Formation of Filipino Task Force in Toronto gets support from Councillors
Community issues discussed in 3-hour conversation with Councillors Mihevc and McConnell
By Mila Astorga-Garcia
TORONTO– A recent meeting between members of the Filipino community and City of Toronto councillors and other City stakeholders resulted in a decision to set up a Filipino Task Force to allow for a community voice in the City when the term of a new council begins.
The meeting was convened by Councillors Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s West) and Pam McConnell (Ward 28), last Sunday, March 30 at Committee Room 1, Toronto City Hall. Present were Olivia Chow, City of Toronto Mayoral candidate in the forthcoming municipal elections in October this year; Carolyn Bennett, MP for the riding of St. Paul; Dr. Roland Coloma, assistant professor of the University of Toronto; Philippine Consul General Junever Mahilum-West; Filipino Centre Toronto (FCT) officers and members led by president Linda Javier; Community Alliance for Social Justice CASJ) representatives; Debbie Douglas, Executive Director of Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI); Vera Dodic of the City’s Toronto Newcomer Initiative; and members of the Filipino media; The Philippine Reporter and Balitang Canada, ABS-CBN, and other community members.
Among the issues brought up by the community were the plight of Filipino seniors, notably the finding that 7 out of 10 seniors in Toronto are living in poverty, as documented in a collaborative study between researchers of the University of Toronto and FCT; problems live-in-caregivers face during and after the live-in phase of the program; deprofessionalization, involving the lack of recognition of foreign credentials and the resulting lack of access to trades and professions; and the downward mobility of Filipino youth in general, as a result of non-completion of university studies, and poor job opportunities. It was also pointed out that poverty resulted from deprofessionalization, among other factors, with serious inter-generational consequences.
After listening to the issues identified by the community during the three-hour meeting, Mihevc asked for suggested solutions from among those present. Coloma responded with the idea of forming a Filipino task force that would serve as an effective way by which issues affecting the marginalized sectors — seniors, youth, live-in-caregivers, newcomers, and the deprofessionalized Filipinos – can be heard and addressed in a continuing and sustained manner. The suggestion was supported by other community members and was well taken by the councillors.
Chow, a former City councillor and until recently an MP, talked about some of the Filipino community issues at the start of the meeting. She mentioned her support for the campaign to allow the families of caregivers to arrive with them, in order to avoid the multitude of social problems resulting from years of family separation.
Coloma, co-author of the FCT study on seniors, spoke in detail about the key findings of the seniors study in the area of finances, housing, health and quality of life, emphasizing economic insecurity, marginalization, health issues, and food security as among the challenges profoundly affecting the Filipino senior population.
Mary Ann San Juan of FCT provided a statistical overview about the Philippines and Filipinos, specifically highlighting the fact that Filipinos are among the top immigrant groups in Canada, with the Philippines as the major source of immigration during the past few years. She also cited significant demographics of this young population, with a high level of participation in the work force, and other socio-economic facts.
Linda Javier, FCT President, discussed the various programs of the Centre, including health clinics, medical seminars, tutoring for youth, and seniors projects.
Councilor McConnell, acknowledging the issues as matters she is familiar with, having worked for many years with the Filipino community on various concerns, mentioned that the City provides a host of services which could benefit the community, especially children and youth. The need for a more effective and culturally appropriate way to inform community about these services and accessibility towards these services was raised at the meeting.
Debbie Douglas of OCASI, “a collective voice for immigrant serving agencies and to coordinate response to shared needs and concerns,” emphasized particular immigration changes which negatively impact on live-in-caregivers, making for an even longer time for them to acquire citizenship status.
Vera Dodic spoke on the Toronto Newcomer Initiative – Settlement Workers in City Facilities Project (TNI-SW) created by the City to identify ways in which existing city services could better serve newcomers to Toronto. Four city divisions participated in the pilot project to deliver settlement services out of city facilities over a period of 22 weeks. These divisions were Parks, Forestry and Recreation ,Toronto Public Health , Shelters, Support and Housing Administration, Municipal Child Care Services.
From the experiences of the TNI, the Toronto Newcomer Strategy was developed to ”advance the successful settlement and integration of all newcomers to Toronto through a seamless, responsive and accountable human services system.” The Toronto Newcomer Office, funded by Ciizenship and Immigration Canada, is responsible for implementing the Strategy, which has four components of improving labour market outcomes for newcomers; promoting and supporting good health; improving access to municipal supports; and supporting newcomer civic engagements and community capacity.
This particular City initiative was highlighted at the meeting as the municipal government’s response to the immigration and settlement issues encountered by newcomers in Toronto.
Hermie Garcia, publisher of The Philippine Reporter, elaborated on the issues of deprofessionalization, the subject of CASJ’s collaborative research with York University, which was found to be the most significant factor in why Filipino immigrants get low-paying jobs in Toronto.
CASJ’s ongoing research on the poor educational outcomes of second generation and 1.5 generation Filipino youth, despite their parents’ high level of education was also cited. The initial Ontario-specific findings of the nationwide Filipino Youth Transitions in Canada (FYTIC), the four-year collaborative research between CASJ and York University, has just been submitted to the Province of Ontario. Findings of the research will be shared with the City, according to a CASJ representative.
As a result of the meeting, a list of names was drawn up for the projected Filipino Task Force, which Mihevc said, is envisioned to be realized after the elections of the new City of Toronto Council.
“I would like to describe that meeting as “a three-hour conversation and relationship building moment,” Mihevc said during a phone interview by The Philippine Reporter.
He said that the conversation was valuable as “it brought up issues to our attention and introduced us to more members of the Filipino community who can lead to keep these conversations going on, monitored, and sustained” Mihevc said.
Mihevc noted that with the present council so close to the end of its term, it is important this early to talk about the community’s needs and concerns so solutions can be done in the new Council.
It was particularly significant for Mihevc that the conversation with the Filipino community has started, as he pointed out that Filipinos are noticeably absent in City committees and events of the City. Such absence, he emphasized, is not the fault of the community, but “more our fault.” Perhaps our approach should be different, and to hear a suggestion from the community toward the creation of a Filipino Task Force should be taken seriously towards its institutionalization, Mihevc said.
Even this early, he already sees a timely opportunity next year to create in his ward a Filipino Seniors Centre to meet some of the needs of this marginalized sector of the community, Mihevc told The Philippine Reporter.