By: Alpha Abebe in Toronto, ON

Statistics Canada recently released a series of reports analyzing key results from the 2016 Census, including figures on immigration and ethnocultural diversity. The data paints a familiar picture of the Canadian social landscape – a landscape that is increasingly defined by culturally diverse peoples and communities.

The census brief on “Children with an immigrant background: Bridging cultures” captures important data that should prompt us to think critically about the live experiences of this large population segment, as well as its implications for Canadian social, political and economic life.

There were many interesting trends and figures highlighted in the report, including the number of people with foreign born parents, shifts in origin country demographics, family and household dynamics, and linguistic and cultural practices.

For example, in 2016, close to 2.2 million children under the age of 15, or 37.5 percent of the total population of children, had at least one foreign-born parent. The report also notes that children with an immigrant background could represent between 39 percent and 49 percent of the total population of children by 2036.

Further, most people with an immigrant ancestry that were younger in age (under 30s) had origins in Asia and Africa, whereas the older cohort of Canadians with immigrant ancestry (over 30s) tended to trace their origins to Europe and the Americas. This a reflection of shifting immigration trends in Canada over the years.

There were other insights capturing immigration dynamics at the household level. Children born in Canada to at least one foreign-born parent were most likely to live in a multigenerational household, with grandparents, parents, and children under the same roof. In the report, they were interested in how this might affect and drive the transmission of origin-country language and culture.

As with all census data, the information gathered here is limited. While it provides a helpful snapshot and indication of how global migration trends intersect with changes in Canadian demographics, it also leads to some deeper questions that emerge that require further inquiry and debate among practitioners, policymakers, academics, immigrant communities, and young people alike.

How much do we really understand about the social and cultural practices of children of immigrants and their families? Do we account for these lived experiences in how we design programs and services, frame public discourse, and plan for the political and economic future of the country? Are we adequately leveraging the opportunities and addressing the issues presented by these transnational social landscapes?

How do immigration trends and demographic changes intersect with social inequalities in Canada and around the world? Do young Canadians with an immigrant background feel that they belong?  How do race, class, and gender further segment immigrants and their children in Canada?

These are complex questions that don’t lend themselves well to simple answers; however, they are worth asking and continuing to ask as we work towards a future where equity aligns with diversity.

The future of Canada is more diversity and it is characterized by social, political, and economic connections to places around the world. Therefore, it is time we move beyond a multiculturalism framework that accommodates and celebrates diversity, and towards an inclusionary framework that acknowledges and works to address the social inequalities embedded within this diversity.

Yes, children with an immigrant background can tell us a lot about their international influences, tastes, and practices. However, they can also tell us a lot about Canada – both what it is today and where it should be headed in the future. 

A version of this piece was first published on the Wellesley Institute blog on November 7, 2017, and can be accessed via this link

Published in Top Stories
Thursday, 20 July 2017 12:27

Suffer the Children of Islamic State

Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

If there is one searing image of the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe it is that of the orphanages of Romania. The regime of President Nicolae Ceausescu outlawed both contraception and abortion.  As a consequence, thousands of women left babies that were either unwanted or those that they could not care for at state institutions.  These institutions were understaffed and underfunded. 

When the wall fell  (Ceausescu and his wife were executed on Christmas Day 1989) the world got a look at these orphanages and what it saw was beyond shocking.  Children were often tied to cribs, rocking back and forth in repetitive ways that spoke of a lack of human contact.  Food was insufficient and the care devoted to life’s most vulnerable was largely absent.  A global effort to help these kids ensued and while some undoubtedly ended up okay, thanks probably to the amazing resilience of the human body and mind, many did not and never recovered from their tragic start in life.

We are now faced with a similar situation in Iraq and Syria now that the parody of a state that called itself one – Islamic State – is sinking fast.  Thousands of ‘fighters’ have died at the hands of airstrikes, in battle and in the flames of suicide attacks.  Tens of thousands of civilians in cities like Mosul, taken by IS and ruled with an iron fist, have also died.  And then there are the children.

One of the most striking aspects of the social Frankenstein that was IS was their effort to create an actual self-sustaining society.Unlike other jihads (Somalia, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya…), IS went out of its way to create an image of a normal, functioning state.  Men were encouraged to leave their homes in the West and elsewhere to take up arms to ‘defend Islam’.  Women were encouraged to come and marry those men and help create future generations of IS ‘Islamic Utopia’.  Out of that arrangement came children, naturally, including young boys IS called the ‘lion cubs of the Caliphate’ (the men were the ‘lions’). 

Some of these children were urged (coerced?) to take part in truly heinous acts of violence such as executions and many more were present at public beheadings.  There was even one case of an Australian jihadi who posted a picture of his son, who appears to be between 8 - 10, holding a severed head.  Truly disturbing.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]To me all of this is a no-brainer.  These children deserve our help.[/quote]

Now that IS is all but defeated as a functioning group, what do we do with these children?  We know that war is hell in all cases and that children suffer disproportionately when exposed to death and brutality.  In some cases kids in Iraq were kidnapped by IS and either raped or forced to do terrible things. 

There is already one case of a Yazidi mom in Winnipeg who has learned that her 12-year old son is still alive: she wants him back with her.

To me all of this is a no-brainer. These children deserve our help. Professionals with seasoned experience in dealing with the trauma of war need to be found and persuaded to assist in this regard.  It won’t be easy: just as in the case of Romania, some children will be scarred for life.

We can both hate the barbarity that is IS and feel for the children that are its product. These young people are not at fault and we should do whatever we can to provide them with the best chances to achieve a normal life.  If anything positive can come out of the enormous tragedy that was Islamic State maybe this is it. 

Phil Gurski worked in the Canadian intelligence community for more than 30 years.  His latest book, The Lesser Jihads, will be published on September 15.

Published in Commentary
Tuesday, 20 September 2016 16:12

New Immigrants Much More Financially Savvy

Commentary by Bernice Cheung in Toronto

For many of us, the first thing that comes to mind when we think of immigrants is a struggling population — those who come here with little understa­­nding of the culture they’re entering into, only to spend a generation struggling so they can give their children a better future. It’s a story that Saima Naz knows all too well.

Saima moved to Montreal from Pakistan with her family when she was a small child. Her parents came here with an attitude that paying cash is always best. They had little understanding of the way finances worked in the developed Western world, and were wary of taking on any debt.

As Saima describes it, her family always had enough to survive, but they were missing out on opportunities. If her parents had had a better understanding of finance and not been so averse to debt, they could have been much better off — and Saima was determined not to make the same mistakes. At 15, she opened her first bank account, and by 21 she had taken out a $5,000 loan to start a small business. She purchased her first family home for about $500,000 when she was 23 and today, 11 years later, that property is valued at well over $1 million.

It’s a familiar story, considered by many to be the norm for a successful immigration cycle. An immigrant generation struggles and sacrifices so that their children can build the knowledge they need to thrive in the following generation.

New trend

Today, though, that narrative seems to apply less and less. In actuality, our data suggest that emerging technologies in today’s highly connected world have significantly widened the spectrum of a typical immigrant success story. Having conducted an annual survey to understand new Canadians’ financial habits, product usage, attitudes and satisfaction towards their financial institutions since 2010, the Cultural Markets team at Environics Research has kept a close eye on this recent new trend.

Rather than observing more of the same struggling newcomer narrative over and over, our team has discovered a new story emerging — one that tells the tale of a more prepared population, ready and excited for the challenges of entering a new cultural situation. Our data shows that, even before their arrival, this new generation of immigrants is doing their research and diligently preparing for upcoming challenges. When we asked newcomers who arrived in the past five years when they opened their first bank account, almost three in 10 (28%) say they had done so before they made the move.

Moreover, we’ve seen a steadily increasing proportion of newcomers agreeing with the statement “I feel as though [we] have the knowledge to get the most out of the financial services choices available in Canada”— revealing a confidence we’ve rarely seen from past generations of newcomers.

Tone matters

It’s much more than simply being prepared ahead of time, though. This generation of immigrants also appears to be much more financially savvy than their previous generational counterparts, and they expect more from their financial institutions. Of those newcomers that came here in the past five years, a whopping 75% have opened a second Canadian bank account with a different financial institution within a year of moving, and 11% had switched institutions completely.

When asked why they switched from their first financial institution, just over four in ten (43%) stated that they wanted better rates, while many others cited better customer service/tone or attitude as key factors.

This move away from financial complacency shows that, for this new generation, the research doesn’t stop. They study ahead of time and continue to actively evaluate the quality of their financial institution from the moment they arrive. They are constantly learning and making changes to better their situation.

Portfolio investments

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this new financial sophistication also appears to be moving beyond just banking and into investment practices. Of the newcomers that came to Canada within the last three years, 46% now use a mutual fund company. It’s a trend that reveals a major opportunity for not only mutual fund companies, but also for financial advisors. Newcomers that came to Canada in the past 10 years represent a total of $55 billion in portfolio investments, but over half of those newcomers still do not have a dedicated advisor. By any standard, that is a massive, potentially missed market for advisors to build a strategy around.

These savvy newcomer investors need products that are geared to their needs, and advisors that can speak their language, both literally and figuratively. Customer service, and the right tone and attitude, rank high on the list of things newcomers look for in an institution. Advisors can significantly differentiate themselves among these groups of newcomers by simply gaining an understanding of cultural differences towards financial planning and investments.

It may seem counter to the popular narrative surrounding immigration, but newcomers to Canada in the past 10 years from South Asia alone hold $17 billion in their investment portfolios. That’s a far cry from the days of Saima’s parents being averse to the idea of even taking a loan — and it’s a figure that financial advisors should take note of.

Bernice is VP of Cultural Markets and Financial Services at Environics Research Group.  She brings over 12 years of marketing and management consulting experience from financial services and consumer goods, helping clients with quantitative and qualitative market research, organizational strategy, segmentation and targeting.  Prior to leading Environics' Cultural Markets group, Bernice led the Ethnic Practice Areas at Nielsen and Altus Strategy Group. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Published in Economy

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City

Racial profiling by police is not a new phenomenon. The ability to now document aggression by law enforcement against African Americans and other racialized people and broadcast the footage around the world makes this long-standing injustice hard to ignore.

Along with meaningful discussions though, these images are also sparking retaliation by some members of the targeted communities.

These acts of aggression, the feelings they create, and the history they are grounded in, are hard for adults to understand, let alone explain to a young person.

Thanks to the Internet and technology, children and youth today have the world at their fingertips. Yet defining how prejudice and racism continue to have implications in different realms of society are ongoing topics of research, policy discussions and public debate.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Chuck and other people who have black skin must live, learn, and play separately from those with white skin.[/quote]

Making children aware

Books like The Stone Thrower by Canadian author Jael Richardson are one way to start a conversation with children about the historical roots of some of the prejudice we continue to see today against African Americans.

The illustrated book tells the real-life story of Chuck Ealey, starting from when he was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, in 1950. He grows up in the city’s North End neighbourhood without most of the opportunities that many other children in America enjoy.

Because of racism against Black people in America — which often revolves around the idea that all Black people have characteristics that make them inferior to Caucasian Americans — Chuck and other people who have black skin must live, learn and play separately from those with white skin.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s an unbeatable story that amazes me, even though I’ve heard it all before, because Chuck Ealey happens to be my father.”[/quote]

Chuck’s mother works long hours for little money, yet still has time and energy to instill in her son the drive to get educated and follow the train tracks that go beyond the North End.

“How could he get out of the North End if they didn’t even have enough money for food?” Chuck wonders.

He begins visiting the train tracks regularly to practise throwing stones at the passing freight cars. It helps him on the football field, and eventually his high school coach asks him to play quarterback during a game.

On the field, he is taunted by the rival team, but maintains his focus and determination to win.

The team’s victory is the start of Chuck Ealey’s long and successful career in high school and college football. After that, though, his time as a football player in the United States is over.

“The National Football League didn’t believe that he could be a great quarterback because of the color of his skin,” writes Richardson.

So instead, Ealey moved to Canada to play in the Canadian Football League (CFL). In his first year as a quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, he led the team to the Grey Cup championship and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player and the CFL’s Rookie of the Year.

Colourful pages tell ugly history 

“It’s an unbeatable story that amazes me, even though I’ve heard it all before, because Chuck Ealey happens to be my father,” Richardson explains at the end of the book. She has also written about her father’s story in a 2012 memoir called The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lesson, a Father’s Life, which was the subject of a TSN (The Sports Network) documentary.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Stone Thrower’s colourful and animated pages tell of a history that was much uglier, hateful and violent.[/quote]

Chuck’s story is remarkable, yet his experience with racism is not unique. Racial segregation was a reality for a huge segment of the population only about 50 years ago — in both the United States and Canada.

Children can relate to parts of the book about playing outdoors, practising sports and being part of a team. What might come as a surprise is that there was once a time when not all children could enjoy these things equally.

The Stone Thrower’s colourful and animated pages tell of a history that was much uglier, hateful and violent.

The difficult legacy of race

While segregation was not enshrined in Canadian law, it still existed in all facets of social life. The story of Viola Desmond being arrested for sitting in the whites-only section of a New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, movie theatre is just one example.

These injustices continue to have repercussions that are felt today. While the days of slavery are over, poverty in Black communities and videos of police brutality against Black people are remnants of what U.S. President Barack Obama termed “the difficult legacy of race.”

The NFL can no longer bar Black athletes from playing football, but law enforcement, employers and the justice system are still realms in which race matters. The Stone Thrower is a reminder of how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go.

However, Ealey’s story is also a much-needed reminder for children and adults alike of what is possible when we work against division and towards inclusion. Through a basic retelling of how one man overcame injustice to be treated fairly, we see how difficult it is to explain and justify segregation and inequality.

On the other hand, we see how easy it is to defend everyone’s basic right to work, play and live without discrimination.

Rosanna Haroutounian is a freelance writer and the assignment editor at New Canadian Media. She studied journalism and political science at Carleton University and now splits her time between Quebec City and Peterborough, Ont.  

{module NCM Blurb} 

Published in Books

by Elvira Truglia in Montreal 

The stories in the Best of All Worlds represent seven of the most commonly spoken immigrant languages in Canada’s largest cities.

 Reinforcing heritage languages alongside Canada’s two official languages reflects policy that has set Canada apart from other immigrant-receiving nations when it comes to diversity matters

“When children see their heritage languages in books, they instinctively understand that their languages are valued and their cultures are important in Canada,” says Gina Valle about a collection of multilingual children’s stories which she brought together in The Best of All Worlds. 

Published in 2015, the illustrated book features seven stories in their original languages — Arabic, Farsi, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish — as well as in English and French translations.  

“It sends a strong message about what it means to be Canadian,” says Valle, founder of Diversity Matters and At One Press, the book’s publisher.  

The stories were selected from the winning and finalist submissions from the Multilingual Kid Lit Award competition organized by Toronto bookstore Rainbow Caterpillar. Valle initiated the project to mark 15 years since the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) established International Mother Tongue Day “to promote diversity and international understanding through multilingualism and multiculturalism.”  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Reading a book in multiple languages is tricky.[/quote]

Multilingual stories, multicultural perspectives  

Questions are to children what texting is to smartphone touting teenagers – second nature. The Best of All Worlds provides many opportunities to tap into children’s inquisitive nature as it exposes them to culturally-specific symbolism, such as the Japanese kappa, and various writing systems including the Latin alphabet, Arabic script and Chinese characters. 

New myths grounded in Canadian history, such as the ‘Tulip Fairy’ who helps keep the Tulip Festival alive in Ottawa, and original stories about what it means to be human and Canadian in today’s world, can spur a flurry of questions as young children read along with a parent, grandparent or teacher in their language of choice or ability. 

And if the stories don’t pique a child’s interest, the vivid illustrations will stand in, each with a unique style. 

Kings, giants, fairies and fables  

The Best of All Worlds has something for all tastes. From fables to fairy tales of kings, giants and other fantastical characters, each story has elements that make children’s books fun to read for children and adults alike. 



My 11-year-old daughter Sabina’s favourite story was “The Happy King,” originally written in Portuguese, because it was “weird, in a good way.” Cursed with being sad by a wizard who wasn’t invited to the royal party, love is what broke the curse and made the King happy again, explains Sabina. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]When it comes to language, you either use it or lose it.[/quote]

But her interpretation of the “message of the story” was an afterthought. What kept Sabina’s attention was the quirky King who reminded her of the curses, wizards and witches she read in tales as a younger child. 

“The Happy King” and other stories are filled with familiar tropes and original twists. The internal struggles and choices of the characters mirror lifelong and universal quests. 

Sabina is an avid reader in English and French and is starting to read in Italian and Spanish – her first languages. When reading The Best of All Worlds on her own, she zig-zagged between all four languages and eventually stuck to one of Canada’s official languages. 

Reading a book in multiple languages is tricky. Like many children growing up in Canada, she needs some priming to continue speaking and reading her heritage languages. 

Keep talking your mother tongue 

Krista Byers-Heinlein, an associate professor of psychology at Concordia University, specializes in language acquisition and early bilingualism. She spoke to Panoram Italia Magazine about the three-generation rule: “In the first generation, the language is strong – it’s how people communicate. In the second generation, there is a solid understanding of the language, but the writing or reading is weak. By the third generation, the language is at risk."  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We can speak many languages and live with many cultures and be at ease with each.”[/quote]

When it comes to language, you either use it or lose it. Passively watching TV won’t do the trick, but reading together and having conversations about what you’re reading is a great way to interact in your mother tongue.  

Schools are an important audience for The Best of All Worlds and a great context for validating first languages. According to Valle, some 20 library systems across the country have ordered the book and a curriculum guide for Ontario teachers is currently in the works.  

Making multilingualism a new norm  

Valle says the book reflects who we are as Canadians.  

“We can speak many languages and live with many cultures and be at ease with each,” she says. “We can speak Mandarin at home, French at school, English on the soccer field and feel that no matter what we speak or where we come from, we can be full citizens in this country.”  

The Best of All Worlds was put together over 18 months with a team of writers, illustrators and translators who originate from some two dozen countries. 

“There are bilingual books but there are no multilingual children’s books in Canada,” says Valle.  

For that, The Best of All Worlds, is an important and new contribution to Canada’s literary scene. 

Elvira Truglia is a Montreal-based journalist who writes about the intersections of culture, politics and social issues. She has recently written for New Canadian Media, The Huffington Post, and the social justice radio program, Making Contact. She is also an emerging photographer whose documentary photos have recently been published in New Canadian Media’s online library. Elvira has worked in the non-profit sector for more than 20 years, focusing on communications, education and human rights.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Books

by Shan Qiao in Toronto 

Canadian writers and educators are expressing a need for more children’s books about refugee and diaspora stories that reflect Canada’s diversity. 

“It was very difficult several years ago when we tried to promote diverse kids’ books,” says Sheila Koffman, who hosted the workshop “Diverse Kid Lit” at the first-ever Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) in Brampton, ON. Koffman has owned and managed Another Story Bookshop, an independent bookstore in Toronto, for nearly 30 years. 

“We started in a basement of a house,” she shares. “We went around [to] schools, doing presentations and selling books.”
When she first began as a bookseller, Koffman was the only one showcasing diverse books – an experience that she says was “very devastating” because of the criticism she faced and the challenge of low book sales.
Since then, things have improved. Her bookstore has received many invitations to do presentations at different school boards, who are now very welcoming of Koffman’s diverse children's literature.  

Stories of Canada’s kids

“There weren’t nearly enough diverse kids books in Canada,” Koffman says, adding she still relies on diverse children’s literature from England and the United States to stock her shelves. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We have a lot diverse children books in Canada, but we need more.”[/quote]

“We have a lot diverse children books in Canada, but we need more,” says author and educator Nadia Hohn.
At the workshop, Hohn presented her children’s picture book Malaika’s Costume, a story loosely based on her childhood. The story starts with the first Caribbean Carnival that Malaika attends as a child 
after she moved to Canada with her mother. Hohn explains that many children, like Malaika, have come to Canada with their parents who must find work abroad to provide for their family.

“This is a fact for so many kids, not only Caribbean kids, but kids from so many ethnicities . . .” explains Hohn. “Growing up in Canada, a lot of children don’t know about how some of their classmates live. That’s their reality.” 

From Joseph’s Big Ride, about a child refugee’s bicycle dream, to Sex Is a Funny Word, which is about gender identity, human bodies and sexuality, Koffman introduced a few examples of diverse children’s literature authored or published by Canadians.
She says there are not enough books for youth that discuss mental health – particularly mental health issues affecting immigrants and refugees.
Jael Richardson, Artistic Director of FOLD, introduced her new children’s book The Stone Thrower along with illustrator Matt James.
Based on a true story, The Stone Thrower tells of how Richardson’s father, Chuck Ealey, grew up in a poor and racially segregated community in Ohio and found refuge in Canada. The book’s cover features a photo of a young, Black man throwing a football. Ealey eventually became a professional player in the Canadian Football League.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Most authors have full-time jobs and are doing this on the side.”[/quote]

Supporting independent authors

Hohn attended Koffman’s presentation as the founder of Sankofa, a collective of authors of African and Caribbean descent. 

“I try to learn as much as I can to help me as an author and a writer,” explains Hohn. 

She says authors from diverse backgrounds need support to write books that fit the needs of children.

“Most authors have full-time jobs and are doing this on the side,” Hohn explains. “Especially if you are self-published, you are paying for everything out-of-pocket.”

She adds that self-published writers face the additional challenge of not having their books showcased in certain bookstores and catalogues.

“Some libraries just started to accept some independently published books, so if most of the books published by Black authors are self-published and so many doors are closed, that means those books are not getting into where they need to,” she says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Those books are windows to other worlds for our kids to learn about lives of kids from other ethnicities or even in their own country.”[/quote]

Diverse literature gaining momentum 

Hohn says she teaches in a school that has a mandate to reflect Black or Caribbean history, and believes all schools should reflect the diversity of Canada in their books. 

“I don't think we should wait for the books to reflect the kids. Those books are windows to other worlds for our kids to learn about lives of kids from other ethnicities or even in their own country,” she explains. 
FOLD, which Richardson says started two years ago in a coffee shop in downtown Brampton, is working toward this.
“Over the past year, provincial and municipal organizations, Canadian publishers, industry professionals, local companies, and community partners have stepped up to bring nearly 40 authors and performers to Brampton, delivering more than 30 sessions and events that showcase diverse Canadian literary talent and provide training for emerging writers,” Richardson says.

FOLD’s inauguration took place from May 6 to 8.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Books

by Selina Chignall in Ottawa

As 25,000 Syrian refugees live through the process of resettlement and beginning new lives in Canada, a Statistics Canada study published today reveals that the children of refugees who arrived in Canada between 1980 and 2000 are thriving.

StatsCan’s, Educational and Labour Market Outcomes of Childhood Immigrants by Admission Class, reviewed the 2011 National Household Survey to examine the socioeconomic outcomes of immigrant children who arrived in Canada before the age of 18 during those two decades.

The study examined each class of immigrant — skilled workers, business immigrants, live-in caregivers, the family class and refugees. 

The study found children of all categories of refugees (private, government and landed) had achieved better graduation outcomes than their Canadian-born peers. They had also outperformed those who settled here through the live-in caregivers and family class.

Roughly 30 per cent of refugees from all classes went to university — whereas 24 per cent of children born to two Canadian-born parents attended university and 19 per cent of those born to live-in caregivers.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"We have the proof before our eyes how refugees and children of refugees have proved themselves in Canadian society."[/quote]

The highest portion of immigrant children were those who came via business and the skilled-worker class. Of those who came through the channel, 59% obtained a university degree, while 50% of those from the skilled-worker class got their diploma.

The study also found that the average earnings of refugee children — $41,000 to $44,000 — were similar to the earnings of children with both Canadian-born parents and immigrant parents who came into the country via the business and skilled working class streams. Their annual earnings were about $46,000

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), said she’s not surprised by the positive outcomes refugees have in their new home.

“We have the proof before our eyes how refugees and children of refugees have proved themselves in Canadian society.”

Dench said it confirms what CCR has been saying for a long time: refugees contribute enormously to Canada.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Playing catch-up is an issue many teens face, and the educational system still hasn’t figured out how to support these students,"[/quote]

However, there are barriers some refugee children face that can prevent them from pursuing higher education, including helping their families to pay off their transportation loan. Those looking to settle in Canada have to pay their way here and undergo a medical examination. If they can’t afford to do so, the government will help pay for these services, but the families have to reimburse them for the loan. 

“We hear they might not be able to go to university because they have to earn money to pay off the transportation loan,” Dench said.

For some refugees, the loan is waived. For the rest, it can cost a family $10,000. They have one to six years to pay back the loan, depending upon how much the owe the government. 

An issue that also could affect the future generations of refugees pouring into the country from countries like Guatemala, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Syria is that they come from war-torn countries whose education systems have or are close to collapse, said Monica Boyd, a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto.

A report from World Vision said between two million and three million Syrian children are not attending school. For many of these young children who have gone months and years without formal schooling, Boyd said it’s an added challenge when they start their new life in Canada.

According to a November 2015 report by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, of those Syrians who arrived in 2014, 34 per cent were under the age of 15, and 15 per cent were 15 to 24 and 48 per cent were between 25 to 64.

Statistics Canada and Boyd both said the younger the children are when they settle in a new country, the better education outcomes they have. She said this was due in part to youngsters spending a longer period in the school system where they can improve their language skills.

It’s harder for teens to catch up on language skills and to adapt to a new education system.

“Playing catch-up is an issue many teens face, and the educational system still hasn’t figured out how to support these students,” said Dench.

Republished in partnership with

Published in Policy

by Shan Qiao in Toronto 

A campaign to collect books and other resources to enhance educational opportunities for black children in Toronto is gaining support, while the Black Lives Matter Toronto continues to challenge anti-Black racism in the city. 

A book drive took place recently at A Different Booklist, an independent bookstore in Toronto. It encouraged people to purchase books and donate them to Black Lives Matter Freedom School, a summer program focused on teaching black children aged four to 10 about black liberation history. 

“[Children of African descent] do not get exposed enough, if at all, to the history of blacks in Canada or North America and around the world during the regular school year,” said Natasha Henry, an elementary school teacher and author. “The book drive is a way to engage them in their learning, contributing to the community, and really empowering them with knowledge that will help them to continue their education, whether at school or in the community.” 

Movement targets education, police 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We’re fighting for justice, freedom and dignity for all black people.”[/quote]

LeRoi Newbold, a director of Black Lives Matter Toronto and the organizer of the book drive, said the black community should have control over what black children are learning, independently from school boards. 

“In Toronto, 40 per cent of black children did not graduate from high school,” said Newbold. While that number has decreased recently, black students still experience high suspension rates and low graduation rates. 

“It’s alarming and unacceptable,” said Newbold. “We’re not waiting for that system to change. We’re creating our own schools, our own institutions.” 

Black Lives Matter Toronto is also collecting resources for the school through an online Indiegogo fundraising campaign. To date, the campaign has raised $10,361. 

Not far from the upbeat book drive that had a few dozen people packed into the tiny single-unit bookstore, Black Lives Matter Toronto protested for the seventh day in-a-row outside Toronto Police Service headquarters to draw attention to anti-black racism in the city.

The demonstrations began in part to protest the Special Investigations Unit’s decision not to lay charges against a Toronto officer who fatally shot 45-year-old Sudanese immigrant Andrew Loku. The group also announced a lawsuit against the Toronto Police Service for allegedly raiding and searching the home of Jean Montaque, a black mother, without warrant. 

“We’re fighting for justice, freedom and dignity for all black people, and the right for black people to not experience violence [at] the hands of the police force,” Newbold said of the protest. 

Teaching the history of black activism 

[Block quote: sharing a pioneering black activist’s accomplishments and legacy show how the struggling for freedom has evolved over time.] 

Henry was one of the presenters at the book drive, held on Mar 24. She wrote Firsts and African Diaspora as part a 15-book series on black heritage in Canada and around the world. 

“Often of times, historians are very interested in the past, yet young people will say ‘What does that have to do with us today?’” Henry told the crowd. “So it’s very important that we provide the historical context, but mix it with what is going on today in our communities and around the world.” 

In Firsts, Henry focuses on many “firsts” in the African-Canadian community and other African diaspora communities. The cover features an image of Michaëlle Jean, the first black person to serve as Governor General of Canada. 

“When we’re looking at the markers of ‘the first’ African descent, it gets us to think critically about why some of these ‘firsts’ are just happening in the 21st century, despite the fact that Africans have been in Canada since the 16th century,” Henry said. She described how the stories of “firsts” began a legacy of anti-black racism and how that is manifesting itself today. 

“Whether it is over-policing, police brutality, the unemployment rate of young black people – which is much higher than the general population – student dropout rates… these are all a legacy of how black people have been marginalized,” she says. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“What happens to one group affects all of us in different ways.”[/quote]

Henry read a part from the book about Viola Desmond, who was a black businesswoman born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In the 1940s, Desmond fought for her right to sit on the main floor of a movie theatre after being told it was reserved solely for white patrons. Henry stressed that sharing a pioneering black activist’s accomplishments and legacy show how the struggle for freedom has evolved over time. 

Community’s struggles not isolated 

Another presenter, Nadia Hohn, demonstrated traditional African songs and dances during the book drive. Born to Jamaican parents, she is now an elementary school teacher and author and uses traditional music as a teaching tool for kindergarten children. 

“We want our freedom and to live in dignity,” she sang to the crowd, holding one wrist with the other hand, then taking them apart to demonstrate freedom. 

“There are many different groups in Canada that have experienced different degrees of discrimination,” Hohn said. “What happens to one group affects all of us in different ways. It might not be a direct impact, but it has ripple effects on others.” 

Similarly, improvements in one community also have a positive impact on others, she added.

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Published in Books
Monday, 15 February 2016 00:58

Spanking Kids: Culture is No Defence

by Florence Hwang in Regina 

Cultural differences in childrearing require settlement organizations to provide newcomers with information and support in understanding Canadian laws on corporal punishment, also known as 'spanking', say experts. 

Nothing is more indicative of culture than the process of raising children to become adults, explains Justin Ryan, public education and communications co-ordinator with the Multicultural Association of the Greater Moncton Area (MAGMA). 

He describes a rite of passage for boys of a Brazilian tribe as an extreme example. A glove or gauntlet is made of grass. Bullet ants, whose bites feel like bullet shots, bite the young boy’s hand. He is not allowed to cry out in pain. 

“Here, that would be the most violent consideration of child abuse possible. There, it’s the process which you become an adult,” says Ryan. “If I did that to my daughter, they would take her away.” 

New immigrants coming to Canada may be conflicted on Section 43, Canada’s law on corporal punishment, which the government agreed to revoke late last year as a result of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendations.

This is often because they are coming from vastly different cultural backgrounds  some from strongly patriarchal societies with very little infrastructure and where domestic violence is relatively common, Ryan notes. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][I]n a developing nation ... there may be a law that says parents can’t strike their children, but there is little follow-up or action taken.[/quote]

In some cultures, for example, a father backhanding his child for speaking back, or not cleaning up or not being obedient is acceptable. 

Ryan says the most common response he gets from immigrants is surprise that there is a law regarding corporal punishment and that the government reinforces it. 

He explains that in a developing nation that has little infrastructure, there may be a law that says parents can’t strike their children, but there is little follow-up or action taken. 

Understanding of Canadian way is vital 

Gary Direnfeld, a social worker who has 33 years of experience helping parents manage behaviour with children, says many immigrants come from countries where they place high value on respect, particularly for elders. 

“That is a kind of respect that comes without questioning, where we expect the child to heed what the elder has to say and follow through and all will be well, so to speak,” he explains.

Contrast that with Canadian culture, which has more value on individualism and freedoms, which the children are often influenced by. Meanwhile the parents may come from a country where corporal punishment is sanctioned and considered reasonable. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[T]he thought of a children’s aid worker coming to your home is more than frightful.”[/quote]

“The child, having learned of their rights and freedoms, in the Canadian context, may then complain about the corporal punishment and that brings the parent to the attention of child protection services,” says Direnfeld, who is based out of Dundas, Ontario. 

“If you come from a war-torn country, where one is fearful of the political structures and institutions, the thought of a children’s aid worker coming to your home is more than frightful,” he says. 

“As disconcerting as it is to have a visit from the Children’s Aid Society with concerns of abusing your kids, for these families, those concerns are amplified given their lack of trust and faith in institutional services.” 

Direnfeld says this issue of corporal punishment is deeper and broader than the average non-immigrant Canadian often appreciates. In acclimatizing new immigrants to Canada, settlement organizations should help them to appreciate our parenting approaches, he suggests.   

“If you take a cross-cultural perspective on what [parenting expectations] are, then this gets a lot murkier a lot faster, which means we have to work a lot more closely with clients to communicate and make them understand what the implications are of Canadian law,” adds Ryan. 

Lost in translation   

Ryan notes that in the case of immigrants, language is also a barrier in communicating with, for example, social services. These barriers may also make it impossible to understand subtle, but crucial, differentiations. 

He says that a classic example would be, when asked, “How do you discipline your child?” they may reply, “I beat them,” when what they really mean is “I spank them.” 

“They simply don’t have the language skills to choose the word that has the right connotation and correctly carries the reality of what they’re doing.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[T]he Canadian government is far more involved with managing family dynamics than most other countries.”[/quote]

MAGMA works to ensure that all parents understand the Canadian standards of child care. This is particularly the case with refugees, due to the recent influx. Child protective services delivers group sessions to proactively address these issues, such as explaining what is considered acceptable measures of discipline in Canada. 

“One of our primary requirements is to instruct our clients [on] what our appropriate Canadian values are starting as soon as they get here regarding the stuff that’s likely to get them in trouble with the law,” Ryan says. 

As to the impact of repealing Section 43, which would effectively criminalize even those actions such as corporal punishment, organizations like MAGMA have to be even more proactive in passing on that understanding to their clients. 

“Part of that is that the Canadian government is far more involved with managing family dynamics than most other countries,” Ryan explains. “Generally elsewhere … the government is not seen as having a role in such private matters. It’s therefore an adjustment for both sides in this equation when Canadian governments become directly involved in the lives of immigrant families.”

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Published in Health

by Daniel Leon Rodriguez in Calgary

Jose Duque, an immigrant from Venezuela, is using music to keep children in band practice and out of trouble on the streets.

In his native country, Duque participated in the El Sistema program, for over 16 years as an orchestra player, music teacher, and later, as a regional co-ordinator.

The program, which is run in countries around the world, gives children from diverse backgrounds a safe and fun place that fosters discipline, increased self-esteem and a sense of community.

When Duque immigrated to Calgary 10 years ago, he thought there were no children living in poverty in the city.

“I thought Canada was paradise,” says Duque, adding he imagined no one in Calgary would need a program like El Sistema.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Duque soon started to see the cracks in his new homeland.[/quote]

The opportunity to dream

However, Duque soon started to see the cracks in his new homeland – Canada wasn’t the perfect paradise he imagined.

At Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, he met many low-income families who had difficulties keeping their children away from drugs, gangs and isolation.

“I wanted to offer disadvantaged children the opportunity to dream,” says Duque.

That is why five years ago, he decided to start a free after school music program at the church.

Now, with the support of International Avenue Arts and Culture Centre (IAACC), Duque’s small initiative has grown into the Calgary Multicultural Orchestra (CMO) – a full-time program with three professors and 60 students based on the El Sistema program model.

The program operates in Calgary's Forest Lawn area, which has double the percentage of low-income households than the rest of the city, according to Statistics Canada. IAACC funding provides children with free musical instruments and music lessons every weekday from 4 to 6 p.m.

Jose Antonio Abreu, founder of El Sistema youth orchestra system in Venezuela, shares the story behind the program.

Diverting children and youth from the streets

Duque says CMO will create positive outcomes similar to other El Sistema projects around the world – a decrease in juvenile crime and school drop-out rates. However, to achieve his dream he requires more participation from the community.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Some people believe that orchestral music is something exclusive, but it isn't true.”[/quote]

“If we could get 1,000 children from Forest Lawn and other communities in the northeast we could create a real change,” says Duque. 

According to a study by the Inter American Development Bank for every dollar invested in the El Sistema program in Venezuela, it reaped about $1.68 in social dividends – with benefits such as a decline in juvenile delinquency and improvement in school attendance.

The biggest rate of juvenile delinquency occurs between 4 and 7 p.m., explains Duque, which is the timeframe when children spend more time alone after school and before their parents return from work in the evening.

“We are giving a space to these kids to do something special,” he says. “We are taking them away from the streets, the drugs and the gangs.”

Putting a focus on inclusivity and tolerance

Amédée Waters, program administrator for the CMO, says the program aims to bring together children from all incomes, races and religions. 

“The idea is to create a sense of inclusivity, tolerance and community,” says Waters. “Some people believe that orchestral music is something exclusive, but it isn't true.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[T]he program makes children and parents focus on what we have in common instead of what makes us different.”[/quote]

Mark Lobnowcs, whose 11-year-old child participates in the CMO, agrees that the program creates more tolerance. 

“I think it is marvellous that the program makes children and parents focus on what we have in common instead of what makes us different,” says Lobnowcs.

He also says the program is a great opportunity to learn music from top professional musicians. “It is amazing that someone with Jose’s qualifications is doing something like this for free.”

Hikmat Kafi, whose seven-year-old daughter has been with the CMO for over two years, says that the program has helped her daughter to open up to other children.

Kafi arrived to Canada from North Sudan 10 years ago. She says that her daughter’s participation in the CMO has had a positive influence on her two brothers. “If you see your child happy, then all the family is happy too,” she shares.

The program costs IAACC over $2,300 per child per year, and funding can be an issue, according to Waters.

Right now the program has a waiting list of over 30 children, but it doesn’t have the funds to pay for teachers and instruments.

“It is always a struggle to find the funds,” says Waters. As a result, the program is always looking for volunteers and used musical instruments.

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Published in Arts & Culture
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