South Asian Women’s Centre

South Asian Women's Centre

What Happened

In December 2010, the South Asian Women’s Centre (SAWC) was notified that its federal funding, which represented 67% of its budget and amounted to $570,000, would not be renewed after March 31, 2011. 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. SAWC, along with 26 other Ontario organizations, was prohibited from discussing the issue after the announcement of the cuts.

The South Asian Women’s Centre (SAWC) has since 1982 provided services to women from the South Asian community in Toronto, reportedly reaching 14,000 individuals last year. Since its staff is mostly composed of South Asian women, it has employed an important segment of Canada’s immigrant community, and had about 140 volunteers involved in its activities.

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.

The justification provided by Minister Kenney was to redress the imbalance in funding among provinces, claiming that Ontario received a disproportionate amount of funding in relation to the number of incoming immigrants. 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.”

And indeed, for Kipra Sekhar, executive director or SAWC, “this is not just an attack on the South Asian Women’s Centre,” she told the Toronto Star, “it is an attack on Toronto.”

With these announced cuts, SAWC was to lose $570,000, which represented 67 per cent of its funding. Sekhar explained that, because most of their funding comes from the government, SAWC would have to cut a large part of its programs and services. According to her, “there will be a vacuum in servicing these women.”

She decried the cuts, telling the Toronto Sun: “we have helped hundreds of women and their families and this is not fair.”

Not allowed to discuss

In January 2011, SAWC received an email from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, forbidding them to discuss the funding cuts that affected them. Twenty-six other Ontario immigration agencies, including the Bloor Information and Life Skills Centre, the Eritrean Canadian Community Centre of Metropolitan Toronto, and the Afghan Association of Ontario, were reportedly notified of this confidentiality requirement.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada later told the Toronto Star that this email was unintentional.

Provincial government reacts

Ontario Minister Hoskins disagreed with the decision from Minister Kenney, and was quoted saying he was “shocked and disappointed.” He stood in support of the immigrant settlement agencies, and 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 in the aftermath of the federal cuts in order for organizations such as SAWC to continue to provide services and have the time to find alternative sources of long-term funding. Community organizations could apply for a grant up to $50,000.

Public protest

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.

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:

  • 1982: The South Asian Women’s Centre (SAWC) is created.
  • December 2010: Sweeping cuts of $43 million for Ontario immigrant agencies are announced.
  • January 2011: SAWC 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 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 South Asian Women’s Centre (SAWC) was established in 1982. SAWC is a non-profit organization which provides diverse services including settlement services, translation and interpretation, as well as support counselling in more than 17 languages to women in Toronto’s west-end, and all over the Greater Toronto Area. It is run by South Asian women and is committed to supporting women by offering settlement services, violence prevention and intervention services, mental health support, skills-building workshops and sewing workshops, legal education workshops, legal advice clinics, computer classes for seniors, and awareness programs on gender-based violence. SAWC also engages with youth and seniors of the South Asian community, and produces research in collaboration with other organizations. 

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.
  • Equality: Organizations that work on women’s equality have been targeted by funding cuts across the country. Since SAWC supports mainly women, the loss of services disproportionately affects immigrant women, many of whom will lose employment that has played a crucial part in integrating them into Canadian society and into the workforce.
  • 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 SAWC play an integral role in building a supportive and tolerant Canada.


Date published: 1 October 2012

Photo from the South Asian Women's Centre.