Message from the Executive Director - June 2014


Finding a topic of interest on which to comment proved particularly difficult this month. Not because of a lack of subject matter but of competing interests- between the angst that the new bill amending the Citizenship Act is causing many of us concerned with issues of immigration and citizenship; and the fiercely  fought Ontario provincial election that's just days away, there's much food for thought and commentary here. So I'll indulge myself and write of both.  The Citizenship Bill first.

Yesterday, I appeared as a witness before the Senate's Social Affairs, Science and Technology committee to speak to Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act. Appearing on the same panel were the President and Executive Director of the Canadian Council for Refugees. The panel before us were comprised of two fairly well known lawyers appearing on behalf of themselves, with one in complete opposition to the comments made by OCASI and others concerned with ensuring that changes to Citizenship legislation do not erect barriers but instead hold true to our values as Canadians of generosity, of inclusion and the creation of equal opportunity for all to participate.

While the give and take of debate (the Senate is as partisan as the Parliament) was as expected, with learnings (I hope) happening on both sides, I was particularly struck by an underlying tone of some Senators that immigrants- particularly refugees should be grateful that they've been allowed into Canada and that gratitude should be demonstrated by uncritical support of the decisions of the government of the day. This was not stated explicitly but certainly came through loud and clear especially during an extended discussion on whether citizenship was a right or a privilege. Suffice to say that we agreed to disagree.

The Bill will pass. We know that. No amendments were made to the Bill by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration where the Council also appeared as a witness with the same arguments for changes. It passed in the House with limited debate. We hope that the Senators, our house of sober second thought, listened and heard the very rational and practical suggestions for change- whether its reinstating some recognition of time spent in Canada prior to permanent residency for those going through a two-step immigration process (Live-in Caregivers, International students, Temporary workers who transition through the Canadian Experience Class); maintaining the age range of 18-54 for those who must meet language requirements and write the citizenship test; or deleting the proposal that will have new Citizens sign off on something called “Intent to Reside” which has the potential to curtail mobility rights for naturalized citizens or more seriously lead to charges of fraud (if the new citizen was to move to live abroad for work, study or family obligations) which is ground for revocation of citizenship, these changes should be made to ensure legislation that is fair and workable.
Closer to home, the Ontario election campaign has been raging (and I use that term advisedly) for the past six weeks. With E-day almost upon us, it is time for us to push through the noise emanating from all three of the major parties to see and hear what they're saying on policy files that are pertinent to immigrants and refugees, to women, to those living in poverty in spite of working multiple jobs; to those living with disabilities and to other marginalized and vulnerable groups living in our communities.

As a non-partisan Council, OCASI has stayed outside of the political fray, asking through its work in coalition where exactly the parties stand and what their plans are to address the issues of the groups and communities mentioned above. Where do they stand on immigrant employment, particularly for skilled immigrants; what are their plans to lift families and individuals out of poverty through changes to the minimum wage and adequate income security measures for our aging population?  What about social assistance and supports for re-entry to the job market for those who are able and willing? What about public transit and issues of accessibility? What about employment equity for historically marginalized groups who have faced persistent discrimination in the labour market? What plans do they have for our public education system to ensure that no child, regardless of family income, race, ethnicity, and gender, physical or intellectual ability is left behind?

These are the questions we should be asking those who come to our doors looking for our vote come Election Day. These are the issues we should be discussing with our colleagues, our clients, our neighbours and friends and families. And as folks concerned with issues of progressive change and social and economic justice, we must encourage all who can to vote: To participate actively in our democracy. And for those who don't yet have the right and privilege to vote in this provincial election, raise awareness on the issues in your communities, volunteer on Election Day.  Get engaged!