by: Sukaina Jaffer in Brampton, ON
It is difficult to replicate how an immigrant feels when they arrive in the country of their adoption. Imagine wearing summer clothing all year long and then being plopped on to a snowbank the next second. How would you feel when everything from the aroma of your food and the sound of your prayers, to the clothing on your back to your very employment status is re-arranged? How do women cope when their language is a barrier?
Across Ontario, women are making adjustments to ensure they are in a position to succeed in a new land.
For Hedaya AlDaleel who immigrated from Singapore in April 2016, her family found the weather quite daunting. Wearing winter gear was not something they were familiar with coming from warmer climates. “Our first winter was tough, the kids loved the snow, but I dreaded walking or driving in it,” admits AlDaleel.
In addition, upon arrival financial limitations also proved a challenge as they looked to adapt to their new lives. “The first few months are the hardest, with total uncertainty and no clear vision of the future, it was a very stressful period,” she says. “We were blessed that my husband found a job a few months after we arrived, but the idea of a career ‘downgrade’ will continue to be a struggle.”
Initially, AlDaleel set out by renting a space within a Hair Salon & Spa so she could open her own massage practice. Using the Dorn-Method she treated patients with neck, shoulder and back pain. Although the approach is safe and pain-free, it is not covered by most insurance policies and is very uncommon in Canada. Thus, through various struggles, the business eventually closed within months.
“Having no network or connections, social circle or support group around me, made it hard to grow a customer base,” recalls AlDaleel. Unfazed, she enrolled in a Global Business course at the Newcomer’s Centre of Peel to familiarize herself with different strategies.
The material helped her in “understanding the economy, taxation, resource management, marketing and business communication as well as networking.” Working with three advisors, she was able to go over content that was applicable to her interests. “[It] was a great learning experience [which] gave me the foundation to build on,” AlDaleel continues.
Discrimination has also been cited by some academics as a key cultural barrier for newcomers. Dr. Soma Chatterjee is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at York University, she explains, “The idea that mainstream Canadian ways are more progressive than [the] rest of the world's. Many immigrant women I know of are under pressure to 'measure up' to the dominant standards.”
She notes that newcomers may face discrimination when they are refused housing or asked offensive questions about the kind of food they cook when applying for rent. This type of experience may force new immigrants to change some of their most deeply held cultural values.
Furthermore, not all immigrants have an easy time adjusting, especially if language is a barrier. As was the case with Esraa Ali whose biggest challenge, upon arrival from Iraq, was learning English. An issue that is only magnified with statistics that show over 70 per cent of immigrants as having a mother tongue other than English or French.
While Ali has a Bachelor of Science in Biology back in Iraq, her current part-time jobs include working as a lunchroom monitor and supply teacher in a private school. She prefers the reduced hours so that she is able to spend more time with her kids. Joining the 32 per cent of middle-aged women that have made the same decision to care for their children.
Sadaf Hussain, a Pakistani native who immigrated to Toronto in August 2016 from Dubai found the adjustment particularly challenging. She came alone with her two children because her husband was still working in the Emirates.
Hussain mentions that one of the greatest challenge she faced was leaving behind her loved ones. The busy bustle of life in Canada, lead to loneliness within the first few months. A feeling that only intensified in winters that offered shorter days and less to do outdoors.
She also grew frustrated with the constant searches for basic amenities, often travelling to multiple destinations before finding what she needed.
“We spent hours going through every single supermarket before we figured out where things were sold,” she explains. In addition, making it even harder, she would often evaluate the value of goods by converting local prices into the currency used in her native land.
Even routine activities such as driving in the snow presented challenges, having never lived in a region with snow.
She misses the stronger sense of community she found elsewhere. “I miss the sound of the call to prayers five times a day. I miss the way Ramadan (Islamic month of fasting) was so festive and how the entire United Emirates seemed to break their fast together (a cannon would sound).”
Slowly, she has learned to overcome her initial difficulties but continues to adjust as she spends more time in the country she now calls home.
Sense of community
For many immigrants, retaining their sense of cultural identity is essential.
Having lived in a number of countries, AlDaleel was prepared for the diversity that exists in Canada. She constantly educates her children about their cultural roots. “It’s important for our children to maintain their identity, as they learn to navigate their way into their new Canadian life,” she says.
Despite the adjustments they have been forced to make, both women are grateful for the opportunity they are now presented with.
Al Daleel goes on, “there’s so much room for personal growth and career change. I have learnt that in Canada, the job you do, doesn’t define who you are, or who you are striving to be. Unlike many other places around the world, you can dream big here...”
This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario" series.
Commentary by: Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton, ON
It's absurd to pass any law that is so obviously a violation of that constitution and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Quebec's National Assembly passed a bill that will require civil servants and members of the public seeking government services to have their faces uncovered. Known as Bill 62, this legislation will affect Muslim women who wear religious face coverings such as a Niqab or Burqa.
To be sure, this issue of Muslim women covering their faces is one that elicits very strong reactions, both from a rights and freedoms perspective as well as from the perspective of those in our society who view this religious practice with great suspicion and mistrust.
The reality in Canada today is if a woman chooses to cover her face to observe her religious traditions, our constitution protects her right to do so. Frankly, it's absurd to pass any law that is so obviously a violation of that constitution and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms, leaving me to openly question the motives of Quebec's lawmakers.
I was talking with an older, Roman Catholic friend of mine who, during a conversation on this very topic, recalled how, as a child, whenever his family attended mass, his mother had to either wear a hat that covered the majority of her head or wear a lace veil called a mantilla to cover her head. This Christian, Roman Catholic practice has not been altogether abandoned, with female dignitaries visiting the pope often pictured wearing black clothes and a mantilla to this day. One still sees the odd older woman wearing one to mas, but no one rushes to admonish her for observing a practice that has faded from popular use as the conventions of worship in that faith have evolved over time.
I also have strong feelings about this issue that come from my own personal experience as a member of a visible minority who, from time to time, has been subjected to "strong reactions" from people over my turban, or on those occasions when I wear traditional clothes or carry a kirpan — a ceremonial dagger. I well remember the doomsday predictions of blood and carnage that were made when observant Sikhs were permitted to wear their Kirpan in schools, places of employment and even courts of law. These are ceremonial, symbolic items, and none of the hysterical predictions of knife-wielding Sikhs running amok ever came to pass. Nor will they.
Bill 62, which the Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée describes as a first in North America, is the culmination of a long conflict in Quebec around the province's religious minorities that I personally view as an extension of the province's vigorous protection of its French language and culture that makes them suspicious of those whose behavior or beliefs they perceive as a threat to their "Frenchness."
Meanwhile, those who are critical of Bill 62 are left with few details of how the law would be applied in a variety of circumstances, as the regulations have yet to be written, and municipalities such as Montreal that are blatantly opposed to this bill are demanding to be exempted from it. The law poses serious challenges, such as potentially pitting nurses and doctors — and their professional standards of practice that require they provide medical service to all patients who present themselves for care — against the law, which essentially forbids them to provide that care to a woman whose face is covered.
To many people who view these "foreign customs" through the lens of Western sensibilities, women choosing to cover their face or their body is at best a curious practice, or at worst a practice of dangerous and suspect motives hiding behind orthodox religious convention. Even within Islam, the practice of wearing the niqab can be controversial, with some Muslim scholars expressing the opinion that it is not required, while others assert their opinion that it is.
Mandatory, not mandatory — to those women who do wear the niqab or burqa it is clearly a requirement to them as they choose to interpret their religion and, ultimately, our constitution guarantees them that choice. If we can successfully deprive these women of that choice, then I believe we can deprive our citizens of just about any choice. This is not freedom, it is oppression. And it is not worthy of Canada.
Brampton-based Surjit Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer who has previously contributed to the Huffington Post, Toronto Sun and other publications. He is a member of the New Canadian Media Collective.
Commentary by: Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton
Time is quickly running out for this liberal government. With recent polls showing Kathleen Wynne’s approval rating hovering at 19 per cent within her home province, a historically low rate which stands below all other active Premiers.
Premier Wynne needs to step aside soon and allow another member of the party an opportunity to rebuild the Ontario Liberal brand at a time when they can still recover ahead of the next provincial election. If she waits any longer, she risks depriving her party of any chance to enjoy the grace period that is usually afforded to new leaders. On another tangent, refusal to leave could result in further economic hardships for a province that was once looked at as a prosperous financial state.
Since that election, the gaffes and examples of Liberal mismanagement have been stacking up like cordwood and polls have shown that Ontario voters are ready for a change. The Tories have made significant gains, now finding themselves sitting at 38% in the polls to the Liberals’ 30% and NDP 24%. The recent Forum poll even suggests, say it isn’t so, that the Tories are ahead in Toronto!
Wynne’s hubris is larger than the budget deficit she and her party have racked up under their leadership, yet she insists she will not relinquish her position of leadership. If that is the case, then I am convinced we are going to see a catastrophic meltdown of her party from which the Liberals are not likely to recover for some time.
Liberal failures are beginning to add up: the “billion-dollar gas plant boondoggle”, the disastrously inept mismanagement of hydro in general, the more than $300 billion in provincial deficit, Wynne's costly handling of the carbon tax and environment files, the Sudbury by-election scandal, and the botched sale of Hydro-One; are all contributing to the province's mistrust of the ruling party.
The Wynne Government's recent report on Ontario education reported that hardly half of Ontario's Grade 6 students passed provincial standards in math this year. The lack of improvement has lead the party to suggest a curriculum overhaul. Education Minister Mitzie Hunter went on to say, "there's still more work to do, especially when it comes to math overall."
Even with the additional $60 million provided to schools for improved Math curriculums, students continue to struggle with the subject.
Ontarians and pundits alike are reaching the same conclusion that the Liberal party’s popularity and prospects cannot recover with Wynne at the helm of the government.
Ontario’s economy is being subjected to damage, the likes of which it has never seen and may never recover from. Which may leave the citizens of this once great and prosperous province to struggle against epic currents just to keep their heads above the proverbial water.
Wynne’s terrible leadership and numerous failures have done real and lasting damage to the Province of Ontario. It is time for her to accept responsibility for her mismanagement, step aside, and allow another to take over.
This is now Patrick Brown’s election to lose and he needs to step up and show he has what it takes to lead Ontario out of the bleak state of affairs that Wynne and her Liberals have dragged us into.
Brampton-based Surjit Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer who has previously contributed to the Huffington Post, Toronto Sun and other publications.
by Tazeen Inam in Brampton
Canadian woman authors believe that our society tends to equate femininity with a sense of flawlessness. Women have to be impossibly perfect in so many different ways that it’s just another way of imposing oppression on them.
“I really want to show about my characters that it’s not a bad thing to fail, it’s not a bad thing to make mistakes,” says Sarah Raughley, author of the "Fate of Flames".
Raughley longed to work with characters who have the courage to pick themselves up when they fall, in contrast with setting up ideals for women that are very difficult to live up to.
Striking a balance between strength and frailty
Her characters are not everyday superheroes. Four teenage girls are the only people who can save the world from the massive beasts who are terrorizing the world. One girl stands for each element: fire, wind, air, and water.
“But they don’t have those masks on their faces, everyone knows who they are," Raughley explains.
Her characters are criticized for being too whiny and annoying because they make mistakes, they fight too much, they are weak and make many mistakes.
“So I was thinking that what are the expectations for women? Especially since these are teen girls, they haven’t figure out themselves, let alone having to carry this huge destiny to fight giant monsters,” she added.
At the Festival of Literary Diversity, in Brampton, ON, the panel of “Wonder Women” featured authors of young adult literature. They spoke about the protagonists from their stories, stressing that strength is not the same as perfection. But rather that it is in the courage to rise up from devastation and defy all odds by reaching your destination.
Shoilee Khan, the panel moderator, opened the discussion introducing the protagonists of the selected books as women of the present, who everyone aspires to be or would like to befriend.
“They are fierce, they are stoic, but they are tender and they have this enigmatic aura of cool about them,” she says.
She said that there is a dichotomy of softness and strength exhibited by the characters, that can be translated into real life situations women face everyday.
“They rise up against obstacles not with complete fearlessness but with a magnetic combination of illation and frailty, first for themselves and then through that self-respect, serve their communities in profound and integral ways,” Khan added.
Seeking protection with intimacy
The panel then discussed a character with an arsenal of dangerous and desirable skills: Kai Cheng Thom’s Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liar: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir.
Thom is a writer, performer and psychotherapist.
Thom’s unnamed protagonist is a martial arts expert who runs away from her abusive parents’ house. Raised in a city called "Gloom", she escapes to the glamorous and dangerous "City of Smoke and Lights" where she is forced into oppressive factory work governed by a racist system of castes. However she is able to find herself as a trans-Asian femme and finds a community with other trans-femmes.
Thom suggested that for transgenders there is something about femininity that’s degrading all the time, that they are weak and hyper-sensitive. But her book starts with this really intense physical strength as opposed to a trans-woman that is helpless and constantly subjected to violence.
The protagonist loves using her strength, power and speed, until she encounters Kimaya. A mother figure whose nurturing personality is unable to mask her fierce power, Kimaya serves as a mentor figure that helps her realize that there are different kinds of strength.
She discovers a desire for safety and a longing for closeness but struggles to have intimacy that is also safe.
“That’s the journey that my character takes and I found out in my life too,” says Thom.
Another panelist, M-E Girard in her debut novel, sought a balance in her character when she puts them together with a combination of femininity and masculinity.
M-E Girard is a YA fiction writer and a proud feminist, her debut novel is "GIRL MANS UP". Her lesbian character, Pen, wrestles with the external pressures societal norms bestow upon her when she exhibits both masculine and feminine qualities.
Although she is a strong protagonist and her choice of clothing and friends makes her imperfect and independent, all Pen wants is to be the kind of girl she’s always been. Pen realizes that respect and loyalty are hollow words, and in order to be who she truly wants to be, she’ll have to "man up".
“My character is tender in some ways and she is also fierce and strong in her own way. Some of it [is] modeled after her masculine ideal and some of it is modeled [after] her feminine ideal. So it’s kind of a big mess,” says Girard.
Celebrating Canada's 150th anniversary this year, founder and creative director of FOLD, Jael Richardson, says that she was inspired by the famous indigenous writer, Lee Maracle’s quote “if you want to understand the heart of the culture, read the women”. Richardson observed that at every session or panel, the audience was touched by something they weren’t expecting to hear.
“They are always surprised by the wealth of stories, writers and ideas they encounter, and it’s really powerful because that’s when real change happens,” she added.
The second annual FOLD festival was held from May 4 - 7 and hopes to bring change by highlighting the voices of women authors who offer a different perspective.
by Janice Dickson in Ottawa
Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch’s campaign says she did not know Ron Banjaree, an anti-Muslim advocate, or the organization Rise Canada would be at the event she attended Monday evening in Brampton.
“Kellie did not know this person or this organization would be there. Had she known she would not have attended,” Leitch’s campaign spokesman Michael Diamond told iPolitics in an email.
Diamond said Leitch attended a meeting organized by an organization called “Keep Religion Out of Public Schools” in support of secular and pluralistic public schools.
“Kellie does not believe that this long standing Canadian practice should be changed to accommodate one group. Other individuals and groups attended this meeting, there was no guest list sent to Kellie prior to the event. This meeting was about the place of religion in public schools,” wrote Diamond.
Leitch did address the anti-Muslim group, though, and the money raised at the event was to go toward fighting the construction of a mosque in Brampton.
Banjaree, director of Canadian Hindu Advocacy and an advisor to Rise Canada, spoke to the audience awaiting Leitch’s arrival on Monday. In a video of his address posted to YouTube — posted below — Banjaree says Rise Canada is connected to different groups, including the Jewish Defence League of Canada, the United Christian Federation and other groups he describes as “fighting the Sharia creep.”
He tells the audience that, five years ago, the group didn’t exist, but with the help of mostly Christian groups it was able to do a series of “large scale demonstrations regarding prayers, Islamic prayers, in Toronto District School Board public schools, specifically it was Valley Park School.”
“At the time they had taken over the cafeteria for school prayers. They’re still doing it, by the way,” he tells the group. He goes on to claim that those organizing the prayers have made female students sit behind the boys and in some cases have excluded them from prayers altogether.
A Caucasian man in the audience pipes up at this point: “Sometimes they do panty checks. It’s disgusting.”
Diamond wrote that the meeting was attended by “a number of people from a number of different groups, including people from Rise Canada. That is clear.
“It is also clear that Kellie was not at the event while a representative from Rise Canada was speaking.”
Banjaree recently attended a Toronto school board meeting on religious accommodation where someone ripped up a copy of the Qur’an. At that board meeting, someone else was distributing flyers from Rise Canada which called for the elimination all policies of ‘religious accommodation’ in schools.
On the recording, Banjaree welcomes Leitch as she slowly makes her way to the podium, stopping along the way to shake hands with Banjaree’s supporters.
Leitch takes questions from the audience, but it appears only one — from Banjaree — was captured on video.
Banjaree claims that India has the best human rights record in the world and should be considered a “safe country” for migration, like Canada, the United States and many countries in Europe. He says that there have been problems with people from India claiming refugee status in Canada and people involved in the 1985 Air India bombing were able to claim refugee status in Canada.
Banjaree asks Leitch to look into why India is not considered a “safe country”; she says she will.
Diamond said that while Leitch responded a question from the floor, “she did not know this person or this organization would be there. Had she known she would not have attended.
“She wants to be very clear that this guy and his opinions are repugnant and do not reflect her own views.”
Diamond said Leitch is supportive of secular and pluralistic public schools. She is committed to building a country that promotes the shared values of hard work, generosity, freedom, tolerance, equality of opportunity and equality of individuals. “That includes the freedom to practice your religion and the responsibility to be tolerant of other people’s religion.”
A blog called Anti-Racist Canada posted an exhaustive list of links to reports of controversial activity by Banjaree, including the video from the event Leitch attended with him on Monday.
At the end of the video, an attendee says that former Mississauga mayoral candidate Kevin Johnston collected $244 from supporters at the event that will go toward fighting the construction of a mosque that was recently approved by Mississauga City Council.
In early March, city council gave the Meadowvale Islamic Centre Inc. and the City of Mississauga a green light to move forward with the development of the mosque.
Johnston reportedly expressed his concerns about the mosque on his website, “Stop the Mosque”. According to Mississauga.com, Johnston wrote on his website that the mosque would drive up crime and vandalism, set back women’s rights and affect housing prices.
Some Tory leadership contenders came under fire for giving interviews to Johnston on his YouTube channel, FreedomReport.ca.
In one of his video rants, he warns Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, author of motion 103 condemning Islamophobia, that he’ll be there “with a big, fat smile” to film the moment when she’s shot by a “gun nut.”
Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton
I don’t know why hypocrisy by politicians still manages to surprise me. Recently, it was being paraded in plain sight by Brampton’s Mayor Linda Jeffrey when she waded in on the recent controversy around Muslim prayer in Peel public schools.
But before I comment on Mayor Jeffrey’s latest hypocritical pandering, lets revisit Her Worship’s own entanglement with prayer in a public institution – her own council chamber.
In 2015, Brampton’s newly elected Chief Magistrate and her council acted on one of Jeffrey’s own campaign promises and dropped reciting the Lord’s Prayer at Council meetings, killing a 163 year tradition that went back to the first Brampton village council meeting of January 1853. This was done after a public meeting to discuss the plan was cancelled in the face of fierce public outrage.
More recently, the Peel District School Board attempted to implement changes to the practice of Muslim prayer in their schools by providing prepared sermon texts by local Imams for the youth to use. This did not go over well with Muslim students, and in the process of receiving public delegations, a number of people expressed their opposition to any kind of prayer in a public school.
Some remarks had racist overtones. Public delegations were eventually stopped and the changes shelved.
"Have your backs"
Recently, in an interview on TVO, Mayor Jeffery said that she felt her expression of support for the Muslim community was needed after hearing from religious leaders, who were anxious about the tone of comments on social media and elsewhere. “I want people to feel welcome in Brampton; I want them to feel safe. I want them to know I have their backs.”
I am certain Brampton residents join me in wishing Mayor Jeffrey truly “had their backs” at Council. Given the endless squabbling and complete lack of cooperation among all Council members and Jeffrey’s inability to lead, Brampton has lurched from one debacle to another since Mayor Jeffrey was elected.
And many Bramptonians have been telling me they are fed up with Jeffrey’s constant taking credit for achievements that are in fact largely the work of her predecessor Susan Fennell and the previous council.
The funding of the Peel Memorial Centre for Health and Wellness, the original University plan, Brampton’s significant investment in expanded public transit, major infrastructure investment – all under Fennell. Jeffrey’s administration began with the failure to secure the approval to complete the LRT line through Brampton with the loss of $300 million in funding, and her record has not improved.
Religious accommodation has been a fixture of life in Canada for years. Sikhs have worn kirpans, Muslim women the hijab, and for the most part Canadians have accepted diversity and gotten on with their lives.
While we must all defend the rights of our fellow citizens regardless of race, creed or colour, I believe politicians like our own Mayor need to remember their own public record before they wade in on any issue.
Jeffrey banned prayer in City Hall, and now supports it in Public Schools. Mayor Jeffrey needs to be reminded that, try as they might, even politicians can’t suck and blow at the same time, and voters have long grown tired of the hypocrisy of it all.
Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer.
Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton
For many Sikhs in Canada today, the Komagata Maru incident still looms large in our consciousness.
For anyone not familiar with this event in our nation’s history, in May 1914 the Komagata Maru sailed from Hong Kong bound for Vancouver, carrying 376 passengers. Most of the passengers were from the Punjab, India. All were British subjects.
At that time, Canada had a regulation referred to as “continuous passage” which stated that immigrants must "come from the country of their birth, or citizenship, by a continuous journey and on through tickets purchased before leaving the country of their birth, or citizenship."
The regulation had been brought into force in 1908 to curb Indian immigration to Canada. The passengers on the ship intended to challenge this regulation. On their arrival, the ship was denied docking privileges, and eventually the ship was escorted out of the harbour by the Canadian military in July 1914 and forced to sail back to India, where 19 of the passengers were killed by gunfire upon disembarking and many others imprisoned.
The Komagata Maru story is an example of what was then the ultimate expression of colonial bigotry, exposing Canada’s deliberate process in controlling immigration by excluding those people the government of the day deemed unfit to enter. These justifications were couched in racist and ethnocentric views of "progress", "civilization", and "suitability" which all were used to support the view that Canada should remain a "White Man's Country".
In terms of immigration policy, the Canada of today is the complete opposite of still colonial pre-World War I Canada.
Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has declared that our borders are open to anyone. But this “openness” is now being tested. Refugee claimants reacting to U.S. President Donald Trump’s tougher stand on immigration have begun to head north to what they may see as greener, more accepting pastures. They are now daily crossings at the border, flouting the Canada – U.S. “Safe Third Country Agreement”, under which refugee claimants are required to request refugee protection in the first "safe" country they arrive in.
In landing in the U.S., but crossing our border as refugees, they are in fact breaking the law and this has become a difficult situation for Prime Minister Trudeau, while simultaneously making many Canadians very uneasy.
Many of us applauded our new government’s efforts to bring Syrian refugees to Canada. I believe a big part of the general acceptance of this policy was rooted in public perception that the process was well organized, refugee claimants were thoroughly screened and upon arrival the housing, schooling and other necessary supports were well in place. The latest development is the opposite of organized, with claimants crossing Canada’s porous and largely uncontrolled border with no pre-screening and no homes and sponsors waiting to receive them.
Canadians are now watching to see how our government will react to this new refugee situation. If Canada does not exert its sovereignty, honour the Safe Third Country Agreement, and deter these opportunistic attempts at what can only be seen as “shopping for a yes” by claimants, this trickle will become a wave.
Canada is ill prepared for uncontrolled refugee claimants streaming into this country, and I believe the majority of Canadians expect our government to act in Canada’s best interest. This means not merely reacting to claimants crossing our borders, but to act by deterring it. We are a country that values fair process and the rule of law.
Today, Canada has a compassionate, principled approach to both immigration and refugees. Our government’s inability to control this developing situation may ultimately do harm to our current refugee system, ultimately causing Canadians to have a lack of faith in the system, and ultimately in the government that is charged with managing it.
Prime Minister Trudeau will need to step outside of his comfort zone and put in place firm measures to respond to this looming crisis. At times like these, his usual “sunny ways” approach will have to give way to more firm leadership.
The Prime Minister is being tested here, and his next move may finally provide Canadians with a true indication of just how fit to lead Justin Trudeau really is.
Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer.
Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton
I believe it is fair to say that since 9-11, Islamophobia has been on the rise in North America. With the rise of ISIL and attacks in this country and other nations, terrorist movements have given rise to a greater distrust of all refugees and immigrants, most of whom are Muslims fleeing the violence in the Middle East and North Africa.
As an immigrant myself, perhaps I feel the impact of this trend more than my fellow Canadians whose journey to this country may have been many generations in the past. As I watch the news, and particularly the fledgling and, to a degree, struggling administration of U.S. President Donald Trump I am growing even more troubled.
Trump’s recent Executive Order banning Muslim refugees or travel to the U.S. from a select list of seven countries has run afoul of the nation’s constitution and its courts. But as Trump searches for a new way to achieve what his executive order has failed to do, I believe there will be long-term consequences. I believe Trump’s actions will encourage otherwise constrained and silent movements within the U.S. and in countries around the globe who have long wished for a legitimate platform to express their racist or xenophobic views in the hope that these views become the policy of their governments.
Meanwhile, here in Canada, we have two recent, troubling incidents that illustrate a very different response from our government. First of all, this past weekend in Toronto, anti-Semitic notes were found on the doors of several units at a Willowdale condo building in Toronto. In addition, notes with the statement “No Jews” were found on the front doors of several Jewish residences in a building on Beecroft Road, close to the Yonge Street and Park Home Avenue area.
Some of the notes contained anti-Semitic slurs and some neighbours reported that their mezuzahs – blessings traditionally posted on the doorways of Jewish homes – had been vandalized. Mayor John Tory condemned the hate-motivated vandalism and said those actions do not reflect the city's spirit. “Anti-Semitism has no place in Toronto."
This comes after the recent tragic murder of six Muslims at prayer in a Quebec City Mosque. Our government’s response to this tragedy was to debate Motion 103 in the Canadian Parliament. Introduced by MP Iqra Khalid, the motion asked MPs to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”
Locally, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is strongly supporting Mississauga-Erin Mills MP Khalid in her push to end systemic racism in Canada. Mayor Crombie also said “Eliminating systemic racism, religious discrimination and Islamophobia is a national call to action. No one should ever have to think twice about calling Canada home.”
Substance, not symbolism
While I feel this a well-meant act in the face of unspeakable violence and tragedy, racism affects a broad spectrum of people and it is short-sighted of our government to single out Islamophobia in their motion. Racism is in itself an act of violence and the murder in that Quebec City Mosque is that racist violence made manifest. It is an act of extreme cowardice, and an insult to God.
Our government should condemn all racism equally, and with total conviction. Symbolic acts like Motion 103 should be backed up with a new, comprehensive review of the legislation and enforcement powers that can give meaning and force to such well-intended symbolic gestures.
I know from personal experience the sting of distrust, disrespect, and prejudice that racism inflicts on those who are new, or different, or who worship in a different way. Racists ignore the reality that you cannot judge a race or a religion, but that if we are judged at all, it is based on our own behavior, our own actions.
President Trump’s anti Muslim, anti-immigration and refugee rhetoric may not, in itself, lead to the rise of Islamophobia and xenophobia, but the fact that a sitting President has stoked such sentiments should be reason for great concern for us all. The response of our Canadian government should be one of substance, not symbol.
Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton
Taxi drivers in Brampton will no longer have to pass English tests or go through geographical knowledge training after City Council removed all requirements for them to do so.
This is a decision that defies simple logic. Think about it for a moment. Can anyone with poor English and little knowledge of the city they work in be an effective taxi driver?
Of course not.
Brampton is over 260 square kilometers of residential subdivisions, industrial parks and an historic downtown core. It has over 3,500 streets, boulevards, crescents and roads.
Imagine for a moment you are newly arrived in Canada. Chances are you speak your native language, and a few words of English.
You hail a taxi at the airport, and provide the driver with an address. You have no idea where the address is. You have no cell phone to call the family whose home you are staying in. You must depend on the taxi driver to get you to your destination, taking the quickest, most safe and direct route possible.
Now let’s assume your taxi driver has little in the way of training, speaks little English, and your driver can’t read a map book, won’t have a clue how to set up his GPS device, and can’t read the address written on the piece of paper you have handed him.
And even if he understood the address, the driver has had little in the way of geographic training because standards have been all but eliminated.
My advice is you will need to buckle your seatbelt and settle in for a long, expensive and frustrating ride.
There are three simple factors that make for a successful taxi driver: good driving skills, the ability to communicate effectively with clients and an excellent knowledge of the city, its roads, landmarks and amenities.
There is only one way to ensure that every taxi driver possesses these three skills – test them against a minimum standard.
Except in Brampton, there is now no longer a reasonable minimum standard.
Gurmeet Singh, a local Brampton lawyer, observed that cabbies have had to pass a written taxi license test and have a proven driving record to qualify as a taxi driver.
This has been an acceptable standard for years, so why the change now? Who is council pandering to at our expense?
It is true that most of the taxi drivers come from countries where English is taught as a second language. While Brampton has a very diverse population, understanding basic English remains a core skill that ultimately unites us all.
Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon, one of the backers of the proposal, was quoted as saying in the Toronto Star, “The taxi industry came to us and said they want to make the system like Toronto’s, where English is mandatory, a requirement, but there is no testing for it.”
Ambassadors for the city
Of course, technology help us find our way around, but taxi cabs are often more than just a means of transportation.
To someone who is new to Brampton, a taxi driver is often the first ambassador to our city.
I’m glad that Councillor Gael Miles who made the point that our cabbies must know English to communicate with their passengers.
And when I spoke to Lakhbir Manak, owner of Paparazzi Kids children’s clothing store which has many outlets in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), said, “Toronto is a world class tourism hub. Thus, English should be a basic requirement for cabbies who represent us as the first contact for tourists in our region.
“Taxi drivers should have knowledge of major tourist attractions and act as a source of information for people coming to the city.”
This would be impossible if we don’t hold our taxi drivers to a high standard.
However, in Brampton, where mediocrity has become the standard, yet another important service to our citizens has been dumbed down, and we will all suffer for it.
Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer.
Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton
Kathleen Wynne, the current premier of Ontario, and Linda Jeffrey, the past Wynne Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Brampton’s current Mayor, are a study in contrasts.
As Ontario’s 25th Premier, Wynne is both at the height of her power and the low depths of popularity. But even with her popularity at below 20 per cent, she remains a powerful politician in control of her cabinet and caucus and with the ability to set and implement her political agenda.
This is despite Wynne’s now self-admitted mismanagement of our province’s electricity system, which she now concedes has caused such hardship in the province that some are forced to choose between feeding themselves or heating their homes.
It is a sad reality that Premier Wynne and her Liberals are looking more and more likely to hold on to power in the 2018 election as both the NDP and Conservatives appear to be parties struggling to seize any of the public’s attention, let alone imagination.
On one hand, Andrea Horwath and her NDP seem to have little ground to stand on, given that the Liberals have all but assumed much of the left’s territory, leaving the NDP with few policy options and little to say.
And, then, there is Patrick Brown, who with so many opportunities to pillory a Liberal government mired in scandal, continues to squander his opportunities to effectively hold this government to account while failing to be consistent in publicly expressing his own party’s policies and platform.
The recent by-elections in Ottawa and Niagara were an indictment of an ineffective opposition that bodes well for Wynne going into her pre-election year.
Contrast Wynne with Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey. Like Wynne, Jeffrey served as an Ontario Liberal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, as well as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Her predecessor, Susan Fennell, had presided over a virtual renaissance in Brampton.
During her tenure as Mayor, Brampton saw major investments in public infrastructure, and a massive $300 million expansion of public transit funded jointly by all three levels of government despite the fact that, at the time, there was no formal program in place from the Federal and Provincial governments to fund it.
All of that travelling to Ottawa paved the way for the single largest provincial/federal investment in Brampton’s history, but was ultimately part of what I have always believed to be an organized campaign to run her out of office.
Her frequent travel was at the heart of unfounded accusations, innuendo and vicious allegations that lasted all of two years. After having been cleared of all but two ridiculously minor issues just days prior to the 2014 municipal election, Fennell lost to Jeffrey, who promised to clean up City Hall.
Two years later, under Jeffrey’s leadership, Brampton's reputation has sunk to new lows. Jeffrey presides over a fractious Council that cannot agree on anything. An LRT line that had unprecedented public support was defeated despite over $300 million in approved provincial funding.
A search for a new chief administrative officer attracted only one candidate, who, since being hired has been on a rampage at City Hall that has seen virtually the entire senior management fired, drawing comparisons to a mini “reign of terror” with blood-soaked corridors and a civil service in disarray.
And even when she wins, Jeffrey loses. After recently scoring a coveted nod from her former Liberal government colleagues to locate a university in Brampton, it was revealed that even that effort is plagued with a lack of organization and little in the way of a plan, leaving Council slack-jawed, asking, “What do we do now?”
Wynne and Jeffrey are Liberals, but complete opposites: Wynne is powerful and blessed with a weak opposition; Jeffrey, powerless and cursed with a fractious and ineffective Council.
But both have one thing in common: they both need to be replaced and 2018 can’t come soon enough.
Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit