Book Review by Rosanna Haroutounian in Gatineau

The histories of Canadians are plentiful, rich, and complex. We can never know all of them, but even sharing just a few can open windows into many unknown pasts.

Coming Here, Being Here: A Canadian Migration Anthology brings together people’s stories of arriving in Canada, as told through first-hand accounts and by those who have studied immigration and helped newcomers along the way.

Edited by Donald Mulcahy, this collection of stories about the immigration experience seems a long time coming. It is the first time I have had the chance to read about such a wide scope of experiences from across the country in one book.

On the other hand, this collection could not have come at a better time, as we seem of late to be in need of reminders about how integral these stories are to our national identity.

Struggles and successes

In the story titled “They Left Their Homes with Nothing, and Made a New Life with Hard Work,” Dana Borcea shares the stories of some of the 6,000 Vietnamese refugees who came to Edmonton 25 years ago as “boat people.” Learning about their struggles and successes, I could not help wondering what stories the newly arriving Syrian refugees will tell in 25 years about coming to Canada.

Like the stories of refugees from Vietnam, they will undoubtedly include working at menial jobs to support their families, struggling to learn a new language, and adapting to a new culture. Will they also realize their dreams for peace and belonging?

Another story I know will stay with me for a long time is “Prejudice,” by Anton Capri. It recounts the author’s arrival as a DP, or displaced person, in Canada after the Second World War. At his first baseball game, the other children laugh at the boy who can’t hit the ball – except Dave, who becomes young Anton’s first friend.

Anton feels guilty that the other students now shun both him and Dave, yet to his surprise Dave thanks him for being his friend. The impact of this short narrative is felt in its ending and for that reason cannot be revealed in a simple summary, but it is sure to leave readers pondering about the lengths and limits of that ugly word – prejudice.

Our privileged lives

The stories also present diverse viewpoints on the present state of immigration in Canada. Monica Kidd writes in “The Music of Small Things” about being “purple with rage” at the government after seeing the photo of the lifeless body of Alan Kurdi – a young boy who escaped the current violence in Syria, only to be swept up on a beach in Turkey.

“We lived privileged lives in a wealthy country and would find a way to sponsor a refugee family,” Kidd decided with her friends.

Meanwhile, the prominent author Henry Beissel calls Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to settle 50,000 Syrian refugees in Canada in 2016 “hasty,” adding that the government did so without regard for demographic and security concerns. His suggestion that this will lead to the creation of ghettos, the “breeding ground of discrimination and racism,” contrasts with the image of a welcoming and pluralistic Canada described in an essay he delivered in 1985, also included in his contribution to this anthology, titled “No Country for a Master Race.”

Story after story in this anthology illustrates the challenges people must overcome to arrive here, and how hard they must work to stay and ultimately belong here.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]They ultimately serve to keep us grounded in the reality of the immigration experience amid the xenophobic rhetoric the media bombards us with on a daily basis.[/quote]

Inventing enemies

Even the notion that our values and customs are under threat seems to be challenged when in “Writing in French in Alberta,” Laurent Chabin points out: “No one threatens a language that is freely used, and there is no reason to invent enemies when all one really needs to do is practice and write in one’s own language.”

This can be said of all the traditions Canadians hold dear and fiercely protect. The best way to defend these qualities – which in my mind include equality, respect, and generosity – is to practice them freely.

As Batia Boe Stolar writes in "I Am an Immigrant," though they carry some burdens, the experiences of immigration should be accepted and acknowledged.

“Identifying myself as an immigrant is a self-conscious act that grants me a degree of agency, allowing me to exert some control over my identity,” she writes.

“I must here confess that there is a part of me that sometimes relishes the fact I have a story to tell that others crave to hear…. My markings open doors and close others; they generate other stories about other people’s experiences too.”

Here’s to hoping this collection of stories is a spark that ignites others to tell of the victories celebrated and hardships endured in coming to this country and calling it “Home.”

Published in Books

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City

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

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

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

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

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

Making children aware

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colourful pages tell ugly history 

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

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

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

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

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

The difficult legacy of race

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

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

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

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

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

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


{module NCM Blurb} 

Published in Books

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City

The recent death of Abdirahman Abdi after his violent arrest in Ottawa and the 2015 police shooting of Andrew Loku in Toronto challenge the “meanwhile in Canada” dichotomy that says racial profiling only happens in America.

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

At the same time, we meet a younger cohort that is forcing down those walls in order to be heard.

More story needed

Short stories go well with short attention spans, delivering the main elements of a good story in one quick dose.

At the same time, they can leave many questions unanswered. To sum them all into one: “What happens next?”

Most of the stories in All My Fallen Angelas fall into the latter category.

Just as we are on the cusp of getting to know the characters, and finding our way around the intricacies of their lives, we are abruptly halted and told to move on.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]. . . it is hard to determine whether it’s better for the author to provide more finality to her stories, or to allow readers to explore the possibilities on their own.[/quote]

This is a sign of Patriarca’s ability as an engaging storyteller, but also begs whether some endings could be more convincing.

After much pondering, it is hard to determine whether it’s better for the author to provide more finality to her stories, or to allow readers to explore the possibilities on their own. 

Alice Munro, arguably Canada’s most well-known short story writer, also gives readers much to think about through her writing.

On writing short stories, Munro told The New York Times 30 years ago, “I don't really understand a novel. I don't understand where the excitement is supposed to come in a novel, and I do in a story . . . I kind of want a moment that's explosive, and I want everything gathered into that.”

Historical roots to popular images

Like Patriarca, Munro also writes about women; she has been called a feminist writer. While her stories focus mostly on women in Southwestern Ontario, Patriarca’s reside in Toronto, from the 1960s onward.

We are introduced to characters that bear resemblance to the stereotypical Italian nonna — the grandmother who is the family’s cook, religious authority and resident matchmaker. The classic image of the Italian male with slicked back hair and leather shoes also makes an appearance.

Though these characters seem caricatured in most other settings, Patriarca’s stories provide a glimpse into their historical roots.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“How do I make her understand that the world has changed?”[/quote]

We learn about some of the traditions that Italian immigrants brought with them to Canada and their cultural importance.

While traditional interests, such as prayer and homemaking, persuade many older characters, the younger ones express the desire to break away from old customs by becoming entrepreneurs, refusing arranged marriages and deciding not to have families. 

“Do I tell her that a man is not what I want?” ponders the narrator in “My Grandmother is Normal.”

“Rather, marriage to a man is not what I want. My time, this place, allows me that choice. How do I make her understand that the world has changed?”

What was vs. what is 

The stories also show us how some predominantly Italian neighbourhoods in Toronto have evolved as immigration to Canada has expanded.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The stories also show us how some predominantly Italian neighbourhoods in Toronto have evolved as immigration to Canada has expanded.[/quote]

“The new residents in the neighbourhood, whose long braids are often covered by lovely scarves, seem reluctant to come into her shop although on occasion Vicky is challenged by the requests of a new customer who will bare her head to reveal black torrents of lustrous hair,” writes Patriarca about Vicky’s salon in the story “Blonde Forever.”

The older characters also note the way they see their neighbourhood changing as a result of gentrification, technology and new social norms.

In “Anna at the Window,” Anna laments the declining attendance at her church, the long distances she must travel for her groceries, and the fact that young gentlemen no longer tip their hats and open doors for her.

“The area now catered to a different crowd, a different way of life, and although she understood that time had moved and that was the natural way of the world, it did not make her feel any better. Time is about loss, she thought, and loss is never a good thing.”

The contrast between young and old, between what was and what is now, is explored throughout All My Fallen Angelas and asks the reader to reflect on whether all change is really for the better, or whether as Anna suggests, it represents some loss.

These contrasts also suggest that while men have historically done most of the decision making in politics and business, it is women who witness and bear the brunt of how these choices affect society at large.

While women today may be better positioned to have an impact on the world around us, Patriarca’s stories are a reminder to never dismiss the sacrifices of our nonnas and other women that brought us here.

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


{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Books

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City

A trip to an organic dairy farm in Ontario was enough to inspire a former Wall Street banker to launch a global search for better ways to treat farm animals. 

“This was an organic farm, but the cows still weren’t treated well,” recalls author Sonia Faruqi. “They were indoors two-thirds of the year and outdoors only one-third of the year, and while they were indoors, they were chained to stalls, which is really unnatural for cows, who are grazing animals.” 

After volunteering for two weeks at the dairy farm, Faruqi visited other Ontario farms, but not without resistance from farmers, who she says are part of a tightly knit community. 

“Everyone they know is a farmer, so if you’re someone who comes from a city, or who’s brown, or even a woman in a very male-dominated industry, you're immediately very different,” explains Faruqi, who was born in Pakistan and raised in the United Arab Emirates. 

She worked at an investment bank on Wall Street in the United States before the 2008 economic crisis, after which she joined her family who had just immigrated to Canada. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Everyone they know is a farmer, so if you’re someone who comes from a city, or who’s brown, or even a woman in a very male-dominated industry, you're immediately very different.”[/quote]

Faruqi says she used her savings to visit and volunteer at farms in several countries, including the United States, Malaysia and Mexico. 

Her first book, Project Animal Farm: An Accidental Journey into the Secret World of Farming and the Truth About Our Food, documents her experiences abroad and what can be done to create a farming system that is better for farmers, animals and consumers. 

A world view on farming 

While Faruqi says she witnessed many examples of animals being mistreated, such as chickens being kept in overcrowded cages and pigs covered in their own feces, she also visited farms where animals were well treated and healthy. 

In Belize, Faruqi stayed on a farm with female Mennonite missionaries, who she says have a holistic view of the land and do not refer to raising livestock as agriculture or business, but as “animal husbandry.” 

She says the women named their cows and allowed them to graze in fields with ponds and other animals. 

“It was interesting for me to see that kind of affection for the animals and the land.”  

Faruqi also compared the farming practices between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to explore how industrialization affects the treatment of animals. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s all changed to an extremely industrialized, very low-cost system.”[/quote]

She explains that in Malaysia, which has recently experienced rapid economic growth, the popularity of fast food chains like KFC and McDonald’s has led to an increase in factory-farm practices, including artificial insemination, antibiotic use and corn-based diets. 

“It’s all changed to an extremely industrialized, very low-cost system,” she explains. “Local farms, breeds, and knowledge that people have of animals and of the land – all of it is eradicated.” 

By contrast, in Indonesia, which is less industrialized, Faruqi witnessed hens walking freely in villages that only visited their owners’ homes in the mornings for breakfast. 

“I noticed people walking their cows,” she adds. “It was interesting to see that bond that people have with animals.” 

She notes that at some of the farms she visited in Ontario, farmers didn’t visit their farms and relied on automated systems to update them on their animals. 

The many downsides to factory farming

Faruqi says that despite the downsides to factory farming, the government in Malaysia promotes fast food because it symbolizes industrialization and development. 

“The same way people wear jeans and listen to American music, they’re also eating American foods, which are hamburgers and fries and actually not good for you,” she says. 

“There’s tens of billions of farm animals in the world and most of them are being made to suffer to produce cheap food for people, who should not be eating that much meat, milk and eggs to begin with.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“When people move here, they really want to integrate to the extent that they leave their own food heritage.”[/quote]

Faruqi says consumers have the power to promote good farming habits by eating less animal products and demanding that the animal products they do eat be produced in healthier ways. 

“There’s a misconception that you have to be white and wealthy to even think about this, which is not true, because in the end, everyone’s health is important.” 

A disproportionate impact on immigrants   

She notes that while language or income barriers might prevent newcomers from making healthy choices, many of them come to Canada practising healthy eating habits that they don’t retain. 

“When people move here, they really want to integrate to the extent that they leave their own food heritage.” 

The vegetarian diet that is popular in India is an example that Western societies can learn to value, she says. 

She notes that immigrants can also be disproportionately affected on the production side, because factory farms employ many immigrants in slaughterhouses. 

“Part of the reason is that these are jobs non-immigrants don’t want, for clear reasons,” she says. “Workers have mental and physical health issues, which are not really treated.” 

Faruqi advocates for more government oversight of factory farms and regulations to protect animal rights, as well as the inclusion of more women in agriculture. 

She says that under current laws in Canada and the U.S., a pig has the same rights as a table, “which is really ridiculous when you think about it, because one is an animate being with instincts and interests and desires, at the very least, to not suffer.”


{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Health

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City 

The 75th anniversary of the Battle of Hong Kong is being commemorated across Canada by veterans and survivors of Japanese occupation and their families. About 2,000 Canadians fought to defend Hong Kong against Japanese occupation in Canada’s first combat mission of the Second World War.

“They were relatively inexperienced. A lot of them were new recruits,” says Patrick Donovan, curator of the exhibit Hong Kong and the Home Front at the Morrin Centre in Québec City, Quebec. “A lot of them learned to fire their rifles on the boat ride over.”

The Royal Rifles of Canada, Quebec City’s main English-speaking regiment, and the Winnipeg Grenadiers were sent to Hong Kong in fall of 1941 to join a battalion of commonwealth forces totalling 14,000 troops.

On December 8, 1941, Japanese aircraft began attacking Hong Kong. A day earlier, they had attacked Pearl Harbor. The defence of Hong Kong ended almost three weeks later when Canadian and other defending troops were forced to surrender. Among Canadian troops, 290 were killed and 493 were wounded.

Hong Kong and several other countries and territories were occupied by Japan for the duration of the war. On November 4, 1948, the International Military Tribunals for the Far East found 25 Japanese military and government officials guilty of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Second World War.

Personal experiences of war

“The occupation is something we never talk about,” says Sovita Chander, whose father grew up in Japanese-occupied British Malay. The former president of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, which runs the Morrin Centre, Chander says she learned about this period of her father’s life through his memoirs.

“I can't imagine my own children — now in university — having to go through that, and my heart goes out to my parents who were so young at that time,” says Chander.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“A lot of them learned to fire their rifles on the boat ride over.”[/quote]

Her father’s memoirs describe how at the age of six, he and his family spent a day in an underground shelter as the Japanese army passed overhead. The next day, he watched his father stay with a dying Indian soldier, who he buried the next day.

A poster recalls the Battle of Hong Kong to enlist new recruits to join the Royal Rifles of Canada, based in Quebec City. Source: Canadian Museum of History.

“Despite the atrocities, horror, and depravation, he held no animosity for the former occupiers,” says Chander of her father, noting that Malaya was also a British colony. “He developed an international outlook that was liberal and tolerant.”

Chander says it’s important to tell the story of the people from the Québec City region who were in Hong Kong, including some people who were involved with the Morrin Centre at the time. 

Remembering tragedy

“We tend to focus a lot on the victories of the war and it tends to glorify the whole business of war,” says Donovan of the Centre’s exhibit. “It's important to look at some of the defeats, and this story is a tragedy.”

He says the soldiers who were not killed were held in Japanese Prisoner of War camps for the duration of the War. Many prisoners died of malnutrition or diseases related to lack of food.

According to Veterans Affairs Canada, more than 550 of the almost 2,000 Canadians who went to Hong Kong never returned.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It's important to look at some of the defeats, and this story is a tragedy.”[/quote]

“The Japanese still have not come to terms with what they did in the Second World War,” says Judy Lam Maxwell, whose mother lived under Japanese occupation in Hong Kong as a child.

“She had told me that because her father was a doctor, he could hide the kids in the hospital and they would be safe from harm,” says Lam Maxwell. “My mom, her siblings, and her mom are fortunate to have survived.” She says that her grandfather, or Goong Goong, was tortured by the Japanese, but also survived.

Commemorating the Battle

Lam Maxwell heard the stories of other survivors when she travelled to Hong Kong with ex-servicemen from Canada several years ago. She collected newspaper articles from Canada and Hong Kong that will be part of an exhibit at Centre A in Vancouver, B.C. later this year to commemorate the Battle of Hong Kong.

“Many of the Canadians and immigrants from Hong Kong living in Canada do not know this history and it’s important for museums and historians to share the significant link between Canada and Hong Kong,” says King Wan, president of the Chinese Canadian Military Museum Society.

The Chinese Canadian Military Museum in Vancouver will showcase “Force 136” on May 14 as part of Asian Heritage Month to commemorate Chinese-Canadians who joined the Special Operations Executive in East Asia during the war.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Many prisoners died of malnutrition or diseases related to lack of food.[/quote]

He notes that at the time, people of Chinese descent were prohibited from joining Canada’s armed forces. While many were rejected, recruiters who were eager to meet quotas accepted some Chinese-Canadians who enlisted.

The policy against Chinese recruitment was rescinded after the British government pressured the Canadian government to recruit Chinese-Canadians, as they could easily assimilate into East-Asian society and work for the army undercover. More than 700 Chinese-Canadians joined the Canadian army, mostly in British Columbia.

The museum will also commemorate the Battle of Hong Kong with another exhibit in the fall.

For Wan, whose family immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong, he feels these events are especially important so that we remember the service of both Chinese and Canadian soldiers who served in Asia and in the Battle of Hong Kong.

A poster recalls the Battle of Hong Kong to enlist new recruits to join the Royal Rifles of Canada, based in Quebec City. Source: Canadian Museum of History.

 {module NCM Blurb}

Published in History

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City, with files from Jonathan Hiltz

A proposed plan to track the admission categories of immigrants who respond to Canada’s newly reinstated long-form census could help fill gaps of information about Canada’s newcomers.

Current admission categories refer to programs under which immigrants are granted permanent residency, such as family reunification, refugees and economic classes.

“These admission categories are from IRCC [Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada], and are not well-known by the immigrants themselves, particularly for those who were granted permanent residency decades ago or as children,” explains François Nault, director of the Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division at Statistics Canada.

“It’s very hard to ask on a survey or let alone on a census, ‘Under what admission category were you granted permanent residency in Canada?’” he continues.

Nault says StatsCan is exploring the possibility of linking immigrant respondents to their IRCC admission files, building on work that was done to make these same sorts of connections with the 2011 National Household Survey.

“We have a whole process to put in place and to test, but if all goes well, we're confident about the quality of the data that will become available,” he says.

Improving information sharing

Nault says that knowledge of immigrant respondents’ admission categories not only provides information on how many people are in Canada under each group, but that this information can be used with other census data for policy and program analysis.

“It gives us their level of education, their knowledge of French and English, their employment status, their revenue. So all this information we get in the census, everyone will now be able to analyze according to how immigrants were granted permanent residency in Canada.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"We're confident about the quality of the data that will become available."[/quote]

Researchers and those who provide services to newcomers say they're eager to receive the 2016 census data to fill in the knowledge gap they incurred when the mandatory long-from census was replaced with the voluntary National Household Survey (NHS) in 2010. The Conservative Government said it made the change to protect privacy and reduce penalties for failing to complete the mandatory questionnaire.

Shortly after being elected last year, the Liberal Government announced it would reinstate the mandatory long-form census

“The government is responding to calls from citizens, businesses, municipalities, not-for-profit organizations and researchers for high quality information to support decision making,” says Marc Hamel, director general of the Census Program at Statistics Canada.

The long-form census and the NHS

The elimination of the census was criticized by settlement organizations and researchers, who predicted that immigrants, who typically do not respond to surveys, would not feel obliged to complete the NHS. They were concerned that this would create a gap in knowledge about immigrants and the services they need in some communities.

“We know that people without official languages, the poor and the rich, all had lower response rates for the NHS,” says Dan Hiebert, a professor who studies international migration at the University of British Columbia. Along with language barriers, immigrants may not understand why the information is being collected and how it will be shared. 

According to StatsCan, the 2011 NHS got a response rate of 68.6 per cent, compared to a 94 per cent response rate for the 2006 mandatory census. The Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants said the results, released in 2013, do not reflect a true picture of immigration in Canada. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The elimination of the census was criticized by settlement organizations and researchers, who predicted that immigrants would not feel obliged to complete the NHS.[/quote]

“By implementing the voluntary NHS, the Conservative Government created a gap in our knowledge of what challenges new immigrants face in their economic and social integration,” says Ather Akbari, chair of Atlantic Research Group on Economics of Immigration, Aging and Diversity at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, N.S. 

He adds that the knowledge gap makes it hard to compare information gathered from the NHS to previous census results. 

“My recent research investigates economic integration of immigrants in smaller areas of Canada, such as in Atlantic provinces and urban and rural centres of Atlantic Canada,” he says. “Because the NHS was a voluntary survey and response rates from smaller areas is generally lower, it affects the reliability of results of any evidence-based results focusing on smaller areas."

Filling the knowledge gap

Big cities also rely on census data to track the economic integration of recent immigrants.

Susan Liu Woronko, manager of Employment Services at DIVERSEcity, a non-profit agency servicing culturally diverse communities in Surrey, B.C., says the city is growing at a rate of 1,000 new residents every month, based on the municipality’s past estimates.

“After collection and analysis, the picture could be very different,” she says. “The timeliness, or the lack of, is an issue for a fast-growing city like Surrey.” 

Liu Woronko says she works with local business operators who are looking to tap into the newcomers’ talent pool to solve their skilled-labour shortage. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The timeliness, or the lack of, is an issue for a fast-growing city like Surrey.”[/quote]

“The census data is very important to these employers, as they plan how to market their products and where they may find their next employee,” she says. “This business-intelligence related info is also important for me, so I can best advise newcomers of up-and-coming sectors where opportunities exist.”

Organizations like Liu Woronko's have come to rely on IRCC for more up-to-date immigration data.

“With a real census . . . we [can] now look back and judge the quality of the NHS,” says Hiebert. “Do we throw away those data or are they still useful, and what happened in the past few years?”

StatsCan will send the 2016 census packages to every household starting in May, which can be completed on paper or online. 

{module NCM Blurb} 

Published in Top Stories
Friday, 11 March 2016 11:37

Liberals Seek to Reunite More Families

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City  

In this week’s round-up of what’s been making headlines in Canada’s media: the federal government has a new plan to welcome immigrants that aims to reunite more families; women from ethnic communities in Canada call for a more inclusive International Women’s Day; and Saskatchewan language schools are dealing with a significant cut in provincial funding. 

Family reunification, refugees a focus: McCallum 

Canada will welcome between 280,000 and 305,000 immigrants in 2016, a significant increase from the number admitted in recent years. 

According to Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the 2016 target represents a 7.4 per cent increase in planned admissions compared to 2015. 

As reported in the Indo-Canadian Voice, IRCC said in its Mar. 8 announcement that this plan will emphasize family reunification in order to address the current backlog in processing applications and reunite families more quickly. 

“As we continue to show our global leadership, Canada will reunite families, offer a place of refuge to those fleeing persecution, and support Canada’s long-term economic prosperity,” immigration minister John McCallum is quoted as saying in the Voice. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Conservatives criticized the Liberal plan to cut the number of immigrants accepted under the economic class.[/quote]

2016 will also see an increase in the number of admissions under the Refugees and Protected Persons class to support the Liberal’s plan to resettle Syrian refugees, as well as increase the numbers of refugees accepted from other countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, and Eritrea. 

Migrants without status in Canada have asked the government to grant them the same rights that are given to Syrian refugees and to process their claims for status that they say the previous Conservative government ignored. 

The Conservatives criticized the Liberal plan to cut the number of immigrants accepted under the economic class. 

“It is the responsibility of the federal government to balance the needs of the Canadian economy with our humanitarian responsibilities,” said Michelle Rempel, Opposition Critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, the Voice reported. 

IRCC said the economic class will still make up the majority of immigration admissions in 2016, representing more than half of the total. 

On Mar. 7, Quebec’s provincial government announced its new immigration policy, which also puts an emphasis on matching immigrants to the needs of its labour market. The plan, called “Together, We Are Quebec,” also aims to retain international students and temporary workers. 

Other provinces, like Nova Scotia, are still negotiating with the federal government to gain authority over their immigration targets and say they won’t see changes in their quotas until 2017. 

A more inclusive image of women in Canada 

On Mar. 3, Canadian Immigrant magazine presented its third annual “Immigrant Women of Inspiration,” which focused on the theme of immigrant women in academia for 2016. 

Ananya Mukherjee-Reed, Shalina Ousman, Parin Dossa, Leonie Sandercock and Purnima Tyagi are not only PhDs in various areas of study but “are pushing boundaries in education, in their passionate pursuit of knowledge, ideas and change.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]In Canada, black women and other women of colour find themselves missing not only from movements for gender diversity, but also from seats of power.”[/quote]

Some women say there is a need for more interfaith, intercultural events and dialogue to mark International Women’s Day (IWD) in Canada. 

In a column for CBC Edmonton, Nakita Valerio wrote that rhetoric surrounding IWD does not promote intersectional or inclusive feminism. 

She wrote that debates in Canada around issues concerning ethnic women, such as a Muslim woman’s decision to wear a niqab or a hijab, highlight how the day “accentuates the fact that equality for women in this country is still heavily tied to the individual's background, religious, racial, or otherwise.” 

In the Globe and Mail, Septembre Anderson wrote that the definition of “women” used in IWD discourse does not include women of colour. 

In Canada, black women and other women of colour find themselves missing not only from movements for gender diversity, but also from seats of power.” 

Both columnists pointed out that while 2016 marks 100 years since women in several provinces won the right to vote, Asian and African women in Canada gained this right much later, a struggle which is not described in the commemorative materials. Anderson called on women in power to work with women of colour and use their positions to eradicate discrimination. 

Uncertain future for Saskatchewan language schools 

The Saskatchewan Organization for Heritage Languages (SOHL) says it is disappointed to learn the province's Ministry of Education will stop providing it subsidies to run 80 heritage language schools. SOHL has been receiving provincial subsidies for 25 years and currently teaches over 30 languages. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The organization says the decision is a step in the wrong direction at a time when Canada is accepting many new immigrants and refugees who need welcoming environments.[/quote]

“The schools focus on teaching language and culture to immigrants and refugees, and improving access to indigenous languages,” reports CBC. SOHL's executive director Tamara Ruzic told the Regina Leader-Post that about 10 language schools have opened each year, many teaching Arabic. 

She added that the $225,000 SOHL receives is “peanuts to the government.” 

Minister of Education Don Morgan said that the decision was made for economic reasons, and added that the funding, which amounts to $4.58 per student each month, can be paid by parents. 

“As a result of the announcement by the Ministry of Education, many of these non-profit heritage language schools will be faced with the difficult decision of whether they can continue to operate,” said Girma Sahlu, president of SOHL, in a press release.

The organization says the decision is a step in the wrong direction at a time when Canada is accepting many new immigrants and refugees who need welcoming environments and support in learning languages.

“The heritage language schools contribute to the retention of immigrants in Saskatchewan by helping people to maintain their culture, identity and traditions, while simultaneously learning about Canadian ways of life.”


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Published in Top Stories
Thursday, 03 March 2016 03:23

The Poetry of Generational Difference

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City

Flesh, Tongue, Yaya Yao’s first collection of poetry, brings you to a crossroads where you have a desire for belonging in the place you feel is home, but must first understand why your parents’ own upbringing makes finding acceptance such a struggle.

It is another example of how the need to reconcile with the past is felt across cultures and spans generations.

Yao’s collection recounts her adolescence between paradigms – past and present; tradition and modernity; a new home and the one left behind.

These are the fragmentations many children of immigrant parents experience, especially when they grow up in a culture that is markedly different from the one of their parents.

Yao’s poems, 44 in total, tell of the need for a continuous narrative and context for one’s place in the world. Her words, which sometimes appear scattered on the page and non-linear in form, symbolize this process of tying different histories together.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Knowledge of our past, and the significance it holds for our parents, forces us to embrace and hold on to these fragments of our ancestry as we build our own identities.[/quote]

Language, history, family

Yao dedicated Flesh, Tongue to her father, Eugene Yong-Ging Yao, “who said he never got my poems.”  Still, she made an effort to “get” him and her mother by learning their languages and sharing them in her writing.

Her poetry mixes Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, and Shanghainese – sometimes translating these dialects into English to reveal similarities and contrasts.

To someone unfamiliar with these languages, they demonstrate that one’s identity can be made both richer and more complicated with their knowledge. The harsh-sounding words on the page force us to appreciate the challenges of learning a language that sounds and even feels different on our tongues from the one in which we were raised.

Chinese culture’s emphasis on ancestors and honour also emanates from Yao’s retellings. They express a definition of family that goes beyond a biological, skin-deep bond to something much deeper, embedded in historical psyche.

There is also a reference to the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Knowledge of our past, and the significance it holds for our parents, forces us to embrace and hold on to these fragments of our ancestry as we build our own identities.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Carrying these narratives is both our burden and our blessing.[/quote]

Yao was born and raised in the Parkdale and Little Portugal neighbourhoods of Toronto. These communities are built on many histories that have been uprooted from around the world and will continue to change as new narratives take form.

She tells her story in a unique voice, yet the nostalgia created by her images is a familiar sensation to anyone who has grappled with understanding where they came from and whether they ended up in the right place.

Dundas Street evokes memories

Yao’s “living room over dundas” symbolizes many of the homes immigrants have built for themselves in Canada’s bustling metropolises.

For me, Dundas Street brings back images of my earliest memories, spent with my Iranian grandparents in Dixie, a neighbourhood in southeast Mississauga. I knew at the time that, when we walked outside in one direction, we would arrive at the park where Grandfather would push me on the swing.

When we went in the other direction, we would cross a busy street to get to Chinatown, where I would skip from stone to stone in the pond around the imperially decorated gazebo.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Their children – like Yao, and like me – grew up learning that their paths do not start and stop outside their home, but cross continents and oceans.[/quote]

The street was Dundas, which I now know goes a long way beyond our old neighbourhood and is a meeting place for people from even further away.

The Afghani bakery, the Latino pharmacy, the Indian restaurant – they all hold the histories of many immigrants who came to Canada and undoubtedly struggled to find their footing.

Like my grandparents and parents, they felt the strain of trying to fit the familiar pieces of their ancestral homeland into the strange spaces of a new home, many miles away.

Their children – like Yao, and like me – grew up learning that their paths do not start and stop outside their home, but cross continents and oceans. Carrying these narratives is both our burden and our blessing.

Reflecting on one’s past can induce grieving for what is lost, but also the recognition that there are parts of ourselves we can regain. Yao’s memories – built with colours, feelings and scents – not only tell of desperate times, but also of times when uncertainty was less destabilizing, before it beckoned us to question our place within our families, in society and in history.

“meet your younger

eyes, ones that never

doubt that you, now

are doing what you

came 

to do.”


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

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Books
Wednesday, 24 February 2016 23:36

Overhaul Black History Month, Community Says

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City

In this week’s round-up of what’s been making headlines in Canada’s ethnic media: the Black community reflects on the shortcomings of Black History Month; groups react to the passing of a federal motion denouncing sanctions against Israel; and migrants ask for amnesty after years without status.

Black History Month needs an overhaul, community says

Members of Canada’s Black community say Black History Month fails to educate Canadians about slavery and mobilize them to be more active against discrimination.

At the 15th Black History Month concert in Brampton, Ontario on Feb. 20, Justice Donald McLeod highlighted problems that the Black community faces and needs to address with more vigilance.

As reported by Pride, McLeod noted that Blacks earn approximately 76 cents for every dollar earned by a white worker; that Blacks account for ten per cent of inmates in Canadian prisons but only three per cent of the population; and that Black boys drop out of high school at a rate of 40 per cent.

“We have to do our best to make sure that Black History Month is not just lived out in the 29 days, but it’s actually lived out in the whole year so that our kids will realize that what we expect is that they stand head and shoulders above everybody else,” he said.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It was radical, revolutionary, loud."[/quote]

On Feb. 18, the Government of Ontario passed legislation to formally recognize February as Black History Month. 

“People in our communities have recommended that February be a celebration of ‘Black Liberation’ or ‘African Liberation,’ rather than ‘Black History,’” Toronto Star columnist Desmond Cole wrote on the same day.

Black History Month doesn’t acknowledge how Black people escaping slavery in the United States faced racism in Canada and how the community continues to experience discrimination, Cole noted.

“There’s a tendency to focus on the quiet resilience of Dr. Martin Luther King and others like him, but the struggles of Civil Rights activists were not quiet,” said George Randolph, founder of Randolph Academy of the Performing Arts

“It was radical, revolutionary, loud — those are the voices I’d like to see us focus more on.” 

Randolph is one of three Black artists who shared their impressions of Black History Month with the Caribbean Camera.

Liberals criticized for condemning Israel sanctions movement

Canada’s Liberal Party is garnering praise as well as criticism for supporting a Conservative motion to condemn the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

As the Canadian Jewish News reports, the motion passed on Feb. 22 by a 229–51 vote. The New Democratic Party voted against the motion, as did the Bloc Québécois and three Liberal Members of Parliament (MPs). Several Liberal MPs did not vote.

The BDS movement is a global campaign that seeks boycotts, divestment and sanctions against “Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights.”

According to the Conservative motion, BDS “promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The New Democratic Party voted against the motion, as did the Bloc Québécois.[/quote]

“BDS is a non-violent campaign that supports proven methods of conscientious objection to encourage Israel to respect international law,” wrote the National Council on Canada Arab Relations (NCCAR) in a press release following the vote. It notes that Canadians have supported past BDS movements, notably against South African apartheid. 

“At its core, the vote on the anti-BDS motion would go against the spirit of Freedom of Speech, a right enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” stated the NCCAR.

Palestine News Network reported that, on the same day of the vote, members of the Student Society of McGill University, “which has one of the highest Jewish populations of any university in Canada,” passed a motion in support of BDS. 

The motion asks McGill University to divest from “profiting from violations of Palestinian human rights.” According to the Montreal Gazette, McGill administration said that the motion does not oblige the university to change its policies.

Members of the McGill BDS Action Network told the Gazette that the vote demonstrates that the students do not agree with the government’s stance.

Migrants demand same amnesty given to Syrian refugees

As the Trudeau government reaches its goal of welcoming 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada this week, some are calling on the government to extend the same amnesty to migrants who have been without status in Canada for years.

In an open letter published in Canadian Immigrant, Odhiambo Agunga commended the government for its compassion towards Syrian refugees, but noted that other refugees like himself have been struggling to get by without status, their claims “either forgotten or ignored.” 

The letter blames much of the backlog on the former Conservative government, who Agunga said reduced refugees to second-class humans.

In another op-ed published in the Toronto Star, two psychiatrists called on the government to stop detaining migrants without charges. 

“At a time when Canadians have opened up their arms to support and protect Syrian families, we cannot ignore the practices that are taking place behind closed bars, out of sight of the generous welcomes and flashing cameras,” wrote Dr. Michaela Beder and Dr. Rachel Kronick.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Agunga says migrant claims have largely been “either forgotten or ignored.”[/quote]

They said that detention for administrative purposes can lead adults to develop psychiatric problems such depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

“We have watched previously healthy children deteriorate: in one study, most children had trouble sleeping, some stopped speaking, many wouldn’t eat, others developed behavioural problems, separation anxiety and exhibited signs of trauma,” they wrote.

Agunga pointed out that getting medical treatment without status is expensive: “No hospital or any medical institution in Canada will admit us as patients without down payment even if we are sick and dying yet we all pay taxes which covers these health care services.” 

The Liberal government announced on Feb. 18 that it would restore health-care coverage for all refugees and asylum claimants to pre-2012 levels in April, as reported by the Toronto Star

Agunga wrote that migrants also need to be given amnesty to go to school, obtain driver’s licenses, get credit cards, vote “and more so to be able to reunite with our beloved families scattered all over the world.”

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Top Stories
Friday, 29 January 2016 23:03

Yes, Let’s ALL Talk About Mental Health

Commentary by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City

“I guess you have to be white to have a mental illness,” my mom said. 

I looked up from my laptop to see a promo on CTV News Channel for Bell’s Let’s Talk day on January 27. 

Indeed, there were no visible minorities in the newsreel – a representation that is far from the reality of Canada’s diversity, and the reality of mental illness. 

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) defines mental illness as “a wide range of disorders that affect mood, thinking and behaviour.” Depression, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and addictions are all examples of mental illnesses. 

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), 20 per cent of Canadians will have a mental illness at some point in their lives. Mental illness affects all Canadians indirectly through family, friends or colleagues. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Some languages do not even have words for the types of mental illnesses that are commonly diagnosed in the West.[/quote]

Genetic, biological, personality and environmental factors can interact to cause mental illnesses, meaning they can affect Canadians of all ages, backgrounds, and education and income levels. Like other health problems, early and effective diagnosis of mental illness is key to its treatment. 

That’s why talking about mental health in a way that is open and accepting is so important – and why immigrants can be at higher risk of not being treated. 

More education, accessible services are imperative

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) in 2011 found that while rates of depression and other disorders were lower for new immigrants than the general population, they rose over time.

Language and cultural differences can create barriers to seeking help. Some immigrants distrust mental health services because they have never had experience with them in their country of origin and are not accustomed to speaking openly about mental health issues. Some languages do not even have words for the types of mental illnesses that are commonly diagnosed in the West.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Immigrants are less than half as likely to get professional help for depression compared to self-identified Canadians.”[/quote]

A study by University of Toronto researcher Tahany Gadalla found “immigrants are less than half as likely to get professional help for depression compared to self-identified Canadians.” Gadalla said there are not enough programs geared towards educating people from different cultures about mental health issues.

Migration and resettlement can also create environmental stressors that contribute to mental health problems. Social and economic strain, social alienation, and discrimination are a few examples of these stressors. Refugees are at higher risk than the general population of developing specific psychiatric disorders as a result of exposure to war, violence, torture and forced migration. 

Many of the Syrian refugees who are now arriving in Canada have experienced these types of traumas. 

The CMAJ study states “immigrants and refugees are less likely than their Canadian-born counterparts to seek out or be referred to mental health services, even when they experience comparable levels of distress.” 

This makes it imperative for Canada to prepare accessible services to support refugees as well as educate them about the importance of seeking help.

All Canadians must be a part of the conversation 

CAMH provides resources in languages other than English, and put together a video for Let’s Talk Day that features a truer representation of the Canadians affected by mental illness than the Bell Let’s Talk promo I saw. 

Across Boundaries is one of several mental health organizations that support people from ethno-racial communities in Toronto. It shows that there are discussions taking place within newcomer communities, but for some reason these aren’t portrayed in the broader national conversation. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]For a large portion of Canadians, star power and re-tweets will not change their perception that mental illness is a problem they cannot experience, talk about or seek help to treat.[/quote]

I noticed that the Let’s Talk website features the profile of Rwanda native Michel Mpambara, though he appears more prominently in the French-language campaign, presumably because he is a resident of Quebec. 

Each January since 2010, on Let’s Talk Day, five cents for every call and text message sent on Bell's network, as well as every Facebook share promoting the campaign, and every tweet using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, is pledged towards mental health initiatives in Canada.

This year’s campaign raised over $6 million, which will be donated to research programs and organizations through Bell’s Community Fund. 

Despite being accused of glossing over the real obstacles to mental health strategies and failing to support its own employees’ mental health, Bell’s campaign gains popularity each year. 

Everyone from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to American talk show host Ellen Degeneres took part in Bell Let’s Talk this year. 

People in the CAMH video acknowledge that simply seeing the words “let’s talk” sends a powerful message about starting a discussion on mental illness. 

Let’s Talk has the backing of six-time Olympic medalist Clara Hughes, who acts as the campaign’s spokesperson, as well as comedian Mary Walsh, TV personality Howie Mandel, and singer Serena Ryder. As a social media campaign, it is especially relevant among youth, 10 to 20 per cent of whom are affected by mental illness. 

But for a large portion of Canadians, star power and re-tweets will not change their perception that mental illness is a problem they cannot experience, talk about or seek help to treat. 

We all need to take responsibility for our mental health – families, schools, employers, governments and media. Television, radio, newspapers, and now the Internet have the power to shape our perceptions of what is normal. A news agency has the added duty to represent the truth. 

As one of Canada’s largest telecommunication companies, taking on the responsibility of leading a discussion about mental illness requires Bell to speak to all Canadians in order to make the most impact. 


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

{module NCM Blurb} 

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