Can Toronto become an immigrant-friendly city?

Leila Sarangi –

A new report, put together with community groups and cultural organizations, tackles a core issue for Toronto: we serve some people better than others – and immigrants in the inner suburbs face some of the biggest challenges of all.

“We have a lot of good services in Toronto, but many of them are downtown, in English only, and weren’t designed with newcomers in mind,” said Sean Meagher of Public Interest, who coauthored the report. “That can make them hard to access for many people.”

The new report, Creating Immigrant Friendly Cities, which goes to the Community Development and Recreation Committee on Thursday, shows that cities around the world – from Chicago to Auckland – are trying to close those gaps by becoming “immigrant friendly cities.” They are adjusting policies to provide more translation, more accessible services and greater inclusion for their newest residents. The report shows Toronto can learn a lot from other cities, and a lot from our own communities.

“Newcomers need to be able to access good services no matter which neighbourhood they live in, what language they speak, or what their cultural background is,” said Tim Maguire, President of CUPE Local 79, the union that represents city staff, and an early advocate of the study. “Our members have a lot of great ideas for improving services, but we also have a lot of opportunities to learn from our neighbours and build on services to meet everyone’s needs.”

The report, created in consultation with settlement services, ethno-specific organizations, as well as community leaders across the city, drew on research by the Maytree Foundation. It shows innovations from every corner of the globe: how Chicago is becoming “the most immigrant friendly city” in the United States, how Boston and Milan are exploring creative approaches to economic development and how Brisbane, Australia redesigned recreation services to attract immigrants.

But asking local residents what they sought added a whole new dimension. “People had great, home-grown ideas from right here in Toronto, some of which the city is already beginning to pursue,” said Meagher “but they asked that the city to go a step farther, to look at how we include people in decision making, how we convene other players, how we advocate for newcomers, and most of all, how we measure our performance and hold ourselves accountable. The Creating Immigrant Friendly Cities report gives us good guidance on that.”

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