New Canadian Media

by Jeremy J. Nuttall in Ottawa

The Trump campaign’s symphony of bigotry has vibrated through the Conservative Party leadership race as two of the candidates choose markedly different paths to victory.

While Simcoe-Grey MP Kellie Leitch applauded Trump’s victory and pushes screening new immigrants for “anti-Canadian values,” former immigration minister Chris Alexander is marking his turf as a candidate who would let immigrants in and keep Trump’s style of politics out.

Alexander lost his seat of Ajax-Pickering in last year’s election, but said he remains committed to politics.

Speaking to The Tyee during an hour-long interview in Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport before grabbing a flight to Winnipeg for a campaign stop, Alexander explained not only why Leitch’s plan is flawed, but could ultimately hurt Canada.

“You only get great results from immigration and integration when there is trust,” Alexander said. “We have relatively high levels of trust and that is one of the most precious assets we have.”

Canada is built on a unifying narrative about immigrants’ importance, he said, and the shared reality that it is a nation of people who arrived from other countries — aside from Indigenous peoples.

A divisive campaign framing immigrants as potential threats could damage that trust and the benefits it creates for the economy and society, he said.

Alexander said elements in the Conservative Party embracing Trump-like rhetoric don’t recognize the differing challenges and attitudes in Canadian and American societies.

Leitch is echoing Trump’s approach, Alexander said.

Leitch, a medical doctor and professor, congratulated Trump on his win, calling it an “exciting message” and suggesting Canada needs to oust “elites” from the halls of power. The move sparked rebukes from former students and even her former press secretary.

Leitch has said she doesn’t endorse Trump. But her proposal to screen potential immigrants for “values” and her vitriol against “elites” has resulted in criticism she’s attempting to follow Trump’s path to victory.

Leitch, like Trump, has also lost support from the party establishment. And last week she left a leadership debate at the last minute, saying she needed to deal with “threats” and a possible break-in at her Creemore home.

Alexander said Leitch’s tactic of claiming the immigration system is weak and a threat to Canada is “unfair.”

And her plan, which would include a face-to-face interview for all immigrants, refugees and even visitors, would cost a fortune, he said. Immigrants alone account for up to 300,000 people a year, he said, and having enough staff overseas to interview each one would be hugely expensive.

 

And the money would be wasted, Alexander said, because people who really are a danger to Canadian society are not going to be honest.

He said the current measures — background checks, a review for possible terrorist connections and merit-based admission — work well and are admired by much of the world.

“We do that better than we’ve ever done it and you can see the result,” Alexander said. “I don’t think you can point to a lot of high-profile crimes, and certainly not terrorist attacks in Canada, recently that go back to immigrants.”

But last year, in the federal election campaign’s homestretch, Leitch and Alexander stood side by side to announce the Conservatives’ plan for a “barbaric cultural practices” hotline.

The plan to create a tipline for people to call if they suspected neighbours of activities like forced marriage brought accusations of racism and opponents attacked the Conservatives mercilessly on the issue.

Leitch, then minister for the status of women, said she regrets taking part in the announcement.

Alexander said Saturday that he wishes the Conservatives had run a different campaign.

And he said that even though he was immigration minister, he only found out about the hotline plan an hour before he announced it at a press conference.

Alexander still insists the intent of the plan was to deal with acts like forced marriages.

Alexander also acknowledged what he now calls a “meltdown” on a CBC news show when he tried to blame the media for the Harper government’s limp response from the government about the refugee crisis.

The government’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis became a major issue in September after photos of the drowned body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi on a Turkish beach sparked a global outcry for Western nations to accept more refugees.

Alexander said he cared deeply about the plight of refugees and had suggested the Conservatives announce plans to increase the number of refugees admitted to Canada within 48 hours of the Kurdi story breaking. Then Conservative leader Stephen Harper had announced an increase in refugee admissions from 10,000 to 20,000 in August. Alexander says his suggestion of a further increase was not accepted.

Instead, the Conservatives committed to speeding up refugee applications and an increase after the election.

Alexander took most of the flak for the government’s refugee decisions. A year later, up against the public’s memory of the election, he said wants to build his campaign based on the trust he says is so important to Canada’s functioning, not just on immigration but on other policies.

Meanwhile, Leitch told a Toronto radio station last week she isn’t concerned racists may be supporting her campaign.

Leitch said she isn’t a racist and is delighted so many people were supporting her candidacy.

“There have been some people that have obviously become upset because of these ideas I’m putting forward, but I’m going to continue to talk about them,” she told AM 640, saying polls show a majority of Canadians agree with her.

Later in the week Leitch condemned the appearance of anti-Chinese posters in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond as racist and against Canadian values.

Alexander said there is no list of Canadian values to use in screening immigrants. (Though Leitch has assembled her idea of Canadian values on her website.)

Values are individual and the most important one is respect for the law, he said.

Leitch will not likely be persuaded to change her views, Alexander said, dismissing the suggestion she was merely taking her positions to generate media coverage.

“She’s a person of integrity and I don’t think she’s going to come out and say things she doesn’t believe in,” he said, noting he considers Leitch a friend.

But he said Leitch is likely being “brought” to believe they are sound policies by her campaign team. The team is centered around Nick Kouvalis, who ran the campaigns for both Rob Ford and John Tory when they were elected mayor of Toronto.

Leitch is a frontrunner in the crowded leadership race, polling as high as 20 per cent support.

Alexander said the best way to respond to her policies is by not engaging and remaining adamant Canada is “in a different place” — though he worries a weak economy could lead to a populist Trump-style movement.

“Let’s have policies and let’s have debate that actually are inclusive and focus on issues that actually matter,” he said, pointing out Leitch’s views on immigration are opposed by most of the 12 Conservative leadership candidates.

“We’re going in other directions and I think that’s the mainstream conservative and mainstream Canadian approach to immigration.”

Republished with permission from The Tyee

Published in Top Stories

by Diba Hareer in Ottawa 

Lack of language skills, community support and cultural constraints prevent many immigrant and ethnic women from fleeing abusive relationships and seeking help.  

The most recent figures from Statistics Canada show that one quarter of all violent crimes are domestic in nature and in nearly seven out of 10 cases women and girls are the victims. 

Although there are no specific numbers for the demographic, shelters in urban centres say they are seeing a growing number of immigrant/ethnic women using their services and fear many others aren’t seeking help because of cultural barriers. 

Seeking refuge 

Elmas, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, is an 18-year-old, born and raised in Canada by immigrant parents. She was abused by her parents who, she says, sought to control every aspect of her life, imposing what she calls the lifestyle of a ‘traditional Middle Eastern woman’ on her. 

She currently lives in a women’s shelter and is concerned her parents might find her.  

[Elmas] fled her parents’ home after they tried to force her into an arranged marriage.

Elmas says that she fled her parents’ home after they tried to force her into an arranged marriage, which she refused. 

Even though she was raised in a Middle Eastern culture at home, she valued her Canadian identity and wanted to be in charge of her own life. She says that’s what led to her parents abusing her.  

“My parents act as [if] they’re dictators in the house, whatever they say must happen ... They have anger issues,” she explains. 

Elmas says her parents worried they would become the “laughing stock” of their social circle and that they valued their image in the community above her welfare and happiness. 

Although they did not like being married to each other, Elmas says they chose to continue the relationship because divorce was considered taboo. Elmas desired to choose her partner herself, rather than be pushed by a culture she could not understand.  

Elmas explains her parents constantly yelled at her and subjected her to harsh criticism. They began controlling her contact with her friends and restricted her social get-togethers.  

“It was getting to an extent where I wasn’t having a choice in anything.” 

[T]he women who most often don’t seek help are the ones who don’t speak English or French.

A common story  

Elmas’ story is one that staff at women’s shelters often hear from immigrant and ethnic women. 

Keri Lewis, the executive director of Nelson House in Ottawa, says more than half of the women staying at the shelter are immigrants and/or ethnic women. Lewis says the immigrant women specifically that she sees are often quite isolated due to language barriers.  

The trend is similar in Toronto. About 55 per cent of the women staying at Sandgate Women’s Shelter in York region are immigrants and/or ethnic women, according to Jehan Chaudhry, Sandgate’s executive director. Of that number, 35 per cent are of Middle Eastern descent. 

The types of cases both shelters handle are similar and include women fleeing physical and emotional abuse, forced or arranged marriages, and honour-based crimes.  

According to Chaudhry, the women who most often don’t seek help are the ones who don’t speak English or French and aren’t aware of the services offered by shelters.

Another factor barring women from running to safety is their concern about the impact of being separated from their children. Sometimes a woman who tries to leave her husband gets pressured by her community to stay.  

Economic dependency and fear of further victimization are other factors that force immigrant women to stay in abusive relationships. 

Priya Kharat, a counsellor at the Students’ Union Wellness Centre at the University of Calgary, found in her research that new immigrant women compare Canadian law enforcement with law enforcement in their native countries, which are often corrupt and unfair, so they fear seeking help.  

“What they were doing was wrong, no matter what they said, I knew it was wrong.”

Difficult to leave  

Elmas had many second thoughts about running away.  

“I felt that it wasn’t right for me to leave if I didn’t give them a full chance,” she says. But her parents didn’t change their approach. They continued to emotionally and physically abuse her, and often would inflict the same pain on her younger siblings.  

“It was against my religion,” says Elmas, who is Muslim. “What they were doing was wrong, no matter what they said, I knew it was wrong.”  

The day she left is seared into her memory. She remembers feeling nervous and nauseous. “But I knew it was the direction that I had to go on,” she explains. 

Elmas had a friend who helped her leave home and find a shelter and a lawyer – support many women do not have. According to Chaudhry, one of the main challenges abused immigrant women face is not knowing how to navigate the Canadian system. 

Chaudhry says that’s why it’s important for shelter staff to provide facilities for women based on their specific cultural and language needs.  

Sandgate has Arabic and Farsi interpreters, a room designated for prayers and halal food options, for example.  

Now that she is at a shelter, Elmas says she feels safe. Her goal is to enrol in university once more and pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.  

Her advice for women and girls going through a similar experience is not to run unless they are committed to following through. 

“You’ll end up wanting to go back and if you go back, it’ll be even worse than before.”


Journalist Judy Trinh mentored the writer of this article through the NCM Mentoring Program 

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 Health

by Yamina Tsalamlal of iPolitics.ca

While much of the criticism of the Harper government’s Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act has been directed at its boldly overwrought title, legal and cultural experts today weighed in with warnings about its content.

While the intention of the bill was to protect young women from forced marriages, witnesses told the Senate human rights committee that by criminalizing it, the law would isolate girls and prevent them from getting help. They also argued that sections of the bill need to be scrapped and more focus should be put on providing resources for young girls in forced marriages and women in polygamous marriages.

“Prevention, not prohibition,” exhorted Deepa Mattoo, Acting Executive Director of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario.

Mattoo argued that there is existing law that can be applied to forced marriage situations such as assault, kidnapping and duress statutes and that instead of jumping the gun on criminalizing forced marriage, more research and education needs to be done.

“How is it reasonable to expect a sixteen year old, high school student, who does not understand how to navigate the justice system, to fight against her own parents?” asked Butt.

Mattoo said there exists some protection that young women can take advantage of, but public education is lacking. For example if a young woman contacts the clinic because she suspects that her family vacation may lead to a forced marriage, she can contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Development so she can be monitored.

The other issue to keep in mind is that this law deals with young women, who are under the protection of their parents.

She said in her experience women who come forward seeking help don’t necessarily want to have to go to court against their parents. Eighty per cent of her clients reunite with their families in some way.

“They do not want their families to be criminalized,” said Mattoo.

Dr Naila Butt, executive director of the Social Services Network, which provides services to the South Asian community in York region, agrees.

“How is it reasonable to expect a sixteen year old, high school student, who does not understand how to navigate the justice system, to fight against her own parents?” asked Butt.

Butt said that criminalizing forced marriage without institutional support for victims, “would only further alienate and harm those facing forced marriage and gender-based violence. With the added insult of being stigmatized that they come from barbaric cultures.”

“Criminalization is the easy part,” said Butt. “The hard work is basically getting people to sit down, work together and address the issue.”

Butt said there have been pilot projects done by the federal government to support South Asian communities as well as women and girls. And that this work needs to continue. Butt said it’s important to engage men, foster education, train service providers, engage schools and police services and disseminate public awareness campaigns.

“Criminalization is the easy part,” said Butt. “The hard work is basically getting people to sit down, work together and address the issue.”

The bill amends sections of The Refugee and Immigration Protection Act, The Civil Marriage Act and The Criminal Code. It includes provisions that make individuals who practice polygamy inadmissible to Canada, would limit the defence of provocation in murder cases and would criminalize those involved in forced marriages.


Re-published with permission.

Published in Top Stories
Wednesday, 12 November 2014 09:56

Our Male Chauvinist Culture

by Fred Maroun in Ottawa

Canada’s government will shortly introduce a bill intended to further discourage “barbaric cultural practices,” such as polygamy, forced marriages, and “honour” killings. I suspect that this bill will be supported by the vast majority of immigrants to Canada. Speaking for myself, I would certainly agree that such practices are barbaric and do not belong in Canada (or anywhere else).  The clearer we can be about the illegality of these acts, the better.

It is interesting, although I am sure purely coincidental, that this bill is being introduced during the ongoing Jian Ghomeshi scandal which has brought the issue of violence against women to the forefront.  Clearly, whether we are immigrants or not, we Canadians have a lot of work to do in order to improve our record in the way we treat women.

Jian Ghomeshi, a son of Iranian immigrants, who for many years was known as a charming and talented radio host, appears now to have been physically abusing many women over many years with impunity. It is reported that Ghomeshi’s abuse affected many women, all his staff knew about it; it was even reported within the media organization, but Ghomeshi’s abuse was allowed to continue.

Campus Frosh weeks

In September 2003, a story broke about a chant promoting rape at events during Frosh Week at the University Of British Columbia's Sauder School Of Business.   Not having learned anything from the UBC incident, a similar chant was reported at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax the following year.  Apparently, Frosh leaders, both at St. Mary’s and at UBC, said “it’s just lyrics, it’s just a chant, they have no meaning behind it.”

In November 2014, two players from the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees hockey team were charged with sexually assaulting a young woman at a Thunder Bay hotel during a game trip seven months earlier. Taking no chances, the university president, Allan Rock, suspended the entire team, but his caution was criticized by students as “unfair”.

We have a reputation for being polite, liberal, and egalitarian. Perhaps we do not deserve it.

Radio hosts and university students are considered to be among the most educated Canadians, and such educated people are expected to understand that women are not their sexual toys. Some people have suggested that Canadian universities have a “rape culture”. I think that the problem extends far beyond universities.

Sexual offences

According to Canada’s Department of Justice, “the highest number of police-reported sexual offences were against girls between the ages of 11 to 19, peaking at age 13 (781 per 100,000 population).” Think about this for a minute: 13-year-old girls are the favourite target of rapists. The same document also states that “78% of sexual assaults were not reported to the police”; other reports give even higher numbers, going as high as 94%.

One could argue that 781 per 100,000 population is only 0.78% and therefore not representative of the general Canadian population. However, since only 78% of sexual assaults are reported, the actual rate is 3.5%.  In addition, the 3.5% rate of rape is only the tip of the iceberg.  Sexual misconduct goes well beyond rape.  In June 2013, almost 300 current and former female RCMP officers joined a class-action lawsuit alleging harassment in the workplace.

According to the Canadian Labour Congress, "10% of women 18 to 24 years of age report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace within the previous 12 months."  At this rate, it is not hard to imagine that most women in Canada have experienced sexual harassment at least once during their lifetimes.  In fact, a private company, Canadian Labour Relations, estimates that over 90% of women in Canada have been sexually harassed at least once.  This is far beyond an innocent Frosh week chant; this indicates a sense of entitlement on the part of men towards women and girls.

This is far beyond an innocent Frosh week chant; this indicates a sense of entitlement on the part of men towards women and girls.

Our global reputation

This is clearly not a Canadian problem alone, but we pride ourselves on being better than the rest of the world. We have a reputation for being polite, liberal, and egalitarian. Perhaps, we do not deserve it. The reality is that the vast majority of Canadian men have been abusive to women at one point or another in their lives, and many, like Ghomeshi, appear to feel fully entitled to do so as often as they wish.  It is not just our universities that have a twisted idea of sexual consent; this syndrome appears to be widely shared among men in our society: even former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps was not immune, as we have just learned.

Whether it is “honour” killings, rape, or other attacks on women, we Canadians, immigrants or otherwise, clearly have a lot of work to do. We need to provide more support to women who are victims of these crimes so that they will feel secure enough to come forward. We need to recognize gender equality as very high among our cultural values, and we need to shun old male chauvinist attitudes and behaviours traditionally promoted within many cultures. 

Laws are essential, but they are not enough. We need to take personal responsibility for this, in our families, in our workplaces, and within our communities.


Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of the civil war. Fred blogs at Times of Israel and his own blogspot

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

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