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Project to measure how immigrants fit in

by Stephanie Levitz (feat. Andrew Griffith)

Inside Halton
March 15, 2017

OTTAWA — Two cities in Ontario, one in Newfoundland and one in New Brunswick come out on top of newly released rankings on where the lives of newcomers most closely match up to those born in Canada.

The Canadian Index for Measuring Integration compares how immigrants and the native born fare in four different areas to figure out where in the country the gaps between them are smallest.

Put another way — how well are newcomers fitting in?

The difficulty of answering that question is in part why the index has been under development for nearly seven years as, among other things, participants had to hash out how to define what integration actually means.

"What is integration? There's no perfect formula or answer for that, but this is what we've arrived at based on the discussions we've had," said Jack Jedwab, the project's director.

The project chose four themes to study: economic, health, social indicators and civic participation, then drew in all the available data that would allow direct comparisons between newcomers and the Canadian-born population.

On economics, the gap was smallest between people in Oshawa, Ont., while for health it was London, Ont. On social factors, St. John's, N.L., was tops, while for civic and democratic participation it was Saint John, N.B.

The goal isn't to point fingers to say which cities are good or bad for immigrants, said Jedwab, who is also the executive vice-president of the Association for Canadian Studies.

"It stems from a desire, an interest on the part of policy-makers, to try to find ways of measuring progress they're making with respect to the very substantial investment we make as a country in immigrant settlement," he said.

The federally funded index debuted Wednesday in Montreal at a major research conference on immigration and settlement issues.

It's getting up and running at a time when political leaders around the world are grappling with the impacts of the largest refugee crisis in modern times, with historic waves of migration straining domestic resources and political good will.

In Canada, the question of testing newcomers for "Canadian values" has become a flash point in the ongoing Conservative leadership debate. Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's repeated declaration that Canada is open to immigrants has resonated around the world in stark contrast to what appears to be a crackdown on immigration in the U.S.

Some have argued Trudeau's message is behind a recent surge in asylum claims, including people risking their lives to cross the Canada-U.S.border illegally in the middle of winter.

Where the index can play a role in all those conversations is by providing the facts on how things are actually going in Canada, said Andrew Griffith, a former federal director general for citizenship and multiculturalism who sits on the advisory board for the project.

"The data isn't everything, but if you don't have good data the conversation wouldn't be as good and as meaningful."


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