Tuesday, 30 January 2018 04:07

The Vic Fedeli I Know

Commentary by: Don Curry in North Bay, Ontario

Don’t buy Vic Fedeli a yellow tie. He has dozens of them.

That’s his signature trademark, but he is just as well known for his intellect, knack for getting things done, workaholic tendencies, a big smile and a handshake for everyone who crosses his path.

Now interim leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, the 61-year-old aims to be the permanent leader after a leadership convention that has to be held before the end of March to give the party time to campaign before the June provincial election. Underestimate his chances at your peril.

But what does the Nipissing MPP and former mayor of North Bay know about immigration? Quite a bit, actually.

Of Italian immigrant stock and a big supporter of the city’s Davedi Club, as mayor he saw immigration as a key to the future well-being of the city. Northern Ontario has faced youth out-migration, baby boomer retirements and a declining birth rate and does not have an immigration strategy.

Update: Fedeli steps away from leadership race

Fedeli identified the local need as mayor in his first term starting in 2003 when he tasked the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development with getting the city involved in attracting and retaining immigrants. The North Bay Newcomer Network, a Local Immigration Partnership, was formed and it later led to the establishment of an immigrant support agency, the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre, in 2008.

Full disclosure, I have known him for almost 40 years. He formed Fedeli Advertising in 1978, the same year I moved to the city to teach journalism at Canadore College. I interviewed him in the early 1980s for a feature article for Northern Ontario Business magazine and our paths have crossed many times since. I would describe him as conservative on fiscal issues and liberal on social issues.

I was part of a delegation from the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) that met with him in his Queen’s Park office to brief him on provincial immigration issues. My OCASI colleagues, perhaps anticipating some pushback from a Conservative, were impressed with his knowledge. I have met with him in his North Bay constituency office to discuss local and regional immigration issues and see that he always does his homework to prepare for the meeting.

I played golf with him at a fundraiser for the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre. I drove the cart and he worked his smart phone to stay in touch with provincial issues. Although we are members of the same golf club, he rarely plays, as his workaholic tendencies continue through the summer. We tried our hands at cricket together with the local cricket club. Club members stifled their laughter.

Fedeli ran for the party’s leadership in 2015 and bowed out of the race to support Christine Elliott. Since then he has been the party’s bulldog in the Legislature as finance critic, holding Premier Kathleen Wynne’s feet to the fire on numerous issues.

He has the unanimous support of the PC provincial caucus and Northern Ontario politicians of more than just Tory persuasions. The North Bay Nugget quoted Mayor Al McDonald, a former MPP himself, saying Mr. Fedeli would be a “great choice” for party leader. He pointed to the need for an immigration strategy for Northern Ontario that Fedeli could champion, plus a rollback of provincial policies that have impaired the potential for development in the north.

The article quoted other North Bay municipal politicians singing Fedeli’s praises. He has also generated excitement province-wide on social media.

He is a proven winner in North Bay. A two-term mayor, he won the 2003 campaign against three challengers, including a former deputy-mayor, earning 75 per cent of the total votes cast. In the 2006 campaign, opposed by a former mayor, he earned more than two-thirds of the votes. Each year he donated his approximately $50,000 salary to a different charity.

His business was a roaring success. It was listed as number 34 of the top 50 Canadian best places to work by Profit, a magazine for small business. He was recognized as one of Canada’s most successful entrepreneurs in an episode of Money Makers. He sold his business in 1992 for a large profit, and has been a leading philanthropist in the city ever since.

He donated $250,000 to Nipissing University, $100,000 to Canadore College, and then $100,000 more. He donated $250,000 for the Harris Learning Library at Nipissing University and $150,000 for the city’s new hospital.

Prior to taking over the finance critic role in 2013, he was the energy critic and critic of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. He was the main party investigator and agitator over gas plant scandals in Oakville and Mississauga. In 2013, he wrote to the Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner to ask for an investigation of the removal of emails in the Premier’s Office pertaining to the gas plant controversy. The then Premier's chief of staff was recently found guilty.

He also fought the Liberal government on the divestment of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, based in North Bay. His efforts were successful and the ONTC is now on sound financial footing.

North Bay is excited. We had a premier from here before – Mike Harris. Could Vic Fedeli be the second from this city of 50,000, just a few hours north of Toronto?

Don Curry is the president of Curry Consulting. He was the founding executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and the Timmins & District Multicultural Centre and is now chair of the board of directors.

Published in Politics

Commentary by Natalya Chernova in Toronto

On Friday, Mar. 4, I attended the 18th National Metropolis Conference, hungry for new information and curious to find out whether my area of expertise – ethnic media – was covered.

The forum subtitled “Getting Results: Migration, Opportunities and Good Governance” welcomed researchers, policy makers, community and government representatives from all over Canada to exchange experience and ideas on the issues of immigration, settlement and integration.

Among diverse topics presented were recent statistics and migration trends, personal experiences and professional observations of the immigration policies, labour issues and programs, academic studies on family integration and even happiness levels among recent immigrants.

All these sessions painted a clear and colourful picture of Canada’s immigration future – steady, progressive growth of the number of new immigrants with diverse ethnic backgrounds and diverse personal and professional needs. Among those needs are information and a sense of community – key components of what the ethnic media provides.

A significant tool for outreach

Integration and inclusion, also part of the ethnic media’s role, were some of the most discussed issues that day, with Yolande James, former Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities of the Government of Quebec, summarizing it with a statement that “governments must create an engaging environment where immigrants can reach their full potential”.

The common agreement among the presenters though was that governments have not yet done enough to establish the level of support that would allow immigrants feel fully accepted and integrate easily into Canadian society.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The more discrimination people face, the closer they feel to their ethnic groups.”[/quote]

In addition, Canadian Refugee and Immigration Lawyer El-Farouk Khaki noted that the second and third generations of racialized immigrants generally tend to be closer to their ethnic groups than the first generation. “The more discrimination people face, the closer they feel to their ethnic groups.”

However, despite a common understanding of increasing immigration trends and the impact of ethnic communities on newcomers’ integration experience, surprisingly no presentations or workshops mentioned the role of the ethnic, multilingual media in new immigrants’ lives.

As part of a team of ethnic media consultants, I see stories on immigration, integration, education and legal issues, labour, health and safety, immigrant challenges and struggles every day, and yet ethnic media seems not to be on the radar of policy makers and service providers as one of the most valuable resources on immigration they can find.

Following the ethnic media would seem to be a significant part of the outreach equation of what Ryerson University professor April Lindgren calls “A Settlement Service in Disguise” in her pioneer case study on the City of Brampton’s municipal communication strategies and ethnic media (2015, Global Media Journal -- Canadian Edition Volume 8, Issue 2, pp. 49-71.)

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][E]thnic media will continue to grow and be a viable component of immigrant life in Canada.[/quote]

The divide from mainstream media

When asked about it, government officials acknowledge the importance of ethnic media, but admit that it’s not being used to its full potential. There is still separation between mainstream media and ethnic media press conferences, message and language specifics.

But does there have to be? Shouldn’t ethnic media be an integral part of the communication mix, a two way channel for an open dialogue between governments, service providers and immigrant communities? 

After all, with growing immigration and yet-to-be-improved integration processes, ethnic media will continue to grow and be a viable component of immigrant life in Canada. So why not make it a powerful tool in creating an engaging society where everyone can reach their full potential?

Metropolis 2016, while having presented lots of valuable information and opinions, left these questions unanswered for me right now.

Natalya Chernova is a MIREMS Ethnic Media Expert.

This article was first published on MIREMS. It has been re-published with permission.

Published in Commentary

On December 3, 2015 Geoff Regan was elected as the 36th Speaker of the House of Commons — reportedly the first from Atlantic Canada in almost 100 years.

The veteran politician, who was first elected to parliament in 1993 to represent Halifax West, was re-elected to his seventh term in October 2015 during which time he has held 126 town hall meetings.

His focus over the years on issues such as education, environmental protection, health promotion and retirement security, has led him to the new position he holds as Speaker of the House.

More respect in the House of Commons

In a conversation with Touch BASE editor Robin Arthur, Regan said he plans to change the tone of the house to make it less confrontational.

“Of course, I cannot do it alone. I need the cooperation of Members of Parliament (MPs) to do this. Canadians would like to see MPs show more respect for each other and think about the people they serve rather than the parties they belong to.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Sixty nine per cent of MPs think there is too much of heckling – especially interruption of speakers."[/quote]

Regan was pointing to heckling on the floor of the House of Commons which he says is a form of intimidation. “It especially discourages women from entering politics. I want to see less of that type of heckling,” he says.

“Sixty nine per cent of MPs think there is too much of heckling – especially interruption of speakers — and so that’s the challenge ahead.”

The Speaker of the House votes only in the event of a tie. He votes not as he wishes to, but based on precedent.

Speaking on matters of immigration

The position of Speaker of the House of Commons requires him to be non partisan and impartial at all times – therefore he can no longer comment publicly on issues that might come before him on the floor of the House. Nevertheless he can communicate with MPs separately. That being said, although the House Speaker cannot introduce bills, he can take up issues that matter to his constituency and represent his constituents.

“I can do that in direct communication with MPs, cabinet ministers or parliament secretaries,” Regan said. He told this newspaper there are issues that matter to his constituency (Halifax West).

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[P]oliticians at all levels should put the pressure on professional bodies responsible for credentials recognition to make sure they are welcoming in their approach."[/quote]

“These include community infrastructure, the immigration system — there will be an immigration plan this year — initiatives that would allow families to make ends meet, health and seniors care,” he said.

The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has met its promises to open Canada’s gates to 10,000 refugees by December 31. But is the government looking to iron out other issues of interest to newcomers?

“These are matters of government,” Regan observed. “However, the Liberal party has promised to speed up family reunification and double the number of parents and grandparents coming in every year.”

He says that in town hall meetings, he has heard from immigrants with advanced degrees. These are matters that can be taken up to speed up credentials recognition.

“The minister cannot be an expert on specifics of job sectors. So politicians at all levels should put the pressure on professional bodies responsible for credentials recognition to make sure they are welcoming in their approach and are not looking to lower the number of professionals coming into the country,” he observed.

Regan also touched on Bill C-24, introduced by the Harper government, which allows the minister of immigration to strip a dual citizen of his citizenship if he is convicted abroad without the right to defend.

“The Liberal party opposed the Bill when it was introduced,” he said. “We will have to wait and see if the government will introduce a Bill to review it.”

This article first appeared on Touch BASE. Re-published with permission. 

Published in Politics
Friday, 11 December 2015 13:51

Inclusion, Diversity Bode Well Under Trudeau

Commentary by Andrew Griffith in Ottawa

The Liberal government has emphasized its diversity and inclusion language in speeches, cabinet ministers, committees and mandate letters. This emphasis has been reinforced by the return of the multiculturalism program to Canadian Heritage. Taken together, these represent mainstreaming of diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism to an unparalleled extent.

It starts with the language of Prime Minister Trudeau who regularly emphasizes that:

Canadians understand that diversity is our strength. We know that Canada has succeeded — culturally, politically, economically — because of our diversity, not in spite of it.

It continues with the creation of the Cabinet Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, with a strong inclusion mandate for Indigenous and new Canadians:

Considers issues concerning the social fabric of Canada and the promotion of Canadian pluralism. Examines initiatives designed to strengthen the relationship with Indigenous Canadians, improve the economic performance of immigrants, and promote Canadian diversity, multiculturalism, and linguistic duality.

It is reflected in his choice of ministers: 50 per cent women, 17 per cent visible minority.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Holding all ministers to account ... should ensure greater progress on the two objectives of multiculturalism: recognition and equality.[/quote]

And is further reinforced in the shared mandate letter commitments for all ministers with two strong multiculturalism-related commitments:

Canadians expect us, in our work, to reflect the values we all embrace: inclusion, honesty, hard work, fiscal prudence, and generosity of spirit. We will be a government that governs for all Canadians, and I expect you, in your work, to bring Canadians together.

You are expected to do your part to fulfill our government’s commitment to transparent, merit-based appointments, to help ensure gender parity and that Indigenous Canadians and minority groups are better reflected in positions of leadership.

Holding all ministers to account, with the PMO tracking these and other shared commitments (in addition to minister-specific commitments), should ensure greater progress on the two objectives of multiculturalism: recognition and equality.

It will take some time to see how well these commitments are implemented, particularly with respect to appointments. An early test was with respect to parliamentary secretaries where 34 per cent were women (below parity), but 23 per cent were visible minorities (significantly above).

Equally important, the previous government’s weak record on the diversity of judicial appointments (less than two per cent visible minority) will start to be addressed.

Rebuilding multiculturalism policy

Overall, the new government made few changes to how government is formally organized (machinery changes). This was wise given the disruption and turmoil that such changes can entail (e.g., the Martin government’s splitting apart Human Resources and Skills Development and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in 2004, reversed by the Harper government in 2006).

This makes the return of the multiculturalism program to Canadian Heritage all the more striking, after some eight years at Citizenship and Immigration (now Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada or IRCC).

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]he return of multiculturalism to Canadian Heritage reinforces the overall government diversity and inclusion agenda.[/quote]

The original transfer to CIC was largely driven by political reasons given then Minister Jason Kenney’s political outreach role with ethnic groups.

However, there was also a policy rationale. Multiculturalism deals with longer-term multi-generational issues (along with ‘mainstream’ visible minority relations) in contrast to the newcomer focus of the immigration, integration and citizenship programs.

While multiculturalism could be seen as a logical extension of CIC’s mandate, and was portrayed as such in one of CIC’s strategic objectives, ‘building an integrated society,' in practice, however, the multiculturalism program withered away at CIC.

When the program moved to CIC in 2008, it had a $13 million budget: $12 million for grants and contributions and 73 full-time positions. The last departmental performance report (2013-14) showed 29 full-time positions (a decline of 60 per cent) with a $9.8 million budget. Money for grants and contributions fell to $7.9 million.

Negotiations over the resources to be returned to Canadian Heritage will be challenging, given the impact may be felt in other program areas in IRCC that benefited from the redistribution of Multiculturalism funds. Moreover, the weakened capacity will require a major rebuilding and re-staffing effort.

From a policy perspective, the return of multiculturalism to Canadian Heritage reinforces the overall government diversity and inclusion agenda, as well as the Canadian identity agenda, which fits nicely with Canadian Heritage’s overall mandate.

However, Minister Mélanie Joly’s public statements to date have not included any significant references to multiculturalism. Her general orientation, however, has been clear: to promote the “symbols of progressiveness. That was (sic) the soul of our platform.”

Overall, the commitment to a diversity and inclusion agenda, supported by a Cabinet Committee and shared Ministerial mandate letter commitments, and the rebuilding of multiculturalism back at Canadian Heritage, bode well for a more effective inclusion, diversity and multiculturalism strategy across government. 

Andrew Griffith is the author of Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote and Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism and is a regular media commentator and blogger (Multiculturalism Meanderings). He is the former Director General for Citizenship and Multiculturalism. 

This article first appeared on The Hill Times. Re-published with permission from author.

Published in Commentary

by Kyle Duggan in Ottawa

The new minister of health can expect a flood of petitions on her desk on the topic of implementing a rare disease strategy for Canada.

Durhane Wong-Rieger, president of the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders, told a crowd of health experts and industry stakeholders at an event put on by the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa Monday that if they’re not writing letters to the new health minister and prime minister, they’re not doing their jobs.

“This strategy is long overdue,” she said. “We are way behind other countries.”

Her organization has been championing its plan for a national strategy since May, but sees an opportunity in the new federal government.

“I see it as low hanging fruit … a quick win for the party and the government if they were to bring this forward and implement it.”

Tougher for people with rare diseases

The strategy calls for improving early detection of rare diseases, improving quality of care for patients and introducing a policy framework for “orphan” drugs — those developed specifically for rare diseases. It also suggests measures aimed at creating a better information network for rare diseases, including a possible registry.

Monday’s event heard from Jonathan Pitre of Russell, Ontario, often called the “butterfly boy.” Pitre has an incurable skin condition called Epidermolysis bullosa (EB). He’s one of about 5,000 people with some form of EB in Canada, which causes his skin to blister and burn.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“For most common conditions or diseases it’s a little bit easier, there’s more knowing about them … resources dedicated to them.”[/quote]

He told the crowd about the prolonged frustration of waiting for doctors to properly diagnose his condition, about the lack of appropriate adult care centres for those with rare diseases and the prohibitive cost of his medication.

“For most common conditions or diseases it’s a little bit easier, there’s more knowing about them … resources dedicated to them,” he said. “For rare diseases … it’s a bit tougher for us.”

There’s no treatment for EB in Canada – a bone-marrow transplant would cost $2.5 million, on top of the cost of travelling to and staying in the U.S. for an extended period of time.

“I think you guys noticed that’s not pocket change,” he said. “That’s unreal.”

“That’s the truth of it. Just to get that treatment that may help us … I may not live to 20. Just to be able to keep fighting we need that much money and that much resources … We can do definitely better.”

Lack of coherent, rational approach

Former Alberta health minister Fred Horne said a Canadian rare disease strategy could help deal with cases like Pitre’s in the future, and pointed to a rare drug framework as something the new government could move on quickly.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Instead of worrying about whose jurisdiction it is, let’s look at what are the opportunities to really work together and make something happen.”[/quote]

“Rare disease coverage for patients, where it exists, it’s very sporadic across the country. Some provinces have a specialized program off to the side where they can provide some assistance, but there’s no really coherent, rational approach to this. It’s a public health issue, it affects three million Canadians – that’s the call to action.”

He said a catastrophic drug coverage plan for rare diseases is critical, adding that from his experience it’s “pretty hard in a smaller budget to provide reimbursement for these drugs” because some cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Setting national standards and pooling financial resources, he said, “could do better for Canadians than we’re currently doing.

“Instead of worrying about whose jurisdiction it is, let’s look at what are the opportunities to really work together and make something happen.”

Wong-Rieger also spoke about the need to get more Canadians with rare diseases into clinical trials.

“That’s your lifeline, that’s your hope,” she said. Missing out on clinical trials can be a “major, major tragedy,” she said.

Her organization estimates that about three million Canadians – about eight per cent of the population – has a rare disease.

Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.

Published in Health
Tuesday, 29 September 2015 13:57

New Efforts by Government to Assist Refugees

by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver

The Saskatoon International Airport was a scene of exultation and relief on Sept. 17 when a family of seven Syrian refugees arrived to be reunited with their distant Canadian cousin.

Carlo Arslanian, a Syrian Canadian who left Syria when he was six months old, told CBC News that he was overjoyed to be able to provide his family members with refuge during the current crisis.

"I think it's probably the best thing that's ever happened to me and to my family," said Arslanian. "They're going to thrive in Saskatoon and in Canada. I hope it's a well worth trip, and a well worth venture."

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"They're going to thrive in Saskatoon and in Canada. I hope it's a well worth trip, and a well worth venture."[/quote]

The Arslanians are just seven of over four million individuals who have fled Syria to neighbouring countries or western European nations since civil war broke out in the country in 2011. For most, this process can take months or even years to complete, with the time in between spent in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, or Iraq.

A family of refugees who recently arrived in Charlottetown fled Syria over a year ago. They finally completed their journey on Sept. 25, when members of the local Syrian community received Awak Alkhalil and his family at the airport with welcome signs and flags.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you very much. Thank you Canada. Thank you government of Canada," Alkhalil said. 

Unlike the Arslanians, the Alkhalils did not have family members to sponsor their journey to Canada. Instead, Susan Nye-Brothers brought them to Charlottetown with the assistance of the Charlottetown Diocese Refugee Committee. 

These families are just two of many who expect to reach Canadian shores this fall.  

According to Refuge Winnipeg, an interfaith coalition of members from Winnipeg's Islamic, Christian and Jewish communities, the group expects three Syrian families to arrive in their community within the next month. P.E.I. is also expecting two new families to arrive this month.

Expediting the process at home and abroad 

In order to assist more families seeking refuge in Canada, the government is doubling the number of employees at the Winnipeg processing centre where all refugee applications are handled. 

Beyond expanding their domestic services, the federal government is trying to boost these efforts even further by expediting the immigration of refugees to the country. 

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander recently announced the government’s plans to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country by September 2016 – 15 months sooner than its original pledge. The Conservatives have additional plans to resettle 10,000 more refugees over the next four years should they win the federal election this fall. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][I]mmigration officers are being instructed to assume that Syrians and Iraqis fleeing the region are indeed refugees.[/quote]

Canada has resettled approximately 2,300 Syrian refugees since 2013 when it began efforts to assist those fleeing conflict in the region.

In order to speed up the application process for refugees, immigration officers are being instructed to assume that Syrians and Iraqis fleeing the region are indeed refugees, rather than require that they prove they are convention refugees as defined by the United Nations Refugee Agency. 

This stipulation has previously led to lengthy application processes, which can stretch on for months, if not years, leaving individuals and families stranded in a perpetual limbo of refugee camps and bureaucratic processes. 

Since the announcement, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has issued a call for employees who are ready for “rapid deployment” to the Middle East. 

The department is working with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to mobilize staff who have experience with refugee situations and who have knowledge of Arabic. Because of these requirements, the CIC is even asking retired immigration officers to step forward to assist in this time of crisis. 

By sending officers to Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey – countries where a majority of refugees have fled to in an attempt to escape conflict and eventually enter Western nations – both CIC and the CBSA hope to increase their presence on the ground and assist refugees before they even step foot on Canadian soil.

The larger conflict 

What the Arslanians and the Alkhalils have in common is that their journeys began long before pictures of Alan Kurdi reached the Canadian public on Sept. 2. 

The Middle East was rocked by a series of pro-democracy protests in early 2011 following the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi, a street vender living in the coastal town of Ben Arous in Tunisia. Bouazizi’s death spurred protests in Sidi Bouzid that eventually spread to a large number of countries in the region. 

In Syria, similar protests erupted after a group of teenagers were arrested and tortured for painting revolutionary slogans on a school wall. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]What the Arslanians and the Alkhalils have in common is that their journeys began long before pictures of Alan Kurdi reached the Canadian public on Sept. 2.[/quote]

The unrest eventually culminated in nationwide protests with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets to demand the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad.

The months that followed saw the country descend into devastating conflict with rebel forces facing off against government troops. 

This is the Syria that Regina resident Hany Al Moliya left behind when he fled with his family in 2012. 

A web series released on YouTube this week follows Al Moliya’s family’s struggles living in a small refugee camp in Lebanon. The family lived there for three years before finally arriving in Regina several months ago. 

[youtube height="315" width="560"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KFuISCmAzg[/youtube] 

Al Moliya is one of the roughly 600 government-assisted Syrian refugees living in Canada. The others have all been brought to Canada through private sponsorship. 

The challenge for Al Moliya – as well as for the Arslanians, the Alkhalils, and the many other families arriving in the country – is to now create a new life in Canada.

With the government’s newfound efforts to expedite the process of bringing Syrian and Iraqi refugees into Canada, Al Moliya will likely be joined by many of his fellow Syrians in the months and years to come.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Top Stories
Thursday, 17 September 2015 11:05

Youth Volunteers Support Chinatown Seniors

by Deanna Cheng in Vancouver

One outreach worker is creating a bilingual volunteer program because there's not enough support for Chinese seniors, especially those in Vancouver's Chinatown.

Chanel Ly, a 23-year-old outreach worker who is part of the Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative, initiated the Youth for Chinese Seniors program because when she sees all these seniors – who are predominantly female – she thinks of her grandma. She cannot imagine not helping them out.

"I can't stand seeing seniors being neglected. It's disrespectful."

She points out that it's part of the Chinese cultural values to care for elders.

Ly will connect bilingual youth volunteers to seniors in the Strathcona area, the city's oldest neighbourhood.

Tasks for volunteers include translating legal documents, taking seniors to the doctor's office or the pharmacy, and informing seniors about their rights as tenants.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The biggest problem for Strathcona seniors is affordable housing.[/quote]

One of the biggest challenges Ly faced while building this program from scratch was the amount of work required because there was no previous infrastructure, despite the demand for service that was culturally appropriate and in Chinese.

The program will run from this month to March next year, Ly says, because that's when grant funding ends.

"The goal is to improve the quality of life for Chinese seniors."

Addressing Chinese seniors’ challenges

The biggest problem for Strathcona seniors is affordable housing. With condo developments in the area, rents are going up and pushing out the original residents.

Vancouver activist Sid Chow Tan believes the Chinese benevolent and clan associations should contribute to Chinatown by providing their buildings and property for social housing. These associations, grouped either by provinces in China or last name "clans," were community centres.

Historically, most of the association buildings were community homes and bachelor suites for Chinese immigrants, a demographic regularly ignored by the government and institutions, Tan says. "It's sad to see space that used to house hundreds and hundreds of bachelors are now used for mahjong and ping-pong."

Another concern for seniors is health, says Ly. "Doctors are not always accessible. Drop-in clinics are not always available. Or opened only during certain hours."

Volunteers will help by accompanying seniors to the doctor's office and translate if needed.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"We want to fill in the gaps between the generations." - Chanel Ly, Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative[/quote]

Racism against Chinese seniors does happen at community centres, due to an unfounded belief that there's no such thing as poor Chinese people.

"There are poor Chinese," Tan said at a July event where bilingual volunteers and seniors met. "The Chinese poor doesn't want to be seen as poor. They just bear it."

Tan says they don't want to "lose face." In Chinese, the phrase means losing a combination of self-respect, honour and reputation.

Community survival

Despite the barriers they encounter, these seniors survive by banding together. "They're always self-sufficient and resourceful. They have their own networks," Ly says.

However, Mandarin-speaking seniors are even more marginalized, she says, because what little support there is, it's usually for Cantonese speakers.

Tan says the boomer generation couldn't leave Chinatown fast enough, but the "echo-boomers" came back. "They see something to save and protect. It's sacred ground to Chinese people.”

"It was where people organized to vote, worked to send money home," he says. "Now it's sullied by market forces, economic greed and political entitlement within the community."

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Three in five Canadians say their families are not in a good position, financially or otherwise, to care for older family members requiring long-term health care.[/quote]

Connecting generations

The program also promotes intergenerational interactions. Says Ly, "We want to fill in the gaps between the generations."

Ly started collecting volunteers before the summer and will have check-in meetings with youth once a month. At the moment, she has 15 dedicated volunteers lined up.

The online volunteer form is comprehensive, even asking for preferred pronouns. The program organizer says she wanted the volunteers to feel comfortable.

When asked if seniors – especially those with a traditional mindset – would be upset with transgender volunteers, Ly says the seniors might accept them.

She says they'll notice more that the volunteer is a young, Chinese-speaking person. They'll be grateful for the assistance, and would get to know them as human beings with good intentions.

Seniors’ health care: the numbers

A report titled "2015 National Report Card: Canadian Views on a National Seniors' Health Care Strategy" by Ipsos Reid Public Affairs for the Canadian Medical Association said seniors today represent 15 per cent of the population. In 1971, seniors only represented eight per cent of the population.

Three in five Canadians say their families are not in a good position, financially or otherwise, to care for older family members requiring long-term health care, the report said.

Respondents 55 years of age and older indicate they want more home care and community support to help seniors live at home longer as a key priority for the government.

Ninety per cent of Canadians surveyed believe we need a national strategy on seniors' health care that addresses the need for care provided at home and in hospitals, hospices and long-term care facilities, as well as end-of-life care.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Health

by Surjit Singh Flora (@floracanada) in Brampton, Ontario

It is surprising that the Ontario government has launched an advertising campaign about the controversial sexual-education curriculum, instead of engaging parents more directly and responding to their concerns.
Queen’s Park is using electronic and print media and some advertisements have already been released. The government surely hopes the campaign will lay to rest any remaining questions on the controversial curriculum change, but in my view, parental concerns run much deeper.
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s a sign that we understand that there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Education Minister Liz Sandals was quoted as saying.[/quote]
The government’s curriculum has many shortcomings, written in a language that makes it difficult to forecast the outcome – all in the name of “education”. Protesting organizations have called this curriculum "indoctrination". But at this juncture, the government sees the advertising campaign as the solution, adding more public spending to an already indebted government.
Not listening
“It’s a sign that we understand that there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Education Minister Liz Sandals was quoted as saying. “This is a case where there’s enough misinformation out there that we believe that we actually need to get more accurate information into the public discussion.”
The government has shown that it is incapable of paying heed to the many parents who consider this curriculum a risk to the raising of their children. Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government appears keen to implement its agenda by all means. There is a chance this fight will be waged over a long time.
website advocating for parents claims it has been threatened with legal action by the Peel District School Board, which I find condemnable. This raises the following question: will the right of freedom of expression be taken away? Will legal action be taken to silence the voice of those who oppose this controversial curriculum?
Trust in the public school system has weakened over the last several months. The people’s trust in public institutions is much more important than the stick of law-and-order. The people’s trust can be regained through transparent dialogue and consultations, not through advertisement campaigns and the threat of legal action.
Mainstream media bias
The discriminatory behaviour of the mainstream media is also worthy of condemnation. In my experience, the mainstream media are so biased that they do not want to listen to anything or cover anything against the curriculum, with many journalists aiming to completely bury opposition.
Whenever protests were held, the mainstream media either failed to report them or have tended to downplay coverage.
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Is the protection of our children “homophobia”? Will this topic that is of crucial importance to immigrant parents now be left in the hands of the government and mainstream media?[/quote]
The mainstream media may have different perspective on other subjects, but they seem united in opposing the protesting parents and favouring the government on the matter of the sex-ed curriculum.
At this point, it seems clear to me that the Wynne government and mainstream media want to suppress the voices of parents who oppose the curriculum, labelling their objections as “homophobic” or motivated by sheer ignorance.
Is the protection of our children “homophobia”? Will this topic that is of crucial importance to immigrant parents now be left in the hands of the government and mainstream media?
The government and mainstream media are ignoring a petition that has 185,000 signatures.
The same media ignored the “cultural genocide” of Indigenous children because it was considered an Indigenous matter; similarly, opposition to this controversial curriculum is being presented as driven by new immigrants only. In fact, all communities have been opposing it and the protest held at Queen’s Park on June 7, 2015 is proof enough.
Even if we were to grant that the issue is primarily a “new immigrant” concern, are new immigrants not also parents? Don’t they have a right to safeguard the well-being of their children?
Dubious authors
It is a matter of shame that the overseer of this curriculum, Benjamin Levin, has recently been convicted on charges related to child pornography. Levin was Ontario’s deputy education minister from 2004 to 2007 and a Wynne supporter, playing an important role in her transition team.
Levin frequented a website with discussion forums on the sexual exploitation of children and police found numerous images of child pornography on his computer. On July 8, 2013, Toronto police charged him with child exploitation and on May 29, 2015 the court sentenced him to three years in prison.
The mainstream media did not consider it reasonable to ask the government about the relationship between Levin and this sex-ed curriculum. The government repeatedly claims the curriculum will protect children from sexual exploitation and diseases, but more likely it is a case of “Jackals guarding the hens” as a Punjabi saying goes.
The government should immediately withdraw this sex-ed curriculum or make the necessary changes requested by parents. Further, all information about the people who helped draft the document should be made public. This issue is crucial to the security and future of our children. It is the government’s duty to reassure parents that this revision is in the kids’ best interests.

Surjit Singh Flora has lived in Brampton, Ontario for the last 25 years. He is a guest-column writer, news reporter and photographer who has been published all over the world in more than 100 newspapers, magazines and online. He is also the editor and publisher of the weekly English news magazine Asia Metro Weekly.
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Published in Commentary
Wednesday, 20 May 2015 03:41

This "Sham Marriage" Sounds Like Mine

by Will Tao (@TheWillTruth) in Vancouver

In my work assisting senior lawyers at my firm with their immigration appeal division and federal court cases, I have found myself increasingly handling cases where Chinese-Canadian and Indo-Canadian sponsors have had their sponsorship applications for spouses living overseas rejected due to the inability to prove the ‘genuineness’ of their marriage. (See Storify here)

‘Genuineness’ is a term used by the Canadian government to measure the validity of a marriage – in other words is it real, or is it a sham?

Last year, my colleague, Steven Meurrens, actually filed an Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) request to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). He wanted access to the training manuals immigration officers used to assess the ‘genuineness’ of marriages, in which a request to sponsor a spouse to Canada was being made.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][W]hen CIC officers assess an application to sponsor a spouse or common-law partner they are guided by Canadian immigration legislation to analyze the applicant’s marriage to the Canadian sponsor to see whether it was conducted in “bad faith.” [/quote]

As a result of Meurrens request, a document surfaced that was used at CIC-Vegreville, the CIC office that was responsible for assessing spouse-in-Canada sponsorships up until February 2014. This is the same category currently stuck in a much-maligned 26-month backlog that has devastated several Canadian families.

I find the document he received, titled APR Training Module 9 - Spouse-Common-Law Partner in Canada Handout #5, to be troubling in many ways.

Among the indicators of a ‘non-genuine’ marital relationship listed:

  • Chinese nationals, often university students, marrying non-Chinese.
  • Photos do not include parents or any family members. Usually small groups of friends, 10 people in the photos.
  • The reception is informal and in a restaurant, reception will end after dinner.
  • Sponsor is often uneducated, with a low-paying job or on welfare.
  • In the photos, the couple does not kiss on the lips.
  • Couples usually do not have a honeymoon, not even a couple days away usually because of university and/or no money.
  • There are usually no “diamond” rings.
  • Some submit photos of them dressed in pajamas or cooking, to show they are living together.

An additional concern listed later in the document states:

  • Ethnic background – are they from similar cultures or do their cultures vary greatly?

To provide context, when CIC officers assess an application to sponsor a spouse or common-law partner they are guided by Canadian immigration legislation to analyze the applicant’s marriage to the Canadian sponsor to see whether it was conducted in “bad faith.”

The marriage is analyzed for 'genuineness' and then also to determine whether the primary purpose of the marriage was to obtain a privilege or benefit under immigration legislation. The finding of a marriage to be fake is grounds to deny the application.

Cultural (In)sensitivity?

Without divulging too much personal detail, I am in the process of proposing to my own foreign national girlfriend. We met on academic exchange and were just one of several relationships formed between non-Chinese international students and Chinese foreign national students.

Our favourite date night activity, because neither of us is wealthy, happens to be buying vegetables and cooking creative dinners together.

Also, if my future wife and I are unable to host a traditional marriage in China, and we choose to marry in Canada, it will be small affair with a few of my closest friends and colleagues, likely in a Chinese restaurant.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]When I posted the CIC list on my Twitter account, I received an overwhelming response from Canadian couples that reflected on their own marriages and determined that, in the eyes of the CIC list, their own marriages would have been considered a ‘sham’.[/quote]

As my own parents reminded me not too long ago, their marriage took place in a Chinese restaurant in Shanghai, where there were no rings, no photographer, and I can imagine, no lip kisses. My two sets of grandparents met, shared a nice dinner, and took respective bus rides back home.

For my many friends who, in the beautiful cultural mosaic that is Canada, are in mixed-race, interfaith, common-law or LGBTQ2+ relationships, the CIC list simply does not reflect their cultural ideals of marriage and ‘genuineness’.

Are Indicators Attainable for Most Canadians?

Many Canadians, and particularly new immigrants, have to make economic sacrifices that prevent them from having fancy marriages and long honeymoons.

Many immigrants with unrecognized degrees must start in low-paying jobs in order to make ends meet.

Having large weddings is further complicated by the fact many Canadians are unable to have their extended family and friends living abroad attend their weddings due to obstacles in obtaining Canadian visas. Many of these weddings are understandably small with few guests in attendance.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Many Canadians, myself included, are now second-guessing how to plan their marriage and even worse, second-guessing whether it is worth introducing their loved one to an immigration system that wishes to scrutinize their every kiss and photo.[/quote]

When I posted the CIC list on my Twitter account, I received an overwhelming response from Canadian couples (mostly older, non-immigrant, Caucasian ones) that reflected on their own marriages and determined that, in the eyes of the CIC list, their own marriages would have been considered a ‘sham’.

I also found several younger individuals, who say they are considering skipping the white dress, diamond ring approach for something simpler or more creative. One of my high school friends even reached out and told me that the ring for her immigrant marriage would be blue sapphire.

Too Far in Scrutinizing Immigrant Marriages?

While marriage fraud is indeed a concern, I believe there are more than enough punitive measures in our immigration legislation to punish those who engage in sham marriages.

For example, there is currently a five-year bar in place for misrepresentation on immigration applications. There are also severe criminal sanctions against those who set up for-profit fake marriages.

This CIC list, on the other hand, punishes all Canadians who wish to sponsor their significant other to come here, placing on them culturally and economically insensitive standards for proving the ‘realness’ of their marriage.

Many Canadians, myself included, are now second-guessing how to plan their marriage and even worse, second-guessing whether it is worth introducing their loved one to an immigration system that wishes to scrutinize their every kiss and photo.

It is my hope that CIC will ultimately come out to say that this list is not being used, and further to publicly state, on record, the full list of indicators that will be considered and the rationale behind them.

A graduate of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, Will Tao is an Articling Student at a leading boutique Canadian immigration law firm in Vancouver where he will begin as an Associate in June 2015. He is the product of Chinese immigrant parents and has a significant other overseas whom he hopes to sponsor to Canada in the near future.

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Published in Commentary

by Sam Minassie (@samminassie) in Toronto

The government is restricting access to public documents and next to nothing is being done about it.

This was the recurring theme during the “Flying Blind” conference hosted by The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) at Ryerson University on Friday.

Earlier this week, the CJFE put out its Review of Free Expression in Canada report, which features articles, statistics and analyses from experts in law, journalism, advocacy and academia in order to inform on and evaluate government and institutions for their impact on freedom of expression.

James L. Turk who is a distinguished visiting professor at Ryerson University explained that the issue of government transparency is a matter of protecting our democratic system and that silence only gives officials more power.

“Democracy is dependent on an informed public, but an informed public is potentially detrimental to a government,” he said.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]There is almost an obligation now to give time for a response, which deters journalists from reaching out to political offices. Government communication should now be called government marketing.” - Jennifer Ditchburn, Canadian Press[/quote]

At the conference, the Information Commissioner of Canada, Suzanne Legault, joined prominent members of the media and other advocates of increased information accessibility for an open discussion regarding their personal experiences with, as well as expert opinions on, the subject.

The list of panellists included Munir Sheikh, former statistician of Canada and current executive fellow at the University of Calgary, Rob Cribb, an investigative journalist for the Toronto Star, Jennifer Ditchburn, senior parliamentary correspondent for the Canadian Press, Laura Tribe, national and digital programs lead for the CJFE, executive director of CJFE, Tom Henheffer and many more.

Introductions highlighting the many achievements of the speakers were followed by individual testimonies detailing how the lack of legal support has allowed the government to hide many of its budgetary spending from the public and has also resulted in a decline in investigative journalism.

The increase in the government’s unwillingness to produce documents has also promptly led to a general mistrust between members of the media and government officials.

“There is almost an obligation now to give time for a response, which deters journalists from reaching out to political offices,” explained Ditchburn. “Government communication should now be called government marketing.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“You need a public that cares and rises up. Everyone who knows has a responsibility  [to raise awareness]. Governments need to know that people care about the issue.” - Laura Tribe, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression[/quote]

She continued on saying that the government now has its own team of media correspondents that is given more access to political figures.

Raising Awareness

“Why is this a non-issue? I am tired of having these discussions and then going home with no change. As we sit here having this discussion, that person right outside,” said Cribb, pointing at a man walking by the window, “has no idea of what is going on.”

“You need a public that cares and rises up. Everyone who knows has a responsibility  [to raise awareness]. Governments need to know that people care about the issue,” added Tribe.

Turk stated that this kind of denial of information access inhibits the job performance of reporters, making a comparison to construction workers. “These are fundamental tools needed for journalism. What if I took the shovels from the workers outside and told them to dig?”

Legal Issues

“This is a total information shut down . . .” said Henheffer. “The government wants to shut down access to information. The problem is weak laws that allow a government to do whatever they want in terms of accessing information.”

Although all of the panellists reiterated that public awareness was the key to increasing the dissemination of information, everyone was shocked when Tribe revealed that of the 102 country that qualified for the 2010 survey of freedom of information laws, Canada ranked just 58th.

This ranking put Canada behind many developing states such as Sierra Leone, Mexico, Azerbaijan, and even Ethiopia, which has been notorious for jailing journalists.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"] “The federal government states that they are the most transparent in history because they have responded to the most [access to information] requests . . . people need to continue to speak out, if people give up [the fight] there will [only] be [further] erosion . . .” - Suzanne Legault, Information Commissioner of Canada[/quote]

At another point in the discussion, Brown revealed that while investigating for an article, the threat of a libel case is extremely effective in dissuading the news outlet from publishing a story due to court costs.

As an example he described a situation that he went through with an article he had written on Jian Ghomeshi, who has now been charged with several counts of sexual assault. Although everything that Brown had wrote in the article was factual, the Toronto Star refused to publish the story after being threatened, until Ghomeshi himself made the information public through a Facebook post four months later.

Steps Moving Forward

Peter Jacobsen, a media lawyer, explained that journalists must be trained on how to approach sources that wish to remain anonymous because complete confidentiality can never be promised. He went on to say that if called to testify during a libel case, upon refusal to reveal a source’s identity, a journalist could be charged with contempt of court.

Jacobsen stated that the only way to combat these civil suits, until laws are changed, is for the media to band together so that court costs are kept to a minimal. Henheffer added that forming a media coalition for this exact purpose would definitely be a priority for the CJFE in the future.

The Information Commissioner of Canada, Legault concluded by stating: “The federal government states that they are the most transparent in history because they have responded to the most [access to information] requests . . . people need to continue to speak out, if people give up [the fight] there will [only] be [further] erosion . . . talking to your MP will help. Send e-mails, tweets. Go in person (to your local MP’s office).”

Photo: From left to right: Moderator, Carolyn Jarvis, 16x9’s Chief Correspondent, Global News; Peter Jacobsen, media lawyer and founding partner, Bersenas Jacobsen Chouest Thomson Blackburn LLP; Jesse Brown, freelance journalist and media critic; Ivan Semaniuk, science reporter, The Globe and Mail. // Photo Credit: Tom Henheffer 

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Published in Politics
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