OLIP @ the Metropolis Conference: Immigration Policy and Practice: Lessons from a PandemicApril 13, 2023
By Muna Osman
This past March, OLIP participated and presented at the 25th Metropolis Canada Conference in Ottawa to commemorate 25 Years of Conversation on Migration: Our Legacy, Our Future. The conference was the largest gathering of policymakers, researchers, and non-profits in the immigration sector with more than 1200 participants, 180 sessions, and 350 speakers.
We were part of a panel entitled Immigration Policy and Practice: Lessons from a Pandemic, with colleagues at the Building Migrant Resilience in Cities Partnership. The panel session was chaired by Hindia Mohamud, director of OLIP, and Tara Bedard from the Waterloo Region LIP acted as session discussant.
Each with a unique vantage point, the panelists weighed in on how the policy and service landscape impacted the experiences of immigrants throughout the pandemic and what promising practices emerged to inform an equitable pandemic recovery and post-pandemic improvements in settlement and health services’ policy frameworks.
Key Points from Panelists’ Presentations
Dr. Valerie Preston, professor at York University and the Academic Lead of the Building Migrant Resilience in Cities Partnership spoke about the concept of Social Resilience, and its application to the context of immigrant settlement and COVID response in Ontario and Quebec cities. Salient points in Professor Preston’s presentation were:
- In the context of the pandemic, social resilience is a dynamic and relational process that captures the role of institutions in mitigating the unequal impacts of COVID-19.
- Institutional responses included innovative service provision approach, new arrangements to transmit information, collaboration across sectors, and advocacy.
- Throughout the pandemic social resilience was enabled through different collaborative efforts across diverse organizations ranging from the stable and well-funded organizations to small emerging organizations. The availability of flexible and adequate funding facilitated multiple levels of engagement from neighborhood level actions to national scale cooperations, leading to new types of impact.
Dr. John Shields, professor at the Toronto Metropolitan University presented on the topic of Migrant Resilience, Advocacy, and the Settlement Sector: Lessons for the Future. Key points in Professor Shields’ presentation included:
- Advocacy is about relationships and engaging with funders and policymakers, through regular communication and consultation to build cooperative partnerships where immigrant voices are heard and acted upon.
- The pandemic opened a policy window for alternative visions of policy and collaborative partnership based on regular communication, enhanced flexibility, and support for the sector.
- Advocacy is critically important for the future of immigrant settlement and integration. Advocacy, coupled with service provision can ensure the needs and concerns of immigrants are represented, amplified, and address through equitable service provision.
Dr. Muna Osman, Researcher at OLIP (Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership), spoke about Public Policy Responses to COVID-19 and OLIP’s unique role in driving a collaborative pandemic response and recovery. Key highlights from Dr. Osman’s presentation were:
- OLIP’s collaborative governance structure and process allows partners to connect regularly and plan strategic actions to advance priority goals. The partnership was well-positioned to play a key role in responding to the pandemic.
- OLIP’s Health and Wellbeing Sector Table acted as a platform for OLIP partners across five sectors to gather, gain real-time information and knowledge on challenges and opportunities for action, and build solutions. Together, the OLIP partners shaped an equity lens to Ottawa’s pandemic response.
- This collaborative pandemic response with equity lens included collaborative actions across sectors, targeted protection through wrap-around services, education and targeted vaccinations, and grounded knowledge through community dialogues, COVID stories, commissioned research, knowledge mobilization, and intervention evaluation.
- Using the three strategic components of partnership, data, and community engagement, OLIP partners’ work advanced progress in 11 areas of community need; commissioned six research initiatives, and spearhead policy change in Ottawa’s vaccine sequencing in the earlier phases of the pandemic.
Dr. Jill Hanley, professor at McGill University, discussed A comparative study of Immigrant-Serving Agencies’ Response to COVID-19 in Quebec and Ontario
- The pandemic response of settlement agencies across Quebec and Ontario highlighted the commitment and resilience of leaders and frontline staff in the sector.
- In both provinces, agencies could rapidly adjust to shifting context to maintain and expand services. Services increased by 60% in Ontario and 70% in Quebec and challenges include difficulty with outreach and barriers to digital access for clients. Overall, staff were confident in their agency response and satisfied with working conditions and relationship with management.
- In Quebec, agencies were served well by flexibility in funding and mandate to serve broader clientele, however, in Ontario agencies are facing more uncertainty looking forward.
Across these four presentations, the panel took a holistic look to reflect on community resilience and how we may strengthen it; advocacy and the roles that the LIPs and settlement agencies have played in charting a way forward in how immigrants settle and integrate across the region. The panelists made recommendations on what needs to change to strengthen community resilience in address the complex barriers immigrants face.