Immigration and Racism

By: Tim Rees

From: Currents Vol.4, No.1 p.1
© 1987 Urban Alliance on Race Relations

Immigration and Racism

Immigration is an unpopular and emotional topic. The very word conjures up images of restriction, repression, discrimination, bureaucratic bungling and the exploitation of our charitable and compassionate instincts.

Rarely do we think of immigration as a positive and essential force in Canada's economic, demographic, social and cultural growth and development. And rarely do we think of immigration policy and practice in terms of non-discrimination, justice, and equal opportunity for all regardless of race, religion or nationality.

This prevailing negativism towards immigration may seem contradictory and awkwardly embarrassing when Canada has just been internationally recognized for its generosity to immigrants and refugees by being awarded the Nansen prize.

At a time when we may be encouraged to sit back in self-congratulation for being humanitarian, it might seem churlish to comment critically on public attitudes and public policies towards immigration.

Creators, Not Parasites,Of Economic Growth

Canada's immigration policy, historically, has always been determined first, by economic factors. Yet, the bureaucratic fusion of Employment and Immigration together with the Unemployment Insurance Commission is clearly indicative of the continuing pattern of shaping immigration policy solely according to employment rates. It is surely time that policy and practice should no longer be dictated by these old myths surrounding the relationship between immigration levels and employment levels. It is about time that our Government, the media, and other major institutions take a rigorous pro-active responsibility for demolishing the tired myths, the false fear and loathing, towards immigration, and demonstrate the vital importance to the past and future development of Canada.

Racial Preferences

Secondly, Canadian immigration policy has historically always been determined by racial preferences. Despite the 1967 regulations that supposedly heralded the end of racial discrimination in immigration policy, David Sangha's article clearly shows that we are still a long way from anything that could be regarded as non-racist in both intent and impact. In addition, one might note the public attitudes expressed in response to the recent arrival of 155 Tamils to the shores of Newfoundland appeared to reflect an unwelcoming strain of racism.


The arrival of the 155 Tamils in such dramatic fashion has also highlighted for Canada a rather tardy realization of the new, more urgent realities of global migration patterns in the 1980's. The first two articles of this issue of Currents clearly warn that Canada can no longer afford to be comfortably cocooned in the back waters of world affairs, disinclined to recognize or grapple with its responsibilities towards the global refugee crisis.

Immigrant Literature

In attaining a fuller understanding of the issue of immigration however, one needs more than an analysis of the global context, the detailed regulations of policy, or the statistics of immigration. We need to know and understand the perceptions and experiences of the individual immigrant-of the stranger trying to fit into an alien geography and culture. We need the personal as well as the informational knowledge.

"We're all immigrants here", Margaret Atwood has said, suggesting that the immigrant experience is a central theme of all writing in Canada. One of the best sources of understanding the nature of Canadian society is 'immigrant literature'. The book reviews in this issue of Currents are acknowledgement of this fact and a reminder that one of the functions of art is to make us more conscious of ourselves and of our world.

The immigrants of today come to Canada to escape from war, persecution and poverty. They come to Canada in search of freedom, security and prosperity. These are of course the very same reasons that immigrants have been coming to Canada for over 200 years. The only difference today is that most of them are non-white.

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