By: Kelly Toughill in Halifax
Thousands of families will soon get a second chance to bring parents and grandparents to Canada.
That’s the good news recently announced by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
The bad news is that there is no chance Canada will keep its promise to issue 10,000 permanent resident visas to extended family members in 2017.
Officials won’t even finish collecting the new applications until December and it will take months to process those applications after they arrive.
Problems with the parent and grandparent sponsorship program are a classic case of great intentions gone wrong. In this case, families who followed the rules were suddenly shut out of the system, and other families were given false hope that they could reunite with ailing relatives.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet have changed Canada’s immigration system significantly in the last 16 months. They reversed a much-criticized law that allowed the government to strip people of their Canadian citizenship. They set up new programs to help businesses recruit tech workers and to support Francophone immigration outside Quebec. They made it easier for entrepreneurs to come to Canada, and eased rules for workers who want to move to struggling Atlantic Canada. They shortened the wait time to sponsor a spouse and made the forms easier to read and understand. They helped international students by setting up a new, speedy immigration program in Atlantic Canada, giving students extra points for Canadian degrees and making it easier for international students to become citizens after they get permanent resident status.
Those changes were greeted with relief and even gratitude across Canada.
Changes to the parent and grandparent program were supposed to be another feel-good tweak to the system. Instead, the changes angered the very consitutuency the government was trying to please.
Under the Conservative government, Ottawa set a quota each year for the number of Canadian families that could sponsor a parent or grandparent for permanent resident status. The Liberal government doubled the quota from 5,000 to 10,000, but initially kept the same process: applications opened in early January and closed when the quota was reached – always within days.
To win one of the coveted visas, most families hired experienced immigration lawyers or consultants and paid stiff fees for private couriers to wait in line outside the Mississauga processing centre the night before the program opened.
Just three weeks before the program was expected to open this year, the government announced it was scrapping the first-come, first-served system. Instead, then-Immigration Minister John McCallum invited families to fill out an online form and promised to hold a lottery to decide who could formally apply. He called the new process “more fair and transparent.”
The announcement came after thousands of families had already prepared applications that require medical exams, police certificates and expensive translations, not to mention lawyers’ fees. Many families wasted months of work and thousands of dollars on applications they would never get to file.
The larger problem, though, was the online form set up to register for the lottery; families could fill out the form without figuring out if they were actually eligible to sponsor a parent or grandparent.
Most know that only Canadian citizens and permanent residents can sponsor a parent or grandparent for permanent resident status. But many don’t know that you must be able to support that parent and that the only acceptable proof of your financial ability is past income tax forms. Many also didn’t realize that parents and grandparents must be healthy to immigrate to Canada.
When immigration lawyers and regulated consultants saw the online form, many immediately warned of coming pandemonium. Some dismissed those warnings as sour grapes, suggesting that lawyers were just mad that clients might be able to sponsor relatives without their high-priced help.
It turns out the lawyers were right.
Almost 100,000 families registered for the lottery, but only a fraction of the 10,000 that were invited to apply actually managed to do so.
Immigration consultants shared stories of clients showing up on their doorstep with expectations that Canada was going to immediately fly their relatives here because the family had “won the lottery.” Many had no idea they still had to pull together the complex and expensive application in 90 days. In June, an immigration official told a conference that only 700 of the 10,000 families had filed applications, and that 15 percent of those applications were incomplete.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada still doesn’t know how many of the 10,000 families invited to apply will actually get to bring their relatives to Canada. A spokesperson said this week that 6,020 of the 10,000 families invited to apply last February actually filed applications. However, immigration officers still don’t know how many of those application are complete or valid. Those numbers are expected later this fall.
In the meantime, Ottawa has quietly launched a second lottery. The notice was posted Friday afternoon before Labour Day. The new invitations were sent out on Sept. 6. Families must finish the applications by Dec. 8, and it will take several months after that deadline for permanent resident visas to be issued.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen vigorously defended the new application process in early summer, when the problems first became public. Hussen could not be reached for comment this week, but a spokesperson for the department suggested the new process might change.
“This is the first year that we’re using the new random selection intake process, and we are actively monitoring this model to see how we can make improvements in future years,” communications advisor Faith St.-John wrote in an email.
Kelly Toughill is an associate professor of journalism at the University of King’s College and founder of Polestar Immigration Research Inc.
Commentary by Mayank Bhatt in Toronto
I published my debut novel, Belief, in Canada last year. It’s the story of an immigrant family’s struggle to integrate into the Canadian mainstream.
Just when everything seems to be falling into place after nearly two decades of struggle to survive in an alien land, facing constant rejection, the family discovers their son’s apparent involvement in some sort of terrorist plot. Hurriedly, they consult their neighbours, who put them in touch with a police officer known to them.
The novel explores the family’s trauma following the son’s arrest.
The family’s Muslim identity is central to the story. It deals with the manner in which people of colour who are adherents of Islam are generally (and often unconsciously) treated in a society that they adopt as immigrants.
This is an important issue because in their desperation to grab eyeballs, the mainstream news and entertainment media often forget to make it clear that Islam is not a monolith and all Muslims are not the same.
In writing my novel, I set out with a simple objective – that there is little to distinguish between people on the basis of their beliefs.
The other issue that I wanted to examine was this whole business of radicalisation and terrorism. It’s important to underline that such a phenomenon doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Young men such as Rafiq, the main character in my novel, go astray in an environment where they are unable to make an emotional or a material connection with society at large, and this leads to many complications for them, for their families and the society.
From the family’s perspective, how different would a son’s radicalisation and subsequent involvement in terrorism be from drug addiction?
I’m not saying that there is no distinction. Society will definitely distinguish between the two, and weigh down heavily on radicalisation and terrorism while condoning drug addiction, and we can argue that this has a lot to do with race, but that really is a different debate.
I’d still want to believe that it would still represent an enormous crisis from the parents’ point of view. I don’t know whether the parents of a son who’s a drug addict would take comfort from the fact that their son is “only” dealing with a drug problem, rather than being radicalised as a terrorist.
The other challenge I dealt with while writing the novel was that I’m not a Muslim. This is a sensitive matter. Would I be able to portray with accuracy and empathy the life of a Muslim family, the family dynamics, and the inner turmoil?
I was born in a Hindu family. However, but for my grandmother, nobody really practised the religion regularly or ritualistically. But I grew up and lived in a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood for more than three decades in cosmopolitan Bombay (now Mumbai).
Also, as a journalist in Bombay, I covered religious violence that wreaked havoc on Bombay in 1992-93, witnessed first-hand the callousness of the state in bringing justice to the survivor victims of these riots, and recorded the adverse long-term effects of official neglect that Muslims in India have suffered.
And perhaps, most pertinently, I’ve been married to a devout Muslim for over two decades.
Yet, to construct a novel was a grave responsibility. In recent years, there have been intense debates in the literary spheres about ‘cultural appropriation’.
Lionel Shriver let loose a veritable storm last year when she defended her right to write about anything that she as a writer wanted to (Read her speech here, and Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s response here).
Closer home, our own Giller Prize winner Joseph Boyden has been hauled over the coals for claiming to be Aboriginal; his defence is that he feels like one, even if he may not be one genetically.
Well-meaning Muslim friends of South Asian origin cautioned me that my attempt at depicting a Muslim milieu in Canada would lack authenticity and suggested that I abandon the “misadventure”. I was, of course, not going to do that, mainly because I believe that imagination and craft could be better substitutes for experience.
I believe that a novelist’s primary responsibility is to tell a story competently and responsibly. Innumerable novelists have created a world in their novels that are palpably real without ever being even remotely connected to the world they create.
I have done so in Belief and I’ll leave it to the reader to judge whether the novel succeeds in portraying the complexity of being a Muslim in Canada.
Mayank Bhatt’s debut novel Belief was published in 2016 by Mawenzi House. Read our review here - Novel Explores Road to Radicalization
Commentary by Bernice Cheung in Toronto
For many of us, the first thing that comes to mind when we think of immigrants is a struggling population — those who come here with little understanding of the culture they’re entering into, only to spend a generation struggling so they can give their children a better future. It’s a story that Saima Naz knows all too well.
Saima moved to Montreal from Pakistan with her family when she was a small child. Her parents came here with an attitude that paying cash is always best. They had little understanding of the way finances worked in the developed Western world, and were wary of taking on any debt.
As Saima describes it, her family always had enough to survive, but they were missing out on opportunities. If her parents had had a better understanding of finance and not been so averse to debt, they could have been much better off — and Saima was determined not to make the same mistakes. At 15, she opened her first bank account, and by 21 she had taken out a $5,000 loan to start a small business. She purchased her first family home for about $500,000 when she was 23 and today, 11 years later, that property is valued at well over $1 million.
It’s a familiar story, considered by many to be the norm for a successful immigration cycle. An immigrant generation struggles and sacrifices so that their children can build the knowledge they need to thrive in the following generation.
Today, though, that narrative seems to apply less and less. In actuality, our data suggest that emerging technologies in today’s highly connected world have significantly widened the spectrum of a typical immigrant success story. Having conducted an annual survey to understand new Canadians’ financial habits, product usage, attitudes and satisfaction towards their financial institutions since 2010, the Cultural Markets team at Environics Research has kept a close eye on this recent new trend.
Rather than observing more of the same struggling newcomer narrative over and over, our team has discovered a new story emerging — one that tells the tale of a more prepared population, ready and excited for the challenges of entering a new cultural situation. Our data shows that, even before their arrival, this new generation of immigrants is doing their research and diligently preparing for upcoming challenges. When we asked newcomers who arrived in the past five years when they opened their first bank account, almost three in 10 (28%) say they had done so before they made the move.
Moreover, we’ve seen a steadily increasing proportion of newcomers agreeing with the statement “I feel as though [we] have the knowledge to get the most out of the financial services choices available in Canada”— revealing a confidence we’ve rarely seen from past generations of newcomers.
It’s much more than simply being prepared ahead of time, though. This generation of immigrants also appears to be much more financially savvy than their previous generational counterparts, and they expect more from their financial institutions. Of those newcomers that came here in the past five years, a whopping 75% have opened a second Canadian bank account with a different financial institution within a year of moving, and 11% had switched institutions completely.
When asked why they switched from their first financial institution, just over four in ten (43%) stated that they wanted better rates, while many others cited better customer service/tone or attitude as key factors.
This move away from financial complacency shows that, for this new generation, the research doesn’t stop. They study ahead of time and continue to actively evaluate the quality of their financial institution from the moment they arrive. They are constantly learning and making changes to better their situation.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this new financial sophistication also appears to be moving beyond just banking and into investment practices. Of the newcomers that came to Canada within the last three years, 46% now use a mutual fund company. It’s a trend that reveals a major opportunity for not only mutual fund companies, but also for financial advisors. Newcomers that came to Canada in the past 10 years represent a total of $55 billion in portfolio investments, but over half of those newcomers still do not have a dedicated advisor. By any standard, that is a massive, potentially missed market for advisors to build a strategy around.
These savvy newcomer investors need products that are geared to their needs, and advisors that can speak their language, both literally and figuratively. Customer service, and the right tone and attitude, rank high on the list of things newcomers look for in an institution. Advisors can significantly differentiate themselves among these groups of newcomers by simply gaining an understanding of cultural differences towards financial planning and investments.
It may seem counter to the popular narrative surrounding immigration, but newcomers to Canada in the past 10 years from South Asia alone hold $17 billion in their investment portfolios. That’s a far cry from the days of Saima’s parents being averse to the idea of even taking a loan — and it’s a figure that financial advisors should take note of.
Bernice is VP of Cultural Markets and Financial Services at Environics Research Group. She brings over 12 years of marketing and management consulting experience from financial services and consumer goods, helping clients with quantitative and qualitative market research, organizational strategy, segmentation and targeting. Prior to leading Environics' Cultural Markets group, Bernice led the Ethnic Practice Areas at Nielsen and Altus Strategy Group. Contact Bernice.Cheung@Environics.ca
RESEARCH has shown children have racial biases from an early age, but a new University of British Columbia study has found that it is possible to combat prejudice in older kids. The study— the first of its kind to examine developmental differences in the capacity to reduce racial prejudice in children— found that telling […]
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BY RATTAN MALL
THERE is anger, if not rage, in Surrey at 32 shootings so far that have resulted in nine injuries, including one death. At this point in the investigations, eight of the shootings are related to a conflict over the drug turf. Although none of the victims have been innocent bystanders, this could change any moment as what happened in Abbotsford last September.
And the blame is being apportioned to police, politicians as well as parents, family members and friends of those involved in the various drug-trafficking conflicts – and even judges who many accuse of being too lenient to offenders.
by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga
In Pakistan, where retirement homes do not exist, children consider it a moral duty to take care of their parents as they age.
Asad Khan says this is why he wanted to sponsor his father last year after his mother passed away. His sisters are married, and his elder brother lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Khan, who works in Toronto as a human resources manager, couldn’t apply for his father’s sponsorship immediately as the annual cap of 5,000 applications is usually reached soon after Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) begins accepting applications the first week of January each year.
Therefore, Khan opted for the super visa, which has an approval rate of 85 per cent and takes a maximum of eight weeks instead of the four or more years it takes to process a regular sponsorship.
Khan was happy that he did not have to meet the required minimum income needed – a pre-requisite of sponsorship – or have to wait in a long queue to process his father’s application.
“Because of [the] super visa, my father is not alone back home and waiting anxiously,” says Khan. “In fact he can travel back frequently.”
Khan managed to get the visa in five weeks after buying medical insurance for his father, which must be renewed every year.
Elderly are not a burden
Sikander Lalani, CEO of Lalani Associates, a leading immigration consultancy provider in Pakistan, says that relocating in Canada is often not the preference of elderly Pakistani people, as they do not want to leave their homeland, culture, family and religious values at such a tender age.
The only exception to this is if the situation is critical to the extent that there is nobody to take care of them back home.
“The number of dependent parents who opt to settle in Canada is not more than 10 per cent of the total immigrants from Pakistan,” says Lalani.
More Pakistani parents and grandparents prefer to shuttle back and forth between the two countries, Lalani explains. Those who have financial constraints and health issues will not visit frequently.
“They come here not for medical or other financial benefits, but only for [the] love and affection they carry for their kids,” he adds.
Khan says many Pakistani people who are elderly do not prefer to live in Canada because of the harsh weather, which is usually tough for them to bear, as is staying indoors for most of the year. Cold weather can also aggravate some of their medical conditions.
In 2013, former Immigration Minister Jason Kenney stated that the health-care costs of elderly immigrants creates a burden on the Canadian health-care system and other social resources. He further noted that a set of grandparents could cost the system $400,000.
Lalani refutes the claim. “What burden are they talking about?” he asks.
“They get [a] sponsorship fee. In return two family members – husband and wife – are contributing to [the] economy and paying hefty taxes. Later the kids – an average Pakistani family has three – will follow suit as [the] next generation. Is this a burden or constant contribution to [the] economy?”
Family reunification reforms needed
When it comes to the reunification of spouses or children with their families, Lalani says that laws should not disrupt the basic structure of a family. He says that now, the biggest hindrance is the time consumed by the process, which varies between six months to four years.
“It’s a trauma for a skilled person that he is away from his family – a mental torture – how could you expect someone to concentrate on his job or studies or overall performance in a totally new environment with a stress that seems endless?” asks Lalani.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised reforms to the 2013 family reunification program during his election campaign.
He pledged to double the number of parents and grandparents’ applications accepted from 5,000 to 10,000 and speed up the processing time, but Lalani says that it will take time to materialize.
“It was a political statement, as the change in policy will face resistance from bureaucracy and making it a law is time consuming so it won’t trigger that fast.”
The changes made in 2013 to the immigration rules also increased the minimum necessary income (MNI) to sponsor parents and grandparents by 30 per cent and reduced the maximum age of dependents from 22 years old to 18.
“I think the Canadian government needs to work fast paced on the re-location of the basic family structure and also reversing the minimum age of dependent children from 18 to 22, because in Asian culture children under 23 are dependent on their parents unless they are married,” says Lalani.
He notes that the pledge made by Trudeau did not say much on the MNI required for sponsors.
“It was criticized as a benefit for high-net worth [individuals],” Lalani says. “This still needs to be reconsidered as elderly people are not a burden at all.”
by Florence Hwang in Regina
Experts say revoking the law that allows parents to spank their children can help clarify for newcomers the "mixed messages" they receive about corporal punishment in Canada.
Parents want to understand the law in Canada and how it fits in with their parenting style, notes Jean Tinling, the family program director at Mosaic Newcomer Family Resource Network.
“Their worries are reduced when they realize that they have a choice about keeping the best from their culture, adding in the best from Canadian culture and creating their own new third culture here in Canada,” she says. “They relax when they gain a better understanding of the law and when they realize that CFS [Child and Family Services] does not want to take their children or destroy their culture.”
Tinling feels this confusion for all parents can be done away by changing section 43 of the Criminal Code.
The Liberal government has agreed to remove a section of law that allows parents to spank their kids following the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was set up to inform Canadians about the experiences of indigenous children in residential schools.
Researchers and parenting experts agree that overhauling section 43 is long overdue, as it infringes on the human rights of children.
“It’s overwhelming talking about the harm of physical punishment,” says Ailsa Watkinson, Faculty of Social Work graduate studies coordinator at the University of Regina’s Saskatoon campus.
Watkinson says she thinks children should be treated like any other human being. It’s important to maintain warmth and connection between parent and child and to build on mutual trust while understanding the child’s stage of development, including physical, mental and emotional, she adds.
Dr. Joan Durrant, Social Studies professor at the University of Manitoba, says that mild physical punishment has consequences for some children, and cites research that shows it is linked to aggression and mental health problems that can continue into adult life.
Durrant has been studying the physical punishment of children for about 25 years. She points out that spanking raises the risk of injuring the child, makes the child fearful of the parent, and affects the child’s brain.
In Saskatchewan, the Victims of Domestic Violence Act protects those who are abused by their partners. If there is a child who observes their mother is being beaten, that child is considered in need of protection; but if that child is being beaten, he or she is not protected under the Act, says Watkinson.
Already, 48 countries have banned all forms of corporal punishment of children. Canada and the U.S. are not on that list.
Most parents – newcomers and Canadian born – parent the way they were parented, unless they learn and believe there is a more positive alternative, says Tinling. Physical and humiliating punishment is a very common method used to control children’s behaviour around the world, she adds.
“However, worldwide, it has been my experience that all parents love their children and want what is best for them,” says Tinling. “They want their children to learn to be respectful, to have positive social skills, and they also value having a positive relationship with their children.”
“Using aggression against a person does [the] exact opposite,” says Durrant.
She says she finds section 43 illogical, as there are laws that protect all other segments of society from physical harm, but not children.
“When it comes to your child, the law gives you a green light. There’s a message to parents that it’s not only OK, but actually the law says it’s justified,” she says. “It’s placing children at risk. And I find that absolutely unjust.”
Every culture thinks it is their tradition to spank their children, she notes. Durrant feels it isn’t a tradition, but an entrenched habit that people have a hard time giving up because they haven’t seen viable alternative solutions.
“There’s an assumption there that they are incapable of change,” notes Durrant, who doesn’t believe this assumption is correct.
Judy Arnall is an author and parenting expert. She takes issue with section 43’s wording of “reasonable force,” which she feels is very subjective.
“That’s why we need a very black-and-white law saying don’t do it. Ever. At all,” she says.
It’s an age-old issue.
“I remember talking to reporters 20 years ago and not much has changed. I think it is time [for this law to be abolished]. I tell my kids, ‘In your lifetime, I’m sure we’re going to change the law on this, because 48 countries have,’” she says.
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by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) resumed receiving sponsorship applications for parents and grandparents (PGP) of Canadian citizens and permanent residents on Monday morning.
The case processing centre in Mississauga, Ontario opened its window for receiving the applications at 8 a.m. (EST). Only 5,000 new and complete applications will be accepted this year.
By capping the applications number at the same level as in the previous two years, the new Liberal government would seem to be going back on a crucial poll promise to double the number.
Unveiling his party’s promises on the immigration file during the federal election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the “Liberals will reform our immigration system, and make family reunification a core priority of our government.”
Trudeau then went on to say that his government will immediately increase the number of applications under PGP to 10,000 each year and double the budget for processing family class applications to reduce the waiting time.
This pledge resonated with immigrant families who were not pleased by the previous government’s efforts to limit permanent residency offers to elderly family members or by unduly long processing times extending to 47 months.
The IRCC website currently says the department is working on applications received on or before November 4, 2011.
Michelle Rempel, the Conservative Party’s immigration critic, said it was totally irresponsible of Trudeau to promise more than his government is able to deliver.
"This is just a further example of the mismanagement of the immigration file and another item to add to the list of broken promises," Rempel, MP for Calgary Nose Hill, told New Canadian Media in an emailed response.
"While we were in government, Canada welcomed more than 70,000 parents and grandparents from 2012-2014. This number represents the highest level of parent and grandparent admissions in nearly two decades. Thanks to the Conservative government's Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification, the backlog was reduced by nearly 54 per cent," Rempel said.
"Keeping a realistic goal of 5,000 applications a year was part of our Conservative government’s initiative to be prudent managers of government."
Late this evening, Immigration Minister John McCallum offered this defence: "We are committed to reuniting families and we intend to meet the commitment to double the intake of PGP sponsorship applications from 5,000 to 10,000 per year. To achieve this I will be consulting with cabinet colleagues early in the new year."
The brief annual opening of the application window in the New Year is a recent phenomenon. It began in 2014 after the previous government had frozen the process for two years in November 2011. The stated purpose was to first clear a backlog of nearly 165,000 applications before taking in new ones.
Generally, a citizen or permanent resident is allowed to sponsor parents and grandparents to become permanent residents under the Family Class immigration stream. Family reunification is one of the three pillars of IRCC’s immigration program, the other two being economic classes and protected persons (refugees).
The moratorium on PGP applications was expected to reduce the backlog to about 50,000. In the meantime, the quota for actual admissions into the country under the program was increased by 60 per cent to 25,000 a year to help clear the backlog.
Before lifting the freeze, the Harper government had also introduced major changes to Family Class immigration in May 2013. They were designed to align entry under this category with economic outcomes.
The overarching narrative spoke of reducing the burden imposed on tax payers by the entry of parents, grandparents and dependent children 18 years and above.
Announcing the new criteria for sponsoring parents and grandparents, Jason Kenney, the then Citizenship and Immigration Minister, said they were aimed at ensuring elderly immigrants didn't end up on welfare or in social housing.
Kenney also said that older immigrants are a burden on the health-care system and other social safety nets. A set of grandparents could cost the system as much as $400,000, he said.
The new set of rules included the minimum necessary income level of sponsors going up by 30 per cent, proof of income threshold for a minimum of three years (in place of one year), only Canada Revenue Agency notices of assessment to be accepted as proof of income, sponsorship commitment period doubled to 20 years, and the maximum age of dependents was set at 18 instead of 21.
Predictably, the changes were not received well by immigration civic actors and newcomer groups adversely affected by them.
The NDP, the then official opposition party, slammed the changes. It said they will make it harder and more expensive for families to reunite. "The Conservatives think family reunification should be a luxury only for those who can afford it," its deputy immigration critic Sadia Groguhé said in a statement at the time.
Family Class sponsorship is not the only program through which parents and grandparents can enter Canada. Qualified applicants can also apply for temporary admission to Canada. They can also apply for extended, multiple-entry super visas.
The super visa was introduced in 2011 as an interim measure to circumvent the long wait times under the PGP program. A 10-year super visa allows entry periods lasting up to two years, but without any welfare benefits from the state, including health care. This visa program was made permanent in 2013.
Publisher's Note: An earlier version of this report did not include the government's response.
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by Sukaina Jaffer in Toronto
Unlike those in the Toronto and York districts, the Peel District School Board’s (PDSB) schools have taken a proactive approach in creating a 14-page sex-education guide for parents in the Peel region based on the controversially revised health curriculum issued by the Ministry of Education.
The guide provides information about the sexual-development topics introduced this year by the Ministry of Education. The PDSB translated the guide into 11 different languages and sent it home to all parents in November.
“The new curriculum has caused lots of questions and concerns about what was going to be taught, and there was a lot of misinformation circulating in the community,” says Ryan Reyes, communications officer at PDSB, who was the lead on creating this guide.
He says he gathered content for the guide by working in consultation with different departments and taking feedback from community members.
The guide was translated into multiple languages in order to meet the needs of diverse populations in the Peel district, and has received endorsements from several of these diverse groups.
“The Peel District School Board’s parent guide to the revised health and physical education curriculum provides parents with a clear understanding of what their children will learn in each grade,” writes Eileen de Villa, medical officer of health at the Region of Peel. “This will help dispel misinformation and allow parents to play an active role in their child’s education.”
Balancing today’s realities with cultural values
Zaynab Zaidi received the guide from her four children’s public schools in Mississauga.
“I’m not a naive parent,” she says. “I understand why the curriculum is changing, because knowledge is power.”
“Teaching a child the proper names of their body parts is a way to protect them from sexual predators so a child is less vulnerable,” she adds. “I don’t have a problem with my kids learning about anatomy, physiology and human reproduction in an age-appropriate manner.”
However, she says she is concerned about the curriculum because it treats relationships between boys and girls as normal.
“Since this type of socializing is not in line with our values, we prefer to cover the material at home in the context of our values,” she says.
She adds that in Islam, there is a certain code of conduct for “appropriate social interaction between boys and girls.” The Zaidis are opting to pull their daughter, who is in grade seven, out during these lessons.
“We'll cover what material we think is appropriate at this point within the framework of the Islamic value system and the Islamic guidelines for interacting with the opposite gender,” she says.
Zaidi concurs that not participating at all is not possible because her daughter will be exposed to the issues by her classmates.
“We cannot ignore this and have to be involved parents, but the information has to be handled in the framework of our value system. We can reinforce our values without demonizing other people.”
Arun Anandarajah, president of the Senior Tamils Society of Peel, echoes Zaidi’s sentiments.
“Immigrants are coming into a new environment here, and kids here are more exposed than in other immigrant societies,” he says. “It was taboo to discuss sexual matters in the old environment, but in the new environment we live in, it has to be addressed.”
He says he believes that the provincial government has not made the changes blindly. “They have looked at it before introducing it and the impact it will have,” he says.
More resources are available
Not all school boards have taken the step in creating such a guide.
“The TDSB has not created resources like those in Peel,” says Ryan Bird, communications officer at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). “We have been encouraging parents to look at the Ministry of Education resources, which are available online and through schools. We also encourage parents to speak with their school principals for more information.”
Christina Choo-Hum, York Region District School Board (YRDSB) communications manager, also notes that they have sufficient material on their website from the ministry in multiple languages, and some simple guides for parents in different languages.
Although the human development and sexual-health component of the curriculum will be taught in all public schools in the spring of 2016, Reyes says, “Any parent can make a choice to apply for religious accommodation to pull out their child from class,” as parents will get notice two weeks before lessons are taught.
However, there is no exclusion granted when inclusion and different kinds of family systems are taught. Inclusion is taught throughout the year in all forms of the curriculum.
Communication with children difficult but necessary
Indira Sayanam (name changed for privacy), whose two daughters attend a public school in Richmond Hill, says she likes the new curriculum.
“It’s really hard for parents to explain these matters to their kids,” she says.
Sayanam’s daughters are in grades eight and five. She says she is concerned that her older daughter must be informed of all these issues before going to high school.
However, she says, she finds it challenging to speak to her because her daughter avoids the conversations, as she feels uncomfortable hearing about it from her mother.
“It’s necessary children are educated,” says Sameena Bhimani, a Grade 5 school teacher in the YRDSB. “In grade five, students are beginning to go through puberty and very early in the year are asking questions and talking amongst their peers.”
Bhimani says that parents need a push to discuss these matters, although she acknowledges that sometimes kids may feel more comfortable speaking with their teachers than parents.
According to Bhimani, there is not very much difference between the old and new curriculum.
She advises parents to discuss their values with their kids in order to open up the lines of communication.
“Many parents want to shelter their kids, but don’t realize kids are already discussing with their peers,” she says. “Unfortunately, children today are maturing faster.”
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit