New Canadian Media

Commentary by Will Tao in Vancouver

The Liberal Government finally delivered on their long-standing campaign promise to end conditional permanent residency for spouses on April 28.

Previously introduced in October 2012 by the Conservative government, the conditional permanent residence regulation required those who were in a relationship for two years or less and had no children to live with their sponsors for two years after they became permanent residents. Some exceptions were carved out for individuals who were victims of abuse or neglect. The Toronto Star (Nicholas Keung) reported that only 57 individuals sought an exemption and were successful in 75 per cent of their exemption requests.

The negative consequences of conditional permanent residency were often borne by vulnerable women and their young newly-born children. New to Canada and without a support network, they were victimized by their abusive spouses, but often too scared to seek help.

While the exception provisions allowed for a streamlined process to contact Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in these circumstances, I had several women subject to conditional permanent residence tell me first-hand stories of being prevented access to computers, phones, even the internet. In one case, I had a woman tell me that she locked herself in a bathroom just to communicate with me as we prepared her case.

Another woman told me about feigning sleep in order to avoid the verbal and psychological abuse of a partner coming home violent and intoxicated. All of this because they were afraid to leave their spouses and put their status in Canada at risk.

I am glad these individuals can now sleep better at night and enjoy the security that all Canadians rightfully enjoy.

Conditional permanent residence created more harm than good.

It is important to note that that these stories did not only come from vulnerable women. They also came from male conditional permanent residents who were abandoned by their spouses, as well as the LGBTQ2+. Many of these relationships broke down foremost as a result of infidelity, leading later to abuse and neglect – a sequence of events that the earlier exceptions policy appears to have overlooked. 

Conditional permanent residence created more harm than good, more uncertainty. For this, I am glad it is a thing of the past and we can move forward.

Immigrant Marriage Breakdowns ≠Marriages of Convenience

Moving forward, in my view, begins by re-framing the two issues of marriage fraud and marriage breakdown. We should not use the end of the conditional permanent residence requirement as a pretext to now second guess or re-scrutinize the genuineness and immigration intent of a majority (85%+) of bona-fide immigrant marriages. The end of conditional permanent residence, I hope, will not lend cover to sponsors trying to remove their sponsored spouses from Canada.

The reality with sponsorship of immigrant spouses is that a significant portion of genuine marriages will end up breaking down. While academic research is limited in this area, my hypothesis is based on the following:

First, I believe economic challenges have a greater negative effective on immigrant marriages and common-law partnership. Piecing together what we do know, recent Canada statistics show that 48% of all marriages are now ending in divorce, with financial issues and adultery among the leading causes. Poverty affects racialized individuals at a rate four times greater than non-racialized families and past studies have found immigrants who have been in Canada less than five years are 11 percentage points more likely to be in poverty than other Canadians. Furthermore, immigrant families, receive less in household income and are less likely to own homes than non-immigrant families. New Canadian immigrants, especially women, are often more likely to face labour market challenges and experiences with precarious work conditions.

Second, I suggest that cultural shock also contributes to marriage breakdown by creating consequences such as the return of the sponsored spouse to their home country, abandonment, and adultery. Carmen Munoz, Program Manager for the Cross-Cultural Peer Support Group Program for Immigrant and Refugee Women (CCPSGP) highlights in a piece she writes the challenges new immigrant women face which include experiencing “intense culture shock, isolation, depression, frustration and an overwhelming sense of confusion, which in turn, not only manifests itself mentally, but through physical reactions as well.”

The cultural pressures, the economic pressures, and often extended family pressures (from both the Sponsor and the Applicant) can coalesce and intersect into major challenges for immigrant marriages and common-law partnerships.

Unfortunately, conditional permanent residence lumped the issue of marriage breakdown unnecessarily into the marriage fraud debate, inputting bad intentions where more often than not none existed. Not only did it punish genuine couples often at their most vulnerable moments, but it also led to not enough focus being placed to eliminating the actual root causes of marriage fraud – unauthorized legal practitioners both in Canada and internationally who set up marriages of convenience for their own financial gain.

Ultimately, I suggest that Parliament should focus on creating conditions that strengthen immigrant marriages and prevent systemic abuse of our sponsorship system, rather than enforcing back-end restrictions that may aggravate the challenges faced by new Canadian families. 


Will Tao is a Canadian immigration lawyer based in Vancouver, B.C., with a practice primary focused on complex immigration applications and refusals on behalf of educational institutions and international students. Tao is a former member of New Canadian Media's board of directors and a current member of the Not-for-profit corporation. He currently sits on the Canadian Bar Association British Columbia’s Equality and Diversity Committee and on the City of Vancouver’s Cultural Communities Advisory Committee.

Published in Policy
Wednesday, 01 February 2017 13:00

Listening to our International Students

Commentary by Will Tao in Vancouver
 
Canada’s international students, particularly those in major metropolitan cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, have been subject to intense criticism over the last year.
 
The students – over 363,000 of them – have been blamed directly or indirectly for a range of social problems, such as overheated rental markets, unaffordable housing, burden on public services, cheating, and bizarrely, even driving pricey cars.
 
The bulk of these criticisms are based on anecdotal accounts, in the absence of any strong statistical evidence. These accounts come from professors who study and interview as part of their work, and anonymous, retired institutional administrators who can now share stories freely, without needing to validate their assertions.  
 
These accounts also come from journalists looking to report on the latest cross-cultural phenomenon. At the end of the day, while they may capture some of the reality and part of the story, they are ultimately one-sided.  
 
Outsider narrative
What bothers me, as the Canadian-born son of a 1980’s international student and as someone who is now married to an international student, is that this outsider narrative represents only one side of the story. In drawing many of our conclusions, we have not been good listeners of international students, the true insiders.
 
In reality, we have generally silenced their perspectives and ignored their challenges, and taken for granted our own privileges while laying blame and assigning motives.
For starters, it is worth noting that an overwhelming majority of international students are bona-fide, meaning they are genuine, immigration law-abiding students.
 
In 2014, Canadian Bureau of International Education counted 336,000 international students, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (as it was then called) estimated that 20,000 of them were considered “high risk”, that is, likely to violate immigration law.
 
This accounts for only about six per cent of all international students admitted into Canada.
 
Jumping hoops
Next, it is important to hear from international students themselves to learn about the challenges and barriers they face, and for often understandable reasons do not feel like sharing them publicly. In my own practice, I have found that there are three major barriers.

Firstly, Canada’s own immigration policies have made it difficult for international students. On the front end, the financial requirements are difficult to meet. International students need to show unreasonably high available funds just to be approved for study permits and seek extensions for their studies.  The prohibitive cost of international tuition forces many students to take a break from their studies or resort to extreme measures (like taking up jobs in violation of their study permits or taking out private loans) to keep with the payments.

Once a student is here, Canada currently has a restrictive requirement that students ‘actively-pursue studies.’ Educational institutions now have two-tiered policies, under which international students are subject to excessive monitoring and reporting requirements. Depending on the institution, international students have to take a certain number of courses and maintain a certain attendance rate, while domestic students do not. Students with family emergencies, mental health episodes, poor grades, or who simply want to explore a different area, are often hamstrung.
 
On the back end, once they are ready to graduate, these same international students have difficulty obtaining post-graduate work permits based on their study history. Without the work experience from these permits, the already difficult pathway to permanent residence is mostly closed.
 
Societal barriers
Secondly, there are major societal barriers against international students. I have worked with many international student advisors at universities and colleges who recount anecdotal stories of students breaking down as a result of mental health issues. Without family and often inadequate knowledge or language ability to seek professional help, these students are particularly vulnerable.
 
Institutions, I am told by these students, have not always done the best to accommodate their cultural differences or to eliminate discriminative practices or advise without implicit biases. These issues are almost never reported in the media.
 
Finally, there is an underbelly of inadequate (often unethical) third-party services being offered and provided to international students. Many of these purported advisors are untrained and unqualified educational consultants and agents. Inevitably, if not sooner rather than later, students advised by these individuals find themselves personally liable in situations akin to fraud or misrepresentation, for which there are severe criminal and immigration consequences.
 
Seat at the table
Regardless of the economic and political questions raised by student immigration, we must not forget that international students need to have a seat at the policy-making table. We have seen the example from down south about what happens when immigration law is mandated by public opinion, fear, and top-down orders.
 
If we continue down this path of blaming and not understanding, I foresee only increased fracturing within our already increasingly fragile mosaic.
 
Ultimately, international students can only become an important asset when we as a society stop viewing them solely as cash cows or visitors. We should be viewing as prospective future citizens.
 
Will Tao is a Canadian immigration lawyer based in Vancouver, B.C., with a practice primary focused on complex immigration applications and refusals on behalf of educational institutions and international students. Tao is a former New Canadian Media Board Member. He currently sits on the Canadian Bar Association British Columbia’s Equality and Diversity Committee and on the City of Vancouver’s Cultural Communities Advisory Committee.
Published in Education
Friday, 28 October 2016 12:42

A Canada of 100 million? Are they Insane?

Commentary by Howard Anglin

There are some ideas so daft that it takes a very smart person to think of them. Or, in the case of a new proposal to triple Canada’s population to 100 million by the end of the century, it takes an entire committee of smart people.

The authors of this particular idea are the fourteen members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth, who issued their first report last week. To most Canadians, the idea is so preposterous as not to bear analyzing. Crumple it up and start again. But, as these are supposed to be serious thinkers — selected, according to a government press release, “because they are recognized, forward-thinking individuals in their respective fields” — it’s worth taking their proposal at face value.

Dominic Barton, the global managing partner of management consulting giant McKinsey & Co and the committee’s chief advocate of “a Canada of 100 million,” worries that without significant population growth, Canada’s international “relevance” will suffer. This is an odd thing to say, and an even odder thing to care about. How many Canadians, waking in the dark this morning, bundling their children into winter jackets and out the door to school, give two pucks for Canada’s “relevance”?

The disconnect between Mr. Barton, who lives in London, and the concerns of most Canadians was described in a recent column by Peggy Noonan as “something we are seeing all over, the top detaching itself from the bottom, feeling little loyalty to it or affiliation with it.”

“In Manhattan,” she says, “I see the children of the global business elite marry each other and settle in London or New York or Mumbai.” Having lived in London, New York, Washington DC and Ottawa (though not Mumbai), I’ve seen this phenomenon up close. Mr. Barton and his transnationalist peers think of Canada in terms of personal convenience and corporate expediency; to most Canadians, it means their home and community.

According to the Canadian Press, Mr. Barton believes “the world would benefit from a larger version of Canada’s stable, diversified democracy and economy” — but in the same breath he admits that 100 million “is a big number” that “would obviously change the country considerably.”

He fails to explain why we should believe Canada would remain the peaceful, pluralist society we currently enjoy after we added 65 million new people. Or why we would risk our remarkable and (looking around the world) extremely rare security and prosperity for … for what? “Relevance?”

There is no reason to think a Canada of 100 million would be a better place to live and good reasons to think it wouldn’t. Of the twenty countries with the highest per capita GDP, only the United States has more than 100 million people. Most have fewer than 10 million.

The bias against size carries across other national virtues. Happiness? Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland. Income equality? Sweden, Hungary, Norway. Reputation? Sweden, Canada, Switzerland. See a pattern?

The Trudeau government’s own immigration policy belies the Advisory Council’s assumption that more immigration will result in net economic benefits. Under the previous government, economic immigration as a percentage of overall immigration approached 67 per cent; under the new government, it has fallen to 53 per cent. In other words, there is a lot that can be done by better selecting immigrants within existing levels before we consider increasing intake.

It’s true we are a large country, with plenty of open space, but recent immigration has not filled that emptiness and future immigration is likely to follow the established paths to our cities and suburbs. Even at current, historically high immigration levels, Canada’s population is projected to grow by more than 20 million in the next 35 years. Are you ready for a Toronto of 20 million and a Vancouver of 10 million?

None of this will affect the members of Trudeau’s Advisory Council. For them, immigration is something that happens elsewhere. The acres of tract housing sprawling into farmland and greenbelts around our major cities are glimpsed by these people only in the minutes before takeoff and landing. Hopping between leafy downtown enclaves and luxury hotels, they won’t feel the strain on our roads, hospitals and schools, or the deterioration of our built and natural environments.

Industry Minister Navdeep Bains has already cautioned that he is hearing pushback from Canadians. This isn’t surprising. The government’s own polling shows only 8 per cent of Canadians think immigration should increase, while three times as many believe it is already too high. And that was before the Trudeau government increased annual levels to 300,000 already this year.

A government ignores clear public opinion at its peril — and at the nation’s. Significantly increasing immigration levels in defiance of the clear preference of Canadians, including recent immigrants, invites a sharp public backlash of the kind we’ve seen in the United States, the U.K. and Europe. Those who decry Trumpism should be the most vocal opponents of this proposal.

Unlike management consultants, citizens ask questions that are beyond the Advisory Council’s remit. Questions like: What will it mean to be Canadian after we’ve added 65 million new people? What holds our society together when immigration is so rapid that integration becomes impossible?

However smart the Advisory Council members may be, it’s average Canadians who are displaying common sense. They know that size is not a meaningful measure of national success. And they have seen from experience that when immigration is accelerated too quickly, multiculturalism becomes a centrifugal force — no longer holding successive waves of immigrants in a stable tension but driving us apart.

Howard Anglin was the chief of staff to Canada’s minister of Citizenship and Immigration from 2011 to 2013.

By arrangement with ipolitics.ca

Published in Policy

Canada's Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, John McCallum is touting Canada as the go to place for Asians, especially Filipinos and Chinese nationals, saying the country needs them.

On a recent tour of China and the Philippines, the minister said that before he can 'substantially increase' Canada's immigration levels beyond record levels, he will have to take his plan to cabinet and convince Canadians it's the right thing to do.

Pointing to an aging population and looming labour shortages, McCallum made the pitch in Manila during a speech to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines, the CBC and Manila media reported.

The Trudeau government is already seeking to admit between 280,000 and 305,000 new permanent residents in 2016 — a record increase from the 260,000 to 285,000 newcomers the previous Conservative government had planned to welcome by the end of 2015.

In Manila, McCallum promised to cut the processing time of the applications of sponsored spouses, partners, and children, given that it is "way too long" at present.

The usual two years will be shortened to reunite families more swiftly, with the target to be announced in the fall.

For Express Entry, which covers experienced professionals, skilled workers, and international students, McCallum placed the processing target at six months. Such "economic immigrants" are given points based on having a job offer, a good education, language skills, and others.

Although this was not a bad system, it could be improved, he said.

One of the improvements involves removing the labor market impact assessment for many of the applicants. Usually, economic immigrants have to prove that no Canadian can do the job that they have been offered. Removing this requirement will make it easier for them to go to Canada.

Another improvement is giving more points to international students since they are "very valuable contributors" to the country and would make "very good Canadians" in the future, McCallum said. Certain other restrictions will also be removed for such applicants. Doing so will bump up the proportion of students going to Canada under Express Entry compared to other applicants.

He added that he was talking to Canadian officials in the Philippines to approach students and encourage them to study in Canadian universities, instead. Thus, they will have a better chance to work and stay in Canada if they wish.

"Our general desire is to increase the number of immigrants," McCallum said. He added that they wanted to attract "the best and the brightest" from around the globe, making Canada "a better place".

According to McCallum, Canada welcomed more than 50,000 new permanent residents from the Philippines last year – more than any other country. He added that there are over 700,000 Filipinos living in Canada, and that their contribution to society is appreciated.

"It doesn't matter how newcomers first arrive in Canada – as refugees, as family members, or as economic immigrants – we know from decades of experience that they, their children, and their grandchildren, will inevitably make positive contributions to our country," McCallum said.

"Experience shows us that immigrants' contributions to Canada result in jobs, innovation and growth – newcomers tend to be highly motivated to be part of a larger society, to be accepted, and to achieve economic success. With an aging demographic and challenges retaining young people, immigration is becoming critical in certain communities and provinces," he added.

This year, Canada targets to welcome 300,000 immigrants, the largest projection by the government recently.

"This reflects our deep belief that immigration is critical to our country's future," McCallum said. "It also reflects our determination to open Canada's doors to those who want to contribute to our country, and to those in need of our compassion and protection, and to welcome everyone with a smile."

According to a transcript of his remarks obtained by CBC News, Canada seeks to double visa offices in China to attract more high-skilled workers.

Earlier, McCallum was in Beijing, where he sought to open more offices where Chinese can apply for visas, in the hope of attracting more high-skilled workers.

He is also reviewing what is known as a labour market impact assessment (LMIA) — a document all employers need to hire foreign nationals over Canadian workers — and could do away with it in some instances.

Businesses have said it is the biggest flaw with express entry, a requirement the previous government borrowed from the temporary foreign worker program.

"Now, we have to convince Canadians of this. But I think it's a good idea."

The Liberal government also tasked a parliamentary committee with a review of the controversial foreign worker program, but Parliament adjourned before the report was tabled. It will now be made public in the fall.

McCallum, who worked as a chief economist at one of Canada's Big Five banks and a professor of economics before he entered politics, also acknowledged he has his work cut out for him.

"Not every Canadian will agree. But I think with our mindset of welcoming newcomers in the beginning, with the facts of the labour shortages, aging population, we have a good case to make, and I think we will be able to convince a higher proportion of Canadians that this is the right way for Canada to go."

Published under arrangement with the Asian Pacific Post

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Published in Policy

SURREY – MP Randeep Sarai hosted a townhall public consultation on Canada’s defence policy review alongside the Minister of National Defence, Harjit Sajjan last week.

The Department of National Defence has launched a nationwide consultation process- the first of this magnitude in over twenty years – as part of an open and transparent dialogue with Canadians in developing a new defence policy.

Sarai, MP for Surrey-Centre, a strong advocate of national defence concerns, knows that there are many soldiers currently serving in the military, along with close to fourteen-thousand veterans, which call Surrey home.The Department of National Defence has launched a nationwide consultation process- [...]

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Published in National
Monday, 11 July 2016 10:38

Consultation Overlooks Citizenship

Commentary by Andrew Griffith in Ottawa

Some things never change. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) launches consultations on immigration and leaves out any questions on the related issues of citizenship policy.

Sigh … Immigration consultations are welcome and needed. They can and should help better inform future level plans and I would hope that there will be widespread participation with diversity of views.

It may well be that the Government believes that having passed Bill C-6 (to amend the Citizenship Act) it has no need to consult on citizenship. It is hard to believe that this is a mere oversight.

But consulting on immigration while being silent on where and how citizenship is part of the picture is, at best, a missed opportunity.

Values and tradition

Also interesting to note the question of “Canadian values and traditions” which should provoke some interesting discussion, and which is related to immigration, citizenship and multiculturalism.

Were there to be citizenship-related consultation questions, my initial suggestions would be -

  1. What percentage of newcomers should we expect to become Canadian citizens? In what time frame?
  2. Does citizenship play an important role in integrating and participating in the Canadian economy and society? In which way?
  3. Do we have the balance right between facilitating and encouraging citizenship and ensuring a meaningful connection to Canada?

Here is a preview of the questions available under Submit your views of immigration -

Opening Questions

  1. How many newcomers should we welcome to Canada in 2017 and beyond?
  2. How can we best support newcomers to ensure they become successful members of our communities?
  3. Do we have the balance right among the immigration programs or streams? If not, what priorities should form the foundation of Canada’s immigration planning?
  4. How should we balance encouraging mobile global talent to become citizens with physical presence residency requirements?

Questions: Unlocking Canada’s diverse needs

  1. How can immigration play a role in supporting economic growth and innovation in Canada?
  2. Should there be more programs for businesses to permanently hire foreign workers if they can’t find Canadians to fill the job?
  3. What is the right balance between attracting global talent for high-growth sectors, on the one hand, and ensuring affordable labour for businesses that have historically seen lower growth, on the other?
  4. How can immigration fill in the gaps in our demographics and economy?
  5. What Canadian values and traditions are important to share with newcomers to help them integrate into Canadian society?

Questions: Modernizing our immigration system

  1. Currently, immigration levels are planned yearly.  Do you agree with the thinking that planning should be multi-year?
  2. What modernization techniques should Canada invest in for processing of applications?
  3. What should Canada do to ensure its immigration system is modern and efficient?
  4. Is there any rationale for providing options to those willing to pay higher fees for an expedited process?

Questions: Leadership in global migration and immigration

  1. Is it important for Canada to continue to show leadership in global migration? If so, how can we best do that?
  2. How can Canada attract the best global talent and international students?
  3. In what ways can Canada be a model to the world on refugees, migration and immigration?

Andrew Griffith is the author of Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism and is a regular media commentator and blogger (Multiculturalism Meanderings). He is the former Director General for Citizenship and Multiculturalism and has worked for a variety of government departments in Canada and abroad.

Published in Policy
Tuesday, 23 February 2016 22:34

Migrant Myths Influence Immigration Policies

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

At a time when Canada has seen a shift in immigration policy, particularly when it comes to resettling Syrian refugees, a study reveals that myths and imaginaries created around migrants can influence a country’s immigration policies. 

Based on a discussions held among researchers and practitioners during a one-day symposium organized at the University of Ottawa in May 2014, the policy brief defines myths and imaginaries as “symbolic collective representations of individuals’ aspirations, hopes and dreams.” 

This can refer to the perceptions and imaginaries of migrants themselves and of policymakers who are concerned with their movements.

The report recommends policymakers examine the diversity of myths created around migrants and adopt a rational approach to deal with the reproduction of these imaginaries rather than take them at face value.

The creation of myths and imaginaries

Luisa Veronis, one of the three authors of the research paper, explains to New Canadian Media that the policy brief applies to the individuals suffering from the processes of “globalization” and who are considered economic immigrants, as their livelihoods in their countries are very limited.

She believes that with technology, we’re much more aware of the conditions and quality of life in other parts of the world. Because of this, we might have preconceived notions of what immigrants and refugees are like, just as they might have preconceptions of Canada and its people.

Veronis says, “What is important to look at are imaginaries — how are they produced [and how they] circulate and influence migrants’ entire journey, from movement decisions to their settlement process. Either they want to travel illegally or wait, as we are seeing in Mediterranean right now.”

We might have preconceived notions of what immigrants and refugees are like, just as they might have preconceptions of Canada.

However, in case of the Syrian refugees, experts believe that “myth” has not significantly influenced their initial movement, as it is necessity-driven. 

As the report suggests that, more research is required to document the vast diversity of myths that exist.

“We want to go a little bit broader and show how cultural production and collective values, understanding and notions shape decisions,” she explains.

Perceptions of immigrants influence policy

John Shields, a political science professor from Ryerson University, says that the creation of these myths is not a one-way street.

“The Conservatives’ imaginary about Muslim immigrants from Syria had a particular kind of political imaginary, and some of it is manufactured or propagated for political reasons,” he explains.

Unlike Conservatives, Shields says that Liberals see immigration in broader terms; accepting them is an act of nation-building and they see them as new citizens who can contribute to Canadian nation as a whole.

"Some of it is manufactured or propagated for political reasons."

Veronis sees the initial welcoming of Syrian refugees as an easy move, but is curious about what the Liberals will do to the changes the previous government made to the country’s immigration policy.

“I think the most difficult [thing] to do is to address the immigration policy, which basically will tell us [whether] they also believe the immigration is mainly [an] economic driving force,” she says.

Refugee and immigrant perceptions of Canada

While comparing migrant imaginaries of US and Europe with those of Canada, Shields says that the perceptions are positive overall. 

“What defines Canada as a distinct society, the most common answer is diversity and multicultural instead of hockey players or maple syrup,” he says.

However, Shields thinks that by focusing on the economic benefits of immigrants in their policies, Conservatives might have created an inaccurate perception of the country as a place of economic opportunities.

Criticizing the “point system”, Shields says that it conveys the message to immigrants that they will be offered an automatic job, which is not helping the system.

“I think policy makers need to be aware of what [ideas] immigrants have in terms of coming here,” he says. “We obviously need a lot of shifts in the policies and [to] modify the point system.”

[Shields says] Conservatives might have created an inaccurate perception of the country.

When comparing refugees with skilled immigrants, Shields explains that refugees have a tougher set of challenges to overcome which are far from imaginary. Still, they are driven by certain aspirations.

“They come with some kind of dreams and hopes that help to sustain them along inhumane times of transition,” he says.

Ratna Omidvar, head of Ryerson's Global Diversity Exchange and an adjunct professor, adds that Canada opens the door of safety and security for them, but they still have to work to get an education, find work and integrate themselves in Canadian society.

“[The refugees] come with little knowledge. What [they] are not prepared for is to open doors of integration and inclusion. People are not prepared for that at all,” she says.

Commenting on the report, Omidvar says that it’s important to deconstruct truth from fiction in order to create policies that are both realistic and to some idealistic.

She saw this blend of reality and idealism following the 2015 election. Before then, Omidvar says “It was a myth that Canada is always a welcoming country to refugees, as our response to refugee crisis was muted.”

Then things changed, and the imagination of the nation caught up in reality. 

Omidvar is pleased with the new government’s handling of the resettlement process and calls it a “romantic narrative”.

“We are going to welcome refugees and immigrants with a smile,” she says. 

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
Saturday, 05 December 2015 17:07

Brampton Mulls Curbs on Diwali Fireworks

by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton, Ontario

A Brampton city councillor has persuaded colleagues on the city's community services committee to recommend a ban on the sale of fireworks — including storing them in homes — in the wake of a fire that engulfed a home during the Diwali celebrations last month.

On the evening of November 11th, two homes in Brampton were gutted by a fire that may have been sparked by Diwali firework celebrations, the South Asian festival of light.

According to Brampton fire officials, the blaze spread to two adjacent homes, forcing the evacuation of the adjoining residences. Damage from the fire is conservatively estimated to be $1 million according to the fire department.

The cause of the fire

Brampton Fire and Emergency Services (BFES) was called to scene on Binder Twine Trail, near Williams Parkway and Chinguacousy Road, just before 11 p.m. By the time they arrived, they found the house at 190 Binder Twine Trail fully enveloped in flames.

The fire apparently started in the garage and quickly spread throughout the house. It then also spread to the neighbouring home, 192 Binder Twine, which at the time was occupied by its residents.

All six members of the neighbouring Mangat family were forced to leave the house. The family of eight at 190 Binder Twine Trail also escaped unharmed. Out of the three homes that suffered damage, one is completely gutted and another is badly damaged.

The city received 281 complaint calls about Diwali fireworks in 2013 — up 86 per cent from 2012 — while it only received 46 on Canada Day.

Peel Police and the Brampton Fire Department say they are still trying to determine what caused the blaze, but indications are that it's connected to the "improper disposal of fireworks.”

The homeowner at 192 Binder Twine Trail, Inderjit Mangat, told fire and police officials that the neighbours discarded their used fireworks in a black garbage bag and stored them in the garage, which most likely sparked the blaze.

Celebrating safely

Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey said in a statement that the City of Brampton takes public safety and the safe use of fireworks in the city “very seriously.” 

She added that city staff continues to work closely with BFES to ensure that City of Brampton By-Laws, policies and enforcement keep residents safe while allowing them to “express their enjoyment on holidays and culturally significant events.”

One in three Brampton residents identify themselves as either Sikh or Hindu, according to the 2011 National Household Survey. As a result, celebrations during Diwali are quite extensive throughout the community.

The city received 281 complaint calls about Diwali fireworks in 2013 — up 86 per cent from 2012 — while it only received 46 on Canada Day.

While Brampton has previously allowed individuals who live on wide lots to set off personal fireworks, they introduced a new system in 2014 that requires individuals to apply for permits. In 2014, the city only gave out 88 permits despite receiving over 675 applications.

One in three Brampton residents identify themselves as either Sikh or Hindu.

According to Jeffrey, City Council will continue to discuss this issue with local authorities in an attempt to find a safe and fair way forward.

“Our Communications team is working closely with BFES and Enforcement to further emphasize to all Brampton residents the Fireworks By-Law, permit process as well as the potential dangers of fireworks use in a residential or park setting.

“I strongly urge all residents to make sure they fully understand all safety measures required to safely use fireworks and ask that all Brampton residents exercise extreme caution when using, storing or disposing of any fireworks,” she concluded.

Potential ban on fireworks

For one Brampton city councillor, education is simply not enough. Shortly after the fires, Councillor Grant Gibson proposed a citywide ban on fireworks at the community services committee.

Gibson said, citing the failure to educate individuals on the danger of fireworks, “This (Binder Twine Trail) is a perfect example of people being careless.”

“I don’t (want to be) the councillor that turned his back on safety,” he said. Gibson’s motion passed, and now the city must consider how to effectively ban the sale of fireworks along with their use on residential properties.

Staff has been directed to look at further methods of enforcement as well as what it would cost for the city to host their own fireworks displays. This would expand the current municipally-sponsored events from Canada Day and New Year’s Day to include Victoria Day and Diwali.

“Fireworks aren't like what they used to be. They are now basically explosives and there’s been a lot of mishandling of them across the city and that’s a major concern for our constituents,” said Gibson.


Journalist Jagdeesh Mann mentored the writer of this article, through the New Canadian Media mentorship program.

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 Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City

Twenty years after voting in Quebec’s referendum on sovereignty, immigrants in the province say cultural relations are improving, but more progress is still needed.

In October 1995, 2,362,648 Quebecers voted against the provincial government’s move to make Quebec an independent state. The ‘no’ side won in Quebec’s second referendum on the issue, with 50.58 per cent of the vote.

For many immigrants, the result represented a challenge to the old notion of Quebecois identity.

“What we were hearing before ’95, which we don’t hear anymore, is pure laine,” says Simon Jacobs, who immigrated to Canada from England in 1989.

Pure laine, or pure wool, is used to refer to Quebecers whose ancestry can be traced to the original French settlers of the province.

Jacobs says that everything Quebec wanted, in terms of maintaining its identity and creating its own laws, already existed, but that important questions about Quebec’s monetary policy remained unanswered.

“People were saying, ‘I’m American. I’m Syrian. I’m Italian,’ but I didn’t hear, ‘I’m Canadian.’”

He says he voted against separation, though he wasn’t sure if he would remain in Quebec at the time.

“I did not feel this was home,” he adds. “I think after the referendum, I had a change of attitude, and that change of attitude was, ‘Damn it, this is where I live. This is my home.’”

Voting in favour

But not all immigrants felt that federalism was the answer to the question of what constitutes Quebecois identity.

“I didn’t feel pride,” says Abdallah Ghazal about his arrival in Montreal from Syria in 1968. “People were saying, ‘I’m American. I’m Syrian. I’m Italian,’ but I didn’t hear, ‘I’m Canadian.’”

“Anything that’s divisive to harmonious relationships is not good for multiculturalism.”

Ghazal, an agronomist, went on to teach high school science and biology in Victoriaville, QC. In 1995, he voted in favour of sovereignty, and says the decision was largely influenced by the ideas of René Lévesque, founder of the Parti Québécois and defender of Quebec’s independence.

“I admired him because he talked about separation, but also an association with Canada,” says Ghazal. “We would stay a unit of Canada with our own culture and way of life. That’s why I voted ‘yes.’”

Effects of divisive politics

The Parti Québécois, led by then premier of Quebec, Jacques Parizeau, orchestrated the referendum and promoted the 'yes' campaign. As the results were revealed on the night of the referendum, Parizeau proclaimed that the 'yes' side had lost due to “money and ethnic votes.”

“From the standpoint of harmonious relationships between communities in Quebec, I think it was very divisive,” says Jack Jedwab, Executive Vice-President of the Association for Canadian Studies and the Canadian Institute for Identities and Migration. “Anything that’s divisive to harmonious relationships is not good for multiculturalism.”

He adds that the effects were not as “devastating” as they could have been because Quebec society is more interested in harmony than in division.

“[T]here’s not that big of a difference between Toronto and Montreal in terms of how immigration and integration are managed.”

Ghazal says he was encouraged by efforts of the provincial government that followed to secure rights over Quebec’s immigration policies and preserve the French language.

“I’m for the preservation of Quebecois identity,” he explains.

Jedwab says that while most Quebecers value diversity, Quebec decision-makers often associate multiculturalism policies with the federal government.

“It’s been suggested to Quebecers that multiculturalism is associated with ghettoization, or preserving one culture at the expense of the culture of the majority of the province,” he says. “The reality on the ground is there’s not that big of a difference between Toronto and Montreal in terms of how immigration and integration are managed.”

Jacobs says it’s wrong to underestimate the degree to which policies from the federal government can be manipulated on the part of separatists to cause “a rift,” and points to the niqab debate of the 2015 federal election as a recent example.

“I compare it to a marriage,” says Jedwab of Quebec’s relationship with Canada. “You’ve got to work all the time to make it vital. If you don’t do that, it breaks up.”

He says that for him, and the majority of Quebecers, divorce is not a desirable option.

“The lack of exposure of the general population outside Montreal to different religions and cultures is the biggest problem here in Quebec.”

Challenges faced by today’s immigrants

Jacobs, now president of the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network, teaches history and works in tourism in Quebec City. He notes that as an oral minority, he faced different challenges than visible minorities face in Quebec.

“The lack of exposure of the general population outside Montreal to different religions and cultures is the biggest problem here in Quebec,” he says.

Ghazal says that he too did not face the same challenges as many immigrants in Quebec experience today.

“I was raised in a private French college,” Ghazal shares of his upbringing in Syria. He says he arrived in Quebec with several of his peers who went on to become engineers and doctors.

Ghazal married and raised two children in Victoriaville, where he worked as a teacher until his retirement 15 years ago.

“Today, many who arrive with diplomas like me find it more difficult to find employment,” he says. “A lot of engineers and doctors come here and are not recognized.”

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

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