My Canada Includes all Families

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There are so many fires to fight on the policy front that it's difficult to decide where one's energy should be focused. On the national scene we continue to witness the activism of a government determined to remake Canada's immigration, refugee determination and citizenship programs to suit its ideology. With barely time to reflect on the collective responses from progressive advocates on the refugee determination and family reunification files, not to mention the ongoing debate about cuts to refugee health through changes to the Interim Federal Health program, we are now bracing for significant changes to our Citizenship laws and practices. I wrote about the latter in this space last month, and it will dominate our policy conversations for the foreseeable future. 

The push back against the changes to sponsorship of parents and grandparents continues. Even with the rosy press releases coming out of the Citizenship and Immigration Minister's office. We should be worried by the cap of 5000 applications a year. We should be concerned that this cap was met by the first day of the second month of the year; that families wanting to sponsor must wait until 2015. And we know that by this time next year we will be seeing the same thing - quota met within the first few weeks of the year. The government calls this taking a ‘pause' as a way of dealing with the backlog. I wonder what the families that have been separated from extended family for years are thinking about this pause.

On July 1,2013 a coalition of concerned individuals and community organizations launched the My Canada Include all Families Campaign. An OpEd written by Avvy Go of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic and myself (both founding members of the Colour of Poverty, Colour of Change Campaign) was published and made its rounds on social media. The purpose of the OpEd was to bring Canadians into the conversation about our national immigration program. To raise awareness of the issues and to engage ordinary folks in the important debate of what we want Canada to be. And the role of immigrants - young, old, racialized and not, men, women and transgender folks, straight and gay/lesbian, skilled, educated, professional and in the trades; all those who chose and/or have found refuge here in Canada.

It has been slow going at times but a number of initiatives are coming together to keep the conversations going. In the next few weeks, several Canadian provinces will be celebrating ‘Family Day' (sometimes known by other names). What better time for folks to reflect on what it means to be separated from extended family; to think, plan and act on opening up the debate on family reunification with our elected officials. To publish the research that speaks to the benefits that extended family bring to the settlement and integration process. To remind each other that the long-term goal of our immigration program is one of nation building; of inclusion of all who live within our borders.

On February 17th we celebrate Family day here in Ontario. We are calling on everyone reading this to phone their federal MP and voice your concerns about the new rules governing our family class program. Ask them to raise concerns about the significant increase in income needed before a person can sponsor his or her parent or grandparent. To change the requirement for 3 years of salary at the new level back to one year of employment; to rescind the doubling of the sponsorship undertaking from ten to twenty years. Let them know that the Minister was right in not following through on lowering the age of dependents from under 22 to below nineteen because of the detrimental impact it will have on families particularly female children.

Our colleagues in Alberta from the Ethno-Cultural Council of Calgary have produced a PSA and will be launching their research project on immigrant families.  Check it out, pick up your phone, send an email, or tweet to your MP letting him or her know that your Canada includes all families.