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Jazan campus a tragicomedy of errors

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After the new year’s executions in Saudi Arabia, it’s clear that the argument Algonquin gives to back their failing campus in Jazan does not hold up strongly under scrutiny.

As a result, the college needs its relationship with Jazan terminated.

This campus is not working to share Canadian values. It was a primarily financially-motivated decision and the investment is not paying out as planned. Bungled planning and fudged reports, a gender inequality controversy and a loss of $1.4 million are all working together to leave Algonquin under a media firestorm. Rather than admit defeat it plunges on impervious to criticism, getting more and more egg on the face as time passes.

The Saudi government announced on Jan. 2 that they had held a mass execution of 47 people for charges of terrorism. This included top Shia leader Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, who had been arrested for organizing anti-government protests. Four were killed by firing squad while the remaining 43 were beheaded.

Saudi Arabia has one of the worst human rights records in the world, as any perceived “enemy of the kingdom” is routinely imprisoned and executed, according to Human Rights Watch’s 2015 World Report.

Consider the following.

Raif Badawi, a 32 year old activist blogger, was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for advocating free speech online and “insulting Islam through electronic channels”. His first 50 lashes were administered on Jan. 9, 2015 and the second flogging has been postponed more than 12 times due to his poor health. Badawi is known to suffer from hypertension, and his wife has said that he would likely not be able to survive further floggings.

Thousands of people across the world have protested at Saudi embassies in response. Although this is one of the most prominent examples of the judicial system in Saudi Arabia being used as a tool against those who want more freedom, it is definitely not the only one.

Fadhil al-Manasif is an Eastern Province activist. Waleed Abu al-Khair is a human rights lawyer; Fowzan al-Harbi, Issa al-Hamid and Abdullah al-Hamid are Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association activists; and Mikhlif al-Shammari is a human rights advocate. They have all been convicted, tortured and imprisoned for peaceful activism, exercising their right to free speech and sharing information – what some might consider education.

No, Canadian values are not being shared through Algonquin’s Jazan campus. The school has 750 students who study either electrical engineering technician, industrial millwright or business. They offer no philosophy, politics, gender studies or interpersonal skills courses. Furthermore, 25 per cent of the students who take the mandatory English foundations course prior to entrance into one of these programs either drop out or fail.

Another Canadian value we fail to carry over into the Jazan campus is women’s rights. Although an all-female campus was proposed initially, the bid was not accepted by the Saudi government. One must ask why. Ontario taxpayer money is funding a campus that only serves one gender and is located in a nation that regularly violates women’s rights.

This is a country where females are forbidden from obtaining a passport, marrying, travelling or accessing higher education without the approval of a male guardian (usually a husband, father, brother or son).

Last April, a new law was created in Saudi Arabia expanding on what is considered an act of terrorism. Critics say that the new legislation is a threat to freedom of speech and thought in the kingdom. It uses a broad definition of “terrorism” to include any act intended to insult the reputation of the state, harm public order or destabilise the security of society.

How can we provide education in a country where it must be filtered and oppressed for fear of upsetting the kingdom?

Again and again we hear about the human rights violations the Saudi government has meted out on perceived dissenters. Public executions are common. At least 76 people were killed by authorities in 2014. Saudis can be executed for murder, blasphemy, banditry, homosexual acts and infidelity.

Algonquin values are not in alignment with this. In each classroom here at Woodroffe there is a poster that lists them out. Caring. Integrity. Learning. Respect. It can not be that these are hung in each class room at the Jazan campus without at least some irony.

The reality is we’ve built a school as a uestionable investment in a place where the monetary return comes at a steep price – our own integrity. Algonquin College’s failure to impart Canadian values and responsibly fund initiatives that result in profitability and healthy programming is leaving a bad taste in the mouths of Ontario taxpayers.

One thing is for certain about Canadian values at the Jazan campus: no one will be sticking their neck out for them.

The Algonquin Times is a newspaper produced by journalism and advertising students for the Algonquin College community. Follow us on social media! Algonquin Times Twitter Twitter (Events & Promos) Facebook Facebook (Events & Promos) Instagram Snapchat

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