Statement made on 03 December 2008 by Senator Mobina Jaffer
Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer:
Honourable senators, I am pleased to have this opportunity today to reply to certain aspects of the government's Throne Speech. I would like to address the issues of diversity, accreditation, global security and homelessness. Due to time constraints, I will not be able to address these issues as fully as I would have liked.
I found the Government of Canada's commitment to help all Canadians heartening. Outlined in the Throne Speech, it reads:
Canada is built on a promise of opportunity, the chance to work hard, raise a family and make a better life. Today, it is more important than ever to deliver on this promise and ensure that all Canadians share in the promise of this land, regardless of cultural background, gender, age, disability or official language. This Government will break down barriers that prevent Canadians from reaching their potential.
I agree that Canada is built on a promise of opportunity and I further agree that the time to deliver on that promise is now. Therefore, I strongly urge our government to address the plight of Canada's forgotten urban youth. This sector of our population requires the government's help to reach its full potential.
In this regard, I request the federal government review Ontario's McMurtry-Curling Report on the Roots of Youth Violence. This report recommends that government resources be focused on Ontario's most disadvantaged communities and describes how poverty, racism, the lack of decent housing, culturally insensitive education systems and limited job prospects combine to create hopelessness, alienation and low self-esteem. This in turn creates a situation where youth too often explode into violence.
The McMurtry-Curling report recommends measures to improve social conditions, address poverty and racism, generate employment opportunities, establish a comprehensive youth policy framework, as well as advocates for better cooperation amongst different government ministries and agencies.
It also outlines the role that governments can play and clearly sets out what can be done for the most vulnerable communities. By providing training, education and access to recreation, it is hoped that these young people will have a real chance to live productive lives that are free from violence.
Honourable senators, in our multicultural society, youth who, for many reasons have not reached their full potential, are finding themselves disenfranchised. We must act now, as the government has said, to ensure that all Canadians share in the promise of this great land.
The second issue I wish to address today is that of credential recognition in Canada. In the Throne Speech, our government committed to:
. . . work with the provinces to make the recognition of foreign credentials a priority, attract top international students to Canada and increase the uptake of immigrant settlement programs.
I was pleased to see the government's commitment to this issue. The negative costs to our labour market, economy and skilled immigrants are substantial.
Canada has highly-educated and experienced immigrant professionals and tradespeople who are unemployed or under-employed. We encourage skilled immigrants to come and make Canada their home but we fail them when we have a foreign-trained doctor driving a cab or a civil engineer working as a building inspector. Addressing this issue is long overdue, especially in light of the policy to fast-track immigrant applicants identified as necessary to our economy.
To find solutions, it is imperative that we understand the obstacles or barriers that newcomers face when they arrive in our country; what keeps immigrants from using their education in Canada's workforce and what prevents them from bettering their social and economic circumstances?
Foreign work experience and education is particularly discounted in the Canadian labour market, and is considered by far one of the largest setbacks by skilled immigrants. A vicious circle for new labour market entrants has many of them taking "survival jobs." As with any individual trained in a specific profession, time spent away from that work leads to loss of skill, which then affects prospects of entering the profession for which they immigrated to Canada for. The long result is a lower income for this individual, as well as downward social mobility.
On the issue of credential assessment, its sheer complexity makes it a daunting task for the federal government to address. An overwhelming number of players and jurisdictions are involved. Credential recognition is considered a provincial matter. The federal government is now in charge of immigration and providing money to the provinces. However, the federal government is not in charge or in control of the barriers that skilled immigrants face when attempting to have their credentials recognized in their province. These barriers occur with different regulatory bodies, as well as post-secondary educational institutions and credential assessment services.
I request of our government that, just as it brings the provinces to the table on issues such as health care, it must also bring the provinces together on the issue of accreditation. The federal government, in its capacity as the agent in charge of immigration, has a responsibility. It is the immigration department that initially awards the points for education and experience that facilitates an immigrant's entry to our country. This approved education and skill set must be transferable to their new country.
I will suggest a few changes. Changes can be made at the federal level to encourage greater access to the labour market for skilled immigrants. At the federal level, many have advocated more cooperation between the two departments, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Human Resources and Social Development Canada, which deal with labour issues faced by immigrants. These departments function independently of one another. CIC has had a long-standing habit of not considering labour market issues facing skilled immigrants when developing departmental programming. As a result, these programs do not necessarily meet the needs of immigrants. For example, the department provides language training. However, this training is not to a standard acceptable to many work environments.
With respect to other possibilities, the federal government may also consider reviewing some of its current programming to see if those programs meet the needs of immigrants. In this regard, it would be useful to know if programming like the Foreign Credentials Referral Office helps skilled immigrants.
A criticism of this office has been that it merely collects information already available to skilled immigrants on the Internet. We need to find out if the office helps immigrants to obtain their credential recognition and gain employment. We need to educate ourselves as to the success of this initiative and whether there could be an expanded role for it.
I will now speak about relaxing regulation and certification. Another issue worth mentioning is the possibility of relaxing our demands. Perhaps the provinces should take note of comments made by the Alberta's Minister of Employment, Immigration and Industry. Minister Iris Evans stressed a need for professional groups to loosen up their certification process. She said, "We need to try to get through some of the red tape, which is there for a good reason, but still in a way that ensures the safety of people and continues to build the workforce."
She may be on to something. The example she gave is 10,000 surplus doctors in the United Kingdom who cannot come to Canada because they have no obstetrics training. She said, "Let's bring them here and train them for a few months rather than reject them."
Minister Evans also talked about credential checks before entry to Canada. She advocates an ounce of prevention and thinks that Citizenship and Immigration Canada should check potential immigrant credentials on the other end before bringing people to Canada who are not qualified. Maybe this is the way to start the harmonization talks with provincial governments, regulatory bodies, universities and employers.
Honourable senators, some progress has been made on these issues. Progress has been made with the programming that targets issues dealing with Canadian work experience. Success stories include the one-stop facilities created in Mississauga, Brampton, Toronto and Vaughn, Ontario. These resource centres offer to help coordinate settlement services. The funding is provided through a partnership between the federal government and the Province of Ontario. It offers access to about five agencies. Immigrants visiting these centres can find help with language training, employment assistance, translation, credential accreditation and settlement support — all under one roof. It goes a long way to helping immigrants access the assistance available to them.
I am pleased the government has made this commitment to help immigrants participate fully in our society and help them break down the barriers that prevent them from reaching their potential. Honourable senators, we must think outside the box to break these barriers down. This is our responsibility and I look forward to working with our government to making a real change.
The third issue I wish to raise today is that of global security. In the Throne Speech, our government recognized that:
Our national security depends on global security. Our Government believes that Canada's aspirations for a better and more secure world must be matched by vigorous and concrete actions on the world stage.
Security ultimately depends upon a respect for freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Where these values are imperilled, the safety and prosperity of all nations are imperilled. Canada must have the capacity and willingness to stand for what is right, and to contribute to a better and safer world.
I agree with this statement and believe that, when attacks occur, such as the attack in New York on September 11, they affect all Canadians. In response, our country acted. We introduced our terrorism legislation and we continue to improve on that bill to keep Canadians safe. We are also cognizant of the fact that any country that sacrifices human rights for security ends up with neither. We need to be vigilant about our human rights and also about our security.
Last week, there was another terrible attack in Mumbai, India. As all honourable senators are aware, this terrorist attack has stolen the heart from India. There is now great fear in the largest democracy in the world. Just as we stood shoulder to shoulder with the Americans in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11, we as Canadians must stand shoulder to shoulder with India now. I agree that we should stand up for what is right and contribute to a safe world, as set out in the Throne Speech.
Many lives were lost in Mumbai. Sadly, some were Canadian lives. Today, I commend the government on its aim to keep the world safe, and look forward to working with it to reach out to the people of India.
The final issue I wish to address today is that of homelessness. The government said it will help the homeless and help create affordable housing. The Speech from the Throne reads:
Some Canadians face other barriers to participation in the economy and society, whether in the form of homelessness or debilitating illness. Our Government will extend the Homelessness Partnering Strategy and help more Canadians find affordable housing.
In my city of Vancouver, I often walk at night with a Vancouver city housing advocate, Judy Graves. Honourable senators, I am troubled, frustrated and disheartened by the fact that I, as a B.C. senator, am not able to do more for the people in my province. I sit with young homeless girls to find out what has led them to their plight. Some have recently arrived from the reserves and have nowhere to go. Sadly, others have mental problems and illnesses and I believe we, collectively, have let them down. In a rich country such as ours, it is not acceptable to have Canadians sleeping on the street. I look forward to working with the government as it provides housing solutions for my city and other vulnerable sectors of our population.
In closing, I want to share my personal story with you. Over 30 years ago, when I arrived as a refugee in Canada, I faced a great dilemma. My family and I lost all of our wealth and, most importantly, our home. We came to these shores with the hopes that we would earn it back again; that we would be able to create a new home. Our dreams were shattered when we were told we could not practice our professions. That was our dilemma. There was little help from the government at that time. Eventually, I was able to find my way back and practice my profession. It was due to the largesse of one man, Supreme Court Justice Thomas Dohm. He helped me get recognition as a lawyer in Canada.
My father was helped by Senator Gerry St. Germain. He helped him fight discrimination in the marketing boards. Today, my family is well integrated because of the help of such great Canadians as Thomas Dohm and Senator St. Germain.
Honourable senators, we would be better served if our government, rather than individuals, reached out and helped people reach their potential when they arrive on our shores. When we bring people to our country and do not commit to providing with them resources to thrive and integrate properly into Canadian life and society, all we have are broken dreams and the inability of newcomers to reach their full potential. These people are not able to contribute to our country fully, and as a result, we all suffer — our country is not as great as it could be.
Honourable senators, the Speech from the Throne is a very good blueprint. Now we all have to make it a reality.