April 2022 / Toronto - The reported atrocities across Ukraine have added to the urgency to respond felt by Ukrainian and other concerned communities here in Canada.
Since the federal government rolled out the special Temporary Resident pathway- CUAET (Canada Ukrainian Authorization for Emergency Travel) about three weeks ago, over ninety-thousand applications have been received with more than fifty thousand of these applicants applying for the three-year open work permit. Others have applied for student visas. The balance are the children and the elderly.
Social media platforms are filled with complaints about the bottlenecks in the system and persons’ inability to make contact with Immigration Canada (IRCC). One obvious reason for this slow-down in the process is the need to do biometrics security checks before temporary visas are issued. The government has responded to this issue by waiving the biometrics test for seniors and those under 17 and certain visitors. Further measures were included in an April 9 announcement from the Prime Minister.
The second announced special pathway for Ukrainians, an expedited family reunification program, is yet to be rolled out. Apparently Canada Immigration is working with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) to extend the definition of family. Hopefully there will be news on this soon.
The more than three million Ukrainians who have fled their homes and crossed their borders into neighboring countries are refugees by any definition. However, due to the durable solution for their resettlement in Europe, they are not being treated as refugees or displaced persons by Canada. Hence the need for these different pathways.
Unfortunately, our immigrant and refugee serving sector does not have mechanisms in place to receive and refer to other services, large groups of temporary residents (visitors, temporary workers, international students, etc). Individuals and families once they’ve received the temporary permits, book their own flights and determine themselves where in Canada they’ll be heading.
To bring some coordination to this new movement of displaced people arriving as temporary residents, IRCC has contracted Canadian Red Cross to provide registration, reception and referral services at three key ports of arrival for Ukrainians- Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver. Services at the first two began on April 1 with the Vancouver work beginning on April 8. The uptake from Ukrainians has been pretty low as the registration is voluntary- and after hours on a flight into the unknown, having been traumatized by the war and the separation of family, who can blame the arrivals for being less than enthused to have to go through one more process.
The Red Cross has some ideas of how to the make the process a bit more efficient and user-friendly. The inclusion of volunteers from the Ukrainian and Russian speaking communities will also assist in this process. This is important work, as it is one of the few ways we’ve currently identified to get some sense of who is arriving, and where in the country or province they’ll be settling.
For those arriving as Temporary Residents, access to housing, income support, healthcare including mental health and education was an open question for us here in Ontario. Many of these concerns were addressed in a government announcement on April 6. While immigrant and refugee services such as language training, employment search supports, and settlement counselling are covered by the small provincial Newcomer Settlement Program (NSP), after much advocacy, IRCC has also opened up its funded services to Ukrainians arriving as Temporary Residents.
The Ontario Region Ukrainian Response Table, convened and chaired by OCASI is an information clearing house. It is where we raise issues, identify gaps and attempt to find solutions. It is a multi-sectoral table and is representative of the work that is happening in local communities across the province, as our sector and others step up to offer support.
The recently established National Response Table plays a similar role with the focus on overarching issues that are common across the country.
There has been a significant outpouring of support from local organizations, corporate Canada and individual Canadians. The Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) has developed a portal to act as a one stop for financial donations, job offers and large donations of goods and services. It is expected to be rolled out soon.
As with any operations of this size, there are logistical hiccups. There are significant gaps in how we will connect arriving Ukrainians to the supports that they require and information sharing protocols to be worked out given our privacy laws. What is positive is that all who are at the various coordinating Tables are pulling in the same direction with the shared goal of offering the best supports required for a traumatized people.
This is also an opportunity for Canada and Ontario to extend their generosity to other populations. It is unconscionable that non-Ukrainian nationals including Afghans who arrived as refugees in Ukraine, are not able to access the Temporary visa with open work permits (CUAET) offered to Ukrainian nationals. This policy must change. Well known immigration advocate and former provincial and federal Deputy Minister Naomi Alboim and her consulting partner Karen Cohl have recently published an important article on this topic in the Globe and Mail. The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration passed a Motion on April 5 calling on the Minister of Immigration to extend special immigration measures to regions faced with humanitarian crises.
There are other demands and actions required to respond. IRCC must demonstrate that it is responding to its best ability to the almost two million applications from all immigration streams in the backlog. There are thousands of privately sponsored refugees waiting to get the green light to come to Canada. There are babies born without both parents being present because of the separation caused by slow processing of spousal sponsorship applications.
And there are other immigration priorities identified in the Minister’s mandate letter. After decades of consistent and persistent advocacy, we finally have in writing, the government’s commitment to create a regularization program for the tens of thousands of people in Canada without immigration status. People who are undocumented. And while they contribute through their taxes and by giving back in their communities, they have little to no access to our public and community services.
We are pleased to see that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration is holding hearings on racism in the Department. We look forward to presenting our recommendations to the Committee this month on how IRCC can begin to address some of these systemic issues. To borrow and paraphrase my colleagues working on Indigenous sovereignty issues- first truth, then action.
In closing, this is the month in which we celebrate the Singh decision that acknowledged that refugee claimants are covered by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They have access to due process of the law. We celebrated April 4, the thirty-seventh anniversary of this decision reached by the Canadian Supreme Court on that date in 1985. We must guard these wins closely, as the government continues to fight civil society organizations in court about the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement which deems the USA a safe country for those seeking safety, in spite of blatant evidence to the contrary. One only need look at their treatment of asylum seekers coming through their southern border. But we persevere and we continue the fight, providing opportunities for those most impacted by these laws to tell their stories and to lead in our advocacy to have these laws change.
I end this rant in gratitude for a caring and responsive Sector and for those governments who are stepping up to ensure that communities have all that they need to meet their needs and the needs of newcomers regardless of immigration status.
Ramadan Mubarak to my Muslim colleagues and friends.