Calgarian hair artist selected for second time to represent Canada in global competition

FACEBOOK, APRIL 2016: Hassan Nasser with model Gael Pendola cutting for the American crew All-star challenge in Paris, 2016.

Local hair artist Hassan Nasser has made the cut again.

For the second year in a row, Nasser, 27, has been chosen to represent Canada in the American Crew All Star Challenge being held in Brussels, Belgium, in May.

“It means a lot to me,” said Nasser. “It means people are recognizing my work and they appreciate it, and I’m actually considered to be among the best in Canada and, hopefully, the world.”

The American Crew All Star Challenge is a global competition to determine the top hair stylist in the world, after narrowing down the competitors to 15 finalists who receive an all-expense paid trip to Brussels.

After making his first appearance at the event in Paris last year and not emerging victorious, Nasser said his expectations are nothing lower than winning this year.

“With having a little experience in it and kind of being one of the veterans, my standards are set pretty high,” said Nasser. “I’m hoping to win it.”

Aside from the American Crew All Star Challenge, Nasser has also had success sponsoring and styling competitors in multiple pageants such as Miss World Canada, Miss Calgary, Miss Teen Calgary and Miss World.

Nasser has been in the industry for seven years and currently works as a hair stylist at Avalon Salon and Spa.

While growing up, he said his father was also a hair stylist, so he received his first taste of the business early on in life.

After hanging around the salon as a child watching his father work, and just being in the environment from the start, the career path seemed a little wider for Nasser.

“I kind of just fell into it.”

Is McGill failing crisis management 101?

A crisis-management expert says each of McGill’s recent crises is an opportunity to step up and define its core values.
Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

The dust had barely settled on the Andrew Potter affair when McGill University found itself embroiled in a new controversy last week.

Chemical engineering student Kathryn Leci stepped forward to charge that the university had not done enough to support her after another student punched her outside a party in 2015, causing her to suffer a mild traumatic brain injury.

Conrad Gaysford, who will graduate from McGill next month, has pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm and will be sentenced in Municipal Court on May 26.

The university told Leci it could not take disciplinary action against Gaysford because the assault occurred off campus, according to the McGill Tribune, which broke the story.

The issue was just the latest event in what has been shaping up as McGill’s annus horribilis.

There was the 2015 hazing incident involving the varsity basketball team that came to light last month — despite McGill’s zero-tolerance policy on hazing.

There was the student who resigned from the executive of the Arts Undergraduate Society on March 8 after inciting people on Twitter to punch a Zionist.

There was the student politician who stepped down from the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) on Feb. 22 amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

There were the swastikas scrawled on desks in the Arts Building in February.

Vandalism found in room W-120 of McGill University’s Arts building on Monday, Feb. 20. (Handout)

And then there was the uproar over Potter’s resignation as head of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC), after his infamous March 20 Maclean’s magazine article criticizing Quebec as “an almost pathologically alienated and low-trust society, deficient in many of the most basic forms of social capital that other Canadians take for granted.” The column, parts of which he later retracted, claimed that Quebec restaurants offer two bills to evade taxes, while bank machines in the province routinely spit out $50 bills instead of $20s.

While the article was widely panned, many academics and pundits decried his subsequent resignation as an attack on academic freedom.

McGill isn’t alone in facing controversies. Universities everywhere are grappling with issues from sexual assault to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

In 2015, a task force at Halifax’s Dalhousie University released a scathing report on sexism, homophobia and racism in the dentistry faculty, after male students posted sexist and sexually violent comments on Facebook. A sex scandal disgraced the University of Ottawa hockey team in 2014, while the University of British Columbia has come under fire for scandals including the firing of the head of its famed creative writing program for alleged sexual misconduct and harassment.

But critics say McGill has been particularly inept at handling recent storms, resulting in a deluge of bad press for the venerable institution some call Canada’s Harvard.

With campus controversies in the news more often than ever before, the need for universities to communicate effectively has never been greater, said Adam Galinksy, a crisis-management expert and professor at Columbia Business School in New York.

And as this week’s United Airlines fiasco showed, when organizations handle a crisis poorly, they pay a heavy price, as the airline did when CEO Oscar Munoz blamed passenger David Dao for being dragged off the plane on Sunday, Galinsky said. Outrage exploded on social media, sending United’s stock price into a nosedive.

It wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon that Munoz issued a full apology, expressing shame for the “truly horrific” episode. 

Too often, officials issue a terse “no comment” or minimize the incident in the hope the storm will blow over, Galinsky said. But those reactions are usually a mistake.

“When something bad happens, the natural instinct for everyone is to want to make it to go away as quickly as possible,” said Galinsky, co-author, with Maurice Schweitzer, of Friend and Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both (Crown Business, 2015).

But ducking questions, pooh-poohing the issue or attacking the source – another common ploy — are usually poor responses, he said.

“One of the things that I teach when I teach about crisis management is a concept that I call ‘principle over preferences,’ ” he said.

“I always tell people to take a step back and ask themselves, ‘What is the core value that we stand for?’

“Whatever our response is, it has to be articulated in the context of those values.”

While institutions routinely refuse to comment on cases before the courts, McGill should have addressed the assault that left Leci with post-concussion syndrome, causing her to take time off from her studies and undergo rehabilitation, he said.

“People were shocked to read our story, but they weren’t really surprised that that’s how the administration has been handling it,” said Julia Dick, editor-in-chief of the student weekly McGill Tribune and co-author, with Shrinkhala Dawadi, of the article on Leci’s plight.

“With regard to allegations of assault, whether sexual or physical, my sense as a member of the student media is that McGill is very reticent to talk about it at all,” Dawadi said.

Members of the McGill administration “were very reticent to speak with us and seemed like they were using avoidance tactics,” she said.

In a written response to questions from the Montreal Gazette last week, McGill said it could not discuss the matter because it was before the courts.

“One of the most important things, especially from a public opinion perspective, is this idea of showing care, compassion, a sense of social responsibility,” Galinsky said.

Universities are not only institutions of higher learning, but also act as surrogate parents to their students, he said.

“People are so concerned on the legal liability front that they sometimes blind themselves to what we might call the moral or just action,” he said.

The fact that the assault occurred off campus might let McGill off the hook legally, but it doesn’t absolve the university of the need to show concern for students’ physical and emotional safety, he said.

Dawadi said the story has touched a nerve on campus because of students’ expectation for university to be a safe place, where there are rules covering how students treat each other. Students don’t expect those rules to cease to apply the minute they step off university property, she said.

“There’s definitely a sense of disappointment and a fundamental surprise and disenchantment that McGill wasn’t able to provide them with that safety and McGill essentially didn’t have their back,” she said.

The university has said it is studying whether it is possible to amend the code of conduct to also apply to incidents that occur off campus. 

Last week, the SSMU passed a motion calling for changes to the code of conduct to prevent a similar situation and its aftermath.

Dawadi said universities need to change in response to evolving social mores, like the rise of movements against gendered violence.

“I think people are more willing to speak up about it and challenge the norms of being silent and not reporting. I think an area of tension is when universities are not as quick to adapt to these new conventions and to realize that perhaps the old norms and the old responses are not adequate anymore,” she said.

Once-common practices like hazing are now serious breaches, Galinsky said. “ ‘Boys will be boys’ is no longer an acceptable way of thinking about the world,” he said.

The “punch a Zionist” controversy is another example of an incident that called for McGill to affirm its values, Galinsky said.

“For example, we can say, ‘We stand for free speech,’ but we also acknowledge that free speech has limits. Free speech that articulates violence, punching a Zionist in the face, that is no longer protected speech because it violated one of our core principles, which is non-violence,” he said. 

Andrew Potter resigned as director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

Wayne Cuddington /

Ottawa Citizen

The Potter case ignited a firestorm of criticism, particularly in English Canada, with the Canadian Association of University Teachers calling it “one of the most significant academic freedom cases in recent decades.”

McGill University and Potter both declined interviews about the situation.

A panel discussion on academic freedom organized by McGill’s Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship April 10 failed to settle the question of how far academic freedom extends in the light of the Potter case, with speakers coming down on both sides of the issue.

Galinsky said the Potter issue was a “right vs. right dilemma” — one that involves two valid but competing values. Examples are individual vs. community; truth vs. loyalty; short term vs. long term and justice vs. mercy.

The Potter case opposed an academic’s right to express his views to Quebecers’ right not to be negatively stereotyped.

In a right vs. right dilemma, it’s essential to present the issue thoughtfully and acknowledge the tension between the two values, Galinsky said. When right vs. right is presented as right vs. wrong, it can tear a community apart.

Could McGill have made the incident a teachable moment? Should Potter have been given a second chance? Arguments could be made for both sides, Galinsky said.

“What is the purpose of this particular institute? Can the person leading that institute fulfil those values and the mission of that institute? You can say, ‘Look, he has the right to free speech. He can still be a professor at this university. But I don’t think as a leader of this institute, he’s the right person,’ ” Galinsky said.

“The more context and the more explicitness you give about the dilemmas that you’re facing as a decision-maker, the more people understand why you made the choices that you did and the more likely they are to accept them,” he said.

McGill’s response to the Potter controversy — beginning with an unsigned tweet on the @mcgillu corporate account dissociating the university from the views expressed in the Maclean’s column  — lacked leadership and allowed the issue to spin out of control, Galinsky said.

A statement two days later by principal Suzanne Fortier, defending the university against the charge of infringing academic freedom, was too little, too late, Galinsky said.

“You need to get out there and be present in situations like that,” he said.

He pointed to former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who went out in front of the TV cameras to answer questions during 9/11.

“In Crisis Management 101, one of the core principles is you never wait for the next day to respond,” he said.

“When you don’t respond for a day you look weak. You look paralyzed. You look ineffectual. And then when you do respond, you just look reactive. The story’s controlled you rather than you controlled the story,” Galinsky said.

“When you act from your values and your principles, people admire that and they respect that. But we have to train ourselves because the natural instinct is to deny, minimize and attack rather than deal with it in a very constructive, straightforward way,” he said.

Twitter: JMarianScott


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



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. (, 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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