Integrating well, but…

One of every five persons living in Canada is an immigrant, so it is a positive sign that most people here believe, according to a recent survey by Washington DC-based Transatlantic Trends, that immigrants are integrating well into Canada.

Yet, the 2010 Immigration Public Opinion Survey revealed that 27 per cent of those who responded had a somewhat negative view of immigration as “more of a problem”. Interestingly, that figure shows a small increase in the findings of a similar survey done in 2009, following a year in which the federal government made a point of negatively highlighting refugees (the Tamil refugees arriving by boat in Vancouver, for example) and other migrants.

Federal immigration minister, Jason Kenney’s recent announcement of funding cuts to immigrant support services is also quite troubling.

The history of the Caribbean presence in Canada is also the story of other such groups in this country, so as members of the immigrant population we keep an eye on these trends as they affect how we are able to move forward in our adopted homeland.

Canada’s history of immigration is one marked by an attitude of reluctance. Historically, with each decision by the government of the day to allow new groups of immigrants in, there has been hesitancy. There was resistance to allowing Irish, Italian, Jews and Ukrainian migrants into the country, each in their time. Yet this has weighed against the understanding that Canada could not flourish without welcoming more people from other countries.

We know that despite a history of immigration from the Caribbean even before the very early years of the 20th Century there was strong resistance from the Canadian government to allowing immigration from the Caribbean. In fact, if this were 1911 instead of 2011, anyone from the Caribbean trying to enter Canada would be faced with rejection under a law that briefly prohibited “the landing in Canada…of an immigrant belonging to the Negro race, which race is deemed unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada”.

Another law expressing a similar spirit was in place in 1952. It took the concerted effort of a group of concerned community members under the banner of the Negro Citizenship Association headed by “Uncle Don” Moore, a Barbadian-born tailor, to challenge this law and push for change to allow people of African descent to enter Canada. Also taking up the fight was the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Where would we be today without the dedication and commitment of these people? Through their efforts Canada’s immigration policy softened and the domestic workers program allowed women from the Caribbean, many of them highly educated, to find a way into this country. It was a beginning. There was also a program for nurses.

Some 50 years later, Caribbean immigrants in Canada make up most of this country’s Black population. However, despite the survey’s findings, our integration is another matter.

And, while many have gone on to make their mark in Canada, more recent arrivals continue to face significant challenges, especially in the area of employment.

Because of their own history, immigrants from the Caribbean arrive here with the advantage of knowing either or both of Canada’s official languages and with the skills required to make a meaningful contribution to the country they have consciously chosen as the place where they want to build their future. But that may not be enough. A recently-released report suggested that immigrants need to make more of an effort to fit into the Canadian mainstream if they are to advance in their chosen fields.

So, there is much work to be done. We have to make every effort to remove any barriers to our progress that are within our powers to remove. But we also must continue to be vigilant to ensure that we – and our children – are accepted as full and equal partners at every level of this society.

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