Griffith: Passport delays risk undermining our trust in government

Interesting to see the reaction on Twitter to my op-ed in The Star. Most reaction to anything I have written over the past 10 years. A real mix. Beyond the usual Trudeau or Conservative derangement syndromes, some of the themes that emerged:

  • Interest in and support for the analysis and background
  • People have personal responsibility to renew in time rather than expecting government to ramp up quickly to meet demand
  • Not important compared to healthcare wait times, war in Ukraine, SCOTUS decision on abortion etc
  • Generalized distrust of media coverage

With some of the comments, clearly people reacted to the tweet or other comments rather than reading the op-ed (I have also been guilty of doing the same).

The depth and breadth of reactions, along of course with general media coverage, indicates the extent to which wait times and delays have captured public attention. But of course, this is very much a “first world” problem compared to the more fundamental short and longer term challenges facing Canada and the world:

Though the government anticipated that the relaxation of travel restrictions would mean long waits and delays in passport issuance, it neglected to act on the knowledge. This lack of attention to service delivery risks undermining overall trust in government.

Part of the reason for the government’s failure to ramp up capacity for the pent-up demand post-pandemic is the complexity of interdepartmental roles. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has overall policy and program responsibility; Service Canada is responsible for processing and service delivery; and Global Affairs Canada is responsible for international delivery, following the 2013 transfer of the passport program from Global Affairs to IRCC.

Service Canada has evolved from initially providing a limited receiving agent function (verification of passport applications at a number of locations) to being responsible for all in-person passport offices and passport processing centres.

As Service Canada’s responsibilities increased, co-ordination and accountability issues became more apparent. The 2020 evaluation of the IRCC passport program identified the need to “review and clarify departmental accountabilities and responsibilities for the Passport Program, as well as reconfirm decision-making authorities and governance processes to effectively support program management and delivery.” Given the pandemic, it is unlikely that this and other recommendations were fully acted upon.

So while IRCC, in its 2022-23 departmental plan, anticipated increased passport demand as travel restrictions were relaxed and Canadians resumed travel — “Forecasts predict that a recovery to pre-COVID-19 demand will begin in Spring of 2022” — this analysis was not acted upon by Service Canada, resulting in the delays we are seeing today.

Analysis by others confirms that while demand has increased significantly, it remains only about 55 per cent of pre-pandemic demand, highlighting the degree that Service Canada has failed to provide timely service.

Other consequences of these unclear accountabilities and responsibilities, along with weak management, include the absence of regularly published passport data on the open government portal website (also flagged in the 2020 IRCC evaluation), and the fact that the last Passport Canada annual report dates from 2017-18. The departmental plans of both IRCC and Employment and Social Development Canada have minimal details on the passport program.

While attention has understandably been placed on Service Canada as the public face of the delays, more attention needs to be placed on IRCC for failing to exercise policy and program oversight for passports. Unfortunately, this adds to IRCC management failings — as the large backlogs in temporary and permanent immigration, along with citizenship, attest.

These short-term problems cast doubt on the ability of IRCC and Service Canada to deliver on current passport modernization initiatives, particularly a new passport issuance platform to replace the current IT infrastructure and online applications. Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Karina Gould has floated a longer-term goal of issuing “passports to people as they get their citizenship.” It’s a meaningful and overdue improvement, but highly improbable given the complexity of the IRCC/Service Canada relationship.

Passport delays are not the only government implementation problems being encountered by Canadians. Airport customs and screening delays are a related element impacting Canadians wishing to travel again, whether to see loved ones or to discover the world.

Despite the success of pandemic financial measures and vaccination efforts, these various delays are adding to a general sense of government not being able to deliver on its core responsibilities. 

This risks further undermining trust in government and public institutions. The government needs to focus as much on service delivery and implementation aspects as on policy and program development.

Source: Passport delays risk undermining our trust in government

Chris Selley: Asking a baby to get help from Russia is another Ottawa disgrace

These kinds of stories are showing up more regularly, given the (small) number of cases and the publicity of the court case and efforts by the lawyer and advocates to generate public attention.

The advantage of the first generation cut-off remains its clarity and simplicity to administer in a consistent manner, in contrast to the previous provisions which were not. But part of the “package” when the change was made over 10 years ago were provisions for statelessness whose implementation would take into account the particular circumstances, implicitly in an understanding if not compassionate manner.

This would appear to be one of those situations where IRCC could have shown more common sense in reviewing the case.

Unfortunately, we can’t be surprised by the obtuseness regarding Russia given Global Affairs and their Minister’s Office regarding the Russia Day embassy reception:

Recent events have called ever more into question Canada’s basic competencies on the world stage, both on the ground and especially in the back office. We made a hash of evacuating our Afghan friends as the Taliban retook the country, then forced many who escaped to wait for months while we churned through their paperwork. The same delays are plaguing many Ukrainians who accepted Canada’s offers of help. Speaking of Ukraine: A senior foreign affairs official’s presence at the Russian embassy’s garden party continues to boggle the national mind. On the much more mundane end of the spectrum: With six months’ notice, IRCC failed to approve a visa for popular Formula One reporter Karun Chandhok in time for this weekend’s Montreal Grand Prix.

Is it sloth? Understaffing? Active malice? It’s difficult to tell. But the story of the Burgess family — father and husband Gregory, mother and wife Viktoriya, and baby Philip, who currently live in Hong Kong — combines all these threads into a perfectly absurd package.

I first spoke to Gregory around six months ago. He is a 46-year-old Edmontonian with deep, permanent roots (and citizenship) in Canada and nowhere else — his great-grandparents immigrated to Alberta from Ukraine in 1894 — but who just happened to have been born in Connecticut. Because his infant son Philip was the second consecutive generation born on foreign soil, our citizenship law does not automatically recognize Philip as Canadian. Gregory and Viktoriya, who is Russian, nevertheless wish to relocate eventually to Canada and think it reasonable they be allowed to do so.

The bureaucrats at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) are having none of it.

Six months ago, the situation was approaching emergency: Gregory’s and Viktoriya’s work visas were soon to expire. Things have stabilized since, Gregory told me this week over Zoom while wrangling a seven-month-old at 6 a.m. “Hong Kong has been very humane to us,” he said, including issuing Philip a Hong Kong identity card. That’s at least proof that a government recognizes his existence, but it offers no path to citizenship.

The Burgesses and their lawyers and advocates quite reasonably insist Philip is stateless as defined in the 1954 UN Convention: “a person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law.” In keeping with Canada’s international obligations, the Citizenship Act compels minister Sean Fraser to unilaterally grant citizenship in some cases of statelessness, and invites him to in others.

But when Gregory filed an application for Philips’ citizenship on grounds of statelessness, he got an amazing answer: Basically, IRCC wants proof some other country won’t take the kid off their hands.

On June 3, “senior decision maker” E. Nguyen wrote to Burgess asking for “a resual (sic) letter and/or correpondence (sic) from the American authorities advising that Philip … does not have a claim to American citizenship.” (Refusal and correspondence are the mistyped words.)

The answer is a bit complicated, but nevertheless U.S. citizenship rules are clear and easily Googleable: The simple answer is no.

It gets better: E. Nguyen wants the same refusal letter — no word of a lie — from the Russian authorities.

These are the Russian authorities raining death on Ukraine, heavily sanctioned by Ottawa, whose garden parties we must on no account attend. Canada’s travel advisory for Russia flashes bright red: “If you are in Russia, you should leave.”

Oh, and senior decision-maker E. Nguyen requires these documents within 30 days. IRCC would struggle to order a pizza in 30 days.

Even if the Burgess family were content to live in a pariah state run by a warmongering madman, Russia wouldn’t be a realistic option: Russian citizenship rules, also easily Googleable, stipulate Gregory would need to formally agree to Philip gaining Russian citizenship through his mother — but Gregory would have no immediate claim to citizenship himself. What parent would consent to the potential splitting up of his family?

When I wrote about this in January, two people with intimate knowledge of the IRCC bureaucracy and the Citizenship Act objected to my characterization of the second-generation-born-aboard rule as a “dumb law, easily fixed.” I remain convinced: Instead of judging prospective infant citizens by their parents’ accidental birthplaces, we should judge them by their parents’ substantial connection to Canada, just as we do for would-be naturalized citizens.

Admittedly, though, that’s only a fix in law. If it takes two or three or four years for IRCC to determine such “substantial connections,” families like the Burgesses will still be left in the lurch. And many will be in much more perilous situations than the Burgesses are.

In the meantime, there is an easy fix: Sean Fraser, the minister, can grant citizenship to anyone he chooses, any time he likes, as often as he likes. Unfortunately, with more than 24 hours’ notice, IRCC could not manage to respond to my questions, which included “why won’t he?”

Gregory is admirably equanimous about all this. “I don’t want to overdramatize things,” he told me. “It’s not terrible. … We’re OK here and everything’s fine.” But that uncertainty hangs over their heads, and they’re baffled. “I don’t know what the agenda is,” Gregory said. “I don’t know what’s achieved by this.”

Me neither.

There aren’t tens of thousands of Canadians in similar situations as the Burgesses, but there aren’t just dozens either. Whatever resources are being expended fighting seven-month-old Philip Burgess for Canadian citizenship — and a good few other children in the same situation — would surely be put to better use helping our various and shameful citizenship-and-immigration backlogs.

Source: Chris Selley: Asking a baby to get help from Russia is another Ottawa disgrace

And from the Star:

A Canadian with Ukrainian roots has been told his baby boy may have to apply — and be rejected — for Russian citizenship before he can become a Canadian.

“My son is not going to Russia and not becoming a Russian citizen when they’re killing Ukrainians,” says Gregory Burgess.

The bizarre situation has come about for a baby who is technically considered “stateless” because neither he nor his father was born in Canada.

Burgess, 46, has always considered himself a Canadian. He grew up in Edmonton and his Ukrainian great-grandparents arrived in what is today’s Alberta back in 1894.

But Burgess was born in the United States, where his father was then working, before coming to Canada at age seven. He acquired citizenship through his Canadian mother.

That, coupled with the fact that his son was born during the pandemic in Hong Kong, where Burgess is currently working, has meant the baby is not guaranteed Canadian citizenship.

It’s the result of a controversial policy change brought in by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper back in 2009 that was meant to curtail the number of “Canadians of convenience.”

“Canada is my home,” says Burgess. “I don’t have another home. It’s where my family has been for more than a hundred years.”

The so-called “second generation” citizenship cut-off against Canadians born abroad was introduced by the Conservative government after Ottawa’s massive effort to evacuate 15,000 Lebanese Canadians from Beirut during a month-long war between Israel and Lebanon in 2006.

The $85-million price tag of the evacuation effort sparked a debate over “Canadians of convenience” about individuals with Canadian citizenship who live permanently outside of Canada without “substantive ties” to Canada but were part of the government liability.

It’s now complicating things for Burgess.

The expat spent his formative years in Canada and graduated from the University of Alberta.

“My mother got us citizenship. And as soon as my Canadian citizenship was taken care of, one wouldn’t assume that somewhere down the road you become a lesser citizen because of it.”

Starting in 2004, he took up jobs in Asia. He met his now wife, Viktoriya Kharzhanovich, in 2017 when he was working in Shanghai. The following year, she applied unsuccessfully for a Canadian visa to accompany him to his cousin’s wedding.

In 2019, he started to explore the spousal sponsorship process to bring his common-law wife to Canada, just before the pandemic was beginning in China.

The couple moved to Hong Kong from China in June 2020 when he got a two-year employment contract in building information management there. Meanwhile, he and his wife, now 41, decided to start a family.

Due to the arduous paperwork required, they didn’t submit their spousal application until last November. It was during their preparation for the application when his lawyer noticed he wasn’t born in Canada and raised the issue about the two-generation citizenship cutoff for the yet-to-be born Philip.

Kharzhanovich, who had already been refused a visitor visa before, was more than seven months into her pregnancy and did not have an obstetrician and gynecologist or health insurance in Canada. She was also not scheduled for her COVID vaccination until after giving birth to Philip.

“After consulting physicians, researching flights, examining visa options, and studying quarantine rules, we determined that it was not safe or possible to fly to Canada for Viktoriya to give birth there,” says Burgess, who has since joined six other Canadian families in a Charter challenge against the citizenship cut-off rules.

Since neither Burgess nor his wife is a Hong Kong citizen or permanent resident, Philip doesn’t have permanent status in the former British colony, now part of the People’s Republic of China.

“It’s a lot of sleepless nights,” Burgess says. “It’s very important to me that I never lose my job (in Hong Kong) and nothing ever goes wrong because if it does, then that’s catastrophic. And so there’s that stress.

“It’s just constantly trying to get on the paperwork and it seems endless. I keep putting in paperwork or talking to the embassy or consulate. And I’ve been at it for nine months basically.”

At the advice of the Canadian consulate, Burgess applied for a two-year “limited validity passport” for Philip in November, which was ultimately refused by Passport Canada. Burgess’s own parents weren’t abroad serving in the Canadian military or for the federal or provincial governments at his birth in the U.S., hence his baby didn’t qualify.

Earlier this year, as a last resort, Burgess filed an application for a grant of citizenship under section 5 (4) of the Canadian Citizenship Act that gives Immigration Minister Sean Fraser the discretionary power to do so to “alleviate cases of statelessness or of special and unusual hardship or to reward services of an exceptional value to Canada.”

In a response to the family’s request this month, the immigration department gave the couple 30 days to provide proof of Philip having been refused a claim to American and/or Russian citizenship.

“Following a review of his application and supporting documentation, it appears that Philip Alexander Burgess may have a claim to American citizenship through yourself and to Russian citizenship through his mother, Viktoriya Kharzhanovich,” said the letter prepared by the immigration case management branch.

There was no mention or concern raised about Burgess’s and the family’s expiring status in Hong Kong, and the urgency to resolve the crisis.

“I feel like I’m being asked to show that I’m in duress. It’s continually asking, ‘show us it’s a bad situation.’ And I’m like it’s not bad yet, but it’s only because I’m staying ahead of the game,” says Burgess, who does not have an American passport or meet the “substantial connection” requirement to convey citizenship to Philip.

Although Philip is not at the end of his rope and may still acquire Canadian citizenship by naturalization if his father can successfully sponsor his mother and him to Canada, Burgess says he has yet to get an acknowledgment of receipt of his sponsorship application and the family is running out of status in Hong Kong.

Their lawyer, Sujit Choudhry, says Philip’s statelessness is only one of the factors for the consideration of the immigration minister, who should not overlook the “special and unusual hardship” the family is facing under the circumstances.

“The government’s insistence that Gregory seek Russian citizenship for Philip is Kafkaesque,” says Choudhry, who is also representing the other families in the ongoing Charter challenge against the citizenship act before the Superior Court of Ontario. “Canada has advised its citizens to not travel to Russia for geopolitical reasons.

“If Philip becomes a Russian citizen, Gregory will not be able to travel to Russia to take care of him. Canada’s Citizenship Act will produce a profoundly unjust family separation. This law is clearly unconstitutional.”

Source: ‘Kafkaesque’: Will the infant son of a Ukrainian Canadian need to turn to Russia for citizenship?

ICYMI: Its critics call it ‘birth tourism.’ But is the practice real? COVID-19 is providing clues

The COVID-19 pandemic and the border closures and travel restrictions that came with it seem to have put a dent in the number of non-Canadians coming to this country to deliver their babies.

The latest government data offers what may be an unprecedented look at the practice that has been controversially dubbed “birth tourism.”

It shows the number of “non-resident self-pay” new births in the country dropped by 57 per cent during the first full year of the global crisis, between April 2020 and March 2021 — from 5,698 the year earlier down to 2,433. 

Observers have stressed that the practice of coming to Canada to deliver a baby is legal and cautioned that its frequency has been overblown by critics, drawing focus at times more for reasons of racism than for pragmatic concerns.

All babies born in Canada receive automatic Canadian citizenship. 

The Liberal government has said it’s committed to investigating the issue of foreign nationals taking a shortcut to obtain citizenship for their children by giving birth in Canada, but no policy recommendations or changes have been made to date.

Under normal times, it’s hard for researchers to pinpoint the number of visitors who came here with the main purpose of giving birth, because the data would also capture non-residents who delivered babies while working or studying in this country. 

But the pandemic’s unique circumstances brought with them novel data.

As Canada has imposed restrictive measures against the entry of non-essential travellers but not international students and temporary foreign workers, the data for the first time gives a more precise picture of the extent of those coming to Canada to deliver babies.

“This really provides you with what Nobel Prize-winning economist David Card called a natural experiment, where there was one variable that changed and it affected one group disproportionately,” says researcher Andrew Griffith, whose findings will be published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy on Thursday.

“This basically confirms that when you don’t have visitors’ visas, you have a major drop in birth tourists because that’s how they come in.”

Based on hospital delivery data from the Canadian Institute of Health Information, a Crown corporation, Griffith looked at the number of times the cost of delivering babies in hospitals over the past decade was paid out of the patients’ own pocket.

The number surged yearly from 1,863 in 2010 to a peak of 5,698 in 2019, before it nosedived last year, which coincided with a 95 per cent drop in the number of visitors’ visas issued by Canada.

In comparison, the number of international students fell by only 25 per cent, while the number of temporary foreign workers actually increased by 5.5 per cent.

Griffith estimates that the percentage of “tourism births” has now reached one per cent of all births in Canada in an average year.

“This is really a question of the integrity of the citizenship program. If you come here as a permanent resident, you have to meet the residency requirements, you have to meet the knowledge requirements, you have to meet the language requirements. There’s a whole process that you have to go through to be Canadian citizens,” said Griffith, a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Environics Institute.

“This is legal but it’s still a loophole that allows basically fairly affluent women and families to shortcut the process, find a backdoor entry and without going through the standard process of becoming a Canadian citizen.”

The citizenship afforded to these Canadian-born children allow them to automatically access health care, local education and tuition fees, as well as other government benefits.

While any visa restriction against pregnant women visiting Canada would be difficult to administer and enforce, Griffith said Ottawa could change the citizenship act to require at least one parent to be a citizen or permanent resident of Canada for citizenship to be conferred to a Canadian-born child, as Australia does.

The former Conservative government explored similar legislative changes in 2012, but the idea was abandoned due to opposition from provincial governments, which are responsible for the administration of birth certificates, a key document for citizenship. The number of people coming to Canada for the express purpose of delivering a baby was estimated at just 500 at the time and such changes were considered not worthy of the hefty administrative costs.

“We have more accurate data now,” said Griffith. 

In a 2019 survey by the Angus Reid Institute, 64 per cent of Canadians said a child born to parents who are in this country on tourist visas should not be granted Canadian citizenship, and 60 per cent said changes to the citizenship laws are necessary to discourage birth tourism.

Critics have argued that any requirement of one parent being a Canadian citizen or permanent resident could lead to children, such as those born here to refugee claimants, to be stateless.

“Anything to deal with immigration and citizenship basically has some form of discrimination. Who do you let in? Who do you not let in? What are the criteria to allow somebody to become citizen,” said Griffith.

“Is it too rigid? Is it too open? You are always going to have the debate over how you cut the line in the right place.”


My Policy Options article which formed the basis for the reporting:;!!AlmGDlt8!iF8vkNntsOxOaoiOptdZnIP6_nTznLbhJ0nHgByjTRO0V5pBnecrGb7ZGeXR858$

Star Editorial: Those who care about math education for all should focus on results, not rhetoric about colonialism

Good editorial calling for focus on substance, not rhetoric:

Kids in Ontario ought to get the best possible education in mathematics. And that means all kids — including ones who have historically been left behind in this crucial area.

We should hold the government accountable on this, and demand it do everything possible on both counts — designing the best math education, and delivering an approach to teaching that ensures no groups are excluded from success.

What we shouldn’t be doing is getting hung up on rhetoric about “decolonizing” math education and worrying about the “historical roots and social constructions” of mathematics.

This is a giant distraction from those real issues — the quality of education and making sure the government gives teachers the resources they need to deliver it to all their students.

The issue arises because the Ford government has dropped language about racism and colonialism from the preamble to the province’s new math curriculum.

The paragraph that’s been edited out said this: “Mathematics has been used to normalize racism and marginalization of non-Eurocentric mathematical knowledges, and a decolonial, anti-racist approach to mathematics education makes visible its historical roots and social constructions.”

How does focusing on language of this sort help any students actually learn math, or help any teachers operate to their best ability in the classroom? 

And how does it help to get Ontarians behind the cause of making sure we have the best math education possible, and the government carries through on delivering it?

The answer is it doesn’t do any of those things. All it does it convince most parents — and most teachers, for that matter — that the people in charge of designing curriculums are more interested in pushing a political/social agenda than in delivering the best education.

It also distracts from the genuine issues buried beneath those layers of jargon. It’s undoubtedly true that many students — Black, Indigenous and other racialized students among them — have been disadvantaged by the way math and other subjects have been taught.

This is a real, documented problem and it’s in everyone’s interest that it be addressed without delay.

To the government’s credit, it took a big step in that direction vowing to end streaming in Grade 9 — making young teenagers choose between “academic” and “applied” tracks in high school. There are stacks of evidence that this has had a disproportionate impact on Black, Indigenous and poor students, limiting their opportunities for the future.

So any new curriculum, especially in core subjects like math, should take into account the fact that some groups have been left behind.

And, in fact, while the government chopped some words from the preamble to the new math curriculum, it added this new paragraph: “The curriculum emphasizes the need to eliminate systemic barriers and to serve students belonging to groups that have been historically disadvantaged and underserved in mathematics education.”

That gets to the heart of the matter, but of course words alone are not enough. The real test will be if the government follows through and makes sure the intent in that paragraph is translated into action and results.

We made that point last month when Education Minister Steven Lecce unveiled Ontario’s new Grade 9 math curriculum.

It’s a single curriculum for all students — no more of that “streaming” — and it looks like a step forward toward making sure they’ll acquire math skills they can use in a wide range of science, technology and trade careers. It includes mandatory learning on coding, data literacy, mathematical modelling and financial literacy.

The government says it’s committed millions to make sure the new curriculum is properly delivered — and that students who find themselves in a more academic math class get all the supports they need to succeed.

But this government has a track record of cheaping out in areas like this, and those who care about math education need to keep up the pressure and make sure that doesn’t happen. In the end, that will count a lot more than all that grad-school rhetoric about “colonialism.”


International education in Canada is booming — but the system is flawed. Here’s how to fix it

Final part of the Star’s series on international education and their recommendations how to address the abuse and challenges. Some are more realistic than others (hard to see provincial funding increasing to reduce reliance on international students, and not sure what the capacity is for settlement services to handle students) but many are eminently practical:

Make more classroom supports available. Provide better information on employment rights. And begin regulating education recruiters.

Those are just some of the ways to bolster the experience of international students in Canada and improve the burgeoning international education system, according to students, teachers, policy-makers and others.

A months-long joint investigation by the Toronto Star and the St. Catharines Standard found the explosive growth in the number of international students in Canada, particularly in Ontario colleges, has left students feeling overwhelmed and teachers frustrated.

There are now more than 572,000 international students in Canada — the largest cohort ever — and a 73 per cent hike since 2014. That unprecedented growth has proven extremely lucrative, with international students pumping $21.6 billion into campuses, communities and the economy nationwide last year. But it has also brought significant challenges.

Part 1 of the Price of Admission series looks at how international students have increasingly been used as a key source of revenue to prop up an underfunded Canadian education system. Part 2 examines how one Ontario college scrambled to deal with a crisis on campus in the wake of a surge in international enrolment. And Part 3 explores how international students, desperate to stay here permanently, are sometimes exploited by employers.

Reporters spoke with students, teachers, school administrators, policy-makers, academic researchers, recruiters and advocates on how we can make things better.

Some have suggested one way of preventing international students from being taken advantage of in Canada, would be to grant them permanent residence upon arrival. But others say this is unrealistic and it is unlikely any political party in power would want to do that.

Here are some of their other suggestions:

For the provincial government:

  • Invest in post-secondary education to reduce reliance on revenue from international students to fund public education.
  • Regulate education recruiters to crack down on misinformation about Canada’s education and immigration systems, similar to a mechanism in place in Manitoba that monitors designated education providers, recruiters and contracted agents.
  • Reach out to international students to inform them about their job rights and enforce employer compliance.

For the federal government:

  • Make pre-arrival information and checklists available to incoming students on such things as housing, transportation, cost of living, health care, immigration and employment.
  • Grant students access to settlement services, including help with job searches, housing and counselling.
  • Provide clear information to prospective students about the pathways to immigration and the criteria for permanent residence down the road.
  • Raise the threshold of the GIC deposit required of international students to ensure they have the minimum savings to complete their studies in Canada.
  • Enhance and expand the immigration department’s current “letter of acceptance verification project” and “international student compliance project” to ensure students are not using their study permit just for the purpose of entering the country. Make this part of the regular audit of Canada’s international education strategy.
  • Work with provincial partners to survey students about their needs and experience, and track their progress through the education and immigration systems, using the data for policy reviews and decisions.

For schools:

  • Improve vetting system to ensure English language admission test scores accurately reflect a student’s actual language proficiency, including interviews with college staff.
  • Provide improved linguistic supports, including better access to translators, to help students from non-English speaking countries navigate the education system, student and medical supports, and to assist teachers in the classrooms.
  • Provide additional classroom and counselling support to help international students unfamiliar with Canada’s education system, teaching styles and culture throughout their studies and not just limited to the initial orientation.
  • Offer cultural sensitivity and awareness training to teaching and administrative staff about international students and the unique challenges and circumstances they face.
  • Implement an early warning system among school administration to assist failing students.
  • Start a buddy system matching international students with their domestic peers to ease their transition and better integrate them into the school community.

Source: International education in Canada is booming — but the system is flawed. Here’s how to fix it

Why are so many Ontario black children in foster and group homes?

black kids in careInteresting but not surprising. Having the data allows questions and discussion:

Researchers concluded the results were influenced by the 2008 recession, which affected blacks more than whites and caused more strain on families. Poverty, it noted, is the strongest predictor of maltreatment rates.

Most children’s aid societies in Ontario don’t keep income statistics on the families they serve. The new provincial database won’t capture that information either. But local CAS officials know poverty is often a factor.

“Sometimes people don’t want to make the connection between poverty and child protection,” says David Rivard, chief executive officer for the Toronto CAS. “But there is a correlation. That’s the reality.”

A recent report on child poverty in Toronto co-authored by the agency noted that 41 per cent of children of southern and eastern African heritage are growing up poor — more than three times the rate of children with roots in the British Isles. Meantime, 26 per cent of children whose families are from the Caribbean and 25 per cent from North Africa live in poverty.

Groups serving the black community are trying to bridge the cultural divide that can land children in care. The common use of spanking to discipline children in Africa and the Caribbean, for example, can lead to astonished parents being charged with assault.

… After the Star began asking about the over representation of black youth in care, the Ministry of Children and Youth Services met with CAS officials, the provincial child advocate and Parsons’ African Canadian Legal Clinic.

Children’s aid officials and the legal clinic late last month submitted a funding proposal for a project to look into why the numbers are so high and how to reduce them.

“This cannot be just another study or training program,” Parsons insists. “What I want to see is concrete, substantive change — a reduction in those numbers.”

Parsons and other advocates say the numbers won’t go down until family counsellors from their community team up with CAS workers on every protection investigation involving a black child. That’s how Texas, for example, reduced the number of black children and youth in care.

“I’m not saying there aren’t kids in our community who should be in care,” Parsons says. “But the first approach for an African-Canadian child should not be apprehension and care. And that’s what the numbers are saying to me right now.”

Why are so many black children in foster and group homes? | Toronto Star.

Toronto is diverse but not as inclusive as it could be: Goar

Carol Goar on diversity and inclusion, using the United Way keynote speech by Zabeen Hirji to frame her piece:

“Having diversity is interesting,” said Zabeen Hirji, chief human resources officer for the Royal Bank non-commitally. “It’s when you do something with it that it becomes powerful.”

She had put her finger on one of the biggest challenges facing this city: moving from diversity to inclusion.

As a woman, an Ismaili Muslim and an immigrant from Tanzania, Hirji is acutely aware of the difference. Many Torontonians are not.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the United Way of Toronto, Hirji was careful not to offend the business leaders in the room. Eighty per cent of the charity’s funds come from the corporate sector in direct donations and employee payroll contributions. But she made it clear that diversity — which Toronto has in abundance — is simply a description of the city’s talent pool. Inclusion is the act of tapping into the whole pool — not just the top layer — and mixing people from disparate cultures, backgrounds and generations together in a way that allows them to combine their strengths.

On that score, Toronto doesn’t do as well. Very few immigrants — who make up 46 per cent of the city’s population — hold senior positions in business, politics or civil society. Racialized Torontonians — as they call themselves — are disproportionately poor, underemployed and socially isolated.

Many influential Torontonians who could reach out — corporate CEOs, political leaders and heads of major public institutions — don’t; or don’t do it effectively. Many immigrants and their descendents in turn, live in ethnic enclaves, work for employers from their country of origin and socialize among themselves.

Hirji wasn’t there to preach. Her primary message was that harnessing the talent and energy of young people, newcomers, members of First Nations, gays and lesbians and other minorities is good for business and good for the city. She offered three tips, drawn from her 13 years spearheading RBC’s drive to make its workforce a better reflection of the population: Start with a clear commitment from the top, develop an explicit plan and get buy-in from all employees.

It was the right approach for a breakfast speech to the United Way. But it will take more than an upbeat sales pitch to identify and dismantle the barriers that hold non-white Torontonians back.

Toronto is diverse but not as inclusive as it could be: Goar | Toronto Star.

Bill C-24 is wrong: There is only one kind of Canadian citizen – Globe Editorial

Globe’s Canada Day editorial:

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has defended his bill by arguing citizenship is a privilege, not a right. He is wrong. It may come with responsibilities, but it is a right. And once legitimately acquired, by birth or naturalization, it cannot be taken away. Bill C-24 gives the government the kind of sweeping power that is common in dictatorships, not in a democracy built upon the rule of law, where all citizens are equal. The changes to the Citizenship Act erode those basic principles, creating a two-tier citizenship that dilutes what it means to be Canadian.

Bill C-24 is wrong: There is only one kind of Canadian citizen – The Globe and Mail.

Rick Salutin in the Star:

Why did they do it? Here’s my guess: It’s not enough for them to merely run Canada. They want to define it, and they don’t want any backchat. Some people need to be right, not just powerful. So they’ve turned citizenship into a privilege, not a right, and since someone has to grant a privilege, it’ll be them.

But here’s my biggest problem. I don’t think loyalty — in any particular version — should have a thing to do with citizenship. The democratic core of citizenship is you get to challenge the values of the moment and can’t be shut up. It’s a license to disagree and debate which direction your nation takes, no matter what the majority thinks. Is that unpatriotic? It depends on how you see things. For many patriots, not going along has been the essence of patriotism. I’d say put people in jail for life if you insist — but don’t touch their citizenship.

Hello, you must be going: government waters down Canadian citizenship: Salutin

Commentary on Bill C-24: Citizenship Act Revisions

Not surprisingly, the Toronto Star has a field day criticizing the new citizenship bill, with an editorial and commentary by Haroon Siddiqui and Thomas Walkom:

In typical fashion for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s law-and-order obsessed government, the laws promise to “protect the value of Canadian citizenship” by cracking down on problems that largely don’t exist. The vast majority of new Canadians are loyal, honest, law-abiding citizens. They have contributed enormously to the building-up of this nation. But you wouldn’t know it to judge from the unwelcome mat rolled out this week by Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander. It’s all about cracking down on the marginal few who turn out to be treasonous, terrorists, criminals or fraudsters, and raising the bar for everyone else.

Canada’s new Citizenship Act reeks of mistrust: Editorial | Toronto Star.

He [Minister Alexander], too, is promising “reforms” and more get-tough measures. He will reduce the backlog in citizenship applications (now at 320,000) and waiting times (now between 25 and 35 months). If Kenney cleaned up the backlog in the skilled workers program by throwing out 98,000 applicants who had waited years in the queue, Alexander is going to “improve” the clogged citizenship processing by making immigrants wait four years instead of three to get citizenship, and make them pass a stringent English and French language test, as well as another test on their knowledge of Canada. Never mind that many native Canadians may not pass those tests, either.

As he heralded the “strengthening” of the Citizenship Act, he slipped in such measures as tripling the fee and giving himself the power to grant and strip citizenship — no need for the rule of law and due process, as he appointed himself the Citizenship Czar in some cases.

How to read Ottawa’s latest immigration changes: Siddiqui

Whether they know it or not, there are plenty of dual nationals here. Even the United States extends citizenship to Canadians with at least one American parent.

It can be argued that citizenship is a privilege rather than a right. It can be said that anyone who commits high crimes and misdemeanors — regardless of birthplace — should lose this privilege.

In an ideal world, that might make sense. But in the real world, public opinion can be fickle and government arbitrary.

After World War II, for instance, Ottawa seriously contemplated deporting all Japanese-Canadians, including those born in this country, to Japan. It probably would have been a popular move.

In the real world, as the career of iconic anti-apartheid fighter Nelson Mandela demonstrates, yesterday’s terrorist can be tomorrow’s hero.

Canada’s new citizenship bill a Trojan horse: Walkom

The National Post has limited commentary, but Kelly McFarland strongly supports the Bill:

Canada has always embraced immigration; the country was built on it and depends on it for our continued growth and vibrancy. But past policies have too often been designed to reflect a spirit of generosity so eager that it exposed the process to abuse, and cheapened the value of what is, in a practical sense, the greatest honour a country can bestow. Citizenship means more than simply buying a passport, or obtaining a bolt hole to be used when life in another country becomes too dangerous or inconvenient. Canada has been preyed on openly by people who put in the minimum time required to gain access to its benefits, only to spend the bulk of their lives outside its borders and careless of its culture. Mr. Alexander’s changes should go some distance to remedying those failings.

Some elements of his plan may prove contentious, and perhaps open to challenge in court. The new rules would enable Ottawa to revoke citizenship from dual citizens who commit treason, take up arms against Canada or engage in terrorist acts here or abroad, freeing Ottawa from the need to assist “citizens” who involve themselves in terrorist escapades overseas. Other countries have similar provisions, but while they would apply only in “exceptional” cases, they may be open to challenge on the basis that they create two standards of citizenship, with some Canadians more equal than others….

But overall the reforms are an excellent start, which emphasize the value of citizenship and demand applicants demonstrate a real desire to make Canada their permanent home, absorb its culture and contribute to its progress and well-being.

Citizenship changes recognize high value of being Canadian

Interestingly, there does not appear to be any commentary in Quebec French language media. Whether this reflects the internal focus on Quebec (e.g., the Values Charter and pre-election positioning) or bigger federal stories (e.g., electoral reform) is unclear.

Some immigration and refugee organization issued critical statements. The Canadian Council for Refugees:

“Citizenship is a fundamental status – not something that is ‘deserved’. It is wrong to use citizenship rules to punish people for wrong-doing – that’s the role of the criminal system,” said Loly Rico, President. “Treating dual citizens differently is discriminatory and violates the fundamental principle that all citizens are equal.”

The CCR also opposes the proposal to make permanent residents wait longer before they can apply for citizenship. Extending the wait period undermines efforts to integrate newcomers.

Offering citizenship is a key way Canada embraces newcomers and encourages them to quickly become full participating members of our society. Traditionally this has been an area where Canada excelled.

The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers:

Unlike the Conservative government, CARL has full confidence in the Canadian criminal justice system’s ability to effectively punish individuals who violate the law.  As such, CARL condemns the proposed provisions that will allow for citizenship stripping. We do not need to revive the medieval practice of banishment to achieve the goals of punishment, namely deterrence, retribution, denunciation, and rehabilitation.  We now have the benefit of a modern judicial process that includes prosecution, trial before an independent judge and, in the event of conviction, a punishment that expresses society’s condemnation with the full weight of the law.

The current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration’s predecessor falsely claimed that citizenship stripping is commonplace in other countries, including the United States.  In fact, the only western state to make use of this practice in the last few years is the United Kingdom, and it is an outlier whose use of it should serve as a cautionary tale.  Citizenship stripping has been unconstitutional in the United States for over 50 years.

PRESS RELEASE: Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers reacts to proposed government citizenship bill

Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)

Issue: Increasing the amount of time a permanent resident must wait before becoming a full participant in Canadian society will not strengthen democracy in Canada. Some permanent residents, such as those who were Convention Refugees, will face difficulties in travelling to see family or take advantage of overseas employment opportunities.

Issue: The government has said that the Bill will reduce the processing time. But this may not make a real difference to immigrants since they will have to wait longer to apply…

Issue: The change will impact on seniors who are currently exempt from these provisions, including those who have been working since they arrived and did not have time to take a language test, those who know enough English or French to live and work in Canada but not enough to pass the required language test, and those who do not have the capacity to learn a new language such as older refugees.

Issue: Increasing the amount of time a permanent resident must wait before becoming a full participant in Canadian society will not strengthen democracy in Canada. Some permanent residents, such as those who were Convention Refugees, will face difficulties in travelling to see family or take advantage of overseas employment opportunities.

Issue: The government has said that the Bill will reduce the processing time. But this may not make a real difference to immigrants since they will have to wait longer to apply.

OCASI Comments On Proposed Citizenship Changes

A few simple questions for Pauline Marois | Toronto Star

Haroon Siddiqui in The Star comes up with a few questions on how the proposed Charter could be implemented and the numerous practical issues that arise. The challenge for any principles-based approach lies in the practical; his list indicates just how impractical and exclusionary it actually is.

A few simple questions for Pauline Marois | Toronto Star.