Author: Irma Qavolli

Cross-Border Politics

Sophia Cai

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.”

Sounds familiar?

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.


“It’s Not The Numbers, But The Spectacle”

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.

The Importance of Social Community Spaces for Refugees

Irma Qavolli

Winnipeg, Canada

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

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