Monday, January 31, 2011

As Belhassen Trabelsi Makes His Refugee Claim, One of His Tunisian-Canadian Victims Seeks RCMP Protection, "la rage au coeur"

Thousands of Tunisians demonstrating in Montreal on January 15, 2011.

The Canadian government has not yet honoured the Tunisian government's request to extradite for trial Belhassen Trabelsi, oldest brother of ex-President Zine Abidine Ben Ali's wife Leila, and the mafia-like clan's chief embezzler of the Tunisian people. The Canadian government did find a legal way to revoke his permanent residency status, obtained as an entrepreneur/investor in Canada in the 1990's as Trabelsi did not spend sufficient time actually living in Canada. Trabelsi, no doubt on the advice of an immigration lawyer, immediately applied for refugee status seeking political asylum, as someone who would be persecuted in Tunisia if he were to return. As he would no doubt be tried for crimes carrying the death penalty in Tunisia, and Canada doesn't extradite when there is the risk of the death penalty, there is a good chance that Trabelsi will remain in Canada while he goes through the refugee process. During that time he will be able to work and will receive social benefits for his family, eg. public education and health care. He would not be the first wealthy refugee to leave money outside the country and seem to be living (rather high) on welfare, if he were to go that route to protect assets and his refugee claim.

The refugee process can be very, very long. Even if Trabelsi's claim were expedited, there are numerous routes for appeal. Some refugees spend decades, with an immigration lawyer helping them to appeal, and to  stay until the law changes and they can find new grounds for a claim, all the while building their "settled in Canada", "responsible citizen" bona fides to improve the case for staying. Some have children born here, and argue the need to stay with their Canadian children. The refugee system is an important one to protect the truly persecuted and displaced, but can be abused by people like Trabelsi and others, many much smaller fry looking for economic opportunities. The abuses are a problem when they allow criminal elements into the country, and to the extent they delay, undermine, and taint legitimate claimants.

Hammadi Kammoun is one such legitimate claimant. A Tunisian who was persecuted by the Trabelsi clan, he lives in trepidation of their settling in his adoptive city of Montreal. His story, recounted below in English and (in greater detail) in French, gives insight into the Ben Ali-Trabelsi regime in Tunisia, and into the challenges for legitimate refugee claimants, even those who are successful, and their families.

--Photo Cristiine Muschi for the Globe and Mail
Hammadi Kammoun and his wife Leila M'rad, 
emigrated from Tunisia after he was imprisoned for running afoul of the ruling clan.

The long shadow of Tunisia’s corrupt regime
Montreal— From Friday's Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Jan. 28, 2011 2:58AM EST
Last updated Friday, Jan. 28, 2011 8:34AM EST

Long settled in Montreal, Hammadi Kammoun is a long way from the horror he suffered in Tunis, but he still can’t shake the family who inflicted it.

Billionaire businessman Belhassen Trabelsi, the clan’s eldest brother, landed in Montreal with his own wife and children last week and is living in a posh lakeside hotel a few kilometres from Mr. Kammoun’s home. The extended Trabelsi clan has a $2.5-million home in Westmount, perched high above the office building where Mr. Kammoun, once a well-off Tunisian civil servant, now works as a security guard.

At one time a senior bureaucrat in Tunisia’s post office and a member of the ruling party, Mr. Kammoun also had a family line that plied the Mediterranean for tuna and swordfish over centuries. He decided in 1994 to buy a tuna boat for $200,000, partly as a retirement investment, partly to keep up tradition. He named the fishing vessel the Radhouan, after his youngest son. Three years later, the vessel caught the eye of Tunisia’s tyrannical rulers and would sink his comfortable middle-class life.

While the Trabesli who made Mr. Kammoun’s life miserable, Mourad, is in a Tunis jail awaiting a corruption trial, Mr. Kammoun says he will not feel safe as long as even one Trabelsi is free in Canada. Western diplomats have described Belhassen as a notorious figure running a mafia-like organization. Mr. Kammoun couldn’t agree more, and has asked the RCMP for protection. His wife, Leila, has stopped sleeping at night.

“They tortured and robbed me, and they’re here overnight. It took me six years to convince Canada to let me stay as a refugee,” says Mr. Kammoun, who has been cheering nightly accounts of the Tunisian uprising. “We’re very happy here, but there isn’t a member of this family who doesn’t have scars, and it only begins with me.”

Long before Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was driven from power earlier this month, Mr. Kammoun knew the wrath of the rapacious siblings of the president’s wife, Leila Trabelsi. Reports on members of Tunisia’s ruling clan are filled with descriptions of large-scale greed. They’ve become famous for living with caged lions, travelling with stacks of gold bars, and funnelling billions in state assets into their personal fortunes, while dominating entire economic sectors such as banking, telecommunications and concrete.

Mr. Kammoun was on the wrong side of the kleptocracy, his odyssey captured in detail in a 64-page brief filed with the Immigration and Refugee board. The IRB accepted his refugee claim based on the evidence in 2006.

The harassment, arrest and torture of the would-be fisherman started when Mourad Trabelsi, who held a small stake in the boat, decided he wanted it to himself.

Unwittingly, Mr. Kammoun had stumbled into something the Tunisia’s ruling families valued more than a loyal public servant – the perfect small ship to add to a fleet used for smuggling drugs and other illicit goods along the Mediterranean coast.

About three years after the purchase, Mr. Kammoun says he got a call from Mourad Trabelsi, one of 10 brothers of Tunisia’s then first lady, demanding he turn the boat over for use in the family smuggling operation. When Mr. Kammoun refused, he says Mr. Trabelsi then demanded the deed.

A few weeks after Mr. Kammoun balked, he was arrested and spent 18 days in prison. For eight of those days, he was starved, deprived of water, beaten and left for hours hanging upside down. He eventually signed the slip handing over the boat.

After Mr. Kammoun was released, he spent the late 1990s pleading with various contacts in the despotic family to get his investment back. In 1999, after he wrote two letters to the president’s wife, friends high in the government instead warned Mr. Kammoun his days were numbered.

He cashed in a few favours to slip out of the country with his three children in 2000. Siblings who remained behind were constantly harassed throughout the decade, Mr. Kammoun says. His mother died of a heart attack in 2003, and he blames the torment for her stress and bad health.

He now lives in Laval, a suburb north of Montreal, and works downtown sitting at a desk monitoring security cameras through the evening. It’s mind-numbing work, he says.

Jamel Jani, a Tunisian community activist in Montreal who helped Mr. Kammoun with his immigration hearings, said few outside of Tunisia realize the scope of the ruling family’s reach.

The president’s wife has 10 brothers who all have families to feed. “They started out poor, they were simple people before they married into the presidency, and they’ve been determined to pillage at all levels, from simple shopkeepers to entire industries,” Mr. Jami said. “Mr. Kammoun’s story is typical, and most people find it hard to believe. If the owner of a big company can’t resist, what chance does a small businessman have?”

The smaller scale corrupt acts that have shattered people like Mr. Kammoun are less well-known.

“They miss nothing, they leave nothing behind,” said Mr. Kammoun as he prepared for a shift sitting in front of those monitors, far from his beloved ship. “As they say in English, anything that moved was theirs.”

Mr. Kammoun is living all the euphoria and fear of Tunisia’s revolution on his quiet crescent in Laval. He was uplifted by the uprising that drove the dictator out and was terrified earlier this week to learn the Trabelsi patriarch, Belhassen, had landed in Montreal.

The family is now torn over the prospect of return. Mr. Kammoun would like to go back once things settle down. His wife and children are less certain.

His eldest son, Rami Kammoun, has a good job, a wife, a new baby and a house in Montreal. Returning to Tunisia doesn’t interest him.

“I guess I’ve moved on,” Rami says. But he acknowledges his father has not, and probably never will.

“How do you get over something like that? I just don’t think it’s possible.”

Over the years, Hammadi Kammoun has managed to keep track of his boat through family and the fishermen’s grapevine. Last he heard, the boat was working the waters off Libya. It is now owned by one of the sons of Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi.


Hammadi Kammoun travaille aujourd'hui comme gardien de sécurité. 
Sa femme, Leïla M'Rad, est quant à elle préposée aux bénéficiaires dans une résidence pour personnes âgées. 
Photo: Martin Chamberland, La Presse

Publié le 29 janvier 2011 à 00h00 | Mis à jour le 29 janvier 2011 à 00h00
La rage au coeur
Agnès Gruda, La Presse

Il y a 15 ans, Hammadi Kammoun menait une vie tranquille à Tunis avec sa femme et leurs trois enfants. Directeur du principal bureau de poste de la capitale, il ne manquait de rien. Il venait même d'acheter un bateau de pêche en prévision de sa retraite. Les photos de l'époque montrent une famille bourgeoise, tirée à quatre épingles et fixant l'objectif d'un air confiant.

Mais, pour son plus grand malheur, le thonier de plus de 1 million de dollars a attiré l'attention de Mourad Trabelsi, un des nombreux beaux-frères du président Ben Ali, qui a régné sur la Tunisie pendant près d'un quart de siècle et qui a été chassé du pouvoir il y a deux semaines.

Pour prendre possession du bateau qu'il convoitait, Mourad Trabelsi a brisé la vie de Hammadi Kammoun. Et il a forcé toute la famille à l'exil.

Rencontré à Laval, où il s'est installé il y a 10 ans, Hammadi Kammoun a repris le fil de son cauchemar.

Tout a commencé le jour où le beau-frère du président déchu l'a entraîné contre son gré dans une association commerciale pour l'exploitation du thonier. «Mon dossier bancaire avait mystérieusement disparu, je n'avais pas le choix», raconte-t-il. C'est ainsi qu'il a dû céder 10% du bateau à Mourad Trabelsi.

Mais ce dernier voulait davantage. Il voulait le thonier en entier. Devant le refus de Hammadi Kammoun, il l'a fait jeter en prison, où il a été torturé pendant huit jours. Battu, humilié, dévêtu, privé d'eau au point de perdre la voix, il refusait de céder son bateau. «Ils m'ont tout fait», dit-il, les larmes aux yeux. Mais le pire, c'est quand ses tortionnaires l'ont menacé de violer sa femme et sa fille. «J'ai eu peur pour elles, pas pour moi.»

Relâché au bout de 13 jours sans avoir signé l'acte de vente, Hammadi Kammoun n'en avait pas fini avec la famille Trabelsi. Les menaces se sont multipliées. Il pense avoir échappé à des tentatives de meurtre sur la route. Un jour, sa fille et un de ses deux fils ont failli se faire kidnapper par des hommes qui ont surgi d'une voiture gouvernementale.

Sa vie était devenue impossible. Il a fini par comprendre le message. Un jour de l'an 2000, les Kammoun et leurs enfants ont tout laissé derrière eux, y compris le thonier qui est finalement tombé entre les mains du beau-frère du président. Hammadi Kammoun croit que celui-ci s'en est servi pour le trafic de stupéfiants.

En escale à Paris, les Kammoun étaient terrorisés: ils avaient peur de tomber sur des agents du régime. En atterrissant à Montréal, ils ont demandé l'asile politique au Canada.

Ce fut le début d'un nouveau cauchemar. La Commission de l'immigration et du statut de réfugié a rejeté leur demande. «Ils ne nous ont pas crus, et ils ont dit que la famille de la femme du président était très bien», s'indigne Hammadi Kammoun. Pendant six ans, les Kammoun ont utilisé tous les recours possibles pour rester au Canada. Puis, un ultime «examen des risques avant renvoi» a fini, contre tout espoir, par tourner à leur avantage. C'était en juin 2006. Trois semaines avant la date prévue de leur expulsion.

Un Trabelsi à Montréal

Tous ces mauvais souvenirs sont revenus à la mémoire de Hammadi Kammoun, cette semaine, quand il a su qu'un des frères de l'homme qui avait détruit sa vie avait fui la Tunisie pour se réfugier à Montréal.

Et pas n'importe quel frère: Belhassen Trabelsi est l'aîné de cette famille qui s'est approprié la Tunisie sous le règne du président déchu. C'est aussi le chef d'un clan que des diplomates étrangers ont décrit comme une véritable mafia qui monopolisait près de la moitié de l'économie tunisienne.

«Belhassen Trabelsi est le bras armé du clan Trabelsi. Son rôle était considérable dans les opérations de corruption, de menaces et de mise au pas de l'économie tunisienne pour le clan», a dit Nicolas Beau, l'auteur d'un livre sur Leïla Trabelsi, la femme du président en fuite, à ma collègue Laura-Julie Perreault.

Hammadi Kammoun a sa manière de résumer les choses: «Belhassen Trabelsi, c'était le parrain, il est la tête de la famille et il avait le feu vert de la femme du président.»

L'homme de 61 ans travaille aujourd'hui comme gardien de sécurité dans un immeuble du centre-ville. Sa femme, Leïla M'Rad, est préposée aux bénéficiaires dans une résidence pour personnes âgées. La famille Trabelsi, elle, est milliardaire et possède à Westmount un château de 2,5 millions.

Depuis que son chemin a croisé celui des Trabelsi, Hammadi Kammoun vit dans la peur. Et cette peur a resurgi du passé, à l'annonce de l'arrivée de Belhassen à Montréal.

Mais, surtout, il n'en revient pas de voir que le chef de la famille qui lui a causé tant de malheur puisse demander aujourd'hui l'asile politique au Canada. Lui, le vrai réfugié, a vu sa demande rejetée et a dû se battre pendant six ans pour pouvoir finalement rester au Canada. Et Belhassen Trabelsi, avec tous ces crimes sur la conscience, pourrait attendre tranquillement que son dossier soit jugé à Montréal au lieu d'être renvoyé illico dans son pays pour faire face à la justice?

«J'ai la rage au coeur, dit sa femme, Leïla M'Rad. Cet homme a fait beaucoup de mal aux gens. Ce n'est pas correct qu'il reste ici. Il doit être expulsé rapidement en Tunisie. Il doit rendre l'argent qu'il a volé.»

Mais les choses ne sont pas aussi simples. Avant même que le Canada ne révoque son statut de résident permanent, décision qu'il conteste devant les tribunaux, Belhassen Trabelsi n'a pas pris de risque et a réclamé l'asile politique au Canada.

S'il l'estime coupable de crimes graves, le ministère de l'Immigration peut décider de ne pas remettre sa demande à la Commission de l'immigration et du statut de réfugié. Mais l'aîné des Trabelsi peut contester cette décision. Il faudra alors attendre qu'un tribunal tranche.

La Commission elle-même a la possibilité de traiter la demande en priorité, ce qui éviterait de longs délais. Mais là encore, si sa demande d'asile était rejetée, Belhassen Trabelsi pourrait contester cette décision.

Faute d'un traité d'extradition avec la Tunisie, le Canada ne pourrait-il pas poursuivre le «parrain» tunisien devant ses propres tribunaux? Oui, s'il avait commis des crimes contre l'humanité. Mais la juridiction universelle ne s'applique pas aux crimes de droit commun...

Le gouvernement n'a pas beaucoup de prise pour renvoyer Belhassen Trabelsi en deux temps, trois mouvements. Et pour la famille Kammoun, qui s'est battue pendant des années pour pouvoir rester au Canada, ce n'est ni plus ni moins qu'une aberration.


Your thoughts, comments, impressions?
Vos réflexions, commentaires, impressions?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Princesses Rule!

Above is a partial guide, for those of us who need a Disney Princess review. Below, is a moment of truth! Which Princess are you? Or, if you are a Prince, which Princess is your beloved?

* ARIES (Jasmine) willful, feisty, independent

* TAURUS (Belle) creative, loyal, dependable

* GEMINI (Alice) curious, childlike, talkative

* CANCER (Cinderella) cautious, nurturing, empathetic

* LEO (Charlotte) provocative, demanding, flamboyant

* VIRGO (Tiana) realistic, knowledgeable, modest

* LIBRA (Mulan) intellectual, easygoing, indecisive

* SCORPIO (Pocahontas) intense, secretive, passionate

* SAGITTARIUS (Rapunzel) adventurous, spirited, happy

* CAPRICORN (Aurora) respectful, devoted, classy

* AQUARIUS (Ariel) idealistic, rebellious, open minded

* PISCES (Snow White) dreamy, compassionate, kind

(Source: thedisneyprincess, via cityofglamour)

♥ N & that's enough (lighta)
A New Chapter of Life (delicateone)
Thanks to The Eternal Philosopher (on Tumblr) (Duha, aka, Princess Tiana)

I am Princess Charlotte! Amazingly, Charlotte is a nickname the hub had for me at the beginning of our relationship. Hmmmm...

 Princess Charlotte from The Princess and the Frog

The Princesses Charlotte and Tiana from The Princess and the Frog

Off with the deconstructor's head! Here are some other Princesses Charlotte:

Queen Charlotte (the former Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz)
Queen Consort of King George III of the United Kingdom
holding her daughter Charlotte, the Princess Royal
Perhaps, if Queen Charlotte had been Queen Regnant rather than Queen Consort,

those pesky colonies would have stayed in line

Princess Charlotte of Prussia, later Empress Alexandra of Russia

Princess Charlotte of Belgium, later Empress of Mexico

Princess Charlotte Casiraghi of Monaco
(granddaughter of Princess Grace, daughter of Princess Caroline)

So, which Princess are you/ is your beloved?
We must be amused!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Belhassen Trabelsi & Family In Quebec: Canada Revokes Permanent Residency Status; Staying on as Refugee Claimants

Canada has confirmed that last week it was Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's brother-in-law, Belhassen Trabelsi, who arrived in Montreal last week with his wife, 4 children, and their nanny--and not his son-in-law, Mohamed Sakhr El Materi and family as some thought. Trabelsi was the leader of the banking, communications and transport sectors of the Tunisian economy which he exploited on behalf of the Ben Ali-Trabelsi clan. Allegedly he has billions of dollars in assets outside of Tunisia. All family assets in France and Switzerland have been frozen by Tunisia with the cooperation of those countries.

After arriving by private jet to a Montreal airport, the Belhassen Trabelsi family took up residence in a nearby luxury hotel, the Chateau Vaudreuil. As the family had permanent residency status, they went through customs and immigration with no problems, and looked to be staying for a long time.

Photograph by: Rogerio Barbosa, AFP/Getty Images
The Chateau Vaudreuil Suites Hotel, where it is believed the Trabelsi is staying, is pictured outside Montreal city in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Quebec, Canada. [The family were staying there until this afternoon when they left for an undisclosed location within the country]

However, the Canadian Tunisian community has been calling for freezing assets, arrest, and extradition to Tunisia. There was great chagrin that the family's permanent residency status, and Canada's inaction were combining to give the family a potential safe haven with great freedom of speech, including political speech, in Canada.

Canada has now revoked the family's permanent residency status, obtained through major business investor category in the 1990's, seemingly using the legal provision that the family had not resided sufficient time in Canada to maintain that status, instead living all or almost all that time in Tunisia.

In response the family have applied for refugee status, requesting political asylum. This, combined with the fact that they were once deemed acceptable immigrants to Canada, could see them reside in Canada for the duration of a long process of legal manoeuvres and appeals. Once a refugee claim has been made, a refugee has the rights to reside and work in Canada and to receive social supports.

Photograph by: John Mahoney, Montreal Gazette
A Sûreté du Québec patrol car parked outside the Chateau Vaudreuil hotel in Vaudreuil, west of Montreal. The police were there to monitor any protest activity by local Tunisians upset at the rumoured presence of relatives of the ousted president of Tunisia. There had been a protest Wednesday evening by approximately 60 local Tunisians.

The Tunisian ambassador in Ottawa has called on the government of Canada to freeze the family assets, and the Tunisian community has called for Trabelsi to be arrested and extradited to Tunisia for trial. The Canadian government has stated that it will freeze assets after due international process, and consider extradition under international aegis. Neither of these processes has been completed so far.

As events in Tunisia move to further inculpate the Ben Ali-Trabelsi clan, to reject their political supporters, and contain their personal militia, the international case against them grows stronger. However, the US and other former Western supporters of the regime seem to wish to see similar persons in power, and the political structure remain essentially intact. This will perhaps make extradition from Canada less likely, in particular as Canada has no extradition treaty with Tunisia, and does not extradite when there is the risk of the death penalty, as exists for crimes against the state in Tunisia.

Photograph by: Rogerio Barbosa, AFP/Getty Images
Thousands of Tunisians from Montreal, came to rally in the downtown streets of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. More than a thousand people rally to the embassy of Tunisia in Montreal, through the streets in downtown Montreal in solidarity with protesters in Tunisia and to protest the violent riots in their home country. Canada expressed regret Saturday over the loss of life as a result of unrest in Tunisia but welcomed elections in the near future, its foreign minister said. Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon issued the statement after President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country in the face of mounting protests against his 23-year rule.

The Canadian front of the Tunisian "Jasmine Revolution" is moving more slowly than events in Tunisia, but it is evolving. The question remains of how long it will take Quebec's Liberal government, and Canada's Conservative one to act in concert and switch their former allegiances to the new demands of Tunisians.

Your comments, thoughts, impressions?

Related Posts:
Tunisia's "Jasmine Revolution": One Month of Popular Uprising; President Ben Ali Flees to Saudi Arabia
Les Ben Ali-Trabelsi Chez Nous! Ben Ali's Relatives Arrive in Canada as Permanent Residents: The Tunisian Community Calls for Freezing Their Assets

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What to do when the teacher is the bully? An International Challenge

Recently, the following video of a Jordanian school teacher traumatizing a child went viral:

Tweets, blog posts, and comments have been written in response to this, most expressing horror. One of the first to post was Brass Crescent Award winner Naseem Tarawnah of Black Iris. In his post, Naseem summarized that the child is a first-grader in a Jordanian public school in the capital city of Amman. He is being tormented for not being able to write a number, and pleading for help from the teacher and the person filming. The video was confirmed to be true, Queen Rania tweeted that she was investigating; and the Ministry of Education was involved. Dr Khaled Karaki, the Minister of Education, apologized personally to the boy, and confirmed that this teacher and others guilty of such acts would be punished accordingly. A committee has been struck to investigate this incident and make specific and broad recommendations to the Ministry. At least one other blogger expressed horror at the vilification and threats to a teacher who was doing much the same as others, in a system that supports it.

I would have to agree that the video shows frightening behaviour by the teacher; but also, that, while there are individual teachers who are inappropriate, there are pedagogical styles passed on from one generation to the next, supported by the system, and the training or lack of it that teachers may receive in a given setting. Teaching is a psychologically demanding profession with a high burnout rate, and teachers require ongoing professional development, and support to perform at their best, both pedagogically and psychologically. It is up to ministries of education, teacher training and licensing institutions, schools, principals, other teachers, and parent associations to provide that framework.

All though all of these are ostensibly in place in Canada, last weekend I learned that one of my nephew's 11-year-old teammates had been traumatized by his Canadian teacher to the point that he has attended school one (partial) day since this happened before the Christmas break (thus missing about 4 weeks of school days), and had not played any hockey games either, as he was too ill.

Indeed, he was physically ill enough to require 2 visits to a pediatric hospital for assessment and bowel disempaction, will have follow-up with a specialist in pediatric gastro-enterology to rule out a highly unlikely underlying medical cause for this new onset of bowel problems; and, his family doctor is recommending treatment with Prozac (fluoxetine) for "anxiety".

This boy is the usually laid back, well behaved middle child of an early childhood educator mother, and an equally laid back father who is also a volunteer coach for his hockey team. "Coach" uses positive reinforcement and never yells, either as a parent and as a coach. I can testify to this in the coaching setting, despite true provocation by some of the "dipsy doodlers" on the team. His wife had discussed his personality and parenting style with me long ago, partly to explain why he didn't yell the normal amount, and partly to spread the word to the team that the yelling assistant coach had been "spoken to", after one kid refused to go back on the ice.

Mom also told me that her middle boy is well-behaved, helpful, and a solid B student, unlike his overachieving hyper older sister. He is a good hockey player, not a star. He is well-liked on the team, and has friends at school.

So what happened to this usually fine child that he is now a physical wreck, can't go to school or participate in his usual activities, and is up for consideration for an anti-depressant/anxiolytic?

Before Christmas, he was in his class which is in a portable classroom, essentially a temporary structure, like a big hut, near the actual school building that is used when there is insufficient space in the main building to accommodate all the classes that must be composed based on the number of children in a grade and Ministry of Education guidelines on maximum student to teacher ratios (~25-30:1). Many of the children in that class like one specific seat, which they knocked over in their haste to be the one to occupy it. The seat fell under a table, and the boy went underneath to get it, and set it straight.

The teacher came upon this, and shouted at him, "What are you doing?"; then without waiting for him to reply, ordered him to "Get out!" which he did--outside of the portable, in the -20C temperatures, without stopping to get coat, boots, hat, or mitts. According to an experienced teacher, this indicates that the teacher has done this before, and the children know exactly what she means by "Get out!", and to go stand outside the portable and not to stop for apparel.

The teacher continued with her class, until the other children kept asking her to bring him back in, and insisted until she did--20 minutes later. She must have come to her senses, because she was long gone from the school when the parents went to pick him up at the end of the day, and got the full story. An hour and a half after being let into the classroom, the boy's feet were still cold and reddened. He hasn't been back to school for a full day since. The one day he tried to attend, his stomach hurt too badly, and his mother had to pick him up after a brief stay.

The day after the incident, the mother met with the principal and the teacher. The teacher claimed she meant for him to get out from under the table, and didn't notice he had left the portable. The principal said it wouldn't happen again. The mother threatened to report all and sundry if she heard of any similar incident happening to any child in the school, and informed them truthfully that she had a VIPs number on speed dial, as she knows that person through her work demands. More recently, she met with the school youth worker to put a plan in place to help her son go back to school and feel safe there.

Our conversation started with her asking me about the gastro-enterological issues, and continued with her asking me what I thought of Prozac for children. While I paused to compose a professional answer, she told me of the family doctor's recommendation, and I just said "No". She said, "Thank you", for confirming her impression.

In total my contributions to the mother's concerns about the situation and its consequences were:
-what the teacher did was a chargeable offense, and the police could have been called
-the teacher was probably frightened that a justifiably angry father would lose his temper, badly
-such a clear psychological trigger for new symptoms argues for a psychological cause for very real physical symptoms
-it is still important to do a thorough investigation for underlying physical causes or problems which might have been triggered by the psychological trauma
-the timing of his anxiety/stomach pain is important: between 4pm and 8pm he is ok (no threat of school), then his stomach starts hurting (anticipation before bedtime about school the next day), he sleeps ok, then the worst pain is in the morning before school time (fear that he has to go to school, and prevents him from going)
-the whole point of child psychiatry is to not prescribe medication except in very rare instances or where there is a very clear indication, eg., for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
-family practitioners love Prozac because it is easy to prescribe, they can't mess it up too badly, and it is relatively safe in an overdose
-an 11-year-old can be taught to administer his own suppositories
-the parents need to find ways to get the boy back to school, as the longer he is off the more the anxiety about going back increases and the more difficult it is to overcome
-the more time he spends at school without incident, the easier it will become to return full time
-I recounted the story to an experienced teacher who made further recommendations and sent them to the mother by email.

The most salient aspects of the experienced teacher's input was to assess that the teacher must have done this before, for the children to know the drill so well; and, to strongly urge the mother to report the teacher and the incident to the provincial licensing/ professional oversight institution for teaching certification. This institution could more effectively deal with disciplining the teacher and making her too frightened to repeat the action, as opposed to the principal or more local officials who don't have that authority, and must have an ongoing working relationship with the teacher.

To put this further in context, Canadian schools have very strict anti-bullying measures in place about students bullying other students. Canadian teachers are not allowed to physically touch students, and especially not to do so in a negative way, whether that be pushing, hitting, poking, etc. Physical disciplining of children is rare if not forbidden. The strap on the hands was a method used in the past, but had to be done by the principal in the privacy of the office, but with another witness present that it was not excessive in numbers of hits or force.

*The post was amended on January 27, 2010 to include further material about the Jordanian video, originally intended to be part of the post.

What is your impression of the video of the Jordanian teacher?
What is your impression of the story I recounted about the Canadian teacher?
What other incidences of the teacher being the bully are known to you?
What do you think appropriate parental recourse should be in the above situations or others about which you are aware?
What structures are in place for appropriately disciplining teachers in countries where you live/ have lived?
Were you ever the target of a teacher's bullying? What did you do? What did your parents do? What was the outcome?
If you are a teacher, what is your professional perspective on this topic?
Other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Les Ben Ali-Trabelsi Chez Nous! Ben Ali's Relatives Arrive in Canada as Permanent Residents: The Tunisian Community Calls for Freezing Their Assets

The home owned by Ben Ali's son-in-law, Mohamed Sakhr El Materi (husband of Nesrine Ben Ali), a businessman and former Deputy of Tunisia, bought for $2,550,000, 2 years ago (July 2, 2008).
At the beginning of January, 2011, El Materi ordered renovations worth $80,000. Prior to Ben Ali being ousted, it was rumoured that other family members had arrived in Canada, including this son-in-law who did come from Paris for 24hrs. His wife Nesrine, who is pregnant, is in Paris still--maybe. Their daughter was born in Canada two years ago--which gives her Canadian citizenship by birth, and the right after age 18 to sponsor others for immigration.
The home is in Westmount, Montreal--the traditional neighbourhood of Quebec privilege and power, where the current Premier of Quebec, Jean Charest, also lives.

Today, it was confirmed that 5-10 members (or "a couple" according to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney) of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's family arrived in Canada, by private jet at an airport in Montreal, on Thursday, January 20, 2011. These family members, including his brother-in-law, the infamously corrupt and reviled Belhassen Trabelsi, had no problems with entry into the country as they were already "permanent residents".

Permanent resident status in Canada conveys all the privileges of citizenship--including all social benefits (health care, education, scholarships, grants, welfare), the right to work anywhere in the country at any job for which they are qualified, and the right to enter and exit the country freely, as well as live abroad for extended periods. Permanent residents cannot vote, hold certain high security clearance positions, or be outside of the country for more than 3 years in 5. They may lose their permanent resident status if they are convicted of a serious criminal offense and ordered to leave the country. They may apply to be full citizens after 3 years residence in Canada.

The Canadian government has taken measures to prevent those members of Ben Ali`s family who do not have permanent residency from being granted a visa to enter, or to enter as refugees without documentation. The Immigration Minister has stated that it would be difficult for anyone not having the right of return to their own country to be issued a visa, and airports are on the alert for potential arrivals, which would include those involving an attempt to seek asylum.

The second Mrs Ben Ali, Leila Trabelsi, is widely seen as responsible for much of the corruption in Tunisian business affairs, and for diverting much national wealth to her own family. This exposé written by two French journalists was published on October 1, 2009, despite Leila Ben Ali's legal attempts to have its publication blocked in the French courts. She did succeed in having the book banned in Tunisia, until her husband`s last ditch effort to save his presidency gave Tunisians broader internet access. Et voilà! Excerpts (eg here and here), and online copies.

Tunisian Canadians, most of whom are French speaking and based in Quebec, with a large concentration in Quebec's economic capital, Montreal, are very unhappy, to say the least, with the admission to Canada of Ben Ali' s family. Official spokespersons are asking that all the family's Canadian assets be frozen until the results of investigations in Tunisia are complete.

Some think that the family should be sent back to Tunisia to stand trial. In the event of a request for extradition from the Tunisian government, there could be legal reasons for Canada not to extradite based on Canadian and International Human Rights laws. Notably, Canada does not extradite when there is a risk of the death penalty; Tunisia has a death penalty for crimes against the state, among other serious crimes.

In the comments to news articles on the topic, some Tunisian Canadians are clinging to the hope that the family were accepted to Canada, but do not have the separate required acceptance certificate for Quebec, meaning at least they will not have the social benefits paid for by provincial taxes. Quebeckers pay substantially higher taxes than do residents of most other provinces--for substantially better benefits.

Based on my own knowledge and experience, that is a slim hope. If the family applied to immigrate to Quebec, which is the most likely, they had that Quebec acceptance first, before Canada would process their request. If they applied to immigrate to Canada (outside of Quebec), once that immigration was accepted they gained full entitlements in all provinces, including the Province of Quebec. (Some entitlements are federal, some provincial, some shared; of the provinces, only Quebec has its own immigration policy.)

Not that the family needs social benefits; and, as other commentators have speculated, they could provide Canadian coffers with a much needed windfall come tax time at the end of April. However, as Wikileaks informed the world, including Tunisians--who knew, but now had official confirmation that everyone else (including the World Bank) knew--the Ben Ali-Trabelsi clan function more as a Mafia family than as tax-paying citizens. What with Montreal's Mafia wars currently erupting, they should feel right at home.

Related Posts:
Tunisia's "Jasmine Revolution": One Month of Popular Uprising; President Ben Ali Flees to Saudi Arabia

Your comments, thoughts, impressions?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Vive la mixité! Dalida and Lara Fabian--2 Culturally Mixed, Wonderful Singers!

Dalida 1956


French singer Dalida (January 17, 1933-May 3,1987) was born Iolanda Cristina Gigliotti in Shoubra, Cairo, Egypt, where her family lived as part of the longstanding Italian Egyptian community. Her own family's origins were in Calabria, Italy (the toe of the boot)--a southern region, with a population genetically more Middle Eastern and North African than Western European (based on Y-chromosome haplotypes). Like others of the Italian Egyptian community, Dalida attended Italian Catholic schools, and spoke Italian first, then Cairene Egyptian. She learned French as an adult in Paris, and eventually recorded in 10 languages, most often in French, Italian, Arabic, Spanish, and German.

Dalida in 1974, "Paroles Paroles", with Alain Delon

As a singer, a performer, and a composer, Dalida transformed French music, and was one of the first to fuse Western and Eastern music as well as having cross over appeal. Though her initial success was in France, she became an international star, and much loved in Egypt as well as Italy, in particular. The list of her hits and accolades over her 30 year career, and posthumously (the most recent in 2009), is truly impressive.

Dalida, "C'est fini la comédie"

Dalida for Arabophones/ Arabophiles

Dalida, age 20, in 1954, the year she was crowned Miss Egypt, just before she moved to Paris

Singing Desiderio in Italian, in the 1950's Egyptian film 
Sigarah Wa Kas/ سيجارة و كاس/ A Glass And A Cigarette/ Un verre, Une Cigarette

Dalida performs the song she composed, "Helwa Ya Balady" ("Egypt My Beautiful Home Land"), a popular tribute to Egypt, as seen in 2 other videos where it serves as the audio for visuals of the treasures of Egypt and its culture, here and here.

In 1977, on a visit to her original home in Egypt

"Salma ya salama", Dalida's most famous Arabic language song, 
an early fusion hit, recorded in 1978 and based in part on an Egyptian folk song.
Two other major Arabic hits for Dalida were "Gamil el soura", and especially "Akhsan nass".

Lara Fabian

Lara Fabian (born Lara Crokaert, January 9, 1970) began her singing career in Europe, just as Dalida's was coming to an end. Italian is also her first language, as she lived to age 5 in her mother's native Catania, Sicily before the family moved back to her father's country, Belgium, where she had been born.  Lara was raised in Brussels and started her career there, then in European song competitions. In 1988, representing Luxembourg, she lost out to Céline Dion, representing Switzerland, for the 33rd Eurovision Song Contest.

Two years later she toured Quebec, and then immigrated in 1991. Quebec is where her career really took off, before success in France. Since the early 90's, she has had multiple hits in French, Italian, Spanish, and English. Lara Fabian is popular in Latin America and Eastern Europe as well as Western Europe and North America. She is now living in Belgium.

Lara Fabian on her cultural identity(-ies), then singing "Perdere l'amore" in her mother's first language: Italian

Lara Fabian singing "J'y crois encore" in her father's and her primary language: French

Lara Fabian on singing in Italian, and her sensitivity to it as the language of her mother and her grandmother, followed by "Caruso"

In Spanish she is at her best here,

A major hit in French:

"Je t'aime" from the Album "En toute intimité"

A well-received live duet with Italian singer Laura Pausini:

"La Solitudine" ("Loneliness") was Pausini's break out hit; her original version is here with lyrics in Italian and English,
telling about the singer's loneliness for her boyfriend Marco,
whose family have sent him away in an effort to end their relationship

As the ophthalmologists say: "Better 1? or Better 2?"

"Je suis malade", interpreted by Dalida, her most celebrated version;
a different version by Dalida, subtitled in Arabic, is here

"Je suis malade", interpreted by Lara Fabian

"Take your time...better 1? or better 2?"
Your favourite song of any of those above?
Any other favourites by the same singers?
Other comments, thoughts, impressions?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

An Emirati Perspective on Canada-UAE Relations and Their Recent Diplomatic Failure

After completing my own post on the topic, "Canada's UAE Mirage And Defense Minister Peter MacKay: Fly Emirates!", I was pleased today to read this particular Emirati perspective on the recent diplomatic relations failure that occurred between Canada and the UAE over the rights for Emirates Airlines to increase destinations and flights to Canada. The inflexibility of the Canadian government led to the UAE evicting Canadian Forces from their base in the UAE, "Camp Mirage", with one month's notice. Since then, Canadian Forces, which are still in Afghanistan as combat forces until the end of 2011, and will remain there in a training capacity (debatably indistinguishable from combat forces in that sphere of conflict) to 2014, have to go through their Cyprus base.

The opinion piece contains interesting information on the perspectives of both sides, and primarily on the mutual benefit of increased flights leading to increased trade and revenue. I would suggest, however, that the "middle ground approach" be something more along the lines of paired flights (a code sharing agreement), as Air Canada has with other national airlines, so that both companies and countries benefit. The author's idea of a trial period is a good one, but should be accompanied by such a proposal to make it more acceptable to Canadian interests. Then again, maybe Stephen Harper thinks we should forfeit relations for some (self-defeating) reason.

Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi
Meeting the UAE halfway

From Thursday's Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011 5:00AM EST
Last updated Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011 5:54AM EST

Back in August, 2009, I touted the benefits of the close ties between Canada and the United Arab Emirates in the pages of this newspaper. Flash forward to today and things seem quite different. A commercial dispute escalated into a diplomatic incident between both countries in which no one party can emerge victorious. In this globalized world size matters less than it did 50 years ago and the emphasis is now on international co-operation. The issue of landing rights has escalated in neither side’s advantage. The local press has reported that in the two years that the UAE’s ambassador has been stationed in Ottawa he has yet to meet with Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.

Today, 27,000 Canadians call the UAE home along with thousands of UAE residents from various nationalities that contribute to the UAE’s prosperity and have been educated in Canada’s world-class universities.

The UAE has employed the same proactive approach with Canada that it has with other nations with regards to trade and tourism promotion when Etihad and Emirates launched direct flights to Toronto back in 2005 and 2007 respectively. Six years later, no Canadian airline has taken advantage of this growing market.

There also seems to be a misconception in Canada that the UAE is happy to sit on its laurels while the Canadians do all the dirty work in Afghanistan. That is untrue. The UAE’s forces, as the BBC first reported, are “the only Arab soldiers undertaking full-scale operations in Afghanistan” from as far back as 2003. The UAE’s commitment to world peace is no less than Canada’s. And therein lies just one aspect of the common ideals that are shared between both nations, which is why hundreds of injured Canadian troops were given free medical care in the UAE before being airlifted home.

Canadian businesses in the UAE that contribute to the $2-billion two-way trade are represented through two business councils: one in Dubai, established as far back as 1993 with more than 320 members from sectors as diverse as oil and gas, education, food, and construction; and another, registered in 2005 in Abu Dhabi, with more than 200 members from sectors such as banking, hotels, telecoms and security. A visiting Canadian trade delegation indicated last week that exports from Alberta alone to the UAE are valued at $154-million per year.

The UAE, whose economy has quadrupled in the past decade to more than $270-billion is an ideal base for ambitious Canadian firms to expand their businesses into a youthful regional market extending from East Africa to South Asia and the Middle East.

While Dubai, the world’s third largest re-export hub, also happens to be home to DP World, the world’s third-largest global ports operator, managing 50 ports in 31 countries including DP World Vancouver, which has become a “key gateway port for the Trans-Pacific trades between Asia and the Pacific Northwest.”

A positive correlation between increased flights and increased trade exchange has emerged. For instance, since launching the first Emirates flights to New York back in 2004, trade between the United States and the UAE has tripled to $12.7-billion in the 12 months to June, 2010, while the number of flights has increased to twice daily. There is no reason for this success not to be replicated in Canada.

Just last year Emirates Airlines and the British Columbia Transportation Ministry unveiled the results of a study that highlighted the benefits of the proposed increase in flights between both nations. The expected 275,000 annual passengers would contribute over $480-million in direct and indirect income to Canada as well as create thousands of jobs and an increased capacity of 27,000 tons of Canadian cargo export to the Middle East.

A middle-ground approach to this matter can be found. Perhaps the Canadian aviation authorities could consider allowing a trial period of one or two years where the UAE-based carriers are granted the access that they seek. If Canadian jobs are seen to be at risk then this access can be revised.

Ultimately this is an issue where the gain for both sides is greater than the sum of its parts.

Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi is a non-resident fellow of the Dubai School of Government and a columnist for The National in Abu Dhabi. 

Your comments, thoughts, impressions, perspectives?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

UN Ombudsperson for "Terrorists" on The "1267 List"

I was struck by the article copied below, and then more struck that there seems to be very little attention given in the media to the announcement of a UN ombudsperson to whom those who have unfairly been put on the UN's list of terrorists may appeal for "de-listing". There is now a greater hope for those listed following United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267 -- enacted in 1999 to create international sanctions against any individual or group affiliated with either Al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden, or the Taliban--that they may eventually be "de-listed". Not a great hope, because of the observer status only of the ombudsperson--but a greater one.

The impact of being placed on the "1267 list' is crippling, even for those proven innocent, as is the case in the example given below of Sudanese-Canadian Abousfian Abdelrazik. The horrors of how this man was placed on the list with no rationale by the USA, tortured at their request for 2 years in the Sudan, left to rot in a Sudanese jail, even after the Sudanese insisted he was guilty of nothing and should be returned to Canada, are exceeded only by Canada's initial collusion with it all, and then the extraordinary measures taken by the recent Conservative government to leave Abdelrazik there--even defying Canadian Federal and Supreme Court orders.

When the government was finally forced to issue Abdelrazik a new Canadian passport, and his lawyer personally ensured that he was--this time--allowed on a flight home, Abdelrazik returned to the country where he had built his adult life, as a man now imprisoned by the sanctions imposed by being on the UN terrorist list: frozen assets, prevented from work, unable to travel, unable to receive aid from others--internationally.

Like Abdelrazik, others who have not been proven terrorists languish on a list judged by a number of ambassadors to be against international human rights, and also without reasonable recourse, as the de-listing procedure instituted in 2006 has been deemed ineffective, and against international standards of law and justice.

I add my name to those who view the 1267 Committee regime as a denial of basic legal remedies and as untenable under the principles of international human rights. There is nothing in the listing or de-listing procedure that recognizes the principles of natural justice or that provides for basic procedural fairness…. (…) It can hardly be said that the 1267 Committee process meets the requirement of independence and impartiality when, as appears may be the case involving Mr. Abdelrazik, the nation requesting the listing is one of the members of the body that decides whether to list or, equally as important, to de-list a person. The accuser is also the judge. From: Federal Court of Canada, Abdelrazik v. Canada (Foreign Affairs), Russel Zinn, 4 June 2009. Decision as cited in the Wikipedia entry on UN Security Council Resolution 1267

Ironically, or beyond ironically, 5 senior members of the Taliban administration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan were de-listed by the UN sanctions committee, with the support of President Hamid Karzai, on January 27, 2010: U.N. Reconciles itself to Five Members of Mulla Omar’s Cabinet.

Others must apply to the ombudsperson, wait for her to make her semi-annual observation reports to the UN Security Council, and wait for their decision to act on her observations, or not.

Canadian judge hopes to shed light on terrorism blacklist
WASHINGTON— From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Jan. 17, 2011 8:04PM EST
Last updated Monday, Jan. 17, 2011 8:14PM EST

The men deemed the most dangerous in the world – blacklisted by unanimous consent of the world’s biggest powers – now have an advocate of sorts, a diminutive Canadian jurist with a disarming laugh who vows to shine some light on what has been a very dark process.

If Osama bin Laden believes he has been unjustly targeted by the United Nations 1267 al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee, then he should contact Kimberly Prost, the first-ever UN Security Council ombudsperson. She is charged with bringing some fairness, transparency and justice to the terrorism blacklist that has had none, until now.

The 52-year-old Canadian with a track record that includes time as a war-crimes judge and plenty of exposure to the tough, often-murky worlds of international drugs and terrorism trials, is under no illusions. She knows that if the world powers routinely reject her opinions about who is wrongly on the 1267 list, she will be regarded as a fig leaf for an already much-maligned effort that bans anyone deemed to be connected to Mr. bin Laden, al-Qaeda or the Taliban from travelling or working and requires that their assets be seized.

Judge Prost brims with cautious optimism.

“This is the first opportunity for an individual to have an independent third party to look at their cases,” she said in long, wide-ranging interview. “I want to bring as much due process as I can.”

It’s a huge conundrum. From mountain caves and remote compounds, from Saudi prisons to low-rent apartments in Montreal and Hamburg and Jakarta, those who feel they have been smeared are supposed to contact – and then trust – Judge Prost in her mid-town Manhattan office block and seek her help in persuading the world powers that a mistake has been made. “Of course it is not perfect … but it is an enormous step forward,” she said.

Judge Prost will report twice a year, the first time next month.

“I tell them [the Security Council] what I think,” she said with a forthrightness that suggests there will be little room for misunderstanding. The council can then ignore or over-ride her “observations.”

Whether the creation of an ombudsperson passes the test of international credibility and delivers fairness will take months, perhaps years, to determine. Much will depend on how willing Judge Prost is to make public those instances in which the Security Council refuses to delist someone she believes deserves to be removed.

While the al-Qaeda leader seems unlikely to call, there are hundreds of less infamous people on the 1267 list who will seek Judge Prost’s intervention.

Abousfian Abdelrazik is among them. He’s the Canadian kept in forced exile for six years by successive governments in Ottawa, both Liberal and Conservative. They used the 1267 listing as an excuse to deny him a passport and refused to allow him to return to his home in Canada.

Mr. Abdelrazik is now back in Montreal after a Canadian federal judge ordered his repatriation and blasted government ministers for riding roughshod over his constitutional rights. Never charged with any crime, Mr. Abdelrazik remains in a twilight zone imposed by Ottawa and the UN blacklist. He can’t work, he can’t travel and his assets, including his dead wife’s estate, have been seized by Ottawa. This is all because some unnamed country added him to the 1267 list and despite being cleared by Canadian security agencies.

Until now, getting “delisted” – to use the UN’s jargon – was almost impossible. Even dead men (there are no women) were kept on the blacklist. Getting on was easy. Any one of the 15 Security Council states can nominate anyone (not just their own citizens) to the list. Getting off required the unanimous consent of the entire Security Council and, even UN insiders acknowledge, there as a certain amount of insider collusion. “You keep my dissident on the list and I won’t back delisting the guy that arouses your suspicions” was – and perhaps remains – the norm. Creating an ombudsperson was widely seen as a response to cases in Canada, Britain and the European Union, denouncing the 1267 process as woefully unjust.

Judge Prost has no illusions about the scope of her task. Those on the blacklist are almost all Muslims, many of them fugitives. They have little reason to trust the Security Council or the United States, the biggest contributor to the list, which is named for the number of the resolution that created it in 1999.

“I appreciate the devastating effects that being on the 1267 list” has on individuals, Judge Prost said. But, she added: The list is “a preventative measure used to cut off the capacity of terrorist groups to carry out terrorist attacks” and therefore “the standards are very different from those used in criminal offences.”

Canada, then holding one of the 10, two-year terms on the council, was a co-sponsor of the resolution creating the blacklist.

The list reflected a shift in sanctions philosophy, from broad measures imposed on states and which affected whole populations to an attempt to target the “bad guys.”

The strategy continues, with sanctions focused not just on terrorists and those who support them but – in the case of Iran for instance – on key figures involved in Tehran’s nuclear project.

But, as Judge Prost acknowledged, “when a country or even a political regime is subject to sanctions [by the Security Council], they have a political recourse, but for an individual, they don’t have any form of redress.”

Her role is to provide some.

Already, six people (including Mr. Abdelrazik, although Judge Prost won’t confirm that) have filed petitions for delisting.

“This is the first time someone has actually talked to me about this, first time someone has looked at my case,” Judge Prost quoted one of the listed individuals as telling her, a stark illustration of the arbitrariness that turned many people into unconvicted prisoners for years.

Globe Video: Living on a UN terror blacklist--Abousfian Abdelrazik explains what it’s like to live on the UN terrorist blacklist and describes the freedom for which he yearns


From the Amnesty International petition for Abdelrazik's release, after he was detained in 2003 at the request of the USA with information provided by Canada's CSIS, during a visit to his mother in the Sudan

Released by the Sudanese, living in the Canadian embassy as Canada refuses travel documents and to allow him to board a flight home From: "Bring Abdelrazik Home"

Abdelrazik arrives back in Canada after 6 years in the Sudan. From: "Abdelrazik 'very glad to come back home'"

Abusoufian Abdelrazik embraces his 6-year-old son, Kouteyba, at his Montreal home on Sept. 22, 2009. From: "Abousfian Abdelrazik Lives in a Prison without Walls".  Abdelrazik is suing the Government of Canada for $24 million CDN; and Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon for $3 million for professional malfeasance; he is petitioning again to have his name removed from the "1267 list".

Your comments, thoughts, impressions?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service: A National USA Holiday with International Resonance

Before today, I had noted that Martin Luther King, Jr Day was marked on my international calendar, and had been preceded by a number of related films on television, notably Spike Lee's Malcolm X. Though at odds for most of their civil rights careers, at the end of their careers, prior to the assassination of Malcolm X, he and King had reconciled. Most notably, both were adopting a more international and broader social agenda, seeing the civil rights movement as concerned with oppression and poverty everywhere. This was reflected in the actions and writings of both men.

It was only at the end of the day, and in preparation for this post, that I reviewed the formalities of, and ideas behind, Martin Luther King, Jr Day. In doing so, I was reminder of some things I had known, and learned some new ones. Other aspects were revived from a vague memory to a new conceptualization, given recent events in the US (the Tucson Arizona shooting), Tunisia (the ongoing struggle for social justice and a representative government), and now the return of Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier to Haiti.

Duvalier was exiled in 1986, following a popular revolt in 1985 against this scion of a corrupt, repressive dynasty begun by his father, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier. "Papa Doc" and "Baby Doc" were brutal, corrupt dictators supported by the US, as bringing "stability", and a "violence free period" in the history of Haiti--seeming thus to overlook the horrors perpetrated by the family's private militia, nicknamed the Tonton Macoute.

The name Tonton Macoute in Creole translates to Uncle Gunnysack, and is a name from Haitian mythology about a boogeyman who kidnapped and disappeared children at night. The Duvaliers' Tonton Macoutes would disappear opponents and social progressives at night, or sometimes in the day.

The Haitian popular revolt of 1985 was such that in 1986 US President Ronald Reagan urged "Baby Doc" to leave. France allowed him in, without granting him official asylum. He has supporters there, and has tried to return unsuccessfully, to stand for the presidency since.

However, the Tonton Macoutes stayed in Haiti as insurgents in the countryside, and are no doubt among those welcoming "Baby Doc" back, as he proclaims his desire to help his earthquake ravaged country. A certain faction of the populace surveys the chaos, shambles, and lack of effective aid, and wishes for a strong leader who can get things done, or as one said, "There is bad in everything, but since him we haven't had a real leader".

Human Rights groups are hoping to prosecute Duvalier, and that doing so will kick start the elective process which has been stymied by inconclusive results and accusations of corruption. Others suggest that the US and France have combined forces to put "Baby Doc" back in power as an "elected" strong leader that they can support. Another value of their ahistorical perspective is that they can ignore "Papa Doc" was "elected", and also had their support.

Indeed, there is need for civil rights movements and leadership in a number of places internationally, as well as a recommitment to the same in the USA. One of the things I learned anew, in reviewing about Martin Luther King, Jr Day, was how resistant certain states were to enacting the Day which was signed into legislation as a federal holiday by Ronald Reagan in 1983. Not until the year 2000 was it enacted in all 50 states, and even then reluctantly in some as a "Civil Rights Day" or in combination with commemoration of leaders of the Confederacy.

That former states of the Confederacy should be reluctant makes sense, and they were also the toughest opponents of Civil Rights. More surprising was the recalcitrance of Arizona--at least to me. After reading about it, I remembered that the campaigns against John McCain mentioned his opposition to the Day, and reversal of that opposition, helping the holiday to be signed into state law in 1992. Still, I realized that in the last couple of years I have become more aware of Arizona as a bastion of conservatism, and, with it, racism against African Americans and Hispanic Americans. Before that, Arizona primarily registered in my mind as an asthmatic sufferer's retirement destination. The recent elections have relegated that image to the background.

One aspect of Martin Luther King, Jr Day that was newer to me is its combination with a Civic Action Day to honour King in deeds as well as words.

Good morning. Thank you. Please be seated. It was such a beautiful and, for August, a cool summer day, we thought we ought to move to the Rose Garden today and give us all a chance to enjoy this wonderful beauty.


The King Holiday and Service Act of 1994 in this bill combines for the very first time our national holiday in honor of Dr. King with a national day of service. Nothing could be more appropriate, for it was Dr. King who said everyone can be great because everyone can serve. I always think of the great line he said, that if a person was a street sweeper, he ought to sweep the streets as if he were Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel and try to be the best one in the whole world. That is what I think all of us ought to be about doing.

Dr. King taught us that our faith can redeem us, that the sacrifices of individuals can sustain us, that moral courage can guide us. He dedicated himself to what was in his time and what remains the most difficult challenge we face as a democratic people: closing the great gap between our words and our deeds.

Now we are attempting in this bill and in this administration to accept this challenge for those who are still barred from the American dream and for those who worry that their children will have less of it than they had. We're doing our best here to give Government back to ordinary citizens, with an administration that is really more like America than any ever has been, not only in terms of its racial and gender diversity but also in its commitment to excellence, with 4 million new jobs, 20 million young people eligible for reduced college loans, 15 million working families getting tax cuts, and 3 years of reduction in our deficit for the first time since Mr. Truman was the President.


But we know and we learn here every day that laws alone cannot restore the American family, cannot give individuals the sense of selfworth and purpose, cannot make the American community what it ought to be. It takes the miracle that begins with personal choices and personal actions and that cuts through the fog of cynicism and negativism that grips every American from time to time and has often gripped this country too much.

Giving every citizen at the grassroots a chance to make a difference in his or her own life is a big part of what our efforts are all about. This law helps us to do that by linking the observance of Dr. King's birthday to a day of national service, an extraordinary idea and a timely one because just next month we will launch AmeriCorps in full-blown initiative, with 20,000 young people serving their communities at the grassroots level and earning some credit to further their education while doing so. Nothing could better serve the legacy of Dr. King. He was apathy's sworn enemy and action's tireless champion.


With today's action we can broaden that effort. We can give many more an opportunity to make a difference, to respond to the needs of their communities, whether through tutoring children or housing the homeless, improving parks or keeping our people safer. As Senator Wofford has said in what I think is one of his best statements, "The King holiday should be a day on, not a day off."

Dr. King's time with us was too brief. But his vision was so great, his moral purpose was so strong that he made us believe that we could be better than we are and that someday we would be able to walk hand in hand together into a brighter tomorrow.

He said, and I quote, "Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. Life's most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?"

Today we can say with some pride we have given all Americans a better chance to work together and to help others. This celebration of Dr. King will now be a celebration of his vision of community, his vision of service. And his life proves that it will work for all Americans and for our country.

Thank you very much.


Totally new to me, was the idea that there was any commemoration of the day in Canada whatsoever. After all, we never had many slaves; slavery became illegal by a British Act of Parliament governing us in 1833; no plantations, no Reconstruction period, no Jim Crow laws, no Civil Rights movement American style. On the contrary, Canada was a destination on the Underground Railroad.

Most slaves in pre-1833 Canada were aboriginal slaves, acquired by Aboriginals in tribal wars. First Nations Peoples and Inuit, while not enslaved, have received ongoing poor treatment from Canadian governments--though better now than in previous times. Still, there is immense room for improvement in education, health, employment, recognition of land rights, and conditions--physical and social--on reservations and among off reservation natives (>70% of the native population).

Toronto is the one place in Canada where Martin Luther King Jr Day is officially recognized. More than 50% of Torontonians are first generation immigrants. Most of those are visible minorities--except in Toronto. Many are political refugees from wars, strife, and oppressive regimes in Africa, the Middle East, South and East Asia. Most are economic immigrants from (the same) Third World countries.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

January 18, 2010

WHEREAS Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy to society is the leadership he provided by his commitment to justice, equality and the elimination of racism through non-violent social change.

Dr. King strengthened the civil rights movement by building upon the actions of grassroots activism which focused on the elimination of barriers faced by people of African descent to achieve an inclusive society that embraced the differences amongst people.

The people of Toronto are in the forefront of efforts to establish a caring and compassionate society based on the elimination of all forms of discrimination and disadvantage and the inherent ability within each of us to recognize that the fundamental strength of our community is our diversity.

The residents of Toronto honour Dr. King's memory each year with a day of remembrance in January, to reaffirm our commitment to the basic principles of human rights, equality and justice.

NOW THEREFORE, I, Mayor David Miller, on behalf of Toronto City Council do hereby proclaim January 18, 2010 as "Martin Luther King Jr. Day" in the City of Toronto.

Mayor David Miller


In keeping with Canadian tradition, I did not particularly recognize Martin Luther King Jr Day (of Service). I did, at the end of the day, watch one of Turner Classic's commemorative film offerings: Glory. This 1989 film is a wonderful tribute to the African Americans who fought to free themselves during the Civil War, to the process of desegregation, and to the achievements of contemporary African Americans who figure prominently among its actors, Civil War experts and re-enactors, and who sing of their glory (the Boys Choir of Harlem features prominently on the soundtrack). It is also a tribute to the American abolitionists, all those who fought, and the white Americans who made the film.

1890 Lithograph--Storming Fort Wagner

While generally acclaimed, including for its historical accuracy, the film has been criticized as presenting the events through the writings and viewpoint of the white commanding officer; and, of presenting the decision to boycott unfair pay as coming from the African American troops themselves, when in fact the white commanding officer, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, was the catalyst. These criticisms seem petty to me in light of the cinematographic value of the film, and its impact in reminding Americans of an important part of their history. Indeed, they seem to cancel each other out.

Shaw's diaries and letters provided one of the best sources for the formation and training of one of the first African American fighting units and their initial battles. Transposing them to film has given many, nationally and internationally, access to this knowledge in memorable form, along with an inspirational reminder of how precious human rights are.

How did you spend Martin Luther King Jr Day (of Service)?
What is the meaning of the day for you?
If you are not American, does King's message, and that of his commemoration resonate with you and the situation in your own country?
Other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?


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