New Canadian Media

by Shan Qiao in Toronto   

Hiring multi-language speaking staff, creating real-time interpretation apps, even launching an ethnic bank to serve primarily immigrants, Canadian banking business operators are getting fiercely competitive to woo business from immigrants.

Aiming to “become a preferred bank for the Chinese community in Canada”, Wealth One Bank of Canada (WOBC) has begun operations in Vancouver and Toronto. It is the very first Chinese-founded and -invested bank in Canada, a federally chartered Schedule I Bank under the Bank Act and regulated by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.

The man behind it, the founder and also the Vice Chair of the WOBC Board, Shenglin Xian, says from his Vancouver office that there are only 28 such foreign banks in Canada. “It is a historic moment for the Chinese community.”

Shenglin Xian, who is a well-known Chinese community financial advisor, has his own company Shenglin Financial Group Inc. located in North York, Toronto. He got into financial consultancy after he immigrated to Canada in 1990.

Same language, better understanding

“Currently, we will focus on serving the Chinese Canadians from the Great Vancouver Area and the Great Toronto Area. We will hire Mandarin and Cantonese speaking employees. Our service slogan is ‘same language, better understanding (translation)’,” he continues, explaining what he envisions as a respect for Chinese values and culture.

“Although all five major banks in Canada provide Chinese language service, the banking system is still operated under mainstream preference. We want to favour our Chinese clients with a tailored and Asian-styled service,” he continues.

“Although all five major banks in Canada provide Chinese language service, the banking system is still operated under mainstream preference. We want to favour our Chinese clients with a tailored and Asian-styled service,” he continues.

Ming Gu, a senior news producer from Toronto, also a Chinese immigrant who came to Canada in early 90's like Shenglin, has worked on a couple of translation projects for one of the five major banks for their Chinese language website.

He completely agrees with the fact that providing ethnic language service is not quite the same as bridging two different banking systems: Canada’s and the immigrant source country's.

“China’s (banking system) is even more different. The policy and products are very much in the different zones as well. Service literally translated into Chinese language might not be helpful for immigrants to understand the meaning behind. For example, credit rating in Canada is very critical for banks to determine whether or not applicants can apply for line of credit and how much they can get. One SIN number check will bring up a very detailed credit history of the applicant. However, it doesn’t really exist in China’s banking system, letting along for Chinese newcomers to understand the importance of credit rating,” Ming explains.

Maggie Yuan works at a public relations firm which provides multi-language translation services for corporate Canada's ethnic marketing needs in the Chinese and South Asian markets. 

“For economic reasons, mainstream comapnies can’t afford to overlook the needs of immigrant communities. For big corporate accounts, I have been dealing with, especially in bank, insurance, public service, entertainment industry, the needs to have Chinese language translation have always been increasing. Companies strategically promote their investment in diversity to gain positive image in immigrant community. It’s quite political, but it’s also about business,” she says.

Overcoming language, culture barriers

The major Canadian banks are also stepping up, developing faster and more convenient tools to woo immigrant clients who face a language barrier. Just last month, Royal Bank of Canada, which already has a Chinese version of its website besides the official English and French language, introduced a new app – the first of its kind in North America – that provides clients with real-time video access to qualified interpreters.

Christine Shisler, RBC's Senior Director of Cultural Markets, explains why such a language app makes business sense.

“Regardless of which RBC branch a client visits, we’ll be able to offer service in the language of choice. This is critical in helping our client – especially newcomers – understand how banking works in Canada.”

Shisler stresses out that RBC wants to be the bank that newcomers turn to for all of the important firsts – from first bank account to first home purchase. That means a lot of tailored service in language and cultural senses.

Going further, the bank’s Beijing staff, for example, will help students and family initiate their financial transition even before they arrive in Canada, a more aggressive business approach similar to what Wealth One Bank of Canada is doing in the reverse direction. 

Published in Economy

by Shan Qiao in Toronto
 
Queer activist Arsham Parsi took a risk when he left Iran and began to help other Iranians escape persecution for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

At a reading for his book Exiled for Love at the Toronto Public Library’s St. James Town branch, Parsi recalls the first time he attended Toronto’s Pride Parade 10 years ago, where he met an Iranian woman enjoying the parade.

He gave her his business card, hoping to get support from his own community.

“‘This is not us, this is them!’ she said and turned her face and walked away,” Parsi recalls. “I think I must have ruined her day because she couldn’t believe that Iranian LGBT exist.”

In search of a community

Instead of clustering in Iranian-populated communities, Parsi says he chooses to reside in Toronto’s LGBT-oriented enclave in the Church and Wellesley area. While Canada is embracing his sexuality, he says his own countrymen still deny him and other Iranian queers. 

While Canada is embracing his sexuality, he says his own countrymen still deny him and other Iranian queers.

“[Former Iranian] President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was not the first one to say that we don't have homosexuals [in Iran],” says Parsi. “I clearly remember that lady saying, ‘We don’t have it.’”

Parsi was already active during his early 20s in providing support to gay men in Iran through an online community. Still in Iran, he planned his 22-year-old birthday party at home and invited all his gay friends, only to be warned by a relative that there would be a police raid.

He says he called off the party at the last minute and learned that the police were using the Internet to entrap gay men.

While he was never arrested, he knows other homosexuals in Iran who were. Of his gay friends who were taken into custody, some received 175 lashes on their backs, while others were tortured during interrogations.

Parsi says the immanent danger he felt every day was intolerant, forcing him to escape Iran. He told his family that he was going to study at a university in Cypress, but instead took a train to Turkey and sought asylum through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ankara.  

“I continue with my work. It’s still risky, but I don’t like to admit it.”

From exile to acceptance

Parsi writes about being attacked with another gay Iranian refugee in Turkey while onlookers stood by. It took him a little over one year to finally receive refugee status and be accepted to Canada.

“Since arriving at the Canadian Embassy in Ankara, I had been treated with genuine openness and warmth,” Parsi writes in Exiled for Love. “The man smiled. I hoped that everyone in Canada would be like him.”
 
Upon arrival in Toronto in May 2006, Parsi says he, “inhaled deeply and felt the tears create wet paths across my cheeks . . . I felt as if I could breathe without pain.”

Parsi was 25 when he came to Canada as a government-sponsored refugee in the Refugee Assistance Program. During his first 12 months in Canada, he received financial assistance to cover basic needs – $604 a month to be exact.

“Not much, but it helped,” he says. 

“This wonderful country would be where I would live, but one day I would go home."

Parsi still receives threats from the Iranian community – something he says he deals with, but tries to ignore.

“I have professional relationships with the Iranian community, but I don't participate in their events because sometimes they make me very upset,” he explains. He says there are members of the Iranian-Canadian community who are intolerant and don’t support each other. 

“I don’t care what they say,” says Parsi. “I continue with my work. It’s still risky, but I don’t like to admit it.”

Railroad of support

In 2008, Parsi founded the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees (IRQR). As of December 2015, the IRQR has helped more than 1,200 Iranians who identify as LGBT claim refugee status.

According to the UNHCR in Ankara, more than 26,500 Iranian refugees were registered as of May 2016. UNHCR has registered 1,177 refugees who identify as LGBT as of June 2016 – 1,046 being from Iran, representing gay, lesbian and transgender individuals. 

Parsi and the IRQR are following 820 of the 1,046 LGBT refugee applications to help them go through UNHCR processes and eventually lead them to gain refugee status in Western countries. During the process, IRQR provides support and counselling to members of Iran’s LGBT community. 
 
“I would accept the generosity and security Canada offered me. I would use it to continue my work for others back in Iran,” writes Parsi in Exiled for Love. “This wonderful country would be where I would live, but one day I would go home. Until that day came, I would be in exile.”


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 Books

by Shan Qiao in Toronto
 
Without saying anything, Farrah Khan hands out a clipboard with a piece of paper on it to each person in the room.
 
“Now, I want each of you start to draw what was in your head at 9 a.m. this morning,” she says. “When time is due, you’ll hand the clipboard to the person next to you and continue on another person’s drawing.” Khan then plays a song by Beyoncé on her iPhone.
 
Several participants, including Khan, finish drawing different parts of each other’s pictures before they are returned to the original artist. The result is a joint effort made by each member of the group to explore their fellow participants’ mindsets.
 

Politics in comics 

It is the starting point for The Panel Is Political, a discussion on how to use comic books for social change, at Another Story Bookshop in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood.
 
The discussion is also led by Seemi Jamil, a youth group coordinator at the Afghan Women’s Organization in Mississauga, and Nicole Marie Burton, a comic book illustrator and founder and co-owner of Ad Astra Comix – North America’s first publisher dedicated to comics about social justice themes. 

“They are interested in talking about what it is like to be low-income in Canada but also assimilated within society.”

 
Jamil and Burton worked together early this year to develop a youth program that teaches immigrant and activist youth to draw and express their feelings. The program involved one-and-a-half hour sessions, held once a week for eight weeks. 

“Nicole [Burton] comes by and does workshops with the youth groups and teaches them how to do graphic-novel style storytelling,” Jamil explains. 

“We wrote a paragraph about a challenge we had to deal with in anonymity,” begins Burton, describing one of the group’s activities. She says the written paragraphs were ripped into pieces, folded, and mixed in a hat. 

“Everybody drew out a story and had to tell it in a comic form,” she adds. “It was incredible to me how much could have been done with that,” says Burton about the activity.

Other activities focused on character design, practising different dimensions and shapes, and drawing about current events. She adds that there never seemed to be enough time in each session to meet the youth’s high level of interest in each activity. 

Graphic novels, Jamil says, not only help immigrant and refugee youth to understand, but to be able to learn how to tell their own story.

Visual storytelling
 
“I was trying to get low-income youth groups to have some art form where they can talk about their own stories,” Jamil says. “They are interested in talking about what it is like to be low-income in Canada but also assimilated within society.”
 
An example of a political comic book that helps youth understand global events, says Jamil, is Persepolis – a graphic novel about the revolution in Iran.

“We’ve seen a large trend in youth groups trying to express themselves through different art forms as opposed to just writing,” she continues.
 

She says the program’s young female participants are of Afghani and Pakistani descent, and that the workshops focus on minority voices, people of colour, women of colour, and political situations all over the world.  

Graphic novels, Jamil says, not only help immigrant and refugee youth to understand, but also to be able to learn how to tell, their own story. She stresses that for marginalized groups who do not have the same vocabulary or English proficiency as other Canadians, art can help them understand and share ideas. 

Political comics gaining momentum 

Burton started Ad Astra Comix in 2013 in Toronto. She says she is passionate about social justice and wants to see more political comics that touch on topics such as sexism, racism, colonialism, homophobia and transphobia. 

[Khan] says white comic book artists often portray South Asian women stereotypically.

Ad Astra Comix not only publishes, but also creates its own graphic novels, including its first full-length graphic novel Drawing the Line: Indian Women Fight Back, a collection of stories by Indian women about topics including harassment, race, class and political struggle. 

Khan, the inaugural Sexual Violence Support and Education Coordinator at Ryerson University, has more than a decade of experience speaking about violence against women. 
 
As a trauma counsellor, she has led several educational programs, including comic book projects, to help women express their feelings and fears through drawing. 
 
In 2012, Khan put together a program to run a comic book workshop specifically for South Asian women. She says white comic book artists often portray South Asian women stereotypically.
 

The project resulted in a comic book called Heartbeats: The IZZAT Project, featuring stories and illustrations by South Asian women about violence and resilience in their lives.

The book was chosen by the Tahirih Justice Centre to be part of a tour to raise awareness about forced marriage in the United States. 

One of the stories the book features, titled “Cage,” resulted in the escape of one of the program’s participants from her abusive family. Khan says the young woman was able to find help at a women’s shelter two cities away from her home during the project.


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 Books

by Shan Qiao in Toronto

New writers are using mentorship opportunities to create and share more diverse and inclusive stories about Toronto’s history and culture. 

“What we want to do is to create a living history of Toronto through literature [and] make it as diverse as the city itself,” says Helen Walsh, the president of Diaspora Dialogues  – a charitable society made up of writers, artists and performers. 

“I’m not surprised that there are at least 50 to 60 countries represented through Diaspora Dialogues – lots of voices from Asia, Africa and Northern Europe,” Walsh adds. “Often, people write about their own cultural background and we want to bring Toronto to life through literature.” 

Mentoring new writers 

Toronto’s iconic Old City Hall, a national historic site, was the stage for Diaspora Dialogues during Doors Open Toronto, an event that offers access to buildings with historical significance across the city.  

“Often, people write about their own cultural background and we want to bring Toronto to life through literature.”

Jamaican-born and Ottawa-raised emerging writer Dianah Smith is one of 12 writers who presented their work at Old City Hall. As a teacher and arts educator, Smith joined Diaspora Dialogues in 2014 for its mentoring program, in which she paired-up with Jamaican-Canadian writer and media professional Martin Mordecai. 

“For about six months, he helped me to get into [a] schedule of my draft and first novel, finalizing some of the scenes of my manuscript to get it ready for publication,” Smith says about her experience as a mentee. 

“It’s a story about a seven-year-old girl, Jemela Campbell, and her experience in immigrating from Jamaica to Canada and her first year in Canada,” Smith explains. 

The excerpt she reads is from the novel, with a working title The Promise of Foreign, which explores some of the challenges newcomer parents face in Canada such as finding work and keeping jobs. 

“As a racialized person of colour, as an immigrant, you don’t really feel represented in the publishing world.”

Seeking recognition as writers 

“As a racialized person of colour, as an immigrant, you don’t really feel represented in the publishing world,” Smith explains. “You have names like Margaret Atwood, mainly white and middle-class people.” 

She says that while Diaspora Dialogues does not restrict white writers from participating, it also tries "to have alternative voices to give immigrants and indigenous people the opportunity to share their stories.” 

Author Mia Herrera adds that working in the Canadian publishing and writing industry is precarious. 

“A writer who publishes regularly makes a salary of about $12,000 a year. You can’t make a living on that,” she says. 

Born to Filipino parents, Herrera now lives in Bradford, Ont. She works in communications and marketing and says she continues to write because it is her passion. 

Smith says she is still in the process of finding an interested publisher for her novel. While her mentorship program ended last fall, she continues to participate in other programs led by Diaspora Dialogues such as Lunch and Learn events, workshops about pitching to agents, as well as mentee book readings such as the one at Old City Hall. 

“These questions arise regularly for her, particularly as she lives in such a racially-charged town as Georgina.”

Placing immigrants in Toronto’s history 

After working with her mentor, writer David Layton, Herrera had her first novel Shade published by an independent feminist publisher, Inanna Publications. 

Shade tells the story of a Filipino-Canadian woman named Benni from the small town of Georgina, Ont., and her trip to the Philippines to visit her father. 

“Georgina is a town in York region about an hour-and-a-half north of here that is somewhat notorious for racist acts – disputes about flying the Confederate flag in schools and repeated incidents of racially-driven assaults,” Herrera tells the audience at Old City Hall. 

Georgina was the site of attacks against Asian Canadian fishermen in 2007, which involved car chases, damaged fishing gear, and anglers of Asian descent being pushed into the water. 

The scene Herrera reads is from the beginning of the novel about a breakup between Benni and her long-time Chinese-Canadian boyfriend, Tom. Instead of hearing a proposal, Benni is shocked to learn that Tom has hesitations about their future together because he is concerned about how Benni’s race will affect him and his family’s business. 

“As you will find in this scene and throughout my novel, Benni deals with questions of race and what it means to be a visible minority and second-generation immigrant in Canada,” Herrera says. “These questions arise regularly for her, particularly as she lives in such a racially-charged town as Georgina.” 

“Her experiences in the Philippines allow her to take the long view of not just her life in Georgina, but of her life in Canada, and what it means to be Canadian,” she adds. 


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 Books

by Shan Qiao in Toronto 

Canadian writers and educators are expressing a need for more children’s books about refugee and diaspora stories that reflect Canada’s diversity. 

“It was very difficult several years ago when we tried to promote diverse kids’ books,” says Sheila Koffman, who hosted the workshop “Diverse Kid Lit” at the first-ever Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) in Brampton, ON. Koffman has owned and managed Another Story Bookshop, an independent bookstore in Toronto, for nearly 30 years. 

“We started in a basement of a house,” she shares. “We went around [to] schools, doing presentations and selling books.”
 
When she first began as a bookseller, Koffman was the only one showcasing diverse books – an experience that she says was “very devastating” because of the criticism she faced and the challenge of low book sales.
 
Since then, things have improved. Her bookstore has received many invitations to do presentations at different school boards, who are now very welcoming of Koffman’s diverse children's literature.  

Stories of Canada’s kids

“There weren’t nearly enough diverse kids books in Canada,” Koffman says, adding she still relies on diverse children’s literature from England and the United States to stock her shelves. 

“We have a lot diverse children books in Canada, but we need more.”

“We have a lot diverse children books in Canada, but we need more,” says author and educator Nadia Hohn.
 
At the workshop, Hohn presented her children’s picture book Malaika’s Costume, a story loosely based on her childhood. The story starts with the first Caribbean Carnival that Malaika attends as a child 
after she moved to Canada with her mother. Hohn explains that many children, like Malaika, have come to Canada with their parents who must find work abroad to provide for their family.

“This is a fact for so many kids, not only Caribbean kids, but kids from so many ethnicities . . .” explains Hohn. “Growing up in Canada, a lot of children don’t know about how some of their classmates live. That’s their reality.” 

From Joseph’s Big Ride, about a child refugee’s bicycle dream, to Sex Is a Funny Word, which is about gender identity, human bodies and sexuality, Koffman introduced a few examples of diverse children’s literature authored or published by Canadians.
 
She says there are not enough books for youth that discuss mental health – particularly mental health issues affecting immigrants and refugees.
 
Jael Richardson, Artistic Director of FOLD, introduced her new children’s book The Stone Thrower along with illustrator Matt James.
 
Based on a true story, The Stone Thrower tells of how Richardson’s father, Chuck Ealey, grew up in a poor and racially segregated community in Ohio and found refuge in Canada. The book’s cover features a photo of a young, Black man throwing a football. Ealey eventually became a professional player in the Canadian Football League.
 

“Most authors have full-time jobs and are doing this on the side.”

Supporting independent authors

Hohn attended Koffman’s presentation as the founder of Sankofa, a collective of authors of African and Caribbean descent. 

“I try to learn as much as I can to help me as an author and a writer,” explains Hohn. 

She says authors from diverse backgrounds need support to write books that fit the needs of children.

“Most authors have full-time jobs and are doing this on the side,” Hohn explains. “Especially if you are self-published, you are paying for everything out-of-pocket.”

She adds that self-published writers face the additional challenge of not having their books showcased in certain bookstores and catalogues.

“Some libraries just started to accept some independently published books, so if most of the books published by Black authors are self-published and so many doors are closed, that means those books are not getting into where they need to,” she says.

“Those books are windows to other worlds for our kids to learn about lives of kids from other ethnicities or even in their own country.”

Diverse literature gaining momentum 

Hohn says she teaches in a school that has a mandate to reflect Black or Caribbean history, and believes all schools should reflect the diversity of Canada in their books. 

“I don't think we should wait for the books to reflect the kids. Those books are windows to other worlds for our kids to learn about lives of kids from other ethnicities or even in their own country,” she explains. 
 
FOLD, which Richardson says started two years ago in a coffee shop in downtown Brampton, is working toward this.
 
“Over the past year, provincial and municipal organizations, Canadian publishers, industry professionals, local companies, and community partners have stepped up to bring nearly 40 authors and performers to Brampton, delivering more than 30 sessions and events that showcase diverse Canadian literary talent and provide training for emerging writers,” Richardson says.
 

FOLD’s inauguration took place from May 6 to 8.


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 Books

by Shan Qiao in Toronto 

A campaign to collect books and other resources to enhance educational opportunities for black children in Toronto is gaining support, while the Black Lives Matter Toronto continues to challenge anti-Black racism in the city. 

A book drive took place recently at A Different Booklist, an independent bookstore in Toronto. It encouraged people to purchase books and donate them to Black Lives Matter Freedom School, a summer program focused on teaching black children aged four to 10 about black liberation history. 

“[Children of African descent] do not get exposed enough, if at all, to the history of blacks in Canada or North America and around the world during the regular school year,” said Natasha Henry, an elementary school teacher and author. “The book drive is a way to engage them in their learning, contributing to the community, and really empowering them with knowledge that will help them to continue their education, whether at school or in the community.” 

Movement targets education, police 

“We’re fighting for justice, freedom and dignity for all black people.”

LeRoi Newbold, a director of Black Lives Matter Toronto and the organizer of the book drive, said the black community should have control over what black children are learning, independently from school boards. 

“In Toronto, 40 per cent of black children did not graduate from high school,” said Newbold. While that number has decreased recently, black students still experience high suspension rates and low graduation rates. 

“It’s alarming and unacceptable,” said Newbold. “We’re not waiting for that system to change. We’re creating our own schools, our own institutions.” 

Black Lives Matter Toronto is also collecting resources for the school through an online Indiegogo fundraising campaign. To date, the campaign has raised $10,361. 

Not far from the upbeat book drive that had a few dozen people packed into the tiny single-unit bookstore, Black Lives Matter Toronto protested for the seventh day in-a-row outside Toronto Police Service headquarters to draw attention to anti-black racism in the city.

The demonstrations began in part to protest the Special Investigations Unit’s decision not to lay charges against a Toronto officer who fatally shot 45-year-old Sudanese immigrant Andrew Loku. The group also announced a lawsuit against the Toronto Police Service for allegedly raiding and searching the home of Jean Montaque, a black mother, without warrant. 

“We’re fighting for justice, freedom and dignity for all black people, and the right for black people to not experience violence [at] the hands of the police force,” Newbold said of the protest. 

Teaching the history of black activism 

[Block quote: sharing a pioneering black activist’s accomplishments and legacy show how the struggling for freedom has evolved over time.] 

Henry was one of the presenters at the book drive, held on Mar 24. She wrote Firsts and African Diaspora as part a 15-book series on black heritage in Canada and around the world. 

“Often of times, historians are very interested in the past, yet young people will say ‘What does that have to do with us today?’” Henry told the crowd. “So it’s very important that we provide the historical context, but mix it with what is going on today in our communities and around the world.” 

In Firsts, Henry focuses on many “firsts” in the African-Canadian community and other African diaspora communities. The cover features an image of Michaëlle Jean, the first black person to serve as Governor General of Canada. 

“When we’re looking at the markers of ‘the first’ African descent, it gets us to think critically about why some of these ‘firsts’ are just happening in the 21st century, despite the fact that Africans have been in Canada since the 16th century,” Henry said. She described how the stories of “firsts” began a legacy of anti-black racism and how that is manifesting itself today. 

“Whether it is over-policing, police brutality, the unemployment rate of young black people – which is much higher than the general population – student dropout rates… these are all a legacy of how black people have been marginalized,” she says. 

“What happens to one group affects all of us in different ways.”

Henry read a part from the book about Viola Desmond, who was a black businesswoman born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In the 1940s, Desmond fought for her right to sit on the main floor of a movie theatre after being told it was reserved solely for white patrons. Henry stressed that sharing a pioneering black activist’s accomplishments and legacy show how the struggle for freedom has evolved over time. 

Community’s struggles not isolated 

Another presenter, Nadia Hohn, demonstrated traditional African songs and dances during the book drive. Born to Jamaican parents, she is now an elementary school teacher and author and uses traditional music as a teaching tool for kindergarten children. 

“We want our freedom and to live in dignity,” she sang to the crowd, holding one wrist with the other hand, then taking them apart to demonstrate freedom. 

“There are many different groups in Canada that have experienced different degrees of discrimination,” Hohn said. “What happens to one group affects all of us in different ways. It might not be a direct impact, but it has ripple effects on others.” 

Similarly, improvements in one community also have a positive impact on others, she added.


 

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 Books

by Shan Qiao in Toronto     

Women’s rights advocates are looking for influential Canadian female figures to join a national women’s coalition to raise awareness about women’s issues and get more government funding. 

On Mar. 5, the third day of the National Metropolis Conference, a roundtable titled “Changing Support to Women’s Organizations: Implications For Immigrant Women” was hosted by Debbie Douglas, the executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI). 

Other presenters included representatives from Status of Women Canada and several frontline workers from different women’s organizations serving specific ethno-cultural groups or geographically located clients. 

“The opportunity arose when we brought all different women’s organizations from across the country together,” said Douglas. “What we saw happening was that by the end of it, there was real enthusiasm for a network and very concrete suggestions on holding a national women’s symposium on a broader range of women’s issues.” 

A national women’s coalition 

What these women’s organizations try to build are networks that include indigenous women, immigrant and refugee women, lesbian and trans-women, and moms facing problems like finding affordable childcare and returning to the workplace. 

“We need to get together as Canadians, regardless how long we’ve been in this country.”

“We need to get together as Canadians, regardless how long we’ve been in this country,” Douglas urged. 

Some issues they want to examine are violence against women across all races, cultures and classes; wage gaps and women not being able to advance in careers because of gender discrimination; and limited childcare spaces. 

As a result of an engaging roundtable discussion, one of the participants, Fatima Filippi, the executive director of Rexdale Women’s Centre in Toronto, proposed the idea to form a national women’s coalition to gather different women’s service groups together, asking for government support and sustainable funding. 

The roundtable participants brainstormed on who should be involved and suggested groups for immigrant women, mothers, foreign caregivers, women from shelters and feminists. 

Participants also proposed inviting influential female figures, such as the Minister of Status of Women Canada Patricia Hajdu and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, who is the prime minister’s wife. 

Deteriorating funding 

Government funding for women’s organizations has been continuously deteriorating from when it was at its peak in the ’80s, explained Douglas. 

Yannick Raymond, regional director of Status of Women Canada in Ontario, comes from one of four locations across the country that works for the ministry to deal with all stakeholders. There used to be 16 locations before former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government took power and closed 12 of them. 

[W]omen’s advocates say they are starting to see a change in tone, which at a minimum slows the downfall of the women’s movement in Canada.

Raymond was among a dozen stakeholders who discussed women’s issues from the perspective of the government. She praised Hajdu, who she said has a thorough understanding of current women’s issues based on her past social and community service experience. 

As for the new Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, women’s advocates say they are starting to see a change in tone, which at a minimum slows the downfall of the women’s movement in Canada. 

“Beginning with Brian Mulroney’s government, we started to see a real cut in social programs, followed by the Liberal government that stayed in power for almost 13 years, who really did deepen cuts, but still had the language and values of supporting women’s organization,” explained Douglas. “In comes Harper. They changed the mandate of Status of Women where all references to women’s equality were removed.” 

Douglas continued, “We saw the closing of significant women’s organizations, immigrant women’s organizations, and indigenous women’s organizations.” 

Looking forward to change 

An earlier workshop, also hosted by Douglas, titled “Impact of Ten Years of Conservative Rule on Women’s Political Organizing”, shared the same perspective on the deteriorating changes to women’s organizations due to funding cuts. 

“Twenty years ago, Canada ranked first in women’s equity. Now we are 14th. We were way worse under Harper."

Writer and activist Judy Rebick who gained national prominence as president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women in the early ’90s, quoted statistics from a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on Canada’s inequality index number to explain the funding cuts. 

“Twenty years ago, Canada ranked first in women’s equity. Now we are 14th. We were way worse under Harper. The lack of connections between the government and women’s advocacy was huge,” she said. 

However, Douglas remains optimistic. 

“Come 2015, we see the articulation by a prime minister who talks about the importance of women’s representation. For example, 50 per cent of his cabinet is female, his attention on indigenous issues. He at least articulates a value for wanting to see immigrant and racialized women succeed,” Douglas said of Trudeau, adding, “We’ll have to see what’s in the budget.”


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

by Shan Qiao in Toronto 

Governments and bureaucrats need to focus less on numbers and more on starting real conversations that tackle critical problems, like race, in ways that engage immigrants rather than shaming them. 

“A lot of time when it’s about race, we are afraid to talk about it,” said Yolande James, one of four speakers from the government and legal system who presented at the “Identities, Rights and Migration: A Session on the Intersection of Gender, Race, Class and Sexuality” session at the 18th National Metropolis Conference held in Toronto last week. 

“There is a way to have a conversation involving everybody, to be respectful and constructive. Everybody has something to give and we should have an equal life.” 

James, a former provincial politician, was the first Black female cabinet minister in Quebec history, serving as Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities & Minister of Family between 2007 and 2014. 

As a former provincial government minister, and child of immigrant parents herself, James knows about how inefficient all levels of government are in engaging newcomers into their host country. 

“Do we engage immigrant populations? Do we have engaged dialogue?” she asked. “We haven’t done enough.” 

She said the lack of society-wide conversations that engage with immigrants sends the message that they do not matter. 

“I feel the whole nation, in terms of why the issues touching immigration and diversity [are] important, is not engaged,” she said. “It’s all about being able to engage people to connect with other people’s experience.” 

“There is so much emphasis on the numbers, but it’s not important. It’s about their journey.”

As an example, James pointed to the current challenge of accepting Syrian refugees to Canada. She said that the government needs to pay attention to more than just the number of refugees being accepted. 

“Should it be 55,000 or 50,000?” she asked. “There is so much emphasis on the numbers, but it’s not important. It’s about their journey,” she said. 

Case in point: Iran sanctions 

Another contemporary example is the government’s inefficiency in communicating with immigrants about the sanctions against Iran in 2010 by the former Conservative government. 

Theoretically, sanctions against Iran were not meant to target Iranian citizens or Iranians who immigrated to Canada, but instead to put pressure on the Iranian government. 

However, a large number of Iranian Canadians were caught in the crossfire and penalized by Canada, said Iranian Canadian lawyer Negar Achtari who practises in Ottawa. 

“The impact of the sanctions on Iranian Canadians is everywhere in the ordinary Iranian immigrant’s daily life.”

“The impact of the sanctions on Iranian Canadians is everywhere in the ordinary Iranian immigrant’s daily life,” she explained. 

“The federal government restricted money wiring from Iran to Canada. Manitoba and Quebec announced they were not accepting Iranian immigrants under [the] investment category. CIBC and TD banks proceeded to close Iranian Canadians' bank accounts, sweeping their assets from chequing accounts to credit cards and mortgages, frozen without notice.” 

She also mentioned another resulting impact – the Canadian Border Services Agency seizing Iranians’ belongings upon their arrival to Canada for a time-consuming scrutinization. 

“We believe governments are our guardians. What they’ve done is simply wrong,” said Achtari. “When and to whom do these [sanctions] apply? There is only silence from the government. What they tried to say is, ‘figure it out on your own!’” 

Despite laws in place, discrimination persists   

Avvy Go, human rights lawyer and clinic director at the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, shared her experience of asking for redress and compensation from the Canadian government for the Chinese Head Tax victims and their descendants almost 10 years ago. 

[R]acialized women earn 55.6 per cent of the income of non-racialized men.

She was one of a dozen activists who mobilized many community activities asking the Liberal government at the time, led by Prime Minister Paul Martin, for redress and monetary compensation. 

Along with an official apology, the Harper Conservative government gave $20,000 to direct victims who paid a $500 head tax in the early 20th century in order to come to Canada. 

According to Canada’s Colour Coded Labour Market report, racialized men are 24 per cent more likely to be unemployed than non-racialized men. 

Racialized women have it worse: They’re 48 per cent more likely to be unemployed than non-racialized men. 

This many contribute to the fact that racialized women earn 55.6 per cent of the income of non-racialized men. 

Go used these figures to highlight that although anti-racism and anti-homophobia laws are in place, discrimination continues to exist.

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 Politics
Wednesday, 24 February 2016 16:55

"Diversity Without Inclusion Has No Meaning"

by Shan Qiao in Toronto

Employers and participants at the 2016 Diversity@Work Conference learned that creating diverse workplaces is about more than just hiring more newcomers.

“Inclusion is a state of being valued, respected and supported. It’s about focusing on the needs of every individual and ensuring the right conditions are in place for each person to achieve his or her full potential,” said keynote speaker Zanita DiSalle, who is Royal Bank of Canada’s (RBC) regional vice president for West Brampton.

She explained that diversity reaches should include all those traditionally “excluded” groups such as women, visible minorities, LGBT, aboriginal and indigenous people, persons with disabilities and millennials.

“Diversity without inclusion has no meaning. Without inclusive practice, there is no respect to people’s difference,” DiSalle continues. 

The role of the conference

About 150 participants, including job seekers, employers, human resources professionals, diversity consultants, lawyers and students attended the conference, held on Feb. 19 at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management.

The conference organizer and executive director of Skills for Change, Surranna Sandy, expressed how important she feels the conference, now in its seventh year, is.

“We want employers to particularly understand the value and the role immigrants can play to make their businesses very successful. We look at different things, for example, how diversity helps you [business] make more money, helps you gain more customers, helps you retain your staff. This year, we look at the future for diversity, what strategies and tools you need to have,” Sandy added. 

“Inclusion is a state of being valued, respected and supported."

One speaker, filmmaker Ian Sun, explored how the technological revolution changed workplace diversity. Ontario Human Rights Commission’s chief commissioner Renu Mandhane was also present to discuss perspectives on human rights and diversity. 

Workshops during the day focused on different approaches to diversity and inclusion, such as how to create inclusive workspaces; understanding and minimizing unconscious bias in hiring; the gender identity and expression toolkit to create authentic workplaces; and best practices for workspaces with multiple generations. 

Experiences of diversity and inclusion

In her keynote, DiSalle explained that when she came from Jamaica to start her new life in Canada, she immediately realized the difference between her and her classmates after dressing in her traditional bandana shirt to go to kindergarten.

“I heard one lovely little girl tell her friend, ‘Don’t touch her, or you will become brown,’” she said. “Do we have diversity? Yes. Is it inclusive? No.”

“Do we have diversity? Yes. Is it inclusive? No.”

To further illustrate how our physical differences are only skin-deep, DiSalle played a video created by the Ad Council titled “Love Has No Labels”. It features people on the street watching as pairs of skeletons on a screen talk, kiss and hug. 

When the pairs come out from behind the screen, it’s revealed that among the skeleton pairings are are same-sex couples, interracial couples, seniors and people with disabilities. This is meant to demonstrate that love takes many forms, but at its core, it looks the same.

Diversity in the workplace

Part of the day’s discussion addressed whether applicants’ foreign-sounding names, accents and credentials could be barriers during the interview process. 

Employers also discussed how they could help newcomers develop social and language skills in the workplace so that they can fully integrate into the organization.

When asked about how to foster diversity while hiring to fit job requirements, DiSalle answered: “For our hiring process, we found objectivity is essential rather than subjectivity.

“Because [of] this objective process we have, we ensure that we have different stages of interview process that are based on objective measures and objective questions. Depending on how people do in different stages, we determine whether or not they move to the next stage.” 

Employers also discussed how they could help newcomers develop social and language skills in the workplace.

While affirmative action in job and university recruitment continues to be a subject of debate, DiSalle stressed that an objective approach to hiring aims to recognize all the skills employees bring to the company.

“Inclusion is looking at a person as a whole — not just their education, physical characteristics, cultural background or work experience, but how all the elements work together, ” said DiSalle.

To help businesses in Canada integrate newcomers into their workplaces, RBC partners with organizations like Maytree Foundation to provide online tools and resources on sites like Hire Immigrants.

Including the millennial generation

The conference also heard from young people who are eager to participate in the job market.

“We just started a diversity consulting firm, specifically for attention of the millennials and diversity in workplace,” said Shanthiya Baheerathan, a fellow at Studio Y experimental consulting firm at MaRS Discovery District, Canada’s largest innovation hub located in downtown Toronto. 

In our education and workplace system, we start to realize that diversity is representation, rather than inclusion, “ Shanthiya explained.

She explained that representation is just having people in the room, as opposed to having people in the room who are meaningfully involved in the workplace. 

“This is not just race and gender or ability. It's a wide range of things, which includes age, especially as 20 per cent of the population and 40 per cent of the workforce will become the representative of the millennials.” 

“I think workplaces should really move towards to making themselves more inclusive,” she concluded. 

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

Family reunification is at the core of the Liberal government’s immigration policy. After our two-part in-depth piece on the pros and cons of the family class immigration stream, this new series takes a closer look at the process from the perspectives of major immigrant groups in Canada. What are the opinions and experiences of individuals and families who took this route or are in the process of doing so? We find out what works and what needs improvement. The following report is the first in our series and looks at what can happen when family reunification rules bring together and split apart a family at the same time. 

by Shan Qiao in Toronto     
 
Canada’s family reunification program brought Simei Wu’s parents to Canada, while simultaneously separating her from her husband, who chose to return to Mainland China to be with his parents.
 
Wu and her husband Feng Xie immigrated to Canada in 2008. Two years later, after they settled down in Toronto working full-time in the service sector, Wu applied to have her parents come to Canada under the Family Reunification (FR) class.
 
“I’m the only child to my parents,” she says. “They [wanted] to live with me and help me take care of my child.”

 
As a popular tradition in the Chinese community, elderly parents often help their children by looking after their newborn grandchildren and assisting with housework.
 
Wu had her first child in early 2010. At that time, both she and her husband earned just enough to pay the bills. There wasn’t too much leftover to hire a nanny or for Wu to be a stay-at-home mom.
 
“I sent applications to sponsor my parents to immigrate in May 2010,” she recalls. “I learned from CIC’s (Citizenship and Immigration Canada's) website that the average waiting time was five to eight years.”

 
She initiated the same application process for her husband’s parents later that year.

The impact of changing policies

When Wu submitted her applications there was no yearly intake cap for the parent and grandparent sponsorship program.

This soon changed, under the Conservative government, due to the large backlog of applications.

On Nov. 5, 2011, CIC imposed a two-year moratorium on new applications and announced that when they were accepted again, only 5,000 a year would be permitted. As such, the government also created the super visa allowing elderly parents to visit Canada for two year periods. The visa is good for 10 years.

“My parents were anxious when they learned the halt on new applications."

Wu’s parents were consequently on the super visa, remaining with their daughter while waiting for their FR application to progress.

“My parents were anxious when they learned [about] the halt on new applications. They didn’t know when they will receive immigrant status and worried [that] they might not be able to afford going to the hospital if sick,” Wu shares.

In addition, when Wu initially applied, the minimum required income for a family of her size (four grandparents, two parents, one child) was $59,907. This was determined based on the Low Income Cut-Off (LICO) established by Statistics Canada annually.

The Conservatives then introduced a 30 per cent increase, meaning Wu’s family would need earn $77, 879 annually in order to sponsor all four grandparents. This posed a challenge since the family had been earning a humble $60,000 a year.

Last summer, after Wu’s second child started to walk, she found out through CIC’s website that her parents’ applications had been approved and their next step was to undergo a medical check.

“Everything goes back to zero for my in-laws.”

Her husband’s parents’ applications, however, had been forwarded to a Hong Kong office for further review, meaning possibly another five to eight years of waiting.

“Everything goes back to zero for my in-laws,” Wu explains.  
 
She says the prolonged process has already consumed her relationship with her husband Feng. The different outcome of each other’s parents’ applications has caused tension between Feng and his in-laws. He now works in China to look after his ailing parents, and only returns to Canada during holidays.

Getting through the red-tape 

As a result of her own experience, Wu has become more involved in talking with her immigrant friends and helping their elderly parents to apply for family reunification. 

She and her friends formed an unofficial parents’ immigration club at the Peanut Plaza in Toronto’s Don Valley West community.   

Group members exchange information with each other on the bench outside of the Feng Tai (Foody Mart) Supermarket. They pick up free Chinese weekly newspapers and magazines, searching for knowledge-based articles or immigration consultant advertisements. 

“I’m concerned that doubling the application numbers will also double the process time, making the waiting time as long as eight to 10 years."

Each November, Wu and her friends begin preparing application documents. They secure Purolator couriers and meet them right at 9 a.m. on the first work day of each new year for CIC, to hand in their application packages, which are now only accepted by mail or couriers.
 
“People pay couriers an extra $200 or more for this job,” explains Wu. “They have to line up at CIC’s office to ensure the application is sent … it’s a battle to get your hope started.”

Skeptical of changes ahead

Yang Haifeng, the president of New Canadian Community Centre, is doubtful about the Liberal government’s campaign promise to double the number of applications allowed for parents and grandparents to 10,000 a year.
 
“We’re not sure if it is really 10,000 applications yet because the additional 5,000 applications are not a small amount. It takes four to five years for applicants to get their FR status approved,” Yang says.
 

“I’m concerned that doubling the application numbers will also double the process time, making the waiting time as long as eight to 10 years. How could our seniors afford to wait for such a long time?”

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 Policy
Page 1 of 3

Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

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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