Racism in Paradise: Federal and provincial ministers respond to concerns our readers raised

Published: October 23, 2013
British Columbia

Federal citizenship and immigration minister Chris Alexander (left) and provincial multiculturalism minister Teresa Wat. THE PROVINCE

THE PROVINCE

Throughout the course of our series on race and racism in B.C., we’ve heard concerns from readers that many new immigrants don’t try hard enough to integrate. As a result we see the creation of so-called “ethnic enclaves” and a simmering anger, that often expresses itself as overt racism. It’s a touchy subject, for sure. Some readers expressed frustration with the government and current immigration policies. We posed a series of questions to both levels of government to try and get a sense of what, if anything can or should be done.

Federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander provided the follow response to the questions we sent:

“As you note, the Throne Speech touched upon a number of items relating to my citizenship and immigration portfolio — including changes to the Citizenship Act. These will be the first comprehensive reforms since 1977. We will have more to say in the coming weeks and months on these changes, after they are presented to Parliament. Suffice it to say that, taken together, they will protect the value of Canadian citizenship and further ensure Canada’s extremely generous immigration system is not abused. Citizenship should not be simply a passport of convenience. Citizenship is a pledge of mutual responsibility and a shared commitment to values rooted in our history.

“Our Government is committed to ensuring the successful integration of newcomers to Canada — both into the labour market and into their new communities. That’s why our government has committed record amounts to settlement services and tripled settlement funding for provinces since taking office in 2006.

“Our Government is providing language training for newcomers so they have the language skills needed to succeed. Study after study has shown that newcomers have better outcomes when they arrive in Canada knowing one of our official languages, and even better if they have a job offer BEFORE arriving in Canada. Minister Alexander has committed to finding ways to improve settlement outcomes to that end. We are also increasing the level of English and French requirements when it comes to obtaining Citizenship and coming to Canada under our economic categories of immigration.

“Canada is a model of pluralism and prosperity that other countries admire and emulate. No country is perfect, but we certainly are richer as a country for our diversity and we are always looking out for ways to improve the immigration system to deliver even better outcomes.

“Canadians will continue to have first crack at available jobs, but there is a definite labour shortage in parts of Canada. Newcomers are critical to filling those employer needs now, and given our aging population and low birthrate, this will become even more important in the years ahead.

“I firmly believe in the need for economic immigration to fill these needs. Newcomers we select should be able to integrate quickly and easily into Canadian society. The new Expression of Interest system (due to open January 1, 2015) will allow us to actively recruit the best and brightest immigrants from the around the world. We will be creating a pool of people and qualified candidates will be invited to apply.”

Teresa Wat, B.C.’ s Minister for International Trade and also minister responsible for Asia Pacific Strategy and Multiculturalism:

Do you feel that racism is a problem in B. C?

“I think racism is too simple a word. I think it is just one of the discriminations that human beings have. I wouldn’t try to simplify things by saying everything is racism. It is more the human kind of discrimination against each other. Even in the “white” race, there is this kind of discrimination. I’m of Chinese descent. The same is for my Chinese community. So I would say that discrimination and stereotyping is an issue in every society including B.C. I think the crux of the whole problem is the lack of communication. I would say that to eliminate all of this kind of discrimination [we need to encourage] more and more communication among British Columbians. We have to understand each other. I think the more we are exposed to a diverse population, the better we are [at being] more accommodating and willing to give the benefit of the doubt to somebody who looks different from you, or somebody who is dressed different than you or somebody who speaks with an accent.”

How do we create those bridges between different groups so we create a more understanding society?

“The responsibility doesn’t just fall on the government because there is still a limit to what we can do. As a minister, I keep giving talks to students and different community groups and I think each of us has a responsibility to try to communicate with one another. I think that everyone has to also take on that responsibility. Of course, as the Minister responsible for multiculturalism, we are trying to organize as many activities as we can to spread that message across.”

A lot of the comments we heard from readers was that new immigrants don’t do enough to integrate and that they should be required to learn English. Do you think language lessons should be imposed? Should newcomers try harder to integrate?

“I think whenever immigrants come to a new country, they have to make an effort to be plugged into the community. I think we always encourage strong communication skills for any individual. Because it is only with strong communication skills that can lead one to success. I think that is very important. I think B.C. is really a welcoming province and we are built on immigrants, whether they are coming from overseas or even from Ontario, from Alberta. So we are always extending our welcoming hands to anybody that comes from outside of B.C. …”

What about moving beyond ethnic enclaves? How do we form bridges between ethnic groups? How do we break those barriers down?

“This is very natural for the first generation to try to group together. This is like a transitional period. It is just a natural transition that the second generation they will easily be integrated with the bigger community and I don’t think you really need to force them. Having said that, we do encourage our immigrants to make a living outside of the Lower Mainland. We do have the PNP program (the Provincial Nominee Program), more than 60 per cent of them are pursuing their career outside of greater Vancouver. As I said, we don’t need to really force people, I think it is just a natural transition. It is just a matter of time.”

Readers brought up the idea of placing a cap on the amount of immigrants who arrive in B.C. each year. While a federal issue, do you think this is something the B.C. government would ever support?

“B.C. is built on immigrants. We always welcome immigrants and we will continue to do so. All of us are immigrants, except First Nations people. Without all the immigrants, Canada would not have come to this stage. It is not just about welcoming people to B.C. It is actually about attracting skilled workers, entrepreneurs who want to invest in our province and want to contribute their talents to our province. With one million job openings expected by 2020 in B.C., immigrants will play a vital role in the economic well-being of our province in our future. I don’t think you need to always impose quotas as such, because if we are not a welcoming province, if we don’t have any good future for people, I don’t think immigrants would come our way. We should feel blessed that there are so many immigrants that want to come our way. We should celebrate that kind of achievement that we have.”

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