Evidence of meeting #39 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was immigrants.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Sandy Shih  Program Manager, Langley Community Services Society
Patricia Whittaker  Program Director, Centre of Integration for African Immigrants
Paul Mulangu  Executive Director, Centre of Integration for African Immigrants
Andrée Ménard  General Director, PROMIS (PROMotion-intégration-Société nouvelle)
Moussa Guene  Coordinator, Area Employment, Regionalization, PROMIS (PROMotion-intégration-Société nouvelle)
Salvatore Sorrento  Vice-President, English, Folk Arts Council of St. Catharines Multicultural Centre
Noureddine Belhocine  General Manager, Maison Internationale de la Rive-Sud
Anne Marie Majtenyi  Manager, Settlement Services, Folk Arts Council of St. Catharines Multicultural Centre

9 a.m.


The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

This is the 39th meeting of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on Tuesday, December 8, 2009, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), a study of best practices in settlement services.

We have five groups here this morning, which is the most we've had for some time.

I want to thank you all for coming. As is customary, we're going to give you up to 10 minutes for each group--not for each person, or we'll never leave here--which will get us to around 10 o'clock, and then members of the committee may have some questions for you.

Members, because of the large number of groups this morning, each caucus will have only five minutes for questions.

I'm going to ask you to introduce yourselves.

I'll start with the Langley Community Services Society program manager, Sandy Shih.

You have up to 10 minutes.

9 a.m.

Sandy Shih Program Manager, Langley Community Services Society

Thank you.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

My name is Sandy and I'm the Program Manager for Multicultural and Immigrant Services of the Langley Community Services Society.

I am a first generation immigrant in Canada. I was like an elementary school student when I arrived in Canada in 1996. I have learned English and a new culture here, even though at times I felt like I was learning how to cross a street. As you can see from my immigrant story, people believe that Canada is the best place, where everyone’s dreams can come true.

The purpose of the program is to assist and support new immigrants and refugees in a smooth transition to settlement in the Langley area. We help clients with their problems in filling out forms and applications, in five different languages: Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish, and for the Karen refugees. In our program, only the Karen settlement worker and I are full-time staff. The other workers work part time only.

We provide orientation to newcomers, such as information on housing, banking, transportation, schools, and family doctors. We help clients apply for their SIN card, MSP premium assistance, child care subsidy, and EI, and we also help them to renew their PR card or apply for citizenship and/or a passport.

We offer citizenship classes in Mandarin.

We do referrals to free English classes, ELSA. In the Langley area, the only ELSA provider is New Directions. They impart the ELSA program, but only levels one, two and three. If newcomers need level four or five, they have to go to other cities, such as Surrey or Abbotsford.

It’s very inconvenient for them to travel to other cities to get the ELSA program, so we provide ESL services in our agency. For new immigrants, the biggest problem is the language barrier. We have beginner, upper beginner, intermediate, and upper intermediate ESL classes. We also have conversation, reading, and advanced classes, as well as a Korean children’s class.

There are five support groups in our programs, covering the Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish, and Karen refugees who access our offices. There are one or two seminars or workshops every month to help them get more information so they can go about their daily lives.

Our buddy program promotes cultural understanding between Langley residents and immigrants and also provides an opportunity for newcomers to learn more about Canadian society, culture, and history.

We provide income tax services to our new immigrants and low-income families. Every year we send volunteers who speak different languages to the Canada Revenue Agency to get more income-tax training and to get the software from CRA.

Before I moved to Canada, I was a computer systems analyst for an IT department at the Taiwan national revenue agency. I worked there for more than 13 years. I know that all of our settlement workers had to renew their knowledge of the income tax information. We understand that income tax services are very important to our clients, who came from different countries with different tax systems. We served 420 clients last year in the two months of March and April.

For social activities and recreation, we have tai chi, tai chi sword, chi kung, and international folk dancing classes, which are very popular recreation classes for new immigrants. We encourage newcomers to attend community activities like Langley’s International Festival, the East Indian Diwali Festival, the Baha’i Festival, and our Multicultural Lunar New Year.

We also have a good relationship with community leaders. For example, I am the current president of the Fraser Valley Taiwanese Association.

We provide interpretation and translation services to immigrants and third parties like Langley's Douglas Recreation Centre, the Langley School District, employment services, Service Canada, and the Christmas bureau).

For immigrant employment services, we provide orientation and seminars, help clients write resumes and cover letters, or refer them to Langley community employment services, but there are only English services in Langley.

The Safe Harbour program is a provincial program funded by the B.C. government. Our tag line for Safe Harbour, “Respect for All”, includes all segments of a population that is rich with diversity.

On Karen refugee services, there are 55 families or 350 individual Karen refugees from Burma who have been living in Langley since last year in the apartments just across the street from our agency. For Karen people, language is the biggest barrier, along with long-term diseases, transportation, and job searches. Some families still do not have a family doctor. They need an outreach worker to help them with translations and interpretation.

We have only one Karen settlement worker, who helps by providing basic life skills workshops for the Karen community. With their limited English, it’s very hard for Karen people to find a job. Most of the job offers they receive are due to connections, volunteering, and shortcuts. They need skills training and long-term jobs.

We have another project for children from zero to six years, the early years refugee pilot project, which provides intensive early childhood development support as well as orientation and assistance in settlement.

We have a new one-year project that started at the end of September and is called the senior immigrants and refugees program. We offer seniors information workshops on H1N1, old age security pensions, health and wellness, cultural celebrations, and individual support and referral. The program is delivered in five cities in Greater Vancouver: Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford, Mission, and Maple Ridge. Langley's is the only agency to provide senior immigrant and refugee services. We offered more than 10 activities in the two months of October and November.

Today, I have to say thank you to my supervisor and our executive director, Bill Dartnell, and to the two mayors, Mr. Fassbender, from the City of Langley, and Mr. Green, from the Township of Langley. I always got a lot of support from them. I'm very appreciative of all the settlement workers. Not only do they have settlement knowledge, but they also work with passion and consideration.

9:10 a.m.


The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Ms. Shih, you have up to one minute.

9:10 a.m.

Program Manager, Langley Community Services Society

Sandy Shih

That's okay. I'm finished. Thank you.

9:10 a.m.


The Chair Conservative David Tilson

You're finished? I hope I didn't throw you off.

Thank you very much for your presentation.

The next presentation is from the Centre of Integration for African Canadians. Paul Mulangu is the Executive Director and Patricia Whittaker is the Program Director.

Welcome to both of you. You have up to 10 minutes. Thank you for coming.

9:10 a.m.

Patricia Whittaker Program Director, Centre of Integration for African Immigrants

Good morning. I'm Patricia Whittaker. I just have a correction. It's the Centre of Integration for African Immigrants.

9:10 a.m.


The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Oh, I'm sorry.

9:10 a.m.

Program Director, Centre of Integration for African Immigrants

Patricia Whittaker

That's quite okay.

I'm the program director at the centre. The funding we receive is through the employment assistance services program, which is under the Ministry of Housing and Social Development. We're located in New Westminster, British Columbia.

I found it challenging to talk about best practices, because there are so many issues that our clients have to go through before we can actually get to a ground-base of being able to say that we have established best practices. However, I'll start with what does not work.

The centre is funded not for settlement services, but to provide job search workshops for clients. However, we know fundamentally that in order for a client to come in and feel settled enough to start looking for work, there are other fundamentals in that client's life that need to be addressed. These are such things as languages, housing, education, and legal help.

Many of our clients are refugees coming from refugee camps. Many of these are families whose kids have never been in a formal education system, yet when they arrive in Canada, they are placed in the education system based on age, not scholastic ability. Many of them don't speak English, so basically this system is setting them up for failure. If a 13-year-old arrives in Canada and is placed in grade 8, let's say, with no language skills, naturally we can see what's going to happen.

We find that many of our clients are traumatized after coming from what are perhaps war-torn areas, and therefore, again, they're not settled enough to find work. We, not being funded for settlement services, have to work with them to find legal help and to find organizations that can help them deal with the trauma from which they have just arrived.

Again, these are things that we're not funded for.

Among a few things that work, one is the ability to have staff present who speak the languages of the clients whom we serve. We currently have nine staff members. I speak some French and Spanish. I have staff who speak Arabic and Swahili. I also have my colleague, Paul, who speaks approximately 11 other African languages. When we first started, our clients were primarily from Africa. Now we see everyone--Chinese, Russian, Korean, you name it, they all come.

The reason why they come to our services versus any others is primarily because they say they feel very much at home. This is one of the things that we feel is very important in settlement services: the ability to self-identify, to be able to access services from people who fundamentally understand your values, who look like you, in many instances, and who can speak the language of the service that you're demanding. I'll now pass it over to Paul.

9:15 a.m.

Paul Mulangu Executive Director, Centre of Integration for African Immigrants

To demonstrate about devolution and also what it meant to come to Canada, at the time I came here, I just had this bag. They said, “This bag is green” and “What colour is the big bag?” The green is the bag or the green is the material or the green is what...? A lot of immigrants come to Canada without really knowing what the nature is of a lot of the language here.

The resettlement programs come with a problem of devolution. Devolution is the federal government dumping money on a provincial government. In British Columbia, everything is ethnic; now, if you are a small community, you don't have access to the funding under resettlement counselling. When resettlement counselling comes to a community... If somebody comes to this country, where he goes is into the community, to find trust, because that community can tell him where to go. Also, there is the language. It is not only that people at the centres speak French, but how, because there are so many different kinds of French: Quebec French, Parisian French, African French, Congolese French, and Cameroon French, all of them. We need to decode, to tell the person what is the meaning of a lot of things so he can integrate in Canada.

An example is Canadian experience. You come to Canada and they ask you, “Do you have Canadian experience?” I don't have a job. How can I have Canadian experience? That's why I demonstrated this bag to you, to say that a lot of things about the time... They can explain to you about how to go and volunteer, Now, how are you going to volunteer and pay your rent? Some of us, like me, came from a refugee camp to Canada. I owe the money for transportation. Now, with the time I use to go to volunteer, how am I going to repay the money for transportation?

There are all those kinds of things. It's where the bad practice is. This is how I demonstrate the downloading of this resettlement money to the community, because if the money goes to the community, there's a resettlement counsellor there, and at least they understand that they can go to the big communities. If the small communities have no funding, there's no knowledge like in the big communities, and, for a lot of people, failure.

Thank you very much.

9:15 a.m.


The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thanks to both of you.

The next group is from PROMIS, PROMotion-intégration-Société nouvelle.

Andrée Ménard and Moussa Guene, thank you for coming. The two of you have up to 10 minutes to speak.

9:15 a.m.

Sister Andrée Ménard General Director, PROMIS (PROMotion-intégration-Société nouvelle)

Thank you.

Good morning. Thank you for your invitation. We come from Quebec, therefore we will be presenting in French. Is that okay?

Our organization provides support for the integration of refugees and immigrants and advocates for their rights, in the context of social development. I myself lived in Japan for 25 years and I thought I would live there my whole life. I loved that country and I had integrated into another culture. I am from Montreal. When I came back to Quebec I observed that it was a cultural mosaic. I thought to myself that the whole world was in my backyard and that together we should be building a society. Our organization is 20 years old. Last year, 8,000 individuals used one of our services and participated in one or more of our activities. Our centre provides services in 16 languages by very devoted, qualified and professional individuals. We are very passionate and we want to build a society with people from everywhere.

Immigrants experience the difficulties that come with arriving in a new country. Language isn't always a barrier but it can be for some. However, isolation affects all of them. Poverty, and difficulty in finding a job in one's field are also very common problems. Over the years we have developed a holistic approach. I think that is what makes us unique. In order for people to be able to settle, help has to be provided to the father, the mother, and the children. Everyone has to be taken care of in Quebec.

In Quebec, we have classes for newcomers. They're not perfect but they can help children and students learn another language. They can take courses. It's not easy but it's very useful. We also have front-line services. These individuals have to be informed about public institutions and how these things function here. They also have to learn how our social systems work. They have to learn French, of course, and the history of Canada or Quebec, if they settle in Quebec. They also have to become familiar with the manners and customs of their new society. Several require translation, accompaniment and all the other services that have already been referred to. Ultimately, these people cannot become integrated if they can't find a job in their professional area. This situation is truly not easy.

We are very involved at all those levels. Our program is called an integrated program. There are three sectors. The integration sector includes an accompaniment program for newcomers. A file is opened for the individual and we determine what their needs are. We then direct them towards the resources they require, whether it be within our own organization or elsewhere. For this to work, we work with many other people. We need to work with partners because our services are complementary. We always find an answer to a need.

We also provide group activities, various sources of information, and information sessions. Some of these support integration and settlement, and others target adapting to the workplace. I brought you an activity report. I also have documents that I can leave with the clerk. You can read them if you're interested.

We need to offer more than a welcome and settlement program because these individuals face many other problems. That is why we offer a family support program, which is delivered by one paid employee and volunteers who speak many languages. We delve deeper into the problems these people face. First of all, we provide moral support. All those who work in the area of integration know that this is extremely important. Everyone offers this type of support but this sector focuses on it even more so. We go to the heart of the problems. We may go into these people's homes, to help the grandfathers, the grandmothers, the children, everyone.

We feel that volunteering is truly a way of becoming integrated into a society. On average we have about 300 volunteers and half of them are newcomers. Volunteering helps direct them to jobs. Of course, it does not pay the rent, as a previous speaker pointed out, but it does give access to a network. It can be one's first work experience. In Quebec, a volunteer can get letters of reference which can be useful when the time comes to meet an employer.

We strongly encourage volunteering for newcomers. We provide many kinds of information and socio-cultural activities to support integration. People need to learn how to have fun and to go out as a family or alone. This is what the integration sector does. We also do group cooking and other activities that support integration.

The employment and regionalization sector provides employment support. The purpose is to provide immigrants with job search support, whether they be from a visible minority or not, whether they have credentials from here or from abroad, from a college or university, and regardless of how long they have been here.

This sector also provides support for helping individuals deal with the problems they have in finding a job that corresponds to their own goals and to the labour market's needs, and helps them learn the basics and keep their jobs.

Our counsellors frequently contact businesses in order to help them understand the value in hiring immigrant labour, who make up a significant pool of potential employees. These are qualified and highly motivated people. I can assure you that it works. We manage to find jobs for 100 people each year and the retention rate is 85%. We need skilled staff to do this. We are fortunate to have a certain amount of stability in this area which is enormously helpful.

In order to succeed in all our endeavours, we need to have a common vision. Our staff has to share a common vision and respect the values that are important. These values are: independence, empowerment, respect for differences, empathy, equality, inclusion, openness, mutual assistance and solidarity. We encourage independence from the very outset.

Within our integration sector we also have a regionalization program for secondary migration, involving people who have already settled in Montreal or are about to.

I will now give the floor to my colleague, Moussa, because he is the one responsible for that sector. I will then speak after him.

9:25 a.m.

Moussa Guene Coordinator, Area Employment, Regionalization, PROMIS (PROMotion-intégration-Société nouvelle)

Regionalization involves encouraging newcomers who have been in Quebec for 0 to 5 years to choose a destination other than the greater metropolitan area, that is Montreal, Longueuil and Laval, the former two areas being just outside Montreal. Montreal's diversity makes it one of the 10 most interesting cities in the world.

There is a political will to spread this immigrant wealth throughout the province. There is a program that involves accompanying these individuals into 17 different administrative regions in Quebec and working with other organizations involved in employability, hosting and settlement. There is a lot of talk about employment, which is key, but which is not the only important factor. There are also all the social and integration factors. In order to be able to receive these people successfully, there has to be awareness-raising in their environments.

9:25 a.m.


The Chair Conservative David Tilson

You have one minute left.

9:25 a.m.

General Director, PROMIS (PROMotion-intégration-Société nouvelle)

Sister Andrée Ménard

We could speak for a long time on this. We also help children. Our Saturday school has been acknowledged as being an innovative and exemplary project. We have 160 children and 160 volunteers. There is therefore one person per child. In the area of education, we provide French courses to adults, part-time and full-time, at various levels.

This integrated program meets the needs of the whole family. We have skilled and well-trained staff. Given that immigration levels are increasing, more services have to be provided. We specialize in newcomers. However, 74% of our clientele—

9:25 a.m.


The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Perhaps you could wind up, please. Thank you.

9:25 a.m.

General Director, PROMIS (PROMotion-intégration-Société nouvelle)

Sister Andrée Ménard

Permanent residents make up 74% of our clientele but we also work with many people who have another status. We need to take care of refugees. I'll leave you on that note. You can ask us questions. Thank you very much.

9:25 a.m.


The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you. You did it.

Thank you for your presentation.

The next group is the Folk Arts Council of St. Catharines Multicultural Centre. With us we have Salvatore Sorrento, the vice-president, English, and Anne Marie Majtenyi, who is the manager of settlement services.

Welcome to both of you. You have up to 10 minutes. Thank you for coming.

9:25 a.m.

Salvatore Sorrento Vice-President, English, Folk Arts Council of St. Catharines Multicultural Centre

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good morning, Mr. Chair, honourable committee members, staff, and ladies and gentlemen.

I'd like to proceed directly to three examples of best practices successes at our centre, if I may.

The first would be the delivery of settlement services. This is generally the point of first contact for many of our newcomers. Newcomers often come to us in crisis mode. Staff members deal with issues like separation anxiety, housing, and employment concerns and many others.

Staff are prepared, and they offer services, support, options, and appropriate referrals to programs and to community services/resources once clients' concerns have been assessed in a case-by-case evaluation. Often for our newcomers, meeting with settlement workers is the first step towards successful integration into our community. Oftentimes, after clients have been settled within our community, they have referred to our centre as their first home.

The second example would be the delivery of English as a second language. There is a positive correlation between the level of understanding of the English language and easier integration, acculturation, and acclimatization into our community. Critical survival skills are acquired from reading, writing, listening, and speaking. This makes the transition into the community much easier.

As Paul pointed out, a perfect example is that bag. A newcomer looks at that and sees green, but what does “green” refer to? Is the colour of the bag? Is it another program? What does it mean?

The third example is the production of the Niagara Folk Arts Festival, which is Canada's oldest continuously running heritage festival. It's generally a 17-day celebration that promotes, recognizes, and respects multiculturalism.

There are several highlights to this festival, one being the ambassadors' ball, where multicultural club members choose ambassadors to represent them year round at various events promoting their heritage. I should say that we have approximately 33 multicultural club members affiliated with our centre, so there is a connection there.

We have opening ceremonies and a parade in which where ambassadors and club members can march from our centre to the front steps of city hall--it's a short march--where the opening ceremonies are officially declared.

The third highlight would be the citizenship ceremonies where former clients and newcomers are actually sworn in as new Canadians, which is really a fantastic thing, and that's right at our centre.

The next highlight would be the approximately 26 open houses that are hosted by our club members, again celebrating and promoting multiculturalism through entertainment, traditional cuisine--food is always involved, of course--and artifact displays.

Then there is the final event, culminating in a local venue at the end of the festival.

What better way to demonstrate annually the ultimate settlement and successful integration of no less than 30 different multicultural groups in the area who have called St. Catharines/Niagara home for decades?

I'd like to move directly to programs that are offered at the centre. There are youth host programs, job search workshops, ESL LINC, child-minding services, and settlement services. All of these programs are funded in whole or in part by the federal government and CIC. What the government is providing us is crucial to our centre.

I'm going to go to recommendations and closing remarks.

We recommend to the committee that it implore the government to continue to fund centre programs that help newcomers integrate into St. Catharines/Niagara.

We ask you to please be cognizant of the softer skills programs, such as counselling, emotional support, and life skills training.

We ask the government to continue to respond to the special needs of refugees. Our centre in St. Catharines is located near the largest port of entry for refugees in Canada, the municipality of Fort Erie, which is about a 25-minute automobile drive from our city. Refugees may require more extensive education, training, retraining, and emotional support since many of them have suffered from violence and trauma.

We recommend that the government support professional development for staff to better serve our clients.

The last recommendation is that consideration be given to a program that deals directly with immediate outreach services support and assistance to clients upon arrival in their host community. My understanding is that there is such a program. I believe it's the RAP, for government-sponsored refugees. We're looking at something to serve the newcomers as well.

The federal government, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and the Department of Canadian Heritage fund more than 90% of our programs. All of our programs assist newcomers to make an easier transition to life in St. Catharines/Niagara, Canada, without the duplication of services at our centre.

At the centre we respect, love, promote, celebrate, and live plurality. The government is doing an outstanding job in supporting programs. Without the support of the federal government and all stakeholders, our centre would not exist.

There's an open invitation to honourable committee members and staff to contact any of our board members or any of our staff after we present today if you require any further information.

Thank you.

9:35 a.m.


The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you for your presentation, sir.

The final speaker this morning is Noureddine Belhocine, who is the General Manager of Maison Internationale de la Rive-Sud.

You have up to ten minutes, sir.

9:35 a.m.

Noureddine Belhocine General Manager, Maison Internationale de la Rive-Sud

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. I'd like to start by thanking you for having invited us to testify before your committee. I'm very pleased to be here.

I'm going to talk to you about our organization which is located on the south shore of Montreal, in Brossard. We are a community organization made up of approximately 25 people, professionals working full time in the intake and integration of immigrants. Our organization is 35 years old. In fact, we'll soon be celebrating our 35th anniversary over the coming months, and we belong to a network of community organizations that are located in the Greater Montreal area and throughout Quebec. There are organizations involved uniquely with immigration that have been around for a very long time. I think this is a unique characteristic of Quebec, compared to the rest of Canada and to the rest of the world.

The organization's mission is to welcome and support the integration of immigrants, but also to create intercultural bridges. That is the hardest task of course. The third part of our mission is to advocate for immigrants' rights from the day of their arrival, and for their training. Our organization's mission is therefore threefold.

From the very beginning, our organization wanted to provide a type of single window for immigration services. When I say single window, I mean that the organization offers practically all the services that are necessary for newcomers. That involves language training, employment assistance, integration, and social services, as well as other services. Besides these fundamental services, we also create projects. Our organization often operates on a project basis in order to meet, when possible, particular requests or particular needs on the part of our clients, whether they be youth, or immigrant women, to help them, for example, integrate into decision-making networks, decision-making centres. For example, we assist young immigrants, along with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, to find jobs very quickly. We therefore have an enormous number of projects. On average, we have four or five ongoing projects that may be repeated or that may change from year to year.

We are located in the Montreal south shore area which is an area that is receiving more and more immigrants for various reasons. People leave downtown Montreal in order to settle on the outskirts, whether that be the south shore or the north shore. This is a phenomenon that we have observed. Therefore we are feeling more and more pressure because we are the only organization providing general services in our area. We have sister organizations that are more specialized, for example, a small organization that is responsible for the Chinese community or an organization that provides specific activities and deals with immigrants. However, we are the only comprehensive organization that deals specifically with immigration. Obviously, we are starting to feel the pressure of increasing demand and our resources, our means, our expertise and our ability to intervene are not increasing at the same rate as demand. This is a serious problem.

We welcome approximately 2,000 clients per year, approximately 50% of those are new clients and 50% are former clients who continue to use our services for several years, actually. Within those clients, we deal with a specific category, that of state refugees. These clients are more fragile than the others given their migratory background. They come from refugee camps throughout the world. They arrive under emergency circumstances having experienced very dramatic, rather tragic, situations over the past few years. These clients arrive here, come to see us, and, in partnership with the Government of Quebec, we settle them in the region.

Generally, our clientele is made up firstly of a large group of people of Chinese origin, people from Afghanistan, Latin America and the Middle East, in that order. Our organization finds funding in all kinds of ways, but not enough funding. Our one million dollar yearly budget comes from the Government of Quebec, the federal government and a variety of organizations that support us financially for individual projects. I will come back to the issue of funding but it is a serious problem for organizations that support integration and that have suffered from chronic underfunding for years.

In Quebec and throughout Canada, immigration levels are rising and integration issues are becoming more and more complex. If you look at the issue as a spectrum, as my colleagues pointed out, it is an issue that brings into play other issues of economic integration, employment, family, young people, isolation, etc. Therefore if we are serious about helping individuals integrate as quickly as possible so that immigration becomes a resource and not a problem for society, then we have to rethink funding in order to make these organizations professional organizations and give them the means and the tools to be able to intervene appropriately.

The problems related to immigrants, to the clientele that we deal with, are problems that have already more or less been raised here. First, there are the issues of access—in my view this is fundamental—to public services. Integration cannot happen without public services playing an important role. To the extent that they produce equality, these are the services that grant equality of access to resources and wealth. They also produce meaning. And yet, overall, whether because of language reasons or lack of knowledge about the system, immigrants have very little access to public services, which are, by definition, integrating factors. If immigrants or other sections of a population are excluded from access to public services, then there is a serious problem.

There is also a language training problem. There are government programs to assist people in learning French and English as quickly as possible. However, there is room for improvement. As long as people are not familiar with one language or, ideally, two, they will experience problems in finding work and having access to other resources in our society.

Another serious problem is that of social isolation which was raised earlier. Immigration represents a fracture in a path, in a life. People have broken with the social network they belonged to previously and they have come here to begin a new network. The problem is that if we do not help them quickly create a new network in society, a social network, a network of mutual assistance and well-being, then there is a risk of turning inwards, and of cultural, social and urban ghettos being created. That is a serious problem.

As I already pointed out, we have a holistic approach but we try to help people become independent as quickly as possible, through employment programs and other programs even if those are, of course, insufficient.

9:45 a.m.


The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Monsieur Belhocine, you have one minute.

9:45 a.m.

General Manager, Maison Internationale de la Rive-Sud

Noureddine Belhocine

I will conclude by saying that recently, we have held retreats, days of reflection, at the Maison internationale de la Rive-Sud. We have understood that given the problems related to integration, it might be preferable for an organization such as ours to play a leveraging role with other stakeholders, because everyone has to participate in the integration of immigrants, and rather than be the only ones involved with clients, we have to help others to become involved with these clients. These other groups would be community service networks, and especially, government services.

Thank you.

9:45 a.m.


The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thanks very much to all of you. You've all given us an excellent summary of the things you do and the problems you have, and you have all made recommendations to the committee.

We'll now have five-minute rounds of questions. We will start with Mrs. Mendes.

9:45 a.m.


Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thanks to all of you.

I'd like to start by welcoming Mr. Belhocine who is the director of the organization where I worked for 15 years. I'm very happy that he has come here today. I would also like to welcome Sister Ménard, whom I've known for a long time. I truly appreciate your appearance here today because I think that immigration is unique in Quebec, compared to other provinces, as it is directly funded by the province.

Sister Ménard, you talked about complementary integration services. I'd like you to expand on that.

How do you see public services as being complementary? Mr. Belhocine also mentioned that settlement organizations can act as a lever to complement services that are available in the host society.

9:45 a.m.

General Director, PROMIS (PROMotion-intégration-Société nouvelle)

Sister Andrée Ménard

That is very important, that is truly the key to success. And that is why, for example, as soon as students start their French classes, in the very first week, we let them know in several languages about the other services, such as public services that are offered in their neighbourhood, in order that they access them from the very beginning.

As Mr. Belhocine stated, in Quebec we are organized within very tight networks. We are connected to complementary community organizations such as those responsible for housing. There are ministerial/NGO committees for almost all related areas, such as employability, ROSNA for intake and settlement. We are therefore in direct contact with fairly senior people in government in order to be able to discuss problems and find solutions together. We don't always find solutions but at least we have a place where we can talk about them. It is absolutely essential that from the very outset, newcomers be aware of public services as well as public systems.

Does that answer your question?