How the Centre Francophone helps people access housing, healthcare, and escape trafficking
By: Callum Denault
Published on: January 19 2023
IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS A VICTIM OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING, PLEASE SEE THE INFORMATION AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE
Canada is a bilingual country, with English and French being its official languages. However, in Ontario, only 11.2 per cent of the province speaks French. For the 8.1 per cent of those Ontario francophones who speak French as their primary language, they are the minority in a province defined by its preference for English.
Le Centre Francophone du Grand Toronto is an organization that helps French speaking residents of Toronto access services in French. It both helps clients access necessary services in French—including healthcare, education, employment, and housing—and partners with other organizations that help other vulnerable communities to accommodate francophones.
Aline Nizigama, director of strategic projects, partnerships, and communications at the Centre Francophone, said her organization helps around 25 000 people every year, with 47 000 interacting with the Centre Francophone during the COVID-19 pandemic. She estimated that 60 to 70 per cent of her organization’s clientele are black or racialized, because the Centre targets members of groups that have historically been marginalized. Over half of the Centre’s clients are only comfortable speaking in French, and not English.
Nizigama herself came to North America as a refugee from Burundi, which she described as sharing a troubled, ongoing history of genocide and civil war with its neighbouring country of Rwanda. She learned French living in the United States as a refugee, and came to Canada to be with her husband. Nizigama’s mother came to Canada seven years ago, and Nizigama said getting her proper healthcare has been difficult.
“My mother tends to be stoic, so she will hide if she has pain somewhere, you have to dig it out of her.”
In Nizigama’s experience, speaking French might not be enough if healthcare providers lack the cultural understanding to look for verbal cues and other nuances to delve deep into their patients’ needs. However, she added there is a shortage of French-speaking or bilingual healthcare providers, and there are also only a few colleges and universities that offer medical programs in French.
In 2021, the Université de l’Ontario français opened up in downtown Toronto, which Nizigama said is the result of 50 years of advocacy for a French university. She added the university is one of the Centre’s newest partners, because it has a lot of international students from West Africa and other parts of the world who are struggling to access affordable housing, healthcare, and help with immigration processes.
“It’s gonna be big,” said Nizigama, “when it takes off.”
Most francophone services are located in Toronto, although Nizigama said there is also a concentration of services in Durham and Peel, with some in Scarborough and North York as well.
She said while there is always “an element of affording” when it comes to affordable housing, even francophones who have enough funds to pay for a home struggle finding a place to live.
“For the most part it’s accessing the information in a way that can help them make decisions as to where to live, how to choose your neighbourhood, and to take other factors like francophone schools and jobs into consideration.”
Nizigama described this information as “non-existent” in French, noting newcomers who speak English can access a much larger bevy of information to help them settle in Ontario.
“We started mapping some of the existing information and there may be a couple [sources], and that’s it,” she said. “There’s usually a Facebook group and there’s this non-profit organization that tried to do something, but it’s not updated, and the information is from 2009.”
While the City of Toronto legally has to provide services in French, Nizigama said the website is all only written English, and simply has a tool to switch the information to French through Google Translate. She said it is “almost an insult.”
Her husband, Bruno Moynie, a translator and filmmaker, said some of the refugees he and Nizigama help in Toronto had walked here all the way from Brazil.
“They have the drive, of course, they’re very adamant to make it here, but some of them don’t have the education, the skill and stuff.”
He said these people need “easy tools” in either their native language or French—which is a common language—the same way information exists in English. Moynie added some tools are eventually written in Spanish and Chinese as well, but not in French sometimes.
Toronto charities that offer services in French
There are two affordable housing organizations Nizigama referred to that specifically cater to francophones. La Maison de Torontois a francophone women’s shelter, and the Centre d’Accueil Heritage is a shelter for the elderly.
There are other organizations which have partnered with the Centre Francophone. An example is Margaret’s Housing and Community Services . They help women with mental health and addiction issues, and are slowly developing bilingual services.
The fight against human trafficking
Oasis Centre de Femme is a Toronto-based non-profit that helps francophone women who have experienced human trafficking and/or sexual assault. Just as they have for addressing other issues, the Centre Francophone du Grand Toronto has partnered —or plans to engage—34 various organizations in order to better help francophones who may be victims of human trafficking.
Both the Canadian government website, and The American Department of Homeland Security offer advice on how recognize signs of human trafficking in a person, and resources on how to escape trafficking by getting help. [Text Wrapping Break]
Nizigama said schools are a common place for traffickers to lure in victims— especially for sexual exploitation — and francophones are at particular risk because language can sometimes be taken advantage of. Traffickers often bring victims into Ontario from Quebec because they will struggle to access services here, and that powerlessness keeps victims under control.[Text Wrapping Break]
She said the Centre Francophone also works with the Toronto Police, who have a human trafficking department and have acknowledged a gap in servicing francophones. Furthermore, Nizigama added her organization works with COPA National, La Maison de Toronto, Oasis Centre de Femmes, and Victim Services offices in Toronto, Durham, and Peel. [Text Wrapping Break]
In one case, a newcomer was rescued from being trafficked by a family member who was forcing them to work in a basement all day without getting enough food, sleep, hygiene, or breaks. When the trafficker tried using their victim’s identity to scam the legal systems, it revealed the truth.
“The things they said in that interview raised flags,” said Nizigama. “We were able to identify that it was a human trafficking situation.”
IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS A VICTIM OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING, PLEASE CALL THIS 24/7 HOTLINE AT 1-833-900-1010
TORONTO POLICE HAVE A HUMAN TRAFFICKING BRANCH THAT CAN BE REACHED AT 416-808-4838
SI VOUS OU QUELQU’UN QUE VOUS CONNAISSEZ ÊTES VICTIME DE LA TRAITE DE PERSONNES ET AVEZ BESOIN D’AIDE, APPELEZ CE NUMÉRO À L’ADRESSE 1-833-900-1010, 416-591-6565 ou 905-454-3332
COMMUNIQUEZ AVEC LA DIVISION DE LA TRAITE DES PERSONNES DE LA POLICE DE TORONTO À L’ADRESSE 416-808-4838
To learn more, read about The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking’s hotline here, and see the Toronto Police’s website on their Human Trafficking Enforcement Team.
The Ontario Native Women’s Association helps Indigenous victims of human trafficking.