Category: Immigration

Aug 21 2014
“Toronto is a beautiful picture of diversity," says Maroun Aoun, the CEO of IFS or the Swedish Association of Ethnic Entrepreneurs, while on a quest for ideas to promote diversity and integration in business.

“Toronto is a beautiful picture of diversity,” says Maroun Aoun, the CEO of IFS or the Swedish Association of Ethnic Entrepreneurs, while on a quest for ideas to promote diversity and integration in business.

He was a like child in a candy shop. For Maroun Aoun, CEO of IFS or the Swedish Association of Ethnic Entrepreneurs, Canada’s largest city presented a sensory overload of things to take back home.

“Toronto is a beautiful picture of diversity. And it is not just confined to the subway. I see it everywhere; in offices, in businesses and in homes with mixed-race families,” said Maroun, not too worried that his quest for diversity and integration ideas was gnawing into holiday time with family while on a private visit. He was busy checking out the various initiatives in the Greater Toronto Area that aim to put the region’s diversity to work.

“Equal opportunity increases growth” is the IFS motto that guided Maroun on his mission. “It is a truism. A lot can be accomplished when the doors are opened for people with initiative and they are given the chance to realize their visions,” he said during an informal chat with members of the Professional Immigrant Networks (PINs), an initiative of TRIEC.

Economic imperative

Maroun was impressed by ideas like TRIEC and PINs, and the presence of many ethnic chambers of commerce and associations that are active in pushing the business case for diversity. He was also full of praise for Canada’s structured approach to integration and inclusion that is more grassroots than Sweden’s top-down approach. “Unlike Canada’s multi-cultural approach, many in Sweden want immigrants to assimilate,” he said. “Either way, economic integration and prosperity should come first.”

It is this economic imperative that made him keener to focus on jobs and entrepreneurship rather than on how to “integrate” immigrants. “Let’s talk about the reasons why immigration benefits Sweden in the long run, and that the country needs a rather large number of newcomers to function.”

Maroun pointed out that in 2020 Sweden will have two million seniors. “To meet the consequent labour shortage, we actually need to open our borders even more. And we will have to compete with other countries for attracting people that we today tend to see as a problem.”

Sweden should be learning from North America, he said. “I would say that it’s not that the conditions in North America have been so much better than in Sweden. It is the attitude that has been different, and they have benefitted tremendously thanks to immigration.”

Need to attract immigrants

Hailing Canada’s attempts to attract immigrant workers and entrepreneurs, Maroun said Sweden too needs to do its best to attract immigrants and allow them to flourish, work, innovate and build more enterprises. “Entrepreneurs with a foreign background are often a key to international markets. Knowledge of business culture and language along with networks in other countries removes many barriers to exports. I have personally experienced the power of the mix of Swedish and Iraqi contractors on a trip to Kurdistan.”

Staying with Iraq, a country from which a large number of Sweden’s immigrants originate, Maroun held out the example of Namir Zetali. A successful entrepreneur of Iraqi heritage, Namir arrived in Sweden with his entrepreneurial instinct intact. Today he and his brothers run several businesses that together employ over 100 people and have sales of over 200 million kronor (around $30 million).

But despite the many successes among them, would-be immigrant entrepreneurs face unforeseen hurdles when it comes to contacting financiers and raising capital. This happens mainly because they fail to present their business concept and plan in a convincing manner.

Founded in 1996 to help immigrants overcome these barriers, Maroun’s IFS aims to stimulate and increase entrepreneurship and raise competence among individual business owners. It also initiates projects to create networks between migrant businesses and mainstream businesses and organizations in Sweden.

Ideas from Canada

But what were the ideas he intended to take back from Canada? “I would be taking back at least three ideas that would be of help for newcomer entrepreneurs,” said Maroun. The three ideas are:

  1. The Connector Program in Halifax, Nova Scotia that helps newcomers to build professional networks by connecting them with established community, business and government leaders.
  2. The Next 36 project that aims to solve Canada’s deficit of high impact entrepreneurs and nation-building business leaders. It plans to do this by turning the country’s top students into its most successful future business leaders and innovators.
  3. The Newcomer Centre of Peel, a multi-service agency that assists the entire newcomer family to settle down, including getting them ready for jobs or starting a business.

Maroun was confident these three ideas can be replicated well in a country still coming to terms with immigration. “It is a new phenomenon for many Swedes. They do not understand why people move,” said the first-generation Swede of Lebanese heritage. “It may be because the country has been ethnically homogenous for so long and does not have a significant colonial legacy unlike other immigrant magnets.”


Ranjit Bhaskar is a Toronto freelance journalist and former content manager at Maytree.

Jun 23 2014


Adrian is proud of his eight-year old son’s facility with English and his general ease in adapting to the ways of his new Canadian surroundings. “He is now our family’s interpreter when we visit our doctor,” says the newcomer father from Romania. What he doesn’t know is that his case is not unique. His son is among the horde of children doing a task they shouldn’t be doing.

Health care providers and managers say this is not an ideal situation as children might be getting exposed to health information about their parents that they either can’t comprehend or isn’t appropriate for them to know.

With various studies conducted over the past few years indicating that language is an enormous barrier for many newcomers when accessing healthcare,, a social enterprise, has come up with a solution to bridge the gap. “With the support of the broader community, we are leveraging Canada’s diversity to reduce barriers through web and mobile technology,” says Ryan Doherty, its president and co-founder.

Using publicly available data, the site provides a curated listing of all emergency rooms, urgent care centres, walk-in clinics, and pharmacies. It also helps you find physicians and pharmacists who speak your language. The service, currently available only in Ontario, has a database of healthcare providers who can speak 25-plus languages other than English or French.

“Translation can be expensive and not accessible. It’s common to have children of immigrants translating for their parents on medical issues,” Dr. Meb Rashid, clinical director of the Crossroads Clinic at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto was quoted as saying in the Toronto Star. “You do need a more sophisticated command of the language. Something like this, that acknowledges the difficulty in language access, is a tremendous help.”

Expanding into British Columbia

Fresh from a crowd funding campaign that raised over $3,000 but fell short of the $9,000 goal, Ryan, a University of Toronto Medical Biophysics doctoral candidate, was optimistic of expanding into British Columbia by July. The west coast province was selected as it received most votes from supporters of the fundraiser.

“While reaching our funding target would have allowed us to expand quicker, it isn’t holding us back from our vision of leveraging technology to help everyone access healthcare in Canada,” says Ryan.

He and his multi-disciplinary team, that includes tech advisor and co-founder Sherry-Lynn Lee, are now looking at establishing more partnerships with healthcare providers and organizations.

“Later this year, we will be piloting a few new features that focus on access beyond just awareness. They are related to family medicine and will improve same-day and after-hours access to family doctors.”

One-stop resource

Initially the online guide was just a locator for nearby health facilities with information on opening hours. The team came up with the idea in 2012 when some of their fellow University of Toronto friends complained about not knowing where to go when the campus clinic closed.

Even as a simple locator it had its uses. “It was a one-stop resource for answering ‘Where?’” says Jemy Joseph, a University of Ottawa medical student, from her clinical experience. “Even during a rotation in Moose Factory [a very remote island in Ontario], I was able to tell my patients when the pharmacy was open!”

It was only this spring that the language filter was added to the website. Ryan estimates a potential audience of more than 700,000 users across Canada who could use an interpreter due to language barriers in healthcare.

Apart from language and the dangers involved in using children and youth as interpreters, there are other gaps the project could help bridge. These include cultural differences brought about by ethnicity, a care provider not knowing how to use an interpreter appropriately, a lack of reliable professional interpreter services, and lack of printed information in the patient’s first language.


Ranjit Bhaskar is a Toronto freelance journalist and former content manager at Maytree.

Jun 20 2014
Olaf Scholz (Hamburg), Melinda Crane (Berlin), Jussi Pujunen (Helsinki), Raquel Castañeda-López (Detroit)

Mayors Panel at the 2014 Cities of Migration conference in Berlin – from left to right: Olaf Scholz (Hamburg), Melinda Crane (Berlin), Jussi Pujunen (Helsinki), Raquel Castañeda-López (Detroit) Photo:, CC BY-SA 3.0.

One mayor wrote letters to immigrants urging them to become naturalized citizens. Another saw newcomers as harbingers of fun in his very functional city. The 2014 Cities of Migration Conference heard them both and wants others to know how leadership matters to cities.

As the level of government closest to the people, city administrations can directly and immediately impact the lives of immigrants. The panelists on the discussion about Re-imagining the City, convinced the Berlin audience that mayoral voices can be a particularly powerful tool to ease the path to inclusion for newcomers.

A good case study is the personal interest shown by Olaf Scholz, Hamburg’s First Mayor, to help the German city make a success of its “Ich bin Hamburger” naturalization campaign.

“Seven thousand immigrants became citizens last year, double the figure of 2009,” said Scholz who believes citizenship is the key to inclusion for long-time residents. “Naturalization is much more than an administrative act. It is the declared belief in our state and our society.”

Human touch

Jussi Pajunen, the mayor of Helsinki, is proud of the personalized integration plan his city offers immigrants. “Every person is treated as an individual by the one-stop-shop service that offers mentoring and guidance with regular follow-ups,” said Pajunen. “The information centre for immigrants is kept open seven days a week at the city hall. It also sends a message to others that immigrants are a positive force in Finnish society.”

As equality is a cherished Nordic value, it is easier for his city to push the idea of shared prosperity by helping immigrants integrate. As the largest employer in Finland with more than 40,000 employees, the city can also be a role model for other employers in newcomer recruitment and development.

Both Scholz and Pajunen were happy with the attention they received from immigrants. “They greet me on the street to ask how I got their names and addresses to write them letters,” said Scholz. To which Pajumen added: “While locals ignore their mayors, immigrants love and respect them.”

The Helsinki mayor said that while information and communication technology made it easy to identify people, the human touch as espoused by his Hamburg counterpart was essential to address immigrant issues. “We need a person to talk to another person.”

‘Immigrants = more jobs’

Also contributing to the discussion was fellow panelist Raquel Castañeda-López, Council member from Detroit. Representing a U.S. city which has seen better times, she outlined the steps taken to revive it, the most important being ways to attract immigrants to come and invest. “Immigrants tend to open more small businesses, which leads to more jobs,” she said.

Detroit is on a steep learning curve as specialized services for immigrants are non-existent at present. While her city is not able to offer personalized services like its European peers due to budget constraints, it is setting up a virtual office, said Castañeda-López.

“We are keen on starting a new conversation and are learning from New York, which has done a good job in helping immigrants, and are joining the Welcoming America initiative,” said the councilor who represents a district that houses the majority of her city’s immigrant communities.

Watch the full panel to get more insights from the discussion moderated by Melinda Crane, Chief Political Correspondent, Deutsche Welle, Berlin. The panelists were also asked questions via video by Naheed Nenshi, mayor of Calgary, Canada, and Lianne Dalziel, mayor of Christchurch, New Zealand.

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Ranjit Bhaskar is a Toronto freelance journalist and former content manager at Maytree.

Jun 12 2014

The sudden proliferation of national flags other than the Maple Leaf in Toronto is the enthusiastic reaction to the football World Cup in Brazil. While some may question this reassertion of identities left behind, this multicultural Canadian city is just reflecting the global reach of a game that defies national boundaries and even earth’s gravitational pull.

Starting Thursday, as 32 national teams representing the best in football vie for supremacy at the once-in-every-four-year event, the beautiful game makes fans of us all.

“The ‘cup of cups,’ as we affectionately call it, will also be the cup for peace and against racism, the cup for inclusion and against all forms of discrimination, the cup for tolerance, dialogue, understanding and sustainability,” wrote Dilma Rousseff, the president of Brazil, in an article urging visiting fans to view up-close her country’s cultural diversity and ethnic and religious harmony among other things.

But can football be a panacea for some of the ills described by President Rousseff? Can it fight racism, for instance? At the 2nd International Cities of Migration conference held in Berlin last week, two prolific thinkers weighed in on the motion Be it resolved professional football is powerless to end racism.

Sites of integration

Arguing for the motion, Sunder Katwala, Director, British Future, a London think tank, said the issue of racism has more or less been resolved within professional clubs as they have become sites of integration. “We have won the argument in the stadium, but not outside of it.”

He was afraid that while football may spearhead the fight against racism, it could remain the exception. “Anti-racism messages tend to get ignored. It is like the in-flight safety message we hear in airplanes. We filter it out.”

Pointing out the diversity in team compositions, Katwala said two-thirds of the 750 players in the current world cup are migrants playing outside of their country of origin. Only the Russian team of 23 players can be considered pure laine. “But then their coach is Italian!”

Katwala was of the opinion that despite the very diversity many teams thrive on, professional football itself has to trudge a very long way before becoming more inclusive. “The stadium should look like the city,” he said alluding to the expensive tickets that keep away poorer, marginalized sections of society from games. “If we are going to do the work [against racism], we have to make the links.”

‘A vision, an opportunity’

Vigorously defending the other side of the debate, David Goldblatt, author of The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football, asked “if you’re not going to football, where else could you go to implement anti-racism campaigns?” He said football provides us a glimpse of a society that we could share. There is a level playing field where we pick players based of their talent and not where they come from. “It gives us a vision…an opportunity to staking your place in society.”

Goldblatt, who also teaches politics at Pitzer College, London, said football provides us the platform to have the kind of conversations we need to be having when it comes to racism and diversity. “You put it on the pages of the sports press, suddenly they become relevant, comprehensible and important. And until we have that kind of conversations, we are going nowhere.”

The “cup of cups” is one such space to celebrate the values of fair play and peaceful coexistence among all peoples. It sure is a celebration of what diversity and being global is all about.

Enjoy the games and flaunt your flags.



Ranjit Bhaskar is a Toronto freelance journalist and former content manager at Maytree.

Jun 06 2014

lightbulbs with interconnecting lines

The Marketplace of Good Ideas at the 2014 Cities of Migration Conference in Berlin showcased some of the best city-level integration practices from across the world. It was a quick and easy way to connect with program leaders and discover what made these ideas work.

What makes a practice a Good Idea? At its most basic, any program, activity or strategy that has made a difference in the successful integration of migrants can be considered one. It must benefit a city and all its residents through increased social cohesion, greater urban prosperity and the richness that cultural diversity affords all communities. Above all, Good Ideas are practical, successful and transferable.

At the Marketplace in Berlin, two ideas were presented under each of these five categories: Youth, Welcoming Communities, Employment, Public Services and Entrepreneurship. We present here a sample from each category.


Inspired by their own lived experience, two young men saw the potential of youth helping newcomer adults in their communities and quickly put their idea to work.

Agazi Afewerki and Mohammed Shafique skipped the usual planning stages and scouted their neighbourhood to recruit youth tutors and adult learners. Ten days later, with 10 youth paired with 10 adults based on their native language, they launched Youth Empowering Parents, better known as YEP.

Mohammed, a management consultant with Deloitte Canada, was in Berlin to tell his audience how YEP has so far served over 800 participants with a retention rate of over 80% for both youth and adults.

Welcoming Communities

Faced with an overwhelming growth in anti-immigrant sentiment and rhetoric, Tennessee in the United States used language to change perception. As hospitality is the hallmark value of the American south, its Welcoming Tennessee Initiative shows how welcoming immigrants can be an expression of a distinctly Tennessean value, one that local residents already embrace.

Eben Cathey, Communications Coordinator, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, told the Berlin audience that the initiative’s success saw it being replicated across the U.S. by Welcoming America, a nationwide organization dedicated to immigrant integration.


The power of language was also put to use by Hamburg in Germany to achieve its diversity goal. The Wir sind Hamburg! Bist Du dabei? (We are Hamburg! Won’t you join us?) marketing campaign was designed to recruit diverse staff into local government while promoting inclusion across the city.

Stefan Müller, project manager of the initiative, was in Berlin to explain how his city reached out to immigrants with the clear message on how determined it was to have people with different cultural backgrounds in its service.

Public Services

Delivering another important message was a Dublin publicity campaign. When reports emerged of the Irish city’s transport workers facing racial abuse, transportation companies banded together to counter it. The Dublin’s Transport Links, Racism Divides campaign that was featured across the city’s buses, trams, trains and taxis was backed by staff training and improved monitoring and reporting of incidents.

Declan Hayden, Office for Integration, Dublin City Council, told the Berlin audience about how the   joint effort on the part of the companies was good corporate behaviour and shows how responsible employers can protect workers and the wider community from racist incidents.


Away from intense publicity campaigns and closer to home in Toronto, Canada, Connect Legal helps immigrants overcome a different kind of hurdle. It offers a Free Lawyer Matching Program to help newcomer entrepreneurs navigate the legal structures of their new country.

Marion Annau,President and Founder of the initiative explained to the Berlin conference  how it  fosters entrepreneurship in the immigrant community by providing legal education workshops and pro bono commercial legal assistance.


Ranjit Bhaskar is a Toronto freelance journalist and former content manager at Maytree.

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May 21 2014

From June 3-6, Toronto will transplant itself in Berlin for a dynamic exchange of ideas to help newcomers thrive in the global cities of today. With two back-to-back conferences, a public debate on racism in football and other events, Maytree and its partners will be in the German capital to bring together more than 300 international city and community leaders, practitioners, academics, activists and policy makers.

The Torontonians sharing ideas in Berlin are:

  • Ratna Omidvar and Alan Broadbent of Maytree: they will share Toronto’s experience as one of the most diverse cities in the world, what we’re learning from other global cities, and why city leadership on immigrant integration is important for urban prosperity.
  • Zabeen Hirji, Chief Human Resources Officer, Royal Bank of Canada: she will discuss how corporate leadership on diversity is changing the way we do business and is helping build an inclusive society.
  • Doug Saunders, author of Arrival City and The Globe and Mail’s international affairs columnist: he will talk about city neighbourhoods that incubate and launch immigrant success.
  • Mohammed Shafique: he will showcase Youth Empowering Parents, a Regent Park-based program that connects immigrant adults with youth who teach them language and e-literacy skills they need to become engaged and active in their community.
  • Marion Annau of Connect Legal: she will present a Toronto initiative that links new immigrant businesses and entrepreneurs with pro bono legal services.

Event details

June 3 and 4: DiverseCity onBoard Learning Exchange
This two-day international workshop, organized by Citizens for Europe and Maytree, will focus on how to replicate Toronto’s DiverseCity onBoard program in communities across Europe, North America and Australasia. A public event will showcase other integration projects that have been successful in cities around the globe, including Youth Empowering Parents.

The public event is co-sponsored by Maytree, the United Nation Alliance for Civilization, the BMW Group and the Bertelsmann Foundation.

June 4-6: 2nd International Cities of Migration Conference
This three-day conference brings together international city and community leaders, experts, practitioners, advocates and policy-makers for a dynamic exchange of ideas on one of the most important global challenges facing cities today: the integration and inclusion of urban newcomers.

Highlights include:

  • Opening event at the Embassy of Canada, including a performance by Toronto artists Asha and Ravi Jain of A Brimful of Asha, their true (and very Canadian) story of generational and cultural clash.
  • A mayors’ panel on re-imagining the city and how to create a foundation for future prosperity for all residents.
  • New ideas and strategies for moving beyond welcoming to inclusion: the role of public, private and civil society.
  • A formal debate between two prolific thinkers on the question of racism in professional football (soccer) and its larger impact on society.
  • A hard look by a world-renowned expert at implicit bias and the roots of discrimination, especially “blind spots,” that unconsciously inform our behaviour.
  • A discussion forum on myth-busting and how to influence public opinion around issues of immigration.
  • A marketplace of good ideas, a curated showcase of promising city-level integration practices.
  • Urban labs on important issues in city-building and migration: employment, youth, leadership, culture and

The conference is presented by Maytree with the Heinrich Boell Foundation, the Bertelsmann Foundation and the Embassy of Canada in Berlin; and the generous support and participation of Barrow Cadbury Trust, Open Society Foundations, Tindall Foundation, Stiftung Mercator, Robert Bosch Stiftung, the World Bank and others.

For full program, visit the conference site.


Markus Stadelmann-Elder is Communications Director at Maytree.

Apr 11 2014


Johnna, a member of the Caregivers’ Action Centre, speaks at the launch of the Metcalf Foundation’s report
on how recruitment practices exploit temporary foreign workers. Fay Faraday, the report’s author, looks on.


Alma, a live-in caregiver from the Philippines, paid $4,000 as recruitment fees to come to Canada. She also bought her airplane ticket costing more than $1,000 despite the Live-in Caregiver Program mandating that the employer should pay for it.

As the money Alma paid to the recruiter was more than three years’ earnings in the Philippines, Alma borrowed it at an exorbitant rate of interest. Given the minimum wage she earns here in Toronto, it would take at least three years to pay back the debt.

Alma should consider herself lucky. “Some others had to pay as much as $12,000 in fees,” says Johnna, a member of the Caregivers’ Action Centre, who, like Alma, did not disclose her surname for fear of repercussions.

Johnna was present at the launch of the Metcalf Foundation’s report on Profiting from the Precarious: How Recruitment Practices Exploit Migrant Workers on April 8, 2014 to talk of the travails of live-in caregivers like her with fellow panellists from the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

In 2012, there were more than 338,000 temporary foreign workers living in Canada. Their numbers more than doubled from 2006 to 2012, and they now equal the population of Greater Victoria in B.C. In Toronto alone, the number skyrocketed by 237% in the same period, from 27,083 to 64,284. To feed this demand, an industry of recruiters has emerged to match workers with jobs.

“Recruitment is where it all starts. It is the point ripe for exploitation and least examined,” says Fay Faraday, the Metcalf report’s author. “And abuse continues to resonate throughout a worker’s labour migration cycle.”

The report draws on in-depth interviews with workers in the Greater Toronto Area and southern Ontario, and community organizers in Canada and abroad.

Proactive regulations needed

After analysing the existing legal model to protect workers against recruitment abuse when they arrive here in Canada, Faraday is of the opinion that Ontario’s complaint-based laws fail to provide effective protection or enforce their rights.

As the Ontario government has recently introduced two bills, one that addresses worker recruitment  and the other for protecting low-wage temporary foreign workers, there is both urgency and opportunity to examine legal models that could provide effective, meaningful and accessible safeguards.

Faraday hopes her findings along with recommendations can help close the vast and disturbing gap between the current law’s promise of protection and the reality of ongoing exploitation.

Both internationally and within Canada, models for regulating recruitment of temporary foreign workers have been moving away from individual complaint-driven laws like Ontario’s.

“The Ontario model is out of step with the best practices in Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan. It is failing to get any meaningful protection for the low-wage migrant population,” says Faraday. “It is crucial for the province to move beyond shop-worn phrases that blame ‘unscrupulous recruiters’ and ‘exorbitant fees’ and address these systemic issues now.”

She says Ontario must move towards regulatory regimes like the other provinces that include licensing of recruiters, mandatory registration of employers who hire temporary foreign workers, financial security deposits to compensate workers who have been charged illegal fees and proactive investigation, audits and enforcement by labour protection officials.



Ranjit Bhaskar is a Toronto freelance journalist and former content manager at Maytree.

Mar 21 2014


On March 21, 1960, South African police opened fire on black protesters who had surrounded a police station in Sharpeville, killing 69 people. The protest was over the ruling regime’s pass laws, which required blacks to carry passbooks with them any time they traveled out of their designated home areas.

The shooting sparked protests and riots and was a turning point in the history of apartheid. It also brought international condemnation on South Africa. In 1966, the United Nation proclaimed March 21 as “International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination” and has been urging member states to organize events during the “Action Week against Racism.”

Cities across the world, from Auckland to Montréal, will be marking the week through various programs like the “I am Aotearoa New Zealand … te ranga tahi, together we grow.” For many cities in Europe and other parts of the world, campaigns against racism and xenophobia are year-round efforts.

Dublin’s publicity campaign, Transport Links, Racism Divides, runs across the city’s buses, trams, trains and taxis. It was launched after reports emerged of racial abuse of the Irish city’s transport workers.

Similarly, the city of Edmonton decided to challenge the often polite Canadian conversation on multiculturalism and the idea that racism is no longer a problem in the  community. Edmonton was among the first cities in the country to join the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination (CCMARD).

To create a welcoming and inclusive city, the Belgian city of Ghent has also been doing exceptional work. Ghent’s Day against Racism campaign, a ten-point action plan to eliminate racism and discrimination, includes an innovative Youth Ambassador project led by young immigrants eager to promote an open society and motivate others with their success stories.

In classrooms across Germany and Spain, the All Kids Are VIPs program challenges children to think up ideas for promoting equality and a discrimination-free environment. And it rewards them with visits from their heroes – football stars, music icons and movie stars.

Interested in doing your part in fighting racism? The UNESCO-sponsored Ten-Point Plan of Action for the European Coalition of Cities Against Racism (PDF) is a good starting point to understand what can be done.


Ranjit Bhaskar is a Toronto freelance journalist and former content manager at Maytree.

Mar 19 2014


Living in Canada transforms the way we see the world, said John Monahan,
executive director of the Mosaic Institute. Photo: Ranjit Bhaskar

Canada does not “import” violent conflict despite some in its diasporic communities remaining invested in overseas conflicts, says a new study by the Mosaic Institute. But these conflicts still have a large and lingering effect on the lives of many Canadians.

“We do import trauma,” said Rima Berns-McGown, research director for the institute’s study The Perception & Reality of “Imported Conflict” in Canada. “That trauma is a heavy burden and can transcend generations. How we treat it will have a major impact on our social cohesion. If left untreated, trauma can impede integration and negatively affect [immigrants’] attachment to Canada.”

Presenting the study at a conference in Toronto on March 17, Dr. Berns-McGown said while Canada does a good job at inclusion, it does a “terrible job in helping those with trauma.”

The study was funded as part of the federal government’s Kanishka Project to research pressing questions for Canada on terrorism and counter-terrorism.

It examined both Canadians’ perceptions and lived experience of “imported conflict” by surveying almost 4,500 people and holding interviews and focus groups with 300 Canadians with family connections to conflict zones.

‘The mosaic is working’

While for many the effects of conflict do not diminish after coming to Canada, their attitudes and perception of traditional adversaries change along with their views on possible solutions. “It shows us that living in Canada transforms the way we see the world. The mosaic is working reasonably well,” said John Monahan, executive director of the institute.

The single most powerful factor in Canada’s ability to reframe immigrants’ understanding of conflicts is social, economic and political inclusion, said Dr. Berns-McGown. While the study found that 57% of Canadians believe that people who have experienced conflict hold onto intercommunity tensions after coming to Canada, the good news is that a majority of those from conflict zones advocate education-based approaches to resolving differences.


“Their values do not diverge significantly from that of the general population,” said Dr. Berns-McGown. “Their views do not remain static as they begin to reframe them through Canadian lenses of human rights and rule of law.” However, she cautioned that racism and other forms of serious social exclusion risk undermining Canada’s social cohesion and security because they make it more difficult for those who left behind conflicts to change their understanding of it.

She also pointed out that the study’s focus group participants worried that inter-community dialogues might risk stirring up old problems. “That is sad, in part because it means that we are depriving ourselves of the opportunity to build trust and identify common interests and priorities. If we were to work together to promote peace ‘back home,’ we would arguably be demonstrating the ultimate value of the multiculturalism that the vast majority of us hold very dear.”

The study lists a number of recommendations to avoid the risks, including:

  • Implementing specific proposals to combat racism and exclusion in the labour market and public institutions.
  • Working towards economic integration of newcomers to Canada and establishing jobs strategies targeted towards young people.
  • Mobilizing healthcare resources to address conflict-related trauma.
  • Establishing a national education strategy related to conflict and its effects.
  • Encouraging Canadians from all sides of overseas conflicts to engage in constructive dialogue.

In her closing presentation, Tasleem Damji Budhwani, noted psychologist and leading Canadian expert on countering violent extremism, said everyone has a right to tell their stories and perceptions and be heard. “Respect for each other, and being valued, loved and safety,” are what we as a society can give each other Dr. Budhwani said. “Our diversity and inclusion give us the tools as a nation to be remarkably resilient.”



Ranjit Bhaskar is a Toronto freelance journalist and former content manager at Maytree.

Mar 13 2014


“We need to attract the best and brightest from around the world… Apart from competing with other countries, we are now in competition with other provinces,” said Michael Coteau, Ontario’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration at the Diversity@Work conference in Toronto.

When Steam Whistle set up business in downtown Toronto in 1998, the brewery wanted a brew master with a master’s degree in the field. As no such post-secondary education program existed in North America then, it was forced to look afar for talent. It found the right person in the Czech Republic.

“If you’re going to [produce] a pilsner that competes internationally, you need to have people capable of bringing that to the table,” Steam Whistle co-founder Greg Taylor told the Globe and Mail in an interview. “[Also, immigrants] take their jobs very seriously and are very passionate, and at the end of the day that helps your bottom line.”

The need for global talent to remain competitive has only intensified in the years since. And that’s the message Michael Coteau, Ontario’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, was driving home at the Diversity@Work conference held by Skills for Change in Toronto at the end of February 2014.

“We need to attract the best and brightest from around the world to Ontario and the situation is not like before. Apart from competing with other countries, we are now in competition with other provinces,” said Minister Coteau. “The mayor of Calgary [Naheed Nenshi] was in town the other day to attract talent to his city.”

The minister said Ontario wanted to implement a new immigration strategy and intended to fully maximize the advantages newcomers and diversity bring. He pointed out that globally, seven out of the top ten brands were founded by immigrants and together these companies now employed 10 million people world-wide. “Same is the case with Fortune 100 companies and nearer home. A Bank of Montreal study found that half of Ontario’s rich are immigrants.”

The good and the bad

With one-third of Ontario’s ruling Liberal caucus being born outside the country and a quarter of them being visible minorities, “the good news is that people in government share the same stories as the immigrant population of the province,” said the minister.

But he also mentioned some bad news, namely the province and Canada underutilizing the skills of internationally-trained immigrants. A 2004 Conference Board of Canada study estimated the cost to Canada as between $3.4 – 5 billion per year in lost productivity. According to Statistics Canada, among those employed in 2006 only 24% of foreign-educated immigrants were working in the regulated profession for which they trained compared to 62% among Canadian-born.

A 2012 TD Economics study says simply closing the gap in employment rates between newcomers and native-born Canadians would mean approximately 370,000 additional people working. It is estimated that the potential increased personal income if newcomers’ skills were rewarded on par with that of native-born Canadians would top $30 billion or 2% of GDP.

Most importantly, Minister Coteau said immigration is not a one-way ticket. Newcomers to Ontario arrive with vital ties and connections to their former homelands that can be leveraged to produce economic growth and prosperity for Ontario. “We want to tap into global trade as at present only 7% of our companies are looking out for opportunities outside of the U.S. One of the keys to realizing this two-way benefit is to quickly integrate immigrants into our economy. Another key is to get the internationally trained working in their fields as soon as possible.”

He pointed to the TD Economics study that said “Newcomers complement the skills of the domestic labour force, bring new investments and innovative practices, help to open trade routes with their countries of origin and enhance cultural diversity.” Indeed, building stronger and inclusive communities that promote and value diversity would help all Ontario businesses and municipalities grow and succeed.

You don’t have to convince Steam Whistle. Since its first hiring experience 16 years ago proved to be a good one, the brewery has been proactive in employing new immigrants without Canadian training and experience. Today, its staff reflect Toronto’s much acclaimed diversity. In 2007, Steam Whistle’s inclusive hiring was recognized when it won the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council’s Immigrant Success Award for leadership and innovation in recruiting and retaining skilled immigrants.

The business case for diversity couldn’t be clearer. Listed below are a few more Good Ideas from far and near:


Ranjit Bhaskar is a Toronto freelance journalist and former content manager at Maytree.