Saturday, January 8, 2011


The organization profied in the article is now in the spotlight as reported below, but others also lost funding, for a variety of reasons. The Federal government spends several billion dollars in immigrant settlement every year, much of it is distributed through community organizations with a varying degree of expertise, some with strong political ties. This is an inefficient system of delivery of services. The government should find ways to save the cash and concentrate on better quality of services in a technologically savvy manner. The problem also spotlights how much money settlement of those who do not speak any official languages, have no relevant education to the labour force and few marketable skills really costs, and should give us pause to consider the type of immigration and skills the economy requires to grow and fill vacant jobs.

TheSpec - SISO closes its doors again

Nicole MacIntyre
Fri Jan 7

SISO closes its doors again

The federal government is diverting refugees away from Hamilton after the city's embattled settlement organization laid off all its staff for a second time and closed its doors.

Hamilton's Settlement Integration Services Organization (SISO) is scrambling to resolve a funding dispute with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), which is taking immediate steps to ensure newcomers are taken care of by other agencies.

“This is a most unfortunate situation,” said CIC spokesperson Tracie LeBlanc. “Minimizing the impact on settlement service delivery as a result of SISO's reductions is our utmost priority at this time.”

SISO was forced to shut down Friday when the bank refused to extend its line of credit after the organization fell behind in its government funding claims. There wasn't enough money available to pay about 55 employees for the last two weeks.

Interim executive director Sandra Mlekuz notified employees on Thursday afternoon about the temporary layoffs, which took effect immediately. This is the second time employees have been laid off since October.

In a release last night, a group of former and current employees said they were “thoroughly disgusted, disillusioned and disappointed” in the board's handling of the situation. It has left many employees in a difficult position financially, they noted.

“The board needs to be held accountable for this crisis,” the employees' release stated, adding SISO's board must stop putting the blame on its funders.

SISO has been in turmoil since losing millions in government funding over concerns of financial irregularities. Its former executive director was charged with uttering death threats against staff and there is an ongoing investigation by Hamilton police and the RCMP into allegations of fraud against the government.

SISO is also months behind filing expense claims to CIC. Its September claim, which was due Oct. 10, was not received until Dec. 17, “despite repeated followup requests,” said LeBlanc. The ministry identified several discrepancies in the claim that must be clarified before SISO will receive its payment.

Without the estimated $400,000 payout, SISO has no more credit available to pay its bills, said SISO board chairperson Hussein Hamdani.

“You can only survive for so long on your savings,” he said, noting the payment covers services that were already rendered. “We've paid out … we just can't continue.”

While SISO is hopeful the matter will be resolved within a couple of weeks and staff can be recalled, CIC is already making arrangements for other agencies to pick up the organization's clients. LeBlanc said the government is working with 16 other service providers in the Hamilton area to increase their “capacity, staff and complement of settlement programs.”

She said the department's Matching Centre, which determines where refugees are placed, will divert newcomers away from Hamilton unless they have family here to live with. Refugees will be sent to other reception centres in Kitchener, Toronto, London, Windsor and Ottawa. LeBlanc said refugees will be redirected for the month of February and likely March and it could continue until June.

Hamdani characterized CIC's response as “a little premature at this point.”

Roughly 20 refugees are directed to SISO monthly, according to Mlekuz. The organization is waiting to see if its New Dawn Centre, which provides programming for refugees, will be renewed for funding in the spring. It is the only remaining federal program at SISO.

Mlekuz said she's meeting with SISO's remaining managers to see what services they can still offer during the shut down. The board agreed to maintain a skeleton staff to try to get the centre running again.

The first priority will be meeting CIC's request for additional information around the funding claims, said Mlekuz, who was hired last month. The filings were late because of the upheaval at the organization, she said.

Hamdani also pointed to the holidays as part of the problem. “It's just unfortunate timing.”

However, staff in their release questioned why the board didn't deal with the financial situation before it got to this point, arguing they “had ample time to get their ducks in a row.”

CIC says the discrepancies in the September funding claims “pertain to the hourly rates of a significant number of CIC-funded positions, both in management and on the front lines.”

Hamdani said Scotiabank told SISO it could only extend its credit line if CIC would provide a firm timeline when funding would be coming. But CIC “does not arrange for financing for service provider organizations,” said LeBlanc.

She added SISO did not notify CIC of the layoffs or closure. The department learned of the situation from the Spectator and LeBlanc said they took immediate steps to limit service disruptions.

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