New Canadian Media
Monday, 10 December 2018 15:30

What Stops Refugees from doing Journalism?

By Maria Assaf in Oxford, England  

In 2016 Canada’s first Syrian newspaper, The Migrant, was founded by Kameel Nasrawi. Nasrawi worked as a journalist and screenplay writer in Damascus before he and his family came to Canada as refugees two years ago. The Migrant shares positive stories about Syrians across Canada to inspire others in the community to create their own success stories.  

Many diasporas across Canada have started their own media outlets to connect their communities, share vital information and to create a sense of home. Some media outlets like the Philippine Reporter, whose publishers faced political imprisonment in the Philippines before settling in Canada, use journalism as a means to challenge the status quo and discuss the effect political events have on the members of their community. 

Back in 2015, Europe was in the midst of a self-proclaimed “refugee crisis.” As the European Union discussed a controversial deal with Turkey that would keep refugees outside its borders, I followed seven Syrian refugee reporters in Istanbul. Leicester University published a paper I wrote  in May 2016 about the challenges these reporters faced regarding freedom of expression.  

Importance of refugee journalism 

Richard Carver and Guglielmo Verdirame conducted research in Rwanda and former Zaire in 2001 and found that refugee outlets help their communities exercise their right of freedom of expression and access to information. It also provides communities access to comprehensive and accurate data about conditions in their countries of origin, which is essential when deciding whether or not to repatriate.  

In an interview with the Toronto Star, Nasrawi explained that because of the language barrier, many newcomers are unaware of programs run by the Canadian government, programs designed to help them integrate into Canadian society.  

Tiziano Bonini wrote that refugee reporting can be an important tool for those who may never be able to return home. For refugees, having publications that understand key issues in their community is vital. For example, The Migrant features articles on issues such as divorce, sex education and entrepreneurship, which the paper found to be pressing among the Syrian-Canadian community.  

With 68.5 million people forcibly displaced around the world and 10,832 refugees accepted into Canada between January and September 2018, ensuring that refugee populations are able to exercise their right to freedom of expression is a pressing issue.   

Challenges it faces 

However, engaging in journalism as a means of challenging “the establishment” is an almost impossible task for refugees worldwide. Although Article 19 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights foregrounds everyone’s right to speak out, international legislation often stops refugees from engaging with political issues. 

The Organization of African Unity’s 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, for instance, specifically forbids refugees from engaging in “subversive activities” or “attacking” a member state of the OAU “through the press, or by radio." Verdirame and Barbara Harrell-Bond found examples of African states that threatened to repatriate refugee journalists for their work. 

Refugees often face an uncertain legal status. In 2016, Turkey hosted 2.7 million Syrian refugees as “guests." A signatory to the Refugee Convention, -the law that governs refugee affairs internationally, Turkey decreed to only grant refugee status to Europeans. These restrictions made it hard for refugee journalism to thrive.

Funding for refugee journalism often comes from donors such as INGOs or Western governments, and it comes with conditions attached. The Syrian reporters I met in Turkey mentioned that funding tended to go to Western-friendly outlets and was usually provided for six months up to a year, making it difficult for reporters to set up sustainable businesses. Outlets often self-censored and avoided discussing Turkish political affairs. “Those are restrictions we are putting on ourselves. Because Turkey is the only place we are left with to work,” one reporter said. In some cases, Syrian newspapers also had an uncertain legal status. In 2014, Turkish authorities began to request that media outlets have government-issued licenses to operate, which many outlets were not able to obtain. The Turkish government also monitors and often interrogates these outlets about their coverage. 

Even in countries with fewer restrictions regarding free expression, doing journalism for refugees has been a historical challenge. Jewish refugee reporters fleeing Nazi Germany found that journalism schools in the United States refused to accept them, often citing anti-Semitic rationale. In Canada, Hermie Garcia, publisher of Canada’s Philippine Reporter, mentioned that he and his wife, who were journalists in the Philippines, were unable to find work in mainstream media because they lacked “Canadian experience.”   

Lack of a refugee voice in the global mainstream media  

Major texts on journalistic scholarship, such as the Handbook for Journalistic Studies by Wahl-Jorgensen and Hanitzsch, don’t consider refugee reporting as its own genre. However, scholars like Ullamaija Kivikuru, Melisa Wall, Madeline Otis Campbell and Dana Janbek have warned that the lack of refugee voices in international media reinforces soft-colonial discourse by portraying refugee lives as less valuable than those of the “developed world.” Their study revealed that international journalists often took photos of Syrian refugees without their permission and printed distorted stories about them. 

Palestinian reporters play an essential role in the production of international news about Palestine. But despite having relevant journalistic skills, their contribution is usually limited to translators, producers and fixers. Often, to keep their jobs at international news organizations, they avoid disclosing their views on their situation. Journalistic objectivity is often cited as the reason behind preventing those affected by conflict from telling their own stories. However, literature about multiculturalism and multimedia reporting shows that by collaborating across different communities, journalism can help address inequality.   

Seeking solutions

Many refugee and migrant journalists end up starting their own community publications after being unable to work for the mainstream media in their host countries. Some abandon the profession altogether. This issue is not unique to journalism, as underemployment is a banner issue for many Canadian immigrants.   

Several of the Syrian reporters I interviewed, sought alternative funding from international media outlets who didn’t attach conditions to their aid. Others tried using advertising, charging for content or getting donations from businessmen, but these often came with requests for editorial control.  

One reporter said “I think before we were fighting for independent media from the regime. Now we are fighting for independent media from everyone.” 

Members of the Syrian press in Turkey have formed alliances such as the Syrian Network of Print Journalists (SNP) to share expertise and facilities. Similarly in Canada, The Migrant recruits volunteer writers from different Arab communities, because many people in these communities are journalists in similar situations.  

Existing in a challenging time environment or panorama. refugee journalism still manages to help their communities have more agency in the international conversation about their lives. However, much needs to be done in Canada and abroad to ensure that refugees can exercise their right to freedom of expression. Refugee reporting funders need to respect the freedom of the press and provide realistic timeframes to their aid for these outlets to thrive and become self-sustaining. 

Finally, despite mainstream colonial definitions of objectivity, the people best suited to tell refugees’ stories are refugees themselves. 

Maria Assaf is a Canadian journalist and MA in Development and Emergency Practice. 

Published in Commentary
Thursday, 19 January 2017 12:38

Most Terrorists are Average Joes

Commentary by Phil Gurski

Just how sophisticated are most terrorists anyway?

Sometimes, I think most of us get terrorism very, very wrong.  I am not sure whether this is due to the Hollywood effect where terrorists seem to be popping up in more and more films each year.  Can anyone point to a movie from the 1960s where violent extremists played a major role?  Aside, of course, from the cartoonish Bond villains.

In many of these cinematographic offerings, the terrorists come across as cold, calculating, evil monsters who carefully plan their acts of terror and can only be defeated by the equally calculating good guys – Jack Reacher, Jack Bauer (why are all the counter terrorism heroes called Jack?), etc.  Sometimes our guys resort to unsavoury methods to stop the heinous plotters of death.  Oh well, that is how it goes in the name of keeping us safe.

It is beyond obvious that film is not always a mirror for reality. I maybe a voice in the wilderness if I were to call for more accurate portrayals of terrorism and intelligence, but it may be that our image of terrorism as it is shown to us on the silver screen does us a disservice.

Zero counter-surveillance 

I am referring here to the belief that all terrorists are high-level operatives who plan their death and destruction with the utmost secrecy, meaning that it is next to impossible for security and law enforcement agencies to detect and neutralize them before it is too late (unless they have a guy named Jack on staff!).

The reality is that this is not always accurate.  The way it really works came to light in Turkey when the terrorist accused of carrying out the attack on an Istanbul night club on New Year's Eve chose his venue randomly after he was scared off his first preference by heightened security.

You read that right. 

The terrorist who killed 39 people did not engage in careful pre-attack surveillance, reconnaissance and tracking of the place to bear the brunt of his ideological hatred.  And he is not alone.  Many terrorists, at least in my experience in Canada, are not the most sophisticated, and are frankly, incapable of carrying out meticulous planning. 

They have next to zero counter-surveillance skills, often choose their targets almost accidentally and rarely do dry runs to test security. Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the terrorist who attacked the War Memorial and Parliament in Ottawa in October 2014, may have been an uncommon exception as there are indications he toured Centre Block several weeks before his ill-fated assault.

The "B-team"

Given this, an immediate question arises: who is more dangerous – the terrorist who dots all his i's and crosses all his t's or the one who shows up one day and kills?  My money is on the latter. 

Those who take the time to ensure success expose themselves to scrutiny, monitoring, eavesdropping, human source penetration, intelligence sharing, and, perhaps most importantly, time – time for state agencies to figure out what they are bent on doing.  The one who does no pre-planning is hard to identify and stop since his plot is shorter in the preparatory stages and involves fewer steps that can screw up. 

Truth be told, both types can succeed and both can be foiled, but prior warning and longer planning cycles are the enemy of the terrorist and the friend of our spies.

I think we need to challenge our view of terrorism and terrorists. They are not all supermen (and women) with other worldly powers that are next to impossible to match. Most are just average joes with little foresight and low intellect who decide to act rashly on whatever grievance motivates them. 

That does not mean we should dismiss the "B-team" – they can still do a lot of damage – but it does imply we should not give the terrorists more credit than they deserve.

They get enough free publicity already that feeds their egos and inflates their importance.  Let us not add to that.

Phil Gurski worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at

Published in Commentary



OTTAWA—Delays in the resettlement of Syrian refugees from Turkey to Canada are likely to grow even longer after a failed coup attempted there last week.

Securing exit permits for Syrians in Turkey had already been a difficult process, holding up the Liberal government’s plans last fall to resettle thousands of people from there as part of their landmark program to bring 25,000 Syrians to Canada in a matter of months.


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Commentary by Michael Harris

In the wake of Brussels — at least for now — we’re back in the bad old days of the War of Civilizations narrative.

In the face of terror most foul, fury and vengeance are once more in the air. It’s not quite Christianity versus Islam, but it’s close.

Some anecdotal evidence. Two comments on a story in The Independent, worlds apart, suggest that two great swaths of humanity are once again on an unnecessary and tragic collision course.

Bobby said: “All the whole Mideast and ALL their ilk are Hated by me and mine.”

Ceycey replied: “Is your humanity only for Europe?”

Both commenters were responding to a story in the British newspaper written by Yasmin Ahmed in the wake of the terrorist bombings in Belgium.

Ahmed pointed out that just before ISIS operatives set off bombs in Brussels, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks detonated a car bomb in Turkey near a transportation hub, killing 37 and injuring 70 more. A closely-timed second attack killed four more people. In fact, Turkey has been beset by a spate of bombings by Kurdish separatists and ISIS, who in 2015 alone killed 141 and injured 910 others.

“Do you not see that this indifference to the non-Western lives is EXACTLY what is creating and feeding terror organizations like ISIS?"

In both Brussels and Ankara, innocent people were killed indiscriminately by fanatics who believe political causes sanctify murder.

But what struck Ahmed was the profound difference in the Western reaction to these atrocities. In social media there were safety check-ins on Facebook, hashtags on Twitter, and shared cartoons in response to the bombings at Zaventen Airport and Maelbeek metro station. In fact, “Brussels” garnered 17.5 million more Google news results than “Ankara”.

Global media funerals for some, mute indifference for others

While the world mourned Brussels, Ankara was treated as a mere regional event. Case in point: After this week’s Brussels bombings, European countries raised the Belgian flag above their national monuments — a fitting tribute. The Eiffel Tower was illuminated in the colours of the Belgian flag, as was One World Trade Center in New York (though in truth, the colours looked more like red, white and blue). So Yasmin Ahmed posed an awkward question: Why didn’t Downing Street raise the red and white Turkish flag after the atrocities in Ankara?

Ahmed’s unease was mirrored by a young woman who knows a thing or two about being victimized by terrorism. Malala Yousafzai blazed to international fame after standing up for education for girls in Afghanistan and getting shot by the Taliban for her defiance.

Has the West’s accusatory finger moved from ultra-extremist groups like ISIS and al Qaida to designate the members of an entire religion — again?

She too has spoken out about the dangers of dividing the victims of terrorism between East and West, providing global media funerals for some, mute indifference to others.

“Do you not see that this indifference to the non-Western lives is EXACTLY what is creating and feeding terror organizations like ISIS? … If your intention is to stop terrorism, do not try to blame the whole population of Muslims for it, because that cannot stop terrorism,” she said.

And that raises an interesting question. Is the West mute on the subject of innocent lives lost to terrorists in Turkey because the motivations behind those attacks were different from the reasons behind the killing in Europe — or because Turkey is 98 per cent Muslim? Has the West’s accusatory finger moved from ultra-extremist groups like ISIS and al Qaida to designate the members of an entire religion — again?

In this season of presidential politics in the United States, the answer is, sadly, ‘Yes’.

Trump and anti-terrorism: Zero experience

CNN, which fielded carpet-coverage of the Brussels bombings in a way that repeated rather than advanced the story for three gruesome days, has already come up with a poll showing that Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is now the first choice of Americans on anti-terrorism matters.

That is astonishing for a few reasons. First of all, Trump has zero experience in fighting terrorism in any official capacity. He has never held public office, and his chief advisor on foreign policy is The Donald. Trump has been widely denounced by military, national security and senior police leaders for his unconstitutional, illegal and flatly dangerous approach to some of America’s deepest problems.

[Trump] has added that he wouldn’t rule out using nuclear weapons against ISIS. That’s right — nuclear weapons.

The list is well known. So far Trump has proposed banning all Muslims from entering the United States, deporting 12 million illegal aliens, building a wall on the Mexican border, bringing back torture and instituting racial profiling in Muslim communities in the U.S. Now he has added that he wouldn’t rule out using nuclear weapons against ISIS. That’s right — nuclear weapons.

In the flash of two bombs, the world is suddenly standing back in the rubble of 9/11 with President Bush repeating his With Us or With the Terrorists ultimatum. All the old, familiar and — I might add — failed solutions are once more being put forward by a real estate mogul who is being embraced as though he were King Solomon.

Though there are many particulars to the new fundamentalism for defeating terror, it comes down to the familiar mantra of guns, gates and guards. If the police just had enough unconstitutional powers, if free citizens just gave up enough civil liberties, if the West could just exert enough hard power against Islamic terrorists, if only there could be more forced regime change, if only Muslims would begin denouncing the evil-doers in their communities, the world would never have to see the cities of Europe and the United States burning again.

Those answers have been tried for 15 blood-soaked years and all the West has to show for it is millions of deaths, trillions in squandered treasure — and ISIS.

The time has come to recognize solidarity with all the victims of terror. As James Taylor, a U.K. citizen living in Ankara, posted on Facebook, “You were Charlie, you were Paris, will you be Ankara?”

Apparently not.

Michael Harris is a writer, journalist, and documentary filmmaker. He was awarded a Doctor of Laws for his “unceasing pursuit of justice for the less fortunate among us.” His nine books include Justice Denied, Unholy Orders, Rare Ambition, Lament for an Ocean, and Con Game. His new book on the Harper majority government, Party of One, is a number one best-seller and has been shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Literary Award for English-language non-fiction.

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Published in Commentary
Tuesday, 24 November 2015 18:34

Govt Scales Back Year-End Refugee Target

by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver

The Canadian government announced their plan today to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees to the country by the end of the year, with an additional 15,000 to follow in January and February of 2016. The Ministers of Health, Immigration and Defence assured Canadians at a news conference this afternoon that medical and security screening would be performed overseas, in advance of their arrival in Canada. 

This number is short of the Liberal’s original year-end goal of 25,000, but members of the ad-hoc committee on refugees emphasized that proper screening processes and comprehensive resettlement plans must be in place to meet this influx.

“Yes we want to bring them fast, but we also want to do it right,” John McCallum, Minister of Immigration explained.

“When we welcome our newcomer friends with a smile, a smile alone is not sufficient,” he continued. “We want them to have a roof over their heads, we want them to have the right supports for language training and all the other things they need to begin their life here in Canada.”

Jane Philpott, chair of the ad-hoc committee on refugees and Minister of Health, told those in attendance that the government plans to identify all 25,000 Syrians to be resettled by the end of December and will prioritize those who are the most vulnerable.

Those resettled will include a mix of both private and government-assisted refugees, but only 2,000 of the end-of-year target will be government sponsored.

In order to keep their original promise of bringing 25,000 government-assisted refugees, McCallum said that the government will continue to sponsor and accept refugees beyond February, 2016.

The price tag on the Liberal program has now been pegged at up to $678 million over the next six years, but government representatives say this is “largely new money.” The Liberal platform only originally designated $250 million for the resettlement program.

Safety of Canadians

While the Liberal’s original year-end target was commended by refugee advocates, many experts also cautioned the government against bringing approximately 5,000 refugees a week for the next five weeks to the country without a comprehensive resettlement plan.

Approximately 54 per cent of Canadians echoed these concerns, according to recent polls, raising concerns over whether this tight timeline would allow for proper screening processes to take place.

The government responded to these concerns today with an announcement that full medical exams and security screenings will be completed overseas for all refugees. Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety, emphasized that they will be checking the identification of all prospective refugees at every stage of the process to ensure the safety of Canadians.

... full medical exams and security screenings will be completed overseas for all refugees

Refugees must also be registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Turkish government before being processed by Canadian officials.

“We will meet the humanitarian imperative before us, and we will do so properly so all Canadians can be both proud and confident about what we’ve accomplished together,” commented Goodale.

Last week, information surfaced that the government will be narrowing its criteria for Syrian refugees to Canada. It will only be accepting women, children and families; single men seeking asylum may be sponsored privately, but will otherwise not be approved unless they are accompanying their parents or are members of the gay community.

When asked whether the recent attacks in Paris on November 13 that killed 130 were at all responsible for this delayed deadline, McCallum said, No.

“It’s a logistic challenge that is extremely important in order to coordinate these things with our partners and other levels of the government,” he said. “It’s good to have a little more time.”

Resettlement in Canada

As to where refugees will be housed after they initially land in Canada, McCallum explained that there are 36 destination cities that already have the capacity to receive the refugees and provide them with the proper services to integrate them into Canadian society.

According to the Minister of Defence, Harjit Sajjan, there also exists temporary lodging for approximately 6,000 refugees at military bases, if necessary.

... there also exists temporary lodging for approximately 6,000 refugees at military bases, if necessary.

Over the previous six weeks, Canadian authorities in Lebanon have managed to screen about 100 people a day. This makes for a total of 4,000 asylum seekers in the past month and a half.

Since the Liberal government was sworn-in on November 4, only 102 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada. Approximately 3,000 Syrian refugees had previously arrived under the former Conservative government, but this number does not count against the 25,000 total.

Moving forward, the government expects to receive as many as 900 refugees a day, most of whom will arrive at airports in Toronto and Montreal. A majority will be brought to Canada by private planes, although military aircraft will be used if necessary.

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 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in the G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey

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Thursday, 10 September 2015 19:18

Syrian Sea Change in Election Campaign

by Hadani Ditmars in Vancouver, British Columbia
As I walked along a Vancouver beach near my home this morning, I reflected on the extraordinary sea change in the Canadian election campaign.
From the shores of the eastern Mediterranean to the blue Pacific waters of Vancouver, the tragedy of the migrant crisis has linked Canada to Syria in a visceral way.
Who would have thought a terrible, exploited image of a single Syrian child, washed up on a Turkish shore, would have so influenced the course of Canadian politics? That it would potentially de-throne an incumbent Prime Minister and have rival political parties and mayors of major cities suddenly competing over the numbers of refugees they promised to bring in once elected.
Certainly not my great-great grandmother Sara, who came to these shores over a century ago, from her troubled Syrian homeland, with her son Solomon and my great-grandparents Najib and Massadi Mussallem. They were Christians fleeing Ottoman era persecution in what was then called Greater Syria, part of an empire that was carved up after WW1. They were from a village in the Bekka Valley, not far from what is now the occupied Golan Heights, in an area that became part of Lebanon in the 1920s.
As empires shift and nations emerge, one thing remains a constant: Greater Syria is still reeling from the legacy of 1918, when the Sykes Picot agreement carved up the Ottoman Empire. And now, in a weird gestalt, it may change the political course of a far-flung corner of the former British Empire.
As empires shift and nations emerge, one thing remains a constant: Greater Syria is still reeling from the legacy of 1918
Make-or-break issue
I wonder what my great-great grandmother Sara, who refused to learn English on the grounds that it was not the language of the future and that its empire would soon pass, would have said about the refugee crisis from her country so affecting her adopted homeland?
What strange confluence of serendipity, luck, timing, happenstance  or was it fate?- conspired to make Syrian refugees an election breaking/making issue in Canada?
Everyone knows that election campaigns, like Mediterranean crossings in less than seaworthy vessels, are volatile journeys.  Sara would have known this. She and her daughter waited at night on a freighter in Egypts Port Said, as their menfolk rowed out to meet them.
As they climbed up the ships ladder, a Turkish gunboat went by and only the top two men made it on board. Later they got stuck in Marseilles for three months due to a shipping strike, finally making it through Ellis Island, then a terrible winter in Montreal and Winnipeg, before arriving on Canadas West Coast.
Epic journey
I think of their epic journey as I watch images of other refugee families dodge Hungarian police with exhausted, hungry children. Thousands of other Canadians must have also thought of their ancestors as they watched the nightly news. Who would have guessed that Harpers campaign would have been capsized by a giant wave of compassion and concern on the part of Canadian voters?
Harpers stubborn insistence on blocking the floodgates in the name of security concerns about people from terrorist war zonesreminds me of the interviews I did with elders in the community a few decades ago. One man, Syrian-Canadian Habib Saloum, told me a story about his first day at school in Canada. He returned crying to his mother that the kids beat me up and called me a dirty black Syrian.
His mother told him to have courage and to tell the other children that he was proud of his heritage and that Jesus was a dirty black Syrian too.  (Many Christian communities in the region still speak Aramaic and can trace their ancestry back a millennium) Habib returned the next day and told his classmates about Jesus. He still got beat up, he told me, but he felt comforted by his mothers story.
And now, refugees fleeing ISIS and Syrian government barrel bombs are conflated with the very terrorism they are fleeing.
Canadian compassion
But the outpouring of Canadian compassion and concern for the refugees has crossed party lines, with even former Conservative cabinet ministers like Barbara McDougall calling for more open refugee policies.
This is the first time that refugee policy has become an election issue, and although one wonders why, say the shiploads of Tamil refugees fleeing the horrors of civil war in Sri Lanka in 2009 and 2010 did not spark a similar debate, its a good thing that Harperbroken refugee policy has finally been condemned. One can only hope that the rights of refugees will stay on our national post-election agenda.
This is the first time that refugee policy has become an election issue
As for my ancestress Sara, who arrived here with her family (whose travel documents were stamped by officials with the term Asiatic) just before pan North American anti-Asian exclusion policies would have made it almost impossible, I think she would be pleased with the prevailing election currents.  She lived out her life in a culturally isolated suburb of Vancouver devoid of Middle Easterners- but now, with thousands of Syrians on their way, she would have friends to share ahwheh (strong Syrian coffee) and make svihah (Syrian meatpies) with.
And her son Solomons belief that Canada was a country where the rule of law was respected (including international conventions on refugees) would be vindicated.
Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone and is working on a new book about ancient sites in Iraq. She has been reporting from the Middle East for two decades and is also a singer and musician. 

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Published in Commentary

by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver

Over the last week, the Canadian public has awakened to the grim reality of the current refugee crisis springing from Syria after images emerged of a three-year-old boy whose body washed ashore in Turkey. Nevertheless, the public remains divided on how Canada should intervene — if at all.

Alan Kurdi and his family were attempting to flee the country, which has been devastated by fighters from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) and a prolonged civil war seeking to oust President Bashar Al Assad, to seek sanctuary first in Europe and ultimately perhaps in Canada. The family paid smugglers to take them from Bodrum, Turkey to Greece, but drowned when the boat capsized en route.

Canada has been largely insulated from the humanitarian crisis occurring overseas, and it is a crisis indeed. Since IS forces began systematic killings in the region, more than half the population of Syria has been killed, displaced or has fled. This year alone, more than 350,000 migrants have sought refuge in Europe.

Deaths at sea

Kurdi and his family are among the estimated 2,500 people who have died attempting to make the journey to safety.

Given that a large majority of migrants have attempted to enter European countries rather than cross the Pacific to seek shelter in North America, the Canadian public has played more of a spectator role during the crisis. However, this attitude shifted in the last week as news of Kurdi’s Canadian connection surfaced, throwing Canada's refugee policy into the spotlight in the run-up to the fall’s federal election.

Since the body was discovered on September 2, social media sites have exploded with Canadians expressing their sympathies for Syrian families and their frustration at the country’s current refugee policies.

At a recent Stephen Harper event in Vancouver, Conservative staffers forcibly removed a local activist when they noticed that he was wearing a T-shirt reading "Aylan (sic) should be here." When Sean Devlin, who has been an outspoken member of the group Shit Harper Did, refused to leave, he was arrested for obstruction of justice.

This outcry has been matched with an outpouring of support from many Canadian citizens. Hilde Schlosar, executive director of Nanaimo’s Immigrant Welcome Centre, said the centre has seen a huge spike in the number of offers of assistance this week.

Even Toronto Mayor John Tory is making a personal commitment to help Syrian families in crisis. Tory has agreed to sponsor a Syrian family through the Toronto-based non-profit group Lifeline Syria. The group hopes to resettle 1,000 Syrian refugees as permanent immigrants in the Greater Toronto Area over the next two years.

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins went even further on Friday when he called on the federal government to bring in 5,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year.

Split along party lines

Despite these and other individual commitments of support, an Angus Reid report released on September 4 shows that Canadians are divided on how the country should respond to the current migrant crisis.

Overall, 70 per cent of Canadians polled say Canada has a role to play in the migrant crisis, but consensus on what the nature of that role should be is less clear. While 76 per cent said individuals and community groups should sponsor more refugees, only 54 per cent said the government itself should be responsible for taking in more refugees.

[O]nly 54 per cent said the government itself should be responsible for taking in more refugees

Canada has resettled 2,347 Syrian refugees in the past three years (despite initial intentions to resettle 11,300) largely as a result of private sponsorship. The Conservative government has plans to bring in an additional 10,000 over the next four years if re-elected.

Seventy-six per cent of respondents said Canada should send professionals, such as doctors or soldiers, overseas to help the migrants, and 23 per cent said Canada should take no action.

Respondents were particularly divided along partisan lines. Conservative voters were the least likely to support options for how Canada could help the migrants, with 37 per cent of Conservatives polled agreeing with the statement that many of the migrants seeking refuge are “bogus,” criminals or economic opportunists looking to jump the immigration queue for a better life.

Regardless of political preferences, the vast majority of Canadians do view the Syrian refugees as genuinely in need of help and agree that Canada should do its part to support them in their search for safety. Now, only the means of doing so are left to be determined.

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by Dr. Ghayda Hassan and Hicham Tiflati (@HTiflati) in Montreal

Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the latest born of extremist movements, has drawn international condemnation and wonder about its power in drawing youth (Muslims and non-Muslims) from the western world to Syria and Iraq. Canada’s spy agency is reporting a dramatic spike in the number of Canadians joining the fight overseas.

It is estimated that more than 40 young men and women have left Canada to fight in Syria. This past January, at least six Montrealers were believed to have flown to Turkey and then crossed the borders into the Islamic State to join three others originally from Sherbrooke, Quebec, who left a few months earlier.

In March, a seventh Quebecer was believed to have joined his peers in Syria.

Presently, two young Montrealers, are facing four charges for an alleged terrorist plot in Quebec.

Research shows that discrimination and ostracism are radicalizing factors.

Research shows that discrimination and ostracism are radicalizing factors. Radicalized groups often use discourses around individual and collective grievances in order to recruit and radicalize youths. Individuals who perceive that their group is ostracized may experience increased hatred and a need to take revenge.

The massive and diversified recruitment in the West, and the rhetoric use of religion, fuels the sentiment of panic, feeds Islamophobia in the West and produces divisive effects, reinforcing perceptions of “us” and “them”. This, in turn, further feeds intercommunity tensions and negatively affects youth well being.

This highlights the urgent need for inclusive policies and for building solidarities among youth around citizenship.

‘We Never Saw it Coming’: Families

Many of the young people who violently radicalize in Canada seem to be university or college students, many of whom led what seemed to be normal lives before their departure. Contrary to stereotypes about who are often targeted, many of the youth who have left, were rather well integrated within their social networks, were achievers and came from well functioning families.

Whether it is ‘well functioning’ educated youth or those who feel disaffiliated from their Canadian society, the motives behind their departures are still not clear.

‘We never saw this coming,’ or comments like it, are often heard from families, friends and teachers alike.

Whether it is ‘well functioning’ educated youth or those who feel disaffiliated from their Canadian society, the motives behind their departures are still not clear.

Of all concerned by the departure of young adults, perhaps those affected most are parents, close relatives and friends. For many, the departure of their loved son, daughter or friend sometimes comes as an unpredictable, unexpected shock, coupled with the hurt and anxieties related to loss and lack of contact from the loved one. 

But can we really predict the departure of youth?

The answer is complex – essentially, yes and no.

No, because research and clinical evidence show there is no such thing as a common profile or clear-cut indicators for youth who become violently radicalized.

Radicalized groups such as ISIS use a very large array of strategies of recruitment and gradually establish secrecy and then separate and isolate the youth from their networks and from significant others.

No, because ISIS, just like any violently radicalized group, targets youth who feel stigmatized and ‘othered’ by their societies. And even though ISIS, and groups like it, generates fear and horror, it is somehow appealing to youth’s idealism, perfectionism, search for belongingness, and sensation-seeking inclinations.

But, are there any indicators at all? Yes, because adults involved with youth can look for a number of alarming signs.

Radicalized groups such as ISIS use a very large array of strategies of recruitment and gradually establish secrecy and then separate and isolate the youth from their networks and from significant others.

For starters, a sudden intensity of rigid religiosity associated with notions of moral purity and superiority of the in-group is one sign.

In addition, a sudden intense romantic relation with someone abroad may be another indicator.

Some youth may start to express their personal identity in a manner that is fused with the ideology of the radical group and/or may become isolated from their peer group.

Finally, an increased hostility and mistrust towards previously trusted others at home or outside, as well as disengagement from larger society, may be an indicator to watch for.

Indeed, a youth’s identity should not be defined by his or her level of distance from, or assimilation to host society, nor by immigrant roots, but rather through his or her feeling that they can fully participate in Canadian society.

Bringing Back our Youth

Questions such as, ‘is ISIS Islamic at all?’ or ‘how far is the real Islam from ISIS?’ won’t help us change the minds of those who are thinking of leaving, nor will any counter-argument to prove the youth wrong.

The question then is how can we help?

[P]oliticians must guarantee that youth who have left and wish to, or can, come back will not be prosecuted, but rather offered protection and rehabilitation in order to re-integrate with their family and society.

Prevention and intervention programs must be multidimensional and include all the sectors of society: politicians and policy makers, the media, health and social services, colleges and universities, community and religious leaders, families and youth.

Perhaps most importantly, and in order to make the return possible, politicians must guarantee that youth who have left and wish to, or can, come back will not be prosecuted, but rather offered protection and rehabilitation in order to re-integrate with their family and society.

Additionally, parents need support in re-establishing contact with their youth and dealing with loss, fear of stigma, guilt, shame and shock. Community interventions and positive outreach programs need to help re-establish a safe and supportive environment for parents and youth.

The education sector should work on reducing polarisation of discourses among all members of society and improve youth and parents’ critical media literacy in becoming resilient and critical in the face of Internet and media. Teachers can work on increasing solidarities among youth and their ability to envision a positive citizenship in Canada.

“De-radicalization” programs must target all types and grounds of violent radicalization, including discrimination, alienation, humiliation, anger, and not just fundamentalist or violent ideologies; otherwise, the point will be missed.

One Canadian who has left to fight in Syria is one Canadian too many.

Our key to safety is restoring Canada’s strong welcoming model, and combating polarizing political discourses and religious and xenophobic extremisms, from all sides of the spectrum.

This will only be possible with a real engagement from the diverse stakeholders to make all possible efforts in order to collectively fight against discrimination, exclusion and systemic barriers to socio-economic progress in the Canadian society.

This can be done by reinforcing intercommunity cohesions and supporting youth in full citizenship participation within Canadian society regardless of their racial, religious, ethnic, educational, economical or migratory status.

Dr. Ghayda Hassan is a clinical psychologist and professor of clinical psychology at The Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and has several research affiliations. Her research is centered on four main areas of clinical cultural psychology: 1) Intervention in family violence & cultural diversity; 2) Identity, belonging and mental health of children and adolescents from ethnic/religious minorities; 3) Cohabitation, intercommunity relations and violent extremism; 4) Working with vulnerable immigrants and refugees.

Hicham Tiflati is an Islamic Studies instructor, and a PhD candidate in the department of religious studies at the UQAM. His academic and teaching interests include topics such as Western Muslim identities, integration, citizenship and the role of religious education in (re)shaping identity.


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



Published in Commentary
Sunday, 03 May 2015 10:02

NCM NewsFeed: Weekly Newsletter May 1

Our headlines this week: president of the Phillipines to visit Canada + debunking the 'ethnic vote' myth + a black chief of police for Toronto + Canada sends delegations to Armenia and Turkey + discussing race in the classroom + honouring Charlie Hebdo + 'root causes' of terrorism + much more


NCM NewsFeed

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Here and Now

This week we feature the visit of the Philippine president, delve into ethnic voting patterns, spotlight documentary films, and explain what Toronto’s first black police chief means to the city.

The Philippine president’s upcoming visit to Canada has sparked mixed reactions, writes Ted Alcuitas, as Benigno Aquino III is the Philippines’ first leader in 20 years to come to Canada, now home to around 700,000 Filipinos.

Debunking the “ethnic vote” strategy is the latest in our Election Watch series in the build-up to the federal election. Academics Stephen E. White, Inder S. Marwah and Phil Triadafilopoulos tell us how there’s no single “ethnic vote.”

Spotlighting diverse films and filmmakers at this year’s Hot Docs is Shazia Javed, herself a writer, photographer and filmmaker. All week long we’ll feature her coverage of diverse films and filmmakers at this year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival in Toronto.

Canadian filmmaker captures untold story of women car racers in Palestine: Shazia Javed’s coverage of Hot Docs continues with Speed Sisters, a film that bucks traditional portrayals of the troubled land.

A black chief of police for Toronto: Patrick Hunter, a communications consultant and columnist, looks into the appointment of Mark Saunders by the largest municipal police service in Canada, a historic first for the city but not for Canada.

NCM NewsBriefs this week features an immigrant loan project being made permanent, grants to Ontario seniors’ groups, and a Calgary school getting into trouble for alleged discrimination against Muslim students.


With Philippine President Benigno Aquino III set to visit Canada this month, Manila has dropped its demand that Ottawa take back the trash that was illegally shipped there from Canada two years ago. Philippine Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said an inter-agency government committee agreed to send the trash to landfills “for the sake of our diplomatic relations” with Canada. The shipment was passed off as scrap materials for recycling, but customs inspectors discovered it contained household waste.

Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's remarks during a speech in Toronto about his plan to clean up the mess left by previous governments has led to heated exchanges in New Delhi. One of the remarks Modi made in Toronto was that he planned to turn India into a powerhouse of skilled workers, from “scam India to skill India.” Helping him towards that goal are Canadian educators partnering with the National Skill Development Corporation of India to help train Indian youth.

Canada once again found itself torn between diaspora politics last weekend — this time over a pair of First World War commemorations in Armenia and Turkey. Both countries invited Gov. Gen. David Johnston to their events, but he chose instead to attend a Gallipoli ceremony at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. In his place Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander visited Armenia to commemorate the 1915 massacre of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks. It’s a tragedy that Ottawa labels a genocide, to the anger of Turkey. Left to face the furor was junior foreign affairs minister Lynne Yelich (pictured), who led a Canadian delegation to Turkey to mark the start of the Gallipoli campaign.

Also, the very existence of the Armenian diaspora in Canada is posing a problem for Turkey. While views in Turkey on the Armenian issue vary, there’s a general notion that the Armenian diaspora is now strong enough to affect Turkey’s foreign relations.

By 2017, more people will be moving to Ireland than leaving, as the number of people returning home to the Emerald Isle increases, the Irish government predicts. Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said next year would mark the end of “net outward migration,” with a “return to net inward migration” by 2017. Canada has fourth largest population of Irish-born (25,985) after the U.K., U.S. and Australia.

A Canadian who fought in Israel’s war on Gaza last summer was one of 120 who received a citation for excellence for excellence from President Reuven Rivlin last week. “J.,” whose name was not revealed due to the nature of his service, is a soldier in an elite reconnaissance unit. And writing about immigration from Israel to Canada is Rabbi Dow Marmur, who tells us about Israelis coming to live in St. John, N.B.

Moving on to Africa: Zimbabweans outside of the country have had much better luck than those who stayed behind.This interview examines the disconnect, and also discusses how diaspora Zimbabweans keen on investing in their home country feel frustrated by not being able to do business.

Harmony Jazz

Ana Paris writes on what will likely be the last trial in Germany for complicity in the Holocaust and tells us how the definition of complicity has broadened to include “aiding and abetting.”

Richard Milner of the Center for Urban Education at the University of Pittsburgh calls for more open and uncomfortable discussions in the classroom on race and provides advice for how teachers can introduce the subject. And challenging Western assumptions about Islam is Carla Power, a former Newsweek journalist whostudied the Qur’an for a year with Sheikh Akram Nadwi.

Former Ontario cabinet minister John Milloy comments on the recent Supreme Court ruling against opening prayers at city council meetings, proposing to maintain Ontario’s practice of rotating prayers rather than a minute of reflection.

There has been major controversy after PEN honoured Charlie Hebdo with its Freedom of Expression Courage Award, sparking considerable commentary, with one of the best by Laura Miller in Salon.

Lastly, more on the “root causes” of terrorism: an article from visiting French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira onhow socio-economic factors contribute to radicalization — a message that Canadian policymakers need to hear. 

Back Pocket

“The foreign has long been my stomping ground, my sanctuary, as one who grew up a foreigner wherever I happened to be … there will always be some who feel threatened by — and correspondingly hostile to — anyone who looks and sounds different from themselves. But in my experience, foreignness can as often be an asset,” wrote Pico Iyer in an essay titled ‘The Foreign Spell’ for Lapham’s Quarterly.

Iyer, a travel writer, philosopher and global citizen, will be in Toronto next week for the first annual Global Diversity Exchange at Ryerson University. The event will explore big ideas on diversity, prosperity and migration.

Author of the acclaimed The Global Soul and The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, Pico Iyer (pictured) has been writing about movement, uprootedness and new notions of home for more than 30 years. His books include Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk, and Imagining Canada. His 2008 work on the Dalai Lama, The Open Road, drawing on 34 years of talks and travels with the Tibetan leader, was a best-seller. If you are in Toronto on Thursday, May 7, a night at the lecture would be an evening well spent.

With that, have a great weekend and don’t forget to look up the next edition of NCM NewsFeed every Friday!

Publisher’s Note: This NewsFeed was compiled with input from our Newsroom Editors and regular columnist, Andrew Griffith. We welcome your feedback.


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