Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2000, Pages 64, 81
Canada Sends Fact-Finder to the Sudan
By Faisal Kutty
Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy surprised many observers last October when he announced a major policy shift on the Sudan. The decision came three days after U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told reporters that she was disappointed by Canada and other Western nations that invested in countries ruled by dictators. She said that some governments have the mistaken view that foreign investment in countries under dictatorial rule will help the citizens. Singling out a Canadian oil company, Talisman Energy, which has a $735 million investment in the Sudan, she said, “I am definitely going to talk to the Canadians about this.” And she did. Within three days Axworthy threatened sanctions against Talisman and announced the appointment of a fact finder to investigate allegations of slavery and other abuses and an envoy to the peace talks being brokered by seven African states.
Since making it a criminal offense for U.S. companies to deal with the Sudanese, the administration of President Bill Clinton has pressured Canada to enact sanctions against the new oil-producing state. The U.S. administration appears to be getting
a lot of help from groups such as the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group (AASG) (see “Canada Calling” in the October/November 1999 issue of the Washington Report).
According to an exposé published by iViews.com, the founder of AASG, “[Charles] Jacobs and other leading figures in the anti-slavery movement have a [long] history of activism in support of the state of Israel” and extreme Jewish nationalism. iViews.com Washington bureau chief Ismail Royer reported that Jacobs has acted as a spokesman and speechwriter for a far-right Jewish group, the National Unity Coalition for Israel (NUCI); served as chairman of The American Friends of the Israeli Double Column Plan, a group calling for annexations of Arab land; served as the deputy director of the extremist Boston-based pro-Israel media watchdog, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA); and is president of the pro-Israel Mosaic Group. The report also quotes NUCI president Esther Levens as stating that the Mosaic Group evolved into the AASG.
If Axworthy’s shift is any indication, the AASG’s effort combined with Clinton administration pressure seems to be paying off. The Canadian media have accepted most of the extremely questionable assertions of the AASG without any questions. The intensive Canadian coverage began after Jacobs wrote a letter to the National Post charging that Talisman Energy was assisting the slave trade. The Post took up the issue with a vengeance, and now the heat is being turned on investors. There is already a campaign underway to get the Ontario Teachers Union to drop its Talisman stock, and another campaign is underway at York University.
“Leading figures in the anti-slavery movement have a history of support of Israel.”
Calgary-based Talisman Energy, the largest independent oil and gas producer in Canada, holds a 25 percent stake in a Chinese-Malaysian-Sudanese consortium drilling in southern Sudan. The company’s stock is listed on the Toronto, Montreal and New York stock exchanges. The consortium established a refinery in the Sudan and started shipping through a 1,600-kilometer pipeline to the north of the country on Aug. 30, 1999.
Talisman has claimed from day one that it is not contributing to any human rights violations, and it applauded the appointment of the fact finder, Jim Harker. Talisman president and chief executive officer Jim Buckee wrote in the Globe and Mail:
“Talisman’s involvement in the project has been heavily criticized, and we have become a target of convenience for groups, both in Canada and elsewhere, that wish to continue with a policy of isolation for Sudan. It is hard to see how this approach will help bring about peace or in any way ease the hardships of ordinary citizens in the country. Furthermore, the policy of isolation is out of step with the constructive engagement now being pursued by the European Union, Britain and Egypt.”
Harker, a former official with the left-leaning Canadian Labor Congress (CLC), was expected to have his report ready early in the new year.
Canada’s First Islamic Mutual Fund Launched
Canada’s Muslim population is currently pegged at around 500,000, and is growing rapidly due to conversion, natural increase and immigration. According to the Toronto Star, it is already larger than the Jewish community.
As a result, the Canadian business community clearly has taken notice. Any visitor to such Canadian cities as Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa would be hard-pressed not to notice the Muslim presence. The large grocery chains are fully stocked with halal products, conforming to Islamic requirements just as kosher food conforms to Orthodox Jewish dietary laws. For instance, all the Popeye’s Chicken outlets in Toronto serve only halal. In fact, recently while eating at a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet serving halal chicken, an American Muslim from nearby Buffalo, NY commented that he makes a “pilgrimage” to Canada once every couple of months with his children to eat at KFC.
While Muslims in Canada have choices when it comes to food and the schooling of their children, thanks to the proliferation of Islamic schools, one area has lagged behind. Canadians still find it difficult to comply with Islamic dictates when it came to investing their hard-earned money. With the rapid growth of a Muslim professional and entrepreneurial class, Canada’s Islamic community has had much capital but few choices as to where to invest it.
The North American pioneer in Islamic mortgages, the Toronto-based Islamic Cooperative Housing Corporation Ltd., and the newer Muslim Investment Group (MIG) allowed many to purchase homes interest-free; ANSARCO Inc. enabled some to finance cars Islamically; and Al-Amin Association helped many to invest their Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSP) Islamically in private companies in conformance with provisions of the Income Tax Act, which enables Canadian taxpayers to invest a percentage of their savings into their RRSPs tax-free.
With the recent launch of the Socially Acceptable Market Investments (SAMI) funds, Muslims now can invest in publicly traded companies while minimizing their investments in un-Islamic businesses, says financial adviser Tariq Mohammad. Though internationally there are more than 45 Islamic mutual funds, according to the Failaka Investment Fund Quarterly, the SAMI fund is the first in Canada.
It was launched this fall by Navigator, a division of Nova Bancorp Group Company. The company manages 16 mutual funds, including 11 under the name Navigator.
Using the Dow Jones Islamic Market Indexes as a benchmark, the fund attempts to comply with strict Islamic finance principles. The SAMI fund does not invest in industries dealing with tobacco, armaments, alcohol or pork, or in entertainment or interest-generating businesses. While financial institutions and most insurance companies are excluded, the managers acknowledge that it is not possible to guarantee total exclusion of interest. On this latter point, Asif Khan, vice president, wealth management of Nova Bancorp Group, says that the scholars have set strict criteria on how to exclude companies. “Any companies with non-operating interest income equal to or greater than 9 percent are excluded,” says Khan. In addition, Khan points out that companies which have total debt-to-assets ratios greater than 33 percent or accounts receivable greater than 47 percent of assets also are disqualified.
These filters were developed for Dow Jones by a Shariah Advisory Board composed of some of the leading lights in the Islamic Economics field, namely: Shaikh Abdul Sattar Abu Ghuddah, senior shariah (Islamic law) adviser to Albaraka Investment Co. of Saudi Arabia; Shaikh Muhammad Taqi Usmani, Pakistani Supreme Court justice and deputy chairman of the Islamic Fiqh Academy of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC); Shaikh Nizam Yaquby, member of Islamic advisory boards of Arab Islamic Bank and the Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank; Shaikh Mohamed A. Elgari, director of the Center for Research in Islamic Economics at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia and an expert with the Islamic Jurisprudence Academy in Saudi Arabia; and Shaikh Yusuf Talal DeLorenzo, American Islamic scholar and shariah consultant to several Islamic financial institutions. Shaikh DeLorenzo directly supervises the SAMI fund to ensure compliance with Islamic principles.
To charges that the fund is not truly Islamic, Tariq Mohammad of the Canadian Financial Planning Services Inc., which is aggressively marketing the fund, points out that it is the best that can be done given the all-pervasive impact of interest. Moreover, he points out that some of the greatest Islamic finance scholars have put their minds to it and have determined what is acceptable and what is not. “Many Muslims already have investments in stocks, mutual funds and RRSPs that don’t comply with Islamic finance principles at all,” says Mohammad. “We’re offering them an opportunity to minimize the exposure of their investments to interest and other non-Islamic features.”
The fund is not being marketed strictly as an Islamic fund. In fact, as suggested by the name, the growing sector of ethical investors is also a prime target. Moreover, Khan notes that interest in the fund also has been expressed by members of the Jewish community.
The fund is currently available through financial advisers in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Jewish Charity Under Fire for Funding Settlers
The Press Foundation, a Toronto-based Jewish charity, may lose its charitable status for funding settlers in the occupied territories. The foundation is appealing the decision by the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency ( CCRA), formerly known as Revenue Canada. The Press Foundation has been under investigation since 1991 (see “Canada Calling,” Jan./Feb. 1997 Washington Report, p. 39).
According to filings with the government, the foundation has raised up to $5 million per year for groups such as the Yesha—the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
The CCRA intends to deregister the group if it loses its appeal to the Federal Court. According to a letter written by Neil Barclay, the director of the CCRA charities division, “The government of Canada has clearly and consistently opposed the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories as being illegal under international law and intended to pre-determine the outcome of negotiations concerning these territories under the Middle East peace process.” The West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem all are considered Israeli-occupied territories by Canada.
The letter continues, “To allow Canadian charities to assist in providing the religious institutions and the health, education and other social services that encourage and sustain Israeli settlement in the occupied territories would be fundamentally at odds with Canada’s position.”
In addition, the CCRA claims that the foundation, registered in the name of Rabbi Shalom Jundef of Toronto, lacked proper controls and did not maintain proper books and records.
This is not the first time that such Israeli-linked Jewish charities have been challenged by the government. In 1996 the predecessor of the CCRA revoked the charity status of the Toronto Zionist Council for funding Jewish settlements.
The CCRA denied claims that the recent move was discriminatory. In fact, the agency carries out between 500 and 700 audits per year and revokes almost 40 charitable registrations per year.
Faisal Kutty is a Toronto-based lawyer and international affairs columnist for iViews.com