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Friday, February 11, 2005

Tales of Canadian multiculturalism

CANADA DIARY | Gurmukh Singh
February 11, 2005|21:57 IST

Amazing word this 'multiculturalism'. It is ubiquitous in Canada. It is everywhere. In politics. In education. In daily social dialogue.

Indeed, multiculturalism is in the air. It hits you wherever you go. You feel it, you see it and you experience it. The government swears by it. Canadians wear it on their sleeve. They are proud to be the first in the world to embrace it.

What is actually this multiculturalism? Has it something to do with social engineering? Or economics?

Seems both.

Every year, Canada needs to import about 250,000 new people from around the world to stop its population falling below replacement levels and keep its G-8 economy ticking. These immigrant numbers have been pegged at about one per cent of Canadian population.

Till the 1970s and 80s, white countries were the major source of immigrants for Canada. But in the late 80s and 90s, Asian countries have become the main source. These so-called visible minorities have made terms such as multiculturalism and ethnic politics part of Canadian life.

Every year, the government presents an annual report on its multiculturalism. And this year's report, presented by minister of state for multiculturalism Raymond Chan, highlights how various government departments, including Telefilm Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and the Canadian Radio-television, are doing to increase diversity in the mainstream media. How Transport Canada is implementing its diversity strategy to increase and retain visible minority groups.

The report adds, "In 2002-2003, visible minority groups represented 7.4 percent of the federal public service workforce, compared to 6.8 percent in the previous fiscal years."

But a recent study by the Institute for Research on Public Policy in Montreal, captures the large picture and paints a rather grim scenario about the plight of foreign-trained immigrants in this country.

The study says these immigrants have better skills than native-born Canadians, but they cannot find the jobs they are trained for. It tracks a trend which shows that over the years, the incomes of immigrants have fallen more and more behind those of native-born Canadians.

An average immigrant in 1980 earned about 80 per cent of what an average Canadian earned. But today, the same immigrant earns just 60 per cent of what the average Canadian earns, the study says.

Worse still, while 86 out of every 100 immigrants were employed in 1980, today just 68 out of every 100 immigrants have jobs. On the other hand, 85.4 per cent native-born Canadians have jobs.

The study, conducted by Prof Jeffrey Reitz of the University of Toronto, points out that Canada loses more than $2 billion because of underutilisation of immigrants' skill.

Most foreign degrees are still not recognised in this country. Though immigration authorities charge money from immigrants for re-orientation programmes in Canada, once they land here these people are left to fend for themselves. Qualified professionals are forced to work in 7/11 stores and gas stations.

Though Canada is perpetually short of trained nurses and medical graduates, little is being done to put foreign-trained medical graduates through re-orientation programmes. Because once they are inside this country, their fresh training and licensing, etc., become the responsibility of the provincial governments.

Prof Reitz has warned that underutilisation of immigrants' skills could lead to burdens on social security. Which, in turn, could lead to backlash against immigration.

The current immigration policy, he says, has huge social and psychological implications as it leads to a lose-lose situation for all. These skilled immigrants lose because of underutilisation of their skills. They suffer loss in self-esteem, sliding into poverty and turning to the social security net. And this country is paying a huge economic price through lost output.

Indo-Canadian MP and Official Opposition Critic for Multiculturalism Deepak Obhrai has joined Prof Reitz and called the government's policies on multiculturalism "eyewash".

Hitting out at minister Raymond Chan and his department for displaying "a remarkable disconnect'' with the real world, Obhrai says the annual report is "full of how government departments are all extremely busy developing 'strategies' and 'best practices' and appointing 'champions' to promote multiculturalism. It's full of all kinds of wonderful words that boil down to patting themselves on the back for the great job they think they're doing. Why doesn't the minister tell us about visible minorities in the private and public sector? Their representation in senior management is next to nil.

"What the minister has presented is an eye-wash. Why aren't they telling the truth, exposed by independent studies about our policies about visible minorities? Why don't they tell that racism is a big impediments for visible minorities?" he asks.

According to Obhrai, there is still a glass ceiling for visible minorities in our country. "They don't deem them fit for top positions. The other day I was talking to the CBC boss and asked him why there were not visible minorities in his department. He just nodded his head. Take any department, and show how many immigrants they have. Take the whole government. Show me where they have visible minorities in the high places. I meet highly qualified immigrants who have chucked their jobs in their native countries to come to Canada to find that they are not accepted. Doctors are driving taxies. Engineers are doing odd jobs. Why do we bring these people here and then humiliate them?" he asks.

Racism, he says, is a fact of life in Canada even today, narrating a report by a Calgary University professor about the discrimination against Chinese in jobs.

"We have even night clubs where visible minorities cannot go. Though they have no signs outside telling you not to enter, the bouncers will not allow you in. I came to know one such incident in Calgary where the bouncer stopped some Indian guys from entering the club. I have asked them to file a complaint with the human rights commission of Alberta province. We have a long way to go," he remarks.

Narrating his personal experiences, the Calgary East MP says, "When I applied for the job of an accountant with the city of Calgary, they refused to give it to me. I went to the court, and they gave me the job. The manager for human resources, who had denied me the job, later became friends with me. One day I asked him why he had first denied me this job. He said: "Because you were a visible minority. But six months after I joined them, they started giving jobs to visible minorities.''

Canadian multiculturalism has yet miles to go.

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