By: Davina Bhandar in Vancouver
Within the space of a few moments, Jagmeet Singh became one of Canada’s most admired politicians. His cool-under-pressure reaction to being confronted by an angry heckler is just one of the reasons Singh is considered to be the favourite contender for leadership of the federal New Democratic Party.
A video of the Sept. 6 incident at Singh’s campaign event in Brampton, Ont., went viral and has been viewed millions of times in Canada and around the world. Moments into the event, an angry white woman interrupted Singh and shouted Islamophobic and vitriolic statements at him, and physically gesticulated, demonstrating her feeling of entitlement — to space, voice and position - in relation to others at the event.
Singh seemed undeterred by the outburst. His response to her rant was to rally his audience to help him relay his campaign message. He asked his guests to chant: “Love and courage.”
What is the nature of Singh’s call for love? His political slogan is based on a message of universal love and courage. Singh’s message — and chant that evening — is uniquely situated among the slogans of the three other candidates: Charlie Angus “Got your back,” Niki Ashton “Building a movement, together,” and Guy Caron, “Let’s Build a Progressive and Sustainable Economy.”
The dramatic events at the Sept. 6 meeting demonstrates something about Singh, as a person and as a candidate. It also points to new undercurrents of religion and spirituality and its role — not only in Canadian politics, but also in the leadership race for the NDP.
Singh’s campaign and potential leadership arrives in a climate of increasing hatred, fear and division. His call for universal love is coherent with Sikhism, which challenges the division between daily life and a devotional love that guides all thought and action. How does the language of love and courage relate to a New Democratic Party trying to find its way in a shifting political landscape?
Singh’s outward appearance solicits questions from some Canadians — as in the case of the heckler — regarding his secular position: To what degree does Singh’s religion relate to his policy ideas or conduct?
Canadian political institutions and traditions are imbued with Judeo-Christian values and symbols. Yet the separation of church and state maintains religion does not dictate the making of policy and law. However, in the game of politics, courting ethno-racial, national and religious identified voters has become a central art of party campaign strategists.
Political parties of all persuasions have had to navigate this division in a variety of ways. In Canada, the left social democratic tradition, represented now by the NDP, has had less experience with faith-based movements and the religious identity of its leaders than their right-wing counterparts and left-leaning parties elsewhere in the world. Singh’s leadership challenge will likely change that.
While Singh is positioned as a secular politician, his ethos, sense of justice and formation of his identity is connected to a Sikh practice. The very essence of the message of universal love and courage is embedded in a Sikh devotion, rather than a secular idea of loving all humankind. Practising Sikhism defines a way of life — one that is contemplative, meditative and committed to spiritualism and positive actions.
To understand the contemporary role of religion in politics, we need to look at one of our turning points: 9/11. The attacks on New York City and the Pentagon served as a marker of the time foreign and domestic policy in North America was called upon to name Islamic terrorism as a universal enemy.
Once North America and other western governments embraced the rhetoric of a civilization divide, the psyche of liberal democratic nations split apart. The already tenuous divide between the religious and secular began to rupture further.
This reinforced a binary division and emboldened a powerful discourse of racism and Islamophobia. The basic premise is that Islam represents something universally distinct from Christian belief systems.
This discourse of racism and difference has gained strength and societal control through the election of conservative governments with moral platforms that build on fears and anxieties of susceptible citizens.
Sixteen years of corrosive discourses since 9/11 has led to: Us vs. Them, the Clash of Civilizations and racism. We are now at the point of the normalization of white supremacy. It is no longer an oddity or a left-wing conspiracy theory to discuss the presence of fascism and neo-Nazis — these are events widely circulated in our social media feeds and featured during the evening news.
Islamophobia and racism are often understood to be twinned structures of oppression. In many ways they are, but there are complex differences between them. They disseminate and exist in different political, cultural and social taxonomies.
Islamophobia operates through systems of stereotypes, often misunderstanding or misrepresenting the traditions, religious practices and customs of highly diverse ethno-national and racial communities. Islamophobia has been manufactured in multiple ways in society through popular culture, media, policy and criminalizing targeting Islam and Muslims.
Racism is a larger systemic operation of power denigrating one race while validating or elevating another.
When the Harper Conservatives were in government, they attempted to map onto Canadian national values a form of social conservatism. This was articulated through a distinction between Canada and the “barbaric cultural practices” of others.
The clear lines that were being drawn between what Harper referred to as “old stock Canadians” during a 2015 federal leaders’ debate brought into discourse front and center the relationship between white supremacy and Islamophobia. It connected the dots between a normative white Christian Canadian identity that could stand against the racialized others.
Now the Conservative Party has a leader who proudly accepts the label: “Harper with a Smile.”“ Andrew Scheer has the support of social conservatives in the Conservative Party. He has steadfastly supported free speech over the condemnation of Islamophobia and was absent during the House of Commons vote for the Anti-Islamophobia Motion M-103, overwhelmingly passed in the House of Commons.
Singh said his ability to remain cool under pressure was largely owed to his experience of being a brown, Sikh and turbaned man, growing up in the 1980s in Brampton, Ont., just northwest of Toronto.
His past experiences of religious and racist intolerance helped to fortify him against racist language and assault.
In the moment in which the racist woman yelled at him, she assumed he was a Muslim. Many wondered why Singh did not attempt to correct her misconceived perception; he is not a Muslim, but rather, a Sikh.
Suggesting such a distinction in the moment, he said, would only further the misunderstanding that somehow being Muslim means such treatment is considered justifiable. His reaction, he said, should not be to proclaim his religion. By not correcting this misconception, Singh was acting in solidarity against Islamophobia.
Sikhs have been affected throughout the post-9/11 discourses of Islamophobia, mainly because of this misunderstood identity. In the U.S., and elsewhere, there has been a rise in hate bias attacks against Sikhs, with the 2012 Oak Creek, Wis., shooting as a visible example.
While there are those who, in the similar vein as Singh, have sought to challenge Islamophobia by standing in solidarity, there have also been many instances where Sikhs in America, the U.K. and Canada painstakingly distinguish themselves from Muslims.
However, in countless examples, when Islamophobia is experienced in the public sphere against properly identified Muslims, there has been a lack of outcry.
In Canada, the shooting deaths in Quebec’s Sainte-Foy’s Mosque, in which Azzedine Soufiane, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubakar Thabthi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Mamadou Tanou Barry, and Ibrahim Barry were killed, was unmistakably an act of terrorism. Canadians across the country mourned this tragedy. And yet was it recognized as an act of terrorism against the citizens of this state?
The day-to-day effects of Islamophobia have led to many Muslims living with heightened experiences of fear and not knowing what they might encounter on a walk to school, a day at work or even waiting for a bus.
The left social-democrats of the NDP hold steadfastly to their conception of justice, fairness and equality in a secular world. The ways in which people are encountering the public today, however, is seemingly much murkier than these stark divisions.
The issues of racism, religious intolerance and social justice are not central issues for any federal political party. These issues, however, should no longer be viewed as separate from major policy platforms including health, welfare reform, employment, national defense, national security, aboriginal relations and education. Perhaps a political leader such as Jagmeet Singh will be able to navigate these debates with an alacrity and style we have yet to witness in the Canadian political world.
by Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver, British Columbia
Identity determines how we value ourselves and how others perceive us. Its significance has increased with globalization, migration and technological advancements. Many people today consider themselves to have multiple identities, while others are happy with a single identifier.
In The Relevance of Islamic Identity in Canada: Culture, Politics, and Self, a book edited by Nurjehan Aziz, 12 authors grapple with the idea of Islamic identity in Canada.
Panel discussions on the book have been held throughout Canada, including in Vancouver.
The book documents the everyday lives of several Canadian Muslims. Some authors write about their own experiences, others about the Muslim community in Canada. Some essays are written in an academic style, while others are personal narratives.
Islam in post-Harper Canada
Almost every chapter criticizes the government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper for “targeting” or “scapegoating” Muslims for political gain.
Haroon Siddiqui’s chapter, “Anti-Muslim Bigotry Goes Official — Canada’s Newest Dark Chapter,” deals with the experiences of Muslims under the Harper government.
He presents a list of what he calls “Islamophobic” actions, speeches, policies or legislation undertaken by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, immigration ministers Chris Alexander and Jason Kenney, and other Conservative members of Parliament and senators.
Authors debate Muslim identity
In some instances, one author in the book responds to the concerns or questions raised by another. Safia Fazlul says she “lives on the fringe of being ‘somewhat liberal Canadian’ and ‘somewhat conservative Muslim South Asian.’”
Her inability and unwillingness to live strictly in one category led her to be discriminated against and excluded by “both liberal and secular Canadians and traditional Muslim Canadians.” People do not accept her even though she is comfortable with her multiple identities.
Ameen Merchant, on the other hand, raises a valid point about subjectivity and somewhat ignores the opinions of others about his relationship with Islam.
“My sense of Muslim identity may not be another’s definition of what a Muslim ought to be and it also may not be in line with scripture and sacred text,” he writes. "Then again, my subjectivity is also not anyone else’s. It is multifarious absorbent, and always subject to change. And it is my own.”
Mohamed Abualy Alibhai’s suggestion that Muslims in North America “abandon the belief in the verbal revelation of the Qur'an,” mirrors arguments raised by activist and author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, mainly that the literal understanding of the Qur'an must be “reformed or discarded.”
Furthermore, Alibhai advocates for a conscience-based Islamic denomination, as if it does not exist. However, a look at Karim H. Karim’s chapter illustrates how Aga Khan, the Imam or spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, has been doing what Alibhai argues is needed.
“The Islamic leader presents the concepts of ethics, democracy, development, meritocracy, pluralism and quality of life as some of the ‘brides that unite’ ways of understanding that are religious and secular,” writes Karim about Aga Khan.
The Ismaili leader’s ideas of the Qur'an underlie his discourse, but he rarely makes overt religious references in his speeches.
At the same time, Alibhai is dismissive of Muslim reformist thinkers who reinterpret the Islamic texts to accommodate the realities of modern life. Monia Mazigh’s chapter, for example, illustrates how Islamic discourses can be invoked to disprove the notion of men’s perceived superiority over women.
Interpreting modern Islam
There are different ways to convince different people of the same issue. You can argue that robbery is socially unacceptable, morally reprehensible, illegal, or against your religion. Each one of those arguments is valid depending on the audience. The argument based on religion is more appealing to a religious person.
In the same vein, we need Muslim reformist thinkers to use Islam to fight against radical interpretations of the religion.
Some of the authors identify as “inconsistent Muslim” or “cultural Muslim,” however, we do not see a representation from an “observant Muslim” – those who may imprecisely be called conservative or traditional Muslims.
These are the proud Canadian Muslims who follow all Islamic laws and traditions and believe that they can also be civically engaged Canadians.
Furthermore, three of the authors are of Arab origin and the rest are South Asian. The Muslim community in Canada is much more diverse and the overwhelming majority of them are not represented in this book.
Overall, Aziz’s book is a success as it represents a segment of an underrepresented group of Canadian citizens: Muslims who are spoken, about but rarely given the chance to speak for themselves.
Alireza Ahmadian is a Vancouver-based writer and researcher. He has a Masters of Arts in International Affairs and Diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He has appeared on BBC World News and BBC Persian to discuss world affairs and is published on online forums such as New Canadian Media, BBC, and foreign policy blogs.
by BJ Siekierski in Ottawa
Patrick Brown has already taken the Ontario Progressive Conservative party in a new direction since becoming its leader — now he’s encouraging his former federal colleagues to do the same as they try to reinvent themselves in the post-Harper era.
On Saturday afternoon, over 300 people filled a warehouse in Barrie, Ontario to hear from Brown and six current Conservative MPs, all of whom are at least exploring the possibility of running for the Conservative party leadership.
The event was called “Conservative Futures” and the majority of them were confident about the party’s prospects in 2019, convinced the Liberal government will defeat itself through a combination of bigger-than-promised deficits, unmet promises, and arrogance.
Fewer, however, were willing to really look critically at the past — and specifically the last election.
Patrick Brown was an exception.
“(It’s) important to have this pause and understand where mistakes have been made so we can go into the future with a sense of conviction that we’re on the right path. My sense, showing up to probably about 1,000 cultural events in the last year in the GTA, is that if we do not defend minority communities of every religion, of every race, then every other cultural group will say: are we next?” he told the crowd.
“I think we lost our way when we did not say that unequivocally. I think there were mistakes made, and I think we have to learn from that.”
Reconnecting with ethnocultural communities
As both his and Jason Kenney’s persistent outreach to different ethnic communities have proved, Brown added, many ethnic minorities share Conservative values. But the party went “too far” with its niqab rhetoric during the federal election campaign.
They alienated voters they’d spent years bringing into the Conservative tent.
It was a blunt assessment that only Conservative MP Michael Chong would come close to matching on Saturday.
“I think it’s clear in the last election we lost the ethnocultural communities in this country, and we need to regain their trust,” Chong said.
He then recounted the struggles his father faced as a Chinese immigrant to the country in the 1950s, only four years after the repeal of the Chinese exclusion act. And the struggles he faced as a “mixed-race kid” growing up in rural Ontario in the 1970s.
“I tell you these stories because we need to reconnect with ethnocultural communities. We need to tell them that we understand the challenges of coming to a new country, often with a foreign language. We need to tell them that we understand the barriers that they face; that we understand their fears, hopes, and aspirations; that we understand the plight of Syrian refugees coming to this country, scared, facing an environment unknown,” he said.
Closer to turning the page
Though Chong acknowledged the mistakes, he didn’t mention the niqab specifically. Nor did he mention the barbaric cultural practices tip line Conservative candidates Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander introduced in the final weeks of the last campaign, and which was met with widespread scorn and derision.
Leitch, who spoke of the need for tolerance on Saturday, didn’t touch on it either.
“We know as Conservatives that we have to make sure that every Canadian is treated fairly and equally,” she said.
“We are the party where families of all religious backgrounds, of all ethnic backgrounds, have a home. As Patrick was mentioning, Jason Kenney has done outstanding work in reaching out to so many different groups across this country. He did a remarkable job. And he had many of us join him in doing that.”
A few weeks ago at the Manning Centre Conference in Ottawa, it was clear Conservatives were still bothered by the divisive identity politics that featured so prominently in the last campaign.
On Saturday in Barrie, five months to the day Canadians replaced a Conservative majority with a Liberal one, they came a bit closer to turning the page.
But they didn’t get all the way there.
“The reality is, in four years there will be people looking for change,” Brown said. “And if the Conservative Party has the courage to talk in a positive fashion…I believe there’s going to be a lot more Conservative MPs, and one of the people running for this Conservative leadership will be the prime minister of Canada.”
Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
by Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver
In this piece, journalist Alireza Ahmadian discusses Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia with Cesar Jaramillo, Executive Director of Project Ploughshares, a non-governmental organization working in Canada and abroad to advocate for policy reform to prevent war and armed violence.
The deal, valued at almost $15 billion, is the largest arms export contract in Canadian history and was awarded during the 2013-2014 fiscal year. It will see the shipment of an undisclosed number of light armoured vehicles, manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems, based in London, ON, to Saudi Arabia.
It is not just HRW and AI who condemn the abysmal human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. Every authoritative organization in the world consistently ranks Saudi Arabia among the worst human rights violators [on] the planet.
There is a widespread and well-documented pattern of violations of virtually every category of human rights in Saudi Arabia, so Canadians should definitely be concerned about the possibility that Canadian-made goods might be used to sustain a repressive regime and enable the further violation of human rights of civilians.
What do we know about how Canadian arms are being used in Saudi Arabia? Are there any safeguards or ways of ensuring these weapons will not be used to violate human rights?
We certainly know about the proclivity of the Saudi regime to systematically target civilians. In 2011, there were reports of Saudi forces using armoured vehicles, such as the ones Canada is set to ship to Saudi Arabia, to crush peaceful civilian protests in neighbouring Bahrain.
The primary safeguard to ensure Canadian goods are not misused should be Canada’s own military export control policy, according to which the government must first determine that “there is no reasonable risk” that Canadian-made military goods might be [used] against civilians.
Given what is widely known about the Saudi dire human rights record, it is hard to comprehend how there can be “no reasonable risk” of misuse. But so far the government has resisted calls to explain how the Saudi arms deal can be reconciled with the human rights safeguards of existing exports controls.
Former foreign affairs minister, John Baird, also said that this deal has economic benefits for Canada. For instance, the arms deal supports “3,000 unionized workers in London, Ontario." What’s wrong with an arms deal that hires 3,000 Canadians?
Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with job creation … However, we must recognize that this is a special case that merits special scrutiny. Valued at $15 billion, this is by far the largest military exports contract in Canadian history. And, as stated above, it is widely accepted that Saudi Arabia is a human rights pariah.
So, while job creation is a legitimate pursuit of any government, in a case as egregious as this, we must assess as a society what is the real value we place on the protection of human rights.
If economic gains are taken as the sole justification for arms exports authorizations, what’s to stop a country from selling weapons to ISIS or North Korea or organized criminals halfway around the world?
The Harper government did not sign the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that seeks to regulate international arms trade and prevent military exports from fuelling armed conflict and human rights violations. Canada is the only country in North America, the only member of the G7 group of industrialized nations, and the only one of the 28 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, that has not signed the treaty.
It is worthwhile to note that countries such as Syria, Pakistan, North Korea and Saudi Arabia are also non-signatories.
Do you think that signing this Treaty would address concerns over lack of transparency in Canada’s arms deals with other countries? How so? Do you think the new government will sign the treaty?
Yes, I believe the new government will accede to the Arms Trade Treaty. It was an election pledge of Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau, and was a specific priority of foreign affairs minister [Stéphane] Dion’s mandate. This is a position to be welcomed and encouraged.
The ATT entails increased expectations of transparency around arms deals and greater vigilance in regards to the end users of military exports.
At the same time, Canada may find itself sending a mixed message about its willingness to live up to the ATT’s heightened expectations of transparency when legitimate concerns about the human rights implications of the Saudi arms deal remain unaddressed.
It has been reported that in May 2015, Martin Zablocki, the president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Commercial Corporation, the crown corporation that brokered the arms deal with Saudi Arabia, said that the Middle East is a “strategic region” for Canadian arms sales. How does this deal serve Canada’s strategic interests? What would you say to those who argue that other countries are selling arms to the Middle East?
It is a strategic region from a purely business perspective, of course. It is no secret that the previous government made economic diplomacy a cornerstone of its foreign policy. In this context, the Canadian [Commercial] Corporation has acted as an active facilitator in the pursuit of these deals, not just as a passive intermediary.
“Everyone else is doing it,” sounds like an argument void of any ethical considerations and undermines the credibility of Canada’s military export controls — which Ottawa calls “some of the strongest in the world.”
The Liberal government said that it would honour the arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Why do you think the Liberals decided to follow through with this deal even though they are trying to undo other aspects of the Conservative’s legacy?
This deal would present a complex policy challenge for any party in power. There is a real confluence of economic, strategic and human rights dimensions that must be taken into consideration. But, again, Saudi Arabia isn’t a case of a handful of unconfirmed human rights violations. The human rights situation in the autocratic kingdom is absolutely abysmal.
In a case where red flags are so apparent one would hope that the government would recognize, at a minimum, the need to publicly explain how this deal can be justified in light of existing export controls.
The Canadian public has a right to know that the economic well-being at home is not being tied to the suppression of human rights elsewhere.
How would you suggest the new government pursue future deals like this?
There are specific human rights safeguards that are part of Canadian military export controls. Of course, however strong they might be on paper, they are only as effective when implemented.
Beyond the need to abide by domestic and international regulations (including the Arms Trade Treaty, following accession) there is a need for greater transparency and oversight around the process by which arms exports authorizations are granted.
Commentary by L. Ian MacDonald in Montreal
In one sense, the Liberal majority in the House is good for the Conservatives. It puts them in a position where they needn’t be in any rush to launch a leadership campaign and convention.
No one sees a convention before the spring of 2017, and there’s every reason to consider putting it off until the fall of next year, mid-mandate for the Trudeau government. Unless the Fixed Elections Act is amended, we know now when the next election will be held — on the third Monday in October four years from the previous election. That would be October 20, 2019.
Two years is all the time a new opposition leader needs to establish his or her presence in the House, recruit new candidates, fill the party coffers and hit the hustings.
The money factor is also an argument for delaying a leadership convention. Individual donations are limited by law to $1,500 a year, and by putting the convention off to next year, candidates would be able to raise twice as much money by announcing in the second half of 2016.
In the meantime, the Conservatives have the opportunity to refurbish their brand, in the Commons and in the country. This starts with putting Stephen Harper in the past, where he belongs. But Conservatives can’t really do that while he’s still sitting in the House.
He needs to leave town, and soon. When it’s over, it’s over. And it’s definitely over for Harper, even — and perhaps especially — within the ranks of Conservative MPs, who have been liberated by the departure of the Harper gang. They’re even having fun. Imagine that. And the interim leader, Rona Ambrose, has set a refreshing and exemplary change of tone.
Reflecting on what went wrong
Then there’s the policy convention set for Vancouver at the end of May, which will allow the Conservatives to complete the election post-mortem. That shouldn’t take long. They ran a lousy campaign and deserved to lose. Exhibit A: the barbaric practices snitch line, the precise moment when moderate Conservatives gave up and crossed over to the Liberals.
Conservatives must ask themselves how they can make their party relevant again in Canada’s major cities, where they were clobbered in October. The Greater Toronto Area is the prime example. Where the Conservatives held nine out of 23 downtown 416 seats in the last Parliament, they went zero for 25 in the new House. And where the Tories owned suburban 905 in the last House, with 21 out 22 seats, they were knocked back to only a handful out of 29 in the new one.
Maybe closing Harper’s GTA campaign with the Ford brothers wasn’t such a good idea.
The Conservatives also won zero seats in downtown Vancouver and on the Island of Montreal. It was the same in Ottawa and every city to the East Coast, excepting only Quebec City. Calgary and Edmonton — Conservative heartland — were the only cities in the West won by the Conservatives.
It’s clear that in 2015, most Canadians living in cities didn’t recognize themselves, or their aspirations, in the Conservative party. That should be an important part of policy development, and clearly needs to be addressed in the leadership campaign.
So who’s going to jump in when the race does begin?
Well, Tony Clement for one. He can’t win — but he probably can’t be talked out of it, either.
Maxime Bernier, for another. He can’t win, either. But he represents the economic-libertarian wing of the party, and in the Quebec wing of the party, he would begin as a native son.
Kellie Leitch probably can’t be talked out of running. She was working the room hard last November at the Albany Club’s Sir John A. Macdonald dinner at the Royal York ballroom in Toronto. She is one of the smartest people in any room — but she made a major error in agreeing to front the snitch-line announcement, and she’ll have to get past that.
Michelle Rempel, only 36 at her birthday next month, is probably too young, but that may not stop her from running.
Then there’s Jason Kenney, whose candidacy once was regarded as inevitable. In government, he was in charge of the party’s outreach to multicultural communities, and he built his own network among them. But there’s been very little talk about or support for a Kenney candidacy in the Conservative caucus. It may be that he can be kingmaker, but not king.
Lisa Raitt is whip-smart and, as transport minister in the Conservative government, was among the strongest members of Harper’s last cabinet. A Cape Breton girl turned suburban Toronto hockey mom, she would be a strong candidate. At 47, she represents generational change, with a strong profile in the GTA. But she would need to work on her French.
Outside the caucus, the name of Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall keeps coming up. But he has an election this spring and doesn’t speak French, either. Kevin O’Leary? Please. This is a leadership race, not a reality show.
Finally, there’s Peter MacKay, who probably leads the prospective field in name recognition. He definitely would be the favourite son of Atlantic Canada, and would be the clear choice of the Progressive Conservative wing of the united-right party he co-founded with Harper in 2003. And he’s still only 50.
But MacKay is at a different place in life right now — married to human rights activist Nazanin Afshin-Jam, with two young children at home. As a former justice minister he can practise law in any province, and as a former foreign minister and defence minister, he has a network in G7, G20 and NATO countries. Any big Toronto law firm would be lucky to get him.
The thing is, he hasn’t ruled out a return to politics yet. Unless and until he does, his name will be on the list.
L. Ian MacDonald is editor of Policy, the bi-monthly magazine of Canadian politics and public policy. He is the author of five books. He served as chief speechwriter to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney from 1985-88, and later as head of the public affairs division of the Canadian Embassy in Washington from 1992-94.
Re-published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
by Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver
Analysts and members of the Iranian-Canadian community say they are optimistic about a thawing of relations between Iran and Canada now that a new government is in power.
Despite the fact that a large and dynamic Iranian diaspora calls Canada its home, recent relations between the two countries have been complicated.
In 2012, the Harper government put Iran on the list of State Supporters of Terrorism, closed the Canadian embassy in Iran and expelled Iranian diplomats from Canada. The diplomatic relation between the two governments has since been suspended.
The Conservative government also enacted unilateral sanctions against Iran, some of which adversely affected the lives of Iranian Canadians.
But in June 2015, then prime minister candidate Justin Trudeau told the CBC that he hoped “that Canada would be able to reopen its mission” in Iran and he was “fairly certain that there are ways to re-engage” the Iranian government.
Reasons for a different approach
Observers give different reasons for the Liberal party’s decision to re-engage Iran.
First of all, the Harper government failed to achieve its objectives with regard to its policy toward Iran.
John Mundy, Canada’s last ambassador to Iran, says he believes that the fundamental reason for the Harper government’s Iran policy was “to isolate and de-legitimize Iran.”
The opposite happened though, as the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) re-engaged Iran and reached a nuclear agreement with Tehran.
“Now it’s time for Canada to play catch-up,” says ambassador Mundy, who is writing a book about his time in Iran.
Secondly, there are commercial reasons for re-establishing diplomatic relations with Iran.
Political scientist Thomas Juneau says that re-engagement with Iran is in Canada’s best interests as it provides access to an emerging market for Canadian businesses and citizens who want to do business with the country.
Moreover, Jayson Myers, president and chief executive officer of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters told the Globe and Mail there are tremendous opportunities for Canadian businesses looking to sell to Iran.
Thirdly, there are geopolitical reasons for a change in policy towards Iran.
Political scientist Houchang Hassan-Yari says that the crises in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq, and the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) have created a new strategic environment in which Iran is an important player in the fight against IS.
“This [new geopolitical environment] may have had the Canadian government decide to engage Iran.”
Finally, the Harper government’s Iran policy created problems for members of the Iranian diaspora in Canada who maintain links to Iran and are in need of consular services from the Iranian government in Canada and the Canadian government in Iran.
Mohsen Taghavi, the editor-in-chief and publisher of Persian-English bilingual Weekly Salam Toronto, says that the majority of Iranian Canadians disagreed with the Harper government’s decision to suspend diplomatic relations with Tehran and to impose unilateral sanctions against Iran.
He says that the level of support for the Liberal party amongst Iranian Canadians was much higher in the recent federal election than what he had observed in previous elections and that the party’s Iran policy was an important factor contributing to this.
The Iranian diaspora and the Liberal party
But it was not all about Iran policy.
Taghavi says that Trudeau’s humility, energy, and vision appealed to many members of Canada’s Iranian diaspora.
Furthermore, many of them felt that the Liberal platform best manifested Canadian values. Therefore, their love for Canada and Canadian values, combined with the Liberals' pro-diplomacy approach towards Iran, swayed their vote.
Ambassador Mundy expects Canada and Iran will re-establish diplomatic relations and says he hopes that it becomes possible for Canada to re-open its visa section in order to be able to facilitate immigration and travel between the two countries.
He says that in 2007 when he was Canada’s ambassador to Tehran, “Iran was Canada’s fourth source of new immigrants and the Iranian community in Canada was growing quickly.”
Addressing Canada's concerns
Having diplomatic relations, however, does not mean that Iran and Canada are going to agree on different issues of mutual concern. In fact, all the interviewees for this article acknowledged Canada’s concerns over Iran’s human rights record and regional activities.
Professor Hassan-Yari says that having diplomatic relations with Tehran and starting a dialogue about “our differences with them” could be beneficial.
He concedes that, at first, Iran may not take Canada’s concerns seriously.
“However, when Canada and the Europeans address the same concerns, over time, they can influence the leadership in Tehran,” says Hassan-Yari.
Many Iranian Canadians view the Trudeau government’s approach to Iran as part of a larger worldview in which pragmatism outweighs ideology and diplomacy is utilized to resolve differences.
The future will show whether the Liberals can strengthen its relations with the Iranian diaspora and earn their future votes.
by Janice Dickson in Ottawa
Fulfilling a promise made during the election campaign, the Trudeau government said today it plans to drop the federal government’s appeal in the case of the Canadian woman, Zunera Ishaq, who fought to wear a niqab during her citizenship ceremony.
In a joint statement, Immigration Minister John McCallum and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said: “On November 16, 2015, the Attorney General of Canada notified the Supreme Court of Canada that it has discontinued its application for leave to appeal in the case of Minister of Citizenship and Immigration v. Ishaq.
“The Federal Court of Canada found that the policy requiring women who wear the niqab to unveil themselves to take the Oath of Citizenship is unlawful on administrative law grounds, and the Federal Court of Appeal upheld this ruling. The government respects the decision of both courts and will not seek further appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“Canada’s diversity is among its greatest strengths, and today we have ensured that successful citizenship candidates continue to be included in the Canadian family. We are a strong and united country because of, not in spite of, our differences.”
Samer Majzoub, the president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, said he believes the Liberal government’s decision is the “right direction.”
“Canadians have their main concerns beings reflected in the last federal elections results, certainly the niqab issue is not the one,” he said.
The controversial debate about whether a woman should be permitted to wear a niqab during citizenship ceremonies was a failed attempt to sway voters, he said.
“We believe and hope that any divisive debate that leads to friction amongst Canadians will be set aside for [a] long period and never used for political or special interests,” he said.
Re-published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
BY HARNOOR GILL Grade 12 student Christ The King Catholic Secondary Georgetown, Ontario THE longest Canadian election campaign in history along with its debates, party marketing and annoying commercials ended with the Liberal Party of Canada winning a majority government with 184 seats in the House of Commons and representation from every province. The […]
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by BJ Siekierski in Ottawa
John Manley — the president and CEO of Canadian Council of Chief Executives — criticized the Harper government Tuesday for mismanaging bilateral relationships with China and Mexico, and reiterated a call for the incoming Liberal government to pursue a free trade agreement with China.
There are reasons to think that isn’t out of the question.
“We have very important trading relationships with both Mexico and China. And quite frankly, the Harper government didn’t manage those relationships particularly well,” Manley, whose organization represents 150 CEOs of Canada’s biggest companies, said in an interview on BNN.
This comes after an open letter Manley sent to Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau last week, which called for a “comprehensive bilateral economic agreement” with China, the reversal of the visa requirement for Mexican visitors and the ratification of the Canada-EU agreement and the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership).
“We urge your government to reverse the 2009 decision that requires most travellers from Mexico to obtain a visa before visiting Canada. With regards to China — our country’s second-largest trading partner, and soon to be the world’s largest economy – we believe the time has come to seek a comprehensive bilateral economic agreement. Smart, principled engagement of China must be at the centre of Canadian foreign policy,” Manley wrote.
China requires immediate attention
He elaborated on those points Tuesday, days after the CEO of Ford Canada, Dianne Craig — a member of the Canadian Council of CEOs — spoke out against the TPP.
“Ford is one of our members, likewise is Linamar, one of our largest auto part companies, which supports TPP. So I don’t think there’s a unanimous view. I think overall, though, what I’d say…is this: if TPP doesn’t happen, well then life goes on. If TPP does happen, and the United States and Mexico are part of it, then Canada really needs to be there. We can’t afford, for our national interests, to be excluded from an an agreement in which two of our three largest trading partners are there,” Manley said.
Since TPP ratification on the U.S. side could be held up by Congress, Manley didn’t think there was any reason for Trudeau to “lose sleep” over it yet.
He said China, however, required immediate attention, adding that, like Australia and New Zealand, Canada should pursue a free trade agreement.
“Australia, while being a strong proponent of human rights — a strong supporter of rule of law — all of the things that Canada stands for, has managed to negotiate a free trade agreement with China. As has New Zealand. And they are benefiting — their economy is benefiting significantly in both cases,” Manley said.
“We seem to have a hard time deciding whether we want to do business with China or not, and we blow warm and cold. I think a consistent, lasting approach to China — multiple visits by our prime minister, by our minister of foreign affairs, by our minister of trade, and by our minister of industry, would yield benefits in the years to come. We don’t have to agree with China on everything, but we do need to engage China.”
Deepening relationship with China
While the Harper government signed and ratified, not without controversy, a foreign investment protection agreement with China, and released an economic complementarities study in August 2012, Ottawa preferred an incremental approach with regard to trade liberalization, reaching individual market access agreements for products such as beef, cherries, and blueberries.
“There are many mechanisms other than free trade agreements to allow us to deepen our trade relationship with China,” Trade Minister Ed Fast said last November.
In May, he clarified that the Harper government wanted to see the “more balance” in the trading relationship before moving forward with negotiations.
The Liberals have seemed more eager.
As Australia moved to implement their concluded free trade agreement with China, Liberal MPs — including Ralph Goodale, Chrystia Freeland, and Scott Brison — accused the Conservatives of bungling the relationship.
More recently, the Liberals named Peter Harder, who serves as president of the Canada-China Business Council, to head their transition team.
That could be a sign of things to come.
Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit