New Canadian Media

by Jooneed Jeeroburkhan in Montreal

The cold-blooded shooting of six Muslims following evening prayers on Jan 29 at a Québec City mosque has, predictably, amplified the acrimonious debate over racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in Quebec – as the suspect, who also injured a dozen others, is a 27-year-old white Québécois university student.

Calls for an Inquiry Commission on “Systemic Racism in Québec” quickly redoubled and political leaders, responding only piecemeal, did not hesitate to label the mass killing an “act of terrorism” – although “terrorism” is not among the six counts of murder the Québec City police have charged Alexandre Bissonnette with.

Never to miss an opportunity, militant secularists, including Muslim ones, chimed in, accusing political leaders, from Quebec’s Philippe Couillard to Canada’s Justin Trudeau, of “Islamizing Canadian Democracy” – while progressive secularists, Québécois mainly, complained some people were heaping collective guilt on all Québécois for the crime of one individual – a role reversal since all Muslims are usually held responsible for each and every terrorist act committed by Takfiris/Salafis, ISIL/Daesh, Al Qaeda…

Skewed against immigrants

And, as usual, familiar noises came from the English North American media about Quebec being “more racist” than the rest of Canada – and the Quebec National Assembly unanimously condemned a Washington Post article, penned by Vancouver-based J.J. McCullough, saying exactly that, adding Quebec’s “history of anti-Semitism” and “religious bigotry” leads to “more massacres” like this one.

The motion was moved by the opposition Parti Québécois, the party whose ethno-centrist “Charter of Values” bill died on the order paper as the PQ was resoundingly defeated by the Liberals (41% to 25%) in the 2014 elections. The Bloc Québécois proposed a similar motion in Ottawa denouncing the newspaper article as “hateful”, but the House of Commons refused to debate it. 

As everywhere else throughout the hegemonic, and increasingly isolationist, West, the playing field, and the rules, remain heavily skewed against immigrants, refugees and all minority communities, yet the ruling communities paint themselves more and more as victims. And this trend has become noticeable in Quebec too in the wake of the Jan 29 shooting.

Re-igniting "reasonable accommodation"

To be fair, a huge mass of Québécois remain committed to an open and plural society, welcoming of diversity and militant in solidarity, as tens of thousands made it clear by attending a public meeting next to a mosque, and in snow and deep sub-zero temperature on Jan 31, in the heavily immigrant neighbourhood of Park Extension in Montreal, home of our very own Little South Asia.

Heart-warming as this demonstration was, it is highly unlikely that the discourse resulting from the Québec City shooting will help in putting to rest the old debate over “reasonable accommodation” in Quebec. If anything, it has re-ignited it. And police and media secrecy and selective leaks have only fed suspicion and distrust.

In the early hours following the massacre, media reports quoting informed sources, even witnesses, suggested there were two masked gunmen, and they shouted the Muslim cry of “Allah o Akbar”. The first-named suspect was a Muslim from Morocco, and stories suggested it may have been a settling of accounts between two neighbouring mosques of rival denominations.

The police then announced the Muslim man was “only a witness” and that the prime suspect was Alexandre Bissonnette – who apparently called police himself and gave himself up on the bridge linking Québec City to Orléans Island. The media then posted the photo of a suited and clean-cut boyish looking Bissonnette – who we were told was known in local social media circles as a pro-Fascist, anti-Feminist, anti-Immigrant, Islamophobic admirer of US President Donald Trump. But the police remains silent – and the media has stopped digging.

Appearing Feb 6 before the Senate committee on national security, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson refused to give details of the inquiry into the Québec City shooting. He instead voiced concern that the “caustic tone” of “political discourse” in Canada may contribute to “radicalize criminal extremists”. For its part, CSIS has warned of the recent development “of a Canadian online anti-Islam movement, similar to ones in Europe.”

As in the US and Europe, Quebec and Canada are in the throes of a major global re-balancing of power, marked by a decline of century-old global Western hegemony. The rise of xenophobia, particularly Islamophobia, and of right-wing populism and fascism, is a by-product of this momentous crisis – and the Québec City shooting, like the election of Donald Trump to the White House and the rise of Marine Le Pen in France, are its symptoms.

The trials and traumas are bound to get worse before they get better.


Jooneed Jeeroburkhan, 70, is a journalist, writer, human rights activist, feminist and grandfather living in Montreal. He came to study in Canada, on a Commonwealth scholarship, 50 years ago from Mauritius. He retired from the Montreal daily La Presse in 2009 after 35 years as a reporter and analyst on international affairs, visiting some 60 countries in the process. He published a book of essays, in French, on his native country, in 2010, titled Un autre Maurice est possible (Another Mauritius is Possible). 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary
Monday, 16 January 2017 16:04

Making “Friends” Key to Integration

by A Special Correspondent in Montreal

A new Concordia University study has found that making friends in Canada and being positive about the "new country" can go a long way in helping new immigrants integrate into communities. 

“[The study] shows that the early days after immigration are very important for newcomers. The dispositions and preferences expressed by people when they first arrive will set them off on different trajectories of social engagement in the new culture,” said a Concordia news release.

The study suggests it is important to invest in resources to support immigrants at the very beginning of their integration journey, especially those who may have misgivings about the environment they are entering into.
 
The study was conducted by recent Concordia graduate, Marina Doucerain. The researchers surveyed 158 international students who had just arrived in Montreal, whose native tongues were neither French nor English and who had not had much time to change and adapt to their new cultural environment.
 
New Canadian Media conducted this interview with Doucerain by email. 

1. Does Canada's policy of multiculturalism play a role in these predictors of integration?

We did not specifically test that idea, but we believe it does. In terms of social interactions and friendships, it takes two to tango. The fact that newcomers were able to form friendships in the mainstream society and interact regularly with Canadians likely reflects a welcoming Canadian climate that encourages contact between members of different cultural groups.

2. Does it matter if the "friends" are drawn from the same ethnic community?

For an immigrant, making friends with someone with the same cultural origin or with people in the mainstream society is quite different. For that reason, this study focused on predicting interactions and friendships in the mainstream society, so outside of people's own cultural group.

In addition, we selected only participants who had neither English nor French as their native language. We reasoned that making friends with well-established Canadians is very different for someone from China or Venezuela than for someone from the United States or from France.

 3. What percentage of those studied were successfully "integrated" over the course of the study?

This is really hard to say, as there are no clear cut-offs for what "successful integration" means. Does it mean having three, or five, or 10 Canadian friends? Does it mean regularly talking to 5 or 10 Canadians? We just don't know, and that's why more research is needed.

What "successful integration" really means is still a pretty open questions. We have elements of answers, but no clear categories.

4. Were there any factors that are specific to Quebec weighed as part of the study?

The study took place in Montreal, which is a very bilingual city. This allowed us to test our hypotheses in both Francophone and Anglophone contexts (the study was the product of a collaboration between researchers at Concordia university and Université du Québec à Montréal). We observed the same patterns in both contexts.

5. What policy implications do these findings have?

In this study, we focused on the very early days of migration, literally within a few weeks of newcomers' arrival. We believe that these early days are crucial and that it's would be important to invest energy and resources to make sure that newcomers have a lot of opportunities to have positive contact with people in the new society. This could take different forms.

For example, a mentoring or buddy program where immigrants are paired up with a well-established Canadian, just to talk, have some interactions, could be really helpful. Having this initial contact could give an entry point to the immigrant into their new society.

6. Lastly, do the researchers plan to test out their study on a national scale?

This is indeed an exciting future direction for our research!

More information on this study can be found here - The importance of making friends fast — when you’re an immigrant

Published in Top Stories
Wednesday, 12 October 2016 19:38

Monsef Birthplace a Non-issue

Commentary by David Cohen in Montreal

I feel compelled to comment on the case of Maryam Monsef, Liberal MP and federal Minister of Democratic Institutions, who has been caught up in a story about the location of her birth 32 years ago. Monsef, an Afghan citizen who arrived in Canada at age 11, was born in Iran.

She had previously believed she was born in her country of citizenship, Afghanistan. Her documentation had stated that this was the case — documentation that had been submitted by her mother all those years ago.

Do you remember when you were 10 or 11 years old? Did you decide what school you went to or where you lived? Probably not. And if your parents decided when you were a child that the family would emigrate, or flee hardship, did you decide what your destination would be, and how you would get there? Hypothetically, if you were 10 or 11 and somebody, such as a parent, was submitting a form on your behalf, would you ask to review it for accuracy?

And if it turns out that somebody made an incorrect assertion on a form submitted on your behalf more than two decades ago, should you suffer the consequences of a decision that you yourself never made?

Of course not.

Stoking a fire

Some editorial media outlets in Canada have taken this situation and made a disingenuous effort to stoke a fire. For example, in an opinion piece in the Toronto Sun, the author writes: the Trudeau government actively revokes citizenship from people who provide false info on their applications. Now the question is whether democratic reform minister Maryam Monsef is going to receive the same treatment if it turns out her citizenship application contained false information. The article goes on to mention the possibility of Monsef being deported.

Apart from giving her a government Ministry that doesn’t exist (it’s democratic institutions, not democratic reform), the article errs in a more sinister way. Yes, citizenship may be revoked from individuals who knowingly provide false information, but Monsef herself, at least to the best of our knowledge, never submitted the application. Her mother did. And so there is a leap of logic.

The fact of the matter is that few people in Canada can go back more than a couple of generations before an immigration story forms part of the family tree. We are, by and large, an immigrant nation. Some of these immigrants arrived from states of flux, from changing situations in the regions of the world from which they came.

How does it matter?

There are almost certainly stories and situations similar to Monsef’s own story across the country. In many cases, it is likely that the person at the centre of it all doesn’t even know the full story.

Remember this: if we are talking about punishing Monsef, it would be a vicarious punishment handed out to someone who did not make a decision when she was 10 or 11 years old. And in the end, how does it even matter where she was born?

And also remember that she is a remarkable woman, who, in her so far short career, has shown nothing but resilience and intelligence. She has had to in order to get where she is now.

Attorney David Cohen is a senior partner at Campbell Cohen (www.CanadaVisa.com). Read more of his blogs at http://www.canadavisa.com/canada-immigration-blog/

Published in Policy
Thursday, 22 September 2016 09:31

Alberta Needs to Rethink French Curriculum

Commentary by Salim Valji in Edmonton

Memorizing adjectives and pronouns did little more than create a resentment for having to learn French in the first place. Meanwhile, speaking the language took a backseat.

The sentiment above is true for many students who grew up learning French in Alberta, including myself. Lessons often consist of listing the gender pronoun (le, la, les) of nouns, and writing simple, declarative sentences.

Entire classes would be spent learning, relearning and being tested on memorization techniques like DR MRS VANDERTRAMP. Homework was more of the same … verb charts, fill-in-the-blanks and vocabulary.

See a trend here?

Throughout elementary and junior high, the method was always memorize first, ask questions later. Speaking French was never a priority until high school and accent training was seldom mentioned.

Learning to hate French

I queried my friends on social media: I was not alone. 

“My experience was terrible as well! I took French for eight years and can't speak a word if it,” one friend wrote. “It was all memorizing nouns and watching videos. It's such a beautiful language. I really wish they had taught it better. I’d love to know it.”

Another added: “I learned more German in four months than I did French in eight years in school. I think using an online program like Duolingo and setting goals might help. Also, so many BS tests on conjugating verbs made me hate French.”

The most profound comment came from someone somewhat older who said that like hundreds of others, she hated going to French class as a student. It speaks of a system that doesn’t know how to educate its students on Canada’s other official language.

Moving to a bilingual setting

When I was 20, I moved to Montreal. Despite taking French courses for 13 years, I was completely unprepared to live and work in a bilingual environment. It took me minutes to form short phrases, my vocabulary was extremely limited and I barely understood what was being said to me.

My perspective changed even further when I moved to France to work as an English Language Assistant at a high school in the Parisien suburbs. Alberta, and the rest of Canada, can learn much from how the French teach second languages.

From my first sessions with 12-year-old students, I could tell that they already spoke better English than I did French. Their sentences were clear, vocabulary strong and they knew how to express ideas.

Communication of ideas is what my role was focused on. I’d take groups of 10 to 12 students to my classroom, and, in my authentically Albertan accent, speak English to them. Often times, the lessons were planned with their English teacher, based on what they were learning in class.

The topics we talked about included the civil rights movement, the lives of historic figures like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi and differences between North American and European culture.

Sometimes, I’d pose an open-ended question on the whiteboard and cross my fingers hoping that my students would pipe up.  That method usually led to great, enjoyable conversations —like the time where we spent an entire class talking about the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” and how Robin Scherbatsky embodies certain Canadian stereotypes.

My students would speak their ideas and I’d correct them in real time. I was always amazed at how well they could speak about complex subjects in English.

The two most common mistakes they made were not pronouncing the h sound for words like “home” and “happy,” and saying “the” as zee or “there” as zerre. Beyond the simple correcting of grammar, my students received a language education I never had as a student … speaking and writing with someone fluent in the other language.

They learned to understand my accent. They questioned my usage of certain vocabulary and mimicked how I said things.

Need for spontaneity

So much of communication is situational and spontaneous: Where an event took place, what the score was, why someone was late for something.

The method of memorization forces students to retrieve information they retained and disposed of years ago. It also fosters a distaste of learning the language — the second anything becomes a chore, it becomes something we detest. It’s impossible to expect students, in the middle of conversation to recall what they were force-fed in some classroom years back.

It’s understandable that revamping the province’s French curriculum may not be high on Alberta Education’s priority list. Opportunities to speak the language organically are extremely limited—less than 25 000 of the province’s 3.6 million people identify French as the language the speak most often at home.

That being said, we need a conversation about whether the memorize-at-all-costs approach should be retired. Right now, that approach is leading Alberta students to despise — as opposed to appreciate — the French language.

Salim Valji is a media professional based in Montreal, Quebec. He is originally from Edmonton and has worked in Paris and New York City. 

Published in Education

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

by Vincent Simboli in Montreal 

“The library is a mirror of the universe,” writes Argentinian-Canadian author Alberto Manguel in his 2006 book The Library at Night. As print loses traction in our increasingly digitized world, are we in jeopardy of losing access to these sacred mirrors? 

The Grande Bibliothèque in Montreal challenges this notion by using cutting-edge virtual-reality technology to connect contemporary audiences with the magic of libraries across space and time. 

The Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) opened its virtual reality exhibit The Library at Night (based on Manguel’s book of the same name) at the Grande Bibliothèque in October 2015. The exhibit explores 10 of the world’s “most fascinating libraries,” exposing their “philosophical, architectural and social foundations.” 

Exploring an author’s library 

Guests begin by entering a replica of Manguel’s personal library while they hear his voice explain the important role that books have had throughout his life. In the recorded introduction, he also muses about the importance of collecting knowledge and stories in a physical location, giving the poignant example of the clandestine library kept by children in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration camp. 

. . . the viewer is left with the sound of gunfire and the quiet roar of flames, pondering what can and must be done in the face of historical and literary destruction.

After Manguel’s voice fades from the speakers, exhibition co-ordinator Alexis Benoit enters and tells guests to put on their Virtual Reality (VR) headsets. We walk past a revolving bookshelf and into an underground forest filled with books, desks and synthetic trees. 

Manguel grew up in Tel-Aviv during his father’s tenure as the Argentinian ambassador to Israel. He returned to Buenos Aires in 1955, when he was seven. 

In June 1968, when the Argentine military junta began its “Dirty War” on its own civilians and literati, Manguel took cues from Julio Cortázar and other Argentine intellectuals and left the country for Europe to live and write without fear of being oppressed by the paramilitary forces running the country. 

By 1982, he had emigrated to Canada and settled there to raise his family, eventually obtaining citizenship in 2000. He identifies primarily as Canadian, although his transnational experiences have had major influences on his career as an essayist, anthologist and author. 

Witnessing culture being destroyed

Though the exhibit uses impressive VR technology, such as footage of life-sized birds flying about the Library of Parliament in Ottawa, by far the most emotional moment of the exhibit for me was the subtle and brilliant use of music and sound effects in the segment about the Vijećnica library of Sarajevo. 

“. . . Vijećnica was targeted by the Republika Srpska army in an attempt of ‘historicide,’ the erasure of a people’s cultural patrimony and identity.”

Vijećnica was built as the library and city hall of Sarajevo, Bosnia, in the late 19th century, and served as an architectural reminder of the city’s multicultural heritage. The library was also a cross-cultural meeting place for the exchange of ideas among Sarajevo’s Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Muslim populations. 

The viewer is invited to look up at the ceiling while Manguel explains the significance of the architecture and the hundreds of thousands of priceless Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian manuscripts, marking Sarajevo as the “Jerusalem of Europe.” 

Meanwhile, the distant sound of gunfire can be heard. 

“During the Siege of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1996, Vijećnica was targeted by the Republika Srpska army in an attempt of ‘historicide,’ the erasure of a people’s cultural patrimony and identity,” Manguel explains. 

As the gunfire gets louder, a man in a tuxedo walks down the stairs of the virtual library. We are introduced to Vedran Smailović, a cellist in the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra. 

His cello begins to drown out the gunfire, and though flames consume the regal library and destroy most of its collection, Smailović doesn’t stop. The incredible true story of the cellist of Sarajevo, playing his mournful eulogy for the lost heritage of Bosnia, is an emotional one, but to experience it in virtual reality with enhanced sight and sound is indescribable. 

“You see books you had when you were a kid, books you have now, and they remind you of what happened in your past when you were reading them.”

As the cello music fades from the headphones and Smailović walks away, the viewer is left with the sound of gunfire and the quiet roar of flames, pondering what can and must be done in the face of historical and literary destruction. 

Libraries as personal histories 

Benoit says that one of the goals of the exhibition is to make clear the importance books have in a person’s life story. 

“During his introduction, we learn about what Manguel explored, where he went, and what accompanied him throughout his life,” he says. “Those things were his books. They define what a personal library is – a library is the story of oneself. [Our exhibit] is about a transfer from a personal library to a public library, where the goal is to accumulate all the knowledge we all have." 

Benoit says the isolation of the VR headsets allows guests to experience the exhibition free of self-consciousness inside a “bubble” that nobody can burst. 

“You see books you had when you were a kid, books you have now, and they remind you of what happened in your past when you were reading them,” he says. “When you collect all these in the same space, you have this history about yourself.” 

Vincent Simboli is an American journalist based in Montréal. He is a recent graduate of McGill University where he studied international development and Hispanic literature. Simboli primarily covers issues of human migration and immigration reform for the McGill Daily, Forget the Box, Graphite Publications, and New Canadian Media. His portfolio is available at https://www.clippings.me/vincentsimboli.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Books
Tuesday, 31 May 2016 20:06

Pinoys Launch First Miss Gay Montreal

by Krystle Alarcon in Montreal 

Joseph Dadua couldn’t muster up the courage to try on a bikini at a women’s lingerie store in Montreal. 

It took two of his fellow gay friends to encourage him to go to the dressing room of La Vie en Rose. 

“It was an unforgettable experience,” the 24-year-old recalls, “everyone was accepting and open.” 

Dadua says preparing for the Filipino community’s Miss Gay Montreal 2016 was a process that helped him embrace his effeminate side. 

Miss Gay Montreal, held May 28, was the first of its kind for the Filipino community in Montreal. 

It was a joint effort between Montreal’s largest Filipino group, FAMAS (Filipino Association of Montreal and Suburbs) and Pinoy LGBT. 

Dadua and his three rival candidates all identify as “gay cross-dressers” he says.

Dadua and his three rival candidates all identify as “gay cross-dressers” . . .

For the competition, they chose a pretend country of origin and an existing female model’s name for the night – a tradition borrowed from gay beauty pageants in the Philippines. For example, Dadua (pictured below) wanted to be addressed as Leila Lopes and Miss Angola. 

All the craze 

Beauty pageants are a cultural frenzy in the Philippines. Last year, the country won two titles in international competitions for Miss Universe and Miss Earth, and two crowns in 2013 as well. 

Blogger Raul Dancel aptly describes this obsession pointing out that the Philippines has a local beauty queen for each of its 40,000 small towns. 

“There are a bevy of titles that will befuddle future anthropologists, including: That’s My Boy, Little Miss Philippines, Mr. Handsome, Little Miss Handsome, Miss Gay Philippines, Miss Supranational, Manhunt International, Mr. Marketplace and Super Mermaid,” he writes. 

This is why when FAMAS approached the members of Pinoy LGBT to put together the event, the organization got on board immediately. 

Adiva Estinozo, one of the main organizers of the pageant, identifies as a transgender and transsexual woman. She says she hid her gender identity and sexual orientation from her parents. 

“I was scared of being isolated. That’s why I moved to the [gay] Village [in Montreal] on my own. I didn’t want to wait for the isolation to happen.” 

“It helps parents to understand. It shows parents that their kids are having fun on stage.”

She understands firsthand how a contest can help build self-esteem. She won the Pista Sa Nayon singing contest in Montreal in 2002. 

The grand prize was a trip to the Philippines and an appearance on a comedy TV show there, Home Along Da Riles. Upon returning to Montreal, Estinozo came out. 

She says Miss Gay Montreal has also helped some of the candidates be their true selves. 

“It helps parents to understand. It shows parents that their kids are having fun on stage,” Estinozo says. 

Being seen and being seen equal 

The LGBT community is quite visible in the Philippines, with celebrities like femme gay comedian, Vice Ganda, achieving top box office sales for his satirical films. 

But for Mark Simbulan, co-founder of Pinoy LGBT and Estinozo’s co-host for the event, visibility does not translate to equality. 

“The Philippines should be allowing gay marriage — not in terms of a religious basis, but on a human level."

“The Philippines should be allowing gay marriage — not in terms of a religious basis, but on a human level. They should have human rights to love and be able to marry who they want to marry,” he says. 

Simbulan says Pinoy LGBT is working on ways to promote gay marriage in the Philippines. 

Asked what’s the main difference between a women’s pageant and a gay men’s one, Simbulan says, “not much, but ours is more fun.” 

Indeed, the audience squealed with laughter at certain moments during the show. But candidates rode a fine line between mockery and entertainment. 

Axl Hernandez, also known as Tyra Banks and Miss Venezuela for the night, used comedy to slam opponents. 

“Not all horses belong in the stable,” Hernandez says in Tagalog upon grabbing the microphone. “Because you just saw one (the previous candidate) and there are two more.” 

Another candidate who blurred the lines between ridicule and spectacle was Jerrieval Mark Garcia, a.k.a. Adriana Lima or Miss Brazil. During the talent portion, Garcia dressed in a black sequin cocktail dress performing a cabaret dance — then midway, he turned around, put on a baseball cap and tight boxers and fluttered his pelvis like a male stripper. 

In the end, Dadua took home the crown. 

To critics who think beauty pageants are objectifying and do not promote equality, he says, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I’m not going to say anything against them. We need to focus on our own lives. If it makes us happy then why not. For me, they’re dedma.” 

Dedma is a Taglish slang term mixing the English word ‘dead’ and Tagalog word ‘malisyoso’. In other words, he’s feigning their malice.

Editor's Note: This copy has been updated to correct a mistake in the spelling of Adiva Estinozo's name and the explanation of the word 'dedma'. NCM regrets these errors.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Arts & Culture

by Beatrice Paez in Toronto

When Elizabeth Philibert arrived in Montreal as an émigré in 1979, she immediately felt the city would be her closest connection to Haiti. 

The city’s circle of activists quickly embraced Philibert, who had risked her life on the front lines of Haiti’s anti-Duvalier movement. The movement began in opposition to self-declared "President-for-life" Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and continued against the oppressive regime of his successor and son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. 

Most Canadians may not have heard of Philibert and other Haitian Canadians who, through their collective efforts, influenced Quebec’s cultural and political traditions.

In A Place in the Sun: Haiti, Haitians and the Remaking of Quebec, historian Sean Mills chronicles how the Haitian community, while relegated to the margins, actively challenged the status quo while also finding common ground within it. 

While Quebec was gripped in its fight for sovereignty, Haitians in the province wielded what resources they had to insert themselves into the political debate.

Haitians in the Quiet Revolution

Philibert joined the wave of Haitian immigrants who settled in Quebec in the 1960s and 1980s, drawn by shared linguistic and religious ties. She arrived at a time when members of Montreal’s Haitian community were claiming a stake in Quebec’s political future, and Canada’s international affairs.

While Quebec was gripped in its fight for sovereignty, Haitians in the province wielded what resources they had to insert themselves into the political debate. 

“The importance of Haitians was well known among many Haitians, of course, but it wasn’t part of mainstream understandings of the Quiet Revolution and its aftermath,” says Mills, referring to a period in the 1960s during which the province saw the secularization and expansion of the welfare state in sectors such as health care and education. “I was struck by the involvement of Haitians in the waves of political and cultural activism in the 1960s and 1970s, and I wanted to learn more about these developments.”

Mills’ curiosity led him to delve into the written work of the Haitian diaspora and their oral histories, as told by those who had fled the violence under the two Duvalier regimes. He illuminates the ways Haitians sought to elevate their status in Quebec.

Through their vast literary publications, activism and media appeals they set out to upend a political system intent on shutting them out. 

A Place in the Sun revisits history with a new perspective, and succeeds in delivering a nuanced portrait of their lives during a critical juncture in Quebec’s history. 

“By entering the political sphere and rupturing its traditional composition, they opened a new space for themselves.”

Challenging paternalism 

The first contingent of Haitian exiles came in the 1960s. Most were francophone elites who integrated well into society. The second wave of migrants in the 1970s, representing a poorer class who spoke Creole, faced far more discrimination. 

That they had markedly different experiences speaks to Quebec’s complex perception of Haiti, Mills writes.

Haiti had long held symbolic significance to Quebec, especially in the 1940s as it sought to establish cultural linkages through its Catholic missionary work. Although they were bound by a shared language and colonial legacy, the missionary cause set them on unequal footing. 

It was a relationship defined in familial terms, albeit a paternalistic one, in which Haitians were ridiculed for their religious belief in voodoo and regarded as “childlike” and “devoid of complex thoughts.” 

Mills argues, convincingly, that confined as many were to exploitative occupations in the taxi industry or domestic service, Haitian immigrants refused to be reduced to stereotypes. Instead, they cast themselves as political beings capable of exerting pressure on the government to confront its policies and in some cases, to adopt their cause. 

“They had to fight to find a place for themselves in a political sphere that did not see them as legitimate interlocutors,” Mills writes. “By entering the political sphere and rupturing its traditional composition, they opened a new space for themselves.” 

Culture of activism

For the Haitian diaspora, Quebec became a proxy battlefield through which they could undermine support for the Duvalier regimes.

It helped that Haitians were attuned enough to know that language can be a potent bargaining chip in Quebec. 

One critical test was the “crisis of 1,500” in 1974, when Haitians mobilized support from diverse groups to quash the deportation of non-status migrants.

They appealed both to the “conscience of the population” and used language strategically to position themselves as “ideal francophone immigrants for modern Quebec.” René Lévesque, as Parti Québécois premier, ultimately endorsed their cause on humanitarian grounds, but also for demographic considerations. 

For the Haitian diaspora, Quebec became a proxy battlefield through which they could undermine support for the Duvalier regimes. They compelled Canada to confront its policy of distributing foreign aid to a dictatorship, which had driven many to flee and was ultimately the root of the migrant crisis. 

These efforts weakened the federal government’s claim that they were merely “economic migrants” as opposed to political refugees. It also served as a rallying cry of solidarity between Quebecers and Haitians, both vying for self-determination. 

Although they’ve made significant strides in improving their conditions, the “asymmetrical relationship” between Quebec and Haiti persists, writes Mills. To this day, many of the organizations Haitian immigrants founded remain an enduring force in integrating new arrivals. 

“[I’m] continually impressed by the incredible vitality of the Haitian community,” says Mills. “It’s certainly a world that is very alive and vibrant to this day.” 

Beatrice Paez is a freelance journalist based in Toronto whose work spans from writing about international development issues to the arts and culture. She also writes a public art column for the Torontoist and co-founded The Origami, an online magazine about Asian Canadians in Toronto.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Books

by Elvira Truglia in Montreal

On one of the final stops during its two-year, cross-country “Our Canada” workshop series, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) held an open conversation about faith and social inclusion in Montreal last month.

According to Thomas Gallezot, francophone communities and outreach project officer for the organization, the CRRF aims to promote diversity and social inclusion through community dialogue. The objective of the workshop is to improve the ability of participants to manage workplace and community situations arising “out of conflicting religious practices and cultural values.”

While still predominantly Christian (65.8 per cent), more Montrealers now affiliate with religions other than Christianity (Islam: 9.6 per cent, Judaism: 2.4 per cent, Hinduism: 1.4 per cent, Buddhism: 2 per cent) according to the 2011 Census.

As non-Christian religions have become more visible, debates about culture, faith and values have heated up in Quebec’s public sphere. The proposed 2013 Quebec Charter of Values was an attempt to draw lines in the sand about secularism.

Most recently, a Quebec Human Rights Commission survey on diversity showed that 45 per cent of respondents had a negative view of religion. Forty-three per cent said people should be suspicious of anyone who expresses their religion openly, and 48.9 per cent said they were bothered by women wearing a veil.

Obstacles to social inclusion

A multi-faith panel, including Imam Shaykh Omar Koné, Rabbi Reuben Joshua Poupko, Father Engelbert Fotsing, Reverend Wilner Cayo, and David-Roger Gagnon, former spiritual and community animator at the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) discussed whether faith is an obstacle to social inclusion during the workshop.

Networking at an after-work “5-à-7” (Happy Hour) is a common practice in Montreal, but “to go with work colleagues is problematic when you are practising Muslim who doesn’t drink.”

In the Muslim community, Koné said negotiating how to co-exist in a Judeo-Christian world is not always easy when your way of living is different than the majority. Networking at an after-work “5-à-7” (Happy Hour) is a common practice in Montreal, but “to go with work colleagues is problematic when you are practising Muslim who doesn’t drink,” he explained.

Optics is another challenge. “Employment, which is the first factor in integration, is problematic when we have a name that sounds Arab-Muslim,” Koné added.

Recent statistics back this up. Visible minorities make up 31 per cent of Montreal’s population, but they represent only 11 per cent of the City of Montreal’s workforce. The unemployment rate of North African immigrant women in Montreal is five times greater than women who are not visible minorities.

Poupko said recognizing different beliefs and believers is “vital to communal harmony.”

“Last year a young woman came to see me, a medical resident at the Royal Victoria Hospital. She's Jewish, but she doesn't look Jewish,” he shared.

The student told her supervisor that she was going to Jewish General Hospital on her medical rounds. Poupko said the supervisor responded, “I can't stand those people, they are so aggressive.”

The next day, the student arrived at work wearing a large Star of David. The employer was left speechless. 

“Anytime this [kind of thing] happens we’re still shocked by it,” said Poupko. “We all know this woman is going to be fine, she’s going to be a doctor … she's going to have a prosperous, secure life … no police is going to pull her over … because she looks suspicious.”

He said the doctor’s comments don’t compare to the discrimination and violence other minorities face in Quebec and across Canada.

"[I]t’s not necessarily their religion or their culture that people sometimes react to, but is the fact that they are spiritual or religious at all.”

Gagnon wants people to understand, “that it’s not necessarily their religion or their culture that people sometimes react to, but is the fact that they are spiritual or religious at all.”

He says this has to do with Quebec’s particular history and break with the Catholic Church after the Quiet Revolution. That “left deep scars,” said Gagnon. Acknowledging this history “will help the dialogue,” he added.

Best practices

There was consensus among the panelists that schools are the best place to be pro-active.

Gagnon gave credit to Quebec’s Spiritual and Community Animation program in elementary and secondary schools. As a former spiritual and community animator at the EMSB, he said focusing on spirituality rather than religion provides “a window to talk about what we have in common.”

The program was introduced after Bill 118 (2000) deconfessionalized public school boards and introduced a mandate to promote diversity and pluralism.

“There’s always this push and pull,” said Poupko. “I think it has do with asking what’s reasonable and expecting a common sense response.”

That’s the approach Cristina Bajenaru takes as Project Coordinator at the Centre d’Encadrement pour Jeunes Femmes Immigrantes, a community organization that helps young immigrant women integrate.

Bajenaru said her clientele comes from 60 countries so she has to take a common sense approach to accommodation. If her training workshops coincide with Muslim holidays, she explained, “I can’t tell them to come, but I can’t tell them not to come either.” She said she lets them decide, and roughly half the class ends up staying home.

Through community consultations, the CRRF compiled dozens of other real scenarios that have come up in workplaces across the country. These are included in the Faith and Belonging Toolkit, a resource for workshop participants to encourage discussion and develop appropriate responses to accommodation.

Using the resource, Gagnon said he was impressed at the ability of the group to come up with solutions to complex scenarios.

“Spirituality in the public sphere, in [the] workplace, in society, when we talk about it reasonably and calmly, we find solutions,” he said.


 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Arts & Culture

by Matt D’Amours in Montreal 

Community organizations and immigrant lobby groups in Quebec are speaking out against a provincial welfare reform bill that would require new social assistance applicants to enter the job market sooner. 

Activists say that Bill 70, “An Act to allow a better match between training and jobs and to facilitate labour market entry,” will have a disproportionate impact on Quebec’s immigrant population, which is overrepresented in the welfare system. 

At the Minister of Labour’s request, Bill 70 would seek to introduce a “workfare” system that requires welfare recipients to enter a job training program, or “accept any offer of suitable employment.” 

Those who fail to meet these conditions could see their social assistance cut in half. For a single adult receiving $623 a month, that would mean a drop down to about $308. 

Political opponents have also criticized the plan, introduced last year by the province’s Liberal government. In a National Assembly debate on Feb. 25, Bernard Drainville of the Parti Québécois called the law “heartless, arbitrary, unwise, myopic and disrespectful.” 

During a parliamentary hearing on Feb. 17, Labour Minister François Blais defended Bill 70, saying that Quebec’s immigrant population would not be adversely affected by the legislation. 

Labour Minister François Blais defended Bill 70, saying that Quebec’s immigrant population would not be adversely affected by the legislation.

“In general, as you know, immigrants want to integrate and make the necessary efforts to find employment,” Blais said. The minister added that, among the organizations he had spoken to, there was “zero worry” about how the proposed welfare reforms would impact the immigrant population. 

Faulty perceptions of immigrants and employment 

Pascale Chanoux, of the group Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes (TCRI), testified at the Feb. 17 hearing, and said the minister’s comments highlight the government’s faulty logic about immigrants and employment. 

“The minister does not see that on the path of professional integration for immigrants, there are systemic obstacles."

“Bill 70 claims that if we want to, we can – which is to say that whether someone gets a job or not is based on whether they want to or not,” Chanoux explained. “The minister does not see that on the path of professional integration for immigrants, there are systemic obstacles … [for him] everything is always about the willingness and responsibility of the individual.” 

Another person who testified that day was Nalawattage Pinto, a Sri Lankan immigrant who came to Canada in 1993. 

Pinto described the systemic barriers that made his job search difficult upon arrival, including his lack of French language skills, and the market’s lack of recognition of his professional experience in Sri Lanka. 

Pinto was forced to work nights at a chemical plant, which he alleged only hired new immigrants because it was dangerous work. 

He also said the company only hired people for six months, so that workers wouldn’t have time to unionize. After Pinto and his wife lost their jobs in 1994, they were forced to apply for welfare. 

Pinto is not alone. According to a provincial report on social assistance published in November 2015, new Canadians make up nearly a quarter of welfare recipients in Quebec. 

However, another provincial report, which tracked immigrant welfare requests between 1996 and 2004, found that most made their application early after their arrival in the province – usually within the first six months. 

That same report found that once these immigrants opted out of the welfare program, they generally didn’t return. 

“This first stay in social assistance is, in the large majority of cases, a unique episode in the process of integration for immigrants,” the report concluded. 

‘Suitable’ employment for who? 

The concern with Bill 70 is that for immigrants seeking assistance within their first months in Quebec, the mandate to accept a job that is deemed “suitable” by the government could force people into a cycle of low wages, and further trivialize the qualifications they held in their native countries. 

“Do we want to institutionalize de-qualification by pushing people into a job without regard to their socio-professional background?”

“We talk about accepting a suitable job – but suitable for who?” asks Chanoux. “Do we want to institutionalize de-qualification by pushing people into a job without regard to their socio-professional background?” 

Those who refuse to accept “suitable” employment would see massive cuts to welfare benefits, which are already too low to live on, according to Project Genesis, a social justice community organization based in Montreal. 

The group points to a fall 2015 report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which shows that the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Montreal now stands at $675 – $52 more than the current welfare benefits received by a single person. 

“Any policy that reduces the income of households living in poverty is destined to … [increase the] depth of poverty experienced by people on low income,” stated Project Genesis. 

During his closing remarks at the Feb. 17 hearing on Bill 70, Pinto outlined the hardships he had experienced as an immigrant in Quebec. 

“I’ve had jobs at minimum wage since I’ve been in Canada,” Pinto explained. “I am now 65, and I did not achieve the dream that we had when we came here.” 

If Bill 70 passes in Quebec, the TCRI and Project Genesis argue, Pinto’s dream of a better life will become harder to achieve for a whole new wave of immigrants. 

“We’re talking about poverty and exclusion,” Chanoux said of the proposed legislation. “It’s part of a tendency to try and recoup money on the backs of populations that are very vulnerable.”


 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Top Stories
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