New Canadian Media The pulse of immigrant Canada Tue, 22 Sep 2020 14:38:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 New Canadian Media 32 32 159044755 Tales of Hope and Despair at TIFF 2020 Tue, 22 Sep 2020 14:38:03 +0000 An asylum seeker stuck in limbo on a Scottish island, a daughter wailing in a Wuhan hospital corridor, a woman caught between tradition and modernity: this year’s TIFF is mostly virtual, but it is still captivating audiences by the extraordinary power of cinematic visuals and emotions. Here is our review of a few notable films from the TIFF 2020 official selection.

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Limbo: A rare blend of emotions

Set on a barren isolated Scottish island, Limbo is a story of confusion, fear, and uncertainty of an asylum seeker. Writer-director Ben Sharrock is known for his unique sense of cinematic style and voice. He proves himself once again in this complex humane drama, portraying situations that are simultaneously comical and heart-wrenching. The resulting bizarre mix of hope, despair, confusion, and comedy creates a spell that leaves a deep impact on the audience. 

Omar, the protagonist of the film (played by Amir El-Masry), is a promising young musician. Separated from his Syrian family, he is stuck on a remote Scottish island, awaiting the fate of his asylum request. Vikash Bhai, a rising Indian actor, plays the role of Omar’s Freddie Mercury-obsessed roommate Farhad.

Rather than eliciting sympathy for his characters, Sharrock is more interested in diving deep into what’s happening in their minds. As a storyteller, he never misses a chance to ridicule the system in a subtle but meaningful way. For example, in a scene from one of the training sessions at the asylum center, Omar and his new flatmates attend outrageously misjudged “cultural awareness” classes hosted by eccentric locals. 

In another scene, a fellow asylum seeker, Wasef, says that someday he wants to play for the Chelsea football club. Wasef’s high ambition creates an awkward situation in the training room. His close companion, Abedi, can’t help laughing, since that training session is actually about managing a cleaning job. Reluctant to accept reality, Wasef seeks an answer from a somewhat clueless local instructor, who avoids facing the issue  by saying, “That’s really ambitious” and “It’s not impossible.” Still unconvinced, Wasef leaves the training room with a big question mark.  

Omar and his companions at the asylum center come from different countries and backgrounds, which makes the film culturally diverse. The location and photography also properly set the mood for this melancholic tale. 

Limbo offers a blend of conflicting emotions, but its ultimate appeal lies in the protagonist’s confusion. Was it the right decision to leave his war-ridden homeland? What is he gaining at what price? These are the questions that haunt Omar and drive the story till the end—questions that are perhaps not unfamiliar to any migrant.

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Nurse drawing a smiley face on a medical glove to raise spirits of hospitalized coronavirus patients in a hospital in Wuhan, China. As seen in 76 Days, directed by Hao Wu, Weixi Chen and Anonymous. Image courtesy of 76 Days LLC.

76 Days: A nervy tale of the pandemic

It seems like a scene from another planet. A woman wearing a hazmat suit is running down  a hospital corridor, wailing. We can’t see her face. We can only hear the sobbing and crying. This heart-wrenching scene inside a Wuhan hospital is just the beginning of the film. 76 Days, a raw, courageous, and intimate documentary by Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, and an anonymous filmmaker, captures the struggles and human resilience in the battle to survive the pandemic. 

76 Days is set in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China. The overwhelming pressure on the hospitals, sick people banging on the hospital door, the exhausted and starving health workers, the crazy crowd outside the hospital—this film is more than nerve-wracking. It’s also a story of hope and victory of humanity over the worst crisis.  

76 Days is probably the most relevant film of our time. Due to China’s sensitivity regarding the portrayal of the COVID-19 response and as we are approaching the second wave of the pandemic, this documentary attracted a lot of attention from TIFF viewers.

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Short Cuts: Aniksha and Strong Son

Other gems from the TIFF 2020 lineup include Aniksha and Strong Son. Aniksha is an enigmatic tale directed by Vincent Toi, a Mauritian-Canadian filmmaker. This short film is about a young Indo-Mauritian woman stuck between tradition and modernity. Thanks to stunning photography and Toi’s cryptic storytelling, Aniksha creates a rare spell. 

Strong Son, by the Winnipeg based director of South Asian descent, Ian Bawa, is perhaps a surprising choice in the TIFF official selection. Set in a single location (a gym), with no ambiance or supporting characters, Strong Son deals with a weird father-son relationship. This experimental micro-short film’s underlying appeal is certainly in its unique way of dealing with family ties and body image issues. 

Strong Son.

Maybe the crazy crowd around the TIFF Bell Lightbox was absent. Maybe there was no red carpet and no star-gazing. But this year’s “no ordinary TIFF” was still a great occasion for cinema lovers in this uncertain time.



Photos courtesy of TIFF

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New App Helps Immigrants Feel at Home Fri, 18 Sep 2020 19:31:13 +0000 homeis, a new app that enables immigrants to reach out to people of similar background for help, advice and a sense of community, makes it easier for new Canadians to adapt while staying connected to their roots.

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Over one-fifth of Canada’s population consists of foreign-born individuals. Often moving for a chance at a higher-quality life, immigrants have become the backbone of Canadian society. However, while the nation benefits from the blood, sweat, and tears of immigrants, these individuals often struggle to adapt to the Canadian way of life, all while trying to maintain their home culture. After experiencing this struggle themselves, co-founders Ran Harnevo and Hanan Lashover created the homeis app as a means to bridge the gap in this niche market. 

The origin story

Founded in February 2017 by immigrants and for immigrants, the homeis app offers users a multitude of resources including advice, immigration status assistance, news and more. There is also a popular questions feature for users to share their experiences and common interests.

In 2018, homeis launched its first community for individuals of the same background to interact with each other, and has since continued to expand to different communities in the United States, Canada, and Israel. In August, a South Asian community was launched for Canadian immigrants, resulting in an astounding 15,000 individuals signing up in the first 15 days.

Varsha Ahir is the South Asian community leader for the homeis app.

Growth & potential

In the midst of a pandemic, it’s difficult to imagine how much harder and lonelier the process of adapting to Canadian life must be. Faced with this reality, homeis users said that the biggest drawing points were the welcoming community, genuine advice from other members, and the potential the app had. Users found the app offered support and community that competitors like Whatsapp and Facebook could not.

Varsha Ahir, homeis’ South Asian community leader stated there was a gap in the market that the app has filled. “People were looking for a one-stop shop, where they can meet people, find visa or citizenship information, reach out to others for professional or networking opportunities and much more,” she said.

Moving abroad to a new country is never easy. Given current circumstances, immigrants around the world are struggling more than ever, but users who spoke to New Canadian Media agree that homeis has opened up a new avenue for them, giving them hope and opportunities to continue pursuing their dreams.

All for one and one for all

An interesting aspect of the app’s South Asian community is the integration, not division, of users from various countries such as Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan.

“The impact that [the founders hope to have on users] is to make them feel at home, because after moving to a different country there is a lot that you will miss,” Ahir added. ” [South Asians] have similar spices, similar traditions and cultures; there’s not too much differences that we have. So inclusivity and togetherness of the communities is very important to the platform.”

While diversity is clearly celebrated by the homeis team, there is a question of how they plan to deal with prejudice, discrimination and misuse of the app. Historically, some countries in South Asia have had internal strife, like Sri Lanka, or have had conflict with each other, like India and Pakistan. These conflicts, while originating miles away, are often ingrained in individuals even after immigrating.

When asked about her thoughts on this issue, homeis user June Sanyal said that in spite of these worries, she has faith in the management team’s ability to swiftly address concerns and ensure community guidelines are followed. 

Varsha stated, “[homeis] is an open platform, so we support free speech and welcome your opinions. But anything which is hateful, anything which is anti any culture or religion is not tolerated and we have the capability to investigate the matter. There’s a zero tolerance policy towards that behaviour.”

The trust in the team and their active presence in the community have encouraged users to share in the app. Several women addressed the difficulty of being open and vocal on other social media apps due to unwanted attention and messages from individuals pursuing them romantically. However, with homeis, they said that these concerns were quickly addressed, and they felt a lot safer using the app. 

Where to next?

Having only been on the market for three years, homeis has already received great reviews. With potential issues assessed, Ahir and the management team seem prepared to handle anything that comes their way. 

“homeis is still in its infancy but they are showing promising results with the way the community management team has been continually interacting with the members and asking for feedback since day one,” said user Perminder Singh.

Within the next few years, homeis hopes to continue building a universal database for immigrants at every stage of their immigration journey. They plan to gradually expand the community options to eventually become a global platform that can assist immigrants in every country around the world. 

With its early success promising immense growth in the future, homeis has welcomed users with open arms, and, as app user Deepvansh Khurana put it, “Home is where the homeis.”


Photos provided by Varsha Ahir and homeis

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Small Cities Have Big Dreams for New Canadians Thu, 17 Sep 2020 15:52:19 +0000 As the city of North Bay's declining population causes worry about skilled labour shortages, the city looks to new Canadians to fill the gap.

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North Bay, Ontario is looking for new Canadians to relocate to the area as it reckons with a declining population and looming skilled labour shortages.

Situated just three and a half hours away from Toronto, the picturesque city of North Bay has a population of approximately 51,553 people.

It’s population decline has been steady. Statistics Canada reported North Bay’s population as 53,966 in 2006, 53,651 in 2011, and 51,553 in 2016. That is a 3.9 per cent drop for 2,098 residents from 2011 to 2016 and a 0.6 percent loss of population (or 315 people) in the 2006 to 2011 period. 

For years, there has been a steady exodus of young people who move away for education and never come back as well as others who make the shift to bigger cities for work. 

North Bay is more than just a great place to retire

North Bay is desperately trying to stave off a reputation of being a great place to retire. In 2011, the city of North Bay was home to a growing population of more than 9,000 adults aged 65 and over, accounting for 17% of the population.

In 2018, MoneySense put North Bay at 197th out of 415 cities on the 2018 best places to live ranking. But the city made 68th best place to retire, using weighted criteria such as wealth, the economy, health, weather, crime and culture. In short, it is a better place to retire than live.


Many high-skilled jobs need to be filled

In addition to living in a caring community of energetic, high-spirited people, there are many jobs in the aviation technology, healthcare and IT to name a few, said Patti Carr, VP of Policy and Communication at the North Bay District Chamber of Commerce, who is leading the drive to attract more people to her city.

North Bay is the latest Canadian city to launch the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) program which is expected to attract hundreds of applicants from around the world.

This federal government initiative is aimed at boosting immigration in rural and northern communities across the country that are mired in labour shortages and a shrinking population.

In addition to North Bay other RNIP participating communities include Sudbury, Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario, Brandon and Altona/Rhineland, Claresholm in Alberta, Vernon and West Kootenay in B.C.

Carr, who is the project manager for the North Bay RNIP said work is already underway to boost the city’s population and match new arrivals with available jobs.

 Newcomers in the city to be considered first

 “We are looking at immigrants already in North Bay as well as international students to fill these positions before looking outside,” she said.

Every year Canada welcomes well over 300,000 immigrants on average but only a very small percentage of them settle in small towns and rural parts of the country while a majority end up in cities like Toronto and Vancouver.

For years now, municipal leaders and politicians representing these regions have been urging Ottawa to funnel more immigrants into regions that need immigrants for their economic survival.

The RNIP is a community-driven program designed to enable small communities to benefit from the contributions of economic immigration by providing potential candidates with a pathway to permanent residency. The program is intended for skilled foreign workers who wish to work and live in one of the participating communities.


Plan to help newcomers integrate into the community

Ensuring newcomers find their feet and begin feeling at home is something Deborah Robertson executive director of North Bay & District Multicultural Centre is well-equipped to handle.  

This agency offers a whole range of services for newcomers. “Our settlement services are based on the needs of immigrants. If it is a family, then we offer help with school registration and provide them all the information they need to get settled.  For language needs, we direct them to language services. We also help newcomers establish strong networks with the community,” she said in an interview with NCM.

In addition to the existing services, North Bay & District Multicultural Centre is launching Canada Connect, a program which will focus on social support for newcomers and go a long way in the integration and retention of newcomers.

“We hope to roll out Canada Connect in the fall and will be recruiting and training volunteers to mentor newcomers,” she added. 

Another reason why North Bay may appeal to newcomers is the affordable cost of housing and lower cost of living. The average cost of a detached house is $229,556 compared to $1,000,342 in Toronto. It is hoped that newcomers won’t end up moving away to bigger cities after a few years.


Photo retrieved from City of North Bay website. 

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New Two-Step Visa Approval Process Speeds Up Student Admissions Thu, 17 Sep 2020 14:38:08 +0000 The new two-step visa approval process allows international students to start the online semester without a finalized study permit.

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Thousands of students have benefitted from the new two-step visa approval process that allows international students to start the fall semester online without a finalized study permit. The solution was welcomed by students and academic institutions alike. September 15 was the last date to apply for the study permit.

This two-stage policy came a week after Marco E. L. Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, made a number of temporary policy changes on July 14 to support and reassure international students and learning institutions.

To support enrolments for the September 2020 intake, IRCC in the first step assessed each application for meeting the preliminary eligibility criteria (such as financial self-sufficiency, genuine intent, and academic and language requirements). Successful applicants were granted an Approval in Principle (AIP) to commence online studies.

To get the full study permit, and eventually be able to travel to Canada, international students will have to submit an immigration medical examination, a police certificate and biometrics.

According to Pamila Ghai, an education consultant and student advisor based out of Toronto, this temporary policy has been “vigorously welcomed” by educational institutions across Canada, which had otherwise faced severe financial setbacks due to reduced enrolments during the pandemic. Thousands of students who had been granted AIPs to date would now be able to commence online studies, while stage 2 of their applications was still being finalized.

Ghai said there was “a record-high approval rate of over 90 per cent for AIPs for students from India.” Her agency was now in the process of supporting its students to register for online classes this fall, she said.

“It was an unthinkable challenge for international students, mostly immigrants, how they could cope with their studies and travel during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Ghai added. It was equally frustrating for new admission seekers with no ready information until the government came out with a temporary policy.  

Indians make up the largest segment of international students in Canada. According to High Commissioner for India in Canada, Ajay Bisaria, 225,000 Indian students are currently pursuing education in the country.

Online studies save the day

In order to assist students who are unable to travel to Canada and continue classes as per schedule, the Government allowed such students to take up online classes. The time thus spent outside of Canada pursuing online studies will also now be counted towards calculating the duration of their post-graduate work permit.  

Students with study permits issued on or before March 18 were exempt from travel restrictions if they were travelling for essential purposes during this period. They were allowed to re-enter on condition that they are in Canada for their program (laboratory work, workshops etc); their school/college is not offering online study option; they cannot study online from their home country because of internet or bandwidth limitations; or they cannot participate in online classes from their home country because of the difference in time zones.  

One institution popular with international students seeking quality education in Canada is Canada College in Montreal, which had at least 2,500 international students on the rolls pre-COVID. The college had to switch to online classes to help them complete their courses.

Dr Charith Sairam, Vice President of Canada College, said they avoided closure of their three campuses in the city by providing the necessary IT infrastructure, including ‘Moodle,’ an open-source online education platform. In view of these added facilities, more applicants are seeking online education, Sairam added.

About 80 percent of the college’s present cohort were international students who were continuing their studies from places where they stayed, Dr Sairam said.

For Indian students, more options should become available as of September. With India relaxing most of the lockdown restrictions from September 1, there will be more than normal” arrangements made for passengers from and to Canada in the coming months, Bisaria told New Canadian Media.

Rules around work permits just as crucial for students

The temporary removal of the 20-hour/week work restriction for international students, as announced by the immigration minister, has also greatly helped the student community to cope with the pandemic challenges, said Tarun Sabherwal, a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant in Toronto.

Minister Mendicino announced on April 22 that the international students who were working in an essential service till August 31 were free from the 20 hour/week work restriction. 

The government policy also stipulated that international students who had a job offer from a Canadian employer and had arrived in Canada before August 24 this year could now apply for work permits without having to leave the country. This temporary policy, it was expected, would benefit employers who were facing acute labour shortages due to the pandemic. And Canadian employers, by hiring foreign workers with relevant skills and experience, would in turn help the economy. 

Sabherwal said “the government was thoughtful” to ensure that student visa extension and post-graduate work permit applications would not be refused due to any incomplete documentation. IRCC recognized that there might be delays in obtaining documents due to school closures. 

Support extended by landlords and Canadian institutions and universities has gone a long way in mitigating the suffering of the immigrant student community, according to Sabherwal. Several homeowners have come forward to provide rent deferrals and waivers to tenants, he said.

While the ongoing pandemic situation had thrown up several challenges before immigrants and their respective diasporas, on the whole they were satisfied with the “effective relief measures taken quickly by the authorities,” he added.


Photo by Stanley Morales from Pexels

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Immigrant Parents Lean Towards Face-to-Face Education Wed, 16 Sep 2020 18:24:09 +0000 Disappointed in virtual learning, Ontario parents will take the risk of sending their children to school during the pandemic.

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As the back-to-school season begins amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many immigrant parents feel confusion and concern. While some consider that life should continue with due precautions, others are still fearful and doubtful about sending their children to school. For now, they are adding masks, sanitizers and face shields to their kids’ backpacks.

Despite the risk posed by returning to school amid the pandemic, Mercedes Pérez will send her three children to a Toronto school. She has taught them some precautions.

“At home, we have taught them how to wash their hands before touching food,” she says. We have tried to create some habits for them to reinforce hygiene, but in the end, they are children and they will need the help of a responsible adult who reminds them all the time and takes extreme measures.”

Pérez works as an elementary educator and she believes that she will be at risk as well because she is usually exposed to 28-30 minors every day.

As an educator, “sooner or later you have to go and face the situation. We need to be very rigorous with the sanitary measures with adults and children. This virus will be around for a while, so we have to deal with it from day to day.”

Mercedes Pérez with her children Nicolas, Andrew and Maria

Pérez knows that her 10-year-old son Nicolas will share his Grade five classroom with 12 students, while her other two kids, Andrew, 8, and Maria, 5, will share their respective Grade three and kindergarten classrooms with 25-27 children.

Two weeks ago, the federal government announced $2 billion in direct support to provinces for the Safe Return to Class Fund, which includes $763 million for Ontario alone. “This is in addition to the $22 billion Safe Restart Agreement earlier in the summer and the $1 billion in infrastructure funding, which Ontario can use for COVID projects such as school retrofits for safety,” detailed Toronto MP Julie Dzerowicz in a statement.

Ontario is home to an average of two million students (as per 2017/18 stats) enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools, which is just under half of the nation’s elementary school students. The province will require students in Grades four to 12 to wear cloth masks when they are in hallways and in classrooms, but will concede a break from wearing masks when outside.

Despite funds and safety measures allocated for a safe return to school, parents remain concerned about the uncertain situation.

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Patrick and Lourdes Chuidian will send their daughter Monserrat,12, to her Ontario school.

Filipino immigrant Patrick Chuidian, 62, will be at risk when his daughter Monserrat, 12, starts Grade seven due to his comorbidity condition. He suffers from hypertension, is diabetic and has renal failure.

“If the virus enters my house, immediately I must go to the hospital,” says Chuidian, who used to work as a male nurse.

Despite the fear that his daughter could be an involuntary carrier of the coronavirus, he says he prefers sending her to school because it’s best for her learning.

Back-to-school, mixed feelings

Francesco is a Mexican-Canadian teenager who suffers from cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome (CFC syndrome), characterized by psychomotor retardation and difficulty feeding. His mom, Angeles Niembro, intends to  send him to school. “COVID-19 is something that is here to stay,” she explains, adding it is best to build defences sooner. “It is not healthy keeping children locked up at home.”

back to school
Angeles Niembro will send her son Francesco, 15, to a school for kids with special needs.

Acton, Ontario, resident Karina Chuffart has two daughters aged 7 and 11. She describes her feelings as a dilemma, “I don’t see my daughters are learning with online education. Even though I don’t like the idea, I’ll send them to school.”

She explains that her eldest daughter already knows what to do, but is worried about the little one. “There is no other way. We have to live with this.” For now, she bought them face shields. 

Her friend, Marisol Martínez, agrees that there is no perfect solution. She will send her two children, Frida, 9, and Emilio, 11, to school, as she expects the pandemic to last a long time. Martinez says it is time for parents to teach their children to live with this new reality. “We must strengthen their immune system, create habits and a positive environment, so that they are not afraid.”

Even less convinced of the opening of the schools, Liliana Altamirano is still worried but decided to send her son Joshua to school to start his Grade five classes. “My son told us that he does not feel very comfortable,” she says.

These Latin American mothers agree that this is a delicate situation and that the decision depends on each family. “Both adults and children, for our mental health, we need to socialize and create a routine,” said Pérez.

In Ontario, there was not widespread opposition at least three weeks ago, but with the recent increase of COVID-19 cases, interviewed parents expressed their concern about a possible outbreak of the virus.

“We will know if the plan was effective when our children return to school,” says Patrick Chuidian. “If there is an outbreak, it means that they [schools – NCM] were not prepared well.”


Photos provided by the interviewed. 

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International Students Rally for a Clearer Pathway to Permanent Residency Wed, 16 Sep 2020 16:51:33 +0000 As problems continue to arise due to COVID-19, one overlooked and growing population effected are international students who now call for changes in the requirements for permanent resident status.

The post International Students Rally for a Clearer Pathway to Permanent Residency appeared first on New Canadian Media.

Alina Pryzbyl, a recent graduate from Toronto’s George Brown College, spends sleepless nights wondering whether the next knock on her door would end her dreams of becoming a New Canadian.

She is not alone.

Like thousands of other international students in Canada, COVID-19 is threatening Pryzbyl’s path to citizenship and she faces deportation if the current rules are not changed.

She came from Poland to attend George Brown College in Toronto where she enrolled in the Assaulted Women’s and Children’s Counsellor/Advocate Program. (AWCCA) at George Brown College in 2018.

Demanding Permanent Residency Requirements for Graduates 

Before lockdown restrictions, Pryzbl was finishing her program and working at a restaurant. As she gradually lost her income she worried her temporary status would not allow her to have access to income support.

“I graduated into a completely unstable job market… Millions of people lost their jobs as a result of a lockdown, but we know that we, as migrant students, face even bigger challenges. We are still expected to find a full time permanent and qualified job to be able to get enough points to apply for permanent residency…So many of us can’t and as a result, we face becoming undocumented or being forced to leave,” she said.

Pryzbyl shared her predicament at one of two rallies recently held in the GTA. These rallies were organised by Migrant Student United, a group organised under the umbrella of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change

One of the rallies was held outside the office of Deputy PM Chrystia Freeland. They called for changes to immigration rules governing international students during COVID-19, including permanent residency status for all international students.

In an interview with NCM, Sarom Rho, an organizer with the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change who leads the Migrant Students United campaign said that the requirements for graduates to gain permanent residency in Canada are too high, and economic disruption from the COVID-19 crisis has made it almost impossible to meet for thousands of international students.

Post-graduate work permits are not currently renewable and this puts graduates who’ve been laid off or unable to find work during the pandemic at a greater risk.

“We are calling upon the federal government to make work permits renewable as thousands of international students risk deportation,” she added.

International Students Calling for Change

Under the current rules, unemployed graduates face deportation if they do not complete continuous, high-wage work before their permits expire. Hundreds of international students are spending sleepless nights wondering if they will be able to afford tuition and satisfy the requirements that would lead to permanent residency in Canada.

At the height of COVID-19, the federal government temporarily removed the regulation that limited international students from working more than 20 hours per week while classes were in session.

In April, Canada’s immigration minister Marco Mendicino put out this statement: “Immigrants, temporary foreign workers and international students are making important contributions as frontline workers in health care and other essential service sectors.”

However, that temporary removal of the regulation ended on August 31, and there is uncertainty about what comes next.

Migrant students are calling on the federal and provincial government to:

  • Fix rules around work: Make post-graduate work permits renewable so former students can complete requirements for Permanent Residency (PR) in the COVID-19 job market; Remove time-limits and industry restrictions on work.
  • Give real access to PR: Lower points requirements for PR (CRS)
  • Count work that is part-time, in-school, in any occupation, including with gaps towards PR; and ensure full and permanent immigration status for all migrants.
  • Lower tuition and ensure full services
  • Ensure migrant students pay domestic tuition; Full access to all services including healthcare, housing, jobs, scholarships, pandemic emergency benefits, and in-school support; Immediate access to Social Insurance Numbers
  • Unite families: Allow families to travel, ensure work permits for family members

What is worrying so many international students is that COVID-19 has made it harder to find well-paying jobs in their field of specialty and to cover their tuition and other living expenses, they are forced to work at low-wage jobs for over the stipulated 20 hours.

“We have heard from so many students about the exploitation they face at the hands of employers who often demand thousands of dollars in exchange for LMIA (Labour Market Impact Assessment) -exempt offer of employment that will lead to permanent residency. The only way the government can eliminate the racism and exploitation international students face is by giving them PR status,” says Rho.

Growing International Student Population

Canada is now the world’s third-leading destination of international students, with a staggering 642,000 international students.

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) data, Canada’s international student population grew by 13 per cent in 2019 compared to the previous year. Overall, 404,000 international students saw their study permits take effect in 2019.

Meanwhile Migrant Students United is hopeful that the Trudeau government will address this issue in the next few weeks.

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Little Libraries, Big Deal for Newcomers Wed, 16 Sep 2020 15:50:57 +0000 Little free libraries are a great tool for newcomers to integrate with Canadian society. Due to the pandemic, they are becoming even handier.

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Toronto can surely claim itself as one of the most book-friendly cities thanks to its many little free libraries. A little free library is an outdoor book-sharing cabinet which most often looks like a tiny wooden house mounted on a pole. On top of being a nice tiny attraction, these libraries play a surprisingly big role in the lives of newcomers in Canada. Due to COVID-19, most of Toronto public libraries were forced to rethink their operation plans, making these little libraries more popular than ever.

More visitors due to pandemic

Little Free Library (LFL) is a non-profit based in the U.S., but operating globally. According to the organization, there are more than 100,000 registered Little Free Library book-sharing boxes in 108 countries around the world. The number of registered Little Free Libraries in Canada is over 2,100, with 159 listed in Toronto. However, the actual number in Toronto can be far greater, as many libraries are established by book enthusiasts independently. New Canadian Media reporter visited at least 10 little free libraries in Toronto, and only one of them was registered with LFL.

In recent months, little free libraries seem to have attracted more users, as confirmed by Margret Aldrich, Little Free Library’s director of communications. 

In a recent poll of the Little Free Library stewards in the U.S., most said that, since the pandemic, their Little Free Libraries have seen more visitors than ever. They attribute the increase in foot traffic to people spending more time at home, going for more walks, and missing their community’s bookstores and public libraries. As Aldrich told NCM, Little Free Library is also noticing more book donations as people are spending more time at home culling their book collections

Outpouring of generosity

Aldrich added that during the pandemic, Little Free Library has seen an outpouring of generosity. In March, people began sharing essentials like food, face masks, and even toilet paper through their little libraries to help neighbors in need. That led the non-profit to create a Sharing-Box Map to track the libraries used for sharing essential goods. The organization also introduced best safety practices to help control the spread of COVID-19. 

“I have noticed a significant increase in the number of books that are being borrowed recently,” said Diane Anton, an independent founder of a little library in the Scarborough bluffs area. “I don’t know where they [visitors] come from, but a lot of people are visiting my library every day.”

free little libraries with kids section
An individual effort: a free library with a separate kids section.

Anton, a retired librarian, had seen little libraries in some other parts of the city before she decided to establish one in front of her house. Her neighbours came along to help. Larger in size than any other library in her neighbourhood, Anton’s little library also has a kids section. Anton tries to update her book collections regularly, as she says it’s important to keep people engaged.

Making Canada More Livable 

Based on the 2016 census, the majority of Canadian immigrants (52.1 per cent) have post-secondary education, and they are often hungry for books. Sixty-seven per cent of immigrants use Toronto Public Library branches once a month or more, compared to 46 per cent of non-immigrants, according to a November 2012 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. During the pandemic, little free libraries became an attractive alternative. Just like public libraries, with many other add-on services, the little libraries are also a great way to build networks for newcomers. 

Parvez Chowdhury, a poet and a media activist based in Toronto, has visited many big cities around the world. Parvez always feels an inner connection to books. “When I came to Canada a few years ago, one of the first things that attracted me was the little libraries.” Parvez says. “These libraries create a bridge between the new immigrants and Canadian society. It helps newcomers to integrate and adapt more efficiently.”

free little libraries
A registered Little Free Library in a Toronto neighbourhood.

Ujjal Das, an immigrant journalist, has lived in London, U.K. for more than seven years before immigrating to Canada. Ujjal and his 8 year-old son regularly visit the little libraries in their Birchmount-Danforth neighbourhood. “When we came here, my son was excited with very few things in Toronto; little libraries are one of them,” said Das. 


“Having a Little Free Library is a wonderful way to connect with your neighbors, wherever you live and wherever you’re from,” Aldrich stresses. 

Immigrants are not only using the little libraries; they are also contributing to society by establishing new ones. Little Free Library’s Impact Library Program grants book-sharing boxes at no cost to a select number of applicants each month. Aldrich says, they often receive applications from immigrant families and individuals.

As an individual library founder, Anton is not sure how many of her library visitors are immigrants, but admits little libraries are a great way to make new friends. “When people come to take a book, sometimes they want to meet and talk. They always appreciate my collection of books. If people don’t give back (books) I don’t mind. I get disappointed only if they don’t take anything,” she says. 


Photos by Iqbal Chowdhury

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Canada May Struggle to Meet Immigration Targets Needed to Sustain Economy Tue, 15 Sep 2020 14:59:26 +0000 With immigration to Canada down by 64 per cent year-on-year in Q2 2020, experts worry about the impact on the economy, but Canadians themselves appear to be divided on the issue - mostly along generational lines.

The post Canada May Struggle to Meet Immigration Targets Needed to Sustain Economy appeared first on New Canadian Media.

Canada may need to devise robust strategies to meet the 2020 target of 341,000 new permanent residents, considering sharp declines in immigration caused by the COVID-19-related travel restrictions. Experts worry that the gap may make it harder for Canadian economy to recover from the pandemic. But even with vastly reduced numbers of newcomers, older generations of Canadians remain more reserved towards immigration.

Immigration to Canada across all categories fell by 64 per cent in Q2 2020, as compared to Q2 2019, according to the most recent government data. 

In April and May alone, the number of new permanent residents sank to 15,000 from 60,000 in the same period last year. When presented with these numbers, young Canadians, between the ages of 18 and 34, were mostly positive about immigration and saw it as vital for long-term economic recovery, whereas older cohorts, over the age of 45, were “far more concerned about immigrants coming to Canada,” according to a survey conducted by Leger Marketing in partnership with the Association for Canadian Studies.

Younger Canadians more accepting of immigration

John Shields, a professor of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University, sees a high level of comfort among the youth with having peers with immigrant backgrounds.

For younger people, multiculturalism is now just part of the Canadian experience. It is accepted as normal, and diversity, as positive – especially within the urban context,” Shields said.

Despite this growing awareness of multiculturalism, the survey indicated that Quebec is less accepting of immigrants than the rest of Canada.

Shields thinks it is because Quebecers are very protective of the idea of Quebec culture and language, but not to the point of shutting down immigration completely. Rather, they want it managed at lower levels than the rest of Canada.

In the Leger survey, 37 per cent of Quebecers said immigration had a positive effect on Canada, and only 31 per cent saw a positive effect on their city or town. The respective numbers for the rest of Canada were 48 per cent and 43 per cent.

“We do have a public that is broadly supportive of immigration, [even] as we have seen polarisation around this issue, and especially in the U.S. But the warmth of welcome remains strong in Canada,” Shields commented.

While overall immigration fell by 64 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, family sponsorship and refugee intake suffered even deeper declines.

Shields supports the need for family reunification and contends that sponsored family members are also an important component of the labour market.

“I think it is important to remember that all the immigrants, whether they come as refugees or family class, or economic immigrants, all of them are economic immigrants,” he adds.

The declines in the target numbers for caregivers, foreign trained skilled workers and provincial nominee programs trigger some warnings of a domino effect that could impact next year’s target numbers.

Stein Monteiro, Research Fellow at the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration program, Ryerson University, believes that it is people’s inability to travel due to pandemic rather than polarisation of opinions on immigration that is behind the falling numbers. But at the same time, he points to a 27 per cent spike in Canadian Experience Class, where people are applying for permanent residency from within Canada.

“Immigration branch of the government is taking a different strategic role in trying to keep people who are already here rather than bringing in new people,” Monteiro says.

International students are better placed in Canadian job market 

International students lead in the category of applying for permanent residency from within Canada and contribute $6 billion through tuition alone every year. In the 2017-18 academic year, 296,469 international students were enrolled in Canadian public colleges and universities, many of them from China and India.

The second quarter of the year is usually the busiest period for international students, but this year, only about 10 percent of the regular volume was processed compared to the same period last year, the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) noted in a report from August 20. The drop was described as “acute and not something that can be made up easily in years to come.”

Alex Silva arrived from Brazil with his wife in 2019. He studied Product Management at Sheridan College, which was followed by a co-op placement that eventually landed him a job in procurement. His permanent residency is now in process.

Silva opted for Canada over Australia because he has family here, and the combination of education and work experience being offered was attractive to him. “My combo of points along with back-home experience and age allowed me to apply for express entry,” he adds.  

Earlier, he experienced difficulty in doing a part-time job along with studies. His wife also struggled to find a job. Along with financial stress, another challenging part was to find residence.

“It’s expensive and they [landlords] ask for credit history, which we didn’t have,” says Silva.

Canada has never been a top destination for international students. But Monteiro sees the pandemic as an opportunity for Canada to build a reputation as a country that offers support services to international students.

Monteiro highlights that during the pandemic food bank services were most availed by international students, (although numbers are much higher in Britain and the U.S. than in Canada). He thinks that taking care of international students should be showcased by Universities Canada to keep up the enrollment numbers.

Experts stress need to identify skills gaps 

While the International Monetary Fund is expecting a 3 per cent drop in global economic growth this year, the Canadian economy is also taking the brunt of the pandemic.

According to a May report by RBC, Canada needs a growing labour force more than ever not only to support a COVID-stricken economy but also to offset the fiscal challenge posed by an aging population.

Canada entered the pandemic with a federal debt-to-GDP ratio at 31 per cent and with “limited fiscal wiggle room to maintain it,” RBC wrote. By the time the report was issued, the cost of pandemic had already reached $160 billion, and March permanent resident additions were reported at 30 per cent below last year’s level.

Shields points out that to keep the economy on a steady path, Canadian immigration system should be sensitive to what he calls central-class workers, as opposed to low-skilled or highly educated immigrants. He also recommends placing more focus on permanent residents rather than on temporary workers. 

“We should take in fewer temporary workers, doing the trade-off there, …  to maintain the levels of permanent residency,” since permanent residents are the ones who will benefit the country on a longer-term basis,” Shields says.

In Ontario, the overall annual drop in the intended occupations for immigrants in Q2 measured 61 per cent. The deepest declines were recorded in fields like transportation and customer services.

Monteiro, in turn, stresses the need for high-skilled workers. 

“Now, given the shift … to using new technology, I think we need highly skilled workers to enable that shift in our industries,” he says.

If travel restrictions continue, RBC expects 170,000 fewer permanent residents entering the country in 2020, as the bank wrote in its May report.

To achieve the 2020-2022 target of one million permanent residents, Monteiro said there should be more programs to encourage immigrants in provinces other than Ontario, Quebec and BC.

“Provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan have been hit really hard” in terms of attracting immigrant workforce, he adds. “This created very lucrative employment opportunities for new immigrants.”

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Varsities Shortchange Refugee Students Tue, 08 Sep 2020 16:18:49 +0000 A group of Vancouver-based university students have taken it upon themselves to improve the lot of classmates who are refugees in Canada. Administrators are often ignorant about their particular challenges.

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Post-secondary schools across Canada are failing and overlooking their refugee students, says a group of Vancouver students.

Sahar Kazemeini, Emma Leckie, Mitch Robinson, Paul Hartmann, and Adelle Sium met during Simon Fraser University’s Semester in Dialogue program where they created the Refugee Student Support during COVID-19 project. From literature reviews and qualitative surveys, they identified three calls to action for schools across Canada to make in order to support refugee students: set up refugee advisors at post-secondary institutions, provide refugee specific jobs on campus and better online education support.

Refugee policy advisor and researcher Yara Younis was a refugee student herself and said having a knowledgeable advisor makes a difference in quality of education and life.

“I’ve never had to explain myself so much before coming here.”

As a Palestinian refugee born in the United Arab Emirates, Younis is a stateless refugee and this is because the U.A.E.’s birth citizenship policy only grants citizenship to those born to unknown parents or those with at least one Emirati parent. Having limited rights in the U.A.E. was Younis’ motivation to come to Canada as a student.

Refugee policy advisor and researcher Yara Younis challenges the “model refugee” concept, the “charity case” that cannot ask for equal rights because they have to be “eternally grateful.” This is often perpetuated by poor representation in the media. Younis has had a border patrol tell her once, “You don’t look like a refugee” which brings about the question, “What does a refugee look like?”

“I was assigned the only student advisor who knew something about my documentation, but she had to do so much research and really go the extra mile to find out information for me. Even then, that was very limited.”

There came a point where the advisor told Younis that she’d have to get a lawyer. “And I’m a student. I don’t have that money.”

Younis, who is also an independent consultant, knows at least three other people who came as international students and then had to become refugee claimants midway through their studies.

“Unless you have support from the institution, you’re on your own,” she said. “[When] the institution does not understand immigration policy, especially refugee processes in Canada, you really just feel like the world is ending.”

Acknowledging that some schools have refugee advisors, project co-organizer Kazemeini said the project’s first call to action considers having refugee advisors through local immigration partnerships (LIP), a channel where the Citizenship and Immigration Canada supports community-based partnerships and planning around newcomers’ needs.

She explained each partnership would work with the standards of its local community, providing advisors and students better access to resources, events and activities.

Gaining Canadian work experience 

The second call to action addresses the financial burden refugee students carry. Having a job on campus gives them an opportunity to earn money and Canadian work experience while developing individual social networks, Kazemeini said.

The project calls upon Canadian schools to offer on-campus jobs. “What we were thinking is having those kinds of Work Learn positions for refugee students specifically,” said the University of British Columbia student.

She explained that even just posting job opportunities in the refugee office makes a difference.

Younis is hesitant about using quotas to fill jobs because it’s still marginalizing refugees. She said they deserve equal access to jobs.

Instead, she wants employers to give refugees a chance. “To do that, [employers] need better knowledge and training about their own immigration landscape, their own country and how it works.”

It’s important for employers to understand what refugees go through and to know they’re just as qualified to do the jobs, said Younis.

She has been applying for full-time office work lately and a lot of the responses say she’s qualified but they don’t know if she’s allowed to work.

“People just think that you’re illegal.”

She has to explain the situation again and again.

“There is no risk in hiring refugees. You’re actually contributing to your own society.”

Getting students online 

Students are stressed and unfamiliar with the transition to online classes, said Kazemeini, which has led to trouble accessing online resources. “[Schools] are sending out surveys, asking students whether they have access to printers, laptops and the internet.”

The third call to action demands Canadian schools to provide sufficient materials for students to succeed in their studies.

Refugee students are still students and, without immediate access to professors or classmates, the material is still hard to process, Kazemeini stated. And this doesn’t include the language barriers.

Additionally, refugee students may be self-conscious about their living situations. Younis said, “Especially if they’re refugee claimants, they could be living in shelters or BC housing.”

Many professors aren’t considerate about their students’ privacy, demanding students to be fully engaged and visible online, she said.

“There could be five other people around you. There could be noises and distractions. In that sense of focusing on actual lectures, it’s extremely difficult.”

Younis said, when it’s hard to focus and everything is hectic, a lot of students don’t reach out for help or support. “A lot of people’s default is to shut down. They will literally disappear and not come to class anymore.”


Photos provided by Sahar Kazemeini, Emma Leckie, Mitch Robinson, Paul Hartmann, Adelle Sium, and Yara Younis

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Looking Ahead: What Immigrant Health Workers on the Frontlines Mean for Canada Fri, 04 Sep 2020 20:26:36 +0000 Wrapping up our series on "Immigrants on the Frontlines of Fighting COVID-19," we look into the relationship between health care and immigrants in Canada.

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There is an old joke that the best place in Toronto to get a heart attack is in the back of a city taxi because chances are the driver is an out-of-work immigrant doctor.

Anecdotal reports give the joke some credence, and it inspired the title of a 2012 Citizenship and Immigration Canada study, “Who Drives a Taxi in Canada?” The study revealed that a significant number of immigrant taxi drivers hold a post-secondary degree.

This joke and the study are the inspiration for Dr. Cabbie, a romantic comedy set in downtown Toronto. It tells the story of Deepak, a doctor from India and recent immigrant who hopes to find a job in medicine. Unable to land a job as a doctor, Deepak takes to driving a cab and also converts his car into a mobile clinic to serve the needy.

Immigrants play a big role in fight against COVID-19

While the movie is a tall story, the pandemic has thrown the spotlight on how foreign-born or trained personnel are playing an increasingly important role in health care, be it Hong Kong–born Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, or the doctors, nurses, personal support workers (PSWs) and other medical staff on the frontlines of fighting COVID-19.

One example is Adriana Enriquez-Rosas, a Mexican-Canadian who put aside her cognitive work as a neuropsychologist to help contain the COVID-19 outbreak at Institut universitaire de geriatrie de Montreal (IUGM), one of the hardest-hit senior care centres in Quebec.

Another is Birgit Umaigba, a Nigerian-Canadian critical-care nurse in the Greater Toronto Area, who worries that the protocol around personal protective equipment (PPE) slows her response to patients in life-and-death situations.

Ricky Cheng, a cardiology nurse with the Scarborough Health Network, is worried about the impact of the pandemic on the patients with other medical conditions who are avoiding hospitals because they’re afraid of contracting the virus.

Strict hospital infection control policies and their impact on patient care are also a concern for Leni Biju, a cardiology nurse in Oshawa, Ont.

“How can you leave when someone is lonely and distressed?” asks Biju, who was a nurse in India and Dubai before coming to Canada.

Entire health-care system relies on immigrants

According to data from the Statistics Canada 2016 Census, immigrants account for one out of every four health-care workers. They make up 36 per cent of all pharmacists and family physicians across Canada; 39 per cent of all dentists; 54 per cent of dental technologists and related occupations; 27 per cent of all licensed practical nurses; and 35 per cent of nurse aides and related occupations.

Also, more than 40 per cent of all newcomers to Canada between 2011 and 2016 who were working in the health-care sector were employed in the important areas of nursing and residential care, and in home health care as PSWs.

“Without personal support workers, the health-care system in Canada would be broken,” says Hermisenda Reina. She started working as a PSW 30 years ago in Quebec. After she moved with her family to Ontario, she attended Sheridan College to follow the same career. “I know what I’m talking about, I’ve been here for a long time,” she says.

All of these individuals have a story to tell. While their stories may not be as dramatic as that of the fictional Deepak, their dedication to what they do tells us that Canada will need to depend more and more on immigrants when it comes to health care.

According to government statistics, more than 1.6 million people work in Canada’s health-care sector, and many more will be needed in the coming years to look after an increasingly aging population. Almost 500,000 workers in the sector are over the age of 55, and most of them will be retiring in the next decade or so.

In addition, as the pandemic has shown, recruiting nurses and other health-care staff is a daunting task during emergencies. While there is a clear opportunity here for immigrants to plug the gap, reality is a different story.

To begin with, doctors and nurses who immigrate to Canada face a burdensome and challenging process to become accredited. This includes passing a language proficiency test, which they would have already taken to immigrate to Canada. It takes some doctors up to 10 years to complete the requirements, along with a substantial financial burden.

“Brain waste”

In Ontario alone, there are 13,000 foreign-educated doctors and 6,000 foreign-educated nurses who aren’t working in their fields, according to government agency HealthForceOntario. These figures were quoted by Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca in a recent letter to Premier Doug Ford, urging him to harness these skilled professionals to fight the pandemic.

To provide backup, medical regulators across the country did take steps to relicense those who were not currently in the system. However, these calls for all hands on deck were not specific to foreign-educated professionals. Rather, they targeted retired physicians.

Regulators in Alberta and British Columbia called for doctors who had retired in the past two years to return to practice. Those in Saskatchewan were ready to relicense doctors going back three years.

Similarly, Ontario announced the issuance of Supervised Short Duration Certificate licences by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) under the existing Medicine Act, 1991.The initial response to the Ontario scheme was tepid, with the CPSO receiving only 12 applications and approving 10 of them. The college couldn’t say whether any foreign-trained doctors were among the 10 physicians who were issued licences.

The reason for the poor response is all too familiar. To begin with, there was a substantial fee to register for work that was to be considered voluntary. On top of that, one not only had to go through a number of steps to obtain a 30-day licence but also apply again to extend it for another 30 days.

Coordinated response is needed

The number of doctors available to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic could be increased if the government or regulatory bodies would cut red tape to get foreign-educated doctors accredited more quickly, according to Robert Falconer, a research associate at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy.

In a recent episode of The Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s Pod Bless Canada podcast, Falconer said a timelier and more accessible accreditation system could rapidly increase the number of emergency health-care professionals.

“When you look at the number of immigrant physicians who move to Canada every year, that’s about 1,000 immigrant positions per year on top of the 3,000 or so that we graduate from our schools—so we’d be almost graduating another third of our medical school graduates in total.”

While Canada has made efforts to improve regulatory aspects of international transitions for health professionals who choose to migrate, concerns about the disequilibrium between supply and demand, credential recognition and health professional “brain waste” remain.

This is according to Alexia Olaizola and Arthur Sweetman of the Department of Economics at McMaster University, cited in a chapter of an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report.

Sweetman, who holds the position of Ontario Research Chair in Health Human Resources, posits that there are structural problems in the Canadian context resulting from the misalignment of provincial responsibility for health-care delivery with federal immigrant selection. To alleviate these negative outcomes, he proposes a policy change to increase the role of provincial governments in the selection of potential immigrants with health-care credentials.

These measures are urgent because with 2.8 doctors for every 1,000 people as of 2018, Canada ranks 30th in the list of OECD countries. Austria tops the list, with 5.2 doctors per 1,000 people.

Reforms aimed at accrediting immigrant health-care professionals more easily are also important if Canada wants to welcome another Dr. Lap-Chee Tsui or Prof. Lakshmi P. Kotra.

Dr. Tsui emigrated from China and went on to discover the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis along with a team of scientists from the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto. Prof. Kotra emigrated from India and went on to discover a new anti-malaria agent through his research at the University Health Network in Toronto.

Both immigrants are a fitting testament to the importance of an integrated and diverse workforce for the sustainability and effectiveness of the Canadian health-care system. Jokes aside, Canada needs real-life Dr. Cabbies to be working in health care, not picking up fares.


Photo by Shan Qiao.

This story is a part of the “Immigrants on the Frontlines of Fighting COVID-19” series made in partnership with The Canadian Press. 

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