Sunday, December 22, 2013

Tackling Extremism in the UK: A mandate for secret criminalisation

Written by CP Editor Friday, 20 December 2013

Download Part Two of CagePrisoner's latest response to the government's report Tackling Extremism in the UK here

The first part of the CAGE response to the UK government’s Task Force into ‘extremism’ tackled the ideological deficiencies and assumptions that underpinned the way in which the Task Force approached the ‘problem’ of ‘extremism’.

This second part to our response seeks to tackle the suggestions put forward in the report from a methodological perspective. As the government seeks to bring the term ‘extremism’ out of policy and into legislation, the ramifications on doing so from a civil liberties and human rights perspective could be devastating for Muslim communities.

Since 2001, the UK government has sought to use a civil system in order to bypass the requirements of due process that are recognised under the criminal justice system. By permitting there to be a raft of sanctions to restrict the liberty of individuals, they are capable of making arbitrary decisions, resulting in the individual having to go through an appeals process where the evidence against them is held in secret.

Already, difficulties in relation to the civil system have been witnessed as those who had their citizenships removed, placed under control orders (now TPIMs) or set for deportation to their countries of origin – have in many cases successfully challenged the sanctions against them, except that it took years to attempt to prove that somehow they had not committed any offences that were being alleged against them in secret.

The UK government’s call for new sanctions is envisaged to very much fall within the context of this regime. Any of the orders that are made against an individual, whether that he/she is banned from mosques, or that they are not permitted to publicly deliver lectures, will be placed within a regime where the actual evidence of concern, will kept in secret.

While the designation of ‘Islamist extremism’ or even ‘extremism’ remains vague, the opportunities for the Home Secretary to abuse such powers are far too open. Before responding to the way in which the Task Force has recommended to deal with ‘extremism’ it is important to understand the way the term has already been used as part of a programme of secrecy, profiling and harassment.

This isn't 'feminism'. It's Islamophobia

I am infuriated by white men stirring up anti-Muslim prejudice to derail debate on western sexism

The Guardian, Sunday 22 December 2013

As a person who writes about women's issues, I am constantly being told that Islam is the greatest threat to gender equality in this or any other country – mostly by white men, who always know best. This has been an extraordinary year for feminism, but from the Rochdale grooming case to interminable debates over whether traditional Islamic dress is "empowering" or otherwise, the rhetoric and language of feminism has been co-opted by Islamophobes, who could not care less about women of any creed or colour.

The recent blanket coverage of the "gender segregation on campus" story was a textbook case. This month Student Rights, a pressure group not run by students, released a report vastly exaggerating a suggestion by Universities UK that male and female students might be asked to sit separately in some lectures led by Islamic guest speakers. Many Asian women's groups and individual Muslim feminists joined the subsequent protests, sometimes taking personal risks to do so. Unfortunately, rightwing commentators and tabloids seized upon the issue to imply that Islamic extremists are taking over the British academy.

Never mind that it wasn't strictly true, the non-controversy spread to every level of government. Labour MP Chuka Umunna declared: "A future Labour government would not allow or tolerate segregation in our universities." Even the prime minister stepped into the debate, saying the proposed guidelines, which have since been withdrawn, were "not the right approach". The elite all-male Oxford club of which both he and the chancellor were members was presumably the perfect approach.

I have spent weary weeks being asked to condemn this "policy of gender segregation" by "Islamic extremists", despite the fact that no such policy exists. Of course, I condemn all sexism within the academy. I condemn segregated drinking societies and the under-representation of women at the top levels of academia. I condemn rape culture on campus, traditions like "seal clubbing" and "slut dropping" where male students are encouraged to sexually humiliate their female classmates. If I've enough breath left, I'll condemn the suggestion that guest lecturers be allowed a segregated audience for religious reasons.

Structural sexism does take place every day in our universities, as it does in our offices, shops and homes – and we should oppose it everywhere. But demanding that feminists of every race and faith drop all our campaigns and stand against "radical Islam" sounds more and more like white patriarchy trying to make excuses for itself: "If you think we're bad, just look at these guys."

It's the dishonesty that angers me most. It's the hypocrisy of men claiming to stand for women's rights while appropriating our language of liberation to serve their own small-minded agenda. Far-right groups like the English Defence League and the British National party rush to condemn crimes against women committed by Muslim men, while fielding candidates who make claims like "women are like gongs – they need to be struck regularly".

Some of their members tell me that since they are standing against the sexism of Muslim barbarians, as a feminist I should be on their side. When I disagree, I am invariably informed I deserve be shipped to Afghanistan and stoned to death.

Horror stories about Muslim misogyny have long been used by western patriarchs to justify imperialism abroad and sexism at home. The Guardian's Katharine Viner reminds us about Lord Cromer, the British consul general in Egypt from 1883. Cromer believed the Egyptians were morally and culturally inferior in their treatment of women and that they should be "persuaded or forced" to become "civilised" by disposing of the veil.

"And what did this forward-thinking, feminist-sounding veil-burner do when he got home to Britain?" asks Viner. "He founded and presided over the Men's League for Opposing Women's Suffrage, which tried, by any means possible, to stop women getting the vote. Colonial patriarchs like Cromer … wanted merely to replace eastern misogyny with western misogyny." More than a century later, the same logic is used to imply that misogyny only matters when it isn't being done by white men.

I am not writing here on behalf of Muslim women, who can and do speak for themselves, and not all in one voice. I am writing this as a white feminist infuriated by white men using dog-whistle Islamophobia to derail any discussion of structural sexism; as someone who has heard too many reactionaries tell me to shut up about rape culture and the pay gap and just be grateful I'm not in Saudi Arabia; as someone angered that so many Muslim feminists fighting for gender justice are forced to watch their truth, to paraphrase that fusty old racist Rudyard Kipling, "twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools".

We are the fools, if we believe that accepting aggressive distinctions between nice, safe western sexism and scary, heathen Muslim sexism is going to serve the interests of women. The people making these arguments don't care about women. They care about stoking controversy, attacking Muslims and shouting down feminists of all stripes.

For decades, western men have hijacked the language of women's liberation to justify their Islamophobia. If we care about the future of feminism, we cannot let them set the agenda.

Quran 4:1

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُواْ رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالاً كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاء وَاتَّقُواْ اللّهَ الَّذِي تَسَاءلُونَ بِهِ وَالأَرْحَامَ إِنَّ اللّهَ كَانَ عَلَيْكُمْ رَقِيبًا

O people, fear your Lord, who created you from a single soul. From it He created its spouse, and from both of them scattered many men and women. Fear Allah, by whom you ask one another, and (fear) the wombs (lest you sever its relationship). Allah is ever watching over you. (Quran 4:1)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

CSIS slammed for end-running law to snoop on Canadians abroad

Spy agency made 'deliberate decision to keep the court in the dark'

The Canadian Press -- Dec 21, 2013 

Canada's spy agency deliberately withheld information from the courts in an effort to do an end-run around the law when it applied for top-secret warrants to intercept the communications of Canadians abroad, a Federal Court judge said Friday.

In doing so, the judge said in written reasons, the agency put Canadians abroad at potential risk.

The situation arose five years ago when Canadian Security Intelligence Service asked Federal Court for special warrants
related to two Canadian citizens — already under investigation as a potential threat to national security — that would apply while they were abroad.

CSIS assured Judge Richard Mosley the intercepts would be carried out from inside Canada, and controlled by Canadian government personnel, court records show.

Mosley granted the warrants in January 2009 based on what CSIS and Canada's top secret eavesdropping agency — the Communication Security Establishment of Canada or CSEC — had told him.

However, Canadian officials then asked for intercept help from foreign intelligence allies without telling the court.

Mosley was unimpressed, saying the courts had never approved the foreign involvement.

"It is clear that the exercise of the court's warrant issuing has been used as protective cover for activities that it has not authorized," Mosley wrote in redacted reasons.

"The failure to disclose that information was the result of a deliberate decision to keep the court in the dark about the scope and extent of the foreign collection efforts that would flow from the court's issuance of a warrant."
Misinterpreting the law

Under current legislation, Federal Court has no authority to issue warrants that involve intercepts of Canadians carried out abroad by Canada's "Five Eyes" intelligence partners, Mosley noted.

He said CSIS, which was granted several similar warrants on fresh or renewed applications in relation to other targets, knew the law but deliberately sought to get around the limitation by misinterpreting it.

"CSIS and CSEC officials are relying on that interpretation at their peril and ... incurring the risk that targets may be detained or otherwise harmed as a result of the use of the intercepted communications by the foreign agencies," Mosley wrote.

"[The law] does not authorize the service and CSEC to incur that risk or shield them from liability."

The documents show alarm bells went off after the commissioner of CSEC, Robert Decary, tabled his annual report in August.

In the report, he suggested CSIS provide Federal Court with "certain additional evidence about the nature and extent" of his agency's help to the intelligence service.

Mosley ordered both agencies to explain what Decary meant. He did not like what he heard about the hidden foreign involvement in the intercepts.

"This was a breach of the duty of candour owed by the service and their legal advisers to the court," he said.

"It has led to misstatements in the public record about the scope of the authority granted the service."

Mosley made it clear the warrants do not authorize any foreign service to intercept communications of any Canadian on behalf of CSIS or CSEC.

Faith and Values: Even small charitable acts add up

By Fatima Kermalli, Special to The Morning Call

December 20, 2013

It is during the holiday season when people take the time to truly ponder and appreciate all that they have: family, friends, health and wealth. With a sense of appreciation, these almost always compel a human being to want to give back.

A person develops a deep feeling of kindheartedness to help those who are not so fortunate. That is the feeling of giving, and the holidays are synonymous with being charitable.

In Islam, charity is encouraged and is not just defined by distributing one's wealth to those in need. Charity is also donating time or energy, which can be just as precious.
Prophet Muhammad said, "Every single Muslim is to give in charity every single day." 

When asked who would be capable of such a thing, he replied, "Your removal of an obstacle from the road is a charitable act; your guiding someone the way is a charitable act; your visiting the sick is a charitable act; your enjoyment of good to others is a charitable act; your forbidding others from wrongdoing is a charitable act, and your returning the greeting of peace is a charitable act."

In giving, besides attaining self-gratification by helping others, charity empowers the giver in amazing ways. According to Islam, charitable giving is a means of protection and warding off difficulties and disasters that might otherwise occur.

By giving, an individual not only helps others but also in the process, ensures for themselves security from harm and an increase in their own wealth; the Holy Quran states: "One who generously lends to God will be paid back in many multiples of the loan." (2:245). Therefore, Islam teaches that charity does not diminish wealth, it only grows.

In regards to security, the Prophet said, "Give charity, and cure your sick ones through the giving of charity, for verily charity repels accidents and illnesses, and is a source of increase in your life spans and your rewards."

An incident during the Prophet's life states that he once passed by a Jewish man who was going to chop some wood. When Prophet Muhammad saw him he predicted that this man would be bitten by a poisonous snake and die.

In the evening, the companions saw this man was still alive, contrary to the Prophet's prediction. They questioned the Prophet. The Prophet called for the man to be questioned.

When the man came, the Prophet asked him to open the bundle of chopped wood, and out came a snake. The Prophet asked the man what action he performed that day.

The man replied that he had not done anything in particular except that as he was eating some food, a beggar came and asked for some, so he gave one of the two cakes he had without hesitation to the beggar.

The Prophet said the man was destined to pass away but because of charity; it can remove 70 tribulations.

Prophet Muhammad, whose death anniversary will be commemorated on Dec. 31, always cared for and thought of those in need.

When the Prophet did not have any money, he would give his clothes in charity. He said even if you do not have material wealth to give, give a smile. "Even a smile is charity," he said.

Faith lies in giving because when the donor extends his or her hand forward to give, they understand fully that they will be enriched even more so, materially, as well as spiritually.

Fatima Kermalli is a member of and a Sunday school teacher at Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat of Pennsylvania in Allentown.

Muslim dating site takes 'aunties' out of the equation, which has users from Washington to London to Cairo, allows young Muslims to find their match on their own terms. 

By Shira Rubin, Correspondent / December 21, 2013


Ana, a Palestinian-American from New Jersey, has been looking for love for years. 

She lists the typical gamut of desired qualities in a man: respectful, self-sufficient, and ready to share her love for books, cooking, and music. But there’s one non-negotiable requirement: he has to be Muslim.

Finding Muslims who match not only her taste but also her level of piety has been daunting, she says.

Moreover, dating is frowned upon by her parents, who uphold the marriage norms of Palestinian society. There, customs are often marked by pragmatism rather than romance. In many areas, parents or other relatives arrange – and sit in on – initial meetings between prospective couples, who typically decide whether to become engaged after only a few visits.

So Ana was thrilled to one day stumble upon, a new site catering to young Muslims “tired of all the ‘possibilities’ the aunties keep bringing up at every get-together,” according to its Facebook page.

The project was born when Sheereen Nourollahi, a 26-year-old Iranian-American, and Humaira Mubeen, a 24-year-old Pakistani-American, were discussing dating in an online forum for Muslim hipsters, or “Mipsterz.”

“We fill in that space that maybe our community or mosques don’t. We’re giving them a space to come, maybe not for marriage, but at least to test the waters,” says Ms. Mubeen, while stressing that the site’s features – such as access to profile photos only after a connection is made – offer an experience vastly different from Western-style dating site.

When they launched in late October, the site’s creators were hoping to reach out to “third-culture kids” exactly like Ana – singles in their 20s and 30s, who are often highly educated first-generation Americans and are struggling to balance multiple cultural identities.

Today, the site has 650 users, and growing. It’s recently gone global, and is now available in cities like Washington and London, as well as in the Middle East, in places like Egypt and the Palestinian territories.

Browsing usernames like KhanyeWest, Pakiswagger, and MakeChaiNotWar, Ana says she was optimistic about meeting “someone that was more of a ‘modern/Americanized’ Muslim.”

She immediately signed up and crafted a brutally honest profile meant to ward off men too conservative.

“Not looking for someone more religious than I am (I fast, don't pray yet),” she writes. “If you think a woman belongs in the kitchen and shouldn't work or get an education then I am not interested.”

Ana has refrained from telling her parents that she’s joined the site, fearing reprimand for dating. But “those taboos are going away rapidly,” says Hassan Shaikley, one of the site’s young programmers. 

It serves a modern generation of Muslims who, he says, are still fully aware that “in the religion, marriage is encouraged – and marriage is said to embody half of the faith.”

Friday, December 20, 2013

There's no bigotry in the boycott

Haaretz Dec. 20, 2013

Israel has been singled out for special treatment, not punishment - the rewards of American largesse, despite its predatory occupation of the Palestinians and their land.

By Henry Siegman [former Executive Director of the American Jewish Congress]

The American Studies Association has come under withering criticism for having singled out the State of Israel for a boycott of its universities because of their government’s human rights violations against Palestinians in the West Bank.

The critics charge that not one of the many countries whose record on human rights is no better, or even far worse, than Israel’s has been subjected to a boycott by this organization or by other anti-Israel Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) organizations. Consequently, as argued by Alan Dershowitz in Haaretz and by others, their real motivation must be anti-Semitism.

While I have questions about the wisdom of boycotting Israeli universities some of whose faculties are often among the most vigorous critics of their government’s policies towards the Palestinians, the accusation of anti-Semitism is groundless. Of course, it is possible that anti-Semites can be found among BDS supporters. But just as the fact that Zionists can also be racists (as many unfortunately are, including government ministers and leading rabbis who have publicly urged that Israeli Jews bar Israeli Arabs from their neighborhoods) does not mean that Zionism is racism, a charge made by the UN General Assembly in 1975 that was subsequently retracted, so the BDS movement is not anti-Semitic because some of its supporters may be.

The charge that the BDS movement is guilty of applying a double standard to Israel is equally groundless. For the opponents of Israel’s half-a-century-long occupation of the Palestinians and its denial of the Palestinians’ individual and national rights would not be conducting BDS campaigns against Israel if, to begin with, Israel had not been singled out for special treatment that no other country with equal or even far better human rights records has received.

I challenge critics of the BDS movement to identify another democracy from among those that do not hold another people under near-permanent occupation (no other democracy does) that receives the massive economic, military and diplomatic support lavished on Israel. I challenge them to identify another country, no matter how spotless its human rights record, about which America’s leaders—its president, vice president and secretary of state—repeatedly declare “there is no daylight between our countries,” even as they warn—virtually in the same breath—that Israel’s policies are leading the Jewish state to apartheid.

Yes, there was a time when Israel needed and deserved that assistance because it was uniquely exposed to existential threats from its neighbors, but that time is long gone. Today, Israel is the regional hegemon, while its neighbors are in a state of radical upheaval or disintegration. Neither individually nor collectively, in the judgment of former heads of Israel’s Shin Bet, Mossad, and Military Intelligence, do these neighbors pose an existential threat to Israel. And every living former head of the Shin Bet, as well as former heads of Israel’s other security organizations, have insisted that Israel’s failure to strike a fair peace agreement with Palestinians constitutes a far greater existential threat to the country than do Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

As to Israel’s democratic credentials, there is no more egregious violation of elementary democratic norms than a predatory occupation that denies an entire people all individual and national rights, confiscates their properties, bulldozes their homes and dispossesses them from their internationally recognized patrimony east of the 1967-border.

Even worse are the democratic pretensions by which Israel seeks to justify this behavior. Even Tzipi Livni, who has been a faithful advocate of a two-state solution, told Mahmoud Abbas in 2009 that there could be no Israeli compromise over the status of Jerusalem, for Israel’s decision to deny a Palestinian state its capital in any part of East Jerusalem “is within the Israel consensus.”

One might have thought that a democracy understands that a consensus of its own citizens cannot determine what it is free to do to a foreign population. After all, Germany’s eliminationist policies against the Jews in the 1930’s and 1940’s may have been within the German consensus, but that did not constitute a democratic mandate.

There is something particularly offensive about such attempts to give outrageously undemocratic behavior the gloss of democratic legitimacy. It is precisely such phony pretensions of democratic behavior that the BDS movement objects to. Countries that make no bones about their despotism and their contempt for human rights do not require that kind of exposure. They also do not require it because none is a beneficiary of the largesse that the State of Israel receives, which makes the donors accessories to the beneficiary’s bad behavior.

The reason for that largesse, as explained repeatedly by America’s political leaders, is supposedly not an efficient pro-Israel lobbying operation, but “deeply shared values.” It is an explanation that becomes increasingly embarrassing when it comes from political leaders who also warn that Israel’s policies are creating an apartheid society.

Those who have not challenged the singling out of Israel for the unprecedented support it is receiving from the United States have no ground for their challenge of the BDS movement’s singling out of Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians. BDS supporters would have had no reason for their initiative if Israel had not been favored for that support even as it disenfranchises and dispossesses another people under its occupation.It is the critics of BDS who have been applying a double standard.

UK Muslims: Why do they hate us?

Recommendations by a new task force do little to counter Islamophobia and growing extreme right-wing activism.

Last updated: 20 Dec 2013

The release of the British Prime Minister's Task Force Report on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism recently is another flawed response to serious social problems. The recommendations from the government's latest policy thought experiment do little to offer fresh thinking on how to address the issues of radicalisation among members of the Muslim community and the growing extreme right-wing activism. It also perpetuates simplistic "Good Muslim, Bad Muslim" dichotomies. 

The on-going Woolwich trial for the horrific murder of soldier Lee Rigby underlies the timing of the publication. Though it makes a reference to "tackling Islamophobia and neo-Nazism", there are no specific proposals to counter terrorist acts against Muslims by fascist and white supremacist groups. Instead, the entire document pathologises a "Muslim problem", by focusing on new measures directed at Muslims, madrasahs, mosques and more problematically, blames an undefined "distorted interpretation of Islam".

Continuing in the spirit of the discredited "Prevent" policy, which helped to create a "suspect community" out of British Muslims, and wasted large amounts of public money, this curious amalgam of generalisations and unsupported claims, advocates a set of recommendations that make little sense. It defines extremism as "vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs", which also includes any "calls for the death of members of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas". While most people would support these ideals, the gaps between rhetoric and reality often remain un-bridged, particularly for those on the receiving end of miscarriages of justice, curtailed civil liberties and violent intolerance towards societal diversity.

The report goes on to identify the enemy as "an ideology which is based on a distorted interpretation of Islam, which betrays Islam's peaceful principles", and singles out the "teachings of the likes of Sayyid Qutb" and "Islamist extremists (who) deem Western intervention in Muslim-majority countries as a 'war on Islam', creating a narrative of 'them' and 'us', and 'seek to impose a global Islamic state governed by their interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law) as state law'".

The mistaken premise of this contamination model is that violent extremist radicalisation is only caused when people are exposed to radicalised individuals manipulating the sacred texts of Islam. This idea contradicts theanalysis of several international security and intelligence agencies and even the former head of MI5, all of whom agree that British foreign policy is the primary driver in Muslim radicalisation. Though Sayyid Qutb, a complex and controversial figure in jihadist thought, has, in the past, been invoked by certain hardliners, contemporary British Muslim fundamentalist groups are more likely to be inspired by the speeches of preacher Anwar al-Awlaki - who was assassinated by the US government, repressive Muslim-regimes, and the promise of spiritual rewards of going on so-called "Jihadi Tourism" in war zones like Syria. People have already begun to ask if university libraries, bookshops, and individuals will now be prosecuted for possessing texts written by Qutb. 

The report promises to "continue to protect the right to freedom of expression" - but threatens to criminalise certain forms of political dissent and unpalatable conservative religious views. With on-going Western military interventions and extra-judicial drone killings in places such as Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan, is it surprising that many Muslims feel aggrieved? Will speaking out against these actions automatically constitute anti-Westernism?

There remains a lingering perception that the police and the government have unfairly targeted Muslim communities, with excessive stop and search tactics, high profile dawn raids, pre-charge detentions, unnecessary surveillance such as the "spy-cam" saga in Birmingham, and more recent events, such as stripping certain Muslims of their citizenship and arbitrarily banning speakers from entering the UK. While the number of street-level attacks is increasing against Muslim communities and religious prejudice is rising in online spaces and social media such as Facebook and Twitter, very little has been done by the Home Office and The Association of Chief Police Officers to deal with anti-Muslim hate crimes.

To tackle the problem, it proposes a set of measures to disrupt and counter extremist narratives and prevent radicalisation from occurring on the internet, communities and public institutions. Many British Muslims and terrorism experts have commented that the idea of the state or police arbitrating a theological "distortion" is not only patronising, but also unrealistic. Attempts to tailor a government-friendly depoliticised Islam, will only make it more difficult to cultivate trust and cooperation with Muslim communities. In any case, who would define an acceptable Islam? Surely not the almost entirely non-Muslim cabinet level politicians that made up the task force? No mention is made of the spectrum of Muslim institutions that could have been consulted on these policy ideas, perhaps because their input was not desired or maybe they refused?

Other key recommendations include ASBO-like, Terror and Extremist Behaviour Disorders, and government pledges to "support projects that demonstrate how communities come together", and "give more support to those places which face the biggest integration challenges". How are these objectives going to be met? Will there be new investment? If so, is there going be greater accountability for how funding is spent? Perhaps communities at risk such as those with high levels of EDL membership will be encouraged to integrate with Muslim communities? Full of opaque policy prescriptions, many of which would be difficult to implement, this nine-page report raises more questions than answers, inspires little hope for achieving its objective, and inadvertently increases the potential for Islamophobia.

Dr Sadek Hamid is a British Academy Fellow at Liverpool Hope University, UK and writes on issues related to young people, religious activism and radicalisation in British Muslim communities. He is the author of the forthcoming book "Sufis, Salafis & Islamists: The Contested Ground of British Islamic Activism".

Follow him on Twitter: @SadekHamid


Dr Sadek Hamid is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow Department of Theology, Philosophy & Religious Studies at Liverpool Hope University.

NSA Program Stopped No Terror Attacks, Says White House Panel Member

By Michael Isikoff

December 20, 2013 "Information Clearing House - "NBC News" - A member of the White House review panel on NSA surveillance said he was “absolutely” surprised when he discovered the agency’s lack of evidence that the bulk collection of telephone call records had thwarted any terrorist attacks.

“It was, ‘Huh, hello? What are we doing here?’” said Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor, in an interview with NBC News. “The results were very thin.”

While Stone said the mass collection of telephone call records was a “logical program” from the NSA’s perspective, one question the White House panel was seeking to answer was whether it had actually stopped “any [terror attacks] that might have been really big.”

“We found none,” said Stone. 

Under the NSA program, first revealed by ex-contractor Edward Snowden, the agency collects in bulk the records of the time and duration of phone calls made by persons inside the United States.

Stone was one of five members of the White House review panel – and the only one without any intelligence community experience – that this week produced a sweeping report recommending that the NSA’s collection of phone call records be terminated to protect Americans’ privacy rights.

The panel made that recommendation after concluding that the program was “not essential in preventing attacks.”

“That was stunning. That was the ballgame,” said one congressional intelligence official, who asked not to be publicly identified. “It flies in the face of everything that they have tossed at us.”

Despite the panel’s conclusions, Stone strongly rejected the idea they justified Snowden’s actions in leaking the NSA documents about the phone collection. “Suppose someone decides we need gun control and they go out and kill 15 kids and then a state enacts gun control?” Stone said, using an analogy he acknowledged was “somewhat inflammatory.” What Snowden did, Stone said, was put the country “at risk.”

“My emphatic view," he said, "is that a person who has access to classified information -- the revelation of which could damage national security -- should never take it upon himself to reveal that information.”

Stone added, however, that he would not necessarily reject granting an amnesty to Snowden in exchange for the return of all his documents, as was recently suggested by a top NSA official. “It’s a hostage situation,” said Stone. Deciding whether to negotiate with him to get all his documents back was a “pragmatic judgment. I see no principled reason not to do that.”

The conclusions of the panel’s reports were at direct odds with public statements by President Barack Obama and U.S. intelligence officials. “Lives have been saved,”Obama told reporters last June, referring to the bulk collection program and another program that intercepts communications overseas. “We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information.”

But in one little-noticed footnote in its report, the White House panel said the telephone records collection program – known as Section 215, based on the provision of the U.S. Patriot Act that provided the legal basis for it – had made “only a modest contribution to the nation’s security.” The report said that “there has been no instance in which NSA could say with confidence that the outcome [of a terror investigation] would have been any different” without the program.

The panel’s findings echoed that of U.S. Judge Richard Leon, who in a ruling this week found the bulk collection program to be unconstitutional. Leon said that government officials were unable to cite “a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk collection metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the Government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive in nature.” 

Stone declined to comment on the accuracy of public statements by U.S. intelligence officials about the telephone collection program, but said that when they referred to successes they seemed to be mixing the results of domestic metadata collection with the intelligence derived from the separate, and less controversial, NSA program, known as 702, to intercept communications overseas.

The comparison between 702 overseas interceptions and 215 bulk metadata collection was “night and day,” said Stone. “With 702, the record is very impressive. It’s no doubt the nation is safer and spared potential attacks because of 702. There was nothing like that for 215. We asked the question and they [the NSA] gave us the data. They were very straight about it.”

He also said one reason the telephone records program is not effective is because, contrary to the claims of critics, it actually does not collect a record of every American’s phone call. Although the NSA does collect metadata from major telecommunications carriers such as Verizon and AT&T, there are many smaller carriers from which it collects nothing. Asked if the NSA was collecting the records of 75 percent of phone calls, an estimate that has been used in briefings to Congress , Stone said the real number was classified but “not anything close to that” and far lower.

An NSA spokeswoman declined to comment on any aspect of the panel’s report, saying the agency was deferring to the White House. Asked Wednesday about the surveillance panel’s conclusions about telephone record collection, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that “the president does still believe and knows that this program is an important piece of the overall efforts that we engage in to combat threats against the lives of American citizens and threats to our overall national security.”When panel members asked NSA officials why they didn’t expand the program to include smaller carriers, the answer they gave was “money,” Stone said. “They were setting financial priorities,” said Stone, and that was “really revealing” about how useful the bulk collection of telephone calls really was.

Bradford synagogue saved by city's Muslims

Faced with closure a year ago, today Bradford's synagogue's future is bright, a model of cross-cultural co-operation, Friday 20 December 2013 

Zulfi Karim, secretary of Bradford Council of Mosques, and Rabi Rudi Leavor inside Bradford Synagogue. Photograph: Gary Calton

It was around this time last year that the trustees of Bradford's final remaining synagogue faced a tough choice. The roof of the Grade II-listed Moorish building was leaking; there was serious damage to the eastern wall, where the ark held the Torah scrolls; and there was no way the modest subscriptions paid annually by the temple's 45 members could cover the cost.

Rudi Leavor, the synagogue's 87-year-old chairman, reluctantly proposed the nuclear option: to sell the beautiful 132-year-old building, forcing the congregation to go 10 miles to Leeds to worship.

It was a terrible proposition, coming just after the city's only Orthodox synagogue had shut its doors in November 2012, unable to regularly gather 10 men for the Minyan, the quorum of 10 Jewish male adults required for certain religious obligations.

But rather than close, Bradford Reform Synagogue's future is brighter than ever after the intervention of Bradford's Muslim community, which according to the 2011 census outnumbers the city's Jews by 129,041 to 299.

A fundraising effort – led by the secretary of a nearby mosque, together with the owner of a popular curry house and a local textile magnate – has secured the long-term future of the synagogue and forged a friendship between Bradfordian followers of Islam and Judaism. All things being well, by Christmas the first tranche of £103,000 of lottery money will have reached the synagogue's bank account after some of Bradford's most influential Muslims helped Leavor and other Jews to mount a bid.

This burgeoning relationship is perhaps unexpected. When David Ward, one of the city's MPs, had the Liberal Democrat whip withdrawn over disparaging remarks about "the Jews" and Israel as an "apartheid state", he was publicly supported by many of his Muslim constituents. George Galloway, the Respect MP for Bradford West and an open opponent of Israel, has organised convoys to Gaza and was praised by many of his voters after refusing to engage in a debate with an Israeli student at Oxford University earlier this year.

The cross-cultural co-operation is warmly welcomed by Leavor, who moved to the city from Berlin as a refugee in 1937. "It's fantastic," he said this week, in a joint interview with Zulfi Karim, secretary of Bradford Council of Mosques. "Rudi is my new found big brother," said Karim, who is on the board at the central Westgate mosque a few hundred metres up the road from the synagogue. "It makes me proud that we can protect our neighbours and at the same time preserve an important part of Bradford's cultural heritage."

Now the two men get on so well that when Leavor goes on holiday he gives the synagogue keys to Karim, as well as the alarm code. They have begun what they hope will be a lasting tradition, whereby the Jewish community invites local Muslims and Christians to an oneg shabbat (Friday night dinner) and Muslims return the invitation for a Ramadan feast and Christians during the harvest festival. For the latter, Karim provided halal mince for the shepherd's pie.

At the start of December, Karim and other Muslims attended a hanukah service at the synagogue. Yet until a year ago, Karim didn't even realise the synagogue existed. "The Jewish community kept themselves to themselves," he said. Since the last race riots in the city in 2001, there has been no sign to mark the building. "We didn't want to be the cause of potential trouble, so we took the plaque down over 10 years ago," said Leavor, who said there was an incident a few years ago when one man left the synagogue wearing his kippah, or skull cap, and was spat at by two Pakistani men passing in a car.

The Muslims only started to help the synagogue by chance, explains Leavor. He had been approached by Zulficar Ali, owner of Bradford's popular Sweet Centre restaurant, which is just a few doors away from the synagogue. Ali wanted Leavor to help oppose a planning permission for yet another curry house in the area. Leavor agreed and together managed to block the application. Ali then introduced Leavor to a local social enterprise, the Carlisle Business Centre, which awards grants to worthy causes. They gave several hundred pounds for emergency roof repairs, and a local businessman, Khalid Pervais, donated a further £1,400.

It was only after getting involved that Karim learned that the mill where his father worked after emigrating from Pakistan in the 1960s was run by a Jewish descendent of Joseph Strauss, the rabbi who founded the synagogue in 1880.

Once all of the lottery funding comes through, together with £25,000 pledged by Bradford Council, work will begin to renovate the synagogue. The kitchen will be cleared up, disabled access will be improved and it will open for educational visits from school groups throughout the week. Karim is convinced such initiatives will help build tolerance. "You look at those who killed Lee Rigby, supposedly in the name of Islam. The question is: what makes these young men so radicalised, so angry, so intolerant? I really, really deeply, strongly feel that the way forward is interfaith dialogue – perhaps through food, perhaps through visiting a synagogue or other places of worship."

European research on religious “fundamentalism” criticised

December 20, 2013 

LONDON // A leading German research institute faces criticism over a six-nation survey concluding that “Islamic fundamentalism” in Europe is not a “marginal phenomenon” but attracts wide support among Muslims.

Two-thirds of Muslims interviewed about their attitudes towards religion said religious rules were more important to them than state laws, according to the report from the WZB social science centre. 

The survey also showed more than half of Muslim respondents believed the West was “out to destroy Islam”.

European media have seized on the findings to suggest intolerance is increasing.

The study was intended to gauge “native” European as well as “immigrant” Muslim opinion. 

The study also found evidence of “fundamentalist attitudes” among respondents declaring themselves Christians, though to a lesser extent.

Nine thousand people were interviewed in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and Sweden. However, the Muslim respondents were drawn only from Moroccan and Turkish communities.

This choice of sample reflected the strong presence of these groups in those countries. But Europe’s Muslim community is much broader based, including people with origins in the Middle East, South-east Asia, the Indian subcontinent and Maghrebin and African countries.

Jan Jaap de Ruiter, an Arabist at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, described the tone of the WZB research as “alarmist” and suggested the methods were questionable.

In the Dutch religious newspaper Trouw, he argued it was not surprising that Muslims would find it difficult to say “their divine law, Sharia, is less important than the law of the country of residence”. In that context, he added, a figure of 35 per cent giving priority to state law could even be seen as high.

Dr de Ruiter said proper interpretation of the findings depended on comparison with other surveys. He cited other research that found 70 per cent of Spanish Muslims considered westerners generous and 56 per cent of German Muslims thought westerners honest.

Writing before his methodology was called into question, Professor Ruud Koopmans, WZB’s research director, said: “Both the extent of Islamic religious fundamentalism and its correlates – homophobia, anti-Semitism and ‘Occidentophobia’ – should be serious causes of concern for policymakers as well as Muslim community leaders.”

He said the conclusions were based on a “widely accepted” definition of fundamentalism: believers should return to eternal and unchangeable rules laid down in the past; these rules allow only one interpretation and are binding for all believers; and religious rules have priority over secular laws

In the December issue of the WZB journal, Prof Koopmans wrote that the data showed “religious fundamentalism is not a marginal phenomenon within West European Muslim communities”. 

Support for all three listed propositions was expressed by 44 per cent of the Muslims interviewed.

Fundamentalist attitudes were “slightly less prevalent” among Sunnis with origins in Turkey than than those of Moroccan background. Sunnis make up more than 70 per cent of Turkey’s Muslims, and also represent the majority of Moroccan Muslims.

Of the respondents of Turkish Sunni origins, 45 per cent of those interviewed embraced all three statements. The proportion rose to 50 per cent among those of Moroccan origin.

Respondents from Turkey’s second-largest Muslim community, the Alevis, a group with roots in Shia Islam, were judged by researchers to present markedly less fundamentalism, the rate falling to 15 per cent. 

Prof Koopmans accepted that because Muslims made up a relatively small part of the European population, the actual number of Christian fundamentalists was at least as high.

He also acknowledged that fundamentalism “should not be equated with the willingness to support or engage in religiously motivated violence”. 

These qualifying remarks have not blunted criticism of the WZB analysis.

Cas Mudde, of the school for public and international affairs at Georgia University in the United States, challenged the distinction made between “Muslim immigrants” and “Christian natives”.

“Most Muslims [today] are not ‘immigrants’ but ‘natives,’ who were born and raised in a particular western European country,” he wrote in the Washington Post. “Moreover, many [non-Muslim] natives are not Christians.”

Dr Mudde added that the study suggested lower levels of both Islamophobia and “native” anti-Semitism than had been identified other reports.

He blamed the researchers’ choice of language. “While anti-Semitism is measured with the question ‘Jews cannot be trusted’, for Islamophobia the question is ‘Muslims aim to destroy western culture’.

“This is probably because the researchers wanted to ask Muslims a similar question, “western countries are out to destroy Islam”. Unfortunately, this has led to a significant underreporting of hostility towards Muslims by ‘natives’. Moreover, given the ‘war on terror’, it is highly doubtful whether the two ‘destroy question’ can truly be seen as equivalents.”

Dr de Ruiter felt Muslims in Europe could be said to have done relatively well in terms of embracing diversity and democratic values.

“The valid conclusion of the study by WZB should have been that there is indeed a lot of work to do when it comes to fundamentalist tendencies among Muslims in Europe, but there are no current exceptions in Europe,” he said. “The ‘native’ population also has to contend with dislike of Jews, hatred of gays and doubts about democracy.”

Dr de Ruiter said a lack of Muslim reaction to the report was noticeable but added: “For some time, Muslim leaders have adopted a silent response to this kind of information.

“That has everything to do with negative images of Muslims and Islam and they opt for silence rather than seeking debate or defending their position.”

Humanitarian crisis continues for Palestinians, Gaza's Ark gets ready to set sail

DECEMBER 16, 2013

"We don’t expect to have an easy ride out of Gaza," says Ehab Lotayef, a Montreal based spokesperson for the Gaza’s Ark international campaign.

Gaza's Ark is preparing a freshly renovated cargo vessel bearing non-perishable Palestinian products to leave the port of Gaza this spring. Gaza's Ark will attempt to get past the Israeli led blockade for the open sea in the eastern Mediterranean for foreign markets.

Lotayef doesn't rule out the possibility that Israel naval ships will stop the cargo vessel and possibly seize the merchandise. This is looming, he says, despite a deal worked out a year ago between Israel and Hamas to loosen the blockade under the auspices of then Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.

For instance, Palestinian fishermen based in Gaza still have difficulty venturing far enough into the sea to make their catches and pursue their livelihood due to the Israeli blockade. "Israel promises but does not deliver," says Lotayef.

The humanitarian struggle continues in Gaza

With Israel supplying "barely enough food" to Gaza residents, there has been less hunger in the strip and so the world’s attention has shifted elsewhere, laments Lotayef.

But the humanitarian crisis in Gaza continues and is ongoing, with the promised economic improvements since the ceasefire "unfulfilled," reports Oxfam.

The newest wrinkle since the military coup in Egypt in July has been the closing of the tunnels by Egyptians on their side of the border with the Gaza Strip. These were the lifelines used by Palestinians in Gaza to bring items like affordable food, fuel and construction materials into their territory.

The result has been a fuel and energy crisis, which has produced lengthy electric power blackouts, brought about a sewage overflow, reduced available clean water and sustained a paralysis in terms of the Palestinian enclave’s economic development. Couple that with regular Israel military incursions into Gaza's outer edge since the ceasefire, thereby preventing Palestinian farmers from getting full access to their fertile land to grow food, and unemployment hovering at 40 per cent.

With that in mind, Gaza’s Ark represents a new stage in the ongoing battle against the imposition of what it describes as "the collective punishment" of the Palestinian people for their democratic choices (i.e. the election of a Hamas government in 2006).

Up to now, the focus in the international Freedom Flotilla Coalition -- with representation across Europe and North America -- has been on commissioning boats to sail with activists, high profile politicians and supplies to challenge "the illegal blockade." However after watching all their vessels halted and boarded by Israeli authorities including the Canadian Boat to Gaza’s Tahrir in 2011 -- a shift in tactics has occurred.

"After that experience we have decided that we need to try something different, which also would mean that all the work we do would be inside Gaza, [would] energize and empower and help the economy of Gaza," says Lotayef, who also participated in the Tahrir launch.

Constructing change and dealing with delays and looming blockades

Rather than build a boat from scratch, the people at Gaza’s Ark purchased one of the largest fishing trawlers available in the Gaza Strip and began the job of converting it into a cargo vessel. 

Currently, the construction work is being done in the port of Gaza City where the transformed vessel is moored at the dock. Some of the international contribution comes in the form of volunteer assistance from people with skills in marine travel, sailing and boat building. "Right now we are building the cabins; we have lots of carpenters," says Lotayef

Furthermore, all of the local Palestinians in Gaza involved with the construction and 24-7 security are receiving salaries.

Gaza’s Ark aims to develop local boat building expertise in the Gaza Strip. "We know that the experience of boat building has diminished over the years; there is no active industry," says Lotayef.

The organizers have had to cope with delays caused by the siege of Gaza that is maintained by bordering states. Entry via Israel, the instigator of the blockade, is impossible and Egypt is potentially more hazardous as witnessed by Canadians John Greyson and Tarek Loubani whowere detained for 50 days in an Egyptian prison.

During Egyptian president Morsi’s tenure in office before his overthrow, international volunteers, with some difficulty, were still able to reach Gaza from Egypt. But a hardened attitude since then among the military coup leaders in Cairo towards the Hamas government in Gaza -- which was politically close to Morsi`s Muslim Brotherhood political movement -- is creating new bureaucratic roadblocks for volunteers seeking access to Gaza to participate in the boat building.

"You can’t plan to import anything or get something from the outside. Everything is a wait and see situation, not only for the materials but also for things that are needed for the building like the electricity and the fuel and all of that stuff. Everything is in short supply, everything is an undetermined situation. You have to be always revising your timeline and project management plan,” says Lotayef.

Building strategy from the inside and finding support

Currently, Gaza’s Ark has raised a little over half of the $300,000 cost for the cargo vessel from international donors. Also, it has garnered international endorsements from the likes of Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former federal solicitor general Warren Allmand, several Nobel Peace Price laureates such as Shirin Ebadi (Iran) and Rigoberta Menchu Tum (Guatemala) and currently elected politicians at the local and national level in the EU countries -- only two from Canada, the pair of Quebec Solidaire MNAs in the Quebec legislature have put their names forward on the list of endorsers.

"Gaza’s Ark is a huge project that includes many people, many countries [and] it is also having side projects associated with it. We absolutely try to keep our costs minimal," says Lotayef.

Recently in the fall, Gaza’s Ark conducted a dry run when 200 local children in the Gaza Strip boarded small vessels and deposited little boat models -- dubbed "the mini-Arks" -- into the water of the Gaza harbour as a symbolic challenge of the "illegal" Israeli blockade.

From a PR perspective, the activists in the International Freedom Flotilla have come to the conclusion that the strategy of sending boats to break the stranglehold on Gaza from the outside has run its course, although they are not averse to lending support for other groups planning to launch their craft, says Lotayef.

The marketing campaign will start as soon as the Gaza's Ark sets sail, not after it comes into contact with the blockade on the high seas, he stresses.

"It is a new attempt to capture the imagination of people, media and public figures who have seen many times already the attempt to break the blockade from the outside."

Finally, Gaza's Ark is maintaining its independence from all governments inside or outside Gaza. "The problem that we are fighting for is not for Hamas or against Israel. It is for the people of Gaza" said Lotayef.

Paul Weinberg is a Toronto-based freelancer writer who has written for IPS since 1996. He is also a regular contributor to local weekly magazine NOW and specializes in Canadian politics, in particular foreign, security and defence policy. Paul is currently writing a book on the RCMP’s spying on academics in Canada during the 1960s.

Photo: Gaza's Ark

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Let Saudi Arabia Go Alone!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013 

By Ludwig Watzal

On December 17, 2013, the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to Great Britain published an Op-Ed in the New York Times [1] accusing the West of not having confronted Syria and Iran head-on. An ambassador is traditionally the mouthpiece of his government. But the political rhetoric he used suggests that he also acted therein as megaphones of the Neocons or the US military, which are critical of Obama’s allegedly soft policy towards Syria and Iran.

Facially, the Saudis are concerned about the stability and security of the region. For the outside observer it seems bizarre that the last feudal and most fundamentalist Islamic regimes under the sun should complain about the alleged dangers, which the Assad regime and its supporter, Iran, pose to the Middle Eastern region. The Saudis were, after all, the first, after the US and Israel, who applauded the Egyptian military coup against the only democratic elected government of Egypt. This should tell something about the close cooperation between Western democracies and authoritarian and fundamentalist regimes.

The Saudi ambassador has the gall to accuse Iran of not only supporting an “evil regime” in Syria but financing and training “militias in Iraq, terrorists in Lebanon and militants in Yemen and Bahrain”. These allegations lack any basis. Not content to level these accusations, he added: “The West has allowed one regime to survive and the other to continue its program for uranium enrichment, with all the consequent dangers of weaponization.” Are not the Saudis the one that finance not only fundamentalist movements all over the world but also the terrorist groups in Syria?

In reality, the Saudis are not so much concerned about the “stability of the region”, as the ambassador pretends, but rather to secure their own fundamentalist regime. By his rhetoric, he tries to intimidate not only the Islamic world by insisting that the Saudi regime is the “cradle of Islam” but also the West by referring to Saudi Arabia’s role as “de facto central banker for energy”. Do the Saudis fear that the “national interest” of the US could switch to Iran? From the geopolitical standpoint, such a change would make much sense. 

The Saudi ambassador ridicules the United Nations Security Council, calling it a “talking shop”. The Saudis have, it will be recalled, rejected their seat in the UN Security Council to which they have been elected by the UN General assembly. It's not clear what motivates Saudi Arabia to reject a seat in the Council to which most member states aspire.

At the end of the article, it becomes apparent in whose name this ambassador speaks when he uses the excuse of lack of support of the West because of the involvement of Al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups in Syria, as an example of Western inaction to topple the Assad regime. Even president Obama's "red lines" are dismissed as cheap talk. At least now, the neoconservative handwriting of this article seems so evident that the Saudi ambassador should now give the public the real name of the author of article.

Incidentally, the headline of the article is as ludicrous: The Saudis know that threatening to “go it alone” will be rightly seen as a bluff. The Saudi military has no experience in warfare and is entirely dependent on weaponry and spare parts, mostly from the West. The article is far more an attempt to secure the interests of the military-industrial complex, which thrives on international tension and conflicts.

Pan-Canadian standards on elder care would allow people to age with dignity

December 18, 2013 Adrienne Silnicki

Canadians should be worried about themselves and their aging family members. Canada has no pan-Canadian aging strategy, and with the federal Conservatives' refusal to negotiate a new Health Accord, there’s not likely to be one anytime soon.

The first week of December is national medicare week in Canada. The Canadian Health Coalition organized a one-day elder care conference in Ottawa with guest speakers from across the country. They painted a picture of what elder care is like across Canada, and it doesn’t take more than a few studies, reports and stories to realize that we have a real problem on our hands.

Elders deserve to live with dignity, but that’s something being robbed from them in Canada’s current state of affairs. Elders are stuck in hospitals because home or community care is unavailable; they’re in for-profit care homes that have inadequate staffing levels and no minimum care standards.

Hospital occupancy rates across Canada are far higher than recommended levels. Both England and Australia consider the safe upper limit of hospital bed occupancy to be 85 per cent. Canada’s bed occupancy rate as of 2009, was 93 per cent -- the second highest in the OECD (Silverside and Sullivan, 2003).

Hospitals are also charging patients daily fees for being in a hospital instead of a retirement home or a long-term care facility. In Ontario, those who are admitted to the hospital in need of palliative care are given a three-month time period in which they are expected to die. Judith Wahl, a lawyer and the Executive Director of the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (ACE), says that some of her clients have received bills for living past the three-month expected period -- in other words, they’re being charged for not dying (see the 36:50 mark of this video).

Many patients don’t want to have to stay in the hospital for an extended period of time, but home or long-term care facilities are often full and wait-lists can be long. Retirement homes operate outside of the public health care system and so they may not have nurses, minimum staffing levels, or care standards. Retirement homes are also a way to ask Canadians to pay for services that should be considered medically necessary and provided in a public care facility.

Ontario now has the highest hospital occupancy rate in Canada. In less than two decades it has closed 18,000 hospital beds. Complex care patients, who used to remain in hospital with higher staffing levels, are now being sent to long-term care facilities (many of which are private and for-profit) or retirement homes.

Wait-lists are especially long for preferred facilities. Some facilities today are in terrible shape and elders simply don’t want to live in them. Instead of updating and modernizing these homes, provinces have sought to enact first-bed legislation, meaning people are forced to take the first bed that becomes available. This legislation has resulted in couples being separated, elders being moved out of their communities, and family and friends being at too great a distance to visit regularly.

For those who are willing and able to pay private fees, private residential facilities are more frequently available. However, governments such as Alberta are looking at eliminating price caps on residential care, meaning private care homes could be priced at up to $6000 a month ($72,000 a year). This will leave elders stuck in the hospital with alternative care bills to pay or paying exorbitant fees for residential care.

Canada needs to address these issues immediately. The Council of Canadians and our allies have been calling on the federal government to hold a 2014 Health Accord meeting where the first ministers can work together to create a pan-Canadian strategy for elder care. We’re calling on the government to create a continuing care plan that would integrate home, facility-based, long-term, respite and palliative care. We need pan-Canadian standards that will ensure no matter where you live, or what your income, you’re able to access the care you need in a safe and appropriate home or facility. Elders and all people living in Canada need to know that they can get the appropriate level of care when they need it and with their dignity intact.