Commentary by: Oksana Bashuk Hepburn in Toronto
Canada turned 150 on July 1. From “a few acres of snow” it has been transformed into one of the world’s most prosperous countries, consistently ranking in the top 10 happiest places to live. It is also a global leader in human rights and multiculturalism.
Canadians of Ukrainian descent were instrumental in developing both concepts. Walter Tarnopolsky led the articulation of human rights and civil liberties domestically and internationally. In his honour, the Walter Tarnopolsky International Jurist Award is given to distinguished contributors for work in these areas.
In his maiden Senate speech another Ukrainian Canadian formulated the notion of Canada’s multicultural reality. Sen. Paul Yuzyk is viewed as the father of multiculturalism. Furthermore, in a dissenting report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (1966), member Dr. Jaroslav Rudnyckyj argued against biculturalism. He called for the recognition of Canada’s multicultural reality rather than the enshrinement of Anglo-Celtic and French cultures at the expense of all others.
Canada’s multicultural legislation and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms reflect the work of these notable individuals.
Other far-reaching contributions include the pioneering work in cancer detection by Dr. Sylvia Fedoruk – later the lieutenant governor of Saskatchewan – and Dr. Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut.
Therefore, it is surprising that the contributions of Canadians of Ukrainian descent – pioneers since 1887 and developers of western Canada – have received little recognition to date in this historic year. Is the Ukrainian connection being white washed?
Perhaps a partial answer lies here. The highlight of Canada’s 150 birthday party in Ottawa was the naming of two new astronauts: Jennifer Sidey and Joshua Kutryk.
Ms. Sidey said she was inspired by Dr. Bondar. Her forebears arrived from Ukraine at the turn of the 20th century. Mr. Kutryk has a distinct Ukrainian surname and hails from Alberta, the heart of Ukrainian Canada.
Yet there was no linking of these exceptional Canadians to their roots. Despite this omission, there was much praise for Canada’s diversity at the celebrations on Parliament Hill. Prince Charles said it made Canada a wonderful country; Prime Minister Justin Trudeau celebrated it: Diversity is Canada’s answer to dealing with hardship and discrimination.
It was not always so.
Ukrainians were among the first non-Anglo-Celtic or French minorities to arrive here. Being first is tough. Hardship and discrimination were as brutal then as they are today in the most unfortunate countries. There were no roads, no hospitals, schools or churches. Officials allocated some of the worst land to the “men in sheepskin coats,” and mocked their dress, language and ethnic origin. The internment of Ukrainians during World War I is now seen as a dark moment in Canada’s history.
It can be said, therefore, that Canada learned how to be a “kinder and gentler society” on the backs of the hundreds of thousands that poured in from Ukraine at the turn of the 20th century. Their experiences led directly to the development of human rights and multiculturalism for Canada.
So why, on its big birthday, is their outstanding contribution not acknowledged? Has multiculturalism lost its place? Has it become less valuable as other diverse groups – women, visible minorities, the disabled, the LGBT community – advance?
As always, the squeaky wheels get the grease. The Native Indian nations, for instance, received considerable attention during the birthday celebrations. Most likely it’s because they asserted themselves. They erected an illegal but most prominent teepee on the Parliament grounds that they claim to be their land.
Under-recognition is a form of discrimination too. Dr. Bondar and Mr. Kutryk must not be thrown into an Anglo-Celtic/French melting pot that removes these astronauts’ distinct Ukrainian identity. To do so is to go backwards. It is not Canadian. It is wrong. It dishonors and diminishes the work of Messrs. Tarnopolsky, Yuzyk and Rudnyckyj.
Multi-diverse Canadians – that’s all of them – are strengthened when one of their own succeeds: A young woman is inspired to become an astronaut because a woman who is Ukrainian Canadian – a double minority – made it to the stars. Such success proves that Canada works for all.
Going forward, more work is needed in coming to grips with the notion of unity in multicultural diversity. This is particularly pressing as the world’s population shifts among countries at unprecedented rates due to economic imperatives, wars and climate change.
Canadians, comprising 200 different ethnic groups, live this daily. The Ukrainians in Canada led the way with human rights and multiculturalism. Perhaps they will lead in dealing with this issue as well. First, however, they need to be recognized both at home and abroad for these world-changing contributions.
Republished with permission from the Ukrainian Weekly.
Oksana Bashuk Hepburn is a former director with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, senior adviser to the Government of Canada and president of consulting firm dealing with Canada/Ukraine relations that writes on international issues in Canadian and other outlets.
Commentary by Andrew Griffith in Ottawa
The just-concluded National Metropolis Conference is an annual forum for researchers, policy makers and immigrant-service organizations. This year the conference was held in Montreal.
Here are some of the themes covered and my take on them:
Integration – The Search for a New Metaphor: This session, prompted by the Canadian Index for Measuring Integration (CIMI) discussions on the meaning and definition of integration (and my Integration and multiculturalism: Finding a new metaphor – Policy Options) drew a good crowd (60-70 persons).
I opened with my critique of the “two-way street” metaphor by emphasizing that it did not capture the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of immigration, presenting my preferred metaphor, harmony/jazz, where harmony represents the underlying framework of laws and institutions, and jazz the improvisation involved in resolving accommodation demands.
Mort Weinfeld of McGill University drew from the personal experience of his parents and talking to cab drivers, noting that integration of the second generation is key. His preferred metaphor is the roundabout, with multiple points of entry and exit, with traffic moving smoothly.
Richard Bourhis of UQAM provided a Quebec perspective, looking at how Quebec language policies were characteristic of an assimilationist approach.
Elke Winter of the University of Ottawa drew from her analysis of European policies and practices and noted a third dimensions, that of outside actors and transnational forces (e.g., other countries, home communities of immigrants), and that integration was more a three-way than two-way process.
The presentations prompted considerable discussion, although no one jumped to the defence of the ‘two-way street.’
Thinking about next year, this is a topic that merits further exploration, perhaps involving some literary descriptions or metaphors.
Citizenship – Factors Underlying a Declining Naturalization Rate: In the only session on citizenship, Prof. WInter opened the workshop with an overview of how Canadian citizenship has evolved over the last 150 years, setting out four phases: colonized citizenship (pre-1947), nationalizing citizenship (1947-76), de-ethnicising citizenship (1977-2008) and re-nationalizing citizenship (2009-15) with a possible fifth phase emerging under the Liberal government. She presented some preliminary findings from an interview-based study.
I followed with my usual presentation of citizenship statistics, showing the impact of previous policy and administrative changes along with an assessment of the 2014 Conservative changes and Liberal partial repeal of these changes (currently in the Senate).
Jessica Merolli of Sheridan presented the key MIPEX naturalization indicators and data from the European Social Survey comparing immigrant/non-immigrant attitudes on issues such as self-sufficiency, interests in politics, LGBT acceptance and others and how over time in the country of immigration differences declined. The most striking exception was with respect to interest in politics, where immigrants, no matter how short or long the time, were more interested than non-immigrants.
Questions of note included do we need a citizenship knowledge test given that it presents barriers for some groups, and the impact that the physical presence requirement has on families when one parent has to work abroad given difficulties in obtaining well-paying work in Canada.
Minority Voice, Identity and Inclusion – Media and Literary Expressions: A mix of a case study (Punjabi media by Syeda Bukhari where she noted the ethnic media was getting more sophisticated in comparing what politicians said to English and ethnic media and thus holding them to account) and the overall contribution ethnic media provides to integration (Madeline Ziniak, current chair of the Canadian Ethnic Media Association (CEMA)).
Myer Siemiatycki of Ryerson University gave a fascinating presentation regarding the person and poetry of Julian Tuwin, a Polish Jew (or Jewish Pole) whose loyalty and identity were attacked by both sides.
Negotiating “fit” – Connections Between Employer Mindsets/Practices and Labour Market Success of Newcomers: Kelly Thomson of York University provided an overview of the issue of “fit” and presented a case study of foreign-trained accountants. Aamna Ashraf of the Peel Newcomer Strategy Group (near Toronto) presented the results of a study on soft barriers, with focused and practical recommendations. Madeline Ng of Autodata and Nancy Moulday of TD Bank presented how their respective organizations encourage and facilitate diversity in their workforces.
Fitting In: Identity and belonging among second generation Canadians: Elizabeth Burgess-Pinto of MacEwan University organized this roundtable discussion focussing on the second generation. A number of second generation (and generation 1.5) participants shared their experiences, challenges and identities.
Andrew Griffith is the author of Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism and is a regular media commentator and blogger (Multiculturalism Meanderings). This commentary was adapted slightly from his blog post on the conference. He is the former Director General for Citizenship and Multiculturalism and has worked for a variety of government departments in Canada and abroad.
Commentary by Mayank Bhatt in Toronto
I published my debut novel, Belief, in Canada last year. It’s the story of an immigrant family’s struggle to integrate into the Canadian mainstream.
Just when everything seems to be falling into place after nearly two decades of struggle to survive in an alien land, facing constant rejection, the family discovers their son’s apparent involvement in some sort of terrorist plot. Hurriedly, they consult their neighbours, who put them in touch with a police officer known to them.
The novel explores the family’s trauma following the son’s arrest.
The family’s Muslim identity is central to the story. It deals with the manner in which people of colour who are adherents of Islam are generally (and often unconsciously) treated in a society that they adopt as immigrants.
This is an important issue because in their desperation to grab eyeballs, the mainstream news and entertainment media often forget to make it clear that Islam is not a monolith and all Muslims are not the same.
In writing my novel, I set out with a simple objective – that there is little to distinguish between people on the basis of their beliefs.
The other issue that I wanted to examine was this whole business of radicalisation and terrorism. It’s important to underline that such a phenomenon doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Young men such as Rafiq, the main character in my novel, go astray in an environment where they are unable to make an emotional or a material connection with society at large, and this leads to many complications for them, for their families and the society.
From the family’s perspective, how different would a son’s radicalisation and subsequent involvement in terrorism be from drug addiction?
I’m not saying that there is no distinction. Society will definitely distinguish between the two, and weigh down heavily on radicalisation and terrorism while condoning drug addiction, and we can argue that this has a lot to do with race, but that really is a different debate.
I’d still want to believe that it would still represent an enormous crisis from the parents’ point of view. I don’t know whether the parents of a son who’s a drug addict would take comfort from the fact that their son is “only” dealing with a drug problem, rather than being radicalised as a terrorist.
The other challenge I dealt with while writing the novel was that I’m not a Muslim. This is a sensitive matter. Would I be able to portray with accuracy and empathy the life of a Muslim family, the family dynamics, and the inner turmoil?
I was born in a Hindu family. However, but for my grandmother, nobody really practised the religion regularly or ritualistically. But I grew up and lived in a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood for more than three decades in cosmopolitan Bombay (now Mumbai).
Also, as a journalist in Bombay, I covered religious violence that wreaked havoc on Bombay in 1992-93, witnessed first-hand the callousness of the state in bringing justice to the survivor victims of these riots, and recorded the adverse long-term effects of official neglect that Muslims in India have suffered.
And perhaps, most pertinently, I’ve been married to a devout Muslim for over two decades.
Yet, to construct a novel was a grave responsibility. In recent years, there have been intense debates in the literary spheres about ‘cultural appropriation’.
Lionel Shriver let loose a veritable storm last year when she defended her right to write about anything that she as a writer wanted to (Read her speech here, and Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s response here).
Closer home, our own Giller Prize winner Joseph Boyden has been hauled over the coals for claiming to be Aboriginal; his defence is that he feels like one, even if he may not be one genetically.
Well-meaning Muslim friends of South Asian origin cautioned me that my attempt at depicting a Muslim milieu in Canada would lack authenticity and suggested that I abandon the “misadventure”. I was, of course, not going to do that, mainly because I believe that imagination and craft could be better substitutes for experience.
I believe that a novelist’s primary responsibility is to tell a story competently and responsibly. Innumerable novelists have created a world in their novels that are palpably real without ever being even remotely connected to the world they create.
I have done so in Belief and I’ll leave it to the reader to judge whether the novel succeeds in portraying the complexity of being a Muslim in Canada.
Mayank Bhatt’s debut novel Belief was published in 2016 by Mawenzi House. Read our review here - Novel Explores Road to Radicalization
by A Special Correspondent in Montreal
A new Concordia University study has found that making friends in Canada and being positive about the "new country" can go a long way in helping new immigrants integrate into communities.
“[The study] shows that the early days after immigration are very important for newcomers. The dispositions and preferences expressed by people when they first arrive will set them off on different trajectories of social engagement in the new culture,” said a Concordia news release.
1. Does Canada's policy of multiculturalism play a role in these predictors of integration?
We did not specifically test that idea, but we believe it does. In terms of social interactions and friendships, it takes two to tango. The fact that newcomers were able to form friendships in the mainstream society and interact regularly with Canadians likely reflects a welcoming Canadian climate that encourages contact between members of different cultural groups.
2. Does it matter if the "friends" are drawn from the same ethnic community?
For an immigrant, making friends with someone with the same cultural origin or with people in the mainstream society is quite different. For that reason, this study focused on predicting interactions and friendships in the mainstream society, so outside of people's own cultural group.
In addition, we selected only participants who had neither English nor French as their native language. We reasoned that making friends with well-established Canadians is very different for someone from China or Venezuela than for someone from the United States or from France.
3. What percentage of those studied were successfully "integrated" over the course of the study?
This is really hard to say, as there are no clear cut-offs for what "successful integration" means. Does it mean having three, or five, or 10 Canadian friends? Does it mean regularly talking to 5 or 10 Canadians? We just don't know, and that's why more research is needed.
What "successful integration" really means is still a pretty open questions. We have elements of answers, but no clear categories.
4. Were there any factors that are specific to Quebec weighed as part of the study?
The study took place in Montreal, which is a very bilingual city. This allowed us to test our hypotheses in both Francophone and Anglophone contexts (the study was the product of a collaboration between researchers at Concordia university and Université du Québec à Montréal). We observed the same patterns in both contexts.
5. What policy implications do these findings have?
In this study, we focused on the very early days of migration, literally within a few weeks of newcomers' arrival. We believe that these early days are crucial and that it's would be important to invest energy and resources to make sure that newcomers have a lot of opportunities to have positive contact with people in the new society. This could take different forms.
For example, a mentoring or buddy program where immigrants are paired up with a well-established Canadian, just to talk, have some interactions, could be really helpful. Having this initial contact could give an entry point to the immigrant into their new society.
6. Lastly, do the researchers plan to test out their study on a national scale?
This is indeed an exciting future direction for our research!
More information on this study can be found here - The importance of making friends fast — when you’re an immigrant
Commentary by Phil Gurski
There is no doubt that throughout much of the West these days there is considerable angst over immigration and the impacts of new arrivals on Western societies.
This could be over the real – but largely exaggerated – fear that terrorist groups like Islamic State are seeding refugee flows with operatives ready to unleash carnage on European cities. Or, the rise of populist parties in Europe and the U.S. which paint immigration as some kind of existential threat – again vastly exaggerated – to what these countries think they stand for.
Fact is immigrants are increasingly seen as an unwelcome "fifth column" that must be stopped before they can irrevocably change who we in the West are.
I suppose that for some in the traditional West, new citizens, with their strange tongues and even stranger cuisines, dress and customs, represent the unknown, and the unknown is seldom greeted with open arms. Leaving aside the unfortunate amnesia that those who oppose immigration have for the very history of countries like Canada, which, let's face it, is founded on immigration, it is becoming a given that the advent of "foreigners" is not seen as an advantage.
It is also true that for many it is Muslim immigration that is viewed as some kind of existential threat.
So, the debate goes on and facts are often relegated to the margins as pesky, unwanted contributions. Both sides in this debate have their entrenched positions and it is hard to see any common ground.
Integrating with the homeland
One of the points of contention is the degree to which immigrants (i.e. Muslim immigrants) should be encouraged (or even forced) to integrate into the norms and values of the country welcoming them. A repeated theme across Europe has been whether immigrants should accept local practices, even where these clash with the customs of the homeland.
We were thrown into this debate once again this week when Switzerland decided that Muslim girls must partake in mixed gender swimming lessons.
This may strike some as a tempest in a teapot (a pother in a pool?) and beg the question whether the State has any business in the spas of the nation (pace Pierre Trudeau). Do we not have enough problems, and much larger ones than that, to worry about than whether girls and boys take a dip together?
And yet, there is something to this ruling and it has to do with whether or not we want to create a tolerant, inclusive society.
No, I am not saying that an absence of integration is a surefire recipe for radicalization and terrorism because I know better than that and have been beating that drum for decades. But there are merits to having all citizens buy into a small set of public practices all in the interest of social cohesion.
Rules of the majority
We in Canada may debate ad nauseum what "Canadian" means, but there surely are a few fundamental tenets that are non-negotiable, such as the belief in a secular, liberal and democratic nation, gender (and increasingly same sex) equality and the rule of law, even if we don't always get these right.
The demand that boys and girls are not separated routinely based on gender (there may be a legitimate argument for extremely limited occasions such as math and science education for girls only) is one of those immovable convictions. "Separate but equal" is a phrase that would strike many in 2016 as a form of apartheid, since while the "separate" part is easy to achieve, these arrangements are rarely "equal". In Canada. most education is co-ed. That is the standard and is as it should be.
Muslims who immigrate to the West are obviously allowed to practice their faith in private as they see fit and the State has no say in this (provided, of course, that it does not undermine the rule of law). In the public domain, however, a different set of rules apply and those are the rules of the majority.
Sorry, but that is how democracy works.
To those who reply that imposing the mixing of genders would force many families to take their girls out of swimming lessons, I grant that this may happen. This does not shake my absolute certainty, however, that it is necessary in a multicultural land.
We cannot allow each community to dictate its own public demands on the majority. Newcomers must by definition adjust to a new reality and conform to a few accepted standards. This is not unreasonable since these requirements are few and far between and do not impinge on private practice and faith.
We in Canada pride ourselves on our inclusiveness and open society. It is incumbent on immigrants to be as open.
Phil Gurski worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and the forthcoming Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at http://www.borealisthreatandrisk.com/blog/
by Dr. Gina Valle in Toronto
Children of immigrants learn to live in two worlds. As a first-generation Canadian, I learned to maintain and modify my Italian culture in order to make it valid and workable in Canadian society. There is some consolation in knowing that many children of immigrants share this feeling and practice.
As a woman raised in an immigrant home, I travel daily between the rural, southern Italian culture I acquired inside my home and the urban, mainstream Canadian culture I live outside. Each day, I build bridges of understanding, as I create a new culture. This new culture straddles the ‘old’ world in which I was raised and the ‘new’ world of contemporary Canadian society. There is no doubt that the contrast between these diverse realities has allowed me to live a more full life.
My parents were post-war immigrants to Canada from Calabria. My father, Domenico Valle, arrived at Pier 21, in Halifax, in 1957. My mother, Giuseppa Ziccarelli, came in 1960. My parents had been neighbours in their hometown of Lago, Cosenza. My father was the eldest of his family, and shortly after his father died, he went to France, Germany and eventually Canada in search of steady work.
While in Toronto, my father held down three jobs and lived with his cousins, Luca and Sofia Perri, until he decided it was time to get married. He wrote his neighbour in Lago, Antonio Ziccarelli, and asked for his eldest daughter’s hand. A few months later, in the spring of 1960, my mother boarded a ship in Napoli, bound for Canada. (A wedding picture at left)
Two years after her arrival, I was born. Three years later, my brother Antonio Nicola was born. In the early years, my father made donuts, washed cars, and sold vacuum cleaners. My mother made clothes for dolls and took care of boarders, to help support her family. As my parents worked around the clock, my grandmother, Luigina Valle, cared for us in our home. Nonna had come to Canada, to live with her eldest son, shortly before my baptism.
Although my father’s love of building new homes was where his real interest lay, he went on to start a business as an insurance broker, with my uncle Domenico Groe. They worked hard at this business, until they finally retired and closed their doors in 2002.
Richness of two worlds
I attended public schools, and in keeping with my parents’ strong work ethic, I began working as an 11-year old by delivering newspapers, babysitting and stocking shelves at the local drugstore. From time to time, I would adopt a ‘Hollywood’ version of life, but otherwise, I instinctively knew that everything in life would require hard work.
Language and culture shape me as they weave their way through my life as a daughter, mother, wife, granddaughter, friend, and professional. Creating a new culture, one that straddles the old world that my parents understand, and the new world of contemporary society, has always been a very complex process for me. As a child of immigrants, I often tried to reconcile the irreconcilable — home and school — my private and public worlds. Many children of immigrants feel that they have to choose between family and school, and this inevitably became a choice between belonging to an ethnocultural community, or succeeding as an individual. This reality caused part of the alienation I have known as a first-generation Canadian. Having said that, however, it also has allowed me to experience the richness of living in two worlds.
Over time, as I learned to accommodate Canadian culture, I quietly abandoned my Italian culture. I believe that this is the reality of many first-generation Canadians, as we struggle to merge two cultures. Immigrants in a new homeland often know only one way of viewing the world. Children of immigrants always know two. Very subtle negotiations became part of my daily decision-making, as both cultures competed for my allegiance. As a teen, I told half-truths and half-lies to get by, like when I wanted to attend the school dance, go to a sleepover, date a boy, wear make-up or travel outside of Toronto. (Picture — family Christmas circa 1970)
The tensions between two cultural systems remain inside me to this day.
It is this conflict that fuelled my professional work, as I continue to search for ways in which bicultural, multilingual children in our classrooms can accept and wholeheartedly believe in their contribution to education and ultimately our society. Ever since I was a child, I made every attempt to be recognized as an impeccable member of Canadian society, which inevitably consisted of closing off my private life when I closed the door behind me and went to school. I became resourceful, as I adjusted my behaviour to respond to the expectations of Canadian culture.
I had to become creative to cope with realities like why there was no summer camp, but rather my holidays consisted of hanging out with Nonna on the front porch. When classmates departed for the cottage, my excursions were limited to the park down the street. I attended university in Toronto rather than moving out and living in residence. Often, I try to make sense of the choices my parents have made, and the lives they have led — dislocated from the old world, alienated in the new. In the end, however, living in two cultures has made me a more flexible, open-minded and resourceful person.
As a woman raised in a traditional culture, I was only expected to wed and embrace motherhood. The added accomplishment of higher education and a profession were niceties. I was often caught between my first culture’s expectations and my own needs and aspirations as a woman. I have had to work twice as hard as the men in my culture, only to receive half the recognition.
In the same year I was accepted to do my doctoral work, I also became a wife. Guess which garnered more celebration? As such, I have lived in a sea of crushing pressure to conform and limit my expectations to that of wife and mother. In other words, I was expected to accommodate marriage and motherhood. Although deeply connected to my culture in many ways, I quietly chose to rebel against the same culture that can devalue our contribution as women. I opted to walk away from the ‘script’ that others had written for me. It seemed, at times, that few of my accomplishments in life were worthy of discussion around the kitchen table.
According to my southern Italian culture, success as a ‘real’ woman is measured by how well I tend to the hearth, and not in academic terms. In the home, I clear away the table and make coffee for my uncles. Outside of the home, I challenge people’s biases and teach immigrant women about their rights. At times, the dissonance between the competing images of womanhood is difficult to shoulder. There is no doubt that many young girls from traditional cultures are attempting to resolve the same dilemma. They need to face their dragons one by one, and with time their courage will surface. Having grown up feeling that few choices were available to me, outside of a traditional female lifestyle, my hope in my professional work is to create a space for young women to consider they have more choices.
Persevering with French
In 1994, I married David Chemla (see picture below) and moved to Montreal where my husband articled and then worked as a lawyer at Stikeman Elliott. We lived there for several years. Prior to moving to Quebec, I had made few attempts to understand the complexities of that province. I quietly settled into my life in Montreal, and went about my business, naturally assuming that Montreal was like everywhere else in North America. I decided that my ‘practical’ commitment to the Canadian debate about Quebec would be to speak French as often as my energy and goodwill would permit. I persevered to gain proficiency in the French language. Over the years, my studies in France, work projects in Quebec, and French-speaking friends and family members all brought me closer to the language.
I arrived in Montreal shortly after the Meech Lake Accord and just before the 1995 Referendum. As a newcomer to the province, how could I possibly grasp the complexity of the cultural and linguistic debates simmering in the province? Gradually, my social identity began to shift. I was now categorized as an Allophone and not an Anglophone, even though I communicate most efficiently in English. For the first time ever, my native origin was questioned by strangers. “I hear a tinge of an accent,” they would say, trying to determine where I was from.
I worked, shopped, entertained, assessed arguments and sent e-mails in French and English. I read, socialized, attended meetings, negotiated car repairs, accessed services, took courses and returned phone messages in French and English. Everything about my life in Montreal was becoming increasingly bilingual. In essence, what is most unique about the city is its inherent bilingual nature.
Our first son, Gabriel was born on a blistery cold January day. It seemed that it would take forever before I would love being a mother. But as routine set in and our son smiled and made us laugh, I fell in love with him and with my new role. My husband David’s work commitments, as legal counsel for a multinational engineering firm, took him to far off places. This meant that I was often alone with a newborn. Loneliness set in and I longed for the days of family gatherings around the kitchen table.
I asked David if he could request a transfer to Toronto. He said he would make the request, but he was concerned that our children would not be raised in a French-speaking environment. As a Francophone Canadian, whose family was from France and Tunisia, this was very important. I gave him my word. If we moved to Ontario, I would speak to Gabriel, and then also Alexandre, only in French. I continue this to the present day. Add to that the fact that they attended French schools – their books, television and family chit-chat was in French – and somehow in a sea of English dominance, David and I were able to raise two bilingual Francophone children.
Voice for the community
At some point, their French surpassed mine and it was time to focus on Italian. Gabriel and Alexandre always spoke Italian with my parents. They also attended summer camps, sing-along classes, read comics and watched soccer games in Italian. They developed a strong sense of being Italian, which meant spending time with family, helping the grandparents in the garden or in the kitchen and connecting with their cousins in Italy.
After the defence of my doctoral thesis, which was at the same time that I was carrying our second child Alexandre, my precious Nonna fell ill and it was time to complete the circle of care that she had started when she arrived in time for my baptism in 1963. With two children in diapers, my Nonna bedridden due to a stroke, my husband travelling more than ever since his portfolio had expanded in Ontario, and looking for a decent home in an exaggerated market, my professional goals needed to be put on hold.
They were for a while, until we settled into a routine, in our own home. With the kids in school, given that my doctoral work had focused on Teacher Education and Multicultural Studies, I turned my efforts to working in the field of diversity. I launched Diversity Matters Inc. and went on to publish several books, curate a photo exhibit that has travelled to Scandinavia, Asia and the Middle East, produce and direct a multi-faith documentary, develop curriculum resources and deliver workshops.
Life seemed manageable, and as decent as it should be, given the storyline we are fed in our noisy world, until the sudden illness of my father. At the age of 74, he was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Dad was the eldest in his family, the caregiver, nurturer, relentless worker who loved his home-made salami, trips to Florida, bocce games, lunch at the Mandarin, and above all else, his family. He died within a matter of weeks, and everything I knew to be true and real, shattered. I grieved longingly for the person who had been such an inspiration in my life, and an exceptional role model for my sons. He left us too soon. (See picture of Domenico and Giuseppa Valle with their grandchildren, in 2004.)
So, instead of having quiet dinners at home or buying a new rug that matches the living room furniture, I participate in a host of Italian Canadian initiatives, from documenting the stories of Italian immigrant women for the Multicultural History Society of Ontario, to providing feedback on the Italian Canadians as Enemy Aliens national project, or being a board member of AMICI Museum, the Association of Italian Canadian Writers, Italian Heritage Month and most recently Villa Charities. I am a voice for our community as OMNI Television restructures its programming for ethnocultural communities.
I help with homework, prepare dinner, carpool to soccer practice and go to a meeting in our Italian Canadian community (or to Lifeline Syria, Multifaith Toronto, or the Canadian Race Relations Foundation). I do this for my parents, and I do this for my children. I do this for Domenico and Giuseppa Valle, as it is my small way of honouring my parents’ love and commitment to us and to this country. And I do this for my sons Gabriel and Alexandre, as it is my way of teaching them about the past, and giving them a strong sense of belonging to a place we all call home.
Gina Valle, Ph.D., is a diversity trainer, speaker, author and the founder of Diversity Matters, where she challenges Canadians to think outside the black box when it comes to pluralism within our borders and beyond. This first-person account first appeared in Transformations Canada
by Amanda Ghazale Aziz in Toronto
When Carleton University asked reporter Judy Trinh to give a talk on diversity in the journalism industry to students in the journalism and communications program, she said yes.
She suspected why the university had asked her: She works full-time for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), and she’s not white. Even with some reservations, she took the speaking opportunity with a plan in mind.
Up to this point, high schools had been her regular venues to give lectures about journalism. When these schools had asked her to present on diversity, it was always about women in journalism, not race. Carleton’s request was a first.
Carleton’s invitation was an opportunity for Trinh to encourage racialized students to pursue a career in journalism. She truly believed that diverse representation in newsrooms matters, and the first step would be to start an honest discussion on race and the Canadian newsroom. If these students were going to build a meaningful career in media, then they would have to know the full truth.
In a visual slideshow presentation, Trinh presented a comparison of statistics from a study in the Columbia Journalism Review: 49 per cent of minority journalism graduates find a job in journalism, compared to 66 per cent of white journalism graduates. This is the reality for Black, Indigenous and people of colour (lumped into one vague group as “minorities”) who want to break in this industry in the U.S.
A now infamous Laval University study in 2000 had found that 97 per cent of journalists at that time were white. For Trinh, the lack of in-depth reporting on non-white cultures was the sad consequence of the statistic.
“In terms of access, in terms of building trust,” said Trinh. “If you have visible minorities in your newsroom, those ties are stronger.
“When you don’t have those ties, it’s much more difficult to get into those communities and cover them, because there is always a sense of distrust as an outsider.”
Gaining access to racialized communities and reporting on their cultures in more depth are two of many reasons that Trinh thinks that newsroom should be trying to diversify more. A white journalist could conduct thorough research for a piece on a racialized culture and community but there would still be missed nuances.
Even despite these obvious advantages, the statistics suggest that employers still don’t get it. Recently, the CBC came under fire from CANADALAND for not abiding by the Multiculturalism Act’s guidelines on equal opportunity employment for racialized folks. According to the report, a staggering 90–93 per cent of CBC staff were white whereas according to Statistics Canada only around 75 percent of Canadians are white. What’s unsettling in this report is the possibility that employers aren’t compelled to address their discriminatory hiring practices.
Currently, the Multiculturalism Act, along with the Employment Equity Act, is the driving government legislation when it comes to ensuring diverse representation in the newsroom — and the act only applies to newsrooms that are publicly funded. Even then, the act isn’t so heavily implemented as it should be, nor is it fit to match our racial climate today.
The act was written in an era that believed it had achieved a post-racial society. Pierre Trudeau introduced the idea of a Multiculturalism Act in 1971, and Brian Mulroney ratified it a decade later.
Today, however, one in five Canadians identify as a visible minority and we aren’t embracing multiculturalism as much as we think we are. A recent poll by the CBC and Angus Reid shows that 68 per cent of Canadians believe “minorities should do more to fit in with mainstream American/Canadian society,” indicating access to diverse media representation is lacking.
And the Multiculturalism Act itself hasn’t been as accessible as it should be. The language of the act itself is dependent on a dated sense of what equality is, which gives the idea that the act is one size fits all for everyone:
“3 (1) It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Government of Canada to (e) ensure that all individuals receive equal treatment and equal protection under the law, while respecting and valuing their diversity;”
Yasmin Jiwani, a communications studies professor at Concordia University, has been researching the relationship between policy and media over the last few years. In a project with other researchers, Jiwani carefully looked at how Indigenous youth and Muslim youth were portrayed in a three-year time frame at The Globe and Mail. They saw that stories on these groups typically fit narratives such as either “Youth in Trouble” or “Youth as Trouble”, while non-Indigenous and non-Muslim youth were often portrayed as overachievers and young entrepreneurs.
“What my research has shown,” said Jiwani, “is that when we do see people of colour in the media we only see them as ‘problem people’—people who are criminals, people who are taking advantage of Canadian benevolence, or people who are out in war zones.”
“If you are a policy-maker, who most likely doesn’t always encounter folks who are marginalized, what does the press tell you? It tells you that these are ‘problem people’ and they don’t belong in our nation.”
Canada likes to hail itself as a multicultural mosaic. And with Donald Trump’s win in the U.S. election early this November, many citizens have been taking the opportunity celebrate Canada’s apparent superiority—forgetting that the country is rampant with its own problems.
After Trump’s victory, Kellie Leitch—who is currently running to be the leader of Canada’s Conservative Party—sent out a mass email calling Trump’s victory an “exciting message that needs to be delivered in Canada as well.”
Before the 2016 U.S. election, she’d already announced plans for tougher screening processes for immigrants and refugees and was promoting the Conservative Party’s idea of creating a “barbaric cultural practices” tipline for the RCMP, which she later said she regretted.
You don’t have to look far online or in print to notice that we’ve fallen short of our nation’s ideal of equality and multiculturalism. Is Canadian journalism today operating under an act that depicts not only an aged view, but one that is unrealistic in its depiction of what multiculturalism is? It’s unclear how employers are required to fulfill their obligations under the Multiculturalism Act and the Employment Equity Act in their workplaces.
Shree Paradkar said it best in her Toronto Star column: “Non-representation in journalism is a form of oppression. It happens when we—Canadians—invite or accept newcomers to our mutual benefit, but then allow only one dominant group—whites—to play gatekeeper to all the stories, generation after generation. Indigenous people, too, are not exempt from exclusion.”
Equally, there is anxiety about newsrooms using racialized writers as tokens instead of addressing changing their overall hiring practices. Jiwani said she is concerned about the trend of news organizations hiring racialized writers to report exclusively on diversity. She calls these token writers “race ambassadors.”
Denise Balkissoon, currently the editor of the life section at The Globe and Mail, recalls that early in her career pitches concerning race and diversity were often shut down. Now she sees the opposite happening. Emerging journalists are being offered the chance to write on these topics. The dilemma, though, is that the opportunity doesn’t extend beyond that assignment.
“Usually a young journalist of colour will get tapped to write a sensationalist story and that story will turn out great,” Balkissoon said. “But then that journalist doesn’t get hired as a staff writer or nurtured to be a well-rounded writer.”
“People have figured out,” added Balkissoon, “that diversity is relevant at a time when there’s no money dedicated to hiring anyone.”
Along with being an editor, and writing a column, Balkissoon is the co-host (with Hannah Sung) of the Colour Code podcast. Colour Code was first conceived after The Globe and Mailgave workers the opportunity to apply for a special projects fund.
The idea for the podcast was originally about Canadian identity but shifted to focusing on race and Canada. “Our goal was not to prove that racism exists,” said Balkissoon, “but that it was already assumed.”
There were already plenty of American podcasts out there on race, and Balkissoon and Sung wanted to do something just as “meaningful and hard-hitting.”
While some white listeners reached out to Balkissoon and Sung to thank them for helping them learn and to re-examine their privilege, others sent hate mail—especially when the show tackled difficult topics. A particularly large amount of hate mail followed the episode “Eggshells,” in which Balkissoon revisits a heated discussion she had on assimilation at CKNW, a radio show in Vancouver. That backlash inspired her column piece, “We all profit from soldiers on the front lines of hate.”
Readers also have responsibility over what they want to get out of a newspaper since they choose what content and publications they read. Balkissoon insists that people who are interested in good journalism should also not hesitate to “tell the people who run it that diversity is important to them.”
She also sees that importance being reflected on their financial contribution, and how it’s contingent on progressing journalism. After starting the crowdfunded digital magazine The Ethnic Aisle with a group of friends, she was surprised over how many people responded with interest to an online publication solely focused on race and ethnicity.
“[The Ethnic Aisle] was envisioned as a side-conversation,” said Balkissoon, “because when I had first joined Twitter I found myself getting into conversations about race in a way I had never before. And then it also became a way for younger journalists to get practice in pitching and to get practice in editing.”
Beyond small publications, spaces for young and racialized journalists to flourish can be hard to find.
Second-year journalism student Andrew (whose name has been changed to protect his identity) finds himself completely alone in the concentration of his program as the only person who identifies as Black.
When he considered going into radio, he was cautioned by the program staff about how the medium was “unbearably white.” His instructors had another recommendation. “They asked me, why would you want to stay here? Toronto has a bigger market—which I kind of get,” he said.
“But it was as if they had wanted me to be the lone Black reporter for a while and then leave for a larger city. The question is, are they really making an effort to attract people to the East coast to work here? Or are they looking for what’s good ‘locally?’ As in hiring what locals want, as they aren’t interested in seeing people of colour in the media.”
As he carries on with his studies, Andrew still plans to continue airing out concerns to his school’s faculty. These are discussions that are frank, he adds, but necessary.
It’s becoming more and more obvious to the public that, in attempts to address this issue, racialized folks are finding a way to speak out. For the last issue of The Ryerson Review of Journalism, the masthead chose diversity as its main focus. Every single article inside the print issue was dedicated to that theme. “Because it’s 2016” was plastered in bold text on the front cover.
And while the year is nearing its end, the discussion is far from over.
Amanda Ghazale Aziz is a student at the University ofToronto, and is a senior editor at the Intersections: The Clapback Journal and associate editor at Acta Victoriana. In 2014-2015, she was one of the Editors-in-Chiefs atThe Strand, and has also contributed to The Varsity, CWA’s Media Works Guide as well as with other publications. Sometimes, she writes on napkins before using them. You can find her as a part of Badass Muslimah's upcoming podcast and as a member of Femifesto.ca.
Commentary by Alma Sandoval Betancourth in Pickering, Ontario
What can I say: I called it.
It may have been my lifetime exposure to dictatorships. It may be my gradual and irreversible loss of faith in humanity that has made me become so jaded.
It may be that I have paid too much attention to the lessons history has thrown at us. And even though I did predict it, it still hit like a bucket of very Canadian ice wintry cold water. Let that one sink in, Canada (and the rest of the world): Donald Trump is the newly elected President of the United States. The head of state of the most powerful nation in the world. And our neighbour to the south. Our closest ally. Canada’s Big Brother. Just because the people were given the option to choose, it doesn’t mean they chose right. In Canada, the great majority of us mourn that choice.
And so, whatever happens to our southerly neighbours, will have a strong effect on how we live, think and act over here. Not only does it affect us, it sends shock waves through our core. You can see it so palpably in the strong reactions of all Canadians (be it happiness or distress) upon hearing the news.
Math at work
Trump’s win (and Clinton’s loss) is not only a loss on sanity, logic and sound decision-making. This is a loss on progress and an attack on the liberties and gains that have taken so long and so much effort and struggle to achieve.
At the core of this loss is the notion — a certainty, really — that humanity is flawed. Human beings, we’re all flawed. And with Donald Trump being a businessman, math comes into play in the form of a twisted version of Victor Hugo’s “The liberty of one citizen ends where the liberty of another citizen begins” that reads more like “one person’s gain is another person’s loss.”
If a woman is on her way of earning the same wages as a man, she is perceived (and this is key, because it’s not necessarily truth, but perception that’s so dangerous) to be taking that away from a man. If a visible minority is making progress in carving a better place for him or herself in society (be it through work, to access to health and education, to being granted access to opportunity and power) that means that someone (more likely a straight white male) is losing that very thing.
If a poor person (whether a visible minority or a white person) is improving the quality of their life, that means (again, perceived) that someone at the top is losing a small percentage of their wealth. And that cannot happen.
On guard, Canada
We as a society must watch very carefully what’s unfolding right before our very eyes. We can see it so much clearer because it’s in high definition: on a computer, on iPads and on our very own smartphones — because everything that has taken place and will be taking place in the future will unfold on social media for the world to see.
Mark my words: this outcome next door will be affecting Canada directly. This could (and most likely will) be Canada in four years.
We may boast how multicultural, egalitarian and progressive we are.
But, we need to start listening, really listening to what’s building up at the core of our society: the unhappiness, unrest and fear (terror, honestly) that those who have been at the top and are gradually experiencing a perceived loss of power are feeling.
We must start listening, really listening because as women, visible minorities, the LGBTQ community, the poor and all those disadvantaged sectors of the population are given more opportunities to play on a level field within Canadian society, there is someone on the other side resenting (sometimes silently) these changes and hoping Canada “becomes great again”.
We must, as a society (our leadership, our politicians, our institutions, our community organizations) really listen to those voices, give them an opportunity to express their concerns and unhappiness, because if we don’t, the disconnect (that very same disconnect that created the marked divisiveness that gave Trump that shocking victory) will only widen, and four or eight years from now we will be stunned to learn that a fascist, racist, bigot regime is threatening the very fabric of what makes Canada such a progressive, forward-thinking and humanitarian nation.
In the meantime, God Help our brothers and sisters to the south.
Republished with permission from Alma Latina. Alma Sandoval Betancourth is editor/publisher of Alma Latina, an English/Spanish publication featuring articles about events/arts & music/community/people in Durham Region and the Greater Toronto Area.
by Our National Correspondent
Dr. Alaa Abd-El-Aziz, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) was appointed Chair of the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) earlier this month. New Canadian Media conducted an interview with him by e-mail.
Q: You obviously bring a strong international outlook to the new position given your own early background and education in Egypt. How do you think your immigrant background will help as Chair of the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU)?
A: Together the presidents of Atlantic Canadian universities share a diverse range of experience and we are stronger because of it. Having been an international student that immigrated to Canada, I would not claim to understand the needs and hopes of all international students. Everyone’s experience is unique, but that does not prevent me from drawing on my experience when I approach an issue.
I believe the key to success for both international and Canadian students stems from good relationships. At the University of Prince Edward Island, we strive to keep this at the core of everything we do, and it is emphasized during new student orientation and mental health and well-being initiatives. Interactions with friends, family, professors, staff, employers, and strangers affect our day-to-day lives, and building good relationships with these people can make all the difference.
International students will almost always have smaller networks of people in their lives so providing those services and opportunities to build those relationships when they come to Canada is key.
Q: As you say in your news release, foreign students are a particular focus. How do you think the current population of international students is fitting into Atlantic campuses? Are they contributing to the overall campus experience or do they tend to keep to themselves?
A: The culture of Atlantic Canadian universities is one in which the larger community and the campus are integral to one another. The cultural and social influences of students and their communities impact each other positively and benefit the overall experiences and success of everyone.
International students play a very important role on Canadian campuses as they are ambassadors for their respective countries. In Atlantic Canada, we strongly believe that integrating our international students into our campus communities not only benefits international students, but also Atlantic Canadian students.
Q: What does your early experience in Canada as a student/researcher tell you about what more Canada – particularly the Atlantic universities – can do to make foreign students feel more welcome? What advice do you provide to international students that you run into?
A: Canada has been, and is, welcoming to students of all cultures, and international students arrive in Canada with great appreciation for our country and its diversity. Having been an international student myself, I can say that there were many Canadians who made me feel at home by demonstrating support, kindness, and sincerity.
I personally have worked with and supervised dozens of international students and I tell them all, “In Canada you have the opportunity to be yourself, talk about your culture, interact with your community, and embrace Canadian values while enriching them with those of your own home.” This is advice that can truly help to make the best of an international student’s experience while studying in Canada.
Q: In your view, should international students have a pathway to Canadian citizenship? Would that help the Atlantic region address its demographic challenges?
A: When I think of immigration and encouraging our international students to stay and pursue citizenship, I recognize the many benefits that would have for our region. As our governments are actively working to attract talent and youth to help build our economy and society, an obvious group of people to attract would be the international students who are currently studying, researching, and honing their skills here in Atlantic Canada. In addition, I have to think about it from the point of view that even if our international students decide to return to their home country, they will forever be linked to Atlantic Canada. This too will have positive results, because if our international students are looking for opportunities to build bridges globally, there is a good chance that their first thought will be Atlantic Canada.
Q: Your time in Canada appears to have taken you to institutions from coast-to-coast. Can you please share with our readers your views on Canadian multiculturalism?
Having arrived as an international student and lived in Canada for over 30 years, I have seen many examples of how Canadians welcome, appreciate, and support the benefits of multiculturalism. We consist of people from all over the world, and yet we are probably one of the best examples of embracing differences. This makes us unique as we pour an incredibly strong foundation that embraces and respects the values of everyone.
by Mackenzie Scrimshaw in Ottawa
With mere weeks remaining before the U.S. presidential election, which could see the victory of a candidate who has vowed to implement “extreme vetting” for immigrants, Independent Sen. Ratna Omidvar, long an advocate for diversity and inclusion, suggests that Canada is mostly, but not entirely, safe from similar issues.
“We’re a far more polite society. We have far more civility,” she said in a recent interview. “I think there are some things that Donald Trump says that nobody would say here, frankly.”
Notwithstanding that observation, Omidvar has some questions about Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch’s proposed “anti-Canadian values” test for immigrants.
“Will someone tell me what is ‘Canadian’ outside rule of law and our values that are expressed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?” Omidvar said.
Omidvar also pointed to a recent poll by CBC News and Angus Reid, in which almost 70 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement: “Minorities should do more to fit in with mainstream American/Canadian society.”
“The CBC poll, I think, in a sense, was a reflection of language and discourse coming in (from the U.S.),” she said.
The senator sat down with iPolitics on October 6 in a vacant office at the University of Ottawa’s Fauteux Building after giving a keynote speech to a group of law students, interested in refugee law, from across Canada. The address was part of the first student-led conference of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.
Although she isn’t a lawyer, Omidvar has worked for years on issues of immigration and diversity. Prior to her Senate appointment, Omidvar chaired an organization called LifelineSyria, which helps resettle Syrian refugees in the Greater Toronto Area. She also headed up the anti-poverty Maytree Foundation for a time.
Now, the rookie senator is a distinguished visiting professor at the Global Diversity Exchange (GDX), a “think and do tank” at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management. Omidvar is also the GDX’s founding executive director.
Recognized widely for her contributions, Omidvar has many accolades, including membership to both the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada.
Omidvar spoke candidly for more than half an hour, sharing with the students her wisdom — such as, ‘tell human stories’ — and her experience fleeing Iran and arriving in Canada in 1981.
Following her address, the senator told iPolitics that Canadians cannot take our experience with multiculturalism for granted.
“I think we have to be aware that our story of ‘Canadian exceptionalism’ is one that continues to be strengthened,” she said.
The government’s citizenship bill
Currently, Omidvar is supporting the government’s citizenship bill, C-16, which she moved to a second reading on September 27. Now, about a year-and-a-half after the former Harper government passed its controversial Bill C-24, known as the Strengthening Citizenship Act, the new piece of legislation is intended to revert the changes the Conservative bill made to the Act.
The senator’s office outlined in a recent news release some of the “significant changes” proposed by the bill:
– Repealing the authority to revoke the citizenship of dual citizens on national interest grounds;
– Repealing the requirement for citizen applicants to declare an intent to reside in Canada;
– Reinstating previous, reduced residency requirements to obtain citizenship;
– Reinstating residency credit for temporary residents; and
– Reinstating previous age requirements to meet language and knowledge criteria to obtain citizenship.
Going forward, Omidvar says she thinks it’s going to be difficult trying to reinstate the previous age requirements, exempting those between 14 and 18 and 55 and older. Already, Omidvar is facing questions about evidence to support this change, which she says she’s trying to gather.
“I’m really concerned, here, about people who have a disadvantage in either having the capacity to learn the language or having the opportunity to learn the language,” she said.
Technically, the opportunity exists to learn an official language, given that there are classes, she said. “But when you have to work three jobs to put [food] on the table, please tell me when are you going to find time to learn English?
“I have a great deal of sympathy for immigrants who are in what I would call ‘precarious work situations,'” she said, adding that this is the case for many immigrants, especially those in cities.
Plus, Omidvar is very concerned about refugee women.
“I have a family that I’m sponsoring: I can see everyone — everyone — in the family is moving ahead by leaps and bounds. Except the mother,” she said. “Imagine if after three years, everybody else becomes a citizen and she doesn’t.”
Don’t pigeonhole her
Following her appointment last March, Omidvar told CBC News that, “There are issues that concern me that I have not been able to work on.”
Omidvar elaborated on this point while speaking to iPolitics, saying that she won’t limit her work as a senator to issues of migration, diversity and inclusion.
“I don’t want to be known as the senator [for] refugees, immigrants,” she said, adding, “It’s a big part of the country; it’s not all the country.”
Instead, “I’m pretty keen on working on issues that are of vital importance to the not-for-profit and charitable sector.”
These issues, she suggests, involve a lack of public respect for the sector, as well as its relationships with provincial/territorial and federal governments and the Canada Revenue Agency. However, Omidvar says she hasn’t yet determined her focus.
“This is an area in my eight years I would like to leave a legacy in that field, as well,” she said. “I’m interested in this because I don’t think there’s a single senator who is not associated with a not-for-profit or a charity, so this is something that we may well have common cause on.”
The special committee on Senate modernization this month released its first report, with more than 20 recommendations intended to move the institution forward. The final recommendation, on committees, aims to make the process of assigning senators to standing Senate committees more inclusive in order to guarantee representation for Conservative, Liberal and independent senators.
“We should have voice and we should have standing as members of committees at the same scale of our presence in the Senate,” Omidvar said of the independent senators. “I was pleased to see some of this reflected in the Senate modernization report.”
Currently, however, this isn’t the case for the independents, who are underrepresented on committees.
“That’s simply, I think, unfair,” Omidvar said. “And that’s the first thing that has to change.”
Now, she says, there should be aggressive timelines for implementing some of these recommendations.
Life inside the chamber
Now, after roughly four months in the chamber, Omidvar says she was “naive” about parliamentary procedure and still has much to learn — which isn’t easy — in this area.
Meanwhile, she says she loves working on legislation — from the bill on Air Canada’s centres of excellence to physician-assisted dying to citizenship.
“I love the fact that at the Senate we get to see how the country really works and we are able to put our finger on it,” she said. “It’s absolutely fantastic.”
The third part, Omidvar says, involves learning how “to be more of a politician,” which is “completely new” to her.
“So, I have a very steep learning curve that I’m just beginning.”
In order to climb that curve Omidvar says she’s going to ask some of her colleagues to coach her on parliamentary procedure, an approach she thinks will be the most effective for her.
Plus, “I will keep open lines of communication with senators who oppose my point of view or support my point of view,” she said.
This goes for senators in any of the three camps — Conservative, Liberal or independent.
“I’ve been appointed as an independent and I intend to use that independence to create alliances…where I can.”
Although she introduced the government’s citizenship bill on the first day of the Senate’s fall sitting, Omidvar says she doesn’t have any plans to move another piece of legislation.
However, the rookie senator says that legislation is only one instrument — and that she’s currently trying to learn about each of the tools in her figurative toolbox. Senators can, for example, launch inquiries, ask questions and write or lead reports.
“I think it’s easy to go to legislation, but I think there’s lots one can do along with legislation.”
Published in partnership with ipolitics.ca
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit