By: Marieke Walsh in Ottawa, ON

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was repeatedly under attack and on the defensive Wednesday night during a debate on issues facing the black community.

The debate in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood featured all major party leaders except Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford.

Wynne was taken to task for her government’s record on disproportionate numbers of black children facing suspension and expulsion, inequities in the health care system and the persistence of carding by police.

Throughout, the premier stuck to her talking points that the Liberal government has taken these issues “head on” and that “more needs to be done.”

At one point moderator Royson James called Wynne out for her response to systemic racism in the education system.

“You do know that whatever you’re doing isn’t working,” James asked Wynne. And he wondered if the people responsible for the school system understand the “urgency.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Stats show almost half of the black students who graduate high school don’t have the credits and grades needed to go to university and 42 per cent didn’t apply to post secondary school. -Royson James[/quote]

His follow-up was met with laughs and a shout of “clueless” from someone in the crowd of roughly 200 people.

“I get that there’s a huge frustration and I feel that frustration,” Wynne said.

At which point NDP Leader Andrea Horwath broke in with “15 years” — referencing the Liberal’s time in power.

James had previously listed several statistics pointing to the experience of black children in the Toronto District School Board in 2011.

Calling them “crushing statistics” he said the stats show almost half of the black students who graduate high school don’t have the credits and grades needed to go to university and 42 per cent didn’t apply to post secondary school. Moreover he said, of those students that apply, only one in four are accepted.

Of every 100 black students only 69 graduate, James said. Out of that number, he said only 18 end up in university or college.

He said the numbers are “worse” for boys, adding that half of the students expelled from school are black kids. “What do you plan to do about this abject failure of our schools to educate black students,” James asked the three leaders.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the “first thing you have to do is admit that there’s a problem.”

“These stats aren’t new,” Horwath said. “I’d suggest that it’s getting worse and not better.” She said the government should deal with the curriculum in schools and ensure supports are there for students. This online casino prepares plenty of exciting offers and bonuses. But in order to try some online casino games it is better to start with free online slots.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the statistics show how much the “status quo is failing our young people.”

Meanwhile, Wynne defended her government’s record on implementing items like the Black Youth Action Plan and the Education Equity Action Plan while agreeing that more needs to be done.

“There is absolutely no doubt that there is more structural change that’s needed,” Wynne said.

Wynne got the loudest applause when she was first introduced at the event but it went downhill from there — she was at times jeered, challenged and interrupted by the crowd.

Speaking to reporters after the debate, she said the issues debated “are not simple” nor “easily dealt with.”

“What I was saying was that we have been tackling them, we have been addressing them and yes there is still more to be done,” Wynne said.

Horwath, who got a warm reception from the crowd by the end of the night, called the debate “very enjoyable.”

The Elephant not in the Room

Ford’s absence wasn’t addressed very much by the leaders during the debate, but was met with boos from the crowd when the event organizers noted his absence.

Speaking to iPolitics afterward, several audience members said his absence would hurt Ford, while another said he would still hear out the ideas put forward from the Progressive Conservatives.

Earlier in the day Wynne issued a letter challenging Ford to three debates, saying he hasn’t yet agreed to a single one ahead of the June election.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Wynne said Ford is “the one person who wouldn’t have agreed with anything that we were saying and he wasn’t there to put his position forward.”

“It is really important that he show up and that he put his opinions forward because people need to understand what that contrast is,” she said.

Ford was in Northern Ontario on a campaign-style tour.

Horwath questioned Ford’s priorities and said the “community was pretty disappointed” by his absence.

Republished under arrangement with iPolitics

Published in Politics

by Fred Maroun in Ottawa, Ontario

Advocates of the Conservative government’s ban on the wearing of the niqab during citizenship ceremonies claim that the policy supports women’s rights. For Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, it's a matter of “fundamental equality between man and woman.

However, if women wear the niqab freely, then banning the niqab can be considered an infringement on a woman’s right to choose and an infringement on her freedom of religion. This seems to be the position adopted by NDP leader Thomas Mulcair in the recent Munk Debate on Canada’s Foreign Policy,

Mulcair’s stance surprised some voters. Until the day before the French language debate, held on Sept. 26, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was the only one of the three leading party leaders to clearly oppose the ban during this election period. 

This leads us to ask the following question: is Mulcair taking a principled stand or did he choose the most politically advantageous position?

NDP falling behind as election nears

Public opinion polls in late August showed the NDP far ahead at 37.4 percent, but the party appears to be losing ground. The NDP lost support in later polls but was still in a tight three-way race with Liberals and Conservatives—that is, until the French language debate in which Mulcair opposed the ban.

Following the debate, the NDP lost even more support across the country, particularly in Quebec. As of time of press, the NDP is in third place behind the Liberals and the Conservatives at 27.2 percent support, federally; its support in Quebec—which had peaked at 49.6 percent—is now at 33.9 percent. 

If Mulcair’s stand is politically motivated, it does not appear to be working.

Mulcair’s comments even seemed to frustrate members of Canada’s Muslim population. He stated at the debate, “If some of those women are oppressed, we need to help them, and it's not going to be depriving them of their Canadian citizenship and rights that will do that," hinting that some women are forced to wear the niqab. 

Shireen Ahmed, a Muslim journalist based in Mississauga, responded to this statement in a commentary published on New Canadian Media: “Therein lies the problem. Muslim women do not need to be helped nor do they need saving," she said.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Mulcair’s comments even seemed to frustrate members of Canada’s Muslims population.[/quote]

The two principles one typically invokes to argue against the ban are women’s right to choose what they wear and freedom of religion. The problem with this is that, by Mulcair’s own admission, women who wear the niqab may not be in a position to make a choice. As to freedom of religion, one would be hard-pressed to argue that the wearing of the niqab is mandated by any respectable religion. 

This practice, which is dehumanizing to women, is mandated only by a very marginal sect of Islam that is very foreign to the core Western values of freedom and equality.

Mulcair’s stance is further compromised by the comments of other NDP candidates. One of the NDP’s best known Quebec MPs, Alexandre Boulerice, said to The Globe and Mail, “It seems to be a symbol of oppression, which is not something that pleases me”.  

Another NDP candidate, Jean-François Delisle, also disagreed with Mulcair’s position, stating that if elected the party should amend the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to make it a legal impossibility.

A pattern of behaviour

This is not the first time that Mulcair has stood up for Muslims in a way that is less than convincing.

In September 2013, Mulcair slammed Quebec’s proposed “charter of values,” saying, “To be told that a woman working in a daycare centre because she's wearing a head scarf will lose her job is to us intolerable in our society.” Yet he was late in denouncing the charter, long after Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

After an attack on Canada’s parliament by a lone gunman in October 2014, Mulcair insisted that the attacker, Michael Zehaf Bibeau was “a criminal, but not a terrorist.” The fact that Bibeau was indeed a terrorist was later further proven by the release of a video that he'd made before the attack.

In February 2015, Mulcair denounced Harper’s linking of mosques to radicalization, yet some mosques have promoted hatred of the West in the past. As Muslim author Tarek Fatah wrote, “Even on the day Islamist Jihadi Terrorists killed four Jews in Paris in the name of Islam, and just two days after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, an Imam in a downtown Toronto mosque could not resist the urge to pray to Allah for Muslim victory over Christians and other non-Muslims.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]If Mulcair’s stand is politically motivated, it does not appear to be working.[/quote]

Mulcair is the only leader of a major party to oppose Bill C-51, a bill that appears to be opposed by most Canadian Muslims.Yet, some moderate Muslims, including spokespeople from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, support the bill.

It seems that Mulcair’s opposition to the niqab ban is neither based on principle nor based in politics. Perhaps it and other positions he has taken in a clumsy defense of Muslims are meant to appease his party’s radicals who are uncomfortable with Mulcair’s support of Israel. His position on the niqab has certainly disappointed some voters, including myself.

I have written that I support Mulcair, and I still do. I think that his policies, particularly on the environment and scientific research, are a much needed change. I also believe that he would be a competent prime minister. 

However, I cannot help but think that if Harper manufactured the niqab question as a cynical wedge issue to distract voters, then perhaps he has succeeded, at least as far as the NDP is concerned.

Editor's Note: This commentary was updated from a previous version to clarify the writer's disappointment in Mulcair's position on the niqab as opposed to his support of Israel.

Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. He writes at The Jerusalem Post and The Times of Israel.

 {module NCM Blurb}

Published in Commentary
Thursday, 24 September 2015 17:21

Courting the "Ethnic Vote"

by Samantha Lui in Toronto 

While immigrant communities across Canada made a significant impact on the last federal election in 2011, much work still needs to be done to increase the presence of visible minorities in Canadian politics.   

This was the consensus formed during a panel discussion called, "Courting the 'Ethnic Vote': Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 2015 Federal Election," which took place September 22 at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. 

Both political experts and media professionals spoke during the panel, discussing factors such as media coverage of minority candidates, how to cater to immigrants and the importance of having visible minorities run for office. Participants emphasized that immigrants are not a monolithic voting block, but need to be courted if parties hope to win this fall.

Support and coverage in the media

According to Chris Cochrane, an associate professor with the University of Toronto’s department of political science, he’s seen a spike in support for the Conservatives amongst immigrants between 2005 to 2011 who have shifted their support from the Liberals and the New Democrats. 

“There’s story after story about the remarkable success the Conservatives enjoyed amongst immigrant communities in the last election,” Cochrane said, referring to media reports.

He continued, “The story itself makes perfect sense if you look at the results. Stephen Harper realized that they couldn’t win as a rural party. The soundest footing for the Conservatives would be [to form] an alliance between rural western Canada and suburban Ontario. In order to win that, they would have to make inroads amongst immigrant communities.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Much work still needs to be done to increase the presence of visible minorities in Canadian politics.[/quote]

But while there’s no shortage of media coverage for how the Conservatives came out on top during the 2011 federal election, Erin Tolley, an assistant professor in political science at the University of Toronto, noted that the media is problematic in other ways.  

While she says news coverage is not racist, Tolley argues that journalists’ news judgment are often racialized when it comes to reporting on visible minority candidates

“I found that racial minority candidates tend to be portrayed as products of their socio-demographic characteristics with far more attention given to their backgrounds and culture than is the case for white candidates,” she says.  

“In addition, I found that racial minority candidates are much less likely to appear in stories about pressing election issues like the economy even when those candidates present themselves as being interested and concerned about those issues.”

In Tolley’s presentation, she gave examples of media coverage on Conservative party member Tim Uppal. The media often paid very close attention to his immigrant background, his Punjabi heritage, his turban and his beard. This she says, “explicitly painted him as different from the norm.” 

Another example given by Tolley were reports on Liberal candidate Ruby Dhalla that mention her past as a Bollywood actress. Tolley argues that this type of coverage undermines the skills and qualifications Dhalla brings to the arena as a politician.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Racial minority candidates tend to be portrayed as products of their socio-demographic characteristics."[/quote]

While Tolley says such coverage in the media are intended to be innocuous, she suggests that there is a need for more training for journalists when it comes to reporting on diversity. She notes that the "Canadian Press Stylebook" has a section on sexism, but not on racism. The only section that touches on this is called “Race and Ethnicity.” 

“Many of the journalists that I talked to didn’t think this was necessary," said Tolley. "They talked about how the standard for the coverage is fairness and accuracy and that they really only mention race when it’s relevant to news stories."

The need to engage immigrant voters

How the media covers visible minorities in Canadian politics wasn’t the only topic covered during the panel. How to attract minority voters was also front and centre during the discussion. 

Jane Hilderman is the executive director of Samara, a non-partisan group that aims to connect and reconnect Canadians to politics and democracy through research and discussions. 

Noting that the last federal election had a voter turnout of 61 per cent, Hilderman argues that there needs to be better ways to socialize people into politics, especially as many newcomers to Canada may come from places with different political institutions and traditions. 

Part of Samara’s approach to improving the way immigrants get involved in politics is through community programs such as Democracy Talks, Hilderman explained, which are facilitated conversations where people can ask about issues and experiences they have with politics.

Through those conversations, Samara has also developed a Vote PopUp kit, which provides community groups with training on how to vote. It aims to demystify the voting process and explain why exercising your right to vote is important. 

On getting immigrants politically engaged, New Canadian Media’s Ranjit Bhaskar said it should be a grassroots effort. It would help if political leaders show genuine interest in the well-being of their constituents instead of merely pandering to the “ethnic” among them, Bhaskar said. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I predict that immigrants will vote much more in this coming election."[/quote]

He gave the example of former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford as someone who, although he did not specifically target ethnic voters, still elicited their support by taking up issues that mattered to them. “He was the one mayor who visited the run-down, cockroach-infested apartments of immigrant families to check on their living conditions,” Bhaskar explained. 

With reference to the current federal campaign, Bhaskar said issues such as Bill C-51, Bill C-24, family reunification, small business taxes and recognition of foreign credentials are seen as important to immigrant voters.

Global Diversity Exchange’s executive director Ratna Omidvar agreed, stating that these issues will have a major impact on the election results along with the ongoing refugee crisis.

“We have 30 more ridings in the country this coming election. Most of them are in the outer rings of vote-rich, minority-rich Toronto and Vancouver. In many of these new ridings, there are only minorities who are running,” she said. 

“I predict that immigrants will vote much more in this coming election than they have in the past because they will have people who are running for power who look like them.”

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Politics
Saturday, 19 September 2015 19:24

#Muslimyouthdb8 Face Off with All 4 Parties

by Dalia Hashim in Toronto

The hashtag #muslimyouthdb8 was trending nationwide Friday. It emerged from a federal debate organized that night by Canadian Muslim youth, held at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto and livestreamed across the country. The debate was titled ‘Young, Canadian and Muslim: Making Our Ballots Count!’ . 

The four speakers were: Karim Jivraj, Conservative Party candidate from the University-Rosedale riding, John McCallum, Liberal critic for multiculturalism, Andrew Cash, New Democratic Party critic for multiculturalism, and Adnan Shahbaz, Green Party candidate from the Oakville North-Burlington riding.

The event was moderated by two seasoned journalists, Naheed Mustafa, an award winning freelance broadcaster and writer, as well as Ginella Massa, a video journalist at CTV Kitchener. The questions posed during the debate were based on consultations by organizers with Muslim youth in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Some topics covered were decided upon prior to the event while others were taken directly from questions tweeted by online viewers.

The 5 issues raised were: 

1. Job opportunities for young people

2. Canada’s growing income inequality

3. Restrictions upon Canadian civil liberties

4. Recent changes to Immigration and Citizenship legislation

5. The intensification of Islamophobia in Canadian federal politics and political culture

Anti-terrorism and citizenship

The first half of the debate centered on questions around security and particularly Bill C51 (anti-terrorism) and Bill C24 that allows the government to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens who are convicted of terrorism, as well as immigration and Syrian refugees.

The Green Party, NDP and Liberal candidates all agreed that Bill C24 should not stand and is harmful to Canadian society. “The best place for this legislation is the garbage can,” asserted McCallum. Conservative candidate Jivraj, however, continued to defend the bill. “Taking away the citizenship of a terrorist is legitimate because your act takes away your right to be Canadian”. 

On Bill C51, the NDP’s Cash was quick to highlight that his party has continually voiced its opposition to the legislation. Similarly, Shahbaz from the Green Party noted that his party was the first to speak against the Bill.

McCallum, on the other hand, explained that the Liberals understand that this law is flawed and will amend it once they assume power. He added, “We will put in place sunset clauses, similar to those in the post 9/11 Bill, so that it has an end date.” 

Jivraj insisted that as a Muslim he did not find the Bill threatening in any way or find it targeting Muslims. If anything, as a Muslim he felt his security was further protected by the legislation.  

Syrian refugee crisis

The debate continued with questions on the Syrian refugee crisis and the changed immigration laws in Canada. The NDP, Green and Liberal party candidates seemed to agree that Canada is today a less welcoming place because changes to the immigration laws in the last decade have made immigration and citizenship very difficult for many.

“Our immigration system needs an overhaul to go back to being the welcoming place we've been," said Shahbaz of the Green Party, seeming to reflect the sentiments of the Liberal and NDP as well.  To which the Conservative candidate responded, “My colleagues seem to think that Canada has become a less welcoming place” and was interrupted by all three candidates in unison saying, “it has!”

He continued, “but we have the highest numbers of immigrants this year in recent years.”

The candidates continued to explain the differing plans they had for welcoming more Syrian refugees. The Liberal and the NDP argued over how many refugees should be welcomed and their respective plans. On the other hand, the Green Party maintained that climate change was what caused the displacement of 1.5 million Syrians and that we don’t discuss this factor enough.

Jivraj maintained that the refugee problem must be dealt with from its roots, through military action against ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria).

Final question

The final question, and perhaps one that has never come up in any other party debate, was on the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement taking place on many Canadian university campuses to protest Israel’s illegal settlements.

The panelists were asked, “[W]hy should this (BDS movement) be considered an illegitimate alternative ... to advocate for Palestinians in a non-violent way?” Jivraj was the only candidate to unequivocally say that BDS was an anti-Semitic hate movement that had no place in Canadian society.

While the Liberal's McCallum tip-toed around his support or disapproval of the movement, he did assert that his party stood behind a two-party solution to the Palestinian-Israeli problem. Cash from the NDP thought the sanctions movement is a viable and peaceful form of protest to Israel’s actions for those who wanted to take that route.

Shahbaz from the Green Party was the only candidate to support BDS, its intentions, and assert that opposing Israeli government actions “does not make you an anti-Semite”. 

Strategic voting

While there may not have been a clear winner in the debate, it looked like a number of the statements of the Conservative candidate Jivraj did not sit well with the audience. Many of his assertions were received with collective gasps from the audience or blunt responses from the other three candidates on the stage.

The Liberal veteran McCallum’s statement in the closing remarks received a loud applause and seemed to sum up the takeaway message for those attending: “Vote strategically, whether it is a Liberal or NDP that is more likely to win in your riding, but at the end of the day, let’s get Harper out.”

The event was organized by DawaNet’s Project Civic Engagement Project to help young Canadian Muslims make an informed choice on Oct. 19.  This debate is a continuation of initiatives by several Muslim organizations such as the Canadian Muslim Vote and the National Council of Canadian Muslims to encourage young Canadian Muslims to engage in a political process that they increasingly feel alienated from. 

Editor's note: an earlier version of the story misquoted the question relating to BDS. We apologize for the error. This version also has a new, updated lead paragraph. 

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Top Stories

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