Williams Lake IMSS office to remain open until end of June

Williams Lake
Williams Lake's Immigrant and Settlement Services Society of Prince George office will remain open until the end of June after being told two weeks ago it would close at the end of March.
— image credit: Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

Williams Lake's Immigration and Settlement Services Society of Prince George office will remain open until the end of June 2017.

The reprieve comes two weeks after staff in Williams Lake were told the office would close at the end of March 2017, an announcement that came as a complete surprise.

When contacted by the Tribune two weeks ago, acting executive director Sharon Pannu at the Prince George office said the Williams Lake office was being closed due to funding constraints.

“Our funding from the federal government has been cut down,” Pannu said at the time. “In order for us to maintain the staffing at our main office in Prince George we have to close the Williams Lake office because this is where our main clients are.”

In the Prince George office there are 23 employees. Fifteen are full-time, Pannu confirmed.

There are two full-time and two part-time employees in the Williams Lake office.

Settlement worker Sharon Taylor of the Williams Lake office said after  local media outlets were quick to follow up on the story of the proposed closing of the Williams Lake office, local residents wrote letters, signed petitions, and contacted federal, provincial, and municipal representatives to support the need for settlement and languages services in the Cariboo region.

“The Cariboo Chilcotin region is not like Prince George or Kamloops. It has its own unique culture and needs,” Taylor said. “We are very hopeful that the federal and provincial governments will work with local people to maintain services that meet local needs.”

Taylor said the office will remain open during spring break — March 16 to 31 - but free English classes will stop and resume on lMonday, April 3.

Anyone wishing to improve their language skills is welcome to register at the office over the next few weeks.

Child minding for children ages 18 months to five years old is available during morning and afternoon classes.

Funding for settlement and language services is provided by the Federal Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, as well as the provincial ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training.

In the region, however, IMSS is not the only society to learn its federal funding has been cut.

On Wednesday, the Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy also confirmed it had its federal funding for programming it offers in 100 Mile House.

"That's three years of funding that we won't be seeing," CCPL executive director Shelley Joyner told the Tribune Wednesday. "We did receive our provincial funding, which is a small little bit that serves some of our clients."

The Immigration Refugee and Citizenship Canada funding serves permanent residents and refugees while the provincial funds serve Canadian citizens and temporary foreign workers.

"We will be providing some services as well as we can, but our funding has been cut," Joyner said. "I think we have about an eighth of the funding we had before. It's pretty bare bones."

Federal funding for similar programming in Quesnel through the New Focus Society was also cut for programs it has been offering since 2007, said executive director Pat Colbourne.

"My clients up here are devastated," Colbourne told the Tribune. "I am the sole person running the English as a Second Language and settlement services in Quesnel."

Taylor said  local non-profits are considering partnerships with Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada to ensure that newcomers to the region are fully supported in integrating quickly and easily into Canadian life.

Also, an informal group of local immigrants will be using social media to ask about the most relevant settlement and language services for people coming to this region.


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