CASJ to convene as advocacy group

Community News & Features Nov 16, 2004 at 1:48 pm

TORONTO–The consultation conference, “Strengthen Our Community for Social Justice,” attended by around 185 participants Oct. 30, 2004 at Metro Hall, called for important recommendations to advance priority social justice issues affecting the Filipino community.

The most urgent recommendation was for the Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ), the conference organizer, to convene very soon a non-partisan political action or advocacy group that will act on the issues discussed at the conference. The meeting will include all individuals and organizations at the conference who have signed up to become CASJ members, as well as those unable to attend the conference but who are nevertheless interested in advancing community social justice issues.

The recommendation came out of the workshop on Advocacy and Participation in the Political Process, one of the five workshops conducted during the conference.

With this important conference mandate, CASJ is now preparing for the advocacy group’s official launch by convening this first assembly of its individual and organizational membership. A plan of action is expected to emerge out of this meeting, based on the recommendations of the conference.

Advocacy and political participation

The advocacy workshop, which had as resource persons, Zanana Akande, President of Urban Alliance on Race Relations – who was also the conference keynote speaker; Frank Saptel of the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance; and Kristyn Wong-Tam, President of the Chinese Canadian National Council (Toronto Chapter) – heard a variety of ideas on how to participate in Canada’s political process.

Among these ideas were to go beyond political affiliation in the traditional political parties; to focus more on issues, rather than on personalities or political parties; to make sure that the issues important to the community are among the top priority issues of the political platform, not the bottom ones; to avoid dividing the community under political parties; and when doing advocacy work, “to speak as if you are speaking for everyone.” It was advised that if anyone questions and says you do not speak for him or her, one must counter that he or she is speaking for the marginalized members of the community, those who usually cannot speak up for themselves.

In voting during elections, it was suggested that people vote not necessarily along party lines but for candidates who will work for the community’s interests.

As for electing Filipinos to political positions, it was suggested that community should not just elect one but elect many.

A number of participants emphasized the need for the Filipino community to be more involved not just in economic, social and cultural activities but also in the political process. Filipinos, it was added, should be more involved in advocating for their own issues. In doing so, however, the Filipino community should link up, form alliances, and work with other ethnic and cultural communities for a stronger and more effective advocacy.

Access to professions and trades

The workshop on Access to Professions, Trades and Employment, facilitated by Nora Angeles and Melanya Aguila, came up with various recommendations, foremost of which was to create a body to follow up on work toward access to professions and trades through building alliances with other community groups, and network building.

Among the various ideas heard at the workshop was that access to professions and trades involve a two-pronged approach: working on the individual, and working on the system. The former means workng on ourselves, checking our attitudes and how we work with each other, and clarifying our expectations; the latter means working to change the system that poses barriers or prevents access to professions and trades.

Other recommendations called for specific strategies in addressing the complexities of the newcomer’s situation: mental health, family support, access to services, connecting one’s circumstances to what is happening in the Philippines.

Policing and community safety

The workshop on Policing and Community Safety, facilitated by Anna Willat of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, came up with several recommendations, ranging from improving community-police relations, to establishing a system within the police force to flag officers who have a history of violence and monitoring them. It also asked that the justice system should get rid of the double standard in the punishment of crimes, with regard those committed by the police, and those by civilians. It was recommended that schools should have information sessions for students Grade 8 and earlier about police and youths’ rights; that people be informed on what to do and who to go to if it is a police officer who commits a crime against you.

The workshop recommended that police diversity training, to be effective, should be an on-going process and should include regular immersion in diverse communities so that police are aware of and sensitive to cultural diversity issues.

The workshop also identified the need to examine police culture, specifically the glamorization of violence. It also recommended a strong accountability by police for its wrongdoings. It also recommended that the the members of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) should come from citizens and not former police officers.

The workshop also identified the need for more communication between the police and the community. It was suggested that the Filipino community should come together more often to try to address problems, and not just to have socials. It recommended that CASJ continue community consultations and develop positions on current policing issues to present to the police board and the government. It also asked that a workshop series on racism be conducted through CASJ or individual organizations, with training support from groups such as Urban Alliance on Race Relations.
Workshop on racism and discrimination

The workshop on Impact of Personal/Systemic Racism and Discrimination on the Basis of Gender, Colour, Culture, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Language, Ability and others, facilitated by Ricky Esguerra and Michelle Munro, came up with the following recommendations:

To strengthen ourselves as a community, we need to study Philippine history, current developments and the history of migration; deepen our understanding of the historical roots and basis racism and discrimination; share experiences among ourselves and with other communities regarding common issues, efforts and struggles for change; make resources available to the community such as directories of services/agencies that service the needs of people of color, workshops and training programs for skills development for media work, advocacy and popular theatre and other forms of expression; undertake media relations work and tap mainstream media; employ literature and other art forms in public information campaigns; work for change through lobbying and advocacy campaigns on issues affecting the community including accreditation, the live-in caregivers program, racist policing by bringing issues to different levels of government, working through the school system and striving to get into electoral positions; and build strong networks with other communities of color as well as Canadian people’s organizations, institutions and agencies working for the interests of marginalized and vulnerable communities; and lastly, expand CASJ by reaching out to other Filipino-Canadian community organizations and agencies, sustain assemblies and meetings like the recently concluded conference, and strengthen the organization through capacity building, community development, and advocacy work.

Live-in caregivers, immigration, labor export policy

The workshop on Canadian Immigration, Philippine Labor Export Policy, Live-in Caregiver Program, Non-Status Immigrants and Refugees, facilitated by Flor Dandal and Agnes Manasan, recommended that CASJ should lobby the federal government to grant permanent resident status to caregivers coming to Canada. Professional caregivers should be treated as skilled immigrants coming into the country with the same rights as other professional immigrants in terms of access to social services and employment rights. They therefore should be able to bring with them their families, and thus avoid the social costs that come with years of separation of family members.

The workshop thus recommended to redefine caregivers as professionals with skills to provide care, and the word “live-in” should be taken out. This recommendation relates to the position reflected in published studies and other literature to scrap the live-in provision in the caregiver’s program, which is responsible for various reported situations of exploitation and abuse of caregivers by their employers. While some caregivers expressed that the live-in caregiver provision be optional, this was basically due to lack of affordable housing and other supports, with incomes lower than regular immigrant workers. The workshop also recommended that caregivers, many of them nurses, teachers, and trained professionals, should also have access to their own professions and trades once they choose to practice in their field.

The workshop likewise recommended that Canada should sign the UN Migrants Rights Convention. Also, that CASJ should support the campaign for the regularization of non-status immigrants and refugees.

The workshop discussions, held in the afternoon of the whole-day conference, took off from the tone and substance provided by the morning plenary session speakers.

Plenary speakers

Zanana Akande, president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, elucidated on the need to recognize racism in its subtlest forms, as she noted the face of racism has changed.

“Sometimes it even comes as a compliment,” she says. When you hear one say, “you’re not like all those Filipinos; you’re smarter…”it is an attempt to divide you from others in your own community. She also advised people to be aware of what is taught to their children, so that they too are able to discern what is subtle racism. On social justice issues, she advised that it is best to remember that we cannot stand alone; that we must always make links with other communities that have similar problems.

Dr. Philip Kelly, a York University professor, presented statistics showing that Filipinos are on average the most highly educated but remain among the poorest in income. He showed figures of majority of Filipinos coming into Canada as professionals but working in low-paying jobs. Only a small percentage were in managerial positions, and were self-employed, compared to other cultures.

He presented a profile of the Filipino community in Toronto based on the 2001 Census, indicating statistics on population, employment, areas of population clusters, general population densities, average income in 1997 based on year of arrival in Canada from 1980 to 2001, and others.

Hermie Garcia, publisher and editor of The Philippine Reporter, spoke about how highly educated and highly skilled Filipinos were being used as cheap labor in Canada, encouraged by the Philippine government to leave as part of the labor export policy of a country unable to absorb its labor force. He also traced the historical and political roots of racism as a manifestation of the divide-and-rule tactic of colonial powers and later the imperialist powers to preserve the status quo. He called for unity among ethnic communities and people of color with the toiling masses of white people and “face those in power who perpetuate racism to maintain the oppressive status quo.”

Garcia emphasized the need and urgency for an advocacy group to change the present marginalized economic and political conditions of the Filipino community. He said that if other ethnic communities in Canada have theirs like the Chinese Canadian National Council, the Black Defense Committee, the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians, the Filipino community should have its own, the Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ).

Joel Reodica spoke about how he is dedicating his life to the quest for justice and truth in the death of his brother Jeffrey in the hands of a Toronto police officer. He spoke about how Jeffrey’s death has impacted his family and friends. He revealed how the subject officer who had shot Jeffrey was also involved in another case of assaulting a white youth; and how he is reported to be still around, beating up black youths in the back alleys in Scarborough. He spoke of how the youth were having difficulty coping, some didn’t want to go to school, one had thoughts of suicide. Reodica appealed to the community for support in helping his family raise money for the legal fees.

Volunteers and donors

The conference, considered a success by both organizers and participants, had the support of several volunteers from the Filipino and other communities-in the form of facilitation and resource support-among them: Arnold Minors and Michelle Munroe, Community Development Officers of the City of Toronto; Avvy Go of the Chinese and South Asian Legal Clinic; Anna Willat of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition; Lilia Concepcion and Faviola Fernandez of the Policy Roundtable Mobilising Professios and Trades; Ricky Esguerra of the Philippine Solidarity Group; Frank Saptel, of the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance; Nora Angeles of the Barbara Schlifer Clinic; Inday Lourdes Sajor, a Philippine and International women’s issues and human rights advocate; and many others.

The CASJ logo was designed by Lawrence Idriis Garcia. Cultural musical numbers were provided by Lilac Cana, and Joey and Kaye.

Donations and sponsorships to register youth and seniors were provided by generous donors, among them: Philippine Ambassador Francisco Benedicto; Ruben and Tess Cusipag, publishers of Balita; Philippine Barangay Association of Toronto; Filipino Canadian Auto Workers Association; Dr. Dulce Bismonte, Filipino Canadian Medical Association; Silayan Community Centre; Corie Laraya-Coutts; Maharajah Heritage; Josie Dayao, JCD Nursing; Jimmy Sicat; Jess Ticsay; the Philippine Consulate General; Dr. Victoria Santiago, and many others.