Canada's multi-culturalism ' Myth and Reality
By Imtiaz Gul
Weekly Pulse, Islamabad September 28, 2007
Canada is about multi-culturalism. The government loves to invoke the jargon of multi-culturalism wherever possible. Non-governmental players – social organizations or the media – also love to brag about and display their penchant for cultural diversity. And the faces on road, too, reflect the diversity of ethnicity that currently inhabits Canada; people, black and white, tall and small, from Africa, Asia, and Iran in particular, are distinctly visible in most of the cities; as many as 200 ethnic groups form the 47 per cent of Canada’s non-British, non-French and non-Canadian population. Almost four million (13.4 per cent) of them are visible minorities (people who can be distinguished as from outside Canada on their colour or features).
Canada became the first country on the earth to adopt an official Multicultralism Policy, laying the legal framework for accommodating and integrating people who opt to turn Canada into their home.
Based on current trend of growth, authorities reckon that by 2017, Chinese and South Asians would constitute the bulk of the population i.e. 1.8 million each.
In Toronto, the largest Canadian city, visible minorities make about 51 per cent of the total population, followed by 49 per cent in Vancouver.
According to Policy Research Initiative, the context has changed drastically from the 1970s.
Then, the reference points were celebrating other cultures, ethnicity, and adjustment. By 2007, the focus has changed to inclusive citizenship for the immigrants, integration and representation (in Parliament and public offices, for instance).
This revised focus is also visible even at highest offices; governor general Michaelle Jean, the British Queen’s representative in Canada, is an immigrant from Haiti. Her predecessor was of Chinese origin and had come to Canada as a refugee.
In the Parliament, 39 of the 308 members, and 11 of the 105 senators were born outside Canada. And 23 members of the lower house (Parliament) are visible minorities including several Sikhs and Wajid Khan from Pakistan.
In one of the public opinion polls (Jan 2006), 74 per cent Canadians agreed that “multi-culturalism make-up is one of the best things about this country,” and 68 per cent opined that “ the multi-cultural society helps to prevent extremist views and actions from becoming great problems.”
But, sadly, a bitter reality accompanies the pronounced commitment to multiculturalism and ethnic diversity; doctors, engineers, army officers from other countries driving cabs and performing security guard duties, or even delivering pizzas to survive.
The reality is that Canada’s ministry for immigration called into life in 1971 but the authorities have yet to put in place a mechanism to prepare professionals abroad for the tough realities before they head off to Canada.
Almost 26 years have gone by, but the authorities apparently slept over the challenges and difficulties that new immigrants face after their arrival here. There are hundreds of examples of highly skilled and educated professionals doing menial jobs or idling away their time for lack of work and sinking into frustration.
When reminded of the problems immigrants face upon and after their arrival, Jason Kenney, the federal secretary of state for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity, told a group of journalists from Muslim countries.
“The Canadian model is one of integration and not assimilation, we don’t seek to eliminate distinctive features of various cultures that come to Canada through immigration. We want to ensure that diversity leads to unity and not ghettoisation,” Kenney told us.
Michael Adams, a social scientist and author, says a big majority of immigrants is highly educated and skilled but their earnings not commensurate with their qualifications.
“It is the responsibility of the state to provide jobs to immigrants or their children and to prevent them from going the wrong way, we need programmes to provide the youth with links between education and the work place.” Adams warned during a discussion in Toronto.
One of the surveys Adams organization Environics conducted on Muslims says that 66 per cent Muslims in Canada “ do worry about discrimination and unemployment.”
One of the biggest problems facing engineers, doctors and those with professional degrees is that their degrees are not recognized by over 440 professional agencies responsible for accreditation and recognition
This is what pushes most workers in the dark hole of joblessness or into menial jobs in freezing temperatures.
Minister Kenney said a new National Foreign Credential Recognition Agency worth 17 million dollars is in the making. It will include helpful portal of information as well as offices abroad to get info what they exactly need, what will happen to them once they land. To guide them where the employment opportunities exist, so they quickly get into their profession rather then driving taxis.
The absence of such a mechanism has put hundreds of thousands of immigrants – annually about 200,000 – to enormous mental torture, forcing them to drive cabs or deliver pizzas or work as porters and security guards, people who counted among the cream in Pakistan or elsewhere.
“I have seen army officers, doctors, air-commodores doing all these jobs just because they lacked the knowledge on the ground; they were apparently never told as to what they must expect,” said a doctor friend from Rawalpindi. He himself is a picture of sheer frustration and dejection. Without naming him, I have no doubt in stating that his is a prime example of how such a well-placed person could end up delivering pizzas or dredge as parking sentry outside the famous Tim Hortens. Even his wife, has failed in getting a job in the profession that had been the basis for their immigration.
They are just two of scores of such middle class Pakistani professionals whose savings vanish within months if they don’t get even menial jobs.
The Canadian government claims to be working towards smooth integration of immigrants but it seems that actually the horrors of 9/11 and the 7/7 London bombings woke them up from the slumber. That they realized the gravity of the situation accumulating within the Muslim community and took note of the challenges facing the new immigrants looks to be rather a recent phenomenon.
The arrests in June 2006 of 17 young Muslims, predominantly of Pakistani origin also alarmed the authorities, triggering fears that a 7/7 could happen here as well; accused of plotting attacks on government installations, planning execution of the prime minister and bombing of public places like the world’s tallest CN Tower, the youngsters are under investigation. This case resulted in a greater focus on Muslims
This realization, however, gave birth to initiatives like Muslim Communities Working Group within the ministry of foreign affairs, as an attempt to reach out to Muslims living here and open a dialogue with them.
The deployment of Canadian troops in Kandahar, you can discern from discussions with officials, provided another reason to engage with Muslims.
“Our boys are being killed in Afghanistan, even if one, we take it very seriously,” Professor Tapper Elliott, an expert on Pakistan and Afghan affairs, told TFT in Ottawa.
What, however, strikes visitors is that government agencies are attempting to grapple with the new challenge such as integration, employment and improvement of the immigration rules and regulations. The new agency should also be helpful in taking care of the shocks and surprises that greet new immigrants in Canada.
(The author heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.