Wednesday, 31 January 2018 11:56

‘Precarious Work will Define our Future’

By: Susan Korah in Ottawa

Three labour experts have highlighted the critical need for radical changes in government policies and programs that are out of step with the current realities of most Canadians’ work lives.

They were speaking at a panel discussion on “In Search of the Next Gig: A Snapshot of Precarious Work in Canada Today” in Ottawa on January 25, hosted by Policy Options Magazine, a digital publication of the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP).  Moderating the panel was Jennifer Ditchburn, editor of Policy Options, and former journalist with the Canadian Press (CP).

“If we are to walk the walk that matches our talk about how inclusive we are in Canada, those who create our labour policies and programs should take a close look at the precarious work situation that most Canadians are caught in, and design their policies accordingly,” commented Sunil Johal, one of the three panelists.  Johal is policy director at the Mowat Centre, an independent public policy think-tank, associated with the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance.

The other two panelists were Francis Fong, Chief Economist with the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPAC) and Wendy Vuyk, regional coordinator of the Eastern Ontario Region at the Ontario Centre for Workforce Innovation.

“Most policies and programs intended to support Canadian job seekers are tied to conventional ideas of employment and were designed for the 1950s when there was a 9 to 5, lifelong job for the wage earner in a typical family,” he said.

Fong, Johal and Vuyk analyzed the changes that have sent the labour market into a tailspin, leaving employees with few options other than what all three, as well as Ditchburn termed “precarious work,” – short term jobs with no stability, few or no benefits, and no prospects of leading to a lifelong career path.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We need a formal definition of precarious work because precarious work will define our future.” -Francis Fong[/quote]

A major cause of the erosion of stable jobs and the growth of precarious employment was the decline of the manufacturing sector in the 1990s and early 2000s and the growth of the high-tech sector, the panelists explained.

Research challenges

Fong pointed out that even research on this topic is lagging behind the times. He emphasised that in order to capture the nuances of this new workforce reality, researchers need a clear definition of the term “non-standard work”, an umbrella term for all kinds of precarious work.

He said that the lack of consensus on a definition of precarious work poses a serious challenge for researchers, whose work underpins policy decisions.

“We need a formal definition of precarious work because precarious work will define our future,” he said.

He added that no single government agency is collecting all the relevant data, although Statistics Canada has been tracking it since the 1990s, a period which saw the rapid rise of this phenomenon.

The problem is further complicated, he said, by the need for the involvement of so many sectors --labour, immigration, the provincial and federal governments, as well as the private sector.

Stagnant wages, declining unionization

Highlighting another major problem, Johal discussed the disconnect between Canada’s overall economic growth and workers’ wages.

“While the economy continues to grow, wages have become stagnant,” he said, adding the costs of food, housing, childcare and other necessities have also gone up.

Johal also referred to the decline of unionization, which added to worker’s problems.

“Workers have nobody to represent them and speak about their issues,” he said.

He said the most vulnerable were the 30 percent of workers who were in precarious jobs because they had no other option, as opposed to the 70 per cent who did this type of work by choice.

“We need to focus on that 30 percent and to refresh our social policies and programs to address their needs,” he said.

Preparing for the future world of work: An optimistic outlook

Vuyk’s presentation focused on preparing for the future, given the changing economic landscape which she termed the “fourth industrial revolution.”

“Sixty-five percent of today’s elementary school children will work in jobs that don’t exist today,” she predicted.

Nevertheless, she presented an optimistic outlook, saying that although jobs will be lost, others will be created by new inventions.

She emphasized the need to train young people to become entrepreneurs and to think about their careers as a business.

She called on educators to emphasize soft skills such as communication, financial literacy, cross-cultural sensitivity, flexibility and adaptability.

She said it was important for also parents and guidance counsellors to understand that university is not the only key to gainful employment.

She advised parents to give their children as many life-broadening experiences as possible, including travel.

“We have to create a culture of lifelong learning,” she concluded.

Susan Korah is an editor and freelance writer who has worked with a number of publications while continuing to manage her personal travel blog. This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontarioseries. 

Published in Economy

by Susan Korah in Ottawa

Canada’s foreign policy is caught in a precarious balancing act between the “sunny ways” of election promises and the realpolitik of weapons sales to countries with dubious human rights records.

In his new book, Two Freedoms: Canada’s Global Future, former Senator Hugh Segal suggests a solution that he says is focused, principled, and based on two foundational principles – freedom from fear and freedom from want.

Segal’s expertise in foreign policy was acquired through more than 30 years of involvement in foreign and security policy. This included chairing the Senate Foreign Affairs and Special Anti-Terrorism committees and the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies, as well as a serving term as President of the Institute for Research and Public Policy (IRPP), a non-partisan think tank and research institution.

Introducing his book at a launch hosted by the IRPP in partnership with the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival, he explained that while he has the highest regard for some of Canada’s hardworking diplomats and other foreign service personnel, he is concerned that foreign policy is a mess of shifting priorities swinging from right to left, according to the ideology of the government that happens to be in power.

His aim, he said, is to give some clarity and direction to foreign policy, which in his opinion, should not be dependent on party politics.

The launch took the form of a conversation between Segal and Jennifer Ditchburn, Editor-in-Chief of Policy Options, the magazine affiliated with IRPP.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Living in a state of economic and social despair can produce huge and even cataclysmic consequences . . ."[/quote]

More foreign aid

Elaborating on freedom from want, Segal said it is in Canada’s interest to see that families, communities and nations around the world live in reasonable prosperity, buoyed by a sense of hope for the future.

“Living in a state of economic and social despair can produce huge and even cataclysmic consequences, not only for those living in despair, but for their neighbouring communities and countries,” he pointed out, adding that the total absence of hope leads to violent behaviour based on a “nothing-to-lose” attitude.

“Putting those two freedoms – freedom from want and from fear – at the centre of our foreign policy would make it more coherent and the world would understand better what we stand for as Canadians,” Segal said.

He added that if extreme poverty is the root cause of violence, we have to ask ourselves what we can do to diminish this cause.

“I think that both in terms of foreign aid and international development and in terms of doing our fair share militarily, we are not doing enough,” he said. “In the [Prime Minister] Lester Pearson era we contributed 0.7 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP) to foreign aid, but in recent years our numbers have been much lower.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently pledged to boost funding to the global fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, but said Ottawa will not meet the goal to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on foreign aid anytime soon.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We have a big hat, but no cattle,” a reference to cowboys whose boastful talk is not matched by action . . . [/quote]

Increase military capacity

Another key point that Segal makes in his book and highlighted at the event, is that Canada needs to reinforce its values-based foreign policy with an appropriate military capacity.

“We have a great military, but we need more of them,” he said. “Canada should probably have Armed Forces of 150,000, of which 100,000 are regular forces and 50,000 are reserves rather than our present number which is in the 50,000 to 60,000 range.”

He said Canada also needs a 60-ship fighting navy, rather than one that has 20 or 30 ships, that can be deployed on humanitarian and diplomatic missions “to send a clear message about Canadian values.”

Giving some examples of how such military strength could help Canadians and those abroad, Segal said, “We need to make sure the Chinese respect the territorial integrity of Taiwan and other people.”

“Our failure to engage with [Bashar al-] Assad three or four years ago is why we have such a horrendous situation now,” he added, referring to the ongoing civil war in Syria.

Using a Western Canadian expression, he said: “We have a big hat, but no cattle,” a reference to cowboys whose boastful talk is not matched by action or even the capacity for action.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“There has to be more cohesion between our foreign policy and defence policy.”[/quote]

Decline since Chrétien era 

“There has to be more cohesion between our foreign policy and defence policy,” he emphasized.

Segal’s central thesis is strongly reminiscent of a 2003 publication While Canada Slept: How We Lost Our Place in the World by Ottawa writer Andrew Cohen. Both authors lament the decline of Canada’s foreign policy and its military, especially since the glory days of Prime Minister Pearson.

Both consider that it took a turn for the worse under the leadership of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Segal points out that in that era, by sending delegations of Canadian business people and politicians around the world to increase trade, it became necessary to tread carefully so that no potential trading partner would be offended.

Both Segal and Cohen call for a values-based approach.

“The notion that this book might contribute to that debate in some constructive way would be my fondest hope,” said Segal.

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Published in Books

by Susan Korah in Ottawa

It was a book launch and discussion that should have taken place in Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, Tripoli or any other capital of the Arab world. 

Instead, it unfolded in Ottawa, capital of the land of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as Lebanese-Canadian author Elie Mikhael Nasrallah pointed out to the audience at the launch of Hostage to History: The Cultural Collapse of the 21st Century Arab World.

Published by Friesen Press, Hostage to History is the latest book by Nasrallah, an Ottawa-based journalist, author, political commentator and immigration consultant.

Approximately 150 people – mostly Lebanese Canadians – gathered at the St. Elias Centre for the book launch.

Arab World in decline

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The central thesis of Nasrallah’s book is that it is a cultural, not religious, failure that has sent the Arab world into a vortex of decline...[/quote]

“We have to stop blaming colonialism, or Zionism, or the foreigner and look deep within our own culture to explain the turmoil in the Middle East,” Nasrallah told the audience, emphasizing that the pen may be mightier than the sword in places like Canada, where freedom of expression is enshrined in law and respected by the population.

The central thesis of Nasrallah’s book is that it is a cultural, not religious, failure that has sent the Arab world into a vortex of decline and chaos after a brief period of glory between the 7th and 13th centuries, when its civilization reigned supreme.

“Indeed, the Arab world of that period was in a similar situation to the U.S. today,” said Nasrallah. “It was the world’s super-power.”

According to the book, if there is one central cause for the decline and fall of a once proud civilization, it is the triumph of anti-rationalist thinking during the final years of the Abbasid Caliphate, a dynasty of the Muslim Empire. This resulted in a suspension of rational inquiry and reasoning in the Arab world.

Several factors led to the decline and fall of the Abbasid Dynasty and along with it, the collapse of rational thinking processes. These included a weakening leadership, the loss of control over distant territories, corruption and economic stagnation.

“After 1513, with the arrival of the Ottoman Turks, Arab civilization fell into a coma,” said Nasrallah, adding that after World War I and the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, the Arab heartland sank into an even deeper black hole.

Nasrallah went on to give a list of factors that he says underlie the current malaise in the Middle East. Lack of access to education and literacy skills for women; misunderstandings about the concept of freedom; lack of separation between religion and state; dependency on oil with no economic diversification; and kinship, family and clan preventing the creation of civil society institutions are among the reasons he listed.

Imam Sheikh Haitham Hujaij of the Ahlul-Bayt Centre in Ottawa said colonialism, as well as the factors cited by Nasrallah, have played a role in the upheavals of the Middle East.

Arab culture needs own enlightenment

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We don’t need to copy the European model, but we need to wash the dust off from ourselves and do a mental spring cleaning.”[/quote]

Hostage to History not only provides a diagnosis of the ailments of contemporary Arab society. It also offers a prescription.

“To get out of this black hole, we need to form a cohesive group of Arabs of all faiths and start a cultural revolution, a return to Ijtihad,” Nasrallah said, citing the term in Islamic law that refers to critical thinking.

“Here, in Canada, we are living with the benefits of the Enlightenment, and we can start the process here with conversations like this,” he added, referring to the European intellectual movement that began in the late 17th century and emphasized reason and individualism.

“We need a reformation, a cultural revolution of our own, within the confines of our own culture,” he continued. “We don’t need to copy the European model, but we need to wash the dust off from ourselves and do a mental spring cleaning.”

Bridging the East and the West

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We don’t want to be just tolerated. We need acceptance as part of the Canadian family.”[/quote]

Daniel Nassrallah, the Ottawa-born lawyer whose firm DNG Nassrallah Law Offices sponsored the event, said that the book launch was the first of a speaker series that he will be organizing to give a voice to the Arab community and to generate discussion.

He added that events like this could help to raise awareness of the Arab diaspora within the larger community. He explained that although Canada is a great country, negative stereotypes concerning Arabs persist and that it is important to break them.

“We need to overcome the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality,” he emphasized. “We don’t want to be just tolerated. We need acceptance as part of the Canadian family."

Ottawa City Councillor Eli El-Chantiry also referred to negative stereotyping, saying “We need to be out there and challenge these.” He praised the author and his work as a “bridge between the East and West.”

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Published in Books

by Susan Korah in Ottawa 

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

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

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

Leading source on immigration history

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too early to assess Trudeau 

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

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

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

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

The diversity divide 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Published in Books

by Susan Korah in Ottawa 

Approximately 500 Taiwanese Canadians from Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver travelled to Taiwan to vote in the country’s recent presidential election. 

They say they are proud of the democracy in their home country and value it as a precious gift for which their parents and grandparents fought so heroically. 

Most of these voters, who spent between $1,500 and $2000 each on an airline ticket, are in their 50s and 60s, says Jack Chen, a Taiwanese Canadian scientist with Environment Canada living in Ottawa. 

Unlike younger people, who often wish they could go, but don’t have the opportunity, this demographic is more likely to have the time and the financial means to make the trip, he adds. 

“Many of them are first generation immigrants to Canada with strong ties to the home country,” he explains, emphasizing that they also have first-hand experience of living without any civil and political rights under repressive governments. They have a deep appreciation of their hard-won right to vote. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][Many first generation Taiwanese Canadians] have a deep appreciation of their hard-won right to vote.[/quote]

Growing up in Taiwan 

Grace Bui, one of the Taiwanese Canadians who made the trip to vote, says she remembers the days of repression in the 1950s. 

“My brother, 15 years older than me, lived his high school years in fear because many of his classmates were dragged away from the classroom and were never seen again,” she recalls. “I could see the fear in his eyes. He warned me never to discuss this because the secret police could take us away.” 

Shin-Youg Shiau, an Ottawa resident and community leader, is another of those first generation Canadian immigrants that Chen refers to. 

“It’s a great sacrifice for us in financial terms,” Shiau explains, just before leaving for Taiwan with his wife to participate in the election. “We not only have to pay for our flights, but also hotel rooms because we don’t have any family left there to stay with.”

He adds, however, that the sacrifice is worth it and that they are happy to have had this opportunity. 

Eligibility of overseas voters 

From the Taiwan government’s point of view, there are certain conditions voters must meet to make them eligible. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Taiwanese voters must be physically present in Taiwan to cast their ballots.[/quote]

“Overseas Taiwanese who want to vote must still possess our citizenship,” explains Simon Sung, Director of Information at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, the equivalent of a Taiwanese embassy in Ottawa. 

“They need to maintain a valid household registration in any place in Taiwan and must activate that registration six months before the election so that the local election commission can prepare documents and ballot papers for them,” he adds. “When they show up at the polling station they can cast their votes.” 

Chen, who is also the vice chair of the parents’ advisory council of the Ottawa Mandarin School run by the Ottawa Catholic School Board, was unable to go to Taiwan himself, but closely monitored the campaign and the presidential election on Jan. 16 from Canada. 

He points out that unlike Canadian elections in which non-resident citizens can vote by mail, voters must be physically present in Taiwan to cast their ballots. 

Optimism for the future 

Chen says that regardless of party affiliation, most Taiwanese are proud of the election of Tsai Ing-wen – the country’s first female president – and also of the peaceful transfer of power. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Our democracy has become strong and mature and we are all proud of that.”[/quote]

Kuomintang (KMT), the party of defeated President Ma Ying-jeou, was in power for eight years and people wanted a change, but unlike in the election of 2000, there was no violence whatsoever, he adds. 

“Our democracy has become strong and mature and we are all proud of that,” Chen says. 

Louisa Ho, a retired businesswoman from Ottawa, is another Taiwanese citizen who could not make the trip to vote. She also watched the election from overseas and says she is pleased with the final results.  

“Our new president, Ms. Tsai Ing-wen, is very calm and composed and very knowledgeable,” she says. “I’m also happy that her party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has won the majority of seats in the legislature because now their new policies and legislation won’t be blocked.” 

Ho adds that most people in Taiwan want to lead peaceful lives with an improved economy.   

Both Ho and Mai Chen (no relation to Jack Chen), a resident of Kingston, Ontario, express hope that the new party in power will restore Taiwan’s ‘space’. They say that under former President Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan was leaning too close to China, and they perceived this as a threat to Taiwan’s democracy. 

“If the KMT [party of Ma Ying-jeou] had continued to be in power, there was a distinct possibility that Taiwan could go the way of Hong Kong,” says Mai Chen.

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Published in International

by Susan Korah in Ottawa

To some people, Canada seems like the land of American civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr.’s dreams. But a group of race relations activists in Ottawa contend that this belies the truth, and that Canadians need to work harder to make King’s vision a reality in this country. 

Both views were shared at an Ottawa celebration and awards ceremony that a group named DreamKEEPERS organized to mark the 30th anniversary of Martin Luther King Day. 

Originally declared a public holiday in the U.S. in 1986, the same date was chosen by the Canadian organization to honour King’s memory and raise awareness of his message, which was most eloquently articulated in his speech entitled, “I Have a Dream.” 

Recognizing King's values and principles

Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, presented a lifetime achievement award to the Rt. Hon. Joe Clark, the 16th Prime Minister of Canada (1979-80), described as a leader in fighting apartheid in South Africa and promoting human rights in Canada and the world. 

Most recently Clark served as an honorary witness to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada that reported on residential schools. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The “beloved community,” was [King's] vision of a society based on justice, equal opportunity and love of one’s fellow human beings.[/quote]

Daniel Stringer, a former Canadian diplomat and a founding member of DreamKEEPERS, explained that the tabletop award sandblasted with a glass gold leaf is given annually to an individual who has become a role model in Canada and beyond for embodying King's values and principles. 

These include the promotion of social justice, human rights, racial harmony, spiritual values and the advancement of his dream of the “beloved community.” 

The “beloved community,” an idea that King popularized, was his vision of a society based on justice, equal opportunity and love of one’s fellow human beings, said Stringer.

Community leadership awards were also presented to Larry Hill, former Deputy Police Chief of Ottawa and Désiré Kilolwa. Originally from Congo, Kilolwa works with women and children who are victims of his native country’s brutal civil war.

“[Canada is a] unique country,” Clark said in his acceptance speech. “The tradition of generosity is deep within us.” 

Clark explained that Canada’s very survival depended on all people pulling together.

“Many of us – Black [people], [Jewish people], Vietnamese, Africans – came here as refugees and we are prepared to extend a welcoming hand to others.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“In the 1970s, visible minorities were few and far between in Canada, but now they are becoming the majority.”[/quote]

He reminisced about working with past recipients of the same award, including Jean Augustine (first African Canadian woman to be elected to Canada’s House of Commons and the first to serve in the federal cabinet) and Lincoln Alexander (first Black member of the House of Commons and later, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario). 

“In the 1970s, visible minorities were few and far between in Canada, but now they are becoming the majority,” Clark observed. 

Stepping up to fight injustice

Clark acknowledged that further work needs to be done in promoting equality for all of Canada’s diverse peoples. He cited the example of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, founded in response to the Holocaust, which promoted reconciliation and understanding between the two faith communities. 

“Perhaps we need a Council of Christians, Jews and Muslims at this time,” he concluded, making reference to the increase in Canada’s Muslim population with the arrival of Syrian refugees. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][U]nlike the U.S., which is more open about its problem with racism, Canada is in denial.[/quote]

In her keynote speech, Grégoire-Trudeau painted a similar picture of Canada, as a nation that has come a long way in terms of respecting the human rights of its diverse population. 

“The good news is that people in Canada, and indeed the world, are stepping up to fight racial and gender injustice,” she said. 

She pointed to a new generation of young leaders in Canada and the world, who are far more sensitive to past injustices and are prepared to address them. 

“Martin Luther King was an amazing speaker and champion for justice. When he made his “I Have a Dream” speech, the whole world took notice,” she said. 

“If Dr. King were here today, he would be proud of Canada because we haven’t refused entry to refugees whose expression of faith is different from ours,” she observed. 

Canada in 'denial' about racism

As a counterpoint to this image though, Stringer said that Canadian society is often in denial about the racism that occurs here. 

He referred to the recent firebombing of a mosque in Peterborough, Ontario, in the aftermath of the shootings in Paris. 

He said that unlike the U.S., which is more open about its problem with racism, Canada is in denial.

Rev. Dr. Anthony Bailey of Ottawa’s Parkdale Baptist Church, who hosted the ceremony, also referred to racist graffiti scribbled on his church and racist threats he had received.  

“It’s important to celebrate what we have achieved, but also important to keep the momentum going and further the work that still needs to be done,” Bailey said. 

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Published in Top Stories

 By Susan Korah in Ottawa

The room was abuzz with the energy and excitement of a university alumni reunion, as approximately 100 people packed Octopus bookstore in downtown Ottawa for the launch of Resilience and Triumph: Immigrant Women Tell Their Stories last Thursday night.

A collection of stories narrated in the first person by 50 women of ‘racialized’ groups within Canadian society, the book is the brainchild of Rashmi Luther, lead organizer of the project.

Published by Second Story Press, a company dedicated to feminist-inspired books, many of these stories, while not overtly feminist, nevertheless describe the journeys of women who sought to assert their full rights as human beings and citizens in a culture that generally recognizes them in theory but not necessarily in practice.

Inspiration for the book

Five years ago, the Feminist History Society published a book called Feminist Journeys. Luther loved the book, but noticed that something was missing. The voices of immigrant and refugee women were conspicuously absent. She set about filling the gap. 

Gathering a group of women around her, she formed the Book Project Collective. Together, the ‘group of seven’ (members of the Collective) collected and edited the stories. They also wrote their own stories.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The stories are not only about racism; they reflect a diverse range of experiences.[/quote]

The rest, as they say, is history — part of the documented history of Canadian women.

“These narratives are important,” emphasizes Luther, who retired recently from her job as a professor at Carleton University’s School of Social Work. “They were missing from the story of Canada and Canadian feminism.” 

Yumi Kotani, another member of the collective, adds that the stories are not only about racism; they reflect a diverse range of experiences from genuine acceptance to outright hostility.

Although racism is not the only point of the book, nevertheless discrimination and hardship faced by all ‘racialized’ women emerges as a strong theme. Indeed, the title Resilience and Triumph summarizes the dominant narrative, which is essentially how the authors overcame nearly insurmountable barriers to survive economically — and perhaps more importantly, to gain professional and social respect.

Defining ‘racialized’ women

When asked how they defined the term “racialized”, Vanaja Dhruvarajan, another member of the ‘group of seven’ explains that it described women who, on account of their skin colour or accents or way of dressing (wearing a hijab for example), were “otherized’ by the dominant culture. 

She emphasizes that this not only referred to immigrant women of colour, but also included Canadian-born women described as ‘visible minorities.’ 

“All of them [the authors] are either first or second generation immigrants,” says Dhruvarajan. “Almost all of them experienced prejudicial and discriminatory behaviour on the basis of culture, race, gender and religion.” 

She explains that some of this treatment resulted from discriminatory immigration policies and practices and some from the attitudes of individuals within the dominant society.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“All of them [the authors] are either first or second generation immigrants."[/quote]

The women’s responses to these challenges, as described in the book, are as varied as the women themselves and range from adopting mainstream norms such as dress codes to engaging in community activism to influence the policies of race and gender relations.

“I’ve been here in Canada for 50 years, and early on, I decided to assimilate as I don’t like standing out” says Sheila Nirmala Denetto, one of the contributors. 

Originally from India, she emphasizes that this process was not without an emotional struggle. “The way I dressed was part of my identity,” she explains. “Transforming my wardrobe [from saris to Western clothes] was a slow and painful adjustment. But this was my first step towards Canadianization.”

Remembrance and dedication

Roxana Ng, to whom the book is dedicated, passed away in Toronto after a “brief and courageous battle with cancer,” according to the biographical note at the end of her story.  

Having immigrated from Hong Kong at the age of 19, she outlines her metamorphosis from a “shy, reactionary, conservative, slightly backward young person,” as she says her Canadian college professors saw her to a passionate advocate for the issues of women of colour.

“Roxana was a real pioneer, a researcher and activist who opened up a whole new field,” says Luther. "By focusing on the lives and issues of women of colour, she brought our issues out of hidden recesses and into the forefront.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Transforming my wardrobe [from saris to Western clothes] was a slow and painful adjustment."[/quote]

Another strong thread in these stories, is the spark that lit the way for these women even in their darkest moments — the firm conviction that things could be set right.  Indeed all of them did, each in her unique way.

When asked how exactly Canada, despite the shortcomings of its immigration policies, offered such hope to immigrants, Luther says, “We do have human rights legislation and employment equity legislation. While not perfect, these mechanisms make it possible for us to call out and critique existing policy.”  

“We used to have a vibrant NGO and refugee settlement sector that helped our advocacy efforts,” she adds. “Lack of funding has eroded this over the years, but we hope things will change for the better now. 

“We also have a lot of hope in the younger generation of women who will keep this advocacy moving forward.”

Susan Korah is a journalist and communications specialist whose current professional interests span two aspects of communications: journalism and public relations. She writes on a variety of topics from international relations and gender politics to community affairs, cultural diversity and travel destinations.

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Published in Books

by Susan Korah in Ottawa

Swiss-born Muslim academic and author Tariq Ramadan told an Ottawa audience that governments and the public should recognize the equal dignity of all human beings, regardless of whether they are citizens of Paris, Beirut, or any other place.

At a public lecture on November 22, Ramadan said the principle behind “Je suis Paris” should be applied with equal consistency to all victims of terror attacks. The recent attacks in Beirut, Mali and other places outside the Western world got nowhere near the same level of attention and expressions of sympathy that the November 13 shootings and bombings in Paris generated, he added.

Ramadan was the featured speaker at an event organized by the Montreal-based Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), a non-governmental organization that advocates for justice and human rights in the storm centre of many of the world’s conflicts.

Not religion, but perception

Invited to speak about refugees, wars and the fears and fanaticism of our age, Ramadan spent much of his hour-long address deconstructing the roots of the problem, which he firmly denied was a “clash of civilizations” or religions.

“It is a matter of the geo-strategic and economic interests of the governments and transnational corporations involved in this,” he said, adding that it was a “clash of perceptions” rather than of religions.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Where there is no justice, there is no peace.[/quote]

He commented that religion is used by Middle Eastern leaders as an instrument to manipulate Muslims, while their Western counterparts use “values” such as “democracy,” “human rights” and the “liberation of women” for the same purpose to secure the support of a secular public.

Ramadan said this has resulted in the current destabilization of the Middle East, with  lethal consequences for the entire world – such as terror attacks, the curtailment of civil liberties in the name of security and the deaths of thousands of refugees as they try to flee across borders.  

Ramadan emphasized that the blame for the “mess,” as he described it, must be shared equally by Western governments for their aggressive, militaristic foreign policies, and by their allies, the corrupt regimes of many Middle Eastern countries whose economic interests are aligned with those of the West.

“Where there is no justice, there is no peace,” he said, pointing out that the American government’s unconditional support of Israel has ignored the rights of Palestinians, and this has incensed Muslims everywhere, causing some of them to become radicalized.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We (Muslims) too have a responsibility in this clash of perceptions and need to be self-critical.” [/quote]

Violating the dignity of Palestinans is not often covered in the media, he said, adding that the protection of Israel has resulted in so much conflict that it has had consequences for ordinary American and French citizens.

For example, the Patriot Act in the U.S. has diminished the civil liberties of Americans, and the French government is doing the same thing in the name of security.

“Thanks, Canada, for not choosing the worst of these measures,” he said, and complimented Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees. “About 2,800 migrants died in the Mediterranean within three years, but we didn’t react until we saw a photo of Aylan Kurdi,” he said, referring to the image of the three-year-old Kurdish refugee boy, who drowned last September.

Cautioning people against “indulging in emotional politics,” he advised Muslims living in the Western world to speak up against violations of human dignity everywhere. “Don’t indulge in victimhood,” he warned.

“We (Muslims) too have a responsibility in this clash of perceptions and need to be self-critical,” he stated, adding there is no unity within the Muslim diaspora, and no space for intellectual discussion.

He noted that Muslims from various countries tend to isolate themselves from one another, even if they live in the Western world.

“We need unity, not uniformity, so don’t import your divisions from your home countries,” he said.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Because of recent events in Paris, I feel that people are not so welcoming of refugees as in the past.”[/quote]

Canadians’ fears and concerns

Asked for her reaction to Ramadan’s speech and if she had any of her own fears and concerns about the fallout from the Middle Eastern conflict, Patricia Jean, office manager of CJPME and a relatively recent convert to Islam, said: “As a veiled Canadian, I am concerned about the reactions of other Canadians to Muslims. Because of recent events in Paris, I feel that people are not so welcoming of refugees as in the past.”

Kamiliya Akkouche, a student of International Development and Globalization at the University of Ottawa, said: “I agree that people should not react in an emotional way, and should address their fears by holding to account all the governments in the West and in the Middle East that are responsible.”

Kenya-born Sarah Onyango, a resident of Gatineau and host of the radio program Afrika Revisited, commented: “Kenya has received the world’s refugees, and my concern is not that refugees are coming to Canada but that we don’t have the resources to support their integration, and their communities will become breeding grounds of frustration and alienation. This will result in some of them becoming radicalized.”

Vicky Smallman, a community activist, stated that she would not want to see political parties and campaigns exploit the racism that lies under the surface. “I don’t want to see any group targeted,” she said. 

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Published in Politics

by Susan Korah in Ottawa

Like the Southeast Asian island nation itself, Taiwan’s film industry is small, and often overshadowed by international competitors. Despite its size, the industry and some of its talented directors deserve international recognition, says Tom McSorley, executive director of the Canadian Film Institute (CFI). 

“Taiwan’s remarkably accomplished and varied cinema, both in terms of its superb craft and its thematic explorations of contemporary issues in modern Taiwanese society, deserves to be better known around the world,” says McSorley. 

It’s with this in mind that the CFI is partnering with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Ottawa, which functions as the de facto embassy of Taiwan, to raise the profile of the country’s film industry in Canada. 

The two organizations introduced over 200 people, mainly of Taiwanese and Chinese heritage, to The Boar King at Carleton University’s River Building Theatre last week. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Taiwan’s remarkably accomplished and varied cinema deserves to be better known around the world.”[/quote]

With a strong local flavour and scenes shot in the southern mountains of Taiwan, as well as in the capital city Taipei, the film dramatizes a story of loss, courage, resilience and hope in the face of tragedy.  

Universal themes 

The Boar King’s themes are universal, and in some respects, strongly reminiscent of the American classic Gone with the Wind, in which the heroine Scarlett O’Hara struggles to cope with the upheaval of the civil war. 

The central character, Cho, loses her husband, Ying, in a typhoon that left their village in ruins. The grief-stricken widow is dealing with the prospect of losing her family business, since a landslide has buried the source of water for her hotel spa in the village. 

As her fellow villagers desperately try to sell off their land and move out, they receive mysterious invitation cards from her deceased husband. 

What secrets is he hiding, Cho and her daughter Fen wonder, as they try to find answers through videotapes he had left behind. The journey points the way to a new path that helps them let go of the past and find a new direction in life. 

The character of the grandfather who refuses to accept the fact that his property value has not diminished even after a landslide provides comic relief. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Her message is that life will always remain uncertain, but once you have hope, you will have faith and confidence for the future.”[/quote]

Unlike stories with a ‘and so they lived happily ever after’ ending, The Boar King concludes with Cho walking into a still uncertain future. 

“This was deliberate,” Frank Lin, Taiwan’s acting representative in Ottawa, tells New Canadian Media. “Director Chen Ti Kuo is known for her documentaries and brings a strong note of realism even to her fictional movies. Her message is that life will always remain uncertain, but once you have hope, you will have faith and confidence for the future.”

High calibre of directing 

In The Boar King the past is depicted in stunning coloured shots emerging from the video left behind by Cho’s husband, while the present scenes of destruction and desolation are portrayed in black and white scenes. 

“This is a deliberate technique used by the director to emphasize the contrast between their past and present lives, and is not a problem with the equipment,” Lin said when introducing the film at the screening, drawing a laugh from the audience. 

“Compared to the dream and memory sequences, the present seems harsh and bitter,” said Kuo, at an earlier screening in Montreal. “But when a brightly coloured butterfly flies and crosses over into the black and white reality, the boundary between the dream and reality is blurred and the woman starts to walk into the future.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“A movie by Hou Hsiao-Hsien invariably features sparse dialogue, muted colors, passions held in check, and a deeply aesthetic feel.”[/quote]

As McSorley points out there are many young and talented directors coming out of Taiwan, and Kuo appears to be one of them. 

Her work follows in the steps of Taiwanese director Ang Lee, who was behind Life of Pii, the 2012 adventure drama starring Indian actors Suraj Sharma and Irrfan Khan, as well as director Hou Hsiao-Hsien who won the Best Director award at the 2015 Cannes Film Festivkal for The Assassin. 

Lin illustrates this by referencing The Boar King’s sparse dialogue – in Taiwanese, with English and Mandarin Chinese subtitles – which is offset through the use of body language and facial expressions that portray a range of emotions from anger and despair to gradually emerging hope. 

“A movie by Hou Hsiao-Hsien invariably features sparse dialogue, muted colors, passions held in check, and a deeply aesthetic feel,” says Lin. 

What this film initiative, CFI and TECO aim to showcase that Taiwan dramas offer an alternative to the blockbuster movies of Hollywood and Bollywood that often produce purely escapist entertainment. 

“Taiwanese directors turn normal, regular lives into art,” explains Lin. “It is the reason why we introduce Taiwanese films to our Canadian friends.” 

Another Taiwanese film Hear Me will be screened at Carleton University’s River Building Theatre on Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. Admission is free. 

Published in Arts & Culture

by Susan Korah in Ottawa

The spark of revolution that was ignited in Tunisia in January 2011 quickly spread to other Arab countries, but exploded into conflagrations of violence and instability, notably in Syria and Egypt. As such, for most countries of the Middle East, hopes of democratic reform in the near future faded. 

In stark contrast, in Tunisia itself, the birthplace of the ‘Arab Spring’ – as the new movement was dubbed – the candle flame of a pluralistic democracy burns steadily, even four years later, although it flickers sometimes in the winds of economic, social and security challenges. 

This was the outline of a portrait of Tunisia that three experts presented to an audience of about 200, at the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa Thursday night. 

A lone success story

“Tunisia is the only success story of the Arab Spring,” said John McNee, Secretary General of the Global Centre for Pluralism as he introduced the two guest speakers – Mehdi Jomaa, interim Prime Minister of Tunisia during the country’s time of transition from dictatorship to democracy (2014-2015) and Dr. Marwan Muasher, former Foreign Minister of Jordan and currently vice president of studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 

Moderating the panel was Dr. Bessma Momani, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont. 

“The key to our success was our willingness to generate dialogue and consensus,” said Jomaa, emphasizing that negotiations between secular and religious elements resulted in a secular constitution that even acknowledges the right of people to hold no religious beliefs if they choose to do so. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Tunisia is a start-up democracy. We need the collaboration of the international community.”[/quote]

“We should be proud of what we have achieved, but we should also be vigilant,” he cautioned, referring to the economic and social challenges including high unemployment that still plague the country. He added that recent terrorist attacks in his country are a hindrance to creating new opportunities for employment.

“The movement towards democracy takes time,” he said. “It can’t be achieved in a short time, and Tunisia is a start-up democracy. We need the collaboration of the international community.” 

Nonetheless, the nation’s remarkable achievements must be noted, Muasher said. 

“Tunisians are far too modest about what they have been able to achieve in three years,” Muasher stated. “Within that time, they have been able to agree to a constitution in which all people, including women, have rights. 

In fact, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a group of four organizations including unionists, employers, lawyers and human rights activists that played a key role in the country’s efforts to build a pluralistic democracy. 

Lessons for the world 

Highlighting some lessons that Tunisia has taught the world, Muasher explained that Tunisians have shown early on that the battle for the future can’t be fought between religious and secular parties. It has to be fought for an accommodation of all views. 

Also, in order to keep power, governments have to share power, Muasher said. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“To get people to accept diversity will take generations.”[/quote]

Muasher contended that these lessons were lost on both Islamist and non-Islamist parties in Egypt; also on ISIS in Syria whose “barbaric, exclusionist model” has kept the country in turmoil. 

He concurred with Jomaa that the process of democratization in Tunisia would take time. “To get people to accept diversity will take generations,” he said. “No transformation process took only four years.” 

He argued that the battle must be for pluralism in all its dimensions including political, religious, cultural and gender. 

Need for education reform 

“The Arab world needs to reshape its education system, which is so extremely exclusionist and omits pluralistic values,” Muasher said. “There is an unwritten understanding between religious and secular forces that nobody can question authority, and this needs to change.” 

Muasher added that it might take two generations for the education system to accomplish this. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“One positive aspect of the revolution is that the era of fear is over.”[/quote]

Though Muasher emphasized that the process of Tunisia’s nascent democracy must be “homegrown and not imposed from outside,” he pointed out that the country is not on the radar of the international community to the extent that it should be. 

One area in which the country could use more support is in reforming the education system, he said, adding that it is not so much a question of building more schools, but of retraining teachers and giving them the skills to promote critical thinking.

“One positive aspect of the revolution is that the era of fear is over,” he concluded. “People are now less afraid to question authority.” 

Reinforcing Muasher’s statement on promoting critical thinking skills, moderator Momani said: “The Arab Spring is not yet over. Those young people who took to the streets are fundamentally different from previous generations. They are questioning authority and religion. We have to support their transition to critical thinking.”

Momani spoke of the important role of social media and communications technology in the movement that’s happening in Tunisia, where as Jomaa pointed out to New Canadian Media, there is no government control of the press. 

“The genie is out of the bottle and won’t go back into it. Arab youth are talking online and in chat rooms. A social and cultural revolution is happening.”

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Published in Top Stories
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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