Commentary by Andrew Griffith in Ottawa

The just-concluded National Metropolis Conference is an annual forum for researchers, policy makers and immigrant-service organizations. This year the conference was held in Montreal.

Here are some of the themes covered and my take on them:

Integration – The Search for a New Metaphor: This session, prompted by the Canadian Index for Measuring Integration (CIMI) discussions on the meaning and definition of integration (and my Integration and multiculturalism: Finding a new metaphor – Policy Options) drew a good crowd (60-70 persons).

I opened with my critique of the “two-way street” metaphor by emphasizing that it did not capture the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of immigration, presenting my preferred metaphor, harmony/jazz, where harmony represents the underlying framework of laws and institutions, and jazz the improvisation involved in resolving accommodation demands.

Mort Weinfeld of McGill University drew from the personal experience of his parents and talking to cab drivers, noting that integration of the second generation is key. His preferred metaphor is the roundabout, with multiple points of entry and exit, with traffic moving smoothly.

Richard Bourhis of UQAM provided a Quebec perspective, looking at how Quebec language policies were characteristic of an assimilationist approach.

Elke Winter of the University of Ottawa drew from her analysis of European policies and practices and noted a third dimensions, that of outside actors and transnational forces (e.g., other countries, home communities of immigrants), and that integration was more a three-way than two-way process.

The presentations prompted considerable discussion, although no one jumped to the defence of the ‘two-way street.’

Thinking about next year, this is a topic that merits further exploration, perhaps involving some literary descriptions or metaphors.

Citizenship – Factors Underlying a Declining Naturalization Rate: In the only session on citizenship, Prof. WInter opened the workshop with an overview of how Canadian citizenship has evolved over the last 150 years, setting out four phases: colonized citizenship (pre-1947), nationalizing citizenship (1947-76), de-ethnicising citizenship (1977-2008) and re-nationalizing citizenship (2009-15) with a possible fifth phase emerging under the Liberal government. She presented some preliminary findings from an interview-based study.

I followed with my usual presentation of citizenship statistics, showing the impact of previous policy and administrative changes along with an assessment of the 2014 Conservative changes and Liberal partial repeal of these changes (currently in the Senate).

Jessica Merolli of Sheridan presented the key MIPEX naturalization indicators and data from the European Social Survey comparing immigrant/non-immigrant attitudes on issues such as self-sufficiency, interests in politics, LGBT acceptance and others and how over time in the country of immigration differences declined. The most striking exception was with respect to interest in politics, where immigrants, no matter how short or long the time, were more interested than non-immigrants.

Questions of note included do we need a citizenship knowledge test given that it presents barriers for some groups, and the impact that the  physical presence requirement has on families when one parent has to work abroad given difficulties in obtaining well-paying work in Canada.

Minority Voice, Identity and Inclusion – Media and Literary Expressions: A mix of a case study (Punjabi media by Syeda Bukhari where she noted the ethnic media was getting more sophisticated in comparing what politicians said to English and ethnic media and thus holding them to account) and the overall contribution ethnic media provides to integration (Madeline Ziniak, current chair of the Canadian Ethnic Media Association (CEMA)).

Myer Siemiatycki of Ryerson University gave a fascinating presentation regarding the person and poetry of Julian Tuwin, a Polish Jew (or Jewish Pole) whose loyalty and identity were attacked by both sides.

Negotiating “fit” – Connections Between Employer Mindsets/Practices and Labour Market Success of Newcomers: Kelly Thomson of York University provided an overview of the issue of “fit” and presented a case study of foreign-trained accountants. Aamna Ashraf of the Peel Newcomer Strategy Group (near Toronto) presented the results of a study on soft barriers, with focused and practical recommendations. Madeline Ng of Autodata and Nancy Moulday of TD Bank presented how their respective organizations encourage and facilitate diversity in their workforces.

Fitting In: Identity and belonging among second generation Canadians: Elizabeth Burgess-Pinto of MacEwan University organized  this roundtable discussion focussing on the second generation. A number of second generation (and generation 1.5) participants shared their experiences, challenges and identities.

Andrew Griffith is the author of Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism and is a regular media commentator and blogger (Multiculturalism Meanderings). This commentary was adapted slightly from his blog post on the conference. He is the former Director General for Citizenship and Multiculturalism and has worked for a variety of government departments in Canada and abroad.

Published in Policy
Saturday, 28 January 2017 19:02

Whose Voice is it Anyway?

Commentary by Mayank Bhatt in Toronto

I published my debut novel, Belief, in Canada last year.  It’s the story of an immigrant family’s struggle to integrate into the Canadian mainstream.

Just when everything seems to be falling into place after nearly two decades of struggle to survive in an alien land, facing constant rejection, the family discovers their son’s apparent involvement in some sort of terrorist plot. Hurriedly, they consult their neighbours, who put them in touch with a police officer known to them.

The novel explores the family’s trauma following the son’s arrest.

The family’s Muslim identity is central to the story. It deals with the manner in which people of colour who are adherents of Islam are generally (and often unconsciously) treated in a society that they adopt as immigrants.

This is an important issue because in their desperation to grab eyeballs, the mainstream news and entertainment media often forget to make it clear that Islam is not a monolith and all Muslims are not the same.

In writing my novel, I set out with a simple objective – that there is little to distinguish between people on the basis of their beliefs.

Parental dilemma

The other issue that I wanted to examine was this whole business of radicalisation and terrorism. It’s important to underline that such a phenomenon doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Young men such as Rafiq, the main character in my novel, go astray in an environment where they are unable to make an emotional or a material connection with society at large, and this leads to many complications for them, for their families and the society.

From the family’s perspective, how different would a son’s radicalisation and subsequent involvement in terrorism be from drug addiction?

I’m not saying that there is no distinction. Society will definitely distinguish between the two, and weigh down heavily on radicalisation and terrorism while condoning drug addiction, and we can argue that this has a lot to do with race, but that really is a different debate.

I’d still want to believe that it would still represent an enormous crisis from the parents’ point of view. I don’t know whether the parents of a son who’s a drug addict would take comfort from the fact that their son is “only” dealing with a drug problem, rather than being radicalised as a terrorist.

Being Muslim

The other challenge I dealt with while writing the novel was that I’m not a Muslim. This is a sensitive matter. Would I be able to portray with accuracy and empathy the life of a Muslim family, the family dynamics, and the inner turmoil?

I was born in a Hindu family. However, but for my grandmother, nobody really practised the religion regularly or ritualistically. But I grew up and lived in a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood for more than three decades in cosmopolitan Bombay (now Mumbai).

Also, as a journalist in Bombay, I covered religious violence that wreaked havoc on Bombay in 1992-93, witnessed first-hand the callousness of the state in bringing justice to the survivor victims of these riots, and recorded the adverse long-term effects of official neglect that Muslims in India have suffered.

And perhaps, most pertinently, I’ve been married to a devout Muslim for over two decades.

Cultural appropriation

Yet, to construct a novel was a grave responsibility. In recent years, there have been intense debates in the literary spheres about ‘cultural appropriation’.

Lionel Shriver let loose a veritable storm last year when she defended her right to write about anything that she as a writer wanted to (Read her speech here, and Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s response here).

Closer home, our own Giller Prize winner Joseph Boyden has been hauled over the coals for claiming to be Aboriginal; his defence is that he feels like one, even if he may not be one genetically.

Well-meaning Muslim friends of South Asian origin cautioned me that my attempt at depicting a Muslim milieu in Canada would lack authenticity and suggested that I abandon the “misadventure”. I was, of course, not going to do that, mainly because I believe that imagination and craft could be better substitutes for experience.

I believe that a novelist’s primary responsibility is to tell a story competently and responsibly. Innumerable novelists have created a world in their novels that are palpably real without ever being even remotely connected to the world they create.

I have done so in Belief and I’ll leave it to the reader to judge whether the novel succeeds in portraying the complexity of being a Muslim in Canada.

Mayank Bhatt’s debut novel Belief was published in 2016 by Mawenzi House. Read our review here - Novel Explores Road to Radicalization

Published in Books
Monday, 16 January 2017 21:04

Making “Friends” Key to Integration

by A Special Correspondent in Montreal

A new Concordia University study has found that making friends in Canada and being positive about the "new country" can go a long way in helping new immigrants integrate into communities. 

“[The study] shows that the early days after immigration are very important for newcomers. The dispositions and preferences expressed by people when they first arrive will set them off on different trajectories of social engagement in the new culture,” said a Concordia news release.

The study suggests it is important to invest in resources to support immigrants at the very beginning of their integration journey, especially those who may have misgivings about the environment they are entering into.
The study was conducted by recent Concordia graduate, Marina Doucerain. The researchers surveyed 158 international students who had just arrived in Montreal, whose native tongues were neither French nor English and who had not had much time to change and adapt to their new cultural environment.
New Canadian Media conducted this interview with Doucerain by email. 

1. Does Canada's policy of multiculturalism play a role in these predictors of integration?

We did not specifically test that idea, but we believe it does. In terms of social interactions and friendships, it takes two to tango. The fact that newcomers were able to form friendships in the mainstream society and interact regularly with Canadians likely reflects a welcoming Canadian climate that encourages contact between members of different cultural groups.

2. Does it matter if the "friends" are drawn from the same ethnic community?

For an immigrant, making friends with someone with the same cultural origin or with people in the mainstream society is quite different. For that reason, this study focused on predicting interactions and friendships in the mainstream society, so outside of people's own cultural group.

In addition, we selected only participants who had neither English nor French as their native language. We reasoned that making friends with well-established Canadians is very different for someone from China or Venezuela than for someone from the United States or from France.

 3. What percentage of those studied were successfully "integrated" over the course of the study?

This is really hard to say, as there are no clear cut-offs for what "successful integration" means. Does it mean having three, or five, or 10 Canadian friends? Does it mean regularly talking to 5 or 10 Canadians? We just don't know, and that's why more research is needed.

What "successful integration" really means is still a pretty open questions. We have elements of answers, but no clear categories.

4. Were there any factors that are specific to Quebec weighed as part of the study?

The study took place in Montreal, which is a very bilingual city. This allowed us to test our hypotheses in both Francophone and Anglophone contexts (the study was the product of a collaboration between researchers at Concordia university and Université du Québec à Montréal). We observed the same patterns in both contexts.

5. What policy implications do these findings have?

In this study, we focused on the very early days of migration, literally within a few weeks of newcomers' arrival. We believe that these early days are crucial and that it's would be important to invest energy and resources to make sure that newcomers have a lot of opportunities to have positive contact with people in the new society. This could take different forms.

For example, a mentoring or buddy program where immigrants are paired up with a well-established Canadian, just to talk, have some interactions, could be really helpful. Having this initial contact could give an entry point to the immigrant into their new society.

6. Lastly, do the researchers plan to test out their study on a national scale?

This is indeed an exciting future direction for our research!

More information on this study can be found here - The importance of making friends fast — when you’re an immigrant

Published in Top Stories
Tuesday, 10 January 2017 21:36

Newcomers Must Adjust to a New Reality

Commentary by Phil Gurski

There is no doubt that throughout much of the West these days there is considerable angst over immigration and the impacts of new arrivals on Western societies.

This could be over the real – but largely exaggerated – fear that terrorist groups like Islamic State are seeding refugee flows with operatives ready to unleash carnage on European cities. Or, the rise of populist parties in Europe and the U.S. which paint immigration as some kind of existential threat – again vastly exaggerated – to what these countries think they stand for.

Fact is immigrants are increasingly seen as an unwelcome "fifth column" that must be stopped before they can irrevocably change who we in the West are.

I suppose that for some in the traditional West, new citizens, with their strange tongues and even stranger cuisines, dress and customs, represent the unknown, and the unknown is seldom greeted with open arms. Leaving aside the unfortunate amnesia that those who oppose immigration have for the very history of countries like Canada, which, let's face it, is founded on immigration, it is becoming a given that the advent of "foreigners" is not seen as an advantage. 

It is also true that for many it is Muslim immigration that is viewed as some kind of existential threat.

So, the debate goes on and facts are often relegated to the margins as pesky, unwanted contributions.  Both sides in this debate have their entrenched positions and it is hard to see any common ground.

Integrating with the homeland

One of the points of contention is the degree to which immigrants (i.e. Muslim immigrants) should be encouraged (or even forced) to integrate into the norms and values of the country welcoming them.  A repeated theme across Europe has been whether immigrants should accept local practices, even where these clash with the customs of the homeland. 

We were thrown into this debate once again this week when Switzerland decided that Muslim girls must partake in mixed gender swimming lessons.

This may strike some as a tempest in a teapot (a pother in a pool?) and beg the question whether the State has any business in the spas of the nation (pace Pierre Trudeau). Do we not have enough problems, and much larger ones than that, to worry about than whether girls and boys take a dip together?

And yet, there is something to this ruling and it has to do with whether or not we want to create a tolerant, inclusive society.

No, I am not saying that an absence of integration is a surefire recipe for radicalization and terrorism because I know better than that and have been beating that drum for decades. But there are merits to having all citizens buy into a small set of public practices all in the interest of social cohesion.

Rules of the majority

We in Canada may debate ad nauseum what "Canadian" means, but there surely are a few fundamental tenets that are non-negotiable, such as the belief in a secular, liberal and democratic nation, gender (and increasingly same sex) equality and the rule of law, even if we don't always get these right.

The demand that boys and girls are not separated routinely based on gender (there may be a legitimate argument for extremely limited occasions such as math and science education for girls only) is one of those immovable convictions.  "Separate but equal" is a phrase that would strike many in 2016 as a form of apartheid, since while the "separate" part is easy to achieve, these arrangements are rarely "equal". In Canada. most education is co-ed. That is the standard and is as it should be.

Muslims who immigrate to the West are obviously allowed to practice their faith in private as they see fit and the State has no say in this (provided, of course, that it does not undermine the rule of law).  In the public domain, however, a different set of rules apply and those are the rules of the majority. 

Sorry, but that is how democracy works.

To those who reply that imposing the mixing of genders would force many families to take their girls out of swimming lessons, I grant that this may happen. This does not shake my absolute certainty, however, that it is necessary in a multicultural land. 

We cannot allow each community to dictate its own public demands on the majority.  Newcomers must by definition adjust to a new reality and conform to a few accepted standards.  This is not unreasonable since these requirements are few and far between and do not impinge on private practice and faith.

We in Canada pride ourselves on our inclusiveness and open society.  It is incumbent on immigrants to be as open.

Phil Gurski worked for more than  three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and the forthcoming Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at

Published in Commentary

by Marcus Medford in Toronto 

Settlement agencies in Canada’s Atlantic provinces are working closely with provincial governments to better service immigrants, but say they need federal support to attract newcomers to smaller communities.

The provinces and territories select which immigrants they want to accept based on their local economic needs. In the past 15 years, the number of immigrants settling in the Maritimes has increased, but their numbers remain the lowest of all the provinces, explained Ather H. Akbari, an economics professor at St. Mary’s University in Halifax. 

“Larger provinces are traditional destinations for immigrants and have established communities with multiple religious and ethnic institutions, which help immigrants with aspects of settlement, but [these resources] are scarce in Atlantic Canada,” he explained, while leading a workshop titled “Economic Integration of Immigrants in Atlantic Canada,” at the 18th National Metropolis Conference in Toronto earlier this month. 

The five steps of economic integration are home ownership, car ownership, citizenship, English proficiency and earning a better income said Akbari. These five things are indicators that newcomers to Canada are invested in their new destination and intend to stay. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][R]etention rates of immigrants in Atlantic Canada are low even in regions with large ethnic communities.[/quote]

Akbari noted that the retention rates of immigrants in Atlantic Canada are low even in regions with large ethnic communities. 

“If the networks are not instrumental then there is clearly a need for government policy and settlement agencies to play a larger role in immigrant settlement and integration,” he said. 

Resources for Entrepreneurs 

In New Brunswick, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) has partnered with the government to provide financial support for French-speaking immigrant entrepreneurs in an effort to retain the francophone community. 

Attracting and retaining immigrants in rural areas can be difficult admitted Paul-Emile David, senior policy analyst for ACOA. David and ACOA work closely with businesses, governments and research institutions to find and develop entrepreneurial opportunities. 

“We offer programs, initiatives and support so entrepreneurial activities can take place in these areas,” he said. 

There are more than 40 Community Business Development Corporations (CBDCs) in Atlantic Canada, many of which are in rural areas. 

Entrepreneurial initiatives need access to financing, resources and business skills development courses, David explained. One example of this is Island Advance in Prince Edward Island, which stimulates entrepreneurial projects and helps immigrants recognize good business opportunities. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]For some immigrants and refugees learning English can be the most challenging part of integration.[/quote]

More funding for integration supports 

As of the end of February, 25,000 Syrian refugees had arrived in Canada, and by the end of the year that total is expected to reach 50,000, making localized support for integration a key issue across the country. 

“We’re hoping that Ottawa will provide some strategic investments very soon in order to put the supports that are needed in place as soon as possible,” said Chris Friesen, director of settlement services with the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. 

He said he hopes that the new federal funding plan for the provinces and territories, along with help from local agencies, will speed up the process of matching immigrants and refugees with language courses. 

For some immigrants and refugees learning English can be the most challenging part of integration. 

It can take up to 16 months for newcomers to Canada to be accepted into federally funded language courses. Some have reported feeling “trapped” because of their lack of English knowledge, meaning they can’t fully interact with society. 

One of the reasons for the long wait-times to get into language programs is a lack of funding and resources. Wait-times also tend to be longer in bigger cities. 

Challenges with government-assisted stream

Of the 25,000 Syrian refugees more than half of them are government-assisted, the others are sponsored privately or with some support from the government. 

For refugees and immigrants alike, one of the most important steps to settling into Canada is finding a job and becoming economically independent. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][F]or some immigrants and refugees, finding a job isn’t just a matter of earning an income.[/quote]

Approximately 14 per cent of government-assisted refugees find work within their first year of being in Canada compared to more than 50 per cent of those who are privately assisted. 

“One of the unique challenges for government-assisted refugees is that they’re funded by the federal government for one year,” explained Nabiha Atallah, communications and outreach manager at the settlement agency ISANS (Immigration Services Association of Nova Scotia). “After that they need to support themselves or go on social assistance, but they want to work. They really want to work.” 

Atallah spoke during the workshop about strategies for economic integration for immigrants. 

She explained that for some immigrants and refugees, finding a job isn’t just a matter of earning an income, but helps with overcoming the depression, frustration and feelings of loss of self or status that can accompany relocating. 

Even highly skilled immigrants with work experience, education and English proficiency are experiencing difficulty finding jobs, Atallah said. 

ISANS works with several companies to understand their employer needs and to develop training curricula so that immigrants and refugees know what it takes to work at a particular business or organization. 

Matching clients’ interests, skills and abilities with the right employers and planning with end goals in mind are some of the keys to successful job searching, Atallah explained. 

“We also do a lot of work with interview skills because a lot of that is culture-laden. In some countries they don’t have interviews at all and if they do, they don’t look like ours.”

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Economy

by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

New online programs are looking at how work is done in other parts of the world in order to more easily transfer newcomers’ skills to the Canadian job market. 

Abigail Fulton presented the British Columbia Construction Association's (BCCA) Integrating Newcomers program on Mar. 4 at the 18th National Metropolis Conference in Toronto. 

The program was one of two B.C.-based collaborative business plans showcased in the panel discussion “Facilitating Labour Market Integration to Skilled Trades”. The programs cater specifically to the construction market and offer an innovative way to reach immigrants who practise labour work in their home countries. 

“Many construction companies tend to look within their circles for hiring,” explained Fulton. “They employ their friends and family. Because of this, those who don’t fit into that category have a harder time finding work.” 

She explained that the integration program helps fill a gap, as 85 per cent of construction companies in B.C. have less than 10 employees.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]... [U]nderstanding how construction is done in other countries [is] research Fulton calls “invaluable.”[/quote]

An important aspect of the program is understanding how construction is done in other countries – research Fulton calls “invaluable.” 

Addressing competency gaps 

The BCCA Integrating Newcomers program focuses on assessing the skills of potential immigrants overseas as well as providing information about working and living in B.C., and later, employment leads. 

It is an example of several pre-arrival tactics that use online programs to properly survey, assess, mentor and inform newcomers about Canada’s workforce and labour market. 

Alongside this research is preparation for newcomers who want to settle in Canada and partake in the labour workforce. This is where the second business module called Facilitating Access to Skill Trades (FAST) comes into play. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Someone that comes from another country may have the components of many things, but we want to train them on the parts they don’t know.”[/quote]

Sangeeta Subramanian of the Immigrant Employment Council of BC (IEC of BC) and Lawrence Parisotto of British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) presented FAST as a competency assessment and gap training tool for skill trades individuals. 

Parisotto says the program is “explicit and direct.” 

“Someone that comes from another country may have the components of many things, but we want to train them on the parts they don’t know,” said Parisotto. “The way to do that is being contextual and dependent between our content so that it provides and addresses outcomes.”  

Getting credentials recognized in advance 

FAST’s online application is collaborated with Shift IQ, a cloud-based learning management company. 

Shift IQ provides detailed diagnostics, validation, gap identification, post assessments and contributes to the e-mentoring program that guides and coaches a person through understanding the trades and services. 

The research BCCA Integrating Newcomers and FAST partake in both concluded that one of the main things immigrants should complete pre-arrival is getting their credentials recognized. 

Similar advice was mentioned in the “Seamless Service from Pre- to Post-Arrival in Canada” workshop.  

Maha Surani, a senior program officer and stakeholder at the Canadian Immigrant Integration Program (CIIP) said that research done by Planning for Canada to align newcomers with sector specific jobs showed that 63 per cent of employers encouraged pre-arrival immigrants to have their credentials assessed. 

Surani spoke on Planning for Canada’s collaboration with Acces Employment, a company connecting employers with qualified employees from diverse backgrounds. 

“There’s nothing generic about our work, which enhances the program altogether,” said Sue Sadler, a senior director of services and program development at Acces. 

“We have sector-specific training, and then follow through with a job search,” explained Sadler. “We then have business communications with our clients, the employers. All of this is done to connect our pre-arrival candidates to employers.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][I]t is also essential for employers and staff members within various companies to understand the importance of inclusion of various backgrounds and diversity.[/quote]

Connecting with employers 

Acces Employment’s continuum module is enabled by online technology to enhance the job search of immigrants early on. The eight-week program caters to six sector-specific markets – engineering, human resources, finance, sales and marketing, supply chain and information technology. 

Markus Van Aardt, the business communications consultant behind the program, said that “folks are hungry for this information.” 

He explained the learning principle of the program: Immigrants usually start off being non-conscious and non-competent of the skills required for each of their desired job sectors. 

“I’ve walked in these folks’ shoes, it’s important to make sure they are in good hands,” said Van Aardt adamantly. 

“Newcomers want this information. They will drive you, and you don’t have to drive them. They will move quickly in the learning process, from being non-conscious, non-competence to conscious, [competence],” he said, using a diagram outlining the process of adult learning to illustrate his point. 

Enid Pico, senior vice-president and head of operations and share services at Scotiabank, spoke from an employer’s perspective. 

As the first female president of Scotiabank Puerto Rico and once a newcomer to Canada, she shared her encounters as a newcomer to the country and stated that while a pre-arrival program that prepares immigrants for job specific sectors is important, it is also essential for employers and staff members within various companies to understand the importance of inclusion of various backgrounds and diversity. 

“These cross-competency relationships are important. [Scotiabank] believes in diversity. It’s the right and smart thing to do,” said Pico. “Because of this, it’s important for us to find units and partners [like Planning for Canada and Acces] so that we can work with them to give us what we need.” 

Acces Employment and FAST’s pre-arrival modules will launch later on this year and the BCCA’s Integrating Newcomers program is now accepting applications.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Economy

by Priya Ramanujam in Toronto

Immigration and the ‘immigrant experience’ are often used as a smokescreen to mask systemic racism and exclusion.

This is according to Neethan Shan, executive director of the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA), who led a roundtable discussion titled “Equity and Inclusion Across Multiple Terrains” at the 18th National Metropolis Conference on Mar. 4, along with a handful of researchers and service providers.

“Through our work we find that so much of the struggle that immigrants go through is related to race and racism and that inequity and exclusion are tied to race,” Shan said in his opening remarks.

Shan pointed out that systemic racism exists both at the policy level, highlighting the controversial Bill C-24 as an example, and on the ground in many aspects of settlement such as education, recreation and employment.

Racism in employment

When it comes to employment, the expectations of Canadian experience, language proficiency and an understanding of ‘soft skills’, have undertones of racism and exclusion, explained Shan.

“Part of my experience coming to Canada was figuring out what Canadians meant when they said stuff like, ‘Keep your stick on the ice,’ – that is a soft skill,” shared Ikem Opara, who participated in the roundtable and works as a strategy lead at the Ontario Trillium Foundation. “It can be exclusionary when you don’t know that that means something other than take a stick and put it on the ice.”

Admitting he agrees with the idea of "soft skills", though, Opara said the problem with them lies in understanding why some are prioritized over others.

“I don’t think there is any cultural community in the world that does not like resiliency, the issue is what it looks like when it is performed in a cultural community that is not yours.”

One of the panellists, Nadia Jamil, of the Peel Newcomer Strategy Group, explained her organization is conducting a study to unpack the concept of soft skills and why they are a leading factor to newcomers not being able to retain employment.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]When it comes to employment, the expectations of Canadian experience, language proficiency and an understanding of ‘soft skills’, have undertones of racism and exclusion...[/quote]

“If we’re going to continue to see there to be a ‘norm’ in Canada without kind of wondering where that norm came from, there’s going to be a lot of ‘othering’ taking place, which we see a lot of in the workplace,” said Jamil.

Shan explained that sometimes even in the settlement sector this can be reinforced, when career counsellors will remove something from a person’s resume without considering what that experience meant to them, or when they emphasize the importance of a handshake or eye contact without contextualizing it.

“I think [soft skills] is a terminology that’s made up pretty much for exclusion,” stated Umashanie Reddy, executive director at Calgary Bridge Foundation for Youth “I don’t practise it in my organization and I don’t ask for it.”

Assimilation, not integration

Reddy, who was raised in South Africa, said there is definitely covert racism in Canada.

“I grew up in an apartheid regime country and I know exactly when someone’s being racist,” she said. “It’s so under the trenches that you can’t see it. It’s very rife in workplaces.”

Reddy said the challenge for many immigrants is that when they finally land employment, they do not want to jeopardize it by speaking out about racism on the job so their “hands are tied.”

“When we accept people from other countries, then we have to accept the entire package – not half the package,” said Reddy. Otherwise, she added, “we’re no longer talking about integration, we’re talking about assimilation … I don’t think that’s the route we want to go.”

Malissa Bryan, a PhD student in sociology at the University of Guelph, said the current ‘norm’ is Euro-centric, which is problematic as it doesn’t value the rich histories of Canada’s indigenous people or other ethno-cultural communities.

“There’s not enough cultural exchange happening, so when different people come to Canada it should be acceptance on both ends where there’s a joint and new culture formed that’s considered a Canadian culture,” Bryan explained. “There’s a lot of tolerance, but not necessarily inclusion.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“There’s not enough cultural exchange happening, so when different people come to Canada it should be acceptance on both ends where there’s a joint and new culture formed that’s considered a Canadian culture.”[/quote]

Fighting for change   

Shan, and his organization CASSA, have been working on a campaign to raise public awareness in Ontario so that residents will accept and acknowledge that racial inequity – structural, institutional and individualized – exists.

The campaign, Racism Free Ontario, played a role in the province appointing a Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism, Michael Coteau, last month.

Coteau will oversee an Anti-Racism Directorate, which will specifically examine the four ministries of justice, health, education and employment, where systemic racism is most evident, Shan explained.

But, Shan cautioned, just because there’s now a government body established, it doesn’t mean the work is over. For people like him, fighting racism is a lifelong commitment.

Having arrived in Canada at age 16 as a refugee from Sri Lanka, Shan said he has had to work four times harder than his affluent, Caucasian counterpart, to get where he is today.

“It feels like I’m ready to retire now because of the impact of fighting those barriers.”

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Top Stories
Wednesday, 24 February 2016 21:55

"Diversity Without Inclusion Has No Meaning"

by Shan Qiao in Toronto

Employers and participants at the 2016 Diversity@Work Conference learned that creating diverse workplaces is about more than just hiring more newcomers.

“Inclusion is a state of being valued, respected and supported. It’s about focusing on the needs of every individual and ensuring the right conditions are in place for each person to achieve his or her full potential,” said keynote speaker Zanita DiSalle, who is Royal Bank of Canada’s (RBC) regional vice president for West Brampton.

She explained that diversity reaches should include all those traditionally “excluded” groups such as women, visible minorities, LGBT, aboriginal and indigenous people, persons with disabilities and millennials.

“Diversity without inclusion has no meaning. Without inclusive practice, there is no respect to people’s difference,” DiSalle continues. 

The role of the conference

About 150 participants, including job seekers, employers, human resources professionals, diversity consultants, lawyers and students attended the conference, held on Feb. 19 at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management.

The conference organizer and executive director of Skills for Change, Surranna Sandy, expressed how important she feels the conference, now in its seventh year, is.

“We want employers to particularly understand the value and the role immigrants can play to make their businesses very successful. We look at different things, for example, how diversity helps you [business] make more money, helps you gain more customers, helps you retain your staff. This year, we look at the future for diversity, what strategies and tools you need to have,” Sandy added. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Inclusion is a state of being valued, respected and supported."[/quote]

One speaker, filmmaker Ian Sun, explored how the technological revolution changed workplace diversity. Ontario Human Rights Commission’s chief commissioner Renu Mandhane was also present to discuss perspectives on human rights and diversity. 

Workshops during the day focused on different approaches to diversity and inclusion, such as how to create inclusive workspaces; understanding and minimizing unconscious bias in hiring; the gender identity and expression toolkit to create authentic workplaces; and best practices for workspaces with multiple generations. 

Experiences of diversity and inclusion

In her keynote, DiSalle explained that when she came from Jamaica to start her new life in Canada, she immediately realized the difference between her and her classmates after dressing in her traditional bandana shirt to go to kindergarten.

“I heard one lovely little girl tell her friend, ‘Don’t touch her, or you will become brown,’” she said. “Do we have diversity? Yes. Is it inclusive? No.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Do we have diversity? Yes. Is it inclusive? No.”[/quote]

To further illustrate how our physical differences are only skin-deep, DiSalle played a video created by the Ad Council titled “Love Has No Labels”. It features people on the street watching as pairs of skeletons on a screen talk, kiss and hug. 

When the pairs come out from behind the screen, it’s revealed that among the skeleton pairings are are same-sex couples, interracial couples, seniors and people with disabilities. This is meant to demonstrate that love takes many forms, but at its core, it looks the same.

Diversity in the workplace

Part of the day’s discussion addressed whether applicants’ foreign-sounding names, accents and credentials could be barriers during the interview process. 

Employers also discussed how they could help newcomers develop social and language skills in the workplace so that they can fully integrate into the organization.

When asked about how to foster diversity while hiring to fit job requirements, DiSalle answered: “For our hiring process, we found objectivity is essential rather than subjectivity.

“Because [of] this objective process we have, we ensure that we have different stages of interview process that are based on objective measures and objective questions. Depending on how people do in different stages, we determine whether or not they move to the next stage.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Employers also discussed how they could help newcomers develop social and language skills in the workplace.[/quote]

While affirmative action in job and university recruitment continues to be a subject of debate, DiSalle stressed that an objective approach to hiring aims to recognize all the skills employees bring to the company.

“Inclusion is looking at a person as a whole — not just their education, physical characteristics, cultural background or work experience, but how all the elements work together, ” said DiSalle.

To help businesses in Canada integrate newcomers into their workplaces, RBC partners with organizations like Maytree Foundation to provide online tools and resources on sites like Hire Immigrants.

Including the millennial generation

The conference also heard from young people who are eager to participate in the job market.

“We just started a diversity consulting firm, specifically for attention of the millennials and diversity in workplace,” said Shanthiya Baheerathan, a fellow at Studio Y experimental consulting firm at MaRS Discovery District, Canada’s largest innovation hub located in downtown Toronto. 

In our education and workplace system, we start to realize that diversity is representation, rather than inclusion, “ Shanthiya explained.

She explained that representation is just having people in the room, as opposed to having people in the room who are meaningfully involved in the workplace. 

“This is not just race and gender or ability. It's a wide range of things, which includes age, especially as 20 per cent of the population and 40 per cent of the workforce will become the representative of the millennials.” 

“I think workplaces should really move towards to making themselves more inclusive,” she concluded. 

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Published in Top Stories

by Vincent Simboli in Montreal

The willingness of Chilean refugees to assimilate into Quebec’s unique social context following the 1970s was at the forefront of a panel discussion on the contributions of the Chilean immigrant community in Quebec. 

On February 11, approximately 250 people gathered at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) to attend “Réfugiés et immigrants au Québec: une longue histoire de solidarité internationale à partir de l'expérience chilienne” (Refugees and immigrants in Quebec: a long history of international solidarity from the Chilean experience). 

The panel was hosted by the Comité pour les droits humains en Amérique latine (Committee for Human Rights in Latin America, CDHAL) and various local partner organizations. 

Panelist José del Pozo, a Chilean-born professor of History at UQAM who emigrated to Quebec in 1974, explained that, despite challenges, Chileans integrated quite well into Quebec society compared to other immigrant groups. 

Chilean integration in Quebec

In French, del Pozo explained that Chileans arriving in 1970s Quebec found many similarities between their new and old homes at political and social levels. Like Chile, Quebec is a broadly secular society despite having a largely Catholic population. 

Del Pozo said that there is a strong desire for social justice among both populations, and each has a culture with common 'Latin values’ from the French and Spanish colonies.

However, del Pozo continued, Chileans had difficulty integrating with Quebecois and Canadian society. Chile is a notoriously homogenous nation with a population that is 88.9 per cent white or non-Indigenous. Upon arriving to Quebec, Chileans “defined themselves in terms of alterity as they had not been exposed to ethnic diversity,” said del Pozo. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Chileans integrated quite well into Quebec society compared to other immigrant groups.[/quote]

Despite this, del Pozo’s analysis of the Chilean integration to Quebec society determines that in cultural terms, their integration was fast and impressive. 

There is no “Chilean Ghetto” in Montreal, and there has been a large number of mixed (Chilean/Quebecois) couples with children. 

By the 1990s, Chilean-Canadian politicians were running for office in Quebec — only one generation after the major wave of immigration in the 1970s. 

However, in economic terms, Chilean immigrants to Quebec saw a “catastrophic increase in unemployment rates in the 1980s, and incomes among Chilean immigrants were always inferior to the provincial average,” said del Pozo.

Del Pozo presented a series of statistics that showed that the unemployment rate of Chilean immigrants in Quebec spiked in 1991, climbing to 27 per cent — more than double the provincial average. 

From 1973 to 2011, the median household income of Chilean immigrant families was approximately $6,000 CAD lower than the provincial average. 

Violence in Chile under Pinochet

Clotilde Bertrand, a lifelong activist and Québec Solidaire candidate for Argenteuil in the 2014 provincial elections, spoke at the panel as a former coordinator of the Centre international de solidarité ouvrière (International Workers' Solidarity Centre, CISO)

The CISO and other Quebec socialist groups and labour unions have denounced Canada’s complicity in the violence committed against Chileans under dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Many Chileans fled the country following the coup d’état on September 11, 1973, which resulted in the death of the world’s first democratically-elected Marxist president, Salvador Allende. The coup was supported by the Chilean military and the U.S. government, and installed General Augusto Pinochet as dictator during a 17-year rule. 

Under Pinochet, thousands of Chilean civilians were tortured, killed or disappeared.

CISO traveled to Palestine and across Latin America, including Chile under both Allende and Pinochet, in the 1970s to gather global support and foster cooperation between leftist anti-imperialist groups. These groups united under Quebec syndicalist Michel Chartrand’s principle of “même ennemi, même combat” (“same enemy, same battle”). 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Many Chileans fled the country following the coup d’état on September 11, 1973.[/quote]

Pressure from groups like CISO in Quebec successfully persuaded Canada’s federal government to recognize Chileans fleeing the regime as refugees. 

Canada’s hesitance to accept Chilean immigrants’ claims to refugee status was reflective of its allegiance to American foreign policy. Until the 1976 assassination of Allende’s Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier in Washington DC, American foreign policy was staunchly supportive of Pinochet. 

This successful lobbying of the Canadian government to accept Chilean refugees’ claims as legitimate established a precedent, and other trade partners began denouncing Pinochet and welcoming Chilean refugees.

Quebec shows solidarity with Chileans

Immediately after the coup d’état, worldwide solidarity movements began to spread information about what was happening in Chile. 

Quebec was no exception, and the Comité Québec-Chili (CQC) grew into a major collaborative organization between labour unions and politically-involved Chileans in Quebec. 

Panelist Suzanne Chartrand, a founding member of the CQC, explained that the language used when educating Quebecers about the situation in Chile was critical. 

From 1973-1980, Chartrand and her team insisted in their educational tours of Quebec that it wasn’t so much Pinochet who was responsible for the violence in Chile, but rather “economic imperialism” of the multinationals within NATO-affiliated nations who allowed the coup to happen. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Worldwide solidarity movements began to spread information about what was happening in Chile.[/quote]

These tours were designed as consciousness-raising initiatives to pressure the Canadian government to condemn Pinochet’s actions and to encourage Quebec residents to welcome Chilean refugees into their communities. 

They were particularly effective in creating a popular movement of labour activists across Trois-Rivieres, Québec City, Sherbrooke and Montreal. 

Thanks to their sacrifices, “the Chileans who came were a gift to Quebec,” said Bertrand. And by the same principle, the Quebecois activists who were willing to help in the fight against tyranny in Chile were very important there. 

Bertrand concluded her emotional address with a heartfelt message shared by all the panelists: “We thank you, Chileans, for choosing Quebec!”

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Published in History

by Florence Hwang in Regina 

Communities across Canada are ramping up their efforts to link their local settlement services to meet the needs of newcomers through the federal Local Immigration Partnership (LIP) program. 

The idea behind the program is to enhance existing partnerships by building networks upon existing networks to make sure Syrian refugees and other newcomers get connected with the resources they may need in their new communities. 

Recently, the Sarnia-Lambton Local Immigration Partnership in Ontario helped 20 families of Syrian refugees settle into its community, while Moncton, New Brunswick also found out that it would receive funding to start its own LIP. 

Across the country, more cities are getting on board with this model. Here’s a look at two examples: 

Brooks, Alberta: Envisioning stages 

Even prior to it signing up for this program in the fall of 2015, immigration was a major part of this city. 

Shannyn Creary is the coordinator for the Brooks Local Immigration Partnership (BLIP). Creary estimates that immigrants make up 20 to 25 per cent of the city's population, which includes temporary foreign workers employed by the JBS Food Canada packing plant. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We are very equipped to receive newcomers.”[/quote]

One selling point that draws immigrants to a small community like Brooks is the low cost of living. 

Even though it isn’t one of the main centres where immigrants tend to gravitate, Brooks meets settlement needs, including housing and education. 

“We are very equipped to receive newcomers,” says Creary. 

On Jan. 26, Brooks held a forum to introduce the BLIP to the community, during which many questions were raised. 

“We’re in that envisioning stage. What can we do? Where is our community at? Where would [residents] like to see this go?” Creary explains. “If we were to embark down certain paths, how would the community rate the project as a success?” 

One of the first things the BLIP has to do is establish a baseline in terms of statistics. In order to do that, it needs to figure out how to collect data in a formal manner. However, Creary notes that there are already partnerships within the community. 

People are used to having an informal network. LIPs can help formalize these networks and provide structured means of collecting information or doing research for community projects. 

One service she says needs to be met is mentorship, as there aren’t many established immigrant families who can formally mentor newcomers. 

The next step is to have the BLIP council established so the program’s steering committee can begin work by March. 

Simcoe County, Ontario: Rapidly growing 

Even in cities where LIPs have been long established, newcomers continue to seek new ways of connecting to services, requiring the programs to keep up. 

Shelley Sarin says that when she moved to Toronto from India as a 21-year-old student, she felt included. But 10 years later when she moved to Barrie, Ontario, she says she was isolated in a place where she didn’t feel a sense of community. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Sarin noticed other ethnicities also didn’t have formal organizations that brought them together.[/quote]

That led Sarin to start the non-profit South Asian Association of Simcoe County four years ago. Since then, the association has grown. Diwali, which people primarily used to celebrate in their own homes, is now marked with an event Sarin’s organization puts on that attracts 400 people. 

Sarin started working with the Simcoe LIP when it formed in 2011. 

“As I talked with them, I went to more of these meetings, I realized it wasn’t just the South Asians that were feeling that way,” she recalls. “It was the Spanish people involved, the Filipino community was there, the Chinese group was very active, so there are a lot of ethnicities within Simcoe. And they were in the same place as we were.” 

Sarin noticed these other ethnicities also didn’t have formal organizations that brought them together. 

Simcoe LIP worked with each of these groups to provide them with guidance and mentorship. 

“They showed us we had to register as a non-profit organization and we had to do things the proper way and [showed us] what’s out there and what kind of funding we can ask for,” Sarin says. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The new Syrians can benefit from the pilot projects we have in place with the local libraries.”[/quote]

Today, about 7,000 new residents are coming into the Simcoe County annually, according to the Rural Ontario Institute, says Sandra Lee, project manager of the Simcoe LIP. 

Syrian refugees are among the recent new arrivals who are benefiting from the network – and forcing its expansion. 

To connect immigrants face-to-face with the services offered by the community, Simcoe LIP added libraries as information and referral mechanisms, because previously there were only two physical buildings within the county where immigrants could access settlement services and community information.

The libraries create 32 more points of access across Simcoe County, which is spread out over 18 municipalities.

“We have had time to prepare for [the Syrian refugees],” says Lee. “The new Syrians can benefit from the pilot projects we have in place with the local libraries.” 

Simcoe LIP is also working towards building a multicultural centre where various ethnic groups can host their respective celebrations. 

“We’re hoping to have inclusiveness,” says Sarin. “We’re painting the stage of Simcoe to be more colourful and being more actively involved in the festivals and embracing the different dynamics that we have within Simcoe.” 

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Published in Top Stories
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