Evidence of meeting #153 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was newcomers.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Alain Dupuis  Director General, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada
Jean Johnson  President, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada
Kristin Crane  Immigration Liaison, Huron County Immigration Partnership
Dustin Mymko  Community Development Officer/Settlement, Cartwright Killarney Boissevain Settlement Services, Roblin-Cartwright Community Development Corporation
Lily Kwok  Executive Director, Calgary Chinese Community Service Association
Nazifia Hakemy  Program Coordinator, Calgary Chinese Community Service Association
Chantal Desloges  Senior Partner, Desloges Law Group, As an Individual

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair (Mr. Robert Oliphant (Don Valley West, Lib.)) Liberal Rob Oliphant

I am going to call this meeting to order. We have quorum.

This is the 153rd meeting of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in this Parliament. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are continuing our study of settlement services across Canada.

We welcome our witnesses who have come to join us today. We're just partway through this study, gathering information about what we could do to improve settlement services for newcomers to Canada.

I think we will begin with the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada.

Are you Mr. Johnson or Mr. Dupuis?

3:30 p.m.

Alain Dupuis Director General, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada

Mr. Johnson is appearing via video conference.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Yes.

You have seven minutes for your presentation.

Mr. Johnson, you have the floor.

3:30 p.m.

Jean Johnson President, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chair, honourable senators.

First, I want to thank you for having invited the FCFA to testify before you today.

The federation has existed since 1975. It is the national voice for French-language minority communities in nine provinces and three territories. In total, this means 2.7 million people who have chosen French, whether it was their first language or not.

Francophone and Acadian communities are present in all regions of the country and are increasingly diversified. For instance, 29% of the francophone population of British Columbia and 26% of the Alberta francophone population is attributable to immigration. In the Toronto region, more than 50% of young francophones of less than 18 belong to visible minorities.

Immigration is closely linked to the future of francophone and Acadian communities. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, in fact, includes in its objectives the development of official language minority communities.

In addition, the federal government has specific targets for francophone immigration. Among others, in 2018, 4% of economic immigrant men and women had to be francophones who would settle in our communities. That target was not reached. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada advised the FCFA last week that the percentage of francophone immigrants recruited for 2018 barely reached 1.8%. Unfortunately, this shortfall reoccurs every year. And yet, for two decades, our communities have been developing recruitment, settlement, inclusion and the retention of francophone immigrants. However, the tools the government uses to support us in that effort are not adequate.

This is where the link with the study your committee is currently doing resides. The FCFA is not appearing today as a settlement service. We are here to talk about the importance of French-language settlement services for our communities and for the newcomers who choose to settle in them.

Providing settlement services in francophone minority environments is not always the same as providing them to majority anglophone environments. The approach is completely different. Francophone settlement services aim to direct the immigrant toward French-language resources in the community. Their purpose is to ensure we retain the immigrant through the creation of links with the francophone community. This approach reflects the reality of the francophone community and the way it is organized, from the school to the francophone health centres and employment services.

The English-language or bilingual organizations cannot provide settlement services that are closely aligned with the reality of the francophone community. Very often, they do not even direct francophone immigrants toward francophone resources.

That is what happened for a very long time at Pearson Airport. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, in fact, resolved that particular issue by designating the Centre francophone de Toronto as the organization tasked with providing orientation services to francophone immigrants who arrive through Pearson Airport.

That is the type of specific measure we need to develop and strengthen settlement services created by and for francophone communities for the benefit of francophone immigrants.

Because our communities are fully aware of the fact that when they welcome a newcomer, they are welcoming an individual or a family who have chosen to uproot themselves in this major way, the well-being of the newcomers who choose our communities is always central to our concerns.

We recommend that your committee include the following measures in its report to the government.

First, there have to be calls for tender that are designed for francophone settlement services. In this way, our service providers will not have to compete with service providers to the majority, who often have more resources, but often know almost nothing about the minority realities.

Next, as I've just explained, often the francophone organizations that can provide French-language settlement services are small and have few resources. Consequently we recommend that the government prioritize strengthening the capacity of those organizations.

Third, IRCC has identified six types of settlement services provided to immigrants. In the minority francophone environment, we would need a seventh, that is to say a service that would help immigrants create sustainable links with the host community, which would allow them to develop feelings of belonging to that community, live in it in French, and in this way contribute to the growth and vitality of the francophonie.

Fourth, temporary workers and foreign students must also be allowed to benefit from settlement services.

Fifth, with respect to settlement services, I recommend that your committee underscore in its report the importance of a French perspective that takes into account the realities of the linguistic minority.

And finally, although this is not part of your committee's study, I'd like to mention that the government has undertaken to modernize the Official Languages Act. Last month, the FCFA submitted a complete draft bill in this regard. That proposal includes a government obligation to adopt immigration policies that support linguistic duality, which they do not at this time.

Thank you.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Thank you very much, Mr. Johnson.

We're going to continue now with Ms. Crane, from Huron County Immigration Partnership.

3:35 p.m.

Kristin Crane Immigration Liaison, Huron County Immigration Partnership

Good afternoon. My name is Kristin Crane. I am with the Huron County Immigration Partnership. We are located on the shores of Lake Huron, northwest of London and west of Kitchener-Waterloo.

Huron County has a population of just under 60,000 that's spread out over 3,400 square kilometres, and our largest population hub is about 8,000 people.

We are a region in Ontario that has the lowest unemployment rate. We're sitting at about 3%, and the entire area is experiencing a severe workforce shortage.

Huron County received funding from IRCC in 2010, and this was to establish a local immigration partnership. More recently, in October 2017, our county received IRCC-funded itinerant settlement services, and these are delivered to us by the YMCA of Southwestern Ontario.

Our local immigration partnership is part of settlement services; however, it offers indirect services, and that is because the work is done with the service providers rather than with the newcomers themselves. The mandate of an immigration partnership is to create welcoming communities, raise awareness of newcomer needs and bring about better collaboration and coordination of service providers. We're kind of the behind-the-scenes movers.

In Huron Country, we've seen an increase in the number of newcomers mainly because of private sponsorship of refugees. Our county is a destination for secondary migration as those sponsored families are contacting friends and family members who are in urban areas. Therefore, many of our newcomers have low literacy rates, very low English levels and a high level of needs. However, we have very few formal services to offer them.

This is where the volunteer sector fits in. This increase in population is much needed. However the volunteer sector isn't quite equipped to serve all the needs of these refugee families.

The benefit of volunteers is that they do offer a very personalized service and a high level of support. However, they are untrained and they don't usually engage in training because all of their free time is spent helping the families.

We see that the volunteer sector is filling the gaps, but they cannot be replacing the settlement services that we need in our area.

That brings me to talk about some of the gaps that we're experiencing in settlement services in our rural areas. I want to add that it goes beyond Huron County. It's our entire region. I've gotten feedback from a lot of other counties in the area.

The first area is around language. We have a lack of interpretation services, and people must travel an hour and a half to provide those interpretation services in our area, which becomes very expensive to pay for that travel time as well as the cost of the service.

Our English classes are infrequent. They happen on a weekly basis only, and they aren't federally funded, which means that they do not come with funding for child care. They are still very high quality. Again, it's the volunteers who are providing child care so that the parents can attend these classes.

A really large gap that I want to focus on is the youth in our area. The kids are being left very unsupported. None of our schools have SWIS workers—settlement workers in schools—and most of the schools don't even offer the ESL classes. We find that the 10- to 16-year-olds are becoming a very vulnerable population. There are problems with language acquisition, which spills over into some academic barriers. There are social integration issues. They carry heavy responsibility in the family, providing child care for those younger siblings as well as providing interpretation and translation services to their parents, in addition to sometimes having part-time jobs or a lot of work in the home.

What is really significant is that there are not enough peers of a similar ethnocultural group, so this is leading to pretty significant feelings of isolation in our communities.

I want to make a series of recommendations of what I think I could see settlement services looking like in rural areas.

First would be having SWIS workers wherever settlement service workers operate. If the parents are receiving services, the youth should be as well.

Next would be training for the volunteer sector—perhaps mandatory training for those sponsorship groups prior to receiving the families, while they still have time to commit to that kind of training. Another recommendation would be to have more funding for support by the settlement service providers and agencies to train the volunteers on how best to support the newcomers and when to refer them to the formal settlement services. I think this would ensure that appropriate boundaries are set, and it would avoid the volunteer fatigue that many are experiencing right now. It would allow the volunteers to do what they do best, but allow the professionals to step in when that is needed.

I feel that the volunteer sector is what makes rural communities strong. Increasing their capacity makes our communities strong, but I think it will also save the government money.

Thirdly, I would advocate for virtual settlement services. If there are SWIS workers or ESL teachers who cannot come to the students on a regular basis, could they connect virtually or could students join classes elsewhere? There's a big opportunity to better utilize technology. The technology exists in the schools and employment centres. Almost all newcomers have a smart phone and can access the Internet, at least through the libraries in all the rural communities. This doesn't replace the human touch, which is still needed, but it can be a definite add-on to services.

As well, I recommend ensuring that the community connection program is funded in all rural areas as part of settlement services. This program encourages the social, cultural and professional interactions and connections between newcomers and the community. It assists immigrants and refugees to feel connected and engaged in the community, to feel as though it's home. Isolation is a huge factor in rural communities; it is very prevalent. We need to do more programming that brings newcomers together and newcomers to interact with other community members.

Another recommendation is to ensure that settlement services programming includes funding for transportation in rural areas so that newcomers can access the services they desperately need.

Lastly, I recommend that urban service partners that offer interpretation should receive funding to provide those services in rural areas, to cover the travel cost so that interpretation isn't cost-prohibitive, because we know that language is the fundamental barrier to overcome.

I want to focus on a few of the best practices that we've seen in our region.

It is actually the itinerant settlement service model. That's where the settlement services come to the newcomers and the transportation barrier is overcome. It doesn't rely upon maintaining physical buildings, and it's very efficient with its resources. As well, it's very flexible. It's based upon the needs. The appointments are set up as needed, and the location is left up to the newcomers, where it's convenient for them, which usually is in the library in the small communities where people live.

My last best practice would be to involve non-traditional partners in the settlement process—in this case, employers. Our Huron County Immigration Partnership has worked very hard to engage employers as partners and we've had a large success rate of newcomer employment in our area. Employers should be encouraged to adapt their practices to include more involvement in settling their newcomer employees. The growth and the survival of their businesses depend upon the newcomer workforce in many of our rural regions, so the employer should be doing what it can to support that.

As our reputation increases in rural areas as being a great destination for newcomers, we need to take measures that ensure that newcomers have positive experiences and that settlement services can meet their needs. Certainly the approach for settlement services in rural areas is very different from what it looks like in urban centres.

Thank you.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Thank you very much.

Next we'll go to Mr. Mymko, from the Roblin-Cartwright Community Development Corporation.

3:45 p.m.

Dustin Mymko Community Development Officer/Settlement, Cartwright Killarney Boissevain Settlement Services, Roblin-Cartwright Community Development Corporation

Thank you.

Good afternoon. My name is Dustin Mymko, and I serve as the Community Development Officer for the Roblin-Cartwright Community Development Corporation.

Since the federal government took over the settlement services program in Manitoba—in 2013, I believe—we've held the contribution agreements with CIC and IRCC to administer the Cartwright Killarney Boissevain Settlement Services for the communities of Cartwright, Killarney and Boissevain and the surrounding areas.

I act as the community development officer and oversee and deliver settlement services as a part-time, single-person office.

Settlement services are of the utmost importance in our rural communities, and this is especially so in Cartwright and the surrounding Cartwright-Roblin municipality. Our municipality has approximately 1,300 residents, with about 350 of those residing in what was formerly known as the Village of Cartwright.

As with most rural Canadian communities, Cartwright has experienced its share of challenges over the years, but an incredibly strong community spirit, coupled with an intense desire to maintain the viability of our rural life, has led Cartwright to keep its population steady.

The majority of individuals in our community are tied into either agriculture or manufacturing, but our real pride and joy rests with the school. Cartwright has fought over the years to keep our school going, and we are now in our 27th year of funding Cartwright Community Independent School, which allows our students to graduate at home.

The community continually prioritizes the school, and we know that if it were to shut down, it would be the first step towards the decline of our community. The population and tax base would drop, the services would begin to be cut and life as we know it would become that much more difficult to maintain.

As of September 2018, the start of our current school year, our K-to-12 school had 97 students, up from the low 60s a couple of years ago. Forty-eight of those students, or 50% of them, have parents who were not born in Canada.

I fully believe that immigration has been the single biggest factor in the success of our community, and that the provision of settlement services to those newcomers has been extremely beneficial.

Our organization is contracted to provide only the most basic of settlement services: Information and orientation sessions and needs and assessment referrals. Newcomers arrive and we help them get their feet on the ground. We show them how to obtain social insurance numbers, we help them obtain a post office box and set up a bank account, and we introduce them to potential employers and community groups. We assist them in their applications to Manitoba Health and the Canada child benefit program. We get the children enrolled in school and make sure they know about the local English classes.

Once they have all of that out of the way, we're here to assist in overcoming any of the other obstacles they face as they adapt to life in rural Manitoba.

We began our contracts with about 16 hours per week of funding to cover the three communities, which are separated by about 70 kilometres in total. Over the years those hours have been cut back to the 11.25 we have been able to negotiate for this fiscal year. The continual reduction in service hours and overall funding is very challenging and very concerning. We've learned first-hand, many times over, that once services leave our rural communities, they very rarely return.

Recent direction from IRCC ahead of the call for proposals for 2019 is that single-person offices such as ours are no longer a part of the model. We've been urged to pursue partnerships with larger organizations. This initially caused a lot of consternation throughout the sector, especially in our rural communities. There are about seven of us operating as single-person offices in Manitoba, and we felt initial reactions of impending job losses and sudden itinerant service delivery.

Upon further consideration, however, this appears to be an excellent model going forward. The Roblin-Cartwright CDC board weighed our options and we are currently in discussion with Westman Immigrant Services in Brandon to try to carve a new path forward.

This will allow us to reduce our administrative burden, build capacity in our settlement services organization and raise our overall level of service. There are hopes of expanding our services to include the settlement workers in schools program, to bring language training and settlement under one banner, and to add new programming such as conversation circles and mentoring partnerships.

While in a general sense these partnerships are a step in the right direction, there are still some areas that could drastically use improvement, from my experience. The definition of an eligible client, being a person with permanent residency, seems woefully inadequate on both ends of the spectrum.

Our community has seen an increase in temporary foreign workers, both through need from local agricultural producers and manufacturers using the program and through choice. We have immigration consultants who are assisting people in obtaining case type 58 work permits as their pathway into Canada. They're here, they intend to stay permanently, but they don't have the status. On the other hand, once a permanent resident becomes a Canadian citizen, they no longer qualify for the services. They have passed the test, acquired their citizenship and now they're on their own.

Expanding the definition of eligible clients to include temporary foreign workers, who need help as much as and sometimes more than permanent residents, and moving the end point past the arbitrary cut-off of citizenship would go a long way to helping our newcomers, especially in rural communities where other secondary supports like cultural communities are rare.

Another issue facing rural settlement service provision is training and assistance. The single-person offices have very few places to turn when needing to find answers to newcomers issues. Every newcomer comes in the door with a different problem, and sometimes they are wildly specific. As one individual with no manual on hand, the only place to turn has been the IRCC hotline, and it has long been functionally obsolete. Attempting to call that number to help obtain answers for a client's ultra-specific immigration issue has long led to nothing but frustration and defeat.

For years now, rural Manitoba settlement service providers have had to lean on one another for assistance, advice and support. lt works in a pinch, but it really shouldn't have to. Establishing a service-provider-only hotline, where settlement service providers could be advised on how to interpret a certain government form or immigration process, would raise the level of service nationwide.

We are lucky in Cartwright that our member of Parliament has very knowledgeable and very helpful staff who are happy to assist and really are invaluable to the services we provide, but, from speaking to my colleagues, I know that not everybody is in that same position.

ln conclusion, l would like to say that I realize that the cost per client in rural settings is going to be higher than in urban centres, but l would offer that the amount is well spent. Retaining newcomers in rural communities truly is the way to ensure the longevity of these communities. Providing these folks with the supports they need, which they can't get elsewhere, is a big step towards that goal.

Thank you.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Thank you.

Also, thank you to all the witnesses for being so disciplined with respect to your time. I hope our members are as well.

We're going to being for seven minutes with Mr. Tabbara.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Marwan Tabbara Liberal Kitchener South—Hespeler, ON

Thank you for being here today and for advocating for your regions and for economic development through immigration.

As you know, our government has unveiled the pilot program for northern and rural communities. It's a program based on an Atlantic pilot program. I know that communities can apply. I think the application date was early March. Do you think this will benefit rural communities? I know there were certain criteria for you to be selected. Have your regions applied for this and how will it benefit them?

I can start with Ms. Crane, maybe.

3:55 p.m.

Immigration Liaison, Huron County Immigration Partnership

Kristin Crane

I was very excited to see this pilot project launched. It's something I had been hoping for.

Unfortunately, for our region, because of our population size, we were over the 50,000 mark. Then, when it came to the isolation factor, we were not quite isolated enough. At that point, even though we had met the criteria, we had our strategies in place. It was a matter of whether we could move this off to a smaller organization. In our area, none of those smaller organizations felt they had the capacity to submit an application for it, despite the encouragement and support I was willing to offer.

Unfortunately, we weren't able to apply for that. However, I see it as a huge step moving forward, and I think there are probably a few things—some details of the criteria—to be worked out for the future.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Marwan Tabbara Liberal Kitchener South—Hespeler, ON

I think one of the criteria for approval, and correct me if I am wrong, is that the population be under 50,000—

3:55 p.m.

Immigration Liaison, Huron County Immigration Partnership

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Marwan Tabbara Liberal Kitchener South—Hespeler, ON

—and yours was 60,000.

3:55 p.m.

Immigration Liaison, Huron County Immigration Partnership

Kristin Crane

Yes, we're about 58,000 or 59,000.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Marwan Tabbara Liberal Kitchener South—Hespeler, ON

You would probably recommend that there be a buffer or something like that in the population criterion.

3:55 p.m.

Immigration Liaison, Huron County Immigration Partnership

Kristin Crane

Yes. I spoke with a lot of different colleagues in surrounding regions and areas, and they were not able to submit applications either because of those finer points of the criteria. However, from attending our conference and speaking to some colleagues in northern Ontario, I did find out that they were able to apply for it.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Marwan Tabbara Liberal Kitchener South—Hespeler, ON

Mr. Mymko, can you mention that as well?

3:55 p.m.

Community Development Officer/Settlement, Cartwright Killarney Boissevain Settlement Services, Roblin-Cartwright Community Development Corporation

Dustin Mymko

We very excitedly applied for this program. We've been trying to attract newcomers to our community in any way we can for the last decade or so, but the only thing in our power has been building off our newcomer base. Through our community development corporation, we've really worked with the newcomers we have to assist any friends and family to come over.

When we saw this program and saw that we fit all the criteria, we were very happy to apply. We think this will give us the power to help attract more specific newcomers to help fill needs in our community. We think this looks to be a great program so far.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Marwan Tabbara Liberal Kitchener South—Hespeler, ON

Perhaps I can ask our guest on video conference to comment on the same line of questioning.

3:55 p.m.

President, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada

Jean Johnson

I will answer briefly. Perhaps Mr. Dupuis would like to add something afterwards.

There are two challenging factors. For the [technical difficulties] communities, it's a big challenge for our communities. There is an additional challenge...

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Could you wait a minute please? We are having a problem with the interpretation.

Very well, you may continue.

3:55 p.m.

President, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada

Jean Johnson

I was saying that the francophone communities face two challenges. First, in the rural regions, the situation is even more difficult. Our two colleagues have just spoken about the rural issue. In addition, there are even fewer people and that's also a problem.

Mr. Dupuis, did you want to add something?

3:55 p.m.

Director General, Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada

Alain Dupuis

I'd simply like to add that the francophone communities really liked the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program. And so, the communities are favourable to the idea of implementing a program of that type, both in the North and the west.

However, we must reflect on distinct approaches for francophone communities. Their needs are different, as Mr. Johnson said. The communities are much more dispersed. There are a lot of parallels with the rural services. Service providers are often in fact one single person who must serve immense territories. We hope that the new programs will take these particular characteristics into account.

April 10th, 2019 / 3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Marwan Tabbara Liberal Kitchener South—Hespeler, ON

Thank you.

Ms. Crane, you mentioned that you have 3% unemployment, which is fantastic, but I know that many jobs are to still to be filled. You mentioned virtual settlements and that you can use certain technologies to help with resettlement. Can you explain that and elaborate on it a little more?