OCASI - Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants

OCASI is a registered charity governed by a volunteer board of directors. Its membership is comprised of more than 230 community-based organizations in the province of Ontario, with about 60% of them in Toronto, who provide settlement and integration services to immigrants and refugees.

Our Impact Why We Exist

The Mission of OCASI is to achieve equality, access and full participation for immigrants and refugees in every aspect of Canadian life.

As a council of autonomous community-based agencies which serve the immigrant and refugee communities of Ontario, OCASI asserts the right of all persons to participate fully and equitably in the social, cultural, political and economic life of Ontario.

Our Story What We Do

History of Organization

OCASI was formed in 1978 to act as a collective voice for immigrant serving agencies and to coordinate responses to shared needs and concerns.

Accolades and Accomplishments

  • 1980-81: OCASI successfully advocated at the national level to save what known as the Immigrant Settlement and Adaptation Program (ISAP). Established 5 years earlier by the federal government, it decided to pull funding and to end its formal support of services.  OCASI’s advocacy resulted in over 6,000 letters of protest being sent to the responsible Minister.  The program was maintained and the result is the funded settlement sector that now exists.

  • The recognition and inclusion of same sex partners in immigration legislation with all rights and responsibilities (IRPA 2002), and the establishment of domestic violence as grounds for protection in Refugee legislation are both successes to which the Council contributed by working in coalition with others.

  • 2005: the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement was signed and included the largest infusion of funds from the federal government to settlement in Ontario’s history. OCASI worked closely with both the levels of government in the years prior, advocating the need for significant funding, a role for municipalities, especially the City of Toronto and mechanisms for sector (NGO) participation. Most of the demands were included in the final agreement.

  • 2007:OCASI worked closely with sector allies and the Province in the creation of the Fairness Commissioner Office

  • 2013: Toronto adopts motion to ask the province to change municpal act to allow immigrants to vote in municipal and school boards election. OCASI in coalition with City Vote and Maytree Foundation, championed motion.

  • 2012 and 2015: OCASI and its partners contributed to the development of Ontario's first Immigration Strategy (2012) and Immigration Act (2015)

  • 2016: OCASI and other stakeholders successfully advocated for the restoration of the Interim Federal Health Program. The IFHP had been scaled back in 2012. Refugees have now better access to healthcare. 

  • 2016: The introduction of Bill C-6 in order to amend Bill C-24 (the Citizenship Act) is yet another result of the  advocacy work collectively undertaken by the Council and its partners. Changes to the Citizenship Act introduced in 2014 had made it far more difficult to acquire citizenship.

Our Programs How We Do It

OCASI has a number of programs and projects including:

  • Policy Development & Government Relations: OCASI examines the impact of specific policies on newcomers, such issues of access, social inclusion & discrimination, acts as a collective voice for immigrant serving agencies & coordinates responses to shared needs and concerns.
  • Membership Services: ensures members are informed about all aspects of the organization, provides specific support in areas of admin & governance where needed, manages the administration of the membership. 
  • Research: OCASI undertakes collaborative research on issues that affect the immigrant and refugee-serving sector. 
  • Settlement.Org Website: award-winning website for newcomers to Ontario that offers a large range of info on key settlement topics
  • SettlementAtWork.org: professional development resources & news for front-line workers, program staff, managers and administrative staff.
  • Etablissement.Org Website: an information & referral French language website to help & address the needs of French-speaking newcomers (and potential newcomers) to Ontario.
  • SecteurEtablissement.Org: French-language website that aims to promote the sharing of information, resources, & knowledge among professionals who serve immigrants, refugees and newcomers.
  • New Youth.ca: web portal geared to providing accurate, timely & youth-friendly info and resources.
  • Positive Spaces Initiative: supports the immigrant & refugee serving sector to more effectively serve LGBTQ (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning) newcomers.
  • Organizational Standards Initiative: Project aims to strengthen capacity & accountability in the immigrant and refugee serving sector in Ontario through the development & implementation of voluntary organizational standards & related tools.
  • Professional Development Conferences: Offered once a year to staff from immigrant and refugee-serving agencies across Ontario to access training & learning, equipping leadership & staff with the most current information & tools to deliver innovative, effective programs.
  • Professional Education and Training Project: provides professional development & training for settlement service workers, with a view to increasing skills, knowledge & capacity to deliver client services.
  • WelcomeOntario.ca – A website that brings together trustworthy information for those helping Syrian refugees settle in Ontario.
  • LearnAtWork.ca – Online facilitated and self-directed professional development courses for settlement workers. 
  • OCASI Client Management System (OCMS) – A social enterprise that retrieves important client information and generates reports for settlement agencies.


In order to meet the needs of immigrant and refugee youth throughout the province of Ontario, in June 2008, OCASI (with the financial support of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) launched a new web portal specifically geared to providing accurate, timely and youth-friendly information and resources and establishing an online community.

NewYouth.ca was created in response to focus groups held by OCASI, showing that newcomer youth weren't accessing settlement services. The aim of the site is to bring settlement information directly to young newcomers using a variety of channels. By utilizing content that is written in clear and appropriate language, multimedia technology and online social media tools, NewYouth.ca aims to enhance accessibility of settlement services for newcomer youth while providing them with a venue to ask questions and receive accurate information and referral from qualified peers and professionals.

Funding and Program Partners

This website is funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Program Impact

The need for this website continues to grow, as this year was by far the busiest with over 90,000 visitors to the website with nearly 1/3 of the visits coming from the Toronto region.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"Unemployment rates for youth and immigrants remain high, and employers are losing out on what they have to offer the city."

"92,184 new residents in the Region represent half of all new immigrants to Ontario and one third of total immigration to Canada in 2010" (Toronto's Vital Signs, 2011)

Participant Vignette

As website we don't connect with people face-to-face but we do know we are making a difference. An example of a typical comment found on our site is: "Thank you so much for this post. I found lots of interesting information here."

School for Social Justice

The OCASI School for Social Justice (SSJ) is a participatory capacity building initiative for new and experienced change agents to strengthen the social policy analysis, community organizing, and action on social, political and economic justice capability of OCASI member agencies.

In particular, the goal of the SSJ is to strengthen capacity within the immigrant and refugee-serving sector to build a broader vision for equity and justice for all Canadians through a transformational process for sector practitioners to become empowered leaders of social change in their communities as they become stronger champions for their clients and communities as well as a resource for the Council.

Funding and Program Partners

OCASI has identified and approached some institutions that have expressed an interest in funding the SSJ, and their roles will be formalized as the project moves forward.

OCASI also brings onside non-funder partners. As part of OCASI’s Policy Committee communications group, we have worked closely with the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Labour Congress, The Colour of Poverty Coalition and others. These groups will continue to give input in the direction of SSJ and offer material and intellectual support where necessary.

Program Impact

OCASI's past advocacy work and capacity building strategies have had a significant impact on the immigrant and refugee serving sector, as well as in the lives of immigrants and refugees, creating space for them to participate in every aspect of Toronto life. 

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"Leadership is becoming gradually more diverse in key sectors in the GTA, but at the current rate, it will be 10 years before the leadership reflects the racial/ethnic diversity of the Toronto region." (Toronto's Vital Signs, 2011)

Racialized and immigrant communities are strongly represented amongst those working at immigrant and refugee serving agencies. Through the SSJ, the policy and advocacy activities organized by OCASI, and by applying what they have learned in their work, those working in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector will have the opportunity to build leadership skills and capacity. The SSJ supports and engages workers at all levels, and through them their clients, in developing and actualizing their leadership.

Participant Vignette

"OCASI gave me the ability, the strength and tools to advocate for refugee rights at a national level through the Canadian Council for Refugees, and at roundtables with senior federal decision-makers."

Loly Rico, a dynamic leader in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector, engaged with OCASI through her work with refugee women. Her knowledge of the issues, communication skills and leadership ability were strengthened through participation in OCASI-led advocacy activities, such as Refugee Rights Day.

Loly was elected to the OCASI Board and later became President. Since 2013, she has been the President of the Canadian Council for Refugees.OCASI staff worked with Loly to strengthen her natural skills and talents to become an effective advocate and voice for OCASI. In a truly equitable exchange, she educated OCASI about the issues that affect refugees, particularly women, the strategic use of personal narrative as a compelling communication tool, and demonstrated how to establish trust and build leadership among refugee women. These experiences are a model of what we hope to achieve through the SSJ.

Professional Development Conference for Settlement Workers

The OCASI Professional Development Conference provides an opportunity for staff from immigrant and refugee-serving agencies across Ontario to come together, network, share information about new initiatives, and exchange a wealth of expertise with each other in a relaxed and inspiring setting. Our sector is dynamic and always changing. This conference facilitates training and learning, equipping leadership and staff with the most current information and tools to deliver innovative, effective programs.

OCASI well knows that it is the hard work and enthusiasm of those working on the frontlines that is the foundation of the success of our sector. This conference provides the opportunity to learn from each other and strengthen our mutual connections.

Funding and Program Partners

OCASI gratefully acknowledges the financial support of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Settlement and Intergovernmental Affairs Directorate, Ontario Region.

This event is also made possible through the support of the OCASI membership and the contribution of numerous volunteers.

Program Impact

This conference delivers skills and knowledge to over 300 front-line workers per year with a majority coming from the Toronto area. These workers assist immigrants and refugees in settling and integrating into aspects of Canadian life.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"92,184 new residents in the Region represent half of all new immigrants to Ontario and one third of total immigration to Canada in 2010."

"Canada had the third-best immigrant integration policies, out of 31 countries, on the 2011 Migrant Integration Policy Index." (Toronto's Vital Signs, 2011)

Participant Vignette

"Thank you VERY MUCH for a very informative and excellently organized conference! As a relatively new worker in an immigrant community services organization, I really appreciate a chance to learn more about the work in this field and hear about the know-how, trials and successes of many different organizations in this field. Participating in the conference provided me with a very useful, enriching and inspiring." – Conference participant

"This was an exceptionally exciting conference to attend! The information I learned has already been implemented directly into my work with newcomers. I was able to network at my own pace over the span of 3 days which was refreshing! Thank you for this wonderful opportunity!" (Evaluation Form completed 2 weeks after the Conference)

What You Can Do


Activities a donation will support

Activies will support the creation of more content to cover the areas of greatest concent to newcomer youth including poverty, education and adjusting to a new culture.

Donation impact

With financial support we can continue to provide our high quality approach to online information and referral.

School for Social Justice

Activities a donation will support

In the current funding enviroment, agencies have very few resources to support the training and professional development of their staff.  Financial support will enable us to to expand the reach of this program by covering the costs of partcipating individuals (travel, training), allowing us to increase the number of individuals who are able to participate in the project.

Donation impact

With financial support, OCASI will be able to increase the number of participating individuals  in SSJ, which will have a significant positive long-term impact on the development of leadership in racialized and immigrant communities, who are very strongly represented amongst those working for immigrant and refugee serving agencies. 

Professional Development Conference for Settlement Workers

Activities a donation will support

Donations will support:

  • Travel and fees subsidies for workers from smaller agencies
  • Expanding the number of workshops provided
  • Increasing the number of participants who can attend

Donation impact

With financial support, OCASI will be able to continue training the workers that are supporting the thousands of newcomers who come to Toronto and Ontario every year.


Debbie Douglas
416.322.4950 x229
Charitable Number: 888783867RR0001

Finance & Governance


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