Commentary by: Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton, ON
It's absurd to pass any law that is so obviously a violation of that constitution and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Quebec's National Assembly passed a bill that will require civil servants and members of the public seeking government services to have their faces uncovered. Known as Bill 62, this legislation will affect Muslim women who wear religious face coverings such as a Niqab or Burqa.
To be sure, this issue of Muslim women covering their faces is one that elicits very strong reactions, both from a rights and freedoms perspective as well as from the perspective of those in our society who view this religious practice with great suspicion and mistrust.
The reality in Canada today is if a woman chooses to cover her face to observe her religious traditions, our constitution protects her right to do so. Frankly, it's absurd to pass any law that is so obviously a violation of that constitution and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms, leaving me to openly question the motives of Quebec's lawmakers.
I was talking with an older, Roman Catholic friend of mine who, during a conversation on this very topic, recalled how, as a child, whenever his family attended mass, his mother had to either wear a hat that covered the majority of her head or wear a lace veil called a mantilla to cover her head. This Christian, Roman Catholic practice has not been altogether abandoned, with female dignitaries visiting the pope often pictured wearing black clothes and a mantilla to this day. One still sees the odd older woman wearing one to mas, but no one rushes to admonish her for observing a practice that has faded from popular use as the conventions of worship in that faith have evolved over time.
I also have strong feelings about this issue that come from my own personal experience as a member of a visible minority who, from time to time, has been subjected to "strong reactions" from people over my turban, or on those occasions when I wear traditional clothes or carry a kirpan — a ceremonial dagger. I well remember the doomsday predictions of blood and carnage that were made when observant Sikhs were permitted to wear their Kirpan in schools, places of employment and even courts of law. These are ceremonial, symbolic items, and none of the hysterical predictions of knife-wielding Sikhs running amok ever came to pass. Nor will they.
Bill 62, which the Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée describes as a first in North America, is the culmination of a long conflict in Quebec around the province's religious minorities that I personally view as an extension of the province's vigorous protection of its French language and culture that makes them suspicious of those whose behavior or beliefs they perceive as a threat to their "Frenchness."
Meanwhile, those who are critical of Bill 62 are left with few details of how the law would be applied in a variety of circumstances, as the regulations have yet to be written, and municipalities such as Montreal that are blatantly opposed to this bill are demanding to be exempted from it. The law poses serious challenges, such as potentially pitting nurses and doctors — and their professional standards of practice that require they provide medical service to all patients who present themselves for care — against the law, which essentially forbids them to provide that care to a woman whose face is covered.
To many people who view these "foreign customs" through the lens of Western sensibilities, women choosing to cover their face or their body is at best a curious practice, or at worst a practice of dangerous and suspect motives hiding behind orthodox religious convention. Even within Islam, the practice of wearing the niqab can be controversial, with some Muslim scholars expressing the opinion that it is not required, while others assert their opinion that it is.
Mandatory, not mandatory — to those women who do wear the niqab or burqa it is clearly a requirement to them as they choose to interpret their religion and, ultimately, our constitution guarantees them that choice. If we can successfully deprive these women of that choice, then I believe we can deprive our citizens of just about any choice. This is not freedom, it is oppression. And it is not worthy of Canada.
Brampton-based Surjit Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer who has previously contributed to the Huffington Post, Toronto Sun and other publications. He is a member of the New Canadian Media Collective.
by Susan Korah in Ottawa
Canada’s foreign policy is caught in a precarious balancing act between the “sunny ways” of election promises and the realpolitik of weapons sales to countries with dubious human rights records.
In his new book, Two Freedoms: Canada’s Global Future, former Senator Hugh Segal suggests a solution that he says is focused, principled, and based on two foundational principles – freedom from fear and freedom from want.
Segal’s expertise in foreign policy was acquired through more than 30 years of involvement in foreign and security policy. This included chairing the Senate Foreign Affairs and Special Anti-Terrorism committees and the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies, as well as a serving term as President of the Institute for Research and Public Policy (IRPP), a non-partisan think tank and research institution.
Introducing his book at a launch hosted by the IRPP in partnership with the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival, he explained that while he has the highest regard for some of Canada’s hardworking diplomats and other foreign service personnel, he is concerned that foreign policy is a mess of shifting priorities swinging from right to left, according to the ideology of the government that happens to be in power.
His aim, he said, is to give some clarity and direction to foreign policy, which in his opinion, should not be dependent on party politics.
More foreign aid
Elaborating on freedom from want, Segal said it is in Canada’s interest to see that families, communities and nations around the world live in reasonable prosperity, buoyed by a sense of hope for the future.
“Living in a state of economic and social despair can produce huge and even cataclysmic consequences, not only for those living in despair, but for their neighbouring communities and countries,” he pointed out, adding that the total absence of hope leads to violent behaviour based on a “nothing-to-lose” attitude.
“Putting those two freedoms – freedom from want and from fear – at the centre of our foreign policy would make it more coherent and the world would understand better what we stand for as Canadians,” Segal said.
He added that if extreme poverty is the root cause of violence, we have to ask ourselves what we can do to diminish this cause.
“I think that both in terms of foreign aid and international development and in terms of doing our fair share militarily, we are not doing enough,” he said. “In the [Prime Minister] Lester Pearson era we contributed 0.7 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP) to foreign aid, but in recent years our numbers have been much lower.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently pledged to boost funding to the global fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, but said Ottawa will not meet the goal to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on foreign aid anytime soon.
Increase military capacity
Another key point that Segal makes in his book and highlighted at the event, is that Canada needs to reinforce its values-based foreign policy with an appropriate military capacity.
“We have a great military, but we need more of them,” he said. “Canada should probably have Armed Forces of 150,000, of which 100,000 are regular forces and 50,000 are reserves rather than our present number which is in the 50,000 to 60,000 range.”
He said Canada also needs a 60-ship fighting navy, rather than one that has 20 or 30 ships, that can be deployed on humanitarian and diplomatic missions “to send a clear message about Canadian values.”
Giving some examples of how such military strength could help Canadians and those abroad, Segal said, “We need to make sure the Chinese respect the territorial integrity of Taiwan and other people.”
“Our failure to engage with [Bashar al-] Assad three or four years ago is why we have such a horrendous situation now,” he added, referring to the ongoing civil war in Syria.
Using a Western Canadian expression, he said: “We have a big hat, but no cattle,” a reference to cowboys whose boastful talk is not matched by action or even the capacity for action.
Decline since Chrétien era
“There has to be more cohesion between our foreign policy and defence policy,” he emphasized.
Segal’s central thesis is strongly reminiscent of a 2003 publication While Canada Slept: How We Lost Our Place in the World by Ottawa writer Andrew Cohen. Both authors lament the decline of Canada’s foreign policy and its military, especially since the glory days of Prime Minister Pearson.
Both consider that it took a turn for the worse under the leadership of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Segal points out that in that era, by sending delegations of Canadian business people and politicians around the world to increase trade, it became necessary to tread carefully so that no potential trading partner would be offended.
Both Segal and Cohen call for a values-based approach.
“The notion that this book might contribute to that debate in some constructive way would be my fondest hope,” said Segal.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
TORONTO (March 31, 2016)–
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and the undersigned organizations have issued a joint letter to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale expressing alarm over the Ontario Superior Court ruling that Vice News reporter Ben Makuch must hand over all communications between him and an ISIS fighter to the RCMP. The coalition urges the RCMP and Public Safety Canada to respect the independence of journalists and drop demands for the release of private material and correspondence with sources.
The protection of sources is a foundational principle of journalism, making crucial reporting like Makuch’s coverage of ISIS possible in the first place. By forcing Makuch to hand over his notes to the RCMP, or go to jail, the court has undermined press freedom—a critical component of our democratic society—and made it less likely that sources will be willing to speak with journalists.
The Philippine Reporter
by Soofia Mahmood in Toronto
Women empowerment is often defined as the ability to participate in economic life across all sectors. But when South Asian female immigrants in Canada are asked to define empowerment in the context of their own lives, the responses clearly highlight social factors as being most relevant to their feeling of emancipation.
Statistically speaking, immigrant women are more likely to have completed university than women born in Canada, but still earn less. In addition, owing to the already existing gender gap, they also earn less than male immigrants.
Despite these economic facts, many South Asian immigrant women consider themselves much more socially empowered in Canada compared to their home countries.
Having the authority to make simple choices, being able to access public spaces without fear and having the freedom to wear what they want to without being judged are some definitions of empowerment laid out by Pakistani and Indian women.
Freedom from social pressure
“It’s funny how my parents are so much more relaxed about what I wear or where I go when I am in Canada’, says Swati, a 26-year old Indian woman living on her own in Toronto.
Whether it's something as simple as sporting a tattoo or wearing western clothes without being judged, Swati finds this small aspect of her autonomy refreshing.
Farah, a Muslim Pakistani woman in Canada married to a non-Pakistani, emphasizes the absence of social pressure that gives women like her the feeling of freedom. She couldn’t have imagined her family coming to terms with her choice of partner in her home country.
“It is heartwarming to see that our parents’ values are adjusting to this modern society. The absence of social judgment enables them to accept women empowerment as a viable concept,” she explains.
Freedom from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation
The social and legal acceptance of alternate sexuality in Canada is another factor that is linked to empowerment of queer women hailing from conservative countries.
Noor, a lesbian artist from Pakistan, moved to Canada after a long, arduous journey of self-acceptance.
“I would have been forcefully married in Pakistan and my sexuality would have been a serious security threat,” she tells New Canadian Media. “Here, even though I still have to hide my truth from my family, I feel more relaxed.”
When asked how this has changed her in her everyday life, she replies with a smile, “The way I walk has changed. I don’t feel guilty about being who I am.”
Safe access to public spaces
These cases notwithstanding, there are many South Asian women who lead independent lives in their home countries, with opportunities to experience freedom within their social circles.
Their families and friends were open-minded, and they had access to resources that made it possible for them to be independent.
Natasha Qureshi is one such woman from Pakistan who says she has never let her gender dictate her life, even in her home country.
Despite that, she mentions that being able to walk on the streets alone without feeling threatened or harassed is something she truly values in Canada. “Now when I go back to Pakistan, I miss being able to walk alone on the street without worrying about safety”, she says.
In Pakistan, even in urban metros where women drive and work freely, their solitary access to public spaces like parks or street restaurants is limited by safety and rules, said or unsaid.
Talking about the discomfort women experience in public spaces, especially if they do not conform to the social norms of appropriate appearances, Noor says, “Basic misogyny happens in everyday life in conservative countries. As a woman, you are often made to feel like you are just a face in a window looking out.”
Defining one’s own social boundaries
Social freedom is a relative concept and is dependent not only on geography, but also the community you choose to interact with and the mindset you adopt.
Many immigrant women, although integrated into the Canadian society, now choose to define their own social limitations.
Faiza Feroze, a Pakistani mother of two living in Ottawa, says, “The concept of women empowerment should not be so liberal and should be considered in the light of religious boundaries.”
Although she enjoys the absence of daily social pressures about how a woman ‘should’ behave, she chooses to mostly interact within her community and respects the boundaries she considers religious and sacred.
“The fact that you can openly follow your own religious boundaries in a Western country, without judgment, makes me very happy. To me that is social freedom,” she says.
*Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
This is the first of three parts for our series on changing family dynamics and what it means for women immigrants in Canada. If you are an immigrant who has experienced significant social change in your life after arriving in Canada, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Sam Minassie (@samminassie) in Toronto
The government is restricting access to public documents and next to nothing is being done about it.
This was the recurring theme during the “Flying Blind” conference hosted by The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) at Ryerson University on Friday.
Earlier this week, the CJFE put out its Review of Free Expression in Canada report, which features articles, statistics and analyses from experts in law, journalism, advocacy and academia in order to inform on and evaluate government and institutions for their impact on freedom of expression.
James L. Turk who is a distinguished visiting professor at Ryerson University explained that the issue of government transparency is a matter of protecting our democratic system and that silence only gives officials more power.
“Democracy is dependent on an informed public, but an informed public is potentially detrimental to a government,” he said.
At the conference, the Information Commissioner of Canada, Suzanne Legault, joined prominent members of the media and other advocates of increased information accessibility for an open discussion regarding their personal experiences with, as well as expert opinions on, the subject.
The list of panellists included Munir Sheikh, former statistician of Canada and current executive fellow at the University of Calgary, Rob Cribb, an investigative journalist for the Toronto Star, Jennifer Ditchburn, senior parliamentary correspondent for the Canadian Press, Laura Tribe, national and digital programs lead for the CJFE, executive director of CJFE, Tom Henheffer and many more.
Introductions highlighting the many achievements of the speakers were followed by individual testimonies detailing how the lack of legal support has allowed the government to hide many of its budgetary spending from the public and has also resulted in a decline in investigative journalism.
The increase in the government’s unwillingness to produce documents has also promptly led to a general mistrust between members of the media and government officials.
“There is almost an obligation now to give time for a response, which deters journalists from reaching out to political offices,” explained Ditchburn. “Government communication should now be called government marketing.”
She continued on saying that the government now has its own team of media correspondents that is given more access to political figures.
“Why is this a non-issue? I am tired of having these discussions and then going home with no change. As we sit here having this discussion, that person right outside,” said Cribb, pointing at a man walking by the window, “has no idea of what is going on.”
“You need a public that cares and rises up. Everyone who knows has a responsibility [to raise awareness]. Governments need to know that people care about the issue,” added Tribe.
Turk stated that this kind of denial of information access inhibits the job performance of reporters, making a comparison to construction workers. “These are fundamental tools needed for journalism. What if I took the shovels from the workers outside and told them to dig?”
“This is a total information shut down . . .” said Henheffer. “The government wants to shut down access to information. The problem is weak laws that allow a government to do whatever they want in terms of accessing information.”
Although all of the panellists reiterated that public awareness was the key to increasing the dissemination of information, everyone was shocked when Tribe revealed that of the 102 country that qualified for the 2010 survey of freedom of information laws, Canada ranked just 58th.
This ranking put Canada behind many developing states such as Sierra Leone, Mexico, Azerbaijan, and even Ethiopia, which has been notorious for jailing journalists.
At another point in the discussion, Brown revealed that while investigating for an article, the threat of a libel case is extremely effective in dissuading the news outlet from publishing a story due to court costs.
As an example he described a situation that he went through with an article he had written on Jian Ghomeshi, who has now been charged with several counts of sexual assault. Although everything that Brown had wrote in the article was factual, the Toronto Star refused to publish the story after being threatened, until Ghomeshi himself made the information public through a Facebook post four months later.
Steps Moving Forward
Peter Jacobsen, a media lawyer, explained that journalists must be trained on how to approach sources that wish to remain anonymous because complete confidentiality can never be promised. He went on to say that if called to testify during a libel case, upon refusal to reveal a source’s identity, a journalist could be charged with contempt of court.
Jacobsen stated that the only way to combat these civil suits, until laws are changed, is for the media to band together so that court costs are kept to a minimal. Henheffer added that forming a media coalition for this exact purpose would definitely be a priority for the CJFE in the future.
The Information Commissioner of Canada, Legault concluded by stating: “The federal government states that they are the most transparent in history because they have responded to the most [access to information] requests . . . people need to continue to speak out, if people give up [the fight] there will [only] be [further] erosion . . . talking to your MP will help. Send e-mails, tweets. Go in person (to your local MP’s office).”
Photo: From left to right: Moderator, Carolyn Jarvis, 16x9’s Chief Correspondent, Global News; Peter Jacobsen, media lawyer and founding partner, Bersenas Jacobsen Chouest Thomson Blackburn LLP; Jesse Brown, freelance journalist and media critic; Ivan Semaniuk, science reporter, The Globe and Mail. // Photo Credit: Tom Henheffer
THE World Sikh Organization of Canada has welcomed the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the landmark case of Loyola High School, et al. v. Attorney General of Quebec. This case deals with the right of a Catholic school to teach the Christianity portion of the mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) curriculum, […]
AMRITSAR – The American Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (AGPC) welcomed US President Barack Obama’s statement on Article 25 of the Indian Constitution that gave freedom of faith and right to propagate one’s religion.
AGPC president JS Hothi and coordinator Pritpal Singh said Obama “rightly warned” India if this provision was not followed in true spirit and substance it would curtail the right to freedom of religion and might lead to splintered society on religious grounds.
AGPC leaders said, “We are extremely thankful to the President for raising the issue of religious freedom on the Indian soil. He is right in saying that India must concentrate on religious freedom, if it wants to stay united.”
They said India had not been following the Constitution in the true spirit and the minorities were under attack in the country. They alleged the Sikhs had been facing the “worst-ever discrimination and their voices were being subdued”.
PHILIPPINE REPORTER’S OPINION SURVEY (This issue’s second Opinion Survey conducted by The Philippine Reporter writer and digital journalist Mark A. Cadiz. The first one is on page 6.) Charlie Hebdo killings and the debate about the freedom of the press vs. abuse of freedom. Where do we draw the line? “Charlie Hebdo was an easy
The Philippine Reporter
OTTAWA— Heritage Minister Shelly Glover says the arts are important to freedom of expression and encourages the Canadian arts community to “never give up”—a reference to the recent Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris that left 12 dead.
“Arts and culture are valuable to support freedom of expression,” said Glover. “We will remember forever what happened in Paris.”
Glover made the comments at a reception following the annual public meeting of the Canada Council for the Arts held Jan. 20 at the council’s office in Ottawa.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit