Back in 2007, I researched and wrote a newcomer guide to the Canadian workplace. The guide was funded by HRSDC and was designed as a resource for new immigrants, English as Additional Language teachers, hiring managers, employers, and immigrant service providers. Although the context of the guide dealt largely with the Manitoba workplace, it touched on a variety of key norms, standards and law relevant to all Canadians. It sought to take all of the anectodal research I gathered and through scenarios provide practical information to the audiences named above so that new immigrants could know what to expect and feel more comfortable with their rights and responsibilities. The guide was written in plain-language at a language level that could be accessible to a breadth of immigrants.
To date, this guide has been reprinted 3 times and is still lauded as one of the most useful Canadian resources to orient newcomers. Since that was my goal – that is, for the guide to be relevant and practical – I can say that I feel it was achieved. But the truth is we can always do better. Since 2007, some workplace standards have changed, new scenarios have been created (again based on realities experienced by newcomers passed along to me via service providers), new activities and other Canadian norms (which were not referenced in detail) could be more present in a newer version of the guide.
So why am I telling you all of this?
Well, yesterday it surfaced in the news that Canada’s Minister of Immigration – Jason Kenney M.P. – approved the release of a citizenship guide for new immigrants with significant gaps in areas of equality and fundamental rights that are unique to Canada and part of our very social fabric. Furthermore, as it turns out, he intentionally had removed (from earlier drafts) references to gay and lesbian rights in Canada including the mention of same-sex marriage. This is a reality in Canadian society and something that differentiates Canada from a lot of other places in the world. It is relevant to newcomers and deserves not to be excluded because of a Minister’s personal politics or that of his constituents. (No matter what your beliefs, you can’t rewrite history.)
Upon a closer look at this guide, I noticed significant omissions of key Charter rights and freedoms. (I live with an “expert” on the Charter of Rights & Freedoms. A copy of the Charter hangs in our home office. But still this “expert” claimed that it could never be possible to include all the rights in such a limited guide.) For those who don’t know what the Charter is – it is the guts of our constitution and serves as the foundation of our success as “an experiment going right“. It is what the children of immigrants who arrived during the 1970s immigration wave grew up hearing reference to – almost daily. It is the spelling out of the most deeply held rights and freedoms deserved by all human beings and for many Canadians it is “the gospel”. So perhaps not all rights and freedoms could be outlined in this citizenship guide but this one would have sufficed:
Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability.
(By the way, under the Canadian Human Rights Act “sex” refers to pregnancy, childbirth AND orientation.)
Upon an EVEN closer look, I realized that an overview of “equality of men and women” was distilled down to these 3 sentences:
In Canada, men and women are equal under the law. Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, “honour killings”, female genital mutilation, or other gender-based violence. Those guilty of such crimes are severely punished under Canada’s criminal law.
If this is truly what equality of men and women in Canada comes down to, we are a very sorry lot. I find the absence of susbstantive information on gender equality – such as workplace rights, compensation or even parental leave – a gross oversight. But the presence of the statements above are wholly stupifying and deeply offensive.
This guide needs a REWRITE. I will be writing a substantial letter to Minister Kenney identifying information gaps in this guide and demanding the inclusion of key rights and information in the next printing of it. Quite frankly, it is shameful that the government thinks so little of new immigrants. Worse yet, it is deeply sad that Minister Kenney thinks so little of Canada as demonstrated by the inclusion of certain content in the guide and most definitely, the absence of others.
Read the guide and share your thoughts with Minister Kenney. I am sure he will be hearing from many of us.