Saturday, 22 October 2016 14:26

One Year In, Big Shift in Foreign Policy

Commentary by Bhupinder Liddar

Did the seismic shift in Canada's political landscape, a year ago, following the election on October 19, 2015, also trigger a shift in Canada’s diplomacy, defence and development agenda? To a large extent, yes, and for the most part for the better.

The first strong signal of change in policy came immediately after the election when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared Canada’s intention to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees by Christmas 2015. The former Conservative government of Stephen Harper had been dragging its feet on this issue and most of Western Europe was devising ways to block their entry.

Canada re-surfaced at the United Nations – the world family of 193 nations. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s disdain, disrespect and disapproval of anything to do with the UN was well-known, resulting in Canada’s isolation at the UN, including losing its bid for a seat at the Security Council, the ultimate decision-making body on world affairs. While Harper rebuffed the UN, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau embraced the world body, and addressed the General Assembly in September declaring, “Canada is back” on the international scene.

Good money after bad

In re-emerging at the UN, Canada also pledged financial assistance to various UN agencies that was withdrawn by the previous Conservative government. One must, however, caution against throwing good money after bad, in the case of UN agencies, as they are rife with inefficiency. The previous Conservative government was adamant in demanding accountability before approving funding for any UN requests for financial assistance.

A country the size and strength of Canada can leverage its influence effectively and efficiently through multilateral organizations. Hence, Canada seems to be enhancing its role in various international and regional organizations, including, the G-20, NATO, and the African Union, among other forums. While pursuing the Canadian agenda through multilateralism remains an essential part of Canadian diplomatic strategy, bilateral relations are also playing an important part, as with Prime Minister’s state visit to China in September and various foreign heads of government knocking on Ottawa’s door.

Pursuit of free trade agreements goes on with the same vigour as under the Conservatives. The Canada-India Free Trade agreement seems to have died with the defeat of the Harper Conservative government. Much too much energy was wasted on this agreement, which at the end was designed to appease Canadian voters of Indian origin, most of whom were not too impressed or thrilled with the blatant and transparent vote-getting antics.

Canada’s relations with the United States of America are foremost on Canada’s diplomatic agenda. Trudeau has restored much needed personal diplomacy with U.S. President Barack Obama, who addressed the Canadian Parliament in June. And, Trudeau was the first Canadian Prime Minister to be hosted at a White House State Dinner, in March, in almost two decades.

Within a year of coming to power, the Liberal government has kept its commitment to climate change agenda, by signing the Paris Agreement on controlling carbon emissions.

Canada has resumed an active role in defence matters, too, with a promise to participate in UN peacekeeping operations. The problem is that while Prime Minister Trudeau committed to providing 600 Canadian Armed Forces troops, we have not found a place to deploy them. The government seems to have put the cart before the horse. 

Showcase our pluralism

Consistent with the previous government, Canada is actively monitoring Russian jockeying in the Baltics and Ukraine. It has pledged to contribute more troops, as part of NATO’s efforts to protect and ensure sovereignty of the Baltic states.

Whereas the Harper government was hostile to an international development agenda and inflicted serious financial cutbacks to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Liberal government has resumed Canada’s role in providing humanitarian and development assistance, be it immediate help in the aftermath of the recent hurricane in the Caribbean or funding women’s education and literacy programs to furthering gender equality, under the aegis of UN agencies.

As for the future, the volume of consular matters will continue to increase and become more challenging, both because of changing demographics and dealing with countries that have different value and legal systems.

Instead of indulging in cost-cutting exercises, Canada needs place more diplomats in foreign missions. We should end the practice of replacing Canadian diplomats with locally-engaged staff.

One hopes that the year-old Trudeau government will continue to make Canada’s presence felt on the international scene, as it has in the past year, and showcase the Canadian experiment in building a pluralistic and multicultural society.

Bhupinder S. Liddar, is a former Canadian diplomat and publisher/editor of “Diplomat & International Canada” magazine. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit www.liddar.ca

Published in Commentary
Friday, 16 September 2016 23:44

Canada Repairing Damage at United Nations

Commentary by Bhupinder Liddar

Canada will re-emerge on the world scene, after a decade of absence, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, next week on Tuesday.

 While Canada’s former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper shunned the 193-member world body, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans to give all he and his delegation can, at the United Nations on September 19 and 20. Canada is looking to “making meaningful contributions to solving important global challenges, such as climate change, international peace and security, and refugees and migration,” according to Prime Minister Trudeau.

“The Government of Canada is committed to redefining its place in the world and promoting core Canadian values like diversity and inclusion, gender equality, and respect for peace worldwide,” according to the statement announcing the Prime Minister’s visit to New York. It adds, Trudeau will advocate for greater global leadership to address refugee and migrant crises, reiterate Canada’s intention to once again play a major role in peacekeeping and conflict prevention efforts, and encourage countries to follow through on the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

This is exactly what Canada is all about and known for on world stage. This is the kind of engagement, on the international level, that befits Canada. These are Canadian values that Canada can project through engagement with the international community at the United Nations.

Charter member

Canada is a founding member of the United Nations, playing a key role in drafting the UN Charter. The intent of setting up the organization by some 50 countries, following the disastrous Second World War, was to establish a regular forum for world leaders to meet and consult on various issues and to help resolve issues before they escalate into full-fledged conflicts or humanitarian disasters.

Foreign leaders, from presidents to prime ministers to foreign ministers meet, often on an informal basis, at the UN General Assembly session every Fall, in New York.

Canada has made tremendous contributions, disproportionate to its size, over the decades, to world peace through its efforts at the United Nations, be it through contributions to peacekeeping operations, development assistance, or just playing the role of an honest broker.

Canada was instrumental in resolving the Suez Canal crisis in 1950s, under the leadership of Foreign Affairs Minister and later Prime Minister Lester Pearson, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts and in helping establish peacekeeping operations.

A Canadian, John Humphreys, played a key role in helping draft UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a milestone in the history of human and civil rights. Canada also played a significant role in helping draft the International Law of the Seas Treaty, establish the International Criminal Court, and getting agreement on banning landmines, under the leadership of former Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy, among many other achievements.

Insulting the UN

Unfortunately, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper shunned and despised the UN. On two occasions, in 2012 and 2013, Harper, while in New York at the same time as the UN General Assembly session, refused the invitation to address it – the most insulting gesture by any leader to the world body.

Harper instead sent, then Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, in his place.

Harper disgraced Canada and its legacy on the international stage. Many thought it hurt Canada’s international reputation.

The international community took note of this slight. Because, when it came time to elect five non-permanent members to the prestigious Security Council of the UN, Canada was defeated for the first time in its attempt to seek a seat, in 2010.

Fortunately, the damage is being repaired and Canada is ready to resume its traditional responsible and active role on world stage. Prime Minister Trudeau announced in March that Canada will seek to win back a seat on Security Council for the 2021-22 term.

He added, “It’s time for Canada to step up once again ...We are determined to revitalize Canada’s role in peace-keeping ...We are determined to help the UN make even greater strides in support of its goals for all humanity”.

Canadians ought to be proud that their country is be back on the international stage, playing an active and much-needed role in making a better world, for all humanity.

 

Bhupinder S. Liddar is a former Canadian diplomat and founding editor/publisher of “Diplomat & International Canada” magazine. Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit www.liddar.ca

Published in Commentary
Saturday, 26 September 2015 22:13

Their Bodies, Their Rules: Sex Ed in Ontario

by Rebecca Bromwich in Ottawa

You've probably seen some variation of the popular T-shirts that set out “Rules For Dating My Daughter.” They usually contain a number of threats towards anyone looking to court someone's children, but ultimately the key rule is “you can’t.”

This is supposed to be a way of jokingly protecting one’s children from advances by prospective suitors, and I laughed the first time I saw it. However, thinking about it further, I realized the T-shirt wasn't that amusing. In fact, these types of jokes have another effect entirely: they limit an adolescent's agency and freedom.

Ontario’s newly announced health and sexual education curriculum has been the subject of a great deal of debate. Protests have erupted across the province, as have “strikes,” during which some parents are keeping their kids home from school to object to the new curriculum.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]These jokes limit an adolescent's agency and freedom.[/quote]

These protests reflect the issue of who gets to make the rules for our youth. Debates and protests about Ontario's new sex education curriculum seem focused on what kids are taught and when, but more so on which group of adults is in control and who among them gets to make the rules.

The battle, which has become politicized with the strong opposition from Ontario’s PC Leader, is centred on whether parents or the government should have the authority to determine the best interests of the child.

Setting up discussions about what our children should learn in school as a battle between parents and the government misses a fundamental aspect of what is at stake — namely, the health, sexuality and self-expression of the province's youth.

It's not just parents, educators, governments and communities whose rights and powers are at stake when we talk about sexual health education for kids. Children have rights of their own.

When they are small, their chief sexual right is the right not to be abused. However, as they grow and develop, they acquire rights as sexual citizens.

Not just politics: children’s rights under Canadian law

Protesting against the current provincial government about the curriculum is a displaced effort. The notion that children have rights is not a concept based in Premier Kathleen Wynne’s personal agenda. It is a matter of law.

The discussion of sex and sexuality set out in Ontario’s new sexual and health education curriculum is more than a reflection of the values of a particular political party or community group. Rather, it reflects the language of and case law interpreting Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Protesting against the current provincial government about the curriculum is a displaced effort.[/quote]

Children’s rights in this provision complement others in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which applies to children as well as adults. Under the Charter, children as well as their parents have rights to freedom of conscience and religion and to free expression. Equally as important is a child's right to become educated about things that will affect their bodies and their health.

Children’s rights under international law

Children’s rights are not a Canadian invention, but are set out in international law, as well as domestic provisions.

The rights of children, whatever their gender, sexuality, race or religion, are outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). This convention was agreed upon by the vast majority of the world’s nations by multilateral international legal convention over 20 years ago.

As explained in the CRC, children are entitled to be supported in ways that ensure their full development to enjoy responsible life in a free society. This includes rights to freedom of expression, to identity and to autonomy.

Adolescents, whatever the values held by their families, are subjects and agents. Children own their own bodies and they have legal rights. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The interests of communities, as articulated by parents, community and religious leaders must be balanced against the rights of adolescents.[/quote]

Yes, it’s sometimes difficult for any parent to accept that our children’s life choices are theirs, not ours. It’s a difficult journey to parent children who are subject to our influence, but not our control, who are subject to government regulation, but not government dictation in a free society. But this is the nature of the adventure. 

The rights and freedoms of children aren’t just dictated by a radical politician with whom you may not agree. They are the law, nationally and internationally, and must be respected as such.

Sexual health, sexual citizenship: their bodies, their rules

In the past, in Canada and elsewhere, too often have governments, educators, parents and communities all failed to recognize and protect the rights of children, especially girls. The bodies, wills and minds, of adolescents have not been well acknowledged by our laws and policies, as recent protests may suggest.

The interests of communities, as articulated by parents, community and religious leaders (who are not usually young, or children) must be balanced against the rights of adolescents to know and understand their own bodies, rights and responsibilities.

Yes, adults and legislators have roles to play in guiding and safeguarding children. However, kids have developed to become responsible enough to make up their own minds.

With this in mind, there is only one set of rules for dating my daughters (or sons) that is consistent with the Charter and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and it's completely consistent with Ontario’s new sexual and health education curriculum as well:

“You don’t make the rules.

I don't make the rules.

She makes the rules.

Her body; her rules.”


Rebecca Bromwich is a mother of four and has been a lawyer in Ontario since 2003. She received her PhD from Carleton University's Department of Law and Legal Studies and joined the Faculty there the same year, in 2015. She also teaches at the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law.

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Published in Commentary

by Prof. Parvati Nair, UNU-GCM, United Nations University in Barcelona

A child should not have to die to mobilize governments into credible action. 

The photograph of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi's body washed ashore, which has mobilized international responses to the ongoing migration crisis in the Mediterranean over the past week, signals two inter-related tragedies: firstly, that of the human loss and suffering that is ongoing in this context, and secondly, that of the dire shortcomings of global and regional good governance of migration. 

As the EU prepares to address this issue in the run-up to the High Level Side Event on Migration planned at the UN on 30 September, there is an urgent need to reflect on how best to swiftly and competently address the mounting crisis in migration to Europe. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][M]igration is a fact as old as the history of humanity itself.[/quote]

While Italy and Greece are overwhelmed as receiving points of migration from across the Mediterranean, there is every indication that the numbers of refugees who have entered Europe form only a small proportion of those who are already displaced and making their tortuous ways via Libya, Turkey, Eastern Europe and other routes in search of a safe and dignified life. 

Multiple causes for migration

There are some important facts that must be taken into account in this context: firstly, a condition for positive dialogue among global leaders is the understanding that migration is a fact as old as the history of humanity itself. 

Secondly, the flows coming into Europe today are mixed. It would appear that certain world leaders may favour hosting refugees (if only because there is a certain historical and political kudos to be found in the idea of Europe as a place of shelter), but reject the thought of offering hospitality to 'economic migrants' as those coming to take advantage of European wealth. 

In reality, there are multiple causes that displace populations and trigger migration. Refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants move shoulder to shoulder along networks and routes to Europe. 

Thirdly, the vast and growing underworld of smugglers and traffickers (at times it is hard, if not impossible, to disentangle the one from the other) thrive off existing European border policies and practices. The denial of visas and the building of fences with ever more razor wire foster the business of smugglers and force migrants down unsafe and undignified terrains of illegality. This is not the way forward. 

Relieving burden on Greece, Italy

Governments must understand that for as long as vast global inequalities that relate at once to questions of wealth, well-being, freedoms, rights, peace, security and democracy exist between Europe and other parts of the world, there will be both the absolute need and the overwhelming desire to access Europe. 

Against this backdrop, global leaders need to respond proactively in the short, medium and longer terms in order to safeguard lives and diminish suffering. 

As a first step, European leaders must establish a common asylum policy that sets procedures whereby residency and benefits are on offer equally across European states. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]For governance to be credible, what is needed is an approach that is proactive, not responsive.[/quote]

Perhaps Europe could look back at that other image of a suffering child that once mobilized a similar response – the girl fleeing napalm in Vietnam – and work towards a resettlement plan that is shared and that takes into account not solely those already in Europe, but also the many more on their way. Europe has room for them. 

The current burden on Greece and Italy needs urgently to be relieved. It also seems imperative to open legal channels for migrants, so that they do not surrender their safety into the hands of smugglers. 

A common asylum policy with applications processed along transit routes would enable legal, safe and managed migration into Europe. While this is being implemented, governments need urgently to contribute funds to the many agencies that are currently providing for the basic needs of migrants. 

In the medium term, European leaders need to engage with governments in Turkey and the Gulf. 

While Turkey currently hosts large numbers of Syrian and other refugees, the granting of residence and employment rights via visas would enable them to both contribute positively to local economies and ensure their safety and dignity. The Gulf countries too could engage in settlement programmes – if the political will were present. 

In the longer term, there is much that remains to be done. The ending of conflicts, greater development, and the ending of political oppression are all necessary for well-being, democracy and dignity. For governance to be credible, what is needed is an approach that is proactive, not responsive, and that acts always within the larger frame of human rights. 


by Dr. Melissa Siegel, UNU-MERITUnited Nations University in Maastricht

With migrants arriving – and dying – every day in Europe, countries like Sweden and Germany have been stepping up and giving a good example to their European neighbours; but sadly this example is not being readily followed.

The general lack of coordination at EU level is simply unacceptable and frankly embarrassing for a region that prides itself on upholding principles of human rights.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][R]efugees are resilient, hardworking people trying to make a better life for themselves.[/quote]

As EU leaders prevaricate over the 200,000 refugees they have agreed to take over the next five years, countries neighbouring Syria have seen their populations rise by as much as a quarter.

Lebanon and Jordan, with populations of 4.5 and 6.5 million, are respectively hosting more than 1.2 million and 650,000 refugees, while Turkey continues to welcome additional refugees after having absorbed 1.6 million.

Refugees as part of economic development

For too long, Europe has given aid while saying, ‘not in my backyard’; this policy is not only shameful, but also completely unrealistic.

Camps in neighbouring countries are overflowing and people have few other options than to move on.

“The deteriorating conditions in Lebanon and Jordan, particularly the lack of food and health care,” writes Harriet Grant in The Guardian newspaper, “have become intolerable for many of the 4 million people who have fled Syria, driving fresh waves of refugees northwest towards Europe and aggravating the current crisis.”

This means we are going to continue to see refugees and asylum seekers knocking on Europe’s door. If Europe really cares about the well-being of these individuals (and human rights principles more generally), then more durable solutions need to be taken at a European level. This starts with accepting more UNHCR resettles so that they do not need to make the dangerous journey to Europe themselves.

European leaders should also change their thinking about the current refugee situation and embrace it as an opportunity instead of a threat. As Professor Alexander Betts of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford puts it, we could ‘treat refugees as a development issue.’

He argues that refugees are resilient, hardworking people trying to make a better life for themselves. By doing so, they are able to greatly contribute to the development of the economy and society in their host country.

Europe, with an ageing population, should see this situation as not only a humanitarian responsibility, but also an opportunity to bring capable, resilient new people into their societies.


Re-published via Pressat Newswire

Published in Commentary

by Mark Semotiuk

On March 16, Crimea will hold a referendum on joining the Russian Federation. The referendum seeks to legitimize Russia’s current occupation. If the referendum in Crimea is free and fair, as verified by international election observers, Crimea should be free to join the Russian Federation. It is already clear, however, that the referendum will be illegitimate.

On February 24, the Crimean Prime Minister recognized the new national government formed as a result of the protests in Kyiv.  On February 26, the media began to report that Russian soldiers entered Crimea.

On February 27, professional and heavily armed Russian speaking gunmen seized Crimea’s parliament. Under siege, the Crimean parliament approved a no-confidence vote and unconstitutionally appointed the head of the Russia Unity party as Prime Minister. On February 28, the full scale occupation of Crimea began and Russia soon gained full scale operational control of the peninsula.

On March 6, the Crimean parliament approved the referendum on the future of Crimea. A recent poll shows that only 41% of Crimeans wish to unite with Russia. Just as the Crimean parliament elected the Prime Minister under the barrel of a gun, the Crimean people will vote to join Russia under the barrel of a gun.

A clean break

Already there are signs that international observers will not be able to monitor the referendum. Journalists have not been allowed in Crimea since March 1. On March 4, the Senior UN Envoy was threatened by a group of 10 to 15 gunmen and cut his mission short. On March 6, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) cancelled its military observer mission as the observers were not granted access.

Putin understands the significance of the current events. Unlike 2004’s Orange Revolution, the ousted government’s actions resulted in the death of 100 people. This left such a deep wound on the Ukrainian psyche that there was a clean break with the old political guard.

Putin’s pretext for occupying Crimea is that he is defending Russian citizens. This is a thin excuse. Crimea has an ethnic Russian majority and the Crimean constitution protects Russian as a language. Putin also hasn’t shown much concern for the actual Ukrainian and Crimean Tartar (Sunni Muslim) minorities.

The conventional thinking is that this pretext allows Putin to protect his interests in Russian naval bases in Crimea. These bases give Putin access to the Mediterranean, like the old Soviet naval base in Tartus, Syria, for example.

New narrative

But potentially there is a darker and more troublesome narrative: having consolidated control of Russia, Putin is beginning to believe his own propaganda. Putin styles himself as a modern Tsar Nicholas I. He wishes to develop a stronger sense of religious and national identity within Russia to act as a counterweight to the West’s liberal ideologies.

Ukraine was the cornerstone of Putin’s Eurasian Union. The Union was an effort to restore some of the glory of the Soviet Union, whose collapse Putin called the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century. Under such a narrative, Putin genuinely believes that he is saving Ukrainians from a mob of fascist and neo-Nazi protestors. Putin may not stop in Crimea. He may also attempt to gain control over Eastern Ukraine.

Tactically, Putin is drawing firm red lines. Crimea is under Putin’s control unless he decides to back down – he has the initiative.

By contrast, the West’s response has been hesitantly reactive. In 1994, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom signed the Budapest Memorandum on Ukraine’s denuclearization. By signing that document the West committed to respecting Ukraine’s territorial and economic sovereignty.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Since then the West has mostly ignored Ukraine.[/quote]

Instead, Russia has kept Ukraine on a tight economic leash through reliance on gas subsidies. Had the West truly enforced the Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine could have slowly drifted out of Russia’s economic orbit over the last 20 years.

Western credibility on test

Unfortunately, inaction manifested itself into the Crimean crisis. The stakes are high. Instead of economic assistance, Western values and credibility are now on the line. The crisis serves as a reminder that in geopolitics tension builds over long periods of times and often snaps in large and unpredictable ways.

Consider the current nuclear agreement under negotiation with Iran. How will Iran respond if it sees that the West does not enforce its nuclear agreements over time? Or take China. If tensions flare between China and Taiwan or Japan, the Crimean crisis will serve as a modern precedent.

The Crimean referendum will not be legitimate. For Putin to drop the narrative that Crimea is willingly joining Russia, the West must threaten sufficiently large consequences. If a diplomatic solution is not reached and action is limited to economic sanctions, Putin may become isolationist. This may embolden him to make additional land grabs in former Soviet territories.

To prevent this, the West should signal that if Crimea illegitimately joins Russia, the rest of Ukraine will accede to NATO. [quote align="center" color="#999999"]Threatening to put NATO on Russia’s border increases the pressure on Putin to work within a credible international law framework.[/quote]

As a worst case scenario, after secession, it limits Putin’s land grab to Crimea. It demonstrates that the West enforces its international agreements.

Prior to World War II, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement which allowed Germany to annex the Sudetenland. Then in opposition, Winston Churchill issued sharp criticism. He said: "You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonor and you will have war."

The West now faces the same choice. To prevent war it must signal that it is ready for it. NATO must allow Ukraine to accede as a consequence of illegitimate Crimean secession. Otherwise, the West may again lose the initiative on the crisis. The consequences of which would be large and unpredictable.

Mark Semotiuk is a Fordham University Law Student currently studying European Union Law in Paris at Pantheon-Assas (Paris II). Mr. Semotiuk has been an international election observer in Ukraine on multiple occasions. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Published in Commentary
Sunday, 09 February 2014 03:37

Fighting the war in the mountains of Sudan

John Dickie’s Eyes of Nuba screens on Sunday, 26 January 2014 at 20h00 GMT on Witness, Al Jazeera’s flagship documentary strand.

The 25-minute documentary tells the story of Ahmed Khatir from Nuba Reports, a small-band of self-taught journalists based in the Nuba Mountains on the border between Sudan and the newly formed South Sudan.

When the war broke out there in June 2011, Ahmed watched, powerless, as Sudanese soldiers burned his family’s home.

Afri-culture

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Published in Africa
Tuesday, 05 November 2013 00:46

Pulse: Arab and Middle East

by Mourad Haroutunian

The following were the top stories in the Canadian-Arab media during October:             

Canadian Copts join forces to influence Canadian Members of Parliament (MPs) to support Egypt's current secular government - Egyptian-Canadians eyeing their first seat in the Canadian parliament - Palestinian-Canadian activist to discuss how the Canadian-Arab identity affects the Palestinian cause - Omani-Canadian scientist appointed to UN advisory board - Calgary’s first Muslim mayor re-elected - Saudi Arabia's national airline begins direct flights to Toronto.

 

COPTS LOBBYING

Three Canadian-Coptic organizations are combining their efforts to persuade the legislative branch of the federal government to increase support for Egypt, at a conference scheduled to be held on Nov. 19 under the auspices of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Al-Ahram Elgdeed reported on Nov. 3.

The Canadian Coptic Association, the Canadian Coptic Activists Federation and Al-Ahram Elgdeed non-profit organization are expected to urge Canada to recognize what happened in the summer in Egypt as a revolution, not a military coup.

These organizations cancelled a protest originally scheduled for Nov. 3 outside Parliament in order to focus on the Nov. 19 event, the bi-weekly newspaper run by Egyptian Copts said.  They will call on Canada to help Egypt’s secular government in its war on terror and its route to democracy, it added.

Egyptian activists are expected to request that Members of Parliament designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group, like Palestinian hate-group Hamas, and to boost Canada's financial assistance to the North African country.

The event will be attended by the Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney; the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander; and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bob Dechert, the organizations said.

On July 3, Egypt’s military ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi after millions of Egyptians flooded the streets countrywide calling for his resignation. The Arab world's most populous country has been experiencing political and economic instability since President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February 2011 following 18 days of massive protests. 

FIRST EGYPTIAN-CANADIAN MP?

Al-Ahram Elgdeed's deputy editor-in-chief, Medhat Eweeda, urged readers to endorse Coptic activist Sheref Sabawy to become the first Egyptian-Canadian to be elected a member of the Canadian Parliament.

Mr. Sabawy is required first to win the nomination of the Liberal Party for the Mississauga-Streetsville federal electoral district in Ontario, before running for the House of Commons seat. The district is heavily populated by Egyptians and others of Arab descent, Mr. Eweeda wrote.

Mr. Eweeda, himself a Conservative, called on fellow Egyptian-Canadians to renounce their differences and back up Sabawy. "Successful communities consider their interests. They take from [political] parties whatever serves the interests of the community and their home countries," he said.

"Unlike [successful communities], we have not yet taken care of our common interests; rather, personal conflicts have ruled our behaviour."

IDENTITY CRISIS

Palestinian activist Issam Al-Yamani is slated to discuss how the Canadian-Arab identity affects the Palestinian struggle at a gathering on Nov. 8, at Palestine House in Mississauga, Ontario, according to Aljalia monthly newspaper.

Mr. Al-Yamani, who was born and raised in a refugee camp in Lebanon, will ask participants whether they have ever faced difficulties as an Arab in Canada, and what they can do, as  a minority, to ensure they are a positive force in Canadian society.

The event is co-hosted by Palestine House, a not-for-profit organization established in 1992, and the Canadian Arab Federation, formed in 1967 to represent the interests of Arab Canadians.

OMANI SCIENTIST

Al-Bilad monthly newspaper reported that an Omani-Canadian scientist was appointed to the newly-created United Nations Scientific Advisory Board.

Prof. Abdallah Daar, a professor of Public Health at the University of Toronto, is the only Canadian appointed in the 26-member board, the London, Ontario-based paper said in its November issue.

The board was formed to provide advice on science, technology and innovation for sustainable development to the UN Secretary-General and to executive heads of UN organizations.

DIRECT FLIGHTS

On Oct. 28, Saudi Arabia's national carrier began direct flights to Toronto, Aljalia reported.

Saudia will have three direct flights to Toronto each week, the paper said, without citing sources. The Toronto flights will serve different groups of passengers, including Saudi students in Canada and Canadians who travel to the kingdom each year for Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.

With the launch of the Toronto service, Saudia has become the fourth Gulf airline operating flights to Canada after Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.

MUSLIM MAYOR RE-ELECTED

Arab News, a biweekly newspaper established in 1974, trumpeted the re-election of Calgary's first Muslim mayor Naheed Nenshi.

The 41-year-old Harvard graduate won 74 per cent of the vote against eight opponents, the Toronto-based paper reported, citing Reuters.

The left-leaning leader obtained a national profile for his response to the floods that swamped large parts of the city of 1.1 million in Canada's costliest natural disaster.

CANADA-EU PACT

In an editorial, Arab News praised a free-trade deal clinched between Canada and the European Union as “one of the legacies of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.”  

"This is a big victory for Canadian exporters, who will see lucrative business in Europe," wrote Salah Allam, the newspaper's publisher-editor, "though farmers and cheese-makers will be hurt by the deal."

However, Mr. Allam called for lifting the secrecy surrounding the details of the pact as part of the right of Canadians for freedom of information and transparency.

"The Harper government should understand that Canadian citizens are key players, not just extras on the stage!" wrote Mr. Allam.

The agreement was announced by Mr. Harper and EU President Jose Manuel Barroso at a joint press conference in Brussels on Oct. 18.

ADHA GREETINGS

Al-Bilad paper highlighted a statement delivered by the leader of the National Democratic Party Tom Mulcair, who greeted Muslim-Canadians on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha, or Greater Bairam.

"For over a century, Muslim-Canadians have been playing a vital role in building this country, in areas from business and science to politics and culture. We understand that it’s this diversity that helps make Canada strong," he said in the letter.

“So on this special occasion, I would like to renew our commitment to you to fight for the important Canadian values of diversity and multiculturalism,” he concluded.

AVNERY ARTICLE

Al-Bilad, which has been run by Iraqi journalists since 2002, published an article titled "Why are so many Jews leaving Israel?" by Uri Avnery, an Israeli writer and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement.

In the article, originally published on counterpunch.org, Mr. Avnery suggests a Crusader connection. “Israel declares itself to be “the State of the Jewish People.” Jews all over the world are considered de facto Israeli nationals. But if there is no basic difference between a Jew in Haifa and a Jew in Hamburg, why stay in Haifa when life in Hamburg seems to be so much better?” Mr. Avnery wondered in the article.

Ninety-year-old Mr. Avnery is famous for crossing the lines during the siege of Beirut to meet Yasser Arafat on July 3, 1982, the first time the Palestinian leader ever met with an Israeli.

Mourad Haroutunian is an Egyptian media professional based in Toronto. He has worked in Egypt, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and the United States, for Bloomberg News, CNBC Arabiya, Alhurra TV, Forbes Arabia and Nile TV International. He holds an M.A. in journalism and mass communication from the American University in Cairo. He currently works a senior equities journalist at Proactive Investors, in Toronto. 

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Thursday, 03 October 2013 19:07

Migrants much more than agents of growth

by Ranjit Bhaskar

Protecting the rights of migrant workers has become more crucial than ever as they are too often regarded as commodities or economic and political problems instead of human beings. This is the unitary message being put out by various experts as the UN General Assembly in New York holds a crucial discussion on international migration and development on October 3 and 4.
While the UN committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers (CMW) is urging all countries to join an international treaty that protects the rights of migrant workers, a group of 72 independent human rights experts urged world governments and intergovernmental organizations to adopt a migrant-centered approach.
The International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families (ICRMW) is one of the core international human rights treaties,” said CMW Chairperson Abdelhamid El Jamri.
 “Migration is in essence a fundamental human phenomenon, so it is essential for discussions on international migration to be focused on human rights,” said Chaloka Beyani on behalf of the independent experts who have been charged by the UN Human Rights Council to address specific country situations and thematic issues in all parts of the world.
In an open letter to UN member-states, these experts called on states to discuss, among others, key issues like the decriminalization of irregular entry and stay; the move away from detention as a tool in addressing irregular migration, and the development of alternatives to detention; how to combat xenophobia and xenophobic violence against migrants; and the rights of migrant children, both in countries of transit and destination.
“Migrants continue to suffer abuse, exploitation and violence despite the legal human rights framework in place, which protects migrants as human beings, regardless of their administrative status or situation,” added the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crépeau, who is attending the UN event. “Human Rights must therefore be at the center of discussions at the High-level Dialogue.”
 
Word of caution
However, Harald Bauder, the Academic Director of Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement (RCIS) in Toronto, had a word of caution. “The open letter hits on a very important issue that needs to be discussed. But too much focus on the human rights aspect of it undermines efforts to focus on their social rights,”
“The language of human rights can be easily interpreted by governments in various ways to exclude the very people it intends to protect,” Prof. Bauder said. He said current immigration policies across the world are designed to exploit labour and pitch workers against each other. “They are powerful tools to reduce wages and labour standards.”
Prof. Bauder said a universal declaration for a common approach to migration is essential to stop countries and provinces within them from becoming competitors in this inequitable game of exploitation.
Echoing these sentiments, Mr. El Jamri of CMW said ratifying the ICRMW does not commit states to giving migrant workers special treatment. It does not create new rights nor establish additional rights specifically for migrant workers. “What it does do is give specific form to standards that protect all human beings so that they are meaningful within the context of migration.”  
 
Canada not a signatory
Changing patterns of migration and the exploitation and discrimination faced by migrant workers in sectors such as construction and agriculture have made protecting their rights more crucial than ever, Mr. El Jamri stressed.
The ICRMW, in force for 10 years, has been ratified by 47 states. However, no major destination countries, among them Canada, the U.S., EU member states and Gulf countries, have ratified it, even though it reflects the rights set out in other core human rights treaties to which many states are already party.
More than 200 million people worldwide are international migrants; of these some 30 million are estimated to be irregular migrants.  
 “The convention is the best strategy to prevent abuses and to address the vulnerability that migrant workers face as well as to maximize the benefits of migration,” Mr. El Jamri said. The CMW Committee he heads is composed of 14 independent human rights experts and oversees implementation of the convention by states.  Many of the states are not only nations of origin but are now transit and destination countries given the changing patterns of migration. – New Canadian Media
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The call by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay on International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples asking states to do more to honour and strengthen their treaties with indigenous peoples has found instant resonance here in Canada.

“Treaties and treaty making are the foundation on which this country was built. It is time for Canada to work with First Nations to honour its promises and give life to our inherent indigenous and treaty rights,” said Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo on Friday.
 
“These rights are acknowledged and affirmed in Canada’s own constitution and articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which compels both states and Indigenous peoples to work together in mutual partnership and respect on any activities that affect our lands, our lives and our people based on the standard of free, prior and informed consent,” Chief Atleo said in a statement.
 
“Even when signed or otherwise agreed more than a century ago, many treaties remain the cornerstone for the protection of the identity, land and customs of indigenous peoples, determining the relationship they have with the State. They are thus of major significance to human rights today,” the UN High Commissioner had noted.
 
“Indigenous peoples building alliances: Honouring treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements,” is this year’s theme for the international observance to underscore the need to protect the rights of an estimated 370 million indigenous people worldwide.
 
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, also urged governments worldwide to provide a basis for much needed reconciliation and overcome all obstacles to the full realization of indigenous peoples’ rights.
 
“Indigenous peoples around the world face significant challenges that are related to widespread historical wrongs, including broken treaties and acts of oppression and misguided government policies, that today manifest themselves in disadvantages and impediments to the exercise of their individual and collective rights,” the UN expert said.
 
Chief Atleo said he would be meeting James Anaya when the UN expert visits Canada in October. He said AFN representatives met recently with Commissioners from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and will be meeting with the representative for the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in September.
 
The national chief said First Nations are building alliances and taking their message to the international community to ensure the world understands the reality here in Canada. “We are building support for action on an agenda based on mutual respect, recognition and partnership. It is time to embark on a new path that values Indigenous peoples, knowledge, languages and cultures.” – New Canadian Media
 
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by Ranjit Bhaskar
 
The diaspora’s input is crucial in gathering information about alleged human rights violations in Iran as they are free to speak without intimidation, said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the issue at the end of his fact-finding mission to the U.S. and Canada.
 
Ahmed Shaheed, a former foreign minister of the Maldives, said in Toronto that he interviewed 60 people in the two countries from July 14 to 28 and his findings have been consistent with the previous concerns raised by him about the situation in the Islamic republic.
 
Findings from around 500 interviews globally and other interactions with diaspora groups will be reflected in his report to the General Assembly in October, Shaheed said. “Initiative from the diaspora is essential to pressure Iran to change its ways by increasing awareness about violations.”
 
The UN official said naming and shaming countries on their human rights records is probably the only way correcting the situation as there are no enforcement mechanisms. “Iran sees itself as a leader of the South and is very sensitive to criticism. It cares and therein lays hope,” said Shaheed.
 
Canada being innovative
 
He said Canada‘s attempt at direct conversations with Iranians inside and outside Iran as part of its Global Dialogue program was innovative and the right way of bearing witness to Iran’s growing impunity and systematic disregard for human rights.
 
He said his talk with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in Ottawa was a meeting of minds with the same concerns.
 
On the question of current sanctions imposed on Iran, the Special Rapporteur called on the UN system and imposing countries to monitor the economic action to prevent potentially harmful impact on human rights.
 
The Special Rapporteur hoped that there will be new opportunities for dialogue with the new administration of President-elect Hasan Rohani. While not wildly optimistic of change as the president’s mandate will be circumscribed by Iran’s Guardian Council and a parliament full of conservatives, Shaheed said there is a window of opportunity. “Skepticism borne out of previous experience should not make us blind to opportunities.”
 
He reiterated his continued interest to visit Iran and expects a positive response this time around once Rohani takes office. Since his appointment in August 2011, Shaheed had made several requests to Iran for a country visit without success. No visit has been granted to any special procedure mandate-holder since 2005.
 
“This reluctance to open up makes Iran unique among nations, in the same league as North Korea,” he said. “Even the Saudi government receives human rights rapporteurs, whose visits are not just confined to countries in the South. The U.S. faces the most scrutiny with highest number of visits.”
 
Disconcerting reports
 
Reflecting on the last two years of his mandate, the Special Rapporteur spoke of frequent and disconcerting reports concerning punitive state action against various members of civil society; about actions that undermine the human rights by women, religious and ethnic minorities; and alarming reports of retributive state action against individuals suspected of communicating with the UN.
 
He was also alarmed by the rate of executions in the country, especially for crimes that do not meet serious crimes standards, and especially in the face of allegations of widespread and ongoing torture for the purposes of soliciting confessions from the accused.
 
“I have been able to gather a substantial amount of information from more around 500 interviews with Iranian residents and recent exiles. Their narratives portray a situation in which Iran continues to execute individuals for offenses not considered to be serious crimes under international law and in the absence of judicial safeguards,” Mr. Shaheed said.
 
Rampant executions
 
Last year, the Iranian government officially announced almost 300 executions.  However, credible reports from family members, lawyers, human rights defenders and organizations estimated that 497 executions were implemented during 2012, and that 58 of these were public executions.  These figures do not include disturbing accusations that some 500 additional secret executions.
 
The vast majority of these executions are related to drug-trafficking. Iran has argued that these acts are tantamount to the perpetration of violent crimes upon its populace and those of destination countries. 
 
Iran also regards adultery, rape, blasphemy, alcohol consumption, and some economic crimes as capital offenses. Crimes against national security, as defined by the Iranian Government, also carry the death penalty.  These crimes almost invariably involve a charge of Moharabeh, which has no direct translation but implies a trespass against God, and/or Mofsed-fil-Arz, which is loosely translated as “corruption on earth,” Shaheed said.
 
The Special Rapporteur asserted that the highest standards of both rigor and consistency are applied at all times while recording evidence and testimonies submitted to him. Only allegations that are cross-verified and consistently leveled by various sources are presented, he said.
 
 The UN official hopes Iran would address the issues raised by him and consider an immediate moratorium on the death penalty and the unconditional release of civil society actors and human rights defenders prosecuted for protected activities under national and international laws.
 
He also wanted Iran to address those laws that contravene its international obligation to eliminate all forms of discrimination in law and practice.  These include those laws and policies that undermine gender equality and women’s rights, discriminate against religious and ethnic minorities, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in the country.  – New Canadian Media
 
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