Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue No. 5 - Minutes of Proceedings - May 11, 2016
OTTAWA, Wednesday, May 11, 2016
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 12:42 p.m. to
study steps being taken to facilitate the integration of newly-arrived Syrian
refugees and to address the challenges they are facing, including by the various
levels of government, private sponsors and non-governmental organizations.
Senator Jim Munson (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators and viewers, welcome to the Standing
Senate Committee on Human Rights. We're starting our first day of testimony
dealing with Syrian refugees integrating into Canada. We're looking at it from a
human rights lens. For our panellists in Halifax and here, we began with a
Syrian family earlier this morning. They gave us testimony that will be very
valuable to our work over the next month or so.
We're looking at the challenges that the Syrian refugees are facing,
including those by various levels of government, private sponsors and
non-governmental organizations. Before we get down to testimony and statements,
Ms. Mills and Ms. Taylor are with us, we will have the senators introduce
Senator Ataullahjan: Salma Ataullahjan from Ontario.
Senator Nancy Ruth: Nancy Ruth from Toronto.
Senator Ngo: Senator Ngo from Ontario.
Senator Unger: Senator Unger from Alberta, and I'm subbing in for
Senator Raynell Andreychuk from Saskatchewan.
Senator Omidvar: Ratna Omidvar from Toronto.
Senator Cordy: Jane Cordy from Nova Scotia.
Senator Martin: Yonah Martin from British Columbia.
The Chair: I'm Senator Munson from Ontario.
On our second panel here this morning, we have Louisa Taylor who is here with
us in Ottawa. She's with Refugee 613, a resettlement group. We also have with us
Gerry Mills, Director of Operations from the Immigrant Services Association of
Nova Scotia, and she is appearing via video conference.
Ms. Mills, would you like to start us off and maybe give us a brief outline
of what is taking place in Nova Scotia? Then we'll go to Ms. Taylor.
Based on the delay, I'm guessing Ms. Mills can't hear me. While we're sorting
this out, we'll have Ms. Taylor from Ottawa give us an overview of what's taking
place here. Welcome to our committee.
Louisa Taylor, Director, Refugee 613: Thank you, Mr. Chair and
senators, for this opportunity. I'm honoured to be appearing in front of you for
your first hearing on Syria and the resettlement effort to share the experience
of Refugee 613 and our partners. I've brought lots of food for thought for you
to keep in mind as you launch your inquiries.
So Refugee 613 is where I'll begin. We're part of the wave of compassion
unleashed across Canada as a result of Canada's response to the Syrian crisis, a
response many of us would characterize as "better late than never." We're
thrilled that the Canadian government showed visionary leadership in pursuing
such an ambitious target for the airlift, and we're proud to have played a small
but significant role in helping to make it a success here in Ottawa.
You heard this morning from some recent arrivals. Their testimony was very
powerful and moving, and it jives with what we've heard at Refugee 613. You'll
no doubt also be hearing from private sponsors, professionals in the settlement
sector, government and the non-profit world, who have worked long hours and with
such dedication to make this mass resettlement effort a success. We're in awe of
all that they have contributed.
I'm going to share with you the perspective of one of the few organizations
that sits at the intersection of all these efforts. Refugee 613 is a grassroots
coalition. We represent citizens, settlement agencies, sponsorship groups, city
hall, business, education, faith groups, community partners and individuals
working to provide refugees with the building blocks of successful integration.
We are not a settlement agency; we do not implement settlement programming.
We're not a sponsorship facilitator, but we have those agencies and
organizations within our umbrella.
As a non-partisan grassroots effort, we provide our partners and the public
with information, connection and inspiration. We do that by convening monthly
task forces of key stakeholders. Our health task force, for example, had
everybody in Ottawa related to health who needed to come together to collaborate
and plan health care for refugees on arrival. They implemented a very successful
plan to provide health care in the temporary reception centres that the Catholic
Centre for Immigrants was managing.
Our housing task force gave local organizations with a stake in housing the
platform to collaborate and consult.
So we act as a broker, a connector and an information hub to arm the
community and key partners. We host events, incubate projects and organize
training. The overall goal is to highlight gaps or challenges and get people
working together to see if we can fill those gaps.
Most of our funding comes from the Province of Ontario, supplemented by some
generous private donations. We don't receive any federal or municipal funding.
We have done all this with a staff of two and a dedicated army of volunteers.
We have a unique perspective, and we have seen the amazing community response
that we are all so proud of and of which several of the senators here today are
part, as sponsors or volunteers. But we've also seen the existing gaps in
settlement and integration open wider with every new planeload of arrivals, and
we have also seen new gaps appear. As a result, we believe our government needs
to invest heavily in specific areas to support the people working in the sector
and to support the volunteers who are working with them, as well.
First, I'm going to give you some numbers: 6,514 — as of this morning, that's
the number of residents of Ottawa who signed up to our mailing list, because
they care about this issue; 144 — that's the number of private sponsorship
groups we know of. We also know that we don't have them all on our list. And
that represents between 4,000 and 5,000 individuals here in Ottawa who've made
the commitment to support refugees. Ottawa Centre Refugee Action, which
sponsored the mother and daughter you met this morning, have well over 250
More numbers: $110 million — that's the amount of money sponsorship agreement
holders estimate has been raised by citizens of Canada to privately sponsor
refugees. More than $1.5 million of that is from here in Ottawa. That's a
powerful message of direct citizen-led investment in the future of this country.
Another number: 1,372 — that's the number of email inquiries that the Refugee
613 office received over a 90-day period at the height of the airlift. Several
hundred more came in by phone. That also doesn't include my own direct email
address where I fielded a lot of inquiries, but we weren't tracking those. These
were people who wanted to know: "Where do I donate? Where do I volunteer? How do
I partner? How do I help?" We helped them get answers.
Civil society stepped up in an overwhelming way, and I don't mean
overwhelming to just mean "big." I mean it was overwhelming for the
professionals in the sector. Settlement agencies were swamped. City hall was
swamped with the goodwill of Ottawa residents.
This brings me to my first learning: Settlement isn't just about settlement
agencies anymore. Canadians in huge numbers have bought into the notion that
they have a role to play in helping newcomers integrate. This is something that
many settlement agencies and sponsorship groups couldn't have dreamed of a year
ago or even last August, before the photo of Alan Kurdi galvanized so many
people. It was so hard for settlement agencies to get people to care about their
clients. It was so hard for them to get private sponsors to step up, and all of
a sudden they had far more than they could handle.
The problem is that they aren't funded to manage this goodwill. They aren't
funded to screen, train and support the community interest. If we don't do
something very quickly to give them and other grassroots agencies the ability to
do this outreach, we could end up squandering billions of dollars in private
resources, energy, time and talent.
This refugee resettlement exercise is not a sprint or a marathon. It's a
multi-year, generational-long, ultra-marathon in nation-building. I believe it
will be a positive impact for years to come if we invest in innovation and learn
from past mistakes.
That brings me to my second point. Years of cutbacks are coming home to
roost. As I've said, the settlement sector is not funded to do outreach with the
community. They have also had to deal with repeated budget cuts, and they
compete over scarce resources. This has reduced their ability to step up in a
moment of crisis, as they're already stepping up on a chronically underfunded
At Refugee 613, we and our partners outside of settlement have observed that
this sector that should be robust, that should be able to collaborate easily, is
instead struggling to meet existing demands, let alone the new load.
We have observed agencies that are so bound to what their federal masters ask
of them that they can't dream of stepping outside the funding parameters, even
when their expertise is desperately needed, even when we have calls. I have
people stopping me at meetings and saying, "I'm trying to help the settlement
agencies, and they don't want my help." The settlement agencies say, "I am
swamped with calls from the public." Who bridges that?
When the public consistently gets a hand, saying, "Leave it to us. We've got
it. We can't take your extra generosity," that's a negative message to send and
that could have implications down the road for many years.
It takes time and money to coordinate volunteers, to inform the community and
partner, and settlement agencies don't have that because they have to meet the
narrow framework imposed on them by their funders.
That brings me to my third point. Communication is a major challenge at so
many levels. We heard from our settlement partners that they were frustrated at
times with the communication from IRCC. They felt the communication was too
focused on the RAP agencies which manage the government-assisted refugees, and
other agencies, which will handle these refugees as well, were left out of the
These on-the-ground subject-matter experts have so much knowledge about the
needs and challenges that refugees will be facing, and they need to be part of
the solution. By the same token, a greater flow of information about the
government's plan on refugee resettlement would help other organizations plan
their responses and resource allocation more effectively.
That brings me to the fourth point. Coordination is sorely lacking. No one
funds people to connect with each other across sectors for rapid response to
integration challenges. The Ottawa Police Service, the Boys & Girls Clubs,
businesses, they show up at our task forces because they want to know what the
heck is going on, and no one else is telling them. They want to know how they
can work with each other to serve this new population.
Some of these groups are groups that settlement agencies and refugee
advocates have been trying to reach for years, but suddenly everyone is coming
to them. Are they going to be able to take advantage of all this interest and
The difficulties of coordinating across sectors, lack of resources to
facilitate this cross-sectoral communication, these are huge issues. Refugee 613
was formed because a group of us in Ottawa saw this need and felt that if we
didn't grab this opportunity, we would be very sad and it would be an
opportunity missed. I think part of the reason we did it here is because of the
example of Project 4000. We know what the community has done before when it has
Our cross-sector stakeholders came together and found new creative solutions
to the challenge, but it was not without its own challenges. Each organization
came with its own funding and reporting structure, its own culture, its own
understanding or lack of understanding of the refugee process. This showed us
that you need to nurture these relationships, and that doesn't happen on its
own. It doesn't happen for free.
I'll talk about sponsorship now. The current sponsorship system sorely needs
to be reimagined. Canada's innovation in government and private sponsorship is
something we are all so proud of, but as we've seen, Canadians want to do more,
and the current system won't facilitate that, and worse, it creates two classes
of refugees. I'm sure as you move forward you're going to talk to
government-assisted refugees, as well those privately sponsored.
The mother and daughter you met this morning, their experience is not
typical. They had the resources of several hundred members of Ottawa Centre
Refugee Action at their service.
Government-assisted refugees sometimes only have the services of one
extremely overworked caseworker at a settlement agency, and yet we have
volunteers in the community who want to help them, but the settlement agencies
don't have the capacity to manage those volunteers to help the
There's a lot of talk about and a lot of thinking going on about this
separate GAR and privately sponsored streams and how we can do this better as a
country. We are the innovators, so let's innovate the next iteration.
We invite policy-makers to explore ways to break down those silos between the
two streams. There's the potential to engage more private sponsorship groups in
the settlement of GARs. These two spheres are kept too separate, and we feel the
system needs to reflect that there's a shared interest and collaboration there.
Sadly, the bureaucracy around sponsorship is choking this goodwill from
sponsors. Sponsors are thrilled with all the changes that happened as a result
of the airlift. Everything was expedited, and certain expectations were created.
And now? Well, what's the opposite of "thrilled," when you take a whole bunch of
mobilized people and tell them that they aren't going to be able to sponsor a
refugee in the next year? As you all know, you've got trouble on your hands.
I was talking to a sponsorship agreement holder who gave me the estimate of
about $100 million pledged by Canadians for private sponsorships, and the main
reason that they won't be processed any time soon is lack of capacity at IRCC.
And yet, private citizens are investing most of the money in private
sponsorship. So I wonder if there's a way to do the math a little better there.
I'll give you a direct quote: "Our sponsors are pissed off and disillusioned
if they don't get someone to sponsor. The relatives of Syrian Canadians will
especially be heartbroken if they don't get to sponsor."
There are huge funding gaps. We have seen all of these, and a crisis
highlights the worst of them. For example, the importance of child care for
language classes for mothers. Imagine if the refugees you met this morning, the
daughters had been two and five instead of adults, as they are. The mother would
need a language class with child care attached.
Am I taking too long?
The Chair: Just another minute or so would be good. We can get into
lots of questions, Louisa.
Ms. Taylor: There's not nearly enough child care for language classes,
and this is going to leave women behind more than anyone else.
We need to pay attention to low-language, low-skilled workers. They are at
risk of delayed integration because a lot of our settlement services are geared
to highly educated international professionals. This cohort has a much higher
level of low skill level and low language.
Mental health support needs to be addressed by every level of government. In
Refugee 613's experience, integration and coordination is not a frill. Investing
and educating Canadians about refugees, about integration and about the benefits
of immigration will pay off for our nation-building exercise in a huge way, and
it will leverage the professional skills of the settlement sector.
I know I just gave you a laundry list of complaints, but I hope you also see
it as a laundry list of places that we can do better and that there are
opportunities. The single most important message I would leave you with is that
there are rich resources in the community in terms of time and talent. More
strategic investment by different levels of government in developing those
resources and leveraging them in cooperation with the sponsorship and settlement
sector will make a huge difference to long-term integration.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Louisa Taylor, from Refugee 613 here
Gerry Mills, we finally connected with you. I'm sure you heard Ms. Taylor's
testimony. Ms. Mills is Director, Operations, Immigrant Services Association of
Nova Scotia. She's here via video conference. Welcome. I understand you have an
opening statement. We have lots of questions. Thanks for being with us.
GerryMills, Director, Operations, Immigrant Services Association
of Nova Scotia: We are the largest immigration settlement agency in the
Atlantic region and the only RAP provider in the province. We have been
welcoming refugees to Nova Scotia for over 36 years. Thank you for the
opportunity to appear before the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights to
talk about the Halifax experience and how we're facilitating the integration of
newly arrived Syrians.
I'd like to give you a brief overlook of the successes and challenges of our
last few months. We applaud the Government of Canada for deciding to bring in
this large group of Syrian refugees. It was a remarkable achievement for all of
us. It wasn't without its challenges, but, as many have said before, it was the
right thing to do.
In Halifax, we welcomed just under 700 government-assisted and around 300
privately sponsored within two and a half months.
All GARs were destined to Halifax and the PSRs were split around 50/50 in
Halifax and around the province. To put this in perspective, we welcomed 185
GARs in 12 months and 19 PSRs last year.
For us at ISANS it started in September with those awful photographs of Alan
Kurdi. Like elsewhere in the country, the outpouring of support was astonishing.
ISANS is also a sponsorship agreement holder. In the following few months from
then, we delivered countless workshops on how to sponsor refugees. We also
invited all the Syrians in our community to a meeting.
Back in September, we documented those Syrians who wanted to bring family and
friends. To date, we have around 130 groups formed in Nova Scotia, and around 95
of these 130 are sponsoring families who already have a family member or a
friend in the province.
With the change of government and the announcement of 25,000 Syrian refugees,
the Nova Scotia government stood up and said we will take 1,500. Halifax City
Council approved a staff report with recommendations to provide things like free
transit passes, and in Nova Scotia we formed a command team of the Emergency
Management Office, Nova Scotia Office of Immigration and ISANS to lead a team
from government departments and community organizations.
At ISANS, our phones started ringing off the hook — just as the previous
speaker talked about — and we started ramping up. We hired new staff and we
tried to keep up with the calls. We went shopping; we went to meetings. We
pulled in partners and met with landlords. We went from one media interview to
another, doing over 400 in those few short months. We also increased our work,
preparing communities and developing resources and materials and building their
We directed all offers of support to 211, our local information and referral
resource for Community and Social Service. They logged 2,800 calls over seven
weeks. We opened a donation site, and within four weeks we had to close the
donation site to donations because we had tens of thousands of items. Through
the 211 site, 925 Nova Scotians offered to volunteer. In the end, we had 559
ISANs volunteers who eventually were involved in that couple of months. Some
worked 7 to 8 hours a day. They sorted clothes and mugs, bicycles and blankets.
They served food, interpreted, rocked babies and played with the children.
In the last six months, like elsewhere across the country, we've also
received remarkable gifts from corporate Canada — from banks, stores and
individuals, including the donation to support housing supplements from CN.
When our first refugees arrived on December 29, we were ready. We had
temporary accommodation arranged at hotels, with special rooms for babies,
toddlers, children and adults.
On a continual basis, the physicians of the Refugee Health Clinic saw each of
our 692 government-assisted refugees. About 18 physicians on a rotating basis
completed those health assessments, made referrals and set refugees on the path
to accessible health care. By the first week in March, we had everybody in
permanent accommodation and all the children were registered, with setting up
language assessments and getting people into language training.
That sounds great, but there were significant challenges and there are going
to be significant challenges as we move on.
First of all, there are huge expectations of the sector and of its settlement
agencies for information, communication and coordination. In a province like
Nova Scotia, the word "refugee" hasn't been talked about unless ISANS was at the
table for the last 30 years. Then we have an issue where everybody is looking
towards the settlement agencies for every piece of information.
The profile of the GAR adults, with limited education and very little
English, was not what we first anticipated. We currently have long waiting lists
for Nova Scotia at least. We have about 200 people on the waiting list. In the
sector we talk about "month 13" a lot, because month 13 is when federal
assistance stops and some of these agreements we've made with landlords stop.
We're very concerned about month 13.
We have 136 under-5s. For the most part, those are children that are not in
daycare. We don't have enough childcare attached to language training programs.
We have 39 babies, which means under the age of 18 months. All those children,
unless we get them into some sort of childcare, are going to be another lost
group and they will have very little English by the time they go to school.
We have 296 school-aged children. Most have not been in school for three to
four years. The Halifax Regional School Board is doing a remarkable job, but I'm
sure their resources are being stretched.
Finding permanent accommodation was not easy and it's still not easy. Yes, we
had everybody in permanent accommodation. But we had 19 families of 8 people or
more. Housing, certainly rental housing across the country, is not built for
such large families. In some cases we knocked walls down between two smaller
apartments to make appropriate housing. This, of course, caused extra challenges
financially for families. With shelter allowance of 620 for a family of three or
more, this was a real difficulty for families.
The delay of two or three months for the Child Tax Benefit created additional
challenges, as all families — every one of them — have to use this to supplement
their shelter allowance and for food for the children.
In terms of health, Halifax probably accepted more high-needs GAR families
than other locations in the Atlantic because of the hospitals here. That creates
additional burdens on the settlement agency because people often have extra
challenges around housing, transportation, equipment, personal needs,
communication and interpretation.
There's been discussion about the mental health needs of the refugees.
Although we've just completed a three-year project developing a model to provide
equitable and culturally competent mental health services to immigrants and
refugees, we've not yet secured funding to implement. And the information that
we're getting from IRCC right now about what they will fund with the Syrian
supplemental funding is nothing new. Mental health is something new and so we're
struggling to provide some of these really needed programs.
With regard to PSRs, when families started coming really quickly in January
and February, sponsoring groups were so thrilled they started to gear up but
since then, with the notice of delay times, there's a lot of disappointment, a
lot of anger around these delays and around lack of timely information.
I absolutely agree, this split between GARs and between PSRs, these two
groups are melding in some cases. For instance, we're getting a lot of calls
from groups saying, "Okay, we can't get a family to arrive right now, so can we
just take one of your GAR families and bring them 200 kilometres away?" Some of
these lines are being blurred.
We also have the echo effect, with the refugees who came already wanting to
bring their family members and how to direct them with the spots for Syrians.
ISANS as a SAR, for instance, has 39 Syrian spots, which means 39 Syrians we
can sponsor within Nova Scotia this SAR this year. We are the largest SAR in
Nova Scotia; the other one would be the Catholic Archdiocese and they have 38
spots. That doesn't even begin. That's like a handful of families. For our 39
spots, we have a wait list of 392 Syrians who want to be sponsored. So we
applaud the minister's announcement that the federal government will be bringing
in 17,000 PSRs this year, but we're really concerned about the future.
Canadians want to do more but in this current system they're unable to do it.
And in terms of the community response, six months ago, as I said, the only
group talking about refugees in Nova Scotia was ISANS. Now all has changed and
while the community response has brought awareness, support and opportunities,
it has also brought misinformation and many unrealistic expectations and
Last but certainly not least, we have with this movement set up a two-tier
refugee settlement; Syrians who arrived before February 29 who benefited from
donations, waiving of transportation loans, huge community support and interest,
and those who arrived either prior to this movement, those after, and especially
those not from Syria. This is creating huge challenges for us and many in the
community and pitting Syrians against mostly Africans.
Thank you for listening this afternoon.
The Chair: Thank you very much. What you've said is extremely
important for us. We have about 35 minutes to ask questions, both of you and of
Louisa Taylor here in Ottawa.
Senator Ataullahjan: I'm just so overwhelmed with everything that I've
heard, and I really don't know where to start with my questions.
Ms. Taylor, you said that the government needs to invest in specific areas.
If there was the one thing that you could see them invest in right away, what
would that be? What would make it easier?
The huge challenges you are facing, yet the stories that are coming out,
we're hearing of refugees who have had to go to food banks, are they not getting
enough financial support? We're also hearing a lot of the refugees who have come
are not from refugee camps. These were already in countries where we operate.
I'm just trying to get a sense of what's happening. I know it was a big issue
but I'm just so overwhelmed with what I've just heard and I can imagine how you
Ms. Taylor: Yes. I have to say that I come from this not as someone
steeped in settlement. I come at this as someone who covered it as a journalist,
has been a volunteer in the sector for a long time and I care, and I've had a
baptism of fire over the last eight months being part of Refugee 613. So
sometimes I think there may be some naiveté in my policy suggestions, but if I
could wave a magic wand to make a number of problems go away, I think the number
one would be, yes, the financial support to refugees is not enough; it's social
welfare rates and we know the problems with social welfare rates. So, yes, they
are putting increasing demand on the food banks and other services. And they
can't afford good quality housing.
It's really interesting how the refugee airlift is shining a light on all the
places where our social fabric is frayed — where our social net is fraying. And
that's another reason for thinking that we can learn so much from this beyond
simply refugee resettlement — where are the places that low income Canadians are
struggling — because we've now created a lot more low income Canadians.
Having said that, there are some very specific changes that could be made,
for instance, investing in child care is absolutely critical. We see it right
now. OCRA has some other sponsored families —
The Chair: OCRA is what?
Ms. Taylor: Ottawa Centre Refugee Action. It's the largest sponsorship
group in the city. As the family we heard from said, they're highly organized,
they have multiple committees and multiple family groups.
What's interesting is civil society is just waking up to what settlement has
known all along. We hear from volunteers with OCRA who have never dealt with
refugees before saying, "I can't get the mother of the family into a language
class because there are no more spots with child care." Yet there are spaces
available in language classes that don't have child care. So women will be left
behind. This is not new. This has been a problem. And we have a chance to do
something about it.
Settlement has been saying a lot of these things for a long time and the gaps
are not rocket science and we can make a lot of changes. But what I will find
interesting is how we make the most of the community goodwill, which, as Gerry
Mills has said, can pose a big problem but it could also be part of the
solution. But that will require investment to leverage that resource.
Ms. Mills: It's not Syrian refugees who go to the food bank; it's all
refugees that go to the food banks. The reality is that they are on social
assistance and it's not enough to live.
When a family of three or more, or a family of eight, will get a shelter
allowance of $620; a family of 12 will get a shelter allowance of $620. It's not
enough. You can't get a place for one person anywhere in this country that's
appropriate for $620. So people have to use other ways to be able to survive.
Food banks are one of the places that we as a settlement agency take people.
There was a lot of media coverage around the Syrian refugees in food banks, but
all refugees use food banks.
In terms of investment, I am from a settlement agency so it's hard for me to
say you need to invest more in settlement. There's a lot of money in settlement
right now, and we probably need a bigger discussion about where the best bang
for your buck is, honestly.
Right now we're in a bit of a crisis situation. We don't have time to even
have those discussions. We have those wait lists now, those under-5s now not
getting prepared for school. So there needs to be an investment really quickly
to be able to respond.
I absolutely agree that we need to find a way to leverage the goodwill of the
community. Right now, who is doing that leveraging work? It is agencies like the
former speaker is from and it's agencies like ours and we don't have the
capacity to do that. But I think there is a way to be able to maximize that.
The Chair: Thank you.
Senator Ngo: I have questions for both of you here.
What role do you think the Syrian-Canadian community plays with the
resettlement program or with your sponsorship group? What do you think they can
do in order to help?
Ms. Mills: I think they are already playing a role. We had around 4 or
500 Syrians arrive when we called that meeting back in September, so they are
literally forming groups. They are helping to form groups to actually do private
sponsorship of refugees. They're also working with us to be able to employ,
where they're in a position to be able to employ, Syrians.
They are majorly invested in the whole volunteer role to be able to support
Syrians. There are a lot of roles that — certainly in our community — they are
Ms. Taylor: I would agree with all of that. I would say that, in
Ottawa, we were not as good at reaching out to the Syrian community and bringing
them into the resettlement efforts. It was very slow. I think that's something
we could have done better.
What we have noticed is a lot of Syrians who are in Ottawa have no experience
with the refugee journey. A lot of the other Arab communities who would like to
support them, the Muslim communities who would support them, don't have
experience with the refugee journey. So there's a learning piece to be done
They don't know the first thing about the settlement services that are
available, the eligibilities, et cetera. We're working on community outreach to
get them that information so that they can be more powerful advocates for them.
But they are all sponsoring. They're volunteering. They're donating. They're
doing a lot.
Senator Omidvar: I have a question for both of you or one of you. It's
to do with the two different foundations of the refugee program from overseas.
That's the private-sponsored and government-assisted refugees.
The results of the two programs are hugely variable, which leads us all to
conclude that refugees who are attached to private sponsors do better every
time. It's not only the financial support; it's the social capital that private
sponsors bring. So we have this unique situation where we have, for the first
time in many years, an oversupply of private sponsors and not enough privately
sponsored refugees. It makes perfect sense that private sponsors walk over and
work with government-assisted refugees, and yet there is resistance. It's not
just money; it's turf. Settlement agencies who think of themselves as the
professionals in settlement — and they are — have some resistance. Refugee
advocates are concerned about losing the principle of additionality on which the
private sponsorship program was founded, which means that the government will do
its bit, and then private sponsors will add on top. So there is a concern that,
by allowing private sponsors to become involved with government-assisted
refugees, one would let the government off the hook.
I wonder if you have a perspective on this because this puzzles me greatly
because it's such a strong and such a unique foundation. Canada is the only
country in the world that has private sponsors, and we do so well. Could you see
a way of helping private sponsors walk across, without compromising the
professionalism of settlement workers or, in fact, the principle of
Ms. Taylor: That's an excellent question. Yes, I can see a new model.
I see it sort of starting on the fly even now. The Catholic Centre for
Immigrants in Ottawa is trying to reinvigorate circles of care. They are
connecting volunteers — and some of them are sponsors whose families haven't
arrived yet — to support the highest needs refugees, highest needs GARs. I think
that can only be a good thing.
They have the settlement expertise attached in a case worker, but the case
worker can't be expected to do it all with this volume, nor should they. Why
would you turn down a chance to have people rooted in the community to support a
new arrival? One of the other hats I wear is as co-chair of Welcoming Ottawa
Week. One of the big messages there is that we all have a role to play in
It should not just be the job of settlement agencies. People say that all
immigrants, but especially refugees, need a job, a place to live and a friend.
The friend part is so crucial. If you have the job and the place to live but
aren't being pulled into the local culture, it's very isolating; it's very
alienating. So I think that there are some new models, and I think that we
should definitely pursue them. I'm not someone who gets overly concerned about
the additionality argument, especially right now, when I feel that our
government has gone so far above and beyond what has been done in the past. It
doesn't mean that we take the foot off the gas but that we do it smarter and
Ms. Mills: It's happened as well in Nova Scotia. We had one family
taken, as I said, 150 kilometres away by a group whose family hasn't arrived
yet. We've just had that one, but some of the challenges that happen are that
the profile — and we all know this — of the PSRs in this group right now, for
the Syrians, is very different from the GARs. Certainly, in the ones we're
seeing, it's really different. The size of the families, the education, the
language, the skills are very different.
Already, because they are 150 kilometres away, fewer settlement services,
language training; it's already becoming an issue. We're trying to work through
that because, on one level, it just makes sense. The family has not arrived that
you're expecting. You might have to wait another year. They have resources. They
have apartments, and they want to help.
Using the volunteers, using community groups who are formed and don't have
the family yet and using them as volunteers with GARs makes absolute sense.
I agree that we have to kind of start small because we need to break down
some of the walls. Some of those walls need to come down so that we can have the
conversation, an open conversation. What is it that the settlement agencies, the
settlement sector, has fears about? What of the PSRs, the government? Just to
have an open conversation. Is there any middle ground here that would work for
us? Because it seems to me that we have everything in place. We have a
government willing to support refugees. We have a community willing to support
refugees, and we have a professional sector that can help. Then, we have the
refugees in the middle. Don't let's fight over refugees. Let's do the best for
refugees. I think there is a place, but I think the conversation needs to begin.
Senator Martin: Thank you for giving us a bit of a reality check,
actually a very clear reality check. I'm building on what I am hearing from you
— doing it smarter, starting small, whether it's the conversation or moving
towards just greater integration of the parts. Maybe taking the foot off the
brake, to some extent, to allow the capacity building to take place because it
does take time. It does seem like all of you are saying it's not for a lack of
will or desire or passion on the part of Canadians to do what we do so well, but
everything just takes time.
For example, for my husband, who works with at-risk youth, for one student,
it takes about eight agencies-plus to wrap around and try to come up with an
individualized educational program for that one child.
We heard from a church that was here when we did a North Korean refugee
study, a church of about 3 to 4,000 people. They are sponsoring a family
because, together, they want to make sure that there's long-term success.
It takes great resources for a family or a person, and, looking at all of the
challenges and complexities of even one person from a war-torn conflict zone,
I'm wondering about this reality check and the expectations that everybody has
when the heart is there but when we're met with the reality. I think you've
already given us many of those reality checks.
In order for all of these wonderful agencies to build capacity, and for our
society as a whole to continue to build partnerships that we can really wrap
around and ensure that refugees have greater success in Canada, should there be
a little bit of a slowing down? Am I misreading things when I say intake is to
simply build capacity and do it well? Is that something that both of your
agencies have experienced or concluded? To really do this well, do we need to
consider the numbers as well as the time that it will take?
The Chair: Let's get Gerry Mills, in Halifax, on this one first. Ms.
Ms. Mills: I think what we're really struggling with in Nova Scotia —
as well as across the country — is that we have 130 well-meaning community
groups to support the refugees, but who is supporting those groups?
There's no coordination. Some of the biggest questions that we, in Nova
Scotia, wanted answered were: How many privately sponsored refugees have come
in? How many are coming? How many groups have formed? Where are they? If they
went through a sponsorship agreement holder, we tried to find out. Nova Scotia's
a small community with only seven SARs, so we were able to get most of them. But
if they did a group sponsorship of five, we didn't know. We didn't know where
the refugees were.
In places where there are many more sponsorship agreement holders, there are
groups out there but nobody knows how many. It was a joke in Nova Scotia. We
knew exactly how many government-assisted refugees were coming in, but we're
still saying "around 300" privately sponsored refugees have come. We still don't
The groups constantly call the settlement agencies for support and
coordination, and with questions like, "What do I do with this?" and, "What
happens with this?" They need training and a network, so we're trying to do the
best we can but we have incredibly limited resources for doing that.
From a Nova Scotia perspective, I don't think we need to slow down. I think
we're okay; I think we're handling the situation. More timely information and
communication from IRCC would be helpful. We got an email at the end of last
week saying that in order to get the numbers in, people are going to be arriving
after 10 pm and on weekends. That's just one small email — one small piece of
information — but what it means for RAP provider is, "Whoa, we have to rethink
this thing," especially during the summer.
We're ready to do that. I don't think we need to slow down, but we need more
information and communication, and I really think we need more support for those
community groups out there, because they are just floating out there by
Senator Martin: I just have one question, not to the witnesses per se,
but maybe to the committee. Are we hearing from the schools, like principals and
counsellors that are dealing with some of the refugees?
The Chair: I think we will when we get to Toronto and Montreal. That's
absolutely a great recommendation to have because they're major players. We
heard it before from the other refugees: education, education, education.
Senator Martin: Perhaps Ms. Taylor could tell us who should be doing
the coordination. I understand in a hospital situation, when you're dealing with
all the specialists, there is sometimes a social worker who helps the family
navigate their way through. I'm speaking from experience that, until you figure
that out, you either need to advocate for yourself, or somebody has to
coordinate that for you. Obviously, it's not for a lack of potential manpower
and resources, but it's that there are a lot of pieces here. Who is best
positioned to coordinate?
Ms. Taylor: I'll start with your question about whether we should take
our foot off the gas. I don't think we need to; we just need to be a little
There are some key changes we could make right now that would make the
integration easier for the people who are already here, and those involve
language, child care, programming for youth and mental health. There are small
things that we could do right now that would make a massive difference.
Communication is huge as well.
To talk to Gerry Mills's point about who is supporting sponsorship, that was
one of the things I dropped because I was running out of time. We experienced
the same thing, so we created a registry of private sponsorship groups in Ottawa
and invited them to join this database so we can communicate with them and
figure out who is there. That's how we know we have at least 144 groups. We also
know there are groups out there that are not connecting with us or with services
because we meet them every now and then in certain areas. They are often
family-linked sponsorship groups, and they are the least engaged with services
and the most at risk, and that troubles us.
I can't reinforce Gerry Mills's point enough that private sponsorship groups
need a way to come together. It used to be all manageable. There would be, you
know, 10 groups under the Anglican Archdiocese in Ottawa and now there are 65.
That organization can't possibly support them all, so they're asking us for ways
to communicate with and learn from each other. And we're moving into that only
because no one else is doing it. I don't know that it's our role, but settlement
doesn't have the time or the funding — no one has the time or the funding — and
they need that support.
Who should coordinate? Well, I think it depends on which level of
coordination you're talking about. If you're talking about the actual case of a
GAR family, I think settlement needs to coordinate that with volunteers and
other people in civil society. If you're talking about the overall effort in a
community, we started out saying that we were going to coordinate because we had
all these people asking us to, but we never had anything more than moral
authority. And very quickly we changed from coordinating to connecting and
convening, because a lot of people didn't want to be coordinated.
I listened to Ms. Mills talking about Nova Scotia and how they had a command
centre. I'm going to be getting in touch with her to learn more about her model,
because I think that's fantastic. We went as far as we could on goodwill,
necessity and people wanting to come together to know what was going on.
I don't have the answer to the question of who should coordinate at that
level, but I know that it has to be an official function. It has to be something
that is put into place, almost like emergency response planning.
The Chair: I'll leave the last question to Senator Cordy, and while
she's asking it, we'd appreciate it if you could think of a clear recommendation
or recommendations you could leave with our committee so we can impress upon
government the views on the ground.
Senator Cordy: Thank you very much, chair. Thank you to both of you.
This has been extremely helpful in determining what recommendations that we
should make, like child care, mental health and communications, just to name a
few of the things that you listed.
Since I'm from Nova Scotia, I'd like to thank you, Gerry, for the work that
ISANS has done, because you really have stepped forward and done a great job in
getting groups together and with limited resources.
My daughter is head of one of the groups that originally was going to look
after a government-sponsored refugee, but when those numbers dried up, it was
recommended by somebody from your office that they look at a private refugee,
which they have. They have the name of the family, but they're not quite sure
when they are coming; it may not be until 2017. Luckily, my daughter's pretty
energetic and ambitious, so she has actually sort of taken under her wing
members of this new family that they're getting who are now living in Halifax,
visiting them and taking them places. It's pretty good because she will have a
good knowledge of the family and their needs when she welcomes the family that
will eventually come. That's a frustration, I think, for all of the groups that
have already done their fundraising and who are so energized.
How do we maintain that energy level with the groups out there that have
raised the amount of money they need, who have other families, who know which
family they are getting but are waiting for months on end? As I said, my
daughter and her group have sort of adopted the families who are here and are
working with them.
How do we keep them interested? Somebody said earlier that the groups are
sort of floating as they've done all the initial work. How do we keep them
engaged in the process?
The Chair: Ms. Mills, perhaps at the same time you could give us the
recommendations; I would appreciate that.
Ms. Mills: Thank you for those comments. I'm glad your daughter's
having a positive experience around this whole situation.
My recommendation is that timely communications need to be improved. There's
not disappointment out there but there's starting to be anger because people are
frustrated with what's happening, especially with the privately sponsored
refugees. There needs to be some coordination for the PSRs — I would say
probably at a provincial or a city level in some situations.
There needs to be investment quickly in language training, child care and
mental health. And I don't want to forget the youth. I talked about the little
ones, under five years old, but we should not forget the youth. We need to catch
those youth, the ones who are 18, 19 and 20 years old. We have 21-year-olds with
two kids, and they're in high school. They had been out of school for three
years. It's just not the right place for them. We have to invest in this. I know
education is also a provincial matter, but we need to invest in different
groups. I'll leave it there.
The Chair: Thank you. Ms. Taylor?
Ms. Taylor: I would agree with everything Ms. Mills said, plus I
really don't want you to leave here with the impression that this is a disaster
or that everything is going wrong.
This has been a tremendously powerful moment for our community and other
communities. People are learning so much. Lives are being changed and I don't
just mean the lives of the new arrivals. Canada needs these people. They are the
citizens of the future. If we invest in them, in their future and in our
communities, we will all be better for it.
I know that we've done a pretty good job of maybe scaring you all and
highlighting all the places where we see problems. Every day I struggle with
that. And when I go to sleep at night, I think only about all the things that
haven't gotten done, and it's been eight months of that. I rarely stop and think
about the things that have been achieved and the amazing stories, like Senator
Munson and Senator Omidvar have, of what has been achieved person-to-person, the
sponsorship groups in the community and volunteering. I hope that as you go
forward in the meetings you will hear anecdotes that will move you of lives that
have been changed and moments that are truly Canadian and wonderful.
To address your question, Senator Cordy, about how to maintain the energy
level, the best way is to rethink all the caps that the IRCC has on sponsorship
right now. One suggestion that is a bit controversial is to say, okay, we're
bringing in — and Senator Omidvar might have the numbers off the top of her head
— the GARs that we said we would bring in by the end of the year. Why don't we
make them privately sponsored refugees until we have maxed out that capacity,
and then bring in GARs after that to reach the government's target? There are
lots of ways to maintain energy and goodwill that in large part was sparked by
this airlift and what came before it. It's almost like we've created too much
I would say that there are very simple, urgent fixes to be made, like child
care and programming for youth, as Ms. Mills mentioned. I've been talking to
settlement workers who have youth programming that they can afford to do for
only two weeks. Why? Because they don't have enough money for the bus passes for
the youth for more than two weeks. They have the professionals who can do the
programming and the volunteer support and the venues, but they can't pay for the
bus passes and the pizza.
Senator Cordy: That's where Halifax actually gave free bus passes,
which was super.
Ms. Taylor: I know. We tried here.
I think it's important to remember that it sounds pie-in-the-sky or dare I
say, sunny ways, but this is about building our communities. The new arrivals
will be tremendous assets to us if we do right by them now when they need us
The Chair: We want to thank you both. I guess the time has moved on
from patting ourselves on the back to taking real action. The clerk, who always
remains anonymous beside me, wrote down something a moment ago: "What a start
for our hearing."
This has been an incredible two hours of learning. You have laid the
groundwork and the framework for us to move forward. We will have Minister
McCallum here, and he will be in that seat. We may not be as kind, but we're
Canadians and we're always decent about things, because we have to say that
although we've come this far, we have so much farther to go.
To get the perspective from Nova Scotia, Atlantic Canada, has been extremely
important for us as well. We thank you both.