Canada, but had to struggle to make a new life in a new land.  We see the anguish of a pregnant sister whose husband’s promotion may be canceled because of Rafiq’s actions.

We see a South Asian police officer, Ravindar, who tries to help the family but who is not trusted completely, perhaps because of his role as a representative of the law.

The book does delve slightly into what has often been put forward as the ‘causes’ of radicalization to violence in Canada.  There are references to the slaughter of Muslims in India and to discrimination and bias against immigrants in this country.  

Neither theme is developed in this novel. It also does not explore other reasons why individuals go down the path of radicalization.

The mastermind

Early in the novel the author includes excerpts from emails sent by the terrorist ‘mastermind’, a man named Ghani Ahmed, to Rafiq, the young man arrested and accused of participating in a terrorist plot.  These excerpts are full of the rhetoric most commonly associated with terrorist recruiters: innocent Muslims are being killed and no one is doing anything to stop it.  Ahmed appeals to the faith of Rafiq and tries to convince him that fighting back is a religious obligation.

Ahmed is an intriguing character and more could have been written about him.  Who was he?  Where did he come from?  Who else was involved in his plot?  How did he identify Rafiq as a willing participant? .

The one character who remains an enigma is Nagma Khala, a woman who runs a Muslim crèche and who had an extraordinary influence on the young Rafiq.  She is deeply religious, but it is never clear whether her faith contributed in any way to Rafiq’s openness to radicalization.

Flashbacks to India

I welcomed the introduction of two officers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), although their portrayal is superficial and unsatisfactory. It would have been interesting to introduce a main character from CSIS and show how that person was trying to understand the scope of the terrorist plot and Rafiq’s role in it.  That may have been beyond the author’s expertise, though.

The book contains many flashbacks to life in India and provides interesting background into the lives of the protagonists, although the link between these episodes and Rafiq’s decision to become a terrorist is not obvious.  They do provide insight into the circumstances behind the parents’ choice to leave India, but these are tangential to the book’s primary plot.

Throughout the book the author seeks to present Rafiq as an unwilling dupe whose involvement in terrorism is peripheral.  While Rafiq regrets his choice, he also seems to minimize his role. 

It is only at the end of the novel, when Rafiq learns of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai (in 2008 – a real event) that he grasps the enormity of what he was part of in Canada and (spoiler alert!!) tries to commit suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills.  The author’s attempt to paint Rafiq as a character to be pitied does not come off strongly, even when he writes of the bullying Rafiq received at the Maplehurst Detention Centre in Toronto.

Overall, the book flows and reads well, with the exception of the flashbacks. These occur at times at unexpected intervals and detract from the story.

The book does a good job at showing the destruction of a Canadian immigrant family when one member becomes involved in terrorism. The emotional responses of the characters are believable and compelling. 

As long as the reader does not see this novel as an actual book on homegrown terrorism in Canada it is a good read.

Phil Gurski worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and the forthcoming Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at http://www.borealisthreatandrisk.com/blog/

The book Belief  is published by Mawenzi House

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   OFTEN victims of intimate partner abuse, especially immigrant women, are portrayed as completely powerless and helpless in addressing the abuse. What isn’t recognized is the enormous strength and intelligence many South Asian victims of violence have exhibited.

South Asian women are quicker to report instances of abuse now than even a few years ago, […]

 

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 IF you don’t know what domestic violence looks like, nursing students from Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) can show you — and give you the tools to stop it and support victims. The students have developed a Community Champion toolkit to help citizens recognize signs of abuse so its victims can get the assistance they need. The kits […]

 

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by Diana Manole in Ottawa 

Four hundred years ago, on April, 23, 1616, William Shakespeare passed away. His plays are so special that today we can critically reflect on any topic when reading, staging, or watching them: social inequality, politics, history, culture, love and death.

The modernization of the English language also started with his work, leading to the current standard version, in England, and the numerous variants spoken all over the world by almost 943 million people.

As the saying goes, “The best reaction to reading a poem is writing a poem.”

George Elliott Clarke, Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate (PPL), along with the Library of Parliament and the League of Canadian Poets, organized a celebration of Shakespeare and National Poetry Month (NPM) through a poetry reading. Shakespeare on the Hill was the first official poetry reading on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, according to Clarke.

He says he plans to organize other similar events on Parliament Hill during his PPL tenure. 

“Shakespeare’s English” can be heard in Canada with accents from all over the world.

I was honoured to be included among the readers, together with Monty Reid, Amanda Earl and rob mclennan. Our selected readings from Shakespeare and our own work had to relate to this year’s NPM theme, “The Road” – or travelling. 

Clarke is an award-winning Canadian writer, who has published 16 collections of poems, as well as plays, opera librettos and two novels. From Three Miles Plains, N.S., where he was born, Clarke has gone on many roads across Canada, but also around the world.

He emphasized Shakespeare’s influence on his own work. “Reading Titus Andronicus In Three Mile Plains, N.S.” is part of Execution Poems, for which Clarke received the Governor General’s Award. Inspired by Shakespeare’s perspective on crime, this poem denounces both historical violence and the persecution of black people in the 20th century. He writes:

“And History snapped its whip and bankrupted scholars,
School was violent improvement. I opened Shakespeare
And discovered a scarepriest, shaking in violent winds,
Some hallowed, heartless man, his brain boiling blood,
Aaron, seething, demanding: 'Is black so base a hue?'"

Recognizing accented writers

As a Romanian-born poet and a first-generation Canadian, this event had a special significance for me. I dedicated my reading to all “accented” writers from this country and the immigrant voyage to Canada that has changed their destinies. Indeed, my own trip to Canada in 2000 has been one of my most important journeys. 

The first poem I read, “Fleeing. Becoming,” synthesizes the redefinition of my sense of national identity: 

“I became Romanian, fleeing.
I became Canadian when the U.S.
took my fingerprints.”

“The [foreign] accent represents the democratization of language.”

Aurelia Zmeu, Diplomatic Counsellor at the Romanian Embassy in Ottawa, noted in my reading the ongoing travel between two cultures, which defines any immigrant. 

“Listening to her reading from [Shakespeare’s] The Tempest and from her own work, I perceived the two pans of the balance scale in Diana Manole’s soul,” she said. “The poet’s feelings towards Romania, her country of origin, and Canada, her adoptive country, are placed on this scale, interconnected, in a balance that was perturbed only by the applause at the end.” 

As Clarke emphasized after my reading, “The [foreign] accent represents the democratization of language.”

Indeed, “Shakespeare’s English” can be heard in Canada with accents from all over the world. It is one of the best proofs that people can find means to communicate beyond cultural barriers.

Clarke’s celebration of Shakespeare proved that poetry and politics can sometimes be on the same page – even at Parliament Hill. 

Journeys of all forms 

Earl is a poet, publisher and the author of two books of erotic fiction. 

“The road for me equals time from birth to death and the obstacles along the way, the constancy of love in times of trouble,” she says. 

Her Shakespeare selections reflect on similar experiences, including “Sonnet 116” and, from Hamlet, Gertrude’s description of Ophelia's madness and suicide. Her poem, “O’Keeffe,” deals with the reversed journey from death to life and the effort to understand its meaning:

“I seek answers in myth: Orpheus, 
Persephone, those who’ve been 
to the Underworld and back”

“The road for me equals time from birth to death and the obstacles along the way, the constancy of love in times of trouble.”

Born in Saskatchewan, Reid worked for many years in Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec, and now lives in Ottawa. He focused on the theme of melancholy travel with Jacques’s monologue from As You Like It.

He also read some of his poems on the same topic, including “Very Soon, and With Someone Pleasant” from Disappointment Island. 

“I don't care where you were. I don't care about the black ice
and the big trucks and all your other travelling anxieties.
Imagine trying to pick up Singapore noodles with a single stick.
That's how it makes me feel." 

mclennan was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour in March 2016 and has won numerous awards and published nearly 30 books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. He read “Two ghazals, for newborn,” an homage to the birth of his third child, Aoife: 

“Map: for she articulates
our new, invented landscapes.

A declaration of staccato kicks
and wails.

A salted, sunny membrane
of gestures, squeaks and snorts.

Dr. Diana Manole is a Romanian-born poet, translator, and scholar. She has published nine collections of poems and plays, and contributed to many national and international magazines. Her latest poetry book, B&W was published in 2015 by Tracus Arte in a bilingual edition, co-translated with Adam J. Sorkin.


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

 

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COMMUNITY organizations working to safeguard vulnerable young people from gang involvement and protect victims of domestic, sexual and other forms of violence will benefit from nearly $7.2 million in government grants supporting public safety priorities. This represents the largest-ever one-time grants investment in community crime prevention in B.C., combining $5.5 million in provincial Civil Forfeiture […]

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by Samaah Jaffer in Vancouver

Five months after Harper’s Conservatives made a pre-elections pledge to establish a controversial "barbaric cultural practices" tip line, a group of lawyers and legal organizations in Vancouver have launched a different kind of phone line — a hotline offering free legal advice for victims of Islamophobia.

“The Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline is a free and confidential number that people who experience Islamophobia, or hate crimes related to Islamophobia — whether you’re Muslim or perceived to be Muslim — can call,” explains lawyer and activist Hasan Alam.

The concept for the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline, launched on March 9, emerged from what a group of local lawyers observed as a “significant increase” in Islamophobia in Canada.

Alam defined Islamophobia as, “the fear of and hatred toward Muslims or people who are perceived to be Muslim.”

“Especially under the Harper government,” says Alam, “we noticed that there was very specific fear mongering happening, that utilized Islamophobia to justify Harper’s policies, such as Bill C-51, and all of that translated into an increase in hate crimes.”

In response to a question on the anti-terrorism legislation, Harper implied last fall there was an opportunity for radicalization in mosques: "It doesn't matter what the age of the person is, or whether they're in a basement, or whether they're in a mosque or somewhere else."  

The statement was followed by an increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric leading up to the elections, with the niqab being lauded by the former Prime Minister as a primary concern in relation to gender equality and Canadian values.

Rise in incidences of violence

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), a human rights and civil liberties advocacy group that endorsed the project, has been tracking anti-Muslim incidents across Canada since 2013. They have recorded a rise in alleged incidents corresponding to events where Muslims have been portrayed negatively in the media.

Vancouver-based lawyer and chair of NCCM’s Board of Directors, Kashif Ahmed, spoke to the significance of this new resource in B.C.: “We had 61 anti-Muslim incidents reported in 2015, and already had 12 reported in 2016.”

Ahmed identified a number of different forms of Islamophobia-related hate crimes, including “cases of people who are being assaulted on the street, victimized in their workplace and denied promotions, verbally abused, verbally harassed, mosques being vandalized, cases of schools not providing anti-bullying services to Muslim students or allowing bullying to continue, or even teachers being the ones doing the bullying.”

“We had 61 anti-Muslim incidents reported in 2015."

Local incidents include a pepper spray attack on a group of Syrian refugees and vandalism of a Coquitlam mosque, yet many attacks motivated by Islamophobia go unreported.

The hotline is operated by Access Pro Bono, an organization committed to providing “access to justice” in BC for individuals and non-profits unable to afford legal fees. Their volunteers are currently able to assist callers in seven different languages — English, French, Farsi, Indonesian, Arabic, Swahili, Punjabi, and Urdu.

“In a lot of instances people who experience Islamophobia are new immigrants, they don’t speak much English, they don’t know where to turn to for legal advice, or help in general, and they’re scared to turn to law enforcement agencies a lot of the time because of their precarious legal status,” says Alam.  

Personal experiences of Islamophobia

Alam has a personal investment in the initiative, as a Muslim and a lawyer who has actively advocated against Islamophobia.

“I get calls from people, a lot, saying that they have experienced Islamophobia, and that they need help. Oftentimes, I myself can’t help them. I don’t have the area of expertise in that specific instance that I can give them legal advice,” he explains.

Alam spoke to the first time he experienced Islamophobia himself.

“I remember being the president of my Muslim Students Association (MSA) at Simon Fraser University, and getting a call from a government agency, who left a message for us at the interfaith centre.”

"That fear or hatred can translate to physical assault, negative comments, attitude, discrimination, or prejudice."

The message was from a woman requesting to meet with him, “to better understand the needs of your community.”

Eager to discuss the needs of the MSA, Alam agreed to meet the woman at a Starbucks. After he arrived, shook her hand, and allowed her to buy him a coffee, the woman revealed that she was a Canadian Security Intelligent Services (CSIS) agent who had questions about the activities of the MSA and his community.

Although the questions were not targeting him personally, Alam expresses, “For me, that was Islamophobia, and it was coming from the government. Why was I subjected to being interrogated by CSIS agents, simply on the basis that I was a Muslim and involved with a Muslim student group?”

Usefulness in lobbying efforts

Alam explained that another important element of the project is the recording of Islamophobic hate crimes.

“Being able to use that information to better advocate to government, and to lobby government to do more about Islamophobia and racism in general [. . .] and pushing the government to do more about that, and more advocacy, and having people’s voices heard is something that is really important for me.”

Alam hopes the Islamophobia hotline will send out a clear message to those who perpetuate Islamophobia that there are repercussions for their actions, while at the same time making those who appear to be Muslim feel safe.

“I think we’re still living in a fairytale world, thinking ‘this is Canada, not the United States, these things doesn’t happen here,’ and I think a big part of this is recognizing that Islamophobia and racism are real," he says.

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


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Thursday, 17 March 2016 11:24

Breaking Silence Around Elder Abuse

by Beatrice Paez in Toronto

Asking seniors subtle questions about their daily routines opens up dialogue – and can point to signs of elder abuse, which rarely reveals itself in obvious ways.

Nirpal Bhangoo-Sekhon often asks seniors she meets about what they’ve been eating, who handles their finances and if their basic needs are being met. It is her job as case manager of the Punjabi Community Health Services (PCHS) to be curious.

“Unfortunately, if we don't ask those questions, we wouldn't know what's happening,” she says. “It gives you a better picture of what goes on at home.”

Abuse isn't limited to physical violence; it can extend to the withholding of financial resources, verbal threats and isolation from the household.

In a 2009 report, Statistics Canada found that two-thirds of seniors who experienced family violence – physical force or threats – didn't sustain injuries. Seniors most at risk, based on reports to the police, are between 65 and 74.  

During her one-on-one meetings with seniors, Bhangoo-Sekhon will also illustrate scenarios to raise awareness of how common an issue elder abuse is. Holding such conversations regularly helps ease reservations about breaking their silence, which can take months, if not longer, she says. 

Reluctance to speak up

While elder abuse cuts across different cultural groups, they may contend with different obstacles. 

Language barriers and distrust in the police – mostly worries about being deported – aren't the only concerns stacked heavily against the decision to come forward, says Kripa Sekhar, the executive director of the South Asian Women's Centre (SAWC) in Toronto.

There's the perception that speaking out would fracture family ties and bring shame on the community. 

“I don't think they want to be seen as a community that's going to expose their families or seen as betraying their families," says Sekhar. "They've almost accepted that ‘this is what's meant for me.’”

Cultural groups have different attitudes about what constitutes abuse.

Burial customs can also play a role in the struggle to come forward for seniors of certain faiths.  

With funeral rites traditionally being the responsibility of the son or a male family member, some express concern that their spiritual needs will not be looked after if they speak out, says Sekhar. “They're not worried about today. They're worried about the afterlife. It's hard to understand that – you're struggling in this life, but it's such a part of who they are.”

Abuse isn't limited to physical violence; it can extend to the withholding of financial resources, verbal threats and isolation from the household, she explains. 

Statistical profiles on elder abuse as it relates to the South Asian community aren't traced by front-line agencies such as the police and social services. Statistics Canada instead analyzes the prevalence of family violence along gender lines, while acknowledging that cultural groups have different attitudes about what constitutes abuse.

Possibilities for intervention

The immediate response to cases of physical abuse might be to find alternative housing, but in other instances, intervention through education is crucial, says Bhangoo-Sekhon.  

"If we can go in and educate the families – that, in the end, would be much more helpful and useful for the community than just pulling seniors out [of the home] and placing them in shelters," she says. 

Finding subsidized housing or placing elders in shelters isn't always the most feasible solution in cases of neglect or isolation, particularly if they're not used to living independently and are in need of a personal support worker, she says. 

PCHS has a caregiver support program, an extension of its efforts to address elder abuse, which is offered to those who are caring for family members. It is intended to relieve the strain of household demands. The program attempts to engender a culture of empathy, recognizing that the caregiver may be stressed, while getting him or her to understand the vulnerabilities that seniors face. 

"We help them understand the aging process," says Bhangoo-Sekhon, adding that changes in a senior's behaviour may create friction within the family if it's not recognized as a health issue.

"Housing for seniors should be guaranteed. They need enough funding to live in dignity."

"[It's to help] them understand what's happening to their body, their brain, and that's out of their control."

Networks for seniors living alone

SAWC, through its community network, tries to locate housing for seniors so they can live independently, but finding affordable housing can take an average of seven years, according to the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association. Thirty per cent of seniors make up the wait list, as cited by the Toronto Star from the organization's 2015 report.

Sekhar communicates regularly with seniors who live independently and tries to ensure that their landlords are responsive to building safety issues. "Many say they do that, but their concerns aren't always attended to," she says. 

SAWC holds a seniors’ workshop every Thursday where they can gather to discuss health and safety issues, along with abuse. It's a support network for seniors who live on their own, where they feel comfortable conversing in their mother tongue, says Sekhar. 

"Housing for seniors should be guaranteed," says Sekhar. "They need enough funding to live in dignity."

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

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by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver 

In this week’s round-up of what’s been making headlines in Canada’s ethnic media: The Liberal government is set to repeal Bill C-24; municipal councils wage war on Uber and Canadians react to Haryana violence in India. 

Liberals plan to repeal Bill C-24 

The Liberal government has announced that it will be making significant changes to the Citizenship Act, repealing the Conservatives’ controversial Bill C-24. 

The bill gave the government the power to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage. According to the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, John McCallum, the new measures will make it nearly impossible to revoke citizenship. 

[T]he government says that it plans to remove barriers to citizenship posed by Bill C-24.

Immigration officials will still be able to revoke citizenship if it was obtained by false representation or fraud and the federal court will be able to remove someone’s citizenship if they are involved in organized crime, war crimes or crimes against humanities. 

Of particular interest to new and aspiring Canadians, the government says that it plans to remove barriers to citizenship posed by Bill C-24. 

As reported in the Canadian Immigrant magazine, McCallum announced Feb. 23, “We believe that it’s better to make it easier rather than harder for people to become citizens.” 

Expected changes include reducing the length of time that someone must be physically present in Canada to qualify for citizenship, allowing time in Canada before permanent residency to count toward physical residency requirements and amending the age range for language and citizenship knowledge exams. 

The government also intends to repeal the intent to reside provision, which caused some immigrants to fear that they could lose their citizenship if they moved outside of Canada. 

While McCallum didn’t elaborate on what other changes would be made, he told The Globe & Mail that specifics would follow “in coming days, but not very many days.” 

The government is set to table its annual immigration report before Mar. 9 and it will outline targets for all classes of immigrants, including Syrian refugees. 

Uber-taxi war rages in Brampton 

The battle against Uber in Ontario continues as Brampton City Council voted on Wednesday to temporarily suspend ride-sharing companies until the City can decide whether or not to allow them to operate in the area. 

The motion, which was brought forward by city councillor Gurpreet S. Dhillon, was unanimously accepted by council, who cited concerns over public safety, consumer protection, fairness and regulation. 

“This is a victory for the residents of Brampton.”

“This is a victory for the residents of Brampton,” said Dhillon, as reported by The Indo-Canadian Voice. “I’m very proud that my motion was supported by all my council colleagues. This decision is a good first step to guarantee the public’s safety and security, while maintaining fairness — that is our priority right now.” 

According to councillors, ride-sharing companies like Uber have presented challenges for consumers and companies in Canada. There are also issues of legality, as many of these drivers are not licensed under the cities’ mobile licensing bylaws and as such are operating contrary to their requirements. 

Other cities in Canada are having similar conversations about the ride-sharing problem. Mississauga city council voted unanimously in early March to suspend Uber's operations in the city. 

“Innovation, technology and growth are driving competition in an established industry that has a long history of providing quality and reliable service,” said Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie. “The debate about how to regulate Transportation Network Companies (TNC) is not going away and we need to get it right.” 

The city will be seeking feedback from all stakeholders — the taxi and limousine industry, companies like Uber, as well as consumers — in reviewing the bylaws and regulations around ride-shares. 

Students stand in solidarity with northern India   

As caste violence continues to occur in the north Indian state of Haryana, Canadians are speaking out against fighting that has seen more than a dozen people killed. 

On Mar. 2, students, faculty, and staff from the University of British Columbia (UBC) held a rally in solidarity with India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), where, as one student wrote, JNU students “are now facing deadly onslaught of the state – its entire students’ union and leftist leadership booked under the draconian sedition charges.” 

The violence has also affected non-resident Indians (NRIs) living in Canada ...

According to The Indo-Canadian Voice, “Hundreds of universities, public intellectuals, human rights [organizations] from all over the world have raised their voice in support of the JNU students and teachers.” 

The violence has also affected non-resident Indians (NRIs) living in Canada, who fear it will impact investment in the state. 

In a statement reprinted in The Indo-Canadian Voice, the Overseas Association of Haryanvis in Canada said, “We, the NRIs of Haryana origin, would like to appeal to our brothers and sisters to support centuries-old brotherhood among 36 biradaris in the larger interest of Haryana and the nation.” 

The organization further stated that the agitation has not helped the common man of the state. On the contrary, the statement said it “will create more unemployment and increase poverty in an otherwise prosperous state.” 

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

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One Billion Rising is a monumental global movement to end the violence against women and girls. A young 15 year activist girl Eve Ensler founded it in the year 2012 and launched it as a part of V- Day (Valentine Day). The Motto is – Strike, Dance, Rise.
One in three women on the [...]

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by Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver 

In this piece, journalist Alireza Ahmadian discusses Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia with Cesar Jaramillo, Executive Director of Project Ploughshares, a non-governmental organization working in Canada and abroad to advocate for policy reform to prevent war and armed violence. 

The deal, valued at almost $15 billion, is the largest arms export contract in Canadian history and was awarded during the 2013-2014 fiscal year. It will see the shipment of an undisclosed number of light armoured vehicles, manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems, based in London, ON, to Saudi Arabia. 

Why should Canadians be concerned about an arms deal between their government and Saudi Arabia, a country that both Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) say violates human rights? 

It is not just HRW and AI who condemn the abysmal human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. Every authoritative organization in the world consistently ranks Saudi Arabia among the worst human rights violators [on] the planet. 

There is a widespread and well-documented pattern of violations of virtually every category of human rights in Saudi Arabia, so Canadians should definitely be concerned about the possibility that Canadian-made goods might be used to sustain a repressive regime and enable the further violation of human rights of civilians. 

What do we know about how Canadian arms are being used in Saudi Arabia? Are there any safeguards or ways of ensuring these weapons will not be used to violate human rights? 

We certainly know about the proclivity of the Saudi regime to systematically target civilians. In 2011, there were reports of Saudi forces using armoured vehicles, such as the ones Canada is set to ship to Saudi Arabia, to crush peaceful civilian protests in neighbouring Bahrain. 

The primary safeguard to ensure Canadian goods are not misused should be Canada’s own military export control policy, according to which the government must first determine that “there is no reasonable risk” that Canadian-made military goods might be [used] against civilians. 

Given what is widely known about the Saudi dire human rights record, it is hard to comprehend how there can be “no reasonable risk” of misuse. But so far the government has resisted calls to explain how the Saudi arms deal can be reconciled with the human rights safeguards of existing exports controls. 

"[W]hat’s to stop a country from selling weapons to ISIS or North Korea or organized criminals halfway around the world?"

Former foreign affairs minister, John Baird, also said that this deal has economic benefits for Canada. For instance, the arms deal supports “3,000 unionized workers in London, Ontario." What’s wrong with an arms deal that hires 3,000 Canadians? 

Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with job creation … However, we must recognize that this is a special case that merits special scrutiny. Valued at $15 billion, this is by far the largest military exports contract in Canadian history. And, as stated above, it is widely accepted that Saudi Arabia is a human rights pariah. 

So, while job creation is a legitimate pursuit of any government, in a case as egregious as this, we must assess as a society what is the real value we place on the protection of human rights. 

If economic gains are taken as the sole justification for arms exports authorizations, what’s to stop a country from selling weapons to ISIS or North Korea or organized criminals halfway around the world? 

The Harper government did not sign the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that seeks to regulate international arms trade and prevent military exports from fuelling armed conflict and human rights violations. Canada is the only country in North America, the only member of the G7 group of industrialized nations, and the only one of the 28 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, that has not signed the treaty. 

It is worthwhile to note that countries such as Syria, Pakistan, North Korea and Saudi Arabia are also non-signatories. 

Do you think that signing this Treaty would address concerns over lack of transparency in Canada’s arms deals with other countries? How so? Do you think the new government will sign the treaty? 

Yes, I believe the new government will accede to the Arms Trade Treaty. It was an election pledge of Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau, and was a specific priority of foreign affairs minister [Stéphane] Dion’s mandate. This is a position to be welcomed and encouraged. 

The ATT entails increased expectations of transparency around arms deals and greater vigilance in regards to the end users of military exports. 

At the same time, Canada may find itself sending a mixed message about its willingness to live up to the ATT’s heightened expectations of transparency when legitimate concerns about the human rights implications of the Saudi arms deal remain unaddressed. 

It has been reported that in May 2015, Martin Zablocki, the president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Commercial Corporation, the crown corporation that brokered the arms deal with Saudi Arabia, said that the Middle East is a “strategic region” for Canadian arms sales. How does this deal serve Canada’s strategic interests? What would you say to those who argue that other countries are selling arms to the Middle East? 

It is a strategic region from a purely business perspective, of course. It is no secret that the previous government made economic diplomacy a cornerstone of its foreign policy. In this context, the Canadian [Commercial] Corporation has acted as an active facilitator in the pursuit of these deals, not just as a passive intermediary. 

“Everyone else is doing it,” sounds like an argument void of any ethical considerations and undermines the credibility of Canada’s military export controls — which Ottawa calls “some of the strongest in the world.”  

The Canadian public has a right to know that the economic well-being at home is not being tied to the suppression of human rights elsewhere.

The Liberal government said that it would honour the arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Why do you think the Liberals decided to follow through with this deal even though they are trying to undo other aspects of the Conservative’s legacy? 

This deal would present a complex policy challenge for any party in power. There is a real confluence of economic, strategic and human rights dimensions that must be taken into consideration. But, again, Saudi Arabia isn’t a case of a handful of unconfirmed human rights violations. The human rights situation in the autocratic kingdom is absolutely abysmal. 

In a case where red flags are so apparent one would hope that the government would recognize, at a minimum, the need to publicly explain how this deal can be justified in light of existing export controls. 

The Canadian public has a right to know that the economic well-being at home is not being tied to the suppression of human rights elsewhere. 

How would you suggest the new government pursue future deals like this? 

There are specific human rights safeguards that are part of Canadian military export controls. Of course, however strong they might be on paper, they are only as effective when implemented. 

Beyond the need to abide by domestic and international regulations (including the Arms Trade Treaty, following accession) there is a need for greater transparency and oversight around the process by which arms exports authorizations are granted. 

 

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

 

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