New Canadian Media
Friday, 15 September 2017 19:42

Wake Up Democracy!

Commentary By: Avi Benlolo in Toronto

Today is International Day of Democracy. Yet, the western world seems to have lost hope of the very fundamentals we are supposed to hold dear to our hearts – freedom, equality, respect and peace building. Democracies are far from perfect and disparities within exist and must be addressed to alleviate hardship and continued inequality. However, Gross Domestic Product, mortality and literacy rates are amongst the highest in the world among leading nation states which practice democracy. Third-world developing nations struggle with persistent war, poverty, disparity, environmental degradation and inequity. It’s no wonder that democracies like Canada enjoy an inflow of migrants who hope to live in a nation which respects the UN Declaration for Human Rights, unlike the majority of the UN General Assembly.

Still, democracies have become far too forgiving or compromising. While we preach gender equality, we look the other way as non-democracies practice gender apartheid and withhold women's rights, for example. We say we want to promote "women and girls' leadership and participation in political, social and peace-building processes" which would be essential to building democracies worldwide, but we timidly look the other way. We provide military equipment as Canada has to Saudi Arabia and promote trade with nations that discriminate against others, and in many cases are spreading the seeds of hate and intolerance worldwide. 

For all of its good deeds in assisting the developing world with billions of dollars of investment aid in order to further democracy, the west is targeted relentlessly by terrorists who use the very freedom of movement and assembly to harm innocent people. Today, on International Day of Democracy, European cities have been placed on high alert as a result of a number of incidents, including a bomb in the London subway which injured 22 people; a hammer attack in Lyon that critically injured two women by a man running down the street yelling "Allahu Akhbar"; a knifeman stopped by police in Birmingham and a highway closed in Malmo after explosives were found in a car.

Yet our democracy is failing to curb the attack on the west, on our institutions and our citizens. We have seen a slow and steady degradation of our way of life since 9/11 with increasing spate of terrorism and relentless usage of rights like 'free speech' to sow hate and discord. In many ways, Jewish communities across Europe have been like the so-called canaries in the coal mine – having been the initial recipients of most terror attacks. Now it has spread to society at large. 

In Canada, while we speak about equity, anti-racism, tolerance and peace building, our hate crime laws fail to be enforced giving way to more hate crime. We learned this week that in Quebec, the Crown Attorney dropped charges against two imams who were captured on video preaching hatred and violence against Jews at a Montreal mosque. In Toronto, a Muslim community calls for the elimination of Jews each year at its annual "Al Quds" protest at Queen’s Park while violence promoting antisemitic pamphlet circulates the province, with little reaction from authorities. Graffiti stating "Hitler was Right" is spray painted on bridges without condemnation from our premier or leading public figures.  

If we are going to celebrate democracy and its fundamentals, we must learn to protect and defend our values and ideals. If democracies celebrate tolerance, they cannot and should not tolerate those who are intolerant of others. They must stand up to hate, enforce hate crime and hate speech laws and place our very values and ideals – like women's rights, justice and equality – first and foremost. Otherwise, I fear that if we are not passionate about our exceptional democratic system, hope for humanity might be lost.


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.

Published in Politics

by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

“Just because you’ve fallen off ship doesn’t mean you’re drowning.” 

In the film My Internship in Canada, the person struggling to stay afloat is the politician who fails to please everyone. Oscar-nominated director Philippe Falardeau’s film is a satirical, yet eye-opening, take on Canadian politics that showcases just how non-democratic our government can be. 

For National Canadian Film Day on April 20, charitable organization Samara Canada collaborated with the Regent Park Film Festival to fill a Cineplex movie theatre in downtown Toronto for Falardeau’s political comedy. 

The film is based on the journey of a young Haitian man, Souverain Pascal, played by Irdens Exantus, who greatly admires Canadian politics and culture. He gets a response to his 15-page application and secures an internship with a Northern Quebec member of Parliament (MP). 

Steve Guibord, played by Patrick Huard, is the independent MP for Prescott-Makadew à Rapides-aux-Outardes and unwillingly finds himself in the awkward position of holding the decisive vote on whether Canada will go to war. 

Guibord travels across his riding to consult constituents with his wife, daughter and Pascal. The story escalates when groups of lobbyists get involved in a debate that spins out of control. In the end, Guibord is tugged and pulled in various directions and must face his own conscience to make a decision that could affect the entire country. 

Making politics accessible

Newcomers to Canada and members of the Toronto communities of North York and Lotherton were among those who attended. 

“We thought it was a great opportunity to provide a little bit of education behind Canada’s political system, in a fun way,” said Madison Van West, coordinator of the Democracy Talks program at North York Community House (NYCH). She worked with her colleagues to bring 75 people to the screening from NYCH, which provides civic engagement and community development services to newcomers. 

“We’ve seen them try to create platforms and implement mechanisms to be open and democratic, but in doing that, anyone can speak and say anything.”

“Sometimes politics isn’t the most accessible topic, but a movie screening is a great way to bring everyone together and learn more.” 

In the film, Guibord tries to initiate democracy by inviting members of his community to a town hall. Unfortunately, opposing viewpoints cause tension rather than a conversation that leads to a collaborative decision. The scene shows just how messy democracy can be. 

NYCH program manager Zesta Kim said she understands and has witnessed the hardships politicians face in her community when having to weigh several interests to create an all-inclusive environment. 

“We’ve seen them try to create platforms and implement mechanisms to be open and democratic, but in doing that, anyone can speak and say anything,” she explains. “So, sometimes it doesn’t turn out too well.” 

Falsification of equality 

In the film, Guibord has trouble balancing the interests of his wife, daughter, protesters, the mayor, and the prime minister. He can only rely on Pascal to help find a middle ground that stays true to Canadian culture and democracy. 

“We haven’t seen a representation of minorities in politics and in Parliament.”

In a panel discussion held after the screening, emerging filmmaker Amita Zamaan said these competing special interests are what disappoint and deter people from engaging in Canadian politics. 

She added that the disengagement is due to the lack of representation and the falsification of equality in our government. 

Through her web series, Dhaliwal15Zamaan, like Falardeau, approaches politics through satire when examining the lack of diversity in Canadian politics.  

“We haven’t seen a representation of minorities in politics and in Parliament,” she said. “I’m trying to address that issue by placing this fictional character (Bobby Dhaliwal, played by Jasmeet Singh) in my film, but also addressing how limited our discussions in Canada are on progressive issues.” 

Explaining voter apathy 

Another panel member, Algoma-Manitoulin member of provincial Parliament (MPP), Michael Mantha, said the problem is deeper than just having an open platform to discuss. He said there is a lack of interest from community members. 

“However you make your decision, you will have to put your head on your pillow and live with your conscience.”

“I’ve being trying to engage with people throughout my riding, to try and get a pulse on what needs to be discussed for better engagement,” Mantha said. 

“Going off the numbers in my area, last election there was a 51 per cent voter turnout. People have look at politicians, their decisions, and their actions and think, ‘Why am I going to get involved if they’re not listening to me?’” he added. 

Mantha, who was elected in 2011, has served two consecutive terms as MPP and said while he loves all aspects of his riding, from its environment to its citizens, he is well aware of the tactics that are often involved in getting politicians to make certain decisions.  

“Individuals are put into difficult positions, but again it comes down to that person’s principles and being responsible to the people that put you into that position,” he said. “However you make your decision, you will have to put your head on your pillow and live with your conscience.”


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 Arts & Culture

by Susan Korah in Ottawa

To some people, Canada seems like the land of American civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr.’s dreams. But a group of race relations activists in Ottawa contend that this belies the truth, and that Canadians need to work harder to make King’s vision a reality in this country. 

Both views were shared at an Ottawa celebration and awards ceremony that a group named DreamKEEPERS organized to mark the 30th anniversary of Martin Luther King Day. 

Originally declared a public holiday in the U.S. in 1986, the same date was chosen by the Canadian organization to honour King’s memory and raise awareness of his message, which was most eloquently articulated in his speech entitled, “I Have a Dream.” 

Recognizing King's values and principles

Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, presented a lifetime achievement award to the Rt. Hon. Joe Clark, the 16th Prime Minister of Canada (1979-80), described as a leader in fighting apartheid in South Africa and promoting human rights in Canada and the world. 

Most recently Clark served as an honorary witness to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada that reported on residential schools. 

The “beloved community,” was [King's] vision of a society based on justice, equal opportunity and love of one’s fellow human beings.

Daniel Stringer, a former Canadian diplomat and a founding member of DreamKEEPERS, explained that the tabletop award sandblasted with a glass gold leaf is given annually to an individual who has become a role model in Canada and beyond for embodying King's values and principles. 

These include the promotion of social justice, human rights, racial harmony, spiritual values and the advancement of his dream of the “beloved community.” 

The “beloved community,” an idea that King popularized, was his vision of a society based on justice, equal opportunity and love of one’s fellow human beings, said Stringer.

Community leadership awards were also presented to Larry Hill, former Deputy Police Chief of Ottawa and Désiré Kilolwa. Originally from Congo, Kilolwa works with women and children who are victims of his native country’s brutal civil war.

“[Canada is a] unique country,” Clark said in his acceptance speech. “The tradition of generosity is deep within us.” 

Clark explained that Canada’s very survival depended on all people pulling together.

“Many of us – Black [people], [Jewish people], Vietnamese, Africans – came here as refugees and we are prepared to extend a welcoming hand to others.” 

“In the 1970s, visible minorities were few and far between in Canada, but now they are becoming the majority.”

He reminisced about working with past recipients of the same award, including Jean Augustine (first African Canadian woman to be elected to Canada’s House of Commons and the first to serve in the federal cabinet) and Lincoln Alexander (first Black member of the House of Commons and later, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario). 

“In the 1970s, visible minorities were few and far between in Canada, but now they are becoming the majority,” Clark observed. 

Stepping up to fight injustice

Clark acknowledged that further work needs to be done in promoting equality for all of Canada’s diverse peoples. He cited the example of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, founded in response to the Holocaust, which promoted reconciliation and understanding between the two faith communities. 

“Perhaps we need a Council of Christians, Jews and Muslims at this time,” he concluded, making reference to the increase in Canada’s Muslim population with the arrival of Syrian refugees. 

[U]nlike the U.S., which is more open about its problem with racism, Canada is in denial.

In her keynote speech, Grégoire-Trudeau painted a similar picture of Canada, as a nation that has come a long way in terms of respecting the human rights of its diverse population. 

“The good news is that people in Canada, and indeed the world, are stepping up to fight racial and gender injustice,” she said. 

She pointed to a new generation of young leaders in Canada and the world, who are far more sensitive to past injustices and are prepared to address them. 

“Martin Luther King was an amazing speaker and champion for justice. When he made his “I Have a Dream” speech, the whole world took notice,” she said. 

“If Dr. King were here today, he would be proud of Canada because we haven’t refused entry to refugees whose expression of faith is different from ours,” she observed. 

Canada in 'denial' about racism

As a counterpoint to this image though, Stringer said that Canadian society is often in denial about the racism that occurs here. 

He referred to the recent firebombing of a mosque in Peterborough, Ontario, in the aftermath of the shootings in Paris. 

He said that unlike the U.S., which is more open about its problem with racism, Canada is in denial.

Rev. Dr. Anthony Bailey of Ottawa’s Parkdale Baptist Church, who hosted the ceremony, also referred to racist graffiti scribbled on his church and racist threats he had received.  

“It’s important to celebrate what we have achieved, but also important to keep the momentum going and further the work that still needs to be done,” Bailey said. 

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 Amanda Connolly

The government’s controversial anti-terrorism legislation, C-51, will be among the topics studied by the United Nations this week as part of a periodic review of how well Canada is upholding its international human rights obligations.

The Guardian reported Monday that the U.N. human rights committee will hear from Amnesty International Canada and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, along with several other groups, as part of the review. Both groups are expected to raise oft-cited concerns about the terrorism legislation’s broad reach and lack of oversight, as well as Canada’s decision to begin revoking the Canadian citizenship of dual citizens convicted of terrorism, treason or spying.

“This is an important process for Canada to either demonstrate or explain on the world stage, and before an expert body, its record on humans rights pursuant to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” - Sukanya Pillay, Canadian Civil Liberties Association

“This is an important process for Canada to either demonstrate or explain on the world stage, and before an expert body, its record on humans rights pursuant to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” said Sukanya Pillay, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “We are there to ensure the body questioning Canada, the human rights committee, knows of our many concerns regarding civil liberties in Canada, including Bill C-51, equality rights, aboriginal persons, police and conducted energy weapons, as well as the treatment of refugees.”

Is Bill C-51 necessary?

It’s been 10 years since the committee last examined Canada’s record with regard to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which 167 other countries are also party to.

A delegation of government representatives will appear before the committee, made up of 18 independent experts, where they will have the chance to make a statement and answer questions about their record.

While the bill initially had solid public support in light of the killing of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent October by violent radicals, that quickly faded as an increasingly loud chorus of criticism swelled against the bill, calling for increased oversight and limits on how personal information about Canadians can be shared between departments.

Since C-51 was introduced in January, the government has touted it as a necessary means to protect Canadians from terrorists and expand the ability of government departments to share information on individuals deemed a threat to national security.

While the bill initially had solid public support in light of the killing of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent October by violent radicals, that quickly faded as an increasingly loud chorus of criticism swelled against the bill, calling for increased oversight and limits on how personal information about Canadians can be shared between departments.

The Liberals have said they support the bill but would make amendments to it if elected but the NDP have said they would repeal the bill entirely, with the Conservatives attacking both as being soft on terrorism.

Among other issues outlined for consideration by the committee are questions related to how Canada is monitoring human rights conduct of Canadian oil and mining companies abroad, what steps are being taken to support equal pay for equal work for women and men, and the extent of steps being taken to compensate Canadian citizens Abdullah Almalki, Ahmed El-Maati and Muayyed Nureddin, who were tortured with the involvement of Canadian officials in Syria and Egypt.

The committee will also request additional information on steps the government has taken to investigate allegations of excessive use of force by police in the 2012 Quebec student riots and will ask for information on the progress that has been made to investigate the disappearances of missing and murdered indigenous women.

The findings of the committee, which are not legally binding, are expected to be issued on July 23.


Published in Partnership with iPolitics.ca

Published in Policy
Thursday, 05 March 2015 03:00

Toronto: Inequality Capital of Canada

By PATRICK HUNTER This is a worrisome report by the United Way Toronto. The Opportunity Equation was published last week and shows that income inequality between the rich and the poor in Toronto has grown by 31 per cent over the past 25 years. To put this in a national context, the report notes that inequality across the country has grown considerably. Toronto, however, is outpacing the rest of the country by 14 per cent. 

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Published in Commentary
Thursday, 03 July 2014 00:00

New Washrooms Policy Divides Vancouver

by Janice Thiessen (@automaticjane) in Vancouver

The Vancouver School Board trustees’ approval last month of a policy to accommodate transsexual students in schools has triggered corrosive divisions in the community, challenging Canada’s view of itself as a society that celebrates diversity.

The controversy pits the obligation of the public school system to accommodate transgendered students and ensure they feel safe and secure, against the reality that in a linguistically and culturally diverse city such as Vancouver, there is a continuum of tolerance for and experience with transgendered students.

After speaking to several sources on both sides of the controversy, this reporter came away with the impression that newcomers to Canada are not necessarily conservative or fundamentally opposed to the GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) lifestyle.

Communication has been a significant issue in this debate and language barriers can prevent those who don’t speak English well from understanding the nuances of the issue.

Not enough consultation

Two leading opponents of the policy, trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo, argue that there was insufficient consultation with the community, and that parents of international students, who comprise a considerable number in the Vancouver School Board, could be uncomfortable with the change, and that in turn could affect enrolment.

The new policy, passed 7-2 by the board, is an update of a 2004 Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities policy. It stipulates that single-stall, gender neutral bathrooms be installed in all school buildings so a child won’t have to reveal to anyone their gender based on the bathroom they used. The new policy also pledges to reduce or eliminate the practice of segregating students by their gender.

Denike said he and Woo support GLBTQ students but wanted more time to deliberate, and more specific language in the policy. “What we were upset about is there was very poor consultation with the community. People could have translators but there was still a real issue of communication.”

 “There are potential effects on enrolment of international students. It was our view that further consultation could relieve those concerns,” added Denike.

“We had spoken with parents who are realtors with expansive networks in the international community. They expressed concern about changes to the GLBTQ policy without sufficiently inclusive consultation – and the potential effects on enrolment of international students. ”

Real estate impact

Following their June 13 news conference outlining their opposition to the new policy, Denike and Woo were expelled from the Non-Partisan Association, a group that nominates candidates for Vancouver Parks, City and School Board trustees.

Peter Armstrong, NPA President, defended this draconian measure.

 “The Caucus has had ongoing issues with Ken and Sophia for a long time and the Board has been aware of this,” he said. “The raucous news conference called by Ken and Sophia last week was just one issue among many that forced the Caucus to take action.”

Woo defended the media conference, saying she was giving many people a chance to express their concerns about the new transgender policy. “The Vancouver School Board is highly dependent on international students for budgeting purposes. Cuts of over $11 million were required for 2014/15.

“We had spoken with parents who are realtors with expansive networks in the international community. They expressed concern about changes to the GLBTQ policy without sufficiently inclusive consultation – and the potential effects on enrolment of international students. ”

Woo said she heard from hundreds of parents expressing concern over details of the policy. “The limited consultative meetings held by the Board were filled to capacity with concerned parents. The May 29 public meeting, which lasted for over six hours, ended before many parents had an opportunity to speak. Over 14,000 parents signed petitions within a four-week period before June 16 calling for further consultation.”

Protecting all children

But Patti Bacchus, Chair of the Vancouver School Board, said that the policy merely codifies and formalizes the 2004 policy, and is intended to protect all children. “One of the newspaper articles I read quoted a 15-year-old who was thinking about returning to school because of this policy. It gave me a great feeling that kids are more inclined to feel safe at school.”

Trustee Denike preferred the 2004 policy, which gave more leeway for staff to interpret how to implement it.

He says the controversy has caused the parent advisory groups to split along racial lines, with many in the Chinese community opposed.

Cheryl Chang, chair of the Lord Byng Secondary School Parent Advisory Council, wrote an open letter to the Vancouver School Board in May outlining her concerns that the policy was not written by medical or health experts, and that it could have long-term damaging impacts on children.

She urged that the vote, originally scheduled for May 20, be delayed.

“When people come to Canada, part of what draws them is the climate of relative safety that we enjoy here, and the opportunity to live in a place where there are democratic pluralistic values and respect for difference and diversity,” said Jordan.

Agreement in principle

Charter Lau, former Burnaby Parent’s Voice trustee candidate, said he supports GLTBQ students but is concerned that a person with male body parts may enter a change room for females and harass them. Alternatively, male students could feel embarrassed with the presence of a student with female body parts who identifies as transgender in their change room.

“It’s very unfortunate that some of the media put parents in the opposition side, when in reality we are all on the for side, no one is against the intent of the policy. We all agree to the principle, to respect all students, but we need to address both concerns, obligation to satisfy all students, not just a small group.”

He claims that Bacchus stated the policy had to be voted on in June and there could be no more delay, but Lau asks, “What’s the rush?” He added that he has a sibling who is a part of the GLBTQ community. “We love and support each other. Disagreement doesn’t constitute opposing, we don’t agree with everything but we are still a part of one family.”

Intersecting gender and race

The debate over the policy is sensitive and fraught with potential misunderstanding, in part because it deals with prejudices against both gender and race. Rainbow Refugee, which advocates for those seeking protection based on sexual orientation, gender identity and HIV (Aids) status, said differing communities face differing degrees of tolerance.

“We do know that racialized GLBTQ youth are particularly vulnerable. This is an issue that we are all working on changing together,” said Dr. Sharalyn Jordan, assistant professor in of counselling psychology at Simon Fraser University and Rainbow Refuge representative.

“When people come to Canada, part of what draws them is the climate of relative safety that we enjoy here, and the opportunity to live in a place where there are democratic pluralistic values and respect for difference and diversity,” said Jordan. “This policy helps schools provide a place where people can learn about gender and racial and cultural diversity.”

High level of support

In spite of very vocal opposition, the motion did pass with a majority vote, showing the high level of support from teachers, the administration and some parents. “These policies are in place so students can better learn about diversity in a safe environment. It’s about re-tooling what is there to make it more inclusive and building inclusive infrastructure when new spaces are built,” said Lau Mehes, youth worker, Qmunity Gab Youth.

Qmunity Gab Youth works with Vancouver schools and the community to provide a safe space in which young people can learn about GLBTQ issues, access to services and referrals, provides special events and leadership training. People from every background are included and encouraged to participate.

Often people who are from a different cultural background and GLBTQ may have a more difficult time finding support. “One of the biggest problems that occur with trans/homophobia is that it intersects with racism. (It’s) a big struggle. I think it’s tied to systemic discrimination around homophobia. Anyone outside the gender binary, the strict idea that there are only two types of people, very masculine and feminine; any threats to this are hard to understand for some people.”

A global issue

A study by the University of British Columbia (UBC) Faculty of Nursing found that GLBTQ students reported lower rates of high-risk behaviours such as binge drinking when they are in a safer, more comfortable climate. They also had lower odds of discrimination, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts after schools had anti-homophobia policies in place.

Whether people support the policy or not, one thing is clear: the GLBTQ community has supporters and opposition in every community around the world. With such a diverse population, it’s no surprise there would be a wide variety of views in Vancouver as well.

“Cultural attitudes toward GLBTQ people vary widely. In Uganda, we know there’s a death penalty for being gay, but in Sweden, it’s not celebrated but accepted,” said Mary Little, chair of Trans Alliance (non-profit advocacy and outreach service provider for trans people).

“If people love their children, if they find out one of their children are transgendered, they adapt their opinion to that reality. We applaud the policy and hope other school boards in the province and the country do the same.”

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
Wednesday, 27 February 2013 23:01

Premier commits to ensuring racial equality

 Posted by Admin Wednesday February 27 2013
Fifty years after the late Leonard Braithwaite made history by becoming the first Black elected to the Ontario legislature, Michael Coteau stood last week as one of only two Blacks in the province’s legislative assembly, introdu

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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

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

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