New Canadian Media
Thursday, 09 March 2017 21:34

Looking Beyond the Name on a Resumé

Commentary by Vivian Li in Toronto

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare gave us the famous line “What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” While he was stating, with a noble intention, that it’s not the name of a person but their content and character that truly matters, we know that in 2017 our relationship with our own names and how they’re perceived by others isn’t so simple.

Names matter. For many people they’re a major reflection of our identities, origins, family histories, and the expectations and wishes of our parents symbolized onto us by the very word we use to not only personally identify with but also to introduce ourselves to the world.

When it comes to employment, recent research has shown that names definitely do have an impact on how people are perceived and unfortunately this can manifest in a negative way.

A newly released joint University of Toronto and Ryerson study shows discrimination and hiring bias are present when it comes to applicants with Asian (defined in the study as Indian, Pakistani or Chinese) names. In a study of data from a 2011 Canadian employment audit, researchers analyzed nearly 13,000 job applications for over 3000 job postings in Toronto and Montreal.

Even when all qualifications were equal and the individual was Canadian in origin, the study found that applicants with an Asian name were 28 per cent less likely to get called for an interview compared to applicants with a more traditional Anglo-based name. The callback rate for an interview deteriorates even further when the applicant’s education or work experience was from outside of Canada.

Small vs. Big organizations

The study also shows that smaller companies exhibit even worse discrimination than larger organizations, likely due to lack of resources and internal diversity awareness programs. In companies with fewer than 500 employees, the chance of an applicant with an Asian name and of Canadian origin getting a call for an interview was 42% less, and this drops to a staggering 68% less when the applicant’s education and work history was international.

Following the release of the study, RBC and Ryerson University co-sponsored a panel discussion event moderated by Ratna Omidvar, Senator and Visiting Professor, Global Diversity Exchange at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University. The goal was to explore the challenges discovered by the research and identify ways to eliminate these types of persisting hiring biases.

Hiring from the community

As an Asian Canadian and one of the RBCers who were invited to the event and discussion, my feelings were hopeful but also bittersweet. On the one hand, I continue to be very proud of working for a company like RBC where 33 per cent of our workforce is made up of visible minorities, surpassing the Canadians average of 25 per cent by a sizable margin.

In my role as Senior Manager, Inclusive Recruitment, I know from a wide range of personal experiences that hiring from the community to serve the community has always been one of our most effective and rewarding guiding principles. We’ve passionately built a suite of forward-thinking programs designed to help immigrants and new Canadians build their career at RBC, including ourCareer Edge internship and TRIEC mentoring programs, and RBC volunteers also actively participate in various speed-mentoring events with newcomers to help us look beyond a resume and meet the person behind the name.

Visible minorities are also highly represented in our own recruitment team, which helps us build the cultural competency needed to truly understand the nuanced needs of new Canadians and leads us to address unconscious bias when it comes to screening resumes.

On the other hand, if the study indicates that society in general still interprets minority status negatively then it unavoidably has a potentially negative impact in organizations all across Canada.

Hiring biases

Canada is an immigrant country and by 2035, almost 100 per cent of the Canadian population growth will depend on immigration. Hiring bias against minorities will hugely impact our ability to build competitive advantage both as a company and a country.

So what can we do differently?

We often talk about how diversity is the mix and inclusion is how we make the mix work well together. The bottom line is that in order to make the mix work well together, each one of us needs to look within and examine our own conscious or unconscious bias. It is human nature to favour people who are most like us and view people who are in our own groups as being more favourable than “the others.” A lot of the time, addressing unconscious is about asking ourselves uncomfortable questions (see graphic alongside).

With that in mind, my challenge to everyone is this: the next time you’re looking at a resume and decide to put it aside, pause for a moment and ask yourself why you are doing it… and then look at the name.


Vivian Li is a Senior Manager responsible for inclusive recruitment at the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). Prior to her experience in RBC, Vivian worked as an HR professional with Bell Canada.

Published in Economy

Gupta is returning to his alma mater after being appointed distinguished visiting professor in the University of Toronto’s computer science department, reported Canadian Press.
The appointment covers the 2015-2016 academic year.
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Published in Education
Thursday, 24 September 2015 13:21

Courting the "Ethnic Vote"

by Samantha Lui in Toronto 

While immigrant communities across Canada made a significant impact on the last federal election in 2011, much work still needs to be done to increase the presence of visible minorities in Canadian politics.   

This was the consensus formed during a panel discussion called, "Courting the 'Ethnic Vote': Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 2015 Federal Election," which took place September 22 at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. 

Both political experts and media professionals spoke during the panel, discussing factors such as media coverage of minority candidates, how to cater to immigrants and the importance of having visible minorities run for office. Participants emphasized that immigrants are not a monolithic voting block, but need to be courted if parties hope to win this fall.

Support and coverage in the media

According to Chris Cochrane, an associate professor with the University of Toronto’s department of political science, he’s seen a spike in support for the Conservatives amongst immigrants between 2005 to 2011 who have shifted their support from the Liberals and the New Democrats. 

“There’s story after story about the remarkable success the Conservatives enjoyed amongst immigrant communities in the last election,” Cochrane said, referring to media reports.

He continued, “The story itself makes perfect sense if you look at the results. Stephen Harper realized that they couldn’t win as a rural party. The soundest footing for the Conservatives would be [to form] an alliance between rural western Canada and suburban Ontario. In order to win that, they would have to make inroads amongst immigrant communities.” 

Much work still needs to be done to increase the presence of visible minorities in Canadian politics.

But while there’s no shortage of media coverage for how the Conservatives came out on top during the 2011 federal election, Erin Tolley, an assistant professor in political science at the University of Toronto, noted that the media is problematic in other ways.  

While she says news coverage is not racist, Tolley argues that journalists’ news judgment are often racialized when it comes to reporting on visible minority candidates

“I found that racial minority candidates tend to be portrayed as products of their socio-demographic characteristics with far more attention given to their backgrounds and culture than is the case for white candidates,” she says.  

“In addition, I found that racial minority candidates are much less likely to appear in stories about pressing election issues like the economy even when those candidates present themselves as being interested and concerned about those issues.”

In Tolley’s presentation, she gave examples of media coverage on Conservative party member Tim Uppal. The media often paid very close attention to his immigrant background, his Punjabi heritage, his turban and his beard. This she says, “explicitly painted him as different from the norm.” 

Another example given by Tolley were reports on Liberal candidate Ruby Dhalla that mention her past as a Bollywood actress. Tolley argues that this type of coverage undermines the skills and qualifications Dhalla brings to the arena as a politician.  

"Racial minority candidates tend to be portrayed as products of their socio-demographic characteristics."

While Tolley says such coverage in the media are intended to be innocuous, she suggests that there is a need for more training for journalists when it comes to reporting on diversity. She notes that the "Canadian Press Stylebook" has a section on sexism, but not on racism. The only section that touches on this is called “Race and Ethnicity.” 

“Many of the journalists that I talked to didn’t think this was necessary," said Tolley. "They talked about how the standard for the coverage is fairness and accuracy and that they really only mention race when it’s relevant to news stories."

The need to engage immigrant voters

How the media covers visible minorities in Canadian politics wasn’t the only topic covered during the panel. How to attract minority voters was also front and centre during the discussion. 

Jane Hilderman is the executive director of Samara, a non-partisan group that aims to connect and reconnect Canadians to politics and democracy through research and discussions. 

Noting that the last federal election had a voter turnout of 61 per cent, Hilderman argues that there needs to be better ways to socialize people into politics, especially as many newcomers to Canada may come from places with different political institutions and traditions. 

Part of Samara’s approach to improving the way immigrants get involved in politics is through community programs such as Democracy Talks, Hilderman explained, which are facilitated conversations where people can ask about issues and experiences they have with politics.

Through those conversations, Samara has also developed a Vote PopUp kit, which provides community groups with training on how to vote. It aims to demystify the voting process and explain why exercising your right to vote is important. 

On getting immigrants politically engaged, New Canadian Media’s Ranjit Bhaskar said it should be a grassroots effort. It would help if political leaders show genuine interest in the well-being of their constituents instead of merely pandering to the “ethnic” among them, Bhaskar said. 

“I predict that immigrants will vote much more in this coming election."

He gave the example of former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford as someone who, although he did not specifically target ethnic voters, still elicited their support by taking up issues that mattered to them. “He was the one mayor who visited the run-down, cockroach-infested apartments of immigrant families to check on their living conditions,” Bhaskar explained. 

With reference to the current federal campaign, Bhaskar said issues such as Bill C-51, Bill C-24, family reunification, small business taxes and recognition of foreign credentials are seen as important to immigrant voters.

Global Diversity Exchange’s executive director Ratna Omidvar agreed, stating that these issues will have a major impact on the election results along with the ongoing refugee crisis.

“We have 30 more ridings in the country this coming election. Most of them are in the outer rings of vote-rich, minority-rich Toronto and Vancouver. In many of these new ridings, there are only minorities who are running,” she said. 

“I predict that immigrants will vote much more in this coming election than they have in the past because they will have people who are running for power who look like them.”

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

Published in Politics

By Jasminee Sahoye A study by researchers at the University of Cambridge’s Division of Biological Anthropology shows that males with higher “reproductive potential” are better distance runners. The study of…

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Published in Health

by Aeman Ansari

Jeffrey Sze is a third-year student in the University of Toronto Scarborough and Centennial College’s joint journalism program. Batoul Hreiche is a fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University. Kaitlyn Smith is a second-year student in the University of Toronto Scarborough and Centennial College’s joint journalism program. 


J-Source: Is your school diverse? This question applies to the student body and the faculty. 

Hreiche: My j-school’s student body and faculty is not as diverse as one would hope. There are very few people who are culturally and ethnically different. I’d also like to point out that I’m double-majoring in law, and I see much more diversity in their student body, as well as their faculty, than I do in journalism.

Sze: I feel like my student body is composed of a diverse body of people from different countries and backgrounds. In terms of faculty, it’s not as diverse.

[J]ust because there is a multicultural environment in Canada doesn't mean ignorance automatically vanishes. I’ve found that many Canadians are very closed minded, and I am astounded at the way people confuse tolerance for ignorance. - Kaitlyn Smith

Smith: I think a lot of the problems with diversity and its total lack of proportion in the journalism field and j-schools is the restrictive, suffocating model of education in Ontario. My first year at university I remember the pressure to conform, so much so that I didn’t think it was worth it to finish my degree.

But last semester I was taught by a biracial, female professor — Dr. Minelle Mahtani — who rejected the university’s original method of teaching (she literally saved my journalism career). She focused the classroom on thinking outside of the box. I think this is a great way to start approaching the ideas of diversity.

Additionally, just because there is a multicultural environment in Canada doesn't mean ignorance automatically vanishes. I’ve found that many Canadians are very closed minded, and I am astounded at the way people confuse tolerance for ignorance. 

Hreiche: I believe a lack of diversity exists because the journalism industry is primarily perceived as a “white” field. And people who may come from a misrepresented cultural or ethnic background tend to hold a negative view of the industry. So people generally do not want to engage in journalism. 

J-Source: Batoul, why do you think the law program might be more diverse?

Hreiche: From my experience double-majoring, I believe the law industry is evolving quicker than journalism is. A lot of my friends who have completed law school told me that there is a diverse population in their field. And I’ve noticed that while searching for lawyers or legal experts to interview for certain articles. 

Sometimes, I feel the opposite. I feel that looking different makes me stand out — in a good way. My experience as one of the two hijab-wearing students in the journalism program made me realize how being different was actually a powerful tool. - Batoul Hreiche 

J-Source: If there is a lack of diversity in your school’s faculty, why do you think it exists?

Sze: For me, in terms of faculty, I feel like it isn’t as diverse because of the media landscape in the past. The professors here are people who have had experience in the industry. It’s a reflection of the media landscape in the past. I think that as we move forward, maybe in the next 15 years, we might see a change. 

Breaking into the Industry as a 'Diverse' Face

J-Source: Have you faced any challenges because of this lack of diversity in the industry?

Hreiche: Sometimes, I feel the opposite. I feel that looking different makes me stand out — in a good way. My experience as one of the two hijab-wearing students in the journalism program made me realize how being different was actually a powerful tool. 

I just completed a two-week internship with the CBC, and I was lucky enough to get three on-camera opportunities. I received so many heartwarming comments from people who are not used to seeing diversity on mainstream media, and not all the people who reached out to me were Muslim or Arab! 

Sze: I don't think I have faced challenges in this industry. I feel like the opportunities that I was able to get in journalism was not because of my background but rather my skill set.

J-Source: What do you think might be some ways to increase diversity moving forward?

Sze: I feel that having diversity in the field is definitely a great thing to have, but at the same time, I don't feel that the nature of one person's reporting should be based upon who they are. I feel like a journalist's skill set should be looked upon more than their background, colour or gender.

J-Source: Do you think the onus is on individuals who are part of a marginalized group and identify as such to bring these issues to the forefront in their schools or in the workplace?

Hreiche: For starters, this idea needs to be implemented in the educational system, and not only in journalism programs. In the end, journalism serves every profession, so emphasis needs to be placed in all educational areas. Also, I believe another one of our key starting points is for media institutions to realize how a diverse newsroom would alter their coverage on certain topics — in a profoundly good way. They need to realize that diversity fosters new discussions in a newsroom.

Tackling the Diversity Issue 

J-Source: As young journalists in the field, how do you see this lack of diversity manifesting in the quality of Canadian journalism?

Hreiche: I believe it's a two-way solution. Firstly, the media's power over public knowledge and education cannot be underestimated. So those that are already involved in the field need to shed some light. However, from my experiences thus far, I believe marginalized communities hold themselves back. They believe that since there aren't many of them out there, they can't make social change.

Judging based on the diversity that's here at my school right now I feel like diversity will soon be reflected in Canadian journalism. - Jeffrey Sze

 

When I was accepted into the journalism program, those around me told me that I would not succeed because my background is Arab and Muslim, and I wear the hijab. When I started, I realized they’re right — there aren’t enough of us out here —but I came to the conclusion that if people hold themselves back from engaging and breaking misconceptions, then the world will never evolve. So it also starts with us.

Smith: I agree with Batoul, but we also need to address the back-pedalling of news media and media itself, as well as conservative backlash that many diverse news organizations, and the people they cater to, receive. 

Pertaining to the question Aeman mentioned earlier, I see a lack of diversity and equal coverage in foreign reporting. There is a standard of foreign reporting that I have found creates villains out immigrants. We have very little interest in going straight to the source. This definitely takes away from really great stories and causes our audiences to focus on the wrong ones. 

Sze: I think touching on the point I made earlier, we're going to be seeing a change in this industry, where diversity would be reflected, and I guess this would be an optimistic assumption. Judging based on the diversity that's here at my school right now I feel like diversity will soon be reflected in Canadian journalism. 

Women in the news media still earn less than men for the same work. “Visible” minorities are still considered “quota filling” burdens. Just because we see more diverse cultures being addressed and hired as broadcasters, doesn’t mean it’s fixing the problem of diversity or lack of it in journalism. - Kaitlyn Smith 

J-Source: How do you plan on tackling this issue of diversity in the media when you are actively engaged in the field? If you decide to, what are practical ways in which you would do so? 

Sze: I don’t know about the term “tackling” the issue. But I think with the issue of diversity in media, I will try to be more aware with the stories I work on, the historical and social contexts that are behind the issue. 

Smith: I just wanted to touch on Sze’s last point. Sorry for being so slow, but, Jeff, I may be a little more cynical than you. I don't see the trend of a more diverse community in the future.

Perhaps it's because I'm still listed at the university level of journalism, but from what I can see, unless we actively do something, I feel that we’re starting to fall back into the dark ages.

Women in the news media still earn less than men for the same work. “Visible” minorities are still considered “quota filling” burdens. Just because we see more diverse cultures being addressed and hired as broadcasters, doesn’t mean it’s fixing the problem of diversity or lack of it in journalism.

Hreiche: When I’m actively engaged in the field, I dream of facilitating the process of diversifying the newsroom. While a diverse newsroom will not be created overnight, the change must be active.

So, for starters, I’d like to report on Canada’s lack of diversity in the industry because I feel it doesn’t receive much attention. I’m positive society realizes this already, but with more attention, if there are people who are afraid or nervous to break out of their shell because they so happen to be from a different cultural, ethnic, or religious background, a further spotlight on the issue may help push them forward.


Re-published with permission from J-Source.ca

Published in Education

CANADA could save $7.3 billion annually with universal public coverage of medically necessary prescription drugs. Canada is the only developed country with a universal health care system that does not include prescription drug coverage. New research from the University of British Columbia and University of Toronto, published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, shows […]

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Published in Economy

by Paul de Silva

Seven years ago, I was part of an application process to the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) for a digital channel focusing on broadcasting English Language Drama with visible minority professionals in key creative positions, ownership and executive management – CanadaOneTV.

The application was denied.

The grounds for denial: the CRTC believed that the present broadcasting system would make the changes necessary to provide on-screen and off-screen representation of minorities.

“… To catch up to today’s population benchmarks for the whole of English Canada, for primary characters (on TV programs) would take about 10 to 15 years,” Kaan Yigit, President of Solutions Research Communications Group, told the CRTC at a license application hearing in 2007. “If you wanted to catch up to Toronto and Vancouver, it would take some 40 years plus.”

Yet, today, with the discussions of the future of broadcasting in Canada front and centre, still not enough is being said about the ongoing lack of diversity in Canadian programming. The Canadian Radio and Television Commission held highly publicized public hearings in Ottawa earlier this fall examining issues that will affect anyone with a television. A variety of proposals and changes to the current broadcasting landscape were discussed and dissected. That includes local broadcasting. With recent consolidation in the broadcasting industry and major cutbacks at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), local programming – including diverse characters and storylines representative of Canadian society – will definitely take a hit.

[...]Canadian broadcasters will face eroding domestic markets as immigrant populations increase and bypass Canadian broadcast media altogether. If Canadian screen media does not reflect their presence and their hopes and aspirations, except in stereotypical portrayals, why watch it?

Still, the issues concerning cultural diversity in broadcasting were not part of the hearings. They should have been, though. Some presenters did mention the topic, but an in-depth look at how representative our broadcasters are in their programming is long overdue. The CRTC says it will look at the issues surrounding cultural diversity on television at some point in the near future – though no date has been given.

Meaning of "should"

It seems little has changed since 2007. In fact, the Canadian Media Guild which represents producers, writers and creative workers reported to the CRTC at the recent hearings that over 10,000 jobs have been lost since 2007 due to economic and technological changes and industry consolidation. Many of these workers are recent hires -- many of them from visible minority communities.

Mandated by the Canada Broadcasting Act (last revised in 1991), the CRTC is supposed to ensure that Canadian broadcasting media reflect the country’s ethno-cultural diversity as stated in sub paragraph 3(d) (iii):

“The Canadian broadcasting system should […] through its programming and the employment opportunities arising out of its operations, serve the needs and interests, and reflect the circumstances and aspirations, of Canadian men, women and children, including equal rights, the linguistic duality and multicultural nature of Canadian society and the special place of aboriginal peoples within that society.”

Unfortunately, the use of the word “should” in this clause has allowed for a large degree of interpretation and does not, it is argued, require specific commitments by the broadcasting system to ensuring cultural diversity is present in the system.

Part of the problem is the lack of an effective organization to advocate on behalf of producers and other creative artists from minority communities. Without an effective ongoing “voice” progress is slow in coming. 

Over the years, the CRTC has implemented a variety of policy initiatives with respect to cultural diversity in broadcasting. A ruling by the CRTC, requiring broadcasters to measure current performance and set targets and goals for cultural diversity representation is an attempt to “encourage” improved performance in this area.

However, without specific requirements, and the resources required to adequately monitor and ensure compliance, particularly in the production of English Language Drama that reflects Canada’s cultural diversity, gains in this area appear to be insignificant.

The solution to these issues is not easy, given the complicated nature of the broadcasting industry and systemic issues involved, but the time is now for the CRTC to begin the work.

Diversify gatekeepers

The issue of representation of members from culturally diverse communities (visible minority groups in particular), in executive management positions, which are responsible for commissioning programs in television broadcasting organizations, has to be addressed if any real change is to take place. These positions, known as the “gatekeepers” in the industry – those who can “green light” a project – are almost exclusively from mainstream communities. This continues to affect both the quantitative and qualitative representation of cultural diversity on our television screens, particularly in the area of drama, sitcoms and variety programming.

Conducting empirical research requires adequate resources be allocated, which increasingly are in short supply at all government agencies, and without regulatory requirements, there is little incentive for private broadcasting companies to undertake this.

Part of the problem is the lack of an effective organization to advocate on behalf of producers and other creative artists from minority communities. Without an effective ongoing “voice” progress is slow in coming. Fortunately the media academics in a few universities across Canada, particularly those in large urban areas with larger ethnically diverse populations, are paying attention to this issue. A roundtable on Diversity in the Media Production Industry in January 2012 in Toronto, organized by Ryerson University professors, who have done extensive research on the representation of visible minority producers and writers in screen media industries, produced a report and action plan containing several important recommendations. These included calls on the CBC to set a more “vigorous example of diversity,” the creation of a new “diversity channel” and “tying current film and television tax incentives to diversity.”

Increase resources

Recently, OMNI television – a multilingual/multicultural TV station owned by Rogers Media – argued that economic conditions including the reduction of advertising revenues and the increased competition from new digital platforms available via the Internet were forcing a reduction in multilingual/multicultural programming it could offer. The CRTC didn’t accept the argument, saying the company had not provided sufficient evidence or information to support its case and that it would review the matter at the company’s next licence renewal hearing.

OMNI’s business model, like other Canadian networks, and as approved by the CRTC, is to broadcast primarily U.S. programs (mostly sitcoms and talk shows) in primetime and produce some “in house” news and studio-based talk shows aimed at ethnic communities, for which production costs are paid for by advertising sales and sponsorship from local business.
The CRTC set the amount of money that needed to be spent by the channels on these “CanCon” programs, and the number of hours and types of programs that should be produced as, “conditions of licence.” Due to market realities these programs are rarely profitable.

The CRTC says it will look at the issues surrounding cultural diversity on television at some point in the near future – though no date has been given.

As part of its commitments in order to obtain licences for a second multicultural channel, OMNI 2 also committed to spending $46.5 million on producing original Canadian documentary and drama programs over the period of its initial licence. That has been a success, though temporary.

The fund created valuable opportunities for producers and creative screen artists to develop their skills in the industry and tell stories from their own ethnic communities. In many ways, it served as a valuable “incubator” for many creative artists in the screen industries. However, it’s a one-time initiative. Where will these niche producers find more work? The need for sustainable, consistent funding is evident.

Implement clear policy regulations

The need for regulations in the screen media industries is well established. It is now time to take the issue of screen representation in front of and behind the camera of culturally diverse and visible minority communities seriously and take concrete measures to deal with their under- representation in an increasingly important and influential medium.

The implications of not doing so will be serious for Canadian society – an increasing disassociation from mainstream Canadian society by visible minority communities, especially “at-risk” youth, with a resulting loss of social cohesion in our communities. Recent studies by University of Toronto professors Jeffrey Reitz and Rupa Banerjee have outlined this clearly. As well, Canadian broadcasters will face eroding domestic markets as immigrant populations increase and bypass Canadian broadcast media altogether. If Canadian screen media does not reflect their presence, and their hopes and aspirations, except in stereotypical portrayals, why watch it? With programming now easily available from individuals’ home countries via the Internet and Canadian-based “third language” TV channels, there is little incentive to watch Canadian programming.

If the CRTC doesn’t take action immediately, it is bound to have negative effects on our social fabric and our sense of identity as Canadians. Can we as a society that prides itself on our diversity, multiculturalism and commitment to equality and equity afford to take these risks? I’m not sure we can.

Paul de Silva, is a film and TV producer and a doctoral student in the Communications and Culture Program at Ryerson University and Co-director of the International Diaspora Film Festival

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, 20 June 2013 19:05

Refugees: long treks from despair

by Ranjit Bhaskar

Hope was the operative word here. Radiating from the eager and sincere volunteers, young and old, as Toronto joined the world Thursday to mark World Refugee Day at Yonge-Dundas Square.

Many had converged on the square after a symbolic walk in solidarity with refugees from around the globe. Refugees like Yak Deng, who graduated from the University of Toronto this month in applied microbiology. Deng is from the Jonglei in South Sudan, the youngest country in the world that was born out of war as recently as 2011.

Deng’s story is similar to those caught in the tumultuous period in Sudan between 1983 and 2005, when more than two million people died of war and war-related causes. When over four million people were internally displaced in southern Sudan and nearly two million southern Sudanese fled across borders.

Deng reminded me of Francis Odong, a fellow countryman of his whom I had met in Juba, South Sudan. I remembered Odong may be because there is nothing extraordinary about both their stories, at least by the standards of the “lost boys” of children being separated from their families because of the civil war and finding their way west via refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

I remembered Odong alongside Deng because both their stories are considered ordinary in the backdrop of the harsh reality around them. Both did not have to face the trauma of becoming a child soldier, but were forced to cross a border and live in refugee camps. Theirs is the story of lives derailed, almost at its outset.

Faith in education

Theirs is also the story of youth determined to fight their way out of predicament through education. Of a certain dignity that comes so easily to the poor; the urge for an education despite starting out late; not missing out on studies through civil wars; of studying to become a paramedic while juggling a full-time job in the case of Odong and getting a full-scholarship to study in UoFT in the case of Deng thanks to the World University Service of Canada.

They are the fortunate few among 45.2 million refugees and internally displaced people worldwide who lack basic resources after being driven from their homes due to conflict or natural disaster. Fortunate because school quickly becomes a distant memory when nations begin to self-destruct and empty themselves of people. Like in Syria at the moment, which people in Dundas Square were made aware of.

“In all the years I have worked on behalf of refugees, this is the most worrying I have ever witnessed. The needs of these people are overwhelming; their anguish is unbearable. Today, there are over 1.6 million registered Syrian refugees,” said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees in his message for the day from Jordan.

“I have come to Jordan on this day to stand by the people of Syria in their time of acute need. I also want to salute Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and all the countries in the region for being generous havens that have saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” said Guterres. It is also a timely reminder for those in Canada who fret about the “hordes” of refugees coming to the country.

For the record, approximately 7,500 refugees are brought to Canada and assisted by the government each year and private groups such as churches welcome about 3,000. The problematic number is the 30,000 or so who arrive as refugee claimants.

It is also good to remember that every minute eight people around the world are forced to flee their homes due to war and persecution. And that no one like Deng chooses to be a refugee. His was a long trek from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. The 24-year-old hasn’t seen his parents and siblings for the past 11 years, “because a visit is not affordable right now”. -- New Canadian Media

{webgallery title="World Refugee Day 2013"}

There are over 1.6 million registered Syrian refugees at the momentWorldwide, there are 45.2 million refugees and internally displaced people Refugees need protectionLanguage should not be a barrierMedical help across bordersCanadians have been generous hosts for thousands of refugees

{/webgallery}

Published in National
Saturday, 19 January 2013 17:35

"We are Canadian, too," say Somali-Canadians

Montreal − A new study published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy challenges the perception that the Somali Canadian community has failed to integrate into the wider society. Instead, its author finds that many young Somali Canadians have a strong attachment to Canada that is often accompanied by identification with Islam and with Somalia.

In her study “I Am Canadian: Challenging Stereotypes about Young Somali Canadians,” Rima Berns-McGown also reports that her in-depth interviews with young Somali Canadians demonstrated no widespread or significant support for the al-Shabaab movement in southern Somalia or any other organization that might threaten the public safety of Canadians.

Berns-McGown, who teaches diaspora studies at the University of Toronto, highlights some of the significant roadblocks young Somali Canadians often encounter, including the trauma that they and/or their families experienced in Somalia before leaving, racism in school and on the part of the police, and negative media coverage.

According to Berns-McGown, “social cohesion would be much better served if we addressed the specific challenges Somali Canadians continue to face, rather than stigmatizing the community and contributing to the criminalization of its youth.”

To that end, the author offers a number of proposals for school boards, law enforcement agencies, federal and provincial governments, and the media, such as targeted support for Somali Canadian youth and ways to address institutional barriers and stereotyping. “These measures could enhance Somali Canadians’ inclusion in the wider society and foster a balanced approach to public safety issues,” concludes Berns-McGown.

This study challenges the perceptions that the Somali Canadian community has failed to an unusual degree to integrate into the wider society. That this is the fault of the community itself and that this supposed failure represents a threat to Canadian security because of suggestions that some Somali Canadian youth have been lured to the radical extremism of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab movement in southern Somalia, and because some have become involved in drug trafficking and street violence.

Drawing on her previous research and some 40 in-depth interviews with young Somali Canadians, Berns-McGown finds that most of these youth self-identify as Canadian and want very much to be a part of this country, which they see as their home. They also, and not in contradiction, feel strongly Muslim and Somali. Extensive quotations from the interviews provide insights about these multiple identities. To the extent that integration involves the identification of newcomers with their adopted home, most of these young Somalis appear to be integrating well.

But integration is a two-way street: it entails the willingness of new Canadians to embrace their new home and — equally significantly — the willingness of the wider society to lower the barriers to their becoming active and productive members of their adopted home. And in that regard, many young Somali Canadians encounter significant roadblocks that are not conducive to integration or social cohesion. These include systematic, institutional racism on the part of schools, police and intelligence agencies, and the media. In light of the significant challenges the Somali Canadian community has faced, the author’s assessment is that its achievements have been quite extraordinary.

Berns-McGown found no widespread or significant support for al-Shabaab or any other organization that threatens the public safety of Canadians, and she maintains that characterizations of the community as disengaged and a security threat are unwarranted and deeply problematic.

[“I Am Canadian: Challenging Stereotypes about Young Somali Canadians” by Rima Berns-McGown can be viewed at the Institute’s Web site (www.irpp.org)]

Published in National

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