Commentary by Israr A. Kasana in Calgary

I was confident I was not being naïve or a ninnyhammer when I decided to relocate as a family to North America yet again, this time to Canada. That was a year ago.

I had a Master’s degree, lots of national and international journalistic experience – both print and electronic – including 10 years in the U.S. This whole package gave me confidence and optimism about finding success from my Canadian expedition. [See picture with current Democratic Presidential contender and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in New York, below]

It wasn’t that I was desperate to leave Pakistan. I was very well-placed there, working a dream job as an anchor and executive editor on the largest TV network of Pakistan called PTV. I had more than 5,000 television airtime hours to my credit and was the anchor on a branded, peak-time show called “Dialogue with Israr Kasana” thrice a week.

And, by the way, I was making good money too, even by the Canadian standards.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It wasn’t that I was desperate to leave Pakistan. I was very well-placed there, working a dream job as an anchor and executive editor on the largest TV network of Pakistan called PTV.[/quote]

Why Canada?

I didn’t migrate here because I thought Canada was ‘cool’  for its poutine, insulin, wonky gravity in some areas of Canada, especially in Hudson Bay where you actually weigh less than your normal weight, or that the tap water was drinkable. Or, even because Santa Claus was Canadian, or that the Canadian government has direct toll-free lines for the public to seek answers to questions they have, or their consumption of Kraft Dinner (KD), or the trick-or-treating at Halloween.

[youtube height="315" width="560"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6KkoD89bwE[/youtube]

They are all admittedly as Canadian as the maple leaf, but these were not what prompted my decision.

My family and I were attracted by the values and characteristics for which Canada is known for all over the world – the multiculturalism, open and friendly society, relatively free of class distinctions, better work-life balance, less income disparity, higher social mobility, security and safety, and, finally, more paid holidays than the U.S.

I also made this decision because Canada was more immigrant-friendly than many countries. I knew Canada receives more immigrants per capita than the U.S. The economy, I gathered, was not bad either and assumed I’d be able to make a good living.

Going topsy-turvy

And look what happened when we arrived in Calgary? Everything went topsy-turvy. Alberta had just been hit by yet another oil shock, with lay-offs galore. Lots of unrelated jobs were lost, too, and the whole economic cycle was almost at a standstill.

A well-wisher told me to contact different agencies who help immigrants settle into Canada. I got myself registered with a couple of them, participated in their programs, but I was really disappointed by the services they offered. They were slow and least productive. One agency took six months to teach me how to write a resume and another six months for a cover letter.

When would I get a job? Their answer, obviously: “It’s not our job to get you a job”.

Flummoxed, yet composed, I started sending out resumes for different jobs and kept a close eye on my e-mail account, waiting for a job interview, which so far has remained a dream. Instead, I have received lots of carefully and artfully worded ‘Thank You’ letters, which more or less go like this: “After careful review and consideration, in the context of our current needs and requirements, we have decided to continue employment discussions with other candidates. We encourage you, however, to continue taking an active role in your job search.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]When would I get a job? Their answer, obviously: “It’s not our job to get you a job”.[/quote]

That put me in a decidedly awkward situation. I came to realize I had put myself and my family in a perilous situation. A friend came over and was worried to see me struggle like this. He said, ‘You will not get a job unless you have “Canadian experience”.’ “What is that,” I asked.

Chasing ‘Canadian experience’

“You have to have job experience with some Canadian company,” he replied. “But I have 10 years of American experience, isn’t that enough?” I retorted.

He said, “No, my friend, you got to have some Canadian experience.” That sounded weird to me. And, this in a city that has a mayor, Naheed Nenshi, who speaks up for immigrants and has repeatedly said, “We’re all in it together. Our neighbour’s pain is our pain, our neighbour’s success is our success, our neighbour’s failure is our failure.”

Ok, I thought, now I would try to get the Canadian experience I lacked. By the way what else was I trying to achieve earlier; wasn’t it aimed at getting Canadian experience too?

I decided to adopt another strategy. I tried to contact my fellow journalists from print and electronic media. But every one of them shied away, saying they couldn’t help me because of my lack of “Canadian Experience” and economic conditions in the media industry.

Calgary experience

The print media in Calgary, I found out, is facing a moribund situation. It has become a threatened species and faces possible extinction. This brought to mind the website “Newspaper Death Watch” which tracks the demise of newspapers.

So, the million dollar question in my mind is, How was I going to get this “Canadian experience” if I never landed a job? Obviously, I can’t buy it from somewhere. Someone has to give me a job – small or big.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]One [settlement] agency took six months to teach me how to write a resume and another six months for a cover letter.[/quote]

I don’t know when that will happen, but I do know that there are umpteen new immigrants who roam around, looking for jobs and finding nothing. And trust me they are all very educated, skilled and well-trained people, many of them held enviable positions in the countries they came from.

This situation demands a fresh and thorough re-evaluation of immigration policies before we admit more than 300,000 permanent residents in Canada during 2016. We should plan ahead and provide skilled workers with better opportunities, without waiting for years to attain “Canadian Experience.”

This is important to save them and their families from depression and anxiety, which are not a good omen for society either.


Israr A. Kasana is an award-winning writer, TV host and a communications professional based in Calgary. His work has been published in English newspapers The Frontier Post and The News in Pakistan. He started his own newspaper The Vision International in New York and also launched a community TV channel.

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Published in Arts & Culture

by Laura Payton 

The Liberals hope increasing the government’s target for new permanent residents to 300,000 will boost the economy, the 2016 federal budget says. 

The 2016 target is seven per cent higher than last year’s, and includes an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees the Liberals plan to resettle in Canada, on top of the 25,000 who arrived before the end of February.

The total cost for the 35,000 Syrian refugees is budgeted at $923 million over six years.

The Liberals promised in the election to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015, but it was quickly apparent it wasn’t possible to ramp up either the civil service or immigration settlement services in time to meet that goal. The government adjusted the deadline to Feb. 29 and hit that target instead.

The new 2016 target of 300,000 permanent residents will allow officials to “reunite families, offer a place of refuge to those fleeing persecution and support Canada’s long-term economic prosperity,” the government says in the budget, tabled Tuesday afternoon in Ottawa.


Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca


Published in Economy

by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver

Justin Trudeau and the Liberal party’s promise to bring 25,000 refugees to Canada by year-end was commended by refugee advocates during the election period, but many experts have stepped forward since Oct. 19 to say that political will is simply not enough.

“25,000 over two or three months? It can’t be done,” explained Chris Friesen, president of the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance (CISSA), in an interview with New Canadian Media.

Beyond concerns for the government’s large target number, refugee advocates cite problems with the current resources available in Canada to resettle this number of individuals.

Friesen says in order for the government to manage the resettlement movement in an effective and efficient way, it must consider what other efforts have to be made in Canada before significant numbers of refugees arrive.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The risk of trying to do it may in fact be much more embarrassing than the embarrassment of having to say that a promise they made was not quite realistic.”[/quote]

Gerry Van Kessel, who served as the Director General, Refugees from 1997 to 2001 with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) explained that even if the government were able to get the resources in place to begin moving people by Dec. 1, it would have to move 6,000 people per week to meet the end of year target.

“A thousand a day,” he stated. “Just think of the operation you would need in Canada to receive those people and to move them forward.”

He continued, “The risk of trying to do it may in fact be much more embarrassing than the embarrassment of having to say that a promise they made was not quite realistic.”

Holly Edwards, who also worked with CIC as the Director of Resettlement from 1994 to 1996, says that the scale of this intervention is unlike any she’s seen before.

“I don’t think we’ve ever taken numbers like that so quickly,” she said.

Learning from the past

While the number of refugees the government hopes to resettle is large, Friesen explained similar efforts have been made in years past to bring displaced persons to Canadian shores.

In 1972, 50,000 Ugandans of South Asian origin had been ordered out of the country by the new dictator, Idi Amin.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau in cooperation with the Aga Khan opened Canadian doors to approximately 4,420 refugees fleeing the country. The Canadian government had to move them out on a strict timeline of 60 days.

Another 1,278 would follow in the following months after stopping over to visit family in other countries.

In order to intervene in the 1972 crisis, Canadian officers processed applications in Uganda at the pace of 12 minutes a case.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Canada could put in place a process that would allow internally-displaced Syrians to come to Canada, either as permanent resettlement or short-term visits.”[/quote]

Similar efforts were made in 1999 when Van Kessel and his team airlifted 5,000 refugees from Kosovo to Canada on temporary visas within just three weeks. The refugees were processed on Canadian soil rather than forced to wait months, or even years, to make the journey to safety.

Friesen said similar measures must be taken today in what he called “the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.”

“Canada could choose to expedite or put in place a process that would allow internally-displaced Syrians to come to Canada, either as permanent resettlement or short-term visits,” Friesen said.

Friesen also suggested that the government could issue more Temporary Resident Permits (TRPs) (formerly termed Minister’s Permits) to those who have been previously denied entry.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“There’s another real danger in all of this ... The faster you move, the more shortcuts you take.”[/quote]

While Van Kessel agreed that the situation is dire, he stressed moving forward with caution.

“There’s another real danger in all of this,” he said. “One of the things that’s going to be exceptionally difficult is the checking out the identities and backgrounds of the people who are going to want to come to Canada. The faster you move, the more shortcuts you take.”

Edwards agreed that the government must proceed carefully, but she hopes that prejudice does not win out against humanitarianism.

“Yes they are coming from an area where it’s more sensitive, but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take them,” she said.

Getting Canadian public involved

According to the CISSA, the Canadian people will have to make a significant personal commitment to successfully resettle the thousands of individuals fleeing conflict in Syria.

“We’re going to ask the public [...] what they can offer, be it a room in a house, a suite, a bachelor’s suite, a house that’s sitting empty,” Friesen said. “We’re also going to call on them to volunteer and if they have the financial means we’re going to call on them to donate to our refugee sponsorship account.”

The CISSA will hold a press conference on Nov. 10 at which time the organization plans to call on dentists to provide health-care services and mental health professionals to provide free short-term trauma counselling support.

When asked whether he thought Canadians were going to meet these extraordinary demands, Friesen responded, “I’m totally optimistic. I’m totally hopeful.”

He continued, “Given the response that we’re receiving, that our colleagues are receiving, that the faith community is receiving, I have absolutely complete confidence that local residents will respond to this call.”

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Published in Top Stories

by Florence Hwang

Canadian families looking for caregivers or nannies will have a harder time, thanks to the federal legislation that is capping overseas applications, according to Migrante BC.

Between December 2014 and March 2015, the federal government only approved 92 of the 880 applications for the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) (which an employer needs to obtain before hiring overseas caregivers).

“We say it looks like this because only three per cent of applications for overseas caregivers were approved by the federal government recently,” says Hessed Torres, who came under the Live-in Caregiver Program.

“For caregivers like me who are already here, this is a big problem because it means I might not be able to complete the 24 months of caregiving work needed for me to qualify as a permanent resident applicant,” says Torres, who is also a Migrante BC member.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Caregivers are treated as fairly as any other workers who require work experience in Canada before applying for permanent residency. In fact, Caregivers are the only workers who have direct path to permanent immigration.” - Bruce Hicks, Citizenship and Immigration Canada[/quote]

Migrant Workers Alliance for Change estimates about 70,000 workers had to leave Canada as of April 1, 2015. Workers who have been employed for four years cannot apply for another work permit for another four years, nor can they re-enter Canada for that time frame.

Torres notes that if the time (about four to six months) it takes to process applications is factored in, it might mean people applying for the program could run out of time to qualify for the program and be forced to return to their home country.

'Revolving Door Immigration System'

The four-in-four-out rule is the government’s entrenchment of a “revolving door immigration system,” says Syed Hussan, Coordinator of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

“A well-trained workforce will be replaced by people who are new, and less aware of their rights. The real solution is permanent residency on arrival, now,” says Hussan in an interview with The Philippine Reporter.

In response to the extraordinarily high rejection rate of Filipino nannies, the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) media spokesperson Bruce Hicks stated that this year CIC will aggressively be attacking the backlog of applicants. Hicks said CIC will be admitting 30,000 caregivers (and their spouses and dependents) as permanent residents by the end of 2016.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The massive red tape to hire foreign caregivers hurts parents and families in need of elderly and disabled care. Furthermore it puts caregivers already in Canada in difficult positions as they are not allowed to legally work until they receive their work permit and it can take six to seven months at the moment. In reality, who can afford not to work for six to seven months?” -Manuela Gruber Hersch, International Nannies & Homecare Ltd.[/quote]

Furthermore, the government says in 2014, there was a record set of 17,500 permanent resident admission levels for caregivers.

“Caregivers are treated as fairly as any other workers who require work experience in Canada before applying for permanent residency. In fact, Caregivers are the only workers who have direct path to permanent immigration,” says Hicks.

Manuela Gruber Hersch, General Manager and Regulated Immigration Consultant of International Nannies & Homecare Ltd. points out that the government's Permanent Residency backlog should be seen as a separate process from people receiving a LMIA.

“The PR backlog of caregivers was created by this Government and based on the CIC website, processing is now up to 45 months,” she says.
She wants to know how the government " aggressively" attacking the backlog? She notes that many 2010 applicants are still waiting for their PR and the medical of their family members in the Philippines has expired.

“There is a shortage of qualified Canadians who have solid childcare experience and references and the massive red tape to hire foreign caregivers hurts parents and families in need of elderly and disabled care. Furthermore it puts caregivers already in Canada in difficult positions as they are not allowed to legally work until they receive their work permit and it can take six to seven months at the moment. In reality, who can afford not to work for six to seven months?” says Gruber Hersch.

New guidelines for caregivers looking after children and seniors include:

  • Having two years of full-time work experience in Canada as a care provider within the past four years
  • Having at least one year of a Canadian post-secondary education credential or equivalent foreign credential
  • Having a minimum language requirement of ‘initial intermediate’ by meeting the Canadian Language Benchmark 5 in a designated third-party language test

Published in Partnership with The Filipino Post.

Published in The Philippines

by Don Curry (@DonDoncurry) in North Bay, Ontario

The North Bay City Council voted last night 8-2 in support of the right of permanent residents to vote in municipal and school board elections.

Letters will be sent to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, the appropriate ministries and Leader of the Opposition to request a change in provincial legislation. The move follows a similar motion by the City of Toronto, and other southern Ontario municipalities are examining the issue as well.

The vote was not an overnight sensation. It was the result of two years of work that culminated with a council presentation and six-minute video presentation that you can see here:

[youtube height="315" width="560"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=il3hZVr53uw[/youtube]

The video and council presentation was broadcast live to the community on Cogeco TV. Produced by Canadore College student Chris Robinson for course credit, the video features well-known North Bay residents speaking passionately about the issue.

Throughout the evening, which I found rewarding, Mayor Al McDonald and Councillor Mike Anthony, who moved the motion, had very favourable comments about the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and its partnership with the city.

It was the end of a journey that began with a discussion led by Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) Executive Director Debbie Douglas at one of our OCASI board meetings two years ago.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]While I am thrilled with the vote by North Bay City Council, I realize it doesn’t end there.[/quote]

She spoke about the recent vote in favour by Toronto City Council and mentioned the work of Desmond Cole, who led the charge. On my drive back to North Bay after that OCASI meeting in Toronto, I thought, “Why not North Bay?”

We have a supportive mayor and I thought there would be enough council members that could be persuaded to support the initiative. Douglas got me in touch with Cole and he offered support and guidance the rest of the way.

While I am thrilled with the vote by North Bay City Council, I realize it doesn’t end there. The provincial government has to change the legislation to allow permanent residents to vote in municipal and school board elections. Municipalities do not have that power, as they are creatures of the province.

While North Bay is the first Northern Ontario municipality to support the initiative, there is support in a number of southern Ontario cities. Outside of Ontario, the City of Halifax passed a similar motion.

The movement is growing and is landing in the laps of provincial governments.

Preventing Voting is ‘Not Right’

The need for change is, in part, being fuelled by recent federal government changes that create barriers to Canadian citizenship. Increasing application fees from $400 to $630, increasing the residence requirements from three of the last four years to four of the last six and the processing backlog all add years to the process.

Changes to the citizenship test have made it harder to pass, with pass rates dropping from 83 per cent in 2011 to 73 per cent in 2012. Two of our staff members gave the test to a North Bay service club and half the members failed.

Opponents say that Canada offers dual citizenship, and so it does, but more than 50 countries do not, including two top source countries, China and India. That is a barrier for someone who, for example, needs to return to his/her source country to take care of a dying or sick relative for an extended period.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Preventing [permanent residents] from voting, as retired Nipissing University professor Bill Plumstead says in the video, is not moral, is not ethical, and is not right.[/quote]

Opponents say that the change dilutes the value of Canadian citizenship. Our video points out that it strengthens the value, by providing a first step toward inclusion at the local level.

Permanent residents pay taxes, own homes, own businesses and employ people and have their children in school, but have no say on how their local taxes are spent. Enabling permanent residents to vote municipally, as a first step toward Canadian citizenship and full voting rights, is the smart thing to do to help newcomers integrate in to the community.

Preventing them from voting, as retired Nipissing University professor Bill Plumstead says in the video, is not moral, is not ethical, and is not right.

For more information go to http://cityvote.ca and get your municipality on board with this growing movement.


Don Curry is the Executive Director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre, Co-Chair of the North Bay Newcomer Network Local Immigration Partnership Initiative and Northern region board member for OCASI. He is also a board member of Pathways to Prosperity, a national immigration research organization.

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Published in Commentary
Thursday, 21 March 2013 23:03

Learning citizenship in cities

by Ranjit Bhaskar for New Canadian Media

Imagine Halifax city’s whole population of around 400,000 being denied the right to vote in its municipal election. Not very hard to picture considering that is the number of Toronto residents who pay local taxes and use city services but have no say in who represents them because they are not yet Canadian citizens.

This disenfranchisement was debated at a panel discussion on voting rights for permanent residents in municipal elections organized in Toronto on Mar. 20 by the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants and Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office.

Although not a new topic, the impetus for the discussion was a recent City of Toronto Community Development and Recreation Committee’s request to review “the opportunity” of giving permanent residents the right to vote. It is significant to note that the City of Toronto Act already says that the people who compose it are not defined by their age nor by their nationality. Rather, they are defined by residency within the city's  boundaries.  

The panelists were near unanimous in their approval of the need to extend voting rights to non-citizens. They remained united despite the moderator, Matthew Mendelsohn, Director of the Mowat Centre, trying to provoke discussion by pointing out, for instance, that it is “not hard to become a citizen of Canada”.

'Training wheels'

Jehad Aliweiwi, executive director of the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office, said voting right could be a reward given to immigrants who have uprooted themselves to come and settle in Toronto. “That act in itself is their show of commitment to the city,” he said. “Participating in municipal elections could be akin to giving permanent residents training wheels as they negotiate the path to citizenship”.

Association of voting with citizenship is more of a political view that prevents the real expression of Toronto’s diversity, Aliweiwi said. “There is nothing radical in giving non-citizens the right to vote and it is unfortunate that Toronto is not in the forefront.”

Michael Pal, a research fellow at the Mowat Centre, said votes of immigrant communities, who tend to live in urban areas, are valued less than that of long time citizens. Permanent residents should be given voting rights from a legal and moral point of view and the move should be part of a broader conversation, Pal said.

Myer Siemiatycki, professor of politics and public administration at Ryerson University, said one in six to seven Torontonians are not citizens and the pattern is repeated in the other municipalities that make up the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). There is no downside to giving non-citizens the right to vote, Siemiatycki said. “It is the right of cities not to be hostage to provincial and federal politics,” he said.

Lame objections

Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said disadvantages of giving non-citizens the right to vote are minimal and Toronto which is proud of its diversity should take a proactive role in ensuring that permanent residents get the chance to vote in city elections. “The reasons cited against the move echoes those made decades ago against giving women the right to vote”, Des Rosiers said.

With about 40 cities (including a few Canadian ones) extending voting rights in some way or the other to non-citizens, not allowing immigrants to vote will further reduce the already diminished status of the GTA as a preferred place to put down roots, the panelists summarized. Their message: in this age of enhanced migration and increasingly free trade of goods, voting rights should also be easily transferable.

It reinforces an ambitious 2005 study of social inclusion in Toronto that said extending the municipal franchise was essential to advancing democracy and belonging in the city. The Report of the Toronto Civic Panel of the Inclusive Cities Canada Initiative contended that in order to overcome widespread marginalization from the city’s political processes, the civic voting age should be lowered from 18 to 16, and non-Canadian permanent residents should also have the right to vote.

As Siemiatycki said in a policy paper he wrote on the subject, the time has come to go back to the future. “The western concept of citizenship began as municipal attachment to the city-state in ancient Greece. Now, with global migration increasingly creating a world of ‘transnational urbanism’, the momentum is growing to re-define cities as sites of citizenship in their own right.” - New Canadian Media

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Published in National

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