Thank you so much for that introduction. Good afternoon, everyone.
It’s wonderful to be with you on this special ground right in downtown Toronto and on this special platform, because the Canadian Club really is one of those venues that we need to prize above almost all others. I don’t know how many of you have reviewed the history of the Canadian Club recently, but we would literally not have Canadian citizenship, the pride that we take in our country, the rights and responsibilities that we have as Canadians, unique in the world, were it not for the commitment to public debate of organizations like this.
It started, I believe, formerly in Hamilton, but then grew very strongly here in Toronto. We have to speak for the whole country as federal ministers. And living those values of commitment to a country and all that it represents more strongly than any other organization. So please join me in thanking the Canadian Club for the opportunity to have this discussion with you today.
I’m also really delighted to be here with some of our key partners. All of you here, in one way or another, are our partners at the Department of Citizenship and Immigration because what we do touches so many aspects of Canadian life and involves so many Canadians. Almost everyone in this country is involved in one way or another in promoting our citizenship and making our immigration programs the tremendous success that they are.
And that certainly goes for Maytree, thank you Ratna for being here. It certainly goes for our universities and employers who are strongly represented here today; the sectors that make the Toronto economy tick, the Canadian economy tick; the financial sector, the mining sector; so many other service sectors that are renowned around the world. But the Institute for Canadian Citizenship has a particular place in our hearts.
We are proud to be your supporters, Gillian, but also very excited by the input you are able to give us: research, insight into what citizenship means to newcomers and to Canadians of all backgrounds. And also your work to enhance the value of Canadian citizenship that we believe in so much, to open the door to this country in terms of the imagination of newcomers, by giving this cultural access pass that lets newcomers sometimes learn more about our museums and cultural treasures than many Canadians born here know.
But we want that to be the case, and we’re passionate about what you are doing to take the value of Canadian citizenship to new heights, so thank you for that partnership and thank you for your support today.
I’m particularly honoured to be able to come before you and talk about women in immigration policy, because it is an issue that I think reflects our preoccupation as a country with violence against women, our commitment to doing much better than we have done, to trying to lead the world in our responses to this terrible phenomenon, which is far more present in our communities and our families than most of us are able to admit or know, and certainly than we’ve able to measure for a wide variety of reasons.
I’m proud to be part of a team in Ottawa that includes all parties, but under the leadership in our government of the Minister for the Status of Women, the Honourable Kellie Leitch, that is taking very strong action to make sure that these issues are not simply at the margins of our discussions, that they are at the centre of our discussion. And that’s why I’m coming before you today for the first time as minister, with a lunchtime audience and a substantive subject with women and the immigration system, and particularly concern about violence against women at the centre of this discussion.
And I do look forward to your questions. It’s great to be in Toronto. This is my hometown, this is where I grew up and I’m delighted to be joined not only by my wife Hedvig and daughter Selma, but by my mother, Andrea. And my cousin Martha, courtesy of whom my mother is here. And of course, I’ve always loved this town and our country, but I have to say that coming back here in 2009, older and a little bit wiser, after spending many years abroad as a diplomat, it was with a new and much greater appreciation for this city and its place in our country.
Indeed, Toronto is a prime example of why Canada is such an incomparably successful country today. And I’m proud to be on this stage one day after our 180th birthday as a city. Toronto in 1834 - does anyone remember what the boundaries were? Queen Street was the northern boundary, so Bathurst was the western boundary and Parliament on the east with the Lakefront, of course, to the south. Different from today’s Lakefront, much closer to where we are today.
So we’re in the city of Toronto, but it was a small place. Nine thousand ninety-five hundred people roughly, but already putting forward its best foot and celebrating its diversity. And remember that those first five wards into which the city of Toronto were - saints David, George, Patrick and St. Lawrence, one of the patron saints of Canada. And it was, you know, all saints celebrated in the British Isles, peoples who come from the British Isles, but harder to get them together in those days than it may seem to us today.
And Toronto knew from the beginning that diversity had to be its way forward. There were First Nations, there were Aboriginal peoples, there were French Canadians here from the beginning. There was a strong black community in 1834. Some freed slaves who’d started to come up on the underground railway, some Loyalists who’d come earlier, mostly through Nova Scotia, and they were the ones who went on to make great careers here, like those of Albert Jackson, the first black man to join the Toronto Postal Service, whom Sir John A. Macdonald helped out in 1882.
They went on to become the Wilton Peyton Hubbards, later in the 19th century, the first alderman, the first council in any city in Canada, and one of the very first in North America of black heritage, who rose to be the Deputy Mayor of this city in the early 20th century. That is our Toronto and it has been with us for 180 years.
But look at what it has become today, ladies and gentlemen. From 9,500 people to 2.6 million in the city of Toronto now, six plus in the Greater Toronto Area, which I am proud to call home as representative of Ajax–Pickering. The diversity of our population has been an extraordinary source of strength for Toronto’s social, cultural and economic well-being from the beginning, and it is not just a source of strength today. It is a unique asset in the world today because there is no other city in the world today on this scale that has this level of diversity, that has grown so rapidly on the strength of this scale of immigration than Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area.
So in this respect, we are a happy exception to the international norm, and unfortunately it is the norm in too many parts of the world that I witnessed during my career as a diplomat. Most of the places, other places around the world haven’t had the success we’ve had in Toronto, building a peaceful pluralistic community within a larger nation in which everyone has a place whatever their background, country of birth or heritage.
And this is not to take away from Dubai and Singapore, Miami, extraordinary diversity, many American cities. No one is denying how much vibrancy is there and how much progress in terms of standards of living there has been particularly in the past 10 years, in emerging economies. But let’s not be afraid to say that our model is special, the scale of our success is unusual, and the livability of this city, and I feel it, as your Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, the popularity, the drive of people who want to come to this city is certainly unsurpassed in our history. Our city and country are global role models of cooperation between different groups with respect to life, work and creativity.
And of course, the contrast couldn’t be starker on a day like today when so many of us are thinking about Ukraine and about the fact that a European state, a permanent member of the Security Council, has had the temerity and has been misguided enough to send its troops across, with its president denying that, sometimes denying that they’re actually Russian troops and sometimes acknowledging it, to occupy an autonomous republic, a part of a neighbouring sovereign state.
We haven’t seen that at least since 1968 in Europe, and if this is an annexation that is being attempted, if the referendum whose results we are going to reject and most of the world is going to reject, but which may still be held in 12 days is an attempt to cause the cessation of Crimea from Ukraine and join it to another country, that will be the first military-backed annexation of a part of Europe since the 1930s and 40s, ladies and gentlemen.
And so the parallels here are truly chilling. The violation of international law is clear for all to see. And the importance of countries like ours that have enjoyed peace within our borders for 200 years, no mean achievement, no, not replicated in many parts of the world, the importance of our standing on principle and telling this story as it is and ensuring that there are consequences, moral, political, economic and otherwise, for those that break the rules on the international stage has never been greater.
And so, in living this great experiment of Toronto, of Canada with the vibrancy of immigration that backs it, we have real responsibilities and we were reminded of some of those responsibilities last week by His Highness the Aga Khan at an event in Massey Hall. It was a great opportunity for our whole community to honour the great humanitarians and champions of pluralism in the world today, not to mention one of only six people in history ever named an honorary Canadian citizen. How many people were there for the Aga Khan, or saw it on TV? A good number of you.
When the Aga Khan was looking for a country for the headquarters of his Global Centre for Pluralism, he realized quite quickly that Canada was the best fit thanks to our great successes as an inclusive nation. And he has paid us many compliments over the years. One of them is the acknowledgement, which I think we all sense as Canadians, that to be a successful democracy, you need much more than democracy. Not just votes and representative bodies and elected representatives and politicians. You need all of these supporting components, all of these tiny platoons of mobilized citizens who are working for the good of the broader society.
He talked about three critical underpinnings to a successful civic society in really paying tribute to Canada as one of the most successful civic societies in the world today. Commitment to pluralism, to meritocracy, to literally rewarding the best, excellence, talent in all fields, and to a cosmopolitan ethic. And how proud should we be to be living our commitment to those values so fully in this city of Toronto.
One of the key elements to the success, prosperity and social harmony of our country is that we are united Canadian citizens; not necessarily by our common origins, but rather by a pledge of mutual responsibility and a shared commitment to values and traditions rooted in our history.
This idea of mutual responsibility animates so much of what we do, and certainly my work as Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister, particularly when one is focused on the citizenship part. It guides us in working to transform Canada’s immigration system, so our policies and programs are best aligned with current economic, social and labour market needs, but it also is our touchstone and inspiration as we bring forward new legislation, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, tabled in Parliament by our government a few weeks ago.
This represents the first comprehensive reforms to the Citizenship Act in over a generation, since 1977. It will improve the process by which newcomers become Canadian citizens and ensure that that process reflects the great importance Canadians place in their citizenship today.
We all have this sense that being Canadian means something, that it has a higher value than ever before, but we need to protect the value of that citizenship. That is what newcomers especially want us to do, those who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to come halfway around the world to start new lives, to adapt to the winter and everything else this country throws at them.
The bill outlines important changes that will strengthen the value of citizenship, increase integrity across the board and honour those who serve. These changes will ensure new Canadians embrace our values, traditions and way of life, things we’re very proud of as Canadians. It will do something as simple as changing the residency requirement from three out of four years to four out of six years, a flexible number, but one that will be combined with a commitment from every new citizen to be physically present in the country.
We did have a certain number of people who sought to be citizens, who became citizens, but who were told by consultants in various parts of the world they didn’t actually have to live here to become citizens. And we’re still investigating thousands of cases on that front, but we all understand that in getting to know Canada, there is no substitute for actually being physically present here.
We used to have a requirement of five years, then it went down to three. Then there was some abuse where some people received citizenship with literally zero years in the country. That’s not acceptable to any of us. That’s not protecting the value of Canadian citizenship. The new rules combined with the integrity measures we will have will make sure that that connection, that sense of belonging, that link is real.
And our belief in the great strength of Canadian pluralism also guides us as we ensure that everyone who interacts with our immigration system is treated fairly. We’re doing everything we can to help them successfully integrate as citizens of our country. We have tripled support for settlement organizations since 2006, above all, here in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area, but also in parts of the country that are receiving far larger numbers of immigrants than they ever have, in some cases, in 150 years.
And we will provide this support regardless of country of origin, ethnic background, economic circumstance, or most pertinent to what I would like to discuss in the time remaining, their gender.
Now tomorrow, of course, is International Women’s Day, so we are at a wonderful moment between the birthday of Toronto and International Women’s Day tomorrow. I’m very conscious of the fact that the first talk of International Women’s Day was in Copenhagen. Hedvig, my wife, is a proud Dane. And I always have to remind her it was the second international meeting of the Communist Party, Hedvig, where this was discussed, but it has taken off since then and become a day that is celebrated under UN auspices everywhere in the world, and it’s a great opportunity to talk about what immigrant and newcomer women have brought to Canada.
Women in Canada have been making our country a better place, have been leading our way forward as a country from the beginning. Why so many historical references in my speech? Well, in part, because Nellie McClung, that great firebrand of the women’s movement in the first half of the 20th century, said in Canada “People must know the past to understand the present and face the future.”
Canadian history is full of stories of strong, outstanding immigrant women who were part of the foundation of our success story, and we need to do more to remind ourselves of their perseverance, their sacrifice, their role in shaping the institutions that we take for granted today.
Take Mary Ann Shadd Cary, born in the United States, and immigrated to Windsor, Ontario in 1851. She opened a school for black children and was the first black woman in North America to found a weekly newspaper. When she later returned to the United States, she not only graduated as one of the two black female lawyers in the U.S.A., but was the first black woman ever to cast a vote in a U.S. federal election.
Given the right start and wonderful opportunity to succeed in Canada, she overcame all obstacles and became one of the most accomplished individuals in our country’s history and a major figure in the history of our neighbour.
We can also look to the outstanding female immigrant, Irene Parlby, one of the members of the Famous Five. She came to Canada from the UK, held the seat of Lacombe in Alberta for 14 years, starting in 1921 and subsequently became the first female Cabinet Minister in Alberta. She went on to fight for the full political rights of women in Canada and was one of the driving forces behind the persons case. As we all know, she ultimately succeeded. Her hard and constant battle awarded all women a huge victory for freedom and opportunity through political engagement.
And think of how not very far back in time that is, the 1920's, and how fragile and recent some of our greatest accomplishments in our political life, in our democratic institutions are.
For examples of great Canadian immigrant women today, you need only look around you in this room, and not far behind. Each person in this room knows of an immigrant or newcomer woman who’s changed the lives of those in her community, her nation, maybe even contributed to something that has had an impact worldwide. I think of the many Afghan-Canadian women that have, Hedvig, and I have held onto as almost canes to steady our way as we’ve come back from Afghanistan and craved those links back to the culture of Afghanistan, and the language of Afghanistan that we miss so much. They are truly breaking new ground.
Canada is well known as a land of opportunity for both immigrants and women and that’s why the theme, our theme for International Women’s Day, is ‘Strong Women, Strong Canada, and I would add to that strong immigration has been a key to both. It resonates for me as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. I’ve been able to see firsthand that immigrant and newcomer women overcome any and all barriers that stand in their way of achieving goals and aspirations.
Let’s not forget that our two previous Governors General, obviously one of whom is the founder of our sponsoring organization today, both women came to Canada as refugees. Not just as immigrants, as refugees. Adrienne Clarkson’s family fled the Japanese invasion of the territory of Hong Kong in 1942, and Michaëlle Jean’s family fled from her native Haiti, from the regime of François Papa Doc Duvalier, whose legacy still casts a shadow over that country.
These two women overcame harsh realities, embarked on dangerous journeys to settle in Canada and eventually went on to hold the highest office in the land.
Yes friends, and to be the successors of Samuel de Champlain. Yes, friends, anything is possible for newcomer and immigrant women. We’re committed to breaking down barriers and providing the support they need. But unfortunately, sometimes immigrant and newcomer women find themselves having to deal with issues that include isolation and violence. That’s why we want to strengthen protection for vulnerable women in Canada’s immigration system, support the rights of immigrant and newcomer women in the strongest possible way.
We will continue to speak out and stand against violence against women and girls that continues to affect tens of thousands of Canadians each year, including what we consider barbaric cultural practices, polygamy, which remains a crime in Canada, forced marriage, which my colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has taken strong action against at the United Nations and in the UN Council on Human Rights, and female genital mutilation still exist as a reality for too many Canadian women.
The effects on victims are devastating and far reaching. They impact our children, homes and communities. In fact, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration is in the midst of an in-depth study on just this topic of protection of women in our immigration system. Witnesses from across the country are coming out to recount what is occurring in Canada on this front and how we can continue to improve our immigration system to stop violence and other abuses from happening in homes and in communities across the country. And you are all welcome, if you’re interested, to appear before that committee, if you’re prepared to make the trip to Ottawa or to join them by Skype or video link.
Leading up to this committee’s study, I spent a considerable amount of time meeting with representatives of organizations that provide services to immigrant women, victims of abuse and roundtable discussions across the country. All the voices at these tables talked about domestic violence, its prevalence, the fact that it doesn’t go recorded, forced marriage and the toll it can take on extended families, the abuses that continue to plague some parts of our immigration process and the difficulty of integration of women into their communities, difficulties that are often caused by men.
They revealed many ways in which our government can continue to support the success of immigrant and newcomer women, strategies I’m excited to ensure we put into action in the near future.
Canada is a landscape where anything is possible, where immigrant women have taken that opportunity and achieved great things. And as much as we can speak of these achievements and victories of immigrant and newcomer women, there are nevertheless tragedies as well. You don’t have to be an expert in the field to be aware of the seriousness and pervasiveness of these problems. You just have to follow the news.
Take last summer in my own riding of Ajax–Pickering, in the town of Ajax, not too far from where we’re meeting today, 50 kilometres to the east, a woman named Nasira Fazli was viciously stabbed to death by her husband. She had been sponsored to come to Canada, he had been sponsored to come to Canada by her earlier the same year. He had come from Kandahar, not much experience of the outside world, certainly an inability to adapt to Canada, to a wife that was earning an income, that was independent, who was travelling on her own around the city, around the country and here we face a murder.
Her husband was charged with second degree murder. She left behind a 17-month old son. Nasira was a Canadian citizen of Afghani origin, her husband an Afghani national. We assume their marriage was an arranged union in Afghanistan. She had sponsored him, as I say again, a week or two before the attack. She had taken all of the knives in the house and put them into the trunk of her car, knowing what might befall her.
And to add additional poignancy to this tragedy, she lived two blocks away from the centre, Horizon House, in Ajax that looks after victims of domestic violence, many of whom are newcomer women. Nasira’s sister told a reporter that there had been warning signs, but Nasira didn’t go to the authorities because she didn’t want to put in jeopardy her husband’s chances of becoming a permanent resident.
Tragically, there have been other examples of similar situations across Canada for all of us. These cases hit hard, they bring home our responsibility to ensure we uphold and strengthen the protections for vulnerable immigrant women, to make sure that we convey to all of those coming to this country what expectations we have under the law for the treatment of women and what recourse and support, either in situations of urgency or in more routine situations, there are available in this city and in this country.
In order to do so, to start down this path, we’ve taken a number of recent actions to address family violence. Through our regulations, we’ve made it harder for people convicted of crimes that result in bodily harm against members of their family to sponsor any family class member to come to Canada.
Family violence is not tolerated in Canada under any circumstance, and individuals who don’t respect Canadian law and commit a serious crime, regardless of the victim, should not benefit from the privilege of sponsorship.
In 2008, the federal court pointed out a gap in our regulations. A man convicted of killing his brother’s wife was allowed to sponsor his own wife because his sister-in-law did not meet the definition of relative or family member in the regulations. The regulatory changes now in force fixed the gap highlighted in the federal court decision and assist in the protection of sponsored individuals from family violence.
We’ve also brought in new measures in recent years to deter foreign nationals entering into marriages of convenience to gain permanent resident status in Canada. This includes two-year conditional permanent resident status for certain sponsored spouses and of course, this builds on all the work we’re doing in Canada in our immigration programs and around the world to ensure that forced marriage is less and less a phenomenon, certainly not a phenomenon in Canada if we can reach that point, and less and less of a concern around the world.
We’re very aware of concerns that conditional status could increase the vulnerability of sponsored spouses who are in abusive relationships. They may be reluctant to seek help out of fear that it will negatively affect their status in Canada. Because of this, we’ve put an exemption to this measure in instances where there’s evidence of abuse of a physical, sexual, psychological or financial nature and the exemption also applies in situations where there’s evidence of neglect, such as a failure to provide the necessities of life.
In this way, we’re protecting Canadians from falling into marriages of convenience, while ensuring women are never put in dangerous situations as a result of regulations laid out in the immigration system.
We’ve also put in place better guidelines and training to insist our front-line officers in processing requests for exemptions based on abuse or neglect and in handling sensitive information related to abusive situations. There is no substitute for this kind of training for people in the field, in CBSA, in Canada who are not experts in domestic violence or in, often in law enforcement, and who by asking the wrong questions in the wrong context, can only make women more vulnerable.
These preventative measures are important, of course. The system is not foolproof. The reality is that some immigrant women can and do face violence or abuse after they arrive, just as native born Canadian women do.
So under our settlement program, we provide funding to a variety of organizations that offer services to immigrant women and their families who may find themselves in vulnerable situations. We want quick immigrant integration, but we want these issues to be addressed; to not be neglected and to end the silence and isolation that too many immigrant women face.
That’s why our settlement services are flexible, they’re changing, they’re measuring their results and they’re adapting to the challenges of the 21st century. While overseas, newcomers can access programs that help them understand their rights and responsibilities in Canada and provide detailed labour market information so that they can make informed decisions upon arrival. Once in Canada, women also have access to a range of employment-related supports to help them build their skills to enter the workforce and advance their careers.
And finally, in line with the Canadian citizenship study guide, Discover Canada, the latest version of the Welcome to Canada settlement guide, informs newcomers of what is not acceptable in Canada and we’re very clear about what is expected, in terms of the absolute unacceptability of violence against women in any form.
For the first time, Welcome to Canada states that barbaric practices such as female genital mutilation, honoured-based crimes and forces marriages will not be tolerated in this country under any circumstance. I remain concerned personally that our spousal program still allows for sponsorship of young women and young men who are 16 to 18. I’m not sure that that is the way to go in the 21st century, when we are faced with the kinds of challenges of dependents, isolation, abuse and, yes - violence in this program. And putting a minor in that kind of situation strikes me as less than defensible at this time and that may be an initiative that we return to in the near future.
Now, I realize I’ve gone into some detail with you today about the ways we are working to protect vulnerable immigrant women. It’s a serious issue that warrants the attention we give it.
And I’d just like to conclude my remarks by noting that women, like men, come to Canada through many different avenues. We are still bringing 261,000 immigrants to this country every year. About 63% of them are economic immigrants, the rest in the family class, and humanitarian and compassionate classes. We are still rated by UNHCR as the most generous country in the world on a per capita basis. One in 10 resettled refugees comes to Canada.
But the good news is that in 2012, more than twice as many women came to Canada as economic immigrants than through our family class stream. That’s in stark contrast to the situation a decade or two decades ago. Most of them arrived as spouses and dependents of the principal male applicants, but a notable amount were the principal applicants themselves, including 15,500 skilled workers. And yes, we have more and more spouses coming to Canada, where both are principal applicants, where both are economic immigrants.
In comparison just over 23,400 women came to Canada in 2012 as sponsored spouses or partners. So on the eve of International Women’s Day, I think we should celebrate Canada’s immigration system as a powerful and positive force for immigrant women. It’s a force that empowers them to succeed through access to educational, employment and economic opportunities, opportunities that are often limited or non-existent in their countries of origin.
And, of course, it offers the opportunity to become citizens of this wonderful country, to grasp the opportunities that girls and women have in this country. Women have shown that they can dominate any field that they choose, that they can achieve anything they set their minds to, and I predict to all of you that our future will be shaped as much by immigrant women to this country as by any other force.
So brace yourselves. That message must continue to resonate in our society, in our classrooms, in our places of worship and around the dinner table. We cannot take any of these issues for granted, even while we celebrate our successes. We must continue to fight against violence in our society across the board, but especially violence against women.
Today, we’re all thinking about the missing and murdered Aboriginal women that our government continues to take action to address as a neglected class of cold cases, unsolved murders that had gone on for far too long. We have brought together parliamentarians, we have brought together policy makers, we’ve brought together research, marshalled it.
We brought together 30 new justice initiatives, all of which have some bearing on this issue. And most recently, in our latest budget, an initiative to connect the DNA of those who haven’t been identified with the missing person records that are so important to families and the victims themselves to make sure that this issue, as should be the case with all cases of violence against women, does not go neglected. That it benefits from the full force of the expertise, the insight and the professionalism that Canada can bring to bear.
Let us work towards making the next generation of Canadian girls and women the most fearless and accomplished generation yet. We can achieve it together, when we make these issues a priority within our communities and in every level of government. Most importantly, it starts with each woman and girl believing in herself in this great country of ours.
I wish you a great International Women’s Day.