June 2019/Toronto - I sit down to write this blog (or as my colleagues call it- rant-) with a mixed sense of anticipation and trepidation. An emotional potpourri – in the hodgepodge/ragbag meaning, not deodorizer or freshener sense.
These past weeks have been interesting as I spent time in gorgeous Victoria, BC at the semi-annual Consultation of the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) with like-minded activists and good-hearted Canadians wanting to make a difference in the lives of refugees and (im)migrants.
We mourned the loss of significant funding to necessary social programs in Ontario, especially Legal Aid; the Transitional Child Benefit which was a great financial help to those who are low-income, including refugees and immigrants; cuts to public health; redefinition of disability; and the uncertainty of employment program supports for immigrants as the province moves ahead with its transformation of Employment Ontario with the introduction of a new service management and delivery system.
Advocacy organizations like OCASI got our marching orders from our colleagues on the ground to amplify the call for Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to ensure fair and transparent processes for the migrant Caregiver programs. They included a call to extend the deadline of the three month pilot for Caregivers which ended June 4; to make the provision of adequate, affordable housing a priority in our advocacy and government relations work; and to continue the fight to ensure that migrant workers and international students have access to federally funded settlement services.
But the issue that dominated the discussions (along with the elimination of refugee and immigration legal services in Ontario) was the introduction of amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA).
As one, all who I spoke to were outraged by the proposals to extend the Safe Third Agreement with the US to the whole border by “creating a new ground for ineligibility for refugee protection if a claimant has previously made a claim for refugee protection in another country with which Canada has a data-sharing agreement”. The fact that this change was hidden in the budget implementation Bill C-97 added fuel to the fire. The outpouring of anger and disappointment in a government who for the last four years have championed Canada’s immigration and refugee determination system; women and their right to safety; the plight of LGBTI+ individuals around the globe; and all things progressive in the immigration realm, forced their hand. Some amendments were made by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, which would “allow for a mandatory hearing at the pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA) to ‘soften’ this new ground of exclusion.
Rightfully, witnesses who appeared before the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology who has been studying C-97 (Thank you Professor Audrey Macklin) expressed serious concerns about the PRRA being given equivalency to an independent refugee determination process, while others strongly recommended that instead of setting up this parallel process and investing resources to “the untested enhanced PRAA,” we should be putting more resources into the existing Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).
It was a great relief then when a week or so later, the Senate Committee issued its report recommending “that the government of Canada consider delaying implementation of these proposed changes until the immigration and refugee system is properly prepared and resourced, including through the provision of appropriate and timely training to PRRA officers to conduct hearings.” And that there “will be an automatic stay on the removal of refugee claimants who receive a negative PRRA decision pending a possible leave for judicial review of the PRRA results by the Federal Court”.
As important, the Senate Committee also recommended that the government conduct a review of the proposed amendments to IRPA one year after implementation to determine the impact on the refugee claims system.
Thank you Senate of Canada. We trust that the government will adopt all of the recommendations!
Many of us left Victoria for Vancouver for meetings and some for the various conferences planned that week. It felt as if the country was congregated on our left coast all at the same time. From the Women Deliver Conference (which had its share of naysayers as Canadian grassroots women’s organizations voiced concerns about being shut out from such an important global gathering), to Congress - the gathering of our academic colleagues in the Humanities and Social Sciences (which had its own controversy with the racial profiling of a young Black male scholar attending the adjunct Black Canadian Studies conference), to the counter conference Feminists Deliver (organized by BC women’s organizations in response to the exclusive Women Deliver), urban BC was the place to be it seemed.
For feminists and feminist organizations these past few weeks have been ones of good news coming from the folks who govern us from the national capital. On the eve of the Women Deliver conference the Minister of International Development and Women and Gender Equality (WAGE) announced they have established a Women’s Equality Fund through a public-private-civil society partnership. The fund with $300M in government commitments and an additional $100M from families will support women’s empowerment activities across the globe including here in Canada with some funds being disbursed through the Canadian Women’s Foundation. The overall pot of money will be administered by the Toronto Community Foundation. This is a good news story and one we should celebrate as Canadian Feminists.
The seminal report of the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIW) was released at the beginning of this important month. The report has two hundred and thirty-one recommendations or Calls to Justice aimed at all levels of government as well as civil society-individuals and organizations. The report painfully names the historic and contemporary experiences of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people, genocide - a term that has generated much talk and push back from the conservative movement in Canada as well as many media types. But we should not allow the noise to distract us from the sobering findings in the report or our complicity as residents/citizens of this settler controlled country. Bridging the relationship between Indigenous and Newcomer communities is a priority and an ongoing project for us. OCASI through our work with Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change has over time worked to include the experience of Indigenous peoples in our ongoing work to counter racialization of poverty, racism and colonialism. We recognize that our efforts to decolonize our work is ongoing and that we have an important role to play in ensuring that the sector as whole is provided learning opportunities through partnerships with Indigenous organizations and people. This will be a priority for us in our future work.
There is much to be done as we work to preserve and build on progressive policies and programs here in Ontario and across the country. While we protest on the streets and strategize in the offices and boardrooms, we must also leave time for celebration of each other. Celebration of the progressive impulse in most Canadians. To borrow the title of Philip Pike’s seminal film on Black Queer Organizing in Canada, This is the Dance of our Revolution! Happy LGBTI+ Pride Month.