Ever seen the inside of a newsroom before? Been interviewed for national television? Made friends with a gift-bearing dinosaur?
Well, Princeton journalism has!
Ever seen the inside of a newsroom before? Been interviewed for national television? Made friends with a gift-bearing dinosaur?
Well, Princeton journalism has!
A sea of pink pussy hats from the Women’s March captioned “She the People.” James Baldwin’s quote about disagreement. A mockup of the frontpage that would have been printed had Hillary won the 2016 election.
This is not an American newsroom but the newsroom of the The Toronto Star. The clippings tacked around the room are reminders that American politics wash over Canada’s border.
A tour of The Toronto Star newsroom and a conversation with Nicholas Keung, one of its longtime immigration reporters, reaffirmed that American politics is being watched by the Canadian public, and in turn influences Canada’s politics. As Canada inches closer to its 2019 elections, the moves of the Trump administration are particularly relevant when it comes to immigration.
How did the recent tensions around “irregular” crossers and other immigration issues in Canada arise, and what does it mean? It’s the million-dollar question that many Canadian media outlets are trying to address. For example, in 2015, Canadians overwhelmingly supported the government’s efforts to support refugees. More recently, Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy held a press conference in front of a hotel where irregular crossers often stay, exploiting their circumstances.
Why did attitudes dramatically change in that short period of three years, between 2015 and 2018?
One Toronto Star reporter told us that when the number of asylum-seekers crossing from the U.S. surged in 2016, fear and anticipation kicked in. The conservative party in Canada quickly learned from the success of the Trump rhetoric and began pushing terms like “border jumper” and “illegal.”
“So much of the tension has to do with the political leadership,” says the reporter. “Opposition politics fuels the fire when they mislead the public and try to exploit the issue for political scores.”
Of course, there are those who disagree. A Canadian journalist who joined us for dinner does not believe immigration will be a wedge issue as it has been in the U.S.
His argument is that Canada has solved some of its most pressing problems (social inequality, racial tension, abortion, etc.) while the United States has not. “We legalized gay marriage in the 80s and it has since been settled […] The U.S. has had racism forever,” he said.
Still, Canadian engagement in American politics cannot escape the fact that we are neighboring countries with more similarities than differences. Trump has essentially written a how-to guide for politicians wishing to exploit immigration.
Tune in tonight at 5 P.M. EST to hear Steve Bannon and David Frum debate on the future of Western politics, at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy in Toronto.
TORONTO – Starbucks is conveniently located for Toronto Star reporters. Take the elevator up from the cafe, and you’re there. A broadsheet daily newspaper, the Star is one of the highest-circulation newspapers in Canada. Today’s edition boasted several front-page investigations ranging from a billion-dollar oil cleanup cost in Alberta to a class action lawsuit about accident victims denied their benefits.
This morning, we met with the Star’s Nicholas Keung, who has covered immigration for the paper since 2003 after beginning his career several years earlier. Keung gave our class a tour of the newsroom, where we saw life-size cardboard cut-outs of Toronto Raptors players, awarding-winning photos from the Star’s photojournalists, and even a copy of a Daily Princetonian front page from 1965 featuring a Canadian hockey player for the Tigers. The Star also boasts a newsroom library for reporting research and a kitchen for testing recipes for reviews. Keung then sat us down in a conference room to tell us a bit more about his beat and the politics surrounding Canadian immigration.
After our own pit stop in Starbucks, we all trooped off to the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto via Uber. In a round table arranged and led by Craig Damian Smith, Associate Director Global Migration Lab, our group discussed language and resettlement issues as well as the complications of a blended program, private and government resettlement, for refugees in Canada. Experts at the roundtable included Mirna El-Sabbagh, General Manager of Stakeholder Engagement at COSTI Immigrant Services, Helton Achaye, and Natalie Isber of Matthew House. Several students from the Munk School also joined us.
Abiding by the Chatham House Rule, which allows participants to use what’s said but not attribute it to the speakers, the roundtable discussed several difficult issues, including Canada’s efforts to export its private refugee resettlement model.. Several speakers warned that the model may fail in Europe, for example, where the vilification of immigrants is strong.
“The consequences are potentially devastating,” student Ben Ball said.
Panelists later explained that a private resettlement program can create a paternalistic attitude in which sponsors refer to Syrian refugees as “My Syrian family,” or “our refugees,” etc. In addition, Canada’s government-assisted refugees typically have more challenging needs than privately-sponsored refugees who have the connections to become sponsored.
After the panel, four students were interviewed for OMNI TV, a multilingual broadcast network, about the differences between U.S. and Canadian immigration policy. Students noted that the attitudes towards immigrants in the United States and Canada have had more in common recently. In Canada, there is a backlash against those crossing Canada’s borders seeking asylum that is similar to American attitudes towards a “caravan” of migrants. As one of the panelists pointed out, America’s “caravan” and Canada’s irregular border-crossers are not about the numbers, but the spectacle.
On Wednesday we left Winnipeg for Toronto. After a late (10 am!) start, we spent most of the day traveling. After a few hours of downtime, we had an incredible dinner at Newcomer Kitchen, a nonprofit that invites Syrian refugee women to cook a weekly meal at The Depanneur. There, we met with international business leaders, including Mohamad Fakih, a self-made Lebanese-Canadian businessman and philanthropist who founded Paramount Fine Foods. Have a taste of our day below!
A clattering of pots and pans greets guests at the Newcomer Kitchen at Depanneur — a restaurant housed in Toronto’s Dufferin Grove Neighborhood. At the other end of the homely restaurant, a dedicated group of newcomer women gather over big pans of kibbeh, whizzing baba ghanoush and chopping up crudités.
One does not often think about the social mission behind one’s dinner, preferring, for the most part, simply to enjoy a delicious meal. This evening, however, our group huddled into Depanneur, a former corner shop turned social enterprise that has become wildly popular with Torontonians and visitors alike. “Toronto is a hugely multicultural city – in terms of language, religion, nationality, and cuisine,” says Cara Benjamin-Pace, the co-founder and executive director of Newcomer Kitchen. “But until we opened, we were completely lacking in Syrian cuisine.”
Founded in Spring 2016, a month after Canada resettled over 25,000 Syrian refugees, the social enterprise project originally started out as an opportunity for Syrian women to get together and cook homely food – an opportunity unavailable to them in the hotels that they were temporarily housed in. What started out as an experiment for twelve, however, quickly became something much more popular. “After our first week of inviting a dozen women,” Cara explains, “it was a huge success. They returned to where they were staying, told all their neighbors, and quickly we had eighty women expressing interest.” Refusing to turn away those who wanted to cook, Cara and Len Senateur, the owner of Depanneur, expanded the project rapidly, financing the meals themselves.
Even when all of the women had already been resettled in new homes complete with their own kitchens, they still asked to cook at Newcomer Kitchen. Cara explains that Syrian cuisine is one traditionally cooked in a social environment and, despite the fact that each family had a kitchen of their own, “they all agreed that our kitchen had become home.” However, there was only so long that the founders could finance the project. Both Len and Cara had a background in entrepreneurship, so they came up with a plan that would allow the kitchen to remain a homely, safe space for the cooks, while still recouping some of the cost of the ingredients and renting the space. After consulting the women, the group decided to package up the meals they made and sell them for pickup or delivery, a venture sponsored by the delivery firm Foodora.
The decision turned out to be a successful one; not only have the $25 meals proved to be a hit with the public, but the restaurant now sells cooking spots in the kitchen through Airbnb Experiences. “Media reaction to the project has been great,” explains Cara; a visit from Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, adorns the front page of the website, alongside press clippings from the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and a number of other outlets.
Indeed, the success of the enterprise seems to take even Cara by surprise as she recounts the history of the restaurant, she realizes that even she had been swept away in the excitement of opening the restaurant. “Wait a minute,” she exclaims, clapping her hands. “Today is the end of our second year of business!”
My day began with an interview at Hospitality House, a place that houses and helps newcomers to Canada. In order to accommodate her discomfort with large crowds, I meet Sharon—an LGBT+ asylum claimant from Kenya—in the home she shared with other asylum claimants and refugees going through the asylum hearing processes. She asked that I omit her last name due to fear of persecution. Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya. She remained cautious during our interview, preferring that I not record our conversation and omitting details regarding her own migration journey. Her apprehensiveness is understandable, yet her demeanor was kind and receptive during our interview. She happily detailed her experiences volunteering with Welcome Place, Manitoba’s largest refugee settlement agency.
“I help write out their claims and help interpret because language is a big barrier. I don’t really go to so many places- I spend most of my time there.” She told me.
As the interview progressed, she disclosed a few details of her own migration process.
“I’ve been in Canada for 2 months now; I’m still waiting for my work permit and my hearing.” She detailed.
She also added that she began attending Friday meetings at the Rainbow Resource Centre—Manitoba’s only LGBT+ resource center. The new social support group, called New Pride of Winnipeg, meets to make connections, practice English, and share different cultural meals. Sharon is fluent in English, but she attends for the community and connections.
“You get to meet different people. It’s not very official but it’s a community.” Sharon said.
This unofficial sense of community makes a difference, especially for those whose gender identity and sexual orientation make them feel at odds with their own ethnic and cultural communities. In Sharon’s case, the illegality of homosexuality in Kenya, paired with strong religious beliefs, makes it “really difficult to connect” with other refugees from a similar cultural background.
For Sharon, spaces like the New Pride Friday social meetings provide a place “to unwind and meet friends.” She looks forward to attending every week.
This sense of informal community can also be found in Toronto, within the Newcomer Kitchen. The innovative non-profit allows Syrian refugee women to prepare and sell meals—an act of reclaiming agency for these Syrian women. They had been housed in hotels without kitchens when they first arrived. The Depanneur— self-described as a “fun, informal venue that celebrates the incredible diversity of Toronto’s culinary talent”— is home to the Newcomer Kitchen.
While enjoying their delicious cooking, I shared a dish with Len Senater, the founder of the Depanneur. He was proud of the accomplishments and attention that the program has garnered — including a visit by the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — since its debut in April 2016.
While he spoke about the looming difficulties of keeping the location due to rising rents and overall gentrification of Toronto, he remained excited about how the model of Newcomer Kitchen has been able to positively impact the greater newcomer community and expand to other communities in cities across Canada.
A table in Depanneur, decorated with a flyer for Newcomer Kitchen
Syrian Chefs at Newcomer Kitchen
On Tuesday, students had the opportunity to visit their choice of organizations before reconvening at the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) and finally meeting for dinner and desert.
At Manitoba Interfaith, also called Welcome Place, the first thing our group did was sign a contract written in an unfamiliar language. Here’s how it unfolded. Minutes after our host, Marta Klaita, director of settlement services, introduced herself, a blonde woman in a suit entered the room. Without introductions, she handed us a contract that was written in a language none of us understood. There was only one full sentence on the page, and I had no idea what it said. Choosing which word to circle for my gender was like flipping a coin. I took an educated guess that “Data” meant the date. There were two dotted lines, presumably, for my signature. Deb Amos, our professor, wrote on one line and handed in her paper. The blonde woman handed back the form without so much as a smile.
We handed in our forms and marinated in a brief awkward silence before another staff member entered the space with a smile and an explanation. She told us this was intentionally designed to give us “a taste of being a refugee.” The blonde woman, Valentina, was a refugee who worked at Welcome Place, and the contract was written in Albanian. The other staff member noted that they would switch it up sometimes, bringing in big, gruff man to deliver the contracts instead. Valentina told us what we just contractually agreed to do:
“After your death, you’re signing to use your body parts for science.”
When I think of language, I usually think of culture or family. But the message was very clear here: knowing an official language like English gives you agency and security. I spent some time at Altered Minds afterwards, interviewing groups of people – through their translators – about the role of English in their resettlement. Most people had yet to take the Canadian Language Benchmark assessment. So I asked what their goals were – education, schooling, etc. – and how often they’d plan to speak English. Some planned for English literacy to be another tool of the trade – after work, they could return to their families and converse in the language that made them feel comfortable. Some would skip learning English altogether if it meant they could get a job more quickly. There were also a good deal of people who spoke to me in English.
But nearly everyone told me that learning English would help them learn Canada’s laws. Upon their arrival in the country, only a small group of them were taught the basics of Canadian law in their native language. Most newcomers didn’t get those basics – they couldn’t know just what they didn’t know about day-to-day life here. One woman had been in Canada for about 1.5 months. She never went anywhere without her interpreter.
Everyone should have a right to know what’s going on. When an interviewee asked me (in English) what I planned to do with this interview, I told him I wanted to make more people aware of just how tough it is to balance language with raising children, working, or going to school. But it already seems like a no-brainer, and honestly, reading and writing this post in English almost feels like it doesn’t do the experience justice. Welcome Place really got it right with that first exercise, though I wasn’t worrying about my future when I walked in there.
Today we had the opportunity to visit APTN, a news network primarily for and by indigenous peoples based in Winnipeg. We spoke to several staff in the news room, in administration, and with show production. Despite not being closely related to class topics, which include issues of immigration and refugee resettlement, we found the visit to be both informative and eye opening. I found the station fascinating because it intersects with the advocacy of people of color, and especially Black people in the US. One of the staff we had the opportunity to speak with discussed issues of unjust deaths in the indigenous community. Recently, for example, a vigil had been held for a young indigenous man who had been shot in the back of the head by a farmer after trespassing on his land. The staff member pointed out that the Black Lives Matter had also held his or her own vigil.
A producer for APTN explained that the indigenous communities experience heavy discrimination. She pointed out that her own non-indigenous in-laws had even told her, as an indigenous woman, hurtful things. According to a Syrian refugee we met, in Canada, it seems like everyone is against the indigenous community, unlike in the US where it is typically Black and White.
APTN would be nearly impossible to replicate in the US, observed one Princeton student, who compared it to an all-Black television network, that would likely be relegated to a YouTube channel, or online news network, unlikely to get mainstream air time. In Canada, on the other hand, the networks are vertically integrated giving each station more autonomy over its own programming.
One piece of programming that we had the opportunity to watch was ‘First Contact’, a 3-episode TV-show that replicates a show about aboriginal communities Australia. In the Canadian version, 6 people who had stereotypes about native people were sent to the homes of indigenous people to get exposure therapy. The show has faced significant backlash- as did the one in Australia- mainly from the indigenous communities, which express frustration with their continual need to assert their humanity, and make accommodations for groups that refuse to accommodate them.
If such a television show were to be made in the US with Black communities and KKK members, I would fear for the safety of the Black families and communities. In the US, hatred and discrimination is so violent that I wonder if such an experiment could be conducted without the direct harm of the host community.
Today we go a bit off the beaten path — Welcome to Altona and Emerson!
After a brief discussion with Ben Rempel at Manitoba Education and Training on Monday morning, we traveled from Winnipeg to Altona for a lunch with Canadian newcomers prepared by Syrian refugees. From Altona we made the short drive to Emerson, where we spoke with former CAO Greg Janzen about irregular border crossers, before returning to King’s Head Pub for dinner with Red River College journalism students in Winnipeg.
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