Montreal City Mission (MCM) recognizes that oppression is embedded in all aspects of our society. As an organization, we strive to value, and not only tolerate, differences in gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, ability, class, age and opinion. Within an ever-growing climate of fear and intolerance, we hold fast to the belief that every human being has the fundamental rights of respect, dignity and freedom. We look to a policy statement on anti-oppressive practice (AOP), such as this, to promote an environment of diversity and inclusion and establish structures to elucidate, respond to and eventually eradicate discrimination throughout all facets of our organization.
In working with refugees, it is most apparent that the right to live out all parts of an identity without threat of persecution is a privilege that we in Canada often take for granted. However lucky we feel in our relatively safe and open-minded society, discrimination was a founding tenet of our social, economic, educational, and cultural structures of power. Our advances towards a culture of diversity are indebted to the resistance of oppressed peoples throughout our history as a nation, such as Native and Inuit peoples, immigrants and refugees, the mentally and physically challenged as well as the poor and women, to name a few. To work towards an anti-oppressive practice we believe tribute must be paid to past struggles and sacrifices while we advocate and practice new ways of inclusion.
In its years of existence as an organization, MCM has grown and evolved from a traditional charity model to embracing one of empowerment. We are constantly seeking ways to reflect these changes in our practices. Our desire to implement an AOP policy has its roots in our partnership with the department of social work at the University of Swansea in Wales. Welsh students have been doing field placements at MCM since 1998, allowing us to integrate their anti-discriminatory practice-based theoretical framework into the MCM fieldwork model. AOP encompasses what MCM has been striving for in creating and maintaining a workplace in which students and staff are expected to question and challenge personal assumptions, to be aware of power relations and how they play out in the workplace context and to develop and put into practice professional boundaries. MCM has developed tools to encourage personal and collective transformation, namely through our policies on collegiality and interpersonal dynamics in the work environment. The collegiality policy articulates how MCM workers are empowered “to develop leadership, take initiative and create a vision of how structures can be more inclusive and more liberating”. In promoting an environment of open communication where positive confrontation becomes a “norm”, MCM endeavors to support a healthy organizational culture where action and reflection are in constant evolution.
In keeping with our growth and spirit of reevaluation and reinvention as an organization, MCM looks to a policy document on AOP to further clarify our modes and ideals of practice. If a situation arises in which discrimination plays a role, irrespective of the kind, we hope to provide those involved with concrete tools in an effort to explore and expand upon progressive practices. In clearly communicating and practicing our policies/politics, we hope to provide a framework in which inquiry and learning is ongoing and dynamic. MCM’s policies are informed and shaped by the narratives of our board, staff, students, community members, volunteers and residents of the transition apartment for newly arrived refugees, Project Refuge. As a social justice outreach ministry of the United Church of Canada, MCM also draws on a strong tradition of anti-oppressive policy that has been developed to combat exclusion of women, native people, visible minorities and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and two-spirited peoples. Input and new ideas are always welcome at MCM, especially when they challenge us on our assumptions and biases. In learning from our past experiences and taking into consideration the suggestions of board members, staff, students and residents, past and current, along with incorporating appropriate community resources, we see the need for a policy statement on AOP to ensure and concretize progressive community practice. By foreseeing potential problems or areas of conflict, we are fostering a prescriptive and preventative rather than reactive method of practice.
Statement of issue:
Discrimination is an act of differential treatment toward a group or an individual as a member of a group that usually creates a disadvantage for that individual or group. Whether rooted in racial, gender, sexual, religious, or class differences, to name only a few, discrimination functions to disempower those who do not fit into what mainstream or dominant culture maintains as the “norm”. In Canadian society dominant culture tends to be white, English-speaking, middle to upper-class, able-bodied, heterosexual and Christian. Those who do not fit into these categories are disadvantaged in that their experiences as members of our society are marked by discrimination. Instead of treatment based on individual merit or specific circumstances, prejudice and bias act as barriers to their full inclusion and integration in society.
Refugees and immigrants are populations vulnerable to discrimination in Canadian society. As people from diverse backgrounds who have often already experienced various forms of persecution, poverty and disenfranchisement, they may face further oppression upon arrival in Canada and are often at risk of isolation. The experiences of migration/immigration, adaptation and integration are all affected by discrimination. Canadian legislation and policies, social institutions, and cultural norms have a tragic legacy of racism and xenophobia. In acknowledging that discrimination is systemic and embedded in our social structures, MCM recognizes our responsibility to expose and challenge the ways in which forms of discrimination continue to subsist and shape our lives and our world. This is accomplished through MCM program areas (Refugees, Housing, Inner City Summer Day Camp, Student Internships, Outreach, Advocacy and Accompaniment Clinic and new program areas), as well as through collaboration with networks and coalitions that aim to bring about structural change. In our contact and work with refugees and immigrants, MCM is particularly reminded of the experiences and pain of those who live with the everyday threat of discrimination. From accessing social services, health care, education and housing, to the difficult and often degrading process of claiming refugee or immigrant status, it is apparent that there is far to go in attaining equality of opportunity, access and participation in Canadian society.
Statement of goal:
MCM is an organization committed to the elimination of all forms of discrimination whether they manifest in the systems within which we function, in the lives of those we seek to empower or in our own practices as community workers.
Statement of objectives:
MCM is committed to fostering an anti-discriminatory practice by:
Following the philosophy of empowerment in working alongside people struggling against poverty and social exclusion in order to access the appropriate resources and effect change both on the personal and structural levels
Providing clear guidelines to all staff, students and board members through our code of ethics and policies on collegiality, interpersonal dynamics, and anti-oppressive practice
Mobilizing participation and encouraging project collaboration on social justice problems in different community networks and coalitions
Seeking permanent solutions to the different socio-economic problems, whether they affect refugees, the homeless, low-income families, single people, and/or youth
Establishing working relationships with church groups, government agencies, community organizations and the business milieu in order to access resources, challenge existing barriers and influence progressive policy change
Sharing access to available resources and disseminating information in an effort to sensitize and politicize Canadians to issues of discrimination and the effect on marginalized populations.
MCM follows a collegial working model, with a philosophy and practice of “mutual empowerment with everyone valued for his/her diversity and resources and equally responsible for the collective well-being of the team” (MCM Collegiality Policy, 1999). All staff, students, volunteers and board members are expected to engage themselves in the ongoing process of establishing and maintaining collegial working relations. The MCM Collegiality Policy clearly defines two levels, (inter) personal and structural, at which efforts need to be made in order to effect change. It is at these levels where MCM situates a ‘diversity lens’ in order to foster a spirit of inclusiveness and growth in anti-discriminatory practices.
At the (inter) personal level, the ways in which collegiality is promoted through self-awareness and communication skills (active listening, positive confrontation, conflict resolution, etc…) are the sites at which anti-oppressive tools are practiced. For example, social work students are required upon engagement in their role to write desired learning goals and explore areas of growth. They are encouraged to broaden their focus from the traditional skill-based social work learning goals to include and value personal development. This, in turn, supports the process of students exploring their own assumptions and biases that act as barriers to anti-oppressive practice. Through creating structures that engage and encourage MCM staff, students and volunteers in the ongoing personal work of understanding privilege, power and interpersonal dynamics, MCM acknowledges that anti-oppressive practice begins with understanding ourselves.
Through exploring the potential for oppressive practices within the organizational structure, as well as learning from past mistakes, MCM espouses preventative measures to avoid or eliminate discrimination. At the structural level, the Collegiality Policy (MCM, 1999) states, “efforts should be made to have fair and equitable organizational practices that facilitate participation by all” using methods such as collective decision-making, inclusive meetings, and staff participation on board. Through empowering and implicating staff, students and volunteers in the management and direction of the organization, MCM envisions a culture of diversity and openness. This vision includes one in which access to information, services, rights and power are shared amongst workers, students, volunteers, residents and others in contact with the organization. Robert Mullaly (1993) suggests that small-scale goals of making agencies more democratic, of making knowledge more accessible to “clients” as well as “workers”, for example, are stepping stones for larger scale endeavours such as changing people’s consciousness on a massive scale. As Mullaly (p.200) eloquently writes, “we need a vision of a humanized society to give us direction in our efforts.” Keeping with a future vision of global social change, MCM believes that in order to adopt and advance anti-discriminatory practice, an organization must be democratic, diverse and accountable to all involved.
Anti-oppressive practice is already active in the choice of program areas at MCM. From providing temporary shelter and services for refugees, to fostering innovative non-profit housing projects, to offering a dynamic and cost-efficient Inner City Summer Day Camp (ICSDC), to name just a few, MCM programs demonstrate the organization’s dedication to working alongside marginalized people. As explained in the booklet detailing MCM’s evolution (Story of MCM Vol.3, 25 Years of Empowerment Ministry 1978-2003), viewing empowerment through a social justice lens entails “working towards the modification of structural conditions in order to reallocate power and provide more opportunities to people who are traditionally excluded and marginalized”. MCM’s evolving program areas are aimed to respond to unmet needs in our social services and challenge discrimination and inequalities in our social structures. But rather than acting as a community social service organization and simply filling in the gaps, MCM’s intent is to provide alternatives that resist and transform discriminatory systems. The diverse program areas at MCM reflect the mission statement, “to enable the journey from exclusion to participation”, which MCM maintains will only be achieved through the eradication of discrimination.
The decision to start a refugee program in the early nineties evolved from MCM’s past work with the homeless and a realization that refugees were a vulnerable and isolated population with little access to rights and social services. Throughout the years of running Project Refuge and advocating for refugee rights, MCM staff and students have learned valuable lessons from working with the many refugees who have passed through the organization. MCM policies and practices are fed and shaped by these experiences, such as the Interpersonal Dynamics Policy on issues of professional boundaries, as well as by an ever-present mission of social justice. Staff, students and volunteers are expected to be aware of, comfortable with and actively integrating ethno-cultural sensitivity into their work. MCM encourages and facilitates educating on racial privilege, contextualizing global inequalities, and exposing institutionalized racism in refugee and immigration policies. These are a few of the tools, along with a vast network of community resources, MCM uses to promote an environment free of discrimination where diversity is integrated and valued.