Commentary by Andrew Griffith in Ottawa
The just-concluded National Metropolis Conference is an annual forum for researchers, policy makers and immigrant-service organizations. This year the conference was held in Montreal.
Here are some of the themes covered and my take on them:
Integration – The Search for a New Metaphor: This session, prompted by the Canadian Index for Measuring Integration (CIMI) discussions on the meaning and definition of integration (and my Integration and multiculturalism: Finding a new metaphor – Policy Options) drew a good crowd (60-70 persons).
I opened with my critique of the “two-way street” metaphor by emphasizing that it did not capture the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of immigration, presenting my preferred metaphor, harmony/jazz, where harmony represents the underlying framework of laws and institutions, and jazz the improvisation involved in resolving accommodation demands.
Mort Weinfeld of McGill University drew from the personal experience of his parents and talking to cab drivers, noting that integration of the second generation is key. His preferred metaphor is the roundabout, with multiple points of entry and exit, with traffic moving smoothly.
Richard Bourhis of UQAM provided a Quebec perspective, looking at how Quebec language policies were characteristic of an assimilationist approach.
Elke Winter of the University of Ottawa drew from her analysis of European policies and practices and noted a third dimensions, that of outside actors and transnational forces (e.g., other countries, home communities of immigrants), and that integration was more a three-way than two-way process.
The presentations prompted considerable discussion, although no one jumped to the defence of the ‘two-way street.’
Thinking about next year, this is a topic that merits further exploration, perhaps involving some literary descriptions or metaphors.
Citizenship – Factors Underlying a Declining Naturalization Rate: In the only session on citizenship, Prof. WInter opened the workshop with an overview of how Canadian citizenship has evolved over the last 150 years, setting out four phases: colonized citizenship (pre-1947), nationalizing citizenship (1947-76), de-ethnicising citizenship (1977-2008) and re-nationalizing citizenship (2009-15) with a possible fifth phase emerging under the Liberal government. She presented some preliminary findings from an interview-based study.
I followed with my usual presentation of citizenship statistics, showing the impact of previous policy and administrative changes along with an assessment of the 2014 Conservative changes and Liberal partial repeal of these changes (currently in the Senate).
Jessica Merolli of Sheridan presented the key MIPEX naturalization indicators and data from the European Social Survey comparing immigrant/non-immigrant attitudes on issues such as self-sufficiency, interests in politics, LGBT acceptance and others and how over time in the country of immigration differences declined. The most striking exception was with respect to interest in politics, where immigrants, no matter how short or long the time, were more interested than non-immigrants.
Questions of note included do we need a citizenship knowledge test given that it presents barriers for some groups, and the impact that the physical presence requirement has on families when one parent has to work abroad given difficulties in obtaining well-paying work in Canada.
Minority Voice, Identity and Inclusion – Media and Literary Expressions: A mix of a case study (Punjabi media by Syeda Bukhari where she noted the ethnic media was getting more sophisticated in comparing what politicians said to English and ethnic media and thus holding them to account) and the overall contribution ethnic media provides to integration (Madeline Ziniak, current chair of the Canadian Ethnic Media Association (CEMA)).
Myer Siemiatycki of Ryerson University gave a fascinating presentation regarding the person and poetry of Julian Tuwin, a Polish Jew (or Jewish Pole) whose loyalty and identity were attacked by both sides.
Negotiating “fit” – Connections Between Employer Mindsets/Practices and Labour Market Success of Newcomers: Kelly Thomson of York University provided an overview of the issue of “fit” and presented a case study of foreign-trained accountants. Aamna Ashraf of the Peel Newcomer Strategy Group (near Toronto) presented the results of a study on soft barriers, with focused and practical recommendations. Madeline Ng of Autodata and Nancy Moulday of TD Bank presented how their respective organizations encourage and facilitate diversity in their workforces.
Fitting In: Identity and belonging among second generation Canadians: Elizabeth Burgess-Pinto of MacEwan University organized this roundtable discussion focussing on the second generation. A number of second generation (and generation 1.5) participants shared their experiences, challenges and identities.
Andrew Griffith is the author of Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism and is a regular media commentator and blogger (Multiculturalism Meanderings). This commentary was adapted slightly from his blog post on the conference. He is the former Director General for Citizenship and Multiculturalism and has worked for a variety of government departments in Canada and abroad.
Commentary by Natalya Chernova in Toronto
On Friday, Mar. 4, I attended the 18th National Metropolis Conference, hungry for new information and curious to find out whether my area of expertise – ethnic media – was covered.
The forum subtitled “Getting Results: Migration, Opportunities and Good Governance” welcomed researchers, policy makers, community and government representatives from all over Canada to exchange experience and ideas on the issues of immigration, settlement and integration.
Among diverse topics presented were recent statistics and migration trends, personal experiences and professional observations of the immigration policies, labour issues and programs, academic studies on family integration and even happiness levels among recent immigrants.
All these sessions painted a clear and colourful picture of Canada’s immigration future – steady, progressive growth of the number of new immigrants with diverse ethnic backgrounds and diverse personal and professional needs. Among those needs are information and a sense of community – key components of what the ethnic media provides.
A significant tool for outreach
Integration and inclusion, also part of the ethnic media’s role, were some of the most discussed issues that day, with Yolande James, former Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities of the Government of Quebec, summarizing it with a statement that “governments must create an engaging environment where immigrants can reach their full potential”.
The common agreement among the presenters though was that governments have not yet done enough to establish the level of support that would allow immigrants feel fully accepted and integrate easily into Canadian society.
In addition, Canadian Refugee and Immigration Lawyer El-Farouk Khaki noted that the second and third generations of racialized immigrants generally tend to be closer to their ethnic groups than the first generation. “The more discrimination people face, the closer they feel to their ethnic groups.”
However, despite a common understanding of increasing immigration trends and the impact of ethnic communities on newcomers’ integration experience, surprisingly no presentations or workshops mentioned the role of the ethnic, multilingual media in new immigrants’ lives.
As part of a team of ethnic media consultants, I see stories on immigration, integration, education and legal issues, labour, health and safety, immigrant challenges and struggles every day, and yet ethnic media seems not to be on the radar of policy makers and service providers as one of the most valuable resources on immigration they can find.
Following the ethnic media would seem to be a significant part of the outreach equation of what Ryerson University professor April Lindgren calls “A Settlement Service in Disguise” in her pioneer case study on the City of Brampton’s municipal communication strategies and ethnic media (2015, Global Media Journal -- Canadian Edition Volume 8, Issue 2, pp. 49-71.)
The divide from mainstream media
When asked about it, government officials acknowledge the importance of ethnic media, but admit that it’s not being used to its full potential. There is still separation between mainstream media and ethnic media press conferences, message and language specifics.
But does there have to be? Shouldn’t ethnic media be an integral part of the communication mix, a two way channel for an open dialogue between governments, service providers and immigrant communities?
After all, with growing immigration and yet-to-be-improved integration processes, ethnic media will continue to grow and be a viable component of immigrant life in Canada. So why not make it a powerful tool in creating an engaging society where everyone can reach their full potential?
Metropolis 2016, while having presented lots of valuable information and opinions, left these questions unanswered for me right now.
Natalya Chernova is a MIREMS Ethnic Media Expert.
This article was first published on MIREMS. It has been re-published with permission.
by Marcus Medford in Toronto
Settlement agencies in Canada’s Atlantic provinces are working closely with provincial governments to better service immigrants, but say they need federal support to attract newcomers to smaller communities.
The provinces and territories select which immigrants they want to accept based on their local economic needs. In the past 15 years, the number of immigrants settling in the Maritimes has increased, but their numbers remain the lowest of all the provinces, explained Ather H. Akbari, an economics professor at St. Mary’s University in Halifax.
“Larger provinces are traditional destinations for immigrants and have established communities with multiple religious and ethnic institutions, which help immigrants with aspects of settlement, but [these resources] are scarce in Atlantic Canada,” he explained, while leading a workshop titled “Economic Integration of Immigrants in Atlantic Canada,” at the 18th National Metropolis Conference in Toronto earlier this month.
The five steps of economic integration are home ownership, car ownership, citizenship, English proficiency and earning a better income said Akbari. These five things are indicators that newcomers to Canada are invested in their new destination and intend to stay.
Akbari noted that the retention rates of immigrants in Atlantic Canada are low even in regions with large ethnic communities.
“If the networks are not instrumental then there is clearly a need for government policy and settlement agencies to play a larger role in immigrant settlement and integration,” he said.
Resources for Entrepreneurs
In New Brunswick, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) has partnered with the government to provide financial support for French-speaking immigrant entrepreneurs in an effort to retain the francophone community.
Attracting and retaining immigrants in rural areas can be difficult admitted Paul-Emile David, senior policy analyst for ACOA. David and ACOA work closely with businesses, governments and research institutions to find and develop entrepreneurial opportunities.
“We offer programs, initiatives and support so entrepreneurial activities can take place in these areas,” he said.
There are more than 40 Community Business Development Corporations (CBDCs) in Atlantic Canada, many of which are in rural areas.
Entrepreneurial initiatives need access to financing, resources and business skills development courses, David explained. One example of this is Island Advance in Prince Edward Island, which stimulates entrepreneurial projects and helps immigrants recognize good business opportunities.
More funding for integration supports
As of the end of February, 25,000 Syrian refugees had arrived in Canada, and by the end of the year that total is expected to reach 50,000, making localized support for integration a key issue across the country.
“We’re hoping that Ottawa will provide some strategic investments very soon in order to put the supports that are needed in place as soon as possible,” said Chris Friesen, director of settlement services with the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.
He said he hopes that the new federal funding plan for the provinces and territories, along with help from local agencies, will speed up the process of matching immigrants and refugees with language courses.
For some immigrants and refugees learning English can be the most challenging part of integration.
It can take up to 16 months for newcomers to Canada to be accepted into federally funded language courses. Some have reported feeling “trapped” because of their lack of English knowledge, meaning they can’t fully interact with society.
One of the reasons for the long wait-times to get into language programs is a lack of funding and resources. Wait-times also tend to be longer in bigger cities.
Challenges with government-assisted stream
Of the 25,000 Syrian refugees more than half of them are government-assisted, the others are sponsored privately or with some support from the government.
For refugees and immigrants alike, one of the most important steps to settling into Canada is finding a job and becoming economically independent.
Approximately 14 per cent of government-assisted refugees find work within their first year of being in Canada compared to more than 50 per cent of those who are privately assisted.
“One of the unique challenges for government-assisted refugees is that they’re funded by the federal government for one year,” explained Nabiha Atallah, communications and outreach manager at the settlement agency ISANS (Immigration Services Association of Nova Scotia). “After that they need to support themselves or go on social assistance, but they want to work. They really want to work.”
Atallah spoke during the workshop about strategies for economic integration for immigrants.
She explained that for some immigrants and refugees, finding a job isn’t just a matter of earning an income, but helps with overcoming the depression, frustration and feelings of loss of self or status that can accompany relocating.
Even highly skilled immigrants with work experience, education and English proficiency are experiencing difficulty finding jobs, Atallah said.
ISANS works with several companies to understand their employer needs and to develop training curricula so that immigrants and refugees know what it takes to work at a particular business or organization.
Matching clients’ interests, skills and abilities with the right employers and planning with end goals in mind are some of the keys to successful job searching, Atallah explained.
“We also do a lot of work with interview skills because a lot of that is culture-laden. In some countries they don’t have interviews at all and if they do, they don’t look like ours.”
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by Tazeen Inam in Toronto
Religion plays a major role in the lives of many refugees, making it an important consideration for religious-based aid groups sponsoring those of other faiths.
Paul Bramadat from the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria, made this point while leading the forum on “Refugees and Religion: Push, Pull and the Politics of Crisis” at the 18th National Metropolis Conference in Toronto earlier this month.
“We know that Anglican United Church [of Canada] and Catholic church groups are heavily responsible for lots of immigrant and refugee settlement activities in the last many decades,” Bramadat said.
Suzanne Rumsey of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, representing the Anglican Church of Canada, said, “In our ways of working, we are an Anglican way of sponsoring the needs of the world, not the needs of Anglicans of the world.”
“Our mandate is to respond to refugees based on need, not on faith or religion,” she added.
An integral part of faith groups
One of the founding members of Lifeline Syria, Naomi Alboim, a professor at Queen’s University, applauded the private sponsorship approach by various faith communities.
“The Syrian refugee movement has really revitalized the whole sponsorship movement, I hope forever,” she said.
Alboim found refuge in Canada with her parents - her mother a Jewish survivor of the Second World War.
Thinking back to 1979 when private sponsorship kicked off in Canada, Alboim said that a number of ethno-specific and religious-specific groups were set up particularly to sponsor refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Many Jewish groups came forward to sponsor refugees from Indochina.
Sharing her experience of approaching Jewish faith groups to sponsor Syrians, Alboim said that it was a “brave” thing to do as there had been discussions in the Jewish community about whether it would be appropriate to sponsor Muslims or not.
She applauds the immediate cooperation from the Jewish community, and also her particular synagogue, and said that they are sponsoring refugees not as human beings only, but also as Jewish people.
“It’s really an opportunity for us as a community to put our values into practice, which is repairing the world as an integral part of our faith.”
There are 35 groups among Canada’s Jewish community working together to sponsor Syrian refugees.
Before approaching the Toronto Board of Rabbis, Alboim said she wanted to tackle concerns about Muslim refugees being sponsored by Jewish groups.
“I [didn't] want to reach out to my community and get rebuffed,” she said. “Now a family of five has arrived and another is under process.”
Over-simplifying identities of refugees
Meanwhile, some secular groups have also joined sponsorship efforts, including the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria.
The group found that some are not comfortable sponsoring refugees through faith-based organizations.
“We felt that there was some space for people who wanted to go through a different route,” said Sabine Lehr, representing the group at the forum.
Lehr spoke about the challenge of over-simplifying the identity of incoming refugees as Muslims.
“There is this assumption that they are all the same, but they all have tribal affiliation. They have potentially different political perspectives, particularly complex, given the nature of conflicts they are facing.”
While talking about a large mosque in Victoria, she said that it’s an assumption that all refugees coming in as Muslims will attend the mosque, whether or not they come from a different faction.
Lehr expresses her concern that this dimension is often brushed aside.
“We’ll see where this all leads in the coming months,” she added.
Religion need not be a private matter
There are other challenges related to religious issues that merit consideration, added Lehr.
In her experience, some people were concerned about certain expressions of culture or religion – in particular the wearing of niqab.
“I did get a question in one of my conversations with a potential sponsor,” she recalled. “It was couched in terms of, ‘You know I really have a problem with the niqab because we have a problem if we can’t see somebody’s face.’ It wasn’t really couched in religious terms; it was couched in the terms that I have a problem in interacting with a person face-to-face.”
Bramadat said despite these issues, religion is not a barrier to sponsoring refugees in Canada, the way it is in Europe.
However, the challenge he sees is if a refugee of Muslim faith gets involved in crime, Canadians will immediately grow frightened, as a result of Islamophobia.
“My fear is that as soon as somebody does some bad things, what people see is a Muslim rather than see it’s a guy who made a wrong choice and who is in crisis.”
Bramadat suggested that the solution is to discuss religion openly.
“I think we have to develop the capacity and bravery to have difficult conversations and should not treat religion as a private matter.”
Editor's Note: This report has been updated from a previous version. Alboim was not a survivor of the Second World War, her mother was; as well in 1979, not 1978, when private sponsorship kicked off the focus was on groups from Indochina, not of Jewish faith.
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by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga
New innovative employment programs aim to integrate government-assisted refugees (GARs) into the Canadian labour market.
At the Employment Pathways for Refugees forum at the 18th Metropolis conference 2016 in Toronto, experts discussed how to help refugees find work, not only to help them earn money but also to provide them with a sense of belonging in society.
This is one of several challenges presented by the current large-scale refugee influx that were at the forefront of the panelists’ discussion. These included cultural, language and low-skill barriers.
To tackle these barriers, the private sector is implementing innovative pilot projects based on the demographics and needs of GARs during their first year in Canada.
Creative inclusion of Syrian refugees in BC
The British Colombia Construction Association (BCCA) is one organization with programs to integrate GARs in the B.C. construction industry. The association represents 2,000 employers in the industry.
Abigail Fulton, vice president of the BCCA, explained that the program starts by identifying an existing employee who can speak English and Arabic. With the help of the worker, they identify individuals within refugees groups, assess their abilities, create a pod of workers and help them get their first jobs in Vancouver’s construction industry.
“We just started and identified two pods, one as carpenters and one as roofers,” she says. “These people can have a Canadian experience and a sense of belonging as they move on in the construction industry.”
She said the employers are happy too, as they get to hire people with good experience and who are trained by a bilingual employee.
According to Fulton, there is lot of potential in the province's construction industry based on the projects that are being implemented. She suggests that there will be 45,000 openings in the industry over the next few years.
“Syrians are here just in the nick of time. They have the background of the industry and we want to take advantage of that.”
At the same time, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)’s Policy Innovation Division is planning to test more than 50 projects across the country this fiscal year, all under $5,000 each.
“We have to test with new partners, new models [as to] how can we get Syrian refugees into labour market,” says Natasha Pateman, director of Policy Innovation Division.
The projects work with 500 organization across Canada and aim to tackle the large-scale refugee influx in the future, particularly regarding refugees with low skills and low language abilities. In addition, they intend to help children and women with integration and language support.
“We will test how we can provide programming for children and teach them English and French, provide adults with social connections and employment connections in a great variety all across the country,” she says.
“One of the groups I am working with that provides entrepreneurship facilities to newcomers, they are planning to work with refugee women who want to sew again. We were able to purchase a couple of sewing machines and will now upgrade their skills,” says Pateman
The process of identifying opportunities goes through the National Settlement council, after which settlement working groups further distribute information through their networks.
“Probably in a week, we might have all the contracts done. Then it will take some time to call in lists based on teams and geographical locations,” Pateman explains.
She elaborated on some of the projects that were tested last year, including one with Syrian refugee women in St John’s, Newfoundland.
It was based on identifying different herbs and spices that Syrians use in their foods that are not available in the province. These women were taken to local Sobeys and Bulk Barn grocery stores to find similar items so that they could prepare food from their culture.
“It was an interesting way of social interaction and establishing connections,” adds Pateman.
She says they are talking to both women and men about opportunities in Canada and getting them into the labour market. “We talk to their husbands to let their wives work outside. It’s not negative in Canada, or negative to leave your child at daycare,” she adds.
Employment provides psychological support
Attendees suggested that it’s important from the mental health perspective to integrate traumatized refugees into society.
Dr. Michaela Hynie of York University said this is very important both for one’s sense of belonging in Canada and to feel like one is respected in the society.
“When we think why employment is important, its not just the contribution to a family as income, but also important for other kinds of integration outcomes,” she says.
While she complimented the idea of devising creative ways for refugees to access employment, Hynie says she thinks the employment sector will have to learn more about the challenges refugees face when looking for work.
“Employment is important whether it provides adequate income, whether the employment is secure or whether the employment can provide opportunities for development and growth. It’s important for the individual and for the Canadian society as a whole,” she concludes.
by Shan Qiao in Toronto
Women’s rights advocates are looking for influential Canadian female figures to join a national women’s coalition to raise awareness about women’s issues and get more government funding.
On Mar. 5, the third day of the National Metropolis Conference, a roundtable titled “Changing Support to Women’s Organizations: Implications For Immigrant Women” was hosted by Debbie Douglas, the executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI).
Other presenters included representatives from Status of Women Canada and several frontline workers from different women’s organizations serving specific ethno-cultural groups or geographically located clients.
“The opportunity arose when we brought all different women’s organizations from across the country together,” said Douglas. “What we saw happening was that by the end of it, there was real enthusiasm for a network and very concrete suggestions on holding a national women’s symposium on a broader range of women’s issues.”
A national women’s coalition
What these women’s organizations try to build are networks that include indigenous women, immigrant and refugee women, lesbian and trans-women, and moms facing problems like finding affordable childcare and returning to the workplace.
“We need to get together as Canadians, regardless how long we’ve been in this country,” Douglas urged.
Some issues they want to examine are violence against women across all races, cultures and classes; wage gaps and women not being able to advance in careers because of gender discrimination; and limited childcare spaces.
As a result of an engaging roundtable discussion, one of the participants, Fatima Filippi, the executive director of Rexdale Women’s Centre in Toronto, proposed the idea to form a national women’s coalition to gather different women’s service groups together, asking for government support and sustainable funding.
The roundtable participants brainstormed on who should be involved and suggested groups for immigrant women, mothers, foreign caregivers, women from shelters and feminists.
Participants also proposed inviting influential female figures, such as the Minister of Status of Women Canada Patricia Hajdu and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, who is the prime minister’s wife.
Government funding for women’s organizations has been continuously deteriorating from when it was at its peak in the ’80s, explained Douglas.
Yannick Raymond, regional director of Status of Women Canada in Ontario, comes from one of four locations across the country that works for the ministry to deal with all stakeholders. There used to be 16 locations before former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government took power and closed 12 of them.
Raymond was among a dozen stakeholders who discussed women’s issues from the perspective of the government. She praised Hajdu, who she said has a thorough understanding of current women’s issues based on her past social and community service experience.
As for the new Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, women’s advocates say they are starting to see a change in tone, which at a minimum slows the downfall of the women’s movement in Canada.
“Beginning with Brian Mulroney’s government, we started to see a real cut in social programs, followed by the Liberal government that stayed in power for almost 13 years, who really did deepen cuts, but still had the language and values of supporting women’s organization,” explained Douglas. “In comes Harper. They changed the mandate of Status of Women where all references to women’s equality were removed.”
Douglas continued, “We saw the closing of significant women’s organizations, immigrant women’s organizations, and indigenous women’s organizations.”
Looking forward to change
An earlier workshop, also hosted by Douglas, titled “Impact of Ten Years of Conservative Rule on Women’s Political Organizing”, shared the same perspective on the deteriorating changes to women’s organizations due to funding cuts.
Writer and activist Judy Rebick who gained national prominence as president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women in the early ’90s, quoted statistics from a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on Canada’s inequality index number to explain the funding cuts.
“Twenty years ago, Canada ranked first in women’s equity. Now we are 14th. We were way worse under Harper. The lack of connections between the government and women’s advocacy was huge,” she said.
However, Douglas remains optimistic.
“Come 2015, we see the articulation by a prime minister who talks about the importance of women’s representation. For example, 50 per cent of his cabinet is female, his attention on indigenous issues. He at least articulates a value for wanting to see immigrant and racialized women succeed,” Douglas said of Trudeau, adding, “We’ll have to see what’s in the budget.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
by Priya Ramanujam in Toronto
Immigration and the ‘immigrant experience’ are often used as a smokescreen to mask systemic racism and exclusion.
This is according to Neethan Shan, executive director of the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA), who led a roundtable discussion titled “Equity and Inclusion Across Multiple Terrains” at the 18th National Metropolis Conference on Mar. 4, along with a handful of researchers and service providers.
“Through our work we find that so much of the struggle that immigrants go through is related to race and racism and that inequity and exclusion are tied to race,” Shan said in his opening remarks.
Shan pointed out that systemic racism exists both at the policy level, highlighting the controversial Bill C-24 as an example, and on the ground in many aspects of settlement such as education, recreation and employment.
Racism in employment
When it comes to employment, the expectations of Canadian experience, language proficiency and an understanding of ‘soft skills’, have undertones of racism and exclusion, explained Shan.
“Part of my experience coming to Canada was figuring out what Canadians meant when they said stuff like, ‘Keep your stick on the ice,’ – that is a soft skill,” shared Ikem Opara, who participated in the roundtable and works as a strategy lead at the Ontario Trillium Foundation. “It can be exclusionary when you don’t know that that means something other than take a stick and put it on the ice.”
Admitting he agrees with the idea of "soft skills", though, Opara said the problem with them lies in understanding why some are prioritized over others.
“I don’t think there is any cultural community in the world that does not like resiliency, the issue is what it looks like when it is performed in a cultural community that is not yours.”
One of the panellists, Nadia Jamil, of the Peel Newcomer Strategy Group, explained her organization is conducting a study to unpack the concept of soft skills and why they are a leading factor to newcomers not being able to retain employment.
“If we’re going to continue to see there to be a ‘norm’ in Canada without kind of wondering where that norm came from, there’s going to be a lot of ‘othering’ taking place, which we see a lot of in the workplace,” said Jamil.
Shan explained that sometimes even in the settlement sector this can be reinforced, when career counsellors will remove something from a person’s resume without considering what that experience meant to them, or when they emphasize the importance of a handshake or eye contact without contextualizing it.
“I think [soft skills] is a terminology that’s made up pretty much for exclusion,” stated Umashanie Reddy, executive director at Calgary Bridge Foundation for Youth “I don’t practise it in my organization and I don’t ask for it.”
Assimilation, not integration
Reddy, who was raised in South Africa, said there is definitely covert racism in Canada.
“I grew up in an apartheid regime country and I know exactly when someone’s being racist,” she said. “It’s so under the trenches that you can’t see it. It’s very rife in workplaces.”
Reddy said the challenge for many immigrants is that when they finally land employment, they do not want to jeopardize it by speaking out about racism on the job so their “hands are tied.”
“When we accept people from other countries, then we have to accept the entire package – not half the package,” said Reddy. Otherwise, she added, “we’re no longer talking about integration, we’re talking about assimilation … I don’t think that’s the route we want to go.”
Malissa Bryan, a PhD student in sociology at the University of Guelph, said the current ‘norm’ is Euro-centric, which is problematic as it doesn’t value the rich histories of Canada’s indigenous people or other ethno-cultural communities.
“There’s not enough cultural exchange happening, so when different people come to Canada it should be acceptance on both ends where there’s a joint and new culture formed that’s considered a Canadian culture,” Bryan explained. “There’s a lot of tolerance, but not necessarily inclusion.”
Fighting for change
Shan, and his organization CASSA, have been working on a campaign to raise public awareness in Ontario so that residents will accept and acknowledge that racial inequity – structural, institutional and individualized – exists.
The campaign, Racism Free Ontario, played a role in the province appointing a Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism, Michael Coteau, last month.
Coteau will oversee an Anti-Racism Directorate, which will specifically examine the four ministries of justice, health, education and employment, where systemic racism is most evident, Shan explained.
But, Shan cautioned, just because there’s now a government body established, it doesn’t mean the work is over. For people like him, fighting racism is a lifelong commitment.
Having arrived in Canada at age 16 as a refugee from Sri Lanka, Shan said he has had to work four times harder than his affluent, Caucasian counterpart, to get where he is today.
“It feels like I’m ready to retire now because of the impact of fighting those barriers.”
by Shan Qiao in Toronto
Governments and bureaucrats need to focus less on numbers and more on starting real conversations that tackle critical problems, like race, in ways that engage immigrants rather than shaming them.
“A lot of time when it’s about race, we are afraid to talk about it,” said Yolande James, one of four speakers from the government and legal system who presented at the “Identities, Rights and Migration: A Session on the Intersection of Gender, Race, Class and Sexuality” session at the 18th National Metropolis Conference held in Toronto last week.
“There is a way to have a conversation involving everybody, to be respectful and constructive. Everybody has something to give and we should have an equal life.”
James, a former provincial politician, was the first Black female cabinet minister in Quebec history, serving as Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities & Minister of Family between 2007 and 2014.
As a former provincial government minister, and child of immigrant parents herself, James knows about how inefficient all levels of government are in engaging newcomers into their host country.
“Do we engage immigrant populations? Do we have engaged dialogue?” she asked. “We haven’t done enough.”
She said the lack of society-wide conversations that engage with immigrants sends the message that they do not matter.
“I feel the whole nation, in terms of why the issues touching immigration and diversity [are] important, is not engaged,” she said. “It’s all about being able to engage people to connect with other people’s experience.”
As an example, James pointed to the current challenge of accepting Syrian refugees to Canada. She said that the government needs to pay attention to more than just the number of refugees being accepted.
“Should it be 55,000 or 50,000?” she asked. “There is so much emphasis on the numbers, but it’s not important. It’s about their journey,” she said.
Case in point: Iran sanctions
Another contemporary example is the government’s inefficiency in communicating with immigrants about the sanctions against Iran in 2010 by the former Conservative government.
Theoretically, sanctions against Iran were not meant to target Iranian citizens or Iranians who immigrated to Canada, but instead to put pressure on the Iranian government.
However, a large number of Iranian Canadians were caught in the crossfire and penalized by Canada, said Iranian Canadian lawyer Negar Achtari who practises in Ottawa.
“The impact of the sanctions on Iranian Canadians is everywhere in the ordinary Iranian immigrant’s daily life,” she explained.
“The federal government restricted money wiring from Iran to Canada. Manitoba and Quebec announced they were not accepting Iranian immigrants under [the] investment category. CIBC and TD banks proceeded to close Iranian Canadians' bank accounts, sweeping their assets from chequing accounts to credit cards and mortgages, frozen without notice.”
She also mentioned another resulting impact – the Canadian Border Services Agency seizing Iranians’ belongings upon their arrival to Canada for a time-consuming scrutinization.
“We believe governments are our guardians. What they’ve done is simply wrong,” said Achtari. “When and to whom do these [sanctions] apply? There is only silence from the government. What they tried to say is, ‘figure it out on your own!’”
Despite laws in place, discrimination persists
Avvy Go, human rights lawyer and clinic director at the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, shared her experience of asking for redress and compensation from the Canadian government for the Chinese Head Tax victims and their descendants almost 10 years ago.
She was one of a dozen activists who mobilized many community activities asking the Liberal government at the time, led by Prime Minister Paul Martin, for redress and monetary compensation.
Along with an official apology, the Harper Conservative government gave $20,000 to direct victims who paid a $500 head tax in the early 20th century in order to come to Canada.
According to Canada’s Colour Coded Labour Market report, racialized men are 24 per cent more likely to be unemployed than non-racialized men.
Racialized women have it worse: They’re 48 per cent more likely to be unemployed than non-racialized men.
This many contribute to the fact that racialized women earn 55.6 per cent of the income of non-racialized men.
Go used these figures to highlight that although anti-racism and anti-homophobia laws are in place, discrimination continues to exist.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit