New Canadian Media

by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa

Even before our interview got underway, he told me, he was about to post a tweet that criticizes the Liberal government’s plans to send peacekeepers to Africa.

“I’m blasting them and I said BS, Africa doesn’t need peacekeepers; what we need to do is to provide training for African peacekeepers,” says Deepak Obhrai, Conservative MP for Calgary, Forest Lawn.

That is the nature of the man seeking the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. Often touted as one of the most controversial MPs, Obhrai refuses the controversial tag, but says he is supposed to generate discussion and that is what he does.

“That is part of my job, to create national debates,” he says.

He believes adding his voice to national discourse is very important.

“I’m putting my views across. If I feel a government policy is wrong, I’ll say so,” he adds.

“Elitist and white”

Obhrai recently criticized his own party for increasing party membership fees to $25, saying some of these new rules made the party “elitist and white”. He had his way. The party overturned the decision to increase the amount and pegged it at $15.

“After I made that big noise, it went across the country and the party reduced it,” he says amid smiles that suggest he feels he’s won a big battle.  

“That is an achievement. When you fight, you can do it,” he adds.

That is not the only time Obhrai has fought his own party. He openly opposed Bill C-24 which gave power to the federal government to strip Canadian citizenship from dual citizens when charged with terrorism. He made some enemies, but he didn’t care, as long as he put his message across.

“Of course, for a few days, I was marginalized,” he scoffs.

Old Canada

Often outspoken, Obhrai says people who still think Canada belongs to just a few of them are living in the past. Obhrai says these people and their ideas need to be fought.

“There is what I call ‘establishment’ discrimination. The old establishment still thinks Canada belongs to the 1940’s,” he says.

“There is what I call ‘establishment’ discrimination. The old establishment still thinks Canada belongs to the 1940’s,” he says.

“I’m running to ensure my message that the Conservative Party is open to all [gets out].  I’ve been working 20 years at this, I just have to continue to work hard at it,” Obhrai adds.

 “They are criticizing me because I’m saying this is a new Canada,” Obhrai says, without alluding to anybody in particular.

Attracting immigrants

Obhrai, who is the longest serving Tory MP, says the party was perceived and labelled as a racist party, and so he joined to change that perception from the inside. 

“I worked hard over the years, and I spoke out. We were very successful.”

He says those efforts helped the party especially in 2011, when they won a majority of seats in Parliament.

“But then we started sleeping,” he laments.  

Citing the controversy over Bill C-24 and the one surrounding the niqab, Obhrai says this portrayed the Conservative party as “anti-immigrant”. He says the party lost a majority of new Canadians in last October’s federal election.

Obhrai says, “This is not the party I worked for; this is not the party that I built.”

Obhrai says, “This is not the party I worked for; this is not the party that I built.”

He says the party needs to bring on board all new Canadians and make it attractive for them, adding that he is best equipped to lead the charge. .

Born in Tanzania

Obhrai was born in Tanzania and moved to Canada at a young age. Since being elected to the House of Commons in 1997, he has served in various capacities. He is currently the dean of the Tory caucus. As parliamentary secretary for 10 years, he says he has gained a lot of international recognition and needs to bring this experience to his party.

“In the 10 years that I worked as parliamentary secretary, I gained a huge amount of respect from overseas, in Africa, Asia and the Pacific; everybody knows me,” Obhrai says.

“I am a man with tremendous experience.”

He says with this and his vast knowledge of the grassroots, his message is unique and that is what the party needs at this time.

Proud Immigrant

Obhrai takes every opportunity to make people aware he is an immigrant. Taking me through some of the large collection of souvenirs in his Parliament Hill office, he points out a framed certificate from his former high school, Arusha Secondary School in Tanzania with pride. Indeed, it was the first thing he pointed to in his office.

Obhrai also prides himself as the only immigrant MP to be profiled in a textbook for students in Canada.

“By the way, me, an immigrant from Africa, is profiled in the high school book of Grade 9 in the whole of Alberta,” he says proudly.

He fetches the book from his table and opens straight to the page. “Every high school student in Grade 9 reads about me. That is an achievement for an immigrant.”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Politics

by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa 

Elly Bollegraaf, 76, moved to Canada in 1951 with her family after most of her relatives were wiped out in one of the world’s worst genocides. Her father died in the notorious Sobibor concentration camp in German-occupied Poland.

Now, just 70 years after the end of the Second World War, new efforts are being made to preserve the stories of Bollegraaf and her fellow Holocaust survivors.

Carleton University’s Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies, in partnership with the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (CHES), have set up the Ottawa Holocaust Survivors project to preserve the stories and the testimonies of those who lived through the Holocaust.

“Its extremely important to document what we already have not documented for historical reasons,” Bollegraaf says.  

“We want people to learn from their past mistakes and if we don’t document these things, people will soon forget that they ever happened,” she adds.

Purpose of the project

The Ottawa Holocaust Survivors Testimony project seeks to ensure that Holocaust survivors in Ottawa have their accounts before, during and after the Holocaust documented in short videos and audios as well as written records. 

Mina Cohn, director of the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship, says this project is very important not only for its historical significance, but for educational purposes.

“We decided to do this now because our survivors are aging, and because there are no replacements for their roles and positions, we decided to record them create short videos for presentations and research purposes,” Cohn says.

Most Holocaust survivors in Ottawa have been giving talks in schools and other places around the city since the ‘90s. Cohn says by sharing their experiences in schools, the stories of the survivors have become “an integrated part of history.” 

New efforts are being made to preserve the stories of Bollegraaf and her fellow Holocaust survivors.

These videos will therefore attempt to give personal testimonies of survivors during the Holocaust when the survivors are no longer able to go to the schools to share their experiences.

“The future generation will hear from the survivors themselves rather than somebody else,” Cohn says.

The project will film up to ten Holocaust survivors based in Ottawa who will tell their unique stories. Carleton University, through its crowdfunding platform Future Funder, intended to raise $7,500 for the project. They have raised over nine thousand dollars for the project within two weeks.

Cohn says, “The extra money will help us create more educational materials for teachers, and we’re very pleased.”

Memories of the war

Bollegraff was sent into hiding by her mother at a very young age when Jews were being attacked in the Netherlands in a small town of Mechelen. She recalls how she was made a part of a family that took her in. All the children in the family were older than her and the youngest was nine years her senior. 

“I hung around mainly with the mother of the family that hid me. I was mainly with her all the time,” she says.

Bollegraaf’s mother, Rhodea Shandler ,who died at the age of 88, wrote a book in 2007 chronicling her experiences of surviving the Holocaust and relocating to Canada. 

Shandler’s parents were killed at the Auschwitz concentration camp in German-occupied Poland during the Holocaust. 

“I hung around mainly with the mother of the family that hid me."

She and her new husband moved to Canada when Bollegraaf was only nine years. 

Bollegraaf says documenting testimonies is one of the surest ways of making people know how serious the Holocaust was. She says she and the other survivors are “living history objects as survivors of the war.” 

Lessons from the past inform our present

Cohn says one lesson everybody must take from this project is the need to get involved. She says going forward, the youth especially has the arduous task of taking up challenges and roles of responsibility in order to affect decisions that are taken by people in authority.

“The younger generation is responsible for political elections, when something bad is happening they should be reacting,” she says.

“They should be involved in a way not to let things like the Holocaust happen again and not to be bystanders but active opposers to bad events,” Cohn adds.

Bollegraaf, a scientific evaluator of medical devices, says the system of admitting refugees from war torn countries has changed. She commends Canadian authorities for their efforts in admitting refugees. 

“They should be involved in a way not to let things like the Holocaust happen again."

In her mind, the world is more proactive today compared to the past when they watched people from other countries being persecuted. She says the developed world has learned a lot from mistakes of the past.

“When the Vietnamese boat people came in the ‘70s, 4,000 came to Ottawa alone,” Bollegraaf says. 

She continues, “Why? Because, when Jews were not allowed anywhere in the world when the war was raging, they were all murdered.”

She says a lot more needs to be done and that economically developed countries need to take more responsibility when dealing with refugee crises in order to avoid the mistakes of the Holocaust. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in History

by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa 

Fifty prominent Indo-Canadians were recognized in Ottawa recently for promoting and fostering India-Canada relations. 

Carleton University hosted a celebration of their achievements on Feb. 4, alongside a launch for The A-List, a book compilation of their stories written by Indo-Canadian journalist, Ajit Jain. 

Now in its second edition, The A-List features Canadians of Indian origin who through their various careers and community efforts have helped promote relations between the two countries. This year’s event also celebrated three Canadians considered “friends of India” who have made similar efforts. 

An all-inclusive list 

Four cabinet members from the new Liberal government were recognized for bringing joy and pride to the Indo-Canadian community. 

Minister for infrastructure, Amarjeet Sohi; minister for small businesses and tourism, Bardish Chagger; national defence minister, Harjit Sajjan, as well as Navdeep Bains, minister of innovation, science and economic development make up the highest number of Indo-Canadians in the federal cabinet in the history of Canada. 

They also set the record as the highest number of cabinet ministers appointed who are visible minorities from one particular country. 

“They have raised the profile of other Indo-Canadians to greater heights by virtue of leadership in their respective fields.”

In addition, the list includes 90-year-old world-renowned geologist Dr. Deshbandhu Sikka, who discovered magnetic iron ore deposits in Kudremukh, Karnataka, India. Sikka also discovered gold and copper deposits in billions of quantities in India’s Madhya Pradesh. 

The A-List also features 24-year-old Manasvi Noel, currently Miss India-Canada, who was born in Dubai to Indian parents and immigrated to Canada. She traveled to Mumbai to learn belly dancing, which she performed at the Miss India-Canada competition. 

“They have raised the profile of other Indo-Canadians to greater heights by virtue of leadership in their respective fields,” said Jain at the launch. 

A-Listers are ‘bridge builders’ 

According to The A-List, between 1946 and 1955, there were a total of 1,100 Indians, then referred to as persons of East Indian origin, in Canada. Today, there are more than one million Indo-Canadians in Canada. 

There are now 20 members of Parliament (MPs) of Indian descent – four of whom are cabinet ministers in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government – compared to in 1993 when there were just three MPs. 

“What a proud moment it is for us,” Jain said. 

“What a proud moment it is for us.”

The A-List was created to honour Indo-Canadians who continue to inspire others in the diaspora. 

“They are the bridge builders between Canada and India,” Jain added. 

President of Carleton University, Roseann O’Reilly Runte, commended the efforts and services of those who made the list in fostering stronger ties between Canada and India. She called their stories “very extraordinary.” 

Runte went on to acknowledge the growing ties between Canada and India as “a great partnership.” 

She said this was special because Canadian and Indian collaboration in education has a rich history, hence Carleton University hosting the book launch. Currently, the school has partnered with other universities in India where students embark on exchange programs. 

Runte said Carleton University has more students who have gone to India than any other university in Ontario. 

Great, pluralism and jugaad 

Eight out of the 50 people named in The A-List were present at the ceremony and received copies of the book from Runte. 

“There are three things that define us as Indo-Canadians," said Dilip Soman, professor of marketing at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. "These three things are great, pluralism and jugaad.”  

Jugaad is a Hindi word, which means the ability to improvise and make do with what’s available. 

“... [W]e need to think about ways we can better support new Indo-Canadians and help them succeed.”

Soman, who moved to Canada 14 years ago from the U.S., was also named in The A-List. He said he was honoured to be recognized and that there are others who are also promoting Indo-Canadian relations positively in their own endeavours. 

The A-List is amazing, but I think it is just [the] tip of the iceberg,” he said. “There are many people who I think are doing amazing works, but are not on The A-List.” 

He added, “There are a lot of people whose works go unrecognized because there isn’t enough in terms of pages.” 

Soman said there there are also people who will not be written about because they may not have the opportunity to achieve success.  

“As a country and as a community, we need to think about ways we can better support new Indo-Canadians and help them succeed in anything that they choose to do,” he said. 

The best way to avoid situations where Indo-Canadians do not achieve their dreams when they come to Canada, he explained, is to support them when they first arrive in the country. 

He also urged his other colleagues on The A-List to learn from each other and build a more solid Indo-Canadian community. 

The A-List, which has already recognized the work of 100 Indo-Canadians, will honour more in the coming years, as Jain and his team have already started the 2017 list.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Books
Thursday, 21 January 2016 00:48

Canada's Refugee Target is Not Realistic

Commentary by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa

During the campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, then the leader of the Liberal Party, promised to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015. Before the year ended, the Liberal government had reviewed its plans, hoping to bring in that number by the end of February. 

With just under six weeks to go, I don’t think they’ll be able to achieve that.

This isn't a failure on the part of the Liberal government. Instead, it should give them an opportunity to ensure quality rather than quantity. 

Reevaluation after the Paris attacks

When the Liberal party won the election, what was on the mind of most Canadians was whether the Trudeau-led government would be able to bring in the number of refugees it promised. In the early days of his victory, some expected him to even expedite action on bringing in Syrian refugees. 

However, after the Paris attacks that claimed more than 130 lives, some Provincial leaders started questioning the Liberals’ “haste”. Paramount among them was the Premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall, who asked Ottawa to halt their plans to bring in the refugees.

It should give them an opportunity to bring in quality rather than quantity.

In November, the Prime Minister announced a new deadline to bring the refugees, saying this change was not because of the Paris attacks, but because many of the logistical requirements had not been met. 

Is it just the numbers?

Taking time to review the process was a good decision. 

As the 10,000th refugee arrived last week, the government is hoping to achieve its target. I strongly believe this desire to bring in 25,000 refugees is misplaced. 

I would rather see the government bring in a smaller number — say, the 10,000 refugees already here — and concentrate on them and their welfare. This is a better idea than bringing in 25,000 who might end up being more miserable than if they were in a refugee camp in Jordan or Turkey.

I've met refugees who have been in this country for more than a year and are still struggling to integrate. Others are still struggling to find jobs while even more are inundated by government-assisted loans. It is therefore laudable that the government has decided to waive the loans given to Syrian refugees under the Immigrant Loan Program. Similar additional measures must be taken.

This process must be handled in a meticulous way, rather than rushed so that the government can meet a very narrow political deadline.

The settlement agencies must also have their capacity rebuilt. Consistently in the past, these agencies have had their budgets cut in the face of an ever-growing refugee problem. 

I have met refugees who have been in this country for more than a year and are still struggling to integrate.

For example, the Catholic Centre for Immigrants in Ottawa had its budget cut from eight million dollars to five. Right from the onset of the crisis last year, they’ve indicated their willingness to help, but with these cuts, they can only help to a certain extent.

Executive Director for the Catholic Centre for Immigration Carl Nicholson told the CBC in November, "Every single aspect for refugee response is underfunded at the moment." 

That is the reality on the ground. Most of these organizations get two-thirds of their funding from the federal government.

If the government indeed wants to bring in the numbers they’ve promised, they should think about funding these agencies — and not only for the next few months. When the refugees come, they'll know these agencies and not the government. It’s these agencies that seek to help them feel comfortable, and they cannot do this without funding.

Refugees’ reluctance to come to Canada

One other issue is the reluctance of refugees to choose Canada as a destination. In late November, only six per cent of refugees approached by the UN on behalf of the government showed interest in relocating to Canada. This could also hamper the government’s ability to bring in more refugees. 

Following the attacks in Paris, the federal government reviewed its criteria for eligible refugees. The government said only women, children and families would be allowed into the country. The CBC reported that the government said unaccompanied men would not be allowed in because of growing security concerns.

If government is worried about the number of Syrians who have shown interest, then obviously they should be willing to review the criteria. For instance what happens to a man who doesn’t meet the criteria simply because he lost all his family members in a war?

As of January 20, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says 11,866 refugees have arrived in Canada since November 4 and 5,829 applications have been finalized and cleared, but are yet to arrive in Canada. 

About 70 Canadian armed forces members returned last week from Jordan and Lebanon after helping with security checks, health and medical screenings and other forms of support. This suggests that the basic infrastructure for the processing side of the resettlement is now in place in the region.

While this might mean that we’re going to see more Syrian refugees applying to come to Canada, it’s better to miss the target of bringing in 25,000 refugees than to get it wrong. Let the government miss the target, take flack for it and get it right. If it must be done, it must be done well.


Eddie Ameh is a journalist based in Ottawa. He lived and worked in Ghana and the U.S. before moving to Canada. He is currently the secretary of the Ghana Association of Ottawa.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa

Imagine coming to a new country where you have to start your whole life afresh with little to no job prospects, minor knowledge of the country’s official languages and $10,000 debt. Such is the plight of many refugees who are already in Canada, a large number of whom are still paying back loans years after arriving in the country. 

“I have had to help a lot of my clients renegotiate, terms of their loans most of the time,” says Donia Jomaa, an outreach settlement worker for the Jewish Family Services of Ottawa.

“Most of the time, it is only the interest on the loan that is waived,” she adds.

Waiving accumulated interest is the incentive given to defaulters by Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the department authorized by the government to administer the loan program.

However, experts warn against waiving the loans of newly arrived refugees given the large number of vulnerable populations in Canada who are currently struggling to pay them back.

The Immigration Loans Program

Over the years, the ILP scheme has helped many refugees to settle in Canada, but it has been a source of worry for others. Some have even had to use part of their food budget to pay back the loans, on which interest rates vary from 1.26 to 4.24 per cent.

Knowing how serious this sort of debt is, some refugees focus on getting employment to repay the loan rather than taking advantage of other opportunities like education.

“Most of these refugees, often led by the motivation of repaying debts, do not take advantage of language and job training opportunities available to them as opposed to the longer term investment of their own employment status in Canada,” says James Milner, an expert on immigration and an associate professor of political science at Carleton University.

Between 2008 and 2012, 97.8 per cent of loan recipients were refugees.

The Immigration Loans Program (ILP) was created in 1951 to help European immigrants when they first came to Canada. Originally known as the Assisted Passage Loan Scheme, it was expanded in 1966 to include immigrants from the Caribbean and later in 1970 to include immigrants from other countries.  

Today, these loans are mostly available to refugees. In fact, between 2008 and 2012, 97.8 per cent of loan recipients were government-assisted refugees (GARs) or privately-sponsored refugees (PSRs). 

Between 2008 and 2012, Iraqis topped the nationalities of those who accessed the loan with 27 per cent. Afghans formed 10 per cent of recipients while Ethiopians took nine per cent of the loans.

This money is meant to cover the transportation and health costs of the refugees as they try to resettle in Canada. 

Waiving loans for Syrian refugees

The government has announced that they will waive the repayment of this loan for Syrian refugees that are arriving in Canada. Some people believe it should be waived for those refugees who are already in the country and are struggling to pay. 

Interest rates in the ILP have seen a steady decline from 1989 to 2014, dropping from a high of almost 11 per cent to below two per cent in 2014. Still, paying back any amount can be challenging even years after arriving in Canada.

Jomaa, a refugee herself, has been in Canada for 12 years. She says the move to waive repayment for Syrian refugees “could make other refugees who are struggling to pay back their loan feel the system is unfair to them.”

Jomaa thinks the government should reconsider waiving the interests for those who are paying at the moment. She cautions, however, that the waivers should be done moderately so that the government can continue to bring in more refugees.

Evaluation and recommendations

Through the IRCC, the government launched a report that evaluated the ILP in September. The report highly recommended that the IRCC should ensure “the use of interest and interest relief are appropriate to the financial situation of the client and also [provide] mechanisms to allow for debt forgiveness where necessary”.

Milner says that caution must be taken when spending money on the refugee loan program so that other vulnerable groups are not overlooked.

“The government of Canada has the responsibility to a wide spectrum of populations within the society and elsewhere,” he says.

Milner says responding to the needs of the refugees must be based on the understanding of how they can receive the best support possible to integrate and establish a productive life in Canada. However, he adds that government must “ensure that’s comparable and equitable given the needs of refugees but [also given] the needs of other populations who also require government support in Canada."

Milner says that caution must be taken when spending money on the refugee loan program.

The report also found out that the ILP was highly under-utilized. It’s meant to be used for housing, transportation and utility deposits and is almost exclusively for government assisted-refugees. The report therefore recommended that the IRCC should start “considering opportunities such as the expansion of the in-Canada assistance loan to improve labour market access for all newcomers, including refugees.”

Jomaa speculates that this will help many refugees, especially those who have the entrepreneurial skills necessary to start their own businesses. She says this might even help them repay the loans on time. 

The report concluded that there is indeed a need for financial assistance for refugees to resettle in Canada “However, the use of a loan may not be appropriate for everyone in this group." 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Economy

by Eddie Ameh in Toronto 

As Rakan Almasri waited for his childhood friends to arrive in Canada last week, it seemed to him to mark yet another leg in a journey that has been years in the making.

After leaving his successful small business in the Syrian city of Homs behind to seek safety in Iskenderun, Turkey, he’s now found himself in Toronto, hoping to find a job to feed his family of six.

Successful businessman back home

On December 10, Almasri, 44, welcomed Ziad Khabbaz and Mazen Khaabaz when they arrived at the Toronto Pearson International Airport as refugees. Feeling somewhat nostalgic as he waited, Almasri reflected on his life back home in Syria. 

An electrical engineer by training, Almasri was a contractor who provided spare parts for industrial power plants and other facilities in the energy sector. “I was very comfortable. I had my own office, my own car and my own house,” he says.

Almasri’s wife, a trained teacher, taught primary school in a government school in Homs. The couple has five children. 

He says when the war broke out, he had to move his family out of Homs to a safe place. While there, he heard his house had been burnt down and looted. “I lost everything. During the war, you can’t do business, you can’t do anything,” Almasri says.

“I was very comfortable. I had my own office, my own car and my own house."

Since leaving in 2012, Almasri has not set eyes on his house or office. He says it might be difficult locating it since the area has always been at the centre of intense fighting.

Life in Iskenderun 

When Almasri noticed things were becoming more difficult and his family’s security was no longer guaranteed, he packed up their bags and left Syria. “We decided to leave because there was no security for us and we have to find a future for our children,” he says.

The family got in touch with some friends in Iskenderun, Turkey who agreed to host them for two weeks. They rented a place afterwards. 

Almasri that he could not work as an engineer like he use to back in Homs.

It was difficult staying in Turkey, according to the family. “We found a small house, not like ours back home,” he says.

In this new country, the reality dawned on Almasri that he could not work as an engineer like he use to back in Homs. He had to work as a clerk at a company that imported automobile parts in Iskenderun. While he was away at work, his wife had to take care of their children, so she worked at a daycare to supplement the family’s income.

Canada and the hope for a better future

Almasri and his family were eventually brought to Canada by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, an organization that has sponsored a number of families and hopes to bring more.

“It was only a few decades ago that our community (Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at), also came to Canada as refugees seeking refuge because of the persecution in Pakistan,” says Safwan Choudhry, spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at. “Doing this to Syrian refugees is not only our responsibility as successful Canadians, but [it is important] to give to these Syrian refugees who desperately need our help.”

“Whatever job, I will do [it] to support my family."

Almasri says he is happy to be in Canada because it’s peaceful and will provide a better future for his children. Even though he’s sad for his family, especially his children who had to leave their home and their friends behind, “at least, we are secured here.”

Almasri may have succeeded in coming to Canada but he has other family back home. Two of his sisters live in Homs while another two are living in Turkey. He hopes they’ll join him soon, but as long as they are safe he’s happy. “I’ll bring my mother and sisters from Turkey, inshallah [God willing],” he says.

Finding employment in Canada

On the evening the Khabbaz family arrived at the airport, Almasri translated for those in attendance. He says it’s a job he’s obligated to do because he was the only person who speaks the same language as the Khabbaz family.

While it wasn’t a challenge for Almasri to help the reporters get their quotes, what is challenging is finding a job that will allow him to take care of his family in the long-term. 

“Whatever job, I will do [it] to support my family,” he says.

All he wants is for the war to be over so that those who might not be lucky like him can live happy lives back in Syria. “I hope there is justice,” he says. “The world is very big, we can all fit in [it], why are we fighting?”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Economy

by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa 

Security and media experts are questioning the decision of police to grant journalists access to the personal belongings of the San Bernardino shooters. 

Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple, opened fire at a staff holiday party at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California killing 14 people and injuring 21 others. Authorities later said the attacks were terrorist related. 

A few days later, reporters had access to the couple’s apartment and personal items such as photographs, passports, ID cards and social security cards. Identity cards of family members who were not linked to the attacks were also shown on live television. 

Police to blame? 

“I don’t understand why the place was not secured better and all that material taken away as potential evidence,” says Dane Rowlands, a security expert and the head of Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. 

“This was inappropriate for the authorities to have allowed to happen.”

Rowlands says whether there was evidence or not, that was a crime scene and those items should have been taken away and not made available to journalists. 

“This was inappropriate for the authorities to have allowed to happen,” he says. “I can’t imagine any motivation to have allowed them to do so except having made a mistake on this.” 

MSNBC, one for the television outlets that showed a live feed from the apartment, said it was cleared by the FBI, but the LA Times also reported the San Bernardino police saying the apartment was still an active crime scene.  

Reporters said the landlord, Doyle Miller, allowed them in, but he told CBS he was rushed. He later clarified the reporters were given permission to enter.  

Journalists took advantage 

Paul Adams, a journalism professor at Carleton University, says the journalists benefitted from the police officers’ inability to protect a crime scene. 

“The issue of going into the apartment has to do more with the police maintaining a crime scene than it is to do with any journalistic ethics,” Adams says. “If you have access, it’s part of the story and I think it’s appropriate to tell that story.” 

“I believe the journalists were well within their rights to show whatever information was available."

Concerns have been raised about the ethics in showing details of personal information of family members who were not linked to the shooting at all. 

For example, MSNBC showed close up shots of personal identity cards belonging to Farook’s mother. 

Canadian media expert and head of strategic communications at Earnscliffe Strategy Group in Ottawa, Elly Alboim, says showing details of personal information of others, especially those who are not directly linked to the attacks, infringes on their personal rights. 

“It’s a clear violation of privacy and not appropriate,” he says. 

Alboim adds journalists should know better, but that they get carried away by the heat of the moment to publish everything they have access to. 

Sandy Johnson, president of the American-based National Press Foundation, says journalists are within their right to show and give any details they want to give out.  

“I believe the journalists were well within their rights to show whatever information was available, whether it was from this particular apartment or whether it was from the scene of the shooting,” she says. 

Advice for media 

However, Johnson notes, the prevalence of reporting through social media can put pressure on journalists to share information without going through normal editing processes. 

“The tendency to jump [to] conclusions that every attack is a terrorist attack is problematic."

“I believe publishing information should go through an editing level because an editor can have influence and walk the reporter through the process,” she says. “That’s an age old tradition.” 

Rowlands says despite the probability of terrorism being quite low compared to other risks, the threat of it is overplayed in the media. This leads to a public reaction that does not reflect the risk. 

He cautions journalists to be wary of how they report such issues. 

“The tendency to jump [to] conclusions that every attack is a terrorist attack is problematic in terms of potential deflection of the public debate towards issues that are overplayed already,” he says. “This is something responsible journalists should be paying attention to.”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Top Stories
Sunday, 13 December 2015 18:00

Refugees Reunited At Toronto Airport

by Eddie Ameh in Toronto

For Sammar Mian and Atief Sheikh and their families, waiting for more than four hours at the airport to welcome incoming Syrian refugees was worth every minute.

They are among the first private sponsors to bring Syrian refugees to their homes in Milton, Ontario. Mian and Sheikh are together hosting eleven Syrians in their homes. 

“We have no idea what they've been through, we don’t have any idea where they are coming from and how much they’ve suffered,” Mian says. “So we should try to be as helpful as we can.”

The government has started transporting thousands of Syrian refugees in fulfilment of its campaign promise to bring 25,000 refugees to Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced he would bring in 10,000 refugees by the end of the year and an additional 15,000 refugees by the end of the February, although more will likely arrive over the next year.

The long wait at the airport

When the plane bringing the families of Ziad Khabbaz, 48, and his brother Mazen, 46, finally touched down on December 10th, those waiting at the airport thought it would be only moments before they met the new arrivals.

That was not the case as they had to process their permanent residence and other paperwork before leaving the airport. Overall, it took more than four hours for them to leave Terminal 1 of the Pearson International Airport. 

“They’re going to be surprised because it’s a big change for them,” Mian says.

Indeed the Khabbaz family and the other travellers seemed overwhelmed by the massive welcome they received from members of the Ahamadiyya Jama’at and Humanity First, two resettlement groups. 

Arriving to cheers and shouts was not what they anticipated. 

Rakhan Almasri, himself a refugee who arrived less than a week ago, translated for Khabbaz, who said in Arabic, “We are very surprised at the crowd here. We didn’t expect this.”

Welcoming the children

Sheikh says his children are thrilled to be in Canada and can’t wait to start making new friends. “My children are really excited actually and want to know how children from other countries are and spend some time with them,” he says.

Eight-year-old Alisha Anwar, whose mother Mian is one of the hosts, says she can’t wait to meet the Syrian children. “I expect them to have fun and I hope to be friends with them and I expect them to be nice,” she says.

We are very surprised at the crowd here. We didn’t expect this.

When the two families arrived, the Canadian children gave out gifts to their new friends. Despite the language barrier, they started playing and trying to speak to one another, hoping that the other would understand.

A new life in Canada

Ziad and Mazen Khabbaz fled their hometown of Homs three years ago when the war in Syria escalated. They stayed in Egypt for two and half years before finally coming to Canada.

“We will not only bring them here but we will make sure they integrate into the Canadian society with little difficulty as possible,” says Ghlieb Baten, imam of the Ahmadiyya Jama’at at Milton.

The Milton branch of the Ahmadiyya Jama’at raised the funds for these two families to move to Canada. Baten says this is just the beginning. “God willing, this is going to be an ongoing process and we want to bring as many families as we possibly can,” he says.

"We will make sure they integrate into the Canadian society with little difficulty as possible."

Both Mian and Sheikh are members of the Ahmadiyya Jama’at in Milton, which has now has kickstarted a campaign dubbed “A Better Future” that aims to bring in more refugees from Syria. Baten says helping the refugees is a biblical obligation.

Almasri and the Khabbazs have been friends their whole lives and grew up together in Homs. However, the civil war separated them three years ago. While Almasri fled to Turkey, Ziad and Mazen went to Egypt. 

The three embraced for a long time when they finally were reunited at the airport. Now, they are all going to stay together  — at least temporarily — in Milton.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Top Stories

by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa 

Inside the main atrium of Carleton University, four women wearing hijabs (a head covering worn by some Muslim women) set up tables and stands with mounted posters and banners in one of the busiest areas on campus. The most distinct writing on the posters and banners reads #JeSuisHijabi. 

They are on their feet attending to people, mostly students, who come up to them to inquire about their mission. Among the women is Anna Ahmad, a government worker who has taken time off from her job to volunteer. 

“This is who we are and we can be what we want to be, wearing the hijab,” she says. 

Ahmad is among hundreds of Ahmadiyya Muslim women across Canada participating in a nationwide awareness campaign dubbed #JeSuisHijabi to explain the importance of the hijab and defuse any stereotypes related to it. 

“This is who we are and we can be what we want to be, wearing the hijab.”

Niqab in the last campaign 

In the recent federal election, the wearing of and proposed ban of the niqab (a veil worn by some Muslim women that covers the entire head and face except the eyes) became a point of political debate. 

The Conservatives insisted they were going to appeal a court decision that allows the wearing of the niqab while taking the citizenship oath, and that they would consider a ban on public servants wearing the niqab. 

However, the newly elected Liberal government recently decided not to appeal a Supreme Court decision to allow the wearing of the niqab during citizenship oath taking ceremonies. 

Imtiaz Ahmed, imam at the Ahmadiyya mosque in Cumberland, Ottawa says of the whole niqab debate, “It’s history now.” 

[T]he #JeSuisHijabi campaign challenges a widespread portrayal of Muslim women as being inferior to men.

He commends the Liberal government for discontinuing the case. Ahmed says allowing the niqab debate into the campaign was needless and hopes this does not happen again. 

Eesha Affan, one of the volunteers for the #JeSuisHijabi campaign, says the decision to wear a hijab or a niqab is to show people who they are as Muslim women. 

“It’s our own decision and we want to protect our modesty,” she explains. 

Equality in Islam 

Ahmad says the #JeSuisHijabi campaign challenges a widespread portrayal of Muslim women as being inferior to men. 

“This campaign is to create awareness that I am equal to a man, Islam allows me that equality,” she says. 

She says the campaign has received some attention especially with the hashtag #JeSuisHijabi on Twitter and Facebook. 

“Doing that campaign is creating that awareness of equality.” 

The negative portrayal of women in Islam is more culturally related.

Ahmed says this campaign comes at the right time to correct the misconception of how women are treated in Islam. He says Islam respects women and they are not forced to wear the hijab as it is always misconstrued. 

The negative portrayal of women in Islam is more culturally related, he adds. 

“Islam is not restricted to women in one country. People accept Islam and they have different cultures and different backgrounds and women are suppressed in some of the cultures,” Ahmed says. “It is the cultures that are to be blamed and not Islam.” 

Attacks on Muslim Women 

Following the shootings in Paris, there have been increases in attacks on Muslims in Canada. 

A mosque was set ablaze in Peterborough and a Muslim woman was robbed and attacked in Toronto. 

“We’re trying to tell people that we are a very peaceful community and we want to tell people that what ISIS and other terrorist groups are doing is not the real Islam,” Affan says. 

She says it is upsetting to hear of attacks on Muslim women and that ISIS is pushing fear into people’s hearts. 

“When someone feels fear, they do irrational things,” Affan says. “So we’re trying to take away that fear; love is so much [more] powerful than hate or fear will ever be and that’s what we’re trying to put in people’s hearts.” 

Ahmad emphasizes people need to be better informed. That is why the campaign’s purpose is to show people Islam is a peaceful religion. 

Ahmed says attacks on Muslim women especially are very unfortunate. 

“Just as those who perpetrate nefarious activities in the name of Islam don’t represent Islamic values, same thing with those who attack Muslims, they don’t represent Islamic values,” he says. 

It is, however, comforting to know that the majority of Canadians have been condemning these actions, he points out. Authorities are also on the lookout for people who attack Muslims. A Quebec man was arrested three weeks ago for threatening to kill a Muslim every week in a YouTube video. 

Affan and Ahmed say the constitution of Canada protects them just as it protects everyone. They want to be treated like any other citizen and not looked at suspiciously. 

For the next two weeks, while they campaign in three universities as well as major shopping malls in Ottawa, they have the huge task of swaying a lot of negative stereotypes. 

But even when the campaigning ends, they will still be in their hijabs and saying, #JeSuisHijabi. 

As Ahmad states, “It’s a campaign within ourselves, it’s not a campaign we’ll run for two weeks, and it’s an awareness I’ll have for life.”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Top Stories

by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa 

While Canada’s recent federal election resulted in more visible minorities being elected to Parliament than ever before, many also lost and are in the process of moving forward with the lessons they learned.

Rev. KM Shanthikumar, Scarborough-Rouge Park, New Democratic Party 

Rev. KM Shanthikumar is a priest who ran as the New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate in the riding of Scarborough-Rouge Park. Born in Sri Lanka, Shanthikumar moved to Canada 30 years ago. He says he was very confident about winning and was actually leading in the polls prior to Election Day. 

“Until the last two weeks to the election, I was the front-runner,” he recalls. 

Shanthikumar says he was not complacent, but still can’t come to terms with his loss. 

“I worked very hard till the last day and I’m very surprised,” explains Shanthikumar, who lost to Liberal candidate Gary Anandasangaree. “I don’t know what happened.” 

“I will come back with better plans and better ideas to win the next election.”

He says although it was a major blow, he has moved on and returned to work. A manager at a telecommunications company in Toronto, Shanthikumar says he will continue to serve the people of Scarborough-Rouge Park like he has always done.  

“I’ll continue where I left off and do whatever I can to help my community,” he says. “I know there is an MP (member of Parliament) in the riding, and I will approach him and offer any help he wants.” 

Shanthikumar plans to re-strategize and return to politics in four years. 

“I will come back with better plans and better ideas to win the next election,” he says. 

One thing Shanthikumar learned about the people in Scarborough-Rouge Park – a riding where more than 70 per cent of the population identifies as a visible minority – is that they see themselves first as Canadians before anything else. 

“The people of this riding do not see anybody as a minority or immigrant,” he explains. “This is the feeling I got when I went canvassing for votes from different people from different cultures.” 

Steven Kou, Vancouver Kingsway, Liberal party 

Steven Kou arrived in Canada from China 15 years ago. 

Having majored in economics at University of British Columbia, Kou planned to use his economics knowledge to benefit the many low and middle-income families in B.C.'s Vancouver Kingsway riding. 

Kou, who contested on behalf of the Liberal party, says that people in the ethnically diverse riding accepted his campaign message. 

“As a visible minority, I wanted to be the bridge between the different ethnic groups in the riding and integrate the cultures into the Canadian culture,” Kou says. 

Although the NDP, which has traditionally held the Vancouver Kingsway seat, won on Oct. 19, Kou says he is happy with the results. 

“The most important thing for me is to continue to work in the community and be a voice for them even though I’m not the MP,” he explains. 

“As a visible minority I have come to appreciate the opportunity to run for politics. It’s a privilege.”

Kou adds that he believes this election will be a source of inspiration for young visible minorities to get into politics. He hopes to get the nod from the Liberals to try to unseat the NDP MP again in four years. 

“As a visible minority I have come to appreciate the opportunity to run for politics,” Kou states. “It’s a privilege.” 

Jimmy Yu, Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, Conservative party 

Contesting Liberal veteran Stéphane Dion in the Saint-Laurent-Cartierville riding in Montreal was a tall order for Jimmy Yu. He ran for the Conservatives in a riding that has voted Liberal since 1988. 

Yu, who migrated to Canada from China in 1981, says the area has a sizeable number of visible minorities, including a large Chinese Canadian population. 

“We have very rich experiences [that] the locals here don’t have, it is therefore important to add our diversity to [government],” he says. “We are now part of Canada. It is therefore important for the minorities to get involved.” 

“We are now part of Canada. It is therefore important for the minorities to get involved.”

Yu took a year off work and has been volunteering full-time for the Conservative party since the beginning of the year. 

“For next year, I need to go back to work to make money to feed my kids,” he says.

Yu has not made up his mind about contesting in the next election yet. 

For Shanthikumar, Kou and Yu, it will take at least four years before they may see their names on the ballot again. Though they may have lost their bids to become MPs, all three say they are winners in their own way.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Politics

Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

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