Immigrant centre cuts spark City Hall protest

About 300 people jam Toronto's City Hall to protest impending federal cuts to immigrant settlement centres.

Hundreds of people jammed Toronto's City Hall on Thursday to protest impending federal cuts to immigrant settlement centres.

The federal government plans to cut $53 million across the country in funding for agencies that help new immigrants become self-sufficient. The cuts will take effect at the end of March.

Roughly 85 per cent of the cuts — which were announced late last year — are in Ontario.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney attributed this to shifting immigration patterns.

More than 70,000 newcomers settling in the GTA will be affected by the cuts, according to Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy, who represents the riding of Parkdale-High Park.

Kennedy said the cuts disproportionately affect Toronto, where the unemployment rate for new immigrants has risen. He said the cuts were "an attack on the economic and social success of the Toronto area that depends on our ability to integrate new Canadians."

The money helped fund more than two dozen immigrant settlement centres across the Greater Toronto Area, including the Eritrean Canadian Centre and the South Asian Women's Centre.

The cuts mean Toronto's Eritrean Canadian Centre will almost certainly close its doors at the end of March. Some staff members have been asked to volunteer their time so there won't be a disruption to English language classes and other services.

It was standing-room only at City Hall as more than 300 people representing dozens of different immigrant communities crowded the main entrance.

Security guards had to divert people to council chambers as the size of the crowd threatened to exceed the fire code's allowable occupancy numbers.

Toronto Coun. Janet Davis told CBC News she will bring forward a motion asking council to formally declare its opposition to the cuts. 

With files from The Canadian Press