Wednesday Night #1480

Banning the Burqa (and the niqab)
See the Economist “Banning the burqa — A bad idea…whose time may soon come in parts of Europe” for an even-handed discussion of the two sides of the argument, much of which was iterated this evening
As several European nations, in particular France, debate banning the burqa, Wednesday Nighters were overwhelmingly in favour of banning for various reasons including:
– It violates Canadian values. Although the burqa is a cultural rather than religious symbol, it is seen as analogous to the ordeal of 45-year old Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtian in Iran, sentenced to be stoned for having been raped, following a trial during which she didn’t understand the language and was not provided with an interpreter.
– It totally obscures the physiognomy and thus becomes threatening to those cultures where face-to-face encounters are considered essential to social interaction
– Although it is a cultural rather than religious symbol, it violates Canadian values and constitutes a form of discrimination against minorities, a virtual leash on women
– While western women are forced to conform to strict codes of dress in observant countries like Saudi Arabia, (see Maureen Dowd’s account of her recent trip to Saudi), When in Rome, Do as the Romans should apply in reverse as well.
– To some it appears that Muslims may be employing the Salami Technique, asking for first one change and then others; they cite evidence that some Muslims want to impose Sharia law on Canadians, as has happened in certain jurisdictions in the U.K.. The Quebec Bar Association has formally come out against any adoption of sharia law.
Although those opposed to the proposed ban recognize the importance of resisting the imposition of foreign, as well as home-grown, cultural and religious values and practices on their adopted country, their opposition is mostly based on the singling out of the burqa while, for example, permitting uniformed Sikh R.C.M.P. officers to wear turbans, or the court-ordered permission to carry the Kirpan.
Among university professors, teachers and education authorities, there is considerable resistance to accepting students who are not easily identifiable in class, or when taking exams. [Editor’s note: Syria Bans Full Islamic Veils At Universities]. There is almost unanimous agreement among Wednesday Nighters that women should be permitted to wear the burqa in public (e.g. in the park, shopping, etc.) when not in situations in which they are requiring government services such as hospitals, schools, airports or other settings where there is interaction with many individuals whose function may in fact be impeded by the anonymity of the head-to-toe dress. This is the underlying principle of proposed Quebec legislation.

More privacy issues
For reasons that appear to some as obscure, many Canadians oppose the installation of the ubiquitous London type street cameras here so that they will not be observed, yet, unlike the wearers of the Burqa, do not object to being viewed in person. Although not physically masked, it is not unusual for Canadian women to wear makeup designed to significantly change their appearance although admittedly not to the point of not being recognizable.
As a microcosm, Wednesday Nighters recognize the hard road travelled in order to achieve it and cherish the degree of equality enjoyed in Canada between religions, cultures, races and sexes. They rightly see the burqa as a symbol of a wedge attempting to reverse the rights and freedoms attained with much difficulty by our forefathers and predecessors. It would appear that the burqa may be viewed by those in favour of the ban, as a symbol of regression to a less egalitarian Canada, while the small minority opposing the ban see it more as a futile attack on the symbol rather than on the cause of the perceived problem. The concern about the low Canadian birth rate in the face of the inevitably higher birthrate in a religious, male dominated society, is understandable, but we humans tend to favor the easier rather than the more effective difficult solutions, thus an immigration policy that embraces an increasing flow of Muslim immigrants. The discussion moved inevitably to questions of honor killings and the appalling case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtian, paying tribute to the work of Heather Reisman in rallying signatories to a world-wide petition which may have been instrumental in the Iranian authorities’ decision to revoke the death-by-stoning verdict, and how to enforce the provisions of the UN Charter of Human Rights.

Privacy of medical records
In Canada, access to personal medical records has always been carefully restricted. Health care establishments are concerned both about the legal risks involved in permitting unauthorized persons to obtain information that might be used to the detriment of the patient, and the possible misinterpretation of the information by the individual. The reports, with the exception of laboratory test results, being frequently handwritten, were deemed difficult to read and interpret. Although patient access has never been denied, at one time it was required that the patient requesting access be accompanied by a physician who would be in a position to interpret the information. With the advent of the computer, there was an attempt by a Urologist at the Montreal General Hospital to create a computerized, fill-in-the-blanks form that would create an electronic report for use solely within the establishment but, in the twentieth century, it proved impractical due to the state of technology at that point. Much has changed since. The reporting of biochemical, haematological, microbiological, pathological, radiological and other reports has been computerized and available electronically. Université de Montréal and McGill (including the Westmount Square Medical Centre) networks each share communication of results with their constituent members but at least until absolute security of information can be assured, it is unlikely that the patient, no matter how intelligent or knowledgeable will be permitted to access his (or her) own medical information without going through his Physician or the office of the Registrar of the relevant medical centre. It appears odd that, recognizing the difficulties resulting from identity theft, there are those who appear willing to risk the theft of personal medical information always available to them through their Physician, at times at a cost, by deliberately bypassing the safeguards in place that have thus far proven effective.

July 14th, Bastille Day, has always been celebrated in great style in France. The parade and ceremony in Paris are events to be remembered. The achievements of the descendants of the destroyers of the Bastille appear to have instilled a sense of pride in Parisians that, at times borders on snobbery and/or condescension, frequently experienced by visitors from Québec. More recently, this appears to have changed. Mutual recognition of the members of associations of professionals represents a symbol of that change in attitudes. Student exchanges are now common. French business people more frequently move to Montreal to do business here, but more especially as a springboard to entry into the greater markets in Toronto, Boston and New York. Ironically France is currently more present in Toronto than it is in Montreal.

The economy
Ron Meisels reported on his recent, successful trip with Chil Heward to meet with some of the London-based investors and advisers. One view expressed by some experts in the London meetings was that China is due for a pause; the startling Leap Forward has gone on for long enough. This conflicts with most Wednesday Nighter views, who suggest that a pause in China’s terms might mean a decline of the growth rate from 10% to 8%. India was barely mentioned, except for acknowledgment that ‘it is still growing’. A Wednesday Nighter reminds us that one of India’s problems is 10% inflation and the Central Bank rate is at 3-3.5% – a signal that there’s trouble down the road. Generally, portfolio managers are pessimistic about the outlook, despite our market that has risen for 14 months in a row. Ron also mentioned that many of the Londoners with whom he spoke appear to be very uneasy about their coalition government and anxiously sought reassurance regarding how Canada copes.
In North America a majority of investor letters warn of the inevitability of a double-dip recession because the U.S. is in such bad shape – not only its current debt, but all of its liabilities, like social insurance – making the situation far more dire than recent events in Greece and other parts of Europe. These same letters are bullish on Asia, at least China and India, pointing to the rapid development of the huge and growing middle class, thus internal consumer market.

Stock market predictions become even more hazardous at this time while the market awaits the imminent second quarter report. It is important that earnings will have risen, but the future becomes obscure, one of the major problems being the possibility of increasing inflation. One indication of investor wariness is the impressive percentage of RRSP investment this year in treasury bills with a 4-5% yield. One expert suggests that July 29 is a key date following the earnings reports, predicting a market collapse. The decrease in gold prices is expected to be temporary with anticipation of the resumption of a rise in the long term.

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Special Reminders for your calendar:
July 14 – A very Happy Anniversary wish for Guy Stanley and Yvette Biondi.
August 1 An afternoon with Infinithéâtre… BBQ, Jazz with Michael Judson‘s Quartet, folk singing, silent auction, great company, including Guy Sprung and the Infinitheatre team – and more – in the bucolic setting of Irene Simons‘ Dorval Island home

Monday marked the six-month anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. While progress is painfully slow, we must recognize the wonderful work that is being accomplished and congratulate Madeleine Féquière, Katleen Félix and their colleagues for the launch yesterday of Kanpe in partnership with Partners in Health and Fonkozé.
We have also just marked the 20th anniversary of the Oka Crisis and, in general, we believe that the media have given excellent, informative and unsensational coverage. Of all of the pieces we have read, leaving aside the fascinating account from John Ciaccia, we have been particularly interested in the account by Doug George-Kanentino that sheds new light on the role of the Warriors – something we all may have believed to a greater or lesser degree, but could not substantiate.
The World Cup extravaganza is over and Montreal can now return to its normal menu of summer festivals. A propos the World Cup, we thoroughly enjoyed the uncharacteristically whimsical approach of the Geopolitics of 2010 World Cup Countries analysis (e.g. Germany and Italy) provided by Stratfor; unfortunately, there does not appear to be a page with the collection of them – they were quite delightful and much more entertaining than the coverage of the players’ WAGS as deterrents to good matches.
Now we will all be watching events in South Africa in the hope that the promise of the well-staged event will not be marred by the feared attacks on migrants, and will be followed up by addressing the chronic issues of rampant poverty, disease, crime and racial tension with the same enthusiasm and can-do spirit so evident during the past months and years.
Johann Hari has published a piece How Goldman gambled on starvation that resumes the shocking findings of a much longer article The Food Bubble: How Wall Street starved millions and got away with it in the July Harper’s (unfortunately not available online, although we have found the .pdf):
“Until deregulation, the price for food was set by the forces of supply and demand for food itself. (This was already deeply imperfect: it left a billion people hungry.) But after deregulation, it was no longer just a market in food. It became, at the same time, a market in food contracts based on theoretical future crops – and the speculators drove the price through the roof.” We look forward to your comments and – more important – your ideas on how to ensure that the situation is never repeated.
The Harper government appears to be having a wonderful time sneaking objectionable bits and pieces past us all while Parliament is in recess. Aside from the announcement last Friday that realtor and artist Salma Ataullahjan has been named to the Senate – annoying because of what it means for the passage of the Omnibus Bil.
What is really note and news worthy is the Conservative government’s abolition of the census long form and some of the (unintended?) consequences of the action. One of the most cogently expressed arguments against the idea is André Picard’s: Ottawa should come to its census: Stop dogging Statscan
“The federal government is undermining Statistics Canada’s ability to collect data and undertake analyses that are the bedrock of sound public policies The census is, arguably, Statscan’s most important task. It began in 1841 as a simple counting of people and cows and has evolved into a detailed statistical portrait of Canada that reveals trends and shifts so that public policies can be refined.” There is a compendium of quite extensive commentary available here from the CIQSS.
With respect to the new Senator, (and a bunch of the others), it would be refreshing if they would take a leaf out of Massachusetts (Republican) Senator Scott Brown’s book and actually study legislation, then vote according to what they deem best for their constituents  Scott Brown to Vote Yes on Financial Regulation Mr. Brown’s support makes it very likely that the bill will pass in the Senate. Note that even Hank Paulson gives the bill considerable praise
Hold your breath and cross your fingers, everyone, BP is now testing the new cap just as the BBC gives a slightly upbeat assessment of what will (eventually) happen to the spilled oil and how much better it is that this happened in warm Gulf waters. [Update: Now, according to the FT, BP has another worry: Senators question BP’s Libyan links
Steven Walt has posted Five big questions in Foreign Policy about contemporary world politics, with this introductory explanation:
“I’ve been thinking about U.S. grand strategy again, and pondering some big questions that ought to be central to the debate on America’s global role. Some of these big questions are researchable, others are by their very nature more speculative. How you answer some of them also depends on the theories you think are most powerful or applicable (i.e., realist theory suggests one set of answers, liberal approaches offer a different set, etc.), and the answers your get should have profound implications for what you think U.S. grand strategy ought to be.”
These may be altogether too much to tackle this week, or even during warm summer Wednesdays, but we hope you will reflect on these questions and bring your comments to the (actual or virtual) table.
This is the week that our West Wing sibling’s Salon coincides with ours. Do see Alexandra’s thoughtful and thought-provoking invitation

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