New Canadian Media

Commentary by Phil Gurski in Ottawa

My late mother had a lot of great advice for me, much of which I followed and much of which has helped me immensely in life.  One maxim that she shared with me has been ignored however.  That would be the time she said it is a good idea never to engage in conversation on religion or politics, as both topics tend to lead to argument and acrimony.

Sorry mom, that one I have ignored in my career as an intelligence analyst and my post civil service activities as an author and public speaker.

Religion is obviously a sensitive issue and one that many people take seriously to heart.  As a matter of faith and not fact, it is hard to speak objectively and dispassionately about religion and easy to offend and insult the deeply-held feelings of believers and practitioners.  Furthermore, there are often significant differences within a given creed: how can we expect to gain agreement as holders of different religions when those who on the surface subscribe to the same fundamental convictions cannot?

The 'true' interpretation of Islam

One thing is certain: there is no monopoly on what is the 'true' interpretation of Islam.  There are several reasons for this.  First, it should surprise no one that a faith that is over 1,400 years old has spawned different views.  Second, as a global religion Islam has been and is practiced by billions of people from different cultures, histories, language families and experiences.  Furthermore, over a millennium and a half a few dominant sects have arisen: the majority Sunnis, the minority Shia, and a few others (Sufis, Ahmadis, Ibadis, etc.), each of which with their own traditions.

When it comes to the link between religion and terrorism no faith dominates the headlines like Islam.  Opinions on the role Islam plays in violent extremism range widely from 'Islam is a religion of peace' to 'Islam is inherently violent'.  As with most things in life the truth is somewhere between the extremes.

At the risk of gross oversimplification one particular brand of Islam has become very problematic.  That brand goes by several names – Salafi, Wahhabi (the latter is a subset of the former) – and one state in particular has been very active over the past few decades in exporting this ultraconservative, intolerant and hateful version around the world: Saudi Arabia.  Countries with long moderate traditions – Bosnia, India, West African nations, and Indonesia among others – have seen their citizens enveloped by a faith that is foreign to their lands.  There is a very real connection between Salafist Islam and violent extremism: no, one cannot be reduced to the other but there is a link.

Making a change

Thankfully, at least one nation is hitting back. The youth wing of the Indonesian group Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest Islamic mass movement on the planet, is seeking to re-interpret Muslim laws and practices from the Middle Ages to have them better conform to the 21st century.  This move should be welcomed and supported.

NU has a tough road ahead of it. The Saudis and their allies have a decades'-long head start and oodles of cash.  Nevertheless, this is indeed good news. 

There is a battle for the soul of Islam and we should all hope and pray that the majority moderates (i.e. normative Islam) comes out on top.  The further marginalisation of Salafi jihadism will suck some (but not all) of the oxygen from the terrorists and perhaps lead to better relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.  Besides, I think we can all agree that seeing less of the self-styled yet clownish preachers of hate like the UK's Anjem Choudhury on our screens and tablets will be a very nice change indeed.

I wish the Indonesian efforts every success.  The world certainly needs less hate.

Phil Gurski worked for more than  three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at http://www.borealisthreatandrisk.com/blog/ 

Published in Commentary

In partnership with Apathy is Boring, New Canadian Media will be posting first-person accounts from the 150 Years Young Project, a campaign that highlights the positive impact youth are making throughout their communities.

Stephane Mukunzi, PACE Magazine

“It all comes back to the idea of bringing communities together. The spoken word collectives, the singers, the artists, the painters… they are all present in Ottawa. We just don’t have centralized spaces where people can go to see Ottawa artists and critical thinkers. And that’s what we are trying to achieve with PACE”.

As a twenty-three year-old videographer and photographer, Stephane Mukunzi was fed up with receiving the same old rejection letter after submitting work. After realizing there was no community of young artists in Ottawa’s art scene, Stephane decided to create one himself. He gathered together a group of young creatives and they developed PACE Magazine, a place where young artists and critically minded people could express themselves. Inspired by London’s DIY magazine culture, Mukunzi and his team wanted to maintain the classic element of print media while combining it with innovation and online presence. PACE aims to dismantle the hierarchical nature of art and ensure the representation of indigenous artists, black artists, artists of colour, women artists, immigrant artists, and anyone who may have turned away by the fine arts community.

The PACE team decided to give voice to those who haven’t had a chance to speak to Ottawa, and within the first year of launching, it is clear they have found voices that Ottawa is eager to hear. The magazine has published two print editions, created a website for creative content, and held two successful launch events that featured local photography, spoken word, and art pieces. After this continued foray into Ottawa culture, Stephane fully rejects the idea of Ottawa as a boring city and believes that the many creative scenes, are there to fill cultural needs if you are ready to integrate yourself into them. Looking for that first step? Check out the latest issue of PACE at http://www.pacemagazine.ca/

Khoebe Magsaysay, Artist/Filmmaker/Animator

“It’s really important to embrace and accept your disappointments and failures because they make a strong foundation for your future endeavours.”

Filipino-born Khoebe Magsaysay immigrated to Ontario when she was ten years old. After high school, she enrolled in the Honours Bachelor of Animation program at Sheridan College, and began a time of huge personal growth. At university, she learned to persevere through challenging times, cultivate her talent, and refine her skills as a filmmaker, animator, and artist.

Khoebe landed an internship in New York City for the summer between years three and four of her undergrad at Gameloft, a notable gaming company. Following her internship, Khoebe produced a short film, and the process of making it was very stressful and complex. The film, titled “NIHIL”, is about Adina, a character who is the epitome of perfection. Through a series of events, she comes to question her reality. The success of the film won Khoebe the Via Rail Award for Best Canadian Student Film at the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF), which is considered one of the most prestigious international animation film festivals in the world. Khoebe has continued to excel in her field, working in Toronto at ToonBox Entertainment.


The 150 Years Young Project: In celebration of Canada's 150th birthday, Apathy is Boring is teaming up with community organizers and city ambassadors to recognize positive contributions by youth. Follow the hashtag #150yy for more!

Published in Arts & Culture
Sunday, 12 March 2017 20:25

Creeping Hopelessness in Terror Fight

Commentary by Phil Gurski

We seem to be having a hard time figuring out what to call our struggle with terrorism. Leaving aside the belief, held by me and others, that framing counter terrorism in terms of war is a bad idea, it is clear that we keep changing our minds about what we are really involved in. 

After the clumsy misstep by U.S. President George W. Bush to label it a “Crusade”, we moved from the ‘war on terrorism’ to the ‘long war’ to the ‘global struggle against violent extremism (GSAVE) to ‘countering violent extremism’.  The latest iteration, which I read today in a New York Times op-ed, has me worried, as much for its pessimistic tone as its psychological effect on all of us.

According to Brian Castner, a formal explosives disposal specialist in the U.S. Army, some in that country’s military have begun to refer to the fight against terrorism as the ‘Forever War’.  This is not a good development.

War imagery

Let’s think about this phrase for a moment.  Forever.  That’s a long time.  And, what is worse, is that forever has no end.  In other words, we will be fighting terrorism and terrorists in a war with no termination.  No victory.  No truce.  No surrender.  No resolution.  Just war, interminable war.

In some ways we should have known this from the start.  Wars against abstract or common nouns don’t end because these nouns don’t reflect tangible entities.  Terrorism is no more a defined object than are drugs, poverty and cancer.  These ‘things’ are either tactics (terrorism), social ills (drugs, poverty) or natural phenomena (cancer).  They don’t have armies – yes Islamic State has a pseudo army with quasi soldiers – or uniforms or well-delineated structures.  You might as well declare war on mist. Yet we frame all kinds of social causes as war.

Don’t get me wrong, I do see a role for the military in counter terrorism measures, even if I disagree with the war metaphor.  But that role has to be constrained and carefully deployed.  Against IS or Boko Haram in northern Nigeria there is space for the army.  After all, however, this fight is for security intelligence and law enforcement agencies on the one hand and civil society on the other.  The former are tasked with taking care of those who wish to do us harm, while the latter look after addressing the conditions under which people turn to terrorism so that, in the end, fewer make that decision.

Accepting death and destruction

We must stop using war imagery when we talk about terrorism.  Aside from the reasons just cited, if those in the armed services are seeing this as the ‘forever war’ what does this mean?  If means that a hopelessness has entered into the minds of those we send to confront terrorists. 

Hopelessness not only breeds depression but it serves as an obstacle to other possibilities. If we convince ourselves that this war is eternal and that we will have to keep killing terrorists, iteration after iteration (Al Qaeda, IS in Iraq, IS, Al Shabaab, AQAP …) we consign ourselves to a non-solution.  I can think of little more futile than accepting death and destruction as the only way forward. There has to be a better way – I think a lot of people are involved in alternative approaches already – and we have to find it and implement it now.

The First World War was once called the ‘war to end all wars’.  We all know how that phrase ended up.  We need to get smart about terrorism before the Forever War becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

For our own sakes as well as those of future generations.


Phil Gurski worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield).

Published in Commentary

Commentary by Phil Gurski

On rare occasions I pick up a copy of the National Enquirer or World Weekly News when I shop for groceries.  It's not that I am particularly a fan, but they are strategically located at the checkout counter with their flashy, outrageous headlines.  Some are truly unbelievable. I think my all-time favourite was 'Titanic survivor found on ice floe, vows never to eat fish again.'

These periodicals deal in what we now call fake news, albeit with a difference: the stories were never intended to be taken seriously and it is hard to believe that anyone could be influenced by their stark departure from the truth.

We are now living in a very different time where outright lies are taken seriously and they do affect the views and opinions of some people on very serious issues. The claim that crime is up (when it is down in many places) has led to calls for 'law and order' campaigns.  The belief that vaccinations lead to autism (this was debunked years ago and the scientist making the claim shown to be a fraud) has made some parents eschew life-saving vaccines, causing outbreaks of diseases we thought we had beaten, like measles.

In Canada, there is another onslaught of fake news that centres on our Muslim communities and supposed links to terrorism and clandestine efforts to take over our country.  Several Canadian cities have seen demonstrations that appear to have coincided with a motion by a Liberal backbencher to call on the government to look into and report on Islamophobia and other forms of hate.  Among the allegations made by some of those demonstrating in Canadian streets are:

  • M103 (the Liberal MP's motion) is an attack on free speech
  • there is a secret campaign to bring Sharia law to Canada
  • legitimate dissent is in danger in Canada

Reasonable limits

One of the great things about living in this country is that we are all free to express our views and opinions to a tremendous degree.  There are limits, though, and these limits are both legitimate and necessary.  If someone calls for violence, whether against a specific group or in general, that constitutes a crime (we'll leave aside the difficulties in prosecuting these offences).  Incitement to beat another person to a pulp should not be ignored and I am confident that all Canadians would agree with this.

No, M103 is not a blanket on free speech, it is a reasonable call for looking into a worrisome rise in hatred online and on certain radio shows.  Neither is it focussed solely on Islamophobia, although the highlighting of this particular form of potential hatred is not surprising in the wake of the awful massacre at a Quebec Islamic Centre a few weeks ago.  The State has both a right and a duty to investigate individuals and groups who, through their actions or their language, can reasonably be seen as urging others (or themselves) to use violence against anyone. To ignore these actions would constitute State negligence.

Persistent myths

While I support the fundamental right of the Islamophobes and the anti-immigrant lobby (thankfully small) in this country to voice their opinions, I also feel it necessary to address the 'alternative facts' they use to make their arguments. I will limit my comments to three here:

a) no, immigrants are not a drain on the system, commit more crimes than native-born and they do not steal 'Canadian' jobs.  Study after study after study has shown that immigrants are a net bonus to their adoptive societies and that most integrate within a generation. Those that veer towards criminal acts will be dealt with by the same authorities that deal with all others who engage in crime.

b) no, there is no 'creeping Sharia' campaign in Canada. The last time a government (the Ontario Liberals back in 2004) considered allowing limited Sharia for some family issues, the greatest opponents were Muslim women. In the end the McGuinty government changed its mind and also got rid of other forms of religious arbitration, noting that there  is 'one law for all Canadians'.

c) no, the Muslim Brotherhood is not taking over Canadian mosques and planning a stealth terrorism offensive.  Reports alluding to this are comical at best, bad analysis at worst.

Canada is proudly a land of immigrants and it is those immigrants who have built this country and will continue to do so. The vast majority are just average people looking to better their lives as well as those of their families. Yes, there are bad apples, and we will deal with those.

To conclude, here is a great quote I read in a recent edition of Foreign Affairs.  I could not have said things any better:

"Most people around the world now have the same aspirations as the Western middle classes: they want their children to get good educations, land good jobs, and live happy, productive lives as members of stable, peaceful communities."

Amen to that.


Phil Gurski worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield).

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

By Jeremy J. Nuttall for TheTyee.ca

Residents of a small town in southern Quebec gathered Sunday to try and make sense of their hot spot status in Donald Trump’s new world order.

Hemmingford, Quebec is one of the few places in Canada on the front lines of an influx of refugees coming from the United States.

Representatives for police, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and a group that helps refugees in nearby Montreal sat in front of a packed rec centre gym at an event organized by a local United church.

The town is near an increasingly popular place for refugee-status seekers to enter Canada without using a designated crossing. Doing so is illegal under the Customs Act. But if they were to cross into Canada at a legal crossing, they would be sent back under the Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires refugees to seek status in their first safe country of entry.

Some who arrive at Hemmingford are reported to have wanted to live in the U.S. but were denied status there. Others intended to end up in Canada, but entered the U.S. first because there they could obtain a visa more easily.

In Hemmingford last month, a photo was taken of a Mountie smiling as he held up a young child making her way into Canada with her family. Around the same time, other photos showed handcuffed refugees detained by Canadian police. Some are calling Hemmingford, population 808, a terminus in a new underground railroad.

As their home becomes known as a back door into Canada, Hemmingford residents Sunday displayed a relaxed attitude toward the situation, and many were at the meeting hoping to find out how they can help.

Happy to have them

Hélène Gravel lives at the end of one of the first driveways refugees pass after they cross the rusty gate and ditch near a white marker signifying the international boundary between Canada and the U.S.

The crossing sits at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, about 10 kilometres from Hemmingford, where Roxham Road crosses into the U.S. near Champlain, N.Y.

There’s no Statue of Liberty here, not even a plaque, just trees and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police sitting in their vehicles waiting to arrest those crossing for breaching the Customs Act.

Gravel said it’s nothing new to see people crossing — she’s watched it happen for 20 years — but never like this.

“There were only a few people every year, but now it’s a lot every day,” she said.

Recently the Canadian government told journalists about 2,500 people crossed into Canada via Quebec, Manitoba and B.C. illegally in 2016, and since the beginning of this year alone there have been about 430 in those regions combined.

Almost 300 of those were in Quebec. Quebec borders have seen a 230 per cent increase in “irregular” border crossings over last January.

It used to be mostly young, single men who would cross, Gravel said. If they happened to see her they would ask if they had arrived in Canada. Now, she said, it’s families she sees being picked up by police and driven past her property.

She reckons many of them are leaving the United States fearing the Donald Trump administration as the president targets immigrants and refugees as a place to lay the blame for the nation’s woes.

Last Tuesday, during a speech to congress, Trump invited relatives of people killed by undocumented immigrants as guests of the address and launched a website listing “victims of immigrant crime,” despite research showing immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens.

On Monday, Trump announced tweaks to his travel ban after it was rejected by a judge last month.

But despite such moves by Trump and his loyalists, Gravel isn’t afraid of living metres from where these refugees come into the country. She’s actually tired of journalists knocking on her door asking her if she’s scared of them.

It is a bit too busy now though, Gravel said, stressing she’s happy to have the refugees come to Canada. She’s already lost one neighbour who no longer comes to his vacation property because the idling police vehicles and crossing refugees have become too much of an intrusion.

“It’s just a quiet place, we are not used to so many people,” she said, explaining she hopes Canada doesn’t establish any permanent processing centre at the crossing. “I live there because it’s quiet.”

Outpost for world’s troubles

It is indeed quiet.

Driving into Hemmingford is like entering a village arranged by a devoted collector of Lilliput Lane housing figurines.

Tall — but not too tall — hardwood trees hug the gutters of the road, giving way to gently sloped grass fields and carefully manicured properties.

A public outdoor skating rink slowly succumbs to the unseasonably warm March temperatures on the cusp of town. Residents stop reluctantly at the town’s lone blinking stoplight at its busiest intersection.

This is rural Quebec; a place for cows, apple cider and comfortable fall fashions. It’s not supposed to be a place where frightened refugees trudge their children across snow in biting cold fleeing a country threatening to send them back to places filled with violence and poverty.

Now Hemmingford has become connected to the world’s troubles as millions of people from places like Somalia and Syria roam outside their countries looking for help.

At Sunday’s rec centre meeting, experts explained why people are coming to Canada, more specifically, why they are coming to this tiny nook of the world.

It’s a matter of geography, RCMP Const. Marcel Pelletier told the crowd at the Hemmingford rec centre. Pelletier said it’s an easy place to cross, but most people using it are bound for places like Toronto, which is obstructed by the Great Lakes.

So, refugees make their way to Roxham Road instead, he said.

More coming

There is concern more people could make the trip as the weather warms and how Canada would handle a major influx, and what it would do with the people arrested after crossing.

Canada does hold some refugees, even refugee children, in detention centres, a practice Amnesty International has asked Ottawa to end.

Back at the rec centre, about 150 people who live along the road and in the area were more concerned about helping the refugees than keeping them out of the country or locking them up.

One asks Pelletier if it’s legal for her to feed or shelter people who have crossed illegally. He replies that he’d rather she call the police first.

Others are there to help in a joint letter writing exercise to Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, asking him to rescind the U.S.’s designation as a safe third country.

That would mean refugees wouldn’t have to cross a ditch and rusty gate to enter Canada. They could ask for protection at a legal border crossing and not risk braving the elements to cross in places like Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle.

Among the audience on Sunday, knitting a scarf in the third row as she listens, is Jeanine Floyd, who immigrated to Canada herself from the United Kingdom years ago.

She remembers when crossing into the U.S. at the end of Roxham was child’s play for local kids.

“They would go down to the end of the road on their bicycles and they would dare each other to cross,” Floyd said. “This was the most exciting thing that would happen on Roxham, actually crossing the border to America.”

Now the border marker represents something other than fun and games as residents in the area worry about the suffering of those making the journey to the Canadian border.

They want to offer more than meaningless gestures to these people, Floyd says, suggesting that’s why people came together in Hemmingford Sunday.

“I think it’s just that pressure of wanting to fix it,” she says. Her tone goes dour. “We can’t fix it.” 

Republished with permission from TheTyee.ca. Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

Published in Top Stories

Commentary by Fred Maroun in Ottawa

Kellie Leitch is one of the candidates seeking the leadership of Canada’s Conservative party, and she attracted much attention with her proposal for “screening immigrants, refugees, and visitors, for anti-Canadian values”. There are two parts to Leitch’s proposal.

First, there is the concept of Canadian values then there is the screening.

Leitch is simply advancing widely accepted principles. She lists six values, which belong in three categories:

·         Nice-sounding but unenforceable character traits: “helping others”, “hard work”, and “generosity”.

·         “Freedom and tolerance”, which she elaborates to mean “equality of men and women, freedom of religion, and equality of all under the law”. These values are already covered in further details in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of our constitution.

·         “Equal opportunity”, less a moral value than a political belief because it affects the functioning of government rather than the actions of individuals.

Canadian values are not a Conservative or even a Liberal idea even though we owe our charter to former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. The term “Canadian values” is not widely used, yet the values are widely accepted by Canadians and even enshrined in our constitution.

On this basis, Leitch’s proposal should not be controversial, but it has become a lightning rod because there is the suspicion that it targets Muslims.

Are Canadian Values Islamophobic?

If Canadian values are seen to be hostile to Islam, it is because they are, at least when it comes to Islam as practised today by the vast majority of Muslim-majority countries. Those countries have no democratic freedoms, lesser rights for women and some ethnic groups, limited freedom of religion, and limited legal rights for non-citizens.

Islam is often used as justification for terrorism and other forms of violence in many parts of the world.

It is natural to be concerned about whether Muslims who come to Canada will negatively affect our values in the long term by adopting some of the same practices used in their countries of origin. This fear exists among much of the population of the Western world, including Canada, yet few mainstream politicians dare raise it or, even less, propose solutions.

Charter principles

Although Leitch does not state it, it is clear that her proposal is a way of addressing the fear of Islam. Her refusal to make the connection may be an attempt to avoid being labelled anti-Muslim. Leitch insists that her proposal is not anti-Muslim, and she is correct. Leitch is addressing legitimate fears of Islam in a positive way, by promoting Canadian values, which are consistent with the values of many individual Muslims, and not in a negative way, which would be to single out Islam as U.S. President Donald Trump has done through his recent executive order.

Our charter contradicts some of the widely practised Muslim principles, but it also contradicts some Christian and Jewish principles. For example, some Christian and Jewish denominations do not support gender equality.

If our Charter, and by extension our Canadian values, were anti-Muslim then they would also have to be considered anti-Christian and anti-Jewish, which is not the case. The Canadian Charter explicitly protects freedom of religion, while it expects Canadians to abide by our Canadian values. This is a recognition that individuals can think for themselves and can believe in a faith without blindly applying each of its stated principles.

Highly Desirable Policy

In this light, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is Pierre Trudeau’s son, should be even moral vocal than Leitch in promoting Canadian values, but instead, he is choosing to support a motion that condemns “Islamophobia”. Muslims and all other minorities must be protected against discrimination and violence, but politicians are hypocritical when they pretend that Islam is not a legitimate concern for many Canadians.

Canadian values should be a source of pride, not a source of partisan debate. If newcomers to Canada can be screened to protect our values, such a policy should be welcomed by everyone, including by Muslims who are here to escape the tyrannical regimes of their countries of origin.

Leitch’s proposal is still at a very early stage, and there are valid questions on how it would be implemented to avoid discrimination on the basis of religion. It is on such practical aspects that the debate should center. It may turn out that her proposal is not feasible, but it does not necessarily follow that this is a needless debate.

Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin. He lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. He regularly blogs for the Jerusalem Post and The Times of Israel.

Published in Commentary
Saturday, 04 February 2017 13:56

Privileging Diversity in Canadian Newsrooms

Commentary by George Abraham in Ottawa

IN the summer of 2015, a roomful of Ottawa folks got together at the National Arts Centre, eager to gain insights into the question, “What Stories Swing Votes?” The next federal election – the one that eventually ended Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decade in power – were just around the corner, and up on the stage at this Canadian Journalism Foundation event were some of Canada’s best political pundits – Susan Delacourt, Frank Graves, Adam Radwanski, David Herle and Tom Clark.

I don’t recall much of what was said, except one particular expression Radwanski used. It has stayed with me ever since. He spoke of a “subterranean campaign” that would be waged in immigrant communities across Canada – presumably in foreign languages and in a vernacular that would be very different from appeals to the rest of Canada. He was predicting a different playbook in select ridings – a playbook that Radwanski assumed would be beyond his understanding.

Looking back, I suspect he was right: there indeed was a playbook that enabled the Liberals to win immigrant-rich ridings. It is widely believed that part of the Liberals’ victory in October 2015 came from immigrant communities switching their votes away from the Conservatives. The Liberals won the so-called “ethnic vote.”

However, Radwanski’s choice of expression has intrigued me ever since. The respected columnist writes for the Globe and Mail – a paper that I have consistently read ever since I set foot in Canada in 2002.

I know the paper to be resourceful, financially well-endowed and world class. As a reader, I see that it invests in its journalists, giving them generous travel budgets to report at great length from hotspots on every continent, but also giving its columnists lots of latitude. It is a great Canadian institution.

And so I was fascinated by the concept that a campaign could be “subterranean” when it dealt with massive, well-established communities, served by hundreds of ethnic media publications. Why did the Globe not already have a cadre of journalistic talent that would have helped it cover these “subterranean” communities just as it did all the other ridings in Canada? Why not use translators, when necessary, to make inroads into these sorts of communities?

Radwanski’s telling observation begged a larger question: Why is our journalism not as multicultural as the rest of society?

In the period since the October 2015 election, I have reframed my question to ask, Why are our journalists not as representative as our federal cabinet?

I would love to have been a fly on the wall as Prime Minister-Elect Justin Trudeau shared with the head of his transition team, Peter Harder, his thoughts on how he wanted to go about selecting cabinet ministers. Together they produced a masterpiece of Canadian diversity. How did they get it so right, without really inviting a backlash from those who have got so used to a monochromatic hegemony in all the levers of power?

More than one year on, I still have trouble reconciling to the fact that a turbaned Sikh immigrant is Canada’s Defence Minister.

I am not the first journalist in Canada to shine a light on the lack of diversity in Canadian journalism. A few years after I set up New Canadian Media, I had the honour of meeting John Miller, a former chair of Ryerson’s journalism school, somebody who made it his life’s mission to make newsrooms more representative, more reflective of their readership and viewership. Miller has researched the issue and written extensively on the topic, to little avail.

There are still spaces in Canada that media don’t understand and have made barely an effort to try to understand. The less charitable side of me thinks they’d simply label these spaces as “ghettos” and be done with them. I suspect there are newsroom managers who argue that these newcomer enclaves don’t see themselves as Canadian.

It is incumbent on our media to do better: our journalism must enable all Canadians to feel equally included.

Given that one in five Canadians born in another country and an equal number are the children of first-generation Canadians, the “immigrant” ethos is writ large. We’ve been adding 1 million new Canadians every four years. And, generally speaking, their ethnic profile tends to be different from that of earlier settlers – for the last three decades, the majority of our newcomers have come from Asia, nations such as China, India, Pakistan and the Philippines. Canada is changing right before our eyes.

In 2012, I took a tentative step toward blending my experience as a journalist in Asia into the Canadian milieu. By then, I was convinced that most newcomers and their children share a sense of dislocation, having moved to North America from regions that are racially and socio-politically very different from the origins of earlier arrivals. They have different mores, a different worldview and a different “lived experience.” They consume news differently and view the world through a different lens.

Interestingly, Canada has had a robust ethnic media sector for a very long time. Visit any grocery store in the suburbs outside the major cities and you will encounter scores of publications stacked in neat piles. A local radio station will play music from “back home,” and the newspapers will say very little about happenings in Canada.

This anecdote may be apocryphal, but a respected ethnic journalist recently told me about a Vancouver radio station that launches its broadcast with the words, “Good morning, Vancouver! The weather in Chandigarh is …”

Each of these publications covers a particular immigrant community, in a specific geographic region, often in a foreign language. Most ethnic media continue to be narrowly focused on issues concerning their communities.

They are staffed mainly by the hundreds of journalists who arrived in Canada wanting to continue in their profession, but find it hard to gain a foothold. About 200 of them have worked with New Canadian Media or participated in our training sessions. They possess experience and language skills that could perhaps help the mainstream media demystify their communities, but nobody has quite figured out a way to marry their talents with the current needs of newsrooms.

I would be the first to admit that not all journalists are created equal. Having lived in five countries, I know first hand that every nation has its own ways of doing journalism. I also know that ethnic and “mainstream” could not be further apart in their professional standards. It would be the rare ethnic journalist who has had the luxury of paying for a journalism degree in Canada.

Working for multicultural media is very different from working for, say, the Globe. The reporters often double up as advertising salespeople. Ethnic publishers roll from one financial crisis to another; scores of them go under every year, while others sprout in their place. The line between editorial and advertising is blurred.

These publications, though, remain a vibrant part of Canada’s media ecosystem and play a critical role in informing and welcoming new immigrants. They fulfill a vital democratic function – albeit an insufficient one.

We in the media need to do a better job of speaking for Canadians and being a mirror to society. This is a cliché, but readers, viewers and listeners want to see and hear themselves reflected in our newsrooms. They want to hear foreign-sounding accents and even a mangled English or French sentence once in a while.

Journalism is about reflecting the lives and times of all Canadians – in all their diversity, colour and socio-political complexity. Newcomers invariably do not fit into the preconceived notions of today’s mainstream media editors.

That’s why it is very important for newsroom managers to specifically empower journalists in our newsrooms from diverse backgrounds to speak up, not to be cowed by those who perhaps unwittingly crowd out more timid voices and offbeat perspectives. In short, let’s privilege diversity, rather than conformity.

As we imagine a new media landscape for future generations, I suggest a “third way” that enables Canada to become the first nation in the world to marry ethnic and mainstream – a true reflection of our unique demographics. Let’s recognize that our highly corporatized media organizations have lost touch and are excluding large segments of our population by continuing to hire candidates who could not possibly do justice to the worldviews or lived experiences of many communities, including immigrants.

I realize it will take more than a generation to achieve in the media what Trudeau has done with his cabinet. It will take more than resolve and window dressing. In the meanwhile, let’s find ways for the two media silos to work together, discover common ground, and, in the process, improve the coverage of communities that feel left out.

This commentary was first published in Policy Options and part of a special feature The Future of Canadian Journalism.

Published in Arts & Culture
Thursday, 19 January 2017 12:38

Most Terrorists are Average Joes

Commentary by Phil Gurski

Just how sophisticated are most terrorists anyway?

Sometimes, I think most of us get terrorism very, very wrong.  I am not sure whether this is due to the Hollywood effect where terrorists seem to be popping up in more and more films each year.  Can anyone point to a movie from the 1960s where violent extremists played a major role?  Aside, of course, from the cartoonish Bond villains.

In many of these cinematographic offerings, the terrorists come across as cold, calculating, evil monsters who carefully plan their acts of terror and can only be defeated by the equally calculating good guys – Jack Reacher, Jack Bauer (why are all the counter terrorism heroes called Jack?), etc.  Sometimes our guys resort to unsavoury methods to stop the heinous plotters of death.  Oh well, that is how it goes in the name of keeping us safe.

It is beyond obvious that film is not always a mirror for reality. I maybe a voice in the wilderness if I were to call for more accurate portrayals of terrorism and intelligence, but it may be that our image of terrorism as it is shown to us on the silver screen does us a disservice.

Zero counter-surveillance 

I am referring here to the belief that all terrorists are high-level operatives who plan their death and destruction with the utmost secrecy, meaning that it is next to impossible for security and law enforcement agencies to detect and neutralize them before it is too late (unless they have a guy named Jack on staff!).

The reality is that this is not always accurate.  The way it really works came to light in Turkey when the terrorist accused of carrying out the attack on an Istanbul night club on New Year's Eve chose his venue randomly after he was scared off his first preference by heightened security.

You read that right. 

The terrorist who killed 39 people did not engage in careful pre-attack surveillance, reconnaissance and tracking of the place to bear the brunt of his ideological hatred.  And he is not alone.  Many terrorists, at least in my experience in Canada, are not the most sophisticated, and are frankly, incapable of carrying out meticulous planning. 

They have next to zero counter-surveillance skills, often choose their targets almost accidentally and rarely do dry runs to test security. Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the terrorist who attacked the War Memorial and Parliament in Ottawa in October 2014, may have been an uncommon exception as there are indications he toured Centre Block several weeks before his ill-fated assault.

The "B-team"

Given this, an immediate question arises: who is more dangerous – the terrorist who dots all his i's and crosses all his t's or the one who shows up one day and kills?  My money is on the latter. 

Those who take the time to ensure success expose themselves to scrutiny, monitoring, eavesdropping, human source penetration, intelligence sharing, and, perhaps most importantly, time – time for state agencies to figure out what they are bent on doing.  The one who does no pre-planning is hard to identify and stop since his plot is shorter in the preparatory stages and involves fewer steps that can screw up. 

Truth be told, both types can succeed and both can be foiled, but prior warning and longer planning cycles are the enemy of the terrorist and the friend of our spies.

I think we need to challenge our view of terrorism and terrorists. They are not all supermen (and women) with other worldly powers that are next to impossible to match. Most are just average joes with little foresight and low intellect who decide to act rashly on whatever grievance motivates them. 

That does not mean we should dismiss the "B-team" – they can still do a lot of damage – but it does imply we should not give the terrorists more credit than they deserve.

They get enough free publicity already that feeds their egos and inflates their importance.  Let us not add to that.

Phil Gurski worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at http://www.borealisthreatandrisk.com/blog/

Published in Commentary

by Susan Delacourt in Ottawa

The best person to explain the big new-year changes to the federal cabinet’s makeup might well be someone who doesn’t even live here: outgoing U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden.

During a visit to Canada a month ago, Biden told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that Canada needs to step up, internationally — comments that were widely interpreted as a gesture of passing the liberal torch from soon-to-be ex-president Barack Obama.

“The world is going to spend a lot of time looking to you, Mr. Prime Minister. Vive le Canada, because we need you very, very badly,” Biden said in remarks at a dinner during his visit to Ottawa.

While we don’t know how much the world was watching events at Rideau Hall on Tuesday, it is abundantly clear that Trudeau has set his sights on the world. As he told reporters after the shuffle, he needs to take into account a “shift in global context.”

In fact, it’s difficult to remember a Canadian cabinet shuffle so internationally focused — one that set so many parts in motion outside Canada’s borders, especially during a time of tumultuous, global change. Among the changes we learned about Tuesday:

  • A new minister to handle the looming challenges to Canada posed by Donald Trump’s incoming administration — Chrystia Freeland, now Global Affairs minister.
  • A new ambassador to China — former immigration minister John McCallum. This isn’t about a minister being put out to pasture: McCallum is being asked to represent Canada in a nation of immense interest to the current government. Faced with trade threats from a U.S. president vowing to make America great again (possibly at other countries’ expense,) Canada has been seeking to expand trade with China.
  • A new minister of international trade, François-Philippe Champagne.
  • A new minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship: Ahmed Hussen.

The departing Global Affairs minister, Stéphane Dion, was rumoured to be considering a diplomatic post, possibly in Europe, but at the time of Tuesday’s press conference the former Liberal leader was saying only that he was leaving active politics and considering his next move. My best bet is that this is a difficult conversation still in progress (which probably accounted for the unusual uncertainty about the timing of the shuffle ceremony itself at Rideau Hall).

The speculation about Europe as a landing spot for Dion, however, underlines just how much Trudeau and his team are thinking about what’s going on in the world these days. The Brexit vote to leave the European Union, the refugee crisis, ongoing terrorism threats and the rise of right-wing parties are all large matters of concern to progressive-minded governments.

As Biden said in his Ottawa speech: “I’ve never seen Europe as engaged in as much self-doubt as they are now.”

All prime ministers, sooner or later, become preoccupied with global affairs and their place on the big stage. It’s usually an interest that deepens with tenure, and their increasing confidence in rubbing shoulders with other world leaders.

With a comfortable majority, Trudeau doesn’t need to be worried about his government falling on a vote in the Commons while he’s abroad, as Stephen Harper was during his first two minority governments.

Trudeau, however, seemed to arrive in office with an intense interest in international affairs; he gave some of his first interviews to foreign media and has spent a lot of time commuting to the United States and other summits around the world. His critics have portrayed this as a lack of interest in his own country, accusing Trudeau of being too busy to even attend question period and thinking himself too important to spend his vacations in Canada.

Granted, it is a luxury Trudeau can afford. With a comfortable majority, Trudeau doesn’t need to be worried about his government falling on a vote in the Commons while he’s abroad, as Stephen Harper was during his first two minority governments.

Not all of this shuffle was outward-looking. Shuffles can be very useful in maintaining government discipline — dangling a few promotions as examples to other ambitious, cabinet wannabes in the backbench, and doling out demotions as a warning to others performing under-par. To borrow from that old Liberal campaign slogan from 2015, shuffles are all about hope and hard work — dispensing it (hope) or enforcing it (hard work).

On that score, this shuffle did deliver. While Trudeau’s office was putting out nice words about Dion and his contribution to the government in a press release, nobody watching the PM’s press conference had any doubts that the PMO had decided the former professor and Liberal leader wasn’t the right man to handle what’s coming with Trump and other big events on the world stage.

Other casualties: Maryam Monsef, now the Status of Women minister, was punted from the Democratic Reform post to which she was proving herself unsuited (to say the least). MaryAnn Mihychuk was ejected altogether from her job as minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour.

Trudeau wasn’t doing this shuffle with home-grown concerns at front of mind, or even his prospects for the next election. The election that seems to be front of mind for Trudeau right now is the recent one in the United States.

Big promotions were handed out to Patty Hadju, moving from Status of Women to Mihychuk’s old job, and to new ministers Champagne and Hussen. Other MPs will be wondering what they did right — which is exactly what the PMO wants them to be thinking about.

Note, though, that the domestic posts in this week’s shuffle were almost afterthoughts. Trudeau wasn’t doing this shuffle with home-grown concerns at front of mind, or even his prospects for the next election (those changes will come closer to 2019, we can assume).

The election that seems to be front of mind for Trudeau right now is the recent one in the United States — the one that gave Canada, and now Freeland, a President Trump to deal with. And if we’re looking for deeper read of the shuffle’s international focus, Biden’s remarks to the PM may be as good any.

“The progress is going to be made,” Biden said, “but it’s going to take men like you, Mr. Prime Minister, who understand it has to fit within the context of a liberal economic order, a liberal international order, where there’s basic rules of the road.”

Don’t be surprised if words along these lines are in the mandate letters for many of the new ministers.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.


Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca 

Published in Politics
Sunday, 11 December 2016 08:06

Don’t Mess with a Vote System that Works

Commentary by Fred Maroun in Ottawa

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau promised to replace the first-past-the-post electoral system of Canada during the last federal election campaign a year ago. Now that he is prime minister with a parliamentary majority, there is an expectation from opponents of that electoral system that he will deliver on a promise that he should never have made.

Opponents of the first-past-the-post system advance romantic ideas of better representation of the range of opinions of Canadians to make their case, but romanticism does not make for good policy. Fact is there is already more than adequate representation in Parliament of the diversity of Canadian opinions, and at the same time, groups on the extremes cannot easily dictate to the majority. (Under the current system, the candidate with the most votes is declared elected in every riding.)

In the current debate on electoral reform, the positions taken by the four national parties do not represent any romantic ideas of democracy. They represent nothing but their own best interests.

Party positions

The Green Party and the NDP, who always elect a smaller percentage of Members of Parliament (MPs) than their shares of the vote, want proportional representation (a system under which the number of MPs would mirror a party’s popular vote).

The Conservatives, who have benefited from the first-past-the-post system and who know that no other system would work better for them, reject any electoral reform.

The Liberals, who know that they would benefit from preferential balloting since it favours middle-of-the-road parties (it is a system under which a voter ranks all candidates by order of preference), are said to support this system, although they have been careful not to admit it publicly.

If partisan interest is ignored, it is abundantly clear that the current system is not only good enough, but that it is the best possible system.

Just ask any immigrant if they prefer the Canadian system or the system used in their country of origin. Our voting system is why many immigrants come here.

Reflecting popular will

When it is convenient to them, politicians tell us that Canada is the best place in the world. We certainly are one of the best places, and that is because we have a political system that is able to govern Canada efficiently through changing times, while remaining representative of the general will of Canadians.

Proportional representation exists in other countries, and it certainly delivers on the promise to elect politicians that represent diverse opinions. However, it does so at a high price.

Smaller parties with narrow interests often become essential in forming government coalitions and are able to dictate their narrow agendas. This phenomenon is very visible in Israel, a country that uses proportional representation, as Haaretz explains in “Ultra-Orthodox Parties Are Back in Power and Israelis Aren’t Thrilled About It”.

The first-past-the-post system does not prevent politicians with minority opinions from being elected, but to be elected, they usually have to work within a party that has broad appeal. For example, the Conservative party includes MPs who wish to ban abortion, even though that is not the policy of the party. Under this system, MPs who hold minority opinions must convince others to support them, which is a good democratic practice. They cannot ram through unpopular changes by being power brokers. 

The first-past-the-post system also does not prevent the emergence and the viability of third parties, although it does require them to have broader support than they would need under proportional representation. Five parties are currently represented in the Parliament of Canada, a consistent pattern over the last few decades, including the NDP, the Greens, the Liberals, the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois.

Majority government

While it includes minority representation, the fact that the first-past-the-post system usually results in majority governments means that it offers the advantages of political stability and the ability to make tough choices. The Canada-U.S. free trade agreement (later followed by the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA) is now seen by all political parties as beneficial to Canada, but that agreement would not have occurred under proportional representation since the Conservative party was at that time the only party supporting it.

Preferential balloting could be seen as a reasonable compromise, since it would likely maintain the benefits of majority governments while giving voters the feeling that their votes are more influential than under first-past-the-past. However, there would be a diminished diversity of opinions represented in Parliament. Under preferential balloting, centrist views would gain an advantage since this is typically the second choice of people on either side of an issue. Therefore, less mainstream opinions would have a harder time being heard. 

Delivering on election promises is typically good politics, but it is not good politics when the promise itself was foolish. Prime Minister Trudeau should do what is best for Canada, not what is best for his party – keep the electoral system as it is because it is the best in the world.

Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lives in Ottawa. He lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. He writes at Gatestone Institute, The Times of Israel, Jerusalem Online, and Jerusalem Post.

Published in Politics
Page 1 of 16

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