Canada has one of the highest per capita immigration rates in the world. Statistics Canada projects that by 2031 almost half of our population over the age of 15 will be foreign-born or have at least one foreign-born parent. The non-European-origin community will double and make up the majority of the population in our larger cities.
In this context, permit me to quote some points made by Haiyan Zhang, a Canadian citizen of birth in China, at the National Student Commonwealth Forum in Ottawa in May, 2009 (Her entire talk is available under Governance at www.david-kilgour.com). She is a certified management consultant and dedicated volunteer in Ottawa. I share her concerns fully:
Canada Day 1995
On July 1, 1995, with thousands of others, Ms. Zhang attended the Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill, when an incident occurred. She watched a little boy of 4-5 years suddenly dash on to the red carpet as the dignitaries approached. To her astonishment, the RCMP officer walked up to the boy, took his own hat off and traded it for the boy’s cowboy hat before walking him back to his parents.
Tears came to her cheeks and she said to herself, “I am in love with this country. I belong to this country.”
Some harsh realities
Ms. Zhang’s speech continues in a more sober tone: “For many, particularly those from ‘untraditional’, i.e., non-European countries, i.e., visible minorities, harsh realities soon hit home when we find that our educational backgrounds are discounted, our professional experience ignored and our loyalties questioned. Doubts start to rise when we realize that we live in a country with most highly educated taxi drivers and pizza delivery men on the planet! “
Among the facts that later caused her to reflect about her adopted country:
The 2006 national census shows that there are nearly 5.1 million non-European-origin-immigrants (n-E-o) in Canada, which represents 16% of our population.
In eight years, it is projected that n-E-o communities will account for close to 21% of Canada's population with over 7.1 million residents. In some cities, this is already true. In Ottawa, for example, immigrants represent about 22% of the population and accounted for 80% of the population growth between 2001 and 2006, three quarters of whom are n-E-o.
She examined some education data and concluded that one in two of n-E-o newcomers aged between 25-34 have university degrees compared to one in four other Canadians of the same age. One in 3 n-E-o between 35-64 have university degrees, compared to one in five among other Canadians.
In most cases, she notes, “their international educational background or professional designations are not recognized. As a result, immigrants are getting poorer. While the overall poverty level for other Canadians decreased in the last two decades, poverty among immigrants, particularly n-E-o persons, went up. Today, they are two to three times more likely to be unemployed or underemployed and four times more likely to live in poverty than other Canadians.”
Here are some other conclusions cited by Zhang in her speech: “…In Ottawa, recent findings indicate that the median individual income for recent immigrants was under $15,000 compared to over $26,000 for Aboriginals and those with disability. The median income overall is nearly $33,000 overall, that’s more than double the income of recent immigrants!”
“How does Canada”, she asks, “ live up to its reputation as a vibrant multicultural society if up to 20% of our population lives, on long term basis, smaller than their potential? Many immigrants intentionally delete their more professional backgrounds for fear that they would lose their current positions in fields that require much lower skills and pay barely enough to cover daily necessities. Can you imagine a PhD or experienced physician having to pretend that they have always only worked as house cleaners? What does the society gain? Do they really belong?”
She went on, “(Immigrants) bring with us the values of the countries we left behind, very often very old countries with very old traditions and rituals which may appear quite different from those of Canada as a young nation. We may relate to power differently, we may look at time and space differently, we may have different communication styles, and we may take different approaches toward solving problems or making decisions. Our new identity inevitably embodies elements of our old identity, making us feeling guilty for not being unequivocally Canadian.”
“However the fundamentals do not change. As human beings, we all aspire for respect, recognition, equal access to employment opportunities and human dignity. As human beings we are all eager to make a difference and leave this world a better place.”
We belong when we are united.
I found her speech gripping, as did I’m told the students in the audience from across Canada. Here is more:
“A 2001 study by Conference Board of Canada concluded that between $4.1 and $5.9 billion is lost to the Canadian economy each year because of unrecognized qualifications of immigrants. Jeffrey Reitz, Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, put such costs at $15 billion per year. We have a national shortage of 3000 doctors while an estimated 5000 foreign-trained doctors can’t practise. Ontario alone has 2,000 and 4,000 immigrant doctors (with) each represent(ing) over $100,000 in savings to Canadian taxpayers in education cost! When you consider such examples, $15 billion may in fact be an underestimation.”
“Fully one in four or 25% of highly-skilled immigrants permanently leave Canada within 10 years of landing, disenchanted and disheartened. Many had arrived in Canada on the point-system based on their educational and professional background. They were given the welcome mat but the door to success was shut on them.”
“Employment is central to full membership in any society and in a … society like Canada, it is the foundation of full citizenship. Meaningful employment does not only represent a source of livelihood, it is also a means of forming an identity and provides a sense of belonging. We do not seek special treatment, we only seek equal treatment! We do not want charity, we want unity!
We belong when we act with courage
Zhang: “In March 1990, I interviewed Nelson Mandela and asked him what had kept him going in 27 years of imprisonment. His answer, ‘it was the courage to believe and passion to persevere.’ I am deeply inspired by Mandela… I encourage you to become aware of immigrants’ situations, reach out and hear stories of immigrants’ journey, get involved in helping immigrants and demand action from those in positions of power to make systemic change. “
“Every year, over 200,000 immigrants journey to this country, leaving jobs, loved ones and entire cultural frameworks. In Canada, our languages, traditions, and values inevitably mix with those of others. The only common thread binding our disparate cultural and personal stories will be the experience of being immigrants and our shared journey toward citizenship. While immigrants help to keep our country viable and shape our future, as future leaders, future MPs, ministers and prime ministers, you have the power to make this transformation one of true hope and real promise for us all!
“Canada is a model for the world in many ways. But as his Excellency the British High Commissioner said last night: ‘As a young country, Canada can do better. Canada can go bolder.’ Indeed we can! Yes we can! So it is with passion for this country, one that I found on July 1, 1995, my fellow Canadians, I say to you that to be a citizen is to belong. I call on you to work with me, and all immigrants, to make this country our own. I urge you to continue to exercise your courage and accompany me and all immigrants on this journey of citizenship. Until we all truly belong!”
Who can disagree with Haiyan Zhang? In Ottawa, the situation is further complicated by the fact that the government of Canada is the major employer and demands both security clearance and often good ability in both official languages for new employees. There is also the unreasonable amount of time often required to jump through all the other employment hoops to get into even entry level public service positions.
In short, Canada must do a lot better by its newcomers than it has done under governments of differing political stripes for years now. We have major advantages for attracting skilled men and women around the world wishing to emigrate, but we must remove many obstacles quickly. As persons of spiritual faith, we feel especially strongly about welcoming newcomers with more than words. Each of us is an equal child of God and deserves the same opportunities as others to live fulfilled lives in Canada.