–19.8% in 2006 foreign born
-“Tangible” racism exists
-Greater understanding needed
DECEMBER 4, 2007 -Canada’s reputation for tolerance has come under question. According to a report publish today, “one-in-five people in Canada is foreign-born, an immigration surge unprecedented in a quarter-of-a-century and one that comes as the country grapples with acts of overt racism that fly in the face of Canada’s reputation for tolerance.”
While the “neo-racism” that infects society through subtle, systemic practices has largely been the focus of anti-racism crusaders, recent reports of assaults against Asian fisherman in Ontario and open anti-Muslim sentiment in Quebec have become the subject of inquiries and commissions.
Canada garners kudos from around the world for laws promising equality for all, but experts say the true test of a tolerant nation is in day-to-day living.
“It’s important for us to have human rights written down… but really where human rights exist is on the street,” said Marguerite Cassin, a Dalhousie University professor who has written papers on racism.
“We know we have human rights when there is an absence of (racist) incidents.”
19.8% in 2006 foreign born
The latest census figures show that 19.8 per cent of the population in 2006 was foreign born, the highest proportion since 1931 and up 13.6 per cent from five years earlier. By contrast, the entire Canadian population grew only 3.3 per cent in the same period.
Almost two-thirds of the nation’s foreign-born population resided in Canada’s three biggest cities: Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.
The highest percentage of newcomers to Canada were from China (14 per cent), followed by India (11.6), the Philippines (7) and Pakistan (5.2). For the first time, the proportion of foreign-born immigrants from Asian and Middle Eastern countries (41 per cent) outstripped those of European heritage (37).
“The newcomers who came between 2001 and 2006, we have about 1.1 million of them, and they added to Canada’s diverse population because they report coming from about over 200 countries,” said Statistics Canada analyst Tina Chui.
“When you look at that, Canada is like a world within a country.”
An aging population and the declining birth rate has Canada on track to becoming fully dependent on immigration for population growth by around 2030, Statistics Canada data suggests.
Among Western nations, only Australia had a higher percentage of foreign-born residents (22.2 per cent) than Canada in 2006. The United States had 12.5 per cent foreign-born.
“Tangible” racism exists
Almost four decades after Canada became the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as official policy, the emergence of apparently racist acts raises questions about how harmoniously the races are living together.
In 2004, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on racism found that while Canada supports ethnic diversity through policy, law and numerous government-led programs, “tangible” racism continues to exist in the country.
The Muslim population in Quebec continues to deal with what it sees as racist attitudes in everything from girls’ soccer to small-town misconceptions about Canadian Muslims.
In January, the rural town of Herouxville passed a policy paper laying out norms for immigrants that declared, among other things, that it is forbidden to stone women in public.
A commission has since been struck to hear what Quebecers feel is reasonable in terms of accommodating the practices of other cultures.
“What we’re seeing is that, in the regions of Quebec there are people who have never met minorities before (and) are coming out with… outlandish statements,” said Sameer Zuberi of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“A lot of it has to do with people not understanding and people not knowing each other.”
Although Canadian-born, Zuberi said it was during his teen years that he began to notice that others viewed him as “different, even though I was born (in Montreal).”
“I would say that is an ongoing thing, it exists and that has led to a lot of the reason why I’m doing what I’m doing today,” he said.
In Ontario, reports of Asian-Canadian anglers being targeted and assaulted while fishing on Lake Simcoe in the town of Georgina, 80 kilometres north of Toronto, have instigated an inquiry.
Several men face charges after the fishermen where pushed into the lake, their gear destroyed and windshields smashed.
“In a way, I’m glad that it’s coming out, it’s coming forward, it’s being talked about,” said Avvy Go of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic.
“I hope that this will force all Canadians to take a look at what’s happening and try to understand why, in 2007, we still have to deal with that in Canada, supposedly one of the most multicultural societies in the world.”
Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Barbara Hall struck an inquiry following the assaults and said it’s clear when cultures ignorant of one another meet it can set the stage for conflict.
Greater understanding needed
Greater understanding of one another’s practices is key to overcoming that threat, she said.
“That’s not new, because our diversity and the constant change of populations who are coming to Canada mean that we are always having to learn about new communities,” said Hall…
That hostility isn’t confined to just two select groups.
Each year, B’nai Brith Canada releases its list of anti-Semitic events which includes everything from rocks thrown through synagogue windows to hate crimes on the Internet and toppled gravestones.
In Vancouver, a special task force has been struck amid a dramatic spike in murders as gang factions within the Indo-Canadian community wage war against one another.
In the United States, immigration issues – largely focused on Mexican immigration – loom large in political debates heading toward the 2008 presidential election and the country remains mired in the racist legacy of slavery.
Canada’s history is filled with its own sordid tales of the ugly actions that result when suspicion of newcomers overwhelms.
The internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War, the Chinese Head Tax and past discriminatory immigration practices against African Americans and Jews are just a few examples, said Cassin.
Current laws prevent people from being denied access to education or participation in society based on their race or culture, “so at that kind of level, in institutional practices, there is equality,” Cassin said.
“The reality, however, is that we do differentiate among one another every day on everything, from choosing jobs, organizing promotions to who gets served in line first, all of those kinds of things.”
While overt acts of racism are easy to identify, a subtler form that Cassin identifies as “neo-racism” is a much trickier entity.
“Do we mean is something illegal, or do we mean that we’re not nice to each other?” said Cassin.
“Or does it mean what I try to get it to mean, which is that we treat one another in racialized ways, where we’re taking our race into account when we’re making decisions or we’re making preferences…”