Archive | March, 2016

Jobseekers resort to ‘resumé whitening’ to get a foot in the door, study shows

Posted on 31 March 2016 by admin

A major two-year study led by U of T researchers shows minority job applicants use Anglicized names, downplay ethnic experience in the hopes of landing a job.

It’s a disturbing practice called “resumé whitening” and involves deleting telltale signs of race or ethnicity from a CV in the hopes of landing a job.

And it happens more often than you’d think.

According to a two-year study led by University of Toronto researchers, as many as 40 per cent of minority jobseekers “whiten” their resumés by adopting Anglicized names and downplaying experience with racial groups to bypass biased screeners and just get their foot in the door.

It’s when “Lamar J. Smith” becomes “L. James Smith” or “Lei Zhang” morphs to “Luke Zhang” — and the callback rates soar.

“It’s really a wake-up call for organizations to do something to address this problem. Discrimination is still a reality,” said Sonia Kang, lead author of “Whitened Resumés, Race and Self-Presentation in the Labour Market,” released in the Administrative Science Quarterly Journal.

“It shows us that racial minorities aren’t just passively receiving this discrimination. They are trying to do something about it.”

In the study, only 10 per cent of black job applicants — created by researchers based on real candidate profiles — received callbacks for job interviews if they stuck to their African names and experience with black organizations. However, the callback rate went up to 25.5 per cent if their names were “whitened” and their black experience was removed from their resumés.

In the case of the Asian applicants, only 11.5 per cent received callbacks if they used their Asian-sounding names and experience, compared to 21 per cent using whitened resumés.

When seeking jobs with employers known to have a pro-diversity image, minority job applicants were less likely to “whiten” their resumes, the study found.

But, perhaps most surprising, even with pro-diversity employers, the odds of getting called in for an interview were greater when a minority applicant took steps to hide their race, the research shows.

The study consists of three parts: Focus group interviews with black and Asian university students in both U.S. and Canadian universities about their experience of resumé whitening, a laboratory experiment on how jobseekers tailor resumés to pro-diversity employers and a resumé audit of interview calls from real employers to fictitious job applicants who engaged in varying degrees of resumé whitening.

Thirty-six per cent of the 59 students — 29 blacks and 30 Asians of different disciplines from finance to medicine, law, education and IT — who participated in the in-depth interviews reported they personally engaged in resumé whitening and two-thirds said they knew others who did.

“I am very involved in black organizations on campus… Association of Black Women, Black Students’ Association, Black Christian Fellowship. I was a little hesitant about having so many black organizations on my resumé,” a female college senior told researchers.

“I did take off a couple of black organizations… I think to me it was just trying to tone down the blackness, for lack of a better word.”

“Freshman year in my resumé I put my legal name, which is very Chinese-sounding. And then I went to Career Services, and they told me to put my American nickname on it instead,” said a female senior of Chinese background.

Participants said they adopted the whitening techniques in order to signal to prospective employers an ability to “fit in” with white employers and co-workers and to show they are “uninterested” in political racial causes.

In part two of the study, 119 undergraduates were invited to draft resumés for job postings for two companies advertised as “equal opportunity” employers. The study found the proportion of students who whitened their resumé was up to two times lower when the employer was presented as one that values diversity.

In the third part of the research, 1,600 fictitious resumés — with no whitening, a whitened first name, whitened experience or a whitened first name and whitened experience — were sent in response to job ads.

In total, 267 or 16.7 per cent of the applications led to a job interview request. For black applicants, the callback gap between unwhitenedresumés and those for which both the name and the experiences were whitened was 15.5 percentage points; for Asians, the gap was 9.5 percentage points.

Kang, an assistant professor of organizational behaviour and human resources management, said employers must go beyond the rhetoric of how they appreciate diversity in their workforce. “By creating a false sense of security, these (diversity) statements merely provide an illusion of diversity that might end up making things worse for minority applicants.”

How minority job applicants ‘whiten’ their resumés:

Unwhitened: Name of a black applicant on resumé appears as “Lamar J. Smith”;

Whitened: Changed to “L. James Smith”;

Unwhitened: Name of an Asian applicant on resumé appears as “Lei Zhang”;

Whitened: Changed it to “Luke Zhang”;

Unwhitened: Lists involvement as vice-president of Aspiring African American Business Leaders and peer counsellor of Black Students’ Association;

Whitened: Removes those organizations and replaces with causes such as “Give Kids a Smile Day” and first-year student orientation;

Unwhitened: Lists volunteer experience and interests that are exclusively within Korean community organizations;

Whitened: Removes them and replaces with hiking, snowboarding and activities common in Western culture;

Unwhitened: Being the political action chair of Black Students Association;

Whitened: Changes that to member of a generic minority business and entrepreneur group;

*Only 10 per cent of the fictitious black job applicants received callbacks for job interviews if they stuck to their African names and experience with black organizations. However, the callback rate went up to 25.5 per cent if their names were whitened and black experience was removed from their resumés.

**Only 11.5 per cent of the Asian job applicants received callbacks for job interviews if they used their Asian-sounding names and experience with Asian groups. However, the callback rate went up to 21 per cent if their names were whitened and Asian experience was removed from their resumés.

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Canada A Top Candidate For Debt Crisis?

Posted on 31 March 2016 by admin

Canada is among seven countries that are “most vulnerable to a debt crisis” within the next three years, Forbes magazine says in a new analysis.

That adds the U.S. business magazine to a growing list of institutions that say Canada has borrowed too much, and a reckoning is likely in the making. But the debt problem Forbes and others see has more to do with outsized mortgages and ever-longer car loans than it does with any deficit the Liberal government is planning to run.

Spending in Canada has been growing too quickly — faster than the economy as a whole, economist Steve Keen writes in the Forbes article. That means Canada is borrowing more and more money to keep spending growth going. And eventually, as happened in the U.S. in the financial crisis, people simply can’t or won’t borrow more.

To be sure, Canada doesn’t top Forbes’ list of world’s worst debt bingers. It’s in sixth place, ahead of Norway, another country fighting through the oil price slowdown. First place on the list belongs to China, followed by Australia in second place. Like Canada, Australia is a commodities-driven economy that survived the financial crash largely intact and has since seen house prices grow by leaps and bounds.

To estimate debt crisis risk, Keen looked at credit data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), a sort of “central bank of central banks” headquartered in Switzerland.

The BIS itself has been warning of a debt and banking crisis in Canada. In a 2014 report, it said Canada’s economy was flashing “early warning indicators” of a debt shock, and estimated borrowing in Canada is growing 5.6 per cent faster than it should be.

Since that report, household debt in Canada has continued to climb, reaching a record $1.65 for every dollar of disposable income at the end of last year, Statistics Canada reports.

The question, of course, is when this debt buildup will come to a halt — and what the impact will be.

While Keen sees the debt crisis unfolding over the next one to three years, the federal government’s Parliamentary Budget Office pegs that day of reckoning closer to 2020. In a report earlier this year, it said it expects interest rates to have risen by then, making debt payments more expensive for consumers and reducing new borrowing.

“Household debt-servicing capacity will become stretched further as interest rates rise to ‘normal’ levels over the next five years,” the report said.

The percentage of income Canadians spend covering debts will rise to 15.9 per cent by 2020, the PBO forecasts, from 14.1 per cent today. Under that scenario, “the financial vulnerability of the average household would rise to levels beyond historical experience,” the report said.

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Ontario Prohibits Carding And Street Checks, Sets Out New Rules For Police Interactions

Posted on 31 March 2016 by admin

Final Regulation Will Support Public Safety And Protect Human Rights

 Ontario is building safer communities and protecting individual rights by banning the arbitrary and race-based collection of identifying information by police, referred to as carding or street checks.

The regulation prohibiting carding also sets out, for the first time in Ontario’s history, clear and consistent rules for a range of voluntary police-public interactions where police are seeking to collect identifying information. These rules will ensure that those interactions are conducted without bias or discrimination, and done in a manner that promotes public confidence and keeps Ontario communities safe. It also establishes new training, data management, reporting, and other requirements to strengthen accountability.

The final regulation – which is mandatory for all police services across the province – reflects feedback from public consultations on how the regulation can further enhance accountability, transparency, oversight, and public confidence. These include:

 Appointing an independent reviewer who will complete a review of the regulation within two years of full regulatory implementation, in consultation with the Anti-Racism Directorate

 Clarifying language and scope of the regulation to ensure a consistent application across Ontario

 Establishing a training advisory roundtable comprised of policing, civil liberties, human rights, and youth experts to provide feedback to the Ontario Police College in developing a new training curriculum for all police officers in Ontario.

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services will also launch a multi-year academic study to better understand the impact on community safety from collecting identifying information through police interactions with the public.

Supporting safe, healthy communities is part of the government’s plan to create a fair and inclusive society.

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Rob Ford Statue ‘Deserves’ To Be Erected In Toronto, Says Petition

Posted on 31 March 2016 by admin

A Toronto man believes the late Rob Ford — famous for waging a war against a municipal “gravy train,” among other things — deserves a statue.

Calling the former mayor a “tireless fighter for the people,” James Morrison launched an online petition last week addressed to Mayor John Tory, Toronto city council, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford has touched the hearts of many in the great city he represented. This man was a fighter until the end,” Morrison wrote.

Ford died Tuesday, 18 months after being diagnosed with a rare soft tissue cancer. He was 46.

Morrison credited Ford’s “eagle eye” with ending the so-called “gravy train” — a moniker used by the late politician to describe and decry excess spending of taxpayer money.

“Rob Ford deserves a statue. Especially if Jack Layton got one,” wrote commenter Nickolas Tzavaras. Another praised Ford for being an “icon” who was a “real person who made mistakes and faced struggles but always had a good heart.”

But some disagreed, arguing the use of public money for a statue would be the last thing Ford would have wanted.

“Folks, that’s a great example of not respecting the taxpayer’s dollar,” wrote one commenter.

Morrison did not respond to The Huffington Post Canada’s request for comment.

If the petition gains enough momentum and moves through all the necessary bureaucratic hoops, there would be a total of two Ford family tributes in the city.

In 2010, an Etobicokepark was renamed in tribute to Ford’s late father Douglas Ford Sr., a former member of the provincial legislature.

Despite making international headlines for a crack video scandal and even appearing on American talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” Ford often brushed off any notion of celebrity tied to his name.

“I’m just an average person that watches taxpayers’ money, returns phone calls and does what the taxpayers want,” he explained to media while signing bobblehead dolls made in his likeness in 2014.

Proceeds from the sale of those dolls went to two city hospitals where Ford was seeking chemotherapy treatment at the time.


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Toronto man sues Canada Border Services over alleged wrongful detention

Posted on 31 March 2016 by admin

Gabriel Chan, a 32-year-old graphics artist, has launched lawsuit against Canada Border Services Agency claiming he was wrongfully held in immigration detention for 38 days, even though he’s a Canadian citizen.

A Toronto man is suing Canada Border Services Agency, claiming he was wrongfully held in immigration detention for more than a month, even though he’s Canadian.

What makes the case unusual is that Gabriel Chan was born to a Canadian father, but had not made an application to declare his Canadian citizenship until after his arrest, following a fare dispute at a GO Transit train station last September. He was held at the immigration holding centre in Rexdale for 38 days.

“I feel my rights were violated. I did not deserve to be held in detention for 38 days. They should have released me as soon as they received the documentation that proves my status,” the 32-year-old graphics artist said in an interview.

CBSA would not comment on the lawsuit, but confirmed Chan was detained from Sept. 7 to Oct. 14. The agency has not yet filed a statement of defence.

Born and raised in the Philippines, Chan is a dual American and Canadian citizen, a right he inherited from his biological parents. However, he only reconnected with his birth father, Benjamin Esguerra, and his seven half-siblings for the first time when he visited Canada at the age of 16.

After he finished high school in Manila, he returned to Toronto in 2000 and stayed; an American passport allowed him to travel in and out of the country, and he remained here up to six months at a time.

Just before midnight on Sept. 6, Chan said, he was stopped by a GO Transit officer at Port Credit for a proof-of-payment check. He said he was asked for identification, but all he had on him was a Filipino driver’s licence and his international driver’s licence.

The officer proceeded to call the border enforcement agency, claiming he had an illegal migrant in custody, said Chan. He was handcuffed and taken to the Rexdale detention centre shortly after, Chan said in his statement of claim, allegations of which have not been proven in court.

In his affidavit, Chan said he told officials he was a Canadian at birth because his father had become a citizen in 1971, at a time when Canadian citizenship could be passed on automatically to a descendant born abroad.

According to his claim, border officials continued to detain him even after Oct. 5, when his immigration lawyer, Richard Wazana, submitted a DNA test showing Esguerra is Chan’s biological father, as well as his father’s landing papers and citizenship documents.

“I have never come across a case like this. The holding centre he was held at is reserved for immigration detainees, persons who do not have a right to remain in Canada,” Wazana said.

“We had sufficient evidence to show Gabriel was a citizen. The case hinges on at what point of time CBSA knew they were likely holding a Canadian citizen.”

When contacted by the Star, CBSA spokesperson Antonella DiGirolamo responded in an email: “Records indicate that Mr. Chan is not a Canadian citizen, but he has a right to make an application for citizenship.”

“As part of Mr. Chan’s release conditions, he was to provide proof of filing a citizenship application within seven days, which he did on Oct. 21, 2015,” she said.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said Chan filed an application for a citizenship certificate on Feb. 26, which is currently still being processed. CBSA said it will not remove Chan from Canada until a decision on his proof of citizenship application is rendered.

Courtney Kazembe, Chan’s litigation lawyer, said they have not received a response from CBSA to the claims.

“My client was incarcerated and still has an exclusion order against him after he proved his father was a Canadian citizen at his birth and with all the documents provided,” said Kazembe. “This ought not to have happened.”

Chan said he has sold all his belongings to pay for his legal expenses and is being assisted by his family.

“I want to reclaim my Canadian citizenship because my family is here. I want to be included in my Canadian family. My citizenship is a validation of my relationship with my family here,” he said.


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Pakistan and the Iran-Saudi Arabia Competition

Posted on 31 March 2016 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari

 Iran’s President Dr. Hassan Rowhani visited Islamabad on March 25-26 as a part of his effort to return Iran to the international system after the United States, the European states and the United Nations began the withdrawal of sanctions against Iran. President Rowhani visited some of European capitals. Now he came to Pakistan. In addition to seeking more active economic relations and trade, President Hassan Rowhani has another objective in mind. He wants counter-balance Saudi Arabia’s efforts get Pakistani militarily support for its military agenda in Yemen and Syria.

 President Rowhani’s visit Islamabad produced several agreement for greater economic cooperation and trade. They also explored the options to expand their bilateral trade and the gas pipeline project came under discussion. They also discussed the Iranian proposal for supplying electricity to Pakistan.

 There is a lot of scope for the expansion of trade and they plan to give special attention to this sector. Further, they also want to cooperate for controlling terrorism and better control to check smuggling and illegal movement of people. Though Pakistan has shown interest in the completion of the gas pipeline project, it is difficult to suggest if this project can complete soon. The United States and Saudi Arabia are not in favor of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. Instead both are supportive of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistani-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.

 Pakistan and Iran have maintained friendly relations but they have faced difficulties in their relations because Saudi Arabia often competes with Iran for building influence in the region, including Pakistan.

 The tradition of political rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia goes back to the period of the Shah of Iran. The Shah often projected himself was the main regional power. Saudi Arabia often challenged this contention. However the political situation remained under control because both were close to the United States that restrained their ambitions and mutual jealousies.

 After the Iranian Islamic Revolution (February 1979), Iran’s revolutionary zeal targeted Saudi Arabia as a conservative monarchical system that maintained close relations with the United States. Iran’s relations with the United States had also deteriorated after Iranian revolutionary young people captured the American Embassy in Tehran and took some Americans as hostage. Saudi Arabia that enjoyed American support felt perturbed by the revolutionary profile of Iran. However, the trouble in Iran-U.S. relations meant that Saudi Arabia could depend on American support for Saudi Agenda in its competition with Iran for power and influence in the area.

 In 2016, Iran’s relations have improved after the nuclear deal between Iran and five permanent members of the UN and Germany. This has also created opportunities for Iran to sell its oil and gas to other countries and engage in trade with the European states, the U.S., and other countries. This is expected to boost Iran’s economy in the next 5 to 7 years.

 The patch-up between Iran and the U.S., has created new opportunities for Iran for building influence in the region. Iran is expected to pursue an active diplomatic policy. It has increased its political and material support to Houthi tribe and their allies in Yemen, President Bashar-al-Asad in Syria and the Hamas movement in Gaza. Saudis were perturbed on these developments because Saudi Arabia supported the opponents of the pro-Iran political forces in the region.

 Saudi complaint is that Iran’s support to the rivals of Saudi Arabia in Yemen, Syria and Iraq was the cause of conflict in the region. In other words the Saudi Arabia argues that Iran is creating security threats for Saudi Arabia and its allies in the region.

 It is because of the fear of that Saudi Arabia is now building regional coalition and political partnership for enhancing its influence in the region and undercut Iran’s regional agenda. Saudi Arabia also wants to restrain Iran from providing financial and military support to its allies.

 Such a competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia has created problems for Pakistan from time to time. Pakistan has maintained a very close diplomatic interaction with Saudi Arabia. In addition to a very large number of Pakistani professionals and labor working in Saudi Arabia, it has extended more economic assistance to Pakistan than any other Muslim state. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has a strong personal relations with the Royal family because the latter saved Nawaz Sharif from imprisonment during the Musharraf rule. Further, one of the sons of Nawaz Sharif maintains business interests in Saudi Arabia. All this makes Nawaz Sharif soft towards Saudi Arabia.

 Now Saudi Arabia wants Pakistan to make available its troops for fighting in Yemen in support of pro-Saudi leadership. Pakistan has expressed support to Saudi Arabia. Pakistan has several hundred military personnel based in the Kingdom in advisory capacity. In the past, the Pakistan Army personnel undertook active security assignment within the territorial boundaries of Saudi Arabia.

 Pakistan has recently participated in the counter-terrorism military exercises in Saudi Arabia along with 19 other states. Pakistan Prime Minister and the Army Chief together visited Saudi Arabia in January and March 2016 and watched the military exercises on the last day. Pakistan has also joined the Saudi sponsored 34 states military alliance for coping with terrorist and other threats.

 Iran knows about Pakistan’s leanings towards conservative Islamic Kingdoms in the Gulf region. It did not engage in public condemnation of Pakistan. Rather, Iran’s leadership has shown much flexibility towards Pakistan. It has offered several attractive propositions and sought to expand trade relations in order to create an economic interdependence between Iran and Pakistan.

 We would know in a month or so if Pakistan will completely identify with Saudi Arabia and its regional approach or it will seek to build a balance between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The government of Pakistan. If Pakistan’s economic relations and trade improve with Iran and the gas pipeline is constructed, we would assume that Pakistan’s policy towards the Middle East is influenced by practical considerations.

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Is India facing its worst-ever water crisis?

Posted on 31 March 2016 by admin

Soutik Biswas

 On 11 March, panic struck engineers at a giant power station on the banks of the Ganges river in West Bengal state.

 Readings showed that the water level in the canal connecting the river to the plant was going down rapidly. Water is used to produce steam to run the turbines and for cooling vital equipment of coal-fired power stations.

By next day, authorities were forced to suspend generation at the 2,300-megawatt plant in Farakka town causing shortages in India’s power grid. Next, the vast township on the river, where more than 1,000 families of plant workers live, ran out of water. Thousands of bottles of packaged drinking water were distributed to residents, and fire engines rushed to the river to extract water for cooking and cleaning.

‘Shortage of water’

The power station – one of the 41 run by the state-owned National Thermal Power Corporation, which generates a quarter of India’s electricity – was shut for 10 days, unprecedented in its 30-year history.

“Never before have we shut down the plant because of a shortage of water,” says Milan Kumar, a senior plant official.

“We are being told by the authorities that water levels in the river have receded, and that they can do very little.”

Further downstream, say locals, ferries were suspended and sandbars emerged on the river. Some 13 barges carrying imported coal to the power station were stranded midstream because of insufficient water. Children were seen playing on a near-dry river bed.

Nobody is sure why the water level on the Ganges receded at Farakka, where India built a barrage in the 1970s to divert water away from Bangladesh. Much later, in the mid-1990s, the countries signed a 30-year agreement to share water. (The precipitous decline in water levels happened during a 10-day cycle when India is bound by the pact to divert most of the water to Bangladesh. The fall in level left India with much less water than usual.)

Monsoon rains have been scanty in India for the second year in succession. The melting of snow in the Himalayas – the mountain holds the world’s largest body of ice outside the polar caps and contributes up to 15% of the river flow – has been delayed this year, says SK Haldar, general manager of the barrage. “There are fluctuations like this every year,” he says.

‘Filthy river’

But the evidence about the declining water levels and waning health of the 2,500km (1,553 miles)-long Ganges, which supports a quarter of India’s 1.3 billion people, is mounting.

Part of a river’s water level is determined by the groundwater reserves in the area drained by it and the duration and intensity of monsoon rains. Water tables have been declining in the Ganges basin due to the reckless extraction of groundwater. Much of the groundwater is, anyway, already contaminated with arsenic and fluoride. A controversial UN climate report said the Himalayan glaciers could melt to a fifth of the current levels by 2035.

Emmanuel Theophilus and his son, Theo, kayaked on the Ganges during their 87-day, 2,500km journey of India’s rivers last year. They asked fishermen and people living on the river what had changed most about it.

“All of them said there had been a reduction in water levels over the years. Also when we were sailing on the Ganges, we did not find a single turtle. The river was so dirty that it stank. There were effluents, sewage and dead bodies floating,” says MrTheophilus.

The waning health of the sacred river underscores the rising crisis of water in India. Two successive bad monsoons have already led to a drought-like situation, and river basins are facing water shortages.

Water conflicts

The three-month-long summer is barely weeks away but water availability in India’s 91 reservoirs is at its lowest in a decade, with stocks at a paltry 29% of their total storage capacity, according to the Central Water Commission. Some 85% of the country’s drinking water comes from aquifers, but their levels are falling, according to Water Aid.

No wonder then that conflicts over water are on the rise.

Thousands of villagers in drought-hit region of Maharashtra depend on tankers for water; and authorities in Latur district, fearing violence, have imposed prohibitory orders on gatherings of more than five people around storage tanks. Tens of thousands of farmers and livestock have moved to camps providing free fodder and water for animals in parched districts. The government has asked local municipalities to stop supplying water to swimming pools.

States like Punjab are squabbling over ownership of river waters. In water-scarce Orissa, farmers have reportedly breached embankments to save their crops.

Back in Farakka, villagers are washing clothes in the shallow waters of the power station canal and children are crossing by foot.

“We would dive into the canal earlier for a swim,” says a villager. Not far away, near the shores of the Ganges, fisherman BalaiHaldar looks at his meagre catch of prawns and bemoans the lack of water.


“The river has very little water these days. It is also running out of fish. Tube wells in our village have run out of water,” he says. “There’s too much of uncertainty. People in our villages have moved to the cities to look for work.”

It is a concern you hear a lot on the river these days. At the power plant, Milan Kumar says he is “afraid that this can happen again”.

“We are being told that water levels in the Ganges have declined by a fourth. Being located on the banks of one of the world’s largest rivers, we never thought we would face a scarcity of water.

“The unthinkable is happening.”

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How A Blog Landed Me The Role Of A Lifetime

Posted on 31 March 2016 by admin

Raoul Bhaneja

I wouldn’t call myself a blogger.

A blog is it just another self-serving, space/time eater in the digital haze that my life has become so I avoid them like the plague.

BUT… one day back in late 2012, this article from, presented in a first person blog-like entry by novelist, actor, playwright and screenwriter Ayad Akhtar caught my attention.

I had spent the near part of a decade touring around Canada (with a few international stops in the UK and Off Broadway) with a show of mine called Hamlet (solo) (see the trailer here) so I was drawn to the headline alone. How did Hamlet inspire a Pakistani American artist (I’m of a South Asian/Irish background myself) to create a great role for one of the more known Indo American actors out there Aasif Mandvi

In hindsight one of the drivers to create a solo Hamlet was a response to the feeling that not only were the odds of me playing “The Dane” stacked because so few actors get to play the part, but also as a guy with the last name BHANEJA, the odds were even worse. In the intervening years I was in fact right, as few if any actors of colour played Hamlet on any of our major stages, which though unfortunate is not a surprise.

As I pored over the article I was struck by Ayad’s keen understanding that there were almost no roles for a forty year old, mid career actor of South Asian origin, particularly one that did not call for an Indian accent and was a cool, hip and affluent member of society. On top of that it was NOT a Doctor named “RAJ” (that is probably the most common characteristic I’ve seen in my years of auditions in Toronto and Hollywood).

My wife Birgitte Solem and I flew down to New York to see the show at The Lincoln Centre where there was a growing “buzz” about the show. The buzz was not just in regards to the great central role of Amir, but all the roles and in fact the whole story in a strong production. In fact Birgitte plays the complex role of Emily in our production, a skilled visual artist and partner of Amir.

Our company Hope and Hell Theatre was soon to embark on a large co production of a musical I had written called Life, Death and The Blues which ended up on a sixteen month, six city tour of Canada but we knew, after sitting in the audience that night we had to find a way to do our own production in Toronto.

Ayad reminds me a bit of my father. His bald head and glasses give the picture of a quiet academic but underneath rages a fierce intellect, evident not only in his writing but in his interactions. Considering we were total strangers, he was gracious enough to not only meet up after the performance but offer to help in anyway he could to get our production on it’s feet. The only problem was, even though he was the playwright, he ultimately didn’t control the rights as the play had been acquired by the ARACA Group a company that has produced some of the biggest shows Broadway has seen in the last twenty years. That meant we were going to have to speak to them before anyone else.

I also asked him another important question. Granted there we so many parts of the Amir character I felt I could relate to there was one glaring issue. The character wrestles with his Pakistani/Indo American identity in a post 9/11 world in a way I found articulate and complex but when it came to Islam, I was raised somewhere between Atheist/Hindu and part time Catholic. I am not Muslim. He considered the question for a moment and then said, “What’s important is that you understand the character and that you can do the part.”

With that we began the long journey of not only acquiring the rights, which actually took over 30 months as we all waited for the Broadway run to get off the ground, but also finding the right partner to help present the Toronto premiere. We had never produced a project of this scale on our own and eventually we landed at the largest commercial theatre producer in Canada, Mirvish Productions, which at first glance may seem an unlikely partner for a straight play wrestling with everything from Islamophobia and anti-semitism to cultural appropriation and the state of contemporary art.

We found however a partner that would achieve two of our major goals, artistic freedom along and access to a huge theatre going audience. What we knew from the start is that we needed as many people as possible to see this production. While it is set in New York in late 2011 the play is as much about Toronto in mid 2016 as it was on the first night we saw it. In fact using Donald Trump and Republican Primaries as bell weather this play has seemingly become more and more relevant each day. Even our own federal election campaign seemed to open the door to a kind of permissible hatred of the “other” and one that specifically targeted Muslims around the discussion of the Niqab and Syrian Refugees.

As I write this, sitting five stories above King Street West in our downtown rehearsal hall, I think back to that moment I “clicked” and was let into the world and mind of Ayad Akhtar. Since that night we chatted in New York a few years ago his play Disgraced was not only nominated for a Tony Award but also won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and this season will be the most produced play in America. It has achieved a critical and box office success that very few plays ever reach and it’s had a significant impact on our lives. Years of fundraising, planning, designing, negotiating, casting and now finally rehearsing have all come about because someone sat down in front of their laptop, like I am now and shared their “first person” experience.

I guess look for a future blog entry from me but in the meantime come see this extraordinary play, Disgraced, which begins performances April 3rd at The Panasonic Theatre in Toronto.

Maybe I am getting the hang of this…

Raoul Bhaneja is actor, musician, producer and writer an Irish/Indian/English/Canadian/Human

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Canada’s Youth Win Big With The Federal Budget

Posted on 31 March 2016 by admin

Sharon Wood, President and CEO, Kids Help Phone

Canada’s youth are the biggest winners from federal budget, but not in the way you’d expect. Buried deep inside the budget, well below the commendable financial commitments to First Nations, families and young children, is a potential game-changer for young people — plans to create the first ever Prime Minister’s Youth Council.

This is a momentous opportunity for Canada’s youth — but only if we get it right.

Young people in our country face significant challenges — high unemployment rates, barriers to education and job training, declining physical and mental health, a lack of affordable housing and social programs that often fail them. These problems are multiplied for aboriginal youth.

Canada’s young people face these huge challenges without a unified voice and without a clear plan to take them forward. It’s little wonder youth are often mistakenly characterized as being disengaged and disinterested.

Thankfully, there is widespread support in Canada to listen to youth voices more.

This February, a national Abacus Data survey commissioned by the National Youth Service Agencies (NYSA) — a self-formed group of youth-serving registered charities from across Canada — found that 69 per cent of Canadians support the creation of an advisory council. Their support is not surprising — 67 per cent of respondents also said that young people have too little influence on public policy.

The Prime Minister’s Youth Council offers an opportunity for youth to directly influence decisions at the highest level. It signals to young people in Canada that they do not face these challenges alone. For it to be effective, we need to carefully craft its priorities, its membership, its processes and its supports.

So first things first — who should be on the Youth Council? The first priority must be to involve some youth who do not yet have the right to vote. Engaging and involving young people early encourages them towards civic participation in adulthood and will begin to equip them with the tools they’ll need for their early adult years.

The Council must be diverse and socially inclusive, giving voice to all Canadian youth including the underrepresented populations that are frequently over-represented in every challenge facing youth. Young women, aboriginal youth, LGBTQ2S youth, and young people with lived-experiences of poverty and homelessness, care environments and mental health issues should all have a strong voice on the Youth Council.

What issues should the Youth Council prioritize? When asked in the Abacus Data survey, Canada’s youth aged 18-29 said that youth employment (66 per cent), post-secondary education and job training (63 per cent), mental health (55 per cent) and health care (50 per cent) were the issues the Council should focus on. The Prime Minister’s Office should consult widely with Canada’s youth, key ministerial staff and youth-serving agencies to make a comprehensive mandate and strategic action plan from the Council’s outset.

What supports will Youth Council members have? As a collection of Canada’s most prominent youth serving agencies, we know from experience that each young person is an individual, and each will react differently to their new role. It’s critical that Youth Council members receive ongoing emotional and professional support so they can manage the pressure and scrutiny of their new high-profile roles, such as access to support, media training, and skill-building opportunities.

Today we congratulate the Government for taking a bold and innovative step towards a brighter future for all young people in Canada. Let’s seize this opportunity to create a Youth Council that we can all be proud of.

National Youth Serving Agencies (NYSA) is a self-formed group of youth-serving registered charities from across Canada who reach 5.6 million children and youth. Group members include 4-H Canada, Best Buddies Canada, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada, Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, Cadets Canada, Canadian Red Cross Society, The Duke of Edinburgh Awards, Frontier College, Girl Guides of Canada, Junior Achievement Canada, Kids Help Phone, Meal Exchange, National Association of Friendship Centres, National Youth in Care Network, Salvation Army, Pathways to Education, Save the Children, Scouts Canada, St. John Ambulance, The Navy League of Canada, The Students Commission of Canada, The United Nations Association in Canada, YMCA Canada, YOUCAN! and YWCA Canada.

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(Sex) lives of girls and women: How social media affects the way we think about sexuality

Posted on 31 March 2016 by admin

For her new book, Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape, Peggy Orenstein spoke to girls of all races, religions and backgrounds. Across the board, she found that girls today think differently than previous generations when it comes to ideas about self, consent and the concept of sexual pleasure.

Orenstein spoke with The Globe and Mail about how social media and pornography in particular are impacting the way girls think about, express and experience their sexuality.

The title of your book is Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape. What is the new landscape?

It is a different world. [Girls are] being told all the time that how their body looks to other people is more important than how it feels to them. They’re dealing with social media, this pervasive pop culture, there’s binge drinking. There’s intense pressure not just to be hot, which has been maxing up for years, but to see that as a source of empowerment, to see sexuality through the lens of sexiness.

And there’s more and more access to pornography, and to harder-core pornography and at a younger age, which is shaping the way kids view sexuality. Girls talk about that with me all the time.

A lot of girls said to me, they’re in [a sexual] encounter, she’ll be going along and suddenly she’ll start seeing herself from the outside and think, “What would she [the porn actor] do now? She would hold this position, she would do this, and I don’t even know who that she is.”

So how are girls defining their pleasure?

We think there’s a level playing field. But young women are much more often to define satisfaction through the yardstick of their partner’s pleasure. They’ll say he was satisfied, so I’m satisfied.

And boys define sexual satisfaction as their own pleasure.

They’re going into things very unequally. We don’t talk to girls about the realities of their anatomy and their capacity for pleasure. So from the get-go, when we’re naming little girls’ body parts to them, we skip from the belly button to the knees.

And then we think they’re going to have knowledge about their own bodies and understand that they have an equal chance at entitlement in a sexual encounter.

You point out that kids are engaging in more sexual behaviours, like oral and anal sex, earlier, too.

We’ve got to stop talking about sex as if it only means intercourse – because that diminishes, marginalizes and ignores all the other behaviours that kids are engaging in much more than they used to. What ends up happening is that they don’t think those are really sex, and they don’t think the rules of engagement apply.

So in terms of oral sex, for instance, there was very little reciprocity and girls were in the service of boys’ pleasure. At one point, with one girl, I said, look, what if instead of oral sex we were talking about a glass of water. And every time you were with a boy he would say, “Go get me a glass of water from the kitchen. Go get me a glass of water.” And he never offered to get you a glass of water, or if he did, it was really begrudging. You would never tolerate that. The girl just burst out laughing and said, “Oh my gosh, I never thought of it that way.” But they need to think about it that way. They need to hear that from us.

You raise the idea that young people talk about “self” as a brand, rather than as something to be developed from within.

It’s always been true that kids are trying on identity and trying to figure out who they are. But it used to be in a small group of people that they actually knew in person. Now they are constantly trying to figure themselves out in front of 789 of their BFFs who “like” or “don’t like” their behaviour. So they start to craft their identity in response to those likes. Their friends become an audience to be sought after and maintained.

Almost all kids go online every day. And there’s this way that the new celebrities of the day – like Kim Kardashian – embody that idea of the self as a brand. For girls, to maintain that brand and to build that brand, it’s all about sexiness. Every girl knows you’re going to get more likes for a bikini shot than a picture of yourself in a parka. They all know how to hold their feet, they all know how they’re supposed to pose. Kim always says, “I’m expressing my sexuality,” and I think, “Nooo, you’re not, you’re displaying sexiness.” Expressing your sexuality is something you do by understanding your body, by being able to express your wants, needs and limits and having those respected in an encounter with somebody else.

Is this what you mean by psychological cliterodectomy?

We encourage girls to believe that being desirable is more important than understanding their own desire. Because of that, more often than not, that confidence they portray when they were being sexy would come off with their clothes. It didn’t translate into the bedroom.

What are some of the physical manifestations of that?

Just about every girl I talked to waxes or shaves off all their pubic hair. Girls feel that their most personal areas are up for public scrutiny. We’re also seeing a rise – not gigantic but significant – in young women who are getting labiaplasty, which is the surgical trimming of the outer labia. And that is not done generally for sexual pleasure or function (in fact, it usually impedes both). It’s done, according to the plastic surgeons, to impart confidence.

It seems so odd that as a society we will rage against feminine genital mutilation elsewhere and yet this is happening here.

The culture is littered with female body parts, and yet we don’t have decent discussions with our girls about sexual pleasure and sexual entitlement.

But the Dutch do …

The thing that was really the kicker for me was the Dutch, the stark difference between how Dutch young women and American women describe their early sexual experience. The Dutch [young women] talk about starting later, having fewer partners, taking more pleasure in their bodies, being able to express their needs, desires and limits, they talk about enjoying the experience. And American girls, it’s just the opposite. The biggest difference between the two was that the American parents talked to their daughters about risk and danger in sexuality, and the Dutch mothers talked about balancing that with joy and pleasure.

Is it that we’re not ready for sexual freedom for women here? It feels like a great feminist failure.

I feel that as a generation we’ve kind of let our girls down. We ended up with a super commodified culture that pretends toward sexual freedom, but it’s not really a sexual freedom. It’s a lie about what sex is like and what women want.

We’re not really comfortable having these sex-positive talks with our kids, and yet their formative years are spent watching male-centric porn and then emulating it. What does that mean for their sexual maturity?

Not good. The porn industry, the occasional feminist porn site aside, is selling a distorted vision of not only female bodies, obviously, but female sexuality. It eroticizes humiliation, it eroticizes degradation, and that gets normalized for kids who are watching it, so they begin to want to act out what they’re seeing in porn in their intimate relationships.

What’s the most important advice or piece of knowledge you want to impart to people raising girls today?

We force our kids, and our daughters in particular, to lie to us about sex. We force them to either lie by omission by just not telling us what’s going on, or to overtly lie by pretending something isn’t going on. And then we’re forcing them to be two people, the person they are to us, the good daughter, and this other person they are out in the world. We’re creating a rift as part of the process of maturity for our kids. I thought, I want to be my daughter’s advocate and support system. I want her to be able to assert her wishes and set limits, to enjoy her sexuality. The only way I’m going to get there is if I get over my embarrassment. I’m just as mortified – I want to fall through the ground when I talk about this stuff, too. I want to get over that and talk to her for real. And I started doing it.

How did you do it?

You can’t put sex in a special box. It has to be something that is talked about like you would talk about anything else. It’s not “the Talk.” People will say kids don’t want to hear about that from us. First of all, studies show they do. Secondly, so what? Since when did parenting involve saying, “Oh, you don’t want to hear about it? Well then, I won’t talk about it.” I don’t think that’s how we parent.

Anything in particular for people raising boys?

The parents of boys have to recognize that this is not just about girls. Just cautioning boys not to get somebody pregnant, don’t let some girl accuse you of rape – which is what they’re told in the current climate, rather than “Don’t rape” – is really not enough. They have to discuss the spectrum of pressure, coercion and consent. … And they have to be told that shared pleasure, mutuality and reciprocity are the hallmarks of good sex.

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