Wednesday, 04 January 2017 15:51

From Helwi Hamdoun to Nabil Warda

Commentary by Khaled Salama in Mississauga, Ontario

Last summer, I had an interesting debate with a young, well-travelled Qatari friend in Doha. Not unlike millions of others around the world, he was curious to know what I thought of Donald Trump’s chances winning the Nov. elections.

“He is going to win;Donald Trump will be the incoming President,” I said emphatically, many months before the elections.

My friend was shocked. When he pressed me to back up my prediction, I explained: it’s not because Trump is the best candidate and nor is Hillary Clinton the worst nightmare, but the American people want Trump and they will make sure that Trump will be the next U.S. President.

Clearly intrigued, my Qatari friend moved closer, in an effort to speak more privately.

My reasoning went something like this: the profile of immigrants to both Canada and the U.S. has changed over the years and it’s not hard to understand the anxiety in both countries.

For me, two names personify what I see as a sea change in the attitude of immigrants to Canada over the last 80 years: Helwi Hamdoun of Edmonton and Nabil Warda of Montreal.

Canada in the 1930’s

I painted for my skeptical friend the story of Canada’s first mosque that was built nearly 80 years ago in the Alberta city of Edmonton, at a time when the number of Muslims in Canada was less than 700 . With such a small number of Muslims, most of whom had migrated from Lebanon and Syria, the community didn’t have a lot money.

They worked on farms, and some of them learned to trade in fur, the main commodity in Canada at the time.

As Edmonton’s Muslim community began to grow and prosper, they felt that their religious life was being hampered. After several meetings, they concluded that a mosque is urgently needed to accommodate the small number of Muslim families who wanted not only to guard their traditions, but also have a place to socialize, party, and give back to the community as well.

The real heroes were actually heroines, the wives of those hard-working Muslim men. These women, who had challenges with the English language, knocked on the doors of businesses in their community. They were led by Helwi Hamdoun, who managed to fund-raise exactly $5,750, despite the dire economic circumstances caused by the Great Depression.

They managed to raise money for their project and get donations from non-Muslim business owners, lawyers, politicians and members of the community who donated generously. Thanks in part to support and land from the then Edmonton mayor John W. Fry, the community broke ground for the mosque in May 1938. 

To me, as an Arab immigrant to Canada, the story of the first mosque is essential to the fabric of Canada. Without Christians, Jews and other non-Muslim Canadians, the mosque wouldn’t have existed. I’ve read that I.F. Shaker, a Christian Arab, was the master of ceremonies at the opening.

The building itself was inclusive. In addition to the prayer hall, it had a social and recreational venue in the basement, with a donated piano to also entertain guests from different faiths. The mosque also housed ovens to make baked goods that could be donated and served free-of-charge to neighbours and friends.

Canada of today

I compare that with what I see today.The issue is not in Islam as a religion, but rather with some of today’s Muslims who choose freely and willingly to migrate to Canada, but have a different approach, with goals that are irreconcilable with Canada’s diversity and multiculturalism.

Here’s what I have witnessed first-hand:

·         Some Muslims believe that – only because they’re Muslims – they are better than everybody else

·         Some of them teach their kids not to greet people from other faiths on their religious occasions or holidays

·         Some feel offended when they see Christmas decorations in public places

·         Some of them will not send their kids to public schools and will provide them with home schooling or other forms of secluded education

This leaves us with a new reality, a new ideology within our society, which brings me to my second character study: Nabil Warda, the Montreal real estate developer who wants to build a community exclusively for Muslims.

Most disturbing to me was a statement he made in an interview he gave to the Montreal Gazette in which he was quoted as saying, “We would share services between us and live with people who believe that life on Earth is not only to eat and sleep but that there is something else, and to try to live as close as possible to the monotheist ideals which started with Abraham.” 


Diversity, peace and equality

Why don’t these people just follow the Koran, which has lots of verses that suggest co-existence (“diversity”), kindness (“peace”) and the principle that all individuals are equal before God (“equality”).

To me, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms can literally be found in the Koran, which was written thousands of years ago, and yet many of today’s so-called followers deny others the right to live peacefully.

Let me just cite one verse from the Koran that has been interpreted as follows:

"O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)”

I sincerely wonder why Warda decided to immigrate to Canada in the first place.

This sort of narrow-mindedness bothers me. I don’t find it surprising that lots of people in Canada now feel that it’s important to screen newcomers who want to live in our countries. Are these anxious people to blame?

Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch is proposing a values test for all new immigrants. I suggest that we should seriously consider the factors that have led her to make such a proposal.

Unfortunately, we'd rather debate the fallout from her proposal, rather than examining the root causes that may be behind it.

Khaled Salama is an Egyptian-born journalist, columnist, radio host and reporter for Arab media. 

Published in Commentary
Thursday, 22 September 2016 13:31

Alberta Needs to Rethink French Curriculum

Commentary by Salim Valji in Edmonton

Memorizing adjectives and pronouns did little more than create a resentment for having to learn French in the first place. Meanwhile, speaking the language took a backseat.

The sentiment above is true for many students who grew up learning French in Alberta, including myself. Lessons often consist of listing the gender pronoun (le, la, les) of nouns, and writing simple, declarative sentences.

Entire classes would be spent learning, relearning and being tested on memorization techniques like DR MRS VANDERTRAMP. Homework was more of the same … verb charts, fill-in-the-blanks and vocabulary.

See a trend here?

Throughout elementary and junior high, the method was always memorize first, ask questions later. Speaking French was never a priority until high school and accent training was seldom mentioned.

Learning to hate French

I queried my friends on social media: I was not alone. 

“My experience was terrible as well! I took French for eight years and can't speak a word if it,” one friend wrote. “It was all memorizing nouns and watching videos. It's such a beautiful language. I really wish they had taught it better. I’d love to know it.”

Another added: “I learned more German in four months than I did French in eight years in school. I think using an online program like Duolingo and setting goals might help. Also, so many BS tests on conjugating verbs made me hate French.”

The most profound comment came from someone somewhat older who said that like hundreds of others, she hated going to French class as a student. It speaks of a system that doesn’t know how to educate its students on Canada’s other official language.

Moving to a bilingual setting

When I was 20, I moved to Montreal. Despite taking French courses for 13 years, I was completely unprepared to live and work in a bilingual environment. It took me minutes to form short phrases, my vocabulary was extremely limited and I barely understood what was being said to me.

My perspective changed even further when I moved to France to work as an English Language Assistant at a high school in the Parisien suburbs. Alberta, and the rest of Canada, can learn much from how the French teach second languages.

From my first sessions with 12-year-old students, I could tell that they already spoke better English than I did French. Their sentences were clear, vocabulary strong and they knew how to express ideas.

Communication of ideas is what my role was focused on. I’d take groups of 10 to 12 students to my classroom, and, in my authentically Albertan accent, speak English to them. Often times, the lessons were planned with their English teacher, based on what they were learning in class.

The topics we talked about included the civil rights movement, the lives of historic figures like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi and differences between North American and European culture.

Sometimes, I’d pose an open-ended question on the whiteboard and cross my fingers hoping that my students would pipe up.  That method usually led to great, enjoyable conversations —like the time where we spent an entire class talking about the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” and how Robin Scherbatsky embodies certain Canadian stereotypes.

My students would speak their ideas and I’d correct them in real time. I was always amazed at how well they could speak about complex subjects in English.

The two most common mistakes they made were not pronouncing the h sound for words like “home” and “happy,” and saying “the” as zee or “there” as zerre. Beyond the simple correcting of grammar, my students received a language education I never had as a student … speaking and writing with someone fluent in the other language.

They learned to understand my accent. They questioned my usage of certain vocabulary and mimicked how I said things.

Need for spontaneity

So much of communication is situational and spontaneous: Where an event took place, what the score was, why someone was late for something.

The method of memorization forces students to retrieve information they retained and disposed of years ago. It also fosters a distaste of learning the language — the second anything becomes a chore, it becomes something we detest. It’s impossible to expect students, in the middle of conversation to recall what they were force-fed in some classroom years back.

It’s understandable that revamping the province’s French curriculum may not be high on Alberta Education’s priority list. Opportunities to speak the language organically are extremely limited—less than 25 000 of the province’s 3.6 million people identify French as the language the speak most often at home.

That being said, we need a conversation about whether the memorize-at-all-costs approach should be retired. Right now, that approach is leading Alberta students to despise — as opposed to appreciate — the French language.

Salim Valji is a media professional based in Montreal, Quebec. He is originally from Edmonton and has worked in Paris and New York City. 

Published in Education

by Samantha Power in Edmonton, Alberta

As the Fort McMurray emergency passes, those without housing and citizenship status face an uncertain future.

Over 160 temporary foreign workers from Fort McMurray came together at an emergency meeting Monday night to discuss issues of status and access to services. The workers were among the close to 90,000 evacuated last Tuesday when a fire burned through the Northern Alberta town closest to the oil sands.

For a moment temporary foreign workers shared the same harrowing experience as their fellow citizens: find rest, housing and food. But in the long-term, residence and potential citizenship of foreign workers may be at risk.

“The burden they carry is their status,” says Marco Luciano, Alberta spokesperson with the Coalition for Migrant Workers Rights. “It depends on their employer. They cannot find other means of survival.”

Hitched to employers

Temporary foreign worker (TFW) status is tied to the employer that brought them over for work. And Fort McMurray’s formerly booming economy survived with temporary workers taking on service industry and caretaking jobs. Luciano says it’s evidence the TFW program needs to be changed to grant permanent residence.

“These are permanent jobs,” says Luciano. “Permanent residency should be upon arrival so that they can also access what Canadians and permanent residents can access from government.”

With the entire town and surrounding areas evacuated many foreign workers have not heard from their employers. Residents of Fort McMurray cannot return to the town for at least two weeks. Luciano says temporary workers are concerned it will mean their employers may not return to the city, leaving them without work and without status.

“They don’t know their future,” says Luciano.

Many workers many not have a fixed address or may have lost their documents to the fire.

“Many left with just the clothes on their back,” says Luciano. “A bus picked them up from work and took them to Edmonton.”

As of 2014, Alberta had 19,621 temporary foreign workers, many of whom were employed in sectors supporting the oil economy in and around Fort McMurray. Luciano says with 160 attending the first meeting only a week after the evacuation, it’s a sign many more will show up with the same concerns, and needs for housing.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Permanent residency should be [granted] upon arrival so that they can also access what Canadians and permanent residents can access from government.[/quote]

The immediate need of shelter and food has been met not only at the city’s official evacuation centre in Northlands, but through private donations of temporary housing.

Established support communities began as soon as the evacuation order was called to start finding temporary housing for those without family in the city or the province.

“Everyone was in the same boat,” says Arundeep Singh Sandhu.

Community steps up

Edmonton’s Sikh community was ready on Tuesday welcoming and finding housing for almost a hundred evacuees. The Guru Nanak Sikh Society mobilized to start finding everything from basement suites to available apartments to house evacuees.

“We wanted to fill that gap before government and insurance are able to step in,” says Sandhu.

He estimates 160 to 170 were found housing by Saturday.

But now the long-term needs have started to set in.

“We’ve actually had to start turning people away because we don’t have longer term accommodation,” says Sandu.

Carryover from welcoming refugees

Organizers at the Al Rashid mosque on Edmonton’s north side are facing a similar situation.

“People are welcome to stay as long as they need,” says Omar Najmaddine, executive director at the mosque. “But its not the perfect place for families. It’s open space.”

Najmeddine estimates the mosque housed over 120 evacuees in the immediate few days after the evacuation and continued to see people arrive as late as Sunday. Najmaddine says he quickly reached out to contacts at the mosque in Fort McMurray and across social media to let people know the centre was open in Edmonton.

Najmadinne says part of the reason donors and volunteers were able to mobilize so quickly is due to the work to welcome government sponsored Syrian refugees who arrived in the city just a few months ago. The mosque had coordinated the Edmonton Islamic Relief Centre for the arrival of Syrian refugees. And many Edmontonians who have been working to sponsor families privately have networks to help organize donations and housing.

One week after the evacuation order, he estimates 70 to 80 evacuees remain in the mosque using the two floors of cots as temporary shelter. He has seen large families, recent immigrants and four families of Syrian refugees flow through the centre over the week.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]...with residence tied to employment, Luciano says the government must act to remove restrictions to allow temporary foreign workers to work not just for their employer.[/quote]

“They moved to Fort Mac, and then moved here,” says Najmeddine.

Now longer term housing is needed.

“We’ve got a lot of people looking for two to three months of housing,” says Najmeddine.

Organizers at the mosque began to collect information about longer-term temporary housing early in the evacuation process, not knowing how long the housing may be needed. The list is being used to help find places for people who have no where else to go.

For temporary foreign workers the long-term looks even more uncertain.

Temporary foreign workers have access to the supports announced by the province. Adults are able to collect $1250 and $500 per dependent. Details on how to access that assistance will be provided starting May 11. But with residence tied to employment, Luciano says the government must act to remove restrictions to allow temporary foreign workers to work not just for their employer.

The Slave Lake fire in 2011 left 60 temporary foreign workers in a similar unstable situation. The Alberta government has set up a direct assistance line for temporary foreign workers and new immigrant nominees who have been displaced.

Luciano’s group is working to coordinate temporary foreign workers in the city and has started a petition asking for the government to ease work restrictions and create an open work permit for those who need it. 

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Published in Top Stories
Monday, 11 April 2016 21:32

Mulcair Defeat: Appeasement Never Works

Commentary by Fred Maroun in Ottawa

Tom Mulcair was removed as leader of the NDP because of the party’s disappointing result in the last federal election. The election started with Mulcair as the favourite to become prime minister, and it ended with the NDP back to its traditional third place.

There is, however, a more interesting element behind Mulcair’s defeat. While many of the convention attendees expressed sadness that they had to make the difficult decision of removing Mulcair, the left-wing of the party openly celebrated his demise, pumping their fists in the air in delight.

Mulcair would likely have been a competent prime minister, but while he had the same policies as Jack Layton, he did not have his charisma. Mulcair’s term as leader ended with a humiliating vote. He was two per cent short of the 50 per cent that would have at least allowed him to resign with dignity. Had he received the support of some of the left-wing of the party, he would at least passed the 50 per cent mark.

Careful language

Unlike the party moderates who voted against Mulcair because they felt that he could not win, the left-wing voted against him purely for ideological reasons. The most salient point of disagreement between them is that Mulcair is moderately pro-Israel whereas the extreme left is vehemently anti-Israel. The extremists have been waiting for an opportunity to exact their revenge on him. This past weekend, that opportunity finally materialized.

The defeat came despite Mulcair's attempts to appease the extremists. Despite being pro-Israel, Mulcair used very careful language on this topic since he became leader and he managed to prevent a public war within the party between the pro-Israel and the anti-Israel camps. He even voted against a Conservative resolution in Parliament that condemned the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, refusing to join the Liberals who voted for it.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][Mulcair] managed to prevent a public war within the party between the pro-Israel and the anti-Israel camps.[/quote]

Mulcair’s stand in support of the wearing of the niqab at citizenship ceremonies during the last election also appeared to be an attempt to appease the extreme left. They were not appeased, and they took the first opportunity to humiliate him.

Extremists in the ranks

The presence of a virulently anti-Israel faction has now become common in Western left-wing parties. The U.K Labour party even elected the anti-Israel Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. The anti-Israel hysteria found on the extreme left is fed by its victimization fetish, and it goes far beyond reasonable criticism. Its singling out of the only Jewish state for extreme and unbalanced criticism feeds anti-Semitism.

U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump was roundly criticized by many Republicans when it became known that he had not immediately repudiated the support of high-profile racists. No Western party today would tolerate an openly racist faction within it, yet the anti-Semitism fostered by the extreme left is rarely challenged.

Mulcair’s predecessors Jack Layton and Alexa McDonough took courageous steps in trying to cleanse the party of its anti-Israel elements, and Mulcair continued the same policies. For example, he refused to accept candidates who are blatantly anti-Israel. Mulcair, however, should have taken the fight against the extremists to the next level. The extremists never left the party. They were lurking in the shadows, waiting for the next opportunity to strike. Mulcair should have made his support for Israel much more visible, like Stephen Harper did, which would have caused the extremists to leave in disgust.

But Mulcair allowed the extremists to remain and to ignore the party’s low-key pro-Israel policies. The extremists have a strong presence in the grassroots of the party, and Mulcair did nothing to change that.

Alberta revolt

While Jack Layton was a transformational figure who changed the party into a much more modern and credible machine that was seen by Canadian voters as a possible party of government, marginalizing the extreme left, Mulcair failed to take the step of eliminating the extreme left altogether. The NDP is now back to being a third party, both in numbers and in mindset. To the chagrin of the Alberta NDP which is now in power, the party is now debating a “Leap Manifesto” that would make the federal party completely unelectable and would damage their provincial chances as well.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The NDP is now back to being a third party, both in numbers and in mindset.[/quote]

Mulcair is leaving a party deeply divided. He failed to leave a lasting mark. His experience and knowledge would have made him an excellent Cabinet minister in a Jack Layton government, but it turns out that leading a left-wing party with a deep extremist mentality at its grassroots was beyond his capabilities.

He tried to buy the extremists’ loyalty by appeasing them, mirroring the NDP’s approach towards ISIS, but like with ISIS, appeasement only feeds the problem and makes the extremists stronger. In the end, the NDP’s extremists delivered the fatal blow and then rejoiced in seeing Mulcair go down to a humiliating defeat.

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

Published in Commentary

by Daniel Leon Rodriguez in Calgary

For some, Alberta’s history is just about cowboys, oil, and Conservatives, but a new television series is shedding light on the many contributions that minority groups have made in the province.

An Omni TV magazine-style series, “Alberta Roots”, goes under the surface to tell the stories of immigrant communities and their contributions to the wild rose province, since the time of their early settlement to the present. 

For example, members of Calgary’s Jewish community gave the city its iconic white hat, the +15 Skywalk bridge system and the Jack Singer Hall Centre.

Gingi Baki, the executive producer of the show, says immigrants with their kind spirit have defined Alberta since its beginning – defying the intolerant redneck stereotype many hold of the province. 

“Generosity is a common theme among all immigrants,” said Baki, who adds that throughout Alberta’s history when immigrants did well, they also helped others in their communities.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Generosity is a common theme among all immigrants.”[/quote]

The province’s first pioneers were from Great Britain, the U.S., Germany, Ukraine, Scandinavia and other parts of Europe.

Among the first immigrants to come to Alberta from the U.S. were black farmers who were denied equal rights in Oklahoma. Many Chinese workers made Calgary home as well after the national railway was built.

“There have been small pockets of immigrants through all our history,” says Baki.

Many immigrants have also come to Alberta because of the good economic times – from the gold rush to the first oil booms. However, many of them stayed after because of the beauty of the province, Baki suggests.

“The openness, the skies and the sunsets stay in your soul.”

Facing racism in the pioneer years

Kirk Niergarth, a professor of Canadian history at Mount Royal University in Calgary, says it was hard for minority groups to settle in Alberta right up to the early 20th century.  

In 1911, a white teenager, Hazel Huff, lost her mother’s diamond ring and blamed it on a “big, black, burly nigger”* who broke into her home and assaulted her.

Media hysteria broke in Edmonton, and her assault was blamed on black people immigrating to the province, according to historical archives.

When Huff later told the truth, it was too late. “The damage was already done,” says Niergarth.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The waves of immigration created anxiety of the unknown.”[/quote]

In 1892, a Chinese man fell ill with smallpox in Calgary. To contain the disease, city officials burned the laundry where he lived, and put all of its occupants under armed quarantine.

A mob of 300 people tried to run the quarantined individuals out of Calgary when they were released – and the RCMP had to control the situation. 

Niergarth explains that Alberta – like the rest of Canada – felt troubled by the changes newcomers were bringing to society.

“The waves of immigration created anxiety of the unknown.”

Alberta’s changing fabric

It is not a secret that Alberta is growing rapidly. Part of this growth is that more minorities are moving into the province.

According to Statistics Canada census data, the growth of Alberta visible minorities has skyrocketed. In 1991, visible minorities made 9.4 per cent of Alberta’s population. As of 2011, they represented 18.4 per cent.

Of those visible minorities, a 2008 report shows 91 per cent settled in the major cities – Calgary and Edmonton. But that also appears to be changing.

Presently, the city of Lethbridge attracts many visible minorities thanks to its low cost of living and good job market. The city is home to the biggest Bhutanese community in Canada.

Surya Acharya, an agricultural research scientist and immigrant from India, moved to Lethbridge from Edmonton in 1989. His friends told him that he was moving into “redneck country.” They said he wouldn’t survive too long in the small southern Alberta city.

It has been almost 30 years, and Acharya says he has been comfortable in Lethbridge since he arrived.

“They were wrong,” he adds.

Today, he is the president of the Southern Alberta Ethnic Association, where 32 different ethnic groups from four different continents are represented.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"People only care that you work hard – it doesn’t matter your colour or religion.”[/quote]

Acharya says things have changed extensively since he moved into Lethbridge. “It is more common these days to see visible minorities in Southern Alberta.”

Acharya says the reason why there aren’t more visible minorities in rural Alberta isn’t because of intolerance, but lack of resources and entertainment opportunities.

“Jobs only keep them busy for 40 hours,” he says.

Alberta’s immigrant spirit

Acharya says that the redneck stereotype is untrue in modern Alberta. For him the pioneer immigrant spirit is what represents the province.

“It doesn’t matter where you came from, people only care that you work hard – it doesn’t matter your colour or religion,” he shares.

Niergarth says the stereotype of Alberta being a redneck province comes from the interpretation of its culture and politics in other parts of Canada.

Things like the Calgary Stampede and the platform of the Reform party were associated with the redneck image, he explains.

However, these views of Alberta aren’t always accurate. “It is not based in research, so proceed with caution,” Niergarth says.

If Alberta was really intolerant there would be no immigrants in the province, he adds.

“Maybe the proof is in the dough.” 

“Alberta Roots” is being aired on Omni TV in Alberta and British Columbia. In the future it will be aired in Ontario, and it will be available on the Omni website. 

*Editor's Note: "The racial slur, albeit disquieting, was quoted precisely from a historical context to establish the type of mentality that existed among some people." 

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Published in Arts & Culture
Saturday, 26 September 2015 19:34

Refugee Crisis Top of Mind this Eid al-Adha

by Lin Rahman in Toronto 

Eid al-Adha, celebrated this past Thursday, marks one of the two most important religious holidays for Muslims around the world. 

Different from Eid al-Fitr, which celebrates the end of a month-long fast, Eid al-Adha marks the end of the 10-day pilgrimage known as the hajj. 

Able-bodied Muslims who can afford to do so are required to perform the Islamic holy pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime. 

Earlier in the day, Muslims around the world were shocked by news of a stampede in Mina, Saudi Arabia which killed over 700 people as pilgrims were on their way to perform a Hajj ritual. More than 800 were injured. For Muslims in Canada, celebrating Eid this year is especially poignant given the current refugee crisis in Europe. 

“This Eid, the [sermon] was mostly about the refugees throughout the world and how we can help, how we can contribute,” says Aamir Jamal, a professor in social work at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick. 

Jamal is a member of the Fredericton Islamic Association (FIA), a local organization that has teamed up with churches and other community groups in Fredericton to help bring refugees to  Canada and support them when they arrive. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“This Eid reminds us to think beyond ourselves and we develop empathy for the weak among us.”[/quote]

During this year’s Eid celebration, Jamal says Fredericton Muslims started a new initiative to support five new refugee families by contributing their portions of qurbani – the ritual sacrifice of lamb, goat or cow – to the families. 

The community is also continuing to assist the families with registering their children in school, finding a place to live and settling down in Canada. 

Jamal says helping refugee families to start their lives in Canada fits in with the purpose of Eid. 

“The theme and the philosophy behind this Eid is qurbani and sacrifice and thinking about others and giving things up for others,” he explains. “This Eid reminds us to think beyond ourselves and we develop empathy for the weak among us.” 

Importance of fostering community 

Former resident of Fredericton, Nora Shafe Fathalipour says there are more ways to celebrate Eid in Toronto because of the much larger Muslim population in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). (Fredericton is home to between 200 and 300 Muslim families.) 

“In Toronto, you have the option to go to a lot of different places,” Fathalipour says. “Going to Eid prayer also means a chance to socialize,” she adds. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“If we have enmity among ourselves, we’re not going to be able to solve the local or wider issues or have any sympathy.”[/quote]

Currently taking graduate courses at the University of Toronto, Fathalipour attended the morning Eid prayers organized at the U of T Muslim Chaplaincy, where the sermon also touched on the importance of fostering community and supporting one another. 

“It was a reminder of our social responsibility as a community towards each other,” says Fathalipour. 

“The reason why people are able to kill each other or not feel remorse when other people are hurt is because we start from this position of enmity,” she says. “If we have enmity among ourselves, we’re not going to be able to solve the local or wider issues or have any sympathy.” 

Fathalipour says this year’s Eid sermon reflected the need for compassion between individual community members that can lead to solving wider issues like the lack of support for war-weary refugees making their way across Europe. 

Better late than never 

For Jamal Osman, one of the vice presidents of the Muslim Community of Edmonton (MCE) mosque, support for the current wave of refugees is part of his community’s ongoing efforts. He says there are many Muslims in Edmonton with close ties to victims of the Syrian conflict. 

Osman says the community has been working to support victims of the Syrian war and other refugees, and efforts include supporting newcomer refugee families as well as doctors in the community who volunteer with Doctors Without Borders. 

“We’ve been in the trenches from the beginning years and years ago,” Osman says. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We haven’t loss sight of our responsibility to help our brothers and sisters.”[/quote]

So even though celebrations at the MCE mosque aren’t particularly focused on the refugee crisis, Osman explains, “We haven’t loss sight of our responsibility to help our brothers and sisters.” 

In fact, Edmonton’s Islamic Family and Social Services (IFSSA) has taken the lead to represent the collective efforts of the Edmonton Muslim community in alleviating the refugee crisis.

“We are behind the scenes laying the groundwork for IFSSA to be in the position to be able to support Syrian refugees once they are able and ready to come to Canada,” Osman says. 

He adds that he feels the current heightened attention on the needs of refugees is overdue given the crisis has been brewing for years, but it’s better late than never. 

“We’ll take what we can get,” Osman says, “because, at the end of the day, it is intended to help these folks that are in dire need.”

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Published in Arts & Culture
Saturday, 06 December 2014 00:23

In The Words of Eric Garner: I Can't Breathe

by Ujjal Dosanjh (@ujjaldosanjh) in Vancouver

Eric Garner died in an illegal New York police chokehold. He wasn't a gangster. He was a petty criminal. He was suspected of selling loose cigarettes and not paying tax on them. Thousands of white-collar criminals in Canada, the U.S. and across the world evade taxes and swindle people and governments out of billions of dollars. They are treated with kid gloves. No chokeholds put on them.

Being Black in America was Eric Garner's only real crime. He was minding his own business. He said so. Many Whites in America are coming forward to say they are let go and not arrested for lot more serious crimes. For example, if picked up drunk by police they get dropped at their homes. Not charged or killed. The officer who held Garner down with a chokehold said it was not his intention to kill. Eric Garner died.

The police officers just looked on as he lay dying in handcuffs. They were there. They provided no first aid that they are trained to render as first responders. Seconds before he died in the ambulance, they had just stood there absolutely indifferent to a dying, handcuffed Black man -- not a murderer, rapist or a gangster. He pleaded on and on and on, "I can't breathe." The cops did not listen or hear or perhaps they did not care. Yes, there was a senior female Black cop with them. How does that matter? The racist culture in a country, an organization or a police department can co-opt, make one numb. The need to conform overpowers many. In any event, Black upon Black cruelty isn't acceptable either.

I think of U.S. President Barack Obama's "hope and change" campaign message and I feel sad for him and the U.S. I am so overwhelmed by the moment. Figuratively speaking, "I can't breathe" either.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I am so overwhelmed by the moment. Figuratively speaking, "I can't breathe" either.[/quote]

I think of Ferguson, the unarmed Michael Brown and the officer who shot him and was not indicted; of Eric Garner, unarmed and the choke-holding police officer not being indicted; and many others. The long and sordid saga of racial injustice in the U.S. continues. Blacks are being killed unceasingly at the hands of those in positions of authority. The oxygen of hope and change seems to have turned into an asphyxiating existential moment, a moment of reckoning for the United States of America. I can't be indifferent. I am finding it difficult to breathe easy.

Justice is indivisible

In Edmonton, Canada, my country and certainly of my children and grandchildren, a police officer Mike Wasylyshen was recently promoted to sergeant despite a criminal record for "the drunken off-duty assault of a man on crutches and a disciplinary  suspension for Tasering a passed-out native youth." Wasylyshen had without any provocation attacked Devin Stacey who had had knee surgery and was on crutches. All Stacey was doing was hailing a cab when attacked. Wasylyshen also punched a security guard who tried to intervene. He had threatened to kill the security guard and Stacey and to find and burn down their houses.

Waylyshen is the son of a former Edmonton police chief and does an absolute discredit to his father's name. He has two criminal convictions to his name regarding the above incidents while one charge was dropped. He was at one time temporarily suspended for the repeated tasering of a passed-out 16-year-old Randy Fryingpan in the back seat of a suspected stolen car. Wasylyshen tasered him eight times in 68 seconds. In 2003, a provincial court judge had determined Wasylyshen to have willfully deceived a justice of the peace to obtain a search warrant. Despite all this, he was promoted and not fired.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I can't be indifferent. I am finding it difficult to breathe easy.[/quote]

I read all this and I was flabbergasted. This in Canada? I felt suffocated. I could no longer breathe ... easy. Something is got to change. Just hoping is no longer enough.

Then, you had the Premier of Alberta protecting the Alberta school boards' ability to discriminate against gay straight alliances in schools. There was uproar in the country. I became a tiny part of that uproar by writing my blog "Alberta's Moment of Reckoning" yesterday before the unfair and unequal law was put on hold. Partial victory! Now if only Jim Prentice, the premier, saw the light and showed the courage to lead rather than give in to the ignorant. When I first read about Prentice's unfair law I felt suffocated. The Bill being put on hold provided a breather.

I read, too, with dread about attacks on minorities in India: the country of my birth and nurture for the first 17 years of my life. Over the centuries, it has welcomed millions from different parts of the world and different faiths. India is home to over 20 million Christians. Christians were reported to have been attacked in Bastar. Non-Hindu religious activity was allegedly banned. Many local Christians were said to have been assaulted and injured. This is one of many attacks against the Christian and Muslim minorities that India has witnessed over the last year. Government ministers and leaders keep making dumb, and often incendiary statements. It is absolutely unacceptable for any minority to be attacked or frightened in the land of Mahatma Gandhi. Reading about such injustice "I can't breathe" easy.

All this and more I read and felt yesterday. Much else horrible happened as well. Just in one day. I was moved to think of all the good deeds happening in the world, just to counter balance the sadness.

Eric Garner breathes no more! People of goodwill should not breathe easy. This moment should be about affixing responsibility, but not about apportioning blame. It is about our collective will to change so that justice prevails in the world. As within a country justice in the world is indivisible. We must live and struggle to ensure Garners die no more, equality and justice reign, humanity lives in peace and harmony. Otherwise, we are destined to suffocate in the abyss of our own inaction.

Ujjal Dosanjh was the federal Minister of Health under Liberal Prime Minister, Paul Martin. Before this, he was Attorney-General and Premier of British Columbia. He blogs at

Published in Commentary

by Thomas Lukaszuk (@) in Edmonton

They came and grabbed what they wanted. It broke my heart. I was 12 when I had to open up my apartment and give away all of my toys. They took what they wanted. It was hard to let all of it go, but there was a weight limit on what I could take to Canada. I ended up taking one toy tank, my beloved stamp collection and a Polish book given to me by my Grade 7 teacher. I still choke up remembering it: she told me to never forget my language. And I didn’t. That book still is one of the most precious things I own.

My mother, my five-year-old brother Adam (who packed his teddy bear), and I left communist Poland in December of 1982 to join my dad, a sailor, who defected to Canada many years before.

My political aspirations were spurred by this time in Poland. My mom worked with the Solidarity movement to undermine the communists. I was forced to learn Russian in school, and helped hand out underground leaflets. When I came to Canada, first in Sydney, Nova Scotia, and then Edmonton … it didn’t take long before the political bug hit again. I started volunteering for a PC (Progressive Conservative) candidate at just 16. Then, I ran as a candidate in the provincial election in 2001, and was the first Polish-born person to be elected to a Canadian legislature. [I talked extensively about growing up in Poland and my family’s defection to Canada with reporter Jeremy Lye, the audio of which can be found below]

Now, I am running for the leadership of the party I joined so many years ago. If this campaign is successful, I would be the first foreign-born premier in the province in almost 80 years. It tells you what a welcoming place this is, that an immigrant who came with nothing could be seeking the highest provincial office. It is absolutely overwhelming and humbling sometimes when I think about it.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I am not the candidate that is endorsed by the elite, and I am proud of that.[/quote]

Fighting Ottawa

Over the years, I have held cabinet positions in the education, post-secondary education, immigration, and employment portfolios. My work has included expanding provincial government programs to help new Canadians get their credentials and experience recognized, bringing employers in to do job fairs in welfare offices, and advocating for increases to Provincial Nominee programs so more temporary foreign workers can get their permanent residence.

[youtube height="315" width="560"][/youtube]

I am also vowing to fight Ottawa over changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) program, which has left many Alberta businesses without workers and workers without stability. The TFW program has never been ideal because Alberta needs permanent immigrants. We need people to come to this place, do the jobs that others are not available to do or are not willing to do, become Canadians, invest themselves in our communities and have the same opportunity that Canada has given me and my family. The current program doesn’t do that.

Being an immigrant has shaped my experiences and the way I see life. My parents protested against entrenched authority. I was told by the communists what my opinion was, and was advised not to ask questions. Today, I have gone very far in the other direction. I’ve never been afraid to ruffle a few feathers. That includes speaking out against some spending decisions made by the former Premier, and calling on my political colleagues to earn back Albertans’ trust. I am not the candidate that is endorsed by the elite, and I am proud of that. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The TFW program has never been ideal because Alberta needs permanent immigrants.[/quote]

My priorities

I recognize that Canada, and Alberta in particular, is a land of opportunity. There is a great education system, there are jobs for anyone who wants to work, communities are safe, and there is a high quality of life.

As the campaign unfolds, I am identifying economic, social, financial, and ethical priorities for a government under my leadership. I believe that creating opportunities for people to be their best is an important role for government. I want everyone to have the opportunities I had – a chance to learn, to feel welcomed in the community, to find a job, and to start a family. I am lucky to be here, but it takes more than luck to make a province successful.

There are three candidates running for the leadership, and only members of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives can vote.  The voting takes place September 5 and 6, with ballots being cast online, by telephone, and in person.

My campaign website is

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Published in Politics
Friday, 08 November 2013 00:40

Edmonton right to pull anti-Muslim bus ad

by Richard M. Landau

Responding to public opinion, the City of Edmonton has pulled a controversial bus placard ad campaign that some believe conveyed anti-Muslim sentiment.  The campaign placed on the tail of many Edmonton Transit buses and ostensibly pitched at young Muslim women, included the headline: “Is Your Family Threatening You?  Is There a Fatwa on Your Head?”  It features a composite photo of seven young women with the subhead: “Muslim Girls Honor Killed by Their Families.”  In much smaller type, the ad proposed to help young girls if they visit a website. 

The website purports to be a kind of underground railroad to help lead people out of Islam. Neither the ads nor the website includes a toll-free or other hotline phone number.  The ads were developed and paid for by US-based SIOA (Stop Islamization of America), which posted the same material in Tampa, Florida.  The organization was founded by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer as part of their American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI).  Both spoke in the Toronto area in September (link).  Neither has much of a track record in matters pertaining to violence against women, but both are known for their opposition to the spread of radical Islam.

Even though I am a staunch proponent of free speech, I applaud the City of Edmonton for removing the ads.  Let me explain why.  Honour killing, in spite of what Geller and her coterie tell you, is not an Islamic practice.  The practice of murdering and assaulting women who stray from the values of their families predates the advent of Islam.  It is a disgraceful practice most commonly found throughout southern Asia, the Mideast, and parts of Africa, especially where tribal culture predominates.  Every year there are cases of young women being killed or maimed in rural non-Islamic India because they are dating or marrying across caste lines, even though the caste system is “officially” illegal.  This has nothing to do with Islam.  One other factual problem: it would be extremely rare for a young woman to, as the ad puts it, have a “fatwa on her head.”  It takes a religious authority – not your family members – to declare a fatwa or religious edict.  Therefore, I favour the removal of the ads because they convey inaccurate information and are factually incorrect.

The Shafia case

But who wants to tell Ms. Geller that she is keeping company with the most villainous males of an ilk she abhors?  You recall the Shafia case.  Mohammad Shafia, an Afghan immigrant living in Montreal, slew three of his daughters and his first wife by drowning them in a car in Kingston, Ontario.  Seems he couldn’t keep his women from succumbing to the lure of mainstream Canadian culture, so he murdered them.  Shafia claimed that he had taken this murderous action because of his adherence to Islam.  The same has been true of a number of cases where young girls have been slain by family members for being too liberal in their lifestyle and attire.  But Islam does not condone any of it.  These cowardly scoundrel men are using their faith as a shield for their fearful, sexist and murderous behaviour.  The police show up at these men’s homes on a report of wife assault, and these guys try to invoke some kind of “religious immunity” to protect their obscene behaviour.

Along comes Ms. Geller and her associates and they side with these foul men, take them at their word and agree, “Yes the problem is Islam.”  But the problem is violent men, who will stop at nothing to have their way with their women, even to the point of sullying their own religion’s reputation. Ms. Geller and her SIOA have seized on this as an opportunity to fan the flames of anti-Islamist fervour.  Speak to any Islamic authority or imam in Canada or the United States: every one of them will tell you unequivocally that killing someone or injuring them out of some misplaced sense of family honour does not accord with the current practice of Islam.   That is not to ignore the fact that some of the most glaring examples of this so-called “honour” killing have  originated with South Asians and Middle Easterners of Muslim faith.

However, let’s also be clear and rational in our thinking.  If all terrorists are purple skinned, that doesn’t mean all purple-skinned people are terrorists.  Just because everyone who gets a takeout pizza order is male, doesn’t mean that only men or even all men eat pizza. Ms. Geller is taking the bad and unauthorized behaviour of a few crazies and allowing it to be representative of the entire group.

Code of conduct

Let’s acknowledge that typically, when you run afoul of a religious code of conduct, you are either shunned or asked to leave the company of believers.  Murder is not part of it.

So then, these ads that incorporate no 1-800 hotline, are less about rescuing the victims than they are about stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment.  For example, if a Christian or Hindu young woman is being attacked by her family, would this organization help her? If the main concern is violence against any young woman, the headline would have been: “Is your family threatening you with physical harm and death because of its ‘family honor?’”.  What if it had said “Young” women rather than “Muslim” women, and if it had been posted by a social service agency opposed to violence against women?  No one would have objected to that ad. This rejected ad’s main purpose was to yoke violence against women to Islam.

I understand that an elected official in Edmonton has been calling the ads “racist”.  Let’s not throw that word around too readily.  There is nothing racist at all about the ad.  Anti-Muslim?  Most likely.  But religion and race are two very different things.  There are Muslims in every nation and of every colour. The ad is not racist.

Let us not allow this attempt to opportunistically use the persecution of women – especially young women – to drive an anti-Muslim agenda.  Let us not divert our attention from the very real issue behind the murders of the seven young women in the poster. -- New Canadian Media

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Published in Commentary

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