Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Official Languages

Issue 20 - Evidence - Meeting of June 3, 2013


OTTAWA, Monday, June 3, 2013

The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages met this day at 4 p.m. to continue studying the impacts of recent changes to the immigration system on official language minority communities.

Senator Maria Chaput (Chair) in the chair.

[Translation]

The Chair: Welcome to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages. I am Senator Maria Chaput, from Manitoba, and I am the committee chair.

Before I introduce our witness today, I would ask the members of the committee to introduce themselves, starting with the deputy chair, who is to my left.

Senator Champagne: Good afternoon. I am Senator Andrée Champagne, from Quebec.

Senator Mockler: Good afternoon. Senator Percy Mockler, from New Brunswick.

Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Hello. Senator Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis, from Quebec.

Senator McIntyre: Hello, I am Senator Paul McIntyre, from New Brunswick.

Senator Tardif: Good afternoon. Senator Claudette Tardif, from Alberta.

The Chair: Joining us today is Émilie-Françoise Crakondji, Executive Director of Carrefour des Femmes du Sud- Ouest de l'Ontario, a non-profit organization helping francophone women in London, Ontario. Ms. Crakondji is originally from the Central African Republic and has been living in Canada for 17 years, 9 of them in London. She has been the organization's executive director since October 2006. Immigrant women make up a significant portion of the clients served by Carrefour des Femmes du Sud-Ouest de l'Ontario. In light of that, Ms. Crakondji wished to appear before the committee in order to share her experiences and her organization's views in connection with the committee's study on the impacts of recent changes to the immigration system on official language minority communities.

On behalf of the committee members, I would like to welcome you to our committee. You were asked to prepare a presentation of no more than seven minutes; after you have made your statement, the senators will ask you questions. Please go ahead.

Émilie-Françoise Crakondji, Executive Director, Carrefour des Femmes du Sud-Ouest de l'Ontario: Honourable senators, I want to begin by thanking you for giving me this opportunity to appear before the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages today to discuss the impacts of the recent changes to Canada's immigration system on official language minority communities.

Carrefour des Femmes du Sud-Ouest de l'Ontario provides direct support in the form of counselling, supportive care and attention, practical assistance, public awareness education, representation, advocacy, information, guidance, referrals and so on to francophone women who are victims of violence of all kinds, including sexual assault.

To make up for the lack of French-language services available to women in the region, we have developed collaboration agreements with 43 anglophone community agencies in order to provide assistance to women living in small municipalities. To ensure the continued viability of these vital services, we applied to have Carrefour des Femmes designated under the Ontario French Language Services Act. The certificate of designation was presented to the centre in person by Minister Madeleine Meilleur, who travelled to London to attend the ceremony.

Whenever the subjects of violence against women and sexual assault come up, people generally prefer to avoid them because they are considered taboo. Within the community at large, and especially among immigrant groups, many women elect, often against their will — or in some cases with no choice at all — to remain in situations where they are exposed to violence or sexual assault. It can be extremely difficult for women to break the silence and dare to speak out because of the many consequences that would arise. Although most of our clients are immigrant women, the centre provides support to all women regardless of race, culture, religion or sexual orientation.

In response to the various needs that have been identified over the years, we have developed several complementary programs aimed at providing a continuum of services to women. In 2008, the Café-Causette program was born. You can read about the program in my statement, which you have a copy of.

As for the matter at hand, here today, the bulk of my remarks will focus on the aspects of the immigration reforms that have a direct impact on French-speaking women immigrants in southwestern Ontario who are in an official language minority situation.

Based on my professional experience working directly with women over the past seven years, I am very concerned by certain aspects of the existing system. They have the effect of revictimizing these women and exposing them to increased risks of violence. Of course, such negative impacts are difficult for any of the affected individuals to live through. They are worse, however, for francophone immigrant women in a region where the language barrier already constitutes a major obstacle when it comes to accessing the services to which they are entitled.

Since the time allotted to me for my presentation is limited, the question period will certainly be my opportunity to elaborate a bit more on the subject. I will therefore discuss some amendments that should be considered.

I would recommend the following changes: the restoration of health services coverage for refugees; the elimination of all exclusions imposed on asylum seekers; the elimination of section 72 of Bill C-31 and its related subsections; the elimination of section 13(3) of Bill C-31; a review of the allocation of funds and the components of the host program and the settlement program in order to better adapt them to francophone realities; a review of some of the implementation criteria for those programs in terms of service delivery specifically for women, taking into account the notion of "by and for" francophone women, as well as funding for more direct services from front-line agencies; and the development and implementation, within agencies, of awareness programs based on the concept of "cultural competency."

That summarizes the changes that our centre would like to see made to the immigration measures in question. We should not lose sight of the fact that an immigrant or refugee had a life before arriving in Canada. That means that these individuals come here with a certain amount of baggage, intellectual, cultural, material and so on.

Immigration is said to be one of the preferred solutions for ensuring the survival of francophone minority communities. If that is true, it is entirely logical to think that the success of integrating francophone immigrant women also depends on how and at what stage in our immigration process we take into account this personal baggage, however minimal it may be.

Conscious of the Government of Canada's desire to improve the immigration system in order to make it fairer and more equitable for everyone, I am pleased to be dutifully participating in this collective process of reflection. I have no doubt this process will truly make it possible to effect the necessary adjustments, without which, the objectives in question would be compromised.

Honourable senators, allow me to say most humbly that I am speaking here today on behalf of those who have no voice and who are often forgotten or marginalized. I am speaking for the francophone immigrant women in southwestern Ontario, who are already feeling the impacts of the recent changes to the immigration system on a daily basis and who are likely to be even more affected by those changes.

In closing, I hope my remarks will serve to inform, to some degree, the work of the committee. Now, I am entirely at your disposal to answer questions. Thank you again.

The Chair: Thank you kindly, Ms. Crakondji. Senator Fortin-Duplessis will start us off with the first question.

Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Thank you, Madam Chair. Welcome to our committee, Ms. Crakondji. From what I can see, you have done a tremendous job helping women who have been victims of violence. The federal government created the Strategic Plan to Foster Immigration to Francophone Minority Communities. One of the pillars of the strategy is to ensure the integration, retention and settlement of French-speaking immigrants to francophone minority communities.

Do you know what the biggest challenges are when it comes to the integration of French-speaking immigrant women in minority situations?

Ms. Crakondji: From my experience in the community, I would say the biggest challenge remains the language barrier. I realize that programs, language classes, English as a second language classes, are widely available, but most of the immigrant women we see do not have a sufficient level of education to take the classes. Many of them did not attend school for very long in their native countries, and upon arriving in Canada, they are required to take those classes to be able to communicate. One challenge they often face, for instance, is being in the same class as their son or daughter. When the instructor hands back the homework, they give their feedback in front of the entire class, and that has an effect on these women.

Level of education, then, is a central issue. I am speaking specifically about the women we see, because there are certainly francophone immigrant women who are highly educated upon arriving here. The women we see, however, are the ones who are having trouble integrating, whether in an educational setting or the workforce. The big challenge revolves around language, access to employment.

Accents can also pose a problem. A woman may have the skills required for a certain job, but when she applies for the position, considerations related to language distinction and communication come into play. If she cannot speak English fluently, that can hinder her ability to get a job. These women often end up having to rely on social assistance or their husbands.

Statistics Canada research shows that, in our region especially, most immigrant women come here through sponsorship; their husband brings them over. Not working or not being able to find a good job puts them in a vulnerable situation.

Senator Fortin-Duplessis: How many of the women are educated?

Ms. Crakondji: The women we work with are usually uneducated or completely illiterate.

Senator Fortin-Duplessis: That is a major problem. I have one last question. Do you feel the current programs do enough to take those challenges into account? What recommendations would you make to the committee? Would it be what we see on the second page of your statement?

Ms. Crakondji: Yes. I think the program the government established to facilitate the reception and integration of immigrants falls under what is called the modern approach; it is what happens on the front line. Citizenship and Immigration Canada's service provider organizations — one of which we were until a few months ago — provide services to these women, but their specific needs are not usually taken into account. In fact, I would say the programs were not implemented or developed in view of gender. Everyone is talking about it now; the same service is being offered to men and women. We know, however, that immigrant women face different challenges than immigrant men do.

The statistics also show that 97 per cent of immigrant men find a job, as opposed to 57 per cent of immigrant women. That difference is clear.

I think it is possible to review the settlement programs that currently exist. I will give you a specific example. We have a program by the name of Café-Causette, which was funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada for four years. One of the program requirements that had to be met, because Citizenship and Immigration Canada provided the funding, had to do with the transportation a woman used to attend an activity of ours. For example, if she did not have a car and had to take the bus, in order to prove she had taken the bus, she would have to give us her transfer so we could then provide her with a ticket. When some women come for an activity, the bus ride usually takes an hour or an hour and fifteen minutes, the activity is two hours long and they do not think to take the transfer. They arrive and do not provide the transfer, so we do not give them a ticket. That is often an insult to these women, who may have had a car or job in their native country but left everything behind to come here. They feel as though they are being treated like thieves. They are told that, if they do not provide proof that they indeed took the bus, they will not be reimbursed for their bus fare. Under the program, however, we are required to justify every single cent we spend in order to access the funding. That is a very restrictive condition for these women, and some do not return, simply because they see it as insulting.

We know how important this settlement program is for them, because they learn what Canadian culture is and how to manage on their own in day-to-day life. But the requirements we have to impose on them, to access program funding, boils down to forcing them to do certain things they should not have to in order to take part in the program.

That is just one of the many examples of how a program initially designed to help these women can also have detrimental effects on them, all because of the conditions they have to meet to participate. They also have to sign an attendance sheet each time they attend an activity. They have to sign a form when they are given a bus ticket. Every time, they have to provide their permanent residence documentation so we can photocopy it; every month, we have to justify everything. If you attend an activity 10 times, you have to bring your document 10 times. Those requirements have to be met in order to access the funding. This is an example of a program that does exist for the purpose of providing assistance, but one where many women opt not to participate at the end of the day, because they feel they are being treated badly. Unintended consequences like those can complicate things.

Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Thank you very much for answering my questions honestly, Ms. Crakondji.

Senator Tardif: Good afternoon, Ms. Crakondji. Thank you for your presentation. If I understand correctly, your mission is to support French-speaking women who have been victims of sexual assault or violence.

Ms. Crakondji: Precisely.

Senator Tardif: You proposed amendments to the immigration system. You said that section 72 and section 13(3) of Bill C-31 should be eliminated.

If memory serves me correctly, Bill C-31 was the immigration omnibus bill we passed a year ago, in the spring of 2012. What, in those two sections, do you want to change?

Ms. Crakondji: Section 72 specifically pertains to conditional permanent residency. A woman who comes here with her spouse or whose spouse is the sponsor or person making the application is a permanent resident through the intervention of her husband. So when the couple arrives in Canada, the woman has to stay in the relationship for at least two years, and under the legislation, she cannot leave the matrimonial home. Someone in a violent situation can be exempt from that provision. As you know, however, matrimonial means two people are involved, whether it is a same-sex or heterosexual couple. Most of the women we serve are in heterosexual couples, and in their case, when domestic violence comes to light, it has usually been going on for a long time. All we are able to see is the tip of the iceberg, because these situations are extremely difficult to prove. The law clearly states that the permanent resident is required to live with the spouse for a continuous period of two years, unless she can prove that she is the victim of violence. It is extremely difficult for a woman who has been the victim of violence to prove it.

What is more, it is extremely difficult for immigrants because they have the cultural dimension to worry about. It is not just about the couple. When you marry someone, you are also marrying their family and friends. A married woman who comes to Canada is a source of pride for an entire family back in her native country. She may not be allowed to leave her abusive husband or report him. We have seen women in tears because they are not able to leave their difficult situations owing to cultural pressures. When women come to Canada, they generally live within their community. That is usually where they become integrated initially.

They are afraid to report abuse. It is common to hear about physical violence, but violence also comes in psychological and economic forms. In the couples we see, the husband is the one who manages the money and the child benefits available. How is the woman supposed to tell her neighbour what is happening to her without bringing shame on her family? That fact becomes exceedingly difficult for her to rationalize. Worse still is that the immigration officer bases the decision on the evidence provided. What evidence does the woman have? It is her word against her husband's. The officer could exercise his or her own judgment and make a discretionary decision, because it is difficult to prove when women are in these types of situations. It is our view that the requirement on women to stay in the situation unfortunately allows many men to terrorize them. Four of our clients are currently living in that environment; they do not dare report the abuse to the police because their husbands threaten to kill them if they do.

They sit in our office and cry, but when we ask them to report the abuse to the police, they refuse to do so. We respect their decision. In cases where we have called the police, a step we have taken, without any physical evidence such as bruises, the woman's word is sometimes not taken into account. Closed doors hide a tremendous amount of suffering. No one knows what is really going on.

This legislation will do a lot of damage. If this is already the case, under normal circumstances, the measures will only make these situations worse and put women at greater risk instead of help them. That is why we want to see both of these sections scrapped; it is extremely difficult to prove that a situation is violent.

Senator Tardif: So it is two provisions, section 72 and section 13(3)? I do not have a copy of the bill in front of me.

Ms. Crakondji: I have a copy here. Yes, it is both provisions. The section itself creates those conditions, yes. It includes exemptions for women, and the person in the couple who is the victim of violence has to prove it. Obviously, women are generally the ones who are subject to violence. How are they supposed to prove they are in a violent conjugal relationship? How do you expect an African woman to admit that her husband raped her? That is not done in her culture, but that is the situation she is faced with.

It is hard just asking them to confirm what is happening, because they were not raised that way. That is the sort of thing we see on a daily basis. All this legislation will do is give men free rein. Fortunately, not all men are violent, but when it comes to the ones who are, this legislation will do even more harm to women. That is what we believe when we try to find out what is happening to these women.

Senator Champagne: These women who are part of your group, who are newcomers to Canada, are mainly from where?

Ms. Crakondji: The vast majority of them are from francophone countries in Africa. Some are from South America, Colombia, Brazil, Latin America and Central America. There are francophones in those regions. A small number are from Eastern Europe.

Senator Champagne: Does the funding flow through Citizenship and Immigration Canada or the roadmap for linguistic duality?

Ms. Crakondji: Our primary source of funding is the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General. The funding we had from Citizenship and Immigration Canada went solely to the Café-Causette program; we have six different programs. One of the programs we use to help women who have been abused is funded by the Ministry of the Attorney General.

Under the Café-Causette program, we put on group or networking activities where the women can engage in casual conversation. That addresses the needs of the women, who also come to learn. That is the program for immigrant women that was funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. We made the decision to put an end to that funding, even though it was helpful on occasion, because the consequences were more harmful to the women. So we use the funding from the Ministry of the Attorney General for those programs.

Senator Champagne: I can easily see how difficult it is for these women who come here from Africa, Central America and Eastern Europe only to face a huge language barrier. We should make things easier for them, after all.

But, whether it is in London, Windsor or someplace else in Ontario where francophones are very much the minority, there are women, if I understood correctly, who come here and are not educated. There are women who come here and are barely able to read in their own language. How do those women find you when they arrive? Who refers them to your centre so they can receive a bit of support?

Ms. Crakondji: As I mentioned earlier, we have formed numerous community partnerships, with both francophone and anglophone agencies. For instance, we have our pamphlets at the Windsor border crossing. We also work with all the organizations that provide services to immigrants, including anglophones, community centres, schools and so on. So we engage in community outreach, making Carrefour des Femmes a very well-known organization across the entire region. It is the schools and other centres that call us, that refer women to us.

In London and in Windsor, we participate in local immigration partnerships through subcommittees. That is one component. We sit on those committees. Our address is available on each city's website. We also work with the Children's Aid Society because there is a dimension involving children. So we have numerous partnerships across the region that we use to offer services to women.

Senator Champagne: Basically, then, most of your financial support comes from the Ontario government?

Ms. Crakondji: Precisely. That is why one of the recommendations I would have liked to make is the review of the modern approach adopted three or four years ago. I think the approach should undergo a comprehensive assessment to determine the areas where funding should be reallocated — direct services are more effective, in my view. I think a much greater focus should be placed on women and people as individuals, as opposed to the bureaucratic process.

We finally realized that we were not able to undertake those activities using CIC funding. Our operations were based on meeting the CIC's criteria, instead of helping women. That is the situation we found ourselves in.

Take a woman who comes to Canada and does not speak the language, for example. You may or may not know this, but southwestern Ontario is, in my view, a disadvantaged region when it comes to French-language services in Ontario; we are a special case. Federal departments, like Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and provincial ministries go by the number of users when deciding whether a service is warranted. We are told that the numbers do or do not warrant the service. The more users, the more likely a program will receive funding.

Sometimes, a pilot project is launched, and then a year later, once it gets going and starts delivering support, it ends up being cut because there are not enough clients using it. That is our day-to-day reality. That is a shame because we are a bilingual country. We pay a fortune to have our roads ploughed, but we are not willing to adequately invest in people who will eventually become taxpayers. Does that situation make sense to you? We do acknowledge that the federal government, through Citizenship and Immigration Canada, has made considerable efforts. But there is still work to do.

Earlier, I talked about services "by and for" the people who use them. You probably know this better than I do, but most of the organizations in southwestern Ontario are anglophone. They receive funding so they can also offer services in French. When a francophone client calls, however, the person on the other end answers in English first and then in French, and that response is limited to "bonjour." After the greeting, if the client wants to be served in French, he or she has to wait for an interpreter to be brought in, and that can take an hour or two. The client has to wait simply because he or she is a francophone.

We have seen serious situations where francophone women needed those services in French. Since they are offered by anglophone agencies in the area, male interpreters are called in and sometimes have to interpret things in French that are specific to a woman's circumstances. And those male interpreters may know the woman's husband. Can you appreciate what that woman is going through? She is taken to a lawyer's office or a hospital, where she has to bare her health problems in front of a man. That is extremely tough. So service delivery is in need of a follow-up in that regard. Those situations are commonplace. And what ends up happening is that women who are sick may decide not to go to the hospital because there is no francophone hospital in southwestern Ontario. There are a few French-speaking doctors, but they do not necessarily identify themselves as francophones. Sometimes, it is easier just to speak English. So interpreters are brought in, and the first interpreter available is the one who shows up, male or female; that is not their concern. You can imagine just how difficult that is.

When I say the language barrier is the biggest challenge, it remains the biggest challenge. French-language services are lacking in southwestern Ontario because there are not many immigrants. French speakers, generally speaking, make up 2.6 per cent of the population. And with that number, immigrants have to be taken into consideration. The thinking is why bother offering special services with so few francophones. Perhaps if the service were offered by and for francophones — women, especially — potentially using CIC funding, that hole could be filled.

Senator Champagne: That would make a lot of people's lives much easier.

Ms. Crakondji: I think so.

Senator Champagne: That includes people like you whose job it is to help others.

Senator De Bané: I have a supplementary question. Do you know how many people in Ontario speak French? I do not mean only those whose mother tongue is French; Ontario has 600,000 native French speakers. How many people in Ontario speak French, how many can have a conversation in French?

Ms. Crakondji: Statistics Canada pegs that number at around 1.7 million people.

Senator De Bané: Around 1.7 million people; that is three times the number of native French speakers, 1.8 million. That means 1.8 million out of 13 million people, or roughly 20 per cent, speak French. And in the region we are talking about, a pool of 20 per cent of people can speak French, can converse in French, according to Statistics Canada.

Do you think it would be realistic to try to identify them in order to create a solid pool of people, women, especially, who can converse in French?

The problem is very clear to me. It is hard for a woman to confide in a man she does not know; it would be so much easier if she had another woman to speak to. This province, in particular, has a very large number of people who can speak French. I want us to consider how we could take advantage of their ability to help you.

Senator McIntyre: Thank you, Ms. Crakondji, for your presentation. I understand that your organization provides considerable support to immigrant women, assistance with their daily lives, job hunting help and services for francophone newcomers. On page 2 of your brief, you provide a list of amendments that your organization would like to see made. We all know that Citizenship and Immigration Canada has official languages obligations. What kind of relationship does your organization have with Citizenship and Immigration Canada? Is the department open to changes to the current regime?

Ms. Crakondji: Your question is very much on point. To your first question, I would say we have an excellent relationship with Citizenship and Immigration Canada. That is evidenced by the fact that, in 2011, Citizenship and Immigration Canada officials attended a certificate ceremony for female immigrants, as part of an entrepreneurship program to help women. So we have a great partnership or level of cooperation with the regional office.

That said, we tried, at one point, to explain our restrictions to them. The regional offices, from what I gather, operate as instructed to by Ottawa, the government. If they are given instructions, they have to follow them. We have met with the people in charge of the regional office a number of times. Unfortunately, there are some things they cannot change, because they come from the Treasury Board of Canada or Ottawa. Therefore, our efforts were not successful, and that is why we put an end to that program.

As for how open the department is, I would say that any human being is capable of changing his or her mind at some point. I think that could happen if enough like-minded people made the request. I know of many other agencies that provide services, not necessarily just to women, but to all kinds of people who are in difficult circumstances, and yet those organizations do not dare say anything for fear their funding could be cut. Things like that happen.

Unfortunately, I cannot comment on whether Citizenship and Immigration Canada or the regional office would be willing to make amendments to adapt the program. I think a systemic change of that nature has to come from the top. It affects more than just us in southwestern Ontario; the program is nationwide and everyone who accesses those CIC programs probably faces the same challenges. I would like to see the change take place much higher up in the government, as opposed to the regional office level.

Senator McIntyre: Despite the fact that many women are victims of violence and abuse, they do not report it to police. Is that quite common?

Ms. Crakondji: Yes, unfortunately, it is quite common, senator.

Senator McIntyre: And if they do report it, there is no follow-up, is that correct?

Ms. Crakondji: The situation is extremely delicate, senator. Sometimes women are influenced by what they see. Take, for example, a woman who has been sexually assaulted. That is a crime, as you know, in which the burden of proof is on the victim. The victim is not even the one pursuing it; the crown is. She is merely a witness to her own situation. Often, at the end of the process, women are sorry they ever reported the incident because they have no control over the situation. The system just takes over and follows its course. The women no longer have any control over the situation because the crown enters the equation, lawyers and all that; victims are told what to do, what to say to counter the accused's version of events and so forth. Then, at the end of it all, say the accused gets off with a fairly light sentence or is even acquitted. What that does is victimize the woman all over again.

However, we strongly encourage them to submit a complaint because, if they do not, the situation can only get worse. We cannot force them to do that because our mandate does not allow it. We do report the situation to the police if we have evidence of physical violence and injury. We have an obligation to report it. The same goes for cases where the woman threatens to commit suicide. There are limits to our confidentiality.

Most of the time, psychological violence is the most destructive kind. The woman loses her grounding. That type of violence is difficult to prove, and it causes much more damage. When the violence is physical, the woman will usually not put off calling the police. The police will then issue a restraining order to prevent the husband from approaching the woman. With immigrant women, the problem is more complex, as the social and cultural aspect plays a part as well. The woman is supposed to be strong. It is her duty to protect the husband. That applies to all countries — not only in Africa, but also in Latin America and Eastern Europe. Denunciation is frowned upon.

It sometimes takes a while for a woman to realize that violence is involved, as that violence often goes hand in hand with tenderness, creating a vicious cycle. It takes time for women to realize that. They have a reason for not submitting a complaint.

For your information, the difficult situation we are going through is also caused by the cuts to social programs. In the past, women who left their husband would go to a safe house, where they would receive help in finding a place to live. Before moving into her apartment, she would be given some money to get started, but that funding has been cut. Obviously, most women in that kind of a situation have a very low income. We have examples of women who — even four years after they leave the violence behind — still do not have a table in their apartment, or a proper bed. They may have a mattress on the ground for their children, as they cannot afford proper furniture. Those women sometimes have to choose between meeting their basic needs and leaving. The situation they find themselves in is a bit tricky.

Senator Mockler: I join my colleagues in congratulating you on the very important and commendable role you play.

Your centre has existed since 2006. How many people have you helped since then? If you do not have the figures with you, you can send them to the committee in writing. What kinds of cases do you handle?

Ms. Crakondji: To date, we have provided assistance to about 600 francophone women. That being said, there is no limit to our services. A woman who came to us seven years ago can return. If she does come back, we do not count her as an additional client, but as someone who has already been included in our statistics.

We have assisted a total of about 600 women in support and counselling cases. That does not include all the other groups of women from the Café-Causette program, as that program has been opened to all women — regardless of whether they are working or staying at home. We want to give meaning to the lives of women who are victims of violence. We want to help them remove the label and integrate themselves into the society of other women who are not victims of violence. Fortunately, not all women are victims of violence.

Other women of all origins come to talk to them about all kinds of things. That empowers and helps them. We do not keep statistics on those people, but our services are used much more by women who are victims of abuse.

I made a diagram — a puzzle in the shape of a woman's head. That puzzle represents an immigrant woman. When she comes to see us, she has all kinds of problems.

The Chair: Given the amount of time we have left, could you submit a copy that we could distribute to the members?

Ms. Crakondji: No problem. We have a number of programs. We provide counselling. We help women look for a job and an apartment. We accompany them to court and to the hospital. We accompany them wherever they need services.

Senator Mockler: What percentage of your clients have experienced spousal abuse?

Ms. Crakondji: I would say that 100 per cent of those 600 women have been victims of spousal abuse.

Senator Mockler: Do you receive any funding from the provincial government?

Ms. Crakondji: Yes.

Senator Mockler: Does the federal government provide you with any funding?

Ms. Crakondji: Not for this program.

The Chair: Do you receive any funding for other programs?

Senator De Bané: Ottawa is very invested in welcoming immigrants.

Ms. Crakondji: But we do not receive any funding.

Senator De Bané: We give money to the provincial government.

The Chair: Senator De Bané, this is Senator Mockler's time.

Senator Mockler: Senator De Bané, we work as a team.

Other provinces have Carrefour centres too. There is one in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Ontario. In the roadmap — which allocates over $1 billion in funding — we have the following: Immigration - $149.5 million, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Language Training for Economic Immigrants, $120 million.

So $120 million is set aside, and I think that you could have access to that funding. The roadmap also includes the following: Immigration to official-language minority communities (including Support to Francophone immigration in New Brunswick, $4 million) $29.5 million.

That funding is set out in federal-provincial agreements. The federal government and provincial governments have come to an agreement to provide various programs. Ms. Crakondji, you should ask the Government of Ontario about this, so that you can receive the funding allocated for programs like yours. These funds are not exclusively provincial; they are provided in partnership with the federal government.

Have you kept a close watch on the funding assigned to various programs under the roadmap? You should keep an eye on them, so that you can access funds that would enable you — as per your recommendations — to develop and implement awareness-raising programs based on the notion of cultural competence. That is important because, if we do not know about our immigrants' culture, how can we provide them with better service or help them integrate the Canadian culture?

Senator De Bané: Senator Mockler expressed what I wanted to say much more clearly. We have to keep in mind that immigration, under the Canadian Constitution, is the jurisdiction of both levels of government. Quebec has used that provision, whereby both governments have jurisdiction in this area. However, at the end of the day, the Canadian government is primarily responsible for this program — either directly through centres like yours, or through the provincial government. The Canadian government is supposed to provide most of the funding. The provinces also participate, but the main source of funding is the federal government. That is why we are very interested in your recommendations.

Ms. Crakondji: Thank you.

Senator Tardif: I am very moved by the experience of francophone immigrant women you shared with us. You talked about some of the challenges those women must face and about some of your needs. What more could the federal government do to support you in your efforts to help those francophone immigrant women?

Ms. Crakondji: It could start by reallocating funds to direct services. It could identify organizations like ours that have direct access to those funds and review the service accessibility criteria.

I will use the bus ticket example, which makes no sense. Are we here to help women become integrated or are we here to meet the criteria set by the Treasury Board of Canada? That is the question. Those criteria should be reviewed, and accessibility to services should be made more flexible. In the case of our organization, that would remove the pressure from our shoulders. With CIC and federal funding, every month, we have to submit a report containing figures and statistics. What is even worse is that the mechanism in place is called the "contribution agreement." That is an attempt to add more accountability to public funding. The Carrefour des femmes organization is very well-known and has built up its credibility with all backers at all levels of government, but our organization has to spend money and be refunded afterwards.

Fortunately, we manage to do that because we do have some capital. We have several projects in the amount of about $600,000, and that enables us to pay the wages of individuals who provide services, cover transportation and assistance costs, and so on. At the end of the month, we submit a claim and wait a month for a refund. So we must have enough money to sustain two months' worth of activities to help those women. We sign a contribution agreement, but we are not given a cent. How can we provide services?

Without other projects, we could not even provide those services, as we would be lacking funds. That is what I mean when I talk about criteria. It is a matter of reducing administrative barriers and making the service flexible and essential, so that it can be provided properly. If we have four employees working on the program, their wages, travel expenses and everything else amounts to a lot of money. If we submit the claim for $20,000 a month, we have to wait until the next month to get that money back. So we need working capital, which we have, but we could not sustain our activities without other projects.

Senator Tardif: I understand. Thank you. You have raised some very important issues that will help the committee in its study.

Do you have sufficient human resources to deal with the administrative challenges involved in obtaining funding from the federal government?

Ms. Crakondji: Thank you for asking the question. That is why the resource person's workload is duplicated. The same person helps the woman, provides her with guidance, teaches her how to use the Internet, how to find the closest and the least expensive grocery store, how to find coupons because she does not have a lot of money. The same person has to collect statistics. The funding is limited. If we request a certain amount, we are given only a portion of it and must make do.

We are used to managing crises on a daily basis. The budget assigned to us is hardly sufficient, so we have an additional workload when it comes to paperwork. With more money, we could hire another person, but, unfortunately, the system is organized in such a way that the person who provides the service must do the paperwork as well.

Hospital nurses have to produce a daily report, so they have to deal with administrative paperwork. When we complain, that is the example we are given. After a surgery, the doctor in charge has to spend two hours of his time completing his report. As he is the one performing the surgery, he must produce the report. He could use those two hours to do another surgery. That is the current situation.

I think some sort of a consultation, meeting or forum could provide us with concrete suggestions for easing the burden of the employees doing the work. We have to address this huge challenge.

Senator Tardif: Clearly, a number of anglophone agencies similar to yours face certain challenges in their work with women whose first language is English and not French. What specific factors related to the fact that you work in French make your job more or less difficult than what your anglophone counterparts have to deal with?

Ms. Crakondji: The situation in the south-west is special because the services provided in French account for a small island in an ocean of English services. For instance, a woman who needs housing has to deal with housing resources in English. The Ontario Works department provides services in English. When it comes to education, there are some francophone schools. Hospital services are provided in English. We have to fill that gap and establish a connection with all anglophone services.

London is a designated city, but Ontario Works does not even provide application forms in French. I accompanied a woman who had to go to London to fill out a passport application. We printed her form in French, but when we arrived at the London office to submit the signed form, the person we talked to refused to accept it because the form was in French and she could not understand it. We were asked to complete an English form. That is a real life example. All existing agency services are in English — I am talking about daily services — except for the bilingual services provided by government offices such as Services Ontario.

However, in most cases, municipal services are in English. Yet municipal offices most often provide direct services to immigrants. We have to deal with that situation, and that makes our problem twofold. We have complained to the French Language Services Commissioner, but not much has changed.

In our area of work, especially when it comes to women, one of the services we provide is the defence of rights and interests. Here is an example. A woman who receives social assistance is sent a letter by the government. The letter is in English, and she does not understand it. She is asked to submit a document by a certain date. She does not understand the letter and may not have time to come see us. The date goes by, and her social assistance is cut off. She comes to see us, and we step up to the plate. We defend her rights and restore them. That is something we do regularly — almost on a daily basis at this point. What makes these cases special is the fact that those women speak French. All other basic services are provided in English. We are simply trying to establish a connection among those services — as these are needs those women have — in addition to helping the women rebuild their lives.

Senator Champagne: Ms. Crakondji, I want to congratulate you on all the work you are doing. Thank you for that. I have a question I cannot help but ask myself. Are these issues the same as those you faced when you arrived in Canada? Was there a Carrefour centre when you arrived, or was the lack of such an organization what inspired you to create one? I would like to know how you approached the situation and how you created the Carrefour des Femmes du Sud-Ouest de l'Ontario you are now managing.

Ms. Crakondji: Thank you very much, senator. I think my case is different from the cases of the women we help. I arrived in Canada in 1996 through the Canadian francophone scholarship program. I studied at the Université de Chicoutimi, and then at the Université Laval. I completed my studies at the Télé-université. I lived in Quebec for eight years. I decided to leave Quebec for Ontario because I could not find work after I graduated. That was very difficult for me, and I told myself that I was going to a place where my children would have more opportunities. I have four children. I decided to move to an anglophone province, so that my kids would become bilingual.

I must digress for a moment. That is the risk francophone immigrants in minority situations face. When we arrive, we tend to move toward speaking the language of the majority. Believe it or not, the children of immigrants in the south-west mostly attend anglophone schools because the parents want their children to learn English. Many of the children then lose their French and become assimilated. Those situations do exist. That was a just a small aside.

I moved to London, so that my children would become bilingual. I arrived there at a time when no services were provided, and we had to create them. However, the Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes conducted the negotiations. They carried out consultations, assessed the needs and negotiated with the provincial government, which agreed to provide a budget envelope to open a centre in the south-west. I applied for the job, was accepted and set things up. My employers were satisfied with the work I did, and so I have stayed on.

Senator Champagne: All we can say is bravo.

Ms. Crakondji: Thank you very much.

Senator Champagne: I want to thank you on behalf of all of those you have helped and will continue to help. We will try to do our small part.

Ms. Crakondji: Thank you very much.

The Chair: Madam, I want to thank you sincerely on behalf of the members of our committee for taking the time to come meet with us, and also for answering our questions with so much clarity and honesty. Thank you. I wish you all the best.

Honourable senators, the meeting is adjourned.

(The committee adjourned.)