By Laska Paré in Toronto
Trunk Tales: Leaving home … finding home is an exhibit that recently opened in Toronto. Through a variety of heirlooms — trunks, clothes, photos and letters—stories of Ukrainians immigrating to Canada are told.
My great-grandmother, Sophia Lysy, was part of the second wave (1918-1939) of Ukrainian immigrants to reach Canada. In 1926 at the tender age of 16, she left her home in Tyahliv, Ukraine, to live with her Aunt and Uncle in Point Pelee, Canada. Upon leaving Europe, Sophia had been provided with a return passage to Tyahliv. However, struck by the poor conditions of the farming community where her family had settled, she cashed in her return ticket to help her Aunt and Uncle purchase a better farm. And so, Canada became her new home.
Though I’ve heard the stories from my family many times over, it wasn’t until recently when I gazed at my Babsia’s encased obrus (embroidered Ukrainian tablecloth) and read dozens of other narratives from immigrants displayed in the room, did I feel a sense of guilt about my life in Canada.
The Canadian Perks
As a third-generation Canadian, it’s taken years of foreign travel for me to recognize the value of my citizenship. The fact that I can proudly sew our nation’s flag on my backpack knowing it will only be of benefit, and perhaps a bonus, during my international travels says a lot about our country.
Being a Canadian has allowed me to by-pass many extensive processes or requirements for documentation and has omitted me from being seen or questioned as a threat. So yes, there’s no question I’m grateful for my citizenship and the specialized treatment that comes with the nation’s brand.
Gratitude vs Guilt
Gratitude, and being grateful for my national identity, is simple. The only specification is to enjoy the daily ease of one’s life and where appropriate, acknowledge the advantages that come with the citizenship when brought up in discussion.
After travelling, living and working abroad, the real challenge I’m learning is coming home and resuming the patterns of life without feeling a sense of guilt. Once a person has bared witness to real adversity, struggle and strife in the world, it’s easy to come back to Canada and feel grateful about our lifestyle; but it can be difficult to move on without feeling a sense of guilt and shame for enjoying the comfort, support and calm of our nation.
Coming to Terms
I understand why my Babsia sacrificed everything to come to Canada, and why immigrants continue to do so today. Even though she came with the intention to have and—eventually—give a better life to her family, I can only imagine the guilt she must have felt every time she wrote a letter to her loved one’s back in Ukraine; knowing it wasn’t the same, or even remotely close.
My great-grandmother would want nothing more than for me to be happy and enjoy the freedoms we have in Canada, especially because of the sacrifices she unknowingly made on my behalf. Part of me is still learning not to judge myself or criticize others when they claim to have a problem or issue, knowing they may be trivial on the grand scope. Even though our rights and freedoms are evolving, particularly freedom of speech, I still believe Canada is rich in opportunity, comfort and luxury, and that is something we need to step back, embrace and be grateful for more often.
A copywriter for a communications agency in Toronto, when not contemplating ideas around identity or working on her children’s book series, you will find Laska outside seeking adventure.
The story of Canada’s embrace of different languages, cultures and peoples is not a new one. Diversity in Canada is in many ways a cornerstone of our identity, and for generations, we have largely supported government commitments to immigration, multiculturalism, and pluralism. Now there is a new story emerging about this commonly celebrated feature of our identity. At a time of rising global xenophobia, anti-immigration parties, and populist nationalism, Canada is projecting a powerful and unique global message – diversity in society can be and is good for everyone. While some repeat the normative case for diversity, the argument is sometimes more rhetorical than substantive. The recent report (April 2017), The Diversity Dividend: Canada’s Global Advantage, dives into why diversity makes economic sense and how to spell out a clear case for its many gains.
With support from the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and a number of other partners, we set out to investigate the link between diversity and economic prosperity. We conducted round table consultations with 100 Canadian business leaders across Canada, carried out interviews with industry associations, and analyzed under-used Statistics Canada data. To arrive at our findings, we used a matching methodology whereby we compared firms that were statistically identical in all factors that influence revenue, save their share of workplace ethnocultural diversity. By controlling for all other variables, we were able to isolate the effects of diversity on revenue. The term “ethnocultural diversity” is used here to refer to individuals born outside of Canada, and to those first-and-second generation immigrants who speak a language other than English or French at home.
Our findings show a pronounced diversity dividend. Specifically, we find that a 1 percent increase in ethnocultural diversity among employees is associated with an average 2.4 percent increase in revenue and 0.5 percent increase in workplace productivity across 14 industries. Businesses that welcome diversity show an increase in their economic bottom line. The sectors reaping the greatest benefits from ethnocultural diversity include business services (e.g., administrative, tech, law, and insurance firms), information and cultural industries (e.g., publishing, broadcasting, arts, and telecommunications companies), and transportation, warehousing and wholesale enterprises. These sectors experienced 6.2 percent, 3.6 percent and 4.1 percent growth in revenue, respectively, for every 1 percent increase in ethnocultural diversity in the workplace.
Manufacturers, mining, oil and gas extractors, banks, communication and utility companies, rental and leasing operators, and consumer service providers also benefit from greater ethnocultural diversity. The hard data spells out a clear case for why diversity is profitable. When we paired this data with the responses of Canadian business leaders, we found an even stronger case for the benefits and net economic effects of diversity.
The consultations with the business community, backed up by a review of the scholarly literature, showed that ethnocultural diversity in the workplace facilitates creativity and generates ideas by bringing together individuals with different lived experiences, outlooks and approaches to problem solving. A diversity of employees can invent new products and services, meet a wider range of clients’ demands, and even help companies expand into new markets, domestically and abroad. In effect, an ethnoculturally diverse workforce not only stimulates production of improved goods and services, it also connects businesses to a wider range of customers, clients, and partners.
Of course, greater workplace diversity is not without challenges. Creating an inclusive work environment that is conducive to maximizing the advantages associated with diversity may require providing certain accommodations and expending additional resources at the outset. Companies may need to make (and stick to) diversity-related commitments in their corporate culture. Inclusive hiring, training for human resources staff in recognition of international experience so they value differences, mentorship programs, measuring and understanding workplace demographics, and introducing diversity into procurement policies, are all key to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. These adjustments may seem costly in the first instance, but they are more than justified when businesses stand to gain from them substantial performance dividends.
What does this relationship between diversity and economic prosperity mean for broader policy reform? First and foremost, there is a need to address recurring issues with foreign experience and credential recognition. In 2009, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration estimated the cost of not recognizing immigrants’ foreign credentials to be between $2.4 and $5.9 billion a year. We need to remove the barriers that prevent qualified but unemployed or underemployed immigrants from finding gainful employment, so we can capitalize on this stranded resource as well as alleviate the oversupply of unskilled labour.
Our conclusion is that ethnocultural diversity is good for the Canadian economy and is, in some respects, an underestimated tool for economic prosperity. But the conversation about diversity does not end there. What our research points to is that this conversation is just beginning.
While we focused on ethnocultural diversity in our study, there are many other important aspects of diversity that, if addressed, would improve the inclusiveness of society: gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, to name a few. Canada is a nation built on immigration, but more importantly, it is a nation built on difference. We have celebrated, and we should continue to celebrate the things that make us unique, while reinforcing the things that bring us together. Prioritizing pluralism not only makes us richer as a country, it makes us a stronger country.
By arrangement with Policy Options - Institute for Research on Public Policy
by Florence Hwang in Regina
Vivek Shraya does not mince words. In even this page is white, her language is visceral, and even the form of her poetry helps to draw attention to the sensitive issue of racism.
Most of the poems in even this page is white are written in the style of spoken word poetry, and as such, the words can be quite shocking and blunt. Shraya’s debut collection of poems focuses on the physical entity of skin and racism, centring on the idea of being white and drawing upon current events and modern poetry.
Conforming to racial roles
She begins with her “white dreams,” describing how she was raised in a society that is predominantly white and how she tries to fit in. In exploring the idea of identity, Shraya includes the perspectives of a white person.
She explores the word “skin,” its physical element, and its function. She points out that within “white,” there are a range of colours, such as fair and talc.
The text hints at how Shraya must also conform to white society’s expectations before her views on racism can be heard.
In the poem “You are so articulate,” she explains that there is a standard she must meet in order to be considered normal in mainstream society. The poem is a checklist of steps that minorities are expected to follow in order to be considered successful in North American culture.
In another checklist, Shraya reveals the things she, her mother, and her father had to do so that she could become a poet and express her thoughts in writing. Her father, for example, worked three jobs and sacrificed time with Shraya as a child to pay for her post-secondary education.
The more the world makes her aware of her brownness, the more she focuses on how race and racism are connected to every aspect of her life. She writes about the ways her race intersects with her desirability, her desires, her gender, her religion, and how she connects or doesn't connect with others.
Deciphering popular messages
Shraya questions the actions of celebrities who have also confronted the topic of race through their work. In one poem, she lists reasons why Kanye West should be banned from performing at the Pan American Games closing ceremonies, which took place in Toronto, Ont., in 2015.
Most of her reasons attack West’s character with words like “selfish” and “childish,” but also attack his talent, describing him as a terrible musician. The most interesting accusation against West is that he “will turn the games into a racism issue.”
It seems ironic that Shraya critiques him this way, when she seems to view most things through the lens of race as well. Shraya says her goal was to highlight how seemingly inoffensive and dismissible pop culture moments speak to systematic racism.
In “Oscars So White,” she draws on the controversy of celebrities boycotting the Academy Awards for not nominating more non-white actors. In this poem, she points out contradictions, questioning whether the Academy should start nominating more non-white actors simply because of their skin colour.
In another examination of miscommunication, Shraya describes the sounds heard at a Gay Pride event on June 24, 2015 – the voices of protesters, police, the main speaker, and those who were trying to silence the message.
The main speaker’s message makes up the bulk of the text, but there are other voices present in the margins. Imagine the main speaker being talked over by the police, while listeners are shushing and trying to compete with the authorities to listen to the message.
Working together against racism
In the middle of the book, Shraya records a discussion she has with four white women regarding racism, focusing on their white privilege, their awareness of other races, and their reaction to racism. One admits she recognizes that she is undereducated about anything outside “the white gaze” and “under-practised in talking about racism.”
The interview is interesting because most stories about racism are shared from the perspective of those who are targeted. These white friends of Shraya recognize there is a disparity between races, but admit they are sometimes afraid to do anything about it or not sure what to do in response.
The author asks her friends to make an “allyship towards people of colour,” suggesting the need for white people to support the idea of eliminating racism or racist attitudes, rather than being divided against people of colour.
In the end, Shraya says the most important thing is that a person listens and takes action against racism. She doesn’t indicate what kind of action, but that people should start by communicating to come to an understanding of the problem of race-based discrimination.
While Shraya starts with discussing white dreams, she ends with brown dreams – the need to justify the pigment of her skin. In her note at the end of the book, she states that she wants this book to act as a catalyst for discussions about anti-black racism, as well as racism towards indigenous people who continue to face racial violence.
Florence Hwang used to work as a print journalist before becoming a media librarian. These days, she is also a freelance writer, whose work has been featured in several publications, including New Canadian Media. Outside of work, Florence spends her time making short films about her family history.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Whether it is through producing, improv, television or film, Rick Tae and Veena Sood have found a means of expressing themselves through the arts. For Tae, acting has been a means of finding identity, while producing has helped him to express that identity. As for Veena, inheriting her parents’ exploratory approach to life has guided…
by Matt D’Amours in Montreal
Is there any topic touchier in Canada than Quebec’s identity politics?
It might be easier to answer this question from the outside looking in, but for us Québécois, conclusions are a bit harder to come by than they might be in what is (mostly) affectionately referred to as the “ROC,” or the “rest of Canada.”
Questions of identity become even harder to reconcile when, as in my case, a person is saddled with dual identities that appear to be at odds.
On one side, I am an “old-stock” Quebecer – a descendant of French settlers who were sent to establish fishing operations in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region hundreds of years ago. On the other side, I’m the grandchild of Italians who left behind farmland in Italy to immigrate to Canada in the mid-20th century — with only $5 in their pockets, as our collective mythology never fails to underline.
Then there is the ever-divisive issue of language. I grew up in a household where Dad spoke to me in French and Mom spoke to me in English. Having learned these languages at the same time, my speech is accent-free on both sides, leading Francophones and Anglophones to simultaneously conclude that I’m “one of them.”
Somehow, I’ve always maintained a delicate balance between these two backgrounds, and the question of identity has never preoccupied my life. However, I’m fascinated by the issue of Québécois identity, which is often presented to Canadians through the lens of inflammatory think pieces in Anglophone media.
I was delighted, then, to come across the thoughtful book by Akos Verboczy titled Rhapsodie Québécoise, in which the author explores the dimensions of identity — politics, heritage and language — from the perspective of a Hungarian immigrant who “became” Canadian.
Or, rather, became Québécois?
A Hungarian in Montreal
Verboczy’s account of moving from Hungary to Canada in the 1980s examines many issues that remain hot buttons. As a pre-teen, the young Hungarian arrived in Montreal when opposition was growing against Quebec’s controversial Bill 101, the infamous language law passed in 1977 that gave French precedence in the province. As a result of this law, immigrants are required to send their children to French schools in order to ease their integration into Quebec society.
Verboczy writes that immigrants were quickly informed by others in their new communities that Francophones were “principally welfare-receiving, uneducated racists” — a sign of resentment against Bill 101 and its purveyors.
But Verboczy ended up embracing the language which he was forced to learn, and spends many pages sympathizing with the concerns that led to the language law’s creation. He points to the monolithic influence of American products in Quebec and the resulting dominance of English-language culture.
“Bill 101 doesn’t protect the French language as much as it does those who speak it,” Verboczy writes, alluding to the anxieties that French was being phased-out of Quebec culture — anxieties that persist today.
Is Quebec really racist?
From my observations, the suggestion of overwhelming racism in Quebec seems to have been adopted as pure fact. I’m reminded of a recent column on Gawker, which offered Americans a guide to moving to Canada if Donald Trump becomes president of the United States. When Quebec is brought up, it’s framed as an unwelcoming society, and the article’s comments mirror this characterization.
The charge of ingrained racism seems to be echoed from within our culture as well. Verboczy decries a speech made by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois — the student spokesperson of the 2012 “Maple Spring” — in which he proclaimed that “if there is a Québécois tradition to conserve, it isn’t poutine or xenophobia.”
“Pardon? Xenophobia, a tradition?” Verboczy asks in response. “In my view, we’re actually thinking, disgusted, of that uncle at Christmas lunch who said that it’s unbelievable, this unreasonable business of Hassidic Blacks who impose themselves with their halal pork.”
He argues that caricatures of a rustic Quebec that is closed-off to foreigners have become accepted conventional wisdom over the years.
Where are we going?
Such is the title of Verboczy’s final chapter, in which the immigrant-turned-defender of the French language and Québécois culture reflects on modern questions of integration.
He points to the unique challenges posed by 21st century communication technologies, which allow newly arrived immigrants to remain in constant contact with their countries of origin. Verboczy says this can slow down the integration process for immigrants, as it can “give the illusion that they never left their countries.”
In response, the author places a greater onus on immigrants to adapt to their new surroundings, arguing “they must accept that their identity will change, and that it will have to superimpose itself on a backdrop that already has its colours and reliefs.”
Verboczy doesn’t shy away from tricky questions regarding the experience of Canadian immigrants, and not everyone will agree with his conclusions. However, Rhapsodie Québécoise explores these issues with boldness, nuance and humour that is, in my view, mostly absent in mainstream media analysis.
Verboczy confidently strikes back against charges of an intolerant Quebec, offering an important perspective that is often drowned out in polarized debates surrounding the province’s identity politics.
Matt D’Amours is a Montreal-based journalist who focuses on politics, social justice and Montreal’s protest movements. He was born and raised in Montreal’s multicultural borough of Ville Saint-Laurent, where cultural diversity is an everyday fact of life. Growing up speaking English and French simultaneously, D'Amours inhabits a space between Anglophone and Francophone – between Canadian and Québécois – which affords him a critical eye towards identity politics.
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by Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver, British Columbia
Identity determines how we value ourselves and how others perceive us. Its significance has increased with globalization, migration and technological advancements. Many people today consider themselves to have multiple identities, while others are happy with a single identifier.
In The Relevance of Islamic Identity in Canada: Culture, Politics, and Self, a book edited by Nurjehan Aziz, 12 authors grapple with the idea of Islamic identity in Canada.
Panel discussions on the book have been held throughout Canada, including in Vancouver.
The book documents the everyday lives of several Canadian Muslims. Some authors write about their own experiences, others about the Muslim community in Canada. Some essays are written in an academic style, while others are personal narratives.
Islam in post-Harper Canada
Almost every chapter criticizes the government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper for “targeting” or “scapegoating” Muslims for political gain.
Haroon Siddiqui’s chapter, “Anti-Muslim Bigotry Goes Official — Canada’s Newest Dark Chapter,” deals with the experiences of Muslims under the Harper government.
He presents a list of what he calls “Islamophobic” actions, speeches, policies or legislation undertaken by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, immigration ministers Chris Alexander and Jason Kenney, and other Conservative members of Parliament and senators.
Authors debate Muslim identity
In some instances, one author in the book responds to the concerns or questions raised by another. Safia Fazlul says she “lives on the fringe of being ‘somewhat liberal Canadian’ and ‘somewhat conservative Muslim South Asian.’”
Her inability and unwillingness to live strictly in one category led her to be discriminated against and excluded by “both liberal and secular Canadians and traditional Muslim Canadians.” People do not accept her even though she is comfortable with her multiple identities.
Ameen Merchant, on the other hand, raises a valid point about subjectivity and somewhat ignores the opinions of others about his relationship with Islam.
“My sense of Muslim identity may not be another’s definition of what a Muslim ought to be and it also may not be in line with scripture and sacred text,” he writes. "Then again, my subjectivity is also not anyone else’s. It is multifarious absorbent, and always subject to change. And it is my own.”
Mohamed Abualy Alibhai’s suggestion that Muslims in North America “abandon the belief in the verbal revelation of the Qur'an,” mirrors arguments raised by activist and author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, mainly that the literal understanding of the Qur'an must be “reformed or discarded.”
Furthermore, Alibhai advocates for a conscience-based Islamic denomination, as if it does not exist. However, a look at Karim H. Karim’s chapter illustrates how Aga Khan, the Imam or spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, has been doing what Alibhai argues is needed.
“The Islamic leader presents the concepts of ethics, democracy, development, meritocracy, pluralism and quality of life as some of the ‘brides that unite’ ways of understanding that are religious and secular,” writes Karim about Aga Khan.
The Ismaili leader’s ideas of the Qur'an underlie his discourse, but he rarely makes overt religious references in his speeches.
At the same time, Alibhai is dismissive of Muslim reformist thinkers who reinterpret the Islamic texts to accommodate the realities of modern life. Monia Mazigh’s chapter, for example, illustrates how Islamic discourses can be invoked to disprove the notion of men’s perceived superiority over women.
Interpreting modern Islam
There are different ways to convince different people of the same issue. You can argue that robbery is socially unacceptable, morally reprehensible, illegal, or against your religion. Each one of those arguments is valid depending on the audience. The argument based on religion is more appealing to a religious person.
In the same vein, we need Muslim reformist thinkers to use Islam to fight against radical interpretations of the religion.
Some of the authors identify as “inconsistent Muslim” or “cultural Muslim,” however, we do not see a representation from an “observant Muslim” – those who may imprecisely be called conservative or traditional Muslims.
These are the proud Canadian Muslims who follow all Islamic laws and traditions and believe that they can also be civically engaged Canadians.
Furthermore, three of the authors are of Arab origin and the rest are South Asian. The Muslim community in Canada is much more diverse and the overwhelming majority of them are not represented in this book.
Overall, Aziz’s book is a success as it represents a segment of an underrepresented group of Canadian citizens: Muslims who are spoken, about but rarely given the chance to speak for themselves.
Alireza Ahmadian is a Vancouver-based writer and researcher. He has a Masters of Arts in International Affairs and Diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He has appeared on BBC World News and BBC Persian to discuss world affairs and is published on online forums such as New Canadian Media, BBC, and foreign policy blogs.
by Samaah Jaffer in Vancouver
A panel discussion on the newly published collection of essays The Relevance of Islamic Identity in Canada: Culture, Politics, and Self, shows that there are multiple ways of being Muslim.
The event was held on March 3 at Simon Fraser University’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts in Vancouver, and opened with an address by the book’s editor and publisher, Nurjehan Aziz. Her vision of the diversity of Muslims in Canada is demonstrated in her selection of essay contributors.
Safia Fazlul, Ameen Merchant and Mohamed Alibhai were engaged in a one-on-one conversation with Zool Suleman, immigration lawyer and director of MARU, a non-profit organization that explores the intersections between migration, art and race.
Diversity in Islam
All three panellists spoke of their experiences as immigrants to Canada, and how being Muslim played into their relocation. Fazlul, who was born in Bangladesh, raised in Norway and moved to Toronto at the age of 10, explained that while she felt like an outsider in Norway, she experienced a greater sense of belonging in Canada because of the ethnic diversity.
It wasn’t until after 9/11, when Fazlul was in grade 10, that she felt her identity as a Muslim in Canada was questioned. Fazlul chooses to keep her religious beliefs private, opting to not wear the hijab.
“As a not-to-so religious person who grew up with very religious parents, I can offer a unique story with respect to being raised Muslim and hopefully challenge some stereotypes of Muslim women,” said Fazlul.
Fazlul’s key message was, “Muslims are the same — that being a Muslim means to simply practice a religion just like Jews and Christians do. Muslims are human beings, all from different walks of life and unique in thought.”
Merchant, who was born in Mumbai, India, said he identifies as a “cultural Muslim.” He came to Canada in 1989 to pursue a graduate degree at the University of British Columbia in English Literature and Cultural Studies.
Merchant explained that he initially refused to contribute an essay for this project, “as I did not think I was a the right person to address issues regarding Islam [and] Muslims.”
However, he accepted in hopes of providing a different perspective. “The plurality of interpretations is absolute for me. We all see the world through our own experiences of community and faith. No one interpretation is higher or more valid than the other. We are all composites of varied influences and identities. What unites us is our common humanity,” said Merchant.
The final panellist, Mohamed Abualy Alibhai, was also born in India, grew up in Tanzania, and spent most of his adult life in the U.S. As a student of physics, mathematics and geophysics, Alibhai made a drastic change in his academic trajectory after being admitted to the Islamic Studies graduate program at McGill University, and thereafter obtaining a doctorate in Islamic Philosophy from Harvard University.
“Islamic identity is very relevant to Canada because future generations of Muslims will be strong supporters of the Canadian Charter of Freedoms and will work to strengthen it for the benefit of all Canadians,” said Alibhai.
Missing critical topics
Some Muslim-identified audience members were critical of the panel and the way the topic of Canadian Muslim identity was interpreted.
Community organizer Tahia Ahmed was drawn to the event because she felt a conversation on Muslim identity in Canada is important in the current post-Harper political climate, where she believes “Islamophobia is alive and well despite losing its most powerful Canadian advocate.”
“I was anticipating a critical dialogue on key issues impacting Muslims, such as Bill C-51 and C-24, using Muslim women as political instruments during the last elections, and the use of fear mongering to justify racism against Muslims,” said Ahmed.
“Instead, the writers were disappointingly apologetic about their Muslim identity, many of them repeatedly asserting that they don't practice the religion.”
She referred to Fazlul’s response to the question of what it means to be a Muslim — that a Muslim is just like a Christian and a Jew — as “bizarre.”
Itrath Syed, a PhD student in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University, was worried by comments made regarding the situation of Muslims in the U.S.
“Instead of reflecting critically on the racist discourse of the current election cycle in the U.S., [Alibhai] asserted that ‘Trump has been misunderstood.’”
“That may be the opinion of this speaker, but it is clearly not shared by the countless Americans and global individuals and organizations, both within and outside of the Muslim community, who are greatly alarmed by the language and proposed policies of Donald Trump and his supporters,” said Syed.
“I don’t know how representative this small panel was of the content of the book,” said Syed, “However, this panel in no way represented the vast diversity of experiences and struggles of Muslims in Canada and the U.S.”
A recent review of the book on rabble.ca criticized it for reinforcing the “the conflation of Islam with South-Asian and Arab identity,” also reflected in the entirely South-Asian panel.
Commentary by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
It was inevitable the success of Trumpolitics would generate imitators. Stephen Harper dabbled with its tactics in the last federal election by pandering to the baser views of the so-called ‘angry white male’. It comes as a surprise, however, the next piper to try charming this cobra is Ujjal Dosanjh.
The former premier of BC, protector of gay rights, health care, and multiculturalism, recently wrote a lengthy blog post bemoaning political correctness as having gagged white men from saying what they really think. White men who have framed Canada's political narrative since Confederation, have apparently become excluded from it, somehow finding themselves now at the back of the bus.
Overnight, Dosanjh has become Canada’s Bobby Jindal, the new champion of the far right, quite an act of re-invention for a man who started out on the far left of the political spectrum.
Not surprisingly, Dosanjh's call found hearty praise from the closeted hordes who took to the comments sections of various online newspaper forums.
The white male commenters vented their frustrations at ‘Multicultism’, immigrants, Muslims, Syrian refugees, and basically anyone who didn’t fit in with the world as seen by ‘old stock’ Canadians. Their antidotes to Canada’s woes were predictable: curtail immigration, seal the border to everyone except Europeans, and renew Judeo Christian liturgical practices.
These were the white men Dosanjh had referenced in his post as having ‘been shamed into submission’ by political correctness. Now they were venting furiously about how their lifetime membership to the exclusive club of white privilege had apparently eroded in value.
'The white man is not disenfranchised'
While Dosanjh’s intention may have been to stir dialogue on Canadian identity, and culture, his approach is fundamentally divisive. He is pandering to one group’s fanciful list of grievances. His apocalyptic vision of white men being overrun by political correctness is built on a number of glaring fallacies.
The first is the most obvious: The white man is not disenfranchised.
To be voiceless is to be a First Nation’s child growing up in a broken home on an isolated reserve without running water. The opposite, more likely than not, is to be a white man.
At Apple, for example, the world’s largest company, white men hold over 70 per cent of senior management positions When compared to other companies and across industry, this is not an anomaly.
When noteworthy decisions are made in Canada, on any number of issues from monetary policy to environmental regulation to First Nations relations, and so forth, they are made by government officials, the majority of whom tend to be white.
These wider decisions indelibly impact our sense of national culture and identity, which Dosanjh claims excludes input from white men.
Dosanjh’s pitch for amplifying the voices of the privileged is like advocating another tax cut for the one-percent.
Political correctness a scapegoat
The second flaw in Dosanjh’s arguments is that white men disproportionately suffer from political correctness, its tight ribbing suffocating only them from speaking on many issues.
What he fails to note is that this same corset of censorship applies equally to everyone, regardless of race and ironically, it just as often benefits white men as it harnesses them.
Contrary to Dosanjh’s claim of white men being passive victims of the PC police, they are just as likely to be PC enforcers when it serves their vested interests.
A perfect case in point is the stagnant discussion around Vancouver’s skyrocketing property prices, which Dosanjh alludes to his post. When UBC professor Andy Yan (yes he is Chinese) published his study on property prices in Vancouver and found that 70 per cent of sales in 2014 of detached homes over $3-million in Vancouver went to Chinese buyers, the response from leading (white) politicians, developers, and decision makers was that the study was invoking racism.
Mayor Gregor Robertson wasn’t grateful that finally there was real data on the house market. Instead he resorted to political correctness to obfuscate the issue,“This can’t be about race, it can’t be about dividing people,” said the mayor. “It needs to get to the core issue about addressing affordability and making sure it’s fair.”
The housing issue in Vancouver is about money being earned offshore which has in turn created unfair market conditions for people who live, work and earn in the Lower Mainland. Empty houses and unattainable prices do not a city make – and that affects everyone regardless of your colour.
It’s a class issue, full stop. Political correctness is a convenient scapegoat here.
Canadians should not be trapped in skin colour
The most flagrant shortcoming in Dosanjh’s arguments is that he wants new Canadians to embrace a common set of national values and a national identity but yet he insists on first dividing us into our separate races, hence his rallying call to the white man.
Dosanjh’s view of Canadians as being different coloured lego blocks is regressive and a time warp into the colonial era of the past century. The idea of defining your identity by the quantity of melanin in your skin is as knuckle-scraping as the denial of climate change.
As Canadians, we all have a stake in issues such the choice of language for strata council meetings, the fine balance between accepting refugees and security, and immigration strategy. But an honest discussion of these issues is a colourless discussion.
By dividing us into camps of white, yellow, red, brown, and black so that we all are ‘represented’ at the table means we will always be stuck in these very silos that Dosanjh claims to loathe. This country is moving forward from the past century and we are finally getting beyond race as attested by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet postings. It is misguided for Dosanjh to re-invoke a racial paradigm and think it is a step in the right direction.
Justin Trudeau commented in a recent New York Times Magazine interview that Canada is a post-national state without a core identity and a mainstream. This includes the privilege of not being trapped in your skin – it is one of the best parts of being a Canadian, regardless if you are white, brown, or even tangerine coloured like Donald Trump. This is what it means to be post-national and why most Canadians choose this course.
Fifteen years ago Ujjal Dosanjh was a politician who as an immigrant rose up to become premier of British Columbia. It was historic because he was a visible minority.
Today, however, it is more impressive that Ujjal Dosanjh is no longer identified as a brown politician by the majority of the population, but rather as just another politician.
But he still is a politician at heart, having re-invented himself from an NDP multiculturalism minister to a Liberal cabinet minister and now to the champion of the far right. Having adorned so many party colours, it is predictable, though tragic, that Dosanjh is fanning the dying racial embers of this country to win over a new audience.
Jagdeesh Mann is the Executive Editor of the South Asian Post, Asian Pacific Post and Filipino Post.
by Priya Ramanujam (@SincerelyPriya) in Scarborough, Ontario
With the federal election approaching, it seems a fitting time to gauge the pulse of the Canadian public to find out where it stands on issues of immigration and multiculturalism. It’s also an opportune time to take note of the challenges members of specific ethno-cultural groups – often invisible in mainstream discussion – face on a day-to-day basis. In this edition of Research Watch, we examine emerging research that offers insight into both these areas.
Public opinion on multiculturalism: not as bad as you might think
The Canadian public’s opinion on multiculturalism and immigration has changed remarkably little over the last three to five years – it remains relatively positive. This is according to the Environics Institute’s recently released report, which aims to update the organization’s ongoing research on topics of immigration and multiculturalism dating back to the 1970s.
This overarching highlight of the report is particularly notable, says Environics executive director Keith Neuman, because recent commentaries in the media and public discourse regarding things like concern of domestic terrorism, citizenship and immigration policy reform, and international refugee issues may suggest otherwise.
“It would not be surprising to find that perhaps Canadians are becoming more weary of immigrants, people coming with different cultures – but we didn’t find that.”
What was also particularly interesting, Neuman adds, is that while there is a tendency to think that Quebec residents are the least tolerant of immigration and multiculturalism, there were some areas in the study that proved otherwise.
For example, 68 per cent of Quebec residents surveyed expressed increased concern about the treatment of Muslim people – the highest percentage across all regions surveyed.
“This tells us that we should be careful not to peg Quebecers as the most anti-immigrant [or anti-multicultural] part of the country,” Neuman says.
The study put forth a range of statements such as “Overall, immigration has a positive impact on the economy,” or “There are too many immigrants coming into this country who are not adopting Canadian values” and then compared the national responses in 2015 from those over the last 30 years. The results were analyzed based on respondents’ province of residence, age, socio-economic profile and political-party allegiance.
Neuman points out that while the findings based on political party are in line with previous research – indicating supporters of the New Democratic Party are the most positive about immigration and multiculturalism and those of the Conservatives the least – the gap is gradually narrowing.
“In some of the key questions, some who support the Conservatives become more positive about immigration and multiculturalism,” he explains. “The difference has been diminishing, not growing larger.”
Acknowledging complexity in racial identity
What it means to be Somali, Canadian, Muslim, Black, and in many instances all of those is a large part of the identity crisis faced by Somali-Canadians – both immigrants and non – states the first half of “The 360 Project: Addressing Racism in Toronto” report released last week by the Urban Alliance on Race Relations and Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute.
“It’s a discussion that one has of ‘who am I?’” explains Mohamed Elmi, research assistant at the Diversity Institute and a member of the team who put together the final report, which was based on a one-year study.
Raised in New Brunswick and having lived in Halifax, Ottawa and Toronto, Elmi says the discussion of identity has resonated with him no matter where in Canada he went. “[It’s] the idea that in different spaces I’m Somali and in public spaces I’m Canadian.”
His sentiment is echoed throughout the report’s segment titled “Addressing the Discrimination Experienced by Somali Canadians in Toronto,” which combines the voices of 15 focus-group participants with various academic literature to address key issues affecting the community in relation to racial identity, education, housing, justice, employment and health.
“Everyone is Black in Africa,” says one participant. “You come here [to Toronto], you are identified as Black, and with that you are put into a box that is very confusing … Parents don’t know what Black is, however, the young people know that there is a Black experience.”
Another participant speaks to the multiple dimensions of discrimination members of the community face. “The Somali Canadian is being profiled on two levels, race and religion, and after September 11, the Somali has been profiled more so on Islamophobia. These are the layers … we are newcomers, refugees, Black and Muslim."
More than anything, Elmi says the report, which details challenges experienced by the Somali Canadian community such as the cycle of poverty and racial profiling by police, sets out to “give voice” to a marginalized community.
“It was a conversation about race, a conversation about identity, a conversation about community,” he explains. While it doesn’t make any conclusive policy recommendations, he adds, what it is calling for is “the need to move for systemic change.”
Wendy Cukier, founder of the Diversity Institute and one of the lead authors of the report, says that part of that systemic change needs to come from an understanding that lumping people together based on wide-sweeping categories such as “racialized” or “visible minorities” isn’t effective when creating community programs and services. It’s important to consider the intersection of many complex challenges often experienced by marginalized communities, she says.
“There are other issues that have a huge impact on the experience of people in that broad category,” she says. “We know, for example, that within that broad category, different ethnic groups experience different levels of discrimination.”
The second portion of the report focuses on the discrimination experienced by racialized LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Queer) youth who are homeless in the Greater Toronto Area, particularly in terms of challenges with the police, feelings of isolation and a lack of culturally appropriate services.
by Cherise Seucharan (@CSeucharan) in Ottawa
An inclusive and equitable society can only be built through solidarity. This was the central message of Charles Taylor’s keynote at the Broadbent Institute’s 2015 Progress Summit in Ottawa this past weekend. The political philosopher spoke on Saturday about the danger of rising xenophobia and conservative sentiments, and gave thoughts on how to build a more inclusive Canada.
Taylor cited rising social and economic inequality as one of the central reasons for growing right-wing nationalist movements. Across the world, this trend affects ethnic and immigrant populations who face growing discrimination and alienation. This has also created divides within social movements, said Taylor, referring to political and labour groups whose aims have become more splintered over the last few generations.
In Canada, these divides can be seen in the debates over the Quebec Charter of Values, in which political groups across the spectrum, as well as ethnic and religious groups, became part of the discourse. Taylor criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s anti-niqab comments as being part of dangerous and dividing rhetoric.
Taylor also spoke about how the creation of identity can foster inclusion or exclusion. By continuing to redefine what it means to be Canadian, we can encourage greater acceptance and diversity, he says.
Using France as an example of how identity can change over time, Taylor talked about how attitudes to immigration and what makes one “French” have become more limited. Several generations ago, people from all over Europe could assimilate into French society. Now, the country is often alienating to immigrants, especially those in the religious minority.
United Movements for Greater Good
In a question and answer period with student activist and author Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois (pictured to the right), Charles speculated on key lessons and solutions that can be taken from past movements such as the Quebec protests. He stressed that solidarity between groups was essential, created through one on one interaction with a diversity of people.
He also advocated for different movements and political parties to work together and recognize their similarities. Developing central, less specific aims could help create greater understanding. Taylor spoke about how the splintering of political and labour movements over the past few decades only creates further divides and hinders the achievement of common goals.
Nadeau-Dubois and Taylor also discussed the value of encouraging young leadership. By supporting the participation of young people in the social and political sphere, we can build a more robust democracy, Taylor said.
Nadeau-Dubois posed a final question to Taylor: Are you optimistic about the future? Ultimately yes, Taylor concluded, to standing applause from hopeful audience members.
Putting the Vision into Action
Conference participants had differing reactions to Taylor’s speech. Post session discussions (which continued on Twitter as seen to the left) reflected on how Canada has changed since the Quebec protests and what work is still needed.
Kofi Hope, a conference participant who also spoke on the summit’s closing panel, thought that Taylor’s strategy of redefining identity is more difficult than it sounds due to existing stereotypes. “When people talk about fluid identity, no matter if you want to be fluid, you are already categorized by society because of how you look and how you dress.”
Furthermore, Hope pointed out, diverse perspectives are needed when it comes to understanding identity. “It is a position of privilege to think of this place where you can define your identity,” he said, referring to how markers of skin tone, religious wear and many other things can force an identity upon someone.
Hope also thought Taylor’s point about creating solidarity between ethnic, religious and political groups was especially important. “There’s a difference between having empathy for a concept and having empathy for a person,” he said. “Because of how our brains are wired we need that interpersonal connection, to help us see people as human beings and see the texture and nuance of their lives.”
Ausma Malick, a Toronto activist who also spoke at the conference, thought that solidarity was especially important with respect to recent debates on religious and political freedom. “We also have to be very mindful of conservative fear-mongering forces that want to use these moments of complexity to drive us apart.”
She added that this is about much more than just knowing people. “Solidarity is about listening and learning and respecting, and being a good ally… But solidarity has to be an action and not just words.”
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit