Friday, 11 August 2017

Canada's Immigration Minister Encourages Civic Engagement

By Neil Armstrong

Left to right:  Board members of Operation Black Vote Canada (OBVC) and the Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals (CAUFP) -- Ian Allen, Aziz Garuba, Lisa Bailey, Marva Wisdom, Velma Morgan, Kyle Elliot, Kevin Modeste, Melanie Watts, Darren Jordan with Ahmed Hussen, Canada's Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (fifth from left) at an event both organizations held to celebrate him at KPMG in Toronto, Canada on July 27. Photo credit: Operation Black Vote Canada.

Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, is urging the Black community to put their issues on the table and engage government and political parties about them.

The Member of Parliament for York South-Weston, who was born and raised in Somalia and immigrated to Canada in 1993, was the special guest at an event organized by Operation Black Vote Canada (OBVC) and the Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals (CAUFP) at KPMG in Toronto on July 27.

“You have to engage, you have to be at the table, you have to be unabashed about pushing the issues that you care about, and that, obviously, is not just elections. You have to be active in-between elections and make sure that you hold us to account, and have those difficult, but tough and necessary conversations, because that’s the only way that progress will come. Progress will not come if you wait to be invited to the table.”

The lawyer and social activist, who co-founded the Regent Park Community Council in 2002, said his work with the council was his longest uninterrupted time in community service.

He had a job in Queen’s Park working for the leader of the official opposition at the time, Dalton McGuinty, for about 10 hours per day, and evenings and weekends were taken up with Regent Park.

Hussen said the community service taught him the power of organizing.

“It was about coming together, identifying issues in the community and coming up with credible and well-researched solutions.”

Hussen said as a newly-elected MP, he stood up in the House of Commons and asked the Parliament of Canada to adopt name-blind recruitment.

Studies in Australia, Canada, UK and the US showed that a person with an English last name was fifty percent more likely to get a job interview versus someone with the same experiences and educational background who did not have an English last name.

It took 14 months, but the government – which employs 400,000 people, the largest employer in Canada -- decided to implement this recruitment as a test in six of its largest ministries.

They will do this until November and if the results show that the recruitment is closing the gap then they will implement it in the rest of the government.

The minister said he is also proud of the fact that as a backbencher MP he worked with a group of dedicated black men and women for the last 14 months who have come up with a national comprehensive plan.

“What I was really impressed with this group, the Federation of Black Canadians, is they identified the problems in a comprehensive manner in a report, well researched, well documented, thoroughly so, and then they offered solutions. And their whole mantra was the solution will come from the community, not from the government. We will tell you what you need to do for us. You are not going to tell us what we need for us.”

The federation presented to the 416 caucus, the Black caucus in Ottawa, individual MPs, and a few weeks ago met with the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to present their report.

 “That was the crowning moment in my very short political career because it showed me that it fit all the boxes that I was looking for – having the community come forward and the politician not being patronizing but being facilitative and genuine in doing that…”

On the matter of immigration, Hussen said, as a former immigrant to Canada and a former immigration refugee lawyer, he has brought that perspective to the ministry.

“It’s in line with what Ottawa was heading towards but I bring a specific perspective which is to be facilitative, to welcome more people to this country, whether they’re coming to visit or work, to have an unapologetic humanitarian program where we will always welcome refugees and those who seek protection and never shy away from that.”

The minister said he would also encourage other governments to do that and to push back against the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and anti-migrant rhetoric around the world.

He will continue to look at immigration as a great source for economic development.

Hussen referenced a study done by Century Initiative which shows that immigrants create jobs and don’t take jobs away from Canadians, create jobs and bring prosperity.

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