[News Release] - Ontario’s Chief Commissioner shifts the debate to human rights

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Contacts for Media Inquiries:
Izumi Sakamoto, Ph.D.
(416) 946-8224
Language: English, Japanese

Lin Fang, Ph.D
(416) 946-8224
Language: English, Mandarin

May Lui, E.D., CCNTO
(416) 596-0833 ext 1
Language: English

On the day of the event, all contacts can be reached at: 416-887-5852
Note: Media representatives do not need to register for this event

Ontario’s Chief Commissioner shifts the debate to human rights

For many immigrants, “Canadian experience” is the biggest barrier to finding employment, no matter what their employment history outside of Canada. And while traditional thinking has always approached the problem from the perspective of human resources, a growing movement suggests that it must be thought of in terms of human rights. Inspired by the leadership of the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s (OHRC) Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall, one group is meeting to do just that.

“In our conversations with newcomers, they often talk about the requirement for ‘Canadian experience’ as a big barrier to their entry into the workforce,” says Hall. “We have been learning more about how this requirement plays out in real life.”

The OHRC launched a survey last October directed at newcomers who have encountered the need for Canadian experience, as well as employers and HR professionals who require it, to try to measure its effects on them and on the Ontario job market. Both the human rights and human resources sides of the discussion have been eagerly awaiting the OHRC’s findings, and any policy changes they might lead to.

The OHRC is not the only group to be approaching the problem from the perspective of human rights. Hall, the event’s keynote speaker, will be joined by Claude Balthazard, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs of the Human Resources Professional Association, as well as community leaders and some 150 human resource professionals, service providers, human rights experts, to address, from a number of perspectives, the human rights implications of employers’ insistence on Canadian experience.

This Wednesday, the Beyond Canadian Experience Project will be hosting an event that will bring together a group of academics, human resources and community leaders dedicated to finding ways to integrate immigrants into the Canadian labour force. For project leader Izumi Sakamoto (Associate Professor of Social Work, University of Toronto), the event offers a glimpse into the future of labour relations for newcomers to the province. “It’s incredibly frustrating for many newcomers to be told that their years of experience don’t count for anything once they arrive here,” she says. “But if we shift our thinking, and learn to think of it from the point of view of human rights, it opens up a whole new way to approach the problem.”

The Beyond Canadian Experience project is a collaboration of the University of Toronto Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, Mennonite New Life Centre, Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter, and the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC). Its main purpose is to deconstruct the notion of “Canadian Experience” with an eye to reducing barriers to employment experienced by immigrants. Having Hall and the OHRC represented at the event, Sakamoto says, complements their work perfectly.

“We’ve thought about this problem from the point of view of immigrant experience, and from the point of view of employers and the economy,” Sakamoto says, “but to think about it from the perspective of human rights is new for us, and really exciting. Having the Chief Commissioner participate in the discussion, particularly since we know they’ve been thinking about it in these terms for some time now, offers the hope that we can really make some meaningful progress.”

The event titled, “Beyond ‘Canadian Experience’: Immigrant Employment from a Human Rights Perspective” takes place on Wednesday, January 16 in The Debates Room at Hart House at the University of Toronto, from 5:30 pm to 8:00 pm. In addition to Hall and Balthazard, speakers will include Avvy Go, Clinic Director of the Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, and Amy Casipullai, Senior Coordinator of Policy and Communications for the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), as well as the launch of a Special Edition of New Voices magazine centring on Canadian Experience, presented by journalist and writer Gerard Keledjian of the Mennonite New Life Centre in Toronto.