Years of scapegoating refugees haunts Harper Conservatives

Syrian refugees entering Turkey, UNHCR/I.Prickett
Syrian refugees entering Turkey, UNHCR/I.Prickett

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives have spent years scapegoating refugees and it is coming back to haunt them in the 2015 election campaign. The Conservatives’ messaging has been derailed by the sight of hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming into Europe, and by the images of the lifeless body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi being carried from a beach in Turkey. There is a widespread call within Canada for action. Continue reading Years of scapegoating refugees haunts Harper Conservatives

Quebec’s right wing Charter of Values

Bernard Landry, Quebec Charter of Values
Bernard Landry, Charter of Values
Photo courtesy Creative Commons

The Parti Quebecois government has created controversy by proposing the Charter of Quebec Values aimed at restricting public sector employees from wearing religious symbols — turbans, head scarves, skullcaps and presumably crosses — in their workplaces.

The PQ claims that this would unify Quebecers behind the idea of a secular state, but Charles Taylor, the well-known academic who co-chaired a provincial commission into reasonable accommodation in 2007, describes the proposal as an “absolutely terrible act of exclusion.” 

So the debate is on. Former Quebec Premier Bernard Landry has lashed out at English Canadian media for “Quebec bashing” while covering the matter. Landry told CBC Radio’s As It Happens that Quebec welcomes immigrants but wants them to join society. “When you change country, you change country,” he said. “And you have to get first the language, then the culture and integrate.”

In the same interview, Landry even goes on to ridicule the idea of police wearing turbans, which harks back to the Reform Party’s 1989 convention resolution stating that Sikhs should be barred from wearing turbans in the RCMP.

Landry’s comments on religious accommodation obviously shift quickly to immigration policy although individuals barred from wearing religious symbols would likely include native-born Quebecers.

Still, recent opinion polling shows that 58 percent of Quebecers support the Charter of Quebec Values, compared to 42 percent in the rest of Canada. The Montreal Gazette reports that support for the charter was highest among people who vote Conservative —  at 49 percent.

It’s interesting that right-leaning commentators, including The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente, use what they see as the failed immigration policies of Europe as a basis for claiming that Canada’s multiculturalism policies are failing as well.

Not so, says Professor Will Kymlicka, the Canada research chair in political philosophy at Kingston’s Queen’s University. Kymlicka says that what passes for analysis is often really anecdote and hunch. He adds that research across national boundaries indicates that Canada is, in fact, successful in the integration of immigrants and their children, and that policies — aimed at promoting social cohesion among a variety of racial and ethnic groups — play a role in that success.

Multiculturalism was even included in Pierre Trudeau’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is perhaps another reason why Landry doesn’t like it.  He instead argues that Canada will long come to regret its policy of multiculturalism, which he says creates racial and ethnic ghettoes.

And so, we are left with the odd spectacle of the Parti Quebecois, which has always claimed to be progressive and socially democratic, promoting policies resembling those of Canada’s Right.

This piece was published earlier this week by the United Church Observer.   

Proud to protect refugees

Proud to Protect Refugees
Proud to Protect Refugees

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. Continue reading Proud to protect refugees

CRA hassles Canadian Mennonite magazine

Richard Benner, Canadian Mennonite

The editor of Canadian Mennonite magazine says that he was puzzled, saddened and disheartened to get a letter from the Canada Revenue Agency warning that his publication was being too political and could lose its charitable status as a result. “I took it personally,” writes  editor Richard Benner in the magazine’s November 12 edition.

The letter from a CRA bureaucrat was dated July 23 and it said: “It has come to our attention that recent issues of the organization’s monthly periodical entitled Canadian Mennonite, have contained editorials and/or articles that appear to promote opposition to a political party, or to candidates for public office.” The letter went on to say that, “Registered charities that engage in partisan political activities jeopardize their charitable status and can be subject to revocation.”

Canadian Mennonite is registered as a charity so it can receive funds from Mennonite Church Canada and area churches. It can provide tax receipts to donors.

Offending articles

Benner told CBC News that after receiving the letter he called the CRA and asked for examples of what the agency considered to be offending articles. They cited two editorials and four articles. Continue reading CRA hassles Canadian Mennonite magazine

Canadian immigration, Hungary and thin ice

Parliament in Budapest

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. Continue reading Canadian immigration, Hungary and thin ice

Jason Kenney at CCCB plenary

Joe Gunn on Jason Kenney and CCCB

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is scheduled to speak to the annual plenary meeting of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in October. Joe Gunn, a former director of the CCCB’s Social Affairs Commission, says the appearance of a cabinet minister at a  plenary is unprecedented in recent memory. Gunn is now the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice,  an ecumenical organization that promotes justice, peace and the integrity of creation. His article appeared in the August 29 edition of the Prairie Messenger and is reproduced here with Gun’s and the paper’s permission. Continue reading Jason Kenney at CCCB plenary

Peruvians in Hampstead crash from Comas

Shanty town near Lima, Peru
Shanty town near Lima, circa 1979

Nine of the ten farm workers killed in a tragic automobile accident near Hampstead, Ontario on February 6 came from Comas, a shantytown on the outskirts of Lima. They, and three others who survived crash, were in Canada as migrant farm workers because there is little chance in Comas of providing the necessities of life for their families. The 38-year-old Canadian driver of the truck that collided with the 15-passenger van carrying the Peruvians was also killed. Continue reading Peruvians in Hampstead crash from Comas

Conservative pundits diminish Breivik’s Norwegian victims

By Dennis Gruending

The flat of NorwayOn July 22, Norwegian extremist Anders Breivik set off a car bomb in downtown Oslo that killed eight people. Then, dressed as a policeman, he traveled to a nearby small island and used a semi-automatic rifle to massacre 77 members of the Labour Party’s youth wing who were attending a summer camp. Now the dead (many of them just teenagers) have been buried. Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has been unequivocal in saying that Breivik’s unspeakable actions will not change Norway’s commitment to democracy and tolerance. However, many media commentators, columnists and pundits on this side of the Atlantic have conspicuously lacked Stoltenberg’s vision or grace. On his syndicated talk radio program, the notorious Glenn Beck compared the young Norwegian victims to Nazis. As New York Times columnist Timothy Egan described it, Beck said the summer camp attended by the Labour Party youth “sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler Youth.” Continue reading Conservative pundits diminish Breivik’s Norwegian victims