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Can Diwali be a public holiday in Canada?

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As millions of South Asians around the world celebrate Diwali this year, a festival symbolizing triumph over darkness and dating back 2,500 years, its strong foothold on regions far from the Indian subcontinent also comes to light.

A five-day celebration enjoyed by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists, it is considered a national holiday in India, Fiji, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Nepal and most recently, a city in the United States.

Diwali will be a public school holiday in New York City starting in 2023 “to recognize over 200,000 New Yorkers” who celebrate the festival, NYC Mayor Eric Adams said in a press conference last week.

The recent move in NYC has raised questions as to why a similar move hasn’t already been made in Canada, which is home to millions of South Asians. In 2011, about 2.4 million people, or 7.2 per cent of Canada’s population, reported affiliation with Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Muslim religions, according to Statistics Canada.

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Data shows that one in five people coming to Canada in the last several years were born in India, making it the top country of birth for recent arrivals.

Immigrants also accounted for four out of five new workers in the labour force between 2016 and 2021.

“We work hard to pay taxes .. and to bring more talent to this country,” Siddhart Choudhary, director of the Vancouver-based non-profit Canadian Hindu Foundation, told CTVNews.ca on Wednesday.

“But, at the same time, we want Canada to feel like our home. We are not strangers in the country.”

Choudary argues that there is frequently little place for immigrants, newcomers, and Canadians from religious and cultural minorities to celebrate their festivals due to the limited national statutory calendar of Canada, which is predominantly centred on Christian holidays.

Current statutory holidays in Canada include New Year’s Day, Labour Day, Good Friday, Canada Day and Christmas Day. However, the number of stat holidays often vary according to province and whether an employee is federally regulated.

For many South Asians in Canada, Diwali celebrations have often required rearranging schedules and figuring out unique ways to keep up with traditions.

But, this isn’t always possible.

This year, the festival fell on municipal election day in Ontario, which raised concerns for the South Asian community as they tried to find time to vote on one of their most important cultural celebrations of the year.

The Indo-Caribbean Canadian Association sent a letter to Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs asking for alternative dates but never heard back.

A petition to “declare Diwali as a public holiday in Canada” has garnered nearly 16,000 signatures on Change.org.

Organized by Gopal Saini, the director of Alberta-based non-profit International Hindu Foundation (IHF); he says that more people in Canada needed Diwali this year than ever before.

“Diwali is a time for family reunions and during COVID-19, people were not able to come together or go back home to other countries from where they came from … and that feeling of loneliness was really shocking,” Sonia Joshi, president of IHF, told CTVNews.ca on Wednesday.

“This is a festival of togetherness, everyone coming together and celebrating the values and traditions and what our background is, and I should be able to spend that day without worrying about my salary or vacation… we just needed one day to celebrate and teach our children what community support and a celebration of our culture really mean.”

But can it be done?

Introducing new statutory holidays in Canada isn’t unprecedented. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day, was introduced as a new federal statutory holiday on Sept. 30 in 2021.

It was created to honour children who died while being forced to attend residential schools, as well as those who survived and their families and communities still suffering from the trauma.

According to the Designation of National Days and Obervances in Canada, a federal document outlining how holidays are classified and how they can become recognized dates, “any senator or member of the House of Commons may introduce a bill proclaiming a national day.”

If the bill passes all stages of the legislative processes, it can be enacted as its own policy.

A national holiday or observance can also be established by the government, overriding the Parliament, through various processes, the document noted.

An example of this is National Indigenous People Day, which is celebrated on June 21. While not a national holiday, it does apply to federally regulated workplaces as a day off.

Religious accommodations can be requested under the Canadian Human Rights Act through provincial codes, such as the Ontario Human Rights Code.

The individual making the request for a religious accommodation should be able to explain how it relates to their religion, according to the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s website, along with information regarding “whether the person can perform the essential duties or requirements of the job … with or without accommodation.”

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, “Canada was the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy.”

The Canadian Multiculturalism Act was passed as law in Canada in 1988 to “remove any barriers preventing full participation in society” and was designed to target and eliminate discrimination.

While the act doesn’t mention religious or cultural festivals, it aims to “promote the reflection and the evolving expressions of those cultures.”

According to Joshi, the existence of the act should be enough for any politician to introduce a motion to instate Diwali as a public holiday in Canada.

“This step was taken 50 years ago and we are still looking for an opportunity to celebrate one of our main festivals as we should. Our children should be able to see that, right?” Joshi said.

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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Afghan refugees: Government delays increasing financial pressure – CTV News

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Refugee advocates are raising concerns that Afghan refugees granted asylum in Canada are being burdened by escalating costs stemming from the government’s delay in processing their claims.

Before they board their flight to Canada, all refugees are required to sign a loan agreement to pay back the cost of their transportation and pre-arrival expenses which can include hotel stays.

Some Afghans identified by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada as eligible for resettlement have been waiting months for exit permits while living in hotels arranged by the government. The hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their debt.

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The Canadian Council for Refugees says Afghans are being forced to pay for an inefficient bureaucracy.

“It seems like the Canadian government is taking advantage of the vulnerability of people,” says Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council of Refugees. Hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their government debt.

Dench says refugees have no choice but to accept a “legally dubious” contract that doesn’t stipulate a precise loan amount.

“If they want a permanent home they have to sign on to whatever the terms of the agreement are. There’s no negotiation room, so people are forced into this situation.”

LONG WAITS AND BIG BILLS

Because Canada doesn’t recognize the Taliban government Afghans must get to a third country with consular support to complete their refugee applications. Many flee to neighboring Pakistan where Canada has a High Commission in the capital of Islamabad.

Nearly all Afghan refugees deemed eligible for resettlement are placed in the care of the International Organization for Migration while they are overseas.

The IOM organizes both charter and commercial flights to Canada and coordinates hotel stays for refugees as they wait for their exit permits. IOM doesn’t book flights until after IRCC has completed security and medical checks of its applicants. The organization bills the Canadian government approximately $150 per day to house and provide three meals a day for one family.

Of the 25,400 Afghans who have arrived in Canada since August 2021, IOM spokesperson Paul Dillon told CTV News in an emailed statement Friday the organizations has arranged travel for more than 22,000 of those refugees.

The claims of another 15,000 Afghans Canada committed to accepting after the Taliban took over the country have been delayed.

Irfanullah Noori, 28 and his family of five stepped off a plane at Pearson International Airport less than two months ago at the end of October. Before the Taliban took over his homeland in Noori worked as a logistics coordinator at the Kabul International Airport. He qualified for asylum because his brother served as an interpreter for Canadian soldiers.

Before being issued travel documents to Canada, Nouri, his wife and their three children, all under the age of five – stayed in an Islamabad hotel arranged by IOM for three months.

Irfanullah Noori poses with his youngest daughter on October 25, 2022 at the Pakistan International Airport before he boarded plane bound for Canada.

Before boarding his flight he signed a loan agreement. Nouri says IOM staff told him he would need to repay hotel expenses that added up to more than $13,000. That amount does not factor in the cost of flights for his family that he will also have to repay.

MISLEADING COSTS

IRCC says 96 per cent of refugees are able to pay back the loans. Monthly payments on the interest free loans are scheduled to begin one year after refugees arrive in Canada and costs can be spread out over nine years.

The federal government puts a cap of $15,000 on each loan per family, but the Canadian Council for Refugees says this is a misleading number.

Refugee families who have older dependents may have to pay back more than the cap. That’s because dependents over the age of 22 years old, can be considered a separate family unit and required to take on a new loan. Dench says this policy puts refugees in a precarious economic position. She’s seen families fight over finances and hopes and dreams put on hold.

“You have young people who should normally be going to university and pursuing their education but they feel that they’re morally obliged to get down to work, even at a minimum wage job in order to pay off the family debt,” said Dench. She argues the Canadian government should stop requiring refugees to repay the costs of getting them to safety, no matter where they come from.

SIMILAR CLAIMS, DIFFERENT TIME FRAMES

Since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, the Veterans Transition Network has helped raise funds to get interpreters and others out of Afghanistan. Oliver Thorne, VTN’s executive director says he’s frustrated that there are huge variations how long it takes for claims to be approved between applicants with similar profiles

“Some migrants are left in the dark. They don’t know why it’s taking them an additional two, four or six months compared to another interpreter who worked with the Canadian armed forces.” Thorne says IRCC needs to hire and train more staff to speed up the processing of claims.

He’s also calling for the removal of loan requirements, especially for Afghans who assisted the Canadian armed forces.

“They protected our men and women in uniform at great risk to themselves and their families. And secondly, these are going to be Canadians. They’re going to live here in our society down the street from us, and we have nothing to gain by making their transition more difficult,” Thorne said in an interview from Vancouver.

NO DEBT RELIEF

CTV News asked the Immigration Minister if it was fair that the Canadian government was burdening Afghans with additional costs due to the government backlog.

On Friday, Sean Fraser blamed a complicated process, but acknowledged that some refugees had been stuck “for a significant period of time.’ But the minister offered few solutions other than a vague reassurance that his department was “working with Pakistani officials to make sure we’re facilitating the smooth transportation of people to Canada.”

Meanwhile Noori is struggling to make ends meet in his new Ontario home, despite finding a job a few weeks ago at the General Motors plant in Oshawa.

Hired as a data-entry clerk, Noori earns $19/hour and is trying to pick up extra shifts on the weekend so he can make his $2,000 monthly rent on a one bedroom apartment.

Even though he won’t have to start paying back his refugee loan until next year, he’s daunted by the impending bill.

“It’s expensive (here.) I work 8 hours a day and six days a week. It will be very hard for me to pay back.”

After surviving the Taliban, Noori now faces subsistence in Canada.

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Children’s hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries

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A children’s hospital in the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries and appointments starting Monday.

Health officials say it’s due to a high level of respiratory illness.

It is unclear how many surgeries and appointments at Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John‘s will be affected.

Residents who are not experiencing a medical emergency are being asked to avoid visiting an emergency department.

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Slain RCMP Const. Yang cleared of wrongdoing in shooting: B.C. police watchdog

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Slain RCMP Const. Yang cleared of wrongdoing in shooting: B.C. police watchdog

British Columbia‘s police watchdog has cleared a slain Burnaby RCMP constable of wrongdoing after she shot a man in the altercation that led to her death.

The Independent Investigations Office says after a review of all available evidence its chief civilian director determined that there are no reasonable grounds to believe Const. Shaelyn Yang committed an offence.

It says the matter will not be referred to the Crown for consideration of charges.

Yang, a 31-year-old mental health and homeless outreach officer, was stabbed to death on Oct. 18 while she and a City of Burnaby employee attempted to issue an eviction notice to a man who had been living in a tent at a local park.

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Yang shot the suspect before she died, and the IIO later said Jongwon Ham underwent surgery for his injuries.

Ham has since been charged with first-degree murder in Yang’s death.

“Due to concurrent court proceedings related to the incident, the IIO’s public report will not be released on the IIO website until that process has concluded,” the IIO said in a news release.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2022.

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