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Online sessions aim to build a sense of belonging in the Sea to Sky

Building Inclusive Communities — a series of forums to discuss multiculturalism, diversity, equity and immigration — starts in January.
Sessions coming in January 2022
Habib Ly, a Squamish resident who works for the department of community development and outreach at Capilano University.
The Sea to Sky Corridor would be an even more beautiful place if everyone living here felt like they belonged. That is the idea behind 'Building Inclusive Communities,' a series launching in January that is open to everyone.

The Whistler Multicultural Society, in partnership with local settlement services across the Sea to Sky and Sunshine Coast region, including Squamish's Welcome Centre, is hosting the online events.

Each session in the series aims to bring folks of various backgrounds together to discuss topics including multiculturalism, diversity and equity, immigration, and building a sense of belonging.

These sessions build on the events held earlier in the year for Multicultural Week.

It has been found that many immigrants and newcomers to the Sea to Sky don't feel like they belong, said Habib Ly, a Squamish resident and Capilano University faculty member, who works for the department of community development and outreach at the university and in partnership with the Squamish Welcome Centre.

The topics chosen for discussion in the various upcoming workshops get to the core of what it is like being new here and what it takes to make a productive and happy life in the corridor.

By understanding each other, everyone benefits, said Ly.

He noted that people who come here do so for work, to study, or to find a better life.

"Each individual who immigrated to Canada comes with a story and that story is always useful for someone else. It is a life-learning lesson," he said.

Immigrants are people who are deemed to be permanent in the corridor and who will be eventually naturalized as Canadians, Ly noted.

"So, we don't want to be bringing people in and then letting them feel confused and intimidated until they are naturalized [but] dysfunctional, isolated," he said.

"[That] is not just a burden on 'our' systems, but it is a burden on them too. They get hindered, they have a lot of psychological and emotional [trauma] going on, and it just adds up into a cost for the society. To prevent that from happening is to start talking to people and getting them engaged, and presenting them insightful information that they need," he added.

"Our role here is to connect — to connect the dots, to connect people… to connect the government officials to NGOs, activists and workers. Basically, for communities to be on the same kind of level of information."

Newcomers will be invited to share their experiences during the sessions and longer-term residents will become more informed about how their neighbours are doing and perhaps what they can do to make the transition to town easier.

The series kicks off with a discussion about multiculturalism on Jan. 24.

In this session, the question to be pondered is, "How alive is multiculturalism in our communities? Do we need to do more to embrace it?"

Next up on Jan. 25 is a session on diversity and equity.

In this session, the topic will be: "What's the reality for racialized people, immigrants and newcomers in our communities? Do they have equal access to opportunities? What can we do to reduce harmful bias, stereotyping, discrimination and racism?"

Immigration will be the topic of discussion on Jan. 31.

The aim of this session is to look at how future immigration will impact each community.

The final session on Feb. 1. will address the concept of belonging.

The aim is to discuss how community members can ensure everyone feels a sense of belonging.

The main question will be: "How do we make sure that our communities benefit from the social cohesion and prosperity that comes when community members feel a strong sense of belonging?"


Ly said smaller towns like Squamish and Whistler, unlike, for example, Vancouver or Richmond, have never had the influx of immigration and this lack of familiarity and support for newcomers is an added barrier.

"In many small towns, it has never been a destination for immigrants or newcomers, because it is very intimidating and people are very into themselves," he said. "The challenge here is that both parts aren't understanding what is going on. This is why these conversations need to be in place constantly, so the word can spread," he said. "The government's presence in the city is intense and the NGOs’ presence is very intense, so information is everywhere, and also it is urban, so there is a lifestyle that is set — it is systemic. So, you just come, and you get on with it."

In small towns, a lack of transportation and cultural infrastructure, for example, hinders new arrivals from fully participating in the community.

The pandemic and its accompanying restrictions have added another layer of existing challenges.

It is a challenge for settlement organizations as well because meeting face to face with new arrivals is preferable but hasn't always been possible.

It is not enough for those who were born in Canada to leave immigrants to find their way in a confusing new environment, Ly said, as this throws barriers on top of barriers for people who have already survived much.

"They have already faced challenges and been tested. It is like you are dealing with a lot of hardship... and you overcome everything and you succeed to pass it… You know if you pass this challenge, it will be a nice sunny day for you and you can enjoy it and rest. But what if you pass [all the challenges to get here] and then another bigger challenge appears? That is what immigrants deal with. It is one thing after another: paper processing legalities; getting a job, but not having enough training to ... understand and smoothly do the job... or staying here 20 years and not speak English because no one says, 'Hi, how are you?'"

Immigrants should be welcomed, Ly said.

"We should be approached. We aren't like bears. We don't eat people or hijack them. We aren't aliens that are coming," he said, with a laugh.  "We are very normal, mostly humble human beings, and the reason we move away is for our dignity, mostly, because you have been experiencing poverty or you have been oppressed, and not let to live your life."

Folks come here with aspirations, hoping this is the land where they can build a happy and successful life, Ly said.

"The era of hell has ended, and this is the paradise, and you are into it, and then you come and hit the wall and have to restart from zero," he said, noting it takes years to figure out the ways of a new homeland.

Things that locals find easy, such as operating an ATM, ordering a coffee at a shop, or working at a grocery store, involve a lot of skill and understanding for someone totally new to them or in a new language, Ly noted.

"Everyone wants to belong," he said, adding that by understanding the topics presented at the sessions, "we will all get ahead as a community."

Squamish and the other communities along the corridor are growing in population and thus need to be ready to set newcomers up for success.

"We see the growth is coming," said Ly. "So, we need to be ready and have all these things in place. Everyone who is breathing on this soil, here, we are all on the same boat."

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