News Analysis by NCM Newsroom
Days after being sworn in as prime minister on November 4 last year, Justin Trudeau listed priority tasks for his ministers.
Like that of his colleagues, the list for John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, drew much from the Liberal party’s election promises.
While resettling Syrian refugees was the number one priority, McCallum was told that his overarching goal was “to reopen Canada’s doors to welcome those who want to contribute to its success.”
The wording was clever. While it tried to highlight the previous Conservative government’s reluctance to open Canada’s door to refugees, it retained the essence of what the country’s need for immigrants has always been: It’s the economy, stupid.
And, McCallum has stuck to the time-tested script. Tabling this year’s report on immigration targets in parliament, he said the government is boosting the base number of immigrants to be admitted next year to 300,000. The previous annual targets from 2011 to 2015 was 260,000, but it swelled to 300,000 this year on account of the Syrian arrivals. The last time this base figure was reached was way back in 1913.
Attempting to give this annual setting of targets a more long-term view, the minister told reporters that it “lays the foundation for future growth." What was unsaid is that last year’s election rhetoric for letting in more refugees was a one-off political gesture meant to to induce a feel-good across the country and reinforce the "Canada is back" mantra.
Although the 2017 intake targets includes 40,000 refugees and protected persons, it is down from nearly 56,000 this year. Also slightly down is the number of people who would be let in on humanitarian or compassionate grounds: 3,500 against this year’s 3,600.
And when it comes to government-assisted refugees, the numbers are far lower. The number for 2017 is 7,500, down from nearly 20,000 admitted so far this year, and still fewer than the nearly 10,000 admitted in 2015.
Like the previous government, the targets focus on boosting entries for those in the "economic" class. It has been increased to 172,500 from 160,600. In the family class, the number of sponsored spouses, partners, children, parents and grandparents will climb to 84,000 from 80,000.
Signalling left, turning right
While people in the settlement sector would bemoan the cuts to refugee intake given the continuing crises around the world, others would call it pragmatism. Those less charitable to the Liberals would say they are back at their game of signalling left, turning right.
The Liberals know that Canadians will not continue to be supportive of refugee resettlement. Reports about the government being caught off guard by the large number of children each Syrian family had in tow would cast doubts about the whole manner of bringing them in, starting from the vetting process.
Keeping both public perceptions and capacity constraints in mind, the government has astutely kept in abeyance its own economic growth council’s recommendation to raise annual immigration levels to 450,000 over the next five years.
However, it is doubling down on bringing in economic immigrants. Early on, Ottawa indicated that it would be more positively inclined towards international students becoming permanent residents, with McCallum terming them as “the perfect immigrants.”
The Express Entry immigration selection system, the key change to the economic immigration stream made by the previous government, is now being seen as a tool to also promote family reunification. The idea is to give candidates with family members already in Canada additional points.
The unsettling thing about the emphasis on immigration levels is the indifferent attitude towards the very feature that makes our system unique: one of the shortest paths to citizenship, that over 80 per cent of immigrants eagerly choose to take. At least until recently.
The number of citizenship applicants has plummeted for the second year in a row after the more than a doubling in the application fee from $300 to $630. For a while it was $200, after being at $100 for a long time.
Evidently, citizenship applications are down. Only 36,000 citizenship applications were received from January to June this year, a little more than one-third of the number for the same period last year, according to data obtained for policy analysis by Andrew Griffith, a retired immigration department director-general. In 2015, a total of 130,000 applications were submitted compared to an average of 200,000 in the previous years.
While $630 itself is a hefty sum, the actual cost incurred could be much more if one includes the fee (around $200) for a language proficiency test that many applicants would need to take, and further for the Canadian passport (minimum $120). And, in the case of persons from source countries like India that do not allow for dual citizenship, the expenses add up. The fee to process the giving up of Indian citizenship and obtaining a new visa would take the costs to well over $1,500.
Imagine a family of four needing to spend $6,000 when struggling economically to put roots in a new country. No one is suggesting that citizenship should come cheap, but forcing those on the cusp of becoming citizens to bear the whole cost of the process is rather unfair. Especially when the government is ready to waive or subsidize fees for refugees. How much more do new Canadians need to do to become citizens of a country they cheerily chose?
More importantly, isn't ultimate citizenship the whole point of welcoming new immigrants in the first place?
Whereas the Liberals were critical of all the changes to immigration rules made by the Harper government, they were coy about reviewing the citizenship fee during the election campaign. Now that they hold the reins and are reviewing Bill C6 to amend the Citizenship Act, there is still no mention of any adjustment to the fee.
While tax-paying permanent residents are already an underclass unable to vote even in local elections, this disenfranchisement is now set to grow and become a permanent feature of our polity. It calls into question our own understanding of democracy and surely not something we should be proud of.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by all NCM columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of New Canadian Media.
Commentary by Fred Maroun in Ottawa
“Immigration played a role in the Brexit campaign”, reported The Wall Street Journal.
Since there were only four percentage points between the winning side (to leave the European Union) and the losing side, it is likely that this factor was decisive.
Concerns over immigration have lately been widespread across the West. They seem to have played an important role in Donald Trump’s success in the Republican primaries, and seem to be fuelling the growing popularity of hard right-wing parties in Europe.
These concerns represent a mixed bag. There is undoubtedly some xenophobia, but there are also valid concerns about the risk that immigration places on our liberal values.
I emigrated from Lebanon in 1984. My main motivation was to live in a society that shared my liberal values, where women and gay people are treated more fairly, and where freedom of expression is guaranteed.
Sharing liberal values
Many of the newcomers do not share the West’s liberal values and do not easily change their outlook once they arrive. As reported in The Guardian in 2009, a Gallup Poll found that “None of the 500 British Muslims interviewed believed that homosexual acts were morally acceptable”.
France fared better in the same poll, and “35% of French Muslims found homosexual acts to be acceptable”.
Both Britain and France have since then legalized same-sex marriage, a step well beyond simply tolerating homosexuality. If Muslims were in the majority in Britain and France, it is unlikely that same-sex marriage would have become the law.
Canadian Muslim reformer, Raheel Raza, wrote in reference to the niqab, “In the 25 years I have called Canada home, I have seen a steady rise of Muslim women being strangled in the pernicious black tent”.
Another Canadian Muslim reformer, Farzana Hassan, wrote in her book “Unveiled”, “To live strictly according to sharia is the goal of conservative Muslim families in Canada. These are the values they are imparting to their young children”.
Equality of cultures
Interestingly, our liberal values often discourage us from fighting back against attacks on these very same values. The politicians who raise concerns about immigration tend to be demagogues, such as Trump and hard right-wingers such as France’s Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National.
If those politicians come to power, however, we cannot trust them to protect our liberal values. Demagogues pander to whatever political stand will get them elected, and hard right-wingers do not favour equal rights for minorities, a core principle of liberal values.
A claim often made by some liberals is that all cultures are equal and, therefore, we have no right to impose our culture on others. Even assuming that this claim is true, it only means that we should not forcefully go into other countries and impose our values there.
It does not take away our right to protect our own culture.
For example, extreme conservative Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia expect visitors to comply with their cultural practices, such as women covering up in public, yet we allow visitors and even immigrants to our countries to disregard our values by wearing the niqab in public.
This is not a relationship of equals. It is a relationship of subservience.
Cowering on the sidelines
Moderate Western politicians must protect our liberal values by taking reasonable measures that respect human rights. For example, many Syrian refugees have been welcomed in the West and many more are expected to arrive.
Yet, as noted by Amnesty International, “Gulf countries including Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees”. The West should demand more participation from rich Muslim countries to ensure that refugees find homes that match their social values.
Another reasonable measure might be screening potential migrants based on their existing values and their ability to adapt to Western norms such as respect for LGBT rights and women’s rights. Once they have immigrated, there should be restrictions on some cultural practices.
Those of us who believe in liberal values have a right and even a duty to protect them. Centrist and left-wing politicians should be at the forefront of this battle rather than cowering on the sidelines, leaving the floor to illiberal politicians.
Defending our values is important not only for the West, but also to potential immigrants who wish to leave oppressive societies. Refusing to fight for our values is dangerous for us and a disservice to new immigrants.
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. He writes at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/author/fred-maroun/ and http://www.jpost.com/Blogger/Fred-Maroun.
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by Shenaz Kermalli in Toronto
Lynne Kutsukake’s The Translation of Love is as haunting as it is beautiful. Set in post-WWII Japan, the novel touches upon migration and identity issues as pertinent today as they were in 1946.
It is also a rare account of one of the most under-reported and darkest periods of Canadian history – when Japanese Canadians were categorized by the government as enemies and forcibly removed from their homes.
Those displaced were put in shoddy internment camps in B.C.’s interior and Alberta. Camps were often made of barns or animal stalls.
Others were deported to Japan. Some 23,000 people had their property confiscated and were detained without charge or trial.
Life in Occupied Japan
This is the pulsing backdrop to Kutsukake’s plot: the story of 13-year-old Aya Shimamura’s repatriation to Japan with her father after her mother suddenly dies.
But there is little respite in Tokyo. As her father works long hours, Aya is often left alone. At school, she is bullied for being a foreigner and speaking poor Japanese.
Only one child, a feisty girl named Fumi Tanaka, befriends her – but only to enlist Aya’s perfect English skills to help her find her older sister who has mysteriously disappeared.
Together, Fumi and Aya write a letter to General MacArthur, the American military commander who oversaw the U.S. occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1951. Theirs is one of many letters written by Japanese citizens seeking guidance in the aftermath of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and subsequent U.S. nuclear attacks on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Sending letters of hope
The letters are remarkable in how they vividly capture the cultural norms – and oddities – of post-war Japan. Topics range from sugar shortages to the difficulty in obtaining train tickets; from the evils of prostitution to the high cost of soya sauce.
General MacArthur himself never appears as a character in the book, perhaps adding to some of his mystique. Instead, readers are introduced to his trusty Japanese-American translator, Corporal Matt Matsumoto.
Matsumoto is reserved, almost stiff at times, but inwardly feels the heavy burden of every letter-writer he translates – not always accurately - for General MacArthur.
“Most letters,” Matsumoto relates, “came in envelopes sealed shut with sticky rice glue, but some were rolled up like scrolls and tied with string. Others were folded so many times they looked like strange forms of origami. Some were not kind: ‘Get out Americans.’ Some letters were written in blood.”
His reflections on the power of words are poignant. At times, they are chillingly reminiscent of the desperation seen in the faces of Syrian refugees today, who take unimaginable risks to travel to European countries for a better life.
“It was frightening how many people were writing,” Matsumoto laments upon receiving yet another mountain of letters. “Awe-inspiring, but frightening. Such faith in the power of written supplication, such faith in the power of words. There it was, a gigantic mountain of hope.”
Matsumoto’s colleague is also an enigmatic character. Nancy Nogami is a cheery Japanese-American typist impatiently waiting to return to the U.S. and seems to take a liking to Matsumoto – or at least an appreciation for his down-to-earth, subdued persona, which contrasts sharply with the boisterous American GIs (a military term for American soldiers).
Like Aya, Matsumoto and Nogami’s characters struggle with the complexities of their Japanese-American and Japanese-Canadian identities. It’s interesting to see how Aya and Nogami, upon meeting, immediately develop a sisterly kinship – a reflection of just how much easier it is for second-generation immigrants to identify with each other than it is for them to assimilate with young people ‘back home.’
Abuse of women in conflict
The gripping search for Fumi’s ‘missing’ older sister, Sumiko, through dance halls, the black market, and the dark corners of Love Letter Alley - where Japanese women go to get notes from GI boyfriends translated - is perhaps what keeps readers most intrigued.
Over time, Fumi realizes that Sumiko, like thousands of other Japanese young women at the time, felt compelled to leave home and make a living in Japan’s high-collar entertainment industry that began thriving in light of its American ‘guests.’ Selected by a club manager from a ration line in 1946, Sumiko didn’t accept the job offer immediately.
“It wasn’t until Fumi developed beriberi and required special injections their parents couldn’t afford that she brought out the business card he had given her,” Kutsukake writes.
The exploitation of women in Japan is not a unique case. Over and over in post-conflict societies, women and girls fall prey to sexually exploitative situations – illegal or otherwise – that often save their families from impoverishment.
At its core, The Translation of Love is a story as much about pride and dignity in the face of oppression and humiliation as it is about the dark effects of discrimination, poverty and war.
Shenaz Kermalli is a freelance writer and journalism instructor at Humber College. She holds an MA Middle Eastern Studies and has previously worked at BBC News in London, Al Jazeera English and CBC News.
OTTAWA—The fact some newly arrived Syrian refugees are turning to food banks to supplement their own pantries can be partially explained by a “cultural element,” the immigration minister said May 19.
Food banks from Halifax to B.C. have reported serving hundreds of Syrians who have come to Canada since November, the month the Liberal government launched a major resettlement program to bring 25,000 people by the end of February.
Immigration Minister John McCallum acknowledged that the income assistance is not high, but said that’s not the only reason Syrians are showing up at food banks.
Commentary by Shenaz Kermalli in Toronto
Followers of Islamic State (IS) or Al Qaeda may never admit it, but the election victory of Sadiq Khan as mayor of a city as great — and in their eyes Islamophobic — as London was a slap in the face.
Like the time Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that Germany would welcome one million Syrian refugees, and when the Pope called on Europe’s Catholics to open their homes to refugees, Islamists are at risk of losing all credibility.
The success of these extremists, after all, thrives on disproportionate military reprisals, sectarian discord, and deeply engrained Islamophobia in Western societies. So the mere thought of a Muslim winning (Khan was born to parents who immigrated to London from Pakistan) over the most hearts and minds of a non-Muslim population, or of Christian ‘infidels’ opening up their homes to Muslims, challenges their narrative.
It’s worth recalling that a big part of ISIS’s recruitment strategy is posting lectures and videos online with ideologues dictating that killing the enemies of Islam— meaning the United States and its allies — is a religious duty for every Muslim. Often, they cite U.S. military action in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel as evidence of America’s strategic ‘war’ with Islam. They also play on the insecurities of young recruits by telling them that Muslims in the West would never be accepted into mainstream society.
And given the rise of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump – and increase of far-right parties coming to power across Europe — it’s not impossible to see how vulnerable, disaffected youth could fall into that sort of warped mindset.
2005 London bombings
But while Trump anti-Muslim rhetoric has never been louder, so too have the voices of ordinary Muslims, though not necessarily in the way one might expect.
Many Canadians will remember the anger, confusion and backlash that Muslims, South Asians — literally anyone who even remotely resembled a Muslim or Arab -- faced from their own friends, neighbours or colleagues after the September 11, 2001 attacks in America. A deep climate of mistrust against the community ensued, which for some only gets worse with every new terror attack on Western soil.
I recall that it was amid this climate that Sadiq Khan first entered the political scene in Britain as an elected MP for Tooting in east London.
As a graduate student in London in 2005, the year four British-born Muslims bombed the London Underground, I heard pundits all wanting to know the same thing: Where are all the so-called ‘moderate’ Muslims? Why aren’t all the so-called peace-loving Muslims living in London condemning these barbaric attacks?
I also heard voices like Sadiq Khan and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi (then the Vice Chair of the Conservative Party) fiercely condemn the attacks and disassociate them with the actual tenets of the faith, to no avail. As much as people demanded answers from the Muslim community— and Muslims responded in the same unequivocal voice of condemnation every time – it made no difference. The terrorists still seemed to be louder.
11 years on
What’s changed, 11 years on? Some would argue nothing.
Terrorists continue to slaughter innocents and billionaire conservative politicians continue to incriminate an entire global community for the abhorrent actions of a few. What has changed in the most profound sense is that Muslims are no longer seen (or at least solely) as a fifth column.
The voice of the ordinary, ‘moderate’ Muslim is heard more than ever — not as spokespeople who can denounce the ways terrorists justify their acts through the Quran — but as engaged citizens and leaders paving the way forward in a world that we all want to become more inclusive and tolerant.
Last year, we saw Canadian Muslims unite strategically for the first time in a non-partisan, grassroots organization to achieve a single goal: Increasing the participation of Canadian Muslims within the democratic process.
This, along with the opposition’s crude anti-Muslim strategy not unlike Zac Goldsmith, Sadiq Khan’s competitor from the UK Conservative Party, played a key role in bringing Justin Trudeau’s pro-immigration party to power.
Drop ‘Muslim’ descriptor
We’ve also seen Maryam Monsef, who came to Canada an as Afghan refugee, sworn in as Minister of Democratic Institutions in Trudeau’s cabinet, and Ginella Massa, a hijab-clad journalist, become an on-camera reporter for Toronto news network CityTV.
Britons, too, have seen a rise in British Muslims taking centre stage, from national baking contests to professional sports.
None of these people ever condemned the abhorrent actions of the so-called Islamic State during their moments in the spotlight, simply because it wasn’t their place. They are all skilled professionals or athletes in their own right, recognized as Muslims, but celebrated for their extraordinary skills that contribute to all of society.
That’s the way it should be.
Muslims are no different from anyone else, and for that reason, their successes should be commended no more, nor less than anyone else’s. Perhaps, the next step in fostering genuine equity in society is for news outlets to drop the ‘Muslim’ reference altogether.
Shenaz Kermalli is a freelance writer and journalism instructor at Humber College. She holds an MA Middle Eastern Studies and has previously worked at BBC News in London, Al Jazeera English and CBC News.
by Samantha Power in Edmonton, Alberta
As the Fort McMurray emergency passes, those without housing and citizenship status face an uncertain future.
Over 160 temporary foreign workers from Fort McMurray came together at an emergency meeting Monday night to discuss issues of status and access to services. The workers were among the close to 90,000 evacuated last Tuesday when a fire burned through the Northern Alberta town closest to the oil sands.
For a moment temporary foreign workers shared the same harrowing experience as their fellow citizens: find rest, housing and food. But in the long-term, residence and potential citizenship of foreign workers may be at risk.
“The burden they carry is their status,” says Marco Luciano, Alberta spokesperson with the Coalition for Migrant Workers Rights. “It depends on their employer. They cannot find other means of survival.”
Hitched to employers
Temporary foreign worker (TFW) status is tied to the employer that brought them over for work. And Fort McMurray’s formerly booming economy survived with temporary workers taking on service industry and caretaking jobs. Luciano says it’s evidence the TFW program needs to be changed to grant permanent residence.
“These are permanent jobs,” says Luciano. “Permanent residency should be upon arrival so that they can also access what Canadians and permanent residents can access from government.”
With the entire town and surrounding areas evacuated many foreign workers have not heard from their employers. Residents of Fort McMurray cannot return to the town for at least two weeks. Luciano says temporary workers are concerned it will mean their employers may not return to the city, leaving them without work and without status.
“They don’t know their future,” says Luciano.
Many workers many not have a fixed address or may have lost their documents to the fire.
“Many left with just the clothes on their back,” says Luciano. “A bus picked them up from work and took them to Edmonton.”
As of 2014, Alberta had 19,621 temporary foreign workers, many of whom were employed in sectors supporting the oil economy in and around Fort McMurray. Luciano says with 160 attending the first meeting only a week after the evacuation, it’s a sign many more will show up with the same concerns, and needs for housing.
The immediate need of shelter and food has been met not only at the city’s official evacuation centre in Northlands, but through private donations of temporary housing.
Established support communities began as soon as the evacuation order was called to start finding temporary housing for those without family in the city or the province.
“Everyone was in the same boat,” says Arundeep Singh Sandhu.
Community steps up
Edmonton’s Sikh community was ready on Tuesday welcoming and finding housing for almost a hundred evacuees. The Guru Nanak Sikh Society mobilized to start finding everything from basement suites to available apartments to house evacuees.
“We wanted to fill that gap before government and insurance are able to step in,” says Sandhu.
He estimates 160 to 170 were found housing by Saturday.
But now the long-term needs have started to set in.
“We’ve actually had to start turning people away because we don’t have longer term accommodation,” says Sandu.
Carryover from welcoming refugees
Organizers at the Al Rashid mosque on Edmonton’s north side are facing a similar situation.
“People are welcome to stay as long as they need,” says Omar Najmaddine, executive director at the mosque. “But its not the perfect place for families. It’s open space.”
Najmeddine estimates the mosque housed over 120 evacuees in the immediate few days after the evacuation and continued to see people arrive as late as Sunday. Najmaddine says he quickly reached out to contacts at the mosque in Fort McMurray and across social media to let people know the centre was open in Edmonton.
Najmadinne says part of the reason donors and volunteers were able to mobilize so quickly is due to the work to welcome government sponsored Syrian refugees who arrived in the city just a few months ago. The mosque had coordinated the Edmonton Islamic Relief Centre for the arrival of Syrian refugees. And many Edmontonians who have been working to sponsor families privately have networks to help organize donations and housing.
One week after the evacuation order, he estimates 70 to 80 evacuees remain in the mosque using the two floors of cots as temporary shelter. He has seen large families, recent immigrants and four families of Syrian refugees flow through the centre over the week.
“They moved to Fort Mac, and then moved here,” says Najmeddine.
Now longer term housing is needed.
“We’ve got a lot of people looking for two to three months of housing,” says Najmeddine.
Organizers at the mosque began to collect information about longer-term temporary housing early in the evacuation process, not knowing how long the housing may be needed. The list is being used to help find places for people who have no where else to go.
For temporary foreign workers the long-term looks even more uncertain.
Temporary foreign workers have access to the supports announced by the province. Adults are able to collect $1250 and $500 per dependent. Details on how to access that assistance will be provided starting May 11. But with residence tied to employment, Luciano says the government must act to remove restrictions to allow temporary foreign workers to work not just for their employer.
The Slave Lake fire in 2011 left 60 temporary foreign workers in a similar unstable situation. The Alberta government has set up a direct assistance line for temporary foreign workers and new immigrant nominees who have been displaced.
Luciano’s group is working to coordinate temporary foreign workers in the city and has started a petition asking for the government to ease work restrictions and create an open work permit for those who need it.
by Judy Trinh in Ottawa
Now that Canada has settled 25,000 government sponsored Syrian refugees, the Immigration Minister says he will use the lessons learned in the process to improve the immigration system for all groups.
“We inherited a department full of problems and we want to transform it into a department that’s speedy and welcoming to newcomers,” said John McCallum in an interview with New Canadian Media.
One of the biggest lessons learned involves engaging the private sector. From the beginning the government pitched the settlement of Syrian refugees as a “national project.” The minister openly encouraged business leaders to donate money, and to date, McCallum says Canada’s companies, communities and NGOs have raised more than $30 million to help settle Syrians.
Helping with rents
Those private sector funds played a pivotal role in solving the problem of finding affordable housing for the Syrian newcomers. Although many government refugees were housed in hotels for weeks and even months, McCallum says 93 per cent have now found permanent homes despite expensive rents in some cities.
The federal government provides a refugee family of five, less than $800/month for rent, a daunting budget to work with especially in Toronto and Vancouver where average rents for a two-bedroom apartment top $1,300/month. McCallum says the government didn’t want to increase the housing allowance, instead settlement agencies were able to access corporate grants to subsidize rents for newcomers.
But successful engagement has also resulted in frustrated expectations – it’s a double-edged sword McCallum doesn’t mind wielding.
“We have a problem that no other immigration minister has; I cannot produce these refugees quickly enough to meet all the demands of generous Canadians who want to accommodate them.”
Staffing in Jordan and Lebanon
Since the story of Alan Kurdi, the little boy washed ashore made headlines, thousands of Canadians coast to coast have formed sponsorship groups to take in refugees. But visa officers were pulled back after the government reached its settlement targets at the end of February and caps were imposed on private sponsorship such as Group of Five applications. The public outcry was immediate and McCallum has since announced that additional staff will return to Jordan and Lebanon to help interview Syrians.
Although exact numbers haven’t yet been determined, McCallum says the staff will consist of a mix of new hires and retired visa officers. The government is committing to processing applications accepted before March 31. The government’s goal is to have 10,000 privately sponsored Syrian refugees set foot on Canadian soil by early next year.
Addressing the backlog
But while Syria applications are being fast-tracked there is concern among other refugee groups that they are being forgotten. The Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada website indicates that government refugee claims out of Jordan can be processed in one month, while an application from Nepal takes 17 months. Processing an application from Eritrea is estimated to take an incredible 85 months. It’s a huge discrepancy McCallum says he’s trying to fix.
“Certainly, there are long delays for many classes of immigrants and other newcomers. It’s not necessarily because of the Syrian experience.” McCallum says over the past decade, processing times have gotten worse as staff have been cut, while red tape has grown.
In the next few weeks McCallum will be announcing measures to ease the backlog. The measures involve streamlining family reunification applications for spouses, parents, grandparents and caregivers. McCallum says he’s also hopeful more money will be found to hire more immigration officers across the board.
He’s adamant that resources were not diverted from other regions to deal with Syrian refugees and he stands by Canada’s commitment.
“I don’t make any apologies for making Syrian refugees a priority. This is a global crisis, the worst the world has seen in decade. Millions are displaced because of war ... it’s right that Canada step up to the plate.”
by Janice Dickson in Ottawa
Canada’s role in the Syrian refugee crisis came to the forefront during the election campaign and has since dominated conversations here and abroad.
The MacDonald-Laurier Institute held a lively debate in Ottawa Monday evening where Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and columnist David Frum considered the motion: Is mass resettlement to Canada the best thing for the country, and the best thing for Syrian refugees?
Former House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken moderated the nearly two hour-long debate, which was held at the Canadian War Museum.
May and Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, both expressed concern with the term “mass resettlement.” May, who began with a 20-minute address, said she is “ambivalent about the motion I have to defend because it’s very hard to say mass resettlement is the very best thing for Canadians and for refugees.”
Frum later agreed that “mass” would imply accepting millions of refugees – not thousands.
Despite this agreement, there were fiery exchanges throughout the evening.
Pointing to Canada’s involvement in Libya, May argued that if Canada had an obligation to go into Libya and protect its citizens from Muammar Gaddafi – why not Syrians from Bashar al-Assad?
“We do have an obligation to do something for Syrian refugees and I support our government’s increasing willingness to accept 25,000 refugees initially, and more later,” she said.
May argued that we can’t ask Syria’s neighbours – Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt – to take even larger numbers of refugees, because they’re already overflowing. She also made the economic case for accepting refugees, because fertility rates are down, and, historically, refugees don’t have trouble finding employment.
May stressed the moral responsibility of accepting refugees and said Canadians willingness to help has reminded us who we are.
Frum’s arguments against accepting mass amounts of refugees – notably not what Canada has done – invoked both economics and fear.
Because of social media, he said, it’s hard for Canadians to think of Syrian refugees in a detached way. But, Frum argued that because we can establish emotional connections from across the planet, we can’t think of these issues abstractly.
Everything true about Syria was true before that boy washed up on the beach, said Frum, referencing the horrific image of a drowned Alan Kurdi from September 2015 that spurred global outrage about the refugee crisis.
Frum also suggested that Syrians aren’t educated, noting that before the civil war most Syrians only completed six years of education. An audience member identifying himself as a Syrian-Canadian told Frum during a question and answer portion of the debate that this was a misconception. But, Frum insisted, because Syrians are under-educated that makes them hard to employ.
Frum also addressed issues many have with female authority figures.
“If you can’t take orders from a female superior, you’re not going to succeed,” he said, adding that a number of people arriving from North Africa and the Middle East “can’t do that.”
“Canada is an amazing place, but it’s not a magical place,” he said.
Possibly the most polarizing comment from Frum, however, was that it’s not actually the first wave of Syrian refugees Canadians have to worry about – it’s their children.
He talked about how the screening process is ineffective for security reasons, and how even if it wasn’t, there still isn’t a delinquency screen.
Frum suggested that 2015 was a year where anti-Semitic hate crimes reached great new levels in Europe. He suggested attacks against Jewish people and gays and organized sex attacks increased significantly, especially in France.
In her rebuttal, May said she didn’t come across any research that linked Syrian refugees to anti-Semitism, arguing “there’s no real evidence from anything I can find that Syrian refugees are responsible for anti-Semitic acts in France.”
Frum said the anti-Semitic acts in France are not the work of people who are arriving in the present flow of migrants, but rather of the children of people who arrived from Algeria.
May returned to Frum’s concern about the children of immigrants becoming juvenile delinquents in her closing remarks, making a link to the U.S. Presidential campaign.
If that’s the case, she said facetiously, conversations may need to be had with Donald Trump supporters about how to raise their children.
Frum concluded by saying that May likes the number 35,000 Syrian refugees, which is a bit on the high side for him but is by no means a massive resettlement.
In the end, the audience decided that mass resettlement is bad for the country and bad for refugees.
Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
Commentary by Don Curry in North Bay, Ontario
The federal government needs to take off its MTV glasses (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver) and resume looking at the rest of this vast country when it makes immigration and refugee decisions.
It used to, but that came to a crashing halt June 1, 2012 when 19 Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) offices were closed. The cuts were right across the country — Kelowna, Nanaimo, Prince George, Victoria, Lethbridge, Regina, Barrie, Kingston, Oshawa, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Gatineau, Sherbrooke, Trois Rivières, Moncton and Charlottetown.
The cuts saved the government only 67 jobs, but changed the dynamics negatively for those in the regions and, arguably, positively for those in MTV and other large cities that retained their CIC offices. Local knowledge disappeared overnight. Government settlement officers who knew their region and all settlement agencies well, ended up, in some cases, selling cars for a living. There were 238 layoffs across CIC around that time as then minister Jason Kenney did his bit to slash government spending.
Those remaining tried hard to keep up, but if you are working in a government office tower in a large city you may be unaware that North Bay and Thunder Bay are at opposite ends of Northern Ontario. You may have little knowledge of what lies between them. You can’t possibly develop the relationships necessary to identify a strong settlement agency from a mediocre one.
Effect on settlement services
The cuts affected settlement agencies that no longer had a government settlement officer dropping by to check on challenges and successes and sending that information up the line. They affected clients who now had to travel much further to renew a Permanent Resident card or seek another service that only the government could provide.
Clients and settlement agencies were told to use the help line. Try it and clock how long you are put on hold. Then call back later and ask the same question to another call centre employee. It is quite likely you will get a different answer.
I've previously argued that the Syrian refugee crisis has demonstrated that smaller centres across the country can accommodate refugees quite well, perhaps even better than the large centres.
The latest announcement from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC, the new name for CIC) is that it will now include Brandon, Kingston, Mississauga and Thunder Bay as temporary sites for the settlement of Government Assisted Refugees.
The fact that there was a request for proposals was not well known or many other centres would have applied. And what is this temporary status all about? Is it big brother saying we’ll let you do it for a while but then we revert to the big cities that know what they’re doing?
If IRCC still had eyes and ears on the ground across Canada the decision would have been more inclusive. There would have been more applications and the government people in the regions would have known which settlement agencies had the capacity to succeed and which did not.
Clogging the system
Congratulations to Brandon, Kingston, Mississauga and Thunder Bay, but common sense and personal knowledge tells me there are many more cities across Canada capable and eager to become settlement centres for Government Assisted Refugees.
Many Syrian refugees landing in MTV are clogging the system, stuck in hotels with no access to language classes, and this is happening in cities such as Ottawa as well.
We have a new, and in my view, more enlightened federal government that is doing a pretty good job with resettling Syrian refugees. But it could do so much better by doubling or tripling the number of cities across Canada that accept Government Assisted Refugees.
Smaller centres need population growth and larger centres are bursting at the seams. A little social engineering on the part of the federal government would be a good thing.
Don Curry is the president of Curry Consulting (www.curryconsulting.ca) He was the founding executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and now serves as a board member.
At the High Level Meeting on Pathways for Admission of Syrian Refugees in Geneva, Wednesday, March 30, Canada pledged to continue to resettle refugees from Syria throughout 2016 and beyond. Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum also expressed support for the UN Refugee Agency’s efforts to secure the participation of member countries. […]
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