Shelter: Single mom plants strong roots in N.D.G.

The living room in Stephanie Pascal’s N.D.G. apartment.
Graham Hughes / Montreal Gazette

Stephanie Pascal grew up in Nouveau-Bordeaux, in the north end, but she lived for many years in the Plateau. Although she studied history at university, she ended up working in the retail trade. At one point, she even ran her own company — a second-hand toy and clothing store for children “aged from zero to 10.” Pascal subsequently sold that business and today she works for a TV and film production company.

Pascal may have had an eclectic professional life, but when it comes to her home she has been steadfast, living in one place for quite a long time. More than a decade ago, she put down roots in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, and there she has stayed. Pascal chose N.D.G. in part because she got tired of the Plateau. She was also planning to have children one day and she wanted to live in a neighbourhood that was family-friendly and had easy access to stores and parks.

She and her then partner moved into a duplex in 2002 and three years later, their son, Noah, was born. The building was (and still is) owned by a friend of Stephanie’s and when he got married, he bought a house and moved out. While he was living there, the landlord had renovated the kitchen and spruced up the rest of the apartment, including refinishing the hardwood floors. The apartment, in other words, was in good shape, so Pascal and her partner moved upstairs.

Noah’s father no longer lives with the family, but Pascal has stayed put. Her upper storey home has three bedrooms, a balcony and a sizeable terrasse – what she calls her “extra room” for the summer. An artist friend, G. Scott MacLeod, has a studio in the basement.

Q: You certainly have tons of space! Do you use one of your three bedrooms as a home office?

A: Actually no. I host a foreign student from time to time to earn some extra income. One just left on Friday – a Japanese girl who was studying English at McGill. She stayed with me for a month.

Q: Sort of like having a part-time roommate?

A: Exactly! I’m 44 years old and I don’t want to have roommates any more. I’ve done that. This way I meet all kinds of people. It’s great for Noah as well, because he’s being exposed to people from different cultural backgrounds.


Two of the walls of the guest bedroom are painted tomato red.

Graham Hughes /

Graham Hughes/The Gazette

(Pascal leads me into the ‘student room’. It’s furnished with a single bed, a sofa, bookshelves and a small work area. Two of the walls are painted a striking tomato red. A sliding door leads to a balcony.

(Stephanie’s own bedroom is a restful space with pale green walls. Several pieces of art hang on the wall, including a sketch of her holding Noah in her arms – a present from the artist whose studio is in the basement. There are many other pieces by him throughout the apartment.)


The master bedroom is a restful space that contains a mother and child photo done by an artist friend of Pascal’s.

Graham Hughes /

Graham Hughes/The Gazette

Q: What a lovely ‘mother and child’ picture!

A: I’m very lucky to have an artist friend. You feel like a grown-up when you have original art on the walls!

(By her bedroom window, standing on a shelf, are a cyclamen and two beautiful orchids in full bloom. They’re clearly thriving.)

Q: You must have a green thumb. I find orchids really hard to grow. They take one look at me and die!

A: (Laughs.) Both of these are on their third or fourth flowering. All my windows seem to have the right kind of light. I think they’ve just found a ‘happy space’ here! I put most of my plants on the terrasse in the summertime.


The rear balcony serves as an “extra room” for the N.D.G. apartment. 

Graham Hughes /

Graham Hughes/The Gazette

(She leads me out to her ‘extra room’. Pascal measures its dimensions by placing one foot in front of the other and walking across the deck — roughly 250 square feet of outside space. Patches of snow remain and a glass-topped table and patio chairs stand in the corner, as if just waiting for the white stuff to disappear.)

(We walk into Noah’s bedroom. He sleeps on the upper part of an Ikea bunk bed, which Pascal bought second hand from a customer when she ran her children’s store. Against one wall is a bookshelf/drawer unit filled with toys and books. The floor is covered in a mad jumble of action figures and building bricks.)


Stephanie Pascal’s son, Noah, sleeps in the upper part of an Ikea bunk bed.

Graham Hughes /

Graham Hughes/The Gazette

Q: Definitely a young boy’s room!

A: My Japanese student had a really interesting reaction when she came in here for the first time. She said Noah’s room reminded her of Toy Story! In fact, she thought my entire apartment was like a movie set! Isn’t it funny how things that are ordinary to us can seem exotic to somebody from another culture?

If you would like your home to be considered for Shelter, please contact hloverseed@sympatico.ca

 

SHELTER

Shelter is a weekly series featuring a conversation with tenants or condo owners.

Occupants: Stephanie Pascal, 44, son Noah, 12, and Happy, a marmalade cat

Location: Notre-Dame-de-Grâce

Size: 1,100 square feet (plus a 250 square-foot terrasse)

Rental: $1,100 (includes heat)

Been there: Since 2006 (in the upstairs apartment)


The kitchen was renovated before Pascal moved in and features a lot of storage space.

Graham Hughes /

Graham Hughes/The Gazette

Canada sanctions 27 Syrian regime members

TRENTON, Ont.: Canada has slapped sanctions on 27 high-ranking Syrian government officials in an effort to force Bashar al-Assad to stop using violence against his people and remove him from power, according to Canadian media.

The individuals will have their assets in Canada frozen and they are prohibited from doing business with Canada, CTV News reported.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this week that the path to peace in Syria does not include Assad, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported. 

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland issued a statement Friday that said Canada is also involved in the investigation of the use of chemical weapons to help build a case against those who commit war crimes in Syria.

“Last week’s chemical weapons attack in southern Idlib is a war crime and is unacceptable,” Freeland said, according to the Canadian Press wire service. “Canada is working with its allies to end the war in Syria and hold those responsible to account.”

Assad said his regime was not behind any chemical attack.

Earlier this week, Freeland urged Russia to stop its support of Assad, help to remove him from power and bring peace to Syria.

Ironically, Freeland is banned from entering Russia, one of 13 Canadians sanctioned as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s response to Western sanctions three years ago.

Canada has said it would contribute $1.6 billion to provide assistance to the region and it has to date accepted 40,000 Syrian refugees.

Husky Energy : Canadas Husky Energy to drill exploration wells off China

Canadian firm Husky Energy has inked a production sharing deal for a block off the coast of China.

Calgary-based Husky will drill two exploration wells on block 16/25 in the Pearl River Mouth basin, about 150 kilometres south-east of Hong Kong, in 2018.

It also plans to drill two more wells at the nearby 15/33 asset.

Husky operates and holds 100% of both blocks.

If it discovers hydrocarbons, Chinese energy company CNOOC can take on an interest of up to 51%.

(c) 2017 ITP Business Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info)., source Middle East & North African Newspapers

How an alleged kidnapper was lured from Somalia to Canada

In June 2015, Somali national Ali Omar Ader was arrested in Ottawa at the end of a remarkable five-year undercover operation designed to lure him to Canada. He will stand trial in October for his alleged role in the kidnapping of Canadian Amanda Lindhout. Last week, for the first time, an Ottawa courtroom heard details of that RCMP undercover operation, dubbed Project Slype. 

Nov. 26, 2009: Canadian freelance journalist Amanda Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan are released from captivity after $600,000 in ransom is paid by their families. They had been abducted just outside of Mogadishu, Somalia by a criminal gang, and held for 460 days. Lindhout revealed in her best-selling memoir, A House in the Sky, that she had been tortured and raped during her captivity.

January 2010: The principal negotiator for the Somali gang during the hostage crisis — a man who identified himself as “Adam” — calls Lindhout’s mother out of the blue, seeking to get in touch with Amanda.

June 25, 2010: An RCMP undercover officer, claiming to be a representative of the Lindhout family, cold calls Adam to find out what he wants. Unbidden, Adam begins to relate details of the Lindhout kidnapping, and reveals that he has letters — written by Lindhout during her captivity — that he wants to sell to her for $15,000 U.S. He also tells the undercover officer, A.K., that he wants to write a book about Somalia’s troubled history.

June 29, 2010: A.K. calls Adam and tells him that Lindhout may be interested in purchasing the letters, but she needs more time to think about it. Adam offers to send some digital copies of the letters to highlight their value. 

July 2010: Adam sends two scanned pages from Lindhout’s cache of letters. 

Sept. 2, 2010: A.K. sends Adam an email, asking for more information about the letters; he also expresses interest in the book idea. In his reply, Adam says his book about recent Somali history, A Slow Genocidewill make him a millionaire.

Sept. 4, 2010: A.K. tells Adam in an email that the Lindhout family does not have much money. He asks Adam for a summary of his book, and offers to share it with a friend in the publishing industry.

Nov. 6, 2010: Following weeks of talk about the book project, Adam sends 16 pages of Lindhout letters. Discussions now focus on the book. 

December 2010: A.K. tells Adam that a publisher is interested in his book. Meanwhile, Adam reveals that his real name is Ali Omar Ader. He emails the table of contents from his book and a copy of his degree from Somalia’s African University; he tells A.K. that he’s interested in pursuing a master’s program in international relations. 

Dec. 20, 2010: A.K. tells Ader that he’s doing some research for him on master’s programs in Canada. 

April 21, 2011: A.K. sends Ader a list of five international relations programs available at Canadian universities.

May 9, 2011: In reply to Ader’s questions about gaining asylum in Canada, A.K. says he doesn’t know much about the refugee process, and directs him to the United Nations. A.K. also relates that he has received positive feedback from the publisher. 

Aug. 9, 2011: Ader forwards to A.K. an email from the UN, saying he’s not eligible for the international refugee program because he has not been displaced from his country. He continues to reiterate a desire to get his family — he has a wife and five children — out of Somalia. 

March 21, 2012: A.K. floats the idea of signing a contract with Ader to work as his book agent. He tells Ader about his successful consulting firm, Intercon Communications, and says he would charge him a 10-per-cent fee rather than his usual 15 per cent. 

April 2012: A.K. raises the possibility of a business meeting in Dubai. 

Sept. 11, 2012: Ader sends an email to A.K., asking if the Dubai meeting will take place. A.K. tells him that he needs a completed book manuscript before they can meet to discuss next steps. A.K. later informs Ader that he will be in India in May, and that they can meet on the island nation of Mauritius.

May 31, 2013: A.K. and Ader meet for the first time in Mauritius at the luxurious Hilton Hotel. The RCMP arrange for Ader to travel to Mauritius, and pay for his plane ticket, hotel and expenses. They also enlist the co-operation of police on the island. At a breakfast meeting, Ader tells A.K. that he was approached by one of the gang members who had kidnapped Lindhout several hours after her abduction. Ader says he was asked to work as a translator and negotiator for the group, but did not have any advanced knowledge of the kidnapping. He says he became “the group’s brains,” and filmed a hostage video sent to Al-Jazeera. The two men later sign a contract, which includes a disclosure clause: Ader repeats his story to fulfil the clause.

July 9, 2013: In response to more appeals for help in securing asylum, A.K. tells Ader that he has no government contacts. By this time, Ader is calling A.K. his “brother” “and “best friend.”

December 2013: A.K. advises Ader that, once he signs a book contract, he’ll get a $10,000 advance. He suggests the book money will solve his security concerns. 

2014: A.K. tells Ader that he has suffered a heart attack, and that their book plan has to be put on hold while he recovers. In reality, the RCMP need more time to solve legal and logistical issues, and to put the pieces in place to bring Ader to Canada. 

June 9, 2015: Ader lands in Halifax and is put on a private jet to Ottawa. He meets A.K. at an airport hotel. As a welcoming gift, A.K. gives Ader a copy of Lindhout’s book, A House in the Sky. Ader tells A.K. he wants to apologize to Lindhout and explain his actions in Somalia. A.K. has told Ader that Lindhout has forgiven him.

June 10, 2015: A.K. and Ader meet in a hotel boardroom to discuss the book deal with “Chris,” an undercover RCMP officer playing the role of a publishing executive with a fictitious firm, Catalina Publishing. The meeting is secretly videotaped by an RCMP undercover team. With A.K. acting as Ader’s book agent, Chris walks them through a detailed contract that includes clauses about royalties, reserved publication rights, copyright infringement and dispute arbitration. The $234,000 deal includes a $10,000 signing bonus, the promise of future books and the possibly of a documentary on the Lindhout kidnapping.

In keeping with a disclosure clause, Chris asks Ader to tell him the full story of his involvement in the Lindhout kidnapping in order to protect his firm from negative publicity. Ader unfolds his story again: He was approached by a member of the gang that had abducted Lindhout and Australian Nigel Brennan; he agreed to work for the gang as a translator and hostage negotiator in exchange for a share of the ransom. Ader confirmed he used an alias, “Adam,” during his negotiations with Lindhout’s mother. Ader also told the undercover officers that he only had contact with the hostages for the first three months of their captivity, and that he didn’t know Lindhout was tortured or raped. He was paid $10,000 U.S. for his work as a negotiator. “I was expecting more,” he told the men.

June 11, 2015: Ader is arrested and charged with kidnapping under extraterritorial provisions of the Criminal Code. 

Hungary’s liberals find a hero in their battle against Viktor Orbán


Academic Michael Ignatieff’s stand for academic freedom has gained attention

A march of the local demonstrators is blocked by riot police officers nearby the headquarter of the governor Fidesz party as students, teachers of the Central European University and their sympathisers protest in Budapest on 9 April.

A march of the local demonstrators is blocked by riot police officers nearby the headquarter of the governor Fidesz party as students, teachers of the Central European University and their sympathisers protest in Budapest on 9 April.
Photograph: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty

Hungary’s liberals find a hero in their battle against Viktor Orbán


Academic Michael Ignatieff’s stand for academic freedom has gained attention

The urbane, intellectual figure of Michael Ignatieff seems an unlikely candidate to play the role of bogeyman in the eyes of Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s populist prime minister, as he strives to turn his country into an “illiberal state”.

Yet it was on him that Orbán’s official spokesman focused while scrambling to explain recent mass protests supporting Budapest’s Central European University (CEU) – a small elite institution of higher learning of which Ignatieff is rector, and which could, theoretically, be forced to close because of a new higher education law.

Referring to the academic’s past as a former leader of Canada’s Liberal party, the spokesman, Zoltán Kovács, dismissed Ignatieff in an interview with the Observer as “a failed liberal politician from Canada – very obviously representing a different political agenda”. He also suggested that Ignatieff had publicly misrepresented the law as an attack on educational freedom.

The comments are a departure from the rightwing Fidesz government’s usual target of abuse – George Soros, the Hungarian-born billionaire philanthropist who is the university’s founder and whose Open Society Foundation (OSF) has earned Orbán’s wrath by helping to fund local civil society groups, some of whom have defended refugees and migrants.

But they also appeared to betray a government caught off guard by the strength of popular opposition to the legislation, which was fast-tracked through parliament in days and signed into law last Monday by President János Áder.

Michael Ignatieff, president and rector of the Central European University.

Michael Ignatieff, president and rector of the Central European University. Photograph: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty

The university, nestled between popular bistros and Budapest’s historic St Stephen’s basilica, has gained an international reputation since its foundation in 1991 in the aftermath of communism’s collapse, although it has rarely registered high on Hungarian public consciousness. Yet the capital has been convulsed in the past two weeks by protests over the law’s apparent goal of singling out CEU – which would be forced to open a campus in its registered country of the United States, in line with 27 other foreign universities operating in Hungary, in order to stay open.

Demonstrators have thronged the city’s elegant streets and squares in numbers belying the university’s tiny student body of 1,400, and with an enthusiasm seemingly at odds with the dry principle of “academic freedom” that Ignatieff and others say is at stake.

An estimated 70,000 attended a rally last Sunday, marching across the Chain Bridge that spans the Danube in scenes with the potential to embarrass a government used to revelling in its popular support. In another mass protest on Wednesday, crowds chanted “Russians go home” – a reference to Orbán’s perceived intimacy with Russian president Vladimir Putin – and shouted “Europe,” Europe” as a young man hoisted the European Union flag in the Oktogon square, in one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares. The latter gesture hinted at how the CEU protests have become a focal point for wider discontents while highlighting Hungary’s increasing isolation in the EU under Orbán’s aggressive Brussels-baiting leadership.

The latest confrontation comes amid rising concern over Hungary, which under Orbán has gained a reputation for the draconian and inhumane treatment of migrants, curtailing media freedom and interference in judiciary independence. Orbán’s government has already drawn widespread condemnation this year by detaining asylum seekers – including children of 14 – in shipping containers, a practice human rights groups say breaches EU law. Last week Germany – citing Hungary’s record of ill-treatment – became the first member state to declare it would not send migrants back there under the Dublin regulations, which specify that asylum seekers should pursue their claims in the first EU country they arrived in.

Orbán, who has been in power since 2010, has justified the actions by calling migrants “a Trojan horse of terrorism” and has trumpeted his self-appointed role in defending Christian values.

The new law, dubbed “Lex CEU”, represents the government’s latest front in its declared war on Soros, whom Orbán and his allies have vowed to “extrude” from Hungary in 2017, encouraged by the belief that they would face little resistance from US president Donald Trump, whose supporters include fierce Soros critics.

The anti-Soros assault gained further momentum last week when Fidesz MPs tabled a bill requiring civil society groups that receive money from abroad to list themselves publicly as “foreign-funded organisations” or face prosecution. The proposal is widely seen as an attempt at stigmatising groups receiving funding from Soros’s OSF. Amnesty International has compared the legislation with Russia’s 2012 “foreign agents law”, which led to the intimidation and harassment of civil groups.

“What is troubling is that they portray civil society organisations that are holding them to account as enemies of the state,” said Goran Buldioski, director of the OSF’s Budapest-based Europe office. “This is how they depict the bigger, well-established groups in Budapest. Imagine the intimidating message it sends to smaller organisations in the provinces.” In line with his attacks on Soros, Orbán launched yet another anti-EU salvo this month in the form of a government-backed consultation exercise – provocatively titled “Let’s Stop Brussels!” – which asked voters to respond to what critics say are six deliberately loaded questions presented as binary choices.

The move was reminiscent of last year’s ill-fated referendum proposing to reject the EU’s quota scheme for resettling refugees, which won an overwhelming majority but was invalidated by a low turnout. Yet there are signs that Orbán may have misread the mood and that the CEU attack has given the EU an opening to act on longstanding misgivings about his increasingly authoritarian leadership.

Last week Frans Timmermans, the European commission’s first vice-president, said he would investigate the law targeting CEU – which he described as “a jewel in the crown” – over suggestions that it breached European freedom of movement law on educational services. He promised a decision by 26 April. The European parliament is also scheduled to debate the situation in Hungary after the Easter break.

The EU intervention drew a splenetic response from Kovács – a former PhD graduate from CEU – who described it as “camouflage” for pushing an agenda favouring “illegal” migration. “To sum up, basically it’s all about illegal migration,” he said. “What they would like to enforce and push through this year is the quota system and [that] Europe should be more receptive to illegal migration.”

That, in turn, provoked an astonished reaction from Ignatieff. “My mouth falls open,” he said. “Does he understand what his words imply, which is that the Hungarian government is involved in some political operation because they have some agenda relating to migration? So their idea of a smart move is to attack an institution which has been part of Hungarian life for 25 years. What relevance does that have?

“It just makes perfectly clear that this is a political attack serving some political agenda that doesn’t concern me.”

The law, Ignatieff said, represented “a flagrant and discriminatory attack on academic freedom that is unprecedented in the history of Europe since the second world war”. The university would not close under any circumstances, he said, adding that a negotiated solution would be found.

Ignatieff, 70 next month, has lobbied western capitals, including Washington, winning support from the Trump administration in an implied rebuff to Orbán’s hope of improved ties. A US state department spokesman, Mark Toner, last week called on Hungary to suspend the law, which he said threatened an institution that “is an important conduit for intellectual and cultural exchanges between Hungary and the United States”.

Just as telling is the public support for the CEU. “The direction the government is taking makes me frightened for the future of the country and my place in it,” said former student István Szécsenyi. “I want the democracy that was promised to my parents when communism collapsed.”

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Stampeding buffalo returning to Canada

The massacre of North America’s bison in the 1800s paralleled the persecution of the continent’s indigenous people.

Since 2012, Parks Canada has been striving to reintroduce the animals, also known as buffalo, to Banff National Park – the oldest park in the country.

In February, more than 50 indigenous tribes bound together to make their return a reality.

Watch as the bison return to the park.

Video by Charlie Northcott

Additional footage from Parks Canada

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Amid Trump crackdown, U.S. immigrants head to Canada

LISA DESAI: Much of the four thousand mile American border with Canada is wide open and unsecured. In the first three months of this year, a steady stream of immigrants from all over the world braved the bitter cold to reach a country where they believe there’s less risk of detention and deportation.

Just north of Minnesota and North Dakota lies the Canadian province of Manitoba. The town of Emerson is a main entry point. An hour’s drive north is the provincial capital, Winnipeg, a city of 700-thousand. That’s where I met this woman from Somalia.

For her safety, we agreed to shield her face and call her “Nasra.” She settled in Minneapolis on a U.S. medical visa to get treatment for her six-year-old autistic son. Her family is part of a minority clan persecuted in Somalia’s civil war.

NASRA: I faced a lot of problems in Somalia. During the war, my father and my brother were attacked, and my mother and I endured so much pain — we left and never went back.

LISA DESAI: After President Trump listed Somalia as one of the countries whose citizens would be blocked from entering the U.S. Nasra decided that although she was legal, it wasn’t safe to stay.

NASRA: I heard that they were going to arrest people and take them back to Somalia and that they were going into people’s homes and they were going to separate families, mothers from children.

LISA DESAI: What would happen if you were deported back to Somalia?

NASRA: If I go back to Somalia I won’t stand a chance there, I would be killed.

LISA DESAI: In February, she left Minneapolis and became one of nearly 1,000 migrants, according to the Canadian Government, to cross from the U.S. into Canada this year. She paid a driver to take her and her son most of the way.

NASRA: We walked for hours, the snow was falling, we couldn’t see. It was cold, it was dark and if it wasn’t for God we would have died.

LISA DESAI: Under Canadian law, people like Nasra, who cross the border illegally, are arrested and taken in for a background check. If they don’t have a criminal record, they are often released within 24 hours. They’re appointed a government lawyer to represent them in their asylum hearing which usually takes place in two months. They are also connected with nonprofits that provide food and housing.

YASMIN ALI: Well, these are donations that’s been given to the organization for the newcomers.

LISA DESAI: Yasmin Ali heads up the Canadian Women Muslim Institute, a Winnipeg nonprofit that helps refugees like Nasra. Since January, Ali says she’s received a surge in clients crossing from the U.S.

YASMIN ALI: We help them with finding places to live, with finding, getting places, things to fill their apartment, so they have because when they come they are very limited in income.

LISA DESAI: With only a few paid staff members and no government funds, the institute relies on volunteers and donations.

YASMIN ALI: It’s very hard to be wandering the world with families and children and not know where you’re going to live, not know you’re going to be settled down and be safe. So they’re just looking for a safe place where they can raise their families and live.

LISA DESAI: Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council is another nonprofit that provides settlement and legal services to refugees and asylum seekers in Winnipeg.

RITA CHAHAL: Hi, I just wanted to say hi. I’m Rita. And your name is?

KASEEM: Kaseem.

LISA DESAI: Rita Chahal is the Executive Director.

RITA CHAHAL: Just in this month alone we’ve had four unaccompanied minors.

LISA DESAI: Chahal says the people seeking asylum come from all over the world, not just the countries included in President’s Trump’s proposed travel ban. They are coming from places like Bangladesh, China, Germany.

RITA CHAHAL: We’ve certainly seen a number of them in the last little while, last few weeks coming from Central America, from Guatemala, Nicaragua.

LISA DESAI: One of those undocumented migrants from Honduras is Alexanco. He says he left for the U.S. 5 years ago because drug cartels had threatened to kill him. Last month he left Florida for Canada with his wife and baby.

LISA DESAI: Why did you decide to move to Canada?

ALEXANCO: We started to become very afraid, because every morning and every day we watched the news, we watched many friends with their kids. People who were deported, separated from their families, and that was one of my biggest fears that we had about living in the United States.

LISA DESAI: Fears Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been trying to calm, even during a recent visit to the White House.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU: We continue to pursue our policies of openness towards immigration, refugees, without compromising security

LISA DESAI: That policy is now being criticized in Emerson.

GREG JANZEN: This is the actual international border right in front of us.

LISA DESAI:Emerson Mayor Greg Janzen says the the border crossings are putting a strain on the town’s less than 700 residents. Volunteer firefighters rescued migrants stuck in snowstorms, and since last November, half the town’s medical calls have been to help asylum seekers.

GREG JANZEN: That is concerning for us in Emerson and the Canadians just because we’re not detaining anyone, we’re not punishing anyone for breaking the law. So our border right now is at risk of kind of being a joke.

LISA DESAI: Currently, under The SAFE Third Country Agreement between the U.S. and Canada, refugees must apply for asylum in the first country they enter. Refugees who’ve already applied in the U.S. and present themselves at an official Canadian border crossing are supposed to be turned away. But anyone who sneaks across the Canadian border has the right to apply for asylum.

LISA DESAI: A poll last month found Canadian support for welcoming refugees is slipping. 48 percent said Canada should send these migrants back to the U.S. 36 percent said Canada should accept them.

LISA DESAI: The illegal border crossings are starting to wear thin on some Emerson residents.

JACQUELYN REIMER: I think Trudeau should have to come and spent two weeks here in Emerson in one of the houses and see how his wife and children feel with these people crossing the border and banging on his door and windows at all hours of the night.

DALE PELKIE: If they’re already settled in the States, why can’t they go back to the States? Right? I don’t understand it. I really don’t, but I hope something gets done soon so that we can live in peace again.

LISA DESAI: One of the volunteers at the Canadian Women Muslim Institute in Winnipeg is Ahmed Osaa, a refugee who fled the United States, and is originally from the West African nation of Ghana. Osaa is gay, and in Ghana, homosexuality is a crime.

LISA DESAI: Why did you decide to leave Ghana?

AHMED OSAA: I was afraid for my life and I knew if I stayed maybe somebody, one day somebody might kill me. And I don’t want to die now.

LISA DESAI: Osaa left Ghana in 2013 for Ecuador, but it rejected his asylum claim. Three years later, he made it to Mexico and paid smugglers to take him to Brownsville, Texas, where he turned himself into the Border Patrol.

AHMED OSAA: I presented myself and told them, ‘Oh, I’m here to seek asylum.’ They started chaining my hand, my waist, and my legs. Then I started crying.

LISA DESAI: Osaa spent six months in an immigration detention center in Pennsylvania, and his asylum claim was denied. Released from custody but subject to a deportation order, Osaa made his way to Minneapolis to live with a friend.

LISA DESAI: Osaa planned his trip to Canada right after President Trump was elected — fearing even then he’d be forcibly sent back to Ghana.

AHMED OSAA: If I’m sent back to Ghana for example I can even go to jail, and I don’t want to go to jail.

LISA DESAI: Osaa crossed the border and Canada granted him asylum, making him a legal resident. He’s now receives a government stipend equivalent to 540 American dollars a month until he receives a work permit.

AHMED OSSA: I would say in Canada I’m treated with dignity and respect but in the United States no I wasn’t, I wasn’t treated with dignity. Now I have been accepted as a refugee in Canada. I’m OK now. I’m happy to be part of the Canadian people.

LISA DESAI: Nasra, the Somali refugee who snuck across the border with her son two months ago, is waiting for their asylum hearing.

LISA DESAI: So what’s your hope now for your future for you and your son in Canada?

NASRA: What I hope for is to live in a place of peace. Where I can be healthy, a place where there is no war, no fighting, no killing, God willing, I pray for that.

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Edmonton Human Rights Coalition marks 35 years of Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

A human rights advocate who has challenged Toronto police carding practices hopes to impart his experiences to Edmonton activists as part of a series of local events to mark the 35th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Edmonton Human Rights Coalition planned several events to run through the weekend, including a rally in Churchill Square, workshops on “activisim 101” and a walk to draw attention to unsolved homicides in Edmonton’s Somali community.

Toronto-based human rights advocate Knia Singh traveled to Edmonton to host a workshop on fighting back against racial profiling, and will participate in a roundtable discussion on race and policing.

Singh said he plans to share his own experience fighting against arbitrary stops and checks by police, and to help Edmontonians learn how to apply practices that helped “move the ball forward” in Toronto.

Among the messages he hopes to convey is the importance of opening up a dialogue with politicians and authorities, and about how to bridge the “disconnection” between activists and the establishment.

“The main thing is communication. It’s about understanding both sides,” Singh said.

Both events will be held Sunday at the Aroma Cafe–the workshop is scheduled for 9 a.m., and the roundtable for 1 p.m.

Organizer with the Edmonton Coalition for Human Rights Mahamad Accord said the Charter is a symbol of what Canada is all about, but that it’s only a document–he said it’s important for people to speak out to ensure the principles outlined in the Charter are being upheld.

“There is a gap between what the ideal is, and what were are seeing currently,” Accord said.

Accord said events being held over the weekend are intended to raise the “voice of the voiceless”, and fight for Canada to live up to the principles laid out in the Charter.

The Charter was adopted on April 17, 1982 during the tenure of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s government.

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Indigenous rights groups in Canada honoured with top Amnesty International award

(April 2017) – Celebrated global music artist and activist Alicia Keys and the inspirational movement of Indigenous Peoples fighting for their rights in Canada have been honoured with Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award for 2017.

The award will be officially presented at a ceremony in Montréal, Canada, on May 27.

Accepting the award recognizing the Indigenous rights movement of Canada will be six individuals representing the strength and diversity of the movement, which has bravely fought to end discrimination and ensure the safety and well-being of Indigenous families and communities. They are Cindy Blackstock, Delilah Saunders, Melanie Morrison, Senator Murray Sinclair, Melissa Mollen Dupuis and Widia Larivière.

“The Ambassador of Conscience Award is Amnesty International’s highest honour, celebrating those who have shown exceptional leadership and courage in championing human rights,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“Both Alicia Keys and the Indigenous rights movement of Canada have in their own ways made inspirational and meaningful contributions to advancing human rights and towards ensuring brighter possibilities for future generations. Crucially, they remind us never to underestimate how far passion and creativity can take us in fighting injustice.”

Alicia Keys: From music to activism

Alicia Keys has used her career and platform as a 15-time Grammy award-winning artist to inspire and campaign for change.

“To be given this great honour, and to be in the presence of the Indigenous rights movement is a humbling experience,” said Alicia Keys. “It encourages me to continue to speak out against injustice and use my platform to draw attention to the issues that matter to me.”

Often referred to as the “Queen of R&B”, Ms. Keys has increasingly interwoven her activism with her art. Her extensive philanthropic work includes co-founding Keep a Child Alive (KCA), a non-profit organization providing treatment and care to children and families affected by HIV in Africa and India. KCA identifies and partners with local leaders in grassroots organizations to design, implement and share innovative solutions to some of the most pressing challenges in the fight against AIDS. KCA has raised more than $60 million to provide AIDS care to hundreds of thousands of children and their families, as well as advocate for more understanding and support.

In 2014, she co-founded the We Are Here Movement to encourage young people to mobilize for change, asking the question “Why are you here?” as a call to action. Through the movement she has sought to galvanize her audience to take action on issues such as criminal justice reform and ending gun violence.

Stunned by the fact that there are now more refugees in the world today than at any other point in history, the musician helped create and appeared in a short film entitled “Let Me In” to mark last year’s World Refugee Day. With her song, “Hallelujah” at its center, the film brings the issue of the refugee crisis home to viewers by telling the powerful story of a young American family forced to flee to the US-Mexico border.

“Our conscience is something we are all gifted with at birth, no matter who we are,” said Alicia Keys. “That little voice that speaks to you and tells you when something is not right, I always use as my guide. Since I was a small girl my inner voice would yell at me! Now I just say, okay, what can I do? That is a question we can ask ourselves and then act upon.”

Shining a light for the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Despite living in one of the world’s wealthiest countries, Indigenous women, men and children are consistently among the most marginalized members of society in Canada. Now, after decades of public silence and apathy, a vibrant and diverse movement of Indigenous activists has captured the public attention.

 Canadian Indigenous Rights Groups are a recipient of the 2017 Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award for their courage in leading important Indigenous Rights battles. 

This year the Ambassador of Conscience Award will be shared between leaders and activists from the movement who have shown remarkable courage in leading important legal equality rights battles, defending land rights and inspiring non-Indigenous and Indigenous people to action.

Since December 2012, the grassroots “Idle No More” movement has helped to shine a light on Indigenous peoples’ ongoing struggle to be able to make their own decisions about their lands, resources and environment. At the forefront of this protest were Melissa Mollen Dupuis and Widia Larivière, the co-founders of the movement in Québec.

Mainly led by women, the movement represents a new wave of Indigenous mobilization that gives a platform for grassroots activists, fosters the cultural pride of Indigenous youth and brings Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada closer together on common issues such as the environment and the economy.

On learning of the announcement, Melissa Mollen Dupuis and Widia Larivière said in a joint statement: “Receiving such a prestigious international award is an acknowledgement of the work done by thousands of people who have, in their own way, stood up every day for the rights of Indigenous Peoples in a spontaneous and peaceful citizens’ movement.

“In a society that encourages the pursuit of power and profit over the well-being of the community as a whole, the words and actions of the community – and of the members of it who are most at risk of experiencing social injustice and discrimination – are one of the most effective tools we have in combatting the effects of colonization in Canada.”

Cindy Blackstock hopes that the award will help to focus global attention on the injustices still prevalent in Canada today.

As head of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, she led a decade-long legal battle against the underfunding of social services for First Nations children. In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal issued a landmark ruling calling on the federal government to take immediate action to end its discriminatory practices.

However the Canadian government has continued to drag its feet in fully complying with the ruling, meaning that First Nations children are still suffering discrimination.

“The conscience of the people is awakening to the Canadian government’s ongoing racial discrimination towards First Nations children and their families,” said Cindy Blackstock. “Now the question is: What are we going to do about it? Are we going to allow Canada to celebrate its 150th birthday while it bathes in racism, or will we speak up and demand the discrimination stops?”

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Somebody just put a price tag on the 2016 election. It’s a doozy.

The final price tag for the 2016 election is in: $6.5 billion for the presidential and congressional elections combined, according to campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets.org.

The presidential contest — primaries and all — accounts for $2.4 billion of that total. The other $4 billion or so went to congressional races. The tally includes spending by campaigns, party committees and outside sources. It’s actually down, slightly, in inflation-adjusted terms from 2012 and 2008.

$6.5 billion is a staggering sum. With that much money you could fund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for 15 years, fix the Flint, Mich., lead pipe problem 30 times over or give every public school teacher a $2,000 raise.

Instead, Americans used that money to fuel a 596-day political contest that most of us were ‘disgusted’ by well before it was over.

Clinton’s unsuccessful campaign ($768 million in spending) outspent Trump’s successful one ($398 million) by nearly 2 to 1. The Democratic National Committee and left-leaning outside groups also outspent their Republican counterparts by considerable margins.

But Trump benefited immensely from “earned media” — the free TV time he got by virtue of being an unconventional candidate who frequently said outlandish and offensive things. Trump received about $5 billion in free media, according to an estimate by media analysis firm MediaQuant, compared with only $3.24 billion for Clinton. Those figures aren’t included in OpenSecrets’ tally of direct spending.

The amount of money we spend on candidates stands in sharp contrast with how much we like them once they actually get in office. Despite spending $4 billion on House and Senate candidates, for instance, less than a quarter of us actually approve of how Congress is doing its job, according to Gallup.

Similarly, we spent $2.4 billion on the presidential race to elect a man who most people now consider to be dishonest (61 percent), lacking in leadership skills (55 percent), indifferent to the plight of normal Americans (57 percent), hotheaded (66 percent) and, broadly speaking, embarrassing (52 percent).

This disconnect is partly a consequence of our polarized politics. 86 percent of Republicans view Trump favorably, while 87 percent of Democrats dislike him, according to the Pew Research Center. People who spent money on Trump during the campaign are still likely to be pleased with the return on their “investment,” in other words. But people who gave to Clinton, or to any losing candidate for that matter, essentially threw their money away.

Much of political campaign spending is wasted, in other words — the people who give to a winning candidate get to put their candidate of choice in office. The people who give to a losing candidate get nothing in return.

This stands in sharp contrast with other democracies, where governments often place strict limits on how much spending campaigns can do. In Britain, for instance, political parties can only spend $29.5 million in the year before an election and televised campaign ads are banned.

Similarly, spending limits in Canada mean that the typical candidate for the country’s Parliament spent between $12,000 and $90,000, on average, during the 2015 election. By contrast, American candidates for the House spent close to $500,000 in 2016, while Senate candidates spent around $1.5 million.

Overseas elections are typically much shorter than ours. Britain’s 2015 election lasted 139 days. Canada’s longest election lasted just 78. In Japan, campaigns are limited to 12 days by law.

Here in the States we’re wedded to the idea that money is speech. In a 2010 Gallup survey 57 percent of respondents said that money given to a candidate is a form of free speech, while only 37 percent disagreed.

But if money is speech, then giving it to a losing candidate is akin to shouting into the void.

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