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Saturday, 05 December 2015 22:07

Brampton Mulls Curbs on Diwali Fireworks

Written by

by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton, Ontario

A Brampton city councillor has persuaded colleagues on the city's community services committee to recommend a ban on the sale of fireworks — including storing them in homes — in the wake of a fire that engulfed a home during the Diwali celebrations last month.

On the evening of November 11th, two homes in Brampton were gutted by a fire that may have been sparked by Diwali firework celebrations, the South Asian festival of light.

According to Brampton fire officials, the blaze spread to two adjacent homes, forcing the evacuation of the adjoining residences. Damage from the fire is conservatively estimated to be $1 million according to the fire department.

The cause of the fire

Brampton Fire and Emergency Services (BFES) was called to scene on Binder Twine Trail, near Williams Parkway and Chinguacousy Road, just before 11 p.m. By the time they arrived, they found the house at 190 Binder Twine Trail fully enveloped in flames.

The fire apparently started in the garage and quickly spread throughout the house. It then also spread to the neighbouring home, 192 Binder Twine, which at the time was occupied by its residents.

All six members of the neighbouring Mangat family were forced to leave the house. The family of eight at 190 Binder Twine Trail also escaped unharmed. Out of the three homes that suffered damage, one is completely gutted and another is badly damaged.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The city received 281 complaint calls about Diwali fireworks in 2013 — up 86 per cent from 2012 — while it only received 46 on Canada Day.[/quote]

Peel Police and the Brampton Fire Department say they are still trying to determine what caused the blaze, but indications are that it's connected to the "improper disposal of fireworks.”

The homeowner at 192 Binder Twine Trail, Inderjit Mangat, told fire and police officials that the neighbours discarded their used fireworks in a black garbage bag and stored them in the garage, which most likely sparked the blaze.

Celebrating safely

Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey said in a statement that the City of Brampton takes public safety and the safe use of fireworks in the city “very seriously.” 

She added that city staff continues to work closely with BFES to ensure that City of Brampton By-Laws, policies and enforcement keep residents safe while allowing them to “express their enjoyment on holidays and culturally significant events.”

One in three Brampton residents identify themselves as either Sikh or Hindu, according to the 2011 National Household Survey. As a result, celebrations during Diwali are quite extensive throughout the community.

The city received 281 complaint calls about Diwali fireworks in 2013 — up 86 per cent from 2012 — while it only received 46 on Canada Day.

While Brampton has previously allowed individuals who live on wide lots to set off personal fireworks, they introduced a new system in 2014 that requires individuals to apply for permits. In 2014, the city only gave out 88 permits despite receiving over 675 applications.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]One in three Brampton residents identify themselves as either Sikh or Hindu.[/quote]

According to Jeffrey, City Council will continue to discuss this issue with local authorities in an attempt to find a safe and fair way forward.

“Our Communications team is working closely with BFES and Enforcement to further emphasize to all Brampton residents the Fireworks By-Law, permit process as well as the potential dangers of fireworks use in a residential or park setting.

“I strongly urge all residents to make sure they fully understand all safety measures required to safely use fireworks and ask that all Brampton residents exercise extreme caution when using, storing or disposing of any fireworks,” she concluded.

Potential ban on fireworks

For one Brampton city councillor, education is simply not enough. Shortly after the fires, Councillor Grant Gibson proposed a citywide ban on fireworks at the community services committee.

Gibson said, citing the failure to educate individuals on the danger of fireworks, “This (Binder Twine Trail) is a perfect example of people being careless.”

“I don’t (want to be) the councillor that turned his back on safety,” he said. Gibson’s motion passed, and now the city must consider how to effectively ban the sale of fireworks along with their use on residential properties.

Staff has been directed to look at further methods of enforcement as well as what it would cost for the city to host their own fireworks displays. This would expand the current municipally-sponsored events from Canada Day and New Year’s Day to include Victoria Day and Diwali.

“Fireworks aren't like what they used to be. They are now basically explosives and there’s been a lot of mishandling of them across the city and that’s a major concern for our constituents,” said Gibson.

Journalist Jagdeesh Mann mentored the writer of this article, through the New Canadian Media mentorship program.

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Tuesday, 01 December 2015 16:50

Syrian Refugee Hopes Canada Will Be Welcoming

Written by

by Beatrice Paez in Toronto

When Loay Almously arrived with his family in Toronto in July, he was struck by its green, wide open spaces. It reminded him of Syria, before the grinding civil war reduced a lot of its cities to rubble and forced his family to flee. 

Just a month after settling in Toronto, the family of three had welcomed a new addition—a baby girl, now five months old. They named her Masa, or "diamond" in Arabic.   

Almously, whose sister sponsored him and his family as refugees, says he sees Canada as an "island of peace" where different cultures co-exist. 

"It's a nice place to start a new life, to raise my children," Almously says. "They'll get a chance to get a good education and to have a bright future."   

Journey to Canada 

Almously’s journey from Syria to Canada began in Daraa, the birthplace of the Syrian uprising, where he worked as an information technology engineer. 

In late 2012, he explains, the regime escalated its efforts to turn his hometown into a military base for its operations against rebel groups. When two rockets struck the roof of his home, Almously and his family escaped to Irbid, Jordan.

“We lost our house, we lost everything beautiful,” he tells New Canadian Media. “We lost the good relations we had with our neighbours.”

The family spent two years in Jordan, sharing an apartment with Almously’s parents and brother who had fled Syria earlier. 

In Jordan, Almously was a project director at Jesuit Refugee Services, an NGO that provides social services, health care and education to those forcibly displaced. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]When two rockets struck the roof of his home, Almously and his family escaped.[/quote]

It hasn’t been an easy life for Syrians in Jordan, who run the risk of being deported if they’re caught working, says Almously. His parents and brother stayed in the refugee camp for six months before they could pool their resources to find a shared apartment.

The process to come to Canada took eight months and involved a series of interviews, security checks and medical exams.  

Almously and his family are among the 2,300 Syrians who have resettled in Canada since 2011. He is hopeful that the rest of his family will be sponsored by the Trudeau government as part of the plan to resettle 25,000 refugees by February 2016

But he shares the concerns that single men might be excluded from the program, which prioritizes women, children and families. 

"Many of them have lost their families because of the war,” says Almously. "We have to think about those people more before making the decision to exclude them."   

Bringing refugees to Canada

Syrians are a lot like Canadians, who are warm and welcoming, he states. “Syria is a beautiful country. Many refugees were welcomed before without any obstacles. We received the Iraqi people, the Lebanese in 2006,” he says. “The Syrian people are peaceful.”

Ratna Omidvar, head of Ryerson’s Global Diversity Exchange, says the Liberals’ two-month delay in resettling the refugees could be an opportunity for it to consider all cases, regardless of gender. 

With regards to the potential for young men to be excluded from the resettlement program, Omidvar says, “I’m a little worried, but I’m hopeful that with this little space they’ve [the government has] given themselves, they’ll be able to look at those most vulnerable.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The Syrian people are peaceful.”[/quote]

Though Omidvar is disappointed the family she’s privately sponsoring won’t be celebrating Christmas here, she hopes the deadline extension gives organizations more time to sort out housing issues.  

For example, Ottawa Centre Refugee Action, a grassroots group, is planning for the arrival of its first sponsored family. It’s using this time to mobilize members of the community to act as temporary hosts, interpreters or guides.  

“We have the strength and the capacity to be opening our doors to those who are initially strangers to us, and over time, we’ll get to know them,” says Angela Keller-Herzog, founding member of the group. 

Culture shock ahead

Still, there are many challenges facing refugees beyond such practical realities as finding housing and employment, according to Omidvar. “There’s the initial feeling of shock and displacement, coupled by strangeness . . . dropping that mistrust of government and institutions, and maybe, of people who are different.”  

Refugee children, forced to grow up quicker than most in order to survive, will have to relearn what it means to be a child, she says. But they can also help their parents bridge the cultural gap. 

“I’m confident that the children will be the first to become like us, and they will take that message home to their parents.” says Omidvar.

As for Almously, he is working “survival jobs” now, but hopes to find work in the humanitarian field. 

Happy as he is to have left, he holds out for the day he can bring his daughters back to Syria for a visit. “We are a nostalgic people,” he says. “We have this hope that Syria will recover again.”

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Monday, 30 November 2015 00:39

Prioritization Is Not Exclusion, Say Experts

Written by

by Florence Hwang in Regina, Saskatchewan

The federal government recently released a statement that it was not slamming the door on unaccompanied male Syrian refugees, despite concerns after the government announced its resettlement plan on November 22. The plan stated that the government will prioritize the most vulnerable populations when resettling Syrian refugees.

According to Shauna Labman, Assistant Professor with the University of Manitoba’s law department, prioritizing vulnerable people, particularly refugees, is not exclusion and is not new. 

“This focus on vulnerability is seen as a positive shift almost in our resettlement, resettling those most in need. So women and children have always been priority rankings for resettlement both under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) prioritization of needs for resettlement and under Canada’s own policies,” she says. 

She points out that if the government were to say there’s a peremptory exclusion of single men, that would be seen as gender discrimination and thus would be problematic.

“But I haven’t heard them say that. What they’re saying is prioritizing vulnerable refugees and families and that’s consistent with past Canadian policy and UNHCR prioritizations and so it’s a different thing,” says Labman. “What might get blurred is in the minuteness of the numbers.”

The most vulnerable groups

UNHCR has a handbook for resettlement that lists the most vulnerable groups, which include those who need legal or physical protection, survivors of torture, those with medical needs as well as women, girls, children and adolescents at-risk. 

Family reunification and helping those who have a lack of alternative options are also considerations. 

The general Syrian population falls into the last category. Women and children rank above the general Syrian population, according to the UNHCR handbook, explains Labman.

Jean McRae, Executive Director of the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA), agrees with Labman. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Women and children have always been priority rankings for resettlement.[/quote]

McRae observes that the government's announcement focuses on families, but not single men. She feels it’s tough for the men because in many cases, they are similarly vulnerable and at risk of being conscripted. Still, she understands the position that the government has taken.

“You have to go with the people who are vulnerable. I think it would be fair to say in terms of surviving winter in a refugee camp or a very precarious situation, the elderly and the young children are probably vulnerable,” says McRae.

Responding to public opinion and terrorism concerns

Laura Madokoro, Assistant Professor with McGill University’s Department of History and Classical Studies, sees that there’s always a push for government to do something to help refugees.

“The government thinks about of the broader social impact. They think about the immigration program as a whole,” says Madokoro.

However, she thinks that the Paris terrorist attacks had a psychological effect on the government, causing them to pay more attention to public opinion in Canada. Polls last month suggested that Canadians were divided on the merits of a quick resettlement before the end of December. Many cited security concerns.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Everyone who identifies as Muslim gets painted with this terrorist brush."[/quote]

“Obviously the government has responded to that by reducing the numbers who are going to be coming by December and making this decision to privilege families over single men,” she says.

Debbie Douglas, the executive director with the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), feels that because Syrian refugees are Muslims, they are associated with terrorism.

“Everyone who identifies as Muslim gets painted with this terrorist brush,” she says.

Discriminatory policies

Unlike McRae and Labman, Madoroko sees the government’s prioritization of women and children as discriminatory.

“I think that is unfortunate because the government is not leading. It is falling prey to what are security concerns, but it actually perpetuates the fear of the single man instead of saying if we do the proper screening, there’s nothing actually to be worried about. So in that respect, it’s a bit of unfortunate decision,” she says. 

Madokoro says refugee selection has always been discriminatory in one way or another. 

“There was a privileging that way [regarding demographics] and also privileging in terms of what kind of labour skills the Europeans had and whether or not they could adapt to the Canadian labour market,” says Madokoro. 

In the 1950s there was a need for workers in Canada, she notes, so the government’s assistance for refugees and displaced people was connected to helping people who could contribute to the economy.

“So there is this history of privileging certain groups over others based on what is perceived as a national aid or national concern," she says. "Obviously in the context in which we live today, security has become one of the primary factors the government consider."

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by Samantha Lui in Toronto

As Syrian refugees make their way to Canada, medical professionals and volunteers across the country are busy prepping to assist in medical care services. 

About 900 to 1,000 refugees are expected to land in Canada  primarily at airports in Toronto and Montreal  daily in the coming weeks. 

With those numbers, Dr. Paul Caulford, the co-founder of The Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Health Care (CCRIHC), says there is a need for more volunteers to help out with medical care.

“[We’re] looking at issues like settlement, housing and mental health,” Caulford says, noting that his volunteers are hoping to increase the hours they work, as well as operate a clinic on Saturdays. 

“We have a shortage of providers as it is. We are trying to ramp up our volunteers.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We don’t know the level at which these individuals are going to be injured, traumatized, wounded, sick or unhealthy.”[/quote]

So far, nurses, midwives, pediatricians and social workers have offered to assist the influx of refugees coming to Canada. Medication such as antibiotics has also been donated to help with the effort. 

“We don’t know the level at which these individuals are going to be injured, traumatized, wounded, sick or unhealthy,” Caulford says, noting that he’s seen refugees with bullet wounds and deformities as a result of being shot.

He adds that pediatric care and mental health also remain a priority. 

“I think [the best thing] for children and youth new to Canada is to have their full family unit together and to get those kids into playgrounds and schoolyards as soon as we can, so they can kick a soccer ball and not run away from a bomb,” he says.

“That’s been shown to be one of the healthiest things you can do for mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s to get them playing with the other children.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“[T]his is going to make us better at managing surge issues and managing increasing demands within the health-care system.”[/quote]

But while he and several volunteer medical professionals are busy prepping for refugee arrivals, Caulford concludes that the stress of it all will ultimately benefit Canada’s health-care system in the long run. 

“We think this is going to make us better at managing surge issues and managing increasing demands within the health-care system,” he says.

“It’s going to teach us of other surges that are to come [and teach us] how to organize ourselves better.”

WelcomePack Encourages Canadians to Welcome Newcomers

Something as simple as saying “hello” is all it takes to welcome a newcomer to Canada.

WelcomePack Canada has launched the Welcome a Newcomer campaign, an initiative that taps the spirit of acknowledging new immigrants and encourages Canadians to reach out to a newcomer and send them a virtual greeting card.

The e-card showcases the beauty of the Canadian landscape, people and values. It also has a poem encouraging newcomers to experience Canada’s national parks and cultural events.

Along with the e-card, newcomers will also receive a free WelcomePack gift box that includes a guide giving them tips on how to settle in a new country among other items.


[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Something as simple as saying “hello” is all it takes to welcome a newcomer to Canada.[/quote]

“We meet many newcomers to Canada in our community, our workplace and at social engagements,” says Andrew Srinarayan, vice president of WelcomePack, in a press release.

“Through this act of friendship and hospitality, let us reach out to make them feel welcome in their new home country and make a new friend.”

Young Immigrants Achieve Higher Success Rates in School

Immigrant students have a higher success rate in education, according to a study by Statistics Canada.

The study takes a look at the education rates in regions across the country, including Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan as well as the Atlantic provinces. 

In every region, those who immigrated before the age of 15 had high school and university completion rates that were higher than third- or higher-generation Canadians.

In Canada as a whole, 40 per cent of immigrants from the ages 25 to 29 had a university degree in 2011. 

Only 26 per cent of third- or higher-generation individuals were in the same group. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The lower reading levels likely reflect the fact that neither English nor French is the first language of many immigrant students.[/quote]

The study also examines the regional differences in the reading and math skills of immigrant children aged 15. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) measured these stats between 2000 and 2012. 

At the national level, immigrant students scored similarly in math, but had slightly lower reading scores than third- or higher-generation students. 

The lower reading levels likely reflect the fact that neither English nor French is the first language of many immigrant students. 

But while immigrants were more likely to have degrees in all provinces, there were differences among the regions.  

British Columbia had the highest proportion of immigrants with a university degree in 2011 at 44 per cent.   

The university completion rates of immigrants were lower in the combined region of Manitoba and Saskatchewan (29 per cent) as well as in Quebec (32 per cent). (Photo Credit: Leland Francisco via Flickr CC)

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Tuesday, 24 November 2015 23:34

Govt Scales Back Year-End Refugee Target

Written by

by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver

The Canadian government announced their plan today to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees to the country by the end of the year, with an additional 15,000 to follow in January and February of 2016. The Ministers of Health, Immigration and Defence assured Canadians at a news conference this afternoon that medical and security screening would be performed overseas, in advance of their arrival in Canada. 

This number is short of the Liberal’s original year-end goal of 25,000, but members of the ad-hoc committee on refugees emphasized that proper screening processes and comprehensive resettlement plans must be in place to meet this influx.

“Yes we want to bring them fast, but we also want to do it right,” John McCallum, Minister of Immigration explained.

“When we welcome our newcomer friends with a smile, a smile alone is not sufficient,” he continued. “We want them to have a roof over their heads, we want them to have the right supports for language training and all the other things they need to begin their life here in Canada.”

Jane Philpott, chair of the ad-hoc committee on refugees and Minister of Health, told those in attendance that the government plans to identify all 25,000 Syrians to be resettled by the end of December and will prioritize those who are the most vulnerable.

Those resettled will include a mix of both private and government-assisted refugees, but only 2,000 of the end-of-year target will be government sponsored.

In order to keep their original promise of bringing 25,000 government-assisted refugees, McCallum said that the government will continue to sponsor and accept refugees beyond February, 2016.

The price tag on the Liberal program has now been pegged at up to $678 million over the next six years, but government representatives say this is “largely new money.” The Liberal platform only originally designated $250 million for the resettlement program.

Safety of Canadians

While the Liberal’s original year-end target was commended by refugee advocates, many experts also cautioned the government against bringing approximately 5,000 refugees a week for the next five weeks to the country without a comprehensive resettlement plan.

Approximately 54 per cent of Canadians echoed these concerns, according to recent polls, raising concerns over whether this tight timeline would allow for proper screening processes to take place.

The government responded to these concerns today with an announcement that full medical exams and security screenings will be completed overseas for all refugees. Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety, emphasized that they will be checking the identification of all prospective refugees at every stage of the process to ensure the safety of Canadians.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]... full medical exams and security screenings will be completed overseas for all refugees[/quote]

Refugees must also be registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Turkish government before being processed by Canadian officials.

“We will meet the humanitarian imperative before us, and we will do so properly so all Canadians can be both proud and confident about what we’ve accomplished together,” commented Goodale.

Last week, information surfaced that the government will be narrowing its criteria for Syrian refugees to Canada. It will only be accepting women, children and families; single men seeking asylum may be sponsored privately, but will otherwise not be approved unless they are accompanying their parents or are members of the gay community.

When asked whether the recent attacks in Paris on November 13 that killed 130 were at all responsible for this delayed deadline, McCallum said, No.

“It’s a logistic challenge that is extremely important in order to coordinate these things with our partners and other levels of the government,” he said. “It’s good to have a little more time.”

Resettlement in Canada

As to where refugees will be housed after they initially land in Canada, McCallum explained that there are 36 destination cities that already have the capacity to receive the refugees and provide them with the proper services to integrate them into Canadian society.

According to the Minister of Defence, Harjit Sajjan, there also exists temporary lodging for approximately 6,000 refugees at military bases, if necessary.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]... there also exists temporary lodging for approximately 6,000 refugees at military bases, if necessary.[/quote]

Over the previous six weeks, Canadian authorities in Lebanon have managed to screen about 100 people a day. This makes for a total of 4,000 asylum seekers in the past month and a half.

Since the Liberal government was sworn-in on November 4, only 102 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada. Approximately 3,000 Syrian refugees had previously arrived under the former Conservative government, but this number does not count against the 25,000 total.

Moving forward, the government expects to receive as many as 900 refugees a day, most of whom will arrive at airports in Toronto and Montreal. A majority will be brought to Canada by private planes, although military aircraft will be used if necessary.

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Monday, 23 November 2015 13:16

Wynne Makes Appeal for Acceptance at Ottawa Mosque

Written by

by Kyle Duggan in Ottawa 

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne made a broad appeal for acceptance at a visit to an Ottawa mosque for Friday prayers last week.

Wynne stopped by the Ottawa Muslim Association’s mosque with Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi, and addressed the violent Paris attacks two weeks ago, saying it is “now more important than ever” to show compassion towards others.

“It’s our responsibility as Canadians to make sure we guard against the fear and we resist blame that can lead to racism and to hatred. At these moments it’s extremely important we reinforce our Canadian values that are [inclusive] and based in compassion.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s our responsibility as Canadians to make sure we resist blame that can lead to racism and to hatred."[/quote]

She said the Paris attacks were an act of terrorism not borne of religion “because religion has no place for hate.”

Wynne said she met Thursday night with the young Muslim woman from her own Toronto riding who was physically attacked and called a terrorist.

“I could feel the fear that is in that household because she was attacked outside her children's school. She was born in Toronto.”

“That kind of hatred is what we have to guard against at this moment in our history,” Wynne said.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Naqvi said the Premier’s visit to the mosque sends “a very strong message that we as Ontarians stand together.”[/quote]

Defeat hatred with love

There were several other acts recently in the province, including one on a Peterborough mosque that was burnt down. That incident is being investigated as a potential hate crime.

“Only love is going to defeat hatred,” she said.

Naqvi said that in the face of acts of violence and hate, the Premier’s visit to the mosque sends “a very strong message that we as Ontarians stand together.”

On welcoming Syrian refugees, Wynne said “that humanitarian crisis calls on us to demonstrate who we are in the world.”

The province aims to resettle some 10,000 refugees by end of 2016.

Federal Cabinet Ministers said today they would announce details of the refugee plan on Tuesday.

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