Commentary by: Arvind Magesan in Calgary, AB
Statistics Canada has released new data from the 2016 census that shows more than any other G8 country, Canada is a nation of immigrants. One in five Canadians (21.9 per cent to be exact) were born in another country.
Immigration is a significant component of Canada’s population growth and evolving demographic composition. The census data shows more than 1.2 million new immigrants came to Canada between 2011-16. Immigrants are also typically younger and more educated than the average Canadian.
Not surprisingly then, immigration is often touted as a necessary condition for sustained economic prosperity. And yet in spite of their ostensible importance to the Canadian economy, immigrants themselves have yet to catch up to other Canadians in terms of economic outcomes.
Economists refer to this catching up as “economic assimilation” and often measure it using the “native-immigrant wage gap” — the difference between the average wages of immigrants and those whose families have been here at least three generations. The persistence of this wage gap is a feature common to economies in the Western world that rely heavily on immigration.
As an economist and a child of immigrants myself, I was curious to delve into the census data to understand how this gap has evolved over time and across major cities in Canada — and to get a hint of what may be at the root of it.
The first thing that surprised me is the gap has not changed much over the past 10 years. Census data from 2006 showed, at a national level, first-generation immigrants earned wages 12.6 per cent less than the average wage of native Canadians. In 2011, the gap dropped slightly to 10 per cent, but the new census data shows it’s climbed significantly to 16 per cent.
Importantly, the gap is a countrywide phenomenon. Looking at the three of the most popular destinations for immigrants in the past decade — Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary — the gap in 2016 sits at 25, 17 and 23 per cent respectively.
Interestingly, the gap doesn’t only exist for first-generation immigrants, but also for the children of immigrants (second generation, i.e. Canadians born to immigrant parents). The new data shows at the national level, second-generation immigrants earn 5.4 per cent less than natives.
The obvious question that follows then is: What is the source of these gaps?
Canada is an especially interesting case given the “points” system used to screen potential immigrants, where language, education and job skills are key determinants. And for the first time, the census has reported that about six out 10 new immigrants came here under the so-called economic admission category, meaning they have the skills “to enhance and promote economic development.”
Given the way immigrants are screened before entry, one would expect relatively quick integration into the Canadian economy and a convergence in wages. But this is clearly not the case.
The reasons put forward to explain the wage gap range from employer difficulty in assessing immigrant education credentials to outright discrimination. Economists refer to two types of “discrimination” in the labour market context, “statistical discrimination” and “taste-based discrimination.”
In the former, employers use observable traits (such as race) to make inferences about something like productivity. For example, an employer sees a job applicant with brown skin. The employer isn’t prejudiced towards brown people, but is worried (stereotypically) the employee is going to want to take trips “home” to Sri Lanka and would need a lot of vacation time. So the employer hires someone else equally qualified. Taste-based discrimination is more what we think of as prejudice — not wanting to hire someone purely because of skin colour.
Identifying causal factors that explain the wage gap is a difficult task - individuals who immigrate to Canada do so by choice. These choices are a function of a host of factors that could potentially jointly explain the decision to immigrate and labour market outcomes, including personal characteristics, job experience and education, to name just a few. Identifying discrimination in the labour market, and separating between taste-based and statistical discrimination, is even harder.
However, a 2011 study by University of Toronto economist Phil Oreopolous takes an important step in this direction.
In the study, thousands of computer-generated resumes were mailed out to companies that had posted ads searching for employees. The resumes were randomly assigned either a foreign or a “white” sounding last name, and were otherwise identical. The result: The resumes where the applicant had a foreign-sounding last name were less likely to receive a call back than identical looking resumes with a “white” last name.
When the author followed up with some of the recruiters, the overwhelming reason given for overlooking resumes with a foreign-sounding name was that they anticipated difficulty with language. Specifically, recruiters expected a lack of fluency in English, problems with communicating at work and difficulty for customers and co-workers in understanding a foreign accent. In other words, recruiters were statistically discriminating between job candidates based on their names.
The census presents an opportunity to study the importance of English proficiency for the gap in labour market earnings between immigrants and native Canadians in 2016. The census provides information on wages, immigrant (and generation) status, as well as the language most commonly spoken at home.
Specifically, guided by the findings in Oreopolous’s study, I looked at how the gap in average wages changes when English is spoken at home. (For the purpose of this study, I looked at communities outside of Quebec, where French is the dominant language.) In 2016, 63 per cent of new immigrants living outside of Quebec most often spoke a language other than English or French while at home.
The latest census data says the native-first generation immigrant wage gap is 16 per cent at the national level. Once we examine whether immigrants speak English at home, things change — the wage difference is just 5.8 per cent. But for first-generation immigrants who don’t speak English at home, the gap jumps to 27.3 per cent.
For second-generation immigrants, there is barely any gap for those who speak English at home (0.7 per cent) but it’s still a significant gap for those who don’t speak English at home (a whopping 45.7 per cent).
This pattern also holds in the major metropolitan centres in the English-speaking parts of the country, which attract the most immigrants.
Interestingly, at almost 25 per cent, Toronto has one of the largest city level wage gaps in the country, explained at least in part by the fact that new immigrants tend to land in Toronto first and are more likely to be unemployed for a period of time. The three largest cities in English-speaking Canada, which also attract the most immigrants, also have gaps larger than the national average.
In Ottawa, immigrants of either generation who speak English at home actually earn more than natives on average. While it may be tempting to attribute the major differences across the cities to differences in culture, they are more likely due to regional differences in industrial composition and attendant labour demand.
The wage gap for immigrants who don’t speak English at home is very large. In Toronto and Calgary, first-generation immigrants who don’t speak English at home can expect to earn 37 per cent less than natives. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that the gap across all cities for is larger for second generation immigrants who don’t speak English at home.
Though these patterns are striking, they should not be interpreted as causal – immigrants can’t necessarily start speaking English at home and expect to see their future earnings increase. There are unobserved qualities of individuals that may correlate both with the tendency to speak English at home as well as with labour market earnings potential. Without holding these fixed in some way, we can’t say whether there is a causal relationship between English skills and the gap in labour market outcomes.
But supposing that the findings here are suggestive of a causal relationship, why does speaking English at home matter so much?
One obvious answer is that individuals who speak English at home speak better English in general — and this would mean better communication at work. This would be consistent with the worries that the recruiters in Oreopolous’s study had when deciding who to call back. Or perhaps individuals of foreign descent that speak English at home tend to have other important skills on average.
But another possibility is the labour market discriminates against individuals with weaker English skills even when English is not important for productivity. Sorting between these different explanations (and others) will require more data and a deeper look.
Commentary by Vivian Li in Toronto
In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare gave us the famous line “What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” While he was stating, with a noble intention, that it’s not the name of a person but their content and character that truly matters, we know that in 2017 our relationship with our own names and how they’re perceived by others isn’t so simple.
Names matter. For many people they’re a major reflection of our identities, origins, family histories, and the expectations and wishes of our parents symbolized onto us by the very word we use to not only personally identify with but also to introduce ourselves to the world.
When it comes to employment, recent research has shown that names definitely do have an impact on how people are perceived and unfortunately this can manifest in a negative way.
A newly released joint University of Toronto and Ryerson study shows discrimination and hiring bias are present when it comes to applicants with Asian (defined in the study as Indian, Pakistani or Chinese) names. In a study of data from a 2011 Canadian employment audit, researchers analyzed nearly 13,000 job applications for over 3000 job postings in Toronto and Montreal.
Even when all qualifications were equal and the individual was Canadian in origin, the study found that applicants with an Asian name were 28 per cent less likely to get called for an interview compared to applicants with a more traditional Anglo-based name. The callback rate for an interview deteriorates even further when the applicant’s education or work experience was from outside of Canada.
Small vs. Big organizations
The study also shows that smaller companies exhibit even worse discrimination than larger organizations, likely due to lack of resources and internal diversity awareness programs. In companies with fewer than 500 employees, the chance of an applicant with an Asian name and of Canadian origin getting a call for an interview was 42% less, and this drops to a staggering 68% less when the applicant’s education and work history was international.
Following the release of the study, RBC and Ryerson University co-sponsored a panel discussion event moderated by Ratna Omidvar, Senator and Visiting Professor, Global Diversity Exchange at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University. The goal was to explore the challenges discovered by the research and identify ways to eliminate these types of persisting hiring biases.
Hiring from the community
As an Asian Canadian and one of the RBCers who were invited to the event and discussion, my feelings were hopeful but also bittersweet. On the one hand, I continue to be very proud of working for a company like RBC where 33 per cent of our workforce is made up of visible minorities, surpassing the Canadians average of 25 per cent by a sizable margin.
In my role as Senior Manager, Inclusive Recruitment, I know from a wide range of personal experiences that hiring from the community to serve the community has always been one of our most effective and rewarding guiding principles. We’ve passionately built a suite of forward-thinking programs designed to help immigrants and new Canadians build their career at RBC, including ourCareer Edge internship and TRIEC mentoring programs, and RBC volunteers also actively participate in various speed-mentoring events with newcomers to help us look beyond a resume and meet the person behind the name.
Visible minorities are also highly represented in our own recruitment team, which helps us build the cultural competency needed to truly understand the nuanced needs of new Canadians and leads us to address unconscious bias when it comes to screening resumes.
On the other hand, if the study indicates that society in general still interprets minority status negatively then it unavoidably has a potentially negative impact in organizations all across Canada.
Canada is an immigrant country and by 2035, almost 100 per cent of the Canadian population growth will depend on immigration. Hiring bias against minorities will hugely impact our ability to build competitive advantage both as a company and a country.
So what can we do differently?
We often talk about how diversity is the mix and inclusion is how we make the mix work well together. The bottom line is that in order to make the mix work well together, each one of us needs to look within and examine our own conscious or unconscious bias. It is human nature to favour people who are most like us and view people who are in our own groups as being more favourable than “the others.” A lot of the time, addressing unconscious is about asking ourselves uncomfortable questions (see graphic alongside).
With that in mind, my challenge to everyone is this: the next time you’re looking at a resume and decide to put it aside, pause for a moment and ask yourself why you are doing it… and then look at the name.
Vivian Li is a Senior Manager responsible for inclusive recruitment at the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). Prior to her experience in RBC, Vivian worked as an HR professional with Bell Canada.
Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton
I believe it is fair to say that since 9-11, Islamophobia has been on the rise in North America. With the rise of ISIL and attacks in this country and other nations, terrorist movements have given rise to a greater distrust of all refugees and immigrants, most of whom are Muslims fleeing the violence in the Middle East and North Africa.
As an immigrant myself, perhaps I feel the impact of this trend more than my fellow Canadians whose journey to this country may have been many generations in the past. As I watch the news, and particularly the fledgling and, to a degree, struggling administration of U.S. President Donald Trump I am growing even more troubled.
Trump’s recent Executive Order banning Muslim refugees or travel to the U.S. from a select list of seven countries has run afoul of the nation’s constitution and its courts. But as Trump searches for a new way to achieve what his executive order has failed to do, I believe there will be long-term consequences. I believe Trump’s actions will encourage otherwise constrained and silent movements within the U.S. and in countries around the globe who have long wished for a legitimate platform to express their racist or xenophobic views in the hope that these views become the policy of their governments.
Meanwhile, here in Canada, we have two recent, troubling incidents that illustrate a very different response from our government. First of all, this past weekend in Toronto, anti-Semitic notes were found on the doors of several units at a Willowdale condo building in Toronto. In addition, notes with the statement “No Jews” were found on the front doors of several Jewish residences in a building on Beecroft Road, close to the Yonge Street and Park Home Avenue area.
Some of the notes contained anti-Semitic slurs and some neighbours reported that their mezuzahs – blessings traditionally posted on the doorways of Jewish homes – had been vandalized. Mayor John Tory condemned the hate-motivated vandalism and said those actions do not reflect the city's spirit. “Anti-Semitism has no place in Toronto."
This comes after the recent tragic murder of six Muslims at prayer in a Quebec City Mosque. Our government’s response to this tragedy was to debate Motion 103 in the Canadian Parliament. Introduced by MP Iqra Khalid, the motion asked MPs to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”
Locally, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is strongly supporting Mississauga-Erin Mills MP Khalid in her push to end systemic racism in Canada. Mayor Crombie also said “Eliminating systemic racism, religious discrimination and Islamophobia is a national call to action. No one should ever have to think twice about calling Canada home.”
Substance, not symbolism
While I feel this a well-meant act in the face of unspeakable violence and tragedy, racism affects a broad spectrum of people and it is short-sighted of our government to single out Islamophobia in their motion. Racism is in itself an act of violence and the murder in that Quebec City Mosque is that racist violence made manifest. It is an act of extreme cowardice, and an insult to God.
Our government should condemn all racism equally, and with total conviction. Symbolic acts like Motion 103 should be backed up with a new, comprehensive review of the legislation and enforcement powers that can give meaning and force to such well-intended symbolic gestures.
I know from personal experience the sting of distrust, disrespect, and prejudice that racism inflicts on those who are new, or different, or who worship in a different way. Racists ignore the reality that you cannot judge a race or a religion, but that if we are judged at all, it is based on our own behavior, our own actions.
President Trump’s anti Muslim, anti-immigration and refugee rhetoric may not, in itself, lead to the rise of Islamophobia and xenophobia, but the fact that a sitting President has stoked such sentiments should be reason for great concern for us all. The response of our Canadian government should be one of substance, not symbol.
by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City
Racial profiling by police is not a new phenomenon. The ability to now document aggression by law enforcement against African Americans and other racialized people and broadcast the footage around the world makes this long-standing injustice hard to ignore.
Along with meaningful discussions though, these images are also sparking retaliation by some members of the targeted communities.
These acts of aggression, the feelings they create, and the history they are grounded in, are hard for adults to understand, let alone explain to a young person.
Thanks to the Internet and technology, children and youth today have the world at their fingertips. Yet defining how prejudice and racism continue to have implications in different realms of society are ongoing topics of research, policy discussions and public debate.
Making children aware
Books like The Stone Thrower by Canadian author Jael Richardson are one way to start a conversation with children about the historical roots of some of the prejudice we continue to see today against African Americans.
The illustrated book tells the real-life story of Chuck Ealey, starting from when he was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, in 1950. He grows up in the city’s North End neighbourhood without most of the opportunities that many other children in America enjoy.
Because of racism against Black people in America — which often revolves around the idea that all Black people have characteristics that make them inferior to Caucasian Americans — Chuck and other people who have black skin must live, learn and play separately from those with white skin.
Chuck’s mother works long hours for little money, yet still has time and energy to instill in her son the drive to get educated and follow the train tracks that go beyond the North End.
“How could he get out of the North End if they didn’t even have enough money for food?” Chuck wonders.
He begins visiting the train tracks regularly to practise throwing stones at the passing freight cars. It helps him on the football field, and eventually his high school coach asks him to play quarterback during a game.
On the field, he is taunted by the rival team, but maintains his focus and determination to win.
The team’s victory is the start of Chuck Ealey’s long and successful career in high school and college football. After that, though, his time as a football player in the United States is over.
“The National Football League didn’t believe that he could be a great quarterback because of the color of his skin,” writes Richardson.
So instead, Ealey moved to Canada to play in the Canadian Football League (CFL). In his first year as a quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, he led the team to the Grey Cup championship and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player and the CFL’s Rookie of the Year.
Colourful pages tell ugly history
“It’s an unbeatable story that amazes me, even though I’ve heard it all before, because Chuck Ealey happens to be my father,” Richardson explains at the end of the book. She has also written about her father’s story in a 2012 memoir called The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lesson, a Father’s Life, which was the subject of a TSN (The Sports Network) documentary.
Chuck’s story is remarkable, yet his experience with racism is not unique. Racial segregation was a reality for a huge segment of the population only about 50 years ago — in both the United States and Canada.
Children can relate to parts of the book about playing outdoors, practising sports and being part of a team. What might come as a surprise is that there was once a time when not all children could enjoy these things equally.
The Stone Thrower’s colourful and animated pages tell of a history that was much uglier, hateful and violent.
The difficult legacy of race
While segregation was not enshrined in Canadian law, it still existed in all facets of social life. The story of Viola Desmond being arrested for sitting in the whites-only section of a New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, movie theatre is just one example.
These injustices continue to have repercussions that are felt today. While the days of slavery are over, poverty in Black communities and videos of police brutality against Black people are remnants of what U.S. President Barack Obama termed “the difficult legacy of race.”
The NFL can no longer bar Black athletes from playing football, but law enforcement, employers and the justice system are still realms in which race matters. The Stone Thrower is a reminder of how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go.
However, Ealey’s story is also a much-needed reminder for children and adults alike of what is possible when we work against division and towards inclusion. Through a basic retelling of how one man overcame injustice to be treated fairly, we see how difficult it is to explain and justify segregation and inequality.
On the other hand, we see how easy it is to defend everyone’s basic right to work, play and live without discrimination.
Rosanna Haroutounian is a freelance writer and the assignment editor at New Canadian Media. She studied journalism and political science at Carleton University and now splits her time between Quebec City and Peterborough, Ont.
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by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga
Many leaders of the East who fought to decolonize their countries from Western authoritarian rule were also educated in the West. Upon returning home, they became trapped in a mental rift – they owed their education to the Western system, which also worked to colonize and ruin their countries and people.
It was usually lawyers or social scientists who became leaders and policy-makers to fight rigid authoritarian powers. However, in Thanh’s story, a group of Vietnamese nationalists enlist their friend – the refined, educated Vietnamese physician Dr. Georges-Minh Nguyen – to poison the French general and his garrison.
Dr. Nguyen has a medical degree from Lycée Condorcet in Paris. What he owes to the French and how they’ve taken over Vietnam clash to carve rifts in his psyche and cause him to slowly go insane.
The close-knit group of friends makes up a revolutionary cell called the Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains. They plot revenge on the French for the oppression they forced upon the Vietnamese – an act they hope will send a message to the colonizers that revolution has begun in Vietnam.
The book is based on the true story of the Hanoi Poison Plot of 1908, which took place in Saigon.
Dr. Nguyen is overcome by the guilt of the prospect of killing someone, until his pregnant wife escapes a rape attempt by a French soldier.
“Though he hadn’t told [his friend] Khieu about the rape his anger about it had made him steely. Most of the doubt was gone from his mind now. He was quite certain he could kill a man. Part of him was looking forward to trying.”
Khieu, a determined member of the revolutionary group, has his mind set on plotting revenge. His commitment is what allows the plan to continue.
However, the plot is foiled when cooks at the garrison confess to it, providing the names, places and dates of the plan to a priest. This forces the Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains members to flee to other provinces.
Dr. Nguyen avoids capture, but must leave his wife and his newborn son behind after they are caught by French soldiers.
“He’d never imagined kissing her for the last time. Not once. He’d never imagined last times for anything. He simply ran.”
The book depicts the era of the French colonial period in Indochina, during which people were suffering from social deprivation and using drugs to quell their anguish. It sheds light on how discrimination by French imperials aimed to make the Vietnamese feel shame and responsibility for their plight.
Dr. Nguyen encounters a French doctor at the Centre for Infectious Disease Control to discuss the “Paddy Fever,” or yellow fever. He is taken aback when Dr. Michaut calls the Vietnamese “teachers of moral vice” because he believes they have “corrupted” the French soldiers.
“What was this man on about?” thinks Dr. Nguyen. “If only he didn’t need his help, his lab, his equipment, he’d pop him in the jaw.”
Instead, Dr. Nguyen suggests Vietnamese boys engage in prostitution in opium dens to pay for their own opium habits, or to acquire goods they can’t afford.
From the French doctor Michaut’s perspective, the offence is less evident: “I don’t include you in these comparisons. You studied in Paris, like me,” he says to Dr. Nguyen.
Suffering under colonialism
Thanh tells us stories of capricious characters that go to great lengths to overthrow their colonial oppressors. Her characters survive living amongst imaginary, yet dangerous, ghosts.
She takes us to a savaged, but vivid, colonial Vietnam, where streets are filled with fierce threats in the form of killing, rape and rebels’ chopped heads mounted on bamboo poles as warnings.
After his marriage with Dong, Dr. Nguyen lacked solace and drifted away from his wife. Once, in conversation with her, he justifies his absence by explaining the historical colonization of Vietnam by one power or another, resulting in turmoil and agony for the country’s women.
“Our country is in crisis," he said. "Men abandon their families and leave their wives in charge of feeding the children. The women have no money and they do what they must to survive. This country was the possession of the Chinese, and now is the mistress of the French. For a thousand years we’ve lived under the dominion of others. It’s why everyone’s going mad.”
Vietnam’s colonial history reflects some of today’s challenges of occupation and abuse of people’s land. In war zones like Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and many others, colonialism results in the total disarray of a country’s inhabitants, and leaves their attempts at survival and revolution against past oppressors unfulfilled as they are quickly taken over by new ones.
Thanh’s novel shows that the lust for power results in horror and misfortune for the colonized and is ultimately reflected in the truest form of human tragedy – the loss of innocence.
Tazeen Inam is passionate about both print and electronic media. She has a master's degree in mass communications, has worked as a senior producer and editorial head at Pakistani news channels and has contributed to BBC Radio Urdu in London, England. Inam is presently pursuing a course in digital media studies at Sheridan College.
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by Danica Samuel in Toronto
When Sheema Khan told audience members at the Aga Khan Museum that the men sitting at one of her last lectures refused to face her, the entire room cringed.
Khan, a Globe & Mail columnist, author and women’s activist, says that she became a activist and feminist because of the Muslim community and this kind of behaviour.
For Aga Khan’s lecture series “Islam in the 21st Century,” Khan spoke on the challenges and opportunities of being a woman, muslim and Canadian.
Known for her fiery columns and controversial discussions on the perception of women in the Islamic community, Khan centred her talk around her latest book “Of Hockey and Hijab: New Reflections.”
Dr. Ruba Kana’an, head of Education and Scholarly Programs at Aga Khan, organized the event that had 250 audience members in attendance.
The topic was chosen amongst many that the Aga Khan visiting survey uncovered, but Kana’an said such a controversial topic was sure to pique the interest of many people within and outside of the Muslim community.
“The issues of women, gender [equality] and the perception of women [are] questions we always ask,” says Kana’an. “It’s important to address these issues especially with how much misconception and misunderstanding there is between patriarchy and religion. It’s a topic to bring to the public.”
Muslim women’s unhappiness in Canada
The highlights of Khan’s lecture related to the statistics that started off her talk, which she used to discuss how unhappy and targeted Muslim-Canadian women felt.
In the Environics Survey 2016, 42 per cent of Muslim women said they felt discriminated against. Of that percentage, 60 per cent wore a head covering and 40 per cent did not. Compare this to Muslim men, of whom only 27 per cent said they experienced discrimination.
Khan says this treatment leads Muslim women in Canada to be unhappy and concerned.
“More Muslim women than men worry about how Canadians view Muslims. They are far more pessimistic than men are,” she says. “They worry about how Muslims are portrayed in the media, stereotyping their neighbours and wondering if the the next generation will face more difficulties than they do. ”
One of the members of the audience, Judy Csillag, who has been doing interfaith and intercultural work for over 35 years, says that these worries could stem from the fact that mothers and women see how prejudice affects their children more than the men.
“Khan spoke a lot about how women don’t go to the mosque as much as men do. They are usually at home with the kids and involved in their children’s life,” Csillag says.
To the contrary, Khan says part of the reason why Muslim men are happier is because they aren’t seen as inferior in Islamic society.
Experiences drive desire for change
Khan recalled a few experiences in her lifetime where she felt that men refused to acknowledge her as a scholar and speaker.
One circumstance, Khan recalls, happened in 1996 in Quebec. She was preparing to speak at a Unity Dinner — a function put together by the Islamic community to address inequality in their community — when she heard that the more Conservative mosque had rejected the idea of having her speak.
They didn’t think a women should speak in public, she explains.
“One of my muslim colleagues said, ‘Sheema don’t take it personally, it’s not you they’re against, it’s just women in general,’” Khan repeats, laughing with the audience.
She says that the views that conservative Muslim men have of women stems from their ignorance of the roles of women during the prophetic era.
“There was one scholar, the late Abduhalim Abu Shaqqa: he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He [performed] very valuable research on Islamic women, which unfortunately is ignored in the Muslim world,” Khan explains.
“It took him ten years, but he looked at every single verse and narration that had to deal with women and, in conclusion, he found that the way women participated in society during the best era and generation is very different from what we see today in the Muslim world.”
The importance of women in the conversation
Kana’an says that hearing these stories is important for young immigrants looking to locate their experiences within a Canadian context.
“One of the things that we are noticing [. . .] is that there is a happiness in the awareness of students, that they gain a sense that they matter, their history matters and that there is a worthwhile contribution they’ve made to the world at large,” she explains.
Csillag agrees, saying that as a refugee from Hungary, it was hard for her to settle in Canada.
“[How] pleased my heart is that women are starting to take the stage, and Aga Khan has been a godsend for women speaking as equals,” she comments. “What was fantastic is that so much of the audience is not Muslim, so people are reaching out and wanting to learn.”
For Csillag and Khan both, educating the younger generation is of utmost importance in order to fight radicalization and misconceptions.
“Being treated as an inferior human being is something no one should go through” says Khan. “I decided that I had to fight back. And by pushing back that’s how I gained my self respect. I’ve created a lot of controversy in my community, and I don’t mind because I’m thinking of the next generation.”
by Beatrice Paez in Toronto
When Elizabeth Philibert arrived in Montreal as an émigré in 1979, she immediately felt the city would be her closest connection to Haiti.
The city’s circle of activists quickly embraced Philibert, who had risked her life on the front lines of Haiti’s anti-Duvalier movement. The movement began in opposition to self-declared "President-for-life" Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and continued against the oppressive regime of his successor and son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.
Most Canadians may not have heard of Philibert and other Haitian Canadians who, through their collective efforts, influenced Quebec’s cultural and political traditions.
In A Place in the Sun: Haiti, Haitians and the Remaking of Quebec, historian Sean Mills chronicles how the Haitian community, while relegated to the margins, actively challenged the status quo while also finding common ground within it.
Haitians in the Quiet Revolution
Philibert joined the wave of Haitian immigrants who settled in Quebec in the 1960s and 1980s, drawn by shared linguistic and religious ties. She arrived at a time when members of Montreal’s Haitian community were claiming a stake in Quebec’s political future, and Canada’s international affairs.
While Quebec was gripped in its fight for sovereignty, Haitians in the province wielded what resources they had to insert themselves into the political debate.
“The importance of Haitians was well known among many Haitians, of course, but it wasn’t part of mainstream understandings of the Quiet Revolution and its aftermath,” says Mills, referring to a period in the 1960s during which the province saw the secularization and expansion of the welfare state in sectors such as health care and education. “I was struck by the involvement of Haitians in the waves of political and cultural activism in the 1960s and 1970s, and I wanted to learn more about these developments.”
Mills’ curiosity led him to delve into the written work of the Haitian diaspora and their oral histories, as told by those who had fled the violence under the two Duvalier regimes. He illuminates the ways Haitians sought to elevate their status in Quebec.
Through their vast literary publications, activism and media appeals they set out to upend a political system intent on shutting them out.
A Place in the Sun revisits history with a new perspective, and succeeds in delivering a nuanced portrait of their lives during a critical juncture in Quebec’s history.
The first contingent of Haitian exiles came in the 1960s. Most were francophone elites who integrated well into society. The second wave of migrants in the 1970s, representing a poorer class who spoke Creole, faced far more discrimination.
That they had markedly different experiences speaks to Quebec’s complex perception of Haiti, Mills writes.
Haiti had long held symbolic significance to Quebec, especially in the 1940s as it sought to establish cultural linkages through its Catholic missionary work. Although they were bound by a shared language and colonial legacy, the missionary cause set them on unequal footing.
It was a relationship defined in familial terms, albeit a paternalistic one, in which Haitians were ridiculed for their religious belief in voodoo and regarded as “childlike” and “devoid of complex thoughts.”
Mills argues, convincingly, that confined as many were to exploitative occupations in the taxi industry or domestic service, Haitian immigrants refused to be reduced to stereotypes. Instead, they cast themselves as political beings capable of exerting pressure on the government to confront its policies and in some cases, to adopt their cause.
“They had to fight to find a place for themselves in a political sphere that did not see them as legitimate interlocutors,” Mills writes. “By entering the political sphere and rupturing its traditional composition, they opened a new space for themselves.”
Culture of activism
It helped that Haitians were attuned enough to know that language can be a potent bargaining chip in Quebec.
One critical test was the “crisis of 1,500” in 1974, when Haitians mobilized support from diverse groups to quash the deportation of non-status migrants.
They appealed both to the “conscience of the population” and used language strategically to position themselves as “ideal francophone immigrants for modern Quebec.” René Lévesque, as Parti Québécois premier, ultimately endorsed their cause on humanitarian grounds, but also for demographic considerations.
For the Haitian diaspora, Quebec became a proxy battlefield through which they could undermine support for the Duvalier regimes. They compelled Canada to confront its policy of distributing foreign aid to a dictatorship, which had driven many to flee and was ultimately the root of the migrant crisis.
These efforts weakened the federal government’s claim that they were merely “economic migrants” as opposed to political refugees. It also served as a rallying cry of solidarity between Quebecers and Haitians, both vying for self-determination.
Although they’ve made significant strides in improving their conditions, the “asymmetrical relationship” between Quebec and Haiti persists, writes Mills. To this day, many of the organizations Haitian immigrants founded remain an enduring force in integrating new arrivals.
“[I’m] continually impressed by the incredible vitality of the Haitian community,” says Mills. “It’s certainly a world that is very alive and vibrant to this day.”
Beatrice Paez is a freelance journalist based in Toronto whose work spans from writing about international development issues to the arts and culture. She also writes a public art column for the Torontoist and co-founded The Origami, an online magazine about Asian Canadians in Toronto.
Commentary by Stephen Kimber in Halifax, Nova Scotia
Where to begin?
With the too-soon deaths of three young black men killed in separate incidents within a week last month?
Or with last Monday’s announcement the provincial government is restructuring — which is to say eliminating — a community-based program in North and East Preston, Cherry Brook and Lake Loon that had been helping young African Nova Scotians find jobs since 1983?
Or perhaps we should begin with the most recent: last Thursday, an independent human rights board of inquiry ordered Sobeys, our iconic, Nova Scotia-based supermarket chain, to apologize and pay $21,000 to a woman it racially profiled at its Tantallon store in 2009.
Nova Scotia has a race problem.
We like to believe the bad old days — segregated schools, movie theatres that wouldn’t allow blacks like Viola Desmond to sit in the white section, the Africville relocation — are now historic artifacts to be mea culpa-ed during African Nova Scotia Month each year — and then forgotten for the next 11.
The reality is we have never fully escaped our history.
The most obvious symbols have mostly disappeared. Restaurants on Quinpool Road no longer refuse to serve blacks as they did in the early 1960s when retired Senator Donald Oliver was a university student.
But blacks are still routinely followed around in stores by salespeople who assume they must be shoplifters, or stopped by police because… well, because.
Labour Minister Kelly Regan may be right when she says the jobs program she axed was administratively top heavy, but it’s hard to shake the belief her government is more committed to balanced budgets than to opportunities for those who have none.
“All of this leads to feelings of despair,” noted Reverend Rhonda Britton, the pastor at Cornwallis Street Baptist Church.
She was trying to make sense of the recent string of murders involving young black men. “They've had bad experiences in school or in society as people who have been marginalized, or people who have been discriminated against. It leads to a lack of self-worth — a devaluing of self and others,” she told the CBC.
That, more even than the murders, is the real crime, the societal crime we continue to commit. And our society pays a terrible price for that.
Stephen Kimber, a Professor of Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax, is an award-winning writer, editor and broadcaster.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada on Monday March 21 issued the following statement on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination:
“Today, I join Canadians – and people around the world – to recognize the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
“As we approach Canada's 150th birthday, we can look over our past and see how each successive generation of Canadians has fought to expand liberty to their fellow (...)
The Patriotic Vangaurd
by Samaah Jaffer in Vancouver
Five months after Harper’s Conservatives made a pre-elections pledge to establish a controversial "barbaric cultural practices" tip line, a group of lawyers and legal organizations in Vancouver have launched a different kind of phone line — a hotline offering free legal advice for victims of Islamophobia.
“The Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline is a free and confidential number that people who experience Islamophobia, or hate crimes related to Islamophobia — whether you’re Muslim or perceived to be Muslim — can call,” explains lawyer and activist Hasan Alam.
The concept for the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline, launched on March 9, emerged from what a group of local lawyers observed as a “significant increase” in Islamophobia in Canada.
Alam defined Islamophobia as, “the fear of and hatred toward Muslims or people who are perceived to be Muslim.”
“Especially under the Harper government,” says Alam, “we noticed that there was very specific fear mongering happening, that utilized Islamophobia to justify Harper’s policies, such as Bill C-51, and all of that translated into an increase in hate crimes.”
In response to a question on the anti-terrorism legislation, Harper implied last fall there was an opportunity for radicalization in mosques: "It doesn't matter what the age of the person is, or whether they're in a basement, or whether they're in a mosque or somewhere else."
The statement was followed by an increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric leading up to the elections, with the niqab being lauded by the former Prime Minister as a primary concern in relation to gender equality and Canadian values.
Rise in incidences of violence
The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), a human rights and civil liberties advocacy group that endorsed the project, has been tracking anti-Muslim incidents across Canada since 2013. They have recorded a rise in alleged incidents corresponding to events where Muslims have been portrayed negatively in the media.
Vancouver-based lawyer and chair of NCCM’s Board of Directors, Kashif Ahmed, spoke to the significance of this new resource in B.C.: “We had 61 anti-Muslim incidents reported in 2015, and already had 12 reported in 2016.”
Ahmed identified a number of different forms of Islamophobia-related hate crimes, including “cases of people who are being assaulted on the street, victimized in their workplace and denied promotions, verbally abused, verbally harassed, mosques being vandalized, cases of schools not providing anti-bullying services to Muslim students or allowing bullying to continue, or even teachers being the ones doing the bullying.”
The hotline is operated by Access Pro Bono, an organization committed to providing “access to justice” in BC for individuals and non-profits unable to afford legal fees. Their volunteers are currently able to assist callers in seven different languages — English, French, Farsi, Indonesian, Arabic, Swahili, Punjabi, and Urdu.
“In a lot of instances people who experience Islamophobia are new immigrants, they don’t speak much English, they don’t know where to turn to for legal advice, or help in general, and they’re scared to turn to law enforcement agencies a lot of the time because of their precarious legal status,” says Alam.
Personal experiences of Islamophobia
Alam has a personal investment in the initiative, as a Muslim and a lawyer who has actively advocated against Islamophobia.
“I get calls from people, a lot, saying that they have experienced Islamophobia, and that they need help. Oftentimes, I myself can’t help them. I don’t have the area of expertise in that specific instance that I can give them legal advice,” he explains.
Alam spoke to the first time he experienced Islamophobia himself.
“I remember being the president of my Muslim Students Association (MSA) at Simon Fraser University, and getting a call from a government agency, who left a message for us at the interfaith centre.”
The message was from a woman requesting to meet with him, “to better understand the needs of your community.”
Eager to discuss the needs of the MSA, Alam agreed to meet the woman at a Starbucks. After he arrived, shook her hand, and allowed her to buy him a coffee, the woman revealed that she was a Canadian Security Intelligent Services (CSIS) agent who had questions about the activities of the MSA and his community.
Although the questions were not targeting him personally, Alam expresses, “For me, that was Islamophobia, and it was coming from the government. Why was I subjected to being interrogated by CSIS agents, simply on the basis that I was a Muslim and involved with a Muslim student group?”
Usefulness in lobbying efforts
Alam explained that another important element of the project is the recording of Islamophobic hate crimes.
“Being able to use that information to better advocate to government, and to lobby government to do more about Islamophobia and racism in general [. . .] and pushing the government to do more about that, and more advocacy, and having people’s voices heard is something that is really important for me.”
Alam hopes the Islamophobia hotline will send out a clear message to those who perpetuate Islamophobia that there are repercussions for their actions, while at the same time making those who appear to be Muslim feel safe.
“I think we’re still living in a fairytale world, thinking ‘this is Canada, not the United States, these things doesn’t happen here,’ and I think a big part of this is recognizing that Islamophobia and racism are real," he says.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit