News

New book on ACORN Canada and global organizing

The last 6 years have been and exciting ride for all of us who've been lucky enough to be a part of ACORN Canada’s rapid growth. Our story over this time has been one of ordinary people trying to make extraordinary change in the face of daunting odds.

This is a story that’s not always captured well in the mainstream media, it’s a story that often requires a longer look to put into it’s proper perspective.

Global Grassroots is a compilation of essays from around the world that puts the work of ACORN Canada - including pivotal campaigns around living wages & affordable housing - into a global context on how community organizing is changing the world.

As you know, this story can sometimes be lost in the coverage of this rally or that protest - or in the daily grind of people’s busy lives - but it’s an important story and one we want to share with you.

Click to order a copy of global grassroots today >>

Burnaby puts Western Union on notice

Last month Burnaby ACORN continued to take the leadership role in the campaign to win regulation of remittance providers like Western Union.  Lead by dynamic leaders from Burnaby, we’ve put Western Union and regulators on notice that working families are demanding remittance justice.

BC ACORN rallied at a prominent Burnaby Western Union location that was covered by The Tyee, Burnaby Now, Epoch Times, the CBC and BC Local News where members called on Western Union CEO Hikmet Ersek to meet with ACORN Canada.

 

Toronto ACORN mobilizes to stop the cuts

Last month Toronto ACORN members stood up for affordable housing, childcare & environmental stewardship against proposed cuts from the Mayor’s office.  The proposed cuts stem from the core service review performed by KPMG at the request of the Mayor’s office. That review identified a number of city services that Toronto ACORN members depend for possibly sweeping cuts.
With these cuts as a backdrop, members responded with deputations to four different committees over two weeks - speaking passionately to the issues and the effects the cuts would have on working family communities.  Toronto ACORN will continue to be active in the fight to protect services needed by the city's most vulnerable as we struggle through this battle at city hall.

 

Vancouver Sun: High fees cut into remittances sent to homelands

In Pascal Apuwa's global village, parts of the neighbourhood aren't too friendly.

The Burnaby resident immigrated to Canada in 2006 and regularly transfers money back to his relatives in drought-ravaged western Kenya. But the 20-per-cent-plus fees he pays to transfer agents are cutting into Apuwa's ability to support his family.

Read the full story here.

 

 

Op-Ed: Canadian government allowing migrant worker ripoffs on remittances

*Below is an op-ed that has been submitted to a number of Canadian newspapers from ACORN Canada & ACORN International*

The Canadian government can no longer afford to be apathetic towards the plight of migrant workers' remittances when they are behind a guest-worker program that accepts candidates based on low levels of education and strong family ties. With such criteria it is unimaginable that the government would be unaware of the role of remittances in the lives of these workers’ families.

Every year, 20,000 workers from Mexico and the Caribbean, mostly men, make the journey to work in Canada’s agricultural sector, largely in southern Ontario and British Columbia. These migrant workers are brought to Canada through the government sponsored Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) for up to eight months. The program describes its function as matching “workers from Mexico and the Caribbean countries with Canadian farmers who need temporary support during planting and harvesting seasons, when qualified Canadians or permanent residents are not available.”

Toronto Star: ACORN Canada urges cap on remittance fees

Rassel Mohammad pays a hefty price to help out his two widowed aunts and six school-age cousins in Bangladesh.

Once every three months, the Toronto man strolls into the Western Union outlet in his neighbourhood Money Mart to wire money to relatives — on top of supporting his mother, wife and four-month-old daughter here in Canada.

He sends $100 each time, but also ends up paying an $11 fee. Western Union’s fee rises to $17 if he sends the same amount using his cellphone.

“It’d be nice if they can keep the fee lower,” said Mohammad, 32, a warehouse shipping clerk.

By far the best-known remittance service for its reach around the world, Western Union is the target of a campaign launched recently by ACORN Canada, an advocacy group for low-income families.

“Many of our members are directly affected by the exorbitant fees banks and other financial institutions are charging for money transfers,” said ACORN [Canada] president Kay Bisnath. The group is petitioning Western Union to cap its remittance rate at 5 per cent.

Bisnath said the rate is recommended by the World Bank in light of a $325 billion yearly cash flow — $7.5 billion in Canada alone — from 215 million migrants sending money to family members in developing countries.

580 CFRA: Bylaw Enforcing Laws at Heron Gate Residence: Mayor

Mayor Jim Watson says Bylaw Services is now "proactively" monitoring and enforcing property standards at Heron Gate residence.

Members of the [Ottawa] ACORN Heron Gate tenant group called on the Mayor to get involved to ensure property standard bylaws are enforced at the Alta Vista property.

The group cites rotting wood, mould and pest infestation as among the issues that are ignored by Transglobe Property management.

In a statement to CFRA News, Watson says Bylaw will take a "zero tolerance approach" and will conduct monthly meetings with all stakeholders to ensure units are repaired as required.

Watson has contacted the Mississauga company and indicated he expects them to maintain the building to property standards.

Original article available at: http://www.cfra.com/?cat=1&nid=81052

Ottawa Metro: Mayor pledges to aid Heron Gate

Mayor Jim Watson is frustrated that the city is spending time and effort on maintenance problems in the Heron Gate housing complex and says he will personally intervene to resolve the situation.

Tenants have been complaining for months about outstanding work orders to fix problems such as mouldy basement walls, vermin and garbage not being picked up.

“I have sympathies for the residents who have had some real challenges with the maintenance and cleanliness,” Watson said.

Watson is arranging a meeting in early September with property owner Transglobe Property Management Services, Ottawa ACORN and the Heron Gate community association.

Ottawa ACORN held a press conference yesterday with about 25 tenants to make a public plea to the mayor to enforce city bylaws, which they claim are being violated by Transglobe.

“Things have deteriorated over the years, but especially in the last four years since Transglobe took it on,” said Philip Rosen, a Heron Gate resident of 31 years.

Ottawa Citizen: Watson wants Heron Gate Property Properly Managed

OTTAWA — Mayor Jim Watson is putting pressure on landlord TransGlobe to address the shoddy state of its Heron Gate Village properties, scheduling a meeting with tenants and management for early September.

“We’ll get everything ironed out with property standards in one room at one time and try and resolve this. Because it’s frustrating when I see pictures of the condition of some of the units,” Watson said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon. “Hopefully that will be a catalyst for the landlord to act more responsibly.”

Tenants who live in the Heron Gate Village complex of townhouses and apartments continued their campaign to improve the condition of their units Monday morning, calling on Watson and the City of Ottawa to enforce bylaws and require TransGlobe, the company that owns the buildings, to live up to its obligations as landlord. On July 26, about 100 tenants marched through the complex, carrying posters with pictures of mould, garbage and flood damage and demanding TransGlobe complete outstanding repairs.

At a press conference at the Heron Road Community Centre organized by the tenants’ rights organization ACORN [Canada], residents said little has changed since the demonstration. Abdullahi Ali, who said he went without heat or hot water for a week this winter, said the city needs to step up penalties for property standards violations if TransGlobe won’t comply on its own.

580 CFRA: Group calls for bylaw enforcement

 

Mayor Jim Watson is being urged to enforce City bylaws around maintenance and standards of apartment buildings.

The Ottawa ACORN Herongate Tenants will hold a media conference on Monday to continue to fight for improved conditions at their apartment complexes.

The group claims Herongate had the most bylaw calls in 2009 for housing complaints.

ACORN Herongate Tenants say a meeting with management of the apartment building to discuss the situation was cancelled earlier this summer.

Original article available at: http://www.cfra.com/?cat=1&nid=80970

Standard Freeholder: Finding allies for ODSP fight

OTTAWA — A lone wolf who has been fighting the Ontario government on his own over claims of discrimination now has an ally.

'Crazy' Dave Thomasson believes his rights — and those of thousands more — are being violated by the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

But his efforts to have ODSP regulations changed in court were foiled by the provincial government.

Now Thomasson has plunked down $10 to join ACORN Ottawa, which organized a lobbying effort this week to influence the province's social assistance review commission.

"ACORN strongly supports and agrees with my position with the ODSP, and they are willing to bring it to the public in Ottawa (at the commission's hearings)," Thomasson said.

ACORN converted the gist of Thomasson's claims onto a flyer, which is being distributed to participants at the hearings.

In the flyer, ACORN has adopted Thomasson's challenge to the provincial government: "Prove Me Wrong, McGuinty Can't" which is accompanied by a $1,000 prize for anyone who proves the ODSP complies with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It's been 1,640 days since Thomasson issued his challenge.

Burnaby Now: Fees hit families in Africa

As a community social services student at Douglas College, Burnaby resident Pascal Apuwa doesn't have a lot of extra money to throw around.

The little extra he does have, he sends home to his family in Korogocho, Kenya.

But the fees on remittances - money transferred from someone in one country to another - are cutting into the amount his family receives, he said.

"When I send money back home, I want it to go to helping the people," Apuwa said in a phone interview.

Apuwa headed a demonstration by Acorn Canada on July 27 outside the Money Mart at 7088 Kingsway, to protest the fees that Western Union charges on sending remittances overseas.

Money Mart acts as an agent for Western Union. The group presented a letter for Western Union's CEO to the agent there, Apuwa said.

 

Petition: Western Union, Cut Your Rates

Many of you may remember ACORN Canada’s first national campaign: Predatory Payday Lending - the loan sharks that charged exorbitant rates and used deceptive pricing to rip off working families.

When we first started looking into Western Union and other Remittance providers we were struck by the similarities to payday lenders; shady storefront operations, predatory fee structures, and a lack of consumer protection - and we were right, they're just as bad.

Don’t just take it from me, Pascal Apuwa, a leading member from Metro Vancouver who uses Western Union to send money to his family in Nairobi, Kenya, has this to say:

“I send whatever I can afford to my friends and family back home – and for every dollar I send Western Union gets 20 cents.  I send $100 dollars to help feed people I love, and this massive company keeps $20. That’s wrong, and they need to lower their charges immediately.”

That’s why we’re calling on Western Union to cap their charges at 5% - the amount recommended by the World Bank.  We’re collecting signatures from folks across Canada who support this campaign and if we reach 5,000 we’ll ship them to Western Union CEO Hikmet Ersek’s office in suburban Colorado.

Click to Sign the Petition >>

 

Epoch Times: Money Transfer Companies Soaking Immigrants

New Canadians and temporary foreign workers who send money to family members back in their home countries are being charged exorbitant transfer service fees, says a national non-profit that representslow- and moderate-income families.

Pascal Apuwa, a spokesperson for ACORN Canada, says fees levied on remittance payments—the moneyimmigrants send to family members in their country of origin—by moneytransfer organizations such as Western Union are as high as 20–25 percent.

“For every dollar I send, Western Union gets 20 cents,” Apuwa says, regarding his own experience in sending money to family in a rural village in Kenya.

“Western Union is in the small towns and rural areas, but banks are only found in the big cities. My mom is not in the city, she is in a rural area, so that’s why I have to use Western Union.”

In addition, transfer service companies sometimes charge hidden fees and fail to pay full value for exchange rates to poverty-stricken relatives collecting the funds, says Apuwa, a Canadian citizen.

 

Your Ottawa Region: Vermin, mould is just the tip of the iceberg: Heron Gate tenants

Waving posters featuring dead mice and mould found in their apartments, Heron Gate-area residents shouted slogans like “don’t move, make your landlord improve” as they marched down Baycrest Drive to protest what they say is landlord negligence.

“My cat brought me a mouse from the basement yesterday. We’ve got bugs. We can only do so much. We don’t want to live like that. We pay a lot,” said Heron Gate-area resident Jennifer Macwaters, who lives in a three-bedroom apartment with her husband and two young children. “We want things fixed. Our parks are disgusting, (the landlords) don’t take care of the property and there’s garbage everywhere.”

Macwaters was one of roughly 50 people, including mothers and their children, who showed up for a rally hosted by Ottawa ACORN Heron Gate Tenants

Ottawa ACORN is a branch of ACORN Canada, an independent national organization of low and moderate income families.

 

Ottawa Metro: Clean this place up, Heron Gate residents demand

About 50 angry Heron Gate tenants and members of Ottawa ACORN rallied outside their homes yesterday to say they are fed up with garbage not being picked up, mould growing on their walls and rats running wild. But it was unclear what action might be taken or what the property manager intends to do about it.

TransGlobe Property Management Services, which owns the Heron Gate rental complex, took over direct control of managing the property just four weeks ago, after contracting it out for years, a spokesman said. “I don’t know what happened over the last several months or years in that building and the work of the last management firm that was in there,” spokesman Danny Roth said.

 

BC Local News: ACORN Canada calls for cuts in money transfer fees

Since coming to Canada as a refugee in 2006, Pascal Apuwa has been sending money back home to his mother and sister in Kenya.

He sends what he can every month or two, as much as $300 when he was working, to $100 or $60 now that he's a student, all the while knowing the money helped put food on the table for his family.

Each time the Burnaby resident pays what he is told to by Western Union, which operates out of a Money Mart on Kingsway near Edmonds Street.

But after learning at an Acorn Canada meeting that the company takes a significant share of the money through service charges and unfavourable exchange rates, he's fighting back.

Apuwa, 30, led a protest at the Western Union office Wednesday to raise awareness of the issue.

The Tyee: Canadian immigrants getting fleeced by money transfer services

Canadian residents who use commercial money transfer services to send funds to family members back home are paying unreasonably high fees, says a non-profit that represents low-income families.

According to ACORN Canada spokesperson Pascal Apuwa, fees levied on international money transfers can be as high as 20 to 25 per cent.

"We are demanding that these agencies reduce their charges and we are asking the government to regulate them," says Apuwa.

According to a spokesperson for the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, there are currently no federal regulations on money transfer fees.

Remittance payments, the term used to describe money that foreign workers send back to their countries of origin, are not only vitally important for the individuals who receive them, says Apuwa, but also constitute a significant flow of funds to developing countries around the world.

Ottawa Citizen: Heron Gate tenants protest troubled living conditions

Jennifer Macwaters has had it with the bugs, mould, broken fridge and flood-prone basement in her Heron Gate townhouse.

“I’ve got two young children living here. I can’t have them living in that. That was supposed to be their play room down in that basement,” said Macwaters. “You ask them to do something, it will take them weeks, months to fix things.”

So when she got a flyer in her mailbox about a neighbourhood meeting organized by ACORN, an advocacy group for low- and middle-income tenants, the 27-year-old decided to put her free time from her maternity leave to work. Soon, she was handing out flyers of her own, inviting her neighbours in the sprawling Heron Gate Village complex of apartment buildings and townhouses to gather Tuesday morning and tell their landlord, TransGlobe Property Management, what they think about the poor state of repair.

Press Release: Western Union and Money Mart’s money transfer fees take 20% of money sent to drought-ravaged East Africa

For immediate release

New Canadians, temporary foreign workers, and others struggling to support loved ones abroad are fed up with the high cost of remittances and money transfers.

The ongoing famine in Somalia, and devastating drought in neighbouring Kenya has one person especially upset.  For Pascal Apuwa - a leader in the national campaign for Remittance Justice – these twin crises’s have made the call for reducing remittance rates ever more urgent.

“Like many new Canadians I send whatever I can afford to send back to my friends and family back in East Africa – and for every dollar I send Western Union gets 20 cents.  I send 100 dollars to help feed people I love, and a massive company keeps $20. That’s wrong, and they need to lower their charges immediately. At this point, because of the drought, that money they are taking from my pocket could save someone’s life!” Pascal Apuwa from Burnaby, BC explains.

CBC Ottawa: Heron Gate residents protest squalid conditions

Dozens living in squalour at one of Ottawa's most complained-about residential complexes protested what they called deplorable living conditions on Tuesday.

The tenants of several apartments at Heron Gate are calling for the property management firm, TransGlobe, to improve their living conditions. They've previously complained about infestations of vermin, mould, and a lack of proper building maintenance.

"It's just completely disgusting," said tenant Jennifer Macwaters. "It smells awful and it's unsafe for me, my kids. It affects all of us."

Erica Marx, who is with the local advocacy group ACORN, organized the action on Tuesday. She said a lamppost in the common area behind her home collapsed last year and one of her children, as well as another child, both received electric shocks from the post while playing outside.

TransGlobe, based in Mississauga, Ont., eventually cut the wires.

KW Record: Migrants’ money channels are a murky world

There is no paper trail. There is no oversight. There are no clear rules. But the cash flow is staggering: roughly $200 billion a year.

This amount, sent home by immigrants and migrant workers through back channels, dwarfs global foreign aid. Canada’s share — approximately $7.5 billion a year — is more than double the country’s official development assistance.

Although these hand-to-hand remittances do a tremendous amount of good in poor countries, they pose serious risks for both senders and governments.

Immigrants have no guarantee their earnings will actually reach their families. The money could be pocketed by greedy middlemen, stolen enroute or whittled down by bribes to corrupt local officials.

Financial authorities have no knowing whether this informal financial system is being used by drug dealers to launder dirty money or terrorist groups to finance international operations. It certainly has the potential to do both.

Inside Toronto: Education rally set for Sunday in Scarborough

Teachers and members of the advocacy group ACORN Canada say they will rally in Scarborough this Sunday to "preserve and enhance the learning environment of children in Toronto's public schools."

The event - including a free barbecue to which the public is welcome - happens at 2 p.m. on July 24 in Albert Campbell Square, following a meeting of elementary teachers at Scarborough Civic Centre.

There will be speakers from ACORN and other groups.

The province's funding formula for elementary schools has forced some to close their libraries and parents are forced to raise money to fill the gap, Natalie Hundt of ACORN said in a statement this week.

"Rich communities are obviously more equipped to do this than low-income communities, creating a growing gap in achievement," she said.

Martin Long, president of the elementary teachers of Toronto, said to reach a higher standard schools will need smaller classes, more specialist teachers and more resources for special needs students.

The square is located between the Scarborough Civic Centre, at 150 Borough Dr., and Scarborough Town Centre.

Original article availale at: http://www.insidetoronto.com/community/education/article/1047022--education-rally-set-for-sunday-in-scarborough

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