New Canadian Media

by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

Café Babanussa is a story about mental illness that has never been told before. Through the journey of a young, mixed-race woman exploring Germany in the 1980s, we see how mental instability creeps into the lives of even the most beautiful of characters. 

Living in Germany after its separation following the Second World War, Ruby Edwards must adjust to the racist backlash she receives as a Black Canadian in Europe. 

The book’s author, Karen Hill, had her own struggles. She was unable to maintain a nine-to-five job due to challenges with tasks such as getting dressed, arriving at work on time, and dealing with co-workers. She neglected work, which led to her living in poverty and having to survive on welfare. 

Eventually, she took on creative hobbies such as cooking, art and poetry. As a poet, she became known for her work “What is my Culture?” and “A Breath for you.” 

Café Babanussa mirrors Hill’s life and she debated making it a memoir. She wrote the novel – her first – from 1989 to 2012. 

Hill died in 2014 at the age of 56. Café Babanussa was co-edited after her death by her brother, author Lawrence Hill. 

Freedom from a mental cage 

As a child, the book's main character, Ruby, had reoccurring dreams of a man smothering her that continued to plague her into adulthood. She would write in her diary, lock herself up in her room, and argue with figments of her imagination. 

Now a young adult, Ruby’s need for freedom and independence takes her to Germany, where her past demons and current insecurities intermingle to wreak havoc on her mind and personal relationships.  

“She became entranced listening to all their voices, searching for some truth in their words.”

She explores West Berlin and nearby France. A young man named Werner, a British friend named Emma, and a mysterious drug dealer named Dom – Ruby seeks acceptance from them in a time of racial tumult, as well as an escape from the growing turmoil in her mind. 

After becoming pregnant and not knowing whom the father of her child is, Ruby has an abortion that takes a toll on her mind and body. Dom dies from a drug overdose, leading Ruby to slip deeper into depression. Hill described this process as a form of self-isolation. 

“Ruby was beginning to slowly lock herself up inside her mind. More and more people were prying their way into her head talking to her,” Hill wrote. “She became entranced listening to all their voices, searching for some truth in their words.” 

Ruby later finds out that her mother also dealt with mental illness. Hill reflected on this aspect of Ruby’s life in an essay included at the end of the book. She wrote about mental health problems in her own family and described her personal experience with mental illness as “being crazy.” 

A short reprieve 

Towards the end, we learn the significance of the book’s title. Café Babanussa is a haven where Ruby and her friends go to escape their stressful lives. At the café, she finds solitude for the first time and comfort in being unapologetically Black and ultimately, herself. 

“She felt grateful for having been accepted into the club,” Hill wrote. “The feeling of belonging to one race as opposed to none empowered her.” 

At the café, she finds solitude for the first time and comfort in being unapologetically Black and ultimately, herself.

At Café Babanussa, Ruby meets a new lover, Issam, and becomes pregnant again. She later gives birth to a child and moves back to her parents’ home in Toronto. Her adventure is over, yet her internal struggles continue. 

“The architecture in Toronto seemed so bland – new and ugly,” Hill wrote. “[A]lmost every night she went to sleep crying for what she no longer had [and] for weeks she wrestled with dark clouds that seemed to follow her wherever she went. She was tired and listless.” 

Understanding a common illness 

What makes Ruby’s story so relatable is the fact that we are all familiar with the places that Ruby has encountered on her journey to adulthood. Trying to be encouraged and spirited while dealing with responsibilities, social issues, love and growing-up can be stressful. 

Hill’s realistic portrayal of someone who cannot cope with these pressures provides a better understanding of mental illness. 

She showed that it is easy to succumb to the bullying thoughts, fears, and demons many of us confront.

She did not identify Ruby’s illness as a rare and isolated occurrence, but as a struggle that people often encounter in life. She showed that it is easy to succumb to the bullying thoughts, fears, and demons that many of us confront. 

Before her death in 2014, Hill wrote a letter that talked about her lonely walks, physically and mentally, which was also included in the book. After being out of institutions and hospitals for three years, she had sympathy for those who remained locked-up and suffering as victims of their minds. 

“I feel I have finally reached a place of some stability. From here I can reach out and become a healthier and more active participant in the mental health and wider communities. Sadly, this is still not true for many others who struggle with mental illness.”  

Danica Samuel is a freelance journalist from Toronto. She is a compulsive writer who is constantly searching for new stories on the streets and through social media. Samuel has written for the Huffington Post, New Canadian Media and ByBlacks. She prides herself on her creativity, charisma and provocativeness, while always being committed to content that is memorable, relevant and original.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Books

by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

When Sheema Khan told audience members at the Aga Khan Museum that the men sitting at one of her last lectures refused to face her, the entire room cringed.

Khan, a Globe & Mail columnist, author and women’s activist, says that she became a activist and feminist because of the Muslim community and this kind of behaviour.

For Aga Khan’s lecture series “Islam in the 21st Century,” Khan spoke on the challenges and opportunities of being a woman, muslim and Canadian. 

Known for her fiery columns and controversial discussions on the perception of women in the Islamic community, Khan centred her talk around her latest book “Of Hockey and Hijab: New Reflections.”

Dr. Ruba Kana’an, head of Education and Scholarly Programs at Aga Khan, organized the event that had 250 audience members in attendance.

The topic was chosen amongst many that the Aga Khan visiting survey uncovered, but Kana’an said such a controversial topic was sure to pique the interest of many people within and outside of the Muslim community.

“The issues of women, gender [equality] and the perception of women [are] questions we always ask,” says Kana’an. “It’s important to address these issues especially with how much misconception and misunderstanding there is between patriarchy and religion. It’s a topic to bring to the public.”

Muslim women’s unhappiness in Canada

The highlights of Khan’s lecture related to the statistics that started off her talk, which she used to discuss how unhappy and targeted Muslim-Canadian women felt.

In the Environics Survey 2016, 42 per cent of Muslim women said they felt discriminated against. Of that percentage, 60 per cent wore a head covering and 40 per cent did not. Compare this to Muslim men, of whom only 27 per cent said they experienced discrimination.

Khan says this treatment leads Muslim women in Canada to be unhappy and concerned. 

“More Muslim women than men worry about how Canadians view Muslims. They are far more pessimistic than men are,” she says. “They worry about how Muslims are portrayed in the media, stereotyping their neighbours and wondering if the the next generation will face more difficulties than they do. ”

“More Muslim women than men worry about how Canadians view Muslims."

One of the members of the audience, Judy Csillag, who has been doing interfaith and intercultural work for over 35 years, says that these worries could stem from the fact that mothers and women see how prejudice affects their children more than the men.

“Khan spoke a lot about how women don’t go to the mosque as much as men do. They are usually at home with the kids and involved in their children’s life,” Csillag says.  

To the contrary, Khan says part of the reason why Muslim men are happier is because they aren’t seen as inferior in Islamic society.

Experiences drive desire for change

Khan recalled a few experiences in her lifetime where she felt that men refused to acknowledge her as a scholar and speaker.

One circumstance, Khan recalls, happened in 1996 in Quebec. She was preparing to  speak at a Unity Dinner — a function put together by the Islamic community to address inequality in their community — when she heard that the more Conservative mosque had rejected the idea of having her speak. 

They didn’t think a women should speak in public, she explains.

“One of my muslim colleagues said, ‘Sheema don’t take it personally, it’s not you they’re against, it’s just women in general,’” Khan repeats, laughing with the audience.

She says that the views that conservative Muslim men have of women stems from their ignorance of the roles of women during the prophetic era. 

They didn’t think a women should speak in public, she explains.

“There was one scholar, the late Abduhalim Abu Shaqqa: he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He [performed] very valuable research on Islamic women, which unfortunately is ignored in the Muslim world,” Khan explains.

“It took him ten years, but he looked at every single verse and narration that had to deal with women and, in conclusion, he found that the way women participated in society during the best era and generation is very different from what we see today in the Muslim world.”

The importance of women in the conversation

Kana’an says that hearing these stories is important for young immigrants looking to locate their experiences within a Canadian context. 

“One of the things that we are noticing [. . .] is that there is a happiness in the awareness of students, that they gain a sense that they matter, their history matters and that there is a worthwhile contribution they’ve made to the world at large,” she explains.

Csillag agrees, saying that as a refugee from Hungary, it was hard for her to settle in Canada.

Kana’an says that hearing these stories is important for young immigrants.

“[How] pleased my heart is that women are starting to take the stage, and Aga Khan has been a godsend for women speaking as equals,” she comments. “What was fantastic is that so much of the audience is not Muslim, so people are reaching out and wanting to learn.”

For Csillag and Khan both, educating the younger generation is of utmost importance in order to fight radicalization and misconceptions.

 

“Being treated as an inferior human being is something no one should go through” says Khan. “I decided that I had to fight back. And by pushing back that’s how I gained my self respect. I’ve created a lot of controversy in my community, and I don’t mind because I’m thinking of the next generation.”

 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Books

by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

“Just because you’ve fallen off ship doesn’t mean you’re drowning.” 

In the film My Internship in Canada, the person struggling to stay afloat is the politician who fails to please everyone. Oscar-nominated director Philippe Falardeau’s film is a satirical, yet eye-opening, take on Canadian politics that showcases just how non-democratic our government can be. 

For National Canadian Film Day on April 20, charitable organization Samara Canada collaborated with the Regent Park Film Festival to fill a Cineplex movie theatre in downtown Toronto for Falardeau’s political comedy. 

The film is based on the journey of a young Haitian man, Souverain Pascal, played by Irdens Exantus, who greatly admires Canadian politics and culture. He gets a response to his 15-page application and secures an internship with a Northern Quebec member of Parliament (MP). 

Steve Guibord, played by Patrick Huard, is the independent MP for Prescott-Makadew à Rapides-aux-Outardes and unwillingly finds himself in the awkward position of holding the decisive vote on whether Canada will go to war. 

Guibord travels across his riding to consult constituents with his wife, daughter and Pascal. The story escalates when groups of lobbyists get involved in a debate that spins out of control. In the end, Guibord is tugged and pulled in various directions and must face his own conscience to make a decision that could affect the entire country. 

Making politics accessible

Newcomers to Canada and members of the Toronto communities of North York and Lotherton were among those who attended. 

“We thought it was a great opportunity to provide a little bit of education behind Canada’s political system, in a fun way,” said Madison Van West, coordinator of the Democracy Talks program at North York Community House (NYCH). She worked with her colleagues to bring 75 people to the screening from NYCH, which provides civic engagement and community development services to newcomers. 

“We’ve seen them try to create platforms and implement mechanisms to be open and democratic, but in doing that, anyone can speak and say anything.”

“Sometimes politics isn’t the most accessible topic, but a movie screening is a great way to bring everyone together and learn more.” 

In the film, Guibord tries to initiate democracy by inviting members of his community to a town hall. Unfortunately, opposing viewpoints cause tension rather than a conversation that leads to a collaborative decision. The scene shows just how messy democracy can be. 

NYCH program manager Zesta Kim said she understands and has witnessed the hardships politicians face in her community when having to weigh several interests to create an all-inclusive environment. 

“We’ve seen them try to create platforms and implement mechanisms to be open and democratic, but in doing that, anyone can speak and say anything,” she explains. “So, sometimes it doesn’t turn out too well.” 

Falsification of equality 

In the film, Guibord has trouble balancing the interests of his wife, daughter, protesters, the mayor, and the prime minister. He can only rely on Pascal to help find a middle ground that stays true to Canadian culture and democracy. 

“We haven’t seen a representation of minorities in politics and in Parliament.”

In a panel discussion held after the screening, emerging filmmaker Amita Zamaan said these competing special interests are what disappoint and deter people from engaging in Canadian politics. 

She added that the disengagement is due to the lack of representation and the falsification of equality in our government. 

Through her web series, Dhaliwal15Zamaan, like Falardeau, approaches politics through satire when examining the lack of diversity in Canadian politics.  

“We haven’t seen a representation of minorities in politics and in Parliament,” she said. “I’m trying to address that issue by placing this fictional character (Bobby Dhaliwal, played by Jasmeet Singh) in my film, but also addressing how limited our discussions in Canada are on progressive issues.” 

Explaining voter apathy 

Another panel member, Algoma-Manitoulin member of provincial Parliament (MPP), Michael Mantha, said the problem is deeper than just having an open platform to discuss. He said there is a lack of interest from community members. 

“However you make your decision, you will have to put your head on your pillow and live with your conscience.”

“I’ve being trying to engage with people throughout my riding, to try and get a pulse on what needs to be discussed for better engagement,” Mantha said. 

“Going off the numbers in my area, last election there was a 51 per cent voter turnout. People have look at politicians, their decisions, and their actions and think, ‘Why am I going to get involved if they’re not listening to me?’” he added. 

Mantha, who was elected in 2011, has served two consecutive terms as MPP and said while he loves all aspects of his riding, from its environment to its citizens, he is well aware of the tactics that are often involved in getting politicians to make certain decisions.  

“Individuals are put into difficult positions, but again it comes down to that person’s principles and being responsible to the people that put you into that position,” he said. “However you make your decision, you will have to put your head on your pillow and live with your conscience.”


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Arts & Culture

by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

A discussion on democratic transitions highlighted the need to include the role of women when examining how world leaders have created democratic societies around the world. 

The discussion took place at the launch of Democratic Transitions: Conversations with World Leaders, hosted on March 31 by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) at the University Club of Toronto. 

“The beauty of the book is that from nine case studies of nine countries, it addresses issues that should be looked at for future generations that get involved in these important democratic processes and transitions that take place all over the world at various times,” said IDRC President Jean Lebel. 

Between January 2012 and June 2013, co-editors Sergio Bitar and Abraham Lowenthal interviewed 13 world leaders on the processes of establishing democratic political systems during times of political upheaval and change. Former President of the Philippines, Fidel V. Ramos, former Prime Minister of Spain, Felipe González, and F.W. de Klerk, the last politician to serve as state president of South Africa during the apartheid era, were among those interviewed. 

“It’s the only book on transitions that have succeeded in four continents,” explained Bitar. “[These transitions] are described not by an academician or by a journalist, but by the leaders and presidents themselves.”  

Each chapter identifies the process and research that was conducted to address topics such as establishing trust, economic management and social mobilization. 

Single chapter on role of women

“The fact that women are not incorporated anywhere in the world is problematic. We are still second-class citizens.”

A popular topic of discussion among audience members at the book launch was the role of women in democratic transitioning. 

In the chapter “Women Activists in Democratic Transitions,” Georgina Waylen, professor of politics at the University of Manchester, examines how women supported and enhanced political participation by different social groups and promoted policies that strengthened women’s rights and gender equality. 

“Many women who actively sought to ensure positive gender outcomes during transitions were active in social movements, the bureaucracy and academia – not just in political parties or in the inner circles of men who became democratic presidents when elections were held,” writes Waylen. 

Professor Ana Isla of Brock University said she was confused as to why there was a separate researcher responsible for examining the role of women. 

“Why weren’t these world leaders and representatives able to answer questions when it comes to women?” asked Isla during the question-and-answer period. 

“Every aspect of society is intersected by women’s issues,” she continued. “The fact that women are not incorporated anywhere in the world is problematic. We are still second-class citizens.” 

Isla said there is already a plethora of woman making an impact.  She mentioned the uprising of women organizations and social movements in Latin America as recent examples.

“It’s the power of women that must change politics and change men.”

“All these women initiated the transition from dictatorship to democracy,” she said. However, they are the ones who are missing in this book because instead of looking at the women or the social movements, the focus is on the [men in power] who were able to change their minds.” 

Leaders ignore role of women

The book’s introduction notes, “Unfortunately, there are no surviving women leaders of these transitions, and few of our interviewees provided much insight about women’s participation in them.”

Bitar confirmed that male leaders are very reluctant to have a conversation about women’s contributions to democratic transitions. 

“Normally, the response is, ‘These women are coming again with the same story, and we have to listen,’” Bitar said, imitating the male leaders interviewed. 

He went on to explain that the male leaders usually assume the women think they are not relevant to the process of improving democracy, or that if they become powerful, they will not allow men to act or decide on policies. 

“It’s the power of women that must change politics and change men,” said Bitar. “It takes lots of time, but we have realized that better democracies exist when there are more women participants in policies and law-making.” 

Democracy a tool, not a solution

“Democracy is only a tool … It doesn’t solve everything.”

Bitar said he and Lowenthal learned that every leader possessed the courage to take risks during times when their families, friends and colleagues were being killed or in danger. 

“All of them had to combat fear – a very important element in the hands of any dictator,” he said. “Fighting against fear was something we found very prevalent.” 

Researchers and influencers like Lebel and Bitar, who is also president of Chile’s Foundation for Democracy, said they know that democracy isn’t the solution to problems such as gender inequality, poverty, and environmental destruction. 

“If we all took on democracy, someone naïve will say the world will be much better,” said Lebel. 

“Democracy is only a tool … it doesn’t solve everything, but it gives the opportunity to have people speaking freely, institutions that are strong and take care of problems, avoid inequity, and transform social problems.”


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Books

by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

The Canadian Immigration and Historical Society (CIHS) has partnered with the International Migration Research Centre (IMRC) for another year to host the Gunn Award

The Gunn Award is a $1,000 prize given to an individual in a post-secondary institute who has written an essay on any discipline in the social sciences and humanities that addresses international migration to Canada during the post-World War Two period.  

“It’s a useful contribution in understanding how communities settle in Canada,” says Gerry Van Kessel, a long-standing member of the CIHS who also sits on a board of individuals that determine the best-written paper. 

Van Kessel says that the Gunn award is not just a competition on a well-written essay; it’s also an opportunity to increase the knowledge of people living in Canada about the history of their country.

“This is a part of the process of how people understand and become more aware of the events that surround them. It helps them know stories and events of those that came and made a difference in this country, and those who were instrumental in getting immigrants into this country.”

The post-war period and resettlement efforts

The post-war period of immigration to Canada marked a peaceful change in the country, as many regulations were set in place to welcome refugees. Due to a labour shortage Canadians began admitting thousands of displaced persons. Among the displaced persons were Jewish Holocaust survivors.

In 1978, Canada enacted a new Immigration Act that, for the first time, affirmed Canada's commitment to the resettlement of refugees from oppression; that is, persons who have a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of citizenship. Admission of refugees officially became apart of Canadian immigration law and regulations.

Van Kessel sees the award as an opportunity to increase the knowledge of people living in Canada.

Past winners of the Gunn Award have detailed several aspects of the Award in their essays and agree that these historical stories are essential in providing knowledge of Canadian culture.

“Canada is one country that attempts to embrace this diversity through the ethic of pluralism,” says Alyshea Cummins, who wrote the 2011 winning paper on the Ugandan Ismaili Muslim resettlement. 

“In order for this ethic to manifest, it is not only important to promote a culture of understanding, but to also become literate of the diverse histories and experiences of our collective and diverse communities,” she says. “The CIHS and IMRC assist in fostering this culture of understanding and literacy of diversity.”

Writing on personal experiences

Geoffery Cameron, a recent winner, wrote his 2014 paper on the The Political Origins of Refugee Resettlement Policy. As a member of the Bahai community and religion, he says that the topic of immigration has always been important to him. 

“I had a lot of friends growing up whose parents came to Canada as refugees, because after the Islamic revolution in Iran around 1979, the new government really targeted Bahais and wanted to get rid of them. So many fled Iran,” explains Cameron. 

“Canada is one country that attempts to embrace this diversity through the ethic of pluralism.”

He continues, “Canada was the first country to accept them and resettled several thousands of them. So I had a lot of friends who fled the prosecution and that gave me a personal perspective on the importance of refugee policy to protect refugees.”

Cameron also said the Gunn Award allows Canadians to acknowledge how far back the tradition of accepting refugees goes.

“The tradition goes back to post World War Two. [It] is actually a humanitarian policy that has sources in the advocacy of community groups, political will from the government and bureaucrats who believe in accepting refugees and can see the benefit in doing so.”

Importance during today’s refugee crisis

Canada’s Liberal government’s has promised to accept 50,000 Syrian refugees into Canada by the end of 2016 due to the country’s civil war that broke out March 2011. Since this decision, many have questioned why Canada opened its doors.  

Jenna Hennerby the Director of IMRC, says that it’s because people are unaware of how long Canada has been partaking in accepting refugees. 

She says that the history of immigration in comparison to how we responds to refugees currently is not something people are aware of, and she wants to encourage Gunn Award candidates to speak on it.

People are unaware of how long Canada has been partaking in accepting refugees.

“We really want to get students to think in parallels. They might want to think about the way Canada has responded to the Syrian refugees right now in comparison to the Islamic Ugandan refugees in 1972,” says Hennerby.

“I hope students can compare Canada’s responses to refugees and look at the ways Canada has been involved through its visa offices, foreign and immigration policy. It’s such an important area to follow up on.”

Potential essay topics

Hennerby also said she looks forward to seeing some essays written on the 50th anniversary of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, a call on the Canadian government to finally allow migrant farm workers in Canada to access Permanent Immigration Status

Van Kessel says, regardless of the content, he finds pleasure in reading the essays because it assures him that what the CIHS doing is working and that immigration continues to be a large part of what makes Canada beautiful. 

“Immigration has made us what we are, I’m certainly convinced of that and so an understanding of all aspects of immigration helps people become more aware of that”

The deadline for Gunn Award essay submissions is May 31st 2016. To see more details on how you can submit your essay to the CIHS and IMRC visit www.imrc.ca/category/gunn-award/ 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in History

by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

New online programs are looking at how work is done in other parts of the world in order to more easily transfer newcomers’ skills to the Canadian job market. 

Abigail Fulton presented the British Columbia Construction Association's (BCCA) Integrating Newcomers program on Mar. 4 at the 18th National Metropolis Conference in Toronto. 

The program was one of two B.C.-based collaborative business plans showcased in the panel discussion “Facilitating Labour Market Integration to Skilled Trades”. The programs cater specifically to the construction market and offer an innovative way to reach immigrants who practise labour work in their home countries. 

“Many construction companies tend to look within their circles for hiring,” explained Fulton. “They employ their friends and family. Because of this, those who don’t fit into that category have a harder time finding work.” 

She explained that the integration program helps fill a gap, as 85 per cent of construction companies in B.C. have less than 10 employees.

... [U]nderstanding how construction is done in other countries [is] research Fulton calls “invaluable.”

An important aspect of the program is understanding how construction is done in other countries – research Fulton calls “invaluable.” 

Addressing competency gaps 

The BCCA Integrating Newcomers program focuses on assessing the skills of potential immigrants overseas as well as providing information about working and living in B.C., and later, employment leads. 

It is an example of several pre-arrival tactics that use online programs to properly survey, assess, mentor and inform newcomers about Canada’s workforce and labour market. 

Alongside this research is preparation for newcomers who want to settle in Canada and partake in the labour workforce. This is where the second business module called Facilitating Access to Skill Trades (FAST) comes into play. 

“Someone that comes from another country may have the components of many things, but we want to train them on the parts they don’t know.”

Sangeeta Subramanian of the Immigrant Employment Council of BC (IEC of BC) and Lawrence Parisotto of British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) presented FAST as a competency assessment and gap training tool for skill trades individuals. 

Parisotto says the program is “explicit and direct.” 

“Someone that comes from another country may have the components of many things, but we want to train them on the parts they don’t know,” said Parisotto. “The way to do that is being contextual and dependent between our content so that it provides and addresses outcomes.”  

Getting credentials recognized in advance 

FAST’s online application is collaborated with Shift IQ, a cloud-based learning management company. 

Shift IQ provides detailed diagnostics, validation, gap identification, post assessments and contributes to the e-mentoring program that guides and coaches a person through understanding the trades and services. 

The research BCCA Integrating Newcomers and FAST partake in both concluded that one of the main things immigrants should complete pre-arrival is getting their credentials recognized. 

Similar advice was mentioned in the “Seamless Service from Pre- to Post-Arrival in Canada” workshop.  

Maha Surani, a senior program officer and stakeholder at the Canadian Immigrant Integration Program (CIIP) said that research done by Planning for Canada to align newcomers with sector specific jobs showed that 63 per cent of employers encouraged pre-arrival immigrants to have their credentials assessed. 

Surani spoke on Planning for Canada’s collaboration with Acces Employment, a company connecting employers with qualified employees from diverse backgrounds. 

“There’s nothing generic about our work, which enhances the program altogether,” said Sue Sadler, a senior director of services and program development at Acces. 

“We have sector-specific training, and then follow through with a job search,” explained Sadler. “We then have business communications with our clients, the employers. All of this is done to connect our pre-arrival candidates to employers.” 

[I]t is also essential for employers and staff members within various companies to understand the importance of inclusion of various backgrounds and diversity.

Connecting with employers 

Acces Employment’s continuum module is enabled by online technology to enhance the job search of immigrants early on. The eight-week program caters to six sector-specific markets – engineering, human resources, finance, sales and marketing, supply chain and information technology. 

Markus Van Aardt, the business communications consultant behind the program, said that “folks are hungry for this information.” 

He explained the learning principle of the program: Immigrants usually start off being non-conscious and non-competent of the skills required for each of their desired job sectors. 

“I’ve walked in these folks’ shoes, it’s important to make sure they are in good hands,” said Van Aardt adamantly. 

“Newcomers want this information. They will drive you, and you don’t have to drive them. They will move quickly in the learning process, from being non-conscious, non-competence to conscious, [competence],” he said, using a diagram outlining the process of adult learning to illustrate his point. 

Enid Pico, senior vice-president and head of operations and share services at Scotiabank, spoke from an employer’s perspective. 

As the first female president of Scotiabank Puerto Rico and once a newcomer to Canada, she shared her encounters as a newcomer to the country and stated that while a pre-arrival program that prepares immigrants for job specific sectors is important, it is also essential for employers and staff members within various companies to understand the importance of inclusion of various backgrounds and diversity. 

“These cross-competency relationships are important. [Scotiabank] believes in diversity. It’s the right and smart thing to do,” said Pico. “Because of this, it’s important for us to find units and partners [like Planning for Canada and Acces] so that we can work with them to give us what we need.” 

Acces Employment and FAST’s pre-arrival modules will launch later on this year and the BCCA’s Integrating Newcomers program is now accepting applications.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Economy

by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

Focusing on developing immigrants’ soft skills may be one solution to increasing the hiring and retention of newcomers in the workplace. 

This was just one of several strategies to come out of discussions on the first day of the 18th National Metropolis Conference at the Westin Harbour Castle hotel in Toronto this past week. 

“Twenty-two per cent of employers said soft skills is the reason that newcomers are not able to retain work,” explained Nadil Jamil, policy strategist for Peel Newcomer Strategy Group, during a workshop titled “Multi-Sectoral Collaboration: Towards Innovative Strategies for the Employment Retention of Newcomers”. “This was also the second highest reason we found in our research.” 

Jamil said the group’s 2015 employment survey found that even if newcomers are able to secure employment, job retention continues to be a problem due to a lack of soft skills. 

[T]he varying definitions [of soft skills] are where the problem ultimately lies.

“What does ‘soft skills’ mean?” she asked audience members. Skills like the comprehension of hierarchy and simple workplace courtesy were some of the responses. Jamil concluded that the varying definitions are where the problem ultimately lies. 

She emphasized that it’s also very important to ask, “How can soft skills for newcomers be improved without imposing on specific cultural norms?” 

Who is the ‘right fit’? 

The workshop went on to explore the perceptions of newcomers and the cultural norms of employers. 

“Why aren’t immigrants considered integral when it comes to the hiring process?” asked Sangeeta Subramanian, senior manager in workplace development for British Columbia’s Immigration Employment Council (IEC). 

She addressed the idea of a ‘right-fit’ and described it through an employer’s lens, which often means hiring someone who reflects their own image.

She went on to say that sustaining collaborative partnerships with recruiters working with immigrants specifically can help attract, hire, and retain them in the labour markets. 

[S]trategically challenging the language employers use when seeking new hires will lead them into changing their perspective.

Workshop panellist, Rodel Imbarlina-Ramos, who is the manager of employer relations at the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC), agreed that strategically challenging the language employers use when seeking new hires will lead them into changing their perspective. 

Ramos said that it’s a matter of pitching new concepts to employers, without specifically mentioning words that may bring attention to race, diversity and newcomer inclusion. 

“All of a sudden we have changed the language by taking the cultural component out so it isn’t about whether someone is a student, a new grad or new to the workplace, nor is it about if an individual is new to Canada, it’s about trying to get the most out of people in the workplace.” 

Anita Sampson Binder, vice-president of ARES Staffing Solutions, calls this employer language tactic “soft educating.” 

“We don’t want to nail employers that we are trying to have on board. We want to encourage them to take the right steps forward in including immigrants and racialized people,” she explained during another workshop titled “Employer Strategies to Support Immigrant Employment”, which discussed the integration of immigrants in the workplace and employers’ perception of ‘foreign’ faces. 

Governments to play a role also 

Director of the Equity, Diversity and Human Rights Office, Uzma Shakir, said getting employers and government officials to listen is the frustrating part. 

“Twenty-seven years later, and I’m still talking about this,” she stated. 

Shakir explained that government bodies, like the City of Toronto, are just as responsible as any other employer for the hiring of newcomers. 

Her four-step module is just a start in creating a better environment for immigrants, racialized groups, aboriginals and people with disabilities. 

It includes the implementation of an employment equity policy, the Accessibility Of Ontarians with Disability Act (AODA), a human rights and anti-harassment/discrimination policy and legislation to ‘expand’ protection to all residents with or without documentation and the Toronto Newcomer Strategy, which applies a newcomer lens to all activities. 

“We’re trying to steer away from blaming the newcomer and focus on how we can engage employers ..."

Newcomers not to blame

Julia Ramirez, project coordinator of the Local Immigration Partnership (LIP) of Fredericton, introduced a strategy not only for employers and policy makers, but for immigrants and citizens as well. 

Her Newcomer Service Map is a new strategy that the LIP of Fredericton plans on using to integrate the community’s feedback and knowledge to facilitate immigration settlement. 

“The idea is to enhance the collaboration and partnership around community members.”  

Ramirez also suggested that there needs to be a change in the employers’ perception of skilled immigrant workers. 

“It’s not that [immigrants or newcomers don’t] want to do the work,” explained Ramirez. “It’s that the company doesn’t want to receive them.” 

“We’re trying to steer away from blaming the newcomer and focus on how we can engage employers in a way that solves this ongoing problem,” Jamil added. 

Results of Peel region’s soft skills research study will be released in May 2016 and the LIP of Fredericton’s Newcomer Service Map will launch later this month.

 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Economy

by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

News outlets that report on Canada’s ethnic communities and other niche media sources are standing out more than ever, while mainstream media companies are taking a hard hit. 

“Niche reporting has somewhat found a way to make the business model work,” explains April Lindgren, professor at Ryerson University’s school of journalism. “We don’t know how successful it will be overtime, but that’s one area that is successful and it’s one area where newcomers, especially, are able to survive.” 

She says the mainstream media business model is heavily influenced by technological change and that because ethnic and niche media outlets aren’t reporting the same things as the mainstream, it is easier for them to co-exist. 

“When you’re smaller to begin with and when you’re niche, you might better weather the storm,” says Marci Ien of CTV Canada AM, a division of Bell Media. 

"[W]hen you’re niche, you might better weather the storm.”

The future of journalism in Canada

In November 2015, Bell Media cut 380 jobs from its operations, including national broadcaster CTV, while in January another major broadcast competitor, Rogers Media, announced 200 job cuts were on the way.

Print media has also been impacted across the country.

The Guelph Mercury daily newspaper announced it would stop publishing its print editions, impacting 23 full-time and three part-time jobs.

Postmedia announced 90 job cuts will result from a move to merge newsrooms in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa and reduce $80 million in expenses.

Torstar, the company that owns Canada’s largest circulation newspaper, The Toronto Star, announced last month that it will be laying off more than 300 production and editorial employees.

In Halifax, Canada’s oldest independently owned newspaper, The Herald, stated it wanted to lay off up to 18 workers to cope with economic challenges. 

These job cuts came off the heels of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) being warned that half of the country’s local TV stations could be off the air by 2020 without a boost in revenues to pay for local programming. 

These job cuts have left many media professionals and observers worried about the future of journalism in Canada. 

A part of this revolution is finding ways to tell stories and report on news differently.

Lindgren says the business model of journalism is completely broken. 

“The internet came in and disrupted the news business to such a great extent, that more traditional news organizations are failing and the industry and people in the news have yet to figure out a replacement model.” 

For niche media, however, this may not be the case.

Chelby Daigle, editor-in-chief at Muslim Link, an online community newspaper based in Ottawa, says that niche media outlets can now utilize the Internet as a “hub of information.” 

“We tell stories, but our approach is different. We also have event listings, a directory, and advertisements; so there’s reasons why traffic comes to our site. It’s a resource.” 

The revolution of journalism 

Lindgren is confident that the changes in journalism stem from how we consume news. She calls it a “revolution.” 

“The Internet killed the classified ad sections of newspapers, and really broke the audiences for the newspaper sectors, magazines and television,” Lindgren emphasizes. “Readers’ habits of where they go for news are changing.” 

Lindgren adds: “All of this combined has mounted to a revolution in the news business, and with revolutions, often things get torn apart before new systems are invented to replace them.” 

A part of this revolution is finding ways to tell stories and report on news differently. 

“It’s the industry changing, but at the same time when things like that happen, I think there is opportunity, but you just have to do it in a different way,” says Ien. 

The difference is what Daigle describes as cheaper, innovative and independent. 

“We used to be a print newspaper and we stopped doing that. It’s too much work, craft and labour,” she says. “Online we have a better way of tracking our readership and who clicks on our ads.” 

"They can carve out their own pieces of pie, do it well and service an audience that maybe isn’t being serviced that way.”

How niche and ethnic media stand out 

Daigle says that while there are changes in the way people consume news, the most important aspect of niche media is that it should service the public. 

Ethnic and niche media outlets cater to demographics that use their content as a resource to keep them close to their respective communities. 

“They are anti-mainstream," says Ien. "They do the stories the way mainstream doesn’t and that’s what makes them successful. They found areas that maybe the mainstream isn’t touching on as much. They can carve out their own pieces of pie, do it well and service an audience that maybe isn’t being serviced that way.” 

Like Daigle, Ien says that the stories being told by smaller community-oriented news outlets can often times heighten the content of mainstream media. 

“It’s interesting because a lot of mainstream media follows us, and get story ideas from our content,” explains Daigle. “We made it easier for people to know about our community.” 

Ien says she even brings some of these ethnic stories to the newsroom at CTV. 

“There’s no way you can be in this country and not have had various people from different races touch your life.”

 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Arts & Culture

by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

Policy makers, journalists, professors and lawyers are putting their best ideas forward to find the right solution to tackle the problem of racial profiling in Ontario. 

“We hear the term a lot,” says Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), about ‘racial profiling’. “Our job at the commission is to really come up with a concrete understanding of what that means across communities and to understand those experiences.” 

The OHRC held a public lecture, in collaboration with Toronto’s York University, to discuss its policies and develop new strategies in combatting racial prejudice in a range of institutional and community settings. 

Differing experiences 

Speakers at the public lecture used their background and personal experiences to shed light on the issue of racial profiling. Each took the stage to present their views and encourage the community to take a stance against racial discrimination. 

Islamophobia [is] a “disease” and “a social cancer eating away at our demographics.”

Keynote speaker at the event, Toronto Star columnist, Haroon Siddiqui, spoke on discrimination against Muslim people, calling Islamophobia a “disease” and “a social cancer eating away at our demographics.” 

“It’s not an isolated phenomenon; it’s an unholy alliance of very unlikely partners,” said Siddiqui, author of the 2008 book Being Muslim. Islamophobia has become mainstream like other forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism and homophobia, which people have come to condemn, he added. 

According to Siddiqui, the damage of Islamophobia is the eroded self-confidence in Muslims and their democracies. “We are no longer confident that we can tackle the criminals, or build a war against terrorism,” explained Siddiqui. “We are just turning on each other.” 

Keith Corston, chief of Chapleau Cree First Nation, added that racial profiling can be self-destructive to communities. 

“Many of our young people made a conscious effort to be tough, which subsequently led to a lot of us ending up in jail and resorting to alcohol abuse,” he explained. “We always felt that we had to be better and tougher and defend one another. As a result, we missed out on our childhood.”  

York professor, and former vice-chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, Faisal Bhabha, spoke about the actions of police forces, calling the logic of profiling the same as that of the police state. 

“It might appear to be effective,” he said. “While stereotypes sometimes do confirm actual attributes, there’s no way to know or assess the prevalence of correct or incorrect stereotyping. Profiling, even when it leads to correct results, is all a stab in the dark.” 

Bhabha encouraged the audience to refrain from seeing racial profiling as an attempt to be ‘safe rather than sorry’, because “false promises of safety are just as dangerous as doing nothing at all.” 

Resistance, response, reform, restore 

According to Mandhane, the OHRC continues to work on several initiatives to bring topics of discrimination to the forefront. 

“We are putting in submissions to the governments on their new draft regulations of carding and segregation,” she said. “We are bringing a race lens to the use of segregation in jails and prisons.” 

"Racial profiling has damaged many lives – African-Canadian lives.”

Anthony Morgan, policy and research lawyer at the African Canadian Legal Clinic, presented a visual model of what social transformation could look like, using four key words – resistance, response, reform, restore. Morgan used past social movements to demonstrate how his module is applicable, including the 1992 Yonge Street riots. 

In response to the riots, there was the release of the Stephen Lewis Report on Race Relations in Ontario and the creation of the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) – steps Morgan deems a social response. 

“We continue to go in the same circle,” Morgan said. “We’re not addressing the ultimate impacts that these systems have. Racial profiling has damaged many lives – African-Canadian lives.” 

Morgan said the solution is looking at ways to “restore communities” while pointing to the word in the middle of his module. 

“Restoration is about tackling and informing community members on how they choose to resist and respond to the government on [racial profiling].” 

Important to continue the discussion 

For newcomers, Siddiqui said the discussion on racial profiling shows that in Canada we want every citizen treated equally. 

“If that’s what the law says, we need to implement that law,” he said. “Our constitution, our charter, our human rights legislation and our entire body of human rights sub-culture is important to Canadians.” 

“If we’re going to fix a problem we have to recognize we have one.”

Morgan explained that new Canadians may not be familiar with the repercussions and tactics of racial profiling, but having an event like the public lecture can give them a sense of comfort. 

“Sometimes you may feel like you’ve been treated differently, but you’re not quite sure,” he said. “Being in a space like this, says that it is part of a larger language in which some people end up being treated [differently] because of their ethnicity.” 

Chief Corston summarized the importance of the community discussion of racial profiling by stating it leads back to education. 

“If we’re going to fix a problem we have to recognize we have one,” he stated. “It’s not about blame, it’s about learning the history of wrongdoing and the history of bringing down people.” 

Mandhane stressed the importance of dialogue in moving beyond the surface of racial profiling to create a policy that can guide institutions in solving the problem. 

“Actually meeting and speaking with people, hearing their experiences, it’s the whole reason we do the work,” she said. “If, in the short term, that doesn’t result in the sorts of changes we want, you have to believe that you’re in for the long haul if you’re interested in systemic discrimination.”

 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Top Stories

by Danica Samuel (@danicasamuel) in Toronto

After months of defending carding, Toronto Mayor, John Tory has made a 360, calling for a permanent ban on the practice.

“It is my intention to see carding cancelled permanently and that we start fresh,” Tory told reporters at a news conference on Sunday, changing his position entirely.

Carding allows police officers to stop and question people to gather information — intelligence that is then stored indefinitely in a database. Several community members have criticized the police technique, calling it unfair and discriminatory, particularly towards men of colour.

Carding Injustice

In fact, Knia Singh, law student and President of the Osgoode Society Against Institutional Injustice, defines carding as “arbitrary detention.”

“We get stopped for no reason, carding is the actual gathering of the data and placing it in the database. It relates to our Charter of Rights in Section 9, Canadians are supposed to be free from arbitrary detention, when they stop me and card me for no reason it’s arbitrary.”

Singh is no stranger to the practice of carding and has also been stopped by police on 12 occasions.

“I would at least feel a little bit safer if what they recorded was true. But it’s full of lies.” - Knia Singh

In 2013, he brought light to the situation with a friend Chris Williams; they openly shared their file in the Toronto Star series called Known To Police. The series showed that black people are 3.2 times more likely than white people to be stopped and documented by the Toronto force.

Video Source: Toronto Star YouTube Channel

In Singh’s file, he was recorded as having features that didn’t match his description and labeled him as an individual born in Jamaica, although he was born in Canada.

He was also recorded as being investigated for a possible immigration warrant.

Based off his file, Singh’s conclusion is that the process is “highly inaccurate.”

“Even if they think it’s a useful tool, most of [the information] is wrong,” says Singh.

“They can make up anything and write down whatever they want on people and claim it’s police information,” Singh continues. “I would at least feel a little bit safer if what they recorded was true. But it’s full of lies.”

With Mark Saunders – the first black Toronto Police Chief – leading the force, many were under the assumption that carding would finally seek its end earlier this year. Instead, he stood behind the controversial practice.

Originally, carding was proposed as a process to help police officers build a connection with their communities in hopes of developing safer environments.

With Mark Saunders – the first black Toronto Police Chief – leading the force, many were under the assumption that carding would finally seek its end earlier this year. Instead, he stood behind the controversial practice.

In a sit-down interview with CBC reporter Dwight Drummond, Saunders said the practice was, “legal, and it does enhance community safety.”

He continued to defend carding by expressing the intelligence gathered helps police with getting insight to the 2,000 gang members in the city.

Singh contends that he didn’t think for a second Saunders would be the face of changing carding.

“Saunders was never about being an independent thinker,” says Singh. “Deputy Peter Sloly was another good candidate, which was a very good choice, but he was more independent in his thought process and wanted to fix the carding problem.”

Better Late Than Never

Tory stated that the carding system had to come to an end.   

“After great personal reflection and many discussions ... I concluded it was time to say, enough. It was time to acknowledge there is no real way to fix a practice, which has come to be regarded as illegitimate, disrespectful and hurtful,” said Tory on the weekend.

“If we stop carding, it gives a signal that racial profiling is not accepted. What’s next is police accountability. Police officers who violate their code of conduct have to be reprimanded and even kicked off the force.” - Knia Singh

Singh says that this realization should have come a long time ago for the mayor.

“John Tory heard all of us speak clearly on this issue and how damaging it was to the community and how illegal it was,” Singh explains. “He went ahead with Chief Bill Blair and pushed through a policy that belittled our rights. For me, the only reason he’s doing it now, is because too many people are criticizing him and if they weren’t, he wouldn’t have changed his mind and that’s what’s disturbing. He already knew all the details.” 

Tory alluded to his speaking with journalist/activist Desmond Cole as one of the discussions that prompted his decision. Cole’s article in Toronto Life titled, “The Skin I’m In: I’ve been interrogated by police more than 50 times – all because I’m black,” stirred up a brewing pot within the city that’s never been cooked. 

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

The plot twist in the matter is that carding is not the root of the problem, but simply a tool that implements the real issue of racial profiling.

In 2012, it was noted that Toronto Police stop up to 400,000 people every year during non-criminal encounters, a practice that community activists and social justice lawyers say leads to racist policing.

An idea of receipts was proposed by former Police Chief Bill Blair, a process that asked officers to hand out a record of each carding interaction to the persons involved.

Three years later, no receipts have been issued and citizens are left to wonder what their files hold.

Singh says the whole process doesn’t need to be tightened, nor implemented differently – those in power just need to “get rid of it” completely.

“If we stop carding, it gives a signal that racial profiling is not accepted. What’s next is police accountability,” Singh stresses. “Police officers who violate their code of conduct have to be reprimanded and even kicked off the force. The problem is they’ve never really been disciplined for their actions.”

 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Top Stories
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