By: George Abraham in Ottawa

In 1972, President Idi Amin expelled residents of Indian descent from Uganda. The move's impact was felt throughout the region as Indian-Africans in surrounding countries found they were met with the same hostile environment. Faced with theft, vandalism, and government seizures; a mass exodus ensued that forced hundreds of thousands to leave the only homes they had ever known.

Mansoor Ladha, who was living in Tanzania at the time, remembers the experience vividly. His novel, "Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West" details the journey he was forced into following exile. New Canadian Media conducted an interview with the author via email:

Q: Your life has encapsulated multiple migrations and at one point you write "Canada will be my final resting place". Can you explain how you came to this conclusion?

A: My book talks about my search for a homeland. I left Tanzania, stayed in Nairobi, Kenya, have been to London England several times and finally landed in Canada which has given me the feeling of being at home.

I had also considered [the] United States where I have family but the violent nature of that society doesn’t blend with my nature, philosophy and temperament. Looks like I have finally found my resting place [in] peaceful, tolerant Canada.

Q: Your memoir is also a journey in journalism - across continents, across political philosophies, ethnic and civilizational divides. Do you think Canada could have been more appreciative of your evident talent? 

A: There are plenty of examples of mistreatment that I have received in Canada. First as a job seeker and later even as a newspaper publisher. It gives me the impression that Canadians are always fearful of the unknown. This fear is especially applied to people of colour. There used to be a stereotypical belief which cast doubt on all immigrants’ ability to do a job. Hence, most employers were then reluctant to hire immigrants. However, once Canadians see your performance and are impressed with it, then that fear is gone, replaced by acceptance and respect. 

Q: Immigrants tend to have more riveting life stories and this is surely true in your case. What's the one message about immigration that you'd like your readers to take away from your book? 

A: My message to employers is don’t indulge in stereotypical thinking and don’t judge immigrants because of their colour. Give them a chance to prove themselves on the job-try them out on probationary period and then make a decision. 

To [my] fellow immigrants. My message is don’t be disappointed by failures or hurdles that you encounter during your time of settlement. Keep on trying and you’ll finally succeed. 

Q: You have written for mainstream media, owned town newspapers and contributed in many ways to the telling of Canadian stories. How would you describe the state of Canadian journalism today? 

A: These are very uncertain times for media in Canada, especially newspapers. In most Canadian cities, newspapers have either folded or are owned by newspaper chains. In many major markets, the chain has also bought their competition, creating a virtual monopoly. With the result: editorial staff has been cut down to a bare minimum, local stories have been replaced by wire stories and the number of pages has also dwindled.

Canada has a lot of excellent journalism schools in every city, churning out J graduates in huge numbers who don’t have a job to go to. It’s a sad and pathetic time for those planning to enter the profession.

My suggestion to J-graduates is to start knocking on doors of weekly newspapers and forget about working on dailies as an entry point. 

Q: Lastly, if the forced emigration from East Africa were to happen today, do you think Canada and the average Canadian would be just as welcoming as in the early 1970's when you arrived? 

A: The prevailing mood in Canada today is pro-immigrant, pro-refugee, partly because of Justin Trudeau [and the] Liberals’ policy to welcome immigrants and refugees.

Since the 70s, Canadians have learned what immigrants can do and how hardworking they are. Several immigrants have sought civic, provincial and national public office and have done remarkably well in these areas. In business, professions and politics, immigrants have shone brilliantly and the society at large have been appreciative of their contributions. They are now respected by the main stream society.  

George Abraham is the founder and publisher of New Canadian Media. A former Nieman Scholarship recipient at Harvard University, he has over 26 years of newsroom experience, including work with publications such as, the Toronto Star, the Ottawa Citizen and more. 

Published in Books
Friday, 19 May 2017 12:46

A Memoir from Tanzania to Calgary

By Florence Hwang

In Mansoor Ladha’s new book, Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West, he contrasts life in Africa to Canada, and how a person’s skin colour can make a difference. He writes about his journey from Zanzibar, Tanzania to Canada and the adjustments he had to make along the way. He hopes his book helps people deal with the problems and issues that immigrants encounter. He also hopes these problems and issues can be avoided.

“Employers have to be reasonable and fair in hiring immigrants and not demanding Canadian experience as a prerequisite,” says Ladha, who is a freelance journalist.

“It was amazing that employers demanded Canadian experience from South Asians from East Africa because here was a community which was educated, westernized, spoke English well and believed in western values,” he added.

The book spans from Ladha’s childhood to adulthood. He was born in Zanzibar, Tanzania, brought up in Lindi, southern Tanzania and worked in Dar es Salaam as a copy and features editor of The Standard, the largest circulating English daily in the capital city. He says his experiences have made him a better person and better equipped to tackle problems.

“I have gone through problems of discrimination, displacement, acceptance and search for a home. With hard work and with the grace of God, I have been able to surmount these,” he says.

He now considers Canada his home and is quite comfortable living here as there are less political tensions that are prevalent in Africa, which is still undergoing political maturity and economic uncertainties.

He left Tanzania in 1972 when Ugandan president Idi Amin expelled Africans of Indian descent, which caused a massive exodus from the region. At that time, Ladha was living in Nairobi when he decided to leave and come to Canada.

 His book is available on

Republished with permission from The Asian Pacific Post 

Published in Books

by Our National Correspondent

July 30 marked the 11th anniversary of the Patriotic Vanguard newspaper published from Vancouver. In our continuing effort to profile and work with ethnic media across Canada, New Canadian Media conducted an interview by e-mail with the paper's founder and chief executive officer, Gibril Gbanabome Koroma, a Sierra Leonean journalist in exile. Koroma is pictured at right, in front of the Vancouver Public Library. 

Q: It's been 11 years since you set up the Patriotic Vanguard newspaper. Why did you set it up and why did you choose the name "Patriotic Vanguard"?
Well, I came to Canada in the year 2000 because of the war in my country, Sierra Leone, and because I was a journalist back home (editor and correspondent for foreign media), I just could not stop writing. So, I contacted fellow journalists from my native country, Sierra Leone, scattered all over the world and set up the Patriotic Vanguard. As you know, it's not easy for a new immigrant to get work in Canadian media, but that did not bother me. I just created my own newspaper. Simple.
The name Patriotic Vanguard came about because we all felt we should do something for our country, even though we found ourselves elsewhere. We can live and work and contribute to say Canadian, British, Australian society and so on and still contribute to the country we left behind, a country that had done so much for us. It's okay to be patriotic towards more than one country. I love Canada and I also love Sierra Leone. I think that feeling is at the core of Canadian multiculturalism.
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It's okay to be patriotic towards more than one country.[/quote]
Q: Sierra Leone is a small nation and rarely makes it into Canadian (and presumably, American) news. Who is your audience and why do you think they've become fans of your newspaper?
We have a vast audience or readership of Sierra Leoneans and non-Sierra Leoneans scattered all over the world. This is a global online newspaper, a diaspora newspaper, which is eagerly read at home and elsewhere, every minute, very hour, every day. Just the other day, somebody contacted us from Harvard University asking for information.
Q: Do you hope to influence the government in Freetown? How?
We did not set out in 2000 to influence anybody. We only wanted to relay the news and comment on happenings back home especially when we observed a distorted presentation of news about our country in the mainstream Western media. We saw so much ignorance and sometimes outright nonsense being written about Africa and Africans, and we saw it as our duty to correct and counter such nonsense whenever we could and we are still doing it. We also publish a lot about Canada and Africans living in Canada and other western countries. Of course, our people and the government back home have very high respect for us.
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]We saw so much ignorance and sometimes outright nonsense being written about Africa and Africans, and we saw it as our duty to correct and counter such nonsense ...[/quote]
Q: Please give us a description of how you run the paper and its online editions. Do you plan to expand?
The Patriotic Vanguard is basically an online newspaper for now, but we plan to have a print edition if we get funding, which will, of course, make it more general, incorporating news form other communities in Canada. A print edition in Sierra Leone is also being planned. We are all volunteers; nobody is paid anything. 
Q: Lastly, what do Canadians need to know about the Patriotic Vanguard and Sierra Leone?
Well, a lot of Canadians already know about the Patriotic Vanguard, including you! For those who do not know about us yet, it is what is normally called an 'ethnic publication' targeting Africans everywhere, including in Canada, with special emphasis on Sierra Leone, the birthplace of the publisher (myself) and most of the staff, who are all volunteers. But as I said, we plan to expand into publishing news about other communities in Canada in a print edition if we get funding. We really want to make it a meeting place for all communities in Canada.
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Published in Top Stories

by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa

Even before our interview got underway, he told me, he was about to post a tweet that criticizes the Liberal government’s plans to send peacekeepers to Africa.

“I’m blasting them and I said BS, Africa doesn’t need peacekeepers; what we need to do is to provide training for African peacekeepers,” says Deepak Obhrai, Conservative MP for Calgary, Forest Lawn.

That is the nature of the man seeking the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. Often touted as one of the most controversial MPs, Obhrai refuses the controversial tag, but says he is supposed to generate discussion and that is what he does.

“That is part of my job, to create national debates,” he says.

He believes adding his voice to national discourse is very important.

“I’m putting my views across. If I feel a government policy is wrong, I’ll say so,” he adds.

“Elitist and white”

Obhrai recently criticized his own party for increasing party membership fees to $25, saying some of these new rules made the party “elitist and white”. He had his way. The party overturned the decision to increase the amount and pegged it at $15.

“After I made that big noise, it went across the country and the party reduced it,” he says amid smiles that suggest he feels he’s won a big battle.  

“That is an achievement. When you fight, you can do it,” he adds.

That is not the only time Obhrai has fought his own party. He openly opposed Bill C-24 which gave power to the federal government to strip Canadian citizenship from dual citizens when charged with terrorism. He made some enemies, but he didn’t care, as long as he put his message across.

“Of course, for a few days, I was marginalized,” he scoffs.

Old Canada

Often outspoken, Obhrai says people who still think Canada belongs to just a few of them are living in the past. Obhrai says these people and their ideas need to be fought.

“There is what I call ‘establishment’ discrimination. The old establishment still thinks Canada belongs to the 1940’s,” he says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“There is what I call ‘establishment’ discrimination. The old establishment still thinks Canada belongs to the 1940’s,” he says.[/quote]

“I’m running to ensure my message that the Conservative Party is open to all [gets out].  I’ve been working 20 years at this, I just have to continue to work hard at it,” Obhrai adds.

 “They are criticizing me because I’m saying this is a new Canada,” Obhrai says, without alluding to anybody in particular.

Attracting immigrants

Obhrai, who is the longest serving Tory MP, says the party was perceived and labelled as a racist party, and so he joined to change that perception from the inside. 

“I worked hard over the years, and I spoke out. We were very successful.”

He says those efforts helped the party especially in 2011, when they won a majority of seats in Parliament.

“But then we started sleeping,” he laments.  

Citing the controversy over Bill C-24 and the one surrounding the niqab, Obhrai says this portrayed the Conservative party as “anti-immigrant”. He says the party lost a majority of new Canadians in last October’s federal election.

Obhrai says, “This is not the party I worked for; this is not the party that I built.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Obhrai says, “This is not the party I worked for; this is not the party that I built.”[/quote]

He says the party needs to bring on board all new Canadians and make it attractive for them, adding that he is best equipped to lead the charge. .

Born in Tanzania

Obhrai was born in Tanzania and moved to Canada at a young age. Since being elected to the House of Commons in 1997, he has served in various capacities. He is currently the dean of the Tory caucus. As parliamentary secretary for 10 years, he says he has gained a lot of international recognition and needs to bring this experience to his party.

“In the 10 years that I worked as parliamentary secretary, I gained a huge amount of respect from overseas, in Africa, Asia and the Pacific; everybody knows me,” Obhrai says.

“I am a man with tremendous experience.”

He says with this and his vast knowledge of the grassroots, his message is unique and that is what the party needs at this time.

Proud Immigrant

Obhrai takes every opportunity to make people aware he is an immigrant. Taking me through some of the large collection of souvenirs in his Parliament Hill office, he points out a framed certificate from his former high school, Arusha Secondary School in Tanzania with pride. Indeed, it was the first thing he pointed to in his office.

Obhrai also prides himself as the only immigrant MP to be profiled in a textbook for students in Canada.

“By the way, me, an immigrant from Africa, is profiled in the high school book of Grade 9 in the whole of Alberta,” he says proudly.

He fetches the book from his table and opens straight to the page. “Every high school student in Grade 9 reads about me. That is an achievement for an immigrant.”

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Published in Politics

by George Abraham in Ottawa

I must confess that I came to Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (To Everyone) and Kamal Al-Solaylee’s thesis as a skeptic. Growing up in India, everybody around me was brown – some lighter-skinned than others – but brown-ness has been a lifelong given.

Moving to Canada, I developed an appreciation for the tension between “white” and “black,” and then a little later, consciousness about indigenous people. Recently, #Blacklivesmatter and #Nativelivesmatter became popular Twitter hashtags, emblematic of a struggle for equality and justice.

The author of this book adds another group to the list of the aggrieved, perhaps calling for a #Brownlivesmatter movement.

Picking up Brown I asked myself, why does Al-Solaylee have to harp on yet another colour distinction?

He seemed to be calling for a new consciousness, “a challenge to white and black hegemony.” What baloney, I told myself. I sensed yet another author adept at milking victimhood for all it’s worth.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I sensed yet another author adept at milking victimhood for all it’s worth.[/quote]

That would have been the essence of my take but for happenstance.

I read the main sections of Brown during a visit to India, which at the time was roiled by a rather bizarre series of attacks on African nationals staying there for university studies or business. While the political class appeared to be in denial, the national media were unsparing, labelling the attacks “pigment-based discrimination” and brazen racism.

I was shocked to read an African diplomat in New Delhi quoted as saying, “I realized after a while that the taunts of ‘monkey, monkey’ were aimed at me . . .” He was recounting how a group of youth would make primate-like sounds while he was jogging at a public park.

Not just black and white

The exhaustive reporting and commentary in India around these widespread attacks told me that we “brownies” were also capable of racism.

Secondly, it opened my eyes to the possibility suggested by Al-Solaylee: “[W]e are not as privileged as whites but not as criminalized as blacks.” There might be an in-between.

There is no denying that if whites form the top-tier of the world economy, browns and blacks occupy the bottom rungs. However, there is not enough in this book by the widely-published Ryerson University journalism professor to clearly distinguish between the fates of those born brown or black, although he goes to extraordinary lengths to support his basic point that skin colour is destiny.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“[W]e are not as privileged as whites but not as criminalized as blacks.”[/quote]

Brown, he says, serves as a metaphor for a distinct political experience that might include the following: a hyphenated immigrant identity (unlike the Irish and Italian, for example); suspicion at border crossings (perceived as “shifty”); a feeling of disenfranchisement and belonging to a new “global servant” class.

As an immigrant himself, Al-Solaylee pays particular attention to the internationally mobile brown folks who wish to leave the developing world, thereby “browning” the population of countries such as the U.S. and Canada.

Shades matter

The Yemen-born author is at his best when he hews close to the journalism for which he is most known. He cites data to show income disparities based on skin colour in societies such as Brazil (where browns or blacks earn 42.2 per cent less than whites), Sri Lanka and Trinidad.

This book also took him to the Philippines, Hong Kong, Qatar, the U.K. and the U.S. – all in an effort to demonstrate how being born brown inevitably means a life of modern slavery, dim economic prospects, and an endless effort to appear fairer through whitening creams and lotions.

There is, though, no effort to explain brown-on-brown discrimination in countries such as Qatar, where the Asian labour class and local Qataris share a common skin tone. Similarly, the notes from Britain most certainly discount the possibility of a Muslim brownie of Pakistani heritage being elected mayor of London.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Al-Solaylee’s observations and conclusions throughout his travels can be rather facile and foregone, and lack the rigour one expects from a stellar journalist.[/quote]

The author applies the same woe-is-me-because-I’m-brown outlook to Canada. Jumping off some of the overheated rhetoric from the Conservative campaign during the October 2015 federal election, the author infers that “an anti-brown feeling has been gaining momentum, even in liberal Canada.” This, when he himself concedes that immigration to both Canada and the U.S. is predominantly brown.

Al-Solaylee’s observations and conclusions throughout his travels can be rather facile and foregone, and lack the rigour one expects from a stellar journalist. This one stuck out in particular: “Two black friends have suggested to me that the relatively light skin tones of Syrian refugees explain why Canadians have opened their wallets and homes so generously.”

I’m not sure if the author proves what he set out to demonstrate – that being brown predicts your life trajectory more than any other circumstance.

My own career has taken me to some of the very same countries that Al-Solaylee visited. I know first-hand that skin colour can be defining and shorthand for a “pigmentocracy,” in which white and fair is viewed as competent, while everybody else falls short.

I’d say Brown is a good read for those who are convinced they will never catch a break because the deck is forever stacked against them.

For everybody else, it is yet another thesis in search of a convincing argument.

George Abraham is the founder and publisher of New Canadian Media.


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Published in Books

by Shan Qiao in Toronto

New writers are using mentorship opportunities to create and share more diverse and inclusive stories about Toronto’s history and culture. 

“What we want to do is to create a living history of Toronto through literature [and] make it as diverse as the city itself,” says Helen Walsh, the president of Diaspora Dialogues  – a charitable society made up of writers, artists and performers. 

“I’m not surprised that there are at least 50 to 60 countries represented through Diaspora Dialogues – lots of voices from Asia, Africa and Northern Europe,” Walsh adds. “Often, people write about their own cultural background and we want to bring Toronto to life through literature.” 

Mentoring new writers 

Toronto’s iconic Old City Hall, a national historic site, was the stage for Diaspora Dialogues during Doors Open Toronto, an event that offers access to buildings with historical significance across the city.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Often, people write about their own cultural background and we want to bring Toronto to life through literature.”[/quote]

Jamaican-born and Ottawa-raised emerging writer Dianah Smith is one of 12 writers who presented their work at Old City Hall. As a teacher and arts educator, Smith joined Diaspora Dialogues in 2014 for its mentoring program, in which she paired-up with Jamaican-Canadian writer and media professional Martin Mordecai. 

“For about six months, he helped me to get into [a] schedule of my draft and first novel, finalizing some of the scenes of my manuscript to get it ready for publication,” Smith says about her experience as a mentee. 

“It’s a story about a seven-year-old girl, Jemela Campbell, and her experience in immigrating from Jamaica to Canada and her first year in Canada,” Smith explains. 

The excerpt she reads is from the novel, with a working title The Promise of Foreign, which explores some of the challenges newcomer parents face in Canada such as finding work and keeping jobs. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“As a racialized person of colour, as an immigrant, you don’t really feel represented in the publishing world.”[/quote]

Seeking recognition as writers 

“As a racialized person of colour, as an immigrant, you don’t really feel represented in the publishing world,” Smith explains. “You have names like Margaret Atwood, mainly white and middle-class people.” 

She says that while Diaspora Dialogues does not restrict white writers from participating, it also tries "to have alternative voices to give immigrants and indigenous people the opportunity to share their stories.” 

Author Mia Herrera adds that working in the Canadian publishing and writing industry is precarious. 

“A writer who publishes regularly makes a salary of about $12,000 a year. You can’t make a living on that,” she says. 

Born to Filipino parents, Herrera now lives in Bradford, Ont. She works in communications and marketing and says she continues to write because it is her passion. 

Smith says she is still in the process of finding an interested publisher for her novel. While her mentorship program ended last fall, she continues to participate in other programs led by Diaspora Dialogues such as Lunch and Learn events, workshops about pitching to agents, as well as mentee book readings such as the one at Old City Hall. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“These questions arise regularly for her, particularly as she lives in such a racially-charged town as Georgina.”[/quote]

Placing immigrants in Toronto’s history 

After working with her mentor, writer David Layton, Herrera had her first novel Shade published by an independent feminist publisher, Inanna Publications. 

Shade tells the story of a Filipino-Canadian woman named Benni from the small town of Georgina, Ont., and her trip to the Philippines to visit her father. 

“Georgina is a town in York region about an hour-and-a-half north of here that is somewhat notorious for racist acts – disputes about flying the Confederate flag in schools and repeated incidents of racially-driven assaults,” Herrera tells the audience at Old City Hall. 

Georgina was the site of attacks against Asian Canadian fishermen in 2007, which involved car chases, damaged fishing gear, and anglers of Asian descent being pushed into the water. 

The scene Herrera reads is from the beginning of the novel about a breakup between Benni and her long-time Chinese-Canadian boyfriend, Tom. Instead of hearing a proposal, Benni is shocked to learn that Tom has hesitations about their future together because he is concerned about how Benni’s race will affect him and his family’s business. 

“As you will find in this scene and throughout my novel, Benni deals with questions of race and what it means to be a visible minority and second-generation immigrant in Canada,” Herrera says. “These questions arise regularly for her, particularly as she lives in such a racially-charged town as Georgina.” 

“Her experiences in the Philippines allow her to take the long view of not just her life in Georgina, but of her life in Canada, and what it means to be Canadian,” she adds. 

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Published in Books

by Vicky Tobianah in Toronto 

Making distant readers empathize with historical events they have not experienced is a challenging feat.

Mohamed M. Keshavjee grapples with getting individuals to feel the pain of the global collective and experience events that they have not been touched by in his latest book Into That Heaven of Freedom: The Impact of Apartheid on an Indian Family’s Diasporic History. 

Keshavjee, a second-generation South African of Indian origin, not only takes readers through his own family history, but also through the history of Indians living in Africa over the course of a hundred years. 

The title comes from Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore’s poem “Where the Mind is Free:” 

“Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.” 

The poem is part of Tagore’s Nobel prize-winning poetry collection, Gitanjali. The book also has a forward written by Ahmed Kathrada, who spent 26 years in prison with Nelson Mandela and is the longest serving human rights prisoner alive today. 

Path to self-discovery 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]We are merely there for the ride as Keshavjee takes his own journey through history.[/quote]

Keshavjee describes the political struggle against apartheid, beginning with his roots – his family’s establishment in 1894 in Marabastad, a settlement in Pretoria, South Africa. He then describes Mahatma Gandhi’s fight against racism during the beginning of apartheid. Keshavjee’s family continues its journey to Kenya and eventually relocates in Canada. 

While Keshavjee writes with authority and knowledge, lurking behind every page is also the realization that he is discovering his own role in this narrative and not merely uncovering the role of his family in history. It is as much self-realization as it is storytelling. We are merely there for the ride as Keshavjee takes his own journey through history. 

At the onset of the book, Keshavjee states: “If I have started a conversation amongst my readers about their own antecedents and their personal recollections, I shall be happy.”

However, as I continued reading his memoir, I began to suspect that the most important conversation Keshavjee would have as a result of this storytelling is with himself, about who he really is as he grapples with finding out who he was not in the country of his birth, and who he was in the country of his ancestors. 

It is by watching his journey that a reader can hope to embark on the same one through their family’s history. 

Recording history 

Where readers might get lost is in the minute details – names of brothers, cousins’ shops, and small communities, each explained in heavy detail throughout, which sometimes feels as if one is reading a classroom history book – ironic for Keshavjee who writes that as a child, he looked forward to the time when he would no longer have to attend school. 

Each new chapter brings with it new characters who are all part of Keshavjee’s history. While the story could have been told without some of those details, it is again evidence of the author's desire to record the names, dates and places of those that came before him, struggled before he did, and persevered to allow him to find his own place, too. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I am grateful that, unlike my ancestors, I have been able to tell my story.”[/quote]


Childhood impressions 

Although the book is very much a journey, it hints at the times in Keshavjee’s life when he did start to locate his place in the world. It’s the 1950s when Keshavjee starts to like school and impresses his teachers with his creativity and talent.

In the childhood stories he writes, “Autobiography of a Penny” and “Autobiography of an Old Shoe,” Keshavjee imagines himself as the coin or shoe and the many places it might have been placed, the people who might have touched it, and the home it ended up in. 

These stories, although only mentioned over the course of a few lines in this almost 300-page book, foreshadow this memoir, as Keshavjee once again describes the life he has and underneath the surface, the life he might have had, had he been born in a different country, to a different race, with a different skin colour.  

Today, Keshavjee is a graduate of Queen’s University and the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University, among several other academic achievements. He was called to the bar at Osgoode Hall in Toronto and is a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada. He also practised law in the United Kingdom and Kenya, and served in the Secretariat of His Highness the Aga Khan. 

His success is apparent as the memoir winds down and Keshavjee seems to find his answers.

“I am no longer a refugee in search of a homeland,” he writes.  Perhaps that is not just because he has found a physical home, but a metaphorical one too in this book. As he notes, “I am grateful that, unlike my ancestors, I have been able to tell my story.”

Vicky Tobianah is an experienced writer, editor and content strategist. She has a bachelor of arts, honours from McGill University in political science and English literature. She is passionate about the future of digital media. Find her work at:

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Published in Books

by Susan Korah in Ottawa 

“We’ve never had a wide-ranging public debate on what kind of immigrants we need in this country,” says Valerie Knowles, author of Strangers at our Gates: Canadian Immigration and Immigration Policy, 1540 to 2015. “It’s something that’s long overdue,” she adds. 

Originally published in 1988, the fourth edition of Strangers at our Gates was recently released by Dundurn Press. Knowles explains that while researching the subject of immigration, it became obvious to her that successive governments have made announcements – for example on the number of immigrants that Canada would accept - without ever engaging the public in a discussion that is so critical to the very fabric of the nation. 

“It’s an emotionally charged issue and a difficult portfolio for any [immigration] minister,” she responds, when asked why Canadian politicians and policymakers have shied away from such a public debate. 

Leading source on immigration history

Knowles’ book, however, is not a critique of any one government’s immigration policy or practices. Nor does it deal with the stories of individual immigrants or refugees, fascinating as many of them are. Nevertheless, it is a highly readable book. 

A wide-ranging survey of Canadian immigration history from a public policy perspective, it is a cross between an academic thesis and a popular narrative. Written in a reader-friendly, high-end journalistic style, its content is substantiated by an extensive bibliography, endnotes, and interviews with key policymakers and academics. 

“It’s the standard reference tool and the textbook of choice on immigration,” says Mike Molloy, President of the Canadian Immigration Historical Society. Molloy notes that the book – unlike many others on the same subject – is remarkably free from bitter arguments over minute distinctions or moral judgements taken out of historical context. 

Indeed, Knowles is as objective as possible on a subject that can be a political and emotional minefield, carefully avoiding direct criticism of any government’s policy or practices. 

Originally published in 1988 in response to a publisher’s request for a ‘survey’ history of Canadian immigration in 200 pages, the latest edition, released in 2016, is intended to cover the years since 2006 under the Conservative government of Stephen Harper. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I will give Jason Kenney credit for making a concerted effort to woo the ethnic community.”[/quote]

Too early to assess Trudeau 

Knowles says that she failed to get an interview for the new edition with Jason Kenney, who was Immigration Minister from 2008 to 2013, despite sending him a copy of the earlier version of her book. 

Questioned about her opinion on the differences between the Conservative government and the newly elected Liberal government’s approach to immigration, she says carefully: “It’s early days and too soon to form an opinion. I’d like to have a clearer picture before I make any judgement. However, restoring health benefits to refugee claimants is a positive move.” 

“I will give Jason Kenney credit for making a concerted effort to woo the ethnic community,” she says. “Kenny embraced the portfolio with an enthusiasm that few immigration ministers ever did. It’s a difficult portfolio to fill.” 

Kenney’s successor, the “controversial” Chris Alexander was not interviewed either. 

The diversity divide 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“These trends, which have transformed Canada into a truly global village, are now too strong to turn back.”[/quote]

The last chapter of the book entitled, “Issues in the Twenty First Century,” is a balanced presentation of pro and anti-immigration advocates’ arguments. Indeed, it could be an effective launching pad for the very debate that Knowles says has been a glaring gap in Canadian public discourse. 

One myth that Knowles firmly debunks is the contention that immigrants “steal” jobs from established Canadians. 

“Research indicates that immigration does not cause unemployment, although the now-defunct Economic Council of Canada suggested that very rapid increases in immigration may lead to temporary rises in unemployment,” she writes. 

Another equally significant question she raises in the same chapter relates to how we manage diversity. 

“For the last four decades we have welcomed a steady stream of newcomers from Asia, the Middle East and Africa, most of whom have settled in Canada’s largest cities, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. These trends, which have transformed Canada into a truly global village, are now too strong to turn back.” 

With this statement, Knowles highlights a point that is rarely discussed. She quotes Larry Bourne, a University of Toronto geographer and urban planner who observed; “We are turning a half-dozen cities into intensely multicultural and multilingual places and creating these fantastically vibrant, but under-serviced, cities while the rest of the country remains homogenous with a declining and aging population.” 

Knowles goes on to report that in Bourne’s view, these two demographic solitudes are more important than the East-West divide. 

Knowles modestly disclaims any “expertise” on the subject, pointing out that she is not an academic. Her research, however, is meticulous and her facts are well documented in her endnotes. 

Indeed, Strangers at our Gates: Canadian Immigration Policy, 1540-2015 Fourth Edition, deserves a wider audience and could serve as a useful starting point of research for all those who shape Canada’s immigration and refugee policies.

Susan Korah is a Canadian journalist and communications professional of South Asian descent with over 20 years of experience. Her work has appeared in The Toronto StarSoutham News Services, Catholic Register, Anglican Journal, The Intelligencer and The Trentonian. She has worked in communications for the Parliament of Canada, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office and for Initiatives of Change International.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Books
Thursday, 24 September 2015 00:00

Understanding Human Smugglers

by Zoran Vidić in Belgrade, Serbia

Charon, in Greek mythology, was a grim and sombre ferryman who transported souls of the newly dead across the river Acheron to the Underworld. Those who did not pay a silver coin for the ride were pitilessly thrown out of the boat.

Nowadays, there is another kind of ferrymen. Part of the modern underworld, they transport refugees from their war-torn hells to potential salvation.

Just like Charon, they charge money for their services, but can’t always promise safe passage to their voyagers. They are smugglers of refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa to Europe, and their trail is littered with dead bodies.

In Belgrade, Serbia, we meet these smugglers at their usual rendezvous: café Kušet, near the central train station.

As we enter, all eyes turn in our direction. It is obvious – we as locals and journalists are not welcome here.

While we are fidgeting with our cameras and recorders, three bulky men, who speak Pashto and are likely from Afghanistan, sit at the nearby booth and glance at us, trying to figure out where we are from and whether we represent any kind of danger.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][M]any former refugees who fail to make it to the European Union stay in Serbia and join the smuggling ring.[/quote]

For all we know, they could have been migrants, just like hundreds of others outside of this café and in the park.

In fact, many former refugees who fail to make it to the European Union stay in Serbia and join the smuggling ring be it as guides, translators or full-blown smugglers.

At the end of August, for instance, members of a mostly Bulgarian gang were responsible for the death of 71 people who were found suffocated in an abandoned van on a highway in Austria. One of the men involved was an Afghan national with Hungarian residence papers.

A necessary evil

As we begin to speak with the men, we find out that transport from Preševo (Serbia’s border with Macedonia) to Subotica (Serbia’s border with Hungary) costs €300 per head. The “family package” price is negotiated on the spot, and children usually pay half price.

Serbia is just one section on the “Balkans route” and it can cost up to €10,000 to smuggle a person from Turkey to a Western European destination.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Our source tells us that the smugglers have the process down to an art.[/quote]

These prices vary depending on the quality and comfort of the service, with higher prices usually equating to a higher survival rate.

Our source tells us that the smugglers have the process down to an art: the paying customer is told exactly what to do when he or she enters Greece, whom to call in Macedonia, and who is waiting for them in Serbia.

When the customer arrives in Serbia, he or she is usually taken by cab drivers, or sometimes minivans, to the main points of meeting.

There they spend one or more nights in hostels or motels before continuing their journey toward the northern border, where they are met by their next connection.

The “clients” must make sure that they have enough money to pay for any travel expenses, such as road tolls, but also for the fine if they are caught.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“[People smugglers] do not care about the well-being of the refugees, they care about profit.”[/quote]

"People smugglers are criminals and not well-minded helpers,” said Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, commenting on the recent tragedy in Austria. “They do not care about the well-being of the refugees, they care about profit.”

But, in the eyes of the refugees and other migrants, human traffickers are just a necessary evil.

The migrants are those who pay the price, be it in hard currency or with their lives. They are caught between hammer and anvil: the desire to leave their war-torn homeland and the perils of such a gruelling journey.

Interventions and penalties

Speaking to the reporters outside her home in British Columbia, Tima Kurdi, a Canadian citizen and aunt of the Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi who drowned in Turkey trying to reach Europe, held herself responsible for the tragedy.

“I blame myself because my brother does not have money,” she said. “I sent him the money to pay the smuggler. If I didn't send him the money, those people still (would be) alive.”

Responsibility also lies in the hands of the western countries’ governments, who have only recently begun to intervene.

The Head of National Police Headquarters’ Border Security Department in Hungary, László Balász, told press that police have intervened with 913 human traffickers this year.

For assisting the unauthorized border crossing in Serbia, smugglers face jail time of anywhere between six months and five years.

If the perpetrators are public servants or officials who are found guilty of abusing their authority to the point where people are found dead, the penalty may go up to 10 years.

Considering this, transporting migrants across the sea and by the land is a calculated risk, but it appears that many of the human traffickers and their helpers feel spending a few years in jail is worth the money they stand to make off this human tragedy.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Top Stories
Tuesday, 18 August 2015 18:12

No Easy Options for Europe's Refugee Crisis

by Dr. Gerry Van Kessel in Ottawa

As many as 1,200 boat people drowned attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea headed for Europe during a 10-day period last April. The drownings drew media attention to a growing and cyclical phenomenon: the arrival in Europe of large numbers of migrants and refugees, particularly by sea. Over 225,000 have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, mostly bound for Greece and Italy, severely stretching their resources; 2,100 have drowned.

Migrant boats have a way of focusing public attention that other means of migration do not. Arrivals by land and air are far more numerous, yet it is boat arrivals that arouse the interest of the media and the public. This includes Canada. Boat arrivals have resulted in some of the most negative public comments about the Canadian government’s management of immigration. The arrival of a boat filled with Tamils in 1986 and another boat with Sikhs a year later led to an emergency recall of Parliament. The four boats with Chinese migrants in 1999 and the boat with Tamils in 2009 kept immigration in the spotlight for months.

The number of persons claiming refugee status in Europe this year is likely to exceed the previous high of 672,000 in 1992. In the first quarter of of 2015, there were 185,000 claims made, an increase of 86 per cent over the previous year's first quarter.

Global trend

These numbers reflect what is happening globally. In 2014, there were a record 51.2 million people displaced from their homes. Most -- 26 million -- were displaced in their own countries, while 13 million were refugees outside their country. An increasing number find their way to wealthy countries to make refugee claims. The unrest in the Middle East and North Africa and the poverty of sub-Saharan Africa do not suggest any diminishing of the numbers seeking a better life in Europe.

A plea for burden-sharing by Italy and Greece for help from other European Union members has been largely unsuccessful.

Europe's continuing dilemma is that it is impossible to keep everyone out and impossible to let everyone in. The rather paradoxical compromise, apparent in various degrees in all Western countries, is one that takes steps to keep migrants out, but for those who manage to get in, have a legal process that allows persons found to be refugees to remain in the country. However, governments generally want to make sure that this acceptance does not become a "pull" factor for other migrants. Changes to this compromise are most likely to be in the direction of greater enforcement and control as the European public becomes increasingly concerned about integration, multiculturalism and terrorism.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Europe's continuing dilemma is that it is impossible to keep everyone out and impossible to let everyone in.[/quote]

The Australian model

There are other options being advanced, but not specifically by the EU. One option advanced by pro-immigration groups is for Europe to open its borders to legal migration in the way that Canada, the United States and Australia do. In this way, it is argued, Europe will absorb the migratory pressures it faces in a legal manner and avoid the negative consequences, such as drownings at sea, of irregular migration and compensate for the continent's low birth rate. The problem with this approach is that that there is no balance between what European countries can (even where they willing to do so) absorb and the demand for migration, a demand far greater than the total of displaced persons. Just in Libya, there are reported to be a million people waiting to enter Europe.

A very different option is the so-called Pacific Solution followed by Australia. It is frowned upon by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and pro-immigration groups. Its focus is the elimination of boat arrivals by moving the examination of asylum claims from onshore to third countries. It has been advanced by the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark individually, but not by the EU as a whole. Australia processes the claims of persons intercepted on boats in Papua New Guinea and Nauru and the current Canberra government reports that only one boat has made it to Australia.

Predicting what the future holds is difficult. The EU's hope is that the flood of refugees will ebb, as they have in the past. This will avoid the issue of broad policy changes.

The signs, however, suggest that migratory pressures will increase, public anger at governments' failure to manage the issue will grow and cries for radical solutions by anti-immigrant parties will become louder.

Gerry Van Kessel is retired from a career with Citizenship and Immigration Canada where he was Director General, Refugees from 1997 to 2001.  From 2001 to 2005, he was Coordinator, Intergovernmental Consultations on Asylum, Refugee and Migration Policies (IGC) in Geneva.  He dealt with the issues discussed in this article in both posts.  

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Published in Commentary
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