“Beyond ‘Canadian experience’: Immigrant employment from a human rights perspective”
On January 16, 2013 I participated in a panel titled, “Beyond ‘Canadian Experience’: Immigrant Employment from a Human Rights Perspective” in The Debates Room at Hart House at University of Toronto. I represented the Mennonite New Life Centre of Toronto to launch a special edition of New Voices magazine centring on “Canadian experience.” Below is my speech:
Everyday, unfortunately, whenever you read your daily newspaper or follow your Twitter feed, you will come along an article or a testimonial that will remind you that newcomers to Canada still face many barriers.
While most of the these articles talk about the frustration and struggles of engineers driving cabs or doctors delivering pizza, rarely somebody talks about another group, an invisible minority: journalists and writers stuck in low end jobs; working as cleaners or waiters just to make ends meet and put food on the table. Individuals who have come here with high skills and world experience, but who – in this global age – are not “allowed” to contribute any of their valuable skills to the new homeland they chose.
I know that the list of occupations for the Federal Skilled Worker program does not include journalists anymore; I think I was one of the last few who were able to apply through that category about 7 years ago. So one would think: Are there journalists, writers or media professionals still coming to Canada? You may be surprised, but yes they are coming. Not in big numbers, but they are coming!
As a newcomer myself who is closely connected to the immigrant sector and who meets with recent immigrants almost every day, I know it’s not easy for any newcomer, no matter what their background or profession is. However, other professions have many available tools such as internships, bridging programs, mentoring or corporate initiatives which help them overcome some of the barriers facing them.
Very quickly, internationally trained journalists and media professionals find out that there are no meaningful opportunities, no volunteering or internships, to gain the so called “Canadian experience” in a media environment. Opportunities, which provide them local experience to get into the industry here.
Getting into the media industry here usually requires going back to school full time for 3 or 4 years and pay tuition, something that is not possible for most newcomer writers and journalists.
Another challenge that adds to the barriers I already mentioned – one that is shared with Canadian borne journalists – is the current transitional nature of the media industry in Canada and the world, which further complicates the issue and limits the number of available jobs.
But today I stand in front of you not just to talk about barriers, but about solutions. I am here to talk about a unique project that offers a concrete experience to engage internationally trained journalists and writers and have them published in Canada.
The Mennonite New Life Centre of Toronto was one of the very few organizations which started to look for practical solutions early on. After organizing a networking seminar for internationally educated journalists in 2008, the Centre realized the importance of coming up with a platform to profile the work and skills of these journalists and writers and give them a voice. And so was borne New Voices, a magazine by immigrants for the Canadian mainstream. A magazine where contributors explored the political and social realities that affect the lives of immigrants and refugees, a magazine that exposed injustices and proposed solutions, a magazine that acted as a vehicle for advocacy related topics such as poverty, employment, immigration and civic participation.
Each issue of New Voices is focused around a central theme. The magazine invites immigrant journalists and writers to contribute, in return of a small honorarium, have the opportunity to research and write in a Canadian context, and work with a Canadian editor who acts as a mentor as well to some extent. And let me mention also that not just the magazine articles are produced by immigrants, but also the design and the photographs that come along in the issue.
In your folders you will find the latest issue of New Voices. It is a collaboration between the Mennonite New Life Centre and the Beyond Canadian Experience Project to provide the newcomer perspective on the human rights issue of employment and Canadian experience. Five internationally trained journalists: Sandhya Ranjit from India, Alex Utrera from Colombia, Randa Ozeir from Lebanon, Gerardo Correa from Uruguay and myself explore the significance of the concept of Canadian experience from the perspective of employers, academics, immigrant serving agencies and newcomers themselves. As you will read in the editorial, “what emerges from these articles is how problematic and elusive the term really is…An ambiguity that has real life consequences for many immigrants.”
Internationally trained journalists and media professionals can make positive contributions to the Canadian media industry and society, and strengthen inclusion and diversity in this country with the broad international expertise and diverse skills they bring…
To this date 19 immigrant journalists have had the chance to be published in New Voices. 19 journalists now have the ability to showcase at least a sample of their work in English when applying to jobs here.
And thankfully, the Mennonite New Life Centre didn’t just stop at publishing New Voices. But it continued its approach of bringing community engagement and services together, and its mission to facilitate newcomer settlement and full integration, and a few months ago helped us – a group of internationally trained journalists and media professionals – to create a professional immigrant network within the PINs initiative of TRIEC, the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, to work for the creation of opportunities in capacity building, training, networking and developing media projects.
The new network called New Canadian Media Professionals’ Network or NCMP in short seeks to help all immigrants who have a background in broadcast TV, radio, print or online, and who are new to Canada become aware of the local media landscape, make valuable connections within the industry and eventually be able to put into practice their skills and expert
New Voices magazine and NCMP Network are modest, small yet important opportunities to give valuable Canadian experience to internationally trained journalists and writers and bring them closer to the Canadian mainstream media. And that’s why they need further support and expansion. In an age where diversity and inclusion are our values, it’s unfair to “exclude” immigrant journalists and writers, push them towards their ethnic enclaves and advise them to practice their profession in their ethnic papers, which in most cases support their owners only.
It is crucial to come up with a complete program that respects the broad experiences of internationally trained journalists and media professionals, but also provides them with the knowledge and opportunity to adapt to the North American media culture.
It is crucial that funding be increased so that immigrant journalists and media professionals can actually afford to participate in these support programs, benefit from their mentoring and training components and be able to actually improve their lives and not just express themselves.
It is crucial to come up with educational support, bridging and occupation specific language training to enable these journalists, writers and media professionals to practice their skills or transfer them to other fields where they might be needed.
It is crucial that we help Canadian media organizations – as was done with the banks and telecom companies before – learn about how to best deal with immigrant and diverse talent, facilitate their entry into the workforce and benefit from their vast skills to better understand and connect to the changing demographics of this country.
Internationally trained journalists and media professionals can make positive contributions to the Canadian media industry and society, and strengthen inclusion and diversity in this country with the broad international expertise and diverse skills they bring with them. They can help Canadian businesses and non-profits as well leverage a diverse pool of talent to reflect their audience and connect to new ethnic markets and demographic groups.
I invite you to benefit from these skills and help us live the basic human right of happiness. Happiness and satisfaction that is the result of working in a chosen profession, where we can contribute our maximum to this lovely country.
Photographs by: Gerardo Correa