Griffith and Omidvar: Canadian citizenship by individual click? That’s not a good idea

Written jointly with Senator Omidvar:

The federal government’s recent proposal to allow applicants to self-administer the citizenship oath instead of being required to do so before a citizenship judge or equivalent undermines the meaningfulness and significance of becoming a Canadian citizen with fellow new Canadians.

Citizenship ceremonies are one of the few special moments in which the federal government can connect with new Canadians and celebrate their becoming Canadian and furthering their integration journey.

From experience attending ceremonies and taking the oath, we know the impact on new Canadians is real and meaningful, as it is on existing Canadians in attendance. Having citizenship conferred is not transactional, unlike obtaining drivers’ licences, health cards or passports. Citizenship allows for political participation through voting and being able to run for office and thus directly influence the future direction of Canada.

The proposed change continues a trend of diminishing the value of Canadian citizenship in practical aspects. There has been the ongoing massive shift to virtual citizenship ceremonies, prompted by the pandemic but expanded (99 per cent since April 2020). As well, there is no updated citizenship study guide despite plans for one more than three immigration ministers ago.

The government justifies the proposed change on operational and financial grounds and is silent on the policy implications regarding integration of new Canadians. The previous government was similarly silent on the implications of its quintupling of adult citizenship fees in 2014-15, which we now know has resulted, along with other factors, in a significant drop in naturalization rates.

The current government is explicit that cost savings will come primarily from reduced citizenship ceremonies, both physical and virtual.

It is striking that a government so attuned to the importance of reconciliation and recognition of past and current injustices and the concerns of particular groups, can be so blind to the power of citizenship ceremonies to bring people of diverse origins together to celebrate them becoming part of Canadian society with all the rights and responsibilities that entails. And arguing, on inclusion grounds, that the change will save applicants two hours of ceremony time misses this broader aspect of inclusion.

Arguably, with pandemic measures largely over, the government should revert to in-person ceremonies as the default option, as these provide a greater sense of community and connection than virtual ceremonies.

The government, early in its mandate, made significant changes to residency and language requirements to improve inclusion, and more recently, changes to the oath of citizenship to recognize Indigenous and treaty rights. Reducing processing and ceremony time are insignificant in comparison.

We know from the recent Statistics Canada and the Institute for Canadian Citizenship analysis that naturalization has declined dramatically from 60.4 per cent in 2016 to 45.7 per cent in 2021, five to nine years after landing, reflecting a combination of factors, including the pandemic and high citizenship fees. A substantive inclusion measure would require the government to implement, at least partially, its platform commitment in the 2019 and 2021 election platforms to eliminate citizenship fees.

Citizenship provides a mix of personal and public benefits.

Applicants personally benefit from the security citizenship provides in terms of mobility and voting rights and the ability to run for office. Canadian society benefits from the “common bond for Canadian-born individuals and naturalized Canadians alike, signifying full membership in Canadian society.”

The proposed change highlights how the government treats citizenship as a service transaction rather than a substantive unifying and integrating process to help new Canadians feel fully part of Canadian society.

Andrew Griffith is the former director general for Citizenship and Multiculturalism and is a fellow of the Environics Institute and of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. Sen. Ratna Omidvar is an independent senator from Ontario.

Source: Griffith and Omidvar: Canadian citizenship by individual click? That’s not a good idea

Sen Omidvar: Canada needs to improve its immigration channels for essential migrant workers

Of note. But perhaps more fundamentally, we need a more thorough and comprehensive review of our medium and longer-term labour market needs, rather than just responding to current issues:

Canada is in dire need of more essential workers. Besides the ongoing pandemic, our population is aging rapidly. Each day, we have more elderly who need care and fewer workers to meet our employers’ needs. To address these issues, we need a proper migration channel allowing new essential workers at a variety of skill levels to come to Canada and help fill critical jobs. Such a streamlined pathway could be the first step toward making our system easier for both workers and employers. We need to move beyond the current scheme made up of a patchwork of pilots and hard-to-navigate programs. Our growing labour shortages and care needs create an imperative to begin building a comprehensive migration system supported by a collaborative effort by rights-respecting labour mobility actors.

In May, the government opened a one-time pathway to permanent residency for thousands of foreign-born individuals who already work in Canada in “essential” occupations. This program is one of many small steps that legislators have recently taken to address the effects of the ongoing pandemic. However, to truly address the labour shortage crisis, we need to not only offer permanent residency to those already in the country, but also to offer migration channels that will allow more newessential workers to enter.

The pandemic has especially highlighted the extent to which we depend on foreign-born caregivers, child-care workers and workers in the food supply chain. The waitlist for a personal support aide in Ottawa had nearly 3,000 names at the end of last year, and the number of job openings in health care and social assistance hit a record high after jumping nearly 57 per cent.

At the same time, Canadian farmers have reported that the lack of workers in agriculture has already led to production delays. Even pre-pandemic numbers point to a crucial workforce scarcity, with estimates that the country will be short about 200,000 new health-care aides and 123,000 farm workers by the end of this decade. Distressingly, this growing labour force scarcity is not tied just to certain sectors. The overall labour market trends suggest that in the next decade our businesses will be short by two million workers across many industries.

To address the deepening labour shortage, lawmakers decided that more than 400,000 foreign-born individuals – primarily those who are already in Canada – will become eligible for permanent residency in 2021. This will be only the sixth timesince 1867 that we have accepted more than 300,000 permanent residents. The federal government has already taken other meaningful steps toward this goal. Before announcing the one-time pathway to permanent residency for certain foreign-born essential workers, it lowered the threshold for immigrants applying for residency through the point-based system to a historic low.

Although these policies represent important efforts to boost permanent migration, they alone will not solve the labour scarcity issue. Neither one of them establishes sustainable pathways that allow new essential workers currently abroad to come work in Canada and settle here permanently, should they wish to do so.

Current regular mobility pathways exclude most essential workers, such as home caregivers, cashiers and food-processing workers because of education-based criteria that typically require formal certification or a degree. Despite the proven enduring need for essential workers with a variety of skills – not only doctors and registered nurses – the country has yet to introduce ways to accommodate these workers, who may have lower education levels but who are just as important.

Besides offering permanent residency to those who are already here, we need migration channels to bring more essential workers to Canada. Specifically, the government should create a large-scale stable labour mobility program to bring new international talent and essential workers. Such a step must go hand-in- hand with heightened efforts to strengthen protections against abuse in worker recruitment, as well as operational support for migrants who meet the admission criteria but lack the networks and information necessary to get good jobs.

Even if eligible for the program, foreign-born workers still face many operational barriers, from identifying suitable jobs with reliable employers to the processing of official documents both outside and inside Canada. These barriers can slow down or even prevent their arrival. A collaborative effort could create a new “ecosystem” within the labour mobility space to assist workers in navigating existing programs and overcoming these barriers, with an eye toward labour rights. Such efforts would vastly improve employer and worker experiences with labour mobility, leading to a better and more effective migration system.

Our current system is fragmented and hard to understand. The federal government’s attempts to open new ways to address specific migration issues and labour scarcity have led to a patchwork of more than 100 programs and pilots at the federal as well as provincial level. This is extremely difficult for foreign workers and Canadian employers to understand and navigate.

The caregiver sector is a great example of this dissonance. In 2019, the government introduced two new pilots for foreign-born caregivers – a sector with a long and complicated history of migration programs. These new pilots followed two previous five-year caregiver pilots as well as the original program under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), all of which are currently closed.

However, even though the government no longer accepts new applications for these old programs, it still continues to process certain claims submitted for the two previous pilots and to renew existing work permits for TFWP caregivers. As a result, foreign-born caregivers can work in Canada through six separate programs, depending on their current situation. That is just at the federal level. Earlier this year, Quebec launched an additional pilot at the provincial level to accept up to 550 individuals to work as orderlies.

On top of that, the federal caregiver pilots – the only ones accepting new applications – are capped at 5,500 workers, far fewer than the nearly 12,000 new permits that TWFP caregivers received in 2014 before the program began to wind down. Similar to caregivers, workers and employers in other essential industries such as food processing, transportation, construction and manufacturing experience equally confusing and small-scale mobility pathways, if they exist at all.

The federal government’s efforts to provide permanent residency to workers with a variety of skills are certainly laudable. Yet these new policies alone are unlikely to secure enough new workers to address the country’s current and future labour demand. Simply put, there are two issues that must be addressed: our current system is complicated and hard to navigate for both employers and workers; and it doesn’t let enough new foreign-born essential workers at a variety of skill levels enter the country.

Creation of a streamlined program is just the first step. We also need to make labour migration simpler and fairer for workers and employers. This is why alongside a new essential workers pathway, we need to begin building a new ecosystem of labour mobility actors, which would lay the groundwork for a quality “labour mobility industry.” A quality labour mobility industry would bring together actors within the migration space, who respect and promote the rights of workers by ensuring nondiscriminatory and humane treatment and by engaging in other ethical practices such as not requiring recruitment fees and providing lawful wages and working hours. The array of ethical actors would include recruiters, financial intermediaries, remittance providers, transportation providers, travel agents, migration lawyers, consultants and others.

Together, these actors would provide a variety of quality services to facilitate worker mobility under supervision and in accordance with our labour standards and rights, as well as existing bilateral and multilateral agreements. In other words, an industry of co-ordinated ethical actors would streamline the migration process, making it easier, faster and safer to navigate. Importantly, organized co-operation among good actors could also help eliminate at least some of the bad outcomes often seen in existing systems that frequently result in migrant indebtedness, fraud regarding job terms and quality, worker abuse, and irregularity. This would build both worker and employer trust in the system, and hopefully encourage more “good” migration to help fill our essential worker shortages.

The global pandemic and its aftermath have revealed the invaluable role of essential workers. Now we have an excellent opportunity to develop a coherent mobility pathway for additional essential workers. The latest policy efforts suggest that the political will may be there. This new pathway could lay the foundation for a more-equitable immigration system, underpinned by a quality mobility industry that supports safe and legal migration pathways, while ensuring positive outcomes for workers of all skillsets. It’s time for Canada to once again take the lead on labour mobility by setting an example of good practice, so other countries seeking to modernize their immigration schemes can follow.


Canada faces a staggering immigration backlog. With the border reopening and applicants anxious to get here, how should Ottawa prioritize?

Good overview of the backlog and related issues that IRCC will have to address:

Thanks to COVID-19, Linda Shaji and Canada have had what you might call a bad romance.

After a lengthy vetting process, the 29-year-old from India was approved for permanent residence here on March 20, 2020 — two days after this country’s border was closed.

Now, 16 months later, her Canadian immigration visa has expired and Shaji is still home at her parents’ house, waiting to be admitted into this country.

The worst part is, after all this time, she’s still in the dark — met with automated email responses and told by Canada on its immigration website: “To wait for us to tell you what happens next. You don’t need to contact us again.”

“Ghosting us when we ask questions. Denying anything is wrong. Saying we are too needy when we question the long silence,” Shaji paused, “if this is a relationship, these are some serious red flags.”

The pandemic has wrecked havoc on the entire immigration system, with backlogs for every program — from family reunification to different economic immigration streams — that are only growing.

Now, as the border begins to reopen, the federal government is faced with long lines of disgruntled applicants, all looking to be the first to come in and start new lives in this country, while the bureaucracy struggles to digitalize an outdated case management and processing system.

Since March 18, 2020, when Canada closed its border in the face of the emerging pandemic, the immigration system has ground to a halt. The federal immigration department found itself scrambling to secure laptops for stay-at-home staff and to transition its processing online.

As of July 6, the backlog of permanent residence applications had skyrocketed by 70 per cent to 375,137 since February 2020, with the number of applications for temporary residence currently sitting at 702,660 cases.

The backlog of citizenship applications has also ballooned: it’s reached 369,677 people from 208,069 over the same period. These numbers do not include the applications that have been received at the mailroom of immigration offices but which have yet to be entered into the system.

Amid border lockdowns here and around the world, Canadian officials prioritized foreign nationals whose travels were deemed essential, such as migrant farm workers and health workers. They also responded to the plight of international students, who had paid a fortune to study in Canada and were in immigration limbo.

Wanting to keep the country’s immigration pipeline flowing, but not knowing how long travel restrictions would be in place, officials turned to the huge pool of migrant workers already in Canada to offer some of them permanent residency.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has, meanwhile, been criticized by applicants left, right and centre who have had their lives, careers and dreams put on hold, some facing prolonged separation from spouses and parents or grandparents who are being kept out of the country.

“The growth of the inventory or what is described as backlogs is very much a function of the pandemic. There (was), quite literally, in the case of new permanent residents, no place for them to come to as a result of the travel restrictions,” Mendicino said.

“We hear you. We see you. Each and every one of your cases matters to me and to our department and to our government.”

While Mendicino has boasted about the quick adaptation of the immigration system to the pandemic, often citing the virtual citizenship test and oath-taking ceremony as examples, he has yet to make public a detailed plan or priorities for when the border reopens.

Recently, Canada’s reopening effort reached a new milestone, with the federal government set to welcome fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and green card holders at the land border for non-essential travel beginning on Aug. 9 without having to quarantine, and from other countries beginning Sept. 7.

What Mendicino needs to do immediately, experts and advocates say, is bring in the migrants who have already been vetted and approved for permanent residence but kept outside of Canada.

“All of the backlogs have now been exacerbated. The government has to provide some clear pathways and criteria for prioritization,” said independent Sen. Ratna Omidvar, a strong voice on migration, diversity and inclusion in the Senate.

“It should do everything it can to process those people who’ve already been processed. They should be a priority. They’ve put their lives on hold because we’ve selected them. They need to come to Canada. They need to put roots down.”

Shaji quit her job at an artificial intelligence development firm last July, when she got her visa after the visa office in India reopened. But Canada’s door was closed to immigrants even if they had valid visas because it was deemed non-essential travel.

“There is still no set timeline for anyone. It means further agony of waiting,” said Shaji, who has yet to hear from the federal government on what she needs to do regarding her expired documents in order to get here.

“Immigration surely matters to Canada, but do immigrants matter?”

In late June, Ottawa started opening the border to immigrants who have valid permanent residence visas to enter Canada, but the ones with expired documents were told more information would be forthcoming and not to contact officials.

For travellers like Shaji from India, Canada’s top immigrant-source country, getting here is another logistical challenge.

Ottawa has just extended its ban on all flights from India to Aug. 21, meaning even Canadian citizens can’t travel back. The ban was introduced in April due to the unruly surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the country.

The pandemic has exposed many shortcomings of the immigration process, said MP Jenny Kwan, the NDP’s immigration critic, and officials must cut unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy in these unprecedented times.

One of the things they could do, she said, is to automatically renew immigration applicants’ expired documents.

Requiring people to scramble to update outdated documents during a pandemic may buy Ottawa time, she noted, but it won’t solve the crisis and is going to further agonize immigration applicants.

“To this day, it is a mystery to me why the government has insisted on contacting each individual with an expired or expiring permanent resident visa to see if they still wanted to come to Canada, instead of just automatically renewing it,” Kwan said.

“Why did they do that? Why did they spend all those resources doing that instead of putting it into processing applications? They need to adopt an approach that’s not so rigid.”

Taraneh Gojgini sponsored her parents, Kaykavoos and Sima Gojgini, both American citizens, to join her in Vancouver from Long Island, N.Y., in 2018. The couple were issued their confirmation of permanent residence in September 2019 and had booked a flight to move here in April 2020. Due to COVID-19, the border was closed and their flight cancelled.

They didn’t hear anything from immigration officials for 10 months until this February, when they were asked if they were still interested in moving to Canada. The couple confirmed their desire to come here but wanted to delay the trip until the summer after most Canadians were expected to have been vaccinated.

Last April, after their visas expired, they were asked again if they were ready to come and told to send in their passports and photos for a new visa. In June, another email came asking them a third time if they planned to come to Canada. This time, they were also told to do a new medical exam.

“My parents are past the point of worry. They are so upset and anxious that there is no calming down their concern at this point,” said Gojgini, who moved to Vancouver in 2011 after marrying her husband, Behzad Pourkarimi. “They have become disillusioned with Canada.”

Kwan said reuniting families, whether spouses or parents, should be a priority for the immigration department, even if it means letting applicants abroad come here first on temporary visas and have their permanent residence applications processed within Canada so families won’t be kept apart even longer.

Suhani Chandrashekar, an engineer, came to Canada from India on a work permit in 2018 and went back to marry Naveen Nagarajappa, a close family friend, in December 2019. She returned to Canada and entered her profile into the skilled immigration pool for permanent residence.

In March 2020, just before COVID was declared a global pandemic, she received an invitation to submit her application under the Canadian Experience Class. Her case has since been stalled.

“Staying away from each other for so long is putting unnecessary strain on our marriage. We are also planning to start a family. But the uncertainty is not helping our cause here,” said the 29-year-old Toronto woman, who also has a pending application to have her husband join her here on a temporary work permit.

“Even after more than a year and a half of marriage, we are not able to see each other.”

Vancouver immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens said many of the permanent residence applications in the backlogs are actually near “finalization,” just pending approvals and admission.

Application backlogs in economic immigration, such as Canadian Experience Class or federal skilled workers, should be quick to clear, he contends, because they are processed online based on points allotted to applicants’ age, education, language test result and related work experience — and only require straightforward document reviews.

The paper-based family class applications, however, will be a problem because these are harder to process remotely and involve more discretionary decision-making by individual officers, and will take longer to finalize.

“The government has shown that where they’re willing to allocate resources and put the effort toward processing files, they can achieve it,” Meurrens said. “If they want, they can clear out this backlog easily.”

To him, the biggest question for Ottawa is whether it has the will to greatly exceed the annual immigration targets that they’d set — 401,000 in 2021; 411,000 in 2022; and 421,000 in 2023 — while simultaneously clearing backlogs and processing new applications that keep coming in.

“Are they prepared to explain to Canadians why immigration levels are going to go up because we’re processing this backlog while maintaining existing plans?” Meurrens asked. “If they don’t do that, they will have more application backlog delays.”

One of the blessings of the pandemic, he said, is that it gave Ottawa the opportunity to transition a large number of migrants on temporary status in Canada, such as precarious low-skilled workers who otherwise wouldn’t qualify for immigration, to become permanent residents.

“COVID has reduced that gap between the number of people who work here and the number of people who can immigrate,” said Meurrens. “Otherwise, we risk developing this permanent foreign worker class in Canada.”

Earlier this year, Ottawa introduced a one-time special program to grant permanent residence to 90,000 international graduates and essential migrant workers already in Canada in part to meet its 2021 immigration targets and in part to recognize migrant workers’ contributions to Canada during the pandemic.

Sen. Omidvar said the pandemic has shown Canadians that our economy not only needs highly educated STEM scientists and engineers but also immigrants who deliver essential services such as in agriculture and health care during the crisis.

A 21st-century immigration system needs to recognize those “essential skills” in the labour market that go beyond minimum language requirements and how many university degrees an immigration applicant has, she said.

“Let’s get away from this dichotomy and this unfortunate language of low skills and high skills. It doesn’t suit us anymore in this new era,” Omidvar said. “We need to view the labour market a little bit more broadly than we have done in the past. Coming out of this crisis, that’s the new horizon we need to grasp.”

For front-line immigration officers, many of whom are still working from home, having the proper digitizing infrastructure is key post-COVID-19, said Crystal Warner, national executive vice-president of the 27,000-member Canada Employment and Immigration Union.

During the pandemic, immigration staff were not equipped to work from home and some had to take turns going into the office, which only allowed a 20 per cent capacity at one point. Programs were de-prioritized and then reprioritized, and her members — 78 per cent women — weren’t given proper training and support, she said.

“There is a lack of a centralized digitization process. Staff are scanning mailed applications on desktop scanners at their desks in the office. It’s not an effective strategy. Progress is being made, but it is slow,” she said.

Warner said some of the systems are still not upgraded appropriately and crash all the time. Just recently, after a meeting where staff were told that significant investments were being made into the bandwidth and server space, the whole system crashed for the day, nationwide.

“This is ongoing,” she said. “On the one hand, they are digitizing like crazy and on the other hand, the hardware and system upgrades are not keeping pace.”

It’s an issue the federal government is hoping to address with an $800-million investment to modernize the immigration system in its 2021 budget, said the immigration minister.

“That’s the really exciting work that lies ahead of us, which is going to, I think, catapult us into an entirely transformed immigration system,” Mendicino said. “Our system needs to be transformed, needs to be modernized, so that it can accommodate the great demands that are placed on it.”

While the current immigration case management system certainly needs an upgrade, critics said Mendicino must first figure out the vaccination requirement for travellers — both permanent and temporary residents — who don’t meet current border exemptions.

Whether to let someone into the country should be based on vaccination status rather than just about which immigrant group Ottawa wants to prioritize, said Ravi Jain, past president of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration division.

“If people are fully vaccinated, I think we’ve got to start opening up,” he said, adding that processing immigration applications abroad depends very much on how well other countries manage the pandemic and their lockdown conditions, which hinders Ottawa’s priorities.

Ottawa, Jain noted, needs to figure out a vaccine passport that’s easy to enforce and can complement ArriveCan, the government app for travellers to provide travel info before and after entry to Canada, as well as which vaccines should be recognized based on science.

For fairness, he said, officials do need to allow prospective immigrants who have been waiting the longest to come first and start a new life here, as well as fast-tracking investors and businesspeople who can create employment in Canada for its economic recovery.

“I don’t want to say that you prioritize this and that particular group, and everyone else is waiting,” said Jain.

“There’s nothing preventing the government from moving forward on all fronts and on all these issues. What’s been preventing them, frankly, has been the border. That’s been the real sticking point.”

For overseas immigration applicant Maninderjit Singh, it’s simply heartbreaking to see those applying for permanent residence from abroad being shut out from the process.

The lawyer from Punjab, India, entered the federal skilled worker pool in January with 467 points, but the government has not had one single draw for the program.

And time is running out because a candidate loses points with increased age, five points per year as the system targets those in prime working age. Singh’s score has already come down by five points to 462 after he turned 32 recently.

“Thousands of federal skilled worker applicants are getting prejudiced with each passing day. Our life is now at a stand still,” he said. “With reduced score and thousands of new applications adding into the pool, the chances are getting bleak for me to get invited to Canada.”

Source: Canada faces a staggering immigration backlog. With the border reopening and applicants anxious to get here, how should Ottawa prioritize?

Bill S-230: It’s Time to Restore Citizenship to “Lost” Canadians. Limited numbers although rhetoric continues

This issue continues to attract more political support than is warranted given that the major issues were dealt with in citizenship legislation in 2009 and 2014.

The Bill concerns a small cohort of second-generation Canadians born inside a 50-month window, from February 15, 1977, through April 16, 1981, so those who had already turned 28 when that age 28 rule was repealed through Bill C-37. 

Despite all the earlier and current rhetoric regarding the large numbers affected, IRCC officials advised SOCI of the numbers:

  • Following the 2009 changes, about 17,500 applied and were granted citizenship;
  • Following the 2015 changes, about 600 applied and were granted citizenship;
  • Since 2014, there were 109 persons who applied for a discretionary grant to address particular hardship situations. 105 have been granted with four still under review;
  • Estimates of remaining cases are in the order of a few hundred.

Substantively, given the small number remaining in the window, discretionary grants are the appropriate response. What is clear from the numbers, is that the actual number of “Lost Canadians” who wish to claim Canadian citizenship is small, contrary to earlier and current claims.

It is unclear why Senators wish to pursue this when there are many more substantive citizenship issues that warrant attention.

The contrast between these small numbers and the inflammatory, often fact-free and exaggerated rhetoric of long-term advocate Don Chapman in his opening statement and subsequent comments is striking. Opening statement below gives the flavour (highlights some of the more egregious assertions):

Don Chapman, Head, Lost Canadians: Thank you, honourable senators. I’m honoured to be in the presence of all of you. I admire your social and moral engagement in serving Canada to make it a better and more inclusive country. We’re on common ground.

Bill S-230 is a continuation of recommendations the Senate made 13 years ago.

Senators, Lost Canadians is the Canadian version of the British Windrush scandal, except ours is mostly off the radar, far larger, affects way more people and is one of the biggest scandals in Canada’s history. Now, that probably sounds presumptuous, especially after the horrific discovery of the remains of hundreds of Indigenous children. To explain why I make the comparison, those children, including all Indigenous people, are part of the Lost Canadian narrative. There are at least 15 categories of Lost Canadians, and Indigenous and First Nations are just one. But their story is our story and our story is their story. It’s about a country that has and continues to turn against its own people. Since Confederation, Canada has not always embraced Brown or Jewish people or other subgroups. Canadian history was written to conveniently include a colossal fabrication, which has produced heinous results. To know the truth, you must understand the history of citizenship.

Senators, you and the MPs are the guardians and caretakers of our collective identity called citizenship. You’re our parents, we’re your children and the family’s dysfunctional. Picture a neighbour befriending kids from all around but then secretly abusing their own children. That’s how it is for Lost Canadians. Canada welcomes people from around the world, but not us, your own children. To be clear, we’re pro-immigration; Canada needs people. But why are long-standing Canadian families rejected while immigrants are welcome? Why can’t there be room for everyone?

In 2003, in my first House of Commons Citizenship and Immigration Committee testimony, I described myself as a Canadian in exile. Years later and after numerous rejections, I actually considered declaring refugee status in my own country, and I wasn’t the only Lost Canadian so desperate. Regrettably, this horror show is ongoing. It’s about identity, belonging and culture.

Indigenous Canadians are proud of who they are. I’m proud of who they are and admire their perseverance in standing up for what is right. Canada wrongly tried to strip them of their identity, with deadly consequences. Be forewarned: They are not the only category of Lost Canadians who died due to the neglect.

Now think of citizenship as being a member of a family. It’s the fibre of your being. How would you feel if your parents booted you out? Picture a six-year-old, born in Canada and extremely proud of being Canadian. Psychologically, how is that child affected when they discover that their own country or family doesn’t want them anymore? That child was me. How deplorable that this is still happening to other children, with the obvious devastating results. Their hurt lasts a lifetime.

Now flip the coin. How does it feel being the Canadian parent of a minor child being rejected? I know this too because, as an adult, after 47 years, Canada finally said I could go home with citizenship, but on condition I leave behind my minor-aged daughters. Today, some Canadian citizen parents are in the same boat, forced to explain to their kids why Canada doesn’t want them.

Lost Canadians is not about immigration. It’s about citizenship and rights. Please make the distinction.

Also, senators and MPs are appointed or elected to represent Canadian citizens. The problem is you don’t really know who is or is not a citizen, yet citizens are your constituents. So who exactly do you represent? The legislation remains a Rubik’s cube of confusion. Maybe it’s you, a family member, a grandchild or someone you know that’s a Lost Canadian. Roméo Dallaire lost his citizenship, as have other parliamentarians.

Question: If you’ve been aware of ongoing Lost Canadian abuses, why were you silent? Personally, I don’t think you were fully aware, but it wasn’t for my lack of trying to tell you. Going forward, no excuses, you now know. As for citizenship, Canada, the country you represent, is violating three United Nations human rights conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it’s already broken promises made on gender equality at the recent G7 summit. Maybe that’s because citizenship is not and has not been Canada’s priority. Take the name, IRCC. Immigration and refugees come before citizenship, the latter being the bastard child. For Lost Canadians, Canada’s outcasts, that’s exactly how it feels.

Bill S-230 is a much-needed fix. Thank you to my good friend Senator Martin and to Senator Omidvar. But for importance, the age 28 rule is third in priority of the five remaining Lost Canadian deficiencies. For the complete fix, Bill S-230 would need amendments that I’ve included, and the fixes are relatively simple. But absent that, tiered citizenship and unequal rights remain. Are you okay with that? It’s certainly against the Charter. That said, if amendments would delay the passage of this bill, then please pass it as is. Just don’t ignore other desperate Lost Canadians still in limbo, like children. As an airline pilot, I’d never ditch in the Hudson River and knowingly leave people behind. As overseers and protectors of Canadians and their identity and citizenship, please don’t you leave anyone behind either.

With urgency, put forward another Lost Canadians bill so that women have equal rights; that all Canadians are able to prove their substantial connection; that naturalized Canadians don’t have more rights than other Canadian citizens. Make it so that every naturalized Canadian, not just 99% of them, be deemed to have been born in Canada so that they too can confer citizenship to their children. Canada’s war dead must be recognized as having been the Canadian citizens they were.

After that, together, let’s work on introducing a mint-fresh, inclusive and Charter-compliant Citizenship Act. That’s what this committee recommended 13 years ago in your report on Lost Canadians, and then you promptly forgot about it, just like Canada did with the age 28 rule.

Now there are MPs and Canadians who believe the Senate is irrelevant. They’re wrong. For me and the hundreds of thousands of other Lost Canadians, we regained or qualified for citizenship because of wonderful and compassionate senators like yourselves, from all sides of the aisle. You were our saviours as Bill S-2 was our first parliamentary victory, and it was unanimous. Now let’s do it again, in the Senate today, with Bill S-230. Make it the first bill to correct these egregious wrongs, and then introduce a brand new, Charter-compliant national identity, making Canada the beacon of light to the world for its vision, its inclusiveness, its values and for its positive actions on human rights and equality.

Honourable senators, citizenship could be one of your greatest legacies. I look forward to working with you, and thank you.


And the earlier statement in the Senate by Senator Omidvar

Hon. Ratna Omidvar: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill S-230, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (granting citizenship to certain Canadians), introduced by our colleague Senator Martin.

Before I comment on this bill, I would like to mark June 1 as a transformational day in the Senate. We have passed Bill S-4. We have held on to tradition where we have needed to, but we have also gone with confidence into the future. I want to thank our colleague, Senator Marc Gold, for his dedication to bringing this to our chamber.

I am the official critic for Bill S-230. I always think of a critic as someone who has something to object to. In truth, there is very little to object to in this bill, so I stand very much as a supporter of this long overdue piece of legislation.

When I became a senator in 2016, I started to get emails from Canadians who knew of my interest in citizenship. I heard the term Lost Canadians for the first time. I have to be honest, I was, frankly, lost when I heard that terminology because those of us who have found Canada know what a privilege it is to be Canadian. To have inadvertently lost your citizenship — because of what I can best describe as bureaucratic missteps and fumbling and lost opportunities — is unimaginable to me.

In June 2016, I rose in the chamber as the sponsor of the citizenship bill, Bill C-6, and I drew a picture of Canada and its citizenship as a house with a strong roof, a strong door, a lot of windows to let the sunshine in, but also to keep danger out. I believe that metaphor still stands today, but the foundations of this house are grounded in a few principles.

First and most important is equality amongst citizens. Equality sees all Canadians — by birth or naturalization, mono-citizens or dual citizens, whether citizens of 50 years, 10 years or 1 month — treated equally under the law. Equal rights, equal responsibility and, when necessary, equal punishment. These are not aspirational goals. This is the floor; the absolute foundation of how equality is expressed in Canada.

Second is the principle of facilitating citizenship, making it accessible for those who qualify. I think of this again as the main family room of the house: a big fire blazing to keep out the wretched cold and a big, welcoming door. However, for a few Canadians, the fire has lost its warmth, and they were inadvertently expelled, banished, so to say, from this house.

Many have lived in Canada for years, as Senator Martin has pointed out, without even realizing they may not have Canadian citizenship any longer. Although legislative fixes have tried to bring citizenship back in different ways, it has never captured everyone. This is a true example of the unintended, negative impact of legislation that we deal with in so many different ways.

When I rose to speak on Bill C-6, which was an omnibus citizenship act, former senator Willie Moore, who was with us, asked me whether or not Lost Canadians would be brought back into the fold. Sadly, I had to say to him, no, that was out of the scope of the bill.

After Bill C-6 was passed, former Senator Eggleton took it on and was almost ready to table the bill when his resignation date approached. Again, the bill was left orphaned, in a way. Since that time, Don Chapman and others have been talking to Senator Martin, Senator Jaffer and all of us to try to bring this back to our attention. I am incredibly grateful to Senator Martin for taking this bull by the horns and bringing our attention to it.

As we know, and as Senator Martin has explained, our immigration system is incredibly complex. Immigration law is complex. Within immigration law, there is citizenship law that is incredibly complex. It sometimes catches people in a net from which it is hard to escape.

As Senator Martin has explained, it’s a narrow bill. In 1977, the government introduced a new Citizenship Act. Under that act, children born abroad on or after February 14, 1977, received their Canadian citizenship if one of their parents was a Canadian citizen, regardless of their marital status.

However, if that Canadian parent was born outside Canada and, therefore, the child was what we would call second generation, the child had to apply for citizenship by the age of 28. If they did not put an application by age 28, their citizenship was taken away from them, often without them ever realizing it.

Later, in April 2009 — many years later, still trying to catch up on the problem — Bill C-37 changed the Citizenship Act again and repealed the age 28 rule. However, the bill didn’t completely deal with Canadians who were born abroad between that narrow window of 1977 and 1981, and who turned 28 before Bill C-37 became the law. Some of these individuals were well informed enough and applied for their citizenship. Others simply fell in between the cracks.

Senator Dalphond asked the question, how many are these? I’m also curious. My information is that there are definitely not thousands. There may even be just a few hundred. But I hope we all recognize, even for just a few hundred, how important it is to be able to be franchised as Canadians.

Many who were born overseas but raised in Canada had an entrenched life in Canada. They went to school here; they have jobs and families here. Their roots are firmly here. They have paid income taxes. But they were unaware of the issue — just as I’m often unaware of when my driver’s licence expires, and then I have to really struggle to regain it — which certainly happens to people. We are talking, as I said, about a few hundred people, at most.

The government relies, as Senator Martin has stated, on ministerial appointments. Every time I’ve spoken to every successive immigration minister, they have said, “It’s not a problem. I can deal with it. Send me the file.” But, colleagues, that is not a systemic way of dealing with an injustice of this kind. We need a law. Even though Byrdie Funk — someone whom I admire a great deal — and Anneliese Demos — the same — even though they had the agency, the voice, the capacity to advocate for themselves, I worry about those who do not, who cannot get the minister’s attention or that of his department. I think it is time for us to fix this in a systemic manner.

There are severe consequences for having to wait to get formal recognition back. While waiting to get your citizenship, you can’t have a social insurance number. You may not be able to get a job. You may not be able to travel. Likely you’re not able to travel because you don’t have a passport. You have limited access to health care. All this at the same time when there is always the threat of deportation hanging over you.

In the case of Byrdie Funk, it is not clear whether all her years of contribution to the Canada Pension Plan will be honoured when she gets her pension.

Bill S-230 will allow citizens who were born abroad and have built a life here to prove that they are Canadian and that they have the right to pass citizenship onto their children. It will not lead to a perpetual passage of Canadian citizenship to generations who may never live in Canada. This does nothing for third-generation Canadians.

Honourable senators, I urge you, in short, to support this bill and send it to committee for further study. Lost Canadians have already waited too long. Let’s bring them back into the Canadian fold sooner than rather later. Thank you.


Canada needs more immigrants — and not only for the economy

Good nuanced commentary and the need for a broader lens than just demographic and economic:

There’s a problem in persistently defining immigrants as economic drivers that will take Canada to a more prosperous place.

It’s not that the pitch is wrong.

It’s that it is myopic, and it’s pushing Canada to evaluate the movement of people as a pure dollars-and-cents exercise. And that’s short-sighted at a time when we need all the compassion we can get.

Canadians’ impressions of their country as an open and tolerant nation that thrives on diversity have been deeply challenged over the past two weeks — first with the discovery of the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., and then by what police say was an intentional attack on a Muslim family in London, Ont. that left four people dead.

“There’s a growing feeling that we aren’t holding together as best we should,” says Sen. Ratna Omidvar, a vocal proponent of ramping up immigration — and in a way that is not just about economics.

“We need to be more intentional about social cohesion,” she says.

Repeatedly making the case for increasing diversity almost solely on an economic basis doesn’t help — as the federal Liberals themselves used to sense.

In 2016, a group of influential economic advisers led by Dominic Barton, now Canada’s ambassador to China, came up with a list of strategies to ensure Canada’s prosperity over the long term — a list that carries weight to this day. Barton told the federal Liberals that among other things, they should dramatically ramp up immigration as a way to propel Canada’s economy forward

A few cabinet ministers thought it was a great concept at first, but even as the Liberals embraced most of Barton’s other growth recommendations, they eventually balked at the idea, unsure of their ability to sell the public on a complex argument.

Five years later, however, not only are they making the argument, it’s almost to the exclusion of anything else when it comes to immigration. And yes, it’s complex.

Canada’s economy isn’t growing fast enough to maintain our standard of living and fund all the social safety nets we have come to expect, it goes. Plus, labour shortages are all around us, and if they’re not here now, they soon will be.

Since Canadians are retiring faster than they can reproduce, we need to replenish the workforce and bolster the financial foundation of our social safety net by adding many, many more immigrants.

The pandemic set us back in our immigration plans because of closed borders, but the federal government is now actively making up for lost time and then some — a key plank in the recovery strategy. The economic messaging is central — everywhere in Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino’s comments in the House and speeches to the public, the policy documents issued through the immigration department and the pitches Liberal MPs make to their constituents. 

Immigrants create small businesses, fill job vacancies, make our health-care system work, spend money, and support their children to make more money than they did, the message goes.

While Omidvar makes those arguments herself, she says there’s a danger in thinking narrowly.

“You make it about one thing only,” she says. “We have turned immigration into too much of a transactional experience.”

She talks about her own experience moving to Canada from Iran in 1981 and finding her way by joining a local gardening club and planting daffodils with her neighbours.

While she appreciates all the politicians’ speeches about diversity and inclusion in the wake of the London attack, she warns that social cohesion — an essential for quality of life, economic and beyond — comes from a community-based, proactive approach and not the reactive approach she has seen on display over the past couple of weeks. And that means a focus on immigrants as whole people who are valuable members of our communities.

Economist Mikal Skuterud, a professor at the University of Waterloo, doesn’t buy many of the economic arguments around immigration that the federal government is making these days. “It’s hyperbolic, it’s completely exaggerated, and it’s not honest in a lot of cases,” he says.

He argues that immigration could bolster Canada’s prosperity if newcomers are more productive than existing workers, but that’s not always the case. He also points out that if immigrants have the same age distribution as the existing workforce, they won’t do much to change the way the labour force pays for a growing contingent of retirees.

But he does agree with Omidvar that it’s important to evaluate immigration on factors that go well beyond labour and economics, especially if we want to enrich our culture and not just our wallets.

Public opinion polling suggests that Canadians generally view immigration as beneficial to Canada, but the top reasons people give for being pro-immigration are around diversity and multiculturalism. Contributions to the economy come second, says Andrew Parkin, executive director of the Environics Institute for Survey Research. 

For the sake of social peace, perhaps our political rhetoric should take its cue from the public in this case.


Senator Omidvar: A Practical First Step to Distance Ourselves from the Monarchy

Senator Omidvar raises whether the citizenship oath should remain only the Queen (as the Crown in the institutional sense) or to Canada C-8, the bill broadening the oath to include Indigenous treaty rights is before Parliament. This raises the possibility of an amendment during the Senate review of the Bill, and an interesting and overdue debate.

(The Chrétien government considered amending the oath some 25 years ago but the PM nixed the idea given timing closing to the 1995 Quebec referendum: “I’m not sure I want to take on the separatists and the monarchists at the same time.”) Citizenship oath to Queen nearly nixed 20 years ago

Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry has raised questions about Canada’s connection to the monarchy.

It’s a strong and deep connection that’s expressed in many ways, big and small: We have a Governor General who represents the Queen in Canada, we maintain a residence for the Queen in Ottawa, our currency bears the image of a monarch, and every so often we host a royal tour.

The Senate of Canada, which I am privileged to belong to, is likely the institution most steeped in the ritual and traditions of Westminster. The doors to the Senate chamber are opened every sitting by the Usher of the Black Rod, who carries an ebony cane as a symbol of royal authority. He’s followed by the mace-bearer, because, without the mace, the Senate cannot meet. As a senator, I must bow to the Queen every time I enter or leave the Senate chamber. Every bill passed in the Senate receives a “royal” assent.

Despite these traditions, calls to drop the Queen and the monarchy from Canada have grown louder. However, anyone who’s even the least bit pragmatic will realize that efforts to remove the monarchy will likely lead to a protracted conflict between the federal government and the provinces. The political risks would likely be too high.

So, if dropping the monarchy isn’t an option right now, what can be done to insert more Canadiana into our practices and traditions?

I would look to one of the most fundamental building blocks of Canada: the citizenship oath. I know this process well. In 1985, I took the oath of citizenship. It was a landmark day for me and my family, giving us the official enfranchisement to be Canadian in every way. But as someone who was born in post-colonial India, I couldn’t help but wonder why I was swearing my allegiance to a distant monarch. I know that many new Canadians wonder the same thing, especially those who come to this brave new world from countries that have suffered under the yoke of colonialism.

Since then, I’ve matured in my understanding of how Canada was built and how it works, and have come to appreciate our traditions and Constitution. However, I believe we should be swearing allegiance to Canada, not the Queen — or at least letting new Canadians choose to whom they swear their allegiance: the Queen or Canada.

Australia shed the sovereign from its citizenship oath in 1994, instead asking citizens to commit to Australia and its values. Sen. Philip Faulkner made the case for reinforcing the notion of an Australian citizenship. He noted that “Australian citizenship, with its attendant rights and obligations, is part of the glue which binds the nation and its citizens in a manner that gives adequate recognition to the reciprocity of that bond.”

Citizenship lies solely under federal jurisdiction. The oath can be changed simply by passing a bill through Parliament. It would require political will and leadership, but it’s within the realm of the possible.

This would demonstrate that Canada has come of age, is exerting more independence, and is ever so slightly breaking away from the troubling history of colonialism. It’s time for us to make our own traditions.


Omidvar: The diversity deficit in the boardrooms of Canada’s charities

Good op-ed and practical recommendations by Senator Omidvar:

As we celebrate Black History Month, we continue to hear loud calls for more diversity in newsrooms across the country, in corporations, and in Parliament. Canadians have correctly pointed out a diversity gap in all those power structures.

But the diversity deficit doesn’t end there; it’s also in the boardrooms of charities and non-profits. It’s always been an open secret that, despite the amazing work it does to help Canadians from all backgrounds, the sector’s leadership wasn’t that diverse.

In June last year, I issued an open letter challenging charities and non-profits to take a hard look at themselves, and ask what they could do to increase diversity in the sector. Many heard my call and wanted to do more. The first step was getting data.

After learning about my challenge, Statistics Canada, along with sector leaders, designed a survey to provide the first-ever snapshot of diversity in governance. The recently released survey found that, outside of gender, the boards of charities were not yet inclusive of Indigenous peoples, racial minorities, LGBTQ2+, and the disabled.

From Dec. 4, 2020, to Jan. 18, 2021, 8,835 people completed the survey. Among them, 14 per cent identified as immigrants to Canada; 11 per cent said they belonged to a visible-minority group; eight per cent identified as LGBTQ2+; six per cent said they had a disability; and three per cent identified as First Nations, Metis, or Inuit.

Readers may well ask: Why does it matter who sits on the boards, as long as people receive their services? It matters, because the boards of charities set the course, decide on priorities, determine how money gets allocated and spent, and approve institutional policies ranging from hiring to procurement, from harassment to promotions.

Charities are not an insignificant part of our society. More than 85,000 charities and 85,000 non-profits are registered in Canada. Before the pandemic, they employed close to two millions Canadians and contributed eight per cent to the GDP. What they do and how they do it matters.

Now there’s some hard evidence to stand on, we have a clear way forward. Both the government and the sector must respond.

The government must collect diversity data every year. The StatCan survey is a start, but no further studies have been planned. For the sake of certainty, the Canada Revenue Agency should include questions about diversity on boards of directors on the T3010 and the T1044 tax forms.

This way, the data could be fulsome, disaggregated, and provide an accurate picture of diversity in the sector every year. Based on clear, ongoing evidence, the country and the sector could see if progress is being made.

The government should also compel the sector to disclose its diversity plans, as it did with corporations under Bill C-25. Only 30 per cent of the survey participants said their organization had a diversity plan. That is unacceptable, and the government should require that this information be made public.

I’m encouraged that the sector responded to the survey by saying, “(These data are) an important opportunity for us to look critically at who is at the table and who has decision-making power in our organizations.” Now that the evidence is clear, it needs to take concrete action.

First, charities and non-profits must proactively create diversity plans and publish them for their members and Canadians to see; they mustn’t wait for the government to compel them. Second, the plans should include diversity targets to increase the representation of under-represented groups on boards and in senior management. Last, they should convene a sector-wide conversation about race, racism, and diversity.

If we’re truly determined to stamp out racism, we need all sectors to step up to the plate. Charities and non-profits do so much good for Canadians. Now is the time for them to look inward, be intentional, and truly reflect the diversity of Canada.

Source: The diversity deficit in the boardrooms of Canada’s charities

Numbers reveal a ‘diversity deficit’ in boardrooms of the charitable and non-profit sectors

Good and useful survey by Statistics Canada and ongoing work by Senator Omidvar in this area:

There’s a “diversity deficit” in the boardrooms of Canada’s charitable and not-for-profit sector, even though government funding and public donations are their main source of revenues.

A Statistics Canada survey has found 59 per cent of responding board members in the sector were women, but designated groups appeared to be under-represented in the governance of these organizations.

Of the 6,182 people who sat on these boards and responded to the survey, only 14 per cent identified themselves as immigrants; 12 per cent as belonging to a visible minority group; nine per cent as LGBTQ2+; six per cent as persons with a disability; and three per cent as First Nations, Métis or Inuit.

Only 42 per cent of the respondents reported that their organization has a written policy on board diversity, said the report released Thursday.

According to the federal agency, 22 per cent of the Canadian population are immigrants; 19 per cent belong to a visible minority group; 22 per cent of those aged 15 and above have one or more disabilities; and five per cent are First Nations, Métis or Inuit. A 2015 Canadian health report found three per cent of Canadians aged between 18 and 59 self-identified as gay or bisexual, and other estimates have been significantly higher.

Although this survey data was collected through crowdsourcing from professional networks within the sector — and not through probability-based sampling — it provides a glimpse into how well the leadership reflects and includes the voices of diverse communities.

“The numbers tell us that there is a diversity deficit in the governance of the sector. Many charities have challenges in this context,” says Sen. Ratna Omidvar of Ontario, who challenged the sector last summer to start collecting demographic data in the wake of the racial reckoning spearheaded by the Black Lives Matter Movement.

“It’s important for all of the society, particularly for charities and not-for-profit organizations because governors set their missions. They decide how dollars are spent. They make decisions on how an organization will respond to this or that. They are in control of the resources that come both from the government and donors.”

Researchers surveyed almost 9,000 people in total and 6,182 of them reported sitting on a board in the non-profit sector.

Three quarters of these board members belonged to an organization that operates locally; 13 per cent at a provincial level; eight per cent nationally; and three per cent internationally.

Their organizations engaged in a range of activities: social services (23 per cent); arts and culture (16 per cent); education and research (13 per cent); sports and recreation (12 per cent); and health (10 per cent). More than half of the respondents said their organizations served at least one of the designated minority groups.

While the local organizations were more likely to be involved in social services, their provincial and national counterparts tended to engage in education and research or in grants and fundraising, or were business or professional associations or unions. The international organizations reported global activities or arts and culture as their main focus.

Organizations engaged in sports and recreation or in religious non-profits and charities were least likely to have a written policy on board diversity. Respondents belonging to the designated groups were often involved in organizations with an official diversity mandate.

Omidvar said it’s important for the sector to look at governance through a diversity lens and follow a federal reporting system that’s already required of corporations to disclose demographic diversity in their governance.

“We ask nothing of the charitable and non-profit sector. We all think of them as angels and they are, but even angels need evidence to take further actions,” she said. “We need reliable, ongoing surveys and data that’s analyzed to move forward.”

One suggestion, she said, is for the Canada Revenue Agency to require every charitable and not-for-profit organization to submit information pertaining to their governance diversity in order to renew their registration status annually.

“Adding that one question is not going to cost anyone any money, but it will get us the evidence that we need and then we will be able to take it further,” said Omidvar.

“It requires political will. There are candidates who are qualified, willing, ready and able to sit on boards. They did not get that opportunity. It’s time that Canadians woke up to that diversity deficit in our charities and non-profit sector.”

Source: Numbers reveal a ‘diversity deficit’ in boardrooms of the charitable and non-profit sectors

Door to the C-Suite still locked for many diverse candidates amid slow pace of change

Good to have this data indicating the need for change:

Nancy Tower knows just how important help from the highest echelons of corporate Canada can be for someone trying to break into the old boys’ club.

She was a promising worker when she started at Halifax-based energy company Emera Inc. in 1997, but said a “gender-blind” CEO gave her some advice that helped her ascend to become the president and chief executive at subsidiary Tampa Electric.

He prodded her to get experience in all areas of the business, making her a more well-rounded executive candidate, even if it was lonely at times.

“I was chief financial officer of Emera for six years and when I would attend conferences, most of the CFOs would be male. I didn’t have a lot of female colleagues,” Tower said. “I think the utility business does tip toward more males in senior positions.”

Despite the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements spurring a push for change across corporate Canada, data shows the country’s most powerful companies haven’t made much progress since Tower’s ascent.

Women are still significantly underrepresented at the top ranks of Canada’s most prominent and powerful companies. The figures are even lower for Black and Indigenous women and other marginalized groups.

A study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found women accounted for about 10 per cent of named executive officers (NEOs) — a company’s most senior and highly compensated positions — at about 250 businesses in both 2017 and 2018, the most recent years it looked at.

Comparing those numbers to previous years is complicated — a common difficulty when reporting about underrepresented populations because figures haven’t been publicly available until recently and there is no standard methodology due to a wide range of data collection methods.

Still, the 10 per cent figure is in line with a 2018 Canadian Press analysis of TSX60 companies, which found less than eight per cent of the top paid management roles were held by women. For chief executive and chief financial officer, the number of women had actually decreased compared with five years earlier.

“The door to the C-Suite is locked for women. They can’t get in the door … That situation hasn’t changed at all,” said David Macdonald, a senior economist at the CCPA, an independent and non-partisan think tank that researches social, economic and environmental justice issues.

“If they do manage to get in the door somehow, then they will get paid less no matter what job they take.”

In each of the two years examined in the CCPA study, female named officers on average made 69 cents for every dollar made by their male counterparts. That represented an average pay gap of at least $900,000.

The situation can be even more bleak for people who are Indigenous, racialized or have disabilities. Studies say women from these groups are even less likely to be given top roles or paid as much as their male or white counterparts.

Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt LLP research from 2020 showed 32 per cent of companies had at least one executive officer who identifies as a visible minority. Out of the 205 companies that disclosed data, just two had at least one executive officer who is Indigenous and five had people with disabilities in top positions.

“When women make gains, it is not all women,” said Sen. Ratna Omidvar. “I’ve been told the rising tide lifts all boats, but that is not what I see.”

Omidvar pushed for amendments in 2018 to the Canada Business Corporations Act that would have required publicly traded companies to disclose the number of women and people from “equity-seeking groups” on their boards and in senior management.

Governance and diversity advocates supported similar measures as a way to encourage progress at a faster pace.

In 2015, the Ontario Securities Commission introduced a “comply-or-explain” requirement for TSX-listed companies to disclose annually how many women are on their board and in executive officer positions, and whether there are targets in place. If a company does not have a policy, it must explain why.

Since then, the share of board seats held by women has increased to 17 per cent from 11 per cent and there has been a decline in the share of boards with no women. Even so, almost half  — 46 per cent — of companies still do not have any women in executive officer positions, according to the latest numbers from the OSC.

The Nasdaq stock exchange earlier this month filed a proposal with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for a comply-or-explain regulation that would require most listed companies to have at least two diverse directors or explain why they cannot meet the mandate.

Yet the proposed changes to Canadian law failed because critics argued businesses shouldn’t be overregulated, Omidvar said.

“I was actually completely shattered, but this is politics,” she said.

If the vote was held again, she is confident it would tilt in her favour. Not only are similar measures gaining traction, the country reached a “tipping point” after the May death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in U.S. police custody.

Floyd’s death resulted in mass protests across the U.S. and Canada and prompted business leaders to pledge to do more to help underrepresented groups.

Manon Brouillette, the former chief executive and president of Quebecor Inc. subsidiary Videotron, said impostor syndrome — where people feel like they are inexperienced or don’t belong in some jobs — plays a big role too.

“When I joined Videotron in 2004, I was the only executive woman at the table, but my (bigger) fear was that I was 10 years younger than other guys,” said Brouillette, who spent almost 15 years at the company and now serves on boards for companies including the National Bank of Canada.

“A lot of women really want to be experts in something before doing it.” Luckily for her, she said, “I’m not scared of failure, so I take more risk.”

Brouillette prods other women to push for a higher salary or apply for new roles without feeling they must meet all the criteria.

Tower, who plans to retire next year, does the same thing, encouraging other women to replicate her methods and fight for equal compensation.

But companies aren’t off the hook either. Brouillette recommends leaders avoid trying to appear “superhuman” and instead make workers feel they can reach out with any issue. Even something as simple as calling executives by their first name rather than a formal title can create positive change, Brouillette said.

“You have more balanced executive teams and the power is more shared in our economy now than 20 years ago, but still, the CEO sets the tone in the business, so it will all reflect on how women grow in that business.”

Source: Door to the C-Suite still locked for many diverse candidates amid slow pace of change

Survey shows support for migrant workers getting more benefits and protections, as senators introduce motion for change

Good initiative by Senators Black and Omidvar in commissioning this poll:

Eight in 10 Canadians say temporary foreign workers should be entitled to the same benefits and protection as any other workers in this country, according to a Nanos Research poll.

The survey, commissioned by senators Ratna Omidvar and Rob Black, was released Thursday in the wake of a Star story that highlighted the plight of hundreds of Trinidadian seasonal migrant farm workers, who are stuck in Canada due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and unable to access employment insurance benefits.

The pandemic has shed light on the vulnerability of temporary foreign workers, who pay the same EI premiums as Canadian workers but who have difficulty accessing the benefits due to their precarious immigration status.

Trinidad and Tobago has closed its airports to international flights since March and the estimated 400 stranded workers are on the verge of losing their legal status in Canada as their work permits expire on Dec. 15. Many have been denied EI, with officials saying their “closed” work permit prevents the workers from looking for other employers, resulting in them being declared not “ready or available” for work.

The senators say that in addition to benefits, migrant workers should have “pathways” to obtaining permanent resident status in Canada, something that is currently very limited for these workers.

“The pandemic has highlighted the fact that temporary migrant workers and seasonal agricultural workers are essential to Canada,” said Black. “We are calling on the Government of Canada for pathways to permanency for essential workers, should they so desire.”

The poll of 1,040 Canadians was conducted in late October and independent from the Star story.

It found that 93 per cent of respondents said migrant workers are essential contributors to Canada’s agricultural sector and 81 per cent said they deserved a pathway to permanent residence.

Canada’s agricultural sector depends on the temporary migrant work force, which makes up 17 per cent of the total employment in the sector.

“We need more concrete and equitable improvements to our migrant workers program. Since the workers are essential to our well being and safety, then the safest … and the most human way forward is to provide them with more permanent residency options,” Omidvar said.

Both Black and Omidvar plan to introduce a motion in the Senate on Thursday calling on the Liberal government to create permanent residence pathways for migrant workers.

Source: Survey shows support for migrant workers getting more benefits and protections, as senators introduce motion for change