by Maria Ikonen in Gatineau, Quebec

Settlement workers seeking opportunities to upgrade their knowledge and exchange ideas about tackling the challenges faced by refugees, will be given the opportunity through a one-of-a-kind course offered at York University.

“Refugees and Forced Migration” is a one-week intensive summer course being offered from May 9 to 13, 2016 at York University in Toronto. Presentations will cover refugee and forced migration issues such as the law and legal context, diversity and resettlement in Canada and health care.

Johanna Reynolds, summer course director at the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University, says that participants come globally from countries such as Ethiopia, the United Kingdom, Germany and South Africa.

According to Dr. Christina Clark-Kazak, acting director of the Centre for Refugee Studies, the course will offer “Canadian context, but also international such as United States and Europe. This enriches the discussion.” 

Participants will have a chance to visit local resettlement agencies and to speak with the people working on the frontlines. “It is rare to be in a room with people who have expertise with the refugee forged immigration issues,” says Reynolds.

Clark-Kazak, who herself participated in the course 12 years ago, hopes that the program will provide an opportunity for academics and people working with refugees to talk about the newest trends and what is currently happening.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“This is a valuable opportunity to share information globally."[/quote]

According to Reynolds, anyone who is passionate about the course topics would find this week very useful. “This is a valuable opportunity to share information globally, and to take it back to the workplace with the tasks such as policy making and advocacy.”

Reynolds says that the participants are offered a deeper understanding refugee and forced migration issues, which extend beyond what the media is covering.

“Participants see that refugee issues aren’t only with Syrians, but there are other issues too. [The] course brings up the complexity of the refugee and forced migration politics.”

Global perspective on resettlement and refugees

According to Clark-Kazak, the main demand for the course arose from outside of the university. People doing related work wanted to attend the centre’s courses, but couldn’t for different reasons.

“We saw the need and market in North America and Canada,” says Clark-Kazak.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I feel it is important for learners to have a sense of how health intersects with refugee migration.”[/quote]

Reynolds points out that networking opportunities involve making linkages with faculty members from the Centre for Refugee Studies.

Some of the expert presenters will include Michael Casasola, a resettlement officer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ottawa, François Crépeau, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants and Director of McGill’s Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism and Dr. Meb Rashid, physician and co-founder of Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care and the medical director of Crossroad’s Clinic.

“I feel it is important for learners to have a sense of how health intersects with refugee migration,” explains Rashid. “Although settlement issues such as housing and employment are often the greatest determinant of the health of newly arrived refugees, poor health often negatively affects settlement.”

He continues, “Those that struggle with medical problems often have challenges with employment, language acquisition, housing, etc. As such, it is important to inject health care into the discussion around refugee migration.”

Participation in the course in May requires registration, but a public lecture will be hosted as a part of the week on May 10.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Refugee issues, as you know, could not be more salient than they are at present."[/quote]

The lecture will be presented by Dr. Jacqueline Bhabha, director of research at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights and professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

“York University is known for the excellent work it has done on migration and refugee related issues for many years, so I was delighted to be invited to contribute to this worthwhile course,” Bhabha says. “Refugee issues, as you know, could not be more salient than they are at present, and the opportunity to engage students in key and challenging issues is more than usually welcome.”

Unique possibilities

Organizing a summer course doesn’t happen without challenges. As an example, Reynolds says that prospective participants have had issues with obtaining visas.

However, the organizers say the summer course is very much worth the effort of attending. Clark-Kazak mentions that the course can give busy policy makers and practitioners time to reflect.

“[The] course is a unique possibility for direct discussions after the presentations. It is a course that can offer a platform to come up with solutions to the refugee and forced immigration issues,” adds Reynolds.

“Every presenter and participant brings [a] different point of view and this course can mobilize participants to collaborate as project partners.”


The writer of this article was mentored by Leah Bjornson, a Vancouver-based journalist and New Canadian Media’s (NCM) Special Projects Editor through the NCM Mentoring Program.

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Published in Education

by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver 

In this week’s round-up of what’s been making headlines in Canada’s ethnic media: The Liberal government is set to repeal Bill C-24; municipal councils wage war on Uber and Canadians react to Haryana violence in India. 

Liberals plan to repeal Bill C-24 

The Liberal government has announced that it will be making significant changes to the Citizenship Act, repealing the Conservatives’ controversial Bill C-24. 

The bill gave the government the power to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage. According to the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, John McCallum, the new measures will make it nearly impossible to revoke citizenship. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]he government says that it plans to remove barriers to citizenship posed by Bill C-24.[/quote]

Immigration officials will still be able to revoke citizenship if it was obtained by false representation or fraud and the federal court will be able to remove someone’s citizenship if they are involved in organized crime, war crimes or crimes against humanities. 

Of particular interest to new and aspiring Canadians, the government says that it plans to remove barriers to citizenship posed by Bill C-24. 

As reported in the Canadian Immigrant magazine, McCallum announced Feb. 23, “We believe that it’s better to make it easier rather than harder for people to become citizens.” 

Expected changes include reducing the length of time that someone must be physically present in Canada to qualify for citizenship, allowing time in Canada before permanent residency to count toward physical residency requirements and amending the age range for language and citizenship knowledge exams. 

The government also intends to repeal the intent to reside provision, which caused some immigrants to fear that they could lose their citizenship if they moved outside of Canada. 

While McCallum didn’t elaborate on what other changes would be made, he told The Globe & Mail that specifics would follow “in coming days, but not very many days.” 

The government is set to table its annual immigration report before Mar. 9 and it will outline targets for all classes of immigrants, including Syrian refugees. 

Uber-taxi war rages in Brampton 

The battle against Uber in Ontario continues as Brampton City Council voted on Wednesday to temporarily suspend ride-sharing companies until the City can decide whether or not to allow them to operate in the area. 

The motion, which was brought forward by city councillor Gurpreet S. Dhillon, was unanimously accepted by council, who cited concerns over public safety, consumer protection, fairness and regulation. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“This is a victory for the residents of Brampton.”[/quote]

“This is a victory for the residents of Brampton,” said Dhillon, as reported by The Indo-Canadian Voice. “I’m very proud that my motion was supported by all my council colleagues. This decision is a good first step to guarantee the public’s safety and security, while maintaining fairness — that is our priority right now.” 

According to councillors, ride-sharing companies like Uber have presented challenges for consumers and companies in Canada. There are also issues of legality, as many of these drivers are not licensed under the cities’ mobile licensing bylaws and as such are operating contrary to their requirements. 

Other cities in Canada are having similar conversations about the ride-sharing problem. Mississauga city council voted unanimously in early March to suspend Uber's operations in the city. 

“Innovation, technology and growth are driving competition in an established industry that has a long history of providing quality and reliable service,” said Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie. “The debate about how to regulate Transportation Network Companies (TNC) is not going away and we need to get it right.” 

The city will be seeking feedback from all stakeholders — the taxi and limousine industry, companies like Uber, as well as consumers — in reviewing the bylaws and regulations around ride-shares. 

Students stand in solidarity with northern India   

As caste violence continues to occur in the north Indian state of Haryana, Canadians are speaking out against fighting that has seen more than a dozen people killed. 

On Mar. 2, students, faculty, and staff from the University of British Columbia (UBC) held a rally in solidarity with India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), where, as one student wrote, JNU students “are now facing deadly onslaught of the state – its entire students’ union and leftist leadership booked under the draconian sedition charges.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The violence has also affected non-resident Indians (NRIs) living in Canada ...[/quote]

According to The Indo-Canadian Voice, “Hundreds of universities, public intellectuals, human rights [organizations] from all over the world have raised their voice in support of the JNU students and teachers.” 

The violence has also affected non-resident Indians (NRIs) living in Canada, who fear it will impact investment in the state. 

In a statement reprinted in The Indo-Canadian Voice, the Overseas Association of Haryanvis in Canada said, “We, the NRIs of Haryana origin, would like to appeal to our brothers and sisters to support centuries-old brotherhood among 36 biradaris in the larger interest of Haryana and the nation.” 

The organization further stated that the agitation has not helped the common man of the state. On the contrary, the statement said it “will create more unemployment and increase poverty in an otherwise prosperous state.” 

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Published in Top Stories

by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver 

In this week’s round-up of what’s been making headlines in Canada’s ethnic media: faith-based organizations are at the forefront of Syrian refugee resettlement efforts; Taiwan’s elections are lauded as a step towards democracy in China and members of Vancouver’s Sikh community are helping to spread the love this Valentine’s Day. 

Refugee crisis brings back painful memories for Jewish community 

Faith-based organizations in Canada play a pivotal role in resettling refugees during crises, one not often undertaken in other countries, according to a panel hosted by the Intercultural Dialogue Institute of the Greater Toronto Area earlier this month. 

Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders explained to an audience on Feb. 5 that unlike in other countries, where the government has greater control over resettlement processes, in Canada, many faith communities make efforts to privately sponsor families and assist them in their transition period. 

As reported in The Canadian Jewish News (CJN), the Jewish community has stepped up significantly to assist in the ongoing crisis. In total, 35 groups working with Jewish Immigrant Aid Services (JIAS) have formed sponsorship initiatives. Even more have formed independent sponsorship groups looking to bring Syrian families to Canada. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We’re responding to this crisis as Jews, because it’s the right, humanitarian thing to do.”[/quote]

The Canadian Jewish community has a long history of supporting incoming refugees. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the community actively sponsored many Vietnamese families escaping the aftermath of the Vietnam war. 

Naomi Alboim, professor and chair of the policy forum at the school of policy studies at Queen’s University and one of the panellists at the event, explained to the CJN that the current anti-refugee movement sweeping Europe “brings back painful memories” for the Jewish community. 

“We’re responding to this crisis as Jews, because it’s the right, humanitarian thing to do,” she said. “We’re paying it forward.” 

This faith community is not alone in its endeavours. Toronto’s Muslim and Catholic communities have also stepped forward to contribute in some way. Some synagogues have even joined mosques or churches to submit joint applications to sponsor Syrian families. 

The article makes note of an event in December, during which Jewish communities in Vancouver fundraised to bring two Kurdish families to Canada. 

Taiwan election heralded as beginning of democracy in China 

Panellists lauded Taiwan’s recent election of its first female president, Tsai Ing-wen, as a sign that “democracy is compatible with Chinese culture” at a recent event hosted by the Canada-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Group. 

The forum, held on Jan. 28, discussed the election that saw the former opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party, beat the Kuomintang with 56 per cent of the popular vote. Known for being pro-China, the Kuomintang has ruled Taiwan for the past eight years. 

This is also the first time that the Kuomintang has lost control of the legislature. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“If you want to see what China could do with democracy — go to Taiwan.”[/quote]

Panellist Andre Laliberte, a professor at the University of Ottawa, told Epoch Times after the event, “It is proof that people who have Chinese culture can have democracy, and democracy is compatible with Chinese culture.” 

Laliberte was joined on the panel by Wu Rong-chuan, the newly arrived representative for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, or the Taiwanese embassy in Canada. Wu told the Times that he felt voters had acted more rationally during this election than in years past and that policies were well discussed. 

“There was little sensational language during the election,” he said. 

Canadian Senator Michael MacDonald expressed his hopes that this victory would mark the beginning of significant change in what is “going to be the big, emerging real quest in mainland China for democracy.” 

“If you want to see what China could do with democracy — go to Taiwan,” he said. 

Sikh volunteers spread the love this Valentine’s Day 

Sikh organizations in Vancouver are scrambling this weekend as they finish collecting 900 roses, chocolates and greeting cards to distribute to shelters across the Lower Mainland for Valentine’s Day. 

Hosted by Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen and Global Girl Power in partnership with Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar, this annual event sees donors and volunteers working for several weeks to raise money and organize the logistics for the big day. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Sikhs believe in Guru Nanak’s philosophy to love all and feed all.”[/quote]

“Sikhs believe in Guru Nanak’s philosophy to love all and feed all,” Roveen Kandola tells The Indo-Canadian Voice. 

Kandola, who works with Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen, adds, “It’s important that during these times, we think of those less fortunate and make their day much brighter.” 

Over the past three years, this initiative has reached over 100 shelters in Vancouver’s Lower Mainland including Burnaby Safe House, Elizabeth Gurney House and Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter. 

The intent of the event is to give women and children at these locations “the opportunity to experience a more enjoyable Valentine’s Day,” the Voice reports. 

Irene de Ocampo at Elizabeth Gurney House says she is very thankful for the work of these volunteers and donors. “Our residents (moms and kids) truly appreciate your generosity.” 

All packages will be distributed to shelters this weekend.

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Published in Top Stories

by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver 

As refugees begin trickling into Canada in 2016, local police departments are warning newcomers and their sponsors to beware of con artists posing as immigration officials who might attempt to cheat them out of their money. 

“Since 2014, we’ve had 14,500 reports of scams,” explains Sergeant Penny Hermann, media relations officer for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Ontario, speaking to statistics from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). 

Out of that 14,500, just over half were reported between August 2015 and January 2016. 

“From August of last year up to the date that I just got updated on Tuesday — 14,500 — it’s been almost overly doubled now,” Hermann states. 

Even more troubling for Hemann is that only five per cent of mass marketing frauds are reported, according to the historical analyses done by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. 

“So if you think about it, 14,500 and that represents five per cent, how many more [are] out there?” she posits. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“What they want is for you to be rattled, frightened, and acting out of fear.”[/quote]

In these sorts of scams, fraudsters pretending to be IRCC and CRA officials call newcomer Canadians with threats about incorrect paperwork, additional fees and potential deportation. 

Scammers demand anywhere between $1,300 and $7,000, which victims are told to either transfer through their bank or send using gift cards. 

“When they sense that you are believing them, they go full speed ahead,” Daniel Williams, a fraud specialist at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, explains. “They become very abrasive, very aggressive.” 

“What they want is for you to be rattled, frightened, and acting out of fear,” he says. 

Targeting vulnerable populations 

While these sorts of scams have targeted Canadians from a diversity of backgrounds, Williams tells New Canadian Media that revenue scams most often victimize people with South Asian – particularly Indian – sounding names. 

“These are folks that the bad guys are finding through what appears to be the phone book online,” he explains. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It will be the scammers' natural inclination to scam people who speak their language.”[/quote]

Research by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre shows that many of these calls appear to come from “crooked call centres” in India, indicating why this community is commonly targeted. “It will be the scammers' natural inclination to scam people who speak their language,” says Williams.

Beyond that, these newcomers are sometimes targeted because they may not be as familiar with Canadian law. 

“[The scammers] hope that they’re reaching people who would be less aware of the laws and more susceptible to someone intimidating them, pretending to be a government agency,” Williams explains. 

When asked why these populations may be more at-risk than others, Williams acknowledged that there could be a cultural component at play. 

According to Williams, people from India are generally “respectful of authority” and may be hesitant to challenge a suspicious caller claiming to be from the government. 

“That’s what consumers have told me,” he explains. “It kind of makes sense. You come from a culture where authority is respected to a degree, it’s easier to get folks to follow the instructions that we’ve made for them.” 

General population also at-risk

Nevertheless, Williams emphasizes that the general population is just as susceptible to being victimized by con artists as immigrants and refugees. 

He states, “Scammers are quite global in their scope and they don’t pick on any one location. Everybody is fair game. They’re all vulnerable.” 

While there are a few massive form frauds that do appear to be targeting newcomers, “scammers, depending on who they reach, will take money from anyone,” he adds. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[G]overnments will not go and knock on your door, they’re not going to threaten your arrest unless you pay this amount of money."[/quote]

Perpetrators may even be avoiding targeting the most vulnerable populations in Canada in favour of those who have more significant funds on hand to transfer, explains Williams. 

Hermann agrees: “I think it’s just that they’re targeting vulnerable people. People that they think will actually give them the money.” 

Raising awareness 

In Ottawa, members of the RCMP Greater Toronto Area Financial Crime Unit have launched a Fraud Awareness Campaign to warn the public of ongoing scams by imposters pretending to be CRA agents. 

Hermann explains that the intent of the campaign is to “make everybody aware that governments will not go and knock on your door, they’re not going to threaten your arrest unless you pay this amount of money, they will not be doing that.” 

In addition to educating incoming refugees, the campaign aims to educate refugee sponsors who might be asked for money to pay the scammers by those they’re housing. 

Anyone interested in hosting a presentation about fraud “to protect these refugees coming in so that they do not get victimized” is encouraged to contact the RCMP. 

When it comes to protecting yourself from being a victim of fraud, Williams’ advice is simple: “Verify, verify, verify. If people would just do that, we would defeat mass marketing fraud in a heartbeat.”

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Published in Top Stories
Sunday, 06 December 2015 00:46

Niche, Ethnic Media Struggle to Compete

by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver

When you turn on your TV, answer your cell phone or read an advertisement online, chances are more and more likely that the same company is behind all three services.

By both historical standards and when compared to other countries, there an exceptionally small number of companies in Canada that control the production and distribution of the media, according to a recent study by the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project.

“Our media environment is very badly served by the high levels of concentration we have,” comments Dwayne Winseck, the study author and a professor in the school of journalism and communication at Ottawa’s Carleton University.  

The report, titled “Media and Internet Concentration in Canada”, analyses the trends in media concentration across cable TV, newspapers, online news sources and more between 1984 and 2014.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Part of a vibrant media environment in any country . . . is having a diversity of voices."[/quote]

Ben Klass, a PhD student at Carleton who assisted Winseck with his research, echoed his professor’s concerns.

“Part of a vibrant media environment in any country . . . is having a diversity of voices and a diversity of opinions so that the population can be very informed about important social and political issues.”

Space for alternative Canadian news sources

“Canada and its media industry overall is highly concentrated, and this is not unusual,” says Klass. “Where Canada is an outlier is in the extent of vertical integration.”

Vertical integration refers to the cross ownership of companies that control the means of media distribution. As demonstrated by Bell’s re-acquisition of CTV in 2011 and Shaw’s acquisition of Global TV in 2010, the number of companies in control of the sources of distribution is shrinking in Canada.

To contrast, the Internet news sources frequented by Canadians are defined by “astonishingly high” levels of diversity, according to Winseck, both in terms of niche content and the geographic location of the providers.

“You have traditional media outlets kind of [side by side] with some new media outlets and domestic media outlets sitting [beside] foreign media outlets,” explains Winseck.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][There] is a consumer desire for new and niche content, such as targeted blogs and ethnic-based media.[/quote]

Winseck speculates that this might be a result of a lower cost of entry online, as well as the perceived reliability of sources like The Guardian, BBC and ABC.

“People are looking for trustworthy and credible news sources so they go to sources that they’ve heard of or they already know,” he says.

Paired with this access to international news sources is a consumer desire for new and niche content, such as targeted blogs and ethnic-based media.

While currently these sites receive a minuscule proportion of the available revenues online, Klass suggests that they may be able to attract advertisers looking to reach niche audiences.

“Advertisers don’t seek an undifferentiated, mass audience,” he explains. “They seek an affluent audience or at least one that is going to pay for the goods that are being pedalled.”

Dangers of media concentration

Despite these trends, Winseck cautions against being too optimistic.

“While there is some additional space for sure in the online news space . . . to go from niche to top 20, it still takes a lot of resources,” he says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[T]o go from niche to top 20, it still takes a lot of resources.”[/quote]

Of the countless blogs, websites and sources of news online, two companies – Facebook and Google – take a massive portion of the total advertising revenues. 

“While there’s a large diversity of sources available on the Internet . . . they all sort of exist in a relatively competitive environment,” says Klass.

According to the report, the largest 10 telecom, media and Internet companies accounted for 83.4 per cent of all revenues in 2014.

This is problematic for many reasons Klass explains.

“When you have a small number of very large companies owning a lot of [the media] they also own the way these things are delivered to people . . . and you can see the sort of dangers of these things in action.”

Winseck agrees: “That ugly underbelly is that as newspapers go belly up; you have rich patrons moving in and buying them up. That was the case we saw with [Jeff] Bezos scooping up the Washington Post.”

Expectations for future

Winseck says he expects to see a mixed model in the future of Canadian media.

“We are going to see traditional news organizations like the CBC, like the Globe and Mail, like the BBC retain a solid position at the centre of the news environment, although it’s going to be pared back significantly.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Winseck hopes to see a potentially more democratic core of news that involves a plurality of voices.[/quote]

“Flanking these core media we’re going to have the partisan media,” he continues. “Then we’re going to have cooperative news ventures where people are working on a voluntary basis, if you will, to create and share the news.”

Winseck hopes to see less worry about the ongoing “crisis of journalism,” and instead see a potentially more democratic core of news that involves a plurality of voices financed by different support structures.

Klass speculates that the government will encourage this by being more involved in the regulations around media concentration and ownership.

“In order to ensure that we continue to have relatively vibrant media ecology, I think that these issues are going to become more contentious at a political level.”

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Published in Arts & Culture

by Maria Ikonen in Gatineau, Quebec

People running across the borders, others hanging for their lives on an overcrowded boat and a three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a beach. These are just some of the chaotic images reported to us by the media on the Syrian refugee crisis. 

European newspapers have been giving space to cover the crisis, but the actual voice of refugees has not been heard. Not until a Danish newspaper, Dagbladet Information, let 12 journalist refugees take over the newspaper for one day last month.

The initial idea

Anders Fjordbak-Trier, news editor of Information, says that the idea came up during a meeting with the editorial staff. “Only by getting to know each other we can start building bridges in Europe. There is no chance of a constructive dialogue if you talk through razor wire.”

“Basically we felt the need to give a voice to the group of people whom everyone in Europe talk about, but never actually listens to – the refugees. Its a democratic responsibility and a journalistic virtue to give the speechless a chance to answer,” Fjordbak-Trier told New Canadian Media over e-mail.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Letting the journalist refugees work on the newspaper inspired the creation of a significant amount of content.[/quote]

One of the journalist refugees, Lilas Hatahet from Syria, is a member of a small network of refugee journalists in Denmark established recently by The Danish Union of Journalists and International Media Support.

She wrote over e-mail that the experience with Information was a unique opportunity to be working again in a professional context and “to reconnect with your own professional identity, which for all refugees, not only journalists, is so difficult to maintain.”

According to Fjordbak-Trier, finding the journalists was easy because of social media and other networks. Letting the journalist refugees work on the newspaper inspired the creation of a significant amount of content.

“We normally print 20 pages on Fridays. This Friday it was 48. If we had the resources to do it, we could easily have made a much larger paper, but Dagbladet Information is a pretty small organization, so we did what was possible for us.”

Hatahet describes the idea to give refugees their own voice as exciting.

“It was a chance for us to speak directly to readers in our new country of asylum, in which we want to get a normal life in freedom as respected and contributing citizens.”

According to Hatahet, working together with other refugees and with the colleagues at Information resulted in a strong unity.

She says the work process carried “an important positive message in itself at this tense moment of increasing stigmatization of refugees even in a small Scandinavian country like Denmark,” says Hatahet.

Importance of refugee voice

Information’s idea was not just to put refugees in the mainstream limelight.

“It is important to state that in making this paper the refugees were not only opinion makers. They were the editors of the day,” says Fjordbak-Trier. “It was their stories, their journalistic selection of what the paper should cover.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Instead of being perceived as just victims they will appear as willing and able to engage actively in their new society.”[/quote]

Hatahet finds it extremely important to counter the persistent, dehumanizing image of refugees that is often portrayed in the media.

“How can a western audience understand and deal with ‘the refugee crisis’ without having heard the experience and perception of those who are risking their lives in a desperate search for rightful protection in accordance with the international conventions,” she puts forward.

Hatahet explains another important aspect of the idea.

“Last, but not least, when refugees are given a chance to be heard in mainstream media, it will be clear how resourceful many of them are. Instead of being perceived as just victims they will appear as willing and able to engage actively in their new society.”

Reactions worldwide

Information’s Oct. 9 edition became a sought-after item.

“After reading, people passed it on to the next reader, but only if they promised to return it,” says Fjordbak-Trier. “We measured the digital version and the amount of readers exploded these days. For example, our reach on Facebook this week was 60 per cent higher than the week before.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"I hope, it will serve as an inspiration to other media, not only in Denmark.”[/quote]

From Hatahet’s perspective, the readers’ reaction might imply that the idea was making a strong impact.

“I think the many reactions, reflections and comments we have seen already clearly shows that the initiative taken by Information has struck something very essential in people’s mind. I hope, it will serve as an inspiration to other media, not only in Denmark,” she says.

As a result of this endeavour, Hatahet hopes to see an increased acceptance of refugees as active participants in the debate in all countries of asylum.

“I hope that media everywhere – radio [stations], TV stations and newspapers – will see the merit of following this idea, of giving the refugees a voice and thereby making the debate more nuanced and comprehensive.”

Fjordbak-Trier says Information is listening to the public and is “already working on the next project.”


Vancouver-based journalist Leah Bjornson mentored the writer of this article through New Canadian Media’s mentorship program.

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Published in International

by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver

Justin Trudeau and the Liberal party’s promise to bring 25,000 refugees to Canada by year-end was commended by refugee advocates during the election period, but many experts have stepped forward since Oct. 19 to say that political will is simply not enough.

“25,000 over two or three months? It can’t be done,” explained Chris Friesen, president of the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance (CISSA), in an interview with New Canadian Media.

Beyond concerns for the government’s large target number, refugee advocates cite problems with the current resources available in Canada to resettle this number of individuals.

Friesen says in order for the government to manage the resettlement movement in an effective and efficient way, it must consider what other efforts have to be made in Canada before significant numbers of refugees arrive.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The risk of trying to do it may in fact be much more embarrassing than the embarrassment of having to say that a promise they made was not quite realistic.”[/quote]

Gerry Van Kessel, who served as the Director General, Refugees from 1997 to 2001 with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) explained that even if the government were able to get the resources in place to begin moving people by Dec. 1, it would have to move 6,000 people per week to meet the end of year target.

“A thousand a day,” he stated. “Just think of the operation you would need in Canada to receive those people and to move them forward.”

He continued, “The risk of trying to do it may in fact be much more embarrassing than the embarrassment of having to say that a promise they made was not quite realistic.”

Holly Edwards, who also worked with CIC as the Director of Resettlement from 1994 to 1996, says that the scale of this intervention is unlike any she’s seen before.

“I don’t think we’ve ever taken numbers like that so quickly,” she said.

Learning from the past

While the number of refugees the government hopes to resettle is large, Friesen explained similar efforts have been made in years past to bring displaced persons to Canadian shores.

In 1972, 50,000 Ugandans of South Asian origin had been ordered out of the country by the new dictator, Idi Amin.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau in cooperation with the Aga Khan opened Canadian doors to approximately 4,420 refugees fleeing the country. The Canadian government had to move them out on a strict timeline of 60 days.

Another 1,278 would follow in the following months after stopping over to visit family in other countries.

In order to intervene in the 1972 crisis, Canadian officers processed applications in Uganda at the pace of 12 minutes a case.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Canada could put in place a process that would allow internally-displaced Syrians to come to Canada, either as permanent resettlement or short-term visits.”[/quote]

Similar efforts were made in 1999 when Van Kessel and his team airlifted 5,000 refugees from Kosovo to Canada on temporary visas within just three weeks. The refugees were processed on Canadian soil rather than forced to wait months, or even years, to make the journey to safety.

Friesen said similar measures must be taken today in what he called “the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.”

“Canada could choose to expedite or put in place a process that would allow internally-displaced Syrians to come to Canada, either as permanent resettlement or short-term visits,” Friesen said.

Friesen also suggested that the government could issue more Temporary Resident Permits (TRPs) (formerly termed Minister’s Permits) to those who have been previously denied entry.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“There’s another real danger in all of this ... The faster you move, the more shortcuts you take.”[/quote]

While Van Kessel agreed that the situation is dire, he stressed moving forward with caution.

“There’s another real danger in all of this,” he said. “One of the things that’s going to be exceptionally difficult is the checking out the identities and backgrounds of the people who are going to want to come to Canada. The faster you move, the more shortcuts you take.”

Edwards agreed that the government must proceed carefully, but she hopes that prejudice does not win out against humanitarianism.

“Yes they are coming from an area where it’s more sensitive, but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take them,” she said.

Getting Canadian public involved

According to the CISSA, the Canadian people will have to make a significant personal commitment to successfully resettle the thousands of individuals fleeing conflict in Syria.

“We’re going to ask the public [...] what they can offer, be it a room in a house, a suite, a bachelor’s suite, a house that’s sitting empty,” Friesen said. “We’re also going to call on them to volunteer and if they have the financial means we’re going to call on them to donate to our refugee sponsorship account.”

The CISSA will hold a press conference on Nov. 10 at which time the organization plans to call on dentists to provide health-care services and mental health professionals to provide free short-term trauma counselling support.

When asked whether he thought Canadians were going to meet these extraordinary demands, Friesen responded, “I’m totally optimistic. I’m totally hopeful.”

He continued, “Given the response that we’re receiving, that our colleagues are receiving, that the faith community is receiving, I have absolutely complete confidence that local residents will respond to this call.”

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Published in Top Stories

by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver

With the final ballots long since counted and the prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau preparing to name his cabinet, members and guests of the Canadian Journalism Foundation (CFJ) gathered in downtown Vancouver to reflect on the longest election campaign in Canadian history.

The discussion, titled “Election 2015: How the Votes Were Won”, was held in an auditorium in the Simon Fraser University Segal Building on Oct. 27. 

Panellists included Susan Delacourt, a columnist with the Toronto Star, Adam Radwanski, a political columnist with The Globe and Mail, Hannah Thibedeau, a veteran political reporter and Paul Wells, the political editor for Maclean’s magazine. Tom Clark, chief political correspondent for Global National, served as the moderator for the evening. 

Beyond the rise of the Liberal party and the potential this administration has for greater cooperation with the media, the night’s discussion focused on the important role ethnic and immigrant communities played in this hotly contested race. 

Miscalculations about #CdnImm voters 

The panel discussed how all parties spent a significant amount of time targeting ethnic and immigrant demographics during this election period. 

For Clark, who has covered every federal election campaign since 1974, digging into how parties were marketing themselves to these communities was “fascinating.” 

“They were conflating concerns that certain communities would have, say with Kathleen Wynne [Ontario’s premier] and sex education,” he said. “I heard one ad that said, ‘if you don’t like Kathleen Wynne and sex education, vote for Stephen Harper.’” 

Despite spending a significant amount of time, money and effort trying to court these demographics though, “those communities basically turned against the Conservatives,” Clark added. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[T]here seemed to be a view that a lot of other immigrant communities take a certain 'close-the-door-behind-you' approach.”[/quote]

Radwanski, who previously served on the Globe’s editorial team, referred to the Muslim vote in particular, saying that while the Conservatives mainly wrote off Muslim voters when taking a stance on the niqab issue, the unintended consequences of this decision were unforeseen.

“Where I think they made a miscalculation was … there seemed to be a view that a lot of other immigrant communities take a certain 'close-the-door-behind-you' approach,” he stated, speaking of an assumption that once immigrants arrive in Canada they are less likely to care about others wanting to reach Canada. 

The reverse happened though. Rather than seeing the problem as one that only applied to Muslim Canadians, members of other communities identified with the fact that minorities were being targeted, Radwanski said.

Long campaign a benefit to Liberals

Making a light-hearted reference to the Jon Oliver sketch video that described Canada’s “gruelling” 78-day election period as “cute,” Clark asked the panellists how this year’s lengthy election differed from those of the past.

“I think everybody got into the long election campaign. I think democracy was sort of served by it,” Delacourt responded. “I think the turnout in this election is a really good argument for the longer election campaign.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"I just don’t think we would have seen anything resembling the same results in a five-week campaign.”[/quote]

Radwanski agreed. “I actually think the long campaign really made a difference, not just in that we all had more time to watch … [but] in that I just don’t think we would have seen anything resembling the same results in a five-week campaign,” he said.

The panel seemed to agree that Trudeau and the Liberal party “read” the long campaign better than the New Democratic Party (NDP), which ultimately allowed them to push past the former official opposition party in the last few weeks.

The NDP had the highest approval rating at the beginning of the campaign, polling nationally at around 33.2 per cent. The party even reached 37.4 per cent by late August.

However, this number shifted dramatically in late September as the Liberals overtook both the NDP and the Conservatives.

“They underestimated Trudeau,” explained Thibedeau, who was on the election trail with the Conservative party for the first four weeks of the circuit and joined the NDP later on.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“[Both the Conservatives and NDP] underestimated Trudeau.”[/quote]

She pointed to specific moments that highlighted this, such as when Harper’s spokesperson was quoted as saying “I think that if [Trudeau] comes on stage with his pants on, he will probably exceed expectations.”

Thibedeau continued, “Even more than that, the NDP … underestimated Justin Trudeau as well, and I think that was the biggest fault with those two parties.”

Media coverage in the new Trudeau era

On the day after he was elected, Trudeau travelled to Ottawa to take questions from journalists at the National Press Theatre. This was the first time since 2009 that a prime minister (or in this case, a prime minister-designate) was available to take questions at this official site.

For the panellists, this signalled a potentially more amiable relationship between journalists and the federal government in the future.

“It’ll be interesting to see if they maintain a lot of the restrictions that we’ve seen since ’06 or if they’ll loosen those moving forward,” said Thibedeau.

Wells, who moderated the Maclean’s debate in early August, echoed these thoughts.

“I believe that access and a general sort of relaxed attitude around journalists is going to be substantially greater under Justin Trudeau than under Stephen Harper,” he commented. “But I note that Justin Trudeau met with the premier of Ontario today and it was photo-op only, no questions.”

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Published in Politics
Friday, 23 October 2015 21:11

Pros and Cons of Family Reunification

by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver

Justin Trudeau has now officially been elected as Canada’s 29th Prime Minister and with him come promises of investment in infrastructure, electoral reform and changes to the lengthy family reunification process.

Some of those changes involve doubling the number of applications allowed for parents and grandparents to 10,000 each year, speeding up permanent residency applications for spouses and raising the age limit for dependants.

These changes mark a reversal to the Conservative government’s overhaul of the family reunification process in 2011.

Limitations placed by the federal government at that time on the application process meant sons and daughters living in Canada could expect to wait up to six and a half years before their parents’ applications were processed.

Changes to regulations

Allowing immigrants to sponsor their parents and grandparents is concerning to many economists and politicians because of the heavy price tag it carries.

According to Fraser Institute Senior Fellow Martin Collacott, each grandparent ultimately costs Canadian taxpayers more than $300,000 in services and welfare benefits over the course of their time in the country.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[T]he government attempted to limit Family Class immigration after noticing that some relatives who were brought to Canada ... were likely to make little economic contribution to Canada."[/quote]

In his study, titled “Canadian family class immigration: The parent and grandparent component under review,” Collacott explains that the government attempted to limit Family Class immigration after noticing that some relatives who were brought to Canada were ultimately unskilled, had limited English language skills, and were likely to make little economic contribution to Canada.

Over the last few decades, these assumptions have led to an increase in the number of economic immigrants coming to Canada from 45 per cent in 1990 to 63 per cent. To contrast, family class immigrants have dropped from 34 per cent in 1990 to 25 per cent in 2014.

The group that has most acutely felt the effects of these changes are older prospective immigrants.

In 2011, the Conservative government temporarily stopped receiving applications for sponsored parents and grandparents in order to deal with a backlog of approximately 160,000 applicants.

When the stream reopened in 2014, the government limited the total number of applicants in this category to 5,000 per year.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“At the basis of this is an assumption that only economic immigrants are important.”[/quote]

Jason Kenney, who was then the Citizenship and Immigration Minister, explained these changes when they were announced, by stating: “We're not looking for more people on welfare, we're not looking to add people as a social burden to Canada. If their expectation is that they need the support of the state then they should stay in their country of origin, not come to Canada.”

The reforms in 2013 also increased the minimum necessary income (MNI) to sponsor parents and grandparents by 30 per cent and reduced the maximum age of dependants from 22 years old to 18.

“This is not a random phenomenon,” explains Marc Yvan Valade, a PhD candidate in policy studies at Ryerson University. “At the basis of this is an assumption that only economic immigrants are important.”

A different type of contribution

Despite these arguments, some experts argue that this focus ignores the many non-economic contributions these immigrants make.

“If it would help immigrant families to secure a stronger foothold in our society and feel even more belonging and want to contribute, well this is a gain for all of us,” says Valade. “It’s a gain not only economically in the short term, but it’s a gain in the long term as a society.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“[Family reunification] is a gain not only economically in the short term, but it’s a gain in the long term as a society.”[/quote]

A study by the Ethno-Cultural Council of Calgary found that family separation could both exacerbate the vulnerabilities of the children in these families as well as hinder meaningful integration into Canadian culture.

“Contrary to the representation of sponsored relatives as a drain on the health-care system and social services, we heard instead that sponsored parents and grandparents were playing critical roles as child care providers that allowed their children to go out and become part of the workforce in Canada,” the study explains.

The Liberals' promise

Navdeep Bains, just-elected Liberal MP from Mississauga-Malton and a member of Trudeau’s economic advisory group, told New Canadian Media during the election campaign that the party’s policies reflect this understanding.

“Family reunification is important as it enhances the family support system,” he said. “It will have meaningful impact for new Canadians as it will enable families to earn double incomes if a couple or shift worker gets child care support from their parents. It is sound economics, as good family dynamics help people to thrive.”

In the days leading up to his party’s Oct. 19 win, long-time Liberal MP John McCallum said his party intended to “put the family reunification program back on [the] rails.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Super Visas are not a substitute for family reunification.”[/quote]

“Let’s be clear, Super Visas are not a substitute for family reunification,” McCallum said.

Introduced by the Conservatives, the Parent and Grandparent Super Visa (Super Visa) is a temporary resident permit that allows parents and grandparents to stay for up to two years in Canada per visit, and is valid for up to 10 years.

“The family reunification program is a priority for us. It is a huge issue, that is cause for anger, frustration and tears,” added McCallum, who formerly served as the party critic on the immigration file. “We see it as part of an immigration program that will welcome new Canadians with a smile instead of a scowl.”

Valade is optimistic about these changes, but says the real test will be whether sufficient resources are made available to treat demands in a reasonable time.

“Overall, the whole Family Class program should be reviewed in a way that considers the immigrant family as an asset for Canadian society, and a contribution to immigrant integration.”

With additional reporting by Election Desk Editor Ranjit Bhaskar in the Greater Toronto Area.


This is part two of a two-part series looking at family reunification policy. Read the first instalment here.

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Published in Policy
Thursday, 08 October 2015 20:03

Family Reunification: The Economic Cost

by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver

As the date of the federal election draws nearer, political candidates have begun to consider the costs of reuniting immigrant families – both economically and socially. 

On September 25, Justin Trudeau announced that if elected, the Liberal government would double the number of applications allowed for parents and grandparents to 10,000 each year, speed up permanent residency applications for spouses and raise the age limit for dependants.

“Making it easier for families to be together here in Canada makes more than just economic sense. When Canadians have added supports, like family involvement in child care, it helps drive productivity and economic growth,” Trudeau stated.

The Conservative response to this statement was critical. “The previous Liberal governments made all of the same kinds of promises, and they left a system with seven and eight-year wait times,” said Jason Kenney, Conservative candidate and former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, at a news conference.

Kenney toted the Conservative government’s accomplishments, stating that they have increased overall immigration levels by over 20 per cent, admitting 258,000 new permanent residents per year.

The majority of these individuals, however, are classified as economic immigrants – individuals who are sought after for their applicable skill sets – not members of the family class Trudeau spoke of.

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) figures, 63.4 per cent of new permanent residents were economic immigrants in 2014, while 25.6 were family class and 8.9 were refugees.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The government has made it clear that they want to favour economic immigration, so they’re putting an emphasis on making that part of things work.”[/quote]

“The main issue is that [family reunification is] just not [a] priority for government,” says Janet Dench, the Executive Director of the Canadian Council for Refugees. “The government has made it clear that they want to favour economic immigration, so they’re putting an emphasis on making that part of things work.”

Express entry

On January 1 of this year, the government announced its new policy of express entry, which expedites the application process for qualified economic immigrants.

Under express entry, applicants to the Federal Skilled Worker Program, the Federal Skilled Trades Program and the Canadian Experience Class may enter Canada in as little as six months. 

Kenney recently referred to express entry as “a system that’s fast, that connects people to the labour market so they can realize their dreams and fulfill their potential upon arrival in Canada.”

The system compares candidates against one another, ranking their skills and experience levels using a points-based system. Those who receive the highest scores are then invited to apply for permanent residency. 

In 2014, the number of economic immigrants who came to Canada was 165,088, the largest number in 12 years, except for a spike in 2010. Compare this with the 66,659 family class immigrants brought to Canada in 2014. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“If you try to attract the more knowledgeable immigrants, then our market is going to globally be more advantaged over time and more competitive.”[/quote]

Marc Yvan Valade, a PhD candidate in policy studies at Ryerson University, explains that the government has prioritized these workers over families because they provide a skilled and capable workforce to Canadian employers. 

“If you try to attract the more knowledgeable immigrants – those who have diplomas, who have experience – then our market is going to globally be more advantaged over time and more competitive,” he says.

By allowing entry to those able to financially support themselves, the government also reduces costs associated with resettlement, welfare and health programs, he said.

However, he feels this belief is “short-term” as well as unverified. According to Valade, the skilled immigrant workers he has encountered during his research say that the skills they were brought to Canada for are not being valued once they enter the country. 

“Most of them are saying, ‘Well, we found out in a difficult way that our lack of Canadian experience on the market was a big hurdle and most employers didn’t want to hire us because they felt insecure with what we were bringing,’” he shares.

“They feel kind of cheated, forced into survival jobs of which they often remain prisoner,” he adds.

Refocus on the families

For Dench, this focus on economic interests distracts from those who are the most at risk – families and children seeking reunification.

“Children who are waiting to be reunited with their parents in Canada can routinely wait two, three, four years for the processing,” says Dench. “In the case of refugees in particular, the children are often left behind in a very dangerous situation.” 

According to the CIC, spouses, common-law partners or dependent children (under 19 years of age) applying to be reunited with their families in Canada can wait between six months and four years for their applications to be processed. The minimum wait time increases significantly for parents and grandparents, adopted children, children to be adopted, orphans and other family classes.

For refugees, the wait times are also exorbitantly long. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s cruel to ask spouses to wait far longer in war zones than we ask skilled workers to wait.”[/quote]

Laura Best, an immigration and refugee lawyer with Embarkation Law Corporation, works with individuals attempting to bring their family members to Canada on a daily basis. 

“It’s very frustrating and difficult to explain to people that if their partner applied to come to Canada through a skilled worker program, they could be here much faster than applying through a family class to reunite with their loved ones,” she says. “It really speaks to the priorities of the government.” 

She continues: “It’s cruel to ask spouses to wait far longer in war zones than we ask skilled workers to wait.”

Policy changes moving forward

The federal government recently announced that it was increasing its resources aimed at resettling refugees from Syria and Iraq, doubling the number of employees at the Winnipeg processing centre where all refugee applications are handled and sending more immigration officers abroad.

While Dench is happy to see that the government is going to try to reduce the red tape surrounding resettlement and immigration for refugees, she is disappointed that there haven’t been any measures specifically addressing family reunification.

“Why are not all [of] these families priorities?” she asks. “Reuniting children with their parents, that should be a priority and there’s really no excuse for Canada to be routinely taking more that six months for those children to come to Canada.” 

“It doesn’t need to all be about narrowly answering Canada’s economic needs, but reuniting families and protecting refugees are important and valid objectives that also need to be responded to,” she concludes.


This is part one of a two-part series looking at family reunification policy. The second instalment will focus on the pros and cons of family reunification.

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Published in Policy
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