Policy

by Themrise Khan in Ottawa 

Renowned migration scholar, Graeme Hugo, Australian Research Council (ARC) Professorial Fellow and professor of geography and director of the Australian Population and Migration Research Centre at the University of Adelaide, was in Ottawa recently as a faculty member for the Metropolis Professional Development inaugural training week. Prof. Hugo granted New Canadian Media a short, sit-down interview: 

Q: From your work in population studies, how convinced are you that immigration is the answer to today’s global challenges?

A: It would be wrong to think that migration is the answer to an aging population. But it is part of the answer. Aging is a reality. Between 2010 and 2020, populations between the ages of 18-64 will decline by 20 million in OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries and will increase by 1 billion in low-income countries. But migration is not a solution to aging. Migrants also age. In Australia, 1 in 3 persons is born outside the country. In the 1950's and 60's, there were big waves of migration (to Australia) and studies have shown that they can contribute by increasing productivity of the population. But one of the ways of increasing the productivity of the workforce, is also to increase the age of retirement. So migration should be part of a much larger integrated strategy. The demographic lesson in this is that migration is going to continue to occur, so to try and stop it altogether will not solve any problems.

Q: How is migration different now than it was a few decades ago?

A: Migration is much more complex these days. But it has also become much more democratic and broadly based than it used to be. But the change now is that the difference between countries is widening. There are wider wage differentials for instance, and differences in rights and freedoms which are greater now (between countries) than they use to be.  The 3 Ds as I call it (development, demography and democracy) are more significant now. As I see it, there are three factors that drive migration now: The first is networks. Every time someone moves, there is a movement of social capital. Networks can be very intensive and intimate, as people are now in daily contact with each other. The second is the immigration industry. Legal and illegal migration, lawyers, travel providers, agents, etc., are a major driver of migration. And a third driver is the globalization of the labour market. People are looking across countries for jobs now. This is a function of changes in the global economy. None of these factors are going to go away. There is the belief that so much policy making is predicated that we won't need migration after a while. But this is not true.

Q: What are the best ways to manage migration?

A: Managing migration is not easy. But whoever is talking about it is talking about policy. Countries which earlier had very little migration now have a lot and don’t have the institutions to deal with it. The latest UN data shows that South to South migration (migration between developing countries) is increasing rapidly. The traditional thinking is that the top 5 Western countries are still the top destination for migrants. However, Asia is becoming a major destination. China, which is one of the largest countries to send migrants, is developing its own policy on migration.

Q: How do you think the area of migration studies should be evolving to reflect these new trends?

A: Migration has always been an interdisciplinary area of study, as it should be. What I would like to see (included) in migration studies is people who are involved in the migration process, rather than academics. We should be training people in migration careers. People should not be trained on border controls as police officers.

Q: How can we reflect the perspective of the immigrant into migration policy?

A: Most migration decision making around the world is not evidence based. It is based on bigotry, racism and political advantage. The most effective form of migration management is to base policy on evidence. We need high quality balanced research. The reality is that migration has had both good and bad effects. But right now, countries are only being presented the bad effects of migration. There should be a balanced presentation reflecting both sides.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Most migration decision making around the world is not evidence based. It is based on bigotry, racism and political advantage.[/quote]

Q: How important is it to discuss environmental change in the migration policy discourse?

A: The overwhelming evidence is that environmental change has been neglected in the past. We are seeing more and more disasters occur. In the past and in the future, most of the mobility environmental change is going to create will be within countries. The numbers of those being affected by climate change and those who will actually move are different. It is rarely a single case of migration and it is flawed to think that one can create a dedicated argument on environmental change for migration.

Q: What can Canada and Australia learn from each other in the immigration context?

A: I honestly think that I am not very close to the immigration bureaucracies in both countries. But both countries are very close. There are many cases like the regional migration programs in Australia that take from Canada. Both countries are in a category by themselves in that they have wholly planned migration policies and there is a high acceptance of immigration. Because these migration programs are so similar, we have  a lot to learn from each other. So there should be more comparative work between the two countries.

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by (@michellezilio)

Speaking from their new apartment in Laval, Quebec, the Dandachi family says the past 17 days have been like a “honeymoon” compared to the past three years spent fleeing the chaos of the Syrian war and living as refugees in Lebanon.

In a phone interview Wednesday night from Laval, Que., the family expressed their thanks to the Canadian government and Canadians for accepting them as refugees. Jassem Dandachi, 57, his wife Souhad Dandachi, 48, and their children, Mohamad, 23, Jawad, 21, and Hamza, 13, arrived in Canada just 17 days ago. Jassem spoke to iPolitics both in minimal English and through a translator Wednesday.

“I thank Canadian government and I thank all Canadian people for what they are doing for us. They are doing their best things and giving us everything. I will not forget (the moment) in my life when I came to Canada,” said Jassem.

According to the Syrian Canadian Council, the Dandachis are some of the first government-sponsored Syrian refugees to arrive in Canada since a brutal civil war engulfed their home country more than three years ago.

Prior to fleeing to Lebanon, the Dandachi family was living Homs, Syria, one of the many Syrian cities that has been devastated by a bloody conflict between supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian opposition. Jassem said a number of factors forced him and his family out of the country.

First, his eldest son Mohamad was detained by the Syrian regime for 40 days and tortured for expressing distaste towards Assad during a conversation with a fellow student at his school. The student reported him to the authorities and he was subsequently detained and tortured.

“He’s saying that even after his son got released, it wasn’t the end. He had to constantly go back to the security stations for re-interrogation, so it was a very anxious environment,” said Jassem’s translator.

When the Dandachi’s home was ultimately confiscated by the Syrian regime, they were left with no choice but to flee the country. But that was no easy task. According to Jassem, the Lebanese government would not allow entire families to take refuge in Lebanon, due to constraints on the country caused by overwhelming number of Syrian refugees already there. So, the family had to cross the border strategically.

“First, he got his other son Hamad and the middle (son) Jawad because apparently there is a rule that doesn’t allow the entire family to leave Syria,” said Jassem’s translator. “Five days later, Mr. Dandachi came back to Syria and got his youngest son and his wife and they all went to Lebanon.”

The family did not have to live in a refugee camp in Lebanon, as they had cousins there they could stay with. While Jassem and his wife were unable to find work during their two years in Lebanon, his sons Mohamad and Jawad worked for Save the Children while there.

But the process for finding refuge in a third country was a long one for the family. It took about two years.

After registering with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2012, they went through a series of interviews with the agency later that year, in which Jassem indicated a preference for resettlement in Canada because they have family in Montreal. In January 2014, the UNHCR called them to tell them they had been selected for an interview with the Canadian embassy. They interviewed in late January and were notified of their acceptance to Canada on April 15. During their interviews at the embassy, Jassem said the family was asked questions about their reasoning for becoming refugees and any political affiliations back home.

Since arriving in Canada, the family has settled into an apartment in Laval. Jassem’s translator said Mohamad, Jawad and Hamza are already inquiring about schooling options, including university, while Jassem and Souhad are hoping to find jobs soon. Jassem was a manager for a private construction company in Syria and his wife worked in a beauty salon. The family speaks Arabic and some English, and has signed up for French courses as well.

For Jassem, the opportunity to move to Canada means his dreams of raising his family in a safe and stable environment will actually come true.

“He says that the 17 days that he’s been in Canada, he feels that it’s like a honeymoon. This is how happy they are. That he feels like his children are going to get an education and they’re living in security,” said Jassem’s translator.

Last July, the federal government committed to resettling up to 1,300 Syrian refugees, including 200 government-sponsored refugees and 1,100 privately-sponsored refugees. Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said this week that 1,150 Syrian refugees have “received Canada’s protection and are inside Canada” since the beginning of the crisis. Of those 1,150, the government says it has approved more than 200 government-sponsored Syrian refugee applications. Alexander’s office has refused to indicate exactly how many of those refugees arrived after the July 2013 commitment. 

The Syrian Canadian Council, however, says those numbers are inaccurate.

The council’s Spokesperson Faisal Alazem told iPolitics earlier this week that the 1,150 Syrian refugees currently in Canada are people who applied for asylum while they were in Canada on either a student, work or tourist visa, and are not new arrivals from Syria.

The question of how many Syrian refugees are actually in Canada has become a hot topic since a recent testy exchange between Alexander and a CBC journalist saw Alexander hang up the phone mid-interview. The issue has been brought up several times in question period since.

The opposition parties have hammered the Conservative government on its commitment to resettling Syrian refugees, arguing that Canada’s commitment pales in comparison to other countries like Sweden, which has committed to accepting more than 14,000 Syrian refugees and Germany at 19,000. However, Alexander has pointed out that in those cases, the refugees are only being accepted on a temporary basis.

According to Jassem, Germany and Sweden were also seen as the resettlement leaders on the ground in Lebanon. Through a translator, Jassem said that for most of his time in Lebanon, Syrian refugees were looking to go to Germany or Sweden for resettlement because they were the most widely-known options. However, he said that more recently refugees started expressing interest in resettlement in countries such as Canada, Australia, Norway and Switzerland, as those government started opening their doors.

Alexander has repeatedly encouraged Canadians commit to privately sponsoring more Syrian refugees, as there are more spots to fill. However, Alazem has said the private sponsorship process is too difficult and costly, preventing many refugees and their sponsors from using it.

“They (sponsorship agreement holders) started excited that there is a program where they could bring their families but very few went the whole way,” said Alazem. “When they would hear about the delays or the financial obligation they would pull out.”

According to CIC’s website, a group sponsoring a refugee must help the individual find suitable housing, learn English or French, find a job and make friends, and provide care for a year after they arrive in Canada, or until they are “self-supporting.” The group must also disclose information on available finances.

Alexander has offered an explanation for why it took so long for the government-sponsored Syrian refugees to arrive in Canada. Speaking to iPolitics in March, he said the government did not receive refugee referrals from the UNHCR until last December. The original request from the UNHCR for member states to accept Syrian refugees with “urgent needs” was issued six months earlier, in June.

On Feb. 21, the UNHCR issued a new global call for the resettlement of 100,000 Syrian refugees in 2015 and 2016. Canada still is reviewing its response to the new appeal, according to Alexander’s office.

Re-published with permission.

 

A national organization which aims to bring together stakeholders to promote the successful integration of immigrants and minorities has just released a video series highlighting ideas on how to do just that.

Pathways to Prosperity (P2P), an alliance of university, community and government partners, recently filmed a series of interviews with individuals working through Local Immigration Partnerships (LIPs) in Ontario.

The video series includes:

  • Audrey Andrews, Durham Region Local Diversity and Immigration Partnership: promoting funding opportunities for community organizations by disseminating  a compendium of  funding opportunities  and by organizing  forums in which funders discuss their programs with interested parties;
  • Alex Goss, Guelph-Wellington Local Immigration Partnership: engaging employers through facilitation of a mentorship program in the region and development of tools and resources for businesses that may be interested in hiring  immigrants;
  • Don Curry, North Bay Local Immigration Partnership: engaging employers through the establishment of an employers’ council that develops resources and arranges activities to promote the attraction and retention of immigrants in the region;
  • Hindia Mohamoud, Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership: promoting a welcoming community through the Welcoming Ottawa Week that showcases the diversity of Ottawa and connects newcomers and established residents;
  • Bill Sinclair, Toronto South Quadrant Local Immigration Partnership: coordinating services for immigrants through a common intake and assessment form, a common welcome brochure on local assets, common staff training, and common research.

P2P says that “the long-term aim is to develop a comprehensive body of videos on promising practices for networks such as the LIPs and the Réseaux en immigration francophone (RIFs), and for community organizations working with immigrants so that they can share practices and activities that they have found to be successful in meeting their goals”.  Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Integration Branch funded the video series.

See each of the videos here:

Audrey Andrews

 

Alex Goss

 

Don Curry

 

 

Hindia Mohamoud

 

Bill Sinclair

Thursday, 13 March 2014 20:34

Policy changes reshaping Canada

Written by

By Contributing Editor Louisa Taylor

Gatineau, Quebec -- More than ever, the Canadian government needs the help of academics and other researchers to better understand newcomers, how they adjust to life in Canada and how to help them thrive. That was the message in Gatineau, Quebec on the opening day of the 16th Metropolis National Conference, an annual gathering of several hundred experts discussing all aspects of migration and settlement in Canada.
 
The theme of this year’s conference is facilitating integration and inclusion, two elusive concepts that speak to the challenges facing immigrants as they build new lives. Thursday’s opening-day plenary session focused on one of the biggest trends in Canadian immigration policy: the rising number of people arriving in Canada with temporary status who are making the transition to permanent residents after arrival, instead of arriving with permanent resident status. That number has been growing steadily as part of a deliberate policy direction from the federal government, as it opens more and more routes to “permanence” for temporary foreign workers, international students and others.
 
Originally funded by Citizenship and Immigration, Metropolis was a national network of research centres, an Ottawa secretariat and a national conference. After the federal department ended funding in 2012, the conference became an event organized by the Association for Canadian Studies. Chedly Belkhodja, a member of the association’s board of directors, said the unusual combination of participants is what gives Metropolis its unique energy and made it important to keep it alive.
 
"It brings together people from universities, researchers, civil servants and civil society, the famous triangle that Metropolis put in place,” says Belkhodja, a professor at Concordia University in Montreal. “It gives each group the opportunity to participate and get valuable information.”
 
Belkhodja said the theme of this year’s conference underlined the importance of addressing how recent changes to immigration policy are reshaping Canada.
 
“It's really important to realize that with new policies and new pathways to permanence, we see new challenges to offer the right services to the right people. We have a growing number of temporary workers and international students and they have different needs than other permanent residents.” 
 
During one plenary session, Derek Kunsken of Citizenship and Immigration Canada made it clear that the public service has a “thirst” for the work being done by researchers.
 
“We don't have all the answers,” said Kunsken. “Policy-relevant research can help us give important information to people making decisions.”
 
Kunsken said when it comes to the well-known difficulty many immigrant professionals face in finding work that fits their education or experience levels, the government needs more and better information to design successful solutions.
 
“How are industry leaders supporting newcomers now? What are the barriers to employment in small- to medium-sized enterprises?” said Kunsken. “It's important to keep our eyes on the ball.”
 
Metropolis 2014 continues through Saturday. For more information visit www.acs-aec.ca
 
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By Ranjit Bhaskar
With the labour market becoming the main driver for Canadian immigration, attempts to label immigrant groups as “good” and “bad” based on their economic viability is a troubling trend.
 
This was the main crux of the conversation initiated by Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam at a recent Couchiching Institute event hosted by Samara and the Newcomer Women’s Services Toronto.
 
“Canadians should not be buying into this ‘model’ immigrant racial stereotyping and young millennials amongst us should be at the fore front of this push back,” said the activist councillor, whose Ward 27 is a snapshot of Toronto’s demographic diversity. “Instead of competing to be the most-educated baristas and merely clicking at ‘like’ icons and signing petitions, millennials should end their self-inflicted disenfranchisement and access the political podium.”
 
Referring to the Trudeau-era immigration policies that helped codify inclusive political and social awareness, Ms. Wong-Tam was alarmed by the slew of rapid changes made by the Conservative government to regulate the flow of migrants. “These are regressive changes that peel away rights with surgical precision,” she said. “The rules are more stratified than ever before and we are on dangerous ground.”
 
Recent changes include an increase in Temporary Foreign Workers; reductions in the number of government sponsored refugees; and a shift away from family reunification policies. For a telling example of the speed with which they come into force, the number of operational bulletins released by Citizenship and Immigrations Canada is an eye-opener. In 2007, it released nine bulletins. In 2012, it released 94.
 
‘Corporate-sanctioned narratives’
 
During the conversation, concerns were raised about more drastic changes with the introduction of the Expression of Interest System that would let employers cherry-pick skilled immigrants from a pool of pre-screened
candidates. Tabling his annual report to the Parliament on Monday, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has said the system is to start on January 1, 2015.
 
Ms. Wong-Tam said as Canadians we cannot be honest to ourselves as an immigrant nation if we do not see through the insidious nature of these corporate-sanctioned narratives. “Although we are more connected and engaged in our conversations, there is less and less of political content,” bemoaned Ms. Wong-Tam who was quick to clarify in a lighter vein that she should not be mistaken for a “left-wing, latte-sipping, pinko.”
 
On the influence selective immigrant policies have on the ethnic voting bloc, the councillor said while those who found refuge in Canada would be eternally grateful to late prime minister Pierre Trudeau, the Liberal Party’s advantage with new Canadians has eroded as their vote in the Greater Toronto Area helped the Conservatives win the 2011 elections.
 
As a politician of Chinese heritage, Ms. Wong-Tam said she too was partly to be blamed for “creating a monster” by swinging the community vote in the favour of the ruling party based on the government’s apology for past injustices inflicted by the infamous head tax rule. “The Conservatives went on an apology tour to buy goodwill from various ethnic groups,” she said, adding “how we undo the damage we bought on ourselves” is a question for ethnic communities to ponder on.
 
Describing herself as a humanist, Ms. Wong-Tam suggested that secular Canadians should not hesitate to seek out faith leaders to “change the channel”. She said we can learn from the Americans who have inherited the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement that easily brings together religious institutions and labour unions for positive social change. – New Canadian Media
 
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Monday, 01 April 2013 23:06

Canada launches unique start-up visa

Written by

By Our Correspondent

As of April 1, entrepreneurs from around the world with ideas for new business ventures and financial backing from Canadian investors can apply to the brand new Start-Up Visa Program.

Making the announcement, Jason Kenney, Canada’s citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism minister, said Canada is open to do business with the world’s start-up entrepreneurs. “Innovation and entrepreneurship are essential drivers of the Canadian economy. That is why we are actively recruiting foreign entrepreneurs -- those who can build companies here in Canada that will create new jobs, spur economic growth and compete on a global scale -- with our new start-up visa.”

Canada’s Start-Up Visa Program is said to be the first of its kind in the world. By providing sought-after entrepreneurs with permanent residency and access to a wide range of business partners, Canada hopes to become a destination of choice for start-up innovators which will help Canada remain competitive in the global economy.

“My dream Canada is someone who has maybe studied at the Indian Institute of Technology and they have a brilliant start-up concept, they’ve attracted Canadian investment,” Kenney was quoted in the Globe and Mail as saying.

“Rather than starting that business in Bangalore, we are saying, ‘Come to Canada and come quickly. Start the business here, create the jobs in this country and you’ll have the venture capitalists here not just providing you with capital but mentorship, which is also important.’”

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has worked with two umbrella organizations, Canada’s Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (CVCA) and the National Angel Capital Organization (NACO), to identify and designate the venture capital funds and angel investor groups that are keen to participate in the program. A full list of designated venture capital funds and angel investor groups is now available on the CIC website.

"The CVCA and our individual members look forward to the launch of the Start-Up Visa Program,” said Peter van der Velden, President of the CVCA. “Our participating funds welcome the opportunity to take part in this first-of-its-kind program, which has the potential to help them attract best-in-class entrepreneurial talent to their Canadian-based investee companies.”

Michelle Scarborough, Chair of NACO, said, "There has been significant interest from both angels and entrepreneurs since the announcement of this program … Our angel group members across Canada are eager to participate, and we look forward to supporting the growth of new businesses and helping them to make their mark in Canada, further expanding our economy."

According to Kenney, “This is part of our government’s transformational changes to Canada’s immigration system that will make it fast, flexible, and focused on Canada’s economic needs.”

The Start-Up Visa Program is a pilot program that will run for five years. It is expected that due to the narrow focus of the program, initially, the number of applications will be limited. -- New Canadian Media

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by Pamela George for New Canadian Media

The 15th National Conference of Metropolis, held in Ottawa from March 14 to 16, saw a large gathering of individuals involved with immigration, including academics, policy-makers, researchers, and immigrant-settlement workers. Over the three days, the discussions centred are the dramatic changes that are happening to Canadian immigration.

The federal government has made significant changes to the Federal Skilled Worker Program and these will take effect from May 2013.  Some of the changes that will be enforced shortly include a greater weightage to the knowledge of one of Canada’s official languages. Applicants will get additional points for their spouse’s adaptability and extra points for Canadian work experience.

Youth will be given greater preference, compared to older immigrants. Immigrant applicants are also required to get their credentials assessed prior to immigration. Those applicants who can demonstrate arranged employment will, of course, find themselves at the head of the queue.

While these changes have been made to streamline immigration and to “choose” the right kind of economic immigrants that the Canadian job market is looking for, there are significant implications for potential immigrants.

The increased emphasis given to official language skills will ensure that immigrants from countries that do not use English or French, like China, or the Latin American countries, for example, will find it harder to get into Canada.

Credentials: a huge shift

The other requirement asking immigrants to validate their credentials against the Canadian education system prior to immigration is also a very significant change. Currently, when an applicant produced their credentials, it was accepted at face value by Canadian immigration. Now, applicants will have to get their credentials accessed by a Canadian-government designated credential assessment agency in their home countries.

How will this change affect applicants from several countries that have a different system of education from Canada?  For example, many countries that are top source countries of immigration currently, have a different system of education, under which a student can graduate after three years of post-secondary education. This change will ensure that future immigration applicants are once again those with very advanced university degrees.

Will immigrants who had their credentials assessed in their home countries have to get it reviewed once again after they land in Canada? Most universities and professional regulatory bodies in Canada insist on doing their own credential assessment. If future immigrants have to go through multiple credential assessments both before and after landing in Canada, it can prove to be both nerve-racking and a very cumbersome financial burden.

All of this, of course, could mean bonanza time for Canadian universities and colleges. They will see enrollment sky-rocket, especially from those who see it as an easy entry point into Canada. In 2011, Canada issued 98, 383 visas for students. These numbers will go up significantly in the coming years as universities vie to get their share of immigrant students on their campuses. Universities even in areas that are not traditionally immigrant havens are rolling out the proverbial red carpet to get more international students – who also incidentally pay higher tuition fees.

So, this is how the future Canadian immigrant will look like: He or she will be in their twenties, highly educated with degrees from international and Canadian universities. They will be extremely fluent in English or French. They will have highly-educated spouses who will also be vying for jobs.

The question is, Will Canada be able to retain them? Currently, only five per cent of international students studying in Canada transition to Permanent Residency. It will be interesting to note if this number will change in the future. – New Canadian Media

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Interfaith dialogue, as we have known it, that peaceful, sanguine and polite discourse, is dead.  Yes, dead.  The day of treating everyone like equals with equal truths in the marketplace of ideas is… over.  The day of fascination with the “exotica” of others’ faiths…is done.

This is a new era that calls for a new approach to interfaith engagement, before the whole field drowns in its genial earnestness. That means we will begin to address the 500-lb. gorillas and gore some sacred cows.  Everyone will walk away with more information.

However, we will need to come to an understanding of how to have an honest dialogue that is frank, yet respectful. In other words: how do I disagree with you, without making it confrontational?

In the course of engagement and encounter, we may call people of faith to account for some of their more controversial beliefs and practices. For example, what does it mean when a translation of the Qur’an says: “beat your wife lightly so that it will NOT inflict any pain"? Do Christians really believe that Eucharist turns into flesh?  And what about shatnez: the Torah prohibition against mixing linen and wool?

We need to be prepared to be asked difficult questions, and we need to respond without defensiveness. 

Reasonable Accommodation

Perhaps, this is why the entire notion of “reasonable accommodation” has gained traction.  With increased immigration to the developed nations, there has arisen the question about what is "reasonable accommodation,” and what is not?  Often this has become a discussion about what is an "obligation" or compulsory activity for a given religion.  If Muslims are obligated to pray five times a day, and if Sikhs are compelled to wear a kirpan, how do our offices and schools accommodate that?  Can we?

After all, the pre-existing Christian culture is not one that includes instruction about dietary requirements, frequency of prayer, etc.  But other faiths have a range of specific obligatory and compulsory activities.  As such, they appear to be receiving more accommodation, while Christianity, with its few obligations, doesn’t ask for much accommodation. For example, in Islam, there are specific obligations around prayer, fasting, alms giving (tithing), pilgrimage, and declaring one’s faith.  In Judaism, there are 613 separate commandments governing every aspect of life.  The predominant Christian culture does not have such a range of obligatory practices.

How do we differentiate that which is compulsory from that which is desired by the adherents of a given faith?  We have had such discussions in the developed world around sharia law.  Some Muslim women have taken to covering themselves entirely.  Some believe that to be an extreme interpretation of the Prophet’s admonishment to dress modestly. Should a society at large be compelled to accommodate such a practice that runs counter to everything we hold as social? 

Reasonable accommodation must, after all, be reasonable.

On occasion, some members of a faith group will claim that some activities are compulsory and accommodation must be made. Yet, that faith group’s scriptures will not support the claim.  In fact, even in Muslim nations like Tunisia, Turkey and Iran, there have been periods in history when women were not permitted to cover their heads in public.  Often enough, a cultural practice is interpreted as religious.  Some older Mediterranean Christian women dress in black, but there is no scriptural basis for what is essentially a cultural practice. 

In other words, we need to understand whether a claim for accommodation is based upon faith, a specific culture or simply an aberrant interpretation.  We also need to ask ourselves whether accommodating a given practice will or will not have broader social implications.  Arguably, if someone wants to dress in black, it’s not quite the same as someone who covers their face in a society that is given to making eye contact.

Guests & Hosts 

Those of us who inhabit societies that are receiving immigrant populations must learn what it means to be good hosts.  We must be welcoming, accepting and encouraging.  We must furnish our guests with every opportunity to become contributing citizens who love our nations and uphold our laws and institutions. 

And yet, while we are being good hosts, those who arrive need help and instruction in how to be good guests, and good citizens. What do I mean?  Well, when I am a guest, say at the first meeting of a committee or group I have been invited to join, I’m demure.  I observe.  I respect the others who have done all the prior work.  In subsequent meetings and as I gradually find my feet in that group, I may contribute more.  But for now, I am something of a guest.

Put another way, if you are a guest in my home, there are certain rules of courtesy.  You won’t simply open my refrigerator or wander into my bedroom.  Until you know me well enough, you need to return my hospitality to you, with courteous respect for me. 

We need to ask those who come to our land to be good guests to respect our land, the predominant cultures and our beliefs.  That does not mean that the guest is forever a guest.  There is a gradual process of acculturation.  My family came to Canada 50 years ago and I consider myself as Canadian as the next person.  However, when I meet Canadians who can trace their roots on this continent back to the early nineteenth century and whose families fought at Vimy or Normandy or Kapyong in the Korean Conflict, I honour them and I respect them.

We may be equals, but I venerate what the generations of their families have given to this nation.

Now, when it comes to the practicalities of religious accommodation, some of the challenges have ended up before the courts. One hopes that the courts will publicly consult legitimate faith communities and interfaith organizations when hearing cases that involve matters of faith.  Those of us who work in faith can be very helpful to the courts in distinguishing what is truly a religious obligation that the society needs to accommodate under Section 2 of the Charter…and those that are not.

 

Just because an individual or group demands accommodation and equality, citing religious freedoms enshrined in the Charter, doesn’t immediately accord those rights to them.  This nation has given birth to fringe cults in Quebec and in Bountiful, BC – some of which will be seeking accommodation.  Without a solid and working definition of religion, the courts may not know how to rule, without diminishing the legitimacy of the vast majority of faith communities.

 

Richard M. Landau has been responsible for adjudicating disputes and enforcing a television network code of ethics in a religious broadcasting setting since 1992.  He is a graduate of Carleton University and the University of Ottawa.  A leader in interfaith dialogue, Mr. Landau has consulted with the UK Home Office, and the White House Office of Community- and Faith-Based Initiatives.  He works closely with leadership in all of the major world religions.  He is author of  What the World Needs to Know about Interfaith Dialogue.

 This commentary was adapted from his keynote speech at the Parliamentary Interfaith Breakfast in Ottawa on November 27.

New Canadian Media provides nonpartisan news and views representing all Canadian immigrant communities. As part of this endeavour, we re-publish aggregated content from various ethnic media publishers in Canada in an effort to raise the profile of news and commentary from an immigrant perspective. New Canadian Media, however, does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views and opinions contained in content from such other sites. The views expressed on this site are those of the individual writers and commentators, and not necessarily those of New Canadian Media. Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved