New Canadian Media

By: Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver, BC

Nearly 70 years since South Asians won the right to vote in Canada, Jagmeet Singh has become the first non-white leader of one of the country’s major political parties.

Media coverage of Singh’s historic victory has ranged from admiration of the new leader’s alpha-male swagger to questions of whether he will hinder his party’s appeal at the Quebec polls. While most stories have understandably commented on the visible symbols of his Sikh faith, a few have taken an oddly suspicious tone of whether keeping a turban and beard is a gateway to misplaced loyalties — in Singh’s case that being in supporting Sikh separatists.

Ironically, the one media outlet that seemed to fumble over itself to roll out this unwelcome mat was none other than Canada’s public broadcaster, the traditionally left-leaning CBC.
In an aggressive Fox-style interview on Power & Politics, veteran journalist Terry Milewski interviewed Singh for his first appearance on the station since winning the NDP leadership. He tossed Singh a few softball questions about his leadership plans before cutting incongruently into a question that rhetorically implied a connection between Singh and the Air India bombing from three decades ago: Does Singh condemn Sikhs who venerate Talwinder Parmar, the man considered to be the architect of the bombing of Flight 182 in 1985?

The broadside seemed to take Singh by surprise. He deflected while the CBC host kept doggedly pressing him. Eventually the awkwardly un-Canadian exchange ended in a stalemate. The post-mortem discussion on social media, however, questioned the fairness of this line of inquiry.

Milewski’s cross-examination was loaded, first of all, with the assumption that Singh, a Sikh born in Canada on the cusp of the millennial generation, should be studied in the history of Talwinder Parmar, and the intricacies of an Indian separatist movement from 30 years ago. This would be on par with assuming that Tom Mulcair, the previous NDP leader, should know the history of Sinn Fein just because his father was an Irish Catholic immigrant.

But even if Singh knows his history of 1980s Sikh separatism, was he being asked to denounce the personal views of other Sikhs who venerate Parmar because Singh himself is a baptized Sikh?
Or was he being asked because there are such followers in his political base?

Either way, these questions lead to a troubling double standard when compared to CBC’s treatment of other politicians, such as the Conservative Party’s new leader Andrew Scheer. In an interview earlier this year, Scheer was asked about his views on same-sex marriage and abortion, but at no point was the devout Catholic asked to openly condemn his fellow Catholic congregants who view same-sex marriage as an abomination.

Meanwhile, other Canadian politicians with a significant following in the Sikh community have also been spared Milewski’s rough treatment. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has never been asked to condemn the portion of his Sikh base who view men like Parmar as martyrs. In the 2015 election, Trudeau benefited mightily from the Sikh vote, delivered to him by organizers from the World Sikh Organization — a group that once advocated for the creation of an independent Sikh homeland, on the heels of the Air India bombing. The WSO has also delivered for past Liberal leaders, including Jean Chretien.

Media hypocrisy, however, reaches its apex each spring in Surrey, when dozens of federal, provincial and municipal politicians, along with senior representative from the armed forces, RCMP, major banks and other federal bodies congregate at the Khalsa Day Parade on 128th Street. The event, which drew 300,000 attendees this past year, is hosted by Dasmesh Darbar, the largest Sikh temple in B.C. At this temple, a kind of Sikh version of the Yasukuni Shrine, Parmar and other Sikh separatists are lionized through posters and photo memorials.

In the years since the Air India bombing, mainstream media has leaned heavily on a false, and self-perpetuated, binary of “moderates” versus “fundamentalists” when reporting on news with a Sikh angle. This was partly the consequence of non-diverse newsrooms in the 1980s and 1990s struggling to decipher the inner-workings of a complex community with which many were unfamiliar.

So media outlets created go-to contacts, such as temple presidents and politicians, who became the default spokespeople for an entire range of issues, regardless of their familiarity on these topics. These individuals, in turn, used their privileged positions to perpetuate this divide in which “moderates” became seen as forward-looking secularists who, typically, didn’t wear turbans, while fundamentalists were orthodox in religious practice and ardent supporters of an Sikh homeland independent of India.

In the three decades since Air India, two generations of Sikhs have grown out of the shadow of the separatist turmoil. These youth tend to speak English and French better than they do Punjabi and they are politically active through social justice causes.

Singh is part of this new educated generation which continues to advocate — arguably with more passion and idealism than their parents — for redress on behalf of the 10,000-plus Sikhs systematically murdered by government supported pogroms in Delhi in 1984. Singh, and other young Canadian Sikhs, however, are equally as impassioned by other Canadian-based causes such as attaining meaningful reconciliation for this country’s Aboriginal communities and protecting the environment.

This complexity, however, becomes lost in translation for reporters like Milewski because they still insist on viewing the Sikh community through the tenuous lens of Air India and the separatist struggle that long ago withered on the vine. The community has changed but their narrative framework for reporting has not evolved.

Consequently, Singh’s social activism and even his belief in self-determination becomes recklessly conflated as support for a man accused of terrorism three decades ago. And it happens on national television, as it did on Power & Politics where CBC got caught judging a book by its cover as Milewski shamelessly tried to pin down Singh as a Sikh “fundamentalist.” 

If there was any extremism in Canada that day, it was in the manner by which CBC treated the new leader of the NDP.

Singh won his party leadership and the support of the party grassroots because he is a person who embodies the modern nuances of multicultural Canada. Until CBC figures out how to articulate that, Canada’s public broadcaster will continue to foster uncomfortable exchanges that do little to bring together Canadians of all backgrounds.


Jagdeesh Mann is a media professional and journalist based in Vancouver. Mann is also a member of the NCM Collective and regular contributor for New Canadian Media. This piece was republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post.

By: John Delva in Montreal, QC

To improve newsroom diversity, La Presse recruited outside of francophone journalism schools.

An office’s group shot usually exudes pride, but this one caused embarrassment.

In December 2016, Quebec’s La Presse published one of its entire organization. The lack of visible minority faces among the roughly 250 editorial workers contrasted with the paper’s multicultural stance.

“Many of our articles promote inclusion, but when people (on social media) saw the picture, they threw that inconsistency back in our face,” said Sebastien Rodrigue, director of digital and web platform.

This led the paper to organize a four-week internship program, geared towards cultural community reporters.

Awareness surrounding inclusiveness is not a new pursuit at La Presse, according to Eric Trottier, deputy managing editor.

“La Presse’s got good parity between men and women. It’s generally at 50-50, even in executive roles,” said Rodrigue.

But matters involving cultural communities’ representation have been harder to tackle, starting with inclusiveness in coverage.

“We rounded them up (groups of reporters) and showed them in their own work how, ‘You interviewed 10 people and they were all white francophones.’ We told them this is not what society looks like,” said Trottier.

There were also issues with participation from journalism schools. For years, the paper’s internship program, which catered to students of all cultural backgrounds, had brought only a handful of non-Quebecois reporters. Anglophone university students failed the paper’s French test while French universities produced few applicants.

La Presse decided to cast a wider net this time around.

“Journalism isn’t like the medical field. You need to go to medical school to become a doctor. But if you’re curious and self-reliant, we’ll give you a chance,” said senior managing editor Alexandre Pratt.

Jeiel-Onel Mézil, one of the program’s four interns, had just graduated in business administration at HEC Montréal when he got his chance. Though he had never set foot in a newsroom or journalism class, being a reporter had been a dormant goal of his.

“Journalism speaks to my interests. I’ve always known I’d be doing this some day,” he said.

He and Marissa Groguhé, another intern, impressed their bosses on several fronts — so much so that Mézil and Groguhé have been hired by the paper until the end of 2017.

“Their stories make the front page regularly and rank amongst the best work we put out,” said Trottier.

But the month wasn’t without its share of difficulties. Lela Savic recounted learning how to write fast often required staying at the office for 12 hours or more. Mézil, described by executives and fellow interns as a fast writer, feels “learning how to come up with an effective lead is tough.”

For Trottier, these experiences squared with the main goals of the internship, which he considers “an enormous success.”

“We definitely want to do this again. We may have found a way to bring in more minorities in the newsroom, which we weren’t able to do with the traditional way.”

Even if “deep down” his wish was to find “jewels” among the reporters, the program was primarily about training individuals who could eventually work in journalism, whether at La Presse or elsewhere.

The ample learning opportunities that came with this made made the experience memorable for Rita Boghokian. She said that while her being a visible minority was valued by her colleagues, who encouraged her to use non-Quebecois sources for stories, La Presse also treated her as a full-fledged reporter. Consequently, she worked on a range of stories she wanted to tackle.

“Just because we were visible minorities didn’t mean we only covered stories about visible minorities.”

This openness is why Savic looks back longingly at the month, wishing the experience had been longer. She says the internship has helped her grow from a journalism student into an actual journalist.

“I come out of this with a big bag of tricks. I’ve learned about abilities I have and things I need to improve on. I’ve learned that I’ve got great interviewing skills, that I can get people to talk. This’s given me confidence in what I can do as a reporter,” she said.


John Delva is a freelance reporter who has defended his master's thesis in journalism studies at Concordia University. This piece was republished under arrangement with JSource. The original posting can be found here.

Thursday, 12 October 2017 08:03

Jagmeet Singh and the Media's Race Problem

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Commentary by: Paul Adams in Ottawa

Jagmeet Singh does not yet have a seat in the House of Commons. So when the new NDP leader comes to visit, he’ll have to sit up in the Leader of the Opposition’s Gallery and gaze down on the body he wishes someday to join. 

If all the MPs are there that day, Singh may notice that there are already five turbaned Sikh men with seats. In 2015, 47 so-called “visible minority” MPs were elected along with 10 Indigenous people, very nearly mirroring their relative shares of the Canadian population.

If Singh then swings his eyes to the north end of the Commons chamber to the gallery above the Speaker’s Chair — to the Press Gallery, that is — he may notice something different. So far as I am aware, there has never been a turbaned man working as a reporter for a major news organization, so he won’t see any of those.

No one keeps racial statistics on the Press Gallery the way they do for the House of Commons, but when I looked through the membership list the other day, I was able to identify only one visible minority reporter working for one of the big legacy media outlets – a reporter at CTV. None at the Globe, none at the Star, none at CBC-TV. And no Indigenous people either.

This may overstate the case a little bit. Since I was a reporter on the Hill in the 1990s, there has been an influx of young reporters of colour. They tend to be concentrated in online and specialist publications such as HuffPost Canada, the Hill Times, the Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network (APTN) and some ethnic and foreign news outlets. The so-called Mainstream Media — not so much.

The House of Commons is today much more representative of the face of modern Canada than is the Press Gallery. Most of us can name a few visible minority and Indigenous politicians. Try coming up with more than one or two political journalists of colour.

When Singh was chosen as NDP leader, there were two streams of news coverage, both echoing (in a small way) the reaction to Barack Obama’s breakthrough in 2008. The first was a self-congratulatory celebration of the nation’s inclusivity. The second involved an obsessive concern with the man’s race and ethnicity.

One interview that got a lot of attention was Terry Milewski’s welcome-to-Ottawa interview with Singh on CBC’s Power and Politics. Milewski has never suffered fools gladly and operates on the premise that all politicians are fools until proven otherwise. (Stephen Harper was never able to establish this to Milewski’s satisfaction, so far as I could see.)

Apparently Singh, or his office, had — with stunning naiveté — asked to see the questions in advance. Milewski delightedly tweeted out that fact before Singh backed down. Advantage: Milewski.

A lot of the reaction to Milewski’s interview turned around a “gotcha” section at the end of the interview in which Milewski doggedly asked Singh to denounce posters of Talwinder Singh Parmar, which appear in some Sikh-Canadian institutions. Parmar was a Sikh nationalist who was — it has been well-established — the mastermind behind the Air India bombing in which 329 people were killed, most of them Canadian, many of them of Indian extraction.

Except for Milewski’s first question — which was about how Singh would manage without a Commons seat — every single query directly or indirectly invoked race, religion or ethnicity.

For many viewers not steeped in the issue, it must have been a baffling exchange. But few reporters in Canada have covered the Air India bombing and its aftermath more thoroughly than Milewski — and Jagmeet Singh has been deeply engaged in Sikh politics. It may have been a ‘gotcha’ question, but it got Singh, who dodged and weaved but would not be caught denouncing Canada’s worst-ever mass murderer.

Singh is really going to have to do better than this if he wants to lead a national party with any success.

What concerned me about the Milewski interview was not this exchange, but what came before it. Except for the first question — which was about how Singh would manage without a Commons seat — every single query directly or indirectly invoked race, religion or ethnicity.

There were questions about refugees, religious symbols, Singh’s “acceptability” in Quebec — all coming before the Parmar exchange. Nothing on Singh’s interesting views on addressing precarious work among the young. Nothing on his controversial views on decriminalizing possession of drugs like cocaine and heroin. No “open-ended” questions that would allow Singh to lay out his own agenda.

Earlier that same day, another CBC journalist had posted a tweet that appeared to confuse Singh with another turbaned Sikh — federal economic development minister Navdeep Bains. If I were among the one-in-five people living in Canada who are visible minority, I might be tempted to wonder whether journalists who see a politician of colour see anything but the colour.

When we look south of the border — or across the Atlantic — it’s easy for Canadians to think of racism as a foreign problem. And I agree that we seem (for the moment) unusually blessed.

But take a look at some of the just-released data from Canadian Press’s important “Populism Project” – a survey from EKOS research. According to EKOS’ massive survey, 37 per cent of Canadians think too many immigrants are visible minority. Among respondents who are themselves visible minority, 43 per cent said they had “personally seen or experienced a clear incident of racism” over the past month. Remarkably, 26 per cent of other Canadians said the same.

While a plurality of Canadians don’t think there been much change in the level of racism in Canada, 33 per cent think racism is becoming more common, compared with 20 per cent who think it is becoming less common.

I am not suggesting for a moment that Sikh politicians should only be interviewed by Sikh journalists, or that Indigenous politicians (like the Manitoba NDP’s new leader Wab Kinew) should only be interviewed by Indigenous journalists. It’s a fundamental tenet of journalism that good reporters strive to understand the world around them, and strive particularly hard to understand those most different from them.

But a more diverse press corps would have two effects: one for journalists, the other for consumers of journalism.

For journalists, having people of various backgrounds in the newsrooms means being exposed to different sensibilities and story ideas in editorial meetings, over coffee, and in the thousands of chats that occur among colleagues in newsrooms every day as they try to figure out their angles. They also get to know individuals different from themselves in their full complexity — without reducing them to their most visible characteristics.

In the late 1980s, I did a story related to HIV/AIDS for the CBC. I had lived in New York at the height of the crisis a few years earlier and thought I was reasonably well informed. But after my story aired, a young producer — who was gay — came and spoke to me about some of the language I had used. He made me a better journalist by helping me see some things I had overlooked.

We are all limited to some degree by our backgrounds. Journalism is a lifelong process of educating ourselves away from those limitations. 

For news consumers, diverse newsrooms are both a substantive and a symbolic indication that the news business is serious about exploring our world, which includes people like ourselves and people who are quite different. It’s not just about comforting visible minorities through representation. It’s also about the rest of us not just seeing them, but trying to understand them.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. This piece was republished under arrangement with iPolitics

Monday, 02 October 2017 22:34

Communicating in a New Country

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By: Mona Mashhadi Rajabi in Tehran, Iran

Communication is more than understanding the words.

I was always aware of language barriers when I decided to move to Canada. But I didn’t know that this would go beyond an understanding of words and sentences. 

It took me a few months to get to this point, after a few odd experiences along the way. I will explain two of them for you. 

Animation film that opened my eyes

I was a student in Ottawa and some of my courses were project-based. There were four students in each group for the econometrics project. The deadline for the project was approaching, but we were stuck. The central problem in the project could not be solved, and the more we tried, the less progress we seemed to make. 

One day, as we were reading related articles and brainstorming, Gen, a Canadian-born student on my team, said: “We should call Thing 1 and Thing 2 to solve this problem.” Her reference did not make sense to me, but everyone else burst into laughter. 

I showed no reaction. I didn’t understand what was going on and didn’t know how to respond. Fortunately, no one realized that I didn’t get the point and we quickly got back to work. But the experience stayed in my mind. 

A few months later, while I was watching “The cat in the hat” animation film with my daughter, I discovered the origins of Gen’s reference. She was talking about two creatures in the cartoon that could solve unsolvable problems, the creatures that could help the “Cat” reach his goal.  

It was a fulfilling moment for me. But I also realized that this sort of thing could happen again.

For a moment I felt like an alien. The society that I chose to live in had so many unknown features rooted in its culture. I could face many obstacles because of that. I knew that I could meet people who might not understand my situation or may misunderstand my responses. I was missing out on a few things.

But it was my decision to move to Canada for my studies and it was in my interest to learn the culture and become a full part of the society around me. So, I had to work harder and not get disappointed. 

Lack of self-confidence to react in an emotional situation 

Melody, my daughter, was a happy, four-year old girl who started her junior kindergarten in Canada. 

Sara was one of Melody’s classmates. I knew her mother, Kate. We were living in the same neighborhood and we used to chat while we were waiting for the school bus. Kate was a photographer and was so nice to me. 

At the school’s New Year celebration day, Melody’s class came on the stage and started singing a song. Melody was loud and clear, she pronounced every word correctly and performed well with other children. 

Kate was standing beside me. She said: “Melody’s improvement in speaking English is impressive” and added that “Sara is so shy and never sings with the other children.” 

She was worried about her daughter and I understood her concerns as a mother, but I didn't feel confident enough to respond spontaneously.

She looked at me in anticipation and I finally put two words together. 

“Wow, really?” I said. It was the worst reaction that I could have made. 

At that moment another mother joined our conversation and said: “I am sure she will get better. Some children are shy at first, but they will become more social after a few years.” 

This was a better response. A kind of response that every mother expected and I had shown thousands of times before moving to Canada. 

After that day, I saw Kate many times and she did not mention my poor reaction to her concern. I explained my deficiencies in communication to her and I was surprised when I learned that it was not a new experience for Kate. She used to work with new immigrants and had faced strange situations before. 

She was the one who told me that the main barrier for an immigrant was not language but it was the communication skill. 

She added: “Communication is the skill that can be gained by living with people, talking with them and becoming friends with them. The kind of skill that can be gained over time.” 

Unique experience

After that day, she started talking about Canada’s culture, parenting and lifestyle. She tried to help me improve my skills and become an active person in conversations. She used to inform me about every cultural event in the city and playhouses in the neighbourhood.

Becoming friends with Kate was an impressive experience for me. This experience taught me to accept other people, to understand their situation and not to judge them based on one poor reaction. It taught me that in a developed society, every person matters and every person feels responsible for others. This responsibility was one of the keys to success. 

I remember Kate always telling me, “It is does not matter what you had, the important thing is what you gain. And the vital ingredient for success in this process is your willpower, hard work and ability not to give up or get disappointed.” 

And I chose to go on this way hoping that leads me to success. 

Although challenges of miscommunication did not end, I was more relaxed because I was not the only person facing communication challenges in Canada. I knew that there were many people in society who understood me, nonetheless.

This was the time that, I felt like home.

This piece is the second part of a mini-series within New Canadian Media’s Mentorship Program. The writer was mentored by Alireza Ahmadian.

Coming up next: Why I Am Still Considering Immigrating to Canada


Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.

Commentary by: Rodel J Ramos in Mississauga

It seems our Filipino leaders have no vision and no ambition except to lead their small ethnic tribes and followers to socials, beauty contest, religious, sports and yearly traditions that lead to nowhere and no future for our people. While some are involved in politics, we do not seem to know how to play the game and benefit from it. Some of us are already proud to know well known politicians and kiss their ass.

We can’t blame anyone else but ourselves. When you do nothing and just watch your people being abused by the system and politicians, you are to blame. Most of us do not go out and vote and therefore are irrelevant to the system. Yet it is our taxes that make the government work and it is our efforts that make Canada grow. We need good leaders but we are good at doubting, maligning and shooting our leaders who rise above us specially when it comes to money. We do not know how to encourage and reward good leaders who have the our concern and have the expertise to lead and manage. We always doubt their intentions. And then we go to court, spend hundreds of thousands of our money just to prove that we are right.

While other ethnic groups get millions of grants from the Government, we are getting peanuts and our concerns are not being addressed. Our community gets ignored. They approach us only during election time to get our votes. Our community is only good at fiestas and small parties every weekend which only drains the pockets of our people. No wonder we all retire poor. After more than 40 years we can only see a few significant accomplishments and legacies. Yet we claim to be a great people.

We are more than 350,000 Filipino Canadians in Ontario and less than a million in the whole of Canada in a country with less than 35 million population. And we are acting as if we are powerless and being played around by politicians.

We are the most active community with more than 350 organizations in Metro Toronto alone. We have chapters in most of the Churches specially Couples for Christ and Bukas Loob sa Diyos. We even have an organization of Filipino priests. Our Filipino Freemasons, Knights of Columbus, Knights of Rizal, Jaycees, and Rotarians have wide influence in our society. Even our caregivers who work for the rich specially the political leaders have connection and influence. We rejuvenated the Catholic Churches and other religious churches. Our talents and taxes have contributed much to the progress of this country.
Most of us are well educated but our foreign education is not recognized.

It is time we show that we have the power to bring down a government that is not responsive to our needs and concerns and just flatter us during elections. It is also to show that we can make an unknown leader take over the government with our help. The Liberals in power have no room for Filipinos to rise because all their positions are filled. And they show no desire to even appoint our best in any position in the government. They talk about diversity but only appoint the whites.

The Progressive Conservatives under Patrick Brown have accepted Atty. Angely Pacis as their official candidate in Mississauga Centre. She is a lawyer, a journalist and a graduate of Harvard, the daughter of the late Doctor Lydia and Antonio Pacis. She is most qualified to be a Member of the Provincial Parliament and a pride for our people. I am sure with her qualifications, Patrick Brown will give her a portfolio as a Minister when they win.

The Liberals in spite of our years of loyalty to them has never done much for our people. They never appointed any of our people to high positions in government. The Conservatives under former Prime Minister Harper appointed Senator Tobias (Jun) Enverga, and Ontario Supreme Court Judge Steve Corroza and helped the caregivers with cancer who were about to be deported stay in Canada and brought their families here. He brought about the Juana Tejada Law.
The smaller communities have better strategies than us. They can elect their own people into high offices by mere show of strength and manipulations. Look at what happened to Atty. Antonio Villarin in a nomination in Scarborough where he was defeated by a Sri Lankan, a Tamil, a small ethnic community. Shame on us all. We can also have our own representative but we have to know the game, work harder and stand together, otherwise we are powerless and hopeless as a people. We have to cultivate and train potential politicians in our community. It takes years to learn the game. And it needs the whole community to raise a candidate. We have to contribute to the funds and promote them. We have to be there to vote during the nomination and election. We can’t just brag about our greatness but show nothing.

Patrick Brown is our chance to shine. He is close to the Filipino community. He choose to take not just one but three vacations in the Philippines instead of other places. Patrick loves halo halo and even had a Halo Halo Party at Queens Park. He was even inducted by Sir Joe Damasco as member of the Knights of Rizal. He recognizes the talents and strength of the Filipino community.

There is no room for us to grow in the Liberal Party. I understand the loyalty of the Filipinos to the Liberals. Some say because of Pierre Trudeau who opened up Canada to the Filipinos during his time. Did he open Canada to us because of his love for Filipinos or that Canada needed the talents and industry of the Filipinos? We worked hard and paid our taxes for many years. We are not free loaders. It was this contribution that enriched Canada. Even if we owe our gratitude, does it mean we have to serve all our lives with gratitude or servitude?

The Provincial Liberals under Kathleen Wynne wasted millions of dollars with their bad decisions of cancelling the two energy power plants in Mississauga in their incompetence. They sold the Hydro shares and made our electricity so expensive, yet we subsidize electricity in the U.S.

They are not doing anything to bring the cost of housing down. Let’s make this housing crises into job opportunities for Ontarians specially the poor. We are attracting a million immigrants every 3 years and 40% of that goes to Ontario. They should open up lands in farming communities close to Toronto for housing. We should built houses for these people at an affordable rate. Our children will not be able to afford the present real estate prices.


Republished under arrangement with The Philippine Reporter.

By: Avi Benlolo in Peterborough 

The City of Peterborough has advised that it will grant a permit to a white supremacist group for the use of Confederation Park this weekend.

It appears civil society and particularly municipalities granting permits for rallies have lost sight of the meaning of a "permit".  A permit is a recognized legal document provided by authorities to allow for example, a rally or demonstration to proceed.  The root word for "permit" is "permission" and in this case, it implies that the City of Peterborough is giving authorization or consenting to a potential hate rally that will take place in its city.

In this case, the Peterborough Examiner reports that the group in question is the Canadian Nationalist Front, described as a  racist, white supremacist and Neo-Nazi group promoting white nationalism. In an email to Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, Mayor Daryl Bennet has stated "We must stand together against racism and hate.  While our Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects freedom of expression, it also seeks to preserve and enhance our multi-cultural heritage".

It is true that our Charter protects our freedom of expression, but there are limits to that in Canadian law. In fact, freedom of speech is not absolute in Canada. In Section 1 of the Charter, the government can pass laws that limit free expression – as long as they are reasonable and justified.  As significantly, the Criminal Code of Canada's sections 318, 319 and 320 forbid hate speech, propaganda and the promotion of genocide.  Nor is freedom of assembly absolute in Canada.   In fact only “peaceful” assembly is guaranteed and then only “to such reasonable limits prescribed by law” as can be justified under section 1 of the Charter.

A city need not necessarily grant permission for a rally – especially if there is wide condemnation by the community at large including some 100 organizations who have joined together in protest of this activity.  The decision to allow the rally to proceed is especially disconcerting given the rising significance of "white power" and Nazism is this country.  In the course of this very heated summer, not a week has passed when several antisemitic and racist incidents have taken place somewhere in this country. There were at least three major antisemitic and hateful incidents this week alone and Canadians are becoming increasingly concerned.

This week's inauguration of a monument to the Holocaust in Ottawa was a significant milestone in our nation's history.  It gives voice to the six million Jewish children, women and men who were murdered by Nazis as a consequence of antisemitism.  It serves as an eternal reminder that hate and intolerance should never ever be "permitted" by anyone, especially not by leaders.

The Holocaust happened because people failed to stand up to hate, even when the smallest of  incidents.  Some even excused the rise of Nazism citing German laws upholding freedom of expression, democracy and civil society at the time.  Given this critical historical lesson, can we afford to look the other way and even tacitly grant "permission" to groups who undermine inclusivity?  White supremacists have no place in modern society. They are the remnants of humanity's dark ages – responsible for the death of 60 million people including 44,000 Canadian soldiers who fought overseas to liberate Europe from the Nazis. 

It is an absolute travesty for any municipality to grant permission to white supremacists to use the public sphere. As Jewish communities begin observing the beginning of Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar, it is also a time of reflection in the wake of rising antisemitism and recent hateful incidents.  And while this heightens our level of anxiety, it also reinforces our commitment to fight for human rights and Canadian values of inclusivity, diversity and pluralism.  Never again shall we allow hate and intolerance to come in the way of this great nation, Canada.


Avi Benlolo is a Canadian human rights activist, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, the Canadian branch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

By: Davina Bhandar in Vancouver 

Within the space of a few moments, Jagmeet Singh became one of Canada’s most admired politicians. His cool-under-pressure reaction to being confronted by an angry heckler is just one of the reasons Singh is considered to be the favourite contender for leadership of the federal New Democratic Party.

A video of the Sept. 6 incident at Singh’s campaign event in Brampton, Ont., went viral and has been viewed millions of times in Canada and around the world. Moments into the event, an angry white woman interrupted Singh and shouted Islamophobic and vitriolic statements at him, and physically gesticulated, demonstrating her feeling of entitlement — to space, voice and position - in relation to others at the event.

Singh seemed undeterred by the outburst. His response to her rant was to rally his audience to help him relay his campaign message. He asked his guests to chant: “Love and courage.”

In the face of a racist rant, Singh remained calm.

What is the nature of Singh’s call for love? His political slogan is based on a message of universal love and courage. Singh’s message — and chant that evening — is uniquely situated among the slogans of the three other candidates: Charlie Angus “Got your back,” Niki Ashton “Building a movement, together,” and Guy Caron, “Let’s Build a Progressive and Sustainable Economy.”

The dramatic events at the Sept. 6 meeting demonstrates something about Singh, as a person and as a candidate. It also points to new undercurrents of religion and spirituality and its role — not only in Canadian politics, but also in the leadership race for the NDP.

Singh’s campaign and potential leadership arrives in a climate of increasing hatred, fear and division. His call for universal love is coherent with Sikhism, which challenges the division between daily life and a devotional love that guides all thought and action. How does the language of love and courage relate to a New Democratic Party trying to find its way in a shifting political landscape?

Singh’s outward appearance solicits questions from some Canadians — as in the case of the heckler — regarding his secular position: To what degree does Singh’s religion relate to his policy ideas or conduct?

Canada: Judeo-Christian values?

Canadian political institutions and traditions are imbued with Judeo-Christian values and symbols. Yet the separation of church and state maintains religion does not dictate the making of policy and law. However, in the game of politics, courting ethno-racial, national and religious identified voters has become a central art of party campaign strategists.

Political parties of all persuasions have had to navigate this division in a variety of ways. In Canada, the left social democratic tradition, represented now by the NDP, has had less experience with faith-based movements and the religious identity of its leaders than their right-wing counterparts and left-leaning parties elsewhere in the world. Singh’s leadership challenge will likely change that.

While Singh is positioned as a secular politician, his ethos, sense of justice and formation of his identity is connected to a Sikh practice. The very essence of the message of universal love and courage is embedded in a Sikh devotion, rather than a secular idea of loving all humankind. Practising Sikhism defines a way of life — one that is contemplative, meditative and committed to spiritualism and positive actions.

The Clash of Civilizations

To understand the contemporary role of religion in politics, we need to look at one of our turning points: 9/11. The attacks on New York City and the Pentagon served as a marker of the time foreign and domestic policy in North America was called upon to name Islamic terrorism as a universal enemy.

Once North America and other western governments embraced the rhetoric of a civilization divide, the psyche of liberal democratic nations split apart. The already tenuous divide between the religious and secular began to rupture further.

This reinforced a binary division and emboldened a powerful discourse of racism and Islamophobia. The basic premise is that Islam represents something universally distinct from Christian belief systems.

This discourse of racism and difference has gained strength and societal control through the election of conservative governments with moral platforms that build on fears and anxieties of susceptible citizens.

Sixteen years of corrosive discourses since 9/11 has led to: Us vs. Them, the Clash of Civilizations and racism. We are now at the point of the normalization of white supremacy. It is no longer an oddity or a left-wing conspiracy theory to discuss the presence of fascism and neo-Nazis — these are events widely circulated in our social media feeds and featured during the evening news.

Religious discrimination in Canada

Islamophobia and racism are often understood to be twinned structures of oppression. In many ways they are, but there are complex differences between them. They disseminate and exist in different political, cultural and social taxonomies.

Islamophobia operates through systems of stereotypes, often misunderstanding or misrepresenting the traditions, religious practices and customs of highly diverse ethno-national and racial communities. Islamophobia has been manufactured in multiple ways in society through popular culture, media, policy and criminalizing targeting Islam and Muslims.

Racism is a larger systemic operation of power denigrating one race while validating or elevating another.

When the Harper Conservatives were in government, they attempted to map onto Canadian national values a form of social conservatism. This was articulated through a distinction between Canada and the “barbaric cultural practices” of others.

The clear lines that were being drawn between what Harper referred to as “old stock Canadians” during a 2015 federal leaders’ debate brought into discourse front and center the relationship between white supremacy and Islamophobia. It connected the dots between a normative white Christian Canadian identity that could stand against the racialized others.

Now the Conservative Party has a leader who proudly accepts the label: “Harper with a Smile.”“ Andrew Scheer has the support of social conservatives in the Conservative Party. He has steadfastly supported free speech over the condemnation of Islamophobia and was absent during the House of Commons vote for the Anti-Islamophobia Motion M-103, overwhelmingly passed in the House of Commons.

 Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer has been labeled the smiling Harper. Here, he speaks at his shadow cabinet meeting in Winnipeg. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

When losing your cool is not an option

Singh said his ability to remain cool under pressure was largely owed to his experience of being a brown, Sikh and turbaned man, growing up in the 1980s in Brampton, Ont., just northwest of Toronto.

His past experiences of religious and racist intolerance helped to fortify him against racist language and assault.

 Leadership contender Jagmeet Singh greets supporters before the NDP’s Leadership Showcase in Hamilton, Ont., on Sept. 17. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

In the moment in which the racist woman yelled at him, she assumed he was a Muslim. Many wondered why Singh did not attempt to correct her misconceived perception; he is not a Muslim, but rather, a Sikh.

Suggesting such a distinction in the moment, he said, would only further the misunderstanding that somehow being Muslim means such treatment is considered justifiable. His reaction, he said, should not be to proclaim his religion. By not correcting this misconception, Singh was acting in solidarity against Islamophobia.

Sikhs have been affected throughout the post-9/11 discourses of Islamophobia, mainly because of this misunderstood identity. In the U.S., and elsewhere, there has been a rise in hate bias attacks against Sikhs, with the 2012 Oak Creek, Wis., shooting as a visible example.

While there are those who, in the similar vein as Singh, have sought to challenge Islamophobia by standing in solidarity, there have also been many instances where Sikhs in America, the U.K. and Canada painstakingly distinguish themselves from Muslims.

However, in countless examples, when Islamophobia is experienced in the public sphere against properly identified Muslims, there has been a lack of outcry.

In Canada, the shooting deaths in Quebec’s Sainte-Foy’s Mosque, in which Azzedine Soufiane, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubakar Thabthi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Mamadou Tanou Barry, and Ibrahim Barry were killed, was unmistakably an act of terrorism. Canadians across the country mourned this tragedy. And yet was it recognized as an act of terrorism against the citizens of this state?

The day-to-day effects of Islamophobia have led to many Muslims living with heightened experiences of fear and not knowing what they might encounter on a walk to school, a day at work or even waiting for a bus.

The left social-democrats of the NDP hold steadfastly to their conception of justice, fairness and equality in a secular world. The ways in which people are encountering the public today, however, is seemingly much murkier than these stark divisions.

The Conversation The issues of racism, religious intolerance and social justice are not central issues for any federal political party. These issues, however, should no longer be viewed as separate from major policy platforms including health, welfare reform, employment, national defense, national security, aboriginal relations and education. Perhaps a political leader such as Jagmeet Singh will be able to navigate these debates with an alacrity and style we have yet to witness in the Canadian political world.

Davina Bhandar, Adjunct Professor in School of Communication and Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies, Simon Fraser University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017 21:52

McGill Students Root for U.S. Dreamers

Written by

By: Caitlin Atkinson in Montreal

On Sept. 5, in one of his cruellest acts yet, US President Donald Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA was an immigration policy enacted by the Obama administration that allowed individuals who moved to America illegally as minors to remain in the country, given a certain set of conditions that ensure they make productive contributions to society. If Congress doesn’t find a way to legalize DACA and develop a plan in which DACA participants—affectionately known as “Dreamers”—can apply for US citizenship, upwards of 800,000 individuals face possible deportation to countries they barely know.

While Trump’s actions have led to an emotional outcry both within the US and internationally, at the same time, there exists a rising unwillingness to accept immigrants among Canadians. Under the presumption that an influx of Dreamers will attempt to migrate to Canada, some believe that the Canadian government should have the absolute power to admit only those with high academic or economic abilities. However, Canada’s approach to accepting thousands of Dreamers must reflect the diversity that Canada claims to embrace, and go beyond allowing only those the government subjectively deems as ‘the best.’ As Trump tries to rip these young people from all that they have ever known, Canada—and particularly its universities—has the humanitarian duty to provide a safe place and a legal channel for Dreamers to become citizens.

Though Canadians who oppose the northward immigration of Dreamers argue that it will overwhelm the country’s immigration system, it is incredibly unlikely that all 800,000 individuals in the DACA program will relocate to Canada. In a quote in a Vice article, Ontario Independent Senator Ratna Omidvar suggested that Canada should look to welcome 10,000 to 30,000 Dreamers. Canada, she argues, must capitalize on the opportunity to welcome a new wave of skilled workers, who will help to boost the economy.

Canadian post-secondary institutions should support the aspirations made possible by the DACA program in the first place, by accepting and helping to fund Dreamers’ transitions into Canadian society.

McGill students can surely empathize with the plights of Dreamers, especially those who are in the process of completing university degrees. Dreamers have spent the majority of their lives in the United States, and many have come to hope for the same type of social and financial success that McGill students aspire to. Now, they face the possibility of deportation, compromising their futures. Canadian post-secondary institutions should support the aspirations made possible by the DACA program in the first place, by accepting and helping to fund Dreamers’ transitions into Canadian society.

Huron University College in London, Ont. has already set an important example, offering $60,000 in scholarships to students affected by the overturn of the DACA program. At McGill, compensating for an increased number of transfer applicants when planning classes would allow for more space in programs to accommodate Dreamers. To further ease the transition, McGill students can start groups that lobby the administration to take action and recognize the unique circumstances of Dreamers and work to welcome them into the McGill community. By removing barriers to Dreamers’ enrollment in Canadian universities, Canadians can help to reverse the damage being done by the Trump Administration, and help to give these young adults a third chance at a future. Those who have already dedicated their time and energy into their schooling have a right to finish their education.

Morally, Canadians need to recognize the inherent abuse of power in the argument that the Canadian government should be highly selective in choosing which Dreamers have sufficient test scores or employability, and thus the right to immigrate to Canada. All should have the opportunity to apply and be fairly considered, without the constant paranoia of fitting narrow acceptance criteria. While, opposers of immigration harshly critique prioritizing citizens of other countries over born Canadians, its supporters argue that it is necessary for growth. What critics must recognize is the need for empathy, and to recognize the injustice that will occur if Canada does not provide social and economic opportunities.

Given that none of these individuals have criminal records, nor histories of violence, they deserve the opportunity to continue on their quest to achieve their goals, just like those fortunate enough to be born in Canada. Canada and its universities have the capacity to welcome Dreamers, and as a country that prides itself on compassion and diversity, we have a responsibility to protect the dream that Donald Trump is so desperately trying to crush.


Republished under arrangement with the McGill Tribune.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017 21:29

Saudi Arabia, Modernity and Counter Terrorism

Written by

Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

Three cheers for Saudi Arabia!  The conservative Kingdom has ruled that women can now drive and no longer need to be accompanied by a mahram (essentially a male guardian) when they are in a car. Many are celebrating this decision although some conservative killjoys have accused the government of ‘bending the rules of Sharia’.  Some have joked that the country has finally joined the 20th century. 

That quip is actually more accurate than might appear at first reading. In many ways – socially, religiously, ideologically – Saudi is stuck not in the 20th century but in the 18th century, and, truth be told, in the seventh century.  The 18th century is a reference to the pact made between the up and coming Al Saud family and a bunch of ultra-conservative clerics headed by Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab whereby the Al Sauds took care of people’s economic and political well-being while the ‘Wahhabis’ looked after their souls. 

By that, I mean, they imposed an austere, joyless interpretation of Islam that they claimed was void of what they saw as all the alterations and aberrations that had entered into the faith since the time of the Prophet Muhammad in the early to mid-600’s.  Wahhabi Islam is rejected by the vast majority of the world’s Muslims and would have remained an insignificant blip on the international stage had it not been for the 1970's oil crisis and the gazillions of dollars that flowed into Saudi coffers, only to be redirected worldwide in the spread – through mosques and schools – of this hateful and intolerant version of Islam.  

There really is no other way to look at Saudi Islam and it is undeniable that the vitriol inherent in Wahhabism is directly responsible for a huge part of the ideology that became Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

So what are the Saudis doing about all this? After all, the Kingdom has suffered from jihadi attacks itself and one would think that the regime does not want or like to be tainted with any association with a violent bunch of terrorists. It is an open debate, though, whether Saudi Arabia really cares what outsiders think in light of its massive wealth and still rather closed society.  Here the news is both good and bad.

On the good side, the government has been cracking down on ‘preachers of hate’ and dismantling their ability to spread their message.  Many have also been arrested and Saudi security forces have successfully foiled many terrorist plots.  The ‘reform’ programme – and I use the term loosely – of King Salman and, probably more importantly, his son and second-in-line for the throne Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is ambitious in scope and must be seen as a move in the right direction. Whether it actually achieves much and how the Wahhabi clerics react to it will bear watching.

The decision to allow women to drive should be seen through this prism.

On the other hand, Wahhabi influence is still growing in places like South Asia and Southeast Asia, as clerics continue to influence the locals, including children in madrassas and pesantren (what they call madrassas in Indonesia).  Saudi economic weight is clearly playing a role here as the Kingdom can offer education and religious instruction to countries where there simply isn’t enough room in the budget to do so.

Saudi Arabia is also incontrovertibly involved in massive human rights violations in Yemen, where it has been mired for years in a civil war that it tries to paint as a necessary struggle to prevent Iranian (read: Shia) infiltration into the Arabian Peninsula. The Gulf kingdom is trying to quash attempts to have independent, neutral observers carry out investigations in Yemen to determine the scale of suffering and point fingers at those responsible for it. 

Speaking of the Shia, Saudi police and the military continue to mount ‘counter terrorism’ operations in the country’s Shia-dominant eastern provinces. While there certainly are violent extremists in the region, a lot of the violence is state-imposed and driven by the Wahhabi belief that the only good Shiite is a dead one.

It is thus a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to Saudi Arabia and terrorism. The Kingdom talks the talk and is involved in some worthwhile national, regional (not Yemen) and international counter-terrorism initiatives. But, as long as Wahhabi Islam is the dominant form of Islam practised in the country and spread through Saudi ‘benevolence’ worldwide, that nation must be seen as both part of the solution and a big part of the problem.

What then do we in the West do?  The unfortunate answer, for the time being, is ‘not much’.  We cannot ignore Saudi Arabia, we cannot tell it what to do, we cannot isolate it and we cannot pretend that it is not behind the contagion of hateful Islamic teachings. In other words, we are damned if we do nothing and damned if we do something (if anyone has a better idea please e-mail me).

Last week, I was a guest lecturer in a graduate course on terrorism offered by my friend Thomas Juneau at the University of Ottawa. The class was discussing the nature of the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and the consensus seemed to be that Washington has no choice but to guarantee the Kingdom’s existence and remain a close ally because all the alternatives are worse (if Saudi Arabia decides to move closer to Russia or China, going in an even more radical direction, etc.). 

That is what has been termed Sophie’s Choice – where either decision is unbearable.  And that is seldom a good place to find oneself. 


Phil Gurski has worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). His latest book The Lesser Jihads is now available online and in bookstores. 

By: Dr. Binoy Kampmark in Melbourne, Australia

It was never spectacular, but the Australian media scape is set to become duller, more contained, and more controlled with changes to the Broadcasting Services Act.  In an environment strewn with the corpses of papers and outlets strapped for cash, calls for reforming the media market have been heard across the spectrum. 

The foggy deception being perpetrated by the Turnbull government, assisted by the calculating antics of South Australian senator Nick Xenophon, is that diversity will be shored up by such measures as the $60 million “innovation” fund for small publishers while scrapping the so-called two-out-of-three rule for TV, radio and press ownership. Such dissembling language is straight out of the spin doctor’s covert manual: place innovation in the title, and you might get across the message. 

As Chris Graham of New Matilda scornfully put it, 

“The Turnbull government is going to spend $60 million of your taxes buying a Senator’s vote to pass bad legislation designed to advantage some of the most powerful media corporations in the world.”

Paul Budde of Independent Australia was similarly excoriating.

“To increase power of the incumbent players through media reforms might not necessarily have an enormous effect on the everyday media diversity, but it will allow organisations such as the Murdoch press to wield even greater power over Australian politics than is already the case.” 

As the statement from Senator Xenophon’s site reads, 

“Grants would be allocated, for example, to programs and initiatives such as the purchasing or upgrading of equipment and software, development of apps, business activities to drive revenue and readership, and training, all of which will assist in extending civic and regional journalism.”

The communications minister Mitch Fifield went so far as to deem the fund “a shot in the arm” for media organisations, granting them “a fighting chance”. 

The aim here, claims the good senator, is to throw down the gauntlet to the revenue pinchers such as Facebook and Google while generating a decent number of recruits through journalism cadetships. Google, claimed Xenophon in August, “are hoovering up billions of dollars or revenue along with Facebook and that is killing media in this country.”

Google Australia managing director Jason Pellegrino had a very different take: you only had to go no further than the consumer. 

“The people to blame are you and I as news consumers, because we are choosing to change the behaviour and patterns of (how) we are consuming news.” 

Xenophon’s patchwork fund hardly alleviates the consequences that will follow from scrapping of the rules on ownership. Having chanted the anti-Google line that its behaviour is distinctly anti-democratic, his agreement with the government will shine a bright green light for cash-heavy media tycoons keen on owning types of media (radio, television, papers) without limits. The line between commercial viability and canned journalism run by unelected puppet masters becomes all too real, while the truly independent outlets will be left to their social Darwinian fate. 

Labor senator Sam Dastyari saw the Turnbull-Xenophon agreement has having one notable target, and not necessarily the social media giants who had punctured the media market with such effect. 

“They are doing in the Guardian. You have thrown them under the bus.” 

The measure is odd in a few respects, most notably because regional papers were hardly consulted on the measure. This, it seemed, was a hobby horse run by the senator through the stables of government policy. In the end, the horse made it to the finishing line. 

The very idea of linking government grants to the cause of journalism constitutes a form of purchasing allegiance and backing. How this advances the cause of civic journalism, as opposed to killing it by submission, is unclear. The temptation for bias – the picking of what is deemed appropriately civic, and what is not, is all too apparent. 

The package supposedly incorporates an “independence test” by which the applicant publisher can’t be affiliated with any political party, union, superannuation fund, financial institution, non-government organisation or policy lobby group. Further independence is supposedly ensured by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which will administer the fund. 

The decision about which organisation to fund is already implied by the scale of revenue. The cut-off point, for starters, is an annual turnover of not less than $300,000 in revenue. The other end of the scale is a ceiling of $30 million, which, for any media outlet, would be impressive. 

This media non-reform package also comes on the heels of another dispiriting masquerade: an attempt to import a further layering of supposed transparency measures on the ABC and SBS, a position long championed by senator Pauline Hanson. This reactionary reflex, claimed the fuming crossbench Senator Jacqui Lambie, was “the worst lot of crap I have seen”, the sort of feculence designed to punish the public broadcaster for being “one step ahead when it comes to iView and their social media platforms.”[6] 

Between the giants of Google and Facebook, and a government happy to sing before the tycoons, a small publishing outlet is best going it alone in an already cut throat environment, relying on the old fashioned, albeit ruthless good sense, of the reader. Have trust that the copy will pull you through, or perish trying to do so.


Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMITUniversity, Melbourne.

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