New Canadian Media

by Shan Qiao in Toronto 

Governments and bureaucrats need to focus less on numbers and more on starting real conversations that tackle critical problems, like race, in ways that engage immigrants rather than shaming them. 

“A lot of time when it’s about race, we are afraid to talk about it,” said Yolande James, one of four speakers from the government and legal system who presented at the “Identities, Rights and Migration: A Session on the Intersection of Gender, Race, Class and Sexuality” session at the 18th National Metropolis Conference held in Toronto last week. 

“There is a way to have a conversation involving everybody, to be respectful and constructive. Everybody has something to give and we should have an equal life.” 

James, a former provincial politician, was the first Black female cabinet minister in Quebec history, serving as Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities & Minister of Family between 2007 and 2014. 

As a former provincial government minister, and child of immigrant parents herself, James knows about how inefficient all levels of government are in engaging newcomers into their host country. 

“Do we engage immigrant populations? Do we have engaged dialogue?” she asked. “We haven’t done enough.” 

She said the lack of society-wide conversations that engage with immigrants sends the message that they do not matter. 

“I feel the whole nation, in terms of why the issues touching immigration and diversity [are] important, is not engaged,” she said. “It’s all about being able to engage people to connect with other people’s experience.” 

“There is so much emphasis on the numbers, but it’s not important. It’s about their journey.”

As an example, James pointed to the current challenge of accepting Syrian refugees to Canada. She said that the government needs to pay attention to more than just the number of refugees being accepted. 

“Should it be 55,000 or 50,000?” she asked. “There is so much emphasis on the numbers, but it’s not important. It’s about their journey,” she said. 

Case in point: Iran sanctions 

Another contemporary example is the government’s inefficiency in communicating with immigrants about the sanctions against Iran in 2010 by the former Conservative government. 

Theoretically, sanctions against Iran were not meant to target Iranian citizens or Iranians who immigrated to Canada, but instead to put pressure on the Iranian government. 

However, a large number of Iranian Canadians were caught in the crossfire and penalized by Canada, said Iranian Canadian lawyer Negar Achtari who practises in Ottawa. 

“The impact of the sanctions on Iranian Canadians is everywhere in the ordinary Iranian immigrant’s daily life.”

“The impact of the sanctions on Iranian Canadians is everywhere in the ordinary Iranian immigrant’s daily life,” she explained. 

“The federal government restricted money wiring from Iran to Canada. Manitoba and Quebec announced they were not accepting Iranian immigrants under [the] investment category. CIBC and TD banks proceeded to close Iranian Canadians' bank accounts, sweeping their assets from chequing accounts to credit cards and mortgages, frozen without notice.” 

She also mentioned another resulting impact – the Canadian Border Services Agency seizing Iranians’ belongings upon their arrival to Canada for a time-consuming scrutinization. 

“We believe governments are our guardians. What they’ve done is simply wrong,” said Achtari. “When and to whom do these [sanctions] apply? There is only silence from the government. What they tried to say is, ‘figure it out on your own!’” 

Despite laws in place, discrimination persists   

Avvy Go, human rights lawyer and clinic director at the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, shared her experience of asking for redress and compensation from the Canadian government for the Chinese Head Tax victims and their descendants almost 10 years ago. 

[R]acialized women earn 55.6 per cent of the income of non-racialized men.

She was one of a dozen activists who mobilized many community activities asking the Liberal government at the time, led by Prime Minister Paul Martin, for redress and monetary compensation. 

Along with an official apology, the Harper Conservative government gave $20,000 to direct victims who paid a $500 head tax in the early 20th century in order to come to Canada. 

According to Canada’s Colour Coded Labour Market report, racialized men are 24 per cent more likely to be unemployed than non-racialized men. 

Racialized women have it worse: They’re 48 per cent more likely to be unemployed than non-racialized men. 

This many contribute to the fact that racialized women earn 55.6 per cent of the income of non-racialized men. 

Go used these figures to highlight that although anti-racism and anti-homophobia laws are in place, discrimination continues to exist.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Politics

by Justin Kong in Toronto

The results of the recent federal election shows that we need a better understanding of how immigrant groups are mobilized and integrated into formal spheres of Canadian politics. This two-part series focuses on the Chinese community in metropolitan areas of Canada. Part II examines the new Chinese working class, how conditions are ripe for the development of a Chinese left and what this all means for the Canadian left.

With the devastating electoral defeat of the New Democratic Party last month in the 2015 Federal Elections, it’s clear that the Canadian left must adjust their strategy. The new strategy needs to support the development of a progressive, grassroots immigrant power to counter the presence of more conservative and moderate elements within these communities.  

In the Chinese diaspora, while there are a number of strong progressive leaders at various levels of government and in the community at large, the presence of a mobilized, grassroots Chinese immigrant left has yet to be felt in recent years.

This lies partly in the fact that one group has long been unengaged: the Chinese immigrant working class. 

New wave of Chinese immigrants, new attitudes towards labour

Contrary to the common trope of the rich Chinese investor immigrant, one merely has to look around the many Chinese ethnic neighbourhoods in Toronto and Vancouver to see that there are actually tremendous populations of workers labouring in the ethnic economy. These workers are often engaged in the food and services industry in precarious conditions and without the full protection of employment laws and standards.

This population has long been here and has remained relatively unengaged by the mainstream left and organized labour. A small group find themselves in the progressive political spaces of community labour organizations such as the Workers Action Centre in Toronto. 

What has changed in recent years, however, is the composition of this Chinese working class and the increasing maturity of the Chinese diaspora in Canada. These two conditions have important ramifications for the possibility of a progressive Chinese element and the Canadian left at large.

In the past two decades the flow of Chinese immigrants, which had previously been largely dominated by those from Hong Kong and Taiwan, has shifted to a flow that is increasingly dominated by those from mainland China. 

Given that immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan have likely been here for a longer period of time it is more likely that they have attained more upward mobility with less ‘working class’ members. More importantly these groups have radically different pre-migration attitudes towards the left and labour politics than the new wave from China. 

This population has long been here and has remained relatively unengaged by the mainstream left and organized labour.

In Hong Kong, family histories of communist persecution, the infamous 1967 riots which linked trade unionism with social instability and communist insurgency, combine to stifle the possibility of broad labour politics amongst the Hong Kong populace. It should be no surprise then that Canadian labour politics will find it difficult to engage this group.

On the other hand, the new Chinese immigrant working class is largely composed of skilled professionals from mainland China who grew up in very different conditions. Growing up and living in Mainland China means this group has at the very least a basic understanding of concepts of class, capitalism and exploitation — important preconditions to any progressive and labour politics. 

With the economic rise of China and the proliferation of consumer culture, leftist politics may have had little salience amongst this population when they were still living in China. 

After immigrating the situation becomes different. Labouring in the deskilling, dehumanizing and precarious Canadian economy reignites in the Chinese worker the earlier internalizations of working class consciousness and left politics.

Due to these factors, this new Chinese working class, more than any previous Chinese wave, has the potential to constitute a progressive, left element within the Chinese diaspora in Canada.

Bridging the ethnic and the mainstream

As waves upon waves of Chinese immigrants have settled in Canada, the Chinese diaspora as a whole has become increasingly mature. This maturity manifests in an increasing number of potential progressive political leaders who are able to connect the mainstream with the ethnic.

These two developments together represent the fertile conditions for the development of a left grassroots counter presence in the Chinese community. In the absence of sustained engagement, this new Chinese working class may remain inactive in formal politics and quite possibly bolster the ranks of the political right and moderates.

Chinese churches, for example, appear to be making in-roads with this new Chinese working class. Grounded in the ethnic community through their ‘service’, Chinese churches in Toronto have initiated sermons and fellowship groups catered specifically to Chinese restaurant workers. For the left, such a development is illustrative of the extensive vacuum that exists.

This new Chinese working class has the potential to constitute a progressive, left element within the Chinese diaspora in Canada.

If we look throughout Canada’s history we will see that incorporating immigrant workers has been central to the power of organized labour and the Canadian left. However, that this incorporation has often excluded immigrant workers who are not white has always been an overarching, strategic misstep.

In order for the Canadian left to establish a foothold in immigrant communities for electoral struggles or otherwise, the establishment of grassroots strength within these communities is essential. To do this the immigrant working classes and political leadership of immigrant communities must be mobilized and connected with the mainstream left.

By supporting and building the emerging immigrant left is to reverse the decades of decline of the Canadian left. The conditions for an immigrant left is ripe in the Chinese community and it may likely be the case in other immigrant communities as well. All that remains for us to do is to come together and figure out how we can make it a reality — and that, of course, is the hard part.


Justin Kong studies sociology and is involved with community and labour organizing in Toronto.

Journalist Ranjit Bhaskar mentored the writer of this article, through the New Canadian Media mentorship program. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

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Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

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The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

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