By: John Delva in Montreal, QC
To improve newsroom diversity, La Presse recruited outside of francophone journalism schools.
An office’s group shot usually exudes pride, but this one caused embarrassment.
In December 2016, Quebec’s La Presse published one of its entire organization. The lack of visible minority faces among the roughly 250 editorial workers contrasted with the paper’s multicultural stance.
“Many of our articles promote inclusion, but when people (on social media) saw the picture, they threw that inconsistency back in our face,” said Sebastien Rodrigue, director of digital and web platform.
This led the paper to organize a four-week internship program, geared towards cultural community reporters.
Awareness surrounding inclusiveness is not a new pursuit at La Presse, according to Eric Trottier, deputy managing editor.
“La Presse’s got good parity between men and women. It’s generally at 50-50, even in executive roles,” said Rodrigue.
But matters involving cultural communities’ representation have been harder to tackle, starting with inclusiveness in coverage.
“We rounded them up (groups of reporters) and showed them in their own work how, ‘You interviewed 10 people and they were all white francophones.’ We told them this is not what society looks like,” said Trottier.
There were also issues with participation from journalism schools. For years, the paper’s internship program, which catered to students of all cultural backgrounds, had brought only a handful of non-Quebecois reporters. Anglophone university students failed the paper’s French test while French universities produced few applicants.
La Presse decided to cast a wider net this time around.
“Journalism isn’t like the medical field. You need to go to medical school to become a doctor. But if you’re curious and self-reliant, we’ll give you a chance,” said senior managing editor Alexandre Pratt.
Jeiel-Onel Mézil, one of the program’s four interns, had just graduated in business administration at HEC Montréal when he got his chance. Though he had never set foot in a newsroom or journalism class, being a reporter had been a dormant goal of his.
“Journalism speaks to my interests. I’ve always known I’d be doing this some day,” he said.
He and Marissa Groguhé, another intern, impressed their bosses on several fronts — so much so that Mézil and Groguhé have been hired by the paper until the end of 2017.
“Their stories make the front page regularly and rank amongst the best work we put out,” said Trottier.
But the month wasn’t without its share of difficulties. Lela Savic recounted learning how to write fast often required staying at the office for 12 hours or more. Mézil, described by executives and fellow interns as a fast writer, feels “learning how to come up with an effective lead is tough.”
For Trottier, these experiences squared with the main goals of the internship, which he considers “an enormous success.”
“We definitely want to do this again. We may have found a way to bring in more minorities in the newsroom, which we weren’t able to do with the traditional way.”
Even if “deep down” his wish was to find “jewels” among the reporters, the program was primarily about training individuals who could eventually work in journalism, whether at La Presse or elsewhere.
The ample learning opportunities that came with this made made the experience memorable for Rita Boghokian. She said that while her being a visible minority was valued by her colleagues, who encouraged her to use non-Quebecois sources for stories, La Presse also treated her as a full-fledged reporter. Consequently, she worked on a range of stories she wanted to tackle.
“Just because we were visible minorities didn’t mean we only covered stories about visible minorities.”
This openness is why Savic looks back longingly at the month, wishing the experience had been longer. She says the internship has helped her grow from a journalism student into an actual journalist.
“I come out of this with a big bag of tricks. I’ve learned about abilities I have and things I need to improve on. I’ve learned that I’ve got great interviewing skills, that I can get people to talk. This’s given me confidence in what I can do as a reporter,” she said.
John Delva is a freelance reporter who has defended his master's thesis in journalism studies at Concordia University. This piece was republished under arrangement with JSource. The original posting can be found here.
By: Caitlin Atkinson in Montreal
On Sept. 5, in one of his cruellest acts yet, US President Donald Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA was an immigration policy enacted by the Obama administration that allowed individuals who moved to America illegally as minors to remain in the country, given a certain set of conditions that ensure they make productive contributions to society. If Congress doesn’t find a way to legalize DACA and develop a plan in which DACA participants—affectionately known as “Dreamers”—can apply for US citizenship, upwards of 800,000 individuals face possible deportation to countries they barely know.
While Trump’s actions have led to an emotional outcry both within the US and internationally, at the same time, there exists a rising unwillingness to accept immigrants among Canadians. Under the presumption that an influx of Dreamers will attempt to migrate to Canada, some believe that the Canadian government should have the absolute power to admit only those with high academic or economic abilities. However, Canada’s approach to accepting thousands of Dreamers must reflect the diversity that Canada claims to embrace, and go beyond allowing only those the government subjectively deems as ‘the best.’ As Trump tries to rip these young people from all that they have ever known, Canada—and particularly its universities—has the humanitarian duty to provide a safe place and a legal channel for Dreamers to become citizens.
Though Canadians who oppose the northward immigration of Dreamers argue that it will overwhelm the country’s immigration system, it is incredibly unlikely that all 800,000 individuals in the DACA program will relocate to Canada. In a quote in a Vice article, Ontario Independent Senator Ratna Omidvar suggested that Canada should look to welcome 10,000 to 30,000 Dreamers. Canada, she argues, must capitalize on the opportunity to welcome a new wave of skilled workers, who will help to boost the economy.
Canadian post-secondary institutions should support the aspirations made possible by the DACA program in the first place, by accepting and helping to fund Dreamers’ transitions into Canadian society.
McGill students can surely empathize with the plights of Dreamers, especially those who are in the process of completing university degrees. Dreamers have spent the majority of their lives in the United States, and many have come to hope for the same type of social and financial success that McGill students aspire to. Now, they face the possibility of deportation, compromising their futures. Canadian post-secondary institutions should support the aspirations made possible by the DACA program in the first place, by accepting and helping to fund Dreamers’ transitions into Canadian society.
Huron University College in London, Ont. has already set an important example, offering $60,000 in scholarships to students affected by the overturn of the DACA program. At McGill, compensating for an increased number of transfer applicants when planning classes would allow for more space in programs to accommodate Dreamers. To further ease the transition, McGill students can start groups that lobby the administration to take action and recognize the unique circumstances of Dreamers and work to welcome them into the McGill community. By removing barriers to Dreamers’ enrollment in Canadian universities, Canadians can help to reverse the damage being done by the Trump Administration, and help to give these young adults a third chance at a future. Those who have already dedicated their time and energy into their schooling have a right to finish their education.
Morally, Canadians need to recognize the inherent abuse of power in the argument that the Canadian government should be highly selective in choosing which Dreamers have sufficient test scores or employability, and thus the right to immigrate to Canada. All should have the opportunity to apply and be fairly considered, without the constant paranoia of fitting narrow acceptance criteria. While, opposers of immigration harshly critique prioritizing citizens of other countries over born Canadians, its supporters argue that it is necessary for growth. What critics must recognize is the need for empathy, and to recognize the injustice that will occur if Canada does not provide social and economic opportunities.
Given that none of these individuals have criminal records, nor histories of violence, they deserve the opportunity to continue on their quest to achieve their goals, just like those fortunate enough to be born in Canada. Canada and its universities have the capacity to welcome Dreamers, and as a country that prides itself on compassion and diversity, we have a responsibility to protect the dream that Donald Trump is so desperately trying to crush.
Republished under arrangement with the McGill Tribune.
by Jooneed Jeeroburkhan in Montreal
The cold-blooded shooting of six Muslims following evening prayers on Jan 29 at a Québec City mosque has, predictably, amplified the acrimonious debate over racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in Quebec – as the suspect, who also injured a dozen others, is a 27-year-old white Québécois university student.
Calls for an Inquiry Commission on “Systemic Racism in Québec” quickly redoubled and political leaders, responding only piecemeal, did not hesitate to label the mass killing an “act of terrorism” – although “terrorism” is not among the six counts of murder the Québec City police have charged Alexandre Bissonnette with.
Never to miss an opportunity, militant secularists, including Muslim ones, chimed in, accusing political leaders, from Quebec’s Philippe Couillard to Canada’s Justin Trudeau, of “Islamizing Canadian Democracy” – while progressive secularists, Québécois mainly, complained some people were heaping collective guilt on all Québécois for the crime of one individual – a role reversal since all Muslims are usually held responsible for each and every terrorist act committed by Takfiris/Salafis, ISIL/Daesh, Al Qaeda…
Skewed against immigrants
And, as usual, familiar noises came from the English North American media about Quebec being “more racist” than the rest of Canada – and the Quebec National Assembly unanimously condemned a Washington Post article, penned by Vancouver-based J.J. McCullough, saying exactly that, adding Quebec’s “history of anti-Semitism” and “religious bigotry” leads to “more massacres” like this one.
The motion was moved by the opposition Parti Québécois, the party whose ethno-centrist “Charter of Values” bill died on the order paper as the PQ was resoundingly defeated by the Liberals (41% to 25%) in the 2014 elections. The Bloc Québécois proposed a similar motion in Ottawa denouncing the newspaper article as “hateful”, but the House of Commons refused to debate it.
As everywhere else throughout the hegemonic, and increasingly isolationist, West, the playing field, and the rules, remain heavily skewed against immigrants, refugees and all minority communities, yet the ruling communities paint themselves more and more as victims. And this trend has become noticeable in Quebec too in the wake of the Jan 29 shooting.
Re-igniting "reasonable accommodation"
To be fair, a huge mass of Québécois remain committed to an open and plural society, welcoming of diversity and militant in solidarity, as tens of thousands made it clear by attending a public meeting next to a mosque, and in snow and deep sub-zero temperature on Jan 31, in the heavily immigrant neighbourhood of Park Extension in Montreal, home of our very own Little South Asia.
Heart-warming as this demonstration was, it is highly unlikely that the discourse resulting from the Québec City shooting will help in putting to rest the old debate over “reasonable accommodation” in Quebec. If anything, it has re-ignited it. And police and media secrecy and selective leaks have only fed suspicion and distrust.
In the early hours following the massacre, media reports quoting informed sources, even witnesses, suggested there were two masked gunmen, and they shouted the Muslim cry of “Allah o Akbar”. The first-named suspect was a Muslim from Morocco, and stories suggested it may have been a settling of accounts between two neighbouring mosques of rival denominations.
The police then announced the Muslim man was “only a witness” and that the prime suspect was Alexandre Bissonnette – who apparently called police himself and gave himself up on the bridge linking Québec City to Orléans Island. The media then posted the photo of a suited and clean-cut boyish looking Bissonnette – who we were told was known in local social media circles as a pro-Fascist, anti-Feminist, anti-Immigrant, Islamophobic admirer of US President Donald Trump. But the police remains silent – and the media has stopped digging.
Appearing Feb 6 before the Senate committee on national security, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson refused to give details of the inquiry into the Québec City shooting. He instead voiced concern that the “caustic tone” of “political discourse” in Canada may contribute to “radicalize criminal extremists”. For its part, CSIS has warned of the recent development “of a Canadian online anti-Islam movement, similar to ones in Europe.”
As in the US and Europe, Quebec and Canada are in the throes of a major global re-balancing of power, marked by a decline of century-old global Western hegemony. The rise of xenophobia, particularly Islamophobia, and of right-wing populism and fascism, is a by-product of this momentous crisis – and the Québec City shooting, like the election of Donald Trump to the White House and the rise of Marine Le Pen in France, are its symptoms.
The trials and traumas are bound to get worse before they get better.
Jooneed Jeeroburkhan, 70, is a journalist, writer, human rights activist, feminist and grandfather living in Montreal. He came to study in Canada, on a Commonwealth scholarship, 50 years ago from Mauritius. He retired from the Montreal daily La Presse in 2009 after 35 years as a reporter and analyst on international affairs, visiting some 60 countries in the process. He published a book of essays, in French, on his native country, in 2010, titled Un autre Maurice est possible (Another Mauritius is Possible).
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by A Special Correspondent in Montreal
A new Concordia University study has found that making friends in Canada and being positive about the "new country" can go a long way in helping new immigrants integrate into communities.
“[The study] shows that the early days after immigration are very important for newcomers. The dispositions and preferences expressed by people when they first arrive will set them off on different trajectories of social engagement in the new culture,” said a Concordia news release.
1. Does Canada's policy of multiculturalism play a role in these predictors of integration?
We did not specifically test that idea, but we believe it does. In terms of social interactions and friendships, it takes two to tango. The fact that newcomers were able to form friendships in the mainstream society and interact regularly with Canadians likely reflects a welcoming Canadian climate that encourages contact between members of different cultural groups.
2. Does it matter if the "friends" are drawn from the same ethnic community?
For an immigrant, making friends with someone with the same cultural origin or with people in the mainstream society is quite different. For that reason, this study focused on predicting interactions and friendships in the mainstream society, so outside of people's own cultural group.
In addition, we selected only participants who had neither English nor French as their native language. We reasoned that making friends with well-established Canadians is very different for someone from China or Venezuela than for someone from the United States or from France.
3. What percentage of those studied were successfully "integrated" over the course of the study?
This is really hard to say, as there are no clear cut-offs for what "successful integration" means. Does it mean having three, or five, or 10 Canadian friends? Does it mean regularly talking to 5 or 10 Canadians? We just don't know, and that's why more research is needed.
What "successful integration" really means is still a pretty open questions. We have elements of answers, but no clear categories.
4. Were there any factors that are specific to Quebec weighed as part of the study?
The study took place in Montreal, which is a very bilingual city. This allowed us to test our hypotheses in both Francophone and Anglophone contexts (the study was the product of a collaboration between researchers at Concordia university and Université du Québec à Montréal). We observed the same patterns in both contexts.
5. What policy implications do these findings have?
In this study, we focused on the very early days of migration, literally within a few weeks of newcomers' arrival. We believe that these early days are crucial and that it's would be important to invest energy and resources to make sure that newcomers have a lot of opportunities to have positive contact with people in the new society. This could take different forms.
For example, a mentoring or buddy program where immigrants are paired up with a well-established Canadian, just to talk, have some interactions, could be really helpful. Having this initial contact could give an entry point to the immigrant into their new society.
6. Lastly, do the researchers plan to test out their study on a national scale?
This is indeed an exciting future direction for our research!
More information on this study can be found here - The importance of making friends fast — when you’re an immigrant
Commentary by David Cohen in Montreal
I feel compelled to comment on the case of Maryam Monsef, Liberal MP and federal Minister of Democratic Institutions, who has been caught up in a story about the location of her birth 32 years ago. Monsef, an Afghan citizen who arrived in Canada at age 11, was born in Iran.
She had previously believed she was born in her country of citizenship, Afghanistan. Her documentation had stated that this was the case — documentation that had been submitted by her mother all those years ago.
Do you remember when you were 10 or 11 years old? Did you decide what school you went to or where you lived? Probably not. And if your parents decided when you were a child that the family would emigrate, or flee hardship, did you decide what your destination would be, and how you would get there? Hypothetically, if you were 10 or 11 and somebody, such as a parent, was submitting a form on your behalf, would you ask to review it for accuracy?
And if it turns out that somebody made an incorrect assertion on a form submitted on your behalf more than two decades ago, should you suffer the consequences of a decision that you yourself never made?
Of course not.
Stoking a fire
Some editorial media outlets in Canada have taken this situation and made a disingenuous effort to stoke a fire. For example, in an opinion piece in the Toronto Sun, the author writes: the Trudeau government actively revokes citizenship from people who provide false info on their applications. Now the question is whether democratic reform minister Maryam Monsef is going to receive the same treatment if it turns out her citizenship application contained false information. The article goes on to mention the possibility of Monsef being deported.
Apart from giving her a government Ministry that doesn’t exist (it’s democratic institutions, not democratic reform), the article errs in a more sinister way. Yes, citizenship may be revoked from individuals who knowingly provide false information, but Monsef herself, at least to the best of our knowledge, never submitted the application. Her mother did. And so there is a leap of logic.
The fact of the matter is that few people in Canada can go back more than a couple of generations before an immigration story forms part of the family tree. We are, by and large, an immigrant nation. Some of these immigrants arrived from states of flux, from changing situations in the regions of the world from which they came.
How does it matter?
There are almost certainly stories and situations similar to Monsef’s own story across the country. In many cases, it is likely that the person at the centre of it all doesn’t even know the full story.
Remember this: if we are talking about punishing Monsef, it would be a vicarious punishment handed out to someone who did not make a decision when she was 10 or 11 years old. And in the end, how does it even matter where she was born?
And also remember that she is a remarkable woman, who, in her so far short career, has shown nothing but resilience and intelligence. She has had to in order to get where she is now.
Attorney David Cohen is a senior partner at Campbell Cohen (www.CanadaVisa.com). Read more of his blogs at http://www.canadavisa.com/canada-immigration-blog/
Commentary by Salim Valji in Edmonton
Memorizing adjectives and pronouns did little more than create a resentment for having to learn French in the first place. Meanwhile, speaking the language took a backseat.
The sentiment above is true for many students who grew up learning French in Alberta, including myself. Lessons often consist of listing the gender pronoun (le, la, les) of nouns, and writing simple, declarative sentences.
Entire classes would be spent learning, relearning and being tested on memorization techniques like DR MRS VANDERTRAMP. Homework was more of the same … verb charts, fill-in-the-blanks and vocabulary.
See a trend here?
Throughout elementary and junior high, the method was always memorize first, ask questions later. Speaking French was never a priority until high school and accent training was seldom mentioned.
Learning to hate French
I queried my friends on social media: I was not alone.
“My experience was terrible as well! I took French for eight years and can't speak a word if it,” one friend wrote. “It was all memorizing nouns and watching videos. It's such a beautiful language. I really wish they had taught it better. I’d love to know it.”
Another added: “I learned more German in four months than I did French in eight years in school. I think using an online program like Duolingo and setting goals might help. Also, so many BS tests on conjugating verbs made me hate French.”
The most profound comment came from someone somewhat older who said that like hundreds of others, she hated going to French class as a student. It speaks of a system that doesn’t know how to educate its students on Canada’s other official language.
Moving to a bilingual setting
When I was 20, I moved to Montreal. Despite taking French courses for 13 years, I was completely unprepared to live and work in a bilingual environment. It took me minutes to form short phrases, my vocabulary was extremely limited and I barely understood what was being said to me.
My perspective changed even further when I moved to France to work as an English Language Assistant at a high school in the Parisien suburbs. Alberta, and the rest of Canada, can learn much from how the French teach second languages.
From my first sessions with 12-year-old students, I could tell that they already spoke better English than I did French. Their sentences were clear, vocabulary strong and they knew how to express ideas.
Communication of ideas is what my role was focused on. I’d take groups of 10 to 12 students to my classroom, and, in my authentically Albertan accent, speak English to them. Often times, the lessons were planned with their English teacher, based on what they were learning in class.
The topics we talked about included the civil rights movement, the lives of historic figures like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi and differences between North American and European culture.
Sometimes, I’d pose an open-ended question on the whiteboard and cross my fingers hoping that my students would pipe up. That method usually led to great, enjoyable conversations —like the time where we spent an entire class talking about the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” and how Robin Scherbatsky embodies certain Canadian stereotypes.
My students would speak their ideas and I’d correct them in real time. I was always amazed at how well they could speak about complex subjects in English.
The two most common mistakes they made were not pronouncing the h sound for words like “home” and “happy,” and saying “the” as zee or “there” as zerre. Beyond the simple correcting of grammar, my students received a language education I never had as a student … speaking and writing with someone fluent in the other language.
They learned to understand my accent. They questioned my usage of certain vocabulary and mimicked how I said things.
Need for spontaneity
So much of communication is situational and spontaneous: Where an event took place, what the score was, why someone was late for something.
The method of memorization forces students to retrieve information they retained and disposed of years ago. It also fosters a distaste of learning the language — the second anything becomes a chore, it becomes something we detest. It’s impossible to expect students, in the middle of conversation to recall what they were force-fed in some classroom years back.
It’s understandable that revamping the province’s French curriculum may not be high on Alberta Education’s priority list. Opportunities to speak the language organically are extremely limited—less than 25 000 of the province’s 3.6 million people identify French as the language the speak most often at home.
That being said, we need a conversation about whether the memorize-at-all-costs approach should be retired. Right now, that approach is leading Alberta students to despise — as opposed to appreciate — the French language.
Salim Valji is a media professional based in Montreal, Quebec. He is originally from Edmonton and has worked in Paris and New York City.
Commentary by Susan Delacourt in Montreal
The conversation that Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch has been trying to open — about immigrants, integration and “anti-Canadian values” — was well underway in Montreal on Thursday at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
While potential Leitch supporters weren’t thick on the ground at the Canada 2020 Global Progress gathering, the discussions at this event showed that integration of immigrants is a big issue on the progressive left in Canada — and the world — as well as on the political right.
They’re not the same conversations, though, so someone is eventually going to have to bring them together.
Immigration and integration was a running theme when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and London Mayor Sadiq Khan sat down for a chat on stage in the Ritz ballroom on Thursday morning.
Of course it would be — Khan is the first Muslim mayor of London, who has already tussled publicly with Donald Trump over the presidential candidate’s anti-Muslim rhetoric. Khan, who only came to the job this spring, is on his way to the United States this week, so we can expect the lively back-and-forth to continue.
Khan warned that whenever critics say that Muslim values are inconsistent with Western values, they’re singing from the same songbook as the so-called Islamic State, which also believes that walls between cultures are better than bridges.
“There are people in Daesh and so-called ISIS who say it’s incompatible to be a Muslim and hold Western liberal values,” he said. “Daesh and so-called ISIS hate someone like me,” Khan said, because he proves that Muslim and Western values can co-exist in one person, as well as within the larger community.
On stage at the Ritz-Carlton, Khan lavished praise on Canada in general and Trudeau in particular, calling this country an international “beacon” for the way Trudeau had welcomed refugees and newcomers to this country. He called last year’s election an “inspiration.”
Trudeau, for his part, was saying all the right (or should we say left?) things about the importance of making newcomers feel welcome in Canada.
But it wasn’t a total love-in. Prodded by moderator Jennifer Ditchburn to reconcile gender diversity with the male-and-female segregation at a mosque he attended earlier this week, Trudeau said there was still “work to do” on integrating diverse values.
When Ditchburn asked Khan and Trudeau how their embrace of diversity and integration could go beyond words, the Prime Minister responded with — well, some more words, about the need to “demonstrate” to people why newcomers to Canada are an asset, not something to be feared.
The better answer to the beyond-words question was found upstairs in a smaller meeting room after the Khan-Trudeau session.
There, around a large meeting table in a breakout session at the Global Progress meeting, an incredibly eloquent Labour MP from Britain, Chuka Umunna, tackled head-on the need to have the conversation about immigration with more than lofty or sentimental words. It’s simply not good enough, he said, to write off fears about immigration as mere racism — even if that’s what it is.
Umunna is the son of an English-Irish mother and a Nigerian-born father, who has been occasionally described (over his protests) as Britain’s Barack Obama. So he’s had a lifelong immersion in where cultural integration is working in the United Kingdom, and where it’s not. Forget about all those idyllic images of cultural diversity that London put on display during the 2012 Olympic ceremonies, Umunna said — “we are not integrated.”
Umunna’s own constituency of Streatham was part of the borough with the highest votes in favour of remaining in the European Union during the Brexit referendum last June.
But he’s been keeping a close eye on what is feeding the anti-immigrant sentiment that gave so much fuel to the forces campaigning successfully to get Britain to leave the EU. The only way to examine the sentiment, he says, is right there on the ground.
He went to take a look for himself at the areas where people voted in high numbers for Brexit and found huge increases in immigration during recent years, resulting in major dislocation in the local labour markets and a lack of social services to handle the needs of newcomers. As a result, the long-time residents and newcomers live in isolated pockets, rarely interacting with each other.
It’s not enough to simply tell people to integrate, or even to teach about it. “We cannot wait for our schools to do the job of integration for us,” Umunna said.
Talking about integration isn’t the same as living with integration, in other words, and that’s an intensely local job, that has to reach right down to the streets, homes and businesses where people conduct their day-to-day lives.
What Umunna was saying, in effect, was that this roiling debate over immigration and integration is not going to be resolved through abstractions or distance on either side. As Khan was saying as well, the extremist view is one in which cultures can’t co-exist or be reconciled.
The people who ticked off the box in favour of screening for Canadian values on Leitch’s survey — the survey that tipped some of this debate into the open in Canada — may well be living in worlds similar to the ones Umunna described: communities where immigrants and non-immigrants live in isolated pockets.
Similarly, the people preaching about tolerance and acceptance of newcomers may not be having many conversations with the kind of people who are expressing fears and apprehension about open borders in Canada.
If immigration and integration can’t work with this kind of polarized isolation, neither can the debate. The conservative right is talking about these issues. So is the progressive left, as the Global Progress summit vividly illustrated. It may be time to put these two solitudes in one room to talk it out.
By arrangement with ipolitics.ca
by Vincent Simboli in Montreal
“The library is a mirror of the universe,” writes Argentinian-Canadian author Alberto Manguel in his 2006 book The Library at Night. As print loses traction in our increasingly digitized world, are we in jeopardy of losing access to these sacred mirrors?
The Grande Bibliothèque in Montreal challenges this notion by using cutting-edge virtual-reality technology to connect contemporary audiences with the magic of libraries across space and time.
The Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) opened its virtual reality exhibit The Library at Night (based on Manguel’s book of the same name) at the Grande Bibliothèque in October 2015. The exhibit explores 10 of the world’s “most fascinating libraries,” exposing their “philosophical, architectural and social foundations.”
Exploring an author’s library
Guests begin by entering a replica of Manguel’s personal library while they hear his voice explain the important role that books have had throughout his life. In the recorded introduction, he also muses about the importance of collecting knowledge and stories in a physical location, giving the poignant example of the clandestine library kept by children in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration camp.
After Manguel’s voice fades from the speakers, exhibition co-ordinator Alexis Benoit enters and tells guests to put on their Virtual Reality (VR) headsets. We walk past a revolving bookshelf and into an underground forest filled with books, desks and synthetic trees.
Manguel grew up in Tel-Aviv during his father’s tenure as the Argentinian ambassador to Israel. He returned to Buenos Aires in 1955, when he was seven.
In June 1968, when the Argentine military junta began its “Dirty War” on its own civilians and literati, Manguel took cues from Julio Cortázar and other Argentine intellectuals and left the country for Europe to live and write without fear of being oppressed by the paramilitary forces running the country.
By 1982, he had emigrated to Canada and settled there to raise his family, eventually obtaining citizenship in 2000. He identifies primarily as Canadian, although his transnational experiences have had major influences on his career as an essayist, anthologist and author.
Witnessing culture being destroyed
Though the exhibit uses impressive VR technology, such as footage of life-sized birds flying about the Library of Parliament in Ottawa, by far the most emotional moment of the exhibit for me was the subtle and brilliant use of music and sound effects in the segment about the Vijećnica library of Sarajevo.
Vijećnica was built as the library and city hall of Sarajevo, Bosnia, in the late 19th century, and served as an architectural reminder of the city’s multicultural heritage. The library was also a cross-cultural meeting place for the exchange of ideas among Sarajevo’s Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Muslim populations.
The viewer is invited to look up at the ceiling while Manguel explains the significance of the architecture and the hundreds of thousands of priceless Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian manuscripts, marking Sarajevo as the “Jerusalem of Europe.”
Meanwhile, the distant sound of gunfire can be heard.
“During the Siege of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1996, Vijećnica was targeted by the Republika Srpska army in an attempt of ‘historicide,’ the erasure of a people’s cultural patrimony and identity,” Manguel explains.
As the gunfire gets louder, a man in a tuxedo walks down the stairs of the virtual library. We are introduced to Vedran Smailović, a cellist in the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra.
His cello begins to drown out the gunfire, and though flames consume the regal library and destroy most of its collection, Smailović doesn’t stop. The incredible true story of the cellist of Sarajevo, playing his mournful eulogy for the lost heritage of Bosnia, is an emotional one, but to experience it in virtual reality with enhanced sight and sound is indescribable.
As the cello music fades from the headphones and Smailović walks away, the viewer is left with the sound of gunfire and the quiet roar of flames, pondering what can and must be done in the face of historical and literary destruction.
Libraries as personal histories
Benoit says that one of the goals of the exhibition is to make clear the importance books have in a person’s life story.
“During his introduction, we learn about what Manguel explored, where he went, and what accompanied him throughout his life,” he says. “Those things were his books. They define what a personal library is – a library is the story of oneself. [Our exhibit] is about a transfer from a personal library to a public library, where the goal is to accumulate all the knowledge we all have."
Benoit says the isolation of the VR headsets allows guests to experience the exhibition free of self-consciousness inside a “bubble” that nobody can burst.
“You see books you had when you were a kid, books you have now, and they remind you of what happened in your past when you were reading them,” he says. “When you collect all these in the same space, you have this history about yourself.”
Vincent Simboli is an American journalist based in Montréal. He is a recent graduate of McGill University where he studied international development and Hispanic literature. Simboli primarily covers issues of human migration and immigration reform for the McGill Daily, Forget the Box, Graphite Publications, and New Canadian Media. His portfolio is available at https://www.clippings.me/vincentsimboli.
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by Krystle Alarcon in Montreal
Joseph Dadua couldn’t muster up the courage to try on a bikini at a women’s lingerie store in Montreal.
It took two of his fellow gay friends to encourage him to go to the dressing room of La Vie en Rose.
“It was an unforgettable experience,” the 24-year-old recalls, “everyone was accepting and open.”
Dadua says preparing for the Filipino community’s Miss Gay Montreal 2016 was a process that helped him embrace his effeminate side.
Miss Gay Montreal, held May 28, was the first of its kind for the Filipino community in Montreal.
It was a joint effort between Montreal’s largest Filipino group, FAMAS (Filipino Association of Montreal and Suburbs) and Pinoy LGBT.
Dadua and his three rival candidates all identify as “gay cross-dressers” he says.
For the competition, they chose a pretend country of origin and an existing female model’s name for the night – a tradition borrowed from gay beauty pageants in the Philippines. For example, Dadua (pictured below) wanted to be addressed as Leila Lopes and Miss Angola.
All the craze
Beauty pageants are a cultural frenzy in the Philippines. Last year, the country won two titles in international competitions for Miss Universe and Miss Earth, and two crowns in 2013 as well.
Blogger Raul Dancel aptly describes this obsession pointing out that the Philippines has a local beauty queen for each of its 40,000 small towns.
“There are a bevy of titles that will befuddle future anthropologists, including: That’s My Boy, Little Miss Philippines, Mr. Handsome, Little Miss Handsome, Miss Gay Philippines, Miss Supranational, Manhunt International, Mr. Marketplace and Super Mermaid,” he writes.
This is why when FAMAS approached the members of Pinoy LGBT to put together the event, the organization got on board immediately.
Adiva Estinozo, one of the main organizers of the pageant, identifies as a transgender and transsexual woman. She says she hid her gender identity and sexual orientation from her parents.
“I was scared of being isolated. That’s why I moved to the [gay] Village [in Montreal] on my own. I didn’t want to wait for the isolation to happen.”
She understands firsthand how a contest can help build self-esteem. She won the Pista Sa Nayon singing contest in Montreal in 2002.
The grand prize was a trip to the Philippines and an appearance on a comedy TV show there, Home Along Da Riles. Upon returning to Montreal, Estinozo came out.
She says Miss Gay Montreal has also helped some of the candidates be their true selves.
“It helps parents to understand. It shows parents that their kids are having fun on stage,” Estinozo says.
Being seen and being seen equal
The LGBT community is quite visible in the Philippines, with celebrities like femme gay comedian, Vice Ganda, achieving top box office sales for his satirical films.
But for Mark Simbulan, co-founder of Pinoy LGBT and Estinozo’s co-host for the event, visibility does not translate to equality.
“The Philippines should be allowing gay marriage — not in terms of a religious basis, but on a human level. They should have human rights to love and be able to marry who they want to marry,” he says.
Simbulan says Pinoy LGBT is working on ways to promote gay marriage in the Philippines.
Asked what’s the main difference between a women’s pageant and a gay men’s one, Simbulan says, “not much, but ours is more fun.”
Indeed, the audience squealed with laughter at certain moments during the show. But candidates rode a fine line between mockery and entertainment.
Axl Hernandez, also known as Tyra Banks and Miss Venezuela for the night, used comedy to slam opponents.
“Not all horses belong in the stable,” Hernandez says in Tagalog upon grabbing the microphone. “Because you just saw one (the previous candidate) and there are two more.”
Another candidate who blurred the lines between ridicule and spectacle was Jerrieval Mark Garcia, a.k.a. Adriana Lima or Miss Brazil. During the talent portion, Garcia dressed in a black sequin cocktail dress performing a cabaret dance — then midway, he turned around, put on a baseball cap and tight boxers and fluttered his pelvis like a male stripper.
In the end, Dadua took home the crown.
To critics who think beauty pageants are objectifying and do not promote equality, he says, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I’m not going to say anything against them. We need to focus on our own lives. If it makes us happy then why not. For me, they’re dedma.”
Dedma is a Taglish slang term mixing the English word ‘dead’ and Tagalog word ‘malisyoso’. In other words, he’s feigning their malice.
Editor's Note: This copy has been updated to correct a mistake in the spelling of Adiva Estinozo's name and the explanation of the word 'dedma'. NCM regrets these errors.
by Beatrice Paez in Toronto
When Elizabeth Philibert arrived in Montreal as an émigré in 1979, she immediately felt the city would be her closest connection to Haiti.
The city’s circle of activists quickly embraced Philibert, who had risked her life on the front lines of Haiti’s anti-Duvalier movement. The movement began in opposition to self-declared "President-for-life" Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and continued against the oppressive regime of his successor and son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.
Most Canadians may not have heard of Philibert and other Haitian Canadians who, through their collective efforts, influenced Quebec’s cultural and political traditions.
In A Place in the Sun: Haiti, Haitians and the Remaking of Quebec, historian Sean Mills chronicles how the Haitian community, while relegated to the margins, actively challenged the status quo while also finding common ground within it.
Haitians in the Quiet Revolution
Philibert joined the wave of Haitian immigrants who settled in Quebec in the 1960s and 1980s, drawn by shared linguistic and religious ties. She arrived at a time when members of Montreal’s Haitian community were claiming a stake in Quebec’s political future, and Canada’s international affairs.
While Quebec was gripped in its fight for sovereignty, Haitians in the province wielded what resources they had to insert themselves into the political debate.
“The importance of Haitians was well known among many Haitians, of course, but it wasn’t part of mainstream understandings of the Quiet Revolution and its aftermath,” says Mills, referring to a period in the 1960s during which the province saw the secularization and expansion of the welfare state in sectors such as health care and education. “I was struck by the involvement of Haitians in the waves of political and cultural activism in the 1960s and 1970s, and I wanted to learn more about these developments.”
Mills’ curiosity led him to delve into the written work of the Haitian diaspora and their oral histories, as told by those who had fled the violence under the two Duvalier regimes. He illuminates the ways Haitians sought to elevate their status in Quebec.
Through their vast literary publications, activism and media appeals they set out to upend a political system intent on shutting them out.
A Place in the Sun revisits history with a new perspective, and succeeds in delivering a nuanced portrait of their lives during a critical juncture in Quebec’s history.
The first contingent of Haitian exiles came in the 1960s. Most were francophone elites who integrated well into society. The second wave of migrants in the 1970s, representing a poorer class who spoke Creole, faced far more discrimination.
That they had markedly different experiences speaks to Quebec’s complex perception of Haiti, Mills writes.
Haiti had long held symbolic significance to Quebec, especially in the 1940s as it sought to establish cultural linkages through its Catholic missionary work. Although they were bound by a shared language and colonial legacy, the missionary cause set them on unequal footing.
It was a relationship defined in familial terms, albeit a paternalistic one, in which Haitians were ridiculed for their religious belief in voodoo and regarded as “childlike” and “devoid of complex thoughts.”
Mills argues, convincingly, that confined as many were to exploitative occupations in the taxi industry or domestic service, Haitian immigrants refused to be reduced to stereotypes. Instead, they cast themselves as political beings capable of exerting pressure on the government to confront its policies and in some cases, to adopt their cause.
“They had to fight to find a place for themselves in a political sphere that did not see them as legitimate interlocutors,” Mills writes. “By entering the political sphere and rupturing its traditional composition, they opened a new space for themselves.”
Culture of activism
It helped that Haitians were attuned enough to know that language can be a potent bargaining chip in Quebec.
One critical test was the “crisis of 1,500” in 1974, when Haitians mobilized support from diverse groups to quash the deportation of non-status migrants.
They appealed both to the “conscience of the population” and used language strategically to position themselves as “ideal francophone immigrants for modern Quebec.” René Lévesque, as Parti Québécois premier, ultimately endorsed their cause on humanitarian grounds, but also for demographic considerations.
For the Haitian diaspora, Quebec became a proxy battlefield through which they could undermine support for the Duvalier regimes. They compelled Canada to confront its policy of distributing foreign aid to a dictatorship, which had driven many to flee and was ultimately the root of the migrant crisis.
These efforts weakened the federal government’s claim that they were merely “economic migrants” as opposed to political refugees. It also served as a rallying cry of solidarity between Quebecers and Haitians, both vying for self-determination.
Although they’ve made significant strides in improving their conditions, the “asymmetrical relationship” between Quebec and Haiti persists, writes Mills. To this day, many of the organizations Haitian immigrants founded remain an enduring force in integrating new arrivals.
“[I’m] continually impressed by the incredible vitality of the Haitian community,” says Mills. “It’s certainly a world that is very alive and vibrant to this day.”
Beatrice Paez is a freelance journalist based in Toronto whose work spans from writing about international development issues to the arts and culture. She also writes a public art column for the Torontoist and co-founded The Origami, an online magazine about Asian Canadians in Toronto.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit