The Week's Conversations: Seeking Asylum in Canada, Oscars, Playground Accessibility, Chef's Table, Creative Genius, Facebook Utopia
A weekly conversation between friends.
- How Canada Should Deal with Asylum Seekers Crossing its Southern Border.
- Three Days Late and Already Stale: Key takeaways from this year's Oscars.
- Guest Post: The Unmaking of a Right for Children with Disability.
- Even the King Bows Three Times to a Monk.
- Creative Genius.
- The New Facebook Utopia.
- And more.
How Canada Should Deal with Asylum Seekers Crossing its Southern Border
By Raj Sharma and Avnish Nanda
Over the past few weeks, Canadians have been inundated with media reports of desperate migrants trekking over rugged, snow-covered terrain in freezing temperatures into Canada from the United States to claim asylum. The image of an RCMP officer joyfully welcoming a child migrant has likely appeared on your social media feed, along with a caption proudly proclaiming that refugees are welcome in Canada. This narrative of Canada as a shining castle on a hill for refugees is deeply flawed and does not reflect the enormous obstacles migrants face in obtaining asylum in Canada.
The improbable election of Donald J. Trump has caused many journalists to heed to the wisdom of Jeet Heer: take Trump and his campaign promises both literally and seriously. The Executive Order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees for a 120-day period was the clearest indication that this U.S. administration would be unlike any other. And with Trump’s aggressive crackdown on asylum seekers and undocumented migrants, it’s apparent that the impacts will be felt around the world, including Canada.
Given the situation, it’s hard to blame Canadians looking for an uplifting narrative against the dark, dystopian, anti-Muslim and anti-refugee messaging of Trump, particularly the journalists covering the migrants who have made their way north. However, their uncritical coverage will not age well, particularly if failed asylum seekers from the US are not successful in their efforts to remain here, and the burden of deporting and removing them is simply shifted from stern, armed and body-armored American ICE Officers to the stern, armed and body-armored Canada Border Service Agency Officers.
Canada is not a Disneyland for asylum seekers: there are miles to go before even those intrepid enough to cross international borders can rest easy. There is a rigorous, comprehensive set of requirements that refugee claimants must meet, failing which will result in their claims being denied and removal being initiated. Over the past few years, only about half of all refugee claimants who made their claims in Canada have been successful, which amounts to, on average, less than ten thousand refugees per year.
Asylum seekers — particularly those who have issues establishing personal identity (practically everyone from Somalia), or who fear violence as a result of their sexual orientation — face serious obstacles in establishing their claims here. Additionally, there are strict requirements on the grounds and threshold of persecution. Persecution must be real, preventing them from returning to any region of their country of origin. Migrants seeking better economic opportunities, absent persecution on a personal level, will not be admitted as refugees under Canada’s refugee system. These are some of the basic challenges refugee claimants face in Canada, which is often glossed over by the narrative that refugees are welcome here.
Failing to recognize the significant challenges asylum seekers face in making their claims in Canada only emboldens those who want to shut Canada’s borders to those individuals in desperate need of asylum. Politics, in the words of Henry Adams, has always been about the systematic organization of hatreds, and over the last few weeks, we have witnessed the fanning of fear over the relatively small number of asylum seekers who have made their way north into Canada. For example, political leadership aspirants whose ambition greatly exceed their personal appeal are quick to stoke nativist sentiment, while the Conservatives are demanding action but can’t quite spell out what they think the government should do.
Let us be clear, this is a small leak and trickle, not a deluge and our refugee system has handled far more in years past. The Safe Third Country Agreement, which normally prevents making a refugee claim at a land port of entry by anyone that entered the US first, was only enacted in 2004. Prior to then, Canada was capable of processing asylum claims in an effective and fair manner. This is not a crisis, and should not be treated as one at this point.
However, it would still be wise for Canada to develop a more efficient way to deal with the ‘in-land’ refugees that have arrived in recent weeks to discourage further unauthorized border crossings, and at the same time recognize and provide succor to meritorious individuals in desperate straits. Individuals are taking inordinate, potentially dangerous actions to circumvent the Safe Third Country Agreement and arrive in Canada. We need to encourage asylum seekers to use safer avenues to make their claims.
Such a solution may actually be to extend the Safe Third Country Agreement to those crossing without authorization, which would prevent a refugee claim even made in-land. Instead, provide these migrants at a designated Point of Entry — such as at an airport or border crossing — with a paper-based risk assessment instead of a refugee hearing, and assess at the same time whether there are humanitarian and compassionate grounds to allow them to stay (as of right now, the humanitarian and compassionate grounds assessment is unavailable for most failed refugee claimants for 12 months after their decision). The humanitarian and compassionate grounds assessment is a more flexible test than the strict thresholds of a claim for refugee protection. This would meet our obligations to assess risk, maintain our humanitarian tradition, and discourage actions that undermine the integrity of our immigration system.
The Donald Trump presidency poses many challenges to Canada’s migratory system. But to effectively confront them, we must avoid hyperbole, and instead, understand these challenges for what they truly are and think creatively to address them. If we don’t, we risk a similar form of misunderstanding and politicization of migrant issues that is evident elsewhere in the world, and worse, migrants continuing to put themselves in danger to seek asylum in Canada.
Three Days Late and Already Stale: Key takeaways from this year's Oscars
- The Oscar’s were pretty damn entertaining this year, despite the Academy’s best efforts. Writing in the New Yorker, film critic Richard Brody suggests that the “dishearteningly competent and mega-managed” event was intentionally safe, and deliberately suave, so as to avoid becoming a conspicuous target of the nascent alt-right:
“One of the great peculiarities of the movie system is that liberal Hollywood provides the entertainment for blue and red viewers alike… There isn’t a cinematic Breitbart that has made any significant inroads in the business. And that’s the way Hollywood doubtless wants to keep it.”
- I’m not sure it would be possible to come up with a less interesting and bland series of musical performances. Justin Timberlake sings the song from “Trolls”, perhaps ironically? Sara Bareilles sings a 40-year-old Joni Mitchell song? John Legend performs a piano ballad for the 16th consecutive year? The incredibly uninteresting performance of a whimsical Disney song, one that will only be remembered because the performer was hit in the face by a flag? Brutal.
- The most powerful political moment was the statement by Iranian film director Asghar Farhadi, who boycotted the Oscars to protest Trump's recent executive order targeting Muslim migrants. Farhadi's drama "The Salesman" was awarded Best Foreign Language Film. Farhadi is also the director of “A Separation”, which at least 2 editors of this newsletter agree is one of the best movies they’ve ever seen.
- It’s Wednesday, and I’m sure everyone is sick of hearing about the faux rivalry between Moonlight and La La Land, and of reading thinkpieces about the mix-up over best picture.
“[The mix-up] produced the loudest and most awkward symbol of the transfer of power from old Hollywood to an industry that must reflect a more diverse America as the white guys were literally forced to hand over their prizes. After two years of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the 89th Academy Awards embraced African-American talent.”
(For the record, this newsletter called Moonlight the best movie in many years back in December, so we can rest safely on the right side of history).
- Jimmy Kimmel was admittedly a charming host, though his casual racism (“Patrick, now that's a name!") will likely be remembered more than his innocuous Trump jokes, which could have picked at random from any late-show monologue.
- Mahershala Ali is the first Muslim actor to win an Academy Award (though not the first Muslim to get one: A.R. Rahman -- the A.R. standing for Allah-Rakah, literally meaning protected by Allah -- won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire in 2009, and thanked Allah in his acceptance speech.)
- After two years of being (rightfully) hounded by the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, the Academy sought to address its race problem by hiring its first black president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who quickly sought to shakeup the selection process and add diversity to its membership.
To some extent, the shakeup seems to have worked. In addition to Ali’s victory, and a deservedly huge night for the creators of Moonlight, Viola Davis nabbed her first Oscar, and followed it up with an stunning acceptance speech. If you were also moved by this speech, I highly recommend that you check out this profile of Viola Davis, which details a life filled with adversity, and the incredible will to overcome the challenges of racism, poverty, abuse, and a broken home.
- Casey Affleck took home the prestigious award for Best Actor, despite the recent revelation that he was sued for sexual harassment by two of his coworkers — both lawsuits were settled. To put it lightly, this controversy brings to light the “thorny ethics of the Oscars” (especially considering the fact that the film “Birth of a Nation”, which was an early front-runner for best picture, was ruined by similar allegations against that film’s creative force, Nate Parker, who happens to be a black man). To put it less lightly, as one theread editor has, “Fuck Casey Affleck”. Here’s a meme of Brie Larson not clapping for Affleck, for your viewing pleasure.
- Finally, let us take a moment to celebrate the fact that this year’s “In Memoriam” montage included a woman who is “still very much alive”.
- Actually, ignore everything written here, and just read this excellent take by Jia Tolentino:
[E]very detail of the awards show was weighted with racial, cultural, and political meaning that it couldn’t possibly sustain. “La La Land” and “Moonlight,” the two Best Picture favorites that were directly pitted against each other at the jaw-dropping end of the ceremony, had long ago become stand-ins for whiteness and blackness, or even, obliquely, for Trump and his opposition. There is only one real narrative in this country right now, and every major cultural event seems to be providing comment on it. At the Super Bowl, the Falcons and the Patriots occupied similar cultural polarities. The No. 1 movie in the country, “Get Out,” turns American racism into both a horror movie and a dark joke. The buildup around Best Picture reflects the general feeling that everything is politically charged at the moment, including, and perhaps especially, the purported absence of politics. Everything is a referendum on identity in the age of Trump. The entire Oscars ceremony seemed to be heading toward a statement about what identity Hollywood itself wanted, whether it would choose social progress or regressive nostalgia, politics or ignorance, reality or escapism—a question that will have hundreds of answers, and which a Best Picture winner can’t actually answer.
Guest Post: The Unmaking of a Right for Children with Disability
Advancing individuals rights in society is hard work, especially in these tenuous times where too many would simply scrap the laws and regulations supporting vulnerable populations.
A recent article in the New York Times addressed fears for the many gains made for persons with disabilities in the United States. The writer tells of Trump’s inaugural speech, where he declares a transfer of power from Washington “back to you, the people”, while behind the scenes his minions were busy scrubbing from the White House web site sections regarding people with disabilities. Added to Trump’s other campaign trail transgressions toward those with disabilities, we begin to see the re-emergence of an overarching message: “You don’t matter.”; “You’re not worth it.”; “You’re not a person.” Importantly, the writer ends with her commitment to ‘never stop fighting for our rights…”.
For me, the article was a powerful reminder of the kinds of efforts that are required to both sustain current rights and advance new ones, particularly for those with disabilities, and more specifically, children with a disability.
While participating in the development of a national accessibility code for play spaces through the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), I witnessed first hand the kind of consensus-building required to achieve a document worthy of approval and subsequent publishing. I’ve also seen how important legislation is for transforming standards into policy directives, that in turn create action on the ground. Seems straightforward – until there comes a time when we are able to rationalize the notion that the rights of vulnerable populations don’t have to be respected, and supportive standards simply dismissed.
For my area of interest, this normalization of rights denigration is playing out quite literally on the playground. Standards for playgrounds in Canada came about as a result of safety concerns and preventable emergency room hospital visits. Access standards for children followed, initially through a consensus process under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and formally adopted into law in 2010. Canada, through CSA, prepared a national playground access code directly aligned with the ADA standard.
After years of steady progress in Canada on both playground safety and access, a new movement is gaining traction to undermine these efforts. This group, led by academics, is adamant that it is not in the children’s best interests to be overly concerned for their safety. Rather, they want to see far greater access to ‘risky’ outdoor active play. They point to playground standards and associated policies as thwarting children’s play experience of risk and thereby stilting a key part of their growth and development. Predictably, they would like to see the CSA’s national playground code reduced to ‘guide’ status, with local policies and bylaws modified accordingly.
And what of accessibility considerations in this new risky outdoor play environment? Kindly they agree that children with a disability should also enjoy the outdoor play but only “in compliance with guidance from a health professional”. In other words, you as a child are different in this new worldview. Good luck.
These well-meaning advocates have garnered national attention, and resistance to playground standards is growing. For accessibility, without national laws such as the ADA in the United States, and little commitment to the CSA approved code, we find jurisdictions and individuals returning to an era where they made up their own guidelines or are simply ignoring access altogether.
So, if we believe in rights, and in this case, children’s rights to accessible and safe public commons for play, how are we to advocate when the tools at hand are under siege at every turn? How are we to give voice to vulnerable populations when vested interests are able to popularize a new narrative that simply leaves them out? To be sure, there are no definitive answers. However, with so many areas of our civil society now being opened to willful compromise, I have every confidence that we’ll collectively respond to the current (dis)order with much more sophisticated strategies for preserving and advancing rights.
Even the King Bows Three Times to a Monk
If you’re a ‘foodie’, you’ve probably already seen every episode of Chef’s Table, a lavish Netflix original documentary series that profiles renowned chef’s from around the world. It’s an incredible series, created by David Gelb — the director of the acclaimed documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about an 85-year-old sushi master, and his monomaniacal quest to perfect the art of sushi* – whose passion for food is made clear by the stunning, high definition shots of each dish, backed by epic orchestral music. It’s pretty much the Planet Earth of food.
But like Jiro, the series also uses food as an entry point into the complex personal stories and of each episode’s character, and the philosophy that drives them. You salivate, but you also cry.
Episode 1 of Chef’s Table brand new season is sensational. Based in a breathtaking mountainous region of South Korea, the episode profiles Jeong Kwan, who is not in fact a chef, but a Buddhist monk who has been cooking ‘temple food’ for the Chunjinam Hermitage at the Baekyangsa Temple for half a century. Western food critics and chefs who have had the opportunity to try her food call it “life-changing”.
Kwan is presented as a paragon of Buddhist life — disciplined, eloquent, compassionate, and without ego. She understands cooking as an expression of her faith and personal philosophy, and as a genuine form of communication. She also drops a number of unforgettable lines: “Soy sauce is eternal. It is life itself.”
But the episode’s most moving moments occur when Kwan shares her account of leaving her family to pursue the life of a monk — a heartbreaking decision she believes is necessary for the pursuit of true freedom.
The kimchi she makes looks pretty damn tasty, too.
* In a review of the film, Roger Ebert muses on Jiro’s crowning achievement — attaining the highest honor for a chef of three Michelin stars: “You realize the tragedy of Jiro Ono's life is that there are not, and will never be, four stars.”
It’s tough to figure out the magic in creating something unique.
In an interview on the creative process, Ira Glass talks about the difficulty of producing something you’re actually proud of when you start off:
Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great.
You were hanging out with your friends, you guys were having beers, you were talking about something, and you had this great idea. And they said “That’s brilliant, someone should go write it.” And you sit down to write it, and almost always, what was brilliant before, when you were sitting around talking, is somehow not so brilliant when you go to write it.
If you want further exploration into this, take a listen to Malcolm Gladwell’s Creative Genius episode on the Revisionist History podcast. He breaks down the creative process based on work from the economist David Galenson. Galenson says there are two broad categories of genius. There are those that are prolific in their young age, Conceptual innovators – Picasso or Bob Dylan, these are often the prodigies. There are other creators – experimental innovators, people such as Leonard Cohen or Ira Glass. They go through the slog of trial and error and slow iterative process to craft their work.
There is also another element in all of this that’s somewhat unsatisfying. It’s randomness of the inspiration for ideas and their timing in taking off.
In the podcast, Gladwell takes us through how the initial version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah almost didn’t get picked up by any record label. Other artists do numerous renditions of the song. One of these renditions happens to be heard by Jeff Buckley who does his own version. And it was only after Jeff Buckley’s tragic death did the song become wildly popular.
The New Facebook Utopia
Last week Zuckerberg dropped a 5700 word letter (manifesto? declaration??) detailing how Facebook will orientate itself towards “develop[ing] the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.” Obviously, the tech dystopians have been raising the alarm that this is a global corporate takeover. Ben Thompson has a clear breakdown of why Facebook is overstepping and how its sweeping power can be checked:
To that end, Facebook should not be allowed to buy another network-based app; I would go further and make it prima facie anticompetitive for one social network to buy another. Network effects are just too powerful to allow them to be combined. For example, the current environment would look a lot different if Facebook didn’t own Instagram or WhatsApp (and, should Facebook ever lose an antitrust lawsuit, the remedy would almost certainly be spinning off Instagram and WhatsApp).
Secondly, all social networks should be required to enable social graph portability — the ability to export your lists of friends from one network to another. Again Instagram is the perfect example: the one-time photo-filtering app launched its network off the back of Twitter by enabling the wholesale import of your Twitter social graph. And, after it was acquired by Facebook, Instagram has only accelerated its growth by continually importing your Facebook network. Today all social networks have long since made this impossible, making it that much more difficult for competitors to arise.
Third, serious attention should be given to Facebook’s data collection on individuals. As a rule I don’t have any problem with advertising, or even data collection, but Facebook is so pervasive that it is all but impossible for individuals to opt-out in any meaningful way, which further solidifies Facebook’s growing dominance of digital advertising.
Links From This Week's Thread
Snack on Edna Lewis’s ‘Busy-Day Cake’ while reading this fantastic story of Princess Pamela and her soul food.
Why doesn’t Canada have universal coverage for prescription medication already? Apparently it could save us $4 billion a year and improve access to necessary medication.
Joseph Lewis is considered to be the first Black person to live in what is now Alberta. Lewis worked in the fur trade and arrived at Greenwich House in 1799, a Hudson’s Bay trading post near Lac La Biche. Lewis is one of many early Black settlers in Alberta that most Albertans know nothing about due to a general indifference towards chronicling the contribution of non-White settlers and communities to the history of the province.
The next time someone tells me that the women in Essex bring it upon themselves when they wear “slutty” clothes, I’m going to call them out for their “patriarchal mom-ism,” a phrase bell hooks deployed in this short but compelling interview on the state of feminism. “I think that we have to restore feminism as a political movement. The challenge to patriarchy is political, and not a lifestyle or identity. It’s as if we have to return to very basic education for critical consciousness, around what visionary feminist politics really is about. And let’s face it: visionary feminist politics is not about having a woman president. It’s about having a person of any gender who understands deeply and fully the need for there to be respect for the embodied presence of males and females, without subordination.”
Tom Power interviews Raoul Peck on his new documentary, I am Not Your Negro, a film based entirely on the words of James Baldwin.
Oxford University graduates in philosophy, politics and economics (a PPE degree) make up an astonishing proportion of Britain’s elite. But has it produced an out-of-touch ruling class? “In 1985, less than half of students at selective colleges [in the US] came from families in the top income quartile; in 2010, 67 percent did. ... Coming Apart documents quantitatively the growing tendency of the members of America’s cognitive elite to marry each other, live near each other in “Super Zips,” and launch their children into the same schools, and thence onto the same path to worldly success. Deresiewicz puts this betrayal of the democratic impulse neatly: “Our new multiracial, gender-neutral meritocracy has figured out a way to make itself hereditary.””
Roxane Gay deserves your attention: “In the world of writers … Roxane Gay is a rock star. People stop in their tracks and stare, people shout out exhortations of her greatness, drinks appear unbidden for her at the crowded hotel bar, bras are offered for signing. Two weeks before, on January 25, Gay pulled her forthcoming book, How to Be Heard, from Simon & Schuster after learning they had offered famous-internet-bigot Milo Yiannopoulos a book deal. “White man just walked by me, threw his fist in the air, and shouted Roxane, keep hope alive. Keep it up,” Gay tweeted over the weekend. “I don’t know him.””
For those of you curious about the drive to reduce sugar consumption, here’s an update on alternatives like stevia, allulose, and monk fruit, and why none of them are perfect, leading companies to also attempt to redesign the very structure of sugar crystals.
‘The Careless Language of Sexual Violence’ remains relevant and blazingly straightforward. Read it [again].
For North American hunters, the ultimate pursuit isn’t deer, moose, elk, or bear. It’s sheep, with permits costing in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
A more useful Facebook-related manifesto: “When a comment about how “illegals need to get out” is left on my post ... I just delete it. I don’t have time to debate something so backward, and I don’t have time to explain. My page is my part of the debate at large, this is true. But I’m not debating those who show up wedded to bigotry…”
On Monday the NYTimes published a piece entitled “He’s a Local Pillar in a Trump Town. Now He Could Be Deported.” This is a good Twitter thread calling out those who view this article as an example of compassion, when in fact it is an example of White Innocence, selfishness and hypocrisy. More than that though, the Times article is an example of what can happen when the majority of your newsroom is White: there are less reporters able to address the issue from a different viewpoint or to challenge framing. The lack of diversity at the Times and other major newspapers was discussed in greater detail just last week by Paul Delaney, who was a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists and worked for the Times for 23 years.
New statistics on hate crimes in Germany: “Nearly 10 attacks were made on migrants in Germany every day in 2016, the interior ministry says. A total of 560 people were injured in the violence, including 43 children. Three-quarters of the attacks targeted migrants outside of their accommodation, while nearly 1,000 attacks were on housing.”
RIP Ren Hang: “Hang's very existence was a provocation – his commitment of that existence to film even more so.”