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October 13, 1999
Toronto, Vancouver Coolest To Immigrants: Study
A P Kamath in Vancouver
About a hundred years ago when Punjabis began arriving in British Columbia responding to advertisements in Indian newspapers asking for lumber yard workers, there were riots against them.
Calling the immigrants "Hindoos," though most of them were Sikhs, Canadians beat up a number of workers, forcing many into the neighboring American state of Washington. There were riots there too, which led to a mini Sikh exodus to California.
On May 23, 1914, 376 British subjects (12 Hindus, 24 Muslims and 340 Sikhs) of Indian origin arrived in Vancouver harbour aboard the Komagata Maru, seeking to enter Canada. Newspapers across Canada screamed that there was going to be a 'Hindoo invasion.' The government allowed a handful of passengers on compassionate grounds and also to mollify those who condemned the government's action; 352 of the passengers who were denied entry were forced to depart on July 23, 1914.
Today, British Columbia has several Sikhs in key positions in government and industry. These include the province's attorney general, Ujjal Dosanjh; the federal fisheries minister Herb Dhaliwal is also from British Columbia.
But Vancouver, the biggest city in British Columbia, vies with Toronto to be the coldest place for an immigrant, particularly from Asia. A long-drawn out study shows that the Canadians, who are tolerant of immigrants, live in places where few immigrants ever go.
The study is based on 20 years of polls commissioned by the federal department on immigration attitudes.
Classified as an internal report, the study, completed three months ago, was not released till the Canadian Bar Association branch on immigration obtained it under freedom-of-information laws.
It suggests that prejudice and racism seem to increase in direct proportion to the numbers of immigrants where the poll respondents reside.
The Canadian press reported that although the study included many polls conducted before the arrival this summer of nearly 500 illegal Chinese migrants to British Columbia, Victor Wong from the Vancouver Association of Chinese Canadians said attitudes towards immigrants have shifted since that wave occurred.
"We are hearing a lot of incidents of name-calling on buses, in traffic and on the street,'' said Wong.
He added: ''People have their perceptions and many times these are wrong perceptions. In every economic study, it has been proven that immigrants contribute more to society during their stay in Canada than native-borns like myself, but still this perception exists that immigrants are bad for the economy.''
His thoughts were echoed by Toronto-based businessman R V Coelho who said many Canadians saw only the negative aspects of immigration.
The study showed conflicting attitude among many Canadians.
On one hand, many Canadians said they feel that individual immigrants make good friends, neighbors and co-workers because they tend to be more educated, intelligent, motivated and interesting. On the other hand, they also felt the rate of immigration is too high because the economy or social infrastructure cannot handle that large an addition to the size of the population.
Some people may be relatively bigoted, which can make them feel the level of immigration is too high in spite of perceptions that immigration is good for the economy, the study suggested. 'So, when we see a survey result saying that X per cent of Canadians feel there are too many immigrants coming to Canada, we do not know to what extent that opposition is motivated by prejudice.'
While across Canada, an average of about 43 per cent of people reported between 1996 and the end of last year that immigration had a positive effect, including about 43 per cent in BC.
But 47 per cent of British Columbians said they believed too many immigrants come to Canada, compared to 37 per cent in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and 39 per cent in the Atlantic provinces and Quebec province.
Among the interesting findings of the study: Negative feelings toward immigrants do not correlate with unemployment rates. On the other hand most respondents to the poll did not complain that new Canadians might contribute to unemployment, but rather expressed concerns about issues such as crime, refugee determination, fulfillment of sponsorship obligations and population growth.
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