We’re in it together

Today, June 27th is Canadian Multiculturalism Day. On this day, Canadians acknowledge and celebrate the fact that we are a nation of communities from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Multiculturalism as state policy was officially adopted by Pierre Trudeau’s government during the 1970s and 1980s. The federal government has endorsed multiculturalism as an ideology because of its public emphasis on the social importance of immigration.

In November 2002, the Government of Canada designated June 27th of each year as Canadian Multiculturalism Day. Canada prides itself on the rich, ethnically diverse landscape that represents this nation. Rather than becoming a cultural melting pot, we honour and encourage our cultural mosaic.


Multiculturalism is reflected in the law through the Canadian Multiculturalism Act and Section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and is administered by the Department of Canadian Heritage. The Broadcasting Act of 1991 asserts the Canadian broadcasting system should reflect the diversity of cultures in the country.

Canada currently has one of the highest per capita immigration rates in the world, driven by economic policy and family reunification. Canada also resettles over one in ten of the world’s refugees. In 2008, there were 65,567 immigrants in the family class, 21,860 refugees, and 149,072 economic immigrants amongst the 247,243 total immigrants to the country. Approximately 41% of Canadians are of either the first or second-generation Canada includes at least thirty-four distinct ethnic groups, and 6.2% of the population self identify as a visible minority.


Multiculturalism day is an opportunity to celebrate our diversity and our commitment to democracy, equality and mutual respect and to appreciate the contributions of the various multicultural groups and communities to Canadian society.

Just walking down the streets of downtown Toronto reminds us of the cultural richness of this great country and reminds us that we’re all in it together.



“All those burgers, all those fries…”


“We want wages supersized!” That was just one of our many chants last April 15 when SEIU Healthcare joined its sisters and brothers around the world to ask McDonald’s to set an example by providing a living wage to its employees.

This year, we’re at it again, but this time the #Fightfor15 protest takes place on April 14. Why do we do it? “We’re standing with our Sisters and Brothers across North America and around the world who share our belief that all workers deserve a living wage. What started in 2014 as a grass-roots initiative to raise awareness for low-wage fast food workers in the US has grown into an international rally across over 300 cities in over 40 countries,” said SEIU Healthcare president Sharleen Stewart. “We’re here to stand for working people so that everyone can earn a fair living. It starts by setting the example for others and that’s what we want this multi-billion dollar company to do.”

McDonald’s takes pride in leading the pack, setting the example. Just look at one of their current television commercials; they are either telling the story of how they value and trust their young employees, or they are extolling the virtues of buying locally – by sourcing their ingredients from Canadian farmers only. If you look at their webpage, you will see they have their own charity – Ronald McDonald House, conserve energy, package responsibly for global sustainability, provide scholarships to their employees, sponsor Olympic athletes and kids’ hockey and yada, yada, yada, all within the realm of corporate responsibility. Don’t get me wrong, this is great stuff, but this is a matter of corporate image not values. How about providing your workers with a living wage? That would really get my admiration.

McDonald’s, clearly you like to be an industry leader, not a follower, so step up and set the trend, one that your competitors and other minimum wage employers will have to follow. I dare you. No, I double dog dare you!

If you are interested in joining our #Fightfor15, here’s how you can get involved.

Join us at McDonald’s Canada corporate head office, 1 McDonald’s Place, Toronto, ON, from 11:30-12:30 p.m. on April 14.

Tweet your comments using the hashtags #FightFor15 or #Fastfoodglobal.

Believe in your rights

We have to believe in our rights to make them real. In human societies, change can seem slow. Recognition can be elusive. Expectations are raised. Hopes are easily dashed. But we have to keep working on it, taking the rights we have on paper and keep trying to apply them in practice.

Whether it’s our human rights, our rights at work, or our civil rights – these aren’t things anyone can afford to take for granted. Our rights are a work in progress.

Human Rights Day

Today is Human Rights Day, marked by the United Nations on the anniversary of the 1948 signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year is also the 50th anniversary of two international covenants – on human rights and political and civil rights.

These documents set out “the civil, political, cultural, economic, and social rights that are the birth right of all human beings.”

It seems fitting that today also marks the day that the first special plane of Syrian refugees coming to Canada has arrived and hundreds of people start their new life here this week.

We know that international borders can make the difference between a chaotic, dangerous, and traumatizing life, and the chance for a calm, safe, prosperous existence. And human rights should apply in all states regardless of borders.

When it is impossible for people to achieve their basic human rights, it is natural for them to do whatever they can, including moving away from everything they know, to get access to resources we all need to live.

If those global citizens can do that, we can look at ourselves and examine our rights, how to fight for them, and how to always keep believing in them.

Asian Heritage Month

Asian Heritage Month

Although May has been celebrated as Asian Heritage Month in the US since 1979, it wasn’t until 2002 that it was official designated by the Canadian Government after the Senate adopted a motion proposed by Senator Vivienne Poy.

During this time, Canadians are invited to take part in events and to participate in festivities across the country that celebrate the many achievements and contributions of Canadians of Asian heritage, who, throughout history, have done so much to make Canada the culturally diverse, compassionate and prosperous nation we know today.

Who is of Asian Descent?

The definition of “Asian” may be inclusive and broad, and applies to people who come from or whose ancestors come from:

East Asia
China, Hong Kong S.A.R., Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan.

South Asia
Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka.

Central Asia
Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.

Southeast Asia
Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam.

Events in your area:

Ottawa Public Library
Asian Heritage Month at the Ottawa Public Library

Toronto Public Library
Asian Heritage Month at the Toronto Public Library

York University
The Heart of Asia, Right Here, Right Now: A Celebration of Asian Wisdom Traditions in Canada – York University

Various locations
Small World Asian Music Series April – May 2015

Various locations
Roger’s Punjabi International Film Festival


Parlez-vous français?

francophonieMarch 20 marks International Francophonie Day to commemorate the signing of the Niamey Convention in Niger on March 20, 1970 and today celebrates the French language and francophone culture around the world. The convention established the Agence de coopération culturelle et technique and its successor, The International Organization of La Francophonie (La Francophonie), whose mission is to embody the active solidarity between its 80 member states and governments (57 members and 23 observers), which together represent over one-third of the United Nations’ member states and account for a population of over 890 million people.

Globally, there are over 274 million French speakers worldwide and it is the 9th most spoken language. English and French are the only two languages to be spoken on all five continents and as we know, are the two official languages of Canada. In Canada, a Stats Can report from 2011 shows that French was the first language for 7.7 million Canadians or 23.2% of the population.

Here’s another reason to celebrate; our own former Governor General, Michaëlle Jean was recently elected Secretary General of La Francophonie on November 30, 2014 by its 57 member states. She is the first woman to hold this post, although not the first Canadian; Jean-Louis Roy was the first, and only, secretary-general of the organization from 1989 until 1997.

Très bien!

The CRA charity audits and the right-wing push to privatize healthcare


Is fighting for the right to dismantle universal public healthcare an act of charity?

This was the question asked by CBC journalist Kelly Crowe this week in her article about legal action being taken by two right-wing advocacy groups to allow private industry to deliver healthcare for profit.

The cases have been exposed as back-door attempts to challenge the Canada Health Act and other laws that uphold universal access to public healthcare in Canada. Overturning these laws would open the door to a two-tier health system that allows those who can afford it to jump the queue for health services, siphoning resources from the public system and undermining the principle that access to healthcare depends on need, not ability to pay.

The Canadian Constitution Foundation and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are supporting cases in Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario that argue denying patients the right to pay for surgeries, diagnostics and other procedures in private health clinics is a violation of their constitutional rights.

Interestingly, these right-wing think tanks are registered as charities, a status that allows them and their donors to receive generous federal tax credits in exchange for ensuring they do not spend more than 10 percent of their budget on political activities. Yet the charitable donations received by these groups are clearly being used to pursue legal, legislative and policy objectives that are inherently political.

Furthermore, some of their funding comes from an American group called the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a network of right-wing, free-market think tanks. Atlas receives much of its funding, in turn, from the infamous Koch brothers, best known for their plans to spend nearly $900 million to influence the 2016 US elections in favour of candidates who oppose public healthcare in the US.

These right-wing legal challenges to public healthcare are set against a backdrop of mounting evidence that Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) charity audits are being used as a political tool to silence opponents of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.

Since 2012, the Conservative government has allocated almost $14 million to the CRA to audit charities deemed to be using donations for political activities. So far, nearly 60 of Canada’s 86,000 registered charities have been audited.

Strangely, the vast majority of these audits have targeted organizations who are known to be critical of government policies, raising concerns that the audits are being used to silence opposing voices. In particular, environmental, human rights, anti-poverty organizations and progressive policy think tanks have been singled out for audits. An October 2014 study by the Broadbent Institute outlines how the CRA audits have been politicized to target critical voices while right-wing groups have escaped scrutiny.

These findings raise disturbing questions: Why are CRA resources being used to selectively audit organizations conducting research and advocacy to protect our natural environment, eliminate poverty, and support human rights? And why are groups actively trying to undermine public healthcare—something Canadians consistently value as a public good that defines our country—free to maintain their charitable status?

I doubt that thousands of frontline SEIU Healthcare members and their families would view fighting to dismantle public healthcare as an act of charity.