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Tuesday, 19 September 2017 09:30

When the Fear of Terrorism Trumps Reason

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Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

There is no question that fear sells. The latest Stephen King film about an evil clown – It –  grossed over $120 million in its first three days after all.

We are odd in that we both fear fear and we are entertained by it – go figure.

But fear is not always helpful, unless you are running away from a grizzly or swimming away from a shark.  It is particularly counter-productive when it leads you to stop doing things you normally do. Things like going to a restaurant or to a movie (perhaps to see It) or on a vacation.  And the one thing that seems to be causing many people to alter their normal lives is the fear of terrorism.

In some ways this is, of course, understandable since there is not a day that goes by where we do not see or read about some act of violent extremism somewhere in the world.  These acts seem to resonate even more when they take place in ‘our world’ – i.e. Western Europe, North America or Australia – than when they occur in Africa, the Middle East or Asia (fact: the vast majority of attacks and casualties occur in the latter three rather than the former). 

The images of bloody corpses and mangled limbs sends shivers to those who witness them, in person or via social media.  We become afraid of terrorists and terrorism and we begin to believe that we will become the next victims unless we stay away from where the terrorists are.

This is problematic as terrorism can occur ANYWHERE.  A very short list of recent attacks underscores the ubiquity of terrorism: an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, a pedestrian mall in Barcelona, a London Tube train on a busy morning commute, in front of Notre Dame in Paris, a market stall in Kabul.  And I could go on. 

Yet, paradoxically, the chance of an act of terrorism in any one place at any given time is infinitely small (it is obviously higher in Baghdad and Mogadishu than in New York or Melbourne, but even then it is rare-ish).

What is unhelpful is to panic and cancel EVERYTHING because you are convinced you will die in a suicide bombing if you stay the course.  A few examples are illustrative of an irrational succumbing to the fear of terrorism:

  • diners in a Toronto restaurant last weekend that was the scene of a targeted killing of a real estate magnate told the media they thought they were going to die in what they believed to be a terrorist incident
  • the Israeli government issued a travel advisory for ‘Western and Northern Europe’ during the Jewish High Holy Days
  • US President Trump has been very irresponsible in raising the fear level with his characterisation of Muslims as terrorists

How is any of this a good thing?  Why in the world would a school board in Edmonton cancel a trip to Paris after the November 2015 attacks when Paris the day after was probably the safest city on the planet in large part due to the increased presence of armed soldiers?  Fear and ignorance, that’s why (and probably parents’ demands, which were born out of fear).

Giving in so easily to fear does many things.  It rewards terrorist groups that aim to make us afraid and over-inflates their pathetic importance.  It has serious implications for many parts of the economy both at home and abroad.  And it undoubtedly makes us more jittery the next time a terrorist attack occurs which makes us react with fear more quickly.

I am not advocating rushing off to Kandahar on vacation tomorrow, but if we value our societies and our freedoms we need to live.  Living means going out, seeing friends, visiting exotic lands and learning from each others’ cultures and histories.  And we cannot do that by barricading ourselves in our duct-taped basements.

I think the right reaction is that of the Brits. They are famous for their ‘stiff upper lip’, a way of sneering at danger and uncertainty and forging ahead. That is exactly what a lot of people did in the wake of last Friday’s Tube attack (quote of the day: “I won’t stop taking the Tube because of some idiot”).  They also didn’t waver during the decades of IRA bombings.  I believe there is a lesson in that for all of us.


Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting.  His latest book The Lesser Jihads is now available for purchase.

Commentary by: Alberto Ledesma in Berkeley, California

I first became a “dreamer” more than forty years ago. That is when my parents brought my sisters and me to the heart of East Oakland for what we thought was a summer vacation. Since then, I have not returned to Huisquilco, Mexico, the town where I was born. 

We were brought as undocumented children by our undocumented parents because they wanted a better life for us and they understood that a life in the shadows in the United States was so much better than a life of economic uncertainty in Mexico. “Keep your head down, work hard, don’t complain!” These were the precepts that guided our lives as we incorporated ourselves into our new American society. Eventually, after a decade of living in the shadows, amnesty came and thus we transitioned out of our precarious legal status.

Forty years later, all four of us children have graduated from UC Berkeley, three with advanced degrees, including two with PhDs from Berkeley and UCLA. But ours is not a story that means to boast about our achievements. Rather, ours is a story that reveals to what degree the hegemony of anti-immigrant terror consumed our lives and motivated us to show that we were more than our legal status. We went from being undocumented immigrant kids to being hyperdocumented students (award after award, degree after degree), as Professor Aurora Chang likes to call it, all in an effort to escape the “illegal alien” taboo. 

After having been on the faculty at various universities across California, I am now an administrator at Berkeley. It is in this capacity that I often interact with current DACA students. Almost all of them, save a few eccentric nonconformists, remind me of the student I once was: quiet, perpetually smiling, with a slight melancholic torpor pulling at the edges of our eyelids. 

All of them will tell you that they foresaw Trump’s viciousness because that is what being undocumented does—it gives you prescience about oncoming doom. Still, all of them would trade their prophetic talents for the promise, however tenuous, that things might get better.

A few days ago, when I heard Jeff Sessions read his carefully worded statement on behalf of the President, I was again reminded that in this country civil rights are not gained without consistent and active struggle. Civil rights for undocumented immigrants is precisely the kind of possibility that the repeated use of the words “illegal alien” are meant to foreclose. And those who are guided by malignant nationalism know that. There, at the podium, Sessions stood like a reincarnated George Wallace blocking the entrance to the University of Alabama. There, as the camera narrowed its focus on his legalistic monologue, he asserted that America could only be made great again if it segregated itself from so many unlawful overachievers. How dare they aspire towards a better life? He seemed to ask. 

And, of course, not all undocumented students, DACA or otherwise, are overachievers. Too many of them are weighted down by the pressures of just making it in Trump’s America that doing okay is already the result of a herculean effort. 

A few days ago, I was reminded that there is a difference between justice and the so-called “rule of law,” especially when that law is selectively applied. What kind of world gives a convicted felon like Joseph Arpaio amnesty and summarily condemns 800,000 young people to a life in the shadows? Conservative recalcitrants like Steve King take it a step further and argue that undocumented immigrant kids and their families should live in the shadows forever. That’s where they belong. 

What the Civil Rights Movement and the 1986 amnesty made clear to me was that sometimes America is capable of showing compassion. Still, it is not hard to surmise that there were some back in the 1980s who predicted the downfall of this nation because more than three million undocumented people, including my family and me, were pardoned from our immigration sin. Most likely, among those people were the Arpaios, Sessions, Kings, and Trumps of the world. Indeed, it is that undoing, that desire to erase what those new Americans brought to the United States, that has seemingly motivated the Make America Great Again campaign. 

I can honestly say that I am still a dreamer today though I have been a citizen since 1992. What I dream of today, however, is a United States where we can have a just discernment of policy instead of the selective application of draconian laws.


Alberto Ledesma was an undocumented immigrant student in the 1980s. He is now the Diversity Director for the Arts & Humanities at UC Berkeley. This piece was republished under arrangement with New America Media

Commentary by: John Ferri in Toronto

The crisis in local journalism is well documented, most extensively in a report last January by the Public Policy Forum, and by others who have painted in detail the corrosive effects of cutbacks to local newsrooms and the shuttering of an entire daily newspaper in a mid-sized Ontario city.

It’s evident in these reports that there’s a real thirst for local perspectives – if not necessarily for supporting the business models that have traditionally delivered them. It’s also clear that there is no single solution to the loss of local journalism in Ontario.

But I do want to offer a new TVO editorial initiative as a kind of case study. It’s called Ontario Hubs and it brings a current affairs perspective to parts of the province that are increasingly under-served. Its intent is to provide news analysis and context that is relevant to both local audiences and to the wider public.

Ontario Hubs were made possible by a major gift from civic-minded philanthropists: the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust and Goldie Feldman. This donation is allowing us to hire seven journalists and open regional offices outside Toronto.

For TVO, it’s an opportunity that speaks to our mandate to reflect and connect Ontarians and that is potentially a game-changer. It substantially increases the coverage of Ontario issues, ideas and events on tvo.org and on our flagship current affairs program, The Agenda with Steve Paikin.

Our initial plan calls for four regional hub offices. The first two officially launch on September 6 – one covering the region of Northwestern Ontario, based in Thunder Bay; and a second hub for Southwestern Ontario, based in London. The two additional hubs will be announced later this fall.

Each will be staffed by a full time TVO journalist, whose job it will be to identify issues and ideas of importance to the communities in their regions and report on how those matter locally, regionally and to the entire province.

The Hubs journalists will also help create networks of freelancers and contributors in their respective regions. In addition, we will have a full-time on-air journalist who will produce weekly feature reports for The Agenda with Steve Paikin. These won’t be in the form of a traditional 90-second news report but longer, more in-depth and, often, meant to set the table for a panel discussion on The Agenda.

With this new team of journalists and contributors we will produce multi-platform features – online and on broadcast – that will dive deep into big issues.  

Earlier this year, TVO hired Jon Thompson for our Northwestern Ontario hub. Jon is an award-winning journalist and author with deep roots in the northwest. Since joining us, he’s filed a number of stories including a substantive feature examining how accusations of racism against Indigenous residents have divided Thunder Bay. It’s apparent that this story was not based on a few days visit by an outside media organization. Nor was it the incremental, day-to-day coverage local news outlets – increasingly strapped for resources – might provide.

The story is a fine example of the editorial stance TVO is taking with this project. It occupied the journalistic sweet-spot we aspire to: step-back and analytical but informed by being firmly planted on the ground, and appealing to both local and wider audiences.

The story did very well. It was among the most-read on our site in July, with more than a third of the traffic from Thunder Bay. And it helped define the public conversation on an issue with a national profile: on the strength of it, Jon was interviewed on CBC Radio’s As It Happens.

Ontario Hubs will not replace what’s being lost. TVO’s mandate is not daily news reporting. We won’t be covering regular meetings at Timmins City Hall or the school board in Owen Sound or the library services in Northumberland. My fervent hope is that a sustainable model for that kind of essential reporting, in whatever form it takes, will be found.  

But what Ontario Hubs can offer is regional current affairs – in-depth, in context, and from multiple perspectives – that will help build a province whose citizens are better informed, responsive and engaged. It’s an addition to the journalistic eco-system at a time of decline. We hope it will serve as one model of a path to the future. 


John Ferri is the VP of Documentaries and Current Affairs at TVO. This piece was republished under arrangement with J-Source. 

Sunday, 03 September 2017 15:53

We Just Aren't Making Enough Babies

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Commentary by: Sean Cowan

Seems like immigration hasn’t been seen in a positive light as of late. Control over immigration has been a central theme in the successful Brexit bid in the United Kingdom. America elected a president who suggests tougher laws and screening for immigrants. Syrian refugees were welcomed by the thousands into Canada (46,700 in 2016 alone to be exact), but not without considerable controversy.

Of course, with the entry of new immigrants comes the culture. Clearly they simply do not know of any other way to live until they move into new land and set roots. Learning another Language and assimilating into another culture takes time and requires patience of the guests who welcome them.

In some places, it seems, they aren’t necessarily welcome. There appears to be an immigrant backlash brewing in many of the wealthiest countries. The demographics are changing drastically and quickly. In 2012 in America, the census bureau reported that for the first time there have been more minority births than white births.

What becomes disturbing is that the glaringly obvious seems to be overlooked-Caucasians are having less babies.

We need an abundance of young people for the economy to work.

If we have less children we need to import them.

Every healthy economy regardless of society which runs it (within a more left wing society or more to the right) requires a pyramid shape in order for it to work. The tip of the pyramid being those who are not generating income (from the disabled, to young children, to the elderly), casual workers would be found somewhere below the tip, further down from casual comes the part time employees and somewhere halfway down the pyramid being the civil servant who receive revenue from public funds, yet redistribute it into the economy. The base of said metaphorical pyramid are the full time workers of various classes who work for private industry and generate the revenue which works its way up to the very tip and sustains the entire society within.

What becomes abundantly clear when visualizing this pyramid is that every society needs a healthy dose of working, young, able bodied people to sustain the economy and, most importantly, there has to be many more at the base than at the tip for the society to exist at all.

Ultimately if we curb immigration we need to make more babies.

For the longest time it was a non-issue. Forty years ago it was nothing to see a family with four or five children and was quite unusual for anyone to reach the age of 40 and be single without multiple children.

As was often the case. Many years ago you had no choice but to have multiple children but then along came contraceptives and women entered the workforce en masse. Now people had the choice if and when they had children. Women had options. They could wait until later in life to have children and focus on their career. To see a person reach the age of 40 without a child and single in the first world now is quite common.

This person will need young people to continue to generate revenue for when he or she retires. Police are still needed, and roads need to be paved.

This is why we need immigration. The alternative is simply to make more babies. That doesn’t appear to be an option. Most people simply are not willing to make enough babies to keep the engine running (or can’t due to shrinking wages/ unstable work….but that’s another story) so therefore we need to take in young people to make up for the loss.

There are still many countries with large families of 4 or more. They are typically countries who are culturally distinct from us so as they come in, they change the landscape.

Ultimately, if we curb immigration we need to make more babies. If we don’t, eventually, the metaphorical pyramid will change shape with the base of the pyramid becoming narrow and the aging population making the tip wider. It’s a demographic nightmare that countries like China ( with their one child policy) and Japan (statistically the oldest population on earth and a country not built on multiculturalism) are currently struggling with.

Xenophobia therefore is essentially a demographic nightmare waiting to happen for any first world country. Generally the local populations have been steadily decreasing as the desire for large families have diminished. Without the immigrants to inject new fresh young workers into the economy our social services will erode quicker than you could say ‘build a wall’.

So we are left with little choice but to embrace immigration and while we may change immigration policy to be more efficient and attract more of the people each country is desperately looking for in regards to age, family size and qualifications; there is no question that we need a healthy number of new young people in just about every first world nation on earth and that will indeed change each nation that welcomes them.

It should go without saying that immigration has been a continuous process in Europe, North America, New Zealand and Australia for centuries now. Various waves have come and gone and from various ethnic groups and they have made their mark and changed the country. As a Canadian I’m hard pressed to believe that our much more diverse, multicultural country would go to war for the queen and the ‘motherland’ as we have in the past because, of course, the demographics have changed and now the majority of the population cannot identify with a cause such as that.

One thing that is clear is that more young people from afar are more crucial than ever to maintain our society and the standards we have come to expect within it. What must be understood is that for the majority of the first world in general and former British colonies in particular it has played a vital part of our society. It has in fact built the society itself. So we should embrace it, because, unless you’re going to make more babies, we simply don’t have a choice.


Sean Cowan is a former member of the military who has worked with a wide range of first-generation immigrants throughout his career. His experiences as a result of his work and his upbringing in Nova Scotia have led to become an advocate for multiculturalism. 

Tuesday, 29 August 2017 13:03

Myanmar may be the Next Jihadi Battleground

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Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

Before this piece goes any further I need to spell out that I am not a big fan of the use of force unless absolutely necessary (and when necessary it is best to use it wisely, while still protecting the lives of the force wielders). Clearly it is required in some situations, but if public perception is that it is being applied too quickly or too harshly things go awry. 

That is why police officers are often (rightly or wrongly) convicted in the court of public opinion when some amateur video suggests they have overstepped their authority and shot someone. It is also probably why the anti-fascist/extreme RW/neo-Nazi Antifa may be losing its clear advantage over repugnant skinheads: it seems to resort to the same violence it is protesting against.

In some situations it is easy to understand why a group decides to use violence even if it is hard to provide outright ‘support’.

A case where this appears to be true is unfolding in Myanmar (Burma), a southeast nation still emerging from decades of military rule under what everyone thought would be the wise leadership of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. Well, things have turned out a little differently.

Not only has Ms. Suu Kyi been described as autocratic, she has not decried a clear human rights violation in her own country – the army’s campaign of rape, killing and destruction in the northwest corner (Rakhine state), an area where the Rohingya live.

The Rohingya are a Muslim people who probably arrived in Myanmar from neighbouring Bangladesh centuries ago. The state, however, sees them as usurpers and johnny-come-latelys and wants them to return to Bangladesh. It refuses to recognize the Rohingya as an official ethnic group which seriously undermines their representation and rights.

To make things worse, a Buddhist monk some have called Myanmar’s Osama bin Laden, Ashin Wirathu, leads an Islamophobic group called Ma Ba Tha and has inspired Burmese (the dominant ethnic group) attacks on unarmed villagers. Tens of thousands of Rohingya have tried to flee both west to Bangladesh (more recently) or southwards on flimsy boats where they have landed (if they don’t drown) in Thailand and Malaysia, only to be enslaved at times.

In response to the one-sided violence, a group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) has arisen and has carried out attacks against Myanmar soldiers. Ms. Suu Kyi has called them ‘terrorists’ and there are allegations that foreign jihadis have joined the group (perhaps because they also call themselves Harakah al-Yaqin – Arabic for ‘the Faith Movement’, which is a little odd since no one in Rakhine speaks Arabic that I know of).

This development was eminently predictable since no outside body, including the UN, seemed capable of doing anything to lessen the violence against the Rohingya. What is very worrying is the possibility that the conflict will draw in foreign jihadis (if it hasn’t already), perhaps some leaving the Islamic State in Iraq/Syria. We saw an outflow from Afghanistan post Soviet withdrawal to Bosnia in the early 1990s and could witness similar movements in a host of wars including Myanmar.

The possibility that Myanmar may become a new jihadi battleground, as well as two dozen other cases, is covered in my soon to be released third book The Lesser Jihads.

Is the ARSA a terrorist group as Myanmar claims? I have no idea and I am the last person to support terrorism. The problem is that we have no idea about the ‘ideology’ the ARSA espouses and, to date, they have only targeted the military. The militants say they just want the killing to stop and self-determination for the Rohingya. We will wait and see how this pans out. 

So while I would prefer a peaceful resolution to the situation in Rakhine, the violent surge by the ARSA is easily comprehended. The Rohingya do not stand a chance against the army and extremist Buddhists (should this not be an oxymoron?).

If Myanmar does not change its approach or the international community does not step up, we will see more killing, perhaps worse. The time for another kind of ‘action’ is now.


Phil Gurski has worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). His latest book The Lesser Jihads is available now for pre-order on Amazon.

Commentary by: William Gee Wong in Oakland, CA

My father came to America from China in 1912, the 30th year of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and somehow he was able to get in legally even though he, uh, didn’t tell the whole truth.

The three generations of Gees and Wongs that are his legacy are so grateful he was able to skirt the dreaded, racist Exclusion Act, and that he didn’t try to come here under the Trump Administration’s immigration proposal.

In his mid-teens, Pop, as I called him, was not well educated. He was not well off. He did not speak English. Those are the principal requirements of what the Trump administration wants our future immigration policy to have.

Another is having a job. Pop would have qualified, maybe. He had work waiting for him as a lowly paid herbalist apprentice in Oakland, California’s Chinatown.

Pop’s immigration story was hardly unique. He and thousands of other Chinese immigrants were able to get into America despite the exclusion law that spanned from 1882 to 1943. 

Many used the infamous “paper son” scheme. This was making false birthright claims made possible, in part, by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire that destroyed official records. Without records, the government could not legally counter the birthright claims of immigrants like Pop, who said he was a “son of a native,” a category exempt from the exclusion law. 

Pop and other Chinese immigrants wanted desperately to come here, largely to escape the utter political, economic, and social turmoil of China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the republican revolution, civil wars, and in the 1930s, the Japanese invasion. 

Here in America, because of yellow Jim Crow laws, they were forced to create parallel universes in the many Chinatowns in cities and towns, first in California and the west and eventually throughout America.

Ironically, those enclaves – ostracized, ignored, and targeted for violence as they sometimes were – nurtured self-reliance and survival skills that enabled Pop and his cohort to begin stable and useful lives for their descendants. 

Their numbers were teeny. In 1880, just before Congress passed the exclusion law, Chinese were 0.0021 percent of the U.S. population. In 1940, just before its repeal, they were a barely measurable 0.0005 percent.

Supporters of the Trump immigration proposal deny its intent is racist against non-white people, but its effects, if ever enacted, could very well be. Why do the president and the Republican senators pushing this bill want to go backwards to a time when America was much whiter than it is today and going to be in the foreseeable future?

The Congressional debates over Chinese exclusion were blatantly and unapologetically racist. Example: Colorado Republican Senator Henry Teller in 1882 said, “The Caucasian race has the right, considering its superiority of intellectual force and mental vigor; to look down on every other branch of the human family…we are the superior race today. We are superior to the Chinese….”

Some of us descendants of so-called inferior races are worried that if President Trump gets his way on a new immigration policy as offered by Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, America will look to the world as returning to the bad old days when white supremacy was thought to be the norm.

Pop probably didn't bother to think much about what American politicians believed. All he wanted was a better life for his growing family. He had three daughters born in China, and three more plus me born in Oakland.

One goal of the immigration bill is to decrease family reunification. A positive feature of the 1965 immigration reform was its family preference provisions that allowed immigrants to bring in members of his or her families. That feature has propelled the growth of immigrant families, especially from Latin America and Asia. Perhaps that is what repels Trump and his backward-looking supporters.

Pop worked hard to provide for his family in Oakland. He learned to speak, read, and write English at Lincoln School, where he graduated from the eighth grade as a 20-something. Besides his herbalist job, he peddled produce in a truck, ran grocery stores and restaurants, and worked as a welder at a Bay Area shipyard during World War II.

Oh, yeah: he ran an illegal business as well, in the 1930s. He sold lottery tickets in Chinatown when such a business was against the law. Many other Chinatown families did the same. After all, this was during the Great Depression, and local police and politicians took bribes to allow the trade to thrive into the 1950s.

To his last days in the summer of 1961, Pop felt he belonged in Chinatown but not in the wider white-dominated society. I, on the other hand, along with my sisters and our extended families feel we are as American as anyone else, regardless of racial or ethnic background.

Let’s hope that what the Trump-backed Cotton-Perdue proposal wants to do never happens, and that wiser and more humane lawmakers create immigration policies that make all of us feel as though we belong here in America.


William Gee Wong is the author of Yellow Journalist: Dispatches from Asian America (Temple University Press, 2001) and is currently writing a book about his father. This article was republished under arrangement with New America Media

Monday, 14 August 2017 08:18

Non-Profit Media may be the Way Forward

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Commentary by: Nick Fillmore in Toronto

News outlets in Canadian communities are falling like bowling pins.

At least 171 media organizations in 138 communities closed between 2008 and this January, according to the Local News Research Project, a project led by Ryerson School of Journalism. By comparison, only 51 new outlets opened.

The loss of media is so severe that a special report submitted to the House of Commons Heritage Committee was entitled: “Local news poverty in Canadian Communities.

“Local news poverty, we argue,” is greatest in communities where residents have limited or no access to timely, verified news about local politics, education, health, economic and other key topics they need to navigate daily life, ” project co-ordinator April Lindgren writes in Policy Options.

Small communities such as Markdale, Ont. and Canmore, Alta. lost their local papers while cities Guelph, Ont. and Nanaimo, BC were among the largest centres to be hit.

Newspapers have been crucial for the development of Canada for more than three centuries. But ‘free’ news from for-profit papers is coming to an end.

Daily papers are failing because millions of dollars of advertising they used to have has either moved to the internet or has just disappeared. Because an ad that brings in $1,000 in a paper sells for about $100 on the internet, the newspaper corporations are so far unable to make a go of it in a digital world.

Corporate-owned news organizations around the world are trying to find a formula that will allow them to be profitable. However, they have made little progress in the dozen years since internet-based companies started stealing their ads and readers.

Hundreds of Canadian communities are now poorly served when it comes to local news by underfunded and under-staffed internet news sites, give-away newspapers and even bloggers.

Nonprofit media can be the solution

However, Canadian communities still should be able to have reliable newspapers. They need to explore creating community-controlled not-for-profit papers.

Nonprofit newspapers have financial advantages over for-profit papers. A commercial paper is expected to churn out at least 15 per cent profits or investors will take their money elsewhere. Business executives at corporations command salaries into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The manager of a nonprofit might earn $90,000. Ad sales staff at daily papers earn a large salary; not so at a nonprofit. A for-profit paper pays taxes. A nonprofit pays few taxes and can engage in fundraising activities.

Other factors: The internet is the future for many news organizations, but many people prefer to hold a newspaper in their hands. A printed publication tends to have more authority than an internet site. And, finally, advertisers like to see their ads in print.

There are no nonprofit daily newspapers in Canada, but hundreds of public interest organizations operate on a nonprofit basis.

The U.K. Guardian is the most prominent not-for-profit newspaper in the world. Last year, the award-winning but financially-strapped Philadelphia Inquirer switched to the not-for-profit model. Both organizations have large endowments.

I believe not-for-profit newspapers are highly desirable if a group can develop a break-even budget. I believe this is possible in Canada.

Set up a research group 

If folks feel there’s a need for a newspaper in their community the first step would be to bring together 15 or 20 people who represent a cross-section of citizens. The group could conduct a survey to determine whether people in the community support the idea.

An important early task would be to have experts help you develop a project model to see if the concept is financially viable.

Warning: Don’t focus too much on journalistic content in the early stages. Instead, the most important thing to determine is whether the model you develop is financially viable.

Think about how groups and businesses in the community might contribute. Reach out to local journalists and media outlets to see if they would like to become involved in the project.

My recommendation is that groups create a nonprofit corporation. This way any surplus at the end of the year would go back into the project. A lawyer can create a nonprofit organization for about $700.

An important decision: One of the biggest questions concerns is how to distribute the paper. Traditional door-to-door delivery could be costly but, if the project can afford it, this is the best way to go.

However, groups could use a much cheaper distribution system. What I call the "mini-paper" would have small pages – 8 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches - just about the same size as Maclean's magazine – distributed to subscribers by e-mail.

Subscribers would print out the paper in the morning. The group would provide a simple binding system that readers would use to hold the pages. It might be best to limit the size of any one edition to 24 pages or less.

The huge advantage of the mini-paper is that it would not require newsprint and there would be no distribution expenses.

In case subscribers prefer to access the information on-line, all of the articles and other information published in the mini-paper would be posted behind a paywall on a website.

The big question for any group is figuring out where the money is going to come from.

I think it should be possible to run a nonprofit paper with about one-third of the revenue coming from advertising, one-third from subscribers and sustained donors, and one-third from fundraising.

Many sources of funding

Note: I have considerable experience as a fundraiser and I would be pleased to provide fundraising advice to any group free of charge. Here’s a summary of funding possibilities:

  • Sustaining memberships where strong supporters pay an annual amount,
  • As is the case with any newspaper, subscriber fees would be charged,
  • Revenue from community advertisers would be an important source of funds,
  • For organizations that know how to utilize it effectively, the Internet has a huge potential for fundraising,
  • An investigative journalism fund,
  • A fundraising committee could carry out a number of activities to raise money, including silent auctions, evening panel discussions, and hold breakfasts with guest speakers,
  • Support from “A Guardian Angel”: Perhaps your community has one or more individuals who have amassed a lot of money. Shown a viable business plan, this person might be willing to provide a fairly substantial amount of funding to help cover costs over, say, a two-year period,
  • Government support: With the pending collapse of for-profit journalism, we need to educate governments that public money needs to be made available to help support nonprofit media projects. A group should make presentations to municipal governments and the appropriate provincial government departments.

My strong advice to a group is to not launch a new paper until you have lined up funding for at least your first full year.

I know a number of Canadian nonprofit experts and journalists who would be pleased to help develop a project. Several knowledgeable U.S. organizations, such as Institute for Nonprofit News and the Poynter institute would provide advice.

The creation of even one sustainable, independent newspaper project anywhere in Canada would be a huge, unprecedented accomplishment. It could be the forerunner of other papers that would once again provide our communities with a reliable source of news and information.


Nick Fillmore was a CBC journalist and producer for more than 25 years, and is a founder of the Canadian Association of Journalists. He currently works as a Toronto freelance journalist who specializes in writing about media issues.This piece was republished under arrangement with J-Source

Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

The Globe and Mail featured a fascinating story in its weekend edition (August 12) on suicides in Toronto in which people throw themselves in front of subway cars. This has to be a particularly gruesome way to take one’s life and I really feel for the drivers of the subway.  I have heard that they go through serious trauma at having been witness to a death for which they bear no responsibility but in which they play a critical role. 

From the article I learned that:

  • There have been more than 1,400 suicides and suicide attempts in the Toronto subway system since it opened in 1954.  This works out to approximately 22 a year or two a month.
  • There are no ‘obvious links’ tying together the worst stations.
  • It is impossible to determine what drove the poor souls to take their own lives or why they chose the particular station where the deed was done.
  • The worst stations over the past 25 years are very different from one another: a mix of high density ones, less-used ones and even one in a ritzy part of Toronto.
  • According to a psychiatrist who works on suicide prevention with the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) suicide prevention is inherently difficult.
  • Suicide by train remains a rare event.
  • One teen who committed suicide in April 2015 was described as smart, sociable, and active, got good grades and was a competitive swimmer.  Her family only realised she was in pain and felt unable to ask for outside help after they read some of her private writing following her death. 

Why am I talking about suicide prevention in a terrorist blog??  Because as I read the article I saw many parallels with 'violent radicalisation’.  Allow me to explain.

Like subway suicide attempts, radicalisation to violence is rare. I would not go so far as to put a number like twice a month on the incidence rate but it is a relatively infrequent event.  Yes it only takes one violent extremist to cause pain and destruction, but there is zero evidence to suggest we are dealing with a pandemic in Canada.

Analogous to suicide,  we cannot reduce violent radicalisation to a small number of causes pointing to ‘why’ they did it.  In a way, radicalisation to violence, is just like suicide, a choice and not something imposed from outside.  The same tired old ‘explanations’ – alienation, poverty, discrimination, psychological illness – keep getting hauled out and none of them are satisfactory or comprehensive.

The ‘where’ of radicalisation varies as well.  In the mid-2000s the Salaheddin Islamic Centre in Scarborough, east of Toronto, was a ‘hotbed’.  Calgary also saw a disproportionate number of foreign fighters join Islamic State.  None of this is necessarily helpful in predicting the next ‘wave’ of violent extremism.  People from ‘high density downtown neighbourhoods’ as well as the ‘well-heeled parts of north Toronto’ can embrace violent extremism.  There is no ‘vaccine’ for suicide or radicalisation.

Sometimes those who opt to become violent extremists show every sign of being ‘normal’: successful, well-adjusted, popular people with promising futures like that teen in Toronto.  It is important to get at the hidden signs to determine if there are things happening under the surface that should cause concern.  I have always maintained that there are ALWAYS signs, if you know what to look for. It is this belief that led me to write my first book The Threat from Within: Recognizing Al Qaeda-inspired radicalization and terrorism in the West (Rowman and Littlefield 2015). 

I have found analogies to be a useful learning instrument and I hope that this post helps you understand a little more about violent radicalisation.  It is also fascinating that seemingly disparate issues like suicide and violent extremism have a lot in common.  After all, according to the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again;  there is nothing new under the sun”.  Maybe we should bear that in mind when we try to understand phenomena like violent radicalisation and terrorism.


 Phil Gurski's latest book The Lesser Jihads: Bringing the Islamist extremism fight to the world is available for pre-order on Amazon. 

From: Parisa Mahboubi 

To: Ahmed D. Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship 

Date: August 3, 2017 

Re: Let’s Toughen Literacy Standards to Boost Immigrant Success 

Strong literacy skills improve new immigrants’ employability and earnings capacity. But immigrant literacy skills in Canada lag non-immigrants despite the large proportion of immigrants with university degrees, according the 2012 OECD Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). My latest research for the C.D. Howe Institute — The Power of Words: Improving Immigrants’ Literacy Skills — argues for policies to enhance immigrants’ literacy skills through improvements in Canada’s immigration selection and settlement policies. 

The literacy skills gap between immigrants and non-immigrants is evident across all levels of education, including university-educated immigrants. It underscores why some immigrants struggle to successfully transfer their skills upon arrival. Among immigrants, however, those who obtained their highest educational attainment in Canada perform better than others perhaps due to having a better knowledge of language and receiving a high-quality education. 

My study shows that, indeed, language is a major factor in the skill gaps between immigrants and non-immigrants. Better language abilities in English or French result in higher literacy outcomes among immigrants, allowing them to do better in the labour market. 

Australia has a comparable immigration system, but its immigrants outperform Canadian immigrants in literacy scores. Why? Australia’s changes to language testing for prospective immigrants in 1999 is a major cause of improvements in the average performance of  immigrants, particularly those with a mother tongue other than English. 

Although Canada announced similar policy reforms to its immigration system around 2010, its approach is more lenient than Australia’s. Canada assigns two-thirds of total possible language points to applicants under the Federal Skilled Worker program (FSW) who meet the minimum English Language Testing level while Australia provides no reward for candidates under its a skilled immigration program with the same level of language proficiency. 

In other words, applicants who demonstrate language skills that meet the most minimal thresholds have a much higher chance of being admitted for immigration in Canada relative to Australia. This implies that Australia’s system targets candidates with superior language skills, who are more easily able to integrate and access more opportunities for gainful employment, while Canada only screens out applicants with very limited language ability. 

The growing importance of immigration as a source of growth for Canada’s labour force requires a more effective immigration points-based system that selects the best candidates, according to their ability to settle in Canada, either by giving more weight to language proficiency or by making language testing more rigorous, or a combination thereof.  

The government can also grant permanent residency to more former international students who obtained Canadian credentials. Further, immigrants not admitted through the points system – those in family class and refugees – tend to struggle the most with literacy, so federal and provincial governments need to make sure new better, more rigorous language training is available.


Parisa Mahboubi is a Senior Policy Analyst at the C.D. Howe Institute. This article has been republished under arrangement.

Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

Sometimes, small things point to large changes.

During my short visit last week to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, I had the opportunity to sit down with one of that country’s leading political scientists to talk about terrorism and PVE – i.e. Preventing Violent Extremism, the newest iteration of CVE – Countering Violent Extremism.

We had a wide-ranging chat in his book-lined office and I also learned that he had studied at Carleton University in Ottawa just before I became a sessional instructor in linguistics at that institution.  Small world indeed. Our conversation was very illuminating, especially when it came to the topic of a shift in Islamic influence in Bangladesh.

So, what was that ‘small thing’?  You may see this as insignificant, but I think it speaks volumes.  There is apparently a tendency in Bangladesh these days to replace the everyday phrase ‘khoda hafez’ (literally ‘may God protect you’ but colloquially used to mean ‘goodbye’) with ‘allah hafez’. 

The difference, of course, is the substitution of the Arabic word for God (‘Allah’) for the Persian one (‘khoda’). 

This tiny shift is nothing less than a sign of the invasion of conservative, intolerant Sunni Islam into the former East Pakistan (more on that later).

The growing dominance of Salafi Sunnism is fairly recent and worrisome.

Bangladeshi Islam has traditionally been Sunni of the Hanafi school with an important influence from Sufi interpretations of the faith.  The growing dominance of Salafi Sunnism is fairly recent and worrisome.  Several terrorist attacks and assassinations have been attributed to Salafi jihadists in the past few years. 

The victims have come from communities which the Salafis see as enemies (in truth, a very long list): Sufis, Shia, non-Muslims (Hindus, Christians), gays…  Perhaps the most serious attack – in what has been called Bangladesh’s ‘9/11’ – was the July 1, 2016 massacre of non-Muslims at a cafe in Dhaka, an operation masterminded by a Canadian terrorist from Windsor, Ontario.

The uptick in violence has many Banglas worried.  Everyone with whom I spoke – government agencies, the UN, academics – are all concerned about where this violence is headed. 

And, it is not only among the Salafi jihadis that violence is being promoted.  Political parties too are jumping on the bandwagon.  It does not help that power in the country has been seesawing over the past decade between two female-led parties that routinely gang up on the other once in office.  The current government, led by the Awami League, has also given in to some outrageous ideas by radical Islamists, such as a demand to remove a statue of Lady Justice from the grounds of the Supreme Court. This ‘dalliance’ with extremists is not helpful.

The apparent sanction of violence in the name of religion threatens to lead to more deaths. 

Bangladesh faces a difficult decision in the run up to national elections next year.  The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina can continue to do deals with the Salafis in order to court their support, but this will only cause more hardship and maintain the transformation of tolerant Bangladeshi Islam to intolerant Salafism. 

At the same time, the regime has to confront the serious Islamist extremist (i.e. terrorist) threat, but must do so while keeping human rights in mind.  The elite Rapid Action Battalion, a counter terrorism body, has been criticised by some rights groups for extra-judicial killings and disappearances.

Bangladesh was born in a bloody civil war in 1971 when the former East Pakistan split from what we now call Pakistan.  The powers that be in Islamabad were not too happy with the independence desires of the eastern half of a country – geographically separated by India in between – and engaged in a slaughter whose victims are estimated at anywhere from 300,000 to three million people. 

In fact, trials of those responsible for the massacre are still being held these days.  It would be truly tragic if another wave of violence is on the horizon. 

But back to that change in ‘goodbye’.  Salafis hate the Shia more than any other group and believe that the only good Shia is a dead one.  Their intolerance has even extended to rejecting a Bangla phrase that contains a Farsi (Persian) word (recall that most Persians are Shia Muslims) for an Arabic one (NB linguistically this  makes little sense: Bangla and Farsi are related Indo-European languages whereas Arabic is a non-related Semitic language). 

This may sound silly and trivial, but sometimes we do have to pay attention to the small things in life.


Phil Gurski worked in the Canadian intelligence community for more than 30 years.  His latest book, The Lesser Jihads, will be published on September 15.

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