Monday, 16 January 2017 16:37

Novel Explores Road to Radicalization

Book Review by Phil Gurski

Belief is a novel by Mayank Bhatt, a Mumbai-born resident of Toronto.  It tells the story of the son of Indian immigrants to Canada who cooperates with terrorists to identify Canadian places to bomb, in part to avenge the death of Muslims in Afghanistan by Canadian soldiers. 

The book parallels to a certain extent the 2006 case of the “Toronto 18”, a terrorist cell that planned to explode truck bombs in Toronto and at a military base in eastern Ontario to punish Canadians for the decision to deploy the Armed Forces in Afghanistan after 9/11.

This work of fiction is billed as a look into what “makes young people give up their sheltered, secure lives and take up causes that are sure to lead to catastrophe, for others as well as themselves”. 

It does not quite achieve that goal, but does contain a good look into the effects of terrorism on a family. We see the devastating effects on the mother and father, immigrants who fled violence in India to seek a new home in Canada, but had to struggle to make a new life in a new land.  We see the anguish of a pregnant sister whose husband’s promotion may be canceled because of Rafiq’s actions.

We see a South Asian police officer, Ravindar, who tries to help the family but who is not trusted completely, perhaps because of his role as a representative of the law.

The book does delve slightly into what has often been put forward as the ‘causes’ of radicalization to violence in Canada.  There are references to the slaughter of Muslims in India and to discrimination and bias against immigrants in this country.  

Neither theme is developed in this novel. It also does not explore other reasons why individuals go down the path of radicalization.

The mastermind

Early in the novel the author includes excerpts from emails sent by the terrorist ‘mastermind’, a man named Ghani Ahmed, to Rafiq, the young man arrested and accused of participating in a terrorist plot.  These excerpts are full of the rhetoric most commonly associated with terrorist recruiters: innocent Muslims are being killed and no one is doing anything to stop it.  Ahmed appeals to the faith of Rafiq and tries to convince him that fighting back is a religious obligation.

Ahmed is an intriguing character and more could have been written about him.  Who was he?  Where did he come from?  Who else was involved in his plot?  How did he identify Rafiq as a willing participant? .

The one character who remains an enigma is Nagma Khala, a woman who runs a Muslim crèche and who had an extraordinary influence on the young Rafiq.  She is deeply religious, but it is never clear whether her faith contributed in any way to Rafiq’s openness to radicalization.

Flashbacks to India

I welcomed the introduction of two officers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), although their portrayal is superficial and unsatisfactory. It would have been interesting to introduce a main character from CSIS and show how that person was trying to understand the scope of the terrorist plot and Rafiq’s role in it.  That may have been beyond the author’s expertise, though.

The book contains many flashbacks to life in India and provides interesting background into the lives of the protagonists, although the link between these episodes and Rafiq’s decision to become a terrorist is not obvious.  They do provide insight into the circumstances behind the parents’ choice to leave India, but these are tangential to the book’s primary plot.

Throughout the book the author seeks to present Rafiq as an unwilling dupe whose involvement in terrorism is peripheral.  While Rafiq regrets his choice, he also seems to minimize his role. 

It is only at the end of the novel, when Rafiq learns of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai (in 2008 – a real event) that he grasps the enormity of what he was part of in Canada and (spoiler alert!!) tries to commit suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills.  The author’s attempt to paint Rafiq as a character to be pitied does not come off strongly, even when he writes of the bullying Rafiq received at the Maplehurst Detention Centre in Toronto.

Overall, the book flows and reads well, with the exception of the flashbacks. These occur at times at unexpected intervals and detract from the story.

The book does a good job at showing the destruction of a Canadian immigrant family when one member becomes involved in terrorism. The emotional responses of the characters are believable and compelling. 

As long as the reader does not see this novel as an actual book on homegrown terrorism in Canada it is a good read.

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

The book Belief  is published by Mawenzi House

Published in Books
Tuesday, 26 April 2016 01:46

Accents Celebrated at Shakespeare Reading

by Diana Manole in Ottawa 

Four hundred years ago, on April, 23, 1616, William Shakespeare passed away. His plays are so special that today we can critically reflect on any topic when reading, staging, or watching them: social inequality, politics, history, culture, love and death.

The modernization of the English language also started with his work, leading to the current standard version, in England, and the numerous variants spoken all over the world by almost 943 million people.

As the saying goes, “The best reaction to reading a poem is writing a poem.”

George Elliott Clarke, Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate (PPL), along with the Library of Parliament and the League of Canadian Poets, organized a celebration of Shakespeare and National Poetry Month (NPM) through a poetry reading. Shakespeare on the Hill was the first official poetry reading on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, according to Clarke.

He says he plans to organize other similar events on Parliament Hill during his PPL tenure. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Shakespeare’s English” can be heard in Canada with accents from all over the world.[/quote]

I was honoured to be included among the readers, together with Monty Reid, Amanda Earl and rob mclennan. Our selected readings from Shakespeare and our own work had to relate to this year’s NPM theme, “The Road” – or travelling. 

Clarke is an award-winning Canadian writer, who has published 16 collections of poems, as well as plays, opera librettos and two novels. From Three Miles Plains, N.S., where he was born, Clarke has gone on many roads across Canada, but also around the world.

He emphasized Shakespeare’s influence on his own work. “Reading Titus Andronicus In Three Mile Plains, N.S.” is part of Execution Poems, for which Clarke received the Governor General’s Award. Inspired by Shakespeare’s perspective on crime, this poem denounces both historical violence and the persecution of black people in the 20th century. He writes:

“And History snapped its whip and bankrupted scholars,
School was violent improvement. I opened Shakespeare
And discovered a scarepriest, shaking in violent winds,
Some hallowed, heartless man, his brain boiling blood,
Aaron, seething, demanding: 'Is black so base a hue?'"

Recognizing accented writers

As a Romanian-born poet and a first-generation Canadian, this event had a special significance for me. I dedicated my reading to all “accented” writers from this country and the immigrant voyage to Canada that has changed their destinies. Indeed, my own trip to Canada in 2000 has been one of my most important journeys. 

The first poem I read, “Fleeing. Becoming,” synthesizes the redefinition of my sense of national identity: 

“I became Romanian, fleeing.
I became Canadian when the U.S.
took my fingerprints.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The [foreign] accent represents the democratization of language.”[/quote]

Aurelia Zmeu, Diplomatic Counsellor at the Romanian Embassy in Ottawa, noted in my reading the ongoing travel between two cultures, which defines any immigrant. 

“Listening to her reading from [Shakespeare’s] The Tempest and from her own work, I perceived the two pans of the balance scale in Diana Manole’s soul,” she said. “The poet’s feelings towards Romania, her country of origin, and Canada, her adoptive country, are placed on this scale, interconnected, in a balance that was perturbed only by the applause at the end.” 

As Clarke emphasized after my reading, “The [foreign] accent represents the democratization of language.”

Indeed, “Shakespeare’s English” can be heard in Canada with accents from all over the world. It is one of the best proofs that people can find means to communicate beyond cultural barriers.

Clarke’s celebration of Shakespeare proved that poetry and politics can sometimes be on the same page – even at Parliament Hill. 

Journeys of all forms 

Earl is a poet, publisher and the author of two books of erotic fiction. 

“The road for me equals time from birth to death and the obstacles along the way, the constancy of love in times of trouble,” she says. 

Her Shakespeare selections reflect on similar experiences, including “Sonnet 116” and, from Hamlet, Gertrude’s description of Ophelia's madness and suicide. Her poem, “O’Keeffe,” deals with the reversed journey from death to life and the effort to understand its meaning:

“I seek answers in myth: Orpheus, 
Persephone, those who’ve been 
to the Underworld and back”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The road for me equals time from birth to death and the obstacles along the way, the constancy of love in times of trouble.”[/quote]

Born in Saskatchewan, Reid worked for many years in Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec, and now lives in Ottawa. He focused on the theme of melancholy travel with Jacques’s monologue from As You Like It.

He also read some of his poems on the same topic, including “Very Soon, and With Someone Pleasant” from Disappointment Island. 

“I don't care where you were. I don't care about the black ice
and the big trucks and all your other travelling anxieties.
Imagine trying to pick up Singapore noodles with a single stick.
That's how it makes me feel." 

mclennan was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour in March 2016 and has won numerous awards and published nearly 30 books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. He read “Two ghazals, for newborn,” an homage to the birth of his third child, Aoife: 

“Map: for she articulates
our new, invented landscapes.

A declaration of staccato kicks
and wails.

A salted, sunny membrane
of gestures, squeaks and snorts.

Dr. Diana Manole is a Romanian-born poet, translator, and scholar. She has published nine collections of poems and plays, and contributed to many national and international magazines. Her latest poetry book, B&W was published in 2015 by Tracus Arte in a bilingual edition, co-translated with Adam J. Sorkin.

{module NCM Blurb} 

Published in Books

by Samaah Jaffer in Vancouver

Five months after Harper’s Conservatives made a pre-elections pledge to establish a controversial "barbaric cultural practices" tip line, a group of lawyers and legal organizations in Vancouver have launched a different kind of phone line — a hotline offering free legal advice for victims of Islamophobia.

“The Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline is a free and confidential number that people who experience Islamophobia, or hate crimes related to Islamophobia — whether you’re Muslim or perceived to be Muslim — can call,” explains lawyer and activist Hasan Alam.

The concept for the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline, launched on March 9, emerged from what a group of local lawyers observed as a “significant increase” in Islamophobia in Canada.

Alam defined Islamophobia as, “the fear of and hatred toward Muslims or people who are perceived to be Muslim.”

“Especially under the Harper government,” says Alam, “we noticed that there was very specific fear mongering happening, that utilized Islamophobia to justify Harper’s policies, such as Bill C-51, and all of that translated into an increase in hate crimes.”

In response to a question on the anti-terrorism legislation, Harper implied last fall there was an opportunity for radicalization in mosques: "It doesn't matter what the age of the person is, or whether they're in a basement, or whether they're in a mosque or somewhere else."  

The statement was followed by an increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric leading up to the elections, with the niqab being lauded by the former Prime Minister as a primary concern in relation to gender equality and Canadian values.

Rise in incidences of violence

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), a human rights and civil liberties advocacy group that endorsed the project, has been tracking anti-Muslim incidents across Canada since 2013. They have recorded a rise in alleged incidents corresponding to events where Muslims have been portrayed negatively in the media.

Vancouver-based lawyer and chair of NCCM’s Board of Directors, Kashif Ahmed, spoke to the significance of this new resource in B.C.: “We had 61 anti-Muslim incidents reported in 2015, and already had 12 reported in 2016.”

Ahmed identified a number of different forms of Islamophobia-related hate crimes, including “cases of people who are being assaulted on the street, victimized in their workplace and denied promotions, verbally abused, verbally harassed, mosques being vandalized, cases of schools not providing anti-bullying services to Muslim students or allowing bullying to continue, or even teachers being the ones doing the bullying.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We had 61 anti-Muslim incidents reported in 2015."[/quote]

Local incidents include a pepper spray attack on a group of Syrian refugees and vandalism of a Coquitlam mosque, yet many attacks motivated by Islamophobia go unreported.

The hotline is operated by Access Pro Bono, an organization committed to providing “access to justice” in BC for individuals and non-profits unable to afford legal fees. Their volunteers are currently able to assist callers in seven different languages — English, French, Farsi, Indonesian, Arabic, Swahili, Punjabi, and Urdu.

“In a lot of instances people who experience Islamophobia are new immigrants, they don’t speak much English, they don’t know where to turn to for legal advice, or help in general, and they’re scared to turn to law enforcement agencies a lot of the time because of their precarious legal status,” says Alam.  

Personal experiences of Islamophobia

Alam has a personal investment in the initiative, as a Muslim and a lawyer who has actively advocated against Islamophobia.

“I get calls from people, a lot, saying that they have experienced Islamophobia, and that they need help. Oftentimes, I myself can’t help them. I don’t have the area of expertise in that specific instance that I can give them legal advice,” he explains.

Alam spoke to the first time he experienced Islamophobia himself.

“I remember being the president of my Muslim Students Association (MSA) at Simon Fraser University, and getting a call from a government agency, who left a message for us at the interfaith centre.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"That fear or hatred can translate to physical assault, negative comments, attitude, discrimination, or prejudice."[/quote]

The message was from a woman requesting to meet with him, “to better understand the needs of your community.”

Eager to discuss the needs of the MSA, Alam agreed to meet the woman at a Starbucks. After he arrived, shook her hand, and allowed her to buy him a coffee, the woman revealed that she was a Canadian Security Intelligent Services (CSIS) agent who had questions about the activities of the MSA and his community.

Although the questions were not targeting him personally, Alam expresses, “For me, that was Islamophobia, and it was coming from the government. Why was I subjected to being interrogated by CSIS agents, simply on the basis that I was a Muslim and involved with a Muslim student group?”

Usefulness in lobbying efforts

Alam explained that another important element of the project is the recording of Islamophobic hate crimes.

“Being able to use that information to better advocate to government, and to lobby government to do more about Islamophobia and racism in general [. . .] and pushing the government to do more about that, and more advocacy, and having people’s voices heard is something that is really important for me.”

Alam hopes the Islamophobia hotline will send out a clear message to those who perpetuate Islamophobia that there are repercussions for their actions, while at the same time making those who appear to be Muslim feel safe.

“I think we’re still living in a fairytale world, thinking ‘this is Canada, not the United States, these things doesn’t happen here,’ and I think a big part of this is recognizing that Islamophobia and racism are real," he says.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Top Stories
Thursday, 17 March 2016 15:24

Breaking Silence Around Elder Abuse

by Beatrice Paez in Toronto

Asking seniors subtle questions about their daily routines opens up dialogue – and can point to signs of elder abuse, which rarely reveals itself in obvious ways.

Nirpal Bhangoo-Sekhon often asks seniors she meets about what they’ve been eating, who handles their finances and if their basic needs are being met. It is her job as case manager of the Punjabi Community Health Services (PCHS) to be curious.

“Unfortunately, if we don't ask those questions, we wouldn't know what's happening,” she says. “It gives you a better picture of what goes on at home.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Abuse isn't limited to physical violence; it can extend to the withholding of financial resources, verbal threats and isolation from the household.[/quote]

In a 2009 report, Statistics Canada found that two-thirds of seniors who experienced family violence – physical force or threats – didn't sustain injuries. Seniors most at risk, based on reports to the police, are between 65 and 74.  

During her one-on-one meetings with seniors, Bhangoo-Sekhon will also illustrate scenarios to raise awareness of how common an issue elder abuse is. Holding such conversations regularly helps ease reservations about breaking their silence, which can take months, if not longer, she says. 

Reluctance to speak up

While elder abuse cuts across different cultural groups, they may contend with different obstacles. 

Language barriers and distrust in the police – mostly worries about being deported – aren't the only concerns stacked heavily against the decision to come forward, says Kripa Sekhar, the executive director of the South Asian Women's Centre (SAWC) in Toronto.

There's the perception that speaking out would fracture family ties and bring shame on the community. 

“I don't think they want to be seen as a community that's going to expose their families or seen as betraying their families," says Sekhar. "They've almost accepted that ‘this is what's meant for me.’”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Cultural groups have different attitudes about what constitutes abuse.[/quote]

Burial customs can also play a role in the struggle to come forward for seniors of certain faiths.  

With funeral rites traditionally being the responsibility of the son or a male family member, some express concern that their spiritual needs will not be looked after if they speak out, says Sekhar. “They're not worried about today. They're worried about the afterlife. It's hard to understand that – you're struggling in this life, but it's such a part of who they are.”

Abuse isn't limited to physical violence; it can extend to the withholding of financial resources, verbal threats and isolation from the household, she explains. 

Statistical profiles on elder abuse as it relates to the South Asian community aren't traced by front-line agencies such as the police and social services. Statistics Canada instead analyzes the prevalence of family violence along gender lines, while acknowledging that cultural groups have different attitudes about what constitutes abuse.

Possibilities for intervention

The immediate response to cases of physical abuse might be to find alternative housing, but in other instances, intervention through education is crucial, says Bhangoo-Sekhon.  

"If we can go in and educate the families – that, in the end, would be much more helpful and useful for the community than just pulling seniors out [of the home] and placing them in shelters," she says. 

Finding subsidized housing or placing elders in shelters isn't always the most feasible solution in cases of neglect or isolation, particularly if they're not used to living independently and are in need of a personal support worker, she says. 

PCHS has a caregiver support program, an extension of its efforts to address elder abuse, which is offered to those who are caring for family members. It is intended to relieve the strain of household demands. The program attempts to engender a culture of empathy, recognizing that the caregiver may be stressed, while getting him or her to understand the vulnerabilities that seniors face. 

"We help them understand the aging process," says Bhangoo-Sekhon, adding that changes in a senior's behaviour may create friction within the family if it's not recognized as a health issue.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Housing for seniors should be guaranteed. They need enough funding to live in dignity."[/quote]

"[It's to help] them understand what's happening to their body, their brain, and that's out of their control."

Networks for seniors living alone

SAWC, through its community network, tries to locate housing for seniors so they can live independently, but finding affordable housing can take an average of seven years, according to the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association. Thirty per cent of seniors make up the wait list, as cited by the Toronto Star from the organization's 2015 report.

Sekhar communicates regularly with seniors who live independently and tries to ensure that their landlords are responsive to building safety issues. "Many say they do that, but their concerns aren't always attended to," she says. 

SAWC holds a seniors’ workshop every Thursday where they can gather to discuss health and safety issues, along with abuse. It's a support network for seniors who live on their own, where they feel comfortable conversing in their mother tongue, says Sekhar. 

"Housing for seniors should be guaranteed," says Sekhar. "They need enough funding to live in dignity."

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Health

by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver 

In this week’s round-up of what’s been making headlines in Canada’s ethnic media: The Liberal government is set to repeal Bill C-24; municipal councils wage war on Uber and Canadians react to Haryana violence in India. 

Liberals plan to repeal Bill C-24 

The Liberal government has announced that it will be making significant changes to the Citizenship Act, repealing the Conservatives’ controversial Bill C-24. 

The bill gave the government the power to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage. According to the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, John McCallum, the new measures will make it nearly impossible to revoke citizenship. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]he government says that it plans to remove barriers to citizenship posed by Bill C-24.[/quote]

Immigration officials will still be able to revoke citizenship if it was obtained by false representation or fraud and the federal court will be able to remove someone’s citizenship if they are involved in organized crime, war crimes or crimes against humanities. 

Of particular interest to new and aspiring Canadians, the government says that it plans to remove barriers to citizenship posed by Bill C-24. 

As reported in the Canadian Immigrant magazine, McCallum announced Feb. 23, “We believe that it’s better to make it easier rather than harder for people to become citizens.” 

Expected changes include reducing the length of time that someone must be physically present in Canada to qualify for citizenship, allowing time in Canada before permanent residency to count toward physical residency requirements and amending the age range for language and citizenship knowledge exams. 

The government also intends to repeal the intent to reside provision, which caused some immigrants to fear that they could lose their citizenship if they moved outside of Canada. 

While McCallum didn’t elaborate on what other changes would be made, he told The Globe & Mail that specifics would follow “in coming days, but not very many days.” 

The government is set to table its annual immigration report before Mar. 9 and it will outline targets for all classes of immigrants, including Syrian refugees. 

Uber-taxi war rages in Brampton 

The battle against Uber in Ontario continues as Brampton City Council voted on Wednesday to temporarily suspend ride-sharing companies until the City can decide whether or not to allow them to operate in the area. 

The motion, which was brought forward by city councillor Gurpreet S. Dhillon, was unanimously accepted by council, who cited concerns over public safety, consumer protection, fairness and regulation. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“This is a victory for the residents of Brampton.”[/quote]

“This is a victory for the residents of Brampton,” said Dhillon, as reported by The Indo-Canadian Voice. “I’m very proud that my motion was supported by all my council colleagues. This decision is a good first step to guarantee the public’s safety and security, while maintaining fairness — that is our priority right now.” 

According to councillors, ride-sharing companies like Uber have presented challenges for consumers and companies in Canada. There are also issues of legality, as many of these drivers are not licensed under the cities’ mobile licensing bylaws and as such are operating contrary to their requirements. 

Other cities in Canada are having similar conversations about the ride-sharing problem. Mississauga city council voted unanimously in early March to suspend Uber's operations in the city. 

“Innovation, technology and growth are driving competition in an established industry that has a long history of providing quality and reliable service,” said Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie. “The debate about how to regulate Transportation Network Companies (TNC) is not going away and we need to get it right.” 

The city will be seeking feedback from all stakeholders — the taxi and limousine industry, companies like Uber, as well as consumers — in reviewing the bylaws and regulations around ride-shares. 

Students stand in solidarity with northern India   

As caste violence continues to occur in the north Indian state of Haryana, Canadians are speaking out against fighting that has seen more than a dozen people killed. 

On Mar. 2, students, faculty, and staff from the University of British Columbia (UBC) held a rally in solidarity with India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), where, as one student wrote, JNU students “are now facing deadly onslaught of the state – its entire students’ union and leftist leadership booked under the draconian sedition charges.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The violence has also affected non-resident Indians (NRIs) living in Canada ...[/quote]

According to The Indo-Canadian Voice, “Hundreds of universities, public intellectuals, human rights [organizations] from all over the world have raised their voice in support of the JNU students and teachers.” 

The violence has also affected non-resident Indians (NRIs) living in Canada, who fear it will impact investment in the state. 

In a statement reprinted in The Indo-Canadian Voice, the Overseas Association of Haryanvis in Canada said, “We, the NRIs of Haryana origin, would like to appeal to our brothers and sisters to support centuries-old brotherhood among 36 biradaris in the larger interest of Haryana and the nation.” 

The organization further stated that the agitation has not helped the common man of the state. On the contrary, the statement said it “will create more unemployment and increase poverty in an otherwise prosperous state.” 

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Top Stories

by Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver 

In this piece, journalist Alireza Ahmadian discusses Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia with Cesar Jaramillo, Executive Director of Project Ploughshares, a non-governmental organization working in Canada and abroad to advocate for policy reform to prevent war and armed violence. 

The deal, valued at almost $15 billion, is the largest arms export contract in Canadian history and was awarded during the 2013-2014 fiscal year. It will see the shipment of an undisclosed number of light armoured vehicles, manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems, based in London, ON, to Saudi Arabia. 

Why should Canadians be concerned about an arms deal between their government and Saudi Arabia, a country that both Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) say violates human rights? 

It is not just HRW and AI who condemn the abysmal human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. Every authoritative organization in the world consistently ranks Saudi Arabia among the worst human rights violators [on] the planet. 

There is a widespread and well-documented pattern of violations of virtually every category of human rights in Saudi Arabia, so Canadians should definitely be concerned about the possibility that Canadian-made goods might be used to sustain a repressive regime and enable the further violation of human rights of civilians. 

What do we know about how Canadian arms are being used in Saudi Arabia? Are there any safeguards or ways of ensuring these weapons will not be used to violate human rights? 

We certainly know about the proclivity of the Saudi regime to systematically target civilians. In 2011, there were reports of Saudi forces using armoured vehicles, such as the ones Canada is set to ship to Saudi Arabia, to crush peaceful civilian protests in neighbouring Bahrain. 

The primary safeguard to ensure Canadian goods are not misused should be Canada’s own military export control policy, according to which the government must first determine that “there is no reasonable risk” that Canadian-made military goods might be [used] against civilians. 

Given what is widely known about the Saudi dire human rights record, it is hard to comprehend how there can be “no reasonable risk” of misuse. But so far the government has resisted calls to explain how the Saudi arms deal can be reconciled with the human rights safeguards of existing exports controls. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[W]hat’s to stop a country from selling weapons to ISIS or North Korea or organized criminals halfway around the world?"[/quote]

Former foreign affairs minister, John Baird, also said that this deal has economic benefits for Canada. For instance, the arms deal supports “3,000 unionized workers in London, Ontario." What’s wrong with an arms deal that hires 3,000 Canadians? 

Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with job creation … However, we must recognize that this is a special case that merits special scrutiny. Valued at $15 billion, this is by far the largest military exports contract in Canadian history. And, as stated above, it is widely accepted that Saudi Arabia is a human rights pariah. 

So, while job creation is a legitimate pursuit of any government, in a case as egregious as this, we must assess as a society what is the real value we place on the protection of human rights. 

If economic gains are taken as the sole justification for arms exports authorizations, what’s to stop a country from selling weapons to ISIS or North Korea or organized criminals halfway around the world? 

The Harper government did not sign the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that seeks to regulate international arms trade and prevent military exports from fuelling armed conflict and human rights violations. Canada is the only country in North America, the only member of the G7 group of industrialized nations, and the only one of the 28 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, that has not signed the treaty. 

It is worthwhile to note that countries such as Syria, Pakistan, North Korea and Saudi Arabia are also non-signatories. 

Do you think that signing this Treaty would address concerns over lack of transparency in Canada’s arms deals with other countries? How so? Do you think the new government will sign the treaty? 

Yes, I believe the new government will accede to the Arms Trade Treaty. It was an election pledge of Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau, and was a specific priority of foreign affairs minister [Stéphane] Dion’s mandate. This is a position to be welcomed and encouraged. 

The ATT entails increased expectations of transparency around arms deals and greater vigilance in regards to the end users of military exports. 

At the same time, Canada may find itself sending a mixed message about its willingness to live up to the ATT’s heightened expectations of transparency when legitimate concerns about the human rights implications of the Saudi arms deal remain unaddressed. 

It has been reported that in May 2015, Martin Zablocki, the president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Commercial Corporation, the crown corporation that brokered the arms deal with Saudi Arabia, said that the Middle East is a “strategic region” for Canadian arms sales. How does this deal serve Canada’s strategic interests? What would you say to those who argue that other countries are selling arms to the Middle East? 

It is a strategic region from a purely business perspective, of course. It is no secret that the previous government made economic diplomacy a cornerstone of its foreign policy. In this context, the Canadian [Commercial] Corporation has acted as an active facilitator in the pursuit of these deals, not just as a passive intermediary. 

“Everyone else is doing it,” sounds like an argument void of any ethical considerations and undermines the credibility of Canada’s military export controls — which Ottawa calls “some of the strongest in the world.”  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Canadian public has a right to know that the economic well-being at home is not being tied to the suppression of human rights elsewhere.[/quote]

The Liberal government said that it would honour the arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Why do you think the Liberals decided to follow through with this deal even though they are trying to undo other aspects of the Conservative’s legacy? 

This deal would present a complex policy challenge for any party in power. There is a real confluence of economic, strategic and human rights dimensions that must be taken into consideration. But, again, Saudi Arabia isn’t a case of a handful of unconfirmed human rights violations. The human rights situation in the autocratic kingdom is absolutely abysmal. 

In a case where red flags are so apparent one would hope that the government would recognize, at a minimum, the need to publicly explain how this deal can be justified in light of existing export controls. 

The Canadian public has a right to know that the economic well-being at home is not being tied to the suppression of human rights elsewhere. 

How would you suggest the new government pursue future deals like this? 

There are specific human rights safeguards that are part of Canadian military export controls. Of course, however strong they might be on paper, they are only as effective when implemented. 

Beyond the need to abide by domestic and international regulations (including the Arms Trade Treaty, following accession) there is a need for greater transparency and oversight around the process by which arms exports authorizations are granted. 

{module NCM Blurb} 

Published in Top Stories

Commentary by Anita Bromberg in Toronto 

Sixty-seven years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 50 years after the adoption of the two Covenants, which along with the Declaration became known as the International Bill of Human Rights, the struggle for human rights at home and abroad continues. 

It is a struggle that Canadians have been at the forefront of since World War II. Canadian John Peters Humphrey, first Director of the United Nations Division of Human Rights, was central to the drafting of the Declaration. 

The underlying principle of the Declaration – that human beings are all born free and equal in dignity and rights – is reflected in section 15(1) of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.

International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, will kick off an international yearlong campaign spearheaded by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office: Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][E]ven in Canada we continue to struggle with realizing the full promises of these fundamental freedoms.[/quote]

The campaign will focus on the four freedoms at the core of the Declaration – freedom from fear, freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom from want. We do not have to dig deep into media reports to see that even in Canada we continue to struggle with realizing the full promises of these fundamental freedoms. 

Impacts of fear 

When then American President Roosevelt gave his Four Freedoms speech after experiencing two world wars, the arms race was the focus of his remarks regarding freedom from fear. Today, freedom from fear means much more and the challenges are even greater. 

Fear has dominated our mindset these days. Violence and terrorism is now an ongoing reality that directly impacts Canadians. How can we not be concerned for, even feel fear for, our safety, with attacks such as the Californian and French events fresh on our minds?  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][N]o individual going about his or her daily life should fear being targeted by such fear.[/quote]

But this fear impacts in two ways. The obvious is that we each have the right to go about our daily business without fearing a terrorist attack harming our loved ones. But, in addition, no individual going about his or her daily life should fear being targeted by such fear. 

The sign on the lawn that tells Canadian Muslims or Jews to go home, the hijab-wearing woman buying groceries who is accused of being a terrorist, the hateful graffiti on Hindu places of worship, the racism directed at Aboriginal peoples – these are all examples of breaches of every person’s right to be free from fear. 

Fear used to marshal hatred 

As we mark this milestone date, the Secretary General of the United Nations reminds us, “Millions of refugees and internally displaced persons are a tragic product of the failure to fulfil this freedom [from fear]. Not since the Second World War have so many people been forced to flee their home.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Fear and hatred of the ‘other’ as justification for racism must be countered.[/quote] 

Our response as Canadians must be to open our doors without discrimination, while exercising all due diligence, as we commit ourselves to continue to build a society based on inclusion and founded on the principles of human dignity and mutual respect. 

Hatemongers know that the best way to marshal hatred is to channel it through fear, to manipulate fear to racist ends – often justified through an appeal to narrowly defined identities and collective fears of being overwhelmed.  

We are all deeply troubled by the threats to our security and by the impact the violence we are witnessing is having. We should be looking to protect our society and way of life based on our common humanity. 

However, that will come with guaranteeing the rights and freedoms of all, when we respect the balance these rights and freedoms demand from each of us. Fear and hatred of the ‘other’ as justification for racism must be countered.  

These are the lessons embedded in this year’s International Human Rights Day. 

Canada and its residents must be ready for the challenges ahead. Respecting our rights and freedoms can and must be one of the key principles that guide us all as the year ahead unfolds.

Anita Bromberg has been the Executive Director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation since June 2014.

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Published in Commentary
Thursday, 05 November 2015 16:18

Canada is Not Immune to Racist Ideology

by James Sharma in Montreal

On Oct. 17, mayoral candidate Henriette Reker was stabbed in the neck during a campaign stop in Cologne, Germany. The perpetrator, a 44-year-old unemployed man, was furious about Reker’s support for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s migration policy, which involves admitting 800,000 asylum seekers into Germany this year.

Germany has already seen nearly 500 attacks on migrants this year, eclipsing the 198 attacks recorded in 2014. Meanwhile, the U.S. presidential campaign has also been the site of xenophobia and racism.

As Canada prepares to process an increased number of Syrian refugees following the election of a Liberal government, political leaders and citizens would do well to remember that Canada is not immune to racist ideology and must take steps to prevent similar surges in violence.

A look at Europe's xenophobia

The attacks on migrants in Europe reflect a wider sentiment of xenophobic tension and insecurity that has bolstered neo-nationalist parties across the continent.

In October, national conservative parties received the most votes in parliamentary elections in Poland and Switzerland. Austria’s far-right Freedom Party received 30 per cent of the vote in the Vienna city council election, while in Greece, the neo-nazi Golden Dawn was the only party to achieve a higher percentage of votes in the September national election than in the previous one.

Additionally, 10,000 people gathered in Dresden, Germany, at the end of October to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Islamophobic Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident (PEGIDA) movement, and a group of right-wing extremists were detained in Bavaria for attempting to smuggle weapons for a potential attack on Halloween.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]he economic crisis and the migrant crisis combined to fuel support for anti-immigrant platforms.[/quote]

Still, perhaps the most prominent name in neo-nationalist politics remains Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s nationalist and conservative National Front, whom many view as a potential dark horse in France’s upcoming 2017 elections.

While many of these parties have existed for decades, the economic crisis and the migrant crisis combined to fuel support for anti-immigrant platforms.

Europe has yet to recover from the debt crisis of 2009 with unemployment remaining high, reaching over 20 per cent in Greece and Spain, higher still for youth.

Although most refugees are civilians attempting to escape war zones, such as Syria and Iraq, opponents of immigration have framed the crisis as an attempt by economic migrants to compete for scarce jobs. The right-wing UK Independence Party (UKIP), for instance, couples its economically liberal proposals with right-wing nationalism and calls for reduced immigration.

The potential threat of such xenophobic scapegoating is, in essence, that the reactionary behaviour we see from these political leaders today is no different from that of the European fascist parties during the interwar years. This misguided rhetoric is a major contributing factor to the increased violence against migrants across Europe.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]At the same time as Europe’s neo-nationalist surge, our American neighbours are experiencing a pivotal xenophobic moment of their own.[/quote]

More xenophobia south of the border

At the same time as Europe’s neo-nationalist surge, our American neighbours are experiencing a pivotal xenophobic moment of their own.

The leading Republican nominee Ben Carson has publicly denounced Muslims running for the presidency. Likewise, his close-trailing opponent Donald Trump has made headlines with his racist comments, labelling Mexicans “criminals” and “rapists.”

These direct attacks are galvanizing an anti-immigrant constituency most prominent in the American Midwest and South, and have directly led to acts of violence, such as the beating of a Hispanic homeless man by two men in Boston last August, one of whom said he was “inspired” by Trump.

Racist elements in Canadian society remain

In some ways, the situation in Canada is similar to that in Europe.

Canada is currently in an economic recession, and the youth employment rate is at its lowest level since 2009. And parallel to the Republican presidential candidates in the U.S., the Conservative Party and the Bloc Québécois used racist rhetoric surrounding the niqab during the last election, which has also led to acts of Islamophobic violence.

Though the Conservatives’ electoral gamble was ultimately unsuccessful, the racist elements of Canadian society to which they appealed remain in place.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][P]olitical leaders and citizens alike need to be consciously active in combatting racist rhetoric and ideology.[/quote]

Justin Trudeau’s commitment to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees is certainly an improvement over the Conservative policy of fear-mongering, but Canada should accept an even greater number of refugees.

In doing so, we must be careful not to repeat Europe’s mistakes; political leaders and citizens alike need to be consciously active in combatting racist rhetoric and ideology.

Opportunistic politicians can exploit disenfranchised youth that feel disconnected from the political system and angry about their economic prospects, and scapegoat immigrants as the reason for their precarious economic position. This can be avoided only if we call out racist rhetoric every time we hear it.

By reflecting on the circumstances and political tactics that have led to the rise of the nationalist far-right in Europe, the effectiveness of racist rhetoric in the U.S., and the ensuing violence toward migrants, Canadians should be able recognize the warning signs in their own country.

The underlying conditions required for a surge in xenophobic violence are present – we must reject lazy scapegoating and resist attempts by opportunistic leaders to capitalize on racist sentiments.

James Sharma is a Continuing Studies student at McGill University.

Re-published with permission from The McGill Daily

Published in Commentary
Sunday, 18 October 2015 01:09

Crime Top Issue in Surrey Centre

by Aurora Tejeida in Surrey

Deanna has lived in North Surrey for 21 years. She lives with her family in the Guildford area, but she doesn’t send her kids to the local public school and tries to do most of her personal business in other communities.

“I chose private school mainly for safety reasons,” explains Deanna, a psychiatric nurse, who did not want her last name to be used. “I wanted to minimize the exposure to gangs and drugs, etc. Admittedly, I don’t see this on the streets, but heard that Guildford Park [school] does not have a great reputation.”

Deanna is not the only area resident with these concerns; every resident interviewed for this article mentioned safety, gangs and reputation.

Still, everybody also agreed with Deanna on the fact that Surrey has a bad reputation despite being full of wonderful, caring families.

Surrey is the second largest city in British Columbia, with a population that exceeds 468,000. It is set to become the most populated city in Metro Vancouver by 2020.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Surrey seems very divided by culture and neighbourhood.”[/quote]

The riding where Deanna lives, Surrey Centre, comprises the “downtown” riding of Surrey’s five electoral districts. It includes all of Surrey north of 88th Avenue and west of 148th Street.

In mid September, the Surrey Centre riding and nearby areas experienced three shootings in four days, one of them outside an elementary school.

Even though by mid 2015 the murder rate in Surrey had actually gone down by 14 per cent compared to the previous year, violent crime is up 36 per cent compared to last year. The RCMP attributes most of the violence to a gang turf war.

“The recent gang related crime is very public. Surrey seems very divided by culture and neighbourhood,” explains Deanna. “Most of [the] gang violence we hear about is noted to be related to the South Asian population, and fuelled by the drug trade. This creates a misperception about the culture and leads to further division.”

Fighting crime

As would be expected, New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate and incumbent member of Parliament (MP) for Surrey Centre, Jasbir Sandhu, considers crime his number one concern.

In an interview with local publication, The Leader, Sandhu said he’s asked the government to fund youth gang prevention programs as well as deliver 100 additional police officers to city streets.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“They say they’ve hired more police, but I don’t see it.”[/quote]

Sandhu said the Conservative government cut funding for police officers in 2014, only to reinstate it in 2015.

Conservative candidate Sucha Thind has said his focus is on tougher jail sentences for offenders, from drug dealers to sexual offenders.

But not everyone thinks harsher punishment is the way to go. “I think the increased RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) presence will help with the perception of safety, but not the increased jail time,” says Deanna.

For Belynda Cooper, a 42-year-old resident of the area, the lack of policemen makes her feel unsafe and less likely to take transit to work.

“I haven’t seen any changes on the ground level,” she explains while discussing policemen in heavily transited areas like the Surrey Central station. “They say they’ve hired more police, but I don’t see it.”

Diverse, young demographic

Surrey Centre is the second most diverse riding in the province. In 2011, 32.8 per cent of residents identified as South Asian, the same year Sandhu, who moved to Canada from India to study, was elected with 40 per cent of the vote. Back then the riding was known as Surrey North.

Like Sandhu, Thind also came here from India. The well-known businessman arrived in Canada in his 20s, “with only a few dollars to my name, determined to start a new life,” according to his campaign site.

But there is one more defining factor for this riding besides ethnic diversity. This riding is one of the youngest in the province; over 27 per cent of Surrey’s population is under 19 years old.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I think some people realize there is more money in illegal jobs like selling drugs than working minimum wage.”[/quote]

Katherine Detlor is one of the riding’s many young residents. The 24 year old moved to Surrey in search of more affordable housing.

“I avoided living here from all of the things I heard,” explains Detlor, “but I moved here with my girlfriend in August and the rent is much cheaper here than Vancouver.”

Detlor agrees that the biggest issue in Surrey is violence, but says the best solution is to help the struggling middle class.

“The problem that I see is the middle class working 40 plus hours a week to make ends’ meet,” says Detlor. “I think some people realize there is more money in illegal jobs like selling drugs than working minimum wage.”

‘Money is the problem’

The riding’s Liberal candidate, Randeep Sarai, seems to be addressing crime from this perspective.

Sarai is a lawyer whose campaign page says he’s “committed to helping those that are less fortunate.” According to his site, Sarai often provides pro bono services. He also helped start the South Asian Community Coalition Against Youth Violence.

“My aim is to bring prosperity to the region,” Sarai commented in an interview with the Asian Journal. “If [the] economy is stable and prosperous, then crime goes down, gang involvement goes down.”

Detlor would like to think that having a candidate who can actually help the middle class might reduce the number of young people being tempted by gangs. “Money is the problem,” she explains.

For Detlor the Liberals seem to be the strongest candidates for making positive changes for the middle class. “However, I don’t know for sure if it will really impact the gang violence,” she adds. “I just hope.”

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Published in Politics
Thursday, 08 October 2015 13:07

Aid Work in Syria: Difficult and Risky

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga, Ontario

Syria’s grave humanitarian crisis draws a great deal of challenges and risks for humanitarian workers in the area, says one representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

“To access areas where fighting has had a severe impact is a continuous challenge,” says Rafiullah Qureshi, communication coordinator for the ICRC in Damascus, Syria.

“One has to wait for a lull in the fighting, but more importantly all sides involved in the fighting have to agree on some measure of truce so that humanitarian workers can cross frontlines.”

Qureshi asks, “If the human aid workers cannot be protected, then how [can the] millions of people who depend on them be assisted?”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Since the beginning of the conflict, 48 volunteers of Syrian Arab Red Crescent and eight of Palestinian Red Crescent [Society] in Syria have lost their lives on humanitarian missions.”[/quote]

According to a USAID report, 329 aid workers in 27 countries were victims of 190 major attacks in 2014.

This was 30 per cent less than in 2013, a year that saw a spike in casualties due to increasing conflict in Syria and South Sudan and ongoing violence in Afghanistan. 

“[The decrease in attacks in 2014] was due mainly to reduced or reconfigured operational presence in these countries, with fewer aid workers deployed to field locations deemed insecure,” the report suggests.

Many risks in Syria

Four years ago, civil unrest in Syria resulted in intense brutalities. Like many other conflict-riddled countries, Syria remains full of risks for humanitarian aid workers.

“Since the beginning of the conflict, 48 volunteers of Syrian Arab Red Crescent and eight of Palestinian Red Crescent [Society] in Syria have lost their lives on humanitarian missions,”explains Qureshi. “Safety of aid workers remains our concern.”

Mary Kate MacIsaac, communications coordinator for CARE’s regional response unit in Syria, agrees.

“It’s not the prime time to do aid work inside Syria,” says MacIsaac, who is based in Amman, Jordan. “We don’t send CARE workers inside Syria, as moving between areas is not safe and security of our staff members is [the] number-one priority.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Despite UNSC resolutions, violence in Syria has intensified, aid access has decreased and humanitarian assistance remains “chronically underfunded.”[/quote]

CARE provides life-saving emergency assistance, food and emergency supplies to families and emergency medical equipment and support for women in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Working with local partners, the organization has also reached more than 750,000 people inside Syria so far.

“These local people are good at identifying the besieged areas and negotiating with war factions and reach to [those affected],” explains MacIsaac.

Ongoing challenges for aid workers

As the war in Syria enters its fifth year next March, more than 20 international aid organizations have condemned the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), saying it has failed to implement three resolutions passed last year that demanded a boost to humanitarian assistance to Syrian civilians.

The report suggests that, despite the resolutions, violence in Syria has intensified, aid access has decreased and humanitarian assistance remains “chronically underfunded.”

The aid groups, which include the International Rescue Committee, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Handicap International, express concern that the resolutions have been “ignored or undermined by the parties to the conflict, other UN member states, and even by members of the UNSC itself.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Utilities, such as water and electricity, have been taken over as weapons of war; some two million people have severe difficulty accessing water.[/quote]

“Out of 6.5 million people still in Syria, 86 per cent feel obstacles in [reaching] hospitals, particularly women and [the] elderly, as attacks on hospitals are common and are majorly by the regime,” explains MacIsaac.  

Last month, an ICRC team in Aleppo – led by Marianne Gasser, head of the delegation in Damascus, and accompanied by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent – crossed a frontline in the eastern part of the city to meet various opposition armed groups and to assess the humanitarian situation.

“It took almost a week to negotiate with various sides involved in the fighting to make this trip, and once all agreed to a specific time and day, then this operation was carried out,” Qureshi recalls.

To determine the crisis for basic needs, a recent report prepared by the ICRC shows that utilities, such as water and electricity, have been taken over as weapons of war; some two million people have severe difficulty accessing water.

The Syrian health-care system has also been impacted greatly by the conflict. There is shortage of medical supplies, health-care workers and electricity to allow operation rooms to function, says Qureshi. For pregnant women living in a besieged area, not having proper access to health care can be dangerous. 

“In a besieged area, local doctors had to handle a delivery of triplets by C-section,” shares Qureshi. “The expectant mother was at a high risk, surgical materials are in short supply and electricity [was] being cut down without prior notice. However, the courageous doctors performed the operation and more surgeries are being carried out every day.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"This war has to stop.” [/quote]

‘Systemic collapse and destruction’

According to a UN-backed report issued in March 2015 by the Syrian Centre for Policy Research (SCPR), Syria now has the second-largest refugee population in the world after Palestine.

More than four million Syrians have fled to other countries to find work and safer lives as of the end of 2014, while 6.8 million have fled their homes, but remain in Syria.   

The report says that the war in Syria has plunged 80 per cent of its people into poverty, reduced life expectancy by 20 years, and led to massive economic losses estimated at over $200 billion since the conflict began in 2010.

The SCPR draws a distressing scene by calling it a “systematic collapse and destruction” of Syria’s economic foundations.

It further states that nation’s wealth, infrastructure, institutions and much of its workforce have been “obliterated.”

However, aid organizations and its workers are a source of life and hope, as some like CARE provide incentive-based volunteering opportunities to refugees in camps.

“With young girls being raped, pregnant women suffering delivery trauma, infant mortality at a rise and elderly people suffering and a lack of humanitarian assistance – most importantly, this war has to stop,” concludes MacIsaac.

Editor's Note: This report has been updated with the most recent number of people CARE has reached in Syria and the most recent number of people who have fled Syria.

Journalist Priya Ramanujam mentored the writer of this article, through the New Canadian Media mentorship program.

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Published in International

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