Earlier this month the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) released the report Under Suspicion: Research and Consultation Report on Racial Profiling in Ontario. It is chockful of personal examples of how racial profiling tears at the soul of those profiled, reinforces the sense of otherness that many who are racialized experience, and undermines the social cohesion we so desperately need if this Canadian political project of diversity and inclusion is to be a success.
According to the OHRC the intent of the report is to examine “the lived experiences of racialized and indigenous people in Ontario when it comes not only to racial profiling when accessing resources such as healthcare or transportation, but to understand the systematic and institutionalized barriers these groups experience and the residual barriers that manifest from this racism”.
At the launch of the report we heard from several speakers who spoke of their experiences specific to their identity and social location. We heard from a Black cis-male lawyer who talked about how diminishing profiling by police, store employees and the regular non-Black person on the street can be; from a Hijabi cis-woman who spoke out against the islamophobia she encounters and the intersectional discrimination she and other Muslim women face because of their choice to cover their heads.
A blind South Asian cis-woman (who happens to be a Muslim woman who wears Hijab) talked about the various forms of exclusions and micro-aggressions she encounters daily; and an Indigenous (Mohawk) cis-woman spoke of the historical and cultural erasure that she and her community experience in urban settings and on the land. She shared the story of how Indigenous folks often ‘know’ that they must show that they have money before entering certain stores that are meant to cater to their communities.
What all the speakers had in common was their visibility of identity – racialized or Indigenous, visibly Muslim, their stories overlapped in terms of the impact that racial profiling has on their lives and the lives of members of their communities.
We are pleased that the Commission, under Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane, is proactive in its role as public educator, policy-maker and advocate for the marginalized and disadvantaged. From racial profiling to prison reform – the Chief Commissioner has also spoken out on the need for the province to mandate an end to solitary confinement and the use of Ontario jails for immigration detention- the OHRC’s increasing visibility as the voice of influence on issues of racism, gender and sex discrimination (including transphobia), homophobia, ableism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and xenophobia is a welcome change from years past.
Promises Kept… Promises Postponed…
On the day of writing of this column, the federal government marks its eighteenth month anniversary of winning the election. Much has happened since then. A significant promise the government made in the heat of the election dominated the public imagination over the year and the federal government (along with provinces and territories, particularly Ontario and municipalities) and the immigrant and refugee serving sector can pat themselves on the back and say job well done – so far.
In resettling almost forty thousand Syrian refugees, the government fulfilled its promise of the resettlement of twenty-five thousand government assisted refugees (GARs) and the private sponsorship of almost fifteen thousand more. But there’s the rub. From the dying winter days of 2015 through to 2016, Canadians came out to support refugee resettlement in ways we had not seen since the Indo-Chinese (Vietnamese) refugee crisis of 1979-1981. During that period approximately sixty thousand Vietnamese were resettled in Canada. It is the memory of this great humanitarian outpouring that sparked the upsurge of support from individuals, Faith and community groups and organizations, corporations and governments.
As the government and media encouraged and promoted this public show of support, Syrian-focused coalitions came into being, neighbours teamed up to form sponsorship support groups, rented houses, collected funds, bought winter clothes and planned and planned and planned to welcome the new Syrian families. And then they waited. For some, a year’s worth of rent was paid for apartments that remain empty, task groups started straying away and the enthusiasm turned to disappointment, then anger and then resignation. Some quietly went away. Others took to media to voice their frustration at government’s inability to meet the wishes for a timely resettlement schedule. Still others organized. New groups have emerged all focused on private sponsorship.
At the beginning there was Lifeline Syria, a Toronto/Greater Toronto Area focused group comprised primarily by folks who were engaged in the Indo-Chinese initiative along with leaders from the Toronto Syrian community. Then groups like Refugee613- an Ottawa group emerged. Then more advocacy and policy groups like Canada4Refugees emerged, birthing out of their frustration and anger at government’s reluctance to harness the goodwill of Canadians a movement focused on improvement of the refugee resettlement process. They’ve put forward a number of recommendations to the federal government all focused on creating more transparency and openness on the part of the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC). The group claims that increased transparency will have “two immediate and positive impacts: refugee sponsors will be able to obtain the information they need much more easily and will be less hostile to IRCC; and the workloads of the constituency offices of Members of Parliament will be positively affected – it has been said that 85 per cent of the time and energy of these offices are occupied with refugee and immigration issues”.
The recommendations for more transparency all appear to be cost neutral. Let’s hope the federal government is listening.
One promise that the government almost kept, but is now in limbo (or postponed) or so it appears to those of us in the policy field, is the rethinking or elimination of the Designated Country of Origin (DCO) regime here in Canada. In brief, the DCO is a listing of countries that is considered by Canada to be non-refugee producing, respect human rights and offer state protection. For example most of the European countries are on this list as are the United States and Mexico, although the visa restriction on the latter was lifted only in December 2016.. Most (if not all) of the countries on the DCO have no visa restrictions for its nationals to come to Canada. The public explanation for the implementation of this new system during the massive overhaul of the immigration and refugee determination system in 2012 by the then Conservative government, was to reduce the backlog in the Claims process. Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) are now telling us that in fact it didn’t work that way. Backlogs continue.
What did happen is that a two-tier refugee determination was created, the system left thousands in backlog limbo (those who applied prior to 2012 implementation of DCO and related changes) with significant representation of LGBTQI Claimants caught in the backlog.
During the election the Liberals promised to create a panel of experts to review the DCO list and to make recommendations on which countries should be on the list and others that should not. This approach was meant to bring some transparency and accountability to the regime. After hearing from ‘experts’ about the DCO, the decision was taken to eliminate the whole DCO scheme permanently. Time passing, a US election of a rightwing leaning populist president, and a cabinet shuffle means that we have seen no movement on this file and there’s growing concern from those particularly interested in our Claims process that public opinion may sway the federal government to move away from eliminating this unnecessary scheme once and for all.
When pressed by our media colleagues on this file a spokesman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said only that the department continues to review the policy. According to a media story from the Canadian Press, “If backlogs build in the system, the government will find itself in the exact same situation that led to the DCO being instituted in the first place”.
While we wait to see what the government or more specifically IRCC and Minister Hussen will do, the IRB is looking for and putting in place ‘work arounds’ in the claims process. One such reform allows claims from Syria, Iraq, Eritrea and beginning next month, Afghanistan, Burundi, Egypt, and Yemen to be decided without a hearing. These countries were selected reportedly because of the high claims acceptance rate historically, that the volume is not high and most claims are not complex, as well as the common knowledge of country conditions that create refugees and displaced persons.
OCASI has recommended to the Minister that claimants in the pre-2012 backlog should be allowed to apply for permanent residence. Let us hope they’re listening.