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Fired Muslim oilpatch workers welcome Husky investigation

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Andrea Huncar

The Edmonton woman fired from her oilsands job after raising concerns about Islamophobia welcomed news of an investigation by Husky Energy.

Social justice advocates urged the Calgary-based multinational oil company to address workplace discrimination and offer Amino Rashid and two colleagues who were also fired, new jobs.

Husky Energy said it would investigate their recent termination by subcontractor Newcart Contracting Inc., after being contacted about the case by CBC News.

“I was really happy to hear that because it meant that they were taking me seriously,” said Rashid, who has filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
Rashid, a student at York University in Toronto who was counting on the income to cover student loans and living expenses, was hired to work on a maintenance project at the Husky upgrader in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan.

But she and her colleagues were fired on June 3, just 11 days into their contract.

Earlier that day, they had complained about an Islamophobic incident targeting Rashid — the second incident in days.

In both interactions involving two different workers, Rashid was told to take “that thing” off her head, referring to her hijab.

The men argued that if they couldn’t wear hoodies then she couldn’t either, said Rashid, an account backed by witnesses who also spoke to CBC News.
Newcart declined to discuss the case, citing privacy legislation.

The company said in a statement it provides a “safe, inclusive employment experience” and accommodates religious requirements whenever possible under workplace health and safety policy and legislation.

But a taped recording of Rashid and her colleagues confronting their supervisors provides more insight into their dismissal.

One manager said Newcart was starting to cut back on workers and the trio were “randomly selected.”

When pressed, the manager explained random meant he chose their names from the sign-in sheet. He warned that they were no longer eligible for rehire on the next project because of their behaviour, and defended the workers’ comparison of the hijab to a hoodie.

The supervisor did not raise safety concerns about Rashid’s hijab, and she said she was told earlier it wasn’t an issue.

Safety issue or Islamophobia?

Rashid’s story has sparked fierce debate online, with many insisting it was a case of Islamophobia or ignorance while others argued it was about safety.

“It’s a huge safety issue! No hoodies or baggy clothes that can get caught in machinery,” wrote one person on Facebook.

A long-time oil industry worker who wrote to CBC said “any head covering, hoodie, raincoat hood first had to be fire retardant,” adding the items could also cause a blind spot “and people have been hit [by] moving equipment from this. My question is at what point do you draw a line?”

In her job as a safety watch, Rashid looked out for the safety of her coworkers, including watching what they wear.

She said Newcart and Husky told her they had no concerns with her hijab, but on previous projects when other company supervisors did, she wore a ‘fire retardant hoodie’ on top of her hijab, as well as always tucking her head scarf tightly into her coveralls.
Like Rashid, Maryama Jama, 24, who was also fired, relies on oilpatch jobs to cover her living expenses and tuition at York University, where she studies Health Sciences.

Both women are now scrambling to find other employment. Bills are piling up and they fear they won’t be able to return to school this fall.

Despite this, Jama decided to speak out about the racist comments she said she has endured in the work camps for the past three years, such as:

“I can’t find work because ISIS is taking all of our jobs.”

“Oh you speak proper English? Most of you guys don’t speak proper English”

“It’s shocking but you have to bite your tongue,” said Jama, who has also filed a human rights complaint and welcomed Husky’s investigation.

“I’m a minority so I don’t have a say, even though I was born here. It makes me feel helpless and useless in the country I was born in,” she said. “That’s how it is as a black girl in this world. You must go through those obstacles in life.”

Mark Cherrington, a social justice advocate in Edmonton, said “the Canadian thing to do” would be for Husky to provide the trio with another employment opportunity.

“Their lives were really disrupted, in my opinion, by no fault of their own other than their religious beliefs,” he said.

He urged the companies to foster a more inclusive culture.

“So if your employees are ignorant, if they’re not understanding, if there’s intolerance, as an employer you have to do the utmost not only to address the immediate concerns but also the bigger picture,” said Cherrington.

Husky has said it’s investigating due to “the seriousness of these allegations,” but added that all temporary contractors are leaving the Lloydminster site because the maintenance project is ending.
In a statement, the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council said “Islamophobia in the workplace is not acceptable and those responsible need to be held accountable.”

“We will be following the investigation closely and look forward to the final decision,” wrote AMPAC president Faisal Khan Suri.

Rashid, who has lived in Canada most of her life, took the Islamophobic and racist comments unleashed by her story in stride, saying she’s touched by all the beautiful messages from people she knows and strangers alike.

“I want all the people who can’t speak for themselves, that feel like they don’t have a right to speak up, I want them to know that I’m speaking up for you … Even my own family members that have been through it. I want them to know that I’m doing it for them.”

Canada

Canada’s immigration minister warns against illegal crossings at Minnesota’s northern border

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Canada’s immigration minister, Ahmed Hussen, arrived in Minnesota just days after the U.S. Supreme Court let stand for now new travel restrictions for eight countries, including Somalia — the land a teenage Hussen fled with his family.

But even as he has come to symbolize for some the divergent immigration philosophies on either side of the U.S.-Canada border, Hussen shuns criticism of the Trump administration’s approach. In fact, he was in the Twin Cities this week in part to discourage a spike in asylum-seekers crossing into Canada this year that has tested the country’s famously welcoming attitude.

“We are huge fans of immigration, but we want people to immigrate through the regular channels,” he said.

In a speech at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Hussen touted Canada’s measured approach, including a gradual increase in immigration planned over the next three years.

He met with resettlement agency staff and other advocates, plugging a unique Canadian program in which private citizens and churches sponsor some refugees.

Members of the local Somali community, where he enjoys rock star status, threw him a welcoming reception in Minneapolis.

“He is an icon,” said Mohamed Ahmed, a local community leader and Bush Foundation fellow. “People see him as an example of what is possible in the West.”

The first Somali-Canadian elected to parliament and appointed as minister, Hussen was 16 when he arrived alone in Toronto, where older brothers had resettled earlier. He has spoken of finding a sense of belonging on his high school track team and of enduring a two-hour commute as he worked at a gas station to save money for college.

He got a law degree from the University of Ottawa and practiced criminal and immigration law. Once a receptionist in an opposition politician’s office, he was elected to parliament in 2015. In January, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tapped him to lead the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.

“I am a big champion of our immigration system because I have been through it,” said Hussen, whose visit to Minneapolis was his third to the United States since becoming minister.

In the media, Hussen is often cast as an emblem of Canada’s stance against anti-immigration sentiments sweeping the United States and Europe. But he is unfailingly diplomatic about the differences between the Canadian and American approaches, saying only he has a good working relationship with counterparts on this side of the border. And, he stresses, Canada is by no means unified in support of more immigration.

A recent rise in illegal border crossings into Canada has triggered pushback from conservative politicians there and concerns from border communities such as the Manitoba city of Emerson, unsettled and overwhelmed by the arrivals. In Manitoba, many of those arrivals have been Somalis who had unsuccessfully applied for asylum in the United States. Now, Hussen and some Canadian lawmakers are reaching out to immigrant communities to highlight that border crossers undergo rigorous screening and face deportation if their asylum claims fall short.

“We don’t want people uprooting their lives based on false information,” Hussen said. “Crossing the border irregularly is not a free ticket to Canada.”

Ahmed said word in the local Somali community remains that Canada offers a much gentler welcome to those arriving at its border with asylum claims. He spoke of a friend, a permanent resident who faced deportation after a criminal conviction, who crossed into Canada this year. Though he doesn’t know yet if he will be granted asylum, the friend reports receiving subsidized housing and free legal help, Ahmed said.

To a packed auditorium at the Humphrey School, Hussen touted a plan the Canadian government released in November that will bring in almost 1 million new immigrants by 2020. About 60 percent will be employment-based immigrants, largely arriving through a merit-based system that awards points for education, language and professional skills, among other factors.

Hussen said doing immigration right requires an investment: The Canadian government is spending $1 billion this year on language classes, help with finding jobs and other integration efforts. But he said bringing in newcomers is crucial to ward off a looming labor shortage given Canada’s aging population.

“We strongly believe immigration is key to our future success in Canada,” he said.

Hussen also praised a Canadian refugee resettlement system in which, alongside the government’s program, private citizens and organizations commit to supporting refugees for a year.
The country has found these refugees do better easing into Canadian life. Hussen said the United Kingdom and several Latin American countries are modeling new programs on the Canadian approach, though he hasn’t yet fielded inquiries from the United States.

Hussen said with more refugees displaced globally than ever before in modern history, Canada plans to remain a key player in resettlement: “More people are on the move, and we can’t turn our heads away.”

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Briefing Room

Somali man found guilty in kidnapping of Canadian journalist

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FILE PHOTO: Somali national Ali Omar Ader arrested for 2008 hostage-taking in Somalia of two freelance journalists, Canadian Amanda Lindhout and Australian Nigel Brennan, is seen in an undated photo from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Courtesy RCMP/Handout via REUTERS

REUTERS — A Somali national has been convicted in an Ontario court for his role in the 2008 kidnapping of Canadian Amanda Lindhout, who was held captive in Somalia for 460 days and released only after her family paid a ransom, Canadian media reported on Wednesday.
Ali Omar Ader, 40, was found guilty of one charge of hostage-taking for his role as negotiator for the kidnappers, in a decision handed down on Wednesday in Ontario Superior Court in Ottawa.

Lindhout, a freelance journalist, was taken hostage in Somalia on Aug. 23, 2008, along with Australian photographer Nigel Brennan, while working on a story. They were released for ransom in November 2009.

Ader was lured to Canada from Somalia in 2015 and arrested in Ottawa as part of a sting operation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in which an officer posed as a publisher interested in a book Ader was writing on Somalia, according to court documents.

Prosecutors argued that Ader had been the main spokesman for the hostage-takers, negotiating first with Lindhout’s mother and later with a private consultant hired by the families of Lindhout and Brennan.
According to court documents, he referred to himself as “a commander” and repeatedly threatened that the hostages would be harmed or killed unless the ransom was paid.

During his trial, Ader said that he too had been kidnapped by the group holding Lindhout captive, and was forced to act as their spokesman, as he spoke some English.

In his ruling, Justice Robert Smith said Ader’s claims were “completely unbelievable,” numerous Canadian media outlets reported. Reuters has not read the ruling.

Ader faces up to life in prison. Sentencing in the case is not expected until next year.

Lindhout has said she was repeatedly sexually and physically assaulted during her captivity, and both she and Brennan have said they were tortured and starved.

In 2013, Lindhout recounted her experience in the book “A House in the Sky.”

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Canada

Two Canadas: My story of generosity and systemic racism | Honourable Ahmed Hussen

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TEDx — Hon. Ahmed Hussen entered Canada a child refugee, and today is Minister of Immigration and Refugees. He shares his experience of Canada: a country of immense generosity, but also one that struggles with systemic racism, and paints a bold picture of how a country can become truly great.

Ahmed Hussen is Canada’s Immigration Minister and Member of Parliament for the riding of York South-Weston. A lawyer and social activist, he has a proven track record of leadership and community empowerment.

Born and raised in Somalia, Ahmed immigrated to Canada in 1993; In 2002, he co-founded the Regent Park Community Council, which helped secure a $500 million revitalization project for the area, and he has been widely recognized for his significant contributions to the city of Toronto.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.

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