Eritrean Canadian Community Centre of Metropolitan Toronto

Eritrean Canadian Community Centre of Metropolitan Toronto

What Happened

In December 2010, the Eritrean Canadian Community Centre of Metropolitan Toronto (ECCC) was notified that its federal funding would be terminated on March 31, 2011, with cuts amounting to $288,000 and representing 70% of the center’s budget. This was part of a larger pattern of sweeping cuts of $53 million to agencies that offer immigrant settlement services, $43 million of which affected Ontario organizations only. The Eritrean Canadian Community Centre, along with 26 other Ontario organizations, was prohibited from discussing the issue after the announcement of the cuts.


Since 1985, the Eritrean Canadian Community Centre of Metropolitan Toronto (ECCC) has provided support for the Eritrean community, serving almost 3,000 individuals annually. It has offered settlement services, language classes, day care, and community programs for seniors.

In December 2010, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Jason Kenney, announced sweeping cuts of $43 million to agencies that offer services to immigrants 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.

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.”

With these cuts, the ECCC lost almost $288,000, representing 70 per cent of its annual funding.

Kibrom Debru, executive director of the ECCC, explained that he would have to lay off 7 of its 8 staff members, and would have to move to another location because they could not afford the rent without the federal funding.

Besides having to lay off most of the center’s staff, Debru affirmed that “the voice of the community will disappear.” He was quoted in the Toronto Star explaining that “we don’t just deliver services to our community; we also do a lot of advocacy work organizing the community.”

In an attempt to continue to provide these crucial services to immigrant communities, some staff members of the center became volunteers and the office moved to a smaller space on the second floor of its original location.

No discussion allowed

In January 2011, the ECCC received a mass email from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, forbidding them to discuss the 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 Afghan Association of Ontario.

Speaking to the Toronto Star, Citizenship and Immigration Canada said that this email was unintentional.

Provincial government reacts  

Minister Hoskins took a stance in support of the immigrant settlement agencies, 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 ECCC in this transition and give them time to find alternative sources of funding. Community organizations could apply for a grant up to $50,000.

Public protest

In 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.

The Ontario Council for Agencies Serving Immigrants also decried the cuts and said that these threaten “the long-term integration outcomes for immigrants.”

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.

 

Relevant Dates:

  • 1985: The Eritrean Canadian Community Centre of Metropolitan Toronto (ECCC) is established.
  • December 2010: Sweeping cuts of $43 million for Ontario immigrant agencies are announced.
  • January 2011: 26 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 24, 2011: Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Eric Hoskins, announces that the provincial government would provide one-time funding 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.

Role or Position

The Eritrean Canadian Community Centre of Metropolitan Toronto (ECCC) is a non-profit organization, established in 1985, which provides settlement services for immigrants and refugees, support for job-seekers and a wide range of cultural activities for the Eritrean community and other immigrant communities in the Greater Toronto Area. 

Implications and Consequences

  • Equality: There is a shift in Canada’s immigration policies in the last few years away from supporting agencies that facilitate the integration of new immigrants to Canada. Funding cuts on short notice undermine the delivery of important services and leaves affected organizations scrambling to find an alternative funding base.
  • 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.
  • 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 ECCC play an integral role in building a supportive and tolerant Canada.

 

Date published: 1 October 2012

Photo from the Eritrean Canadian Community Centre of Metropolitan Toronto.