New Canadian Media

by Janice Dickson in Ottawa

Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch’s campaign says she did not know Ron Banjaree, an anti-Muslim advocate, or the organization Rise Canada would be at the event she attended Monday evening in Brampton.

“Kellie did not know this person or this organization would be there. Had she known she would not have attended,” Leitch’s campaign spokesman Michael Diamond told iPolitics in an email.

Diamond said Leitch attended a meeting organized by an organization called “Keep Religion Out of Public Schools” in support of secular and pluralistic public schools.

“Kellie does not believe that this long standing Canadian practice should be changed to accommodate one group. Other individuals and groups attended this meeting, there was no guest list sent to Kellie prior to the event. This meeting was about the place of religion in public schools,” wrote Diamond.

Leitch did address the anti-Muslim group, though, and the money raised at the event was to go toward fighting the construction of a mosque in Brampton.

Banjaree, director of Canadian Hindu Advocacy and an advisor to Rise Canada, spoke to the audience awaiting Leitch’s arrival on Monday. In a video of his address posted to YouTube — posted below — Banjaree says Rise Canada is connected to different groups, including the Jewish Defence League of Canada, the United Christian Federation and other groups he describes as “fighting the Sharia creep.”

He tells the audience that, five years ago, the group didn’t exist, but with the help of mostly Christian groups it was able to do a series of “large scale demonstrations regarding prayers, Islamic prayers, in Toronto District School Board public schools, specifically it was Valley Park School.”

“At the time they had taken over the cafeteria for school prayers. They’re still doing it, by the way,” he tells the group. He goes on to claim that those organizing the prayers have made female students sit behind the boys and in some cases have excluded them from prayers altogether.

A Caucasian man in the audience pipes up at this point: “Sometimes they do panty checks. It’s disgusting.”

Diamond wrote that the meeting was attended by “a number of people from a number of different groups, including people from Rise Canada. That is clear.

“It is also clear that Kellie was not at the event while a representative from Rise Canada was speaking.”

Banjaree recently attended a Toronto school board meeting on religious accommodation where someone ripped up a copy of the Qur’an. At that board meeting, someone else was distributing flyers from Rise Canada which called for the elimination all policies of ‘religious accommodation’ in schools.

On the recording, Banjaree welcomes Leitch as she slowly makes her way to the podium, stopping along the way to shake hands with Banjaree’s supporters.

Leitch takes questions from the audience, but it appears only one — from Banjaree — was captured on video.

Banjaree claims that India has the best human rights record in the world and should be considered a “safe country” for migration, like Canada, the United States and many countries in Europe. He says that there have been problems with people from India claiming refugee status in Canada and people involved in the 1985 Air India bombing were able to claim refugee status in Canada.

Banjaree asks Leitch to look into why India is not considered a “safe country”; she says she will.

Diamond said that while Leitch responded a question from the floor, “she did not know this person or this organization would be there. Had she known she would not have attended.

“She wants to be very clear that this guy and his opinions are repugnant and do not reflect her own views.”

Diamond said Leitch is supportive of secular and pluralistic public schools. She is committed to building a country that promotes the shared values of hard work, generosity, freedom, tolerance, equality of opportunity and equality of individuals. “That includes the freedom to practice your religion and the responsibility to be tolerant of other people’s religion.”

A blog called Anti-Racist Canada posted an exhaustive list of links to reports of controversial activity by Banjaree, including the video from the event Leitch attended with him on Monday.

At the end of the video, an attendee says that former Mississauga mayoral candidate Kevin Johnston collected $244 from supporters at the event that will go toward fighting the construction of a mosque that was recently approved by Mississauga City Council.

In early March, city council gave the Meadowvale Islamic Centre Inc. and the City of Mississauga a green light to move forward with the development of the mosque.

Johnston reportedly expressed his concerns about the mosque on his website, “Stop the Mosque”. According to Mississauga.com, Johnston wrote on his website that the mosque would drive up crime and vandalism, set back women’s rights and affect housing prices.

Some Tory leadership contenders came under fire for giving interviews to Johnston on his YouTube channel, FreedomReport.ca.

In one of his video rants, he warns Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, author of motion 103 condemning Islamophobia, that he’ll be there “with a big, fat smile” to film the moment when she’s shot by a “gun nut.”


Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.

Published in Top Stories
Wednesday, 29 March 2017 09:59

“We All Have Xenophobia to Some Degree”

by Ashoke Dasgupta in Winnipeg

The Islamic Social Services Association recently organized a conference on the theme of “At the Heart of Human Rights is Human Dignity” in Winnipeg.

It was attended by about 180 people, including many important speakers, but there was no local media coverage in the mainstream.

Andrew J. McLean, medical director of the North Dakota Department of Human Services and Chair of the Psychiatry Department at the N. Dakota School of Medicine, spoke on “Community Resilience and the Concept of the ‘Other.’”

He pointed out some unhealthy aspects of “otherization”: they are of less value; they are different from “me” and “us;” their differences are to be belittled; they are seen as “abject.”

“To work with another, you have to be able to admire something about them, even if you don’t like them,” said McLean.

The Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, a United Church Minister, spoke on “Beyond Our Comfort Zone: the LGBTQ Community, Hopes, Challenges, Collaborations and the Right to Dignity,” pointing out that hate groups lump “undesirables” together: “A part of the brain lights up when we see another, but not if we ‘otherize’ them.”

Everyone has prejudices

“We all have xenophobia to some degree,” said Shepherd. “But we must learn to be in solidarity with one another. Openness and courage are necessary to build relations and trust across communities that usually distrust one another.”

The event featured several “Conversation Cafes". One pointed out that prejudice may be positive or negative. Love is a positive prejudice which blinds us to the beloved’s negative qualities. Hate is the opposite.

The world is too complex for individuals to analyze each individual or phenomenon individually, and we don’t usually have the time. Consequently we fall back on our past experiences to make quick decisions.

For example, one may glance at the colour of the sky before leaving home and decide to carry one’s umbrella because that sort of sky often signals rain in our experience. One may then carry an umbrella all day, yet it may not rain; but if we ignore our past experiences, we deprive them of meaning.

We may have had negative (or positive) experiences justifying our pre-judgements, but should not fail to revise them when confronted with evidence to the contrary, concluded the participant.

Indifference and Silence are Threats

The Emcee, retired CBC Radio Host Terry MacLeod, welcomed Danny Smyth, Chief of the Winnipeg Police Service, and Scott Kolody, RCMP Assistant Commissioner, on the second day. In his address, Smyth said, “Women in our community will be a big part of the solutions.”

MacLeod called Shahina Siddiqui, Executive Director of the Islamic Social Services Association, “the godmother of everything that happened here,” and Kolody called her a leader.

Their greetings were followed by a heartfelt video message from Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission. “Indifference and silence are threats,” she said.

A participant asked MacLeod why there were so few media people of colour in the mainstream. He replied that rectifying it was now a major project at CBC.

Another asked the lawmen what was being done about the over 100 extremist groups like “Soldiers of Odin” in Canada. The “Soldiers” even have a Facebook page. The policemen replied that they were networking and exchanging information.

Trump phenomenon

Haroon Siddiqui, an Editor Emeritus of the Toronto Star, then spoke on Islamophobia.

“(U.S. President Donald) Trump is doing what he said he’d do,” said Siddiqui: “And the Trump phenomenon has already happened here. Dozens of mosques have been vandalized, and Muslims assaulted. The alleged killer in Quebec was a Trump fan. We need to stand in solidarity with one another. Muslims can’t be maligned any more than they already have been. The ‘alt-right’ is code for white supremacists; indifference and inaction imply complicity with the victimisers.”

"Though Muslims aren't interned, they feel a psychological internment."

“The only crime of Canadians refused entry to the U.S. was that they weren’t white,” continued Siddiqui.

"Trump is similar to (former Canadian prime minister) Stephen Harper. Both elicited white support from their electoral bases. Once it was rumoured that Jews were taking over the world; now it’s Muslims. People talk of women’s status in Islam, but Muslim women are being spat on and shoved by North Americans.

"Have those who say the Koran says to kill infidels ever read the Old Testament? Wars call for propaganda, but one can’t separate Muslims there from Muslims here. When we demonize one, we demonize the other.”

Shahina Siddiqui thanked the funders at the end: Canadian Heritage, Sargent Blue Jeans, and The Winnipeg Foundation.  


Ashoke Dasgupta is a Winnipeg-based journalist who has won three awards in Canada and Nepal.

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 Top Stories
Thursday, 23 February 2017 17:09

America at a Crossroads: Land of Hope or Fear?

Commentary by Andrew Lam in San Francisco

Recently all 10 of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) submitted their resignations to President Trump. The main reason: Trump’s policies have adversely affected Asian Americans in particular and minorities in general.

“We cannot serve under an administration that seeks to exclude members of our society or take away their rights, especially the Muslim community, which is very much part of our AAPI community,” stated former Commissioner Maulik Pancholy.

The Trump regime has gone against the basic principles in which the advisory committee was set up to perform: protecting the civil rights of all those living in the US, including the most vulnerable, and respecting the unique attributes of all individuals and communities, and ensuring linguistic, cultural, and financial access to health care as well as economic and educational opportunities for all.

In an open letter the Advisory Commissioners wrote to Trump, they noted that they “firmly believe these principles are fundamental to our nation and need to be implemented and enforced at all times.”

Bans on refugees and those coming from the seven predominantly Muslim countries have torn families apart, creating confusion about America’s immigration and visa policies and created tension with countries that it needs to understand better. And by singling out individuals, families and communities for their religious beliefs, the president’s advisory committee concluded, Trump’s actions “create a religion-based test for entry into our country and threaten freedom of religion, a fundamental constitutional right.”

Indeed, America is now at a crossroad. In one direction is a pluralistic society defined by openness and porous borders and the profound understanding that it has always depended and thrived on the energy, ideas and contributions of newcomers, reborn through their hope and optimism.

It is one where there is an explicit understanding that immigrants have always transformed the world they enter, and in time they also influence the world they left behind as well. They are arguably the most crucial part of globalization that integrated the modern world. After all, who were the pilgrims but not the original boat people?

Many refugees along with immigrants resettled in America. And they are far from being helpless. Take the Vietnamese community, for instance. Now, 1.5 million strong, it’s a global tribe and quite an influential one since the Vietnam War ended 42 years ago when the first wave of refugees stepped onto the American shore. They helped build Silicon Valley here in California and from the very start, stood in assembly lines when the first Apple computer was being built. Their children grew up and worked in high-tech companies as engineers and designers, and now many are owners of new start-ups and some are running for local political offices.

Immigrants and refugees come to America to remake themselves and America in turn is renewed by their energy and vision.

Alas, the United States is currently being ruled by a xenophobic White House as it seeks to strengthen law enforcement and going after its most vulnerable population. It is pushing the country down a dangerous path in which the American society becomes dangerously divided, with growing anger and rising racism, and a population that lives in constant fear of arrest and assault.

If America was once a country that opened its doors to immigrants and refugees, today its policies stand in stark contrast to its this tradition and its premise of open societies and sustainable, equitable growth undermined by ineptitude and barely veiled racist intentions. It’s a country in which the immigrant becomes the enemy. And those from the Middle East are automatic suspects, potential subjects for registration and targets for attention and abuse.

To be sure the voice of opposition to the Trump White House and its assaults on civil liberties are reassuring as are the numerous protests and the fights being waged demanding for balance in governance, and to protect the poor and the vulnerable. Town halls are full of angry, unsettled citizens demanding transparency and accountability.

“The question that confronts all Americans now as we put up barriers at the airports and build the wall is whether we are creating a prison for the rest of the world, or for us,” asked Doctor Tung Nguyen, one of the president’s committee member who recently resigned, and a former refugee from Vietnam.

For if the West extinguished itself as a beacon of hope, it will become its own misfortune as well. An America that practices intolerance is an America dangerous to its own citizenry, and to the world.


Andrew Lam is an editor at New America Media in San Francisco and the author of “Birds of Paradise Lost,” a collection of stories about Vietnamese refugees in San Francisco, “East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres,” a book of essays on East-West relations, and a memoir, “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora.”
 
Republished with permission
Published in Commentary

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
Monday, 04 July 2016 12:49

The Bad and Ugly Brexit

Commentary by Bhupinder Liddar

Most divorces end bad and ugly, needlessly. Brexit's fate is no different. 

After almost four decades Britain decided to walk out of a relationship with Europe.

However, one must recognize that Britain was always the problem child in the European Union family. With one foot on the island and the other on the continent, it was going to be difficult to juggle the strained “long distance” relationship.

In the end, Britain decided to walk away from the EU home.

France – not once, but twice – advised against entering into such a relationship. In 1963 and 1967, France’s President Charles de Gaulle vetoed United Kingdom’s entry into what was then known as European Economic Market.

He alluded to the British sense of arrogance and self-importance. It was only after de Gaulle’s fall from power in 1969, that the U. K. applied and became a member on January 1, 1973.

Straightforward question

The referendum question was straightforward and simple, as were the two choices:

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?" 

  • Remain a member of European Union
  • Leave the European Union”

So, where was the confusion? Was the decision to walk away based on economics, social, political, or some other reason? No one really knows, including those who voted to exit and now want to change their minds.

The British facade of a tolerant, inclusive society, cracked, flaked and crumbled. Thanks to social media, the insular British island’s latent, long-simmering, ugly underbelly surfaced immediately after the vote to leave the EU. 

The British facade of a tolerant, inclusive society, cracked, flaked and crumbled.

Brexit turned bad and ugly!

The reaction to the exit vote quickly led to xenophobia, racism, and intolerance. Coloured Britons were verbally and physically abused. There were reports of their businesses torched. A Polish Cultural Centre was vandalized.

Issues that were not on the referendum question reared their head: latent racism and xenophobia, hallmarks of British society in 60s and 70s, suddenly manifested in ugly acts of violence and hate. Britain’s police reported a 57 per cent increase in hate crimes after Brexit vote.

Intrusive EU bureaucracy

Britain’s population has been frustrated by dictates from EU headquarters – from regulating the size of bananas, to incursions into what the British consider their private lifestyles. Britain, too, was cautious in moving too close to Europe.

For instance, it stayed away from the Euro monetary union and constantly spurned EU regulations citing a threat to British sovereignty. It resisted moves to implement the free movement of peoples across Europe’s borders, so it could pick and choose those who could get in.  

As a requirement of the free movement of goods and people, a significant number of immigrants from former Eastern European countries, such as Poland, headed to Britain to work and live. Like all immigrants, they worked hard, but the British were always suspicious, accusing them of taking away their jobs.

Britons forgot that the borders of other 26 European Union countries were open to them, and that many of their fellow-citizens had moved to work there.

On the other hand, zealous Eurocrats perhaps moved too fast, dreaming up of a Euro army and one Euro foreign policy.

The British were told of millions being siphoned off from the National Health Service to be spent on immigrants and refugees. The media carried horror stories of immigrants and refugees being housed in luxury hotel-style accommodations. Anti-Europe/Eurosceptics, right-wing politicians, jumped at the opportunity to whip up hysteria among the public against perceived waste.

Lesson on referendums

Unfortunately, not-so-recent newcomers also joined the anti-immigrant wave. They bought into the argument that the relative latecomers were stealing jobs, tha there was no room in the country left for any more immigrants and refugees. They were a burden on health care and social security and other social services.

Ironically, the British could go, conquer and impose their lifestyle on countries on all continents during the days of their empire, but do not wish to see the faces of their former subjects in Britain.

Ironically, the British could go, conquer and impose their lifestyle on countries on all continents during the days of their empire, but do not wish to see the faces of their former subjects in Britain.

There was also an element of anti-Muslim bias too. Right-wing British politicians promised to save the island nation against the hordes from Europe and elsewhere. Leading up to the referendum, Leave side politicians made covert references, equating leaving the EU to putting an end to immigration and stopping the flow of refugees.

So, what transpired was a carefully calculated political manipulation. 

If anything, the Brexit exercise has proved that referendums are the lowest form or instrument of democracy. The public is manipulated and swayed by politicians on emotional matters, issues that may not even be central to the basic issue.

It is not the end of Britain. It will find its own way forward.

But, Britain will never learn to drive on the right side of the road!

Bhupinder S. Liddar is a former Canadian diplomat and founder-publisher/editor of Diplomat & International Canada magazine. www.liddar.ca

Published in Commentary

by Matt D’Amours in Montreal 

Is there any topic touchier in Canada than Quebec’s identity politics? 

It might be easier to answer this question from the outside looking in, but for us Québécois, conclusions are a bit harder to come by than they might be in what is (mostly) affectionately referred to as the “ROC,” or the “rest of Canada.” 

Questions of identity become even harder to reconcile when, as in my case, a person is saddled with dual identities that appear to be at odds. 

On one side, I am an “old-stock” Quebecer – a descendant of French settlers who were sent to establish fishing operations in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region hundreds of years ago. On the other side, I’m the grandchild of Italians who left behind farmland in Italy to immigrate to Canada in the mid-20th century — with only $5 in their pockets, as our collective mythology never fails to underline. 

Then there is the ever-divisive issue of language. I grew up in a household where Dad spoke to me in French and Mom spoke to me in English. Having learned these languages at the same time, my speech is accent-free on both sides, leading Francophones and Anglophones to simultaneously conclude that I’m “one of them.” 

“Bill 101 doesn’t protect the French language as much as it does those who speak it,” Verboczy writes, alluding to the anxieties that French was being phased-out of Quebec culture . . .

Somehow, I’ve always maintained a delicate balance between these two backgrounds, and the question of identity has never preoccupied my life. However, I’m fascinated by the issue of Québécois identity, which is often presented to Canadians through the lens of inflammatory think pieces in Anglophone media. 

I was delighted, then, to come across the thoughtful book by Akos Verboczy titled Rhapsodie Québécoise, in which the author explores the dimensions of identity — politics, heritage and language — from the perspective of a Hungarian immigrant who “became” Canadian. 

Or, rather, became Québécois? 

A Hungarian in Montreal 

Verboczy’s account of moving from Hungary to Canada in the 1980s examines many issues that remain hot buttons. As a pre-teen, the young Hungarian arrived in Montreal when opposition was growing against Quebec’s controversial Bill 101, the infamous language law passed in 1977 that gave French precedence in the province. As a result of this law, immigrants are required to send their children to French schools in order to ease their integration into Quebec society. 

Verboczy writes that immigrants were quickly informed by others in their new communities that Francophones were “principally welfare-receiving, uneducated racists” — a sign of resentment against Bill 101 and its purveyors. 

The charge of ingrained racism seems to be echoed from within our culture as well.

But Verboczy ended up embracing the language which he was forced to learn, and spends many pages sympathizing with the concerns that led to the language law’s creation. He points to the monolithic influence of American products in Quebec and the resulting dominance of English-language culture. 

“Bill 101 doesn’t protect the French language as much as it does those who speak it,” Verboczy writes, alluding to the anxieties that French was being phased-out of Quebec culture — anxieties that persist today. 

Is Quebec really racist? 

From my observations, the suggestion of overwhelming racism in Quebec seems to have been adopted as pure fact. I’m reminded of a recent column on Gawker, which offered Americans a guide to moving to Canada if Donald Trump becomes president of the United States. When Quebec is brought up, it’s framed as an unwelcoming society, and the article’s comments mirror this characterization. 

The charge of ingrained racism seems to be echoed from within our culture as well. Verboczy decries a speech made by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois — the student spokesperson of the 2012 “Maple Spring” — in which he proclaimed that “if there is a Québécois tradition to conserve, it isn’t poutine or xenophobia.” 

“Pardon? Xenophobia, a tradition?” Verboczy asks in response. “In my view, we’re actually thinking, disgusted, of that uncle at Christmas lunch who said that it’s unbelievable, this unreasonable business of Hassidic Blacks who impose themselves with their halal pork.” 

He argues that caricatures of a rustic Quebec that is closed-off to foreigners have become accepted conventional wisdom over the years. 

Verboczy doesn’t shy away from tricky questions regarding the experience of Canadian immigrants, and not everyone will agree with his conclusions.

Where are we going? 

Such is the title of Verboczy’s final chapter, in which the immigrant-turned-defender of the French language and Québécois culture reflects on modern questions of integration.

He points to the unique challenges posed by 21st century communication technologies, which allow newly arrived immigrants to remain in constant contact with their countries of origin. Verboczy says this can slow down the integration process for immigrants, as it can “give the illusion that they never left their countries.” 

In response, the author places a greater onus on immigrants to adapt to their new surroundings, arguing “they must accept that their identity will change, and that it will have to superimpose itself on a backdrop that already has its colours and reliefs.” 

Verboczy doesn’t shy away from tricky questions regarding the experience of Canadian immigrants, and not everyone will agree with his conclusions. However, Rhapsodie Québécoise explores these issues with boldness, nuance and humour that is, in my view, mostly absent in mainstream media analysis.

Verboczy confidently strikes back against charges of an intolerant Quebec, offering an important perspective that is often drowned out in polarized debates surrounding the province’s identity politics. 

Matt D’Amours is a Montreal-based journalist who focuses on politics, social justice and Montreal’s protest movements. He was born and raised in Montreal’s multicultural borough of Ville Saint-Laurent, where cultural diversity is an everyday fact of life. Growing up speaking English and French simultaneously, D'Amours inhabits a space between Anglophone and Francophone – between Canadian and Québécois – which affords him a critical eye towards identity politics.


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 Melissa Shaw in Richmond, British Columbia 

Richmond community members came together last week to discuss breaking down the barriers of racism as part of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation’s (CRRF) three-year Our Canada Project. 

Held at the John M.S. Lecky UBC Boathouse, the Living Together symposium featured guest speakers and guided public discussions aimed at building a more inclusive community. 

Local member of Parliament for the riding Steveston-Richmond East, Joe Peschisolido, spoke about the role of society and government to mitigate conflicts and bring people of all different backgrounds together. Richmond’s acting mayor Bill McNulty highlighted the city’s diverse historical roots, including its First Nations, Japanese, Chinese and European influences. 

One of the panel discussions, moderated by Robert Daum, Simon Fraser University (SFU) fellow in diversity and innovation, focused on the forces that shape Canadian identity. 

“We keep using the word immigrant in a way that says some people belong more than others who arrived here on this territory, [when instead] we are all guests on Indigenous land,” stated Henry Yu, history professor and principal of St. John’s College at the University of British Columbia (UBC), during the panel.

“We keep using the word immigrant in a way that says some people belong more than others who arrived here on this territory."

Yu explained that early Europeans in Canada were called settlers, while people from other countries are called immigrants. 

Bringing people together

Dr. Kanwal Singh Neel, program coordinator of the Friends of Simon tutoring program in the faculty of education at SFU, added that many people want to feel a sense of belonging in Canada, while preserving their native language and culture. 

Neel said sporting events like Vancouver Canucks’ hockey games and the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics bring people together. 

Elaine Chau, an associate producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) program “The Early Edition”, said the sharing of food builds a sense of belonging and community. 

“When we look at what we eat, even something as simple as rice pops up in every culture.”

“When we look at what we eat, even something as simple as rice pops up in every culture,” said Chau. “There are so many ways to relate around the dinner table that we can celebrate our differences.” 

Addressing underlying tensions

When asked what challenges Richmond faces in creating inclusive communities, Chau said the issue of Chinese-language-only signs is more about the tensions “bubbling underneath,” because people she spoke with felt they were not welcome in Chinese shopping areas. 

“People need to think about what can be done to make people want to venture into places that look unfamiliar,” she said. 

Yu added that people should examine what’s causing the hurt feelings underlying the issue of Chinese-language-only signs and focus on building reciprocal relationships. 

Metis writer and arts activist, Joanne Arnott, said the arts can be used to accomplish this goal and share culture. She drew on examples like a multilingual art project she led, as well as local poetry gatherings, which she explained encapsulate a person’s rich roots and emotions. 

“How can we overcome these challenges? Through dialogue, through telling stories that create empathy."

In regards to the question about how to address xenophobia and racism in the wake of the Canadian government’s decision to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees this year, Yu encouraged people not to isolate themselves from those they fear. 

“How can we overcome these challenges? Through dialogue, through telling stories that create empathy so we understand, ‘Who are these people, what are their hopes and dreams?’” said Yu. 

He said the picture of drowned Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi was powerful because it changed people’s feelings towards refugees. 

Neel highlighted the importance of dialogue by using the example of the speculation that resulted over recent media coverage of three men taking ‘suspicious’ photos in the Pacific Centre mall, who the police described as looking 'Middle Eastern'. 

Social change takes hard work 

Later in the symposium, Suresh Kurl shared an uplifting story about coming to Canada from India and Richmond resident Cecilia Point talked about the Musqueam Nation’s successful fight to preserve a burial ground. Their stories are included as part of the CRRF’s 150 Stories project. 

The public also participated in roundtable discussion sessions to create a timeline of important events that have impacted the city and develop a plan to address 11 key issues including the growing wealth gap and housing costs. 

About 100 members of the public attended the event including students, local First Nations representatives and politicians. 

“Social change takes hard work on the part of many, many people,” said attendee Caroline Wong, reflecting on the day’s programming. 

Other participants expressed hope that the collected feedback would be put into action. 

Attendee Kanwarjit Sandhu said that people can ask for change, but “we have the power to change one thing, that is ourselves, our attitude.” 

The CRRF will hold upcoming symposiums in Halifax, Nova Scotia; Hamilton, Ontario; Red Deer, Alberta; and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in 2016. The Our Canada Project culminates with Canada’s Sesquicentennial in 2017.

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 Arts & Culture
Thursday, 05 November 2015 11:18

Canada is Not Immune to Racist Ideology

by James Sharma in Montreal

On Oct. 17, mayoral candidate Henriette Reker was stabbed in the neck during a campaign stop in Cologne, Germany. The perpetrator, a 44-year-old unemployed man, was furious about Reker’s support for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s migration policy, which involves admitting 800,000 asylum seekers into Germany this year.

Germany has already seen nearly 500 attacks on migrants this year, eclipsing the 198 attacks recorded in 2014. Meanwhile, the U.S. presidential campaign has also been the site of xenophobia and racism.

As Canada prepares to process an increased number of Syrian refugees following the election of a Liberal government, political leaders and citizens would do well to remember that Canada is not immune to racist ideology and must take steps to prevent similar surges in violence.

A look at Europe's xenophobia

The attacks on migrants in Europe reflect a wider sentiment of xenophobic tension and insecurity that has bolstered neo-nationalist parties across the continent.

In October, national conservative parties received the most votes in parliamentary elections in Poland and Switzerland. Austria’s far-right Freedom Party received 30 per cent of the vote in the Vienna city council election, while in Greece, the neo-nazi Golden Dawn was the only party to achieve a higher percentage of votes in the September national election than in the previous one.

Additionally, 10,000 people gathered in Dresden, Germany, at the end of October to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Islamophobic Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident (PEGIDA) movement, and a group of right-wing extremists were detained in Bavaria for attempting to smuggle weapons for a potential attack on Halloween.

[T]he economic crisis and the migrant crisis combined to fuel support for anti-immigrant platforms.

Still, perhaps the most prominent name in neo-nationalist politics remains Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s nationalist and conservative National Front, whom many view as a potential dark horse in France’s upcoming 2017 elections.

While many of these parties have existed for decades, the economic crisis and the migrant crisis combined to fuel support for anti-immigrant platforms.

Europe has yet to recover from the debt crisis of 2009 with unemployment remaining high, reaching over 20 per cent in Greece and Spain, higher still for youth.

Although most refugees are civilians attempting to escape war zones, such as Syria and Iraq, opponents of immigration have framed the crisis as an attempt by economic migrants to compete for scarce jobs. The right-wing UK Independence Party (UKIP), for instance, couples its economically liberal proposals with right-wing nationalism and calls for reduced immigration.

The potential threat of such xenophobic scapegoating is, in essence, that the reactionary behaviour we see from these political leaders today is no different from that of the European fascist parties during the interwar years. This misguided rhetoric is a major contributing factor to the increased violence against migrants across Europe.

At the same time as Europe’s neo-nationalist surge, our American neighbours are experiencing a pivotal xenophobic moment of their own.

More xenophobia south of the border

At the same time as Europe’s neo-nationalist surge, our American neighbours are experiencing a pivotal xenophobic moment of their own.

The leading Republican nominee Ben Carson has publicly denounced Muslims running for the presidency. Likewise, his close-trailing opponent Donald Trump has made headlines with his racist comments, labelling Mexicans “criminals” and “rapists.”

These direct attacks are galvanizing an anti-immigrant constituency most prominent in the American Midwest and South, and have directly led to acts of violence, such as the beating of a Hispanic homeless man by two men in Boston last August, one of whom said he was “inspired” by Trump.

Racist elements in Canadian society remain

In some ways, the situation in Canada is similar to that in Europe.

Canada is currently in an economic recession, and the youth employment rate is at its lowest level since 2009. And parallel to the Republican presidential candidates in the U.S., the Conservative Party and the Bloc Québécois used racist rhetoric surrounding the niqab during the last election, which has also led to acts of Islamophobic violence.

Though the Conservatives’ electoral gamble was ultimately unsuccessful, the racist elements of Canadian society to which they appealed remain in place.

[P]olitical leaders and citizens alike need to be consciously active in combatting racist rhetoric and ideology.

Justin Trudeau’s commitment to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees is certainly an improvement over the Conservative policy of fear-mongering, but Canada should accept an even greater number of refugees.

In doing so, we must be careful not to repeat Europe’s mistakes; political leaders and citizens alike need to be consciously active in combatting racist rhetoric and ideology.

Opportunistic politicians can exploit disenfranchised youth that feel disconnected from the political system and angry about their economic prospects, and scapegoat immigrants as the reason for their precarious economic position. This can be avoided only if we call out racist rhetoric every time we hear it.

By reflecting on the circumstances and political tactics that have led to the rise of the nationalist far-right in Europe, the effectiveness of racist rhetoric in the U.S., and the ensuing violence toward migrants, Canadians should be able recognize the warning signs in their own country.

The underlying conditions required for a surge in xenophobic violence are present – we must reject lazy scapegoating and resist attempts by opportunistic leaders to capitalize on racist sentiments.


James Sharma is a Continuing Studies student at McGill University.

Re-published with permission from The McGill Daily

Published in Commentary

by Jan Wong

My sister worries about my vacation plans, a 10-day tour of Vietnam in the midst of anti-Chinese riots.

To be clear, I booked it weeks ago, before four Chinese workers there were killed and more than a hundred injured. Last week, Beijing sent five ships to evacuate thousands of its nationals.

“Can you cancel your trip?” my sister asked.

I considered begging the Vietnamese travel agency to switch my hefty deposit to a tour of Thailand. But then the Thai army staged a coup and declared martial law.

For now I’m sitting tight. As a journalist, one thing I hate more than race riots is waiting on hold to ask about non-refundable plane tickets.

Ethnic violence elsewhere helps me appreciate how safe Canada is, especially for visible minorities.

If I felt like a bowl of pho beef noodles right now, I could drop by a Vietnamese restaurant in Toronto without fear of a race riot, or even a food fight. Heck, the waiter would probably be Chinese.

Nationally, one in five Canadians is born abroad, the highest proportion among G8 countries, according to new data from Statistics Canada. Toronto is 50 percent visible minority and Vancouver is the most Asian city outside of Asia. The latest trends show newcomers choosing to live in smaller cities like Halifax, Winnipeg and Saskatoon.

Canada’s ethnic harmony is as soothing as a warm bath, so normal it surprises only someone like a Canadian violist who has just spent three years in Europe. To protect his career opportunities there, I’ll call him Ahmed Ali.

He was born and raised in Fredericton where he never experienced discrimination. But with his dark skin and Arabic name, he endures unrelenting, soul-destroying discrimination in Vienna and Berlin, cities he calls “Hell on Earth.”

Over tea at my Toronto home last week, he said his German partner was disbelieving until he witnessed incidents for himself. Ali, who is 29 and fluent in German and French, fills out forms at the university library requesting scholarly journals. When it’s time to pick them up, the librarian says, “What form?”

At the German visa office, Ali takes a number and waits several hours. But the clerk always throws his number out — just like that.

Ali says it’s counter-productive to speak to a supervisor. He stoically gets another number — and waits again.

He stays in Europe for the superb musical training, even though his viola teacher sometimes snaps, “We want Austrian intonation, not Arab-Egyptian intonation.”

He’s been mocked for his name during an audition for a German orchestra, where musicians try out in full view of the hiring committee. In Canada, musicians audition anonymously behind a screen, a 40-year practice that has led to significantly more female orchestra players.

To be sure, Canada has racial problems, but they’re mostly unintended slights like micro-aggressions.

We aren’t overtly xenophobic because we’re one of the few nations in the world where the majority comes from somewhere else.

Thus we condemn bigotry. This year when the Parti Quebecois tried to prohibit teachers, nurses and doctors from wearing Muslim head scarves and Sikh turbans, it suffered widespread criticism and its worst electoral defeat in a generation.

Vietnam’s xenophobia is rooted in China’s millennium of aggression there, starting in 111 BC. The recent violence came after China positioned an oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea. Rioters also burned factories owned by Taiwanese and South Koreans.

Hanoi’s Communist Party has since cracked down on the unrest, which hurts tourism and investment. So I guess it’s safe to visit. I’m sure the trains are running on time, too.

This piece was originally published in the Chronicle Herald and is re-published with permission from the author.

Published in Commentary
Thursday, 03 October 2013 15:07

Migrants much more than agents of growth

by Ranjit Bhaskar

Protecting the rights of migrant workers has become more crucial than ever as they are too often regarded as commodities or economic and political problems instead of human beings. This is the unitary message being put out by various experts as the UN General Assembly in New York holds a crucial discussion on international migration and development on October 3 and 4.
While the UN committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers (CMW) is urging all countries to join an international treaty that protects the rights of migrant workers, a group of 72 independent human rights experts urged world governments and intergovernmental organizations to adopt a migrant-centered approach.
The International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families (ICRMW) is one of the core international human rights treaties,” said CMW Chairperson Abdelhamid El Jamri.
 “Migration is in essence a fundamental human phenomenon, so it is essential for discussions on international migration to be focused on human rights,” said Chaloka Beyani on behalf of the independent experts who have been charged by the UN Human Rights Council to address specific country situations and thematic issues in all parts of the world.
In an open letter to UN member-states, these experts called on states to discuss, among others, key issues like the decriminalization of irregular entry and stay; the move away from detention as a tool in addressing irregular migration, and the development of alternatives to detention; how to combat xenophobia and xenophobic violence against migrants; and the rights of migrant children, both in countries of transit and destination.
“Migrants continue to suffer abuse, exploitation and violence despite the legal human rights framework in place, which protects migrants as human beings, regardless of their administrative status or situation,” added the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crépeau, who is attending the UN event. “Human Rights must therefore be at the center of discussions at the High-level Dialogue.”
 
Word of caution
However, Harald Bauder, the Academic Director of Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement (RCIS) in Toronto, had a word of caution. “The open letter hits on a very important issue that needs to be discussed. But too much focus on the human rights aspect of it undermines efforts to focus on their social rights,”
“The language of human rights can be easily interpreted by governments in various ways to exclude the very people it intends to protect,” Prof. Bauder said. He said current immigration policies across the world are designed to exploit labour and pitch workers against each other. “They are powerful tools to reduce wages and labour standards.”
Prof. Bauder said a universal declaration for a common approach to migration is essential to stop countries and provinces within them from becoming competitors in this inequitable game of exploitation.
Echoing these sentiments, Mr. El Jamri of CMW said ratifying the ICRMW does not commit states to giving migrant workers special treatment. It does not create new rights nor establish additional rights specifically for migrant workers. “What it does do is give specific form to standards that protect all human beings so that they are meaningful within the context of migration.”  
 
Canada not a signatory
Changing patterns of migration and the exploitation and discrimination faced by migrant workers in sectors such as construction and agriculture have made protecting their rights more crucial than ever, Mr. El Jamri stressed.
The ICRMW, in force for 10 years, has been ratified by 47 states. However, no major destination countries, among them Canada, the U.S., EU member states and Gulf countries, have ratified it, even though it reflects the rights set out in other core human rights treaties to which many states are already party.
More than 200 million people worldwide are international migrants; of these some 30 million are estimated to be irregular migrants.  
 “The convention is the best strategy to prevent abuses and to address the vulnerability that migrant workers face as well as to maximize the benefits of migration,” Mr. El Jamri said. The CMW Committee he heads is composed of 14 independent human rights experts and oversees implementation of the convention by states.  Many of the states are not only nations of origin but are now transit and destination countries given the changing patterns of migration. – New Canadian Media
Published in Top Stories
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