Metropolis 2019: Blog

The National Metropolis Conference is Canada’s largest annual gathering of immigration practitioners. Hundreds of researchers, service providers, and policymakers have flocked to Halifax to attend the conference entitled Doing Immigration Differently

Nearly 1,000 participants will take part in the three-day conference, sharing new findings, identifying best practices and showcasing new and innovative work on immigration, integration and settlement issues.

Check back each day for high-level overviews of different plenary sessions and workshops!

Saturday, March 22

Plenary Session #4 – Immigration on the Margins

While an overwhelming majority of immigrants land in Canada’s three major cities, our country’s secondary cities and regions are experiencing population declines because of low birth rates, out-migration, and difficulty in attracting newcomers. This plenary examined immigration issues in secondary regions, looking at the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program and other innovative measures to attract immigrants to communities outside of the biggest metropoles. Panelists offered perspectives on new programs, demographics, and experiences from the government, academic and service providing sectors.

Key Takeaways:

  • Canada, especially Atlantic Canada, rely on migration as a way to grow our populations. Without migration, our populations would continue to decline as we are seeing an increasing trend of birth rates falling below repopulation levels.
  • Alberta and British Columbia are the only provinces to see gains in interprovincial net migration, all other provinces are declining. This reinforces the need of immigration to grow the declining populations.
  • The Atlantic Immigration Pilot is playing a key role in helping to grow Atlantic Canada’s population. This model will be used to shape immigration streams in other parts of the country.
  • The Association for New Canadians in Newfoundland saw the need for settlement services across the province and have responded to this need. By offering hub and spoke type settlement services across the province, newcomers are able to settle into smaller communities instead of just St. John’s.
  • Settlement doesn’t just happen in settlement agencies. It happens everywhere, and everyone must play a role in ensuring newcomers succeed.
    • In Thunder Bay, the community is aware of what settlement opportunities are available for newcomers and are able to connect them to the proper resources so that they can have a smooth and successful integration into the community.
  • Small cities lack key services, access to qualified staff and supports, and ethnoreligious centres. By addressing these needs, we help create communities that can retain newcomers.
  • It takes everyone to do immigration differently. We need to be engaging in collective collaborations.

Workshop #4 – Co-designing the Future of Settlement Supports: Insights from an Emergent Research & Development Process with Newcomers,
Anthropologists, Designers, and Social Psychologists

This was a hands-on session. led by North York Community House and Options Community Services, with social design organization, InWithForward. After a brief introduction to their two-year project that examines how we can use design, social psychology, and anthropology to prototype alternative types of neighbourhood supports and networks, participants explored the question “how do we re-imagine settlement services for newcomers?  Working in groups, participants read a mission statement as well as series of cards that outlined real issues identified by newcomers that they face in their daily lives. From the cards, participants were then asked to brainstorm ways to solve problems the newcomer was facing as it related to the mission on the card. By the end of the session, groups had come up with dozens of innovative ways we could change the settlement service landscape.

Key Takeaways:

  • To change the way we offer settlement services, we must first seek to understand the newcomer experiences both pre and post-arrival and understand their emotions
  • All ideas are good ideas

Workshop #5 – Reflecting on the Settlement Experience of Immigrant Women, Youth and Seniors with a Focus on Employment

This session brought together a group of university, community, and government panelists to discuss their research, services, and policies regarding the settlement of immigrant women, youth, and seniors in Canada. Settlement issues specific to these immigrants, gaps in services, and examples of innovative programming were explored.

Key Takeaways:

  • Women, youth, and seniors face an uneven service landscape
  • Newcomer women are more likely to be underemployed or unemployed than Canadian women or immigrant women who have been in Canada more than 5 years
  • Seniors are almost absent from employment-related settlement services, but many are interested in and willing to work
  •  More accessible language training needs to be available to women and seniors who have responsibilities within the home
  • There is a need for innovative practices that support employment outcomes of women, youth and seniors
  • Pilot projects are being established across the country to try to address some of the gaps facing these demographics

Friday, March 21

Plenary Session #3 – Shaping the Story of Immigrants and Refugees in the News

The media landscape over the past decade has shifted dramatically, changing the way information is consumed and the way stories are told. This morning’s plenary session examined the way that the media shapes stories of immigration and immigration-related issues, as well as the story of newcomers and their experiences. Panelists included: University of King’s College Professor and Kelly Toughill, Canadian Press reporter Michael Tutton, ethnic media specialist Madeline Ziniak, and Refugee 613 Director Louisa Taylor.

Key Takeaways:

  • Share your own knowledge. Speak directly to reporters when possible and don’t have someone else do it for you.
  • We are losing the capacity to tell immigration-related stories by not having reporters dedicated to the immigration beat full-time
  • Develop relationships with journalists interested in telling stories about immigration
  • We need to tell all sides of the story – the good, the bad, and the ugly
  • We need to aim for stories that evoke knowledge, understanding, and empathy
  • Ethnic media is more important now than ever. It contributes to a sense of belonging and is key for the settlement and integration of newcomers
  • Ethnic media provides voices that would otherwise go unheard
  • Settlement agencies need a strategy for immigration and refugee advocacy. There needs to be a purpose to the stories we are telling.
  • We need to break out of comfort zones and change the way we are telling stories

Workshop #3 – Excellence in Community Based Research with Immigrants and Refugees & Breaking down Silos through the Unique Strengths and Roles of Umbrellas

This was a two-in-one workshop. Rich Janzen and Joanna Ochocka from the Centre for Community Based Research examined how community-based research can aspire to both community relevance and academic excellence. Next, Craig Mackie of the PEI Association for Newcomers led a question and answer style discussion about the role provincial and regional umbrella organizations can play to help meet the challenges and opportunities in settlement and integration by breaking down existing silos. Sarosh Rizvi of the Alberta Association of Immigrant Serving Agencies (AAISA), Vicki Sinclair of the Manitoba Association of Newcomer Serving Organizations (MANSO), and Lori Wilkinson of the University of Manitoba/Immigration Research West each spent time explaining how the work that they are doing at a high-level benefit settlement agencies at the ground level.

Key Takeaways:

  • Research should be done “with” newcomers, not “on” or “about” them
  • Research should be grounded in interest and include the voice of newcomers
  • We need to be telling the whole story of immigration, not just the stories of newcomers who have good jobs and integrated quickly
  • Community-based allows you to unlock expertise from different people
  • Umbrella agencies are able to act as a resource for settlement agencies who don’t have capacity
  • Umbrellas can advocate on behalf of many instead of on behalf of one. Many will have more of an impact than the one.
  • Umbrellas are able to hear from the outside to help shape the inside
  • Umbrellas connect government, researchers, academics, and settlement organizations together to collaborate on projects
  •  Umbrellas are able to access the voices of others who support your cause

Workshop #4 – Refugee Access to Economic Immigration Pathways

Groups across Canada are beginning to examine and test new ways for refugees to access economic immigration pathways as additional and complementary solutions to refugee resettlement.  Through different pilots, including the federal Economic Mobility Pathways Project (EMPP), groups across Canada are testing refugee access to economic immigration pathways as an additional and complementary solution to refugee resettlement. During this roundtable discussion, stakeholders exchanged early lessons learned and ideas for future directions in refugee labour mobility to Canada.

Participants included:

  • Mohammed Hakmi, Bonfire
  • Dana Wagner, Talent Beyond Boundaries
  • Jean-Nicolas Beuze, UNHCR Canada
  • Roger Swartz, RefugePoint
  • Nicole Adwokat, IRCC
  • Jennifer Watts, Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS)
  • Chris Friesen, Immigrant Services Society of BC
  • Sarah MacIntosh, Safe Harbour

Key Takeaways:

  • Refugees face barriers to mobility due to lack of documentation
  • Refugees know that economic streams exist, but don’t understand them or know how to access them
  • We need shift the lens in which refugees are seen – see them as economic agents with skills who are ready to work
  • Canada is in a unique position to lead the globe on changing the perspective of refugees
  • The federal Economic Mobility Pathways Project (EMPP) seeks to address/identify barriers facing refugees and how to get them to apply for economic immigration streams
  • The immigration system is not designed for refugees, which creates an equity problem
  • Refugees need to be provided with opportunities to build their skills so that they can meet immigration requirements
  • Understanding the past of individual refugees will allow us to serve their needs faster – connecting them with the information, people, and programs they need sooner

Workshop #5 – Learning from Lived and Living Experiences: Doing Differently by Engaging Differently

Often times, people who are under-represented and impacted by social systems are the voices we hear the least but should be hearing the most. These individuals bring unique and invaluable insights needed to influence policies, research, and program design and evaluation. This roundtable discussion sought to answer the question: What needs to change to support meaningful inclusion of community voices? Led by Jennifer Wilcox and Pat Gates from the United Way and Laura Swaine and Rena Kulczycki of Heartwood Centre for Community Youth Development participants explored what needs to be done to create accessible spaces for all voices to be heard.

Key Takeaways:

  • We need to listen to what people need and be ready and willing to respond to those needs
  • Changing the conversation around disabilities and accommodations is critical. Everyone should be included from the beginning.
  • Build accommodations into your budgets
  • People need to be at the center of our work – we should be asking ourselves, what do they need? How do we remove barriers so they can access these things more easily?
  • We need to build capacity in the marginalized communities so that when we come looking for them to share their voices they have the capabilities to do so
  • It’s about changing the way things are done. Just because they’ve been done a certain way in the past, doesn’t mean that is the best way moving forward
  • By providing people the opportunity to have their voices heard, you are opening them up to opportunities to learn and see things they have never done before
  • People facing barriers are the experts in those areas

Thursday, March 20

Plenary Session #1 – The Role of Cities in Attracting and Settling Newcomers

The first plenary session examined the role that cities play in attracting and settling newcomers. In Canada, immigration is a responsibility shared by the federal and provincial governments. However, it is at the community level that newcomers are physically welcomed and integrated. Plenary speakers offered insights on the role played by cities in immigration.  The panel was made up of Mike Savage, Mayor of Halifax; Dawn Arnold, Mayor of Moncton; Professor Michael Haan of Western University; and Veronique Lamontagne, International Relations Advisor for the City of Montreal.

Key takeaways:

  • Municipalities are stepping up and playing a key role in the integration of newcomers, but they need resources and supports.
  • For many cities, immigration is the key source of population growth. Newcomers are moving away from major urban centres and settling in smaller cities.
  • Ensuring newcomers feel welcomed into the city they settle in plays an integral role in their retention
    • Free transit and recreation passes
    • Extending voting rights to permanent residents
    • Focused attraction strategies
    • Welcome parties and community gatherings
  • Data is necessary to understand the changing landscape of the integration and settlement of newcomers

Plenary Session #2 – Refugees and Asylum Seekers in North America: Policies, Practices and Partnerships

The second plenary identified and discussed the major challenges North America currently faces with regard to refugees and asylum seekers.  Plenary speakers examined and discussed how and why certain policies and practices have evolved in North America in recent years. Panelists discussed the role those countries play on the international stage around the admission of refugees, and suggested measures needed to enhance
cooperation between countries when it comes to issues relating to refugees and asylum seekers, and/or propose policies that might ameliorate the conditions giving rise to ongoing refugee flows.

Panelists included:

  • Anne Richard, Institute for the Study of International Migration, Georgetown University, Assistant Secretary of State for
    Population, Refugees and Migration in the Obama Administration (2012-2017)
  • Agustin Escobar Latapi, Director General, Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Mexico
    City, Mexico
  • Dr. Julia Gelatt, Senior Policy Analyst, Migration Policy Institute, Washington, DC, USA
  • Professor François Crépeau, Director, Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism, Hans & Tamar Oppenheimer, Chair in Public International Law, McGill University, Montréal, Québec
    Chair in Public International Law, McGill University, Montréal, Québec

Key Takeaways

  • The UN Global Compact For Migration is the roadmap for doing immigration differently but we will have to wait for a more enlightened generation to make it happen
  • Mobility is part of our DNA
  • Global leadership is crucial to supporting refugees
  • Migrant flows are changing


Workshop #1 – Family in Immigration & Refugee Policy, Research and Practice

This workshop examined the role families played in one’s being, and in their social, economic, cultural, and educational outcomes. Speakers examined the importance of planning and reporting on a family level, family survival strategies of Central American women in transit migration, how to measure families in research, approaches for studying children of immigrants, and how to empower immigrants through family-based programming. Participants included Wenche Gausdal, ISANS, Itzelín Mata, ITESO, Estudios Socio Culturales, Mark Bennett and Howard Ramos, Dalhousie University, Thomas Soehl, McGill University, and Lani Poce, ISANS.
Empowering Immigrants through Family-Based Community Connections

Key Takeaways:

  • Most research and policies are designed to look at the individual, not the family. Looking at the family holistically is important to understand their challenges and successes.
  • New policies must be created to protect women who are fleeing violent situations to protect themselves and their families.
  • Where someone comes from, and what they’ve gone through to get here, all determine how they do in their new country.
  • Attracting families lead to higher rates of retention.
  • Create programming that the whole family can participate and participation levels will rise.

Workshop #2 – “All in a Day” (An Interactive Theatre Performance)

For this session, conference attendees partook in an interactive theatre performance put on by young members of the YMCA of Greater Halifax and Dartmouth. The performance touches on issues of racism, sexism, and gender-based violence.

Performers acted out five scenes in which main character experienced numerous issues of racism and sexism in one day. The performance would end on a negative scenario, giving audience members the opportunity to discuss ways the main character could adapt to change the outcome. After audience input, the actors performed the scene again incorporating the audience’s feedback.

Key Takeaways:

  • We can’t change how other people react, but we can change how we react
  • It is important to take time and listen to others without pushing your ideas on them