FOR Newcomers to Canada, there are many elements to consider that will help them settle in their new home country. One important step is establishing and building a credit history. According to a recent RBC newcomer poll, more than one-quarter (26%) of Chinese and South Asian newcomers who have been in Canada for 5 years or less, felt that given the chance again, they would have built their credit history sooner.
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by Belen Febres-Cordero in Vancouver
There has been an increased demand for midwifery in Canada over the past decade, with now over 1,300 midwives registered in Canada, while in 2005, there were just 500.
Alix Bacon, elected president of the Midwives Association of British Columbia (MABC), attributes this growth to the personalized care midwives offer to mothers and their families, as they provide continuous support during pregnancy, labour, birth, and up to six weeks afterwards.
While midwifery’s continuity of care principle can be valuable for all mothers in Canada, Manavi Handa, a midwife and activist focusing on serving immigrant mothers, believes that this model can have particular benefits for women new to the country and its medical system.
For instance, Ali Moreno, an Ecuadorian woman who had her baby in Vancouver, is particularly happy she chose midwives as her health care providers.
“With doctors, the clock is always ticking,” Moreno explains. “Appointments with midwives last up to 45 minutes. They take the time to get to know you, understand your background, and take care of your emotional and physical wellbeing.”
However, Handa explains, newcomers may not necessarily consider this option when first looking for maternal care in Canada.
“People come here expecting modern healthcare and they don’t always associate midwifery with that because they don’t know how well trained we are or what we do,” she says.
What is a midwife?
Midwives are specialists in low-risk maternal and newborn healthcare.
The midwifery practice in Canada differs from practice abroad in several aspects, such as the number of births attended annually and the level of contact with mothers throughout their pregnancy.
Midwifery in Canada requires all practitioners to have a bachelor’s degree. Handa, who teaches at Ryerson University, explains that the seven midwifery programs in Canada have theoretical and practical components, including two years attending to mothers under the supervision of experienced midwives.
According to information provided by the Canadian Association of Midwives (CAM), midwives in Canada are registered primary healthcare professionals that are fully trained and have access to all the necessary equipment, diagnosis services, and select medications to provide women and their babies the care they need from pregnancy to postpartum.
However, midwifery understands pregnancy and birth as healthy and normal aspects of life, and as such, aims for the least amount of interventions possible.
“Technology is great if you need it, but medical intervention when you don’t need it can lead to other risks,” Handa explains.
This consideration, together with the continuous support they provide, results in lower rates of medical interventions and shorter hospital stays for women who engage the services of a midwife, according to data from the Association of Ontario Midwives (AOM).
Midwifery is guided by the informed choice principle, which encourages women to be active decision makers in the care they receive. Handa explains that this principle respects individuality.
“This is of particular importance to immigrants because they may have their own cultural beliefs. We empower women to make the decisions that are appropriate for them.”
She adds that because women primarily practise midwifery, newcomers from countries where only women attend labour might feel more comfortable under their care.
For Moreno, this was an important component during her pregnancy in Canada.
“The fact that midwives are women makes you feel safe and understood. They know how you’re feeling because they probably went through something similar themselves,” she says.
Organizations also try to eliminate possibly language barriers for new Canadian mothers to be. Ontario Midwives includes information in different languages, and MABC offers help finding midwives that speak languages other than English inside the province.
Another principle of midwifery that increases the number of options for mothers is choice of birthplace. According to CAM, “people might have the misconception that midwives only attend homebirths, but they can actually choose to have their babies at hospitals or birth centres too.”
Engaging a midwife can also be cost effective. A study of birth costs in B.C., published on July 2015, reports more than $2,300 savings per birth in the first postpartum month among women who planned a homebirth with a midwife compared to a hospital birth with a physician.
In Ontario, these cost savings are increased because women can access midwives’ care for free, regardless of their immigration status.
For women in provinces such as B.C. where uninsured individuals cannot have the services for free, Bacon explains that it would still be more affordable for them to seek care through a midwife than a physician and to have a homebirth instead of staying in hospital.
What if complications arise?
In specific cases of high-risk pregnancies, each province has guidelines for midwives to consult with or refer women to other health specialists.
Midwives can also provide shared care or transfer the care at any point, if needed.
“If a more serious complication arises, the most responsible care provider would become an obstetrician, but we would remain in a supportive role,” explains Bacon.
This was what happened in Ali’s case.
She initially planned to have a homebirth, but she had complications during labour.
“I decided to go to the hospital. Midwives, nurses, and doctors were all great,” she remembers. “They worked together and they helped me choose the safest option.”
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
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
by Sukaina Jaffer in Toronto
With schools back in full swing this week, many parents are breathing a sigh of relief as their children head back to learning. However, for new immigrants to Canada, adjusting to a new education system can bring about a myriad of unique challenges and worries.
For Zohra Mawji, a homemaker who emigrated from Mozambique about two years ago, this is the first year she is sending her two daughters – ages seven and 11 – to public school versus a private Islamic one.
“[Alisha and Nidah were] a little nervous about going to a new school,” explains Mawji, “but on the whole they were looking forward to it as they love Canada.”
Adapting to Canadian education
Mawji has mixed feelings about the new school. On one hand, she praises the principal and teachers at the Richmond Hill school as being very helpful, and states “the exposure will be good for my daughters as it is not good to live in a bubble.”
On the other, Mawji is concerned about Ontario’s new sex-ed curriculum and that her kids will be exposed to particular subject matter too soon.
“Don’t put things into their mind that they don’t need to know,” she says. “Parents know when their kids need to know these things.”
Mawji is considering pulling her younger daughter out of the Grade 2 classes during these particular lessons.
She is not alone in her concerns.
Asgar Daya, who moved his family from France to Canada a year ago, says he would pull his seven-year-old daughter Misbah Fatema out of public school and send her to private Islamic school if it was financially feasible.
“[I am] highly concerned and worried about the impact on my daughter,” he explains, of the sex-ed curriculum.
The decision to switch from public school to faith-based school is one that Brampton resident Zaffar Bhayani and his wife also made.
Bhayani left Pakistan two years ago with his wife and son due to sectarian and religious violence. When his four-year-old son started public school here, he says the family did not face any difficulties and the teachers were very helpful.
“The only thing we considered was to protect our kid from the negativities of ‘English’ culture,” he says.
He recalls that his son would question his mother about why she covered herself with the veil while other children’s mothers who came to school did not and would be dressed in shorts.
To preserve the values of their Islamic faith, the Bhayanis decided to enroll their son in an Islamic school when he turned five years old.
English as a second language
Another main concern many newcomer parents have for their children heading back to school has to do with language.
While Daya’s daughter attends a French school and has been able to fit in well as French is her first language, he still worries that she is not fluent in English and, as such, is not able to converse well in it. His wife also only speaks basic English, while being fluent in French.
Bhayani, who speaks fluent English, says sometimes there is another issue. He finds that having a foreign accent is a big challenge and a lot of time and practice is needed to adopt a Canadian accent.
Fortunately several school boards have different programs in place to help students improve language skills and feel more comfortable in their new setting.
For instance, the York Region School Board offers LINC – Language Instruction For Newcomers to Canada programs and the Peel District School Board has set up a Welcome Centre for newcomer students and families.
The Canadian government also provides assistance through various services, one of which is the Welcome Centre Immigrant Services, which offers English language classes for newcomers as well as a host of different services.
Mary Fowley (who asked her name be changed for privacy) has been a public school teacher for over 20 years and teaches English as a Second Language (ESL). She says that when it comes to students new to Canada, “the younger kids aged four to seven years (old) are able to learn English faster and it is less of a challenge for them to fit in with their peers.”
According to Fowley, older children nine to 12 years old face more difficulty learning English and forming friendships because of cultural barriers.
Sameena Bhimani, an elementary teacher with the York Region District School Board, says she partners up newcomer kids in her class with a buddy who helps them to get acquainted with things like class routines and where to go for recess.
From an academic perspective, Bhimani works one-on-one with newcomer kids and teaches them different concepts related to the subject at hand.
Bhimani advises new immigrant parents to, “Get your kids involved in extracurricular activities so they can gain their language skills faster through interaction with other kids.”
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 Don Curry in North Bay, Ontario
Canada’s big city mayors have been vocal in their support for doing more to expedite the process of bringing Syrian refugees to Canada – as they should be.
Large cities have large capacities to do more – to raise more money and sponsor and settle more refugees. What I have not seen reported so far in the national media is the growing support in smaller communities to do more as well.
In our part of Northeastern Ontario we have two small cities, North Bay and Timmins, eager to sponsor refugees, but unfamiliar with the process.
North Bay Mayor Al McDonald started a Facebook campaign to fundraise the approximately $30,000 necessary to sponsor a family for a year and in its first couple of days he had $10,000 in commitments.
In Timmins, City Councillor Pat Bamford plans to raise the issue at the September 14 city council meeting and propose that the city itself allocate funds toward sponsorship.
Our settlement agency, the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and the Timmins & District Multicultural Centre, will provide guidance and support for both initiatives.
This recent municipal engagement is, of course, a result of the powerful photo of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, who drowned off the coast of Turkey. The Syrian crisis has been going on for years and has been well documented, but this photograph hit a nerve around the world and changed everything.
The small city challenge
Some may question the capacity of immigrant and refugee settlement agencies across Canada to settle and help integrate large numbers of refugees.
What they may not know is that many front-line settlement workers are immigrants or refugees themselves, and have the compassion, knowledge and resources to get the job done.
When I look at the names behind the Toronto group, Lifeline Syria, the ones I know – Ratna Omidvar, Naomi Alboim, Jehad Aliweiwi, Mario Calla, Carolyn Davis – have vast settlement sector knowledge, and I am sure have no doubts about the capacity of the sector to out-perform. Lifeline Syria is in capable hands.
Smaller cities don’t have the wealth of expertise that Lifeline Syria has, but they have knowledgeable leaders in the settlement sector and I hope they are being put to good use across the country.
This is a new issue for many smaller city municipal leaders and that’s good for the settlement sector in those cities.
Some settlement agencies in smaller cities have extensive experience settling refugees, while others have little or none. However, they have experience settling newcomers and this is an opportunity for them to provide leadership.
Settling Syrian families in communities where there are no other Syrians will be a challenge.
In North Bay we have none on our client list and in Timmins only one family. However, North Bay has a mosque (a high proportion of Syria’s population is Muslim) and Timmins has a group of Muslims actively trying to create one, so at least there is some religious commonality.
An Anglican minister dropped in to my office to see what she and her church could do to help, and North Bay’s mayor has approached the United Church for support. Ordinary citizens are e-mailing their moral and financial support, so it is gratifying to see communities come together.
Not everyone supportive
On the other hand, online comments about Mayor McDonald’s request for funds to support a family were not all positive.
The online world attracts the ill informed with strident opinions, and they were out in full force. Comments ranged from religion-based to ‘foreigners coming in and taking “our” jobs’ sentiments, and they were neither literate nor enlightened.
It will always be a work in progress to educate people about how immigrants and refugees make Canada a stronger nation. This work has been led by immigrant settlement agencies and local immigration partnerships and now there is an opportunity for others to get involved in the discussion.
Leaders have to lead, whether they are municipal politicians, church leaders, or settlement agencies. It is gratifying to see that in our corner of Canada, and in the big cities, they are doing just that.
Don Curry is the Executive Director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre, Co-Chair of the North Bay Newcomer Network Local Immigration Partnership Initiative, Timmins Local Immigration Partnership and northern region board member for OCASI. He is also a board member of Pathways to Prosperity, a national immigration research organization.
by Maryam Mirza in Ottawa
Ayesha Syed didn’t vote in the 2011 election.
It wasn’t because she took her civic duty of voting for granted or isn’t interested in politics per se. Rather, it was because the 24-year-old Carleton University student didn’t see anyone reflective of her in the running.
“I don’t believe the current voting system represents democracy,” says Syed, who was born in Toronto to Pakistani parents, but now resides in Ottawa for school. “There is little to no representation of the candidates that I would vote for – such as multicultural and diverse women and minorities – anything, but the de facto white Caucasian male.”
Syed is part of the youth demographic – often referred to as the millennials, which are people born between 1980 and the early 2000s – which, according to a recently released report by Samara’s Democracy 360, vote at a much lower rate than older Canadians. In 2011, just 41 per cent of eligible voters under 30 cast a ballot.
Interestingly, the Samara’s Democracy study shows that young people do care about civic engagement and political life (beyond voting) – their participation is actually 11 percentage points higher, on average, than older populations.
So why aren’t they reaching the polls? The study says it’s in part due to political leaders failing to make contact with younger Canadians.
This also speaks to findings released by Queen’s University researcher Heather Bastedo in 2014, which indicated, “unless politicians (and the media) tune in to those things that interest youth, that demographic will not engage politically.”
Not just an age thing
In 2012, Elections Canada held a national roundtable on youth voter engagement co-chaired by Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand and Public Policy Forum President and CEO, David Mitchell.
In the opening remarks, the co-chairs spoke to the complexities of the declining youth voter turnout and emphasized that ‘youth’ are not a homogenous group.
Of the various sub-groups of youth the four deemed hard-to-reach were unemployed youth, aboriginals, rural youth and newcomers to Canada.
For first and second generation Canadians like Syed, part of what she’s looking for from politicians is genuine interest in issues that are important to her ethnic community, and other diverse ethnic groups in general.
“We hear terms like getting the ‘ethnic vote’, politicians visiting mosques during election time, but rarely is this more than a PR stunt,” she says. “No long term changes are made to help these very communities to use to their advantage.”
Newcomer youth being a cause for concern at the national roundtable is in line with the overall trend for more recent immigrant voters – Statistics Canada reported that just 51 per cent of recent immigrants voted in 2011.
While many millennials, new citizens, and those who belong to both groups, may not have participated in the federal elections four years ago, October 19, 2015 may result in a different story.
A new report from the Institute for Canadian Citizenship titled Ballots & Belonging shows that of 2,300 new citizens surveyed, 88 per cent said that they believed voting was an effective way to create change.
And as for the millennials, all three federal political parties have strategically tried to garner support from a younger crowd primarily using things like social media. Not only that, but the major parties have fielded more women and visible minority candidates than ever before.
These noticeable efforts may be working and mean a voter turn out that’s more reflective of Canada’s diversity.
Twenty-seven-year-old Zenub Rauf, who once felt her vote wasn’t important, will be voting for the first time this year.
“I just felt like my choice wasn’t going to make or break the election. I think a big chunk of people my age and younger feel that way too,” says Rauf, who was born in Edmonton to Pakistani-born parents and now works for Scotiabank in Ottawa. “I need to vote, so despite the outcome I know I tried to fight. My lack of voting could lead to another term of someone I oppose running our country.”
Emad Mahdavi Ardekani, 26, agrees. “The only society where it doesn’t matter to vote is an anarchy,” says Ardekani, a University of Ottawa immigration law-articling student, who settled in Canada from Iran in 1997.
“We live in a society where our laws, everything we do, is based on policy. Policy is created by our politicians, by our elected members of parliament, by our government. For young and marginalized people, these policies affect us more than anyone else. It does make a difference whether it’s the Conservatives, the NDP or the Liberals.”
With additional reporting by Ranjit Bhaskar
B.C.’s population increased by 1.06 per cent, or 48,677 people to reach 4.63 million in 2014. According to BC Check-Up, an annual publication by the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia (CPABC), most of this growth was propelled by international immigration. The destination of choice for most of these immigrants was Southwest B.C., which is […]
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by Erica Gruszczynska in Calgary, Alberta
Patricia Gallagher admits it is hard to keep up with social media in her line of work.
As the Operations Manager at the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS) she has a vested interest in utilizing platforms like Twitter to leverage relationships and raise community awareness around the organization’s efforts, but she isn’t always clear on the best way to do so.
This is part of the reason why she attended “Increasing the Visibility of the Immigrant-service Sector” workshop presented by New Canadian Media in Calgary last week. The workshop was the second of its kind; the first was held at the end of June in Ottawa.
“I joined Twitter because everyone was there,” she explained during the workshop. “As a marketing person we have to be on top of those trends, but truth be told I really don’t know what I’m doing with it. I follow a lot of people, and people follow me, and I get stuff … and I can’t keep up with this stuff, quite frankly.”
Gallagher isn’t the only one. In fact, the two-dozen or so participants in the workshop raised several questions about everything from navigating technical difficulties to deciding on what mediums to use when creating content (i.e. videos, pictures, etc.).
For example, one participant, Maria Soledad Freire, communications coordinator at Immigrant Services Calgary was intent on learning about how social media could be used in effectively spreading the word about upcoming events, such as her organization’s Immigrants of Distinction Awards.
Break out the Twitter ‘toolkit’
Twitter, if used correctly, can be incredibly helpful in this type of work, according to social media expert Mitchell Kutney, who co-facilitated the workshop.
Kutney says that if the goal is to get on the radar of prominent figures of interest, then the organization needs to become visible within related communities and adopt similar interests.
He stresses that making use of the “Twitter toolkit” is important.
“Retweet, use hashtags, and make yourself known,” Kutney urges, “Twitter is the ultimate foot in the door!”
This could prove particularly helpful at times when issues relating to immigration, settlement and citizenship are popular topics of discussion.
Such discussions could represent ways for an organization to align with like-minded individuals.
Kutney presses that when organizations want to get their word out and develop relationships with industry leaders such as politicians, media reps and individuals, who wouldn’t otherwise be aware of the organization’s existence, Twitter is a great place to start.
“When you are curious about someone,” he points out, “you want to know what [his or her] interests are. Who do they interact with? Who do they follow? What do they ‘favourite’?”
Kutney shows that Twitter is specifically designed to do just that through a series of analytics to guide the process of broadening a network and determining where target audiences reside on various relevant subject matters.
Gallagher, for one, found Kutney’s insight helpful, expressing to him: “Even just the examples you gave, I’m going, ‘Oh my God that's brilliant! I love that!’ Just the way that you are connecting with people.”
Don’t rule out traditional media
While social media platforms like Twitter may play an integral role in how immigrant-serving organizations build community awareness and disseminate information, they should continue seeking coverage from mainstream news organizations.
Managing Editor of Metro News in Alberta, Darren Krause, who co-facilitated with Kutney, explained to workshop participants of the incredibly competitive media landscape – citing that in Calgary alone media outlets are clamouring for the attention of more than 1.2 million people.
It’s important that organizations offer outlets a story that’s both relevant to their audience and exclusive, but also that the story comes packaged in a concise, clear pitch as editors receiving 200 to 300 e-mails a day simply have limited time.
He also says that it’s important to do research and understand the mandate of the organization, and establishing a relationship with individuals who work there.
Krause emphasizes the value of ‘following up’ when fostering these media relationships. “Send an email!” he says, “Ask how they are doing. Ask them out for a coffee. Create an intentional desire to meet with these people.”
In fact, this could start with what Kutney suggested – follow the journalist on Twitter and get to know them through social media.
Ultimately, Krause presses, a little effort will go a long way.
by Joyeeta Dutta Ray (@joeyday20) in Etobicoke, Ontario
Diana Nayel immigrated to Toronto from Sweden with her sister in June 2012, leaving behind all things familiar. She started her first day of Grade 5 at Toronto’s Westway Junior School in the city’s west end feeling a bit lost. No one spoke Swedish in her class. She was unsure of her English skills. How long would it take to fit in, she wondered.
Muntasir Mohammed arrived from Dacca, Bangladesh in 2011. Although his English fluency helped him adapt faster to his Grade 5 classmates in Etobicoke, Ont., he was uncomfortable carrying homemade curries to school. His lunchbox always contained cookies or chicken nuggets, compromising nutrition for the need to fit in.
Salma Syed (whose has been name changed for privacy) wears her hijab with pride, like many of her Grade 7 classmates at Toronto’s Islington Junior Middle School, but is quick to take it off when she’s out with her friends in an effort to blend in with society at large. Her parents migrated from Dacca, Bangladesh in 1999.
For 12-year-old Aneeka Ray (full disclosure: she is my daughter), she arrived in Toronto in 2013 from Bangkok, Thailand and being a newcomer made her the easy target of a cyber bully. She was not the first one, either. According to her friend, other shy newcomers had faced similar experiences at school.
Finding ways to assimilate
Each year, over 50,000 children arrive in Canada, and like Nayel, Mohammed, Syed and Ray, they are unsure of how they will fit in.
Some are war refugees; some are typhoon victims. Some have parents with low literacy levels. Others are financially challenged. And the education system itself is unfamiliar.
Their parents or guardians often get sucked into their new world of struggle, leaving children to fend for themselves. Kids are whisked off to a neighbourhood school, expected to take to it like fish to water, even though it is difficult to find their bearings.
Canadian schools offer free education and equal opportunities. But is the system doing enough to ensure newcomer children a chance at educational success?
“In many schools a sizeable number of students are naturalized Canadians from various ethnic backgrounds,” explains Manoshi Chatterjee, who teaches in an elementary school in York region. “Once a new child sees a peer group of the same ethnicity, they are quicker to form a bond. Group activities help them participate and assimilate.”
This was true for Nayel. Even though she isn’t of Somali descent herself, when she started a new school her second year of being in Canada where there were many Somali Canadians, the setting felt more familiar.
“My school in Sweden was in a Somali neighbourhood,” explains Nayel. “My new friends made me feel much more at home (in Canada).”
For Nayel, English as Second Language (ESL) classes helped polish her linguistic skills, which she initially felt insecure about.
“ESL programs play a pivotal role for immigrant students who struggle with reading, writing or communicating in the language,” explains Chatterjee whose school (she didn't want to disclose the name for privacy), like most others, champions the program.
Supporting newcomer students
Jane Chandler, an elementary school teacher with the Peel Board District Board in Mississauga says that schools play a vital role in helping students adjust. She highlights the Peel board’s parenting centres, where adults are encouraged to participate with their children, as a prime example of this.
“This acts as a wonderful platform,” Chandler says. “The family gets to know the culture of Canadian schools. Parents get opportunities to share stories about their own culture and learn from others. We encourage students to speak their own language at home. This may slow down the English learning process, but in the long run, it (multi-lingualism) has several benefits.”
Keya Ghosh, an elementary school supply teacher for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) hones in on diversity.
“Our schools play a critical role in making students appreciate their differences,” Ghosh says. “[Students] are taught to value the richness of their own culture and at the same time develop respect for others.”
Outside of the Greater Toronto Area, initiatives like Newcomers’ Orientation Week, which was held by one Windsor, Ont. high school, help to put anxious newcomers at ease.
Canadian schools amongst top in the world
The efforts Canadian schools make to support newcomer and culturally diverse students is perhaps a reflection of an education system in fairly good shape.
According to an international education survey reported by CBC, Canadian schools are among the top globally, right after China (Shanghai province), Korea, Finland, Hong Kong and Singapore.
The report states, “Students in Canada tend to perform well regardless of their socio-economic background or the school they attend.”
On a regional level, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia rank highest in reading skills.
“A quality and free education helps every new immigrant family get equal opportunity in one of the best school systems in the world,” says Chatterjee. “It is one of the major factors that have helped newcomers integrate into Canadian society.”
by Kayla Isomura (@kaylaiso) in Vancouver, British Columbia
A fourth-year university student in Vancouver, B.C. is asking residents to get to know their neighbours.
Zakir Jamal Suleman, 22, launched The Belonging Project earlier this month to share the struggles and stories of first- and second-generation Vancouverites. Over the period of two months, six videos featuring these stories will be released online.
“We’re trying to explore what it takes to belong in Vancouver, the pressures that form people’s lives and people’s individual strategies for belonging,” says Suleman. “The goal of the project was to try to decrease the barrier of entry of meeting someone.”
Suleman came up with the idea after a feeling of disconnect with strangers in Vancouver, a city with a population of more than 600,000 people.
“It’s something that you hear a lot,” he said. “You hear a lot of people say it in a lot of different scenarios with different backgrounds.”
A ‘growing sense of isolation’
In a 2012 report by the Vancouver Foundation – a community organization that distributes grants for community projects and programs – 31 per cent of respondents said that it was difficult to make friends in Vancouver, while 50 per cent of new immigrants who responded agreed.
“We need to find opportunities for people to engage with each other in meaningful ways,” said Lidia Kemeny, spokesperson for the Vancouver Foundation. “Building trust between residents is an important ingredient to building connected and engaged communities. Our research has shown that, in our region, neighbourhood and personal relationships are cordial but lack the depth that lead to more meaningful relationships.”
But the issue goes beyond Vancouver.
Canada’s population is growing at a rate of just over one per cent, “the fastest pace of any of the G8 countries,” according to Statistics Canada, and approximately two-thirds of that population growth are newcomers.
“Even the concept of using visible minority and majority is becoming moot in Vancouver,” said Chris Friesen, spokesperson for Immigrant Services Society (ISS) of BC.
For people moving to new communities, they can face countless challenges, whether it’s a language barrier or not having their educational background recognized.
“This is all part of what it means to belong,” he said.
'Belonging' can mean different things
Each video released by The Belonging Project shares a different story with a different take on belonging.
In the first video, first-generation Canadian Tien Neo Eamas, who grew up in Singapore, shares his story of exploring gender identity, while Michelle Williams, a Haida woman, shares how chronic illness has allowed her to “judge which friends are worth keeping.”
Other videos to be featured will include an individual with bipolar disorder and a community service worker.
“Belonging is an interesting word,” says Neo Eamas. “For me, it does not mean anything except a sense of people trying to find themselves by finding other people of like minds.”
Neo Eamas moved to Vancouver 27 years ago and has since changed his idea of belonging.
First moving here for college at 18 years old, he found his place in the lesbian colour community. During his process of transitioning more than 10 years later, he left that community and eventually came to simply explore what humans can be.
In Williams’ video, she also references the importance of making other people feel welcome, particularly in marginalized communities, such as the city’s Downtown Eastside.
Starting a dialogue
While The Belonging Project allows viewers to meet someone new, Suleman hopes it will also encourage others to share their own stories.
Starting a dialogue can also raise issues of how to make newcomers feel more welcome and supported, says Friesen, who has partnered with Suleman on the project with ISS of BC.
But aside from a continuing dialogue on belonging, it’s uncertain what’s next.
Suleman has plans to host a celebration to bring people together in a relaxing space “where it’s not intimidating to talk to somebody new” but after that, “it’ll depend on how many people find [the project],” he says.
Resources for newcomer connection
But for those who would like a way to connect directly with their local communities, resources are available.
New immigrants in particular can access community connections programs in their local communities, says Friesen, which are federal government-funded programs across Canada. New immigrants are paired with long-term residents to create a support network.
Another program he recommends is LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada), which offers courses to develop English language skills.
In Metro Vancouver, the Vancouver Foundation has expanded their Neighbourhood Small Grants program as a result of their 2012 report, which provides grants to residents in the local region to engage neighbours and members of their community to build connections.
Vancouver also has a number of Neighbourhood Houses, which offer programs to welcome and help newcomers find a place in their city.
The final video on The Belonging Project is expected to be released on September 18. For more information or to view the stories, visit www.belongingproject.com.
by Abhijeet Dutta Ray (@AbhijeetDRay) in Mississauga, Ontario
With campaigning picking up speed for the October 19 federal elections, a dipstick poll on how new Canadians view the unfolding political battle revealed reactions ranging from mild enthusiasm to clear preferences and opinions.
While it would be presumptuous to assume that one can draw any conclusions from an informal survey, it does give an idea about the issues new Canadian communities expect political parties to address.
Areas that clearly emerge as key concerns include education and the future prospects for children and jobs.
“Personally, I am most concerned about education, medical and environmental policies,” says Dawn Leung, who uprooted herself and her family about a decade ago from Hong Kong to lay down some roots in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) city of Markham.
Since their arrival, Leung and her husband added two children to their family and she is constantly seeking reassurance that their decision to emigrate was not in vain.
“I wish serious matters such as sex education are not left at the level of school boards to decide,” says Leung. “There must be intervention from the federal level and the application of policy at a national level, as many parents like myself are not satisfied with how things are implemented at the provincial level.”
Chris D’Souza, who moved to Canada after a stint in the Middle East, has economy on the mind.
“How the government will be able to create as well as improve the job opportunities especially during a downturn, health care issues, retirement or pension plan – how middle income as well as low income Canadians can have a secured retirement once they finish their work career – are all key issues,” he says.
Naresh Khanna, who immigrated about 10 years back and works out of Aurora, Ont. as a business consultant, echoed D’Souza’s sentiments. Enthusiastic about the coming elections, he said he was very interested in federal politics as it has a direct impact on the economy and his standard of living.
Sangeeta Gandhi, who has been in Ontario for a decade and a half bringing up her two daughters, is most concerned about the dim prospects of her children landing jobs they have trained for.
Gandhi’s older daughter has trained to be a school teacher, and without any vacancies opening up, she feels that she is spinning her wheels for too long in admin positions at the school board.
“I am not sure of the logic behind allowing senior teachers to keep getting extensions in their jobs or delay retirement. The result is no new vacancies open up. And when they do, there are far too many certified new teachers vying for a limited number of positions. I feel that the government needs to look at this more closely.”
“We need a change in the right direction,” says Haydar S., originally from Iraq and now resident of Cockeysville after having arrived in Canada six years ago. His reference to change was influenced by New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Tom Mulclair, who he says has impressed him more than the other leaders.
Perceptions of the parties
Haydar says he feels that immigrants will warm up to the NDP as the party “actually supports policies that are pro-immigrants.”
So does any one party or parties come across as being more sensitive to the needs of immigrant communities? Responses seem to depend on the overall perception an individual has of parties and their leaders at this stage.
Leung believes that frequent policy changes by the ruling Conservatives have made it increasingly hard to immigrate and acquire citizenship. She clearly wants to vote against the Conservatives, but is as yet undecided on which other party to support.
Gandhi is skeptical about any one party being able to change the fortunes of immigrants drastically. “All parties are about the same,” she says.
Khanna, a Conservative supporter, believes the ruling party would be better for immigrants.
“A strong economic platform, with a vision for stable economic growth is important to keep the Canadian economy humming, which in turn is beneficial for all immigrants – new and established,” he explains.
D’ Souza too was clear about the party he would support.
“It was the Liberals who liberalized Canadian immigration system and opened the doors for people from developing countries. And it is the Liberal party that takes the time and effort to address issues related to immigrants.”
Where the parties stand
While information on where the parties stood on macro issues was easily available, it becomes more opaque when it comes to policies directly affecting new Canadians.
Leung relies on Chinese language radio channels, print media and direct mail as her source for news. Gandhi, on the other hand, is looking out for more information and is ready for the upcoming election blitz from mainstream news sources.
“As the election campaigning is just kicking off I am sure I will be bombarded with messages between now and voting day,” says Khanna.
Haydar is keen to jump into some poll-related action. Having helped the team that canvassed for Olivia Chow when she ran to become Toronto’s mayor, he believes he has reasonable insights into what makes a candidate more appealing to the New Canadian community.
While unwilling to share his insights, he is ready to help out the NDP if asked.
“I wish political parties desist from negative advertising and instead try to woo the electorate based on issues and key policy platforms,” says D’ Souza.
Editor’s Note: Naresh Khanna and Chris D’Souza are pseudonyms as they did not want to be identified.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit