Chapter 2: Social Justice in Settlement Work


Alexandru Caldararu

The concept of social justice is foundational to effective settlement work practice. Although there are many different definitions of social justice, most of them imply that people have equal rights and equitable opportunities in the communities in which they live and work. More specifically, social justice refers to the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth. This implies that such growth be not only sustainable in the short term, but that it also facilitate the use of economic resources for future generations of humans in a manner that does not place undue stress or harm on natural environments (International Forum for Social Development, 2006, p. 7).

This definition becomes all the more important for settlement workers to consider when one examines recent statistics on migration to Canada. For the period ending December 31, 2019, Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (2020) reported that over 341,000 permanent residents were welcomed into the country, over 402,000 study permits were issued, and over 404,000 temporary work permits were granted. When one considers that approximately 58% of all permanent residents were admitted as economic migrants, that more than two-thirds of prospective international students intend to permanently move to Canada upon graduation (Esses et al., 2018, p. 3), and that in 2018, 46% of new economic immigrants were former temporary foreign workers (Statistics Canada, 2020), the link between the economic rights and opportunities afforded to newcomers in their host countries and their successful integration becomes all the more apparent.

As will be discussed below, settlement workers often play an unacknowledged teaching role in the lives of the people they support, and it is of vital importance that workers approach this role with a thorough understanding of the current and historical complexities of life in a multicultural, settler colonial society.


Specific Learning Outcomes

By the end of this chapter, you should be able to

  1. Define the terms social justice, anti-oppressive practice, common sense knowledge, and the Great Canadian Myth
  2. Identify the links between the Great Canadian Myth and struggles for social justice in Canada.
  3. Discuss examples of anti-racism/anti-colonialism social movements and their relevance to social justice and effective settlement work practice
  4. Discuss the importance of deconstructing common-sense knowledge in effective settlement work practice
  5. Describe how anti-oppressive practice can help develop a social justice orientation in settlement work practice

Learning Activity 1: What Are Canadian Values?

On your own, take a few minutes to identify five or six values you associate with being “Canadian.”

  1. Where did you learn these values from?
  2. When did you learn them?
  3. How did you learn them?
  4. How do you feel when you perceive the violation of these values? Why?

Keep this list handy because a similar question will be asked of you again at the end of this chapter.

Although this activity can work well in an in-person think-pair-share format, it could also work well as an online discussion forum topic.

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