Although on paper Canadian immigration policy gives equal importance to the social and economic success of newcomers, this is not the case in practice, says Aviva Weizman, research associate at the Centre for Newcomers in Calgary. She spoke at Metropolis Canada’s 4th Annual Forum on Measuring Identities on Wednesday.
While the settlement sector is often considered to have expertise in diversity, equity and inclusion, there are blind spots that need to be addressed.
Newcomers face everyday and systemic racism, discrimination, and stigma. Weizman says this stigma is attached to the idea of “a spoiled identity,” when individuals or groups don’t meet the standards of the society they are a part of.
Disaggregated data based on race highlights the disparities that have occurred during COVID-19, demonstrating that biological determinants are insufficient to explain health disparities. In other words, Weizman says, “Race does not necessarily put you at a higher risk. Racism does.”
Structural racism within the sector
Although racism encompasses practices, processes, and structures, the structural component forms the basis of who can access resources and how they are allocated.
Themes emerging from the Centre for Newcomers’ community engagement on racism demonstrated various areas that need to be addressed within the settlement sector. The first is racism in settlement program delivery. Francis Boakye, vice president of strategy with the Centre, said that according to participants engaged, this is particularly prevalent in language classes and employment, where people who are supposed to be “upskilling” are instead placed in entry-level positions.
There were also inconsistencies in understanding and resistance from leadership; a lack of collective vision; and a lack of integration of anti-racist strategies.
Boakye highlighted that the three-year Federal Anti-Racism Strategy launched in 2019 provides an opportunity for service providers to support this policy by infusing anti-racism in all aspects of service delivery. Without this clear policy direction in anti-racism by the main funder of the settlement sector, programming could be tailored towards funder goals that are not consistent with anti-racism objectives.
Finding a common focus among partners
According to Boakye, true partnership is needed between the Local Immigration Partnerships, settlement agencies and municipal, provincial, and federal governments, with a common focus on how to address racism. To build awareness and change attitudes, social media campaigns can highlight the contributions of immigrants to dispel stereotypes of immigrants as a burden to society.
Actions undertaken so far by the Centre for Newcomers include organizing training for staff on anti-racist practices. An important aspect of this will be assessing its subsequent impact on service delivery. The Centre has also developed an Intersectional Educational and Professional Development Department that uses a multilayered approach in its offerings. Programs include the key areas of Indigeneity, Mental Health, Cultural Competency and Gender and Sexual Diversity.
Boakye says the hope is to put together an Anti-Racism Action team to synthesize the data from the Centre’s efforts.
The importance of data
Comprehensive data is critical to educate leadership on how racism is manifesting in the sector.
“Once there is evidence of inequities through data analysis, then we are able to really have a meaningful conversation,” Boakye says.
He gives the example of a discussion with the Calgary police in 2016 around the significantly higher instances of carding of the northeast community where many visible minorities reside. Boakye says, “When the data was presented, there was no further argument.”
Carding has subsequently been abolished in Alberta, a development Boakye believes was partly due to this conversation.
The data the Centre for Newcomers is currently collecting will enable working towards a collective vision for the settlement sector, to then form the basis for anti-racism strategies that can be uniformly applied. It will be critical to ensure that there is an oversight committee to ensure that the anti-racist practices developed are in fact implemented throughout the sector.
Daniela Cohen is a freelance journalist and writer of South African origin currently based in Vancouver, B.C. Her work has been published in the Canadian Immigrant, The/La Source Newspaper, the African blog, ZEKE magazine, eJewish Philanthropy, and Living Hyphen. Daniela's particular areas of interest are migration, justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. She is also the co-founder of Identity Pages, a youth writing mentorship program.