By Belen Febres-Cordero in Vancouver

Upon arrival, immigrant populations in Canada tend to present less allergies than their Canadian-born counterparts, but prevalence increases with time, a national study finds. However, exposing them to ethnic foods and cultural practices that they were accustomed to may help reduce allergies in this population, according to the researchers. 

There is no definitive answer as to the cause(s) of the definitely noted increase in allergies in immigrant populations when they move to Western countries such as Canada. However, the pattern is real and needs to be analyzed”, says Dr. David Fischer, President of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (CSACI).

As first-generation immigrants to Canada, Dr. Hind Sbihi (picture below), Research Associate at the University of British Columbia, and Jiayun Angela Yao, PhD candidate at the same institution, became intrigued by allergy rates among newcomers and conducted a study to understand the role that genetics and environmental factors play in the development of non-food allergies, such as hay fever.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Our best hope to curb the increasing trend in allergic disorders is to prevent it.”[/quote]

The researchers explain that in the past decade, the media, public and researchers have mainly focused on food allergies “It’s critical to raise awareness for non-food allergies given their high prevalence in our population, and posing a big burden to our health care system,” they add.

Canada has some of the highest allergy rates

This is particularly true because Canada has some of the highest allergy rates in the world. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, approximately 10-30% of the global population has hay fever. While in the United States roughly 7.8% of people 18 and over has this allergy, almost 20% of the population in Canada is affected by it. Considering these statistics, Sbihi and Yao wanted to understand if immigrants in the country would also display an increase in allergies.

“Our study highlighted the unique opportunity to investigate allergies in migrant populations, who are going through a natural experiment, in which the environment around them changes dramatically in a relatively short period of time,” they explain.   

To conduct the study, the scholars used the data collected in the Canadian Community Health Survey, which gathered information about the health status, lifestyle habits and basic demographics of a large and representative sample of Canadians. In the survey, respondents were asked whether they had non-food allergies – diagnosed by a physician-, and whether they were immigrants to Canada and if so, their time since arrival. “We took the responses to these questions, and assessed the statistical association between non-food allergies and immigration status”, they say.Photo Credit:Hind Sbihi Linkedin

Following this method, the study found that only 14.3% immigrants who had lived in Canada for less than 10 years had non-food allergies, while the rates for immigrants over 10 years and non-immigrants were 23.9% and 29.6%, respectively.

These results suggest that environmental factors, such as pollution, levels of sanitization and dietary choices, carry more weight in the development of allergic conditions in Canada, Dr. Fischer explains, while Dr. Sbihi and Yao add that more research is needed to pinpoint what those factors are, and to better understand how allergies arise by country of origin.

They also highlight the need for undertaking multicultural strategies to improve newcomers’ health.

Ethnic foods may help

Dr. Sbihi and Yao add that it is also important to understand that allergies are symptoms of a loss of internal balance that results from a dysfunction of the immune system. “Providing immigrants with means to access food or cultural practice that are ethnically-friendly may help them transition smoothly into the new environment without perturbing their natural balance,” they suggest.  

“Our best hope to curb the increasing trend in allergic disorders is to prevent it. Prevention can only happen when there is a good understanding of risk factors that come to play in the development of these disorders.” For these reasons, they suggest that raising awareness among health practitioners about the link between immigration, environment and allergies might help in their patients’ management.

“The main role for medical practitioners is to work with patients to recognize if they have allergies, to manage them acutely with their patients and if necessary refer them allergist if there is some doubt about the diagnosis or for more definitive management,” says Dr. Fischer.

Published in Health

by Our National Correspondent

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have just put out results of a "psychological analysis" of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. Announcing the results via a news release Nov. 8, the university said, “Contrary to what might be expected, grandiosity, simplistic language and rampant Twitter activity were statistical predictors of success in the Republican primaries. Although Trump’s bombastic communication style was shocking — even detestable to many viewers — our research suggests that this style helped him win the Republican nomination.”

The results were put out before the election results were clear following the end of polling in the U.S. Tuesday night. 

“Trump’s outrageous statements over the course of the campaign led many political pundits to underestimate his chances of success,” according to supervising author Delroy L. Paulhus, a personality psychology researcher and professor at UBC. Sara Ahmadian and Sara Azarshahi were co-authors of the study titled, “Explaining Trump via Communication Style: Grandiosity, Informality, and Dynamism”.

New Canadian Media interviewed one of the researchers, Sara Ahmadian, via an e-mail exchange.

Q: Does your study offer any insights into what sort of president Trump will be? Specifically, will he be a disruptor or a conciliator? Will he keep his promises, specifically as it relates to Muslim immigrants and building a wall with Mexico? Temperamentally, can he really be a "president for all Americans"? And, most importantly, are America's nuclear missile codes safe in his hands?

A: The qualities that got him elected may impair his ability to get things done. An effective leader must have self-control, ability to compromise and complex thought. You have to be able to listen and take criticism. These are not Trump's strongest points.  Previous research has shown that leaders who are able to use more complex rhetoric while in office are more effective leaders, but Trump is mostly known for his informal style.

Whether he can switch is a question that only time will answer. Previous research has also shown that presidents with styles similar to Trump's have had more scandals while in office. So, my prediction is that the Trump drama will continue on. Trump has also been known to flip-flop between ideas and policies.

We cannot determine if he will keep his promises. However, we have to keep in mind that many of the things that Trump wants to do will have to pass through the Senate. So, in conclusion, while I argue that he will not be the most effective leader, I think the nuclear missile codes will be safe. However, I cannot guarantee that he will not threaten to use them.

Q: In terms of psychological profile, what type would best describe Donald Trump? Does his profile match any other international leader?

A: I would say he has a highly narcissistic personality. I think that’s the one aspect that stands out the most considering his level of boasting. To the extent to which there are other international leaders like him, I would say the one person that stands out the most is the U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage. Interestingly enough, Farage is a big supporter of Trump.

Q: Does your study explain or provide any insights into why Trump was particularly critical of immigrants in the campaign?

A: Our study doesn’t directly address this question. But, indirectly, if we think about the social context that has allowed Trump to be successful then that might provide some information as to why immigrants are the target. Americans and most of the world are currently extremely fearful of immigrants, especially because of the world events such as war in Syria or even the simple problems such as financial instability. These types of events can lead to personality styles such as Trump. These styles need a scapegoat and at times it is the immigrant population that suffers. I mean examples [such as] Brexit, the rise of Norbert Hofer in Austria or Geert Wilders in The Netherlands.

Q: Any lessons we can draw in Canada? Can a similar candidate gain traction here?

A: I think we were very lucky in regards to the timing of our election. Although it has been said that we are more liberal than the U.S, it is important to point out that had a big terrorist event happened prior to the election in Canada, we might have chosen an individual more similar to Trump’s style. 

Q: What was it about this candidate that made him a good case study? 

A: Well, when Trump announced his bid to for the presidency, everyone thought it was a joke and it would be over in a month. In addition, all the experts said there is no way that Trump would continue or win the nomination. They all believed that Jeb Bush would be the nominee. Time and time again, it was revealed that all of these experts were wrong and that we have underestimated Trump. So the question became, how could we have been so wrong?

Furthermore, I work in a dark personality lab and Donald Trump is the greatest example of a narcissist.

Q: What does your study tell us about those who voted for Trump? Why didn't they see through his vacuous campaign?

A: What our study tells us is that we have been focusing too much on the content rather than Trump’s style, in explaining his success. If you look at interviews with Trump supporters, they usually say they don’t know what Trump’s policies are and they don’t care. What separates Trump and helped to make him a successful candidate was his style. These supporters can relate to Trump because of his informal style and they see him as a very successful individual thanks to how often Trump over-exaggerates and boasts about his accomplishments.

This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and updated following President-elect Donald Trump's win.

Published in Top Stories
Tuesday, 21 October 2014 19:44

Not All Immigrant Children Created Equal

by Charles Ungerleider in Vancouver

Canada’s economic prosperity and population depend upon immigration. Canada would not exist nor could it survive without immigration. Population maintenance depends upon immigration. The Canadian birth rate per woman is in the region of 1.6, far below the replacement ratio of approximately 2.1 births per woman. Canada’s economic prosperity is linked to having enough well educated people to support an increasingly dependent population.

A high proportion of recent immigrants have university degrees. In fact, by 2001, the portion of immigrants with university degrees was about twice that of the Canadian-born population. Although their parents are well educated, the children of immigrants still face challenges in school. The children of immigrants have lower reading literacy levels than their Canadian-born counterparts. It is fortunate that, over time, this disadvantage disappears for most students, but not all. Despite lower reading literacy, most recent immigrants perform better on average than their Canadian-born counterparts in mathematics and sciences.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]... it is important to ensure that students acquire facility in English or French for academic purposes prior to enrolling in courses that depend on such fluency.[/quote]

As most people recognize, group averages can hide significant variation among groups. When we look beyond the averages for immigrant students, we notice that immigrants from particular backgrounds are doing less well than their peers.  Students from Asian immigrant backgrounds are so numerous and, in general, so successful in school, that their performance obscures the results of the students from other immigrant backgrounds who find Canadian schooling more challenging, who perform less well and sometimes leave school prior to graduation.

Time is one of the challenges faced by immigrant students trying to learn English or French in school. Often they do not have sufficient time to both learn the language for academic purposes and to gather sufficient credits for graduation. The problem is compounded in those jurisdictions that place age limits on who can attend school and limits on the amount of additional support that students are able to receive. Older immigrant students are especially challenged by the limited time they can attend school.

Socio-economic factors

Confusion arising from different cultural expectations is also a challenge for immigrant students and for their parents. The prominence given to student engagement, critical thinking and questioning is sometimes quite different than the prior experiences that some immigrant students have had. For some students and parents, Canadian schools seem less demanding and too informal than their prior school experiences. The mismatch in expectations and experiences between prior and current school experiences adds to the challenge faced by immigrant students and their parents.

Immigrant students whose parents have neither educational nor economic advantages are often among those who find school more challenging, perform less well and leave school early. Even among those who graduate from high school, there are socio-economic differences between those who attend post-secondary school and those who do not, favouring those whose parents are more advantaged.

Child refugees or children of refugees who have not had the benefit of schooling prior to arrival in Canada are among the most challenged. Lacking familiarity with schools, prior school socialization, and basic literacy makes school a daunting set of challenges for refugee students.

Beyond averages

Over the course of their history, Canadian schools have become better at welcoming and educating immigrant students. There are many factors that have contributed to the noticeable improvement. Canadian society is less overtly discriminatory than in the past when immigration was restricted to persons of European origin. While it has not completely freed itself from its past, Canada has acknowledged and apologized to descendants of Canadians of Japanese, Punjabi, Chinese and other backgrounds whose ancestors were excluded and mistreated. This has contributed to a national climate more accepting of difference that influences all of Canada’s institutions, including its schools.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Immigrant students whose parents have neither educational nor economic advantages are often among those who find school more challenging ...[/quote]

Schools have recognized that early and continuing intervention is necessary whenever students exhibit evidence of being challenged – especially in the acquisition of literacy. Parents whose children appear fluent in social contexts with friends often infer that their children possess the requisite knowledge to succeed in courses demanding greater facility with the language than is normally used in social discourse. Although it challenges the expectations and aspirations of those parents, it is important to ensure that students acquire facility in English or French for academic purposes prior to enrolling in courses that depend on such fluency.

Schools know that they must observe student progress closely and make adjustments to the education and supports that immigrant students require to be successful in the school environment. This requires looking beyond group averages to see how individual students are succeeding.

Canada’s need for immigrants often translates into action designed to increase the likelihood of school success because adult productivity, health and engaged citizenship are built upon a foundation of successful schooling. But action is not uniform across all schools or for all immigrant students. To ensure greater uniformity, we need better policies, practices, close monitoring and a willingness to change practice and policy when the evidence suggests that they are not working to the advantage of all students. 

Charles Ungerleider, a Professor Emeritus of Educational Studies at The University of British Columbia, is Managing Partner of Directions Evidence and Policy Research Group, LLP,  a partnership of professionals with experience in applied research, policy analysis and evaluation in a variety of domains, including K-12 and post-secondary education, social services, justice, and health. He has served as Deputy Minister of Education in British Columbia, Director of Research and Knowledge Mobilization at the Canadian Council on Learning, and Associate Dean (Teacher Education) at The University of British Columbia. 

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Published in Education
Thursday, 03 July 2014 04:00

New Washrooms Policy Divides Vancouver

by Janice Thiessen (@automaticjane) in Vancouver

The Vancouver School Board trustees’ approval last month of a policy to accommodate transsexual students in schools has triggered corrosive divisions in the community, challenging Canada’s view of itself as a society that celebrates diversity.

The controversy pits the obligation of the public school system to accommodate transgendered students and ensure they feel safe and secure, against the reality that in a linguistically and culturally diverse city such as Vancouver, there is a continuum of tolerance for and experience with transgendered students.

After speaking to several sources on both sides of the controversy, this reporter came away with the impression that newcomers to Canada are not necessarily conservative or fundamentally opposed to the GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) lifestyle.

Communication has been a significant issue in this debate and language barriers can prevent those who don’t speak English well from understanding the nuances of the issue.

Not enough consultation

Two leading opponents of the policy, trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo, argue that there was insufficient consultation with the community, and that parents of international students, who comprise a considerable number in the Vancouver School Board, could be uncomfortable with the change, and that in turn could affect enrolment.

The new policy, passed 7-2 by the board, is an update of a 2004 Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities policy. It stipulates that single-stall, gender neutral bathrooms be installed in all school buildings so a child won’t have to reveal to anyone their gender based on the bathroom they used. The new policy also pledges to reduce or eliminate the practice of segregating students by their gender.

Denike said he and Woo support GLBTQ students but wanted more time to deliberate, and more specific language in the policy. “What we were upset about is there was very poor consultation with the community. People could have translators but there was still a real issue of communication.”

 “There are potential effects on enrolment of international students. It was our view that further consultation could relieve those concerns,” added Denike.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We had spoken with parents who are realtors with expansive networks in the international community. They expressed concern about changes to the GLBTQ policy without sufficiently inclusive consultation – and the potential effects on enrolment of international students. ”[/quote]

Real estate impact

Following their June 13 news conference outlining their opposition to the new policy, Denike and Woo were expelled from the Non-Partisan Association, a group that nominates candidates for Vancouver Parks, City and School Board trustees.

Peter Armstrong, NPA President, defended this draconian measure.

 “The Caucus has had ongoing issues with Ken and Sophia for a long time and the Board has been aware of this,” he said. “The raucous news conference called by Ken and Sophia last week was just one issue among many that forced the Caucus to take action.”

Woo defended the media conference, saying she was giving many people a chance to express their concerns about the new transgender policy. “The Vancouver School Board is highly dependent on international students for budgeting purposes. Cuts of over $11 million were required for 2014/15.

“We had spoken with parents who are realtors with expansive networks in the international community. They expressed concern about changes to the GLBTQ policy without sufficiently inclusive consultation – and the potential effects on enrolment of international students. ”

Woo said she heard from hundreds of parents expressing concern over details of the policy. “The limited consultative meetings held by the Board were filled to capacity with concerned parents. The May 29 public meeting, which lasted for over six hours, ended before many parents had an opportunity to speak. Over 14,000 parents signed petitions within a four-week period before June 16 calling for further consultation.”

Protecting all children

But Patti Bacchus, Chair of the Vancouver School Board, said that the policy merely codifies and formalizes the 2004 policy, and is intended to protect all children. “One of the newspaper articles I read quoted a 15-year-old who was thinking about returning to school because of this policy. It gave me a great feeling that kids are more inclined to feel safe at school.”

Trustee Denike preferred the 2004 policy, which gave more leeway for staff to interpret how to implement it.

He says the controversy has caused the parent advisory groups to split along racial lines, with many in the Chinese community opposed.

Cheryl Chang, chair of the Lord Byng Secondary School Parent Advisory Council, wrote an open letter to the Vancouver School Board in May outlining her concerns that the policy was not written by medical or health experts, and that it could have long-term damaging impacts on children.

She urged that the vote, originally scheduled for May 20, be delayed.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“When people come to Canada, part of what draws them is the climate of relative safety that we enjoy here, and the opportunity to live in a place where there are democratic pluralistic values and respect for difference and diversity,” said Jordan.[/quote]

Agreement in principle

Charter Lau, former Burnaby Parent’s Voice trustee candidate, said he supports GLTBQ students but is concerned that a person with male body parts may enter a change room for females and harass them. Alternatively, male students could feel embarrassed with the presence of a student with female body parts who identifies as transgender in their change room.

“It’s very unfortunate that some of the media put parents in the opposition side, when in reality we are all on the for side, no one is against the intent of the policy. We all agree to the principle, to respect all students, but we need to address both concerns, obligation to satisfy all students, not just a small group.”

He claims that Bacchus stated the policy had to be voted on in June and there could be no more delay, but Lau asks, “What’s the rush?” He added that he has a sibling who is a part of the GLBTQ community. “We love and support each other. Disagreement doesn’t constitute opposing, we don’t agree with everything but we are still a part of one family.”

Intersecting gender and race

The debate over the policy is sensitive and fraught with potential misunderstanding, in part because it deals with prejudices against both gender and race. Rainbow Refugee, which advocates for those seeking protection based on sexual orientation, gender identity and HIV (Aids) status, said differing communities face differing degrees of tolerance.

“We do know that racialized GLBTQ youth are particularly vulnerable. This is an issue that we are all working on changing together,” said Dr. Sharalyn Jordan, assistant professor in of counselling psychology at Simon Fraser University and Rainbow Refuge representative.

“When people come to Canada, part of what draws them is the climate of relative safety that we enjoy here, and the opportunity to live in a place where there are democratic pluralistic values and respect for difference and diversity,” said Jordan. “This policy helps schools provide a place where people can learn about gender and racial and cultural diversity.”

High level of support

In spite of very vocal opposition, the motion did pass with a majority vote, showing the high level of support from teachers, the administration and some parents. “These policies are in place so students can better learn about diversity in a safe environment. It’s about re-tooling what is there to make it more inclusive and building inclusive infrastructure when new spaces are built,” said Lau Mehes, youth worker, Qmunity Gab Youth.

Qmunity Gab Youth works with Vancouver schools and the community to provide a safe space in which young people can learn about GLBTQ issues, access to services and referrals, provides special events and leadership training. People from every background are included and encouraged to participate.

Often people who are from a different cultural background and GLBTQ may have a more difficult time finding support. “One of the biggest problems that occur with trans/homophobia is that it intersects with racism. (It’s) a big struggle. I think it’s tied to systemic discrimination around homophobia. Anyone outside the gender binary, the strict idea that there are only two types of people, very masculine and feminine; any threats to this are hard to understand for some people.”

A global issue

A study by the University of British Columbia (UBC) Faculty of Nursing found that GLBTQ students reported lower rates of high-risk behaviours such as binge drinking when they are in a safer, more comfortable climate. They also had lower odds of discrimination, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts after schools had anti-homophobia policies in place.

Whether people support the policy or not, one thing is clear: the GLBTQ community has supporters and opposition in every community around the world. With such a diverse population, it’s no surprise there would be a wide variety of views in Vancouver as well.

“Cultural attitudes toward GLBTQ people vary widely. In Uganda, we know there’s a death penalty for being gay, but in Sweden, it’s not celebrated but accepted,” said Mary Little, chair of Trans Alliance (non-profit advocacy and outreach service provider for trans people).

“If people love their children, if they find out one of their children are transgendered, they adapt their opinion to that reality. We applaud the policy and hope other school boards in the province and the country do the same.”

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Published in Top Stories

by Shruti Prakash -Joshi in Vancouver

When the worlds largest democracy is in the midst of choosing its next government, it is only natural that the the worlds largest cluster of Indians outside India are on tenterhooks. 

Canadians of Indian origin tend to follow the tumultuous political goings-on in their country of origin. The fact that most of them dont have the right to vote in Indian elections is hardly something that distracts them from voicing their opinion on how and who should run the country.

For the last month and more, the drawn-out Indian elections have become a hot topic for discussion. Whether it is at house parties or on open-line South Asian talk shows, at parks or even at work, Indian politics seem to have captured the imagination of not only the Indian diaspora, but South Asians in general.

The most interesting comments and debates are, of course, on open-line talk shows where we, the emotional people,have so much to say that hosts have a hard time switching from one caller to the other.

Interestingly, the participation by women in these talk shows is poor, although in India, women voters are being hailed as a major deciding factor in the polls this year. The Indian Election Commission had made great efforts to woo women voters through its ‘Power of 49 campaign (women make 49 per cent of registered voters in India), but not here in British Columbia, where political conversation in the public sphere remains a largely male bastion.

The contenders

The comments come in fast and furious: Narendra Modi (the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, BJPs prime ministerial candidate) is communal, Congress (the ruling party) is corrupt and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, a new party, translated loosely as the Party of the Ordinary Man) is like a breath of fresh air, but perhaps doesn't have the experience ... they go on and on breathlessly.

So much so that a protest rally was recently organized in Surreys Holland park to condemn yoga guru Baba Ramdev, who reportedly made insulting remarks about dalit (a class of people considered lower-caste) women, in India. A motley group of people at the park raised slogans against the yoga guru and called for the authorities in India to immediately arrest him.

Kuldip Grewal is a self-employed person of Indian origin who follows the elections quite closely. He listens to radio talk shows and has often engaged in discussions with friends, mainly because he feels an emotional connection to his country of origin. "We might not really know the ground realities as they exist in India, but sitting so far away we wish the best for our country. All we have heard in the last five to seven years are reports of scams and corruption and it saddens us. And, therefore, when a new party such as the Aam Aadmi Party comes forward promising to clean the system I see it as a welcome change. Whether they win or not is a million dollar question, but we want the best for India," said Grewal.

Passionate for change

Equally passionate to see a change in India's leadership is Vishwanath Dhiri, an accountant in Surrey. But he sees the BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi as the only leader who is capable of leading this change.

"AAP's objectives might be laudable, but they have no experience in governance and it's too early for them to actually govern a diverse country like India," said Dhiri.

Talking about Modi's oft-alleged communal bent of mind, he said that it is merely a mistaken perception and blamed it largely on social and other media which, he said, is often prejudiced and biased.   "If you repeat a lie constantly it tends to become the truth in people's mind. The Godhra (the 2002 riots in Gujarat in which a large number of Muslims died under Modi's watch) riots should have never happened, but then after 2002, Gujarat has progressed by leaps and bounds. You can't judge a person by just one incident; the benefit of the doubt has to be given to him," he said. According to Dhiri, the Congress party, fearing a massive defeat, is desperate and therefore is fear-mongering. "I think Modi has proved himself in Gujarat. He has proved that he is business friendly and will take India forward undoubtedly," said Dhiri.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"I think Modi has proved himself in Gujarat. He has proved that he is business friendly and will undoubtedly take India forward."[/quote]

Two extremes

Professor of political science at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Anjali Thomas Bohlken, who takes a particular interest in India, agrees that the 2014 Lok Sabha (lower house in Parliament) elections in India have become particularly interesting because of the choices that are being presented before the people. "On the one hand  you have the BJP which is seeing an unprecedented surge, and on the other hand is the beleaguered Congress Party desperately trying to shed its image of being a corrupt, dynastic party. In between these two extremes is the newly minted Aam Aadmi Party, which is proving to be a massive vote spoiler," she said.

According to her, these  elections have become overly polarized because of the campaign tactics being used, especially playing the communal  card. "It has been seen that both BJP and Congress have played the card to their advantage many a times previously. In these elections, emotions are being flared and both the parties are trying to either use the secularism card or the dynastic rule card,"  she said.

This is something that Dr. Jasbir Singh Romana, a popular talk show host, hears regularly. He has been featuring the elections, with a particular focus on the state of Punjab (from where most Indo-Canadians in B.C. hail), for the last month and has invited journalists, opinion leaders, candidates and ordinary people from Punjab and other cities in India to speak on his show. 

According to him, the anti-incumbency factor is huge. "People certainly want a change and they are pinning their hopes on the AAP, perhaps sometimes without realizing that AAP has a limited presence and can't form the government. But for them a change is crucial at this time," said Romana.

Interestingly, so excited are people to bring about change that, according to Romana, a large number of people have actually travelled to India, sent monetary assistance and are frantically making calls to their family members, to influence the vote. "We are all emotionally connected to our country (of origin). What happens there effects us," he said.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"We are all emotionally connected to our country (of origin). What happens there effects us."[/quote]

Similarly, Harjinder Thind, another popular talk show host on Red 93.1 FM, also said that immigrants cannot break their ties with India so easily. "Whether it is through property, parents or family, they will always be connected and discussing what happens there, thrashing out solutions, even though they know that these might not bring about direct change, (but) gives them satisfaction that they have contributed in some way," he said.  

He said these elections are particularly very polarized because the BJP and its leader, Narendra Modi, are viewed with suspicion by the large Sikh community here. They are worried that if he becomes the prime minister, minorities will be persecuted in India and this perception is mainly through what they see and hear in the media,said Thind. The people here, having experienced the Congress, are worried about the BJP and now are pinning their hopes on the Aam Aadmi Party, which according to them, will change the way politics is played out in India.

And thus it will go on -- discussions, comments, heated debates -- until the results come in on May 16. 

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Published in Top Stories

by Jessica M. Campbell

Jessica M. Campbell

“Sssstttt.” I looked back. Unlike in Canada, a forceful push of breath through open lips and locked teeth is socially acceptable in Ghana. The intended targets of the hissing are often cab drivers, street hawkers, waiters or waitresses. And it gets you service, not a dirty look.

But even though I don’t roam the streets of Accra, the country’s capital, driving a taxi or selling goods, I get hissed at all the time. My supposed “service” is valued and noticed primarily by Ghanaian men.

As common as the hissing is, I still turned to see a not-so-common punter running toward me the other day. He was a policeman with a gun strapped to his back. “Am I in trouble?” Far from. 

“Obruni, I want to marry you,” he said, trying to catch his breath from both excitement and his light dash. Obruni is the Ghanaian term for a person from outside of Africa, usually white.

This was the fifth such proposal that day. And all asked before hearing me speak. The policeman’s ticket number, issued by me and not him, and his disregard for the supposed authority role, marked this as a watershed moment. 

Reasonable visa process

It’s when I started investigating why some Ghanaian men obsess over marrying obruni. My guess was that it might be their easiest way to get out of Africa, considering how difficult it is for Ghanaians to cross into more prosperous countries. I made my way to the Canadian High Commission to confirm my suspicions.

There, Michael Opoku Gyebi, 21, was nearly in tears after a man handed him his passport with his student visa for Canada pasted inside. Gyebi had dropped it off two weeks earlier as he planned to study accounting at the University of British Columbia. He wasn’t sure of his application being approved.

“I’m just excited,” he said, staring closely at the keypad on his cellphone to compensate for his trembling hands trying to dial home. “My dad is going to be so happy.”

Although meticulous, he said the process to get his visa was reasonable. He had to verify his school’s acceptance, and that his family can financially support his education. He spent $125 (Cdn) on an affidavit to confirm the above information.

His medical exam, about $100, had to confirm he is in good health. This included an x-ray of his chest and blood tests. Finally, he paid his CND$150 application fee when handing over his passport for a multi-entry visa.

U.S. universities too had accepted Gyebi for admission. “I chose Canada because I know it is peaceful,” he said after being told by friends already studying across North America. They also value Canada’s education system, he said. “It’s practical.” Gyebi wants to return to Ghana to run his family’s road construction business when he completes his degree in four years.

Like Gyebi, other Ghanaians stood in line at the mission waiting to retrieve their passports. Aside from the common grumble about paperwork, all had positive feedback on Canada’s visa application process.

Anthony Teye, accompanying his brother applying for a visa, said he has already been to Canada three times: “I didn’t go through any hassle.” A few years ago, he obtained a single entry visa to attend a conference on water management in Ottawa. “It was approved the same day,” he said.

Teye has also been to the U.S. and said he prefers the Canadian application process. In-person interviews are mandatory for U.S. visas, unlike the Canadian system.

“I usually don’t compare apples with oranges, so I take a country on its own” said Teye, who has been interviewed for both countries’ visas. “But the U.S., sometimes they don’t really want to listen to you and look at your actual circumstances. They base their decision on how they feel. I find the Canadian interview to be much friendlier because the questions were related to personal issues.”

Despite this subtle difference, both processes are quite similar and fair, said Teye.

‘White is better than black’

Evidently, you don’t need to marry an obruni to travel to Canada or the U.S. Not knowing what I was still missing, I swallowed my pride and headed to Ghana’s Immigration Service to interview the head of public affairs, Francis Palmdeti, the next day. We shared a laugh when I told him about my investigation. But, his response wasn’t as funny.

“A black man’s fascination is a result of seeing a white lady as of a certain prestigious level,” Palmdeti said. “To have a white woman is of ultimate status. He thinks that white is better than black.”

This outlook, stemming both from the country’s demoralizing involvement in the slave trade centuries ago and now poor education, leads to myths about white women, said Palmdeti. A lot of “unpolished” men think obruni women come to Ghana looking for husbands, he said. “It has to do with upbringing.”

Gulp! I would almost rather if my potential fiancés were motivated by unrealistic visa processes. They’re a lot easier to remedy than views on race.

But, realistically, tighter border controls would only further perpetrate the problem as travel is a part of the solution.

Sitting at his desk in his military-like uniform, Palmdeti’s face lit up when I told him my nationality. “My wife wants to move to Canada!” he said.

And seeing she has visited Canada and is married to a Ghanaian, it’s not to find a white man. It’s because every time she returns from Canada she raves about how friendly people are and how everyone there is treated equally, Palmdeti said.

Perhaps something she wouldn’t have learned without travelling there, and now something I aim to show my hissers during my travels here. How a person is valued should never be based on race. 

“For me, if I were to settle with a white lady, I must love her. I should find qualities in her that I wish to spend the rest of my life with,” said Palmdeti. Closed borders won’t let my hissers realize exactly that.  -- New Canadian Media

Jessica Campbell is a passionate freelance journalist based in Africa. While on the continent, she has had affiliations to Farm Radio International and jhr: Journalists for Human Rights. In 2014, the Carleton University journalism and political science graduate from Brampton, ON, will relocate her career to South America.

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Published in Africa

by Ranjit Bhaskar

Strict requirements for newcomers to meet “Canadian experience” norms are discriminatory and can only be used in rare circumstances, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has said.

Setting out its new policy Monday on removing the barrier, the OHRC found that many newcomers turn to unpaid work such as volunteering, internships or low-skilled “survival jobs” to meet the requirement for Canadian experience.

“Ontario attracts highly-skilled immigrants from all over the world but if they have to meet a requirement for Canadian experience, they are in a very difficult position – they can’t get a job without Canadian experience and they can’t get experience without a job,” Barbara Hall, OHRC Chief Commissioner, said at the launch of the new policy. “In most cases, that is discrimination under Ontario’s Human Rights Code.”

Several prominent community voices at the launch said there was no common understanding of this unusual “self-invented” barrier found only in Canada as the concept of “American” or “European” experience did not exist.

‘Overt label for covert discomfort’

Tracing down the origin of the concept in Canada, Prof. Izumi Sakamoto, University of Toronto, said it first surfaced in 1973 in a letter sent to the Globe and Mail by an aggrieved woman.

“The term Canadian Experience has become a euphemism to convey lack of trust in a newcomer job applicant. It is an overt label for covert discomfort among employers,” said Sakamoto, the principal investigator of the Beyond Canadian Experience Project. “We are all implicated if we don’t challenge the concept and strive to use the new policy to make Canada a more inclusive place.”

A recent University of British Columbia (UBC) study found that local employers value Canadian work experience over international work experience. In a 2003 report, Statistics Canada identified a lack of Canadian experience as the most common barrier for newcomers looking for meaningful employment. The report said the barrier continued to exist two years after their arrival.

“We welcome this new policy,” said Bill Thomas, Chief Executive Officer and Senior Partner, KPMG. His professional services company partnered with the OHRC in putting out the policy. “Businesses that invest in newcomers benefit from the skills and rich experience they have to offer and in return, become more competitive in today’s global economy,” Mr. Thomas said.

The new policy sets out the OHRC’s position that employers and regulatory bodies need to ask about all of a job applicant’s previous work – where they got their experience does not matter. The policy also tells employers and regulatory bodies how to develop practices, policies and programs that do not result in discrimination.

“Newcomers now have the law behind them to fight discrimination based on the work experience norm,” said Errol Mendes, an OHRC commissioner. The OHRC will be collecting employment data to detect patterns, Mr. Mendes said. “Data combined with public inquiries and complaints will hopefully help remove this subtle barrier”.

Depressing experiences and statistics

Last fall, the OHRC consulted newcomers to Canada in the last 10 years about their experiences looking for jobs in Ontario since their arrival. Responses to the OHRC’s survey show that many newcomers turn to unpaid work or “survival jobs” – low-skill work outside of their field of expertise – to meet the requirement for Canadian experience.

Two of the survey respondents wrote:

 “It took me a very long time to find a job and the one that I finally got was due to my many, many months of continuous hard work and long hours as a volunteer. The work I do now has nothing to do with what I went to college for. It was sad, depressing and a financially-draining struggle for me.”

“The main reason that they cited [in support of their decision not to hire me] is lack of Canadian experience. I have all the qualifications and over 12 years of experience in a multi-cultural and fast-paced work environment, and I feel that I have good communication skills too. I have even offered to work without wages for a few weeks so that they can judge me and my work. I have started getting frustrated and am planning to go back. They say they need skilled workers but don’t recognize your overseas experience.”

These sample reactions echo what a British Columbia human rights tribunal observed: “It cannot be in anyone’s interest to continue to accept into this country some of the best and brightest individuals from around the world, and to then make it virtually impossible for them to use the skills that they bring with them.”

Statistics Canada reported that between 1991 and 2006, “the proportion of immigrants with a university degree in jobs with low educational requirements (such as clerks, truck drivers, salespersons, cashiers, and taxi drivers) increased.”  The numbers pointed out that even after being in Canada for 15 years, “immigrants with a university degree are still more likely than the native-born to be in low-skilled jobs.”

‘Bastard child’

Ratna Omidvar, Maytree Foundation President, said the Canadian experience requirement is being used as a proxy for mitigating risk “by our risk-averse and rules-based society.” The OHRC document is a “way for moving the conversation and create further appetite for evidence-based policy,” Ms. Omidvar said.

The OHRC policy states that newcomers, employers and Canadian society at large suffer untold losses when people are not able to work to their full capacity. “And, if Canada is seen as a place where it is impossible to find a good job, a job in your field, or where, as an engineer or a Ph.D. graduate you are likely to end up driving a taxi, it will no longer be a desirable destination for many of the world’s most skilled immigrants. They will simply choose to go elsewhere.”

Another cause for major concern pointed out by an audience member at the policy launch was the “bastard child” of Canadian experience: employers asking job agencies to supply them with free labour from the pool of desperate job seekers keen to gain the elusive experience. “They do not absorb these workers at the end of the usual three-month period. Instead, they ask for another fresh batch of free labour to perpetuate this cycle of exploitation,” the member pointed out and urged the need to tighten the concept of internship. – New Canadian Media

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Published in Top Stories
Thursday, 30 May 2013 02:17

Immigrants may be rushing to the exits

 by Our Ottawa Correspondent

With fresh university graduates being asked to “stay in school” to ride out the tough economic environment, experts are beginning to wonder if Canada is already witnessing another round of immigrant departures similar to the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Interviews with bankers, academics and industry researchers who track employment trends point to a troubling phenomenon that has been a hallmark of all recessionary periods: the exodus from Canada of working-age immigrants struck by a ‘triple whammy’ – the historic discounting of their international experience, combined with high Canada-wide unemployment rates and “hyper-cautious” employers.

Studies have shown that as many as two in five economic and business migrants leave the country within 10 years of arrival and this number tends to go up by 50 per cent during economic downturns. Half of them leave in the first year after landing.

All the experts we spoke to pointed to a fundamental mismatch in the economy --  a 7.2 per cent unemployment rate but also two million temporary foreign workers, and skills shortages in western Canada. The country is also on target to welcome about a quarter-million new immigrants this year. Diana MacKay, director for education, health and immigration programs at the Conference Board of Canada is as surprised as everybody else about the inability of the market to correct this mismatch. Tools like Workopolis, and even LinkedIn that help jobseekers connect to opportunities have seemingly failed, she says.

Pointing to the “droves” who returned to Hong Kong after the relatively smooth handover of the island to Chinese control in 1997, MacKay suggests immigrants are inherently risk-takers and willing to move again – both within Canada and internationally. Asked what specifically newcomers should do to make themselves more appealing to hiring managers, she cautioned against “behaving like John Smith (the classic Canadian),” suggesting instead that they should position themselves as “innovators” who bring new perspectives and experiences to the workplace.

Her research group, which surely has the ear of business, recommends that employers should also be “actively seeking” immigrant talent because it is “good for business” as it boosts national productivity and enables Canada to take advantage of market opportunities all over the world.

Chronic under-employment

Employers, though, don’t seem to be getting the message. Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce) World Markets, is among those who think employers should be doing a better job of hiring and retaining new talent. He thinks some of the positions being taken by temporary foreign workers can be filled by promoting internally and through in-house training. This could also potentially help newcomers who have suffered from “chronic under-employment” for a long time. In fact, according to a paper he wrote in Aug. 2012, nearly half of all immigrants who arrived between 2001 and 2006 are overqualified for the positions they occupy.

Wage differences also continue to persist, with immigrant earnings being 40 per cent lower, according to Tal. This is worse than in the 1970’s when immigrant earnings were estimated at 80 per cent of average Canadian-born worker salaries. “Immigration is critical to Canada’s economy but it is clear some inherent barriers exist that prevent us from reaping the full economic benefits new Canadians have to offer,” the economist said.

Both the Conference Board and CIBC have estimated the lost Canadian productivity caused by immigrant unemployment and under-employment. The Conference Board reported in 2001 that this wasted human resource was costing the Canadian economy between $3.4 billion and $5 billion annually. Tal estimates the drain much higher: “We estimate that the current employment and wage gaps between new immigrants and native-born Canadians cost the economy slightly more than $20 billion in forgone earnings.”

With these sort of systemic biases persisting and in a tough economic climate that is a fallout of the 2008-09 economic recession, demographers such as University of British Columbia, UBC’s Dan Hiebert would be looking for new data from the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada that tracked newcomers during their first four years after arrival. Unfortunately, the last release available from Statistics Canada is dated April, 2007.

If the past is any indication, Canada can expect a similar pattern of what demographers call “out migration” to happen this time around. However, we may not know if we are in the middle of an exodus until well after the latest drove has left.  – New Canadian Media

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Published in Economy

by Our Vancouver Correspondent

One of Canada’s most authoritative voices on immigration and demographic trends is worried that the abandoning of the long-form census will prevent experts like him from answering this crucial question: are ethnic enclaves also hotbeds of poverty and joblessness?

Dan Hiebert, professor of geography at the University of British Columbia (UBC) who has been studying and writing about Canada’s evolving demographics for over a decade, calls the shift from the long-form census to a voluntary National Household Survey (NHS) in 2011 “a major mistake.” The first findings from the NHS were released on May 8 – including a detailed snapshot of immigration and settlement patterns. For instance, it reported that 62.5 per cent of recent immigrants between 2006 and 2011 live in the cities of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

“What we really need is a long-form census in 2016 … Hopefully, the current difficulties we are having with the NHS will encourage the Cabinet to revisit this issue and reinstate a known and reliable method of collecting data of vital national significance in 2016.”

Prof. Hiebert released the third part of an ongoing study on the emergence of ethnic enclaves last summer (July 2012) which – based on 2006 census data – attempted to forecast the demographic landscape of Canada’s three premier cities in the year 2031. Driven by new immigration and high fertility among the newcomers, all three cities will see huge demographic shifts by 2031. In that year, only 50 per cent of Montreal’s citizens will be able to trace their family history to their grandparents’ generation in Canada. In Toronto, that percentage will be only 20 per cent and in Vancouver only 27 per cent.

Here are his main findings from the report titled “A new residential order?” –

·         Toronto 2031 – 63 per cent of the population will be Visible Minority; 1.4 million South Asian Canadians, 650,000 Chinese-Canadians, 270,000 Canadians of African ancestry, and 200,000 Arab-Canadians will live in enclaves dominated by specific ethno-cultural groups. The top five Visible Minority groups (in descending order) will be South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipino and West Asian (Arab).

·         Vancouver 2031 – 59 per cent of the city will be Visible Minority, but the number of single-group enclaves will be fewer than in Toronto, but Whites and Visible Minorities will tend to live in different parts of the metropolis. The top groups will be Chinese, South Asian, Filipino, Korean and West Asian (Arabs).

·         Montreal 2031 – the city will see more “White citadels” with nine of 10 Whites living in White-dominated neighbourhoods. An estimated 750,000 Blacks and Arabs will live in Montreal in enclaves that will also tend to be poor. The main groups will be Black, Arab, Chinese, Latin American and South Asian.

Enclaves of poverty

It is this economic aspect that has Prof. Hiebert worried. He is keenly awaiting the release of neighbourhood-level data by Statistics Canada, to see if his forecast is on the right trajectory. Based on 2006 data, the UBC professor was not unduly alarmed, stressing in his report that it is wrong to necessarily link ethnic segregation with poverty. There were indications that Montreal was witnessing a coincidence of poor economic performance among immigrants and the growth of ethnic enclaves, but Vancouver showed no such trend – that is, segregation did not appear to influence average household wages. Toronto was somewhere in between.

Written in the wake of riots in Paris and London that pitted poor immigrants against an uncaring state, the Canadian demographer said his report raises similar “crisis of confidence” issues beyond immigrant isolation. Integration, he said, is what will make the difference. “[I]f integration fails, newcomers are unemployed and the children of immigrants fail in the education system, we could expect the strained social relations seen, for example, in the banlieue neighbourhoods of Paris.”  

Data quality in question

If there was a silver lining in his last report to the nation, it was that Canada does not have a true “ghetto,” which typically suffers from an extreme degree of segregation. Prof. Hiebert defined the term as a neighbourhood “where a single Visible Minority group constitutes at least 60 per cent of the population; at least 30 per cent of the group lives in these types of areas; and the incidence of low income is double that of the larger metropolitan population.” Although the term “ghettoization” has gained currency in recent years, Canada had no areas of extreme ethnic segregation and low income in 2006.

Do we have any ghettoes now? “It is too soon to say. We need the data. But we also might not be able to answer this question given the quality of NHS data.”

Prof. Hiebert’s latest comments should not come as a surprise. In a footnote contained in the study released last year, he said this: “Most unfortunately, the National Household Survey (NHS) that replaced the census of 2011 will not enable us to make an interim assessment of the projections, since no one can say what the degree of error will be in the NHS at the scale of Census Tracts. Until we know the true value of data collected in that survey, Canadians will ‘fly blind’ in terms of the micro-geographic patterns analyzed in this study.”

The translation: Despite spending a reported $650 million on the NHS, we may not have reliable data to validate or rebut Prof. Hiebert’s projections into 2031.- New Canadian Media

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Published in National
Sunday, 07 April 2013 12:57

Stoking a fear of the Other

By: Anupreet Sandhu Bhamra

If you are reading this on your handheld device, please sit down and put your device on a table, lest you drop it and break it.

Here’s the scariest news to come out this week: Whites will become the minority in Metro Vancouver in less than two decades.


If you have recovered from the jolt, let me walk you through the racially charged presentation of a demographic study, which is more shocking than the study itself.

If you read between the lines, it actually is a projection study by local geographer Daniel Hiebert for Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Mr. Hiebert is a geographer at the University of British Columbia and as the co-director of research and policy forum Metropolis B.C., he “has travelled the world studying immigration patterns”.

But reading the actual lines is what leaves a bad taste in your mouth, especially the “joke” that Mr. Hiebert cites in the Vancouver Sun news report published on April 01 this year:

One of Hiebert’s most stark predictions for Metro Vancouver and Toronto regards the increasing rise of ethnic enclaves.

Indeed, Hiebert cites a popular standing joke to describe just how ethnically segregated Metro Vancouver has already become:

“Question: What river separates China and India?

“Answer: the Fraser River (which separates Richmond and Surrey).”

Popular-standing joke? This is the first time I am hearing of this. The so-called joke is in reference to the “ethnic enclaves” of Richmond (populated mostly by Canadians of Chinese lineage) and city of Surrey (populated mostly by Canadians of South Asian heritage).

My journalist friend Bal Brach confirmed my worst fears in a Twitter conversation we had on April 02:

never heard “popular standing joke” about ethnic segregation. A bit suspect of some of the ethnic enclaves comments.

The Black-White racial segregation in the USA

In Mr. Hiebert’s defence (I don’t know him), a researcher always comes in with a viewpoint into his investigation and builds or expands on his work against the existing available frameworks. Point noted. But why situate Metro Vancouver’s situation with the Black-White racial framework in the USA? Or against immigrant enclaves in Europe?

I am not implying that he has broken any law, but the situation of these frameworks is troubling. By situating the demographic concentration in Metro Vancouver against the Black-White framework in USA, what is being achieved or rather being said without actually saying it? I don’t get it.

And briefly on the Black-White framework in USA: first the White dominance enslaved an entire race and abused it. Then without exploring the framework of years of abuse and discrimination, the Black community continues to be projected in negative stereotypes. These stereotypes are fed into the public consciousness to mask consequences of discrimination as the direct fault of the Black community! A distressing example of victim blaming.

But coming back to the original argument, how is the framework of slavery and discrimination in the USA applicable to immigration and discrimination in Metro Vancouver?

Even more disturbing is the frame in which the Sun story examined the Metro Vancouver projections.

Without declaring whether these demographic trends will be negative or positive for Metro, Hiebert nevertheless says the “scale of ethnographic change over (the next) period will be larger and more rapid than anything we have seen previously.”

It seems to suggest that a concentration of any racial identity in a geographical space can cause trouble. Or not. Yes or no, maybe, but there is the suggestion that it can lead to negative consequences. To me, the language of the presentation reads as if minority groups are going to explode all over metro Vancouver and the situation will spell disaster.

My question is: why? Why is immigration so scary? In the first place, for argument sake alone, immigration is allowed and legal. All these numbers and projections are coming from legit sources. What did you think would happen when you allowed immigration? That people won’t come? Or you wouldn’t notice them when they did?

Now when people from different countries are calling Canada home, why the numbers are being projected in a racially charged language? To begin with, isn’t it the Canadian department of Citizenship and Immigration stamping visas in India and China and around? So do you want immigration? Or do you not want immigration?

The bigger question is: Why are you instilling a sense of fear with these numbers? These numbers in themselves are pretty harmless and the mathematical projections are based on scientific data but the projection is that of a mind, a human mind that has created these divisions based on his/her own fear, the fear of the “Other”; the “Other” (read minority groups) taking over the dominant culture.

Anupreet Sandhu Bhamra is a Vancouver-based blogger with transnational experience. An award-winning broadcaster, print and web reporter, Anupreet is an integrated journalist who has reported across major media platforms - print, television and web for over a decade. Her blog, under her double last name is an effort to deconstruct identity in inter-racial, inter-cultural, patriarchal modern world through the lens of life: as Self, journo and yogini. She is a recipient of prestigious national Broadcaster of the Future Award by Global Television, she has worked for The Globe and Mail, The Vancouver Sun, and US-based NBC News for the coverage of 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. Prior to that, she was a daily news anchor for Channel M (now OMNI). Her work has also appeared in online web magazine, The Tyee. In India, she has worked for two national newspapers, The Indian Express and The Hindustan Times. She received her Master of Journalism degree from the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of British Columbia in 2009. While at the school, she was a recipient of prestigious university and private academic scholarships.

This is an excerpt of the original commentary that appeared on Anupreet Sandhu Bhamra's blog. 

Read the study here -



Published in Commentary

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