Marcia Brown

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.