by Brian Dyck
Are immigration and refugee resettlement good for Canada? The answer that more and more Canadians are coming to is “Yes.” Just ahead of the Thanksgiving weekend, the results of a survey conducted by Environics Institute, Century Initiative, and the University of Ottawa were released which clearly showed Canadian public support for immigration is growing.
Starting in1976, an Environics public opinion research poll has asked Canadians if they agree or disagree with the statement: “Overall, there is too much immigration to Canada.” Increasingly, in the last 20 years, more and more Canadians disagree with that statement—they do not think there is too much immigration.
Considering the increased economic uncertainty this year, it would not be surprising if there would be a dip in support for immigration in 2020, as concerns for a negative correlation regularly arise in public and political public debates. However, the survey, which was conducted in late September 2020, found that support for immigration has continued to grow. What is more, it seems that variations in views by region, political affiliation, age, and education are narrowing, suggesting that a broad consensus may be forming on the positive impact of immigration on the rest of Canada.
The authors of the Environics study speculate that the continued growth of support for immigration this year may be a result of a sense of “we are all in this together” or a reaction to divisions in the US on this issue, or perhaps it is simply a growing realization that immigration is good for the Canadian economy. The survey found that four out of five Canadians say that immigration has a positive economic impact.
While this is a promising trend, it does not necessarily mean that we live in a welcoming society. This summer, people in Canada, the US and many places around the world were marching in the streets to protest against and raise awareness of racism in our communities. In my home province of Manitoba, a recent survey done by Probe Research and the Winnipeg Free Press found that 39% of first-generation Canadians surveyed in Manitoba experienced racism in the last 12 months with second and third generation reporting in the range of 20%. So, while we are feeling more positive about immigration, immigrants themselves do not always feel welcomed in our communities.
This disconnect has made me think about the Evaluating Refugee Programs (ERP) project I have been an advisor to for the past three years. The goal of the program is to encourage agencies who work at welcoming refugees to evaluate the success of their programs and services.
One of the main measurements that governments or organizations like MCC use for our refugee resettlement program, is to track how many refugees we resettle. By that measure, Canada and MCC have been quite successful in the last five years compared to our goals. In 2019, MCC’s refugee resettlement program helped about five times as many people resettle in Canada compared to 2014.
However, we are not just about bringing people to Canada. The ERP website related to this evaluation project provides an inventory of indicators that can help us see if we are doing a good job at supporting newcomers integrate into our communities. This support is more complex to measure than simply counting how many refugees we help bring to Canada. There are things that are relatively easy to measure: whether newcomers gain English or French fluency, how the children are progressing in school, successful employment, and sustainable income. However, being able to survive in the community is one thing, feeling like one belongs in a place is a bit harder to measure. Some indicators to measure integration into a community more fully are involvement in community activities, volunteering and having a wide circle of friends one can count on.
One of the vital components of the evaluation process outlined in the ERP project which is often missed is the role of the community in the integration of newcomers. The graphic above illustrates this well. The top arrow points to suggested activities and outcomes for the individual. The bottom arrow points to suggestions related to a welcoming attitude. Both are essential aspects in the formation of a welcoming community.
I believe one of the things that has influenced the positive public perception of Canadians towards immigrants and refugees in particular has been the act of sponsorship of refugees. Since 1979, more than 350,000 refugees have been resettled in Canada through sponsorship, which involves groups of people, likely numbering in the millions, who have taken on the responsibility of welcoming newcomers to their communities. More people than I can count, who have been involved in sponsorship, have told me how the experience has profoundly changed the way they see immigrants.
This positive development has resulted in people around the world noticing the impact of refugee sponsorship on communities in Canada. I have had a chance to collaborate with the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative and meet with representatives from NGOs and governments around the world to share the positive impacts of refugee resettlement and explore ways of how this positive attitude toward immigrants and refugees can be replicated in other countries. When I sum up the appeal and benefit of refugee sponsorship, I share about what is called ‘the whole of society approach to integration’. Integration is supported by government and professionals in NGOs, but the whole community plays a role in welcoming newcomers.
The evaluation process as outlined in the ERP Project looks at how the community is doing in welcoming and not just how the newcomer is adapting to the community. The ‘whole of society approach’ encourages all of us to work together for the common good of our society. While it is encouraging to see that a strong majority of people in Canada have a positive attitude toward immigration, we still have a long way to go to create an inclusive and welcoming environment, not only for newcomers, but also for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC). What skills and knowledge can we use from our experiences of refugee sponsorship to adapt the ‘whole of society approach for integration’ to include equality and justice for all?
Brian Dyck is National Migration and Resettlement Program Coordinator for MCC Canada.
 Even more concerning is that just over half of the people who identified as Indigenous said they had experienced racism.
Banner image: In 2016, students particpate in an MCC after-school program in Meadowgreen, a Saskatoon, SK neighbourhood with many Indigenous and newcomer families. (MCC Photo/Kaytee Edwards Buhler)