Newcomers in the News, November 2018

[we welcome submissions for future newsletters and blog posts regarding the OT role in responding to newcomer concerns – please email us at]

  • Policy Change: Greater inclusivity for newcomers with disabilities

Before the policy changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in April 2018, immigrant applicants could be found inadmissible to Canada, based on their medical/health condition, thereby potentially excluding newcomers with disabilities. This policy has been amended to be more inclusive.

“The changes we are announcing today are a major step forward in ensuring our immigration system is more inclusive of persons with disabilities, and reflects the values of Canadians.” ~ The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

You can read the full details of this policy change, here.

  • Unlawful Immigration Detention Case

In a previous blog post, we discussed the issue of immigration detention and how this impacts the occupational engagement, health and wellbeing of newcomers – especially when they are held for a long, indeterminate amount of time without legal recourse or other supports.

As we reported previously, in July 2018, the Canadian Government released a highly critical external audit of the Immigration and Refugee Board (which assesses refugee claims) and the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA). The federal audit, which can be read in full here, calls for major reforms regarding how Canada works with refugee claimants who are detained.

As an update to the developments previous discussed, most recently on November 14th, 2018, a number of refugee advocate groups were interveners in a Supreme Court of Canada case involving Pakistani immigration detainee Tusif Ur Rehman Chhina. The situation is summarized by Nicholas Keung in The Star, as follows:

Should an immigration detainee have the same right to challenge their ongoing detention as their criminally convicted peers? That’s the quandary at the centre of a Supreme Court of Canada case opening on Wednesday in Ottawa.”

“While Canadian citizens serving a jail sentence are entitled to argue their case before a judge, foreign nationals held for immigration violations must appear before a federal tribunal, which has been criticized for rubber-stamping their continued incarceration.”

“Canada’s highest court is being asked to clarify if immigration detainees are protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and can access what is legally known as habeas corpus — a legal recourse that allows anyone held by the state to challenge the lawfulness of their detention.

“Until now, immigration detention has been a murky area of law between two levels of authority — the federal government, which is responsible for immigration matters and runs the tribunal, and the provinces, which are in charge of detention facilities.”

For more information, you can read the case summary on the Supreme Court of Canada website, a thorough legal review and explanation of the case by Alice Pan, and the media release by the Canadian Council for Refugees regarding their involvement.

There has also been a recent lawsuit launched against the Canadian government by Prosper Niyonzima. This was an individual with PTSD who had experienced horrific trauma in Rwanda and Burundi before being accepted to Canada. He then lost his permanent resident status after being convicted of a number of crimes and spent four years in immigration detention (including over two years in solitary confinement), which had a further detrimental impact on his mental health, as described by Lorenda Reddekopp for CBC News.

  • Continued Developments Pertaining to the Increase of Asylum Seekers Crossing the US-Canada Border at Non-Official Border Points

As discussed previously, Canada (specifically Toronto and Montreal) have been tasked with providing basic supports to the large number of asylum seekers who have crossed the US-Canada border at non-official port of entry border points in the past couple of years.

More than 34,000 asylum-seekers have crossed at “non-official” ports of entry since early 2017, because this excludes them from the Safe Third Country Agreement that Canada has with the United States. The Safe Third Country Agreement would otherwise prevent them from applying for refugee status if they crossed the border at an “official port of entry”. Although refugee advocates have been calling for a suspension of the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S., post-Trump’s election to presidency, this has not occurred.

In response to protests around using the derogatory terminology of “illegals” or “illegal border-crossers” to describe newcomers seeking entry at non-official border crossings, the Canadian Government updated their online information to refer to these newcomers as crossing at “irregular” entry points, instead of at “illegal” border-crossings.

Around the same time this year, however, Canada also established a new Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction. The Canadian Council for Refugees takes issue with this in an open letter to the Canadian Government (August 2018) because of the way that it risks “conflating migration and crime in the name of the new Ministry”, and could continue to feed public fears about the increased number of asylum seekers entering Canada from the United States.

The Canada Border Services Agency has indicated that they will be increasing the deportation of asylum seekers who have failed refugee claims, with a target of 10,000 completed deportations per year, while the Canadian Council for Refugees argues that an arbitrary annual target and quota, may erode a commitment to a just and compassionate case review.

Meanwhile, the tension between the federal and provincial/municipal levels of government continues as the city of Toronto struggles to provide for the large number of refugee claimants using their shelters and, this past summer, occupying the college dorms in the city before many of them were relocated to hotels.

The City of Toronto has statistics that indicate about 40 percent of those using Toronto’s shelter system, describe themselves as asylum-seekers (i.e. refugee claimants) and/or confirmed refugees. The refugee population have unique needs that need to be taken into consideration in this context.

In a recent article for The Tyee (25 Oct., 2018), summarizing the situation in Toronto, Seila Rizvic interviews Shaban, a refugee settlement counsellor who states: “The number one checkpoint that we have on our list is the housing… Because once you have a stable address then you can locate the schools. Then you can start searching for a job… if you are a permanent resident, you can apply for your health card, and the Social Insurance Number and the rest.”

Of course, the need for more affordable housing is a hot topic in many places in Canada, particularly Toronto. It is an issue that affects many people. However, a lack of credit history, language barriers, and an unfamiliarity with the rental system, can be additional hindrances for newcomers searching for a safe home.

There are a few organizations that offer transitional housing and other supports tailored to the needs of refugees and refugee claimants, such as Mathew House, Sojourn House, and Christie Refugee Welcome Centre.

As quoted by Seila Rizvic, Ann Woolger (the founding director of Matthew House) and others, “have been in talks with the city to come up with better solutions, including buying properties to use as refugee shelters rather than shelling out millions of dollars in hotel costs per year.”

“Unfortunately, there’s a dilemma between dealing with the emergency at hand and long-term planning. And we kind of want to say, hold on, step back,” she says.

Increasing the number of refugee shelters to provide a transition between arrival and finding long-term housing would be a meaningful first step…To address the refugee housing issue the city will have to improve overall housing affordability and availability.”

Safe housing is often a foundational need that must be addressed before other meaningful occupational engagement can be pursued.

  • Trudeau Apologizes for Canada’s 1939 Refusal of the Ship of Jewish Refugees

On November 7th, 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered a public apology for Canada’s refusal to welcome more than 900 German Jewish refugees, on board the St. Louis ship, when they requested asylum in 1939. They were turned back to Europe and tragically, many died in the Holocaust.

A CTV News article covering the public apology, reports:

“The Liberals’ new immigration plan calls for accepting up to 16,500 protected persons in 2019, a category that includes refugees, growing to 20,000 in 2021. Critics say the figures are far too low while debate rages about “irregular” border crossers walking over from the United States.

The Canadian Council for Refugees said many refugees trying to get into Canada are often fleeing persecution just like the St. Louis passengers. ‘History will judge us by whether we respond in ways that respect the rights and dignity of refugee claimants, just as we today judge those who turned away the St. Louis and other Jewish refugees,’ the council said.”

The Canadian Council for Refugees warns that “we must guard against rising anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia. When we welcome newcomers and ensure that they can fully contribute here, we all gain.”

  • Newcomers Engaging in Meaningful Occupations in Canada

There are many stories of newcomers engaging in meaningful occupation in Canada, but most recently the following examples came to our attention.

Musician Sari Alesh fled the nightmare in his war-torn home in Syria and found refuge in Victoria where he has had new opportunities to share his healing love of violin with the public, amid resettlement challenges and racial discrimination.

Marwa Harb, Praise Mugisho, and Rupesh Dhungana, are three young newcomers who have established a new home in Canada. ISANS, the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, recently featured their stories in a short video, called “I am Today” The importance of meaningful occupational engagement stands out in their stories. Praise Mugisho says: “I will not let my obstacles be bigger than my dreams.”

Check out the Canadian Council for Refugee’s webpage, ‘Refugee and immigration issues in Canadian media’, for a continually updated list of recent news headlines and articles, which provides an overview of the national public dialogue on relevant issues.


Questions for Reflection & Action:

  • What OT language and discourse might be discriminatory and inappropriate among newcomer clients? What underlying messages are being communicated through our terminology that might be misinterpreted or cause harm among this population?
  • How can OTs contribute to improving access to appropriate mental health services for newcomer youth?
  • How can OTs, especially in cities such as Montreal and Toronto where the majority of refugee claimants are currently residing, support these newcomers while they live with uncertainty in a precarious situation?
  • How can OTs collaborate with organizations offering transitional housing to refugees and refugee claimants in order to support newcomers with meeting their basic needs and establishing meaningful occupational engagement and stabilizing occupational rhythms?
  • How can OTs provide helpful health and occupation-based knowledge and expertise to policy-makers and decision-makers in their cities and communities, as to how to best support newcomers without status, or with transitional status?


Selected References:

Global Dentention Project. (2008). Immigration Detention in Canada: Important Reforms, Ongoing Concerns. Retrieved from

Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. (2018). Report of the 2017/2018 External Audit (Detention Review). Retrieved from

One thought on “Newcomers in the News, November 2018

  1. Pingback: Newcomers in the News, April 2019 | Occupational Justice for Newcomers Network

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