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Rebekah Hebbert

How the Shafias changed Canada

Like many Canadians, I paid close attention to the Shafia trial as it unfolded in a blaze of media drama from its beginning in October 2011, through to the eventual conviction at the end of January.The reason for the intense focus on the trial is multi-faceted, but undeniably a great deal of the interest originates in the sheer enormity of the crime involved. The three accused are Mohammad, Tooba, and Hamed Shafia; mother, father and son. They have been convicted of the murders of Rona, Zainab (19 years old), Sahar (17) and Geeti Shafia (13) -- Mohammad Shafia’s first wife and three daughters.The reason? According to the crown, it was an honour killing, caused by the girls’ embrace of Western culture, such as boyfriends, Western clothing, and a desire for more freedom.The Shafia family came originally from Afghanistan, but in a series of moves that included Dubai and Australia, they eventually came to Canada as economic immigrants. As such the family, even with seven children and (as came out afterwards) two wives, was quite wealthy, millionaires in fact. It might have been an immigrant success story, except for dark familial undercurrents that began to rise to the surface.These difficulties began to be noticed at school. Zainab ran away from home. Sahar tried to commit suicide. Geeti was in constant trouble, and begged to be placed in foster care. At one point several of the children asked a stranger to call 911 for them, because they were too frightened to go home. Social services and the police got involved, but as soon as the parents appeared the children recanted all of their allegations. The police and social workers ended up closing their files.Meanwhile, matters did not, apparently, improve. Zainab was lured back home from the women’s shelter where she had been… Read More

The Family and Free Trade

Last year I read a book with the curious title “A Year Without ‘Made in China’”. At least, the title might have sounded curious to an average reader some decades ago, when international trade was a much smaller part of our lives, and when objects made in China might have been a rarity, rather than forming ubiquitous piles filling Wal-Mart shelves across the country. In the book, Sara Bongiorni’s decision to boycott Chinese products resulted in sometimes major struggles to complete even the simplest of purchases. Children’s sneakers? The only alternative to Chinese shoes were Italian ones out of a catalogue – at almost $70 a pair.Bongiorni’s struggles to find products manufactured anywhere but China, much less Made in America or Made in Canada, reflects the growing encroachment of international trade into our daily lives. But is this encroachment a good thing, or a bad thing, for families around the world?There can be little doubt that the liberalizing of trade has resulted in lower prices for consumers than would otherwise be available. And while some contend that this is hardly a clinching argument – after all what price another cheap t-shirt – there is no doubt that it has contributed to increased living standards for low-income families in developed countries. One study found that during the period of 1999 to 2005, inflation was seven percentage points lower for low-income people than for the wealthiest Americans. Admitting that there may have been a few reasons for that, lower prices on non-durable consumer items, like clothing, toys, household products, and food no doubt contributed greatly to holding down price increases.While lower prices at the Wal-Mart and Target checkout are undoubtedly good for families, it hardly seems a great deal if the trade-off is higher unemployment or, at best, lower paying jobs if you are lucky enough to get one. While it… Read More

Secularism and its discontents: religious accomodation in public schools

Updated: The Supreme Court ruled against the family in S.L. et al. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes et al.This Friday the Supreme Court of Canada is expected to rule on what could be a landmark case on the role of parental rights and religious accommodation in public education.The case, S.L. et al. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes et al., was brought by parents who were unable to receive an exemption for their children from Quebec’s mandatory, and controversial, Ethics and Religious Culture courses. The parents in question allege that by denying them the right to remove their children from the religion course, the government is violating their right to freedom of conscience and religion, as they would prefer to impart religious instruction to their children themselves.The question of religious accommodation in general is one that is making bigger and bigger headlines across the globe as schools adapt to a population that is much less homogenous than in earlier years. A few examples include: questions about whether Sikh children can carry kirpans (daggers that have religious meanings for Sikhs) in school despite the fact that having knives at school for any reason is typically severely punished; religious parents asking that their children be excluded from sex-ed or gay rights classes; girls demanding the right to wear burkas; atheists insisting that they not be exposed to any official mention of God; Christian children claiming the right to study the Bible during recess; debates about the place of evolution and intelligent design in science classes; and Muslim children asking to be excused from music and physical education classes, or give special accommodations for Friday prayers. In conflict can be notions of parental rights, individual rights, religious rights, cultural identity, safety, Canadian values, government law, separation of church/mosque/synagogue/temple and state, and plain old-fashioned pragmatism. Is… Read More

Pink Lego

It feels like a long time since I played with Lego on a regular basis, but from memory, my play involved inordinate amounts of time spent building house shells and trying to furnish them. With only moderate success. Unless you have a much bigger Lego collection than I had, or perhaps more patience with building boring walls, the furniture, if you attempt any level of detail, is frustratingly out of proportion with the house.Apparently I was not alone. A Lego team, sensing there was an untapped market, went to the trouble of following little girls around and finding out what they liked and what they wanted to play with. Conclusion: “what little girls were most concerned about was beauty, a term that also encompasses ‘harmony (a pleasing, everything-in-its-right-place sense of order); friendlier colors; and a high level of detail’.“Girls hated Lego's iconic minifigure because it's too boxy and they like to have a figure they can identify with. Girls told them, ‘I want to shrink down and be there.’ The issue isn't just the look of Lego sets. The researchers found that while boys focus on following the directions and getting the set together, girls like to take breaks throughout the process and start developing stories.”Mere detail? Only if you are one of those Lego engineers who make incredible life-size sculptures. If you are a less-than-MIT-engineer-material seven-year-old, the results with traditional sets are depressingly blocky and plain.So the company, with the intelligence that has resulted in annual revenue of over $2 billion, decided that it would be a good idea to recognize that boys, who make up over 90 per cent of primary Lego consumers, play and build differently, as a rule, than girls do. And that if they wanted to capture the female market they should give girls what… Read More

From the opinions editor’s desk: The London riots—a failure of postmodernism

As London burns, pundits are rushing to provide rationale for the destruction. Some blame poverty, some government cuts to services, while others fault the breakdown of the family or the fact that “bankers aren’t moral, so why should the youth be?”But to blame it on these forces is to diagnose a symptom as a cause. Why are the bankers immoral? Why has the family broken down? Why are the children of millionaires looting the streets? Why is anyone looting the streets, for that matter?A common answer seems to be, “because they can.” It may shock those who believe in the innate goodness of man—who have no basis for believing that those who come from good environments could behave like beasts—that this attitude could be so widespread. We see this shock writ large across many of the reactions: the surprise, the confusion, the scrambling for an answer, any answer, which might fit this strange reality but in the end just doesn’t.What surprises me is that there is any confusion in the first place. People act out their philosophy, their way of viewing the world. For many years, decades even, a philosophy has taken hold of the popular imagination which was virtually guaranteed to lead to such an end. Yet for so long we held to the strange belief that what we believe doesn’t matter that much, that we can eliminateobjective morality and objective truth without eliminating certain objective standards of behavior.The catchphrases have told us there’s no objective right and wrong, that we can’t know truth, and that no one has a right to judge anyone else. They’ve told us that what’s wrong for you might be right for me, and you can do whatever you want, as long as you’re not hurting anybody else.This last part was always slipped in… Read More
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