By: Jeremy J. Nuttall in Ottawa
Canada could turn into a U.S.-style partisan battleground if its politicians and media don’t mend their ways, says former Conservative MP Chris Alexander.
Alexander, one of the Harper government cabinet ministers defeated in the 2015 election and an unsuccessful leadership candidate, has recently been vocal about the media, politics and the “alt-right” in Canada.
In a Tyee interview he acknowledged extreme right-wing factions were allowed a place in the Conservative party, but predicted that will change as a result of the backlash after deadly racist demonstrations in Virginia last month.
That kind of violence hasn’t hit Canada, Alexander said, and politicians and journalists need to work to make sure it never does.
But Alexander’s attempt to set out the failings of the Canadian media in an opinion piece he wrote for Maclean’s has drawn its own backlash.
Alexander accused the media of viewing Canadian politics through an American lens and inflaming tensions that divide the country.
And he set out what he called false accusations that he was anti-Muslim, linking them to a March 2015 speech by Justin Trudeau at McGill University reprinted in Maclean’s and then repeated “over and over.”
In the speech Trudeau says Alexander stood in the House of Commons and declared a woman’s hijab was “an indefensible perversion of Canadian values.”
“I never said any such thing,” Alexander wrote in the Maclean’s piece. “My wife Hedvig, who is Danish, wore a hijab through seven years in Afghanistan.” Alexander was Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005 and representative of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan until 2009.
Alexander, defending the Conservative government’s bid to require women to remove their hijabs — head scarves — during citizenship ceremonies, did say “the hijab has been used to cover the face of women... under the terrible influence of the Taliban in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
“Those practices have no place in our citizenship ceremonies, where we insist on confirming the identity and confirming the commitment of new citizens to our laws, to our sovereign, to our values, and to our traditions,” he told the House of Commons.
Alexander’s opinion piece sparked a rebuke from Ottawa Citizen columnist Shannon Gormley.
She said Alexander and other “far-right populists” were trying to “scapegoat elites” for their own failings.
“Adding insult to self-inflicted injuries, perhaps they should be pitied and politely ignored,” she wrote. “Only, in largely blaming others for their own fall just as they blamed them for social decline, populist misopportunists diminish the truth and the social cohesion they claim to desire.”
Failings of media
Alexander told The Tyee the Citizen column highlighted the failings of Canadian media he described in Maclean’s.
The column noted Alexander’s role in the 2015 pre-election announcement of a “barbaric cultural practices tip line” widely panned as anti-Muslim by pundits and political opponents.
But he maintains the tip line plan didn’t reflect bigotry or anti-Muslim sentiments. Alexander said he spoke to victims of cultural practices like forced marriage as he researched the initiative and they used the word “barbaric” to describe their experiences.
Victims even insisted the word be used in the government's tip line name, Alexander said.
But the media mislead the public, he alleged, painting it as a bigoted policy.
“Literally people go around calling it an anti-Muslim snitch line,” he said. “They are misleading the audience in the most dangerous way. There was nothing exclusive anti-anybody in that legislation.”
Alexander said if he had a dime for every person who referred to the line negatively without mentioning things like “forced marriage” or “honour killings” he’d be a rich man.
Alexander still speaks to the news media. But he said the barbaric cultural practices tip line coverage is the kind of story causing Conservatives to boycott media outlets like the CBC, which they say is biased against them.
While some won’t speak to the CBC, many Conservatives — including Alexander — did speak to the Rebel, a controversial right-wing online media outlet.
Alexander had been interviewed by the Rebel and appeared at the organization’s rallies.
In March he tweeted he would no longer attend Rebel events after a piece by contributor Gavin McInnes entitled “10 things I hate about Jews.”
“We have a responsibility, all of us, to hold media and social media to account to the extent they allow themselves to be platforms for spreading hate,” Alexander said then.
Alexander said he wants to talk to all media, and deciding what organizations he won’t speak to is subject to “constant review.”
He said his philosophy is “talk to everyone, pander to no one” and not to say different things to different outlets.
“I don’t think we should be, as a matter of course, boycotting media just because we disagree with reports that they put out,” he said. “I will continue to talk to the CBC and all the other professional media outlets.”
Alexander said the Canadian media is generally “professional” but declining circulations and audiences are having a noticeable affect on quality.
The downward trend, he said, has many Canadians relying on foreign news services as their go-to source for information.
During his years in Parliament from 2011 to 2015, Alexander said he noticed Canadians were increasingly less interested in consuming news from Canadian outlets.
One result has been the growing influence of the polarized political coverage from the United States, he said. “It crowds out our national story,” he said.
The Canadian media needs to change to avoid the same kind of partisan breakdown, Alexander said.
Media must create a “shared sense of public service,” he said, rather than existing to produce clickbait. Canadians should feel served by their media.
Often Canadian media seem to allow their headlines to be determined by negative attacks from a politician’s opponents, he added.
Reporters can’t allow the spin coming out of someone’s war room to drive their coverage, Alexander said, calling for more in-depth reporting and analysis.
“Let's put things in the context of real policy.”
Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. This piece was republished under arrangement with the Tyee.
by Jeremy J. Nuttall in Ottawa
The Trump campaign’s symphony of bigotry has vibrated through the Conservative Party leadership race as two of the candidates choose markedly different paths to victory.
While Simcoe-Grey MP Kellie Leitch applauded Trump’s victory and pushes screening new immigrants for “anti-Canadian values,” former immigration minister Chris Alexander is marking his turf as a candidate who would let immigrants in and keep Trump’s style of politics out.
Alexander lost his seat of Ajax-Pickering in last year’s election, but said he remains committed to politics.
Speaking to The Tyee during an hour-long interview in Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport before grabbing a flight to Winnipeg for a campaign stop, Alexander explained not only why Leitch’s plan is flawed, but could ultimately hurt Canada.
“You only get great results from immigration and integration when there is trust,” Alexander said. “We have relatively high levels of trust and that is one of the most precious assets we have.”
Canada is built on a unifying narrative about immigrants’ importance, he said, and the shared reality that it is a nation of people who arrived from other countries — aside from Indigenous peoples.
A divisive campaign framing immigrants as potential threats could damage that trust and the benefits it creates for the economy and society, he said.
Alexander said elements in the Conservative Party embracing Trump-like rhetoric don’t recognize the differing challenges and attitudes in Canadian and American societies.
Leitch is echoing Trump’s approach, Alexander said.
Leitch, a medical doctor and professor, congratulated Trump on his win, calling it an “exciting message” and suggesting Canada needs to oust “elites” from the halls of power. The move sparked rebukes from former students and even her former press secretary.
Leitch has said she doesn’t endorse Trump. But her proposal to screen potential immigrants for “values” and her vitriol against “elites” has resulted in criticism she’s attempting to follow Trump’s path to victory.
Leitch, like Trump, has also lost support from the party establishment. And last week she left a leadership debate at the last minute, saying she needed to deal with “threats” and a possible break-in at her Creemore home.
Alexander said Leitch’s tactic of claiming the immigration system is weak and a threat to Canada is “unfair.”
And her plan, which would include a face-to-face interview for all immigrants, refugees and even visitors, would cost a fortune, he said. Immigrants alone account for up to 300,000 people a year, he said, and having enough staff overseas to interview each one would be hugely expensive.
And the money would be wasted, Alexander said, because people who really are a danger to Canadian society are not going to be honest.
He said the current measures — background checks, a review for possible terrorist connections and merit-based admission — work well and are admired by much of the world.
“We do that better than we’ve ever done it and you can see the result,” Alexander said. “I don’t think you can point to a lot of high-profile crimes, and certainly not terrorist attacks in Canada, recently that go back to immigrants.”
But last year, in the federal election campaign’s homestretch, Leitch and Alexander stood side by side to announce the Conservatives’ plan for a “barbaric cultural practices” hotline.
The plan to create a tipline for people to call if they suspected neighbours of activities like forced marriage brought accusations of racism and opponents attacked the Conservatives mercilessly on the issue.
Leitch, then minister for the status of women, said she regrets taking part in the announcement.
Alexander said Saturday that he wishes the Conservatives had run a different campaign.
And he said that even though he was immigration minister, he only found out about the hotline plan an hour before he announced it at a press conference.
Alexander still insists the intent of the plan was to deal with acts like forced marriages.
Alexander also acknowledged what he now calls a “meltdown” on a CBC news show when he tried to blame the media for the Harper government’s limp response from the government about the refugee crisis.
The government’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis became a major issue in September after photos of the drowned body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi on a Turkish beach sparked a global outcry for Western nations to accept more refugees.
Alexander said he cared deeply about the plight of refugees and had suggested the Conservatives announce plans to increase the number of refugees admitted to Canada within 48 hours of the Kurdi story breaking. Then Conservative leader Stephen Harper had announced an increase in refugee admissions from 10,000 to 20,000 in August. Alexander says his suggestion of a further increase was not accepted.
Instead, the Conservatives committed to speeding up refugee applications and an increase after the election.
Alexander took most of the flak for the government’s refugee decisions. A year later, up against the public’s memory of the election, he said wants to build his campaign based on the trust he says is so important to Canada’s functioning, not just on immigration but on other policies.
Meanwhile, Leitch told a Toronto radio station last week she isn’t concerned racists may be supporting her campaign.
Leitch said she isn’t a racist and is delighted so many people were supporting her candidacy.
“There have been some people that have obviously become upset because of these ideas I’m putting forward, but I’m going to continue to talk about them,” she told AM 640, saying polls show a majority of Canadians agree with her.
Later in the week Leitch condemned the appearance of anti-Chinese posters in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond as racist and against Canadian values.
Alexander said there is no list of Canadian values to use in screening immigrants. (Though Leitch has assembled her idea of Canadian values on her website.)
Values are individual and the most important one is respect for the law, he said.
Leitch will not likely be persuaded to change her views, Alexander said, dismissing the suggestion she was merely taking her positions to generate media coverage.
“She’s a person of integrity and I don’t think she’s going to come out and say things she doesn’t believe in,” he said, noting he considers Leitch a friend.
But he said Leitch is likely being “brought” to believe they are sound policies by her campaign team. The team is centered around Nick Kouvalis, who ran the campaigns for both Rob Ford and John Tory when they were elected mayor of Toronto.
Leitch is a frontrunner in the crowded leadership race, polling as high as 20 per cent support.
Alexander said the best way to respond to her policies is by not engaging and remaining adamant Canada is “in a different place” — though he worries a weak economy could lead to a populist Trump-style movement.
“Let’s have policies and let’s have debate that actually are inclusive and focus on issues that actually matter,” he said, pointing out Leitch’s views on immigration are opposed by most of the 12 Conservative leadership candidates.
“We’re going in other directions and I think that’s the mainstream conservative and mainstream Canadian approach to immigration.”
Republished with permission from The Tyee
by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver
It’s been over one month since images were published showing three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body washed up on Turkish shores and Canadian support for intervention in the Syrian refugee crisis seems to only be gaining momentum.
However, the steep price tag attached to private sponsorship combined with the low number of refugees who have arrived on Canadian shores bring into question whether this impetus can continue.
Merlyna Lim, an assistant professor in Carleton University’s school of journalism and communication and the Canada Research Chair at the school’s Digital Media and Global Network Society, has done extensive research on how social movements and campaigns grow and shrink around the world.
“One obvious advantage is this kind of real-time response,” says Lim of how outbursts of attention online and in the media can affect initiatives and responses.
“At the same time, there is a limitation to what [things like social media] can do,” she continues. “I think we’re spreading awareness. It’s great, but then what’s next?”
The Syrian civil war has been ongoing since 2011 and yet the issue wasn’t in the mainstream consciousness of Canadians until the pictures of Kurdi were published en masse. What followed was, as Lim describes, an “explosion of attention.”
She worries that the nuances of the conflict are often more complex than is presented in the media or in any “hashtag activism” campaigns. This can be problematic when attempting to create long-lasting change.
This time is different
The Canadian response to the Syrian crisis, although catalyzed by the distribution of images of Kurdi throughout social media, seems to have extended beyond a simple Facebook share or a tweet.
“This is the problem generally in these kinds of events. They create a moment: a rigid, temporal moment when everybody cares,” explains Lim, referring to the power of a single image. “But I think what is different this time is you have to deal with real people. It’s not like you donate it and it’s gone.”
She continues, “These are real people with real problems who will become a part of Canadian society.”
Since 2013, Canada has brought approximately 2,300 refugees to its shores and plans to bring 7,500 more by September 2016.
According to an IPSOS Reid poll conducted last month, 47 per cent of Canadians support the idea of fast tracking the unlimited sponsorship of refugees by private Canadian organizations.
As an immigration and refugee lawyer working with Embarkation Law Corporation, Laura Best has seen firsthand the outpouring of support for Syrian refugees by the Canadian public.
“When it comes to the sponsorship of refugees and the refugee crisis, one thing that is different [from other crises] is that there is a very direct way that people can help Syrian refugees abroad,” she comments.
“They can contribute to groups that are currently sponsoring refugees, they can band together and sponsor refugees themselves, and they can also give to charities or NGOs that are working on the ground.”
Private sponsorship organizations are responsible for a majority of the refugees that are eventually brought to Canada.
Despite the fact that it costs upwards of $30,000 to sponsor a family of four or five, Canadians are pledging their support in droves.
Lim explains that there are three main categories of groups intervening in the crisis.
The first includes local politicians and resettlement organizations that have either pledged to lobby the federal government to increase its support or who are working to take on greater numbers of refugees themselves.
Second, she describes faith-based organizations and community-based attempts to create a network of support for newly arrived refugees.
The third group includes personal donors and private sponsors who, either in small groups or with the support of crowd funding initiatives on sites like Indiegogo and Chimp, are opening their doors to refugees.
“In combining [all these] initiatives, you see that actually Canadians are very responsive,” says Lim. “In fact, yes, I think I would call it a social movement.”
Policies need to buttress public opinion
Despite this support, only a handful of Syrian families have arrived in Canada over the last month.
Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), sees real potential in the outpouring of support by Canadian citizens, but insists that more systemic changes need to occur for it to endure.
“One wants to take advantage of the fact that people are paying attention now and are thinking about how to respond, and one of our concerns is that if you leave in place so many of the barriers to do private sponsorship that people become deterred and disillusioned,” she states.
Over the past month, the government has made attempts to reduce the amount of red tape involved in the processing of Syrian refugees. Several provincial governments have also pledged financial support to the cause.
This leads Best to believe that this intervention has staying power beyond that of past social movements.
“Both of these changes have the potential to carry forward into the future,” she says. “They’re not just change on the ground now.”
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander (going for re-election in Ajax, Ontario) and Dr. Kellie Leitch (seeking election as a Conservative MP in Simcoe-Grey) announced new measures that a Conservative government would take to stop child and forced marriage, and other barbaric cultural practices against girls and women, if re-elected. “Every year, millions of […]
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by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver
The Saskatoon International Airport was a scene of exultation and relief on Sept. 17 when a family of seven Syrian refugees arrived to be reunited with their distant Canadian cousin.
Carlo Arslanian, a Syrian Canadian who left Syria when he was six months old, told CBC News that he was overjoyed to be able to provide his family members with refuge during the current crisis.
"I think it's probably the best thing that's ever happened to me and to my family," said Arslanian. "They're going to thrive in Saskatoon and in Canada. I hope it's a well worth trip, and a well worth venture."
The Arslanians are just seven of over four million individuals who have fled Syria to neighbouring countries or western European nations since civil war broke out in the country in 2011. For most, this process can take months or even years to complete, with the time in between spent in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, or Iraq.
A family of refugees who recently arrived in Charlottetown fled Syria over a year ago. They finally completed their journey on Sept. 25, when members of the local Syrian community received Awak Alkhalil and his family at the airport with welcome signs and flags.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you very much. Thank you Canada. Thank you government of Canada," Alkhalil said.
Unlike the Arslanians, the Alkhalils did not have family members to sponsor their journey to Canada. Instead, Susan Nye-Brothers brought them to Charlottetown with the assistance of the Charlottetown Diocese Refugee Committee.
These families are just two of many who expect to reach Canadian shores this fall.
According to Refuge Winnipeg, an interfaith coalition of members from Winnipeg's Islamic, Christian and Jewish communities, the group expects three Syrian families to arrive in their community within the next month. P.E.I. is also expecting two new families to arrive this month.
Expediting the process at home and abroad
In order to assist more families seeking refuge in Canada, the government is doubling the number of employees at the Winnipeg processing centre where all refugee applications are handled.
Beyond expanding their domestic services, the federal government is trying to boost these efforts even further by expediting the immigration of refugees to the country.
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander recently announced the government’s plans to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country by September 2016 – 15 months sooner than its original pledge. The Conservatives have additional plans to resettle 10,000 more refugees over the next four years should they win the federal election this fall.
Canada has resettled approximately 2,300 Syrian refugees since 2013 when it began efforts to assist those fleeing conflict in the region.
In order to speed up the application process for refugees, immigration officers are being instructed to assume that Syrians and Iraqis fleeing the region are indeed refugees, rather than require that they prove they are convention refugees as defined by the United Nations Refugee Agency.
This stipulation has previously led to lengthy application processes, which can stretch on for months, if not years, leaving individuals and families stranded in a perpetual limbo of refugee camps and bureaucratic processes.
Since the announcement, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has issued a call for employees who are ready for “rapid deployment” to the Middle East.
The department is working with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to mobilize staff who have experience with refugee situations and who have knowledge of Arabic. Because of these requirements, the CIC is even asking retired immigration officers to step forward to assist in this time of crisis.
By sending officers to Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey – countries where a majority of refugees have fled to in an attempt to escape conflict and eventually enter Western nations – both CIC and the CBSA hope to increase their presence on the ground and assist refugees before they even step foot on Canadian soil.
The larger conflict
What the Arslanians and the Alkhalils have in common is that their journeys began long before pictures of Alan Kurdi reached the Canadian public on Sept. 2.
The Middle East was rocked by a series of pro-democracy protests in early 2011 following the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi, a street vender living in the coastal town of Ben Arous in Tunisia. Bouazizi’s death spurred protests in Sidi Bouzid that eventually spread to a large number of countries in the region.
In Syria, similar protests erupted after a group of teenagers were arrested and tortured for painting revolutionary slogans on a school wall.
The unrest eventually culminated in nationwide protests with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets to demand the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad.
The months that followed saw the country descend into devastating conflict with rebel forces facing off against government troops.
This is the Syria that Regina resident Hany Al Moliya left behind when he fled with his family in 2012.
A web series released on YouTube this week follows Al Moliya’s family’s struggles living in a small refugee camp in Lebanon. The family lived there for three years before finally arriving in Regina several months ago.
Al Moliya is one of the roughly 600 government-assisted Syrian refugees living in Canada. The others have all been brought to Canada through private sponsorship.
The challenge for Al Moliya – as well as for the Arslanians, the Alkhalils, and the many other families arriving in the country – is to now create a new life in Canada.
With the government’s newfound efforts to expedite the process of bringing Syrian and Iraqi refugees into Canada, Al Moliya will likely be joined by many of his fellow Syrians in the months and years to come.
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Following a highly emotional day in Canada after news broke that Alan Kurdi — the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed up on a Turkish beach — applied to come to Canada earlier this year but was allegedly rejected in June, the government has clarified that no official request for asylum was ever made by his family to be rejected.
A statement from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration has officially denied the claim that an application was submitted for the Kurdi family, but confirmed that one was made for Alan’s uncle, Mohammad Kurdi, who was denied status because his claim “did not meet regulatory requirements.”
Fatima Kurdi, the sister of Mohammad and Abdullah Kurdi — Alan’s father — confirmed and clarified the misunderstanding Thursday in a news conference in Port Coquitlam, B.C., saying she had applied to sponsor Mohammad but did send a letter to Immigration Minister Chris Alexander through MP Fin Donnelly regarding Abdullah’s case and asking for the whole extended family to be given refugee status.
Alan’s five-year-old brother Galip, their mother Rehan and eight other refugees died when their boat overturned off the coast of Turkey. The boys’ father, Abdullah, survived.
Emotions high on campaign trail
The drama became an emotionally charged issue on the Canadian campaign trail today, with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper defending his government’s record on Syrian refugees and reiterating his vow to fight ISIS.
Opposition leaders were scathing in their criticism of the government.
“As a dad and a grandfather it is just unbearable that Canada is doing nothing,” said NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, likening the photo of Alan to the well-known image of a little girl burned by napalm during the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam War.
“Canada has an obligation to act. It would be too easy this morning to start assigning blame,” said Mulcair. “Chris Alexander has a lot to answer for but that’s not where we are right now. We’re worried about how we got here, how the collective international response has been so defective, how Canada has failed so completely. The UN has asked us to immediately take in 10,000 … let’s do that, and then we can start from there.”
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau accused the government of “dragging its heels” on the crisis. “You don’t get to suddenly discover compassion in the middle of an election campaign,” he said. “You either have it or you don’t.”
He said that, if elected, the Liberals would bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada. “Officials have to establish a quick process to bring these people in … What is lacking now is a political will.”
Harper delayed his campaign speech in Surrey, British Columbia, by almost an hour and cancelled a transit funding announcement. When he did speak, he addressed the refugee crisis and the death of of the Kurdi children and mother. He said that since the Conservatives took power, more than 2.5 million immigrants have been accepted into Canada and made the claim that Canada has the most generous refugee program in the world.
“It is simply not acceptable to pretend that you can deal with this terrible crisis by addressing one aspect of the problem. That is just not okay,” said Harper, addressing promises made by the Opposition.
He cited the military campaign against ISIS and “one of the highest humanitarian aid efforts” as other aspects of his government’s response to the crisis.
“I don’t know for the life of me how you can come to the conclusion that we must help these people but walk away from the military mission against the so-called Islamic State,” he said. “I think that’s completely irresponsible.”
Canada most generous to refugees: Chris Alexander
Former immigration minister Jason Kenney cancelled a scheduled appearance in Brampton, Ont., where he was expected to announce new measures to tighten immigration security.
Alexander suspended his re-election campaign to return to Ottawa and focus on his ministerial duties regarding the refugee crisis in Europe.
“I am meeting with officials to ascertain both the facts of the case of the Kurdi family and to receive an update on the migrant crisis,” Alexander said in a statement; he has since arrived in Ottawa to attend meetings.
“The tragic photo of young Alan Kurdi and the news of the death of his brother and mother broke hearts around the world. Like all Canadians, I was deeply saddened by that image and of the many other images of the plight of the Syrian and Iraqi migrants fleeing persecution at the hands of ISIS.”
Wednesday evening, hours before the news broke, Alexander appeared on CBC’s Power and Politics, where he verbally sparred with host Rosemary Barton over the mainstream media’s coverage of the crisis to date while defending the Harper government’s refugee record.
“I think Canada remains a model of humanitarian action,” Alexander said, adding that Canada has received “approximately 2,500” Syrian refugees and “over 20,000 Iraqi refugees”.
“We are the most generous country to refugees in the world. We take one in 10 resettled refugees annually,” he said.
Reuters had reported that Kurdi’s father was approached by the Canadian government and offered Canadian citizenship but declined. Citizenship and Immigration has denied citizenship was offered.
Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
by Ranjit Bhaskar (@ranjit17) in Mississauga, Ontario
Canada will persist with its new Immigrant Investor Venture Capital plan despite the less-than-enthusiastic response to it so far.
“Pilot programs like this always take time to be known in a competitive global environment,” Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said Tuesday in Mississauga, Ont. at a meeting with a select group of media.
Canada has so far received just six applications for the pilot program as of June 8, according to data obtained by Richard Kurland, a Vancouver immigration lawyer through an Access to Information request.
Popularly referred to as the “millionaire visa,” at its launch in January it was expected that at least 50 foreigners would join the plan, under which applicants must be far richer than what was stipulated previously for a similar program.
Would-be immigrants under this class must now invest a minimum of C$2 million in Canada for a 15-year period and must have a net worth of at least C$10 million. Among other new criteria, they must also be able to speak English or French.
Launched in the mid-1980s, the old plan fast-tracked visas for foreigners with a net worth of C$800,000 and C$400,000 to invest. The amounts were later upped to a net worth of C$1.6 million and C$800,000 to invest.
The old plan was very popular, particularly with Chinese investors. As demand surged, the program was frozen in 2012 to clear backlog. It was scrapped last year amid criticism over allowing the global rich to buy their way into Canada.
Minister Alexander ruled out easing the entry norms under the pilot to make it popular like the previous one. “Keeping program standards high will ensure that Canadians continue to benefit from our immigration programs,” he said.
The minister said the pilot was only one among a number of pathways to attract investment into Canada. He pointed out the Start-Up Visa Program that hopes to attract immigrant entrepreneurs who have the potential to build innovative companies that can compete on a global scale and create jobs.
He said the program was the first of its kind in the world and proof that Canada’s immigration programs will remain the most agile and responsive. “We are prepared to adjust.”
Responding to new high in immigration levels
On the controversial aspects of Bill C-24, which came into force last month, Alexander said his government has only built on existing rules. “The new rules are meant to weed out citizens of convenience who view the Canadian passport only as an insurance policy.”
He said Canada has increased its response to refugee resettlement in view of the crisis in Iraq and Syria along with renewing its commitment to reuniting families.
The minister said in the past three years close to 75,000 people have come in on family reunification visas and 50,000 have been issued super visas.
On the issue of reducing the age of dependents to 18, Alexander said it was done to make it consistent with laws of the land, which consider those above that age as independent adults.
“When these young adults apply for residency on their own, their pathway would be faster as the points system gives them a huge advantage,” he explained.
There has also been an increase in the numbers of visitors from countries like Brazil, China and India on account of new 10-year multiple entry visas, he added.
“These visitors are economically significant for the Canadian economy along with international students, whose intake has doubled over the past few years. Last year the number crossed 64,000, up from 29,000.”
The minister said international students are potential immigrants through a new channel.
With 262,000 people entering in 2014 alone, he said the current level of immigration is a new high in Canadian history.
by Anita Singh (@tjsgroupca) in Toronto, Ontario
It is no secret. Whenever an election is nearing, the number of appearances by incumbents, prospective candidates, ministers and party leaders at roundtables, speeches, photo-ops or other events organized by ethnic and immigrant community groups increases.
And, particularly in an election year, these politicians hope that their presence will gain the one vote that will determine their success in the upcoming elections.
The recent numbers are impressive – the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce has hosted four federal ministers in as many months, and the Chinese Professionals Association of Canada has hosted six high-profile individuals, premiers, ambassadors and ministers since the beginning of 2015.
While Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander could not beat preceding minister Jason Kenney’s record attendance of community engagement events (at times as many as six appearances in a night), he has also dedicated a significant amount of time for community engagement, meeting members of the Polish and Chinese communities in the last month.
Yet, the ‘shaking-hands-and-baby-kissing’ explanation of how immigrant communities vote oversimplifies a complex relationship between immigrant communities, representative interest groups and political leaders.
Immigrant groups have an important effect on elections, policies and party platforms by helping politicians position themselves to appeal to respective communities.
An interest group’s most effective role is its ability to identify issues that are electorally important for the immigrant community. It provides candidates and parties with a pulse on the issues that exist within a community. It serves as a forum where active members of immigrant communities discuss, dissect and organize around these issues.
Members of ethnic interest groups in Canada have been vocal on issues of visas, the temporary foreign worker program, small- and medium-sized business development and reduction of trade barriers to developing economies.
The Chinese-Canadian National Council, for example, has been a long-time advocate of the ‘super visa’ for parents and grandparents, a 10-year visa that allows holders to stay in Canada for up to two years a visit. It has also been vocal against the government’s caps on applications (only 5,000 applications were accepted in 2014).
Similarly, Indo-Canadian groups have played a significant role in identifying the major trade barriers between Canada and India in the completion of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.
Political science research has shown that people actively involved in their communities – including interest groups – are more likely to be involved in aspects like fundraising and volunteering for political parties. And the numbers show that members of the Conservative Party have reaped the benefits of this.
A 2013 CBC article found that nearly 60 per cent of the $143,000 raised by Kenney’s Calgary riding association came from the Chinese-Canadian community in Ontario and a significant (but smaller) amount from the South Asian community also outside of Alberta, indicating their support for his approach to community engagement.
In addition, organized and formal interest groups provide a forum for politicians looking to connect with immigrant and ethnic communities, while helping to moderate messaging of the more radical groups in line with government interests and policy. Politicians are then able to prioritize issues that they can more easily act upon, instead of focusing on ‘splinter’ issues within particular groups that have unfavourable, anti-state and sometimes violent ideologies.
For example, in recent years, members of Parliament (MPs) have distanced themselves from events such as Vaisakhi parades where participants have advocated for violent separation from India, or rallies in the Tamil community, which promote and fundraise for the Tamil Tigers.
Are Politicians Listening?
Correlation between these community engagement activities and influence on policy is hard to prove. But there are signs that political candidates are listening to interest groups.
For a period of three years between 2008 and 2011, the ruling Conservative party issued formal apologies for injustices committed against numerous ethnic communities in Canada, including the Komagata Maru incident, the poor handling of the Air India attack and the Chinese head tax.
Significant changes to immigration policies have seen the landing fees for new residents nearly halved. They have created opportunities for skilled labour to gain access to work, benefiting those most likely to be politically engaged and involved in ethnic organizations.
But these policy platforms are not limited to the ruling party.
Justin Trudeau has recently taken aim at what he calls the racist anti-Muslim policies of the Conservative government, including the proposed ban on headscarves at citizenship ceremonies and Canadian Terrorism Act (Bill C-51), both issues taken up by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, while Tom Mulcair has promised improvements to the immigration system to speed up visas for family reunification.
The question now remains: which one of these approaches will reap the most electoral benefits in the future?
Anita Singh is a founding partner of Tahlan, Jorden & Singh Consulting Group and a Research Fellow at the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University. Her research examines the role of diaspora groups and their influence on foreign policy, particularly the Indo-Canadian community and Canada-India relations.
SO what’s the truth? Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander this week sent a press release titled “Super Visa hits super milestone – Program helps families reunite faster.” Not so fast, countered NDP MP Jinny Sims. Her press release was titled “Parent and grandparent sponsorship hits 10-year delay for applicants from India.” Sims’ statement said: […]
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by Susan Korah (@waterlilypool) in Ottawa
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” wrote Charles Dickens in the famous opening lines of his novel, A Tale of Two Cities.
A similar scenario was set up when two parliamentarians claimed that Canada is a leader in combating family violence in diverse communities, while two keynote speakers from the front lines of social work and advocacy argued that recent changes in immigration policy actually exacerbated the problem.
This exchange of views took place at the conference titled “Impact of family violence: Continuing the conversation with South Asian and diverse communities,” organized by the Social Services Network (SSN). A Toronto-based not-for profit charitable organization, SSN was established in response to the United Way of York Region’s finding that the South Asian community there was underserved by mainstream service providers.
This conference was the fifth in a series of annual discussion forums hosted by SSN to connect the South Asian and other collectivist communities with all the key sectors involved in violence prevention and response.
The focus of the conference was finding solutions and strategies and supporting communities, whose voices are silenced through fear and shame, said Dr. Naila Butt, Executive Director of SSN.
The Government’s Role in Combatting Family Violence
Special guest speaker, Minster of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander, who tabled Bill S-7 or the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act in Parliament to tackle forced marriages, underage marriages and polygamy, said: “These are issues around which there is a growing groundswell, especially among newcomers. They have chosen this country, and we have a responsibility to combat such things as forced marriage and domestic violence.”
Alexander listed a number of government accomplishments that he said would, “make sure immigration is not a pathway to violence,” and put Canada in “a role of leadership.”
Alexander said that one of these was former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s initiative against forced marriage.
“On the immigration front we have been extremely active in the last nine years,” Alexander continued, citing such measures as conditional permanent residency and tools to detect and prevent marriages of convenience, forced marriage and human smuggling.
He also said that the government had put an end to proxy marriages and marriages by fax, which, perhaps surprisingly, used to be accepted as valid in Canada.
“But all this is still not enough,” he said, adding that Bill S-7 (which also amends the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to exclude polygamists) has passed in the Senate and is soon to be passed in the House of Commons.
Senator Salma Ataullahjan, of Pakistani origin herself, said at the conference: “Family violence is not unique to South Asians; it is universal, and happens in developed, as well as developing, nations.”
Describing her work on this issue at the international level, as a member of the Inter Parliamentary Union, she echoed Alexander’s statement that Canada has been a world leader in the effort to eliminate family violence and violence against women and girls. She added that parliaments have a key role to play in this.
Problems with Recent Immigration Policy
Keynote speaker Dr. Hannana Siddiqui of the Southall Black Sisters – a not-for-profit organization set up in 1979 to meet the needs of Black (Asian and African-Caribbean) and minority ethnic women in the U.K. – was critical of the name of the Bill. She had been called upon to give evidence by video-link to the Canadian Senate as it deliberated on Bill S-7.
“I have concerns about the name of that Bill,” she said. “We don’t have to call these practices ‘barbaric’ or ‘cultural’ because then one can blame ‘culture’ for these unacceptable actions.”
She suggested that the Bill be renamed. “Don’t use inflammatory language,” she advised. “For example, child abuse is barbaric, but it is not regarded as specific to one culture. Culturalizing forced marriage and similar practices will only lead to more discrimination against minorities.”
She also cautioned against culturalizing honour-based killing, the form that domestic violence takes in communities with extremely conservative values around honour and shame. “It’s about gender inequality and patriarchy, so don’t culturalize it,” she said.
Tracing the history of her organization and of the Black feminist movement in the U.K., she said the first step, as in Canada, was to get rid of the reluctance to 'wash our dirty linen in public,' and to acknowledge and name the problem of family violence.
She said that in the 1970s, the State adopted a laissez-faire approach and tolerated anything as long as it fell under the umbrella of “culture.”
“This was liberal multiculturalism,” she said. “Respect everyone’s culture, don’t criticize and don’t interfere.”
This did not help her cause at all she explained, because: “Multiculturalism is no excuse for moral blindness.”
With the criminalization of forced marriage in the U.K. last year, the pendulum has swung away from liberal multiculturalism, she said. However, the problem with laws like this, and Canada’s Bill S-7, is making them effective, she added.
“It might be just driving the issue of forced marriage underground, because the victims, mostly young women, would be fearful of putting their parents in jail.”
She said financial constraints are a further obstacle to enforcing such laws. With the climate of austerity, and the consequent cutbacks in government funding, it would be difficult for victims to meet legal and other expenses, she pointed out.
Identifying herself as the child of South Asian parents, Dr. Rupaleem Bhuyan, assistant professor at the faculty of social work, University of Toronto and the event’s second keynote speaker, was critical of recent (2008 to 2014) immigration policy changes, which she said actually make life more difficult for women victims of family violence.
Bhuyan has experience working as the principal investigator for the Migrant Mothers Project, a participatory action research project that works with a network of anti-violence against women organizations, legal advocates and immigrant women in Toronto.
Based on her research, Bhuyan said that the marked growth of temporary migration during this period, for example, through the Temporary Foreign Workers program, leaves many women in legal limbo, because as spouses of temporary workers, they have no rights whatsoever.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit