Staff at the Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society office in Williams Lake were shocked to learn last Friday their office is permanently closing at the end of March.
“We are a little shaken up,” said settlement practitioner Sharon Taylor Monday. “We found out during a phone call from the acting executive director in Prince George.”
Taylor said the action was taken with no consultation with the local staff or community and that no board member from IMSS has been in contact with the Williams Lake staff to explain the closure.
When contacted Monday, IMSS acting executive director Sharon Pannu of Prince George told the Tribune the office is being closed because of funding constraints.
“Our funding from the federal government has been cut down,” Pannu said, but noted she could not disclose by how much. “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.
Taylor said there are two full-time and two part-time employees in the Williams Lake office.
In 2016-2017, the Williams Lake Branch has helped more than 100 local residents achieve citizenship, complete immigration forms, apply for permanent resident status, and navigate the Immigrant, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada system, Taylor said.
During the year, Taylor and the staff have seen 30 residents participate in language classes to improve their English in order to find employment, or integrate more completely into life in Canada. Even the local office’s childcare facility allows families to come to class with greater comfort, and has helped nine children ages 18 months to five years to make friends, learn more English, and become reading ready, she added.
“People from Bella Coola to Horsefly, from Lac La Hache to Quesnel have accessed services in Williams Lake, and people from all over B.C. and even across the world have been in touch through social media,” Taylor said.
Susan Nelson has instructed English classes for the society since 2010 and said the staff appreciates the support the community has shown them through the many years they have provided service.
“We hope that if they have found our services useful, they will contact federal and provincial leaders and ask that settlement and language services be maintained in the Cariboo,” Nelson said.
Pannu agreed that the office in Williams Lake is busy and said when it closes someone from Prince George will come down once a month to serve clients.
She also said her office is still in negotiations with its funder Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, noting perhaps the federal government will fund the Williams Lake office directly.
“Maybe it is time for them to be running independently,” Pannu said.