Commentary by: Arvind Magesan in Calgary, AB

The Conversation

Statistics Canada has released new data from the 2016 census that shows more than any other G8 country, Canada is a nation of immigrants. One in five Canadians (21.9 per cent to be exact) were born in another country.

Immigration is a significant component of Canada’s population growth and evolving demographic composition. The census data shows more than 1.2 million new immigrants came to Canada between 2011-16. Immigrants are also typically younger and more educated than the average Canadian.

Not surprisingly then, immigration is often touted as a necessary condition for sustained economic prosperity. And yet in spite of their ostensible importance to the Canadian economy, immigrants themselves have yet to catch up to other Canadians in terms of economic outcomes.

Economists refer to this catching up as “economic assimilation” and often measure it using the “native-immigrant wage gap” — the difference between the average wages of immigrants and those whose families have been here at least three generations. The persistence of this wage gap is a feature common to economies in the Western world that rely heavily on immigration.

As an economist and a child of immigrants myself, I was curious to delve into the census data to understand how this gap has evolved over time and across major cities in Canada — and to get a hint of what may be at the root of it.

The first thing that surprised me is the gap has not changed much over the past 10 years. Census data from 2006 showed, at a national level, first-generation immigrants earned wages 12.6 per cent less than the average wage of native Canadians. In 2011, the gap dropped slightly to 10 per cent, but the new census data shows it’s climbed significantly to 16 per cent.

Importantly, the gap is a countrywide phenomenon. Looking at the three of the most popular destinations for immigrants in the past decade — Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary — the gap in 2016 sits at 25, 17 and 23 per cent respectively.

Interestingly, the gap doesn’t only exist for first-generation immigrants, but also for the children of immigrants (second generation, i.e. Canadians born to immigrant parents). The new data shows at the national level, second-generation immigrants earn 5.4 per cent less than natives.

Understanding the wage gap

The obvious question that follows then is: What is the source of these gaps?

Canada is an especially interesting case given the “points” system used to screen potential immigrants, where language, education and job skills are key determinants. And for the first time, the census has reported that about six out 10 new immigrants came here under the so-called economic admission category, meaning they have the skills “to enhance and promote economic development.”

Given the way immigrants are screened before entry, one would expect relatively quick integration into the Canadian economy and a convergence in wages. But this is clearly not the case.

The reasons put forward to explain the wage gap range from employer difficulty in assessing immigrant education credentials to outright discrimination. Economists refer to two types of “discrimination” in the labour market context, “statistical discrimination” and “taste-based discrimination.”

In the former, employers use observable traits (such as race) to make inferences about something like productivity. For example, an employer sees a job applicant with brown skin. The employer isn’t prejudiced towards brown people, but is worried (stereotypically) the employee is going to want to take trips “home” to Sri Lanka and would need a lot of vacation time. So the employer hires someone else equally qualified. Taste-based discrimination is more what we think of as prejudice — not wanting to hire someone purely because of skin colour.

Identifying causal factors that explain the wage gap is a difficult task - individuals who immigrate to Canada do so by choice. These choices are a function of a host of factors that could potentially jointly explain the decision to immigrate and labour market outcomes, including personal characteristics, job experience and education, to name just a few. Identifying discrimination in the labour market, and separating between taste-based and statistical discrimination, is even harder.

However, a 2011 study by University of Toronto economist Phil Oreopolous takes an important step in this direction.

In the study, thousands of computer-generated resumes were mailed out to companies that had posted ads searching for employees. The resumes were randomly assigned either a foreign or a “white” sounding last name, and were otherwise identical. The result: The resumes where the applicant had a foreign-sounding last name were less likely to receive a call back than identical looking resumes with a “white” last name.

When the author followed up with some of the recruiters, the overwhelming reason given for overlooking resumes with a foreign-sounding name was that they anticipated difficulty with language. Specifically, recruiters expected a lack of fluency in English, problems with communicating at work and difficulty for customers and co-workers in understanding a foreign accent. In other words, recruiters were statistically discriminating between job candidates based on their names.

Can language proficiency close the gap?

The census presents an opportunity to study the importance of English proficiency for the gap in labour market earnings between immigrants and native Canadians in 2016. The census provides information on wages, immigrant (and generation) status, as well as the language most commonly spoken at home.

Specifically, guided by the findings in Oreopolous’s study, I looked at how the gap in average wages changes when English is spoken at home. (For the purpose of this study, I looked at communities outside of Quebec, where French is the dominant language.) In 2016, 63 per cent of new immigrants living outside of Quebec most often spoke a language other than English or French while at home.

The latest census data says the native-first generation immigrant wage gap is 16 per cent at the national level. Once we examine whether immigrants speak English at home, things change — the wage difference is just 5.8 per cent. But for first-generation immigrants who don’t speak English at home, the gap jumps to 27.3 per cent.

For second-generation immigrants, there is barely any gap for those who speak English at home (0.7 per cent) but it’s still a significant gap for those who don’t speak English at home (a whopping 45.7 per cent).

This pattern also holds in the major metropolitan centres in the English-speaking parts of the country, which attract the most immigrants.

Interestingly, at almost 25 per cent, Toronto has one of the largest city level wage gaps in the country, explained at least in part by the fact that new immigrants tend to land in Toronto first and are more likely to be unemployed for a period of time. The three largest cities in English-speaking Canada, which also attract the most immigrants, also have gaps larger than the national average.

In Ottawa, immigrants of either generation who speak English at home actually earn more than natives on average. While it may be tempting to attribute the major differences across the cities to differences in culture, they are more likely due to regional differences in industrial composition and attendant labour demand.

The wage gap for immigrants who don’t speak English at home is very large. In Toronto and Calgary, first-generation immigrants who don’t speak English at home can expect to earn 37 per cent less than natives. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that the gap across all cities for is larger for second generation immigrants who don’t speak English at home.

Though these patterns are striking, they should not be interpreted as causal – immigrants can’t necessarily start speaking English at home and expect to see their future earnings increase. There are unobserved qualities of individuals that may correlate both with the tendency to speak English at home as well as with labour market earnings potential. Without holding these fixed in some way, we can’t say whether there is a causal relationship between English skills and the gap in labour market outcomes.

But supposing that the findings here are suggestive of a causal relationship, why does speaking English at home matter so much?

One obvious answer is that individuals who speak English at home speak better English in general — and this would mean better communication at work. This would be consistent with the worries that the recruiters in Oreopolous’s study had when deciding who to call back. Or perhaps individuals of foreign descent that speak English at home tend to have other important skills on average.

But another possibility is the labour market discriminates against individuals with weaker English skills even when English is not important for productivity. Sorting between these different explanations (and others) will require more data and a deeper look.


Arvind Magesan is an Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Calgary.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Published in Commentary
Thursday, 22 September 2016 13:31

Alberta Needs to Rethink French Curriculum

Commentary by Salim Valji in Edmonton

Memorizing adjectives and pronouns did little more than create a resentment for having to learn French in the first place. Meanwhile, speaking the language took a backseat.

The sentiment above is true for many students who grew up learning French in Alberta, including myself. Lessons often consist of listing the gender pronoun (le, la, les) of nouns, and writing simple, declarative sentences.

Entire classes would be spent learning, relearning and being tested on memorization techniques like DR MRS VANDERTRAMP. Homework was more of the same … verb charts, fill-in-the-blanks and vocabulary.

See a trend here?

Throughout elementary and junior high, the method was always memorize first, ask questions later. Speaking French was never a priority until high school and accent training was seldom mentioned.

Learning to hate French

I queried my friends on social media: I was not alone. 

“My experience was terrible as well! I took French for eight years and can't speak a word if it,” one friend wrote. “It was all memorizing nouns and watching videos. It's such a beautiful language. I really wish they had taught it better. I’d love to know it.”

Another added: “I learned more German in four months than I did French in eight years in school. I think using an online program like Duolingo and setting goals might help. Also, so many BS tests on conjugating verbs made me hate French.”

The most profound comment came from someone somewhat older who said that like hundreds of others, she hated going to French class as a student. It speaks of a system that doesn’t know how to educate its students on Canada’s other official language.

Moving to a bilingual setting

When I was 20, I moved to Montreal. Despite taking French courses for 13 years, I was completely unprepared to live and work in a bilingual environment. It took me minutes to form short phrases, my vocabulary was extremely limited and I barely understood what was being said to me.

My perspective changed even further when I moved to France to work as an English Language Assistant at a high school in the Parisien suburbs. Alberta, and the rest of Canada, can learn much from how the French teach second languages.

From my first sessions with 12-year-old students, I could tell that they already spoke better English than I did French. Their sentences were clear, vocabulary strong and they knew how to express ideas.

Communication of ideas is what my role was focused on. I’d take groups of 10 to 12 students to my classroom, and, in my authentically Albertan accent, speak English to them. Often times, the lessons were planned with their English teacher, based on what they were learning in class.

The topics we talked about included the civil rights movement, the lives of historic figures like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi and differences between North American and European culture.

Sometimes, I’d pose an open-ended question on the whiteboard and cross my fingers hoping that my students would pipe up.  That method usually led to great, enjoyable conversations —like the time where we spent an entire class talking about the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” and how Robin Scherbatsky embodies certain Canadian stereotypes.

My students would speak their ideas and I’d correct them in real time. I was always amazed at how well they could speak about complex subjects in English.

The two most common mistakes they made were not pronouncing the h sound for words like “home” and “happy,” and saying “the” as zee or “there” as zerre. Beyond the simple correcting of grammar, my students received a language education I never had as a student … speaking and writing with someone fluent in the other language.

They learned to understand my accent. They questioned my usage of certain vocabulary and mimicked how I said things.

Need for spontaneity

So much of communication is situational and spontaneous: Where an event took place, what the score was, why someone was late for something.

The method of memorization forces students to retrieve information they retained and disposed of years ago. It also fosters a distaste of learning the language — the second anything becomes a chore, it becomes something we detest. It’s impossible to expect students, in the middle of conversation to recall what they were force-fed in some classroom years back.

It’s understandable that revamping the province’s French curriculum may not be high on Alberta Education’s priority list. Opportunities to speak the language organically are extremely limited—less than 25 000 of the province’s 3.6 million people identify French as the language the speak most often at home.

That being said, we need a conversation about whether the memorize-at-all-costs approach should be retired. Right now, that approach is leading Alberta students to despise — as opposed to appreciate — the French language.

Salim Valji is a media professional based in Montreal, Quebec. He is originally from Edmonton and has worked in Paris and New York City. 

Published in Education

by Christopher Cheung in Vancouver

Queenie Lai’s parents often call her a “white girl,” because she likes eating western food.

But in fact, though born in Canada, 23-year-old Lai is more in tune with her Chinese heritage than many of her peers. Growing up she studied Cantonese with a private tutor. She watched Hong Kong soaps on TV. She’s even acted in a Chinese theatre group, performing in legends like Mulan and a play based on the life of Dr. Sun Yat-sen.

“When I visit Hong Kong, people ask me, ‘Why is your Cantonese so good?’” Lai said. “I tell them, well, I grew up speaking it at home.”

Lai also lives in a very Chinese community, but one very different from the ethnic Chinatowns or Little Italys of the last century. Then, immigrants from Asia, Europe, and elsewhere clustered in inner-city neighborhoods, often not the best, to be close to others who shared their history.

By contrast, Lai grew up in Richmond, British Columbia, a bustling modern suburb that, away from its wetland trails, fresh produce farms, and the quaintly historic fishing village of Steveston, can feel like a mirror of East Asia. If you speak Chinese here, you can see a doctor, get a haircut, attend a church, buy a house or car—all without uttering a word in English.

But Richmond isn’t the only suburb with strong overseas influence. It’s an example of a growing demographic trend that’s turning the patterns of the last century on their head. Geographers call it the “ethnoburb,” and others have appeared outside longtime immigrant cities like Toronto, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Melbourne in Australia, and Auckland, New Zealand.

Many ethnoburbs have more immigrants as a share of their total population than their associated urban cores, and often more than native-born residents. According to the 2011 National Household Survey, more than two-thirds of Richmond residents—69 per cent—are immigrants to Canada.

The same survey found that Surrey, a South Asian ethnoburb next door, has an immigrant population of 40 per cent. It’s also home to lavish sari shops and Indian wedding banquet halls on a scale beyond that found in Vancouver proper.

Markham, outside Toronto, has a 58 per cent immigrant population; Richmond Hill, 55 per cent. The Melbourne suburb of Glen Waverly is half immigrants.

But while cities and suburbs undergo new transformations, getting along with new neighbours brings the same tensions as around the ethnic enclaves of old.

Breaking a stereotype

The term “ethnoburb” dates to 1997. Chinese-born geographer Wei Li coined the phrase for a phenomenon she encountered when she moved to Los Angeles to study in 1991.

A professor suggested that rather than find a place to live in Los Angeles’ Chinatown area, she try the suburbs.

“You are Chinese, right?” Li recalls the professor asking. “Why don’t you live in Monterey Park, in the San Gabriel Valley? That’s a Chinese area, you would feel very comfortable.”

Li was puzzled. The stereotype she knew was that North American suburbs were populated with white working dads, stay-at-home moms, and their children. In contrast, the inner city was for immigrants.

But when she saw Monterey Park for herself, she was in for a surprise.

“Had it not been for the heavy automobile traffic and frequent gas stations, I could almost imagine that I was back walking in Beijing,” she wrote of the experience.

San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles County is home to a shopping centre known as “the great mall of China,” where restaurants serve Mongolian hot pot and spicy chili-and-cumin Hunan. A suburb called Arcadia has been christened “Mistress City,” as they say it’s where Chinese tycoons hide their secret girlfriends and wealth. And in Monterey Park, where the professor directed Li, Taiwanese bubble-tea shops have been dubbed the “Starbucks of the valley.”

These were not the Chinatowns of old.

Old desires, new opportunities

Intrigued, Li began studying the phenomenon—eventually writing a book about it: Ethnoburb: The New Ethnic Community in Urban America, published in 2009.

By then, she says, ethnoburbs had been around for decades after beginning to emerge as early as the 1960s.

The decade opened an era of widening ethnic tolerance. Newcomers were no longer limited by social attitude—and even laws—to enclaves.

Political tensions and the desire for a better quality of life, especially for families who wanted children to have a western education, drove people from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong to emigrate. At the same time, immigration policies in many developed countries welcomed entrepreneurs. By the 1980s and ‘90s, many ethnoburbs had surpassed the inner-city enclaves where newcomers had been settling in for well over a hundred years. And their growth seems likely to continue, Li said in an interview.

Originally, it was China’s top-tier cities—Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen—that saw emigration to global ethnoburbs. “Now, even second-tier cities in China have heard of places like Richmond, Monterey Park, and Flushing in New York,” Li said.

Second-tier cities include provincial capitals and coastal cities like Chongqing, Chengdu, and Wuhan, recent growth engines of the Chinese economy. Those three alone had a population two-thirds the size of Canada’s—22.3 million people—as of 16 years ago, the last census published.

Asia’s global banks and large informal capital outflows are also helping Asian ethnoburbs flourish faster than counterparts centered on Latino and Afro-American immigration, Li said.

Emigrating to the familiar

One thing hasn’t changed: immigrants still like to settle where immigrants have already settled. Geographers call this chain migration. Once word of the new ethnoburbs got around, they grew fast. Letters, phone calls, and then emails back to the old country, enticed others.

That’s how Queenie Lai ended up in Richmond in 1992. Friends already living there told her parents and grandparents that life was better there than in Hong Kong.

Lai’s mother has no regrets about their choice. Vien Suen is a hairdresser at the Yaohan East Asian mall; her husband does lawn work. In Richmond, Suen says, “The weather is better, and the education and environment for the kids is better. The change in our lifestyle was small.”

The cultural familiarity of ethnoburbs can help ease other transnationals’ yearnings for some of Asia’s hyper-stimulating density and constant action.

Edward Zhao came to Canada in 2002, settling from Beijing with his mother at the age of seven. His father, who worked for a chemical company, remained in China.

Now 21, he’s been back to China on holiday a few times, and finds Vancouver “much more quiet and comfortable compared to Asian cities.” On the other hand, Zhao adds, “There’s not much to do.”

That’s why Richmond is Zhao and his friends’ definitive place for entertainment that mimics Asia’s energy: lots of late-night restaurants, arcades, and Zhao’s favourite, karaoke parlours. He’s a big fan of Korean pop songs.

“I always hog the mic,” he confessed.

Here, but still apart

But if there’s comfort for immigrants in ethnoburbs, there is also segregation.

Ethnoburbs may be different from the confined enclaves of the past, but the choice to live life entirely in one’s own ethnic community can come at the expense of a newcomer’s integration into their new country.

One key aspect: language. In 2011, Statistics Canada revealed that 10 per cent of Richmond residents don’t speak English or French, compared to 5.6 per cent in the region.

“My parents’ English still isn’t the best,” laments Lai. “I was like, ‘You’ve been here for 20 years!’”

And the same qualities that make an ethnoburb feel so familiar to newcomers can have the opposite effect on longer-standing residents.

In Richmond, one group held an extended debate with city hall over there being ‘too much’ Chinese writing on business signs. Residents of a condo building complained when the strata council held its meetings only in Mandarin.

And just as in other parts of gateway cities, as wealthy Chinese buy properties in ethnoburbs, they have been blamed for driving prices out of local reach. One Los Angeles suburb has been advertised to overseas buyers as the “Chinese Beverley Hills.”

In the wake of fears about foreign influence, Li says intergroup harmony is one of the top challenges of ethnoburbs today. “There can be surges of nativism, and even racism.”

A playful response

Australia and New Zealand are among the places where Asian immigration has populated ethnoburbs. In New Zealand, 48-year-old Richard Leung has watched them emerge around Auckland in places like Mount Albert and Avondale.

Leung is the chair of the deep-rooted New Zealand Chinese Association’s Auckland branch, historically formed by Cantonese-speaking labour and service immigrants from south China. Most new arrivals hail from the booming cities of Mandarin-speaking China.

“The elephant in the room for our organization is how we do we accept these new Mandarin speakers,” said Leung. Longtime Chinese New Zealanders, he says, feel “colonized” by the newcomers, who outnumber native-born Asian Kiwis in Auckland by roughly four to one, according to a survey by the Asia New Zealand Foundation last year.

Leung has responded playfully: organizing family sports days to bring newcomers and residents of longer standing together in activities that don’t depend on language.

“We couldn’t speak to many of them, because we didn’t have the Mandarin,” said Leung. “But we decided that we’d just keep doing what we’re doing. Our idea is that the new migrants will have children, and their children will become Chinese New Zealanders like us.”

New nations on the block

Nelson Ou knows how wonderful a taste of home can be in a new place. When he came to Canada from Taiwan at age 20, he was overwhelmed with culture shock.

“I was really lonely and I really missed home,” said Ou, now 32. “But the first time I had Taiwanese food, I was happy. There’s something so familiar to people when they eat their own culture’s food.”

Ou was so happy, in fact, that he took a job at the restaurant. A few years later, he opened his own Taiwanese restaurant, Strike, in Richmond, to serve the same beef noodle soup and peppery fried chicken that gave him comfort.

Limiting himself to a cultural enclave could’ve made things easier, said Ou, but he didn’t want to avoid living in a new, multicultural society.

It wasn’t easy adjusting. He had to “start from scratch and work hard to have an ordinary life,” taking ESL classes, working at Starbucks and restaurants, and eventually earned a financial broker certificate.

“New immigrants these days don’t seem to want to join the community,” said Ou. “They want to change the community to be like the ones they used to live in.”

“When you decide to live here, even for three or five years, that’s quite a long time. I think people should be more open-minded to new ways.”

And he means that both for immigrants and people who’ve been here all their lives.

“Look at bubble tea. It’s for sure not for immigrants only,” said Ou. “In Richmond, some Caucasians have had bubble tea since they were 10 years old. Even 7-Eleven here sells fake bubble tea in their sandwich refrigerators. It’s part of the mainstream now. It’s fun to live here because diversity is part of the culture here.”

Ethnoburbs are dynamic places, after all, said Wei Li.

“Any multiracial, multicultural community can go either way,” she said. “It can become more concentrated, or eventually dissipate.”

It’s up to immigrants like Ou and locals alike to define their home. 

Published in partnership with The Tyee, where this reporting first appeared. 

Published in Arts & Culture

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City

Twenty years after voting in Quebec’s referendum on sovereignty, immigrants in the province say cultural relations are improving, but more progress is still needed.

In October 1995, 2,362,648 Quebecers voted against the provincial government’s move to make Quebec an independent state. The ‘no’ side won in Quebec’s second referendum on the issue, with 50.58 per cent of the vote.

For many immigrants, the result represented a challenge to the old notion of Quebecois identity.

“What we were hearing before ’95, which we don’t hear anymore, is pure laine,” says Simon Jacobs, who immigrated to Canada from England in 1989.

Pure laine, or pure wool, is used to refer to Quebecers whose ancestry can be traced to the original French settlers of the province.

Jacobs says that everything Quebec wanted, in terms of maintaining its identity and creating its own laws, already existed, but that important questions about Quebec’s monetary policy remained unanswered.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“People were saying, ‘I’m American. I’m Syrian. I’m Italian,’ but I didn’t hear, ‘I’m Canadian.’”[/quote]

He says he voted against separation, though he wasn’t sure if he would remain in Quebec at the time.

“I did not feel this was home,” he adds. “I think after the referendum, I had a change of attitude, and that change of attitude was, ‘Damn it, this is where I live. This is my home.’”

Voting in favour

But not all immigrants felt that federalism was the answer to the question of what constitutes Quebecois identity.

“I didn’t feel pride,” says Abdallah Ghazal about his arrival in Montreal from Syria in 1968. “People were saying, ‘I’m American. I’m Syrian. I’m Italian,’ but I didn’t hear, ‘I’m Canadian.’”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Anything that’s divisive to harmonious relationships is not good for multiculturalism.”[/quote]

Ghazal, an agronomist, went on to teach high school science and biology in Victoriaville, QC. In 1995, he voted in favour of sovereignty, and says the decision was largely influenced by the ideas of René Lévesque, founder of the Parti Québécois and defender of Quebec’s independence.

“I admired him because he talked about separation, but also an association with Canada,” says Ghazal. “We would stay a unit of Canada with our own culture and way of life. That’s why I voted ‘yes.’”

Effects of divisive politics

The Parti Québécois, led by then premier of Quebec, Jacques Parizeau, orchestrated the referendum and promoted the 'yes' campaign. As the results were revealed on the night of the referendum, Parizeau proclaimed that the 'yes' side had lost due to “money and ethnic votes.”

“From the standpoint of harmonious relationships between communities in Quebec, I think it was very divisive,” says Jack Jedwab, Executive Vice-President of the Association for Canadian Studies and the Canadian Institute for Identities and Migration. “Anything that’s divisive to harmonious relationships is not good for multiculturalism.”

He adds that the effects were not as “devastating” as they could have been because Quebec society is more interested in harmony than in division.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“[T]here’s not that big of a difference between Toronto and Montreal in terms of how immigration and integration are managed.”[/quote]

Ghazal says he was encouraged by efforts of the provincial government that followed to secure rights over Quebec’s immigration policies and preserve the French language.

“I’m for the preservation of Quebecois identity,” he explains.

Jedwab says that while most Quebecers value diversity, Quebec decision-makers often associate multiculturalism policies with the federal government.

“It’s been suggested to Quebecers that multiculturalism is associated with ghettoization, or preserving one culture at the expense of the culture of the majority of the province,” he says. “The reality on the ground is there’s not that big of a difference between Toronto and Montreal in terms of how immigration and integration are managed.”

Jacobs says it’s wrong to underestimate the degree to which policies from the federal government can be manipulated on the part of separatists to cause “a rift,” and points to the niqab debate of the 2015 federal election as a recent example.

“I compare it to a marriage,” says Jedwab of Quebec’s relationship with Canada. “You’ve got to work all the time to make it vital. If you don’t do that, it breaks up.”

He says that for him, and the majority of Quebecers, divorce is not a desirable option.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The lack of exposure of the general population outside Montreal to different religions and cultures is the biggest problem here in Quebec.”[/quote]

Challenges faced by today’s immigrants

Jacobs, now president of the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network, teaches history and works in tourism in Quebec City. He notes that as an oral minority, he faced different challenges than visible minorities face in Quebec.

“The lack of exposure of the general population outside Montreal to different religions and cultures is the biggest problem here in Quebec,” he says.

Ghazal says that he too did not face the same challenges as many immigrants in Quebec experience today.

“I was raised in a private French college,” Ghazal shares of his upbringing in Syria. He says he arrived in Quebec with several of his peers who went on to become engineers and doctors.

Ghazal married and raised two children in Victoriaville, where he worked as a teacher until his retirement 15 years ago.

“Today, many who arrive with diplomas like me find it more difficult to find employment,” he says. “A lot of engineers and doctors come here and are not recognized.”

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Arts & Culture

by Shazia Javed (@ShaziaJaved) in Toronto

Diversity is a major part of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival and it’s no wonder, with almost 200 films being screened from Canada and around the world. The festival offers a unique opportunity to shed light on diverse stories and storytellers alike. Here is the first instalment of NCM’s series highlighting standout films and filmmakers from this year’s festival.  

Filmmaker Spotlight | Noemi Weis, Milk

Noemi Weis is the producer, director and writer of Milk, a documentary about the commercialization of childbirth and infant feeding, which premiered at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival in Toronto this week.

In 1998, Weis created a film production company, Film Blanc, and has been involved in making documentaries on social justice and women’s issues throughout her career.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]In creating Milk, Weis travelled to 35 cities in 11 countries to bring a global perspective and voices of women from diverse communities to her film.[/quote]

In creating Milk, Weis travelled to 35 cities in 11 countries to bring a global perspective and voices of women from diverse communities to her film.

Weis came to Canada from Argentina in her late teens for, “a year of adventure,” and made it her home. Argentina at that time, “was under a lot of oppression as it had a military government,” and Weis loved that, “you could talk to anyone in Canada and there was freedom of expression.”

In this interview with New Canadian Media Weis talks about her motivation in making Milk and opens up about her immigrant roots in Canada.

[youtube height="315" width="560"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwikK6qqPv4&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

Milk screens at 11 a.m. on April 29 inside the Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles St. W.) in Toronto.

---------------

Film Review | English India

75 MINUTES | 2015 | India | Directed by Spandan Banerjee

Colonial rulers brought English to India. In 1947, the British left, but the language stayed. Through a focus on tourism and tourist guides in Delhi and Agra, English India explores how English remains important for communication in India to the extent that it can be considered an Indian language.

English India refrains from a linear narrative; it is built through chapters” that introduce new people, places or ideas. This travelogue approach turns its audience into tourists who meet different people and visit various places.

The audience will meet shopkeepers, rickshaw pullers and tour guides that speak English with varying levels of proficiency. English, as the most commonly understood language, at least to some extent, by both international and domestic tourists, has become the language of survival for them.

The films most memorable participant, and perhaps also the one with the most screen time, is an outspoken tour guide who claims to be able to speak 70 languages. Hearing him speak about Delhis Red Fort, and its adjacent monuments, provides a good peak at the experience of visiting with a tour guide.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]For its musical track, English India taps into renditions of Hindi film songs and live music by uniformed brass bands, which, like the English language, are a legacy of colonialism that continued to flourish post-independence.[/quote]

In fact, his splashy take on history is missed later on in the film when the mechanized tone of an audio-tour app, which is all set to replace the human guides, is heard.

For its musical track, English India taps into renditions of Hindi film songs and live music by uniformed brass bands, which, like the English language, are a legacy of colonialism that continued to flourish post-independence.

The films highlight and biggest strength is the camera work by Mrinal Desai, which takes viewers to the narrow lanes of Old Delhi and captures its various hues. If drama or twists in the plot is the desire, English India will disappoint, but if audience members give in to the flow of visuals, they will surely be left craving rumili roti, kababs and jalebi street foods of Old Delhi.

English India screens at 6:45 p.m. on April 28 inside the TIFF Bell Lightbox 4 (350 King St. W.) and at 1:45 p.m. on April 29 inside the Scotiabank Theatre 7 (259 Richmond St. W.) in Toronto. 


Shazia Javed is a writer, photographer and filmmaker. All week long, New Canadian Media will feature her ongoing coverage of diverse films and filmmakers at this years Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival.

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Published in Arts & Culture
Sunday, 27 July 2014 22:15

Grammar over Substance

by Tung Chan in Vancouver

I felt flattered when I received a request from Oxford University Press Canada for permission to include my article “Social disconnect leads to ethnic enclaves” in an upcoming e-book. My ego was deflated when I found out the book, Skill Set with Grammar, was about better usage of English grammar. My article will be included in the section containing samples of articles for readers to practice how to spot and correct improper usage of grammar.

As a matter of fact, feelings of hurt, humiliation and resentment ran through my mind. My initial reaction was to reject the request. Why do I want my article to be held out as an example of poor use of English Grammar? After all, English has been my working language for almost 40 years. Besides, the article was published by a respectable English newspaper whose editor had gone over the article and corrected any mistakes deemed unacceptable. So, if there were any bad choice of grammar, I am not the only person responsible.

I then thought of the so-called Donald Trump theory of publicity: It does not matter if it is good or bad publicity, as long as your name gets mentioned in the media. So with that in mind, I negotiated a very nominal honorarium and gave my permission.

But the real point of all of this, I thought, is how important it is to master correct usage of English grammar. I grew up speaking Chinese. I can read and write in both the classical or contemporary-style Chinese with ease. The difference between the two is almost like Victorian English used by Shakespeare and current-day English used by Margaret Atwood. However, people who are fluent in Chinese in its written form know that the Chinese language has a vastly different grammatical structure than English. The Chinese language does not have tenses. It uses reflective adjectives to describe time. Verbs are not modified according to whether the subject is singular or plural.

Just to make things more complicated, there are many exceptions to the rules in English grammar! So you can imagine how difficult it is for someone like me to try to master English grammar.

Discounting people

But throughout my career, I have seen how native speakers, particularly those who have a degree majoring in English, tend to look down upon or discount the ideas of people who write with improper grammar. To these people, inability to master English grammar is tantamount to weak skills of logic and even low IQ. So instead of trying to understand and appreciate the idea being presented, these folks would just put the paper aside and ignore the ideas no matter how worthy of consideration it may be.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]To these people, inability to master English grammar is tantamount to weak skills of logic and even low IQ.[/quote]

This is a terrible waste of talent and human resources because we live in a multicultural and multilingual environment. There are many people, myself included, who, no matter how hard we try, will have difficulty in achieving perfect use of grammar. You would have likely noticed several grammatical mistakes in this article so far! But to discount what I have to say in this article because of my grammatical mistakes would be to deny the merit of my argument.

Substance over style

There are two ways to remedy the situation. The first is to publish books -- like the ones published by Oxford University Press of Canada -- to help people to master English Grammar. The second, I think, is more important from my personal experience: that is for native English speakers to tone down their cultural superiority. They need to remove from their minds the notion that the ability to write in English correctly is an indication of mental capacity. What matters is the substance and not the expression of an idea.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The second, I think, is more important from my personal experience: that is for native English speakers to tone down their cultural superiority.[/quote]

At the end of the day, my article still gets noticed and I am glad I will contribute to improving people's grammatical skills. And best of all, I now have bragging rights: having one of my articles published by the Oxford University Press Canada.

Editor's Note: This piece was lightly edited to improve clarity.

Tung Chan is Chairperson of the Board of Trustees at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 and an Honorary Captain of the Royal Canadian Navy. Tung is also a member of the Board of the Vancouver Foundation, the Rick Hansen Institute and the Canadian Foundation Of Economic Education. From 2006 to 2010, Tung was the CEO of S.U.C.C.E.S.S., a social service agency in British Columbia. He is among this year's recipients of the Order of British Columbia.

Published in Commentary
Saturday, 03 May 2014 14:34

Canada Before Canada

by Books Editor Abby Paige

Review: The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden, Penguin Canada (Fiction, 2013)

It’s easy to keep track of how long my citizenship study guide has been on my nightstand, because it arrived in the mail, acknowledging receipt of my citizenship application, the same month I gave birth to my son. I naively attempted to study the guide during those bleary early weeks of parenthood — naively because I always ended up falling asleep and because, two and half years later, I have not yet been contacted for my test.

Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship is a bureaucratic document, but that’s not to say it is without imagination. Albeit in bland and simplistic language, the guide articulates a vision of Canada, part historical, part aspirational, which immigrants are expected to embrace — or at least parrot — in order to gain citizenship. One of the ideals most prominently positioned in the guide is that of Canadian multiculturalism, and its emphasis is justified. Indeed, it’s why many immigrants come here. Somewhat interestingly, Canada’s multicultural fabric is described as primarily a consequence of immigration: “over the past 200 years, millions of newcomers have helped to build and defend our way of life.”

This makes a bit of a muddle, however, of the 200 years before that. Canada’s “three founding peoples,” we’re told, are Aboriginal, French, and British,” but “Canadian society today stems largely from the English-speaking and French-speaking Christian civilizations that were brought here from Europe by settlers.” Anyone who has lived in Canada for any length of time knows this to be factually true, and yet framing Aboriginal Canadians as peoples of the past is troubling. If Canada is a multicultural nation, as my guide professes, how do its native peoples contribute to that diversity?

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]If Canada is a multicultural nation, as my guide professes, how do its native peoples contribute to that diversity?[/quote]

First contact

For the past few weeks, Joseph Boyden’s novel, The Orenda, has also been in residence on my nightstand. It is a story of “first contact,” the moment in the 17th century when New France was just coalescing, before the crowns of Europe fully understood the wealth of the Americas, and those few Europeans who did set foot in the New World were largely on their own. It is, in a sense, a Canadian origin story, of the time before country, commonwealth, or colony, when aboriginal peoples sensed both the risks and rewards of relationships with the Europeans, if not the speed with which one would outweigh the other.

The novel, Boyden’s third, is narrated in the voices of three main characters. Bird is a prominent warrior among the Wendat people, who lived in much of present-day southern Ontario, particularly near Georgian Bay. Considering his status as a war-maker, Bird’s is a sympathetic and sometimes even tender voice, perhaps because his narrative is addressed to his departed wife, who along with their daughters was murdered by a Haudenosaunee war party years earlier. In revenge, he leads an attack on a small group of Haudenosaunee early in the book, killing several and taking prisoner a young girl whose family is among the dead.

Snow Falls, who is accepted into Bird’s community as his adopted daughter, provides the second narrative voice. She is understandably resentful of her captors, and when she isn’t exacting revenge outright, she’s searching for ways to subvert her adopted father’s plans for her. She often provides stark reminders of the divisions and commonalities between native peoples. “My people are a farming people, just like these Wendat,” she says, early in her captivity. “We are part of this earth. We speak similar tongues and grow the same food and hunt the same game. Yet we’re enemies, bent on destroying one another. I don’t understand it.” Snow Falls’ ferocity is exciting, and keeps the whole novel dimensional, preventing it from becoming a simple power struggle between two masculine points of view, the martial Bird and the proselytizing Christophe Crow.

Crow, our third narrator, is a French Jesuit dispatched from Quebec to make inroads with the Huron peoples farther inland. Bird’s people take him in reluctantly, hoping to cement their budding trading relationship with the Europeans. Crow is well-meaning, but prudish and arrogant, by turns moved by the exotic beauty of the “sauvages” and horrified by what he perceives as their brutality and unabashed sexuality. His clumsy attempts to preach Christianity in the Wendat language are tolerated, but mostly met with a mixture of boredom and laughter. He is such a fish-out-of-water, tumbling down embankments and wobbling canoes, that we, like Bird, are almost convinced of his impotence.

Historical dynamics

These three characters guide us through the evolution of Bird’s community over roughly a decade, as it is transformed from a vibrant village of several hundred to a wandering band of few dozen souls, reduced through several waves of disease, crop failures, and an escalation in warfare with the Haudenosaunee. These pressures coincide with a greater influx of French settlers and European weapons. (The British are mentioned only in passing, but the fact that the story is written in English, which none of the three characters would have spoken, hints at a further wave of upheaval on the horizon.)

These are historical dynamics of which most readers would be aware. But if Boyden’s book is history, it’s history on a human scale, deeply complicated and unnerving. The violence of the book is troubling — some critics have maligned it as too vivid — and the manipulative methods to which the Jesuits resort to win souls are similarly unsavoury. Yet these complications add to the novel’s richness rather than detract from it. Without painting anyone as a villain, Boyden is able to suggest to the reader how deeply strange Aboriginals and Europeans must have been to one another — and perhaps continue to be. And yet, they are able to approach a fragile interdependence, too fragile, unfortunately, to survive the greater forces at work.

Released last September, Boyden’s bookhas been shortlisted for numerous national literary awards, and this spring it won CBC’s 2014 Canada Reads contest, which sought to name “a novel to change our nation.” I would agree with the assertion, made as part of that contest, that reconciliation with Canada’s native peoples is long overdue and among the greatest social justice issues of our time.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It is a novel that asks us to find our future in our origins.[/quote]

If we envision Canada as a truly multicultural society, where the historical and current contributions of all groups are honoured, we ought to be equally aware of all three of our founding peoples. The Orenda seems like a good place to start in developing that awareness. It is a novel that asks us to find our future in our origins. Likeness is attractively easy and comfortable, but in the end, in a multicultural society we are bound together by something more complex: the shared effort to find common ground where none may be readily apparent and (to borrow a phrase from my citizenship study guide) forge “unity from diversity.” This is what Boyden’s characters struggle to do and likely what many Aboriginals and Europeans did in the early days of their encounter. Boyden has picked up a thread of Canadian history that was dropped, one that might be key to holding our multicultural fabric together.

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Published in Books
Friday, 14 February 2014 00:34

Jumping through hoops to become Canadian

by Vicky Tobianah in Toronto

The first significant changes to Canada’s Citizenship Act in almost four decades will make it more difficult for new immigrants to become Canadian citizens, seek to prevent immigration fraud and encourage Canadians to take more pride in their citizenship, said Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander. The new rules, proposed in the Conservative government’s bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, were announced on Feb. 6 and will toughen the rules for those wanting to be Canadian.

But while the changes mark a new era for Canada’s citizenship rules, they’re leaving many Canadian immigrants with a sense of unease. “My parents immigrated to Canada from Grenada and one of the reasons they chose to come here is because they knew Canada welcomed and valued immigrants,” said Fabian Aird, 35. “Had these rules been in effect then, I don’t know if they would have been able to come, and I would never have been born here and living here now. Our lives would be very different.”

Others shared the same sentiment. “I came here from Lebanon over thirty years ago. My family knew Canada was supposed to be an easy place to get citizenship and that it was a friendly, welcoming country,” said Camille Romano. “But will today’s immigrants feel the same way? I’m not sure if these rules will actually help prevent fraud and immigration troubles. It might just keep good people out.”

Janice Urrelys Pérez Silverstein recently got married and is currently sponsoring her husband who lives in Cuba to become a Canadian citizen. While it isn’t clear how the changes will affect those who sponsor family members, she said the problem is the message that this sends to potential new immigrants.

“They make immigrating to Canada more and more difficult and people need to jump through hoops in order to apply. Raising the costs is obviously absurd, in my opinion, as it deters the applicant to want to apply,” she said.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“If they moved to Canada, the goal is to become a citizen and they have already been through a lot to be permitted to immigrate, and then they have to go through more hardship to actually become a citizen ...[/quote]

Tougher criteria

One of the proposed changes is lengthening the amount of time applicants need to live in Canada. Previously, residents applying for citizenship only needed to live for three out of four years in the country; now, residents would need to live at least four out of six years in Canada and be physically present for at least half a year, as well as declare an “intent to reside” in Canada and file Canadian income taxes for those years.

Another key change is the stricter language requirements. Previously, only adults aged 18-54 had to complete an English or French language proficiency test and could use the help of an interpreter. The changes would mean applicants aged 14 to 64 will have to demonstrate proficiency in either language, without an interpreter.

The new changes would also allow the government to withdraw citizenship from dual citizens convicted on terrorism charges. This is one of the most significant changes, and gives the government the power to revoke citizenship from Canadian dual citizens who are convicted of terrorist activities and deny citizenship to permanent residents who are involved in terrorist activities.

The changes also increase the government’s powers. According to the new rules, the Citizenship and Immigration Minister would have the power to revoke one’s citizenship without a court hearing if the application contained false information. Currently, applicants are given a court hearing.

To prevent immigration fraud (for example, lying on an application about how long you’ve been in the country or not declaring a criminal record), the new changes propose that those falsifying their applications be fined up to $100,000 and/or result in five years in prison, a major change from the current $1,000 fine and/or maximum of one year in prison.

As well, another hurdle immigrants will have to overcome is higher application fees.The fee to apply for Canadian citizenship, which has not changed in 20 years, would increase to $300.

Ending the backlog

While critics have pointed out that the changes — the first comprehensive reforms to the Citizenship Act since 1977 — make it more difficult to become a Canadian citizen, government officials like Mr. Alexander said it will help ensure that those applying for citizenship actually intend to live in the country and integrate themselves in Canadian society. Hence, he said, the need for stricter language requirements and to declare intent to reside in Canada. “Citizenship is not a right, it is a privilege,” said the Minister after the bill was brought forth in Parliament last week.

As well, he said the stricter rules will help shorten wait times for citizenship. There is currently a backlog of over 300,000 applications, with some applicants waiting as long as two to three years for an answer. The stricter rules will help the government process all successful applications in under a year, and prevent them from keeping thousands of applicants in limbo.

Whether the new rules will hurt or harm those applying for citizenship remains to be seen, and is of particular concern to new applicants. “I think a lot of people think it’s easy to become a Canadian citizen. There’s this general idea that the Canadian government will accept anyone and it’s unfortunately not true,” said Mr. Aird. “Increasing the application fees, making people wait longer for citizenship, and giving even more arbitrary powers to the government just leaves them with a bad feeling about Canada. Is this really what’s best?”

For now, many potential immigrants are just trying to focus on the positive and move forward with their applications — especially before these new rules are put into place. Thinking about the bleakness of the situation will just cause depression,” said Ms. Silverstein, whose husband has to wait in Cuba. “People just have to keep on with it.”

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Published in Top Stories
Friday, 11 October 2013 00:11

Québec's very problematic Charter proposal

by Richard M. Landau

I grew up in Québec.  We saw nuns in full habit everywhere: in schools, driving cars, the shopping centre.  That Québec … steeped in religion, where penitents mounted the stairs to Montréal’s Oratoire St. Joseph on their knees, has rapidly faded. Under the proposed new charter, a nun in habit, entering a Québec public school to teach, would be violating the Charter. The Charter is very concerned with how people’s choice of attire may offend others.

That’s why, when the current revisionist and, I must point out, minority government tries to claim that a neutral and religion-free society is a long-held Québec value that must be protected, I chortle. You see, if anyone is failing to understand and respect traditional Quebecois values, it is this Charter and this government.

The Marois government tells us this proposed Charter will affirm Québecois values.  That’s modernist revisionist claptrap – a lie.  Traditional Québec values involve home, hearth and faith.  

Were Lalement and Brébeuf a couple of roving environmentalists?  Nicolet a Muslim?  Francois de Laval an atheist?  How do you take all the saints out of Québec and its history? Ste. Catherine Street?   Ste. Thérèse?  La Calvère (the large cross atop Mont Royal)?  Look no further than the French words to the national anthem:  “Il sait porter la croix.”

This is a political wedge issue. It won’t get passed by the currently constituted Assemblée Nationale.  Even if it did, it would never survive Federal Charter challenges.  Suffice it to say, this is part of a thinly, ahem, veiled political agenda aimed at shoring up Mme Marois’s Francophone base outside Montréal and Québec City. 

The Péquistes typically torque language and issues about who is un vrai Québecois, who is pure laine.  They did it once before in attempting to eliminate all English references from the landscape and the history. Such attempts to legislate thinking don’t always take root.  There once was a city renamed Leningrad. As a small island of seven million Francophones in a North American sea of 340 million others, Quebeckers have learned how to circle up the wagons to defend their culture against threats real or perceived. They’ve done well because Québec’s cultural contribution punches far above its weight.

Why this?  Why now?

It seems there wasn’t a problem with ubiquitous Catholic symbols, or yarmulkes or turbans being worn by public servants in the preceding 250 years.  But something has changed.  In Québec, in France and other jurisdictions, governments are reacting to a more demanding and pious expression of Islam from growing numbers of Muslim immigrants.

On the soccer fields and elsewhere, Muslims, women mostly, are being thrust into the forefront.  Ontario, a few years back grappled with whether Sharia law should have official standing.  Now, many Quebeckers, feeling confronted by a small number of Muslim women who wear niqab or burqas, are rejecting the attire.  It spreads: until quite recently there was never any problem with young Sikh men wearing turbans on a soccer field.

So the Québec government wants to draw a line before anyone tells them that the school cafeteria can no longer be serving ham sandwiches and every school must install a wudu (ritual cleansing area).  They respond: “You can wear what you want at home and in private places … but not in a government office and some public places.”

All of this is playing out against the tableau of a Québec society in turmoil, having separated not so much from Canada, but from its rock-ribbed Catholic past. And it is still rebelling.

Attempting Revisionism

Part of the revisionism is the attempt to retrofit notions of separation of church and state into a modern Québec society.  In no North American jurisdiction was there less wiggle room between church and state than there was in Québec, until the last 50 years.  Québec, like Mexico during its La Cristiada anti-clerical period, is now expurgating all past symbols and representations of the Roman Catholic Church. 

The Québec government writes that the best method to respond to religious pluralism…is to have NO public expression of religion.  What Orwellian doublespeak!  You see, they have actually chosen to favour a state religion over the others.  That religion: Atheism.

To the contrary, India as a model.  It is a secular state, which doesn’t mean a state without religion. It means a state where all religions are equal and none is accorded official status.  India, of all places, homeland to four of the major world religions (Jainism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism) and fertile ground adopted by others.

India has a Hindu President, a Muslim Vice President, a turban-wearing Sikh Prime Minister, atheist Defence Minister, and the leader of the largest party is a Roman Catholic.  Has this eroded or destroyed the historic Hinduism or the essential cultural identity of India?  Not as much, some would argue, as the adoption of Western economic and social values. Québec take note.

Flexibility, please …

On the other side of the ledger, religious adherents need to show some flexibility, too.  Time was, if you wanted to live a parochial religious life: you established your own remote colonies.  Familiar examples include: old order Mennonites, Hutterites, Doukhobours, etc. 

Common sense and flexibility must prevail.  Just because you choose to live your religion in an extreme and anti-social way, I don’t have to hire you. For example, in parts of India, the Digambara Jains walk naked through the streets as an expression of faith.  Sorry, no matter how much you invoke Charter rights, that’s not happening here.  Be realistic; the society can’t be bent into a pretzel to accommodate anti-social practices – especially ones that are not obligatory.

Still, head coverings should not be as big a problem as face coverings. Relax, Québec provides us with illustrations of what is and isn’t acceptable.  While these focus on world religions, what is going to happen when a First Nations employee of the Québec government wears a feather, carries a medicine bag, or a pipe?  You see, once you start legislating this stuff, you stray into the maudlin. 

What about an outdoor worker on a bitter cold winter day in Trois Rivières?  Can he or she still wear a ski mask? Yes, I suppose, as long as he or she can prove it was worn for warmth, not belief.

About religious attire

There is a large wave of Muslim immigrants, many of whom have no experience living in a nation where Muslims are in the minority and in which Islam has no official status.  It’s fair to point out that until recently, Muslim women could not cover their heads in Muslim-majority nations Tunisia and Turkey, and it was also once forbidden in Iran. Many Muslims believe such cover is cultural and personal, not fard (a religious obligation).

It’s also worth asking why a Pakistani or a Malaysian woman feels compelled to dress in what is essentially Arabian-style full body cover?  It’s like a Russian wearing a kilt.  The Bible doesn’t command the Mennonites to wear suspenders, I assure you.  In other words, just because someone says it is “religious attire” doesn’t necessarily make it so. Some forms of accoutrements are strictly cultural and, importantly, are non-obligatory.  So, if it is your wish to stand out as distinct from the society at large, you’re going to have to do that with the content of your character, and not your attire. Or don’t expect a public service job.

Some legal consequences

This Québec Charter will lose in a federal challenge based on Charter of Rights and Freedoms protections of religion and freedom of religious expression. 

However, it is most vulnerable to a Charter 27 challenge: "This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians."

Québec is about to stray into the weeds and is going to be portrayed as intolerant.

And if Québec goes so far as to invoke the notwithstanding clause, imagine the scene when the Assemblée Nationale sergeant-in-arms forcibly removes a turbaned MNA from the assembly.  On that day, I dare every sitting member to show up wearing a turban or hijab.

Richard M. Landau has been responsible for adjudicating disputes and enforcing a television network code of ethics in a religious broadcasting setting since 1992.  He is a graduate of Carleton University and the University of Ottawa.  A leader in interfaith dialogue, Mr. Landau has consulted with the U.K. Home Office and the White House Office of Community- and Faith-based Initiatives.  He works closely with leadership in all of the major world religions.  He is author of  "What the World Needs to Know about Interfaith Dialogue."

Published in Commentary

Much of the commentary following the release of the National Household Survey on May 8 may have missed the point: that Canada’s population today is very different from 50 years ago. And, unless there are dramatic changes in the way we select newcomers in the next little while, we will continue to evolve from a nation with European forebears to one that draws its immigrants from all over the world – a majority of Asian heritage.

Here’s a telling statistic: 22 per cent of our population are first-generation Canadians, 17.4 per cent are second-generation and 60.7 per cent of us are either third generation or have been here longer. The majority of first-generation Canadians reported their ethnicities as Chinese, East Indian (from India) and English. The second generation are mainly English, Canadian and Scottish, while the third generation and beyond are Canadian, English and French.

The profile of first and second-generation Canadians gives us a good sense of where we are heading. The trend line has been consistent, as captured in this NHS finding –

  • The share of “visible minorities” has increased among immigrants who came in the more recent decades. The 2011 NHS data showed that visible minorities accounted for 78 per cent of the immigrants who arrived between 2006 and 2011, 76.7 per cent of those who arrived in the previous five-year period and 74.8 per cent of immigrants who arrived in the 1990s.
  • In contrast, visible minorities made up only 12.4 per cent of immigrants who arrived before 1971.

Overall, “visible minorities” comprise 19.1 per cent of the total population, a third of whom are born in Canada. Further, three in 10 of second-generation Canadians are “visible minorities.” This is the generation that is a crossover between the Canada we know and the Canada that we will hand over to our children. Some of this is fairly obvious, especially if you ride transit in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary or Ottawa-Gatineau (in descending order).

These numbers have implications. They suggest it may be time to move beyond mantras like “multiculturalism,” “diversity” and “inclusiveness” to make them more meaningful to newcomers. It may also be a good time to re-examine our use of the term “visible minority,” acknowledging this new reality. Unless the recent changes in immigration policy that place a greater emphasis on language ability (English or French) causes big reversals in the countries and regions from which we draw our immigrants, we will soon be a nation inhabited largely by “visible minorities.”

The Canadian complexity

Among G8 nations, we have the highest foreign-born population. Only Australia has a higher proportion of immigrants, at 26.8 per cent (2010 figures). And, the immigrants to Canada come from 200 different countries and report an even higher number of mother tongues. To wit –

  • More than 200 ethnic origins were reported by respondents to the NHS. In 2011, 57.9 per cent of the population reported one ethnic origin and the rest, 42.1 per cent, reported more than one origin; and
  • 72.8 per cent of the immigrant population reported a mother tongue other than English or French.

 This makes Canada one of the most multicultural, multi-ethnic and polyglot nations on earth. We are redefining old concepts of nationhood. But, what does this mean for our policy of “multiculturalism” and “bilingualism”? The fact is that these touchstones were invented and designed for another era – when we drew most of our immigrants from the European continent and Canada was not a microcosm of virtually every race and ethnicity in the world. We are today a nation of 200+ mother tongues and our citizens come from 200 different nations.

Language skills

Lastly, these two statistics –

  • 6.5 per cent of all immigrants reported that they did not know either official language in 2011.
  • Among the recent immigrants who came to Canada between 2006 and 2011, nine per cent were able to converse only in non-official language(s).

These numbers tend to debunk a common explanation for joblessness and under-employment among recent immigrants: that their poor language skills account for their lack of economic integration. Considering that about 14 per cent of our annual intake of immigrants are refugees or cases of compassion (36,178 in 2011) – people who don’t quite fulfill the fluency criteria required of economic migrants – this low percentage suggests language is not as much of a problem as policy-makers crack it up to be.

The National Household Survey portrays an evolving nation that is being remade with every new wave of newcomers. They come to a nation with great institutions, including Statistics Canada, which spent a reported $652 million in providing Canadians with an accurate snapshot of who we are. The nations immigrants come from often have poor policy-making capacity, partly because they lack the resources to undertake the kind of surveys and data collection that we in Canada take for granted.

Rather than focus on the shortcomings of survey methodology, we should be discussing how these latest numbers can inform our way forward as a nation. Unless you are a professional statistician like Munir Sheikh, the numbers should be good enough to foster a national conversation around the big-picture demographic changes that are happening right in front of our eyes.

The NHS should remind all Canadians that this nation is changing; that the Canada of tomorrow will be very different from the Canada of today. – New Canadian Media

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Published in Commentary
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New Canadian Media provides nonpartisan news and views representing all Canadian immigrant communities. As part of this endeavour, we re-publish aggregated content from various ethnic media publishers in Canada in an effort to raise the profile of news and commentary from an immigrant perspective. New Canadian Media, however, does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views and opinions contained in content from such other sites. The views expressed on this site are those of the individual writers and commentators, and not necessarily those of New Canadian Media. Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved