Right groups call on Bangladesh not to force Rohingya return to Myanmar during pandemic

By Saifullah Muhammad

Toronto – While well-established public healthcare systems in countries of the Global North are struggling to manage the volume of COVID-19 patients, as well as its secondary effects on all facets of society, countries of the Global South have additional unique considerations that impact how they cope, especially those that host large numbers of refugees and asylum-seekers.

Since the late 1970s, policies of genocide and ethnic cleansing by Myanmar’s forces has resulted in five separate waves of mass exodus by the country’s Rohingya minority. Over time, the international community–including Canada and the United Nations–has been outspoken about not forcing these Rohingya survivors of genocide back into the same conditions they fled.

Many of these Rohingya migrants fled to nearby Bangladesh, prompting the country’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to put forward a 3-point proposal regarding the crisis. These proposals address the root of the problem faced by the Rohingya in Myanmar and point to issues that must be resolved before any repatriation process can begin. First, she proposed ending discriminatory laws against the Rohingya, along with the reinstatement of full citizenship for them. Secondly, Myanmar needs to prove that the Rohingya will not face the same violent persecution if they return to their homeland. That means (for starters) the establishment of an internationally protected safe-zone. In the same vein, all Rohingya concentration camps must be closed and all Rohingya who haven’t left Myanmar must be allowed to return to their homes. Finally, there must be accountability for the crimes committed, as impunity can only lead to more violence.

People understand the immense pressure Bangladesh faces as the host of approximately 1 million Rohingya genocide survivors. The international community needs to continue to support Bangladesh, so she does not bear this immense burden alone. Real, tangible solutions are needed to make sure that a sixth exodus of the Rohingya out of Myanmar–their ancestral homeland–doesn’t happen.  Moreover, such measures must be instilled to prevent the worst outcome of all: the completion of the Rohingya genocide by Myanmar’s forces.

“We cannot send genocide survivors back under the control of the same regime that is persecuting them,” said Ahmed Ramadan, Executive Director of Burma Task Force.

“There are over 100,000 Rohingya still living in concentration camps in Myanmar since 2012. How can we force back a group of people that have experienced so much pain and suffering when there are still Rohingya living in these camps inside of Myanmar without any rights or freedom?” Ramadan added.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has agreed to assess the voluntary nature of the possible repatriation of some Rohingya survivors back to Myanmar from Bangladesh. We were advised that the Bangladeshi army has entered Rohingya camps to interview families. This has sparked fear and terror in the refugee camps. Some fled into hiding, while others have attempted suicide.

Canada is on the executive committee of the UNHCR and is their 8th largest donor. Canada needs to use its relationship with Bangladesh and other countries in the region to stop any refoulement until safe conditions are met. Canada needs to act.

“In the absence of adequate measures ensuring the life, liberty, security and dignity of Rohingya people, forcing them to return to the concentration camps in Myanmar would expose Bangladesh to significant liability and may make complicit to the crimes of Myanmar regime,” said Washim Ahmed, the spokesperson of Canadian Rohingya Development Initiative.

“Bangladeshi authorities must keep in mind that unlike Myanmar, Bangladesh is a signatory to Rome Statute, which makes it subject to the ICC’s jurisdiction. Bangladesh must not haste and should try to solve the problem instead of pushing the Rohingyas back to an ongoing genocide zone.”

The author is a freelance journalist based in Canada and completing his Master’s degree in Peace and Conflict at the University of Waterloo. He can be reached at



Canada A land of opportunity

By Saifullah Muhammad,

For those few lucky Rohingya, gaining resettlement in Canada has opened up a future of possibilities and excellent opportunities to start a new life. The more than 300 Rohingya refugees who call Waterloo Region home are thankful for the chance to get a good education for their kids, a better life for all of them and the opportunity to have a voice for their community facing genocide in the Arakan State of Myanmar.

The first generation of this community is learning English, finding jobs and enjoying the dividends of a peaceful and stable country. Their children are doing even better, going to universities and getting their first professional jobs. They are succeeding.

However, all of them carry horrible memories with them. One such refugee is Nurul Haque, 19, from the Maungdaw Township of the Rakhine State of Myanmar. He can finally relax now that he is in Canada, after being sponsored by Jim Estill of Guelph on Dec. 21, 2018.

Haque, 19, a handsome young man with shiny black eyes, said he didn’t know what to expect from his resettlement interview with an officer from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) office in Malaysia in May 2018.

“When I found out in Malaysia that I was accepted to come to Canada, my happiness filled my body with energy,” Haque said.

Eight weeks after arriving in Canada, in an interview at Forest Heights Collegiate Institute, the high school he attends in Kitchener, he paid tribute to the Canadian government and his sponsor Jim Estill, who sponsored more than 50 Syrian refugee families two years ago.

“It is a humanitarian crisis. I did not want to grow old and say I stood by and did nothing,” Estill said. “One of the phrases I repeat all the time is ‘Do the right thing.’

“It is actually how we try to run Danby Appliances. So, I am simply trying to ‘Do the right thing.’ I want to help bring refugees to safety in Canada faster, and settle as many people as possible with the amount of money and resources that I have available.”

Since 2015, Estill has sponsored 89 refugee families consisting of 300 people. He is the president and CEO of home appliance manufacturer Danby Protoducts Ltd.

Haque knows he is fortunate compared to the thousands of other refugees who live in Myanmar and Bangladesh refugee camps. In fact, his parents are still languishing there.

His family fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh in 2012, shortly after sectarian violence against Rohingya by the Rakhine mob and Myanmar armed forces. Two months after his family arrived in Bangladesh, a friend of his father’s called to tell him that he could go to Malaysia and no payment should be made in advance.

“Before the violence in 2012, our life was perfect. My father was a farmer, but we had farmland to cultivate and a beautiful house to live in. I was studying. Life was flexible. Then the violence began. Within a few months, everything changed, and we had to leave the country,” Haque said.

UNHCR reported new spontaneous settlements sprouted overnight, raising concerns over the lack of adequate shelter, water and sanitation, access to basic services and general protection considerations such as safety for women and girls. The Kutupalong refugee settlement in Bangladesh has grown to become the largest of its kind in the world, with more than 600,000 people living in an area of just 13 square kilometres, stretching infrastructure and services to their limits.

The Bangladesh government has responded generously throughout the latest crisis. Local Bangladeshi villages have also taken in new arrivals. They spared no effort to help, straining their already limited resources.

The humanitarian response in Bangladesh remains focused on meeting the massive humanitarian needs and on mitigating the impact of the seasonal monsoon rains. However, additional international support is urgently needed to step up the assistance from purely humanitarian and day-to-day support towards addressing medium-term challenges, including resilience, education, registration and programs to protect the most vulnerable refugees – including children, women and persons with special needs.

Haque arrived in Thailand at the end of January 2016 after 10 days of being squeezed into a fishing boat. Then the traffickers called his parents and demanded $2,000. His parents were refugees and didn’t have money to rescue Haque.

“My parents begged for money from many people. Fortunately, some of my relatives in Malaysia helped me, paying $2,000, and managed to rescue my life after a week.

“As soon as I arrived in Malaysia I took a job in a condo as a landscaper to help pay my living costs and debt I took from my relatives. Life was just about manageable until I was diagnosed with an unknown disease in my throat,” Haque said.

Treatment was expensive, so he applied to the UNHCR office to pay for his surgery. When it became clear that more complex surgery was going to be necessary, UNHCR added him to its resettlement process. He qualified because of his urgent medical problem and because he was particularly vulnerable as he was without family in Malaysia.

Haque misses his home in Myanmar and parents in Bangladesh. “I have many remembrances – studying at my village school, playing with friends, always with my family, the food my mom cooked. Leaving everything … it is a bad feeling when there is no family members and you don’t get anything you wish for,” Haque said.

On Dec. 21, 2018, he first tasted Canada’s extreme winter when he arrived at the Muslim Society of Guelph to pray. When Friday afternoon prayers finished, he exclaimed he felt “pleased” because he is in a safe country.

Haque was with his Pakistani friend Mohammed Faisal who helped him create a TD Bank account while they both were living in a hotel. The two men were from different countries, and they met while flying together to settle in Guelph. They didn’t know the same gentleman sponsored them through the Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) program.

Under the SAH program, the Canadian government and the private sponsor cover initial costs for essentials such as food, furniture and clothing, as well as a monthly living allowance. This assistance lasts for one year after which it is expected the refugees will find a job.

Haque was happy to meet with fellow community members when the Muslim Society of Guelph introduced him to Ahmed Ullah, Farid Ullah and Mohammed Rafique.

“I was so glad to meet the first Rohingya in Canada. I didn’t know there were Rohingya living in Canada,” Haque said.

Since the conflict in Myanmar began, around 2.5 million people have been displaced by the Myanmar government because of their different religion, ethnicity and language. Bangladesh is now home to almost 1.3 million Rohingya refugees while another 1.2 million have gone to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Europe, Canada and other countries. Under a UNHCR-backed government resettlement scheme, Canada has resettled about 300 Rohingya since 2006. Most of them are in Waterloo Region.

Farid Ullah sits bound in layers of clothing under his black hoody and blue hat. A decade ago he was a small refugee boy who was sponsored by the Government of Canada along with his parents and five siblings.

Ullah’s family was among 13 Rohingya refugees – all genocide survivors from the Arakan State of Myanmar – the first batch that Canada accepted for resettlement under the UNHCR procedure from camps in Cox’s Bazar at the southern tip of Bangladesh.

“We lived in limbo for 17 years in the Kutupalong and Nayapara Refugee camps in Bangladesh. Our families struggled to survive facing limited access to food, water, shelter, health care and education.

“When we arrived in Kitchener on Dec. 14, 2006, with hope to settle into a new home, culture and environment, we didn’t believe that we were in a country where there was no more persecution and hardship in life,” Ullah said.

Ullah’s parents, along with 260,000 others, fled to Bangladesh in 1991 to escape the slow-burning genocide by Myanmar forces because of their different religious practice and ethnicity.

“I am not too worried about these new Rohingya refugees,” said Ahmed Ullah, a community activist from the Canadian Rohingya Development Initiative (CRDI). “They will do very well because they are very motivated, and our community is super helpful and always ready to respond.”

CRDI is a registered not-for-profit organization established by members of the Rohingya community in Canada. CRDI works with leaders from communities both local and abroad, humanitarian organizations and governments to bring awareness of the cause and to advocate for the Rohingya people in Canada and overseas. The organization promotes education, health care and humanitarian aid alongside durable solutions for refugee crises, including a recent plan to help privately sponsor and settle hundreds of Rohingyas in Canada.

“We are thankful to Canada and we are thankful to Waterloo Region,” Ullah said. “It is a city of peace and harmony. The people here are nice and helpful. Teachers and all social workers are superb. We can help more than a few hundred or a few thousand Rohingya a year.

“We are now working closely with the government and local agencies to empower the Rohingya youth and give them a better understanding of Canada and its rule of law so they can one day contribute to the local community and stay away from any kind of crime or illegal activities,” Ullah said.

Jaivet Ealom 22, a Rohingya youth currently studying political science and economy at the University of Toronto, has been continuously supporting the organization and newcomers within his capacity.

Ealom is the only Rohingya student accepted at the Toronto university after arriving as a landed immigrant in December 2017.

He was raised in the Maungdaw Township of Rakhine State in Myanmar and partly in Yangon, the former capital city of Myanmar. He said life in Myanmar was difficult because he had to change his identity for school and lived a life always in fear because he was Rohingya.

“Being able to make it all the way to Canada is like a dream come true,” Ealom said.

“Being able to get refugee status in Canada still feels unreal. Although the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) promptly scheduled me a refugee hearing with the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) in about four months from my arrival date, IRB cancelled it along with hundreds of other applicants.

“It took me about nine months to get my hearing. However, this is an exception and not the case for others,” Ealom said.

Ealom struggled to find a job without legal documents. He had a hard time paying for accommodation and nothing was sure about his future studies.

Ealom said adjusting to life in Canada was not a comfortable experience with tons of barriers and challenges. The university didn’t accept his ID cards as legal documents even though he was accepted,

and getting medical treatment was a bigger problem without legal documents. It was especially hard for him during the first few months.

“I was lucky to have some community supports in the Kitchener area. Otherwise, it could have taken even longer for me to adjust to a new life here.

“But the best assistance I received was from people I never knew. Most of the Canadians were friendly and helpful when asked.

“There isn’t a distinct culture, at least not a visible one. It is more like a melting pot. At least that’s the case for Toronto.”

Ealom hopes his studies will give him a better understanding of the politics and economy of Myanmar and how they function and how the Myanmar government survives the heavy sanctions imposed by the international community.

“Knowing that the economy is the pillar of a country’s stability, I hope the understanding of it will assist me in the future to serve the Rohingya community and their prosperity through our organization,” Ealom said.

Mohammed Rafiq, 24, a member of CRDI and a former refugee from Myanmar, helps new arrivals. He was a genocide survivor who left his home to escape persecution of the Myanmar government.

“I have no idea how I am here today. I never dreamt I will be in a place where I can say I have a country and I am a Canadian. I understand what the differences between Myanmar and Canada is,” said Rafiq, who is from the Buthidaung Township.

He agrees his fellow Rohingya have shown a remarkable degree of adaptation, especially considering they are in a country, with a culture and a language barrier and they are from diverse backgrounds.

In a Nov. 19, 2015 article, The Globe and Mail reported Rafiq’s story, along with those of five friends who also resettled in Canada under the resettlement process.

According to the story, in 2013 129 young men including Rafiq tried their luck on a long and dangerous boat journey to Malaysia.

The men, all Rohingya fleeing state repression in Myanmar, were at the limit of their endurance. They lay listlessly in the open boat as the sun sapped their will. Some drank sea water, some chewed shards of wood from the deck to remind themselves what it was like to feel food in their mouths.

The small fishing vessel, its engine disabled, rolled aimlessly with the waves. Rafiq prayed. Maybe tomorrow they would be saved, he thought.

After 38 days at sea they were finally spotted by Sri Lankan fishermen, who radioed for help.

According to the article and an image published in the Globe and Mail after their rescue that day in February 2013, Rafiq and the other survivors lay on the deck of a Sri Lankan navy ship, their skin stretched tight across their faces, cheeks hollow, ribs sharply defined. Of the approximately 129 men who began the journey, 97 perished and only 32 remained.

A group of six Rohingya refugees including Rafiq were resettled in Canada on Nov. 21, 2014, through the government sponsorship program. Their stories of fear, escape and survival are a shocking illustration of the tyranny the Rohingya face and the risks they are prepared to take for a chance at a better life.

“I am privileged enough to be in Canada,” Rafiq said with a broad smile. “We are free here and can go anywhere we want. We can go to school and learn English.”

He also said that’s entirely different from his life growing up as a Rohingya in Myanmar. He shows a white card called a National Verification Card (NVC) with his photo on top and some text in Burmese identifying him.

The government of Myanmar’s issued ID says he is a Bangladeshi even though he was born in Myanmar. The citizenship of the Rohingya was barred by the former military government in 1982 who introduced a so-called 1982 citizenship law.

“It was a really horrific life in Myanmar and hard to survive,” Rafiq said, adding he can’t even begin to describe how bad it was. “The Myanmar government targeted young Rohingya and educated people. They wanted to make us illiterate and leave the country on our own.”

Before he fled, Rafiq ran a small grocery store in his village. However, the taxes and bribes he had to pay were burdensome, so he decided to sell the store and leave the country for a better life.

“When we were going to bed, every night we hoped to see the next morning because every night military entered the village, raped women, killed the young people and took away our belongings.

“We sometimes slept in the jungle to avoid trouble, and then we decided to leave the country with my two other friends,” Rafiq said.

He didn’t even say goodbye to his mother, who is now languishing in a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar.

In The Globe and Mail article, Rafiq said when he was rescued in Sri Lanka, he was initially kept in jail before being moved to a United Nations-supported camp. It was there that he was selected to come to Canada, along with five other men who had made a similarly perilous journey before being plucked from the sea. However, the other five were from another boat.

Mansoor Alom was one of the six men who was fortunate enough to be selected for Canada. The Thai navy had captured Alom’s ship as it tried to enter Thailand and then dragged it back out to sea without enough oil and fuel according to The Globe and Mail.

His captain tried to navigate back into Thai waters, but the navy repelled them by firing over their heads. After two weeks of drifting, they spotted a large fishing vessel. Despite weeks of starvation, he was able to swim to the larger container and pull himself up by the anchor rope that hung from the side. The startled fishermen chased Alom away with knives, forcing him back into the water, but soon saw the condition of those aboard the migrant vessel and radioed the Sri Lankan navy for help.

Rafiq and Alom didn’t know each other before they fled Myanmar but now consider themselves brothers, living together in an apartment until the Canadian government sponsored Alom’s wife and two children from India on an emergency basis.

In a bright apartment in a modest 1950s building in a quiet corner of downtown Kitchener, Alom and his wife were teasing each other. “This is how I see Canada,” said Senewara Begum, Alom’s 25-year-old wife. “Children come from school, I cook and feed them and at last, the man who is in front of me comes and eats and sleeps!” They both laugh.

“In Myanmar our life was simple,” Alom said. “We were going to work, my wife was making dinner, and we spent time with family or friends until we noticed the horrific violence against our people in June 2012.

“I had many dreams. We were saving up to build a big house – a place to raise a child. You know, stuff that everyone wants,” Alom said.

“Our house was right in the middle of the village and very close to a military camp. One day the armed forces shot and killed one of our neighbours, just because he refused to give the military a goat.”

Alom wants his daughter, Noor Taaz, 10, to be a doctor and his son, Mohammed Omar, 8, to be an engineer.

“Now being in Canada, our dream is to educate our children and grow healthy families and maybe one day our children will contribute to Canada which has given us a new life.”


Editorial: Does Canada treat international students fairly?

By Saifullah Muhammad,

Every year, the country – and the community of Kitchener-Waterloo – benefit from the arrival of thousands of international students from around the world.

For the most part the relationship is mutually beneficial. Canadian educational institutions benefit financially and culturally from international students coming to study here, and many students also get the academic and cross-cultural experience they have left home for.

However, the price of getting a Canadian education for some students can be more costly than many of them expect.

Given the immense benefit these students – and future contributors to the labour market – bring, more should be done to help support them while they are here and in their quest to find work in Canada.

According to the University of Waterloo Facebook page, there are more than 62,000 new students this fall going to the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga College.

According to Anita Couto, the manager of international strategic enrolment at Conestoga College, 7,000 international students are studying this fall across all Conestoga campuses in a variety of programs, both full-time and part-time.

Canada, too, has welcomed a huge international student population this year.

New data from the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) shows the number of international students in Canada reached a total of 494,525 by the end of 2017 in all levels of study. This represents a 17 per cent increase over the previous year, and a 34 per cent increase between 2014 and 2017.

Many of these students have come from China, India and South Korea.

International students contribute approximately $15.5 billion to Canada’s economy, which supports 170,000 Canadian jobs.

In return, some international students say they could benefit from additional resources and support.

In a recent story on Spoke News, two international students who attend Conestoga College spoke about the unique challenges they face such as tuition increases, shortages of available housing, timely transportation, scholarships and jobs after graduation.

One student who spoke to the online news site said he was struggling to find housing and felt stretched by the high cost of transit.

International students have access to all the same services as all other students such as counseling and employment services.

But as newcomers, they could benefit from extra support when it comes to housing, transportation and the opportunity to work during and after their studies.

Upon completion of their studies, many go on to obtain post-graduate work permits, which allow them to apply their education in the Canadian labour market.

A growing number of international students intend to apply for permanent residence in Canada and eventually, Canadian citizenship.

They are statistically proven to be among the best candidates for immigration due to their high levels of quality education which is recognized by Canadian companies, and their experience working and living in Canada – which speeds up the integration process.

But oftentimes, students are unclear of their options post-graduation.

Thus, more could also be done to build awareness amongst international students about Canada’s immigration pathways and inform students about cost-effective settlement supports to facilitate their integration process after their studies. Without additional supports, Canada could risk losing both the students and its reputation abroad.


VIDEO: Waterloo Region honours victims of New Zealand mosque shooting

By Saifullah Muhammad, Spoke News

Hundreds of residents and a number of organizations from across Waterloo Region gathered at Kitchener City Hall on Friday for a vigil in honour of the victims who were killed and injured at two New Zealand mosques.

The Coalition of Muslim Women organized the event, which began at 6 p.m. Members from all three levels of government, as well as members of different faith communities, addressed the gathering.

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Video: D8 wins the KDSL Indoor Men’s League championship

By Saifullah Muhammad,

Source: Spoke News

After a competitive season, the D8 soccer club became the 2019 Indoor Men’s League champions of the Kitchener and District Soccer League (KDSL) on Tuesday night.

The KDSL has been in operation since 1975. Historically, the league has operated with a first or premier division and a second division.

Most teams are located within or around Kitchener, Ont., as well as other nearby cities, such as Stratford, Cambridge, Guelph and other smaller towns from the area.

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Audio: Scores of recent immigrants attend Global Skills Conference

By Saifullah Muhammad,

More than 150 internationally trained professionals and other immigrants participated in the 11th annual Global Skills Conference in Kitchener on March 6, where employers from across Waterloo Region provided information and were looking for skilled workers.

The theme of the conference this year was “Making Connections.”

The conference was an opportunity for participants to grow in confidence in networking with employers and to learn about businesses in Waterloo Region.

The conference was held at the Kitchener Crowne Plaza hotel.

For more information and job opportunities, visit Canada Immigration Partnership website.

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OPINION: Is global population decline a real problem?

By Saifullah Muhammad,

For years we have been told by scientific elites and United Nations reports that a growing planetary population will soon overwhelm the earth’s resources. As the population grows, more and more lands are allocated for urbanization, taking up resources that could be used for agriculture. On top of this, the wastes and pollution resulting from human activity speed up the degradation and deterioration of resources.

The Global Footprint Network estimates that the current population requires resources equivalent to that of over 1.6 Earths. Moreover, the UN projects that our population may balloon to upwards of 8.5 billion by 2030.

However, a growing number of demographers are sounding a different kind of alarm. They argue the global population is headed for a steep decline.

Canadian social scientist Darrell Bricker and journalist John Ibbitson, the authors of Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline, make the provocative argument that, in roughly three decades, the global population will begin to decline, dramatically reshaping the social, political, and economic landscape. Once that decline begins, it will never end.

Amidst warnings of overpopulation, such a trend might seem like a good thing, especially for the environment. However, they argue that declining population will also lead to massive economic upheaval, with fewer people available each year to buy houses and cars and baby strollers, and fewer taxpayers available to support the health-care needs of an aging population.

For most of history, population decline has been the result of catastrophe — environmental events, famine or disease. Now, however, fertility rates are falling for a different reason: people are choosing to have fewer children.

Bricker and Ibbitson argue that the planet faces not a population bomb, but a population bust.

“We polled 26 countries asking women how many kids they want and, no matter where you go, the answer tends to be around two,” Ibbitson said in a new interview with Wired. “The external forces that used to dictate people having bigger families are disappearing everywhere. Also, that is happening fastest in developing countries.”

They also address that a smaller global population will bring with it many benefits: fewer workers will command higher wages, the environment will improve, the risk of famine will wane and falling birthrates in the developing world will bring greater affluence and autonomy for women.

However, enormous disruption lies ahead, too.

“We can already see the effects in Europe and parts of Asia, as aging populations and worker shortages weaken the economy and impose crippling demands on health care and social security, they explained. “The United States and Canada are well-positioned to navigate these coming demographic shifts successfully – that is, unless growing isolationism leads us to close ourselves off, just as openness becomes more critical to our survival than ever,”

Bricker and Ibbitson also assert that, to combat depopulation, nations must embrace both values, though the first is difficult and the second, for some, may prove impossible.

On the other hand, Harvard University Graduate School of Design research professor Richard Forman and professor of sustainability science at Arizona State University Jianguo Wu wrote a call for global and regional urban planning approaches. They say that existing communities are built in the wrong places; that those places should have been allocated for nature and agriculture. Most settlements began on good agricultural soil near a body of fresh water and natural vegetation, they wrote in Nature.

Regardless of which side people take on the issue — whether we are headed for overpopulation of Earth or a declining population that will produce its own upheavals — more research and consultation will be needed in the years to come. The future of the planet will depend on it.

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Video: Commemoration marks second anniversary of Quebec shooting

By Saifullah Muhammad,

This week marked the second anniversary of the horrific attack on the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec (CCIQ). The Coalition of Muslim Women K-W and people from diverse communities honoured the memory of the six Muslim men brutally murdered and 19 others injured on Jan. 29, 2017, when a gunman entered the mosque and opened fire on worshipers after evening prayers.

Source: Spoke News

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Local environmental groups call on citizens to speak up against Bill 66

By Saifullah Muhammad,

Ontario Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe challenged hundreds of concerned residences in Kitchener to speak up about the climate crisis and to protect their children and their future.

“Climate change is here now — and it is going to get worse,” Saxe said at an event on Jan. 15 titled, “Steward of Our Future: Protecting What We Love” at the Kitchener city hall. The event was organized by Divest Waterloo, in partnership with Faith and the Common Good, the Centre for Public Ethics at Martin Luther University College, and the Grand River Environmental Network (GREN).

There has been a lot of controversies recently regarding Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s proposed Bill 66, also called An Act to Restore Ontario’s Competitiveness, which includes a proposal to close the office of Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO).

This office was created by an all-party committee in 1994 as an independent office to hold ministries accountable for their decisions that affect the environment.

If the bill is passed in its present form, it will amend several of Ontario’s workplace laws, including legislation put in place to protect Ontario’s waters and green spaces.

“Cancellation of green programs hurt 752 clean energy contracts. We need an international lawsuit because we do not own our laws…. Ripping up energy contracts significantly impacts many Indigenous communities in Ontario. We are also actively subsidizing fossil fuel use,” said Saxe.

“This is about defending what we love. You do not have to be in a faith community to see that,” said Lucy Cummings, executive director of Faith and the Common Good.

Kevin Thomason, vice-chair of GREN, asked the audience to play a role in creating a safer environment and talk to local and provincial officials about the bill and how it could affect them.

“We need to stand up and come together now.

Local municipalities that have passed a resolution opposing the Bill 66 are the City of Cambridge, the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, the City of Kitchener, the Township of Wellesley and Wilmot Township. Two more municipalities — the Township of Woolwich and the Township of North Dumfries — must still deal with the issue.

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Foreign affairs minister underlines importance of journalism to democracy

By Saifullah Muhammad,

OTTAWA — Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told a conference here yesterday that the protection of journalists and the functions they perform are key to the proper function of civil society.

A free media, Freeland said, is critical to holding politicians to account.

“Democracy is about a much broader set of institutions, including a vibrant and vocal civil society and very much including journalists,” she said. “I am absolutely convinced, not only by the theory but by lived experience, that knowing that we have to face the questions of journalists — that we’re not going to be allowed as politicians, as a government, to grade our own work — it keeps us honest.”

Freeland made the comments to an audience of community-based representatives, media, government officials and diplomats on Wednesday at the National Arts Centre, where she moderated a panel discussion.

The event was hosted by office of Human Rights, Freedom, and Inclusion (OHRFI), in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The gathering came just one day after Time magazine named a group of journalists who have been targeted for their work as Person of the Year. They included the slain Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince who was killed two months ago at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Besides Khashoggi, Time’s honorees include the staff of the Capital Gazette newspapers in Maryland, where five people were shot dead in June; Maria Ressa, the founder of Rappler, a news start-up under attack by the authoritarian president of the Philippines; and U Wa Lone and U Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters journalists imprisoned in Myanmar after reporting the massacre of Rohingya people.

At least 52 journalists were killed globally this year, according to Rachel Pulfer, one of the four panelists, and executive director of Journalists for Human Rights.

“The press is the custodian of the social contract between state and society. Increasing attacks on journalist force society to ask a critical question,” Pulfer told the crowd.

Freeland was also joined by Brendan de Caires, executive director for PEN Canada, Raheel Raza, the president of Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, and Rachel Vincent, the director of advocacy and media for Nobel Women’s Initiative. All four panelists focused on freedom of expression and the protection of journalists.