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Former Beach Boy to complete Gershwin songs

The musical genius behind the Beach Boys has been asked to complete the work of a pop composer from earlier in the 20th century — George Gershwin.

Gershwin, a famed lyricist and composer who created works such as Porgy and Bess, An American in Paris and the Oscar-nominated They Can't Take That Away From Me, left behind dozens of unfinished songs when he died in 1937.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Gershwin family trust, administered by the composer's nephew Todd Gershwin, has approached former Beach Boy Brian Wilson to finish some of the songs.


Wilson was the lead songwriter for the '60s band, penning hits such as Good Vibrations and Little Deuce Coupe, but also the more sophisticated album Smile, which came out in 2004.

Wilson, 67, said he was "thrilled" at the prospect of working with the ghost of Gershwin, adding that one of his earliest memories was of hearing Rhapsody in Blue, a Gershwin jazz-classical composition.

Wilson plans to issue an album of Gershwin classics, with his own arrangements, next year that will include at least three new Gershwin songs.

"George for his time was a visionary," Todd Gershwin told the Times. "He certainly crossed genres and musical lines, tried things that hadn't been done before and Brian Wilson has done exactly the same thing."


Canada’s biggest problem? America

by Luiza Ch. Savage

It has been almost two years since Stephen Harper disclosed that his cabinet was having serious discussions about what to do to “restore the special Canadian and American relationship” that he said had become “lost” in the Bush years. “What has happened is that Canada lost that special relationship with the United States. We increasingly became viewed as just another foreign country, albeit an ally, a good friend, but nevertheless a foreign country. You know, the northern equivalent of Mexico in terms of the border,” the Prime Minister told Maclean’s in an interview back in December 2007. “That isn’t just a shift in the view of the administration, that’s somewhat a shift in American public opinion as well, which concerns me.”

At the time, Harper was preoccupied with a new passport requirement that threatened tourism and trade, adding a new scale to the ongoing red-tape “thickening” of the world’s longest undefended border. “I’m certain this trend will not be reversed in the lifetime of the current American administration,” Harper said at the time. “I’m more optimistic it will be deferred later by a new administration.” But, he added, “I’m far from sure.”

He was right to be wary. If the special relationship was lost under George W. Bush, nine months into the new administration it remains missing. At his Sept. 16 meeting with Obama at the White House, Harper boasted that it was his seventh session with the new President. But the passport requirement remains, as do agricultural inspection fees on commercial cross-border traffic and air travellers. Instead of “un-thickening” the border, the new administration has kept the Bush policies in place and even piled more on: in February, the U.S. sent unmanned aerial surveillance drones to patrol parts of the border with Canada. The drones, which can detect human movement 10 km away, are supposed to help catch smugglers. But they have raised concerns about privacy in border communities, and although they are unarmed, give the 49th parallel something in common with the tribal lands between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Since Obama’s February trip to Ottawa, where he was greeted with a rapturous welcome on his first official foreign visit, the state of the world’s largest trading relationship has become even more fraught. Given that fully one quarter of the Canadian economy depends on exports to the U.S., growing American protectionism has proven to be a growing threat. Problems began with a Buy American provision in the US$787-billion stimulus bill. While there have been reports that an exemption for Canada may be imminent, in return for Canadian municipal and provincial governments allowing procurement contracts for U.S. companies, rules similar to the Buy American provision are now being repeated in other legislation. Protectionism has also surfaced in proposed climate change legislation that would impose border tariffs on imports from countries whose carbon policies Washington deems insufficient. And there are other issues galore that affect Canada, from complicated and costly trucking rules and the treatment of Canadian hydroelectricity under U.S. environmental laws to “country of origin” labelling that imposes costs on Canadian agricultural producers and reduces the appeal of their goods in the U.S. marketplace.

Oh—there’s Canada’s national sport as well. In August, Canadian NHL teams faced the prospect of having their seasons thrown into limbo by a sudden Obama administration crackdown on Canadian charter flights operating between U.S. cities. That issue arose when a U.S. charter airline and an American pilots’ union complained that the Air Canada charter company was beginning to take U.S. business, and the Department of Transportation stepped in. When Harper sat down with Obama at his Sept. 16 Oval Office meeting, he took precious minutes away from discussions of Afghanistan and Iran to address the war over hockey players.

That problem was eventually resolved, with Air Canada agreeing to “an unprecedented level of monitoring and enforcement” of who boards the flights. But it was just one more high-profile imbroglio between the two countries that may have left many Canadians asking the question: is America Canada’s biggest problem?

Jason Myers, the president of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, calls growing American protectionism “the hottest issue for us.” He is not only concerned about new rules that affect us directly, but also those aimed at other countries that lead to problems for Canada. For example, when Obama announced in September that the U.S. would impose tariffs on tires from China, Myers worried that any Chinese retaliation against the U.S. auto industry would hurt Canadian businesses, too, because that sector is so integrated in North America. “We just see a whole lot of areas where the U.S. is becoming more closed, protectionist and isolated in terms of trade,” Myers says. “It’s not just that it’s our biggest market, but we make things together. We are part of an integrated supply chain. It has far-reaching impacts throughout industries.”

The impact of the Buy American provisions has been not only to exclude Canadian suppliers from government contracts at the state and local level, but also to encourage American distributors to stop carrying Canadian products. “The impact of this goes well beyond the procurement markets at state and local levels and beyond the federal restrictions,” Myers says. The economic impact is hard to estimate, in part because only a small portion of the stimulus money has been disbursed, but at least 250 Canadian companies have lost business, he adds.

Washington, Ottawa and the provinces have worked toward a solution to the problem. But even if Canada gains an exemption from the Buy American provision, Canadian businesses are worried that initiative may have been just the tip of the iceberg. Similar protectionist rules have been included in several bills pending in Congress, including the Water Quality Investment Act, which Myers notes could affect $4 billion worth of Canadian exports.

Of course, U.S. protectionism is rising precisely because the American economy is struggling, with the country’s global trade deficit now a domestic political football. To American ears, this drumbeat of Canadian complaints is beginning to look predatory. The Canadian Embassy arms itself with fancy maps detailing just how many jobs in each congressional district depend on the annual US$742 billion in trade with Canada. But congressmen know a trade deficit when they see one: the Canada-U.S. imbalance happens to amount to several billion dollars each month—in Canada’s favour (it was US$2.2 billion in July).

“I think we need a whole new vocabulary in the relationship,” says Scotty Greenwood, executive director of the Washington-based Canadian-American Business Council. The two countries are often tone-deaf to each other’s politics, she observes. “Canadians like to talk about NAFTA and say, ‘We’re your biggest trading relationship.’ Well, here NAFTA is a dirty word and everyone knows that Canada has a trade surplus. That is not what Americans want to hear. Basically, Canada is saying, you guys are an awesome market. We know that. We want you to be an awesome market for us, too.”

Likewise, in an America where national security concerns are top of mind, Canadian complaints about “thickening” at the border fall on deaf ears, Greenwood says, including those of the new secretary of homeland security. “Janet Napolitano leaned over to me at a dinner,” she recalls, “and said, ‘They talk about this like it’s a bad thing.’ ” Greenwood suggests new language for discussing border issues. “The Canadian vocabulary should be something like, ‘smart, breathable armour.’ If Canadians would talk about it as smart, breathable armour it would automatically reassure Americans that you understand the concerns.” Canadian governments should adapt to the fact that U.S. attitudes changed permanently after 9/11, she says. “It’s like the passport thing. If you want Canadians to be advantaged and have privileged access to the U.S., then get a secure card instead of arguing that we should accept 5,000 different documents.”

David Wilkins, the former U.S. ambassador to Canada, says Canadians should recognize the immense power of Congress when trying to press their case. That is what Wilkins himself is doing in his new role as a lobbyist for Saskatchewan, which wants to develop and export production from its oil sands at a time when some members of Congress want to penalize “dirty oil” in upcoming climate change legislation. He recently flew several influential U.S. senators to the province to see a joint Canadian-American carbon capture and sequestration project aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He also praised Harper for calling on congressional leaders on Capitol Hill during his last visit to Washington. “He obviously gets it because he did that visit to the Hill,” says Wilkins.

Better late than never, says Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat in Washington. “It’s been five years since a Canadian prime minister has been out there in a formal sense,” says Robertson, a senior fellow at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. “It is entirely appropriate for the Prime Minister to go to Congress—he is our legislator-in-chief. If we started doing that on a consistent basis, that will give us more credibility. It opens the conversation on future engagement,” he adds.

To address concerns about border security, Robertson says the heads of Canadian security agencies such as CSIS and the RCMP, and their U.S. counterparts, should jointly educate members of Congress about the deep bilateral co-operation in law enforcement and intelligence. “If you send that information to Congress, it will make it easier on border issues,” he says. Likewise, Robertson says Canadian labour should take an aggressive role in pressing top U.S. labour leaders on protectionism that hurts Canadian unions. “A third of Canadian unions are affiliates of U.S. unions. It’s brother hurting brother,” he says. “Canadians need to work the American system the way the Americans themselves use it. You have to play by American rules.” Myers agrees. “It’s clear Canada won’t go far just by trying to encourage the U.S. to do us favours,” he says. “We have a lot of work to do to build a stronger voice among stake-holder groups like business associations and labour associations across Canada and the U.S. to say that we are in this together.”

But when it comes to direct dealings with the Obama administration, Canada has to walk a fine line between raising bilateral issues and trivializing the relationship. “Because of the U.S.’s position in the world, the President is dealing with international issues, whether it’s Afghanistan, Iran or North Korea,” Wilkins says. “Those are the primary focus. It behooves any country dealing with the U.S. to talk about the international issues before you turn your attention to wait times at the Peace Bridge.”

Robertson has much the same message. “With the Americans we tend to focus on just the little neighborhood stuff,” he complains, noting that the Canadian emphasis on bilateral irritants came to irritate Bush’s secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. “She would say, ‘Here come the Canadians with their condominium issues.’ ” Robertson, for one, regrets that Harper raised the issue of hockey flights at his tête-à-tête with Obama, rather than leaving it to ministers and ambassadors. “It makes them wonder: are we dealing with a border state governor or a serious G8 nation? We tend to ratchet stuff up because we think this is what the public wants. But the public wants results. A lot of stuff the President can’t resolve.”

Meanwhile, Robertson says, the U.S. is strongly interested in the Canadian perspective and Canadian contacts on issues from Afghanistan to Pakistan to the western hemisphere. Indeed, the outgoing Canadian ambassador to Washington, Michael Wilson, has called Canada’s military role in Afghanistan the “best calling card I had” in Washington. When that military commitment winds down, it will not make the Canada-U.S. relationship any easier. “That’s going to be front and centre for the government, for Parliament, for some time, as to how we handle this in a way that doesn’t undermine the terrific goodwill that we have,” he told Maclean’s in a recent interview.

Despite the tensions, there have been notable examples of smooth co-operation between the two countries on urgent matters. Facing a possible swine flu pandemic, labs in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico worked together to identify the new virus. There were also the neatly dovetailed government bailouts for the auto industry. “It was definitely a team effort,” says Ann-Marie McGaughty, a partner at the law firm McKenna Long and Aldridge, who was counsel for the Canadian government in the negotiations. “The word at the top was ‘get it done,’ and everybody tried to find a way to make it happen.” Despite the Canadian government’s much smaller stake in Chrysler and General Motors, McGaughty says that “from the beginning the mantra was, ‘U.S. and Canada side by side.’ Which meant if it was a right or a privilege that the U.S. was getting, then Canada would get it too.”

Lawrence Cannon, Canada’s foreign minister, says that while border-thickening and Buy American issues draw disproportionate attention, the underlying relationship is solid. “They aren’t issues that prevent us from continuing on a good relationship,” he says. Evidence that the Conservative government is working on the bilateral bonds can be found in the 36 trips by Canadian cabinet ministers to Washington since Obama took office, as well as the eight meetings between the Prime Minister and the President (the last one was at the G20 in Pittsburgh). Obama, too, has tried to put a happy face on relations. At his meeting with Harper on Sept. 16, he said protectionism is a “legitimate issue” but encouraged Canadians “to keep things in perspective.” “Canada continues to be a huge trading partner to the United States,” the President added. “Businesses in the United States and Canada both benefit from that trade, as do consumers. On the scale of our overall trading relationship, [irritants] shouldn’t be considered the dominant element of our economic relationship.”

But Liberal MP Scott Brison, his party’s trade critic, says the Tories started out with a serious disadvantage when Obama came into power, since Harper had been seen as ideologically close to Bush. “Their focus was very much partisan and ideological,” Brison charges. He slams the Harper government for failing to adequately push back against new border rules that have decreased casual travel between the two countries, which he says has been “devastating” for Canadian small businesses that rely on U.S. travellers. Brison also says Ottawa should have fought back harder against new U.S. country-of-origin labelling rules that hurt Canadian food producers.

And there is a growing recognition in Ottawa that Canada can’t count on things getting better quickly. In the halls of the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Department there’s growing talk of diversifying to other countries as a hedge against not-so-reliable U.S. markets. Trade Minister Stockwell Day alluded to that during a recent two-day mission to Brazil to promote trade and investment. “We do have a relationship with the U.S. that is in many ways the envy of the world,” Day said. “But as we have experienced, when they hit a downturn in the economy, their demand drops and that hits us hard.” Brazil, which has emerged as the clear focal point of Ottawa’s beyond-the-U.S.A. strategy in the western hemisphere, is a huge prize—an economy just slightly smaller than Canada’s and a notch bigger than Mexico’s. Day, in fact, has been to Brazil twice since being named trade minister after last fall’s election. In 2008, Canadian exports to Brazil—everything from fertilizer to paper—totalled $2.6 billion, a 70 per cent leap over the previous year. “We see our engagement with Brazil kicking up to a new strategic level as a partner in the post-economic-crisis global marketplace,” said one Canadian trade official.

That may be so. But America will remain Canada’s biggest opportunity, and greatest challenge, for years to come. After all, Brazil remains small potatoes compared to the U.S. market. And there is nowhere else for those NHL charter flights to go.


Why the U.S. doesn’t trust Canada

by Paul Rosenzweig

On June 1, for the first time in history, Canadians and Americans crossing the border were required to show a passport (or equivalent) document. By all accounts the transition has, despite Canadian fears, proceeded with remarkably modest disruption. Canadians, however, continue to question the requirement and to object to other U.S. border security measures. As I worked (on behalf of the United States) over the past four years to prepare for these changes, most Canadians expressed a quiet dismay: “How,” they wondered, “could you be doing this to us when we are such good friends?”

After all, it has been a major sea change in the American approach to the land border with Canada. For more than 100 years, though Canadians have thought frequently and almost obsessively about the United States, most Americans have paid relatively little attention to Canada. Except for those who live close to the border (let’s all say it together: “the longest undefended border in the world”) or whose business is linked to Canadian products, most Americans don’t hold any strong opinion about Canada. You’re just like us, we think, only a little different and a little less temperate. We’re the lucky ones, because we have Florida (though each winter the residents of Ontario invade).

In the years since 9/11, I think many Canadians have come to yearn for this era of benign neglect. Before then, Canada had come to rely on the fact that America had not been paying very much attention to it. In effect, that let Canada have the best of both worlds—the capacity and interest in pursuing policies that are independent from those followed by the United States, joined with the enjoyment of an open border that substantially reduced any practical sovereign distinction between the two countries insofar as travel and trade were concerned.

The result was an undefended border, but one that had an inherent tension to it as differences grew in American and Canadian policies. By and large Canada has much greater openness to the rest of the world than does the U.S. Canadian asylum policies are more liberal; Canada extends the privilege of visa-free travel to the citizens of many more countries. And, more fundamentally, Canada takes a much lighter hand in screening arriving travellers.

These are, of course, generalizations, so let me provide a specific example. The United States has long had challenges on its southern border with Mexico. At this juncture, we have fairly stringent identification requirements for Mexicans entering the United States directly. Yet until new Canadian visa restrictions came into effect on July 14, Canada had chosen to allow visa-free travel for Mexicans to Canada; the lack of a more concrete identification requirement on the part of the U.S. at the northern border until June 1 created an opportunity for Mexicans to evade the southern border restrictions. Let me be clear: Canada is a good friend of the United States and a separate sovereign nation. It is, and ought to be, perfectly free to make independent sovereign decisions regarding its admissions policies. Nobody in the United States would say otherwise. But differences—like Canada’s past treatment of Mexican nationals—necessarily have consequences.

Before Sept. 11, 2001, the disharmony in immigration and border control policies was of relatively minor importance—certainly not worth attempting to correct if the cost would be a disruption in cross-border trade. That changed after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. At the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), where I served, we spent a large fraction of our time thinking about Canada—and with good reason. Created in 2003, DHS is the locus for American efforts to prevent another terrorist attack on the United States. To a large degree that means that DHS is a border security agency—and as a border agency, we worry about (surprise!) borders. That means that DHS spends a lot of its time thinking about Canada (along with Mexico and our “third border” in the Caribbean), and much less time worrying about more distant overseas threats in, say, South Asia or the Middle East. For DHS, “international affairs” frequently means “Canadian affairs” (or Mexican or Caribbean).

So the initial problem for Canada was a simple practical one—we were paying more attention. And what we saw caused us some concern. What had earlier been very modest divergences in immigration policy now loomed larger as differences in counterterrorism policy. Some Canadians have yet to come to grips with the new reality that Canada can’t have it both ways—it can’t both exercise its own sovereign authority over its border policies, and expect the United States not to do the same thing. If we did we would, in effect, be outsourcing American security decisions to Canada, a state of affairs that simply cannot continue in a post-9/11 world.

This new reality would be of little moment if we had a shared sense of the terrorist problem and could anticipate a commitment to working on a convergence of policies. Unfortunately, over the course of many discussions with my Canadian colleagues, all of which have been exceedingly amiable and pleasant, I’ve begun to worry that the U.S. and Canada are not as closely aligned as they think they are. We have tried to work at realigning our vision (the preferred course of action), but if we don’t succeed and continue down a path of divergence, that will, inevitably, lead to even greater disparities and controversies between the two countries.

The opening assumption that I brought to the negotiating table, and that I think every American would begin with, is that the U.S. and Canada more or less see the world in the same way. At the core, we like to believe that we think alike and have the same aim—a free and safe citizenry. Increasingly, however, I’m not sure this assumption holds. We don’t seem to see the world the same way anymore, and as a result there is perceptible erosion in the trust between us. Americans responded to Sept. 11 in ways that most Canadians don’t seem to have internalized. At an intellectual level, they recognize that 9/11 was a traumatic experience for the U.S. They understand and respect the fact that it has caused a reaction. But in their most candid moments, I suspect most Canadians think the U.S. overreacted (a view that some in the U.S.—though likely a minority—also share). Many Americans, by contrast, think that Canada didn’t react enough to Sept. 11, and that what little reaction there was amounted to, if anything, tepid half-measures.

Back in 2006, DHS made a broad strategic proposal to our Canadian counterparts: let’s work to synchronize our perimeter security approaches as much as possible. The payoff would be relaxed controls along our mutual border. I remember when then-DHS secretary Michael Chertoff first presented this idea to his counterpart, Stockwell Day, then minister for public safety. We laid out a comprehensive proposal that included: greater information sharing, coordinated standards for passenger screening, shared technology and targeting for cargo containers, and other similar concepts. Essentially we proposed a joint security model for homeland security that resembled NORAD in conception. Even at that first meeting the response from Canada was lukewarm, at best.

I continue to believe that there are many real benefits that would flow from co-operation of this sort. Here’s a concrete example. The U.S. has begun to develop a series of policies aimed at deterring the importation of a nuclear weapon or radiological material for a “dirty bomb” into the United States aboard small private aircraft (known, in the trade, as “general aviation”). Some of those policies are internal to the U.S.—we’ll be requiring better identification for passengers and pilots, for example. But one key component of the strategy is the idea of screening general aviation airplanes overseas, before they depart for the United States.

This was a win-win proposition for everyone. America would have greater security, since any radioactive material would be interdicted before it even started toward the U.S. The general aviation community would benefit, since they would undergo all of the regular U.S. customs and immigration screening overseas and then be allowed to travel to any airport in the U.S. (instead of the current practice, where they must first land at an official port of entry, like Miami, and then fly onward to their ultimate destination). And the host country and airport would benefit from increased traffic, with the resulting economic benefits. The attraction is so great that in less than two years the U.S. has already signed agreements of this sort with Ireland, Bermuda and Aruba. More are likely.

Early on, we saw this as a great opportunity to synchronize our perimeter security with Canada. The idea would be for Canadians to co-locate their own customs and immigration officials at the same facilities and provide the same service for Canada-bound general aviation. Since it’s unlikely that a terrorist would actually be able to acquire a loose nuclear weapon in Canada, there would be no real need for screening Canadian traffic to the U.S. if Canada and U.S. radiological screening overseas were coordinated in this way.

I can’t say why, but while I was at DHS we had absolutely no real expression of Canadian interest in the project (or in any of the other synchronization proposals). I personally briefed our general aviation plans to Canadian delegations on at least three occasions—but when I left DHS in January 2009, Canadian participation in a joint general aviation screening program was firmly placed on the back burner.

Maybe it is because the nature of minority government prevents co-operation of this sort. Maybe it was the product of a distrust of the Bush administration that will dissipate now that Barack Obama is president. But I suspect, as well, that it simply reflects a Canadian disposition toward the terrorism issue: if you don’t think terrorism is that important an issue, then you aren’t willing to invest the time and energy required to address the problem. And if that really is the cause of our divergence of views, it will become a permanent and enduring reality, with consequences at the border.

Finally, there is one other piece to the puzzle that must be mentioned in any candid assessment of the U.S.-Canada relationship. Since both countries, broadly speaking, seek the same social ends through the same governmental means, we have come to believe that we each are a trustworthy partner. There is a very good, historical basis for this trust. We used to say at DHS: “If the Canadians say they will do something, they’ll do it.” I’m not sure that mutual trust exists as much anymore—especially Canadian belief in American trustworthiness. Though we continue to co-operate closely and well on a tactical level (shared law enforcement investigations and the like), I and my colleagues at more senior levels had a distinct perception of distancing by our Canadian counterparts, and a notable reduction in our ability to share information across the border.

Much of this, I think, traces back to the Maher Arar incident. And here I begin to worry even more, because I cannot see reconciliation. In Canada, the belief is that Arar was mistreated. It has become so strong a belief that it has become an article of faith. This is neither the time nor the place to rehash the questions about Arar, save to make an important point that often gets lost: the U.S. is both entitled to, and obliged to, form its own judgment about Arar.

And reasonable friends may interpret facts differently. Where Canadians see an innocent 20-minute walk in the rain (according to the report issued by Justice Dennis O’Connor, who oversaw Canada’s public inquiry into the affair, on Oct. 11, 2001, Arar spent 20 minutes outside in the rain talking to an individual who was the subject of an ongoing terrorism investigation), some Americans (and the RCMP) see behaviour reminiscent of those seeking to avoid surveillance and “taking great pains not to be overheard.” A walk in the rain is, in our experience, a tactic frequently adopted by organized crime figures to avoid audio surveillance. On the basis of this conduct, and other information, I expect that Arar will continue to remain an object of U.S. concern for the indefinite future.

This is not to say that either side is necessarily right in its judgment about Arar’s activity, and it is certainly not to suggest that what Arar reports having experienced in Syria was proper treatment. But it is to say that the Canadian reaction to what is, at worst, a disagreement as to a single (albeit prominent) case does broad damage to our relationship—and that damage can have wide-ranging effects. If we do not trust each other enough, we are unlikely to find ways to bring greater openness to our borders.

But another aspect of the erosion of trust, from our side of the border, lay in Canadian public diplomacy over the potential imposition of border controls. What would be the reaction in Canada if American cabinet officials and ambassadors were personally engaged in overt efforts to lobby Parliament to change Canadian laws that Americans thought were not beneficial? Canadians would, and quite rightly, object. Yet, for nearly four years, I witnessed exactly congruent Canadian conduct—ministers and your ambassador vigorously lobbying Congress for a change in American law. On at least one occasion, the ambassador hosted a dinner at the embassy for the sole apparent purpose of having all of his guests publicly lecture the DHS officials present about how wrong-headed our policies were. Discussions that ought to have occurred between our respective executive branches were made the fodder of American politics. And that, too, erodes trust.

Indeed, given the successful implementation of the passport requirement—which by most accounts has had a modest disruptive effect on trade and travel—we can see, in retrospect, how Canadian fears caused Canadians to overreact. There is a bit of an irony here, because overreaction is supposed to be the flaw in America’s response to the terrorism threat, not the flaw in Canada’s response to America.

There is still much to be celebrated in our relationship. Despite our differences we continue to co-operate routinely in ways that no two other countries in the world are capable of doing. But that kind of relationship requires constant care and attention. For too long we’ve benefited from a lack of any challenges. Today that is changing—we have much work to do to rebuild a shared consensus and world view and recreate an atmosphere of trust. The task is not an easy one, and the first step on the road is a candid assessment of where we are. No longer can we rely on just hoping we don’t notice our differences. Instead, let’s begin to acknowledge them for what they are, with the hope and expectation that good friends can resolve them if they are willing.


Canadian muslim group urges gov't to ban burkas, niqabs in public

By: The Canadian Press

Middle Eastern garments designed to cover a woman's face are "medieval" and "misogynist" symbols of extremism with no basis in Islam, a Canadian Muslim lobby group said Wednesday as it urged Ottawa to ban the burka and the niqab.

The Muslim Canadian Congress called on the federal government to prohibit the two garments in order to prevent women from covering their faces in public -- a practice the group said has no place in a society that supports gender equality.

"To cover your face is to conceal your identity," congress spokeswoman Farzana Hassan said in a telephone interview, describing the issue as a matter of public safety, since concealing one's identity is a common practice for criminals.

The tradition of Muslim women covering their faces in public is a tradition rooted more in Middle Eastern culture than in the Islamic faith, Hassan added.

There is nothing in any of the primary Islamic religious texts, including the Qur'an, that requires women to cover their faces, she said -- not even in the controversial, ultra-conservative tenets of Sharia law.

Considering the fact that women are in fact forbidden from wearing burkas in the grand mosque in Mecca, Islam's holiest site, it hardly makes sense that the practice should be permitted in Canada, she said.

"If a government claims to uphold equality between men and women, there is no reason for them to support a practice that marginalizes women."

The proposed ban would include the burka, an iconic head-to-toe gown with a mesh-like panel over the face that allows the wearer to see and to breathe, as well as the niqab -- a veil that leaves only the eyes exposed.

Hassan said the ban would not extend to the hijab, a traditional headscarf that does not cover the face.

The proposed ban comes on the heels of reports that Sheikh Mohamed Tantawi, dean of Egypt's al-Azhar university and the country's highest Muslim authority, is poised to issue a fatwa, or religious edict, against the garments.

Media reports Monday said Tantawi described the face coverings as "a custom that has nothing to do with the Islamic faith."

Mohamed Elmasry, former president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said he agrees the tradition has its roots in cultural customs rather than religious teachings, but that the issue is irrelevant in Canada where the practice is not widespread.

Elmasry disputed suggestions that the garments pose a security threat, saying only a minority of Muslim women living in Canada feel the need to conceal their features in public.

He said he believes those women should have the freedom to decide whether they wish to cover their faces, and that a ban would limit freedom of expression.

"People feel it's part of their identity, people feel it's part of their culture," Elmasry said.

"It's not for you and me to decide."


"These stories leave me conflicted.

On one hand, I completely support the decision of women who want to wear a burqa. I might disagree with it, but I'll fight to the death for their right to wear it.

On the other hand, I very much doubt that the majority of women who wear one do so out their own free will and because they want to instead of being forced to, or doing it out of fear of ostracization at best, corporal punishment being quite likely, and being killed for honour reasons is not an extremely unlikely possibility."