Thursday, 06 October 2016 19:19

Consulting Citizens on Anti-Terrorism Policy

Commentary by Phil Gurski  

Should governments seek public approval on counter terrorism policy?

By now, I am sure that you are aware of the fact that a referendum carried out by the Colombian government on a peace deal with the FARC guerrillas was narrowly defeated.  The difference between those in favour and those opposed was razor-thin, something like 50.2-49.8%  In other words, the vote could have gone either way.  My reading is that the low turnout was due in part due to bad weather and perhaps some complacency since everyone had predicted a comfortable margin of victory for the yes side (again showing that you can’t always rely on polls).

In a previous blog I argued in favour of a peace accord but also recognized that there were many valid reasons why some Colombians had a hard time accepting an agreement under which terrorists would walk away relatively scot-free after decades of human rights violations.  In the end, those opposed won the day, and while both the government and the rebels have said that they will honour an existing ceasefire, the lack of a way forward does not bode well as many want the conditions for amnesty toughened.

Fundamental question

But, I think there is a more fundamental question that needs to be asked: should the government have gone with a referendum in the first place?  Should Colombians have had a say in the matter?  More broadly, should governments consult their electorates on counter-terrorism policy?

My late father-in-law once told me something very profound.  He had made the acquaintance of the Speaker of (Canadian) Parliament who was an MP from my father-in-law's home riding. The speaker and my father-in-law were once talking about how often governments should ask the opinion of voters on a variety of issues. 

My father-in-law replied, very wisely I thought, that governments do exactly that – every four years.  This consultation is called an election.  Parties put out their platforms and voters cast their ballots, in part, on whether they like what they hear.  We then trust, perhaps naively, in those politicians to do what they said they would. 

In other words, they don’t have to ask us for our views on every little matter.  My father-in-law believed it to be a huge waste of money for our officials to spend on asking us what we think: he felt that they were being paid to make decisions.  He may have been a foreman at Stelco (a steel company in Hamilton) but he had a lot of wisdom to impart.

Nothing gained

What does any of this have to do with terrorism? A lot, actually. Governments seem to think that they need to run counter-terrorism policies by their citizenry before implementing them. This may be admirable, but it is neither efficient nor helpful.  With all due respect to my fellow Canadians, they are not experts in terrorism, nor should they be.  After all, were the government to plan a new strategy to fight cancer, would it ask its citizens to comment on the technical merit of the science involved?

There are opportunities for input aside from elections every four years.  Experts can be brought in to voice their opinions and this is exactly what is done both in parliamentary or Senate hearings and within departments.  Canadians with something to say have ample time to do so.

The fact is that our security intelligence and law enforcement agencies are competent and know how to tackle the terrorism problem. They are constrained in what they do by both laws and policies and there are mechanisms (maybe there should be more parliamentary oversight) to register complaints.

I am not sure what is gained by seeking public approval for counter-terrorism strategy, a position adopted by the Trudeau government with its green paper on national security.  Nor am I certain why the Colombian government opted for a referendum on the peace process with the FARC.

I am not trying to be elitist.  It’s just that we elect governments to do a job and if we don’t like the job they do we kick the bums out of office.  That is how democracy works.  Perhaps, we should leave counter-terrorism strategies to the professionals: those who disagree with how it is being done can always try to sign up and effect change from within.

Phil Gurski worked for more than  three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and the forthcoming Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at

Published in Policy

By Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver

Though it can be criticised as lip service, the Canadian government’s ongoing ‘dialogue’ on human rights with China sometimes has a bite.

This was evident last week when China’s touchy foreign minister threw a temper tantrum at a press conference in Ottawa when questioned about Beijing’s dismal human rights record. 
The current practice calls for Canadian ministers to confine human rights discussions to private meetings with their Chinese counterparts. But as much as Canada has failed at curbing Beijing’s habit of executing dissidents and suppressing minorities such as Tibetans and Uighurs, China has failed at trapping the issue to government chambers sealed behind closed doors.

Thus every time the world’s economic dragon fumes at being bridled by ‘Western’ values, the issue of human rights gains more ink in the Sino-Canada storyline.

So what should Canada’s terms of engagement be with world’s next rising economic star, the current elephant-in-heat India?

Last year, India’s economy sprinted ahead to post a world-beating 7.6% GDP growth rate, though this result seems wind-aided thanks to some artful statistical spackling of poor data.
And as with China, this top-of-the-class economic report card has not spawned a halo effect to remove attention from the subcontinent’s own poor human rights record. In the foreground of the recently-stalled Canada-India free trade talks are ongoing protests by Canada’s politically influential South Asian community calling for protection of minorities in India.

These boiled at high heat last April when walls of protesters confronted India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi upon landing for his official state visit to Canada, dogging him from Ottawa to Toronto, and to Vancouver. 

Human rights violations are again casting a shadow over Modi’s state visit this week to the United States where he will be addressing a joint session of the US Congress. Even though India is being feted by the West as a counterweight to rising Chinese assertiveness in Asia, US elected officials are also petitioning for change in how the Indian government treats minority Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs. This includes a group of 34 senators and congressmen penned a letter recently urging the Prime Minister to ‘hold perpetrators of this violence to account’.

These episodes of bloodshed include the infamous 2002 Gujarat riots in which hundreds of Muslims were killed by Hindu mobs and in which Modi was allegedly complicit – an event that led him to be denied a visa to the United States in 2005.

For Canada’s one million strong Sikh population, justice remains outstanding in the targeted killings of thousands of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984, along with the earlier attacks on the Golden Temple when hundreds of innocent worshippers on pilgrimage were shot down by Indian soldiers. The failure to convict the organisers of the Delhi mass killings and resolve this violent chapter against India’s Sikh minority – which like Christians in India form a mere 2% of the population – has allowed the wounds to grow toxic.

Although official reports record the killings of nearly 3,000 Sikhs, unofficial estimates are as high as 30,000. According to Barbara Crossette, a former New York Times bureau chief in New Delhi, “Almost as many Sikhs died in a few days in India in 1984 than all the deaths and disappearances in Chile during the 17-year military rule of Gen. Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990,”

And so this past weekend on Saturday, Sikhs in Vancouver again gathered at the downtown Art Gallery to hold a vigil for victims of these events. This is the first of two annual commemorative events – the second, the annual Sikh Nation Blood Drive is held in November to mark the Delhi killings. It is the largest third party blood drive in the country for Canadian Blood Services.

Now in his early 20’s, Manveer Singh has worked as an organiser for the art gallery vigil. Like others of his generation, he was born outside of India and after the 1984 atrocities. Yet the horror of these events spared few – virtually every family knew of someone who was murdered or was a casualty of violence. These wounds have filtered into the current generation through emotional osmosis.

For Singh, Canada’s aspiration to expand its trade relationship with a state that refuses to account for the blood on its hands undermines Canadian values.
“At the political level, there is a reluctance to address these past events and press for convictions in the Delhi genocide as this would anger the Indian government,” said Singh in reference to the Canadian government averting its eyes from India’s record of violence towards minorities.

“What pains us most is that those from India’s Congress Party who were behind the killings still live free with impunity,” added Singh, who is currently a university student in Vancouver.

The future lies to the west over the Pacific for both Canada and the United States. North American companies have pivoted towards Asia – the next evolutionary step beyond NAFTA is the Trans Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement between the US, Canada, Mexico and seven Asian nations that is looking to include India in its next stage.

In this ever unfettered global economy, uranium dug out from the Prairies is today shipped across the Pacific to power India’s nuclear power plants and feed its energy starved population. But in this same environment of capital and labour mobility, blood spilled in Delhi thirty years ago can stain the earth red in Canada today.

The Sikh community in Canada is politically potent, punches above its weight, and stands to be a key arbiter in the future of companies like Saskatchewan-based Cameco, which last year signed a $350 million deal in 2015 to provide uranium for India’s reactors. For Canadian resource companies seeking to reach India’s 1.2 billion consumers, they may find their caravans blocked by the ghosts of 1984 that haunt this new silk-road connecting cities like Vancouver, Saskatoon, and Toronto to Asia’s new El Dorado.

A number of Canadian elected officials have attempted to lay these spirits to rest by seeking official recognition of the Delhi killings as a genocide in order to close the chapter and move forward.

In 2011, MP Sukh Dhaliwal was the first to raise this topic at an official federal level. The member from Surrey-Newton put forward a petition in the House of Commons for official recognition of the 1984 killings as an act of genocide, plowing ahead with the convictions of his constituents despite a rebuke from then Liberal party leader Michael Ignatieff, as well as the Indian consulate in Vancouver. Dhaliwal received support from current Minister of Innovation, Navdeep Bains. 

When asked if he would re-submit a proposal, Dhaliwal stated, “I was happy to forward petitions on behalf of my constituents, and now with e-petitions as a new way to facilitate grassroots democracy, I will continue to advance the petitions that are submitted by Surrey-Newton residents.”

NDP leader, Tom Mulcair has also issued an official release on the matter, stating that he and the federal NDP “firmly stand in solidarity with the community, independent human rights organizations and Canadians across the country, in seeking justice”.

And just this past week a motion for recognition of the Delhi killings as a genocidal act was voted on in the Ontario house. Put forward by Ontario NDP MLA Jagmeet Singh, it was defeated by the Liberal majority.
Singh tweeted afterwards, “By voting against the Sikh Genocide Recognition motion the Liberals turned their back on human rights, justice, reconciliation & healing. They not only turned their backs on the Sikhs but all the Hindu & Muslim families who risked their lives to save their Sikh neighbours.”

The World Sikh Organisation (WSO), the activist organisation that contributed mightily to Justin Trudeau’s victory, also expressed its disappointment at the defeat of MLA Jagmeet Singh’s bill. “We also call for justice for the victims of 1984, and that those who were behind the attacks need to be brought to justice instead of being allowed to live free with impunity,” said WSO legal counsel Balpreet Singh, adding the organisation supported Sukh Dhaliwal’s petition.

With 16 MP’s of Sikh heritage in the House of Commons, this matter will not fade into the recesses of the past. The recent recognition of the Armenian genocide by the German government as well as the apology for the Komagata Maru incident have bolstered confidence of achieving genocide recognition from Canada’s Sikh community.

Even the Government of India's Nanavati Commission Report acknowledges "but for the backing and help of influential and resourceful persons, killing of Sikhs so swiftly and in large numbers could not have happened.”

Despite such a damning statement, the Indian government has yet to move on convictions against the senior Congress Party members who organised the attacks.

Last year, Canada’s then-Conservative government’s Minister of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on the anniversary of China sending in the tanks against the protesters in Tiananmen Square, “Canada urges China to break its silence on the events of 26 years ago by openly accounting for the people who were killed, detained or went missing and by launching a process of national healing and reconciliation.”

The Canadian government has yet to make an equivalent request to India for its Tiananmen moment, when its tanks crackled over the marble promenade of the Golden Temple in 1984 and when senior Congress Party officials ordered police to stand down while sword-wielding mobs cut down thousands of innocent people.

With discussions of free trade in the air, the timing is right for that statement. It stands to be a rare moment where investing in the fight for human rights would provide a good return for business.

Jagdeesh Mann is executive editor of the South Asian Post based in Vancouver. Twitter: @JagdeeshMann. An abridged version of this was first published in The Globe & Mail.

This commentary was republished with permission from the South Asian Post

Published in Commentary

by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

“Just because you’ve fallen off ship doesn’t mean you’re drowning.” 

In the film My Internship in Canada, the person struggling to stay afloat is the politician who fails to please everyone. Oscar-nominated director Philippe Falardeau’s film is a satirical, yet eye-opening, take on Canadian politics that showcases just how non-democratic our government can be. 

For National Canadian Film Day on April 20, charitable organization Samara Canada collaborated with the Regent Park Film Festival to fill a Cineplex movie theatre in downtown Toronto for Falardeau’s political comedy. 

The film is based on the journey of a young Haitian man, Souverain Pascal, played by Irdens Exantus, who greatly admires Canadian politics and culture. He gets a response to his 15-page application and secures an internship with a Northern Quebec member of Parliament (MP). 

Steve Guibord, played by Patrick Huard, is the independent MP for Prescott-Makadew à Rapides-aux-Outardes and unwillingly finds himself in the awkward position of holding the decisive vote on whether Canada will go to war. 

Guibord travels across his riding to consult constituents with his wife, daughter and Pascal. The story escalates when groups of lobbyists get involved in a debate that spins out of control. In the end, Guibord is tugged and pulled in various directions and must face his own conscience to make a decision that could affect the entire country. 

Making politics accessible

Newcomers to Canada and members of the Toronto communities of North York and Lotherton were among those who attended. 

“We thought it was a great opportunity to provide a little bit of education behind Canada’s political system, in a fun way,” said Madison Van West, coordinator of the Democracy Talks program at North York Community House (NYCH). She worked with her colleagues to bring 75 people to the screening from NYCH, which provides civic engagement and community development services to newcomers. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We’ve seen them try to create platforms and implement mechanisms to be open and democratic, but in doing that, anyone can speak and say anything.”[/quote]

“Sometimes politics isn’t the most accessible topic, but a movie screening is a great way to bring everyone together and learn more.” 

In the film, Guibord tries to initiate democracy by inviting members of his community to a town hall. Unfortunately, opposing viewpoints cause tension rather than a conversation that leads to a collaborative decision. The scene shows just how messy democracy can be. 

NYCH program manager Zesta Kim said she understands and has witnessed the hardships politicians face in her community when having to weigh several interests to create an all-inclusive environment. 

“We’ve seen them try to create platforms and implement mechanisms to be open and democratic, but in doing that, anyone can speak and say anything,” she explains. “So, sometimes it doesn’t turn out too well.” 

Falsification of equality 

In the film, Guibord has trouble balancing the interests of his wife, daughter, protesters, the mayor, and the prime minister. He can only rely on Pascal to help find a middle ground that stays true to Canadian culture and democracy. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We haven’t seen a representation of minorities in politics and in Parliament.”[/quote]

In a panel discussion held after the screening, emerging filmmaker Amita Zamaan said these competing special interests are what disappoint and deter people from engaging in Canadian politics. 

She added that the disengagement is due to the lack of representation and the falsification of equality in our government. 

Through her web series, Dhaliwal15Zamaan, like Falardeau, approaches politics through satire when examining the lack of diversity in Canadian politics.  

“We haven’t seen a representation of minorities in politics and in Parliament,” she said. “I’m trying to address that issue by placing this fictional character (Bobby Dhaliwal, played by Jasmeet Singh) in my film, but also addressing how limited our discussions in Canada are on progressive issues.” 

Explaining voter apathy 

Another panel member, Algoma-Manitoulin member of provincial Parliament (MPP), Michael Mantha, said the problem is deeper than just having an open platform to discuss. He said there is a lack of interest from community members. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“However you make your decision, you will have to put your head on your pillow and live with your conscience.”[/quote]

“I’ve being trying to engage with people throughout my riding, to try and get a pulse on what needs to be discussed for better engagement,” Mantha said. 

“Going off the numbers in my area, last election there was a 51 per cent voter turnout. People have look at politicians, their decisions, and their actions and think, ‘Why am I going to get involved if they’re not listening to me?’” he added. 

Mantha, who was elected in 2011, has served two consecutive terms as MPP and said while he loves all aspects of his riding, from its environment to its citizens, he is well aware of the tactics that are often involved in getting politicians to make certain decisions.  

“Individuals are put into difficult positions, but again it comes down to that person’s principles and being responsible to the people that put you into that position,” he said. “However you make your decision, you will have to put your head on your pillow and live with your conscience.”

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Published in Arts & Culture

by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa

On International Women’s Day, equal rights experts say that cabinet gender equality, a prime minister who calls himself a feminist and social media campaigns such as #HeForShe help in the fight for women’s rights in Canada and internationally, but that there is still a long way to go toward policy parity that translates into real progress.

In interviews with iPolitics, the heads of the United Nations Population Fund and Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights say that while there’s greater awareness around issues of gender inequality than in the past, that still needs to translate into concrete action to improve the lives of women in Canada and abroad on issues like access to education, career opportunities and sexual and reproductive rights.

“It’s not just about wearing a badge and saying ‘He For She,'” said Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in reference to the viral social media movement spearheaded by UN Women and actress Emma Watson over the past two years.”We have to do things — what are we doing at home and in the workplace environment to make sure that women are treated equally? We need to keep pushing.”

Time to stop 'skirting around' the issue

Since the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his gender-balanced federal cabinet, there’s been renewed attention domestically on the issues of gender equality and women’s representation in politics.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We can talk about gender equality, but until we actually start doing things and confronting things, we aren’t going to get there.”[/quote]

Cabinet ministers including Environment Minister Catherine McKenna have sparked discussions over work-life balance and the challenges faced, particularly by women, by, for instance, late votes in the House. Former NDP MP Sania Hassainia, prompted debate on how to make public and work spaces more family-friendly when she brought her baby into the House of Commons during a vote in 2014.

It’s these kinds of discussions that are vital to putting the issue of gender equality on the public radar, Osotimehin says, so that leaders prioritize “creating child-friendly spaces around the world and making sure that women don’t lose their career growth.”

“We have skirted around it for too long,” he said. “We can talk about gender equality, but until we actually start doing things and confronting things, we aren’t going to get there.”

With a prime minister who calls himself a feminist, Canada is better placed than it’s been in years to lead initiatives on gender equality not just at home but abroad, says the executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.

Sandeep Prasad says Monday’s announcement for greater funding for sexual health education and family planning is an indication that the government isn’t going to shy away from supporting gender equality globally, and the language used in the announcement of $81.6 million in funding for the UNFPA is a welcome change from how the past government approached women’s sexual and reproductive health.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“This is the first time I can recall of the government referring to sexual and reproductive rights in full."[/quote]

“This is the first time I can recall of the government referring to sexual and reproductive rights in full and indicating its support for those issues,” Prasad said. “We’re waiting for more steps forward, but we’re taking note of this one and we’re going to enjoy it.”

While the former Conservative government’s Muskoka Initiative on Maternal and Newborn Health was a strong step in helping save the lives of mothers and children, Prasad says it didn’t pay equal attention to women who are not or do not want to become mothers.

“We saw a lot of [focusing on] women as childbearers and the initiative also prioritized the lives of mothers over other women,” he said. “Agency and autonomy as central principles of sexual and reproductive rights are critical.”

Canada poised to be leader around sexual rights

While International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said Monday the government is having discussions around other initiatives specifically involving abortion, there was no timeline set for when or how the government plans to act on its support for the topic abroad.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Improving access to RU-486 — otherwise known as the abortion pill — would be a significant step towards showing their commitment to women’s reproductive rights.[/quote]

Prasad said his organization is hopeful the government will commit to advancing abortion rights as part of its support for sexual and reproductive rights over the long term, but also pointed to things they can do at home in the short term.

In particular, improving access to RU-486 — otherwise known as the abortion pill — would be a significant step towards showing their commitment to women’s reproductive rights, he said.

Health Canada approved the combination of drugs known commercially as Mifegymiso — which is really two pills of Mifepristone and Misoprostol — in June 2015 but imposed several restrictions on how it can be used.

Although the World Health Organization approves the drug combination for pregnancies up to nine weeks, Health Canada set the limit for use in Canada at seven weeks.

As well, doctors seeking to prescribe the drug must undergo specialized training to do so and there must be a registry kept of the doctors prescribing and pharmacists dispensing it.

Prasad says allowing Mifegymiso to be used up to ninth week of pregnancy would bring Canada in line with other allies and mark an important step in the government’s willingness to ensure access to abortion services in Canada over the coming year as it continues to brand itself as a government bringing Canada back as a leader in the international community.

“I’m hoping that we will be moving towards a Canada that reasserts its place on the global stage and in Canada on the issues of women’s rights and sexual and reproductive rights as well, and we can see more evidence-based discussion on these movements and what Canada does at home and abroad,” he said. 

“There’s ample scope for greater political leadership for Canada in advancing sexual and reproductive rights.”

Republished in partnership with

Published in Politics

On December 3, 2015 Geoff Regan was elected as the 36th Speaker of the House of Commons — reportedly the first from Atlantic Canada in almost 100 years.

The veteran politician, who was first elected to parliament in 1993 to represent Halifax West, was re-elected to his seventh term in October 2015 during which time he has held 126 town hall meetings.

His focus over the years on issues such as education, environmental protection, health promotion and retirement security, has led him to the new position he holds as Speaker of the House.

More respect in the House of Commons

In a conversation with Touch BASE editor Robin Arthur, Regan said he plans to change the tone of the house to make it less confrontational.

“Of course, I cannot do it alone. I need the cooperation of Members of Parliament (MPs) to do this. Canadians would like to see MPs show more respect for each other and think about the people they serve rather than the parties they belong to.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Sixty nine per cent of MPs think there is too much of heckling – especially interruption of speakers."[/quote]

Regan was pointing to heckling on the floor of the House of Commons which he says is a form of intimidation. “It especially discourages women from entering politics. I want to see less of that type of heckling,” he says.

“Sixty nine per cent of MPs think there is too much of heckling – especially interruption of speakers — and so that’s the challenge ahead.”

The Speaker of the House votes only in the event of a tie. He votes not as he wishes to, but based on precedent.

Speaking on matters of immigration

The position of Speaker of the House of Commons requires him to be non partisan and impartial at all times – therefore he can no longer comment publicly on issues that might come before him on the floor of the House. Nevertheless he can communicate with MPs separately. That being said, although the House Speaker cannot introduce bills, he can take up issues that matter to his constituency and represent his constituents.

“I can do that in direct communication with MPs, cabinet ministers or parliament secretaries,” Regan said. He told this newspaper there are issues that matter to his constituency (Halifax West).

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[P]oliticians at all levels should put the pressure on professional bodies responsible for credentials recognition to make sure they are welcoming in their approach."[/quote]

“These include community infrastructure, the immigration system — there will be an immigration plan this year — initiatives that would allow families to make ends meet, health and seniors care,” he said.

The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has met its promises to open Canada’s gates to 10,000 refugees by December 31. But is the government looking to iron out other issues of interest to newcomers?

“These are matters of government,” Regan observed. “However, the Liberal party has promised to speed up family reunification and double the number of parents and grandparents coming in every year.”

He says that in town hall meetings, he has heard from immigrants with advanced degrees. These are matters that can be taken up to speed up credentials recognition.

“The minister cannot be an expert on specifics of job sectors. So politicians at all levels should put the pressure on professional bodies responsible for credentials recognition to make sure they are welcoming in their approach and are not looking to lower the number of professionals coming into the country,” he observed.

Regan also touched on Bill C-24, introduced by the Harper government, which allows the minister of immigration to strip a dual citizen of his citizenship if he is convicted abroad without the right to defend.

“The Liberal party opposed the Bill when it was introduced,” he said. “We will have to wait and see if the government will introduce a Bill to review it.”

This article first appeared on Touch BASE. Re-published with permission. 

Published in Politics

Commentary by Andrew Griffith in Ottawa

With the appointment of parliamentary secretaries and opposition critics, we now have a more comprehensive picture of gender and visible minority diversity in Parliament’s leadership positions. How well has the Liberal government implemented its overall diversity and inclusion commitments, and how have the other parties responded to the “because it’s 2015” challenge?

Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed a Cabinet with gender parity (15 each of men and women) and almost 17 per cent visible minority ministers (four Sikh and one Afghan Canadian), gender parity was not attained for parliamentary secretaries (12 positions out of 35 or 34 per cent). Visible minority parliamentary secretaries are over-represented (nine positions or 24 per cent) in relation to their share of the voting population (15 per cent).

Moreover, the government addressed some of the criticism regarding Cabinet over-representation of Sikhs by appointing three African Canadians, one Chinese, one Arab, one Latin American and three South Asians (two Sikhs, one Ismaili Muslim). Three of the nine visible minority parliamentary secretaries are women, including Celina Caesar-Chavannes, a parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister.

In total, of the 68 leadership positions (ministers, parliamentary secretaries, whips and House leaders), 59 per cent are men, and 21 per cent are visible minority men or women. The detailed breakdown is shown in the chart below:

In terms of percentage of caucus, there are 27 women in leadership positions out of 50 elected, or 54 per cent. For visible minorities, there are 14 out of 39 elected, or 36 per cent. In contrast, 30 non-visible minority men are in leadership positions out of 134 elected, or 20 per cent.

Major shift in leadership appointments

No matter how one looks at the data, this marks a major shift in government parliamentary leadership appointments, towards more women and visible minorities.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]his marks a major shift in government parliamentary leadership appointments, towards more women and visible minorities.[/quote]

The Conservative official opposition compensated for their relatively low number of women MPs (17 per cent of caucus), making 35 per cent of critics women (the Harper government’s last Cabinet similarly appointed more women to Cabinet — 31 per cent — compared to the 17 per cent in caucus).

However, with a small number of visible minority MPs (six or six per cent of caucus), critic visible minority representation is only slightly compensated at nine per cent, although visible minority MPs form 13 per cent of the smaller number of deputy critics. But in relation to caucus membership, 50 per cent of visible minority Conservative MPs are critics, reflecting again the same drive to present a more inclusive face to Canadians.

The NDP opposition has the largest proportionate female caucus representation: 41 per cent. It is no surprise that women MPs form 45 per cent of critics. With only two visible minority MPs to choose from, only one (three per cent) is a critic (but again, this is 50 per cent of those elected).

What does all this mean for diversity and inclusion?

The Liberal government, given the large number of women (50) and visible minority (39) MPs elected had little difficulty in meeting its stated goals of Cabinet gender parity (but slipped in other leadership positions). It also was able to significantly exceed visible minority representation in relation to the number of visible minority voters.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]This ‘over-representation’ reflects a conscious decision to demonstrate diversity and inclusion.[/quote]

This ‘over-representation’ reflects a conscious decision to demonstrate diversity and inclusion, one that started with having the highest percentage of visible minority candidates (17 per cent) compared to the other major parties (13 per cent).

For both opposition parties, the weakness in visible minority representation reflects the small number of visible minority MPs elected.

With respect to women, the Conservatives responded to the ‘because its 2015’ challenge, compensating for their small number of women MPs, and applying the same approach to visible minorities. The NDP made the most effort in recruiting female candidates, many of whom were successful, and thus close to gender parity was not a challenge.

All in all, taken together, the Liberal leadership positions reflect a significant implementation of the diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism agenda, one that, given the horizontal ministerial comment for parity and diversity in all government appointments, holds significant promise in ensuring greater representation in government.

Moreover, to the extent that the opposition parties could, their choices recognize the need to respond to this agenda and ensure that their leadership reflects Canadian diversity.

Andrew Griffith is the author of Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote and Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism and is a regular media commentator and blogger (Multiculturalism Meanderings). He is the former Director General for Citizenship and Multiculturalism. 

This article first appeared on The Hill Times. Re-published with permission from author.

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Published in Commentary

by BJ Siekierski in Ottawa

Will the Liberal government hold a referendum on electoral reform? Is President Obama actually ok with Canada withdrawing its CF-18s from the ISIS mission? And what about Donald Trump?

On Wednesday afternoon at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Prime Minister Trudeau sat down with Maclean’s Paul Wells, Chatelaine’s Rachel Giese and Alec Castonguay from L’actualité for a town hall, answering questions from them and a number of Canadians on a wide range of subjects.

Below are some of the highlights.

On Obama and the ISIS mission

“I’ve had, as you know, three or four good conversations with President Obama. And I’ve made it very clear that our commitment was to withdraw the six CF-18s. He didn’t ask me to keep those in. Nor would I have kept them in if he asked me. But what he wanted to know, and I was able to reassure him, is that Canada is going to stay a substantive and substantial member of the coalition against ISIS, including military engagement — probably around training — but we’re working with our allies to ensure that we’re doing something useful.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"We’ve neglected middle class families, but it’s the middle class that creates the most economic activity in the country.”[/quote]

On why the Liberals chose to lower income taxes in the second $44,700 and $89,401 bracket, but not the first — for income below $45,000

“A lot of people who make less than $45,000, don’t pay any taxes at all. And we were looking for a tool to help the middle class specifically, because we know there are many, many tools to help — we always need more of them — to help families in distress, in real difficulty. We’ve neglected middle class families, but it’s the middle class that creates the most economic activity in the country.” (French)

On Donald Trump

“I think it’s extremely important that someone in my position doesn’t engage in the electoral processes of another country, so I’m certainly going to be very cautious about engaging in this particular topic, just because I think it’s going to be important for Canadians — for Canadian jobs — for Canadian prosperity, to be able to have a positive relationship with whoever Americans choose as their President.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"And painting ISIS and others with a broad brush that extends to all Muslims, is not just ignorant — it’s irresponsible.”[/quote]

However, I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone that I stand firmly against the politics of division, the politics of fear, the politics of intolerance, of hateful rhetoric … And if we allow politicians to succeed by scaring people, we don’t actually end up any safer. Fear doesn’t make us safer. It makes us weaker.

At this time, when there is reason to be concerned for our security in the world and here at home, we need remain focused on keeping our communities safe, keeping our communities united, instead of trying to build walls and scapegoating communities. I need to talk directly about the Muslim community. They are predominantly — they are the greatest victims of terrorist acts around the world at the present time. And painting ISIS and others with a broad brush that extends to all Muslims, is not just ignorant — it’s irresponsible.”

On holding an electoral reform referendum

“I think we need to engage with Canadians, and I know the question is leading towards: do we need a referendum on that? We’ve committed to consulting broadly, as many Canadians as possible, as many different communities and organizations — including political parties — as possible. And we’re going to move forward with that and we’ll see where it takes us. We’re going to do that in a responsible way.”

On the future of Canada Post

“What I plan on doing is doing something that should’ve been done a long time ago, which is actually speak with Canadians about what they expect from home mail delivery. As we see the world moving on towards greater use of e-mail and courier parcels and packages, there is some legitimate questions to be asked around the service that Canadians expect from Canada Post. What we’ve committed to doing is to do a serious examination of what kind of service they have.

Our commitment during the election campaign was to stop the transfer toward community mailboxes where it is, because there wasn’t adequate consultation … Canadians expect Canada Post to deliver a service, and that’s what we need to make sure that we’re doing. How that service gets delivered is exactly what the review and consultation process that we’re going to engage in will be focused on.”

Re-published in partnership with

Published in Politics

by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa 

While Canada’s recent federal election resulted in more visible minorities being elected to Parliament than ever before, many also lost and are in the process of moving forward with the lessons they learned.

Rev. KM Shanthikumar, Scarborough-Rouge Park, New Democratic Party 

Rev. KM Shanthikumar is a priest who ran as the New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate in the riding of Scarborough-Rouge Park. Born in Sri Lanka, Shanthikumar moved to Canada 30 years ago. He says he was very confident about winning and was actually leading in the polls prior to Election Day. 

“Until the last two weeks to the election, I was the front-runner,” he recalls. 

Shanthikumar says he was not complacent, but still can’t come to terms with his loss. 

“I worked very hard till the last day and I’m very surprised,” explains Shanthikumar, who lost to Liberal candidate Gary Anandasangaree. “I don’t know what happened.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I will come back with better plans and better ideas to win the next election.”[/quote]

He says although it was a major blow, he has moved on and returned to work. A manager at a telecommunications company in Toronto, Shanthikumar says he will continue to serve the people of Scarborough-Rouge Park like he has always done.  

“I’ll continue where I left off and do whatever I can to help my community,” he says. “I know there is an MP (member of Parliament) in the riding, and I will approach him and offer any help he wants.” 

Shanthikumar plans to re-strategize and return to politics in four years. 

“I will come back with better plans and better ideas to win the next election,” he says. 

One thing Shanthikumar learned about the people in Scarborough-Rouge Park – a riding where more than 70 per cent of the population identifies as a visible minority – is that they see themselves first as Canadians before anything else. 

“The people of this riding do not see anybody as a minority or immigrant,” he explains. “This is the feeling I got when I went canvassing for votes from different people from different cultures.” 

Steven Kou, Vancouver Kingsway, Liberal party 

Steven Kou arrived in Canada from China 15 years ago. 

Having majored in economics at University of British Columbia, Kou planned to use his economics knowledge to benefit the many low and middle-income families in B.C.'s Vancouver Kingsway riding. 

Kou, who contested on behalf of the Liberal party, says that people in the ethnically diverse riding accepted his campaign message. 

“As a visible minority, I wanted to be the bridge between the different ethnic groups in the riding and integrate the cultures into the Canadian culture,” Kou says. 

Although the NDP, which has traditionally held the Vancouver Kingsway seat, won on Oct. 19, Kou says he is happy with the results. 

“The most important thing for me is to continue to work in the community and be a voice for them even though I’m not the MP,” he explains. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“As a visible minority I have come to appreciate the opportunity to run for politics. It’s a privilege.”[/quote]

Kou adds that he believes this election will be a source of inspiration for young visible minorities to get into politics. He hopes to get the nod from the Liberals to try to unseat the NDP MP again in four years. 

“As a visible minority I have come to appreciate the opportunity to run for politics,” Kou states. “It’s a privilege.” 

Jimmy Yu, Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, Conservative party 

Contesting Liberal veteran Stéphane Dion in the Saint-Laurent-Cartierville riding in Montreal was a tall order for Jimmy Yu. He ran for the Conservatives in a riding that has voted Liberal since 1988. 

Yu, who migrated to Canada from China in 1981, says the area has a sizeable number of visible minorities, including a large Chinese Canadian population. 

“We have very rich experiences [that] the locals here don’t have, it is therefore important to add our diversity to [government],” he says. “We are now part of Canada. It is therefore important for the minorities to get involved.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We are now part of Canada. It is therefore important for the minorities to get involved.”[/quote]

Yu took a year off work and has been volunteering full-time for the Conservative party since the beginning of the year. 

“For next year, I need to go back to work to make money to feed my kids,” he says.

Yu has not made up his mind about contesting in the next election yet. 

For Shanthikumar, Kou and Yu, it will take at least four years before they may see their names on the ballot again. Though they may have lost their bids to become MPs, all three say they are winners in their own way.

{module NCM Blurb} 

Published in Politics
Thursday, 05 November 2015 12:13

A Cabinet that Looks Like Canada

by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto 

Diversity of all kinds was pivotal for Justin Trudeau in the recent election, and on Wednesday, the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada kept one of his main campaign promises. 

We now have a cabinet that looks like the rest of Canada. Diverse and gender balanced “because it’s 2015” as Trudeau put it.

That didn’t stop him from springing some surprises on the immigration and visible minority files. 

The appointment of John McCallum as minister for immigration, refugees and citizenship is likely to have surprised pundits. 

McCallum, who was the Liberal critic for the same portfolio while in the opposition and a veteran minister in previous Liberal cabinets, was seen as too obvious a choice likely to be overlooked in the quest for fresh blood. 

It looks like the strength of his experience prevailed. McCallum, who told New Canadian Media during the campaign that he would like to see “immigrants being welcomed with a smile instead of a scowl,” now has the daunting task of bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees by year-end and the long-term mission of revamping the family reunification program. 

There was no surprise in the selection of Navdeep Bains, a long-time Trudeau friend and adviser. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Fittingly, it was Bains who told us that “diversity would be a given in the Trudeau cabinet” because it was an organic part of the larger Liberal team.[/quote]

His important portfolio of innovation, science and economic development is a welcome departure from the previous cabinets where minority ministers only had token presence. 

Fittingly, it was Bains who told us that “diversity would be a given in the Trudeau cabinet” because it was an organic part of the larger Liberal team. 

An accountant and financial analyst and visiting professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, he was an MP from 2004-2011 and served as parliamentary secretary to the PM and a Liberal critic for various portfolios. 

Harjit Sajjan, as Minister of National Defence, was again not a surprise. His appointment marks yet another case of a minority MP getting an important position. Sajjan was the first Sikh to command a Canadian army regiment. A decorated Afghanistan veteran, he also served with the Vancouver police gang crime unit. 

Sajjan is a member of Trudeau’s economic team announced during the campaign and was seen with him at various stops across the country. As reported earlier, this team has proven to be a precursor of the newly appointed cabinet, with many of its members figuring in it. 

More surprises 

The next three minority ministers came as a surprise. 

Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, has a backstory like no one else’s. 

A three-term Edmonton city councillor, Sohi was a former bus driver. He was also wrongfully imprisoned, without charge, as a terrorist in India. He has gone on and won various awards for his efforts to promote cooperation among cultural groups. 

While Sohi was at least on some speculative lists of likely ministers, Bardish Chagger, the Minister of Small Business and Tourism was on nobody’s list. 

Chagger is a long-time Liberal worker from the time she was a teen and has volunteered for community organizations for the past two decades. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Maryam Monsef is now not only the first Afghan-born MP, but also the first from her ethnicity and the first Muslim to become a minister.[/quote]

She also breaks the usual mould of “ethnic” MPs getting elected from ridings with large minority populations. She was elected from Waterloo-Kitchener, Ontario where not many look like her  family who emigrated from India. 

Like Chagger, Maryam Monsef, the Minister of Democratic Institutions, also broke new ground by getting elected from Peterborough-Kawartha, Ontario where not many share her heritage. 

Monsef is now not only the first Afghan-born MP, but also the first from her ethnicity and the first Muslim to become a minister. She came to Canada with her single-mother led family as a refugee 20 years ago and went on to co-found a campaign to raise money for women and girls in Afghanistan. 

It must be mentioned that Monsef is the only visible minority minister who is not a Sikh and doesn’t speak Punjabi, now the third most spoken language among the new set of MPs. [Twenty of them speak the language and appropriately, according to Statistics Canada, it is the third most common tongue in Canada after English and French.] 

Empowered women

The absence of tokenism in the cabinet also extends to the gender diversity file. 

Among the women, many have large portfolios. Jody Wilson-Raybould is the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Chrystia Freeland gets international trade, Catherine McKenna is the minister of the now-renamed Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, and Dr. Jane Philpott gets health. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]All these women are there not merely because of their gender, but for being high achievers.[/quote]

In addition, Carla Qualtrough, a visually impaired Paralympian, is Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities; Kirsty Duncan, a medical geographer, is Minister of Science; Dr. Carolyn Bennett, is in charge of Indigenous and Northern Affairs; and Patty Hajdu will look after the status of women portfolio. 

All these women are there not merely because of their gender, but for being high achievers. And, this being Canada, there is again diversity among them.  

Wilson-Raybould is from among the eight Liberal Indigenous MPs, a record in itself. She along with Hunter Tootoo, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, unlike in previous federal cabinets, did not get pigeonholed into ministries presumed to be natural fits. 

Like a commentator said on CBC, minority and Indigenous ministers have now been “mainstreamed,” while a mainstream minister like Dr. Bennett is in charge of indigenous affairs. 

All of these ministers are also members of various cabinet committees and now have a chance to bring their diverse voices to the highest decision-making table of the land. 

And the calibre of the ministers selected will lay to rest the claim that diversity and merit cannot go together. It no longer is a case of window dressing to meet a certain diversity quotient. 

To borrow from an infamous line in a Conservative attack advertisement against Trudeau, “the cabinet got to balance itself.”

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Top Stories

by iPolitics editorial staff in Ottawa

Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo were both victims of radicalized Canadian citizens bent on killing a soldier.

So why, in the year since the attacks in St. Jean-sur-Richelieu and Parliament Hill, has Ottawa ignored counter-radicalization programs?

The federal response has focused on hard security. The Harper government increased intelligence and enforcement powers through legislation. It also never wasted a chance to boast about its modest role in the U.S.-led military effort against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

As Remembrance Day is an appropriate time to think about whether our support for veterans matches our willingness to empathize with their sacrifices, so should [Oct. 22’s] memorial event be an opportunity to ask ourselves whether Canada has responded to the threat of homegrown terrorism in the right way.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][Oct. 22’s] memorial event be an opportunity to ask ourselves whether Canada has responded to the threat of homegrown terrorism in the right way.[/quote]

The answer, after 12 short months, is no — we haven’t.

Slow in response

Even before Martin Couture-Rouleau and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau became violent, Canada was slow compared to other developed nations in responding to the radicalization of its own citizens, say experts.

After the Syrian civil war gave roots to the social media-savvy Islamic State, things didn’t get much better. Programs aimed at helping communities identify and help youth at risk of falling into radicalization – or deal with them once they had begun to indulge in radical views – were lacking.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]After last fall’s attacks, the federal government promised a counter-radicalization strategy. It never happened.[/quote]

After last fall’s attacks, the federal government promised a counter-radicalization strategy. It never happened. Instead, Canadians got the Anti-terrorism Act (C-51), with its increase in surveillance powers.

Experts who testified during committee hearings on the bill protested that counter-radicalization – the work of preventing terrorism rather than just responding to it – wasn’t receiving a mention. Again, they were told to wait.

The Conservatives were booted from power before a strategy could be released. The Liberal party, which won a majority government in Monday’s general election, promised to appoint a national counter-radicalization coordinator to work with religious communities and make sure on-the-ground initiatives are getting the support they need.

Hopefully, the new government will fulfill this promise and use it as a springboard to renew counter-radicalization programs. It would be a fitting tribute to Vincent and Cirillo.

A noxious atmosphere for Muslim Canadians

There is another measure the new government should take today — related to the debate over security, but distinct from it.

Intentionally or not, the militarized climate of the past year took shape while the Conservatives pursued another agenda. From unnecessary legislation aimed at curbing ‘barbaric cultural practices’ to the vilification of the niqab, the Conservatives tried to dictate the social and cultural mores of Canadians in the name of values and the rule of law.

A Senate Committee on National Security and Defence report, chaired by a Conservative, even recommended the government get into the business of licensing imams.

The security effort and the culture war combined to create a noxious atmosphere for Muslim Canadians.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Are we made less safe when we engage in this alienation narrative? Absolutely.”[/quote]

“Are we made less safe when we engage in this alienation narrative? Absolutely,” said Mubin Shaikh, the former CSIS informant who helped stop the Toronto 18 terrorist plot, in an interview with The Tyee in March.

“I was the agent on the Toronto 18, and the Via Rail plot information was given by a Canadian imam,” he said. “So why do they leave that part out? Then Muslims are made to feel like we gave the information that leads to the arrests, but it’s still our fault? What message is that sending?”

The federal terrorism response has focused too much on a single group — Muslims — instead of on the complex motivations behind homegrown terrorists like Couture-Rouleau and Zehaf-Bibeau.

Incidentally, understanding individual actors is the key to counter-radicalization since their motivations are poorly understood

Experts say there is no overarching theory that explains why some people commit acts of terrible violence in the name of an idea. But they do say a good counter-radicalization effort has to focus on responding to individuals. The best way to get ahead in that regard is to do a better job of enlisting communities in the effort.

Today, whether in words or actions, the incoming Liberal government should try to signal that Muslim communities in Canada must be an important part of stopping attacks like the one that happened in Ottawa one year ago.

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Published in Commentary
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