Thursday, 06 October 2016 19:19

Consulting Citizens on Anti-Terrorism Policy

Commentary by Phil Gurski  

Should governments seek public approval on counter terrorism policy?

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

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

Fundamental question

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

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

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

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

Nothing gained

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Policy
Wednesday, 22 June 2016 13:28

Is Europe About to Reap the Whirlwind?

by L. Ian MacDonald in Montreal, Quebec

A referendum question usually calls for a simple binary response: yes or no. In Britain on Thursday, voters will decide whether to “remain” in or “leave” the European Union.

The first draft of the referendum question required a yes/no response to a pretty straightforward question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” But the British electoral commission argued for something more nuanced: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union, or leave the European Union?” The commission persuaded the House, and the question was adopted by Parliament Sept. 7.

The first draft of the question was only 11 words; the final version runs to 16. But the distinction between “remain” and “leave” has become not only the ballot question but the basis of the Brexit campaigns’ duelling slogans: Europe, in or out.

There’s a lot riding on this — the stability of the EU, the unity of the U.K. itself. If the Leave forces win, there will be an unravelling of both. And in the final days of the campaign, most polls put the two options within the margin of error — too close to call.

So how did British Prime Minister David Cameron get himself into this predicament? He ran on it. Seriously.

In the May 2015 election, Cameron promised to hold a referendum on the EU if he won. He was trying to placate the Conservative base in England while pushing back against an anti-EU insurgency by the United Kingdom Independence Party on the right.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The New York Times notes that half of Britain’s 330,000 immigrants in 2015 came from Europe, and in southern England many residents complain about them taking their jobs.[/quote]

“It is for the British people to have their say,” Cameron declared at the time. “It is time to settle this European question in British politics.”

Be careful what you wish for. Having sown the wind, Cameron could be about to reap the whirlwind. Should the Leave forces prevail, he almost certainly would be be packing his bags at Downing Street the next day.

It shouldn’t come to that. It shouldn’t be this close, either. A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times on the weekend had the Remain side leading 44-43, having been down seven points — 46-39 — a week earlier. The pollster was in the field mostly before the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, a 41-year-old mother of two who was shot and stabbed in her riding last Thursday by an apparently deranged Leave supporter.

In the shock of the aftermath, the campaign was immediately suspended on both sides. It’s not clear whether Cox’s death will bring some wavering voters to their senses, but the tragedy certainly became a dominant media frame in the closing days of the campaign.

Usually in referendums, undecided voters gravitate to the status quo, normally by margins of about two to one. That was the case in the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, and the Quebec plebiscites of 1980 and 1995. (In the Scottish referendum, the No side’s 55-45 win was helped by the clarity of the six-word question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”)

If that pattern holds for the Brexit vote, the Remain side should win by about four or five points, something like 52-48. But you never know.

There’s no doubt that a Brexit vote would be a devastating blow to a united Europe. The European project has been a work in progress since the 1950s, when it was founded as the six-nation European Economic Community, including France and West Germany, in 1957. The U.K. joined in 1973. Today the EU has 28 member countries, 19 of them using the euro as their common currency — a continent without borders, an economy of 500 million people.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Comparatively few refugees have landed in the U.K., but that hasn’t prevented the Leave forces from making immigration their main grievance.[/quote]

The EU has weathered several serious recent crises, from the financial collapse of 2008-09 to the great refugee migration still in progress. The economic crisis underlined the fundamental weakness of the euro — the fact that no one seems to know how to sustain a common monetary policy across economies as strong as Germany and as weak as Greece. Britain never adopted the euro, Margaret Thatcher having carried the argument that relinquishing control of monetary sovereignty would be a surrender of political sovereignty.

The refugee crisis has prompted different responses across Europe; Germany and Sweden are leading by generous example in receiving migrants, while countries such as Hungary have erected barbed wire fences. Across the continent, extremist and xenophobic right-wing movements have flourished in the last year. Donald Trump would feel right at home.

Comparatively few refugees have landed in the U.K., but that hasn’t prevented the Leave forces from making immigration their main grievance. The New York Times notes that half of Britain’s 330,000 immigrants in 2015 came from Europe, and in southern England many residents complain about them taking their jobs. That’s one sentiment driving the “Take Back Control” slogan employed by the Leave side. Another is bungling bureaucrats in Brussels — foreigners meddling in their local economy.

All of which has left Britain divided and on the brink. Until the last week, England had been leaning to the Leave. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all clearly favour the Remain side. For Scotland in particular, the EU is a check and balance against the power of Westminster. A vote to leave it could well trigger another referendum on Scottish independence. In Northern Ireland, it could result in the end of a borderless relationship with the Irish Republic.

And Great Britain could become Little England — no longer a leader in Europe and much diminished in the world, including the world of financial services in which the City of London is a global leader.

As a fellow member of the G7 and G20, as a NATO ally and leader of the Commonwealth, as an important trading and investment partner, Canada’s preference should be obvious — for a United Kingdom in a united Europe, with no unravelling of either.

Republished in partnership with


Published in Commentary

by BJ Siekierski in Ottawa

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

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

Below are some of the highlights.

On Obama and the ISIS mission

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

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

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

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

On Donald Trump

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

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

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

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

On holding an electoral reform referendum

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

On the future of Canada Post

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

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

Re-published in partnership with

Published in Politics

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City

Twenty years after voting in Quebec’s referendum on sovereignty, immigrants in the province say cultural relations are improving, but more progress is still needed.

In October 1995, 2,362,648 Quebecers voted against the provincial government’s move to make Quebec an independent state. The ‘no’ side won in Quebec’s second referendum on the issue, with 50.58 per cent of the vote.

For many immigrants, the result represented a challenge to the old notion of Quebecois identity.

“What we were hearing before ’95, which we don’t hear anymore, is pure laine,” says Simon Jacobs, who immigrated to Canada from England in 1989.

Pure laine, or pure wool, is used to refer to Quebecers whose ancestry can be traced to the original French settlers of the province.

Jacobs says that everything Quebec wanted, in terms of maintaining its identity and creating its own laws, already existed, but that important questions about Quebec’s monetary policy remained unanswered.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“People were saying, ‘I’m American. I’m Syrian. I’m Italian,’ but I didn’t hear, ‘I’m Canadian.’”[/quote]

He says he voted against separation, though he wasn’t sure if he would remain in Quebec at the time.

“I did not feel this was home,” he adds. “I think after the referendum, I had a change of attitude, and that change of attitude was, ‘Damn it, this is where I live. This is my home.’”

Voting in favour

But not all immigrants felt that federalism was the answer to the question of what constitutes Quebecois identity.

“I didn’t feel pride,” says Abdallah Ghazal about his arrival in Montreal from Syria in 1968. “People were saying, ‘I’m American. I’m Syrian. I’m Italian,’ but I didn’t hear, ‘I’m Canadian.’”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Anything that’s divisive to harmonious relationships is not good for multiculturalism.”[/quote]

Ghazal, an agronomist, went on to teach high school science and biology in Victoriaville, QC. In 1995, he voted in favour of sovereignty, and says the decision was largely influenced by the ideas of René Lévesque, founder of the Parti Québécois and defender of Quebec’s independence.

“I admired him because he talked about separation, but also an association with Canada,” says Ghazal. “We would stay a unit of Canada with our own culture and way of life. That’s why I voted ‘yes.’”

Effects of divisive politics

The Parti Québécois, led by then premier of Quebec, Jacques Parizeau, orchestrated the referendum and promoted the 'yes' campaign. As the results were revealed on the night of the referendum, Parizeau proclaimed that the 'yes' side had lost due to “money and ethnic votes.”

“From the standpoint of harmonious relationships between communities in Quebec, I think it was very divisive,” says Jack Jedwab, Executive Vice-President of the Association for Canadian Studies and the Canadian Institute for Identities and Migration. “Anything that’s divisive to harmonious relationships is not good for multiculturalism.”

He adds that the effects were not as “devastating” as they could have been because Quebec society is more interested in harmony than in division.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“[T]here’s not that big of a difference between Toronto and Montreal in terms of how immigration and integration are managed.”[/quote]

Ghazal says he was encouraged by efforts of the provincial government that followed to secure rights over Quebec’s immigration policies and preserve the French language.

“I’m for the preservation of Quebecois identity,” he explains.

Jedwab says that while most Quebecers value diversity, Quebec decision-makers often associate multiculturalism policies with the federal government.

“It’s been suggested to Quebecers that multiculturalism is associated with ghettoization, or preserving one culture at the expense of the culture of the majority of the province,” he says. “The reality on the ground is there’s not that big of a difference between Toronto and Montreal in terms of how immigration and integration are managed.”

Jacobs says it’s wrong to underestimate the degree to which policies from the federal government can be manipulated on the part of separatists to cause “a rift,” and points to the niqab debate of the 2015 federal election as a recent example.

“I compare it to a marriage,” says Jedwab of Quebec’s relationship with Canada. “You’ve got to work all the time to make it vital. If you don’t do that, it breaks up.”

He says that for him, and the majority of Quebecers, divorce is not a desirable option.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The lack of exposure of the general population outside Montreal to different religions and cultures is the biggest problem here in Quebec.”[/quote]

Challenges faced by today’s immigrants

Jacobs, now president of the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network, teaches history and works in tourism in Quebec City. He notes that as an oral minority, he faced different challenges than visible minorities face in Quebec.

“The lack of exposure of the general population outside Montreal to different religions and cultures is the biggest problem here in Quebec,” he says.

Ghazal says that he too did not face the same challenges as many immigrants in Quebec experience today.

“I was raised in a private French college,” Ghazal shares of his upbringing in Syria. He says he arrived in Quebec with several of his peers who went on to become engineers and doctors.

Ghazal married and raised two children in Victoriaville, where he worked as a teacher until his retirement 15 years ago.

“Today, many who arrive with diplomas like me find it more difficult to find employment,” he says. “A lot of engineers and doctors come here and are not recognized.”

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Arts & Culture
Monday, 17 February 2014 19:49

Egypt: Many Markers, Little Progress

by Firas Al-Atraqchi in Cairo

The third anniversary of President Hosni Mubarak's ouster came and went last week with little fanfare, no ceremony and lots of shrugs of the shoulder.
Many Egyptians were instead out in the parks, cafes and Nile bank restaurants enjoying what to most Canadians is late May weather.
To the uninitiated, the capital Cairo could have been mistaken for hip central, a hangout zone for Egyptian youth brandishing iPads and iPhones, parked neatly next to the hookah, or shisha.
"It's been a long three years, people are finally starting to breathe," says Ali, a cashier at a supermarket in Cairo's Haddayek Maadi district.

'A long three years' may be understating the tumultuous events that have shaped Egypt's contemporary history since millions of Egyptians crowded the now iconic Tahrir Square and demanded "bread, social justice, and dignity."

At the time, Ottawa was slow -- if not reluctant -- to support the populist movement that somewhat achieved 'regime change'.

When Mubarak handed over power to the military, Prime Minister Stephen Harper acknowledged the new political reality, said that "the future of Egypt is for Egyptians to decide," and called for democracy and elections.
Egypt has witnessed three referendums, two uprisings, a parliamentary election and a presidential election, but the stability that so many had hoped for three years ago remains elusive.
Political and social violence in the past three years -- the latest was a February 16 rocket attack on a bus carrying mostly S Korean visitors, killing the driver and three tourists  -- has almost become a de facto way of life.
A watershed
Nevertheless, many Canadians of Egyptian extract believe the recent political momentum triggered by the January 14, 2014 constitutional referendum could put the country on the path toward stability 
Waleed Nassar, a Torontonian who came to Canada two years ago, happened to be in Cairo last summer when President Mohamad Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was forcibly removed from power by the military.
"From what I've seen, most Egyptians I spoke to were happy [that] Morsi was removed," says Mr. Nassar.
But the military's July 3rd intervention to remove a "democratically elected" president -- as North American media repeated over and over -- angered and confused many outside Egypt, and the foreign press began calling the ouster a military coup that divided the country.
Ottawa called it a coup, but stopped short of applying any pressure on the new military leaders, and interim Egyptian government. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird conveyed Canada's "deep concern" reiterating earlier statements calling for "meaningful political dialogue."
No one was listening.
On August 14, security forces forcibly dispersed pro-Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood protest camps in a section of Cairo near the presidential palace – the ensuing clashes left at least 600 people dead and more than 4,000 injured.
The violence shook Egyptians in and outside of the country, including Mr. Nassar who hoped for some kind of inclusive process that could defuse tensions between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military.
"Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have their core supporters who feel excluded and persecuted. My estimate is that they are around 25 per cent of the politically active Egyptians, so I wouldn't say that Egypt was 'divided'. But 25 per cent is still significant and should not be criminalized or labelled as terrorists," Mr. Nassar said.
Ahmed Kadry, a student studying in Toronto, believes that the Muslim Brotherhood are little more than a minority who have tried to persuade Egyptians that theirs is a country divided.
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Now that the referendum has officially passed, this will unite Egyptians even more as it’s an important step towards stability," he says.[/quote]
On January 14, 98.1 per cent of the more than 20 million ballots approved by referendum the constitutional amendments proposed by a committee chosen by the post-July 3 interim government.
Some Egyptians said the referendum was also an approving nod for the military's intervention in July, while others say it is a stepping stone for Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi to run for president.
Others, like Mr. Kadry, believe the new amendments were necessary to correct or roll back the constitution that was approved by the Morsi government in 2012: It was a writ that many in Egypt feared would strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood's influence on all sectors of Egyptian society.
"The [Constituent Assembly] committee that wrote those amendments during President Morsi's year [June 2012-July 2013] of rule did not represent the Egyptian population in general, and especially the youth of Egypt that took the streets in January and February 2011," Mr. Kadry recalls.
He says the committee was given an edict by Mr. Morsi that it was above reproach. 
Religion in governance
"Morsi's constitution opened the door for two things that I did not want. The autonomy of the army without supervision by the people's assembly or president, and the constitution also included vague references to the role of religion in governance," Mr. Kadry says.
If the new constitution is meant to stabilize Egypt, it is yet to bear fruit.
While the number of street clashes that were once common in previous years have significantly dwindled, there has been in uptick in attacks on the state's institutions -- the police, army installations in the Sinai Peninsula, as well as targeted assassinations of senior security officials.
"I don't think the referendum will help unite Egypt unless the security-first mindset of the current rulers of Egypt is abandoned," says Mr. Nassar.
He believes that social and political dialogue must includes representatives of all sectors of society, including the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the meantime, Egyptians continue to worry about the economy. The tourism industry, which was a major source of foreign exchange inflows, has slowed to a crawl.
The February 16 attack on the tourist bus is likely to be another blow to the struggling sector.
Firas is a Canadian journalist of Arab descent who has covered the Middle East since 1992. In April 2010, he left Al Jazeera's English-language website, where he worked as a senior editor since 2004. In September 2010, he joined the American University of Cairo as an associate professor of practice at the Journalism and Mass Communication department. He is also a member of New Canadian Media's Editorial Board.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Commentary

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