Evidence of meeting #88 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 language.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Shannon Smith  As an Individual
Mohamed Al-Adeimi  Director, Newcomer Settlement Services, South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre
Omar Khoudeida  As an Individual
Rania Tabet  Services Manager, Interpretation and Translation Services, Cultural Interpretation Services for Our Communities
Benjamin Chacon  Executive Director, Interpretation Services, Cultural Interpretation Services for Our Communities
Lola Bendana  Director, Multi-Languages Corporation
Shauna Labman  Assistant Professor, University of Manitoba, As an Individual
Louisa Taylor  Director, Refugee 613

8:50 a.m.

Liberal

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

Good morning. I call to order this 88th meeting of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. This is our third meeting, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), to consider resettlement issues related to Yazidi women and girls and associated topics that have been coming to the committee's attention.

Our hope is to provide an update to Parliament on the government's process in bringing Yazidi refugees to Canada, as well as how the refugees are doing in Canada. Even though we have been doing this project for a very short period of time, we feel it's important to update Parliament on this topic.

We'll also go into other related topics. As topics arose in our first two meetings, members of the committee suggested other witnesses who may shed some light to help us understand why there are some settlement issues and how we can help the government do better.

We'll begin with a video conference from Calgary. Thank you for getting up very early in Calgary. We're going to start with Shannon Smith.

8:50 a.m.

Shannon Smith As an Individual

Good morning, Mr. Chair and committee members. Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you.

I met the Morad family earlier this spring. They're a Yazidi family. It's a seven-member household headed by Gule, who is in her early thirties. She is responsible for an elderly mother, a severely disabled adult sister, and four girls between the ages of five and 13.

Gule herself was held captive by ISIS and horrifically abused, as was her young daughter. All the male members of their household were murdered: her husband, her father, her brother, her uncle, and her infant nephew. They witnessed many of these murders. One surviving male family member, Gule's brother, is now in northern Iraq in a refugee camp waiting to come to Canada. He is desperate to come and help them.

Because of all this trauma and current stress, I've seen little or no progress in Gule's ability to learn English over the last seven months or so. She's been taking classes. She's been attending regularly and trying very hard, but I believe the stress and the trauma are preventing her from learning English.

Her oldest daughter in particular is struggling as well. She loves school, but she's filled with anxiety. On the first day of school in September, she was attending a new junior high school. She had to walk several blocks and take two buses to get there, and she became very overwhelmed. She and her mother decided she would no longer be put through that, and so she stopped attending school after the first day. Just before Thanksgiving in October, I happened to stop by the house during the day and found the 13-year-old at home. I asked Dunia what she was doing at home. She told me the situation. I asked her if she wanted to go to school. She fell to her knees crying and shaking and saying she wanted to go to school but didn't know how.

I immediately went back to work and phoned the principal of the school, who was absolutely amazing. He was mortified that this had happened and called an emergency meeting that evening. The next morning and every day since, Dunia has been picked up by a taxi and taken to and from school. But she went 40 days without attending school, crying at home, and nobody noticed. There were no calls from the school. I don't say this to criticize the school. They handled it very well in the end, but I don't understand how that happened to this little girl.

They have some wonderful volunteers in their lives who have done a really good job of taking them on outings, but it's very difficult. One of the issues is that the severely disabled sister, who has some form of cerebral palsy it seems, cannot walk, cannot communicate. She's absolutely housebound. They've been here for seven to nine months, and there is no wheelchair access in or out of the home. It's up to these very slight women to try to carry her down cement steps in and out of the house. I don't understand how that happened. I'm working with volunteers to try to get a ramp installed.

Gule was sold hourly as a slave to members of ISIS for months. She is very traumatized. The daughter is very traumatized. They wake up in the night crying and screaming. When I go to visit, the elderly mother spends much of her time weeping with her apron over her head. She has flashbacks. She relives memories over and over. I'm really uncertain as to the kind of mental health help this family is getting. I know there were some group sessions early on—Gule told me that—but translation services were cut off for the family six months after they arrived here, so mostly how I communicate with them now is through pictures and acting things out. I've seen very little progress in mental health as well. Kifshe, the elderly mother, will not leave her disabled daughter's side, so she is not getting out either.

I asked Gule what she would like me to tell the committee. She said, “Please, please, my sister and my mother need fresh air. They need to get outside. We need a ramp. We need help.” The other thing she told me was, “Please, why is my brother not allowed to come to Canada?” It's almost a year that he's been waiting, and I don't have a good answer for her as to why this fully capable, willing-hearted, adult man has not been brought to help this family.

I asked the 13-year-old daughter, Dunia, what she would like me to tell the committee. She said, “Please bring my uncle. We need help. My mom needs help.” She said, “Please bring my father as well”, which alarmed me, because I knew that Dunia knew her father had died. I asked Gule why she was asking to bring her father. Gule told me that she's not doing well. From what I can tell, Dunia is really deteriorating. She's regressing. Gule doesn't really know how to express this to me, so please forgive these words, but this is what Gule said to me, “Please, I'm crazy. My daughter is crazy. We need help.” I know they're not crazy, but I know that's the only way she knows how to express herself. They realize they are in mental distress, and they do need help.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

I'm going to need you to draw to a close very quickly.

8:55 a.m.

As an Individual

Shannon Smith

Okay.

One of their sources of help is a very elderly neighbour, who is really ill-equipped to help them.

I have so many questions. Why have they had no opportunity to gather with other Yazidi families? Why are mental health needs not being met? Why is this home not wheelchair accessible? Why isn't the brother able to come? How is she going to learn English with all this trauma and stress?

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Thank you very much.

I think you'll get a chance during the question period to add comments.

We'll go now to Mohamed Al-Adeimi in London, Ontario, who is joining us via video conference as well.

You have seven minutes.

8:55 a.m.

Mohamed Al-Adeimi Director, Newcomer Settlement Services, South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre

Good morning. Bonjour, everybody.

My name is Mohamed Al-Adeimi, and I'm the director of settlement services at the South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre. The South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre is one of the largest neighbourhood resource centres that supports families in London.

I was contacted yesterday to be a witness with regard to the support and services that are available for the Yazidi women and girls, but I'll be speaking with regard to the support we put in place immediately after the Yazidi families who are survivors of Daesh came to our notice.

The honourable minister came to London and met with all the agencies to be equipped and ready for the families that would be coming to London. Immediately before their arrival, we put in place a kind of wraparound team with the support that we get through IRCC funding. We make sure that the settlement staff are aware of the atrocities and hardships that the Yazidi women and their families have undergone. On the arrival of the Yazidi families, we were aware that they were in the schools in the neighbourhood.

I'll be talking today about one family. The family consists of a mother with eight children. The first contact of the mom with the settlement worker in the school was in the summer before the school closed for summer vacation. The SWIS worker immediately talked to the mom, who was reluctant at the beginning, but with the help of the ESL teacher at the school, she was able to meet with her and listen to her complaints, through an interpreter, initially.

Later on, after understanding the difficulties that the mom was undergoing, and knowing that the kids also had a lot of distress that they'd been through.... We are lucky that we have strong partnerships with mental health agencies within our neighbourhood for the youth, as well as for the adults.

The first issue that the settlement worker started to work on was connecting the whole family with two agencies that provide mental health services for children below the age of 12 and also for youth: Vanier Children's Services and Craigwood. We also partnered with a project that is in London called the RBC Centre for the mental health of immigrants and refugees. We have been working with the London Health Sciences Centre for the past three years, and they are also in our centre. We connect those families who are having mild to severe mental health issues.

The other part of the service that we have put in place for addressing the mental health of the family is giving a chance for the mom to spend quality time and go shopping or meet with other women in the neighbourhood. We connected with many moms. It's a centre where they provide a day of respite for the kids to play and have fun, and the mom can also spend some time.

The families are also wait-listed with another agency dealing with mental health. It's called Family Service Thames Valley.

This is the area of mental health that we thought was essential to address from the very beginning. The other part is to deal with basic needs. The family is in an area where there are lots of services that are delivered in a holistic manner in a centre that runs over 85 programs and services. We feel that this mom, who has been through so much, is still struggling. It's similar to the same story that the previous witness just spoke about, and I don't want to repeat the same story.

We made sure that the issues of transportation, interpretation, and other basic needs that the whole family requires.... I'm sure that through IRCC, the RAP.... Initially, on arrival, they were provided with basic needs with regard to furniture and clothing, etc. As the winter started to get closer, they were connected to centres that we have been partnering with for the last 30 or 40 years—churches, faith groups—and also in the last two years, with other faith groups that have put together services to provide basic needs to refugees and immigrants.

We have also put in place...so that the kids get recreational activities. During the whole summer they were connected to the Boys and Girls Club, for example, and to the YMCA sports and day camps. The main issue that we faced initially was that we were not funded to support this family, but since we are already funded through the settlement workers in schools programs... also providing orientation and information as well as community connections. All of these services were already in place when we responded to the influx of the Syrians who came to London. London, as you know, has received one of the largest Syrian communities.

We already—

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

I'm going to need you to wrap up fairly quickly.

9:05 a.m.

Director, Newcomer Settlement Services, South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre

Mohamed Al-Adeimi

Okay.

Recently we have had the opportunity to hire one support settlement worker to reach out to most, if not all, of the Yazidi families and do a wrap-around program that we are anticipating to make sure that they [Inaudible—Editor]. Will we be able to succeed? I say this is going to be an ongoing support and it's not a one-time shot. We hope that we will continue serving.

I have a chart that I will send to the committee, Mr. Chair, if that's okay.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

That would be very good.

I'm afraid I need to end it there. I'm sure you will get an opportunity to get a little more in when questions are asked. Anything you or any other witness would like to submit to the committee would be very appropriate and helpful.

We'll go to Mr. Khoudeida as our next witness.

You have seven minutes as well. Thank you.

9:05 a.m.

Omar Khoudeida As an Individual

Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

My name is Omar Khoudeida, and I am both an activist in the Yazidi community in London, Ontario, and an employee of the London Cross Cultural Learner Centre. Thank you for inviting me to attend this committee and to give an update on the Yazidis who resettled in London this year.

As we all know, on August 3, 2014, ISIS committed the worst crime against the Yazidi population in Iraq. However, this crime, like many others before it, is not isolated. In 2017, the Canadian government committed itself to resettle 1,200 Yazidis this year. Since February 2017, London has received 68 families—170 individuals.

Since their arrival and up until now, the Yazidi community has been working with the London Cross Cultural Learner Centre to provide all the services and immediate needs for the new arrivals, including but not limited to short-term accommodation; permanent accommodation; facilitation of needed documents, such as PR cards and OHIP cards; applying for child benefits; interim federal health and life skills supports; access to information, orientation, and education sessions; access to on-site medical care in partnership with our local community health centre; intensive, time-sensitive, and specialized case management; needs assessment, referrals, case coordination, home visits, and referrals to many agencies; settlement counselling and access to short-term on-site counselling; on-site child minding; language assessment and referrals to LINC and ESL programs; participation in social, therapeutic, language, and skills-based groups; and matching families with volunteers in the community.

We have identified some single mothers with children who face additional settlement challenges and who are in need of longer-term support. Furthermore, the London community has experienced an influx of government-assisted refugees who have transferred from Toronto and other cities due to affordability and a connection to local community.

We have been supporting 12 transferred families with 46 members. We have also worked with the Merrymount Family Support and Crisis Centre to collaborate on an art therapy group for Yazidi children. Allowing children space to be children and allowing creative experience and focus on recovery and resilience has proven efficacious for children affected by armed conflict.

There are many survivors of the Yazidi genocide and sexual enslavement who remain in the refugee camps in the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, with further displaced...who are willing and waiting to be resettled. Many are unwilling or unable to return home due to the instability in the region, with no local durable solutions.

We implore you to extend the commitment of this committee, to encourage and engage private sponsors, and to give them access to refugee camps in northern Iraq. Continue to provide federal funding to support the services that are being offered to this community and to others who are both marginalized and displaced.

Throughout history, the Yazidi people have been marginalized and treated like second-class if not third-class citizens. I am very confident that today you all will agree that upon arriving in Canada they are made to feel welcome and confident in their identity and that they will not be marginalized again.

Your continued support and services addressing settlement success, mental health, and well-being will foster recovery, resilience, and empowerment for a successful transition to Canadian life and its values.

London and the Cross Cultural Learner Centre have a long-standing history of resettlement for many refugee communities and have the capacity and the resources to take in and support more Yazidi refugees.

I thank you very much, and God bless you.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Thank you as well, Mr. Khoudeida.

We'll now go to Cultural Interpretation Services for Our Communities. We have Mr. Chacon and Ms. Tabet. Did I pronounce that correctly?

9:10 a.m.

Rania Tabet Services Manager, Interpretation and Translation Services, Cultural Interpretation Services for Our Communities

Yes.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Together, you have seven minutes.

November 30th, 2017 / 9:10 a.m.

Benjamin Chacon Executive Director, Interpretation Services, Cultural Interpretation Services for Our Communities

Thank you, Mr. Chair, members of the committee, guests, and witnesses, for the opportunity to profile our organization and the challenges we face evaluating and recruiting interpreters for languages of lesser diffusion.

CISOC is a local organization. It was created in 1993. The purpose of the organization is to provide interpretation and translation services, language fluency assessment, and training for interpreters who work in the community. The organization is a charity; it's non-profit.

Some of the challenges we face, of course, are in identifying languages that need to be created and tested. Currently, we train interpreters all across the country, and we evaluate fluency for those interpreters in 50 languages. One of the challenges we face is often funding to develop new languages. At the moment, we already have a test for Kermanji. This is the Kurdish version, but of course, one of the difficulties we're facing with the community that has arrived in Canada is that many of them speak different dialects. Often we need to develop assessments for those dialects in order to better represent them.

As I mentioned, we have organizations that we support all across the country. The process we follow to locate interpreters is to ensure first that they have the fluency necessary to be able to provide the services in the communities. We need to provide the training necessary to educate them and to ensure that they follow the protocols we have put in place here in Canada, as well as build vocabulary in the different areas such as medical, legal, and social environments.

It is a bit of an involved process, but it's very efficient. One of the major difficulties, of course, is developing assessments for those languages that are in less need or less demand. Since we are a charity, we generate revenue ourselves to develop these assessments; thus, we tend to often go for languages where we feel that there is high demand and that we can recover some of the expenses we invest.

If we were to create assessments for all the different languages needed in Canada, it is doable, but we will need some type of support from the community to be able to develop these assessments.

All our training is online, so it is accessible from any province. That makes it much easier, and we are building a stronger capacity in the country.

Unless you have any questions, I think that summarizes what we do. Hopefully, we can collaborate.

Thank you.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Thank you very much. Also, thank you for providing Kermanji interpretation services for this committee. We know it's not easy to find and you have been very helpful, so thank you.

We're going now to questioning, beginning with Mr. Sarai for a seven-minute round.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

Thank you, Chair.

First, thank you to all of you for coming, and thank you for your good work. I know it's a challenging file, and services in Canada are quite limited due to specifically the language barriers. The type of trauma that these individuals, particularly women, have faced is probably some of the most severe that anybody has ever seen.

Ms. Smith, can you comment on any challenges associated with finding interpreters for small-scale languages such as Kermanji?

9:15 a.m.

As an Individual

Shannon Smith

It has been a real challenge to find translation. As an individual, I've been scouring my networks to find translation.

I was a journalist for 20 years. I worked with refugees for five years. I've worked for international NGOs. I have many contacts. It has been extremely challenging to find translation, especially here in Calgary.

Last week, by luck and prayer, a friend of mine managed to connect me with a Kermanji speaker from Aleppo, Syria, and her family. Thankfully, I'm now able to communicate with the family and have translation, but really there was no process to go through. That was just leveraging the contacts I have that most people probably would not have.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

This committee heard from a psychologist last year who said that Yazidis don't have words in Kurdish that can express depression or trauma. He kind of stated also that very specially trained translators are needed.

Are you working with any special translators that have figured out this comfort level, or technology or techniques to assist in that type of language?

9:15 a.m.

As an Individual

Shannon Smith

No, and I think that's very evident in what I was telling you about the language they're using. They're saying, “I'm crazy. My daughter is crazy.” These are harmful things, but you can feel her desperation in that she doesn't know how to express their deep needs and her daughter's deep needs. Labels, like “crazy”, are obviously very difficult because the 13-year-old daughter now labels herself that way. When I ask, “Are you okay, Dunia, today? How are you feeling?”, she says, “I'm crazy.” As a mother of five, that's really hard to hear.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

Have you been able to get psychologists who are not...or Kermanji speakers who are able to help develop language, terminology, or ways of communicating some of that trauma? Has there been any effective translation of services or technologies? It's kind of like ESL learning where sometimes you don't have the basics, but you need to learn the conversational language if that other person doesn't have any written language. There may be some sort of.... I'm not an expert in it, but I'm just curious as to whether there have been any efforts made.

9:15 a.m.

As an Individual

Shannon Smith

Yes, thank you for asking that, Mr. Sarai.

I taught English for many years as a volunteer, and I was actually really involved with helping the pre-beginner Syrian refugees who came a year and a half ago, developing classes for them. This is just a challenge that's very unique. I've been talking to friends. As I said, being a journalist for 20 years gives you the opportunity to meet thousands of people. I've leveraged all my contacts to try to discuss this problem with them. As you said, it's a challenge.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

I'm sorry, but I have to consider the time I have to ask questions.

Are clergy or chaplain-type services.... I'm not overly familiar with how religious services work in a Yazidi community. Can that help? Has there been any connection to root them with faith?

I'll ask you that, Mr. Khoudeida.

9:15 a.m.

As an Individual

Shannon Smith

That's a fantastic question and a really interesting one because I, myself, have a deep Christian faith. Because that's part of my life, I've asked if I could pray with them, which they were very excited about because prayer is part of their culture as well. We were able to do things like pray together, and I could see a calming effect. What's really interesting, too, is that they live across the street from a Catholic church. One day in desperation, they did walk over and knocked on the Catholic church's door, and a priest came. They've been praying with that Catholic priest.

They're very loving, very open, very receptive people to all faiths, which I deeply appreciate. It's a very important part of their lives. But because they're not connecting with other Yazidi families in the city, I'm relying on Internet research to find out what their beliefs are to try to talk to them. Again, the language is a barrier. Am I connecting with these people—

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

I'd like to hear from Mr. Khoudeida as well before I run out of time.

Have you found that there are other ways, perhaps through priests or religious services, to help counsel the grief because, obviously, our psychologists and trauma experts in the language are very limited?

9:20 a.m.

As an Individual

Omar Khoudeida

Yes, in London, we have difficulties, but not as many as maybe in Calgary because our community is large in London. We support them in language. I think we're good with that. When it comes to praying, most of them pray at home. Myself, I don't know how to pray because I left the country a long time ago. I asked them. They pray at home. The community is large there, so they are well connected.