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Published Work

Bridging the gap between immigrants and minority service providers

The immigrant service sector may be on the verge of a “fiscal cliff,” faced with reduced funding from several levels of government and a dramatic shift in the profile of newcomers arriving in Canada, an Ottawa conference heard on the weekend.

In a presentation that was designed to be provocative, Meyer Burstein, director of policy and planning for Pathways to Prosperity (P2P), highlighted some of the shifts underway: more immigrants headed to western Canada, a higher number settling in rural areas and an “explosion” in the number of non-permanent migrants. P2P describes itself as “an alliance of university, community, and government partners dedicated to fostering welcoming communities and promoting the integration of immigrants and minorities across Canada.”

Mr. Burstein talked about the “rapid changes” that have occurred in “the whole settlement ecosystem” – from the ‘flatlining’ of immigrants through the family class to the dependence of many settlement organizations on government funding, while cutbacks occur at the federal level and are expected at the provincial level as well. He commented on the sector’s lack of capacity to respond to these and other changes and the need for innovation and to “capitalize on key strengths” in the sector.

There is arguably a “reduced need for service,” he said, urging settlement agencies to use new technologies and existing networks to identify new sources of funds.

Jon Worren, of MaRS Discovery District, also discussed innovation in the sector, and presented a business model framework for use by the sector. Adnan Qayyum of Pennsylvania State University stressed the importance of smart targeting and “high touch” services for newcomers – some of whom may be exposed to a deluge of information.

Some Pathways participants expressed opposing views, noting that the sector has adapted from a focus on refugees to that of skilled workers. Challenges to sharing information and best practices were also noted given the competing nature of contribution grants and contracts.

Quebec’s secular charter

The Quebec node of Pathways to Prosperity hosted a roundtable discussion on the Quebec Charter of Values and its implications on immigration. Panelists from universities both within and outside of Quebec, as well as provincial networks working with minority groups, addressed the reasons behind the charter’s development as well as its implications for minority (ethnic and language) communities.

Chedly Belkhodja of the University of Moncton stated that the charter’s development is “politics at its best,” noting that Pauline Marois’ Parti Quebecois is seeking to “define its turf” and be in a clear position before the next provincial election. Prof. Chedly also stated that the discussion in Quebec is “not different from the discussion in other countries,” countries that are also retreating from multiculturalism and blaming immigrants (e.g. Arabs, Muslims) for internal issues.

Pathway investigators sought to use the panel discussion to identify needed research areas. Participants noted a need to find out what immigrants in other parts of Canada are thinking, as well as the views of religious Quebeckers before and after the establishment of the charter.

Pathways organizers expressed a desire to set up a “repository of information” and to make the sector’s voice more visible in research. From the audience, Getachew Woldyesus, of Saskatchewan Association of Immigrant Settlement and Integration Agencies (SAISIA) offered a “challenge to the academic community,” noting their power and that government “policies are based on what [they] write.” Mr. Woldyesus, with visible support from others in the audience, addressed the need for the academic community to be aware of its role and to serve as “an ally” and to work with local service providers.

Pathway organizers intend to make the conference an annual event, providing future opportunities to bridge and reinforce the relationship between researchers and settlement service practitioners.

Read it on New Canadian Media.

Obama remarks bring racial profiling to the fore
U.S. President Barack Obama remarked unexpectedly on the Trayvon Martin case during a recent White House press briefing. His statement was eloquent, empathetic and thoughtful, and was reminiscent of the Obama persona many came to know and love when he was on his first campaign for the White House.
While Obama did discuss the ruling in which George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch coordinator, was acquitted of shooting dead Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old African-American, what was remarkable about his speech was his bold step to establish a more intimate connection with Martin.
Obama directly identified with the dead youth assumed by a large portion of the U.S. public to be a hoodlum.  He said that “Trayvon Martin could have been [him] 35 years ago,” a step up from his earlier remark that “Trayvon could have been my son.” Obama legitimized the personal experiences of many blacks in the U.S. (and in Canada too) with these remarks. His statements rang true for so many blacks and other ethnic minorities – most of whom have had the experiences when he said:
“There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.”
Obama’s statements lend credence to the experience of so many ethnic minorities. Even (arguably) the most powerful man in the world faces the same challenges of discrimination and prejudice as the everyday man and woman.  He confirmed what many already know to be the truth and their lived experience. If he weren’t a public figure, he too could suffer the same treatment that is a commonplace occurrence for so many.
Obama is no stranger to discussions on race. He notes that as an Illinois senator, he passed legislation on racial profiling which collected data on traffic stops and the race of the individuals who were stopped. The legislation also provided resources for training police departments to think about “potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing.”
Ottawa Police study
 
Obama’s remarks are timely in a Canadian context, given that the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) began its traffic stop study at the end of June to address the issue of racial bias and racial profiling by police. Obama states what is already known by racially profiled citizens from Ottawa to London, England to Washington, DC: “there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws.”
Whether the OPS study ends up being effective in addressing the problems in this city remains to be seen; but, regardless of the study’s conclusions, ethnic minorities already know that policies aren’t always applied fairly. A study isn’t required to inform citizens of this fact. All law-abiding citizens want, as Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post says, to see “those policies applied fairly” – regardless of race.  – New Canadian Media

Read it on New Canadian Media.

Cover Girls

This past week there has been a fair amount of coverage regarding the appearance of women of colour in high fashion print ads, as well as on magazine covers. For the first time in 19 years, Prada is using a black woman in its ad campaign — Malaika Firth, a Kenyan-born, U.K.-raised model. And in recent days, Vanity Fair unveiled its cover, featuring Scandal and Django Unchained (and African-American) actress Kerry Washington, to much fanfare.

Some might ask why so much attention is being paid to these latest events and why they’re considered to be so culturally significant. The reality is that it’s rare to see many people of colour in print ads or on the cover of magazines. In fact, it seems as though the use of ethnic models on the runways or catwalk shows of high and haute couture fashion houses is even declining as more and more designers have become less interested in models with personality, or whose appearance may ‘detract’ from the clothing. Instead, they have been favouring the generic, read: white, models, so that the focus is purely on the clothing. In my view it’s a specious argument, but logic doesn’t always seem to prevail in fashion.

Today, it is still a big deal to have a person of colour on the front page of a mainstream magazine. Of course, you’ll see ethnics on the covers of niche magazines or in targeted advertising — those directed to a particular ethnic community — but it is infrequent in high fashion magazines, such as Vogue.

The lack of diversity is a problem that plagues all ethnicities. Blacks and hispanics in North America seem to fare better than other ethnic groups, but overall ethnics lack prominence in fashion campaigns and entertainment culture.

While in the grand scheme most of our attention should be focused on issues of greater importance — such as literacy among ethnic minority school children, high school and university graduation rates, and ethnic representation in institutions such as the judiciary and government — we can’t disregard the fact that fashion and entertainment are multibillion dollar industries, and industries that often play significant roles in our day-to-day lives. They determine what products we buy, which movies we see, how we dress and come to create our personal style, and they also influence how we see ourselves.

For a model or actress to be featured on the cover of a magazine suggests that they’ve achieved cultural importance and popularity; and, perhaps, more significantly, that they wield economic power and are highly influential. The elegantly dressed actress or model informs our concepts of beauty and elegance and shapes what we covet or desire to be. Magazines (i.e. the editors behind the covers), whether they’re absolutely right or not, are authorities and arbiters of popular culture. They tell us what, or who is beautiful and iconic. They tell us who we should emulate and to whom we should aspire to be. They inform our conventional ideas. So often if something is not explicitly stated or shown, it’s as though it doesn’t exist. And if particular groups of people are not visible for all to see, in arenas that embody our cultural standards, it suggests that they are seen as inferior, unimportant, or, dare I say, not attractive enough.

Recently, Kerry Washington stated that she hoped to soon live in a “post-racist world” — and perhaps it would be a world where diversity in the media was the norm because it reflects actual society. Here’s hoping that Malaika and Kerry’s moments are not blips on the radar, but that we will see them, and other minorities, on a regular basis as cover girls.

Read it on Huffington Post Canada.

Race-based police study begins in Ottawa

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) began its Traffic Stop Race Data Collection Project today, under which officers will, “by their observation only,” record the race – or their perception of the race – of a driver at all traffic stops.

The project is the largest of its kind in Canada and stems from a May 2012 settlement agreement between the Ottawa Police Services Board and the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) following a complaint by Chad Aiken, an African-Canadian.

Aiken, a teenager at the time, stated that he was pulled over by police for being black. While the OHRC and the Ottawa Police assert that the race-based data collection project will help to “ensure bias-free policing,” there are many dissenting voices both within and outside of Ottawa’s ethnic communities. Many question the manner in which the project is being conducted, as well as its effectiveness in the long run.

Aiken, and other ethnic minorities in the community disagree with the length of the study (limited to two years), as well as its scope. The project focuses solely on traffic (vehicular) stops, and not other possible points of engagement between police officers and citizens, such as pedestrian stops, and so could fail to address the myriad ways in which citizens may be targeted due to their race.

Scot Wortley, Associate Professor of Criminology at the University of Toronto, concurs with the views expressed by Aiken and other critics of the project. Wortley, who conducted Canada’s first study on perception of race by police when pulling people over, in Kingston, in 2005, has also stated that the settlement and the resulting project are “police-friendly”.

In a June 2, 2013 interview with the Ottawa Citizen’s Don Butler, Wortley expresses, among other issues, concern with the fact that the Ottawa Police has control over how the study is conducted.

Sulaimon Giwa, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Social Work, at York University, also questions the restricted scope of the study and the “self-reporting” by police that will be at the heart of the data.While Giwa states that the “race data collection project has the promise of shining light on an issue that has long plagued the relationship between the [OPS] and members of racialized communities in Ottawa,” he believes that limiting the project to traffic stops “is a major oversight.”

Giwa notes that current research demonstrates “differences between pedestrian and traffic stops,” with pedestrian stops being “far-reaching” in impact. Omission of pedestrian police stops, according to Giwa, “overlook[s] the weight of evidence available to support a more comprehensive investigation.” Giwa also believes that restricting the data collection period to the two-year timeframe, rather than implementing an indefinite initiative,  places serious limitations on the project  and “raise[s] the question of accountability” on the part of the police.

The Ottawa Police could be “a leader on this issue and [could] demonstrate its long-term commitment to ethical policing practices.” For Giwa, “self-reporting” is “problematic on many levels” as there is “potential for police to misrepresent or falsify the race of drivers” to avoid accusations of racial bias.

While the Ottawa Police believes that the race data collection project will help to combat racial profiling, critics like Giwa question the privileging of race data collection by police as the “method  of inquiry” over the stories told to the police and the general public by racialized communities. Although racialized communities have already brought attention to the issue, it seems that their accounts are not seen as legitimate.

Further, Giwa notes that while the police force “points out that it is the first police service in Canada to have a racial profiling policy, [and] one that is the most comprehensive in the developed world […] it fails to stipulate what, if any, disciplinary or remedial action would be taken against an officer found to have engaged in racial profiling.”

Ultimately, the Ottawa Police project will only be seen as effective to racialized communities if the police force is seen to be accountable for its actions. Until that happens, police-minority relations may see little to no improvement at all.

Read it on New Canadian Media.

Race-based police study begins in Ottawa

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) began its Traffic Stop Race Data Collection Project today, under which officers will, “by their observation only,” record the race – or their perception of the race – of a driver at all traffic stops.

The project is the largest of its kind in Canada and stems from a May 2012 settlement agreement between the Ottawa Police Services Board and the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) following a complaint by Chad Aiken, an African-Canadian.

Aiken, a teenager at the time, stated that he was pulled over by police for being black. While the OHRC and the Ottawa Police assert that the race-based data collection project will help to “ensure bias-free policing,” there are many dissenting voices both within and outside of Ottawa’s ethnic communities. Many question the manner in which the project is being conducted, as well as its effectiveness in the long run.

Aiken, and other ethnic minorities in the community disagree with the length of the study (limited to two years), as well as its scope. The project focuses solely on traffic (vehicular) stops, and not other possible points of engagement between police officers and citizens, such as pedestrian stops, and so could fail to address the myriad ways in which citizens may be targeted due to their race.

Scot Wortley, Associate Professor of Criminology at the University of Toronto, concurs with the views expressed by Aiken and other critics of the project. Wortley, who conducted Canada’s first study on perception of race by police when pulling people over, in Kingston, in 2005, has also stated that the settlement and the resulting project are “police-friendly”.

In a June 2, 2013 interview with the Ottawa Citizen’s Don Butler, Wortley expresses, among other issues, concern with the fact that the Ottawa Police has control over how the study is conducted.

Sulaimon Giwa, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Social Work, at York University, also questions the restricted scope of the study and the “self-reporting” by police that will be at the heart of the data.While Giwa states that the “race data collection project has the promise of shining light on an issue that has long plagued the relationship between the [OPS] and members of racialized communities in Ottawa,” he believes that limiting the project to traffic stops “is a major oversight.”

Giwa notes that current research demonstrates “differences between pedestrian and traffic stops,” with pedestrian stops being “far-reaching” in impact. Omission of pedestrian police stops, according to Giwa, “overlook[s] the weight of evidence available to support a more comprehensive investigation.” Giwa also believes that restricting the data collection period to the two-year timeframe, rather than implementing an indefinite initiative, places serious limitations on the project and “raise[s] the question of accountability” on the part of the police.

The Ottawa Police could be “a leader on this issue and [could] demonstrate its long-term commitment to ethical policing practices.” For Giwa, “self-reporting” is “problematic on many levels” as there is “potential for police to misrepresent or falsify the race of drivers” to avoid accusations of racial bias.

While the Ottawa Police believes that the race data collection project will help to combat racial profiling, critics like Giwa question the privileging of race data collection by police as the “method of inquiry” over the stories told to the police and the general public by racialized communities. Although racialized communities have already brought attention to the issue, it seems that their accounts are not seen as legitimate.

Further, Giwa notes that while the police force “points out that it is the first police service in Canada to have a racial profiling policy, [and] one that is the most comprehensive in the developed world […] it fails to stipulate what, if any, disciplinary or remedial action would be taken against an officer found to have engaged in racial profiling.”

Ultimately, the Ottawa Police project will only be seen as effective to racialized communities if the police force is seen to be accountable for its actions. Until that happens, police-minority relations may see little to no improvement at all.

Read it on New Canadian Media.