My wife Martha has been involved for many years in church groups sponsoring refugees and assisting them to settle into new lives in Canada. I have acted as an occasional helper, enough for me to hear some of the heart rending stories about the wars, famines and oppression that have driven people from countries such as Congo, Afghanistan, Colombia or Iran. I have found through personal contact that most of these new Canadians are hard-working, decent and well-meaning. But in 2012, the federal government introduced changes that make it harder for refugees to get here, and more difficult for them once they arrive. Groups of people in Canada remain committed to welcoming the stranger but, ironically, they are finding that in a world with an estimated 15 million refugees and a wait time of years in the camps, they now have no one to welcome.Read More
Archive for ‘Human Rights’
A group called Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) has issued a report for the year 2012-13 that should challenge our complacency. The CJFE details how the Conservative government and its bureaucracy are muzzling scientists, putting roadblocks in the way of people trying to use the Access to Information legislation, and harassing whistleblowers and other individuals who dare to challenge their political masters. Two of the names raised by the CJFE in its report, those of Edgar Schmidt and Cindy Blackstock, will be familiar to readers of this blog. The name of Evan Vokes may be new to you.
Edgar Schmidt is a senior Department of Justice lawyer who has blown the whistle on what he believes is his department’s failure to protect Canadians against Parliament’s passing laws that may be contrary to our rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Schmidt says the law requires his department to review proposed legislation for its compatibility with the Charter and to inform the Minister of Justice regarding that analysis. He says, in effect, that the department does not do so. He attempted for years to raise the matter internally but without success. In fact, he had been warned to back off.Read More
I posted to this blog in February about Edgar Schmidt, a senior lawyer in the federal Department of Justice in Ottawa, who launched a highly unusual court case against his employer. Schmidt believes that his department is failing to provide advice to law makers that would protect Canadians against Parliament creating laws and regulations that infringe upon their Charter and civil rights. He is paying a price for his principled stand in blowing the whistle. Schmidt told Global TV in a recent interview that, “The day after I filed the claim [in December 2012], I was called at home and told not to show up at work on Monday and that I was suspended without pay.” The Justice Department also stopped contributions toward his pension.
Schmidt remains professionally and financially in limbo with no job and no income. He has hired a lawyer to represent him in an attempt to be reinstated and he has likely spent over $10,000 in legal fees. He has created a website called charterdefence.ca to keep interested people informed about the case. The website also has a link to a legal fund created for Schmidt. It has been registered at arm’s length from him and has an independent administrator. In the interest of transparency, I should mention that I am one of those who helped to register the fund.Read More
Pope Francis has completed his first days in office. Much has been made of his frugal lifestyle, his apparent simplicity and his sense of humour. Those are admirable traits and it is also refreshing to hear a religious leader talking about solidarity with the poor rather than the prosperity gospel preached by so many. On the other hand, virtually every knowledgeable commentator cautions that we should not expect changes to the hierarchy’s conservative doctrinal positions on matters such as birth control, the ordination of women or of married men. Francis may prove to be a humble man and a pastoral leader, but the substance of the message likely will not change as much as the manner of its delivery. The media has gone overboard in covering the selection and installation of a new pope. It is great television – the backdrops of St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican, the suspense, the white smoke, the pope’s first appearance on the balcony. But now at least some journalists and commentators are getting down to work, as they should, to tell us more about the man who has been elevated to this position of prominence and power.Read More
Edgar Schmidt, a senior lawyer in the federal Department of Justice, has taken a courageous and highly unusual step. He has launched a court case against his employer for what he believes is its failure to protect Canadians against Parliament creating laws and regulations that could infringe upon their human rights. On the day after Schmidt filed his claim with the court in December 2012, the department suspended him without pay and barred him from his office. That harsh action, in turn, did not amuse the Federal Court judge hearing the case. “The court doesn’t like that,” said Mr. Justice Simon Noel. “We see that in different countries and we don’t like it . . . Canada is still a democracy.”
Knowledgeable observers are saying that Schmidt’s case and the department’s harsh reaction toward him speak to the erosion of democracy in Canada. In fact, a group called the Voices-Voix Coalition, has filed a submission with a United Nations working group in which it accuses the government of a whole range of transgressions against democracy. The UN group will hold sessions in April- May 2013.
Schmidt is (was) a senior lawyer whose duties since 1998 have included drafting and advising on legislation. He was, prior to his suspension in December, a general counsel and special adviser in the department’s Legislative Services Branch.Read More
The Conservative government will soon announce an Office of Religious Freedom, fulfilling a promise made in the 2011 election campaign. The stated intention of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is to create an organization that will monitor and criticize religious persecution and to promote religious freedom around the world. There is no shortage of persecution in countries as diverse as India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Colombia and Mexico, but as is always the case in politics it is important to scrutinize the intent and the fine print of any undertaking. Doing so raises some genuine questions about the wisdom of this idea, a fact that may also explain why the government has been so slow in fulfilling its promise.Read More
I spent four weeks recently in Central Europe and while in Hungary I spoke to a university audience about how Canadians view immigrants, refugees and multiculturalism. One is always on thin ice, to use a Canadian metaphor, when speaking in a country where you are a tourist and may offend sensibilities. But I believe that Canada’s experience with managing ethnic diversity might be of use to other countries. I took as my point of departure the 1950s in rural Saskatchewan. I grew up in a farming community that had been created as part of a great human migration late in the 19th and early in the 20th century when the Canadian government settled the West with farmers. My small village was diverse for its time. There were Germans, Ukrainians, French, Hungarians and others. In fact, I discovered upon rereading our local community history book that when it was created one of the names being considered for my village was Budapest. The village was eventually called St. Benedict, to recognize a religious community of Benedictine monks that had been established nearby – but Hungarians were significant in our population.Read More