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Local Immigration Partnership Holds Annual Event

Web posted on March 22, 2014

By Emily Blake

The Guelph-Wellington Local Immigration Partnership (LIP) held their annual event; the Immigration Connection 2014: Creative Collective Impact on March 4, 2014. The day included presentations on achievements made over the past year, guest speakers, and group discussion focused on priority setting for the next year. The event was open to all community members and attendees included service providers, business owners, advocates, and volunteers.

The Guelph-Wellington Local Immigration Partnership is a coalition of over 50 individuals representing various groups in the community including newcomers, ethno-cultural organizations, service providers, businesses and the public. It is supported by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and is composed of a leadership council and two delivery groups that provide support and guidance to the eight action teams. It promotes the vision of creating a caring, equitable community where everyone thrives.

A highlight of the event was an inspiring speech from special guest Uzma Shakir, Director of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Human Rights for the City of Toronto, on building meaningful partnerships. What I took away from her talk was an excellent explanation of the difference between equality and equity, and tips on being an effective ally to immigrant communities.

She spoke about the growing disconnect between those creating policies and the people they are intended to reach stating, "we need to put the public back into public policy." She also explained how despite the best intentions, equality as a goal is ineffective as, "people are different, people are unequal." Treating people equally merely serves to entrench their inequality, while equity on the other hand, aims to understand how individuals are marginalized and addresses inequality up front.

Shakir also discussed the concept of targeted universalism, which targets the most marginalized groups that the majority of policies fail to reach. By targeting these groups no one is inversely impacted and everyone is able to reap the benefits. She used the example of designing a building to be accessible, which although targeting those with physical disabilities also benefits seniors, children, expectant mothers, and those with temporary injuries.

Shakir then related these ideas to the concept of partnership, which she said is the result of negotiating differences as "our strength lies in our difference not in our sameness." She cautioned against bringing a `bleeding heart' attitude to partnerships with immigrant communities, as this promotes paternalistic notions of saving people, which is not what true partnerships are about. Instead the focus should be on empowering immigrant communities to articulate themselves, and leveraging our own structural, systemic and institutional privilege to support them.

Alex Goss, Project Manager of the LIP, explained a little about the organization and discussed the 2013 progress report. He stated that the organization aims to break down barriers and touched on the importance of adapting and inclusion to welcome immigrant communities. The report addressed statistics on employment, English language training, access to programs and services, community inclusion and integration. Among some of the areas highlighted for improvement were a lack of Canadian experience as a barrier to employment, and newcomers stating they visited multiple contacts before they were able to access the right service provider.

The action teams presented highlights of work they have accomplished over the past year. Showcased were the employer toolkit, the new Immigration Portal page, and the Community Connector Program. The employer toolkit is a new resource designed to support local businesses to hire and retain global talent. This is important as diverse work forces are better able to understand global needs.

The Immigration Portal is an online tool to attract newcomers, which showcases Guelph supports and services. The International Students page is a new addition under the learning section that includes responses to questions from student volunteers. Additionally, the Community Connector program supports community agencies to increase participation, attraction, and retention of newcomers.

Paul Born, president and co-founder of Tamarack Institute for Community Engagement spoke on the topic of increasing community connections. The author of the bestseller Community Conversations, also presented his new book Deepening Community: Finding Joy Together in Chaotic Times. He spoke about his personal experiences of developing a strong community in his neighbourhood, and how forging these relationships is a civic responsibility.

Following the presentations, we divided into groups to discuss short and long term priorities for the coming year. Discussion topics included meaningful employment for immigrants, business supports, access to programs and services, and community inclusion and integration. Each group evaluated strengths and weaknesses, and discussed current initiatives and other potential opportunities. One of the initiatives of focus was the no wrong door policy, which aims to eliminate the issue of visiting multiple contacts before accessing services.