The year since the mosque shooting has made amnesiacs out of Quebec’s political class: Martin Patriquin

Another reminder by Patriquin of one of convenient forgetfulness:

On the morning of Jan. 31, 2017, with camera in hand, I walked into the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec. Less than 48 hours before, a gunman had walked into the centre, killing six and injuring 19. Once the police had finished their work, mosque administrators opened the doors to journalists, if only to show firsthand the often-visceral consequences of unchecked hatred and ignorance.

It was like the aftermath of war. Men and women parishioners wandered around, dazed and weeping. Bullets, dozens of them, had splintered drywall and shattered glass. And blood was everywhere: on the carpet and prayer rugs, on the Linoleum floor outside the main room, caking the stairs to the basement and circling a storage closet drain. It smeared windows and pooled in sinks. I left with it on my boots.

‘Senseless violence’

The province’s political leaders were immediately and appropriately sombre. Quebecers “must avoid words and gestures that separate, divide and attract hate,” said Premier Philippe Couillard. François Legault, leader of the conservative Coalition Avenir Québec, expressed his solidarity in the face of “senseless violence” with Quebec’s Muslim community. Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée said the most by stating the obvious. “It’s not easy to be a Muslim in the 21st century,” he told reporters.

If time weakens emotions and fades memories, the year since the shooting has made amnesiacs out of Quebec’s political class. Last week, the National Council of Canadian Muslims asked the federal government to designate Jan. 29 as a national day of remembrance and action on Islamophobia. In Quebec, the idea of questioning exactly why the shooting took place was largely met with shrugs or worse.

Both the PQ and the CAQ quickly opposed such a thing. “I think we’ve debated the divisions surrounding the presence of religion enough in Quebec,” PQ MNA Agnès Maltais told Le Devoir. The governing Liberals, who harvest the vast majority of the province’s Muslim vote come election day, utterly waffled on the idea.

Once aghast at the many Muslim victims who had done nothing but gather for prayers, these politicians now declared the deliberate targeting of Muslims passé — an isolated incident perpetuated by a crazy man. “Quebecers are open and welcoming, they are not Islamophobic,” said a CAQ spokesperson. (Only Québec solidaire, the Montreal-centric lefty redoubt, came out in favour of the NCCM proposal.)

Clearly, the amnesia stretches beyond the last year. On Dec. 6, 1989, Marc Lépine walked into Montreal’s École Polytechnique and killed 14 women before turning his gun on himself. Like Alexandre Bissonnette, the man currently on trial for last year’s mosque massacre, Lépine was more than just a crazy man with a gun. He harboured a deep resentment of women, which he weaponized and made homicidal in the classrooms and corridors of Polytechnique.

The Polytechnique shootings sparked a societal debate in the province about gender, feminism and the extent of institutional misogyny in Quebec society, purportedly one of the more equalitarian in the country. It was a painful but wholly necessary exercise, one commemorated by the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

At first glance, it might be difficult to see why most Quebec politicians are ambivalent at best about a similar exercise for Muslims in Quebec and beyond. Lépine blamed feminists for his problems. Bissonnette left an online trail of anti-Muslim rhetoric before the mosque shootings. And as with Polytechnique 28 years earlier, the mosque shootings were but the bloodiest example of institutional enmity against an identifiable group.

Crimes targeting Muslims

Police-reported hate crimes against Muslims in Canada tripled between 2012 and 2015, according to Statistics Canada. In Quebec City, crimes targeting Muslims have doubled since the mosque shootings, according to the city’s police chief.

Apart from being alarming, such statistics are fodder for Muslim extremists, who use society-wide anti-Muslim animus as a recruiting tool. If this is the case, these extremists have a veritable wellspring of recruiting material in Quebec City’s many populist (and enduringly popular) radio stations, which — with a few notable exceptions — remain largely anti-Muslim and anti-immigration a year after the mosque shootings.

A week after the deadly shooting at a mosque, hundreds took to the streets of Quebec City to honour the victims. 1:54

For its politicians, perhaps it’s less about amnesia than Quebec’s own brand of crass identity politics. The three main political parties are locked in a battle for the hearts and votes of Quebec’s lily-white, lapsed Catholic hinterland in Quebec City and beyond — everywhere, it seems, save for Montreal. The dynamics are such that even the Liberals, who have a lock on the non-Francophone vote, can demonize Montreal’s multicultural reality.

In 2013, the PQ government attempted to ban “conspicuous” religious symbols from the bodies of anyone drawing a government paycheque. Though it failed, the ensuing Liberal government last year passed a ban on face coverings for anyone giving or receiving a government service. Only Québec solidaire protested the law’s blatant targeting of Quebec’s Muslim minority. Everyone else said it didn’t go far enough.

A year ago, these very politicians professed shock and sadness at a murderous hate crime perpetrated on their watch. Demonstrably, as Quebec approaches a fall election, political reality has pushed this emotion aside. Maybe they didn’t forget the tragedy. Maybe they just don’t want to be reminded of the reasons behind it.

via The year since the mosque shooting has made amnesiacs out of Quebec’s political class | CBC News

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The cynical roots of Rempel’s female genital mutilation crusade – iPolitics

Martin Patriquin on Michelle Rempel’s raising the issue of FGM and its inclusion or not in the revision of the Discover Canada citizenship guide:

The procedure by which a woman’s clitoris is surgically removed is usually performed without anesthesia and in unsanitary conditions. Unnecessary, retrograde and associated with a host of physical ailments, the surgery also can saddle a woman with a lifetime of psychological issues.

The very purpose of the surgery — to deprive a woman of sexual pleasure — is religiosity at its worst. Only a monster would support such a thing.

A monster — or the Liberal government, according to the blinkered thinking of Conservative MP Michelle Rempel. She seems to believe that the 23rd prime minister of Canada, along with its 20th immigration minister, are in favour of the practice.

Why? Because the Liberal government (she suggests) plans to remove from the pending new citizenship guide a reference to female genital mutilation, which is listed among other “barbaric cultural practices,” including honour killings and forced marriage.

“Those guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada’s criminal laws,” the current guide helpfully points out.

In fact, ‘plans to remove’ is too strong a statement, as the Liberals have yet to release the new citizenship guide, which newcomers use to study for the citizenship test. Nor have the Liberals said that the reference would be excised from the guide, despite the leak of a draft copy this summer that didn’t include it. Whenever he is asked about it, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen typically spouts the words “consultation” and “stakeholders” ad absurdum.

Rempel, who serves as the party’s shadow minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, sees something altogether nefarious in all this bureaucratese. And should the Liberals indeed remove the mention of female genital mutilation, it will be a “tacit message to people that perhaps the Canadian government is OK with it,” Rempel recently said during a radio interview.

open quote 761b1bRempel’s line of questioning strongly suggested Hussen was a cypher, using his position to foist the practice of ritual mutilation on an unsuspecting Canadian public.

So, there you have it. Canada’s current government is in favour of the forced, ritual removal of a part of a woman’s anatomy, according to the Official Opposition. To be clear, Rempel says she doesn’t know why the Liberal government would be gung ho on such a thing. But that hasn’t stopped her from speculating — on the record.

During a recent parliamentary committee hearing, Rempel lobbed loaded questions at Hussen, the apparent goal of which was to suggest the Prime Minister’s Office had asked for the reference to be removed. After Hussen said the PMO hadn’t instructed him to do anything, Rempel aimed for the jugular — or rather, below the belt. “What is your personal view?” Rempel asked Hussen, before the committee chair mercifully cut her off.

Hussen hails from Somalia, where the rate of female genital mutilation is the highest in the world, according to UNICEF. He is a refugee who fled war and strife to become a Canadian citizen and eventually a federal cabinet minister. Rempel’s line of questioning strongly suggested he was a cypher, using his position to foist the practice of ritual mutilation on an unsuspecting Canadian public.

The reference to female genital mutilation in the citizenship guide is similarly loaded. Telling potential citizens that cutting off another person’s body parts is illegal and will be punished is … redundant. Worse still, the inference is clear, and is aimed squarely at a certain subset of would-be Canadian citizens: Muslims.

Not coincidentally, female genital mutilation is carried out in roughly 30 countries, nearly all of them in Africa and nearly all predominantly Muslim. The inclusion of the phrase in the 2011 citizenship guide, much like the Conservative’s “barbaric cultural practices hotline” gambit during the 2015 election, is the stuff of cynical wedge politics meant to leverage revulsion against an identifiable religious group.

It conveniently ignores the fact that immigrants and refugees often flee their countries of origin specifically because of such practices. And it vastly overstates the scope of the problem in Canada.

As in Europe, instances of genital mutilation in this country remain isolated tragedies, and often come to light as a result of arrests. Moreover, the rate of female genital mutilation among those 30 countries has decreased by 30 per cent since 1985, according to UNICEF.

Meanwhile, other types of crimes in Canada are far more common. There were 1,409 police reported hate crimes in 2016 — an increase of 20 per cent since 2013. The homicide rate has also increased by 20 per cent in that time period. There were over 220,000 assaults across the country in 2016, and roughly 159,000 instances of breaking and entering.

One wonders why Rempel isn’t pushing the federal government to remind potential citizens that murder, assault, thievery and race-based aggression are illegal in this country and will be punished. Because it’s obvious, perhaps?

via The cynical roots of Rempel’s female genital mutilation crusade – iPolitics

Failing Quebec’s Muslims – The New York Times

Patriquin in the NYTimes on Quebec’s ongoing debates:

But the trivialization of anti-Muslim crime and the outright demonization of Muslims, so common on Quebec City’s airwaves, contribute to a poisonous political climate for Muslims across the province.

Quebec’s political class has been embroiled in a decade-long obsession over the place for the province’s religious minorities in society. Because the discussion has focused largely on the Muslim veil, the effect has been further social and economic shunning of Muslims.

Quebec’s National Assembly is debating a bill that would compel much of the public service work force to keep their faces uncovered. The bill, which will probably be approved, comes just over three years after the previous Parti Québécois government tried to pass the Quebec Charter of Values, a more restrictive law that would have banned the wearing of all religious symbols by anyone drawing a provincial government paycheck.

This debate has only grown more intense. Seemingly inconsequential requests — as when, in 2007, a Muslim group asked for pork-free baked beans and a prayer room for a private retreat at one of Quebec’s many “sugar shacks,” where maple syrup is made and feasted upon — have been taken as assaults on Quebec’s vaunted secularism. More recently, the right-of-center Coalition Avenir Québec party said it would seek to ban the “burkini,” the body covering swimsuit worn by some Muslim women, from Quebec beaches. (The party eventually backed down, admitting that such a ban would be difficult to enforce.)

On paper, at least, the Muslims here are well suited for Quebec. Many of them are from North Africa, and are well versed in French, Quebec’s official language. They tend to be well-educated and have large families — a boon for a province with a low birthrate and an aging population.

Yet integrating into society has remained a stubborn problem. Quebec has the highest unemployment rate among recent immigrants to the country, just over 15 percent, nearly four percentage points higher than the national average, according to census data.

There are several reasons behind this high unemployment rate. Roughly 75 percent of Quebec’s immigrant population settles in Montreal, an already competitive job market. The province’s unions and professional organizations have been particularly reluctant to credit job experience at foreign companies, or even to recognize degrees earned at foreign universities. One of the mosque shooting victims, Aboubaker Thabti, was trained as a pharmacist in his native Tunisia. A married father of two, he was working at a chicken slaughterhouse at the time of his death.

The province’s government has promised that remedies are on the way. Last year, the governing Liberals introduced a bill that would streamline the recognition of foreign university degrees and compel professional organizations to more readily accept applicants from non-Canadian institutions. Other provinces have instituted such measures, with varying degrees of success. In Ontario, where most of the country’s immigrants settle, there are still far too many professionals driving cabs and delivering food.

Then there is the thorny issue of who, exactly, is a Quebecer. In the job market, there remains a preference for what is known as “pure laine” Quebecers. The expression — literally “pure wool” — denotes anyone with a Québécois last name and the appropriate skin tone.

“Unfortunately, you’re more likely to get a good job if your name is Lachance than if it’s Hamad,” said Tania Longpré, a researcher and French teacher in Montreal. “The key to integration is the ability to contribute to the economy. Quebec only loses when its professionals are forced to cut chickens.”

Mr. Duhaime, the radio host, has remained largely unrepentant in the wake of the mosque shooting, at one point blaming envious rivals for taking his words out of context. Others have been more contrite.

Sylvain Bouchard, a popular morning radio man, said that he’d failed in his duty to invite members of the city’s Muslim community to his show. “Muslims here are pacifist,” he said.

It was an unexpected show of regret in a medium known for its hot takes and big egos. If only words were the cause, and not just a symptom, of the problem.

Identity politics returns to Quebec: Patriquin

Martin Patriquin’s balanced take on Quebec’s Bill C-62 (banning face covering when providing or receiving public services):

Quebec is home to a majority population of about 6.6 million French speakers, where about three-quarters of the 50,000 immigrants who arrive here every year settle in the region of Montreal. The city is multicultural and multilingual. The rest of the province is largely white and French.

The populism resulting from this unique demographic circumstance, which surfaced in the 2007 election campaign, had a distinctly Trumpian narrative to it. To wit: the political elites in Quebec City were corrupt and out of touch. Immigration had turned Montreal into a Babylonian hellhole, and threatened to do the same to the hinterland. By throwing out the first and radically curtailing the second, Quebec would be . . . well, it would be great again.

Two political parties, first the right-of-centre Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ) and then the Parti Québécois, attempted to harness this resentment. Both failed miserably. The ADQ ceased existing in 2012, while the PQ suffered one of the worst defeats in its history in 2014.

Still, issues of immigration and religion remain a stubborn constant in Quebec politics. Both the PQ and the Coalition Avenir Québec, the successor to the ADQ, have introduced plans to cut immigration levels. Both have equated the rise in immigration under successive Liberal governments to the decline of French in the province—a contention disproved by several recent Quebec government studies.

PQ Leader Jean-François Lisée said burqas should be banned before “a jihadist uses one to hide his movements.” The CAQ recently ran an advertisement suggesting the chador would become commonplace in Quebec classrooms should either the Liberals or the PQ form the next government. (In truth, body-covering Muslim garb is about as rare in Quebec as Maple Leafs fans.)

Yet despite all this rhetoric over the last 10 years, Quebec remains a comparatively welcoming province. At 3.2 per 100,000, police-reported hate crimes in the province are below the national average of 3.7—and well below Ontario’s average of 4.8, according to the most recent Statistics Canada data.

It is in the crucible of the debate that the province has developed guidelines for so-called “reasonable accommodations” of religious and cultural practices. In 2017, Quebec’s National Assembly will vote on Bill 62, which would compel anyone giving or receiving a public service to do so with their face uncovered—unless the temperature, not religion, dictates otherwise. It is the second time in six years that the province has attempted to pass such a thing.

The bill has its critics, and will almost certainly be the subject to a court challenge should it become law. Yet in limiting its reach to the public service, the legislation strikes a balance between religious freedom and state religious neutrality. (Such is decidedly not the case in France, where the very act of wearing a religious face covering in public is illegal.) The final vote on Bill 62 will take place outside the context of an election campaign, when instances of chest-thumping vitriol tend to be lower. The optimist hopes cooler heads will prevail.

While America is hardly new to the caustic politics of race and identity, it raced to new lows during the last presidential campaign. Trump’s victory has invigorated populist movements around the globe; suddenly, the world is awash in worry over immigration and religion.

In Quebec, this sort of thing is old hat. Long the outlier on the identity front in Canada, Quebec’s take on matters of religion and immigration suddenly seem sensible, even desirable, in a world of border walls and Muslim bans.

A short history of scapegoating Muslims in Quebec: Martin Patriquin

caq-adGood piece by Patriquin:

We are midway through Quebec’s election cycle, and predicable things are happening. Opposition parties begin to stake out positions on key issues, the importance of which are no doubt polled, focused grouped and otherwise scientifically developed. The most recent efforts of the Coalition Avenir Québec, the province’s second opposition party, can be seen in the charming advertisement above.

“Couillard and Lisée,” it reads, referring to Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard and Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée, “[are] in favour of the chador for teachers in our schools.”

The ad has a stunned and/or befuddled-looking Couillard and Lisée staring at a woman wearing the Muslim garb. The message, in case it hasn’t yet hit you over the head, is that should you vote for either the Liberals or the PQ, your children will be put under the spell of a cadre of evil-looking Muslim women. Vote CAQ, and teachers will remain uncovered (and probably lily white, for that matter.)

It’s gross stuff, of course. It’s also crafty as hell. Both the PQ and the governing Liberals have said that anyone working for the state must do so with their faces uncovered “for security or identification reasons”, as a proposed Liberal law states. Because the chador wearer’s face remains uncovered, it wouldn’t fall under this stipulation. Ergo, so the intentionally blinkered CAQ reasoning goes, the Liberals (and the PQ, which will likely support the proposed law) much be in favour of the chador.

As gross as it is, the most recent CAQ gambit is hardly the first time a party has attempted to make political hay on the backs of Muslim women and other religious minorities. Who can forget this gem, from 2013?

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This was the so-called charter of Quebec values, the Parti Québécois’s electoral gambit leading up to the 2014 election. In many ways it is more offensive than the CAQ advertisement. The above image was part of a $2-million ad campaign for a bill introduced by an actual minister that would have been made law had the PQ won the 2014 election. The PQ didn’t win, but it wasn’t for lack of scraping the bottom of the barrel.

During the campaign, the party trotted out Janette Bertrand, a favoured vedette of the very Baby Boomers the PQ wished to recruit, to press flesh and insult minorities. Muslim doctors, she opined, allowed women to “die faster.” Swarthy men had taken over her swimming pool for religious reasons and kicked her out, depriving her of her ability to do aqua-gym exercises. “That’s why we need the charter,” she said. (I’m not making this up.)

Politics, not a sense of shame, caused the PQ to back away from the charter. It has just announced its “resolute, balanced and responsible approach” to Quebec identity that will see the party “build a better dialogue between its parliamentary wing and cultural communities.”

Yet PQ leader Lisée himself has hardly gone all Kumbaya—he’s just changed opinions once again. In 2013, taking great umbrage in something I wrote, Lisée wrote that the PQ’s charter could have flowed from the pen of Thomas Jefferson. Less than a year and one bruising electoral loss later, Lisée said he wouldn’t have supported the charter after all. About two months ago, he said that burqas must be banned “before a jihadist uses one to hide his movements.” Today, he reneged on the comment, saying it was wasn’t his best line. Translation: Lisée was all for scapegoating religious minorities before he was against it—and he may well be for it again, depending on how things go.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this pungent example of immigrant-baiting in Quebec.

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This is an election sign from the 2008 campaign of the ADQ, the precursor to the CAQ. “Decrease of the French language in Montreal,” it reads. “The track record of the PQ and Liberals: a 22 per cent increase in immigration. The ADQ’s solution: a natalist political plan and a freeze of immigration levels.”

By equating the supposed loss of French in Montreal with the increase in immigration, we have a major political party, the province’s official opposition at the time, scapegoating immigrants not for how they may dress but for what tumbles out of their mouths.

At the time, the PQ denounced the campaign, calling it worthy of France’s hard right Front National. Five years later, the PQ itself introduced the charter—supported by none other than Front National leader Marine Le Pen.

Chutzpah is a great word.

Why the PQ isn’t so eager to celebrate the Brexit vote: Martin Patriquin

Worth reading – some uncomfortable truths by Patriquin:

First, there’s history. Britain has long been the subject of fevered nationalist nightmares, and the antagonist in Quebec’s narrative of subjugation and suffering. There are real, live human beings in the province who believe this country remains Britain’s useful idiot in the latter’s war with France, fought nearly 260 years ago. Most Quebec nationalists have dialed back on the lingo since the days of White Niggers of America. But in the nationalist mindset, the idea that Britain might be slave to anything is absurd at best and an insult at worst.

Second, there’s demographics. Several polls foundsupport for the “Yes” side in the 2014 Scottish referendum to be highest among younger age brackets. The ruling Scottish Nationalist Party was favourable to increased immigration, and a sizeable swath of Scotland’s cultural communities supported exiting the U.K.

Scottish nationalism was young, inclusive, and above all relevant to every facet of society. For the PQ, this example was worth celebrating because it was what the Parti Québecois used to be, and what it could aspire to.

The Leave campaign was a reflection of what the Parti Québécois has become. As the Financial Times (amongothers) demonstrated, the biggest support for the Leave campaign came from older, less-educated rural voters. In the 2014 election, the PQ attempted to target this very demographic in Quebec with its so-called “Quebec values charter,” which aimed to strip religious symbols from the heads, necks and lapels of anyone receiving a government paycheque.

The PQ suffered the worst electoral drubbing in its history, and has spent much of the last two years trying to forget the failed experiment. Endorsing the successful Leave campaign would only remind people of nationalism’s darker impulses.

Lastly, there is the gong show that is post-Brexit U.K. The PQ has long suggested, as the Leave campaign did repeatedly throughout the campaign, that separation would be a painless affair. It hasn’t been. Britain’s credit rating has been downgraded, its economy sent into a tailspin; billions of dollars of capital have been wiped out.

Even if this is a temporary hiccup, there remains the social factor. During the campaign, a man shot Labour MP Jo Cox dead on the street while yelling “Britain First.” Reports of hate crimes increased by 57 per cent in the 36 hours following the Brexit vote, according to Britain’s National Police Chiefs’ Council. And while this too may be another of Britain’s temporary miseries, history suggests racial scapegoating only increases in times of economic strife.

No wonder the PQ has kept mostly quiet. Britain’s Leave campaign is a win it doesn’t need.

Source: Why the PQ isn’t so eager to celebrate the Brexit vote

Why the anti-abortion movement is embracing gender equality

Martin Patriquin nails it:

No pro-choice type himself, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper was at least pragmatic enough to stamp out any anti-abortion rumblings emanating from the socially conservative recesses of his party.

But gender equality is another story entirely. While we may be a cautious bunch on the issue of abortion, we Canadians are wildly, flamingly liberal on equality of sexes—94 per cent in favour of it, according to but one recent poll.

Pro-life types have cannily glommed onto sex-selective abortion as a means to demonstrate the evils of the pro-choice narrative run amok. They’ve rebranded the practice “gendercide,” and one politician amongst the ranks has attempted (unsuccessfully) to introduce a motion condemning it. They’ve appointed more female spokespeople. Twenty years ago, women who received abortions were murderers. Today, they are more likely to be victims.

It’s part of what University of Ottawa researchers Kelly Gordon and James Saurette call the “pro-woman” rhetoric of the anti-abortion movement. “Anti-abortionists have been losing since 1969 [when the Canadian government liberalized abortion laws],” Gordon told me recently. “They’ve been viewed as being very anti-woman. This is a strategic shift. Concentrating on sex-selective abortions is a far more sympathetic discourse.”

Enacting a law against sex-selective abortion would be folly. In India, a country of 1.2 billion, there were all of 20 convictions between 1994 and 2010, according to the government report. But then, preventing sex-selective abortions isn’t the goal of pro-lifers in this country; prohibiting abortion outright is. Gender equality is just a useful vehicle to this end.

A useful vehicle, and a Trojan horse. Restricting reproductive rights would be far easier with an existing law banning what amounts to an aberration of the practice. By draping itself in the flag of gender equality, the anti-abortion movement is rehashing a debate it lost long ago. It’s a savvy and cynical move, and should be recognized as such.

Ultimately, of course, the way to curb sex-selective abortions is roughly the same as curbing the frequency of abortions in general—not through legislation, but education. This country’s long-diminishing abortion rate is the best testament to this fact.

Source: Why the anti-abortion movement is embracing gender equality

Refugees and the long political journey: Martin Patriquin

A reminder, as if needed, just how much can change with new political direction, and the ideology and values of the previous government’s restrictive approach. Must read:

Given all this, I asked Vassallo, a 27-year CIC veteran, why the Canadian government took so long to get comparatively few suffering souls to this country. “I can’t answer that, it’s a political question,” he said, with a hint of a smile.

Unfortunately, Vassallo is right, and his non-answer is a reminder of what happens when a life-or-death issue of refugees gets fed into the cauldron of partisan politics, then further distilled by an at times ugly election campaign. In a sense, the machinations by which potential refugees are sorted and selected should be as apolitical as, say, getting one’s license renewed. Yet as the previous Conservative government demonstrated, there was a distinct attempt to shape and direct the work of its civil servants here and overseas when it came to the victims of the crisis in Syria.

Last January, Stephen Harper’s government announced plans to bring in 10,000 Syrian refugees over three years. Yet several months later, only about 10 per cent of this number had been admitted—in part, it seems, because of a directive from Harper’s office itself that attempted to halt the screening process. At the time, it was presented as a security measure “to ensure the integrity of our refugee referral system,” as Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander put it at the time.

Numerous sources, including one with first-hand knowledge of the processing of refugees, said the directive was less about security than about ensuring that Christian minorities took precedence over Muslims. “You got the feeling they were trying to cherry pick religious minorities,” one source said. (Syria, which is majority Sunni Muslim, has a sizeable Christian minority.)

It took the picture of Alan Kurdi, whose lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach, for the government to slacken the reigns somewhat. Because Kurdi’s family was trying to reach Canada, the political intonations on the Harper election campaign were profound. On Sept 10, eight days after the picture made headlines worldwide, the government waived the stipulation that “resettlement candidates” must provide information regarding why they fled their country of origin.

“Going forward, unless there is evidence to the contrary, visa officers will be able to presume those fleeing the conflict meet the definition of a refugee, which will make processing faster,” reads a CIC briefing document.

There is a certain irony in this. The  government to first make a significant security-related change to the processing of refugees—arguably making it easier for Syrians and Iraqis to make it to these shores—was that of the ostensibly security-first, tough-on-terror Stephen Harper. And he did so as a political calculation, out of fear of losing an election.

Meanwhile, the “security concerns” that supposedly prevented the Harper government from increasing the numbers of refugees brought to Canada were seemingly a partisan mirage. “There have been no shortcuts to the process. They’ve accelerated it in the sense that they’ve sent over additional personnel,” Tim Bowen, chief of operations for Canadian Border Services Agency, told me. According to CIC staff, this includes the addition of some 500 officials deployed overseas to help with the effort, including between 50 and 70 visa officers.

Thankfully, there is a happy ending. First and foremost, refugees are finally arriving. Secondly, the Conservatives are critiquing the effort exactly as they should: on purely financial grounds. The refugee resettlement program will cost $671 million. It is a huge amount of money, and Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel promised to hold the government to account. “It is one thing to inspire Canadians, it’s another thing to be accountable to them,” she said.

That Rempel said as much without a fear-mongering whisper about “security concerns” shows how far the party has come in two months.

Source: Refugees and the long political journey – Macleans.ca

The two faces of the Syrian crisis: a toddler and a tech titan, earlier fears of Vietnamese refugees

Anne Kingston, on the different images we have of refugees and how that reflects on us:

That a dead toddler and a tech titan have become the faces of one of the world’s worst refugee crises is telling. Where the Daily Mail and their ilk rely on dehumanizing refugees, those who are sympathetic have wound up making them unrealistically ultra-human. Most refugees, no matter where from, are not adorable small children. And odds are low that they or their progeny will revolutionize technology, create neat products people the world over clamour to buy, or contribute billions to the economy. They usually end up working jobs beneath their training and education. Some end up driving taxis, which is what Steve Job’s biological father did.

We search for unifying image to make sense, to rally around. But which images resonate with us says a great deal. One of the emblematic images from the Paris attack was the “Paris for Peace” symbol, the spontaneous illustration by a French artist. The other is a haunting photograph  by Associated Press photographer Jerome Delay of a body lying on the sidewalk outside the Bataclan Theater covered by a blanket, illuminated by lamplight. It is also a powerful tribute to humanity. All that is known about this unnamed person is that only hours earlier he or she was enjoying life in a jubilant crowd listening to music, before, in a  flash becoming a victim of  life’s circumstance. All we know that he or she was human, which in the end is all that should matter.

Source: The two faces of the Syrian crisis: a toddler and a tech titan – Macleans.ca

And Martin Patriquin reminds of the parallel worries that existed with Vietnamese refugees:

Of course, no system is perfect. Nothing is. All we can do is rely on historical precedent. Despite widespread concerns, neither increased criminality or a communist insurgency accompanied those 60,000 Vietnamese refugees. Today, Canada’s Vietnamese population stands at about 220,000—less than a third of the National Citizens’ Coalition’s dire prediction. Among them are politicians, writers, artists and Olympians. If this is anyone’s nightmare, it’s Chairman Mao’s.

Syria undoubtedly poses a security risk. Yet it takes a particularly blinkered sort of logic to come to the conclusion that its people are terrorists in waiting. Again, a bit of history: Canada has accepted roughly 2.5 million refugees and immigrants over the last 10 years alone, according to Statistics Canada data. The country’s Muslim population has doubled every one of the last three decades. And yet the two Islamist terrorist attacks, including that on the Parliament buildings last year, were perpetuated by born-and-bred Canadian converts to that religion.

No, Syrians are running because they are desperate. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights data, close to 200,000, including 20,000 children, have been killed since 2015—the vast majority by the Syrian regime. If it isn’t the regime they are fleeing, it’s the hundreds of armed groups that constitute the rebellion against it. Time only means more bloodshed. Right now is the worst time to be thinking the worst of Syria’s myriad victims.

http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/the-fault-with-fearing-refugees/

An Arab festival, a headless clown, a sword—cue the outrage

Martin Patriquin on the humour of the Festival du Monde Arabe de Montréal:

The festival team did so by adopting a particularly ballsy theme for this year’s festival. The FMA has never been particularly anodyne; last year’s theme was “Folies Métèques,” which translates roughly to “dirty immigrant follies.” This year’s theme goes further with  “Hilarus Delirus,” an apparent double entendre meaning either hilarious delirium or delirious slave (Hilarus was a gladiator owned by the Roman emperor Nero). The idea is that laughing  through anything—up to and including decapitation—is the best revenge against one’s decapitators, figurative or otherwise.

The festival itself further destroys the cliché that Arab culture is a desert of bloody austerity. If the headless clown wasn’t enough, consider the accompanying video by Lynda Thalie, a Montreal singer who originally hails from Algeria. It is a five-minute carnival of painted faces and naked flesh set to Arab strings­—a Muslim fundamentalist’s nightmare, performed by an Algerian woman. The lineup also includes Iraqi-Montrealer rapper Narcicyst, who is as outspoken about Islamic fundamentalist regimes as he is of what he sees as the West’s enabling of them.

The festival’s theme also exposes another unspoken truth: that the critiquing of religious fundamentalism is most visibly the domain of non-Arabs. It makes it all too easy for apologists of, say, the murder of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists to to wrap themselves in the veil of Muslim persecution. The FMA’s headless clown lays waste to this specious argument. It is heartening to see Arabs—namely, the Muslims, Berbers, Christians and Jews who comprise the FMA team—critique the very same fundamentalism. (An important aside: the clown bleeds words and musical notes, not blood.)

Quebec has had a tumultuous few years in regards to Muslims and other religious minorities. After the Parti Québécois’s electoral attempts to remove all religious symbols from the bodies of its public servantsin 2013, the newly elected Liberals went to another absurd extreme, by introducing a bill that many legal experts say would make it illegal to critique any organized religion. Both are shoddy in their own way. Thankfully, both failed to become law.

By laughing through his own misery, the headless clown is a reminder that the best line of attack against fundamentalism isn’t through laws or government decrees. It’s as simple as embracing the culture and deriding the extremists who would dare try to smother it.

Source: An Arab festival, a headless clown, a sword—cue the outrage