Evidence of meeting #37 for Status of Women in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was girls.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Nancy Southern  President and Chief Executive Officer, ATCO Group
  • Elyse Allan  President and Chief Executive Officer, GE Canada
  • Bertha Mo  Manager, Counselling Program, Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization
  • Ashley Julian  Member, Youth Council, Assembly of First Nations

4:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, GE Canada

Elyse Allan

We have zero tolerance and a strong ombudsman process so that you have complete privacy with respect to reporting anything, and a complete, open reporting system.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Good, thank you very much.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

Thank you very much.

I would like to thank our two witnesses who shared some very interesting information with us. Thank you very much, Ms. Southern and Ms. Allan. Have a good evening.

We are now going to move on to our second group of witnesses.

We have Bertha Mo from the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization. We will then have Ashley Julian from the Assembly of First Nations. She should be here shortly.

Ms. Mo, it will work like this: you will have 10 minutes, after which your colleague will also have 10 minutes. Then we will have questions.

Madame Mo.

4:20 p.m.

Bertha Mo Manager, Counselling Program, Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization

Thank you very much.

Good afternoon. Thank you for this opportunity to speak before the committee about ways to improve the economic prospects of Canadian girls.

My name is Bertha Mo. I am the manager of the counselling program at OCISO, the Ottawa Community Immigration Services Organization.

Canada is a nation of immigrants and refugees. None of us, except our aboriginal brothers and sisters, originated in this land, so the things I'm saying should not be a surprise, except for the fact that in the last 20 years the demographics of immigrants and refugees have changed. Previous to the last 20 years, most immigrants and refugees came from Europe. Some of them spoke French, some of them spoke English, and some of them spoke other languages. But this has changed. Today, most of our immigrants and refugees don't speak either English or French.

For the last 34 years, OCISO has been providing settlement and integration services in Ottawa. Our mission is to support immigrants through the journey of making Canada their home by providing creative and responsive programs that are culturally and linguistically appropriate, by building community through mutual respect and partnerships, and by fostering healthy and inclusive spaces for open dialogue and healing.

In the last fiscal year we served 30,335 people. Our staff and volunteers speak over 50 languages. Specifically, OCISO provides community integration services, meaning job search, social support for immigrant women, youth, and seniors, housing support, legal aid, and refugee sponsorship. One of our major programs is English language training for adults. We also provide clinical counselling for individuals, families, and couples; in particular, we specialize in those who have experienced war trauma and torture. There is support for students, families, and school administrators through our multicultural liaison officer program. We offer economic development, through our well-known career mentoring program. We also provide volunteer opportunities for newcomers, Canadians, and students.

Here are some national demographics for immigrants and refugees. In 2010 we welcomed 280,636 immigrants to Canada, of whom 25,000 were refugees. I'm going to focus now on the special challenges of immigrant and refugee children and youth. First, there are some national concerns.

These young children 18 and under who we welcome to Canada are under enormous pressure to quickly integrate into the new culture; however, we haven't really thought about the supports that they and their families need. These young people have to resume their studies very quickly. They face a different school system, and in many cases they have to learn a new language. Additionally, the adolescents are under peer pressure to fit in while trying to negotiate their identity between two cultures. We all know that youth in general, but particularly immigrants, experience a very difficult transition from school to work.

Immigrants face greater barriers than their Canadian-born counterparts to acquire the skills and training they need to compete in the labour market. In 2006 the unemployment rate of recent immigrants aged 15 to 24 was 18%, compared with 13.8% among their counterparts in the general population. Furthermore, it is noted that immigrant youth in low-income families may feel compelled to get jobs that conflict with school schedules in order to contribute to family income. This situation creates great stress and compromises their academic progress. Many immigrant and refugee youth work part-time or full-time in addition to attending school and drop out at a higher rate. In 2006 in Ottawa, 14% of young adults aged 15 to 24 who did not complete high school were immigrants and refugees.

There are several ways we can help immigrant youth to stay at school and enter the labour market. These include guidance and tutoring at school, parents’ ability to have jobs so their children can continue studying, income support for working-poor families, and access to recreational programs for youth where they can relax and meet Canadians of their own age, so they can actually develop a level of comfort and belonging in Canadian society. Equally important is adequate access to labour market information, training, and employment programs.

I have spent quite a lot of time in Ottawa high schools. One of the things I have noticed is the real lack of guidance counsellors, who are not only supposed to be providing guidance around behavioural issues and academic excellence, but also counselling on what you are going to do after you graduate from high school. If you can imagine how this situation is impacting all Ottawa youth, think about the impact it has on immigrant and refugee youth whose first language is neither English nor French.

I want to talk about a very successful program at OCISO—the immigrant and refugee program for high-risk youth. Approximately 18% of Ottawa’s youth aged 15 to 24 are newcomers. Of this number, two thirds are immigrants. Pre-migration and post-migration, as well as settlement experiences, places enormous stress on families and directly affects the overall health and well-being of immigrant and refugee youth. The ability of these young people to integrate into society is often negatively affected by difficulties such as gaps in education, dislocation, family disruption, limited prospects for employment, poverty, and discrimination in the community. Personal or intergenerational exposure to war and trauma during the pre-migration period results in re-traumatization when immigrant and refugee youth experience racial discrimination, bullying, and sexual harassment upon their arrival in Canada.

Approximately 20% of the counselling program’s individual clients are youth. In total, 20% of all counselling program clients are survivors of torture and war trauma. OCISO's multicultural liaison officers who are working in Ottawa schools report that immigrant and refugee youth experience the highest rate of suspension from school. The school system and school counsellors find they do not have the language, experience, resources, time, or mandate to respond appropriately to the complex needs of immigrant and refugee youth. Consultation with principals, teachers, guidance counsellors, and MLOs confirm the need for the support project for immigrant and refugee youth.

The goal of the support program is to build a protective support network for youth through the schools and service providers by offering a safe space where at-risk newcomer youth can make a healthy transition and integration into Canadian society while increasing their ability to meet their full-time academic potential.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

Excuse me, Ms. Mo, but your time is up. I could give you a few seconds to wrap up.

4:30 p.m.

Manager, Counselling Program, Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization

Bertha Mo

Okay.

OCISO works with the educational system to actually fine-tune what's already there to accommodate immigrant and refugee youth.

One of the other programs I wanted to mention, which is quite successful, is our career mentoring program.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

Very quickly.

4:30 p.m.

Manager, Counselling Program, Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization

Bertha Mo

This program provides matches between internationally trained professionals and Canadian counterparts. Together, they help the newcomer manoeuvre through the Canadian job market. This is a very successful program and recently we received a small amount of money to actually replicate it for youth.

Thank you very much. I look forward to answering questions.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

Thank you very much, Ms. Mo.

Since our second witness hasn't arrived yet, I propose that we start the period of questions.

Yes, Ms. James?

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

On a point of clarification, has the witness cancelled? If that witness does arrive, will they be given the ten minutes? Is that how it will work?

4:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

Actually, it isn't clear what happens with respect to the other witness. She is probably on the way.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

We will start the period of questions, and when the other witness arrives, we will give her 10 minutes for her testimony.

Ms. Young, you have seven minutes.

May 30th, 2012 / 4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

Ms. Mo, I'd like to thank you very much for coming today and for your presentation. It was very broad and interesting.

I'm a little bit aware of the work of OCISO, having done a fair amount of work on developing settlement programs across Canada, so I want to give you the extra time you didn't have earlier to talk about the career mentoring program. Since you wanted to focus on and share a bit more of that with us but ran out of time, maybe I'll start off with asking you to tell us about it, how long the program has been going, how many people have been through it, and how you measure your success.

4:30 p.m.

Manager, Counselling Program, Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization

Bertha Mo

I have some notes here.

The program has actually been going for about five years. We have worked with 200 Canadian mentors and matched them with internationally trained immigrants. What we try to do is match sectors and even job descriptions. The mentors share their knowledge of the Canadian workplace, cultures, support network development, and advise on job-search prospects. Over 60% of mentees exit the program with jobs in their field, and another 15% pursue further education toward attaining employment goals.

We actually do a lot of informal mentoring at OCISO. I was talking to one of my colleagues about his Burmese community, and he's been one of the supporters of our group counselling program. I always wondered, because we hear that newcomers definitely are not interested in counselling, whether it is group or individual, and he said, “Listen, you have these incredible university graduates. Look at Renée, she has her master's degree and she's been working five years for you. You have Christy and you have Chris and all these are students who have actually manoeuvred their way through university. They're very successful. They did an internship with you and now they're running your support groups. I want my Karen kids to actually spend those eight to 14 weeks with your interns. They're mentors. We don't see you as doing group counselling. What you're running is a group mentoring program.”

I thought, wow.... Because many of our programs are actually designed for individual groups of refugees and immigrants, we're able to tweak them and provide things we might not have thought of. In fact, the immigrant and refugee youth program on the street is actually called career pathways. Because these are also high-risk kids, we don't want to stigmatize them by saying we're really doing mental health counselling.