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A World with no Hunger

By Salma Bangash

Imagine a world exclusive of hunger, without anyone having to worry about starvation. How would that have affected your life choices and your situations?

Have you ever stayed hungry all day and went to sleep with no food in your belly?

According to a report published by the Daily Bread Food Bank , 20% of residents of Toronto, the most populated city in Canada, do that often. One out of three children has to deal with hunger almost every day, affecting their growth, study, behavior, and future.  Famine is no joke, and amidst a pandemic, it’s even more severe of an issue.

On top of everything, the pandemic has made lives much harder for the food insecure population. In early March, Covid-19 hit, and no one was prepared for this situation, so everyone dealt with it in their way in every country. Governments worldwide had to shut down businesses and impose strict lockdowns to contain the virus, resulting in lost jobs and layoffs.

Uncertainty created panic among ordinary people, and most started stocking up on necessities in fear of never-ending lockdowns. And while some people were stocking up on toilet paper, others didn’t know where their next meal would come from. Additionally, as has been widely documented across the country, food hoarding left low-income families who could not afford to buy in bulk at an extreme disadvantage when they found empty shelves at grocery stores.

The closure of businesses, lost jobs, and Covid-19 related sickness has overwhelmed Canada’s food banks. In April, the food bank reported a surge in new clients at the start of the pandemic, with weekly food deliveries increasing by 121 percent. In Waterloo Region alone, between March 16 – June 26, there was a 30 percent increase in the number of new households accessing food assistance compared to last year.  

Canada’s government has responded with 100 million dollars to food banks and other community services to eradicate poverty. Additionally, the Canada Emergency Response benefit was provided for people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Canada Emergency Student Benefit was another support for University students who could not look for or find a job due to Covid-19 and closed businesses. Other benefits included the Canada recovery plan, Canada The Canada recovery sickness benefit, and The Canada recovery caregiving benefit.

Canada had a comprehensive response to the pandemic as it implemented many diverse and timely plans for many different demographics, which helped during the pandemic. The programs implemented were also continuously improved and updated and had a much smaller margin of error.

It’s a fact that our government has offered many benefits to people in various situations; however, it hasn’t proven enough.

A recent survey conducted by Dalhousie University has indicated that food insecurity among Canadians is becoming alarming. The survey also suggests that 55% of Canadians are concerned about food security and must choose between paying rent or buying groceries.

The emergency support response to COVID-19 seems insufficient to feed the starving Canadians in this challenging time. We all know that hunger deteriorates the immune system, and the COVID-19 virus can forage freely on weak immune systems.

To meet the UNs goal of ‘zero hunger’, its essential to meet the other goal of ‘no poverty’. And the bridge between the two goals is a strong welfare system. However, the welfare system currently in place in Canada is a minimal effort to treat poor people like human beings. And even though many organizations in Canada are continually working to eliminate poverty, and the government is pitching in regularly, many people question if these efforts are enough or dignified?  Is a Universal pay or insurance a logical solution?

In the end, all this funding is essential and encouraging; however, keep in mind this will not be the world’s last global pandemic, and there are always other shocks to manage. To better prepare for future crises, governments should take this as a learning opportunity to invest in structural changes to reduce persistent inequities in food access due to poverty, health outcomes, decent work, and overall wellbeing

Emergency Response should be a routine response for every country. Only then can we imagine a world with no hunger.

Bill 21: Quebec’s Totalitarian Law Against Religious Freedom

By: Sabaahat Iqbal

Is Quebec’s Bill 21 really about neutralizing religious symbols in a workplace or is it taking away the human rights of Quebecers?

On June 16, 2019, Quebec passed Bill No. 21, which prohibits the display of religious symbols by public-sector workers in the workplace. This means; Muslim women cannot wear hijabs or niqabs, Jewish men cannot wear kippahs, Sikhs cannot wear turbans, and Christians cannot wear crosses, at work. 

This bill was the government’s fourth attempt in ten years to introduce religious neutrality to the province. Bill 21 is based on four principles:

1. the separation of state and religions,

2. religious neutrality of the state,

3. equality of all citizens, and

4. freedom of conscience and religion.

Though the government tried to put the bill in place as a positive outcome to the citizens of Quebec, many believe it violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom

Is it a Violation of the Charter?

The bill has been criticized as religious discrimination among many people in the province of Quebec and Canada as a whole. It violates Canada’s Freedom of Religion under section 2(a) in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.

This bill not only targets religious women, but it is legislating gender discrimination against these women. Not allowing women to dress in accordance with their religious beliefs directly conflicts with the assurances of Freedom of Religion in the Charter. 

Taking Away Their Rights to Express Themselves

Religious minorities already face obstacles on a daily basis when looking for stable employment.  This bill takes away their right to express their religious beliefs. I understand the reasoning in neutralizing religious symbols in the workplaces of the provincial government, but this bill makes people choose between their religious views and their career. 

Quebecer Nour Farhat, who wears a hijab, summed up the situation: “It really shut all my doors. Five months ago, I would have told you ‘I’m a future Crown attorney.’ I was so sure of my path. And now I’m like, OK maybe I’ll become an expert in insurance law?”

Many people are considering moving out of the province and starting fresh in a place where they can freely express their religious beliefs.

Covid-19 Face Coverings vs. Religious Face Coverings

Many believe that this bill is targeting Muslim women specifically. Particularly because of the rules related to face coverings, which bars a niqab-wearing woman from accessing public services. However, this begs a bigger question: what is the difference between Covid-19 face coverings vs. religious face coverings?

With the rise of COVID, face masks are mandatory in work environments for public authorities.

Canada’s Chief Public Health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, suggested people to wear non-medical face mask to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Yet wearing a niqab, because it represents a religious symbol, is prohibited under the bill. For instance, upon arrival at a hospital, COVID-19 patients entering the emergency department are given a face mask and asked to keep it on. A woman wearing a niqab entering the emergency department, will be required by law to remove it before receiving any health-care services.

On April 9 of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected an appeal filed by civil rights groups to suspend parts of Bill 21. The Premier of Quebec, François Legault praised the decision not to move forward with the appeal.  At the same time, public health persistently compels people to wear face masks for health and safety reasons. This has raised serious concerns about the arguments and motives behind Bill 21.

What’s Next?

Many people across the province are struggling to figure out what they should do next. Quebec is home to many people. It is where they grew up or came for fresh beginnings. But now, they are frustrated and confused because they have to choose between their religious practices and their career paths.

Let’s Not Rely on the ‘luck of the draw’ to Reunite Families

By Anthony Harrilall 

Many people dream of immigrating to Canada in hopes of starting a new life. In fact, some people would do whatever it takes to land on our soil. The dream of settling in Canada is one that individuals from around the world work hard to achieve, and once they arrive that hard work doesn’t stop. Personally, I have friends who work two part-time jobs while being enrolled in full-time studies. One of them works nightshifts at a warehouse, driving forklifts in the freezer department. He still somehow managed to make it to our 8:00 am lectures in our 4th year of University. This friend as well as others I know work harder than some people who were born and raised in Canada. Many of them are working in order to save money so that they can afford to sponsor their parents or grandparents, who can hopefully join them in Canada and reap the rewards of their hard work.

Usually, a person’s hard work will result in them gaining some type of reward. These rewards can be in the form of high grades, promotions, or some sort of recognition.  In the case of those who hope to sponsor their parents and/or grandparents, they should rightfully think that their contributions to Canadian society will increase their chances of being granted sponsorship, as they have built a good reputation for themselves. Essentially, they would have higher priority in the selection process over those who have been in Canada for a shorter period of time and therefore have contributed less to Canadian society. This is not to say that one person is more deserving than the other, but that there should be some sort of guideline in the system that would benefit those that deserve it.

Well sadly, this is not the case. On October 4th of this year, Liberal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced that Canada would be reintroducing a controversial lottery-based immigration system for those who wish to sponsor their parents or grandparents to Canada

The system picks 10,000 random names from a pool of applicants, and those individuals who are picked will be invited to submit applications to Immigrations, Refugees & Citizenship Canada. Selection from the pool of names is completely random and there are no minimum requirements to apply. 

Marco Mendicino claims that this system is equitable and attracts the best and brightest from around the world. However, many people who went through this system would beg to differ. There are instances where people who have been in Canada for over 5 years simply don’t get selected in the draw, as reported by CBC. It is seen as unfair by many because those who have been here for less time end up getting selected. There are also instances where people are selected but do not have suitable accommodations for sponsorship and therefore a spot is wasted because their application is denied.

The system is essentially a lottery and selections are based on sheer luck. We should not be supporting a system that is falsely labelled as equitable. I believe that the people who go through these systems should be able to voice their opinions and provide constructive feedback that can highlight weaknesses. That should be a basic right that they have which will help avoid unequitable systems like this being from implemented again. I am not arguing that the people going through the process should be the ones creating the system, but their voices should be heard since they are the main stakeholders in this situation.

Organizations around the world consider their clients as their most important stakeholders. They always include their clients in their strategic planning processes and it usually contributes to the organization’s success. Immigration, Refugees & Citizenship Canada should involve these stakeholders more so that they can actually ensure that their programs and immigration systems are as equitable as they claim they are. All in all, Canada is known for opening its doors to those who would like to call Canada home, and we should always keep it that way. If we want to ensure a smooth welcome, we should make our processes more predictable and not rely on the luck of the draw.