The Syrian Refugee Response

I posted this on Facebook, but it’s long enough that it probably deserves to be here too.

————————————————————

As someone who is actively trying to sponsor Syrian refugees to come to Canada, I have to comment on some of the really discouraging rhetoric I am hearing.

You have your extremes – Republican governors refusing any refugees and those who confuse the persecuted with the persecutors. But you also have your mostly level-headed individuals who are worried about security – that somehow a terrorist will slip through the system posing as a refugee. In both cases I think there is too much fear and not enough compassion.

The security fears are understandable, but I do not think they are grounded in much reality. What reason do we have to believe that any Syrian refugees are faking it? What hell-bent member of ISIS would sit in a refugee camp for years upon years so that they could eventually come to Canada and kill a few people? It’s not realistic. The sad fact of the matter is that the ocean separating Canada and the Middle East does more to protect us than any level of screening ever could. Most of those wishing to do harm to the West are going to do it in Europe (as sad as that is to admit).

And speaking of screening, it’s not as though refugees just get to come to Canada willy nilly. From what I understand, there are three levels of screening: one from the UNHCR, one from the Canadian government, and one from the RCMP. This is a lot of security screening, and it helps to explain why our sponsorship here in Ottawa still doesn’t have a family. The system is overworked with so many refugees to process.

Now, does Trudeau’s plan to speed up the process compromise this level of security screening? I don’t think so. If you add more resources and personnel, then it can all be done quicker.

Really though, my main point I want to express to everyone is this:

ISIS WANTS YOU TO FEAR SYRIAN REFUGEES AND MUSLIMS IN GENERAL.

They want that. They want there to be a divide between Islam and the West. If that divide grows and we reject Muslims and refugees from predominantly Muslim countries, that bolsters ISIS’s worldview that there is a war between Islam and the West. It helps them recruit Muslims because Muslims will increasingly believe that there is indeed a war between Islam and the West and that the Islamic State offers sanctuary. ISIS believes they are setting up an Islamic utopia. The more uncomfortable Muslims feel in the West, the more easily ISIS can recruit.

The biggest middle finger we can give ISIS is to welcome Syrian refugees with open arms.

Yes, do proper screening. Yes, combat ISIS in other ways. But do not become a closed society. Do not stop doing what has made the West great – offering freedom and sanctuary to those that the rest of the world has rejected.

Tracing my family back far enough, we came to Canada because of religious persecution. That is what has helped to make this country great, and there is no good reason to stop now. Canada rejected Jewish refugees in the 1930s, sending them back to Europe to their deaths. How does that look in hindsight?

Let Canada be a beacon to the world. To all those places persecuting minorities and to all those places closing their borders, look at Canada. We can do the right thing.

 

More From Veterans Affairs

Since my previous post on Canada’s Shabby Treatment Of Its Veterans, not much has changed. In fact, veterans have seemed to have just gotten angrier.

And it’s with good reason. A group of veterans that came to Ottawa to lobby against office closures felt disrespected after a meeting with Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino went off the rails. He showed up late, didn’t listen to them, and was generally rude. Let me emphasize that this is the Veterans Affairs Minister. And although Stephen Harper is trying to suggest that service is better under this government, Thomas Mulcair is right in saying that these vets are “not in Ottawa to shake hands.” They’re mad, which is pretty evident in watching any of the videos attached to these two news stories.

It seems to me that the government should be moved by this. Veterans Affairs exists to serve veterans. So if you’re completely pissing them off, maybe change course. Maybe listen to the people you are pretending to serve. Don’t stand up in the House of Commons and suggest that veterans are actually better off, because that is clearly not how veterans see it.

Amidst all of this has come another frustrating story. Just two days after the funeral of a Canadian veteran who committed suicide, the government sent a notice to the deceased’s husband, informing him that he owed almost $600. This because Veterans Affairs “overpaid” his wife’s benefits since she did not live the full month of December.

Canada’s Shabby Treatment Of Its Veterans

Let me be frank here. Saying you “support the troops” is not the same as actually supporting the troops. Sorry, but wearing a red tie to work or putting a bumper sticker on your car is not “support”. You know what is supportive? Criticizing this ridiculous government for its treatment of veterans.

If anyone cares enough to look into the issue, there are countless ways that the Harper Government™ is treating the country’s veterans like garbage. Here are some examples.

Canada has a Veteran’s Charter, which was overhauled in 2011. You would think that overhauling something would, you know, make it better. But it didn’t. Under the new Charter, severely disabled veterans will have their benefits cut off at 65. For many severely disabled veterans, this all but ensures their living in poverty. The Veterans Ombudsman, Guy Parent, also says that the new lump-sum payments that replaced pensions in the new Charter are inadequate. And compensation for pain and suffering is somehow less than what Canadian courts award for personal injury. Figure that one out. If I lost a leg in a car accident, I would receive more compensation in court than a soldier who lost a leg from a land-mine in Afghanistan would receive from the government.

Plus there’s all of the cuts. Nine Veterans Affairs offices are to be closed by February, and 25% of Veterans Affairs workforce are planned to be cut by 2015. More services are being moved online, which makes perfect sense for the 90-year-old veterans that stormed Juno Beach. What this means is that veterans can call Service Canada and talk to employees who have no particular knowledge about veterans’ programs. Or they can travel as far as 1,100 kilometres to the nearest remaining Veteran Affairs office.

Now, the cuts are of course defended because of the decreasing number of WWII and Korean veterans. But there are still 680,000 veterans (plus current military) in Canada that did not serve in WWII. Many veterans need one-on-one service, not over-the-phone bureaucracy. And if so many veterans are against the closures and protesting against it, shouldn’t that tell us something?

Then there’s the government’s attempt to scale back military pensions. Then there’s the critic of the Veteran’s Charter who had his personal information leaked by Veteran’s Affairs. Then there’s the plan to honour Afghanistan veterans that was scrapped. Then there’s the veterans who are booted from the military just before pension eligibility. Then there’s the fact that only 28% of money budgeted for the Last Post Fund (funding for funerals of impoverished veterans) actually gets spent. This followed the revelation that the fund rejected 67% of requests that it received. (Fun fact: Canada provides funerals for convicts that can’t afford it, but veterans have to rely on this fund.) Then there’s the smear campaigns against veterans who dare to criticize the Conservative Party.

But perhaps the most egregious example of the Conservative Party’s neglect is its flat-out rejection of the Canadian government’s long-standing promise to care for wounded soldiers. This is a promise that Prime Minister Robert Borden made in 1917, just before the Battle of Vimy Ridge. He stated:

You can go into this action feeling assured of this, and as the head of the government I give you this assurance: That you need not fear that the government and the country will fail to show just appreciation of your service to the country and Empire in what you are about to do and what you have already done.

The government and the country will consider it their first duty to see that a proper appreciation of your effort and of your courage is brought to the notice of people at home that no man, whether he goes back or whether he remains in Flanders, will have cause to reproach the government for having broken faith with the men who won and the men who died.

But Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party argue that this no longer applies. The government, in other words, is no longer bound to care for soldiers wounded in combat.

The Conservatives are so cemented in this morally bankrupt position that they tried to have a class-action lawsuit from veterans of the war in Afghanistan thrown out of court. This lawsuit claims that the government has a duty to care for veterans. When throwing out the lawsuit failed, the government instead launched an appeal. They argue that this promise to care for veterans should not bound the current government. 

I’m sorry, but if the government sends you to war, they cannot then decide to abandon you. There is a moral and social obligation. And whether or not the Conservatives are legally right is not at all the point. The point is that they don’t much care for treating veterans with dignity and respect.

It just doesn’t make sense. For a government that wasted so much money trying to commemorate the War of 1812, why does it dismiss the actual people involved in war? Why try to make Canadians care about a two-hundred-year-old war while not caring about Canadians in war? I know that this Conservative government has its priorities mixed up, but that’s taking it to a whole new level.

I am the furthest thing from a war supporter. But if your government put you into combat, that same government has a moral duty to take care of you when your body or mind gets injured. Unfortunately, 400 Canadian veterans die in poverty every year. Our government loves photo-ops and cheap talk. But the way it actually treats veterans in this country is an absolute travesty. Something a lot of “supporters” fail to admit.

Government Shutdown

In Canada, Parliament shutting down is now the norm. And why shouldn’t it be? In this majority government, there is no real discussion of ideas anyway. So the Prime Minister just removes any appearance of debate and shuts the place down. But this is certainly not as bad as America’s shutdown, as government services in Canada – national parks, Employment Insurance, scientific research, and taxpayer-funded partisan advertisements for economic programs that no longer exist – still function normally.

tumblr_lkmj3nGErp1qf86mco1_500

 

Oh, and regular Nickelback visits.

But the shutdown in America is a different, more scary animal. It will cost the economy billions of dollars and it is resulting in a pretty major headache. But at least it’s for a good reason. Errrrr, maybe not.

The whole shutdown is due to an inability of Republicans (read: small, vocal, insane minority of Republicans) to accept the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as Obamacare. The ACA, which passed the House, the Senate, and was signed into law by President Obama, is now the law of the land. It was debated, discussed, and voted on. Obama made massive concessions to Republicans in order to get it passed, and many Democrats voted against it because of that. As a result, the ACA is a watered-down version of healthcare reform. But, still, it is better than the existing healthcare system.

But the major point here being this: the bill went through the democratic process, and it is now law. Healthcare reform was one of the major issues in the 2008 election, which saw Obama cruise to victory, and the ACA was also one of the major issues in the 2012 election, where the populace again gave Obama an easy win.

Never mind that the ACA went through the democratic process. No. The Tea-Party wing of the GOP is so obsessed with overturning the ACA that they forced a shutdown of the United States government.

And talk about picking your battles. This is the first shutdown in 17 years, and it is because the government is trying to give people healthcare benefits. If that doesn’t make sense to you, it’s because it shouldn’t. Sure, there have been illegal wars and government-sanctioned torture programs, but let’s actually get mad because fewer people will go bankrupt due to healthcare costs. I mean, wow.

jags

The Tea Party claims to be super patriotic, but you really have to question their love of country. They couldn’t get their way in any legitimate or democratic means. So they are now holding the economy hostage in order to overturn a bill that has gone through the democratic process, and will provide more people who need it with healthcare. They want Obama to “negotiate”, but all they want is for their illegitimate demands to be met.

The GOP has no control over this faction, and it has now descended deep into absurdity and insanity. Every day is a new exercise in crazy, and everyone is dumber for having experienced it.

I trust that Obama will not give in to the Tea Party’s demands. He is not about to abandon healthcare reform just because a small group of weirdos have found a way to get weirder. And here’s the good news: people actually get it, and are blaming the GOP for this mess. Some polls suggest that Republican support is evaporating.

This pleases me, but not because I think the Democrats are doing a wonderful job and are full of bright ideas. Hopefully this can be a turning point for the GOP, and they can find a way to separate from the Tea Party. If the GOP returns to some normalcy, so too will the Democrats and so too will the country as a whole. But currently, a small, vocal, radical, and uninformed minority are driving the conversation, making us all worse off because of it.

The So-Called “Reasons” for the Death Penalty

A recent poll (done for Quebecor – parent company to Sun News – so maybe we shouldn’t take too much stock out of the results) found that the majority of Canadians want capital punishment reinstated. This brings up the interesting question of whether or not democratic majorities should be the final arbiter on policy decisions; however, that’s not what this post is about.

I have observed many debates on the topic and involved myself in many as well. What I have come to realize over the course of these debates is that I have never actually heard a logical reason for capital punishment. Seriously. There are no facts, evidence or reasoned dialogue that can defend the merits of capital punishment. It always comes down to vengeance. It comes down to the point at which people feel okay about killing a criminal. Defenders of capital punishment will say that they feel okay with executing someone if they committed the most heinous of crimes. Okay. But that’s not a real argument; it’s just an explanation of your blood lust’s tipping point. I may feel okay about running naked down the street, but that’s not an exceptionally good reason to do it. There has to be a reason.

Therefore, I would like to counter three widely used arguments in favour of capital punishment. They simply do not stand up to reasoned debate.

 

Deterrent

It is often said that the death penalty will deter criminals. If I know that killing someone will land me death instead of life in prison, surely I’ll refrain. However, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the capital punishment acts as a deterrent. None.

A report conducted for the UN concluded that, “research has failed to provide scientific proof that executions have a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment. Such proof is unlikely to be forthcoming. The evidence as a whole still gives no positive support to the deterrent hypothesis.”

Evidence shows that the death penalty does not act as a deterrent. Heck, it could even be argued that it increases the murder rate. If I shoot someone and know that I will be executed anyway, there is really no reason for me to not take out a dozen more people. With any other sentence, there is at least some difference in its severity.

 

Safety

This is a pretty bizarre argument, but I’ve come across it more than once. Essentially, the point is that the death penalty permanently removes the threat from society. Okay. But isn’t that the point of jail? If someone gets probation and reoffends, that’s not an argument in favour of capital punishment; it’s a failure of the probation system. And if someone escapes prison and reoffends, well, that’s a failure of our construction industry. Neither justifies state-sanctioned homicide. If a criminal is actually a danger to society, then you keep them in prison. Problem solved. It removes the threat. And surely the amount of innocent people that have been wrongfully executed should move this “argument” even further into the realm of absurdity.

 

Economics

The argument here is twofold. First, people feel uncomfortable that their taxes are paying for a criminal’s housing, meals and other needs. Second, the thought is that killing the criminal would save the country money. These economics-based arguments are particularly frustrating to me, and they fail on multiple fronts.

Economics should not drive every decision. Capitalist societies inevitably move in this direction, but there needs to be some restraint. When money is the basis of every decision, especially ones involving a human life, society has lost its moral foundation. Should a country save money by killing babies born with developmental disabilities or other complications? Should ten-year-olds be forced to work during the summer? Should “productive” members of society be pardoned of all crimes? Money should not drive every decision, nor would we want it to.

The above scenarios would make anyone uneasy, and yet with criminals it’s different. For some reason, people make the argument that capital punishment is justified because of cost-effectiveness. The argument simply doesn’t stand. If killing is immoral, doing it for money doesn’t magically make it okay. Heck, it seems to make it even more immoral – reducing a person’s life down to nothing but dollars and cents.

If – and that’s a mighty big if – it could be shown that capital punishment is justified and reasonable, then saving money would simply be a nice side effect. But saving money can’t be a reason in and of itself.  That necessitates the government directing all decisions on that basis, which is a place that no person with any moral fiber would want society to move.

Not only is the economics argument morally and logically bankrupt, it turns out that it’s factually inaccurate as well. In reality, executing criminals turns out to be far more expensive than locking them up (about $10 million more per year).

Still, people are uncomfortable with the idea that their tax dollars are feeding convicted murderers. But that’s really looking at the issue in a backwards way. Your taxes aren’t providing the criminal with life and luxury; they are providing you with justice and security. It’s the price we pay to see justice served and to keep society safe and functional. It’s exactly the type of thing that taxes are perfect for; it’s not something that can be done on the free market.

 

So it’s not a deterrent, does not make society any safer and does not save the country any money (even though this shouldn’t even be an argument to begin with). Explaining this to people in favour of capital punishment does little to change their minds. Even those who are aware of these realities still argue in favour capital punishment. That’s because it is never about reasoned arguments. It is not about facts and it is not about evidence. I have come to conclude that for people in favour of capital punishment, it comes down to revenge and it comes down to blood lust. 

There is no reasoned or factual argument to be made for capital punishment, only emotions. It feels okay to have someone killed for the most heinous of crimes. But why? For what good reason? If killing is wrong, then state-sanctioned killing is wrong. No one has yet to provide me with any convincing arguments otherwise. Because, in my opinion, there aren’t any.