Commentary by: Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver, BC
It’s likely Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saw events playing out differently than how they actually turned out for his recent state visit to India.
Like most Canadians, he probably thought February an ideal time to fly someplace warm. He would take the family to India, enjoy a weeklong vacation, get some great photo ops at sites like the Taj Mahal and the Golden Temple, and then meet India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a day of official state business to wrap up his trip.
Though he would never admit it, Trudeau probably also hoped to out-Instagram his new arch rival, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who was getting married in Mexico this past weekend.
And, last but not least, by taking his four Sikh cabinet ministers along for the trip, Trudeau would score points with his Sikh electoral base back in Canada.
While Canada’s PM did get in his photo-ops, he and his team was put on the defensive throughout the visit by accusations of his government being in league with "Khalistanis"—shorthand for "Khalistani terrorists". These charges came from multiple fronts.
Indian reporters dogged Trudeau with questions about harbouring "Sikh separatists", another term for "Khalistanis", at every opportunity, while leading media outlets like the Times of India, Hindustan Times, NDTV and others pushed the Khalistan narrative relentlessly.
Indian news magazines like Outlook published polemical essays about how “a new real threat of Khalistani terror” has emerged due to support from Sikh temples patronized by unwitting "liberal white politicians", like Justin Trudeau.
Meanwhile, members of the Indian government provided a lesson in how to put the "host" into hostility by repeating the provocative allegations against their guests. Captain Amarinder Singh, the chief minister of Punjab, where most Sikhs hail from, did his central government’s bidding when he stated, “There seems to be evidence that there are Khalistani sympathizers in Trudeau’s cabinet,” alluding to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, whom Singh has called a Khalistani in the past.
Sajjan has never made a statement in support of a separate Sikh state. If anything, he has spoken against it.
And then, into this charged environment, enter ex-Khalistani terrorist Jaspal Atwal, who makes an appearance at an event with the Trudeaus in Mumbai. A Canadian security official, reported to be Daniel Jean, told Canadian media outlets that it is possible that the presence of Atwal at the function with the Trudeaus was not an accident and had been engineered by elements within the India’s intelligence services.
Even if this turns out not to be the case, the fact that Atwal, an actual ex-Khalistani who tried to kill an Indian government official in Canada in 1986, was granted a visa to enter India at the same time as the Trudeau visit arouses suspicion. Canadian security officials like Jean are in the right to consider all possibilities about Atwal’s incidental presence at an event hosted by the Canadian High Commission in Mumbai.
Meanwhile, back in Canada, mainstream outlets could have benefited from a dose of Jean’s skepticism. Instead Canadian reporters on the most parroted the opinions of Indian media through analysis pieces that stated there has been "a revival of Khalistani terror in recent years". Despite the scraps of evidence the Indian government has presented to push this claim, it highly spurious at best.
A quick refresher here: Khalistan is the name of a currently nonexistent Sikh homeland. It is based on the state of Punjab, a territory slightly larger than Vancouver Island, separating from India. For sake of analogy think of the Basque region declaring independence from Spain, the Kurdish north opting out of Iraq, or Quebec leaving Canada.
Over 30 years ago in the early '80s, this idea of a Sikh homeland erupted overnight out of dormancy into a full-blown political cause when the Indian government made the pivotal error of turning their tanks on the Golden Temple, or the Sikh Vatican. Thousands of people would die in the Punjab from the ensuing violence over the next decade, including over 15,000+ in the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi in 1984, murdered by mobs who were provided weapons and transport via Indian government officials. Nobody has even been charged for that mass killing.
And here—the most important wrinkle to this story—it has been over 20 years since a terror attack has been credibly linked to the Khalistan movement. In the late '90s, at the same time the IRA signed its peace agreement in Northern Ireland, the Khalistan militancy faded away. Funds dried up, and the fighters who took up its cause retired back into normal lives.
Even the last of the hardcore holdouts like Lakhbir Singh Rode, the head of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), one of the two key groups at the centre of the Khalistan militancy, now keeps a day job running a meat business in Lahore, Pakistan.
Khalistan died. Khalistanis died. But the Khalistan narrative won’t die. And that is because it won’t be allowed to rest in peace because politicians in India, and ironically, even here in Canada, won’t let it.
The "threat" of Khalistan has more value alive than dead.
And so the storyline of Khalistan terror continues to develop, even if the movement is gone. The theatrics are necessary to showcase it as a viable threat.
Scottish national Jagtar Johal, 31, is one person who seems to be ensnared in this net. The Sikh activist who ran a website called NeverForget1984 was in India for his wedding last November when he was taken by Indian police. Johal is being detained, without charge, for allegedly having a role in a series of political assassinations in Punjab over the last two years.
Sikhs around the world have rallied around the #FreeJaggi hashtag to liberate Johal on what appear to be a politically motivated detention.
Over 100 Sikh temples around the world reacted to the #FreeJaggi controversy by recently barring Indian diplomats from their premises. The response from Indian politicians was predictable—the temple officials, from all 100+ organisations, are Khalistanis.
And now Justin Trudeau leaves India having been compelled into signing a Framework for Cooperation on Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism between Canada and India. Canada and India had an intelligence-sharing arrangement before, during the height of the violence in Punjab in the '80s and '90s. That arrangement, however, was ended after the Khalistan movement died out. It is now on the path to coming back into place, renewing a fear that India’s corrupt police and paramilitary will be able to shake down the Indian relatives of Canadian Sikhs whose names appear in intelligence reports shared by Canada.
So what is driving this Russian-style disinformation campaign by India against its own former citizens and their descendants? It is not a terror attack the Indian government appears to be most fearful of. Rather, it is the disproportionate political influence of Canada’s Sikh community on Canada, a G7 country, that has New Delhi in fits.
As unified as India seems, it is an unwieldy coalition of 1.3-billion people with multiple ethnic groups, languages, and religions. The Indian government holds a reasonable fear that external influence could stir trouble again in the Punjab, especially in a country where the ruling BJP, a right-wing pro-Hindu party, itself governs through cold-blooded divide and rule machinations—the BJP frequently turns a blind eye to the violence of its own militant wing, the RSS, when it targets minority groups like Sikhs, Christians, and Muslims.
Currently, four of Trudeau’s cabinet ministers are Sikhs. There is also the possibility the next prime minister, or at least the next kingmaker, could be Jagmeet Singh, also a Sikh and someone with a social justice agenda. With an overall population of close to a million people in Canada, the Sikh community will only continue to grow in political influence for the years to come.
What the Indian government fails to recognize—or refuses to—is that politicians like Jagmeet Singh and others from a new generation of Sikhs are motivated not by separatism but by social justice causes. When they seek to redress past wrongs from incidents like anti-Sikh mass killings of Delhi in 1984, they are looking for reconciliation to heal past wounds, not for further division.
But this nuance is lost on the Indian government and so it indiscriminately responds to any criticism by undermining opponents with labels like "Khalistanis". Or it resorts to an old tactic of withholding travel visas. While ex-terrorist Jaspal Atwal can obtain an Indian visa—on multiple occasions it should be noted—NDP leader Jagmeet Singh cannot.
Singh was denied a visa in 2013, as was Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal in 2011. Both men brought forward motions in the Ontario provincial legislature and in the House of Commons respectively to have the Delhi mass killings classified as a genocidal act.
The motion was eventually carried last year by the Ontario government. The Indian government responded by calling it "misguided".
Ironically, however, hammering down on opponents with the Khalistani cudgel is not beneath the use of Canadian politicians either. In a Sikh community that is as politically active as it is diverse, some groups have also repeatedly resorted to labelling their opponents as "Khalistanis", regardless of how the reckless use of this language can indelibly stain an entire community.
In Trudeau’s Liberal government, it is no secret the World Sikh Organisation, a group that once advocated for the Khalistan state, has the ear of the PM, keeping at bay other voices from the community. The backroom fighting to get into such a position has caused simmering resentment among other Liberal members from the South Asian community. One of these flashpoints for this bitterness was in riding of Vancouver South in 2014 when Trudeau "parachuted" in star candidate Harjit Sajjan and closed the open nomination process.
There was justifiable frustration among the ousted Sikh faction that was likely to win that nomination. But their response was also predictably toxic.
"The Liberal Party, especially Justin, is in bed with extremist and fundamental groups. That's why I decided to leave the Liberal Party," said Kashmir Dhaliwal, ex-president of the powerful Khalsa Diwan Society which operates the Ross Street Temple in South Vancouver.
Ujjal Dosanjh, the former NDP premier of British Columbia and federal Liberal health minister, himself repeated this "Khalistani" critique to describe the Sikh insiders within the Trudeau government. In a radio interview this past week on CBC’s As it Happens, he bluntly stated that Trudeau’s government was infiltrated by Sikh separatists.
None of Trudeau’s Sikh cabinet ministers has spoken out in support of a separate Sikh state—if anything they have spoken against it. Dosanjh, meanwhile, has found himself on the outside without a role in the current Trudeau government.
"Khalistan 2.0" is a term that has been dubbed by Indian media to denote the future resurgence of the Sikh separatist movement led by "radicalized" Sikhs from countries like Canada. But in actuality, Khalistan 2.0 is already here.
It is a cheap, troll-friendly, media smear campaign—perfectly suited for the social media environment—wielded by the Indian government to discredit diasporic Sikhs, whether they criticize the Indian government’s human rights record or seek redress for legitimate grievances from the state-organized mass killings of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984.
And because this faux Khalistan narrative is so effective, it doesn’t even need an actual real terror incident to find its way on to frontpages of Canadian or international news outlets. It just needs a politician—Indian or Canadian—willing to do anything to advance their personal agendas. Unfortunately, those are a dime a dozen.
Jagdeesh Mann is a media professional and journalist based in Vancouver. Mann is also a member of the NCM Collective and regular contributor for New Canadian Media. This piece was republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post.
By: Devanshu Narang in Toronto, ON
If I was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, I would not forgive Indian politicians and the country's media for a long time. Perhaps Mr. Trudeau will forgive, but as a Canadian with Indian roots, I definitely will not. Ever.
But mark my words, Trudeau's India visit will turn out to be a long-term relationship disaster for India and not for Canada. As an honest, liberal, positive and a truly warm Canadian, the prime minister does not need to re-invent himself. On the other hand, Indians could do some re-thinking themselves.
True, Mr. Trudeau went overboard, as he sometimes does. Those heavily embroidered and garish Indian tops called 'Kurtas' were an eyesore even to most Indians. We never wear such fancy attire, except special occasions when it is considered chic to have an "Indian look". Perhaps he was either misguided by his coterie of South Asians who love their Bollywood movies or by the huge applause he gets when he wears such costumes at cultural events in Canada. After all, it is a pleasure for the South Asians to see a white leader wear ethnic attire and dance to Indian tunes. Here in Canada it is genuinely considered a mark of respect to the community and a desire to accept their culture.
Unfortunately, India mistook this for Mr. Trudeau's weakness and showed its boorish side.
In fact, it was evident right from the start that the Indian political elite which hates the liberal agenda and which has turned markedly right-wing and conservative in recent years would not take to the Canadian prime minister. They not only sent a junior minister to officially welcome him, but also ensured that the media coverage he received was low and negative. Slowly the plan was put into effect: his clothing became the object of derision, the motives of his trip questioned, his comments called into question, his guest lists scrutinized, and lo and behold, we had a feel-good trip turned into a PR nightmare.
Treating guests in India
I will not go into the details of how he was treated by Indian and thereafter Canadian and foreign media. How he was made to look like a fool when he was just being a warm human being. I would rather focus on what I think will happen following this trip and let Indians know about the blunder they have just committed.
Here was a guest, who in keeping with Indian traditions was to be treated like a God, who arrived in all humility – always bowing to local traditions, even dressed in their attire to please the locals, showing due respect all all the shrines and institutions revered and loved by Indians, who took his family along and persuaded them to dress the Indian way. Who could ever imagine that he would face ridicule at home, especially from the political opponents baying for blood ready to portray him as a weakling.
But, more importantly, what is wrong with India? How many times have we had world leaders come to India and respect Indian ways? How happy you've been when they occasionally wear Indian attire for an event and grooved with you? How many times have you hoped that they genuinely like your cuisine, your culture, your music and your own self? And when a man, a nation's leader, whole-heartedly opens up his soul and gives you a warm hug, you pull back?
So what if he went overboard. Is it wrong to try too hard?
Canada - India relations
Mr. Trudeau will recover from all this. After all, he did nothing wrong. But chances are India will experience the famous Canadian chill for decades to come.
The relationship between Canada and India may go into cold storage. Not just Canadians, but countries the world over, especially in the Western world, would be less trusting of India, especially if their political views differ. Other world leaders will definitely be more reserved during their Indian visits and never again would any Western leader open up as much as Mr. Trudeau did to Indian traditions and culture.
As for the invitation extended to a convicted would-be assassin for a Trudeau event, let us review the facts there too. First, the guest lists and invitees are not put together by Mr. Trudeau or any political leader himself. Second, if facts serve me right, Jaspal Atwal was convicted as a terrorist and served his sentence for close to two decades and has gone on record saying after his release saying that he regrets his action. He has already faced punishment for his crime and now walks free in Canada and has all the rights as any other Canadian.
He was visiting India because India too removed his name from the blacklist and granted him a visa. So, how long would you keep crucifying a person for an act in the past? Using the same logic, a lot of political leaders in India who were anti-state at one time should also be blacklisted for life. If anyone is to blame, it is India's double standards.
True, the "Khalistan movement" is dead in India, as it should be. It also does not ignite the minds of a majority of Indo-Canadians any more. But, the fact still remains, that a large part of the Punjabi community that resides in Canada came here in the 1980s and early 1990s after witnessing various atrocities committed to their near and dear ones at different times. The wounds have healed, but the scars still remain for children who grew up without fathers, or men and women who suffered in their youth. These can only be healed by love and acceptance and not by hate and segregation.
By turning your back on Mr. Atwal, who has already paid for his crime, you alienate many other Indo-Canadians and rub fresh salt on old wounds. Alas, one should have expected that out from a newly militant India and its biased media.
Put this behind you
I only hope that Mr. Trudeau and the Liberal Party does not take the criticism to heart in the context of Canadian diversity. The party's welcome to immigrants, working towards enabling equality, justice and acceptance in Canadian communities, and enabling greater respect for all humans should continue. Mr. Trudeau's evident love for the Indo-Canadian community must not diminished due to unfair coverage by Indian media, which appears semi-controlled by right-wing Indian politicians.
As an Indo-Canadian, I am ashamed about the way India treated our Prime Minister. My advice: please forget this and move on. Thank you for opening your heart.
And, yes, the next time at Diwali or Gurupurb, please bring out those Bhangra dance moves again.
By Ashoke Dasgupta in Winnipeg, MB
Cathy Wong (61), who emigrated from Hong Kong, had an unpleasant experience last December, with a racist bus driver.
The incident came on the eve of an unprecedented bus fare increase for services that have been deteriorating over the last two years.
Wong lives way down Pembina Highway in Winnipeg, just before the Ring Road, and takes two buses to work — the 162 and the 15 — in that order.
She works in a hotel near the Richardson International Airport. On December 13 afternoon, Wong took the Number 162 as usual to Portage Place, where she alighted to transfer to a Number 15. The driver of the 162 stopped to get coffee from Tim Hortons; he took the wrong route after that, delaying the bus while he got back on the right track.
The 15 arrived late too. When she entered, its middle-aged, male, white driver pointed out that her transfer had expired ten minutes ago. Wong was willing to pay afresh, reaching for her purse, but changed her mind because the driver was unpleasant. He seemed to accept her explanation grudgingly, allowing her to board the bus.
“He didn’t kick me out,” she told New Canadian Media: “As the (on-board) camera may show.”
When the time came for her to get off at her place of work, there were only two passengers left in the bus: herself and a colleague. The colleague got out the back door while Wong went to the front door.
The driver refused to open the door for her, saying he was punishing Wong for not paying the fare. He stopped after driving on for about two minutes saying, “Go back to your country,” as she got off.
The animosity of his parting shot is a toxic memory for the slight, quiet woman. Wong fears encountering the same driver again because he may start playing micro-aggressive games with her, as bus drivers are known to do.
Wong, who does not know English well despite her 32 years in this country, called 311 to report the incident, and Winnipeg Transit investigated the matter. She took off from work until the New Year.
Wong says graciously , “I think about it for long time, who wrong and right. I don’t want he to get more pressure. In my life I make a lot of bad things, but some of my friends forgive me. I let this gone, and stay away. Please don’t call Transit Company.[sic]”
She informed in an e-mail on January 13 “Last week Transit call me . and I told them about the bus # 162 got lost from its original route , and ...everything . The Transit Said ‘ sorry’ to me.[sic]”
Ross Eadie, a Winnipeg Councillor who takes the bus regularly said, “No driver should be making racist comments, and I’m seriously disappointed in this remark. It was a vicious incident on two counts: apart from the racist comment, it must have been cold and windy to walk extra. I missed a stop a few times, and didn’t like walking back in freezing temperatures.
“Racism exists in our population, and buses reflect what’s going on in society. Once I saw a sick young Aboriginal slumped in a bus. Everyone assumed he was drunk. I went to him and asked what the matter was. I was able to coax a few words out of him in time: ‘I want to die.’ He turned out to be a diabetic refugee from a flooded area of Manitoba with nowhere to go at the time. The driver demurred that he was already running late when I suggested he call for an ambulance . . .”
Matt Allard, another Councillor, takes the bus regularly to acquaint himself with Winnipeg Transit’s issues, but did not respond to e-mail or voice mail queries.
Alissa Clark, Manager of Communications, Winnipeg Transit, says, “The safety and security of its passengers is of the utmost importance to Winnipeg Transit. It is also very important that our passengers feel welcome and respected. While we are unable to comment on the specifics of the incident you’re referring to because it is an HR matter, we would like to say that we spoke with Ms. Wong in early January to offer our apologies. All operators participate in extensive, ongoing customer service training which involves segments on respecting diversity.”
Early this month, City officials revealed an $8.7 million surplus, though they said they had no choice but to hike bus fares $0.25 a ride in January. The ticket prices usually rise $0.05 annually. This jump has caused low-income people even more hardship.
Ashoke Dasgupta is a member of the NCM Collective based out of Winnipeg. As a journalist, he has won three awards in Canada and Nepal.
By: Mohammed Hammoud in London, ON
On Saturday, January 20, millions took to the streets to protest unjust legislative policies against women in the U.S. and Canada. Originally organized as a rally against the Trump administration in 2017, in its second year, the Women’s March is quickly becoming a voice for human rights advocacy.
In Toronto, thousands of women and men alike joined forces in the march which took place at Nathan Phillips Square with “Defining our Future” as this year’s theme. Starting at noon, many speakers including former Ontario MPP Zanana Akande addressed the crowd to demonstrate support for one another.
Marginalized voices need to be heard, and what better time than now? The fact that 2018 is an election year in Ontario, the fight for gender equality and social change is at the forefront, especially with policy makers who want to keep their positions.
As a man of faith, I feel that it is important to support this movement, by speaking out and taking action. After all, remaining silent only condones the injustice.
This year, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements reinforced the momentum behind the Women’s March by exposing the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and workplace harassment. Numerous, almost daily revelations of sexual misconduct allegations have been brought into the public sphere, exposing abusive men in powerful positions. Yet, it seems as though the focus is on exposing individuals, rather than the system that enables them to abuse their power and get away with it.
Abusive systems led by tyrannical men is nothing new. History is mired with countless stories of human rights abuse and social injustice. At our home, we draw personal inspiration from strong women in history as examples. Asiya bint Muzahim, wife of the Pharaoh, denounced her husband in support of Moses. Mariam, mother of the Messiah, who, in spite of being falsely accused of adultery, remained firm in her resolve. Zainab bint Ali, granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad, who confronted the tyrant of her time after he had commanded the murder and beheading of her brother, Hussein ibn Ali, and 72 of his companions.
After 1400, Zainab’s speech still resonates today as it calls out from Karbala, a small town in central Iraq, to over 23 million visitors who flock there for the largest human gathering, the “Fortieth”, to stand up against tyranny and abuse of power and call for social justice.
By highlighting these powerful women as role models, we are emboldened as sons, brothers, husbands and fathers, to ensure that we do not abuse our positions. Women’s voices are heard, and they play an active role in our homes, as well as our communities.
I personally draw inspiration to vocalize from the brave women of the #MeToo movement who spoke out and started the wave of allegations against abusive men of power. Their cause is a call to action for similar offenses and radicalization. Yet, while there have been hints of rampant sexual abuse in the movie industry for almost 30 years, the topic did not receive the needed attention since.
A 2016 TED Talk from Naomi McDougall Jones hinted at the exploitation by going straight to the heart of the issue and addressing the abusive and sexist nature of Hollywood. Jones explains how “95 percent of all the films you have ever seen were directed by men. Somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of all of the leading characters that you have ever seen were men. And even if we just talk about the last five years, 55 percent of the time that you have seen a woman in a movie, she was naked or scantily clad. That affects you. That affects all of us.”
It is not just the movie industry, but an entire system that typecasts woman as a commodity, radicalizes groups and labels them as criminals, drunkards or terrorists based on the colour of their skin or religious beliefs. When this system intensifies its hold on our institutions, it is enabled to establish deep roots in our society and our legislative policies. This systemic racism is further legitimized when it silences the victim and empowers the aggressor. The result: a silent discrimination that ends up robbing us of our voice, our courage and our identity, leaving us to feel nothing but shame and guilt.
So, as we march united with these movements, we need to challenge our blind financial support of such industries. For them, #TimesUp. As Jones recommends, we need to fund alternative mechanisms that share our causes, where we are empowered and celebrated, rather than mocked and shamed to feel inferior. Only then, when we can find what makes us great again, can we define our identity and reclaim our what is rightfully ours.
Mohamed Hammoud has been involved in various public speaking engagements focusing on interfaith as well as training on leadership, diversity and inclusion. This piece is part of a series titled, "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario". Writers interested interested in participating are encouraged to join the NCM Collective.
By: Summer Fanous in Toronto
In 1916, women across the nation rejoiced as Manitoba became the first province to grant women the right to vote. Looking back, it's almost ludicrous to think that gender could determine one’s status within society. Fast forward 100 years, however, and women around the world are still at the forefront, advocating for much needed change. Silenced for far too long, women are passionately speaking out about inequalities and injustices everywhere they can, including in books. Telling Our Stories: Immigrant Women's Resilience is creating awareness about sexual abuse among immigrant and refugee women. Women’s voices are to be heard, and they are demanding equal opportunity. And the world is listening. Even Saudi Arabia, which previously served as the only country that still barred women from driving, will make a change in a ruling set for 2018 implementation. Canada, on the other hand, is a country that affords equal rights to men and women.
7.5 million people immigrated to Canada in 2016. And while specific motives may differ, the country’s stance on equality and the subsequent avenues of opportunity are a big reason such a diverse range of people can call it ‘home’. Based on recent findings, the Ministry of the Status of Women reports that 55% of all Canadian doctors and dentists are females. An optimistic sign of the progress that has been accomplished thus far. However, equal rights don’t always mean equal pay. In Ontario, for example, the average woman earns $33,600 annually, while a man earns $49,000.
As if that’s not enough to bring spirits down, other hurdles still exist when it comes to leadership amongst women. The Canadian government, along with Skills for Change has been conducting periodic Gender Based Analysis’ since 1995 with the most recent one taking place in 2013. The findings identify the following 8 barriers: Language and Communication, Looking for Opportunity, Unemployment, Lack of Confidence, Cultural Differences, Working Survival Jobs, Finances and Refugee Status.
New Canadian Media (NCM), along with Skills for Change and the Vanier Institute for the Family are partnering up on an exciting project available to members of the NCM Collective. Together with the Ontario multiculturalism program, NCM has been commissioned to produce a series of 20 original pieces of journalism that speak to this theme: Women as full participants in Ontario’s immigration story.
Female members of the NCM Collective have the opportunity to showcase different perspectives on a range of topics. With a focus on Ontario’s rich multi-culture, these individual pieces will provide a better understanding of the talent that the mainstream so often ignores. Even in a country that emphasizes equality, women are not always provided the same opportunities to express themselves as their male counterparts.
Writers interested in participating are encouraged to join the NCM Collective for an opportunity. Additional details such as compensation and content guidelines will be communicated as pitches are received.
By: Sara Asalya in Toronto, ON
Newcomers to Canada face numerous challenges from the moment they land; most significantly managing their finances and successfully transitioning within their respective careers. In the majority of cases, acquiring a Canadian education or certification can be the only pathway to enter the local job market. However, given their limited financial resources and the various barriers to essential services, they can be in serious risk of losing their savings and wasting years of their life trying to get back on track. Consequently, they find themselves facing two choices: either start from scratch by going back to school, or accept a low-wage survival job to support their families. In many cases, newcomers don’t have the resources and financial means to access education. I was one of the immigrants who chose to go back to school and obtain some Canadian credentials.
But how in the first place did I end up being an immigrant in Canada? If ever there was a day that has been burned into my memory, it is Dec 27th, 2008. The first day of the 2008 war on Gaza and the day that changed my life forever. As a Palestinian, I was born and raised in a war-torn country and thus war was familiar to me. However, a time came when the familiar became unfamiliar—when the bombings destroyed my home at the time I had become a new mother. After witnessing 40 days of war and violence in Gaza and losing my childhood home, friends and family members; I decided that I no longer wanted to live there and raise my children in this nightmare. Brushing shoulders with death left an irreversible impact on me.
Arriving safely in Canada with my family was the beginning of a new journey. I thought all my fears and nightmares were behind me now. But the reality was different. There was a fear and uncertainty of the future. Where to go? How to start? And what do I want? To summarize, what I have learned from my first couple of months in Canada is that it all comes down to your Canadian credentials and who you know to find a job here. With zero connections and no Canadian references or experience, I decided to go back to school and gain some Canadian credentials that might open doors for me.
In 2015, I enrolled in the Community Engagement, Leadership and Development post graduate certificate at Ryerson University. My educational experience here was not an easy one. On my first day of school, I was stressed because I looked different than everyone I saw walking in the corridors. In my classes, I seemed to be the only mother and mature student whose first language was not English. I felt lost and lonely. I nervously spent two weeks preparing for my first three-minute presentation. I finished my presentation in less than a minute and I just wanted the earth to swallow me. I persevered, worked hard, and finished my certificate with a GPA of 3.96 out of 4.
Who was that person who was so insecure to do a three-minute presentation two years ago? In the short time of two years, I went from being anxious about a short presentation to being a leader who moderates panel discussions and accepts speaking invitations from Toronto colleges and local media outlets. This is more like the person I was before I came to Canada and someone I relate to as ‘me’. So why did it take me, then, a new immigrant, this time to navigate this system and return to my former self? There seems to be a fundamental lack of accessible support systems in higher education institutions for people like me, adult immigrant students who need to regain their confidence through adequate information, engagement and empowerment. No one should experience wanting the earth to just swallow them up.
My first-hand experience in a Canadian university campus has prompted me to make changes at Ryerson for the community of new immigrants of which I am a part. I formed the Newcomer Students’ Association of Ryerson (NSAR); the first student group of its kind for newcomer, immigrant and refugee students. I dedicated much of my time to empower this immigrant community with a special focus on their higher education experiences. Moreover, I managed to create the “NSAR Scholarship” for newcomer and adult immigrant students to empower and help them in their educational journeys. One of the biggest challenges I faced as an adult immigrant student was finding a community that I could belong to while re-positioning my identity. Through the group I formed at Ryerson, I aim to build an inclusive community for newcomer and adult immigrant students to help them create their own spaces.
After I enrolled at Ryerson, I noticed the increasing need to create a support and transition system for newcomer and immigrant students at postsecondary institutions. I also noticed the service gap. There was no system in place nor policies or programs to support my community at Ryerson. Even though Ryerson has been a leader in supporting immigrant and refugee communities, I believe it has the capacity to do so much more. In light of the changing landscape, I think Ryerson University can take a leadership position in changing policies and providing programming for newcomers to facilitate their post-secondary experiences.
Education is a core sector for human development and access to higher level of education can have an extraordinary, long-term and far-reaching impact on empowering communities. Universities should, therefore, invest in creating support systems for migrant students to ease their transition and integration process.
NSAR aims to build an inclusive community on the Ryerson campus that promotes community development and involvement. Our vision is of an inclusive society that values the skills and contributions of newcomers, immigrants, and their allies and actively engenders a sense of belonging within communities.
My team and I work to help newcomer and immigrant students make a smooth transition into the Canadian education system by providing peer support, cultural integration, information sessions, and networking events. Moreover, we help them in their pursuits educationally and professionally. My team also works on researching the challenges facing newcomer and adult immigrant students at Ryerson by soliciting feedback from these students to provide recommendations to the school. Most recently, we organized an international students' conference for the first time, that focused on the experiences of newcomers, immigrants, and refugees who had moved on to pursue higher educations. We also collaborated with the Scope radio at Ryerson University to create our own radio show that will host migrant students to learn about the challenges they face and their needs in higher education institutions. We also tend to look at the broader picture and analyze some of the immigration policies that might hinder newcomer integration and prevent them from accessing education.
NSAR has a special focus on immigrant women and that is why we established the “empowering immigrant women club”. The Ryerson club was established when we noticed a large number of female ethnic students struggled to attend their classes because of the lack of an affordable child-care system. Newcomers can’t afford to pay the high costs of childcare and education simultaneously, which results in many of these women dropping courses and eventually withdrawing from university. This club creates a support system for these women by offering free childcare, peer support and professional development. All women in the club work to back each other and build a self-sufficient support system.
Based on my first daunting encounter with the Canadian education system, I would have never thought that I would understand it or navigate through it, let alone flourish and achieve my potential. I made a promise to myself that I will always strive to help make this experience as welcoming and as accommodating as possible for every immigrant and newcomer to this country who has the desire and ability to pursue their passions and dreams.
Sara Alysa is the founder and president of the Newcomer Students’ Association of Ryerson (NSAR) as well as the Vice President of Events and Outreach at the Continuing Education Students' Association of Ryerson (CESAR). Her main interests are in looking at the experiences of migrant students in higher education and what post-secondary institutions offer for these students.
Commentary by: Pradip Rodrigues in Mississauga, ON
Last week the Quebec government released details on how it planned on disbursing $36.4 million to struggling newspapers over the next five years. This money is to help smaller newspapers that are especially hit by a steep ad revenue decline. The idea is to help newspapers make that inevitable digital transition. Print news media will have until Jan. 15 to present their plans and vision for a digital future. Those publishers with foresight will prevail, the rest will simply fold up and fade into the sunset. They don’t call print media a sunset industry for nothing.
This plan would help only legitimate newspapers that can provide proof in black and white that they have devoted their time and energy toward truly supporting and chronicling the life and times in their respective communities.
Federal help not in the cards as yet
Last September, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly outlined government’s vision for cultural and creative industries in a digital world which would help those in the television industry but it didn’t include the moribund print industry. A federal boost to the Canada Media Fund is set for 2018, to cover the shortfall caused by the drop in money from the private sector.
Late last month, a deal between Torstar Corp. and Postmedia Network Inc. saw them selling newspapers to each other and in the process close 21 of the 22 community newspapers, this costs 244 jobs, many of them professional journalists.
Over the past few years, hundreds of journalists all across north America have lost their jobs as newspapers close down, merge or transition to digital.
Journalists face a bleak future
To be a journalist in the current climate, one may as well be a tech whiz or be able to tweet at great speed. Few newspapers that have transitioned to digital are turning a profit because for some strange reason no one wants to pay for anything on the net and gone are the days when households subscribed to newspapers. In the case of many community newspapers, you can’t get people to pick it up for free.
The only media house in Canada whose future isn’t in jeopardy happens to be CBC a fully taxpayer funded enterprise costing us big bucks- $1.04 billion in 2015 and given the intense competition it faces, an additional $150 million by the end of 2017.
While there is enough justification put out by successive governments why the CBC is important, there have been few who’ve made a case about the importance of keeping community newspapers alive.
There is even less of a case being made in regard to ethnic newspapers in major cities across Canada and that is more a result of short-sightedness on the part of publishers or the fact that many of them start newspapers simply out of spite for a fellow community businessman or to promote themselves or their other real businesses or perhaps even to run for public office one day.
When it comes to South Asian newspapers the situation is comical and often farcical, there are dozens of newspapers some of which exist in name and are published occasionally, others have upto 80 or 90 or even 100 percent of their news that is about India, Bollywood or just lifts from the web. Community news coverage is an after-thought if at all so it is unlikely that a majority of these so-called ethnic publications could qualify for any government help in the near future.
Government help could be too late
It is a matter of time before pressure is brought upon Ontario and other provinces to help out ethnic community newspapers given the large and growing immigrant community. Already there are influential South Asians who are mobilizing to rally for the cause of ethnic community newspapers. Unfortunately or rather fortunately, only a handful of genuine ethnic community newspapers, some of which are on life support will receive government funding. The criteria for receiving these funds would require these newspapers to make a case for their survival and provide proof of being a community newspaper and of course having professional journalists helming these newspapers would help the cause.
Few ethnic newspapers are quality products
I spoke with an influential and politically active South Asian recently on the state of the South Asian ethnic media and he mentioned he could only think of a handful of newspapers worth reading, the rest in his words were ‘garbage.’
Even if Ontario were to follow Quebec’s lead on supporting community newspapers and help them transition to a digital future, it will already have been too late. Hundreds of journalists are been forced to make a humiliating exit from the profession given the reality. Some have taken to writing blogs nobody reads or emails to long lost relatives hoping to be included in their Wills. But for the vast majority of laid-off journalists, the only meaningful writing they’ll do is writing their professional obituaries.
It is harder for community newspapers to ever entice talented journalists to invest their time and talent because they don’t see a future for the newspaper and would either opt for public relations or something online.
When it comes to ethnic newspapers, the situation is even more hopeless. It’s a Catch-22 situation, publishers cannot attract or retain talent because they are either unable or unwilling to pay their writers according to industry and Canadian standards, with the result, the quality of community coverage is minimal or negligible. So even when Ontario decides to spent up to a million dollars on ethnic publication, few if any will qualify. It is harder to manufacture proof of community coverage than it is to fudge circulation figures.
Smart mainstream media houses are meanwhile bolstering coverage of ethnic communities and are hiring token South Asian journalists in the hope that they can be ready for government handouts if and when it comes. Meanwhile ethnic community newspapers across the country with a few exceptions will continue to flounder. Mercifully it won’t be a loss to the community because there is little community news in the first place. By default it will be the big players that will benefit from any provincial or federal financial help. I for one won’t be around when all of that happens.- CINEWS
Republished under arranagement with Canindia News.
Commentary by: Mona Mashhadi Rajabi in Tehran, Iran
I was standing in front of my suitcase and thought about what I had packed into it. I had one suitcase for my documents and their certified translations, as well as one suitcase for my clothes and other personal belongings.
Two suitcases for a person who wanted to move to another country and pursue Ph.D. studies. A person who had lived 32 years in her home country and had a history in that place.
I assumed that the most important things that I could carry with me were the documents that spoke to my education and work history.
All the important documents that I gathered in my life were in a suitcase. They included my certificates, recommendation letters, writing samples, medical documents, especially those of my daughter, and the identity documents of my three-member-family: my husband, my daughter, and I.
I also had to pack up the university documents as I wanted to pursue my study and they were required in order to register in the program. So I put my Master's and Bachelor's degrees as well as my transcripts in the suitcase.
I prepared all the documents and certified translations of my bank accounts, even going as far as including the deed to my apartment in Tehran.
With all of my documents piled into in one suitcase, the thought struck me: “Is this really all I have gained in my life?”
How could I prove myself to the people who neither know me nor my country?
Would Canada recognize my documents?
So I packed everything and moved to Canada.
Following registration, the start of the program revealed that most of the newly admitted Ph.D. students would be required to enroll in some of the foundational courses from the Master's program due to their foreign credentials. The move signified that their foreign Master's degrees were not fully recognized.
The documents that illustrated what I had been doing professionally were not useful at all either. After surfing the Internet and talking to many people who had been living in Canada for many years, I learned that without “Canadian work experience” it would be difficult to find a good job.
So none of my documents were really useful. No one knew me, the universities that I got my degrees from, and the companies that I had worked for. So what was the point of carrying all these documents?
It was a heart-breaking moment. I moved to Canada in the hopes of being able to do what I was good at, could do well and was the dream of all my life, but Canada did not recognize my credentials.
The surprising part of the story was that the government had assessed and accepted me based on these same documents. The university had accepted that I studied for at least 17 years – but still did not give me full credit for Master"s degree. The job market discounted my credentials even further.
The Canadian job market cared not about what I had done but what I was going to do in Canada. It seemed to me that Canada needed talented and hardworking people and granted them admission to Canada under different visa programs based on their achievements in their home country. But after moving in, Canada wanted to educate them based on the skills that were needed in the country, and making them ready for their own job market.
It was at this moment that I realized that all I had to bring to Canada was a prepared me: A person who knew what was waiting for her in this moving process, a person who was ready to embrace the new situation and ready to learn new things, a person who wished to start afresh as she contemplated that a brighter future would eventually come, and a person who did not become disappointed from the hardships along the way.
After I moved to Canada and witnessed the reality, I decided not to rely too much on my achievements and experiences in Iran. I decided to be eager to learn new things and routines in the hope that hard work will eventually pay off.
I was ready to make a new beginning without my documents and titles, so I could write a new life story.
This piece is part of a mini-series within New Canadian Media’s Mentorship Program. The writer was mentored by Alireza Ahmadian.
Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.
Commentary by: Ted Alcuitas in Vancouver, BC
President Rodrigo Duterte must have been following what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father said when asked if he would raise the issue of human rights with the dictator Ferdinand Marcos more than 30 years ago.
“Nobody likes to be told by an outsider how to run his own government,” said the elder Trudeau.
Duterte gets ‘insulted’ by Trudeau’s criticism of the ‘drug war’.
Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte lashed out at Justin Trudeau for criticizing his (Duterte’s) war on drugs … a campaign which has seen more than 12,000 people killed, according to Human Rights Watch — 2,555 of them by the Philippine National Police.
“It is a personal and official insult…. It angers me when you are a foreigner, you do not know what exactly is happening in this country,” fumed Duterte. “You don’t even investigate.”
While Trudeau has been criticized for his photo-ops while in the Philippines for the ASEAN Summit, he deserves credit for standing up to the Philippine strongman, known worldwide for his ascerbic tongue and foul language.
Beyond his posturing with the iconic Philippine fast-food chain Jollibee and riding the new jeepney, Trudeau was the only Western leader to raise the issue of human rights including that of Rohingya with Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi.
In contrast, U.S. President Donald Trump had a bromance with Duterte, saying they had a “great relationship” and even laughing approvingly when Duterte called the media “spies”.
Trudeau was not risking much direct economic damage by confronting Duterte.
Canadian exports to the Philippines totaled $626 million in 2016, while imports totaled $1.35 billion.
But the PM’s motivation may not have been completely free of political calculation. Currently the Philippines ranks as the top source country for new immigrants, with 41,785 new permanent residents in 2016 alone.
In a press conference after his meeting with Duterte, Trudeau was also praised by Philippine media for among others, his “unabashed” mention of Canada’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) as ‘feminist’, pledging his continued support for women’s reproductive rights.
He admitted that Canada is not perfect and that it has it’s own human rights problems especially with regard to its indigenous people.
On the issue of the rotting Canadian garbage, Trudeau is seeing a final solution now that the barrier posed by Canadian law has been overcome. It is now only a question of who pays for the return to the trash given that it was a private business venture in the first place.
While he was generally rated favourably by local media, the question remains if having a good heart alone is enough in politics.
Republished under arrangement with the Philippine Canadian News.
Commentary by: Dan Kelly in Toronto, ON
Governments of all stripes are often eager to turn the page in times of tumult.
It's probably an appropriate strategy: when you're in the midst of turmoil, it's best to change the conversation by presenting the public with some positive news.
Last week — following three months of intense backlash culminating from their small business tax proposals — the federal government introduced some 'cheerful' news in the form of their fall economic statement. In it, the government trumpeted lower-than-projected deficits, solid GDP growth and improving job numbers. They also increased the Canada child benefit by indexing it to inflation as of July 2018 and boosting their working income tax benefit for low-income Canadians in the workforce.
Much of this is good news, but has the page turned?
Not so fast.
The smaller deficit number is welcome but what's missing is a plan to get back to a balanced budget. Right now the country's economy is improving, but are we prepared for the next slowdown? What tax tools or levers will the government be forced to implement when the rainy days eventually come and revenue growth inevitably drops?
A plan towards deficit elimination should be a priority right now.
What was also missing from the government's economic update were details on its revised small business tax proposals.
Thanks to a three-month unprecedented backlash from the small business community, the government has partially retreated on their tax measures.
Most importantly, they dropped provisions to limit the use of capital gains in business succession. They also exempted up to $50,000 in annual passive income from proposed higher tax rates on the money firms have invested for future expansion or for the business owner's retirement.
They even reinstated a 2015 election promise to reduce the small business corporate tax rate to nine per cent. That promise — which had been abandoned in the 2016 budget — will help return hundreds of millions of dollars to independent business owners. The government should be congratulated for these important moves.
But while the feds have backed away from their original bluster (which included characterizing small business owners as tax-cheats), version 2.0 of the tax measures will still make it more difficult for business owners to grow their businesses, innovate and create jobs.
We await further details to understand the full effects of these proposals on small businesses and their families. In particular, we need details on whether the passive income threshold will be indexed to inflation or what the CRA test will be for income shared among family members associated with a business.
Aside from the proposed tax changes, small business owners still face a myriad of other challenges.
We are anxious about the NAFTA negotiations — the current U.S. administration muses about killing the trilateral pact. What happens if NAFTA is terminated? There are also major tax hikes going ahead, including EI and CPP rates, carbon taxes on top of rising borrowing costs, higher minimum wages and new labour legislation in some provinces.
So, while the federal government may wish to turn this page — for small business owners, the next page still has a lot of question marks.
Dan Kelly serves as President, Chief Executive Officer and Chair of the Board of Governors of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). Republished under arrangement with the Asian Pacific Post.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit