Visible minorities vastly underrepresented in the boardroom, new disclosures suggest

Early and incomplete data but dispiriting:

Canadian companies may be making progress on gender diversity, but a Financial Post analysis suggests that the boardrooms of some of the biggest businesses in the country have much further to go when it comes to including members of visible minorities, Indigenous peoples and people with disabilities.

That analysis is based on a relatively new source of data. Starting this year, publicly traded companies incorporated under the Canada Business Corporations Act (CBCA) are required to report, among other things, the number of women, Indigenous people, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities on their boards and in their senior-management ranks. The disclosures must be made for their annual shareholder meetings.

The Post looked at companies on the S&P/TSX 60 stock-market index that were both incorporated under the CBCA and had filed management information so far in 2020 — a total of 23 companies — to gather a preliminary picture of the state of corporate diversity. Disclosure was not entirely consistent from company to company and the findings and assessments presented here are based on self-reported information about proposed or current slates of directors, at the time the filings were made.

Combined, however, the Post found that, out of the 23 boards and 255 director positions total, only 14 directors — or approximately 5.5 per cent — identified as belonging to a visible minority. The Post also found only three Indigenous directors (or about one per cent of all directors in the sample) and two directors with disabilities (less than one per cent) among the 23 boards.

Fourteen of the companies reported they did not have a member of a visible minority on the board, while 20 companies reported no Indigenous peoples and 21 reported no persons with disabilities as directors. Eleven companies had no representation from any of those three groups on their board.

By comparison, 22.3 per cent of Canada’s population identified as a visible minority and 4.9 per cent as an Aboriginal person during the 2016 census. And according to Statistics Canada, as of 2017, 22 per cent of Canadians aged 15 and older had one or more disabilities.

All 23 firms included in the Post’s analysis had at least one director who identified as a woman, and 31 per cent of all directors on the Post’s list of companies were women.

Representation of the federal government’s four diversity groups in senior management varied, but were not much better for the 23 companies as a whole.

Discount retailer Dollarama Inc. reported two of its six executive officers (33 per cent) and two of its nine directors were women (22 per cent), but that members of the federal government’s other three designated groups were in zero of those positions. It was similar for e-commerce company Shopify Inc., which reported two of its seven executive officers and two of its six directors were women, but that no other groups were represented.

“We recognize our areas for improvement and are actively working with our Diversity & Belonging team to ensure stronger representation across our senior leadership and Board by hiring and retaining diverse talent,” a Shopify spokesperson said in an email.

Big banks and insurers in the S&P/TSX 60 index were excluded from the Post’s analysis [banks covered under the Federally Regulated Sectors EE reporting]. While some report diversity information (Royal Bank of Canada had said, among other things, that 46 per cent of its executives in Canada were women and 19 per cent were visible minorities), they are incorporated under financial legislation and not subject to the recent CBCA changes. Companies that are incorporated provincially were likewise excluded.

Ratna Omidvar, an independent senator from Ontario, said she was not surprised by the Post’s findings. Omidvar, who was a well-known diversity expert before being appointed to the Senate in 2016, was previously among lawmakers backing an ultimately unsuccessful push to force public companies to set internal diversity targets.

“Certainly I recognize the government has to not over-regulate corporations, because we want them to survive and thrive and make money and lift all our boats, et cetera,” Omidvar said. “But the lifting of all boats is clearly not happening, so we need something else.”

The recent changes to the CBCA also put companies in a position to “comply or explain” in reporting on their diversity policies and targets, the latter of which most of the companies looked at by the Post did not have for members of visible minorities, Indigenous people or persons with disabilities.

For example, the Desmarais-family-controlled Power Corp. of Canada (which reported two of its 13 directors were women, but zero were from any of the other three groups) said in its 2020 management circular that it had not adopted a target regarding the representation of the four groups on the board “as the Board believes that such arbitrary targets are not in the best interests of the Corporation.”

Still, there is a “prevailing view” in the corporate world that diversity is a good thing, which helps create momentum for efforts such as the recent CBCA amendments, according to Rahul Bhardwaj, the president and CEO of the Institute of Corporate Directors.

“It’s a journey for organizations to enhance their diversity,” he added.

While it is the first year for the new federal disclosure requirements, securities regulators were already requiring companies to report figures and targets regarding the number of women on boards and in executive positions. A recent report on the approximately 230-company S&P/TSX Composite Index found the percentage of women on its boards had increased to 27.6 per cent in 2019 from 18.3 per cent in 2015.

Corporate Canada’s latest disclosure requirements, intended to further improve corporate transparency and diversity, are also now in place at a time when firms are pledging to do their part to fight racism following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed while in police custody in Minnesota. Four officers are now facing charges in connection with the killing.

Directors should be aware of the narrative of the day, what people living in the communities in which they operate are thinking, and what customers are feeling, because those directors are setting strategy, according to Omidvar.

“So I would say those are competencies that should be even more hotly searched for and located when corporate directors are appointed to boards,” she added.

Some companies are now redoubling their diversity efforts. On Wednesday, the formation of the new Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism was announced, as well as the launch of the BlackNorth Initiative, which is aimed at increasing the representation of Black people in Canadian corporate boardrooms and executive offices.

Wes Hall, the founder and chair of the council, and the executive chairman and founder of shareholder services firm Kingsdale Advisors, noted companies were fine when they began actively trying to solve their gender-diversity issues.

“We believe that if you now add another segment of the population to your board, it’s probably going to make your business even better,” Hall said. “So why not do it?”

Source:  Visible minorities vastly underrepresented in the boardroom, new disclosures suggest

Canada should welcome America’s ‘dreamers’ – Bloemraad and Omidvar

Good advocacy piece by Senator Omidvar and Irene Bloemraad of University of California:

The U.S. public is sympathetic to their plight. Most Americans favour legalizing undocumented residents. Multiple attempts have been made to pass a DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act that would open a road to citizenship. But Congress has repeatedly failed to pass the bill, leaving only the coinage of “dreamers” to refer to those it would have helped. There is no chance of new DREAM Act legislation in the near future.

As a stopgap measure, the administration of former president Barack Obama introduced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Under DACA, undocumented young people received work authorization for two years and were shielded from deportation. The program was open to those who arrived in the United States before the age of 16, had no police record, were in high school, had graduated from high school, or had been honourably discharged from the U.S. military. To date, about 750,000 people have become “DACAmented.”

These are precisely the people who Canada looks for in its immigration program. The economic advisory council to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recommended Canada focus a growing immigration strategy on business talent and international students. The DACA kids are young, with a lifetime of economic contribution in front of them. They are fluent in English, went to U.S. schools, have North American work experience – often in companies that can be found on either side of the Canada-U.S. border – and some have university degrees. To get DACA status, they had to be screened for security threats and criminal background, making them a pre-vetted group.

These young people hold incredible promise for Canada. They are exceptional people. It is not easy to go to college or university when you are undocumented. But within the flagship University of California public system, hundreds of dreamers are pursing higher education in degrees ranging from math to sociology.

In 2014, Sergio Garcia became the first undocumented lawyer certified to the California bar. That same year, Jirayut Latthivongskorn became the first undocumented medical student enrolled in the University of California, San Francisco. For each of these dramatic against-all-odds success stories, there are thousands of other ordinary immigrant kids who just want the security of citizenship, a good job and a stable home.

Unfortunately, their American dreams have never appeared more remote. Mr. Trump campaigned on an explicit “America First” message. Since taking office, he has advanced plans to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and sought to temporarily halt refugee admissions. The White House has not yet made an explicit statement on the DACA program but, at best, the program will end. At worst, the government will use the information collected from those who applied to begin mass deportations.

Canada is already seeing the arrival of asylum seekers from the United States. If DACA is ended, a flood of new arrivals is possible. Canada cannot take all of these young people, but a targeted program of 10,000-30,000 would allow Canada to select the very best matches with Canadian society and the economy.

As immigrants to Canada, they could be a special addition to economic-stream migrants, or fall under a new program akin to that for international university students.

Offering a Canadian dream to DACA recipients might also be positive for foreign relations. Mr. Trump faces a problem in how to deal with the country’s undocumented population. Deporting millions would be politically, logistically and socially impossible, but rendering their lives difficult is a distinct possibility.

Canada has long benefited from the flow of people educated and raised in the United States, who left for a variety of reasons. Today, the United States is among the top-10 source countries of permanent residents. Looking further back, an estimated 40,000 draft dodgers fled conscription during the Vietnam War, representing what the Immigration Department called “the largest, best-educated group this country ever received.” Dreamers could be a close second.

Source: Canada should welcome America’s ‘dreamers’ – The Globe and Mail

‘Can I get a tax receipt?’: Tax confusion muddles Syrian refugee sponsorship efforts

Interesting wrinkle and will be interesting to see how it is resolved:

As the Toronto office of Lifeline Syria scrambles to accommodate thousands of refugees, the question the charity’s chair Ratna Omidvar and her team hears most often is: “Can I get a tax receipt?”

In many cases, the answer is no.

Canada has so far welcomed more than 13,500 refugees since the Liberal government’s program began last November. Of that total, close to 5,000 have been supported by private sponsors.

Refugee support initiatives such as Lifeline Syria say allowing donors to receive a tax receipt when they are donating to a registered charity and suggesting a particular family to receive support would encourage more donations, ease the government’s burden and make integration easier. Currently, charities can issue tax receipts to donors who indicate they’d like their donation applied to a specific area of interest, such as refugees, but not when the donation is directed to a particular family.

“The more Canadians step up and promote charities, the less the government is going to have to do these things,” says Estelle Duez, a tax lawyer at LaBarge Weinstein in Ottawa.

“As Canadians, we are used to the notion that when we make a charitable donation, (we) will get some kind of tax relief,” says Paul Clarke, executive director of Action Réfugiés Montréal. He says despite the extraordinary support Canadians have shown for Syrian refugees to date, questions around tax deductibility dissuade some people from sponsorship.

Mark Blumberg, a Toronto lawyer who specializes in non-profit and charity law, says the Canada Revenue Agency could make donating and sponsoring easier by clarifying the rules. Although money given to a registered refugee charity is normally tax deductible, Blumberg says the situation becomes more tricky when a donor instructs the money should go to a specific person or family, sometimes referred to as a “general direction” or “directed gift.”

The CRA’s position is that “All decisions regarding use of the donation must rest with the charity.” In other words: it cannot issue a tax receipt if a donor wants the charity to give the funds to a specified person or family, because “such a gift is made to the person or family and not to the charity.”

Exceptions add to the confusion. For example, a “general direction” to use the gift for a “particular program” is acceptable, provided “no benefit accrues to the donor” and the gift “does not benefit any person not dealing at arms’ length with the donor.”

If the CRA provided greater leeway, “there’d be more people making donations,” says Blumberg. He cites the partial receipting of tuition costs at religious day schools.

Source: ‘Can I get a tax receipt?’: Tax confusion muddles Syrian refugee sponsorship efforts

Private sponsors build a nation – and leave a legacy: Omidvar

Ratna Omidvar’s suggestions on refugees:

How can Canada regain its leadership as a country of compassion again?

  • Consider annual targets for refugee intake as floors and not as ceilings. Given the volatility in the world today, in Syria and in many other places, it seems that we must be flexible and nimble.
  • Make family reunification a cornerstone of refugee policy by working with the Canadian Syrian community and by expanding the notion of families as more than the nuclear unit. Recognize that displacement makes for chaos with families scattered across Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and others left behind in Syria.
  • Match the public enthusiasm for private sponsors. As private sponsorships rise, so should government-assisted refugees.
  • Enhance participation of private sponsors by considering a tax credit or clarifying eligibility for charitable receipts.
  • Expedite the arrival of refugees who are privately sponsored. The long wait periods of four to five years has been absurd and damaging. Once refugees are selected, there is a strong case to bring them to Canada immediately. A delay in resettlement is not good for sponsors, who plan for a year-long sponsorship based on current schedules, jobs, residences and family situations. Delays can unravel plans and sap goodwill. But most importantly, waiting works against the security and well-being of these future Canadians who are in limbo in fragile, sometimes hostile conditions.

All nations have their moments of regret and shame, but we never regret moments of compassion. One such moment was Canada’s response to the Indochinese refugee crisis.

Another moment is on us today. Canada has a unique opportunity to show ourselves and the world what we are made of.

Can Tories repeat past success in wooing the ethnic vote?

Further to my earlier post Visible Minority Candidates in the 2015 Election: Making Progress, good range of comments by Myer Siemiatycki, Thierry Giasson, and Ratna Omidvar on whether or not the Conservatives can maintain their inroads (most recent polls suggest not).

We will see who is right Monday night:

Opinion is divided as to whether the Conservative Party will be able to repeat its success in drumming up support in the ethnic and newcomer communities in next week’s federal election.

In 2011, the strategy was to “broaden the support of the party and reach out to visible minority communities,” says Myer Siemiatycki, a professor of political science at Ryerson University. “We saw a very concerted and aggressive outreach by the Conservatives.”

That effort proved to be successful. According to an Ipsos exit poll, 42 per cent of immigrants to Canada voted Conservative. The party won 43 per cent of the vote of immigrants who had been in the country for more than a decade. In that same poll, only 37 per cent of people born in Canada voted for the Conservatives.

But this time around it may not work as well, Siemiatycki says. Issues like the niqab, terrorism and security and the Conservatives’ stands on what they have described as “barbaric cultural practices” as well as policies on Syrian refugees, family reunification and citizenship have irked many and perhaps driven away some ethnic or multicultural voters.

Because of that, Siemiatycki gives Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives a failing grade when it comes to wooing multicultural and ethnic Canadians this campaign. Charm won’t be enough in this election, he says. As for the Liberals and New Democrats, Siemiatycki ranks their performance as neck and neck, giving both parties a resounding A for their efforts.

While neither party does the kind of narrowcasting the Conservatives are famous for, they have gone out of their way to include a diverse slate of candidates as well as make campaign appearances in diverse ridings, he says.

More importantly, both parties have strongly spoken out against Tory policies, including family reunification; citizenship, the niqab and refugees, he adds. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Tom Mulcair are trying to win over newcomers and minority communities by arguing that Tory policies are not in the best interest of the country, he says. “It took courage, I think, to stand for minority rights; to stand for inclusion based on diversity and pluralism, tolerance and the rule of law.”

However, Thierry Giasson, professor of political science at Laval University, believes the Tories have been very effective — perhaps just as effective — this time around. They know what they’re doing when it comes to wooing specific ethnic and newcomer communities, he says.

…Ratna Omidvar, founder of the Global Diversity Exchange, a think tank at Ryerson University, believes the Conservatives have made substantial inroads in certain ethnic communities by appealing to “mainstream values within (certain) immigrant communities that are in favour of law and order … I do think the Conservatives have the lead on this.”

Source: Can Tories repeat past success in wooing the ethnic vote? | Toronto Star

Flight and Freedom: Refugee Stories

Flight and Freedom, the book of refugee stories by Ratna Omidvar and Dana Wagner, is now out.

I read a proof copy and find their book to be a timely and well-needed counterpart to much of the rhetoric around refugees through its highlighting the remarkable personal stories of thirty refugees who have, and continue, to contribute to Canada. These stories make a compelling case for a more generous approach, reminding us of the potential cost of more restrictive approaches, particularly germane in the context of today’s Syrian refugee crisis:

What does escape look like up close? Why do people choose Canada? And once they land in a safe country, what happens next?

In Flight and Freedom, Ratna Omidvar and Dana Wagner draw on 30 astonishing interviews with refugees to Canada to document their extraordinary journeys of flight, and to transform a misunderstood group into familiar, human stories.

Each of the 30 stories documents an escape that is sometimes harrowing and always remarkable. The narrative then turns to contemporary lives and careers, and the impact of refugees-turned-Canadians in the communities they call home, from Halifax to Vancouver.

Stories focus on Canadians who arrived as refugees from notable conflicts around the world, from the War of 1812 to the ongoing War in Afghanistan. Beyond conflict zones, other stories profile people from persecuted groups like gay men and women. At the time of escape, some refugees were children, others were parents, and others got out alone. Notwithstanding the diverse events of a story, the single overriding imperative for all characters can be summed up in one sentence: “We have to run.”

Closing the book is a question: Would they get in to Canada today? Peter Showler, lawyer and former chairperson of the federal Immigration and Refugee Board, answers the hypothetical question by analyzing how the cases would be handled under Canada’s new refugee system.

Source: About the Book – Flight and Freedom

More commentary on Syrian Refugee crisis: Impact of previous policy changes and recommendations what should Canada do?

Syrian_Refugees_MacleansStarting with the use of refugee or migrant:

For most of the Syrians we are hearing about, I would argue, the right term is “refugee.” The origins of that word also belong to the 17th century, when it referred to Protestants who fled religious oppression in a triumphantly Roman Catholic France. Over time the word’s meaning extended to include all those who were escaping war, persecution, or intolerable conditions at home. Kurdi’s family were determined to get away from a civil war that has all but destroyed Syria. They were not making a rational economic decision or a calm political choice. Just like the Vietnamese boat people in the late 1970s, they were fighting for their lives.

Are they refugees or migrants? Why what we call the people fleeing Syria matters

On the implications of the policy changes made to reduce fraud for family sponsorships with respect to Syrian refugees and the Kurdi case:

In earlier humanitarian crises, Canada went directly to the migrants and accepted large numbers quickly. That stands in stark contrast to Thursday’s response from the federal immigration department to the death of a boy found on a beach in Turkey. A group of Canadians had applied to bring in his uncle’s family and hoped to sponsor the boy’s family next. But the family had not been certified as refugees by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, or a foreign state.

…Canada has required such certification since October, 2012 – when the Syrian crisis was developing – for “group of five” sponsorships, a reference to the minimum number of adult Canadians needed to bring over a refugee family.

…Among the other bureaucratic hurdles is the fact that the waits at visa offices for Canadian officials to review applications – a review that happens after that of the UNHCR – range from 11 months in Beirut to 19 months in Amman to 45 months in Ankara, according to Canadian government figures.

And the immigration department’s central processing office in Winnipeg – which handled the application for the boy’s extended family – takes two or three months to look at applications.

Decades before the current crisis, Canada airlifted 5,000 people from Kosovo in the late 1990s, 5,000 from Uganda in 1972, and 60,000 Vietnamese in 1979-80. From January, 2014, to late last month, Canada resettled 2,374 Syrian refugees.

Canada’s response to refugee crises today a stark contrast to past efforts

Amira Elghawaby and Bernie Farber criticize the Government for providing preference to Christian refugees:

The Canadian government’s departure from established refugee norms began in 2012 with the passage of new laws which created a two-tier system based on country of origin. Canada began to categorize refugee claimants based on group characteristics rather than using a case-by-case approach.

“Group labelling tends to exclude, not welcome. Placing individuals above categoric exclusions is the best way to ensure Canada continues granting asylum to people who need it most,” migration expert Dana Wagner wrote in a 2013 article for the Canadian International Council. It isn’t to deny the role of group identity in understanding why individuals and their families may fear persecution, or violence, in their countries of origin. It is simply to include it as one of many factors that must be examined in an individual’s claim.

While I understand the rationale for their critique, I equally appreciate the Government rationale for its focus on those communities which appear to be most at risk such as Christians and Muslim minorities such as the Yazidis.

 Forget labels when we witness such dire human need 

Ratna Omidvar’s suggests some practical actions:

First: Triple the number of visa officers processing Syrians.

Second: Relax visa requirements out of the European Union.

Third: Canada should grant prima facie refugee status to all Syrians outside their country. Full stop.

Fourth: Allow Syrians in Canada to quickly reunite with their families through a temporary resident permit.

A final requirement is political will. Without it, Canada will neither exceed nor meet its initial pledge.

Practical solutions for refugees flow from political will 

Peter Showler, former head of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB):

There are solutions. In addition to the 1979-80 boatlift when Canadians welcomed over 60,000 refugees, Canada has used emergency immigration programs and special teams of immigration officers to bring thousands of refugees quickly from Uganda and Kosovo. Refugees are processed efficiently and quickly and are granted temporary status in Canada. Private sponsorship groups can be enlisted to help them establish in Canada, providing financial support and helping families to integrate into their communities. Later, the refugees can apply for permanent residence from within Canada, if they so choose.

We have done it before. Canada has the expertise and capacity to do it again. Bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada does not end the war but it saves individual lives and sets an example for other nations to also open their doors. The government often invokes the historical generosity of the Canadian people but has done little to truly encourage it. In 1986, the Canadian people were awarded the Nansen Medal by the United Nations for their extraordinary generosity in welcoming the boat people. It is the only time the medal was given to an entire people.

Canada and its government once again have an opportunity to lead the world to relieve an excruciating humanitarian crisis.

Peter Showler: Canada can do more

Lawrence Hill reminds Canadians of the values at play:

We could do much, much more. We should, and we must. We should live up to the promises we have made – so far undelivered – to accept thousands of Syrian refugees. And then we should increase our quotas and meet them too. We have room for more people. We should send officials in large numbers into refugee camps to process people more expeditiously, cut through red tape, and bring them more quickly to Canada. It’s possible. We’ve done it before. We should demand greater action on the part of our politicians, not just to respond to the crises of famine, war and natural disasters but also to invest more in international development. By helping people develop stronger social and economic infrastructures in their own countries, we help them develop peaceful, organized means to cope with their own crises.

The refugee crisis that rocks the world today belongs to the world. And it belongs to Canada. For one thing, many active, engaged Canadians come from the countries most affected. For another, we have fought in wars – in Afghanistan, for example, and we are now participating in air strikes in Syria – that add to the mayhem forcing people to flee. And we have signed onto refugee conventions committing us to humanitarian principles and action with regard to accepting and assisting refugees. Most important, we owe it to ourselves to respond. To remember what it means to be human. To remember what it means to be Canadian.

 A moment to revisit our Canadian values 

Lastly, some fairly severe criticism of the the role that Gulf countries are (not) playing:

Gulf countries have funded humanitarian aid. Saudi Arabia has donated $18.4-million to the United Nations Syria response fund so far this year, while Kuwait has given more than $304-million, making it the world’s third-largest donor. The United States has given the most, $1.1-billion, and has agreed to resettle about 1,500 Syrians.

….This week, Kuwaiti commentator Fahad Alshelaimi said in a TV interview that his country was too expensive for refugees, but appropriate for laborers.

“You can’t welcome people from another environment and another place who have psychological or nervous system problems or trauma and enter them into societies,” he said.

Cartoonists have lampooned such ideas. One drew a man in traditional Gulf dress behind a door surrounded by barbed wire and pointing a refugee to another door bearing the flag of the European Union.

“Open the door to them now!” the man yells.

Another cartoon shows a Gulf sheikh shaking his finger at a boat full of refugees while flashing a thumbs-up to a rebel fighter in a burning Syria.

…Michael Stephens, the head of the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar, said the decision by the United States not to directly intervene against Assad had left many in the Gulf unsure of how to respond.

“The Gulf Arabs are used to a paradigm in which the West is continuously stepping in to solve the problem, and this time it hasn’t,” Stephens said. “This has left many people looking at the shattered vase on the floor and pointing fingers.”

 Gulf monarchies bristle at criticism over response to Syrian refugee crisis 

Asra Nomani takes a similar tack with a harder edge:

It is not politically correct to utter, but it has to be acknowledged that the arrival of millions of refugees from, yes, mostly Muslim regions raises serious long-term demographic and policing concerns for countries in the West, which will likely see the character and values of their communities completely transformed by refugees who may have values and attitudes about secularism very different from the countries they would be calling home. Already, countries like the United Kingdom struggle with issues of Islamic extremism among legal immigrants that have transformed British culture to the point that London is nicknamed “Londonistan.”

There are serious issues of ideology and identity at risk here.

Reasonable, rational, tolerant folks are saying that the refugee crisis isn’t Europe’s problem to fix, and it is, in fact, a form of reverse racism to let Muslim countries off the hook, as if they are just too backward, intolerant and incapable of finding homes for these refugees. The family of young Aylan, after all, was fleeing Turkey, a Muslim country, for the West, because the father said that the refugees weren’t treated respectfully in Turkey. That is a policy problem in Turkey that needs to be fixed, not displaced to other countries.

Last December, Amnesty International released statistics highlighting that the five Gulf countries—Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain—“have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees.”

Mideast Needs To Save Its Own Refugees

Canada takes a step back on immigration policy | Bauder and Omidvar

Harald Bauder and Ratna Omidvar overview on citizenship and immigration policy changes and their implications:

Ottawa has failed in our eyes to provide a convincing justification for these changes. Many dependants and elderly family members seem to be excluded not because they would be eligible for social benefits but simply because they are from low-income families.

Canada has a story of exceptionalism to tell and it is widely regarded by others as model in how it manages immigration and succeeds in integrating immigrants. However, the evidence now tells another story, one that is somewhat more tarnished than we know.

The new data signals a shift and encourages us to reflect on the most alarming trends and redirect where necessary. But there is good mixed in with the bad. Canada still leads in labour market integration, anti-discrimination and creating a sense of belonging for newcomers. The one-point drop is smoke and not fire.

Canada takes a step back on immigration policy | Toronto Star.

A fighter for immigration, inclusion and diversity: Ratna Omidvar

Good profile and interview:

Another crucial field that needs far more analysis, she said, is the immigrant path to entrepreneurship – a route that many take when they find it hard to break into the corporate world.

“It is fascinating how certain communities have begun to put their stamp on certain sectors,” she said. “The Koreans in the corner-store industry, the Somalians with the dollar stores, and you can’t take a limo to the airport without coming up against someone who is from Brampton who originally came from the Punjab.” What needs particular study, she adds, is “the pathway, and what we can do to support the immigrant entrepreneur.”

One diversity initiative that is already well advanced is the effort to get more immigrants and visible minorities on boards of directors. The DiverseCity onBoard program – which Ms. Omidvar helped launch at Maytree and is now housed at GDX – has helped place more than 700 people from underrepresented communities on the boards of public agencies, charities and non-profits in Toronto. It has now expanded to Montreal, Ottawa, Hamilton, London, Ont., Calgary and Vancouver. In the long run this will produce a “pipeline” of experienced individuals, Ms. Omidvar said, some of whom will end up on corporate boards where minorities are still highly underrepresented.

Ms. Omidvar has managed to recruit many top business leaders to her vision. Dominic D’Alessandro, former chief executive of Manulife Financial Corp., worked with Ms. Omidvar to promote mentoring programs for immigrants at the insurance company and other large corporations. “She made converts of everybody,” Mr. D’Alessandro said. “I can’t think of anybody we called on who wasn’t responsive to the vision that she was setting out, about a more inclusive community.”

Still, many barriers to immigrant integration remain, Ms. Omidvar acknowledges, and she is acutely aware of the backlash and bad feeling that sometimes bubble to the surface in Canada. When she wrote a commentary in The Globe and Mail in 2013, suggesting that the citizenship oath of allegiance to the Queen should be replaced with an oath to “Canada, its laws and its institutions,” a slew of ugly online comments appeared. Many of these said essentially: Go home if you don’t like it here.

To see these kind of views expressed – even in the dodgy underworld of online commentary – was disheartening for Ms. Omidvar, whose accolades include the Order of Canada and the Order of Ontario.

She also finds it unfortunate that the Conservative government is using issues such as the wearing of the niqab in citizenship ceremonies as a means to divide Canadians. “That has been picked on by the Prime Minister as a wedge issue that speaks to their base, and divides other bases,” she said.

Still, Ms. Omidvar is confident that, in time, it will be easier for immigrants to become integrated in Canadian society and for established Canadians to accept newcomers with open arms. She is heartened by the views expressed by her daughters – one of whom is a lawyer and the other a market researcher – that diversity is now a given. “What is wonderful about their lives is that they are so used to everyone being different, and they just accept it as the norm.”

And over all, she said, most Canadians see the value in welcoming newcomers. “One of the wonderful things is that most Canadians understand that we need immigration,” she said. “We will argue about who the immigrant is, and how they should come … and whether they cover their hair. But we don’t, as a country, argue about the fact that we need immigration. And we don’t have any political party that is explicitly against more immigration. That is very unusual.”

Essentially, she said, “we are creating a new world here.”

A fighter for immigration, inclusion and diversity – The Globe and Mail.

Fighting for more diversity at the top: Hepburn

More on DiverseCity onBoard:

And the latest Annual Report Card by the Canadian Board Diversity Council shows the proportion of visible minorities on corporate boards fell from 5.3 per cent in 2010 to 2 per cent in 2013.

So why isn’t there widespread outrage over these troubling statistics? Why do our leaders, especially in public agencies, tolerate such situations?

Is it a question of a lack of talent in minority communities, which is hard to believe? Or are we missing something here?

“We have to see more diversity at our decision-making tables,” Toronto Mayor John Tory admitted this week at an event showcasing a small program that identifies, trains and helps place talented ethnic and minority candidates with boards of public and voluntary agencies.

The event, attended by political, business and community leaders, marked the national launch of DiverseCity onBoard, a successful made-in-Toronto program that traces its roots back to 2005.

This unique project was started by the Maytree Foundation with the goal of addressing the lack of diversity on boards of directors at public agencies, boards and commissions in the GTA.

Operating without much fanfare, DiverseCity onBoard has recruited more than 1,700 candidates, registered 650 organizations and successfully matched some 720 people from visible minority groups and under-represented communities to boards of directors with such bodies as hospitals, museums, local agencies and voluntary community associations.

The program staffers pre-screen candidates, teach them about how governance boards operate, and try to match qualified people with board openings.

Indeed, the program is so successful that it’s now being launched in six other major cities across Canada, including Hamilton, London, Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Ottawa.

At the same time, the program is unveiling a new online training program that will let residents learn about corporate governance practices at home, at work or anywhere they have access to a computer.

If the program can succeed in Toronto, then there is little doubt it will work in these other urban centres, said Ratna Omidvar, executive director of the Global Diversity Exchange at Ryerson University, which now oversees the DiverseCity onBoard program.

Fighting for more diversity at the top: Hepburn | Toronto Star.