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Canadian demonstrators form ‘human chain’ in solidarity with Iran protesters

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Thousands of demonstrators lined the streets of Canadian cities from St. John’s to Vancouver as part of a worldwide “human chain” to show solidarity with ongoing anti-government protests in Iran.

In Toronto, stretches of Yonge Street were flanked by crowds chanting “women, life, freedom” and “say her name: Mahsa Amini,” who died on Sept. 16 after being detained for allegedly violating the country’s strict Islamic dress code for women.

At a midtown intersection, cars blared their horns as they passed by demonstrators holding pictures of loved ones who were among the victims of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752. On Jan. 8, 2020, 176 people, including 55 Canadian citizens, were killed when Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shot down the Ukrainian airliner.

The events were organized by the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims.

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Arash Morattab, who lost his brother and sister-in-law in the crash, said the victims of Flight 752 have common cause with the protest movement that has rocked Iran for nearly a month and a half in the face of harsh backlash from security forces.

“We are all victims of a regime that started killing people from the first days of them coming into power, and this keeps going until now,” said Morattab. “They killed our beloved ones in January 2020, and now they kill other people that fight for their rights.”

Protesters line Yonge Street in north Toronto on Saturday in support of Iranians’ continued protests against the death of Mahsa Amini in September. (Tyler Cheese/CBC)

‘It’s not just about the hijab’

The fight for justice is particularly resonant for women in Iran who continue to be denied freedom, said protester Sara Ahmadi. She said she ran into problems with the regime because she wasn’t legally married to her common-law partner, who was killed in the plane crash.

“Women don’t have any rights in my country,” Ahmadi said. “It’s not just about the hijab. It’s about everything.”

Further north on Yonge Street, protesters chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Islamic regime must go” and “What solution? Revolution” while drivers leaned on their horns in solidarity.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Mehrdokht Hadi, one of the organizers of the Toronto event. “Two months ago I couldn’t imagine this crowd on the streets, now people are not scared and people are motivated.”

Members of the Iranian Canadian community and their supporters chant before participating in a worldwide ‘human chain’ organized by the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims in Ottawa on Saturday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The protests in Iran sparked by Amini’s death first focused on the state-mandated hijab, or head scarf for women, but quickly grew into calls for the downfall of the country’s theocracy.

At least 270 people have been killed and 14,000 have been arrested in the protests that have swept over 125 Iranian cities, according to the group Human Rights Activists in Iran.

The Iranian government has repeatedly alleged that foreign powers have orchestrated the protests, but have not provided evidence to support the claim.

Trudeau at Ottawa protest

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke at the protest in Ottawa, where several hundred people gathered outside the National Gallery of Canada before moving to stretch along both sides of the Alexandra Bridge.

“Iranians made their choice, Canada be their voice,” and “Canada, U.S., take action, take action” featured prominently in the chants heard in the nation’s capital.

Trudeau told the crowd that he and other Canadians stood with the protesters in Iran.

“They are not forgotten. Their voices are being heard,” he said.

‘Enough is enough,’ Trudeau says at Iran demonstration

 

As demonstrators gathered across Canada to show solidarity with those in Iran protesting the repression of women’s rights following the death of Mahsa Amini, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a crowd in Ottawa that ‘we are not stopping.’

The biggest applause for the prime minister came when he discussed Iranians in Canada “who have benefited from the corrupt, from the horrific regime in Iran,” saying “no more” would Canada be a safe haven.

Canada has moved to bar thousands of members of the Iranian regime and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from entering Canada.

Trudeau’s words Saturday prompted chants of “kick them out” from the crowd.

A demonstrator waves the flag of Iran as they participate in a human chain along the Alexandra Bridge joining Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., on Saturday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

One of the protesters, Arian Nourishad, said she was glad to see Trudeau at the protest, along with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau.

“Of course, you can always do more. But we’re happy he’s here,” she said.

Sharooz Fazni, who came to Canada from Iran in 1984, said that he was more hopeful about these protests than ever before. He said he was glad to be taking part in protests in Canada in support of those in Iran.

“Here, nobody shoots. But in Iran …”

Calls for democracy, end to regime

In Winnipeg, more than 100 people participated in the human chain protest that began at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and stretched along the Esplanade Riel.

“We want democracy for Iran. We want this oppression to end,” Kouroush Doustshenas, who helped organize the event.

“We want to see this regime end, because as long as they are around there will be no peace or justice, not only for Iranians but for a large area of the Middle East,” he said.

People form a chain in front of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in downtown Winnipeg on Saturday. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

The real estate agent lost his fiancée when Flight 752 was shot down. Eight of those killed in the disaster were from Winnipeg.

He’s now a director of the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims.

“We’ve called [for] this human chain to memorialize and celebrate the lives of the people we have lost [to the regime],” Doustshenas said.

Doustshenas, and other leaders from the Manitoba Iranian community, met with Trudeau and members of parliament in Winnipeg on Friday at the Tehran Cafe.

In Saskatoon, a number of city officials, including Mayor Charlie Clark, joined hundreds of people in a march that began at the top of University Bridge and made its way downtown to city hall.

 

Hundreds marched in Saskatoon Saturday afternoon to support the freedom movement of Iranian people and condemn the deaths and arrests of protesters. (Trevor Bothorel/Radio-Canada)

 

One of the organizers said the worldwide protests are meant to highlight what is happening in Iran.

“[It’s] putting the spotlight and mounting pressure on the Iranian government to stop killing protesters, and I think that attention has a big role to play in achieving that goal,” said Pooyan Arab, director of Saskatoon Iranian Cultural Association and one of the march’s organizers.

Personal experience

Calgary’s Edworthy Park was filled with more than 500 people standing side by side in defiance of Iran regime, chanting Amini’s name and calling on the Canadian government to help make a change.

Ghazal Khanlarbig was among them. She’s been in Canada since she was 14.

“When I was 13, I was at a party with my aunt and I was arrested by morality police because we were attending a birthday party,” Khanlarbig said.

“I will never forget those 15 hours…. It was actually a few months before I came to Canada and I was crying and I was begging because I thought I would never be able to leave Iran.”

Decades later, she’s protesting against that regime thousands of kilometres away.

A protestor holds the flag of Iran at a rally in Calgary on Saturday. (Evelyne Asselin/Radio-Canada)

Meanwhile, about 100 people turned out in support of Iranian protesters in Edmonton. The rally was hosted by the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton (IHSE) along with the Association of Families of Flight PS752.

Organizer Reza Akbari, president of the IHSE, said the Iranian government’s tight control of the internet restricts people’s ability to share their stories of what is happening in Iran’s schools and on its streets. He said the protest was a way to be their voice and ensure their message is heard.

About 100 people turned out in Edmonton in support of Iranian protesters. The rally ended with supporters marching down Whyte Avenue before forming a human chain. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

‘Please be our voice’

In Vancouver, thousands of people joined hands along the Lions Gate Bridge, which links Vancouver to North Vancouver, to form a human chain starting at noon PT. The group held banners and waved flags as passing motorists honked their horns.

According to the Vancouver Police Department, there were 15,000 to 20,000 people on the bridge at the rally’s peak. The protest was peaceful with no arrests, police said.

About 200 people protested in Harbourside Park in St. John’s on Saturday.

Aysan, one of the protest organizers, said she was arrested in Iran and forced to wear a hijab. CBC News is only referring to her by her first name to protect her family still in Iran.

Aysan called for people to speak up to help force change in the regime in Iran.

“What we want from people of the world, people of Canada, first of all, please be our voice. You might not know that, but being your voice, even sharing your story on social media can save lives,” she said.

“We are the same people as you. Just because we were born in Middle East doesn’t mean that we deserve to be murdered. And we want the world [to] know that and stop being supportive of the regime.”

Aysan holds the names of about 150 people who she said have been arrested or killed in Iran. CBC News is only using Aysan’s first name to protect her family still in Iran. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC)

In Halifax, the show of support for the people of Iran moved some demonstrators to tears, said Reza Rahimi, who lost his mother-in-law when Flight 752 was shot down.

“[Locals and] immigrants from every nation and every race were standing beside us,” Rahimi said.

“Three years after losing my mother-in-law abroad, I’m not saying it’s let us move on — we would never move on — but it will help us put something on the pain.”

Similar protests unfolded on Saturday in other Canadian cities including London and Waterloo, Ont., and Montreal. Around the world, cities in the U.S., Australia, France, Germany, Italy and the U.K., among other countries, were also slated to host rallies.

Protesters gather at the Roddick Gates in front of McGill University in Montreal on Saturday. (Submitted by Atena Barforoushi)

With files from Christian Paas-Lang, Jane Gerster, Lukas Wall, Jenn Allen, Samantha Schwientek, Chad Pawson, Scott Larson, Omar Sherif, Eva Lam and The Canadian Press

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Chinese immigration to Canada record high from 2015, as some flee zero-COVID strategy

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China’s zero-COVID lockdowns have been linked to a rare wave of protests across the country in recent weeks, and immigration industry experts say the strict pandemic rules are also fuelling a surge in requests to live in Canada.

Immigration from China has bounced back from pandemic lulls to hit a new peak, according to Canadian government statistics, and immigration consultants report an ongoing surge of inquiries.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Ryan Rosenberg, co-founder and partner at Larlee Rosenberg, said COVID restrictions have been a new motivator for potential Chinese immigrants.

“I think that what we are seeing is that COVID lockdowns really shocked people and it caused people to think that maybe China is not a good fit for themselves and for their families.”

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Rosenberg, who has been in the industry for more than 20 years, said the traditional driving forces for Chinese clients considering Canada were better education for their children, cleaner air and a healthier lifestyle.

Permanent resident admissions from China hit 9,925 in the July-to-September quarter, online statistics by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada show.

That is more than triple the pandemic low of 2,980 in the same quarter of 2020, and is also up 15 per cent from 8,690 recorded in the third quarter of 2019, before the pandemic hit.

Quarterly admissions from China are now higher than at any point since 2015, as far back as the online statistics go. A spokesperson for Immigration Canada was not available to confirm if immigration rates had been higher before 2015.

Politics is also a factor, Rosenberg said, citing the consolidation of power with President Xi Jinping, who was recently confirmed for a precedent-breaking third term.

“(The) latest extension of Xi’s rule in China has also scared certain people, mostly business owners … and they are wanting to look at Canada as an option for themselves and their family,” said Rosenberg.

“There is a strong vibe that we are picking up on people wanting to get out for those reasons more than anything.”

Tiffany, a Richmond, B.C., immigration consultant who only wanted her first name used for fear of reprisals against her family from China, said many of her clients say China’s zero-COVID strategy made them feel “their freedom and liberties have been stripped away.”

“Many could sense the pressure that (Chinese) society is shifting, from once being a bit open and relaxed to being strict, prompting them to think of escaping to other countries,” the consultant said in an interview in Mandarin.

Immigration consultant Ken Tin Lok Wong said his firm has also seen an increase in family reunion applications.

“Because of COVID-19, many decided to come here to visit their family members in Canada,” Wong said in an interview in Mandarin.

“After spending some time here, they realized that although they probably could make more money in their hometowns (in China), being close to family members is more important than anything in life.”

Rosenberg said the subject of immigration has become so sensitive that his clients in China are reluctant to discuss matters over electronic communication, fearing they might be monitored by the Chinese government.

“It’s coming to the point that the concern is getting in the way of people being able to have meaningful conversations about this in China, and that can somehow limit our ability to do really good work for them,” said Rosenberg.

China’s embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment.

The desire to leave China during the pandemic, combined with the caution of speaking about it openly, has sparked a coded term in Chinese online discussions: “run xue,” or run philosophy.

The bilingual term refers to studying ways to get out of China, and is widely used on Chinese-language websites and chat rooms.

A recent immigrant who moved from Beijing to Vancouver three years ago said he made his “run” for political reasons. He too asked not to be identified out of fear of reprisals from the Chinese government.

The engineer, who is in his late 30s, said he went on multiple trips to Taiwan after the island opened its doors to Chinese tourists in 2008.

“I remember, I stopped by at Freedom Square, a public plaza in Taipei, and saw some people running around carefree. Some were doing music rehearsals and others were even waving placards to express their political opinions,” he said.

“I didn’t see any police presence at the square and that was the awakening moment for me. I thought to myself: ‘Oh, I actually could live my life this way.’”

He said he was now content with his life in Vancouver, despite feeling lonely during holidays and having to work multiple jobs to make a living.

Rosenberg said young immigrants with lots of work years ahead of them were favoured for their ability to contribute to the Canadian economy in a “meaningful and direct way.”

“So, the bias is towards people who are a bit younger, highly educated, and can speak English or French, and then having experience in Canada, (rather) than experience earned outside of Canada,” said Rosenberg.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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Girl Guides of Canada announces two potential new names for Brownies program

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Girl Guides of Canada is asking its members to vote on two new name options for its Brownies program — comets or embers.

Last month the national organization told members it would be changing the name of the program for girls aged seven and eight because the name has caused harm to racialized Girl Guides.

Girl Guides says that some Black Canadians, Indigenous residents and people of colour have chosen to skip this program or delay joining the organization because of the name,  adding a change can ensure more girls feel like they belong in the program.

Members were invited to vote for one of the two new name contenders in an email sent Tuesday.

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The email says the name comets was chosen because they inspire as they travel through space, boldly blazing a trail, and the name embers were selected because they are small and full of potential that can ignite a powerful flame.

Girl Guides says members can vote until December 13 and the new name will be announced in late January.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2022.

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Veterans’ cases raise fresh concerns about expanding assisted dying law

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Revelations that some Canadian veterans have been offered medically assisted deaths while seeking help from the federal government are adding to worries about Ottawa’s plans to expand such procedures to include mental-health injuries and illnesses.

Veterans’ organizations are instead calling on Ottawa to increase access to mental-health services for former service members, which includes addressing the long wait times that many are forced to endure when applying for assistance.

“Mental-health injuries can be terminal only if they’re untreated, unsupported and under-resourced,” said Wounded Warriors executive director Scott Maxwell, whose organization runs mental-health support programs for veterans and first responders.

“That should be where we’re focused: resourcing, funding and investing in timely access to culturally competent, occupationally aware mental-health care.”

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While medical assistance in dying was approved in 2016 for Canadians suffering from physical injuries and illness, the criteria for MAID is set to expand in March to include those living with mental-health conditions.

While that plan has already elicited warnings from psychiatrists across the country, who say Canada is not ready for such a move, Maxwell and others are also sounding the alarm about the potential impact on ill and injured ex-soldiers.

Those concerns have crystallized in recent weeks after reports that several former service members who reached out to Veterans Affairs Canada for assistance over the past three years were counselled on assisted dying.

Those include retired corporal and Canadian Paralympian Christine Gauthier, who told the House of Commons’ veterans affairs committee last week that she was offered an assisted death during her five-year fight for a wheelchair ramp in her home.

The federal government has blamed a single Veterans Affairs employee, saying the case manager was acting alone and that her case has been referred to the RCMP. It also says training and guidance has been provided to the rest of the department’s employees.

The issue has nonetheless sparked fears about what will happen if the criteria for MAID is expanded in March, particularly as many veterans with mental and physical injuries continue to have to wait months — and even years — for federal support.

Those wait times have persisted for years despite frustration, anger and warnings from the veterans’ community as well as the veterans’ ombudsman, Canada’s auditor general and others about the negative impact those wait times are having on former service members.

“My fear is that we are offering a vehicle for people to end their lives when there are treatment options available, but those treatment options are more difficult to access than medically assisted death,” Oliver Thorne of the Veterans Transition Network recently testified before the Commons’ veterans affairs committee.

And despite the government’s assertions that a single Veterans Affairs’ employee was responsible for proposing MAID as an option, Royal Canadian Legion deputy director of veterans’ services Carolyn Hughes said the reports have added to longstanding anger and fears in the community.

“Many veterans have been angered and retraumatized by this situation, seeing it as an extension of the perception of ‘deny, delay, and die’ from VAC to veterans,” she told the same committee.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that the government is looking at striking the right balance between providing access to assisted deaths and protecting vulnerable Canadians, including veterans.

But the Association of Chairs of Psychiatry in Canada, which includes heads of psychiatry departments at all 17 medical schools, is calling for a delay to the proposed MAID expansion, saying patients need better access to care including for addiction services.

The Conservatives have also called for a delay, with democratic reform critic Michael Cooper underscoring the need for more study and preparation.

“Many veterans who turn to Veterans Affairs for services and support are vulnerable,” he said. “Many have physical injuries and mental-health issues arising from their service. What they need is help and support. And it can be devastating to be offered death instead of help.”

NDP veterans affairs critic Rachel Blaney said it is essential that the government increase access to services for veterans.

“We should always make sure that there’s resources and services out there,” she said. “We don’t want anyone to feel like this (MAID) is ever the first option for them. “

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2022.

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