OneCity Organizers: City Should Take Action to Support Refugees

Thi Vu and Christine Boyle call on City of Vancouver to take in thousands of refugees:

The following was published in the Georgia Straight

The refugee crisis in the Mediterranean has moved us all. The stories, images, and sounds of people trying to find passage to safer lands has struck a personal chord with many of us living in Canada, and has hit particularly close to home in Metro Vancouver, where Ghalib, Alan, and Reham Kurdi should have been living.

From neighbourhood to neighbourhood, and across the web, people are asking one another what they can do. The urge to respond is real. Yet people’s desire to help is being met by regressive immigration and refugee policies of the current federal government. It’s an important moment to be reminded that we’ve done this before.

In 1979, moved by images of hundreds of thousands of refugees attempting to escape Vietnam through dangerous and deadly boat journeys, then Ottawa mayor Marion Dewar rose to the challenge. And she brought a willing and compassionate country with her.

At the time Canada had an annual quota of 8,000 Southeast Asian refugees, and half those spots had already been claimed. And so, the federal government, in response to an international call for help, offered to take 4,000 Vietnamese boat people. Mayor Dewar’s response? “We’ll take them.” She meant that Ottawa, on its own, would resettle 4,000 Vietnamese refugees, and she challenged other cities to match her.

Ottawa at the time had a population of 400,000, so it seemed reasonable, Dewar reflected, that they could easily welcome 4,000 refugees. With that goal publicly set, faith communities, the media, and the general public stepped up the the plate, fundraising and signing up to privately sponsor refugees. The initiative became known as Project 4000, and it shifted the role the country would play in welcoming and resettling refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

Following Dewar’s example, leaders across the country stepped up too, so much so that Canada eventually resettled 60,000 Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian refugees. And we are a better country because of them.

For thousands of Vietnamese refugee families this groundswell of compassion was life-saving. Vietnamese "boat people" were driven by the same desperation as Syrian refugees today. Vietnamese parents uneasily decided to take their families and loved ones through risky journeys, many on makeshift boats, in order to have a chance at living and raising their children. Their stories were no different from the millions of Syrian refugees today who have come to the difficult decision that their country, their community, and their home, is no longer livable. The result of the compassion and leadership from Mayor Dewar and many others, is that since 1979 Vietnamese refugees have become a part of Canada’s social fabric.

And now, as a region of roughly 2 million immigrants living on the territory of the Squamish, Musqueam, Tsleil-waututh, Tsawwassen, Semiahmoo, Qayqayt, Kwikwetlem, Katzie, and Kwantlen First Nations, we have history we can look to for inspiration. Leadership matters, at every level. It matters to have a vision, to set clear targets, and to create the space and the supports for people to rise to the occasion.

People are seeking leadership on this issue. Canadians want their willingness to help to be mirrored in their leaders’ actions. According to the federal government, in 2014 Canada accepted 12,300 resettled refugees. The Conservatives have pledged to accept 20,000 Iraqi and Syrian refugees over the next three years, of which they say 2,500 have already arrived.

In contrast, Germany expects to welcome 800,000 this year. The Mayor of Munich said on Sunday that they aren’t asking how many refugees they can afford to resettle, but how the city can make the new arrivals feel safe at last.

We hope that we will elect a more compassionate government in Ottawa come October 19, one that will act to increase the number of refugees settled in Canada. But until that day comes, we need strong leadership elsewhere, starting in our cities. Toronto mayor John Tory has said that the issue of refugee resettlement will be on the agenda of the next Big City Mayors meeting. Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi has been highly critical of the federal inaction. Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson hosted a public forum on the Syrian refugee crisis on Tuesday and is asking the federal government to increase its targets. OneCity is calling on Mayor Robertson, as the chair of the Big City Mayors, to do more, to set a bold target for Vancouver that publicly declares in no uncertain terms, “Refugees are welcome in Vancouver”.

The UN Human Rights Council has asked Canada to welcome 10,000 refugees. OneCity believes Metro Vancouver should seek to welcome that many, and that we should set the bar for what other regions across the country can do.

With a deepening affordable housing crisis, this won’t be an easy task for Vancouver. But the failure of all levels of government over the past three decades to create adequate housing should not be an excuse for avoiding other crises. In fact, perhaps this crisis can be yet another catalyst to move beyond ‘market mechanisms’ and finally get real about affordability in Vancouver and neighbouring municipalities.

It’s also an opportunity for Vancouver to stop dragging its heels and join Toronto and Hamilton in becoming a Sanctuary City. Local activists and immigrant and refugee serving community organizations have been tirelessly advocating for more supportive and welcoming policies at the local level for years, including pushing for Vancouver to formally state its support as a Sanctuary City. Robertson and Vision have spent the last year and a half talking about and studying the initiative. It’s time to make it happen.

To be fair, this is not just a challenge for our local government. It is a task for all of us lucky enough, by birth or by circumstance, to live here. The challenge isn’t just to open our pocketbooks, but to open our hearts and our doors. Vancouverites, moved immensely by this crisis, certainly seem willing. What we need now is leadership to set a vision, and to assist in tackling the bureaucratic hurdles.

Vancouver is a better city because of the thousands of immigrants and refugees who now call it home. We can be a better city still. As author and journalist Eduardo Galeano wrote, "the world was born yearning to be a home for everyone." Let’s make that so in Vancouver.

Christine Boyle is a founding member of OneCity Vancouver. She is a local community organizer and parent.

Thi Vu is a founding member of OneCity Vancouver. She and her family were government-sponsored refugees from Vietnam in 1979, part of that year’s wave of “boat people” who were welcomed to Canada



Join us at the 2015 OneCity Summer BBQ!

On Sunday, August 23rd, join OneCity and help us celebrate summer in the best way - by sharing a meal with friends, hanging out at the park and lacing up your runners for a friendly game of family kickball!

Where: Slocan Park in Renfrew-Collingwood (near 29th Avenue Skytrain Station)

When: Sunday August 23rd, from 3-7pm (kickball starts at 4:00)

We’ll provide BBQ’d food, snacks and drinks, by donation. All are welcome! Bring your kids, family and friends.


Please click here to RSVP. See you there!



Looking Forward With Hope

This week, the OneCity community was humbled by and grateful for the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We recognize the bravery and perseverance of residential school survivors and their families for sharing their stories. We also recognize that the City of Vancouver sits on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. We confirm our commitment to the process of reconciliation with the First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people of Canada, and stand in solidarity with Indigenous people in Canada.

In dealing with the intergenerational legacy of residential schools, many Aboriginal people are disproportionately affected by the same problems in our city that OneCity works to mitigate: unaffordability, limited access to transit and childcare, lack of safety in public spaces, and the difficulty of securing work that pays a living wage. OneCity supports the Commission’s call to action and its 94 recommendations. Many of these recommendations speak to our values as a political organization: strengthening the education system for Aboriginal students, ensuring that all young people learn about the history of Indigenous people in Canada, and improving living conditions for all. We look forward to learning from the entire report, which will be released in September 2015.

As a community, we are strongest when we can learn from and listen to one another. We acknowledge our country’s shameful past, the cultural genocide that was perpetuated, and we look forward with hope to building meaningful reconciliation with this country’s Indigenous communities.


Vancouver Needs a Real Speculation Tax

RJ Aquino and Christine Boyle's opinion piece as published by the Georgia Straight:

It looks as if, eight months later, Mayor Gregor Robertson is borrowing a plank from the OneCity platform in last November’s election. Unfortunately, a few nebulous statements don’t equal a practical, achievable plan.

Robertson, together with mega condo-marketer Bob Rennie, are now beginning to talk about a “speculation tax” on house sales, though they think somebody else should do the taxing, and they’re pretty vague about how the proceeds would be used. Rennie, a top Vision Vancouver supporter, is of course also a major donor to the B.C. Liberals and Christy Clark, who recently came out against intervening in foreign investment—because efforts to slow down investor purchases might bring housing costs down.

Let’s compare the two proposals (though it’s a bit of an exaggeration to call the Rennie/Robertson musings a proposal).

On October 9, 2014, we proposed a flipping levy that would work like this:

The Vancouver Flipping Levy will be applied only to speculative profit, the difference between the initial purchase price and the resale price. It will encourage long-term home ownership and spending in the local economy by decreasing over time, disappearing after the fifth year, and by exempting the cost of renovations, green retrofits and other capital improvements…

OneCity’s proposed Flipping Levy will be 50 per cent of speculative profit in year one; 35 per cent in years two and three; and 20 per cent in years four and five…

The revenue generated by the Flipping Levy will be transferred to the Vancouver Housing Authority to create new living spaces for low- and middle-income people throughout the city.

Pretty clear.

Robertson says it’s the B.C. government which should take responsibility for such a move. Fat chance. Rennie suggests that the revenue generated (though he doesn’t put forward a plan for how to calculate the tax and the revenue or how much would be collected) would be used for small grants to first-time buyers. Would a $5,000 grant make it more possible for any middle or low-income family to buy a home in Vancouver? Of course not.

Our plan is straightforward and achievable. Significantly, it calls for revenues to be used to create rent-geared-to-income units. That’s real affordability for the families, young people, and seniors who so desperately need places to live in Vancouver.

City council continues to assert that their policies are somehow making Vancouver housing more affordable. But their solutions—including waiving development cost levies, which pay for community centres, social housing, parks, and childcare, for rentals that cost up to $1,366 per month for studio apartments—are driving low- and moderate-income residents out of the city. Vancouver needs bold solutions to the affordability crisis and so far we haven’t seen any.

RJ Aquino and Christine Boyle are founding members of OneCity Vancouver and active as community organizers. Both are young parents and they are committed to keeping Vancouver livable, affordable, and sustainable for their own families and the city's residents for generations to come.


Volunteer Donate Contact Us