Ottawa should allow the niqab at citizenship ceremonies – Globe Editorial

Globe editorial forgets that accommodation requires flexibility on both sides. And citizenship requires participation, even if at least symbolic.

Religious freedom is not absolute, like other freedoms needs to be balanced against other freedoms and responsibilities:

We think she should have accommodated. But we’re not her. A religious freedom is a religious freedom; it’s not something you practise only when it’s convenient to the broader society – except in the most particular cases. Canadian courts have recognized that it may be important to require Muslim women to remove their niqabs when testifying in criminal court cases, but only if doing otherwise would jeopardize a fair trial. Is the ceremony of the citizenship oath equally critical? Hardly.

Ottawa should allow the niqab at citizenship ceremonies – The Globe and Mail.

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Ignorance is cheap – but parliamentary knowledge costs – Globe Editorial

Globe editorial on ignorance and the Government’s (or at least of some of its MPs) wish to be less open and transparent:

Mr. Wallace posed his own written question asking for the estimated cost to the government of answering Order Paper questions. The answer he got, based on a formula that is dubious at best, was $1.2-million for 253 questions. “Are we sure we’re getting value for the dollar?” Mr. Wallace asked.

Well, let’s think about that. What value do Canadians place on knowing: the percentage of Employment Canada benefits applications that are rejected and how many people have to wait longer than 28 days for a response; which government department is responsible for monitoring the transporation of fissile radioactive material inside our borders; how much money Ottawa has spent developing software since 2011 and what the software actually does; and the amount the government spent on travel expenses while negotiating the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union.

These are just some of the opposition questions currently on the Order Paper, and all of them deserve an answer. Mr. Wallace’s suggestion that MPs should ask fewer questions, because ignorance is cheap, is pretty much one of the dumbest things a parliamentarian has come up with in recent memory.

And as most of us know from personal and professional experience, ignorance is expensive given the implications of bad and faulty decisions.

Ignorance is cheap – but parliamentary knowledge costs – The Globe and Mail.

Blood, soil, birth tourism and anchor babies – Globe Editorial

The Globe’s editorial take on birth tourism – evidence-based policy, which Minister Alexander appears committed to, given his and his spokesperson’s recent comments stating that decisions “will be informed by facts” (in contrast to earlier anecdotes dramatizing the issue):

At present, however, birth certificates are the most common proof of Canadian citizenship. They do not include any information about a newborn baby’s parents’ citizenship.

Hospitals are a provincial jurisdiction. That is one of the reasons why the provinces and territories have been in charge of birth certificates for a long time. The subnational governments of Canada would doubtless not be eager to spend a huge amount of money to overhaul their birth-certificate system – let alone unanimously.

Ottawa could choose to foot the bill. But if the government is to go any further, it should commission a rigorous study to discover whether so-called birth tourism is a significant phenomenon. So far, the evidence is anecdotal. The available numbers in a given year are in the low hundreds. The real numbers may be higher, but it would be premature to remake the basics of our citizenship on a hunch.

Blood, soil, birth tourism and anchor babies – The Globe and Mail.

Related to this, the BC Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (Carmen Cheung and Audrey Macklin) wrote a comprehensive response to the earlier Jan Wong article on birth tourism (see my post Canada’s birthright citizenship policy makes us a nation of suckers):

But how serious an issue is birth tourism? While the government does not publish statistics on actual cases of birth tourism, Statistics Canada reports that of the 377,913 live births recorded in Canada for 2011, only 277 of those were by mothers who lived outside of Canada. The numbers were slightly higher in 2010 – 305 babies born to non-resident mothers out of 377,518 live births. That is less than one tenth of one percent of all births in Canada.

A recent article in Toronto Life magazine proposed another metric for measuring birth tourism, by collecting the number of uninsured mothers giving birth in Toronto-area hospitals over a five-year period. Based on those numbers, we’re still looking at less than one percent of all live births in the city of Toronto.

Using the number of uninsured mothers as a proxy also likely overstates the problem. Provincial health cards are only issued after a minimum period of residency in the province – this is the case whether an individual has arrived from another country as a landed immigrant, or has just moved from British Columbia to Ontario. There are also foreign nationals who are excluded from provincial health care schemes, such as students, temporary foreign workers and diplomats. Particularly vulnerable Canadian citizens – such as the homeless or transient – may also not be able to prove their eligibility for provincial health insurance because of lost documentation.

By any measure, the number of babies born to non-resident non-Canadian mothers is negligible.

Born Equal: Citizenship by Birth is Canada’s Valuable Legacy

Bill C-24 is wrong: There is only one kind of Canadian citizen – Globe Editorial

Globe’s Canada Day editorial:

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has defended his bill by arguing citizenship is a privilege, not a right. He is wrong. It may come with responsibilities, but it is a right. And once legitimately acquired, by birth or naturalization, it cannot be taken away. Bill C-24 gives the government the kind of sweeping power that is common in dictatorships, not in a democracy built upon the rule of law, where all citizens are equal. The changes to the Citizenship Act erode those basic principles, creating a two-tier citizenship that dilutes what it means to be Canadian.

Bill C-24 is wrong: There is only one kind of Canadian citizen – The Globe and Mail.

Rick Salutin in the Star:

Why did they do it? Here’s my guess: It’s not enough for them to merely run Canada. They want to define it, and they don’t want any backchat. Some people need to be right, not just powerful. So they’ve turned citizenship into a privilege, not a right, and since someone has to grant a privilege, it’ll be them.

But here’s my biggest problem. I don’t think loyalty — in any particular version — should have a thing to do with citizenship. The democratic core of citizenship is you get to challenge the values of the moment and can’t be shut up. It’s a license to disagree and debate which direction your nation takes, no matter what the majority thinks. Is that unpatriotic? It depends on how you see things. For many patriots, not going along has been the essence of patriotism. I’d say put people in jail for life if you insist — but don’t touch their citizenship.

Hello, you must be going: government waters down Canadian citizenship: Salutin

Treat all Canadian citizens equally under the law – Globe Editorial

Thanks to Rocco Galati, renewed attention being paid to C-24 Citizenship Act revocation provisions. Globe editorial has it about right:

Rocco Galati, a Toronto lawyer, is right to be calling upon the federal government to present a reference question to Supreme Court, on the proposed revocation-of-citizenship amendments to the Citizenship Act. If the Harper government won’t refer the matter to the court, Mr. Galati says there should be a Charter challenge – and he’s right.

It is one thing to revoke a Canadian citizenship that was obtained by fraud or false pretenses; that is a long-standing part of our law, and should be. The Harper government, however, is proposing to strip citizenship from people found guilty of some serious crimes, in cases where the offender is a naturalized citizen – an immigrant to Canada – or even someone born in Canada, but who for whatever reason also holds the citizenship of another country.

The classes of crime in question are serious: treason, terrorism and specific military crimes such as spying for the enemy in time of war. But however serious the offence, when someone is born here, or has been accepted into this country legally and fairly, he or she is Canadian, for good or ill.

The Charter of Rights is very clear: “Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.” The principle is so fundamental that the Charter’s notwithstanding clause cannot be used to override this section.

It would be invidious to send into exile a foreign-born citizen who committed a crime as a Canadian, while imposing a prison sentence on a natural-born Canadian found guilty of the same crime. Canadian law should treat Canadians, including Canadians who break the law, as Canadians.

Stripping a citizen of citizenship is characteristic of a totalitarian regime such as the Soviet Union, which banished dissidents, including the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1974. It’s not a model for Canada to emulate.

Andrew Thompson, a political scientist at the University of Waterloo, has rightly pointed out how easily the proposed new citizenship-revocation law could have condemned Maher Arar, a dual Canadian-Syrian national, suspected of terrorism by Canada, to a life of imprisonment and torture in a Syrian prison. The amendments now before Parliament would have afforded him little opportunity to defend himself.

Treat all Canadian citizens equally under the law – The Globe and Mail.

Temporary foreign workers: Canada needs fewer guests – and more citizens

Globe editorial:

What should Mr. Kenney do?

Study the issue: Take the time needed to get this right. Commission a group of experts and give them at least six months. Bring the other parties in, and borrow their best ideas. Don’t just introduce legislation in the next few weeks, backed up by nothing more than a thin press release and no actual evidence, and try to hustle it through Parliament. Learn from the fiasco of the Fair Elections Act.

Be principled: A temporary worker program should be for jobs that are temporary. There’s a logic to bringing in seasonal agricultural workers. There may be a logic to some highly skilled workers being brought in under the program, in cases where no trained Canadians exist or where the job is temporary. But burger flippers?

Shrink the program: Make it smaller. Much smaller. Cap the number allowed in each year. Let Canada’s labour market work. If employers in low-wage fields find that they have to offer compensation in excess of minimum wage to attract short-order cooks, customer-service agents and retail sales people, that’s a good thing. It will lead to higher wages for people at the low end of the wage scale, and it will also spur innovation and productivity gains. We want the market to work and to self-correct as it is supposed to, with a tight labour supply in one area of the country forcing up wages, thereby drawing in the underemployed, be they part-time students from down the road or the unemployed from across the country.

Give temporary workers more rights: Shrink the program – but expand their rights. Why not give them the right to change jobs, and even complete labour mobility within Canada, just like Canadians? Give them the power to fight back against abuse and raise their own wages.

More citizens, fewer guests: Canada was built by immigrants who became citizens, not visitors who went home. That’s our future, too.

Citizenship Bill C-24 at Committee goes in other direction, by making citizenship harder to get and no longer providing credit for time spent in Canada as temporary foreign workers.

Temporary foreign workers: Canada needs fewer guests – and more citizens – The Globe and Mail.

Interestingly, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business includes in its recommendations on Temporary Foreign Workers a pathway to citizenship, while the government’s Bill C-24 makes this more difficult given removal of partial credit for pre-Permanent Residents time:

•  Ending the moratorium on restaurants

• Creating a pathway to permanent residence for all TFWs

• A Bill of Rights for TFWs

• Stricter enforcement of existing rules

• An accredited TFW stream for trusted employers

• Matching TFW/Canadian wages by employer

• Maximum 1:1 ratio of TFWs to Canadians

• Allowing permanent immigration for those in entry-level jobs

• Ensuring other government programs (eg. EI) address need for entry-level workers.

CFIB urges feds to end moratorium, enforce rules, protect TFWs’ rights – National Scene – Daily Business Buzz.

If Iran opens for business, Canada will need a new approach – and fast – The Globe and Mail

Not part of my usual posts in this blog, but an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail on Canada’s relations with Iran. As this is behind a pay wall, text below:

Twenty five years ago, I arrived in Iran as part of the team that reopened our Embassy in Tehran, which had closed for some eight years following the escape of the Americans that had sought refuge with Canada. Following the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, we had essentially been invited by the Iranian government, in part because of their interest in having access to North American oil and gas technology.

Given all the current commentary, for and against the Iran nuclear interim agreement, it is useful to think ahead about some of the possible implications for Canada about its current rhetoric on Iran in general, and the agreement in particular. We do not know whether the agreement will be implemented – both the U.S. and Iran have difficult domestic constituencies to deal with, and Ronald Reagan’s expression, “trust but verify” clearly applies and is shared by all parties to the agreement.

But should the agreement be implemented, and lead to either a series of further agreements or a final agreement, Canada should be prepared for that possibility. In that light, while the government and Foreign Minister John Baird have, in their terms, dialled down the rhetoric somewhat – and Iran is sophisticated enough to pick up on this – the government should develop an exit strategy for its current approach to Iran.

This is not unprecedented. The Conservative government started off with strong rhetoric on China, focussing on human rights, not trade, and was forced, given Canadian interests, to refocus on trade. Similarly, the government’s harsh rhetoric in 2012 over the Palestinian Authority’s statehood bid at the UN was similarly toned down following the renewed U.S. peace plan initiative, given that it was counterproductive for our relations with Israel, the United States and the PA.

The unveiling last month of the Global Markets Action Plan, focussing diplomatic efforts on economic diplomacy, suggests that “principles-based” foreign policy is either becoming an empty slogan, or at least only applicable to markets of marginal importance to Canada.

Should the interim agreement hold, and be followed by subsequent agreements further relaxing sanctions, Canada will need to review its sanctions policy to ensure that Canadian firms are not disadvantaged in comparison to our competitors. In contrast to 1988, when one of the main incentives for Iran was that Canada offered North American oil and gas technology without going through the United States, any removal of Canadian sanctions would likely be in lock-step with U.S. policies, with Canadian firms having no special advantages.

But easing of sanctions, without a coherent foreign policy aligned to our economic interests, is unlikely to be enough. We can expect pressure from the Canadian business community, particularly from Alberta oil and gas equipment suppliers, to ensure a level playing field, not only on the easing of sanctions, but on the broader foreign policy front.

The elements are not complex in theory, but are in practice:

Further dialling down of rhetoric on Iran.

Yes, prudence is required, but “huff and puff” language is unhelpful. Language used by the U.K. and U.S. strikes the right tone between giving space for the interim agreement while expressing appropriate caution;

Some public recognition that there are signs of change in Iran’s approach.

Yes, these are tentative, and yes, given the complexity of the Iranian regime’s internal politics, the messages are mixed, but most Iranians, both inside Iran and in the diaspora, understand the significance of Hassan Rouhani’s election. We should too.

Use our strong relationship with Israel to encourage Israel to tone down its rhetoric and reflect some of the more nuanced discussion within Israel itself.

While Israeli fears and caution are legitimate, the language and approach appears to have been largely counterproductive in shaping the US and world approach to Iran.

Start informal discussions with the Iranian government on normalization of relations.

We may have closed our Embassy but as the U.S. and others have shown, that does not preclude discussion. These informal discussions should allow us to follow the U.K. lead in reopening its Embassy in Tehran. The standard diplomatic caution of starting with representation at the chargé d’affaires level, as we did in 1988, reinforces the “trust but verify” of the interim agreement.

At present, we do not know if the interim agreement will be implemented, given all the internal and external constraints. However, to be prudent, the government should be prepared for the possibility that the interim agreement will succeed, and lead to further agreements. Given our economic interests, particularly in Alberta, and the sizeable Iranian Canadian community, sooner or later, we will likely be forced to move in that direction. Better to start preparing now and send appropriate signals now.

If Iran opens for business, Canada will need a new approach – and fast – The Globe and Mail.

Thomas Jefferson versus the Parti Québécois

Globe editorial poking fun at the PQ’s invocation of Thomas Jefferson to defend the Charter, while nevertheless making serious points:

Jefferson’s statute gave birth to the U.S. First Amendment, enacted in 1791: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Were he alive today, he would be railing against a proposal to force people to choose between working in the civil service and professing their faith. The PQ ministers’ evocation of Jefferson’s name shines a light not only on their poor grasp of history, but also on the twisted thinking behind the Quebec Charter of Values. As Jefferson put it in the Statute of Religious Freedom, imposing “punishments or burdens” on a free mind’s religious opinions or practices tends “to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness.” Exactly.

Thomas Jefferson versus the Parti Québécois – The Globe and Mail.

And Minister Drainville indicated that he does not intend to table legislation for private unsubsidized daycare that does not allow the niqab to be worn but that he would encourage them to not allow the niqab (following the publication of a photo of the daycare centre with niqab-wearing staff):

Drainville n’entend pas légiférer | Le Devoir

Pope wants church to drop obsession with abortion, homosexuality

Remarkable but consistent with his actions and words to date. His humanity and humbleness are moving to all, including atheists like me. Discussing some of the changes with our more religious friends, they feel the same breath of fresh air with his emphasis on our common humanity and inclusion. A remarkable man, confident in his doubts and self-reflection, and likely to be one of those rare transformative figures.

Pope wants church to drop obsession with abortion, homosexuality – The Globe and Mail.

The Rebirth Of Catholicism – Daily Beast

Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control – NY Times

Case study highlights conflict between bureaucrats, Minister Kenney on direction of multiculturalism programs – The Globe and Mail

John Ibbitson of The Globe on my book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism. Excellent summary.

As to his suspicion that I was more comfortable with the old ways, initially yes, but my perspective changed as I thought through the issues, and broadening multiculturalism to include all groups, not just mainstream/visible minority relations, and focusing on citizenship integrity (knowledge, language, residency) were all policy changes that I support generally. Implementation and some of the details is another matter as he points out.

As this is behind the insider pay wall, full text below:

Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias is a case study by Andrew Griffith, who spent four years as Director General for Multiculturalism under Mr. Kenney. He chronicles the conflict between public servants steeped in consensus on how citizenship and multiculturalism programs should be run, and a minister who was determined to transform both the programs and the assumptions on which they were based.

“In many cases, officials had to work through the Kubler-Ross states of grief and loss – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – in dealing with the traumatic changes to their role,” Mr. Griffith writes.

Officials relied on surveys and reports to shape policy; Mr. Kenney relied on anecdotal evidence. Officials followed procedures for recommending grants and contributions to non-governmental organizations. Mr. Kenney vetoed most of them.

At root, bureaucrats embraced a set of assumptions laid down in the days of Pierre Trudeau and maintained by every Conservative and Liberal government that followed: Multiculturalism programs should foster mutual tolerance among cultural communities. Citizenship should be easy to acquire, and citizenship classes and programs should emphasize the federal government’s contribution to peacekeeping, the United Nations and expanding civil liberties at home and abroad.

The Harper government saw things differently. As Minister of State for Multiculturalism, and then as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Mr. Kenney preferred the word “plurality” to “multiculturalism.” Instead of an emphasis on cross-cultural understanding, he wanted to promote the integration of new Canadians into a socially cohesive society. (“Exactly!” Quebec Premier Pauline Marois might respond.)

Anti-racism programs should focus less on oppression by the majority toward minorities and more on conflicts within and between minority groups, he believed. There should be more outreach to religious groups within each community and greater attention paid to the concerns of the Jewish community.

Citizenship should be harder to acquire, language requirements should be stricter, and new Canadians should hear less about peacekeeping and gay marriage and more about Canada’s military past and the importance of the Queen.

Bureaucrats would produce plans and priorities based on evidence-based research of key concerns within different cultural communities. Nonsense, Mr. Kenney would retort; I talk to these people and that’s not what they’re saying.

Between 2007 and 2011, the Minister delivered 273 speeches and statements: 37 concerned Canadian Jews; Chinese Canadians were the target of 30 and Indo-Canadians of 22. The other seven in the top 10 included Black Canadians, Christians, Muslims, Asian Canadians, Ukrainian Canadians, American Canadians and Ismali Muslims. Mr. Kenney believed he had his finger on the pulse of immigrant communities.

To their surprise, when public officials convened focus groups to test Mr. Kenney’s assertions, they often found that those interviewed reflected the minister’s priorities more than their own research had indicated.

In the best Yes, Minister tradition, officials also found that they could secure Mr. Kenney’s acceptance of a proposal more easily if it was larded with quotes from the Minister’s speeches. Over time, the bureaucrats found ways to satisfy the new boss’s demands while also sliding in a few of their own priorities.

Mr. Griffith’s conclusion is a surprising admission for a former public servant: “All of us, including public servants, have our biases and prejudices, which influence our evidence base, networks, and advice,” he writes. “…Public servants did not have the complete picture and were often too disconnected from the realities on the ground to understand the limitations of their analysis and advice.”

That does not mean that Mr. Kenney in particular or the Harper government in general were without blame. Mr. Griffith’s decries the cutbacks that have degraded the bureaucracy’s ability to create and test policy, the rush to decision and implementation and the mistakes that resulted. And although the language and the judgments are carefully balanced, one suspects that Mr. Griffith still believes the old ways and assumptions were better than the new Conservative ones.

That said, he predicts that because of Mr. Kenney’s reforms, “multiculturalism will, over time, become closer to the original Reform Party objective … of abolishing multiculturalism and strengthening a strong common narrative of citizenship.”

Unless, of course, the Conservatives are defeated in the next election and the universe goes back to unfolding as it should.

Case study highlights conflict between bureaucrats, Minister Kenney on direction of multiculturalism programs – The Globe and Mail.