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Afghan Association of Ontario
In December 2010, the Afghan Association of Ontario (AAO) was notified that its fedral funding would end on March 31, 2011, reportedly in the amount of $610,000. This was part of sweeping cuts to agencies that offer immigrant settlement services in Canada, $43 million of which affected Ontario organizations. News sources have reported that the AAO, along with 26 other Ontario organizations, was prohibited from discussing the issue.
The AAO serves 4,000 clients per year and has sponsored more than 12,000 Afghan refugees to settle into a better life in Canada. AAO has been recognized for its work by several government officials, notably by the Prime Minister of Canada, the Premier of Ontario, and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
In December 2010, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Jason Kenney, announced sweeping cuts of $53 million to agencies that offer services to immigrants, $43 million of which was in Ontario.
Minister Kenney justified this decision by explaining that Ontario received a disproportionate amount of funding in relation to the number of incoming immigrants, compared to other provinces. Another reason invoked was that affected organizations were not located in the areas where newcomers were settling.
But what the government did not take into account, according to Mr. Jamal Kakar, executive director of AAO, is “secondary migration,” whereby many Afghans who initially settled in Quebec, British Columbia, or Alberta come to Ontario because of family ties.
Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Eric Hoskins, reportedly said he disagreed with the justification for the decision, and according to Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy, this was “political in nature and Toronto has been singled out.”
The federal cuts to the AAO represent a loss of $610,000 in funding for the agency. Mr. Kakar reportedly said that these cuts are “devastating” and “a fatal blow to the agency,” and members of AAO said they will have to stop training interpreters as a result.
Shortly after the announcement of the funding cuts, the AAO sent a notice to its clients informing them that it had to terminate its Immigrants Settlement & Integration Program (ISAP), a program in place since 1986, as of March 31, 2011. AAO will continue to deliver the other programs and to hold community activities regularly.
Not allowed to discuss
In January 2011, AAO received a mass email from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, forbidding them to discuss the funding cuts. Twenty-six other Ontario immigration agencies, which were also affected by the cuts, were reportedly notified of this confidentiality requirement. These included the Bloor Information and Life Skills Centre, the South Asian Women’s Centre, and the Eritrean Canadian Community Centre of Metropolitan Toronto.
Speaking to the Toronto Star, Citizenship and Immigration Canada said that this email was unintentional.
Speaking at the House of Commons
On February 10, 2011, Mr. Jamal Kakar was given the opportunity to speak before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. He said the impact of the cuts will be felt immediately as “the Afghan Association of Ontario will lose all its staff members with immediate termination.” Explaining that the AAO would have to honor the lease of for its location until April 2013, he added that “we feel that CIC is leaving us with a debt of over $300,000, where we have no means or possibility to pay this back.”
Provincial government reacts
Minister Hoskins took a stance in support of the immigrant settlement agencies of Ontario, and said he was “shocked and disappointed” by the federal government’s decision. He told the Toronto Star that “they are upset at what they called the ‘blunt’ and ‘brutal’ manner the news was delivered to them, in a letter, two weeks before the holiday. None understands the justification and rationale behind it.”
On February 24, 2011, Minister Hoskins announced that the provincial government would provide one-time funding to help agencies such as the AAO in this transition and give them time to find alternative sources of funding. Community organizations could apply for a grant up to $50,000.
On January 2011, more than 300 people, mostly from immigrant communities, gathered at City Hall to protest the sweeping cuts directed at immigration service providers.
Affected groups have launched a Campaign entitled Rewind the Cuts to make the impacts of the cuts known to the public and to coordinate a response.
Despite hearings held at the House of Commons in February 2011 and a motion passed on March 2 to reverse the $53 million cuts to immigrant settlement services in Canada, the 2011 Budget maintained the cuts.
In June 2011, Citizenship and Immigration Canada disclosed partial information following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by the AAO.
- 1982: The Afghan Association of Ontario (AAO) is established.
- 1986: The AAO’s Immigrants Settlement & Integration Program (ISAP) begins.
- December 2010: Sweeping cuts of $43 million for Ontario immigrant agencies are announced.
- January 2011: AAO and 26 other Ontario organizations affected by the funding cuts are prohibited from discussing the issue.
- January 27, 2011: A protest occurs at Toronto City Hall to decry the funding cuts.
- February 10, 2011: Mr. Jamal Kakar, executive director of AAO, and Mr. Dost Yar, treasurer of the AAO, speak before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to express their concerns regarding the funding cuts.
- February 24, 2011: Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Eric Hoskins, announces that the provincial government would provide one-time grants for affected organizations that apply for transitional funding.
- March 2, 2011: Following hearings at the House of Commons, a motion is passed to reverse the national $53 million cuts to immigrant settlement agencies.
- March 31, 2011: The ISAP program is ended.
- June 2011: Citizenship and Immigration Canada responds to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from AAO with partial disclosure of documents relating to the funding cuts decision.
Role or Position
The Afghan Association of Ontario (AAO) is a charitable organization established in 1982 which sponsors refugees and provides settlement and integration services to the Afghan community in Toronto, as well as to immigrants from Iran, India, Pakistan, and China. It also offers community activities and programs for women, youth, students, and seniors.
Implications and Consequences
- Equality: The shift in Canada’s immigration policies in the last few years away from the integration of new immigrants to Canada undermines the delivery of important services and leaves affected and more financially vulnerable organizations scrambling to find an alternative funding base, often at the last minute.
- Free speech: The federal government’s attempt to muzzle affected organizations and to prohibit them from discussing the funding cuts is a direct violation of free speech rights under the Charter. It further prevents organizations from coordinating responses to government policies that jeopardize their functioning. The attempt to control dialogue from and among civil society is repressive and authoritarian.
- Equality: With the phenomenon of inter-provincial migration, the funding cuts to Ontario, and to the Greater Toronto Area in particular, undermine the capacity of the province to properly care for immigrants and to provide them with settlement services essential to their integration in a multi-ethnic city.
- Equality: With the deployment of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, the AAO has worked jointly with government programs offering fast-track immigration to about 1,500 Afghans, especially those fleeing the more volatile regions of Afghanistan such as Kandahar. Cutting the funding of an agency supporting their settlement and adjustment in Canada runs counter to the ties that exist between Canada and Afghanistan and allows only for an incomplete accompaniment to immigrants fleeing a country in conflict.
- Democracy: Agencies that deliver services to immigrants in Canada play an essential role in the integration of newcomers into Canadian society. Community-based organizations such as the AAO play an integral role in building a supportive and tolerant Canada.
Date published: 1 October 2012
Photo from the Afghan Association of Ontario.