In February the government of Canada unveiled comprehensive reforms to the Citizenship Act. Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, seeks to protect the value of Canadian citizenship and create more efficient and effective processes. Citizenship and Immigration Minister, Chris Alexander has stated that: “our government expects new Canadians to take part in the democratic life, economic potential and the rich cultural traditions that are involved in becoming a citizen. We are proud to introduce changes that reinforce the value of citizenship while ensuring the integrity of the immigration system is protected.”
Along with introducing reforms to rules regarding temporary foreign workers, refugees, provincial nominees and more, Alexander highlights the importance of immigrants to integrate into Canadian society. With 91% of immigrants residing in one of Canada’s 33 census metropolitan areas, with Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal accounting for 63.4% of all immigrants, it is the municipal governments and local institutions, which play a large role in dealing with the integration of newcomers into Canadian society.
In Canada, immigration selection and settlement programs are a federal responsibility. The federal government, through the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, provides for the settlement services through various agreements signed with individual provinces. Local governments, therefore, are not normally considered key, as they have little political autonomy and means to raise revenue. Municipalities, however, are key players when it comes to integration initiatives, as local governments are largely responsible for the direction of the multicultural policy development and provision of municipal services such as housing, recreation and community activities, child care, access to transit and more.
In their book The World In a City, Paul Aniseef and Michael Lanpier argue “social change, globalization, and persistently high unemployment rate, especially among newcomers, have produced a less-than-warm welcome for immigrants who strive to do well for themselves.” Immigrants regularly suffer from social exclusion, social closure, and racial polarization, and face many challenges in accessing services such as healthcare, education, employment and housing. As a result, the process of integration requires both economic and social support. Economic integration focuses on immigrants’ right to enter the work force by ensuring that individuals are aware of the requirements of the labour market and have access to and/or are aware of job search resources. While social integration focuses on the ability of new comers to participate in social institutions. For example, learning English to be able to effectively use and access education, police, and social welfare institutions.
This type of integration is particularly active at the local level. Take for example the City of Toronto. In 2011, Toronto had the largest share of immigrants, 37.4% of all foreign-born in Canada. One of the ways that the city fosters inclusion is through several policies such as the employment equity policy, a non-discrimination policy and human rights policy, which reflect diversity. Moreover, the city has developed its Newcomer Strategy. The strategy focuses on building partnerships, bringing together newcomer organizations and focusing on its strategic pillars to advance the settlement of immigrants.
Overall, the integration of newcomers into Canada cannot only be thought of as a national to global issue. The social and economic dimension of their inclusion into society is very much a local issue, as newcomers need to settle into a local community and labour market. However, there are concerns that current local interventions are too small to address the persisting issues faced by immigrant populations, primarily issues regarding Canadian work experience, credential recognition, communication barriers, and discrimination and racism. Therefore, to ensure that Canada lives up to its international reputation as a nation built on immigrants and favorable to multiculturalism, more needs to be done to ensure that local initiatives are able to support the growing need. And with the Department of Citizenship and Immigration’s launch of the Local Immigration Partnerships (LIPs), an initiative that seeks to connect municipalities and large organizations to create suitable solutions to integration, the government is moving in the right direction to recognizing the importance of engagement at the local level.