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Winnipeg refugee advocate to present expert witness statement to Parliament

IRCOM's Dorota Blumczynska. Global News / File

A Winnipeg public speaker, educator, activist and advocate will be speaking in front of a parliamentary committee Thursday on behalf of local refugees.

Dorota Blumczynska, executive director of the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM) and president of the Canadian Council of Refugees, told 680 CJOB she’ll be speaking to legislators in Ottawa as an expert witness about new Canadians and their participation in democracy.

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It’s a topic close to Blumczynska’s heart, as she and her family came to Canada in 1989 as privately sponsored refugees.

“I was born into Soviet-occupied Poland,” she said.

“In Poland, there weren’t free elections, there wasn’t democracy, there wasn’t a right to vote and have a voice… and yet this was something that was so desperately desired by the people.

“When we became citizens in 1993, that fall in October, there was a federal election and it was the first and, in fact, the only time in my mother’s life that she freely participated in such a moment.”

Blumczynska said she’s been busy talking to people from throughout Winnipeg’s various ethnocultural communities and asking for input leading up to Thursday morning’s meeting.

Read more: Former refugee draws from own experience to help others

“I think more than just my voice, it is the voices of many communities that have to be brought to that chamber,” she said.

“New Canadians have a profound desire to participate in our democracy. I think there’s a hunger to have a voice and have every vote counted.

“I think this is something that once we become citizens, it becomes our responsibility but also our right — the right that we desperately want recognized in order to help shape the place that has welcomed us.”

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Blumczynska said she’d like to see increased public education about the importance — and safety — of voting, as many new Canadians are coming from countries with skewed and often dangerous electoral practices.

The removal of barriers to voting — including digital barriers in cases of online voting — is also important, she said.

Read more: Canada increasing immigration targets following pandemic disruptions

This parliamentary committee comes on the heels of a federal announcement in late October that Canada will be welcoming increased numbers of immigrants in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The country is aiming to add 401,000 new permanent residents next year and 411,000 in 2022, an increase of 50,000 compared with the previous targets.

The last time Canada attracted more than 400,000 people in one year was in the early 1900s.

Federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino told media last month that the increased numbers are intended to make up for the disruption the coronavirus caused — which included a sharp reduction in immigration due to Canada’s closed borders.

“It paints a vision for the future where we see immigration as one of the keys to our economic recovery and our long-term prosperity,” Mendicino said.

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“This is an enduring part of our narrative. Immigration reflects who we are, who we were, and who we want to be in the future.”

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