New Canadian Media

Commentary by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver

Anyone who has travelled to subcontinent knows it is not always such a salubrious destination. Incredible India, as the country sells itself in tourism brochures, can be incredibly chaotic, unwieldy, hot, dusty, venal, bovinely, and polluted – and then you accidently end up drinking the water. 

Given his weakened state since returning to Canada, Canada's Defence Minister, Harjit Sajjan, has no doubt picked up a severe political bellyache from his recent week-long trip to the country.
In what should have been a soft PR exercise, Sajjan’s first trip to India as Canada’s Defense Minister, has gone from being an electoral victory lap in his birth country to a slog on Ottawa’s apology circuit.

The trip has brought into question his integrity as a leader, diminished his venerated standing before military personnel, and even dulled his image within the Sikh community. 

During a speech at the Delhi based Observer Research Foundation security think-tank, Sajjan veered off script and deliberately inserted a line about being ‘the architect’ of Operation Medusa, a large-scale Canadian offensive in Afghanistan in 2006. It was a false statement: in Kandahar, where Sajjan served three tours while a reservist, he was as a mid-level officer providing intelligence to his commanders. 
At his first sitting in the House of Commons on Monday, the minister, looked weary from repeating contrition for the battlefield boast, but failed to provide an explanation for it.

"I'm not here to make excuses," he said to the press gallery. "I'm here to acknowledge my mistake, apologize for it, learn from it and continue to serve."

Not since the cameras showed up at Premier Glen Clark’s house, had a BC politician seemed in such desperate need for a foxhole.

It's not unusual for Canadian immigrants to flash their success when they return to their homeland – Sajjan also made a visit to his birth village in the Punjab on this trip. These blingy displays however tend to be exhibited through heavy gold sets and brand name clothing, and not, as in the Minister case, through false claims of military prowess.

Had it been Sajjan’s only embellishment of his operational role, this errant speech could have been written off as typical politician’s self-aggrandizement. However, he also stated this alternative fact in an interview in 2015.

While this controversy has hogged the spotlight back in Canadian media this week, it was not the only trouble spot arising from his first visit back to India in 14 years.
The Minister’s tour, particularly of Punjab, was notably bumpy as the Chief Minister of the state, Captain Amarinder Singh and his cabinet, refused to meet with Sajjan. 

Singh alleged that the minister and his father, Kundan Sajjan, a former executive of the World Sikh Organisation (WSO), are both Khalistan sympathisers. At the height of the Punjab conflict in the 1980’s, the WSO espoused the formation of an independent Sikh state. 

The allegation against the minister is baseless and seems motivated by Singh’s bitterness at the Trudeau government. The Canadian government did not permit Singh to campaign last year among Canada’s one million-plus South Asians, forcing Singh to cancel the Canadian leg of his North American tour.

The Punjab Chief Minister’s rebuff, however, did little to help Sajjan’s mandate of advancing Canada-India relations, or of re-energising stalled Canada-India free trade talks which were first launched in 2010.

However, Sajjan’s most agonising moments during the week-long trip may have been in his circumspect responses to questions about the Ontario NDP provincial government recently passing legislation recognising the 1984 Delhi killings of Sikhs as an act of genocide. By some counts, as many as 30,000 Sikhs were killed by Hindu mobs in a four-day murderous frenzy.

In 2011, Surrey-Newton MP Sukh Dhaliwal was the first federal MP to petition for the recognition of the 1984 killings as an act of genocide, receiving support then from the current Minister of Innovation, Navdeep Bains. Dhaliwal was denied a visa to India in 2011, retribution for him spearheading this motion.

The failure of the Indian government to prosecute the government officials who organised the mobs has been a source of much pain for Sikhs worldwide for the past three decades. Sajjan however distanced himself from the motion.

In a stumbling response, he highlighted it was brought forward by a private member of the Ontario legislature (Harinder Malhi), insinuating the motion was politically motivated during an election year in the province. He further added that this was not his position as a member of the federal Liberal government. 

Sikhs who were hopeful Canada’s most recognisable cabinet member would help resolve this long outstanding social justice issue were clearly disappointed in these answers. Left in the wake of Sajjan’s India trip are gnawing questions about how much of his cultivated image as Canada’s ‘badass’ minister, and a comic book hero for justice, is truth and how much is hyperbole.

Afterall, why would he distance himself from a social cause as glaring as the Delhi killings? And why would a veteran break the military code about boasting and take credit for the sacrifices of other soldiers? 

After nearly 18 months in office, it seems all we have learned about the first term MP from Vancouver South is that it’s hard to gauge exactly where the soldier ends the politician begins. 


Jagdeesh Mann is executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post. This article has been republished under arrangement with the Post. 

Published in Commentary

   UPDATED data on foreign investment show more than $885 million in foreign investment flowed into Metro Vancouver’s residential real estate market in just five weeks, representing 86% of the capital invested in the sector by foreign purchasers throughout the province, according to the government. Foreign investment in Vancouver was over $264 million, in Richmond […]

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Published in Economy

by Maria Ikonen in Gatineau 

A new feature documentary might have you thinking twice when buying tomatoes and greenhouse products next time you visit the grocery store.

Migrant Dreams” explores how migrant women agricultural workers struggle within Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). Canadian employers use the TFWP when “qualified Canadian citizens or permanent residents are not available” for certain occupations.

Canada has welcomed millions of temporary foreign workers since the program began in 1973 under the name of the Non-Immigrant Employment Authorization Program (NIEAP). This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), which places approximately 17,000 seasonal workers from Mexico, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad/Tobago and the Eastern Caribbean States in Canada every summer.

Both programs have become an important source of labour for the agricultural industry in particular. An article on Guatemalans employed for low-waged work in Canada states that every year, migrant workers entering through the program fill more than 80,000 positions.  

Employers who hire temporary foreign workers have responsibilities to meet, but director Min Sook Lee, a multiple award winning Canadian filmmaker, shows us the dark underbelly of the program. 

Investigating the conditions of the TFWP

Lee, an assistant professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design University, describes “Migrant Dreams” as a discussion about universal principals. “When I visited this farm, I thought it looked a lot more like a refugee camp than the safe living conditions that you would expect in Canada.” 

Migrant advocates often cite issues like unpaid overtime pay or serious violations of health and safety standards. Because these workers are afraid of being deported, many don’t speak up about poor working conditions.

For Evelyn Encalada, a founding member of Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) and a collaborator on the documentary, her meeting with seasonal agricultural workers from Chile made her see that she needs to hold her country to a higher standard. "I realized, I have to hold Canada responsible for its international image.”

Encalada’s meeting with the workers had to be set up in secrecy as those contacted feared the threat of deportation after speaking with media.

Canadian employers use the TFWP when “qualified Canadian citizens or permanent residents are not available.”

This issue was discussed recently in The National Post, where another interviewee, Ricky Joseph from Saint Lucia, mentioned that the deportation threat arose “the moment you speak up.”

Other critics have compared the program to the import of thousands of foreign workers in the 20th century to work in the silver and gold mines of Northern Ontario as well as the railway industry. “The mine owners said they were filling a labour shortage. But their real reason was to keep wages down,” writes Thomas Walkom.

Lee's inspiration for the documentary came from a need to draw a picture about migration. Although the program has been around for decades, Lee says that, “‘Migrant Dreams’ is an untold story. There has not been much talk about temporary foreign workers. They are part of our reality.”

Recommendations for change

According to Lee, “the rules and regulations for living accommodations are outdated because Ontario has not changed since 1975.”

Temporary foreign workers can apply for permanent residence if they can show their skills are in continuing demand, and 29,000 of the 192,000 temporary foreign workers who entered Canada in 2011 made the transition to permanent status. However, the rest are subject to the whims of employers who often fail to meet the regulations of the program.

Both Lee and Encalada voice concerns about workers being bound to one employer. “Being tethered to your employer while you are working in Canada means that you are completely unable to speak out about problems that may arise. Your silence is fueled by the rules and regulations,” Lee comments. 

"The rules and regulations for living accommodations are outdated because Ontario has not changed since 1975.”

“The staffing in charge of these policies is not consistent. Often the inspectors who are supposed to go to farms to ensure that living quarters are up to par just do not exist or they are summer students,” Lee notes.

When asked for a solution, Lee replies, “Workers should be given status upon arrival. Access and pathways to permanent residency is number one.”

She continues, “The migrant labour program creates a labour apartheid in our country. It creates two tiers of labour and human rights — one for Canadian citizens and an entirely different set of rights for non-citizens. That is completely, I think, against the broadly accepted principles of universal justice and human rights that Canada is known for.”

Hope for the future

Lee hopes the documentary will have a political impact and can be used as a tool for social change by anyone who gets involved with government or community organizations.

“I hope it’s used for educating people about the situation for migrant workers and for humanizing migrant workers, who are often dehumanized when they do appear in mainstream media,” she states.

When asked what viewers can do to support temporary foreign workers, Encalada suggests they visit the Harvesting Freedom Campaign, sign a petition and join pilgrimage to remind people that migrants collect our food. 

“Let's rebuild Canada and put ourselves in others shoes. Watch the documentary and when buying a tomato, think that is has a story. It has a story of adaption," Encalada concludes. 

The documentary "Migrant Dreams" will premiere on May 1 as part of the Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto.

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

 

Chandigarh (IANS): The poll season is a busy time for politicians and certainly not for vacationing. But for Punjab’s political leaders, it is also the time for foreign trips. The reason – wooing the strong Punjabi NRI network in other countries.

Punjab, which has a considerable NRI population settled in Australia, Britain, Canada, Malaysia and the US, as also in European countries, sees an important and active role by its diaspora in elections – whether for the assembly or parliament.

 

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Published in India
Wednesday, 17 February 2016 01:36

Deja Vu: Syrian and Indochinese Refugee Movements

Commentary by Mike Molloy and Kurt F. Jensen

The arrival of Syrian refugees fits within the longstanding Canadian tradition of providing solace and protection to the oppressed around the world who are directly threatened by political events beyond their control. 

That tradition began with the post-World War II movement of displaced persons, although there had been earlier informal movements of people to Canada in search not only of a better life, but also safety.

The Hungarians, Czechoslovaks, Ugandan Asians, Indochinese and Kosovars — these are just a few of the many communities who have found refuge in Canada. As we reach the midpoint of the movement of Syrian refugees to Canada, it becomes possible to draw some comparisons with past resettlement initiatives.

Comparing the Syrian and Indochinese movements

In particular, the Syrian resettlement today and Indochinese refugee movement in the 1970s share many similarities. Both constituted the largest mass refugee movements to date. Each population faced few alternatives to exile. 

Refugees from both groups often risked their lives, escaping by sea, arriving with little more than the clothes on their backs and with few options for permanent settlement. 

Both constituted the largest mass refugee movements to date.

The Syrians, like the Indochinese, are benefitting from a swell of public concern resulting in the refugees being embraced by Canadian religious and secular groups who have come together to help and ease the settlement process in Canada. 

However, in both cases roughly 50 per cent of the Canadian population were opposed or indifferent to the arrival of the newcomers. 

Differences on the ground

Differences do exist in the selection processes. In 1979 and 1980, 60,000 Indochinese refugees were selected by 35 to 40 Canadian officials. These immigration officers, RCMP officers and doctors worked under harsh and often dangerous circumstances in remote refugee camps that dotted the coast and frontiers of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. 

They interacted directly with the refugees and made decisions based on the humanitarian objectives to resettle them successfully in Canada.  

Today, the Syrians are preselected by UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) officers or, in the case of Turkey, by Turkish officials who determine eligibility for refugee status and refer them to Canada.

Refugees from both groups often risked their lives, escaping by sea.

Some 500 Canadian officials (immigration, border service, security, military and health) are screening and processing the Syrians for security and health issues, not in camps, but at centralized facilities in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Concern for whether refugees have reasonable prospects to establish themselves in Canada plays little part in the process.

While harsh, the lives of Syrian refugees in exile are less dangerous than what the Indochinese faced. In Southeast Asia, refugees encountered pillaging and raping Thai pirates.

Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan are more hospitable to the new Syrian arrivals than were countries like Malaysia and Thailand. The navies of both nations which were not averse to pulling refugee ship from shorelines to set them adrift in murderous seas.

The impact of modern media

The refugee selection process today has been transformed by access to instant communications. Information collected at an interview or medical examination in Amman today is processed overnight by a visa office on the other side of the world tonight and flashed back to Amman before morning. 

This has provided Ottawa with greater capacity to control the process, but the officers at the front end are working just as hard as their predecessors and moving refugees to Canada at a much faster rate.

While harsh, the lives of Syrian refugees in exile are less dangerous than what the Indochinese faced.

To contrast, the processing of 60,000 Indochinese relied on ball point pens, carbon paper and one primitive computer that recorded refugees and sponsors. There were no cell phones or computers in the luggage of the Canadian officers visiting refugee camps, which were sometimes located in dense jungle or on politically-contested atolls in the South China Sea. 

During this time, telephone communications between officers in Southeast Asia and Ottawa were so rare as to be described by one officer as “like messages from God; it just was not done. I think we received three or four telephone calls in the course of two years.” 

Today, because cell phones are widely used in the Middle East, it’s not uncommon for sponsors and refugees to be in contact long before departure for Canada. Most sponsors of Indochinese refugees only learned their names a few days before they arrived.

Settling in Canada

Despite the passage of nearly 40 years, there's little difference between what the sponsors of Indochinese refugees and the sponsors of the Syrians are expected to do to assist the newcomers when they reach Canada.

The big difference will be settling of government assisted refugees. In 1979 and 1980, there was often just a single employment counsellor at the local Canada Employment Centre responsible for all arriving government assisted refugees.

The Syrians who arrive today are the responsibility of one of 36 expert settlement and integration agencies staffed by highly professional settlement workers, often former immigrants and refugees themselves. 

Adaptation to Canadian life was a long hard process for the Indochinese: it won't be much easier for the Syrians. But the ultimate success of Canada's Indochinese community provides a beacon of hope.


Kurt Jensen and Mike Molloy of the Canadian Immigration Historical Society are among the authors of a forthcoming book on the Indochinese Refugee Movement.

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 Commentary

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga, Ontario

Shahzad Shamim recently settled in Canada with his family – three school-aged children, a wife and a mother – after emigrating from the United Arab Emirates. Instead of renting an apartment or a condo, though, he bought a house in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). 

With interest rates at an all time low, this is the best time to buy a property in Canada, explains Shamim. 

“Why should I pay for someone else’s mortgage by renting a property, instead of paying my own?” asks Shamim, adding that he believes once his family is settled he will be better able to search for work. 

It’s widely believed that low interest rates make Canada’s housing market attractive for immigrants who bring with them a significant amount of capital when they arrive.

This in turn translates into an optimistic trend when it comes to prices, explains Adnan Bashir, vice president of Cityscape Real Estate agency. “Demand is escalating; it’s not taking a roller coaster ride, but it is there,” he says.

Demand is created by the growing influx of immigrants, but Shamim insists that low-interest rates don’t mean unlimited purchasing power for new Canadians. “If the interest rates are low, that doesn’t mean I am saving a lot [or buying] a luxury house. It only compels me to afford a reasonable house within my budget.”  

The perceived threat of foreign investors

As stated in a CIBC World Market Report released in June 2015, under the heading “The Many Faces of the Canadian Housing Market”, Canada’s housing market is multi-dimensional and cannot be characterized with a blanket statement.  

CIBC’s report estimated that roughly 70 per cent of pre-sales and 50 per cent of final sales go to investors. However, the share of foreign investors in this total activity is much smaller than perceived.

This segment of the market is relatively safe from foreign investors.

“The more significant portion is coming from a situation in which the money is coming from abroad, but the family lives in Canada,” indicates the report. “Now the question arises if this is foreign or domestic investment?” 

Whatever it is classified as, this kind of activity requires a much larger down payment and the family often lives in the house after purchasing, suggesting a much higher level of commitment than a typical foreign investor does. 

Therefore, in terms of risk, this segment of the market is relatively safe from foreign investors driving up housing prices, the report adds.

Today’s average immigrant buyer

Gurinder Sandhu, the Executive Vice President and Regional Director of Remax, says today’s immigrant buyer is quite different from that of years past.

“People are not buying houses for investment or renting them out and are [not living in Canada],” he says. “Now immigrants are buying to live in those [houses] and they buy for their families.” 

Sandhu says this is a result of the world recession. In other parts of the world, buyers are unable to grow their equity and their investments are deemed unsafe because of factors including corruption, poor economy, oil prices and war.

For over two and a half years, the global economy has been on the verge of uncertainty, whereas “Canada’s stable financial institutions and prudent fiscal policy have kept the housing market well intact,” Sandhu adds.

“Now immigrants are buying to live in those [houses] and they buy for their families.”

Canada is also viewed as one of the best places to raise families, making it a preferred destination for immigrants.

Sandhu predicts the urban market across Canada will show a healthy single-digit annual ascent, with prices growing less than 10 per cent from the previous year.

Bashir added that this growth will be most significant in areas outside of the GTA. “We will see an increased growth in suburban markets like Hamilton, Pickering and others due to new development and affordability.”

Shamim is one such new immigrant who preferred the Hamilton area, as his eldest child will most likely opt to attend McMaster University after completing high school.

“It’s a nice neighbourhood with plazas, clinics and community centres within a close vicinity,” he says.

Rising prices and interest rates

Bashir says he believes that the biggest challenge faced by today’s immigrants is “money management”, which results in constant demand for smaller down payments. 

This is reflective of a market in which housing prices in provinces like Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario – where many immigrants have traditionally settled – are increasing to the point where homes are unaffordable to the working class.

The Bank of Canada indicates that rising home prices have increased household debt levels, but steps taken by regulators to tighten mortgage-lending rules have helped manage the associated risks.

The risk of becoming “house poor” – a situation that describes a person who spends a large proportion of his or her total income on home ownership including mortgage, property taxes, maintenance and utilities – is relatively high, Bashir says. 

“The real test will come when interest rates start to rise."

However, Sandhu indicates that the demand for luxury houses among immigrants is not diminishing either. 

“A detached or semi-detached house might not be the first house of an immigrant, but it could be the real dream house. The investors are using their first buy (condo or town house) as a source of equity built up,” he comments.  

For the wider market, the CIBC report warns that “the real test will come when interest rates start to rise, whenever that may be.” 

Sandhu predicts this will happen, but not in the short term. “Rates may move up slowly, but not in [the] near future,” he says. 

He cautions, though, “Constant political and financial upheaval outside Canada reduces the interest rate stability.” However, like Sandhu he says there are no foreseen changes in the interest rates anytime soon.


Journalist Priya Ramanujam mentored the writer of this article, through the New Canadian Media mentorship program.

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

PRIME Minister Stephen Harper on Sunday announced that a re-elected Conservative government will take additional steps to stop the flow of foreign fighters to and from Canada. He said that building on previous counter terrorism measures implemented under him, a re-elected Conservative government will create a new category of banned foreign travel zones known as “declared […]

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Published in Politics

VANCOUVER – B.C. Premier Christy Clark is [...]

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Published in National

Kathmandu (IANS): Nepal on Monday told all countries to withdraw their rescuers from the quake-ravaged country as India said it had carried out its biggest ever response to any natural calamity abroad. As the death toll from the April 25 disaster surged to 7,365 with more than 14,000 people injured, Nepal prepared to send home […]

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Published in India

Chennai/New Delhi:  Even as the Indian government on Monday notified the raised limit of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the pension sector to 49 percent, experts said that there may not be a rush of new players into this sector in the short term. The department of industrial policy and promotion under the commerce and industry […]

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Published in India
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Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

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