History of the Association
Collaboration in the early years
The Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program (PSRP) was established in 1978 and initially focused on responding to the “Boat Crisis” by sponsoring refugees from Viet Nam. A number of national churches were particularly active in private sponsorship in these early years. They worked with each other in various committees and advocacy networks such as the Inter-Church Committee for Latin America and the Inter-Church Committee for Refugees. They also worked effectively with the Canadian government. They negotiated the government’s agreement with the sponsorship principles of “additionality” and “named sponsorship”. Churches too were instrumental in encouraging the identification of and response to the need for refugee resettlement from many other countries. At this time, the “sponsorship community” was effective in developing local networks for collaboration toward the common goal of sponsoring refugees; however they struggled to establish a national network or organization.
Sponsorship advocacy in early years
The inter-church community also encouraged sponsors and/or refugee activists to become involved in the Standing Conference of Canadian Organizations Concerned for Refugees which, within a few years of meeting, became the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR). The CCR offered a place for sponsors to meet outside their local community and to form a broader secular refugee network. This network strengthened the sponsors who attended through mutual sharing and support. More importantly, it provided a mechanism for advocating to government on behalf of the sponsorship program. Unfortunately, the network never did include all sponsors.
The NGO/Government Committee on the Private Sponsorship of Refugees – (established in1994)
Private sponsors involved in the CCR supported a resolution by CCR calling for government to address the long standing issues in the PSRP. The establishment of the NGO/Government Committee was a result of this CCR resolution. It was established to provide a place for sponsors and the government to discuss issues related to the PSRP and to work on solutions.
Electing SAH representatives
In order to be open and inclusive of all sponsors, an election process was established for electing six sponsoring organizations to represent the sponsoring community on the NGO/Government Committee. At that time, communication with all sponsors across the country was not as quick as it is today. In those years technology was simpler, sponsors were limited to the ‘old fashioned’ telephone, mail (meaning ‘snail mail’), and fax machine to communicate, but it was a first step in creating a national voice for sponsors.
Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) – (1997)
In 1997 with the second sponsorship agreement in place, the term, ‘Sponsorship Agreement Holder’, came into effect. Prior to this time organizations had Master Agreements with the government and were referred to as sponsors.
Establishment of the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program (RSTP) – (1998)
The biggest boost to creating a national Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) network was the establishment of the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program (RSTP). The work of the RSTP in developing training resources and materials for all SAHs and in providing training workshops helped to build cohesion and consistency of sponsorship across the country. The key benefit of RSTP, however, was the organization of an annual national forum or conference to which SAHs were given financial assistance to attend. This event gave SAHs the opportunity to meet other SAHs from across the country on a regular basis and to form a network. These annual events gave SAHs a venue to share their needs, interests and concerns and inspired a greater sense of community.
First discussions of forming a SAH association began in the year 2000, a couple of years after SAHs were able to connect with all the other SAHs at the annual SAH forums. A few SAHs did some initial research around legalities of incorporation and shared this with the community. Although collaboration is a strong value and practice among SAHs, SAH autonomy is also a strong value. The concern over loss of autonomy by forming an association caused a number of active SAHs to back away from the idea and no action was taken towards association.
The second time discussions of forming a SAH association arose was in 2007 when the contract holder for RSTP changed and it became a training agency responsible to the government, rather than an agency working for and responsible to the SAH community. This left a gap in communications between the elected SAH representatives and the broader SAH community and limited the sharing of information about the needs/concerns/ interests of the SAH community. A committee was formed to explore formation of an Association, but once again, it did not result in any move towards association.
Support from the Immigration Minister to form an Association – 2009 and 2010
In December 2009, a landmark meeting took place in Windsor, Ontario. With funding support from the Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenney, SAHs met to resolve how to work together and to work with the government. The conclusion of that conference was that SAHs agreed to take a collaborative approach to working together and with the government. They also agreed to revisit the idea of a SAH association which could give them a stronger voice. A task force of ten volunteers was identified and began work on the charter and by-laws for the Association.
In May 2010 the Charter was presented at the annual SAH conference. The Charter was accepted in principle, unanimously. Over the summer and fall of 2010 the suggested revisions were included in the Charter and incorporation requirements researched. The final document was distributed to all SAHs in January 2011. Regional workshops to present and explain the Charter were carried out across Canada between January and March 2011. Feedback received from the workshops was reviewed by the SAH Association task force which resulted in changes to the Charter. The final Charter was distributed to the SAH community in March 2011 and the SAH Association was incorporated May 11, 2011.
The Association Charter broadened the role of the elected SAH representatives. They became the the SAH Council for the SAH Association. The SAH Council carries out the business of the SAH Association between meetings of the members. As well, the SAH Council represents SAHs on the NGO-Government Committee. The officers of the SAH Council are the Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary and Treasurer.