Who We Are

The “Beyond Canadian Experience” project is a collaboration of the University of Toronto Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, Mennonite New Life Centre, Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter, and the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC). The project is funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). Our main purpose is to deconstruct the notion of "Canadian Experience" with an eye to reducing barriers to employment experienced by immigrants. The goals of this public outreach project are to:

  • Profile and disseminate findings from recent community and academic research relating to the labour market integration of immigrants and the concept of “Canadian experience”;
  • Create opportunities for multi-stakeholder, solution-focused dialogue through workshops, conferences, social media, theatre and other arts-based, interactive activities;
  • Highlight promising solutions and practices that challenge the concept of “Canadian experience” and/or seek to enhance the meaningful and long-term integration of immigrants into the labour market.

Our Vision
What do we mean by Canadian Experience
Meet our Team

Our Vision

A Canadian labour market that prospers from the full and meaningful integration of immigrants from all regions in the world.

A Canada that respects, values and makes use of the international education, experience, and expertise of immigrants.

What do we mean by Canadian Experience?

Lack of “Canadian experience” is a barrier to finding good jobs for many immigrants

Canada relies on immigrants to sustain its economy and to counterbalance the aging population and brain drain to the US. Canadian immigration policy currently favours and encourages foreign nationals who have high skills and prior work experience to immigrate to Canada as permanent residents. Once in Canada, however, these immigrants face serious employment challenges despite a number of government-sponsored services focusing on immigrant settlement, including employment services. Lack of "Canadian experience" is a significant factor contributing to immigrants' unsuccessful attempts to obtain gainful employment.

The meaning of "Canadian experience" is not well understood

The meaning of "Canadian experience" is not well understood by both immigrants and employers. Many immigrant newcomers to Canada believe that "Canadian experience" means having work experience in Canada. They do not understand how they can be asked to have "Canadian experience" when they have just arrived. On the other hand, employers admit that many immigrants have the hard skills (experience and expertise) required for the job but they want immigrants to show them that they have the soft skills (fitting in with the team, conflict resolution, workplace communication) they will need to figure out who to know and how to be successful in the workplace more broadly. But the soft skills they are looking for are culturally embedded and can be different for different work environments. This has led us to ask some critical questions. Is "Canadian experience" the real problem or is it merely a euphemism for underlying practices of discrimination and exclusion? In other words, is the problem the immigrant or the system? There are numerous employment programs focused on helping newcomers fill gaps in knowledge or gain skills to prepare themselves for the Canadian job market. Yet the income gap between racialized and non‐racialized workers continues to grow. Do we need better programs or better policies? Or maybe both? Even though efforts are being made to address the issue of immigrants' (perceived) lack of "Canadian experience", ultimately, these attempts will never be enough if we cannot arrive at a common understanding of "Canadian experience".

Mobilizing diverse talent is critical to corporate and community success.

  • Evidence shows diversity drives innovation: when it comes to increase in the number of patents, more research chairs in academe or boosting international trade – thank immigrants. (Conference Board of Canada)
  • 2/3 of university educated immigrants are underemployed. Lost income due to underemployment estimated at $13 billion/year (RBC Economics).

Mobilizing diverse talent is a collective challenge and responsibility.

  • Too often, the “immigrant success story” has been told as an individual narrative, where the struggling immigrant pulls himself up with his own bootstraps. In this story, failure is blamed on the immigrant, without examining barriers or asking critical questions about the role of employment, government and other stakeholders in mobilizing immigrant potential.
  • Programming has been designed to address deficits on the immigrant side of the equation, with insufficient understanding or attention to the challenges and opportunities facing employers.
  • Immigrant voices can help us see new ways forward.
  • There are leaders in the corporate world who understand this and have developed various initiatives to support successful recruitment and retention of international talents (e.g., diverse hiring initiatives, mentoring, internships).

Immigrants say employers and policy makers both have a role to play in overcoming the "Canadian experience" barrier.

  • Employer expectations for “Canadian experience” put internationally trained professionals in a double bind. They can’t get a job because they don’t have "Canadian experience", and they can’t get "Canadian experience" because no one will give them a job.
  • Immigrants have expertise and experience – the “know-what” and “know-why” to do the job. What they often need to develop is contextual knowledge and contacts – the “know-how” and “know-who” to be successful in the Canadian environment.
  • Employers can use a variety of workplace learning approaches, including internships and mentoring, to create the trusting environment needed for contextual knowledge development.
  • Government can support targeted job creation through economic incentives and support for employers who create internships or permanent jobs for immigrants. Government can also support workplace diversification by mandating employment equity in ways that allow employers to shape workforce planning and seize the business opportunity of diverse job seekers and markets.

Meet Our Team

Izumi Sakamoto, Ph.D. (Associate Professor, University of Toronto Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work): Izumi is the principal investigator for the Canadian Experience research project and for this research collaboration. Her training and practice span Canada, the United States and Japan, and she brings to her extensive research on the employment experiences of skilled immigrants a range of interdisciplinary perspectives from social work, social psychology, and cultural psychology. With over 12 years of experience in research and community work focusing on immigration, Izumi has obtained five federal research grants focusing on employment challenges, psychosocial issues, access to services, and social policy. In 2007 she received a Community-Based Research Award of Merit Honourable Mention.

Lin Fang, Ph.D. (Assistant Professor, University of Toronto Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work): Lin is a co-investigator for this academic-community collaboration. She is also the Chair of the Research and Planning Committee of Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter (CCNCTO). Lin has worked with the immigrant communities as a community organizer, a social worker, and a social work supervisor for over a decade. Her research and publications focus on the psychosocial wellbeing of immigrant, refugee, ethnocultural and racialized (IRER) groups. Currently Lin is collaborating with community-based agencies such as Across Boundaries, Canadian Mental Health Association, Community Resource Connections of Toronto, and Hong Fook Mental Health Association, to examine culturally responsive services for the IRER communities.

Adriana Salazar is the coordinator of the Newcomer Skills at Work project at the Mennonite New Life in Toronto. Her training and practice in social justice and human rights spans 20 years of work in Colombia and Canada. She brings over three years of direct engagement with immigrant communities in Toronto around topics of economic, social and civic inclusion. Adriana has led three Participatory Action Research projects investigating the access to fair and meaningful employment for newcomers and exploring the civic and political participation of immigrant communities. She has promoted empowering opportunities for recent immigrants to share their stories of struggle, resilience and innovation through initiatives such as the Newcomer Advocacy Committee, Newcomers Speakers Bureau and New Voices Newsletter. Adriana's undergraduate training is in social psychology at Javeriana University (Colombia). She is also a graduate of the International Project Management program at Humber College (Toronto) and the Community Economic Development Program at Concordia University (Montreal).

Margaret Eaton (Executive Director - TRIEC): Read Margaret's bio here

Theon Harrichand, MSW: Theon runs a web and new media company, Access Design, focused on supporting non-profits to more effectively mobilize knowledge. He has consulted with organizations such as Regent Park Community Health Centre, and Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services, and North York Women‘s Shelter on website development, social media and networking, and accessible research. Theon is responsible for developing and maintaining the social media/web, branding, and knowledge mobilization aspects of this project.

Sadia Khan (Community Engagement Officer – Mennonite New Life Centre MNLCT): Sadia is a student at the University of Toronto and brings over four years of experience advocating and engaging with new immigrant and other racialized communities in the city around issues of income, employment, discrimination, education and human rights. She has been with the Community Engagement program at the Mennonite Centre since June 2011, where she has assisted with the planning and implementation of civic engagement projects like Community Mapping research. Sadia is responsible for providing research and administrative support to this project.

Heidi Zhang: Heidi Zhang currently works as a full-time Research Assistant for Izumi Sakamoto's Canadian Experience Media Project, and the Beyond Canadian Experience Project at the Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto. Heidi has earned her BA (English and Sociology) and plans to further her education as a Master of Social Work candidate (MSW) at the University of Toronto.

Ruth Marie Wilson is a second year PhD student at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto. She obtained her BA (Sociology) and BSW from York University, and her MSW from the University of Toronto. Her research interests include the racialization of poverty and labour, immigrant integration into the labour market, anti-poverty community organizing, and community-based research. Her social work experience includes 7 years in community development, four of which were spent as a Community-based Researcher for the Income Security, Race and Health Project, led my Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services.


Jessica Bleuer, M.Ed. (Adult Education), MA (Drama Therapy): Jessica is responsible for designing and conducting reader‘s theatre. She has over 10 years experience facilitating arts-based dialogue and popular education groups. Working with various populations domestically and internationally, she uses theatre as a tool to engage people in conversations on topics including systemic barriers to the equitable treatment of immigrants. Jessica has been teaching the use of theatre for public engagement, social change and research purposes.


The Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter (CCNCTO) is an organization of Chinese Canadians in the City of Toronto that promotes equity, social justice, inclusive civic participation, and respect for diversity. CCNCTO strives to achieve these objectives by conducting activities in the areas of: public education, systemic advocacy, community development and coalition building. The organization has extensive experience in working in the areas of civil rights and race relations, volunteer development and leadership training, fostering political awareness and participation among the Chinese Canadian community, and hosting cultural and social events.

With three service locations across the GTA, the Mennonite New Life Centre facilitates newcomer settlement and integration through community services and community engagement. The Centre has extensive experience using community based research to generate policy and program recommendations to address the barriers faced by internationally trained workers in search for fair and meaningful work. Our Newcomer Skills Project, supported by the Metcalf, Donnelly and Atkinson Foundations, has generated a research report, three policy briefs, a community forum and a documentary film. Current work involves participatory community mapping of income and employment challenges for immigrants in North West Toronto. In May 2011, the Mennonite New Life Centre received an Economic Justice Award from the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians.

The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment CounciL (TRIEC) is a multi-stakeholder council that brings leadership together to create and champion solutions to better integrate skilled immigrants in the Toronto Region labour market. Founded by Maytree and the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance in 2003, TRIEC is taking action on the underutilization of skilled immigrants’ education, talent and experience. We help employers and immigrants find solutions. We connect companies to programs that can help them better recruit and retain immigrants; we develop and distribute learning tools and curriculum; and we help immigrants build their professional connections through mentoring and professional immigrant networks.