Commentary by Mayank Bhatt in Toronto
I published my debut novel, Belief, in Canada last year. It’s the story of an immigrant family’s struggle to integrate into the Canadian mainstream.
Just when everything seems to be falling into place after nearly two decades of struggle to survive in an alien land, facing constant rejection, the family discovers their son’s apparent involvement in some sort of terrorist plot. Hurriedly, they consult their neighbours, who put them in touch with a police officer known to them.
The novel explores the family’s trauma following the son’s arrest.
The family’s Muslim identity is central to the story. It deals with the manner in which people of colour who are adherents of Islam are generally (and often unconsciously) treated in a society that they adopt as immigrants.
This is an important issue because in their desperation to grab eyeballs, the mainstream news and entertainment media often forget to make it clear that Islam is not a monolith and all Muslims are not the same.
In writing my novel, I set out with a simple objective – that there is little to distinguish between people on the basis of their beliefs.
The other issue that I wanted to examine was this whole business of radicalisation and terrorism. It’s important to underline that such a phenomenon doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Young men such as Rafiq, the main character in my novel, go astray in an environment where they are unable to make an emotional or a material connection with society at large, and this leads to many complications for them, for their families and the society.
From the family’s perspective, how different would a son’s radicalisation and subsequent involvement in terrorism be from drug addiction?
I’m not saying that there is no distinction. Society will definitely distinguish between the two, and weigh down heavily on radicalisation and terrorism while condoning drug addiction, and we can argue that this has a lot to do with race, but that really is a different debate.
I’d still want to believe that it would still represent an enormous crisis from the parents’ point of view. I don’t know whether the parents of a son who’s a drug addict would take comfort from the fact that their son is “only” dealing with a drug problem, rather than being radicalised as a terrorist.
The other challenge I dealt with while writing the novel was that I’m not a Muslim. This is a sensitive matter. Would I be able to portray with accuracy and empathy the life of a Muslim family, the family dynamics, and the inner turmoil?
I was born in a Hindu family. However, but for my grandmother, nobody really practised the religion regularly or ritualistically. But I grew up and lived in a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood for more than three decades in cosmopolitan Bombay (now Mumbai).
Also, as a journalist in Bombay, I covered religious violence that wreaked havoc on Bombay in 1992-93, witnessed first-hand the callousness of the state in bringing justice to the survivor victims of these riots, and recorded the adverse long-term effects of official neglect that Muslims in India have suffered.
And perhaps, most pertinently, I’ve been married to a devout Muslim for over two decades.
Yet, to construct a novel was a grave responsibility. In recent years, there have been intense debates in the literary spheres about ‘cultural appropriation’.
Lionel Shriver let loose a veritable storm last year when she defended her right to write about anything that she as a writer wanted to (Read her speech here, and Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s response here).
Closer home, our own Giller Prize winner Joseph Boyden has been hauled over the coals for claiming to be Aboriginal; his defence is that he feels like one, even if he may not be one genetically.
Well-meaning Muslim friends of South Asian origin cautioned me that my attempt at depicting a Muslim milieu in Canada would lack authenticity and suggested that I abandon the “misadventure”. I was, of course, not going to do that, mainly because I believe that imagination and craft could be better substitutes for experience.
I believe that a novelist’s primary responsibility is to tell a story competently and responsibly. Innumerable novelists have created a world in their novels that are palpably real without ever being even remotely connected to the world they create.
I have done so in Belief and I’ll leave it to the reader to judge whether the novel succeeds in portraying the complexity of being a Muslim in Canada.
Mayank Bhatt’s debut novel Belief was published in 2016 by Mawenzi House. Read our review here - Novel Explores Road to Radicalization
Book Review by Phil Gurski
Belief is a novel by Mayank Bhatt, a Mumbai-born resident of Toronto. It tells the story of the son of Indian immigrants to Canada who cooperates with terrorists to identify Canadian places to bomb, in part to avenge the death of Muslims in Afghanistan by Canadian soldiers.
The book parallels to a certain extent the 2006 case of the “Toronto 18”, a terrorist cell that planned to explode truck bombs in Toronto and at a military base in eastern Ontario to punish Canadians for the decision to deploy the Armed Forces in Afghanistan after 9/11.
This work of fiction is billed as a look into what “makes young people give up their sheltered, secure lives and take up causes that are sure to lead to catastrophe, for others as well as themselves”.
It does not quite achieve that goal, but does contain a good look into the effects of terrorism on a family. We see the devastating effects on the mother and father, immigrants who fled violence in India to seek a new home in Canada, but had to struggle to make a new life in a new land. We see the anguish of a pregnant sister whose husband’s promotion may be canceled because of Rafiq’s actions.
We see a South Asian police officer, Ravindar, who tries to help the family but who is not trusted completely, perhaps because of his role as a representative of the law.
The book does delve slightly into what has often been put forward as the ‘causes’ of radicalization to violence in Canada. There are references to the slaughter of Muslims in India and to discrimination and bias against immigrants in this country.
Neither theme is developed in this novel. It also does not explore other reasons why individuals go down the path of radicalization.
Early in the novel the author includes excerpts from emails sent by the terrorist ‘mastermind’, a man named Ghani Ahmed, to Rafiq, the young man arrested and accused of participating in a terrorist plot. These excerpts are full of the rhetoric most commonly associated with terrorist recruiters: innocent Muslims are being killed and no one is doing anything to stop it. Ahmed appeals to the faith of Rafiq and tries to convince him that fighting back is a religious obligation.
Ahmed is an intriguing character and more could have been written about him. Who was he? Where did he come from? Who else was involved in his plot? How did he identify Rafiq as a willing participant? .
The one character who remains an enigma is Nagma Khala, a woman who runs a Muslim crèche and who had an extraordinary influence on the young Rafiq. She is deeply religious, but it is never clear whether her faith contributed in any way to Rafiq’s openness to radicalization.
Flashbacks to India
I welcomed the introduction of two officers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), although their portrayal is superficial and unsatisfactory. It would have been interesting to introduce a main character from CSIS and show how that person was trying to understand the scope of the terrorist plot and Rafiq’s role in it. That may have been beyond the author’s expertise, though.
The book contains many flashbacks to life in India and provides interesting background into the lives of the protagonists, although the link between these episodes and Rafiq’s decision to become a terrorist is not obvious. They do provide insight into the circumstances behind the parents’ choice to leave India, but these are tangential to the book’s primary plot.
Throughout the book the author seeks to present Rafiq as an unwilling dupe whose involvement in terrorism is peripheral. While Rafiq regrets his choice, he also seems to minimize his role.
It is only at the end of the novel, when Rafiq learns of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai (in 2008 – a real event) that he grasps the enormity of what he was part of in Canada and (spoiler alert!!) tries to commit suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. The author’s attempt to paint Rafiq as a character to be pitied does not come off strongly, even when he writes of the bullying Rafiq received at the Maplehurst Detention Centre in Toronto.
Overall, the book flows and reads well, with the exception of the flashbacks. These occur at times at unexpected intervals and detract from the story.
The book does a good job at showing the destruction of a Canadian immigrant family when one member becomes involved in terrorism. The emotional responses of the characters are believable and compelling.
As long as the reader does not see this novel as an actual book on homegrown terrorism in Canada it is a good read.
Phil Gurski worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and the forthcoming Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at http://www.borealisthreatandrisk.com/blog/
GIVEN we’re smack dab into the marriage season, here is another article for those about to get married and the newly married. In our community, marriage is not considered simply a union between a man and his wife, but rather a union between two families, and the extended family is involved with the couple both before and after they marry.
Also in our community, couples frequently argue over the actions of each other’s extended family.
by Beatrice Paez in Toronto
As a child, it wasn’t unusual for Ann Y.K. Choi to be at work behind the counter of her family’s convenience store in Toronto. She and her two brothers were expected to help their parents when they finished school.
Choi’s teenage daughter, a third-generation Korean-Canadian, isn’t familiar with the ins-and-outs of running a variety store – no more stocking shelves with instant noodles, no more keeping a wary eye out for shoplifters.
But Choi says the children of immigrants shouldn’t be spared from learning about the sacrifices their parents made to ensure their children would not undergo the same hardships they endured.
It’s one of the reasons she wrote Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, a fictional, yet deeply personal, account of life in a downtown Toronto convenience store. Mary, the novel’s headstrong, yet conflicted, protagonist, is a composite of Choi and other young Korean women she knew whose stories had yet to be told to a wider audience.
Preserving Canadian history
Choi says she wasn’t ready to pen a memoir for her debut as a writer, but wanted her daughter and other young Canadians to be aware of the Korean-Canadian experience.
“Nobody has gone on to inherit the store, and if I [didn’t] write this story, this whole history would be lost,” says Choi. “This is a part of Canadian history.”
The Choi family moved to Toronto from South Korea in 1975. Choi’s parents worked miscellaneous jobs before saving enough money to buy a variety store on Queen Street West.
What distinguishes the immigrant experience of Koreans, says Choi, is that they had to bounce from neighbourhood to neighbourhood to compete in the convenience store market. Owning a mom-and-pop shop was unlike having a restaurant, which could exist alongside others on the same block.
“We were scattered all over Toronto. We got to experience and live in every pocket,” says Choi. “It gave us insight into Toronto on a bigger level . . . And in some ways, it helped us integrate.”
They led a somewhat “nomadic” life. Moving was dictated by the rising and falling fortunes of the family business.
Mixing family and business
The store demanded so much of the family that Choi says it was like their “baby.”
Looking after the store barely gave them time to unwind together. There were no family dinners and no socializing until after the convenience store closed at midnight.
“We were all very aware that we needed the baby to thrive because our success depended on it,” she says.
It was only when she became a mother herself that Choi says she fully appreciated the courage and nerve it took her mother to run a store that was always at risk of being robbed.
“It’s hard not to be resentful [growing up], but looking back, I realize she must have been so afraid, but she didn’t show it,” says Choi.
Taking on taboo topics
At a Toronto Public Library event organized as part of its eh List Author series, Choi recalls how she came to write the book, which explores the relationship between mother and daughter.
It took a little nudging from a former student back in 2007, says Choi, who works as a high-school guidance counsellor. She explains how he flipped the question about his ambitions back at her and persuaded her to fulfill her dreams.
“I told him I wanted to write a book, and he challenged me to do that,” she says.
For five years, she would write after her family went to bed at night. “It seemed safer to delve into the Korean psyche when it was quiet,” she says.
She took several writing courses, eventually graduating from the University of Toronto’s creative writing program in 2012. Her final project, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, was presented before a literary panel and earned the attention of renowned editor Phyllis Bruce, who acquired the novel for Simon & Schuster.
What struck her editor, Choi explains, was that the book tackled themes of depression and anxiety from the perspective of a Korean-Canadian.
As universal as people’s struggles with mental health issues are, for Choi and other Korean women she interviewed, such anxieties were rooted in a deep resentment toward their mothers. They were seen as an “obstacle” to their desire to be Canadian.
Although aspects of Korean culture have become mainstream, literature still lags behind K-Pop and kimchi in popularity.
This is what partly led Wai, a Chinese-Canadian immigrant, to Choi’s library reading.
“I’m interested in literary diversity,” she says. “I’d like to hear about the Korean experience. Most of it is a universal theme, but it would be nice to hear different perspectives.”
Choi hopes her book will open up the space for other Korean writers who are reluctant to share their experiences.
“There’s a little bit of fear,” she says, adding there are things that Korean Canadians as a cultural group do not discuss.
“We’re very guarded about sharing pain. It’s one thing to share music, food, but stories are so intensely personal.”
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
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
by Daniel Leon Rodriguez in Calgary
Many immigrant men feel isolated, fearful and lost upon arrival in Canada, according to multiple researchers and social agencies in the country.
Vic Lantion, a program coordinator with the Ethno-Cultural Council of Calgary (ECCC), explains that many of his clients are men suffering from clinical depression.
“They wake up at 3 a.m. asking themselves, ‘What I’m doing here?’” says Lantion.
Lantion explains that these men often struggle to cope with their ethnic and cultural expectations, which are often distorted during their resettlement process. After immigrating, they and their wives often find jobs or new avenues of social expression that might not have existed in their home countries.
At the same time, however, a lack of research on how immigrant men handle these changes makes it difficult to resolve these issues.
Immigrant men hesitate to reach out
Even when they’re struggling with mental health issues, many of these men might not ask for help because their culture sees it as weakness. “Man from visible minorities have more societal pressure not to seek support,” says Lantion.
Only 25 per cent of immigrants seek support with social agencies, and most of them are women, according to Lantion. This puts male newcomers at a disadvantage because they aren’t receiving the support they need to overcome the challenges of resettlement.
Back in their home countries, these men also enjoy a certain respect and prestige connected with their careers—one which that they might lose in Canada when forced to take other jobs, explains Lantion.
“If you’re highly educated, you have a hard time accepting you’re not a doctor or a lawyer anymore,” says Lantion, who adds men are psychologically affected by underemployment and the challenges of getting their credentials recognized.
“Men are having a cultural shock in regards [to] their gender identity and values,” he says.
Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association (CIWA) CEO Beba Svigir, says men don’t seek help as often as their wives due to many reasons.
One reason she cites is that some men don’t trust government and social agencies: “Men feel very uncomfortable because they feel the government [might] undermine their authority.”
Immigrant women are more successful than men
From his experience working with Ethiopian, Somali, Filipino and other immigrant communities in Calgary, Lantion found that men were worse off after resettling in Canada compared to women. “In the long term, immigrant women are being more successful than men,” he says.
In their traditional family roles, immigrant men are often pressured to be family providers. Meanwhile, women are expected to take care of the children. Because immigrant women tend to have more free time, they attend social programs, improving their language and their employment skills, says Lantion.
“Culturally, men are supposed to be the providers,” says Priyadarshini Kharat, a counsellor at the University of Calgary, who found in her PhD research that ethnic men were afraid of being ashamed and ostracized by their communities for not fulfilling their roles as breadwinners.
Svigir agrees with Lantion that women are often more successful than men. She says men feel more “entitled” to cling to their careers than women, which creates self-esteem problems.
Women in the workplace
Lantion says this doesn’t happen to the same extent with women, as their identities aren’t tied to their profession, but to their role as mothers: “When women move to Canada, no one can take away their identity as a mothers.”
David Este, a University of Calgary social work professor, has conducted research on immigrant male refugees over the last 16 years. He says many ethnic men see themselves as failures if their spouse has to work, which is often the case in cities like Calgary, which are expensive to live in.
Women sometimes find work easier than men as they’re more flexible at the time of employment, says Este. “Women are more pragmatic; they need to work to survive economically.”
“Women are very resilient and they will do whatever to succeed," says Svigir, who adds that female immigrants are open to seeking help, changing careers and accepting any job for the well-being of their children.
Este says men struggle more to adjust their newly necessary responsibilities. “Immigrant men in Canada are doing domestic chores they would never do in their home countries,” he states.
He adds that back in their countries, couples would get support from extended family members to raise their children—something not available in Canada.
“There is a [saying]: ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’” says Este.
Men traditionally ignored by the research community
“There is a humongous gap in the research about immigrant men,” says Kharat, who did her PhD research on intimate partner violence among immigrants from South Asia in Canada.
Because this demographic is often neglected by the research community, there is a lack of understanding of how the immigration process influences the well-being of men as well as their likelihood to commit domestic violence, says Kharat.
Lantion echoes Kharat, saying there are few if any studies on how men are adapting to egalitarian values.
Last year, this gap lead to the creation of a survey by multiple Alberta social agencies, including the ECCC, to better understand the barriers immigrant men face when resettling.
Preliminary results found that 96 per cent of men said it was important to have support, but only one in four men knew of any support service for men in Canada.
This is the third part in a three-part series on changing family dynamics and what it means for women immigrants in Canada. The first part and second parts discuss how women are socially and economically empowered once they reach Canada. If you are an immigrant who has experienced significant social change in your life after arriving in Canada, please contact email@example.com.
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
by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga
Pakistani women enjoy more autonomy in the home and greater overall life satisfaction in Canada compared to what they experienced back home, a new study suggests.
According to "Perceptions of Autonomy and Life Satisfaction in Pakistani Married Immigrant Women in Toronto, Canada" this greater sense of satisfaction is directly associated with these women’s sense of autonomy.
Authors Michaela Hynie, associate professor at York University, and Tahira Jibeen, assistant professor at COMSATS Institute of Technology in Lahore, explain that this freedom has many facets. For many, this includes the economic opportunities that Western societies offer women — opportunities women who come from patriarchal cultures might not have had before.
Fauzia, a resident of Mississauga who immigrated to Canada from Pakistan 14 years ago with her husband and three children, has been driving a school bus since September, 2015. She agrees with the results of the report.
“Things have changed in Pakistan, but I don’t think that still any woman would drive a school bus [as] conveniently and willfully as here,” she says.
Pursuing passions in Canada
Fauzia shares that she found her passion for driving at a very young age, before she got married. For her, driving a public transport vehicle is a decision she could only have made here in Canada.
“If I was in Pakistan, I wouldn’t think of doing something like this,” she adds. “It requires lots of guts and being too daring to break through the cultural norms.”
Hynie and Jibeen’s report highlights the importance that in-laws play in maintaining traditional family roles in Pakistani culture. It states “the goal of the study was to explore the relationship between family structures and autonomy among married immigrant Pakistani women.”
It also investigated “the role that these variables play in their evaluation of their life satisfaction prior to migration, in Pakistan, and post-migration in Canada."
The report found that when women lived with their in-laws, even in Canada, their autonomy was more restricted than when they lived only with their husband and children.
While Fauzia has been able to pursue this opportunity now that she's away from her in-laws, she says her own family back home still makes fun of her occupation.
“Even in Pakistan, if I tell family and friends, they look down on such a job and laugh at it. However, I tell them proudly that I am Canadian and we are proud to do whatever we feel like,” she says.
Job opportunities and education levels
Naheed, who came to Canada from the Middle East six years ago and also drives a bus, has had an experience similar to Fauzia’s. However, she says that when her in-laws resist her occupation, she is often able to convince them that this is a good opportunity.
“Education and logic plays vital part. Now its up to you [to] either convince others or get convinced, so I usually convince others with logic,” she says.
Over the last decade, the emphasis on educational and occupational qualifications when selecting immigrants has meant that the lead applicant’s spouse (often the female) has to fulfill a certain educational criteria as well as pass a language proficiency test to be accepted.
In part as a result of this focus, immigrant women are more likely to have completed university than women born in Canada.
Even though her current job might not be considered white collar, Naheed says, “I don’t believe in class of work. It’s better to work hard and earn than to beg.”
The role of Islam
While speaking about the role of religion, both drivers, who are Muslim and wear headscarves, believe that Islam does not restrict the ability of women to work.
“Islam doesn’t restrict women to work, but what it asks is to limit yourself within Shariah,” says Fauzia.
“Even when I used to drive a simple car in Pakistan a long time ago, it was considered odd and people used to take it as a bad thing. So it’s our cultural problem, not religious,” she states.
Support from husbands
While they’ve faced opposition from family, both Naheed and Fauzia say their husbands have supported their desire to pursue their passions and find jobs.
Because the women are employed, they can assist in financially supporting the family. Still, balancing their time is very important since they must take care of the children.
“[My] husband and kids are supportive as their only concern is my availability. My husband always asked me to look for a job that [didn’t mean you] ignore your kids and household responsibilities, as our kids are our priority,” says Fauzia.
Hynie and Jibeen’s report concludes that women may be happier in more egalitarian marriages, regardless of where they reside.
However, it cautions against imposing Western values and ideologies on immigrant communities.
It suggests instead that supporting women to negotiate their own forms of autonomy in their interpersonal lives might increase women’s life satisfaction more than importing Western structures.
Naheed is happy that in her current job she still has ample opportunity to relax and spend time with her 12-year-old daughter. She also relishes the authority it gives her.
“I feel like a king, when traffic stops all around my bus when I put up the signals,” she concludes.
This is the second part in a three-part series on changing family dynamics and what it means for women immigrants in Canada. The first part, "In Canada, South Asian Women Find Social Freedom", discusses how women are socially empowered once they reach Canada. If you are an immigrant who has experienced significant social change in your life after arriving in Canada, please contact email@example.com.
by Beatrice Paez in Toronto
Asking seniors subtle questions about their daily routines opens up dialogue – and can point to signs of elder abuse, which rarely reveals itself in obvious ways.
Nirpal Bhangoo-Sekhon often asks seniors she meets about what they’ve been eating, who handles their finances and if their basic needs are being met. It is her job as case manager of the Punjabi Community Health Services (PCHS) to be curious.
“Unfortunately, if we don't ask those questions, we wouldn't know what's happening,” she says. “It gives you a better picture of what goes on at home.”
In a 2009 report, Statistics Canada found that two-thirds of seniors who experienced family violence – physical force or threats – didn't sustain injuries. Seniors most at risk, based on reports to the police, are between 65 and 74.
During her one-on-one meetings with seniors, Bhangoo-Sekhon will also illustrate scenarios to raise awareness of how common an issue elder abuse is. Holding such conversations regularly helps ease reservations about breaking their silence, which can take months, if not longer, she says.
Reluctance to speak up
While elder abuse cuts across different cultural groups, they may contend with different obstacles.
Language barriers and distrust in the police – mostly worries about being deported – aren't the only concerns stacked heavily against the decision to come forward, says Kripa Sekhar, the executive director of the South Asian Women's Centre (SAWC) in Toronto.
There's the perception that speaking out would fracture family ties and bring shame on the community.
“I don't think they want to be seen as a community that's going to expose their families or seen as betraying their families," says Sekhar. "They've almost accepted that ‘this is what's meant for me.’”
Burial customs can also play a role in the struggle to come forward for seniors of certain faiths.
With funeral rites traditionally being the responsibility of the son or a male family member, some express concern that their spiritual needs will not be looked after if they speak out, says Sekhar. “They're not worried about today. They're worried about the afterlife. It's hard to understand that – you're struggling in this life, but it's such a part of who they are.”
Abuse isn't limited to physical violence; it can extend to the withholding of financial resources, verbal threats and isolation from the household, she explains.
Statistical profiles on elder abuse as it relates to the South Asian community aren't traced by front-line agencies such as the police and social services. Statistics Canada instead analyzes the prevalence of family violence along gender lines, while acknowledging that cultural groups have different attitudes about what constitutes abuse.
Possibilities for intervention
The immediate response to cases of physical abuse might be to find alternative housing, but in other instances, intervention through education is crucial, says Bhangoo-Sekhon.
"If we can go in and educate the families – that, in the end, would be much more helpful and useful for the community than just pulling seniors out [of the home] and placing them in shelters," she says.
Finding subsidized housing or placing elders in shelters isn't always the most feasible solution in cases of neglect or isolation, particularly if they're not used to living independently and are in need of a personal support worker, she says.
PCHS has a caregiver support program, an extension of its efforts to address elder abuse, which is offered to those who are caring for family members. It is intended to relieve the strain of household demands. The program attempts to engender a culture of empathy, recognizing that the caregiver may be stressed, while getting him or her to understand the vulnerabilities that seniors face.
"We help them understand the aging process," says Bhangoo-Sekhon, adding that changes in a senior's behaviour may create friction within the family if it's not recognized as a health issue.
"[It's to help] them understand what's happening to their body, their brain, and that's out of their control."
Networks for seniors living alone
SAWC, through its community network, tries to locate housing for seniors so they can live independently, but finding affordable housing can take an average of seven years, according to the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association. Thirty per cent of seniors make up the wait list, as cited by the Toronto Star from the organization's 2015 report.
Sekhar communicates regularly with seniors who live independently and tries to ensure that their landlords are responsive to building safety issues. "Many say they do that, but their concerns aren't always attended to," she says.
SAWC holds a seniors’ workshop every Thursday where they can gather to discuss health and safety issues, along with abuse. It's a support network for seniors who live on their own, where they feel comfortable conversing in their mother tongue, says Sekhar.
"Housing for seniors should be guaranteed," says Sekhar. "They need enough funding to live in dignity."
by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto
As the federal government prepares to table its 2016 immigration targets by March 9, Immigration Minister John McCallum has indicated that it would be more positively inclined towards international students.
Terming foreign students as “the perfect immigrants,” McCallum said the previous Conservative government took the wrong direction when it took away the 50 per cent residency time credit for them and other temporary residents when applying to become permanent residents.
He said this in a one-on-one conversation with Ratna Omidvar, Executive Director, Global Diversity Exchange, at the 2016 Cities of Migration conference in Toronto on Wednesday. The forum was held in the lead up to the 18th National Metropolis Conference that opened today.
"It was the dumbest thing to do because if there's any group who would become good Canadians, it's them. They're educated, they know this country, they speak English or French. So why punch them in the nose when we're trying to attract them here in competition with other countries?"
McCallum said the Express Entry immigration selection system, the key change to the economic immigration stream made by the previous government, was also being reviewed. The Liberal party election platform had proposed that candidates with siblings in Canada should be granted additional points under the system.
McCallum said now that his party's election promise on the Syrian refugees has been met, streamlining his department would be his new top priority.
This would include reducing the processing times for people already in the immigration system.
“We have learnt a lot from fast-tracking the Syrians in how inefficiencies can be eliminated,” the minister said. "I am ashamed that we, a country who view ourselves as being open to newcomers, should take two years to bring together husband and wife and even longer to bring in parents and grandparents."
He said some processes are not necessary and his government would be applying risk management principles to bring in families quicker. “This is how we want to bring about ‘real change’ without increasing risks to Canadians.” But he cautioned that the changes to reduce processing delays are not going to happen overnight.
Multi-year immigration plan
Asked by Omidvar on why the federal government goes about setting annual immigration targets instead of taking a more long-term view, McCallum said he would soon present a multi-year plan.
He said the government will be announcing the 2016 immigration levels plan in Parliament next week.
“While we would need a bigger pie to accommodate all the demands, we only have a certain capacity to increase our numbers. And we need to balance the competing demands.”
He listed them as:
Last year’s immigration levels plan had made a provision for a maximum of 285,000 immigrants. That pie was to be divided among 186,700 economic immigrants, 68,000 family class immigrants and 30,200 from the humanitarian stream.
Record intake of immigrants likely
In contrast, 19,000 Syrian refugees have already been resettled in the first two months of 2016 and the Liberals have pledged to resettle another 10,000 government-assisted Syrian refugees by year end.
And if McCallum makes true his commitment to increase the intake by even 15,000, the Justin Trudeau government would be the first to admit more than 300,000 new immigrants in one year since 1913.
On whether the focus on Syrian refugees would lead to cutbacks to other refugees and immigration streams and also welfare programs, McCallum said Canada would still accept refugees at the same pace from other parts of the world, but the rush to get Syrians into the country was both warranted and the right thing to do.
“I make no apologies to anybody. The Syrian crisis was the worst such crisis the world has faced in a decade and most Canadians agree with that. And we can always do more than one thing at once.”
Although privately sponsored refugees from Syria have to start paying their own airfare now that government-organized flights out of the Middle East have ceased, McCallum said the government is now considering paying the travel costs of all refugees Canada resettles in the future.
The federal government has been providing refugees loans to help them pay for required medical exams and travelling to Canada for decades. McCallum said that cancelling the loans is one of the options the Liberals are considering ahead of their first budget on Mar. 22.
"We were covering the travel costs for privately sponsored refugees [from Nov. 4 to Feb. 29] because most of them came on planes leased by the government,” McCallum said.
Canadians who sponsored Syrian refugees who arrived before Nov. 4 have complained that the Liberal government created a two-tier system when it decided to waive the travel costs for privately sponsored refugees who arrived in Canada after the Liberals were sworn into power on that date.
by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City
Flesh, Tongue, Yaya Yao’s first collection of poetry, brings you to a crossroads where you have a desire for belonging in the place you feel is home, but must first understand why your parents’ own upbringing makes finding acceptance such a struggle.
It is another example of how the need to reconcile with the past is felt across cultures and spans generations.
Yao’s collection recounts her adolescence between paradigms – past and present; tradition and modernity; a new home and the one left behind.
These are the fragmentations many children of immigrant parents experience, especially when they grow up in a culture that is markedly different from the one of their parents.
Yao’s poems, 44 in total, tell of the need for a continuous narrative and context for one’s place in the world. Her words, which sometimes appear scattered on the page and non-linear in form, symbolize this process of tying different histories together.
Language, history, family
Yao dedicated Flesh, Tongue to her father, Eugene Yong-Ging Yao, “who said he never got my poems.” Still, she made an effort to “get” him and her mother by learning their languages and sharing them in her writing.
Her poetry mixes Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, and Shanghainese – sometimes translating these dialects into English to reveal similarities and contrasts.
To someone unfamiliar with these languages, they demonstrate that one’s identity can be made both richer and more complicated with their knowledge. The harsh-sounding words on the page force us to appreciate the challenges of learning a language that sounds and even feels different on our tongues from the one in which we were raised.
Chinese culture’s emphasis on ancestors and honour also emanates from Yao’s retellings. They express a definition of family that goes beyond a biological, skin-deep bond to something much deeper, embedded in historical psyche.
There is also a reference to the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Knowledge of our past, and the significance it holds for our parents, forces us to embrace and hold on to these fragments of our ancestry as we build our own identities.
Yao was born and raised in the Parkdale and Little Portugal neighbourhoods of Toronto. These communities are built on many histories that have been uprooted from around the world and will continue to change as new narratives take form.
She tells her story in a unique voice, yet the nostalgia created by her images is a familiar sensation to anyone who has grappled with understanding where they came from and whether they ended up in the right place.
Dundas Street evokes memories
Yao’s “living room over dundas” symbolizes many of the homes immigrants have built for themselves in Canada’s bustling metropolises.
For me, Dundas Street brings back images of my earliest memories, spent with my Iranian grandparents in Dixie, a neighbourhood in southeast Mississauga. I knew at the time that, when we walked outside in one direction, we would arrive at the park where Grandfather would push me on the swing.
When we went in the other direction, we would cross a busy street to get to Chinatown, where I would skip from stone to stone in the pond around the imperially decorated gazebo.
The street was Dundas, which I now know goes a long way beyond our old neighbourhood and is a meeting place for people from even further away.
The Afghani bakery, the Latino pharmacy, the Indian restaurant – they all hold the histories of many immigrants who came to Canada and undoubtedly struggled to find their footing.
Like my grandparents and parents, they felt the strain of trying to fit the familiar pieces of their ancestral homeland into the strange spaces of a new home, many miles away.
Their children – like Yao, and like me – grew up learning that their paths do not start and stop outside their home, but cross continents and oceans. Carrying these narratives is both our burden and our blessing.
Reflecting on one’s past can induce grieving for what is lost, but also the recognition that there are parts of ourselves we can regain. Yao’s memories – built with colours, feelings and scents – not only tell of desperate times, but also of times when uncertainty was less destabilizing, before it beckoned us to question our place within our families, in society and in history.
“meet your younger
eyes, ones that never
doubt that you, now
are doing what you
Rosanna Haroutounian is a freelance writer and the assignment editor at New Canadian Media. She studied journalism and political science at Carleton University and now splits her time between Quebec City and Peterborough, ON.
by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver
In this week’s round-up of what’s been making headlines in Canada’s ethnic media: faith-based organizations are at the forefront of Syrian refugee resettlement efforts; Taiwan’s elections are lauded as a step towards democracy in China and members of Vancouver’s Sikh community are helping to spread the love this Valentine’s Day.
Refugee crisis brings back painful memories for Jewish community
Faith-based organizations in Canada play a pivotal role in resettling refugees during crises, one not often undertaken in other countries, according to a panel hosted by the Intercultural Dialogue Institute of the Greater Toronto Area earlier this month.
Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders explained to an audience on Feb. 5 that unlike in other countries, where the government has greater control over resettlement processes, in Canada, many faith communities make efforts to privately sponsor families and assist them in their transition period.
As reported in The Canadian Jewish News (CJN), the Jewish community has stepped up significantly to assist in the ongoing crisis. In total, 35 groups working with Jewish Immigrant Aid Services (JIAS) have formed sponsorship initiatives. Even more have formed independent sponsorship groups looking to bring Syrian families to Canada.
The Canadian Jewish community has a long history of supporting incoming refugees. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the community actively sponsored many Vietnamese families escaping the aftermath of the Vietnam war.
Naomi Alboim, professor and chair of the policy forum at the school of policy studies at Queen’s University and one of the panellists at the event, explained to the CJN that the current anti-refugee movement sweeping Europe “brings back painful memories” for the Jewish community.
“We’re responding to this crisis as Jews, because it’s the right, humanitarian thing to do,” she said. “We’re paying it forward.”
This faith community is not alone in its endeavours. Toronto’s Muslim and Catholic communities have also stepped forward to contribute in some way. Some synagogues have even joined mosques or churches to submit joint applications to sponsor Syrian families.
The article makes note of an event in December, during which Jewish communities in Vancouver fundraised to bring two Kurdish families to Canada.
Taiwan election heralded as beginning of democracy in China
Panellists lauded Taiwan’s recent election of its first female president, Tsai Ing-wen, as a sign that “democracy is compatible with Chinese culture” at a recent event hosted by the Canada-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Group.
The forum, held on Jan. 28, discussed the election that saw the former opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party, beat the Kuomintang with 56 per cent of the popular vote. Known for being pro-China, the Kuomintang has ruled Taiwan for the past eight years.
This is also the first time that the Kuomintang has lost control of the legislature.
Panellist Andre Laliberte, a professor at the University of Ottawa, told Epoch Times after the event, “It is proof that people who have Chinese culture can have democracy, and democracy is compatible with Chinese culture.”
Laliberte was joined on the panel by Wu Rong-chuan, the newly arrived representative for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, or the Taiwanese embassy in Canada. Wu told the Times that he felt voters had acted more rationally during this election than in years past and that policies were well discussed.
“There was little sensational language during the election,” he said.
Canadian Senator Michael MacDonald expressed his hopes that this victory would mark the beginning of significant change in what is “going to be the big, emerging real quest in mainland China for democracy.”
“If you want to see what China could do with democracy — go to Taiwan,” he said.
Sikh volunteers spread the love this Valentine’s Day
Sikh organizations in Vancouver are scrambling this weekend as they finish collecting 900 roses, chocolates and greeting cards to distribute to shelters across the Lower Mainland for Valentine’s Day.
Hosted by Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen and Global Girl Power in partnership with Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar, this annual event sees donors and volunteers working for several weeks to raise money and organize the logistics for the big day.
“Sikhs believe in Guru Nanak’s philosophy to love all and feed all,” Roveen Kandola tells The Indo-Canadian Voice.
Kandola, who works with Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen, adds, “It’s important that during these times, we think of those less fortunate and make their day much brighter.”
Over the past three years, this initiative has reached over 100 shelters in Vancouver’s Lower Mainland including Burnaby Safe House, Elizabeth Gurney House and Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter.
The intent of the event is to give women and children at these locations “the opportunity to experience a more enjoyable Valentine’s Day,” the Voice reports.
Irene de Ocampo at Elizabeth Gurney House says she is very thankful for the work of these volunteers and donors. “Our residents (moms and kids) truly appreciate your generosity.”
All packages will be distributed to shelters this weekend.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit