By: Jeremy J. Nuttall in Ottawa 

As a Vancouver society working to support refugees fears closure after being denied federal funding, a similar organization in Manitoba said Ottawa approached it to talk about providing funding earlier this year. 

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the government needs to provide consistent support as increasing numbers of people claiming refugee status cross the U.S. border. 

“That’s extremely disturbing,” Kwan said of the situation. “There needs to be consistency and fairness on the approach and they need to recognize their responsibility on this.” 

The Tyee reported Thursday on the possible closure of the Inland Refugee Society of BC, which has been overwhelmed by a wave of refugee claimants crossing into British Columbia from the U.S., many avoiding official border crossings. 

The number of people seeking support has more than doubled, executive director Mario Ayala said, and the society’s annual funding has been exhausted already. 

In the first five months of this year, the society has helped 700 undocumented refugee claimants find shelter. Ayala said if the organization closes, Metro Vancouver could see a spike in homeless refugees. 

The federal government has said it will not pitch in to close the funding gap, saying the undocumented asylum-seekers Ayala’s organization is helping don’t qualify for federal assistance. 

The B.C. government has also turned down the organization, he said. 

Ayala said Marta Morgan, the deputy minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said part of the reason the society wouldn’t receive funding is because the federal government “can’t be seen” to be helping undocumented refugees. 

Department spokesperson Nancy Chan said it does not comment on private conversations. 

Canada recognizes two broad classes of refugees: people who apply for asylum in another country before being accepted; and those who apply once in Canada, often referred to as undocumented refugees because they have not been vetted before arrival. 

Refugee claimants arriving from the U.S. can be turned away at official border crossings because Canada recognizes it as a safe country for those seeking asylum. 

As a result, an increasing number of asylum seekers have been crossing the U.S.-Canadian border between official points of entry to claim refugee status. 

Kwan said Canada has signed international agreements to recognize refugees who make a claim once in the country, and shouldn’t abandon them. 

“If the government is taking the position to say ‘no, we can’t be seen to be supporting these refugee claimants,’ then that is very troubling,” she said. 

But while the B.C. society was told the government wouldn’t provide help for such refugee claimants, the head of a Manitoba organization offering the same services said Ottawa actually approached asking them to submit a funding request.

The Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council helps refugees find temporary shelter and settlement services and has assisted 618 people this year. 

Executive director Rita Chahal said the government asked her several months ago what kind of support the organization needs. 

“I was approached by a couple of project officers to submit a budget, which we did,” Chahal said. “No one has followed up on it, no one has contacted us to see if they reviewed it and what their position might be.”

Chahal said the federal government has always held the position that it would not help undocumented refugees.

Despite the request for a funding proposal, Chahal said she isn’t expecting any money. 

She said the Manitoba government helps her organization’s efforts with $110,000 per year in funding. The council also raises money from other donors. 

The Manitoba Ministry of Education and Training, citing a June 13 byelection, said it couldn’t comment on the decision to fund the council. 

But a press release in February quoted Manitoba Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister. 

“Just as we have opened our arms to newcomers for centuries, our province continues to provide significant supports to those organizations offering direct services to refugee claimants,” Pallister said. “Our focus remains on measures that will ensure both the welfare of refugee claimants and the continued safety and security of residents of border towns.” 

Kwan said the federal government can’t encourage one society struggling with lack of money to apply for funding while telling another there’s no chance of getting help.

She said she’s worried a wave of homeless refugees will be forced to the streets of Vancouver if someone doesn’t step up with support.  

Republished with permission from The Tyee.

Published in Politics

By Jeremy J. Nuttall for

Residents of a small town in southern Quebec gathered Sunday to try and make sense of their hot spot status in Donald Trump’s new world order.

Hemmingford, Quebec is one of the few places in Canada on the front lines of an influx of refugees coming from the United States.

Representatives for police, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and a group that helps refugees in nearby Montreal sat in front of a packed rec centre gym at an event organized by a local United church.

The town is near an increasingly popular place for refugee-status seekers to enter Canada without using a designated crossing. Doing so is illegal under the Customs Act. But if they were to cross into Canada at a legal crossing, they would be sent back under the Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires refugees to seek status in their first safe country of entry.

Some who arrive at Hemmingford are reported to have wanted to live in the U.S. but were denied status there. Others intended to end up in Canada, but entered the U.S. first because there they could obtain a visa more easily.

In Hemmingford last month, a photo was taken of a Mountie smiling as he held up a young child making her way into Canada with her family. Around the same time, other photos showed handcuffed refugees detained by Canadian police. Some are calling Hemmingford, population 808, a terminus in a new underground railroad.

As their home becomes known as a back door into Canada, Hemmingford residents Sunday displayed a relaxed attitude toward the situation, and many were at the meeting hoping to find out how they can help.

Happy to have them

Hélène Gravel lives at the end of one of the first driveways refugees pass after they cross the rusty gate and ditch near a white marker signifying the international boundary between Canada and the U.S.

The crossing sits at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, about 10 kilometres from Hemmingford, where Roxham Road crosses into the U.S. near Champlain, N.Y.

There’s no Statue of Liberty here, not even a plaque, just trees and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police sitting in their vehicles waiting to arrest those crossing for breaching the Customs Act.

Gravel said it’s nothing new to see people crossing — she’s watched it happen for 20 years — but never like this.

“There were only a few people every year, but now it’s a lot every day,” she said.

Recently the Canadian government told journalists about 2,500 people crossed into Canada via Quebec, Manitoba and B.C. illegally in 2016, and since the beginning of this year alone there have been about 430 in those regions combined.

Almost 300 of those were in Quebec. Quebec borders have seen a 230 per cent increase in “irregular” border crossings over last January.

It used to be mostly young, single men who would cross, Gravel said. If they happened to see her they would ask if they had arrived in Canada. Now, she said, it’s families she sees being picked up by police and driven past her property.

She reckons many of them are leaving the United States fearing the Donald Trump administration as the president targets immigrants and refugees as a place to lay the blame for the nation’s woes.

Last Tuesday, during a speech to congress, Trump invited relatives of people killed by undocumented immigrants as guests of the address and launched a website listing “victims of immigrant crime,” despite research showing immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens.

On Monday, Trump announced tweaks to his travel ban after it was rejected by a judge last month.

But despite such moves by Trump and his loyalists, Gravel isn’t afraid of living metres from where these refugees come into the country. She’s actually tired of journalists knocking on her door asking her if she’s scared of them.

It is a bit too busy now though, Gravel said, stressing she’s happy to have the refugees come to Canada. She’s already lost one neighbour who no longer comes to his vacation property because the idling police vehicles and crossing refugees have become too much of an intrusion.

“It’s just a quiet place, we are not used to so many people,” she said, explaining she hopes Canada doesn’t establish any permanent processing centre at the crossing. “I live there because it’s quiet.”

Outpost for world’s troubles

It is indeed quiet.

Driving into Hemmingford is like entering a village arranged by a devoted collector of Lilliput Lane housing figurines.

Tall — but not too tall — hardwood trees hug the gutters of the road, giving way to gently sloped grass fields and carefully manicured properties.

A public outdoor skating rink slowly succumbs to the unseasonably warm March temperatures on the cusp of town. Residents stop reluctantly at the town’s lone blinking stoplight at its busiest intersection.

This is rural Quebec; a place for cows, apple cider and comfortable fall fashions. It’s not supposed to be a place where frightened refugees trudge their children across snow in biting cold fleeing a country threatening to send them back to places filled with violence and poverty.

Now Hemmingford has become connected to the world’s troubles as millions of people from places like Somalia and Syria roam outside their countries looking for help.

At Sunday’s rec centre meeting, experts explained why people are coming to Canada, more specifically, why they are coming to this tiny nook of the world.

It’s a matter of geography, RCMP Const. Marcel Pelletier told the crowd at the Hemmingford rec centre. Pelletier said it’s an easy place to cross, but most people using it are bound for places like Toronto, which is obstructed by the Great Lakes.

So, refugees make their way to Roxham Road instead, he said.

More coming

There is concern more people could make the trip as the weather warms and how Canada would handle a major influx, and what it would do with the people arrested after crossing.

Canada does hold some refugees, even refugee children, in detention centres, a practice Amnesty International has asked Ottawa to end.

Back at the rec centre, about 150 people who live along the road and in the area were more concerned about helping the refugees than keeping them out of the country or locking them up.

One asks Pelletier if it’s legal for her to feed or shelter people who have crossed illegally. He replies that he’d rather she call the police first.

Others are there to help in a joint letter writing exercise to Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, asking him to rescind the U.S.’s designation as a safe third country.

That would mean refugees wouldn’t have to cross a ditch and rusty gate to enter Canada. They could ask for protection at a legal border crossing and not risk braving the elements to cross in places like Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle.

Among the audience on Sunday, knitting a scarf in the third row as she listens, is Jeanine Floyd, who immigrated to Canada herself from the United Kingdom years ago.

She remembers when crossing into the U.S. at the end of Roxham was child’s play for local kids.

“They would go down to the end of the road on their bicycles and they would dare each other to cross,” Floyd said. “This was the most exciting thing that would happen on Roxham, actually crossing the border to America.”

Now the border marker represents something other than fun and games as residents in the area worry about the suffering of those making the journey to the Canadian border.

They want to offer more than meaningless gestures to these people, Floyd says, suggesting that’s why people came together in Hemmingford Sunday.

“I think it’s just that pressure of wanting to fix it,” she says. Her tone goes dour. “We can’t fix it.” 

Republished with permission from Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

Published in Top Stories

by Christopher Cheung in Vancouver

Queenie Lai’s parents often call her a “white girl,” because she likes eating western food.

But in fact, though born in Canada, 23-year-old Lai is more in tune with her Chinese heritage than many of her peers. Growing up she studied Cantonese with a private tutor. She watched Hong Kong soaps on TV. She’s even acted in a Chinese theatre group, performing in legends like Mulan and a play based on the life of Dr. Sun Yat-sen.

“When I visit Hong Kong, people ask me, ‘Why is your Cantonese so good?’” Lai said. “I tell them, well, I grew up speaking it at home.”

Lai also lives in a very Chinese community, but one very different from the ethnic Chinatowns or Little Italys of the last century. Then, immigrants from Asia, Europe, and elsewhere clustered in inner-city neighborhoods, often not the best, to be close to others who shared their history.

By contrast, Lai grew up in Richmond, British Columbia, a bustling modern suburb that, away from its wetland trails, fresh produce farms, and the quaintly historic fishing village of Steveston, can feel like a mirror of East Asia. If you speak Chinese here, you can see a doctor, get a haircut, attend a church, buy a house or car—all without uttering a word in English.

But Richmond isn’t the only suburb with strong overseas influence. It’s an example of a growing demographic trend that’s turning the patterns of the last century on their head. Geographers call it the “ethnoburb,” and others have appeared outside longtime immigrant cities like Toronto, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Melbourne in Australia, and Auckland, New Zealand.

Many ethnoburbs have more immigrants as a share of their total population than their associated urban cores, and often more than native-born residents. According to the 2011 National Household Survey, more than two-thirds of Richmond residents—69 per cent—are immigrants to Canada.

The same survey found that Surrey, a South Asian ethnoburb next door, has an immigrant population of 40 per cent. It’s also home to lavish sari shops and Indian wedding banquet halls on a scale beyond that found in Vancouver proper.

Markham, outside Toronto, has a 58 per cent immigrant population; Richmond Hill, 55 per cent. The Melbourne suburb of Glen Waverly is half immigrants.

But while cities and suburbs undergo new transformations, getting along with new neighbours brings the same tensions as around the ethnic enclaves of old.

Breaking a stereotype

The term “ethnoburb” dates to 1997. Chinese-born geographer Wei Li coined the phrase for a phenomenon she encountered when she moved to Los Angeles to study in 1991.

A professor suggested that rather than find a place to live in Los Angeles’ Chinatown area, she try the suburbs.

“You are Chinese, right?” Li recalls the professor asking. “Why don’t you live in Monterey Park, in the San Gabriel Valley? That’s a Chinese area, you would feel very comfortable.”

Li was puzzled. The stereotype she knew was that North American suburbs were populated with white working dads, stay-at-home moms, and their children. In contrast, the inner city was for immigrants.

But when she saw Monterey Park for herself, she was in for a surprise.

“Had it not been for the heavy automobile traffic and frequent gas stations, I could almost imagine that I was back walking in Beijing,” she wrote of the experience.

San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles County is home to a shopping centre known as “the great mall of China,” where restaurants serve Mongolian hot pot and spicy chili-and-cumin Hunan. A suburb called Arcadia has been christened “Mistress City,” as they say it’s where Chinese tycoons hide their secret girlfriends and wealth. And in Monterey Park, where the professor directed Li, Taiwanese bubble-tea shops have been dubbed the “Starbucks of the valley.”

These were not the Chinatowns of old.

Old desires, new opportunities

Intrigued, Li began studying the phenomenon—eventually writing a book about it: Ethnoburb: The New Ethnic Community in Urban America, published in 2009.

By then, she says, ethnoburbs had been around for decades after beginning to emerge as early as the 1960s.

The decade opened an era of widening ethnic tolerance. Newcomers were no longer limited by social attitude—and even laws—to enclaves.

Political tensions and the desire for a better quality of life, especially for families who wanted children to have a western education, drove people from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong to emigrate. At the same time, immigration policies in many developed countries welcomed entrepreneurs. By the 1980s and ‘90s, many ethnoburbs had surpassed the inner-city enclaves where newcomers had been settling in for well over a hundred years. And their growth seems likely to continue, Li said in an interview.

Originally, it was China’s top-tier cities—Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen—that saw emigration to global ethnoburbs. “Now, even second-tier cities in China have heard of places like Richmond, Monterey Park, and Flushing in New York,” Li said.

Second-tier cities include provincial capitals and coastal cities like Chongqing, Chengdu, and Wuhan, recent growth engines of the Chinese economy. Those three alone had a population two-thirds the size of Canada’s—22.3 million people—as of 16 years ago, the last census published.

Asia’s global banks and large informal capital outflows are also helping Asian ethnoburbs flourish faster than counterparts centered on Latino and Afro-American immigration, Li said.

Emigrating to the familiar

One thing hasn’t changed: immigrants still like to settle where immigrants have already settled. Geographers call this chain migration. Once word of the new ethnoburbs got around, they grew fast. Letters, phone calls, and then emails back to the old country, enticed others.

That’s how Queenie Lai ended up in Richmond in 1992. Friends already living there told her parents and grandparents that life was better there than in Hong Kong.

Lai’s mother has no regrets about their choice. Vien Suen is a hairdresser at the Yaohan East Asian mall; her husband does lawn work. In Richmond, Suen says, “The weather is better, and the education and environment for the kids is better. The change in our lifestyle was small.”

The cultural familiarity of ethnoburbs can help ease other transnationals’ yearnings for some of Asia’s hyper-stimulating density and constant action.

Edward Zhao came to Canada in 2002, settling from Beijing with his mother at the age of seven. His father, who worked for a chemical company, remained in China.

Now 21, he’s been back to China on holiday a few times, and finds Vancouver “much more quiet and comfortable compared to Asian cities.” On the other hand, Zhao adds, “There’s not much to do.”

That’s why Richmond is Zhao and his friends’ definitive place for entertainment that mimics Asia’s energy: lots of late-night restaurants, arcades, and Zhao’s favourite, karaoke parlours. He’s a big fan of Korean pop songs.

“I always hog the mic,” he confessed.

Here, but still apart

But if there’s comfort for immigrants in ethnoburbs, there is also segregation.

Ethnoburbs may be different from the confined enclaves of the past, but the choice to live life entirely in one’s own ethnic community can come at the expense of a newcomer’s integration into their new country.

One key aspect: language. In 2011, Statistics Canada revealed that 10 per cent of Richmond residents don’t speak English or French, compared to 5.6 per cent in the region.

“My parents’ English still isn’t the best,” laments Lai. “I was like, ‘You’ve been here for 20 years!’”

And the same qualities that make an ethnoburb feel so familiar to newcomers can have the opposite effect on longer-standing residents.

In Richmond, one group held an extended debate with city hall over there being ‘too much’ Chinese writing on business signs. Residents of a condo building complained when the strata council held its meetings only in Mandarin.

And just as in other parts of gateway cities, as wealthy Chinese buy properties in ethnoburbs, they have been blamed for driving prices out of local reach. One Los Angeles suburb has been advertised to overseas buyers as the “Chinese Beverley Hills.”

In the wake of fears about foreign influence, Li says intergroup harmony is one of the top challenges of ethnoburbs today. “There can be surges of nativism, and even racism.”

A playful response

Australia and New Zealand are among the places where Asian immigration has populated ethnoburbs. In New Zealand, 48-year-old Richard Leung has watched them emerge around Auckland in places like Mount Albert and Avondale.

Leung is the chair of the deep-rooted New Zealand Chinese Association’s Auckland branch, historically formed by Cantonese-speaking labour and service immigrants from south China. Most new arrivals hail from the booming cities of Mandarin-speaking China.

“The elephant in the room for our organization is how we do we accept these new Mandarin speakers,” said Leung. Longtime Chinese New Zealanders, he says, feel “colonized” by the newcomers, who outnumber native-born Asian Kiwis in Auckland by roughly four to one, according to a survey by the Asia New Zealand Foundation last year.

Leung has responded playfully: organizing family sports days to bring newcomers and residents of longer standing together in activities that don’t depend on language.

“We couldn’t speak to many of them, because we didn’t have the Mandarin,” said Leung. “But we decided that we’d just keep doing what we’re doing. Our idea is that the new migrants will have children, and their children will become Chinese New Zealanders like us.”

New nations on the block

Nelson Ou knows how wonderful a taste of home can be in a new place. When he came to Canada from Taiwan at age 20, he was overwhelmed with culture shock.

“I was really lonely and I really missed home,” said Ou, now 32. “But the first time I had Taiwanese food, I was happy. There’s something so familiar to people when they eat their own culture’s food.”

Ou was so happy, in fact, that he took a job at the restaurant. A few years later, he opened his own Taiwanese restaurant, Strike, in Richmond, to serve the same beef noodle soup and peppery fried chicken that gave him comfort.

Limiting himself to a cultural enclave could’ve made things easier, said Ou, but he didn’t want to avoid living in a new, multicultural society.

It wasn’t easy adjusting. He had to “start from scratch and work hard to have an ordinary life,” taking ESL classes, working at Starbucks and restaurants, and eventually earned a financial broker certificate.

“New immigrants these days don’t seem to want to join the community,” said Ou. “They want to change the community to be like the ones they used to live in.”

“When you decide to live here, even for three or five years, that’s quite a long time. I think people should be more open-minded to new ways.”

And he means that both for immigrants and people who’ve been here all their lives.

“Look at bubble tea. It’s for sure not for immigrants only,” said Ou. “In Richmond, some Caucasians have had bubble tea since they were 10 years old. Even 7-Eleven here sells fake bubble tea in their sandwich refrigerators. It’s part of the mainstream now. It’s fun to live here because diversity is part of the culture here.”

Ethnoburbs are dynamic places, after all, said Wei Li.

“Any multiracial, multicultural community can go either way,” she said. “It can become more concentrated, or eventually dissipate.”

It’s up to immigrants like Ou and locals alike to define their home. 

Published in partnership with The Tyee, where this reporting first appeared. 

Published in Arts & Culture

by Lucia Mao in Ottawa 

'Wanna see a dead body?'' A boy asked the rest of my class at lunchtime. ''Sure,'' said some of my classmates, and he answered, ''Then follow me.''

With curiosity and a morbid excitement, in a group we Grade 4 students walked 15 minutes into the farmland before we arrived at a dry well. ''Here it is.'' The boy pointed into the well.

It was a shallow abandoned well, about one metre deep. On the bottom, among little rocks and soil blocks, lay a small body -- an infant girl half wrapped in a bloodstained, worn-out blanket.

It was 1989, in the small impoverished village in central China's Henan province where I grew up, 10 years after China introduced its one-child policy.

It was the first time I saw a dead body, and I stepped back on shaky legs. But I couldn't stop looking at the peaceful, blank expression of the infant who was left to die in the elements. She was a girl, like me.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]She was a girl, like me.[/quote]

The capacity for evil rattled me, and I had a strange feeling I had lucked out.

I was thankful to god, or whoever ran the massive world, that I somehow avoided being at the bottom of that well, thrown in like trash, unloved and unwanted.

Victims of cruel logic

Living in a traditional hamlet, I had heard stories of people discarding their newborn baby because it was a girl. But to see it with my own eyes brought the terror into my heart. Such acts contributed to the 62 million ''missing'' women and girls in China today, according to a recent study.

We girls all knew Chinese parents didn't desire daughters. In an economy based on agriculture, the muscle of a male child led to better profits. Men were seen as valuable, women were not. It was that simple.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Men were seen as valuable, women were not. It was that simple.[/quote]

Even if parents wanted to keep their daughter, grandparents would sometimes impose their authority on a young couple and force them to get rid of her.

In recent years, the dry well horror stories seem to have faded away -- not because girls' lives in rural China were more valued, but because of advanced technologies such as ultrasound imaging and selective abortion.

The selective giving up of female infants, or the collective murder of girls, has been prominent in Asian society for centuries. But the frequency seemed to increase after the implementation of China's radical ''family-planning policy.''

The logic is not difficult to understand: If only one child is allowed to live, Chinese parents want a son.

'Too bad they are just girls'

I was born in 1978, right before the one-child policy went into force. Growing up as girls in a poor Chinese village taught my twin sister and me how random and cruel life can be.

My sweetest grandmother would tenderly look at us and say, ''They are so smart and so cute... too bad they are just girls.'' We were brought up by our grandmother on our mother's side because our father's parents refused to accept us.

Our parents didn't like us either because we made their life harder, brought them shame because we were girls, and more importantly, cost them their last chance to have a son.

My parents already had an older daughter, born before the law began. The one-child policy included a detailed stipulation that any Chinese woman who had two or more children by 1979 would be forcibly sterilized by the state.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Chinese Health Ministry data shows 222 million sterilizations have been carried out since 1971.[/quote]

Therefore, shortly after our birth, our mom was dragged into a hospital by some local ''family-planning service staff'' and a doctor put an intrauterine contraceptive coil into her body. Chinese Health Ministry data shows 222 million sterilizations have been carried out since 1971.

It was a minor and easy surgery, but we don't know why our mom became so removed after the treatment. When the operation was over, our father was instructed to take his wife back home. He put her on a wooden cart and pulled it home along the dirt road.

It was a 40-minute trek, and when they arrived, my mom was completely silent and still.

Believing she was dead, my father started to cry soundlessly, mourning the loss of his wife, or I imagined, the dying out of his own Y chromosome.

We don't know how much time passed, but suddenly she sat up and walked into the house. My dad burst into tears. He was elated but it was also the moment he began to accept their fate: they would never have a son.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]With one more chance to have a child, Chinese parents won't be so determined to throw away their newborn daughters.[/quote]

One more chance

That sounds like a touching story, but my sister and I don't feel for it much because as our parents dwelled on their wounded hearts, they also wounded us by reminding us what disappointments we were.

Yet my sister and I still felt grateful because at least our parents didn't throw us away. Yes, we lucked out -- out of the well and out of the country.

On Oct. 29, China abolished its one-child policy.

This reform won't affect me much because I've already immigrated to Canada and expect my own child in three months. It will be a child I treasure no matter the gender.

But I believe with one more chance to have a child, Chinese parents won't be so determined to throw away their newborn daughters.

Perhaps it will help the lives of Chinese women to become less hard, so that the dreadful scene in the well will never happen again.

Lucia Mao is a travel writer and English-Chinese translator in Ottawa. She has worked on multiple projects for Lonely Planet, New York Times Chinese website and Fast Company. 

This piece was first published on The Tyee and was republished with author's permission.

Published in Commentary
Monday, 26 October 2015 13:14

Hear this Election's Racism Wake-up Call

by Ranjit Bhaskar, Naheed Nenshi, Sharmila Setaram and Desmond Cole

Four voices say it's time to get real about bigotry and structural discrimination in Canada.

Ranjit Bhaskar, New Canadian Media

(From an October 19 column in New Canadian Media.)

As a new Canadian, the attack ads against Justin Trudeau signalled unintended messages to me.

I am not talking of the much-reviled Conservative ads in Chinese and Punjabi language media here. What I have in mind are the "just not ready" ads put out by both the Conservatives and the NDP.

Both parties sought to frame the election as a job interview for Trudeau and had his photos conveniently clipped to his 'resume'.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]As a new Canadian, the attack ads against Justin Trudeau signalled unintended messages to me.[/quote]

Most newcomers will remember being warned by well-intentioned mentors not to include their mug shots with job applications, as it was not 'the Canadian way'. And here we have interview panels pondering about offering the most important job in the country based on, among other things, Trudeau's perceived lack of experience and commenting about his hair. 

At a subliminal level it reminded me of the "lack of Canadian experience" barrier faced by newcomer job seekers. And yes, the fact that newcomers' hair tends to look 'different' as well.

Ranjit Bhaskar is New Canadian Media's Election Desk Editor.

Naheed Nenshi, Calgary's mayor

(From a speech, given two days before the election, critical of 'divisive' Conservative policies and campaigning.)

What we know is that the core strength of our community is not that there are carbon atoms in the ground in parts of this country and maple trees with amazing sap in others. 

What we know is that we've figured out a simple truth - one which evades too many in this broken world. And that simple truth is just this: nous sommes ici ensemble. We're in this together. Our neighbour's strength is our strength; the success of any one of us is the success of every one of us. And, more important, the failure of any one of us is the failure of every one of us. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Our neighbour's strength is our strength; the success of any one of us is the success of every one of us.[/quote]

This means that our success is in that tolerance, that respect for pluralism, that generous sharing of opportunity with everyone, that innate sense that every single one of us, regardless of where we come from, regardless of what we look like, regardless of how we worship, regardless of whom we love, that every single one us deserves the chance right here, right now, to live a great Canadian life. 

But this is incredibly fragile. It must be protected always from the voices of intolerance, the voices of divisiveness, the voices of small mindedness, and the voices of hatred. It's the right thing to do. 

As that great Canadian philosopher, Bruce Cockburn, reminds us "nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight/Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight." 

And our fight is for that Canada. 

Naheed Nenshi is mayor of Calgary.

Sharmila Setaram, Amnesty International

(From Setaram's contribution to the Respect the Women joint statement issued on October 15.)

Today I publicly stand in common cause with over 500 other Canadian women - leaders from such widely differing worlds as law, politics, civil society, indigenous women's groups, religion, labour, academia, the arts, international affairs and business. Our viewpoints, politics and life experiences vary tremendously.

But we have spoken out together because whatever our differences may be, we are all deeply troubled by the divisive and poisonous debate that has erupted in Canada over the past few weeks about the niqab. And we have joined our voices in a common statement calling for a renewed commitment to human rights, women's equality and respect.

… I am of course aware that people have a range of different opinions, often very strongly felt, about women who wear the niqab, ranging from discomfort to puzzlement to respect. That is certainly of interest, but at the end of the day it is irrelevant when considering whether or not this is a human right issue.

I am also aware that the motivation and feelings of women who wear the niqab vary a great deal, from a sense of duty, to religious devotion, to a sense of freedom and even empowerment. That is where the human rights side of this debate becomes very real.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I am dismayed and frustrated that there has been so little effort to ensure that the voices and perspective of women who actually do wear the niqab are given prominence in this debate.[/quote]

What has particularly troubled me in recent weeks and what I found so important in our joint statement is what is being overlooked in the midst of this toxic and stigmatizing debate.

First, it is heartbreaking to compare how much media attention, time in leaders' debates and campaign advertising resources have been devoted to the issue of the niqab; as opposed to the many other pressing and very serious human rights concerns that directly impact millions of Canadian women and girls. 

For instance, it proved impossible to arrange a dedicated debate among party leaders focused on those issues; something Amnesty International in concert with many close partners had repeatedly urged. If only there was a comparable level of discussion about the decades-old scandal of violence against indigenous women and girls in our country.

Second, I am dismayed and frustrated that there has been so little effort to ensure that the voices and perspective of women who actually do wear the niqab are given prominence in this debate. The loudest voices have, in fact, not even been women; they have been men. 

Sharmila Setaram is president of Amnesty International Canada.

Desmond Cole, Toronto Star

(From an October 22 column published by the Toronto Star.)

Although they ran the most openly hateful election campaign I have ever witnessed, the Conservatives earned almost a third of votes in Monday's election.

Conservative supporters did not abandon the party over its hateful targeting of Muslim women who wear the niqab, its indifference to murdered and missing indigenous women and girls, or its insistence on invoking the spectre of terrorism in discussing Syrian refugees, most of whom are Muslim.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]We described the strategy of hatred as a "distraction" from apparent "real issues," rather than clear evidence that racism is a most pressing and unresolved national problem.[/quote]

In a country committed to anti-racism, such a party would be laughable and fringe. Instead, many Canadians feared the racist tactics would succeed.

We described the strategy of hatred as a "distraction" from apparent "real issues," rather than clear evidence that racism is a most pressing and unresolved national problem. We comforted ourselves that what we were seeing and hearing was some sort of temporary illusion, a nightmare from which we might soon awake.

The Conservative campaign exploited a historical, ingrained hatred of immigrants and racialized people as old as the country itself. …

The word "racism" was notably absent from Trudeau's speech, as if the naming of the hatred we all witnessed, and which many of us were directly targeted with, would have spoiled the party.

More troubling is that the Liberal campaign did not include plans to expose and eliminate systemic racism. If the wake of this hate-filled election is not the right time to speak openly about racism in Canada, the moment may never come.

Desmond Cole is a Toronto-based journalist who writes a weekly column for the Toronto Star.

Re-published in partnership The Tyee

Published in Commentary

by Jeremy J. Nuttall (@Tyee_Nuttall) in Ottawa, Ontario

The battle for votes in Vancouver's large Chinese community is being complicated by deep divisions over immigration issues here and across the Pacific in Hong Kong.

Chinese-language radio talk-show hosts say callers are more worked up than ever about the federal election.

And their support seems largely determined by where they came from in China and their attitude toward tougher immigration rules introduced by the federal government since the 2011 election.

Cantonese-speakers, mainly people from Hong Kong and southern parts of Mainland China, tend to be staunch Conservative supporters.

But for Mandarin-speakers, from northern China and Taiwan, new immigration rules have become the focus of opposition to Stephen Harper's party.

It's an important political battle. About 14.8 per cent of Greater Vancouver residents reported Chinese as a mother tongue in the 2011 census, with 5.8 per cent reporting Cantonese and four per cent Mandarin. Five per cent didn't specify a Chinese language.

On 'Public Forum,' supporters chatter

Johann Chang hosts Public Forum, a weekend Cantonese language show on the Richmond-based Fairchild radio. He said phone lines light up with support for Harper.

"The Conservatives have a strong support base in the Cantonese community. They've been working for that base for a long time," he said. "Conservative supporters call into our show and basically take up the phone lines."

Callers are concerned with New Democratic Party (NDP) and Liberal stances on marijuana legalization and chide the media for talking so much about the Mike Duffy trial, Chang said. They also complain the NDP satellite office issue hasn't been brought up as often as they would like.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Part of the Cantonese community who are from Hong Kong feel like that city has been flooded with immigrants from Mainland China."[/quote]

But the community is most divided over tougher immigration rules. The elimination of the skilled-worker program in 2012 and immigrant investor program in 2014 made it harder for Chinese residents to make a new home in Canada. The replacement programs set a tougher standard for would-be immigrants.

The Cantonese community, especially people from Hong Kong, welcomes the changes, Chang said.

"Part of the Cantonese community who are from Hong Kong feel like that city has been flooded with immigrants from Mainland China," Chang said. "So whatever policy makes it harder for Mainland Chinese, or even stops them, from coming to Canada, they can relate to."

Hong Kong's special status in China, created when the United Kingdom ceded control of the territory in 1997, provides freedoms not available in the rest of the country.

The influx of mainland immigrants and tourists to Hong Kong has increased as wealth in China grows, which has led to protests in Hong Kong.

On 'News Frontline,' foes grumble

But if you tune into Fairchild radio during drive time and catch Debbie Chen's show News Frontline, disgruntled Mandarin-speaking callers aren't happy with Harper.

Chen said immigration rules are the bullseye on a dartboard of policies that many Mandarin speakers oppose.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[Mandarin callers] think Conservatives only benefit the rich people."[/quote]

Generally, Mandarin speakers think the immigration changes are intended "to block out people from Mainland China," she said.

Most of Chen's Mandarin callers are not happy with Harper, she said, and don't care for policies like income splitting, which critics say favours wealthier Canadians.

"They think Conservatives only benefit the rich people," she said. "They think paying more taxes would be good to get more social benefits."

Chen said the anti-Harper callers appear to be split fairly evenly between support for the NDP and the Liberals, with the Liberals enjoying a slight edge.

Chen said many recent immigrants from China are more working class than the long-established Hong Kong community.

Divisions not unexpected: Houlden

Gordon Houlden of the University of Alberta's China Institute said the link between issues in China and Canada is not entirely unexpected, but still fascinating.

It's a reminder that the Chinese community isn't as monolithic as outsiders assume, he said.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"If you've been here longer and you're more settled, you may not welcome a wave of people who are similar in some ways, but different in others."[/quote]

New immigration rules focus more on skill set and education than family reunification, he said, so it makes sense that Mandarin speakers would be upset about the changes. The changes reduce the opportunity for relatives to join family members already in Canada.

On the other hand, the Cantonese community may support tougher immigration rules because it tends to be older and more established.

"If you've been here longer and you're more settled, you may not welcome a wave of people who are similar in some ways, but different in others," he said.

Houlden said protests in Hong Kong last year over Beijing's refusal to allow open elections may have added to the divisions between the two groups.

Chen, who is originally from Taiwan, said that Mandarin-speaking Taiwanese immigrants who call in generally also voice opposition to Harper.

"We have the free election right in Taiwan, so we don't like the government staying too long," Chen said. "The Conservatives kept power over 10 years, so some Taiwanese people think it's time to change."

Re-published with permission from The Tyee.

Published in Politics

by Jeremy Nutall (@Tyee_Nuttall) in Ottawa

As governments in Canada and India herald their progress on a free trade agreement, promising to have it worked out by September, opponents from both countries are preparing to unite in their efforts to stop the deal.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Canada earlier this week, vowing to sort out the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) this year.

The deal has been in the works since 2010, and proponents say it will open up trade between the nations while protecting companies in the respective countries.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]A former Canadian high commissioner to India, [Stewart] Beck said that huge potential exists for trade and economic opportunity between the two countries in everything from lentils to jet engines.[/quote]

But Brent Patterson of the Council of Canadians, an Ottawa-based public advocacy group, said such deals put corporations ahead of people by neutralizing the government's power to enforce things like pollution regulations through investor state provisions.

"The deals do infringe on the right of democratically elected governments to act in the public interest," Patterson said. "Sometimes we still have elected governments that don't act in the public interest by pursuing and signing and ratifying agreements like this."

Investor-state dispute provisions in such agreements are of particular concern, because they allow companies to take governments to secret arbitration for things like loss of future profits if, for example, a government passes a law that harms the companies' business interests.

Patterson said that could apply to things like banning certain pesticides and other pollution prevention measures, among other situations.

Similar concerns were expressed when Harper signed the controversial Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with China last year.

Cross-Border Opposition Brewing

The Council of Canadians is now in talks with Focus on the Global South, an organization working to protect the rights of people in the Southern Hemisphere's developing nations with offices in Bangkok, New Delhi and Manila.

The aim is to get both organizations working together, possibly with others, to try to prevent the CEPA between Canada and India from being finalized.

Canada and India have been in talks to sign an agreement for more than five years, but India's previous government had stalled the process after a few high profile lawsuits with foreign companies.

One lawsuit saw the government lose a court case against United Kingdom telecom company Vodafone over hundreds of millions the government alleged was unpaid in taxes.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]...such deals put corporations ahead of people by neutralizing the government's power to enforce things like pollution regulations through investor state provisions..[/quote]

"It prompted a review of the impact of investor-state provisions and bilateral investment treaties and really put a hold on them," Patterson said. "There's a long list of egregious examples where investor-state has been used by corporations to challenge the public interest."

But Stewart Beck, president and CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, said the agreement would provide a stable base and security for companies from Canada and India to expand business and create jobs in both countries.

A former Canadian high commissioner to India, Beck said that huge potential exists for trade and economic opportunity between the two countries in everything from lentils to jet engines.

Canada's current exports to India are about the same in value as they were to China 15 years ago, and since then exports to China have soared, he said.

"I expect the same sort of thing could happen in an Indian context," Beck said. "If we ever were to export energy, those numbers would ramp up quite dramatically."

Beck doesn't agree with Patterson's concerns that the deal puts business ahead of the public interest, and stressed that a strong economy is in the public's interest.

But Patterson said there are other issues to consider.

"Pollution of the air, water and land is going to be a concern to anyone anywhere in the world," he said.

Published in partnership with The Tyee

Published in Top Stories

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