We begin the year in a celebratory and anticipatory mood in Ontario as we welcome the proclamation of Ontario’s Immigration Act on January 1, 2018 which received Royal Assent in May, 2015. The legislation “positions Ontario as a full partner in immigration with the federal government, with an enhanced role in immigration selection aimed at attracting more economic immigrants”, says the recently released 2017 progress report, Our Foundation for Tomorrow, Ontario’s Immigration Strategy.
Ontario Immigration Strategy
The report highlights the Ontario Immigration Nominee Program’s (allocation increasing from 500 in 2007 to 6000 in 2017) top five occupation categories (software engineers and designers led the pack) and shows that 83% of nominees were between the ages of 25-44 (65% between 25-34). Mirroring the national picture the top source country was India, followed by China. Unlike the national profile, an African country (Nigeria) rounds out the top five.
Francophone immigration outside Quebec is a priority for the federal and provincial governments. A key commitment in A New Direction: Ontario`s Immigration Strategy, 2012 was the increase of Francophone immigration to 5% of Ontario`s annual intake. This goal has not been reached in the past five years. The province established a Group of Experts on Francophone Immigration to develop strategies to accomplish this goal. The Expert Group tabled its report in November 2016. The Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration says it is making progress on implementing the 13 recommendations from the Group.
In the area of Settlement and Integration services, the report highlights the Newcomer Settlement Program (NSP) and the newly created Settlement and Integration Services for Refugees and Vulnerable Newcomers. Not surprisingly the resettlement of Syrian refugees in which the province played a significant role (44% of all Syrian refugees to Canada between 2015 and 2017, resettled in Ontario) is highlighted. According to the report NSP funding provides services to almost 80,000 clients each year.
Minimum Wage Increase, Bill 148
The story that is dominating political and media discourse in Ontario is the increase in the minimum hourly wage to $14 as of January 1, 2018. Unfortunately the focus of the message from many mainstream media outlets, including those we expect better from, has been on the naysaying of employers and the misreading of a report on the changes to the minimum wage by the Bank of Canada. This focus on the historically unsupported loss in jobs, mass layoffs, etc. is causing unnecessary fear, especially among young workers.
The very public announcement by a few franchisees of the Tim Hortons chain, where a significant number of racialized and immigrant women are employed (particularly in large urban centres) gave cause to Ontario`s Premier Wynne to rightly name the actions of rescinding employment benefits as bullying. There is a growing groundswell to boycott the Tim Hortons brand, a position that needs more nuanced debate that includes the voices and opinions of workers that will be impacted by a boycott.
We should not lose sight however of the significant win brought about by the consistent, smart, strategic and committed activism of those engaged with the $15 and Fairness Campaign, in particular the leadership of the Workers Action Centre, a member agency of OCASI, that led to Bill 148, the Fair Work Places, Better Jobs Act. This long awaited enhancement of labour laws stands to benefit working class Ontarians including immigrants and refugees who too often are relegated to low wage, precarious jobs.
We should celebrate this win while at the same time continuing to advocate for the implementation of more progressive labour laws and the expansion of these laws to cover all who work in Ontario. For example, it is unfortunate that these positive changes including the increase in the minimum hourly wage will not benefit migrant workers including the primarily racialized women who come to Canada to clean our homes and care for our children and elderly. Or the men and women from the geopolitical south who come here for almost ten months each year to plant and harvest our fruits and vegetables. This must change.
In this election year, the non-profit sector expects that the priorities identified during the provincial pre-budget consultations will be considered and funding provided for the myriad challenges facing our diverse communities, particularly the deepening poverty of our most vulnerable residents while the price for basic needs (food, rent, transportation) increases.
In an attempt to address this, the provincial Working Group on Income Security Reform released its report Income Security: A Roadmap for Change which contains a number of recommendations with a ten year timetable for implementation. It is critical that the provincial government moves on some of these recommendations immediately, particularly those having to do with social assistance rates - both Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program.
We are hearing from refugees and private sponsors that social assistance is not enough to cover the basic costs of families living in Ontario. We also know that rates for single women and men are so low that they are often unable to find adequate housing, and like many on social assistance must often choose between food and shelter. This must change. We strongly encourage you to let the government know through your MPPs that the recommendations of the Roadmap should be resourced.
Immigration and Refugee Changes Needed
At the federal level, the government’s interest in the plight of migrant workers is a new development. We believe this is the moment for a renewed lobbying effort for a regularization program that is accessible and ongoing (since migrant workers are among those with precarious or no immigration status); for the provision of services to migrant workers; and for the proactive monitoring of employers utilizing temporary workers particularly those in the agriculture and ‘low-skilled’ sectors.
At the same time there is a sense of frustration with the federal government as backlogs on the different refugee and immigration files continue to grow and there is no indication that new resources will be made available to ensure timely processing. At issue are legacy (claims referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board before December 15, 2012 when changes to the refugee system took effect) claimant files, family reunification of refugee families, caregiver applications for permanent residence, sponsorship of parents and grandparents of immigrants, and private sponsorship of refugees. The sector continues to be disappointed with the low number of 8000 government assisted refugees per year announced for 2017-2020.
Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees
Internationally, Canada is seen as a significant player in the development of Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees. These two agreements being developed as separate documents emerged from the United Nations New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants which outlines key commitments on movements of migrants and refugees. The Canadian government has been engaged in the various thematic discussions that took place last year and was a full participant at the UN stock-taking meeting held in Mexico in December. We were pleased that a number of Canadian government representatives attended the Civil Society Organizations (CSO) pre-meeting and indicated that they were open to ongoing dialogue with Canadian NGOs during the negotiations of the Global Compacts. OCASI attended the CSO pre-meeting and is a member of the federal government’s advisory committee on the Migration Compact.
Civil Society Organizations have put forward `a civil society vision for a transformative agenda for human mobility, migration and development` called the Ten Acts for the Global Compact. Focused on the Migration Compact, the document calls for ``human mobility and migration that is safe, by choice and with human and labour rights`. The document outlines three key principles:
- Principle of Purpose: The Compact must directly benefit migrants, refugees and societies, save lives, respond to needs, be rights-based, gender and age-sensitive and oriented to human dignity and human development regardless of migration status. This cannot become a Global Compact for Deportation.
- Principle of Progress: The rights framework, conventions and agreements exist. The Global Compact must build upon international and human rights law and labour conventions, protocols and international humanitarian and refugee law.
- Principle of Participation: Civil society, including migrants, refugees and diaspora organizations must be meaningfully part of the discussion and solutions in a safe and enabling environment, from inception to implementation of the Global Compact and of related national policies.
The negotiations among UN member States (including Canada) on the two Compacts are scheduled to begin next month (February). This will be a policy priority for the national immigrant and refugee serving sector and NGOs this year. The new Compacts are set to be adopted in December 2018. Watch this space for periodic updates.
Stop the Deportation of Abdoul Abdi
As I write this, there is a growing chorus of voices from Nova Scotia to Ontario demanding that federal Ministers Goodale (Public Safety) and Hussen (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship - IRCC) intervene in the case of Abdoul Abdi, a young man who came to Canada as a six year old fleeing the conflict in Somalia. Immediately on arrival according to news reports, Abdoul and his sister were taken into the care of the Child welfare system in Nova Scotia. He spent his childhood and youth being moved from foster home to group home to foster home, enduring years of abuse in many of these placements. At age 17, he became involved in an altercation and was sentenced to a prison where he served his time.
Fast forward to this month. On his release instead of heading home as he and his family had anticipated, he was apprehended by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and placed in immigration detention. Immigration proceedings about his admissibility due to criminality as the first step towards deportation were started against him.
This story is too familiar. In OCASI’s first meeting with Minister Hussen, the then new Minister of IRCC, we flagged this as a key public policy issue. We encouraged the Minister to make changes to the Citizenship Act (C6) then under review with the intention of allowing minors, especially those in State care, to be able to obtain citizenship independent of their parents. We were successful and this is now allowed (with an adult signature). But it is not enough. There is much work to be done to educate our various child welfare systems across the country about their role in the lives of non-citizen children - the majority of whom are racialized.
The Council for many years has advocated against the deportation of migrants due to criminality. This is double punishment. The practice disproportionately impacts immigrants from the geopolitical south and often these individuals – as is the case with Abdoul Abdi – have no connection to the place to which they are deported. The practice is wrong. The practice must be stopped.
This case is so egregious that the Council has decided to speak out. This is not our usual practice. We do not as a matter of course advocate in individual immigration cases. But we believe that the case of Abdoul and other children who become wards of the State and then find themselves facing deportation because the State was negligent in not obtaining their citizenship calls for massive campaign to bring about change – to stop the deportation of Abdoul but also to trigger structural and policy changes.
As we move into 2018 there are many policy challenges ahead of us. In addition to issues of immigration, settlement and integration in general, we must as a sector speak out about the growing economic inequality in our communities that is increasingly gendered and racialized. We must counteract narratives of white nationalism sometimes couched as language or cultural retention (hey Quebec!).
And we must celebrate the spaces that are created to fashion a progressive vision for our province and country. Spaces that come together across genders, age, (dis)ability, immigration status, language, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and political affiliation. We must remember the caution from the late celebrated poet, novelist and essayist Audre Lorde: ``Without community there is no liberation`.
Happy New Year!