Engaging newcomers in democracy

By Nova Chamberlin — Manager of Specialized Programs, Family and Settlement Services.

Today, September 15th, is the UN’s International Day of Democracy. This day provides an opportunity for all to examine the state of democracy in the world. The focus of this year’s observance is COVID-19.

Throughout the pandemic, our communities have been grappling with finding solutions to support each other and chart the path to recovery together. These solutions have been the topic at many decision-making tables in our municipalities, cities, and nations. But despite the efforts to find solutions, this crisis has brought to light many inequalities in services, supports and resources allocated for minorities and marginalized groups.

An example of the inequalities laid bare because of the health crisis is Canada’s Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) – which aims to offer financial support to those out of work due to the pandemic. Benefits like CERB have excluded migrant and undocumented workers from financial support, as they were unable to work or return to their home countries. It is relevant to highlight that recent migrants are one of the most vulnerable populations as they often have reduced access to health care and take on precarious work positions at the frontlines.

When we see these inequalities rise in our communities, we look to our leadership to find solutions that will serve our diverse population. However, sometimes this is where we find a problem. Leadership tables have seen a lack of diverse representation that can advocate from lived experience for those who are pushed to the margins of society.

In the process of recovery from the impact of COVID-19 – both locally and globally – there is a strong need for a diverse range of voices engaging in public policy advocacy. Social and civic inclusion are key for ensuring that sustainable and experience-based solutions are created for those in need.

Starting September 2019, MOSAIC led a project focused on promoting and encouraging migrant participation in social and democratic processes in the Metro Vancouver area. The Social and Civic Engagement for Newcomers and Immigrants (SCENE) project emerged from MOSAIC’s efforts to go beyond settlement services and create a deeper sense of belonging for migrants in their communities.

During this project, the participants expressed how prior to the training sessions they did not feel a part of their communities and the project helped them realize how they could actively participate and influence decision-making processes. The project saw one of the participants engaging in public policy advocacy through letter-writing to representatives in late January to voice out the need to wear masks in the early days of COVID-19.

“I think I’ve become more assertive in myself because throughout the process it is emphasized how you see yourself as a member of the community, how you use your skills, knowledge, experience, expertise and ability as a newcomer.” – SCENE 2019-2020 project participant.

This pandemic has made the need for diverse representation even stronger in our leadership circles as we continue to see service and support gaps in our communities. Our commitment is to continue to equip newcomers and immigrants with the resources and support necessary for their belonging and to encourage their voices to be heard in the democratic processes that shape our society.

For more information on our Social and Civic Engagement for Newcomers and Immigrants project visit www.mosaicbc.org/scene

MOSAIC is one of Canada’s largest settlement and employment agencies helping immigrants, refugees and newcomers. MOSAIC enriches communities through services and advocacy, furthering the success and sense of belonging of newcomers and individuals from diverse backgrounds. Learn more at mosaicbc.org/about.