New Canadian Media

Newcomers to Canada living in Burnaby, New Westminster and the surrounding areas will benefit from a new health clinic created and operated by the Burnaby Division of Family Practice and Fraser Health. Newcomers often find it challenging to navigate the health care system because of barriers such as language, finances and a lack of family […]

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The Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in Health

by Ranjit Bhaskar

Maria, a 38-year-old single mother of two boys, aged 14 and 8, graduated from university in the Philippines and did well as a dental hygienist there. The family recently immigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto’s Scarborough area. Maria needs to re-train as a hygienist as her credentials are not recognized in Canada. Having spent all her savings on tuition, she is forced to make regular visits to a food bank to keep hunger at bay.
 
Like Maria, Ali and Sabrina from the Middle East are not your stereotypical users of food banks. Newcomers living in the Peel region of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), the couple first visited the food bank not for food but to look for jobs in the community centre where it is located. Both have Masters Degrees from their home country, Ali in Biochemistry and Sabrina in Agronomy. Fluent in English, they are volunteering to get Canadian work experience. Sabrina says the effect of hunger is devastating on her family. “We are educated and just want any kind of job to survive.”  They have three children, daughters 11 and 9 and an 8-year-old son.
 
Both these families are a snapshot of new immigrants who now account for one in 10 people using food banks in Canada along with a similar number of aboriginals. While the March 2013 figures for people using food banks show a drop of 4.5 per cent from 2012, it fails to become a good news story as use remains 23 per cent higher than in 2008, before the recession began.
 
With far too many Canadians, new and old, struggling to put food on the table despite the apparent economic recovery, hunger has been called the epicenter of the country’s most pressing issues and flagged by the UN as unacceptable. The HungerCount 2013 report released on Tuesday by Food Banks Canada is the latest to highlight the scourge.
 
“The report comes as no surprise to me as the labour market, especially for new immigrants has become very tight and they have to depend on precarious jobs for mere survival,” said Dr. Usha George, Professor and Dean, Faculty of Community Services at Ryerson University in Toronto.
 
New immigrants are also more vulnerable to the vagaries of the job market as they tend to congregate on cities like Toronto that are becoming increasingly expensive, Dr. George said. “The gap between income and expenses is tremendous and it is growing.”
 
Sensitive economic indicator
A 2013 profile of hunger in the GTA put out by the Daily Bread Food Bank said visits to food banks might be a more sensitive indicator than unemployment rates of how the economy is doing. For most months following April 2012, Daily Bread member agencies saw a reduction in client visits from over the previous year. It preceded a downward trend in unemployment rates in Toronto that began in the fourth quarter of 2012.
 
Food-bank statistics have become a key indicator of poverty in Canada as national figures do not exist for social assistance rates, the number of people whose jobless benefits end before they find work or the waiting list for affordable housing.
 
While people accessing food banks across the GTA are reflective of Toronto’s diversity, there are indications of who might be more affected by poverty. Compared to five years ago, the clients are getting older, more highly educated, and more likely to be born outside of Canada.
 
The Daily Bread Food Bank profile says newcomers who have been in the country for five years or less represent twice the proportion than the general GTA population. This difference is even larger in the inner suburbs where close to 40 per cent of the newcomer population coming to food banks have been in the country for five years or less. Those numbers include highly educated, but underemployed, newcomer families with children living in apartments that are barely affordable.
 
“The people who utilize our services would challenge any typical notion of a food bank client you may have. We have medical doctors, lawyers, doctorates coming to us because of the systemic discrimination they face in the employment market,” said Daven Seebarran, Executive Director of Sikhs Serving Canada, a charity that runs the Seva Food Bank in the Mississauga region of the GTA.  
 
Culturally appropriate
Anecdotal evidences about increasing numbers of newcomers using food banks are many. “The numbers seem to have doubled over the years,” said Qamer Phirzada, the food bank manager of the Muslim Welfare Centre in Toronto’s Scarborough area. While her centre mainly caters to Muslims seeking Halal food, people from other cultures too use its services. “We try our best to put our clients at ease about their predicament,” said Ms. Phirzada.
 
Most food banks in the GTA are increasingly trying to make sure that they serve culturally appropriate food to their client. “One of the main tenets we focus on is to provide culture-appropriate food. This stems from research that says food from the home culture is essential for newcomers at a time of great stress,” said Mr. Seebarran. “We try to accommodate our clients’ needs and make their experience at the food bank as pleasant as possible.  We are dealing with a racialized populace that needs to be handled with sensitivity to make the whole exercise of giving meaningful.”
 
Like the Muslim Welfare Centre, Seva too serves a varied clientele and has seen an increase in the number of new immigrants using its services. “We are expanding to Malton area of Mississauga which again is a racialized community with the highest rate of unemployment in the region and the lowest rate of household income. Our new branch is really, really essential for the community,” said Mr. Seebarran.
 
Ryerson’s Dr. George said new immigrants are finding the going tough because working is no longer a safeguard against poverty due to lack of full-time jobs and the trend towards more part-time or seasonal job opportunities. The survey report on hunger in the GTA indicated that 35 per cent of food bank clients who have been on welfare have cycled on and of it two or more times, illustrating employment precariousness. One respondent to the survey said, “I am not the kind of person to go out and ask people or neighbours for food, money, or help. Without it (food banks), I often would not eat.”
 
Need to focus on root causes
However, food banks may be compounding the very problems they seem to be solving, according to Nick Saul, president and CEO of Community Food Centres Canada. In an article in The Walrus , Mr. Saul says food banks, “with all of their collecting and sorting and distributing and thanking, are meeting the needs of everyone except the people they were set up to help: the poor and hungry.”
 
“This emergency handout approach divides us as citizens, breaking down our society into us and them, givers and takers... We need to stop cheering on an approach that has already failed, and instead focus on the root of the problem: people are hungry because they are poor.”
 
A concern that was shared by Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, during his contentious visit to the country last year. Calling for a national food strategy, the UN official said a large number of Canadians are too poor to afford adequate diets, “800,000 households are food insecure... This is a country that is rich, but that fails to adapt the levels of social assistance benefits and its minimum wage to the rising costs of basic necessities, including food and housing. Food banks that depend on charity are not a solution: they are a symptom of failing social safety nets that the Government must address."
 
Another recent report by researchers at the University of Toronto  said 3.9 million Canadians struggled to afford enough food in 2011, an increase of close to half a million compared with 2008. Of those that went hungry, 1.1 million were children.
 
“The impact of this situation on children, families, communities, the health care system and our economy cannot be overstated,” said Dr. Valerie Tarasuk, a nutritional sciences professor at U of T’s Faculty of Medicine and principal investigator for PROOF, an international team of researchers committed to the reduction of household food insecurity.
 
“The problem is not under control and more effective responses are urgently needed," Tarasuk said. "The cost of inaction is simply too high.” – New Canadian Media
 
Maria, Ali and Sabrina mentioned in the article are fictional profiles based on composite statistics from real client stories from the Daily Bread Food Bank’s 2013 report on hunger in the GTA
 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Top Stories
Tuesday, 22 October 2013 20:55

New Canadians pushed to edges of the economy

by Ranjit Bhaskar
 
Social mobility, access to opportunity and fairness are foundational principles of Canadian society.
 
Sold on these ideals, immigrants arrive ready to thrive. Instead most struggle to survive as they find themselves shut out of the formal economy.
 
Faced with such exclusion, many are forced to find precarious jobs in the informal economy, says the latest study on the poor labour market outcomes faced by new immigrants. The Shadow Economies report released in Toronto on Tuesday attempts to throw more light on the dark underbelly of the city’s economy that is mostly invisible.
 
It puts a human face to an issue that is often talked in terms of the money it hides. Statistics Canada pegged the country's underground economy at up to $36-billion as of 2008.
 
A collaborative effort by east-end Toronto community service groups, the report moves past anecdotal stories to document the stark realities newcomers face. “Ours is the first Canadian ground-level examination of the topic to take a look at the hard numbers of the informal economy,” said Diane Dyson, the report’s co-author. “What we found was worse than what we expected. Instead of resilience, we found poverty.”
 
Poverty, in all its complexity, is a central theme in the findings of this report funded by the Wellesley Institute. It builds on earlier studies which looked at the dynamics of growing segregation of neighbourhoods by income bracket and the social networks that connect or isolate residents from the wider community.
 
Based on a survey of 450 immigrants, the researchers found only three per cent of respondents were still working in the professional occupations they were in before coming here.  Unemployment levels were very high with an average of 23 per cent compared to the Canadian average of three per cent. Only one-third of households reported being able to fully cover their household expenses on income earned through formal employment and 42 per cent of those engaged in informal economic activities earned less than $10,000 annually from them.
 
“If I knew the situation here ... I wouldn’t have applied to immigrate to Canada. I had a good job.
When they interviewed me at the visa office, I showed them my credentials, diplomas and my
experience. They were so nice. They never told me that they weren’t going to be recognized in
Canada,” said a respondent to the survey.
 
The report sits at the intersection of a number of complex issues: growing inequality, the spread of poverty and its concentration among immigrant and racialized populations, the changing shape of the labour force and the growth of employment precariousness, the debates over immigration classes (economic, family, refugee, temporary and undocumented), cultural diversity and immigrant settlement, the underground economy and tax avoidance.
 
Few ways out
 
“Immigrants who came through the front door, find they are not welcome and often settle for low wage ‘survival jobs’,” said Dyson. “Their Canadian dreams are quickly broken once they arrive.”
 
While the researchers expected discussions on credentialing processes, career ladders, and employment opportunities in their attempt to know how newcomers are coping, what they heard were stories of deadening isolation, unrestricted exploitation, exasperation, and dead ends with few ways of finding a bridge out of it.
 
Even their own ethnic communities in which they hope to find succour become entrapments rather than stepping stones. Consistent with other research, the study found that newcomers could not always rely on their ethnic groups for help in finding a good job. Those immigrants with fewer English-language skills could find needed supports, or, as easily, be taken advantage of within their own communities.
 
“As Canadians, we must be aware of the effects of these wider forces, especially on the most vulnerable and who have fewer choices. Even the wider protective effects of higher education do not shield against the structural discrimination that confines many immigrants to poor jobs,” said Dyson.
 
While the study did find some bright spots of mutual support, free enterprise, inspiration and new beginnings, the harsh reality is that many newcomers are working without the legislated protections which are intended to be universal minimum standards for all.
 
The study recommends that part of the solution will be to make explicit how regular employment is more profitable on both a personal and societal level and how one can claim one’s employment rights. However, a stronger underpinning has to be systemic enforcement, so that employers do not resort to an easy source of trouble-free, cheap labour and so that the most vulnerable among us are not left working without protection.
 
Dyson alluded to a separate country forming out there. The very “kind of ethnic enclaves or parallel communities that exist in some European countries” the government is keen to avoid. -- New Canadian Media
Published in Economy
 

The portal includes immigration resources, community attractions, and tools such as employment sites, health care options and newcomer guides, to help attract skilled Francophone immigrants to fill local labour market gaps.

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Canadian Immigrant

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Published in Top Stories

For newcomers looking for province with a thriving economy, Newfoundland and Labrador may be a good option. 

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Canadian Immigrant

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Published in Economy
Saturday, 03 August 2013 11:01

Top Financial Tips for Newcomers to Canada

Six-in-10 (60 per cent) newcomers lack confidence in their financial knowledge, particularly about using credit, during their first year living in Canada, according to research by RBC Royal Bank. But confidence rises the longer new immigrants are in the country, up to 92 per cent among newcomers who have lived in Canada between two and […]

Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in Economy

 

Six-in-10 newcomers who arrived last year say that they lack financial knowledge, including how to establish and build credit during their first year living in Canada

Canadian Immigrant

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Published in Economy

 Ava Homa is a Canadian writer from Iran (of Kurdish origin). A couple of years ago, her collection of short stories Echoes from Other Lands was published in Canada. Speaking at the book’s launch, she said, “There’s no accent when you write.” It’s an observation that has stayed with me.

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Canadian Immigrant

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Published in Commentary

 

Since 2007, more than 14,300 nurses have participated in the Nursing Graduate Guarantee initiative.

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Canadian Immigrant

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Published in Economy

 

The FIN Program provides permanent residents and new citizens temporary placements to gain the Canadian work experience they need to enter the Canadian work force.

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Canadian Immigrant

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Published in Economy
Page 10 of 11

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Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

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