At a News Conference for the Unveiling of the Revamped Welcome to Canada Guide
Vancouver, British Columbia
April 2, 2013
Well, thank you very much, Eyob, to you and to everyone here at MOSAIC for your warm welcome. This is a great organization, which I first visited about five years ago. It helps newcomers to Canada become proud Canadians and succeed. And Eyob, you yourself personify that story that so many millions of Canadians know through experience, having come here as a refugee 30 years ago or so from Ethiopia. And having, I imagine, faced some real adversity at the beginning, but having had the tenacity and sense of hope and optimism to overcome those challenges, to succeed and, most importantly, to offer your – the benefit of your experience to new Canadians. So thank you to the staff, volunteers, board directors and everyone at MOSAIC, and all of the settlement organizations who do such brilliant work to help make integration a success story for people.
I was just speaking to my friend Nick Noorani who helped us to edit this new guide, and Nick reminded me that many newcomers, when they arrive in Canada – to use his words – are terrified with the challenge that they face. And I often talk about that. I’m always conscious that later on today, there will be some flights arriving at YVR from different cities in Asia, and on every one of those planes there will be people who walk up to the immigration secondary desk run by the CBSA at Vancouver Airport. And as they walk up to that desk, they will be filled with a sense of hope, but also uncertainty – a certain sense of anxiety and trepidation, because this is their new life. They’ve perhaps been dreaming about immigrating to Canada for years. They’ve been planning for months, and now finally they’ve arrived in this new land, having left behind everything and everyone that’s familiar in order to take a chance, in order to take a risk on a brighter future for themselves and their children.
And I always think that our obligation is to make sure that we do everything possible so that when they walk out of the immigration sector of the airport, having had “Permanent Resident” stamped into their passport, that they walk out with a spring in their step, with a sense of optimism, with some sense of what their plan will be, of where they’ll go, of where their first home will be, and how they’ll get their first job.
So that’s really what we’re here about today, which is to announce important new tools to help give that sense of confidence leading to success. After all, the story of immigration to Canada is part of our national identity. In the past few years, we’ve been maintaining the highest sustained levels of immigration in our history in absolute terms, admitting about 255,000-to-260,000 permanent residents per year, as well as welcoming record numbers of foreign students and visitors. The reason we maintain that tradition of openness and generosity is because we believe that immigration must be a tool to fuel our future prosperity.
You know, we always point out to Canadians that even though there are too many unemployed Canadians, there are also too many unfilled jobs and we have a demographic shift that is about to lead to very significant skill and labour shortages in our economy. We need to make sure that newcomers are well-prepared to take advantage of those opportunities and to realize their potential. And that’s what this is all about.
We can all have differences of opinion, as we do, about this immigration policy or that one. But I think all of us as Canadians, regardless of where we come from, can agree that the goal of integration should be the realization of the potential of the people who make Canada their new home, so that they can work at their skill level, fully contributing to the productivity of Canada’s economy. For too long, that has not been the case. For too long, we’ve seen a labour-force participation rate amongst newcomers substantially lower than that of the general population. And, scandalously, we have seen the rate of unemployment amongst new immigrants twice as high as that of the overall unemployment rate. Worst of all, the unemployment rate for new immigrations with university degrees is four-to-five times higher than it is for Canadian-born people with university degrees.
This makes no sense in an economy with skill shortages, with labour shortages. Nor does it make any sense that we have seen a 40-year decline in relative incomes for newcomers to Canada. We need to turn all of these things around.
This is one of the reasons why the Government of Canada has tripled our investment in settlement services delivered outside of Quebec from $200-million a year in 2006 to over $600-million a year in this fiscal year. And I’m pleased to say that the Government of Canada will be directly administering those funds again here in the province of British Columbia. We thank B.C. for its partnership in the past few years, but we believe that it will be a little more efficient to ensure that we have direct federal administration of those funds, and that will also help us to ensure consistent levels of services across the country.
So in addition to those services – the kind delivered by MOSAIC and dozens of other settlement organizations in Canada – we provide various tools. One thing that we’ve done, which has been a modest success, has been the pre-arrival orientation. We created the Canadian Immigrant Integration Program, delivered by the Association of Canadian Community Colleges, which is available to 85 per cent of the selected economic immigrants to Canada. When we inform them of the good news that they’ve been selected to become permanent residents – we’re talking about federal skilled workers, provincial nominees, and other economic immigrants – we then invite them to attend a free two-day seminar and to receive personalized counselling on how to develop their integration plan for Canada, with a focus on finding a job and getting their skills certified or licensed.
And we’ve had, I think, 20,000 participants in that program. That’s modest compared to the number of immigrants, but very good results.
And now, today, we are announcing another important tool that will be available to all newcomers – those who are planning on coming, who around the world will be able to download this online, and to new Canadians as they arrive. They will all now be able to get a copy of the new Welcome to Canada guide to settlement. This will be available in both official language, hard copies and online. It’s my hope that the CBSA officers will give people a free copy as they arrive at airports.
This new guide is twice as long as the previous version, with a lot more practical information. For example, there are new sections about how to access language classes, how to get a health insurance card, and how to obtain a driver’s license. It will help immigrants adjust to daily life in Canada, with information on everything from opening a bank account to buying a train ticket.
To that end, the Welcome to Canada guide also provides basic information about Canada’s education system, our legal system, the domestic labour market and more. And there are many issues that are discussed in the new guide that have never appeared in previous versions. In line with the new Discover Canada guide, which is for people who are aspiring to citizenship, the Welcome to Canada integration guide informs newcomers of what’s not acceptable in Canada. And this is a sensitive issue, but I think it’s important for us to be clear with people about what cultural and legal limitations and expectations exist in Canada.
So for the first time, the guide states that – for example – female genital mutilation and so-called honour-based crimes are barbaric and will not be tolerated in Canada. It also informs readers that forced marriages and polygamy are illegal here. And it has a section explaining that marriage fraud is not allowed, and those who commit it could face several penalties. We don’t dwell on these things – 90 per cent of the guide is practical, about services and practical challenges. But again, I think it is helpful for us to be transparent about some of those more difficult issues.
A new first that I think newcomers will really enjoy is that Welcome to Canada includes real-life examples of immigrants and refugees who have successfully integrated and who significantly contribute to our country.
For example, Vincent Nguyen, who made a daring escape from communist Vietnam in a wooden boat and was resettled to Canada as a refugee in Toronto. Young Vincent was able to follow his dream of becoming a Catholic priest. He also learned English, because he came to Canada with no English. He learned it. He earned a degree in electrical engineering and in 2010 was appointed the first bishop of Asian origin in Canada. So Vincent is a shining example of how Canada makes it possible for people to live in freedom and to excel to the point of making history.
Included in the guide is also the example of Baltej Singh Dhillon, who was born in Malaysia, and immigrated to Canada with humble beginnings, working on a local dairy farm up in the Fraser Valley. He’s now a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer – staff sergeant in Surrey – who fought for the right to wear his turban while on duty. This is consistent with the military tradition to which the RCMP is a proud part, and we offer him as a great example of success of a new Canadian.
And for the first time, Welcome to Canada includes practical advice and anecdotes from an immigrant’s perspective. And for that I want to thank my friend Nick Noorani, an immigrant to Canada himself, who is a social entrepreneur, author and advocate for immigrants. He was the founder of Canadian Immigrant Magazine and of the Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award. And he’s one of Canada’s most knowledgeable specialists in integration.
He enhanced the new guide as an editor, with sound advice that will be extremely useful to anyone starting a new life in Canada. And I thank you for that, Nick.
We are making it very easy for anyone who wants to read the new guide to access a copy. We will have print copies, such as the ones here today, available at ports of entry to Canada as early as next month, as I’ve said. But the guide will also be available for download on our website in PDF or ebook format, so anyone around the world can download a copy and read it right off their iPad or similar device. As you can see, we already have it loaded up, so CIC, believe it or not, is getting into the 21st century. I want to thank our tech personnel for making this possible, but there you go, living colour. We have it. So people can download it on their iPad, and as they’re flying to Canada, by the time they land, they know everything they need to know.
Now I want to say that I’m pleased to launch a new online interactive tool on the CIC website as well today called the Living in Canada wizard. It is designed to assist newcomers to Canada by assessing their needs and directing them to resources available in their community. There will be a short demonstration of this tool, I believe, after today’s news conference. It follows the resounding success of our Come to Canada wizard, which has had, I think, millions of visits to help aspiring immigrants apply to come here.
As you’ll see, Living in Canada asks users a series of questions and, based on their answers, provides them with a detailed integration plan, a personalized plan. Users can also make use of an interactive map on our website that will show them on a map where all of the local settlement agencies are located, such as this one.
The Living in Canada tool also produces a semi-customized settlement plan filled with tips, next steps and useful links based on user responses to the initial questionnaire. Newcomers can then bring with them their customized settlement plans for additional personalized support. So imagine in the future, hopefully you’ll have some of your clients showing up here, already having a sense from this online tool of what they need to know.
Those of us who are lucky enough to have been raised in this country take much of this information for granted. But for newcomers, it is unfamiliar territory. Knowing about these things can be critical for a smooth transition to settling in Canada.
One last thing I want to say as perhaps a next step – Nick and I were just discussing this: You know, these tools are produced in English and French, but we recognize that perhaps people who often have the greatest needs in terms of integration support have very limited, or no, English or French language proficiency, or may not even be literate. And I think the next frontier in these kinds of integration tools perhaps is online video content in major non-official languages that people can watch. You know, this is always a tricky issue, because we don’t want to go down the direction of producing every government product in non-official languages, for obvious reasons. But I think some of the basic information could be helpfully provided in the future through online video content in non-official languages.
So I am really excited about today’s announcement and about this new product, this new tool. I want to thank everyone in my department. By the way, we’ve had widespread consultations in developing this – the Council of Ministers of Education and many different experts in integration. Thank you to all of them, especially to Nick, who I would now like to invite to say a few words.