Arts & Culture

by Daniel Leon Rodriguez in Calgary 

Calgary is celebrating the best of its immigrant communities at the 20th annual Immigrants of Distinction Awards this month. 

Immigrant Services Calgary (ISC) will host the awards show on Mar. 11. Krystyna Biel, the chief executive officer of ISC, says the award has become a way to close the settlement cycle of immigrants. 

“We help them in their path to success, and we want to celebrate with them their achievements,” said Biel, who explains immigrants overcome many challenges in their integration process.  

Biel has been involved with ISC for over 26 years. Two decades ago, she was a career counsellor with the agency. Today, she remembers the uncertainty of that first awards show. 

“We didn’t know what to expect,” recalls Biel. The night of the event, the Calgary Metropolitan Centre was crowded with 350 people. The response of the community was overwhelming. Biel says since then the event and the agency has exceeded expectations year after year. 

A growing immigrant population

In 1997, the agency had 40 full-time staff and 400 volunteers – speaking over 60 languages. Calgary, at the time, had 127,555 people from visible-minority communities, accounting for 15 per cent of the population. 

Today, the agency has 120 full-time staff and more than 700 volunteers – speaking over 140 languages. By 2020, the City of Calgary projects almost half a million immigrants will reside there and 40 per cent of its population will be visible minorities. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]By 2020, the City of Calgary projects almost half a million immigrants will reside there and 40 per cent of its population will be visible minorities.[/quote]

In 1997, Peter Wong, then chair of the Calgary Immigrant Aid Society (CIAS was renamed Immigrant Services Calgary nine years ago), started the Immigrants of Distinction Awards – the first awards ceremony of its kind in Calgary’s history. 

“It is a celebration of how we as Canadians view ourselves in the best possible light,” Wong told The Calgary Herald two decades ago. His goal was to dismiss the “negative spin” some Albertans had of immigrants. 

The award was envisioned to promote diversity among businesses and organizations. The recipients exemplify the benefits of diversity, Wong told the Herald 

Back then, Hadassah Ksienski, chief executive officer of CIAS, told the Herald immigrants were facing an uphill battle. 

“If immigrants are very successful, ‘they take away jobs from Canadians.’ If they are not successful, ‘they are a burden on society,’” Ksienski explained. 

The power of immigrants 

Josephine Pon, the chairperson of ISC, says the awards help to celebrate the diversity of the city. 

“The awards show people that newcomers work hard and have big hearts,” says Pon. The recognitions help immigrants feel appreciated, and to create role models in the community. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Without newcomers from all parts of the world, Calgary wouldn’t be the buoyant city it is.”[/quote]

Aritha van Herk, author of the award-winning non-fiction book Mavericks: an Incorrigible History of Alberta, says the Immigrants of Distinction Awards is an important reminder of the contributions of immigrants to Calgary. 

“Without newcomers from all parts of the world, Calgary wouldn’t be the buoyant city it is,” says van Herk, who adds that immigrants inject energy, creativity and skill sets to the city. 

Van Herk says most of the city’s population is made up of second-generation immigrants. 

One of the most recognizable examples is the popular mayor, Naheed Nenshi, who was raised and educated in Calgary. “We grew him up in our city,” adds van Herk. 

Another example is the honorary chair of this year’s awards, Wayne Chiu. He is the founder and CEO of Trico Home and was recently appointed to the Order of Canada as a “corporate leader and as a champion of innovation and social entrepreneurship.” 

In 2008, Chiu and his wife founded Trico Charitable Foundation, which has supported many local community organizations. In 2014, Chiu who sat on the board of Bow Valley College in Calgary for eight years, donated $3 million to the school – the largest single donation in the institution's history. 

Canada: A land of opportunity 

Ziad Paracha, won one the youth awards last year. In 2003, at eight years old, he came to Calgary with his family from Pakistan. They didn’t know about the country, and arrived in March without a winter jacket. 

“I didn’t even know what Canada was back then,” says Paracha, who thought he didn’t fit in his new country. “I thought maybe we should go back.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Sometimes you feel like you aren’t as recognized as a member from a minority group.”[/quote]

As an immigrant, he felt compelled to do more. Over the last five years, Paracha has been a volunteer at the newcomers orientation week program with the Calgary Bridge Foundation for the Youth. 

He is also the co-founder and current president of Ascovime Canada, and he volunteers at Foothills Hospital Long Term Patient Care in the neurological rehabilitation unit.  

“It is always great to get recognized,” says Paracha. “Sometimes you feel like you aren’t as recognized as a member from a minority group.” 

He says negative stereotypes persist across Canada. “There is still space for improvement.”

However, he adds, Canada remains a land of opportunity. 

“Any immigrant that is perseverant and passionate about anything, it is guaranteed they will succeed.” 

For a list of this year’s finalists, visit the Immigrants of Distinction Awards website.


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by Matt D'Amours in Montreal 

About 600 kilometres northwest of Montreal, in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region of Quebec, there is a remote plot of land where at least 16 people are believed to be buried. Many of the wooden crosses that once stood to mark their graves have fallen, and overgrowth covers much of the 35 by 25 metre cemetery.

Those buried there all shared a common experience, stemming from a dark chapter in Canadian history that remains as hidden as their final resting place: they were all captives of a Canadian internment camp called Spirit Lake, operated during the First World War for prisoners of war and immigrants designated “enemy aliens” by the government.

“A lot of historians who specialize in the First World War, for the longest time, refused to discuss, or even admit, that Canada had concentration camps,” says Myron Momryk, a historian and retired archivist. “The fact that Canadians had camps with barbed wire doesn’t quite fit with the image [we] have of ourselves.”

Between 1914 and 1918, 24 internment camps were opened across Canada, and the vast majority of the civilians incarcerated were of Ukrainian origin. One of those camps was Spirit Lake in Quebec, where 16 internees are said to lie buried in a small cemetery that was carved out of the surrounding forest. 

Almost 100 years later, an organization called the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (UCCLA) is trying to bring the cemetery out of the shadows of history. They’re appealing to the federal government to have the cemetery restored and reconsecrated, and to have it designated a national historic site.

The history of Spirit Lake Camp

The Spirit Lake camp was opened on January 13, 1915, less than five months after the passage of The War Measures Act, which made it possible to deprive those designated as “enemy aliens” of their civil liberties. Among those designated were immigrants with Austro-Hungarian passports, including Croatians, Serbians and mostly Ukrainians.

“There was never any evidence that any of these Ukrainians, or other Europeans, were guilty of any wrongdoing — they were simply rounded up because of who they were and where they came from,” explains Lubomyr Luciuk of the UCCLA. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The fact that Canadians had camps with barbed wire doesn’t quite fit with the image [we] have of ourselves.”[/quote]

He continues, “The fact remains that the government of the day knew that these people weren’t necessarily pro-Austrian in terms of the war effort … but then the combination of wartime hysteria and pre-war racism changed the attitude, and a whole series of measures are taken that subject these people to different kinds of state-sanctioned repression.”

Internees were kept behind barbed wire under armed military watch. Women and children were housed separately, while men were forced to work on a farm for the profit of the Spirit Lake jailers and businessmen from the nearby settlement of Amos.

Many of the people rounded up and sent to Spirit Lake were members of Montreal’s Ukrainian community — a community that, Luciuk says, was “decimated by the internment operations.”

Demands for recognition

Among the Ukrainian Montrealers to be imprisoned was the late Mary Manko Haskett, who was only six-years-old when she and her family arrived at the camp. Her daughter, 81-year-old Fran Haskett, recalls how in 1988, Manko Haskett came across a Globe & Mail op-ed co-written by Luciuk of the UCCLA about Canadian internment camps.

Wanting to share her memories of an experience that was mostly absent in the history books, the former internee reached out to Luciuk to share her story. 

“She was very tenacious,” Manko Haskett’s daughter Fran recounts. “She wanted the recognition that an injustice had been done to her family and many others during that time.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"They were simply rounded up because of who they were and where they came from.”[/quote]

That recognition became official in 2008 when the Harper government established the Endowment Council of the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund. The fund was setup to locate and restore internee cemeteries across the country and to educate Canadians on their country’s internment history.

However, the Council has been unable to restore the cemetery at Spirit Lake because, in 1988, the land was sold to a farming couple who have since refused any plan that would give limited public access to an area on their property. 

New appeals for restoration

Within its mandate, the Endowment Council cannot lobby on this matter, which is why the UCCLA sent an appeal to Mélanie Joly, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, to intervene. 

Minister Joly's office was unable to provide comment at press time.

“The desire is to say to [Minister] Joly, ‘do the right thing’, because there at least 16 people buried in this cemetery, which the Federal government should be morally responsible for,” Luciuk says. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“She wanted the recognition that an injustice had been done to her family."[/quote]

“Let’s not get bogged down in legalities … mothers had to bury their kids [here], and then one day, say goodbye to that gravesite and never get there again.”

While the UCCLA waits for a response from Minister Joly, Manko Haskett’s daughter underlines the importance of restoring the Spirit Lake Cemetery for the Ukrainian community. “These people died in the camps, and they shouldn’t even have been there in the first place,” she says. 

“So they should be honoured in death — they certainly weren’t honoured in life.” 

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Thursday, 03 March 2016 03:23

The Poetry of Generational Difference

Written by

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City

Flesh, Tongue, Yaya Yao’s first collection of poetry, brings you to a crossroads where you have a desire for belonging in the place you feel is home, but must first understand why your parents’ own upbringing makes finding acceptance such a struggle.

It is another example of how the need to reconcile with the past is felt across cultures and spans generations.

Yao’s collection recounts her adolescence between paradigms – past and present; tradition and modernity; a new home and the one left behind.

These are the fragmentations many children of immigrant parents experience, especially when they grow up in a culture that is markedly different from the one of their parents.

Yao’s poems, 44 in total, tell of the need for a continuous narrative and context for one’s place in the world. Her words, which sometimes appear scattered on the page and non-linear in form, symbolize this process of tying different histories together.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Knowledge of our past, and the significance it holds for our parents, forces us to embrace and hold on to these fragments of our ancestry as we build our own identities.[/quote]

Language, history, family

Yao dedicated Flesh, Tongue to her father, Eugene Yong-Ging Yao, “who said he never got my poems.”  Still, she made an effort to “get” him and her mother by learning their languages and sharing them in her writing.

Her poetry mixes Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, and Shanghainese – sometimes translating these dialects into English to reveal similarities and contrasts.

To someone unfamiliar with these languages, they demonstrate that one’s identity can be made both richer and more complicated with their knowledge. The harsh-sounding words on the page force us to appreciate the challenges of learning a language that sounds and even feels different on our tongues from the one in which we were raised.

Chinese culture’s emphasis on ancestors and honour also emanates from Yao’s retellings. They express a definition of family that goes beyond a biological, skin-deep bond to something much deeper, embedded in historical psyche.

There is also a reference to the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Knowledge of our past, and the significance it holds for our parents, forces us to embrace and hold on to these fragments of our ancestry as we build our own identities.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Carrying these narratives is both our burden and our blessing.[/quote]

Yao was born and raised in the Parkdale and Little Portugal neighbourhoods of Toronto. These communities are built on many histories that have been uprooted from around the world and will continue to change as new narratives take form.

She tells her story in a unique voice, yet the nostalgia created by her images is a familiar sensation to anyone who has grappled with understanding where they came from and whether they ended up in the right place.

Dundas Street evokes memories

Yao’s “living room over dundas” symbolizes many of the homes immigrants have built for themselves in Canada’s bustling metropolises.

For me, Dundas Street brings back images of my earliest memories, spent with my Iranian grandparents in Dixie, a neighbourhood in southeast Mississauga. I knew at the time that, when we walked outside in one direction, we would arrive at the park where Grandfather would push me on the swing.

When we went in the other direction, we would cross a busy street to get to Chinatown, where I would skip from stone to stone in the pond around the imperially decorated gazebo.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Their children – like Yao, and like me – grew up learning that their paths do not start and stop outside their home, but cross continents and oceans.[/quote]

The street was Dundas, which I now know goes a long way beyond our old neighbourhood and is a meeting place for people from even further away.

The Afghani bakery, the Latino pharmacy, the Indian restaurant – they all hold the histories of many immigrants who came to Canada and undoubtedly struggled to find their footing.

Like my grandparents and parents, they felt the strain of trying to fit the familiar pieces of their ancestral homeland into the strange spaces of a new home, many miles away.

Their children – like Yao, and like me – grew up learning that their paths do not start and stop outside their home, but cross continents and oceans. Carrying these narratives is both our burden and our blessing.

Reflecting on one’s past can induce grieving for what is lost, but also the recognition that there are parts of ourselves we can regain. Yao’s memories – built with colours, feelings and scents – not only tell of desperate times, but also of times when uncertainty was less destabilizing, before it beckoned us to question our place within our families, in society and in history.

“meet your younger

eyes, ones that never

doubt that you, now

are doing what you

came 

to do.”


Rosanna Haroutounian is a freelance writer and the assignment editor at New Canadian Media. She studied journalism and political science at Carleton University and now splits her time between Quebec City and Peterborough, ON. 

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by Sukaina Jaffer in Brampton, Ontario 

Despite an increase in outreach efforts, some members of Brampton’s ethnic media still feel disconnected from the City. 

“There is a broken link between the City of Brampton and ethnic media,” says Jagdish Grewal, the editor and publisher of the Canadian Punjabi Post, a daily newspaper that has been published in Brampton for the past 14 years.

This is despite a case study released late last year by Ryerson University’s April Lindgren titled “Municipal Communication Strategies and Ethnic Media: A Settlement Service in Disguise”, which suggests that the City of Brampton has made wide strides in reaching out to its ethnic communities.

Following a 2007 study that deemed the City of Brampton unresponsive to the needs of its immigrant community, Lindgren says the City expanded its ethnic media strategy to fund the translation of press releases, corporate communications materials, and pertinent advertising messages among other initiatives. To date, the City of Brampton’s website shows press releases translated from English into French, Portuguese, Punjabi and Urdu.   

But Grewal says that the press releases and service updates in Punjabi, which he receives from the City via e-mail, are not effective. 

“The translated news sent out is not helpful,” Grewal explains. “The City is spending a lot of money on translation, which is not worth it as I have to rewrite the releases. This does not make sense to me.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Leaders of ethnic media outlets are educated enough to translate English press releases into their own language."[/quote]

He adds: “Leaders of ethnic media outlets are educated enough to translate English press releases into their own language. My reporters are capable of writing news in English and Punjabi.” 

If he could publish the translated press release as is, he would use it, but he points out, “Translation does not work like that.” He has to rewrite many of the press releases from the City into suitable news content for his paper. 

A need for more authentic relationships 

Grewal also mentions that in previous years, city council and the mayor had closer relationships with ethnic media outlets and held personal meetings with them, but now he does not find them as media friendly. 

He recommends that the City build better relationships with ethnic media groups by keeping them updated on municipal issues through meetings and press conferences. This would lead to more coverage of city events, Grewal explains. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Punjabi-speaking people are more aware about policy changes in the city because of coverage by ethnic media outlets.”[/quote]

“Our readers are interested and want to know what’s happening in the city. Punjabi-speaking people are more aware about policy changes in the city because of coverage by ethnic media outlets.” 

Rakesh Tiwari, editor of the Hindi Times newspaper, agrees with Grewal. 

“I do not see any difference made by the City of Brampton,” says Tiwari, who has been with the newspaper for the past 12 years“The local library and hospital approach me and send me messages in English,” he says, but adds that the City does not send him updates frequently. 

“They need to connect better with the ethnic media,” asserts Tiwari, who also runs Atna Radio, a show on 101.3FM where local, national and political topics are discussed in Hindi. 

He adds that if the City would keep in better touch with him, he could cover more city-related news and talk to the appropriate people. 

“There is no support from them,” he says. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“In terms of bringing the community together, the City of Brampton has done a lot.”[/quote]

Some positive change happening: residents 

While the ethnic media may not be benefiting from the City of Brampton’s efforts, area residents do see improvements being made to reach the ethnic community. 

Rabab Kassam, a pharmacist who has been living in Brampton for four years since migrating from Kenya to Canada, finds that the City’s money has been well spent on ethnic outreach. 

“In terms of bringing the community together, the City of Brampton has done a lot,” she says, “They are encouraging people from different cultures to adapt to a better life here.” 

She mentions that the library near her house offers English language classes for newcomers as well as computer classes in Punjabi since Brampton has a large population of Punjabis from India. 

She has also noticed information posted on bus stops and inside buses in different languages with messages related to housing. 

“[The City of Brampton] is making a good investment so elders can participate in society,” says Kassam. “It’s a different language for elders, so if they can learn computers in their language then at least they can learn how to do banking from their homes and not have to go out in the winter.” 

June Dickenson, manager of marketing and communications at the Brampton Public Library, says that her branch provides a lot of free multicultural services to the public. 

These include English conversation clubs, a Punjabi writers’ club and a Hindi writers’ guild. In addition, they also have computer classes for Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu speakers. Community members can register for these opportunities through the City of Brampton. 

“Our computer classes are extremely popular,” says Dickenson. “They fill up quickly. There is more demand than space.”

Editor's Note: Efforts were made to receive comment from the City of Brampton, but response was not provided by deadline.


Journalist Priya Ramanujam mentored the author of this article through New Canadian Media’s mentoring program.

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Wednesday, 02 March 2016 22:04

Indo-Canadian A-Listers Excel in Many Ways

Written by

by Anita Singh in Toronto 

Ajit Jain is a three-decade chronicler of the Indo-Canadian community. His role as a journalist and editor for India Abroad’s Toronto edition and more recently, a contributor to TheIndianDiaspora.com has brought Jain in contact with Indo-Canadian trailblazers as he writes about issues relating to the community and the development of Canada-India relations. This unprecedented, long-time access has given Jain an excellent position from which he developed his most recent book, The A-List. 

Why The A-List? 

The A-List is an extension of India Abroad’s The Power List. It profiles 50 individuals from the Indian diaspora in Canada and three non-Indians, who Jain calls “Friends of India.”  In addition, he profiles six organizations that are active in the social development of India or those working to improve Canada-India relations in this important time of political transition. 

The A-List, rather than being a mere short-form biography of 50 important people within the Indo-Canadian community, has some underlying themes that are key to the story of Indian immigration to Canada. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“These are not just people who have made millions. They are people who contribute to the community through their philanthropy and intelligence.”[/quote]

“These are not just people who have made millions, they are people who contribute to the community through their philanthropy and intelligence,” Jain says.  

Defying stereotypes 

The book does an excellent job at highlighting the diverse successes of the Indo-Canadian community.

It tacitly shows how Indo-Canadians have defied the stereotypes that have persevered in the West, assuming Indians excel in only a handful of professions as doctors, lawyers, or computer engineers. 

Instead, The A-List profiles a range of individuals, including businesspeople (Prem Watsa of Fairfax Investments), politicians (new cabinet members Bardish Chagger, Harjit Sajjan, Amarjeet Sohi and Navdeep Bains), researchers and academics (Baldev Nayar and Dilip Soman), and entertainers (TV personalities Omar Sachadena and Vikram Vij).  

In each case, Jain has selected individuals that have gone above and beyond the call of duty to become major players in their industries, prolific and engaged beyond their professions to contribute to the larger Canadian community.

Jain says that these individuals were selected because “we wanted to capture successes by Indo-Canadians nationwide and in all disciplines.” 

Histories of immigration 

All the Indo-Canadians profiled in The A-List are either first- or second-generation Indians, having first-hand experience in many of the initial culture shocks and challenges inherent in immigration to the West.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The book highlights how these individuals have used their immigrant experiences to further their personal successes in Canada.[/quote]

Language barriers, poverty, cultural isolation, and limited early job prospects play an important role in defining early generations of immigrant communities. Like the individuals profiled in The A-List, immigrants have to overcome these barriers through hard work, dedication and an interest in providing their families with the benefit of a new life in Canada.    

The book highlights how these individuals have used their immigrant experiences to further their personal successes in Canada.

Take Steve Rai, who says “the purest form of community policing is found in Indian villages where everyone knows everyone.”

Rai uses this example to create inroads into communities across the greater Vancouver region. With this experience, Rai has risen in ranks in the Vancouver police department and recently named deputy chief constable – the first South Asian to hold this post.  

Maintaining ties to India 

In addition, Jain pointedly includes individuals and organizations that have been central to defining better relations between Canada and India.

He profiles individuals like professor Mathiew Boisvert from the Université du Québec à Montréal who has actively worked to raise interest in Canada on the contemporary culture and religion of people in India. His current work on the Hijira community in Maharashtra examines the social, legal and anthropological elements of this Indian subculture.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It does invariably miss a larger narrative on the less bright and shiny side of Indian immigration to Canada.[/quote]

Similarly, Jain also includes six organizations in this esteemed list, focusing on the work of charitable organizations like AIM for SEVA and Child Haven International, which use their notable profiles in Canada to do work to improve the lives of underprivileged children in India. 

In each of the stories highlighted in The A-List, Jain weaves a narrative that intimately connects each profiled individual back to India. 

The next step 

The A-List is an excellent snapshot that celebrates the best and brightest within the Indo-Canadian community. It does invariably miss a larger narrative on the less bright and shiny side of Indian immigration to Canada – an account of the taxi and truck drivers, cleaners and manual labourers who continue to struggle to create a better life for themselves and their families.

As successful as the community has become on many fronts, there is an equally notable silent majority in the Indo-Canadian community that continues to face poverty, domestic violence and racism while looking for their opportunity to grow and prosper in Canada. 

To his credit, this has not gone unnoticed by Jain. His upcoming book, Violence against Women – All Pervading, co-sponsored by the Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women in Toronto, is a journalistic view of the pervasiveness of violent crimes against women, recognizing this prevalence in the Indo-Canadian community. 


Anita Singh is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University. Her research examines the role of diaspora groups and their influence on foreign policy, particularly the Indo-Canadian community and Canada-India relations.

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by Beatrice Paez in Toronto

Journalists can pay a high price with their reputations for reporting on the polarizing, decades-old Israel-Gaza conflict.

That was the message journalist and author Max Blumenthal delivered at Embattled Truths: Reporting on Gaza, a presentation at the Toronto Reference Library on Feb. 25 as part of Freedom to Read Week.

As the platforms for gathering news become more sophisticated in delivering customized information to readers, there’s a risk of readers insulating themselves from divergent views, said Olivia Ward, the Toronto Star’s foreign affairs reporter, who moderated the talk hosted by Poets, Essayists and Novelists (PEN) Canada.

Blumenthal’s critics have accused him of disseminating propaganda through his reporting on Gaza.

PEN stood its ground against calls to cancel the event, citing its efforts to defend free speech.

“There are hard questions that require a great deal of debate, and it isn’t always polite,” says Randy Boyagoda, president of PEN Canada. “We fight for the right to make it possible.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Blumenthal’s critics have accused him of disseminating propaganda through his reporting on Gaza.[/quote]

Embattled Truths was a discussion of Blumenthal’s critique of mainstream media, the challenges of covering the Gaza Strip and his own privileges as an American Jew from an upper-middle class family with ties to the Clintons.

Controversial discussion

Anticipating heated confrontations between Blumenthal and his critics, a modest police presence was on standby to rein in on any disruptions from the crowd. Interruptions —from both the pro-Israel lobby, including members of the Jewish Defense League, and Blumenthal's own defenders — staggered his exchange with Ward and the question-and-answer session with the audience.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]For Blumenthal, there’s no avoiding bias — even as journalists — in the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[/quote]

There were repeated calls to boot individuals from opposing sides as Blumenthal’s detractors challenged his view of Israel as an aggressor and his assertion that what was happening between Israel and Palestine was “a conquest, not a conflict.” His critics — who came with placards showing the photo of a jihadi with the words, “This is not a victim” — questioned why he was not reporting about terror attacks against Israelis as well.

Activist journalism

For Blumenthal, there’s no avoiding bias — even as journalists — in the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The way I see my journalism on this issue is, I’m involved in a campaign,” he said. “Information on this issue is very difficult to obtain. There isn’t much of a counter-narrative, and the Palestinian narrative, which I have found to be closer to reality, is frozen out.”

A self-described advocacy journalist, he defends his embattled credibility on the basis that his reporting is grounded in facts.

“I rise and fall on whether I’m presenting facts,” he said. “[People] spend so much time trying to characterize my views as slander or slurs, instead of actually addressing the facts of my book.”

Blumenthal’s recently released book, the 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, is a first-hand examination of the military conflict in Gaza in 2014, or as the Israeli Defense Force calls it, “Operation Protective Edge.”

Efforts to undermine his work by framing him an anti-Semite, he said, cheapen its meaning, making it difficult to condemn real acts of anti-Semitism when it surfaces.

Choosing sides

When asked about the challenges of reporting on Gaza, Blumenthal said it goes beyond the financial obstacles newsrooms face and personal risks journalists are willing to take.

Asked by Ward about whether the fact that journalists have had to chase “moving targets” as news breaks elsewhere and parachute into other conflict zones was a factor, Blumenthal said he’s not beholden to the 24-hour news cycle, which allows him to probe the issue further.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Palestinians who seek to do what I’m doing can easily be painted as terrorists, Islamists or ignored."[/quote]

His focus on gaining unfettered access to Gaza and covering the conflict in 2014 from inside, he said, provides a counterweight to what he characterizes as a cultural problem that newsrooms face when reporters are more immersed in Israel and are prone to “absorb the anxieties of the people they’re around, which is often the Jewish-Anglo community.”

Ward noted that his stature plays a considerable role in amplifying his voice, whereas Palestinians may have more difficulty getting heard.

Blumenthal agreed that his background has made his writing difficult to ignore, with the pro-Israel lobby trying to make “an example of him” to young Jews who might decide to follow his lead.

While accounts of personal narratives from the Palestinian side are chronicled, what’s rare is an overarching analysis from them, said Blumenthal. “The narration usually falls more to people like me.

“Palestinians who seek to do what I’m doing can easily be painted as terrorists, Islamists or ignored because they’re [seen as] simply being loyal to their people,” he said.

Then there’s the struggle faced by young Palestinian writers who have never seen the world beyond Gaza.

“[They’re asking] how can we write for the people in the West to explain our experiences because we have never left Gaza?” said Blumenthal. “You’re wondering what the outside world is like.”


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by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

News outlets that report on Canada’s ethnic communities and other niche media sources are standing out more than ever, while mainstream media companies are taking a hard hit. 

“Niche reporting has somewhat found a way to make the business model work,” explains April Lindgren, professor at Ryerson University’s school of journalism. “We don’t know how successful it will be overtime, but that’s one area that is successful and it’s one area where newcomers, especially, are able to survive.” 

She says the mainstream media business model is heavily influenced by technological change and that because ethnic and niche media outlets aren’t reporting the same things as the mainstream, it is easier for them to co-exist. 

“When you’re smaller to begin with and when you’re niche, you might better weather the storm,” says Marci Ien of CTV Canada AM, a division of Bell Media. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[W]hen you’re niche, you might better weather the storm.”[/quote]

The future of journalism in Canada

In November 2015, Bell Media cut 380 jobs from its operations, including national broadcaster CTV, while in January another major broadcast competitor, Rogers Media, announced 200 job cuts were on the way.

Print media has also been impacted across the country.

The Guelph Mercury daily newspaper announced it would stop publishing its print editions, impacting 23 full-time and three part-time jobs.

Postmedia announced 90 job cuts will result from a move to merge newsrooms in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa and reduce $80 million in expenses.

Torstar, the company that owns Canada’s largest circulation newspaper, The Toronto Star, announced last month that it will be laying off more than 300 production and editorial employees.

In Halifax, Canada’s oldest independently owned newspaper, The Herald, stated it wanted to lay off up to 18 workers to cope with economic challenges. 

These job cuts came off the heels of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) being warned that half of the country’s local TV stations could be off the air by 2020 without a boost in revenues to pay for local programming. 

These job cuts have left many media professionals and observers worried about the future of journalism in Canada. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]A part of this revolution is finding ways to tell stories and report on news differently.[/quote]

Lindgren says the business model of journalism is completely broken. 

“The internet came in and disrupted the news business to such a great extent, that more traditional news organizations are failing and the industry and people in the news have yet to figure out a replacement model.” 

For niche media, however, this may not be the case.

Chelby Daigle, editor-in-chief at Muslim Link, an online community newspaper based in Ottawa, says that niche media outlets can now utilize the Internet as a “hub of information.” 

“We tell stories, but our approach is different. We also have event listings, a directory, and advertisements; so there’s reasons why traffic comes to our site. It’s a resource.” 

The revolution of journalism 

Lindgren is confident that the changes in journalism stem from how we consume news. She calls it a “revolution.” 

“The Internet killed the classified ad sections of newspapers, and really broke the audiences for the newspaper sectors, magazines and television,” Lindgren emphasizes. “Readers’ habits of where they go for news are changing.” 

Lindgren adds: “All of this combined has mounted to a revolution in the news business, and with revolutions, often things get torn apart before new systems are invented to replace them.” 

A part of this revolution is finding ways to tell stories and report on news differently. 

“It’s the industry changing, but at the same time when things like that happen, I think there is opportunity, but you just have to do it in a different way,” says Ien. 

The difference is what Daigle describes as cheaper, innovative and independent. 

“We used to be a print newspaper and we stopped doing that. It’s too much work, craft and labour,” she says. “Online we have a better way of tracking our readership and who clicks on our ads.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"They can carve out their own pieces of pie, do it well and service an audience that maybe isn’t being serviced that way.”[/quote]

How niche and ethnic media stand out 

Daigle says that while there are changes in the way people consume news, the most important aspect of niche media is that it should service the public. 

Ethnic and niche media outlets cater to demographics that use their content as a resource to keep them close to their respective communities. 

“They are anti-mainstream," says Ien. "They do the stories the way mainstream doesn’t and that’s what makes them successful. They found areas that maybe the mainstream isn’t touching on as much. They can carve out their own pieces of pie, do it well and service an audience that maybe isn’t being serviced that way.” 

Like Daigle, Ien says that the stories being told by smaller community-oriented news outlets can often times heighten the content of mainstream media. 

“It’s interesting because a lot of mainstream media follows us, and get story ideas from our content,” explains Daigle. “We made it easier for people to know about our community.” 

Ien says she even brings some of these ethnic stories to the newsroom at CTV. 

“There’s no way you can be in this country and not have had various people from different races touch your life.”

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by Vincent Simboli in Montreal

The willingness of Chilean refugees to assimilate into Quebec’s unique social context following the 1970s was at the forefront of a panel discussion on the contributions of the Chilean immigrant community in Quebec. 

On February 11, approximately 250 people gathered at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) to attend “Réfugiés et immigrants au Québec: une longue histoire de solidarité internationale à partir de l'expérience chilienne” (Refugees and immigrants in Quebec: a long history of international solidarity from the Chilean experience). 

The panel was hosted by the Comité pour les droits humains en Amérique latine (Committee for Human Rights in Latin America, CDHAL) and various local partner organizations. 

Panelist José del Pozo, a Chilean-born professor of History at UQAM who emigrated to Quebec in 1974, explained that, despite challenges, Chileans integrated quite well into Quebec society compared to other immigrant groups. 

Chilean integration in Quebec

In French, del Pozo explained that Chileans arriving in 1970s Quebec found many similarities between their new and old homes at political and social levels. Like Chile, Quebec is a broadly secular society despite having a largely Catholic population. 

Del Pozo said that there is a strong desire for social justice among both populations, and each has a culture with common 'Latin values’ from the French and Spanish colonies.

However, del Pozo continued, Chileans had difficulty integrating with Quebecois and Canadian society. Chile is a notoriously homogenous nation with a population that is 88.9 per cent white or non-Indigenous. Upon arriving to Quebec, Chileans “defined themselves in terms of alterity as they had not been exposed to ethnic diversity,” said del Pozo. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Chileans integrated quite well into Quebec society compared to other immigrant groups.[/quote]

Despite this, del Pozo’s analysis of the Chilean integration to Quebec society determines that in cultural terms, their integration was fast and impressive. 

There is no “Chilean Ghetto” in Montreal, and there has been a large number of mixed (Chilean/Quebecois) couples with children. 

By the 1990s, Chilean-Canadian politicians were running for office in Quebec — only one generation after the major wave of immigration in the 1970s. 

However, in economic terms, Chilean immigrants to Quebec saw a “catastrophic increase in unemployment rates in the 1980s, and incomes among Chilean immigrants were always inferior to the provincial average,” said del Pozo.

Del Pozo presented a series of statistics that showed that the unemployment rate of Chilean immigrants in Quebec spiked in 1991, climbing to 27 per cent — more than double the provincial average. 

From 1973 to 2011, the median household income of Chilean immigrant families was approximately $6,000 CAD lower than the provincial average. 

Violence in Chile under Pinochet

Clotilde Bertrand, a lifelong activist and Québec Solidaire candidate for Argenteuil in the 2014 provincial elections, spoke at the panel as a former coordinator of the Centre international de solidarité ouvrière (International Workers' Solidarity Centre, CISO)

The CISO and other Quebec socialist groups and labour unions have denounced Canada’s complicity in the violence committed against Chileans under dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Many Chileans fled the country following the coup d’état on September 11, 1973, which resulted in the death of the world’s first democratically-elected Marxist president, Salvador Allende. The coup was supported by the Chilean military and the U.S. government, and installed General Augusto Pinochet as dictator during a 17-year rule. 

Under Pinochet, thousands of Chilean civilians were tortured, killed or disappeared.

CISO traveled to Palestine and across Latin America, including Chile under both Allende and Pinochet, in the 1970s to gather global support and foster cooperation between leftist anti-imperialist groups. These groups united under Quebec syndicalist Michel Chartrand’s principle of “même ennemi, même combat” (“same enemy, same battle”). 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Many Chileans fled the country following the coup d’état on September 11, 1973.[/quote]

Pressure from groups like CISO in Quebec successfully persuaded Canada’s federal government to recognize Chileans fleeing the regime as refugees. 

Canada’s hesitance to accept Chilean immigrants’ claims to refugee status was reflective of its allegiance to American foreign policy. Until the 1976 assassination of Allende’s Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier in Washington DC, American foreign policy was staunchly supportive of Pinochet. 

This successful lobbying of the Canadian government to accept Chilean refugees’ claims as legitimate established a precedent, and other trade partners began denouncing Pinochet and welcoming Chilean refugees.

Quebec shows solidarity with Chileans

Immediately after the coup d’état, worldwide solidarity movements began to spread information about what was happening in Chile. 

Quebec was no exception, and the Comité Québec-Chili (CQC) grew into a major collaborative organization between labour unions and politically-involved Chileans in Quebec. 

Panelist Suzanne Chartrand, a founding member of the CQC, explained that the language used when educating Quebecers about the situation in Chile was critical. 

From 1973-1980, Chartrand and her team insisted in their educational tours of Quebec that it wasn’t so much Pinochet who was responsible for the violence in Chile, but rather “economic imperialism” of the multinationals within NATO-affiliated nations who allowed the coup to happen. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Worldwide solidarity movements began to spread information about what was happening in Chile.[/quote]

These tours were designed as consciousness-raising initiatives to pressure the Canadian government to condemn Pinochet’s actions and to encourage Quebec residents to welcome Chilean refugees into their communities. 

They were particularly effective in creating a popular movement of labour activists across Trois-Rivieres, Québec City, Sherbrooke and Montreal. 

Thanks to their sacrifices, “the Chileans who came were a gift to Quebec,” said Bertrand. And by the same principle, the Quebecois activists who were willing to help in the fight against tyranny in Chile were very important there. 

Bertrand concluded her emotional address with a heartfelt message shared by all the panelists: “We thank you, Chileans, for choosing Quebec!”

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Saturday, 20 February 2016 20:39

Robert Lepage’s 887 Transcends 1960s Quebec

Written by

by Hadani Ditmars in Vancouver 

When a last minute e-mail alerted me to a change in curtain time for the opening night of Robert Lepage’s 887, I grabbed my iPhone and called a taxi. 

The immigrant cabbie who arrived spoke little English and hadn’t heard of SFU (Simon Fraser University) downtown. In my mild panic, I recalled scenes from other Lepage productions like Far Side of the Moon, where a flustered protagonist rushes to get to a talk on time. 

Unbeknownst to me, the scene in the taxi was a fitting prelude to 887. 

Soon I was to enter into the world of Lepage’s childhood in Quebec City, at a time when driving a cab was still a white man’s job and his French-Canadian father worked long hours to make ends meet.  

The next 90 minutes took the audience on a sentimental journey through 1960s Quebec that encompassed the quiet revolution, class struggle and pop culture, and explored the connection between personal and collective memory. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The play, like the poem, speaks to larger universalities of oppressors and oppressed.[/quote]

Speak white

The plot – if one can even use that term for the rambling poetic narrative of 887 – centres around Lepage’s struggle to memorize the 1967 famous Quebecois poem "Speak White" by Michèle Lalonde for a public performance. 

The poem’s title was inspired by the racist insult ‘speak white’ – originally used by plantation bosses to stop Creoles and other slaves from speaking a language their masters could not understand, and later adopted as a slur by English Canadians against francophones in general. 

The poem is a key element in Lepage’s 887 – and he recites it in French at the climax to great effect. But the play, like the poem, speaks to larger universalities of oppressors and oppressed. 

A powerful appeal 

In an effort to remember the lines of "Speak White", Lepage uses an old mnemonic technique called a “memory palace” – and so his nostalgic journey begins. 

His “palace” is his old childhood home – the walk-up at 887 Rue Murray located between Parc des Braves and the Plains d’Abraham – two historically important sites. It was here that the Lepages and several other working class families lived their lives, as political dramas – from Charles de Gaulle’s 1967 vive le Quebec libre visit to the War Measures Act – unfolded around them. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][887 is] a powerful cri de coeur for some of the revolutionary values of Lepage’s youth.[/quote]

Employing an inventive set that pivoted and transformed from a doll house replica of his childhood home to the inside of his father’s taxi to a 1960s diner to a diagram of the left and right side of the brain, Lepage uses the latest video and iPhone technology while still communicating a very human-scale poignancy. 

In many ways the play is a love letter to his father, a working class war hero whose lack of education meant a life of late night taxi driving, hoping for tips from rich American tourists to support his family. But it’s also a powerful cri de coeur (passionate appeal) for some of the revolutionary values of Lepage’s youth. 

While the play documents the violent excesses of the October Crisis without condoning them, Lepage offers rich ironies. 

He speaks of “old hippies” arriving late to the theatre because they couldn’t find parking spaces for their SUVs; of a theatre professor telling him matter-of-factly that, unlike in his youth, there were far fewer working class kids in theatre school today because they couldn’t afford the fees; and of former Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) members driving to work every day across a bridge named after Pierre Laporte (the minister of labour murdered by the FLQ). 

There is much reflective humour on how time treats heroes and artists. Lepage notes that famed Quebec sovereigntist, activist and singer Pauline Julien ended up having a cul de sac in Rosemont named after her and obsesses about how his own legacy will be remembered when he’s gone. 

Universal, unforgettable scenes 

887 offers some unforgettable scenes. In one poignant tableau, Lepage illustrates a childhood memory via the dollhouse model of his apartment: a young Lepage leans over his balcony and waves at his father sitting in his taxi and about to leave for another fare, yearning for his company. 

The scene made me think about similar scenarios in Quebec’s immigrant community today, where brown men have replaced the old working class Quebecois in their quest to make ends meet driving cabs. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It’s easy to imagine a whole new generation of angry, young men in similar situations all over the world.[/quote]

In another scene, the death of Lepage’s grandmother and the kidnapping of Laporte compete for his family’s attention. Lepage then plays his own father mourning alone in his taxi, seemingly for both a lost dream and a lost mother. 

But the scene that carries the most universal resonance is a powerful one in which Lepage recalls having a solider point a gun at him during the October Crisis, while he was on his paper route. 

"I hold my tongue, but want to scream out, 'Idiot! The bombs aren't in my bag. They're in my head,'" he says, anger and frustration seething from every pore. 

It’s easy to imagine a whole new generation of angry, young men in similar situations all over the world, not just in War Measures era Quebec. 

Ultimately 887 is a reminder of the power of theatre – as man’s earliest form of storytelling and as a forum for expressing the relationship between the powerful and the weak. Lepage deftly fuses the personal and political as well as the specificity of 1960s Quebec with a universal cri de coeur. 

887 plays in Vancouver through Feb. 21. It will play in Ottawa Apr. 12 to 16 at the National Arts Centre and Montreal Apr. 26 to May 21 at the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde. 

Editor's Note: This report has been updated from an earlier published version with the correct quote from Lepage starting with "I hold my tongue..." 


Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone and is working on a new book about ancient sites in Iraq. She has been reporting from the Middle East for two decades and is also a singer and musician.  

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by Matt D’Amours in Montreal

It can be difficult for reporters to get information or comment from an organization for their reporting in general, but for immigrant journalists, language barriers and a lack of familiarity with public relations (PR) create unique challenges. 

Chantal Francoeur, a journalism professor from the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), gave a talk at Concordia University last week focusing on the PR-journalist dynamic, and the power held by PR professionals. 

“When a real reporter wants access to an organization, there is just one entry, one person with whom the reporter can talk to: the PR professional,” Francoeur explains to a group gathered at Concordia’s Centre for Broadcasting and Journalism. “It’s the PR professional who holds the key that opens the door to an organization, and he or she acts as a gatekeeper and journalist watchdog.” 

Navigating language barriers 

For Jonathan Caragay-Cook, news editor at Concordia’s The Link newspaper, the PR doors may not open as easily as they do for other reporters. Cook arrived in Canada less than two years ago, and as an American of Filipino descent, he says that his inability to speak French often presents barriers when he reaches out to organizations in Quebec. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][Cook's] inability to speak French often presents barriers when he reaches out to organizations in Quebec.[/quote]

Last Fall, Cook reached out to an official from the Cégep du Vieux Montréal, a French-language college with a politically active student body. The official answered the phone in French, and Cook tried his best to string together a question using the limited words he knew. After a few seconds, the official told him that he couldn’t speak English and hung up. 

“I then realized that I just wasn’t going to get that perspective in my story,” Cook recalls. 

In other instances, Cook says that francophone PR professionals who do speak English have their prepared statements crafted in French, and are therefore wary of straying from their native tongue. 

Gaining more access

Although Cook’s experiences in Quebec represent clear obstacles, other immigrant journalists like Rita Latif has had a different type of difficulty when dealing with the PR machine. 

Latif, a Concordia University journalism student who arrived in Canada from Egypt in 2014, says that her biggest challenge has been adapting to the relative openness of corporations and institutions in Canada. 

“In Egypt, trying to reach these people is not as easy as here … it’s not something we’re used to,” Latif explains. “For us, these [officials] are restricted.” 

Latif says that she is still getting used to the notion that a journalist can simply perform a Google search and call a PR person or government official; she says it is hard to break out of her “safe zone.” 

Mistaking press releases for advertising

This lack of familiarity with public relations among immigrant journalists was examined in a 2015 study by April Lindgren, founding director of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. Lindgren looked at the case of Brampton, Ontario, and how the municipality’s attempt to reach out to the city’s ethnic media was initially plagued with issues. 

In 2007, Brampton’s communications department began distributing press releases to ethnic media outlets such as the Canadian Punjabi Post in an attempt to better reach out to the city’s immigrant population. According to Lindgren’s findings, however, this led to some confusion. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Some new arrivals [to Canada] don’t understand the PR world.”[/quote]

The study indicates that there was a lack of familiarity among ethnic outlets with this form of communication, and some newspapers simply published the releases in full. Others even sent the city a bill for advertising fees. 

“Some new arrivals [to Canada] don’t understand the PR world,” Lindgren says. “These newspapers were not able to distinguish between a press release and an advertisement.” 

In light of these difficulties, the city of Brampton made changes to their communications process, which included a plan to hire a “specialty media coordinator”, and to translate all media releases into French, Punjabi, Urdu and Portuguese. 

Understanding the intention

While this type of outreach can be useful in acclimating immigrant journalists and ethnic media to Western-style public relations, Tom Henheffer, Executive Director of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, says sometimes there are other intentions at play. He points to former minister of national defence and multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, as an example. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[Kenney] really infantilized them because ... it was an opportunity to speak to these guys and get a positive headline.”[/quote]

“Kenney, under Stephen Harper, made a point of being in the ethnic press at every chance he could … they thought a small paper would be excited to be able to get someone high-up in government,” Henheffer says. 

“But [Kenney] really infantilized them because ... it was an opportunity to speak to these guys and get a positive headline.” 

Issue not often discussed 

Speaking with New Canadian Media after her lecture on public relations, Francoeur says that different outlets will have unique perspectives on the challenges of dealing with PR professionals. 

When asked if the issue of limited access for immigrant journalists has ever come up in her classroom, Francoeur says it has not, but that this shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the problem doesn’t exist. 

“Our journalism programs are pretty homogenous ... and it doesn’t provide the whole, representative picture,” Francoeur explains. 

“Student journalists already have difficulties reaching PR people. Do they have more difficulty because their name sounds different? I don’t know … and maybe I don’t know because we don’t have that many [immigrant students].”

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