Hongcouver... sorry, Vancouver!

Updated on Mar 25, 2005 04:53 PM IST

As per a report, Canada's social fabric is set to change markedly by 2017, writes Gurmukh Singh.

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PTI | ByCANADA DIARY | Gurmukh Singh

First the French and British made Canada their home, followed by northern Europeans, Scandinavians, eastern Europeans and south Europeans.

After these white waves into Canada, it was the turn of coloured people for whom the doors were flung open four decades ago.

The hues of this country are set to change markedly when almost "all" new immigrants will be visible-minority groups by 2017, says a report by Statistics Canada.

Well, the year 2017 marks the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation.

Currently, about 225,000 new immigrants make this country of about 32 million their home each year. Out of these, about 25,000 come from India.

If this trend of immigration — a little less than one per cent of its population —continues, every fifth Canadian by 2017 will belong to visible minorities.

Which means the visible-minority population of this country will swell up to 6.3-8.5 million from 4 million in 2001. By then, the coloured people will constitute about 20 per cent of the total population as against 13 per cent now.

Interestingly, south Asians — Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans — will catch up with the Chinese. Both these groups will number about 1.8 million each.

Toronto alone will be home to one million south Asians as against 735,000 Chinese by that time.

At one million, blacks will become the third largest visible minority group in Canada.

Over three quarters of the new immigrants will settle in three big cities. Of these, almost half will settle in Toronto, 18 per cent in Vancouver and 11 per cent in Montreal.

In 2017, a visitor to Canada will see more coloured faces than white faces in Toronto and Vancouver. In fact, he can see this picture already in the city of Richmond near Vancouver where visible minorities are already a majority - a far cry from the days of Komagata Maru for Indians, head tax for Chinese and war-time incarceration for Japanese.

Canada has come a long way and become the most multi-racial society in the world.

The Chinese, who started coming here during the gold rush in the mid-1800s and later for building the Canadian Pacific Railway, have made big strides in this country.

Today, they are the biggest non-white group in this country. Canada's Governor General is of Chinese origin. Chinese is the third largest spoken language by about this million-strong community in this country.

Because of the large-scale immigration of Chinese into Vancouver after Britain handed over Hong Kong to China, this Canadian city is jokingly called Hongcouver.

While this report was presenting a very colourful picture of Canada, another survey report this week presented an entirely different picture.

According to the survey, one in every six Canadians is reported to have experienced racism.

Conducted by the Dominion Institute to mark International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the survey reports that about 15 per cent people felt that skin colour mattered at their workplace.

Rudyard Griffiths, director of the institute, said the survey belied Canada's claim to be a "multi-cultural nation, a model of tolerance'' for the rest of the world. 

"We knew that racism was a problem of the last generation... Well, according to 4 million of our fellow citizens, they feel that they've been the victim of racism. I think that shows that we can't be kind of complacent about the need to challenge racism whenever it rears its ugly head."

According to 38 per cent respondents, Muslims/Arabs were the prime target of racism, following by aborigines, blacks, Indians, Asians, Jews and Hispanics.

Ten per cent said they would never welcome people from other races as their neighbours. And 13 per cent said they would never marry someone from another race.

The federal government is doing its best to promote a fair-minded, tolerant society and has allocated $56 million this year to fight discrimination, including its racism-free workplace plan.

The truth about Canada is that this far-flung country needs new people to keep its population at the current level. But this process is causing shifts in its ethnic composition as the Caucasian population is being replaced by non-whites.

"The diversity in Canada's population has always been a contributing factor to building our nation, and this is not the first time we've had that kind of influx," says Raymond Chan, minister of state for multiculturalism, who himself is an immigrant from Hong Kong.

Only sociologists can answer whether non-white or coloured people will mingle so freely as did the whites to make Canada a melting pot.

At certain levels, it doesn't seem to be happening today. One can see ghettoisation among various ethnic groups. They have not yet abandoned their baggage - traditions, feuds, rivalries and habits - which they or their forefathers brought with them. Many times this baggage is being acted out in ways which fly in the face of Canadian traditions.

Adopting the Canadian way of life is difficult for unskilled, non-professional immigrants who are ill equipped to deal with conflicts of lifestyle. They have been transplanted from non-urban communities into cosmopolitan western cities. Ghettoisation becomes their shelter.

In the name of multiculturalism, sometimes different, parallel streams of society are being created. These streams become vote banks for politicians, and the general interest takes a backseat.

As recent studies show, the lot of current immigrants is worse than that of those who came twenty years ago. The gap between their earnings and those of mainstream Canadians has increased. Foreign degrees are still not recognised, forcing doctors, engineers and teachers to do ordinary jobs. Experts point out how under-utilisation of skilled immigrants is costing Canada billions each year.

To its credit, the federal government is giving hundreds of millions to provinces to linguistically train immigrants and upgrade their skills to integrate them in this land.

The task is very complex and multi-pronged.

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