From: Parisa Mahboubi
To: Ahmed D. Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
Date: August 3, 2017
Re: Let’s Toughen Literacy Standards to Boost Immigrant Success
Strong literacy skills improve new immigrants’ employability and earnings capacity. But immigrant literacy skills in Canada lag non-immigrants despite the large proportion of immigrants with university degrees, according the 2012 OECD Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). My latest research for the C.D. Howe Institute — The Power of Words: Improving Immigrants’ Literacy Skills — argues for policies to enhance immigrants’ literacy skills through improvements in Canada’s immigration selection and settlement policies.
The literacy skills gap between immigrants and non-immigrants is evident across all levels of education, including university-educated immigrants. It underscores why some immigrants struggle to successfully transfer their skills upon arrival. Among immigrants, however, those who obtained their highest educational attainment in Canada perform better than others perhaps due to having a better knowledge of language and receiving a high-quality education.
My study shows that, indeed, language is a major factor in the skill gaps between immigrants and non-immigrants. Better language abilities in English or French result in higher literacy outcomes among immigrants, allowing them to do better in the labour market.
Australia has a comparable immigration system, but its immigrants outperform Canadian immigrants in literacy scores. Why? Australia’s changes to language testing for prospective immigrants in 1999 is a major cause of improvements in the average performance of immigrants, particularly those with a mother tongue other than English.
Although Canada announced similar policy reforms to its immigration system around 2010, its approach is more lenient than Australia’s. Canada assigns two-thirds of total possible language points to applicants under the Federal Skilled Worker program (FSW) who meet the minimum English Language Testing level while Australia provides no reward for candidates under its a skilled immigration program with the same level of language proficiency.
In other words, applicants who demonstrate language skills that meet the most minimal thresholds have a much higher chance of being admitted for immigration in Canada relative to Australia. This implies that Australia’s system targets candidates with superior language skills, who are more easily able to integrate and access more opportunities for gainful employment, while Canada only screens out applicants with very limited language ability.
The growing importance of immigration as a source of growth for Canada’s labour force requires a more effective immigration points-based system that selects the best candidates, according to their ability to settle in Canada, either by giving more weight to language proficiency or by making language testing more rigorous, or a combination thereof.
The government can also grant permanent residency to more former international students who obtained Canadian credentials. Further, immigrants not admitted through the points system – those in family class and refugees – tend to struggle the most with literacy, so federal and provincial governments need to make sure new better, more rigorous language training is available.
Parisa Mahboubi is a Senior Policy Analyst at the C.D. Howe Institute. This article has been republished under arrangement.
Commentary by Phil Gurski in Ottawa
As I have stated on many occasions, the threat to Canada from Islamist extremist groups represents by far the single greatest priority for our security services – CSIS, the RCMP and provincial and municipal police forces.
We have seen around a dozen plots, both foiled and successful, since 9/11, the most recent one being the attack at a Canadian Tire in Scarborough on June 3. Thankfully, even in the cases where people subscribing to hateful and loathsome interpretations of Islam were able to set in motion their terrorist intent, few have died.
To date, only Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent (October 20, 2014) and Warrant Officer Nathan Cirillo (October 22, 2014) – RIP gentlemen – have lost their lives in terrorist attacks. Three terrorists have also been killed by law enforcement so far in Canada (Martin Couture-Rouleau, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and Aaron Driver).
At the same time we cannot ignore other manifestations of the terrorist threat. For instance, we have been witnessing a worrying spike in demonstrations and antagonism by self-styled ‘patriot’ groups (is it just me or does this sound very American?). A few examples will help illustrate my point:
On July 1, a group of people belonging to the Quebec groups La Meute (French for ‘the pack’) and Storm Alliance showed up at the Vermont-Quebec border to protest the entry of asylum seekers into Canada.
Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) has warned that the ‘Sons of Odin’ are not afraid to use violence and may engage in ‘anti-immigrant vigilantism‘.
Five serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces participated in a Proud Boys crashing of a First Nations protest at the Edward Cornwallis statue in Halifax. Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance is not impressed.
And these are just three samples of late. In addition a Vice.com article recently provided a useful overview of anti-Islamic groups in this country. The reading is not comforting. So what’s up?
Ignorance and hate, that’s what’s up.
These groups hide behind some self-styled notions of patriotism and nationalism in their claims that they are protecting Canada from a litany of ills: Muslims, illegal immigrants, uppity First Nations… They often shroud themselves in our flag as if they are somehow the only ones that ‘get’ what it means to be Canadian.
They usually show up wearing black, looking all fascist-like and give off strong signs that they are willing to resort to violence to make whatever point they are trying to make. Some appear to be channeling some inner Norse god fetish (Sons of Odin).
What level of threat they truly pose is unclear. La Meute claims on its Facebook page that it has more than 8,000 members: the ‘World Coalition Against Islam (WCAI)’ claims 12,000. While these numbers are astonishing it is unclear what a ‘member’ means.
I am not saying that we should ignore these people, but I am not sure what effort needs to be leveraged to monitor them to keep their potentially violent acts in check. We need more data and more analysis on what this is all about.
In any event I suspect that neither CSIS nor the RCMP have spare resources to adequately carry out national security investigations against these people to determine just how dangerous they are. The Islamist extremist threat is still using up the lion’s share of officers as it should. Maybe both agencies need a boost in personnel to deal with this new menace.
One thing is certain: we Canadians have a role to play. We need to shout these losers down.
Just as the vast, vast majority of Canadian Muslims regularly denounce acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam, so must all Canadians say loudly and unreservedly that these folk do not represent anything but hate. They are not devoted to our ‘protection’. Their activities are neither welcome nor tolerated. We must express our rejection of their bile, as counter demonstrators did in Calgary.
Hate is hate, irrespective of motive, and we have a duty to say we will not stand by and allow it to fester.
Phil Gurski spent more than 30 years in the Canadian intelligence community. His latest book "The Lesser Jihads" is available for pre-order on Amazon.
By: Jeremy J. Nuttall in Ottawa
As a Vancouver society working to support refugees fears closure after being denied federal funding, a similar organization in Manitoba said Ottawa approached it to talk about providing funding earlier this year.
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the government needs to provide consistent support as increasing numbers of people claiming refugee status cross the U.S. border.
“That’s extremely disturbing,” Kwan said of the situation. “There needs to be consistency and fairness on the approach and they need to recognize their responsibility on this.”
The Tyee reported Thursday on the possible closure of the Inland Refugee Society of BC, which has been overwhelmed by a wave of refugee claimants crossing into British Columbia from the U.S., many avoiding official border crossings.
The number of people seeking support has more than doubled, executive director Mario Ayala said, and the society’s annual funding has been exhausted already.
In the first five months of this year, the society has helped 700 undocumented refugee claimants find shelter. Ayala said if the organization closes, Metro Vancouver could see a spike in homeless refugees.
The federal government has said it will not pitch in to close the funding gap, saying the undocumented asylum-seekers Ayala’s organization is helping don’t qualify for federal assistance.
The B.C. government has also turned down the organization, he said.
Ayala said Marta Morgan, the deputy minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said part of the reason the society wouldn’t receive funding is because the federal government “can’t be seen” to be helping undocumented refugees.
Department spokesperson Nancy Chan said it does not comment on private conversations.
Canada recognizes two broad classes of refugees: people who apply for asylum in another country before being accepted; and those who apply once in Canada, often referred to as undocumented refugees because they have not been vetted before arrival.
Refugee claimants arriving from the U.S. can be turned away at official border crossings because Canada recognizes it as a safe country for those seeking asylum.
As a result, an increasing number of asylum seekers have been crossing the U.S.-Canadian border between official points of entry to claim refugee status.
Kwan said Canada has signed international agreements to recognize refugees who make a claim once in the country, and shouldn’t abandon them.
“If the government is taking the position to say ‘no, we can’t be seen to be supporting these refugee claimants,’ then that is very troubling,” she said.
But while the B.C. society was told the government wouldn’t provide help for such refugee claimants, the head of a Manitoba organization offering the same services said Ottawa actually approached asking them to submit a funding request.
The Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council helps refugees find temporary shelter and settlement services and has assisted 618 people this year.
Executive director Rita Chahal said the government asked her several months ago what kind of support the organization needs.
“I was approached by a couple of project officers to submit a budget, which we did,” Chahal said. “No one has followed up on it, no one has contacted us to see if they reviewed it and what their position might be.”
Chahal said the federal government has always held the position that it would not help undocumented refugees.
Despite the request for a funding proposal, Chahal said she isn’t expecting any money.
She said the Manitoba government helps her organization’s efforts with $110,000 per year in funding. The council also raises money from other donors.
The Manitoba Ministry of Education and Training, citing a June 13 byelection, said it couldn’t comment on the decision to fund the council.
But a press release in February quoted Manitoba Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister.
“Just as we have opened our arms to newcomers for centuries, our province continues to provide significant supports to those organizations offering direct services to refugee claimants,” Pallister said. “Our focus remains on measures that will ensure both the welfare of refugee claimants and the continued safety and security of residents of border towns.”
Kwan said the federal government can’t encourage one society struggling with lack of money to apply for funding while telling another there’s no chance of getting help.
She said she’s worried a wave of homeless refugees will be forced to the streets of Vancouver if someone doesn’t step up with support.
Republished with permission from The Tyee.
by Anita Singh in Toronto
In 1904, there were only 40 immigrants from India living in Canada, mostly from the Punjab. Largely based in Vancouver and surrounding areas, these pioneers came to Canada as labourers, in farms, on the railroad and in factories, creating a foundational community for South Asian immigrants in future decades – which has grown to nearly 1.4 million since the turn of the century.
As described in a brand-new podcast called ‘The Nameless Collective,’ produced by Jugni Style, the journey towards inclusion for these communities was not always an easy or welcome one.
The podcast describes the climate of early 20th century Canada. Previously-settled Canadians were concerned that new immigrants, particularly those from China and India, threatened jobs, culture and a way of life. Anti-immigrant public opinion was supported by the government, which established a “White Canada” policy, institutionalizing a preference for immigration from Europe. On the flipside, those from China and India were subject to the Chinese head tax, the continuous journey legislation and ghettoization when arriving in Canada, spotlighted in the recent government apology for the Komagata Maru incident of 1914.
The hosts, Milan Singh, Paneet Singh, and Naveen Girn, are a self-described team of researchers, time-travellers, detectives and hosts, who tell this history in with an entertaining impression. It unfolds the story of a community, where listeners will be introduced to personalized stories depicting the vividly personal struggles of a small, group of immigrants living and working in a land very different from where they came from.
The timing and content of this podcast is stunning in its unshakable feeling of familiarity. In our current political climate, racist killings in Trump’s America, a ban on Muslim immigration, a vote for Brexit in the United Kingdom, make the podcast immediately relevant and scarily contemporary.
For example, in episode two, the podcast follows the story of two women, Harnam Kaur and Kartar Kaur, wives of prominent members of the Khalsa Diwan society in Vancouver. In Harnam Kaur’s case, she travelled with her family to from the port of Calcutta to San Francisco enroute to Vancouver. On reaching the United States, Kaur and her family were held in detention for two months and deported to Hong Kong. In a second effort, Kaur, her husband and 16 others boarded a ship in Hong Kong destined for Vancouver.
Yet on arrival, Harnam, her son, and the other women on the ship were once again held in detention, while the men on the ship were allowed off to their labour jobs. As discussed by the podcast hosts, the Canadian government was concerned that the arrival of Asian women would begin to settle these unwanted immigrant communities, rather than continuing to be temporary labour migrants. It was several long months of waiting and debating within government, before the women were eventually allowed onto shore.
The strength of the podcast is the willingness of the hosts to go above and beyond to present new evidence and documentation. In episode one, the team makes a huge discovery the archives of the Vancouver public library, diving into a century’s worth of microfiched phone directories. They found that while ‘mainstream’ Canadians were listed by name and number, the phone numbers and addresses associated with immigrant communities were listed as “Hindoo” “Japanese” or “Chinese” instead of their names. As the hosts explain, “why would anyone want to know where these people lived?” By tracing these addresses, the team is able to identify neighborhoods where early communities settled in Vancouver. The hosts also acknowledge, that despite these discoveries, they will be limited by a limited evidence based and knowledge of this early community.
Further, the podcast will also be of particular interest to those familiar with Vancouver or the lower mainland. The hosts do an excellent job showing the connections between existing buildings and communities and key events in immigration history – like Chinatown and Japantown during the race riots, or how communities settled in the Indigenous territory of modern-day Kitsilano.
There are very few flaws in this podcast. The largest challenge is that the hosts have tailored the podcast towards an audience that is familiar with the basic immigration story of the region. Yet, if they want to connect with all Canadians interested in how our country became a multiethnic, multilinguistic state, the podcast would benefit with more contextual information for new learners of this history.
There are only three episodes of the podcast, and as episodes are released (one every week), listeners can anticipate the development of a richer and richer portrait of early 20th century immigration. With a growing audience, hopefully this podcast will not be nameless for much longer.
The Nameless Collective podcast can be downloaded on iTunes, Google Play for Android and Stitcher.
Anita (@bisu) is a Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Security and Development at Dalhousie University. Her research examines the role of diaspora groups and their influence on foreign policy, particularly the Indo-Canadian community and Canada-India relations.
Commentary by Aleem Ali in Brisbane, Australia
A few career changes ago, I managed a branding and design agency. Our primary task was to help our clients communicate their organisation, product or service. We worked to create a strong brand so that people would choose our client’s company or service over and above their many competitors.
Since I ran that agency 15 years ago, much has changed in the world. But some things still hold true, and many issues have grown in scale. Talk to retailers, tour operators and educational institutions. Talk to employers. They will tell you that competition is only increasing, not diminishing. And the competition is now global, not local.
Last year, not long after the launch of Welcoming Cities, I received a phone call from the CEO of a Regional Business Council. They outlined their challenge as follows: “We have a large infrastructure project in our community. When the project is complete, we know that we won’t be able to attract enough people domestically to fill all the jobs. So, we need both a national and international solution. But we are struggling to attract people. There is a perception of our community that we are not welcoming. Because of this perception, Australian residents and migrants don’t want to move here, live here, or work here. We need to change that perception. We don’t just want to be a welcoming city; we NEED to be a welcoming city.”
This story, or at least the sentiment behind it, seems to be a growing challenge.
I recently met with Local Government employees of a major capital city. Their focus is on increasing social cohesion and economic participation in their region. They’re concerned by political sentiment and what they perceive to be regressive policies and divisive rhetoric. One of the people in the meeting commented that “Brand ‘Australia’ is damaged. There’s no evidence this will improve anytime soon. We need to do something about it.”
Brand Australia needs some serious help
The compelling and disconcerting truth of this statement struck me. Brand Australia needs some serious help. Our international reputation of a fair go, cheering for the underdog, and boundless plains to share no longer seem to ring true. The growing perception is that we demonise people fleeing torture and trauma, are intolerant of diverse cultures, and newcomers risk vilification. Brand Australia is now associated with a fair go for some, but not all.
Tourists, international students, and skilled migrants are vital contributors to our prosperity as a nation. And when it comes to the choice of coming to Australia, or not; perception is everything. If brand Australia ceases to be open, welcoming and generous, then the damage will not only be to our reputation but also the ongoing success of our nation.
The time to address that damage is now. It’s time to refuse small-minded, divisive politics. It’s time to stop waiting for politicians to cast a vision of a generous, welcoming and inclusive Australia and to grow this work ourselves. It’s time to lead. It’s time for community groups, small businesses, educational institutions, peak bodies and corporations to come together. It’s time to welcome newcomers to our shores and ensure that everyone can take part in social, economic and civic life.
It’s time to be deliberate, strategic and collaborative. To put policies and practices in place that value our First People’s, long-term residents and new arrivals. It’s time to rescue brand Australia. More than a branding exercise, this is a renewed commitment to an inclusive, multicultural Australia.
Awarded and recognized for his contribution to the community, Aleem Ali has spent the past 20 years seeding and mentoring the development of various programs. Aleem is currently the National Manager at Welcoming Cities, in addition to lead roles with For the Common Good, and FOUND.
Commentary by Will Tao in Vancouver
The Liberal Government finally delivered on their long-standing campaign promise to end conditional permanent residency for spouses on April 28.
Previously introduced in October 2012 by the Conservative government, the conditional permanent residence regulation required those who were in a relationship for two years or less and had no children to live with their sponsors for two years after they became permanent residents. Some exceptions were carved out for individuals who were victims of abuse or neglect. The Toronto Star (Nicholas Keung) reported that only 57 individuals sought an exemption and were successful in 75 per cent of their exemption requests.
The negative consequences of conditional permanent residency were often borne by vulnerable women and their young newly-born children. New to Canada and without a support network, they were victimized by their abusive spouses, but often too scared to seek help.
While the exception provisions allowed for a streamlined process to contact Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in these circumstances, I had several women subject to conditional permanent residence tell me first-hand stories of being prevented access to computers, phones, even the internet. In one case, I had a woman tell me that she locked herself in a bathroom just to communicate with me as we prepared her case.
Another woman told me about feigning sleep in order to avoid the verbal and psychological abuse of a partner coming home violent and intoxicated. All of this because they were afraid to leave their spouses and put their status in Canada at risk.
I am glad these individuals can now sleep better at night and enjoy the security that all Canadians rightfully enjoy.
It is important to note that that these stories did not only come from vulnerable women. They also came from male conditional permanent residents who were abandoned by their spouses, as well as the LGBTQ2+. Many of these relationships broke down foremost as a result of infidelity, leading later to abuse and neglect – a sequence of events that the earlier exceptions policy appears to have overlooked.
Conditional permanent residence created more harm than good, more uncertainty. For this, I am glad it is a thing of the past and we can move forward.
Immigrant Marriage Breakdowns ≠Marriages of Convenience
Moving forward, in my view, begins by re-framing the two issues of marriage fraud and marriage breakdown. We should not use the end of the conditional permanent residence requirement as a pretext to now second guess or re-scrutinize the genuineness and immigration intent of a majority (85%+) of bona-fide immigrant marriages. The end of conditional permanent residence, I hope, will not lend cover to sponsors trying to remove their sponsored spouses from Canada.
The reality with sponsorship of immigrant spouses is that a significant portion of genuine marriages will end up breaking down. While academic research is limited in this area, my hypothesis is based on the following:
First, I believe economic challenges have a greater negative effective on immigrant marriages and common-law partnership. Piecing together what we do know, recent Canada statistics show that 48% of all marriages are now ending in divorce, with financial issues and adultery among the leading causes. Poverty affects racialized individuals at a rate four times greater than non-racialized families and past studies have found immigrants who have been in Canada less than five years are 11 percentage points more likely to be in poverty than other Canadians. Furthermore, immigrant families, receive less in household income and are less likely to own homes than non-immigrant families. New Canadian immigrants, especially women, are often more likely to face labour market challenges and experiences with precarious work conditions.
Second, I suggest that cultural shock also contributes to marriage breakdown by creating consequences such as the return of the sponsored spouse to their home country, abandonment, and adultery. Carmen Munoz, Program Manager for the Cross-Cultural Peer Support Group Program for Immigrant and Refugee Women (CCPSGP) highlights in a piece she writes the challenges new immigrant women face which include experiencing “intense culture shock, isolation, depression, frustration and an overwhelming sense of confusion, which in turn, not only manifests itself mentally, but through physical reactions as well.”
The cultural pressures, the economic pressures, and often extended family pressures (from both the Sponsor and the Applicant) can coalesce and intersect into major challenges for immigrant marriages and common-law partnerships.
Unfortunately, conditional permanent residence lumped the issue of marriage breakdown unnecessarily into the marriage fraud debate, inputting bad intentions where more often than not none existed. Not only did it punish genuine couples often at their most vulnerable moments, but it also led to not enough focus being placed to eliminating the actual root causes of marriage fraud – unauthorized legal practitioners both in Canada and internationally who set up marriages of convenience for their own financial gain.
Ultimately, I suggest that Parliament should focus on creating conditions that strengthen immigrant marriages and prevent systemic abuse of our sponsorship system, rather than enforcing back-end restrictions that may aggravate the challenges faced by new Canadian families.
Will Tao is a Canadian immigration lawyer based in Vancouver, B.C., with a practice primary focused on complex immigration applications and refusals on behalf of educational institutions and international students. Tao is a former member of New Canadian Media's board of directors and a current member of the Not-for-profit corporation. He currently sits on the Canadian Bar Association British Columbia’s Equality and Diversity Committee and on the City of Vancouver’s Cultural Communities Advisory Committee.
The story of Canada’s embrace of different languages, cultures and peoples is not a new one. Diversity in Canada is in many ways a cornerstone of our identity, and for generations, we have largely supported government commitments to immigration, multiculturalism, and pluralism. Now there is a new story emerging about this commonly celebrated feature of our identity. At a time of rising global xenophobia, anti-immigration parties, and populist nationalism, Canada is projecting a powerful and unique global message – diversity in society can be and is good for everyone. While some repeat the normative case for diversity, the argument is sometimes more rhetorical than substantive. The recent report (April 2017), The Diversity Dividend: Canada’s Global Advantage, dives into why diversity makes economic sense and how to spell out a clear case for its many gains.
With support from the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and a number of other partners, we set out to investigate the link between diversity and economic prosperity. We conducted round table consultations with 100 Canadian business leaders across Canada, carried out interviews with industry associations, and analyzed under-used Statistics Canada data. To arrive at our findings, we used a matching methodology whereby we compared firms that were statistically identical in all factors that influence revenue, save their share of workplace ethnocultural diversity. By controlling for all other variables, we were able to isolate the effects of diversity on revenue. The term “ethnocultural diversity” is used here to refer to individuals born outside of Canada, and to those first-and-second generation immigrants who speak a language other than English or French at home.
Our findings show a pronounced diversity dividend. Specifically, we find that a 1 percent increase in ethnocultural diversity among employees is associated with an average 2.4 percent increase in revenue and 0.5 percent increase in workplace productivity across 14 industries. Businesses that welcome diversity show an increase in their economic bottom line. The sectors reaping the greatest benefits from ethnocultural diversity include business services (e.g., administrative, tech, law, and insurance firms), information and cultural industries (e.g., publishing, broadcasting, arts, and telecommunications companies), and transportation, warehousing and wholesale enterprises. These sectors experienced 6.2 percent, 3.6 percent and 4.1 percent growth in revenue, respectively, for every 1 percent increase in ethnocultural diversity in the workplace.
Manufacturers, mining, oil and gas extractors, banks, communication and utility companies, rental and leasing operators, and consumer service providers also benefit from greater ethnocultural diversity. The hard data spells out a clear case for why diversity is profitable. When we paired this data with the responses of Canadian business leaders, we found an even stronger case for the benefits and net economic effects of diversity.
The consultations with the business community, backed up by a review of the scholarly literature, showed that ethnocultural diversity in the workplace facilitates creativity and generates ideas by bringing together individuals with different lived experiences, outlooks and approaches to problem solving. A diversity of employees can invent new products and services, meet a wider range of clients’ demands, and even help companies expand into new markets, domestically and abroad. In effect, an ethnoculturally diverse workforce not only stimulates production of improved goods and services, it also connects businesses to a wider range of customers, clients, and partners.
Of course, greater workplace diversity is not without challenges. Creating an inclusive work environment that is conducive to maximizing the advantages associated with diversity may require providing certain accommodations and expending additional resources at the outset. Companies may need to make (and stick to) diversity-related commitments in their corporate culture. Inclusive hiring, training for human resources staff in recognition of international experience so they value differences, mentorship programs, measuring and understanding workplace demographics, and introducing diversity into procurement policies, are all key to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. These adjustments may seem costly in the first instance, but they are more than justified when businesses stand to gain from them substantial performance dividends.
What does this relationship between diversity and economic prosperity mean for broader policy reform? First and foremost, there is a need to address recurring issues with foreign experience and credential recognition. In 2009, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration estimated the cost of not recognizing immigrants’ foreign credentials to be between $2.4 and $5.9 billion a year. We need to remove the barriers that prevent qualified but unemployed or underemployed immigrants from finding gainful employment, so we can capitalize on this stranded resource as well as alleviate the oversupply of unskilled labour.
Our conclusion is that ethnocultural diversity is good for the Canadian economy and is, in some respects, an underestimated tool for economic prosperity. But the conversation about diversity does not end there. What our research points to is that this conversation is just beginning.
While we focused on ethnocultural diversity in our study, there are many other important aspects of diversity that, if addressed, would improve the inclusiveness of society: gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, to name a few. Canada is a nation built on immigration, but more importantly, it is a nation built on difference. We have celebrated, and we should continue to celebrate the things that make us unique, while reinforcing the things that bring us together. Prioritizing pluralism not only makes us richer as a country, it makes us a stronger country.
By arrangement with Policy Options - Institute for Research on Public Policy
I come not to bury André Drouin’s legacy, but rather to praise him. In his way, he made a singular contribution to the debate about immigration in Canada.
Drouin, a former city councillor in the Quebec town of Hérouxville, passed away at age 70 earlier this month. He was famous, after a fashion, for having been the co-author in 2007 of a peculiar (and highly controversial) ‘code of conduct’ for new immigrants that made his community a lightning rod in the debate over immigration and the so-called “reasonable accomodation” of minority cultures.
You remember this one. Hérouxville is a little town with a population that is predominantly white, francophone and Catholic. Still, for reasons of its own, it adopted a code of conduct for new immigrants reminding them that women in the community must be allowed to show their faces, drive cars and write cheques — and that they’re not to be killed in public beatings, or burned alive.
The reaction of the wider world ranged from mockery to outrage — and Hérouxville quickly became a symbol for everything wrong with the Canadian conversation on immigration. Drouin did not coin the phrase “reasonable accommodation”, but he gave it its political currency in Quebec.
As an immigrant who had been in Canada barely five years when the Hérouxville controversy first surfaced, I felt profoundly offended. Where did this guy — who’d probably never met an immigrant or a person of colour — get the right to “prescribe” the outer limits of a society’s welcome? It built up my notion of Quebec as the least friendly of provinces for newcomers.
Today, I think of Drouin differently. In fact, it was the non sequitur of Hérouxville’s immigration stance that inspired me to launch New Canadian Media.
I now believe Drouin did us a favour by articulating a sentiment that rarely gets aired in mainstream media: the notion that immigrants have obligations, too. Assimilation, integration or tolerance — whatever semantic approach you take to the process by which a nation accepts and weaves together newcomers, it is indeed a two-way street.
If the world today recognizes “Canadian exceptionalism” in the area of immigrant integration and citizenship, it’s partly because ordinary folks like Drouin — who had only a small-town bully pulpit — articulated in a democratic fashion fears that a lot of Canadians share, but are loath to voice for fear of ostracism.
I’d prefer Drouin any day to a lurking xenophobe who doesn’t quite know why he “fears the Other” – only that he does. He had the decency to speak his fears aloud, giving his society a chance to confront them.
In fact, I think it’s because of public officials and civic leaders like Drouin that Canada has not produced a Marine Le Pen, a Geert Wilders, a Heinz-Christian Strache or even a Viktor Orban. We largely have a mature discourse on the defining issue of our era — an issue that has proved to be extremely divisive and explosive in every other nation that has confronted it.
This was no accident. Every country that has a high immigrant population needs public forums and institutions where opponents of laissez-faire immigration can have their say, within democratic norms. Coun. Drouin used one of those forums to the hilt.
He wasn’t whistling in the wind, either. Like it or not, Quebec is Canada’s crucible on immigration policy. Recent controversies around finding a burial ground for Muslims, the carnage at the mosque in Quebec City and the earlier firestorm over one builder’s bid to have a condo complex just for people of a particular faith show that Quebec represents the bleeding edge of the immigration debate.
One doesn’t have to drive too far south from the town of Hérouxville to witness first-hand what an alternative to a reasoned, national discourse looks like. There’s a daily drumbeat of executive orders from the Trump White House, but the most dramatic ones — the ones that get reported and dissected endlessly — have had to do with immigration and visas. Why?
I believe it’s because Americans have been uncomfortable with their immigration policy for a long, long time, but have found few in Washington or elsewhere who would voice their fears. This has led to an untenable situation where you have as many as 12 million “illegals” in the country. Clearly, this is a policy that went off the rails decades ago.
Civic leaders like Drouin act as a ‘pressure valve’, staving off an immigrant-baiting political groundswell like the one we’re seeing in the U.S. We’d be far worse off without them.
George Abraham is the founder and publisher of New Canadian Media. Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca
Commentary by Ujjal Dosanjh in Vancouver
Dear Minister Ahmed Hussen,
Many of us cheered when you were recently made the Immigration Minister. We felt that as an immigrant Canadian you would surely bring to your position a new and hopefully more compassionate perspective on what it may mean to be Canadian. But our cheers were short lived. You have brought disappointments to some hearts, mine included.
On Monday March 6, 2017 you deported Len Van Heest, a Canadian for the last 59 years. Yes, a Canadian but without the citizenship papers. At the age of seven months and in diapers, he legally landed in Canada with his family. At sixteen he was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. He has several convictions for assault, mischief and uttering threats – all stemming from and related to his mental illness, the bipolar disorder. His last offence was in 2012.
Mr. Minister, obviously as a minor under the old law, Van Heest would have been unable to apply for his citizenship on his own – assuming that he even realized or knew in his mental state about the need for him to do so. His parents may not have applied their minds to this issue before he became a 'criminal' and therefore barred from receiving Canadian citizenship.
Power and discretion
Mr. Minister, you had the legal power and discretion to stop Van Heest's deportation. You chose not to because you didn't see it as fit and proper to do so. His deportation means that you must have felt the mentally ill Van Heest was responsible for not applying for citizenship that he had to before he had reached a certain age. It also implies that you and your officials felt it was just and fair for Canada to hold a mentally ill man responsible for piling up a criminal record that disqualified him from ever applying for Canadian citizenship, even though he had entered Canada as an infant. The mentally ill Van Heest – criminal or not – is the product of Canada.
Citizen or not, he is undeniably Canadian. If he is a criminal, he is a Canadian criminal.
Minister, above all Van Heest's deportation was made possible by the regressive legislative changes the Harper regime had made lowering a convicted immigrant's prison sentence threshold for making him/her "inadmissible" to Canada and therefore deportable. It is unacceptable that your government has neither changed, nor is it planning to change this unfair law that makes someone like Van Heest – a Canadian for all practical purposes – deportable.
But on the other hand, you recently testified in support of your government's Bill C-6 that will amend Harper government's law that enabled Canada to revoke the Canadian citizenship of convicted terrorists holding dual citizenships. Under Bill C-6 the revoked citizenships of convicted terrorists including that of Zakaria Amar – the ring leader of the Toronto 18 who wanted to commit mass murder and behead the Canadian Prime Minister – would be reinstated, re-bestowed upon them.
Mr. Minister, you passionately and eloquently argued: "When you are a Canadian citizen you shouldn't feel less valued just because you have dual citizenship with another country." You also said an individual whose citizenship was already revoked will have it reinstated.
Mr. Minister, I support your government's view that one Canadian is like another despite some holding dual citizenships. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. But in my view a Zakaria Amar is much less deserving of Canadian citizenship and compassion than a Len Van Heest.
Minister, I am deeply troubled and disappointed at your missing compassion and eloquence in defence of Van Heest; mentally ill Van Heest; a 59 year long Canadian; and so what if not so on paper.
Van Heest's was and is exactly the kind of case in which you should have used your ministerial power and discretion to keep or allow anyone into Canada. In my humble opinion, you made a serious error of judgement by deporting Van Heest. You have the power to allow him back into Canada. You should use it.
My Dear Minister, It is never too late to do the right thing.
Ujjal Dosanjh is a former Attorney General and Premier of British Columbia and former federal Minister of Health. He describes himself as a "A child of Indian peasants working to make the world a better place."
by Tanya Mok in Toronto
OVER 300 movie-goers attended the recent world premiere of ‘My First 150 Days in Canada’, a documentary that strikes to the core of the Canadian immigrant experience.
The film screened at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema as part of TVO’s year-long programming dedicated to Canada’s 150th anniversary. It follows single mother Melona Banico and her family during their first 150 days together in Canada, after immigrating from the Philippines. It offers an emotional glimpse into the life of a matriarch struggling to provide for her family in a new country while coping with her own disappointments and expectations.
“All immigrants can relate to the story of the family one way or another,” says the documentary director and writer, Diana Dai. “We all experience loneliness, language problems, difficulty finding jobs.”
Coming to terms
‘My First 150 Days in Canada’ is particularly touching because it focuses on the spectrum of hardships new immigrants must face, from the external struggles like unemployment and cold climates to the emotional, more complex impacts of realigning with a new society under less than favourable circumstances.
The documentary begins nearly a year ago with a tearful reunion at Pearson Airport as the Banico family is reunited for the first time, but it’s bittersweet: Melona has toiled for nearly 10 years, sometimes working three jobs simultaneously, in order to sponsor her son Jade, 24, her daughters, Judelyn, 26, and Jeah, 14, and her grandson, Clyde, 10, to come to Canada.
The separation, though, has been too long. She’s become a stranger to her children, having missed out on their most formative years. Suddenly, the family of five is thrust together into a single apartment with one goal: to save enough money for a better future.
Dai, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, says she could relate to the Banico family as an immigrant herself. As a Chinese-born immigrant who first moved to England and then Canada, Dai has spent years documenting issues facing Chinese people and their diaspora community in Toronto.
“You have to work harder than local people, that’s a fact,” she says. “It’s important for local Canadians to know how we live, what we’ve been through ... I want them to understand their hopes and expectations.”
The first few months
But Dai says the documentary also has a message for new immigrants as well. “I want them to know the first few months is hard.”
Capturing the Banico family’s ups and downs was a tough process. The family was cooperative at first but, overtime, became less and less willing to share their vulnerable moments. Financial expectations had caused a rift between Melona and her children, especially with Jade and Judelyn, who were too old to go to school but lacked the experience for non-minimum wage jobs.
They also had mouths to feed back home: Jade’s one-year-old daughter and Clyde’s father still lived in the Philippines, and Jeah was facing health problems. Melona was fired from her job and the bills were ever-looming.
Sometimes, the family would ignore Dai’s calls and scheduling shoots became difficult. It was only when Dai shared her own experiences as a new immigrant from China that the Banico family became less resistant to sharing their own.
“That’s the one reason why we trust each other, because I can feel that frustration. I understand their difficulties,” the director says. “Very few [documentaries] touch the conflicts among [new immigrant] family members because people don’t want to talk about it ... I’m very lucky that they allowed me to enter their world.”
For many in Canada, that world is a reality not so different from their own. From first snowfalls to being made fun of in school or for eating too much rice for lunch, ‘My First 150 Days in Canada’ is not just a story of Filipino immigrants, but the story of families across the world trying to make a better life for themselves in a new country.
Ending in optimism
Though the Banico family seemed to face a seemingly endless list of obstacles in Canada, an undercurrent of love and Melona’s determination for a better future for her family carried them through the first five months towards an optimistic ending in the film.
After the screening, the Banico family and Dai were invited onstage to a question and answer session with TVO’s Nam Kiwanuka, host of The Agenda In The Summer, where audience members had more words of support and gratitude for the family than questions.
Though the Banico family’s journey has just begun, Melona had words to impart to the many immigrants who have recently arrived in Canada, just as her family did nearly a year ago.
“My advice is try to be strong and put your family first,” she says. “Fight for the challenges that might be encountered in life. Later on, once everything’s settles down, they’re going to get better.”
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit