Hope In Activism


Toronto - May 2019

Spring seems hesitant to come into its own this year. Or maybe it’s winter holding on stubbornly refusing to recognize that its time has passed - at least for now - but will always come around again. A promise. Similar to the promise that day will always follow night.

Why am I waxing poetic? I am searching for hope, digging deep to find my optimism, to remind myself and you (I guess) that the gathering clouds, the political miasma that seems to be settling in will only be for a moment in time. We have been here before in Ontario - and Canada, and we’re still here to tell the tales, to share the stories of survival and in many cases stories of thriving as individuals, organizations and communities. As an old (in all senses of that word) sector friend often says, ‘look for the opportunity in the challenge’. I’m looking!

The beginning of the month started with a webinar hosted by the Ontario Non-profit Network (ONN) to discuss the impact of provincial budget cuts on various subsectors of the broader non-profit sector (or what our fancy policy friends call the ‘for public benefit’ sector). This presented an opportunity to gather and share knowledge which is the foundation of collective strategy and action.

On May Day (first day of the month and International Workers’ Day) there were also a number of protests and actions across the country focusing on migrants’ rights. An issue that is becoming increasingly polarized especially as Canada proposes to close it borders to asylum seekers who have made claims in countries with which our country has information sharing agreements, like the United States.

A number of organizations led by the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers held a press conference and released a letter to the Prime Minister calling on him to remove these changes to our immigration laws from the budget implementation bill (C-97). They spoke about the particular impact they will have on women fleeing gender-based violence.  OCASI and others signed on to this letter, expressing our outrage at the betrayal of what we hold sacred as Canadians - freedom from violence; freedom to live without fear.

In the second week of this month of flowers, the United Way of Greater Toronto released the third iteration of their Opportunity Equation research named, Rebalancing the Opportunity Equation. For those of us who have spent our working hours (and in some cases our lives), thinking, talking about and advocating on issues of equity, anti-racism, decolonization and the gendering and racialization of poverty, the findings were all too familiar: Growing income inequality based on age (young people are doing worst), gender (the gender wage gap persists) and race (racialized folks – immigrant or Canadian born - are doing worse than they did thirty-five years are ago and the trends are tilted downwards). The research also looked at immigration status (newcomers - less than five years in the country; immigrants here for 10 years; and those who have been here 20 years or more). On every count, immigrants are worse off than they were thirty-five years ago compared to Canadian-born counterparts.

The report makes twelve recommendations - all that OCASI can support. Our one critique is that the report needed more precise language. We were pleased that the UWGT has updated its language so that it speaks to issues of ‘racialization’ rather than ‘visible minority’, a highly contested term. Yet in spite of the data and analysis showing clear signs of structural racism, there is no specific recommendation that speaks to the need to address racism in employment, for example. The report calls for a national dialogue on social cohesion without referencing the federal government’s announced plan (with funding attached) for the development of a national Anti-racism  Strategy, recognizing of course that social cohesion must necessarily speak to other forms of discrimination like ableism, anti-indigeneity, homo/transphobia, etc.

In spite of the plethora of negative trends in the report, I’m treating it as a good news story - its existence in itself is positive. As stated in the report:

“As Canada evolves and grows, it is increasingly important for us to understand these trends and take actions to remove barriers to participation. Collecting data is important, but so is taking action, listening to, and amplifying the voices of people who are disproportionately affected by these trends.”

We agree and will heed the call to action. We are committed to renewing our efforts about making our employment equity at the federal level more robust and to continue our advocacy for a provincial policy. We will continue to call for an extension of the Canada Child Benefit program to all Canadian children regardless of the immigration status of their parent(s) because all children deserve to live free of poverty.

As I conclude this month’s blog, we are seeing the impact of collective activism. The federal government has agreed to pull the changes to the Immigration Act out of the Budget Bill (C-97) and send to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration for study. Yeah!

And as I look out my window I can see the greening of the trees and the budding of purple and yellow and blue flowers, a sure sign that spring is here.

I’ll see you at the protests and at the Board tables…

In Solidarity