Ending the Silence – A Double Pandemic: COVID-19 and Gender-Based Violence

About The Event

The panel discussion, Ending the Silence – A Double Pandemic: COVID-19 and Gender Based Violence (GBV) was a webinar jointly hosted by the Newcomer Students’ Association (NSA) and the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), on December 10, 2020. It was part of the annual international campaign on 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, (starting on November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ending on December 10, on International Day of Human Rights). Moderated thoughtfully by Sara Asalya, founder of NSA, all three panelists—Cheyanne Ratnam, Salina Abji and Margarita Pintin-Perze—brought their powerful reflections to this discussion.

Globally, one in three women will experience abuse or be subjected to gender-based violence in their lifetime. In Canada, on average every week a woman is killed by her intimate partner. Women are facing this violence simply because they are women. Where are we as a global community today in terms of the rights of women? Have we done enough in Canada?

All panelists began by grounding themselves through sharing their migration beginnings as children of immigrants and refugees to Canada, going on to situate themselves in their professional work in relation to GBV. They noted inequities, as well as an absence of both culturally appropriate services, and of coordinated policy responses leading to systemic failures; and they highlighted the need for differentiated understanding of uniqueness and diversity within the immigrant experience. Cheyanne stated unequivocally that racism in Canada is not a remnant of the country’s colonial past, but is current and ongoing, and that she believes we are closer to the starting point rather than to the finish line when it comes to the prevalence of gender-based violence, be it in Ontario or nationally. Salina asked for states to be held accountable for providing resources, protection, and policy measures to support victims of DV and GBV. Margarita pointed to the continued dehumanization of women, asking who is labelled human, and who has the right to “be human.”

Panelists highlighted the false universality and rhetoric associated with the human rights discourse as these erasures, they claimed, of vulnerable cohorts of women, continue to happen when human rights are systematically denied to racialized, immigrant and refugees, non-status, and indigenous women. Where is the promise of ‘human rights’ then, they asked, and what needs to be in place so that metrics for contextualizing, implementing and measuring these can be realized? 

We can’t talk about combating GBV here in Canada and within the immigrant and refugee community without acknowledging that there are thousands of Indigenous women, trans, and two-spirit people who are particularly vulnerable to violence because of historical and ongoing systemic sexism, racism, and trans/misogyny. How can we build a national advocacy movement to talk about GBV?

Panelists noted the complexities and dilemmas of combating GBV through building a national movement based in solidarity, and with humility, across differentiated experiences of women groups listed above. Particularly, the discussion problematized the need and concerns around establishing mutual and respectful alliances while centering the conversation on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), holding space for these “different” stories of violence to build a Canadian story.

What can purposeful ally-ship, necessary for creating solidarity momentum, look like in this complicated scenario, one rooted in multiple histories and paradoxical narratives? How can immigrant and racialized women, being settlers ourselves, initiate such a coalition, and be there for our indigenous sisters? Given that shared understanding of gendered experience must simultaneously co-exist with differentiated forms of GBV in different communities, an equity (not equality) lens was one of the approaches suggested by panelists when thinking of a national movement, one tempered in equal part by accountability, compassion, and discomfort. The candour these passionate speakers brought forth in each of their responses, and the nuance with which they explored complex multiplicities not only in their own immigrant positionality, but also in the many approaches to understanding and addressing GBV, was a significant aspect of this dialogue.

For instance, to look with self-awareness at the Canadian dream of building a better life that immigrant families carried in their hearts as part of the migration trajectory (as all newcomers to Canada do); and while doing so, to also acknowledge and question one’s own place and complicity within the history of settler colonialism, is certainly a reflexive stance we must take. The immigrant story is so tied in with the narrative of nation-building in Canada—, one requiring of gratitude, especially from those seeking a safe haven here; but the real on-the- ground experiences of racism and microaggressions, sexism and exclusion faced by racialized groups, make them question, “Is this the Canada I signed up for?” What is at stake, and what is the backlash, when immigrants and refugees, racialized individuals and groups, are not adequately grateful for the refuge they received here?

The issue of gender-based violence has always been present in Canadian society, but the GBV crisis during COVID-19 is the new shadow pandemic, with an increase of 20-30 percent of gender-based violence and domestic violence cases since the start of COVID-19, and the number of domestic violence calls to helplines in some regions having increased by up to 400 percent. What do you think are the root causes behind such an alarming escalation in GBV at this time?  

Proposing an intersectional approach, the panelists referred to the disproportionate negative impacts of COVID-19 on racialized women, discussing how the GBV crisis already raging pre-pandemic, further caused inequities and gendered violence to explode in racialized communities in the last few months, women being further left behind by social isolation, loss of critical supports and of employment, in many cases with added threats of deportation being used by partners and employers to further restrict their freedoms. In an environment where physical distancing becomes the norm, formal and informal resources to support women suddenly disappear; what could/should a safety plan for a woman faced with GBV look like? The solution framework, panelists suggested, must go into GBV work with a ‘differential’ approach and an `empathy’ lens, one that has at its center humility and respect for uniqueness. Victim blaming will not do, nor will theoretical insights that do not consider the entire experiential reality of a woman’s circumstances, including factors that often push her to continue staying in an abusive relationship.

Recommendations  

In terms of safety strategies for women seeking escape from a difficult GBV situation, Cheyanne emphasized the significance of a preparedness plan, creating alternative, and covert, ways of sharing information, educating community members to be allies, playing the role of friend or listening ear, but without imposing one’s own ideology or pushing a point of view. Salina talked about system- level solutions, including listening well to grassroots migrant justice movements so that any post-COVID recovery is just, and that people do not have to negotiate between different harms; so that racialized community members can report without fear of impacting their immigrant status. Margarita suggested that GBV be understood and addressed as a social problem, needing a collaborative approach; centering and acknowledging individual experience, and a system- level metrics of support emerging from there. The bystander model was reiterated too, and following on that, the need to create safe spaces at an informal and grassroots level; making sure that structures, both formal and informal, can be created that center lived experience to ensure individuals impacted by GBV have a seat at the table so they can be the experts guiding appropriate solution-building rather than policy people making top-down unrealistic decisions on their behalf.

Part of the discussion were also questions relating to the role of the family unit and of socialization, with focus on elders and younger members of the family, to address issues of toxic masculinity in the home as issues like GBV can hardly be tackled with policy tools alone.

The magic potion of authenticity, self-reflexive courage and passion of lived experience that drove this insightful conversation was indeed one of the special treats in this pandemic year, we urge you to check out the recording of this event below and we hope to see you at our next webinar in February.

Authors: Alka Kumar is the manager of research and policy at the Newcomer Students’ Association.

At Canada’s universities, institutional racism more than a case of a few bad apples

Without comprehensive race-based data, equity policies within Canadian universities have limited impact in adequately addressing discrimination and racism.

As Canadian universities do not collect race-based data, 63 out of the 76 universities across the country are unable to provide a breakdown of their student populations due to absence of data collection,’ despite having diversity offices.

The open letter from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), dated Dec. 18, 2020, castigating Ontario academic and educational institutions for failing to meet the needs of Black, Indigenous, and racialized students in these challenging times, is certainly bold and timely. The position of public censure OHRC has taken on through this statement speaks to our unusual times, and also to the high levels of systemic disarray our educational systems have fallen into.

The COVID pandemic has pushed us all abruptly into virtual spaces, has resulted in what has been coined as “COVID stress”—causing social isolation, adversely affecting our mental well-being, and exposing pre- existing fault lines rooted in systemic racism and pre-existing discrimination. As recent data has affirmed, the pandemic has exacerbated simmering inequities in multiple sectors, pushing marginalized and racialized communities further into precarity. This is especially true for Black, Indigenous, and racialized post-secondary students, who should have the necessary support as they navigate and face institutional and structural barriers and racism. The absence of such support has potential to negatively impact their identity construction, academic success, and sense of belonging, as well as ability to equally and fully participate in all aspects of the Canadian society.

The Newcomer Students’ Association has issued a statement in response to the OHRC letter. In this statement, the group indicated it has “heard multiple accounts of students experiencing racism, discrimination, and xenophobia within Ontario post-secondary institutions.”

The pandemic, however, is certainly not the first instance of the issue of institutional and systemic racism being problematized within Canada’s postsecondary institutions. For instance, a policy brief by Aisha Shibli from the Canadian Arab Institute in 2019 titled, “Dismantling Systemic Racism in Canadian Post-Secondary Institutions: Arab Students’ Experiences on Campus,” indicated that racism and discrimination are inherently embedded within the culture of Canadian universities. Shibli notes that “63 out of the 76 universities across the country are unable to provide a breakdown of their student populations due to absence of data collection, despite having diversity offices.” This is a key factor as to why existing equity policies within Canadian universities tend to have an inadequate impact in effectively mitigating and dealing with existing institutional discrimination and racism. And it supports existing evidence suggesting that by and large Canadian universities are not essentially meeting their instituted legal obligations and general commitments guided by their anti-discrimination policies as well as the broader national institutional standards.

Olivia Bowden, in her CBC News article, “Canadian University Students Use Instagram to Reveal Racism on Campuses,” draws attention to lived experiences of racialized students with racism noted in the media. She points out dozens of Instagram accounts created by students and alumni of colour in 2020 at various universities Western University, Queen’s University, York University, McGill University, Concordia University, Dalhousie University, the University of Ottawa, and the University of British Columbia to name a few, as well as in various high schools across Canada to share stories of racism and abuse. These accounts are providing an outlet for students and are aimed at holding their respective institutions accountable, calling for immediate action by the schools.

Moreover, the existing systemic racism poses a barrier to hiring, advancement, retention, and full inclusion of racialized students, as well as employees within postsecondary institutions. A 2019 report by Universities Canada shows that, while the percentage of women in senior leadership positions is now almost proportionate to that of men, racialized people represent only eight percent of senior leaders and 21 percent of full-time faculty. Representation matters, for many reasons. For example, as the popular adage goes, “if you can see it, you can be it,” to other robust arguments that real inclusion and diversity are essential at all levels of an organization, as that can mean huge and paradigmatic changes in thinking, leadership, and structures.

As we devise a post-pandemic recovery plan, we need to move beyond just “talk” and into actionable and meaningful change that focuses on implementation—for instance, creating safe spaces for full engagement, designing robust reporting and case management procedures, and moving from performative equity, diversity, and inclusion policies to ensuring effective support and mentorship processes. Certainly, further evidence is needed when it comes to creating optimal strategies for success and resilience of racialized students within post-secondary education, to assist faculty and staff to improve their pedagogy, and support resources and programs. We’re in dire need for transparency and accountability in policies related to employment equity and inclusive hiring.

Authors: Alka Kumar is the manager of research and policy at the Newcomer Students’ Association. Mojgan Rahbari-Jawoko is an instructor at Ryerson University. Sara Asalya is the executive director of Newcomer Students’ Association.

This article was originally published by The Hill Times on January 4th, 2021.

NSA statement in response to OHRC letter to universities and colleges on racism and other human rights concerns

On behalf of the Newcomer Students Association (NSA)—an Ontario-based provincial organization working at the intersection of migration, education, and social justice, and a platform committed to promoting inclusion and equity for post-secondary newcomer, immigrant, and refugee students—we support and endorse the open letter issued by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) on Dec 18, 2020. We endorse the criticism levelled in the OHRC statement and welcome the specific measures they recommend to protect the human rights of Black, Indigenous, and racialized students. 

In this open letter that goes out to all Presidents and Principals of post-secondary educational institutions in Ontario, OHRC brings attention to media stories, social media posts, and communications received by them directly from students and student groups who have reported experiences of racism and fear, with an increase in acts that violate students’ human rights to access a safe educational environment. We at NSA, based on our relationships with the student community, have heard multiple accounts of students experiencing racism, discrimination, and xenophobia within Ontario post-secondary institutions. We have also learned about our student community’s frustration at the lack of institutional responses to these issues. These experiences are not new, but racism is ingrained in our society and institutions. It has surfaced more starkly during, and was exacerbated by, the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that the last few months of living with COVID-19, with reliance primarily on virtual platforms for learning and socializing, has led to racialized students feeling doubly isolated, marginalised and discriminated against. We acknowledge that sadly, there has been little recourse to much-needed institutional support to help students deal with the unique situations they are currently experiencing. 

Notably, the OHRC letter highlights the serious nature  of these concerns, pointing to the challenges experienced by racialized students as a sign of institutional failure. Such institutional failures have led to a lack of redressal of complaints in the absence of policy mechanisms to evaluate and prevent perpetration of future discriminatory acts. OHRC urges “directing minds” of universities to take positive action by instituting “transparent, accessible and formal structures to promote compliance with human rights law and principles, including comprehensive complaint mechanisms to foster a culture of human rights accountability.” While NSA is saddened by the racism and pervasive systemic challenges our racialized learning community is currently facing, we feel supported by the OHRC acknowledgement. We urge the academic community, all educational institutions, and other stakeholders to come together and take action to ensure that all learning and societal spaces are respectful, equitable, and free of any discrimination.  

In solidarity,

The Newcomer Students’ Association

Reflections on “Living in Colour”: Have We Done Enough to Help Refugees Settle in Canada?

I think we have done a lot of great things to be proud of as Canadians. Take a look for example at the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program — a one-of-a-kind refugee program that other countries should look at. But there are always ways to improve. Our response to the refugee crisis is a work in progress and just as we helped thousands of Syrian refugees find a safe home, we can definitely help other refugees find peace and safety in Canada.

But how can we look at the benefits from having such a great pathway to sponsor refugees through the private sponsorship program beyond just sponsoring refugees?
In other words: Canadians who sponsored refugees demonstrated courage and compassion, and in return many of them found connection and community in this new experience. Sponsorship programs allow Canadian citizens to be ambassadors for refugees.

During my time working with LifeLine Syria — a non-profit assisting sponsor groups to welcome and resettle Syrian refugees as permanent residents in the GTA, I have heard and seen many heartbreaking stories, of people desperate to leave war-torn Syria. Even when we were trying to help connect these refugees to private sponsors’ groups, in many cases, we lost connection with these refugees and we never knew what happened to them.  On the other hand, I have seen sponsors passion and commitment to help refugees resettle in their new home — Canada. An experience that is worth having. 

A journey full of Obstacles & Hope (Barriers to Integration).

Through my migration journey, I realized how truly daunting the migration and settlement experience can be especially for immigrants of colour. There are several systemic and structural barriers experienced by immigrants and refugees settling in Canada.These barriers can be summarized under three major headings:

1. Employment and education.

2. Culture and social barriers.

3. Access to significant services such as settlement support, healthcare, child care and transportation.

Social isolation and exclusion is one of the biggest obstacles that newcomers face when they arrive in Canada. Immigrants of colour in particular might also face discrimination, prejudice and racism. Social capital and social network is so crucial to immigrants and newcomers. As a mom, for example, the lack of affordable childcare was a big barrier for me that hindered my ability to work and delayed my career plans — and even volunteer work was not possible without daycare or  junior kindergarten. Back then, kindergarten was part time which is something that is not helpful for working moms. Now our provincial government is looking to bring back the JK and SK part time system and thousands of childcare spots are at risk now due to new provincial changes. These kind of policies and decisions will negatively impact thousands of families and moms out there particularly immigrant families who lack the financial and family network support and can’t afford childcare.  The list of barriers and challenges faced by immigrants does not end.

 This is just to name a few barriers. Like many newcomers to Canada, I faced many to employment-related issues including but not limited to credentials and Canadian experience. More importantly, immigrants of colour might face bias and discrimination when applying for jobs — statistically, women and immigrant women of colour are even at higher risk of facing employment challenges.

 For immigrant students in particular, which my area of work and advocacy is focused, they are faced with many barriers and this quote sums it very well: “The concerns of newly-arrived immigrant students include the need for English language acquisition, the lack of social support networks and of social acceptance, racial labeling and categorization, acquiring new learning styles, post-traumatic stress syndrome, different cultural scripts, and the typical development issues that all students face” (Williams & Butler, 2003, p.9).

I have paused when asked by Farah Nasser at “Living in Colour” if I think immigrants are treated differently based on where they come from, for example (Middle East versus Europe). Two main thoughts came to my mind.

 #1. The representation of immigrants of Colour and how these immigrants are portrayed in mainstream media. I grew up seeing all influential people in Hollywood movies, in business, in politics and different industries as white people. It was very rare to see a political leader who identifies as a person of colour. For example, I am someone who has political aspirations and I aspire to run for office one day but It is hard to visualize myself in that position when I don’t see immigrant women of colour in these positions. Representation really matters — genuine representation and not pulling the diversity card. This community should not be tokenized but rather recognized for their abilities, knowledge and experiences.

#2. This also goes hand-in-hand on how the mainstream media is portraying immigrants from certain backgrounds and identities such as Arab Immigrants, Muslim immigrants, Black and South Asian immigrants. Immigrants of Colour have been treated as outsiders and have been seen as “others.” Their race and identity have been linked to the criminal justice system and terrorism, these immigrants are treated differently based on their race, ethnicity, culture, background and where they come from. When I say media I not only mean newsrooms, but also movies, children’s cartoons, books, etc.

Many studies have shown the correlation and connection between media coverage and attitudes towards immigrants. It is time for our media to be on the right side of history and focus on the positive stories of migration. Media has the power to influence the discourse of migration and attitudes towards immigrants. The first step to change the negative image of immigrants in the media is to change the language being used in the media. Language has the power to transform our ways of thinking about this particular community. Language is used to frame, label and disadvantage a whole population. We should stop labeling immigrants as people that would drain the system, as unwanted invaders or even calling them “illegal aliens.”  We need a paradigm shift in the ways those immigrants are portrayed. We need to focus and shed light on the untold positive side/ stories of migration –these stories deserve to be documented and told.

After living six years in a country that prides itself with its diversity, multiculturalism and acceptance to people from different walks of life, I do believe that immigrants of colour are treated differently. I believe that we live in a society that has a very well established system that treats immigrants of colour as second class citizens. I’ll end up by asking how can we eliminate and remove the systemic and structural barriers to integration that prevent immigrants from fully participating in society and particularly immigrants of colour. How can we help them find their voice and place in the community and their sense of belonging?

Reflections on “Living in Colour: My Immigration Journey and the Helping Hands

I reflect daily on my immigration experience, but to prepare for the Living in Color interview I had to dig deeper. I needed to compare my story to others’. Since I founded the Newcomer Students’ Association of Ryerson four years ago, and through my capacity working in the settlement sector here in Toronto, I heard hundreds of these stories from fellow immigrant and refugee. I listened to accounts of struggle, fear, uncertainty, desperation, hope, sacrifice, courage, resilience and inspiration.

While this platform allowed me to connect with the community that I am part of — the immigrant community — it also showed me another side to life. A side that is full of fear and uncertainty, and how desperate people are to make fatal decisions to cross borders and rivers to seek refuge. A side that made me understand my position and privileges and question the human race/being. A side that made me wonder: If It was not for the people who gave me a helping hand when I first came to Canada, would I even be able to be where I am today?

Although our decision to move to Canada was influenced by the political situation back home, we still had a choice to make. Unlike many refugees who were forced to leave fleeing violence and persecution, we came here through the economic class as skilled immigrants. The Canadian immigration system is a point system that favours those who are privileged and have the resources and can afford to move and settle in Canada. We were the kind of immigrants Canada is looking to recruit. My husband and I were both highly educated, experienced, spoke the language and were young. We were privileged in the sense that we didn’t have to put our safety, or even our life, at risk coming here.

Is Migration Ever Going to End?

Migration, displacement and the refugee crises are not going to stop if we were not to identify and address root causes. We live in a world on the move where migration is influenced by circumstances and actions occurring around the world. Migration is shaped by politics, economy, demographics, human rights, climate change and much more. Climate change is and will continue to be one of the biggest drivers of migration. Natural disasters and the effect of climate change will continue to contribute to migration and displacement around the world.

Countries such as Canada will continue to have a growing number of people seeking asylum and protection. According to UNHCR’s annual Global Trends Report – released on June 2019 nearly 70.8 million people were displaced at the end of 2018. A number that is worth reflecting on. But how can Canada be a leading voice in migration? How can we do better in welcoming and accepting immigrants and refugees into our communities? 

—Sara Asalya

Reflections on “Living in Colour”: Embracing and Amplifying My Unique Voice

I was invited to speak at  Living in Colour show at Global TV with Farah Nasser. Farah and the producer of this show, Alley Wilson, are both women of colour. I am always thrilled to meet trailblazers women like Farah and Alley who utilize the media to tell the otherwise untold stories of everyday, lived experiences of people of colour. 

Storytelling can be a powerful tool to connect with people, their stories and relate to their experiences. I was struck by the incredible stories of people of colour in this show. Their courage, resilience and determination to not only share their own stories but also to continue to challenge the status quo. We need more platforms to feature POC and give them the space to share their own stories. Experiences with racism, microaggressions, experiences as visible minorities and how these people lead in everyday life while POC. How hard is it to lead while POC? How are our visible identities, race, colour of our skin socially constructed? How are we fighting for our  space in a predominantly white western society?


When I asked the host and producer of Living in Colour about the idea of the show and what is the message that they hoped the audience will get from this show, they wrote back:

“Although it has taken many years, I’ve learned to not apologize for who I am as a Woman of Colour but rather embrace my unique voice. My producer, Alley Wilson, started this series to talk about everyday subjects through the lens of people of colour and offer audiences different perspectives that they may not be exposed to regularly. Some of these conversations have been difficult, embarrassing and uncomfortable but all of them have been eye-opening.” – Farah Nasser, host of Living In Colour and Global News anchor

“As a woman of colour, I always found it hard to express what it was I was going through on a daily basis to people who were not from a racialized community. I came up with Living In Colour because I realized that I wasn’t alone in the way I felt. I wanted a safe space for people of colour (POCs) to have in-depth discussions, which are sometimes difficult and painful to tell, with people who would understand what it was they were going through. For the people who watch the show, whether they are POCs or not, I hope they understand that we aren’t trying to point fingers or blame anyone about what it is we’re going through. Instead, I want the audience to take note of our discussions and try to understand what it is we’re saying and why it’s important to us.” – Alley Wilson, producer of Living In Colour

Do I belong? 

Before coming to Canada, I never had any issues or struggles with my identity.  During my interview, I told Farah that one of my biggest challenges had been renegotiating my identity and finding a community that I can belong to.

This is a very complicated experience for many immigrants.  Negotiating a new identity and adapting to a new social location can be tough — but It is a self reflection journey that we should take. This journey has taught me that after so many years trying to desperately fit it, I now embrace my identity, who I am and feel a sense of pride that no one has the right to ever take from me. No one has the right to make me feel as if I don’t belong. 

Many immigrants don’t feel the same way. During the interview, I wanted to share my  self-reflection journey. I tell people that I will forever be an immigrant and, although I came to the realization of self-acceptance, the feeling of otherness in this country became my shadow — so do we really belong? Does that feeling exist in one of the most diverse countries in the world? Do we connect  despite our differences? Do people appreciate those differences? 

Everybody needs a helping hand at the beginning of their journey but are we giving these immigrants a helping hand or we are slamming the door behind us and saying enough of these immigrants? In the next blog I hope to start a conversation about how best to help.

—Sara Asalya

Newcomer Students’ Association’s Statement on Racial Justice

Like all of you, we are pained and deeply saddened by these recent tragedies. We stand firmly with the Black community and the Black Lives Matter movement. We are mourning the deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all of the Black lives that have been lost due to senseless police brutality and white supremacy. 

At its core, the Newcomer Students’ Association of Ryerson is about inclusivity and community. We stand in complete solidarity with the Black community, who has long faced racial injustice and unrest. We also stand in solidarity with #NotAnotherBlackLife, who organized a powerful and peaceful protest in Toronto this past weekend. 

Our organization is built on the foundations of equality, diversity and the importance of communities coming together to support one another. Black people have suffered under the oppressive weight of systemic racism in North America for too long and it must end. 

We are committed to taking the necessary steps to further our learning and confronting anti-Black racism within our own communities, neighbourhoods and institutions. We will hold ourselves accountable and pledge to never stop having uncomfortable and necessary conversations, calling out racism, and engaging the NSAR community in ongoing dialogue around this absolutely crucial and essential movement. 

NSAR demands justice in the cases of George Floyd, Regis Korchiniski-Paquet, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all cases of anti-Black racism and police brutality. We stand with protestors and their right to remain safe, respected and heard. We demand that substantial funding be allocated to fighting racism in Canada and provoking real, long-lasting change in ending anti-Black racism and providing equal opportunities to marginalized groups. 

We encourage you to support the following Toronto-based organizations that are working tirelessly to end racial injustice in Canada: 

Black Legal Action Centre
Black Women in Motion 
Black Lives Matter Toronto

In solidarity,
Newcomer Students’ Association

The Ford Government Continues to Fail Families

Recently, the Ontario government announced its plan to reopen child care centres across the province. Unfortunately, this plan is not without flaws. The proposed strategy, which was given to child care centres only three days in advance of reopening, features 20 pages of new protocols and safety procedures, such as fewer children, no visitors and heightened cleaning measures. This will undoubtedly increase operating costs, yet the government has offered no extra funding. This does not serve the needs of parents nor does it support child care providers. Child care advocates have described it as “half-baked, at best” and “grossly misinformed”. It’s a plan that doesn’t prioritize families—a critique that often surrounds the Ford government’s policies. As Carolyn Ferns of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care states, “The implementation of the government reopening of child care guidelines is impossible without proper support.”

There is no doubt that this pandemic has hit communities who are socially and economically disadvantaged the hardest, and this is especially true for women. According to Statistics Canada, over 1.5 million women lost their jobs in March and April. As the economy reopens, women will struggle to  regain their pandemic job losses. According to Heather Scoffield, an economist columnist at The Star, “men have regained about 15 per cent of their pandemic losses; women, about five per cent”. For mothers with preschool age children, employment levels rose just two per cent.

We can’t reopen the economy without having a clear plan to support families in post-pandemic recovery. Canadian women contribute about 40 per cent of household income. Therefore, there can be “no recovery without a she-covery,” and there can be no she-covery without child care. In one of Prime Minister Trudeau’s daily COVID-19 updates, he acknowledged that “this is one of the first recessions we’ve ever seen that has so hard hit vulnerable workers in the service sector, particularly women, new Canadians and young people.”

The child care system in Ontario is  broken and chronically underfunded. To make things worse, the sector has been recently suffering funding cuts introduced by the Ford government. Needless to mention that Ontarians pay the highest child care fees in the country, and Torontonians pay the highest infant care fees, estimated at an astounding $1,685 per month. We shouldn’t lose sight of the cracks and gaping holes in the system as we move forward with plans to reopen. The government’s rushed plan will push vulnerable women and working moms further into precarity. 

Prime Minister Trudeau acknowledged that “the need for child care has never been made clearer”. Clearly, stating the obvious doesn’t help the situation here. What families need is an action plan in place to support them, their children, early childhood educators and child care providers. A national child care strategy is indeed warranted. 

Child care operators are scrambling to meet the new safety guidelines announced by the government, which come with no promises of funding to support increased operational costs (such as the need for extra staffing, personal protective equipment, staff training and cleaning supplies). Advocates and operators expressed their concerns about this plan. One of these concerns is the government’s decision to reopen without giving adequate notice to centres, and with a lack of consultations with experts. Furthermore, the government didn’t address the retroactive funding decision that has left child care organizations across the province in a deficit position. Instead, the Ford government’s plan has left child care operators hanging, with many unanswered questions. 

Some child care centres refuse to reopen until the province meets their funding conditions. Sheila Olan-Maclean,  CEO of Compass Early Learning & Care and President of the Board of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care indicated that her organization is  almost $ 600,000 in deficit due to subsidizing their employee wages. She expressed concerns about being able to pay her staff a decent wage and questioned how child care centres are supposed to operate under the new guidelines. The ramifications of this plan could be equally devastating as almost 56,000 children in Toronto could be without daycare under this plan. 

Former Premier Kathleen Wynne rightly called the plan an “unrealistic, ill-considered instruction that is bound to fail”.  On top of this, the government has made clear that stiff fines have been put in place if child care centres do not comply with the reopening guidelines. 

We join many parents in voicing concerns about the reopening plan, including the fact that potential increases in child care costs will fall on the shoulders of  parents. Although Minister Lecce has promised to avoid increased fees, advocates argue that with no increase or government financial support, many child care centres will go bankrupt and be forced to shut down. 

Families are already struggling financially under COVID-19, as the old system does not work with or for us. It is high time that the needs of all families are taken into account as Ontario phases out strict public health measures. Now is the time to finally establish a national affordable and accessible child care system. 

The Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care and the Association of Early Childhood Educators of Ontario published an eye-opening report about a child care plan for Ontario. The report included 27 detailed recommendations for safe and healthy reopening of child care centres, including providing a minimum of three weeks’ notice prior to opening. Sadly, advocates say that the Ontario government didn’t consider most of these recommendations. Last week over 1500 individuals participated in a #FordFailsFamilies digital rally. More than 22,000 people signed an open letter to Ford and Lecce urging them to support and fund a safe child care reopening and recovery plan. Advocates are also calling for significant emergency funding about triple the government’s current child care budget to help centres safely reopen.

As two immigrant women, we have never reconciled with its unbearable costs. Many families simply cannot afford the rising costs and this is especially true for low-income families and newly arrived immigrants. If we want a just and fair recovery that acknowledges the gendered impact of this pandemic, then politicians need to listen to our needs and, once and for all, put families first.

—Sara Asalya and Souzan Michael Galway

A Note From Our Founder…

Since launching in 2016 as the Newcomer Students’ Association of Ryerson (NSAR), we have been on a mission to support and empower newcomer students at Toronto’s Ryerson University. Since then, we have expanded our operations and services to respond to the needs and support hundreds of newcomer students from different higher education institutions in Canada. We’ve built partnerships with more than 50 organizations, academic departments, student societies and groups. We have organized a variety of events and public forums to raise awareness about newcomer students’ challenges and issues, built solidarity with various communities, and delivered many workshops and training sessions to support the integration and transition process of immigrant women. Our programs focus on building civic engagement and leadership for immigrant women as well as building solidarity and allyship between newcomers and indigenous communities and bridging the dialogue between Indigeneity and immigration. Hundreds of newcomer students have attended our events and programs, and we look forward to continuing to grow and reaching out to more students.

I am thrilled to announce that going forward, we will be operating under the name Newcomer Students’ Association. Our story started at Ryerson University and for the past four years, our name has been The Newcomer Students’ Association of Ryerson. However, we recognize that name has prevented many newcomer students from reaching out to us and seeking support as the name implies that we only service newcomer students at Ryerson University. This is no longer the case. Our name has changed to encourage more students to get involved with our work and to allow us to better understand their needs and serve them.

That being said, newcomers, immigrants, and refugees who are not enrolled in a post-secondary institution are also welcome to join this community by filling out a membership form, found on our website. Our services and programs are accessible to all and are offered at no cost. 

Our new logo represents the work we do in creating pathways and space for newcomers, immigrants and refugees who are starting a new chapter of life. We want our members to continue sharing their lived experiences through storytelling, genuine and authentic connection, and community building. The colours represent the diversity and multiculturalism of those who come to the Newcomer Students’ Association, from different walks of life. The newcomer, immigrant and refugee community has always been at the heart of what we do, and we wanted our logo to be a reflection of our commitment to them.

Our mission remains the same: “to provide a safe space to empower newcomers and their allies to build fellowship, capacity, and community.” Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter below and to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

—Sara Asalya