Settlement and integration

Comments on proposed changes to the transportation loan

Summary: 

The attached are the CCR's representations concerning the proposed changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, with respect to the transportation loans, pre-published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, Vol. 151, No. 39, on 30 September 2017

Proposed elimination of Conditional Permanent Residence: Comments

Summary: 

The attached form the comments of the Canadian Council for Refugees on the proposed amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, on 29 October 2016.

The CCR welcomes the proposed elimination of Conditional Permanent Residence

The Canadian Council for Refugees, along with many other organizations, expressed grave concerns about the measure from the outset, on the grounds that it would increase the risk of spousal abuse and that it unfairly associates newcomers with fraudulent behaviour. Experiences since implementation have only confirmed our conviction that Conditional Permanent Residence is a damaging policy that needs to be repealed.

Mental health and refugees: position paper

Summary: 

This paper gives a brief outline of the CCR’s main concerns relating to refugees and mental health. It focuses on refugees, but many aspects apply to other newcomers, particularly those who have suffered serious human rights abuses, such as survivors of trafficking, and those with precarious status, such as migrant workers. 

Conditional Permanent Residence: Failure in Policy and Practice

In the three years since its introduction, Conditional Permanent Residence has increased the vulnerability of many sponsored newcomers, particularly victims of domestic and sexual violence and abuse, who are often women. Victims of abuse are doubly victimized and retraumatized by the condition: they suffer abuse from their partner and threat of deportation from the State. The measure has placed more power in the hands of abusive sponsors, and put sponsored partners at increased risk of abuse, increasing gender inequalities in cases where the sponsored person is a woman. Front-line workers and lawyers have reported that there are women in situations of abuse who – after consulting them about the condition and the exception – decide to stay in the abusive relationship for fear of having their application for the exception rejected.  Others remain in violent relationships because they lack knowledge of their rights and are manipulated by sponsors. Even in cases where there is no abuse, the measure creates significant stress for those affected because of the threat of deportation in the case of a breakdown in the relationship.

Background

In October 2012, the federal government introduced a two-year period of conditional permanent residence for sponsored spouses who have been in a relationship with their sponsor for less than two years, and who have no children together at the time the sponsorship application is made.

Under this rule, the sponsored person’s permanent residence is conditional on their remaining in a conjugal relationship and cohabitating with their sponsor for two years after they become a permanent resident. If they don’t fulfill these conditions, their permanent residence could be revoked, and they could be deported. After outcry from advocates for women and newcomers, an exception to the measure was added for victims of abuse and neglect. Eligible applicants must prove abuse in order to access the exception.

The Canadian Council for Refugees, along with many other organizations, expressed grave concerns about the measure from the outset, on the grounds that it would increase the risk of spousal abuse and that it unfairly associates newcomers with fraudulent behaviour.

Experiences with Conditional Permanent Residence

In order to assess the impact of Conditional Permanent Residence, the Canadian Council for Refugees reached out in 2015 to over 140 settlement organizations, legal clinics, and women’s shelters across the country. The following is a summary of feedback received.

Lack of information about the condition is a significant challenge, especially outside of major urban centres. Many front-line workers do not fully understand the implications of the condition for sponsored spouses, and many are unaware of or have wrong information about the exception for victims of abuse or neglect. In outreach calls done with 142 organizations across the country, only 62% were aware of the condition, and only 40% were aware of the exception for victims of abuse or neglect.

An important barrier flagged by front-line workers is the need for an advocate. A person who has experienced abuse has a much better chance of applying successfully for the exception and thus escaping an abusive relationship if they have an advocate to inform them about, and help them with the process. Many newcomer women are isolated and face language barriers, making it difficult for them to access help.  In some cases well-intentioned advocates prove ineffective or misleading, due to lack of information on the measure, or faulty information on how to access the exception.

It is impossible to know how many women have been trapped in relationships because of lack of access to information about the exception, and lack of support.

Three years after the implementation of Conditional Permanent Residence for sponsored spouses, front-line workers at women- and newcomer-focused organizations report that the exception is not working as intended. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration heard  concerns that the exception is inadequate to protect women from abuse,[1] and our consultations with organizations show that this rule has indeed put victims at increased risk of abuse.

Organizations that attempted to access the exception for victims of abuse reported the following:

  • CIC recommends its call centre as the first point of contact for those seeking an exception, but users report that this has not been effective.  It is difficult and time-consuming to reach a representative; not all CIC representatives understand the rules of the condition, and misleading information is often provided.
  • There is a lack of clarity and consistency from CIC on the investigation process for breach of condition.
  • There appears to be insufficient training on gender violence for CIC Call Centre representatives as well as for officers conducting interviews to decide whether the exception will be granted: CCR has received reports that several have made comments showing a significant lack of understanding of gender violence.
  • Compiling evidence and applying for the exception is onerous and time consuming, and proving emotional or psychological abuse is difficult.
  • There are problems around disclosure: where an ex-partner has complained to CIC and instigated an investigation, the partner affected by the condition is not given access to information on the allegations against them.
  • CIC does not always respond promptly to requests for an exception, causing significant stress and trauma. In some cases it appears that CBSA has launched an investigation against a sponsored spouse for not complying with the condition, after that spouse had already requested an exception from the condition due to abuse.

In addition to unacceptably trapping people in abusive relationships, Conditional Permanent Residence leads to a significant waste of resources. Organizations and lawyers supporting victims of violence or neglect spend significant time helping sponsored spouses to apply for the exception, including collecting evidence of abuse and preparing detailed submissions. Government officials also spend time informing sponsored spouses about the provision, monitoring compliance and evaluating complex requests for exceptions.  Given that there is no evidence that Conditional Permanent Residence is addressing a real problem, this is a shameful waste of resources.

CCR’s position

The CCR maintains that:

  • Making permanent residence conditional on staying in a relationship for two years traps people into staying in abusive relationships for fear of losing their status.
  • Punishing the sponsored partner for relationship breakdown is unfair, and puts all the power into the hands of sponsors, who may be abusive.
  • The exception is not effective: abused partners are often unable to take advantage of it because of barriers to information on the exemption (e.g. language, isolation), and the burden of proving their own abuse.
  • The measure is unnecessary, since there are already legal provisions to address misrepresentations in immigration proceedings (e.g. marriages of convenience).

The CCR is pleased to note that repealing Conditional Permanent Residence is part of the Liberal Plan for Immigration.

CCR calls on the government to follow through on its commitment and repeal Conditional Permanent Residence immediately, to remove this unnecessary measure that is harmful to the many who are affected by it, disproportionately women.


Jane’s story:

Jane came to Canada sponsored by her spouse James, a Canadian citizen she had met and married in her native Norway.  To her surprise, she found she was to live with her in-laws as well as James and was expected to work (unpaid) in the family’s cleaning business. James became verbally and sexually abusive as well as controlling: she was not allowed to leave the house without him. James would tell her that if she left him she would be deported from Canada. After he started shoving her, she left the home and went to a shelter. 

A shelter worker who had recently attended a presentation on Conditional Permanent Residence helped Jane call the CIC Call Centre to request an exception from the two-year condition. They asked for an interpreter but were told they had to call back with their own. When they did that, CIC took basic information and informed them they would hear from the CIC local office. Several months passed before CIC sent a letter explaining that she needed to submit proof of her relationship and the abuse within 60 days. Since James was so controlling, she had little documented evidence of their relationship (such as a joint bank account, joint lease agreement, etc.) and was worried the lack of evidence would result in her losing her status. She submitted what she had and explained why she didn’t have much evidence. After several months, Jane received a second letter asking for the same documents she had previously explained she could not provide. Some time after responding to that letter, she was asked to attend an interview with a CIC officer. Jane was sobbing through the interview trying to explain to the officer why her circumstances met the definition of abuse and neglect, and weren’t simply “marital problems”, as the officer suggested. While her exemption was eventually granted by way of a letter, the eight month long process was emotionally draining and humiliating for Jane.

Jemma’s story

Jemma is a citizen of Burma who was sponsored from within Canada. She was seven months pregnant with her sponsor’s child when she received her permanent residence. The landing interview was the first time Jemma or her husband Jared learned of the conditional permanent resident requirement. While the relationship had been a little bit rocky before, Jared’s disposition at that point began to shift drastically. He would tell Jemma that he felt trapped by being a father and that he was now stuck with her for two years. He controlled all the finances in the household, constantly telling Jemma she was “useless” because she was unable to contribute financially. One day her husband beat her so badly with a kitchen utensil that she had to be taken to the emergency room. Jemma’s neighbour called the police and her husband was later criminally charged. He then called Citizenship and Immigration Canada and informed them that it was actually Jemma who was abusive and she only married him to stay in Canada. CIC wrote Jemma a letter stating that she may be found inadmissible to Canada, and provided a summary of the allegation, without naming the person making the allegation. Jemma was assisted by a lawyer to respond to the letter and also request an exemption from the condition. She is still awaiting a decision several months later and feels in limbo – unable to move forward with her life in Canada and scared of losing her status.

 

[1] “Strengthening The Protection Of Women In Our Immigration System” , Report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, February 2015, http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=6837061&L...

Refugee health survey by province and by category

Summary: 

This document provides some basic information about issues in access to health care across Canada for refugees, refugee claimants and others affected by the June 2012 cuts to the Interim Federal Health (IFH) Program, including with respect to:

  • Particular problems in access to health care.
  • Issues by immigration category or special situation.
  • Coverage by province.

The information is compiled based on input received from members of the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) and others providing services to refugees. In addition, provincial governments were asked to provide some basic information about access to health for refugees in their province, in the wake of the IFH cuts.

"Welcome to Canada" analysis

Summary: 

In 2013, Citizenship and Immigration Canada published a new guide for newcomers, “Welcome to Canada: What You Should Know”. Given the guide’s role in introducing Canada to arriving immigrants and refugees, it is important that it represent the country fairly. A brief analysis of the text and images in the guide raises some concerns about the representation of Indigenous Peoples, gender, LGBT communities, among other issues.

Format: 

Refugee Health Care: Impacts of recent cuts

Summary: 

On June 30, 2012, the federal government implemented cuts to its Interim Federal Health (IFH) Program, which covers basic health care for refugees, refugee claimants and certain other non-citizens. Now that the changes have been in effect for several months, what have the impacts been?

CCR Backgrounder - CIC Consultations on the Parent and Grandparent Program

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is holding online consultations until May 25th to review and redesign the sponsorship system for parents and grandparents. Along with the online questionnaire it was announced that “Minister Jason Kenney will host a series of multi-city in-person meetings with stakeholders”. These meetings are invite-only.

These consultations are part of the government’s Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification, announced in November 2011, which consists of three principal changes:

  • To reduce the applications backlog, the government is increasing by over 60 percent the number of sponsored parents and grandparents admitted to Canada in 2012, from nearly 15,500 in 2010 to 25,000 in 2012. At the same time a two-year ban on new applications for sponsored parents and grandparents was put in place, in November 2011.
  • The 10-year, multiple-entry “Parent and Grandparent Supervisa” was introduced. The supervisa is only accessible for those who can afford to buy one year’s worth of Canadian medical insurance (even if they only plan to visit Canada for weeks or months).
  • Following consultations, the Parent and Grandparent Program will be redesigned in order to “avoid future large backlogs and be sensitive to fiscal constraints”.

The online consultations are open to stakeholders and the public and are being carried out via a questionnaire. Respondents are asked to indicate whether or not they agree with the different proposals that are clearly directed towards decreasing numbers of applicants and accepted parents and grandparents. Options given include restrictions on applications and eligibility and increased financial requirements.  The proposals present a certain bias: the starting point is an assumption that parents and grandparents are a burden on Canadian society and that their numbers should be decreased. The only venue for expression of alternate opinions or proposals is in the comments box below each section.

The CCR encourages people to respond to the questionnaire, and to use the comments boxes to give opinions beyond the simplistic poll of the discouraging proposals being made to shrink the Parent and Grandparent Program. We have prepared a backgrounder for you to take into account when responding.

You can access CIC's online questionnaire by clicking this link.

 

Context: Family Reunification as a Canadian Value

Family reunification is one of the primary guiding principles of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), and welcoming parents and grandparents of permanent residents and citizens is a positive reflection of Canadian values. As a country that acknowledges and prioritizes family values, family reunification should be an integral part of our immigration program. We recognize that all families are valuable, regardless of their background and we understand the importance of extended family.

CIC is proposing to make Canada’s system more restrictive, which would be a step backwards in our family-friendly immigration program. Parents and grandparents contribute to Canadian society in significant ways, and depicting them as a burden is misleading and unfair. Family reunification should be a priority for Canada, and the Parent and Grandparent Program (PGP) plays an important role in reuniting families.

In recent years Canada has been increasing the percentage of economic immigrants and decreasing Family Class and refugee/humanitarian admissions. The proportion of overall immigration taken up by economic immigration has increased significantly in recent years – from 55% in 2005 to 66% in 2010. Over the same period, Family Class has shrunk from 28% to 21.5% and Refugees from 14% to 9%. Over a longer period, Family Class has decreased even more dramatically, from 43.9% of all immigration in 1993, to 21.5% in 2010. This downward trend is worrisome, and there needs to be real discussion and consultation with Canadians about what they want Canada’s immigration program to look like.

The CCR believes that Canada should rebalance immigration levels in order to establish greater equality between the three pillars, reprioritizing and dedicating more resources to the processing of family reunification and humanitarian considerations.

 

CCR resources on family reunification and rebalancing immigration levels

To see the CCR’s 2011 recent resolution on the importance of re-prioritizing family reunification in the Canadian immigration program, visit:

http://ccrweb.ca/en/res/increased-commitment-family-reunification

To see CCR priorities in immigration levels planning, submitted to CIC for last years consultations, visit: http://ccrweb.ca/en/levels-2011

 

Questionnaire Categories

Managing the number of people who can apply

CIC is proposing that the number of applications accepted under the PGP needs to be managed (i.e. limited) because there is a backlog. Possible solutions can be to limit applicants or to allocate more resources to processing. CIC is taking the approach that to address the backlog the number of applicants must be reduced. The CCR supports reprioritizing family reunification and thus putting more resources toward processing these applications.

 

A Modernized Parent and Grandparent Immigration Program: Should we try to ease the economic impact of parents and grandparents?

It is acknowledged in the CIC backgrounder, as well as in considerable research conducted over the years, that parents and grandparents contribute to the Canadian economy and society in many ways. Many parents who come to Canada enter the workforce, while grandparents often allow their children and grandchildren to increase their workforce participation by taking active roles in child-rearing and housekeeping. Money earned in Canada is more often spent in Canada, rather than being sent to family members abroad. Family reunification also has positive impacts on the mental health, well-being, and integration outcomes of new Canadians. While the costs of elderly grandparents to the health care and social support systems have been quantified and are thus judged to be a burden, these costs haven’t been measured against all the positive outcomes of their presence in Canada. It is misleading to characterize these integral family members as a burden, when they bring positive economic and social benefits and so many Canadians want to be reunited and are willing to sponsor them.

Lifetime Sponsorship

Currently, sponsors of parents and grandparents under the PGP are required to take financial responsibility for their sponsored family member(s) for ten years. CIC proposes that this could be changed to a lifetime sponsorship. If someone has been in Canada for ten years, they have become a permanent resident, if not a citizen. Lifetime sponsorship would mean Canada would be denying care to some of its residents and citizens based on their age or origins. Requiring lifetime sponsorship will lead to two classes of Canadians: those for whom the Canadian government is willing to pay for services in exchange for their participation in society and paying of taxes, and those for whom the government outsources those costs to their younger family members.

This proposal also begs the question of what will happen if the sponsor dies before their parent or grandparent; will the surviving relative be deported, even if they are a permanent resident or a citizen? And if after 20 years the sponsor hits on hard financial times – will the relative be deported? It is not clear that this proposal is either fair or practical.

Fees

CIC suggests that fees such as the $40,000 per person charged by Australia to some sponsored parents could be implemented in Canada. If this came about, it would mean that only the very wealthy would have access to the PGP. Family reunification is a cornerstone of Canada’s immigration policy and a stated objective of IRPA. It should be implemented equitably and not only for the wealthy. This proposal goes completely against Canadian values of fairness and equality, and would introduce an element of discrimination based on income to our immigration program.

Changes to Minimum Necessary Income

CIC proposes that either the Minimum Necessary Income (MNI) threshold for sponsors of parents and grandparents be increased, or that the length of time the sponsor must meet the MNI should be increased, or both. Increasing the MNI of sponsors would further restrict the number of people able to sponsor their family members, privileging the wealthy at the expense of middle-income people who meet the current MNI requirements. Increasing the length of time the sponsor must meet the minimum MNI would pose problems for people who, after ten years, face unforeseen financial difficulties, again bringing up the question of what would happen to the sponsored person in such situations, who by that time might already be a citizen or a permanent resident. This proposal would make family reunification more difficult, and make access to it more exclusive.

 

Should we redefine the eligibility of family members who accompany parents and grandparents?

Redefining eligibility by imposing stricter criteria is proposed by CIC in order to limit numbers of applications in this category. However, if the Family Class of immigration were expanded to rebalance the levels of immigration across the different categories, such limiting of applications would be unnecessary.

Focus on parents rather than siblings of sponsors

Being reunited with siblings is just as important to many new Canadians as being reunited with parents and grandparents. Sponsored siblings will be able to contribute to Canadian society in many positive ways, as well as improving the settlement outcomes of their sponsoring family members. If CIC were to re-prioritize family reunification, siblings wouldn’t be excluded from sponsorship.

Balance of Family Test

CIC is proposing that at least half of the children of any parent or grandparent applying to be sponsored must reside in Canada for them to be eligible for sponsorship under the PGP. This approach seems arbitrary and would have a negative impact on many Canadians trying to reunite with their family members. For example, if parents living in their home country have eight children, three of whom are in Canada, three in the U.S., and two in the home country, they would not be eligible for sponsorship to Canada. Is it fair to prohibit Canadian residents and citizens from sponsoring their parents and grandparents simply because some of their siblings chose to live in countries other than Canada?

 

Should we emphasize a commitment to Canada on the part of sponsors? 

Citizenship as a requirement to sponsor

It is surprising that CIC is proposing that citizenship should be a requirement to sponsor family members, since 85% of newcomers to Canada become citizens anyway, so such a measure would only affect a small group of people. However, it could affect this small group negatively. Some examples of the 15% of newcomers who don’t become citizens as soon as they are eligible are:

  • those who haven’t applied for citizenship because their country of origin does not allow dual citizenship
  • refugees who, due to trauma, have difficulty achieving the language proficiency levels required for citizenship

For many in the minority group of permanent residents who don’t seek citizenship, it is not a lack of commitment to Canada that prevents them from applying.

This proposal would mean that citizenship would become a tool for exclusion from sponsorship. Is it right that the small group of people who remain permanent residents would be barred from reunification with their family members?

Focus on Special Needs and Exceptional Cases

In this proposal CIC suggests that entry could be limited to those who meet exceptional criteria and who require compassionate consideration. This proposal is shocking because the criteria would make almost everyone ineligible, and would essentially eliminate the PGP, but for certain humanitarian and compassionate cases. This approach would make the cases where families are reunited into an exception, rather than a rule, and thus goes against the commitments and objectives defined in IRPA.

 

Summary: 

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is holding online consultations until May 25th to review and redesign the sponsorship system for parents and grandparents.
The CCR encourages people to respond to the questionnaire, and have prepared a backgrounder for you to take into account when responding.

CCR Statement – Termination of Immigration Agreements with BC and Manitoba

Mon, 04/30/2012

The Canadian Council for Refugees was taken aback by Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s surprise announcement on Tuesday April 12 that the devolution agreements that allowed the provinces of Manitoba and British Columbia to manage their own immigration settlement programs would be terminated.

English
Newsletter type: 

Proposed Change to Citizenship Requirement Proof of Language Proficiency

Proposed Change to Citizenship Requirement

Proof of Language Proficiency

CCR Comments

14 November 2011

Introduction

On October 15, 2011, Citizenship and Immigration Canada published in the Canada Gazette (Part I) a notice of a proposal to require applicants to furnish upfront evidence of language ability showing achievement of at least Canadian Language Benchmark level 4 in speaking and listening with their citizenship application.

The Canadian Council for Refugees has a number of concerns with this proposal.

Integration and Language Proficiency

The CCR agrees that speaking English or French is important and desirable for newcomers. Acquiring official language skills is a critical factor in settlement for new immigrants, one that is necessary to participate effectively in the labour market as well as in other aspects of society. Newcomers more than anyone are aware of this. We believe that it is essential that newcomers be appropriately supported in learning one, or ideally both, of Canada’s official languages.

Proof of language proficiency as a barrier to citizenship

While language learning is to be promoted, we are concerned about the impact of the proposed change to require citizenship applicants between the ages of 18 and 54 to provide third party proof that they have attained Canadian Language Benchmark level 4. We are particularly concerned about the impacts on certain vulnerable groups of newcomers. Our concerns relate to:

  • The difficulties experienced by some newcomers in learning a new language; and
  • The additional burden for some newcomers in having to provide proof of language proficiency.

Particular difficulties for some refugees in learning a new language

Some newcomers face more challenges than others in learning a new language. It is important to note that refugees are admitted to Canada based not on their potential to integrate into Canadian society, but rather on humanitarian grounds. Many have experienced severe persecution; many have spent years in a precarious situation in a country of asylum. It is thus problematic to hold them rigidly to standards of integration that may be difficult for them to achieve, without flexibility to consider the challenges that they have overcome.

Refugees who have experienced trauma

Many refugees have experienced severe trauma such as torture, war, witnessing the killing of family members and other forms of organized violence. While many newcomers succeed in learning English or French, despite their traumatization, some will struggle.

Refugees who have spent years in a situation of deprivation

Many refugees have spent years before coming to Canada in a refugee camp or surviving without status in a third country. They may have been deprived of health care, education and even basic security. Adapting to life in Canada can be a huge challenge for them, and they may find it difficult to learn English or French as quickly as some others.

Refugees repaying transportation loans

Refugees resettled to Canada must pay for their medical exam and their travel to Canada.  Since most refugees of course can’t afford these expenses, Canada offers them a loan. As a result, refugee families start their new life in Canada with a debt of up to $10,000.  They must repay this loan with interest, which means that many refugee families must work several jobs for many years in order to pay back this debt. This limits their ability to go to language classes.

Others with difficulty learning a new language

Women with children

Some newcomer women are full-time caregivers for their children and other family members, and thus have limited access to language instruction.

People with intellectual challenges or learning disabilities

Attaining a Benchmark level 4 may be difficult for people with intellectual challenges or learning disabilities.

Burden of providing proof of language proficiency

The Canada Gazette notice points out that many applicants will have proof of language proficiency readily available, since many economic immigrants will have submitted such proof with their immigration application and others will have successfully completed a language training course or secondary education in English or French. We are concerned that many applicants, however, will not have such proof and will therefore face the additional burden of paying for language testing. This includes many vulnerable persons who can ill afford extra expenses.  

In addition, tests can be particularly stressful and intimidating for traumatized individuals, as well as those with intellectual challenges or little formal education. There is a danger that some newcomers may be discouraged from applying because of their fears of having to get through an additional test.

Refugees and other non-economic immigrants

Many newcomers come to Canada already speaking English or French, but without documentary proof such as high school certificates. This is particularly the case for refugees, who are often forced to travel without their personal documents. Refugees often have their education interrupted and may have learned languages informally as they struggle to improve themselves. Yet, they will face the burden of paying for language testing, even though they came to Canada with good English or French.

Other newcomers learn English or French after arrival in Canada, but not in a formal language training course like the federally funded Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC).  This may include resettled refugees who must forego language training in order to pay back the transportation loan. It also includes many refugees who arrived as refugee claimants: since claimants are not eligible for newcomer language training, they often find alternative ways on their own to learn English or French. Most of these individuals have very little money, and the additional cost of testing may represent a financial obstacle.

Regional availability of language testing

We are concerned that third-party language testing may not be equally available in all regions of Canada. This would be unfair to people in smaller centres or rural areas, who might be forced to travel long distances to be tested.

We are also concerned that applicants may be at a disadvantage if they live in a region where the official language they speak is the minority language. Again, third-party language testing may not be equally available to them.

Consideration of compassionate grounds

Paragraph 5(3)(a) of the Citizenship Act gives the Minister discretion to grant citizenship, on compassionate grounds, to a person who  does not have an adequate knowledge of English or French. It is not clear how, under the proposal, this discretion would be exercised. We are concerned that the proposed process would close the door on some applicants who deserve compassionate consideration.

Under the current process, applicants submit their application and are called for the citizenship test. If they fail the test (which includes an evaluation of their knowledge of English or French), they meet with a citizenship judge. The judge may then consider any specific factors that may deserve compassion – for example the fact that the person is traumatized as a result of torture.

Under the proposed process, applications will simply be returned to the sender if they do not include proof of language proficiency.

We are therefore concerned that the requirement of proof of language proficiency will mean that some people with compelling reasons for not being able to demonstrate full proficiency will be barred from even applying for citizenship.

Obligation to facilitate citizenship for refugees

Under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Canada has an obligation to:

as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees. [The Contracting States] shall in particular make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings and to reduce as far as possible the charges and costs of such proceedings.

The proposed change to the citizenship rules does not appear to meet this obligation. This is particularly the case given that, as explained above, refugees will be among those who will in some cases have difficulty learning a new language. In addition, the additional costs of third-party testing will be a barrier for some refugees.

Acquiring citizenship is particularly important for refugees, who have been forced to flee a country whose government was unable or unwilling to protect them. Until they have citizenship, they cannot feel fully secure. Without citizenship, they cannot enjoy the full range of rights and protections, including the protection of a government when travelling abroad.

Conclusion

Newcomers themselves know just how important learning Canada’s official languages is for successful integration. It is important however to recognize that newcomers do not always need to be fluent in order to make model citizens.

We believe that rather than penalizing newcomers who have challenges leaning languages, Canada should focus on providing access to language instruction to groups that currently don’t enjoy it. We also note that recent funding cuts to the settlement sector may undermine the capacity of settlement organizations in some provinces to deliver language instruction.

The CCR is concerned that, rather than attaining its stated objective of strengthening the integration of newcomers in Canada by improving language outcomes and encouraging their full participation in Canadian society, this proposal will create barriers to citizenship and thus deny certain rights and protections for particular groups. We believe that it is important to avoid making the citizenship application process more burdensome, particularly to those with limited financial means or living outside the major centres.

We also emphasize the importance of retaining a certain degree of flexibility in order to take into account obstacles faced by certain vulnerable groups, who have a heightened need for the protections that citizenship offers, such as refugees and women.

While language proficiency is an objective for all newcomers, raising the bar puts the focus on penalizing certain groups, rather than on facilitating integration.

Proposal for Conditional Permanent Residence: A step backwards (one-pager)

Summary: 

In March 2011, the federal government published in the Canada Gazette a proposal to introduce a conditional permanent residence period of two years or more for sponsored spouses and partners who have been in a relationship of two years or less with their sponsors. According to the proposal, if the sponsored spouse or partner does not remain in a bona fide relationship with their sponsor during the conditional period, their permanent residence could be revoked, and they would be deported. 1 page, 2011.

Submission to the Prime Minister's Caucus Task Force on Urban Issues

SUBMISSION TO THE PRIME MINISTER'S
CAUCUS TASK FORCE ON URBAN ISSUES
18 March 2002

 
 

INTRODUCTION
The Canadian Council for Refugees, founded in 1977, is a non-profit umbrella organization committed to the rights and protection of refugees in Canada and around the world and to the settlement of refugees and immigrants in Canada.  The membership is made up of organizations involved in the sponsorship and protection of refugees and the settlement of refugees and immigrants.  The Council serves the networking, information-exchange and advocacy needs of its membership.

Currently the CCR has approximately 170 member organizations, comprised of community organizations, social service agencies, ethnocultural associations, research centres, church communities, lawyers' associations, unions and others concerned for refugees.  The CCR works collaboratively with its members and other organizations, both inside Canada and beyond.

To forward its mission to promote the settlement of refugees and immigrants in Canada, the CCR has a Working Group on Immigration and Settlement that meets four times a year to discuss matters of concern and take action.  The Working Group is led by a Core Group made up of representatives of the main provincial and regional umbrella groups of the refugee and immigrant serving sector.  The Working Group has undertaken two major projects recently on settlement services.  The first led to the publication by the Canadian Council for Refugees of the document, Best Settlement Practices: Settlement Services for Refugees and Immigrants in Canada, February 1998.  The second resulted in another document, Canadian National Settlement Service Standards Framework, May 2000.  Both documents are available on the CCR website.

A significant proportion of refugees and immigrants live in the urban centres.  We therefore welcome the opportunity to present an overview of urban issues as they are felt by newcomers to Canada.

Settlement is a two-way street: newcomers adapt to their new community, and communities must adapt to their new members.  It is our position that, while newcomers, as they always have done, do their share of the hard working of adapting, our cities are not doing as much as they could and should to adapt themselves to those refugees and immigrants who have become our neighbours.

PLANNING AND PARTNERSHIPS
The comments in this brief do no more than touch the surface of a vast range of subjects affecting refugees and immigrants in Canada's cities.  The issues raised by immigration should be of concern to all.  Despite being a country of immigration, these issues are not always given the attention they deserve.

The Canadian Council for Refugees therefore urges that:

1. A Pan-Canadian forum be established, engaging representatives from federal, provincial, and municipal governments, and from the academic, business and immigrant service sector in an ongoing dialogue on urban planning in relation to immigration, settlement and social and economic development.

2. The forum will address issues such as settlement services, access to services, housing and homelessness, employment, racism and xenophobia, refugee and immigrant women, community organization and leadership, and immigration policy and program.

SETTLEMENT SERVICES
Refugees and immigrants face particular challenges as they orient themselves to life in Canada, make a home in a new country, learn a new language, seek to transfer their previously acquired work training and experience, negotiate immigration processes and make all the social and emotional adjustments involved in settling in a new country.  Settlement services, provided by community-based organizations, play a vital role in assisting refugees and immigrants in these challenges, as well as in sensitizing the wider society to the adjustments it needs to make in order to welcome newcomers.

Unfortunately, settlement services are often poorly understood outside the sector and are in some ways marginalized in the same way that newcomers often find themselves marginalized.  There is inadequate funding to respond to the needs, the nature and limits of the services mean that some newcomers' needs cannot be met, and organizations often lack the resources to ensure that the services provided are of the quality that newcomers and Canada deserve.

The Canadian Council for Refugees therefore urges that:

3. The level of investment in settlement services be raised with a view to achieving a level comparable to other support services.

4. The settlement service programs be reviewed, in consultation with service providers, other experts and stakeholders, with a view to achieving a better definition of settlement services to meet needs of newcomers.

5. Eligibility for settlement services be broadened to include all those in need of these services, including immigrants and refugees who have been more than three years in Canada and refugee claimants.

6. The investment in language instruction for newcomers be increased to ensure they have access to sufficient training to enable them to participate fully in Canadian society.

7. Governments commit to national standards for settlement services and provide the support and resources to enable those standards to be maintained, including through provision of adequate training to settlement workers.

8. Working conditions in the settlement sector be brought up to the same levels as in other social service sectors.

ACCESS TO SERVICES
One of the barriers often faced by newcomers is that services designed for the general population are not accessible to them.  In some cases this is because of restrictive eligibility criteria that exclude some refugees and immigrants.  For example, some provincial health care programs impose a waiting period on newcomers so that for their first months in Canada they are not eligible for health care coverage.  There have also been problems for children born in Canada of parents without permanent status: even though they are Canadian citizens, they have in some cases been treated as non-residents and denied provincial coverage.  Refugees and refugee claimants that are not eligible for provincial health care may be covered by the Interim Federal Health Program (IFH).  However, some health care providers hesitate or refuse to give services under IFH because they are insufficiently familiar with the program or because they find it inconvenient.

In some cases, access is limited because the services are not adapted to the realities of newcomers.  For example, refugees and immigrants who don't yet speak English or French need interpreters or services in their own language.  Similarly, in order to respond to newcomers, service-providers need to be sensitive to diverse cultural backgrounds and programs should reflect the diversity of the population.  As a result of their experiences of persecution, refugees may have particular service needs, such as mental health care for survivors of torture and other serious trauma.

Access to the basic right of education has been problematic for some newcomer children, because some schools have been requiring children to show an authorization to study, even though this is not a requirement under the Immigration Act, and in some cases even though provincial law may in fact prohibit a school from refusing admittance to a child on the basis of their immigration status or their parents' immigration status.

The Canadian Council for Refugees therefore urges that:

9. Eligibility to provincial health care coverage be expanded, notably to drop the waiting period for newcomers.

10. Measures be taken to ensure that children born in Canada of parents without permanent status have access to provincial health care coverage.

11. Measures be taken to ensure that the Interim Federal Health Program (IFH) is well-understood throughout the health care system and that those entitled to services under IFH receive them in a timely manner.

12. Adequate interpretation services be provided for those newcomers accessing services.

13. Health care services be adapted to the needs of newcomers, including through the promotion of cross-cultural sensitivity and the provision of appropriate mental health care (including for survivors of torture).

14. Measures be taken to ensure that schools never refuse access to children on the basis of their immigration status or that of their parents.
 

HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS
In the context of national crisis of homelessness and lack of affordable housing, immigrants and refugees face significant challenges in finding somewhere to live.  Their situation as newcomers, unfamiliar with their new community, makes them particularly vulnerable to housing pressures.  As vacancy rates go down, landlords become more demanding, imposing conditions, such as requiring references, that are particularly problematic for newcomers.  Furthermore, visible minorities face significant racism in the private housing market.

In some large cities in Canada, newcomers make up a large portion of the shelter population.  This involves significant hardship for the newcomers, delaying their integration into Canadian society.  Worse, the problem has on occasion been publicly highlighted in a manner that feeds into xenophobic prejudices, suggesting that newcomers are the cause, rather than victims, of Canada's housing shortage.

The Canadian Council for Refugees therefore urges that:

15. More funding be allocated for emergency and transitional housing, and that a portion of the funding be identified for housing for newcomers.

16. More funding be allocated for increasing the availability of affordable rental housing.
 

EMPLOYMENT ISSUES
Access to meaningful employment is and has long been a key challenge for newcomers.  The fact that many refugees and immigrants are seriously underemployed means not only a loss for the individuals, but a loss for the urban economy.  Too often economic class immigrants, selected for their professional skills, find that their skills are not recognized and used once in Canada.  Partly this is because Canadian employers have difficulty understanding what foreign-acquired diplomas and experience represent in Canadian terms.  Partly the problem is one of protectionist professional associations.

Newcomers arriving in Canada will often need "bridge" training to supplement the training they have received in their home country and prepare them for the specific requirements of the Canadian job market.  However, such training opportunities are often unavailable, or there is no funding available (often because they are not EI eligible).

The Canadian Council for Refugees therefore urges that:

17. Federal and provincial governments take decisive action to significantly improve newcomer access to employment.

18. Federal and provincial governments ensure that there is a fair process for newcomers to gain recognition of their skills.

19. Federal and provincial governments facilitate access for newcomers to training to meet Canadian standards.
 

RACISM AND XENOPHOBIA
Despite official policies favouring diversity and laws outlawing discrimination, racism and xenophobia continue to have wide-ranging impacts on newcomers in Canada's cities.  The impacts include the pain and alienation caused by racist comments and the barriers to full participation created by systemic racism.

Newcomers are also exposed to xenophobic prejudices which are given public expression where racist comments would presumably not be tolerated.  Refugees in particular are targetted for abuse, labelled as fraudsters, criminals and, most recently, terrorists.

We underline that the need to address racism and xenophobia has become significantly more acute since September 11.

The Canadian Council for Refugees therefore urges that:

20. All levels of government give a higher priority to combatting systemic racism.  This would include an obligation on the part of all departments and sectors to consider the needs of, and barriers faced by, newcomers.

21. All levels of government invest in public education about refugees and immigrants, with a view to making Canadians aware of the need for effective refugee protection and of the benefits of immigration.

22. Public leaders including politicians show leadership by combatting racism and xenophobia in their public discourse.
 

REFUGEE AND IMMIGRANT WOMEN
Refugee and immigrant women face multiple barriers as women, as newcomers and in many cases as women of colour.

The Canadian Council for Refugees therefore urges that:

23. Refugee and immigrant women be given more opportunities to exercise leadership.
 

COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS AND LEADERSHIP
Immigrants and refugees to Canada through history have drawn great strength from community organizations, whether formal and informal, that have assisted them in settling in their new home and in participating in society at large.  New communities beginning to arrive in Canada need support in creating the structures that will facilitate their integration.

The Canadian Council for Refugees therefore urges that:

24. Federal, provincial and municipal governments promote the development of community organizations by which newcomers can more effectively participate within society.
 

IMMIGRATION POLICY AND PROGRAM
Elements of Canadian immigration policy and processing have a significant negative impact on Canada's cities.  Large numbers of people live in a kind of limbo, unable to get on with their lives or contribute fully to society.  Among these are Convention refugees who cannot get permanent residence status and people who cannot be removed because of the situation in their home countries, but who are given no formal status in Canada.  Even those who eventually get status in Canada face long waits because of delays in processing.

Many families are kept separated for years because of restrictions and delays in family reunification.  The narrow definition of family in Canadian legislation means many newcomers are unable to reunite with family members to whom they are close.

In recent years, Citizenship and Immigration Canada has significantly reduced services to clients, with the result that it is difficult or impossible to get direct access to immigration officials.  This has meant additional work for immigrant and refugee-serving organizations (without extra compensation).  It has also meant newcomers are more vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous consultants.

The Canadian Council for Refugees therefore urges that:

25. More attention be paid to the social effects of immigration policies and those with negative impacts be abandoned.

26. Increased priority be given to family reunification within Canada's immigration program.

27. Those recognized as Convention refugees be given automatic access to permanent residence.

28. People who cannot be removed be granted permanent residence after three years, subject to the standard security and criminality checks.

29. Clients be given direct access to immigration officials.

30. Priority be given to measures to protect newcomers from unscrupulous consultants.

Comments on settlement and integration to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration



Comments on settlement and integration
to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration 16 April 2003

The Canadian Council for Refugees is an umbrella organization, made up of approximately 170 members, committed to the protection of refugees and the settlement of refugees and immigrants in Canada. We therefore welcome the opportunity to make comments to the Standing Committee on the various issues related to settlement and immigration that the Committee has identified.

Pre-arrival counselling and orientation services
The CCR endorses the value of pre-arrival counselling and orientation services.  In December 2000, the CCR held a workshop on overseas pre-departure orientation for refugees, and found that it is of demonstrated benefit.  Unfortunately it is only offered to some refugees destined to Canada and the CCR therefore strongly urges that the program be expanded to all refugee processing posts overseas.

More generally, the CCR underlies the importance of making available to prospective immigrants and refugees accurate information about life in Canada.  This information should include references to settlement services, so that newcomers know that they can turn to specialized organizations.  It is also important that information be given that allow prospective immigrants to develop realistic expectations of life in Canada, since our members report that some newcomers to Canada are bitterly disappointed with their experiences here when they find their hopes are not matched by the realities.

The obstacles to integration and participation that are faced, including the problems relating to the recognition of foreign experience and accreditation
In Best Settlement Practices, a document produced by the CCR in 1998, we identified the following key areas that need to be addressed in order for newcomers to achieve full participation in Canadian society:

 * Language
 * Access to Employment
 * Cultural orientation
 * Recognition of qualifications and experience
 * Racism/Discrimination
 * Family reunification
 * Immigration status
 * Building Communities

To this list should probably be added housing, a challenge that has grown significantly for newcomers (as for other Canadians) since 1998. It is important to recognize that these challenges need to be addressed not only by newcomers, but also by the host society.  Integration is a two-way street.  While everyone takes for granted that newcomers will have to make adaptations in order to settle into their new home, it is more often forgotten that the host society also needs to adapt itself to accommodate its new members.

Access to meaningful employment is and has long been a key challenge for newcomers.  The fact that many refugees and immigrants are seriously underemployed means not only a loss for the individuals, but a loss for the Canadian economy and society.  Ironically, although Canada recognizes that immigration is good for the country (we have the highest per-capita rate of immigration in the world), we have not adapted our employment sector to take account of what immigrants can contribute.  Too often immigrants, even those selected precisely for their professional skills, find that their skills are not recognized and used once in Canada.  Partly this is because Canadian employers have difficulty understanding what foreign-acquired diplomas and experience represent in Canadian terms.  Partly the problem is one of protectionist attitudes among professional associations.

Newcomers arriving in Canada will often need "bridge" training to supplement the training they have received in their home country and prepare them for the specific requirements of the Canadian job market.  However, such training opportunities are often unavailable, or there is no funding available (often because they are not EI eligible).

It is encouraging that the federal government has at last made a concrete commitment to address the problem of foreign credentials.  Follow up on this needs to be given high priority.  The CCR notes the importance of involving in the process all those working toward the recognition of foreign trained professionals.  Evaluation of the outcomes of this initiative need to be based on detailed demographic indicators, broken down by gender, age and country of origin, to ensure that benefits are shared by all categories of newcomers.

The CCR is also calling for Human Resources Development Canada to recognize newcomers as a priority group, alongside their existing priorities of women, youth, aboriginal people and people with disabilities.  This measure would recognize that newcomers are disadvantaged in the labour market and need special measures to ensure their full participation into the Canadian labour market.

Government-funded settlement services
Settlement services, provided by community-based organizations, play a vital role in assisting refugees and immigrants in these challenges, as well as in sensitizing the wider society to the adjustments it needs to make in order to welcome newcomers.

Unfortunately, settlement services are often poorly understood outside the sector and are in some ways marginalized in the same way that newcomers themselves are often marginalized.  There is inadequate funding to respond to the needs; the nature and limits of the services mean that some newcomers' needs cannot be met, and organizations often lack the resources to ensure that the services provided are of the quality that newcomers and Canada deserve.

The Canadian Council for Refugees therefore urges that:

1. The level of investment in settlement services be raised with a view to achieving a level comparable to other support services.

2. The settlement service programs be reviewed, in consultation with service providers, other experts and stakeholders, with a view to achieving a better definition of settlement services to meet needs of newcomers.

3. Eligibility for settlement services be broadened to include all those in need of these services, including immigrants and refugees who have been more than three years in Canada and refugee claimants.

4. The investment in language instruction for newcomers be increased to ensure they have access to sufficient training to enable them to participate fully in Canadian society.

5. Governments commit to national standards for settlement services and provide the support and resources to enable those standards to be maintained, including through provision of adequate training to settlement workers.

6. Working conditions in the settlement sector be brought up to the same levels as in other social service sectors.

The geographic distribution of immigrants and proposals to encourage newcomers to settle more widely
The CCR is supportive of measures that enable more communities in Canada to benefit from immigration.  It is important, however, that any such measures be preceded by meaningful consultation with stakeholders and that before newcomers are encouraged to settle in smaller communities, the government ensures that they have in place the supports necessary to welcome new immigrants.   In order to avoid undue hardship for new immigrants and the host communities, it is essential that there be adequate access to settlement, economic and social services.

The CCR is opposed to any extension of the program which uses temporary permits as a pre-condition to obtaining the right to apply for permanent residence status at the end of a specified time period.  The use of temporary work permits with geographical limitations to attract potential immigrants and their families to Canada is cruel and damaging, if, for some reason beyond their reasonable control, permanent residence is not eventually granted.  We are also concerned that restricting mobility within Canada is a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and will create two classes of residents.

Problems of public perception; i.e. combatting discrimination
Despite official policies favouring diversity and laws outlawing discrimination, racism and xenophobia continue to have wide-ranging impacts on newcomers in Canada.  The impacts include the pain and alienation caused by racist comments and the barriers to full participation created by systemic racism.

Newcomers are also exposed to xenophobic prejudices which are given public expression where racist comments would presumably not be tolerated.  Refugees in particular are targetted for abuse, labelled as fraudsters, criminals and, most recently, terrorists.

We underline that the need to address racism and xenophobia has become significantly more acute since September 11.  A totally ungrounded linkage has been made between refugees and terrorism, gaining the status of an urban myth.  We regret that the federal government has not systematically challenged this myth.

The Canadian Council for Refugees believes that the federal government needs to give a higher priority to combatting systemic racism.  This would include an obligation on the part of all departments and sectors to consider the needs of, and barriers faced by, newcomers.

The CCR also urges the federal government to invest in public education about refugees and immigrants, with a view to making Canadians aware of the need for effective refugee protection and of the benefits of immigration.

Given the impact of public statements by politicians, whether in government or in opposition, the CCR urges all Members of Parliament to show leadership by combatting racism and xenophobia in their public discourse.

Immigrant health issues, including public health concerns and refugee mental health issues
Mental health issues faced by refugees and immigrants were addressed in the report "After the Door Has Been Opened" (Report of the Canadian Task Force on Mental Health Issues Affecting Immigrants and Refugees, 1988).  Unfortunately there has been no documented implementation or follow-up on the recommendations.  Concerned that these serious issues are not getting the attention that they deserve, the CCR has recommended creation of a joint task group made up of NGO and government representatives to investigate the outcome of the report's recommendations with an intent to re-evaluate the current status of mental health programming for refugees and immigrants and to develop a national implementation strategy

In the short-term, we urge that CIC ensure that resources are provided to the Interim Federal Health Program to provide for both short and long-term mental health services.

Access to services
One of the particular challenges facing newcomers to Canada, and in consequence also facing providers of settlement services is access to services.  Many services in Canada, including settlement services themselves, are restricted to those eligible based on status in Canada.  As a result, many immigrants in need of services too often find themselves barred, either because the rules make them ineligible or because they cannot prove that they are eligible.  This problem is likely to become only more acute with the expansion in numbers of temporary workers.  The CCR believes that services should be made available based on need, not status.  Other barriers needing to be addressed include language and cultural barriers.  The Canadian Council for Refugees has identified improving access to services as one of the key challenges facing the refugee and immigrant sector today.

Client Code of Service Rights



In November 2003, the CCR endorsed by resolution the following Client Code of Service Rights. The CCR encourages its use by member organizations.
  1. You have the right to receive services in a trusting, respectful and supportive environment free of any form of discrimination or harassment.
  2. You have the right of privacy and confidentiality and to disclose only what you believe is necessary at any given time.
  3. Staff limits of confidentiality include: the requirement to report incidents of child abuse, to comply with a court ordered subpoena and to prevent harm.
  4. The file is the property of [Agency name] and you have the right to review it and make comments if you disagree with the contents of the file.
  5. You make decisions about your needs and goals.
  6. You have the right to refuse services at any time or to request service from an alternate person.
  7. You have the right to receive accurate, complete and timely information.
  8. You have the right to a safe, fair and transparent complaint process when you feel that your rights have been violated.

Statement on the federal budget cuts and their impact on refugees and immigrants



Federal budget cuts and their impact on refugees and immigrants


Statement

 

The federal government recently announced a number of cuts to different programs that target various sectors of Canadian society, including the voluntary, social, justice and cultural sectors. As organizations promoting the rights of refugees and immigrants across Canada, we believe it is important to underline the impact these cuts will have on refugees and immigrants and to assert the inherent value of seeking equity in society. Knowing that some cuts target programs aimed at guaranteeing equality for all, we demand that funding for such programs be reinstated and that the contribution of the not-for-profit sector in policy improvement be recognized.

 

Through our daily work with people seeking justice, we know how important it is that the Canadian government strive to make real the guarantee of equality for all people in Canada. As many studies show, Canadian society is not free of discrimination based on gender, racialization, class, sexual orientation, language, disabilities, etc.  Programs directed at the least privileged in our society offer essential support to communities seeking equity.  If such programs are cut, how does the federal government intend to tackle the equity challenges that people face from coast to coast?

 

The government of Canada has made substantial commitments through the Voluntary Sector Initiative (VSI) Accord and Codes of Good Practice. These texts, which recognize the voluntary sector for its unique connection to communities, enshrine a set of principles and values that should guide the collaboration between the government and the not-for-profit sector in policy-making, such as active citizenship, equality, diversity, inclusion and social justice.

 

Among its principles, the Accord affirms independence, which includes the right of voluntary sector organizations to challenge public policies, programs and legislation and to advocate for change. Another principle asserted is dialogue, which should be carried out in a way that builds and maintains trust. Hence we are deeply concerned that the voluntary sector was excluded from discussions leading to the decision to cut programs and that the government has withdrawn funding for programs that support efforts to change policy.

 

Canada is a country committed to human rights and democracy. The right to equality is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  To be made real, such commitments and rights need to be backed up with appropriate means. The current government has identified as a priority making political institutions and the political process more accountable and more democratic. We therefore urge the government to reconsider the cuts that will affect people and groups such as refugees and immigrants who continue to suffer from discrimination. We expect that the Canadian voluntary sector will be included in present and future policy-making processes in accordance with the VSI commitments.

 

31 October 2006

 

 


 

Federal cuts affecting refugees and immigrants

Background

 


The federal government announced on September 25 a total of $2 billion in cuts affecting many programs over the next two years. Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance and John Baird, President of the Treasury Board, made the announcement at the same time that they reported a $13.2 billion surplus for the last fiscal year. To justify the cuts, the government stated that it had “eliminated wasteful and ineffective programs, reduced government spending and paid down the national debt.” John Baird declared: “We are trimming the fat and refocusing spending on the priorities of Canadians”.


 


These federal cuts will affect refugees and immigrants, as well as other members of minority or disadvantaged groups, in particular ways. Even though cuts do not direct target refugee and immigrant services, some will have an impact on the defence of their rights. The government announced a $55 million cut to Youth programs, a $5 million cut to the Court Challenges Program (meaning the elimination of the Program), a $5 million cut to the Status of Women administrative budget and a $4.2-million to the Law Commission of Canada (meaning the closure of the Commission).


 


 


Status of Women


Status of Women (SWC) is being cut $5 million over 2 years from its annual budget of $13 million. Although the grants and contributions arm ($11 million) of the department was not affected, there is serious concern about the reduced operational capacity the department will have given the administrative cuts. A change to the mandate of SWC has also been announced: SWC will no longer fund groups for advocacy or general research. The word “equality” has also been removed from the mandate of the Women’s Program.


 


SWC has previously helped women’s organizations participate in the public policy process, aided capacity building for women of colour and also facilitated efforts to increase public understanding of women’s equality issues.  These initiatives have supported immigrant and refugee women’s participation in Canadian society.  (The CCR’s Gender-Based Approach to Settlement received funding through the Women’s Program).  This type of support will no longer be available from the federal government.


 


In a meeting with women’s organization on 4 October, Beverley Oda, Minister responsible for SWC, told the representatives that new financing guidelines will from now on bar them from using federal grants for lobbying or advocacy activities. She also reaffirmed the government’s intention to maintain the $5 million cuts, despite the protests.


 


 


The Court Challenges Program


The Court Challenges Program provides support for legal challenges based on the equality guarantees of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by vulnerable persons such as refugees, people with disabilities, women, religious minorities and gays and lesbians.  (The Program also supports tests cases for language rights.)  The Charter guarantees the right to equality and to equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination. However, in order to enforce this right, individuals and groups need to have the financial means to access the courts. Groups suffering discrimination are necessarily the least privileged and therefore the least likely to have the money necessary to take a case to court.  Without access to the Court Challenges Program, only people with the financial means will be able to challenge discriminatory laws and practices.


 


In May 2006 the government used the Court Challenges Program as an example of Canada’s commitment to human rights before a UN Committee in Geneva and defended it in these words:


 

The Court Challenges Program (CCP) provides funding for test cases of national significance in order to clarify the understanding of the rights of official language minority communities and the equality rights of disadvantaged groups. …

It is not possible for the government to support all court challenges, but this uniquely Canadian program has been successful in supporting a number of important court cases that have had direct impacts on the implementation of linguistic and equality rights in Canada. A recent evaluation found that there remain dimensions of the constitutional provisions currently covered by the CCP that still require clarification and the current program was extended to March 2009.


 

The abolition of the Court Challenges Program will deprive vulnerable refugees like Suleyman Goven of a recourse when they face discrimination. Thanks to support from the Court Challenges Program, Suleyman Goven has recently been able to contest a thirteen-year delay in granting him permanent residence.  Mr Goven was recognized by Canada as a refugee in 1993 but the government refused to give him permanent residence.  In November 2005, Mr Goven filed a lawsuit arguing that the government was violating his Charter right to equality.  This apparently led to him finally receiving permanent residence in September 2006, allowing him to get on with his life after thirteen years on hold.  He will continue the lawsuit in order to seek compensation for the damage done and systemic changes so that others don’t go through what Mr Goven has suffered.


 


The Somali community also obtained funding from the Court Challenges Program in order to contest the discriminatory impact of immigration legislation requiring refugees to produce “satisfactory” identity documents in order to receive permanent residence status.  This provision particularly affected Somalis and Afghans, because of the lack of functioning governments in their countries of origin.  The legal challenge was successful in achieving a solution for Somalis, Afghans and others in a similar situation.


 


 


Law Commission of Canada


The funding for the Law Commission of Canada was eliminated, representing an amount of $4,2 million.  Created in 1997, the Law Commission is an independent federal law reform agency that advises Parliament on how to improve and modernize Canada’s laws. 


 


The mission of the Law Commission is to engage Canadians in the renewal of the law to ensure that it is relevant, responsive, effective, equally accessible to all and just.  It approaches law reform in a multidisciplinary and participatory way that takes into account the complexity of social issues. In its 9 years of existence, it has conducted research and produced a number of important reports, and has become a model of best practices for many law reform bodies around the world.  Without the Law Commission of Canada, the federal government will be less equipped to ensure that Canada’s laws and legal system remain relevant and reflect the changes in our society.


 


 
Canadian Volunteerism Initiative
The federal government also eliminated support for the Canadian Volunteerism Initiative. This program is intended to facilitate networking and exchanges of knowledge and to support the voluntary infrastructure across Canada. The $9.7 million cut, justified as a “non-core program”, will affect many voluntary sector organizations. It will also have a direct impact on the involvement of the 12 million Canadians who provide 2 billion hours of volunteer work annually. The government itself relies on volunteers for program and service delivery. The cuts were made without consulting the sector, so it is not known how the government intends to support volunteerism in the future.

 
Investments for Youth Employment
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada’s funding includes programs under Workplace Skills Strategy as well as the Summer Career Placement program. The former had a great potential for supporting and enhancing the integration of immigrant employees and their contribution to their work environment. The latter has allowed settlement agencies for years to employ racialized immigrant youth over the summer, thus enabling them to acquire skills and experience for their future careers. The budget cuts amount to 50% of funds for this program. The government has said that it won’t reduce the number of jobs available, so the concern is that agencies will have to contribute a larger amount, thereby perhaps excluded many voluntary sector organizations.
 
 


For more information:


 


General


 


Official news release on the federal budget cuts


Department of Finance Canada


http://www.fin.gc.ca/news06/06-047e.html


 

Conservative budget cuts: an assault on Canada's levers for social justice”


Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) media release on the cuts:


http://www.ocasi.org/index.php?qid=905


 


Why the Conservatives are cutting spending now”


Editorial by Ellen Russell, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, on the cuts generally and what to except in the future


http://www.policyalternatives.ca/Editorials/2006/10/Editorial1450/index.cfm?pa=AE5DAA5F


 


Open letter from the Muttart Foundation, a private foundation which supports charities in Canada, primarily in Alberta and Saskatchewan, on the effect of the cuts on voluntary non-profit organizations


http://www.muttart.org/download/Harper%20Letter%20Sept.%2029,%202006%20FINAL.PDF
 


About the Court Challenges Program


 


“Government Cuts Will Hurt Refugees and Immigrants”


CCR media release on the Court Challenges Program


http://www.ccrweb.ca/releaseccpoct06.html


 


Web site of the Coalition Save the Court Challenges Program of Canada


http://www.savecourtchallenges.ca/


 


“Reinstate Court Challenges Program with Full Funding”


Canadian Bar Association News release on the Court Challenges Program


http://www.cba.org/CBA/News/2006_Releases/2006-10-16_ccp.aspx


 


About the Law Commission of Canada


 


Open Letter to Minister of Justice about the Law Commission of Canada, published in The Toronto Star on Friday 29 September 2006 http://osgoode.yorku.ca/media2.nsf/83303ffe5af03ed585256ae6005379c9/06275972c706a97c852571f80059811b!OpenDocument


 


Law Commission of Canada Responds to the Federal Government’s Decision to Eliminate Funding”


News release from the Law Commission of Canada


http://www.lcc.gc.ca/resources/news_releases-en.asp?id=113


 


About Status of Women Canada



“Government real priorities revealed”


Media Statement on Status of Women Canada signed by 9 organizations”


http://dawn.thot.net/media-sept26-06.html


 


About Canadian Volunteerism Initiative



“October 2006:  Federal cuts hit voluntary sector”


Message Volunteer Canada on the Canadian Volunteerism Initiative


http://cabm.cam.org/cabm-em/messages/66.html

Enhancing Settlement Sector Capacity




Immigration has been one of the building blocks of Canadian society. Today, Canada continues to rely on immigration for demographic sustainability and labour force growth. Both newcomers (immigrants and refugees alike) and the receiving society gain from immigration to the extent they mutually adjust, a sign of successful integration. As intermediaries between newcomers and local communities, settlement service agencies have played a vital role in this process since the early 20th century.

Yet, even after decades of growth in terms of client population, organizational capacity, and knowledge base, the Canadian settlement sector still lacks national professional standards. Recognizing this need, the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) and provincial and regional settlement umbrella organizations formed a National Task Force on Professionalization in the Settlement Sector in 2005.

Who We Are

Coordinated by CCR, the Task Force is a partnership with provincial and regional settlement umbrella organizations, aiming to promote the professionalization of both settlement practitioners and settlement service agencies. The following provincial and regional organizations are members of the Task Force:

  • Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies of British Columbia
  • Alberta Association of Immigrant Serving Agencies
  • Atlantic Region Association of Immigrant Serving Agencies
  • Manitoba Immigrant Settlement Sector Association
  • Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
  • Saskatchewan Association of Immigrant Settlement and Integration Agencies
  • Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes (as observer)

Professionalization

By professionalization in the settlement sector, we mean a process of setting and applying objective standards for:

  • the training, accreditation, job performance, and compensation of settlement practitioners; and ultimately
  • the accreditation and operation of settlement service agencies themselves.

Our Vision

We envision a settlement sector where practitioners, trained and employed according to inter-provincially compatible professional standards,

  • provide high-quality services to newcomers wherever they are in Canada; and
  • help receiving communities adapt to newcomers.

Outcomes

  • Settlement practitioners are trained, certified, and qualified to serve newcomers and to support receiving communities in the adaptation process.
  • In the context of a demanding human service environment, practitioners are adequately protected and compensated for their work.
  • Settlement agencies are optimally resourced to do their work.
  • Newcomers are thus well-informed and well-served to settle, adapt and integrate into their local Canadian communities.
  • Communities are, in turn, prepared to share their resources and responsibilities with their new members.
  • Settlement work, involving both newcomers and receiving communities, is nationally recognized and valued.

Our Approach

This national project will use a step-by-step approach, starting with the professionalization of settlement practitioners and then moving to the agency level. The first phase will include four steps:

  • Identifying national occupational competencies
  • Outlining a procedure for practitioners to achieve these competencies, ensuring the assessment and recognition of previous, as well as on-the-job, learning
  • Establishing salary scales for trained and accredited settlement practitioners
  • Establishing an accreditation process and body

The second phase will involve setting and implementing standards at the agency level.

For more information on the Task Force, please contact the Settlement Policy Director at CCR by email: info@ccrweb.ca or by phone: 514-277-7223 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              514-277-7223      end_of_the_skype_highlighting, ext. 5

Pathways to Gender Justice Handbook (htm format)



How does gender affect newcomers’ experience of migration and settlement? What does gender mean? Are only women affected by gender issues? If you work or volunteer in an organization serving newcomers, you may want to deepen your understanding of gender and how it affects the experience of newcomers, in order to better adapt your services to the different realities of immigrant and refugee women and men.

The Canadian Council for Refugees is launching a new tool, the Pathways to Gender Justice Handbook, that aims at enhancing the capacity of organizations to use a gender-based approach in their work with newcomers. The Handbook is a practical guide that can be used in different areas of an organization, such as governance, management and direct services.

Significant attention has been paid to gender in recent decades, but there is still a need within the immigrant and refugee serving sector to better understand gender issues and to effectively apply a gender-based analysis within the service delivery framework. A gender-based approach ensures that policies and services are designed, analyzed, implemented and monitored with an appreciation for gender differences. 

Gender roles often change after a person or a family arrives in Canada and these changes affect relationships between women and men, as well as girls and boys. Changes in gender roles can empower some family members, with various possible repercussions for family relationships. Looking at the process of migration and settlement with a “gender lens” may help improve programs, services and policies. However, in order to succeed, a gender-based approach to settlement work needs to involve everyone, including men.

The Handbook was developed by an active Advisory Committee, made up of people from across Canada active in the immigrant and refugee serving sector – most of whom themselves have a refugee or immigrant background. To make it as concrete as possible, the Handbook was piloted by 7 organizations across Canada. The pilot was done with the input and participation of refugee and immigrant women clients of the organizations.

The Handbook is a flexible tool that offers a variety of entry points and encourages organizations to make the process their own. It includes suggestions of self evaluation, action plans, references and examples and can be adapted to different sizes and types of organizations across Canada. The Handbook’s approach is to use open questions that can help organizations find their own pathway to gender justice. For example, the following questions are included regarding case intervention:  

  • What are our assumptions about why our intervention is needed?
  • Who benefits from our intervention? Why?
  • Whose needs are not being addressed? Why? How can those needs be met?
  • Who is excluded? Why?  What can be done about it?
  • Will our intervention lead to greater/lesser/same levels of equity? In the short term? In the long term?

The Handbook was developed with an understanding that different forms of oppression intersect and create different experiences of the migration and settlement process. Power in relationships also plays a special role in shaping newcomer experiences. For example, when a service user enters a settlement agency for the first time, the following factors should be considered by staff, as they affect the settlement process: family dynamics, domestic violence, mental health before/after migration; race; status in Canada; surviving rape, torture and crimes against humanity, among others.

“Solitude can be a heavy burden, especially for women who find themselves at home with small children, without the opportunity to learn English, build a new social network. They often do not want to burden family members back home with their emotional struggles in Canada.”

“There needs to be more programs for men and how to look at the cultural differences. Men need help in looking at the changing roles.”

The Pathways to Gender Justice Handbook is available on the CCR website at www.ccrweb.ca/Genderhandbook.pdf.  

You can also order copies from the CCR using the order form www.ccrweb.ca/documents/publicationsorderform.pdf

The Handbook complements the CCR’s Pathways to Gender Justice Toolkit, also available online at www.ccrweb.ca/Gender.pdf . The Toolkit, launched in 2006, is a reference document that includes background information, theory and exercises about gender analysis.

The project to develop the Handbook received funding from the Women’s Program, Status of Women Canada.

Pathways to Gender Justice Handbook: A practical tool for working with newcomers

Summary: 

The Pathways to Gender Justice Handbook aims to enhance the capacity of organizations to use a gender-based approach in their work with newcomers. It is a practical guide that can be used in different areas of an organization, such as governance, management and direct services, 49 pages. 2009.