Farming project helps Yazidi refugees return to roots


Adol Ilyas has farmed for as long as she can remember.

It’s how her family earned their living in northern Iraq, before ISIS swept through their village.

Now, the 52-year-old is getting the chance to return to those roots.

She’s part of a farming initiative launched by a Yazidi refugee resettlement group in Winnipeg, Operation Ezra. Dozens of synagogues, churches and schools are part of the group, which has sponsored a dozen Yazidi refugee families so far. It also works with government-assisted refugees.

The aim of the farming project is to unite the Yazidi community and help refugees who are struggling to meet their own food needs.

Michel Aziza, chair of Operation Ezra, says the farming project began about a year ago as a way to provide food assistance for government-assisted Yazidi refugees. (Warren Kay/CBC)

Nearly five years ago, ISIS militants launched attacks on the religious minority in northern Iraq, killing thousands of Yazidis and abducting and abusing many women and girls. The UN called it a genocide.

Ilyas and five of her children escaped, but her other five children, all adults, remain in refugee camps. Speaking through a translator, she said she worries about them constantly.

But getting the chance to farm has brought back good memories. It has helped her cope.

And she’s not alone.

The Yazidi farming project launched last year, yielding about 315 kilograms of potatoes on donated farmland near Portage la Prairie, Man. ( Pierre Verriere/Radio-Canada)

“This is probably one of the most successful projects that we’ve run,” said Michel Aziza, chair of Operation Ezra.

He said the farming initiative began as a pilot project last year after Operation Ezra realized that government-assisted refugees needed extra food support. Government financial assistance typically ends after a year.

Many of the Yazidi newcomers were farmers. So an idea sprouted for refugees and volunteers to farm potatoes on less than an acre of donated farmland near Portage la Prairie, an hour west of Winnipeg.

The project yielded about 315 kilograms of potatoes last fall.

The hope is that members of the Yazidi refugee community will also be able to sell extra produce at local farmers markets. (Angela Johnston/CBC)

This year, the initiative is much larger.

More than 50 families are farming approximately eight acres of land in nearby St. François Xavier. They’re expecting to harvest about 5,400 kilograms of potatoes, plus dozens of other crops — enough to feed about 250 people for months, and to sell what is left over at local farmers markets.

The goal is for the farming project near St. François Xavier to produce enough food to feed at least 250 people for months, including more than 50 Yazidi families. (Angela Johnston/CBC)

Bo Wohlers, president of Shelmerdine Nurseries, donated this year’s land. He’s a congregant of the Charleswood United Church, which is working with Operation Ezra.

“I thought they deserved a good start in Canada, so we offered the land,” he said.

Refugees can ‘come together as a community’

Aziza says in a world where government-assisted refugees face so many challenges, including language, banking and transportation, to name just a few, the farming project is where they can be themselves and work and socialize together as a community.

That sentiment rings true for Majid Haji, one of Operation Ezra’s privately sponsored refugees. He farmed for more than a decade back in Iraq.

He felt nostalgic when he got out in the field here, he said through a translator.

He was reminded of his home as soon as he touched the soil, he said — although the soil in Iraq was a ‘bit tougher.’

Yazidi refugee Majid Haji says he farmed for more than a decade back home in Iraq. (Warren Kay/CBC)

An official with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said the government has resettled more than 1,400 ISIS survivors since 2016, with Yazidis making up more than 85 per cent of that group.

Aziza says Operation Ezra plans to sponsor even more families, and to keep growing the farming program as well.

He thinks the refugees and volunteers could work up to 20 acres next year.

Adol Ilyas says she isn’t thinking that far ahead. She’s still focused on this year’s harvest — and looking forward to harvesting the crops and feeding families.

Source: Farming project helps Yazidi refugees return to roots

‘Determining our growth:’ Morden, Man., finds hope for future in provincial immigration program

It all began 20 years ago with Manitoba’s provincial nominee program, one of the very first experiments in Canada matching foreign workers with specific job openings.

It’s a fast-track option, allowing provinces and territories to nominate people who want to immigrate to Canada, are interested in settling in a particular province or territory and have the skills, education and work experience to contribute to the economy.

Each province and territory has its own criteria and “streams” — programs targeted to specific groups such as students, business people, skilled workers or semi-skilled workers.

The more points they have, based on their work qualifications, experience and language ability, the faster they move up the queue in the immigration process. A definitive job offer by an employer is a significant benefit.

After being nominated, applicants still have to apply to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada for permanent residence status.

Manitoba’s program remains one of the most successful. It boasts high recruitment and retention rates and accounts for a significant percentage of the province’s population growth.

“We see a program that has specific objectives. It’s met them and it’s one that we can measure as a successful government program,” Winnipeg immigration lawyer Ken Zaifman said last month during a celebration of its 20th anniversary.

Province Program started Total landed nominees Estimated 2017 annual provincial growth* 2017 landed nominees Percentage of 2017 growth from nominee program
Man. 1998 130,000 21,786 9,425 43
B.C. 2001 63,230 59,502** 7,650 13
Alta. 2002 89,979 54,189 6,996 13
N.S. 2003 17,365 6,536 2,735 42
Ont. 2007 27,890 216,727 6,980 3

*Population growth estimates from Statistics Canada

**Source: Province of British Columbia

According to provincial statistics, of the 130,000 immigrants who have settled in Manitoba through the nominee program since 1998, 85 per cent were working within three months and 76 per cent were homeowners within three to five years of their arrival.

In 2012, Morden began a community-driven immigration initiative under the provincial program to attract even more people. Since then, it’s brought 50 families a year to the rural community.

“It’s a win-win situation for us because we get to choose people that our employers want. I believe it’s a win for [the program] because our retention is really good because of the support we give,” Voth said.

With an unemployment rate of just three per cent and a small local labour pool to draw from, Voth said some businesses might be hesitant to invest in the community “but because of our steady flow of people coming in and the fact that we can target skill sets to what they’re looking for, it is a really great incentive for setting up in Morden.”

The city program has been so successful that other communities across the country come to get advice on how to set up their own strategic initiatives inside their provincial nominee programs, Voth said.

It’s more than just the skill set. It’s the work ethic…. That’s a hard thing to find.– Jim Duff, vice-president of manufacturing for ON2 Solutions

The national and international rhetoric around foreign workers taking jobs from Canadians crops up now and then in Morden. Voth and others say they sometimes get asked why they’re recruiting immigrants when there are local people without jobs.

Their answer? Some of these are jobs Canadians don’t want to do while others require skills and experience that can’t be found — or recruited — in the area.

And, Voth said, very few of those who apply are chosen.

“It’s not just an open the doors and anybody comes in. We go through a tough application. We’re picking about five per cent of our applications,” she said.

“We’re picking really good people and I think the success stories of the people that have been coming in speaks a lot for the program and also helps the community to be more comfortable with the program.”

‘It’s the work ethic’

Jim Duff, vice-president of manufacturing for ON2 Solutions, is working with Voth to find up to 200 workers in the next three years. He needs electricians and plumbers to help grow his business of manufacturing oxygen concentrators for hospitals and emergency shelters for mining companies.

Duff has tried to hire local people, but says he can’t find what he needs.

“It’s more than just the skill set. It’s the work ethic. It’s the contribution to the team, the desire to be part of the team. That’s a hard thing to find,” he says.

“Our last interview process, we interviewed a couple of born and raised Canadians and the attitude was shocking, really, when it came down to it. I don’t know how to put that in words but it was a significant difference.”

Duff has talked to the school division and local educational programs to try to train workers, but said he has run into the same problem.

Jim Duff, left, is working with Morden’s immigration program to find up to 200 new employees in the next three years and says foreign workers like Victor Kovtan, right, are helping ON2 Solutions grow and thrive.(Warren Kay/CBC News)

Meanwhile, he’s thrilled with the workers he’s hired through the provincial nominee program and Morden’s strategic initiative.

“I would very honestly say that if we didn’t have these five people, we wouldn’t be where we are now. I don’t even know that we would necessarily be in business. I would say [the foreign workers are] that crucial,” he says.

Source: ‘Determining our growth:’ Morden, Man., finds hope for future in provincial immigration program

Is ‘assimilate’ offensive? Legal battle pits Star Trek fan against Indigenous activists | National Post

Both sides make valid arguments in sharing their perspectives.

But understand for Indigenous peoples the particular sensitivity regarding the word assimilate given Canada’s history.

For immigrants, of course, the long standing Canadian approach is based upon integration, not assimilation:

At issue is a legal battle that has just been launched that pits the right of a Star Trek fan to have it on his licence plate against Indigenous groups opposed to the word.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Nick Troller, a Winnipeg man whose licence plate — ASIMIL8 — was rescinded by the provincial government for being offensive to Indigenous people.

“It’s another case that pits the Charter freedom of expression against the new, phoney right not to be offended,” said JCCF President John Carpay, a former Alberta Wildrose party candidate.

Carpay said he can understand why the plate might offend someone, but the word still shouldn’t be censored.

“There’s a difference between words that are inherently offensive regardless of how you use them, such as vulgarities, obscenities, four-letter words, versus words like ‘war’ or ‘assimilate,’ which can have positive or negative connotations,” he said.

Troller said the licence plate is clearly a reference to the Borg, a fictional race from Star Trek that forcibly assimilates other cultures. The plate holder says, “WE ARE THE BORG” and “RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.”

“The word ‘assimilate’ is just a word — it is neither good nor bad. We assimilate nutrients into our bodies in order to live,” Troller said in his affidavit.

But Indigenous activists say Canadians should do more to understand why the word could be considered offensive.

Anishinaabe Nation member and University of Manitoba assistant professor Niigaan Sinclair called free speech a “bogus argument” and said that Indigenous people are having “a very understandable reaction.”

“If Indigenous peoples feel triggered by a licence plate or a sports logo, or the name of a historical figure on a building, Canadians would be best served to listen to why Indigenous peoples are triggered, and show some care and sensitivity when they express themselves,” he said.

“You can’t just say whatever you want to say without any worries of consequence or responsibility.”

Source: Is ‘assimilate’ offensive? Legal battle pits Star Trek fan against Indigenous activists | National Post

Literacy Class Visited by Manitoba Minister of Multiculturalism and Literacy

Practical illustration of settlement services and general literacy training in Manitoba:

[Minister of Multiculturalism and Literacy, Flor] Marcelino continues to be inspired by all the success stories that come out of the English and Literacy classes.

“We have 85 or so robust, working, active learning and literacy centres that are truly, truly helping the communities where ever they are. They have transformed so many people’s lives and have opened many doors and offered people many opportunities. And for that were very thankful to all the teachers and administrators and also the students who believe in themselves and in pursuing goals for themselves and their families – and the results are encouraging, amazing and inspiring!”

Marcelino will finish visiting the centres in the Pembina Valley and the South Eastman, then the Winnipeg area in December or January. She promises to work hard in obtaining more support for literacy and learning centres during her term.

Executive Director of South Eastman English and Literacy Services, Jireh Saladaga-Medina, says this non-profit, charitable organization provides free classes for Canadian citizens and landed immigrant adults improve their English speaking, listening, reading and writing skills, as well as free literacy classes for those who want to upgrade their reading, writing, math and basic computer skills. Free child care is provided. To contact Jireh at South Eastman English and Literacy Services, call 204-326-4225.

Eastman Immigrant Services helps newcomers to settle in Manitoba. Services include: reception and orientation, employment counselling and special events. For more information on settlement services phone 204-346-6609.

Literacy Class Visited by Minister of Multiculturalism and Literacy – Local News – Local News –

Manitoba’s foreign worker strategy called a model for other provinces – The Globe and Mail

The model for curbing abuse:

Manitoba’s system centres on the Worker Recruitment and Protection Act WRAPA, passed in 2009. Its most important component is also its most basic: Unlike most provinces, Manitoba knows where its temporary foreign workers are working. Businesses must register with the province to get a work permit for a TFW. That allows inspectors to check on their working conditions to make sure they meet employment standards and health and safety rules. It also allows the province to block anyone who breaks those rules from bringing in more workers. Advocates for TFWs complained for years that the system was open to exploitation, because a migrant worker’s right to be in Canada depends on a good relationship with the employer. As a result, TFWs are said to be less likely to complain of unfair treatment or unsafe working conditions.

“We know where the workers are and we put resources into going out and making sure those workers are being treated appropriately,” Mr. Short said. “We focus on the most vulnerable workers in Manitoba. That includes workers earning near the minimum wage, recent immigrants, young workers and temporary foreign workers.”

The legislation is a favourite among public-policy analysts. Reports for the Institute for Research on Public Policy, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Canadian Council for Refugees have all hailed it as the best of its kind in the country.

Manitoba’s foreign worker strategy called a model for other provinces – The Globe and Mail.

How losing 18,000 people made Manitoba $100-million poorer – The Globe and Mail

Although the article doesn’t state it, hard to believe that the shift from the mandatory Census to the National Household Voluntary Survey didn’t have something to do with it:

In past years, many people in Manitoba were missed. It has a large aboriginal population and aboriginal people tend to be missed at higher rates. Immigrants tend to get missed, and Manitoba had its highest levels of immigration in decades between 2006 and 2011. In 2011, the province also faced massive flooding that forced many people from their homes. Yet once the results of the reverse record check were complete, Statscan concluded that the adjusted population was only 1,233,728. A year earlier, it was thought to be 1,251,690.

But when they looked more closely at that sample, they examined something called the T-statistic, which acts as a test of statistical accuracy. Manitoba’s T-statistic was extremely high, “way out of bounds,” Mr. Falk said. (Manitoba’s was 3.35. Next highest was Alberta at 1.61). It points to a bad sample in the reverse record check, he said.

“It’s the canary in the coal mine,” he said. “The probability of getting a more extreme result than we observed in 2011 … is nearly non-existent.”

Statscan agreed there was something unusual. “We took a rigorous look at this,” Mr. Smith said. “We found nothing, and we went over it with a fine tooth comb.”

How losing 18,000 people made Manitoba $100-million poorer – The Globe and Mail.

Manitoba Tory leader defends ‘infidel atheists’ remark – Manitoba – CBC News

Tone deaf in trying to be inclusive. Imagine the furor if a Muslim leader wished a “happy Ramadan” to infidel Christians, Jews or Hindus or other religions.

If you want to be inclusive – and I will take Brian Pallister at his word – just say non-believers rather than “infidel atheists”, as the universality of the thought of wishing all people well, whatever their faith or lack of faith, is important.

Manitoba Tory leader defends ‘infidel atheists’ remark – Manitoba – CBC News.