With anti-immigrant sentiment being voiced more openly in the community, an event to bust misconceptions about different races could not be more relevant or timely, say organizers.
The fourth annual CommUnity: The Power of One event is March 23 at the Welikoklad Event Centre. The free day of speakers, workshops and panel discussions is being presented by the Red Deer Local Immigration Partnership.
Anyone can attend, but organizers are particularly inviting anyone with negative or ambiguous feelings about immigrants, refugees or migrants.
It’s not a matter of dividing “racists” from “good people” since everyone has a degree of unconscious bias about unfamiliar races, religions, orientations and cultures, says Ezgi Sarioglu, program co-ordinator with the Red Deer Immigration Partnership.
Common concerns will be discussed from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For instance, Jan Underwood, public awareness co-ordinator of the Central Alberta Refugee Effort, often hears complaints about how much help immigrants get from taxpayers through the Canadian government.
She said, immigrants are actually expected to be self-sufficient when they arrive and receive no financial government assistance. While refugees do get some help, they are expected to pay most of the funds back. “A lot of people don’t know that,” added Underwood.
Migrants who are fleeing war, political repression or drought, are considered illegal border-crossers. But Underwood said they go through a rigid asylum-seeking process once they are inside a foreign country. “People think it’s easy to be accepted into Canada, but it’s not… they have to be seen by a judge, it’s actually very difficult…”
Underwood and Sarioglu understand that change is unsettling. Central Alberta’s growing diversity, combined with a slowing economy, has made some people blame newcomers for taking their jobs, said Underwood. “People without work are often looking for a scapegoat to blame.”
But economists say our economy will be in trouble, with the falling birthrate, unless Canada maintains or ups its immigration numbers.
The keynote speaker at CommUnity: The Power of One is Grant MacEwan University professor Junaid Jahangir, who will discuss his own experiences after emigrating here from Pakistan. There will be workshops.
And a panel discussion will be held with RCMP hate crimes investigator Sgt. Marco Lou, as well as Kareen Lambert, of the Trans and Non-binary Aid Society (TANAS). Abi Ogunijimi of the immigration partnership, will speak, as will social work instructor and counsellor Brenda St. Germain.
More information can be found on the Red Deer Immigration Partnership Facebook page. Attendance is free, but participants should RSVP through tickets.blackknightinn.ca.