At the end of May, I received an e-mail from my colleague-friend Anon who indicated that news was expected from the federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration - news that would be pleasing to OCASI. Now news from the Minister isn't surprising. We've had at least one policy announcement or regulation change or musings from the Minister on a daily basis (or so it seems) since he was appointed the Immigration, Citizenship and Multiculturalism portfolio. But pleasing to OCASI? Long story short, a few days later Twitter was abuzz with the news. Access to citizenship would be made easier. Those who failed the test (but who qualify in all other ways) will have an opportunity to rewrite the test. Good news? Yes. Pleasing to OCASI? Of course. In fact, it is an advocacy win. And we have had others advocating with us on the citizenship file over the past few months.
Advocacy and All Other Such Things
At a meeting I referenced in last month's message, the Minister acknowledged the increasing wait times for citizenship processing. He acknowledged that there was a problem with the significant numbers of applicants who were being vetted for residency requirement and indicated that this would change; that the number of folks asked to fill out those residency forms will decrease. We expect to see this happen.
Another small advocacy victory: an OCASI member agency had flagged an issue with CIC about the implementation of the new Citizenship test- namely that Deaf immigrants faced significant barriers in meeting the requirements. They pointed out that there was a need for an alternative to meet language requirements other than proof of CLB4. Silent Voice, a champion of Deaf individuals and communities insisted that OCASI prioritize this issue on our advocacy and government relations agenda. They were relentless, checking in weekly to ensure that the Council had raised the issue each time we met with CIC to discuss immigration, settlement and integration policies and other social justice concerns; and insisting that we report back to them. And we did. Their persistence and our pushing paid off. A week or so ago, a meeting was held with senior folks from Citizenship Branch of CIC with Silent Voice and other agencies working with Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities across the country to look at alternatives to the existing language requirements. We are hopeful that change is coming.
Are we winning on this file? The jury is out. Consider refugees and their experiences of torture, trauma and persecution. Consider the barrier that a written test presents for individuals who have had no access to formal education, who are illiterate in their first languages. Do they not also deserve an opportunity to become citizens; to have all the responsibilities and benefits of citizenship? Should we not be waiving some requirements to facilitate their attainment of citizenship? After all, as a country we recognized their need for protection, for a safe refuge. Shouldn't that protection include full citizenship? So there's much work yet to be done on this file before we can say we are winning.
There are other urgent policy issues like the changes to family reunification that needs our full attention. This issue begs for a broad-based coalition to mount a campaign that engages Canadians on the issues and to get the federal government to turn back the changes that will result in fragmentation of families; where only the economically well-off will be able to sponsor and children older than eighteen will be left behind. There is much work to be done.
As OCASI marks its 35th year, we look back on the various campaigns we've mounted alone as a membership Council and more often in coalition with social justice allies. We've won many policy battles over the years, but in the last while we have seen a significant erasure of those progressive gains. We have much to celebrate including the building of strong alliances and coalitions as folks concerned about issues of exclusion and marginalization of those most vulnerable among us; but also much to mourn as we've borne witness to the undoing of many of our treasured organizations and systems of progressive movements.
Thirty-five years from that first founding meeting of fourteen community-based organizations who saw the need for a collective voice, for a collective response to the increasing and consistent marginalization of immigrant, racialized and gendered experiences. The issues have become more complex. The responses must be multi-leveled, direct and effective. Now more than ever, this collective voice is needed. Now more than ever the collective must speak its various truths to power.