How Ethno-Politics Poisons Democracy

Naresh Raghubeer, National Post, July 31, 2007

The Ontario Khalsa Darbar Dixie Gurdwara received money from the McGuinty government despite a court battle over the alleged mismanagement of funds.

Last week, Ontario Auditor-General Jim McCarter reported that the province’s Immigration and Citizenship Ministry has been dispensing millions of dollars in grants to ethnic groups under a process that is “not open, transparent or accountable.” In many cases, groups got money simply because their members were chummy with ministry insiders. “In essence, the decisions behind ‘who got what’ were often based on conversations, not applications,” Mr. McCarter concluded.

But Mr. McCarter’s report does not merely highlight a failure of process in an otherwise sound government disbursement program. What the Auditor-General documents is nothing less than a taxpayer-funded political black market based on “ethnic” and religious vote-buying.

Dalton McGuinty’s government marked the 2006 and 2007 fiscal year-end by rushing $32.5-million dollars out the treasury’s door. Destination: cultural and religious groups likely to vote Liberal in the coming October elections.

2007 grant recipients included:—Islamic Institute of Toronto ($500,000)—St. George Arab Cultural Centre ($300,000)—Bengali Community Centre ($250,000)—Armenian Community Centre ($500,000)—Six Sikh temples ($750,000)—Chinese Professional Association ($250,000 )—Museum of Hindu Civilization ($200,000)—Sri Sathya Sai Baba Centre of Toronto, ($250,000)—United Jewish Appeal ($15 million)

Most astonishingly, the McGuinty government also threw a million dollar grant at the Ontario Cricket Association—a sum that was $850,000 more than the Association itself had requested. The Iranian-Canadian Community Centre’s $200,000 grant was disbursed despite there being “no written request for funding.” In some cases, the spectre of a political quid pro quo was overt: The $250,000 that went to the Chinese Professional Association of Canada (CPAC) was delivered just a few months after 10 CPAC board members attended a fundraiser for the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship, Mike Colle (who has since resigned). A CPAC board member also worked in the Minister’s office. Small world.

Awestruck Sikhs beheld $250,000 landing in a temple that was embroiled in a court battle over the alleged mismanagement of funds. Meanwhile, two grants of $100,000 each went to Sikh gurdwaras in Malton and Rexdale, where certain Sikh devotees promote the Khalistan movement and push to break up India. Photos of Sikh “martyrs” cover the Malton Gurdwara’s walls. Even an image of Talwinder Singh Parmar is posted there, despite his masterminding 329 murders—including 280 Canadians and 136 children—in the 1985 Air India bombing, the worst terrorist attack in this nation’s history. It is the equivalent of funding a mosque that venerates Osama bin Laden.

The quest for votes means politicians are less willing to differentiate between moderates and extremists: Whoever is seen to control the microphone at the local temple—and is therefore in a position to guide voting decisions—gets the cash. Hence, federal and provincial politicians now shamelessly attend Sikh and Tamil events where terrorists are glorified. The same phenomenon may well explain why Liberal leader Stephane Dion had his party vote down crucial expiring provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act, a law introduced by his own party in 2001. This placated the Muslim and Sikh supporters who helped him win the Liberal leadership. They know the Act’s demise will help scuttle the RCMP’s last chance to definitively fix guilt in the Sikh terrorist plot against Air India Flight 182, and thereby deny any sense of closure to the families of the murdered victims.

Canada’s federal Conservatives can’t resist, either, it seems. Last October, Mr. Harper turned over $30-million and Ottawa’s venerable old War Museum building to establish the Centre for Global Pluralism. The Centre is to be captained by the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of 15 million Shia Ismaili Muslims. How will our government react when much larger religious groups, such as Sunni Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews or Christians show up, wanting to establish similar international centres?

Meanwhile, back in Ontario, how have things gone since former citizen and immigration minister Mike Colle fell on his sword? In response to aggressive lobbying by Muslim and Jewish community members, Conservative Leader John Tory is promising $400-million to religious schools—with the hope that religious votes will carry him to Ontario’s premiership in October.

Whose interest is served when politicians play vote-bank politics with Canadian tax dollars? We risk importing into Canada the tribal politics that afflict the countries from which many of our immigrants have fled.

We also risk melding the realms of state and religion. This is a mixture that apparently appalls “progressive” Canadians when the religion at issue is Christianity. Why should the phenomenon be any less pernicious when the faith is Islam, Hinduism, Judaism or Sikhism?

Mr. McCarter’s report is a warning that should be heeded not only in Ontario, but all across Canada. Canadians are justly proud to live in a country where people can practice their privately held faiths freely. The private sphere is where such matters should remain: Publicly funded programs that subsidize religious and ethnic groups may benefit a handful of well-connected organizations. But our democracy as a whole becomes impoverished in the process.—Naresh Raghubeer is executive director with the Canadian Coalition for Democracies, a non-partisan, multi-ethnic, multi-religious organization of concerned Canadians dedicated to human rights, national security and the promotion of democracy.

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