by Belén Febres-Cordero (@BelenFebres) in Vancouver, British Columbia
Raquel Velásquez’s objective on her visit to a clinic was to have a prenatal check-up. Instead, the medical practitioner asked her if she was sure she wanted to keep her baby.
Raquel was also encouraged to reconsider her decision at two other health facilities she attended afterwards. “They thought I was too young to be a mother, but they knew nothing about my culture or religion,” she explains.
Navigating a health system where patients’ backgrounds are not fully considered is one of the obstacles that women face when expecting a child abroad.
Irene Santos, who was a pediatrician for 29 years in Mexico, explains that further difficulties may include not knowing the language, the culture, or how the system operates. “Not being a permanent resident and lacking networks of support are also common challenges,” she adds.
Ángela Hiraldo remembers yearning to return to the Dominican Republic when first learning about her pregnancy: “I didn’t have access to the health system and I didn’t know how it worked. When you come to another country, there are so many things you need to do but there is no one to show you the way.”
To help others going through similar situations, Raquel and her team started Voces Maternas (Maternal Voices).
Voces Maternas is one of the programs of Umbrella Multicultural Health Co-op, a member-driven, not-for-profit organization that offers medical services to immigrants facing barriers to accessing health care in British Columbia. Financially sustained by the Vancouver Foundation, Voces Maternas delivers free pre- and post-natal support to immigrant women, their children and partners.
The Cross-Cultural Health Broker (CCHB) is one of its crucial components. CCHBs are bi-cultural and bilingual health workers with medical degrees, and extensive knowledge of both the community with whom they work and the Canadian health system.
Irene, Voces Maternas’ CCHB, indicates that the goal is to become a bridge between the patient and the medical services in Canada by helping newcomers understand and navigate the health system, and by being an interpreter and translator – in both linguistic and cultural terms – between the patient and the doctor.
“With the CCHB, I feel that my time is valued because she listens to me and understands what I need; we can talk in my own language, and we explain everything to the doctor together,” Ángela says.
Moreover, the CCHB gives workshops that provide immigrant families with information about pregnancy, birth and post-partum so that they feel empowered to take decisions according to their own set of beliefs.
“We don’t try to impose ideologies, areas of interest, or methodologies. We talk about different options so that people can choose what works best for them,” Raquel explains. As a result, they provide a safe and non-judgemental meeting space for parents to connect and support each other.
Resources for maternity health: an urgent need
Voces Maternas currently focuses on Latin American women, but it aims to include other communities in the future.
Other projects of Umbrella – such as the Umbrella Mobile Clinic, the Pediatric Health Outreach Program and the Many Faces of Diabetes Program – offer services in several languages and work with communities from different parts of the world.
In an email to New Canadian Media, British Columbia’s Ministry of Health states that “we recognize newcomers may face challenges in accessing health care services, which is why we continue to introduce services aimed at this population,” some of which include the Bridge Clinic, the Global Family Care Clinic, the New Canadian Clinic, and the Newcomer Women’s Health Clinic.
Similar services are available in other provinces. For example, the Multicultural Health Brokers Co-operative, which functions in Edmonton, Alberta, offers diverse programs where multicultural health brokers provide support to 22 cultural and linguistic communities.
Both Raquel and Ángela recognize the urgent need to provide more information about the existing maternity health options in British Columbia.
“Sometimes people can’t access the services they’d like to because they learn about them when it’s too late. We assist them so that they can know their options and choose from them on time,” Raquel explains.
Immigrant health: a combined effort
Newcomers can also visit the WelcomeBC webpage to know more about B.C. health services, or the Government of Canada's Health page to learn about health services across Canada. For more support, they can access the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia or the Community Airport Newcomers Network.
Improving immigrant health is a combined effort. According to the email from B.C.’s Ministry of Health, “though we strive to offer comprehensive services to new British Columbians, non-profit organizations providing further education and resources are certainly a valuable addition to the system of care.”
In addition, Umbrella highlights the need for people to actively look for information and get involved. Ángela is pleased she did: “I feel empowered thanks to Voces Maternas, not only because I know more, but also because of the bonds I created.”
Raquel adds that “if we surround ourselves with people that support us, we also feed the circle by empowering other mothers to enjoy their experience.” She believes in the proverb that says that raising a child takes a village, “and we want to be that village for immigrant parents living in Canada.”
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 Fred Maroun (@Fred_Maroun) in Ottawa, Ontario
I arrived in Canada in 1984 as an adult of voting age.
I had never voted in my country of origin, which is probably not unusual for immigrants who may come from countries where democracy is scarce.
In my case, I left in the middle of a civil war that pitted the Muslims and the Palestinians against the Christians, and due to the war, Lebanon held no elections for 20 years, from 1972 to 1992.
When I arrived in Canada, I soon became involved with the New Democratic Party (NDP) due to my left-leaning political views, and I interacted with many activists from the NDP and other parties.
As I gained a better understanding of Canada, my opinions moderated, and I have at various times supported each of the three mainstream parties.
I now believe that each of the main parties has strengths and weaknesses; each is an important part of the fabric of Canadian politics.
Having been a voter in Canada for many years now, I have compiled some friendly advice for my fellow immigrants who are now voters in free and fair elections in an advanced liberal democracy. I hope you find it useful.
1. All mainstream parties are friendly to immigrants. The Liberal party has in the past been considered the party of immigrants, but the Conservatives and the NDP have significantly increased their support among immigrants. Unlike some other countries, none of our mainstream parties are racist or anti-immigrant.
2. Think for yourself. Do not rely on the advice or pressure of other members of your community. Their priorities may not be yours, and they may themselves be acting based on community pressure. The fact that you are reading this article already shows that you are taking your own initiative.
3. The leader is important. Party policies are important, but they are far less important than the leader. The Prime Minister and a very small number of trusted ministers set the government’s priorities. Your confidence in a leader’s abilities and vision is more important than your agreement with every single policy. Read and watch what the leaders say during the campaign, particularly their promises, but keep in mind it is not unusual for leaders, particularly if they are currently in opposition, to break some promises when they are faced with reality.
4. The local candidate is important. You vote for a local candidate, not directly for a party. Although members of Parliament (MPs) tend to follow the leader’s direction, it is always possible for an MP to take a different direction or even to switch parties. For this reason, it is important to know about the individual that you are voting for. You can contact a candidate through their website, and a good candidate will make time to speak with a voter.
5. Know your own expectations. Take the time to decide which political issues are important to you personally based on your family life, your work life and your own values. Do not get caught up with narrow issues that may receive a lot of media attention.
6. Look up the parties and the local candidates. Go to the Elections Canada website and click on tab “Candidate & Parties”. When you enter your postal code, you will be told about your electoral district and the registered candidates. Be sure to Google the candidates and parties that you are interested in. Elections Canada also lists a phone number for each candidate – do not be afraid to call.
7. Take activists’ claims with a grain of salt. Party activists present a stark contrast between their party and others, but this is not always true. The leader of the NDP, Thomas Mulcair, has positioned his party firmly in the centre-left, the Conservatives have governed from the centre-right, and the Liberal party is, of course, centrist. Their practical policy differences are rarely fundamental. Canada is a stable and prosperous country that needs the occasional tweaking rather than fundamental shifts.
8. Do not waste your vote on minor parties. The only parties worth considering are the NDP, the Liberals and the Conservatives. All other parties have limited scope and little to no relevance. If a particular issue is critical to you, find the mainstream party that comes closest to your view, but do not waste your vote on a party that will have zero influence in Parliament.
9. Make sure that you can vote. Go to the Elections Canada website and click on “check or update your voter registration now” to find out.
10. Vote! By voting you exercise the most fundamental right that you will ever have as a Canadian, and you also uphold a right that many people in the world do not have. Choose wisely.
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. He writes at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/author/fred-maroun/ and http://www.jpost.com/Blogger/Fred-Maroun.
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 Rosanna Haroutounian (@rharoutounian) in Montreal, Quebec
The Quebec government is working on changes to its immigration policy that will bring it in line with the federal Express Entry program, which aims to match newcomers with employer needs.
In the new system, immigration applicants will present a “declaration of interest” that will help match their skills to the demands of the market place.
The changes come too late for Ndaw Mamadou, who immigrated to Quebec City in June 2014 and now plans to leave for Toronto.
Born in Senegal, Mamadou studied intercultural communications in France before applying to the Quebec Skilled Worker Program.
“Even if the government tries to facilitate the integration of immigrants, the reality is different,” says Mamadou. “The lack of quebecois experience is the main obstacle.”
Skepticism over changes
Mamadou, who already holds a BA in English literature, says he wants to go to Toronto to improve his English. He is just one of the thousands of immigrants who arrive in Quebec, but soon depart for other parts of Canada.
“Just because the Ministry makes these changes or Citizenship [and Immigration] makes changes at the federal level, doesn’t mean that employers have to accept them,” says Patricia Rimok, president of Immigration Business Network (ib2ib). “Your average business is not even remotely connected to immigrants.”
The Montreal-based ib2ib is an online business resource that provides trading opportunities for immigrants who invest or start businesses in Quebec, Canada, or the U.S.
Rimok also worked for Quebec’s government from 2003 to 2011, first as chief of staff for the Ministry of Immigration and then as President of the Conseil des relations interculturelles du Québec (Council of Intercultural Relations), an advisory and member board under the Minister of Immigration's portfolio.
She explains that employers do not have the capacity to evaluate skills that immigrants bring to Quebec from other countries.
“When someone does come from out of the country and applies, the evaluations that are done are quite reductive because immigrants who come in can do five, six, seven times more than what’s asked,” she explains.
Mamadou says that many immigrants who apply for the comparative evaluation of studies also see their international diplomas undervalued, which he says hinders their integration and professional development.
“We would expect that immigrants with higher levels of education would be accessing higher-level jobs because of the skills they bring, but that’s not what happens,” explains Rimok.
She says that while she welcomes the changes, a lot more can be done to ensure immigrants don’t lose out on using their full range of skills.
Changes ‘big on paper’ but not in reality
Quebec’s immigration policy has been in place since 1990.
Under the Canada-Québec Accord Relating to Immigration and Temporary Admission of Aliens, Quebec can set its own annual immigration targets and select which immigrants settle in the province (with the exception of refugees and family reunification classes).
Every immigration application is processed in chronological order, regardless of whether it meets selection criteria in areas like language, skills and country of origin.
Elsewhere, the federal government determines the number of immigrants admitted and the selection process.
Public hearings were held earlier this year from Jan. 28 to Feb. 10, bringing together stakeholders such as immigrants, industry representatives and experts from organizations serving newcomers.
On the first day of public hearings, the commission heard from Jacques Frémont, president of the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (Commission on Human Rights and Youth Rights).
He pointed to the level of representation of racialized persons in the public service to illustrate the magnitude of the challenge the government faces, which he said should serve as a model for other sectors of employment.
Visible minorities and white Quebecers whose mother tongue is not French or English make up about 12 per cent of Quebec’s population, but according to a 2013 CBC investigation only about seven per cent of Quebec government employees belong to these categories.
The same study found that about 79 per cent of Quebecers are white francophones, yet they hold about 95 per cent of senior management positions in the province’s civil service.
“In the media, the government and Minister [Weil] talk about these big changes,” says Stephan Reichhold, director of TCRI, a group of organizations working with refugees, immigrants, and those without status in Quebec. Reichhold represented the group during one of the public hearings.
“The changes are big on paper and in discourse, but in reality, they will not result in big differences.”
Another series of consultations will be held on updating the Immigration Act, resulting in a bill to be presented to Quebec’s legislature, along with the new policy, this fall.
In the spring, all the pieces will come together in a new Immigration Act for the province.
by Shannon Clarke (@_clarkeshannon) in Toronto, Ontario
When Rogers Media announced it was cutting 110 positions in May, Canadians — journalists, community leaders and critics — focused on OMNI. Not just because the station received significant cuts, but also because of what it has come to represent.
“OMNI, being something that is synonymous with diverse communities and also with the face of Rogers — we were very surprised and shocked by [the announcement],” Jason Merai, executive director of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations (UARR), said of the company’s decision to eliminate Cantonese, Mandarin, Italian and Punjabi newscasts from OMNI’s broadcast. “Why would you eliminate that access to an opportunity for [newcomers] to gain knowledge to be engaged in this country?”
Since the announcement, the UARR, along with several other organizations including the Chinese Canadian National Council, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) and the Canadian Ethnocultural Council (CEC), have co-ordinated to lobby against the cuts. Since May 7, they have held press conferences, drafted petitions and written letters asking Rogers to reconsider. They are now asking the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to step in.
Cuts were anticipated
Depending who you ask, the decision isn’t much of surprise. The financial fragility of OMNI — just one of the reasons given for the cuts — wasn’t news. In 2013, OMNI’s Portuguese and South Asian newscasts were scrapped. Last year, former Rogers president Keith Pelley told the CRTC that OMNI was in “crisis” and expressed concern over Canadians’ changing viewing habits. Much of OMNI’s revenue depended on U.S. programming that can now be viewed online.
“Given the length of the time OMNI has been in decline we had exhausted all other options to reduce our costs,” Colette Watson, vice-president of television and operations wrote in an e-mail. That included cutting the most expensive U.S. programs and implementing an all-ethnic schedule on OMNI 2.
In June, executives at Rogers announced they would replace the newscasts with current affairs programs. A move, Watson said, that is in line with other broadcasters, “both ethnic and mainstream English and French,” hoping to reduce operating costs.
“We are not just cutting programming; we are replacing it with more relevant programming in the same language,” she wrote. “We are hoping that our audiences will give the new shows a try and are confident they won’t be disappointed with the depth of local issues these programs explore.”
Expected or not, the elimination of multi-language newscasts from one of Canada’s largest and most recognizable media companies is a loss to the communities they served. The response that followed has demonstrated the importance and vulnerability of third-language media and made Canadians more aware of it.
Ethnic media not surprised by cuts
While OMNI is not the only multi-language media outlet in Canada, it is one of the most visible and, under Rogers’ umbrella, relatively insulated from the funding challenges faced by smaller, independent operations.
Joe Volpe, publisher of Canada’s only daily Italian-language newspaper, Corriere Canadese was unsurprised by the change at OMNI.
Though he believes Rogers’ decision will work in the company’s favour, he is critical of the idea that the way to adapt to the new media landscape is to scale back traditional platforms and cut programs.
“Part of it is a self-fulfilling prophecy of saying that nobody follows news anymore; they can get anything they want online or they go to their smartphone,” he said. “And of course, the longer you repeat that mantra, the more likely it is that you’ll believe it.”
In 2013, Corriere Canadese briefly ceased operation when its parent company, Multimedia Nova Corp., was placed into receivership. Volpe, a former MP, joined with investors to buy the paper and resumed publication.
Now, with an editorial staff of 10, the Toronto-based publication delivers a morning paper to its subscribers on everything from local and federal politics to the European Champions League. Only after subscribers have received their paper does the edition go online.
Volpe believes the 61-year-old paper — founded by the late Daniel Iannuzzi who also established CFMT, now known as OMNI — remains competitive by focusing on the needs and interests of the Italian community. “Maybe we’re wrong but we have a niche market and we’re trying to reinforce that market.”
The importance of ethnic language media
Though many multilingual publications and broadcasts have relatively small markets, it’s a mistake to overlook their political diversity, reach and longevity, said Daniel Ahadi, a PhD candidate researching ethnic media and public policy at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.
“Ethnic language media, third-language media, immigrant media … embedded in that language is that they’re marginal; they’re not part of the mainstream,” he said. “We have to move beyond this because some of these so-called ethnic language media are quite big in terms of operation.”
In 2007, he co-authored a report on more than 144 ethnic media outlets representing more than a dozen communities in Vancouver alone. “Third-language media is part of a communication infrastructure that caters to newcomers,” said Ahadi.
This connection between journalism and immigration is something Merai and many of those advocating for the restoration of OMNI’s third-language [i.e. non-French or English] newscasts have witnessed first-hand.
It’s how his Italian grandparents learned English, and how many newcomers to Canada keep up with issues in both their adoptive and home countries. (Not to mention, said Amy Casipullai at OCASI, they provide employment opportunities for foreign-trained journalists looking to continue working in their field.)
Ahadi pointed out that while other public broadcasters such as BBC and Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service have incorporated multiple languages into their programming, Canada has been slower to respond to demographic changes, placing most of the responsibility on private broadcasters to provide multi-lingual services.
One in five Canadians reported a mother tongue other than English or French on the last census; 80 per cent reported speaking a language other than English, French or an Aboriginal language. Though language policies are intended to protect Canada’s national languages, the Broadcast Act requires broadcasters to “support the linguistic duality and multicultural and multiracial nature of Canadian society.”
It is these principles organizations fighting the cuts are hoping the CRTC will keep in mind.
Re-published with permission from J-Source.ca.
by Aurora Tejeida (@Aurobots) in Vancouver
With over 45 national parks and park reserves, as well as attendance levels of 13.5 million people in the last year, it’s safe to say that Canadians love the outdoors. But not all Canadians it seems.
Visitor surveys show that new Canadians, from varied cultural backgrounds, are barely present in national parks. The numbers aren’t any better when it comes to the quintessential outdoor activity, camping.
“I just find the whole idea behind staying in a damp place, in a scrounged up way in a tent, very unappealing,” says 25-year-old Abeer Yusuf.
Yusuf is Indian by birth, but spent most of her life in Malaysia. Two years ago she relocated to study at the University of British Columbia, but has never been camping, even though the province she calls home has 830 provincial parks and 340 campgrounds.
“Having the right gear and equipment are all things that require a fair amount of money in both Malaysia and India – so I wouldn’t assume that most people that are from Malaysia and India pursue such interests just on the side,” Yusuf explains.
Tanya De Leon is also not a fan of camping, but she thinks it’s mostly the lack of running water and the hassle of packing. The 25-year-old was born in the Philippines and came to Canada when she was three years old. She has been camping a total of three or four times in all the years she’s lived in B.C. But unlike Yusuf, De Leon’s parents took her camping when she was younger.
“My parents didn’t enjoy it either, maybe that’s why I don’t enjoy it,” she says. “Camping isn’t something people do in the Philippines, that could have something to do with it.”
Learning the basics of camping
A 2011 Ontario Parks campground survey found that people born in India made up less than one per cent of campers even though 2.6 per cent of Ontario residents were born there.
Similarly, people born in China and Hong Kong constituted more than three per cent of the province’s population, but less than one per cent of campground users.
This is an issue for Parks Canada, especially since visible minorities make up 20 per cent of Canada’s population and by 2030, one in three Canadian workers will have been born in another country. This is why Ontario Parks came up with the Learn to Camp program in 2011, which intended to teach first-time campers the basics.
But in B.C, where the population of visible minorities continues to increase, no such program exists. According to a BC Parks representative, the province lacks funding for this type of program and there are no future plans to create one, even though inexperienced campers like De Leon say that they would find it helpful.
The federal government does have a similar program that extends to B.C.
Through a partnership with the Mountain Equipment Co-op, Parks Canada offers learn-to camp events in every province except for Prince Edward Island, Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. Events are only held in the summer from late June to mid-September.
But unlike Ontario’s program, the federal government’s equivalent is not aimed specifically at newcomers.
“You’ll be surprised, a lot of Canadians call us, not that many immigrants,” says Rachel Azzi, a Parks Canada representative. “Most of the people who call [were born in Canada] who have never been camping.”
A way to ‘integrate into Canadian culture’
According to a report published by Parks Canada, the number of visitors in Canada’s national parks and marine conservation areas increased from 12.5 million in 2010-2011 to 13.5 million in 2014-2015. But newcomers are still underrepresented in most surveys, so the question remains, why?
Paola Cernicchiaro, 30, says she thinks people aren’t comfortable with the risk involved.
“I think some people dislike discomfort, like going outside and not having a toilet, or being in nature and totally exposed,” she explains. “And some people like it, they like stepping out of their comfort zone to enjoy a beautiful sunset or do some exploring.”
Originally from Orizaba, Mexico, Cernicchiaro moved to Vancouver in 2007 and says she goes camping at least once a year. What she likes the most is spending quality time with the people she’s camping with.
“People don’t necessarily like camping in Mexico, but I go camping with my family every year during spring break,” she shares. “My grandma started that tradition, so my mom has been camping since she was a kid and I’ve been camping since I was a kid.”
Twenty-two-year-old Marguerite Royer also used to camp as a kid. Originally from France, Royer moved to Quebec when she was five. She has lived in B.C. for a year and a half.
She recently returned home from a camping trip on B.C.'s Hornby Island.
“I used to do a lot of camping as a kid because my parents loved outdoor activities,” she explains.
What Royer enjoys most about camping is building fires (something she was banned from doing this last trip because of the drought in B.C.), sleeping in the woods, outdoor activities and getting a break from technology. She dislikes when it rains and everything gets humid and cold.
“I think camping is important for immigrants who want to integrate into Canadian culture because it’s a great place to do it,” adds Royer. “It’s something great that we have here.”
by Ajamu Nangwaya in Toronto, Ontario
Mental health experts are calling for more culturally appropriate services for racialized immigrants in Canada in light of the recent death of a Sudanese-born father of five who was fatally shot by Toronto police officers earlier this month.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) estimates that that one in five Canadians will develop a mental illness at some time in their lives. The association defines mental illness as a health challenge that undermines a person’s capacity to operate effectively in the world or to behave in socially-acceptable ways with others.
Across Boundaries, an ethno-racial community mental health centre based in Toronto’s west end, and the CMHA have both highlighted the heart-rending story of Andrew Loku, who was killed in an apartment complex near Eglinton Ave. W. and Caledonia Ave., Toronto, on July 5. Media reports suggest Loku’s apartment was in a CMHA-leased building that housed those suffering from mental illness.
While Canadian society as a whole grapples with the stigma and ignorance surrounding mental health, Across Boundaries’ executive director Aseefa Sarang says, the challenge facing immigrants is immeasurably more complicated.
“Hiding” the illness
“The gaps are based on many levels,” says Sarang. “They range from immigrants understanding the mental health system, to stigma around mental health and addictions, to discrimination (all sorts of oppressions) experienced, as well as structural barriers to accessing care. Many immigrants have a tendency to “hide” the illness and not share their condition with others or seek help.”
Immigrants are often faced with more challenges when and if they do seek assistance, Sarang adds. “It is another battle to find the right type of help, with the right type of people and help that is relevant to their needs (i.e. a combination of medical and non-medical supports – Ayurveda, acupuncture, yoga, etc.).”
The gaps in accessing services become clear in related research. For example, a 2012 report prepared by St. Michael’s Hospital, “The Mental Health and Well-being of Immigrants in Toronto”, indicates that while recent immigrants and non-recent immigrants experience about the same level of mental health issues like depression and anxiety as those born in Canada, when it comes to treatment for depression, immigrants are less likely to access services (less than seven per cent) compared to non-immigrants (10 per cent).
A personal story
Mental health survivor Aaqilah Al Massri is all too familiar with the challenges of accessing mental health services.
“The gaps in the system are in the very framework from which we understand and accept what contributes to mental un-wellness, which within a western landscape is derived primarily from a bio-medical model with the interventions being largely pharmacological,” says Al Massri.
Al Massri’s point is also highlighted in the St. Michael’s Hospital report, which shows fewer immigrants (13 per cent) use prescription medications to combat mental illness than non-immigrants (21 per cent). Furthermore, only eight per cent of immigrants saw a psychiatrist or psychologist in 2011, in comparison to 12 per cent of their non-immigrant counterparts.
Ryerson University School of Social Work professor I. Abdillahi says not all immigrants experience challenges with mental health services to the same degree. This has been illustrated in research examining the mental health experience of specific groups of immigrants and racialized people – for example studies focused on newcomer youth, African-Canadians in Montreal, Chinese-Canadian elders and Afghans in Toronto.
Abdillahi calls on mental health organizations to acknowledge that inequality is in-built into Canadian society, “which certainly impacts not just the day-to-day well-being of racialized people, but they (facets of inequality) have a particular perniciousness and precariousness depending on who are in these groups.”
Al Massri echoes this sentiment – underlining the need to recognize the impact of multiple oppressions.
“Traumatized or wounded people go on to wound and traumatize, and when the individual’s trauma is exacerbated by the very core of their social and cultural identity being under siege in their community (female and deeply questioning of the status quo), and within the larger framework of a largely racist system – in my case being of Palestinian, African and Muslim heritage – barriers become plentiful and that in itself contributes to stress and anxiety.”
Interpreting body language
This type of complex, multi-layered challenge becomes prevalent when examining the African-Canadian community’s relationship with the mental health system, Sarang finds.
“Based on our experience the black community is over represented in many spheres of the system. Our own experience at Across Boundaries shows that of our clientele, there are about 50 percent black people when the black population in Toronto is way less than that. This alludes to many layers of issues from racism to anti-black racism and impacts black people from all over the world.”
Loku’s shooting drives home the point. “Today I don’t question whether this is anti-black racism. In fact, this sort of action is a clear and deliberate act of anti-black racism, and the [Special Investigations Unit], the Toronto police and the community need to acknowledge this and seek accountability.”
According to Sarang, Black bodies are understood and interpreted as dangerous, unsafe and disruptive” and, as such, the response to this group can only be combative and fatal. Therefore, anti-Black racism is a cause of mental illness among African-Canadians.
Abillahi indicts anti-Black racism as a force that prevents access to appropriate and relevant services. African-Canadians are seen as “dangerous, unsafe, unwell, ill, untreatable, treatment resistant and non-compliant”. As result of these prejudices, the diagnosis and treatment take on a punitive character.
Since there are problems with accessing mental health services that address the diverse needs of racialized Canadians – immigrants and refugees in particular – there is a need for the system to respond differently.
“First there has to be a clear acceptance that there is inequity at play in the system, and that there is institutional racism, which is compounded by individual racism,” says Sarang. “From there we can move to address the sources of inequities and finally consider strategies to overcome those inequities.
Al Massri adds that racialized communities require spaces to share more spoken narratives, and the sharing must be guided by, “compassion, empathy, respect, generosity of spirit and commitment to individual, familial and communal healing.”
by Ranjit Bhaskar (@ranjit17) in Mississauga, Ontario
If a beer company can harness the power of Canada’s diverse languages to open a fridge full of its wares as a marketing stunt, why not use that same force for civic engagement?
In time for this year’s Canada Day and the upcoming federal elections, the Canadian Arab Institute (CAI) has released an Arabic version of “O Canada” to open the hearts and minds of its cultural community.
Part of the CAI’s Your Voice campaign, “Ya Canada” is performed by soprano Miriam Khalil, and hits all the right notes, including the replacement of the contentious, “in all thy sons command” phrase with the gender-inclusive “in all of us command.”
This unofficial translation of the national anthem is “one of the tricks up our sleeve” to roll out the non-partisan voter engagement campaign, said Raja Khouri, president of the CAI during a recent panel discussion titled “From Marginalization to Integration” it hosted in Mississauga, Ontario.
The panelists included Ratna Omidvar, Executive Director of the Global Diversity Exchange at Ryerson University; Cathy Winter, Manager of DiverseCity onBoard; Crystal Greer, Director of Legislative Services & City Clerk with the City of Mississauga and Mohamad Fakih, the CEO of Paramount Fine Foods.
Bemoaning that voting was becoming more transactional in nature and not part of nation building, Omidvar emphasized the need to shift away from this trend. “Democracy belongs to all of us only when we actually start participating.”
Omidvar said there are all kinds of opportunities, including small daily acts as well as sitting on the boards of various public and non-profit institutions that lead to participation. “It is all about taking ownership and paying it forward.”
She said it is not an anomaly for people to have split national loyalties in an increasingly globalized world where multiple identities are a fact of life. “As long as we wear our various hats properly, it is the values we uphold that matter.”
‘Don’t have to Keep Heads Low’
Picking up on the importance of being involved in the community, Winter highlighted the work of DiverseCity onBoard. The program enables visible minorities to find a place on non-profit and charitable boards. Winter said it is imperative that the face of leadership reflects the new Canada and all communities need to stretch their social capital.
Greer showcased the City of Mississauga’s efforts in engaging citizens and making sure city council utilizes its skills and knowledge while developing policy. Greer said this is mostly done by including citizen advisers on the different committees of the municipal council and making sure their input and feedback is heard.
With the self-deprecating claim that, “I am a shawarma man, not a politician,” Fakih shared his experiences in civic engagement at the local level. Fakih stressed that, “Change is a belief that you can make a difference even if it takes time and hard work,” and it starts with voting to ensure the right to have a say isn’t lost.
Apart from merely voting, Omidvar wanted the level of involvement in the political process to be a notch higher. She suggested that, “We must all become members of one political party or the other. We must infiltrate the system by not just sitting aside – when we move, we make change.”
All the panellists were of the opinion that new citizens coming from repressive societies must be made aware that it is possible to make change happen here in Canada and they have nothing to fear. “You need to unlearn repressions and know that you don’t have to keep heads low to stay out of trouble,” was the collective message from panellists to new Canadians to elevate their involvement in nation building.
The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 celebrated its official reopening on June 25, 2015 with the unveiling of Canadian Immigration Hall, a new exhibition showcasing the vast contributions of newcomers to Canada’s culture, economy and way of life, from past to present day. The opening of Canadian Immigration Hall, and the recent reopening […]
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by Themrise Khan in Ottawa, Ontario
Canada’s immigration landscape has seen several changes over the last decade, shifting the demographics of its provinces and cities.
The number of immigrants to Canada continues to increase, and newcomers are choosing cities beyond the conventional to make their home. What does this mean for Canadian cities, particularly, its scenic and quiet capital?
New Canadian Media sat down for a rapid fire round of questions with Ottawa Mayor, Jim Watson, to get some sound bites on what makes, or could make, Ottawa a more welcoming city. The conversation came at a fitting time, given that this week marks Welcoming Ottawa Week (WOW) – the third annual weeklong series of dialogues, events and activities meant to offer genuine hospitality to the city’s newcomers.
Small Town Charm
In a time of stiff competition for resources among provinces, what makes a smaller city like Ottawa more attractive for newcomers in comparison to larger cities like Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver?
According to Mayor Watson, a stable economy, an intelligent workforce, high quality of life and physical proximity to the federal government – not withstanding that the government has downsized substantially – are the city’s greatest assets.
“Ottawa-Gatineau offers the best of both worlds, small town charm and [it] is not as congested as other cities. I came from Toronto and found it very overwhelming there,” said Watson. “I wish we could do something about the weather,” he added, smilingly at one of the city’s only drawbacks from his perspective.
A Need for Immigrants
Several changes have occurred in Canada recently including reduction in funding to settlement services, tightening of immigration rules and procedures, the introduction of anti-terror act Bill C-51 and events like the Parliament Hill shooting, all of which have possible implications for newcomers to Canada. Could these deter immigrants from coming to Ottawa?
On the changes in immigrations rules, the mayor said it is hard to tell right now. “If the government is making immigration more difficult that is outside our jurisdiction, but we will still need to attract more immigrants into the economy. We need to reinvigorate the workforce with people from abroad because we are not producing enough children.”
The settlement sector has also seen substantial cuts over the last few years, which has affected the work of many frontline immigrant-serving organizations providing vital social services to newcomers, including in Ottawa.
However, as the mayor explained, “This is a federal issue and we have a pretty specific mandate under the Municipal Act with no funds [allocated for it]. But this is where we need new Canadians to come forward and push the candidates for where they stand on this issue.”
And that means tapping into the city’s image as a thriving, diverse metropolis. “We have really matured as a multicultural community over the last few years. Today when I visit a school it’s like walking into the United Nations,” Watson said. “There are dozens of different languages and a high quality environment.”
Adding to Ottawa’s draw for newcomers, the mayor cited examples of people like billionaire tech investor, Sir Terry Mathews, who could live anywhere in the world, but chose Ottawa, as well as new entrepreneurs like Tobias Lütke, founder of Shopify, who “originally came here from Germany, fell in love with the city and now has 400 employees and a billion dollar empire in Ottawa.”
Strength in Diversity
It could be argued that too much diversity in a small space could lead to problems, but Mayor Watson feels otherwise. “We need to see our diversity as a strength and sell that as an asset to companies who may want to relocate here,” he said, furthering the discussion on making Ottawa more attractive for business.
Fair enough, but what about several recent reports from major Canadian banks that claim job quality has fallen to its lowest level in more than two decades? “Ottawa’s three largest industries in terms of employment are the federal government (public service jobs), the high tech industry and tourism,” Watson responded.
“The first two of those tend to have quality jobs and fair compensation. [In Ottawa] we tend to have more knowledge-based employment rather than a manufacturing base, so we don’t have the same kind of problems we have seen in other provinces and cities, which have a heavy manufacturing base.”
On the issue of trying to engage more racialized youth in entering politics, municipal or federal, Mayor Watson said that trying to get any Canadian interested in politics is a challenge.
“When I first ran for mayor, there were 20 of us running. In this election there were just about five.” Declining involvement in federal and municipal elections is also a major issue for Watson. “Turnout in last year’s municipal elections was only 40 per cent. Many young people are frustrated and angry and that is not something one wants to see among the youth, especially if they are entering politics.”
His advice is threefold: “First get involved by voting, then get involved in a political campaign and then get your name on a ballot. We need young people and their energy and they need to believe in government. We also need to burrow into multicultural communities to get them more involved.”
Perhaps events such as WOW could eventually move beyond just a series of annual events and act as platform to encourage such engagement. The mayor was happy to entertain this idea, but he felt that it should come more from the grassroots than from the political sector.
by Ranjit Bhaskar (@ranjit17) in Toronto
“I wanted to be white so bad, and the worst thing I ever did was I was ashamed of my mother, that honourable woman, because she couldn’t speak English,” said Agnes Mills, a former student at All Saints residential school in Saskatchewan.
Mary Courchene, another former student of the residential schools Fort Alexander in Manitoba and Lebret in Saskatchewan, said, “And I looked at my dad, I looked at my mom, I looked at my dad again. You know what? I hated them. I just absolutely hated my own parents. Not because I thought they abandoned me; I hated their brown faces. I hated them because they were Indians.”
Statements like these necessitated the handing out of Kleenex as men and women wept listening to testimony from survivors on a video screen in Ottawa on Tuesday during the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) summary of its final report on Canada’s treatment of aboriginal people at residential schools.
The commission says it amounted to cultural genocide – an attempt to erase their way of life and indoctrinate them into a new culture.
Tracing back that history has been an onerous task, as it stretches back more than a century and has its origins in the churches’ and the federal government’s common goal of assimilating Canada’s aboriginal population into the dominant culture of European and Christian colonialists.
The TRC released 94 recommendations as part of a summary of its report. It features a common theme of concern that its work should not be forgotten, but rather lead to concrete steps to improve the lives of aboriginal people in Canada. And that’s keeping with its mandate to gather the written and oral history of residential schools and to work toward reconciliation between former students and the rest of Canada.
The TRC is the legacy of the largest class action lawsuit in Canadian history. When the former students decided to settle out of court with the federal government and four national churches, the commission’s creation was part of the terms to ensure their stories were heard and documented. The gathered testimonies will be kept and managed by a new National Research Centre on Indian Residential Schools at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.
Educating New Canadians
The broader hope is if Canadians have more knowledge of indigenous history, they will have a better understanding of the current policy disputes between governments and Aboriginal Peoples over natural resources, education and child welfare.
Of significant importance for new Canadians is the last two of the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action. The penultimate recommendation, “call[s] upon the federal government to revise the information kit for newcomers to Canada and its citizenship test to reflect a more inclusive history of the diverse Aboriginal [P]eoples of Canada, including information about the Treaties and the history of residential schools.”
The last recommendation urges Ottawa to replace the current Oath of Citizenship with one in which new citizens swear to faithfully observe the laws of Canada, “including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples.”
A timely reminder of not just building a nation-to-nation relationship between Aboriginal Peoples and the Crown that respects the promises of historical treaties, but also for resetting relationships between the First Nations and the “latest nations.”
The two recommendations are a call to remember the injustices inflicted on one of the founding peoples of Canada now that we are slowly, but surely, coming to know about the other history. The part of our collective past not taught in schools, not part of the citizenship test and not part of the “Welcome to Canada” package.
Time to remember the more than 6,000 aboriginal children who never returned to their homes after being sent to residential schools by the Canadian government.
And perhaps it is time for new Canadians themselves to insist on being better informed of an inconvenient truth to better appreciate the travails of indigenous people – essential because we cannot cherry-pick the history we inherit.
Acknowledging the Dark Legacy of Residential Schools
More than 150,000 aboriginal children were taken from their homes – sometimes by force with the assistance of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – to attend church-run residential schools that began receiving federal funding in the 1870s.
While many teachers and supervisors were well-intentioned, the residential nature of the schools left young children vulnerable to deviants in their midst. There was a tremendous amount of physical and sexual abuse, and former students raise the common concern of the schools’ intergenerational impact.
As Commissioner Marie Wilson describes in a video posted on the TRC website: “It has left devastating impacts in communities and in families ... because many of those learned behaviours are the very ones that those children brought into their own adulthood and then – as the courageous ones are able to say – they did the very same things to their children, in many cases, as had happened to them.”
The last schools closed in the 1990s.
Far too many Canadians, including many peoples of colour and First Nations themselves, are unaware of the Canadian history of colonization of the indigenous peoples and the exclusion of communities of colour. Instead, we need to invest in our collective understanding and put a halt to an enforced mass ignorance to change the way we look at each other, talk to each other and talk about each other.
Dialogue can hopefully foster positive relationships among indigenous peoples and newcomers to help bring about justice and equality for all. Reconciliation for indigenous people is an important first step towards that goal.
Ranjit Bhaskar is a Toronto-based print and online journalist with a newcomer’s keen interest in all things Canadian. Bhaskar, New Canadian Media's Toronto Editor, has more than 20 years of experience with leading mainstream international news organizations. He was with Al Jazeera for nine years till 2012 and played a pivotal role in the launch and evolution of its award-winning English language website. He also helped launch TechMail, a technology newspaper, and Eduquity Career Technologies, a web-enabled education and career assessment company.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit