Wednesday, 24 January 2018 17:18

Cathy Wong’s Fear of a Bus Driver

By Ashoke Dasgupta in Winnipeg, MB

Cathy Wong (61), who emigrated from Hong Kong, had an unpleasant experience last December, with a racist bus driver.

The incident came on the eve of an unprecedented bus fare increase for services that have been deteriorating over the last two years.

Wong lives way down Pembina Highway in Winnipeg, just before the Ring Road, and takes two buses to work —  the 162 and the 15 —   in that order.

She works in a hotel near the Richardson International Airport. On December 13 afternoon, Wong took the Number 162 as usual to Portage Place, where she alighted to transfer to a Number 15. The driver of the 162 stopped to get coffee from Tim Hortons; he took the wrong route after that, delaying the bus while he got back on the right track.

The 15 arrived late too. When she entered, its middle-aged, male, white driver pointed out that her transfer had expired ten minutes ago. Wong was willing to pay afresh, reaching for her purse, but changed her mind because the driver was unpleasant. He seemed to accept her explanation grudgingly, allowing her to board the bus.

“He didn’t kick me out,” she told New Canadian Media: “As the (on-board) camera may show.”

When the time came for her to get off at her place of work, there were only two passengers left in the bus: herself and a colleague. The colleague got out the back door while Wong went to the front door.

Toxic memory 

The driver refused to open the door for her, saying he was punishing Wong for not paying the fare. He stopped after driving on for about two minutes saying, “Go back to your country,” as she got off.

The animosity of his parting shot is a toxic memory for the slight, quiet woman. Wong fears encountering the same driver again because he may start playing micro-aggressive games with her, as bus drivers are known to do.

Wong, who does not know English well despite her 32 years in this country, called 311 to report the incident, and Winnipeg Transit investigated the matter. She took off from work until the New Year.  

Wong says graciously , “I think about it for long time, who wrong and right. I don’t want he to get more pressure. In my life I make a lot of bad things, but some of my friends forgive me. I let this gone, and stay away. Please don’t call Transit Company.[sic]

She informed in an e-mail on January 13 “Last week Transit  call me  . and I told them about the bus # 162 got lost from its original route , and  ...everything . The Transit Said ‘ sorry’ to me.[sic]  

Racism exists 

Ross Eadie, a Winnipeg Councillor who takes the bus regularly said, “No driver should be making racist comments, and I’m seriously disappointed in this remark. It was a vicious incident on two counts: apart from the racist comment, it must have been cold and windy to walk extra. I missed a stop a few times, and didn’t like walking back in freezing temperatures.

“Racism exists in our population, and buses reflect what’s going on in society. Once I saw a sick young Aboriginal slumped in a bus. Everyone assumed he was drunk. I went to him and asked what the matter was. I was able to coax a few words out of him in time: ‘I want to die.’ He turned out to be a diabetic refugee from a flooded area of Manitoba with nowhere to go at the time. The driver demurred that he was already running late when I suggested he call for an ambulance . . .”

Matt Allard, another Councillor, takes the bus regularly to acquaint himself with Winnipeg Transit’s issues, but did not respond to e-mail or voice mail queries.

Alissa Clark, Manager of Communications, Winnipeg Transit, says, “The safety and security of its passengers is of the utmost importance to Winnipeg Transit. It is also very important that our passengers feel welcome and respected.  While we are unable to comment on the specifics of the incident you’re referring to because it is an HR matter, we would like to say that we spoke with Ms. Wong in early January to offer our apologies. All operators participate in extensive, ongoing customer service training which involves segments on respecting diversity.”

Early this month, City officials revealed an $8.7 million surplus, though they said they had no choice but to hike bus fares $0.25 a ride in January. The ticket prices usually rise $0.05 annually. This jump has caused low-income people even more hardship. 

 Ashoke Dasgupta is a member of the NCM Collective based out of Winnipeg. As a journalist, he has won three awards in Canada and Nepal.

Published in Commentary

By: Jeremy J. Nuttall in Ottawa 

As a Vancouver society working to support refugees fears closure after being denied federal funding, a similar organization in Manitoba said Ottawa approached it to talk about providing funding earlier this year. 

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the government needs to provide consistent support as increasing numbers of people claiming refugee status cross the U.S. border. 

“That’s extremely disturbing,” Kwan said of the situation. “There needs to be consistency and fairness on the approach and they need to recognize their responsibility on this.” 

The Tyee reported Thursday on the possible closure of the Inland Refugee Society of BC, which has been overwhelmed by a wave of refugee claimants crossing into British Columbia from the U.S., many avoiding official border crossings. 

The number of people seeking support has more than doubled, executive director Mario Ayala said, and the society’s annual funding has been exhausted already. 

In the first five months of this year, the society has helped 700 undocumented refugee claimants find shelter. Ayala said if the organization closes, Metro Vancouver could see a spike in homeless refugees. 

The federal government has said it will not pitch in to close the funding gap, saying the undocumented asylum-seekers Ayala’s organization is helping don’t qualify for federal assistance. 

The B.C. government has also turned down the organization, he said. 

Ayala said Marta Morgan, the deputy minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said part of the reason the society wouldn’t receive funding is because the federal government “can’t be seen” to be helping undocumented refugees. 

Department spokesperson Nancy Chan said it does not comment on private conversations. 

Canada recognizes two broad classes of refugees: people who apply for asylum in another country before being accepted; and those who apply once in Canada, often referred to as undocumented refugees because they have not been vetted before arrival. 

Refugee claimants arriving from the U.S. can be turned away at official border crossings because Canada recognizes it as a safe country for those seeking asylum. 

As a result, an increasing number of asylum seekers have been crossing the U.S.-Canadian border between official points of entry to claim refugee status. 

Kwan said Canada has signed international agreements to recognize refugees who make a claim once in the country, and shouldn’t abandon them. 

“If the government is taking the position to say ‘no, we can’t be seen to be supporting these refugee claimants,’ then that is very troubling,” she said. 

But while the B.C. society was told the government wouldn’t provide help for such refugee claimants, the head of a Manitoba organization offering the same services said Ottawa actually approached asking them to submit a funding request.

The Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council helps refugees find temporary shelter and settlement services and has assisted 618 people this year. 

Executive director Rita Chahal said the government asked her several months ago what kind of support the organization needs. 

“I was approached by a couple of project officers to submit a budget, which we did,” Chahal said. “No one has followed up on it, no one has contacted us to see if they reviewed it and what their position might be.”

Chahal said the federal government has always held the position that it would not help undocumented refugees.

Despite the request for a funding proposal, Chahal said she isn’t expecting any money. 

She said the Manitoba government helps her organization’s efforts with $110,000 per year in funding. The council also raises money from other donors. 

The Manitoba Ministry of Education and Training, citing a June 13 byelection, said it couldn’t comment on the decision to fund the council. 

But a press release in February quoted Manitoba Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister. 

“Just as we have opened our arms to newcomers for centuries, our province continues to provide significant supports to those organizations offering direct services to refugee claimants,” Pallister said. “Our focus remains on measures that will ensure both the welfare of refugee claimants and the continued safety and security of residents of border towns.” 

Kwan said the federal government can’t encourage one society struggling with lack of money to apply for funding while telling another there’s no chance of getting help.

She said she’s worried a wave of homeless refugees will be forced to the streets of Vancouver if someone doesn’t step up with support.  

Republished with permission from The Tyee.

Published in Politics
Monday, 20 March 2017 00:15

Refugees from U.S. are Breaking the Law

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

For many Sikhs in Canada today, the Komagata Maru incident still looms large in our consciousness.  

For anyone not familiar with this event in our nation’s history, in May 1914 the Komagata Maru sailed from Hong Kong bound for Vancouver, carrying 376 passengers.  Most of the passengers were from the Punjab, India. All were British subjects.  

At that time, Canada had a regulation referred to as “continuous passage” which stated that immigrants must "come from the country of their birth, or citizenship, by a continuous journey and on through tickets purchased before leaving the country of their birth, or citizenship."

The regulation had been brought into force in 1908 to curb Indian immigration to Canada. The passengers on the ship intended to challenge this regulation.  On their arrival, the ship was denied docking privileges, and eventually the ship was escorted out of the harbour by the Canadian military in July 1914 and forced to sail back to India, where 19 of the passengers were killed by gunfire upon disembarking and many others imprisoned.

The Komagata Maru story is an example of what was then the ultimate expression of colonial bigotry, exposing Canada’s deliberate process in controlling immigration by excluding those people the government of the day deemed unfit to enter. These justifications were couched in racist and ethnocentric views of "progress", "civilization", and "suitability" which all were used to support the view that Canada should remain a "White Man's Country".

Greener pastures

In terms of immigration policy, the Canada of today is the complete opposite of still colonial pre-World War I Canada.

Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has declared that our borders are open to anyone. But this “openness” is now being tested.  Refugee claimants reacting to U.S. President Donald Trump’s tougher stand on immigration have begun to head north to what they may see as greener, more accepting pastures.  They are now daily crossings at the border, flouting the Canada – U.S. “Safe Third Country Agreement”, under which refugee claimants are required to request refugee protection in the first "safe" country they arrive in.  

In landing in the U.S., but crossing our border as refugees, they are in fact breaking the law and this has become a difficult situation for Prime Minister Trudeau, while simultaneously making many Canadians very uneasy.

Many of us applauded our new government’s efforts to bring Syrian refugees to Canada.  I believe a big part of the general acceptance of this policy was rooted in public perception that the process was well organized, refugee claimants were thoroughly screened and upon arrival the housing, schooling and other necessary supports were well in place.  The latest development is the opposite of organized, with claimants crossing Canada’s porous and largely uncontrolled border with no pre-screening and no homes and sponsors waiting to receive them.

Asylum shopping

Canadians are now watching to see how our government will react to this new refugee situation. If Canada does not exert its sovereignty, honour the Safe Third Country Agreement, and deter these opportunistic attempts at what can only be seen as “shopping for a yes” by claimants, this trickle will become a wave.

Canada is ill prepared for uncontrolled refugee claimants streaming into this country, and I believe the majority of Canadians expect our government to act in Canada’s best interest. This means not merely reacting to claimants crossing our borders, but to act by deterring it.  We are a country that values fair process and the rule of law.  

Today, Canada has a compassionate, principled approach to both immigration and refugees. Our government’s inability to control this developing situation may ultimately do harm to our current refugee system, ultimately causing Canadians to have a lack of faith in the system, and ultimately in the government that is charged with managing it.   

Prime Minister Trudeau will need to step outside of his comfort zone and put in place firm measures to respond to this looming crisis.  At times like these, his usual “sunny ways” approach will have to give way to more firm leadership.  

The Prime Minister is being tested here, and his next move may finally provide Canadians with a true indication of just how fit to lead Justin Trudeau really is. 

Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer. 

Published in Policy

by Ted Alcuitas in Vancouver

The man who put Filipinos on the political map of this country has died in Winnipeg, his home for more than five decades.

Conrad Santos, the first Filipino-Canadian to be elected to a provincial legislative assembly died at Winnipeg’s Victoria General Hospital on Feb. 29. He was 81. The cause of death was not known.

In a statement, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger offered his condolences to Santos’ family on behalf of Manitobans.

“It was with deep sadness that we learned of the passing of Dr. Santos,” Selinger said.

“Dr. Santos served his adopted province and his constituency with dedication and self-sacrifice. Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Dr. Santos served his adopted province and his constituency with dedication and self-sacrifice."[/quote]

A distinguished career

Conrad Santos was first elected to the Manitoba Legislative Assembly under the New Democratic Party (NDP) in 1981, serving for five terms (1981-1988 and 1990-2007) before stepping down in 2007.

Born in the Philippines and a native Bulakeno, he was educated at Harvard University and the University of Michigan, where he earned a PhD in Political Science.

He moved to Winnipeg in 1965 after obtaining a teaching position at the University of Manitoba. He remained a tenured professor at the U of M until his election to the legislature. Santos also worked as a consultant for the Instituto Centro-Americano de Administracion Publica in Costa Rica, and was a board member of the Citizenship Council of Manitoba from 1977 to 1980.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The soft-spoken and eccentric Santos led a colourful and sometimes controversial political life.[/quote]

Santos was active in the Winnipeg Filipino community for many years serving as an adviser to many organizations notably the Philippine Association of Manitoba (PAM). He was a member of the Knights of Rizal, the organization that first broke the story of his death.

Controversy in his political life

The soft-spoken and eccentric Santos led a colourful and sometimes controversial political life. Long before riding a bike became popular, he was already riding one to the legislature from his home in Fort Garry with his iconic Che Guevarra hat and a sling leather bag at his side.

Santos was first elected to the Manitoba legislature in the 1981 provincial election as a New Democrat in the northwest Winnipeg riding of Burrows, defeating NDP-turned-Progressive Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Ben Hanuschak. He was re-elected in the 1986 election.

In June 1984, there were unconfirmed rumours that he was considering a move to the Progressive Conservative Party.

In 1987, he was accused of trying to use his political position to prevent Winnipeg School Division No. 1 from expropriating a house he owned. 

Santos lost the Burrows NDP nomination to Doug Martindale in 1988, and subsequently entered the party’s leadership election. He was not regarded as a serious candidate, and received only five votes on the first ballot. Santos ran for mayor of Winnipeg in 1989, but was again not considered a serious candidate and finished a distant fourth.

In 1990, Santos won the NDP nomination for Broadway, another northwest riding, by a single vote over favoured candidate Marianne Cerilli. He subsequently defeated Liberal incumbent Avis Gray in the 1990 general election, and was re-elected in the 1995 election.

In 1995, he endorsed Lorne Nystrom’s bid to lead the federal NDP. 

When the Broadway riding was eliminated by redistribution in 1999, Santos won the NDP nomination in Wellington (also in Winnipeg’s northwest), and was returned by a wide margin in the 1999 provincial election.

He was again re-elected in the 2003 election. 

Santos was named Deputy Speaker after the elections of 1986 and 1999, but has never been appointed to a cabinet position.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]There is no doubt that Conrad Santos paved the way for the current crop of Filipino politicians in Manitoba.[/quote]

Santos left the New Democratic Party caucus shortly before the 2007 provincial election after being accused of improperly selling party membership cards (he denied the charge). He campaigned as an independent, and finished last in a field of five candidates. His successor, Flor Marcelino, was a last minute replacement candidate for the NDP.

The Winnipeg Sun reported in 2013 that on Mar. 16, 2005 “Santos was scolded for bringing a paring knife into chamber. …The speaker confiscated the three-inch blade from Santos, who apologized for bringing it into the house.”

Paving the way for Filipino politicians

There is no doubt that Conrad Santos paved the way for the current crop of Filipino politicians in Manitoba including Dr. Rey Pagtakhan who followed him as the first Filipino to be elected member of Parliament in 1988.

Pagtakhan’s nephew Mike, is a long-serving member of the Winnipeg city council and there are currently two sitting members of the Manitoba legislature – Flor Marcelino and Ted Marcelino, both of the NDP.

Other Filipino politicians served in various positions in school boards putting Manitoba firmly in the leading position in the country as having the most number of Filipino politicians in office.

Santos is survived by one daughter, two sons and two daughters-in-law, Evelyn Santos, Conrad and Leslie Santos, Rob and Kim Santos, and their families; four grandchildren, Kristen and Matt, Ginny and Josie.

Affectionately known as ka Rading to his family, he is also survived by his three siblings and three sisters-in-law, Leticia Santos, Rebecca Santos, Ruel and Dina Santos, Narcisa Santos, Luz Santos, and all their families (including his nephew, Paul Santos).

Santos was predeceased by his parents, Federico and Marcelina Santos of Malolos, Bulacan, Philippines; his sister Melita Santos Beltran, his brothers Virgilio Santos and Benjamin Santos, and his wife Emerita Santos, and is survived by their families.

This article first appeared on Republished with permission.

Published in Politics
Thursday, 25 February 2016 03:20

Winnipeg's Racism Problem: Immigrants Can Help

by Kayla Isomura in Vancouver

A year after being called “Canada’s most racist city,” Winnipeg is on its way to becoming more inclusive, and immigrants can be part of the solution.

“It is wonderful that very recently we are seeing more people speaking out against racism, but it hasn't gone away just yet,” said Sheila North Wilson, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), an organization that represents northern First Nations in Manitoba.

A 2015 Maclean’s article, titled “Welcome to Winnipeg: Where Canada’s racism problem is at its worst,” highlighted examples of violence and racism the Indigenous community in Winnipeg has faced.

According to the article, Manitoba and Saskatchewan “report the highest levels of racism in the country, often by a wide margin.”

Nancy Macdonald, the article’s author and a former Winnipeg resident, says Winnipeg’s “racism problem” has improved.

Over the past year, conversations have sparked among politicians, Indigenous leaders and other community groups around racism in the Prairie city.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“New Canadians need to be taught as soon as they arrive about who Indigenous people are and how they've arrived to where we are now.”[/quote]

“Everything that’s happened has happened not because of that article, but because of [Mayor] Brian Bowman who did something very brave,” said Macdonald. “Rather than say this article was wrong, he chose to acknowledge the problems.”

Moving towards solutions – and immigrants can play a role

Last month, Bowman declared 2016 as the Year of Reconciliation for Winnipeg, promising to work towards diversity and greater inclusion with the Indigenous community. Winnipeg has the largest Indigenous population in Canada, making up 11 per cent of the city’s population, according to the City.

Bowman has committed to developing an Urban Aboriginal Accord to recognize Indigenous peoples’ role in Canadian history and making diversity training for all civic employees mandatory.

“Over the last year, I believe we were able to reignite the public conversation and dialogue on racism and inclusion, and I believe we have been able to shift the tone,” he said in a news release.

North Wilson said the city’s efforts and ongoing dialogues are positive, but hopes they lead to long-term change.

She would like to see recommendations from the discussions be implemented into “real systemic changes” that deal with the realities of racism.

The key is education, and new immigrants can be part of the solution, she said.

“New Canadians need to be taught as soon as they arrive about who Indigenous people are and how they've arrived to where we are now,” said North Wilson. “This includes leaning about the treaties, Indian Act, residential schools, the child welfare industry and the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous [people].”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We were taught a very bad image of First Nations people.”[/quote]

She recommends immigrants visit the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba, Aboriginal Languages of Manitoba, and Neechi Commons as resources to learn more about Indigenous history. Another suggested resource is IRCOM (Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba).

Racism: a common bond

While she’s experienced the most amount of racism in Winnipeg, North Wilson said the worst type of racism she’s faced was in Brandon, the second largest city in Manitoba after Winnipeg.

Some immigrants said they also experience more extreme forms of racism in other parts of the country, and that in Winnipeg, racism towards immigrants is no different than in any other Canadian city.

“We were taught a very bad image of First Nations people,” said Amanda Luong, a first-generation Chinese Canadian who was born in Winnipeg.

“For me, I faced more stereotypes, but I didn’t feel discrimination as much as First Nations people.”

In 2012, Luong moved to Vancouver, B.C. She would argue that immigrants face worse discrimination in the west-coast city.

“Racism is worse in Vancouver towards every minority group, especially with foreign ownership and Asian cultures,” she said.

In Vancouver, Chinese immigrants have been blamed for high house prices over the past few years.

A study published by urban planner Andy Yan last year caused controversy over the demographics of who was buying houses in some of the city’s affluent neighbourhoods. He suggested the majority of the homes in his study may have been bought by people newly arrived from China.

Brian Tang, another resident of Vancouver and former resident of Winnipeg, had the same sentiment about the target of racism in different cities.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Conversely, it is important that we learn about the history and backgrounds of the new inhabitants to our lands.”[/quote]

“Here, it’s Chinese people, Asian people. In Winnipeg, it’s Aboriginal people, so it exists in both cities,” he said.

A two-way street

North Wilson said that Indigenous people in Winnipeg not only face stereotyping but discrimination in daily tasks.

“Our people have a harder time at banks, rental agencies, stores, governments, police agencies, for example. Many in these and other sectors of society seem to disregard our people at first and treat them poorly,” she said.

“You hardly see any of our Indigenous people working in these common places.”

She adds that support from immigrant communities in the city’s inclusion efforts should go two ways.

“Conversely, it is important that we learn about the history and backgrounds of the new inhabitants to our lands,” she added.

As part of the City’s efforts to reduce racism, Bowman has also promised to continue the support of private sponsorship for refugees in the event of a sponsorship breakdown, to work with other cities to address racism challenges, to visit every high school in Winnipeg to emphasize the importance of reconciliation and diversity, and to continue to welcome refugees.

The City of Winnipeg was not available for comment by deadline.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Politics

by Florence Hwang in Regina

Settlement agencies and other organizations are busy ramping up their services to prepare for the 10,000 Syrians that will arrive in Canada by the end of the year.

According to Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, the province is preparing for 1,500 to 2,000 Syrian refugees in the next few months. The province already committed $1.4 million earlier this year for Syrian refugees.

Executive director of the Moose Jaw Multicultural Council (MJMC), Stefanie Palmer, says it has an existing resettlement assistance agency program in place, but this sort of volume is unprecedented.

“This is what we do day in, day out. Just going to be working on a larger scale on this project,” says Palmer.

Supporting integration upon arrival

From picking up the refugees from the airport to helping them find permanent housing, the MJMC helps government sponsored immigrants settle into the community. The Council also makes referrals to services immigrants may need in the community. 

Over the next few months, the incoming refugees will need support finding jobs. Volunteers will be busy teaching them about the Canadian workplace culture and labour laws as well as giving resume-writing and job interview advice. 

“Our biggest goal is community integration,” Palmer says.

Beyond the regular classes and services, the council hopes to foster integration through social initiatives.

“We have a community cafe where we connect newcomers and community members to have coffee and get to know each other and different cultures,” says Palmer.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Our biggest goal is community integration."[/quote]

The Winnipeg English Language Assessment and Referral Centre (WELARC) also hopes to help new arrivals become established in the community as soon as possible by referring them to language training programs.

After interviewing someone to assess their language skills and goals, WELARC can tell them about suitable opportunities available and make referrals to appropriate programs.

Debra Schweyer, Executive Director of WELARC, says the organization wants to make sure that they have enough classrooms space available so that refugees can begin learning as soon as possible and can get a sense of normalcy in their lives.

Skills training and job placement

While most refugees who arrive in Canada with a professional degree do want to continue in their profession, Schweyer says that’s not always the case. 

“Oddly enough, I find quite interesting [that] every once in a while, somebody comes and says I was a veterinarian in my home country, but I don’t want to do that anymore,” she explains. “They say I want to start over. I say, ‘Ok, let’s figure out how you are going to do that then.’”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Over the next few months, the incoming refugees will need support finding jobs.[/quote]

Part of the challenge for newcomers is that if they are professionals, depending on their specialization, they will need to go through regulatory bodies to have their credentials recognized in Canada.

About 20 per cent of people working in Canada work in regulated professions and trades, such as nursing, engineering and teaching. Each province has organizations that control licences and certificates for certain professions and trades, but licenses are often not transferable to other provinces.

Mental health aspect

For Jean McRae, any skills and language training will have to be balanced with appropriate counselling services.

McRae, who has been the Executive Director of the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA) for eighteen years, says many of the Syrians arriving in Canada will have been through traumatic situations. 

“We’ve got people who will need a lot of trauma counselling. We are going to need support for that because that kind of support is not easy to find and it’s not easy to finance,” she says. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Any skills and language training will have to be balanced with appropriate counselling services.[/quote]

Mulugeta Abai, Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for the Victims of Torture, explains that the first few weeks are going to be very difficult for the newcomers.

“(It) will also be time that they are thinking about people who are left behind. So there is euphoria in the first six months but there is also going to be some sort of guilt,” he says.

He continues, “For the healing process to take, I think that community support is very important. From what we see, if it continues, it is excellent.”

Integration beyond the next few months

While settlement agencies aim to prepare government-sponsored immigrants for life in Canada within one year of arrival, that doesn’t always mean that they'll be ready in that timeframe. 

Because of this, programs at places like the Regina Immigrant Women Centre (RIWC) are available for those who need more time and support as well as for privately sponsored immigrants.

Neelu Sachdev Executive Director of the RIWC, says women in particular may need more time to settle in a new country.

“The adjustment process is different, depending on how traditional culture, their family culture is, and their religion as well,” she says.

“They may not be able to find a job after that first year or they may not be able to integrate with their children into the community, so they need more education,” says Sachdev.

Because of all these challenges and more, Palmer encourages Canadians to welcome the Syrian refugees in any way that they can. 

“They’re going to be our neighbours and if you see they need a helping hand, be willing to give it to them as you would any other neighbour,” she says.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Top Stories

by Aurora Tejeida (@Aurobots) in Vancouver [Part 3 of 3 of an in-depth investigative series]

The settlement service sector across the country is undergoing major changes and facing several challenges as a result. Unlike Ontario and the Atlantic region, both B.C. and Manitoba used to have provincial control of their settlement services. For these provinces, the largest issue has been getting used to federal control.

Settlement in the west coast metropolitan city of Vancouver one of Canadas top destinations for migrants with 45 per cent of its population being foreign-born – is no exception.

When the federal government decided to strip control of settlement services from B.C. effective April 1, 2014, the biggest casualty was the freedom agencies had to serve a large array of newcomers.

“Under federal funding, service can only be provided to permanent residents and government sponsored refugees,” explains Karen Larcombe, the executive director of South Vancouver Neighbourhood House (SVNH). “That leaves out naturalized immigrants (those with citizenship), temporary foreign workers, who we used to be able to serve, foreign students, etc.”

It’s been a year since agencies in Vancouver have been working under federal government guidelines and the effects are already being felt. This is why the province of B.C. stepped in to help.

“In our province, these changes have been less impactful because the provincial government has provided some agencies, mine included, surplus funding so we can continue to serve the clients that are ineligible under federal funding,” says Larcombe.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I think temporary foreign workers is where we’re most feeling the pressure.” - Karen Larcombe, South Vancouver Neighbourhood House[/quote]

But those resources are limited. Provincial funding represents about 10 per cent of SVNH’s funding. The rest, 90 per cent, is provided by the federal government and can only be used for what the government calls ‘eligible clients’.

“In theory, ineligible clients are supposed to be 10 per cent of our cases,” Larcombe says. “In reality we’re seeing more than the 10 per cent, for us it’s closer to 15 per cent.”

Between 2013 and 2014, British Columbia received 37,451 foreign immigrants; 85 per cent of them settled in Metro Vancouver.

It’s likely these numbers only represent new permanent residents, since they don’t add up when the largest ‘ineligible’ group that Larcombe’s agency sees, which is temporary foreign workers, is taken into account.

“Their numbers are growing. I think temporary foreign workers is where we’re most feeling the pressure,” she explains.

The number of temporary foreign workers in the province increased from 19,283 in 2002 to 69,955 in 2011. Similarly, over 290,000 international students were enrolled in Canadian schools during 2013; 24 per cent of them live and study in B.C., that’s almost 73,000 people. Both groups have no access to settlement services.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][F]rom a service delivery perspective, that means that we lose control over what our services look like. So something that works in Ontario, might not necessarily work in Vancouver.” Karen Larcombe, South Vancouver Neighbourhood House[/quote]

Another casualty has been the time workers can devote to clients. Under the federal government there’s more extensive recording required, so workers spend more time inputting data into the system.

“The federal government wanted everybody across Canada to deliver services under the same way. So part of that was having the same information and the same data to get a better picture across the whole country,” says Larcombe.

“From a funder’s perspective, that makes sense. But from a service delivery perspective, that means that we lose control over what our services look like. So something that works in Ontario, might not necessarily work in Vancouver.”

Manitoba’s Challenges

Aside from B.C., Manitoba was the only other province that lost control of its funding in the last couple of years; now settlement services in Manitoba fall under federal regulations. 

Jorge Fernandez is the executive director of the Manitoba Immigrant Centre. Like his counterpart in Vancouver, he says the biggest change has been the type of clients that settlement services can help.

“We can no longer help temporary foreign workers or foreign students,” explains Fernandez. “And the province of Manitoba is not offering any extra funding.”

Fernandez says 20 per cent of the approximately 18,000 clients his agency saw last year are what the government considers ‘ineligible’.

“It was difficult for us to close the door on clients, so we secured some private funding. We managed to raise $50,000 to hire one worker to see this group of people,” he adds.

The funds came from private donations and Winnipeg foundations. But even with the extra funding, the agency was only able to help 2,000  out of 5,000 clients that have asked for help, but are deemed ‘ineligible’.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We are bringing temporary foreign workers into the country, and we have the Express Entry program, so we need the workers, we need labour force. So if we’re bringing them here, why aren’t we providing services for them?” - Jorge Fernandez, Manitoba Immigrant Centre[/quote]

Out of those ‘ineligible’ clients, Fernandez says 50 per cent are temporary foreign workers, 25 per cent are international students and the remainder is a mix of visitors and Canadian citizens — a group agencies in both Manitoba and B.C. consider important due to the fact that they may have only been in the country for a couple of years.

“We wish we could see everybody,” says Fernandez. “If we had more funding we could hire another worker and see more people.”

He hopes things will improve if there is a change in government, especially since some current migration policies don’t make sense to him. 

“We are bringing temporary foreign workers into the country, and we have the Express Entry program, so we need the workers, we need labour force. So if we’re bringing them here, why aren’t we providing services for them?”

Is Sanctuary the Only Solution?

Byron Cruz is a community worker and an advocate for all types of migrants in Vancouver. He works with an outreach group called Sanctuary Health. For the last year or so, his organization, along with many more, has been participating in the mayor’s immigration task force. The main item of the agenda is to obtain sanctuary city status in Vancouver.

“Every settlement agency depends on the CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) because all or most of their funding comes from the federal government, so instead of helping local communities, they’re doing CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency)’s job,” says Cruz.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Many agency workers want to help, but they have to do it outside office hours because otherwise they risk losing their jobs or their funding. It’s a system that discriminates.” - Byron Cruz, Sanctuary Health[/quote]

Cruz explains that a group of undocumented mothers had recently approached him because they wanted to take a workshop that was offered by a local settlement agency, but that the agency denied them the service.

“Many agency workers want to help, but they have to do it outside office hours, because otherwise they risk losing their jobs or their funding,” he adds. “It’s a system that discriminates.”

Still, several agencies have helped pen the sanctuary city policies Cruz hopes will be completely adopted by Vancouver sometime this year. Agency workers like Larcombe agree that these policies would help those that are most in need.

“At this point there are more vulnerable migrants that we would be able to help if the city was granted a sanctuary city status,” she explains. “It’s difficult for these migrants to break through the poverty barrier.”

By ‘vulnerable migrants’ Larcombe means undocumented migrants, another group agencies are barred from helping. A 2009 House of Commons immigration committee report estimates that the number of undocumented immigrants in Canada ranges anywhere from 80,000 to 500,000.

But even without taking undocumented immigrants into account, the reality is that many of B.C.’s newcomers are not being granted access to settlement services under federal regulations.

“We need changes to ensure that those people are protected,” says Larcombe. “Even if technically it wouldn’t fall into the federal government’s mandate.”

In previous 360º instalments, NCM looked at the state of settlement services in Ontario, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. Be sure to read all three parts of this investigative series to get a sense of how several provinces across the country are dealing with a changing settlement system.  

Published in Top Stories

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