Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Clash of Civilization: A Racial Discourse

Dr. Hatem Bazian -- Nov 19, 2015

The often-cited clash of civilization thesis promoted by rightwing politicians, religious extremists, and public figures is predicated on extending and reformulating the already discredited notions of “scientific/biological racism” into new categories based on cultural, religious, and ethnic norms--nebulous and difficult to define terms, as the concept of race itself.  In the clash of civilization rhetoric, the theorized cultural, religious, and ethnic differences are given; essentially, fixed, undynamic and ahistorical meanings that are rooted in colonialist, racist, and orientalized epistemologies.  This essentialist clash of civilization conceptualization, then gets promoted by its advocates, into popular political discourses and enacts policies on its basis. 

Samuel P. Huntington popularized usage of the phrase clash of civilization first in a lecture at the neo-conservative den, the American Enterprise Institute, then, eventually, an article and an often-cited 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.  Huntington asserted, “that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic.”  Furthermore, adding: “the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural.”  Conveniently, after the Cold War, Huntington posited that the future clash would emerge from the "Sino-Islamic connection" thus, enjoining the fear of Islam and China’s rising economic power.   

The clash of civilization argument was followed by another book, Who Are We?  The Challenges to America’s National Identity, which problematized Mexican and Latino immigration to the US.   Huntington projected Latinos as an emerging threat to the unity and cohesion of the country.  What was threatening to Huntington and his ilk is that the large scale Latino immigration could "divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages."   The assumption is so spurious about America’s unity and the threat posed by Latinos.  This is the sophisticated racism of the upper-crusted dons of academia who use language, books, and articles to burn crosses with white robes and hoods into the collective meadows of our mental imagination. 

The clash of civilization rhetoric has been deployed against Mexican-Americans and Latinos in general, Blacks and Native Americans in the past and present, Muslim and African immigrants in Europe and North America, Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese as a byproduct of the current economic instability.  In all these cases, the evidence and data are irrelevant for the clash of civilization warriors and no need to examine the causes and stimuli for what is taking place across many parts of the world, since all are secondary to the real reason-- the inferior cultures, religions and ethnicities under scrutiny.   Trump, Carson and others in the Republican presidential primaries are crudely parroting Huntington’s arguments when speaking of immigration, Islam, minorities and China, for they have internalized the clash of civilization thesis and made it operative as a blueprint for their campaigns.

More alarmingly, cultural and ethnic differences in the present period are intentionally and sophisticatedly amplified by clash of civilization warriors, so as to serve a utilitarian function in empire’s efforts.  These are directed at hegemonic control and consolidation of power across the globe.  Empire needs the made to be feared other to justify its imperial power and militaristic ventures at home and abroad.  By accepting the clash of civilization as a point of departure, the civilizational warriors make it possible for empire to unleash total war on the Global South, which conveniently, is assigned the subhuman inferior epistemic and the made to be feared other.  If the Global South is inferior and is projected as a permanent and unchanging threat, then the natural and only conclusion to prevent the barbarians from storming the metaphorical civilization’s gates, is total war and constant intervention.  

A clash of civilization is a prerequisite for empire’s expansion, rationalization of violence, and constant direct and indirect interventions in the Global South.  The war and intervention by empire serves as a never-ending chemotherapy treating a terminal cancer case called civilizational deficiency syndrome.   A clash of civilization discourse makes it possible to reconfigure and reprogram the biological racial colonial epistemic in the post-colonial period into the vagueness of culture; while affirming a hierarchy of human and races values based on a fictitious assertion of Eurocentric universalism and uniqueness of Whiteness.   A clash of civilization discourse makes it possible for the ahistorical and fictitious to dominate and shape the empirically verifiable historical record.  

I have more questions than answers to conclude this essay, in the hope, it can lead to a deeper examination of the structures that creates and punishes the other.  How to view the immigration and refugee crisis, securitization policies, interventionist wars under the rubric of open-ended war on terrorism, economic and political interventions, as well as, social and educational projects as an extension of clash of civilization discourses?  More importantly, who, when, how, and by what methods will a response and a counter-narrative be constructed that does not only retort with a critique but offer an inclusive, diverse, truly multi-epistemic in approach, that de-center the Eurocentric center while being truly sustainable and non-hegemonic? 

Hatem Bazian, PhD is co-editor and founder of the Islamophobia Studies Journal and director of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, and a senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at University of California, Berkeley.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Terrorism is wrongly framed!

by Dr. Hatem Bazian -- Nov 18, 2015

In the aftermath of Paris terrorist attacks, politicians took to the airwaves to shape public opinion and insert a heavy dose of Islamophobia and clash of civilization venom. Marc Rubio said these attacks are a “wake-up call” and urging the country to commit itself to “civilizational war against radical Islam.” Former Governor Jeb Bush wanted to outdo his understudy, Rubio, by declaring: “This is an organized effort to destroy Western civilization and we need to lead in this regard.” The moral and ethical low-grounds were claimed by none other than Senator Ted Cruz who called for altering rules of military engagement, in such a way as to, “not be deterred by targeted airstrikes with zero tolerance for civilian casualties, when the terrorists have such utter disregard for innocent life.” Defending civilization by killing civilians should be Cruz’s presidential motto!

On his part, Trump attacked Obama’s Middle East policy as weak and suggesting to an audience that he has “instincts” for terrorism in the same way that he has it for “a good location" in real estate deals. Critically, Trump emphasized his readiness to close down US mosques and urged security institutions “to watch and study the mosques because a lot of talk is going on at the mosques." In France, Marie Le Pen wrote on Twitter: “For the sixth time in 2015, Islamic terrorism has hit our country,” and "French people are crying for the dead and I cry with them." 

What is clear from Republican candidates in the US and Le Pen in France, is that the extreme rightwing wasted no time in attempting to ride another terrorism tragedy into ballot boxes. The rightwing immediately shift away from the heinous crimes committed by terrorists into a debate about Syrian Refugees, immigration, the Iran deal and Muslims in Western society--this adding insult to injury of the attacks. Real questions must be asked and appropriate measures taken to address the crisis of terrorism holistically and not electioneering soundbites. 

The unequivocal point to be made first is that Muslims are the primary victims of terrorism and counterterrorism efforts. Terrorists kill Muslims so as to force them to adhere to their distorted worldview and likewise when Western states and their allies undertake military reprisals, Muslim civilians are the primary victims. While we should mourn every human life equally, however, in reality we rarely stop to mourn, humanize, and put a face and name to Muslim and Arab victims of terrorism and counterterrorism efforts. 

Terrorism is a tactic that has no religious identity. The constant proclivity of civilizational warriors on both sides to clothe the tactic in religious garb does a disservice to efforts at countering or addressing the problem of terrorism. A terrorist claim of defending Islam gets a long mileage when Cruz, Trump, and Le Pen place the “Islamic” adjective on that which is criminal and heinous. Inserting “Islamic” or “Islam” in the debate shifts away from the criminal terrorist as an individual and moves the focus instead to his/her faith and community (local and global) as the “real” problem. Precisely, this shift is the cause that makes it possible on the one hand for the terrorists to use it to claim a civilizational war on the West and the Islamophobes to push Muslims in Western societies to the margins because they don’t belong in the West.

The loudest voices are calling for another round of bombings and more intervention as if the past 15 years (more like 30 years) have not established the limitations and futility of this approach. The same neoconservatives and their allies will not concede failure and will bomb their way into Armageddon before admitting that their invasion of Iraq is the decisive factor in the ongoing chaos. In addition, no one in the US, Europe, or the Gulf will take responsibility for the Frankenstein laboratory that developed the Jihadi platoons in Afghanistan and unleashed it on the Russians in 1980s.

More intervention, bombing raids, and drones will not resolve this problem. In the absence of a real political, economic, social, and educational project in the region, terrorism becomes the instrument through which regional actors with support from global allies settle their disputes. 

If war is politics by other means then terrorism is politics by choice deployed by regional and global actors to prevent real change and alternatives from emerging. In reality, terrorism flourishes when politics runs into a dead-end wall. Look at the list: Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Israel, Mali, Central African Republic, Chechnya, Pakistan, Somalia, Myanmar, Nigeria, and Ukraine all have run into a dead end wall where violence has become the only politics. 

Reducing terrorism to mere religious identity markers frames the problem wrongly and is driven by electioneering politics. It is easy to have a candlelight vigil but much more difficult to ask about the policies that brought the world to this point. Who supplied the weapons and ammunition to these groups? Why continue to sell weapons in a region soaked in blood? And who benefits from propping up and rewarding undemocratic regimes that have sent more of its young populations to Da’ish than to universities? 

Hatem Bazian, PhD is co-editor and founder of the Islamophobia Studies Journal and director of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, and a senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at University of California, Berkeley.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Press Release CISSA-ACSEI - Immigrant and refugee serving agencies across Canada are ramping up contingency plans

November 5, 2015

Immigrant and refugee serving agencies across Canada are ramping up contingency plans to respond to the largest refugee resettlement relocation movement in thirty five years.

VANCOUVER, BC - "As we welcome the appointment of Honourable John McCallum as Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, preparations have begun in refugee reception centres across Canada in response to the Government of Canada’s Syrian refugee resettlement plan. We are now on stand-by putting in place significantly enhanced reception services to welcome an expedited increase of Syrian refugees – the full range of settlement supports services and expertise as we have undertaken in previous large refugee resettlement relocation movements," says Chris Friesen, Chair of the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance- Alliance canadienne du secteur de l’√©tablissement des immigrants (CISSA-ACSEI).

While awaiting the timeframe and clarity on the multi-pronged approach necessary to undertake this bold refugee resettlement humanitarian goal CISSA-ACSEI member agencies are actively involved in various refugee readiness related activities across the country including such things as

- working with city staff in some parts of the country to explore the activation of emergency reception and housing procedures;

- putting in place regional refugee readiness planning sessions to develop coordinated response systems with key actors including school superintendents, health authorities, city governments, housing authorities;

- arranging an in-person meeting in Toronto Nov 28-29 with representatives of refugee reception centres and sponsorship agreement holders across Canada to assess current capacity in key areas -- long term housing needs, language class and daycare wait-lists, communication mechanisms, etc;

- issuing public calls for action and help with longer term housing needs, volunteers and free limited services from dentists, registered clinical counsellors, private sponsorship, etc;

- putting in place on going public education events on refugees and their settlement process to garnish ways that the public can be actively involved;

- setting up communication structures eg. telephone help lines, designated websites and systems that will ensure enhanced local and regional coordination on the ground as well as across Canada; and,

- beginning recruitment for a variety of additional staffing resources.

We fully understand and appreciate that Canadians want us, as a country, to do more to help respond to this growing refugee crisis through immediate resettlement. CISSA-ACSEI and its member agencies stand by to fully support and share our expertise and insights to assist Minister McCallum and his cabinet colleagues who will be critically important in addressing this possibly unprecedented mass refugee relocation movement in Canadian history. We welcome the opportunity to support future Syrian government assisted refugees. We have no doubt that with their determination, skills and resilience that Syrian refugees who for no fault of their own have had to flee their homes and will like other refugees before them contribute immensely to their new country. We, working with the Canadian public, will ensure that these refugee newcomers will have the best possible start in this country.

For further information:
Contact: Chris Friesen, Chair, CISSA-ACSEI
Phone: 778 995 3009


The Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance- Alliance canadienne du secteur de l’√©tablissement des immigrants (CISSA-ACSEI) is a pan-Canadian Association formed to represent the immigrant settlement sector in Canada and to bring the sector’s expertise to bear on public policies and programs for enhancing the settlement and integration of immigrants and refugees.


 The current government assisted refugee annual target was set by the former government at between 5,800 and 6,500 individuals. Canada is currently on track to resettle over 6,900 government assisted refugees in 2015 prior to PM designate Justin Trudeau 25,000 Syrian refugee response;

 There are thirty six (36) refugee reception centres across Canada that provide the initial transitional housing and first language resettlement services to all government assisted refugees.

 Unlike European and Middle East states and putting aside the sheer number of refugees in the region, Canada has well developed infrastructure, programs and systems to enhance the settlement and integration of refugees;

 Our member agencies have expertise and experience in providing reception and settlement services on military bases including during Operation Parasol in 1999;

 Although the refugee resettlement target was much lower, the last time Canada responded with a large refugee relocation movement within a short time period -90 days - was in the fall of 1972 when this country responded to the Asian-Ismaili refugee crisis in Uganda; and

 In 2014 refugees accounted for 9% of overall immigration to Canada in comparison to 1980 when refugees accounted for 28% of all immigration.

Caroline Dailly | Manager - Resettlement Assistance Program
530 Drake Street, Vancouver, BC V6B 2H3
T: 604-684-7498 Ext. 1611 | F: 604-684-5683 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Trump and the spectacle of reality TV

Dr. Hatem Bazian -- Nov 4, 2015

Donald Trump’s political campaign represents the logical evolution of the media age and entertainment serving as a spectacle where the line between the real and imaginary is completely blared. The age of reality TV and non-stop entertainment have become the dominant avenue for people to receive and share information about a wide range of issues including the choice of a political candidate. Trump embodies reality TV, is himself a brand and in essence an entertainment commodity running for the highest political office in the United States. For sure Trump is not the first to fuse entertainment and politics and the debate on this issue has been around for almost a century.

In his groundbreaking book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman maintained, “[It] is not that television is entertaining but that it has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience. […] The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining.” In this sense, Trump’s candidacy is a type of entertainment.

Neil Postman further argued that the vision of the future is not an Orwellian one whereby a totalitarian government suppresses and controls the people, rather a world closer to What Aldous Huxley described in his novel Brave New World, whereby people “are controlled by inflicting pleasure.” Postman correctly observed that “Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.” 

More than any other “political” figure in the modern age, Trump represents the arrival of Huxley’s Brave New World as campaign sound bites are intended to reinforce a constant barrage of entertainments, and “a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act.” Those surprised to see Trump leading in the polls are missing the key factor, the candidate himself is an embodiment of reality TV serving to propel his campaign among an audience conditioned to seek a celebrity to mediate a fictitious shared meaning and public discourse as an extended commercial. “If politics is like show business, then” for Trump “the idea is not to pursue excellence, clarity or honesty but to appear as if you are,” and package the candidate image not the content into a message. 

Trump understands the spectacle of reality TV and navigates the campaign to fit the contours of an audience that is already been deprived of “autonomy, maturity and history.” The audience gawking at Trump is a byproduct of an information age where the ability to think for oneself was undone by the repetitive exposure to TV trivia and entertainment. Reality is entertainment and entertainment is how reality is experienced. Trump is an entertainment product defining and shaping reality of an audience that is serving as a voting public in a democratic stage play called America.

Poor candidates sharing the stage with Trump and the “news” people who are fact-checking Trump on the many statements and utterances coming from him for they don’t understand the entertainment epistemic operating within candidate’s camp. Trump creates the reality in the same way a TV show constructs a make-believe rain forest in the studio that captures the audience’s attention. Candidate Trump, which gets reinforced by basic repetition in the same way a TV commercial touting an unhealthy product through association with a celebrity, constructs political ignorance as knowledge for his gawking audience. 

Marshall McLuhan maintained, “the medium is the message” while Postman modified the concept into “the medium is the metaphor.” Thus, Trump is America’s metaphor whereby non-stop reality TV entertainment is substituted for what is real, and meaningful. “Making America Strong Again” is a sound bite intended to stop the thinking process and direct the audience to focus on Trump, the reality TV product that has been imbued with the unshakable celebrity success image. If Trump, the TV commodity, is successful then it must translate into a vote for Trump, the political product.

Today’s reality TV and entertainment has become more pernicious and is intruding on every aspect of our life through computers, smart phones, iPads and even behind the wheel in cars. The political, religious, social, cultural and knowledge itself is truncated to fit into the medium and becomes the end in itself. Trump’s candidacy might not end-up being successful but the extended impact of the product will be around for a long time. “Television” (I would add the Internet), according Postman “is our culture's principal mode of knowing about itself. Therefore -- and this is the critical point -- how television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly to be staged.” Trump is staging the political as a reality show and in doing so the screen and the production become undifferentiated entertainment and the metaphor for all public discourses. Trump stages the political as a show and the staged show becomes the way the political world is understood: a non-stop staged spectacle. 

Hatem Bazian, PhD is co-editor and founder of the Islamophobia Studies Journal and director of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, and a senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at University of California, Berkeley.

TWO PART ARTICLE: Read Elizabeth May’s to-do list for the incoming government on fixing what Stephen Harper broke.

Fixing what Harper broke: A to-do list for the incoming government



| OCTOBER 29, 2015

We need a stock-taking. A "to-do" list. Some of what the Harper administration broke will be easy to fix; much will be very hard indeed.

What we must do is insist the damage be reversed. There is an equally long list of steps to take moving forward -- but we need to repair immense damage to nearly every aspect of federal law and policy.

Here's a start:

1) Fixing security law:
Repeal Bill C-51. As a compromise, the Liberals could amend part 2 (No Fly lists) while repealing Parts 1 (info sharing), 3 (terrorism in general propaganda), 4 (the most dangerous, unleashing CSIS as covert disruptors) and 5 (allowing evidence obtained by torture).
Repeal C-44 -- allowing CSIS agents to operate over-seas.
Repeal C-38 -- with a section eliminating the Inspector General for CSIS.
Repeal C-3 (2007 legislation that introduced unconstitutional security certificates).
Instead -- build security law drawn from advice from the Arar and Air India Commissions of Inquiry.

2) Rebuilding our criminal law system:
Reinstate the Law Reform Commission and Court Challenges programme.
Repeal C-10 and other mandatory minimum provisions.
Repeal C-2 (Insite).
Repeal C-14 (NCR).
Repeal C-25 (Truth in Sentencing Act).
Repeal C-309 (Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act).

3) Reverse trend to slippery citizenship:
Return Canada's embassies to aggressively act for Canadians abroad in trouble -- including on death row.
Repeal C-24 (only one citizenship exists -- unless obtained by fraud, citizenship is citizenship).
Repeal FATCA (found in omnibus C-31).
Restore citizenship for Lost Canadians.

4) Immigration and refugee law:
Repeal the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act from Fall 2011 that puts refugees arriving by boat in jail for a year (C-31).
Return to principles of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act -- create a predictable path to citizenship.
Prioritize family reunification.
Create a sponsor-friendly refugee support process. Restore health, housing, language and other supports to refugee claimants.
Appoint board members to Immigration appeal board to deal with backlog.

5) Restore evidence-based decision making:
Restore Long Form Census. Rehire Munir Sheik as Chief Statistician of Canada and give him the Order of Canada.
Repeal C-38 sections that wrecked environmental assessment (EA). Eliminate any EA role for energy regulatory agencies (NEB, offshore petroleum boards, CNSC, etc) and return EA to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Repeal C-38 destruction of CEAA, and further amend the Act to remove the conflict of interest found in the pre-2011 CEAA. A good model can be found in the Liberal 1993 Red Book (never implemented).
Repeal C-38 elimination of the National Round Table on Environment and Economy.
Re-hire scientists.
Restore funding to the Canadian Climate Forum (formerly the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences).
Restore funding to Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL).
Restore the Marine Mammals Contaminants Programme.
Restore testing of smokestacks for air quality.
Restore ozone layer testing.
Restore freshwater science. Resume funding and DFO work in Experimental Lakes Area.
Restore research funding and monitoring for ecological integrity to Parks Canada.

6) Repair environmental laws and policy:
Repeal C-38:

I. Damage to Fisheries Act (restore habitat protection, reverse administrative changes in interpretation of "deleterious to fish" as meaning acute toxicity at LD50, as well as removing the equivalency provisions for provincial down-loading);
II. Section that amended NEB also damaged Species at Risk Act, Navigable Waters Protection At, Fisheries Act exempting these acts -- as not applying along route of a pipeline;
III. As above in decision-making section, restore CEAA as sole agency to oversee environmental reviews.
Repeal C-45:
I. Restore Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA), and repeal the 2009 omnibus bill that re-defined "navigable waters" to a matter of ministerial discretion. Return NWPA to its pre-2006 condition. Navigable waters are any and all waters that can be navigated.
Restore funding to Canadian Environmental Network.

7) Climate action:
Ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
Work with other Kyoto parties and support the information sections and the mechanisms, especially the Clean Development Mechanism. No new targets need be established within the KP as our new targets will evolve in the new comprehensive COP21 agreement.
Restore ecoENERGY Retrofit -- Homes program.
Consider the other actions in place in 2006 that the Harper administration cancelled.

8) Repair Official Development Assistance:
Restore funding to MATCH, KAIROS, Canadian Council for International Cooperation, etc.
Consider re-establishing CIDA as its own agency, but at a minimum reverse funding cuts and restore goal of poverty alleviation.

9) Service Canada:
In what was described as an effort to save money, the Harper administration created a new department to house administrative, IT and finance roles. Call for a full audit by the Auditor General and determine if Service Canada has in fact resulted in savings, or, if, as many suspect, it has been a boondoggle. Consider restoring functionality in the public service.

10) Reverse monumental mistakes:
Cancel any federal funding to Canadian Memorial to the Victims of Communism and cancel plans for its current location. Allow it to proceed in another location with a more modest and reasonable design as a private charitable project.
Restore land from Green Cove in Cape Breton Highlands National Park to the park, reversing private give-away to private sector interests. Allow the so-called Mother Canada statue to be built on an appropriate site in industrial Cape Breton.

11) Repair national parks:
Cancel any and all plans to further privatize within national parks.
Amend the Sable Island National Parks Act to remove the role of the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board as a regulator within the park. Ban seismic testing, drilling and any industrial activity in the park.
Amend the Rouge Valley National Parks Act to restore ecological integrity.
Re-affirm the guiding principle of the National Parks Act to protect ecological integrity.

12) Repair legislative damage to First Nations rights and title:
Amend the NWT devolution act to restore the water boards and other agencies created by treaty.
Repeal C-27 (First Nations Financial Transparency Act) and S-2 (Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act).
Restore funding and re-open the National Aboriginal Health Organization and the First Nations Statistical Institute.

13) Women's rights:
Restore purpose of Status of Women Canada to include achieving equality for women.
Restore funding to Canadian Association of Women and the Law, National Action Committee, etc.
Institute an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.
Implement pay equity for women in federal civil service.
Repeal manipulative laws that contort women's rights creating increased risks to women:

I. S-7 (Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act)
II. C-36 (Sex trade worker law)

14) Restore funding to CBC-Radio Canada:
Cancel sale of assets

15) Reverse cessation of home delivery by Canada Post

16) Re-engage with international sustainable development:
Restore funding to CIDA.
Halt sales of diplomatic residences.
Ratify the Convention to Combat Desertification (from which we withdrew under the Harper Conservatives).

17) Investor State agreements that cannot be undone:
Canada-China Investment Treaty was signed and ratified without any hearings in Parliament, without a ratification vote in the House or Senate.
The earliest Canada can be out from under this treaty is 2045. To protect Canadian interests and sovereignty, we need a law requiring immediate public disclosure of any and all complaints by the People’s Republic of China against Canadian legislation, regulation or policy changes, pending or concluded, at all levels of government. This notification includes any diplomatic pressure from the PRC in the six month window for conflict resolution prior to the lodging of an actual arbitration claim. Canada must be prepared to pay damages to the People’s Republic of China if our environment, labour or safety laws require it. The Canada-China Investment Treaty is the worst of the changes wrought in the Harper era. It could operate to stop the needed repairs. All we can do now is ask to re-negotiate while ensuring our domestic legislation guarantees transparency.

Read Part Two

Fixing what Harper broke, part two: The toxic culture in our House of Commons must end



| NOVEMBER 2, 2015

The first "to-do" list focussed on changes to policy and legislation brought in under the Harper administration. But the damage was not confined to omnibus laws and brutal ideologically motivated cuts. More subtle damage was done to the principles that underpin Westminster parliamentary democracy. Our system of government has limitations on abuse of power, but they are not codified.

Unlike the United States, with its Constitution riddled with checks and balances against those who would misuse their power, our system of government has largely depended on self-restraint of those in power. Previous prime ministers had not prorogued parliament to avoid a confidence vote they knew they would lose because it was simply not done.

For example, Prime Minister Paul Martin knew the NDP, Conservatives and Bloc planned to bring down his government on November 28, 2005. He never would have imagined going to the Governor General to shut down Parliament. It was not illegal; it was unthinkable. Into this very vulnerable system, the rule of Stephen Harper has been typified by unprecedented abuse of power. As the Rt. Hon Joe Clark said in January 2015 in a speech in Sidney B.C., "Stephen Harper is violating Magna Carta."

Under Stephen Harper, debate was shut down one hundred times in the 42nd Parliament -- breaking all historical records by nearly 100 per cent. Under Stephen Harper, we have had two quite illegitimate prorogations, unprecedented not only in Canada but in the entire Commonwealth. We have had the prime minister and his government found guilty of contempt -- again unprecedented.

The PMO has extended its reach to demand evidence be prepared by civil servants to buttress government policy. This abuse of the federal civil service is also unprecedented. I know of justice department lawyers that have been asked for their legal opinion with the added instruction "and this is what we want you to say."

Parliamentary committees have been controlled by PMO with every vote on every amendment a whipped vote. That is how a bill like C-38, the omnibus budget bill of spring 2012, could move from First Reading to Royal Assent -- all 440 pages of it, changing or repealing 70 different laws -- without a single alteration. Witnesses before committee have been subjected to personal inquisitions if their testimony did not align with Conservative dogma. Again -- unprecedented.

The result is that we now need to take steps to ensure such abuses of power never happen again.

There is a good list of suggested fixes in the Liberal platform (more detail than anything on their platform on climate change, for comparison).

The scale of the damage done must be understood by Canadians. Should we hold a hearing into abuse of power over the last 10 years? Demand that the investigation into robo-calls and voter fraud be re-opened? Insist that we have an inquiry into the security failures in protecting the House while the prime minister bolstered his personal security, but not that of the House of Commons?

We need to scale back the budget of the Prime Minister's Office. Greens suggest cutting it in half, but that's only a good start. The dividing line between PMO and Privy Council Office (PCO) needs to be repaired. Civil servants must never again be told to fabricate or hide evidence. Scientists must not be muzzled. The position of Science Advisor to the Prime Minister must be restored.

The role of members of Cabinet as Ministers of the Crown must be honoured. Ministers are not sock-puppets, the chief public relations spokespersons for policies about which they know only what they are told by PMO. Ministers should actually know what is going on in their departments. There should be actual Cabinet meetings where ministers put forward their departmental plans and requests. Central control by PMO must be slashed.

Here's more of the to-do list:
Prorogations must now require a vote in the House constituting more than a majority vote. It must be based on a formula to ensure the majority party is not running roughshod over smaller parties to avoid accountability.
Omnibus bills must be curtailed and only allowed when the subject matter of the bill meets one central purpose. We must never again allow unrelated pieces of legislation to be bundled together to avoid adequate study or review.
Parliamentary Committees must be free of whipped votes. The parliamentary secretaries should not sit on committees. Committee chairs should be elected by committee members. Witnesses should be given adequate time to testify. The Conservative practice of throwing four or five unrelated witnesses on the same panel, given an insultingly brief time to speak, to be abused by government MPs must stop. Forcing unrealistic and abbreviated time for hearings must stop.
We need to revise the Elections Act. We need to create rules for leaders’ debates and have them under Elections Canada supervision. We need to undo the damage to Elections Act since 2006. C-23 was the second major change. We need to enhance the investigative powers of Elections Canada into election fraud.
The House proceedings should return to the standing rules. The use of separate motions in every committee to deprive MPs in smaller parties of the right to present amendments at Report Stage must end.
Heckling in the House should be controlled by the next Speaker. It is a deliberate technique to discourage public interest in parliamentary affairs.
We must restore transparency. Access to Information laws need to be overhauled (see Democracy Watch recommendations).
Documents required by MPs must not be hidden. Fundamental principles of the Supremacy of Parliament must be restored.
Budgetary information must be available to Parliament prior to budget votes. "Deemed" review of billions of dollars in supplementary estimates must end. The PBO must be strengthened and the Parliamentary Budget Officer be made an Officer of Parliament.
Whipped votes on other than confidence motions must end. We need to restore the link between members and their constituencies.
We must legislate to control abuse of power. The above is a first cut and inadequate. Ideally, a parliamentary committee will be mandated to review the abuses of the last ten years and recommend a full suite of measures to ensure it never happens again.

Post script:

The first to-do list should have mentioned the cuts to Veterans Affairs and the changes in the treatment of our veterans. Those must be reversed. The first list also omitted the end of the Canada Wheat Board. I don't know how we can repair that damage since the Conservatives sold the Wheat Board assets to a Saudi Arabian company. But if farmers can see a way to restore the Wheat Board, it should be considered.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Baby Killer? Conservative Syrian refugee policy

Yesterday, I discussed Chris Alexander’s after-the-election defence of Bill C-24 and, in particular, the issue of two classes of citizenship. Today I want to concentrate on his defence of his role as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in the Harper government in the formation of its Syrian refugee policy. In the seven minute and forty second interview, most of the time he discussed refugee policy rather than the citizenship issue.  Let me offer his interview in as verbatim form as I could manage, and then follow up with my commentary after parsing what he said. 

1. According to Chris Alexander, “We started bringing Syrian refugees to Canada on a large scale in January, but nobody covered it at the time. Somehow it became divisive that we hadn’t brought them all by the middle of the election campaign.” 
2. “This conflict in Syria has been going on for four years and I will say in front of any camera to any journalist that this is the worst conflict of recent times, much worse in terms of loss of life than both Iraq wars, all three Iraq wars if you count the current one, much worse than Afghanistan during our time there in terms of loss of life, and the media coverage, the public attention to it, has been lacking since 2011.” 
3. “These are the biggest terrorist organizations in the world. Yes, the international response has been weak because there is no appetite for it after two wars in Iraq and a long campaign in Afghanistan, but we need to pay attention.” 
4. “And when these refugees and migrants showed up in Europe in massive numbers, it wasn’t a surprise to me. We have been tracking this, we have been trying to respond, we have been trying to encourage other countries to respond in an organized way resettling larger numbers of refugees to save lives and to ensure that people didn’t have to cross the Mediterranean and lose their lives at great risk.” 
5. But none of that generated any profile. Instead I still get people coming up to me  saying you hung up on Carol Off. That’s the story that people insist on telling, that we are cold-hearted Conservatives, that we have never done the right thing.” 
6. “And its wrong. And you’ve got to look at the facts. You’ve got to look at who showed leadership.” 
7. “There are still more Syrian refugees in this country than Barak Obama has brought to the United States. Has anyone covered that fact?” 
8. “It’s a question of communication and responding to accusations, absolutely…Certain messages weren’t delivered and certain accusations were allowed to stand.” 
9. “We’re still the party that sees reality as it is, doesn’t want to go on some hippy-trippy jaunt down memory lane and put marihuana in the windows of every store. We’re trying to deal with the real issues that Canadians are facing..” 
10. “I’ve heard the Liberal leader say that we should not use the word “terrorism” on several occasions. They are just misunderstood people.” 
11. “And it pains me as a person who spent six years on behalf of Canada and the United Nations in Afghanistan and who worked two years as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to try to get a better response to Syrian refugees to bring 23,000 Iraqi refugees to Canada. I have never seen one article written about that in this country.” 
12. “Cost, safety, operational standards for which Canada is renowned are all issues. We have the best record in the world for refugee resettlement because we do it well, we meet certain standards. We check out who people are. We make sure that human smugglers aren’t involved. We make sure identity theft isn’t involved. We make sure people are whom they say they are. We make sure that criminals don’t benefit from Canada’s generous refugee policies and when you start moving large numbers of people in short periods of time, all of that can be compromised. So I would urge the government to do more on Syria but do it carefully and insure that Canada’s best traditions and high standards are respected.” 
1. a) Did the Conservatives start bringing Syrian refugees to Canada on a large scale in January? 

b) Did they receive no coverage of their activities on behalf of Syrian refugees? 

c) Did the issue only become divisive during the election campaign? 

d) And was that because the Conservatives had not brought all the refugees to Canada by the middle of the election campaign? 

In 2013, Canada pledged to take in 1,300 Syrian refugees over the next twelve months. It took the government 20 months, virtually to the end of 2014. The government promised to bring in only 200 government-sponsored refugees and 1,100 sponsored privately by groups or individuals. However, given the deficiency of visa officers in the field and processing officers in Winnipeg, private sponsorships were taking 12 or more months. In the first eight months of 2013, only 9 Syrian refugees were resettled in Canada. Under pressure from the NDP immigration critic, Alexander kept obfuscating on the number of arrivals, and his inadequate replies received wide coverage. 
By mid-2015, Alexander could only confirm that there were 1,297 Syrian refugees physically present in Canada as of July 2 even though 1,012 Syrian refugees made inland claims and were not resettled but arrived here and claimed asylum. Though the pledge to bring in 10,000 Syrian refugees over three years was signalled in January 2015, only in the beginning of July of 2015 did Canada announce that it was preparing to substantially increase the number of Syrian refugees this country will accept. The Conservatives planned to bring 10,000 more Syrian refugees over three years, or 3,300 per year. Most of those were expected to be privately sponsored. “To meet those kinds of targets,” Mr. Alexander said, “Ottawa is looking to a broader range of Canadians to step up and privately sponsor asylum seekers.” That announcement was widely covered in the media, but it was an announcement about an announcement, for the formal announcement was not expected to come until late summer or the fall. 

The initiative was said to be on a par with “one of our large, national efforts in response to a serious crisis on par with our response to the Vietnamese boat people [60,000 over 18 months when the number of refugees was less than half those from Syria], Idi Amin in Uganda in 1972 [7,000 of the accounted for approximately 43,000 Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin] and the 1956 crackdown in Hungary [37,000 of 200,000 refugees over only six months].” How 3,300 per year of 4 million refugees could be said to be on a par with the numbers Canada took in these other movements is beyond comprehension. 

The issue did become a big one until the picture of the little three-year-old’s body on the beach appeared in all the media around the world at the end of the first week in October, but no one, absolutely no one, criticized the Conservatives for not having brought all the refugees to Canada by the middle of the election campaign. The Conservatives were criticized for the stinginess of their Syrian refugee policy. 

2. Chris Alexander did say a number of times that the Syrian conflict was the worst in the last few decades. But to say that the media did not cover the conflict is absolute nonsense. Amelia Smith in her study, “Mapping Syria through media coverage of the conflict,” indicated a number of problems covering the story. Though in 2011, western media dedicated “a healthy amount of coverage” to Syria’s conflict, and though the new media were used extensively, in the last two years, there has been extensive coverage, contrary to Alexander’s assertion. However, there has been a distinct tendency to reduce the conflict to a battle between ISIS and the Assad regime.  Further, there has been too little coverage of the international humanitarian work and of the tremendous refugee burden that Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have born. But all have been covered. However, the most serious problem is the high risk to journalists. Syria has been designated as the most dangerous country for journalists in 2012, 2013, and 2014, somewhat limiting the amount of coverage. 

3. Alexander claimed that al-Qaeda and ISIS are the biggest terrorist organizations in the world. There are well over 100 terrorist organizations. Hezbollah and Hamas are each larger than ISIS or al-Qaeda. The Taliban may be larger. ISIS may, however, be the most notorious. In any case, the Assad regime has killed many more Syrian civilians than even ISIS. 

4. To say Canada has been a leader in encouraging Syrian refugee resettlement is laughable if it were not so tragic. In terms of witnessing, Canada has settled at most 13,000 refugees worldwide each year over the last three years. Excepting years when we resettled disproportionately high numbers of refugees, Canada generally took 10% of the refugees scheduled by UNHCR for resettlement. The United States takes by far the most.  Of the 21,154 Syrian refugees put forward by UNHCR for resettlement in 2014, Canada took barely 1,000 or less than 5%, an appalling figure in comparison to our past historical record. The UNHCR urged countries to resettle only 100,000 Syrian refugees in 2015 and 2016. Canada’s response – not 10,000 per year as would be expected from past practice, but 10,000 over three years. There is no evidence that Canada provided any leadership in advocating higher refugee numbers; practice indicates quite the reverse. 

5. No one said that the Conservatives were cold hearted or never did the right thing. The Conservatives were accused of a woefully inadequate response to refugee resettlement though a reasonably humanitarian response to donations overseas re Syrian refugees. Further, late in the game, the Conservatives were commended for finally waving the requirement of UNHCR approval for refugees scheduled for resettlement, of waving the requirement that all forms by private sponsors had to be precisely accurate before they could be considered, for finally greatly increasing the number of visa officers in Lebanon and increasing the processing officers in Winnipeg. But it was all very tardy and seemed to be only a response to enormous pressure. 

6. “You’ve got to look at the facts. You’ve got to look at who showed leadership.” If you do, you would have to conclude that it was definitely not the Conservatives. 

7. Alexander asserted that Canada took in far more Syrian refugees than Obama ever did. While I think the Obama record on Syrian refugees has been appalling, and by September 2015, the U.S. had only resettled about 1,500 Syrian refugees in total, fewer than Canada, in December 2014, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, Anne Richard, announced that the United States would resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2015. As of 7 October 2015, 19,646 Syrian refugee names had been submitted to the U.S. for resettlement. So although the United States had been very tardy, and though its current response has been very inadequate, it is just not true that Canada took many more Syrian refugees than the U.S. We took more, but not even considerably more let alone many more. 

8. Alexander insisted that the problem was inadequate communication on the part of the Conservatives. The problem was inadequate and very tardy response by the Conservatives. 

9. “We’re still the party that sees reality as it is, doesn’t want to go on some hippy-trippy jaunt down memory lane and put marihuana in the windows of every store.” In every store window!!! Come on! If Alexander is representative, he not only indicates that the Conservatives do not see reality as it is, but cannot distinguish fact from fiction. 
10. Alexander insisted that Justin Trudeau would not use the term “terrorism but insisted that were just misunderstood people. Perhaps Alexander was not in the House of Commons on 19 February 2015 when Trudeau began his speech as follows: 

“Mr. Speaker, I do not have to tell anyone in the House today about the threat of terrorism and the fear it can instil within those who have witnessed it. We all remember clearly the feelings we had in October as we heard and learned that an armed man had entered Centre Block with the intent to kill. We are still thankful for the heroism shown by our security services that day in keeping us safe during a difficult and confusing time. Coming as it did only days after another, shameful, attack on members of our military, it was a horrible reminder of the murder in cold blood that some people are capable of committing. No matter the motives, terrorism is designed to make us freeze in fear. It is designed to make us constantly question not only our own safety, but also the democratic institutions we have established to keep us safe. It is designed to make us question what is familiar and to suspect what would normally be insignificant. Terrorism is designed to take us so far that we question everything we have built and everything that is good in our fair, just, and open society. That is the point of terrorism, and it is when we willingly walk over that edge of our own accord that terrorism is ultimately successful.” 
Hardly an avoidance of the word “terrorism”. 

11. Alexander claimed to never have read one article about the 23,000 Iraqi refugees Canada resettled. Perhaps that is because 23,000 were not resettled. 23,000 was the target by the end of 2015.  I guess he had not read on 7 January 2015,  the news service reports that sympathetically indicated how the Syrian war hampered Iraqi refugee resettlement, etc. Either Alexander does not look for the reading material, does not read it when he finds it, or cannot read. 

12. “Cost, safety, operational standards.” Finally some honesty! These were Alexander’s and the Conservative’s repeated reasons for the tardy and inadequate intake of Syrian refugees. The Conservatives would bring them in, as long as the budget was not burdened.  Further, the department of Immigration’s ability to interview, process and resettle those refugee, and well as the settlement agencies and Agreement Holder’s ability to perform had been severely compromised in the effort to balance the budget while lowering taxes. 

The next shibboleth was the security issue. But as virtually any scholar knows who has studied the issue, coming to Canada as a refugee is the worst route for a terrorist to seek entry into a country. A refugee is too well documented. Enter as a tourist, as an investor, as a student. The terrorist threat is a red herring when it comes to the admission of refugees. In any case, all the political parties buy into the need for security clearances. 
The third factor is the elaborate bureaucratic procedures that now cloud and delay sponsorship under the guise of “operational standards”. 

The bottom line: Chris Alexander is a serial exaggerator, a serial distortionist and contortionist, systematically engaging in hyperbole totally unsupported by facts. Canada has not been a “model of humanitarian action.” Far from it. It has been a model of a miserly approach to the Syrian refugee issue.

Carty House in Ottawa-- can anyone help?

Yesterday I spoke with Jackie, a representative of Carty House. As I explained in a previous posting, Carty House is a communal residence in Ottawa that provides transitional housing for female refugee claimants and convention refugees. Carty House does not get funds from the government and operates based on donations from the general public. 

For more details see:

I asked Jackie what their most immediate needs are right now and here is the list she gave me:

* Space heater

* Coffee table

* Pantry shelving unit

* Small TV

* Area Rug

* Small desk

* Double sized bed

* Dining table

*Winter jackets

* Winter boots

I will add that Carty House also accepts food and personal hygiene items,and of course money donations.

If you are in a position to help with this, please let me know!

Shawn Smith

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Listen: "The struggle over Jihad"

"The struggle over Jihad": Listen to Naheed Mustafa’s well researched 54-minute documentary on CBC. She looks at the origins of jihad, how it's been transformed into a narrowly defined call to fight -- and what can be done to reclaim it.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Offshoring the Economy: Why the US is on the Road to the Third World

Dr Paul Craig Roberts  writes:

'Incompetent economic studies by careless economists, such as Michael Porter at Harvard and Matthew Slaughter at Dartmouth, concluded that the gift of vast numbers of US high productivity, high value-added jobs to foreign countries was a great benefit to the US economy.

In articles and books I challenged this absurd conclusion, and all of the economic evidence proves that I am correct. The promised better jobs that the “New Economy” would create to replace the jobs gifted to foreigners have never appeared. Instead, the economy creates lowly-paid part-time jobs, such as waitresses, bartenders, retail clerks, and ambulatory health care services, while full-time jobs with benefits continue to shrink as a percentage of total jobs.

These part-time jobs do not provide enough income to form a household. Consequently, as a Federal Reserve study reports, “Nationally, nearly half of 25-year-olds lived with their parents in 2012-2013, up from just over 25% in 1999.”

When half of 25-year olds cannot form households, the market for houses and home furnishings collapses.
Finance is the only sector of the US economy that is growing. "


On Saturday Nov 14th join the "Gotta Go" campaign to promote an accessible network of public toilets in Ottawa.

The event promises to be a day of fun with lots of games, contests, songs and skits, but is highlighting a very important and overlooked issue. Please support and promote this very important initiative. For more information, please visit

Thursday, October 29, 2015

National Security and Human Rights Report Released

International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group

Ottawa, 29 October 2015 - Critical areas where the Canadian government needs to demonstrate commitment to upholding human rights in national security policies and activities were outlined today in a report on the anniversary of the October 2014 "Arar +10" conference.

Convened at the University of Ottawa on October 29, 2014 by Amnesty International and the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, along with the university's Human Rights Research and Education Centre and Centre for International Policy Studies, "Arar +10" reviewed the state of national security and human rights in Canada a decade after a public inquiry was established to investigate the rendition to Syria and torture of Canadian citizen Maher Arar.

From a range of panels key recommendations emerged. 

National security policy, law and practice must meet Canada's international human rights obligations.

Redress, including an apology and compensation, should be provided to Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati, Muayyed Nureddin, Abousfian Abdelrazik, Benamar Benatta and Omar Khadr.

Increased review and oversight of national security activities is required and legislation should promote integration among review bodies. Robust parliamentary oversight is a necessity.

Ensuring due process for individuals suspected of being threats to national security prompted a number of recommendations. These included refraining from extending a class privilege over CSIS human informants, eliminating the restrictions on communication about confidential evidence between individuals named in security certificates and special advocates, and repealing the revocation of citizenship powers under the Citizenship Act.

In the area of immigration, measures need to be taken to ensure that individuals appearing before the Immigration Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board know and are able to meet the case against them.

The pervasive problem of exclusion, stereotyping and scapegoating of Canadian Muslims needs to be addressed by, among other things, encouraging and multiplying the joint efforts of diverse actors from different sectors of society, notably community leaders and organizations.

Ensuring rigorous corroboration of information leaked to the media before it is made public, with ethics counselors providing advice to reporters if there is any uncertainty about publication, as irresponsible and inaccurate reporting on national security activities can have a negative impact on individuals and human rights.

The conference's recommendations are particularly timely as the new federal government prepares to introduce legal and other reforms reversing or revising national security and citizenship laws and practices. 

Read the full report here:

- 30 -

Monia Mazigh
National Coordinator
613-241-5298 ext. 1

Anne Dagenais Guertin
Communications and Research Coordinator
613-241-5298 ext. 2