Me too, but now what?

First published at Global News on October 20, 2017.

It’s been eye-opening to see just how many people in my network have said “me too” this week.

The sheer volume of such admissions has made it impossible for anyone to look away, which, frankly, is the point.

Created in the wake of mounting allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and rape by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, the #MeToo campaign has motivated people to share their own experiences.

It isn’t exclusively for women, though some critics and supporters have charged that it is. Anyone can find themselves harassed sexually, though women undeniably bear the brunt of it. I’m writing this column with that in mind.

Women are already painfully aware of the pervasiveness of these problems, so #MeToo is very much directed at men, who fall into two categories – those who are part of the problem and those who aren’t.

Those in the former category have already disregarded or rejected boundaries and standards of decency. Sadly, I doubt two words – no matter how many millions of women utter them – will change that.

We men who don’t harass, abuse or assault women don’t know what our role should be in this dialogue, beyond calling out harassment and assault if we see it.

Should I ask women if anyone is giving them trouble? That sounds patronizing. Should I tell women they can come to me if someone says something? That sounds paternalistic. Is it about drafting up strict human resources policies? That sounds impersonal.

Beyond #MeToo, there is a need for a greater dialogue.

This week, a number of feminists have expressed their frustration with the campaign because they think everyone should already know this.

While that may be true, there’s a far more captive audience now. Without awareness, change is impossible. But even so, change isn’t guaranteed.

I said earlier that #MeToo has erupted so significantly that it is impossible to look away. Except we will.

Within a few days, we’ll all have moved onto the next “Pray For _____” or “Je Suis ______”, and #MeToo will be a distant memory.

Women will – hopefully – feel comforted by the support of those around them. Men will pat themselves on the back for giving a cousin or co-worker a “love” or “sad” reaction on Facebook. But what led to the #MeToo-ers opening up in the first place will remain.

Even though #MeToo reveals a problem, there isn’t a consensus on what it is, or what caused it. This campaign opens the door to those questions, but it doesn’t solve them.

There’s a spectrum of sexual affronts: on one side is a flirtation that is deemed unwanted, and on the other side is violent rape.

Legally and, I would argue, morally, there’s a progression in severity and wrongness as we move from one end of that spectrum to the other.

People experience pain in their own way, undoubtedly. But is a woman saying “me too” after someone glanced at her chest in a café dealing with the same phenomenon as one who says it after being drugged and date raped?

No, but #MeToo lumps them all in one category.

It’s possible that I’ve contributed to someone’s “me too” admission without knowing it, in today’s climate. Especially in the age of microaggressions, where intent is secondary to one’s interpretation of a situation.

The popular blog Everyday Feminism contends that even complimenting a woman on her smile is an act of harassment.

Chatting up a woman you encounter in the world, if you know nothing about her, is sexualizing because you implicitly judged her on her appearance, one piece argues.

“When you approach someone in public, it’s often based solely on their physical appearance,” the author writes. “Whether or not you make an explicit statement about their appearance, there is an implication that their body is on display for your approval or disapproval.”

Fortunately for me, it’s always been a lack of confidence rather than feminism that has prevented me from asking women out in coffee shops or grocery stores, but I know men and women who have had tremendous success with these serendipitous encounters.

This is not to trivialize those who have been on the receiving end of crude and lewd drive-by “compliments,” or those who are the victims of persistent, unabated come-ons. But as a man, the boundaries of acceptability seem to be changing so quickly that I’m glad to be married already.

I don’t aim to deny anyone their own feelings. I realize that a stranger approaching a woman on the street could end any number of ways – and she doesn’t know which outcome will arise until it does.

There are real concerns. Critics of #MeToo can’t dismiss it as feminist tripe, and supporters can’t expect that a trending hashtag will solve the problem without further explanation to people who, for whatever reason, don’t get it.

Talking about a problem is important, but only the first step.

And, by the way, me too.

Omission of Jews from Holocaust plaque reminder of perils of Holocaust indifference

First published at Global News on October 12, 2017.

No, the prime minister of Canada is not a Holocaust denier. And no, the federal government is not trying to remove the plight of Jews from the history books.

But no, it’s not excusable that a plaque at Canada’s new Holocaust monument didn’t specifically reference the six million Jews killed in one of the world’s greatest acts of evil — the Holocaust.

Bearing Justin Trudeau‘s name, the plaque said the National Holocaust Monument “commemorates the millions of men, women and children murdered,” and “serves as a reminder that we must be vigilant in standing guard against hate, intolerance and discrimination.”

After the plaque became an international mockery, the government, to its credit — specifically, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly — moved swiftly to replace it with one that acknowledges the Holocaust as having targeted Jewish people.

It’s not enough to note that the Holocaust was tragic; anyone serious about understanding history has to recognize what its aim was, as well as why and how it happened.

This is essential to combat Holocaust denial, which is sometimes more nuanced than people think. The shrewder anti-Semites in our midst will admit that the Holocaust happened but qualify it by suggesting Jews weren’t the target, or that the victim count was much lower, or that starvation and disease rather than gas-induced executions were the culprits.

I’m not suggesting anyone in the government thinks this, but a monument to the Holocaust needs to be exceptionally clear about the inseparable relationship between anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in order to combat these pervasive sentiments.

Several commentators have suggested this flap is particularly embarrassing on account of it being Trudeau’s second omission of Jews in a Holocaust statement (the first being his 2016 proclamation on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.)

Actually, this is the third such fumble. The controversy didn’t make news in Canada, but Trudeau’s tour of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp last year generated a stir in Israel when the prime minister left a message in the guest book that didn’t reference Jews.

“Tolerance is never sufficient: humanity must learn to love our differences,” he wrote. “Today we bear witness to humanity’s capacity for deliberate cruelty and evil. May we ever remember this painful truth about ourselves, and may it strengthen our commitment to never again allow such darkness to prevail. We shall never forget. Nous nous souviendrons.”

I have no doubt his words are sincere. In fact, he was moved to tears during his tour of the space, reportedly. But this message, especially when compounded with the others, misses what the Holocaust means to the Jewish people in 2017.

The Shoah — as it’s known in Hebrew — is about more than a society that doesn’t “love our differences” and certainly about something graver than mere intolerance. It was anti-Semitism that escalated to a state-sponsored attempt at extermination of the Jewish population.

Trudeau, according to his press secretary, unequivocally recognizes the loss of Jewish lives in the Holocaust.

“The Holocaust memorials that he has visited around the world are a dark and brutal reminder of the six million Jewish lives lost during the Holocaust,” she told me. “We must never forget all the families that were torn apart because of the hatred and intolerance directed at the Jewish community, and all other victims of Nazi brutality. We know that anti-Semitism is not just a thing of the past in Canada. It is our duty to stand up every day against all forms of discrimination, racism, and anti-Semitism in our communities.”

There is a learning opportunity for all Canadians here to understand not only the historic timeline of the Holocaust, but the ongoing threat of Holocaust denial and Holocaust indifference. The latter may lack the malice and anti-Semitism of the former, but is still a major problem.

In 2011, I took part in a week-long study trip to Israel at Yad Vashem, the country’s national Holocaust museum and research centre. It was an eye-opening experience for more reasons than I can list here, but one takeaway was understanding the place the Holocaust holds in society today, and not just as a chapter in the history books.

The further removed we are from the Holocaust chronologically, the harder it is to get young people — even young Jews — to care about it, I learned.

The survival of the Jewry after facing eradication has turned into a thriving so successful that the current generation has lost the sense of struggle.

As a gentile, I’ve lived my life without the pain that lives in Jewish history. I’ve never needed to say “never again” to ensure my own survival.

But even so, I understand the danger of Holocaust indifference. So surely the federal government can as well.

Edmonton terror attack was preventable. Is political correctness to blame?

First published at Global News on October 6, 2017.

Terrorism has, once again, knocked on Canada’s door.

Though last weekend’s attack in Edmonton had no fatalities, Canadians should still be concerned.

From the method to the details about the alleged perpetrator, the incident has all the hallmarks of the so-called lone wolf attacks happening with alarming frequency across the world.

In this case, a police officer was repeatedly stabbed after being hit by a car that later rammed into four pedestrians.

The accused in the terror attack, 30-year old Somalian national Abdulahi Sharif, was granted refugee status in Canada in 2012 while facing deportation from the United States.

When he hopped into his car to kill, Edmonton police say he brought along an ISIS flag.

This attack was entirely preventable. That is if the authorities had done their jobs.

Sharif should have been on the next flight back to Somalia when the RCMP learned he was promoting extremism and waxing poetic about genocide with a co-worker in 2015, the CBC reported. Instead, they conducted a cursory investigation but ultimately moved on.

Sharif wasn’t just a lone wolf, but a known wolf. Merely the latest in a troubling trend.

The terrorist who killed two young women in Marseilles, France last weekend was reportedly, like Sharif, a North African Muslim known to police.

Aaron Driver, the would-be terrorist killed while detonating a homemade bomb in a Strathroy, Ont. taxi last summer, was on a peace bond for supporting ISIS. Despite never renouncing his fondness for terrorism, he had enough freedom to plot and nearly execute an attack.

Manchester bomber Salman Abedi’s extremism got him referred to authorities no fewer than five times in as many years, before he killed 22 Ariana Grande fans. But nothing happened.

Regretfully, some people will fly under the radar and catch us by surprise, but it’s inexcusable that most of the Islamic terrorist attacks we’ve seen in the west in recent years have been by those from whom we should expect it.

Government failings can typically be distilled to either malice or incompetence. In this case, there’s no denying the role that political correctness plays. Governments are so busy downplaying the threat of Islamic jihad they haven’t gotten around to solving it.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement about the Edmonton attack didn’t mention “Islam” or “ISIS” at all, in fact, despite the clear ideological motivation for the attack.

After the attack on Parliament Hill in 2014, Trudeau (not yet the prime minister), took the opportunity to console Canadian Muslims, saying “acts such as these committed in the name of Islam are an aberration of your faith.”

Just two months after the Berlin Christmas market attack claimed 12 lives, Chancellor Angela Merkel reminded Germans that “Islam is not the source of terrorism.”

In 1940s Europe, you’d be hard-pressed to find Jewish leaders as eager to tell people “not all Germans are bad,” rather than addressing the ones who were.

I agree with the fundamental sentiments expressed by Merkel and Trudeau: the majority of Muslims are not violent. But unlike them, I’m prepared to also acknowledge that radical Islam is a threat — one emboldened by poor immigration policies.

The Canadian government will announce its immigration target for 2018 in a few weeks.

A report from the Conference Board of Canada suggests we could handle 450,000 immigrants per year — a 50 per cent increase over our current annual intake of 300,000.

In a country of 36 million, 450,000 immigrants per year amounts to 1.25 per cent of the population. That may not sound like much, but it’s the same proportion of the population that Germany welcomed in through its migrant resettlement in 2015, when one million were admitted to the country of 80 million.

Ever since, the country has seen increased frequency of terror threats, as well as mass sexual assaults and even murders at the hands of migrants. The gravest examples occurred in Cologne and Hamburg when on Dec. 31, 2015, as many as 1,216 women were subjected to everything from groping to rape. Many of the suspected perpetrators were Arab and North African men.

I support robust immigration policies that allow for significant immigration into Canada. I am pro-immigrant, so long as shared values remain at the core of resettlement.

The importation of hundreds of thousands of people who potentially hold views on minority rights, women’s rights, and fundamental liberties that are at odds with the tenets of the welcoming country cannot and will not result in anything other than culture clashes.

Canada’s insulation from this European reality gives me hope that our screening systems do work, but the Sharif case tells us those systems aren’t perfect.

I’d hope that government would evaluate what went wrong, but instead, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has simply said the Edmonton attack “in no way indicates that Canada’s screening process needs to be enhanced or that the system failed.”

There’s a police officer with stab wounds in Edmonton who would beg to differ.

I lost my 100-year-old grandmother. We’re all losing the ‘greatest generation’

First published at Global News on September 27, 2017.

In July, my loving grandmother, Eva Quinn, turned 100. On Tuesday, with her three children by her side, she passed away.

It was never a goal of hers to achieve centenarian status. In fact, she was so dead set against it that I think it just tempted God. But still, she hit the milestone that is so significant, it warranted letters from the Governor General and the Queen herself.

It was an exceptional moment for a woman who deserved no less.

Any death creates a void in a family, but when someone of this vintage passes on, the world loses something.

Born in the United Kingdom in 1917, Nanny — as we called her — was part of the cohort that Tom Brokaw famously dubbed the “greatest generation.”

After the Second World War, she became a war bride, marrying a Canadian and moving to Ottawa, and later Montreal.

She was the literal embodiment of the phrase “fresh off the boat,” travelling to Canada by freighter — the most affordable mode of transportation — taunting her redheaded friend with the nickname “ginger” for the duration of the voyage.

Nanny lived in Canada for twice as long as she did in Britain, and became a Canadian citizen. Though none of that seemed to matter, as in spirit she remained a Brit until her final breath. Her unabating accent afforded her the opportunity to remind people of her true country.

When she moved to London, Ont., to be closer to family in 2005, she would routinely offend the locals by telling anyone who asked — and even those who didn’t — that she hailed “from the real London.”

But she made a life here, working and raising her and her husband’s three children, who bore grandkids who bore great-grandkids. Earlier this year, she met and held my brother’s infant son, born nearly a century after she was, in an entirely new world.

She did everything one is supposed to and witnessed tremendous change around her in the process. Her life was remarkably ordinary, which, in this day and age, is what made her so extraordinary.

She was special, most definitely, but not atypical of her generation.

Though she wasn’t particularly political, she had no time for political correctness and its increasing foothold in society.

She would unapologetically tell of how she once had to get off a bus in Montreal because the smell of garlic was so strong after picking up workers in Little Italy.

She would also be the first one to tell a young me to dust myself off and get back up after a fall.

Her British wit could be deadly, but the good news is that most lacked the extensive vocabulary to understand their tongue-lashings. (Which they likely deserved.)

I regret never asking her whether she thought she was leaving a better world than the one she inherited. I’m not sure whether she even knew.

She was critical of many of the West’s social shifts, such as the move to excessively coddling children and people taking offence to everything.

I know she never envisioned a time in which speaking about what had always been black-and-white truths was somehow controversial.

But she also saw advances in economic opportunity, safety, and science that were foreign to her parents and grandparents.

This is why the perspective of the Greatest Generation is so valuable.

Despite living through the air raids, bomb threats, and the overarching uncertainty of wartime, her war stories often devolved into complaints that she wasn’t able to buy oranges. (On principle, she would have at least one a day for the rest of her life, totalling just shy of 28,000 navels.)

The history I learned from her was more valuable than that which I received from my public school education. This period wasn’t about places and dates to her, but life itself.

That living testimony is becoming harder to find.

Death is inevitable for all of us — certainly for anyone whose age reaches triple digits. That doesn’t soften the loss, but it does provide comfort that a life was lived to its fullest.

I am sad because of Nanny’s departure from this earth because of her impact in my life, but also because she is one of the last holdouts of the generation that quite literally saved the world.

When I last saw her, I knew it would be the last time. I had the privilege of saying goodbye on Monday, too. She is gone, but her legacy and that of her generation persists.

I’ll miss Nanny’s wit, charm, and self-deprecatory humour. I’ll also miss the perspective that only someone who has lived for the last century can provide.

Free speech can’t be a casualty of Canada’s ‘whole-of-government’ approach to Islamophobia

First published at Global News on September 22, 2017.

When the House of Commons passed the contentious anti-Islamophobia motion, M-103, earlier this year, critics feared the vote could be a death knell for free speech. I was one of them.

My opposition to the motion wasn’t rooted in a belief that it amounted to a Sharia-compliant overhaul of Canadian government, rather that it played to the worst form of identity politics.

Even though Liberal MP Iqra Khalid’s M-103 has no censorship power, my concern was that it opens the door for policy that does.

To those who accused me of peddling conspiracy theories for such a claim, I can say as of this week, “I told you so.” Though I take no delight in this chest-thumping; I would much rather have been wrong.

Canadians should have been leery that M-103’s supporters framed the motion as both symbolic and essential in the fight against Islamophobia. How something could be purportedly toothless, yet also imperative, escapes me. It was disingenuous for the Liberals to present this as merely a benign dalliance no more impactful than parliamentarians holding hands and belting out John Lennon’s Imagine.

In addition to condemning “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination,” Khalid’s motion also ordered the government to “develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making.”

Khalid’s motion rationalizes its own existence by citing, though not quantifying, an “increasing public climate of hate and fear.”

On Monday, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage began hearings on “systemic racism and religious discrimination,” opening with testimony from Khalid herself.

There was nothing particularly controversial about her remarks, though it is worth noting her change of tone from M-103’s earlier days. Then, she rejected any and all proposed amendments — including a request from Conservative MP Erin O’Toole to de-politicize the text by making it about all forms of hatred and discrimination.

On Monday, she was far more placatory, telling committee members that the balance of Islamophobia with other forms of discrimination was entirely in their hands, and those of the experts slated to testify after her.

One such expert was Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former CSIS manager and RCMP officer. In his testimony, he mused about revoking broadcast licenses for “radio poubelle” (a Quebecois phrase meaning “trash radio”) that he says feeds Islamophobia in his home province.

Toronto Sun columnist Anthony Furey linked Juneau-Katsuya’s comment to a CBC story, published in the wake of the Quebec City mosque shooting, castigating radio stations that “often air segments voicing concerns about Muslim immigration and the threat of Islamic terrorism — programming that leaves many local Muslims feeling alienated and misunderstood.”

As a conservative Christian, I feel pretty alienated and misunderstood whenever I’m exposed to CBC programming, but I don’t think that’s grounds to yank the network’s broadcasting rights.

This recommendation from one of the heritage committee’s star witnesses substantiates the fears that the government’s efforts to target Islamophobia may well go after people and platforms raising legitimate criticisms of radical Islam or immigration policy.

As I predicted, the goalposts are being moved. Between Canada’s Criminal Code already outlawing violent hate speech and there being no constitutional right to freedom from criticism, I’ve yet to see where the government can intervene to tackle the Islamophobia boogie man without curbing legitimate and necessary liberties.

It’s important to note that this is the testimony of just one witness — but that this testimony was sought in the first place gives us a chilling look at what the government considers on the table in its pursuit of an all-encompassing antidote for Islamophobia.

Especially when one considers that Juneau-Katsuya also said the government should prosecute more speech crimes, rather than “letting it go under the blanket of free speech and letting things go too far.”

I refuse to give the benefit of the doubt to a government that has so fervently emboldened pandering and identity politics, especially when it comes at the expense of one’s right to criticize a religion.

I don’t think we’re headed towards the construction of speech gulags, but we should all be cautious that the government doesn’t look to bolster the power of human rights commissions and tribunals across the country, several of which already have a mandate and framework to legislate and prosecute allegedly offensive speech.

Remember it was within the last decade that bestselling author Mark Steyn and Maclean‘s magazine were forced to defend themselves against charges of “hate speech” for publishing an analysis of Muslim migration and demography, excepted from Steyn’s book, America Alone (and laying out predictions that have proven true, I’d add.)

Though Steyn and Maclean‘s emerged victorious, as did Ezra Levant when he was prosecuted for publishing the infamous Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons in the Western Standard in 2006, the process itself is the punishment.

If the government is making Islamophobia its target, censorship cannot be its weapon.