Thursday, June 7, 2007

Does Canada have an immigration problem?

As the U.S. body politic hashes out the immigration issue, things can get rough. Like yesterday, when Ann Coulter weighed in against the rising tide of color with a column titled “Bush’s America: Roach Motel.” Even Lawrence Auster, that prophet of civilizational doom, called Coulter’s title “vulgar and arguably racist.”

(Turns out Coulter wasn’t comparing Mexicans to loathsome insects. She was making some point about taxation. But, hey, she knew exactly what she was doing.)

How about a shift in perspective? About 12 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born. In Canada, 18.8 percent of the population was foreign-born as of 2001.

Why don’t we hear any wailing and teeth-gnashing from up north about the threat posed to white civilization by blacks, mestizos and Asians? Canada’s got more than 300,000 African immigrants; more than 120,000 Jamaicans; some 54,000 Haitians; more than 116,000 Mexicans and Central Americans; 84,000 Guyanese; 322,000 immigrants from India; and more than half a million Chinese.

How is Canada dealing? Is immigration a hot-button issue there? I decided to ask some Canadian political bloggers, on the right and the left. My questions, in a nutshell, were these:

1. What social problems, if any, have come with Canada’s immigrant influx? Crime? Gangs? Inter-ethnic conflict? A drain on social services?

2. Is there any political movement to restrict immigration? Any public discussion about the racial dimensions of immigration? Concern that the character of the Canadian nation will change if too many non-whites are let in?

3. What’s your personal take? Is large-scale immigration good for Canada, bad for Canada, or neutral?

I only heard back from one conservative, who happens to be the son of non-white immigrants. Victor Wong (who blogs as The Phantom Observer) says this: “There’s no real national movement up here on restricting immigration. Many of the people who vote conservative are immigrants themselves, so it’s seen as counter-productive.”

Canada’s big immigrant-related issue, according to Wong, has to do with “accreditation.” “Our immigration policies so far encourage the intake of trained professionals (physicians, engineers, etc.) The trouble we have is that the licensing bodies for those professions don’t automatically recognize the migrant’s educational background. Hence our migrants often wind up in menial jobs instead of the ones they’re trained for.

“The licensing bodies are under provincial jurisdiction while immigration is a federal responsibility,” Wong explains, “making it rather difficult to get everyone to agree on what gets recognized and what doesn’t. That’s what’s on the agenda at the moment.”

Over on the left, a blogger known as Canadian Cynic graciously posted my query and invited his readers to respond. Some of their comments are below. I’ll share more in the coming days. (If you don’t wish to wait, you can read the entire thread here, on Canadian Cynic’s blog.)

Keep in mind these are left-wingers, so they’re ideologically prone towards pro-immigrationism. (One commenter didn’t appear to believe in borders at all.) They’ve provided very interesting insights, and I am grateful to them.
M@: [A]s a middle-class white male from Ontario, I’m not sure how correct my assumptions are. Anyhow:

1. There are parts of Toronto with significant populations of working-class or poorer immigrants. I believe immigrants from the Caribbean and east Africa are the largest groups here. Crime is indeed a problem in these areas, and gangs are becoming more of a problem too. However, there are also huge sectors of immigrants from east and south Asia who have, for whatever reason, more easily assimilated into Canadian society.

I often hear that immigrants are a drain on social services and society in general, but I’ve seen no evidence of it. … And while there is the typical white resentment about “outsiders” taking over “our” country, I think the average Canadian sees immigration as a neutral or positive thing. (It helps that so many Canadians are immigrants or have immigrant parents, of course.) …

2. I think that in general, the right is more sympathetic to ideas about limiting immigration, but that is by no means a major plank in their platform. There is some discussion about the racial dimension of immigration, and some concern that Canada will be negatively affected by immigration. But I don’t know if it’s widespread, or just among the relative minority of ultra-right wingers.

I think that with such a large and vocal immigrant population, political parties are required to actively court immigrant and ethnic voters. You might be interested to know that in the last century, the dominant political party (the Liberals) had periodic amnesties for illegal immigrants, and even had their MPs [Members of Parliament] go to the docks to greet immigrants arriving on ships. The Chinese community in Ontario was staunchly Liberal-supporting throughout the century because of it.

A more recent example of pro-immigration feeling is the restitution the current (Conservative) government paid to Chinese immigrants in the first half of the century, who were forced to pay a tax to enter the country based solely on their race. While there were (and still are) plenty of arguments about what should be paid and how, I don’t remember hearing anyone say that paying the restitution was a bad thing.

3. Great for Canada. Keep ’em coming. Morally, economically, and socially, immigration makes Canada better.

EDWIN: 1. I remember some problems with Vietnamese gangs – maybe 20 years ago, and today as already mentioned some Jamaican gangs. My wife went to school where there were something like 80 nationalities with 90 languages present. She doesn’t remember any particular problems.

Anyway the big thing in the news these days is the [1985] Air India bombing – Sikh violence. We have also had some nasty white violence out Victoria way involving school kids – though I don’t know if it was racially motivated.

2. Canada had fairly lenient immigration rules from around the ’70s through the ’80s. They are long gone now. I wish they would come back.

FERDZY: Well, as the person who went to the school with 80+ nationalities, and 90+ languages, I guess I should chip in.

I was born in 1961, so I’m old enough to just barely remember a sea of white faces in kindergarten. Mind you, probably 70% of them were the kids of recent Italian and Portuguese immigrants. (… [T]here was a huge wave of immigration from Italy after WWII. Toronto has the largest Italian population in the world outside of Italy.)

A few black faces popped up in grade 3 or so. Then, we moved to the white-bread suburbs (Scarborough, a.k.a. Scarberia) for a couple of years, because my parents were under the impression that we kids needed a yard. Fortunately, they snapped out of that fairly quickly and we moved back to Flemingdon Park just in time for it to become the multicultural nexus of the world.

The face of Toronto completely changed between the time I started school and the time I left. On the whole, the transition was relatively peaceful. There was some ugly racist talk and acts against “Pakis” (Pakistanis) during this time. (I’m sure there were plenty of other ugly talk and acts too, but these were the ones that looked like having any kind of critical mass.)

These incidents were treated as serious and disgraceful by the press, which I am sure helped in suppressing them. That and the fact that although Toronto was still very white, it had a very significant population of immigrants who remembered very well being treated as “dirty furriners” when they had arrived not so many years earlier.

I think this has been another factor in the transition from a homogenous and conservative society to a multicultural, more liberal one: each group has arrived in small enough numbers that they can’t cause a “this side and that side” schism in society, but there have been so many groups who have arrived at such a steady pace, that as Canadian society absorbed them, it was transformed. …

There are the usual right-wing blow-hards with the usual right-wing bigotry and rants. My general impression is that they are so far behind what’s already happened as to be pretty much irrelevant. It’s pretty clear that the Canadian character HAS changed already – it’s way too late to go back. I think most of us think that’s a good thing.

I’ve been talking a lot about Toronto, because that’s where I grew up. The same process has been happening in all of Canada’s major cities. Rural Canada is still pretty old-fashioned. There’s a certain amount of grumbling there, I think, but again, too little too late. They’ve missed the bus. We’re a completely different country than we were 30 years ago.

And, even there, the faces of small towns across the country are changing as recent Canadians start to branch out from the major cities, and the process begins anew.

I don’t want to paint too idealistic a picture here. Canada has always had and continues to have serious problems with racism. Our treatment of First Nations people has been execrable. It improved a bit from the ’70s through the ’90s as some progress was made with land claims, but with a Conservative government back in (hopefully temporary) power, things are deteriorating again. And I’m sure any member of the black communities that have been in Canada from before confederation has some hair-raising tales of dire racism.

PALADIEA: I personally love the fact that there are people [from] around the world in Toronto. A while back they did a whole series in the Globe and Mail about the day (2010 or 2012) when Toronto will be 51% minorities.

It really wasn’t that big an issue with anyone except far right wackos...

THE SEER: The British did not have to import a minority to divide and conquer Canada; there was a minority in place. The ultimate issue in Canada is not race but language…

ARIANNA: The Seer has an interesting point – the English and French in Canada have been beating up on each other as long as we’ve both been here. I’m guessing this has contributed to immigration not being such a big deal because we were so busy with our own internal ‘ethnic’ bickering.

Also, what I keep seeing coming up as an issue in the States is people freaking out about immigrants not “learning the language” – I haven’t seen this as an issue here really, probably in large part because we’ve been fighting about language so long and in large part everything here is bilingual English-French, which helps in two ways. Firstly, it means a larger percentage of people speak an official language of the country – many developing nations were former French colonies, after all, and secondly, most Canadians are used to language accommodation and don’t freak out at the sight of a language other than their own.



quirkychick said...

I'm leaving for Vancouver tonight and I have to say ever since my first visit I have wanted to live in Canada.

It's pretty much all about the food.

All those immigrants in Canada make for some awesome dining out options.

Undercover Black Man said...

Yeah... I bet they got some Indian curry restaurants that are off-the-chain.

Travel well, Suze!

Anna Laperle said...

The truth is that we need immigrants. Canada's population is a measly 30 million and we can't go on calling ourselves a G8 nation without a steady flow of warm fresh bodies to sustain our economy particularly when a lot of home-grown professionals head south for bigger pay.

quirkychick said...

Thanks Dave - will get back with recommends via Quirkychick 4 sure.

Anna - thanks so much - I was wondering aloud the other night what the population of Canada is and the best guess was 60 million. I am shocked that it's actually half that number.

Anonymous said...

Canada has a point system that gives preference to immigrants with education and investment capital. Canadian authorities are not at all shy about deporting illegals.

Canada's southern border is not a corrupt, 3rd world country either. (In spite of what some Canadians might say LOL)

If we had a system like theirs, we wouldn't be having this debate.

You can pass for Latino, so this isn't something you have to worry about. Darker skinned black people stand a pretty good chance of being shot by Latino gangbangers for walking down the street in many neighborhoods.

Immigration may not be a problem for you. It's a helluva of problem for me.

Robert McClelland said...

Immigration isn't a big issue but the right whingers up here are trying to make it one.

The Fraser Institute, Canada's leading
independent research organization, is hosting a conference in Toronto to
discuss immigration policy and how it relates to the threat of terrorism in
Canada and the United States.
"It's become obvious in recent years that Canada's flawed refugee system
and a lack of political will to reform the program have been major factors in
making Canada a prime destination for terrorists," said Martin Collacott, a
senior fellow with the Institute and co-chair of the conference.
"This conference is an attempt to generate discussion about policy
options for governments. We can't hide behind political correctness; both
Canada and the U.S. need to carefully examine the links between immigration
policy, security and the potential for terrorism."

The Fraser Institute is a rightwing astroturf organization.

Anonymous said...

IMHO, some First Nations in Canada take issue with overly welcoming immigration policies. These policies are sometimes viewed as a way for the Canadian gov't to keep First Nations in the minority and as a result can ignore land claims, self-govt issues and redresses.

Also, anytime someone gets shot slightly before/during/after Caribana in Toronto, white people quietly seethe at the amount of Caribbean immigrants Trudeau "let in to get votes."

Anyway, all I'm saying is that we have immigration and race issues, we're just really good perpetuating the myth that Canada is a peaceful, loving, and welcoming place. And it can be all those things, just as long as your not Native.

Personally, I think 30 million is perfectly fine. Increases in population means an increased loss of farm lands in Southern Ontario.

Anonymous said...

We're gonna annex Anglo Canada anyway. When the Quebecois go their separate way, we get the Anglos as part of the deal. 20 million English speaking white folks, like a giant sized Minnesota. (Nobody ever says, the Canadians are moving in, there goes the neighborhood.)

Undercover Black Man said...

Good comments... I'm learning more and more.

I would love to spend some time in Toronto. Would love to talk to black Canadians who are descended from Underground-Railroad freedom-seekers.

Anonymous said...

You might be interested to know that in the last century, the dominant political party (the Liberals) had periodic amnesties for illegal immigrants, and even had their MPs [Members of Parliament] go to the docks to greet immigrants arriving on ships. The Chinese community in Ontario was staunchly Liberal-supporting throughout the century because of it.

Like the Democrats, no?

Anna Laperle said...

UBM, may I recommend Cecil Foster for reading materials? Also, you may already be familiar with Clement Virgo who directed a few episodes of "The Wire". Both are Toronto artists of West Indian background.

I think Canada's immigration problem may be more in line with Europe's immigration problem. The issue being how far do we go to assimilate others into our western democratic culture? For example, can a Sikh boy wear a ceremonial dagger to school? Should we allow for a separate court system called the sharia? Should Muslim women be allowed to wear headscarfs in sports? This isn't far from the question of banning veils in France.

Anna Laperle said...

Sorry, you asked about descendants of settlers who came over via the Underground Railroad.

Here's a guy who set up a museum and wrote a book called "The Road that lead to Somewhere" about his ancestors' escape.

Dr. Bryan WALLS
John Freeman Walls Historic Site and Underground Railroad Museum
Telephone: 519-727-4866

Undercover Black Man said...

Anna, double- and triple-thanks!

I happen to be open to the right's critique of liberal accommodationism. The Sikh daggers provide a handy illustration why. If the Sikhs don't want to live in a society where they can't wear their daggers to school, well... they don't have to live there.

I believe in nations. I don't believe every person on earth has the right to live in any nation he or she chooses. Nations get to set the rules for themselves as to whom they allow into their societies. Nothing unjust about that, so far as I can see.

I'm gonna have to check out that Underground Railroad musuem...

Anonymous said...

Nations get to set the rules for themselves as to whom they allow into their societies.

Ah. I guess I am a creature of the enlightenment. There is a definite trend in Canada to look at the world not as us/them, but as a union of nations. We are no melting pot, but a mosaic, and we wish to take our place in the mosaic of the world. I strongly suspect that the reasons Canada signed on to the ICC and the US did not run far deeper than a left/right split.

Documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (written by a Canadian) begs to differ with your statement.

I see modern human rights history as the history of limiting the rights of nations. I'm not talking about the poor and the weak as they have always had no rights. Rather I am talking about the rich and strong. The United States has put its foot down and said nations get to set the rules for themselves. All of us outside the US know exactly what that means. A large section of the rest of the world has said you are wrong, there are limits.

As a Jew I look at your statement and I see Nazi Germany. I see Israel and the Palestinian people who have been living in refugee camps for 60 years - since 1947, and frankly, I see the United States and its treatment of the native population and people of African descent. And yes, I see Canada - the country that I believe invented apartheid.

I'm sorry if this seems a bit strong.

Undercover Black Man said...

Edwin: Welcome, and thanks for commenting. Don't worry about coming on too strong.

You wrote: "I see modern human rights history as the history of limiting the rights of nations."

Okay, but without the right to determine who can become a citizen, there is no nation. The keystone right of any nation is the right to defend its borders.

For those who don't believe in any borders whatsoever, this may be objectionable. But for all the rest of us, it ties in to another aspect of the modern movement towards human rights -- the right to self-determination of peoples.

If the Japanese don't want to let in anybody else as citizens, why shouldn't that be up to Japan? If Brazil wants to welcome 7 million Lebanese (and 2 million Japanese) as citizens -- and to reap the benefits of doing so -- again, that's up to Brazil.

Does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights actually say that any human being on earth has a right to live in whichever nation he chooses?

Anonymous said...

Does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights actually say that any human being on earth has a right to live in whichever nation he chooses?

Sorry that my previous post did not make it clear that I was not arguing for open borders.

Nope - but it does say that you can't tell someone you can't live here because of the colour of your skin, or the religion that you practice. It says countries must make their laws within certain parameters of fairness to all citizens. Anything no longer goes.

If the Japanese don't want to let in anybody else as citizens, why shouldn't that be up to Japan? If Brazil wants to welcome 7 million Lebanese (and 2 million Japanese) as citizens -- and to reap the benefits of doing so -- again, that's up to Brazil.

And if South Africa wants to let in just "white" people?

I wasn't trying to make an argument about open borders. If I was I would have mentioned something about the hypocrisy of all those complaints about illegal Mexicans taking away American jobs after the US has stolen third of the country of Mexico. I also might have mentioned something about the 4+ million Iraqi refugees ( and how the US is responsible for that too, and the hypocrisy of saying that you should be able to say which, if any Iraqis have the right to live in the US after engaging in the war crime of Aggression against the people of Iraq.

Undercover Black Man said...

Edwin, you wrote: "And if South Africa wants to let in just 'white' people?"

Well... I'd rather stick to Japan. They don't want any Africans as citizens. They don't want any white people as citizens either. From what I know (which ain't terribly much), they don't even want Koreans as citizens... and there are hundreds of thousands of them living in Japan.

Depending on how Japan treats its non-citizens, I guess this could rise to the level of an international "human rights" concern... but I don't think anyone outside of Japan feels entitled to dictate Japan's immigration policies. Same with South Africa (then and now); same with the United States.

Where you and I stand on common ground is the matter of the mess America makes for itself with its foreign interventions... which inevitably leads to new non-white immigrant communities taking root in the U.S.

I guess this started with the Filipinos after the Spanish-American War. Then Koreans after the Korean War, Vietnamese after the Vietnam War, and, like you say, a big influx of Iraqis to come.

Those conservatives who freak out about the 1 million Salvadoreans currently in the United States probably were the same ones who were gung-ho for Reagan's intervention in the civil war.

It's all such a complicated mess...

Anonymous said...

Well... I'd rather stick to Japan. They don't want any Africans as citizens. They don't want any white people as citizens either. From what I know (which ain't terribly much), they don't even want Koreans as citizens... and there are hundreds of thousands of them living in Japan.

From what I recall being told by my Taiwanese students when I taught ESL classes, the Japanese hate the Koreans more than they hate the Chinese. Something to do with a hiearchy of Asian cultures. Obviously, a blanket generalization, FWIW, etc.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ I say China's got everybody beat, in terms of a hierarchy of cultures. Those fuckers invented paper!

Anonymous said...

Grumpy WASP aka Ronald Gordon(Not a Canadian, but loved Second City TV)

Excellent essay, it reminded me of a point made in an interview a couple of weeks ago on NPR's "On The Media" entitled Love Thy Neighbor May 11, 2007, about how and why the US media ignores Canada. Here's an example:

EDWARD WASSERMAN: Well, I think that it's important to remember that the case of American attitudes toward Canada is a particular kind of cultural arrogance. It just seemed ironic that here's this country right on our border that is confronting precisely the kinds of issues of public policy that we are – health care reform, aging population, immigration, environmental degradation – and it's coming up with solutions of its own that are worth knowing about. And at the same time we are most in need of novel approaches and most in need of a full range of alternatives, we are shutting ourselves off from what's going on there.

The transcript and audio are at

Wasserman also pointed out that since most of Canada’s policies would be deemed liberal in the US, the conservative US media has a natural bias to ignore any discussion or comparison.

WASSERMAN: I think the American media have a way of defining news and defining what realities to pay attention to in ways that dovetail very comfortably with the interests of corporate media. That's right, and not just corporate media, but in the interests of the system under which we function.

To my mind, the US is treating current undocumented workers just like we did the Chinese in the 1800's, we use them for cheap labor, for dirty jobs dangerous jobs, to bust unions, and now as scapegoats to be deported because they won't vote Republican. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Anonymous said...

I say China's got everybody beat, in terms of a hierarchy of cultures. Those fuckers invented paper!

Didn't they invent noodles, too? The Italian side of my family will be forever grateful for that!

Anonymous said...

UBM, I'm from Toronto and as far as problems with immigration goes, it generally tends to be economic/classist discrimination than racial, which you realize is not always the same thing when you look at the incredibly wealthy and prosperous Asian and South Asian communities (particularly in Toronto and Vancouver). More ink tends to get spilt over our refugee system than legal or even illegal immigration - it's very Canadian but queue-jumping really hacks people off, in large part because successful refugee claimants get immediate access to social assistance such as welfare and healthcare. As a result, there are cyclical attempts to reform our refugee process to weed out those who are looking for that "free ride." In Toronto, there is still a very WASP attitude that rules are meant to be followed and only those who follow the rules deserve our generosity (this attitude, btw, already cuts across racial, ethnic and religious lines).

These days it's not immigration per se but the question of "multiculturalism" that gets the most attention - not whether people from other countries should come to Canada but to what extent those of us already here should make accomodation for their religious and cultural beliefs. This debate centers, as they all do these days, around Canada's Muslim community. Ironically, one of the strongest voices calling for a reconsideration of our official multiculturalism is a gay woman of Pakistani descent, Irshad Manji.

IMO, the main difference between Canadian and American attitudes towards immigration is that Canada lacks the US's strong unifiying, mythology. Since it's inception, Canada has been a multicultural society encompassing a plurality of ethnicities and religions: English and French, European and Native, Catholic and Protestant (and Jewish, in places), even white and black in some communities, whereas the American Revolution created an American identity that was rooted in the traditions and attitudes of European Protestant landowners.

It's not that there's no racism here it's just that a particular bias towards immigrants isn't how it's expressed.

Undercover Black Man said...

Thanks for that, Katie. Your summation of the difference between American and Canadian attitudes on immigration makes perfect sense.

It seems to me, also, that the absence of large-scale black slavery in Canada's past might've inhibited the development of a racialist preoccupation with the size of the white majority.

Desert Man said...

UBM! Big fan. Original Maggot, all the way back to the Parliaments on Invictus. Also anti-ILLEGAL immigrant activist in California in the 90's (lots of TV time, debated the Sheriff of LA County on the issue, among other things).

Canada and the US situations are apples and oranges. Our problem is predominately Mexican (almost 80% last time I checked). That makes it unique, because, not only was part of this country in Mexico, we are, of course close enough for immigrants to maintain close ties to their motherland and resist assimilation and allegiance. Without some sort of legalization process, we become overrun (especially here in California) with people that couldn't care less about American culture.

I work with some wonderful people that were and are illegal immigrants, but it is still a terrible burden for them and for us. We need another worker's program, similar to those you mention of the past where people can come and work and then go home. If they want, they can also apply for citizenship just like anybody else.

Canadian immigrants have to cut ties to their homelands for distance reasons and therefore make a commitment to Canada. No comparison.