SASKATOON — The First Annual Saskatoon Newcomer Settlement and Integration Community Forum was held March 28 at TCU Place in Saskatoon. The gathering was organized by staff from the City of Saskatoon Community Development Department with support from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Some 80 people in attendance represented the various sectors in the city who help to welcome and orient new Canadians. Between 2011 and 2016, Saskatoon welcomed 18,585 new Canadians; Regina saw an influx of 16,195.
The sectors approached for input included ethno-cultural groups as well as housing, education, justice and police, economy and employment, health, faith, human service, First Nations and Métis organizations.
Participating sectors were all part of a separate day-long survey process in the early months of 2018 when researchers and city employees gathered information about each group’s area of expertise.
Lynne Lacroix, director of Recreation and Community Development with the City of Saskatoon, headed the group that organized the day.
Saskatoon “has a direct role in making sure that our city is welcoming and breaking down barriers to integration,” she explained. “It was about talking to newcomers themselves and also to agencies who have a direct or indirect role in welcoming them.
“This day was about bringing the community together,” said Lacroix. “It takes a community to welcome all these newcomers.”
Lacroix credited many in her office and highlighted the Immigrant Partnership Saskatoon co-ordinator Athanas Njeru as the linchpin of the day, as well as pointing to work that needs to be done in the future.
“The biggest part is moving forward to formally establish a local immigration partnership,” Lacroix explained. “Their sole focus will be to make sure they are addressing the recommendations that come out of today and what we’ve heard from newcomers.”
A large part of the presentation was facilitated by Brian Hoessler, founder of Strong Roots Consulting, and Lindsay Herman, who together acted as the listeners of the sector discussions and also put together the report that served as the content for the day.
Many themes arose from the pre-event input from the various groups. There was a recognition that partnerships were necessary and that experience on the ground has proven that organizations can do more working together than working as independent pillars. The report highlighted the example of the Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS), which connects settlement agencies and language training opportunities through their presence in schools.
It was also noted that co-ordination of services was important in order that newcomers could access the necessary resources and offerings — especially for those without an understanding of Canadian society’s bureaucratic structures.
Language barriers are nearly insurmountable until English is learned, and so it was recognized that access to locals who speak a variety of languages would also make settlement that much smoother.
Finally, mental health was recognized as one of the most important factors in settlement. While it may look to an outsider like refugees should be happy and grateful for their new and peaceful home, the trauma of losing family and friends, of having to leave your country of birth, of losing access to language, culture and food, make settling into a new job or school incredibly difficult.
Another major report was compiled by Insightrix Research and was funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada as well as the City of Saskatoon.
The Insightrix report heard from many immigrants that Saskatoon was seen as friendly, small, convenient and open to diversity, but there was still a wide array of challenges that new Canadians faced, including finding a job suited to their training, getting their education recognized, learning the language, and adjusting to the culture and climate.
The report noted that while most newcomers recognize that they will have struggles ahead of them in terms of finding appropriate work and housing, many were quoted as facing obstacles that they had not anticipated — like not being able to pick up an affordable dining room table and chairs because they did not own a truck, and movers charge $150 to transport the furniture.
Banking and financial issues in Canada cause many newcomers hardship because of the complicated structures and a lack of awareness about things such as credit history and online banking. Many noted that they had never used credit cards before and had to Google how to attain one and how to use it.
What became clear over the course of this report was how stressful day-to-day and hour-to-hour living is for someone to whom everything at every hour is new: language, culture, weather — even things like sports and music. The report concluded with several practical recommendations and suggestions.
June Rivard, a volunteer with migration ministry in the Diocese of Saskatoon, said the day was worthwhile.
“It was a helpful discussion,” Rivard said. “It challenges me and my committee about how we can do a better job with our sponsors in helping them (newcomers) maneuver all of the service providers.”