By: Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver, BC
Nearly 70 years since South Asians won the right to vote in Canada, Jagmeet Singh has become the first non-white leader of one of the country’s major political parties.
Media coverage of Singh’s historic victory has ranged from admiration of the new leader’s alpha-male swagger to questions of whether he will hinder his party’s appeal at the Quebec polls. While most stories have understandably commented on the visible symbols of his Sikh faith, a few have taken an oddly suspicious tone of whether keeping a turban and beard is a gateway to misplaced loyalties — in Singh’s case that being in supporting Sikh separatists.
Ironically, the one media outlet that seemed to fumble over itself to roll out this unwelcome mat was none other than Canada’s public broadcaster, the traditionally left-leaning CBC.
In an aggressive Fox-style interview on Power & Politics, veteran journalist Terry Milewski interviewed Singh for his first appearance on the station since winning the NDP leadership. He tossed Singh a few softball questions about his leadership plans before cutting incongruently into a question that rhetorically implied a connection between Singh and the Air India bombing from three decades ago: Does Singh condemn Sikhs who venerate Talwinder Parmar, the man considered to be the architect of the bombing of Flight 182 in 1985?
The broadside seemed to take Singh by surprise. He deflected while the CBC host kept doggedly pressing him. Eventually the awkwardly un-Canadian exchange ended in a stalemate. The post-mortem discussion on social media, however, questioned the fairness of this line of inquiry.
Milewski’s cross-examination was loaded, first of all, with the assumption that Singh, a Sikh born in Canada on the cusp of the millennial generation, should be studied in the history of Talwinder Parmar, and the intricacies of an Indian separatist movement from 30 years ago. This would be on par with assuming that Tom Mulcair, the previous NDP leader, should know the history of Sinn Fein just because his father was an Irish Catholic immigrant.
But even if Singh knows his history of 1980s Sikh separatism, was he being asked to denounce the personal views of other Sikhs who venerate Parmar because Singh himself is a baptized Sikh?
Or was he being asked because there are such followers in his political base?
Either way, these questions lead to a troubling double standard when compared to CBC’s treatment of other politicians, such as the Conservative Party’s new leader Andrew Scheer. In an interview earlier this year, Scheer was asked about his views on same-sex marriage and abortion, but at no point was the devout Catholic asked to openly condemn his fellow Catholic congregants who view same-sex marriage as an abomination.
Meanwhile, other Canadian politicians with a significant following in the Sikh community have also been spared Milewski’s rough treatment. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has never been asked to condemn the portion of his Sikh base who view men like Parmar as martyrs. In the 2015 election, Trudeau benefited mightily from the Sikh vote, delivered to him by organizers from the World Sikh Organization — a group that once advocated for the creation of an independent Sikh homeland, on the heels of the Air India bombing. The WSO has also delivered for past Liberal leaders, including Jean Chretien.
Media hypocrisy, however, reaches its apex each spring in Surrey, when dozens of federal, provincial and municipal politicians, along with senior representative from the armed forces, RCMP, major banks and other federal bodies congregate at the Khalsa Day Parade on 128th Street. The event, which drew 300,000 attendees this past year, is hosted by Dasmesh Darbar, the largest Sikh temple in B.C. At this temple, a kind of Sikh version of the Yasukuni Shrine, Parmar and other Sikh separatists are lionized through posters and photo memorials.
In the years since the Air India bombing, mainstream media has leaned heavily on a false, and self-perpetuated, binary of “moderates” versus “fundamentalists” when reporting on news with a Sikh angle. This was partly the consequence of non-diverse newsrooms in the 1980s and 1990s struggling to decipher the inner-workings of a complex community with which many were unfamiliar.
So media outlets created go-to contacts, such as temple presidents and politicians, who became the default spokespeople for an entire range of issues, regardless of their familiarity on these topics. These individuals, in turn, used their privileged positions to perpetuate this divide in which “moderates” became seen as forward-looking secularists who, typically, didn’t wear turbans, while fundamentalists were orthodox in religious practice and ardent supporters of an Sikh homeland independent of India.
In the three decades since Air India, two generations of Sikhs have grown out of the shadow of the separatist turmoil. These youth tend to speak English and French better than they do Punjabi and they are politically active through social justice causes.
Singh is part of this new educated generation which continues to advocate — arguably with more passion and idealism than their parents — for redress on behalf of the 10,000-plus Sikhs systematically murdered by government supported pogroms in Delhi in 1984. Singh, and other young Canadian Sikhs, however, are equally as impassioned by other Canadian-based causes such as attaining meaningful reconciliation for this country’s Aboriginal communities and protecting the environment.
This complexity, however, becomes lost in translation for reporters like Milewski because they still insist on viewing the Sikh community through the tenuous lens of Air India and the separatist struggle that long ago withered on the vine. The community has changed but their narrative framework for reporting has not evolved.
Consequently, Singh’s social activism and even his belief in self-determination becomes recklessly conflated as support for a man accused of terrorism three decades ago. And it happens on national television, as it did on Power & Politics where CBC got caught judging a book by its cover as Milewski shamelessly tried to pin down Singh as a Sikh “fundamentalist.”
If there was any extremism in Canada that day, it was in the manner by which CBC treated the new leader of the NDP.
Singh won his party leadership and the support of the party grassroots because he is a person who embodies the modern nuances of multicultural Canada. Until CBC figures out how to articulate that, Canada’s public broadcaster will continue to foster uncomfortable exchanges that do little to bring together Canadians of all backgrounds.
Jagdeesh Mann is a media professional and journalist based in Vancouver. Mann is also a member of the NCM Collective and regular contributor for New Canadian Media. This piece was republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post.
By: Davina Bhandar in Vancouver
Within the space of a few moments, Jagmeet Singh became one of Canada’s most admired politicians. His cool-under-pressure reaction to being confronted by an angry heckler is just one of the reasons Singh is considered to be the favourite contender for leadership of the federal New Democratic Party.
A video of the Sept. 6 incident at Singh’s campaign event in Brampton, Ont., went viral and has been viewed millions of times in Canada and around the world. Moments into the event, an angry white woman interrupted Singh and shouted Islamophobic and vitriolic statements at him, and physically gesticulated, demonstrating her feeling of entitlement — to space, voice and position - in relation to others at the event.
Singh seemed undeterred by the outburst. His response to her rant was to rally his audience to help him relay his campaign message. He asked his guests to chant: “Love and courage.”
What is the nature of Singh’s call for love? His political slogan is based on a message of universal love and courage. Singh’s message — and chant that evening — is uniquely situated among the slogans of the three other candidates: Charlie Angus “Got your back,” Niki Ashton “Building a movement, together,” and Guy Caron, “Let’s Build a Progressive and Sustainable Economy.”
The dramatic events at the Sept. 6 meeting demonstrates something about Singh, as a person and as a candidate. It also points to new undercurrents of religion and spirituality and its role — not only in Canadian politics, but also in the leadership race for the NDP.
Singh’s campaign and potential leadership arrives in a climate of increasing hatred, fear and division. His call for universal love is coherent with Sikhism, which challenges the division between daily life and a devotional love that guides all thought and action. How does the language of love and courage relate to a New Democratic Party trying to find its way in a shifting political landscape?
Singh’s outward appearance solicits questions from some Canadians — as in the case of the heckler — regarding his secular position: To what degree does Singh’s religion relate to his policy ideas or conduct?
Canadian political institutions and traditions are imbued with Judeo-Christian values and symbols. Yet the separation of church and state maintains religion does not dictate the making of policy and law. However, in the game of politics, courting ethno-racial, national and religious identified voters has become a central art of party campaign strategists.
Political parties of all persuasions have had to navigate this division in a variety of ways. In Canada, the left social democratic tradition, represented now by the NDP, has had less experience with faith-based movements and the religious identity of its leaders than their right-wing counterparts and left-leaning parties elsewhere in the world. Singh’s leadership challenge will likely change that.
While Singh is positioned as a secular politician, his ethos, sense of justice and formation of his identity is connected to a Sikh practice. The very essence of the message of universal love and courage is embedded in a Sikh devotion, rather than a secular idea of loving all humankind. Practising Sikhism defines a way of life — one that is contemplative, meditative and committed to spiritualism and positive actions.
To understand the contemporary role of religion in politics, we need to look at one of our turning points: 9/11. The attacks on New York City and the Pentagon served as a marker of the time foreign and domestic policy in North America was called upon to name Islamic terrorism as a universal enemy.
Once North America and other western governments embraced the rhetoric of a civilization divide, the psyche of liberal democratic nations split apart. The already tenuous divide between the religious and secular began to rupture further.
This reinforced a binary division and emboldened a powerful discourse of racism and Islamophobia. The basic premise is that Islam represents something universally distinct from Christian belief systems.
This discourse of racism and difference has gained strength and societal control through the election of conservative governments with moral platforms that build on fears and anxieties of susceptible citizens.
Sixteen years of corrosive discourses since 9/11 has led to: Us vs. Them, the Clash of Civilizations and racism. We are now at the point of the normalization of white supremacy. It is no longer an oddity or a left-wing conspiracy theory to discuss the presence of fascism and neo-Nazis — these are events widely circulated in our social media feeds and featured during the evening news.
Islamophobia and racism are often understood to be twinned structures of oppression. In many ways they are, but there are complex differences between them. They disseminate and exist in different political, cultural and social taxonomies.
Islamophobia operates through systems of stereotypes, often misunderstanding or misrepresenting the traditions, religious practices and customs of highly diverse ethno-national and racial communities. Islamophobia has been manufactured in multiple ways in society through popular culture, media, policy and criminalizing targeting Islam and Muslims.
Racism is a larger systemic operation of power denigrating one race while validating or elevating another.
When the Harper Conservatives were in government, they attempted to map onto Canadian national values a form of social conservatism. This was articulated through a distinction between Canada and the “barbaric cultural practices” of others.
The clear lines that were being drawn between what Harper referred to as “old stock Canadians” during a 2015 federal leaders’ debate brought into discourse front and center the relationship between white supremacy and Islamophobia. It connected the dots between a normative white Christian Canadian identity that could stand against the racialized others.
Now the Conservative Party has a leader who proudly accepts the label: “Harper with a Smile.”“ Andrew Scheer has the support of social conservatives in the Conservative Party. He has steadfastly supported free speech over the condemnation of Islamophobia and was absent during the House of Commons vote for the Anti-Islamophobia Motion M-103, overwhelmingly passed in the House of Commons.
Singh said his ability to remain cool under pressure was largely owed to his experience of being a brown, Sikh and turbaned man, growing up in the 1980s in Brampton, Ont., just northwest of Toronto.
His past experiences of religious and racist intolerance helped to fortify him against racist language and assault.
In the moment in which the racist woman yelled at him, she assumed he was a Muslim. Many wondered why Singh did not attempt to correct her misconceived perception; he is not a Muslim, but rather, a Sikh.
Suggesting such a distinction in the moment, he said, would only further the misunderstanding that somehow being Muslim means such treatment is considered justifiable. His reaction, he said, should not be to proclaim his religion. By not correcting this misconception, Singh was acting in solidarity against Islamophobia.
Sikhs have been affected throughout the post-9/11 discourses of Islamophobia, mainly because of this misunderstood identity. In the U.S., and elsewhere, there has been a rise in hate bias attacks against Sikhs, with the 2012 Oak Creek, Wis., shooting as a visible example.
While there are those who, in the similar vein as Singh, have sought to challenge Islamophobia by standing in solidarity, there have also been many instances where Sikhs in America, the U.K. and Canada painstakingly distinguish themselves from Muslims.
However, in countless examples, when Islamophobia is experienced in the public sphere against properly identified Muslims, there has been a lack of outcry.
In Canada, the shooting deaths in Quebec’s Sainte-Foy’s Mosque, in which Azzedine Soufiane, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubakar Thabthi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Mamadou Tanou Barry, and Ibrahim Barry were killed, was unmistakably an act of terrorism. Canadians across the country mourned this tragedy. And yet was it recognized as an act of terrorism against the citizens of this state?
The day-to-day effects of Islamophobia have led to many Muslims living with heightened experiences of fear and not knowing what they might encounter on a walk to school, a day at work or even waiting for a bus.
The left social-democrats of the NDP hold steadfastly to their conception of justice, fairness and equality in a secular world. The ways in which people are encountering the public today, however, is seemingly much murkier than these stark divisions.
The issues of racism, religious intolerance and social justice are not central issues for any federal political party. These issues, however, should no longer be viewed as separate from major policy platforms including health, welfare reform, employment, national defense, national security, aboriginal relations and education. Perhaps a political leader such as Jagmeet Singh will be able to navigate these debates with an alacrity and style we have yet to witness in the Canadian political world.
With home prices rising across the country, many of us would likely assume that housing costs (including rent and mortgage payments) are the most expensive budget item for the average Canadian family.
In reality, however, the average Canadian household spends more on taxes than any other expense—including housing. Specifically, in 2016 the average Canadian family (including single Canadians) earned $83,105 in income and paid $35,283 in total taxes. That’s 42.5 per cent of income going to taxes.
Surprised? You’re not alone.
For most of us, the income and payroll tax deductions on our paycheques do not total anything close to this percentage. But to understand the full cost of taxation, you must consider all the taxes—both visible and hidden—that we pay throughout the year to federal, provincial and municipal governments including sales taxes, property taxes, fuel taxes, carbon taxes, import taxes, alcohol taxes and much more. All these taxes add up and make our overall tax bill expensive.
So how does the overall tax bill compare to housing costs?
The average Canadian family spends 22.1 per cent of its income on housing—only about half as much as it spends on taxes (again, 42.5 per cent).
In fact, taxes consume more of the average family’s income than all the basic necessities of life combined. If you add up the average family’s spending on housing, food and clothing in a year, it comes to 37.4 per cent of its income—still quite a bit less than what we pay in taxes.
With 42.5 per cent of income going to taxes, Canadian families may rightfully wonder whether they get good value for their tax dollars. Of course, taxes fund important government services. But we shouldn’t simply assume that higher taxes always provide better government services.
While it’s ultimately up to individual Canadians and their families to decide if they’re getting the best bang for their money, you must know how much you pay in total taxes to make an informed assessment. That’s where our annual calculations help. They estimate the cost of government for the average family. Armed with this knowledge, Canadians can then determine if they think they’re getting good value in return.
Some perspective might help.
In most provinces, more than 50 per cent of our tax dollars finance generous pay for government employees. In fact, government employees, on average, receive 10.6 per cent higher wages than comparable private-sector workers doing similar work. And that’s on top of the much more generous non-wage benefits (pension coverage, job security, early retirement) the government sector also enjoys. Of course, we need qualified and well-paid government workers, but is this pay and benefit premium the best use of our tax dollars?
In the case of health care, which consumes around 40 per cent of most provincial budgets and is a fast-growing expense, international comparisons show that, despite high levels of spending, Canadians have comparatively poor access to technology and doctors, and endure longer wait times for surgery. It’s hard to see how we get good value for our money in public health care when measured against other countries that also offer universal access.
Most troubling is when our tax dollars are outright wasted on boondoggles and failed government programs. A recent study documented more than 600 cases where the federal government failed to meet its own objectives over a 25-year period, resulting in up to $197 billion of wasted tax money.
Bottom line—if Canadians are more informed about the true cost of government, they will be better equipped to hold government accountable for how it spends our tax dollars. And that leads to a more robust public debate about the overall tax burden and whether we’re getting our money’s worth.
Charles Lammam is the Director, Fiscal Studies, at the Fraser Institute and Milagros Palacios is the Senior Research Economist at the Fraser Institute. This piece was republished under arrangement with the Asian Pacific Post.
By: Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
To be the “last king” of anything means you left this world either a legend or a tragic figure. Maharajah Duleep Singh, the final monarch of the Punjab kingdom, who was forcibly separated from his family as a child, dispossessed of the Koh-i-noor diamond, converted to Christianity as a teenager, died a penniless, broken man in Paris, and is today buried in England, clearly falls into the latter category. But just as some within England’s Sikh community are seeking to exhume his remains for return to the Punjab, so are others working at rehabilitating his victim legacy.
Veteran U.K. actor and filmmaker Kavi Raz is one of these reformers. His film, The Black Prince, is a new production on the deposed monarch, who as an 11-year-old was removed from the throne and by 15 was exiled to England after his kingdom was annexed by the British in 1849. Unlike other ‘last kings’ such as Louis XVI of France and Nicholas II of Russia, Singh was spared the guillotine and firing squad, but the impressionable boy king would live out his life cut off from his family, culture, and homeland, remaining forever hidden away, if not lost, from his people.
Raz’s biopic sets course to rescue Duleep Singh from the forgotten recesses of English and Indian history. For the writer-director and his fellow producers, The Black Prince is clearly a passion project; the period piece is scripted in a mix of English and Punjabi, showcases an international cast, and features detail-oriented sets of Victorian England.
The film is not song-and-dance Bollywood, nor does it fall into the Punjabi-language genre which is bloated these days with slapstick comedies. Like the recent Oscar nominated Lion, The Black Prince is part of a new wave of film and television content capable of generating box office revenue domestically and internationally. In Canada, there are over one million Punjabi speaking South Asians who provide a niche target for the film.
Raz knows his target demographic well—he is originally from the Punjab region—and has crafted a story to win the hearts and minds of this audience. Unfortunately, this comes at an artistic cost, as The Black Prince seems more like a mission than a movie at times. Raz presses hard to recast Duleep Singh as a freedom fighter and a devotee of the Sikh faith, selectively omitting facts to make this case. The oversimplification of Duleep Singh’s re-initiation into the Sikh faith is one example of the film’s rolling-pin approach to the maharajah’s story (more on this pivot point below).
This heavy-handedness flattens characters throughout the movie, whether they be villainous English officers or the maharajah’s wives. Raz’s Duleep Singh is a stripped-down joyless version of an ex-sovereign, who was known to have thoroughly appreciated the velvet trappings of aristocratic life. We also see very little of a maharajah who took considerable pride in being a sportsman, playwright, and musician.
This ‘Black Prince’ who is constantly in a black mood is played by the eminent Punjabi musician Satinder Sartaaj who is forced to brood through his lines and awkward silences that ask too much of his acting skills. When he is not weighed down by a gnawing sense of displacement—the maharajah was, technically speaking, England’s first Sikh immigrant—he suffers from an identity crisis. That only intensifies when he finally reunites with his mother, Rani Jindan, superbly acted by Shabana Azmi.
These repetitive scenes of inner anguish neither advance the story nor reveal the complexity of a maharajah who, as a blue-blooded aristocrat, may have felt as much kinship with members of Europe’s ruling classes as with the average Punjabi peasant or Sikh devotee. The use of a third-person narrator would have relieved the maharajah from having to make banal political statements every other scene. Alternatively, Raz could have shot the film as a historical docu-drama interspersed with interviews to maximise his control over the narrative.
Eventually the maharajah’s contrived emotional distress culminates in a lukewarm climax when he re-converts to Sikhism during a failed passage to India—the British government denied him entry to travel to his homeland. Now near the end of his life, his unrest becomes outright rebellion as he bands with a group of Irish rebels and Russian agents and takes the helm of a quixotic, and ill-advised, plot to seize back his kingdom.
While there was likely some revolutionary fervor in the maharajah’s desire to overthrow English rule in India, it is a stretch to credit these actions solely to a pious freedom fighter, as Raz has suggested.
Historically there was also a financial motive—and a reasonably just one—behind Duleep Singh’s fall-out with his captors. Like many Victorian-era estate holders of his time, he was perpetually in debt due to a profligate lifestyle. His promised annual pension in 1860 of £40 thousand per annum ($7.7 million CAD in today’s terms) was always short-paid by half every year. While £20 thousand per year afforded him a luxurious lifestyle as single man, this amount, not indexed to the rate of inflation, became insufficient later in life as he became a father to eight children and husband to two wives.
At the time of Punjab’s annexation, the British government had also seized his family’s vast personal estates and holdings which should not have been included as state properties. Despite Singh’s ongoing campaigning to the Crown, these assets were never returned, much to his vexation.
Among Sikhs, there is a commonly held view that the modern downfall of their Punjab state actually began over 150 years ago when the kingdom created by Duleep’s father, the great Maharajah Ranjit Singh, crumbled after the Anglo-Sikh wars. A century after the golden age of the Lahore Darbar, Punjab was torn in half by Partition in 1947, and today what is left is being further shredded by rampant drug abuse, gross corruption, farmer suicides, and environmental damage.
Solutions remain elusive, but heroic accounts from the past provide hope that things can be better.
The Black Prince covers an important story that has long required production. While this movie pays tribute to the maharajah by rescuing him from the shadow of history, it does not, however, set him free. Over a century since his death, Duleep Singh still remains a pawn—now of modern-day Punjabi and Sikh identity politics—as he once was during the Great Game of colonialism in the 19th century.
Jagdeesh Mann is a media professional who works as the executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post. This article has been republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post.
By: Sam Minassie
As an integral part of Latin American Week, Carnaval Del Sol has returned for another year with an even larger assortment of activities, vendors and events. Initially established in 2009 with approximately 500 attendees, it has evolved into an annual pillar of the community. In comparison, the festival now hosts up to 100,000 guests annually.
The festival is slated to take place across 7 plazas: The Food Plaza, Kids Plaza, AON Family Plaza, YVR Travel Plaza, Urban Plaza, Sports Plaza and the Beer Plaza. The different sects will host fashion shows, body painting, street performers, live DJ’s and even artists at work on paintings and sculptures.While recent expansions have resulted in new additions, such as “Music on Wheels”, as well as a Beer Plaza which now seats 600!
An entrepreneur by her early teens, founder, Paola Murillo began her first business, selling sandwiches to schoolmates. And although she received backlash from school authorities, by high school she’d already added pens as a second venture. A testament to her resiliency, Murillo, has never been one to shy away from a challenge.
So, when she moved to Vancouver, recreating an authentic “Plaza Latina” was merely another opportunity. In several Latin-American countries, plazas serve as major hubs for residents to socialize, share news and celebrate. These areas often make up the most intricate parts of a city’s dynamics. Murillo's aim to help connect the community through a more traditional approach has been highly successful and has helped bridge the gap for many newcomers.
Originally from Columbia, Murillo came to Canada in 2005 with business aspirations that have lead her to a number of projects including Latincouver. The online platform which provides a central place to find news and information, also hosts a number of programs. With a list that includes the Latin-Canadian Professional Network (LCPN), Inspirational Latin Awards (ILA), ExpoPlaza Latina (EPL), and the Amigo Card; the site offers something for everyone.
Now a Canadian citizen, she has been honoured a number of times, including the prestigious Mary Ozolins award given to a BC woman who “provides exemplary and meaningful contributions to the community”. And was recognized as one of the 10 Most Influential Hispanics in Canada by the Canadian Hispanic Business Alliance in 2010.
Although Murillo’s efforts often resonate more closely with Vancouver’s Hispanic residents, initiatives like the ExpoPlaza target broader international business relations. The conference which focuses on improving intercontinental trade helps Canadian companies connect with South American distributors and organizations.
The festival is scheduled to host approximately 250 performers, musicians, and dancers, keeping the stage overflowing with talent throughout the weekend celebrations. Outdoor cooking demos by the Chefs del Sol will also showcase traditional Latin-American recipes. Entry is free and with a variety of over 25 food vendors to choose from, a virtually unlimited assortment of Latin-American dishes is available.
The event takes place in Vancouver at the Concord Pacific Place, just north of Science World, from 10am - 10pm on July 8 and July 9.
by Daniel Morton in Vancouver
One year after Canada first resettled 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canadian communities — a number that has since grown to 40,000 — the refugee program has left Canadians divided as to its merit and efficacy. A recent poll by Angus Reid showed that 6 in 10 Canadians approve of the way the government has handled the influx, but a deeper dive into the polling reveal almost one in four Canadians support a Trump style ban on Muslims. Despite its welcoming reputation, Canada has already seen an alarming rise in Islamophobic incidents. At this point, failing to help newcomers settle runs the risk of a more intolerant future in Canada.
In Metro Vancouver, a region that has seen a 20 fold increase in immigration since 2001, newcomers often have trouble navigating the services they need. In 2016, seven Metro Vancouver municipal districts identified access to information and services for newcomers as a top priority to strengthen resettlement efforts. As an example, Metro Vancouver immigrants struggle with backlogs for government funded English lessons while failing to make use of the network of free lessons — many offers are not getting to the people who need them.
At a time when social media discourse about immigrants grows more toxic everyday, Vancouver’s vibrant non-profit community is stepping up with a positive response. Currently a top 10 finalist of the Google.org Impact Challenge, Vancouver-based NGO PeaceGeeks has partnered with the immigrant settlement community to explore how to better connect immigrants to local services such as health, language programs and housing options to ease their transition. PeaceGeeks is one of several Canadian non-profits vying for $750,000 from Google through a public vote to make their project a reality.
The idea for this application builds on another PeaceGeeks project called Services Advisor, a smartphone app that connects refugees to essential humanitarian services like food and medicine across Jordan—a country that has housed almost 656,000 Syrian refugees according to Amnesty International. The Services Advisor prototype was successfully deployed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Jordan and will soon be deployed in Turkey and Somalia to support another 3 million displaced people.
Now, PeaceGeeks is exploring how tools like Services Advisor can help to significantly improve the experience of newcomers arriving in Metro Vancouver and beyond, through generating personalized roadmaps for newcomers to navigate what is often a dizzying array of settlement and community services.
PeaceGeeks intends to build this app so that it can eventually be used across Canada.
“We want to create better visibility and access to existing services and providers while reducing what can be an overwhelming experience for immigrants as they navigate the steps to becoming active and vibrant citizens in their new communities,” says Renee Black, the Executive Director of PeaceGeeks. “Services Advisor Pathways (the Vancouver version) aims to connect them to the most relevant and timely services to help with their particular circumstances at any given stage of their immigration journey.”
The project is being developed in partnership and consultation with cities, local newcomers, immigrant service providers such as MOSAIC, Immigrant Services Society of Canada (ISSofBC) and S.U.C.C.E.S.S., as well as Local Immigration Partnerships (LIPs) across the Metro Vancouver region. LIPs are federally funded, cross-sectoral partnerships that aim to improve integration of newcomers into the fabric of local communities and create more inclusive workplaces.
“By building on their global experience using technology to support refugees combined with innovative approaches that will be developed locally, PeaceGeeks is poised to make a pioneering contribution to the way that immigrants and refugees access information about services in Metro Vancouver,” says Nadia Carvalho, Coordinator of Vancouver’s LIP.
The project has received over thirty endorsements since the beginning of March from key individuals and organizations across settlement, tech and humanitarian spaces, including the B.C. Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens' Services.
“By facilitating the integration of newcomers into British Columbia, this new technology will return benefit the whole Province,” says Minister Amrik Virk.
PeaceGeeks anticipates that Services Advisor Pathways can help reduce the stress on government services, by connecting immigrants to the pathways for success before and upon arrival, straight from their smartphones.
At such a critical time for Canada to stand apart from the closing borders of other nations, PeaceGeeks is hoping that Services Advisor will show that Canada’s strength continues to come from its diversity and inclusion.
For more information about PeaceGeeks’ project, visit votepeacegeeks.org.
The Google.org Impact Challenge supports Canadian nonprofit innovators who are using technology to tackle the world's biggest social challenges. Google.org will award $5 million across 10 organizations to help bring their ideas to life.
Between March 6 and March 28, Canadians are invited to visit g.co/canadachallenge to learn more about the finalists, and to vote for the projects they care about most. One winner will be chosen based on this public vote to receive a $750,000 grant from Google.org. The remaining winners will be selected by a jury during a live pitching session on March 30 in Toronto.
Daniel Morton is a volunteer for the organization.
Commentary by Ujjal Dosanjh in Vancouver
Dear Minister Ahmed Hussen,
Many of us cheered when you were recently made the Immigration Minister. We felt that as an immigrant Canadian you would surely bring to your position a new and hopefully more compassionate perspective on what it may mean to be Canadian. But our cheers were short lived. You have brought disappointments to some hearts, mine included.
On Monday March 6, 2017 you deported Len Van Heest, a Canadian for the last 59 years. Yes, a Canadian but without the citizenship papers. At the age of seven months and in diapers, he legally landed in Canada with his family. At sixteen he was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. He has several convictions for assault, mischief and uttering threats – all stemming from and related to his mental illness, the bipolar disorder. His last offence was in 2012.
Mr. Minister, obviously as a minor under the old law, Van Heest would have been unable to apply for his citizenship on his own – assuming that he even realized or knew in his mental state about the need for him to do so. His parents may not have applied their minds to this issue before he became a 'criminal' and therefore barred from receiving Canadian citizenship.
Power and discretion
Mr. Minister, you had the legal power and discretion to stop Van Heest's deportation. You chose not to because you didn't see it as fit and proper to do so. His deportation means that you must have felt the mentally ill Van Heest was responsible for not applying for citizenship that he had to before he had reached a certain age. It also implies that you and your officials felt it was just and fair for Canada to hold a mentally ill man responsible for piling up a criminal record that disqualified him from ever applying for Canadian citizenship, even though he had entered Canada as an infant. The mentally ill Van Heest – criminal or not – is the product of Canada.
Citizen or not, he is undeniably Canadian. If he is a criminal, he is a Canadian criminal.
Minister, above all Van Heest's deportation was made possible by the regressive legislative changes the Harper regime had made lowering a convicted immigrant's prison sentence threshold for making him/her "inadmissible" to Canada and therefore deportable. It is unacceptable that your government has neither changed, nor is it planning to change this unfair law that makes someone like Van Heest – a Canadian for all practical purposes – deportable.
But on the other hand, you recently testified in support of your government's Bill C-6 that will amend Harper government's law that enabled Canada to revoke the Canadian citizenship of convicted terrorists holding dual citizenships. Under Bill C-6 the revoked citizenships of convicted terrorists including that of Zakaria Amar – the ring leader of the Toronto 18 who wanted to commit mass murder and behead the Canadian Prime Minister – would be reinstated, re-bestowed upon them.
Mr. Minister, you passionately and eloquently argued: "When you are a Canadian citizen you shouldn't feel less valued just because you have dual citizenship with another country." You also said an individual whose citizenship was already revoked will have it reinstated.
Mr. Minister, I support your government's view that one Canadian is like another despite some holding dual citizenships. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. But in my view a Zakaria Amar is much less deserving of Canadian citizenship and compassion than a Len Van Heest.
Minister, I am deeply troubled and disappointed at your missing compassion and eloquence in defence of Van Heest; mentally ill Van Heest; a 59 year long Canadian; and so what if not so on paper.
Van Heest's was and is exactly the kind of case in which you should have used your ministerial power and discretion to keep or allow anyone into Canada. In my humble opinion, you made a serious error of judgement by deporting Van Heest. You have the power to allow him back into Canada. You should use it.
My Dear Minister, It is never too late to do the right thing.
Ujjal Dosanjh is a former Attorney General and Premier of British Columbia and former federal Minister of Health. He describes himself as a "A child of Indian peasants working to make the world a better place."
Firstly, Canada’s own immigration policies have made it difficult for international students. On the front end, the financial requirements are difficult to meet. International students need to show unreasonably high available funds just to be approved for study permits and seek extensions for their studies. The prohibitive cost of international tuition forces many students to take a break from their studies or resort to extreme measures (like taking up jobs in violation of their study permits or taking out private loans) to keep with the payments.
Commentary by Jonathan Manthorpe in Vancouver
How does Donald Trump’s mind work? The Beijing government hasn’t a clue; neither does the rest of the world. Maybe the president-elect’s thinking is a mystery even to himself.
Sensibly, Chinese Communist Party leaders have opted not to interpret Trump’s telephone conversation on Friday with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen as a deliberate act jettisoning nearly 40 years of careful obfuscation that has kept the peace between Washington and Beijing.
Instead, the men behind the high red wall of the Zhongnanhai leaders’ compound in Beijing decided to say that the phone call was a “petty trick” by Tsai. “For Trump,” said a state-controlled newspaper, “it exposed nothing but his transition team’s inexperience in dealing with foreign affairs.”
So Beijing has decided that for the moment there should be no crisis. Trump, though, seems reluctant to go along with that idea and appears, in fact, to be setting up the Beijing regime as a whipping boy. On Sunday evening he used his preferred method of communication with the world — Twitter — to say:
“Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into … their country (the U.S. doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!”
This suggests that, unlike the other promises he has already abandoned, Trump might charge ahead with his campaign vow to stick massive duties on Chinese imports.
That could pose a threat to the survival in power of the Chinese Communist Party — whose Mandate of Heaven is now expressed in the growth of China’s gross domestic product. And that is a far more pressing question for Beijing than the fate of Taiwan
But the Taiwan question cannot be ignored. The Communist Party claims the island and its 23 million people are “a renegade province” that must be gathered into the bosom of Mother China — by force if necessary. Three generations of Chinese have been indoctrinated at school with this mantra, even though it has little historic, legal or political merit. But there is a long history of authoritarian states being mauled to death by the hyper-nationalism they have fostered in order to stay in power.
So there are reasons to applaud the phone call between Trump and Tsai. It is shining a bright light on the iniquities visited upon the people of Taiwan, a vibrant democracy with one of the world’s most successful and sophisticated economies, by the sleazy deal between Washington and Beijing.
The breach of protocol established in 1979 would be far more welcome if someone more trustworthy than Trump were about to become the U.S. president. It’s hard to believe that Trump will see through what he started on Friday, that the ridiculous “one China policy” will be ditched, and that Taiwan will be able to take its proper position as an internationally recognized independent nation.
As with so many U.S. diplomatic follies of the last half century, the blame for this one can be laid at the feet of Henry Kissinger.
Like Trump, Kissinger’s capacity for self-promotion has successfully masked his lack of more useful talents. In 1971, Kissinger was President Richard Nixon’s national security advisor when he went to Beijing to negotiate with Premier Zhou En-lai the establishment of diplomatic relations.
At the time, Washington still recognized as the legitimate government of China the old Kuomintang regime of Chiang Kai-shek, which had fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists.
Premier Zhou played Kissinger like a violin. Despite Nixon’s insistence that Taiwan’s independence must be guaranteed, Kissinger told Zhou that he could foresee the island becoming part of China. He also agreed to “acknowledge” China’s claim to Taiwan. This wording — which the Chinese usually translate as “accept” — has remained part of the problem.
(In contrast, when then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was negotiating Canada’s establishment of diplomatic relations with Beijing, he insisted that Ottawa would only “note” the Communist Party’s claim to Taiwan. Most other countries have followed the Canadian model.)
The establishment of Washington-Beijing diplomatic relations meant that the fiction that the Chiang regime in Taiwan was the true government of China could not continue. In 1979, during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the U.S. ended formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan — though, like most other countries (including Canada), it keeps an unofficial embassy in Taipei and continues to have a military and intelligence relationship with the government.
With this ambiguous diplomatic and legal relationship has gone what is known as the “one China policy,” which Beijing has insisted other governments, especially Washington and Taipei, accept as a condition of economic relations.
In essence this policy says that everyone accepts that there is only “one China.” What constitutes China is left undefined. Beijing, of course, says China includes Taiwan and the Chinese Communist Party is its sovereign authority.
In Taiwan, around 90 per cent of the island’s people want to keep their independence. If pushed, they will say there is indeed only one China — but Taiwan is not part of it.
The same goes in Washington. So for nearly 40 years, peace has been maintained across the Taiwan Strait and relations between Beijing and Washington have continued without serious conflict because everyone has agreed to accept there is “one China” without asking what that means.
U.S. administrations have added a couple of other ambiguities to this “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” approach. There is domestic legislation — the 1979 Taiwan Affairs Act — which requires Washington to help defend Taiwan if it is attacked. It is left up to each Washington administration, however, to decide how enthusiastically it rushes to Taiwan’s defence. As U.S.-China economic interdependence has grown, it has become less and less likely that any Washington administration would go to the wall for 23 million Taiwanese, even if they are part of the democracy circle.
And in a sop to Beijing, successive U.S. presidents have kept well away from any formal or even informal association with their Taiwanese counterparts.
That’s why Trump’s phone conversation with Tsai stands out.
It’s not entirely clear that it has dawned on Trump yet that, on January 20, he will become the U.S. president. He is still acting like someone who just won a game show and is revelling in the attention showered on him by groupies.
Whether the phone call means anything more than that will be seen after January 20.
Republished under arrangement with ipolitics.ca
Commentary by Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver
More than a year of since assuming office, the Liberal government has sadly still not fulfilled its campaign pledge to restore diplomatic relations with Iran. It is moving in the right direction, but the pace is slow.
Prime Minister Justine Trudeau said in June 2015 that he wanted to normalize relations with Iran. In September, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly to address status of relations between the two countries and discussed consular services.
On Monday , ipolitics.ca reported that Liberal Member of Parliament for Richmond Hill, Majid Jowhari, hosted a few Iranian parliamentarians in his office. They talked about issues such as trade, people-to-people ties and human rights.
Conservative Iran policy
The Harper Conservatives broke diplomatic relations with Iran in September 2012.
Countries rarely break diplomatic relations with one another even if they are at war. The common sense approach is that it is much better to engage in dialogue about differences than to stop talking.
Diplomacy is not about pandering to interests groups, self-righteous statements, ideology, and political posturing. Diplomacy, in its non-coercive approach, is the art of having difficult conversations especially with countries that are different from us.
That was not the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC)’s approach to diplomatic relations with Iran. The same culture still persists in the CPC.
In his reaction to Jowhari’s meeting with Iranian parliamentarians, Peter Kent, Conservative MP for Thornhill, said that “good many Persian Canadians are disappointed to hear that such a meeting took place”, and that he would have declined to meet with the Iranians.
Story of two e-petitions
It is commendable to see that Kent cares about what the Iranian Canadians think about Canada’s relations with Iran. He is definitely aware that there are currently two open e-petitions on the website of the Parliament of Canada representing two views about relations with Iran.
The first one, sponsored by Jowhari, calls on the Government of Canada to restore diplomatic relations with Iran “as matter of utmost importance” and has received 9,144 signatures. The second one sponsored by Kent has got 596 signatures.
These represent two different approaches to diplomacy.
Kent and his party should expand the circle of the Iranian Canadians they engage with to at least understand other perspectives.
There have been different waves of emigration from Iran to Canada after the 1979 revolution. Iranians have left Iran for a variety of reasons. Their understanding of the Islamic Republic and its nature, and their experiences with different governments in Iran are not the same. Consequently, they advocate for different policies because they look at the same picture but see different aspects.
The Conservative Party seems to rely only on one narrative about Iran while ignoring others that can be useful and help Canada to better promote its national interests.
One of the most revealing illustrations of my concern about this tunnel vision is a meeting that then Prime Minister Stephen Harper had with a few members of the Iranian Canadian community, in Sept. 2012 (Full disclosure: I worked with four of the invitees on human rights issues and one more is a dear friend of mine).
People to people
The Conservatives should have asked the respected guests about the last time they had visited Iran and their current links to Iran, beyond sentimental attachments, language and opinions about what a better future could look like for Iran. Some have not been to Iran in decades.
It is noteworthy that Conservative MPs who won the support of the Iranian diaspora in areas such as the North Shore and Tri-Cities ridings in metro Vancouver, and Richmond Hill and Willowdale in greater Toronto – where there are sizable Iranian immigrant communities – failed in the last federal election.
Liberal candidates won all these ridings and their Iran policy undoubtedly played a pivotal role in their success.
Canada has achieved nothing by cutting diplomatic ties with Iran. As Canada works to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran, people-to-people exchanges such as the meeting at Jowhari’s office are useful to enhance mutual understanding.
Alireza Ahmadian is a Vancouver-based writer and researcher. He holds a Master's degree of arts in international affairs and diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He has appeared on BBC World News and BBC Persian to discuss world affairs and has published on online forums such as New Canadian Media, BBC, and foreign policy blogs. He is also a policy advisor to the Iranian Canadian Congress.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit