Evidence of meeting #18 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 housing.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Brian Dyck  National Migration and Resettlement Program Coordinator, Mennonite Central Committee Canada
Majed El Shafie  Founder and President, One Free World International
Leslie Emory  Board Director, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Erica Pereira
Aslam Daud  Chairman, Humanity First
Khim Tan  Senior Program Manager, Immigrant Service Program, Options Community Services
Jessica Ferne  Director of Programs, International Development and Relief Foundation

11:40 a.m.

National Migration and Resettlement Program Coordinator, Mennonite Central Committee Canada

Brian Dyck

From my provincial coordinators, I'm hearing the same thing across Canada, except if there has been an economic downturn in an area, in which case, there is more housing available, which is an unfortunate reality.

When I speak with groups about sponsorship, I will show them what a government-assisted refugee will be getting and tell them that this is their benchmark in terms of what they need to provide support. Inevitably, they'll look at that and say that it's not enough. I'll say that if they think that's not enough, then there are a lot of government-assisted refugees over the years who have had to live on that and have struggled, and that is based on the social assistance levels in their area.

This is not just a problem for Syrians; this is a problem for a lot of low-income people across Canada.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

You call for a national affordable housing program.

11:40 a.m.

National Migration and Resettlement Program Coordinator, Mennonite Central Committee Canada

Brian Dyck

Well, she did.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Ms. Emory did.

Would you agree that's something we need?

11:40 a.m.

National Migration and Resettlement Program Coordinator, Mennonite Central Committee Canada

Brian Dyck

I think this is an opportunity to look at issues of poverty, of housing, other things. It's complicated because a lot of those issues are provincial, and so it's going to take a federal, provincial and territorial discussion, but I think it's something to look at.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Thank you.

National affordable housing is a federal program which ended in 1993. With that being said, perhaps it is time for us to bring back one to address the housing crisis for everyone across the country.

Ms. Emory, on the Syrian resettlement question, you raised the issue, touching on it briefly, around the transportation loan issue, and for other refugees who are without it. Of course, the government made an announcement at the end of February, but for those who were processed at the end of March, for the private sponsors, they will still have that loan waived. Primarily it's because they've already reached their 25,000.

Would you call for a policy for all refugees, that is to say, for everyone to have their transportation, medical costs, waived equitably?

11:45 a.m.

Board Director, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)

Leslie Emory

Yes, for all refugees.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Thank you.

You mentioned in your presentation about the flow of the money and how it could go faster. I know that in organizations in British Columbia, Syrian refugees began to arrive in December. Organizations did not get their money until well into the spring of the following year, and hence they were stuck in a difficult situation.

Is that your experience as well? When did the money actually flow for your organization and others like yours?

11:45 a.m.

Board Director, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)

Leslie Emory

My organization isn't a RAP provider, so we don't get those funds.

However, I think there were some delays of a couple of months. I think it had to do a lot with the amount of time, everything that was happening so quickly.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Thank you.

Ms. Zahid, for seven minutes, please.

June 7th, 2016 / 11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, I'll be splitting my time with Mr. Virani and Ali Ehsassi also.

My question is for Ms. Emory.

Based on OCASI's finding in the February 2016 environmental scan report, it was stated, “Clients who spoke only Arabic...could face difficulties accessing some services, particularly those targeted for people with particular health conditions and for survivors of torture, violence, and human trafficking.” The report goes on to state, “Even with adequate referrals, efforts may be required to ensure the services are appropriate as well as accessible in Arabic.” Moreover, another point brought up was, “Resettlement support should be provided by trained employees and not volunteers.” However, it seems there is a significant lack of trained employees who are proficient in Arabic or other Syrian languages.

Given all of this, how is your organization working to address these issues of language barriers and service accessibility?

11:45 a.m.

Board Director, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)

Leslie Emory

I think it varies by organization.

In our organization, we have over 20 Arabic-speaking workers, and we have added volunteer interpreters to supplement that work. I think it becomes more of a challenge in smaller communities where they may not have the Arabic-speaking settlement workers.

The only other piece, again, is with that large influx of refugees over a very short period of time, there was an increased need for Arabic speakers.

I think agencies did what they could to upscale. They used volunteers if needed, and used their in-house people as well.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Do you have enough employees who can speak Arabic?

11:45 a.m.

Board Director, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)

Leslie Emory

In my agency we do, yes. Across the province, there are pockets where that's not the case.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you.

I'll be splitting my time with Mr. Virani and Mr. Ehsassi.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Reverend El Shafie, it's good to see you again. I was there when you received that citation from the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation for fighting anti-Semitism. Congratulations again on that.

11:45 a.m.

Rev. Majed El Shafie

Thank you.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

You've expressed a lot of concern about who is coming in as GARs, government-assisted refugees, as opposed to who isn't, and with respect to opposing exclusions based on particular religions. I just want to clarify one thing and then ask you a question.

In terms of the UNHCR, the policy of the government has been to use the UNHCR to help in identifying the most vulnerable, and that is a religious blind assessment. There are no stipulations provided to the UNHCR, nor do they provide us with information about how there are this many people in this particular religion.

There was a question on the Order Paper, which was actually presented by my colleague Ms. Kwan, which asked about the policy of the previous government. In response to that question on the Order Paper, it was made clear that the previous government specifically put a stop to receiving individuals from Syria as refugees who were practising the Muslim faith.

I want to ask you about your perceptions and observations about that historic policy of the previous government, in terms of actively excluding one particular religion.

11:45 a.m.

Rev. Majed El Shafie

First, in regard to the UNHCR, I don't think we should count fully and completely on the UNHCR. It's important there are other NGOs that are respected and have high accountability and integrity. I'm not saying not to deal with the UNHCR. I am a refugee that came through the UNHCR. I'm saying it's important that we have as many partners on the ground as possible in order to get the full picture.

You have to understand, and we have to remember, the UNHCR is also a political organization, and they have many political measurements on different issues. My opinion is we cannot put all of our eggs into one basket. That would be point number one.

Point number two, is I am not familiar with the previous government's policy, but if this is true, this would be a shame, and I would not agree with it. It's as simple as that.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Mr. Ehsassi.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Ali Ehsassi Liberal Willowdale, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Once again, I want to thank all the witnesses. The purpose of our committee is to draw on the experience that you bring to the table, and we're eternally grateful that you agreed to appear as witnesses.

I want to follow up on a question for Mr. El Shafie. I think it would be fair to say that most of your testimony related to our conduct in foreign affairs and things of that nature. The mandate of this committee, sir, is to ensure that to the best of our abilities we draw on the experience of various Canadians to make sure as we go forward that we can provide the best services to have people who are coming from Syria benefit from having come here and having success in the long term.

I noted in one section you listed a number of different countries that, regrettably, have been sclerotic in their response to the Syrian crisis. Were you suggesting that we follow their examples and not do anything? I'm not quite sure what the purpose of that was.

11:50 a.m.

Rev. Majed El Shafie

No, I mentioned them because we have to have a dialogue with them for them to do more, as we are. That's what I meant. I meant countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and so on, to speak with their governments to encourage them to do more to help the refugees on the ground similar to what we are doing.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Ali Ehsassi Liberal Willowdale, ON

I would say that we are speaking to the countries in the region. We have been working co-operatively with all of them. That has been an important aspect of our approach to the Syrian refugee issue.

I have a second question. You appear to have some qualms with the religious affiliations of certain people who are coming here. As my colleague, Mr. Virani, pointed out, the process is blind to religious affiliation.

Given that there are 28,000 refugees that have arrived so far, thanks to the efforts of many and the efforts of the government, do you have the figures as to how they break down in terms of religious affiliation?

11:50 a.m.

Rev. Majed El Shafie

Quite honestly, all our information is through our people on the ground. For example, in Jordan, many of the refugees came from the Zaatari camp in Jordan. All our information is from working with different NGOs on the ground and here in Canada. We have been working with a reporter from the CBC in order to get some answers from Global Affairs Canada or Immigration Canada.

I don't have these figures. Do you have these figures?

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

You have 10 seconds, please.