New Canadian Media
Wednesday, 04 January 2017 10:51

From Helwi Hamdoun to Nabil Warda

Commentary by Khaled Salama in Mississauga, Ontario

Last summer, I had an interesting debate with a young, well-travelled Qatari friend in Doha. Not unlike millions of others around the world, he was curious to know what I thought of Donald Trump’s chances winning the Nov. elections.

“He is going to win;Donald Trump will be the incoming President,” I said emphatically, many months before the elections.

My friend was shocked. When he pressed me to back up my prediction, I explained: it’s not because Trump is the best candidate and nor is Hillary Clinton the worst nightmare, but the American people want Trump and they will make sure that Trump will be the next U.S. President.

Clearly intrigued, my Qatari friend moved closer, in an effort to speak more privately.

My reasoning went something like this: the profile of immigrants to both Canada and the U.S. has changed over the years and it’s not hard to understand the anxiety in both countries.

For me, two names personify what I see as a sea change in the attitude of immigrants to Canada over the last 80 years: Helwi Hamdoun of Edmonton and Nabil Warda of Montreal.

Canada in the 1930’s

I painted for my skeptical friend the story of Canada’s first mosque that was built nearly 80 years ago in the Alberta city of Edmonton, at a time when the number of Muslims in Canada was less than 700 . With such a small number of Muslims, most of whom had migrated from Lebanon and Syria, the community didn’t have a lot money.

They worked on farms, and some of them learned to trade in fur, the main commodity in Canada at the time.

As Edmonton’s Muslim community began to grow and prosper, they felt that their religious life was being hampered. After several meetings, they concluded that a mosque is urgently needed to accommodate the small number of Muslim families who wanted not only to guard their traditions, but also have a place to socialize, party, and give back to the community as well.

The real heroes were actually heroines, the wives of those hard-working Muslim men. These women, who had challenges with the English language, knocked on the doors of businesses in their community. They were led by Helwi Hamdoun, who managed to fund-raise exactly $5,750, despite the dire economic circumstances caused by the Great Depression.

They managed to raise money for their project and get donations from non-Muslim business owners, lawyers, politicians and members of the community who donated generously. Thanks in part to support and land from the then Edmonton mayor John W. Fry, the community broke ground for the mosque in May 1938. 

To me, as an Arab immigrant to Canada, the story of the first mosque is essential to the fabric of Canada. Without Christians, Jews and other non-Muslim Canadians, the mosque wouldn’t have existed. I’ve read that I.F. Shaker, a Christian Arab, was the master of ceremonies at the opening.

The building itself was inclusive. In addition to the prayer hall, it had a social and recreational venue in the basement, with a donated piano to also entertain guests from different faiths. The mosque also housed ovens to make baked goods that could be donated and served free-of-charge to neighbours and friends.

Canada of today

I compare that with what I see today.The issue is not in Islam as a religion, but rather with some of today’s Muslims who choose freely and willingly to migrate to Canada, but have a different approach, with goals that are irreconcilable with Canada’s diversity and multiculturalism.

Here’s what I have witnessed first-hand:

·         Some Muslims believe that – only because they’re Muslims – they are better than everybody else

·         Some of them teach their kids not to greet people from other faiths on their religious occasions or holidays

·         Some feel offended when they see Christmas decorations in public places

·         Some of them will not send their kids to public schools and will provide them with home schooling or other forms of secluded education

This leaves us with a new reality, a new ideology within our society, which brings me to my second character study: Nabil Warda, the Montreal real estate developer who wants to build a community exclusively for Muslims.

Most disturbing to me was a statement he made in an interview he gave to the Montreal Gazette in which he was quoted as saying, “We would share services between us and live with people who believe that life on Earth is not only to eat and sleep but that there is something else, and to try to live as close as possible to the monotheist ideals which started with Abraham.” 

Really?

Diversity, peace and equality

Why don’t these people just follow the Koran, which has lots of verses that suggest co-existence (“diversity”), kindness (“peace”) and the principle that all individuals are equal before God (“equality”).

To me, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms can literally be found in the Koran, which was written thousands of years ago, and yet many of today’s so-called followers deny others the right to live peacefully.

Let me just cite one verse from the Koran that has been interpreted as follows:

"O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)”

I sincerely wonder why Warda decided to immigrate to Canada in the first place.

This sort of narrow-mindedness bothers me. I don’t find it surprising that lots of people in Canada now feel that it’s important to screen newcomers who want to live in our countries. Are these anxious people to blame?

Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch is proposing a values test for all new immigrants. I suggest that we should seriously consider the factors that have led her to make such a proposal.

Unfortunately, we'd rather debate the fallout from her proposal, rather than examining the root causes that may be behind it.

Khaled Salama is an Egyptian-born journalist, columnist, radio host and reporter for Arab media. 

Published in Commentary

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

Published in Top Stories
Thursday, 10 November 2016 10:19

Obhrai Challenges Leitch at Conservative Debate

by BJ Siekierski in Saskatoon

Conservative MP Kellie Leitch proclaimed her “common interests” with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in the party’s first leadership debate Wednesday night, as several of her opponents pushed back against her immigration policy.

“I have common interests with Mr. Trump, screening being one of them,” Leitch said several times, picking up where she left off in a fundraising email Tuesday night that told supporters Trump’s anti-elite message was one she was hoping to bring forward with her own campaign.

A Mainstreet Research telephone poll conducted on November 5 and 6 showed Leitch to be the preferred candidate in the race, with 19 per cent support among Conservative supporters — ahead of Andrew Scheer with 14 and Michael Chong with 12.

Leitch aggressively pushed her wedge issue — screening immigrants for their grasp of “Canadian values” — to draw a sharp contrast with her rivals.

“I will protect our Canadian values,” she told the audience, estimated to be around 500. “I am the only candidate who will require face-to-face interviews of new immigrants and screen for Canadian values.”

As he did earlier Wednesday, Chong pushed back.

“Stephen Harper’s government let in three million immigrants and refugees during the 10 years they were in power. Every single one of those immigrants and refugees was screened for security purposes, terrorism, war crimes, crime against humanity, and for health and economic reasons,” Chong said.

“He would not have let in one of those persons if they had not been properly screened.”

Chong also spoke passionately of his mixed-race children, calling them the “new face of Canada.”

It was Deepak Ohbrai, however — a Tanzania-born Indian-Canadian immigrant and an MP since 1997 — who took Leitch on most directly about her fondness for Trump’s approach to politics.

After saying he didn’t “give two hoots” about a woman wearing a niqab — a controversial subject in the last federal election — he momentarily started trending on Twitter.

“Donald Trump’s divisive policy on immigration and social policies have no room in the Canada that I believe in. Unfortunately one of my colleagues admires Donald Trump, but let me tell you as parliamentary secretary for international human rights, I will not stand for any erosion of any human rights of anybody whether in U.S. or in Canada,” he said.

All twelve official candidates took the stage in Saskatoon in an attempt to appeal to Conservative members. The long list of candidates include former Tory MPs Chris Alexander and Andrew Saxton, physician Daniel Lindsay, and current Conservative MPs Maxime Bernier, Leitch, Deepak Obhrai, Erin O’Toole, Lisa Raitt, Andrew Scheer, Brad Trost and Steven Blaney.

Chong touted his economic policy, repeatedly noting that it has been endorsed by four economists. The plan includes income tax cuts and a revenue-neutral carbon tax, which the other candidates all opposed.

Blaney suggested that Chong’s economic ideas are “Liberal.”

“No wonder that the Pembina Institute endorsed your scheme, Michael,” he said. “They endorsed in 2008, in a very kind of same move — the green shift Liberal. That was what it is. They pretended it was revenue-neutral. Well, a tax is a tax is a tax.”

Blaney also attacked Bernier for opposing supply management.

“I like free trade but I love my Canadian milk,” he said. “How can a libertarian oppose a great system that costs zero dollars to taxpayers, (and) offers Canadians quality foods and products at an affordable price.

“Maxime, your plan … it is a disaster blinded by ideology. Why do you finance your campaign on the back of hard working families from our riding who feed our country? Intellectual short cuts.”

Andrew Scheer, who has more caucus support than any of the other candidates, occupied the middle ground, appearing at ease attacking Trudeau’s policies.

He got the best laugh of the night by making fun of himself.

“I will not be taking my shirt off as often as Justin Trudeau does. He may have a yoga body. I have a dad body.”

Raitt, who entered the race just last week, took a folksy approach, referring often to her Cape Breton roots and her experience in Harper’s cabinet.

Erin O’Toole, who served as a Sea King pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force, referred to his military experience and told Conservatives that he has a style that allows him to connect with people across the country.

Chris Alexander highlighted the economy in his comments, suggesting that the party struggled in the last election because it lacked “a strong agenda for the new economy.”

Trost said he was the only candidate who encompasses all aspects of the Conservative movement, but failed to mention social Conservative issues, choosing instead to say he doesn’t believe that climate change is caused by humans.

“When I become prime minister, the war on gas and oil and coal is over,” he said.

- With files from Janice Dickson, Stephen Maher, and Kelsey Johnson. Published under arrangement with ipolitics.ca

Published in Politics
Thursday, 22 September 2016 16:19

Conflating Cultural Values with Secular Ideals

Commentary by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver

Though I have family’s roots in B.C. going back a century, I stumble when cataloging the “unique” values underlying Canadian culture.

The default list reads like a dating ad: Canadians are compassionate, polite, enjoy nature. These, however, are hardly unique to Canada and when stirred together in our post-national pot, the parts fail to congeal into a distinct culture, complete with unwritten rules on family and community interactions.

The sad reality is that Canadians are increasingly a world unto themselves. According to the 2011 census, for the first time ever there were more households of people living alone than there were of couples with children.

If there is a social fabric in this country, it is a giant sheet of bubble-wrap stretching from sea to sea, as both young and old increasingly live, consume and exist in their own disconnected worlds.

Kellie Leitch, a Conservative MP from Ontario, however, disagrees with these cold statistics and trends of social fragmentation. For the former labour minister and minister for the status of women, there is one Canada with one set of distinct values.

The aspiring candidate jockeying for Stephen Harper’s vacated office as Conservative leaderwants to test all immigrants for “anti-Canadian views that include intolerance toward other religions, cultures and sexual orientations, violent and/or misogynist behaviour and/or a lack of acceptance of our Canadian tradition of personal and economic freedoms.”

The statement reads so smoothly it is difficult to discern any sinister edges, such as whether one can wear a burkini at a beach or paddle a canoe in a turban. The ambiguity, however, is reaping rewards for Ms. Leitch.

The dark-horse MP has surged ahead of the Conservative Party leadership pack and into the eye of the news-cycle. The media attention has already started pulling the leadership contest to the right – Tony Clement is now also calling for “enhanced screening” as part of his national security platform.

Ms. Leitch’s policy position, however, is flawed on many counts, starting with redundancy. New immigrants are already subject to numerous checks through an arduous process that can take years. In addition to this, the immigration process intensely screens for any links to criminal or terror groups.

Once an application has been approved, immigrants swear a citizenship oath to uphold Canadian laws – again duplicating Ms. Leitch’s statement.

A robust values-screening test would require exhaustive probes, interviews, possibly polygraph tests and yet, these measures may still fall short in detecting thought crime. Of course, a practical shortcut would be to racially profile applicants but that would be distinctly un-Canadian by Ms. Leitch’s standards.

Based on an orthodox interpretation of Ms. Leitch’s statement, few of Canada’s 300,000 annual immigrants who currently are admitted as entrepreneurs, investors, tech workers, caregivers, grandparents and so forth would make it into the country. Any followers of a faith that does not endorse same-sex marriages, for example, could be labelled as an “intolerant,” including not only Muslims, but also Jews and Christians.

Suddenly the Mexican farm worker or the Filipina nanny are potential pariahs because of their Catholic faith. The Indian or Pakistani IT engineer may not be welcome given the practice of female infanticide in those countries.

This absurdity cuts to the heart of the flaw with Ms. Leitch’s proposal. Placed under a microscope, every culture across the globe will reveal underlying streaks of intolerance.

Ms. Leitch has conflated cultural values with Canada’s secular ideals. Her formula for Canadian values is a mission statement for the modern secular state – it is not a living, breathing, organic culture.

But the Conservative MP’s intent was never a sincere effort to strengthen our sense of national unity as much as it was to divide it. Her statement was an act of feigning concern for national security to wink at Mr. Harper’s power base of “old stock” Canadians. This is Part II of the Conservative Party’s “barbaric cultural practices” tip line.

Across the West, candidates with far greater ambition than scruples are skillfully wielding tools invoking fear to carve out voting blocks. Ms. Lietch is not the first Canadian politician to cloak discriminatory aims under the guise of a benevolent policy.

But when Ms. Leitch’s subterfuge is rejected for a serious candidate, she may be the first to learn the one true Canadian value is that we can all be one and yet be different – without having to be different in the same way.

Jagdeesh Mann is executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post. This comment has been republished under arrangement with the Post. 

Published in Policy

Commentary by Susan Delacourt in Montreal

The conversation that Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch has been trying to open — about immigrants, integration and “anti-Canadian values” — was well underway in Montreal on Thursday at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

While potential Leitch supporters weren’t thick on the ground at the Canada 2020 Global Progress gathering, the discussions at this event showed that integration of immigrants is a big issue on the progressive left in Canada — and the world — as well as on the political right.

They’re not the same conversations, though, so someone is eventually going to have to bring them together.

Immigration and integration was a running theme when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and London Mayor Sadiq Khan sat down for a chat on stage in the Ritz ballroom on Thursday morning.

Of course it would be — Khan is the first Muslim mayor of London, who has already tussled publicly with Donald Trump over the presidential candidate’s anti-Muslim rhetoric. Khan, who only came to the job this spring, is on his way to the United States this week, so we can expect the lively back-and-forth to continue.

Khan warned that whenever critics say that Muslim values are inconsistent with Western values, they’re singing from the same songbook as the so-called Islamic State, which also believes that walls between cultures are better than bridges.

“There are people in Daesh and so-called ISIS who say it’s incompatible to be a Muslim and hold Western liberal values,” he said. “Daesh and so-called ISIS hate someone like me,” Khan said, because he proves that Muslim and Western values can co-exist in one person, as well as within the larger community.

On stage at the Ritz-Carlton, Khan lavished praise on Canada in general and Trudeau in particular, calling this country an international “beacon” for the way Trudeau had welcomed refugees and newcomers to this country. He called last year’s election an “inspiration.”

Trudeau, for his part, was saying all the right (or should we say left?) things about the importance of making newcomers feel welcome in Canada.

But it wasn’t a total love-in. Prodded by moderator Jennifer Ditchburn to reconcile gender diversity with the male-and-female segregation at a mosque he attended earlier this week, Trudeau said there was still “work to do” on integrating diverse values.

When Ditchburn asked Khan and Trudeau how their embrace of diversity and integration could go beyond words, the Prime Minister responded with — well, some more words, about the need to “demonstrate” to people why newcomers to Canada are an asset, not something to be feared.

The better answer to the beyond-words question was found upstairs in a smaller meeting room after the Khan-Trudeau session.

There, around a large meeting table in a breakout session at the Global Progress meeting, an incredibly eloquent Labour MP from Britain, Chuka Umunna, tackled head-on the need to have the conversation about immigration with more than lofty or sentimental words. It’s simply not good enough, he said, to write off fears about immigration as mere racism — even if that’s what it is.

Umunna is the son of an English-Irish mother and a Nigerian-born father, who has been occasionally described (over his protests) as Britain’s Barack Obama. So he’s had a lifelong immersion in where cultural integration is working in the United Kingdom, and where it’s not. Forget about all those idyllic images of cultural diversity that London put on display during the 2012 Olympic ceremonies, Umunna said — “we are not integrated.”

Umunna’s own constituency of Streatham was part of the borough with the highest votes in favour of remaining in the European Union during the Brexit referendum last June.

But he’s been keeping a close eye on what is feeding the anti-immigrant sentiment that gave so much fuel to the forces campaigning successfully to get Britain to leave the EU. The only way to examine the sentiment, he says, is right there on the ground.

He went to take a look for himself at the areas where people voted in high numbers for Brexit and found huge increases in immigration during recent years, resulting in major dislocation in the local labour markets and a lack of social services to handle the needs of newcomers. As a result, the long-time residents and newcomers live in isolated pockets, rarely interacting with each other.

It’s not enough to simply tell people to integrate, or even to teach about it. “We cannot wait for our schools to do the job of integration for us,” Umunna said.

Talking about integration isn’t the same as living with integration, in other words, and that’s an intensely local job, that has to reach right down to the streets, homes and businesses where people conduct their day-to-day lives.

What Umunna was saying, in effect, was that this roiling debate over immigration and integration is not going to be resolved through abstractions or distance on either side. As Khan was saying as well, the extremist view is one in which cultures can’t co-exist or be reconciled.

The people who ticked off the box in favour of screening for Canadian values on Leitch’s survey — the survey that tipped some of this debate into the open in Canada — may well be living in worlds similar to the ones Umunna described: communities where immigrants and non-immigrants live in isolated pockets.

Similarly, the people preaching about tolerance and acceptance of newcomers may not be having many conversations with the kind of people who are expressing fears and apprehension about open borders in Canada.

If immigration and integration can’t work with this kind of polarized isolation, neither can the debate. The conservative right is talking about these issues. So is the progressive left, as the Global Progress summit vividly illustrated. It may be time to put these two solitudes in one room to talk it out.

By arrangement with ipolitics.ca

Published in Policy

Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

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