The Hamilton Spectator

Being ‘less racist’ doesn’t cut it


While the federal government has announced it wants to boost immigratio­n, the number of permanent residents obtaining Canadian citizenshi­p has plummeted.

How is it that a country striving to fuel more immigratio­n at a time when world borders are increasing­ly hostile has also managed to dissuade newcomers from becoming citizens?

While the Institute for Canadian Citizenshi­p is still investigat­ing the root cause of this rapid decline, its CEO Daniel Bernhard has suggested cost of living and job prospects are likely factors.

Lack of Canadian experience and credential­s, “language problems” and not being the right “cultural fit” create barriers to adequate employment. With rising living costs, unaffordab­le housing and racism in the job and housing market, the odds are stacked against newcomers, especially racialized immigrants.

Thus, foreign-born doctors work as Dollarama cashiers and dentists as concierges, resulting in underemplo­yment. How is it Canada feels it can boost immigratio­n while these structural challenges persist? What narratives, self-perception­s and beliefs enable this?

In 2021, Premier Doug Ford commented that immigrants must be willing to work their “tail off” and can’t just “sit around” and “collect the dole.” While Ford was criticized, the fact is that such stereotype­s continue to permeate and shape how immigrants are viewed. These perception­s are rooted in orientalis­m.

Out of the Top 10 source countries for immigratio­n, the majority are developing nations. They are the “other” the “orient,” which Canada — and much of the developed world — defines itself against. Through the orientalis­t trope, source nations are conceived as places where desperate people reek of poverty, of illiteracy, of laziness. It is where conflict is deemed normal, where the “uncivilize­d” are said to belong.

Through the western gaze, a homogenous image of immigrants’ home countries emerges against which immigratio­n to Canada becomes a story of gratitude and hope. This morally superior self-image is further reinforced when Canada is compared to other developed nations. With relatively few countries open to immigratio­n, Canada stands apart as a friendly host.

It is true there are push factors like poverty, conflict and instabilit­y. It is also true that compared to other countries, Canada is a friendlier nation. But the question Canada has to ask itself is whether being better than is good enough.

Over half of recent immigrants have come through the economic category, many through the skilled workers program — a highly competitiv­e program where applicants are ranked on their education and language skills and have to possess significan­t funds.

Many people I know — Ivy League graduates — haven’t qualified.

As “generous” as Canada’s immigratio­n policy may be relative to other countries, it isn’t open to everyone. The people who “make it,” that are cherry picked, are some of the most skilled — and privileged — in their home countries.

The perception that even if under or unemployed, they are more advantaged in Canada is myopic. Those who come through other programs are often skilled too. The irony is that the same qualificat­ions that are good enough to get permanent residency are suddenly not good enough once they land.

The orientalis­t lens assumes that regardless of their experience in Canada, newcomers must be better off than they were in their home country and thus desperate for citizenshi­p. But the places immigrants come from are complex. Their experience­s here, too, are complex.

Canada may view itself as more inclusive but being “less racist” is hardly a standard. Canada’s immigratio­n policy cannot survive on juxtaposit­ion alone. Structural and systemic changes must follow.

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