Friday, 10 February 2017 13:07

Friendly Advice to Trudeau from Australia

Commentary by Binoy Kampmark in Melbourne, Australia

It was a moment of delightful reflection. The indecently smug politicians of a distant island continent, wealthy, cruel in refugee policy and lazy in development, stunned by encountering a short fused U.S. President who had little time for a “dumb” deal.

That deal, prematurely hatched during the last stages of the Obama administration with the Turnbull government, would see 1,250 refugees on Australia’s questionable offshore centres on Manus Island and Nauru, settled in the United States.

(As Canada's prime minister Justin Trudeau heads to Washington for his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and the province of Manitoba deals with a large number of refugees streaming across the border, Turnbull's experience could prove useful. As has reported, the visit comes on the heels of reports of diplomatically bruising phone calls between Trump and both Turnbull and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, in which he apparently broke diplomatic protocol and slammed both for an Australian-US refugee-swapping deal and Mexico’s handling of “tough hombres.”)

Australia’s fanatical insistence on not processing refugees and asylum seekers arriving by sea lanes has produced a flawed and unsustainable gulag system in the Pacific, along with deals of mind scratching eccentricity.

Poorer countries such as Cambodia and Nauru are deemed appropriate processing centres and places of re-settlement, despite local hostilities and incompatibilities.  Wealthier countries such as New Zealand tend to be ignored as optional points since resettlement there, should it happen, would be embolden new arrivals.  The one exception – the United States – was largely premised on both its distance from Australia and daftness of mind amongst Canberra’s policy fraternity.

In its desperation to find customers in the global supermarket of refugee shopping, Washington offered a tentative hand to feed the Australian habit.  That hand was rapidly withdrawn on Donald Trump’s signing of the Executive Order banning travel from seven mainly Muslim states.  Many of these nationals feature in the 1,250 total, with Iranians making up the largest cohort.  (It was a deal that Turnbull, incidentally, refused to condemn: Australia, he realises, knows what bans and bars to immigrants and refuges look like.)

According to the Washington Post, Trump explained in exasperated fashion to Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull by phone that the agreement was “the worst deal ever” and made it clear he was “going to get killed” politically if it was implemented.  In his pointed assertion, Turnbull was effectively attempting to export the “next Boston bombers” to the United States.  Australia, usually painfully supine before the wishes of the United States, had surprised Trump with “the worst call by far.”

Caught by the icy fury of the Trump blast, the conversation between the two leaders was cut short: what was slated for an hour became a 25 minute heckle and boast.  The size of Trump’s electoral college win was reputedly mentioned, while the number of refugees was inflated.

Did The Donald hang up on the stunned Turnbull?  The meek response followed: “I’m not going to comment on the conversation.” The official record from Washington made the school boy encounter dully deceptive: “Both leaders emphasized the enduring strength and closeness of the US-Australia relationship that is critical for peace, stability, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and globally.”

Taking to his preferred medium of announcement and expression, he tweeted in disbelief that he could be bound by a previous undertaking: “Do you believe it?  The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia.  Why?  I will study this dumb deal!”

Turnbull preferred an Alice in Wonderland approach to Trump’s tongue lashing, beating a hasty retreat down the rabbit hole in confused hope. Citing what seemed to be a distinctly different, mutated conversation, a brow beaten Turnbull preferred to refer to the president’s official spokesman who confirmed that “the president … would continue with, honour the agreement we entered into with the Obama administration, with respect to refugee settlement.”

This parallel diplomacy approach was also adopted before the National Press Club: “The Trump administration has committed to progress with the arrangements to honour the deal… that was entered into with the Obama administration, and that was the assurance the president gave me when we spoke on the weekend.”

To be fair to the confused Turnbull, the Trump administration is proving to be quite a tease.  Volcanic contradictions are fizzling out of the White House on a daily basis, the toddler, as he has been accused of being, ever erratic with his tempers.  Trump pours cold water on the deal; the White House spokesman Sean Spicer, probably informed by a different set of whispers, comes up with another statement that Washington would, in fact, follow through: 

“The deal specifically deals with 1,250 people,” explained Spicer to the White House press corps, “they’re mostly in Papua New Guinea, being held… there will be extreme vetting applied to all of them as part and parcel of the deal that was made.”

Even if this near aborted deal were to revive in spectacular confusion, it would only apply to refugees who “express an interest” in being settled in the US, and who satisfied an “extreme vetting” regime.  Numbers matter less than process, or, in the words of secretary of the immigration department Mike Pezzullo from November, this was “a process-driven arrangement rather than a numerical arrangement.”  What price humanity.

This entire incident is being taken as a litmus test of Trump’s relations with his allies.  Will the man boy behave or berate? Towards Mexico and Australia, his approach is one of irritable businessman rather than sober statesman.

Nor should the other side be neglected in this farcical cut of entertainment.  Canberra could have embraced the other option, one unacceptable for the Turnbull government: abide by the Refugee Convention and duly settle the refugees in Australia. Can the cant; observe international law.  Trump’s fumes of indignation would be avoided and Canberra would be doing something near unprecedented: implementing an approach of independence and obligation.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. This commentary was adapted from Counter Punch. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Published in Commentary
Thursday, 17 November 2016 18:26

Trump’s Impossible Deportation Goals

Commentary by Dr. Binoy Kampmark in Melbourne, Australia

Throughout the campaign for the White House, Donald Trump sensationalized one of the great sores of U.S. political and social life: the issue of immigrants, notably the undocumented, and what his presidency would do to them.

As Trump asserted to Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes, the target here was deporting “the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of people, probably two million, it could be even three million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate.”

To that end, he has also promised to create what he has termed a “deportation force” specifically to “round up” undocumented residents, enabling the “good” ones to enter on a legal basis. This view, incidentally, is common in such countries as Australia and some in the European Union.

Building the wall

Throughout its history with immigration, the United States has had a complex association, swerving between nativist impulse and economic accommodation.  The issue of Hispanic immigrants, most notably Mexicans, riles various U.S. citizens concerned that a reconquista, pecking away at U.S. sovereignty, is in the making.  Trump’s promised Wall along the Mexican border is not so much a practical response as a viscerally padded one, rooted in the symbol of control long lost.

Since a Trump administration is supposedly going to be all about business, the near impossibility of achieving the totality of such an ignoble dream will come to the fore. The balance sheet of contributions by immigrants, whatever their status, has always outweighed by some good margin what negative aspects the vast pool offers the United States.  Furthermore, the undocumented pool provides a class that enables prices, however justly this may seem, to be kept down.

To deport on scale millions of immigrants deemed unsuitable to the U.S. dream would not so much make America great again – to use Trump’s tiresome, sales-pitched line – as it would unmake it.  That is merely an observation on consequence, and possibly one the non-ideologues will pick up on.

Shallow on facts

The figure of two to three million drawn out by Trump out of his not so magical hat is also questionable. The Department of Homeland Security doesn’t have those figures, at least in so far as they are of the bad egg variety. The Donald, as ever, continues being shallow about the facts.

Trump is also going to be facing considerable opposition on the ground, both from the legal side of matters, and logistical frustrations. The machinery needed to fulfill the removal of such immigrants is patchy, often stuttering due to local measures.

The Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution stands out as one the greatest impediments. Full removal proceedings must be undergone in court. Time is required, with the government having to show grounds of alienage and deportability, with the respondent permitted grounds of defence and opportunities to plead for relief from deportation. These points are also outlined in measures implemented by Congress. A burdensome road for the government indeed.

The scale also being promised would be staggering – the ACLU suggests that the whole mass deportation scheme, were it to be implemented, would require the arrest of 15,000 people a day on immigration charges, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  Courts charged with immigration cases are bound to suffer acute paralysis.

Hotspot California

In hotspot California, opposition and resistance to any such policy from a Trump administration is being promised.  In Los Angeles alone reside up to a million undocumented immigrants of the total 11 million in the country.  Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said on Monday that no favours were going to be given to the federal government, making the point that the LAPD would not abandon precedent in favour of Trump’s new calls.

“We are not going to engage in law enforcement activities solely based on somebody’s immigration status.  We are not going to work in conjunction with Homeland Security on deportation efforts.  That is not our job, nor will I make it our job.”

Since 1979, then police chief Daryl Gates signed Special Order 40 prohibiting officers from making contact with someone on the sole grounds of determining whether he or she was in the country on legal grounds.  During Gates’ tenure, the supply of those arrested for low-tier crimes to federal agencies for deportation started to dry up.  The LAPD, in other words, was uninterested in doing the dirty work of the federal authorities.

Sanctuary cities

This effectively undercuts the issue of identifying the undocumented non-citizens in question. To deport, you would have to have the means, and complicity of state authorities, to conduct the round-up. Such behaviour, if conducted to scale, would result in mass violations of the Fourth Amendment, a true police state measure.

Trump has a few bullying tricks up his sleeve. He has threatened to withdraw funding from police departments and sanctuary cities that persist in their pathway of protection and stalling on the issue of how to deal with undocumented residents.  But government is not merely about hard cash and threats of targeting budgets. Ideas and pragmatism count, and Trump’s self-proclaimed embrace of shallowness in search of success will have to bend – at least at points.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This commentary has been republished from Global Research with permission from the author and has been lightly edited for the Canadian context.

Published in Commentary

by Aurora Tejeida in Vancouver, British Columbia

The University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program is suggesting that Mexico be removed from Canada’s “safe country” list, making it easier for sexual minorities and those living with HIV to seek asylum here.

The report, published on World Refugee Day Monday, comes at an awkward time: just when Ottawa is moving to remove visa restrictions imposed on that country by the previous Harper government in 2009.

The UofT study, co-authored by Kristin Marshall and Maia Rotman, was based on in-country interviews with 50 Mexicans, including journalists, activists, members of the country’s LGBTQ+ community, health care professionals and people living with HIV. It documents the gap between laws to protect minorities in Mexico and the on-the-ground reality of discrimination and exclusion faced by vulnerable populations.

This spotlight on Mexico’s human rights comes on the heels of violent clashes between government forces and Mexico’s largest teachers’ union. The most recent conflict in Oaxaca left at least four protesters dead and hundreds of people injured, including police officers.

Mexican President Peña Nieto is visiting Ottawa next week for a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama for the Three Amigos summit on June 29.

Canada considers Designated Countries of Origin (DCOs) (or, “safe country”) as those that “do not normally produce refugees, but do respect human rights and offer state protection.” The list includes countries like the U.S., Denmark, Finland and Germany, but also countries like Hungary, Israel and Mexico, which was added to the list only in February 2013

“I think these two countries, Mexico and Hungary, were targeted because there were such a high number of claims,” explained Marshall.

“They wanted less Mexican [refugee] claimants, and the government rhetoric at the time was about deterring bogus and unfounded claims from Mexico and Hungary, their thinking was that by giving faster timelines and no option to appeal, all of these "baseless" claims would go through the system and the people would get deported back to their countries,” added Marshall. "It sends the message 'don't bother coming' because we think Mexico is safe.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"] "On one level it looks like inclusion on the ‘safe countries’ list is a compliment to whatever state is put there."[/quote]

Fewer refugee claims

The twin measures resulted in fewer Mexicans seeking asylum, which fell to 1,199 from more than 9,000. However, the percentage of successful refugee claims remained about the same.

Marshall thinks that signalling that Mexico is “safe” could have an impact on cases that might have otherwise been successful.

However, the “safe country” designation is not imminent. All an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) spokesperson would say is that “being listed on Canada’s designated country of origin list does not prevent individuals from seeking refugee protection in Canada.”

The IRCC added that it “continuously monitors all designated countries of origin to determine whether conditions remain similar to those at the time they were designated. In the event of significant changes, IRCC may undertake a review of country conditions to determine if removal from the designated country of origin list is warranted.”

The spokesperson confirmed that Canadian officials are currently working with their Mexican counterparts to lift the visa requirements.

Clearly, a “safe country” designation is a mixed blessing.

Commenting on the UofT report, Dr. Chris Erickson from the University of British Columbia’s Department of Political Science, noted, "On one level it looks like inclusion on the ‘safe countries’ list is a compliment to whatever state is put there. On the other hand, it does allow for significant abuses to be entirely whitewashed. The language itself indicates that any claim to asylum coming from someone from one of the states on the list is likely to be false.”

Not safe for minorities

In one particularly shocking section of the report, the writers describe an attack on a transgender woman in the northern state of Chihuahua. The woman was beat up and shot in the head just days before Mexico City’s 2015 Pride parade.

“The victim’s body was wrapped in a Mexican flag — apparently a protest against the Supreme Court’s June ruling allowing gay marriage,” reads the report. 

Despite enacting laws to protect LGBTQ+ rights, including a recent proposal from President Nieto legalizing same sex marriages, according to Mexico’s Human Rights Commission, the country has the second highest number of hate crimes against sexual minorities in the Americas.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“There's a great effort and determination invested to project a certain image to the world, but the will to implement laws isn't there.”[/quote]

“There's a great effort and determination invested to project a certain image to the world, but the will to implement laws isn't there,” explained Marshall. “There are also issues with resources that are unavailable, and many of the problems faced by sexual minorities also have to do with conservative values in Mexico, which means deep down there isn't a desire to see these rights protected.”

The report recommends offering assistance to Mexico to create specialized health care services for trans people and working with the government to create educational resources about sexual and reproductive health.

I don't think human rights will feature prominently in the Three Amigos summit,” said Marshall. “But I do think this is a new government [in Ottawa] and it's a new opportunity for Canada to show international leadership.

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Published in Top Stories

by Eva Salinas in Toronto

Mexico’s former Ambassador to Canada, Francisco Suárez Dávila, says Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will likely refuse to attend Justin Trudeau’s proposed North American Leaders' Summit this summer unless the visa requirement on Mexico is revoked — a promise Trudeau and members of his cabinet have reiterated several times since forming government.

“I find it very difficult to concede that President Peña will come to Canada if he has to subject himself to the visa requirement,” Suárez said in an interview from Mexico City, where he retired following the end of his Canadian post in December. “It's a pity because we really could be in the beginning of a golden age of a really grand relationship.”

Trudeau indicated North American relations were a top priority on the campaign trail last year, when he first promised to revoke the visa if elected. He has repeatedly underscored the importance of regional cooperation, most recently in Washington earlier this month, where he emphasized working together on environmental policy and invited U.S. President Barack Obama to a North American Leaders' Summit in Canada this summer. 

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Published in International

by BJ Siekierski in Ottawa

John Manley — the president and CEO of Canadian Council of Chief Executives — criticized the Harper government Tuesday for mismanaging bilateral relationships with China and Mexico, and reiterated a call for the incoming Liberal government to pursue a free trade agreement with China.

There are reasons to think that isn’t out of the question.

“We have very important trading relationships with both Mexico and China. And quite frankly, the Harper government didn’t manage those relationships particularly well,” Manley, whose organization represents 150 CEOs of Canada’s biggest companies, said in an interview on BNN.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Smart, principled engagement of China must be at the centre of Canadian foreign policy.”[/quote]

This comes after an open letter Manley sent to Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau last week, which called for a “comprehensive bilateral economic agreement” with China, the reversal of the visa requirement for Mexican visitors and the ratification of the Canada-EU agreement and the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership).

“We urge your government to reverse the 2009 decision that requires most travellers from Mexico to obtain a visa before visiting Canada. With regards to China — our country’s second-largest trading partner, and soon to be the world’s largest economy – we believe the time has come to seek a comprehensive bilateral economic agreement. Smart, principled engagement of China must be at the centre of Canadian foreign policy,” Manley wrote.

China requires immediate attention

He elaborated on those points Tuesday, days after the CEO of Ford Canada, Dianne Craig — a member of the Canadian Council of CEOs — spoke out against the TPP.

“Ford is one of our members, likewise is Linamar, one of our largest auto part companies, which supports TPP. So I don’t think there’s a unanimous view. I think overall, though, what I’d say…is this: if TPP doesn’t happen, well then life goes on. If TPP does happen, and the United States and Mexico are part of it, then Canada really needs to be there. We can’t afford, for our national interests, to be excluded from an an agreement in which two of our three largest trading partners are there,” Manley said.

Since TPP ratification on the U.S. side could be held up by Congress, Manley didn’t think there was any reason for Trudeau to “lose sleep” over it yet.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"We don’t have to agree with China on everything, but we do need to engage China.”[/quote]

He said China, however, required immediate attention, adding that, like Australia and New Zealand, Canada should pursue a free trade agreement.

“Australia, while being a strong proponent of human rights — a strong supporter of rule of law — all of the things that Canada stands for, has managed to negotiate a free trade agreement with China. As has New Zealand. And they are benefiting — their economy is benefiting significantly in both cases,” Manley said.

“We seem to have a hard time deciding whether we want to do business with China or not, and we blow warm and cold. I think a consistent, lasting approach to China — multiple visits by our prime minister, by our minister of foreign affairs, by our minister of trade, and by our minister of industry, would yield benefits in the years to come. We don’t have to agree with China on everything, but we do need to engage China.”

Deepening relationship with China

While the Harper government signed and ratified, not without controversy, a foreign investment protection agreement with China, and released an economic complementarities study in August 2012, Ottawa preferred an incremental approach with regard to trade liberalization, reaching individual market access agreements for products such as beef, cherries, and blueberries.

“There are many mechanisms other than free trade agreements to allow us to deepen our trade relationship with China,” Trade Minister Ed Fast said last November.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]he Harper government wanted to see the “more balance” in the trading relationship before moving forward with negotiations. The Liberals have seemed more eager.[/quote]

In May, he clarified that the Harper government wanted to see the “more balance” in the trading relationship before moving forward with negotiations.

The Liberals have seemed more eager.

As Australia moved to implement their concluded free trade agreement with China, Liberal MPs — including Ralph Goodale, Chrystia Freeland, and Scott Brison — accused the Conservatives of bungling the relationship.

More recently, the Liberals named Peter Harder, who serves as president of the Canada-China Business Council, to head their transition team.

That could be a sign of things to come.

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Published in Economy
Wednesday, 23 September 2015 21:16

Promising Prospects for B.C. Students from Mexico

by Aurora Tejeida in Vancouver

Though its diaspora community in British Columbia might not be the biggest or most visible, Mexico is Canada’s third largest trade partner and the ninth largest contributor of international students.

In fact, it sends the most international students to Canada of any other Latin American country.

It was in this context that Juan Navarro decided to organize the first Mexi-Can Forum. The event, which took place earlier this month at The University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Robson Square, brought together leaders in education, innovation and entrepreneurship from both the public and private sectors.

“One of the main purposes of this forum was to make it clear that Mexicans in B.C. are contributing to Canadian society,” explains Navarro.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I think this is a great time for Mexicans to prove we can be there for each other.”[/quote]

Navarro is the president of the B.C. chapter of the Society of Mexican Talent — a global network that operates in 45 different locations around the world with each chapter focusing on different subjects.

According to Navarro, the B.C. group, which was only created a year ago, is heavily focused on education, innovation, technology and entrepreneurship – the same subjects that were broadly discussed during the forum.

“I think this is a great time for Mexicans to prove we can be there for each other,” says Navarro. “Not just because we share a culture and many of us are coming here and starting from zero. But because we can achieve great things.”

Mexico: A strategic ally

The forum opened with keynote speeches by Claudia Franco Hijuelos, Consul General of Mexico in Vancouver, Andrew Wilkinson, the Minister of Advanced Education in B.C. and Andrea Reimer, city councillor and Deputy Mayor of Vancouver.

During his keynote speech, Wilkinson noted that Mexico is a strategic ally in international education and that the province is interested in receiving more Mexican students. There are currently more than 400 signed agreements among universities and higher-education institutions in both countries.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]he number of Mexican students in Canada grew by 58 per cent between 2004 and 2013.[/quote]

According to data provided during the conference by Mitacs, a non-for-profit research organization governed by Canada’s research universities, Canada ranks as the world’s seventh most popular destination for international students.

The number of international students grew by 84 per cent between 2003 and 2013, and Canada’s International Education Strategy aims to increase international students to 450,000 by 2022.

Specifically, the number of Mexican students in Canada grew by 58 per cent between 2004 and 2013.

A brand new Canada-Mexico International Education Agreement, which was announced in June, aims to invest $10 million to attract Mexican post-secondary students and post-doctoral fellows to Canadian universities and research institutions, as well as give Canadian students the opportunity to diversify their research experience in Mexico.

Growing possibilities in tech

While this is an exciting time for Mexican students, one of the most noteworthy aspects of the forum was the evident optimism surrounding the fast growing technology sector in Vancouver and the employment possibilities this sector is creating for current and future talent – foreign or domestic.

In his presentation, Robert Helsley, Dean of the Sauder School of Business at UBC, made a point to highlight the importance of partnerships between growing industries and educational institutions. In the case of Vancouver, the fastest growing sector is technology.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The most important thing is talent and the tech firms will come here if there is talent."[/quote]

According to Helsley, the best way to know which industry is concentrated in any given city is through a measure called the location quotient, which is measured by taking the percentage of employment in a local industry and dividing it by the percentage of employment in that industry on a national level.

“The industries concentrated in a city lets you know what’s basic for the local economy,” explains Helsley. “In Vancouver, it’s data processing, motion picture and video industries, publishing industries (which includes software), water transportation, rail transportation, wholesaling and warehouses.” 

Helsley further explains that these industries are related to the city’s port and technology sector. Since the port sector is already extremely successful, the more likely candidate for growth in Vancouver is technology. 

The numbers support this. According to data provided by Helsley, in five years only 69,000 jobs were created in Vancouver; however, 12,400 of those jobs (20 per cent) were in the scientific and technical services industry. 

“IT is relatively concentrated and it’s growing quickly,” says Helsley. “The most important thing is talent and the tech firms will come here if there is talent. And that means that education is particularly important, especially in engineering and business.”  

This also means that the creation of a space like the Mexi-Can forum, which focuses on creating international partnerships in the technology, innovation and education sectors, is a step in the right direction. 

For Navarro, this year’s forum is just the beginning. He’s already planning next year’s. 

“We would like more people to come next year. There’s lots of space to grow, maybe branching to other provinces or making it a national forum.”

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Published in Education
Sunday, 13 September 2015 20:31

Tales of Immigrant Women in Canada

by Florence Hwang in Regina, Saskatchewan

While performer and playwright Natasha Martina was researching in a library in Dublin for a play, she came up with the idea to combine her family’s emigrant story and her creative partner Sue Mythen’s knowledge about the Irish famine years of 1840s.

The result: a contemporary theatre production about how the Canadian immigration system has progressed since before its inception in 1867 to present day, which was featured in this year’s Saskatoon Fringe Festival.

Martina and Mythen’s play Displaced tells the story of three immigrant women: Mary, who leaves Ireland during the famine in 1847; Sofia, who flees Germany in 1947; and Dara who escapes an arranged marriage in Afghanistan in 2007. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Displaced tells the story of three immigrant women: Mary, who leaves Ireland during the famine in 1847; Sofia, who flees Germany in 1947; and Dara who escapes an arranged marriage in Afghanistan in 2007.[/quote]

Growing up as a first generation Canadian, Martina heard stories about her parents starting with nothing, saving every penny to make a life here, and her godparents coming over on a freighter ship with only $9 in their pocket.

She also learned about other families’ immigration stories by volunteering at the Saskatoon Open Door Society, helping newcomers learn English.

“I heard about so many stories from individuals, as well as I interviewed a couple of employees from Open Door, who had experienced similar challenges in their plight to immigrate to Canada,” says Martina, who is also an associate professor in the drama department at the University of Saskatchewan. “I was very humbled by their stories and even more empowered to create and produce Displaced.”

Many women in Canada can relate to the experiences told through the characters in Displaced. Here is a look at just four.

Seeking refuge from persecution

Samra Kanwal is an Ahmadi Muslim from Lahore, Pakistan. She came to Canada in March 2012 to flee persecution from the government.

She was 18 when she moved with her parents, younger sister and brother to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Her uncle and aunt sponsored her family through the Saskatchewan Immigration Nominee Program, which gave them much support in the two years it took for her family to become permanent residents.

“It was a tough time as we had to spend money accordingly and had to be cautious that people around us should not learn about our decision to move to Canada,” explains Kanwal. “Otherwise, we could have faced problems from the extremists who could hit you any time since they have backing of the local authorities.”

Getting a foot in the door

Sarka Kolacna still remembers the exact date she arrived in Canada – Oct. 28, 2006. That’s because it’s a national holiday, similar to Canada Day, in her home country of the Czech Republic.

When she was researching ways to enter Canada, she saw the live-in caregiver program as her only option. She posted an ad on Craigslist and found one family who she worked with for two years before applying for permanent residency.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I never thought I’d be able to teach English here.”[/quote]

Since then, she’s started to make use of her formal training as a teacher of English and German. She is teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) for a global relocation company.

“It’s what I was originally trained to do, and I enjoy it very much. I never thought I’d be able to teach English here, and the fact that I’m not a native speaker often excludes me from being a suitable candidate for a job that requires it, but some schools don’t.”

Dealing with the Canadian cold

In 2010, at age 18, Nengi Allison moved from Rivers state in southern Nigeria to Nanaimo, B.C. There, she lived in an apartment with six other Nigerian students. In 2011, she moved to Regina to study environmental studies at the University of Regina.

Allison has no family in Canada and misses home a lot.

She had to get used to an entirely different culture in terms of studying, and the drastic difference in climate – particularly the winter.

“I found the winter affected me psychologically because you have to stay warm at all times and I’m trying to concentrate on what I’m studying,” explains Allison. “All of a sudden I wanted to go back home because where I come from, Nigeria, it’s always hot there.”

Adjusting to work culture

Cecilia Olmos is a sports journalist from Mexico City. Her older brother, who immigrated to Denmark 16 years ago, inspired her to immigrate to Canada.

In 2006, Olmos went to Vancouver as an ESL student. She instantly fell in love with the west coast city.

“I loved its landscapes, nature and vibe. I wanted to stay longer, but I didn’t really know how,” says the 34-year-old.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The way people negotiate, interact, and communicate with one another was so different from what I’m used to.”[/quote]

After learning that studying in Canada could help her chances in the immigration process, she booked her flight to Vancouver in December 2008.

First, she completed an ESL program in Vancouver, and then enrolled in a sports journalism program in Toronto where she was the only foreign student.

When Olmos moved back to Vancouver she was fortunate to find a workplace that sponsored her, but she struggled with the work culture.

Everything from behaviour to customs and habits was very difficult for me to get used to,” she says. “The way people negotiate, interact, and communicate with one another was so different from what I’m used to. And doing all of the above with English as a second language made it double challenging.”

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Published in Arts & Culture

by Aurora Tejeida (@Aurobots) in Vancouver

As the New Year kicks off there is a lot to keep abreast of within the Latin American diaspora. Here’s a look at some of the headlines that made the most waves in recent weeks within the Latin American media.

New Canadian Migration Rules May Lead to Fraud and Racism

One of the purposes of Canada’s new migration rules, specifically the Express Entry system, is to hand out more permanent residencies and to reduce the time applicants need to wait. The country is expected to admit 285,000 permanent residents this year, as opposed to last year’s 265,000.

While some may laud the Conservative government’s policies – which favour those who have job offers or are already working – others think the new model can easily lead to racism and fraud, since they consider it gives all the power to Canadian companies.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The news portal La Portada (a site for Hispanics living in Canada) says that the new policies will benefit professional migrants by helping them land a job... but the downside might be greater, as the site claims the biggest losers of the new system are refugees, families, men and women over the age of 35 and those that don’t speak English or French fluently.[/quote]

The news portal La Portada (a site for Hispanics living in Canada) says that the new policies will benefit professional migrants by helping them land a job – statistics show that the unemployment rate for professional migrants is 50 per cent higher than that of native Canadians.

But the downside might be greater, as the site claims the biggest losers of the new system are refugees, families, men and women over the age of 35 and those that don’t speak English or French fluently. The new point-based system will benefit those who are younger, single, educated and fluent in English or French, leaving out many migrants from economically developing countries, many of which are in Latin America.

New policies have also diminished health care for refugee claimants and made it harder for migrants to bring their parents to Canada. Some critics say racism is an issue and point to the strict finance checks required for citizens of “poorer” countries – who must prove they are “wealthy enough” even if they just want to visit Canada as tourists.Ayotzinapa protest in Vancouver. Photo Credit: Ivan Calderon

Rallying for Student Murders in Mexico

This past fall, members of the Mexican communities in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver organized demonstrations and sit-ins to denounce the Mexican government and demand the safe return of 43 rural students who went missing at the hands of police last September. Most of the demonstrations, which were attended by students, activists and members of several Latin American countries, were staged outside Mexican consulates during the months of October and November. 

On September 26, following a confrontation between local police and student demonstrators outside of the Raul Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa, six students were killed and 43 were taken by police. The officers were allegedly following an order from the mayor of the town of Iguala in the southern state of Guerrero. According to Mexican federal authorities, the police then handed the students over to a local drug cartel. During the search for their bodies, mass graves were found. Current police investigations point to a nearby dumpster where it appears a large number of bodies had been incinerated, but so far the government hasn’t been able to prove whether the bodies are those of the missing students.

Less than two per cent of crimes are prosecuted in Mexico, where violence has increased dramatically since Felipe Calderón’s presidency. Eighty thousand people have been murdered and more than 22,000 have gone missing since 2006.

Footage from one of the rallies held in Vancouver.


Latin America Soccer Cup Comes to Toronto

Eglinton Flats hosted the first Latin American soccer cup held in Toronto after eight consulates –Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, México, Uruguay and Brazil – decided to organize the sporting event as one of the activities for the Latin American health week.

The tournament, geared toward men over 18, took place in August, and proceeds went to help promote health among Toronto’s Latin American community. The purpose of Latin American health week is to offer free medical consults in Spanish, as well as services that aren’t usually offered by Ontario’s provincial health system.

Mexicans Migrating to Canada: Safety Over Economics

Mexico’s rise of violence and criminal activity is pushing young, educated residents and middle class families out of the country. For years the stereotypical image of the Mexican migrants was that of men and women who often risked their lives to move to the U.S. and Canada to help support their families back home, even though their migration status often meant that job offers were reduced to construction, agriculture and domestic services.

But Mexico is starting to breed a different type of migrant, one that isn’t leaving the country for economic reasons. According to La Portada, the Mexican government is refusing to release hard data, but studies done by Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM) show that northern states are the most affected by this new trend, which unfortunately for Mexico is mostly made up of highly qualified and educated young men and women.

Canada currently asks Mexican nationals for a visa, even if they’re just visiting the country. The Latin American country is considered safe by the Canada Border Services Agency, which means it’s virtually impossible for a Mexican to be granted refugee status, even though the country is suffering from extreme violence and travel warnings to certain states are not rare. 

Diplomatic Relations Between Canada and Colombia at All-Time Best

Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos and the Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, held a meeting in Colombia to broaden cooperation and strengthen the relationship between both countries.

President Santos assured journalists that diplomatic relations between both countries are at their best moment in history and mentioned specific areas they hope to work on.

The areas President Santos spoke of were education and technology, whereas Governor General Johnston spoke about natural resources in Colombia and more educational opportunities for Colombian nationals in Canada.

Other subjects that were discussed include culture, mining investments, energy and oil. For over 40 years, Canada has invested more than $137 million in Colombia; most of the money is destined to protect children, create better access to education and to protect human rights, among other things.

When it comes to education, Johnston also spoke about expanding scholarship offers to Colombian students through a young-leaders-of-America program. 

Aurora Tejeida is a Vancouver-based multimedia journalist who's originally from Mexico. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of British Columbia and she's written stories for The Tyee, Vice and The Toronto Star, among other publications. When she’s not writing about culture, the environment or migration, she’s wandering around the city trying to find a decent place for tacos. 


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Published in Latin America
Sunday, 31 August 2014 17:29

Pulse: Latin America (July - Aug. 2014)

by Aurora Tejeida (@AuroBots) in Vancouver

The following is a compilation of the most important news stories reported by Latin American media in Canada, during July and August.

A columnist for La Portada believes Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program is going wind down soon

According to Angélica González Blanco, a columnist for La Portada, the recent changes made by Citizenship and Immigration Canada represent a threat to the Temporary Foreign Workers program, which she believes is soon going to soon become extinct.

She also believes the new regulations will have a negative impact on Canada’s economy, as companies won’t be able to obtain the labour force they need through the “rigorous” new process that is aimed at making things harder for temporary foreign workers. She goes on to say that the new regulations reflect the way the current administration has created a hostile environment for immigrants through xenophobic agendas.

González Blanco stressed that some of the new “drastic” regulations included raising the application fees companies have to pay from $275 to $1,000.

Mexican union leader who fled charges of corruption is now a Canadian citizen

Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, the former leader of Mexico's 280,000-member Los Mineros union, has lived in Vancouver since 2006, the year he fled Mexico to avoid charges of corruption for bilking $61 million from the miner’s union trust. Mexican media is reporting that there is an arrest warrant for him that's pending deportation, and that the charges won’t change now that Gómez is a Canadian citizen.

Many controversies surround this case. The Mexican Justice Department has stated that there is an international warrant for Gómez from Interpol, while Gómez has maintained that the charges are false and politically motivated. Vancouver media has tended to side with the former union leader, claiming there is no Interpol warrant for his arrest and that he is being wrongfully charged because he protected mine workers which made him an enemy of the Fox administration.  

Gómez’s lawyer recently stated that the Mexican government doesn’t have grounds to extradite him, and that his whereabouts have always been known. On the other hand, the current leader of the miner’s union says Gómez should prove his innocence in Mexico by handing himself in to Mexican authorities.

Undocumented migrants targeted in ‘vehicle safety blitz’ in Toronto

Canada’s border enforcement agency has arrested 21 people on immigration violations during a joint “commercial vehicle safety blitz” with other government authorities. Most of the men that were taken into custody are originally from Latin America. According to several sources, the men were gathering for their morning pickups to job sites.

La Portada reported that the detained were deported less than 48 hours after their arrests. Among the people who were deported is a man who is leaving behind his wife and two children. According to La Portada, one of his children has Down's syndrome and requires special care that would not be available in their country of origin. The man refused to disclose his family’s location in fear they might be deported too. Both parents had an outstanding deportation order after they failed their refugee claim hearing.

According to witnesses, officials with Canada Border Services Agency began the raids in the early hours. Some were detained after they failed to provide appropriate ID’s when the vehicles they were riding in were stopped by unmarked SUV's for what appeared to be routine vehicle inspection. Others said they were arrested at the parking lots of coffee shops in the vicinity. Most of them were construction workers.

In a statement, No One is Illegal denounced the raid claiming it had been a deliberate attack on Hispanic immigrants. As such, one of the lawyers that represented two now deported detainees petitioned Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to take a stance against raids of this nature.

Toronto City Hall grants $1.7 million to its Latin American community for Pan American Games inspired community projects

The Hispanic Canadian Heritage Council (HCHC) of Toronto commended City Hall for their approval of the “Community Projects for the 2015 Pan American Games Initiative.” The HCHC-lobbied project is going to receive $1.7 million that will be destined for Pan American Games inspired community projects. Both parties hope that the funding will provide opportunities for further integration of the Hispanic community into the sporting event that is to be held in the city of Toronto in July of next year.

According to Latinos Magazine, The funding is part of Toronto’s “Showcase” program for the Pan American Games and is supposed to be split into three different areas: activities and projects inspired by the Pan American Games anywhere in the city of Toronto, projects that provide long-term economical or structural benefits for the Latino, South American and Caribean community, and lastly, the money is supposed to be used to support arts and culture during the games.

Canadian Companies participated in 36 per cent of oil and gas projects in Colombia

The Canadian Minister for International Trade, Ed Fast, announced that Canadian Companies participated in 36 per cent of oil and gas projects in Colombia last year. During a visit in Bogota, he also expressed Canada's growing interest in the oil, gas and precious metals industries of the South American country.

According to CBN Noticias, Fast pointed out that Canada promotes sustainable practices when it comes to resource extraction in all of the countries where they have ongoing operations. The meeting Fast attended in Bogota was part of a six-day tour that included Colombia and Peru.

Canada has had a strong presence in the oil, gas and mining sectors of Colombia since a Free Trade Agreement was signed between the two countries in 2011. Over 51 Canadian companies are currently operating in the South American country.

Published in Top Stories
Sunday, 09 February 2014 17:51

Pulse: Latin America

by Maria Assaf

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Woman who faced domestic abuse is being deported from Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


New app targets Mexican diaspora

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Latin America
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