Carlaw: Declining naturalizations signal larger problems in Canada’s citizenship and immigration system

Left-wing perspective on problems with the citizenship program, with most of the issues pertaining more to immigration, particularly temporary residents, than citizenship save for perhaps fees and some of the language and learning requirements. Dual nationality prohibitions are more of an issue for Chinese nationals than Indian nationals.

And a bit silly to say the problem that the problem reflects that political and bureaucratic institutions are “disproportionately composed of men of primarily European descent discounting the earlier changes that were made by the same group and while political institutions continue becoming more diverse.

Surprising in his catalogue of issues, Carlaw failed to mention the long-promised revision of the citizenship study guide, Discover Canada, to a more contemporary and inclusion narrative:

recent press release from the Institute for Canadian Citizenship that cites Statistics Canada data has highlighted concerns over a 40 per cent reduction in Canada’s “naturalization rate” — the rate at which permanent residents are becoming citizens.

The release, headlined Newcomers falling out of love with Canadian citizenship generated a number of other media headlines.

Concerns over how and whether those living and working in Canada are attaining citizenship and important rights — including to vote and run for office — are of course well placed. But love of country by immigrants is not the primary problem.

Individual choices and sentiments are a relevant factor, but there are observable structural explanations. Beyond Canada’s control, not all countries permit dual citizenship. That includes major source countries China and India where many immigrants to Canada are from. It is understandable that some permanent residents prefer not to renounce the citizenship of their country of origin. 

But within Canada’s control, there are troubling shifts in our overall citizenship and immigration model. Inequalities connected to its colonial nature have left growing numbers of residents without citizenship or even a pathway to it.

Annual immigration levels, for example, only represent those accepted as permanent residents and obscure the number of those admitted to Canada under less secure conditions.

This has occurred thanks to under-discussed but at times controversial shifts from permanent to temporary or multi-step migration

These shifts can be obscured by focusing primarily on the naturalization process and the sentiments some attach to it rather than the larger settler colonial landscape of migration and immigration and its relationship to citizenship and belonging at each stage.

Unkept promises and unlearned lessons

In recent years, Canada has apologized for past discriminatory immigration measures and its treatment of Indigenous Peoples. And there have been recent symbolic advances recognizing First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities and Canadians’ treaty responsibilities in the citizenship oath

However, social exclusions in modern forms related to the project of Canadian nation-building, citizenship and belonging persist. They are even intensifying in important respects.

recent report from the Yellowhead Institute found that, despite an expressed commitment to fully implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, the Federal government has only fulfilled 13, with those providing symbolic rather than structural remedies.

This example is indicative of why many Indigenous people — themselves denied the vote for much of Canada’s history — understandably view Canadian citizenship as, at best, a “kinder, gentler form of colonialism.”

These realities also remind us that the terms and hierarchies of citizenship and societal membership in Canada shift over time. They are subject to social struggle. And apologies and symbolic advancements do not relegate mistreatment to the past. 

Hierarchies of belonging persist

“White Canada” immigration policies that favoured European immigrants and largely excluded those from elsewhere were in place until the 1960s. 

These entrenched institutional and demographic dominance by white settlers. Europeans immigrating to Canada in earlier periods had ready access to permanent residence and eventual citizenship, unlike many of their contemporary racialized counterparts.

Institutional racism continues to be felt in the country’s immigration system and political life as tiers of citizenship and belonging continue to be practiced in old and new forms.

Canada adopted official multiculturalism in 1971, yet two years later it entrenched migrant worker programs, primarily for racialized workers from the Global South. As with past exclusions, these workers still have to navigate programs and realities that prevent or make it difficult for them to access permanent residence and citizenship.

This is particularly the case for those working in what are deemed to be “low skill” positions. Many such workers become “permanently temporary” despite ongoing demands for their labour.

Today, Canada’s political institutions are still disproportionately composed of men of primarily European descent. And they continue to set and enforce problematic terms of citizenship and societal membership. 

Today’s more difficult pathways to citizenship

Today’s immigrants — who mostly come from the Global South — face a system of complex chutes and ladders when it comes to their status in Canada. That system leads many migrants to remain stuck in an immigration purgatory, far away from pathways to permanent residence, let alone citizenship.

Even those often characterized as the perfect immigrants — international students who pay vast sums that subsidize our post-secondary education system — face limited and precarious pathways to permanent residence and citizenship. 

As economist Armine Yalnizyan recently noted, today for each person granted the security of permanent residence, there are two migrant workers or international students who have uncertain or no access to permanent status.

This could prove an obstacle to attracting and retaining workers. When it comes to citizenship and societal membership, it hinders inclusion by creating an exploitable class of workers who lack full political and social rights.

In the face of these realities, many migrants, students and workers are mobilizing to address these exclusions. This includes protests in several cities demanding “status for all” to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

To return to the later stages of the process of becoming Canadian by adopting citizenship, under the former Conservative government, citizenship became harder to get and easier to lose by design.

Unfortunately, amidst the last decade’s battles between more exclusionary Conservative and rhetorically warmer Liberalvisions of citizenship, tougher and more expensive procedures than previously existed remain under both.

The costs of applying for citizenship increased significantlyunder the Conservatives, and have remained prohibitive for many. The Trudeau government has made some positive reforms, such as reversing changes that made it take longer to become a citizen. But it has failed to follow through on its election promises to eliminate citizenship fees.

One recent study argues that it is likely that fee hikes and tougher, often expensive language requirements negatively impact a significant number of applicants.

Even those who have managed to obtain permanent residency and fulfilled their residency requirements face further “boundaries related to management flaws, classed naturalization, and cultural biases.” That means many, particularly refugee claimants and family class immigrants, struggle with the citizenship process.

For those who can reach the end of the process, some find it distasteful to continue to have to declare an enforced oath to a colonial figure, a reminder of the structures and hierarchies discussed in this article. 

Given this context, the significant decline in Canada’s naturalization rate should be less surprising, though no less alarming as Canada continues to foster and even intensify inequalities of societal membership in its citizenship and immigration regime.

Source: Declining naturalizations signal larger problems in Canada’s citizenship and immigration system

Black Torontonians ‘significantly’ more likely to face discrimination on regular basis, study finds

Of note:

Black people in Toronto are “significantly” more likely to face discrimination on a regular basis than white residents, according to a recent in-depth report on Torontonians’ day-to-day experience with microaggression and discrimination.

A research brief entitled Everyday Racism: Experiences of Discrimination in Torontoreleased Tuesday highlighted findings on discrimination pulled from the Toronto Social Capital Study published in November.

The first-of-its-kind report, led by the non-profit Toronto Foundation and Environics Institute for Survey Research, found that roughly 76 per cent of Black Torontonians experience racial discrimination at least a few times a month.

Source: Black Torontonians ‘significantly’ more likely to face discrimination on regular basis, study finds

After months of backlogs, Canadians can now check their passport application status online

Progress. Presumably we will see in coming weeks if there are any glitches in the app or hopefully not:

Canadians waiting anxiously for their passports to arrive before a trip abroad now have a new option to check the status of their applications.

The federal government launched a new online portal on Tuesday that allows recent applicants to see where their applications stand.

Passport offices became overwhelmed with applications last year as the government began to ease pandemic-related travel restrictions. The result was a backlog that hobbled the application system.

Source: After months of backlogs, Canadians can now check their passport application status online

An Ottawa-Ontario turf war hobbled efforts to bring in skilled workers. Here’s what ended it

Of interest:

Around the world, ideology drives the politics of immigration by pushing people apart.

Across Canada, geography drives a deeper wedge between rival governments in Ottawa and at Queen’s Park.

Over the past decade, an undeclared turf war has hobbled Ontario’s attempt to recruit skilled workers. The federal government refused to give Canada’s biggest province a significant say in who came here.

Now, Ontario is finally getting a bigger role in selecting skilled immigrants. And Ottawa has belatedly declared peace in our time.

Just in time.

This month, a federal Liberal cabinet minister and his Progressive Conservative counterpart in Ontario agreed to double the skilled immigrants selected by the province for rapid resettlement, matching workers with work. By 2025, Ontario will get to select 18,000 skilled workers, primarily in the health-care, construction and hi-tech fields ― up from 9,000 in 2021 and just 1,000 a decade ago.

How did it happen?

The rise of inflation, the risk of recession, and the recurrence of labour shortages forced Canada’s two biggest governments, at Queen’s Park and on Parliament Hill, to work together after years of talking past each other.

But it’s not just the economic environment. The political climate has also brought the rival governments together to collaborate.

Two erstwhile enemies, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Doug Ford, now meet almost monthly to cut cheques and cut ribbons for new factory investments. Against that backdrop of bonhomie, Monte McNaughton, one of Ontario’s most politically astute cabinet ministers, went one step further to bridge the partisan divide with his federal counterpart.

As the province’s minister of labour, McNaughton has long been a linchpin of Ford’s outreach strategy with union leaders. But he also has special responsibility for immigration and training, so when Sean Fraser was sworn in as the federal minister two years ago, McNaughton quickly texted an old pal to get his phone number.

That pal was Katie Telford, the PM’s chief of staff, with whom McNaughton has kept in touch since they served together as teenage pages in the legislature. Armed with Fraser’s number, McNaughton disarmed the new Liberal minister by dropping Telford’s name ― proof that he could work across ideological and geographical lines.

“I got his number from Katie and got ahold of him,” McNaughton told me this week. “I said to him, ‘This is not about politics whatsoever. We have a serious challenge in terms of the labour shortage … so let’s grow the numbers and actually do something that is going to make a meaningful difference on the ground.’”

They’ve been talking and texting ever since ― without political aides, without bureaucratic advisers, just the two of them. They started far apart, because the inherited challenge wasn’t just about bipartisanship but bilateralism.

Historically, the federal government was accustomed to unilateral action while Ontario contented itself with inaction. By contrast, Quebec had led the way decades ago, winning shared jurisdiction on immigration on the strength of its special French-language needs; meanwhile, Western provinces had quietly persuaded Ottawa to let them select thousands of immigrants to meet local labour market needs amid growing economies.

Ontario had never bothered to ask in the past. As the jobs went West, so did the talent.

A decade ago, seven out of 10 immigrants to Western provinces were in the “economic” class, compared to barely half of those coming to Ontario. By the time Queen’s Park woke up to that reality, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in Ottawa were unwilling to help.

“We’re not interested in devolving services to the junior level of government,” then-immigration minister Jason Kenney told me at the time.

Now, with the roles reversed ― there’s a federal Liberal minister in Ottawa, while his Ontario counterpart is a PC ― the roadblocks have been removed and a back channel reopened.

“I give full credit to Fraser,” McNaughton said in our interview. “We were more desperate than other provinces from a labour shortage perspective. We were receiving, as a percentage, less (skilled nominees) than any other province in the country.”

For his part, Fraser says he never saw it as a turf battle. The economic stakes are too high for political grudges or bureaucratic games.

A mismatched labour market “is one of the challenges that keeps me up at night,” Fraser told me at a recent Democracy Forum at Toronto Metropolitan University (where he also talked about crossing party lines to get advice from ex-PM Brian Mulroney).

If workers end up in the wrong regions for the wrong jobs, while skilled jobs are going begging in businesses elsewhere, all Canadians will pay the price of a delayed recovery and missed opportunity, he argued.

“I think this was a unique opportunity for us to increase (Ontario’s) provincial nominee program levels,” Fraser said at the TMU event I co-hosted last week, adding coyly: “Before too long we’re going to show up in Ontario.”

Days later, both ministers did indeed show up in Toronto to announce their landmark agreement. Ontario’s biggest employers promptly hailed the deal as an economic breakthrough that ruptures previous roadblocks.

Despite the doubling of the program, the new numbers are still small and the progress largely symbolic. But it is a strategic first step.

Immigration always has the potential to drive people apart. Consider the continuing tumult in the U.S. and U.K.

Yet two Canadian cabinet ministers quietly came together, in a bipartisan and bilateral way. They tried to work it out, so that the economics would turn out better for workers and workplaces alike.

Small numbers, yes. But no small feat.

Source: An Ottawa-Ontario turf war hobbled efforts to bring in skilled workers. Here’s what ended it

Ladha: Save citizenship ceremonies – Red Deer Advocate

Yet another editorial against the change:

Citizenship ceremonies are emotional and personal experiences, especially for those of us New Canadians who had the privilege of participating in one. Now the Department of Citizenship and Immigration has given notice that they were contemplating an end in-person citizenship ceremonies in favour of a “secure online solution.” In-person ceremonies could still be arranged upon request, but subject to a delay.

I still remember the citizenship ceremony that I had to attend when I proudly became a Canadian citizen in 1975. Dressed in my Hugo Boss suit, I was with my wife and son, all of us dressed up in our finest, lined up with New Canadians of all backgrounds, happily showing off the Canadian flags.

When the time came to sing the newly memorized national anthem, I was so emotional that my eyes welled up with tears. Every Canada Day, I still have visions of my touching and heart-breaking citizenship ceremony experience, and thankful prayers to Canada for providing a happy, wonderful, and prosperous life. Yes, Canada, I haven’t been disappointed.

I am horrified the government is proposing to abolish this special welcoming in-person citizenship ceremonies with an administrative online box and do away with a group singing “O Canada.” The government brief also notes that the new system will prevent the inconvenience of new citizens having to book time off work to make the ceremony. What a concession!

The fact that Canada, the most friendly and welcoming nation in the world, would resort to a computer-oriented system to announce that immigrants are now citizens is appalling and upsetting. Ceremonies in everyone’s life, be it a birthday or a retirement party, play an important part, signifying a milestone in their lives.

A former minister of immigration under then Prime Minster jean Chretien, himself an Argentinian immigrant to Canada, was so upset that he wrote an op-ed in the Toronto Star, calling it “an insult.” “For years, my parents would recount how momentous and meaningful (the ceremony) was. Why would government want to rob future citizens of this feeling of attachment?”

Another prominent defender former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson who came to Canada as a refugee from Japanese-occupied Hong Kong and presided over a few citizenship ceremonies herself as an Officer of the Order of Canada, said she was “horrified” by the proposed change.

Tareq Hadhad, a Syrian refugee famous for founding the Nova Scotia-based chocolatier Peace by Chocolate, described Canadian citizenship ceremonies as “the magical rituals that bring together everyone (new and old citizens) to celebrate the true meaning of the Canadian dream.”

“We cannot afford to lose the significance of this celebration of belonging nor can we diminish the value of Canadian citizenship,” he added.

Credit should, however, be given to the government for moving a notch forward towards truth and reconciliation of indigenous peoples by officially recognizing First Nations, Inuit, and Métis, and the obligation of all citizens to respect the treaties between the Crown and Indigenous nations.

The new oath now includes “Indigenous, Inuit and Métis rights, and will help new Canadians better understand the role of Indigenous peoples, the ongoing impact of colonialism and residential schools and our collective obligation to uphold the treaties.”

“Canada’s Oath of Citizenship is a commitment to this country—and that includes the national project of reconciliation. This new Oath now includes Indigenous, Inuit and Métis rights, and will help new Canadians better understand the role of Indigenous peoples, the ongoing impact of colonialism and residential schools and our collective obligation to uphold the treaties. This is an important step on our shared journey of reconciliation,” said Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.

“The new language in Canada’s Oath of Citizenship is a concrete step forward on rebuilding relationships with Indigenous peoples as it responds to Call to Action 94 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is so important that new Canadians understand the rights and significant contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis.”

The new language of the oath reads: “I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada, including the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.”

All Canadians and would be citizens should protest the proposal to replace citizenship ceremonies with something tantamount to “dial a citizen” method. Becoming a citizen by ticking the “Make Me A Canadian” box from anywhere is an impolite method of becoming a citizen of one’s country.

Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary-based journalist and author of three nonfiction books: Off the Cuff, Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West and A Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims.

Source: Editorial: Save citizenship ceremonies – Red Deer Advocate

Ukrainians who fled to Canada in ‘grey area’ of immigration system

Of note. Potential risk to absorptive capacity should they remain and should the two-thirds who have not used their visa arrive, in addition to the issues raised by stakeholders.

The increased numbers of temporary residents, students and temporary visas, all uncapped, makes a mockery of Canada’s claim to “manage” immigration, given that well over half are not part of the annual immigration plan and are demand driven as my quote below notes:

Ukrainians who have fled to Canada with an emergency visa find themselves in a “grey area” of the immigration system, and several settlement specialists are urging the government to make changes if the program is renewed.

Canada took a new approach to the crisis sparked by the Russian invasion last year, offering an unlimited number of temporary visas to Ukrainians to allow them to live, work and study in Canada while they figure out their next steps.

The idea was to offer refuge to people as quickly as possible, as millions of women, children and older adults fled the violence, without compromising the integrity of the immigration system.

But people who arrived in Canada under the emergency visa don’t qualify for the same supports as people who arrive with a refugee designation, even though most of them think of themselves as refugees, said Ihor Michalchyshyn, executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

They also don’t qualify for certain government assistance, benefits and student loans, as permanent residents would.

“The usual programs and funding aren’t available to these Ukrainians, and it’s not organized,” Michalchyshyn said in an interview Monday.

Nova Scotia immigration program director Simone Le Gendre described the confusion the province faced at the outset of the program because its usual immigration settlement guidelines did not apply to Ukrainians with emergency visas.

“What we had was a grey area – a group of people who had experienced trauma were coming to our province and needed to be connected to support very quickly,” said Le Gendre, who spoke at the Metropolis Canada conference in Ottawa Friday.

The new arrivals had “refugee-like” needs, she explained, which prompted the province to set up special committees aimed at connecting people with housing, health care and income support top-ups.

Their task was made even more difficult by the fact that there was no central registry with arrival information, as there would be for permanent residents or refugees.

Provinces and agencies had no idea when Ukrainians would arrive, said Katie Crocker, the CEO of the Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies in British Columbia.

Instead, agencies like hers, the YMCA, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and others stood up booths at airports to try to flag down Ukrainian newcomers as they arrived in Canada and let them know what kind of help was available.

The temporary visa program is set to stop taking new applicants on March 31, giving the government two weeks to decide whether to extend it.

So far, 603,681 people have been approved for a visa under the program as of March 9, 2023, though only 184,908 have actually come to Canada.

When asked about the next iteration of the program last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said only that Canada would “continue to be there to support Ukrainian refugees in various ways, as necessary.”

Crocker said if the program continues, the government should consider a few key changes.

“If we’re not going to have them come as government-assisted refugees with a very clear pathway, then we do need to have some more concrete pre-arrival information (from) them about where they’re going, when they’re coming, who’s coming with them, what their English language levels are, what their credentials are,” said Crocker, who also spoke at the conference.

Those key details would allow settlement agencies to prepare for their arrival and connect them with jobs, housing and other resources they might need, she said.

She also suggested the government consider putting a cap on the number of applications it will approve.

The program was specifically designed without a cap as a way to bring people to Canada quickly, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said last week at a press conference.

“We made the decision at the time to try something new, to offer temporary protection by leveraging the strength … of Canada’s tourism program, where we’re not required to set a capped number of people that we can support, but we can process whatever applications come in,” he said.

The immigration department says approximately 373 staff have been specifically dedicated to processing applications from Ukrainians, in addition to existing staff who work on the files as part of their regular duties.

Whatever “hiccups” associated with the emergency visas that may have affected immigration processing times are “well worth the value,” said Fraser, who spoke last week at a press conference in Bridgewater, N.S.

The assumption at the time was that Ukrainians would likely return to their home country when the war ended. But increasingly, Ukrainians who come to Canada are showing an interest in staying, said Sarosh Rizvi, the executive director of the Alberta Association of Immigrant Serving Agencies.

A post-arrival survey of Ukrainians who arrived under the program shows that 84 per cent would like to become permanent residents once their emergency visas expire, he said.

“What does that mean for our infrastructure sector?” he said. “What does that mean for immigration levels?”

It also leaves an open question about what kind of support will be available to people who decide to stay if they are denied permanent status in Canada, he said.

Andrew Griffith, Canada’s former director-general of citizenship and multiculturalism, said the government should consider creating targets for the number of temporary residents in the country each year, as it does for other kinds of immigration.

“There are those people that come on a temporary basis but then they transition to permanent resident, and because they’re here, they also need housing, and public services and everything like that,” Griffith said in an interview.

Michalchyshyn, who the government has consulted on the next phase of the emergency visa, said he is hopeful the government will announce more details of its plan this week.

Source: Ukrainians who fled to Canada in ‘grey area’ of immigration system

‘Scumbag’ Ontario employers to be slapped with hefty new fines for withholding workers’ passports, vows labour minister

Good, but the proof will lie with enforcement or lack thereof. The decline in inspections over the last five years is not an encouraging sign:

Ontario employers who withhold vulnerable foreign workers’ passports will face stiff penalties under proposed new labour laws that aim to introduce the highest maximum fines in the country.

If passed, the legislation to be introduced Monday would result in penalties of $100,000 to $200,000 for each passport withheld from a worker — a significant leap from the current fines, which range from just $250 to $1000.

“It’s totally disgusting that any human being would ever be treated the way we see sometimes,” Labour Minister Monte McNaughton told the Star. “Which is why I’ve made this a top priority for myself and for our ministry.”

The proposed reforms would mean if employers are convicted of retaining documents for multiple workers, they could face cumulative fines ranging into the millions.

Withholding foreign nationals’ travel documents is already illegal under provincial employment laws, but heftier fines are “one piece of the puzzle” in a ministry crackdown on labour trafficking, McNaughton said.

Withholding workers’ travel documents is illegal — and widespread, advocates say

The new legislation comes in the wake of several recent labour exploitation cases that have resulted in criminal prosecutions. Earlier this month, York Regional Police announced it had identified 64 Mexican nationals who had been forced to live and work in “deplorable” conditions. Police have laid charges against the workers’ alleged abusers under human trafficking laws.

In that example, the labour ministry’s new penalty framework would also allow inspectors to slap recruiters with fines of up to $6.4 million for withholding passports, said McNaughton.

While retaining workers’ travel documents is coercive and illegal, advocates have long said the practice is widespread — and called for more proactive inspections to prevent violations of the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act (EPFNA).

“The profound weakness of the legislation is that it depends upon individual workers to bring forward complaints,” notes a 2016 report authored by lawyer and migrant labour expert Fay Faraday.

Last year, the ministry investigated 189 claims under EPFNA, uncovered 25 violations and identified more than $100,000 of unpaid entitlements owed to workers.

Inspections down dramatically since 2017

Ministry of Labour data shows the number of inspections conducted to identifyoverall workplace violations such as wage theft has dropped significantly in recent years, from 3,500 in 2017 to 215 last year.

The number of prosecutions for employment standards violations also dropped to 34 from 233 over the same time period.

In a statement, the ministry said its employment standards officers have supported the government’s pandemic response over the past two years, including “providing essential businesses with compliance assistance” and enforcing lockdown regulations.

“While the number of inspections the ministry has been able to complete has been impacted by the pandemic, we have continued to investigate every claim and review every complaint reported to us.”

Labour minister’s focus is on cracking down on ‘scumbags’

McNaughton said the proposed new fines will complement the ministry’s new anti-trafficking unit that has so far initiated 45 investigations and recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars for over 3,500 workers.

“I know the changes will only work if you catch these scumbags,” he said. “My focus is cracking down on the bad guys who are breaking the law, and my goal is to fine them as much as possible.”

In addition to facing so-called administrative penalties for withholding travel documents, individuals who are prosecuted in court under the proposed labour reforms could face additional penalties of up to $500,000 or a year of jail — up from the current maximum fine of $50,000. Corporations would be liable for penalties of up to $1 million.

With labour exploitation attracting growing attention, the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change has said it believes the labour ministry is the right body to lead enforcement activities. The advocacy group has raised concern about the involvement of police and border authorities, particularly where vulnerable workers are at risk of deportation.

Proposed legislation includes higher fines, expanded worker protections

Other changes to be introduced Monday include higher fines for corporations convicted of health and safety violations, raising fines to $2 million from $1.5 million.

The move follows an increase in maximum fines for individuals who break workplace safety laws, brought in last year.

The proposed new legislation will also contain a number of other initiatives recently announced by the ministry, including expanded cancer coverage for firefighters at the workers’ compensation board and protections for remote workers during mass terminations.

Source: ‘Scumbag’ Ontario employers to be slapped with hefty new fines for withholding workers’ passports, vows labour minister

Oaths, trust and Canadian democracy

Interesting they left out the oath of citizenship.

The government’s proposal to allow self-administration of the oath (“citizenship on a click”) was raised at CIMM 20 March by the Conservative vice-Chair Redekopp, who requested that the Minister and officials be invited to the committee to explain the reasons for the change.

Redekopp also called for in-person ceremonies to be the default, with virtual only in limited circumstances.

Hopefully this broader discussion at the political level, along with the almost universal opposition in most media and social media to date, will result in the government abandoning this ill-advised proposal.

My apologies for using this post as a means to raise the citizenship oath again!

Occasionally, the Oath of Allegiance to the sovereign enters the news cycle.  Most often, it is raised in the popular debate of whether Canada’s constitutional ties to the monarch as a head of state are anachronistic. For some office holders it’s cast as a kind of “conscientious objection” to the concept of a monarchy. But these views are grounded in confusion.

What’s in an oath?

Privy Councilors, Supreme Court Justices, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, among others, all take an oath of allegiance to the King or sovereign, the person who embodies the Crown.  But when an officeholder swears allegiance to the monarch, they aren’t committing to a personal, or even a political, belief in the principle of hereditary office.  Taking the oath is an acceptance of the legitimacy of our constitutional system – one in which the Crown heads each branch of government: legislative, executive, and judicial.

Like it or not, the monarch is the legal repository of all authority of the Canadian state (although most of his powers are exercised by the Governor General). A minister is a minister of the Crown and exercises power only in its name. In formal terms, prime ministers and their cabinets are merely advisors to the Crown, such that decisions of Cabinet acquire the force of law only as acts of the Governor in Council.  If nothing else, this puts prime ministers in their place.

Does an oath matter in practice?

It’s easy to think of the oath of allegiance as something purely symbolic and as such dispensable. Our prime minister sometimes appears to think so. But oath takers put their integrity on the line, and a blithe attitude towards such “symbols” contributes to the toxic cocktail of declining trust in our public institutions and legitimacy.

Recent revelations of China’s interference into Canada’s last two federal elections as well as related intelligence leaks by unnamed intelligence sources to the Globe and Mail and Global News have shown how vulnerable our institutions can be, including the public service tradition of speaking truth to power.

One of the extraordinary things about the system to which a Canadian officeholder swears allegiance is the deep well of conventional, which is to say mostly unspoken, rights and obligations that it taps into.

To take one example of these deep historical roots, when William Cecil, principal counsellor to Elizabeth I for 40 years, entered her service she required three commitments from him:

that you will not be corrupted with any manner of gift, that you will be faithful to the state, and that without respect of my private will, you will give me that counsel that you think best.

In less than one sentence Elizabeth required a commitment to honesty and avoidance of conflict of interest, to acting in the public interest, and to speaking truth to power. Much of the content of our public service code and conflict of interest act is a less pithy and eloquent codification of these three centuries-old principles.

Incidentally, Elizabeth committed herself to a reciprocal confidentiality, such that what Cecil confided in her he should “assure yourself I shall keep taciturnly therein.”

Truth to power: A reciprocal commitment

Elizabeth’s commitment to her counsellor reminds us that oaths by office holders can carry reciprocal, if unspoken, commitments on the part of the Crown. Being obliged to speak truth to power, for instance, implies a commitment by the Crown not to mete out punishment for truths it doesn’t want to hear.

Unlike whistleblowing protections that afford those who risk personal career harm or injury by bringing to light unlawful behaviour for fraud by governments, the oath requires its keeper to give fearless advice even when the receiver is likely not asking for it.

In the case of alleged leaks of intelligence information to the media by unnamed officials, there is much we do not know.  We do know that the RCMP is investigating and will determine if the Secrecy Act has been breached.  We also may never know the granularity of the information provided to the prime minister and officials in his office.  We can assume, however, that the office holders providing the intelligence briefings were obligated to provide “fearless advice” on the nature of the threat and likely means to mitigate such threats.

A key question is, was the information leaked to media materially the same or different from the material used to brief the prime minister and his office?  How thorough was the advice?  Did the Prime Minister’s Office acknowledge receipt and take a different course than was recommended (which is their democratically elected prerogative).  Alternatively, was the information and advice provided limited or perhaps even diluted?

If the latter, then “fearless advice” is being undermined.  The intelligence sources who leaked the information may be prime candidates to test the level of reciprocity that comes with an oath of allegiance: To serve faithfully, honestly and fearlessly and to be shielded (protected) from potential political or career reprisal.

Acknowledging the authority, you seek to exercise

Many people think the Westminster system, including the concept of the Crown, is one of humanity’s greater achievements. Readers are under no obligation to agree. But if you want to participate in the exercise of the Crown’s authority – even for the purposes of seeking its abolition – you must acknowledge it. Legally speaking, when and if the monarchy is ever abolished in Canada, it will be by and with the assent of the monarch.

When we dismiss oaths, we blithely toss away the richness and gravitas of the Canadian state, for the sake of a glib confusion.

Stephen Van Dine is the former Assistant Deputy Minister of Northern Affairs for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. Karl Salgo is Executive Director of Public Governance at the Institute on Governance.

Source: Oaths, trust and Canadian democracy

ICYMI: We should be paying attention to foreign interference in our provincial elections

Of note. Also at municipal levels:

Alberta’s vote this spring will mark the first major provincial election after a series of news reports on intelligence that Beijing meddled in the most recent federal election. But recommendations that the province’s independent chief electoral officer made last year to bolster Alberta’s legal guards against the rapidly evolving challenge of disinformation, including from foreign actors, won’t be implemented in time for voting day on May 29.

Foreign interference hasn’t been a major concern in the province’s electoral process in the past. Becca Polak, a spokeswoman for Danielle Smith, said no issues have been brought to the Premier’s attention. Political parties using social media to battle among themselves is – at this moment – still probably a graver concern. A Global Affairs Canada report examining foreign interference in Alberta’s 2019 provincial election found evidence of co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour from social media accounts, but determined the majority of these accounts were likely not foreign.

But we should be paying attention. A big portion of Canadian governance takes place in the provinces and territories. And the question of whether they are prepared for a new world of borderless cyberthreats and other sophisticated tools employed by foreign governments should be considered in British Columbia, Ontario, Alberta and other provinces alongside fears about interference in federal elections.

The reports on interference in federal elections from The Globe and Mail and Global News have already intruded into provincial spheres. On Friday, a member of Ontario’s legislature, Vincent Ke, left the Progressive Conservative caucus after allegations in a Global News story that he was part of a Beijing-led effort to interfere with the 2019 federal election. Mr. Ke denies the report and says he will work to clear his name.

Except for Prince Edward Island, Alberta’s will be the next big election in Canada. In his December annual report, Alberta’s chief electoral officer noted weak spots in the province’s electoral laws, singling out the lack of power the province has to tackle misinformation and disinformation in election campaigns. Glen Resler noted that while federal election legislation has provisions related to foreign interference to fraudulently affect the outcome of an election, Alberta doesn’t have the same safeguards.

The report made a few specific recommendations to beef up Alberta’s Election Act, including specifically prohibiting any person or entity, including foreign persons and entities, from knowingly making false statements about the voting process – including voting and counting procedures – to disrupt the conduct of the election, or to undermine the legitimacy of the election or its results.

The annual report also noted how the province’s laws need to reflect the digital age. The Alberta law has a provision that allows the office of the chief electoral officer to remove non-compliant advertisements, including a physical sign. But it can’t compel social media platforms to remove content in a timely fashion.

The Globe’s reporting in recent weeks has focused on secret and top-secret Canadian Security Intelligence Service documents outlining how Chinese diplomats and their proxies backed the re-election of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals – but only to another minority government – in 2021, and worked to defeat Conservative politicians considered to be unfriendly to Beijing.

The CSIS documents outline how China spread falsehoods on social media and provided undeclared cash donations in the 2021 election. The documents also outline how Beijing directed Chinese students studying in Canada to work as campaign volunteers, and illegally returned portions of donations so donors were not out of pocket after claiming a tax receipt.

In an e-mail this week, Elections Alberta spokesperson Cora-Lee Conway said any efforts that threaten to compromise the integrity of democratic processes are of great concern to Elections Alberta. She noted that the office is in regular contact with a local CSIS office and the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, the lead agency on federal response to cybersecurity events.

Alberta’s Justice Ministry indicated there won’t be any changes to Alberta’s Election Act coming before May, noting the legislative agenda for the rest of the legislature’s sitting is already laid out. Spokesperson Ethan Lecavalier-Kidney said the government is in the process of reviewing the chief electoral officer’s recommendations from December.

British Columbia and Ontario are provinces likely far away from elections. But B.C. is in the process of amending its laws to address online political campaigns and election advertising to match with current technologies. Recent reports from Elections BC have raised broad concerns about foreign interference, but the provincial attorney-general’s office says Elections BC has advised it that foreign interference has not been an issue in B.C. provincial elections.

In past years, Ontario’s chief electoral officer, Greg Essensa, has said it will be looking for cases of foreign interference. This week, Elections Ontario said in an e-mail it takes the integrity, security and accuracy of elections very seriously and works with security partners to monitor and review internal processes. In a response to a question about Mr. Ke, the office said it doesn’t comment on whether it has received a complaint or is investigating any matter.

There will be politicians and critics, whenever the topic of foreign interference in Canadian elections is raised, who say the very act of focusing on the issue will create distrust in the political processes we rely on.

But there is hope – to paraphrase a famous bit of Fitzgerald wisdom – that voters are able to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time, and still hold onto a democracy’s ability to function. For instance, although there were efforts to meddle in the 2021 federal election, those efforts did not affect the outcome of the vote, says a report based on the work of a panel of senior public servants. And a new Leger poll released this week shows the majority of Canadians want Ottawa to call an independent inquiry into foreign interference in the past two federal elections, but still feel the country’s electoral system is safe.

Most voters still trust in our political processes. For that to continue, politicians and public institutions must also say that foreign interference is possible and real, and show they are intent on stopping it.

source: We should be paying attention to foreign interference in our provincial elections

Dicko: Is the uncertain economic climate a threat to Canada’s immigration targets?

More promotion than neutral and objective analysis:

The federal government plans to welcome 1.4 million immigrants by the year 2025. These ambitious targets reflect a national consensus on immigration’s long-term economic value. With one million job vacancies and an estimated 40 per cent of small- to medium-sized businesses reporting staff shortages, Canada needs immigrants.

Since setting these targets, inflation in Canada has spiralled and the rising cost of living has stretched the finances of many Canadian households. A recent report reveals that 64 per cent of Canadians is concerned about their ability to pay off debts, while 59 per cent state that further increases will lead them to financial difficulties. 

Financial planning and budgeting are accompanied, for many people, by apprehension and anxiety— especially when the person in question is a newcomer to Canada.

An immigrant’s skills and experience earn them enough points for permanent residency in Canada. However, they soon find that the reality of living and working in Canada is different from what they anticipated. 

Immigrants compete for jobs and housing with an average of 10 per cent less pay than Canadian-born workers. If they are skilled and university-educated, they receive an estimated 20 per cent less than their Canadian counterparts each month. 

This immigrant wage gap costs our economy $50-billion each year.

Seventy-two per cent of immigrants recently surveyed by Léger for the Institute for Canadian Citizenship said that “Canadians don’t understand the challenges immigrants face.” Thirty per cent of young newcomers, aged between 18-34, revealed that they are likely to leave Canada in the next two years. 

It’s understandable, in the current climate, why many young newcomers would want to take their skills and experience elsewhere. Far too many immigrants arrive to find that their experience and credentials are not recognized in Canada. If they need a license, the cost of getting licensed could cost tens of thousands of dollars. 

Immigrants also come up against another barrier—lack of Canadian experience—which is not something they can control or overcome. Some find themselves in low-skilled survival jobs because of these barriers. 

It’s a vicious cycle: they arrive in Canada with no credit history and without it, they are not eligible for a career loan from a financial institution. This keeps them stuck in the survival job, moving further and further away from the career they once had in their home country. 

Navigating life in a new country can induce stress and anxiety. Research shows that immigrants and refugees are more susceptible to mental health challenges. 

Our client Elda experienced anxiety as a newcomer to Canada. As a skilled psychotherapist with years of experience back home in the Philippines, she was unable to practice as a psychotherapist in Canada unless she got re-licensed. Elda wanted to continue her career but it came at a significant cost. With a young family to feed, she needed financial support. She wasn’t sure how she could pay her bills and also return to what she loved to do. 

One of these solutions is microloans offered through national charities, like Windmill Microlending. A microloan makes it possible for someone like Elda to get re-licensed while covering living expenses during the process. 

Today, Elda is a licensed psychotherapist who helps others manage their mental health struggles. Internationally-trained mental health professionals like Elda are in high demand.  

Helping immigrants contribute at the level that our economy needs could help ease pressures on our health-care system.

The Windmill team supports over thousand immigrants like Elda every year as they transition into careers that align with their skills and experience. We recognize that the current economic climate could deter newcomers from applying for a career loan, so we recently introduced a fixed-rate interest loan of 5.95 percent for a limited time. 

Offering loans at this below-prime rate ensures that funds remain accessible and affordable to newcomers. We hope that this measure will help newcomers fulfill their career goals and utilize their full potential while also reducing Canada’s labour shortage. 

As we welcome more immigrants in the coming years, Canada must remain a desirable destination for skilled workers around the world. We have much to gain by getting the best and brightest skilled immigrants into roles where they can make a difference. 

When skilled immigrants are allowed to leverage their skills and experience, Canada reaps the benefits. 

Oumar Dicko is national director, Stakeholder Relations of Windmill Microlending, a national charity that empowers skilled immigrants to achieve economic prosperity through microloans and supports.

Source: Is the uncertain economic climate a threat to Canada’s immigration targets?