CSIS spying on Canadians: needles and haystacks

The Liberal government promised to undo aspets of draconian anti-terror Bill C-51. We are still waiting.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. Photo by Art Babych

In June 2015, the Conservative government passed the Anti-Terrorism Act, which is also known as Bill C-51. It gave sweeping new powers to Canada’s spy and security agencies. For example, the legislation broadened the definition of “security” in a way which could criminalize peaceful protests. It also permitted agents of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to disrupt events preemptively rather than being limited to monitoring them. Continue reading CSIS spying on Canadians: needles and haystacks

Year-ender in which a humble scribe admits mistakes

Scientist and evangelical Katharine Hayhoe talks effecrively to fellow Christians about climate change
Katharine Hayhoe, scientist and evangelical. Photo courtesy of Katharine Hayhoe.com

Jeffrey Simpson, the excellent but now retired columnist for The Globe and Mail would write at year’s end about what he got right — and where he had been wrong. I intend to try something similar with this blog posting. Continue reading Year-ender in which a humble scribe admits mistakes

Justin Trudeau “disengaged” on nuclear weapons file

Critics say Justin Trudeau is “disengaged” on the nuclear weapons file.
Justin Trudeau “disengaged” on nuclear weapons file. Art Babych photo.

At the United Nations in late October 123 countries voted in favour of a recommendation endorsing the launch of negotiations aimed at prohibiting nuclear weapons. Canada voted no. Douglas Roche, this country’s former Ambassador for Disarmament at the UN is clearly piqued. “The government turned its back on an important nuclear disarmament initiative,” he says, “and sided with the nuclear weapons states that want to keep and modernize their nuclear arsenals for the rest of the 21st century.”

Roche adds, “The blame for the Canadian diplomatic debacle belongs squarely on the desk of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose office won’t even answer letters or phone calls from high-ranking persons trying to alert him to the need for Canadian action.” Roche says that Trudeau seems “disengaged” on nuclear arms control and that his government has undermined the nuclear disarmament work championed by his father Pierre Trudeau.  Continue reading Justin Trudeau “disengaged” on nuclear weapons file

At Machzikei Hadas synagogue, a rally against hate

More than 600 gathered for a multi-faith solidarity event in Ottawa to combat racism and xenophobia
Line up at Machzikei Hadas synagogue for multi-faith solidarity event. Photo by Dennis Gruending

On Nov. 19, I was among 600 people crowded into Ottawa’s Machzikei Hadas synagogue for a multi-faith solidarity event. Earlier in the week, someone painted racist and Nazi graffiti on two Ottawa synagogues and a mosque, as well as a United Church whose minister is a person of colour and the residence of a Jewish woman, who teaches in her home. Even in blustery weather, there was a long line outside of the synagogue. But once inside, I felt nothing but warmth. Continue reading At Machzikei Hadas synagogue, a rally against hate

Dr. Doug Gruner, warm welcome is key to refugee integration

Dr. Doug Gruner says warm welcome is key to refugee integration
Dr. Doug Gruner, warm welcome is key to refugee integration

Dr. Doug Gruner says that a welcoming approach toward refugees is a key to their successful integration into Canadian life, and access to healthcare is vital to the process.

Gruner practices at the Bruyère Family Medicine Centre in Ottawa. He spoke recently to a class at the Ottawa School of Theology and Spirituality (OSTS). “Once we make a decision to accept refugees,” he said, “it is our responsibility to provide them with health care.”

Honeymoon phase is over

Referring to the Syrian refugees who arrived earlier this year Gruner added, “We are past the honeymoon phase that occurs when refugees first arrive. We are now seeing a lot of physical and mental health issues.”

A lack of familiarity with Canadian society, cultural and language differences, and the trauma that many refugees have experienced can make it incredibly difficult for them to use the healthcare system, he said.

For example, many Syrian refugees are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “As a result,” Gruner told the OSTS class, “these people may have difficulty sleeping, getting motivated and trusting others.”  Quoting Dr. Morton Beiser, a psychiatrist with St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and a professor at Ryerson University, Gruner said that refugees often deal with these difficulties by retreating into silence, and healthcare providers have too often colluded by participating in the silence.

Doctors for Refugee Care

Gruner belongs to a group called Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care which opposed the Harper government when it chose to make drastic cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) in 2012. That program had provided for refugee health services since 1957. MPs and cabinet ministers, including then Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, claimed that refugees were getting “gold-plated” health benefits which were not available to most Canadians.

Gruner and other health professionals fought back. “These were our patients and we had to stand up for them,” he said.  Refugees, he added, were getting exactly the same services available to anyone on social assistance.” This included visits to the doctor, access to basic medications and supplemental benefits like vision and dental care, but for emergency treatments only. “It was simply not true to describe those services as out of the ordinary or excessive,” Gruner said.

In July 2014, the Federal Court of Canada ruled that the changes to the IFHP violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Early in 2016 the new Liberal government restored the benefits.

Canada needs newcomers

Gruner was asked in the OSTS class whether Canadian healthcare and service providing institutions can cope with immigration and refugee acceptance numbers at their current levels. He replied that there was a challenge when thousands of Syrian refugees arrived early in 2016. It was overwhelming, especially for providing education and housing services, he said, but that has smoothed out.

Traditionally, he said, that Canada accepts about 250,000 immigrants and 25,000 refugees each year. “Most end up in urban centres where there is more of an opportunity to access healthcare,” Gruner said. “One of the biggest challenges is interpretation services. In the case of the Syrians we need interpreters who can speak Arabic.”

Private sponsorships work

In the longer term, Gruner said, the more important question is whether Canada can afford not to accept immigrants and refugees. “We are not replacing ourselves as a population so refugees and other immigrants, many of them young people, will have a lot to offer in the future.”

Of the approximately 30,000 Syrian refugees accepted into Canada within the past year, Gruner said, about 1600 have arrived in Ottawa. About 1200 of them have been sponsored by the government and another 400 are privately sponsored, many of them by faith communities. Gruner said those who are privately-sponsored receive more support than is available to refugees who are government sponsored. This includes the welcome upon arrival, social and friendship support and also practical assistance in finding housing and jobs.

“There is an embarrassment of riches available to privately sponsored refugees compared to those sponsored by the government,” he said. “In the future our system needs to evolve to better coordinate our welcoming efforts to include the generous support of private sponsors when we welcome all refugees, including government assisted refugees”

Donald Trump wins election but not the vote

Donald Trump won the U.S. election but lost the popular vote. What happens now?
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. Photo by Michael Vadon/Wikipedia Commons

Our southern neighbours have chosen as their president a serial liar, a crude racist and sexual predator — someone who has grown wealthy by avoiding taxes, declaring bankruptcy several times and stiffing both his employees and his creditors.  What’s more, Donald Trump is a potential demagogue similar in temperament to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.  Continue reading Donald Trump wins election but not the vote

Katharine Hayhoe talks softly to Christians on climate change. Is there a better way?

Scientist and evangelical Katharine Hayhoe talks softly to fellow Christians about climate change
Scientist and evangelical Katharine Hayhoe. Photo courtesy of Katharine Hayhoe.com

I’ve been writing blogs for nine years now, and I receive the greatest response — much of it negative — whenever I write about climate change. I suspect that at least some of those who react are paid by the carbon industry to sow doubt.  I accept the scientific consensus that that climate change is real, that it’s human-induced and that it’s already causing catastrophic damage. Taking my cue from organizations, such as the International Panel on Climate Change and NASA, I tend to be uncompromising whenever writing or speaking about the issue. Continue reading Katharine Hayhoe talks softly to Christians on climate change. Is there a better way?

‘Globalization of indifference’, ignoring the world’s refugee crisis


There are 65 million forcibly displaced people in the world. What are we doing about it?
Photo by Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons

The world still faces a massive crisis over forcibly displaced people. In 2015, there were more than 65 million — the most since the Second World War. And half were under the age of 18. About 24 million of these people have fled their countries and are counted by the United Nations as refugees. A much larger number, 41 million, are internally displaced, forced to flee their homes but remain within the borders of their countries. In Syria, for example, 6.6 million people are internally displaced, which represents 30 percent of the population. Continue reading ‘Globalization of indifference’, ignoring the world’s refugee crisis