Refugee Settlement: Govt Playing Big Brother

Commentary by Don Curry in North Bay, Ontario 

The federal government needs to take off its MTV glasses (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver) and resume looking at the rest of this vast country when it makes immigration and refugee decisions.

It used to, but that came to a crashing halt June 1, 2012 when 19 Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) offices were closed. The cuts were right across the country — Kelowna, Nanaimo, Prince George, Victoria, Lethbridge, Regina, Barrie, Kingston, Oshawa, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Gatineau, Sherbrooke, Trois Rivières, Moncton and Charlottetown.

The cuts saved the government only 67 jobs, but changed the dynamics negatively for those in the regions and, arguably, positively for those in MTV and other large cities that retained their CIC offices. Local knowledge disappeared overnight. Government settlement officers who knew their region and all settlement agencies well, ended up, in some cases, selling cars for a living. There were 238 layoffs across CIC around that time as then minister Jason Kenney did his bit to slash government spending.

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Government settlement officers who knew their region and all settlement agencies well, ended up, in some cases, selling cars for a living.[/quote]

Those remaining tried hard to keep up, but if you are working in a government office tower in a large city you may be unaware that North Bay and Thunder Bay are at opposite ends of Northern Ontario. You may have little knowledge of what lies between them. You can’t possibly develop the relationships necessary to identify a strong settlement agency from a mediocre one.

Effect on settlement services

The cuts affected settlement agencies that no longer had a government settlement officer dropping by to check on challenges and successes and sending that information up the line. They affected clients who now had to travel much further to renew a Permanent Resident card or seek another service that only the government could provide.

Clients and settlement agencies were told to use the help line. Try it and clock how long you are put on hold. Then call back later and ask the same question to another call centre employee. It is quite likely you will get a different answer.

I’ve previously argued that the Syrian refugee crisis has demonstrated that smaller centres across the country can accommodate refugees quite well, perhaps even better than the large centres.

The latest announcement from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC, the new name for CIC) is that it will now include Brandon, Kingston, Mississauga and Thunder Bay as temporary sites for the settlement of Government Assisted Refugees.

The fact that there was a request for proposals was not well known or many other centres would have applied. And what is this temporary status all about? Is it big brother saying we’ll let you do it for a while but then we revert to the big cities that know what they’re doing?

If IRCC still had eyes and ears on the ground across Canada the decision would have been more inclusive. There would have been more applications and the government people in the regions would have known which settlement agencies had the capacity to succeed and which did not.

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Is it big brother saying we’ll let you do it for a while but then we revert to the big cities that know what they’re doing?[/quote]

Clogging the system

Congratulations to Brandon, Kingston, Mississauga and Thunder Bay, but common sense and personal knowledge tells me there are many more cities across Canada capable and eager to become settlement centres for Government Assisted Refugees.

Many Syrian refugees landing in MTV are clogging the system, stuck in hotels with no access to language classes, and this is happening in cities such as Ottawa as well.

We have a new, and in my view, more enlightened federal government that is doing a pretty good job with resettling Syrian refugees. But it could do so much better by doubling or tripling the number of cities across Canada that accept Government Assisted Refugees.

Smaller centres need population growth and larger centres are bursting at the seams. A little social engineering on the part of the federal government would be a good thing.


Don Curry is the president of Curry Consulting (www.curryconsulting.ca) He was the founding executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and now serves as a board member. 

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Don Curry was the founding executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and now serves as board chair. He is currently in a program to become  a regulated Canadian immigration consultant.