Susan Conliffe-Barker became a Canadian citizen in March 2017, but her journey to get there wasn’t easy.
On December 17, 1997, Susan came to Canada from St. Vincent and the Grenadines to visit her mother and three of her younger siblings. When her mother got sick, Susan made the tough decision to stay and help look after her, leaving her two sons back in her home country with her father. As a single mother, this was extremely hard for her.
Susan’s first six months in Canada were a struggle, as she was unable to work due to not having the proper paperwork. In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Susan had earned a diploma in Business Studies, but in Canada, this was seen as no good, forcing her to start over. She was eventually able to find work as a housekeeper.
In 2006, while on her way to work, Susan was arrested by Canadian Immigration and kept in a holding cell for four days. She vividly recounts this moment feeling like a nightmare.
Following this incident, Susan filed a refugee claim and was able to obtain a temporary work permit. One year later, in 2007, her oldest son came to Canada, joining Susan and her youngest son, who came to the country three years earlier in 2004.
On August 18, 2008, Susan was hired as a Laundry Aide at Valleyview Residence in North York. It seemed like she was finally going to have the life in Canada that she desired, but once again, adversity struck.
In January 2009, Canadian Immigration decided that Susan and her youngest son must return to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, booking them one-way flights. After over 11 years in Canada, she seemed destined to leave the country.
With her time running out in the country she had called home for the past 11 years, Susan’s common-law partner sponsored her for permanent residency. This allowed January 2009 to come and go without her or her son leaving Canada. Two and a half years later, on November 30, 2011, Susan was finally approved for permanent resident status.
In 2012, with her status no longer in doubt, Susan expanded her training and became a personal support worker. She still works at Valleyview Residence as a laundry aide and also serves as a union steward.
Susan is an extremely active union member. She’s worked on and supported such campaigns and initiatives as the Fight for 15, Sweet 16 for PSWs and Equal Pay Day. She also participated in a flash mob to raise awareness for International Women’s Day.
When working alongside her union, she uses her journey as motivation to create change. Whether it’s being a leader in her workplace, taking part in a political action or getting involved in a union event, Susan is always ready to support the causes she believes in.
“People expect things to change on their own just because they pay union dues, but it doesn’t work that way. You need to get out there, demand change, volunteer, and do whatever you can to ensure your future is better than your past.”