My name is Lanciné Koulibaly. I am an agent in prevention and awareness against human trafficking at the Hamilton Niagara Community Health Centre. At the same time, I am also doing a master's degree in social work at Laurentian University. Originally I come from Côte d'Ivoire, a country located in West Africa. In 2002, unfortunately, our country was involved in a civil war and the conflict situation of the country forced my family to move to another country for our security. The country that was chosen by my parents was Guinea, a fraternal land, a land that welcomed us. We lived there from 2003 to 2016, as protected persons by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Being protected persons, we benefited from a resettlement program in Canada in 2016. During the immigration process, the agents asked us where we wanted to settle in Canada. Given that we didn’t know much about Canada, even though I had done some research here and there, but really, we didn't know much about Canada. It was a case of maximizing our chances because we were afraid to choose a city where the agents would tell us that there was no more space there, and so this made it seem like we were expanding our options. So we just said we will go anywhere the Canadian government will decide to send us and that's how the agents chose the city of Hamilton so it was a choice by default and we feel great in Hamilton. We arrived at the airport in Toronto on the evening of November 23, 2016 and from there, after all the procedures, they guided us directly to Hamilton and we’ve been here since then.
I’m going to talk a little bit about how I arrived in the country… I thought that being French-speaking, one could live anywhere in Canada because people said that Canada is a bilingual country. So, with the French that I have, since I’ve studied the language to the university level, I thought that I would be able to easily integrate anywhere I was going to be in Canada. We arrived here in Ontario, in Hamilton. Ontario is a primarily English-speaking province, and the same is true for the city of Hamilton. So we were welcomed by an English-speaking organization that helped us at the very beginning of all of our initial procedures. They accompanied us everywhere. At the very beginning I was a little lost because my English wasn't as good as it is now. So every time, even when we went to the hospital, we had to have an interpreter, and there were things we wanted to say that we weren’t able to yet. So, the first time I really felt at home was when I participated in an activity with the Francophones in Hamilton group, and when I saw people speaking in French, and I listened to them speak in French, I felt a huge sense of relief. I felt really at home hearing people speak in French because French is at the heart of my identity. It's part of my heritage since it's the language of the books I’ve read, the language of the music I listened to when I was a child, and it's the language in which I live and the language in which I express myself with pride.
As we say in French, “le rêve il est permis” - we have to dare to dream. In the future, I see myself perhaps on city council as a francophone, and from there, aim for the mayor's office in Hamilton. Why not? But first we must go step by step, so if I join the city council and from there I make contacts and then run for mayor in Hamilton, perhaps in 10 years, in 11 years… to be the first francophone to occupy the mayor's office in Hamilton, why not?
If I have to describe Hamilton in one word I would say: success.
Originally from Côte D’Ivoire, a French-speaking country on the southern coast of West Africa, Lanciné and his family had to say goodbye to everything they knew when a civil war erupted in 2002. After fleeing as a refugee to neighbouring Guinea, his chance for a new life finally came in 2016, when he and his family were chosen by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to resettle in Hamilton.
Lost and struggling initially, Lanciné’s sense of belonging improved drastically when he was connected to the local Francophone community, which allowed him to comfortably speak his first language and connect back with his cultural identity. Lanciné involved himself in the community in any way he could, participating in everything from food donation campaigns to speaking engagements that support and elevate the Francophone community in Hamilton. He is one of the city's most passionate Francophone advocates and leaders.
Serving newcomers and youth of all backgrounds, Lanciné works as a prevention and outreach agent to combat human trafficking and hopes to continue his community leadership and engagement work through a career in politics.
Hamilton is home to a longstanding Francophone (French-speaking) community. Originally rooted in migration from other regions of Canada, namely Quebec, Hamilton’s current Francophones are increasingly immigrants from Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.
- According to the 2021 Census, French is the mother tongue of 6,195 Hamiltonians. And more than 32,000 persons living in Hamilton claimed knowledge of French and English.
- The three largest source countries of Francophone immigration to Canada are Democratic Republic of the Congo, France, and Haiti.
Hamilton is designated as a Francophone service centre for Ontario, meaning that provincial services are offered in French. Federal services are also available in French. Outside of these mandated services, it can be challenging for Francophones in Hamilton to build networks and do business within their own linguistic community.
Supported by programs such as Hamilton’s Welcoming Francophone Communities Initiative, Canada is trying to increase its Francophone population outside of Quebec. The federal government has set a target of 4.4% of Francophone immigrants living outside Quebec by 2023. In terms of new arrivals, Canada met this target for the first time in 2022.
Networks and language connections are important for fostering a sense of belonging. Belonging is a subjective feeling equated with the feeling of being “at home”. For immigrants, finding people who share one’s language or culture or both can help create a sense of inclusion and stem the psychological toll taken by immigration.