By Maria Assaf in Oxford, England
In 2016 Canada’s first Syrian newspaper, The Migrant, was founded by Kameel Nasrawi. Nasrawi worked as a journalist and screenplay writer in Damascus before he and his family came to Canada as refugees two years ago. The Migrant shares positive stories about Syrians across Canada to inspire others in the community to create their own success stories.
Many diasporas across Canada have started their own media outlets to connect their communities, share vital information and to create a sense of home. Some media outlets like the Philippine Reporter, whose publishers faced political imprisonment in the Philippines before settling in Canada, use journalism as a means to challenge the status quo and discuss the effect political events have on the members of their community.
Back in 2015, Europe was in the midst of a self-proclaimed “refugee crisis.” As the European Union discussed a controversial deal with Turkey that would keep refugees outside its borders, I followed seven Syrian refugee reporters in Istanbul. Leicester University published a paper I wrote in May 2016 about the challenges these reporters faced regarding freedom of expression.
Richard Carver and Guglielmo Verdirame conducted research in Rwanda and former Zaire in 2001 and found that refugee outlets help their communities exercise their right of freedom of expression and access to information. It also provides communities access to comprehensive and accurate data about conditions in their countries of origin, which is essential when deciding whether or not to repatriate.
In an interview with the Toronto Star, Nasrawi explained that because of the language barrier, many newcomers are unaware of programs run by the Canadian government, programs designed to help them integrate into Canadian society.
Tiziano Bonini wrote that refugee reporting can be an important tool for those who may never be able to return home. For refugees, having publications that understand key issues in their community is vital. For example, The Migrant features articles on issues such as divorce, sex education and entrepreneurship, which the paper found to be pressing among the Syrian-Canadian community.
With 68.5 million people forcibly displaced around the world and 10,832 refugees accepted into Canada between January and September 2018, ensuring that refugee populations are able to exercise their right to freedom of expression is a pressing issue.
However, engaging in journalism as a means of challenging “the establishment” is an almost impossible task for refugees worldwide. Although Article 19 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights foregrounds everyone’s right to speak out, international legislation often stops refugees from engaging with political issues.
The Organization of African Unity’s 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, for instance, specifically forbids refugees from engaging in “subversive activities” or “attacking” a member state of the OAU “through the press, or by radio." Verdirame and Barbara Harrell-Bond found examples of African states that threatened to repatriate refugee journalists for their work.
Refugees often face an uncertain legal status. In 2016, Turkey hosted 2.7 million Syrian refugees as “guests." A signatory to the Refugee Convention, -the law that governs refugee affairs internationally, Turkey decreed to only grant refugee status to Europeans. These restrictions made it hard for refugee journalism to thrive.
Funding for refugee journalism often comes from donors such as INGOs or Western governments, and it comes with conditions attached. The Syrian reporters I met in Turkey mentioned that funding tended to go to Western-friendly outlets and was usually provided for six months up to a year, making it difficult for reporters to set up sustainable businesses. Outlets often self-censored and avoided discussing Turkish political affairs. “Those are restrictions we are putting on ourselves. Because Turkey is the only place we are left with to work,” one reporter said. In some cases, Syrian newspapers also had an uncertain legal status. In 2014, Turkish authorities began to request that media outlets have government-issued licenses to operate, which many outlets were not able to obtain. The Turkish government also monitors and often interrogates these outlets about their coverage.
Even in countries with fewer restrictions regarding free expression, doing journalism for refugees has been a historical challenge. Jewish refugee reporters fleeing Nazi Germany found that journalism schools in the United States refused to accept them, often citing anti-Semitic rationale. In Canada, Hermie Garcia, publisher of Canada’s Philippine Reporter, mentioned that he and his wife, who were journalists in the Philippines, were unable to find work in mainstream media because they lacked “Canadian experience.”
Major texts on journalistic scholarship, such as the Handbook for Journalistic Studies by Wahl-Jorgensen and Hanitzsch, don’t consider refugee reporting as its own genre. However, scholars like Ullamaija Kivikuru, Melisa Wall, Madeline Otis Campbell and Dana Janbek have warned that the lack of refugee voices in international media reinforces soft-colonial discourse by portraying refugee lives as less valuable than those of the “developed world.” Their study revealed that international journalists often took photos of Syrian refugees without their permission and printed distorted stories about them.
Palestinian reporters play an essential role in the production of international news about Palestine. But despite having relevant journalistic skills, their contribution is usually limited to translators, producers and fixers. Often, to keep their jobs at international news organizations, they avoid disclosing their views on their situation. Journalistic objectivity is often cited as the reason behind preventing those affected by conflict from telling their own stories. However, literature about multiculturalism and multimedia reporting shows that by collaborating across different communities, journalism can help address inequality.
Many refugee and migrant journalists end up starting their own community publications after being unable to work for the mainstream media in their host countries. Some abandon the profession altogether. This issue is not unique to journalism, as underemployment is a banner issue for many Canadian immigrants.
Several of the Syrian reporters I interviewed, sought alternative funding from international media outlets who didn’t attach conditions to their aid. Others tried using advertising, charging for content or getting donations from businessmen, but these often came with requests for editorial control.
One reporter said “I think before we were fighting for independent media from the regime. Now we are fighting for independent media from everyone.”
Members of the Syrian press in Turkey have formed alliances such as the Syrian Network of Print Journalists (SNP) to share expertise and facilities. Similarly in Canada, The Migrant recruits volunteer writers from different Arab communities, because many people in these communities are journalists in similar situations.
Existing in a challenging time environment or panorama. refugee journalism still manages to help their communities have more agency in the international conversation about their lives. However, much needs to be done in Canada and abroad to ensure that refugees can exercise their right to freedom of expression. Refugee reporting funders need to respect the freedom of the press and provide realistic timeframes to their aid for these outlets to thrive and become self-sustaining.
Finally, despite mainstream colonial definitions of objectivity, the people best suited to tell refugees’ stories are refugees themselves.
Maria Assaf is a Canadian journalist and MA in Development and Emergency Practice.
Commentary by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver, BC
Earlier this year, Rena Heer, a former reporter for CTV and CP24 in Toronto, hosted a gathering at her home for other fellow Canadian Sikhs who had experience in the communications and media professions. This was not the usual Sunday afternoon chai and gossip session ubiquitous to South Asian households across the Lower Mainland. The guests had convened to discuss a chronic problem that had plagued this community since the 1980s: negative coverage in mainstream media.
This time, Canada’s prime minister, having previously bragged he had more Sikhs in his cabinet than India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had travelled to India with four of his ministers of Sikh faith. It touched a nerve with India’s "alt-right" Hindu-chauvinistic administration. Indian politicians let loose with a series of flimsy allegations, including some that implicated Trudeau’s own cabinet ministers as "Khalistanis", and in particular, decorated Canadian war veteran and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.
Indian media lapped it up. Canadian media regurgitated it.
Canada’s predominantly white newsrooms ran with panic-stricken pieces about how there is a "revival of Khalistan terror", or how Canadian Sikhs are engaged in "blood hatreds"—or in an attempt to bundle Sikhs with ISIS terrorists—how Sikhs are "promised a place in paradise" when martyred.
Heer was one of a handful of journalists in Canada from the Sikh community who had worked in mainstream newsrooms and she found the reporting lacked not only nuance but overlooked obvious problems with the allegations—such as the glaring lack of any Khalistan-related terror incidents over the previous 20-odd years.
“Once you’ve been in the media industry you know how things are done, that sources should be checked properly, that the motivations of those sources should be examined,” Heer stated. “But with this Trudeau trip to India coverage I knew that wasn’t happening.”
Meanwhile a younger millennial generation of Sikhs (#AskCanadianSikhs) continued to plead on Twitter with various mainstream reporters and outlets to include their voices in the coverage. They found little success, and at times, open hostility. For Heer, the six-week blitz of negative coverage was a lesson that Canadian Sikhs needed to engage in media "pro-activism" based on how underrepresented they are in mainstream outlets.
“Newsrooms are tough environments, and people will ask why should anyone care when you bring up story topics, especially when they don’t relate to those experiences,” she added. “In order for these ideas to get across you need to have all experiences represented in newsrooms.”
But in Canada, it’s not just Sikhs, but all of the country’s minorities that are underrepresented in the country’s newsrooms, which some media watchers estimate are as much as 90 percent white.
To their credit, Canadian media outlets have also acknowledged this problem and sought, over recent years, to hire more reporters from diverse communities. But because change has been slow to come, minority communities in Canada still remain susceptible to misreporting, tokenization, being ignored, or worse, being spoken over, as in the case of the apparent "comeback" of Khalistani terrorists.
An obvious part of solving this problem is diversifying mainstream newsrooms through the hiring of reporters from diverse communities.
In a country where almost two out of every five people is either born outside of Canada or is a second-generation Canadian (born to at least one immigrant parent), it is critical that newsrooms have reporters who can speak languages such as Cantonese, Mandarin, Punjabi, or Tagalog, or staff reporters who, at minimum, have some cultural knowledge of Canada’s largest minorities.
But at this point in time, "diversity coverage" still means reporting on issues pertaining to or including people of colour, while "mainstream coverage" implies broader news reporting usually featuring people who are more likely to be white.
Multicultural Canada is often glowingly described as a cohesive mosaic but I would argue our society is more a non-integrated patchwork of self-contained communities that, while peacefully co-existing, generally have limited interactions with each other.
Increasing diversity in newsrooms is not about ceding ground to identity politics, political correctness, or even being more "inclusive". It is about better reporting. Full stop. Without newsroom diversity, too many stories are missed, delayed in coverage, or misreported, and that has a negative impact on all of us. So regardless of your skin colour, it is actually in your interest for mainstream newsrooms to hire more journalists from diverse backgrounds who reflect the immigrant and second-generation realities of Canadian life.
Retaining them, however, may be another issue.
It’s a notable occurrence when someone from a diverse community is hired by a mainstream outlet. Given there are so few diverse reporters in these newsrooms, it serves as a sort of barometer for "progress".
Over the past decade, mainstream newsrooms have made some advances in this regard, particularly in broadcast news where Canada’s diversity is reflected on television screens. But it’s also notable—and for all the wrong reasons—when a journalist of colour leaves the industry, and exceptionally so, when the reporter in question does so in the cause of diversity while torching any hopes of getting a reference letter on the way out of the building.
That journalist was Sunny Dhillon who recently quit his job in the Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. In his recent blog post, "Journalism While Brown and When to Walk Away", Dhillon explained that he resigned because of how his newsroom was failing in covering diversity.
The breaking point was when, on the eve of the deadline, he was ordered by his bureau chief to rework an assignment on Vancouver’s recent municipal election into being a triumph for women rather than being yet another failure for racialized candidates. Eight out of the 10 Vancouver council seats were won by women and only one was won by a councillor of mixed heritage.
“I decided to leave The Globe and Mail because that final conversation inside the bureau chief’s office crystallized what I had felt: What I brought to the newsroom did not matter,” Dhillon wrote in his post on Medium that has since been retweeted thousands of times. “And it was at that moment that being a person of colour at a paper and in an industry that does not have enough of us — particularly at the top — felt more futile than ever before.”
His dramatic resignation has renewed discussions on how the diversity angle can be ignored or glossed over in mainstream newsrooms, particularly when the story is not a stereotypical "diversity topic" like an annual Chinese New Year celebration or a Vaisakhi parade.
In the Vancouver council story, for example, both the gender and race angles merit coverage, but not equally so. Based on historical data, the lack of diversity angle would seem more newsworthy given women have been equally (or almost equally) represented on city council for over the past four administrations going back to 2005.
In comparison, a South Asian candidate has not served on council in almost 50 years and there has never been a councillor from the Filipino community.
Regardless, however, of whether a story is revealed through the lens of race, gender, or some other prism, newsrooms are not democracies, as Dhillon was reminded in his clash with his editor. And even though mainstream newsrooms are increasingly using analytics to practice data-driven journalism that maximizes click-throughs, there is still a human element in how stories are assigned, angled, and ultimately headlined.
These remain in the very subjective hands of newsroom editors.
But like any human being, deadline-pressed editors—whose job requirements include performing newsroom management and story assignment balancing acts—are prone to seeing the world through the lens of their own experiences, which in the senior management realm of Canadian media is even whiter than the ranks staffing newsrooms.
According to Dhillon, it was the constant struggle to table a diverse perspective in this lily-white cultural environment that eventually wore him out: “When a story or column does not adequately if at all, understand or consider the perspectives of the nonwhite people it involves, what do you say?... When you ultimately stop pitching stories on race to preserve your own sanity, what good are you doing the very nonwhite people whose perspectives you deem yourself to be in the newsroom to share?
“How many battles do you have in you?”
For journalists of colour working with their editors, Dhillon’s frustrations are not all that unusual, as he was reminded recently by the large number of responses he received to his post from other Canadian journalists of colour. The friction each experienced ranged from overcoming stereotypes to figuring out when to speak up on race issues and when it was best to just keep their heads down.
Like them, I also had my moment of initiation into the whiteness of this world, back in the late '90s when I was trying to cover the Reena Virk story. Virk was the 14-year old Victoria teen who was attacked by seven teenagers she was hanging with and ultimately killed by two of them.
Although in South Asian media, the race angle was a prominent part of the coverage, it has been largely omitted from mainstream reporting where instead the story has been framed as a troubling case of teen girl violence, the bullying of an "awkward" teen, and the tragic tale of someone who just didn’t fit in. When I pressed on covering this missing race angle, my editorial contact at Postmedia (then Canwest) explained that since one of the teens was of mixed heritage, the attack could not have been racially motivated.
I was new to the industry at the time and I too made a difficult decision to bite my tongue.
Today—just as it was nearly two decades ago when Reena Virk was murdered—bringing up race in a newsroom can still have a chilling effect.
In the 1980s when outlets in Canada first began regularly reporting on diverse communities, the coverage was usually singular in topic, often negative, and usually excluded voices from those communities.
The stories were almost always written by white reporters who, once assigned to an "ethnic beat", became the experts on all things relating to that community. Other white reporters went to those white reporters on questions about "their" assigned ethnic communities.
It was sort of like an exercise in urban anthropology. But by covering ethnic communities through the mainstream’s screen of whiteness, it inevitably produced sticky stereotypes.
People in diverse communities, regardless of their professional status, years of gainful employment, or record of community service, became linked to the fringe criminal elements in their communities. Thankfully, coverage of diverse communities has evolved since then, beginning with taking a U-turn away from focussing exclusively on negative news.
But coverage of diverse communities has still not fully matured from being treated as a separate-but-equal content section, like sports, entertainment, or fashion, rather than as a perspective that layers into a cross-section of stories.
This results in mainstream outlets often publishing neatly compartmentalized stories that feature individuals from diverse communities but that have a limited appeal to readers outside of those backgrounds.
Andree Lau, the editor-in-chief at HuffPost Canada, was recently interviewed on CBC regarding newsroom diversity. She was asked why there are so few people from diverse communities leading newsrooms across this country.
“I think they [people of colour] get to a certain level and they get frustrated. Because they're not seeing enough change or change is not happening fast enough, and they get discouraged,” explained Lau, who is one of the few journalists of colour in a senior position in Canada. “Those very talented people are the ones we need to move up into the next level, and they end up leaving.”
As Canada’s population grows and continues to diversify, the news media is the leading institution to reflect the country’s changing face, in which everyone sees something of themselves smiling back. That work begins first in newsrooms telling stories where diversity is more layered and nuanced and not segregated into a corner.
One of the journalists responding to Sunny Dhillon’s resignation post, was a veteran Vancouver broadcast journalist, Simi Sara.
“What it comes down to is this: I have never seen the colour of my skin as a ‘difference’. But others have seen it that way for me,” she was quoted in a follow-up blog Dhillon posted to his Medium account.
“I believe I am like everyone else because perspective is diverse and we all have something to contribute to that discussion. It shouldn’t be segregated as a ‘diversity’ issue. It’s all of us. It’s our communities.”
by Danica Samuel in Toronto
News outlets that report on Canada’s ethnic communities and other niche media sources are standing out more than ever, while mainstream media companies are taking a hard hit.
“Niche reporting has somewhat found a way to make the business model work,” explains April Lindgren, professor at Ryerson University’s school of journalism. “We don’t know how successful it will be overtime, but that’s one area that is successful and it’s one area where newcomers, especially, are able to survive.”
She says the mainstream media business model is heavily influenced by technological change and that because ethnic and niche media outlets aren’t reporting the same things as the mainstream, it is easier for them to co-exist.
“When you’re smaller to begin with and when you’re niche, you might better weather the storm,” says Marci Ien of CTV Canada AM, a division of Bell Media.
The future of journalism in Canada
In November 2015, Bell Media cut 380 jobs from its operations, including national broadcaster CTV, while in January another major broadcast competitor, Rogers Media, announced 200 job cuts were on the way.
Print media has also been impacted across the country.
The Guelph Mercury daily newspaper announced it would stop publishing its print editions, impacting 23 full-time and three part-time jobs.
Postmedia announced 90 job cuts will result from a move to merge newsrooms in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa and reduce $80 million in expenses.
Torstar, the company that owns Canada’s largest circulation newspaper, The Toronto Star, announced last month that it will be laying off more than 300 production and editorial employees.
In Halifax, Canada’s oldest independently owned newspaper, The Herald, stated it wanted to lay off up to 18 workers to cope with economic challenges.
These job cuts came off the heels of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) being warned that half of the country’s local TV stations could be off the air by 2020 without a boost in revenues to pay for local programming.
These job cuts have left many media professionals and observers worried about the future of journalism in Canada.
Lindgren says the business model of journalism is completely broken.
“The internet came in and disrupted the news business to such a great extent, that more traditional news organizations are failing and the industry and people in the news have yet to figure out a replacement model.”
For niche media, however, this may not be the case.
Chelby Daigle, editor-in-chief at Muslim Link, an online community newspaper based in Ottawa, says that niche media outlets can now utilize the Internet as a “hub of information.”
“We tell stories, but our approach is different. We also have event listings, a directory, and advertisements; so there’s reasons why traffic comes to our site. It’s a resource.”
The revolution of journalism
Lindgren is confident that the changes in journalism stem from how we consume news. She calls it a “revolution.”
“The Internet killed the classified ad sections of newspapers, and really broke the audiences for the newspaper sectors, magazines and television,” Lindgren emphasizes. “Readers’ habits of where they go for news are changing.”
Lindgren adds: “All of this combined has mounted to a revolution in the news business, and with revolutions, often things get torn apart before new systems are invented to replace them.”
A part of this revolution is finding ways to tell stories and report on news differently.
“It’s the industry changing, but at the same time when things like that happen, I think there is opportunity, but you just have to do it in a different way,” says Ien.
The difference is what Daigle describes as cheaper, innovative and independent.
“We used to be a print newspaper and we stopped doing that. It’s too much work, craft and labour,” she says. “Online we have a better way of tracking our readership and who clicks on our ads.”
How niche and ethnic media stand out
Daigle says that while there are changes in the way people consume news, the most important aspect of niche media is that it should service the public.
Ethnic and niche media outlets cater to demographics that use their content as a resource to keep them close to their respective communities.
“They are anti-mainstream," says Ien. "They do the stories the way mainstream doesn’t and that’s what makes them successful. They found areas that maybe the mainstream isn’t touching on as much. They can carve out their own pieces of pie, do it well and service an audience that maybe isn’t being serviced that way.”
Like Daigle, Ien says that the stories being told by smaller community-oriented news outlets can often times heighten the content of mainstream media.
“It’s interesting because a lot of mainstream media follows us, and get story ideas from our content,” explains Daigle. “We made it easier for people to know about our community.”
Ien says she even brings some of these ethnic stories to the newsroom at CTV.
“There’s no way you can be in this country and not have had various people from different races touch your life.”
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by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver
When you turn on your TV, answer your cell phone or read an advertisement online, chances are more and more likely that the same company is behind all three services.
By both historical standards and when compared to other countries, there an exceptionally small number of companies in Canada that control the production and distribution of the media, according to a recent study by the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project.
“Our media environment is very badly served by the high levels of concentration we have,” comments Dwayne Winseck, the study author and a professor in the school of journalism and communication at Ottawa’s Carleton University.
The report, titled “Media and Internet Concentration in Canada”, analyses the trends in media concentration across cable TV, newspapers, online news sources and more between 1984 and 2014.
Ben Klass, a PhD student at Carleton who assisted Winseck with his research, echoed his professor’s concerns.
“Part of a vibrant media environment in any country . . . is having a diversity of voices and a diversity of opinions so that the population can be very informed about important social and political issues.”
Space for alternative Canadian news sources
“Canada and its media industry overall is highly concentrated, and this is not unusual,” says Klass. “Where Canada is an outlier is in the extent of vertical integration.”
Vertical integration refers to the cross ownership of companies that control the means of media distribution. As demonstrated by Bell’s re-acquisition of CTV in 2011 and Shaw’s acquisition of Global TV in 2010, the number of companies in control of the sources of distribution is shrinking in Canada.
To contrast, the Internet news sources frequented by Canadians are defined by “astonishingly high” levels of diversity, according to Winseck, both in terms of niche content and the geographic location of the providers.
“You have traditional media outlets kind of [side by side] with some new media outlets and domestic media outlets sitting [beside] foreign media outlets,” explains Winseck.
Winseck speculates that this might be a result of a lower cost of entry online, as well as the perceived reliability of sources like The Guardian, BBC and ABC.
“People are looking for trustworthy and credible news sources so they go to sources that they’ve heard of or they already know,” he says.
Paired with this access to international news sources is a consumer desire for new and niche content, such as targeted blogs and ethnic-based media.
While currently these sites receive a minuscule proportion of the available revenues online, Klass suggests that they may be able to attract advertisers looking to reach niche audiences.
“Advertisers don’t seek an undifferentiated, mass audience,” he explains. “They seek an affluent audience or at least one that is going to pay for the goods that are being pedalled.”
Dangers of media concentration
Despite these trends, Winseck cautions against being too optimistic.
“While there is some additional space for sure in the online news space . . . to go from niche to top 20, it still takes a lot of resources,” he says.
Of the countless blogs, websites and sources of news online, two companies – Facebook and Google – take a massive portion of the total advertising revenues.
“While there’s a large diversity of sources available on the Internet . . . they all sort of exist in a relatively competitive environment,” says Klass.
According to the report, the largest 10 telecom, media and Internet companies accounted for 83.4 per cent of all revenues in 2014.
This is problematic for many reasons Klass explains.
“When you have a small number of very large companies owning a lot of [the media] they also own the way these things are delivered to people . . . and you can see the sort of dangers of these things in action.”
Winseck agrees: “That ugly underbelly is that as newspapers go belly up; you have rich patrons moving in and buying them up. That was the case we saw with [Jeff] Bezos scooping up the Washington Post.”
Expectations for future
Winseck says he expects to see a mixed model in the future of Canadian media.
“We are going to see traditional news organizations like the CBC, like the Globe and Mail, like the BBC retain a solid position at the centre of the news environment, although it’s going to be pared back significantly.”
“Flanking these core media we’re going to have the partisan media,” he continues. “Then we’re going to have cooperative news ventures where people are working on a voluntary basis, if you will, to create and share the news.”
Winseck hopes to see less worry about the ongoing “crisis of journalism,” and instead see a potentially more democratic core of news that involves a plurality of voices financed by different support structures.
Klass speculates that the government will encourage this by being more involved in the regulations around media concentration and ownership.
“In order to ensure that we continue to have relatively vibrant media ecology, I think that these issues are going to become more contentious at a political level.”
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by Marcus Medford in Toronto
International students and children of immigrants say pursuing post-secondary studies in journalism can motivate both encouragement and opposition from their parents.
Sharif Hasan’s parents didn’t argue with him about his program choice – although they did express concerns. Hasan immigrated to Canada from Bangladesh in 2013 to pursue a master’s degree in journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa.
According to Hasan, the life of a journalist in Bangladesh is “not ideal.”
“Most young journalists struggle for years to get employed at a good media house,” Hasan explains. “Many of them don’t get a permanent job at all.”
Money in journalism has become an issue internationally due to the increased number of freelancers, the shift to digital platforms and the shrinking of newsroom staff in order to save money.
Media outlets across North America have laid-off hundreds of workers in recent years. For example, Bell Media laid off 380 workers and Sports Illustrated magazine cut its entire photojournalism department in 2015.
Journalism not always a ‘safe’ option
Parents like programs that offer clear-cut paths to “solid careers” says Maryam Shah, a reporter for the Toronto Sun, who came to Canada from Pakistan to study journalism at the University of Toronto.
Shah wanted to be a reporter since she was 11 and says she “pushed back” when her parents insisted she study law or medicine.
“In Pakistan, that’s just what you do,” Shah shares. “Anyone who says they want to write or travel the world, they look at you like there’s something wrong with you.”
Shah adds that parents are becoming more understanding when it comes to their children’s career choices, but they still prefer ‘safe’ options like engineering or teaching.
Fewer opportunities for minority journalists
Journalism hasn’t proven to be a stable career for Hasan; he struggled to overcome the language barrier, as well as to find work in journalism, so he dropped out of the program.
Hasan’s situation is not all that unique for visible minority or ethnic journalists.
While there is a growing number of visible minorities enrolling in, and graduating from, Canadian journalism schools, they are not necessarily the ones getting the jobs.
Research has found that some of the perceived reasons for the under representation of visible minorities in journalism include hiring biases, fear of harassment and networking barriers.
While Hasan says he never personally experienced those challenges, he admits they were things both he and his friends were concerned about.
“In fact, they have discouraged me to go for journalism because of these issues,” he remarks.
Ingrid Grange immigrated to Canada from Jamaica and encouraged her daughter, Ashleen, in her interest to become a journalist. Grange says she hopes that the barriers students face as ethnic minorities “will have the opposite effect” on them.
“I would hope that it would make people of different ethnicities want to be in the media more so they can show that we’re out there and we should be taken seriously,” she says.
Some visible minority journalists worry about their ethnicity being a defining factor of who they are and fear being perceived as a ‘diversity hire’ by their peers according to a MediaSmarts study.
According to Grange, Ahsleen, who is now in her fourth year of journalism studies at the University of Toronto, says she sometimes has difficulty being taken seriously as a journalist, both because she is a woman and because she is black.
“I think you have to turn that tokenism around and use it in your favour,” says Grange. “It’s hard to get in the door, so if that’s your way through the door don’t hold back. You can’t change things from the outside,” she adds.
Pursuing journalism despite risks, barriers
While there may be risks and barriers involved that keep first- and second-generation Canadians – often visible minorities – from careers in this field, discouraging them from pursuing journalism only perpetuates the problem.
According to Shah, journalists benefit from sharing a newsroom with people from diverse backgrounds. She says she has been able to explain and give context to certain topics which allowed her to “tone down the ignorance” amongst her peers.
Having different ethnicities and perspectives means that inevitably not everyone will agree all the time. Shah notes that sometimes she and her peers “fight” over story ideas, and that she considers this a positive.
“If we all had the same thought processes or the same experiences we wouldn’t put out a very interesting paper,” she says.
Editor's Note: NCM has condensed and revised this article to include Ingrid Grange as an additional source. The original article was published on November 12, 2015.
by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver
With the final ballots long since counted and the prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau preparing to name his cabinet, members and guests of the Canadian Journalism Foundation (CFJ) gathered in downtown Vancouver to reflect on the longest election campaign in Canadian history.
The discussion, titled “Election 2015: How the Votes Were Won”, was held in an auditorium in the Simon Fraser University Segal Building on Oct. 27.
Panellists included Susan Delacourt, a columnist with the Toronto Star, Adam Radwanski, a political columnist with The Globe and Mail, Hannah Thibedeau, a veteran political reporter and Paul Wells, the political editor for Maclean’s magazine. Tom Clark, chief political correspondent for Global National, served as the moderator for the evening.
Beyond the rise of the Liberal party and the potential this administration has for greater cooperation with the media, the night’s discussion focused on the important role ethnic and immigrant communities played in this hotly contested race.
Miscalculations about #CdnImm voters
The panel discussed how all parties spent a significant amount of time targeting ethnic and immigrant demographics during this election period.
For Clark, who has covered every federal election campaign since 1974, digging into how parties were marketing themselves to these communities was “fascinating.”
“They were conflating concerns that certain communities would have, say with Kathleen Wynne [Ontario’s premier] and sex education,” he said. “I heard one ad that said, ‘if you don’t like Kathleen Wynne and sex education, vote for Stephen Harper.’”
Despite spending a significant amount of time, money and effort trying to court these demographics though, “those communities basically turned against the Conservatives,” Clark added.
Radwanski, who previously served on the Globe’s editorial team, referred to the Muslim vote in particular, saying that while the Conservatives mainly wrote off Muslim voters when taking a stance on the niqab issue, the unintended consequences of this decision were unforeseen.
“Where I think they made a miscalculation was … there seemed to be a view that a lot of other immigrant communities take a certain 'close-the-door-behind-you' approach,” he stated, speaking of an assumption that once immigrants arrive in Canada they are less likely to care about others wanting to reach Canada.
The reverse happened though. Rather than seeing the problem as one that only applied to Muslim Canadians, members of other communities identified with the fact that minorities were being targeted, Radwanski said.
Long campaign a benefit to Liberals
Making a light-hearted reference to the Jon Oliver sketch video that described Canada’s “gruelling” 78-day election period as “cute,” Clark asked the panellists how this year’s lengthy election differed from those of the past.
“I think everybody got into the long election campaign. I think democracy was sort of served by it,” Delacourt responded. “I think the turnout in this election is a really good argument for the longer election campaign.”
Radwanski agreed. “I actually think the long campaign really made a difference, not just in that we all had more time to watch … [but] in that I just don’t think we would have seen anything resembling the same results in a five-week campaign,” he said.
The panel seemed to agree that Trudeau and the Liberal party “read” the long campaign better than the New Democratic Party (NDP), which ultimately allowed them to push past the former official opposition party in the last few weeks.
The NDP had the highest approval rating at the beginning of the campaign, polling nationally at around 33.2 per cent. The party even reached 37.4 per cent by late August.
However, this number shifted dramatically in late September as the Liberals overtook both the NDP and the Conservatives.
“They underestimated Trudeau,” explained Thibedeau, who was on the election trail with the Conservative party for the first four weeks of the circuit and joined the NDP later on.
She pointed to specific moments that highlighted this, such as when Harper’s spokesperson was quoted as saying “I think that if [Trudeau] comes on stage with his pants on, he will probably exceed expectations.”
Thibedeau continued, “Even more than that, the NDP … underestimated Justin Trudeau as well, and I think that was the biggest fault with those two parties.”
Media coverage in the new Trudeau era
On the day after he was elected, Trudeau travelled to Ottawa to take questions from journalists at the National Press Theatre. This was the first time since 2009 that a prime minister (or in this case, a prime minister-designate) was available to take questions at this official site.
For the panellists, this signalled a potentially more amiable relationship between journalists and the federal government in the future.
“It’ll be interesting to see if they maintain a lot of the restrictions that we’ve seen since ’06 or if they’ll loosen those moving forward,” said Thibedeau.
Wells, who moderated the Maclean’s debate in early August, echoed these thoughts.
“I believe that access and a general sort of relaxed attitude around journalists is going to be substantially greater under Justin Trudeau than under Stephen Harper,” he commented. “But I note that Justin Trudeau met with the premier of Ontario today and it was photo-op only, no questions.”
by Lucy Slavianska (@lucylsl) in Toronto, Ontario
As mainstream media focus on the war in Ukraine and Canada’s position on it, headlines in the Eastern European diaspora media reveal some of the other challenges, struggles and joys of its community in Canada.
Canada Relaxes Visa Requirements for Citizens of Romania And Bulgaria
Romanian and Bulgarian media report on the Harper government’s decision to relax the visa requirements for Romanian and Bulgarian nationals.
According to new regulations coming in 2016, Bulgarian Flame reports, Bulgarian citizens who have held a Canadian visa in the last 10 years or who hold a U.S. non-immigrant visa will no longer need to apply for Canadian visas, but will only have to register for an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA). The same regulations apply for Romanian citizens.
The news came after Romania and Bulgaria, both European Union (EU) members, declared they would not ratify the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a EU-Canada free-trade agreement, if Ottawa would not lift the visa requirements for their nationals. In order for CETA to come into effect, all 28 EU members must ratify it.
Prior to Bulgaria and Romania, the Czech Republic declared it wouldn’t ratify CETA if Canada didn’t lift the visa requirement for Czech citizens. The Harper government removed visas for Czech citizens, but only relaxed the requirements for Bulgarians and Romanians.
“It is a step towards the total lifting of visas for Romanians,” Pagini Romanesti writes, “but it seems unlikely that the Canadian authorities will take this decision very soon.”
Canadians, on the other hand, don’t need visas for any of the EU countries, including Romania and Bulgaria.
Biometric Data Collection Expands for Visitors to Canada
The federal government announced that the collection of biometric data from people entering Canada would vastly expand.
Polish website Bejsment.com, however, informed its readers that Poles who cross the Canadian border do not have to provide such data, because the new regulations do not apply to nationals of countries with which Canada has visa-free agreements. Also, the website explains that the biometric data of the Polish citizens are already saved in the electronic chips of their passports.
However, citizens of 148 countries who require visas will be subject to biometric data collection which includes fingerprints, facial and iris scanning. According to the federal government, the tightening of border control would not only increase the internal security, but would also limit the influx of unwanted people.
The drawback of the new project is the high cost – about $200 million for installation, and about $20 million annually for maintenance of the system.
Despite the expenses, security expert John Thompson believes that other countries should follow Canada’s example. In fact, collecting biometric data is already a common practice in Europe, the USA, Australia and New Zealand.
Photo Credit: Bejsment.com (Accompanied original referenced article.)
The Fight for Kindergarten Ukrainian-Language Programs
Parents, teachers, community activists and organizations are concerned about anticipated changes in the decades-old Ukrainian language program running in three kindergarten classes in Toronto’s Eastern-Rite Catholic schools. In five articles, the Ukrainian-Canadian news portal New Pathway followed the heated discussions and actions of the Ukrainian community to preserve the language program.
Until 2014, the three kindergartens, which included separate half-day classes in Ukrainian, were partly funded by parents. When they became fully funded by the province, John Yan, senior coordinator at the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), said there would be changes to the Ukrainian language component’s delivery.
Meanwhile, a petition stated, “Teachers were informed that they have to abandon their separate Ukrainian classrooms and assume support duties within the regular English curriculum.”
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) Toronto branch announced a committee of parents and community activists would challenge the changes. Some of the group’s main concerns were, “the difficulty of combining instruction in two languages for young children in a single session,” “the volume of instruction in Ukrainian” and “ways to ensure the interests of Ukrainian teachers in the new circumstances.”
After several meetings, the prompt and united actions of the Ukrainian community members resulted in successful negotiations with TCDSB. On June 3, 2015, the UCC and TCDSB released a joint statement announcing children would spend half a day with an English teacher and the other half with a Ukrainian one and an ECE (early childhood education) team.
Photo: St. Josaphat Catholic School Celebrates 50 Years // Photo Credit: tcdsb.org
Annual Competitions Encourage Reading, Writing and Spelling in Polish
To stimulate young people of Polish background to learn, use and improve their Polish-language skills, Polish schools in most provinces organize competitions in essay writing, reading and spelling at the end of every school year. Polish portal Goniec published Teresa Szramek’s report on the most popular competitions in the country.
This year, the Best Essay in Polish Language competition was held for the 50th time. According to Szramek, the jury did a tremendous job, reading and evaluating hundreds of essays sent from Polish schools from all across Canada. Among the grading criteria were the ability to use the language beautifully and the courage to speak out on difficult subjects.
The reading contest, “Champion at Reading Beautifully,” took place at John Paul II Polish Cultural Centre Mississauga. Children read a text by Barbara Gawryluk’s My Bullerby, a novel about a girl who faces challenges when her parents decide to emigrate from Poland to Sweden.
“The reading contest for children is really important,” Szramek writes, “especially in the era of ubiquitous Internet. The contest aims, among other things, to arouse interest in books, which are a cultural asset of every nation, and to encourage reading, because books develop the imagination and enrich the vocabulary of the young readers.”
A record number of candidates also competed for the title of Spelling Champion of the Year 2015.
Photo Credit: Goniec (Accompanied original referenced article.)
Volunteers Run “Food Bank On Wheels”
People who use the Canadian social assistance system should not just passively wait for help – many of them could be more actively engaged in improving of their situations and the lives of others in need, says Lada Alexeychuk in Russian Week.
Alexeychuk is involved in an organization created and run by volunteers who call this activity “food bank on wheels.”
The work is simple: the volunteers talk to grocery store and warehouse managers and, at the end of the day, pick up the food that has not been sold. They immediately deliver this food to the homes of people in need. In this way, about 100 people receive fresh fruit and vegetables every week.
Alexeychuk writes that elderly people are especially grateful for this home-delivery service in winter, because they don’t have to walk the slushy, slippery streets to get food.
Since products are delivered the same day, the “food bank” doesn’t need storage or administrative staff. All it takes is the will to help others.
“The reasons people need help are different – unemployment, sickness, old age, immigration,” Alexeychuk says. “However, if a person is in need of social assistance, this doesn’t mean that he or she is completely helpless. If you think about it, every man, even the weakest person with disability can be of some help in some way.”
Photo Credit: Russian Week (Accompanied original referenced article.)
Lucy Slavianska is a Toronto-based journalist who has lived and worked in Bulgaria, Japan, Venezuela and the Netherlands. She has a PhD in clinical philosophy and background in editing and publishing.
by Susan Korah (@waterlilypool) in Ottawa, Ontario
Getting the mainstream media to cover more immigrant issues is something many settlement and advocacy agencies grapple with.
The first of a series of workshops presented by New Canadian Media, a two-hour interactive session entitled “Increasing the Visibility of the Immigrant Service Sector” aimed at addressing this challenge.
The participants – mostly employed as executive directors and communications officers by non-profit settlement and advocacy organizations – were there by invitation to learn how to project their messages to the wider Canadian public, and particularly to the decision-makers who allocate government grants and corporate donations.
One participant said that she was eager to learn from the two high-profile speakers – John Ibbitson, writer at large with the Globe and Mail and Mitchell Kutney, Ottawa blogger and social media expert – because immigration and refugee advocacy groups have been facing multiple challenges in recent years, and there is an urgent need to make them known to all Canadians.
Crack the Fortress of Media Power
Speaking first, Ibbitson introduced the concept of the “Laurentian elite,” which he defined as the small group of media executives, as well as top academics in various fields, who live in the central Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec (especially the major cities of Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal) and control the pages and airwaves of the traditional media.
His central point was that one can wait patiently for another 25 years or so for the demise of the Laurentian elite, or one can be proactive in cracking the group’s closely guarded fortress of media power.
Identifying himself and some of his colleagues as members of this elite, he said that they were mostly white, male, middle-aged or older, and shared the same world-view. They are also desperately fighting for their own survival in a tectonic shift of the media and political landscape, he pointed out. That is a critical point to remember when trying to break into their gated territory, he emphasized.
“I’m 60, white and male, and my newsroom is filled with people like me,” Ibbitson said. “And I’m not prepared to quit right now.”
He explained that, because communications technology is changing at a dizzying pace and there is a very real possibility that traditional media may no longer be financially sustainable within the next 10 years, newsrooms are laying off rather than hiring new staff.
This, he pointed out, combined with the prejudice that some new Canadians hold against about pursuing journalistic careers, is a hindrance to changing the demographics of newsrooms.
Ibbitson cited the example of some brilliant ethnic-minority interns that his newspaper had trained recently, and offered employment to, only to have the opportunity turned down. He speculates this was probably because their immigrant parents disapproved of journalism as a career choice.
Pitch Stories for All Canadians
Regarding the pro-active approach, Ibbitson advised communications professionals to get to know as many journalists as possible, and to pitch stories that fall within the writer’s range of topics and are relevant to all Canadians.
For example, if a country has business opportunities for Canadians, that becomes a relevant story, he said.
On the other hand, as one workshop participant Mohammed Adam, formerly a reporter and now a columnist with the Ottawa Citizen, said: “People used to ask me to write about some country that Canadians have no interest in at all, and my editors wouldn’t go for it.”
Ibbitson said a pitch that would help the beleaguered media industry attract readers/viewers would get a positive response, because there was a definite alignment of interests there. He also elaborated on the increasing importance of business news, pointing out that all of the Globe and Mail’s foreign bureaus concentrate on business.
“Why should we pitch or reach out to you?” asked one of the workshop participants.
“We don’t want to ghettoize. The mainstream media is a platform for all Canadians,” Ibbitson replied. Another reason is that the people who give out funds to immigrant-serving organizations read newspapers like the Globe, he added.
Ride the Social Media Wave
Mitchell Kutney (pictured at right), the workshop’s other featured speaker, is an established Ottawa-based blogger who covers topics related to social enterprise, charity and philanthropy. With over 100,000 followers, he is one of Ottawa’s 10 most highly followed Twitter users.
Kutney’s fast-paced presentation focused on harnessing the incredible potential of Twitter for reaching people outside of one’s “social capital” or usual network of contacts, as well as for securing the attention of key people in the mainstream media.
Some practical tips he gave the audience were:
Asked about the secret of his large following, Kutney said: “I invest an incredible amount of time on my blog and Twitter account and write about controversial topics.”
Welcome to the debate about the debates.
The world of federal election leaders’ debates as we know it went kaboom last week, when the Conservatives walked away from an understanding with the Big Three television networks for four debates during the fall campaign, two in English and two in French.
Instead, the Tories announced they’d accepted invitations for two debates — from Maclean’s magazine and Rogers TV in English, and Quebec’s TVA network in French. Both might be in August, before the writ for the October election is even dropped. Conservative campaign spokesman Kory Teneycke said the party would accept at least three more debates, two in English and one in French.
In the first news cycle after the story broke, the mainstream media were mostly shocked and appalled. What was Stephen Harper, famous for his head-games, up to in apparently dissing the TV consortium? Was he trying to suppress voter turnout by abandoning mass media in favour of niche channels where Conservatives could reach their target audience?
But then, the free market kicked in, and all kinds of media organizations offered to host leaders’ debates. Game on. Bloomberg News and the Globe and Mail were among them, and they’re not even in the television business. But they can produce live streaming video on the Internet. And from there, it’s just a posting to YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Welcome to the digital world. The modern, 21st century world.
The network consortium — CBC/Radio-Canada, CTV and Global — pushed back with a statement that 10 million people watched the English debate in 2011 and four million the French one.
On CTV’s Question Period Sunday, host Bob Fife asked Teneycke why he would trade that for Rogers’ audience of just 300,000 on six local stations. To which Teneycke replied that the Big Three would be invited to cover the debate, and assumed they would. In this, the Conservatives are not alone. The NDP has accepted the same two invitations. The Liberals are ambivalent, promising that if elected they’d create an independent debates commission as in the United States.
In last year’s Quebec election, TVA went it alone and shook up the traditional format by offering one-on-one segments. That probably plays to Harper’s and Tom Mulcair’s strengths as seasoned debaters. As for Justin Trudeau, he would win simply by exceeding low expectations. TVA would obviously invite Bloc Québécois Leader Mario Beaulieu, though it’s not clear whether it would include Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.
The consortium is suggesting they may go ahead with debates anyway, with Harper represented by a metaphorical empty chair. Yeah, right, try that with a guy who would be regulating your business if he won again. Hello, head office. Still, it’s an interesting game of chicken.
Adapting Debates to a Changing Media Landscape
The events of last week have also served to remind some in the media of the consortium’s accumulated sense of entitlement and exclusivity. They decide whether other parties are invited to debate; they determine the moderator and participants from their own networks; they choose the questions, including the video questions from ordinary voters. There was no transparency or disclosure in this, the consortium alone decides.
The Conservatives are obviously walking away from the consortium for their own reasons, and the least that can be said is that they are not disinterested. They want to reach their own audience, and in the title of Susan Delacourt’s excellent book, they are Shopping for Votes.
But this event has underlined that the consortium is actually a cartel. Other media have suddenly got that, in that they can also offer to host debates. For example, if iPolitics happened to host one, it wouldn’t be on television, but it would be live-streamed on the Internet. The audience might include my 24-year-old daughter. She and her friends don’t watch TV, but get all their information online.
It isn’t just the debate hosts and formats that are changing in Campaign 2015, but coverage of the leaders’ tours — there may well be a lot less of it.
It’s a question of cost and content.
It’s very expensive for media outlets to fly on leaders’ tours — a minimum of $10,000 per week. For a network television crew of three, that’s $30,000 per week over five weeks, times the three major tours.
For a newspaper, it costs $150,000 to cover the three major party tours; for a network the cost is upwards of $500,000.
In today’s cost conscious media environment, that’s a lot of money. And what do they get for it? Scripted tours that are as boring as the rain. Typically, a leader’s day begins with a media availability, followed by a photo op at a plant or daycare, followed by a speech to a chamber of commerce, followed by supper hour TV and radio interviews, wrapping up with a partisan party rally in the evening.
What if the networks decided to split the costs of a pool camera, and shoot their standups from Parliament Hill? What if newspapers decided they were fine with reports from Canadian Press?
That would cause leaders’ tours to downsize in a hurry. It’s already happening in the U.S., where Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton set off for her first tour of Iowa in a seven-seat van, leaving the media to fend for themselves as they chased after her. Last week she was in Brooklyn, touring neighbourhood doorsteps and posing for selfies posted on Twitter. She doesn’t need a media entourage for that.
The Canadian campaign is going to be decided mainly in the Greater Toronto Area, with 25 seats in downtown 416, and 29 seats in suburban 905. Those 54 seats make the GTA the third largest province in the country after Ontario and Quebec.
You won’t need to pay $10,000 a week to cover a GTA campaign, all you’ll need is the leaders’ itineraries and a car.
L. Ian MacDonald is editor of Policy, the bi-monthly magazine of Canadian politics and public policy. He is the author of five books. He served as chief speechwriter to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney from 1985-88, and later as head of the public affairs division of the Canadian Embassy in Washington from 1992-94.
Published in Partnership with ipolitics.ca
Former journalist, George George, worked at the same English newspaper in New Delhi for 30 years before retiring at age 58. Now, in his late 70's, he’s lived in Vancouver for two years following immigration to Canada. His daughter Sabita Majid, is also a former journalist who immigrated to Canada 15 years ago. In her late 40's now, she’s changed employers and jobs much more frequently than her father. Below are both writers’ perspectives on the losses and gains from immigration:
George George writes a father's take:
For an Indian wog (Western-oriented gentleman, as defined in days gone by) choosing to seek fresh pastures late in life with a wife even more so inclined, and with two daughters already settled in Canada, a third living with her family in New York, there was a sense of inevitability about it all. We had been visiting our daughters in Vancouver regularly and had developed a certain familiarity, and were impressed, with Canada's broadly Christian social values.
Canada's potential in tomorrow's world is undoubtedly immense. Water will determine the shape of the world in the 22nd century and Canada has plenty of it. The oil sands present another window of opportunity for Canada in the field of energy which will increasingly dictate areas of affluence.
In assessing various angles of immigration to Canada, it was not lost on us that our experience was restricted to Vancouver and some outlying towns. However, we convinced ourselves that Vancouver's example would be the standard for the rest of the country.
A major deterrent to migration was the fact that my family was settled in Bangalore, having moved there from our original homes in the southern state of Kerala. My wife on the other hand faced no such sentimental hurdles for her siblings were all settled abroad already.
An underlying thought promoting migration was our fear that religious freedom might be compromised in India. As has happened, the right-wing, revivalist Bharatiya Janata Party's sweeping victory in the May 2014 General (federal) Elections could prove to be the first nail in the coffin of religious freedom. However, the secular heart of India continues to beat strongly for now.
India is unique in that it is the only major nation to have emerged from colonial rule and opted for democracy and broadly Western Christian values. The fact that the West, especially the U.S. and Canada, for example, chooses not to acknowledge this difference in India’s political development compared to China's, is in the eyes of many Indians an aberration.
We realized right at the beginning that we would have to sell our nearly 40-year-old house in Delhi, but decided that irrespective of our move to Canada a base in India was essential. Towards this end, we bought an apartment in a multi-storeyed complex in Bangalore.
It has been smooth sailing all through. An Indian lady greeted us at the airport and offered to help us get employment. We declined the offer, secure in the knowledge that our house in Delhi had fetched a price that will always provide for us.
We lived for three months with our daughter in Burnaby and then moved to a nearby flat. We bought a house in North Vancouver with the funds we repatriated, legally. We now live in a cooperative housing society in Burnaby and our other daughter livews with us. The married daughter and family are nearby, four flats away.
The fact that we have enough capital to last a lifetime of modest ambition is the key to our self-sufficiency. We are a retired couple. We are not in the job market, which would have meant competing with local residents for jobs. This has been a major factor promoting our assimilation.
Canadian society is reticent and self-introspective. That suits my temperament. Living is easy in Canada, especially in Vancouver. The weather is moderate throughout the year. We do not experience Canada's bone-chilling winter. It rains often but in modest quantities, leaving the parks green and invigorating.
Other welcome features of life in Vancouver are the general peace and quiet on the streets, the public transport system which includes comfortable buses manned by attentive crews and sky-trains, which provide a bird's eye view of the city. Overall, it is a compassionate city, and every day reinforces our conviction that we have made the right choice.
Sabita Majid offers her views as a daughter:
Of course, I thought I’d come to Canada to work as a journalist. My ambition was based on the fact that I had written for two national newspapers in New Delhi and in Dubai I reported for the Gulf News for five years before immigrating. My portfolio included interviews with international politicians, actors, artists, writers and a large number articles examining environmental, labour and gender issues.
Journalism was for me a means to explore ideas and ask questions about trends in the decolonized India I grew up in. When I moved from New Delhi to multi-national, multi-lingual Dubai, I began seeing how different ethnic groups respond to change and fast-paced development (the sort witnessed in Dubai's frenetic pace).
However, censorship and compromise were part of my journalistic experience in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), where a traditional Islamic society has become enmeshed with corporate consumerism. It has created a curious mix of social conservatism and enormous wealth.
Matching my skills
Coming to Canada, I thought I’d be able to offer my journalistic insights more freely without the constraints of censorship or conservatism. However, apart from contributing a few articles and book reviews to the Vancouver Sun, this freelance journalism didn’t go too far.
I failed to make a ‘match’ with the ethnic South Asian newspapers either as these small community-style papers are run by skimpy staff and skimpier budgets. Also, ethnic newspapers seemed to provide mostly narrow one-dimensional stories.
Honestly, it might have been easier to pursue a writing career in the more diverse city of Toronto than in smaller-town Vancouver, where my husband and I decided to settle for reasons of comfort and aesthetics over practicality and reason.
So, there I was caught in a classic ‘disconnect,’ both from mainstream media and ethnic media as I fit neither slot. Though I continued to write for overseas media agencies, it was simply not enough to sustain me.
My inability to connect as a journalist made me realize that immigration had stacked the odds against me. I had lost valuable cultural and social capital in terms of having a network, while in the politics of language and representation and deciding who gets to speak or to write, my newcomer status lost out completely.
After a long pause, during which I stayed at home raising my son, I decided it was time for a reinvention. I headed back to university for another Master’s program to steep myself in texts and conversations about transnational identities, popular cultures and globalization as this was now my world.
I returned to the workforce having erased journalism from my job search and looked instead for jobs as researcher, public servant and non-profit agencies.
As it happens, I landed a job as a federal public servant five years ago, and now work within the very 'establishment' that I was once leery of. I do see my job in public service as having immense value and think I have come full circle professionally.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit