Israeli ambassador fears Muslim immigrants
On the occasion of Israel’s 60th anniversary, Alan Baker, Israel’s ambassador in Ottawa, expressed concern about the impact that the growing Muslim population in Canada would have on Canada’s foreign policy. In spite of the strong pro-Israel stance of the current Conservative government, Baker was unhappy with Liberal MP Omar Alghabara, who he charged “has been outspoken in his hostility to Israel.”
As a barometer of shifting pressures in Canada, Baker noted the increased hostility on campuses to Israeli speakers. He was apprehensive that Muslim influence in Canada might come to resemble the Muslim impact in Great Britain and France.
Alghabara responded to Baker’s attack by saying that he favors a two-state solution and “is at a loss” to understand Baker’s characterization of him.
On this same anniversary occasion, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper accused those opposing Israel of anti-Semitism: “they hate Israel, just as they hate the Jewish people.” Stéphane Dion, Liberal Party leader, took Baker to task, pointing to positive relations between Jews and Arabs in Canada. He highlighted the role of a Jew, MP Irwin Cotler, in working for Maher Arar and Omar Khadr.
Terrorist ‘wannabes’ seen as threat
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Mike McDonnell, speaking at a conference in Ottawa on May 7, described the danger of “terrorist wannabes” in Canada as a major concern. They may have no connections to al-Qaeda, he said, but disaffected, radicalized young men, amateurish though they may be, nevertheless constitute a severe potential danger.
He said that these young males are not particularly knowledgeable about Islam. Rather, they are impelled by internet accounts of Muslim victimization.
McDonnell is the official who announced the arrest of the 18 (now down to 11) people in the Toronto crack-down. He claims that there are another seven groups across the country that the RCMP are keeping an eye on.
Prayer space at issue
Mohamed Ismael, who teaches French at the Ecole de langues de l’Estrie in Gatineau, Quebec, left the school recently when he was told he could not pray inside.
He thought he was fired. But he was able to return to work on May 7. He said he believes he will be able to pray at school now.
Louise Charest, sister of Quebec’s Premier Jean Charest, is the owner of the school, which has contracts with the federal civil service and Canadian Forces.
Quebec’s Commission for Human and Youth Rights said that an employer has the obligation to accommodate prayer needs. Sameer Zuberi, speaking for the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN), supported Ismael’s right to a prayer space by referring to the Quebec and Canadian Charters of Rights and Freedoms.
Marching for Khadr
Students from Ontario and Quebec marched on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 6, wearing Amnesty International vests and blandishing placards demanding a fair trial for Omar Khadr and his return to Canada.
Among older people making an appearance at the demonstration was Senator Roméo Dallaire, who was the general stuck with inadequate mandate and resources to respond to the Rwandan genocide.
Signs in English and French proclaimed “Democracy not Hypocrisy” and “A child soldier is not a criminal; he is a victim!”
Prisoner abuse charged
The Canadian Arab Federation, the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN), and a number of other Muslim organizations are demanding an investigation of a complaint made by Steven Chand, one of the Toronto 11 (formerly the Toronto 18), accused of plotting terrorist acts.
He charges that he was dragged to solitary confinement for his attempt to pray in a Muslim fashion in his cell in Maplehurst Correctional Facility in Milton, Ontario.
As Islam requires that prayer be made in a clean environment, he covered the toilet in his cell with a bed sheet, precipitating his forcible transfer to solitary. Chand’s lawyer Michael Moon calls for the release of the videotapes of the event, to verify his story.
Arab comedy comes to Ottawa
“My father recently had open heart surgery. When he came out of the anesthesia, he asked the nurse, ‘Where am I?’ ‘ICU,’ she answered. ‘I see you too, but where am I?’ he said.
“Then when he woke up later with two nurses in his room, he mused, ‘I know I’m not in heaven because there are only two of you.'”
Ahmed Ahmed comes by his career as a comedian honestly. He’s been at it for 15 years now and he shared the billing in an Ottawa performance on May 7. Egyptian-born, his family moved to the U.S. when he was a month old. He was a student at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Ahmed has made appearances in “Iron Man” and in “Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” which will be coming out in June. He has also appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
His audiences in North America are typically made up of Muslims and people from the Middle East, but there is considerable diversity as well.
At the end of last year, he and his fellow comedians, calling themselves Axis of Evil, toured Dubai, Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Jordan. He says that censorship was an issue everywhere in the Middle East except for Lebanon. They had to steer clear of politics, religion, and sex. “That didn’t leave a lot,” he said.
Arab group seeks info on hate
The Canadian Arab Federation held a public meeting at Ottawa City Hall on May 1 to introduce a questionnaire about victimization of Arabs by acts of hatred and to engage local people in a discussion of the issue.
They circulated a survey form that they developed, with funding from the Victim Services Secretariat of Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General. The survey seeks to elicit information about incidents that people have experienced.
Several people present were critical of governmental efforts to deal with incidents of hatred and discrimination experienced by Arabs and Muslims. One woman said that the Ottawa Police Hate Crimes Unit has the reputation of only being there for three groups—gays, Jews, and blacks.
Sergeant Lori Bustard, from the unit, acknowledged that those are the groups from whom they get the bulk of complaints, but she is seriously reaching out to get the participation of other groups experiencing victimization.
While there was a measure of hostility expressed toward the police department, it appeared that those present responded positively to her openness and sincerity.
Nour El-Kadri, a management professor at the University of Ottawa, was critical of the Ottawa Police Department’s inadequate mirroring of the ethnic makeup of the community. He spoke of students of his of various ethnicities whom the department failed to retain.
Bustard told the meeting that Ottawa has six full-time officers whose sole function is minority recruitment. Critics have complained that the problem occurs after the initial recruitment.
Raja Khouri, a commissioner with the Ontario Human Rights Commission and a past president of the Canadian Arab Federation, spoke of the problem of definition of a hate crime. In Canada, the protection of free speech is more limited than in the United States. Hate speech is specifically outlawed.
Nouman Ashraf, the anti-racism and cultural diversity officer at the University of Toronto, spoke of hurtful speech, something less extreme than hate speech. The antidote, he said, is better speech. He gave as an example of hurtful speech the publication by the University of Toronto student newspaper of some of the Danish Mohammed cartoons. He went to the newspaper crew and pointed out to them the very substantial number of Muslim students on the various University of Toronto campuses. He asked how they felt that their action served these fellow students. They had, he said, no answer.
Ashraf said that research has shown that positive self-identity is crucial in the learning experience. That is one more reason that discrimination and hatred need to be taken seriously.
But a pattern of accommodation and the absence of discrimination are not enough, he said. There is a need for engagement, which is challenging because engagement often causes discomfort when people are challenged, he said.
Abdelrazik suing Canada
Abousfian Abdelrazik, the Sudanese-Canadian whom Canada arranged to have imprisoned in Sudan, is now suing Canada in an effort to make Canada bring him back.
He has been stranded in Sudan for five years. Canada suspects that he has had connections to al-Qaeda sleeper cells in Montreal and has blocked his return.
While he was in prison, according to the office of his lawyer Yavar Hameed, the Sudanese took his passport and handed it over to the Canadian embassy. It expired while he was in prison, and Canada has refused to renew it.
Abdelrazik has been living in the Canadian embassy in Khartoum for a couple of weeks, his “temporary safe haven,” according to Canada’s terminology. He has been unable to leave Sudan because he has no passport, is on no-fly lists, and is on an Interpol list of terrorist suspects. Paradoxically, while suspecting him of terrorist connections and having been responsible for his arrest in Sudan, Canada now assures him that it is trying to get him delisted from Interpol.
In his suit, Abdelrazik is demanding to be returned, by military or chartered plane if necessary. Previous visiting Canadian dignitaries in Khartoum have failed to provide passage back to Canada for him.