Decision-maker slammed as ‘moral police’ for refusing immigration to HIV-positive man | Toronto Star

Understandable Federal Court decision given the comments by the decision-maker on the “morality” rather than possible medical burden:

The Federal Court has slammed an immigration tribunal adjudicator for acting as “moral police” in denying an HIV-positive man permission to reunite with his daughters in Canada, blaming him for contracting the virus from an affair.

In chastising Michael Sterlin, the decision-maker at the immigration appeal division (IAD) tribunal, the court said that how the 62-year-old immigration applicant got HIV had nothing to do with the sponsorship case. To protect the man’s privacy, he was only randomly identified by court as A.B.

“The circumstances under which Mr. A.B. contracted HIV are wholly irrelevant to the issue before the IAD, as are any issues related to the applicant’s father’s moral character,” said Justice Shirzad Ahmed in a recent decision to send the case back to the tribunal for a new assessment.

“The IAD appears to make judgments against Mr. A.B.’s moral character, and in doing so, the IAD acts as moral police.”

In 2009, one of A.B.’s two daughters — who are both Canadian citizens living in Ottawa — applied to sponsor him and his wife to come to Canada under family reunification.

During the course of A.B.’s medical exam, a routine requirement in the immigration process, it was discovered that he is HIV-positive. In 2013, immigration officials informed the family that his health condition would cause “excessive demand” on Canadian health services and his sponsorship application would probably be denied.

Although the family was willing and able to cover the cost of A.B.’s anti-retroviral medications and requested humanitarian and compassionate relief, Immigration Canada refused the application in 2014. The family subsequently appealed to the tribunal.

Last year, the tribunal upheld the immigration decision, concluding that there were “insufficient humanitarian and compassionate considerations to grant special relief.”

 

A.B.’s two daughters had argued that they were the only children and had the responsibility to care for their parents, who would be ostracized in their native China and suffer discrimination and prejudice because of his HIV status.

“The reason why it is claimed the family will shun (the couple) is a perception that such patients have loose morals, in that a key way the virus is transmitted is by having sex,” Sterlin, the tribunal adjudicator, wrote in dismissing the family’s appeal.

“In fact, it turns out that the father did get the virus from having an affair. It is noteworthy, perhaps, that this did not come out until the panel directly asked the appellant why her father had the virus.

“If there is any antipathy, the panel finds, then it would most likely be against the father for risking a long-standing marriage by having an affair in his middle age or later,” continued Sterlin, who left the tribunal last June shortly after he rendered his decision on A.B.’s case.

“It is unfortunate that the father had an affair which led him to become HIV positive. However this was, again, a risk he took, which was unlikely but reasonably foreseeable, and it has unfortunately presented him with very significant problems.”

Wennie Lee, the family’s lawyer, said her clients were pleased that the court quashed the tribunal decision and ordered a new hearing into the request for humanitarian and compassionate relief.

“It is a significant court decision as it provides clear direction to the tribunal to truly apply compassion in deciding whether to exercise (the humanitarian and compassionate) relief,” she said.

“For my clients, in the Chinese culture, where personal and community connections are of paramount importance, social exclusion because of HIV status takes on added significance and importance.”

Lawyer Meagan Johnston for the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario, one of two intervening parties in the court case, said people with the virus are a dominant group negatively affected by immigration’s “medical inadmissibility” policy that prevents them from immigrating.

In fact, immigration data shows 74 per cent of economic-class immigration applicants with HIV were found to be inadmissible to Canada in 2014 alone, she said, while 61 per cent of those with the virus were denied a work permit or study visa.

“It is repugnant that they are not given a fair chance and their HIV status and morality is used against them in their applications,” Johnston said. “That kind of attitudes against people with HIV is more common than what Canadians would like to admit.”

The immigration appeal tribunal declined to comment on the decision. Sterlin could not be reached for comment.

A spokesperson for the tribunal, which is part of the Immigration and Refugee Board, said the board does not have guidelines addressing cases involving person with HIV and AIDS specifically, but its procedures with respect to “vulnerable persons” speaks to the need to treat vulnerable individuals with “sensitivity and respect.”

via Decision-maker slammed as ‘moral police’ for refusing immigration to HIV-positive man | Toronto Star

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Oman: Longtime expats call for right to citizenship

Ongoing issue in Gulf countries, which are always fearful of being over-run by expatriates and thus prefer a guest worker system:

Sayyed Hassan, 56, left his native Syria to work as a schoolteacher in Oman when he was just 26 years old. Now, after 30 years of service to the country’s education system, he believes he has earned the right to Omani citizenship.

Mr Hassan, whose three grown-up children were all born in Oman, says Muscat now feel likes home.

“Three decades in Oman. That’s a lifetime. I worked only two years in my country but 30 years here. All my students are now working and contributing to the economy, some of them as senior managers and government officials,” Mr Hassan, who was born in Damascus, told The National. “But I am still considered as a Syrian teacher. How I wish I could be granted citizenship as a recognition for my long contribution.”

Mr Hassan is not the only longtime expat working in Oman who wants to be rewarded for their contributions to Omani society with citizenship.

Mohammed Taufiq, an Egyptian national living in Muscat, has spent his entire career working in Oman. But in two years’ time, he faces the prospect of having to leave.

“I came here in 1984, when I was only 24, to work as an oil and gas engineer. I got married here and my wife and I raised four children here. [But] I am now 58 years of age and two years from now I will have to leave the country because I ill have reached the age of retirement,” said Mr Taufiq.

“My entire career has been spent here as well as most of my life. It will be a nice reward for my dedication to this country if I could get citizenship so I can stay in Oman for the rest of my life.”

Oman requires all employers to end the contracts of foreign workers when they reach the retirement age of 60, with retired parents not able to gain residency as dependants of their working children. Expats wishing to remain in Oman can, however, buy a property, enabling them to obtain a so-called “investor residence” visa.

Both male and female foreign nationals can be granted citizenship but only if they have been married to an Omani national for a minimum of 20 years and living in the country for a minimum of 20 years also.

Some expats deem the law on citizenship to be unfair.

“I have to get married to an Omani and stay married to an Omani for 20 years to get Omani citizenship. I am here working for 27 years so why is my contribution to the development of the country not considered? ” said Abduljabber Hameed, 54, a Muscat-based Indian national working as a financial consultant.

“I am more an Omani than an Indian national simply because have I lived here more than in my country. Why can Oman not consider that?”

Mr Hameed, who lives in Oman with his wife and two children, is determined to retire in Muscat before he reaches the age of 60 by buying a property.

“This is the only way my wife and I can stay in the country we love so much. We saved enough to buy an apartment, which we are going to do in the next couple of years,” he said.

But Omani law only grants residency to married couples who own property in the country and their children below the age of 18 — something that has posed a problem for Australian computer engineer Harry Tomlinson and his family.

“The next best thing if an expatriate cannot get citizenship after years of hard work in this country is to buy a property,” said the 59-year-old who lives in Muscat. “But we have a 19-year old son and a 17-year old daughter. Our son needed to get a university visa where he studies to stay with us and our daughter next year must leave or get a job to be with us.”

“It is quite frustrating because it splits up the family. Citizenship would have solved that problem,” Mr Tomlinson added.

He urged the government to change the law to allow longtime expats to apply for citizenship.

“Allowing citizenship to long-serving expatriates would open the doors for experts such as doctors, scientists, academics and entrepreneurs to improve the economy,” he said.

via Oman: Longtime expats call for right to citizenship – The National

Muslims and Jews find common ground in faith, hope — and security

Good example of communities working together even if the circumstances which compelled this cooperation are unfortunate:

From the outside, the mosque is an unremarkable, warehouse-like building in an industrial pocket of central Mississauga. Away from city lights, a few streets down from the highway, its doors are always open, the Islamic school brimming with women and children during the day, the echoes of Arabic prayer quietly streaming in its halls.

Jeffrey Brown, an Orthodox Jew from Thornhill, spent the last day of Hanukkah there meeting with three police officers, five Muslim men, and a Muslim woman. In December, the unlikely congregation had gathered in the teal-coloured carpeted prayer hall to talk about restoring a sense of security in their places of worship.

For more than 10 years, Brown has served as a community security volunteer at his synagogue. He has developed relationships with police, created a pool of volunteer patrols, and established a security infrastructure.

He’s clear-eyed about the need for security. “People in a house of worship have to be comfortable where they are,” Brown said. “They should be able to concentrate on prayers and know if something happens, plans are in place.”

But until last year’s mass shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, Brown had not had any close interactions with the Muslim community.

Where a shocked nation saw the faces of the six Muslim men who were killed there, Brown saw an open and unguarded door.

“There was nothing there,” said Brown. “No one there.”

For months after the shooting, a single-shooter scenario played in Mohammed Hashim’s mind every time walked into a mosque. He imagined where a gunman would come in from, where the children would hide, where the exits were.

Hashim is a crisis manager for the Canadian Muslim community — stepping in to help whenever, and wherever, they need it. He went to Quebec City the day after the shooting to witness “everyone’s worst nightmare.”

In May, he attended a rare interfaith event for the first time. Held at Brown’s synagogue, Hashim walked through metal detectors, as people with walkie-talkies stood inside, and police cars stood outside.

“I thought it was overdone at first — whoa, it’s Thornhill, not a war zone,” said Hashim. “But then, as I started thinking about it, it felt like deterrence. There was a sense of prevention conveyed to those who seek to do harm.”

Brown said that there was chatter about protests in the lead-up to the interfaith event, so he told his police contacts and made the necessary arrangements.

“Critical to community security is knowing who to work with in the police department,” said Brown. “This requires proactive work before incidents happen. It’s a two-way street — you have to learn about the police while they learn about the community.”

At the interfaith dinner, Brown surprised Hashim by offering to share his experience with the Muslim community.

“I don’t think we could’ve gotten this level of help from anyone other than the Jewish community because I don’t think any other faith group has felt under siege as much as them,” said Hashim.

“They’re so advanced in their state of security that it’s only natural that it was someone like Jeffrey,” he said.

“It’s his job now: To teach Muslims how to do security.”

**

Until last year, Atif Malik had never spoken to an Orthodox Jew. When Hashim persuaded him to meet Brown, Malik hesitated. He didn’t know how to speak to someone from the Jewish community. He didn’t know how he’d react if the interaction didn’t go well, if one of them got offended.

Hashim, a big brother figure to Malik, 32, connected the two because of how similar they are. Both are members of the legal profession with a desire to help their respective communities, and to learn. Malik could be the Muslim counterpart to Brown, said Hashim.

Malik’s hometown of Mississauga has one of the largest Muslim populations in Ontario. He calls in “an incubator” that has largely insulated him from racism.

After 9/11, the mosques he attended made a conscious effort to open themselves, to ensure they remained part of the community and not boxes of seclusion. Even if there was only one person inside, the doors to his mosques were always unlocked.

The Quebec mosque shooting shattered his incubator. Imams and mosque volunteers began talking about cameras and protocols.

All of this feels like “a conversation that should’ve happened a long time ago,” said Malik, who feels guilty that he didn’t prompt them earlier. “I question now why I didn’t make the effort to reach out and make connections with other communities, regardless of faith group,” he said. “Could we help them? Could they help us?”

He found empathy in Brown, who spoke about the same fears and complicated emotions. The Jewish community “has gone through a learning curve that we haven’t gone through,” Malik said. “Now, they’re handing us the information — here’s how you do it, if you have any questions come back to us, our doors aren’t closed. It’s mind-blowing.”

Now, they are working together on common security practices to be shared with all mosques, beginning with three in Mississauga and one in Brampton.

Neither will specify the practices being discussed or prevented, for fear of compromising their efficacy. Security is dealt with as quietly as possible, said Brown, apparent only to the person who wants to cause harm.

In this way, both men have become crisis coordinators for their communities, someone who, in the event something happened, would have police on speed dial and a response at the ready.

**

“Here in Canada, we have a complacency when it comes to houses of worship,” said Bernie Farber, executive director of the Mosaic Institute. “We just don’t believe something like [the Quebec mosque shooting] can happen here.”

Farber was one of the first to respond to the shooting, calling imams and volunteers like Hashim to offer his condolences and support. The former chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress oversaw security and safety for the Jewish community for 30 years, beginning in 1986.

In the 1980s and 1990s, having a security officer at large congregations of events was discomforting — an uncomfortable sign that the world had changed, and places of worship weren’t the sacrosanct sanctuaries that could be left unguarded.

Events like the Quebec mosque shooting change everything, said Farber. “The place no longer feels the way it should feel. Whether you ever regain that sense of safety, I don’t know.”

“People come to mosques to find peace, but that sanctuary was violated in the most horrific way,” said Hashim. “I think people saw that as a violation of one of our most basic provisions and rights, which is the right to practice freely and safely.”

Watching and facilitating the Muslim and Jewish community come together with police organisations to try and regain a sense of safety, however, has been a unique experience for Farber and Hashim. “I suppose between every bleak, dark avenue there is a pinpoint of light, said Farber. “This terrible tragedy brought together two communities that are united by hateful acts against them.”

Jeffrey Brown, left, who has served as the lead community security volunteer at his synangogue for 10 years, has been working with mosques and their members in Missisauga for the last six months. He's training a counterpart, Atif Malik, and leading an interfaith conversation about security and safety.
Jeffrey Brown, left, who has served as the lead community security volunteer at his synangogue for 10 years, has been working with mosques and their members in Missisauga for the last six months. He’s training a counterpart, Atif Malik, and leading an interfaith conversation about security and safety.  (RICHARD LAUTENS)  

Such acts can be deadly, as the Quebec mosque shooting, or just a series of less threatening acts: Putting bacon on a mosque’s door handle. Carving swastikas onto a synagogue. Graffiti of hateful messages.

Rabbi John Moscowitz, who also reached out to imams in the wake of the shooting, believes that social bonds constitute a different type of security. “When you can trust people of different faiths from you and stand together in the wake of something like the mosque attack, it deepens relationships,” he said. “And that deepens the bonds of trust, commonality and brotherhood.”

“Sometimes security feels less secure because you’re aware of why security is there” said Moscowitz. Community bonds, he added, are an “antidote to loss of faith” that heal.

At that first conversation in Mississauga, the unlikely group of one Jew, six Muslims and three police officers shook hands and promised that the conversation would continue.

“Both our faiths and our country demand a sense of respect and friendship amongst peoples,” said Hashim, “and I don’t think I witnessed that so clearly as I did that night.”

“This is about new communities getting established and getting comfortable,” said Brown. “We too were once strangers in a strange land.”

“When we had that meeting, we felt God’s presence.”

via Muslims and Jews find common ground in faith, hope — and security | Toronto Star

Douglas Todd: Five ways to protect free speech on campuses

Not a bad list:

Few issues more divide North American campuses than free expression. And conflict over it has further divided the right against the left.

More exceptionally, free speech is also pitting the left against the left.

How did North America get to this place, which has weakened progressive voices and allowed the right to make valid accusations that the left is excessively prone to censorship and coddling?

Many on the liberal-left join conservatives in being appalled by violent antifa (anti-fascist) protesters shutting down debates on free speech and conservative topics on North American campuses, including at Ryerson University and the University of Toronto.

The split in left-wing circles reflects a conflict between two ethical goods: The value of free expression is being pitted against the value of always expecting to be treated with dignity. Current debates over free speech shows they’re not as easily reconciled as we might like.

As faculty are discovering at Sir Wilfrid Laurier University, the University of B.C. and many campuses, it can sometimes be impossible to harmonize the right to say controversial things with everyone’s wish to be “respected,” which is proving to be a quality that is hard to define or measure.

At another level, the split among progressive people over free speech also reflects a deeper disagreement between social-justice advocates who stress identity politics (such as gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity) and those who emphasize the common good.

Here are five ways to protect free speech on campus, and everywhere:

University officials must face down the censors

Former B.C. Civil Liberties Association director Stan Persky, a long-time gay rights advocate, says there is no justification for activists using intimidation or violence to stop invited speakers from having a campus “platform.”

“Most of the controversial incidents about free speech on campus could be settled by the administration exercising its responsibility to prevent speakers from being silenced,” says Persky, echoing UBC law professor Emma Cunliffe’s criticism of UBC’s recent draft statement on free expression, which is being reworked.

Although Persky says it’s appropriate for faculty or students to call in the police to prevent invited speakers from being muzzled, the retired Capilano University philosophy professor emphasized free speech is not an absolute.

“Free speech, despite common misperceptions, does not mean that you can say anything you want. When speech turns into an act of direct threat … or is for false advertising, or to defame or libel people, we retain the right to limit and prevent it. In Canada we have even authorized explicit laws against ‘hate speech’. … But our bias is towards free speech.”

Question the concept of “safe space”

Some in higher education seem to want entire campuses to adopt the values of a psychotherapist’s office.

Efforts, for instance, to issue “trigger warnings” before raising certain subjects are leading to often-valid complaints that excessive coddling has created many campus “snowflakes,” which the Urban Dictionary defines as “extremist liberals that get offended by every statement and/or belief that doesn’t match their own.”

There’s nothing wrong with creating defined “safe spaces” — where women, ethnic minorities, males or people of the same sexual orientation, for instance — can share their vulnerable feelings. But the concept can’t be stretched to include an entire institution. It’s unrealistic. And it leads to unnecessary restrictions on free expression and on edgy ideas.

Recognize the value of a thicker skin

Everybody talks these days about the importance of building psychologically-resilient young people. But that goal is often contradicted by the over-protection of students and supposedly vulnerable others in the name of “diversity” and “inclusion.”

Exposure to difficult things is often what makes people grow psychologically. And a mutual commitment to responsible free expression can encourage that process.

UBC political scientist emeritus Phil Resnick, who tends to the liberal side of the spectrum, says it may not be wise, for instance, to protect students from examples of hate speech in Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

Nor would it be beneficial, says Resnick, to guard students with Asian origins from being offended by the harsh language used in texts about early 20th-century anti-Orientalism in B.C.

UBC philosophy professor Paul Russell says he’s guided on the limits of free speech by what he would allow in his classroom. He wouldn’t permit a student to call another a “faggot.” But he would accept a student honestly expressing her opposition to same-sex marriage. Students, he believes, should be expected to handle conflicting world views.

What do we make of more extreme clashes over free speech? The Islamic terrorists who killed 17 people at the satirical French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, believed no one had a right to make light of their religion’s founder, Muhammad.

But maybe the hard-line Muslims in Europe mostly needed thicker skins, as most Christians have learned to develop, to accept the admittedly unpleasant reality that their religion is open to ridicule in a Western democratic society.

Clarify what higher education is for

Should a university or college be like a church? Should faculty be spreading certain ideologies to the world, like missionaries?

Russell, who considers himself of the liberal-left, says some secular people get involved in social-justice causes as “a replacement religion.” But he has trouble with the idea that professors should be proselytizers.

Unlike faculty in any number of university humanities departments that focus heavily on social-justice issues, Russell said he doesn’t believe faculty or students in higher education should be expected to adhere to, or spread, any particular world view.

Free speech, and a willingness to criticize and be criticized, is mandatory in higher education and secular society. “Our role on campus is to provide a platform for discussion,” said Russell, “to be a place where debate about truth and values can occur.”

Face reality: Campus careers are being harmed

There is widespread fear on some campuses today, with many faculty and students frightened to air opinions that challenge certain claims by advocates of social justice or identity politics.

The tragic reality is that it can be a “great career move” to conform to politically correct orthodoxy on North American campuses, says Russell, who teaches at both UBC and the University of Gothenburg, where he is director of the Gothenburg Responsibility Project.

People who question certain approaches to diversity, and who defend conservative or controversial speech, can easily be bypassed for research grants, positive peer assessment, tenure and other promotions because of their unpopular views.

Precious few at Sir Wilfrid Laurier University, for instance, initially spoke up when media outlets rightly excoriated its officials for their harsh treatment of teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd, who had simply tried to start a classroom discussion about transgender pronouns.

While almost all other faculty remained silent, the lone Wilfrid Laurier professor who risked leaping in early to defend Shepherd, a sociologist of religion named David Millar Haskell, put the case for free speech plainly when he said: “If we’re going to claim in the arts and humanities that we are teaching our students to critically think, the only way that happens is through presenting opposing views.”

via Douglas Todd: Five ways to protect free speech on campuses | Vancouver Sun

Trump’s ‘s—hole countries’ remark casts remarkable light on immigration policies: Shree Paradkar

Implications of Paradkar’s arguments is that essentially we should have a completely open door rather than managed immigration programs.

And rather than only commentary, some numbers with respect to the Haitians in Canada who were obliged to leave after the 2014 change, versus regularizing their status, would be helpful:

However, the outrage also reveals a society more eager to be scandalized by the President’s words than upset by government actions that harm those same lives for whom they are purporting to demand respect.

Trump’s words on Haiti are particularly galling, given what its citizens have endured and American and Canadian modern roles in undermining that nation’s democracy.

Trump pulled the plug on a humanitarian program that allowed some 60,000 Haitians to remain in the U.S. under special immigration status while their homeland recovered from devastating disasters.

Canada cancelled its own program of giving Haitians special status and began asking Haitians to pack their bags in 2014 under Stephen Harper. That cancellation was completed in 2016, under Justin Trudeau with little fanfare.

Yet, Trudeau is the good guy of the global immigration crisis. Remember that viral tweet that was so celebrated after Trump moved to ban immigrants from Muslim-majority countries? “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada”

Last year, poor Haitians who took Canadian goodness seriously, trying to cross unguarded points from the U.S. into Canada had the lowest acceptance rate — at 17 per cent — for asylum claimants between February and October.

Individual Canadians have been generous after the Haitian earthquake. More recently, Montrealers have been moved to help Haitian asylum seekers.

Still, the overall lack of indignation over the continued rejection of Haitians suggests a Canadian comfort with discriminatory attitudes so long as they’re not overt, Trump style.

via Trump’s ‘s—hole countries’ remark casts remarkable light on immigration policies | Toronto Star

USA: Every immigration proposal in one chart | PBS

Great and helpful chart – click on link to access:

via Every immigration proposal in one chart | PBS NewsHour

Quebec judge rejects bid to shut Muslim centre

Sensible decision:

Just because a municipal official saw men praying at a community hall doesn’t make that place a mosque, a Quebec judge has ruled, thwarting a bid by the city of Mascouche, a suburb outside Montreal, to shut down a Muslim centre.

The judgment is the latest twist in a series of disputes where municipal officials in Quebec have tried to curtail the operations of mosques and Islamic centres by citing zoning regulations.

Mascouche was trying to shut down the Essalam community centre, saying that the building, in a strip mall, had a zoning that forbids places of worship.

“This ruling will have a significant reach for all municipalities in Quebec that have to deal with this kind of situation,” Mascouche Mayor Guillaume Tremblay said in a statement sent to The Globe and Mail.

In his ruling, Quebec Superior Court Justice Pierre Labelle said that Mascouche had engaged in a fallacious form of reasoning – “a sophism,” he said – when it argued that since people pray in a place of worship, a community centre that allows prayers must be a place of worship.

“To that extent, any individual or collective prayer held in a residence, school or workplace would turn that location into a place of worship,” Justice Labelle said in his decision released Wednesday.

Similar stories have been public controversies for years in Quebec.

A year ago for example, Quebec Superior Court Justice Jean-Yves Lalonde decided in favour of the Badr Islamic Centre in its dispute against the city of Montreal. The city had told the Badr centre that it could no longer hold religious activities after a zoning amendment in the Saint-Léonard borough. However, the judge found that city employees had acted in bad faith and he ruled that the centre had an acquired right.

Justice Lalonde noted that the new locations where Montreal allowed places of worship tended to be in industrial areas, which was inconvenient to Muslims. “The move by the city … creates ghettoization, access problems and is a form of discrimination compared to traditional Catholic churches, which are generally in residential areas,” the judge wrote.

In the Mascouche case, Justice Labelle said the city had not acted in bad faith but held a rudimentary, ill-informed grasp of religious rights.

The problem began in the spring of 2015, when Mascouche Muslims sought a permit to use a hall for community events that included prayers and religious conferences. At the time, several Quebec municipalities were dealing with mosque controversies.

In Montreal, then-mayor Denis Coderre used a zoning change to block the polarizing imam Hamza Chaoui from opening an Islamic community hall in the city’s east end.

In Shawinigan, a Muslim cultural centre relocated after town council initially allowed a zoning change, then rescinded its decision after a public backlash.

By the end of the year, the Mascouche Muslims amended their application, removing mentions of religious activities. They were granted a permit in March of 2016.

Some residents then complained that the hall was being used like a mosque, alleging that more than a 100 people gathered in the evening to pray, Justice Labelle said in his ruling.

The city took action the night of June 29, 2016. It was during the month of Ramadan, when observant Muslims fast during the day and gather for communal meals and prayers after sunset.

Around 11:30 p.m., a city bureaucrat and two police officers showed up. They reported finding about 30 men praying in a room. Others who were in the room and outside were not praying. A week later, the city rescinded Essalam’s permit, saying that the hall’s use for religious activities contravened zoning. Essalam hired the high-profile constitutional lawyer Julius Grey and challenged the decision.

Justice Labelle noted that the zoning bylaw only talked about prohibiting places of worship but other city documents talked about a ban on religious activities. “The court is of the opinion that city cannot extend its ban beyond the very words of its bylaw,” he wrote.

He also said Mascouche engaged in sophism when it equated holding prayers with the presence of a place of worship. “The initial premise is not universal because prayers can be uttered in all places and not exclusively in a place of worship.”

While he chided Essalam for being disingenuous about holding prayers in its hall, Justice Labelle said the city was obstructing religious freedom.

Mascouche has 30 days to appeal Justice Labelle’s decision.

via Quebec judge rejects bid to shut Muslim centre – The Globe and Mail

Immigration officials find own website ‘confusing and not user friendly’

From earlier experience with similar issues at Service Canada, the issue is not limited to website design or organization but more significantly reflects the intrinsic complexity of programs and processes. A more productive approach often involves simplification and streamlining of programs rather than trying to address more fundamental issues through web redesign:

It turns out Canada’s immigration officials are as confused as prospective immigrants and travellers by the information provided on their own department website.

“We expect clients to know just what to do because ‘it’s on the website,’ ” says an internal Immigration Department document from last year.

“Yet, even for immigration officers like ourselves, we often find the website to be confusing and not user-friendly.”

The document, prepared for an immigration management retreat last winter, shows senior officials grappling with how to improve communication with clients, including ways to simplify government response “to make it more responsive to the client’s actual needs.”

Also on the meeting agenda was a discussion about ways to combat the misinformation that clients face in bulletin boards, by immigration consultants and fraudsters.

Immigration lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland, who obtained the document through an access to information request, said he was not surprised by management’s concerns.

“Reducing correspondence is good for everyone. All that needs to be done is to allow (applicants and their lawyers) more access to their own file information,” said Kurland in an interview.

The ride-hailing service Uber, which allows users to follow the driver’s route on a phone app, should inspire change, he added.

“You should be able to see what is happening in your case all along the processing journey.”

The managers also complained about the huge workload created by people applying for visas to visit Canada. Many were initially refused because they were confused what documentation was required. However, they do get approved in their second attempt.

“While it is obvious to officers what we need to see, there is very limited information available on our official outlets helping to point applicants in the right direction,” said the immigration management’s meeting agenda.

Canada processes more than a million visitor visa applications a year and one out of five is rejected. Someone applying for a visa may just state the purpose of the visit as “travelling,” for example, without specifying he or she is here to see a Canadian sibling.

The department’s “vague and generic” refusal letters is the main cause of repeat applications from confused people over Canadian requirements, according to the document.

Kurland said the document underscores the need for immigration officers to be more flexible when processing applications that may include mistakes.

“How is the public supposed to get it right when these managers struggle?” he asked.

Source: Immigration officials find own website ‘confusing and not user friendly’

Stephen Gordon: Guess who’s got more credibility—professors, think tanks or…the CBC

Interesting piece by Gordon:

Think-tanks are an ever-present, yet somehow under-examined feature of the public policy landscape. Think-tanks get a lot of press, at least partly because they are adept at issuing press releases advertising their work to the media, complete with pullquotes and readily available experts for radio and TV hits. Academic studies — the sort of work written by professors for professors — pass almost unnoticed, mainly because most of it is not relevant to current policy debates, and because peer-reviewed publications are not so readily accessible. But is visibility the same thing as credibility?

It would seem not. Carey Doberstein, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia, recently published a study in Canadian Public Policy on the credibility gap — he calls it a “credibility chasm” — between academic research and research published by think-tanks and advocacy organizations. Interestingly, his study is not carried out among the general population, but among policy analysts in the provincial governments of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Participants in the study were asked to read and evaluate the credibility of different studies in two areas of provincial competence — minimum wages and income-splitting. The analysts were asked to evaluate a set of five or six studies produced by academics, think-tanks and advocacy groups. Doberstein very sensibly does not draw inferences about credibility from these evaluations: one study is hardly enough to evaluate the credibility of one group, or even of one researcher. He focuses instead on how the source of a study affects policy analysts’ perceptions of its credibility.

Instead of sending the studies out to the analysts under their proper affiliations, Doberstein randomly altered them. For example, a study on the effects of an increase in the minimum wage written by researchers at the University of Toronto and published in a peer-reviewed journal was sent out with the correct affiliation to one group of analysts, under the name of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) to another group, and under the name of the Fraser Institute to yet another group. Similarly, in addition to being sent out under its own name to one group, a CCPA study would be sent out as a University of Toronto study to a different group, and represented as a Fraser Institute study to yet another set of analysts, and so on. Two advocacy groups, the Wellesley Institute and the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, rounded out the minimum wage exercise, and a similar mix of academic, think-tank and advocacy groups was used for the income splitting case.

This randomisation strategy allows Doberstein to identify the reputation effects of the various sets of researchers: How is a study’s credibility affected by its affiliation? The answer is: pretty much in the way you’d expect. Adding a university affiliation to a think-tank or advocacy group study increases analysts’ perceptions of its credibility, while adding a think-tank or advocacy group’s name to an academic study makes it less credible. Generally, credibility among policy analysts declines as you move from university affiliations to think-tanks to advocacy groups.

These results aren’t hard to explain. Policy analysts know full well that advocacy groups cannot be expected to publish anything that does not fit their stated agendas, so a study showing (once again!) that the data supports their previously-held position is not a particularly strong signal. Doberstein finds a similar effect among think tanks: Think tanks with a more stridently ideological focus (CCPA, the Fraser Institute) are viewed as being less credible than the relatively neutral C.D Howe Institute.

Is this good news or bad? On the positive side, it shows that policy analysts are well aware of the incentives facing various sets of researchers, and know enough to put their work in context. On the downside, one might have hoped that analysts could set all that aside and evaluate the research on its own merits. Of course, that’s an ideal that almost no one can match: this is why so many academic journals use double-blind peer review, in which neither authors nor reviewers are identified to each other.

Perhaps the more interesting question is why advocacy groups and ideologically-driven think-tanks even bother to produce reports that are discounted so heavily by policy analysts. One answer might simply be that their reports aren’t written for the benefit of analysts; they’re written for the benefit of their donors. People like to have their beliefs confirmed, and they’re willing to pay to have someone tell them that they were (once again!) right.

This discussion also provides some insight into the challenges facing the media, particularly as it concerns the markets for news and opinion. Asking people to pay someone to tell them what they want to hear is a viable business model, and many digital outlets — from The Rebel through Canadaland to Rabble — are in the process of filling out that landscape. (It also raises the question of why the CBC would want to cut into this action with its CBC Opinion site. There’s no obvious market failure here that needs a public-sector fix.)

News, on the other hand, has the elements of a pure public good: everyone benefits from knowing the basic facts of what is going on, and technology has made it almost impossible to control access to news once it’s been published. Profits from advertising revenues can no longer finance news gathering to the same extent that they used to, but academic researchers can still fall back on teaching to cross-subsidize their research work. If you really want to make an academic researcher sweat, ask her to imagine trying to make a living from her research alone.

Source: Stephen Gordon: Guess who’s got more credibility—professors, think tanks or…the CBC

Port du hijab: première demande d’accommodement raisonnable adressée au DGEQ | Le Devoir

And so the cases and eventual challenges begin:

Le directeur général des élections du Québec (DGEQ) a reçu une demande d’accommodement raisonnable pour contourner un règlement jugé discriminatoire par certains partis politiques, a appris Le Devoir. Il s’agit d’une femme portant le hijab qui, souhaitant se présenter aux prochaines élections provinciales, a demandé une dérogation lui permettant de joindre à son dossier de candidature une photo d’elle avec son voile, ce qui est actuellement interdit par le DGEQ.

« C’est la première demande d’accommodement raisonnable qu’on a eue à ce sujet », a confirmé Stéphanie Isabelle, porte-parole du DGEQ. Elle reconnaît toutefois avoir déjà reçu des commentaires et critiques incitant à modifier le règlement.

L’article 6 du Règlement sur la déclaration de candidature mentionne en effet que la photographie jointe au dossier doit donner « une vue de face complète du candidat à partir des épaules, tête découverte », ce qui empêche toute personne portant un turban, un voile ou même un bandana, de se présenter. Cet article a été vivement contesté auprès du DGEQ par divers partis politiques, dont Québec solidaire et le Parti vert, qui souhaiteraient présenter les candidats de leur choix, sans entrave pour une question de couvre-chef.

Le Devoir avait révélé il y a deux semaines qu’en 2014, le DGEQ avait refusé la candidature de Fatimata Sow, qui se présentait pour le Parti vert dans La Pinière, parce qu’elle avait fourni une photo d’elle coiffée d’un hijab. Craignant les répercussions négatives sur sa candidature, l’aspirante candidate n’avait pas voulu rendre son histoire publique à l’époque et avait renoncé à se présenter.

Modification possible

N’hésitant pas à parler de « discrimination systémique », le chef du Parti vert, Alex Tyrrell, a multiplié les démarches, notamment auprès de la ministre Kathleen Weil, anciennement à l’Immigration et récemment aux Institutions démocratiques. Celle-ci a récemment déclaré que le pouvoir de modifier le règlement appartenait au DGEQ actuel, Pierre Reid, qui a confirmé qu’il était en train de revoir ce règlement dans son ensemble. « Depuis l’automne, en prévision des prochaines élections, on est en révision de notre matériel électoral et ça inclut le formulaire de déclaration de candidature », a réitéré au Devoir Stéphanie Isabelle.

Seul le Québec possède une telle obligation. L’exigence de fournir une photo « tête découverte » n’existe pas aux niveaux fédéral et municipal, une preuve étant l’élection du député et chef du Nouveau Parti démocratique, Jagmeet Singh. Elle n’existe pas non plus pour obtenir une carte d’assurance maladie du Québec, un permis de conduire ou un passeport, où la loi interdit d’être photographié avec un couvre-chef, sauf si celui-ci est porté tous les jours pour des raisons religieuses ou médicales.

Des partis peu bavards

C’est d’ailleurs ce qu’a fait valoir la future candidate en soumettant sa demande d’accommodement au DGEQ au début du mois de décembre. Elle préférerait toutefois que le règlement soit modifié au lieu de bénéficier d’un accommodement, qui n’a généralement pas bonne presse.

Interrogé sur la procédure à suivre lorsqu’une demande d’accommodement est soumise, le DGEQ a dit qu’il n’y a pas de « procédure prévue pour le moment dans la loi électorale ». Une modification au règlement servirait à régler le problème, mais elle devra être approuvée par l’Assemblée nationale et suivre les étapes, jusqu’à la publication dans la Gazette officielle.

Après plusieurs jours de sollicitation, les principaux partis politiques se sont montrés très avares de commentaires. Le Parti québécois a dit qu’il discutera peut-être de la question à son prochain caucus à la fin de janvier, tandis que le Parti libéral du Québec s’est contenté de dire qu’il se conformera à la Loi électorale et aux règlements du DGEQ. La Coalition avenir Québec n’a pas souhaité faire de commentaires.

via Port du hijab: première demande d’accommodement raisonnable adressée au DGEQ | Le Devoir