The Democratic Deficit in Canada

The Democratic Deficit in Canada


Howard Adelman

Brand Command: Canadian Politics and Democracy in the Age of Message Control [Brand] (Alex Marland)

Brand won the Donner Prize of $50,000 from a very distinguished jury. Brand is many books in one. First and foremost, it is a manual of government public relations for the digital age. Second, it is a history of the development and use of that manual by the Government of Canada, overwhelmingly the Stephen Harper regime, with some short excursions into the behavior of the Justin Trudeau. Third, it is an interpretation of causation in history, more specifically, that the characteristics of the digital age determined a specific outcome, radically changing the Canadian political culture. Fourth, and certainly not final, for that is my main interest, it is a portrait of Marland’s interpretation of Canadian political culture set against his enunciation of the norms of western democracy. Measured against those norms, the book is a depiction of the Canadian democratic deficit.

By far the largest part of the book is about the first and second topics.  However, I start with the last item, the conception of democracy itself and a democratic culture, a topic about which the author gives very short shrift (46-53), surprising in a book that uses democratic norms to assess and evaluate the communications culture of a specific democracy, that of Canada. However, this may not be so surprising since the book is only about a specific aspect of democracy, the efforts of politicians, political parties and governments to reach an audience of voters made up of disparate parts.

Those parts consist of the following: partisans; deliberators; single issue voters and hands on voters, the latter singularly and largely ignored in the digital age and ignored in this book as well, though they constitute as much as 15% of the electorate but are not reached by marketing, but by establishing a direct connection between the candidate and the voter. Hands on voters do not vote based either on ideas or ideology, at one end of the spectrum, or the power of advertising persuasion on the other. 

 Marland deals with partisans only in generic terms, sometimes regarding each voter as a tabula rasa whose loyalty and support, commitment and trust must be won and solidified through messaging. At other times, he seems to regard their dispositions and commitments as being bred in the bone. He does not sub-divide Conservative partisans into free-enterprise voters versus community conservatives, two groups which populate and divide the Conservative Party of Canada, or into self-interested voters who determine which party matches their specific individual needs and interests, a group divided between the Liberals and the New Democratic Party in Canada and representing the largest bulk of voters. Deliberative voters swing between and among parties and are usually branded as independents. The Green Party had been a single-issue party appealing to voters conscious that climate change is the most important topic on any political agenda, but, more recently, making a strenuous effort to broaden its appeal. There are other voters concerned with a wide range of other specific issues – abortion, LGBT rights, etc.

These connections are usually established by symbols and brands, in this case, the party names: Conservative, Liberal, Green and New Democratic. As parties, they are concerned with access to and performance by voters during elections (turnout and voting) and maintaining trust and, therefore, loyalty during the interval between elections. As an analyst, Marland is concerned with the values that ought to govern the relations between parties and government and their supporters – access to their representatives and transparency about what they do. Given his focus, Marland does not really discuss constitutions and laws, legislation and governance, except one key condition of representation and governance – communications – a necessary ingredient by means of which a democratic government, as distinct from other forms (tyrannies), earns and maintains its support, authority and legitimacy.

The means to do so rather than the definition of the common good preoccupies him, though one good is presumed – an informed electorate. What effect do government structures and practices, particularly current forms of communication, have on the relationship between citizens and their government? For Marland, the idea of a member of parliament simply representing the interests of his constituents is an allusion to a nostalgic past that may never even have existed. MPs have become “vital regional sales reps” in a system run by means of unrelenting centralized media management.

Party whips ensure members toe the line whatever their constituent concerns, speakers are given time limits, and the role of question period has become less relevant.  MPs have less rather than greater access to data and documents. The power of committees has been reduced as partisanship became the order of the day; representatives are portrayed as no more than lemmings unable to speak freely to their constituents or the media. The role of the legislature is reduced as the status of the executive, especially the Office of the Prime Minister (PMO), has been enhanced so that there are fewer sitting days and prime ministers and their cabinet members feel less obligated to face their peers in the House. The use of blogs and tweets by party members is highly controlled, a charge for which Marland provides little evidence. Communication strategies “embolden” tribalism rather than representative responsible government. As a result, trust in government in general has waned.

In a fundamental contradiction that runs through the book, this dystopic democracy is painted as, at one and the same time, an inevitable result of the new technology and as a failure of democratic leadership. Marland is both a causal necessitarian about history and a hectoring superego on the body politic given that control of the message now has such enormous consequences when a member “goes off message.” MPs have been reduced to the puppets of a ventriloquist.

Marland does offer one ray of hope – Gordon Chong’s Bill C-586 amending the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act giving the leader much less control and the member more opportunity to express him/herself, though Marland insists that the proof will be in the practices that result. However, the overwhelming mood of the volume is pessimism stemming from his adherence to the Innis-McLuhan thesis that “technology is the driver of social organization.” Further, with the development of electronic and visual communications, these forces have become more pervasive, more powerful and more potent.

In the next blog, I will take up the issue of whether his analysis of those tools of communication, the techniques used to employ them and their impacts determine political structures or whether his analysis is much more a reflection of the Harper government in Canada from which he derived the bulk of the content of his book. My own direct experience suggests the latter since much of the process of centralization had very little to with messaging and a great deal to do with control.

My main example is a proposal we submitted to amend existing migration policy. Rather than initiating a new program, we had proposed to take in refugees to replace temporary skilled workers. In the “old” days, the change would have taken less than a week for the minister to approve. We were informed that because it was so palatable to the government, it would be approved, but still would take four months. For every change had to be approved in the PMO. Eighteen months later, there was neither an approval nor rejection.

The process was particularly galling since the change, one tested in both Halifax and Calgary, would deliver a quadruple hit with only positive upsides. Business support existed and would grow because it was a program preferred by business which could do better long term training and planning at even less cost. Projecting a humanitarian face for the Harper government would certainly have been a result, and a needed one. At the same time, private sponsors eager to help the refugees could be satisfied instead of having to wait, sometimes more than a year, for the entry of those privately-sponsored refugees. The tweak to the existing program would also provide a back door to exit the unskilled temporary work program that had become such an embarrassment for the government.

Let me offer other examples, most also all based on direct experience wikth the Harper government:

  1. At the same time as the above, we were informed that ALL approvals, even for the purchase of more paperclips, had to go through the PMO, and that it took weeks even for miniscule authorizations;
  2. Libraries for helping write policy papers were removed from the department and placed in storage;
  3. The policy unit in the department had been dissolved;
  4. In a policy paper that I had been involved in writing, we were asked to excise the word “Syrian” because that term was anathema to the PM;
  5. Social and natural scientists working for government were muzzled;
  6. Outside knowledge that could disrupt plans and priorities was excised from any input into government – such as the cancelled long form census survey;
  7. I was also told, though I have not verified this, that civil servants were booking off sick days in record numbers; this was explained in terms of the impotence forcefully introduced into the civil service with a resultant pervasive depression when initiative was severely discouraged.

I could go on offering other examples, but most of the above have nothing to do with controlling a message and everything to do with our former PM being a control freak. What struck me in reading the book, and contrary to Marland’s insistence that he had been politically neutral, is that while he, like Tom Flanagan, whom he credits as an essential guide, was totally distressed by the huge democratic deficit that had been created, he seemed to want to find the Conservative Party innocent by removing any significant blame from Harper and placing it on the demands and drives of changing technology. In that way, the Liberals and Conservatives would be painted with the same brush while Marland preserved his superego standards intact.

There is a way of testing whether my hunch is correct or false, but that requires reviewing the tools and techniques available in the digital age, how they are used, and the impacts of both on government structures, organization and policies. This is the task I will take up tomorrow.


With the help of Alex Zisman


Islamophobia in Canada

Islamophobia in Canada


Howard Adelman

According to Amira Elghawaby, spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the term “Islamophobia” as used in Canada describes the irrational fear or hatred of Muslims that leads to discrimination or acts of harassment or violence. One week after Trump’s rant, on 23 February 2017 in Ontario, Canada, the legislature passed a unanimous motion condemning Islamophobia. The motion was spurred by the shooting deaths of six worshippers and wounding 19 others in a mosque in Quebec. But it was also a response to local incidents in Ottawa (anti-Muslim graffiti, and the spitting at young women wearing hijabs). The Ontario legislature motion was introduced by Liberal backbencher Nathalie Des Rosiers from the Ottawa riding of Ottawa-Vanier. It called on the legislature to “stand against all forms of hatred, hostility, prejudice, racism and intolerance,” and to rebuke a “growing tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric and sentiments.” The motion called for a condemnation of “all forms of Islamophobia.”

Canadians across the country had rallied to demonstrate their support for besieged Muslims. Flowers and several hand-made signs were placed outside Masjid Al-Iman mosque in Victoria in the wake of the deadly shooting in Quebec on 30 January. My own rabbi was one of leaders who helped form a circle of peace around a mosque in Toronto.

The Muslim community in Canada, feeling singled out as never before, felt justified in wanting the legislatures across Canada, especially the federal parliament, to go further. Amira Elghawaby asked the federal government not only to take steps to combat Islamophobia and support M-103, a federal parliamentary motion to condemn Islamophobia, but to declare 29 January, the date of the Quebec shooting, a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia.

In the federal legislature, the debate has been different than the one in Ontario. The motion was similar and the non-binding motion M-103 called on the government to “recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear,” The full private member’s motion read as follows:

In the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, [my italics – do you understand what that means? Is this addressed to the general reader? It is political gibberish.] (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau supported the motion, arguing that the Muslim community is currently “particularly vulnerable these days to intolerance and discrimination.” At the federal level, the Progressive Conservative party, or many of its MPs, took a different tack than their Ontario cousins and opposed the inclusion of Islamophobia in a general resolution condemning the rise of that type of speech or action. Federal Conservatives insisted that the federal motion should be opposed because it singles out one religious group over others. Many Conservative MPs opposed the inclusion of Islamophobia in a general resolution condemning the rise of that type of speech or action, fearing a suppression of free speech would result.

Some federal Conservatives supported the motion, such as South Surrey-White Rock B.C. Conservative MP Dianne Watts. Conservative leadership candidate Michael Chong also supported the motion. “In light of the mass shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City suburb of Sainte-Foy last month, where six Muslims were killed and 19 injured while they prayed in their mosque, it is appropriate and important that Canadian parliamentarians study the issue of anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic prejudice and discrimination.” He denied the argument that the motion could be used to curtail freedom of speech simply because Islamophobia is not defined. After all, Section 319 of the Criminal Code goes even further and makes it an offence to wilfully promote or publicly incite hatred against any identifiable group which, incidentally, Chong would repeal because the section sets too high a standard on non-hate speech.

Other Conservatives have argued that many definitions of Islamophobia include “dislike” of Islam and its adherents as part of the definition. The motion could potentially put a damper on free speech. Kellie Leitch (Conservative, Simcoe-Gray), another leadership candidate for the opposition party, claimed that she was fighting back “against politically correct nonsense.” Maxime Bernier, Andrew Scheer, Brad Trost, Chris Alexander, Kevin O’Leary and Erin O’Toole, other candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party, also criticized the motion condemning Islamophobia.

Barbara Kay, a national columnist, argued that there are many more anti-Semitic incidents, let alone statements, targeting, Jews. 181 hate-motivated crimes targeting the Jewish religion were reported in 2013; there were 65 crimes motivated by hatred against the Muslim religion. (There will be more on anti-Semitism in a subsequent blog.) Breitbart News went even further and noted that the motion never mentioned anti-Semitism or anti-Christian discrimination and suggested that the latter occurs far more often in Canada than victimization of Muslims, but provided no data to back up such a claim.

In the federal legislature, a Conservative motion virtually identical to Khalid’s, except that it excised the term “Islamophobia,” was defeated 165-126 as Liberals, New Democrats, Bloc Québécois and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, voted against the motion.

There have been a few indications that labeling something as motivated by Islamophobia could result in curbing free speech. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation objected to Mark Steyn’s 2006 book, America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, precisely on such grounds. Steyn was not content to rail against Islam, or, more precisely, its radical interpretations, but expressed the fear that, because of internal weaknesses, largely attributed to bleeding heart liberals and their moral and cultural relativism promoting multiculturalism, combined with an increase in the Muslim population and demographic decline of native non-Muslim populations, as well as the economic unsustainability of the social democratic state, a day might come when the call to prayer from a muezzin on a loudspeaker would become widespread. In a much more fearsome scenario, Talibanic enforcers would cruise Greenwich Village burning books and barber shops. The Supreme Court was imagined as having decided that Sharia law did not violate the “separation of church and state.” Steyn also dismissed the fear of climate change as an imminent danger as irrational.

While many condemned the book as Islamophobic, Christopher Hitchens gave it a rave review. George W. Bush recommended it to his staff. Ironically, promoters of Islamic exceptionalism agreed with Steyn in condemning Western relativism. The movers of the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights (, the member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, could be included. That human rights doctrine criticized the Western tradition of human rights as sometimes conflicting with Sharia law. This Islamic iteration of human rights included the usual litany that required protection and actions to be condemned – “discrimination on the basis of race, colour, language, belief, gender, political affiliation, social status and even religion.”

The defence of the freedom of speech in Article 22(a), however, was conditional not absolute. Expression cannot be “contrary to the practices of Shariah,” “the sole source of human rights,” not human nature. Article 24 states: “All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Sharia.”
Conflicts arose over the definition of gender rights since women have specific duties to perform and men are given primary responsibility for the social and financial protection of the family. Equality is only guaranteed to men. Women do not have the right to marry a non-Muslim or to have more than one spouse and cannot initiate divorce without the consent of their husbands. In Iran, a Muslim woman can only marry a non-Muslim man if he can produce evidence that he had converted to Islam. Most specifically, Article 10 of the Declaration calls Islam “the religion of unspoiled nature” and prohibits conversion to another religion or atheism if compulsion or economic incentives and exploitation or even ignorance is allegedly used, leaving the barn door wide open for condemning virtually any conversion from Islam as an abuse of human rights.

This is not simply an abstract principle. As a 2014 U.S. State Department report documented, societal discrimination against non-Muslims is rampant in Muslim-majority countries. In 2013, in Iran, though the sentence of death as provided in law is no longer used, converts have been sentenced to an average of over three years of served time, lashes and fines for “apostasy.”

For someone committed to the Western tradition of human rights, the Cairo declaration on human rights not only has many lacunae, but provides a rationale for the abuse of human rights under the guise of protecting human rights and explicitly states that the Declaration is intended to limit the application of the UN universal declaration of human rights. There is, therefore, a difference between criticisms of Islam, dislike of Islam and discrimination against individual Muslims. The latter is forbidden in the Western human rights tradition. The former two are clearly not forbidden, and, further, are protected. You have a right to criticize Islam. You have a right to dislike Islam. You have no right to discriminate against Muslims.

Since the term Islamophobic is not restricted to discriminatory behaviour, but includes attitudes such as “dislike,” there is a real and not just a rhetorical problem. However, there is also a problem in cases where criticisms and dislike of Islam are used as justification for discrimination against Muslims.

On the other hand, there is a difference between condemning Steyn’s book as Islamophobic and banning the book. The Cairo Declaration of Human Rights defined Islamophobia as a rights violation without ensuring that the criticism of Islam was guaranteed as a right. It is clearly possible, especially given the record of Islamic states, that individuals educated as Muslims might be more prone not only to condemn a book like that of Steyn, but ban it.

In Canada, we can be proud that many Muslims occupy important political positions and are excellent representatives of all their constituents with no indication that they confuse “dislike” and “criticisms” with their condemnation of Islamophobia. In addition to former members of parliament – Rahim Jaffer, Wajid Khan – these include Ontario Liberal MPPs: Shafiq Qaadri, Etobicoke, Omar Alghabra, Mississauga Centre, Khalil Ramat, London-Fanshawe, as well as the Attorney General of Ontario, Yasir Naqvi. In the federal parliament, we find Yasmin Ratansi, Liberal Don Valley East, and Maryam Monsef, Liberal, Peterborough, who is Minister of Status of Women in the Justin Trudeau government. Perhaps most notable of all, and with a reputation as possibly the best mayor in all of Canada, is Naheed Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary. Not one can be justly accused of subordinating Canadian law and the Western human rights tradition to the Cairo Declaration of human rights and Sharia law.

But there are also Muslim citizens of Canada who are not terrorists or supporters of terrorism, but who believe that Canadian law should be subordinated to Sharia law. I am critical of them just as I am critical of Jews and Christians with whom I disagree. I am critical of some Jewish and Christian religious practices and some expressions of each of those faiths. But it is also true that some aspects of Islam pose a much greater challenge to the Western liberal tradition than twenty-first century Christianity and Judaism. It is my right as a Canadian to offer well-intentioned and constructive critiques of religious practices or ideologies. However, I see no core inconsistency between a defense of the right to criticize and a suspicion of some Islamic beliefs and practices and a condemnation of Islamophobia.

There is a real problem that when Islamophobia also includes a dislike of Islam as well as an irrational fear of and prejudice against Muslims. There is a danger that the term can be misused. Irwin Cotler may be correct in stating that the term anti-Muslim prejudice might be preferable to Islamophobia. But a term and phrase is best understood in terms of current practices and real life situations that threaten the lives and well-being of Muslims. Also, although I too might have quibbles about a motion opposing Islamophobia and even harsher criticisms of some aspects of Islam, which should not be interpreted as resentment of Islam, I strongly support a motion condemning Islamophobia for I radically disagree with the contention that some Conservatives made that, “there no phobia of Islam in Canada.”

When federal Conservatives opposed the motion because it singles out one religious group over others and feared a suppression of free speech would result, it is important to recognize that the motion singles out one religious group precisely because this religious group was singled out. Also, the fear of suppressing free speech is rubbish. If you are rigorous enough, there will be no suppression. Only those who are drawn to slippery slopes may have to face the consequences. Bensoussan is but one example. He could have easily extricated himself from his predicament.

As far as Islamophobia goes, its practical acceptance as anti-Muslim sentiment is equivalent to the acceptance of anti-Semitism as anti-Jewish prejudice, in spite of the fact that Arabs are also Semites, inviting the facetious argument that anti-Semitism should be extended to cover Arabs as well. Is the term anti-Jewish prejudice preferable to anti-Semitism?

I see no evidence that the support for a motion condemning Islamophobia in any way puts the slightest dent in our belief in freedom of speech. Further, when a man is president of the United States who offers repeated evidence of being Islamophobic, it is all the more important to condemn Islamophobic expressions. I believe that the Canadian Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) opposing the federal motion on Islamophobia on grounds that the motion, “requires us to silence legitimate concerns or suppress a public conversation about those strains of Islam that pose a real and imminent threat to Jews around the world” is not only unjustified but irrational. The motion in context has no such requirement.

The motion M-103 is not the source of “alienation and dissonance” as CIJA is wont to believe. In my estimation, CIJA’s opposition has its roots in understandable Jewish fears. I can understand where CIJA is coming from as I explore the new face of anti-Semitism in my next blog.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Wronging and Opp Strangers

Wronging and Oppressing Strangers: Mishpatim Exodus 21:1 – 24:18


Howard Adelman

Is it serendipity that we read such a text between Donald Trump’s aborted cruel, inhuman and unconstitutional Executive Order dealing with migrants and the delayed promise to issue a revised order next week? When immigration enforcement officers were previously restricted to rounding up illegal aliens in the U.S. found guilty of serious crimes, is it serendipity that we read Mishpatim when restrictions on U.S. immigration officers have been lifted and they are now instructed to round up illegal aliens found or even alleged to be guilty of any conviction (going through a red light) and not just a criminal let alone a serious criminal record?  Guadalupe García de Rayos, was arrested in Phoenix and ordered deported; she is the mother of two American-born children and had been in the U.S. ten years and was registered with the American Immigration Service to which she reported dutifully twice per year. But she had been found guilty years ago of carrying and working under a fake ID.

Is it serendipity that we read Mishpatim when refugees in the dead of winter have been crossing the undefended and usually unprotected land border between the U.S. and Canada at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec or near Emerson, Manitoba or in British Columbia at unmanned border crossings such as in Surrey where a Honduran family recently entered Canada? RCMP officers may monitor banks of screens receiving data from surveillance cameras, but that only tracks and does not stop claimants from crossing into Canada. Once on Canadian soil, they are assisted by Quebec provincial police, RCMP officers, Canadian Border Services agents or volunteers to be taken to a centre where they can make a refugee claim. In January alone, 452 asylum seekers crossed into Quebec and over 400 into Manitoba. To repeat, this has been in the dead of winter. In another month, we can expect the numbers to greatly increase so that I will not be surprised, if the circumstances do not change in the U.S., to see up to 40,000 asylum claimants cross the border into Canada illegally in 2017. And this could turn out to be a gross underestimate.

There is a way to circumvent these riskier crossings. Allow claimants to cross at legal entry points and make a claim there. That would mean suspending the definition of the U.S. as a Safe Third Country. For that provision presumed that asylum claimants would be protected by U.S. law. There are justifiable fears that this is no longer the case, not just by sympathetic Canadians, but by supporters of refugees in the United States, many of whom have volunteered to take the asylum claimants to areas where they can walk across the border at a terminus of a new underground railway network into Canada.

Many Americans and Canadians are taking Justin Trudeau at his word when he tweeted, “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.” This week, Canada welcomed into Manitoba another group of the 1,200 Yazidis due to arrive in Canada this year as humanitarian refugees who will not have to be processed through the Convention refugee claims system.

Canada is on the outer fringes of the refugee movements, especially the hundreds of thousands crossing into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa. This past week, we read of 87 bodies recovered from a capsized boat off the cost of Libya; the smugglers had removed the motor and allowed the boat to be swamped. Last week I learned that the son of an Israeli friend, a diver who inspects underwater pipelines, found numerous bodies trapped under the pipeline at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.

Several weeks ago, a visiting Israeli rabbi talked to a group of us about the refugees arriving in Israel from Africa and the Middle East and discussed the “Extradition of Refugees According to the Jewish Tradition.” He quoted Deuteronomy 23:16-17 dealing with the treatment of bondsmen who should not be returned to his master and, instead, should be allowed to dwell with one who found him or her. That escaped bondsmen should be allowed to live in freedom within the gates of the city and no wrong should be committed against him.

Mishpatim (laws) deal with both slaves and strangers. Though Genesis 14:19 enjoins Israelites to “love the stranger for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt,” Mishpatim is the first time this moral injunction is put into a legal code posed as a negative as distinct from a positive moral injunction of action that is just, These Covenantal laws, Sefer HaB’rit, are not as generous as the Deuteronomic Code or the Holiness Code found in Leviticus, but just as Moses upon the advice of Jethro made a beginning in the administration of justice and introduced a more decentralized system of administering law, one in which the magistrates were to be chosen based on moral criteria without direct guidance from God (see my blog from last Friday), much more specific and clearly man-made laws well beyond the Ten Commandments had to be introduced. If we take the position in the text as reflecting a time when the laws were introduced (unlikely), these laws were promulgated before Moses disappeared for forty days and forty nights.

It is telling that the very first laws are those applicable to Hebrew slaves and then to property. Only then, and very briefly, do we read, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (22:20) I thought that Rabbi Plaut had told me that this injunction was the one most repeated in the Torah and was cited 27 times, but my memory must be incorrect because the visiting rabbi said that, in fact, he had counted and it was repeated 36 times. As everyone knows, and as the Babylonian Talmud reminds us (Bava Metzia 59b), the more repetition, the greater the significance. It isn’t as if there is a causal relationship between the experience of slavery in Egypt and the obligation not to wrong or oppress strangers, but, as many know who have undertaken research on those who assist refugees, the closer the connection in the family history with the experience of refugees, the greater the motivation to help. Having been a stranger is neither an adequate nor a necessary motive for helping refugees, but, statistically, it increases the likelihood of offering such assistance. Even more importantly, it established a fundamental identity between the person offering assistance and the refugee. History and memory must be reinforced to ensure hospitality for the stranger.

But the Israelites were not just strangers in Egypt; they were slaves. The section Mishpatim begins with slaves as an echo of Genesis, “Know now that your descendants shall be strangers in a land not theirs; they shall be enslaved and afflicted for four hundred years.” (Genesis 15:13) Refugees are often treated worse even than slaves, for they often lack the protections of the larger society or state in which they live. However, if we are to understand what it means in the instruction not to wrong or oppress the stranger, it is helpful to look at the initial and first try at dealing with slaves, not slaves who are non-nationals, but Hebrew slaves.

Hebrew slaves in Exodus were debt slaves, though in Leviticus (17-26) they are simply called debtors. Reduced to impoverishment, they became slaves to compensate for debts. But as Hebrews, they were not Other. Further, there was a maximum limit to their enslavement – 6 years unless the master provided a male with a woman to wed and they had children. (The Deuteronomy Code – in reality more an incomplete collection of common law rather than a systematic code, but I will use the latter as a term of convenience – renames the debt slave as a brother and goes further, requiring the master to release the debt slave with part of his profits from his years of labour to allow the debt slave to get a new start -15:13) In the latter case, in the Exodus Code, the wife and the children continue to remain slaves belonging to the master, but they were also released in the improved Deuteronomy Code. If a man does not want to be separated from his wife and children, he may voluntarily stay as a refugee for the rest of his life, a status to be marked by an awl pierced through his ear.

Note that this part of the code had to do with male slaves. The code was based on gender discrimination. Daughters could be sold by their fathers (not their parents) but as “wives,” not as slaves, but only under the Exodus Code. But if the male tired of a woman he kept as a concubine, he either had to let her go free, especially if he violated her rights, or provide for her for the rest of her days. He could not sell her. If his son married her, then she had to be treated equally as any other woman chosen to be a wife. (Exodus 21:2-11) So there is a hierarchy of Others – male slaves, female concubines and strangers. The greatest number of injunctions by far apply to the treatment of strangers.

This does not mean that there was a correspondence between the law and actual behaviour. As is well known, there is often a gap between the moral aspirations of a society and its conformity to those ideals. Abuse of debt slaves, of women in slavery and of strangers increased as the gap widened between the protections offered to those at the bottom of the ladder and the rewards taken and presumed by those at the top widened. That is, as societies became more corrupt, as the prophet Amos pointed out, the greater the mistreatment of debt slaves, of women and of strangers. That mistreatment is often a by-product of that corruption and/or used as a distraction from it.  The results were often horrific.

For example, a widow cried out to the prophet Elisha:

ד:א וְאִשָּׁ֣ה אַחַ֣ת מִנְּשֵׁ֣י בְנֵֽי־הַ֠נְּבִיאִים צָעֲקָ֨ה אֶל־אֱלִישָׁ֜ע לֵאמֹ֗ר עַבְדְּךָ֤ אִישִׁי֙ מֵ֔ת וְאַתָּ֣ה יָדַ֔עְתָּ כִּ֣י עַבְדְּךָ֔ הָיָ֥ה יָרֵ֖א אֶת־יְ-הֹוָ֑ה וְהַ֨נֹּשֶׁ֔ה בָּ֗א לָקַ֜חַת אֶת־שְׁנֵ֧י יְלָדַ֛י ל֖וֹ לַעֲבָדִֽים: 4:1 A certain woman, the wife of one of the disciples of the prophets, cried out to Elisha: “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know how your servant revered Yhwh. And now a creditor is coming to seize my two children as slaves.” (2 Kings 4:1)

This ruthlessness, obviously, is not restricted to the ancient world. When the very people who caused the mortgage crisis and economic collapse in 2008 were rescued, the hundreds of thousands who owed money on many of those mortgages on properties that were then financially underwater were not given relief by and large, but were foreclosed upon and thrown out of their homes because the system “sold the just for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.” Ruthlessness became even more the order of the day.

When we do not take care of our own needy (evvon), it is much more difficult to take care of the needs of strangers. The innocent, the just, the idealists (tzaddiqim) are swept aside and everyone out for himself becomes the ruling ethos. The poor, the needy, have indeed been cheated by the system as their incomes decline and they fall into poverty. It is no wonder that many are willing to follow a leader who displaces the blame on foreigners, on strangers, for often, this is a distraction to hide even more deep-seated corruption.

The stranger is not to be treated wrongly or oppressed. These are not the same, but there is contention about the difference. Some argue that a wrong falls under the law – someone is wronged when he or she is treated other than in the way the law requires. A person oppressed is a victim of society. In another interpretation, a wrong is a monetary infraction for which there can be compensation. There can be no compensation for oppression. Alternatively, a wrong is a verbal slight, an expression of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia for which there can be no financial compensation. Oppression is a specific action of exploitation. In a fourth and somewhat complementary conception, a wrong is corrected by writing and applying just law; oppression can only be corrected through empathy by a native-born for the stranger.

Whatever the differences, a ger stranger is not a visiting foreigner (nochri), but an alien living among us who is not yet a citizen. The Torah demands that the ger be treated with all the rights we have and, as well, with a welcoming hand and smile. Xenophobia is the precise opposite to this treatment.


I am grateful for the insights into debt slaves to the commentaries of Professor Marvin A. Sweeney (“The Bible’s Evolving Effort to Humanize Debt Slavery”), Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber (“The Law of the Hebrew Slave: Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy”), and Dr. Aaron Koller (“The Law of the Hebrew Slave: Reading the Law Collections as Commentary”) who contends that the three different versions apply to three different types of servitude and that Deuteronomy fills in lacunae rather than develops the law in a more benign direction. On the principle of treating the stranger, see Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s commentary from 2 February 2008 entitled “Loving the Stranger.”


With the help of Alex Zisman


C. Confronting ISIS – Opposition Party Critiques

Corporealism XVI: Justin Trudeau Redux

C. Opposition Party Critiques


Howard Adelman

Though the exchanges over differences between the Liberals and the Tories over the withdrawal of the CF-18s were more heated, they also lacked much substance because the differences were tactical more than strategic. In contrast, the differences between the Liberals and the NDP loomed larger because they are strategic differences and they help to make the picture both sides took that much clearer. But first we begin with the similarities. Like the Tories, the NDP agreed with and supported a number of the Liberal initiatives:

  • the increase in humanitarian aid, but based on three fundamental principles: neutrality, independence, and impartiality incompatible with an intervention mission
  • welcoming refugees into Canada
  • enhancing diplomatic engagement
  • engaging in the interdiction of both arms and funds as the critical factors in eliminating the threat and scourge of ISIS
  • make sure that Canada is the kind of country where everyone feels welcome, thereby ensuring that no Canadians would ever consider joining ISIL
  • robust intelligence capabilities
  • robust training and advising, but not in combat zones
  • a radical separation of humanitarian assistance and the military mission lest humanitarian workers be put in harm’s way
  • development aid, specifically for the Iraqi government’s reconstruction and stabilization efforts in regions liberated from Daesh

However, the NDP

  • accused the Liberals of reneging on their election promise that they would end the Conservative government’s mission
  • does not want military engagement; does not want the Liberals to follow the Conservatives in asking Parliament to approve the deployment of Canadian troops in active conflict zones while defining the mission as a non-combat one; “We in the New Democratic Party believe that this is entirely appropriate, as there are few other decisions that governments make that could be more important than placing Canadian troops in harm’s way. Yet, public debate seems to have veered into a narrow cul-de-sac over this question of whether or not this is in fact a combat mission.” The Liberals have muddied their own promise to draw “a clearer line between combat and non combat.”
  • In addition to the withdrawal of the CF-18s, opposes Canada remaining (“fully”???) part of the allied bombing mission with Canada continuing to contribute two Aurora surveillance planes, a refuelling plane and now, in addition, four helicopters to fly missions over Iraq and, with the surveillance aircraft, help paint targets on the ground for the allied bombing missions
  • “Canada could be providing a leadership role in cutting off the funding, the arms, and the flow of foreign fighters to ISIS.” (Randall Garrison, Esquimalt–Saanich-Sooke), particularly the $1 million to $3 million a day in oil being sold by ISIS on the world market
  • In a multilateral military mission, Canada should only participate if it has the mandate of the United Nations
  • wants figures on the proportion of trainers, now tripled, who would be in the front lines and under what guidelines
  • wants the training to include human rights and international law components
  • wants projections of the casualty count
  • wants weapons provided to Kurdish forces tracked and their use monitored
  • wants Canada to sign the Arms Trade Treaty
  • wants an exit strategy lest Canadian men and women in the Armed Forces are interminably put in harm’s way
  • wants criteria to determine whether the approach taken is the correct and want measures to assess the results
  • wants an overall review of defence policy in general without waiting two years to arrive at one
  • domestically, wants Canada to develop a strong campaign of counter-extremist messaging based possibly on the model of Regroupement interculturel de Drummondville, but the Liberals reiterated that, while developing a de-radicalization in Canada, the primary focus would be overseas on preventing the recruitment of foreign fighters, who may be Canadian, and enhanced capabilities and measures to counter those recruitment efforts; the Liberals focus more on fighting radicalization in that region to stifle the terrorist group’s perverse and diabolical propaganda so that nobody else thinks they will go to heaven by murdering their fellow human beings.

The NDP made it clear that they did not support the withdrawal of the fighter jets or oppose the deployment of the other aircraft or additional advisers and trainers on the ground because the NDP doubted the capabilities or willingness to fight or stand in harm’s ways, as required, in the service of Canada and world peace, nor even the characterization by the Canadian Armed Forces of the mission as a hybrid one, somewhere between traditional combat and non-combat missions, but opposed misleading Canadians and calling it a non-combat mission. The NDP hammered away at the supposed record in Afghanistan rather than Iraq, and queried in what way what Canada is doing in Iraq differs very much from what Canada did in Afghanistan. The NDP kept stressing the absence of clear goals and boundaries for this “combat” operation, even though Canada was in an advisory role in such battles, and, like the Tories, but for very different reasons, reminded Canadians of this past December when Canadian Armed Forces personnel became engaged in a firefight with Daesh forces.

Mrs. Cheryl Gallant (the Conservative representative from Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke) repeated the point that, “the families of soldiers well remember the 2002 friendly fire incident when U.S. jets fired on Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, killing four of them.” Of course, she used the point for the opposite rationale, to justify keeping the CF-18s in Iraq and Syria. “Our CF-18s would have known they were Canadian boots on the ground, and now we are back to relying on other countries for air cover.” She also asked whether the Liberal government was introducing anti-armour in the ground equipment to make up for the absence of the CF-18s. In another example of, what proved to be, bad questioning, Dan Albas, the Conservative member from Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, suggested that since the Liberals were now deploying four Griffon helicopters to medically evacuate people, was that not an admission that more casualties could be expected because the CF-18s had been withdrawn?

These are two of many examples of the Tories asking questions where the questioner was not prepared for an answer that would undercut rather than advance their position. As I pointed out in the last blog, this happened when the Tories insisted on blaming ISIS for genocide, only to have the Liberals endorse that description of ISIS. The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, replied to the first query above that the anti-armour capability should have been provided before the Liberal government was elected. Further, “in inclement weather, the air strikes cannot take place. If there is a threat that can only be taken care of by anti-armour capability, we need a portable system to do so, and that system is not in our inventory any more.”


It is not as if the Tories could not ask questions that could elicit gaps in the Liberal policy. For example, Mr. Todd Doherty, the Tory member from Cariboo-Prince George, insisted that, “If we are putting our forces in the line of fire, we want to ensure that they have every tool to be effective and ensure that they come home safety,” and asked, “Does the hon. member not believe that we should be making sure that our forces should have access to all tools to ensure they come home safely?”

Similarly, when Tom Kmiec, the Conservative member from Calgary Shepard, cited the names and numbers of all the ISIS commanders killed by Canadian air strikes, Sajjan replied, “that is exactly what has happened. The air strikes were effective and targeted, but the enemy also learns from our lessons. I remember when I was serving, I had a rule. When we were in some intense combat, we could never use a strategy twice because the enemy would always learn from it. When we looked at the analysis with our military commanders, we looked at where the mission was at, where the evolution of the enemy was at. When I asked the ground force commander, General Clark, what he needed, the first thing he said to me was ‘intelligence’. The enemy is getting smarter because of our effectiveness in the past. We need to increase our intelligence capability. Why our Canadian intelligence capability? It is effective. Why do we need to increase our training capacity? This is what is needed on the ground. This is to defeat ISIS. It can only happen with troops on the ground. It cannot be done from the air.”

So many times the Tories asked questions and only fell into traps. As well, Tories often tried to score points with irrelevancies – the 1990s role of peacekeepers was catastrophic for Canada, especially in Rwanda, where 800,000 people were killed because our soldiers were powerless to intervene. In addition to being irrelevant, the point was factually incorrect on a number of points

    1. Other than the Commander (Roméo Dallaire) and a communications unit, very few of the peacekeepers in Rwanda were Canadians
    2. The 800,000 were not killed because Canadian soldiers were “powerless to intervene” but because UN and powerful states like the U.S. would not authorize intervention.

The Liberals notably, on a much more macro level, attacked the Conservatives for losing Canada’s reputation internationally because they distanced Canada from responsible international engagement, avoided many international talks (e.g. climate change), for being forced to step out of the running for a position on the United Nations Security Council, all emphasizing the Liberal primary goal of rebranding.

The Conservatives not only attacked the Liberals for withdrawing the fighter jets and for adopting a liberal brand with a stress on the use of diplomacy internationally, but insisted that these moves were totally out of synch with Canadian opinion polls even though the Liberals won the election with a clear majority.

  • an Angus Reid poll  of February 2016 indicating that 63% of Canadians want Canada to continue bombing ISIL targets at the current rate or to increase the number of bombing missions conducted against ISIL
  • 47% believe that withdrawing our CF-18s will harm Canada’s reputation abroad
  • only 18% of Canadians polled thought that pulling our jets from the fight would have a positive effect on our international reputation
  • two out of five people, 37%, believe that Canada should continue with the current number of bombing missions against ISIL; one-quarter, 26%, believe that .the number of missions should be increased
  • 64% believe that the threat ISIL poses has increased
  • half of those people (about 30%) believe that the threat has increased significantly
  • 33% believe that Canada should increase its involvement in the fight against ISIL.

The Tories also indirectly criticized the refugee resettlement program and stressed the humanitarian aid for the refugees in the camps (Pierre Paul-Hus, member form Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles), as if the Liberals did not announce an even larger humanitarian program. Further, the Tories characterized the withdrawal of the CF-18s as a retreat rather than acknowledging an increased presence on the ground. The rebranding became the main target of the Tories who kept insisting, implausibly, that the Liberals had made a decision “not to deploy our military” (Rona Ambrose), a gross distortion. A number of valid criticisms for keeping the CF-18s in the war were missed in a continuing effort to make political points instead of analyzing and criticizing in depth the Liberal shift in policy.

The substantive Conservative Position entailed:

  • keeping the jets in theatre on the grounds that they were needed for cover for 75 troops on the ground and, if tripled, need more cover
  • even if Canada only carried out 2.5% of the strikes, Canada was one of the five countries that were bombing targets effectively
  • By withdrawing the CF-18s, Canadian troops on the ground will be relying on allies to do the heavy lifting.

The problem is, as the NDP pointed out, Canada was not cutting its military and abandoning its allies. Further, no one asked to substantiate the Liberal claim that

  • sufficient air cover exists with interoperability and communication with the ground whatever the source of the troops
  • deployment in Afghanistan did not have air cover
  • the battle requires far more robust engagement, but by a different contribution
  • the coalition has significant capability to maintain the gains the jets have achieved.

Further, the Tory claim that the policy had alienated Canada’s allies seems to have been refuted by a number of American military experts. Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (the American mission), said that, “everybody likes to focus on the air strikes, right, because we get good videos out of it and it’s interesting because things blow up—but don’t forget a pillar of this operation, a pillar of this operation, is to train local ground forces. That is a key and critical part.” James Stavridis, Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander said, “Now I understand you’re going to shift from doing training, which is… perhaps the most important of all. So I applaud the fact that our Canadian military and NATO colleagues will be working on the training mission with the Iraqi security forces, potentially with the Kurdish Peshmerga in the north because we don’t want to send 100,000 troops or 150,000 troops like we did in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Did the Tories not have any authoritative sources to back their claim that America resents the Canadian shift?

What most surprised me about the debate, other than the even greater ineptitude than I imagined of the vast majority of Tory politicians who spoke, and other than the by-and-large enormous civility of the debate, was the number of parliamentarians who served in the Armed Forces or in overseas missions. They may not outnumber the lawyers, but there were a large number, more that I, for one, ever expected. I have not undertaken a count for the current parliament, but I am convinced from reading Hansard that the total numbers would approach that of the last parliament where 1 in 13 had military experience, “over 50 having served either in the regular forces or in reservist organizations, representing military service in a variety of operational theatres including Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans and Northern Ireland.


Tomorrow: D. Defining the Enemy


With the help of Alex Zisman

A. The Parliamentary Debate over Fighting ISIS – an Introduction

Corporealism XVI: Justin Trudeau Redux

A. The Parliamentary Debate over Fighting ISIS – an Introduction


Howard Adelman

Last week and the week before, the parliament of Canada debated Canada’s role in the fight against ISIS. The focus during last year’s election and the beginning of this year has been the Liberal Party pledge, executed on 15 February 2016, to withdraw six Canadian CF-18 fighter jets from combat in Iraq and Syria. Before I analyze the debate itself in the context of the larger war against radical Islamic terrorism or Islamicism, more specifically against ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, I offer a brief introduction to the formal status of the debate in the House of Commons and some historical background to the current debate.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s motion about Canada’s contribution to the fight against ISIS (17 February 2016) was not a motion asking the House of Commons to authorize the Liberal Policy. For one thing, the revision was a fait accompli. The acting leader of the Conservative Party, Rona Ambrose, contended that the introduction of the motion after the fact was disrespectful of parliament, but a motion after the decision had been made was consistent with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s motions when he deployed Canadian military forces in Iraq in 2014 and 2015. Further, the Liberals had offered much more parliamentary time to debate the issue. Third, the government was simply asking the House of Commons “to support” a decision already made. It was a support rather than authorization motion. The authority to deploy military resources and shape goals and modalities of the military mission belongs to the Federal cabinet, not parliament. To repeat, support, not authorization, was being sought.

The motion begins, “That the House support [my italics] the government’s decision to broaden, improve, and redefine our contribution to the effort to combat ISIL by better leveraging Canadian expertise while complementing the work of our coalition partners to ensure maximum effect…” The motion was not simply about a new policy; it was comparative. The new Liberal policy was broad; the old Tory policy was narrow. The new Liberal policy was an improvement on the older, inadequate policy. At the same time, the new policy was not radically different; it was merely a redefinition. The new policy is still to combat ISIL. Was it simply to degrade, or was it to destroy? It had two key characteristics according to the Liberals. The policy leveraged Canadian expertise. The policy complemented rather than simply duplicated that of Canada’s allies.

The debate is rooted in Canada taking exception towards perceived American military adventurism. When U.S. President George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien acted consistent with the Canadian attitude to refusing to participate in the Vietnam War rather than Canada’s participation in the Korean War, the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War and the Afghanistan War. In the latter three, Canada was a very active participant. The refusal to join the Americans in Vietnam and in the second Gulf War without the endorsement of a UN resolution was a statement about Canada’s mode of taking military action in the international arena. Though years later he would admit the war was a mistake, in 2003 Stephen Harper, then leader of the Opposition Canadian Alliance Party, in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal co-authored with Stockwell Day, the Conservative foreign affairs critic, wrote, “This is a serious mistake… The Canadian Alliance – the official opposition in Parliament – supports the American and British position because we share their concerns, their worries about the future if Iraq is left unattended to, and their fundamental vision of civilization and human values.”

On 4 September 2014, when Stephen Harper was Prime Minister, he announced that Canada would be deploying up to 100 Canadian special forces in Operation Impact (compared to Operation Inherent Resolve for the American mission, Operation Chammai for the French, Operation Shader for the British and Operation Okra for the Aussies), but it was defined as a training rather than a combat mission. On 3 October, Canada assumed a combat role as well, not with boots on the ground, but with jets in the air. Harper announced the deployment of six CF-18 fighter jets, a refueling aerial tanker and two CP-140 surveillance aircraft for the war in Iraq. Air strikes commenced on 2 November 2014. On 7 October 2014, in almost similar wording to the motion passed last week, Parliament voted on party lines to “support” the Harper mission by a vote of 157 to 134. The NDP then leader of the opposition, Thomas Mulcair, accused the government of setting off on a course of mission creep without either clear goals or an exit strategy. Justin Trudeau urged humanitarian aid instead and rather flippantly criticized the Conservatives for macho behaviour and “trying to whip out our CF-18s and show them how big they are.” In March 2015, the Canadian deployment was renewed for another year by a vote of 142-129. Targets were expanded to include ISIS operating in Syria.

The motion tabled in the House of Commons on 17 February reads:

      That the House support the government’s decision to broaden, improve, and redefine our contribution to the      effort to combat ISIL by better leveraging Canadian expertise while complementing the work of our coalition partners to ensure maximum effect, including:
  (a) refocusing our military contribution by expanding the advise and assist mission of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in Iraq, significantly increasing intelligence capabilities in Iraq and theatre-wide, deploying CAF medical personnel, offering to provide the Government of Iraq ministerial liaison personnel to the Ministries of Defence and the Interior, enhancing capacity-building efforts with our defence partners in Jordan and Lebanon to advance regional stability, and withdrawing our CF-18s while maintaining air force surveillance and refuelling capability;
  (b) improving the living conditions of conflict-affected populations and helping to build the foundations for long-term regional stability of host communities, including Lebanon and Jordan;


  (c) investing significantly in humanitarian assistance while working with experienced humanitarian partners to support the basic needs of conflict-affected populations, including children and victims of sexual and gender-based violence;
  (d) engaging more effectively with political leaders throughout the region, increasing Canada’s contribution to international efforts aimed at finding political solutions to the crises affecting the region and reinforcing our diplomatic presence to facilitate the delivery of enhanced programming, supporting increased CAF deployments, strengthening dialogue with local and international partners on the ground and generally giving Canada a stronger voice in the region;


  (e) welcoming tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to Canada;
  that the House express its appreciation and pride to the members of the CAF, diplomatic and intelligence personnel for their participation in the fight against terrorism, to Canadian humanitarian workers for their efforts to provide critical support to conflict-affected populations, and reconfirm our commitment to our allies in the coalition against ISIL; and


  that the House note the government’s resolve to return to the House within two years with a new motion on Canada’s contribution to the region.

The debate could only proceed after Trudeau paid homage to Canada’s armed forces personnel who served with such courage and dedication. The homage was repeated by many parliamentarians on both sides of the House, But Trudeau and others could not possibly outdo the remarks during the debate of James Bezan, the PC member from Selkirk and defence critic. “I understand the incredible risk that our military services, either in the regular or reserved forces, are willing to undertake to protect Canada. Everything that we hold dear in here, our democracy – our freedom of speech, our rights and liberties – are only possible because of the incredible sacrifices made by members of the Canadian Armed Forces and the veterans who came before them. I want to pay tribute to every member who is currently serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, whether they are in the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Canadian Army, in reserves or regular forces. I thank them for keeping us safe. We do not even realize the incredible efforts they take 24/7 to keep us safe in Canada. They are the eyes of Canada on the world. They are standing on the wall to keep evil out and they are always prepared to go where no one else will go. They run toward danger. Their commitment is something each and every one of us in here should pay great respect for and thank them profusely.”

Though many tried in the debate, no one was nearly as effusive as Bezan,

“Broaden,” “improve,” “redefine,” these were the key buzzwords in shaping the program. “Comprehensive” (aiming for a durable result and utilizing the various means to achieve it), “integrated” (with allies and various other approaches), and “sustained” (i.e. multi-year), these were the key words in characterizing the design of the program. “Robust,” “comprehensive,” and “effective,” these were the key words depicting the execution. Better leverage of Canadian military assets and expertise while complementing the work of its coalition partners – that was the frame.

But what did that mean in practice?

  • Expanding the advice and training mission for the Iraqi “boots on the ground”
  • Increasing intelligence capabilities both in Iraq and the larger Middle East theatre
  • Deploying CAF medical personnel
  • Military and diplomatic liaison with the Iraqi Departments of Defense and Interior as well as with Jordan and Lebanon
  • and, the contentious issue with the Conservatives, withdrawing the six CF-18s.

The rest of the motion had to do with enhanced humanitarian aid, development aid re governance and Canada’s refugee resettlement program. What the latter had to do with a military deployment overseas became clear in the debate, a debate that began as I indicated above with Justin Trudeau offering plaudits to Canadian men and women in uniform and compassion for the family of Andrew Poiron killed by friendly fire almost a year earlier.

During this week, if I am able to stick to my plans as I write each morning, I will try to proceed according to following plan:


With the help of Alex Zisman

Justin Trudeau on the World Stage – Refugees

Corporeality VI: Justin Trudeau on the World Stage – Refugees


Howard Adelman

I intended this morning to discuss the theoretical basis for the differences between Canada and the U.S., and, more particularly, between Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama as military decision-making. However, yesterday I had an opportunity to participate in a webinar on refugee resettlement in Europe that provided a unique opportunity to discuss Justin Trudeau’s initial exposure and effect on the international stage on refugee policy. A discussion of that webinar provides a great deal of excellent concrete material for the thesis that I am developing.

Yesterday Canada set a date for ending its role in bombing missions in Syria and Iraq – February 22. The withdrawal of military fighter jets has to be understood in terms of the Canadian refugee program and Trudeau’s efforts to resurrect the Canadian brand as a humanitarian in foreign affairs on the world stage. Canada is the leading country in private refugee sponsorship. There is an opportunity for Canada to serve as an exemplar to other states. We could leverage our own roll enormously if we managed to get more countries to emulate the Canadian program. But Trudeau’s role as a leader on the world stage on the refugee issue will be a much harder sell if he is seen as opting out of other international responsibilities to combat evil and those responsible for producing the refugee crisis in Syria in the first place. I will revisit Canada’s decision to withdraw the six Hornet fighters from bombing missions in Iraq and Syria in my subsequent comparisons of Trudeau versus Obama as decision-makers on military policy, but it is first necessary to show Canada’s role as a leader in refugee resettlement in the world.

The webinar was advertised to invited participants as “addressing the refugee crisis in Europe by using private sponsorship.” I was invited to participate – that is, listen in and send in questions if I wished. The formal title of the webinar was, “Scaling Up Resettlement: The Role of Private Sponsorship Programmes in Addressing the Refugee Crisis.” As part of the pre-information, the webinar was described as follows:

“As the European Union considers scaling up plans to resettle refugees from Turkey and other countries of first asylum to improve protection, as well as reduce pressures to travel illicitly, limit the power of criminal networks and develop more equitable responsibility sharing among EU Member States, the three speakers were asked to address the question of how private sponsorship programmes for refugees could possibly enhance outcomes and spread costs.” The program in Canada, as well as the one developed in Australia over the last two years, and the one initiated in 15 of the 16 German länder, were cited as precedents, but in the discussion, the clear and outstanding precedent was Canada’s program of  “private sponsorship that permits private individuals, groups, corporations, and other entities to sponsor individual refugees for resettlement and accept financial responsibility for them for a period of time.”

Panelists were expected to explore how these programs, if implemented or expanded in EU countries, might provide an additional safe and orderly channel for refugees to gain protection and become part of the broader response to the current refugee crisis.

Elizabeth Collett, Director of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Europe and Senior Advisor to MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration, chaired the session. Before opening the session to questions that had been sent in, we listened to presentations of about twelve minutes each from Judith Kumin, Madeline Garlick and Tim Finch.

In 1979, Judith Kumin was involved with Indochinese refugees as a UNHCR representative and later headed UNHCR’s Orderly Departure from Vietnam and, subsequently, the resettlement of Indochinese refugees out of Thailand. Like Madeline Garlick, she also served in former Yugoslavia as UNHCR’s Chief of Mission in Belgrade. She has been a UNHCR Representative to a number of countries (Germany, Benelux, the EU), but particularly Canada where we got to know her and when she became intimately acquainted with her experience of the Canadian private sponsorship program at the time. She was widely acknowledged as an outstanding UNHCR representative. When she returned to UNHCR Headquarters, she directed Sadako Ogata’s public relations office. She concluded her career as UNHCR’s Director for Europe and authored UNHCR’s State of the World’s Refugees 2012. Judith has taught at Carleton University and currently teaches international human rights at the University of New Hampshire (Manchester) while researching the credibility of asylum claims lodged by unaccompanied children. She authored the December 2015 report:


Madeline Garlick complemented Judith Kumin’s presentation. Madeline is a refugee lawyer from Victoria, Australia who is currently a Guest Researcher and PhD candidate at the Centre for Migration Law at Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands. She is also an International Migration Initiative (IMI) Fellow with the Open Society Foundations leading a project on the future of asylum in the European Union with Migration Policy Institute Europe. Previously, she had been Head of the Policy and Legal Support Unit in the Bureau for Europe of the Office of UNHCR from 2004-13 where she was responsible for liaison with the EU. Before that, she was on the UNHCR’s negotiating team on Cyprus and, before that, worked as the UNHCR representative on the Commission for Real Property Claims of Displaced Persons in Bosnia-Herzegovina. For purposes of brevity, I have consolidated the two presentations and filled in where necessary from Judith’s report.

The object of Judith’s report was to provide a possible additional option in the EU dealing with refugees “consistent with the European Union’s interests, values, and obligations through research on challenges and options on asylum to inform the development of evidence-based policies and laws.” That option is private sponsorship of which the best known and oldest model is that of Canada. Readers will be surprised at how little the Canadian example pioneered over 36 years ago has been taken up by other countries. So it was a surprise and disappointment that there were no Canadian experts on the panel, but that may have been because the target audience was European.

If resettlement is defined as the selection and transfer of refugees from a state of first asylum to a third state that has agreed to admit them (versus relocation as the redistribution of refugees from one EU country to another), then Judith defined private sponsorship as a form of refugee resettlement in which the primary (not exclusive) responsibility for support – financial, social and emotional – is provided for a limited period of time, usually one year, by the private sector. More precisely, only the financial guarantee of support is limited to one year, but, may be shorter if refugees become self-sustaining earlier. Further, support in many forms, including financial, may go beyond the one year guarantee period.

The following benefits of private sponsorship were presented by Judith and her fellow panelists:

  • offers a safe and orderly means for refugees to achieve protection
  • serves as an alternative to irregular movements via a safe, orderly and legal channel
  • is a way for the private sector to demonstrate commitment
  • offers an opportunity to harness the will of the community
  • facilitates integration, especially in the provision of social capital
  • permits burden sharing and a way for EU countries to resettle refugees (half do not, and, with a few notable exceptions, the rest resettle very few)
  • develops a constituency of public support for refugee intake
  • is a way of expanding resettlement at reduced costs to the government (I think this claimed benefit is specious since a) there are settlement costs to government for private sponsors and, under a program of additionality, these costs are also in addition, and b) since private sponsorship provides public support for the government itself sponsoring more refugees, this too adds to the cost.)
  • if the principle of additionality is used, private sponsorship counters the argument that this is a form of offloading (in practice, it actually allows the government intake to be larger than it might otherwise have been).

Judith also included as a benefit of private sponsorship that it facilitates family reunification, but, as her report notes, there is an overlap between the two. Further, the use of private sponsorship for family reunification can crowd out the possibility of refugees in greater need from being sponsored within the target set by the government.

The panelists suggested that private sponsorship could vary in the following ways:

  • Status granted to refugees (temporary or permanent resettlement, though UNHCR does not like defining temporary protection as resettlement)
  • Entitlements
  • Who is eligible to sponsor
  • Who is eligible to be sponsored
  • Nature of sponsor’s obligations
  • The safety network
  • Procedures
  • Question of additionality
  • Built-in upfront systems of evaluation.

Judith in her report stated that, “Refugee resettlement is usually seen as a state-led activity.  Governments decide how many resettlement places they will offer, select the refugees they will take in, arrange for travel and initial reception, and provide settlement support. Private sponsorship arrangements, meanwhile, shift the primary responsibility for assisting resettled refugees from government to private actors. Private sponsors accept financial responsibility for resettled refugees for a specified period of time and provide other forms of support. In exchange, they are permitted to identify the refugee (or refugees) they propose to resettle, although the final decision on admission n rests with the government.”

Though the report is otherwise excellent, in this case those familiar with the Canadian private sponsorship program will recognize the flaws in this paragraph. Even in private sponsorship, resettlement remains a state-led activity re numbers, selection, transportation, and initial reception; private sponsorship normally substitutes most areas of support and assistance in integration. Secondly, permitting private sponsors to name sponsored refugees was a deviation from standard private sponsors when over time private sponsors began to act as fronts for family reunification, a pattern that became dominant when  Kumin was UNHCR representative in Ottawa, though in New Zealand’s and Argentina’s small programs, it is the main purpose of private sponsorship.

Judith included as the second essential feature of private sponsorship the option of naming the sponsored refugee. In Canada, that is NOT an essential feature. Nor is it a trade-off in return for assuming the responsibility of private sponsorship. In the first huge wave of Indochinese refugee sponsorship in the 1979-80 period, sponsors rarely named refugees they wanted to sponsor and the possibility of doing so was neither an incentive nor a gift from the government in return for their assuming the financial responsibility. Kumin writes as if this is the main form of private sponsorship when it was the deviant form that became the main form for a period as a means of family reunification using private sponsors. Perhaps Judith was influenced by countries like Ireland and Switzerland which have only experimented with private sponsorship in this form.

Further, Judith in the follow-up discussion said that civil society had taken the lead in Canada in 1979 in the private sponsorship of the Indochinese refugees. She has obviously not read my books or published articles. The Canadian government worked months at promoting private sponsorship before it was taken up with enthusiasm by the private sector. Then the government responded to that demonstrated enthusiasm when it did emerge with increased numbers of government-sponsored refugees. There is no evidence that civil society took the lead, although newspapers tended to report that the government only acted because it was pushed to do so by the media and the private sector. This was nonsense! More importantly, this myth detracts from the need to emphasize the importance of government leadership.

Judith said in her presentation during the webinar that her report dealt with refugee private sponsorship on a practical level because “too little was known”. In fact, there is a plethora of research on the benefits and deficiencies, inputs and outcomes of private versus government sponsorship. To name but a few conclusions, government-sponsored refugees have more options of English (or French) for second language training and more immediate opportunities to upgrade their skills. Private sponsored refugees generally enter the job market at a higher level. On the other hand, privately-sponsored refugees generally enter the job market much more quickly, in part because the private sponsors have a strong incentive for the refugees to become self-sufficient and in part because the private sponsors offer a network of connections to facilitate entry into the job market. At the end of a number of years (seven if I recall from one study), the level of employment between the two groups tends to converge. One of the most interesting differences is that, when surveys are done after the refugees were in Canada for ten years, private sponsored-refugees had close friends who were Canadian-born. Few government- sponsored refugees did.

The third panelist was Tim Finch who is a novelist (The House of Journalists) and former director of communications for the British Refugee Council. He heads the migration division of the Institute for Policy Research and has been part of a team pushing the UK government to develop some pilot projects on refugee sponsorship. He continues to write op-eds on refugee issues. He discussed how the British private sponsorship was shaping up and focused on the 6 October 2015 speech of the British Home Secretary, Theresa May, to the Conservative Party Congress reprinted in full in, The Independent.

Finch claimed that although the UK had been a laggard in refugee resettlement in general and the use of private sponsorship in particular, May’s statement at the Conservative Conference opened the opportunity for the UK to leap into the vanguard. May promised that, “We’ll develop a community sponsorship scheme, like those in Canada and Australia, to allow individuals, charities, faith groups, churches and businesses to support refugees directly.” Unfortunately, Finch, when he strayed from the UK focus, made some misleading statements – such as contrasting the British system, which automatically entitles the refugees to benefits, which the Canadian system does not. Finch was possibly confusing asylum claimants with resettled refugees; the latter are entitled to the same benefits as all Canadians.

All this was against a background of a decidedly anti-immigrant and anti-asylum earned reputation by the Conservative government. Finch claimed that UK leadership on refugee resettlement was coming from the top from a Home Secretary not known for generosity towards refugees. That is an understatement for a Home Secretary who would boast in her speech to the Conservative Conference that the UK had “granted asylum to more than 5,000 Syrians in Britain” since the start of the Syrian War. Pathetic! Absolutely pathetic! She should hide her head in shame rather than boasting of allowing entry of a paltry 1,000 Syrian refugees per year.

Now the UK government promises to take in “20,000 Syrian refugees over the course of this Parliament,” that is 5,000 per year. It is just more Harperism – sheer tokenism and not offset by the UK’s generous contributions to overseas Syrian refugee aid. The ideology of the UK government is clear: “the best way of helping the most people is not by bringing relatively small numbers of refugees to this country, but by working with the vast numbers who remain in the region,” as if one offsets the need to undertake the other. Further, her statement clearly suggests that if a UK private sponsorship program is initiated, it will not follow the principle of additionality, but the principle of substitution, for the government insists that immigration is still too high even though the intake has been cut in half.

May insisted that, “wherever possible, I want to offer asylum and refuge to people in parts of the world affected by conflict and oppression, rather than to those who have made it to Britain.” She implied that there will be an offset of refugees taken in from abroad to the extent asylum claims are reduced.  This could be interpreted to mean, the more domestic asylum claims are brought under control, the more refugees that can be resettled from abroad. This is what Stephen Harper seemed to promise to Canadians. It just was not true.

Finch suggested that the private sponsorship proposal might have been a way of sugaring the pill for an otherwise hardline policy. My reading of her speech was that it was complementary to the hard line and offered only tokenism in the way of refugee resettlement. Finch, if he had studied the Canadian development, would not have suggested that this initiative offered a way forward and an opportunity for the private sector to co-design a system for private sponsorship. The Canadian system was designed by the government and has been refined and redesigned by the government, though in both cases there has been private sector influence. But influence does not make one a co-designer. Finch pointed out that when UK universities offered scholarships to refugees, none were taken up. As one of the other panelists noted, Canada has a long history of WUSC Canada sponsoring refugees to attend Canadian universities and colleges. The program works in good part because of a committed government partner.

One of the romantic fallacies is that, relative to the government, the private sector plays a leadership role in promoting resettlement. It certainly does so in the promotion of resettlement by the private sector. But not in making as distinct from influencing policy.  The private sector making refugee resettlement policy is a myth. Much of my experience, research and writing on refugee resettlement exposed that myth. But the narrative continues to grow. The reality is that there is little private sponsorship without strong government leadership. Look at the period under Stephen Harper when the legislation and policies were all in place, but the systems were eviscerated and sponsors were subjected to inordinate delays and overwhelmed with lengthy forms that were mostly returned because of small mistakes. So Finch’s interpretation that May was inviting Brits “to devise a system and we will consider” simply falls into the trap of delays and half, no one-tenth, half-hearted measures. For Finch to suggest that this would be a good way for sponsors to “have control over the system that emerges” is just a pipe dream.

Though the webinar promised that the speakers “will also delve into key questions and challenges that should be considered in implementation, including who would be eligible to sponsor refugees, what would sponsors’ responsibilities entail, who could be sponsored, and how would applicants be chosen, what entitlements and status might sponsored refugees get, and more political questions as to whether such initiatives merely represent a divestment of government responsibilities onto an overstretched volunteer sector, in fact, other than these categories being mentioned, they were barely touched upon.

There was one other reaction I had and I would be curious to know if anyone else who participated in the webinar had the same response. There was too much emphasis on gradually “scaling up,” on “managing expectations,” on avoiding the risks of disappointment” and the need to have processes in place for security clearances, selection, transportation, etc. The recent initiative of the Justin Trudeau government belies that. Even though, as I wrote above, the Canadian resettlement apparatus had been allowed to grow rusty and had been severely weakened in terms of human resources, Trudeau demonstrated that it was possible to gear up in very short order. Further, if the government keeps up to and responds to any increase in private sponsorship, there is no need to manage expectations. That is only needed when there is a government interest in limiting the intake by the private sector. So advice to “take time,” to carefully plan and prepare, easily becomes an excuse for a moving like a tortoise.

Tomorrow: Biblical and Mediaeval Theoretic Foundations for Military Policy

Corporeality IIIB: Justin Trudeau and Canadian Identity

Corporeality IIIB: Justin Trudeau and Canadian Identity


Howard Adelman

Yesterday I wrote about Justin Trudeau’s policies with respect to the war against Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. I tried to show that on the basis of strategic considerations alone, Canada’s plan not to renew the deployment of the six CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft as part of the allied mission in Iraq and Syria, did not make rational sense. At the end I suggested that the account could not be left at the level simply of strategy, but the explanation lay deeper in Trudeau’s conception of the Canadian identity and the way, sometimes erroneously, that he envisions enhancing that identity.

The energy his government has put into resettling the Syrian refugees in Canada is a major expression of the view of the Liberal Party under Trudeau of Canadian identity. Though overwhelmingly cheered on, the initiative has not been without criticism, usually on security grounds rather than humanitarian ones. But some critiques have emerged that argue that we are importing a population which has values diametrically opposed to our own, particularly in the treatment of women. The following op-ed by the brilliant son of two very old (now sadly deceased) friends, David Frum, was published on 16 March 2015 in The National Post:

Trudeau now urges Canada to enable and assist those who define women as inferior — and who require women to wear special identifying badges of their inferiority. In his Toronto speech, Trudeau said: “one of the highest aims of Canadian political leadership is to protect and expand freedom for Canadians.” He is so determined to expand freedom, in fact, that he now proposes to expand it to include the freedom to treat women like chattels. This is not the freedom that Trudeau’s hero Wilfrid Laurier had in mind when he called freedom “Canada’s nationality.” The freedom Justin Trudeau defended in Toronto is the freedom Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee fought for: the freedom to dominate and subordinate.

Canada stands for human rights. Canada stands for freedom. Canada stands for gender equality. It is wrong, the argument goes, for Canada to bring in people who do not share those values. What the Justin Trudeau government is asserting by its initiative is that it is absolutely wrong to label a whole region and the people who live in it as discriminatory against women, let alone a whole religion. For the region contains many people. Yazidis and Chaldeans do not define women as chattels. Neither do most Muslims. Engaging in such labeling is un-Canadian and runs directly counter to Canadian values of tolerance and respect. Of course, among those refugees from Syria there will be some refugees who do not share in our values of gender equality which Canadian immigration officers will be unable to detect, especially given their focus on security issues. Trudeau trusts that Canadian values are so powerful and so winning that, even for those who do not share the Canadian values of gender equality, over one or perhaps two generations, given past history, and given Canada’s excellent multicultural and integration policies, even most of those will incorporate those values into their cultural praidentity, valuesctices.

The lesson about Canadian values encompassing respect for the Other goes even further. I will illustrate this by a story which I hope I have not written about before. When I was in Lebanon after the Israeli invasion in 1982 auditing the number of residents made homeless by the war, I was traveling around in a Red Cross vehicle. We came across a woman sobbing in the middle of the road. She was covered in blood and fresh blood was still seeping from her head wounds. The Red Cross vehicle stopped and bundled her into the back. A long interrogation and conversation proceeded in Arabic as her wounds were being treated.

Not understanding Arabic, I presumed that the woman was somehow a casualty of the war that had primarily moved up to the Beirut area. While the woman was being treated in the back, the Red Cross vehicle first drove to one location from which it received directions to another. We arrived at a home with posters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the first supreme religious leader of Iran after the overthrow of the Shah, plastered all down one wall on the side. [As a total aside, and a bit of the good news coming out of Iran, his reform-minded grandson, who was initially vetoed by the Supreme Religious Council in Iran, has had his candidacy reinstated.]

No one explained to me why we were not at a hospital. I presumed we were at the home of a Hezbollah leader given the posters. I had to move over in the front seat and a gentleman joined us and chatted with the driver and with the woman and her attendant in the back as we drove to another village. There at a house we dropped off the woman and the man we had so recently picked up after a brief discussion with the Red Cross driver before we proceeded on our way. The driver then explained what had happened.

The woman had been beaten up by her husband. We had gone first to the home of the local religious leader who delegated one of his acolytes both to warn the husband never to repeat the beating of his wife and to live with the family for 30 days to protect the wife, to give daily lessons to the husband and to report back to the Imam on the treatment of the wife over a month. When I heard this I had to admit to myself that although I still regarded Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and as a religious organization that supported the doctrine of the superiority of males over females, when it comes to responding to domestic violence, the organization seemed to have a social system of protection of women light years ahead of our own.

The lesson: do not be complacent and simply dogmatically believe that your practices of instantiating gender equality are by definition not only the best, but had nothing to learn from other practices. Ironically, other practices, from sources one would least suspect, can be superior to your own.

I tell this story because two Canadian values complementary to gender equality are tolerance and respect. They are best taught by example. The intolerant comments of the writer critical of the Canadian Syrian refugee program above in defense of Canadian values, reveals him or herself to be subversive of those values. Further, the writer revealed profound ignorance as well as negative exaggerations about peoples and religion in insisting that the niqab is a “symbol of oppression: the garment’s purpose, after all, is to deprive women of their individuality; to render them invisible in public space.” The writer was. I believe, obviously thinking of the burka rather than the niqab. With respect to the niqab, in my own studies of the controversy in France over its being worn by Muslim girls in the French schools, I learned that it was worn for many different reasons – to protect privacy, as a style statement, as an identifier with one’s tradition, as a religious identifier, as a means of diverting the male gaze away from them, and by two school girls whose last name was Levy and who had a Jewish father and a Muslim mother, as a political statement of rebellion against the arbitrary edicts of the French government in its efforts to ban the wearing of the niqab.

One reproach to Justin Trudeau took place in the context of his comments on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Trudeau said:

“On this day, we pay tribute to the memory of the millions of victims murdered during the Holocaust. We honour those who survived atrocities at the hands of the Nazi regime, and welcome their courageous stories of hope and perseverance… The Holocaust is a stark reminder of the dangers and risks of allowing hate, prejudice, and discrimination to spread unchallenged. It also reminds us that silence must never be an option when humanity is threatened… As we pause to educate ourselves and our families on the bitter lessons of the Holocaust, we also strengthen our resolve to work with domestic and international partners to continue defending human rights and condemning intolerance.”

Many took umbrage at the statement – not for what it said, but for what it left out. International Holocaust Remembrance Day is not Human Rights Day. Holocaust Day is specifically intended to commemorate the deliberate murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime during WWII. Yet there was not one mention of Jews in the speech. Instead, Trudeau said that, “We honour [all] those who survived atrocities at the hands of the Nazi regime.” The day was reinterpreted as a day of remembrance for all victims of the Nazis.

Further, the statement took place just a few days after Stéphan Dion, our Foreign Minister, said that Canada, as a steadfast ally of and friend to Israel, “calls for all efforts to be made to reduce violence and incitement and to help build the conditions for a return to the negotiating table.” This was said in the context of the intifada of the knives. Though very occasionally Jewish extremists have killed innocent Palestinian civilians deliberately, those rare occurrences have been deplored by political authorities in Israel. In contrast, the now almost daily terrorist attacks against civilians by Palestinian extremists may be criticized as an inappropriate tactic by Mahmoud Abbas, but at the same time, the perpetrators are celebrated as heroes. Further, the various practices of the IDF as an occupying army of a civilian population antithetical to that occupation, such as demolishing a number of Palestinian homes “illegally” erected on land reserved for the IDF for military practice, may be deplored, but there is no equivalence whatsoever between the deliberate attempts of Palestinians to murder Israeli civilians and the unacceptable and deplorable practices of the Netanyahu government.

Since Justin Trudeau misspoke about the Holocaust in leaving out any reference to Jews that followed Stéphan Dion’s mistaken equation of Palestinian violence and Israeli political practices which may separately be worthy of extensive criticism, the government received a number of criticisms from various quarters, especially Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), but Fogel also noted that in each case the government issued an immediate apology and corrections. Dion made an explicit clarification which pointed at the exclusive responsibility for the intifada of the knives on Palestinians themselves and pointing to the ways in which they followed incitement by Palestinian leaders. Trudeau addressed the issue of the connection between the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.

There are two lessons here. The first arises from the pattern and propensity to make such mistakes. Secondly, there is the willingness to immediately apologize and correct the errors. The first is not just a case of being careless, thoughtless and insensitive. In Otherwise than Being, Emmanuel Levinas dedicated it, “To the memory of those who were closest among the six million assassinated by the Nazi Socialists, and the millions on millions of all confessions and all nations, victims of the same hatred of the other man, the same anti-Semitism” (my italics) Though Levinas did not make the same error of simply putting a generic face on the singularity of the Shoah by omitting that the Nazis targeted Jews most specifically, he also wanted to universalize the lesson to all cases of racist thought. This, I believe, is what lay behind Trudeau’s misstep. The error was not in the effort to draw universal lessons, but in the omission of reference to the specific victims from which the lesson was being drawn. This is also true of the erroneous equivalence – the tendency to universalize, to apply to all patterns of injustice, but at the expense of forging false equivalences.

The willingness to correct the errors, the way they were corrected and the speed with which the corrections were made speaks to the strengths of the Trudeau government value system and its willingness to amend whenever it gives way to sacrificing the particular and significant differences to convey a universal message. What has this got to do with the Canadian decision to not to renew the deployment of the CF-18 Hornet fighter planes in the Middle East? I know analogical reasoning is the weakest form of argument and in many quarters is unacceptable, but it is my belief that this young government has a proclivity in general to such errors. In its desire to enunciate and give witness to universal values, there is a propensity to get the particulars wrong.

The government should, and I believe it might, demonstrate that it recognizes that it cannot combat evil only with giving witness to universal values. It can, and, in my mind, should continue to insist that upholding those values is the best bulwark against creating conditions for homegrown terrorism to flourish and grow. THIS MUST BE THE FIRST PRIORITY OF THE GOVERNMENT IN THE BATTLE AGAINST TERRORISM. It is well exemplified in Canadian policies to take in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. It is well exemplified in the unwillingness to target Islam as a religion because of the small number of terrorists that are spawned in part from that religion. But first priorities are not to the exclusion of other priorities down the line. The Canadian government must also engage with and combat that evil on the ground and in the air that is flourishing in the Middle East and even Africa.

What do I expect the government to do?

  1. Announce that it has not had enough time to reconsider its overall policies and plans for combatting Daesh (ISIS);
  2. Until it completes that reconsideration and review, it will extend the mission of the six CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft for another six months;
  3. Nearing the two-thirds mark in that extension, the government will announce that, out of consideration for its responsibilities to the mission and its allies, out of consideration of the continuing threat posed by Daesh, the deployment of the six CF-18 Hornet fighter planes will be renewed for a further six months;
  4. That the government will enhance its contribution to the fight against evil in a number of ways, including going beyond a combat role and offering advice to the Iraqi government on how to implement multicultural practices that uphold the values of rights, respect for others and minorities and reinforcement of democratic institutions;
  5. That, in the meanwhile, Canada will continue to take in more refugees and to treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve, thereby offering the most important lesson through witnessing in combating terrorism.

Will the Canadian government do what I expect? “Expect” is an equivocal term. On the one hand it means setting standards for a party to live up to. On the other hand, it is a prognostication for the future. I leave it to the reader to decide whether I mean the first or the second or possibly both.

With the help of Alex Zisman


Justin Trudeau and Omar Alghabra

Justin Trudeau and Omar Alghabra


Howard Adelman

One of the other pieces of correspondence I received last week when I took a week off from my blog when I was travelling in the West was a reference to a recent article by Ezra Levant and published in The Sun entitled, “Bad advice: Think Justin Trudeau’s instincts are scary? Take a look at what two of his advisers have to say,”

I received a third piece from two other readers as follows:


We knew it was coming.

So who is Omar Alghabra?

  1. Alghabra is the Saudi-born former president of the Canadian Arab Federation
  2. Alghabra holds extremist views. When he was president of the Arab Federation in 2004, he denounced Canada’s largest newspaper chain for using the term “terrorist” to describe Muslim terrorist groups like the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. He said that was a mere opinion, not a fact.
  3. In 2005, Alghabra wrote a letter to Toronto’s police chief condemning the chief for participating in a charity walk for Israel, saying Israel was “conducting a brutal and the longest contemporary military occupation in the world.”
  4. In a letter to a journalist, he wrote the chief’s visit to Israel was comparable to visiting Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.
  5. When arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat died, Alghabra put out a press release announcing he was mourning for him.
  6. When Canada was setting up a no-fly list for passengers considered security threats, Alghabra opposed it.
  7. When Ontario narrowly rejected adopting shariah law for Muslim divorces, Alghabra was disappointed, calling it ‘unfortunate’.”

I write this blog in full recognition that it comes just at a time when Donald Trump is calling for a temporary but blanket banning of all Muslims from entering the United States. In this context, let me begin by introducing readers to Omar Alghabra for those unfamiliar with him.

In the recent Canadian election, on 19 October just five days before his 46th birthday, Omar was elected as the Liberal MP from Mississauga Centre, a new riding, but from 2006-2008 he used to represent Mississauga Erindale, part of which is now included in Mississauga Centre. He was greeted by much of the Canadian Muslim community, and especially the Arab Canadian community, as Canada’s first Arab and Muslim MP, even though Rahim Jaffer preceded Alghabra as a Conservative MP (1997-2008) as did Yasmin Ratansi, a Liberal MP (2004-2011) who had been the first female Muslim MP elected to Parliament. But both Rahim and Yasmin are Ismailis, so many Muslims do not regard them as expressions of mainstream Islam. Further, neither saw themselves in that light either.

Alghabra lost in the 2008 election by the narrowest margin of .71% of the vote. In the last election, he was strongly supported by Hazel McCallion, Mississauga’s very long serving and very much loved previous mayor, and by the current mayor, Bonnie Crombie. Mississauga is Canada’s sixth largest city in which 60% of the population consists of immigrants. Omar Alghabra was elected with a clear majority of 54.72% over strong Conservative and NDP candidates, amassing 28,372 votes in a riding which is estimated to be 16-17% Muslim.

Though I attended a meeting in Mississauga recently when Bonnie Crombie, Mississauga’s mayor, promised to raise $5 million to resettle Syrian refugees, and Omar Alghabra was evidently also there, I never met him. However, I did read with favour his answer to a question when asked, as a Syrian with a mother and three sisters in Syria, whether he thought Canada had previously let down the cause of Syrian refugees, he replied, “This isn’t about how Syrians or anyone else sees Canada; it is about us, it is about how Canadians see ourselves — who are we?”

Alghabra was one of eleven Muslim candidates, all but one Liberal, to win in the 2015 election, and only one of two to have been an MP previously. Eight of the eleven Muslims are Arab. Thus, Arab and Muslim representation in our current parliament has a higher percentage of seats than the percentage of Muslims and certainly of Arabs in Canada. Muslims who complained that there should be at least four Muslim representatives in Parliament, certainly have no case for arguing their voice in not being heard, even if this arithmetical view of multiculturalist representation is fundamentally bogus in any case. Jewish MPs should represent all their constituents. So should Muslim MPs.

In the 2006-08 parliament, Alghabra served on the Liberal side as the immigration critic as well as natural resources critic, but in this past campaign, he largely focused on the Liberal promise to invest $125 billion over 10 years in transit, housing and daycare that targeted aid for middle class families. As a Liberal, he also argued that these initiatives would stimulate the Canadian economy

Given his strong support for Justin Trudeau in his leadership bid, given his role as one of many of Justin Trudeau’s policy advisers (not a Senior Policy adviser as often reported), given that he is only one of two Muslim MPs out of eleven with previous parliamentary experience, given the size of his victory, it was no surprise that he was named a Parliamentary Secretary on 2 December or why he might have hoped and even expected to be named to Cabinet. I dare say that if he had been a woman, he would have been given a ministerial appointment. As Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Consular Affairs, he is only responsible for consular affairs, not foreign policy; the final section of his title is often omitted by critics. The mandate of consular affairs is the service offered by our embassies and consulates to Canadians travelling abroad. Finally, Justin Trudeau has three senior policy advisers, Gerry Butts, Katie Telford and Dan Gagnier. None are sitting MPs, but every single MP can be characterized as an adviser to the leader of the Liberal Party and now the Prime Minister.

Though he campaigned overwhelmingly on domestic issues, Alghabra is of Syrian origin. Alghabra’s family lived in Saudi Arabia when he was born in Al Khobar. He came to Canada alone from Syria at 19. He has a mechanical engineering degree from Ryerson, an MBA from York University, and, though he worked for many years as an engineer for General Electric, prior to the recent election, he was a Distinguished Visiting Fellow with the Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science at Ryerson. In addition to his focus largely on infrastructure improvement and transportation, especially dear to Mississauga, he also touted his strong support for democracy.

I was raised in areas where they don’t believe in democracy and civil rights, cultures of equality and justice, and there is no belief that a citizen has the power over their own destiny…now I have a unique appreciation for Canada and what Canada has to offer, so it is that passion about striving to protect the idea and the noble concept of democracy.

He has a long record of citizen activism. The criticisms aimed at him largely focus on that activism rather than his previous record in parliament. Those critiques deal largely with five issues: a) his alleged support for sharia law; b) his role in and support of the Canadian Arab Federation; c) his indirect support for terrorist organizations; d) his defence of the Palestinian cause; 5) his criticisms of Israel. I will discuss each in turn.

The critics of Omar Alghabra often cite his support for sharia law and his response to the Ontario government decision to reject allowing sharia law to operate in Ontario, allegedly calling the defeat “disappointing.” When I undertook a search for his position of sharia law, the only references I could find was a group of critics each citing the other to support the claim that he supported sharia law. If a reader can find a source, I would really welcome being shown it. Though even if he did say something along these lines, I am not sure what the problem is.

Sharia or Divine Law for Muslims is the Law of God, which, however, requires interpretation and case law to discern its application. Hence the many schools of fiqh schools dealing with sharia law. Suppose Algahabra did support sharia law. There is a radical difference between supporting sharia law and imposing sharia law by dictate as in Iran and in jurisdictions under the control of fundamentalist Islamicists. Sharia law requires Muslims to uphold the laws of a local jurisdiction, except, and only except, if those laws force a citizen to be a sinner. That, of course, is where the danger lies. For, as we see in Iran and Saudi Arabia, sin can be applied very broadly.

Ezra Levant has placed the conflict over the role of sharia law within a larger framework  of a program of lawfare, an attempt to gradually and incrementally make sharia law respectable.  Barbara Kay referred to those efforts as “soft” jihadism; “soft jihad strategy exploits liberal discourse and weakens our legal system to induce guilt about a largely mythical ‘Islamophobia’.” (Barbara Kay, “Paving the way for ‘soft jihad,’ 2 July 2008, The National Post. http:/ Barbara Kay was objecting to the use of human rights commissions to adjudicate whether Ezra Levant or Mark Steyn were engaged in hate speech.

When Muslims utilize Canadian legal processes and institutions, such as Human Rights Commissions and appeals to anti-discrimination Canadian law and human rights codes, not “Islamic law,” they have every right to do so. Whether they win or lose in such a claim, in articulating arguments based in Canadian law, not sharia law, they reinforce and uphold that law; they do not undermine it. That is precisely why Barbara Kay, Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant have all campaigned against the authority of human rights commissions. The reality is that violations of the applicable human rights code are relevant, not violations of Islamic law. There is the added reality that the vast majority of Canadian Muslims do not want sharia law o be enforced by the state, just as the vast majority of Jews do not want Jewish law to be enforced by the state.

However, when the proposal was made to permit the use of sharia law within the boundaries of Canadian law to operate in areas like divorce, inter-personal financial disputes, etc., not only was this denied, but previous permission for Jewish law to be used in such areas was withdrawn. Further, when the human rights commission ruled against the request of the Muslim organization to declare Mark Steyn’s book as an example of discrimination, in the name of freedom of speech, the Commission denied the request. However, in her comments afterwards, Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, indicated that there are many competing freedoms in Canadian law and the freedom to express oneself is not absolute and does not trump other decisions, such as religious freedom and protection from hate crimes. Even though the commission ruled in favour of the publication, in her comments Barbara Hall indicated that the writer could have been more alert to religious sensibilities and more objective in his commentary. However, one can well understand the concerns of such writers given the issuance of fatwas against Salman Rushdie and the more systematic efforts of some Muslim organizations to take legal actions against those who slight or mock Islam or its sacred symbols.

Tomorrow: Omar Alghabra: A Muslim Mole?