New Canadian Media

By: Kelly Toughill in Halifax

Thousands of families will soon get a second chance to bring parents and grandparents to Canada.

That’s the good news recently announced by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

The bad news is that there is no chance Canada will keep its promise to issue 10,000 permanent resident visas to extended family members in 2017.

Officials won’t even finish collecting the new applications until December and it will take months to process those applications after they arrive.

Problems with the parent and grandparent sponsorship program are a classic case of great intentions gone wrong. In this case, families who followed the rules were suddenly shut out of the system, and other families were given false hope that they could reunite with ailing relatives.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet have changed Canada’s immigration system significantly in the last 16 months. They reversed a much-criticized law that allowed the government to strip people of their Canadian citizenship. They set up new programs to help businesses recruit tech workers and to support Francophone immigration outside Quebec. They made it easier for entrepreneurs to come to Canada, and eased rules for workers who want to move to struggling Atlantic Canada. They shortened the wait time to sponsor a spouse and made the forms easier to read and understand. They helped international students by setting up a new, speedy immigration program in Atlantic Canada, giving students extra points for Canadian degrees and making it easier for international students to become citizens after they get permanent resident status.

Those changes were greeted with relief and even gratitude across Canada.

Changes to the parent and grandparent program were supposed to be another feel-good tweak to the system. Instead, the changes angered the very consitutuency the government was trying to please.

Under the Conservative government, Ottawa set a quota each year for the number of Canadian families that could sponsor a parent or grandparent for permanent resident status. The Liberal government doubled the quota from 5,000 to 10,000, but initially kept the same process: applications opened in early January and closed when the quota was reached – always within days.

To win one of the coveted visas, most families hired experienced immigration lawyers or consultants and paid stiff fees for private couriers to wait in line outside the Mississauga processing centre the night before the program opened.

Just three weeks before the program was expected to open this year, the government announced it was scrapping the first-come, first-served system. Instead, then-Immigration Minister John McCallum invited families to fill out an online form and promised to hold a lottery to decide who could formally apply. He called the new process “more fair and transparent.”

The announcement came after thousands of families had already prepared applications that require medical exams, police certificates and expensive translations, not to mention lawyers’ fees. Many families wasted months of work and thousands of dollars on applications they would never get to file.

The larger problem, though, was the online form set up to register for the lottery; families could fill out the form without figuring out if they were actually eligible to sponsor a parent or grandparent.

Most know that only Canadian citizens and permanent residents can sponsor a parent or grandparent for permanent resident status. But many don’t know that you must be able to support that parent and that the only acceptable proof of your financial ability is past income tax forms. Many also didn’t realize that parents and grandparents must be healthy to immigrate to Canada.

When immigration lawyers and regulated consultants saw the online form, many immediately warned of coming pandemonium. Some dismissed those warnings as sour grapes, suggesting that lawyers were just mad that clients might be able to sponsor relatives without their high-priced help.

It turns out the lawyers were right.

Almost 100,000 families registered for the lottery, but only a fraction of the 10,000 that were invited to apply actually managed to do so.

Immigration consultants shared stories of clients showing up on their doorstep with expectations that Canada was going to immediately fly their relatives here because the family had “won the lottery.” Many had no idea they still had to pull together the complex and expensive application in 90 days. In June, an immigration official told a conference that only 700 of the 10,000 families had filed applications, and that 15 percent of those applications were incomplete.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada still doesn’t know how many of the 10,000 families invited to apply will actually get to bring their relatives to Canada. A spokesperson said this week that 6,020 of the 10,000 families invited to apply last February actually filed applications. However, immigration officers still don’t know how many of those application are complete or valid. Those numbers are expected later this fall.

In the meantime, Ottawa has quietly launched a second lottery. The notice was posted Friday afternoon before Labour Day. The new invitations were sent out on Sept. 6. Families must finish the applications by Dec. 8, and it will take several months after that deadline for permanent resident visas to be issued.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen vigorously defended the new application process in early summer, when the problems first became public. Hussen could not be reached for comment this week, but a spokesperson for the department suggested the new process might change.

“This is the first year that we’re using the new random selection intake process, and we are actively monitoring this model to see how we can make improvements in future years,” communications advisor Faith St.-John wrote in an email.

Kelly Toughill is an associate professor of journalism at the University of King’s College and founder of Polestar Immigration Research Inc.

Published in Policy
Tuesday, 22 August 2017 18:37

Canada’s (M)other Tongues

By: Caora Mckenna in Halifax

If you’ve ever travelled or worked abroad, speaking and listening in a language that isn’t your own, you know the feeling of lying down at night exhausted. Your brain worked all day fumbling from one language to another. Every ounce of energy is drained. When your brain is that exhausted, you call home. You listen to your mother tongue. You listen without thinking – it’s a relief.

For Canada’s consistent stream of immigrants and their children, third language or “ethnic” media can be a refuge. It is news and stories in their language of comfort. Ethnic media -the official CRTC term – is defined as media that is not English, French or Indigenous. It is a collective of “others.” 

The number of foreign-born Canadians has been increasing steadily since 1951. Today, metro Vancouver has almost as many foreign-born residents as the entire population of Nova Scotia. According to Statistics Canada, nearly half of the country’s population will be immigrants or children of immigrants by 3036. Of the 270,847 immigrants Canada received in 2015, 23 per cent had no working knowledge of English or French. For them, ethnic media is more than a haven, it’s a lifeline. The weight of this responsibility bears down on the journalists who work in ethnic media.

“It has always been the underdog industry,” says Madeline Ziniak, chair of the Canadian Ethnic Media Association and former national vice-president of Omni TV, Canada’s leader in multicultural programming. “Fraught with casualties, it’s never been easy.”

The state of ethnic media in Canada is as varied as its parts. Print is struggling to survive, radio is successful, online is innovating and TV has long been a quiet powerhouse.

Who is listening?

Across the country “good morning” is said in more than 200 languages every day. Buenos días is heard in Toronto, ਸ਼ੁਭ ਸਵੇਰ in Halifax and 좋은아침 in Vancouver. Omni TV in Ontario offers programming in 49 of those languages. The Canadian Ethnic Media Association’s directory of ethnic media outlets has 1,200 entries from B.C., Alberta and Ontario alone. Of the 1,609 Radio and TV Broadcast licences defined by content language, 275 are not English or French. There is similar momentum south of the border. In the United States there are over 3,000 ethnic media outlets, and since 2006 ethnic media is the only sector of print media that is growing.

Canada’s history of immigration is a history of storytellers. In 1835, Upper Canada’s first German weekly newspaper was printed in what is now Kitchener, Ontario. The Canada Museum und Allgemeine Zeitung’s subscribers were hungry for news from Europe – in a familiar voice. “It’s a bridge to Canadian citizenry,” says Ziniak.

Ethnic media is a vital tool to connect citizens not only to their past, but to Canada’s present, and to one another. Most of the time, that bridge is built with content by minorities, for minorities and about minorities. This has helped and hindered ethnic media by giving it legs to stand on, but few places to go. But this is changing. Today, car radios play international news and music, weekly newspapers cover local politics and run helpful how-to stories. You can watch Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi from your living room on Saturday night. Ethnic media’s voices are here, they are speaking, and they are many.

The bridge that bends

George Abraham is a Canadian journalist who built a new platform. He started his career at the Times of India in Mumbai, formerly Bombay. Twenty-six years later, from his office in Ottawa, Abraham runs newcanadianmedia.ca. Canadian media, he says, “is not inclusive enough.” The problem: “The mainstream speaks to the mainstream, and the ethnic speaks to the ethnic.” 

Dr. Catherine Murray, associate dean of Undergraduate Academic Programs and Enrolment Management and professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies at Simon Fraser University was the principal investigator in SFU’s 2007 Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Media in B.C study. She says the way different cultures are communicating within Canada is something all journalists – both mainstream and ethnic – will have to “struggle with” in their content. 

Mainstream media is taking up the challenge. CBC launched a five-year strategy, A space for us all, in 2014. Its inclusion and diversity plan commits the CBC to “be relevant and representative of the population it serves.” It is starting with the people making the content. Canadaland found that, in 2015, 90 per cent of CBC’s staff was white. 

Dr. Sherry Yu, an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia,worked alongside Murray on SFU’s 2007 study. Yu says a “new stream” of ethnic media is emerging to cover issues that are misrepresented or not represented at all in mainstream media. It is driven by a younger generation of journalists whose content is online and in English. It is pushing the limits of ethnic media’s traditional audience.

Rooting for the underdog

As waves of immigration shift Canada’s idea of identity, daily and weekly newspapers pop up and go under in steady rhythm. In 1840, Canada Museum und Allgemeine Zeitung was sold to Heinrich Eby. It changed hands three more times before 1865 when a competing German newspaper, the Berliner Journal, forced it to stop printing. Today, the steady stream of immigrants is causing saturation in already niche markets. The 2007 study Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Media in B.C. found that 28 ethnic media outlets were serving Vancouver’s 50,000 Korean residents. (North Bay, Ontario also has 50,000 residents, but only three mainstream outlets.) There are only so many Korean restaurants, travel agencies and businesses in Vancouver. Yu says this makes competition for advertising revenue “huge.” 

For Halifax’s first and only Arabic radio station, 99.1 Radio Middle East, saturation isn’t the problem. Arabic is the second most-spoken language in the city, but Oudai Altabbaa, the station’s accounts manager, says it’s “extremely hard” to introduce ethnic media into Halifax’s traditional economy. Still, he sees ethnic media as a way to “refresh” the economy, bringing in new ideas and new money. “A new way to communicate things to get people a little bit closer to each other.” 

Altabbaa is optimistic. Working in radio, he has good reason to be. From 2011-15, third-language radio stations across Canada actually made money. Their English and French counterparts did not. 

Other Canadian media outlets turn to funding from organizations like the Canadian Media Fund in order to innovate and stay open. The Canadian Media Fund is mandated by Canadian Heritage and funded by Canada’s TV companies and the federal government. It contributed $371.7 million in funding to Canadian television and digital media projects in 2015-16. Only $2.5 million went to “diverse languages.”

Money is a chief concern across all media, and ethnic media is well rehearsed in the pocket pinch. Many organizations “operate on a shoestring” says April Lindgren, associate professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism. Having time and resources to do good quality, timely and verified news “can be a challenge if you are the editor, the publisher, the reporter and the ad salesman,” says Lindgren. If the money runs out, so does the ink. 

The National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada represents more than 500 members of the ethnic press and media. In 2012 it asked its members about business challenges. Forty-three per cent said they weren’t earning money for their work.

Waves of immigration sway ethnic media’s successes and failures. In 1958 Canada had more new Italian immigrants than British ones. At that time Canada’s third language press was building a national presence: there were 250 newspapers, representing more than 50 cultures. The “fiercely Canadian, proudly Italian” daily newspaper Corriere Canadese was started in 1954 by Dan Iannuzzi. In 1995 it revamped, adding Tandem, an English-language weekend edition –aimed at their readers’ kids and grandkids. In 2013, after funding cuts, Corriere Canadese joined the ranks of retired Canadian ethnic newspapers. It looked like the end of an era. Except, six months later, it was revived – and is in print today. 

Sitting in corner stores and restaurants, it reaches 30,000 Canadians daily. As Sherry Yu says, ethnic media is “volatile.” It is also unpredictable, persistent, and necessary. 

At once, a commodity and a social movement, increasingly important ethnic media in Canada is more important than ever. Ethnic media outlets, like immigrant communities, know that to survive is to adapt. They have learned this the hard way. If they don’t survive, says Yu, “nothing comes after.”


This article was republished under arrangement with the Signal. 

Published in Arts & Culture
Tuesday, 15 August 2017 20:48

The Loneliness of Being an Immigrant

By: Lu Xu in Halifax 

“I don’t have anything else to do,” says Keith Bi. He is cleaning pig intestines—a tedious job. In the sink of his café in downtown Halifax sit two bowls filled with cold water and floating chunks of pig intestine that he bought from Toronto. Bi’s back is arched forward. He selects one of the intestines and turns it inside out so that he can see where the fat is, and carefully cuts out the white fat with a pair of scissors. It’s delicate work. He has to make sure he takes out the fat without poking holes. His right hand skillfully guides the blades of the scissors close against the inside wall. In one quick movement, the fat slips away into to the sink.

Bi is making a traditional Chinese dish: pot-stewed pig intestines. The café business has been quiet today, as it is on most days. He had to let go his only employee because he couldn’t afford the salary; he’s often the only one inside. A few days before, he added a catering service hoping it would increase revenue. And this traditional stew is something he wants to serve as part of his catering service.

He could’ve just thrown the intestines into a pot and boiled them all together—the fat would’ve just melted into the water, which he could’ve simply thrown away. But, as Bi says, he doesn’t have anything else to do.

In 2011, Bi immigrated from the city of Xi’an, China, on a working visa after being told by one of his relatives who lives in Halifax that Canada is a good place to live. He wouldn’t have to deal with the complicated social relationships that occur in China; relationships are more straight forward in Canada, he was told. And he could even open his own business. He decided to come to Canada first, and then hopefully bring his wife and son in the future.

Bi is not happy with the status quo in modern China. People often go around the law and rules, which has turned non-elites in the country resentful. You are a fool if you just obey the rules, people think. Networks and knowing the right people matter more. For someone like Bi who wants to play by the rules and is not part of the 1 percent, building a life in Canada seemed to be a good choice.

Since Bi came to Canada, he has worked as a chef, a cleaner, and other low-paying jobs. He had one goal: permanent residency. And he worked hard for it like most immigrants do. In 2014, three years after he arrived, he received his PR. It was a long time coming. His wife was supportive and helped with his application by sending all the required documents from China. Two weeks later, he bought himself a round-trip ticket to China and two one-way tickets to Canada for his wife and son. But one week before they were about to leave China, his wife told Bi that she was not coming to Canada with him. Instead, she wanted a divorce. The next day, she packed up her belongings and left.

Bi was shocked. He hadn’t seen it coming. Everything was going as planned and then all of sudden his life was falling to pieces. He went from a happy new immigrant with a PR in hand, to a lonely, divorced man explaining to a customs officer why his wife was not with him.

It takes Bi an hour to finish the cleaning the pig intestines. After washing his hands, he takes off his hat. His hair is longer than he’d like and it gets slippery with sweat when he works. But he hates the black baseball hat. Still, he wears it. “No matter where the kitchen is you have to put it on if you work in one,” he says. Bi is firm when it comes to obeying rules.

Bi is a forty-seven-year-old Chinese immigrant and the owner of Coffee Corner, a café located in the windowless basement below the office of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The café is only thirty-five metres squared and is a convenience store with a help-yourself take-out lunch service. He does all the work himself and schedules his tasks to get things done on time. He learned how to be efficient when he worked in China as a chief inspector in a five-star restaurant. He was a good manager and knows how to train people. Once, he had two hundred people working under him.

In the late ’90s, Bi was honoured to work in a restaurant of its kind. Not only because it was well-paid, but also because of the associated privileges that came with the job. Most restaurants were only open to foreign guests, which is why he was taught how to cook Western food and learn basic English. They had products that you couldn’t get even if you had the money. It was almost like they got to see a different world.

But Bi never settles. He went all the way alone from Macau, in southern China, to Halifax, in Eastern Canada.

Usually, the stories we hear about immigration are inspiring—about how a refugee family endured trauma and rebuilt their life after coming to Canada. These stories are true, but there are also others—stories of immigrants, especially people with an Asian background, who experience high levels of emotional stress. A 2012 report by Citizenship and Immigration Canada suggests that immigrants from Asia and Pacific are more likely to have emotional problems, including depression or loneliness, than those who come from the rest of North America, the United Kingdom, and Western Europe.

Opening a new chapter in life is never easy. The first time Bi tried to launch a restaurant it fell flat, he says due to a poor choice of partners. And although his second attempt is also struggling, he will never give up. He gets up at 5:30 a.m. before the sun rises and leaves after 6 p.m. on most nights. He doesn’t sit down until noon. Since the café is in a basement, the only time he gets to see the sun on a winter weekday is when he goes outside to have a smoke. He throws on his ten-year-old leather jacket and strolls down the hallway, joking that smoking for him is like an injection, to motivate himself.

He tries his best to strike up a conversation with his customers when they walk through the café door. He smiles—he’s always cheerful around his customers—and asks how they are. He often tells them to leave their money at the counter or pay him later if he is away in the bathroom or smoking. He trusts them. He thinks everyone who works in the building has a decent heart. To his customers, he is an attentive Chinese immigrant who runs a convenient café but they don’t see that when he’s on his own, he gets lonely now and then. When the café is empty, Bi is quiet.

Loneliness is a terrifying thing. It’s like a black hole that sucks you in. Bi’s thoughts go wild when he slows down. He thinks about how rough it has been starting a business, how rebellious his son is, and, above all, how he doesn’t have the family he wanted at his age.

In Chinese culture, a family is one of the most important parts of a man’s life. The pressure from parents to get married and have children is relentless. Divorce and being childless are still new concepts for the community, and like many other divorced men in China, they think it’s somehow a failure or a mistake that they are responsible for.

When friends visit, he always cheers up. It just doesn’t happen very often.

The combination of living overseas, divorced, with a struggling business has made this restless man depressed—but Bi says he will always keep trying to make a better future. In April 2016, he boarded a plane to China to meet a woman he had been talking to online for six months. He didn’t know how things would turn out, but he hoped that they would like each other—that she would eventually join him in Canada. Nevertheless, he hopped on the plane.

When he arrived in China, he took a bus to meet her but missed the stop while helping blind person dial a number on their cell phone. Bi apologized to the woman when he met her and explained what happened, but she lashed out. “Why did you help a blind person?” she said. “It’s none of your business.”

In that moment, Bi knew she wasn’t the one.

Three months later, he flew back to Halifax, alone.

On a wednesday in January, at around 1:40 p.m., Bi is sitting at a small table outside his café eating lunch. It is his first break in five hours of work. His bowl is filled with a few spoons of some dishes from his buffet, all mixed together. Like many other Chinese people, he doesn’t separate his food. Although he’s a chef, he doesn’t seem to have a high standard for his own meals. He eats whatever is left over.

Bi adjusts his hat, places his cell phone on the round table in front of him, and starts eating. He is focused on his food with his face close to the bowl. There are no customers around, so he plays his cell phone out loud. It’s a video clip from a Chinese media outlet called Today’s Headline—how he keeps track of what’s happening back home. Most influential media outlets in China are controlled by the government, but Bi believes that Today’s Headline is trustworthy enough. Throughout the day, he has a surprising guest: his brother He and the man’s wife. He calls him “brother He” not because they are related but in the traditional Chinese way of addressing a man older than him with respect.

“What brought you here?” Bi asks, just happy that his friends have come. Bi pours two cups of coffee for them and mentions his new plan for a small change in the store: he stretches his arms wide and gestures to demonstrate what the changes are going to be as if he is sharing exciting news he has kept for a long time. His smile is broad and his eyes alight. At one point, he even squats on the floor trying to outline where his new counter will go.

When friends visit, he always cheers up. It just doesn’t happen very often.

One morning, a Thursday, I tell Bi that tomorrow is the Chinese Lunar New Year. He acts surprised—as if he forgot. For Chinese, it is a day of family reunion, when people who work far from home brave the traffic to see their parents.

“Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve?” Bi says. “Well then, I need to call my parents first thing in the morning.” He says he stopped celebrating festivals or his birthday a long time ago. Later that day, a lady walks into the store. She is one of the regular customers who works in the building. The card machine isn’t working very well, and she doesn’t have cash.

“You can pay me next year,” Bi says.

“Next year?”

“January 28 is the Chinese New Year.”

Oh yes, Bi remembers. He remembers clearly.

He doesn’t have anything planned for the holiday, and still hasn’t talked with his son. They haven’t spoken in nearly two months.

Friday is usually the least busy day for him, and today, quiet is not what he needs. He seems distant and tries to keep busy. Brother He calls and invites him to dinner, which seems to lift his spirits. Bi takes out a pizza and adds it to the daily menu—the first time in weeks he has added something new.

The following day, Bi arrives at the store at the normal time, 6 a.m., pours cold water into the coffee pot, carefully places the pot in the coffee machine, and turns it on. He takes out his iPhone, dials a number, and puts it on speaker phone. The iPhone screen is broken. His parents are both over eighty and don’t have a computer at their home. Phoning is the only way he can reach them.

Bi seems peaceful when he talks to them; he has a flicker of a smile on his face. As he talks, he takes out bread and puts it into the toaster, cooks bacon, and fries eggs for the morning sandwiches. He moves around his small kitchen placing his cellphone here and there. During the phone call, he doesn’t stop working for a second.

After about thirty minutes, Bi tells his parents that he needs to get back to work, and hangs up. He didn’t want to call in the first place. Why would he? He knew what his parents would ask about: work and family. And he knew he had to lie. Like many Chinese immigrants, he never tells his parents back in China any bad news. He would rather lie than tell them the real story—the story about how difficult it is to build a life in a foreign land.

“It’s called white lies,” Bi says with a grin. But when he talked to them he felt pained.

Their questions only reminded him of his reality: the rebellious son that he hasn’t talked to for almost two months, his cafe that is barely getting by, and, above all, his loneliness.

But he couldn’t tell them the truth. He had to lie. He had to lie well so that his aged parents so far away wouldn’t worry.


Lu Xu, who hails from China, is studying journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax. This article was republished under arrangement with the Walrus Foundation.

Published in Arts & Culture

By: Caora Mckenna in Halifax

Inside the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market on Halifax’s waterfront you’ll find a stack of the Dakai Times newspapers. Printed in Chinese and English, the quarterly newspaper is a tiny nod to the growing immigrant population in the area. On Saturday mornings, the market fills with sounds, scents and accents from all corners of the world. The lone stand of newspapers tells a different story. Local ethnic media - integral to community integration for newcomers - is almost entirely absent from the airwaves and newsstands in the province.  

The provincial government is working hard to bring immigrants to Nova Scotia. Nearly 5,500 newcomers arrived in 2016 -- the highest number in the last decade -- and more are expected for 2017. Significant resources are being put into the Atlantic Immigration Pilot and Halifax Partnership to bring immigrants to the province and keep them here. One thing missing for new and old immigrants is information in their mother tongues. Where local media is absent, newcomers are leaning on international sources for news from home in a familiar language.  

Filling the gaps:  

Halifax is home to the majority of Nova Scotia’s immigrants and the few local ethnic media outlets catering to immigrants are there, too.  

Meng Zhao started the Daikai Maritimes Newspaper in 2012. It covers local events, highlights local business owners, and regularly documents its issues in the Nova Scotia Archives. Through a partnership with The Chronicle Herald, 30,000 copies are distributed four times a year as well as 5,000 copies at specific neighbourhoods in Halifax Regional Municipality. Zhao set out to fill a gap in a niche community, and five years later is still the only print source in the province printed in a minority language.  

The second most spoken language in Halifax is Arabic, but it wasn’t until the spring of 2016 that Montreal based 1450 AM launched 99.1FM Radio Middle East in the city. The station broadcasts Arabic programs and a selection of Arabic and international music. Account executive for the station Oudai Altabbaa says the minority language audience is on the rise in Halifax, and “somebody needs to tap into it and talk to it.”  

Altabbaa knows there is great potential for the economy to grow by capitalizing on this market. But “it’s extremely hard to educate businesses here about the benefit of this because they are not used to it, and as we know Nova Scotia is very traditional,” he says. “So when you tell them it’s an Arabic radio station, they don’t take you seriously.”  

Working to highlight the importance of immigrant voices and stories is My Halifax Experience. The quarterly magazine fills news stands in ethnic grocers and community centres, and content is regularly published online. Filled with helpful tips and inspirational stories, in English, it speaks to all immigrants, beyond their mother tongues. The online website has expanded to My East Coast Experience with the same goal in mind.  

International magazines and newspapers available from libraries or specialty newsstands are filling in the rest of the gaps. Halifax Public Libraries has an extensive collection of subscriptions in Spanish, German, Arabic, Russian, Hindi, Japanese, Chinese and more. Atlantic News, a specialty store for newspapers and magazines, fills one to four regular subscriptions for Russian newspaper Argumenti & Facti and German sources Der Spiegel and Die Zeit weekly and biweekly.  

Moving Forward:  

In 2011, immigrants accounted for 5.3 per cent of the Nova Scotian population. That proportion is expected to rise to between 7.7 and 10.7 per cent in 2036, according to Statistics Canada. Immigrants in Halifax made up 8.2 per cent of the city’s population in 2011. By 2036, that will rise to 15.2 per cent.  

“When immigrants are feeling like they are a little bit more connected with opportunities that come up because of radio stations or media speaking their language,” says Altabbaa, “they might decide to stay in Nova Scotia.”  

As Nova Scotia welcomes more immigrants and tries to keep them in the province, ethnic media has an opportunity to catch up, then develop and grow.


 This article was republished under arrangement with Mirems.

Published in Arts & Culture
Commentary by Marco Navarro-Genie in Halifax
 
When prominent Nova Scotia MP and President of the Treasury Board Scott Brison recently spoke about banning the expression “come from away” (CFA, in short) from the vocabulary of Atlantic Canadians, he drew attention to our hospitality toward immigrants.
 
His discussion also led me to reflect on my own origin as a newcomer to Canada, and more recently, as a new arrival in Atlantic Canada.
 
The precise meaning of “come from away” remains unclear to me.
 
It seems to refer to people who come from elsewhere, but the degree of distance varies.  In some cases, to qualify as a CFA, one can be from the next county, or the next Maritime province, or the next province outside the region, or from a faraway land.
 
The expression has never exclusively been used to apply to immigrants from other countries.
 
Nova Scotians, for instance, apply the term to other Nova Scotians, as well. While in all instances it refers to someone seen as an outsider, it is not always used in pejorative ways. In some cases, it is purely descriptive, as a synonym for a stranger. Sometimes, it is used in humorous ways.
 
Attitudinal change
 
None of this should be a surprise: words have various and varying meanings. In the exact same sentence, an expression can mean more than one thing depending on who utters it, who hears it, and the tone and intention with which it is said. For that reason alone, the idea of banning a phrase from usage seems curious to me, but I am sure the minister only meant to use “ban” in a figurative sense.
 
As for the negative uses and connotations of the expression, the minister is correct in pointing out that attitudes need changing. In my observation and personal experience, they are changing.
 
When my sisters and I requested asylum in Canada in 1979, I was assigned to the École Polyvalente in St.-Henri, a neighbourhood of Montreal then well-known for its poverty and high unemployment.  There, I first encountered hostility toward “les maudits immigrants,” those damned immigrants. In the minds of many of the local children in the school, immigrants represented a threat to their cultural identity and to their parents’ jobs.
 
Their identities seemed threatened by the presence of the many foreign languages they could not understand. Even the teachers seemed resentful at St.-Henri. At our school, they looked the other way when many of the refugee or immigrant children were pushed, shoved, threatened, and on one occasion, attacked — not with a hockey stick, but with a most un-Canadian instrument — a baseball bat.
 
Immigrants to Atlantic Canada and their children are not at the receiving end of physical violence. But, the extent to which immigrants may be made to feel like outsiders if someone refers to them as CFAs, it is not in the more affluent spaces such office towers and banks, stores, and shopping malls.  
 
[T]he extent to which immigrants may be made to feel like outsiders if someone refers to them as CFAs, it is not in the more affluent spaces such office towers and banks, stores, and shopping malls.  
 
In the nearly three years that I have been living in Atlantic Canada – and having already travelled through all four provinces — I have heard the expression “come from away” many times, most of them in jest, but I have never witnessed anyone being subject to it in an unwelcoming way. Nor have I been at the receiving end of any unkindness.
 
While the negative attitudes need changing, we need to be reminded that attitudes will change if the context in which they are born changes.
 
Words do not beget attitudes; rather, words describe or express them. What gives rise to words are social and economic experiences. In that sense, suppressing a word without dealing with the experiences that begot them would only send the expression underground, and create new terms that would simply be expressed code for the one suppressed.
 
[S]uppressing a word without dealing with the experiences that begot them would only send the expression underground ...
 
 
"The Other"
 
After the horrible baseball bat incident at St.-Henri, many of the newcomers were shipped to other schools in Montreal. I was sent to École Sécondaire St.-Luc, still on the edge of affluent Westmount, but this time on the west side, bordering Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and Hampstead.
 
These were neighbourhoods with higher economic profile, much lower unemployment and greater ratios of university education. Here, it was the immigrant children who were sometimes thuggish, picked fights, and were more unruly than the locals. But there was peace, and I never felt unsafe in the way that I had felt in St.-Henri.
 
At St.-Luc, I never felt the threat and insecurity that I experienced in St.-Henri. The attitude of the vast majority of the students and teachers at St.-Luc was much more welcoming.  Having visited homes of classmates in both areas, I am quite sure that the pupils from Westmount and Hampstead didn’t leave their home for school in the morning showered with parental complaints about jobs, lack of money to eat or pay the rent, or heard epithets about immigrants who were stealing jobs from locals. 
 
That was the great difference.
 
Socio-economic context
 
The animosity and suspicion we hear toward immigrants and newcomers, almost everywhere, has a socio-economic context, a background profile that is very similar across borders and cultures.
 
Atlantic Canada is no different.
 
Maritimers’ suspicions of “the other” will erode with more prosperity. The more prosperity, the more they will also be exposed to immigrants coming to settle here.
 
Atlantic economies will only improve and thrive on their own when they become less dependent on subsidies from outside the region, and when home policies foster economic growth through more efficient government and lower taxes, less cumbersome and repetitious regulatory regimes, and when our economic policies exhibit greater friendliness toward entrepreneurs and innovators.
 
With a better economy, fewer Atlantic Canadians will feel threatened by newcomers, whether they have arrived from the next county, or from the other end of the planet.
 
Marco Navarro-Genie is the President of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS.ca). This comment is part of our continuing series on immigration to the Atlantic provinces. 
 
Related reading: The Report of the Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy (Feb. 2014) - Section on "Immigration is Essential"
Published in Economy

Commentary by Peter Halpin in Halifax

Atlantic Canada could become a field of dreams for entrepreneurs, immigrants and international students.

And, if we give talented newcomers an incentive to move to the region and stay here, they will help build its economy.

Those themes were heard loud and clear at the June 24 Atlantic Leaders’ Summit on Talent Retention and Entrepreneurism, an event sponsored by the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) that attracted 75 business, community, government, student and academic leaders from across the region.

Federal Treasury Board President, Scott Brison, M.P. (Kings-Hants), set the tone in a keynote address that opened the Summit. Minister Brison said entrepreneurial immigrants boost the economy and help address the region’s “terrifying” demographic challenge — too few workers supporting too many retired people.

The starting-over advantage

“Starting over (as immigrants do) is inherently an entrepreneurial experience. Immigrants see opportunities that others don’t.”

The Minister said the growth of the wine industry in Nova Scotia underscores this point. The leading pioneers in Nova Scotia’s wine industry – Hans Jost (founder of Jost Vineyards) and Hanspeter Stutz (founder of Domaine de Grand Pré) - both migrated to Nova Scotia from Europe. Pete Luckett, an immigrant from the United Kingdom and founder of Luckett Vineyards, is also a leader in the sector.

Due in part to the leadership of this trio, the wine business has grown from a fledgling industry into a major success story over the past two decades. Today, Nova Scotia boasts 22 wineries, 70 grape growers who cultivate more than 800 acres of vineyards, seven distinct grape growing districts, and its own white wine appellation, Tidal Bay. 

Despite the benefits that immigrants like Messrs. Luckett, Jost and Stutz have brought to the region, Brison said there is “little upside” to supporting immigration as a politician.

Too often, voters see immigration as a “zero sum game” – one in which newcomers take jobs from long-time residents.

Too often, voters see immigration as a “zero sum game” – one in which newcomers take jobs from long-time residents.

Role for universities

He said universities have an important role to play as “thought leaders” in leading a “culture shift” towards “accepting and welcoming new Canadians.”

The AAU has largely succeeded at persuading stakeholders that universities are the best source of new immigrants to Atlantic Canada.

Minister Brison’s challenge “to lead the culture shift” among Atlantic Canada’s communities and citizens towards greater acceptance of new Canadians is the natural next step for the region’s universities in their support of regional population growth strategies.

Indeed, the AAU’s 2016 Graduate Retention Study showed 75 per cent of international graduates would remain in their province (of study) after graduation if given a choice.

Not that Brison is a pessimist. He says the region’s positive response to the recent influx of Syrian refugees may be a “game-changer.” He also says Atlantic universities are leveraging federal research grants to boost immigration to the region and build “a more innovative Canada.”

For instance, the Tesla lithium battery lab project led by Dr. Jeff Dahn at Dalhousie University has assembled a team of 22 researchers, 12 of whom came from other nations.

“These investments in … research are incredibly important to bringing immigrants to Canada.” They “are part of an overall integrated” strategy in which universities play a key role. “Creating a world-class research environment … is critically important to our region.”

The Trudeau government would like to attract more global talent to universities in Atlantic Canada, and keep them here once they graduate.

Ditch "Come from Away"

“Can we take a Team Atlantic Canada approach to attracting foreign students?” The Minister suggested a pan-university mission to China is one idea worth considering.  The current contingent of the nearly 13,000 international students at AAU universities already represents a significant industry.

Less than two weeks after the Summit, Brison was also part of the team of federal cabinet ministers and Atlantic premiers who announced a three-year pilot project under which immigration to the region would increase significantly.  

At that meeting, Minister Brison was blunt in his assessment of current attitudes toward newcomers to the region:  “I have been told repeatedly by people who have moved to Atlantic Canada – that it takes a while to fit in. We’ve got to do more to welcome people here”.

Minister Brison quite rightly encourages Atlantic Canadians to ditch the “come-from-away” label often affixed to newcomers to the region.  He went further by saying that, “it’s in our collective interest, economically and socially, to not use terms that reflect a negative view of people who choose to make Atlantic Canada their home. We’ve got to do more to welcome people here”.

Building on the success of attracting more and more international students to our campuses; warmly welcoming them to communities across the region; helping place them in co-op education and internships during their studies; introducing them to alumni networks and employers and encouraging them to stay are just a few of the things our universities are doing to help lead the required “culture shift” across Atlantic Canada.

Minister Brison’s call to action to our universities to help lead the creation of a more welcoming environment to newcomers has not gone unheeded.

Peter Halpin is executive director of the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU). This comment is the second in our series on immigration to the Atlantic region.

Published in Education

Commentary by Robin Arthur in Halifax

Nova Scotia MP and senior federal minister, Scott Brison, has opened up a debate, suggesting the phrase “come from away” should be banned from Atlantic Canadian vocabulary. He’s on a mission to change that.

The provocative label “come from away” has been slapped on people, firstly, from other parts of Canada and secondly, on newcomers from other parts of the world converging on cities in this region. I do not necessarily see that slight as a racial slur. 

Instead, I think it’s the prejudice of a rural mindset. That sort of antipathy towards strangers, I would like to think, can be found in most rural communities around the world. But what makes this difficult to stomach is the fact that a rural mindset, which seeks to distance itself from socio-economic progress, will leave Atlantic Canadians in the backwaters of Canada’s economic mainstream.

That, I believe, is Minister Brison’s wake-up call.

[A] rural mindset, which seeks to distance itself from socio-economic progress, will leave Atlantic Canadians in the backwaters of Canada’s economic mainstream.

Distinctly homogenous

In 2004, Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson ruffled feathers when he wrote his piece: “Why Atlantic Canada remains white and poor.” At the time, he cited a Statscan study which revealed that 73 per cent of all new arrivals to Canada in the preceding five years had settled in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver.

In fact, immigration to Atlantic Canada at the time was so insignificant, he said, that the region was not even mentioned in the main body of the 73-page report. Halifax took in 2.1 per cent of newcomer arrivals and St. John's claimed a dismal 0.8 per cent.

In recent years, that demographic patina may have changed somewhat. The arrival count has bumped up.  Nova Scotia’s immigration minister, Lena Diab told me some months ago that the number of arrivals under the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) almost doubled in 2015 rising from 700 nominations in 2014 to 1350 in 2015.

But the demographic face of the region has not changed in any spectacular way. Like the rest of Atlantic Canada, the province is distinctly homogenous.  

An immigration study titled Pathways to Prosperity observes: “When we examine Nova Scotia, we see a different pattern. Although there are some concentrations of immigrants from China, India, and the Philippines, especially among economic category immigrants, we see that traditional sending countries, like Britain and the USA, still play a prominent role as the sending countries of immigrants to the region.” This pattern is in striking contrast to the demographic stats unfolding in the rest of Canada.

Resistance to change

The trend, I think, is driven by a stubborn resistance to change, a commitment to “old boy networks” and a reluctance on the part of rural Atlantic Canadians to assimilate with people who are different and have “come from away”. The trend is a dangerous one for a nation seeking a vibrant economy.

That is exactly what prompted Brian Lee Crowley, former President of AIMS ( Atlantic Institute of Market Studies) to proclaim some time ago: “How we respond to the challenges of immigration, diversity and population change will literally determine whether we as a society live or die.” A dramatic statement no doubt, but no less true for that.

“Atlantic Canadians are struggling to renew their society,” he pointed out. “Indeed, governments can make a difference, but immigration is not merely an affair of governments. That is why the key question is not ‘Why don’t they come’ but rather ‘Do we really, in our hearts, want them to come.’”

When Halifax hosted the Atlantic Mayor’s Immigration Conference in 2005, that was a ground-breaking initiative, reflecting new ideas coming out of think-tanks in the country that said cities and communities have a role in developing multicultural societies for economic growth.

It is a foregone conclusion that growing immigration is a sure sign of economic and cultural dynamism. Ottawa may set the parameters for national policy, but creating the environments and infrastructure in which diversity can thrive is a job for city planners and communities.

Ottawa may set the parameters for national policy, but creating the environments and infrastructure in which diversity can thrive is a job for city planners and communities.

Do-or-die question

So, it’s not really a matter of dropping the “come from away” slight from Atlantic Canada’s vocabulary. It’s the mindset that must change. Canadians in our rural towns continue to believe that Canada’s immigration program reflects its altruism and humanitarian outlook on the world, confusing the country’s commitment to the Geneva Convention on Refugees with its immigration program that’s driven to grow the economy, drive up consumption, sustain the tax base and keep its productivity competitive and vibrant. 

In other words, it’s important for rural Canadians to see in Crowley’s statement an absolute truth: “How we respond to the challenges of immigration, diversity and population change will literally determine whether we as a society live or die.”

Robin Arthur is editor of Touch BASE, a monthly tabloid with a global news perspective and a voice that addresses the challenges of diversity, human rights and social justice. He is based in Halifax.

Publisher's Note: This is the first in a series of guest commentaries NCM plans to run in the coming weeks on immigration to Atlantic Canada.

Published in Commentary

by Robin Arthur in Halifax

 

The global community will observe World Refugee Day on June 20 to call attention to the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. There are now about 60 million people displaced around the world.

 

In Canada, the Humanitarian Coalition has launched a national campaign to generate funds. The campaign “Help Them Dream Again” aims to mobilize all Canadians in support of refugees worldwide. The campaign has already enlisted the backing of key corporate and media partners and Canadian businesses are joining the effort.

 

CARE Canada, Oxfam Canada, Oxfam-Quebec, Plan International Canada and Save the Children are collaborating with partners including the UNHCR Canada, World Vision Canada, Islamic Relief Canada and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank to meet the urgent needs of refugees and displaced people worldwide.

 

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Published in Top Stories
Thursday, 16 June 2016 14:06

Visa Officers Largely Bias-Free: Author

by Howard Ramos in Halifax, Nova Scotia 

In a country where over one in five people are immigrants and far more are children and relatives of immigrants, questions of who gets into Canada and how decisions are made on immigration matters are of central concern. For instance, does the immigration system profile people from particular countries or specific ethnic or racial backgrounds? How is family sponsorship evaluated? And why do some people get visas to visit while others don’t?

Questions like these are tackled head-on by McMaster sociologist Vic Satzewich in his prize winning book Points of Entry: How Canada’s Immigration Officers Decide Who Gets In. He offers a comprehensive overview of Canada’s immigration system by looking at the overall social and political context driving immigration, the organizational structure of the Immigration department, and most interestingly, how immigration officers on the ground make decisions on individual applications and prospective immigrants. [We have excerpted a section of the Introduction to give readers a flavour of the kind of dilemmas visa officers face.]

Biases in the system

The professor visited 11 visa office abroad between 2010 and 2012 across all regions and also met with officials in Ottawa several times. In his visits he tagged along with visa officers to see how they do their jobs, reviewing field operating notes and discussing with them about how they make their decisions.

He was particularly interested in examining the discretion that immigration officers have in their decisions, and their role as, what he calls, street-level bureaucrats. Their discretion and ability to make on the ground decisions have led some to question whether there are biases and hidden agendas in Canada’s immigration system.

Satzewich found no direct evidence of discrimination in approval and refusal rates across visa offices around the world, nor did he observe it through the practices of immigration officers. In fact, he found little variation in rates across regions and source countries, with officers very aware of the need for consistent application of policies. He drilled down into specific visa categories by looking at decisions made around spousal and partner sponsorship, decisions on those applying under the skilled worker program, as well as those seeking visitor visas.

Satzewich found no direct evidence of discrimination in approval and refusal rates across visa offices around the world, nor did he observe it through the practices of immigration officers.

Continual change

His analysis of the family pathway offers important insights on the Canadian government’s concern with marriage fraud. His analysis is vivid and colouful, with descriptions of what goes into case processing and an explanation of how immigration officers identify anomalies they want to investigate and then ultimately the interviews they conduct with prospective immigrants and their sponsors.

His analysis of skilled workers offers a similar level of insight.

During his field research, Canada’s immigration system was in a period of rapid and constant change. Former immigration minister Jason Kenney tweaked how the system worked on a regular basis, ultimately leading to fundamental changes to the immigration system. Satzewich tracked those changes and how it affected the system and on the ground decisions by immigration officers.

One significant change documented is the increased importance of visitor visas over permanent residency with the introduction of a super visa for parents and grandparents, the rise of temporary foreign worker applications, and a move towards attracting more international students.

Another important change was the previous government’s move to rationalize the processing of immigrants and speed up the processing time.

Increased pressure

Rather than finding overt bias and discrimination in the immigration system, what Satzewich found was an increased pressure on immigration officers stemming from a move towards immigration processing targets, faster deadlines, increased use of impersonal evaluation criteria, the auditing of their decisions and a move away from interviews and discretionary autonomy.

... Satzewich found was an increased pressure on immigration officers stemming from a move towards immigration processing targets, faster deadlines, increased use of impersonal evaluation criteria, the auditing of their decisions and a move away from interviews and discretionary autonomy.

Despite all the changes, Satzewich did not find a nostalgic longing for “old times” among the immigration officers he spoke with. In part, this is because of generational turnover, with fewer and fewer officers having worked in the immigration system when their on-the-ground decisions carried more weight in the evaluation of files.

His research ultimately shows that Canadian immigration officers are highly dedicated to their jobs and recognize the weight of the decisions they make on a daily basis.

CLICK FOR EXCERPT:

  • Maria enters the interview booth with a broad, confident smile. Brenda, the visa officer responsible for reviewing her application, smiles back and asks her to close the sliding door behind her. There is no chair on Maria’s side of the small, six- by eight-foot interview booth, so she takes a few seconds to put her bag on the floor and try to get comfortable for the interview. She ends up leaning against the small ledge in front of the bulletproof glass window that separates visa applicants from visa officers. A few years ago, Canadian embassies installed the special glass in their interview booths because of safety and security concerns. People sometimes get angry when their visa application is refused, and in this day and age, you can never be too careful.

    Brenda points to the telephone on the wall and gestures to Maria that she should pick it up. She welcomes Maria and introduces herself as “the visa officer responsible for your case.” She asks Maria in English if she can understand what she is saying. Maria nods in agreement, but Brenda asks her to please say “yes” or “no.” Maria says “yes.” Brenda needs a verbal response because she has to document her decision-making process by keeping notes of the questions asked, Maria’s replies, and her own assessment of the answers. Brenda then asks if she is comfortable conducting the interview in English, and since Maria lived in the United States for several years, she says “yes” but asks that Brenda “speak slowly.”

    Brenda already knows a lot about Maria and her circumstances from the spousal application for immigration that she and her Canadian sponsor submitted eight months ago. Maria’s husband wants her to join him in Saskatoon, and as part of the application, couples are asked to tell the story of their relationship. Brenda reviewed the application about a month ago, but something about the couple’s story did not add up. Her program assistant contacted Maria to schedule the interview so that Brenda’s concerns could be addressed.

    Visa officers do not interview every applicant for admission to Canada. In fact, headquarters in Ottawa likes them to keep the number of interviews down and encourages them to make their decisions solely on the basis of the information in the application. Interviews take a lot of time, and time in a visa office is in short supply. Officers are trained to make their decisions to approve or refuse visa applications relatively quickly. Brenda has two or three dozen files stacked on the corner of her desk and on top of two filing cabinets in her office. Her program assistant is working on a couple dozen other files at various stages of processing. Globally, there are thousands of applications in what Citizenship and Immigration euphemistically calls its “inventory,” which is its code word for “backlog.” The more time Brenda spends on one file, the longer other applicants must wait for a decision.

    Officers must also meet their yearly visa issuance targets. It is early December, and Brenda’s office has not yet met its target for family class spousal visas. If Brenda fails to meet it, this will reflect badly on her and on her boss, the immigration program manager. Headquarters in Ottawa will also be unhappy because it will have to find another visa office to pick up the slack. All the other offices are also working hard to meet their own targets, so a last-minute request to increase a target because another office has not met its own quota means that something has gone awry. If no other office manages to fill the gap, the overall target for family class admissions will not be met, and the immigration minister will want to know why. The minister announced the targets the year before in Parliament and will be held accountable by the Opposition if the number of visas falls far below, or far above, them. Since politics are politics, Opposition colleagues can be rather unforgiving in their assessment of a cabinet minister’s performance and will relish any opportunity to cast the minister as incompetent or as failing to control his or her department.

    In a family class spousal sponsorship case, such as that of Maria, Brenda must be “satisfied” that the relationship between Maria and her husband in Canada is “genuine” and that its primary purpose is not for Maria to gain permanent resident status in Canada. Upon reviewing the file a month earlier, Brenda suspected that this might be a marriage of convenience. She uses the interview to figure out whether the relationship is real and whether its primary purpose is immigration.

    After asking a few simple, factual questions – Maria’s full name, date of birth, and other matters that already appear on the application – Brenda starts to focus more closely: “It says on your application that you lived in the United States for fifteen years and that you returned to Guatemala three years ago. Why did you return to Guatemala after living for so many years in the United States?” Maria explains that she missed her family and returned to Guatemala to be closer to them. This sounds odd to Brenda, who thinks to herself, “Why would someone voluntarily leave the United States to go back and live in Guatemala?” She suspects that Maria is concealing something, so she pointedly asks, “Were you deported from the United States?” After pausing for a moment to reflect on her answer, Maria admits that she was slated for deportation but chose to leave before the American authorities put her on the plane. She does not explain why she was going to be deported, but Brenda puts two and two together and surmises that Maria probably overstayed her original visa and then somehow caught the attention of US immigration authorities. For Brenda, Maria’s original evasive answer to the question of why she left the United States confirms her concerns and prompts her to dig deeper.

    She moves on. “How did you meet your husband?” Maria explains that they first met at the birthday party of a mutual friend when they were both living in Los Angeles. They dated a few times, but nothing really came of the dates. A few years later, they met again at another birthday party of a mutual friend, this time after she had returned to Guatemala.

    Brenda also knows a fair amount about Maria’s husband. She has access to the Field Operations Support System database, which contains information about the application history of everyone who has applied for admission to Canada in the past several years. Before the interview, Brenda pulled up the file for Maria’s husband, which told her that he, too, is from Guatemala and that seven years ago he submitted a successful refugee claim in Canada. He had lived in the United States for several years but then crossed the border into Canada at Surrey, British Columbia. She suspects that he, too, was scheduled for removal from the United States and that rather than return to Guatemala, he decided to take a chance with the Canadian refugee determination system. When he crossed at Surrey, he must have uttered words to the effect that “I am a refugee.” As soon as Canada Border Services Agency staff heard the word “refugee,” a complex refugee determination process came into play. Ultimately, Maria’s husband convinced the Refugee Protection Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board that he was genuinely in fear of his life in Guatemala, so he was granted permanent residence status in Canada.

    After this, he returned to Guatemala to visit some old friends, where “by chance,” he met Maria again. Since he planned to be in Guatemala for a month, they started dating, and this time they fell in love. Within two weeks, they were married at a small civil ceremony. A few close friends attended. Though his mother and two brothers lived in Guatemala, they were not at the wedding. Maria explains that they lived “far away” and could not travel to Guatemala City for the wedding. She adds that her mother and sister stayed away because they thought that her husband was not “good enough” for her.

    As Maria explains the circumstances of how she met and married her husband, Brenda looks through a pile of thirty or forty photographs that the couple included in the application to support the story of their relationship. The photos show the marriage ceremony and the small reception that followed it. One shot shows about twelve guests seated at a large restaurant table, all happily toasting the bride and groom.

    The other pictures are of the wedding night and the honeymoon. The wedding night photos show the couple in the bedroom. She is wearing lingerie; he is in a bathrobe with his chest exposed. They are lying on a bed, smiling directly into the camera and toasting with champagne. Brenda looks at these pictures and cracks a barely visible smile. She thinks to herself, “Why on earth would they have a photographer in their bedroom on their wedding night?” The honeymoon photos show the couple on a beach in Panama. Maria explains that they chose Panama because they got a good deal on a package offered by a local resort. Shortly after their honeymoon, Maria’s husband returned to Canada and began the process of sponsoring her for permanent resident status.

    Brenda then turns to the issue of children. “It says on your application that you have a child in the United States.” “Yes, she is grown and goes to college.” “Were you ever married before?” “No, this is my first marriage.” Finally, Brenda moves on to questions about Maria’s relationship with her husband. “It says on your application that you talk to your husband every day for about twenty minutes.” Also included in the file are a stack of phone cards that Maria says she uses to call her husband in Saskatoon. The cards provide no information about the numbers that were dialed or the length of the calls. Since, in themselves, they are not evidence of much, Brenda asks, “So what do you talk about with your husband when you call?” Maria says that they talk about how much they love and miss each other, and how they can’t wait to be together again. Brenda smiles, but then asks, “Okay, but you can’t talk about love all of the time. What else do you talk about?” “We talk about our lives and our future life together, things like that.” At this point in the interview, Brenda starts to drill down, to look for specifics. In her view, real couples talk about more than just love: genuine partners have some knowledge of each other’s past and everyday lives and circumstances.

    “Where does your husband work?” “A trucking company; I think its name is On Time Trucking, or something like that.”

    “What is the name of your husband’s boss?” “I don’t know.”

    “What are the names of some of the people he works with?” “He does not really have any friends at work.”

    “What are the names of his non-work friends?” “He sometimes talks about a guy named Sam, who lives in the same apartment building.”

    “What kind of apartment does he live in, and how many bedrooms does it have?” “I don’t know.”

    “What is his favourite meal?” “Hamburgers.”

    “What does he like to cook for himself?” “Hamburgers.”

    “What was the last movie he saw?” “Friday the Thirteenth.” “So, he likes scary movies?” “Uh huh.”

    This back-and-forth about Maria’s knowledge of her husband and his life in Canada lasts about ten minutes, and then Brenda asks, “Are you looking forward to moving to Saskatoon?” “Yes, very much.” “What is Saskatoon like?” “I don’t really know, but it seems it is a lot like California.” Brenda, visibly surprised by this answer, says, “Really? What makes Saskatoon like California?” Maria pauses for a moment and replies, “There is shopping there, it is clean, things like that.” “Have you ever seen any pictures of Saskatoon in the winter?” “No.”

    The interview lasts for about an hour, and after the last question Brenda takes a few minutes to review the overall application and digest Maria’s answers. She then tells Maria that she is not satisfied that her relationship with her husband is genuine, and that she believes that the primary reason for her marriage is to gain permanent resident status in Canada. She details the “concerns” that have led to her assessment. Maria listens with apparent surprise that her story is not believed and spends the next few minutes trying to address each of Brenda’s concerns by repeating what she has already said. After listening intently, Brenda says, “Thank you, I am ready to make my decision.”

    In the end, what decision do you think Brenda made? Did she grant Maria her family class spousal visa, or did she refuse the application? Was Maria in a real relationship, or was it a fake? Did she get married primarily because she wanted to become a permanent resident in Canada or because she loved her husband and wanted to start a new life with him?

    Canadian visa officers must answer these kinds of questions every day. They make decisions about who should, and should not, be issued a visa to enter Canada, both as permanent and temporary residents.

    Excerpted with permission from Points of Entry: How Canada’s Immigration Officers Decide Who Gets In, by Vic Satzewich, 2015, UBC Press, Vancouver and Toronto, Canada.

Howard Ramos is a Professor of Sociology at Dalhousie University. His research focuses on issues of social justice including the non-economic elements of immigration and examination of family and non-economic streams of immigration to Canada. 

Published in Books


The 2016 Nova Scotia Multicultural Festival has been cancelled this year, for the first time in its 40 year history.
The Multicultural Association of Nova Scotia (MANS), the organization behind the festival, was given eviction notice …

 

Touch BASE

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Published in National
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