Canadians comfortable with multiple cultures

CANADIANS have become less tolerant of minority immigrants over the last two years despite good economic times. Canadian intolerance towards immigrants has grown significantly this year, with a new government poll showing a nine per cent jump in the number of Canadians who believe “too many” immigrants are entering the country. Immigration authorities, sociologists and community leaders are not sure why the opposition to “visible immigrants” is rising.

By Madhavee Inamdar

Published: Thu 1 Jan 2004, 12:29 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:15 AM

‘Visible minorities’ often refers to people of colour, from the Indian subcontinent, who stand apart from the white migrants. Usually, immigrants are the target of frustration and anger when the economy is slowing down or is in a mess. But Canadian economy has made strong gains in the past few years. The Canadian government has repeatedly said that it wants more immigrants to revitalise its economy and businesses, its farms and industries, which are losing many workers because of Canada’s fast ageing population.

Racism and discrimination continue to be serious problems across the country. Many countries, including Canada, have introduced laws aimed at discouraging discrimination. But the battle against racism is far from over. The brutal reality is that immigrants, first nations people and people of colour still face racism discrimination and intolerance on a daily basis. Systemic racism continues to exist in schools, courts, communities, and workplaces and even in unions. In fact the recent poll suggests that intolerance against immigrants is actually on the rise.

This sends a clear message that more needs to be done in order to promote tolerance. Research over the past few years suggests that Canadians are generally quite positive towards minorities and the contribution they make to Canada. Indeed, some nine out of 10 Canadians (92 per cent) feel comfortable with people of different races in social situations. Moreover, 83 per cent believe that people from different racial and cultural groups enrich Canadian culture.

At first glance Canada appears an ideal place to live in. With an international reputation as a country that takes extra care in protecting and promoting the rights of minorities, it seems like a land where fairness prevails and equality prospers. Highly skilled, well-educated immigrants are finding that many of their hopes, dreams and aspirations for a better life here in Canada remain unreachable because of systemic discrimination in the workplace.

Thirty-eight per cent of Canadians say they believe Canada accepts too many immigrants, while forty-four per cent (down from 49 per cent) say the number of newcomers was about right, according to a September study done for Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The last significant fluctuation in poll tracking on immigration came after the 9/11 World Trade Centre attacks in 2001 when the number of Canadians who felt the country was accepting about the right amount fell to 38 per cent from 47 per cent.

If an immigrant is from India, Somalia or Algeria, he or she will think twice before moving into a white neighbourhood in Canada. Respondents to a nationwide survey last year said they welcomed neighbours from Britain and France. At least 63 per cent of the respondents expressed concern over violence across Canada, and hinted that immigrants were responsible for declining law and order.

Ontario is the only province or region where a higher percentage of the population responded that there are too many immigrants than those who say the numbers are right. In fact, Canada does not bring many refugees in and has had trouble meeting its targets for several years. Several Indian immigrants said they knew why racism was rising despite economic prosperity. “In many places and situations, we are in the driver’s seat,” says one businessman. “We are partners in the prosperity, and that upsets many people who want us to remain good Canadians, which means we work and slog for others, but never have our own businesses and properties.”

There are several common myths held about immigrants. For example immigrants steal jobs from Canadians. In the last few years, the real reasons for the loss of jobs and increased unemployment have been technological change and automation in the workplace, plant shutdowns and relocation to more depressed areas where tax breaks are more favourable and labour is cheaper. In addition, there has been a marked increase in part-time work and less-skilled jobs through automation. These are the main factors contributing to the large number of Canadians of all ethnic backgrounds who are currently out of work. There is no direct connection between unemployment and the number of immigrants allowed into Canada.

The other myth is that too many immigrants are allowed into Canada. The government’s own studies show that Canada needs 150,000 new immigrants each year to keep the Canadian population from declining. The population in Canada is normally reduced through natural causes such as deaths, low birth rates and people leaving Canada to settle in other countries. Such studies further state that it is desirable to maintain a steady flow of immigrants to ensure a stable population and to prevent instability in the economy. However, the current immigration quota is approximately 100,000.

While diversity is clearly now a hallmark of Canadian society that people are proud of, research also suggests that Canadians believe that intolerance still exists within Canada. Indeed, more than half the population (56 per cent) believe that discrimination against non-whites is a problem in Canada.

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