by Diba Hareer in Ottawa
Her story reads like a movie script.
Twenty years ago, Maryam Monsef fled the brutal rule of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and now, two decades later, she has become the first Muslim to be appointed a cabinet minister in the federal government.
In 1996, Monsef’s mother and her three daughters settled in Peterborough, Ont. after Iran refused to grant them refuge.
“It is the kindness and the support that my family and I received from the people of Peterborough-Kawartha that is at the heart of the service that I intend to give to the people of this riding,” says the Minister of Democratic Institutions.
Campaigning in a small town
Monsef says the fact that she grew up in a smaller community allowed her to build networks. It was easier for her to create connections in Peterborough, a city of less than 80,000 people.
“It is possible to plant seeds in this community because of its size, and to see those seeds grow, and to see that you can have an impact when you come together and collaborate.”
Monsef is also the first female Member of Parliament (MP) ever elected in the riding Peterborough-Kawartha. It’s an achievement she attributes to a lot of hard work.
During the 60-day election campaign she and her team knocked on 70,000 doors and held 10 different roundtable discussions with the community.
At these meetings she outlined her priorities for the riding. She campaigned for the Liberals on good sustainable jobs, preservation of the environment, health care and access to services for seniors.
According to Monsef attracting and retaining newcomers to her riding is critical for the prosperity of the district.
“Over a 160 different groups and individuals have been meeting for over five years and [have] developed strategies and action items devoted specifically to that mandate of creating a more welcoming community for newcomers to our area.”
She adds that her riding continues its efforts to be a welcoming community to newcomers and Canadian immigrants.
Strengthening democratic institutions
While she was born in a country with a lack of human rights, it will be Monsef’s responsibility to strengthen Canada’s democracy as Minister of Democratic Institutions.
Monsef describes the scope of her job as “broad”, encompassing Senate reform, electoral reform and elections spending.
“The way I see my job I believe is to restore and to strengthen Canadians' respect and appreciation for these democratic institutions that we are so privileged to have.”
She would also like to see more women’s participation in Canadian politics.
Monsef says she is grateful for the women who paved the way before her and hopes to do the same for others who follow.
Inspiring Afghan Canadians
For Afghans in Canada the news of Monsef’s appointment as a cabinet minister broke at the same time with the news of the horrific stoning of a young girl in Ghor, a northwestern province in Afghanistan.
Amid the horror in Ghor, Afghans welcomed the news of Monsef’s appointment with delight and surprise.
Adeena Niazi, the Executive Director of Afghan Women’s Organization in Toronto is of the view that refugees are too often perceived to be a burden and treated as unequal members of society, but that Monsef’s election has the power to change that.
“Monsef’s election is helping to build the image of refugees and trust of Canadian society in them. It decreases the discrimination against refugees in society.”
Monsef forces the public to re-think their perception of Afghan women, Niazi adds.
“The international media has portrayed Afghan women as victims, listeners and oppressed, but since Monsef’s election everyone has come to realize that Afghan women are not just silent victims; they have strength and ability.”
Khalid Mirzamir, an Afghan Canadian immigration counsellor in Ottawa, says Monsef’s story is one of hope and inspiration.
“Maryam’s election reminds all of us as immigrants that Canada is a country where it gives everyone the opportunity to grow.”
Hope is what Frozan Rahmani felt after Monsef was elected. The Toronto-based student followed the campaign closely and shed tears of joy when Monsef’s victory was announced.
Rahmani is awed by the fact that it was Monsef’s mother who was the key to the minister’s success.
After fleeing the Taliban, Monsef’s mother started life from scratch with her three daughters in Canada. The difficult task is a shared experience for many immigrants in this country.
“I am not happy because we share the same heritage as Afghans, but because I know that she has risen from a society that has pains, from a culture that in the 21st century does not value women,” says Rahmani. “We have witnessed the stoning of women. But Maryam did rise in Canada and made us proud.”
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 Samantha Lui in Toronto
As Syrian refugees make their way to Canada, medical professionals and volunteers across the country are busy prepping to assist in medical care services.
About 900 to 1,000 refugees are expected to land in Canada – primarily at airports in Toronto and Montreal – daily in the coming weeks.
With those numbers, Dr. Paul Caulford, the co-founder of The Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Health Care (CCRIHC), says there is a need for more volunteers to help out with medical care.
“[We’re] looking at issues like settlement, housing and mental health,” Caulford says, noting that his volunteers are hoping to increase the hours they work, as well as operate a clinic on Saturdays.
“We have a shortage of providers as it is. We are trying to ramp up our volunteers.”
So far, nurses, midwives, pediatricians and social workers have offered to assist the influx of refugees coming to Canada. Medication such as antibiotics has also been donated to help with the effort.
“We don’t know the level at which these individuals are going to be injured, traumatized, wounded, sick or unhealthy,” Caulford says, noting that he’s seen refugees with bullet wounds and deformities as a result of being shot.
He adds that pediatric care and mental health also remain a priority.
“I think [the best thing] for children and youth new to Canada is to have their full family unit together and to get those kids into playgrounds and schoolyards as soon as we can, so they can kick a soccer ball and not run away from a bomb,” he says.
“That’s been shown to be one of the healthiest things you can do for mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s to get them playing with the other children.”
But while he and several volunteer medical professionals are busy prepping for refugee arrivals, Caulford concludes that the stress of it all will ultimately benefit Canada’s health-care system in the long run.
“We think this is going to make us better at managing surge issues and managing increasing demands within the health-care system,” he says.
“It’s going to teach us of other surges that are to come [and teach us] how to organize ourselves better.”
WelcomePack Encourages Canadians to Welcome Newcomers
Something as simple as saying “hello” is all it takes to welcome a newcomer to Canada.
WelcomePack Canada has launched the Welcome a Newcomer campaign, an initiative that taps the spirit of acknowledging new immigrants and encourages Canadians to reach out to a newcomer and send them a virtual greeting card.
The e-card showcases the beauty of the Canadian landscape, people and values. It also has a poem encouraging newcomers to experience Canada’s national parks and cultural events.
Along with the e-card, newcomers will also receive a free WelcomePack gift box that includes a guide giving them tips on how to settle in a new country among other items.
“We meet many newcomers to Canada in our community, our workplace and at social engagements,” says Andrew Srinarayan, vice president of WelcomePack, in a press release.
“Through this act of friendship and hospitality, let us reach out to make them feel welcome in their new home country and make a new friend.”
Young Immigrants Achieve Higher Success Rates in School
Immigrant students have a higher success rate in education, according to a study by Statistics Canada.
The study takes a look at the education rates in regions across the country, including Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan as well as the Atlantic provinces.
In every region, those who immigrated before the age of 15 had high school and university completion rates that were higher than third- or higher-generation Canadians.
In Canada as a whole, 40 per cent of immigrants from the ages 25 to 29 had a university degree in 2011.
Only 26 per cent of third- or higher-generation individuals were in the same group.
The study also examines the regional differences in the reading and math skills of immigrant children aged 15. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) measured these stats between 2000 and 2012.
At the national level, immigrant students scored similarly in math, but had slightly lower reading scores than third- or higher-generation students.
The lower reading levels likely reflect the fact that neither English nor French is the first language of many immigrant students.
But while immigrants were more likely to have degrees in all provinces, there were differences among the regions.
British Columbia had the highest proportion of immigrants with a university degree in 2011 at 44 per cent.
The university completion rates of immigrants were lower in the combined region of Manitoba and Saskatchewan (29 per cent) as well as in Quebec (32 per cent). (Photo Credit: Leland Francisco via Flickr CC)
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by Belen Febres in Vancouver
Immigrating to a new country can put a strain on a person’s mental health and well-being. Art therapy, one of the disciplines being recognized in November as part of arts and health month, can have positive benefits for newcomers’ mental health.
“Moving to another country can be an exciting experience, but it can also be nerve-racking or sad,” explains art therapist Debbie Anderson. “Art making can help people find the inner peace that they may have lost in the migration process.”
According to Arts Health Network Canada (AHNC), arts and health is an interdisciplinary field that embraces different forms of art to promote health, prevent diseases and enhance health service delivery. There are multiple arts and health initiatives available across Canada.
AHNC’s communications coordinator, Zara Contractor, mentions that the World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as an individual's complete physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual well-being, and not only as the absence of disease.
“The arts can positively impact all these dimensions in different ways,” Contractor says.
Art as therapy
Contractor highlights the importance of making a distinction between expressive or creative arts therapies from other arts and health practices within the field.
Expressive art therapy focuses on art making as a therapeutic process, while other arts and health practices focus on engaging people in the arts for reasons such as enjoyment, education, distraction from illness, social connection and self-exploration.
Different materials and techniques, such as colouring, painting, collage, clay and weaving are used in expressive art therapy.
Moreover, expressive art therapies are regulated by professional associations and require a postgraduate or master’s degree.
Mehdi Naimi, president of the Canadian Art Therapy Association (CATA), explains that only qualified art therapists graduated from programs regulated by specific standards can practise this profession in Canada.
Tzafi Weinberg, CATA’s advocacy chair, explains that emphasis is placed on safety, confidentiality and unconditional acceptance in a non-judgemental atmosphere throughout the whole therapeutic process.
She adds that the focus of the therapy is not the final product, but the creation process instead. For this reason, no previous experience in art is required.
“People may think that they are not artists, but everybody can use art as a means of expression,” says Jannika Nyberg, co-founder of ArtQuake, a grassroots organization that connects young people through the arts in Vancouver.
For this reason, Nyberg encourages everyone to try different artistic forms. “In this way, you may realize that you enjoy these activities and that they can be a positive outlet to deal with your emotions.”
Benefits for newcomers
The sessions in art therapy can be individual or in a group. While some people can feel more comfortable in individual sessions, group sessions can contribute to creating a sense of community and allowing interaction with people from different backgrounds.
“They also offer a space to find collective support, input and understanding,” explains Tanissa Martindale, a recent art therapy graduate and the registrar and practicum coordinator of the Winnipeg Holistic Expressive Arts Therapy Institute (WHEAT).
According to Anderson, group sessions can be particularly beneficial for newcomers because by sharing their stories, people discover that they have similar experiences as others, and share attributes of resilience and strength.
Newcomers can bring their own culture into the session through the use of symbols, materials, and images that are familiar to them.
Therapists do not interpret the artwork in this process. Instead, they guide the individuals to find its meaning.
“People are their own experts, they know what they need and all the answers are within them,” says Weinberg.
Hana Pinthus Rotchild, a registered social worker and art therapist working with different populations including immigrants and refugees, explains that this approach allows people to recreate the reality they left behind and process any grief or anxiety they may be experiencing.
Through different art projects, she has reflected on her own migration process from Israel to Canada in 2003.
“Art has allowed me to express my longing for my family and my country, and to explore my journey and my identity,” she shares. “It has also been an avenue to cope with my losses, separations, and transitions, while helping me to stay connected with my roots.”
Non-verbal methods of expression
People of all ages suffering from different conditions like depression, grief, anxiety, trauma and eating disorders can benefit from art therapy.
Anderson explains that this is possible because non-verbal methods can be effective in helping people express themselves.
By encouraging individuals to make art instead of talk about their own emotions and ideas, art therapy can provide gentle, healthy and positive communication outlets and coping mechanisms.
This can also break the language barrier that newcomers may face.
“In art therapy, people can express through their own visual voice without the need of words,” says Pinthus Rotchild.
Naimi explains that once people express what cannot be said through other mediums, they find relief, process their experiences, improve their self-esteem and envision the future they want for themselves.
“In this way, art therapy encourages therapeutic healing and creative problem solving,” he adds.
For Nyberg, art has also been a means for personal transformation.
“Art is the one place where I can get out of my mind and into my body to express and process my emotions,” she says. “If I didn’t have that outlet, I don’t know where all those emotions would have gone.”
Video By: Samantha Lui for New Canadian Media
by Florence Hwang in Regina, Saskatchewan
Two independent surveys find that Canadians are positive about newcomers in theory, but they are not so agreeable when pushed out of their comfort zones.
According to Immigration Partnership Winnipeg’s recent survey, Winnipeggers generally have positive attitudes about immigrants and refugees. Fifty-nine per cent said they felt newcomers had a positive effect on the city, with only nine per cent saying newcomers had a negative effect.
Eighty-eight per cent said they feel good about the presence of newcomers. About 75 per cent said they were comfortable with immigrant neighbours, while 66 per cent were amenable to a close friend or relative marrying a newcomer.
But only 58 per cent said they would be comfortable with a newcomer supervisor at work, and 53 per cent said they were fine with immigrant co-workers getting time for cultural events.
Respondents with higher incomes and higher levels of education seemed more positive about immigration than those who earn less than $30,000 per year or only have high school education.
Women and younger Winnipegger respondents were more positive towards newcomers than men and respondents over 55 years old.
In the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) 2014 survey on issues of religion, racism and intergroup relations, almost two in three Canadians (62 per cent) report they are "worried" about a rise in racism, with varying percentages of concern for each group, such as Muslims, Aboriginal peoples, immigrants and Jews.
“When you look at the numbers, you see that … almost 50 per cent of us aren’t so happy about adjusting our workplace, just taking that one example,” says Anita Bromberg, CRRF’s executive director.
“Put that all together, and the answer is we’ve got work to do.”
Change needed at the institutional level
Alden Habacon, a diversity and inclusion strategist with the University of British Columbia, observes that racism is implicit, subtle and institutional.
“It is more harmful in those ways. It may not hurt your feelings, but you can’t get ahead, you can’t fulfil your purpose. It’s wasted potential. It hurts social sustainability of a multicultural society,” says Habacon.
He points to institutional change as the way to counter racism. For example, improvement could be made to the Labour Market Impact Assessment process.
“We need to come up with a way of testing people’s technical ability in a way that recognizes their language assets. We could split the cost for this process. We benefit from this process as well as them. We both have skin in the game,” he says.
He also thinks Canada needs to figure out what is legitimately needed for qualifications and that society needs to do more to offset the costs for newcomers to integrate into society in terms of education and living expenses.
“They took a risk on us. Are we willing to take a risk on them? We could offer to give microloans. We know they are good for their money. We need to bring change on a policy level,” he says.
Fighting fears of the unknown
Bromberg feels society needs to have a more diverse structure, deal with systemic issues and change attitudes.
“We talk about Canada’s diversity and its multiculturalism but there’s an underlying discomfort … a fear about what opening the door is going to look like. Fear of the unknown, fear of the other. Fear of people you don’t know enough about,” she says.
Still, Bromberg has an optimistic view for the future generations. She says that children are able to see human beings, not people of different backgrounds, to respect, celebrate and accept individuals for their worth.
“You want a diverse economy and a diverse planting scheme. Well, it’s the same as human beings that are we ready to accept that and put the systems in place that opens all the doors,” says Bromberg, whose grandparents emigrated from the Ukraine to flee persecution.
While Habacon acknowledges there are positive attitudes towards different races, he thinks more needs to be done.
“Often, the change comes behind the scenes to effect real culture change. Attitude is just the beginning. Positive perception leads to action, which leads to habits, and institutional policy change goes on without any effort,” he says.
He says that Winnipeg struggles with racism and disparity.
“That’s a problem. Socially, the climate isn’t good. There’s a disparity in terms of health care, Aboriginals have a harder time accessing health care, education services due to racism. There’s nothing that can equate the disadvantages that Aboriginals have experienced,” he says.
by Samantha Lui in Toronto
“New Canadians”, a television show about newcomers in Canada, has now launched in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
Produced by New Horizons Media in association with the New Canadian Media Professionals Network (NCMP), the show will focus on supporting newcomers and would-be immigrants by providing resources and information to help them integrate into Canadian society easily.
The show is split into five segments: settlement, employment/small business, education, successful immigrants, news and events.
Gerard Keledjian, the creator of “New Canadians”, immigrated to Canada in 2010. Having worked in the media industry in Dubai, he wanted to gain some local media experience and started volunteering at Rogers TV Toronto.
He came up with the idea for the show after looking into resources he could use to help him integrate into Canadian society.
“As I was researching my settlement and immigration journey, I realized that there were so many resources and programs that were targeted to newcomers that were either not being promoted at all or not promoted effectively,” he recalls.
“Using my media background to promote and talk about these programs and the successes immigrants are achieving, I tried to inform people about these programs and motivate them to use them as resources to minimize their struggles.”
Keledjian hopes to expand the show to other regions, including Hamilton and parts of Atlantic Canada such as Newfoundland and Labrador.
“New Canadians” airs on Rogers TV in Toronto every Friday at 7 p.m. on Cable 10 and 63, and every Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. in Peel region on Cable 10. The program’s web component is available at http://newcanadians.tv/.
Longest-Serving Visible Minority MP to Temporarily Lead Conservatives
As Stephen Harper steps down from Conservative leadership, longtime Calgary MP Deepak Obhrai will take over the party’s leadership duties for a short period of time.
Obhrai, elected in 1997, has been given the task to run its first post-election meeting next Wednesday because he is the party’s longest running member.
This is all part of a change made to the Parliament of Canada Act put forward by MP Michael Chong that was passed into law in June.
The new rules call for caucus to vote on key matters, managed by the caucus member “with the longest period of unbroken service.”
As it happens, Obhrai, who represents Calgary’s Forest Lawn riding, was elected the same year as Jason Kenney and Gerry Ritz. But because his victory in the federal election was recorded first, he was designated to lead the Conservative party.
While Obhrai initially had reservations about Chong’s requested provision, he now says it is an honour to serve the Conservative party in this role as it is the first time it’s had to happen since the law was passed.
“I’m so delighted and pleased to be part of this historical event that takes place on Wednesday where the caucus will decide what it wants to do,” he says, adding the meeting will focus on what the Conservatives’ next steps will be in deciding who will run for leadership.
But one question remains: is he hoping to make his temporary role a permanent one?
“No,” he replies, with a laugh.
“I think the fact that I’m the longest-serving member of the Conservative caucus, it’s an honour and privilege to represent my riding,” he adds. “But, I think I would elect new people to come in.”
He says that he’s just happy to serve his constituents.
“They put their confidence in me and I’m very humbled by that.”
More Time Needed to Settle 25,000 Refugees
Prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau promised during the election campaign that Canada would accept 25,000 refugees from Iraq and Syria by the end of the year.
However, that is a substantial goal to reach in two months, according to The Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance (CISSA).
“Prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis by resettling 25,000 additional government assisted refugees to Canada is to be applauded, but more time is needed to adequately settle and support these additional refugees,” says Chris Friesen, chair of CISSA-ACSEI, in a press release.
Noting that 25,000 refugees will need government support and help from other community initiatives, the organization made several recommendations to the Liberal government to consider.
Primarily the organization calls for the timeline to resettle 25,000 refugees be extended to the end of December 2016 as well as all outstanding family reunification cases for government assisted refugees to be expedited and processed before the end of this year.
CISSA-ACSEI also suggests more resources be allocated to help Syrian newcomers, such as settlement-related and trauma counseling and funding to help refugees travel to Canada.
by Maria Ikonen in Ottawa
Moving to a new country can be stressful. It means leaving familiar places, people and aspects of everyday life behind. Whether arriving in Canada with their family or alone, adjusting to a new and unfamiliar environment for many newcomers is difficult.
Volunteering and getting involved in social activities has helped many adapt, and had positive effects on their overall well-being.
Originally from Pakistan, Shahnaz Ali, 44, lived in Saudi Arabia and the U.S. before coming to Canada in 2002. Encouraged by the principal, Ali began volunteering at her daughter’s school, and then later with the YMCA and a Sunday school.
She remembers the value of volunteering during those early days in Canada.
“Newcomers can get the opportunity to socialize and meet new people and get a better understanding of Canadian culture,” says Ali, who now volunteers with The Ottawa Hospital.
Sherri Daly, manager of volunteer resources at The Ottawa Hospital, describes volunteering as an effective way to learn about social norms in Canada.
“It is vital to get out of your house when you are new to a community or job hunting. Having meaningful things to do can be a way to build self-esteem and connections,” says Daly.
Gaining valuable work experience
Having local work experience may be vital when looking for new employment. In such a situation volunteering can be beneficial, explains Annmarie Nicholson, director of volunteer services at The Royal, a mental-health research and care facility in Ottawa.
“Simply put, it feels great to give back to others through volunteerism, plus there are opportunities to develop new skills,” says Nicholson. “Work experience as well is a very practical benefit to volunteering, and having a local reference person when applying for jobs is a big benefit as well.”
Besides learning about Canadian culture and creating new resume material, being active is a chance to help others, adds Andrea Tatarski, coordinator in humane education at the Ottawa Humane Society.
“Volunteers have the opportunity to give back to the community by making positive differences for the animals in our care, as well as the people we serve through our various programs and services.”
Improving mental health
Sinthuja Krishnamoorthy works in the Newcomer Youth Program at East Metro Youth Services, an adolescent mental-health and addictions centre in Scarborough, Ontario.
The program is geared toward engaging young refugees and those who have permanent residency in Canada in social and volunteering activities.
“Becoming lonely in a new country and being away from family can cause anxiety,” says Krishnamoorthy. “We help these newcomers discuss their issues in a safe environment.”
The biggest challenge for youth is often feeling confident in their language skills, Krishnamoorthy explains.
“They might not learn English as a second language in their home countries, or aren’t comfortable using it. This is where our daily conversations and interactive activity component comes in handy.”
Once program participants feel more comfortable, Krishnamoorthy says they have an opportunity to volunteer.
Participants have made mattresses from used milk bags to send to developing countries, for example.
“We want to keep youth active and interested,” says Krishnamoorthy. “We ask the youth what they would like to achieve by being in the program.”
Krishnamoorthy also has success stories to share. “One youth was shy at the beginning, but now he is going into his second year of medical school. Another young man [shared] in a television interview his understanding of what mental health is. [He said] speaking of it and seeking help has greatly improved his relations with his family and helped to improve his own mental health.”
Taking the first step
Many things may prompt a person to decide to volunteer.
One reason might be positive encounters with a particular organization.
“I had a friend who had a very good experience with the nursing staff when her father stayed at [The Ottawa Hospital], and she committed to volunteer to give something back to the cause,” shares Ali.
For others, the decision to start volunteering may arise from a personal situation.
“I lost my hearing about six years ago, and as that happened, my employer refused to accommodate my disability,” says one volunteer from The Ottawa Hospital who wishes to remain anonymous. “Volunteering at the hospital allows me to gain experience so that in the future I can find an employer who will accommodate [me].”
Some newcomers may be interested in volunteering, but are unsure of where to start or are hesitant to get involved.
Nicholson says that the best time to start is now.
“Facing all of the massive changes you have already faced through immigrating to our country has allowed you to build resiliency you may not recognize,” she says. “Share your concerns honestly with the agency you are considering volunteering with, and that agency will find ways to overcome the barriers that are contributing to your hesitancy.”
Says Ali: “I believe volunteering my time is the best way [to] appreciate all blessings in my life.”
by Fatima Syed in Toronto
While citizenship, immigration and refugee policy have been major issues in the current election campaign, not much has been said about the three-fold increase in the cost of becoming a citizen imposed by the Conservative government.
Both the Liberal party and the New Democratic Party (NDP) have talked about bringing about changes in the immigration process if elected, but have been non-committal on reducing the current $630 fee for an adult to become a citizen.
When New Canadian Media asked Liberal leader Justin Trudeau during a campaign stop about his party’s plans to ease the pathway to Canadian citizenship, he said his government would tackle these issues, including reviewing the application fee, “in a responsible way.”
In its own analysis, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has said that “While [it is assumed] that there will not be a reduction in overall demand for citizenship as a result of the fee increase, it is acknowledged that some may be required to delay their application as they will need more time to save for the new fee.”
According to Statistics Canada, 14 per cent of university-educated immigrants who’ve come to Canada in the last five years are without a job, and those that have one earn, on average, 67 per cent of the amount their Canadian-born counterparts do. Many refugees, who often find themselves working low-paying jobs, will be unable to afford the high costs.
In February 2014, the government had increased the application fees from $200 to $400, the first ever price hike since 1995. These prices include the $100 right-of-citizenship fee, which is refunded if an application is rejected.
Then, citizenship application fees were quietly increased for the second time in one year through a Dec. 23, 2014 news release about reducing the backlog in citizenship applications.
‘Path to citizenship not a toll road’
Refugee advocates and others have denounced the steep fee increase arguing that it will place a great deal of pressure on the immigrant population.
In a May 12, 2014 committee hearing on the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (Bill C-24), Bernie M. Farber, a founding member of the Jewish Refugee Action Network (JRAN), said “the government is tripling the application fee, which will be added to the new cost imposed on applicants a year ago when the government privatized language testing. The price of applying for citizenship will now cost four times more than it did in 2006.”
“The path to citizenship should not be a toll road,” added Farber. “Tapping some of the most vulnerable among us for user fees is nothing more than a cash grab that is both unseemly and counterproductive.”
Bruna Pizarro Aguiar, a 23-year-old immigrant working part time at a non-profit and a pizza franchise in Toronto, still doesn’t understand why the application fee has skyrocketed.
“When you move to a new country you have to put up with unforeseen challenges,” says Aguiar. “And four years is not enough time for people to get back up on their feet. $630 per person is a large sum of money to be charged [to] people who just recently started their lives from scratch.”
However, many immigrants are resigned to the fact that they have to pay up. “Most people who come to my office with citizenship applications say it’s annoying, it’s difficult, but we’ll pay it,” says Mary Keyork, a Toronto-based immigration, citizenship and refugee lawyer.
Fee increase part of more complex issues
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander justified the price increase by saying it will help speed up processing times.
A CIC press release said 260,000 people became new Canadians in 2014, double the number from 2013. It said the application backlog has been reduced by 17 per cent since June 2014.
Many media reports have suggested that the government has been trying to increase citizenship fees for some time so that would-be citizens would cover most of the cost of processing their applications.
Previously, immigrants only paid for 20 per cent of the cost, with the rest being borne by the federal government.
Based on citizenship projections from 2014, the additional fee increase could bring in an additional $60 million to the federal reserves in 2015. However, there has been little said about where the money will go and its impact on the CIC.
Andrew Griffith, former Director General for Citizenship and Multiculturalism and author of Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism, argues that while the increased funding allowed the government to reduce processing times, “unlike in Australia, CIC offers no ongoing quarterly reports to show compliance.”
In an interview, Griffith suggested that one of the reasons the impact of the price hikes have not been investigated in full or held accountable is because they were part of other significant changes to the citizenship process that had larger implications in Bill C-24.
“These changes were more complex and controversial so the price hike just got buried in there,” says Griffith.
by Maryann D’Souza in Mississauga, Ontario
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s ‘old stock versus new stock Canadians’ comment during a political debate could very well cost him the election. His political opponents and the media would not let him live it down and seized the moment to brand it as divisive politics and racist.
Was he intentionally creating the ‘them versus us’ scenario or was it a slip? Come Oct. 19 Canadians will have their say.
From the peegate to homophobia, radicalization to the niqab, this federal election campaign has put ethnic candidates and immigrant communities in the spotlight.
Today’s voter, however, is more politically aware and active no matter the length of time they have lived in Canada, which means candidates must pay careful attention to their election speak.
New Canadian Media spoke with three experienced campaign advisers about what candidates should never say to immigrant voters both now and in future elections.
Neethan Shan is one of the two first Tamil Canadians to be elected to any public office in Canada. He was a public school trustee with the York Region District School Board and former president of the Ontario New Democratic Party.
Abbas Baig has worked with a cabinet minister, a member of Parliament (MP) and a member of provincial parliament (MPP) and as a campaign adviser. He is now a licensed immigration consultant and works on citizenship and immigration issues.
Sarbjit Kaur is a long-time political strategist who has worked in journalism and at Queen’s Park. She is currently working with several Liberal candidates in Brampton and Mississauga.
You’re different from the other Canadians:
“Doublespeak is disrespectful,” says Kaur. “Never say something different to the community and the general public or mainstream media with respect to your policies. Their concerns are the same as the other Canadians.”
“There is no such thing as old stock and new stock Canadians. Everyone has the same concerns about health care, jobs and the economy,” adds Baig, who says that it is comments like those that “drive a wedge between Canadians.”
“When issues arise, be honest,” advises Kaur. Voters are more politically informed thanks to plethora of ethnic press and media channels. “A lot of the news is available in their own language so they know what’s going on,” she adds.
Thank you for coming to Canada:
“While this might not be intentional, it is a condescending type of comment where the host and guest type of dynamics gets reinforced. It implies that this is your space while we are supposed to believe that everyone is here to build the country together,” says Shan.
“It would be preferable to acknowledge contributions in a manner that would not limit social engagement.”
I can help solve your community’s problems:
Both Baig and Kaur agree that it is not a good idea to try and appease a niche group. They warn candidates not to compromise on the party’s principles, or their own, just to get votes.
“In trying to appease one group you could lose another,” says Kaur. “So keep the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in mind.”
Baig acknowledges that there might be some issues that are specific to certain groups like spousal sponsorship and family reunification. “At this time it is important to use the party policies and platform as your guide,” he advises.
“Diversifying outreach efforts and using different types of media, for example, might be a better approach,” Shan says. “After all people within a particular community can also have different needs on account of generational differences.”
Vote for me because I have the same background as you:
“There is nothing wrong in organizing communities to have people who are reflective of their interests so long as the individuals are not seen as working against the interests of those communities,” says Shan.
“But don’t take votes for granted just because you are from the community,” cautions Kaur.
“There are no short cuts. While people would like to know that a candidate understands their issues, you still have to make your case, earn the credentials and show that you are involved in the community.”
Shan agrees.“People understand that candidates might look like them, but their interests may not be same,” he says.
I don’t like you:
This is a rule for life not just politics – never indulge in a personal attack.
“It will affect your reputation for the rest of your life,” says Kaur.
“It’s not worth getting carried away and ruining relationships on account of the elections. Take the higher road whether it is a voter or your opponents.”
I promise to get this done for you:
Both Baig and Kaur advise candidates against overpromising and overstepping lines of jurisdiction.
For instance, the new sex-ed curriculum is a burning issue in many ethnic communities in the Greater Toronto Area and a few candidates have used this as leverage, though not openly.
This is both misleading and dishonest. “Any results earned by overpromising can only be short-lived,” explains Kaur.
Shan has a different point of view though.
He says that candidates are clear about their limitations in the three levels of government and there is nothing wrong in saying they can advocate for a particular issue.
However, Shan does agree that, “it is wrong to make promises and leverage a particular issue for political advantage.”
As political leaders and their candidates pull out all the stops over the final weekend of campaigning, voters are reminded to evaluate their platforms in terms of what will benefit the country as a whole. More importantly, Canadians – new and old – are encouraged to exercise their democratic rights and vote in what could be one of the closest elections to date.
by Lucy Slavianska in Toronto
When Jasmine, a young engineer from Iran, arrived in Toronto, she immediately applied for the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).
She knew she had to wait three months to receive her health card, but since she was generally healthy, it didn’t occur to her to look for an alternative health insurance while waiting for OHIP.
January, however, was extremely cold and just three weeks after Jasmine landed, she fell sick. She had a high fever and, due to acute laryngitis, lost her voice. Over-the-counter medicines didn’t work and she had to see a doctor.
Her visit to a walk-in clinic, as well as her treatment, cost more than $200. “This was so expensive,” she says, “but it could have been worse.”
Insufficient knowledge is one of the biggest barriers newcomers in Canada face when they seek medical help. Often, the mistakes they make can be prevented if they receive guidance and accurate information about the ways the Canadian health-care system works.
To avoid unexpected high medical expenses during the first three months after arriving to Canada, Marwan Ismail, executive director at Polycultural Immigrant and Community Services, advises newcomers to buy travel insurance.
“You go to the doctor,” he explains, “you pay, and then you send the claim to your travel insurance company, which will reimburse you.”
This is something Ismail’s team at Polycultural underlines for many newcomers who don’t know how health insurance works.
“It is really important to be insured,” Ismail continues. “Treatment is very expensive in Canada.”
Ismail cites, for example, that elderly people can easily fall and have a fracture. If they need a surgery and have to stay in the hospital for two or three days, the bill could reach about $50 000.
“Some newcomers think, ‘Why should I to pay $50 per month just to be insured?’ Well, $50 may save you $50 000 – you never know,” he says.
People who have no health coverage at all may be eligible for treatment at a community health centre, but these centres – depending on the location – often have extensive waiting lists and it may take several months to see a doctor.
Not knowing where to seek medical attention, many newcomers go to the emergency departments at hospitals – even if their conditions are far from critical.
The large number of new immigrants who go directly to the emergency departments has recently provoked discussions at Health Canada.
“There are newcomers who don’t know how to find family physicians; some don’t even understand what an appointment means,” says Nadia Sokhan, director of monitoring, reporting and partnerships at Polycultural. “But they easily learn what 911 is and can also go to the emergency.”
Those who are not insured are often surprised with very high bills when they go to emergency. On the other hand, for those who have provincial coverage, their treatment costs much more to the government than if they had gone to family physicians or to walk-in clinics.
“Each visit to the emergency department costs the Ministry of Health about $975,” Ismail explains. “Even if the person just has a cold, the hospitals would send the Ministry a $975 bill – while if the patient goes to a walk-in clinic or to a family doctor, it would be about $30. So it is very important to educate the newcomers and make them understand the importance of having family physicians – this is in the best interest to everyone.”
Finding a family physician, however, can be challenging for newcomers.
There are some immigrants who prefer to be treated by doctors who come from the same countries of origins, speak their language and understand their culture.
For an immigrant living in a multicultural city like Toronto or Vancouver finding a family physician with the same cultural background is more likely, but even then the physician’s practice can be far from the place the immigrant lives.
Gender can also be an issue for newcomers from certain parts of the world – mainly the Middle East and South Asia, Ismail says – as some would like to see a family doctor who is of the same gender.
Some newcomers find family physicians by asking people from their ethnic communities. Others search online.
In Ontario, for example, the website of the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons offers an “all doctors search” option with information about physicians’ genders, the languages they speak, the areas they practise and their training and qualifications.
Not all the listed physicians accept new patients though and some of them have waiting lists. While waiting, newcomers can still use the walk-in clinics and, if necessary, find interpreters to accompany them.
While across Canada there are organizations that provide new immigrants with information about the Canadian health-care system, there is a growing number of newcomers who still don’t know about these resources. As such, this is the first of an occasional series by NewCanadianMedia.ca that will look into access to health care for immigrants.
by Florence Hwang in Regina, Saskatchewan
When Fulera Dikki came to Canada last September, she was anticipating the worst about what the cold would feel like – even though it wasn’t winter yet.
Dikki, who came to Canada from the northern part of Nigeria to study human resource management at the University of Regina, had been told that Canada was cold throughout the year prior to arriving.
“I was so scared. I was really expecting the worst,” recalls Dikki. “When I landed, as God would have it, the day I landed was not too bad because the weather was a little bit mild.”
She was suspecting that when she went outside, she would freeze. She found it surprising that when the snow started falling, it wasn’t as cold as she thought.
“But the cold set in,” she remembers. “There was a particular day that I took it for granted and I really suffered. I almost had frostbite. It was minus 37. It was really, really very cold. I learned my lesson. Anytime I’m going out, I cover myself properly.”
Dikki’s nine-year-old son Moses came to Regina recently. Although the snowfall is not expected for a while, Moses is excited and can’t wait until he experiences his first winter in Canada.
His mother prepared him for winter by getting him a thick winter jacket and boots because she didn’t want him to have the same shock she had when the cold weather arrives.
“The jacket is still hanging in the closet,” notes Dikki.
“I expect snow will be really cold. I want it to be cold because I’m hot,” Moses says.
He wants to go ice-skating and make snowmen and snow angels.
“Life in Canada is fun. I’ve made lots of friends,” he adds.
Getting newcomers ready
Julia Hardy of the Regina Immigrant Women Centre is ready to help newcomers who have yet to experience their first winter.
“We have some donations of winter clothing that we can share with clients,” says Hardy. “We teach them about keeping warm and the clothing that they will need, how to prepare their car and what to have in an emergency kit, where to get weather and road information, how to weather proof their homes.”
Upcoming workshops will be posted on the centre’s website.
The response from clients has been positive, notes Hardy, explaining those who attend regularly seem to settle down faster.
The Newcomer Welcome Centre with Regina Open Door Society also provides helpful classes on how to prepare for the winter season.
Some information the centre provides includes how to shop for thick, down-fill jackets, proper water-resistant boots, toques, mittens, scarves and even ski pants.
The workshops also talk about how to dress in layers and how to interpret weather temperatures.
Many newcomers, for example, do not know about the wind chill factor. This is when even though the weather reports say it is -20 C, it actually feels like -30 C.
Also, sundogs are deceiving for new immigrants. This is when it looks like the weather is warm out with a sun and rainbow, but actually it means the weather is extremely cold.
Other signs that the weather is very cold include when your nostril hairs freeze quickly or when the snow makes a crunching sound as you walk.
Quelling fears of winter
Montreal’s Assistance Crossroads for Newcomers (Carrefour d’Aide aux Nouveaux Arrivants) will hold its information session on winter preparation November 4 at 6 p.m. at Café de DA (545, rue Fleury Est).
“It’s been more than seven years that we offer this information session,” says the centre’s assistant director Audrey Mailloux. “We gave the session four times last year (at our organization in a local library with a high immigrant concentration and twice in a university). In all, over 140 people showed up.”
She advises people to register beforehand for the French session. However, if people don’t speak French, they can ask for a volunteer to translate the session.
Aside from the usual tips on how to dress, where to look for appropriate clothing, they also learn about heating bills, rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords, what to eat to maintain a healthy immune system and activities they can do in the winter in Montreal.
“Usually people ask details of the types of clothing to wear,” explains Mailloux. “They marvel temperature variations, they express their fears of slipping, and they wonder if it is possible to die!”
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit