by Priya Ramanujam (@SincerelyPriya) in Scarborough, Ontario

On the eve of Canada’s 148th birthday, the Association for Canadian Studies released the findings of a survey titled: “Is Canada a Land of Equal Opportunity for All?” Three-quarters of the country’s population answered with a resounding yes. It’s the sort of response that’s in line with popular thinking that Canada is welcoming, inclusive and just. But emerging research suggests when it comes to immigration policy, Canada has a lot of work left to do.

Cultural Carriers

Devon Franklin, a graduate student in Ryerson University’s Immigration and Settlement program, is calling for a closer examination of recent policy reform to the sponsorship of parents and grandparents by immigrants to Canada.

In her paper, “The Parent and Grandparent Sponsorship Program Reforms: The Consequences of a Neoliberal Shift” Franklin calls out Canada on its narrow conception of what ‘economic contribution’ means. She asks, “Are we really comfortable with having a country that values people solely for economic contribution and solely for a cost-benefit model?”

Her work is in direct response to concerns raised by former Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in 2013 of, “the abuse of [the government’s] generosity in the parent and grandparent sponsorship program,” and the subsequently imposed regulations on the sponsor to have greater economic capacity.

The policy reform increased sponsors’ required minimum annual salary by 30 per cent. It also called for the sponsor to demonstrate an ability to take care of their parent or grandparent for 20 years as opposed to the previous 10.

While Franklin affirms she is not naïve to the fact that elderly parents or grandparents may be in need of health care or social assistance, this type of “cost-benefit” assessment of immigrants’ families undermines the cultural, social and indirect economic value they have.

For example, Franklin explains, parents and grandparents provide the needed childcare supports for the woman in an immigrant family to enter the workforce; they are also “cultural carriers” of tradition and heritage to children.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][P]arents and grandparents ... are also “cultural carriers” of tradition and heritage to children.[/quote] 

“I think we need to adapt with the changing demographics of Canada,” Franklin tells New Canadian Media. “We’re supposed to be a multicultural country that embraces new cultures – we need to understand that there are cultures that want to live in an intergenerational household and that requires parents and grandparents being able to be sponsored over here.”

Indefinite detentions

This month, Renu Mandhane, executive director of the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, will meet with the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva, Switzerland.

The topic at hand: Canada’s compliance with the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and specifically how a recent study by IHRP, “We Have No Rights”: Arbitrary imprisonment and cruel treatment of migrants with mental health issues in Canada, points to a disturbing trend in Canada’s detainment of migrants.

The purpose of the meeting is to encourage the UN to place pressure on the Canadian government to begin work on recommendations put forth in the IHRP’s damning 129-page report that takes an in-depth look at the stories of migrant detainees, specifically those suffering from mental health issues.

For example, the report indicates that of the over 7,300 migrants held in detention in 2013, 30 per cent were sent to maximum security provincial jails versus one of the three immigration holding centres stationed in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver.

Furthermore, Mandhane shares with New Canadian Media that the IHRP found that people without immigration status, suffering from mental health issues, seemed to be routinely detained in provincial jails. While the government maintains this is because more treatment options are available in these facilities, Mandhane says her department’s research found otherwise.

“What this points to from a legal perspective is the fact that the decision of where you actually are held once you’re detained by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is entirely discretionary – so there’s no laws or policies that really highlight when someone should be held in a maximum security jail versus in a holding centre.”

The report examines in detail everything from the anxiety, depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that can be caused by the fact that, unlike criminal detention, there are no known end dates for immigration detainees. At one provincial jail in Lindsay, Ont. a doctor only appears by video. Detainees said they were treated like, “garbage,” “animals”, or “something less than human.”

Particularly troubling for Mandhane is the lengthy periods of time some detainees were held for – some for two or three years, others for as long as 11 years.

“It was very surprising to me that there were people basically being warehoused in jails without any criminal charges for extremely lengthy periods of time,” she says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Particularly troubling for Mandhane is the lengthy periods of time some detainees were held for – some for two or three years, others for as long as 11 years.[/quote]

While Mandhane says there have been little in-roads made to date with the Minister of Public Safety Stephen Blaney’s office – the IHRP met with his office prior to releasing the study offering an opportunity to respond, but nothing came of it. The study has been gaining some attention in the mainstream media, particularly in the days following the death of Abdurahman Hassan, a migrant who died while being detained in the Lindsay, Ont. jail by CBSA. His family said the findings of this report mirror his experience in detention.

What the IHRP is calling for is an external review body for the CBSA to ensure accountability, transparency and the end to arbitrary decision-making in the detainment of immigrants where gaps in policy exist. It would also like to see a complete abandonment of the use of provincial jails in immigration detention, and the use of holding centres only when an individual “cannot be managed in the community,” Mandhane explains.

“We need to use more community alternatives to detention so people could be released on reporting conditions or a bond or surety, or if they are determined a flight risk, with electronic monitoring.”

For Mandhane, the report strikes a personal chord as her parents immigrated to Canada from India and most of her students and colleagues have an “immigration story.”

“[Canada] sort of [has] this identity as being a place people can seek refuge or a better life or opportunities and I just think the way we are treating non-citizens really needs to be assessed,” she says. “It kind of shows a bit of a disconnect between what we say we are and what we’re actually doing.”


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Published in Policy

by Kelsey Johnson

Canada is “clinging” to its Temporary Foreign Worker Program by “its fingernails,” the senior vice president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce warned, saying public and government attitudes towards the program are putting the Canadian economy at risk.

“Canadians still need to keep taking a little breath here and gain a bit of perspective,” Warren Everson said, noting the past two years there has been a “public feeding frenzy” on the program.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Processing of applications, which can be up to 14-pages long, he said, “is slow and getting slower,” and employers have problems reaching Service Canada to check on their applications,[/quote]

“The main thing here is that the Canadian economy needs to compete effectively. We have said for years that competitiveness in our economy is directly related to the skilled workforce that we can put in the hands of our employers,” he explained.

“It is very, very destressing to see government processes that are, at the moment, delaying the entry of those workers into our economy.”

Everson was speaking as part of a three-member panel on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program at the Conference Board of Canada’s annual immigration summit in Ottawa.

The federal government overhauled the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in June 2014 in light of mounting public criticism after a handful of businesses were accused of abusing the program. Among the changes were higher processing fees, now set at $1,000 per worker, and a cap on the number of low-skilled foreign workers that companies were allowed to employ at a time.

While most of the government’s changes were targeted at low-skilled workers, which has had serious consequences for industries like agriculture, Everson said the reinvention of the TFWP program has hurt skilled workers too.

Since that overhaul, Everson said Service Canada seems “hesitant” to approve any of the necessary paperwork needed to bring in temporary foreign workers – known as Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIA).

LMIA’s are used by Employment and Social Development Canada to asses whether bringing in a foreign worker will have a negative impact on the Canadian workforce.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The main thing here is that the Canadian economy needs to compete effectively. We have said for years that competitiveness in our economy is directly related to the skilled workforce that we can put in the hands of our employers.[/quote]

Processing of applications, which can be up to 14-pages long, he said, “is slow and getting slower,” and employers have problems reaching Service Canada to check on their applications, Everson noted. In the past there was an appeal process, there was someone with whom employers could go over applications and where employers could “make their case.”

Now, there’s no one to talk to, Everson said.

Service Canada and Canadian Border Services Agency employees also need “improved training” on the needs and challenges currently facing the Canadian workforce, he said.

He also underscored the question of keeping these foreign workers as permanent residents as a “critical issue.”

Provincial nominee programs are overwhelmed with applications, he said, noting British Columbia has frozen applications until July because of the backlog. In Alberta, the backlog in applications is estimated to be about 10,000.


Re-published in partnership with iPolitics.ca

Published in Policy
Tuesday, 26 August 2014 22:48

No Hierarchy of Human Rights

by Thamina Jaferi (@ThaminaJaferi) in Toronto

An alarming idea has recently been circulating in human resources circles in Canada: when it comes to competing human rights, maybe there should be a "hierarchy of rights," with the rights of some groups trumping the rights of other groups. 

It is distressing to see that religious accommodation requests made to York University and to the Canadian Border Services Agency have been sensationalized in the media in a way that has influenced people to conclude that religious accommodation has gone too far, and that gender and sexual orientation rights are at risk. I would like to point out that this type of fear mongering does not help organizations and individuals appreciate the careful consideration they must give to requests for accommodation. My intent is not to debate whether the decisions in those cases were right, but rather to place much-needed emphasis on the appropriate legal framework that must be applied to situations in which the rights and freedoms of one Canadian might compete with the rights and freedoms of another.

Competing rights

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), competing human rights “involve situations where parties to a dispute claim that the enjoyment of an individual or group’s human rights and freedoms, as protected by law, would interfere with another’s rights and freedoms.”

Examples of competing rights situations given by the OHRC include:

-          A Code right versus a Code right (“Code” referring to the Human Rights Code or human rights legislation of any province or territory)

-          A Code right versus a Code legal defence

-          A Code right versus another legislated right

-          A Code right versus a Charter right

-          A Code right versus a common law right

-          An international treaty right versus a Code/Charter defence

-          A Charter right versus another Charter right

Looking at the statistics 

It is clear that creed (see definition via link) is still a source of many human rights complaints, especially in employment. Statistics from the OHRC’s 2013 Human rights and creed research and consultation report shows that in 2011-12, a little over 42% of the 186 religion-based applications to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) cited creed accommodation. Also, about 73% of all 2011-2012 HRTO applications in the context of employment cited creed.

Some critics claim that religious rights are being given more importance than other rights. Arguments that organizations are going "above and beyond" to accommodate religion-based requests are misleading and unsubstantiated. Additionally, as noted by the OHRC in the same report, these statistics do not account for the “under-reporting [and] mis-reporting [of creed discrimination complaints], and the unknown outcome of applications alleging discrimination.” Thus, religious accommodation requests cannot be arbitrarily dismissed on the basis that organizations are already doing a satisfactory job of addressing those requests.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Arguments that organizations are going "above and beyond" to accommodate religion-based requests are misleading and unsubstantiated.[/quote]

Prioritization of rights

Other critics use the argument that because religious identities have been “chosen” as opposed to other identities that are not chosen, this justifies giving them second-class status when dealing with situations in which rights compete. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms and human rights laws do not distinguish between characteristics that are “chosen” and those that are not. The fact that someone has chosen their religion does not mean that they do not deserve equal human rights protection as someone who has not chosen to be a woman or of a different sexual orientation.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Charter of Rights and Freedoms and human rights laws do not distinguish between characteristics that are “chosen” and those that are not.[/quote]

Furthermore, no matter how unpopular the group, human rights protections are to be applied equally to all groups that have valid human rights claims. Laura Stemp-Morlock, a PhD student in Religious Studies at the University of Waterloo, astutely commented in an article on competing rights that institutions and organizations “must also ensure that religious people – just like women, people with disabilities, racial or sexual minorities, etc. – may access ... services with their identities intact.” To quote the former chief commissioner of the OHRC and lawyer Raj Anand, “As a general proposition, sensitive and difficult issues of minority rights are not best resolved by polling or public outcries. Careful and balanced analysis of the competing positions is the better alternative.”

Limitations on accommodation

It is highly recommended that organizations, employers, human resource managers and anyone responsible for workplace accommodation read and understand the OHRC Policy on competing human rights. They are encouraged to pay particular attention to the section on the analysis for addressing competing human rights situations.

The OHRC has clearly laid out the key legal principles that govern the organizational analysis of competing rights:

1.       No rights are absolute

2.       There is no hierarchy of rights

3.       Rights may not extend as far as claimed

4.       The full context, facts and constitutional values at stake must be considered

5.       Must look at extent of interference (only actual burdens on rights trigger conflicts)

6.       The core of a right is more protected than its periphery

7.       Aim to respect the importance of both sets of rights

8.       Statutory defences may restrict rights of one group and give rights to another.

For those who fear religious accommodation requests may overreach the limits of “reasonable” accommodation, it is important to note that the OHRC framework of analysis has built-in restrictions in order to prevent this outcome.  “No hierarchy of rights” means exactly that: religious rights would not automatically trump other protected rights or freedoms, nor would other protected rights and freedoms automatically trump religious rights. When an organization receives a request for accommodation it is legally obligated to review the request, undertake the appropriate analysis, and document that they have carried out this analysis. This analysis also allows organizations to factor in any costs, and health and safety risks which may constitute “undue hardship” to accommodation. An organization is in a position to make the final accommodation decision only after this comprehensive analysis is carried out.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][R]eligious rights would not automatically trump other protected rights or freedoms[/quote]

Making a decision to deny an accommodation request based on personal opinions, no matter how strongly held, or public opinion can not only tarnish an organization's reputation, but can also expose the organization to a human rights complaint. Organizations should be more cautious and ensure that their approach to accommodation complies with the OHRC policy on competing rights. Additionally, they should not reject an accommodation request at first glance just because it seems to conflict with the rights and freedoms of others.

Contrary to the popular belief that some organizations have committed “blunders” with their accommodation requests, the most appropriate judges of whether that is in fact the case are the human rights tribunals who regularly see competing rights cases, and have the training and expertise to know whether or not an organization has met its duty to accommodate.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that resolving competing rights claims is not about “I win, you lose”. If the appropriate analysis is carried out in a conscientious way, it can result in a balanced solution which respects the rights of all parties. 

Thamina Jaferi, B.A., J.D., is an Associate with Turner Consulting Group with expertise in human rights and workplace discrimination and harassment prevention. You can read Thamina's original blog article here. 

Published in Commentary

by Michael Bach (@diversity_dude) in Toronto

Recently, our friends at the CBC uncovered a story that has been getting a lot of press. The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) allowed a small group of Hindu priests coming through Toronto's Pearson airport to avoid screening by female border guards to comply with their religious beliefs.

As expected, outrage ensued. One female officer, on the promise of anonymity, spoke with the CBC and blew the story wide open. The officer wanted to remain anonymous because she feared the repercussions of speaking out.

First and foremost, I want to applaud the officer for being brave enough to speak out. That’s clearly important. We can’t sit idly by while issues and injustices like this occur.  We must have the courage of our convictions to speak out, even if we have to do it from the shadows. That she and her colleagues feared for their jobs is another matter entirely and the CBSA should be more concerned with that. To the officer, I salute you.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]There is no recognized religion in the world that discriminates based on ethnicity or race.[/quote]

That, however, is where the clarity on this matter ends. Many people may find it surprising that this isn’t clear cut. But it really isn’t. 

Let me be clear from the outset that I have never agreed with, nor will I ever agree with the attitude that women are somehow ‘less than’ and should not be treated as anything other than equal. That’s a tenet of Canadian society that I, for one, am very proud of. 

The five male Hindu Priests (called sādhus) in question, however, do not share my belief.  Calling these men ‘priests’ is a bit simplistic.  The sādhu have committed their lives to achieving mokṣa (liberation), the fourth and final aśrama (stage of life), through meditation and contemplation of brahman.  One of the fundamentals of the sādhus is that they are not permitted to have direct interaction with women. 

Blurred Lines

This is where the line becomes a bit blurry: where do we draw the line on accommodation?  Whose rights are more important? Here’s a few things to consider:

  • The five sādhus were visitors to Canada.  They weren’t moving to Canada … they were just passing through.  We don’t expect everyone who enters the country to share our belief systems – be it related to gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other matter.  Not all Canadians share the same belief system let alone visitors to our country.  We expect visitors and residents to abide by our laws, not our beliefs.  Respecting women is, sadly, not a law.
  • Canada is the only country in the world to have a governmental Office of Religious Freedom.  While the office is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and therefore seems to have a far more external focus than an internal one, it does make a statement that we are a country that respects religious beliefs.  Even when we don’t agree with them.
  • We continually accommodate people visiting Canada in many different ways.  There is a CBSA desk at every Canadian border crossing that is lower, in order to accommodate people in wheelchairs; we accommodate people who don’t speak English or French by allowing them to speak through an interpreter – even if the interpreter is not a CBSA employee; and so on and so on.  It happens every day, at ever border access point in this country.

Slippery slope

The “what’s next” argument has been made.  Quoting the officer who came forward: "People are saying 'What is next? If white supremacists come through, do we move all non-white officers from the line?'"

That argument doesn’t hold water.  This is not a conversation about personal beliefs.  What this conversation is about is accommodating someone for strongly held religious beliefs, not personal ones. There is no recognized religion in the world that discriminates based on ethnicity or race. There are people that discriminate against other people based on ethnicity and race (among a long list of other things), and may do it in the name of religion. However, if you check the fine print, that’s a personal belief, not a belief held by their religion.  White supremacists aren’t religious figures – they’re ... [unprintable].

The real problem here is simple: CBSA screwed up. CBSA management, in attempting to deal with the situation, made a mess of it.  Here’s how they could have dealt with the situation and everyone would have been happy (or at least as happy as anyone dealing with this situation could be):

  • When the request for accommodation came in, management should have pulled together all the officers and let them know they had a group of passengers coming through that required an accommodation due to religious beliefs, and what that translated to in terms of impact to standard process.
  • When the passengers arrived, they should have been greeted by a male officer who could have taken them to one male officer who could have screened them all.  The female officers could have been left on the floor to do their jobs and treated with the respect they deserve, instead of hidden away and made to feel worthless.  The sādhus don’t require isolation from women, just that they don’t have direct interaction with them. If they required isolation from women, they could never leave the house. Or temple.
  • Proactively, CBSA management should have an open and honest dialogue with officers, to make sure everyone understands the concepts of religious accommodation and what the CBSA’s process is for addressing such accommodations.  There should be a standard process for accommodation that everyone understands.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]CBSA screwed up. CBSA management, in attempting to deal with the situation, made a mess of it.[/quote]

If Canada is going to open its doors to the world, we have to accept and expect that some visitors are going to have different belief systems.  The challenge is how we deal with them – in a manner that shows value and respect for everyone.

Michael is the founder and CEO of the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion (CIDI). He is nationally and internationally recognized as a thought leader and subject matter expert in the fields of diversity, inclusion and employment equity. Prior to taking on this role, he was the national director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for KPMG in Canada.

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Published in Commentary
Sunday, 09 February 2014 17:51

Pulse: Latin America

by Maria Assaf

This is a compilation of the most important news stories reported by Latin American media in Canada, during Dec. and Jan.

Harper meets up with ethnic media in Toronto (Dec. 12, 2013)

On Nov. 28, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen organized a reception for immigrant media outlets. The event took place at the International Plaza Hotel in Toronto. El Centro News said the PM spoke about the role of ethnic media and spent some time over lunch discussing issues pertaining to each community.

The PM held a similar meeting, infamously known as the “secret ethnic media meeting,” in Vancouver early in Jan. 2014. Tim Harper, in a column for the Toronto Star, bashed ethnic media outlets in attendance for not challenging the PM on matters such as the Senate scandal, unemployment rates and Harper’s overall unpopularity.

 

Mexican woman dies in custody in Vancouver (Jan. 29, 2014)

A Mexican woman who attempted suicide while in a holding cell at Vancouver international airport, in the custody of border patrol, died on Dec. 28.

The Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) had arrested Lucia Vega Jimenez in Vancouver on Dec. 1 after she was wanted for immigration violations.  

The agency kept her in detention for three weeks while authorities processed her deportation back to her native country. She attempted to kill herself on Dec. 20 and died in a hospital bed eight days later.

Noticias Montreal reported Ms. Vega, 42, had requested refugee status, which was denied in 2010.

She was fearful of returning to Mexico due to what she described as a “domestic situation” back home.

Reports stated Ms. Vega was working illegally in Canada as a hotel cleaner and sent all her wages to her ailing mother in Mexico. While in custody, someone stole all her savings.

The Mexican consulate in Vancouver said they had arranged a temporary house for Vega upon her return to Mexico City. Officials who had spoken to her earlier said notice of her death came as a surprise.

There has been controversy surrounding CBSA’s publishing of Ms. Vega’s death a month after the fact. The agency says they were not trying to keep information secret.  

The RCMP investigated the matter at the time and confirmed her death was not the result of a crime.

The CBSA has declined public interviews, but said in a public release “the health and security of those under our watch is a priority. We take this responsibility very seriously and we think it is important to determine the circumstances surrounding the loss of a life.”

This incident has generated some international tension. Mexican officials say they are anxiously waiting for accountability from Canadian authorities.  

“We are angered by what happened and we expect answers from the authorities that have jurisdiction in this case,” says Claudia Franco Hijuelos, Consul-General of Mexico.

 

Air Canada suspends ticket sales in Venezuela (Jan. 25, 2014)

Air Canada joined various international airlines Jan. 24 halting ticket sales throughout Venezuela for several hours.

The airlines were protesting the Nicolas Maduro government decision to devalue the bolivar (Venezuela’s national currency).

While this move makes flying abroad more expensive for Venezuelans, the amount that airlines collect from ticket sales in Venezuela diminished dramatically.

The companies shut down their doors to all customers while they adjusted the prices in their systems to avoid losing money.

Airlines who joined the suspension included United, Delta, Copa and American Airlines, among others.

Megan McCarthy, a spokesperson for United, said: “When the exchange rate was updated, we had to hold selling [tickets].”

The carriers have been battling the Venezuelan government, claiming it owes them $3.3 billion (U.S.).

The airlines are asking the government for bonds, cash and jet fuel in order to get even.

Sales for tickets reopened on Jan. 25, but the battle continues between international airlines and the Maduro government.

Celebrations kick off for Peruvian-Canadian Chamber of Commerce awards (Jan. 29)

On Jan. 22, the Peruvian-Canadian Chamber of Commerce recognized the achievements of some of its most prominent members.

Scotiabank was named the business of the year. The annual award was given to Dieter W. Jentsch, head of International Banking at the bank.

The ceremony, conducted by Cesar Sanguinetti, took place at the National Club. Jim Louttit, the Chamber’s president talked about major investment, imports and exports between the two nations in the last few years.

Commerce between the two countries is centered on minerals such as gold, zinc and cooper.

 

Woman who faced domestic abuse is being deported from Canada

Ivonne Angelina Hernandez was captured by a border patrol On Jan. 22

She was released three days later after reaching an agreement with the authorities that cost her $4,000 and some time in parole.

Now she is waiting to be deported back to her native country, Mexico. The date is uncertain.

Ms. Hernandez took her one-year-old son with her to an abused women shelter after a fight with her partner on Dec. 11, 2013. Her now ex-partner proceeded to denounce her to the authorities, who then arrested her.

She requested asylum when she arrived in Canada in 2009, but her application was denied in 2011. Since then, Ms. Hernandez has remained in Canada without papers.

Because of her denied-asylum status, a court gave Ms. Hernandez’s ex-partner custody of her son.

She asked for a re-opening of her case in November citing humanitarian concerns. She said she was trying to protect her son.

An American-based NGO called “Solidarity without Frontiers,” says there is little possibility that Hernandez will be allowed to remain in Canada.

“Even though Mexico has one of the most elevated domestic abuse rates in the world, the Canadian government still considers it a safe country,” stated the group.

 

New app targets Mexican diaspora

MiConsulmex is a new app designed to provide access to consular services for Mexicans residing or travelling through Canada.

Sergio Alcocer Martinez de Castroy, the North American sub-secretary for the Mexican embassy in Ottawa, presented the app along with Ambassador Francisco Suarez Davila. The launch coincides with the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and Mexico.

The app is free and available for Apple and Android devices through these links:

The software is designed to ease access to services such as obtaining protection or scheduling appointments at one of Mexico’s five consulates in Canada as well as at the Mexican embassy in Ottawa.

According to Mexican authorities in Canada, there are more than 150,000 Mexican nationals working or studying in Canada. Mexico is the second most popular touristic destination for Canadians.  

While the app targets those of Mexican origin, it is also accessible to anyone requiring services from the Mexican government.

Published in Latin America
Wednesday, 30 January 2013 01:19

Painful wait mars citizenship

by Vilma Filici

Canadian citizenship should be seen as a reward for Permanent Residents who have established themselves in the country and become exemplary citizens. However, in reality, measures to prevent immigration fraud are unnecessarily penalizing law abiding people applying for citizenship.

My friend’s travail makes a good case study of the problems being faced by many.

I spent most of the spring and summer of 2011 helping her prepare for the citizenship test. We got together twice a week, read the booklet sent to her by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and went further than what was required for the test as she was eager to learn as much as she could about her new country.

My friend loves Canada and is interested in its people, its geography, its government and its politics. She took several mock tests online to make sure that she would pass the real one. When she spoke of becoming a citizen, her face lit up. The night before the exam, we spoke and I reassured her that she was ready and that she would get her citizenship.

On exam day I received a phone call from my friend. She was crying and was extremely upset. She said the officer who checked her identification before writing the exam noticed that she had travelled outside Canada many times. The officer could not take the time to do the calculations for the required number of days she was present in the country although my friend met the requirement. Instead, he gave her a long questionnaire to complete and a long list of documents to submit before a specific date.

The questionnaire asked detailed questions of every aspect of her life in the last nine years. The list of documents included health records from the Ministry of Health, a record of visits to the United States from the authorities there, a record of her trips out of Canada by the Canadian Border Services Agency, all her income tax returns for the four years prior to the application, documents to prove employment and schools she attended during those four years and much more.

My friend is alone in Canada and has a brother and niece and nephews in the USA. She travels stateside on the children’s birthdays and all Jewish holidays. She also travelled to her country of birth to sell her properties. She invested the money from the transactions in Canada. In total she was out of Canada 145 days in the four years preceding her application.  The residency requirement for citizenship is that a permanent resident reside in Canada for 1095 days in the four years preceding the application.

It took weeks for her to gather all the documents required. Some that had to come from government departments took a lot longer and documents from the US took six months to arrive. It has been over a year since all the documents were submitted, but she is yet to hear from CIC. When she calls them, she is told that her file is under process and she has to wait.

As she waits in limbo, my friend is becoming more and more disillusioned about Canada. She has a hard time understanding why she is being treated like a criminal when she has done everything by the book. She questions whether a Permanent Resident (PR) has no right to procedural fairness and is convinced she should not be made to pay the price for the wrongdoings of others.

Whenever I see her, I try to avoid the subject as it upsets her very much. She tells me that she feels mistreated, insulted and most of all frustrated. She needs to go out of the country for her niece’s bat mitzvah but is afraid to leave as it might be seen as a sign that she does not care about Canada. As her PR card is going to expire, she will now have to apply for an extension. Something she would not have to do if she were a citizen.

While my friend is at a loss to understand why she was being treated this way, the fact is that many people are facing the same situation. An application which was supposed to take no more than 21 months to process after completing the required time of residence in Canada, is now taking more than four years.

If the government wants to continue with these measures, it should perhaps increase the CIC budget to ensure prompt and humane processing of applications. The process should not, instead, unintentionally impart pain and suffering.

 [Vilma Filici is Director of Immigration Issues with the Canadian Hispanic Congress]

Editor’s note: Do you have an immigrant point of view you’d like to share with our readers? Please send us a two-paragraph preview, along with two lines about yourself.

Published in Commentary

New Canadian Media provides nonpartisan news and views representing all Canadian immigrant communities. As part of this endeavour, we re-publish aggregated content from various ethnic media publishers in Canada in an effort to raise the profile of news and commentary from an immigrant perspective. New Canadian Media, however, does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views and opinions contained in content from such other sites. The views expressed on this site are those of the individual writers and commentators, and not necessarily those of New Canadian Media. Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved