New Canadian Media
Thursday, 08 February 2018 19:49

Minimum Wage: Headstart for Newcomer Women

By: Summer Fanous in Toronto, ON

Prabhjeet Kaur was among the first victims of the rise in minimum wages in Ontario at the beginning of the year. She lost her restaurant job while the rest of the province idly debated the pros and cons of higher starting wages.

Immigrating to Canada with her family to pursue her education goals, Kaur admits she is somewhat shielded from real world expenses. She explains, “students don’t know what’s going on [at] a high level. They are giving and taking in the same way.”

Since then she has been able to find work with Walmart as a picker/driver for a little over minimum wage, but is firm in her belief that any benefits are overshadowed by increases in other expenses. 

The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017  legislation has increased the minimum wage in Ontario from $11.60 per hour to $14 per hour, effective January 1, 2018 and will be bumped up to $15 per hour at the same time next year. According to Bill 148, “It will be mandatory for employers to pay: casual, part-time, temporary and seasonal employees, who are doing substantially the same work as full-time/permanent employees, the same rate of pay as full-time/permanent employees."

The wage increase is especially important for single income earners and women with families to provide for. Based on a timeline produced by the Vanier Institute of the Family, two-thirds (66%) of part-time workers are women, a proportion that has not changed significantly over the past three decades. While the raise seems to offer an answer to many of the questions surrounding the Ontario workforce, the solution may not be as simple as it sounds.

Shaemin Ukani came to Canada from London in 1974, today she is the Director of Operations at Arrow Professionals, a company she co-founded over 10 years ago. As an employer, she realizes that the wage increase means the biggest expense on her books becomes staff salaries. She believes business owners will have a harder time balancing their budgets, and in turn, will hire fewer people or take on more work themselves.

Similarly, new graduates or less experienced workers may be shafted since more experienced workers who are on the hunt for a job could be hired to make the same, higher minimum wage. Other disadvantages to employers of the minimum wage increase include “staff reduction, overtime reduction, job elimination, automation, and benefit cuts,” according to Ukani. The cost of living will also rise to accommodate the wage increase, so gas, household items and groceries will go proportionately to make up the difference.

As employers take steps to protect their own profit margins, many minimum wage employees are seeing cuts in hours as well as available positions. 

Equal work, equal pay

However not everyone shares negative views about the policy change. Ronia Bellotti immigrated to Canada from Jerusalem in 1986 for a “better life.” Beginning minimum wage jobs as early as the age of 13, she has climbed the ranks to her current position as Superior Court Registrar for the Ministry of the Attorney General. While she worries about how small business owners would cope with having to pay employees more, Bellotti believes the wage increase, especially for immigrant women, is a “positive step forward.”

“Immigrants, single moms or minorities would highly benefit from a wage increase in their everyday life.  This may be especially beneficial to working families, as then both mothers and fathers would see a pay raise benefiting the family unit. I do think women make up a large portion of the minimum wage sector, while historically, men have received higher incomes for the same job women do,” Bellotti feels.

Data from 2005 seems to confirm this. Immigrant women of all ages were more likely to be living in a low-income situation than Canadian-born women. Among the immigrant girls and women in an economic family, 20 per cent lived under Statistics Canada's low income cut-off before tax, compared with 10 per cent of the Canadian-born girls and women. The incidence of low income among immigrant girls and women was also somewhat higher than among their male peers (19 per cent).

Fleeing an unsafe town in Pakistan, Huda Alvi and her family immigrated to Canada in the hopes of finding better career opportunities. Her career has evolved from starting her own recruitment company at age 25 to founding Workshops by Huda, an offline space that aims to empower, educate and inspire learning in a whole new way. Alvi notes people with “low skill levels generally have a hard time finding work. If the minimum wage rises, this will also cause companies to think twice about their hiring needs, which will impact jobs that women currently hold.”

Prior to getting used to the customs and workforce in Canada, many immigrant women seek to pick up job skills. On average, immigrants have lower employment rates and incomes than non-immigrants.  Even as wages are increased, many ethnic women will still be forced to take on precarious work to make ends meet. Those looking to better their current situations may have to look elsewhere in the form of enhanced personal or professional skills.

However, as employers prepare for the second salary bump upcoming in 2019, only time will tell how Ontario adjusts. 


This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario" series. Writers interested in participating are encouraged to join the NCM Collective for an opportunity.

Published in Economy
Thursday, 04 January 2018 09:18

Ethnic Women are Full Participants in Canada

By: Summer Fanous in Toronto

In 1916, women across the nation rejoiced as Manitoba became the first province to grant women the right to vote. Looking back, it's almost ludicrous to think that gender could determine one’s status within society. Fast forward 100 years, however, and women around the world are still at the forefront, advocating for much needed change. Silenced for far too long, women are passionately speaking out about inequalities and injustices everywhere they can, including in books. Telling Our Stories: Immigrant Women's Resilience is creating awareness about sexual abuse among immigrant and refugee women. Women’s voices are to be heard, and they are demanding equal opportunity. And the world is listening. Even Saudi Arabia, which previously served as the only country that still barred women from driving, will make a change in a ruling set for 2018 implementation. Canada, on the other hand, is a country that affords equal rights to men and women.

7.5 million people immigrated to Canada in 2016. And while specific motives may differ, the country’s stance on equality and the subsequent avenues of opportunity are a big reason such a diverse range of people can call it ‘home’. Based on recent findings, the Ministry of the Status of Women reports that 55% of all Canadian doctors and dentists are females. An optimistic sign of the progress that has been accomplished thus far. However, equal rights don’t always mean equal pay. In Ontario, for example, the average woman earns $33,600 annually, while a man earns $49,000. 

As if that’s not enough to bring spirits down, other hurdles still exist when it comes to leadership amongst women. The Canadian government, along with Skills for Change has been conducting periodic Gender Based Analysis’ since 1995 with the most recent one taking place in 2013. The findings identify the following 8 barriers: Language and Communication, Looking for Opportunity, Unemployment, Lack of Confidence, Cultural Differences, Working Survival Jobs, Finances and Refugee Status.    

New Canadian Media (NCM), along with Skills for Change and the Vanier Institute for the Family are partnering up on an exciting project available to members of the NCM Collective. Together with the Ontario multiculturalism program, NCM has been commissioned to produce a series of 20 original pieces of journalism that speak to this theme: Women as full participants in Ontario’s immigration story.

Female members of the NCM Collective have the opportunity to showcase different perspectives on a range of topics. With a focus on Ontario’s rich multi-culture, these individual pieces will provide a better understanding of the talent that the mainstream so often ignores. Even in a country that emphasizes equality, women are not always provided the same opportunities to express themselves as their male counterparts. 


Writers interested in participating are encouraged to join the NCM Collective for an opportunity. Additional details such as compensation and content guidelines will be communicated as pitches are received. 

Published in Commentary

by Summer Fanous in Toronto

Toronto-based not-for-profit organization Lifeline Syria has been at the forefront of efforts to bring Syrian refugees to Canada. Launched at the end of June, its target is to resettle 1,000 refugees in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) within the next two years.

Peter Goodspeed, a volunteer with Lifeline Syria, explains that in order to accomplish this great task they need to recruit and train private sponsorship groups who have volunteered to bring families to Canada.

Over the past few months, the group has been fundraising and getting the word out through local community and faith-based organizations. Corporations have also been approaching the organization, interested in helping out Syrian refugees.

The most recent Lifeline Syria meeting in Oakville had 150 groups, according to Goodspeed. If each group took a family of four to five people, they’d be close to achieving their objective right off the bat. Lifeline Syria still has to connect with communities in Scarborough and north of Toronto, as well as places at the edge of the GTA like Ajax and Oshawa.

Once the refugees have settled in Canada, the sponsors have a commitment to them for one year.

With a recent influx in volunteers, the organization has been hosting meetings to introduce these potential sponsors to the system, showing them how to fill out the applications and how to prepare themselves to qualify for sponsorship. Right now, it can take anywhere from one to two years to process applications.  

According to recent statistics, over half of Syria’s population – roughly four million people – have been displaced since 2011. Approximately 250,000 people have been killed.

Since 2013, the government has brought 2,302 Syrian refugees to Canada.

Easing the transition

After the daunting task of approvals and documentation has cleared, a new set of challenges awaits the refugees and their sponsoring group.

Once the refugees have settled in Canada, the sponsors have a commitment to them for one year. They are responsible for providing the refugees with food, shelter and clothing. They will also try to help them get established, find jobs and learn to speak English.

Beyond the time spent helping these families, the price tag attached to sponsorship is steep. It can cost a sponsoring group approximately $27,000 to $30,000 annually to sponsor a family of four.

Lifeline Syria is currently putting together a handbook for sponsors to be posted to their website in mid-October that will walk sponsors through the process of guiding newly arrived refugees.

While he acknowledges the great efforts Lifeline Syria is making to help refugees, Don Curry, executive director of the North Bay Multicultural Centre, would like to see the federal government focus on relocating Syrian families in smaller city centres across the country, rather than in the GTA.

According to Curry, Toronto is “bursting [at] the seams,” and other areas of the country might benefit more from receiving refugees, who would support population growth and fill available jobs.

The North Bay Multicultural Centre, like many similar centres, has programs in place to help transition all newcomers into Canadian culture. Conversation circles and social events take place throughout the year, as well as mentorship programs in which refugees may be paired with people in the same field of study in order to help them find employment.

Curry says these kinds of programs reflect the “strength of a smaller city.”  

“The politicians are sitting around debating numbers; the people generally are saying, ‘No, it’s time we did something.’”

“We’ve got lots of volunteers just eager to help,” he declares.

“The more, the merrier”

Despite the mechanics set in place to receive refugees, Curry believes it’s going to be quite some time before Syrian families actually arrive in North Bay. Currently, there aren’t any.

The northeastern Ontario city of Timmins is working to resettle just one Syrian family.

“It’s just a matter of getting the funds, doing the paperwork and making sure we have our place in line,” Curry says when asked to explain these numbers. “If there’s a matching system like the province is talking about, we could probably bring in more families.”

When asked about the reasons behind this mismatch, Goodspeed said, “The politicians are sitting around debating numbers; the people generally are saying, ‘No, it’s time we did something.’”

He believes public policy will ultimately be affected by the refugee crisis down the road, since “the people are pushing the government's hand on this.”

Beyond saving lives, Goodspeed is convinced that bringing in Syrian refugees will “probably make Canada a much better place than it is, and the Middle East will be a lot safer too.” The displacement that has taken place in Syria is enormous, and the strain it has put on neighbouring countries is, says Goodspeed, “dangerous to the region and to world peace.”

While some have doubts about bringing in refugees from the Middle East, Goodspeed doesn’t think settling Syrians in Canada will jeopardize security – children make up half of registered refugees. Goodspeed believes we as a nation will have “far more serious security problems in the future than if we just step in and try to help these people now.”

Curry stands strong with Goodspeed, declaring wholeheartedly that there is plenty of room in Canada: “The more, the merrier.”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Top Stories
Monday, 31 August 2015 09:03

Living With Arab Girl Syndrome

by Summer Fanous (@SummerFanous) in Toronto, Ontario

Living in Jordan and Syria as a teenager, I witnessed daily injustices – and because I was born female, I faced them as well.

I always knew I wanted to share my story and write a book, but hadn’t got on the right train, so to speak.

As luck would have it, I volunteered to judge a Canadian annual creative-writing competition for ESL students around the world called CreatEng Café. I was involved in a number of steps in the process of creating the book, and once it had been published, the light bulb suddenly came on.

The idea for my book was staring me right in the face.

In my case, out of years of frustration and constant questioning – and a bit of humour – I discovered that I had “Arab Girl Syndrome.”

Culture shock

After spending five years in the Middle East from age 12 to 17, I moved to Toronto in 2011. I love everything about Canada, from the people to the scenery – and especially the hockey.

I must admit, though, my love for hockey has less to do with it being Canada's national sport and more to do with the fact I was born and raised in Chicago and am a Chicago Blackhawks fan. 

But I’ve loved every moment of being in this country. I feel it is a place for true beginnings, especially for newcomers. I lived in Jordan and spent a lot of time in Syria, before any of the civil unrest started happening, and I’ve seen how Canada has stepped up and been friendly to Syrian refugees.

Arab Girl Syndrome is an inherent feeling of inequality rooted in sexism that manifests itself in Arab tradition.

But the extreme culture shock I faced while moving between countries opened my eyes wide in disbelief. Living life on one side and then switching over to the opposite side overnight does something to you.

Right before we were about to fly to Amman, my father was watching a program on television that was talking about honour killings in Jordan.  I asked him what the show was about, and he just told me not to worry.

This experience with my parents speaks to many others I’ve had with them about certain topics. Sex was probably the main one – it’s no surprise to me that immigrant parents in Ontario are so riled up about the changes to the sex-ed curriculum in this province.

Many parents avoid talking about sex in the hopes that their children won’t be “lured” into it.

But having “the talk” is critical for the development of healthy and mature lives. Children need to know about the parts of their bodies that are private. They need the proper language to communicate what’s happening to them.

When parents don’t speak with their children honestly, openly and in an age-appropriate manner, they create confused and misinformed people.

For example, how can children feel comfortable reporting sexual abuse if they don’t know how to discuss it, or what to do if it happens?

The challenge of being born female

Arab Girl Syndrome is an inherent feeling of inequality rooted in sexism that manifests itself in Arab tradition.

In order for a revolution of any sort to happen, people must understand that those outdated ideas and taboos aren’t appropriate in today’s day and age.

The goal for every father of an Arab daughter is to protect her honour and dignity before she gets married off and becomes the responsibility of another man. In most cases, the importance of her “honour” lies in her anatomy and is to be protected of all costs – her virginity.

In the Arab world, marriage – and, therefore, permitted sex – is the one thing that’s probably on everyone’s mind, yet no one is talking about it.

As Shereen El Feki argues in Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World“Moreover, for women in Egypt and its Arab neighbors, having a husband is key: a woman’s social value is still tied to her status as a wife and mother, no matter how accomplished or professionally successful she might be… As they say in Egypt, ‘The shade of a man is better than the shade of a wall.’”

Giving voice to Arab women

In order for a revolution of any sort to happen, people must understand that those outdated ideas and taboos aren’t appropriate in today’s day and age. Giving voice to the ideals that Canadian Arabs and Arab females from around the world believe today will help get the message across.

But in many Arab countries, “outside” opinions and information that are beneficial to women might not always be welcome.

Thankfully, Canadian society doesn’t subscribe to the same ideals as society in the Middle East, which is why I am proud to be living in a country that affords all people the opportunity to become a better version of themselves.

The last thing I want is for my children to be misinformed about sex. I want my daughter to understand the way the world works and to change the old-school mentality about what’s important as an Arab female.

Our voices are underrepresented, and I believe it’s finally time for them to be heard. That is why I started the Arab Girl Syndrome writing competition, which offers New Canadians from various parts of the Arab world the opportunity to share their stories. The only requirements are that applicants must be female and of Arab descent.

There will be prizes, as well as a chance to be published in a collection of works by Arab women including essays, poetry, short stories and original artwork. The book will be an elegant yet raw look into the lives of Arab girls and women from around the world.

The competition begins September 15, 2015 and will run until January 31, 2016.


Summer Fanous is a professional freelance writer in Toronto. Please visit her website, www.summerfanous.com, for more information. Her passion project can be found at www.arabgirlsyndrome.com

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Arts & Culture

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