Changes are Coming


As a sector concerned with immigrants' and refugees' settlement and integration, our collective attention has been riveted on the myriad of changes to the Immigration system and to the Refugee determination system, sometimes applauding, but for the most part bemoaning the transformation of Canada away from our traditional priorities of providing refuge to the world?s persecuted and marginalized.

At the same time those of us in Ontario have reeled from the impact of having millions of dollars cut from the settlement and integration funding envelope as our sector (as others in the broader public sectors) experienced the national and provincial austerity agenda. The 2008 recession hit immigrants harder than workers born here in Canada. The recession exacerbated the problem of unemployment and underemployment of those recently arrived, and increased the precarity of the working situation for many. The recently released report "It's More Than Poverty: Employment Precarity and Household Well-being" from McMaster University and the United Way of Greater Toronto documented well this story of immigrant and racialized workers precarious work experience.

While much of our attention has been focused on responding to the above, finding ways as a sector to respond, to adapt to demonstrate the great resilience that we're known for as Canada's third sector, another story has been unfolding. Other conversations have been taken place which has brought us to this place where we stand at the edge of positive movement forward for immigrants, refugees and other residents regardless of status. These various conversations and manoeuvering have been happening in the City of Toronto, but has great portable potential for other cities in Ontario and Canada.

There are three significant political and civic moves afoot that should be cause for celebration by all concerned with the successful integration and socio-political engagement of all residents in our city. First, the introduction of a City of Toronto Charter on Immigration. The time has come for this idea borrowed from Europe, (Eurocities Charter on Integrating Cities). A charter will map out Toronto's commitment to immigrant integration in areas economic participation, political engagement and social integration. It is a document that will be a blueprint for how the city will live out its commitment to immigrants' success as Torontonians.

Second, the extension of the municipal franchise - extending the vote in municipal elections to permanent residents has been put back on the table. This motion was voted on by Toronto City Council and received overwhelming support from most Councillors. While there is much work to be done before this can become a reality (2018 Municipal Election is the goal) the public education has already started and will be sustained by a broad coalition of politicians, community organizations and individuals committed to ensuring that permanent residents in Toronto are able to fully participate in the civic life of our city.

Lastly, City Council affirmed Toronto as a sanctuary for all residents by refining its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which has evolved to 'Access without Fear' policy. This evolved policy clearly states how the city will ensure access to its services for everyone resident in Toronto regardless of immigration status.

All three of these policies are significant in themselves. Together they represent a seismic shift in Toronto's integration and inclusion agenda. These policies represent a coalescing of the work of various groups and coalitions. The initiatives were not necessarily coordinated in terms of timing of the work but clearly demonstrate a growing consensus of a shared vision of the kind of city, province and country we want to create.

There is much work to be done to ensure that these initiatives are implemented and are successful in Toronto and that we begin discussions in other cities here in Ontario and across the country with an eye to exporting these important movements forward.