Two independent surveys find that Canadians are positive about newcomers in theory, but they are not so agreeable when pushed out of their comfort zones.
According to Immigration Partnership Winnipeg’s recent survey, Winnipeggers generally have positive attitudes about immigrants and refugees. Fifty-nine per cent said they felt newcomers had a positive effect on the city, with only nine per cent saying newcomers had a negative effect.
Eighty-eight per cent said they feel good about the presence of newcomers. About 75 per cent said they were comfortable with immigrant neighbours, while 66 per cent were amenable to a close friend or relative marrying a newcomer.
Almost two in three Canadians (62 per cent) report they are “worried” about a rise in racism.
But only 58 per cent said they would be comfortable with a newcomer supervisor at work, and 53 per cent said they were fine with immigrant co-workers getting time for cultural events.
Respondents with higher incomes and higher levels of education seemed more positive about immigration than those who earn less than $30,000 per year or only have high school education.
Women and younger Winnipegger respondents were more positive towards newcomers than men and respondents over 55 years old.
In the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) 2014 survey on issues of religion, racism and intergroup relations, almost two in three Canadians (62 per cent) report they are “worried” about a rise in racism, with varying percentages of concern for each group, such as Muslims, Aboriginal peoples, immigrants and Jews.
“When you look at the numbers, you see that … almost 50 per cent of us aren’t so happy about adjusting our workplace, just taking that one example,” says Anita Bromberg, CRRF’s executive director.
“Put that all together, and the answer is we’ve got work to do.”
Change needed at the institutional level
Alden Habacon, a diversity and inclusion strategist with the University of British Columbia, observes that racism is implicit, subtle and institutional.
“They took a risk on us. Are we willing to take a risk on them?”
“It is more harmful in those ways. It may not hurt your feelings, but you can’t get ahead, you can’t fulfil your purpose. It’s wasted potential. It hurts social sustainability of a multicultural society,” says Habacon.
He points to institutional change as the way to counter racism. For example, improvement could be made to the Labour Market Impact Assessment process.
“We need to come up with a way of testing people’s technical ability in a way that recognizes their language assets. We could split the cost for this process. We benefit from this process as well as them. We both have skin in the game,” he says.
He also thinks Canada needs to figure out what is legitimately needed for qualifications and that society needs to do more to offset the costs for newcomers to integrate into society in terms of education and living expenses.
“They took a risk on us. Are we willing to take a risk on them? We could offer to give microloans. We know they are good for their money. We need to bring change on a policy level,” he says.
We talk about Canada’s diversity and its multiculturalism but there’s an underlying discomfort … a fear about what opening the door is going to look like.”
Fighting fears of the unknown
Bromberg feels society needs to have a more diverse structure, deal with systemic issues and change attitudes.
“We talk about Canada’s diversity and its multiculturalism but there’s an underlying discomfort … a fear about what opening the door is going to look like. Fear of the unknown, fear of the other. Fear of people you don’t know enough about,” she says.
Still, Bromberg has an optimistic view for the future generations. She says that children are able to see human beings, not people of different backgrounds, to respect, celebrate and accept individuals for their worth.
“You want a diverse economy and a diverse planting scheme. Well, it’s the same as human beings that are we ready to accept that and put the systems in place that opens all the doors,” says Bromberg, whose grandparents emigrated from the Ukraine to flee persecution.
While Habacon acknowledges there are positive attitudes towards different races, he thinks more needs to be done.
“Often, the change comes behind the scenes to effect real culture change. Attitude is just the beginning. Positive perception leads to action, which leads to habits, and institutional policy change goes on without any effort,” he says.
He says that Winnipeg struggles with racism and disparity.
“That’s a problem. Socially, the climate isn’t good. There’s a disparity in terms of health care, Aboriginals have a harder time accessing health care, education services due to racism. There’s nothing that can equate the disadvantages that Aboriginals have experienced,” he says.
Florence Hwang is a Saskatchewan-based freelance writer. She is a media librarian who loves storytelling. She has written for La Source newspaper, CBC Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Folklore and South Asian Post.