Friday, 18 December 2015 20:01

It's Not Only Syrians Who Need Our Help

Commentary by Debbie Douglas in Toronto

The image of our new Prime Minister, in shirtsleeves greeting the first Syrian refugees airlifted from Beirut to Pearson International airport in Toronto was splashed across various media platforms from coast to coast to coast in Canada and across the globe.

Accompanied by Ontario’s Premier and Toronto’s Mayor, the Prime Minister made a speech rich with the language of diversity and inclusion. The consensus is that his remarks captured the spirit of generosity that we’ve seen and heard expressed by so many residents here in Ontario and across the country.

Over this past weekend as we discussed the Syrian refugees' arrival in Canada and the increasing numbers of refugees and internally displaced people in countries at war, one daughter said (of the Syrian airlifts), “Canada is reclaiming its trademark as a place of refuge for the world’s most vulnerable.”

I enthusiastically agreed, remembering that just a year ago, the tone was very different in our discussion of whether Canada would respond to the call of UNHCR for the developed world to respond generously to the Syrian crisis. But in the back of my mind was the niggling question, will Canada respond in similar ways when the refugees are Africans?

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][W]ill Canada respond in similar ways when the refugees are Africans?[/quote]

It is a question that I’ve been asked from time to time over the past few weeks as media became saturated with news of the resettlement plans for Syrians from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey – what about the South Sudanese escaping murder and rape who are also camped out outside the offices of the UNHCR in Amman (Jordan)? The Somalis who have spent more than a generation in refugee camps in Kenya? Eritreans?

Or the developing crisis in Burundi* where young men and women are being slaughtered as the country devolves into violent chaos (*as of this writing the federal government has issued travel advisories against visiting Burundi and is urging all Canadians currently in the country to leave while commercial flights are still operating. The USA government has also pulled out its entire non-essential diplomatic staff).

Creating tiers of refugees

These questions are posed not to deflect attention away from the ongoing resettlement efforts on behalf of Syrians as we work to meet our government’s stated target of 25,000 government assisted refugees by the end of 2016, in addition to at least 10,000 privately sponsored, but instead to remind us as a country that there are others who deserve our attention and the same generosity we’ve extended to our new residents from the middle-east country.

It is a caution that we do not fall into the trap of creating tiers of refugees, those that are deserving and those that are not.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It is a caution that we do not fall into the trap of creating tiers of refugees, those that are deserving and those that are not.[/quote]

Over the past weeks as I’ve worked with various planning groups, I’ve cringed at times at language and ideas put forward about Syrian refugees and those wanting to support them.

There is a classist framing that has emerged both in discussions about Syrians themselves and those who have come forward to sponsor them. It is an elitism that has no place in Canada’s refugee system and which I believe can be detrimental to other efforts as we move to harness and sustain Canadians' renewed sense of responsibility for those needing refuge and asylum.

The most egregious statement I probably heard and which surprised me given the speaker’s role in the Syrian refugee resettlement efforts, occurred at a planning meeting of government, public institutions, immigrant and refugee serving sector representatives and those representing private sponsors.

In a discussion of the various initiatives undertaken by regular Torontonians including clothing drives, this individual with great authority said to the group, “Syrians are middle and upper class. Unlike Africans, they would not want second hand clothes.”

I came back with a clever repartee about donated clothes being sold in the markets of west Africa as ‘dead white men’s clothes’, but was very much taken aback by the casual racism, what my children’s generation call ‘micro-aggressions’.

It is these beliefs of those from Africa being less deserving, not as desirable, not as adaptable that drives public opinion and allows us to remain silent in the face of atrocities against very many African peoples. Another thought also crossed my mind as I reflected on this exchange later in the day. Would anyone else around the table have said anything or even acknowledged this comment as inherently racist, if I had remained silent?

As we do the important work of welcoming more Syrians and ensuring that they have the services and programs to facilitate their successful settlement, integration and inclusion, let us remember that there are other populations also needing refuge – individuals and families from sub-Saharan Africa who continue to die in the crossing of the Mediterranean as they attempt to reach safety and freedom. They too deserve our compassion and generosity.

Much work to be done in 2016

We end the year in a very different place from where we started.

There is a sense of optimism in the air as we prepare to work with this new government that has given every indication that it will reverse the draconian immigration and refugee policies enacted by the previous federal government.

There is a sense that civil society and the important role that we play in shaping public policy is once again respected and appreciated. This is a good thing as there is much work to be done.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Maybe it is time for a complete review and revision of our Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.[/quote]

On the refugee front, the government has made some good policy decisions in waiving the transportation loan and extending type one Interim Federal Health coverage to all Syrian refugees who arrive post Nov. 4, regardless of sponsorship. A goodwill act for the New Year will be the extension of this access to all refugees.

Given the extensive mandate letter of the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, maybe it is time for a complete review and revision of our Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). It is certainly a conversation we should be having as a sector.

The Syrian resettlement initiative raised the issue of affordable housing and has focused attention on the critical need for a national housing strategy.

As well, we need to look at introducing policy that will incentivize employers to hire new immigrants and refugees. The province must reopen the discussion on employment equity-like policy which will also include an immigrant/refugee lens.

Refugees to Ontario are immediately eligible for OHIP services. Let’s extend that to all new immigrants as well and forever retire the three month wait period. We must continue to review and make substantive changes to our child protection services and the relationship they have with racialized (including immigrant and refugee) communities.

We have much work to be done, but what a difference a year makes, as we prepare to work with the federal and provincial governments in the spirit of partnership and collegiality. Happy New Year indeed!


Debbie Douglas is Executive Director of OCASI - Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, the umbrella organization for immigrant and refugee-serving agencies in Ontario. OCASI has 231 member agencies across the province.

This article was first published in the OCASI newsletter In The Field. It was republished with permission. 

Published in Commentary
Thursday, 10 December 2015 14:10

Research Watch #8: The Same Canada?

by Priya Ramanujam in Scarborough

Members of visible-minority groups have a stronger sense of loyalty to federal government than provincial government, reports a new study from the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP).

This is particularly true of first-generation Canadians, say researchers Antoine Bilodeau, Luc Turgeon, Stephen E. White and Ailsa Henderson in Seeing the Same Canada? Visible Minorities’ Views of the Federation.

The study focuses on both first- and second-generation visible minorities living in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec, posing two questions:

a) Do visible minorities hold similar views to other Canadians with regard to Canada, its institutions and its national policies?

b) Are there differences between visible minorities who immigrated to Canada and those born in Canada?

The answer: across all four provinces, visible minorities – especially those born abroad – express a higher level of confidence in the House of Commons. The level of engagement seen in this fall’s federal election from new immigrant communities as voters, candidates and elected members of Parliament is evidence of this.

In B.C. and Alberta, second-generation visible minorities tend to become more involved provincially with time, while in Ontario – where the study states political views tend to be more federally oriented – visible minorities regardless of generation are engaged at both the national and regional level.

However, in Quebec, where there is no provincial policy on multiculturalism, both first and successive generations of visible-minority groups face difficulty integrating into regional politics.

The authors suggest this points to the possibility of growing tensions between majority and minority groups in Quebec, as they “do not appear to be marching in sync when it comes to their understanding of the federation and identification with Quebec and Canada.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Somali parents raising a child living with autism in Toronto face significant barriers accessing support systems.[/quote]

Somali parents of children with autism experience barriers to support

Somali parents raising a child living with autism in Toronto face significant barriers accessing support systems, particularly as a result of language barriers.

This was one of the main findings of a qualitative, cross-national analysis recently released by Pathways to Prosperity looking at the experiences of Somali parents raising children with and without autism in Toronto and Minneapolis.

“I know over 100 parents myself who have a child with autism,” said one father in the study. “Most of them do not get support from anywhere. Many are single mothers who don’t drive or speak English.”

For Faduma Mohamed, a 22-year-old Toronto-based spoken-word artist of Somali heritage, this experience is all too familiar. Her 18-year-old brother Bilal lives with autism.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We need policies that facilitate [migrant workers’] transition, rather than complicate it."[/quote]

“There was no treatment offered, no therapies, no extracurricular activities because of a classist system,” Mohamed shares. “The people who know English, the people who have the money, the people who know how to get the resources will get the resources.”

Researchers Melissa Fellin, Victoria Esses and Gillian King also indicate in the study a stigma associated with autism within the Somali community that often prevents parents from speaking about their challenges.

“It’s scary for some parents because we’re all caught up in the definition of normal; when our child falls out of the realm of normal in our culture, we immediately ‘other’ that person,” explains Mohamed.

Despite this stigma, the Pathways study found that there are Somali parents coming together in both cities to advocate for their children and policy changes at their local school boards and in health care.

It’s the type of change Mohamed is hoping for.

Through a 132-day autism awareness campaign (paired with the hashtag #OughtTheBox) she is carrying a large plastic bin – one of the props from her upcoming stage play Oughtism – everywhere she goes.

Why? The first time she brought the box on a bus, people were surprisingly kind – offering her a seat or to help carry it – despite how much room it took up.

The experience was vastly different from people “staring, cutting their eye or grumbling under their breath” when her brother has meltdowns in public.

“I thought it was funny,” she says. “People could help me more with a box than they could with a human being.”

Complex issues for migrant workers seeking permanent residency

Migrant workers pursuing permanent resident (PR) status in Canada should be considered “transitional” as opposed to “temporary,” according to recommendations put forth in a recent study released by the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP).

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"How can you properly pay for a family if you’re being paid low wage?”[/quote]

“We need policies that facilitate [migrant workers’] transition, rather than complicate it, as is now the case,” state authors Delphine Nakache and Leanne Dixon-Perera in Temporary or Transitional? Migrant Workers’ Experiences with Permanent Residence in Canada.

The study gathered qualitative evidence from 99 participants ranging from migrant workers who became permanent residents to nongovernmental organizations, and focused on factors leading to migrant workers seeking permanent residency, challenges faced during this transition and implications of the two-step migration (temporary to permanent) for settlement.

Based on the experiences put forth by respondents, the study makes several policy recommendations, including eliminating the 4-in, 4-out rule – which allows employers to constantly replace workers – implementing the right for migrants working in low-skilled positions to have their family accompany them to Canada, and offering free language training and more settlement services to transitional migrant workers.

Aimee Bebosa, chair of the Ottawa-based Philippine Migrants Society of Canada, says that while these recommendations are a good start, more must be considered when implementing.

“For example, how can you properly pay for a family if you’re being paid low wage?” she asks. “They have to consider also properly remunerating workers so they can support their families.”

The IRPP study also recommends reconsidering both employer-driven immigration contingent on full-time permanent job offers and employer-specific or “tied” work permits to reduce barriers to transitional workers successfully receiving PR status.

Authors Nakache and Dixon-Perera make note that the study’s findings confirm the complexity of navigating multiple ever-changing immigration programs and policies at both the federal and provincial level.

“We are not suggesting that there is an easy fix,” they write.


Research Watch is a regular column on NewCanadianMedia.ca that looks at recently released and emerging research relating to immigration, settlement, immigrant/ethno-cultural communities and multiculturalism. Researchers or organizations releasing studies we should consider are encouraged to write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Published in Policy
Wednesday, 14 October 2015 18:08

#Elxn42 Sparks Hope for Somali Canadians

by Aziza Hirsi in Toronto

The 2015 federal elections is a milestone for Somali Canadians as it marks a significant increase in their level of political engagement.

Canada’s Somali community began to grow in size after civil war broke out in Somalia in the 1990s. Today, Somali Canadians represent the largest African diaspora community in Canada and one of the largest Somali populations in the western world.

It is estimated that around 140,000 Somalis live in Toronto, followed by 20,000 in Ottawa, and 18,000 in Edmonton. Other Somali communities can be found in Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg and Windsor.

A watershed moment

In this election all three candidates of Somali heritage – spread equally among the three leading parties – are from Ontario, the province with the largest concentration of Somali Canadians.

Faisal Hassan, running in the Toronto riding of Etobicoke North for the New Democratic Party (NDP), sees this election as a watershed moment for the community.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It allows the community’s diverse views and perspectives to emerge along with encouraging civic participation and making sure that they get involved and vote.”[/quote]

“It allows the community’s diverse views and perspectives to emerge along with encouraging civic participation and making sure that they get involved and vote,” says Hassan. “I think it's good democracy.”

But he says there is still more to be done. “All three candidates are male. I think we should also have female candidates to effectively represent our community.”

While his Somali heritage is important to him, Hassan says he is also running to promote economic and social reforms for all Canadians.

“There are many issues that obligate me to get involved. My community in Etobicoke North has been ignored for over 35 years. We have the highest unemployment. And when adults get work, they are working part time.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The Somali community is the first Black diaspora community that is not English speaking and who also happen to be Muslim – the majority of them.”[/quote]

Ahmed Hussen, contesting in the Toronto riding of York South-Weston for the Liberal party, says a concern for similar issues made him jump into the fray.

“I have a desire to improve the community of York South-Weston,” states Hussen. “To make sure folks get the same opportunities I had growing up, that people enjoy a better standard of living.”

Hussen, a lawyer by profession, is associated with the Canadian Somali Congress and an advocate for affordable housing. He says he was attracted to the Liberal party’s platform of investing in communities and not cutting services.

“People need jobs now,” says Hussen. “There’s a higher level of unemployment in York South-Weston [and] it’s slightly higher than the national average. In the case of young people, it’s even higher than the normal average for adults. The Conservatives have really destroyed the economy over the last nine years.”

Employment crisis

The rising costs of living, coupled with limited employment, have had an adverse impact on the Somali community. It experiences significant levels of poverty because of barriers faced in obtaining employment.

“If you look within the community, it is difficult for Somali women to find work as personal support workers or even as hotel cleaners because of the sheer fact of being Muslim and Black,” says Hodan Ahmed, a master’s student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. “The Somali community is the first Black diaspora community that is not English speaking and who also happen to be Muslim – the majority of them.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“There is a multilayered intersectionality that comes into play … and employment has been and is to this day, a crisis within the Somali community.”[/quote]

Ahmed contends that these barriers have significantly limited the Somali community. “There is a multilayered intersectionality that comes into play … and employment has been and is to this day, a crisis within the Somali community.”

But Hussen is optimistic that things will change for all Canadian families and the economy will improve.

“The main thing the Liberal Party is going to do is invest in infrastructure,” he explains. “It will create a lot of jobs and stimulate the economy as a lot of money will be pumped into it.”

Harmful government policy

Recent policy reforms such as Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, which allows the government to strip dual nationals of their Canadian citizenship, have also been a cause for concern for members of the Somali community.

Hussen condemns the harmful effects of Bill C-24.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Recent policy reforms such as Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, have also been a cause for concern for members of the Somali community.[/quote]

“[The Liberal party] has been very clear that if we are elected we will repeal Bill C-24 because we don’t agree with creating different classes of citizenship. We believe a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian!”

Hassan is particularly critical of changes to the Citizenship Act that put dual citizens at greater risk of losing their Canadian citizenship.

“I … believe that a minister or an elected official revoking citizenship is wrong. It should not be [a] minister who does that.”

Hassan also criticizes the Anti-Terrorism Act.

“Bill C-51 is a bill that violates our privacy and individual rights and freedoms. We, the NDP voted against it … and we are the only party that is committed to appealing it.”

Hussen notes that while the Liberal party agrees with some aspects of C-51, such as allowing for information sharing between security agencies, it definitely does not support it entirely.

“[T]he larger parts of the bill that are problematic for civil liberties will be repealed by a Liberal government,” he says.

Conservative platform

Attempts to get the views of Conservative party candidate Abdul Abdi for this article proved unsuccessful.

A city of Ottawa police officer, Abdi is contesting from Ottawa West-Nepean, a riding once held by former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

Abdi’s website says his priorities for the riding are to “stand up in Parliament for seniors, support the families who call this riding home, and ensure that our community remains a safe and secure place to live.”


Journalist Ranjit Bhaskar mentored the writer of this article, through the New Canadian Media mentorship program.

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Published in Politics

by Peter Uduehi (@kogibobo) in Toronto

From the fight against radicalization and professional roadblocks to the question of whether a Black police chief would have any impact in Toronto, here are some recent headlines in the African-Canadian diaspora media.                             

Radicals Have No Chance With Our Youth: Toronto's Somali Community

Somalis in Toronto are not taking chances. Neither will they take a wait-and-see approach.

Tired of reports of how Jihadist terrorists have successfully recruited African youths in the U.S. state of Minnesota, Kenya and several European countries, community activist Jibril Muhammed told the African World News, “We cannot pretend that our children in Canada could not be influenced by these crazy people who call themselves Muslims. We are aware of how terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab and ISIS have poisoned the minds of innocent Somali and other African youths everywhere they can find them.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Canada has been good to us and any terrorist trying to harm this country has no chance to use our kids against it.” - Mohammed Abdi, community activist[/quote]

Muhammed, who is also a former coordinator of many Somali community groups, said several organizations and individuals in the Somali community are working with the RCMP, the police and their parliamentarians in the Toronto area. “We have to protect our children against these bad eggs,” he says.

Another community activist, Mohammed Abdi, concurs. “Canada has been good to us and any terrorist trying to harm this country has no chance to use our kids against it. On my part, I am constantly educating my teenage children about what is the right Islam,” he explains. “I tell them always that the ISIS and Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab people they see on television are practising the wrong Islam.”

Will a Black Police Chief Really Make a Difference?

Writing in Pride News Magazine, educator and community organizer Ajamu Nangwaya says that simply having a Black police chief at the helm in Toronto is no cure for the poor relations between the force and the city’s African-Canadian community.

The organizer with the Toronto-based Network for the Elimination of Police Violence argues it’s like saying that the soured relations between American Blacks and the police would improve just because a Black president, Barack Obama, was elected the president of the United States.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“For a sobering dose of reality about race, class and policing, we may look at the behaviour of the police in major American cities that have or had African-American police chiefs or at police violence in global South countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, Haiti, Kenya and Jamaica.” - Ajamu Nangwaya, educator and community organizer[/quote] 

He adds: “For a sobering dose of reality about race, class and policing, we may look at the behaviour of the police in major American cities that have or had African-American police chiefs or at police violence in global South countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, Haiti, Kenya and Jamaica,” stressing that police-versus-society issues are institutionalized matters. 

Taking a swipe at those who are now calling for either deputy chiefs Peter Sloly (pictured to the left) and Mark Saunders (two African-Canadians in the Toronto Police Service) to replace the outgoing chief,  Nangwaya doubts that any police office that has successfully gone up the ladder would not belong to the same systemic ideology from which they emerged. “To what extent are we realistically expecting an African-Canadian police chief to be more committed to fighting institutional racism than a white one? Deputy Chiefs Peter Sloly and Mark Saunders have not made it this far up the organizational ladder, because of their tendency to ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,’” he writes. 

Why African Professionals Make Career Advancements Later in Canada

Many new African immigrants to Canada are often surprised to find themselves shut out of jobs in their professional disciplines.

So, not surprisingly, many African graduate and post-graduate degree holders end up driving taxis or taking menial jobs to make a living. The question is, why do newly arrived African professional immigrants to Canada make inroads to their chosen professions late?

Dr. Adeleye King (pictured to right), executive director of the Canadian Institute of Leadership and Development (Africa), told African World News the reasons are both professionally demanding and personal. He says when African professionals first come to the country as immigrants, they are shocked to learn that they must do more learning in their fields, “because Canada requires a different level of certification and designation from the ones in Africa.”

“Certain professions like engineering, for example, require a designation before you can be accepted for work as an engineer. It’s different in Africa where you are required only to be certified,” King explains. “[T]he same applies to other professions.”

King says that personal issues also prevent African professionals from making quick inroads into the Canadian marketplace. One issue is that many don’t do enough research about Canada before coming into the country. “If they did,” he says, “they would know exactly the type of skills needed to survive with their professional know-how.” He says it’s important to plan ahead before immigrating and, once here, “never lose concentration of why [you] are here, don’t straddle your life between here and the one you just left.”                                                                                                                            

Education Funding Cut May Negatively Impact African Nova Scotians

Recent cuts in funding to the Council on African Canadian Education (CACE) by Nova Scotia’s ministry of education may severely affect learning standards for Africans in the province, says the organization’s chairwoman Alma Johnston-Tynes.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The lack of staff and resources will have a detrimental impact on CACE’s ability to identify and meet the needs of African Nova Scotian learners.” - Alma Johnston-Tynes, Council on African Canadian Education[/quote]

“The lack of staff and resources will have a detrimental impact on CACE’s ability to identify and meet the needs of African Nova Scotian learners and to fulfil its mandate under the Education Act, which is to monitor and continually analyze the policies of the Department of Education with respect to the needs of Black learners,” she said in a statement reported by the African Nova Scotian News.

The axe comes as education minister Karen Casey (pictured to left) announced that staff funding to CACE will no longer continue because of an audit that, “raised questions about the body’s governance and financial situation.” Casey described the findings as “very troubling.”

CACE was set up in 1996, after race riots in 1989, and following findings that not enough attention was being paid to improving standards for African and Black school children in the province. The council’s focus was to advise the education ministry on how to improve learning in African Nova Scotian communities, after a recent statistic showing that while reading comprehension test scores for third-graders in the Halifax regional school board was 70 per cent, it was particularly lower for African students at 54 per cent.

Immigrants Change Diet After Arriving in Canada

report by Statistics Canada cites studies that show immigrants who change their traditional diet after arriving in Canada tend to become less healthy later. Overall, the studies show, newly arrived immigrants to Canada had lower mortality rates than the Canadian-born, and also reported lower levels of fair or poor health. Those mortality rates tended to rise, the further removed immigrants were from their arrival in Canada, as did the reported levels of fair or poor health. 

Tanzanian-born Toronto resident Dr. Wasira Bokore, a family physician, told African World News that generally the African immigrant succumbs to, “a new environment where time is limited for cooking your meals and begins to adopt new eating habits, eating burgers, fast foods and fatty foods and these things are not good for your health.” She adds that matters are made worse when, “an exercise regimen is absent in one’s daily existence.”


Peter Uduehi is a journalist and publisher of the African World News in Toronto.

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Published in Africa
Saturday, 01 November 2014 21:07

Ontario's Teaching Diversity Gap

By Tana Turner (@DiversityMusing) in Toronto

This year is the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, that desegregated American public schools. To mark this anniversary, Americans are reflecting on the progress that has been made for Black students since that time. This anniversary has also focused attention on the Teacher Diversity Gap and the need for more racialized teachers.

This year is also the 50th anniversary of a similar milestone in Ontario. In 1964, Leonard Braithwaite, Ontario's first Black MPP, led the repeal of the 114-year-old provision of the Separate Schools Act that allowed for segregated schools for racialized students. Unfortunately this milestone has gone largely unnoticed in Ontario.

The benefit to students of closing the gap was evident in the wake of the shooting death of Abshir Hassan, a supply teacher with the Toronto District School Board. News reports quote administrators, students and parents calling Hassan a "good" man and "beloved" teacher. They noted that he was able to connect with students in the priority neighbourhood in which he worked largely because he was from the community and of the same ethno-racial background as many of the students.  Students felt that he was committed to their success and understood the challenges they face growing up Black and Somali in Toronto.

The provincial government's 2009 Equity and Inclusive Education policy recognizes the need for greater diversity among teachers. It requires that school boards "implement positive employment practices that support equitable hiring, mentoring, retention, promotion, and succession planning." However, while the policy notes that board staff "should reflect the diversity within the community," there is no requirement that boards collect data, analyze the diversity gap or implement efforts to close the gap.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The gap could get worse as the population becomes more diverse. While we currently face a large Teacher Diversity Gap, the province is rapidly becoming more diverse.[/quote]

So, how well are Ontario schools doing to reflect the increasing diversity of the student population? And, how does the Teacher Diversity Gap compare to the United States?

Reflecting diversity

To answer these questions we have calculated the Teacher Diversity Gap for Ontario and the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA), and compared these to the gap for the United States overall and for a number of states. The Teacher Diversity Gap is the comparison of the percentage of racialized teachers to the percentage of racialized students. A value of 1.0 indicates that there is no gap and that the diversity among the teaching population reflects the diversity among the student population. The smaller the number, the more significant the gap.

The challenge in conducting this analysis is that while data is available for the United States, the same data is not readily available in Canada. For the United States, teacher and student demographics are available by state and race. While there is data on the number of teachers in Ontario and the Toronto CMA, the figures include all teachers, including those working in private schools. The data on the number of racialized students is not readily available, so the proportion of racial minorities in the total population is used instead.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Students felt that Abshir Hassan was committed to their success and understood the challenges they face growing up Black and Somali in Toronto.[/quote]

The chart shows the Teacher Diversity Gap for Ontario and the Toronto CMA, and compares it to the gap for the United States and specific states.

The data shows that:

  • The demographic divide between teachers and students in Ontario and the Toronto CMA is large. In Ontario, racial minorities represent 26% of the population, yet make up only 10% of the 70,520 secondary school teachers and 9% of the 117,905 elementary school and kindergarten teachers. In the Toronto CMA, racial minorities represent 47% of the population, yet make up 20% of secondary school teachers and 18% of elementary school and kindergarten teachers.
  • The Teacher Diversity Gap is worse for Ontario and the Toronto CMA than for the United States overall. While Ontario and the Toronto CMA are doing a slightly better job of reflecting the diversity of the student population than states such as Ohio, we are also doing worse than other states, including New York, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. The Teacher Diversity Gap for the United States as a whole is slightly smaller than the gap for Ontario and the Toronto CMA.
  • The Teacher Diversity Gap is no better for the Toronto CMA than it is for Ontario. The Teacher Diversity Gap in the Toronto CMA is .40, while the gap for Ontario is .38. This means that the demographic divide between teachers and students is just about the same for students in the Toronto CMA as it is for students in the rest of the province.
  • The gap could get worse as the population becomes more diverse. While we currently face a large Teacher Diversity Gap, the province is rapidly becoming more diverse. Statistics Canada data shows that racial minorities currently represent 26% of the Ontario population and 47% of the Toronto CMA population. Statistics Canada projects that by 2031 racial minorities could make up 63% of the Toronto CMA population. As such, without significant changes to the composition of the teaching population, the Teacher Diversity Gap may widen.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]In the Toronto CMA, racial minorities represent 47% of the population, yet make up 20% of secondary school teachers and 18% of elementary school and kindergarten teachers.[/quote]

There are many reasons to close the Teacher Diversity Gap and a lot of evidence that shows that racialized students do better academically with racialized teachers. There are also many policy options to close the demographic divide that exists in Ontario schools. Given this, why aren't the province and the school boards doing more to bring more racialized teachers into the classroom?

Tana Turner is Principal of Turner Consulting Group Inc., an equity, diversity and inclusion consultancy firm in Toronto.

Published in Commentary

by Amira Elghawaby

The country’s largest and most diverse school board was in the spotlight earlier this month for all the wrong reasons. 

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB)’s plan to help Somali-Canadian youth better succeed in school erupted in controversy when a segment of the community denounced their efforts.

“Our children are born and raised in Canada; we don’t need a special brand of education,” argued one parent. “We don’t need more labelling and separation; we’ve had enough already.” 

A task force consulted with hundreds of people within the Somali-Canadian community to come up with a list of comprehensive strategies aimed at stemming a significant dropout rate, quelling the high number of expulsions, and encouraging the pursuit of higher education. Despite the stated intentions, those protesting the plan expressed fears that it would further marginalize their children.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Their concerns, though overstated, are justified: Stigmatization and racism are real.[/quote]

Racism in schools

“For racialized groups, the negative effect of systemic racism continues to erect barriers to the full realization of their potential for success,” reads a 2010 TDSB draft report. “The lowest achieving demographic groups of students in our schools are students of Aboriginal and African background. Students from these groups arguably experience the effects of racism to a greater degree than any other group.”

Nevertheless, heightened sensitivity about stigmatization cannot block real attempts at fostering welcoming, culturally sensitive, and inclusive school environments.

The reality is that marginalization and poor performance exist within various cultural communities – not just within the Somali-Canadian community. Prior to this task force, a similar action plan was implemented to help Portuguese-Canadian youth who also experience high dropout rates and struggle to complete high school. The board held a Portuguese Heritage Month to recognize culture and language and to foster student pride. And previously, the board had approved the creation of an Africentric school, recently expanded to grade eight. It also runs an Aboriginal Education Centre.

It is this dogged promotion of cultural pride and recognition that has garnered accolades from as far away as Germany.

As researchers at Dalhousie University confirmed in one of the few studies on the issue, recognizing and validating the cultural backgrounds and experiences of visible minority youth increases their attachments to school. Schools need “to see themselves as important to creating cultural continuity for higher risk youth and to creating bridges for youth to participate in activities that bring them recognition from their communities,” wrote Michael Ungar and Linda Liebenberg in a 2013 scholarly article for School Psychology International.

Creating space where students can thrive is also about promoting a culture of understanding and empathy. As Kimberley Tavares, who recently completed a PhD in Education, told CBC Radio’s Matt Galloway, teachers of all backgrounds need to be sensitive to the needs of all learners. That includes teaching children themselves to be “culturally bilingual.” 

“When you are coming from cultures and home lives that are different than the school life, you have to learn how to change your language, how to address people, how to ask the right questions, how to confront the benign and overt racism in ways that will allow you to move forward and not stop you. Teaching them the skills to do that is really important,” she explained in the interview.

Tavares pointed out that while the system does need changing, it’s important to teach current students how to thrive. That includes providing leadership opportunities, building strong community relationships, and setting high expectations. There’s a myth of inclusivity that needs to be tackled head on, she added. 

Criticizing Ontario schools

Others have gone much further in their critiques. George Martell of Education Action: Toronto, offered a scathing rebuke of Ontario’s education system in a response to “The Miseducation of Somali Youth Conference,” sponsored by the TDSB in 2010.

“Are you going to find a way to reach into the strengths of Somali culture – so buried today by the way we run our school system – and bring these strengths into the classroom and into the hearts and minds of Somali youngsters?” he asked rhetorically. 

Martell argued that “systemic racism” and “social class bias are deeply embedded in provincial and school board policy,” leading to “apartheid” schools. He blamed budget cuts and curricula that fail to bring real meaning into the lives of students whose futures aren’t as promising as they should be.

Budget cuts at all levels do impact the ability of school boards to offer culturally sensitive training and support. When the federal government slashed funding to immigrant settlement services several years ago, the cuts impacted youth and family programs. In one instance, it meant a cherished and award-winning initiative providing settlement workers in schools was at risk. The pioneering program provided cultural interpreters to act as bridges between new and recent immigrants, their children, and the larger school community. The local school board, itself cash-strapped, sent a letter to Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney, pleading for continued support. But even the board had to consider reducing its portion of funding in the face of budgetary shortfalls. Immense public pressure from immigrant communities helped keep the program alive. 

Looking to the future

The fact is our student populations are becoming more diverse, though that’s barely mirrored in the staff of most urban schools. And while there is recognition of a need to hire teachers that better reflect the student population, reaching that goal remains a long way off, considering the comparatively low number of teachers who self-identify as visible minorities. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The fact is our student populations are becoming more diverse, though that’s barely mirrored in the staff of most urban schools.[/quote]

In the meantime, we need to foster culturally sensitive and inclusive schools where student engagement leads to higher graduation rates, the de-glamorization of gangs, and the nurturing of productive citizens of all backgrounds. 

It will take time, money, and training. It will also require a willingness to speak and hear truths about the particular struggles facing various ethnic communities.

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Published in Commentary
Sunday, 16 March 2014 18:50

Who Speaks for a New Canadian Community?

by Richard M. Landau

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and some of that city’s Somali community are at odds.  Acting on what it thought were the concerns of the Somali population, the TDSB is considering a modified curriculum and services for the children of Canadians of Somali extraction to deal with a dropout rate 25 per cent higher than the mean. 

But some Somalis, especially those who attended the tabling of the report, are understandably furious at being stigmatized and characterized as such.  They don’t want to be a “project” of the TDSB.

The TDSB has strayed into the quagmire surrounding who has the authority to speak for or represent a community.  Is it a group that says “do something, our kids are in trouble”?  Or is it the group that says: “leave us alone, don’t meddle in an internal matter”? 

Who can legitimately claim to understand the prevailing sentiments in a group? This is a question often faced by both new Canadian communities and those of us in the media who want to report on a group that is outside the mainstream. 

When an immigrant community is new, often enough there are one or two voices that emerge as spokespersons.  This isn’t always because the person speaking articulates the thoughts and ideas of the community. 

Typically, with a new community, I have found, three types initially distinguish themselves as voices of the community:

  1. The person who makes a living at it and becomes very comfortable as the pleasant don’t-rock-the-boat face of the community;
  2. The activist, megaphone in hand at a rally, who is here to tell you his community doesn’t ask for – no, it demands respect; and
  3. The much quieter ground-level community workers.

The role of media

Now, here’s the challenge.  It is easier for political leaders and mainstream media to bestow upon someone the acknowledged position of spokesperson than it is to seek out a number of prevailing points of view.  In this world of sound bites, the media need the person who tells and sells it well to a camera or microphone. 

After 9/11, CNN called upon articulate Nation of Islam representatives to speak for Islam.  However, the Nation of Islam does not represent the vast majority of American Muslims.  Active marginal movements identifying themselves as mainstream can easily bend the ears of media and politicians.  How many people know that the Buddhism of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism, is not representative of Buddhism as a whole?

As a TV Executive Producer responsible for animating minority communities over the years, I found that the people who rush to the forefront are often not spokespersons for the community at large.  They are drawn from the first or second group I cited: people who have the zeal and conviction, or those with a financial incentive. 

Ears to the ground

When I produce religious and spiritual TV, I can usually locate pious types with an agenda of growth or political advancement, eager to proclaim their messages.  In fact, they find me before I find them. It’s not so easy to find ground-level community types who include women and youths in their productions.  It is harder animating liberal voices. 

It’s too easy to mischaracterize a community by who comes forward to speak for it.   Media coverage and official political acknowledgement imparts a sort of legitimacy.  You have to wonder, without media coverage would there have been prominence for such figures and organizations as the Rev. Al Sharpton in the U.S., or the late Dudley Laws in Canada, Canadian Punjabi separatist groups, and the official-sounding, yet marginal, Canadian Islamic Congress?

In all cases, part of their credibility derived from savvy use of the media.  The media are willing participants.  Some lazy reporters and producers choose guests and sources on the basis of who is readily available on a moment’s notice, who’s articulate, or worse yet, who has the most anti-social, outrageous or activist point of view. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It is in our nature to be drawn to radical voices. Many of us love a fight.[/quote]

Thus the militant voices start to punch far above their weight.  The mainstream starts to accord them special status that they haven’t really earned.

Illegitimate Voices

These self-appointed spokespersons may be driven by personal interests and agendas: “L’etat, c’est moi.”   In the US, repeated revelations of scandals about his personal ethics and financial dealings have tarnished the significant earlier accomplishments of Rev. Jesse Jackson, once the highly regarded go-to voice of the Black community.  

A leading spokesperson claiming to represent Canada’s Croatians boldly asserted to me that there are six million Canadians of Croatian extraction!  That’s almost one in every six Canadians, I told him.  Unflinching, he continued to insist on his numbers. 

The former Ontario City of North York entertained the hugely expensive and massively disruptive idea of removing the number 4 from all city addresses, because a minority community spokesperson told them it was considered “unlucky” by his community.

As a community is finding its feet, someone emerges to speak for the community. The mainstream society doesn’t want multiple voices, thus whoever emerges is heard and granted credibility by media and politicians, alike.  

So who really speaks for a community?  It’s not a neat and tidy matter. In fact, it is often easier to determine who does not legitimately speak for a given community.

Richard M. Landau has been responsible for adjudicating disputes and enforcing a television network code of ethics in a religious broadcasting setting since 1992.  He is a graduate of Carleton University and the University of Ottawa.  A leader in interfaith dialogue, Mr. Landau has consulted with the UK Home Office, and the White House Office of Community- and Faith-Based Initiatives.  He works closely with leadership in all of the major world religions.  He is author of “What the World Needs to Know about Interfaith Dialogue.”

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Published in Commentary

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