Newcomers to Toronto face challenges


By Liz Shiro

Liz Shiro: For centuries, people from all over the world came to Canada to make it their home. The multiculturalism reflects in cultural neighbourhoods and authentic foods, but also in the lack of representation in the higher leadership positions. This documentary will explore the main challenges experienced by newcomers in Toronto. In 2016, Toronto was named the most multicultural city in the world by BBC, bypassing London, New York and Melbourne. Every single country in the world is curated by the shore of Lake Ontario in Toronto. If somebody is visiting the city for the first time, they could experience a piece of Greece and China all within the same day, without paying for a plane ticket. With nearly three million people in the city, 51 per cent of residents were born outside of Canada. People from all over the globe choose to live in Toronto and make it their home. There are primarily four ways to become a permanent resident in Canada: they could be admitted through the economic streams, family sponsorships, protected persons and refugees or humanitarian. In 2019, Canada welcomed around 340,000 new permanent residents. Jessica Silva Schezar came from Brazil a few years ago. Her husband got a job in Toronto, but she chose a different path.

Jessica Silva Schezar: I started studying here, again, I did an undergraduate degree in kinesiology, which I’m finishing. And now I’m trying to, to enter into grad school of therapy and pursue this dream. And I think, here in Canada, it’s really, really nice to have this.

Liz Shiro: Silva Schezar had high expectations of life in Canada. It’s safer here and it’s much more diverse. With her fresh view, she feels that Toronto is what it promises to be: multicultural.

Jessica Silva Schezar: If you’re walking down the street, you can, like, even in just one street, you can pass by like Japanese, Chinese, Mexican or Indian restaurants, like, on the same street, and there’s, you can’t see, like, that often in many places around the world.

Liz Shiro: There are many opportunities for everybody to connect to their roots without leaving Toronto. The city is rich with restaurants, community events and grocery stores, but not every culture is equally represented as others. Irina Kochkina moved to Canada from Russia with her family in 1998. When she was young, her parents were looking for a fresh start. As a teenager, her family lived in Barrie, where the Russian community is very small, so she never felt connected. Now, Kochnkina has lived in Toronto by herself for the past seven years.

Irina Kochkina: I feel like I can be more connected, like, I shop in Russian stores. And I follow, like, Russian accounts, and I try to go to Russian restaurants from time to time. But I don’t feel like I’m a part of a community. I feel like, even though it’s nice been there, like, and I love shopping, like, I, Yummy Market, for example. And I love, like, being there makes me feel like I’m back home. But as soon as I’m out the door, I don’t feel like I’m part of a community or know any Russian people. I feel I definitely feel like there’s not enough Russian restaurants. But there is all these other authentic restaurants from other countries that, you know, you can go to and be a part of, and try the food and be exposed to the culture a hell of a lot more than like Russian community per say. So, I feel I do feel like I get more exposure to other ethnicities than I do on my own.

Liz Shiro: Some cultural communities are smaller than others, so there are less people from their culture, or they live outside of the neighbourhood that is typically associated with their nation. In order to become a part of the culture which some people are from, it’s could help to attend cultural events. Ya Chen Ou came to Canada with her mother from china in 2008, when she was 10 years old. Ou talks about her mother’s experience on why they moved.

Ya Chen Ou: Part of the reason why she came to Canada is a lot like everybody else: she wants a better life for her and her children. You always hear about the, the positive things that people here [are] so nice. And there, they embrace other cultures, and that’s why people feel they are welcomed here…. At the same time, I feel like sometimes multiculturalism is just a slogan, really, thing in Canada. There is an aspect where I feel like that is multiculturalism is true, but in a deeper level. Realistically speaking, there’s still a lot that could be improved.

Liz Shiro: Having different cultures all in one place can be extremely challenging for those who are choosing to move to Canada and make it their home. When a new person comes to Canada, the government considers them a newcomer for the first five years after their arrival. Some of the widely known challenges that are faced by these people are language barriers or cultural differences. But there are more than that. There are more challenges that are as important, such as finding a great job and potentially getting discriminated in one way or another. Unlike the other people i talked to, Shellie Green was born in Canada, but her parents moved from Jamaica before she was born.

Shellie Green: There is a stigma that comes when you are when your parents are immigrants and you’re a child of immigrant parents. There is a lot of shame that comes with it. So, for example, if you know, my parents aren’t able to help me with certain homework or certain school stuff, or filling up certain documentation, there is a condemning that happens and sort of, I’m not condemning of me, but condemning of my parents, for not necessarily having the tools or understanding or knowing how to help me with certain things.

Liz Shiro: Green’s mother had to work hard to make her family’s life great, but she also faced challenges as a Jamaican newcomer.

Shellie Green: I know one of the struggles was also to my mom having to work two jobs to provide for us. And a lot of times, I find that there is a hierarchy, especially here in the Western world, particularly Canada, because that’s a relay, where certain jobs are seen as more worthy than other jobs. And usually, the jobs that are on the on the lower part of the hierarchy ladder are jobs that are mainly people who are undocumented or folks who are immigrants…. When you’re [a]certain age, you shouldn’t be working at a fast food restaurant, or you shouldn’t be working at a grocery store. Those are for like the teenage people, the high school kids, college kids. And it’s, like, but nobody stops to understand that when you are an immigrant and you’re not from Canada, you don’t necessarily have that privilege or luxury to take a risk, right? To go to school and hope that you get a job in your field, you have to work right away, to make ends meet for you and, and the people that you provide for because you are not a Canadian citizen.

Liz Shiro: When people try to move to Canada, the majority have to apply to be considered. In 2018, 58 per cent of newcomers became new permanent residents through the economic stream, which means that Canada accepts people that will bring them gain in the economic sector. On the government of Canada’s website, there’re multiple criteria’s which you could qualify in order to immigrate to Canada. Some of them include the federal skilled trade class, which are people that are qualified in a skilled trade and have the ability to become economically established. Dr. Usha George is a professor of social work at Ryerson University and the current academic director of the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement. Her research focuses on examining policies and programs to ensure newcomers have the support they need to settle and become a contributing member to Canadian society. She explains the current situation regarding newcomers in Canada.

Dr. Usha George: Right now, the current immigration landscape is about a million people in the next three years or is this coming three years. That’s going to be a problem because of COVID. Lots of people are not coming or they’re waiting. And then we also hear that people who have been here as newcomers have gone back, not a significant number, but quite a number because they’ve found it difficult to find jobs, and you have to have jobs in order to find housing and all that kind of stuff. So that’s, that’s sort of the newcomer numbers scenario.

Liz Shiro: Even before the pandemic started, there’s another problem that many newcomers experience when finding a job. Dr. George continues.

Dr. Usha George: If you had an engineer in India, that does not mean that he will be or that person would be an engineer here in Canada. They have to go through a number of exams, and series of presidencies and all kinds of things, in addition to qualifying themselves with English language, and so on. So, Canadian experience is something that all employers ask for a part in order to call yourself as a professional engineer, this individual has to go through all the steps and there are many of them. And that goes for any, any kind of profession: dentist, doctor, pharmacist. Only a group of jobs that for which you don’t need the professional accreditation is technology, IT so many people who come with it qualifications are able to get jobs faster.

Liz Shiro: Henry wang moved to Canada in 2010, as a teenager from China. Recently, he graduated as an electrical engineer. He explained that it’s more difficult to become an engineer in Canada than he expected.

Henry Wang: In order to become a real engineer in Ontario, you have to be in the PEO program, Professional Engineer of Ontario, PEO in short. And it requires 48 months of experience, approved experience, working in Canada as an engineer on his own, on his own field. And to all engineers around the world who wants to become a PE in Ontario. It is a horrible, horrible time to get through the 48 months because, first, as a immigrant, you don’t understand, you don’t know who here has the authority to approve what you have done for the past 48 months. You have to find someone, and it is hard to find someone to approve? You have to assign into a PEO into the PO unit. And for most of people, they won’t even bother and it’s super annoying to sign up for it.

Liz Shiro: Dr. George elaborates that the Canadian government doesn’t take it upon itself to make sure that every person who comes to Canada is working up to full capacity. When newcomers arrive to Canada, it’s then their responsibility to find a job, even if it’s not what they originally studied back home. If they wanted to continue working in their profession, they might have to get recertified in Canada. In Toronto, one out of five people live in poverty and unfortunately this is the reality for some newcomers. Athena Xiong is a grant writer for a community non-profit organization that services mostly low-income refugees, who are women, children and youth. She provides services such as ESL, sewing and entrepreneurship classes, along with a daycare. Not everybody were given equal opportunities even before people came to Canada. Xiong says.

Athena Xiong: Many of these refugees are mothers who may not even be literate, having not gone to school at all in their home country. Or they can be highly, highly literate, I met one woman who had a master’s in education but who was having difficulty finding a job. Her English level skill was very, very high, she’s actually a woman participating in the immigrant women integration program. So, she, despite having very good English skills and being very highly educated, was having trouble finding a job, because those certificates and those accolades of hers may not be considered valid in Canada.

Liz Shiro: The problem is often not just about having the right qualifications in order to work in Canada, but instead it might include discrimination against race, sex or skin colour. Xiong continues.

Athena Xiong: Our clients are never just, you know, a Muslim experiencing Islamophobia, or a Black person experiencing racism or a woman experiencing sexism. That client is a Black Muslim woman. And those three things combined is greater than just racism, just Islamophobia, just sexism.

Liz Shiro: One of the solutions to support newcomers that is offered by the government, as dr. George mentioned earlier, are services that are targeted specifically towards newcomers.  According to the government of Canada’s website, there’re 417 services in Toronto. They offer help looking for a job, ESL classes, finding a place to live, helping kids and learning more about other community services. Unfortunately, not all newcomers make use of these services for multiple reasons: they don’t know about them, but at the same time, these services are extremely swamped with requests for their aid. The Toronto city council adopted the newcomer’s strategy in 2013, which emphasizes making the life of newcomers better. Their mission is to advance the settlement and integration of all newcomers to Toronto through supportive services. In 2014, Toronto became the first city outside of Europe to sign the charter by mayor john tory, which requires the municipal government to provide equal opportunities for all residents, including newcomers to embrace the diversity. Vera Dodic is the manager of the Toronto newcomer office and shares some of the actions that Toronto has taken to create a more comfortable space for all.

Vera Dodic: We are not able to help directly individuals but what we do is we work with community partners, with other orders of government, with other city divisions, and other institutional stakeholders such as school boards, for example, or health partners, etc., to facilitate coordination and to influence improvement in in coordination of services provided to particularly newcomers…. Since the charter was adopted by council, we developed an action plan that outlined different actions for different city divisions to implement and the newcomer office has been working very closely with city divisions on the implementation with the charter also provides performance measures, which are, of course, extremely important so that we can monitor the progress.

Liz Shiro: The city of Toronto already realized some policies and implemented lots of services for newcomers to give everybody an equal chance to make Canada their home. Now it’s our turn to educate ourselves on the difficulties that other people are going through, because newcomers are a huge part of our community.