The hearings and the report of Quebec’s Bouchard-Taylor Commission on Reasonable Accommodations covered many topics. Let’s look at three areas. To begin, the hearings elicited some hankering after the past, before the Quiet Revolution that unseated the Catholic Church from its power. Some of the witnesses protested the elimination of Catholic religious instruction from the schools and its replacement by education about religions generally. One mother complained that the new course would “confuse” her children. Bouchard and Taylor did not give these presenters satisfaction in their report.
They did, however address the thorny issue of jobs. The report points to substantially higher unemployment of immigrants and serious underemployment, neglecting people with the badly needed skills that many highly educated immigrants bring. Nor did they shy away from pointing the finger at the role of the Quebec government itself, which, as they said, has one of the worst records in North America for hiring minorities.
In their vision of Quebec, they proposed the model of interculturalism. While like the Canadian model of multiculturalism it supports immigrant groups conserving their heritage, interculturalism also entails connections between cultural minorities and the majority French Quebec culture, with French as the common language.
Premier Jean Charest reacted to the report by saying that he plans to require immigrants to learn French before their arrival and to sign a document indicating that they adhere to Quebec values. These would include tolerance and sexual equality.
There are problems with Charest’s plan. Quebec needs immigrants because its population is rapidly aging. There is such a thing as being too choosy, and the language requirement he proposes could be a turn-off for many skilled and educated potential immigrants. However, many Arab immigrants from North Africa and Lebanon already speak French. Then as well, the kind of commitment that Charest’s plans and the principle of interculturalism implies is something akin to a marriage. Some of us can testify that marriages don’t always last.
While Quebec can choose who immigrates to the province, once someone comes he is free to go anywhere in Canada. I am reminded of a Latin saying: Ubi panis, ibi patria. Where there is bread, there is my fatherland. Unemployment and underemployment may lead new Quebeckers to move West. In so doing, they will meet many native-born French-speaking Quebeckers working alongside them in the Alberta oil sands.
Iraq warrior to head Canadian forces
How do you dance around the fact that Canada’s next Chief of Defense’s participation in the illegal (as per Kofi Annan among many others) war in Iraq is clear proof of Canada’s participation? Try this bit of bafflegab from the Toronto Globe and Mail:
“Gen. Natynczyk, who will take over formally in July, has rare battlefield experience for a Canadian soldier, having fought in George W. Bush’s U.S.-led war in Iraq.
“Even though Canada refused to join the conflict, the senior soldier led 35,000 troops there for one year as part of an officer exchange program.”
Now is that clear? Gen. Walter Natynczyk, take a bow.
U.S. suspected Arar would be tortured
Immigration officials sent Maher Arar to Syria, even though they thought it probable that he would be tortured. Syrian assurances to the contrary were “ambiguous,” according to Richard Skinner.
Skinner, Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, told the U.S. Congressional sub-committee on the constitution, civil rights and civil liberties that the Maher Arar file is being reopened because of classified material which has just come to light, including the startling information about torture.
He told the Congressmen that it “certainly appears to be the case” that the immigration proceedings to send Arar to Syria were fast-tracked to avoid intervention by lawyers. Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the subcommittee, charged that the evidence showed that the Bush administration violated its commitments under the U.N. Convention Against Torture.
The reason that the U.S. government sent Arar to Syria rather than home to Canada was that it feared that it would be too easy for him to slip back into the United States, according to the information Skinner provided. It should be remembered that Arar was seized while attempting to change planes from an overseas flight, to return home to Canada. There was no reason to believe that he was attempting to stay in the United States.
Convert’s trial under way
The first trial in the case of mostly young Muslim men accused of plotting terrorist acts is under way in Brampton, Ontario, just outside Toronto. Because he was a minor at the time of the alleged offenses, the man, a Hindu convert to Islam, cannot be named. Evidence so far consists largely of recordings and wiretaps, in which participants talk in code. It is clear from the recordings that they knew that they were under surveillance. The role of the accused man, as described in the recordings, appears to have been to shoplift electronic equipment for use in explosive devices. Some concern has been expressed about his mental health. At one point, he demanded to be tried under sharia law and fired his lawyer. He later relented.
Extremist views denounced
When Steward Bell, a journalist with Toronto’s National Post, followed up on a website that calls Osama bin Laden a “champion of Islam,” he found Naeem Muhammad Khan, a 23-year old. Khan posted this and similar sentiments. The two met for coffee at a Toronto doughnut shop.
Khan’s website displays a Taliban flag, an AK-47, and the slogan, “Support Our Troops.” That slogan, he explained, applies not only to the Taliban in Afghanistan but also to those fighting in Iraq, Chechnya, Kashmir, Palestine, and Somalia.
He labeled moderate Muslims “apostates,” and, he said, under sharia law the penalty for apostasy is death. The same penalty is due Zionist Jews. He wants to move to a true Islamic state when one is formed.
Asked to comment on these sentiments, Imam Dr. Zijad Delic, executive director of the Canadian Islamic Congress, denounced Khan’s views. He accused Khan of supporting the views of people “who still live in the 14th Century.” “Canada with its principles of human rights is much more ‘Islamic’ than the so-called Muslim countries,” he declared, while admitting that Canada is not perfect. He noted that, in the hadith, Mohammed is quoted as saying, “The best among the people are those who benefit people and the worst are those who harm people.” Delic commented that Mohammed used the word “people,” not “Muslims.”
Skullduggery in Khadr case
Col. Peter Brownback was not sufficiently compliant with the prosecution in the Omar Khadr case. On May 7, he even threatened to suspend the case unless the prosecution made available to the defense information that they had requested. They wanted information from the Detainee Information Management System, in which they thought they might find evidence of the mistreatment that Khadr has alleged.
On May 29, the Pentagon announced that Brownback was history. The new judge is Col. Patrick Parrish. What will he have to say in response to the defense request for disclosure and the prosecution’s intransigence?
In further skullduggery, a newly released document says that Khadr’s military interrogators were ordered to destroy their notes so that they could not be used in any court actions. That bit of information may severely weaken the prosecution’s efforts to use statements he may have made during interrogation.
Iraq war deserters got a vote of confidence in the House of Commons on June 3. All three opposition parties, the Liberals, the socialist New Democrats, and the separatist Bloc Québécois, combined to support a motion to allow them to stay in Canada. However, the minority Conservative government refuses to go along, pointing out that participation in the U.S. military is voluntary. The vote is not binding on the government.
Canadian TV fights
Barbara Olshansky, a lawyer with the International Human Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School, filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on June 4, demanding the release of Jawed Ahmad, a 22-year-old Afghan journalist with the Canadian television station CTV. He has been held by the U.S. since last October in Bagram, Afghanistan, without charge. He is accused of contacts with Taliban leaders. Olshansky claims that the U.S. is arresting journalists “merely because they are doing their jobs.”
Ahmad’s brother who has visited him in prison says that he has been beaten.