by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa
Two French counter-terrorism judges have issued, for the sixth time, a release order in the case of extradited Canadian Hassan Diab, being held in France in connection with a deadly bomb attack in Paris. And once again, his supporters in Canada are calling on the Liberal government to demand his return.
Diab, a former University of Ottawa sociology professor, was extradited to France in 2014 on charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and destruction of property with an explosive or incendiary substance in connection with a 1980 synagogue bombing in Paris that killed four people.
Initially arrested in 2008, Diab has consistently maintained his innocence and has argued that he was in Lebanon at the time of the attack. French prosecutors say he built and placed the bomb used in the attack.
French judges have six times ordered Diab released on pre-trial bail since May 2016. The two who issued the release order on Monday agreed with Diab’s defence team that there is “consistent evidence” he was not in France at the time of the bombing.
Each time, the French Court of Appeal has overturned the release orders. The latest order is being appealed by the prosecutor on the case.
“Dr. Diab’s continued incarceration is wholly and manifestly unjust,” said Don Bayne, who represents Diab’s case in Canada, in a media release Tuesday. “It is past time for this government to come to the aid of a Canadian citizen, to end this travesty of justice, to bring him home. Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister Freeland, where are you when an innocent Canadian needs you?”
The case has raised questions over the years because French police have relied on secret information, as well as handwriting analysis that experts have repeatedly suggested is not reliable.
Even before Diab was extradited, the Ontario Superior Court judge who heard his challenge said that the evidence presented by French police was “illogical,” “very problematic” and “convoluted,” but that — based on the Canadian threshold for extradition — there was no option but to hand Diab over.
The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear his appeal shortly before Diab was extradited.
Supporters of Diab last month launched a petition asking the government to “work towards the immediate granting of bail to [Diab] and securing his urgent return to his family and home in Canada.”
So far, 1,333 Canadians have signed the petition, which meets the threshold to force the government to issue an official response.
However, Canada does not use the U.K. model, which forces a parliamentary debate if an e-petition gathers more than 100,000 signatures.
By arrangement with iPolitics.ca
by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa
On International Women’s Day, equal rights experts say that cabinet gender equality, a prime minister who calls himself a feminist and social media campaigns such as #HeForShe help in the fight for women’s rights in Canada and internationally, but that there is still a long way to go toward policy parity that translates into real progress.
In interviews with iPolitics, the heads of the United Nations Population Fund and Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights say that while there’s greater awareness around issues of gender inequality than in the past, that still needs to translate into concrete action to improve the lives of women in Canada and abroad on issues like access to education, career opportunities and sexual and reproductive rights.
“It’s not just about wearing a badge and saying ‘He For She,'” said Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in reference to the viral social media movement spearheaded by UN Women and actress Emma Watson over the past two years.”We have to do things — what are we doing at home and in the workplace environment to make sure that women are treated equally? We need to keep pushing.”
Time to stop 'skirting around' the issue
Since the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his gender-balanced federal cabinet, there’s been renewed attention domestically on the issues of gender equality and women’s representation in politics.
Cabinet ministers including Environment Minister Catherine McKenna have sparked discussions over work-life balance and the challenges faced, particularly by women, by, for instance, late votes in the House. Former NDP MP Sania Hassainia, prompted debate on how to make public and work spaces more family-friendly when she brought her baby into the House of Commons during a vote in 2014.
It’s these kinds of discussions that are vital to putting the issue of gender equality on the public radar, Osotimehin says, so that leaders prioritize “creating child-friendly spaces around the world and making sure that women don’t lose their career growth.”
“We have skirted around it for too long,” he said. “We can talk about gender equality, but until we actually start doing things and confronting things, we aren’t going to get there.”
With a prime minister who calls himself a feminist, Canada is better placed than it’s been in years to lead initiatives on gender equality not just at home but abroad, says the executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.
Sandeep Prasad says Monday’s announcement for greater funding for sexual health education and family planning is an indication that the government isn’t going to shy away from supporting gender equality globally, and the language used in the announcement of $81.6 million in funding for the UNFPA is a welcome change from how the past government approached women’s sexual and reproductive health.
“This is the first time I can recall of the government referring to sexual and reproductive rights in full and indicating its support for those issues,” Prasad said. “We’re waiting for more steps forward, but we’re taking note of this one and we’re going to enjoy it.”
While the former Conservative government’s Muskoka Initiative on Maternal and Newborn Health was a strong step in helping save the lives of mothers and children, Prasad says it didn’t pay equal attention to women who are not or do not want to become mothers.
“We saw a lot of [focusing on] women as childbearers and the initiative also prioritized the lives of mothers over other women,” he said. “Agency and autonomy as central principles of sexual and reproductive rights are critical.”
Canada poised to be leader around sexual rights
While International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said Monday the government is having discussions around other initiatives specifically involving abortion, there was no timeline set for when or how the government plans to act on its support for the topic abroad.
Prasad said his organization is hopeful the government will commit to advancing abortion rights as part of its support for sexual and reproductive rights over the long term, but also pointed to things they can do at home in the short term.
In particular, improving access to RU-486 — otherwise known as the abortion pill — would be a significant step towards showing their commitment to women’s reproductive rights, he said.
Health Canada approved the combination of drugs known commercially as Mifegymiso — which is really two pills of Mifepristone and Misoprostol — in June 2015 but imposed several restrictions on how it can be used.
Although the World Health Organization approves the drug combination for pregnancies up to nine weeks, Health Canada set the limit for use in Canada at seven weeks.
As well, doctors seeking to prescribe the drug must undergo specialized training to do so and there must be a registry kept of the doctors prescribing and pharmacists dispensing it.
Prasad says allowing Mifegymiso to be used up to ninth week of pregnancy would bring Canada in line with other allies and mark an important step in the government’s willingness to ensure access to abortion services in Canada over the coming year as it continues to brand itself as a government bringing Canada back as a leader in the international community.
“I’m hoping that we will be moving towards a Canada that reasserts its place on the global stage and in Canada on the issues of women’s rights and sexual and reproductive rights as well, and we can see more evidence-based discussion on these movements and what Canada does at home and abroad,” he said.
“There’s ample scope for greater political leadership for Canada in advancing sexual and reproductive rights.”
Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa
Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion told the House of Commons Tuesday that Canada will follow calls from the United Nations to reverse its unilateral sanctions on Iran in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal.
“We will do it in a speedy fashion but we will do it effectively,” Dion told reporters in a scrum after referencing the move during question period. “I would say that the approach of the previous government was ideological and irrational.”
Conservatives still not on board
Over its nine years in power, the former Conservative government levelled sanctions on Iran, broke off diplomatic ties and listed the country as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Iran’s former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinehjad called for Israel to be wiped off the map during his tenure and the country has been accused of using its support for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah to wage a proxy conflict against Israeli interests and stability.
Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper branded himself as a staunch ally of Israel and his party’s now-opposition members continued that fight on Monday, criticizing the government for not condemning strongly enough tit-for-tat violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
Iran’s current president, Hassan Rouhani, has been billed as a relative moderate in terms of his approach to normalizing relations with the West.
Last year he and international partners led by U.S. negotiators reached agreement on a nuclear accord aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for the gradual lifting of economic sanctions.
Independent investigators announced last week that they had verified Iranian compliance with the initial stage of the accord and as a result, the United States and other countries announced they would begin lifting sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Despite that, Conservative foreign affairs critic Tony Clement criticized the government for its decision to lift sanctions.
“Iran continues to be a state sponsor of terrorism, it continues to deny the very existence of Israel,” he said. “Canada should act in concert with allies to go slow on this approach and to those who say, ‘well, we might miss a business opportunity or two,’ I have every confidence in Canadian business that they can find other places in the world to do business.”
Engaging Iran makes economic sense
Iran’s population of 80 million, many of whom are educated and seeking opportunities in business and high-tech industries, has many billing it as a veritable gold mine for businesses able to get an early toe in the door as its economy opens.
Rouhani is currently in Europe, the first Iranian president to visit in more than 15 years, and the speculation is that he will sign or kickstart business deals while there.
“Since the Iranians appear to be complying with the terms of the nuclear agreement, we’d be crazy not to move with the international community to reengage with them economically,” said Dave Perry, senior analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
The projected growth in Iran’s economy also has the potential to shift the dynamics in the Middle East as the Shiite country becomes more prominent and asserts itself as a counterweight to its rival, Sunni Saudi Arabia.
Iran’s elite Quds force is already operating in Iraq as part of the fight against ISIS militants and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said it’s crucial that Canada be able to engage with all parties as part of its fight to eliminate the group.
“We need to take a much broader view of the world,” Sajjan said. “We need all countries to take part in making sure that we start looking at conflict and trying to stabilize certain areas. If we do not have a voice with other nations, we're not going to be able to have those difficult discussions and resolutions in the places where we keep sending our men and women into harms way for.”
No clear timelines in place yet
Dion says the Conservative party’s suggestions that Canada maintain the former government’s policies on freezing out Iran even as allies drop sanctions and engage with the country would put Canada out of sync with the rest of the world, saying that Canada needs to be “back at the table where Iran is.”
It’s not clear when the sanctions will be lifted or specifically which ones could remain in place.
The nuclear accord outlines a gradual lifting of sanctions and each stage of progression will see more and more of the sanctions lifted — while non-compliance with the accord will see them slapped back in place.
The Liberal government has touted a renewed focus on diplomacy as a cornerstone of its foreign policy, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and ministers trying to shape the idea that “Canada is back.”
“We think that when you have a disagreement with the regime, you don’t pull out – you work harder to see that there will be improvement,” Dion said.
In that vein, Trudeau promised during the 2015 campaign to restore diplomatic relations with Iran and re-open Canada’s embassy in Tehran if elected.
Dion did not comment on when Canada will re-open its embassy.
Re-published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa
Among the Liberal campaign promises that are facing closer scrutiny now that the party is forming a government, the party’s vow to “prioritize community outreach and counter-radicalization, by creating the Office of the Community Outreach and Counter-Radicalization Coordinator,” is raising questions among experts who want to know how the position would work on the ground.
The challenges, say security and radicalization experts, will lie in defining exactly how the office would work with regional actors: namely, whether it will act as a bridge or a driver.
“Is this going to be driven top-down by government or will it be government supporting more grassroots initiatives?” asked Michael Zekulin, a terrorism researcher at the University of Calgary. “I think most people would agree that it cannot be government-driven because part of the narrative is that government is part of the problem.”
During committee hearings on C-51, the Conservatives’ controversial anti-terrorism legislation, the critique given most often by terrorism researchers was that the bill ignored the need to nip radicalization in the bud, before individuals become inspired to commit violence.
Yet nothing in the legislation provided any kind of a plan for doing that.
The RCMP also promised to launch their own $3.1.-million program — initially called the Countering Violent Extremism Program but later changed to the Terrorism Prevention Program — which then-Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney admitted had no designated timeline and relies on “leveraging existing resources the RCMP already has in place, including frontline police officers, Integrated National Security Enforcement Team members and outreach coordinators.”
Coordinating various nationwide initiatives
At this point, there are few details available about what the Liberals would plan to do differently or how a national coordinator would work with existing programs already being implemented by regional bodies.
There are various initiatives being launched by police agencies and local governments across Canada, said Lorne Dawson, co-director of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society.
In September, the City of Montreal was the only Canadian city out of 23 from across the globe that signed on to the Strong Cities Network, a forum for leaders to share best practices and community-based approaches for tackling violent extremism, while the Edmonton and Ottawa police departments are rumoured to be planning their own counter-extremism initiatives.
The York Regional Police are also in the process of hiring a “Counter Violent Extremism Subject Matter Expert” and just two months ago the Calgary Police Service launched ReDirect, which aims to prevent youth from becoming radicalized after several high-profile instances of local youth leaving the country to join ISIS.
One of those young men was Damian Clairmont, who died in January 2014 after going to Syria to fight with ISIS.
His mother, Christianne Boudreau, became an active proponent for stronger initiatives to prevent youth from becoming radicalized and in addition to launching her own family counselling network, Hayat Canada, also helped launch the Extreme Dialogue video campaign earlier this year.
Boudreau says it’s essential to have someone who can coordinate efforts nationally and help integrate global best practices into domestic, community-based approaches. But she cautions that any coordinator will face the added challenge of having to earn the trust of organizations who may be skeptical of working with the government.
“I think the biggest difficulty is the diversity of the various organizations and helping them connect — there’s inter-faith, there’s the authorities and everybody else involved, and right now [there’s] the trust factor with the authorities, with the government,” she said, noting that any national coordinator should also be prepared to work with international partners as well as domestic ones to learn and adapt best practices.
“It’s integral to help bring the groups together to help cross those barriers, to help foster the diversity that’s there and help everybody get along.”
Deciding focus of the office
One of the other challenges will be defining exactly what the program would focus on: would it dedicate the bulk of its resources towards the hot topic of Islamist-inspired extremism or spread resources more evenly across the spectrum to include domestic right-wing and left-wing extremism as well.
“The radicalization of different groups all have different answers and solutions — they’re not the same,” said Kyle Matthews, senior deputy director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University, who also runs the #No2DigitalExtremism project. “A counter-radicalization person would have to go through the numbers and point out what is the real issue the government must give priority to.”
Zekulin agreed, saying each community will have specific challenges and approaches for dealing with violent extremism that will need to be taken into account by any national coordinator.
Above all, he stressed the role won’t be a solution for the problem but rather could act as an amplifier and bridge for the initiatives communities are already launching on their own.
“Dealing with this challenge is going to require the efforts of multiple stakeholders at multiple levels,” he said. “This probably has to be more grassroots than government driven.”
Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa
Freed Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy touched down in Canada in time for Thanksgiving on Saturday and federal parties wasted no time in setting up meetings with him for their leaders, with one notable exception — Stephen Harper.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau shared a beer with Fahmy in Toronto Monday night and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was scheduled to meet with him at 2:40 p.m. today.
Conservative party spokesman Kory Teneycke said Harper will not be meeting with the former Al-Jazeera English Cairo bureau chief, who spent a year in an Egyptian prison on what were widely considered to be trumped-up charges of airing material undermining Egyptian security and aiding the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood.
Teneycke did not provide a reason for the decision.
Speaking at a press conference hosted by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression on Tuesday, Fahmy said he felt “abandoned” and “betrayed” by Harper during his time in prison.
“Your only hope is that your prime minister would do everything in his power to get you out of there,” Fahmy told the audience assembled for the event at Ryerson University. “Our prime minister delegated his responsibility to people who lacked the clout to really get me out of there.”
Fahmy spent a year in an Egyptian prison with two Al-Jazeera colleagues after being detained in December 2013 on widely denounced charges of broadcasting material harmful to Egypt during their coverage of Egypt’s political unrest.
They were first convicted in June 2014 but were granted bail in February 2015 after the original verdict was overturned.
A retrial wrapped up this summer; Fahmy and his two colleagues were convicted a second time before Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi granted them an official pardon as part of the release of 100 prisoners on the eve of the Muslim Eid holiday.
Fahmy accepted a teaching position from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, but it’s not clear when he will begin that new job.
Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa
The battle for southwestern Ontario is shaping up to be a pitched battle between rural and urban voters, with the Conservatives particularly vulnerable in six ridings throughout the region, researchers say.
“For sure at this point I think there are at least six ridings that we should be watching and notably they are in urban centres,” said Anna Esselment, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Waterloo who studies election campaigns.
“The Conservatives are going to do relatively well in rural areas, as they have in the past. That seems to be the way things are shaping up.”
Five researchers contacted by iPolitics all agree that the Conservative-held ridings of Kitchener Centre, Waterloo, London North Centre, London West, Oakville, and Oakville-North Burlington are all at risk.
Esselment notes that all have particularly strong Liberal contenders who could benefit as public opinion pulls away from the NDP and focuses on a contest between the Conservatives and the Liberals, as recent polls have indicated.
Dubbed the ‘Orange Crash,’ support for the NDP has plummeted from a virtual three-way tie at the start of the campaign to a tie between the Liberals and Conservatives, with 31 and 33 per cent respectively, and the NDP struggling to crack 20 per cent support.
In Ontario, the trend is even more pronounced, with the Liberals polling as high as 40 per cent in recent days.
“That was a three-horse race nationally, never really regionally,” said Kimble Ainslie, president of Nordex Research, a public opinion and market research firm based in London, Ont.
“In Ontario, basically it was the Tories and the Grits with perhaps the NDP coming close third.”
Political history of the region
The six urban ridings at play in southwestern Ontario aren’t traditionally Conservative. Oakville was held by Liberal Bonnie Brown for a decade before bouncing to the Conservatives in 2008, while Halton — now subdivided into Oakville-North Burlington and Milton — has fluctuated between Grits and Tories consistently since Confederation.
London North Centre went Conservative for the first time in 2011 but was held consistently by the Liberals since 1997, while London West turned blue for the first time in 2008 after being held exclusively by the Liberal since 1968 – save for 1984 to 1993, when it was won by the Progressive Conservatives.
Kitchener Centre had also been Liberal since its creation in 1997 until Stephen Woodworth won it for the Conservatives in 2008.
Waterloo is a new riding – it existed from 1968 to 1997 but was redistributed into Kitchener-Waterloo and Waterloo-Wellington. The new Waterloo riding is made up of most of the old Kitchener-Waterloo riding, which also went Conservative for the first time in 2008.
Economic stability, unemployment top of mind
However, a lot has changed since the 2008 election, not least among them, the crash in manufacturing that has cost hundreds of jobs throughout the region, particularly London and Windsor.
“The Conservatives are weaker this time and the Liberals are stronger this time than they were last time,” said Peter Woolstencroft, an associate professor of political science at the University of Windsor.
Woolstencroft says the Conservatives have taken hits to their economic record lately, one of the most important issues for voters in the region.
Statistics Canada released its September Labour Force Survey on Friday, which shows growth in the manufacturing sector remained flat compared to this time last year.
As well, it showed unemployment rates in London, Windsor and St. Catharines are at five-month highs.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership has also sparked concerns over its potential impact will be on the automotive and dairy industries — both large employers in the region.
“Unemployment is top of mind, the restoration of what used to be a fairly stable, reliable economy,” said Cristine de Clercy, an associate professor of political science at Western University.
Lydia Miljan, an associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, says while she agrees there are opportunities for Conservative upsets, she doesn’t think the recent unemployment numbers will be a particular cause for concern among regional voters given that they were linked to factors largely outside of government control.
“A lot of the job losses are sort of, at least in the past, the ones we had sustained because of the recession, had more to do with the rising dollar than any specific economic policy,” she said. “The problem is that we really haven’t recovered as quickly as a lot of people would like.”
In the ridings around Oakville and parts of Waterloo, unemployment is not as significant a problem as in Windsor and London but there are still challenges that will play into voters decisions.
Youth in Oakville are facing unemployment rates of between 17 and 20 per cent, far above the provincial average of 13 per cent, and the local chamber of commerce said that was one of the main concerns raised by residents ahead of a local all-candidates debate last week.
In Waterloo, Woolstencroft says the availability of plenty of high-tech jobs doesn’t solve the dearth of blue collar jobs and that those without a university education are still struggling to find work.
Ultimately, researchers say the votes will come down to the vision residents have for the future of their communities — the economic stability they want for themselves and the economic opportunities they want for their children.
“I think that there’s an agitation among voters that they want a different direction, that they may be unhappy with the fact that the economy is not growing as quickly as they’d like it to, agitation over whether they’ll have a job from now, or two years from now, agitation over whether their children will have the opportunities they had when they were coming out of university,” said Esselment.
“I think people are agitated by the state of things and that can make them think a little more about the choices that are in front of them.”
Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit