Saturday, November 30, 2013

Education charter chill


MONTREAL - Nineteen years ago, Emilie Ouimet, the daughter of a recent convert to Islam, was sent home from school because her head scarf contravened the dress code and “drew attention to herself.”

Two months later, 15-year-old Dania Baali, a straight-A student at a private school, was given a similar ultimatum: take it off or find another school.

Back then, Jacques Parizeau was head of the Parti Québécois government, former premier Bernard Landry was minister for cultural communities and Pauline Marois would soon take over the education portfolio; they were all taken somewhat off-guard by this first “crisis of the veil,” which pitted a young girl’s right to freedom of religion and expression against the school’s right to enforce its own rules in the name of harmony.

Then, as now, the perceived crisis touched off a torrent of opinions from all sides, from the Centrale de l’enseignement du Québec (now known as the Centrale des syndicats du Québec) which passed a resolution to urge that all kippas, hijabs and turbans be banned in Quebec public schools, to the head of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, former NDP leader Ed Broadbent:

“How can we possibly deny the right to wear the hijab here, and turn around and defend the right of women not to wear the hijab in Muslim countries?” he asked in 1995.

Of course at the time, three years before Quebec’s religious school boards were transformed along linguistic lines, Emilie and Dania were both enrolled in Catholic schools, and in Dania’s case, the teachers who zealously enforced the dress code were nuns, with large crucifixes dangling from their necks.

The prevailing attitude, however, that held sway over authorities as they developed the educational policies still in force today, came from the Quebec Human Rights Commission, which said any conditions placed on the exercise of a student’s right to a public education was discrimination — and incompatible with the Canadian and Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As the school boards became secular in 1998 — under Marois’s leadership as education minister — and with immigration on the rise, there was a concerted effort to open the doors of the schools to students and teachers of different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

A School for the Future: Policy Statement on Educational Integration and Intercultural Education, signed by Marois in 1998, promotes ZERO EXCLUSION (their emphasis) and the recognition that diversity in terms of family background, religious or cultural identity is “itself one of our shared values.”

It also highlights the need for — and the challenge of — increasing diversity in the teaching profession:

“The credibility of pretensions to openness and ethno-cultural and religious diversity relies heavily on the visibility of this diversity within the school staff,” the policy statement reads. “But, in many school boards and most educational institutions, the staff remains ethno-culturally homogeneous … it seems appropriate to ask school boards and colleges to make sure that their hiring system includes no rules or practices that could have a discriminatory effect. …”

Fast-forward to 2013 and another PQ government — with Marois as premier — is leading the charge to ban religious headgear and other accessories, this time for teachers.

Proponents of Bill 60, commonly known as the Charter of Quebec Values, say it’s because of the way schools, and so many other institutions, were run by the Catholic Church that it’s the state’s duty to ensure no one is pushing their religion on impressionable young people — at least not while being paid with taxpayers’ money.

Bill 60 is the logical next step to ensuring a neutral state, they say.

The Coalition Avenir Québec agrees that elementary and high school teachers should be prohibited from wearing any ostentatious religious symbols: no Jewish kippas, Sikh turbans or Muslim hijabs.

But others worry that any progress made in opening schools to reflect the wider society around them will be lost. They believe the move to linguistic school boards in 1998 had solved the problem, and the charter — a reflection of a new, post-9/11 wave of hijabophobia — will have far-reaching impacts on the teaching profession and on education as a whole.

While teachers continue to preach tolerance of diversity to their students — especially in multicultural Montreal — they say the government is teaching something else entirely.

On the wall in Furheen Ahmed’s classroom at Westmount High School, next to a giant map of the world, a large sign reads “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

It’s been a tumultuous semester for Ahmed, a geography teacher who was once a student at the high school.This fall, she became the face of weekly 7 a.m. protests against the charter in front of the school.

“My first reaction was haven’t we done this already? I thought we settled this!”

The so-called Code of Conduct of small-town Hérouxville in 2007; the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation later that year; the failed Liberal bill tabled in 2010 to force anyone giving or receiving a public service to uncover their face; and the handful of well-publicized incidents of reasonable — or unreasonable — accommodation (depending on your viewpoint) from pork-free sugar shacks for Muslims, to frosted windows at a YMCA to shield Hasidic boys from women doing aerobics — Ahmed followed it all from a distance with serenity.

But with Bill 60, tabled Nov. 7, came disbelief and frustration.

“How can you tell someone to only be Muslim after 5 p.m.? It just doesn’t work with Islam. My hijab is not a Nike swoosh, or a pair of sunglasses,” Ahmed said.

No one knows just how many teachers, like Ahmed, would be forced to choose between their profession and their faith should Bill 60 become law after public consultations, beginning in January.

Unions, like the Fédération Autonome de l’Enseignement (FAE), which represents about one-third of the province’s teachers, refuse to count.

“That would be profiling,” FAE president Sylvain Mallette said.

But thanks, in part, to Marois’s 1998 School for the Future manifesto, the number of teachers from different ethnicities and religions has grown considerably. At the Commission scolaire Marguerite Bourgeoys (CSMB) in Montreal, for example, an estimated 10 per cent of teachers are allophone.

Add to that the daycare and after-school educators, administrators, cafeteria workers and janitors, as well as all the other workers who may be affected by the charter, which stipulates that companies on contract with public institutions could be forced to comply.

The reaction of the school boards — which would be responsible for enforcing the charter with unspecified disciplinary measures — has been divided along linguistic lines. The English boards, which absorbed the Jewish students and staff and developed reasonable accommodation policies decades ago, are steadfastly against the Charter, while the French boards offered a lukewarm acceptance or didn’t take a position at all.

Among the province-wide teachers’ unions, only the FAE has taken a firm position, based on a three-year consultation with its members, in favour of secular education but against the prohibition on religious headgear.

“We asked the question,” Mallette said. “Are we able to show one single case of a teacher who, because he or she was wearing a symbol or certain clothing, tried to convert a student? Is there any history of having to discipline a teacher for this? It doesn’t exist. The problem is with requests for reasonable accommodation on religious grounds that put into question the secular nature of education. But not because a teacher wears a veil or a kippa.”

Mallette said the charter is hypocritical, given that it doesn’t apply to private schools, half of which are religious and receive government subsidies to cover up to 60 per cent of their costs.

A study done by Michel Lincourt, of the Mouvement laïque québécois, revealed that in 2010, 80 of the 106 religious schools (Christian, Jewish and Muslim) in the province were subsidized by the Quebec government, for a total of more than $106 million.

But the secular charter, though it would apply to private, subsidized daycares, would not apply to subsidized religious schools.

“Are public school students more impressionable than private school students?” Mallette asked.

To be sure, there is dissension in FAE ranks, Mallette said, with members for and against the charter, and many in between.

One member spoke of her “malaise” when a preschooler told her that the following year she would be going to kindergarten — and would have to wear the veil.

“We can’t deny those concerns, but neither can we say that the veil is the root of all evil,” Mallette said, adding that the hyper-sexualization of girls in Western society is also a form of oppression. “And to exclude a woman from working for a decent salary — are we not creating bigger problems?”

“For the last 20 years, we’ve asserted that schools should accept difference and teach students to be critical and make their own choices. And now the government is saying someone can be fired for wearing certain clothes.”

Since the debate over the charter began, women wearing hijabs have become the target of abuse at bus stops and shopping malls. But even members of minorities who don’t wear symbols have said they also feel targeted by the charter because it runs counter to hard-fought rights of equality and freedom of expression.

More than 100 LGBTQ activists, for example, have signed adeclaration against it.

Others fear that in part because of the charter, the veil has become a sign of Muslim extremism. Consider a recent article in La Presse about a mosque in Park Extension listed by the FBI as a centre for recruiting terrorists — a fact revealed in 2011, but re-exposed last week.

Rather than seek comment from the Public Safety minster, however, the reporter turned to Bernard Drainville, minister responsible for democratic institutions — and principal architect of Bill 60.

Ahmed, who started wearing a hijab four years ago, said she feels under attack.

“We teach our kids not to make generalizations. When they try and put things in a box and say ‘it’s not fair’, it’s ‘always’ or ‘never’ like this or that. Yet the government is putting people in boxes. ... We’re being told that when we wear a hijab or a kippa, we are less professional than our colleagues. Instead of being evaluated based on how I teach, a snap judgment is being made about me because of what I wear.”

Ahmed tries not to speak about it with her students because she doesn’t want to be accused of influencing them. But it’s hard, she said, when so much is on the line, including the kind of education being offered in Quebec.

McGill education professor Kevin McDonough said the No. 1 reason students in professional teacher training courses want to teach is to “positively shape youngsters’ values.”

In that light, concerns by parents and society at large over which values are being taught — and whether teachers are abusing their powers — are legitimate, McDonough said.

Where the charter errs is in believing that unwanted values can be weeded out of the profession by banning religious symbols.

“Turn on the TV or listen to radio talk shows,” McDonough said. “All kinds of people hold values that are reprehensible and they could well be working in public settings. They could be teachers. But what the charter does is target and heighten concern for one particular group — religious people who display it publicly. But there’s no reason to assume they are abusing their power.”

McDonough said teachers are trained in what they are allowed to teach and not-allowed to teach, and curriculum reform during the early 2000s placed heavy emphasis on the teaching of ethics and democratic values, including tolerance of diversity, to replace religious instruction.

“Deconfessionalizing schools and the Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) course were meant to institutionalize a secular school system that prizes religious diversity and diversity not based on religion — a school system that is welcome to everyone. The charter is moving away from those policies.”

Université de Montréal professor Marie McAndrew, one of Quebec’s foremost experts on intercultural education, agreed — it’s not because a teacher doesn’t wear a religious symbol that he or she is neutral, she said, adding that many of those teaching the ERC course today are former catechism teachers.

Schools and teachers have to watch out for religious extremism, McAndrew continued — like the Jewish sect that fled Ste-Agathe last week, in part to escape Quebec’s mandatory secular curriculum.

But the Shafia girls — murdered by their brother and parents in a so-called “honour crime” in 2009 — did not wear veils. Likewise those on Parliament Hill seeking to restrict abortion rights show no (outward) signs of religious affiliation.

“A teacher who is nationalist or federalist will not teach the history of the referendum in the same way. But when we teach, it’s from a posture of respect and putting our own convictions aside to offer different perspectives,” McAndrew said.

“I can’t change the colour of my skin or my Quebec accent. Does it make me biased toward Haitian students? There are so many signs of belonging to different groups why focus on religious signs?”

McAndrew said Quebec risks losing the few teachers from religious minorities working in public schools and further ghettoizing students whose parents, if they are even mildly religious, may opt for private schools. Those who stay in the public system will lose important role models, while students of the majority, francophone and white, will lose contact with the “other” — anyone who is different.

“It’s very important that youths be exposed to people of different origins,” McAndrew said. “Attitudes are developed not through knowledge but through contact.”

Abe Worenklein, a psychologist who has been teaching for 35 years at Dawson College and Concordia University, said he’s seen the positive change in attitude that comes with contact.

“Years ago, I asked my students: ‘What are your prejudices?’ A lot of kids clearly had prejudices against blacks, greens, blues, Jews, Muslims,” said Worenklein, who wears a kippa. “But over the years, that prejudice has come down tremendously because people are exposed to different cultures and religions. They recognize this guy’s Jewish and has a good sense of humour. That guy’s black, he’s getting A’s and he’s not athletic. It’s being in contact with people who are different from us that breaks the stereotypes. We don’t all have to come from the same cookie cutter. ... The question is do we want to open people’s minds or close them?”

It remains to be seen just how far the government wants to go in eradicating religious symbols from schools, and pushing what Worenklein calls Quebec’s new religion: Intolerant secularism. Drainville said he hopes the private sector will follow the government’s lead. Others believe it is a slippery slope to exclude parents and students, like Emilie and Dania, who wear religious symbols.

“The government is arguing that the simple fact of wearing a symbol is passive proselytization,” said Mallette of the FAE. “Is the government then also saying that a student wearing a symbol can also convert others passively?”

Speaking the day after the head of the Quebec women’s federation was booed and heckled at a discussion at Université du Québec à Montréal, McAndrew said the debate is bringing out the worst in Quebec society. He added that it also might encourage teachers to dismiss any efforts to adapt to students of diverse ethnic backgrounds — in the way they teach their history course, for example — or accept different eating habits, or have patience with parents who haven’t mastered French.

“We are encouraging people to say OK we’re done with being open to different religions, but also to different cultures and languages, especially given the early ambiguity of the charter of ‘values’ before coming back to ‘laïcité’ (secularism) and the attitude that we must ‘put our pants on’ to deal with immigrants. ...

“There’s so much tension and so much aggression,” McAndrew said. “It’s very worrisome. Will we feel it in the schools? I won’t say this is the end of our openness to pluralism, but we’re taking two steps backward for one step forward. And there are so many other things we should be working on in the schools for both the majority and the minority students.”

Twitter: csolyom

Friday, November 29, 2013

Muslim donor in Salt Lake City pledges to donate up to $100K for typhoon victims

November 29, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY — An anonymous donor from the Muslim community of Salt Lake City has pledged to donate up to $100,000 in matching funds to help victims of the typhoon in the Philippines.

Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake president Aden Batar says the donor will match funds donated to the society until the goal is reached. Donors don't have to be Muslims.

The money will then be given to the Humanitarian Services department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Batar says they trust the LDS church will get the funds to the victims.

Batar didn't say how much money has been donated yet, but said they haven't reached the goal and will continue taking donations through the holidays.

Donations can be made at Zions Bank locations or at the website: .

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Critical Condition: Panel Discussion on Reviving Public Science in Canada -- Toronto Friday, November 29

- Scientists for the Right to Know -

Toronto, Friday, November 29 -- 5:30-7:30 
McLeod Auditorium, Medical Sciences Building, University of Toronto (Queen's Park subway station, exit northwest corner of University Ave. and College)

Click to enlarge.

Come to an event celebrating the life of three scientific organizations that died and one that was resuscitated, and help us brainstorm about ways to revive public science in Canada.

Dr. Paul Cappon, the former President of the Canadian Council of Learning (2004-2012) will talk about the Council's birth and untimely death. The Council studied and fostered ways in which Canadians were learning in school, at home, in the workplace and in their community, throughout their life cycle.

Dr. Robert Page, former Chair of the National Round Table on Environment & Economy (1988-2013), will discuss the life and death of the Roundtable and its valuable contributions to our understanding of the links between the environment and the economy -- now more needed than ever! It researched and advocated a low carbon economy and argued that Canada was well positioned to achieve this goal. However, its advice was not appreciated, which led to its demise.

Dr. Peter Ross, former senior researcher with the Ocean Pollution Research Program will talk about "Ocean pollution science in Canada: Navigating without a compass" -- the outcome of terminating a program within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that led to many important regulations and controls improving commercial and traditional seafoods by lowering levels of various chemicals in marine wildlife. It improved the health of several fish and marine mammal populations. Sadly, the program itself died in 2013.

Dr. Diane Orihel, founder of Save ELA, will discuss the death of the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area and its miraculous resuscitation through Ontario -- find out why it is still in critical condition on life support, unable to rise from its bed of suffering. During its healthy life, the ELA influenced public policy in water management in Canada, the USA and Europe.

The talks will be followed by a Q and A period, and we will then brainstorm together what can be done to Revive Public Science in Canada.

This event is organized by Scientists for the Right to Know, the University of Toronto Faculty Association, the Graduate Students' Union of the University of Toronto, the York University Faculty Association and Save ELA.

Admission is free.

Please come and circulate the information as widely as possible among your networks.

Demonstration Against Harper's Toronto Visit for Zionist Fundraiser

Demonstration at the Negev Dinner 
Sunday, December 1 -- 4:00 pm 
Assemble at Olympic Park, 222 Bremner Blvd.

Statement of the Social Justice Committee of the 
United Jewish People's Order-Toronto

- Published November 15, 2013 -

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is being honoured by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) at a dinner to raise money for a campaign to build a visitor and education centre at a bird sanctuary in the Hula Valley in Israel. He is being honoured for his support of Israel and for his direction of Canada to a position as "a nation of principle...defending the freedom and dignity of all people."

The Harper government has a record of environmental and human rights violations in Canada and elsewhere e.g. the cancelling of Kyoto, the oil sands, and the exploitation of human and natural resources by Canadian gold mining companies. Increases in homelessness, hunger and maltreatment of immigrants and refugees mark Harper's time as Prime Minister. Is his link to a "green" project of the JNF an exception to this record, or more of the same?

By accepting a JNF honour at the Negev Dinner, Prime Minister Harper is lending his support to Israeli and Canadian injustices against the Bedouin in the Negev. Canada and the JNF have a long and troubling history. Canada Park, which was created by the JNF with Canadian donations, replaced three entire Palestinian communities with trees and picnic grounds.

Now the JNF and Canada are linked to a project which claims it will make the Negev green and repopulate the region. In fact it is expelling a 500 year-old community.

The Bedouin community, which includes Israeli citizens, does not advocate violence and has claims to its land dating back to the Ottoman Empire. In the 1950s this community was moved to its current location with a promise of rapid return to its original lands. Not only was this promise broken, but now the people are being forcibly removed again. During the last two years this large Bedouin village has been destroyed six times and six times rebuilt. Now with the Prawer Plan the Israeli army is in place to stop the Bedouin from rebuilding.

Since 2005 the Bedouin's nearest neighbours have been a group of Jews from Toronto. They came in response to JNF and UJA [United Jewish Appeal] appeals to reclaim the allegedly barren desert. They lived in caravans surrounded by lush grass and flowers with playgrounds for their children. Now, the caravans have been replaced by three-story private homes reminiscent of Canadian suburbia. The displacement of the Bedouin population is not an environmental victory. It is an international crime against human rights perpetrated with the support of the Harper government. It is shameful for Israel, the JNF, Canada and Canadian Jews.

From Quebec to Spain, anti-protest laws are threatening true democracy

The clash between neoliberal austerity and popular democracy has produced a crisis of 'ungovernability' for authorities

Richard Seymour, Monday 25 November 2013

The Spanish government's punitive anti-protest draft laws are, critics say, an attack on democracy. That is precisely what they are.

In a number of recent front lines of popular protest, state capacities have been reconfigured to meet the challenge. In some instances, as in Greece, this has meant periods of emergency government. In Chicago, in Quebec and now in Spain, it has meant the expansion of anti-protest laws. READ MORE.....

‘Why Care About the N.S.A.?’


Like many Americans and people around the world, I was deeply disturbed to hear the revelations of Edward Snowden about N.S.A. surveillance, which is an affront to the United States Bill of Rights. But as a filmmaker who has made a number of documentaries about technology and online activism, I can’t say that Snowden’s revelations came as a surprise. Some concerned citizens have long understood that powerful digital technologies can be abused to carve away at civil liberties.

I created this Op-Doc with excerpts from interviews that I filmed for an ongoing documentary about the programmer and online activist Aaron Swartz, who was concerned about surveillance issues long before Mr. Snowden’s disclosures. This short film addresses the most common arguments I’ve heard from people who are not concerned about online surveillance, such as: “I’m not doing anything wrong, so why should I care?” and “We need this to keep us safe.”

The Internet has placed all of us firmly in a new and insecure world. Simultaneously, a perpetual “war on terror” has infused within that world a culture of fear and anxiety, along with surveillance policies that will have long-lasting implications. Now is the moment for a course correction, where civil liberties are written not just into our laws but also into our computer code. READ MORE.....

Yemeni activist to Canada: Don’t follow U.S. lead on killer drones

By Sean McKibbon -- Nov 26, 2013

Yemeni human rights advocate and journalist Farea al-Muslimi pleaded on Parliament Hill and at the University of Ottawa this past Monday that Canada not follow the Americans in equipping its military with armed drones.

In an emotional, first-person plea, al-Muslimi told reporters of a drone strike on March 2013 on his home village Wessab which he said killed five of his relatives. Instead of bringing peace to the region, al-Muslimi said that American drones continues to terrorize civilian populations and turning public opinion against the U.S.’s campaign.

“In al-Majalah in Abyan, 46 people were killed in a U.S. cruise missile strike, and four of these were pregnant women,” al-Muslimi said. “Some of the bodies of these innocent people were actually buried in the same grave with their animals, they were so decimated it was impossible to separate their bodies. It’s raging people, making a lot of people angry, and it’s becoming America’s main and only face in Yemen unfortunately.”

“Rather than using strategic investigations to arrest terrorists, the military is using wholesale bombing to wipe out whole communities for the sake of one person. If the objective is to reduce terrorism in the region, drone policy is having the opposite effect. It is creating a lot of anger against America. Canada should not follow the same policy.”

UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson stated in September 2013 that in Yemen, “the highest estimates…of civilians to have been killed or injured as the result of confirmed remotely piloted aircraft strikes since 2011 is between 21 and 58 (out of a total of between 268 and 393 drone strike fatalities).”

The son of a poor farmer in Yemen, al-Muslimi, 23, went to school in the U.S. He is a leading youth and human rights activists speaking out against drone warfare in the Middle East today.

American report on press freedom has implications for Canadian journalists

Nov 28, 2013 

By Angela MacKenzie

A new report, Acts of Journalism—Defining Press Freedom in the Digital Age, stresses that the U.S. needs new policies to protect all acts of journalism committed by professional and citizen journalists.

The author of the report, Josh Stearns, is the journalism and public media campaign director for Free Press. For the past four years, he has been following the press-freedom debates and how they affect new participants in journalism across the U.S. Stearns argues that it is no longer useful to differentiate between who is a journalist and who is not.

“Today, more people than ever are participating in journalism,” Stearns wrote in his report. “People are breaking news on Twitter, covering their communities on Facebook, livestreaming, distributing news via email and writing in-depth blogs on issues of civic and community significance. Some of these people are what we’d consider ‘traditional’ journalists working on new platforms, but many are not.”

The Internet and recent advances in technology have made it easier for citizens to participate in journalism. However, the rights of these new participants aren’t necessarily protected. They may not know what is within their rights or how to stand up for their rights.

“The public are becoming more engaged in the process of journalism,” Stearns told J-Source. “We’re seeing where they’re running up against either outdated laws or unintended consequences or police action that reflect how our institutions haven’t caught up to the changes in our media system.”

The report looks at examples of acts of journalism being committed across America, such as the case of 19-year-old Karina Vargas who witnessed an act of police brutality in Oakland, Calif., and recorded it on her phone. The police tried to confiscate her camera after the incident but she refused to hand it over. Vargas faced threats from police throughout her efforts. Stearns notes that many journalists in today’s climate have faced pressure from corporations and governments.

The growing spectrum of individuals who commit acts of journalism are not limited to the U.S., of course. Canada’s journalism landscape also relies on the contribution of citizen journalists, with news organizations often crowdsourcing stories. All around the globe there are increasing accounts of citizens engaging in the process of journalism.

“We’re also at a point now where in places like Syria, journalists have had such a hard time reporting,” Stearns told J-Source. “They’ve been threatened and attacked so much there that we’ve relied to some extent on reports from citizen journalists and human rights organizations who have been on the ground longer.”

In the U.S., members of Congress have introduced the Free Flow of Information Act—a federal shield law meant to protect journalists and their sources. Much of the recent conversation around defining who is and who isn’t a journalist has come from the need to determine a definition for this bill. Stearns notes, however, that the shield law debate is just one piece of a much bigger puzzle of press freedom issues.

“Around the country there are non-profit journalists and online journalists who are being blocked from getting press credentials to cover local state houses or city government. There are live streamers who are getting arrested and thrown in jail. We have issues of anti-SLAPPlegislation that are being debated about frivolous lawsuits where a real-estate developer will go after a journalist and sue them just to silence them.”

Currently, Canada does not have a federal shield law in place—journalists have no guarantee that their sources will be protected. Public privacy and press freedoms continue to be challenged in Canada. In 2012, the Harper government attempted to pass Bill C-30, an internet surveillance bill that would allow authorities to track the online activity of all Canadians in real time. However, there was so much public outcry over the controversial bill that it was killed earlier this year.

During the 2012 “Maple Spring” student protests, the Quebec government introduced the controversial Bill 78. Critics felt portions of the law affected freedom of expression, of reunion and of peaceful association.

Stearns said that pursuing a shield law is a good thing. However, it can be limited given the state of mass surveillance happening in many countries, including the U.S. and Canada.

“The NSA here has been the focus of many stories, but we know this has been a global phenomenon where we see the rise of surveillance both by governments and also by commercial interests,” he said. “In this era our lawmakers and authorities don’t even need to subpoena journalists anymore or ask them to testify against their sources because they can just subpoena the meta data. Then they can just see who they’ve been calling and who they’ve been emailing.“

Although it’s important for journalists protect themselves online by practising “safe data hygiene” in their work, Stearns notes that it is also important to look at reforming certain laws in order to limit the kind of surveillance that inhibits good journalism. Stearns told J-Source he would like to see Canada and other nations take the seed of what he’s talked about in this report and look at where the same issues are arising in their own countries.

“Where are those red flags? Where are our laws out of step with how the media is made now and where is there risk where we might not be protecting the people that are part of the media system? It’s going to look different in every country but I think it’s a conversation that we need to be having in every country.”

Angela MacKenzie is a Montreal-based freelance writer as well as a graduate student and research assistant at Concordia University in the Department of Journalism.

Surprising facts about the “war on terror”

Take a look at this website:

New Snowden docs show U.S. spied during G20 in Toronto

Surveillance during 2010 summit 'closely co-ordinated with Canadian partner' CSEC

By Greg Weston, Glenn Greenwald, Ryan Gallagher, CBC News Posted: Nov 28, 2013

Top secret documents retrieved by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden show that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government allowed the largest American spy agency to conduct widespread surveillance in Canada during the 2010 G8 and G20 summits.

The documents are being reported exclusively by CBC News.

The briefing notes, stamped "Top Secret," show the U.S. turned its Ottawa embassy into a security command post during a six-day spying operation by the National Security Agency while U.S. President Barack Obama and 25 other foreign heads of government were on Canadian soil in June of 2010.

The covert U.S. operation was no secret to Canadian authorities. READ MORE....

Fallout from controversial photo threatens Verdun daycare

Photo of two women dressed in niqabs circulated online ignited heated debate and online threats

CBC News Posted: Nov 27, 2013

One photo changed everything for the owners of a Verdun daycare.

Sam and Julie, whose names have been changed to protect their identities, say their business and livelihood are in jeopardy after a photo of two of the daycare’s educators, clad in niqabs, were circulated online.

The parents of one child who attended the daycare have since decided to take their business elsewhere because they feel uneasy about the possibility of the daycare being a target. READ MORE....

How Syrian Refugees Are Shunned In Post-Morsi Egypt

Some 3,000 other Syrian refugees have left Egypt for Lampedusa since August. 

Marion Guénard (2013-11-27) 

ALEXANDRIA — It is filthy and squalid here, putrid air and the smell of sewage palpable amid the din and dust from the constant passage of heavy vehicles. Far away, beyond the silhouette of a refinery, the horizon is hardly distinguishable. It is from this shore, in the suburbs of Alexandria, Egypt, that Mohammed tried to reach Italy. He thought the journey would succeed, just as it has for some 3,000 other Syrian refugees who have managed to reach Lampedusa from Egypt since August. 

Born in Damascus, this 27-year-old father tried the crossing Oct. 11 with his four brothers and sisters and their children. After four months in Egypt, he realized there was no future for him here. He left his father, wife and daughter, thinking that the family could reunite once he’d reached his desired destination of Sweden.

Mohammed sold all his property to raise what he needed to pay the smugglers — $3,500 per person. But the amount buys no guarantees. On the evening of Oct. 10, a bus picked them up at their rented apartment in the poor neighborhood of Agami. 

Under the weight of 130 passengers, mostly from Syria, the boat chartered by smugglers sank just a few kilometers from the Alexandrian coast. The shipwrecked victims waited several hours in the dark before the arrival first of fishing boats, and then finally the rescue ones. At least 16 people died, including five children. Mohammed chose to swim and reached the shore four hours later, exhausted.

Arrested and questioned for illegal immigration, his relatives are being held at the Karmuz police station in Alexandria, where they have been ordered to leave the country. They could have gone to Lebanon or Turkey, but they lost their passports in the wreck. The Egyptian authorities have therefore given them no choice but to return to Syria.

A new, less friendly era

Before the July 3 overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt was a safe haven for Syrians. There were about 300,000 living there, opening restaurants, attending schools and universities. But since the return of the military hierarchy to power, everything has changed. Accused by some media of being pro-Morsi, the Syrians have become the target of xenophobic attacks.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 150 Syrians were randomly arrested in July and August. Nearly 1,000 others were arrested as they fled by sea. “They are not prisoners. The coastguard has caught them during the act of illegal immigration,” explains an officer from the Dekhela police station in Alexandria, anxious to smooth things over after a recent critical report about Egypt published by Amnesty International. “They remain at the police commissariat while their identity is traced and the removal process takes its course.”

Amnesty International has accused Egypt — a signatory to the 1951 Convention for the Rights of Refugees — of breaking the principle meant to protect people from being sent back to a country where human rights are seriously violated.

According to Mohammed, Egyptian authorities are often bought off. “We shipped from the beach onto five boats before joining a bigger one,” he recalls. “On the left, there is a big restaurant, which was crowded that evening. And right there is a military sentry. It is impossible that no one saw or heard us.” 

Reda Shafik shares this conviction. This Egyptian-Syrian activist coordinates the actions of several NGOs in Alexandria, and since the fall of President Morsi she visits prisons almost daily, bringing food and clothing to refugees. “The smugglers bribe the coastguards,” she says. “Those who do not pay are investigated. This is what explains the different fares: If you pay $3,500, it is almost certain that you can cross.”

Curled up on a sofa, Essam and Madeline listen in silence. The young couple arrived three weeks ago. They were Palestinian refugees in Syria and were able to obtain a six-month tourist visa at the Cairo airport. They fled Yarmouk camp, situated in southern Damascus.

“Before the beginning of the war, everything was fine. I was a pharmacist and Madeline a teacher,” Essam says. “But it became impossible. There is not enough food anymore. There are no more means to treat and take care of people. My wife had two miscarriages, and I am diabetic. I need insulin.”

For now, Reda offers them food and shelter. “In Syria, the situation is inhumane. We cannot go back there,” Essam says. “And what can we do here? There is no future here.

Ten years after the invasion: Iraq helpless under rain of terror

Saddam Hussein may have gone but, for many poor Iraqis, little has improved. Now a devastating flood has left villagers homeless and there is precious little government support.

Patrick Cockburn
Thursday, 28 November 2013 (Independent UK)

“A wall of water came at us as if a dam had broken,” lamented Razaq Madloul, as he looked at the ruined houses standing in a muddy swamp where he and dozens of other farmers had lived until a devastating flood last week.

“Even our fathers had not seen such rain,” he said of the four-day downpour that hit southern and central Iraq and northern Saudi Arabia, washing away roads and villages in places that seldom see any rain. Villagers outside Najaf, the Shia holy city 100 miles south-west of Baghdad, stood little chance.

“Government officials came at three in the morning last Friday and told us to get out,” said Sami Abdullah, who worked as a brick-maker in a district dominated by the tall smoke-blackened chimneys of brick factories west of Najaf. He said most of the brick-makers escaped, though a woman and three of her children were drowned as houses, built from poor quality bricks, collapsed under the impact of the water.

The brickworks are beginning to dry out but, further towards a shallow lake called the “Sea of Najaf”, the fields on either side of the road have turned into swampland, with deep mud interspersed with ponds. In one village, farmers said most of their flocks of sheep had drowned and the body of the occasional animal was rotting beside the road. The mukhtar, or leader, of a farming village said: “I have lived here since 1973 and have seen nothing like this.” Caught by surprise, villagers had no time to save their possessions, and such vehicles as they owned were submerged by mud as if in some modern Herculaneum.

Aside from that first warning from officials of impending disaster, the Iraqi government has remained inert and dysfunctional at all levels. Displaced villagers all say, with varying degrees of anger, that they have received no help from the central or provincial authorities. In Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was much derided for blaming the floods in the capital on sabotage of the sewage system by his political enemies.

Water and drainage experts say that $7bn (£4.3bn) has been spent on new sewage and drainage projects in Baghdad since 2003, but they do not work because of corruption and incompetence. In some districts of the capital last week, people took to makeshift rafts to negotiate streets turned into rivers of diluted sewage and water.

It is not that people in the countryside outside Najaf had much to lose in the first place. In Baghdad, the sewers and water pipes may have been badly built but in the provinces they were often never built at all. Today, there is nothing much to distinguish the ruins of houses destroyed last week from the remains of Sumerian villages abandoned 3,000 years ago.

One party of refugees said that until a few years ago they had lived in the remains of one of Saddam Hussein’s abandoned military camps, but they had been moved on by the government to the outskirts of Najaf; they had never had water or electricity.

The only people offering help were from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, which provided tents and distributed meals in plastic containers. “I have never seen anything like it,” said Ahmed al-Jabouri, in charge of crisis management at Red Crescent. “It must be the result of climate change.” Much of the relief work was being carried out by staff from the office of the populist Shia religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who were rebuilding roads to link up isolated communities that have been cut off by the flood waters.

Abbas al-Kufi, an official in Mr al-Sadr’s office in Najaf, said that on the night of the great storm he desperately telephoned the defence ministry “to get helicopters to rescue people, but nobody was answering there, day or night”. He added: “I borrowed a small boat from the river police but the man in charge of it said the waters were too turbulent for it to be used. The boat later capsized.”

Iraq’s inability to help its own people when they are hit by natural disasters, despite oil revenues of $100bn a year, underlines the dysfunctional nature of the government 10 years after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Such coverage as Iraq receives in the international media these days, when reporting of the Middle East is dominated by Syria and Egypt, is almost exclusively about the bombings that kill 1,000 people a month.

But, for most Iraqis, the worst problem in their life is not sudden death but poverty. In Najaf, which is better off than many Iraqi cities, the very poor make up an estimated 40 per cent of the population.

The district of Jadaid al-Rabiya in Najaf is at a higher altitude than the ruined villages caught by the heavy rains and it suffered less flood damage – but its people’s lives are still a struggle for day-to-day survival.

“Either you work and eat or you don’t work and you don’t eat,” said Sayid Sa’ad Aziz al-Hilli al-Moussawi, a shopkeeper and community leader. “In Saddam’s time they didn’t get anything and they don’t get anything now. Their clothes are poor. They work as construction labourers or taxi drivers if they have a car. People think about food, not education. ”

Older people here often do not have any qualifications, because their education was interrupted by long service in the army under Saddam. In most of Iraq the government is the main source of employment, but Mr al-Moussawi says that nobody in Jadaid al-Rabiya has a job working for the state “because the two ways of getting a job are paying a bribe or knowing somebody important – and we’re too poor to do either”.

I asked if it was not strange that in a country like Iraq, with so much oil and money, there was so much poverty? “It is not strange,” said an old man who had been sitting silently on a chair. “It is stranger than strange.”

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pope calls for 'revolution of tenderness'

Savitri Hensman -- Nov 27, 2013

The current economic system is “unjust at the root”, Pope Francis declared. In a major new document, he urged Roman Catholics to work with fellow Christians and others towards a more humane and peaceful world.

His 'apostolic exhortation' Evangelii Gaudium, translated as 'The Joy of the Gospel', calls for a more outward-looking, less centralised church. It offers a welcome challenge to people of various faiths and none to confront an economic and social system that fosters ruthless greed and leaves destitution, division and environmental damage in its wake.

Through encountering “God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption,” he suggested. Jesus can “break through the dull categories with which we would enclose him and he constantly amazes us by his divine creativity.”

The church should be an “evangelising community” nurtured by prayer, worship and fellowship, which “gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.”

This involves not only caring for those in need but also looking critically at life-denying structures and ideologies. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

He criticised “trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness”. These reflect “a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system.” It is important to work “to eliminate the structural causes of poverty” as well as “small daily acts of solidarity” with the poor.

At times the Pope’s rootedness in tradition, while often helpful, led him to fail to engage adequately with theological developments and aspects of others’ experience, including on the issue of women’s ordination. Yet overall, the call for a “revolution of tenderness” is to be welcomed, and may open up new opportunities for dialogue and joint work.

It is only to be expected that this call to action will be criticised by those who prefer a form of religion that shores up privilege and power. In reality the Pope’s critique of the dominant social and economic system is moderate compared to some of the biblical prophets and early church leaders. It is time for churches to speak out more boldly, and act more effectively.

The kingdom of God “is already present in this world and is growing, here and there, and in different ways: like the small seed which grows into a great tree (cf. Mt 13:31-32),” wrote Pope Francis. “Christ’s resurrection everywhere calls forth seeds of that new world; even if they are cut back, they grow again, for the resurrection is already secretly woven into the fabric of this history, for Jesus did not rise in vain. May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope!”

Evangelii Gaudium can be found here.

© Savitri Hensman is a regular Christian commentator on politics, economics, society, welfare and religion. She is an Ekklesia associate and works in the equality and care sector.

Omar Khadr sues for $60 million

Lawyers accuse Canadian government of a ‘conspiracy’ with U.S. to keep Khadr behind bars

by Michael Friscolanti on Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Omar Khadr is still behind bars, 11 long years and counting after he was shot and captured by U.S. troops in war-torn Afghanistan. But his next fight—a battle with Ottawa over financial compensation—is just ramping up.

Khadr’s lawyers, due in Federal Court later this month, are asking a judge to approve yet another round of amendments to a lawsuit that’s been inching its way through the system for almost as long as he’s been locked away. Originally filed in 2004 as a mere $100,000 claim (and later bumped up to $10 million), Khadr’s latest submission says he now deserves $60 million from the Canadian government: $20 million for breaching his Charter rights, $20 million in punitive damages, and $20 million for failing to treat him like the 15-year-old child soldier he was.

The dollar figures, of course, are completely arbitrary. If Khadr ultimately wins his case against the feds, a judge will decide the value of his award, regardless of whether he asked for $1 or $1 billion. In fact, one of Khadr’s lawyers says the $60-million tally listed in the lawsuit isn’t quite accurate, even though the document says so. “We perceive the claim as being a $20-million claim,” says John Kingman Phillips, who plans to correct the record when he appears in a Toronto courtroom Dec. 18. “That’s what it’s intended to be.”

Whatever the sum, the new statement of claim contains a stunning new accusation from Khadr’s camp: that Canada engaged in a “conspiracy” with the U.S. to keep him shackled in Guantánamo Bay for as long as possible. Federal officials didn’t just fail miserably to protect the rights of a young citizen, the claim alleges. They failed on purpose, choosing instead to work “in concert” with his captors. “Canada’s conduct was flagrant and outrageous and calculated to produce harm, and in fact did produce harm,” it reads. “His story is more than a sad tale of a child soldier—it is the story of how Canada, his country of birth, not only failed to help him, but was complicit in, and a beneficiary of, the cruel and unusual treatment he received, and the torture he suffered, during his imprisonment.”

The Supreme Court has already ruled—twice—that Canadian officials violated Khadr’s Charter rights during his lengthy stint at Guantánamo. One visiting Foreign Affairs official famously interrogated the teen even though a U.S. guard specifically told him Khadr had been subjected to three weeks of systemic sleep deprivation, a torture tactic meant to make him “more amenable and willing to talk.” As the high court ruled in 2010, eliciting statements from a sleep-deprived teenager “offends the most basic standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.”

But Khadr’s revamped statement of claim (again, a judge has yet to approve the amendments) alleges conduct far more sinister than the Supreme Court has confirmed. “We allege that Canada, through its agents, was working in conjunction with the U.S. authorities to ensure that one or the other would detain him and prosecute him for war crimes,” Phillips tells Maclean’s. “If this kid didn’t have the last name that he had, he never would have been put in custody—and we would be looking at whoever put him into the fray as a problem, not him as the problem.”

The Harper government has already spent millions fighting Khadr in court at every turn, and not surprisingly, federal lawyers oppose his request to amend the claim. By press time, however, the feds had yet to file any written arguments. (Ottawa’s most recent statement of defence denies that Khadr “has suffered any loss or damage as a result of the acts of Canadian officials” and insists “an award of monetary damages is not available.”)

Khadr will not be in court on Dec. 18. He remains in an Edmonton jail, a 27-year-old man who has been locked in a cell nearly half his life. Surely, someone is to blame for that. Someone should pay. But should that someone be Canadian taxpayers?

“The first obligation of government is to protect its citizens,” his statement of claim continues. “Over the course of his imprisonment, Canada has repeatedly failed Omar, shirking its legal responsibilities to him as a citizen, and in so doing, failing all Canadian citizens.”

Tony Clark's portrait of Stephen Harper

Tony Clark's portrait of Stephen Harper, based on Ingres' portrait of Napoleon (1806), in the exhibition Stephen Harper: The Portrait Gallery, at Arts Court in Ottawa.

NCCM welcomes arrests forHamilton mosque and temple attacks in 2001

- For Immediate Release - 

(Ottawa - November 27, 2013) The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), a prominent Muslim civil liberties & advocacy organization, today welcomed news that 3 suspects have been arrested in Hamilton in relation to an attack on the Hamilton Mountain Mosque and the Hindu Samaj temple which occurred three days after September 11, 2001. 

The Hindu temple was destroyed in the arson and police have said that the charges would be prosecuted as a hate crime. 

"We applaud the Hamilton Police Service for their diligent efforts to apprehend the three suspects and urge them and the larger Hamilton community to continue to combat xenophobia so that a clear message is sent to those who perpetrate such crimes that their efforts to stigmatize communities will not succeed," says NCCM Executive Director Ihsaan Gardee.

"We are confident that the suspects will be accorded due process and if found guilty they will punished to the full extent of the law.

"We urge community leaders to remain vigilant and to immediately report similar incidents to the proper authorities, as well as to the NCCM, in order to establish a clear record of such incidents," adds Gardee.

Anyone with information about the arson is requested to contact Det. Dave Oleniuk at 905-546-3874. Alternatively, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8744. Anonymous tips about criminal acts can always be made to Crime Stoppers, see:

NCCM is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit grassroots advocacy organization. It is a leading voice for Muslim civic engagement and the promotion of human rights. 

CONTACT: Ihsaan Gardee, Executive Director, 613.254.9704;613.853.4111