Building Welcoming CommunitiesAugust 6, 2021
According to Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), Ottawa welcomed 11,000 new permanent residents in 2019, despite a decrease of international travel to Canada of over 95%, due to border restrictions generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As travel restrictions are slowly being lifted, a larger number of newcomers will be expected to arrive nationwide in 2021, since IRCC’s immigration level was set to 400,000 new immigrants.
The Conference Board of Canada has indicated that due to Canada’s aging population and low birth rate, immigration will be vital to the country’s economic competitiveness and growth. Congruently, IRCC has documented that permanent and non-permanent immigration has already accounted for over 80% of Canada’s population growth.
To be able to attract and retain the international talent that Ottawa will need to continue growing, more than economic integration must be sought and efforts should be directed in developing a Welcoming Community, defined as a collective effort to create a place where individuals feel valued and included.
In 2010, a study by Victoria M. Esses, Leah K. Hamilton, Caroline Bennett-AbuAyyash, and Meyer Burstein, titled “Characteristics of a Welcoming Community”, identified 17 characteristics that should be present in our cities to enable newcomer integration.
The report concludes that ultimately, a welcoming community attracts and retains newcomers by a) identifying and removing barriers; b) promoting a sense of belonging and c) meeting their needs through proactive community-based planning and designing relevant services and supports that promote their successful economic, social, cultural and political integration.
Those 17 welcoming community characteristics were later ranked in 2016 by researcher Zenaida Ravanera, in the document “Measuring Welcoming Communities: A researcher’s perspective” and are presented below in a rating scale of more to less useful.
- Employment Opportunities: with adequate wages as a primary source of income that meets basic needs for housing and food. Where the employment is commensurate with the education and work experience of the individual. Thus, avoiding underemployment and unemployment.
- Affordable and Suitable Housing: essential as well because it affects newcomers’ ability to access schools, jobs, and key services such as health care.
- Educational Opportunities: one in four immigrants who planned to settle in Canada permanently indicated that access to education was one of their main reasons for wanting to stay. It also contributes to life satisfaction and social mobility in Canada.
- Fostering of Social Capital: connections within and between groups and social networks enhances the value of social contacts. Primary networks represent close relations, including family and friends, while secondary networks represent acquaintances, co-workers, neighbours, and loosely knit relations. The ability to develop both types of networks is important to create a sense of belonging.
- Social Engagement Opportunities: closely linked to developing a social capital (item 4), it addresses the isolation that newcomers may feel in the absence of social ties and connections within the community.
- Positive Attitudes toward Immigrants, Cultural Diversity, and the Presence of Newcomers in the Community: includes feelings, opinions, and/or behaviours toward newcomers which are important as they attenuate experiences of discrimination in the workplace, social engagement, and relationships.
- Municipal Features and Services Sensitive to the Presence and Needs of Newcomers: delivered through inclusive city planning, the provision of services and the provision of information.
- Accessible and Suitable Health Care: culturally appropriate, barrier free healthcare.
- Presence of Newcomer-Serving Agencies that Can Successfully Meet the Needs of Newcomers: primary point of contact for many newcomers upon their arrival to Canada with an essential role of service provision in areas like employment, language, mental health support.
- Opportunities for Use of Public Space and Recreation Facilities: such as parks, town squares, public libraries, and public community/recreation facilities accessible to all community members that help integrate into the community.
- Favourable Media Coverage and Representation: the extent to which immigration issues are politicized and depicted in the media, impacts attitudes toward immigrants and immigration intake.
- Available and Accessible Public Transit: it affects people’s ability to get to work, access services (e.g., healthcare) and meet daily needs (e.g., shopping for food).
- Links between Main Actors Working toward Welcoming Communities: connections that involve cooperation, information, and resource sharing as we all have a role in the integration of immigrants; including community members.
- Positive Relationships with the Police and the Justice System: it includes a sense of trust and satisfaction with the services provided while entails police understanding of the diverse communities they serve.
- Political Participation Opportunities: not only a form of civic participation and engagement. It entails a knowledge about one’s rights and responsibilities and an opportunity to give back to our community.
- Safety: in our homes and on our streets is a vital part of the quality of Canadian life. Reduced exposure to crime, including hate crimes and a perception of security is essential.
- Presence of Diverse Religious Organizations: exceeds the presence of religious services but also a respect towards religious diversity.
At OLIP, the Welcoming Ottawa Week was co-created by partners at the Socio-civic Integration Sector Table, to foster social capital and social engagement opportunities, both ranked within the top 5 characteristics of welcoming communities. With the objectives to create opportunities for newcomers to: a) forge connections in the Ottawa community and b) to convey our genuine respect and welcome to our newcomers, WOW has demonstrated to create effective pathways for newcomers to connect with local residents and to forge a welcoming environment and will continue to do so, with the support of its partners, in its 2022 edition.