Commentary by Don Curry in North Bay
Municipal councils in Canada’s smaller centres do not appear to be at the forefront in analyzing demographic and diversity trends affecting their communities. They ought to be looking for immigrants closer to home, rather than overseas.
I see it in discussions with municipal politicians from my perch in Northern Ontario, and in a recent Brockville Recorder and Times news article about attracting immigrant entrepreneurs. The municipality secured a provincial government grant to commission a study on the topic, one in which I am particularly interested.
The population of Canada is rising steadily and is more than 36 million people. Approximately 300,000 immigrants are now arriving annually.
Generally, newcomers to Canada do not emigrate to smaller centres, but to the larger ones, with Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver taking the majority. What is becoming more prevalent, however, is secondary migration to smaller centres.
In North Bay, population 54,000, where I live, there are more than 70 first generation immigrant-owned businesses. This is a relatively recent occurrence. Temiskaming Shores, population 10,500, is 90 minutes north of North Bay and it has more than 20 first generation immigrant-owned businesses. There, too, this is a recent occurrence.
The Brockville story that caught the attention of New Canadian Media noted the municipality of 22,000 people could attract immigrant entrepreneurs already in Canada. It was based on a study that contained a number of recommendations to make the municipality more receptive to immigrants.
I completed a study for the Far Northeast Training Board that will be released in January that covers some of the issues that Brockville council was discussing. I interviewed 36 immigrant business owners in 11 municipalities in Northeastern Ontario, the smallest with only 400 people and the largest the City of Timmins, population 43,000.
It supports the conclusion of the Brockville study that you don’t have to recruit internationally for immigrant entrepreneurs — they are already here. I expect to report on it in this space when it is officially released in January.
Moving within Canada
But for now, I can tell you that it shows two-thirds of the immigrant entrepreneurs in the study area were born in India, but did not come to Northern Ontario from there. They came from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
Dissatisfied with the high cost of GTA home ownership, high cost to purchase a business, and the congestion of the big city, they looked for alternatives and found them in Northern Ontario. They are just as likely to find them in Brockville, just a few hours down Highway 401, and in other smaller Ontario centres.
For municipal councils and economic development organizations, this is terrific news. Many smaller centre business owners want to sell their business and retire. Demographers have seen this coming for years, as more baby boomers retire.
In many cases their children have moved to a larger centre, or they are not interested in continuing the family business. In our region, we are seeing immigrant entrepreneurs moving north to fill the void.
Caught up in detail
The municipal council in Brockville, according to the newspaper report, was receptive to the study but reluctant to allocate funds in its budget to make Brockville a more welcoming community for immigrants. That is typical of what I hear in Northern Ontario as well.
Municipal councils, in my experience, spend far too much time on the mundane day-to-day issues that should be the purview of municipal staff members, and far too little time looking at the long-term future of their communities. The large cities in Canada, however, understand the value of putting policies, procedures, and people in place to ensure they are doing all they can to attract and retain immigrants.
Many of the smaller ones still haven’t figured it out. Studies such as the one presented this month in Brockville and next month in the Far Northeast Training Board catchment area of a large chunk of Northeastern Ontario should serve as a wakeup call.
While municipal councils in smaller centres spend months poring over budgets, their population may be in decline and they are doing little to reverse the trend. They are preoccupied with minutiae.
Now they know it is far easier to recruit people from the GTA than from India. But it will take municipal will to make things happen on a larger scale.
Don Curry is the president of Curry Consulting (www.curryconsulting.ca). He was the founding executive director the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and the Timmins & District Multicultural Centre and is now the chair of the board of directors.
Commentary by Paul Wojda in Thunder Bay, Ontario
Immigration represents both an incredible opportunity and a challenge for Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario.
As skilled workers across a wide range of fields retire from the workforce in Northern Ontario, employers are struggling to find trained and experienced replacements who can step in to take their place.
Owners of small businesses throughout the region who would like to sell and retire are finding it challenging to find buyers. The inability to fill these gaps has a potentially devastating impact on smaller communities, leaving them with a reduced tax base and fewer services.
While the development of the local workforce to meet these needs is a necessary and desirable outcome, immigration can allow these businesses to survive and flourish while this training takes place.
Net negative migration
The number of immigrants arriving in the region has remained fairly steady over the past few years, but overall, the region has been experiencing negative net migration. This has sparked a number of efforts to reverse this trend and to encourage immigration both from other parts of Canada and other countries.
The Common Voice Northwest conference in September 2016 brought together stakeholders from across the region to analyze the topic and to develop a series of next steps to address it. The creation of the Northwestern Ontario Immigration portal represents an effort to provide newcomers with an accurate picture of the advantages and resources available should they move to the region.
Job opportunities, businesses for sale, funding opportunities and other resources are centralized in one location to make the immigration pathway a seamless process for prospective newcomers.
In addition, city and regional representatives have been attending job fairs, conferences and expositions around the world to showcase the opportunities available. The emphasis of these marketing efforts focuses primarily on the unique benefits of life in Northwestern Ontario.
There are a number of distinct advantages for immigrants looking to move to a smaller community outside of the larger metropolitan areas. One of the key messages that is repeatedly heard from newcomers is the personalized attention and support they receive upon their arrival.
In Northwestern Ontario, there is often more of a communal effort to help welcome newcomers and support their integration, since they are seen as essential to the survival and growth of the community. While there is a vast representation of different cultural groups from around the world, they do not tend to be grouped into enclaves as they might in large cities, resulting in a fuller integration into the community as a whole.
Recently, Thunder Bay has seen a rapid increase in the number and variety of restaurants and grocery options to meet the needs and desires of newcomers from diverse backgrounds to the area. The overall high quality of life with affordable housing, excellent health care facilities and a wide range of entertainment and dining options also plays a role in attracting and retaining newcomers.
Local residents can enjoy all the amenities of a bigger urban centre while still being only minutes away from a vast array of outdoor recreation opportunities. While some may see the area as being isolated, it is easy to connect to larger centres such as Toronto, Winnipeg or Minneapolis through several daily flights from the international airport or by ground transportation.
Keep students here
Encouraging newcomers to choose a smaller community can be a challenging process. A main obstacle can be convincing them to visit, tour and see the area with their own eyes.
One way to address this is by building on the success of Confederation College and Lakehead University in attracting international students.
These students are often highly skilled, motivated and bring a wealth of previous experience. Since they have already overcome that first step of visiting and living in the area, it would be advisable to create more programs to encourage them to stay rather than leaving upon graduation for larger urban centres.
The creation and enhancement of economic incentives for newcomers to settle in smaller communities can help to stimulate the purchase of businesses for sale, allowing those communities to continue to benefit from the services and jobs they provide.
Expansion of the Provincial Nominee Program could allow more discretion in this area, to both support the settlement of newcomers and to help sustain the existence and quality of life in smaller communities.
With affordable housing, employment opportunities, diverse recreational pursuits and an exceptionally high quality of life, Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario represent an incredible destination for immigrants to create a new life in Canada.
Paul Wojda is the youth programs facilitator of the Thunder Bay Multicultural Association
Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton
Kathleen Wynne, the current premier of Ontario, and Linda Jeffrey, the past Wynne Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Brampton’s current Mayor, are a study in contrasts.
As Ontario’s 25th Premier, Wynne is both at the height of her power and the low depths of popularity. But even with her popularity at below 20 per cent, she remains a powerful politician in control of her cabinet and caucus and with the ability to set and implement her political agenda.
This is despite Wynne’s now self-admitted mismanagement of our province’s electricity system, which she now concedes has caused such hardship in the province that some are forced to choose between feeding themselves or heating their homes.
It is a sad reality that Premier Wynne and her Liberals are looking more and more likely to hold on to power in the 2018 election as both the NDP and Conservatives appear to be parties struggling to seize any of the public’s attention, let alone imagination.
On one hand, Andrea Horwath and her NDP seem to have little ground to stand on, given that the Liberals have all but assumed much of the left’s territory, leaving the NDP with few policy options and little to say.
And, then, there is Patrick Brown, who with so many opportunities to pillory a Liberal government mired in scandal, continues to squander his opportunities to effectively hold this government to account while failing to be consistent in publicly expressing his own party’s policies and platform.
The recent by-elections in Ottawa and Niagara were an indictment of an ineffective opposition that bodes well for Wynne going into her pre-election year.
Contrast Wynne with Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey. Like Wynne, Jeffrey served as an Ontario Liberal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, as well as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Her predecessor, Susan Fennell, had presided over a virtual renaissance in Brampton.
During her tenure as Mayor, Brampton saw major investments in public infrastructure, and a massive $300 million expansion of public transit funded jointly by all three levels of government despite the fact that, at the time, there was no formal program in place from the Federal and Provincial governments to fund it.
All of that travelling to Ottawa paved the way for the single largest provincial/federal investment in Brampton’s history, but was ultimately part of what I have always believed to be an organized campaign to run her out of office.
Her frequent travel was at the heart of unfounded accusations, innuendo and vicious allegations that lasted all of two years. After having been cleared of all but two ridiculously minor issues just days prior to the 2014 municipal election, Fennell lost to Jeffrey, who promised to clean up City Hall.
Two years later, under Jeffrey’s leadership, Brampton's reputation has sunk to new lows. Jeffrey presides over a fractious Council that cannot agree on anything. An LRT line that had unprecedented public support was defeated despite over $300 million in approved provincial funding.
A search for a new chief administrative officer attracted only one candidate, who, since being hired has been on a rampage at City Hall that has seen virtually the entire senior management fired, drawing comparisons to a mini “reign of terror” with blood-soaked corridors and a civil service in disarray.
And even when she wins, Jeffrey loses. After recently scoring a coveted nod from her former Liberal government colleagues to locate a university in Brampton, it was revealed that even that effort is plagued with a lack of organization and little in the way of a plan, leaving Council slack-jawed, asking, “What do we do now?”
Wynne and Jeffrey are Liberals, but complete opposites: Wynne is powerful and blessed with a weak opposition; Jeffrey, powerless and cursed with a fractious and ineffective Council.
But both have one thing in common: they both need to be replaced and 2018 can’t come soon enough.
Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer.
by Ainslie Cruickshank in Ottawa
Social conservatives are hoping two anti-sex education candidates will split the vote in the upcoming Ottawa-Vanier byelection, leaving Progressive Conservative Andre Marin out in the cold.
“I don’t think it’s realistic that they will win without a large party machine behind them but they can certainly get enough votes to cause the pro-radical sex-ed PC candidate to lose if it’s a close race,” said Jack Fonseca, a senior political strategist with Campaign Life Coalition.
The coalition is a national anti-abortion organization and a vocal opponent of Ontario’s new sex education curriculum. It’s putting its support behind both Elizabeth de Viel Castel, a candidate running for the new single-issue political party Stop the New Sex Ed Agenda, and Stephanie McEvoy, who is running for the Canadian Constituents’ Party and also opposes the sex-education programming the Wynne government introduced last year — the first update to the sex-ed curriculum since 1998.
The new curriculum includes updates on healthy relationships, same-sex relationships, consent, mental health, online safety and the risks of “sexting”.
Marin has expressed support for the new sex-education curriculum, telling the Toronto Star that PC leader Patrick Brown “fell on the right side of the issue” after the party flip-flopped on it in the run-up to the Scarborough-Rouge River byelection. Requests for comment from Brown and Marin were declined Friday.
“The goal is to send a message to the PC establishment that you can’t win by alienating social conservatives. The social conservative wing of the party is very important and this is an issue you can win on,” Fonseca said.
The new curriculum is “age-inappropriate” and will put children in “harm’s way,” he said.
“Candidates owe it to the public to be open and honest and forthright on their position on such issues,” said Liberal campaign co-chair and Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews.
While Matthews said she disagrees with their position, she added she gives members of the new anti-sex ed party credit for making their views on the issue clearer than Brown has.
“Parents want their kids to learn how to protect themselves from sexual predators, from online predators. We want kids to understand what healthy relationships are. And I think the public is with us on that,” she said.
In Ottawa-Vanier, Fonseca said Campaign Life Coalition will encourage its supporters to not only vote for either de Viel Castel or McEvoy, but also to volunteer and donate to their campaigns.
Queenie Yu, the force behind the new Stop the New Sex Ed Agenda party, is running under its banner in Niagara West-Glanbrook. She previously ran as an independent on an anti-sex ed platform in the Scarborough-Rouge River byelection, coming in fourth with 575 votes.
While some parents do support the new curriculum, many have concerns, Yu said.
“Each child is unique. Just because a child reaches a certain age doesn’t mean they’re ready to learn about certain subjects. Parents know their kids best. Parents – not the government – should be deciding when, what and how much their children should be learning about sex,” she said.
In Niagara West-Glanbrook, Fonseca said Yu is a “supportable” candidate but Campaign Life Coalition would be happy to see Sam Oosterhoff, the PC candidate, win the seat given the support he showed for parental rights during his nomination campaign.
While Yu said she hasn’t spoke with Oosterhoff, she said she has been assured by mutual friends that the 19-year old candidate shares her values.
“I’d vote for him if I lived in the riding,” she said, noting her goal for the anti-sex ed party isn’t necessarily to win seats but rather to keep the issue in the public eye.
Charles McVety, the president of the Canada Christian College, warned a split with social conservativescould cost the PCs the 2018 election after Oosterhoff won the nomination over party president and former Conservative MP Rick Dykstra and Niagara regional Councillor Tony Quirk.
That’s a message Fonseca repeated Friday.
Pursuing a more liberal approach to social issues risks alienating the conservative base and invites the creation a new, “formidable” conservative party in the province, he said, adding that could result in Liberal governments for years to come.
By arrangement with ipolitics.ca
Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton
A few weeks before Brampton Council begin debate on the latest budget, the city and province delivered a big lollipop to the citizens of Brampton in the form of a University to be built in our city.
At the risk of sounding cynical, I can’t help but suspect this little bit of theatre is meant to divert the attention of Bramptonians away from the poor economic performance of our city, the recent tax increases, stagnant municipal services, and the provinces’ ruinously expensive and incompetently handled hydro mismanagement.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I, like many, believe a university campus is something Brampton needs, and needs badly. In fact, I know many parents are excited at the thought of their children obtaining a quality post-secondary education in their own city.
Downloading to taxpayers
But for anyone who listened to what was said at the Brampton press event, while Brampton has been chosen as the site of one of two new university campuses, there was no specific timeline or details about where or when this facility will be built, how it will be funded, or how much of the cost the province will download onto the backs of Brampton taxpayers in order to make the announcement a reality.
What we do know is that there is a $90 million allotment for each of the two municipalities approved in this round of funding. Let’s remember that when then Premier Dalton McGuinty wrote his infamous letter to the Brampton citizens promising that Peel Memorial Hospital would not be closed – just before he closed it − the replacement facility’s phase I costs were over $300 million and Bramptonians were practically extorted into paying $60 million towards the project.
If you think this is an isolated occurrence, think again. When the province promised to finish highway 410 north to highway 10, it was only accomplished after the Region of Peel was forced to pony up over $40 million to the province.
Citizens in the dark
Will $90 million build a university campus? I highly doubt it. I am convinced we are going to be put in the position of shelling out millions more from municipal coffers – your tax money – to provide land and capital funding in order to make this happen. How sweet does that lollipop taste now?
Let’s face it, we have no idea what we are getting out of this latest deal. We know from the past the province promised to keep our original hospital open, then closed it, then tore it down. The slogan for the new Peel Memorial was “More than a Hospital,” but in fact this too was a lie. The new Peel Memorial will be much less than a hospital. It will house outpatient services, clinics, dialysis, and will not have an emergency department. Instead, it will have an urgent care centre that closes down at night, and while some services now housed at Brampton Civic are moving to the new building, Brampton is getting much less than it deserves in terms of health care services. This does not bode well for our university.
Brampton Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon says this council worked hard work to make this university happen and Mayor Linda Jeffery maintains this is exciting news for Bramptonians. This from a council that turned down $300 million in funding for a light rail line up Main Street that over 70 per cent of the citizens wanted.
I think the citizens of Brampton have some fundamental issues with trusting this council and these concerns are well justified.
So, I think we can all look forward to a future that will see more tax levies for health care, our university, and whatever other lollipop the city or province thinks up to throw at Brampton, in an attempt to win our votes with our own money. That makes us all a bunch of suckers.
Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer.
Commentary by Evelina Silveira in London, Ontario
A recent study published by the Western University's Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations found a severe lack of visible minorities in leadership roles in organizations in London, Ontario.
While the study made headlines, the findings came as no surprise to me. I have lived in London all my life, working as a diversity consultant for the 10 years. I would like to offer an explanation as to why inroads have not been made in visible minority leadership in London, Ontario.
Flashback to about 13 years ago, when I started to work on a business plan for Diversity at Work: I interviewed many leaders in London asking them whether my idea of having a business which promoted hiring and supporting diverse candidates would ever fly.
I will never forget the answer I received from a human resources consultant who had previously held many jobs in the recruitment and leadership fields. She said: “Evelina, as long as there are enough white people to fill the jobs, no one will ever consider anyone else, because they don't have to.”
Essentially, she conveyed that there really was no need to change the recruitment process and that it was too much work to do so.
A late joiner
In comparison to other cities, London has lagged behind. Perhaps it is because the jobs could easily be filled as the human resources consultant suggested, or maybe we ignore the ever-growing presence of visible minorities which started in the mid-1980's.
Some of our largest employers and institutions have only recently developed diversity policies, later than their counterparts in other comparable cities which have a high number of visible minorities and immigrants. I often scan the diversity plans of the public service organizations in London and it would appear that the effort or the kind of approach being used – if at all – are not producing much in terms of achieving a representative workforce, let alone diversity in leadership.
My observations are consistent with the findings which indicate a very low level of visible minority participation, notably 5.3 per cent on agencies, boards, and commissions. Their lack of participation at these levels can have ramifications for how services are delivered, in addition to resource allocation.
Furthermore, there is a tendency, especially with boards, to recruit people they know, often friends and co-workers, to fill vacancies. This can perpetuate the lack of representation and the effort to create a more diversified board and committees.
It is startling how many workplaces have not implemented the strategies and best practices that can help mitigate these gaps. How might we explain the disconnect? There are a multitude of reasons why this occurs and this is key to understanding the problem of under-representation in London’s publicly-funded organizations.
Consider these possibilities:
· Foreign credentials and work experience are not recognized. Generally speaking, if an applicant has not graduated from a leadership program in North America or the U.K , there is a good chance their education in leadership may not be recognized. Leadership experience from other parts of the world may not be taken into consideration for a host of reasons, including cultural differences in how we do business and interact with employees.
· Effective leadership requires highly developed communication skills: in person, in writing and over the phone. An internationally-trained applicant is disadvantaged if they have a pronounced accent and have an indirect style of communication. Interviewer bias can hamper heavily-accented applicants, who may be mistaken as unqualified because they speak differently. Across cultures, there are variations in how we conduct meetings, presentations and write reports. The Canadian standards are often learned in school or through work experience.
At civic level: zero
The number of visible minorities and immigrant leaders in municipal organizations is at a glaring zero per cent!
Given that government organizations are held to a higher standard than the private sector to have a reflective workforce, as well as to meet Employment Equity standards, this represents a failure of implementation and consequently lost opportunities for diversifying the workforce and gaining new skills and perspectives.
With increasing job insecurity, good benefits and salaries, public service employees are not likely to leave their jobs. Understandably, this represents fewer opportunities for external applicants to get hired.
It would be interesting to know if the City of London has an internal mentoring program to assist aspiring leaders. Research consistently indicates that visible minorities and immigrants find a lack of mentors in the workplace.
Successful leaders often attest to the significance of mentors throughout their careers. There have been some attempts over the last few years to develop internships for immigrant professionals at the City of London. However, it is hard to know if this experience translated into permanent employment with the City.
Finally, we cannot overlook bias and racism in the recruitment and selection process, although it does not probably explain the huge disconnect between the population and their representation in the workforce. In my experience, if the leadership in an organization is not familiar with the business benefits of a diverse workforce, they are very unlikely to support and initiate programs which can facilitate the entry and promotion of visible minorities within their organizations.
Evelina Silveira is the President of Diversity at Work in London, a three-time award winning firm which specializes in creating inclusive workplaces and diverse customer bases. She has co-authored two globally acclaimed books and is the publisher of the Inclusion Quarterly.
Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton
In the run up to a recent Scarborough by-election, Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown spent much time making speeches and handing out press releases supporting his candidate, as political party leaders often do. Towards the end of that political contest, he made a pledge that, should his party form a government, he would scrap Ontario's revised sex education curriculum.
However, all of this effort proved to be nothing more than toying with the emotions of poor parents for no other purpose than to grab their votes.
But, lets step back for a moment. In 2015, Patrick Brown wanted to win the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party win a seat in the Ontario parliament. In order to do this, he needed strong support from a broad range of people across the Conservative party, and in the riding he ran in to gain a seat in the legislature.
One theme that came up numerous times was his criticism of the Liberal Wynne Government’s controversial sex education curriculum, which was received by a section of parents with serious reservations and mixed feelings. Brown and his party seized on this uneasiness, and as the Conservative leader, he has repeatedly spoken of revising it or scrapping it altogether.
And, in my opinion, he and his party have benefited by taking this position.
And now, back to the recent Scarborough by-election. In the final days of this contest, we saw a huge flip-flop by Brown.
First, a letter “pops up” at the end of the campaign repeating the party position that he as leader would scrap the curriculum. Then comes the flip-flop and Brown’s denials, complete with a watering down of the much promoted “scrap the curriculum” platform.
In the mean time, voters were bombarded with newspapers and television news broadcasts repeating the original Conservative pledge.
By the time Brown flip-flopped, his party had a new seat in the legislature and any hope parents may have about seeing the controversial curriculum dealt with flopped with Brown’s flip, leaving many confused about what the leader of the Progressive Conservative party actually stands for.
Patrick Brown’s now famous flip-flop is, to paraphrase former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, is like politicians who promise to build bridges, even where there is no river. In this case, Brown would have us believe he was asleep at the switch when all of this was going on.
First, he was unaware of the highly organized tactic that saw 13,000 copies of the now famous letter, in both English and Chinese, delivered to homes at the end of the Scarborough by-election. Then, he denied any part in it, suggesting the letter was the product of the party. Then he flip-flopped on the policy itself, saying he will at least review the curriculum.
Brown needs to be reminded of the old story about the boy who lived in the jungle and decided one day to play a prank on nearby villagers by screaming, “help me, help me, lion, lion!!”
The villagers stop what they are doing and immediately grab their tools and rush to the boy’s aid only to find him laughing, and admitting it was all a joke. The villagers left confused and a bit angry. The next day the boy played the same prank, the villagers ran to his aid, and again, he had to admit it was all a joke. The villagers left very angry.
The next day, a lion did appear and the boy screamed for help, but the villagers were tired of his pranks and no one came to help him, so the lion ate him.
My point: Mr. Brown, you can’t continue to treat the voters of Ontario like that boy treated the villagers.
In 2018, there is going to be a provincial election. As leader of the Conservative Party, Mr. Brown, you either have a platform and policies or you don’t. The voters of Ontario are not looking for a party or a leader that plays fast and loose with his promises, or compromises his party’s policies.
People are looking for a friendly and honest leader who is prepared to make commitments and deliver on them.
I question whether you are that leader.
TORONTO: The Law Society of Upper Canada’s Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees Working Group on Thursday released a report proposing 13 recommendations to address issues of systemic racism in the legal professions.
The report is the culmination of thorough study and province-wide consultations, showing that racialized lawyers and paralegals face longstanding and significant challenges at all stages […]
A UK-based Sikh organization is coming to Canada to hold a free media workshop in Mississauga on August 17 at Dixie Gurdwara.
The Sikh Press Association – a facilitator between the Sikh community and international media – will be holding the interactive workshop from 6 to 8 p.m. in an attempt to help locals learn media skills directly from professionals.
Commentary by Tasha Kheiriddin
Most of Islam’s leaders present their faith as one of peace. That, unfortunately, is not how a majority of Ontarians see it these days.
According to a study commissioned by the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), “only a third of Ontarians have a positive impression of the religion and more than half feel its mainstream doctrines promote violence (an anomaly compared to other religions).” Of Canada’s six major religions, Islam is the one most likely to be viewed by respondents as an incubator of violence. The report concludes that “there is an epidemic of Islamophobia in Ontario.”
There is, of course, also an epidemic of radical Islamist terrorism in the world, playing out nightly on the video screens and smartphones of the globe. Just this weekend ISIS slaughtered 200 people in a Baghdad market. According to Le Monde, in the first eighteen months after it established its “caliphate” in 2014, the terror group killed 1,600 people in 83 terror attacks and hostage events in 20 countries. And whatever the Orlando shooter’s true motivations, he claimed to have killed fifty people at a gay nightclub in ISIS’ name.
Many religious Islamic states, such as Saudi Arabia, oppress their own people, particularly women, in the name of Islam. They mete out violent punishments for “crimes” such as adultery, blasphemy, pursuing same-sex relationships and criticizing the government, punishments which include lashes and death by stoning. When the Saudi government attempts to justify these punishments as consistent with or Muslim religious law, it doesn’t make Islam look like a faith that likes to turn the other cheek.
Asking the average person to ignore this — to completely separate violence practiced in a religion’s name from the religion itself — is a tall order. While it’s true that the vast majority of Muslims want nothing to do with ISIS, abhor its practices and are far more likely to be its victims than its accomplices, the fact remains that its atrocities cause the Muslim faith to be viewed with suspicion and fear.
And as long as countries like Saudi Arabia continue to follow a form of religious law that runs completely counter to Western values of equality, freedom and minority rights, Islam will have a hard time being seen as a religion of peace.
Islam isn’t the first faith to be linked to violence, of course. The Crusades saw Christians and Muslims wage war in the Holy Land from the 11th to the 15th centuries. The Catholic Inquisition saw thousands of Jews expelled from Spain and thousands of other “unbelievers”, including Muslims, tortured and killed. In 19th and 20th century Canada, up to 6,000 First Nations children died in residential schools run by Christian priests and nuns; countless others were abused. Between 1969 and 2002, 5,000 people died in Northern Ireland due to sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants. In 1985, Sikh terrorists bombed Air India Flight 182 out of the sky, killing 329 passengers. Religious violence in India between Hindus and Muslims continues to claim nearly a hundred lives a year.
And as with many ‘religious’ movements, many of ISIS’ motivations are rooted not in faith — or even in a perversion of faith — but in power, money and territorial control. In war-torn regions where legitimate employment is hard (or impossible) to come by, many recruits join the organization purely for the income. Nevertheless, at the root of ISIS lies a fundamentalist, extremist version of Islam. Here’s how writer Graeme Wood described it in his fascinating, in-depth profile of the terror group for The Atlantic last year:
“Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery and coins, ‘the Prophetic methodology,’ which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.”
Until ISIS is defeated, Islam will continue to be viewed with suspicion and mistrust. Until Islamic governments treat women, minorities and LGBT individuals as equals, the faith will be seen as discriminatory and out of sync with Western values.
And all the public education campaigns in the world, such as those currently playing out across Toronto, won’t change the fact that fundamentalist practitioners of Islam maintain a worldview very different not only from those held by non-Muslims, but from those held by moderate Muslims as well.
As with any extremist religion-based movement, it’s the latter group that holds the key to transforming the faith and the way it is perceived. Moderate Muslims need to speak out against extremism, from the mosque to Main Street. Otherwise, radicals and their actions will continue to feed the fires of prejudice, help elect Donald Trump to the White House, and undermine the very principles of tolerance and equality which Western countries — including the millions of Muslims who call them home — hold dear.
Published under arrangement with ipolitics.ca
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit