Immigrants to Canada face myriad challenges in assimilating to their new home, language, culture and even climate. However, experts believe one of the most daunting prospects for newcomers is navigating the democratic political process — especially in the face of persistent disinformation that may convince them not to participate at all.

“Living for many years here, it is still hard for me to find what is accurate when it comes to Canadian politics,” said Emal Khan, who moved to Canada from Pakistan. “I come from a country where most politicians were corrupt.”

People didn’t believe what politicians said, Khan added. “There was too much disinformation in politics, but when I came to Canada, I saw disinformation about Canadian politics as well.”

Disinformation, or “fake news” as it sometimes is called, is false information deliberately intended to mislead people. It can be hard to discern the political, financial, psychological or social motivations of those who produce and spread it.

Khan says it is particularly hard for immigrants to familiarize themselves with Canadian politics due to a lack of guidance for newcomers on how to fact check and counter disinformation.

Nor are there strong connections between newcomers and politicians, at least not right away. And some of what immigrants read doesn’t bolster trust, he noted.

“We do hear and read different kinds of information about Canada’s politics and politicians, and we see articles on social media that some politicians here don't like us — they are anti-immigrant — and that makes us very disappointed about Canadian politicians,” he said.

Khan believes it is important for everyone to learn about Canadian democracy so they know who to trust. Without good information, some newcomers may simply opt out of the political process, he said.

Experts say education to guide newcomers to reliable sources of news and information is vital to their successful integration into Canadian society.

Immigrants to Canada face myriad challenges in assimilating to their new home, language, culture and even climate. However, experts believe one of the most daunting prospects for newcomers is navigating the democratic political process.

“Let me stress that disinformation in politics is now a universal problem. But it is particularly troubling for immigrants who are receiving fake news from their own governments and communities,” said Suanne Kelman, a journalism professor at Toronto Metropolitan University.

Kelman says the federal and provincial governments should fund organizations working with new immigrants to help guide them to reliable sources. She pointed out a few easy ways that everyone can use to check for veracity.

“I advise English-speaking audiences to check stories with and to see if mainstream media (the major newspapers and TV newscasts, for example) have picked the story up or if it only appears on a few alternate sites. I also suggest that they investigate the outlet they’re using thoroughly,” said Kelman.

Moslem Noori, president of the Iranian Canadian Congress based in Toronto, agrees newcomers are more vulnerable to disinformation about Canadian politics.

“The newcomers we work with often call us and talk about news or information they heard about Canadian politics [that] is not accurate and intentionally misleading,” he said.

Noori said his organization often brings politicians and new immigrants together for more engagement and better understanding. But funding is needed to run programs to teach new immigrants how to fact check and spot disinformation.

“Immigrants are from different countries with different political systems. Their lack of understanding of Canadian society and [our] political system make them very vulnerable to disinformation,” he said.

A statement on a federal government website says disinformation spreads online, causing harm to Canada and Canadians. It asks people to learn how to identify and fact check disinformation.

“A strong democracy relies on Canadians having access to diverse and reliable sources of news and information so that they can form opinions, hold governments and individuals to account and participate in public debate,” the website reads.

To address the growing problem of online misinformation and disinformation, in January, the federal government announced $1.2 million in funding for 16 research projects.

“The program aims to support democracy and social cohesion in Canada by enhancing and/or supporting efforts to counter online disinformation and other online harms and threats,” the announcement said.

This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.

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I think the headline needs a correction. Where it says "Newcomers" it should probably read "Conservatives".