Racism in Paradise: Whether it’s deliberate or subconscious, Canadians still have prejudices

Serge Rai

Serge Rai is one of several people who filed a human rights complaint against the Shark Club in Langley, accusing the bar of discrimination when bouncers refused them entry one night. Mark van Manen , THE PROVINCE

SUSAN LAZARUK
THE PROVINCE

What us, racist?

Despite Canada’s multicultural policy and our liberal immigration rules, you don’t have to look far to find examples of racism.

Ask Serge Rai, a Surrey construction company owner, who filed a complaint of racial discrimination against the Shark Club in Langley, alleging he, his wife and some of their South Asian friends were denied entry to the club one night in December 2011 because of their brown skin.

The club’s bouncers, one of whom pleaded guilty to assaulting Rai that night, and its lawyers denied the allegations during a recent human rights tribunal hearing.

But the tribunal agreed with the three complainants, ordering the Shark Club to pay them $10,000 each for injury to their dignity and self-respect.

Rai said they felt vindicated by the ruling and said it lends credence to the suspicion that he and other South Asians have that nightclubs across Metro Vancouver have a door policy designed to maintain a mix of whites and non-whites.

“What are we supposed to do, complain about it every time it happens?” he said.

He said Indo-Canadians endured name-calling and beatings when they were younger.

“Now it’s more subtle,” he said.

Hate groups exist in B.C., and anonymous and vitriolic racist comments are common in online forums and under news stories.

But discrimination based on race is more pervasive and maybe not that obvious, say academics and members of visible minority groups.

Canada has accepted more immigrants per capita over the past three decades than any other country, with the exception in some years of Australia, according to the Metropolis B.C. Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Diversity.

Half the growth in Canada’s population last century came through immigration, and visible minorities made up 19 per cent of the Canadian population in 2011, according to Statistics Canada.

The percentage of visible minorities is much higher in B.C., at 27 per cent overall.

In Metro Vancouver, it’s 45 per cent, Vancouver city, 51 per cent, in Surrey, 52 per cent and in Richmond it’s 70 per cent.

Immigrants in the Okanagan reported discrimination based on ethnicity when looking for a place to live in a study done by Prof. Carlos Teixeira at UBC Okanagan.

“Everywhere I was going looking for housing they (landlords) were asking me, ‘What country are you from? Do you cook curry?” one single mother told researchers, who found 40 per cent of immigrants to Kelowna, Penticton and Vernon described their search for housing as very or somewhat difficult.

And a Metropolis working paper found immigrants who came to Canada from 1986 to 1991 were paid 30 per cent less than immigrants who came to Canada before 1970. The research also found large earning gaps between visible minorities, born in Canada or not, and whites.

Poverty among children in Canada’s aboriginal communities, at 40 per cent, is more than double the Canadian average of 17 per cent, according to a June report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

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A B.C. Metis woman responding to a comment on the Hockey Mom in Canada Facebook page about racial slurs in minor hockey said her son faced racist comments from three teammates and she had racist insults directed at her from two parents.

“My husband (who is white), stood up for us, and we immediately dealt with the individuals and he made them apologize to us,” she wrote.

One researcher found racism where he least expected it.

Prof. Philip Oreopoulos found job applicants with foreign-sounding names were less likely to get an interview than those with “white” names, even when their experience was identical.

“The gist is, what’s going on is subtle racism, a subconscious discrimination,” said Oreopoulos, who did the study when he worked at UBC.

“When you look at a resume, you get an instantaneous reaction.”

He responded to 2,000 online job applications in 20 different fields in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal with 6,000 made-up resumes. All applicants listed a bachelor’s degree and four to six years of relevant experience.

Oreopoulos discovered resumes written by fictitious applicants with non-ethnic sounding names, like John Martin or Jill Wilson, were called for an interview 40 per cent more often than those with identical resumes but ethnic names such as Sana Khan or Lei Li.

The results mirrored the U.S. study he modeled his study after, one that found resumes by applicants with white names fared better than those with typical “black” names.

“I didn’t expect to see the same degree of discrimination as in the U.S.,” he said. “These were firms that stated they were equal-opportunity employers.”

Forty years after former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau introduced the notion of keeping Canada multicultural by funding immigrants to celebrate their backgrounds, two-thirds of respondents to an Angus Reid poll reported they prefer the melting pot model to the mosaic.

SFU professor Ehor Boyanowsky agrees. He says multiculturism works best when it doesn’t promote special rights for any one group and a society becomes homogenous. “You can celebrate differences, but don’t make that the basis of your identity,” he said. “The downside is they become targets.”

“Miscegenation [the blending of races through intermarriage] is the solution to racism.”

Dr. Edward Wong says the lack of Chinese-Canadians in the upper echelons of business, government and education shows B.C. is no egalitarian paradise.

“I think discrimination [in Canada] exists. Absolutely,” said Wong. “It’s just a matter of levels. The glass ceiling exists. It’s just a little higher up than it used to be.”

Wong, the CEO of his own company, Healthcord Cyrogenics Corp., said it’s telling that Canada’s Big Five banks, for instance, employ Chinese tellers but no high-level executives.

The presence of non-whites in entry-level, front-line positions leads to the mistaken belief, including by Asians, that equality exists everywhere in Canada, even though certain races are excluded from higher-up jobs.

“The biggest barrier is understanding that the problem exists,” he said.

slazaruk@theprovince.com

twitter.com/susanlazaruk

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