Oh, Canada: what are you afraid of?

Saturday, June 30, 2012 at 1:18 PM

                Working with the public, I often have the opportunity to get a good idea of trending opinions and interests. Working in an immigration museum gives me a unique opportunity to hear what people think on that specific topic. And I am concerned. As of late, I have been hearing a lot of people giving certain opinions that I find particularly unsettling. Worse still, I am hearing these opinions outside of my work area, making me wonder how popular they have become.

I’m tired of it. There is too much anti-immigration rhetoric going around. I would like to address some of it. (note: I’m not addressing the issues of the Canadian immigration system. That is different can of worms that I’ll discuss at another time.)

These are some of the most common lines I’ve heard:

“Our economy is a disaster. We can’t afford to receive immigrants; they’re going to kill the ‘system’ when the government should be taking care of us.” AND “Immigrants are stealing our jobs. The government should be giving them to us.”

                So, there’s more than one way to respond to this comment, depending on the economic and political theories you prefer. Regardless, what’s important to remember is that we are not playing a zero-sum game. It’s ridiculous to assume that Canada has X number of jobs and once they are taken, none will be left over. If that were the case, we would never be able to permit the population to grow. Immigrants that come to work in Canada require services, too. What does this mean? More jobs will prop up to fill that demand. And don’t forget that many of the immigrants also establish economic connections with other countries that help the growth of trade.

                Additionally, Canada is in position to face a population crisis with the retiring baby boomer generation. What happens when your work force is smaller than the number of retired people who will require support? It’s a bit late to tell people to have more babies. Without immigration to fill in the retiring work force, many of our current government support systems are going to collapse.

                Finally, immigrants are not stealing your job. Nobody has to hire you, because if they did, we wouldn’t have to bother applying anywhere. Employers always get to decide which individuals are best for the job. I’m sorry if an immigrant was more qualified than you, but that’s life. Many Canadians are more qualified than me to get many jobs, but I don’t accuse them of stealing jobs from me. On top of that, immigrants often do the jobs that Canadians just won’t do. Why do you think we even have temporary work programs? A lot of us don’t like hard labour, especially if you can get a welfare check for doing nothing. Fact is, even when immigrants do get jobs, they're usually not the best kind of job out there. (and don't get me started on job access limitations...)

                If you’re still having trouble with this answer, try this analogy. Would you tell a Newfoundlander that they can’t steal Albertan jobs? Or a Manitoban who wants to work up North? Better yet, would you accuse someone of stealing a job in Toronto because they live in Oakville? If you can say yes to those questions and give me a reasonable answer, I would love to hear what you have to say.

 “In my day, immigrants would break their backs to have a good life in Canada. These days, immigrants just come here for our healthcare and welfare checks.” (and yes, I’ve heard people say “sit on their asses” and various other similar phrases…some of them, disturbingly, from immigrants themselves.)

                Excuse me? Having grown up in a family of immigrants, worked, and met countless immigrants, I scoff at the idea that any of them have an easy time of it. Yes, we have welfare. But I’m pretty sure that people don’t make the sacrifices countless immigrants do to sit on their asses and get welfare. It’s not easy to leave your home country, family, friends, and support networks to come to new country that may or may not welcome you, requires you to master another language, find a place in a new community, and deal with an entirely different culture. Of course, there are the leeches that arrive, but find me a sector of society that doesn’t have its leeches. If anything, immigrants are often the most grateful for whatever opportunity they get to work, because they know what it’s like to have nothing or have everything taken away from you.

“Canada belongs to Canadians. Foreigners don’t have the right to come live here.”

                This is downright laughable. Who is a Canadian? Unless you’re proposing that we hand ownership back to aboriginal groups, Canada is yours just as much as it is an immigrant’s. What makes me more deserving of citizenship than my parents? I'm sure that I could find more to say on this, but I don't think it's worth my time.
(funny how people don't tend to complain about immigrants representing Canada in the Olympics...)

“Immigration is destroying our country. No wonder we have no national identity.” OR “Look at all the immigration problems in Europe! We’re just a time-bomb waiting to blow up.”

                Now that we’re living in a time where immigrants arriving from areas outside of Europe, there have been a lot of questions as to whether or not immigrants are looking to fundamentally change Canada and its laws. My first response is that I think people are overestimating just how much immigrants actually want to change Canada and underestimate how much they agree with us. I think that the proportion looking to institute Sharia law is infinitesimally small. After all, if they didn’t generally agree with our laws, they would not come here. People who get the opportunity to immigrate tend to gravitate towards the systems that they want. After all, Canada is often not their only choice of destination.

                I also don't like the comparison with Europe. Our immigration issues are very different to the European ones, largely thanks to many years of fairly open immigration policies. Additionally, nationalism in Europe has a very different nature and history than Canadian nationalism; they are hardly comparable.

                The big cultural differences tend to lie in the way we live: the food we eat, the languages we speak, the religion we practice, etc. These differences are very noticeable, but are not overly threatening to how other Canadians live their lives. Usually, it just means that you may see a new cultural center around the corner and a larger variety of restaurants and food offered in the grocery store.

                In the end, I find that these attitudes stem from people who feel threatened by change. It would explain why some immigrants agree with these attitudes, especially if they arrived many years ago. The people arriving in Canada are not the same as the ones who arrived a few decades ago. That being said, I don’t think that we should be any less welcoming (if anything, more, Canada’s immigration history hasn’t always been pretty) to the new arrivals.