Federal cuts threaten Toronto immigration agencies, Liberals say

  • December 23, 2010
TORONTO - Toronto agencies that teach new immigrants English and help them find their first job in Canada will be forced to close their doors or significantly curtail services to accommodate a $53-million nationwide cut in funding, say local Liberal MPs.

This could mean churches and other community groups may have to take up the slack and provide these services on an ad hoc, volunteer basis, Toronto Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy told The Catholic Register.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told the CBC cuts to Toronto settlement agencies are necessary because Toronto is now receiving fewer immigrants, as the share of immigrants landing in the western and Atlantic provinces increases.

"What we have to do is re-allocate the settlement funding to make sure that it's following the newcomers," Kenney said.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada has chopped $53 million from settlement services across Canada. Of that total, $44 million fall in Ontario. Though the directors of Toronto settlement agencies suspect the majority of the cuts are to Toronto agencies, the government has refused to release a list of affected agencies.

"It's brutally unfair to Ontario and brutally unfair to this city," said Toronto Liberal MP Bob Rae.

Kennedy dismissed Kenney's numbers showing a slight decrease in the number of immigrants initially landing in Toronto as specious. Even if more immigrants are starting out in other regions, many of them end up in Toronto within six months or a year, he said.

"There's an ethical quality to this decision," Kennedy said. "Will they really just pick on the most vulnerable?"

In the two weeks before Christmas, agencies received one of three letters stating either that funds would be cut, that their program is under review or that future funding would be subject to negotiation.

"For all we know, there are more Christmas cuts to come," said Markham Liberal MP John McCallum.

Kibrom Debru, executive director of the Eritrean-Canadian Community Centre of Metropolitan Toronto, received word on Dec. 10 of a funding cut that will result in laying off seven of the eight people who serve west end immigrants in five different languages. If Ottawa is worried about Toronto immigrants retreating into exclusive enclaves, cut off from mainstream Canada, the cuts will make the situation worse, said Debru.

"We facilitate their integration," he said.

Expecting volunteers and faith communities to fill the gap would be consistent with Conservative Party ideology, said Mississauga Liberal MP Bonnie Crombie.

"They don't think the government should do anything," she said.

"The churches are already doing what they can do," said Toronto Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett.

Kennedy accused Kenney of trying to sneak the cuts by the media and public during the busy Christmas season, and of targeting urban Toronto ridings and immigrant communities that have historically voted Liberal.

"This is a very cynical issue," he said.

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