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Politicians, academics worry where extremist behaviour in Canada could lead

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Federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser says no one should be surprised by extremist behaviour making its way to Nova Scotia, including outside the doors of his Pictou County constituency office.

Unmasked protesters gathered Thursday in New Glasgow, N.S., and attempted to enter the locked office after promoting the event with a reference to the Nuremberg trials, the tribunals held in the wake of the Second World War for the war crimes of Nazi officials.

People don’t have to share his opinions or agree with everything — or even anything — his government does related to the COVID-19 pandemic or other issues, said Fraser, but there is a line of civility that more and more people seem comfortable crossing, and that causes him concern.

“There is no place for comparisons between public health measures and the Holocaust,” the Central Nova MP said in an interview from Ottawa.

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“There is no place in our democratic discourse to threaten elected officials with violence because you don’t agree with them, particularly when they were elected in a democratic way by your friends and neighbours who may not share your point of view.”

MPs, MLAs targeted

The incident at Fraser’s office comes during a week when multiple federal and provincial politicians in Nova Scotia received suspicious packages, some of which contained chemical irritants. Most of the envelopes were left sealed, but at least one that was opened included disturbing images of politicians being hanged. Province House was closed to the public Friday following threats against it and other nearby government buildings in Halifax.

The incidents follow protests that have shut down the Canada-U.S. border crossing and taken over parts of downtown Ottawa. While they’re touted as opposing public health measures, such as vaccines mandates, the protests have also included people waving Nazi and Confederate flags, while others have intimidated people in communities and danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Fraser said he’s not just worried about where things could lead, but the immediate threat of physical violence.

“Let’s not forget that people who are in Ottawa today have been threatening journalists and elected officials,” he said.

 

 

Lori Turnbull, the director of Dalhousie University’s school of public administration and an associate professor of political science, said right-wing extremism is having an effect on mainstream conversations as frustrations about public health measures mount and there is a breakdown of trust for institutions among some people.

“It’s not all explainable by one thing, but we have a serious far-right presence in Canada that is starting to kind of become more visible to the mainstream,” she said.

Nelson Wiseman, professor emeritus in the University of Toronto’s political science department, said what’s playing out in Canada is a proliferation of something that’s been developing for a few years.

“It’s become very common in the United States,” he said. “The United States always shows Canada its future in all kinds of areas — in consumer trends, cultural trends, politics — and so you have spillage, and that’s what’s going on.”

 

Lori Turnbull is director of the school of public administration and an associate professor of political science at Dalhousie University. (CBC)

 

Wiseman said the overt anger and public expressions of racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry that emerged during the time of Donald Trump’s presidency in the U.S. are spreading.

It’s why Turnbull believes it’s so important for political leaders in Canada at all levels and from all parties to speak out against the actions unfolding in recent days.

“Political leaders have to resist the urge to try to tap into what they see as a potential basis of support at all costs,” she said. “There has to be some defence of the integrity of democracy.”

In recent days, the leaders of all major parties in Ottawa have called on protesters to go home. What started as a supposed show of support for truckers, despite the majority of people in that industry being vaccinated and continuing to work, morphed into something very different.

 

West Nova MP Chris d’Entremont’s office in Yarmouth, N.S., received mail that included a chemical irritant this week. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

 

West Nova MP Chris d’Entremont, whose Yarmouth, N.S., constituency office received one of the letters with a chemical irritant, said there needs to be a change in the language people are using as they debate contentious issues. He said there is growing recognition of that within the caucus of the Conservative Party of Canada.

“I do worry sometimes that people treat it as a sort of western movement or another movement, and therefore [they] need to support it,” he said.

“But in the end, I think as this goes on longer, I think they’ll realize the fault in that. It’s not just that.”

During 16 years in provincial office and three in Ottawa, d’Entremont has seen his share of protests and frustrated constituents. But he said a new tone has emerged.

‘People are calling very angry’

“People on social media, people on the emails and the phone calls, people are calling very angry and demanding of things and that’s different than really anything I’ve really seen since I’ve been elected,” he said, adding that it’s beginning to affect the way politicians do their jobs.

“We should be interacting with our ridings. We should be interacting with the public. And because of the added threats that seem to be popping up all over the place, we end up having to put in, you know, barriers in that work.”

Like d’Entremont, Turnbull and Wiseman, Fraser believes that at least part of the problem is the last two years of public health measures have caused people to turn inward and communicate online, rather than face to face.

In many cases, Fraser said, it’s caused them to seek out points of view that validate and reinforce their own, rather than considering the views of others and engaging in constructive exchanges.

Even interactions among MPs have changed, he said, as Zoom meetings have removed opportunities to bump into people in the hallways of Parliament or at a restaurant or bar in downtown Ottawa, the places where real cross-party relationships are forged.

Staff caught in the way

Fraser is also troubled by the fact that the people who are actually on the receiving end of threatening mail and protests at political offices often aren’t politicians, but rather the staff whose job it is to help constituents.

That job has been particularly difficult and all encompassing during the pandemic, he said, as staffers worked to help get people access to financial benefits, support for small businesses and wage subsidies for larger companies.

“This is the kind of thing they’ve been doing to literally help thousands and thousands of people over the last few years, and they do it in the face of this kind of aggression where the protesters would compare the policies that our government have adopted to the work of the Nazis during the Holocaust,” said Fraser.

“This is not OK.”

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Canada politics: NDP to talk health care with Trudeau – CTV News

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OTTAWA –

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that he would sit down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday to discuss private health care ahead of next week’s summit with premiers.

Trudeau is expected to meet with provincial and territorial leaders in Ottawa next Tuesday to discuss a new health-care funding deal.

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“The deal will be a failure if it doesn’t include major commitments to hire more health-care workers,” Singh said Monday, adding that the funding should be kept within the public system.

The last time Trudeau and Singh met one-on-one, as outlined in the confidence-and-supply agreement between the Liberals and the NDP, was in December.

Singh said now is the time for the Liberal government to make clear that funding private health-care facilities will not improve the shortage of health-care workers Canada is facing.

On Monday, legislators’ first day back at the House of Commons after a winter break, the NDP requested an emergency debate on the privatization of health care. The request was denied.

During the first question period of the year, Trudeau said his government will continue to ensure the provinces and territories abide by the Canada Health Act.

“We know that even as we negotiate with the provinces to ensure that we’re delivering more family doctors, better mental-health supports, moving forward on backlogs, supporting Canadians who need emergency care, we will ensure the Canada Health Act is fully respected,” Trudeau said.

“In the past, this government has pulled back money from provinces that haven’t respected it. We will continue to do that.”

Singh said that while health care falls under provincial jurisdiction, he believes the federal government could be using the Canada Health Act more aggressively to challenge for-profit care.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government announced earlier this month that it’s moving some procedures to publicly funded, private facilities to address a growing surgery wait-list, which worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan have already made similar moves.

“We think the federal government should be making it very clear that the solution to the current health-care crisis will not come from a privatization, for-profit delivery of care. It’ll only come by making sure we hire, recruit, retain and respect health care,” Singh said.

“Health care is already dramatically understaffed, and for-profit facilities will poach doctors and nurses — cannibalizing hospitals, forcing people to wait longer in pain and racked with anxiety.”

The New Democrats say they’re also concerned that private facilities will upsell patients for brands and services not covered by the province, and tack on extra fees and services.

Singh spent some of Parliament’s winter break holding roundtable discussions on health care in British Columbia to discuss emergency room overcrowding and worker shortages.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2023.  

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Prime Minister stands behind newly appointed special representative on combatting Islamophobia – The Globe and Mail

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Amira Elghawaby, a human-rights advocate and journalist, pointed out that the specific sentence from a 2019 article co-authored that has raised ire – that Quebeckers appeared to be swayed by anti-Muslim sentiment – was not her opinion, but rather, a description of a poll’s findings.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood by his newly appointed special representative on combatting Islamophobia as the country marked the sixth anniversary of the deadly Quebec City mosque shooting, while the Quebec government and federal Conservatives called for Amira Elghawaby to step aside.

Outcry over her appointment dominated headlines in Quebec. The backlash stemmed from a 2019 article co-authored by Ms. Elghawaby – a particular line of which was perceived as showing anti-Quebec sentiment. The piece opposed Bill 21, the Quebec law that bans some public servants from wearing religious symbols, such as hijabs.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Elghawaby, a human-rights advocate and journalist, pointed out that the specific sentence that has raised ire – that Quebeckers appeared to be swayed by anti-Muslim sentiment – was not her opinion, but rather, a description of a poll’s findings.

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After criticism was raised last week, Mr. Trudeau said he expected Ms. Elghawaby to clarify her remarks, which she did, saying she does not believe Quebeckers are Islamophobic. Mr. Trudeau said Monday he is satisfied and wants to move forward.

Ms. Elghawaby’s mandate – to support the federal government in rooting out Islamophobia and highlight the diverse experiences of Canadian Muslims – has grown increasingly urgent. In recent years, hate crimes against Muslims have skyrocketed. And, over the past five years, Canada has taken the dark title of the Group of Seven nation with the highest number of Islamophobic killings, advocates note.

“There are anti-Muslim sentiments across Canada,” Ms. Elghawaby said. “This is not a Quebec issue. This is a Canadian issue.”

Amid the fracas, Ms. Elghawaby’s appointment is being celebrated by Muslim and non-Muslim advocates alike.

Stephen Brown, chief executive officer of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, or NCCM, said they are very happy to see Ms. Elghawaby’s appointment, noting she has a long history of advocating for Muslims, is bilingual and very dedicated.

He said the recommendation for the role came out of the National Summit on Islamophobia, in 2021, after the killing of four members of one Muslim family – the Afzaals – in London, Ont., which police said was motivated by anti-Muslim hate. Six Muslim men were killed and another 19 injured in the Quebec City mosque shooting in 2017.

Born in Egypt, Ms. Elghawaby was a baby when her family immigrated to Canada, where her father worked for decades as an engineer with the federal government and her mother raised her and her siblings in an east-end Ottawa suburb.

When Ms. Elghawaby decided to start wearing a head scarf – while studying journalism at Carleton University in the early 2000s – she recalled her father warning her against it. He worried about the barriers that a visible marker of faith could pose, she said.

“I remember telling him, ‘I really believe that Canada is a place where I can put on the head scarf and I can still contribute and I can still succeed,’” she said.

Despite the realities of Islamophobia – ones that cause her to be on guard while at mosque – Ms. Elghawaby said she has always had immense hope for Canada.

Over a career spanning two decades, Ms. Elghawaby has written for CBC News and held forth as a contributing columnist for the Toronto Star; been a founding board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network; and worked with the National Council of Canadian Muslims and, most recently, for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.

In interviews, several people said Ms. Elghawaby is known for her work building connections across communities.

Debbie Douglas, the executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, described Ms. Elghawaby as very concerned with how Islamophobia ties into women’s rights and to anti-Black racism, as well as issues of antisemitism.

She pays attention to “the need for real bridge-building and conversations,” Ms. Douglas noted. “You often found her where there’s lots of cross-cultural communications happening.”

Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, called Ms. Elghawaby the “perfect appointment.”

“We are living in very dark times,” he said. “Most people allow the darkness to envelop us. Amira is quite the opposite. She insists that there is light.”

He said Ms. Elghawaby has been instrumental in bringing Jewish and Muslim leadership together for difficult conversations. He also described doing trainings – he on antisemitism and she on Islamophobia – for police agencies.

And together, the pair authored the 2019 column that elicited criticism from some.

The pair wrote: “Unfortunately, the majority of Quebeckers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment. A poll conducted by Léger Marketing earlier this year found that 88 per cent of Quebeckers who held negative views of Islam supported the ban.”

Ms. Elghawaby said the pair had seen Montreal Gazette reporting on the poll, which stated that “anti-Muslim sentiment appears to be the main motivation for those who support a ban on religious symbols,” and that the poll found most Quebeckers supported Bill 21.

Mr. Brown, of the NCCM, said no one felt that Léger was “Quebec bashing” when it put those numbers out.

Sarah Mushtaq, a community advocate in Windsor, Ont., who writes columns for the Windsor Star, said Ms. Elghawaby’s kindness and wisdom – and ability to navigate tense issues – have made an impact on her.

Part of being a Muslim in the public sphere means that, sometimes, “no one is ever happy with what you said,” she said.

“You never know how certain comments are going to get dug up and misconstrued,” she added.

She said the role of a federal representative dedicated to combatting Islamophobia is “long overdue” and it’s important that a visibly Muslim woman is filling it.

“Despite the naysayers, there’s a lot of people who are grateful that this role exists,” she said. “We are behind her.”

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Parliamentarians kick off return to House of Commons with debate on child care

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Parliamentarians kick off return

The economy was top of mind for members of Parliament as they returned to the House of Commons Monday, with the Liberal government kicking off the new sitting with a debate on child care.

Families Minister Karina Gould tabled Bill C-35 last December, which seeks to enshrine the Liberals’ national daycare plan into law — and commit Ottawa to maintaining long-term funding.

The federal government has inked deals with provinces and territories in an effort to cut fees down to an average of $10 per day by 2026.

During a debate today, Gould said all parties should support the bill, and the national plan has begun saving families money.

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But Conservative MP Michelle Ferreri said the plan is “subsidizing the wealthy” while failing to reduce wait times for child-care spaces and address labour shortages in the sector.

Ferreri told MPs that the Conservatives would be presenting “strong amendments” to the legislation.

The debate comes amid concerns about a possible recession this year, with both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre saying their focus will be on the cost of living.

But Poilievre’s Tories may have little room to manoeuvre in the legislature.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters upon his return to the House of Commons that he does not believe there is any room to work with the Conservatives during the upcoming sitting.

Instead, the NDP says it plans to push the Liberals to fulfil the terms of the parties’ confidence-and-supply agreement, such as the planned expansion of federal dental care.

Under the deal signed last March, the NDP agreed to support the minority government on key House of Commons votes in exchange for the Liberals moving ahead on New Democrat policy priorities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2023.

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