New Canadian Media

by Susan Delacourt in Ottawa

The best person to explain the big new-year changes to the federal cabinet’s makeup might well be someone who doesn’t even live here: outgoing U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden.

During a visit to Canada a month ago, Biden told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that Canada needs to step up, internationally — comments that were widely interpreted as a gesture of passing the liberal torch from soon-to-be ex-president Barack Obama.

“The world is going to spend a lot of time looking to you, Mr. Prime Minister. Vive le Canada, because we need you very, very badly,” Biden said in remarks at a dinner during his visit to Ottawa.

While we don’t know how much the world was watching events at Rideau Hall on Tuesday, it is abundantly clear that Trudeau has set his sights on the world. As he told reporters after the shuffle, he needs to take into account a “shift in global context.”

In fact, it’s difficult to remember a Canadian cabinet shuffle so internationally focused — one that set so many parts in motion outside Canada’s borders, especially during a time of tumultuous, global change. Among the changes we learned about Tuesday:

  • A new minister to handle the looming challenges to Canada posed by Donald Trump’s incoming administration — Chrystia Freeland, now Global Affairs minister.
  • A new ambassador to China — former immigration minister John McCallum. This isn’t about a minister being put out to pasture: McCallum is being asked to represent Canada in a nation of immense interest to the current government. Faced with trade threats from a U.S. president vowing to make America great again (possibly at other countries’ expense,) Canada has been seeking to expand trade with China.
  • A new minister of international trade, François-Philippe Champagne.
  • A new minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship: Ahmed Hussen.

The departing Global Affairs minister, Stéphane Dion, was rumoured to be considering a diplomatic post, possibly in Europe, but at the time of Tuesday’s press conference the former Liberal leader was saying only that he was leaving active politics and considering his next move. My best bet is that this is a difficult conversation still in progress (which probably accounted for the unusual uncertainty about the timing of the shuffle ceremony itself at Rideau Hall).

The speculation about Europe as a landing spot for Dion, however, underlines just how much Trudeau and his team are thinking about what’s going on in the world these days. The Brexit vote to leave the European Union, the refugee crisis, ongoing terrorism threats and the rise of right-wing parties are all large matters of concern to progressive-minded governments.

As Biden said in his Ottawa speech: “I’ve never seen Europe as engaged in as much self-doubt as they are now.”

All prime ministers, sooner or later, become preoccupied with global affairs and their place on the big stage. It’s usually an interest that deepens with tenure, and their increasing confidence in rubbing shoulders with other world leaders.

With a comfortable majority, Trudeau doesn’t need to be worried about his government falling on a vote in the Commons while he’s abroad, as Stephen Harper was during his first two minority governments.

Trudeau, however, seemed to arrive in office with an intense interest in international affairs; he gave some of his first interviews to foreign media and has spent a lot of time commuting to the United States and other summits around the world. His critics have portrayed this as a lack of interest in his own country, accusing Trudeau of being too busy to even attend question period and thinking himself too important to spend his vacations in Canada.

Granted, it is a luxury Trudeau can afford. With a comfortable majority, Trudeau doesn’t need to be worried about his government falling on a vote in the Commons while he’s abroad, as Stephen Harper was during his first two minority governments.

Not all of this shuffle was outward-looking. Shuffles can be very useful in maintaining government discipline — dangling a few promotions as examples to other ambitious, cabinet wannabes in the backbench, and doling out demotions as a warning to others performing under-par. To borrow from that old Liberal campaign slogan from 2015, shuffles are all about hope and hard work — dispensing it (hope) or enforcing it (hard work).

On that score, this shuffle did deliver. While Trudeau’s office was putting out nice words about Dion and his contribution to the government in a press release, nobody watching the PM’s press conference had any doubts that the PMO had decided the former professor and Liberal leader wasn’t the right man to handle what’s coming with Trump and other big events on the world stage.

Other casualties: Maryam Monsef, now the Status of Women minister, was punted from the Democratic Reform post to which she was proving herself unsuited (to say the least). MaryAnn Mihychuk was ejected altogether from her job as minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour.

Trudeau wasn’t doing this shuffle with home-grown concerns at front of mind, or even his prospects for the next election. The election that seems to be front of mind for Trudeau right now is the recent one in the United States.

Big promotions were handed out to Patty Hadju, moving from Status of Women to Mihychuk’s old job, and to new ministers Champagne and Hussen. Other MPs will be wondering what they did right — which is exactly what the PMO wants them to be thinking about.

Note, though, that the domestic posts in this week’s shuffle were almost afterthoughts. Trudeau wasn’t doing this shuffle with home-grown concerns at front of mind, or even his prospects for the next election (those changes will come closer to 2019, we can assume).

The election that seems to be front of mind for Trudeau right now is the recent one in the United States — the one that gave Canada, and now Freeland, a President Trump to deal with. And if we’re looking for deeper read of the shuffle’s international focus, Biden’s remarks to the PM may be as good any.

“The progress is going to be made,” Biden said, “but it’s going to take men like you, Mr. Prime Minister, who understand it has to fit within the context of a liberal economic order, a liberal international order, where there’s basic rules of the road.”

Don’t be surprised if words along these lines are in the mandate letters for many of the new ministers.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.


Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca 

Published in Politics

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

Read Original Article

Published in Policy

by Janice Dickson in Ottawa 

Sitting cross-legged on a thin UNHCR mat covering a concrete floor and nursing her 14-month-old, Yasmeen Al-Alow was glad to be out of the jail that is Village 5 — Azraq’s notorious camp-within-the-camp.

Surrounded by barbed wire, Village 5 and Village 2 are where new Syrian refugees were taken before Jordan sealed its borders. Those inside the villages haven’t been allowed outside the wire for months. The Jordanian government fears the new arrivals pose a security threat to the other refugees in the camp. Containing new refugees in the prison-like camps is one way to decrease the chance of ISIS infiltration, authorities say.

Those living in Village 5 and Village 2 are virtual prisoners; unlike Syrian refugees who live in Azraq’s other villages, they are not allowed to walk through the streets, to the supermarket, or anywhere at all.

The Azraq refugee camp, located in a remote, sweltering desert landscape southeast of the capital Amman, is home to nearly 40,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war. Half of Azraq’s residents are children.

Most of the Syrians living in Villages 5 and 2 arrived from a desert region surrounded by sandbanks along the Jordanian border. The United Nations estimates that more than 85,000 people are stranded in Ruqban — a camp near the point where Jordan, Syria and Iraq meet — and Hadalat camp, 80 km to the west, where Al-Alow and her family were stranded for months.

The Azraq refugee camp, located in a remote, sweltering desert landscape southeast of the capital Amman, is home to nearly 40,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war. Half of Azraq’s residents are children.

iPolitics asked to visit Villages 5 and 2. A government official at the camp said it’s forbidden, citing security reasons. Photos were not permitted, either.

Since November, the Canadian government has welcomed nearly 30,000 Syrian refugees. King Abdullah of Jordan told the BBC in February that his country is at the “boiling point” because of an influx of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. The king said the international community has to offer more help if it wants Jordan to continue taking refugees.

The Jordanian government compromised, however, and set up Village 5 in March. It was a move intended to help international aid agencies trying to expedite the admission of thousands of refugees, like Al-Alow, who were stuck waiting at the border.

Al-Alow, 21, and her husband Muhammed, 26, had been living in their new caravan in Village Six for just over a week. Two jugs of water and a small kettle sat atop the small table at the front of the caravan that serves as a kitchen.

Al-Alow said she and her family are refugees by accident. They left their home in Syria a few months ago with the intention of visiting family in Jordan — but when they arrived at the Syrian border, they had no choice but to live in the berm while they waited to get into Jordan. That wait took four months; by then, the smugglers who drove them to the Syrian border could not take them back home.

“My family came to visit from Kuwait and they were on the other side of the barbed wire,” Al-Alow said via a translator. That visit lasted five minutes.

“We didn’t talk. We just cried.”

Kuwait has also sealed its borders, blocking Syrians from joining family members there.

Najwa Al-Shaikh, 32, and her four children arrived from Syria a few months ago; her family also lived in Village 5. Al-Shaikh’s mother arrived beforehand so their caravan is quite homey. Her mother has set up a little convenience store where children come to buy candy.

Despite the 35-degree heat, Al-Shaikh offered me hot tea and sugar on a silver tray, a display of Syrian hospitality found in every caravan I visited.

Al-Shaikh said she and her young children waited in the desert for months with little food or water in harsh conditions before they were granted permission to enter Jordan.

Her husband was arrested by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, she said. Sometimes, regime authorities tell her that her husband is still alive — other times they tell her he’s been killed.

She gestured toward her 11-year-old daughter Ala, who pulled up her pant cuff to reveal a thin leg covered with scars.

Despite the 35-degree heat, Al-Shaikh offered me hot tea and sugar on a silver tray, a display of Syrian hospitality found in every caravan I visited.

“One of my daughters was killed by the regime, and Ala was injured by the rockets,” she said. All Ala remembers is playing in the playground that day.

The situation in Azraq is “very bad,” the young woman said. Her mother shook her head and suggested that in a month or two, her daughter will adjust.

Aecha Mohammed Shaban, 29, and her four children are thankful for the safety the camp offers.

“In the beginning it was very difficult to live here, how can we live here?” said Shaban, sitting on a long cushion which doubles as a bed for her and her children at night.

Suddenly, the sound of gunshots coming from a nearby military base shattered the desert silence. The children — who had been smiling by their mother’s side — covered their ears and began to cry.


iPolitics’ Janice Dickson visited Jordan from July 9 – July 25th. Dickson spent long days in Jordan’s refugee camps talking to Syrian refugees about the challenges in the camps and their gruelling journey across the desert to get there. 

Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca

 

Published in Top Stories
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

by Aurora Tejeida in Vancouver, British Columbia

The University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program is suggesting that Mexico be removed from Canada’s “safe country” list, making it easier for sexual minorities and those living with HIV to seek asylum here.

The report, published on World Refugee Day Monday, comes at an awkward time: just when Ottawa is moving to remove visa restrictions imposed on that country by the previous Harper government in 2009.

The UofT study, co-authored by Kristin Marshall and Maia Rotman, was based on in-country interviews with 50 Mexicans, including journalists, activists, members of the country’s LGBTQ+ community, health care professionals and people living with HIV. It documents the gap between laws to protect minorities in Mexico and the on-the-ground reality of discrimination and exclusion faced by vulnerable populations.

This spotlight on Mexico’s human rights comes on the heels of violent clashes between government forces and Mexico’s largest teachers’ union. The most recent conflict in Oaxaca left at least four protesters dead and hundreds of people injured, including police officers.

Mexican President Peña Nieto is visiting Ottawa next week for a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama for the Three Amigos summit on June 29.

Canada considers Designated Countries of Origin (DCOs) (or, “safe country”) as those that “do not normally produce refugees, but do respect human rights and offer state protection.” The list includes countries like the U.S., Denmark, Finland and Germany, but also countries like Hungary, Israel and Mexico, which was added to the list only in February 2013

“I think these two countries, Mexico and Hungary, were targeted because there were such a high number of claims,” explained Marshall.

“They wanted less Mexican [refugee] claimants, and the government rhetoric at the time was about deterring bogus and unfounded claims from Mexico and Hungary, their thinking was that by giving faster timelines and no option to appeal, all of these "baseless" claims would go through the system and the people would get deported back to their countries,” added Marshall. "It sends the message 'don't bother coming' because we think Mexico is safe.”

"On one level it looks like inclusion on the ‘safe countries’ list is a compliment to whatever state is put there."

Fewer refugee claims

The twin measures resulted in fewer Mexicans seeking asylum, which fell to 1,199 from more than 9,000. However, the percentage of successful refugee claims remained about the same.

Marshall thinks that signalling that Mexico is “safe” could have an impact on cases that might have otherwise been successful.

However, the “safe country” designation is not imminent. All an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) spokesperson would say is that “being listed on Canada’s designated country of origin list does not prevent individuals from seeking refugee protection in Canada.”

The IRCC added that it “continuously monitors all designated countries of origin to determine whether conditions remain similar to those at the time they were designated. In the event of significant changes, IRCC may undertake a review of country conditions to determine if removal from the designated country of origin list is warranted.”

The spokesperson confirmed that Canadian officials are currently working with their Mexican counterparts to lift the visa requirements.

Clearly, a “safe country” designation is a mixed blessing.

Commenting on the UofT report, Dr. Chris Erickson from the University of British Columbia’s Department of Political Science, noted, "On one level it looks like inclusion on the ‘safe countries’ list is a compliment to whatever state is put there. On the other hand, it does allow for significant abuses to be entirely whitewashed. The language itself indicates that any claim to asylum coming from someone from one of the states on the list is likely to be false.”

Not safe for minorities

In one particularly shocking section of the report, the writers describe an attack on a transgender woman in the northern state of Chihuahua. The woman was beat up and shot in the head just days before Mexico City’s 2015 Pride parade.

“The victim’s body was wrapped in a Mexican flag — apparently a protest against the Supreme Court’s June ruling allowing gay marriage,” reads the report. 

Despite enacting laws to protect LGBTQ+ rights, including a recent proposal from President Nieto legalizing same sex marriages, according to Mexico’s Human Rights Commission, the country has the second highest number of hate crimes against sexual minorities in the Americas.

“There's a great effort and determination invested to project a certain image to the world, but the will to implement laws isn't there.”

“There's a great effort and determination invested to project a certain image to the world, but the will to implement laws isn't there,” explained Marshall. “There are also issues with resources that are unavailable, and many of the problems faced by sexual minorities also have to do with conservative values in Mexico, which means deep down there isn't a desire to see these rights protected.”

The report recommends offering assistance to Mexico to create specialized health care services for trans people and working with the government to create educational resources about sexual and reproductive health.

I don't think human rights will feature prominently in the Three Amigos summit,” said Marshall. “But I do think this is a new government [in Ottawa] and it's a new opportunity for Canada to show international leadership.


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 Judy Trinh in Ottawa

Now that Canada has settled 25,000 government sponsored Syrian refugees, the Immigration Minister says he will use the lessons learned in the process to improve the immigration system for all groups.

“We inherited a department full of problems and we want to transform it into a department that’s speedy and welcoming to newcomers,” said John McCallum in an interview with New Canadian Media.

One of the biggest lessons learned involves engaging the private sector. From the beginning the government pitched the settlement of Syrian refugees as a “national project.” The minister openly encouraged business leaders to donate money, and to date, McCallum says Canada’s companies, communities and NGOs have raised more than $30 million to help settle Syrians.

Helping with rents

Those private sector funds played a pivotal role in solving the problem of finding affordable housing for the Syrian newcomers. Although many government refugees were housed in hotels for weeks and even months, McCallum says 93 per cent have now found permanent homes despite expensive rents in some cities.

The federal government provides a refugee family of five, less than $800/month for rent, a daunting budget to work with especially in Toronto and Vancouver where average rents for a two-bedroom apartment top $1,300/month. McCallum says the government didn’t want to increase the housing allowance, instead settlement agencies were able to access corporate grants to subsidize rents for newcomers.

But successful engagement has also resulted in frustrated expectations – it’s a double-edged sword McCallum doesn’t mind wielding. 

“We have a problem that no other immigration minister has; I cannot produce these refugees quickly enough to meet all the demands of generous Canadians who want to accommodate them.”

“We have a problem that no other immigration minister has; I cannot produce these refugees quickly enough to meet all the demands of generous Canadians who want to accommodate them.”

Staffing in Jordan and Lebanon

Since the story of Alan Kurdi, the little boy washed ashore made headlines, thousands of Canadians coast to coast have formed sponsorship groups to take in refugees. But visa officers were pulled back after the government reached its settlement targets at the end of February and caps were imposed on private sponsorship such as Group of Five applications. The public outcry was immediate and McCallum has since announced that additional staff will return to Jordan and Lebanon to help interview Syrians.

Although exact numbers haven’t yet been determined, McCallum says the staff will consist of  a mix of new hires and retired visa officers. The government is committing to processing applications accepted before March 31. The government’s goal is to have 10,000 privately sponsored Syrian refugees set foot on Canadian soil by early next year.

Addressing the backlog

But while Syria applications are being fast-tracked there is concern among other refugee groups that they are being forgotten. The Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada website indicates that government refugee claims out of Jordan can be processed in one month, while an application from Nepal takes 17 months.  Processing an application from Eritrea is estimated to take an incredible 85 months. It’s a huge discrepancy McCallum says he’s trying to fix.

“Certainly, there are long delays for many classes of immigrants and other newcomers. It’s not necessarily because of the Syrian experience.” McCallum says over the past decade, processing times have gotten worse as staff have been cut, while red tape has grown.

“Certainly, there are long delays for many classes of immigrants and other newcomers. It’s not necessarily because of the Syrian experience.”

In the next few weeks McCallum will be announcing measures to ease the backlog. The measures involve streamlining family reunification applications for spouses, parents, grandparents and caregivers. McCallum says he’s also hopeful more money will be found to hire more immigration officers across the board.

He’s adamant that resources were not diverted from other regions to deal with Syrian refugees and he stands by Canada’s commitment.

“I don’t make any apologies for making Syrian refugees a priority. This is a global crisis, the worst the world has seen in decade. Millions are displaced because of war ... it’s right that Canada step up to the plate.”


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
Wednesday, 20 April 2016 09:33

Refugee Settlement: Govt Playing Big Brother

Commentary by Don Curry in North Bay, Ontario 

The federal government needs to take off its MTV glasses (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver) and resume looking at the rest of this vast country when it makes immigration and refugee decisions.

It used to, but that came to a crashing halt June 1, 2012 when 19 Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) offices were closed. The cuts were right across the country — Kelowna, Nanaimo, Prince George, Victoria, Lethbridge, Regina, Barrie, Kingston, Oshawa, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Gatineau, Sherbrooke, Trois Rivières, Moncton and Charlottetown.

The cuts saved the government only 67 jobs, but changed the dynamics negatively for those in the regions and, arguably, positively for those in MTV and other large cities that retained their CIC offices. Local knowledge disappeared overnight. Government settlement officers who knew their region and all settlement agencies well, ended up, in some cases, selling cars for a living. There were 238 layoffs across CIC around that time as then minister Jason Kenney did his bit to slash government spending.

Government settlement officers who knew their region and all settlement agencies well, ended up, in some cases, selling cars for a living.

Those remaining tried hard to keep up, but if you are working in a government office tower in a large city you may be unaware that North Bay and Thunder Bay are at opposite ends of Northern Ontario. You may have little knowledge of what lies between them. You can’t possibly develop the relationships necessary to identify a strong settlement agency from a mediocre one.

Effect on settlement services

The cuts affected settlement agencies that no longer had a government settlement officer dropping by to check on challenges and successes and sending that information up the line. They affected clients who now had to travel much further to renew a Permanent Resident card or seek another service that only the government could provide.

Clients and settlement agencies were told to use the help line. Try it and clock how long you are put on hold. Then call back later and ask the same question to another call centre employee. It is quite likely you will get a different answer.

I've previously argued that the Syrian refugee crisis has demonstrated that smaller centres across the country can accommodate refugees quite well, perhaps even better than the large centres.

The latest announcement from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC, the new name for CIC) is that it will now include Brandon, Kingston, Mississauga and Thunder Bay as temporary sites for the settlement of Government Assisted Refugees.

The fact that there was a request for proposals was not well known or many other centres would have applied. And what is this temporary status all about? Is it big brother saying we’ll let you do it for a while but then we revert to the big cities that know what they’re doing?

If IRCC still had eyes and ears on the ground across Canada the decision would have been more inclusive. There would have been more applications and the government people in the regions would have known which settlement agencies had the capacity to succeed and which did not.

Is it big brother saying we’ll let you do it for a while but then we revert to the big cities that know what they’re doing?

Clogging the system

Congratulations to Brandon, Kingston, Mississauga and Thunder Bay, but common sense and personal knowledge tells me there are many more cities across Canada capable and eager to become settlement centres for Government Assisted Refugees.

Many Syrian refugees landing in MTV are clogging the system, stuck in hotels with no access to language classes, and this is happening in cities such as Ottawa as well.

We have a new, and in my view, more enlightened federal government that is doing a pretty good job with resettling Syrian refugees. But it could do so much better by doubling or tripling the number of cities across Canada that accept Government Assisted Refugees.

Smaller centres need population growth and larger centres are bursting at the seams. A little social engineering on the part of the federal government would be a good thing.


Don Curry is the president of Curry Consulting (www.curryconsulting.ca) He was the founding executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and now serves as a board member. 

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 Commentary
Thursday, 17 December 2015 20:19

Open Doors for Syrians, Closed for Others

by Judy Trinh in Ottawa, Ontario

It is with awe and a heavy heart that 21-year-old Aganze Bihamba watches the massive national effort to bring in Syrian refugees. Bihamba, a former refugee himself, fled Congo and lived on the streets of Kenya for 14 years.

Much of his life has been spent in tattered clothes, sleeping in the streets or mud huts trying to find shelter from the scorching sun and pelting rain. In September, 2014 he arrived in Ottawa after being sponsored through the World University Service Canada student refugee program. He’s amazed that the Canadian government is fast tracking the settlement of Syrians, but he can’t help but wish he could harness some of that goodwill for his own cause.

While doors open for Syrians, they close for others.

Processing times

“I have three sisters living in Nairobi on their own, and I can’t get them out.” His sisters are 19, 17, 16 years old.  Bihamba’s mother died of heart failure in February, while his dad abandoned them years ago. He needs at least $30,000 to sponsor his sisters to Canada, an impossible amount for a full-time student on OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program). Bihamba has reached out to churches and community groups for help, but has been told they are devoting efforts to settling Syrians or are unwilling to contend with the lengthy processing times involved in processing African refugees.

“You shouldn’t discriminate,” a demoralized Bihamba pleads. “If your life is in danger you need help. Don’t ignore the Congolese — they’re all running for their lives.”

Pleas such as Bihamba’s are being heard more frequently by the Canadian Council for Refugees.

“The attention to Syrian refugee families, make some fellow citizens feel they’re being neglected,” says Executive Director Janet Dench. She says the massive government effort settling Syrians is proof Canada can mobilize quickly to help refugees anywhere if there is political will. The federal government’s Syrian refugee plan will cost more than  $1 billion. 

In order to settle 25,000 Syrians in just a few short months, 500 visa officers have been mobilized. Some of them have been pulled out of retirement. Immigration officials say they have not diverted staff from other embassies to deal with the Syrians, but Dench says more resources need to be devoted to other visa offices, in particular those in Africa. Refugee applications there can take more than five years to process.

“That sends a message that people of African origins are less deserving than everyone else,” says Dench.

“That sends a message that people of African origins are less deserving than everyone else."

Transportation costs

Another example is the federal government’s recent decision to waive transportation costs for Syrian refugees, but not other groups. Transporting refugees to Canada can cost as much as $10,000 a family, a big amount for newcomers to pay back. CCR is actively lobbying the federal government to waive travel loans for all refugees.

The federal government is also increasing the incentives for private groups to sponsor Syrian refugees. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has now opened its Blended Visa-Office Referred (BVOR) Program to 'Group of 5' sponsors. BVOR refugees are pre-screened and can arrive within a month of being selected by a group.

The refugees on the BVOR list are often considered more desperate cases. They’re victims of torture or have serious medical issues. To move these cases quickly, the government provides six months of income assistance for BVOR refugees, meaning interested private groups only have to raise half the recommended amount required for settlement. Prior to September, only Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAH) such as churches had access to the BVOR list.

Non-Syrian voices

Scott McLeod sits on the SAH Council. He says private groups who want to sponsor non-Syrian refugees on the BVOR list should get income support from the government.

“It’s fair criticism to ask why can’t we do it for anyone else.”  McLeod says in his presentations to private groups, he tries to emphasize that all refugees regardless of where they are from deserve consideration — “but money could be the difference.”

Mcleod says the chorus of non-Syrian voices asking for equal treatment is getting louder.

“These voices aren’t angry, but they’re pleading.”

“Let’s not be too narrow and expand beyond Syrians. Some groups have been waiting even longer and are even more desperate.”

For Dench, Canada’s response to the Syrian refugee shows that our country has the financial resources and human expertise to act quickly in the face of a crisis. Dench says it’s obvious Canadians want to help, and now it’s time to expand our scope. It’s more than just Syrians who are fleeing violence and conflict.

“Let’s not be too narrow and expand beyond Syrians. Some groups have been waiting even longer and are even more desperate.”

There are are more than 13 million refugees worldwide, 25 per cent of that number are in Africa. Among them are Bihamba’s sisters. Three orphaned teenagers.

Every month he sends them $150 USD. The amount ensures they get at least one meal a day and pays the rent on their small apartment. From halfway around the world, Bihamba provides shelter, but not safety. For that he needs help, for doors to open.

“I have hope, but it’s fading.”


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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