(Ontario Ombudsman Taking A Hands Off Approach To Systemic Issues With Ontario’s School Boards)
Just as the Ministry of Education’s probe of more mishandling of public funds at the York Region District School Board becomes clearer, the Ontario Ombudsman has sent a strong message to tax payers that it will not comment on the lack of systemic investigations into the education sector.
In a response to questions this blog sent into the Ombudsman’s office outlining several concerns of those that have written into this office over the past two years, spokesperson Lina Williamson had this to offer:
Your email asks our office to comment on complaints and issues in a public forum (your blog). Due to the confidentiality of our process, this would not be appropriate. We invite you and any parents with whom you are in contact who have unresolved issues with school boards to contact us through our confidential complaint process (more info at this link):
Williamson also has a message for parents of special needs kids that have complained into the office and feel that the Ombudsman isn’t taking the issues seriously:
[Their] allegations that the Ombudsman has not been tackling issues that matter to Ontarians are unfounded and contrary to the facts. The Ombudsman and his team are deeply committed to enhancing governance in the public sector by promoting transparency, accountability, and fairness. We do that by resolving more than 21,000 complaints and inquiries every year in the most efficient manner and at the lowest level possible. In fact, 80% of cases are resolved within two weeks. In the 19 months since his appointment, Ombudsman Paul Dubé has published two Annual Reports, reported on 47 investigations of closed municipal meetings, and published five reports on systemic investigations, calling for policy and procedure reforms in police training, the placement and tracking of inmates in solitary confinement, supports and services for adults with developmental disabilities, and most recently, the provision of school busing services in Toronto. All of the Ombudsman’s 161 recommendations in these investigations have been accepted, and the organizations in question have pledged to implement them.
The office seems to be deeply concerned about transparency, accountability, and fairness just not within the education sector or for children with disabilities this sector serves. With respect to the Ombudsman’s mandate, Williamson had this to offer:
As is typical of a Parliamentary Ombudsman, we are an office of last resort. The Ombudsman is appointed by an all-party committee of the Legislature (not by the government), is impartial (not an advocate), and is completely independent of government, all political parties and interest groups. Anyone with questions is welcome to contact us through our website or at 1-800-263-1830.
Finally, our office recommends all school boards and municipalities have independent integrity commissioners. This is a widely recognized best practice, as local accountability mechanisms within the communities they serve can usually resolve complaints and issues more efficiently (the province recently amended legislation to require all municipalities to have an integrity commissioner by March 2019). The Ombudsman does not replace local accountability officers, but can take complaints about them.
Once again, anyone who has an issue with a school board or other public sector body within our mandate is encouraged to contact us through our confidential online form, complaints phone line, or by emailing email@example.com/
UPDATED: 11/9/2017 7:15pm
In the quest for transparency, I’ve followed up with the Ombudsman’s office regarding their responses. There’s been some back and forth since the original posting. Here’s what has transpired:
JK: The allegations surrounding your office not tackling the issues in the education sector, are not my own. Those allegations come from those who have directly complained to your office and are being referred back to their respective boards for complaint resolution. Your response below to questions regarding a specific mandate the Ombudsman has on the education sector, seems to be more generalized. Are you stating on the record here, that the reason why the Ombudsman hasn’t followed through with SORT investigations into the education sector, is because those complaints that have come into your office regarding school boards have been resolved? Can you please clear that up.
LW: “Are you stating on the record here, that the reason why the Ombudsman hasn’t followed through with SORT investigations into the education sector, is because those complaints that have come into your office regarding school boards have been resolved?”
No. First, the Ombudsman has done a SORT (systemic) investigation in the school board sector: The report The Route of the Problem was released in August, and all of Mr. Dubé’s recommendations were accepted. It can be found here: https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Investigations/SORT-Investigations/Completed/Toronto-school-busing-issues.aspx
Second, we cannot discuss individual cases with third parties. To reiterate, anyone who has a problem that they have been unable to resolve at the school board level is welcome to contact our office through our confidential complaint process.
For your general information, we oversee more than 1,000 public sector bodies and receive more than 21,00 complaints per year. Most are resolved informally. Receiving multiple complaints on an issue does not necessarily mean the Ombudsman can, should or will conduct a systemic investigation. Several factors go into any decision to conduct a systemic investigation, including the number of complaints, available resources, whether other resolution mechanisms can address the matter, whether there is evidence of a systemic issue, whether the matter relates to administration rather than broad public policy, and whether is being addressed by the institution in question.
JK: I’m not asking you to comment on individual cases, just systemic issues that your office should be aware of through individual complaints, and media reports. While I congratulate this office for ensuring school children get to school on time in an isolated incident within the province, I’m more than curious to see such a reluctance to put forth investigations on what happens when these kids get to school, the lack of support for special needs, the lack of application of the education act systemically, and a general lack of accountability within the school system itself. These issues are not just widely known to your office through individual reports, they are widely documented in media.
There’s no valid excuse for not following your mandate when it comes to the education sector. It’s truly unfortunate that our most vulnerable are caught in the middle and paying a heavy price due to the unwillingness to further, and independently investigate. That will surely reflect on policy discussions as it comes to any future mandates your office will or will not receive by government post 2018. The lack of engagement by your office on education issues over the past two years has been duly noted by Ontarioians who have written in to your office for help and have been slapped in the face by this office, and their respective boards. It’s unfortunate.
JK: While the discussion revolves around recent issues, I’ve attached a response this office gave to 400 individual complaints in 2010, in which your office has outlined concerns regarding the lack of independent oversight on the education sector. There has been very little movement in law regarding those concerns since 2010 other than your mandate. As a result the education system is in crisis, with our most vulnerable taking most of the hits in the classroom. I’ve attached this offices 2010 response, and I’ve highlighted what should be self-explanatory. Your office is fully and completely aware of the problems. While I know that your office can not comment on these 400 individual complaints, it will make for some interesting public discussions around your mandate moving forward. I’m still waiting for an interview with Dupe. The people of Ontario would like to hear directly from him on his mandate and the independence of this office please.
What has your experience been with the Ombudsman’s office, and the school boards? We would like to hear from you. Leave a comment, or message us anonymously at jkobopoli at rogers dot com
(Ontario’s Ombudsman Paul Dube is Falling Short on The Provincial Education Crisis and May Not Be Following His Mandate)
With media reports of students across this province being under supported almost on a weekly basis now, frustration with parents who often approach the Ombudsman’s office on lack of compliance of board staff on the education act, to what looks to be systemic misappropriation of tax payers funds by school boards, to education sector unions demanding more money be spent on their members rather than kids – I thought it might be necessary to write into the Ombudsman’s office and find out why after two years of his mandate which is retroactive, there has been not one systemic investigation into the education sector on these issues in this province with a crisis growing by the day.
Below is a list of questions/concerns I sent into the Ombudsman’s communication department. Apparently they don’t have a canned response to handle any of the below, and I am told this has been moved up the ladder to the Ombudsman himself, and his staff. I’m told I should be receiving a response to this “soon” and I will post that response when it comes in.
I’m a syndicated blogger and contributor to a political and policy blog called Mind Bending Politics which follows political policy in Ontario and Canada Wide. I’ve been following the crisis in our education system now for over ten years. The predecessor to your office Andre Marin was quite adamant in getting this mandate to look into Ontario’s education sector since your office was fielding a number of complaints regarding the lack of compliance within the education act on a systematic level. I was one of the primary advocates to ensure that your office received a mandate through the province in investigating complaints within the education system.
Two years into your mandate, we’re not seeing a reduction of these issues outlined in the above article, in fact since your office has received your mandate on the educational sector, we’re seeing the lack of compliance within law grow exponentially across the province.
I have followed quite a number of complaints into your office, which should have sparked SORT investigations into the public education system, and the lack of compliance with the education act that is systemic and has been for some time.
I’ve received word by several parents that have written into your office that instead of actively investigating complaints on systemic non-compliance of the education act, you are telling parents that you are a last resort option and referring 100% of these cases I am aware of back to their respective boards where often these complaints end up being not resolved with respect to compliance with the law.
I have a few questions I would like to ask.
1. First, since your mandate the York Regional District School Board has and is the latest board to come under fire for non-compliance of the education act, and misappropriation of public funds, and systemic racism. It took a parents complaint into the human rights tribunal regarding racism before the province decided to step in. Can you explain how or why your office over the past two years were not aware of the situations within the York Regional District School Board that were later outlined by provincial investigators as being long term systemic issues across the YRDSB? Many parents within the YRDSB have written into this office regarding compliance with the education act, and your office has thus far refused to get involved. Can you further explain why that is?
2. Second, in your 2016/2017 annual report, this office gave praise to boards like the YRDSB who are setting up a self policing integrity office, and recommended that other boards do the same. Can you further explain why this office is advocating for a non-independent integrity review when your office has the mandate to independently and systemically investigate compliance with the education act? Why would an integrity office would be needed with your mandate, and why is this office endorsing a non-independent review of the integrity of board employees in the first place?
3. Since September 2017, I’ve seen almost weekly reports in the media and social media of special needs kids being sent home pre-maturely, not properly supported in the education system, lack of compliance with the education act on IEPs, a lack of hiring properly trained staff. Is this office monitoring those reports, and if so could you please offer comment as to why your office isn’t taking any public initiative to conduct a SORT investigation into special needs education in the province of Ontario?
4. Recently Janis Jaffe-White, co-ordinator, and Reva Schafer, resource parent, of the Toronto Family Network wrote an op-ed in the Toronto Star outlining concerns regarding the lack of compliance with the education act province wide for special needs students. I would like this office to further comment on this op-ed and what this office plans on doing to thoroughly investigate these issues with compliance with the education act both at the board, and ministerial level.
(CUPE Says Money Should Go To Its Members Rather Than Autistic Kids)
CUPE who is the union representing educational assistants (EA) in the province of Ontario released a press release this week in which it has lambasted the provincial government for piloting a project which will allow autistic kids to receive privately purchased therapy to be administered in public schools. CUPE says by doing this would open the door to privately funded education, and that its current members are not qualified to handle special needs students despite millions that have been negotiated in front line workers with the province over recent years.
As part of its revamp of Autism services in Ontario the provincial government is expected in the next few months to allow families a choice to purchase Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for kids with autism privately or go through publicly funded Centre’s. This move by the province to offer a private option paid for by the province is expected to reduce wait times for this needed therapy.
The move by the province to pilot a project to allow privately purchased workers to administer this therapy in school would be a necessity to the success of students receiving that therapy at the choice of the families, and lighten the load on parents who often have had to drive autistic kids to and from these appointments, often in separate cities in which the these children are being educated in and miss days at work. CUPE on the other hand thinks that the province should shell out that money to retrain EA’s across the province, rather than give parents a choice or say in their child’s therapy:
“We represent 13,000 Educational Assistants who work hard, with other Board employees and parents, to develop and deliver individualized educational programs to assist students with multiple challenges, including those with autism,” said Terri Preston, Chair of the CUPE Ontario School Board Coordinating Committee. “They are deeply concerned by any initiative that opens the door to the privatization of those critical services in our schools.”
Parents of children with special needs, including children with autism, have every right to expect they can walk into their local school and receive the services their children need, fully funded and publicly provided,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario. “They shouldn’t have to worry about securing outside funding, finding a private provider or paying out of their own pockets, to ensure their children succeed at school. That is the responsibility of the government and instead of just abdicating their role to private operators, they should be properly funding and providing all the necessary services students with special needs require.”
The ABA therapy these kids will be receiving will most likely be publicly funded as part of the new Ontario Autism Program. Terri Preston, Chair of the CUPE Ontario School Board Coordinating Committee essentially stated in this bizarre press release from CUPE that the union negotiated $52 million from the province for front line workers recently, who by admission of this press release are not qualified enough to be working with special needs kids in our public schools, and the government must pay for unqualified staff to get degrees in behavior analysis (which is a two year full time university course at Brock University):
“As education workers, we know students with special needs need more front-line staff support,” said Preston. “It’s why, in contract extension talks with the government, we negotiated $52 million over two years to increase front-line staff working with students with special needs. Even with those hard-won investments, more support is needed for students with a variety of complex needs and that’s why the government needs to finally conduct a long-overdue funding formula review.”
The press release gets a hell of a lot weirder as you read on. In its closing remarks after blasting the government for allowing parents a choice and complaining that its membership is under-qualified to support kids with special needs ended the press release with this statement:
“Many of us already have ABA training or incorporate ABA principles into our work with students,” said Laura Walton, an Educational Assistant who is also Vice-Chair of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Coordinating Committee. “Educational Assistants are constantly upgrading their skills and knowledge, often at their own expense, so any funded training opportunities are always welcome. We have been asking the government to ensure Educational Assistants, and all board employees who work to address the complex needs of our students, have access to an array of professional development opportunities, including ABA training.”
Wouldn’t working with privately funded ABA therapists which I would think would be the goal of the government here, be more beneficial to both their own members and the students they serve? Wouldn’t that give EA’s workplace experience in ABA working alongside these therapists? Where’s the outrage from CUPE that university or college programs educating future EA’s are not required under law to ensure an extensive ABA training? After a $52 million investment from the province in front line EA workers to support special needs, why is the province agreeing with CUPE to hire unqualified staff in a $52 million negotiation in the first place? In our view it should not be the position of the province or tax payer to front the bill for unqualified staff. Simply hiring qualified staff would be a better more economical option, or better yet CUPE can pick up that tab.
The problem that exists right now in the education system is one where there is money in the system, but it’s not getting to the students that need it. There’s no accountability in the education system right now. From this press release, it sounds that CUPE wants to be showered again with government coffers, while the rights of special needs kids in the system are yet again pitted against the needs of education sector unions. For its part, in its press release CUPE blames successive Liberal and PC governments for the lack of supports in our school system, yet falls short on criticizing the NDP who have yet to come out with a platform recognizing the lack of accountability the public education system is currently facing right now – the lives that have already been lost across the province to due education sector unions ignoring student mental health issues – the full time battles parents of kids of all levels have had to deal with as a result of these unions – yet we continue to shove money down the throats of this unaccountable system in hopes it gets better. $52 million CUPE negotiated went towards unqualified staff. When will the rights of all students in Ontario be put before union demands, and when will we have an accountable public education system?
A new poll conducted by Ipsos found that 76% of Ontarians want a new party in the Ontario Legislature in 2018. The Ontario Liberals have long ignored calls from people across the province and from members of their own party that current leader and premier Kathleen Wynne needs to be ousted and people want change. Are the Liberals now poised to recreate the mistakes of the Democrats south of the border with Hillary Clinton in ignoring calls for a change election?
Last week TVO’s Agenda aired a one on one interview with Wynne. Steve Paikin didn’t mince words, and put Wynne on the hot seat from everything from Hydro, to Green Energy, to her unpopularity across the province, and calls for her to step down. Wynne’s responses seemed rather tone deaf to a lot of the concerns of most people in Ontario, and she didn’t seem rather confident in her prospects post 2018.
Wynne over the past few months has been focusing the party more towards the left. She has been trying to move people over from the NDP over to the Liberals in policies such as free tuition, and a $15/hour minimum wage hike, however that may be of more benefit to the NDP come election time as Wynne’s personal popularity has plumbed and people are looking for change.
Ipsos currently puts the PC’s upfront at 39%, Liberals at 32%, and the NDP at 22%. The PC’s out of all the major parties have risen quite a bit of money for 2018. The big problem is with its leadership. No one truly knows what Patrick Brown stands for on policy other than opposing Wynne on everything she does. He often takes up popular movements, only after the popular movement has died down. He’s not a family man, and no kids. The party has also been plagued with infighting in nomination races, with accusations of corruption and ballot stuffing. We’ve been following Brown on a number of policy fronts over the past year, and we think that the more people get to know him, the more people will discover that Brown’s PCs will be too much of a risk to take since by all accounts the party and the leadership looks unstable under his rein.
The biggest beneficiary to a change election could be the Ontario NDP. The only people that have their arms up over Wynne’s leftist moves in policy are the traditional PC hardcore base. Liberal and NDP voters are likely to vote NDP next election due to this being a change election. It would be a very hard sell to see Liberal voters voting for Brown in next election. The move to the left by Wynne in policy will likely gravitate Liberal voters who are upset with Wynne over to the NDP.
Another big factor is an aging demographic, and health care. Boomers who have been supporters of the PC’s in the past do remember the Harris cuts to health care. With the PC’s vaguely calling for a value for money audit on all government ministries, this screams of cuts to services. Who determines the value for each ministry, and how will that be decided is quite a mystery at present. Millennials are now the main demographic in Ontario and are more than likely to vote on the left. A low voter turn out usually benefits conservatives, which is unlikely in a change election.
Traditionally when Liberals are in power federally, Ontario goes PC. The problem is that tradition in politics globally and also across the country is no longer exists. Free tuition, and drug plans are to be a big hit with the Millennials in which both the NDP and Liberals have adopted in policy. With Ipsos polling NDP Leader Andrea Horwath as the most supported for premier in 2018 at 42%, one can probably expect Ontario will be Orange in June of 2018.
(Businesses Across Ontario Are Being Too Penny Wise With The Proposed Wage Increase)
Scary clowns are a big hit these days at the box office, and while the people of Ontario get acquainted with a clown called Pennywise from the latest version of Stephen Kings IT, the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario [FAO] is warning tax payers and job seekers of another scary metamorph; a proposed minimum wage hike of $15/hour. This increase is set to be fully implemented by 2019 and came under fire yesterday in a report from the FAO. The FAO stated that it will cost the Ontario economy 50,000 jobs if it goes ahead with this wage hike.
It’s not a surprise that businesses – whom over the past several years have enjoyed a tremendous amount of federal tax breaks – are lining up to oppose this policy and demonizing it as being economically unsound. Ontario Progressive Conservatives leader Patrick Brown had something to say about it as well, however he brushed off the wage increase a distraction in a bizarre rant on twitter, and Brown isn’t clear on his stance on the policy at all and what he would do differently if he became Premier:
— Patrick Brown (@brownbarrie) September 12, 2017
Brown seems very comfortable in the opposition benches. Offside of the very off tone Ontario PC response, there seems to be a lot of red balloons around the economic storm drains on this policy and it isn’t even Halloween yet.
Since the market crash of 2008, we’ve been shifting from traditional conservative economic ideology (which failed miserably) towards one of managing the economy on several different levels in a bi-partisan way. Corporate tax cuts have not produced substantial jobs in Canada, in fact the opposite has happened. A study by the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives in 2011 found the biggest employers were sitting on the money they saved from these cuts:
“From 2005 to 2010, the number of employed Canadians rose 6% while the number of jobs created by the companies in the study grew by only 5%. In essence, the largest beneficiaries of corporate tax cuts are dragging down Canadian employment growth.”
In 2013, federal conservatives were warned by then Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney that Canadian companies were sitting on vast sums of cash they have saved through tax cuts, and bail outs rather than creating jobs to bolster the economy. As I remember it Carney stated this several times throughout his time at the Bank of Canada. While company CEO bonuses grew, so did the economic divide in Canada and in Ontario as well as a result of businesses not investing what they should in the local, regional, and federal economies. The economy has changed post 2008 not just in Canada but globally, and managing this economy has changed as well.
If the cost of living is high throughout the country and the province, than a minimum wage increase to ensure people have the means to survive should be something we all should be embracing patriotically. Businesses will adjust. Yes there may be some job losses (in my opinion way less the FAO has reported will happen) in the short term by companies who are not willing to spend profit margins on their employees, however just as those jobs are lost, they will be offset by more spending power by the general worker. As the minimum wage increases, so should increases to everyone’s wage as the economy grows as a result of more spending power. At least that would be the working economic theory on this policy. The wage increase is cycled through the economy. Employees who make more, become more productive and contribute more to the economy on whole. With many people in Ontario living paycheque to paycheque, and the fact that over the past several years businesses have sat on cash from tax cuts, they can suck it up and do their part.
The Ontario NDP has been calling for this wage hike for some time. This ideology was also adapted by conservatives who bailed out auto sectors, and bailed out the economy through “stimulus” after the disastrous effects of traditional conservative ideology of deregulation and corporate tax cuts took hold in 2008. Change is difficult, but necessary post 2008 economics. Greed is no longer good economics, nor is it socially acceptable post 2008.
(Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath Could Be the Strongest Leader In Contention For 2018)
With the next provincial election coming into view in Ontario, have the Liberals made a fatal mistake on keeping Kathleen Wynne at the helm? Recent polls put Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown up front, however many don’t know what he stands for besides opposing the current government, and the PC’s base in Ontario are widely viewed as far right Donald Trump supporters, rather than progressives. Could Ontario see a collapse of the right in 2018, and the NDP climb to power under a protest vote against, both the PC’s and Liberals?
The NDP in Ontario under Andrea Horwath have been pretty upfront over the past few years, including putting out some of their platform for the Ontario 2018 election which includes a universal pharmacare plan in Ontario. The major voting demographic in Ontario are the millennials, which far surpass the aging boomer population and are more left leaning in their voting tendencies. Over the past few months the Wynne Liberals have been trying to occupy some of the NDP’s platforms by instituting pharma and dental care for kids in Ontario. They’ve also instituted free tuition for lower income students, and piloted a guaranteed basic income project, all of which come from the left side of the political spectrum to try and win over those votes.
Wynne is banking on a few things to secure her win in 2018. The fact Brown is not a strong leader, and she’ll bring up memories of the health care cuts under Harris, which will be an attempt to move the aging boomer vote towards the Liberals. Brown also has had to deal with issues over infighting for local nominations for the party, and has been tone deaf on a lot of the issues the people of Ontario are faced with until they end up in the media. He often jumps on popular movements far too late, and takes credit for sticking it to the Wynne Liberals. We saw this during the autism movement where Brown in question period for three weeks during the parent’s protests, not once brought up any support for that movement. He recently claimed victory for parents stating that he fought for extra money from the province for autistic kids and won. Over the past year, things have got worse not better for these kids, and we haven’t seen any new money flow from Wynne, instead we’ve seen cuts to support, funding for special needs education cut, and wait lists that have grown substantially from what seemingly looks like a “net zero” approach to pay off 2,100 families waiting for services in June of last year.
Wynne is also banking on making an argument that Ontario can’t afford Horwath, and bring back big bad memories of former premier Bob Rae, which is an argument that is pretty much mute since Wynne is trying to occupy the NDP platform, and to many millennials Rae is a Liberal. Horwath is nicknamed the “Hamilton Scrapper”. Over the past few elections Horwath has had to deal with the ghost of Rae, which has overshadowed a lot of her strengths. Horwath when she sat on Hamilton City Council was a super star in her riding. She fought vigorously for the people and businesses she represented, and got things done. Not just done, but done correctly and fast. If Horwath can shake the ghosts of leaders past, and come out swinging, she’ll be the only leader that will look strong from the three traditional parties on that stage come 2018.
Brown for his part will not just have an image problem because he is tone deaf, but will have a very hard time shaking off Trump when the failure of that movement could come to a head in the US during our provincial election. With a lot of Canadians paying attention to how Russia was involved in developing fake news, and directing fake social media accounts to push the alt-right into the White House, it’s going to be very difficult for Brown to run an effective social media campaign.
For Wynne, this is a change election heading into 2018. With the Liberals in power now for over 14 years, and the people of Ontario reminded almost weekly about mismanagement, its going to be a very uphill battle to sell that change isn’t needed and Ontario needs to stay on its current course. For its part the Liberal Party in Ontario, may have made a grave mistake in leaving Wynne at the helm during a “change” election.
Jason Koblovsky is a freelance political and policy analyst, and syndicated political blogger commenting on Ontario, Canadian and US Politics. He is also a senior writer and contributor to Mind Bending Politics. If you would like to have your Op-Ed featured on Mind Bending Politics, send submissions to jkobopoli at rogers dot com
(Monia Mazigh Human Rights Advocate and Author Best Known For Her Advocacy of Her Husband Maher Arar Responds to Omar Khadr Settlement)
Mind Bending Politics sat down with Monia Mazigh this week to discuss the Omar Khadr settlement and her thoughts on the future of human rights in Canada. Before that interview we wanted to recap what has taken place over a very polarized week in Canadian politics.
This past week we’ve seen a very polarized political atmosphere regarding the Trudeau government’s settlement of $10.5 million to ex-Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr. The settlement comes as the highest court in the land (The Supreme Court of Canada) landed 3 court decisions in Khardr’s favor stating over the past decade that his rights had been violated. The federal conservatives lead by new leader Andrew Scheer, spearheaded opposition to the settlement, calling it disgusting and a slap in the face to those serving in military and to taxpayers. The Trudeau Government for its part, have been very quiet on the issue, only issuing very brief statements rather than attacking the opposition to this settlement head on.
The lack of response from the Liberals has fueled a lot of anger by misinformed Canadians, and fear used by the conservatives to project far right wing reform party ideologies against our constitutional rights, and to wedge the issue for political gain. We’ve seen this before 5 years ago with the conservatives, most notably from then conservative public safety minister Vic Toews comments that you either let government in on your internet communications, or you side with child pornographers. That sparked intense backlash from Canadians who stood up for their civil rights to #tellviceverything (even from conservatives) which saw the eventual scrapping of the internet snooping legislation, and eventual withdraw from public life by Toews. The same argument is being made by the conservatives again regarding Khadr. If you support Khadr’s settlement, than you side with the terrorists and are against our Canadian armed forces.
The majority of media for its part has been happy to play along, rather than providing proper information and facts surrounding our constitutional rights, how they are enforced, and more importantly question the motives of those who are not putting out factual information towards the general public. There is an excellent article from the National Observer regarding the media’s role in allowing misinformation, false facts, and baited fear to go unanswered. To quote the article:
So many media outlets are telling you what you ought to think. But you deserve thoughtful analysis to make up your own mind on an issue as fraught as this one.
To that end we at Mind Bending Politics thought it would be a great idea to connect with Mazigh and get her thoughts over this past week to what has transpired. Here is that interview in full:
MBP: Ms. Mazigh thank you for taking the time to sit with us today. There has been a lot of talk about the government awarding Omar Khadr $10.5 million over the past week at various media outlets. Can you provide your initial thoughts on the Khadr settlement? Do you think justice has been served?
Mazigh: For years, as a human rights advocate and as someone who went through injustice with my entire family, I closely followed the case of Omar Khadr. I signed petitions for his return, wrote several articles about him, attended rallies and organized event for his lawyer to speak about the case. So when I recently heard that Omar Khadr reached a settlement with the government, I was very pleased and I felt that finally justice has been served for this citizen who has been imprisoned in the infamous Guantanamo prison when he was 15 years old for almost 10 years, who has been abused by Americans officials and by Canadian officials. Omar Khadr was never given the chance to due process. He was basically dehumanized through false claims, and became the target of legal vendetta by the previous Canadian government. He had to pay for the mistakes of his family and used as “scarecrow” for anyone who dares to criticize the war on terror or issue any doubt about its efficiency.
MBP: This issue regarding the Khadr settlement has been very polarizing for Canadians. Why do you think that is, and also do you think a lack of information regarding what rights are afforded to us under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and how they are upheld could also be contributing to that polarizing debate around the settlement?
Mazigh: Unfortunately, this polarization was influenced by political partisanship, by emotional reactivity and by some media outlet with political and social agenda. In some inflamed discussions, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was rarely considered and the facts were totally and deliberately ignored. Actually, rather than real facts, false claims or distorted facts took over and became the norm. We heard things like “Omar Khadr is a convicted terrorist”, “Omar Khadr was brought to court”, and “Omar Khadr killed a paramedic”. For years, those distorted facts were challenged explained around Khadr left some citizens feel cheated or betrayed by the government. Indeed, it is false to say that Omar Khadr is a convicted terrorist. He was brought in front of a military commission that was considered by many experts as “Kangaroo court”. This presumed “conviction” was nothing than a “sham”. People look at the US and think that it is the country of freedom and constitution so how possibly can we have a “sham” there? It is important to remember that Guantanamo is a military prison. In 2002, 779 prisons were flown from Afghanistan to Guantanamo. By 2011, 600 prisoners were released most of them with no charges. Today there are 41 detainees left and many of them are cleared to go home but still imprisoned.
The successive American administrations had hard time to convict these prisoners. There is a flagrant lack of evidence at the first place and a documented use of torture. Also, some people keep repeating “Omar Khadr killed a paramedic”. The sergeant was not acting as a medic when he was at the battlefild. He was tragically killed in the battle and there is no evidence that Omar Khadr killed him.
MBP: You were instrumental in bringing your husbands case forward to the Canadian government, and to us Canadians. I remember following his situation and eventual resolution for some time. Some Conservatives commentators have raised your husband’s payout when speaking on the Khadr settlement as legitimate because your husband was found innocent of any wrong doing, and are arguing that Khadr’s settlement isn’t legitimate because of a conviction by a US military tribunal. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has come out publicly supporting the Khadr settlement stating that “It’s a legal truism that a right without a remedy is no right at all”. I was just wondering if you would be willing to respond to the way the some are using the settlement your husband has received to delegitimize Khadr’s?
Mazigh: Unfortunately, once again, it is a political partisanship war. My husband, Maher Arar, was compensated under Stephen Harper government and the public announcement about the apology and compensation at that time was also demonized by some groups and individuals. My husband was called “ a terrorist” even after the settlement and up to today some people are resentful to his settlement. When, my husband was in a Syrian dungeon some conservative MPs, rose in the House of Commons and denounced the security laxness of Canada and praised the seriousness of the US administration after arresting a “terrorist”, my husband. People tend to forget and turn a blind eye on the stigma ones go through even after the settlement. People look at the dollar figure and forget that it is impossible to find a job when you were once labelled a terrorist, despite your numerous degrees and skills. Money won’t bring back your life, your name or your reputation.
Today, the individuals and groups attacking Omar Khadr, don’t think about his future, his career, his family, his children. It is the least of their worries. They are so angry that he received money, period. And by the way, that 10.5 millions settlement isn’t even exclusively for Omar Khadr. His lawyers are sharing it with him.
MBP: There was a recent poll done by Angus Reid, in which 71% of Canadians surveyed believed that the Trudeau Government did the wrong thing by paying Khadr money and that the courts should have decided whether his detention was illegal. Missing from this poll was anything regarding the actual reason why Khadr was paid out, and that’s the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 3 times that Khadr’s rights were violated. If you were part of a polling agency, what question would you ask to Canadians regarding the Khadr settlement?
Mazigh: The polls are dangerous for our democracy. I am not saying they shouldn’t exist but we can’t govern according to them. The rule of law isn’t a popularity contest. Actually, it can be the total opposite. Courageous governments around the world were always attacked and criticized for controversial decisions. Take issues like: abortion, same-sex marriage…The Supreme Court ruled on these issues and the government had no choice than to accept these decisions. In the case of Omar Khadr, it is the same situation. The Supreme Court ruled three times in his favour and today the Canadian government had no choice than to accept and reach a settlement. This decision will never make everyone happy and comfortable but this is why we live in a democracy. We constantly disagree but the Supreme Court is our ultimate test. Take the example of “banning the Niqab at the citizenship ceremony” in 2015. This political wedge issue was used by politicians to win votes. It literally divided voters across the political spectrum but the court ruled that Ms. Zunera Ishaq, the lady at the centre of the controversy, was allowed to keep her Niqab. Many Canadians disagreed and felt uncomfortable but today it is the past.
MBP: Do you think as a result of the polarized political environment in Canada that our constitutional rights as citizens could be at further risk of being infringed upon in the future? If so, could you explain what can be done to get accurate information regarding our constitutional rights out to Canadians at large, and what you would like to see politicians do to ensure that government respects the rights of all Canadians through successive governments?
Mazigh: I am afraid that this polarization we live through is complex and the result of multiple factors. It is not only a matter of getting the accurate information about our constitutional rights. People are becoming less and less trusting of political elites and more and more ready to accept any information that would reassure them in their beliefs, be it false. This polarized environment is exacerbated by a hard and precarious economic situation for many citizens. The monetary settlement received by Omar Khadr make many Canadians feel uncomfortable because many Canadians are being laid off their jobs, many young people are unemployed or have unpaid internship. So they feel cheated and left out by the government.
When, Canada decided to join the so-called “war on terror”, the politicians narrowed it down to a “national security” issue but in reality it is far beyond that. The so-called “war on terror” eroded our civil liberties and rights. They made us accept things like “it is OK to spy on us”, “it is OK to use torture to gain useful information”, “a terrorist doesn’t deserve due process”. On the other hand, people don’t see the increase in the military budget, the billion of dollars to buy military equipment and join wars and the cuts in the social services and in education. We need to have a public discussion on these issues but unfortunately; we are made to feel that we should join on side or the other. In reality, we will never enjoy security if we don’t accept that we have international obligations and rules to respect and that our population need to see the full picture and not just one citizen receiving 10.5 million dollars as if he won a lottery ticket.
MBP: What do you see as the greatest challenge to civil and human rights, now and in the future and Canada?
Mazigh: The greatest challenge to civil and human rights is fear. We think that this happen elsewhere and not in our backward. But it is a slippery slop. When people are afraid of losing their jobs, losing their identity, losing their comfort, losing their kids, they become irrational and they can accept fake news and they can even welcome totalitarianism. Civil and human rights were instituted after the Second World War after the humanity experienced the worst. After 9/11, some politicians are trying to play the fear card again. Guantanamo was justified through fear and a need for security. Military courts were justified by fear.
In Canada, we shipped citizens to torture and deprived them for their rights because we were afraid of them, of their beliefs and we collectively presumed they were dangerous to our security. Security became an illusion being sold by some politicians to obtain more votes. Meanwhile, our social programs are being cut and defunded, our economy still rely on non-renewable energy, the economical inequalities are increasing and the politicians are not offering any serious plans to tackle them.
MBP: What do you see as recent steps forward in advancing civil and human rights in Canada? What would you like to see happen, both nationally in Canada and internationally to advance civil and human rights?
Mazigh: Canada must live up to its international reputation. For centuries, Canada has let down its indigenous people. It is time to build new relationships based on respect and equality. We can’t have human rights for some, it is a recipe for social uprising. Last year, Canada announced its intent to finally ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture after ignoring it for years; I hope this matter would be expedited. This way, cases like Omar Khadr would be less likely to happen in the future. In Canada, we need to have more accountability when it comes to issues like policing and national security. There were new announcements by the federal government that are very promising but we have to remain vigilant as abuses are not only committed by individuals but also by institutions. Internationally, we should partner with other countries to advance human rights in other place of the world. We can’t be happy of what we are achieving in Canada, we live in a globalized word and abuses in other part of the world would eventually affect us. So we have to help alleviate oppression overseas and make our global impact as “lighter” as possible.