Monday, May 28, 2007

Dear readers: Undercover black man wants YOU!

Recently extracted from the CC mailbag, in between the numerous submissions from Nigerians who want to give me money and Nigerians who really want to give me money:

Greetings, CC.

My name is David Mills. I’m a former journalist (Washington Post), and now I blog as “Undercover Black Man” in Southern California.

Which in no way explains how David found his way here but ... onward.

As you’re probably aware, immigration is a huge political issue in the U.S. Some folks are particularly worried about America’s shrinking white majority (67 percent of the population now, compared with 89 percent in 1960)… and how society might change as a result.

From personal experience, it meant better access to authentic Mexican cuisine in North Carolina, but I'm guessing that's not quite what David had in mind.

Looking for a handle on this issue, I’ve wondered about Canada. So I’ve decided to ask some Canadian bloggers to answer a few questions and share a few thoughts. I’d be most grateful if you could take a few minutes to reply. And I’ll post about it on my blog. Which, by the way, is here:

I was surprised to discover that, according to the Census of Canada, 18.8 percent of Canada’s population was foreign-born as of 2001. That’s compared with 12.1 percent of the U.S. population (in 2006).

You guys got more immigrants than us, per capita… but I get no sense that immigration (and non-white immigration in particular) is a hot political topic or a pressing social problem in Canada. Perhaps we’re just not hearing about it down here?

Canada (per ’01) has more than 300,000 African immigrants; more than 120,000 Jamaicans; close to 54,000 Haitians; more than 116,000 Mexicans and Central Americans; 84,000 Guyanese; 322,000 Indianas; more than half a million Chinese. (And, for some reason, more than 300,000 foreign-born Italians… or perhaps they’re from somewhere else by way of Italy.)

My questions, Mr. Cynic, are these:

1) What social problems, if any, have come along with this immigrant influx? More big-city crime? Any gangs? Unemployment? A drain on social services? Inter-ethnic conflicts? Is there any general
Canadian consensus that there has been some “downside” to large-scale immigration?

2) Is there any political movement (from the conservative side) to restrict immigration? Is there much public discussion about the racial dimension of immigration? Is anyone voicing concerns that the character of the Canadian nation will change if there are too many non-white immigrants?

3) What’s your take on this issue, personally? Think large-scale immigration is good for Canada, bad for Canada, or is it a wash?

Thanks for hearing me out.

Warm regards,

David Mills

Dear readers: Go wild.

TORONTO AND JAMAICAN GANGS: Since David brought up Jamaicans, I would be remiss in at least not referring to the issue of Jamaican gangs in Toronto. Regardless of how seriously one takes the issue, it's safe to say that, at the very least, the perception exists.


MgS said... - the assumptions that underly that e-mail are just mind-boggling.

Send the man his tin-foil hat ASAP

Undercover Black Man said...

Whoa now, wait a minute. Downshift your snark motor and say something useful, why don't you? America's been hung up on the racial aspects of immigration for almost a century.

I want to know how the issue is viewed in Canada, by the left and the right. Maybe such knowledge can put the U.S. issue in some perspective.

But if all you want to do is pass out tinfoil hats, you can kiss my red-white-and-blue ass.

Thanks for nothing, CC.

CC said...


I'm not sure where you're getting all that from -- David's e-mail looks perfectly reasonable to me. If I didn't think so, I wouldn't have posted it for him.

Lindsay Stewart said...

under cover, as a co-blogger here at canadian cynic, please don't judge the proprietor by the commenters. we get an awful lot of trolling and some of the regulars are quick to jump the gun. i think i see what you're looking for and i will send my notes along to you later this evening. cheers.

M@ said...

Hey David,

I can try to answer your questions from a personal perspective, but as a middle-class white male from Ontario, I'm not sure how correct my assumptions are. Anyhow:

1. There are parts of Toronto with significant populations of working-class or poorer immigrants. I believe immigrants from the Caribbean and east Africa are the largest groups here. Crime is indeed a problem in these areas, and gangs are becoming more of a problem too. However, there are also huge sectors of immigrants from east and south Asia who have, for whatever reason, more easily assimilated into Canadian society.

I often hear that immigrants are a drain on social services and society in general, but I've seen no evidence of it. I think poverty is a far bigger factor than immigrants. And while there is the typical white resentment about "outsiders" taking over "our" country, I think the average Canadian sees immigration as a neutral or positive thing. (It helps that so many Canadians are immigrants or have immigrant parents, of course.)

I don't know that inter-ethnic conflict is seen as a major problem at all. If it is, I haven't been party to the discussion.

2. I think that in general, the right is more sympathetic to ideas about limiting immigration, but that is by no means a major plank in their platform. There is some discussion about the racial dimension of immigration, and some concern that Canada will be negatively affected by immigration. But I don't know if it's widespread, or just among the relative minority of ultra-right wingers.

I think that with such a large and vocal immigrant population, political parties are required to actively court immigrant and ethnic voters. You might be interested to know that in the last century, the dominant political party (the Liberals) had periodic amnesties for illegal immigrants, and even had their MPs go to the docks to greet immigrants arriving on ships. The Chinese community in Ontario was staunchly Liberal-supporting throughout the century because of it.

A more recent example of pro-immigration feeling is the restitution the current (Conservative) government paid to Chinese immigrants in the first half of the century, who were forced to pay a tax to enter the country based solely on their race. While there were (and still are) plenty of arguments about what should be paid and how, I don't remember hearing anyone say that paying the restitution was a bad thing.

3. Great for Canada. Keep 'em coming. Morally, economically, and socially, immigration makes Canada better.

Hope that helps. I'm impressed with your research, and actually I didn't realise that Canada had such significantly higher immigration numbers than the US.

Undercover Black Man said...

CC and Pretty Shaved Ape: Looks like I'm the one who jumped the gun.

I thought you might've set me up to be made sport of, CC. I apologize. And I thank you for posting my inquiry.

M@: Your comment helps me greatly. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I was surprised to discover that, according to the Census of Canada, 18.8 percent of Canada’s population was foreign-born as of 2001.

I didn't know that. Can't say I noticed. It is interesting that I'm pretty sure my parents considered themselves American refugees when they came to Canada in 1969. Anyway who cares?

That’s compared with 12.1 percent of the U.S. population (in 2006).

Noticed big time. Racism is a problem in Canada; it is like a veil when you cross the border.

116,000 Mexicans

I love Mexican. It's a problem in that Canadians don't like it too hot. But ignoring that - why the hell isn't there a good Mexican restaurant near me? I got decent Korean, Jamaican, Vietnamese, Indian, French, Japanese, Chinese, Mennonite (meat and two veg - one of which is guaranteed to be potatoes, and the other is not guaranteed not to be potatoes), Ethiopian but not Mexican. Come on - surely there is an entrepreneur who is into cooking Mexican?

1 I remember some problems with Vietnamese gangs - maybe 20 years ago, and today as already mentioned some Jamaican gangs. My wife went to school where there were something like 80 nationalities with 90 languages present. She doesn't remember any particular problems. Anyway the big thing in the news these days is the Air India bombing - Sikh violence. We have also had some nasty white violence out Victoria way involving school kids - though I don't know if it was racially motivated.

2 Canada had fairly lenient immigration rules from around the 70's through the 80's. They are long gone now. I wish they would come back.

3 I don't know - what is large-scale immigration? Personally I don't like borders very much. I guess in that sense I am all for it. Of course, entering effectively as a refugee though we did not have that status would make me rather sympathetic to immigration.

Some might think that I approve of immigration because of the food, but it's more than that. Really!

Seriously - I don't feel I have any more right to a comfortable life than anyone else. Canada has done much to assist the US in undermining people everywhere. I think we have an obligation to help people out, as we would like to be helped out if the shoe were on the other foot. As we have often participated in causing the human misery, that obligation is much stronger.

We got rid of serfdom, let's go the next step and create open borders. I bet that would go a long way to stopping the expatiation of the third world.

Ferdzy said...

Well, as the person who went to the school with 80+ nationalities, and 90+ languages, I guess I should chip in.

I was born in 1961, so I’m old enough to just barely remember a sea of white faces in kindergarten. Mind you, probably 70% of them were the kids of recent Italian and Portuguese immigrants. (That’s where all those Italian immigrants come in: there was a huge wave of immigration from Italy after WWII. Toronto has the largest Italian population in the world outside of Italy.)

A few black faces popped up in grade 3 or so. Then, we moved to the white-bread suburbs (Scarborough, a.k.a. Scarberia) for a couple of years, because my parents were under the impression that we kids needed a yard. Fortunately, they snapped out of that fairly quickly and we moved back to Flemingdon Park just in time for it to become the multicultural nexus of the world.

The face of Toronto completely changed between the time I started school and the time I left. On the whole, the transition was relatively peaceful. There was some ugly racist talk and acts against “Pakis” (Pakistanis) during this time. (I’m sure there were plenty of other ugly talk and acts too, but these were the ones that looked like having any kind of critical mass.) These incidents were treated as serious and disgraceful by the press, which I am sure helped in suppressing them. That and the fact that although Toronto was still very white, it had a very significant population of immigrants who remembered very well being treated as “dirty furriners” when they had arrived not so many years earlier.

I think this has been another factor in the transition from a homogenous and conservative society to a multicultural, more liberal one: each group has arrived in small enough numbers that they can’t cause a “this side and that side” schism in society, but there have been so many groups who have arrived at such a steady pace, that as Canadian society absorbed them, it was transformed.

I can’t even begin to say how much I think this is a good thing. As Edwin points out, it’s been worth it for the food alone. Anyone remember Canadian food from the ‘60s? I rest my case.

In terms of actual social problems (as opposed to perceived problems) there have certainly been some, but I don’t see them as being out of proportion to the general increase in population. Inter-ethnic tensions? There have been some, but generally people have done a fair job of leaving those back in the old country. As Edwin mentioned, the Air India bombing was the big exception.

There are the usual right-wing blow-hards with the usual right-wing bigotry and rants. My general impression is that they are so far behind what’s already happened as to be pretty much irrelevant. It’s pretty clear that the Canadian character HAS changed already – it’s way too late to go back. I think most of us think that’s a good thing.

I’ve been talking a lot about Toronto, because that’s where I grew up. The same process has been happening in all of Canada’s major cities. Rural Canada is till pretty old-fashioned. There’s a certain amount of grumbling there, I think, but again, too little too late. They’ve missed the bus. We’re a completely different country than we were 30 years ago. And, even there, the faces of small towns across the country are changing as recent Canadians start to branch out from the major cities, and the process begins anew.

I don’t want to paint too idealistic a picture here. Canada has always had and continues to have serious problems with racism. Our treatment of First Nations people has been execrable. It improved a bit from the ‘70’s through the ‘90’s as some progress was made with land claims, but with a Conservative government back in (hopefully temporary) power, things are deteriorating again. And I’m sure any member of the black communities that have been in Canada from before confederation has some hair-raising tales of dire racism.

M@ said...

I thought you might've set me up to be made sport of, CC.

Honestly, I thought the same thing when I started reading the post. But I'm glad you're getting what you were looking for.

why the hell isn't there a good Mexican restaurant near me?

Edwin, I don't know you but I think I've come across ferdzy through a mutual online friend, and I think you live in the same general area as me. If you do, I have an awesome Mexican restaurant for you to check out -- some reviews here and here.

There is also Latino's in downtown Guelph -- it's not as different from the mainstream as Mayan Grill is, but the food is very well-made and very reasonably priced.

Sorry to threadjack but I have yet to find someone who wasn't delighted with the Mayan Grill. Hope I'm right and you're actually in the area.

The Seer said...

The British did not have to import a minority to divide and conquer Canada; there was a minority in place. The ultimate issue in Canada is not race but language. You can follow the dynamics as well as I.

Paladiea said...

I personally love the fact that there are people around the world in Toronto. A while back they did a whole series in the Globe and Mail about the day (2010 or 2012) when Toronto will be 51% minorities.

It really wasn't that big an issue with anyone except far right wackos...

Anonymous said...

The Seer has an interesting point - the English and French in Canada have been beating up on each other as long as we've both been here. I'm guessing this has contributed to immigration not being such a big deal because we were so busy with our own internal 'ethnic' bickering. Also, what I keep seeing coming up as an issue in the States is people freaking out about immigrants not "learning the language" - I haven't seen this as an issue here really, probably in large part because we've been fighting about language so long and in large part everything here is bilingual English-French, which helps in two ways. Firstly, it means a larger percentage of people speak an official language of the country - many developing nations were former French colonies, after all, and secondly, most Canadians are used to language accommodation and don't freak out at the sight of a language other than their own.

Lindsay Stewart said...

okay, just finished eating a curry and watching fear and loathing in las vegas. also having arived planetside in 1961, i remember the lily white early years of school. my friends were scottish, italian, german, portugese, french, french canadian and from various destinations around the world. visiting a friends house, it wasn't unusual to be greeted by oma and parents with varying thickness of accent. my folks had their own mid-atlantic british accents and i qwas the first of our bunch born on this side of the pond.

as i grew up in the 70s a greater number of people from africa, the caribbean started turning up in school and neighbourhoods. there was an initial curiosity, but among the kids not much in the way of racism. i too recall the outbreak of name calling and ignorance directed at indian and pakistani families. there was an incident at my high school, where a girl got pushed around and subjected to slurs. the entire school got halled into the cafeteria for an assembly and we were royally chewed out. the villain in this incident was suspended, stripped of extra-curricular privileges and had a visit from the constabulary regarding the shoving.

it wasn't cool to call people pakis after that. in the 80s we saw a fairly quick rise in the south east asian population around my neighbourhood. viet namese and cambodians. there was some fear of gang related activity, though they tended to prey on their own. it didn't seem to take very long before these families were established and opening businesses. the only criminal connection i'm aware of in that community is in the grow-op business. canadians like their pot. until the government gets wise and decriminalizes the weed there will be money o be made there and it is by no means a racially exclusive enterprise.

the jamaican gangs have gotten quite a bit of press as noted above. the thing is that once immigrant families start having kids and those kids enter the school system, they make all kinds of friends. i know that there have been a number of racially motivated incidents on the east coast. there's a good number of black folks there who trace their origins back to the underground railroad. it should be noted that canada was seen as a safe haven for slaves escaping from america.

cc and i live in a big university town, the university of waterloo has world famous computing and engineering faculties. my folks both worked on campus and there has always been a large chinese population here. my sense is that there are so many cultures existing here, side by side, that no one culture stands to be demonized. in the last few years moslems have been viewed with suspicion, largely fueled by the right wing and american media fear mongering. still, i ride the bus every day and there are often women with their abayas and traditional dress, with adorable kids in tow.

we are by no means perfect or without racism but i don't think we've ever been quite so homogeneous that any one group can be singled out as the "other". there is also a fairly canadian response to people casting slurs, something along the lines of don't be such a dickhead. every now and then, i'll hear some goober yawping about "those people" coming to take our jobs but it doesn't seem to get much traction and serves as a social liability. mostly, canadians just want to get along.

perhaps the most serious issue we have is with the treatment of our native population. that is one area that we really need to improve upon. there is quite a bit of resentment among canadians that the indigenous population might want us to honour our promises as regards land claims. our history in that area is shameful. it is worth noting that when south africa went shopping for a solution to the "native" problem, they modelled apartheid after canada.

here's hoping that some of these responses are of use. cheers.

Undercover Black Man said...

Thanks to all for the valuable insights.

thwap said...

A college teacher of mine from the Netherlands said that the perception there was that Canada didn't have problems integrating immigrants because we didn't let anybody in.

Around about 1900, our future Prime Minister, then Labour Minister, Mackenzie-King, went around to all the non-white parts of the British Empire and asked that they not send their non-white subjects to Canada (as would otherwise have been their right as subjects of the Empire). He also signed a "gentleman's agreement" with Japan to limit immigration.

I suspect that American capitalism was less-regulated and therefore less restrained in using immigration as a source of cheap labour, and therefore Canadian workers had less cause to violently protest.

Still, we had significant anti-Chinese sentiments on our west coast, just like in California. There was a fair bit of animosity towards Eastern Europeans throughout Canada.

Future socialist parliamentarian J.S. Woodsworth wrote a book about immigrants and the likelihood of their assimilation: Strangers at Our Gates ...

(There's a more recent survey of Canadian immigration policy by Victoria Knowles with the same title.)

Canada didn't start to change its immigration policies until the 1960s really, but whenever we did, there's been difficulties.

Racialized minorities comprise 11% of Canada's population, with the vast majority of them settling in the Toronto area, and the rest congregating in Montreal or Vancouver.

Go to Canada's right-wing websites to read the paranoid vitriol that's quite similar to the (who is it?) Lou Dobbs kind of ranting that's more typical in your mass media.

Why we've kept a relatively better lid on things, I don't know. Maybe Canada didn't have as many manufacturing jobs to lose, we didn't have as much union-busting and welfare-state shredding, so that it wasn't so easy to lose your job to an immigrant and then plummet to the bottom of the social-economic ladder.

Though all our political parties, especially Paul Martin's Liberals, have done yeoman's work to change all that.

chris said...

A little history from the east coast.

Ti-Guy said...

mostly, canadians just want to get along.

UBM (love how you stuck it to that fraud Horowitz, by the way)...there's a lot of empirical, research data you could look into to get a reality-based and historical understanding about immigration in Canada, but in the end, what PSA said above is probably the overall attitude that Canadians have. Canada isn't the easiest place in the world to live; it's cold, it's underpopulated, there really aren't enough decent Mexican restaurants, etc. etc. That's bad enough without having to face the prospect of people griping poisonously at each day in and day out.

There's an element on the Right that derives emotional energy from being miserable, but then they've always been there. It's not something our media tends to exploit all that much.

Batty said...

I'll chime in from the East Coast. Our cities are not as big as the rest of the country, and I think this means less attractive to immigrants. It easier to find cultural support groups and cuisine in larger cities. I know anytime someone from here visits Toronto for the first time they always come back with "Now I know what it feels like to be a minority. There are hardly any white people there."

In the last 2-3 years the Atlantic provinces have been trying to attract immigrants to this area, in order to acquire skilled workers, benefit the economy, etc. We experience a brain drain here, in that after graduating from university a lot of people move to the big cities in Ontario or Alberta in order to make more money (and pay off their student loans). I know we've had a few new employees where I work that have recently became Canadian citizens. I think a lot of people are just excited to talk to people from different cultures. It's something interesting to talk about.

When I was in high school (early 90s) students from different cultures were treated well, had friends etc, but these were mostly Asian. We had no black students when I attended high school. 4 years later, when my brother went through, there were gang related fights, the skinheads vs the 'wiggers' aka white people who are not racist and hung out with the 1 or 2 black people. I'm not sure if they weren't just doing it out of boredom.

I have heard derogatory names coming from the older men in my family, but not so much from my generation. The big issue here is that of language. As previously mentioned here, there is some sort of rift between the French and the English in Canada. And this has continued into my generation. Name calling and prejudice occurs between the languages, but overall we're making it work, and it has nothing to do with immigration.

thwap said...

The black Loyalists had always received second-class treatment from the British, Nova Scotian, and Canadian authorities.

An aunt of mine from Truro once remarked about some place we were driving past: "That's where most of the black people live" as if it was something sinister.

Anonymous said...

Comment from the prairies here. To answer you question 3) what do I think of large scale immigration for Canada - I'm strongly against it. Not because of brown-skinned people becoming citizens, but because I'd like to see Canada hold the line on urban sprawl, protect native habitat from development, try to drive down our rates of polution, have adequate water resources for metropolitan centres in the face of global warming. All of these problems get worse if our population grows to 40 or 50 million citizens.

Boris said...

It isn't immigration that's driving the sprawling growth of cities. It is driven more by the pop culture fad that suggests living in a house in the suburbs a 100km from your workplace is an ideal situation. A Canadian population of 50 million is not a great challenge to cope with provided we pay attention to how we live. Adopting compact urban forms (infill development, mixed commercial/residential, etc) can go a long way in reducing sprawl. There are volumes written on this - it is the way cities used to be built before freeways and cars.

I live in Winnipeg, and we have an obscenely high number of Aboriginal homeless and poor, gangs etc. I sense far greater tension between the white majority and Aboriginal pop than anything related to immigrants. Aside from that, I can't add anything else to what other posters have discussed about Canada.

It might be interesting to look at Australia with your query. I was living in a country town in Aus when the MV Tampa (a quick google will tell you lots) incident happened - I was shocked at how ugly and nasty the popular conversation got over it.

Anonymous said...

Boris - it's also population growth that is driving urban sprawl. The question wasn't if immigration was good for Canada, it was if large scale immigration was good Canada.

Are you telling me there are volumes of studies saying that 50% population growth for Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver would be a good thing? Even so, how many residents of those cities would agree with that?

I disagree completely that a population of 50 million people would be a good thing for Canada.

Boris said...

No, I am suggesting there is literature arguing against sprawl as it relates to how we live. Giant cookie-cutter homes on big lots are not an efficient use of space. Think density. Look at European cities, or the older city centres in Canada. Middle-class migration from city-centres to suburbs must be factored into the geographic area growth equation for cities as it relates to migration into Canada.

Canada is well large enough to absorb a population of 50 million. The UK (little room for sprawl there)manages a population of 60 million on a fraction of Canada's area. Ever been to London? Very few sprawling individual single family homes like our suburbs, but many row houses and low rise apartment blocks.

Anonymous said...

Time for somebody from the West Coast to add to all the good stuff above.

In my high school in the late '60s there were a few Chinese and Japanese kids, and only one or two other ethnic groups that I can recall. Partly this is because we lived in a fairly affluent suburb of Vancouver at a time when most of the middle class was white; in other parts of the city there were more visible minorities.

Toronto, when I moved there in 1971, was an eye-opener, very colourful where Vancouver was pretty pale, though there were already sizeable Chinese, Japanese and Indian (mostly Sikh) communities in BC then.

Immigration from Asia exploded in the '80s and kept on through the nineties, partly because of the coming handover of Hong Kong to China, but also because successive British Columbia governments were waking up to the fact that our province was in a great position to be a trade gateway between the Asian Tiger economies and the rest of North America. And of course there was Expo '86 to, in the words of Premier Bill Bennett, "put us on the map".

Greater Vancouver now has large communities of Vietnamese (many of the first were Boat People, but more have arrived since), Philipinos, and Koreans, (I'm sure I've left some out), in addition to the still larger communities of Chinese, Japanese and Indians, plus large numbers of Iranians, South Africans, and various Eastern Europeans.

Not many blacks, ever, which seems a bit odd, since there's never been much of an anti-black sentiment out here (UBM, try googling Joe Fortes)-- the main historical racist conflicts have been about aboriginals, Chinese (the head tax), and of course the Japanese internment in WWII. Still, for whatever reason, not many blacks.

There have been gang and crime issues, Vietnamese gangs in the '80s and '90s, Indo-Canadian gangs more recently, though not much else that's ethnically related. One hears talk of the "Russian Mafia", but little hard news.

The prevailing attitude towards race and immigration here is the same as the commenters above outlined (except for the French v. English thing -- honestly, we're so far away from the centre here it just doesn't get us riled up the way it seems to in Central Canada.)

One unique thing about Vancouver, which gives me great hope for the future, is the rate of mixed marriage. (I'm biased here; I'm United Empire Loyalist white and my wife is Philipino.)

Last year, in the 20 to 29 age group, one couple in eight was mixed (married, cohabiting, dating). My own university-age children, and all their friends, seem to be almost totally colour blind. I say "almost" because ethnicity is not ignored; everyone is aware of it, but it seems to be only another identifier among many. The same attitude, interestingly, extends towards gays as well. (When one of their classmates finally came out, the universal reaction was "No duh, dude. What took you so long?" Wouldn't have happened that way in my day.)

Summarizing: Vancouver's handled large-scale immigration pretty well, partly because of official attitudes and anti-racism programs, but also I think because of what someone above alluded to: it's been so many different groups, over a fairly long period, that there has never been a huge sudden shock, and so we have adjusted -- not always smoothly -- but adjusted nevertheless. (It might also help that Vancouver is really only 120 years old; there's not much here that's "established", and everyone's either a newcomer or related to one no further than three generations back.)

Oh, one more thing: the immigration rate is not slackening, in spite of a fairly tough points system and our newest head tax (check out the "landing and processing fees", they're extortionate), but except for a few grumbling dinosaurs nobody seems very much bothered by it.

Undercover Black Man said...

You guys have been very generous and very informative. I plan to blog about it this week.

Thanks all. And be wary of the true danger coming from your southern border... our crappy TV shows.

Anonymous said...

Boris - set aside the question of sprawl, 50% increase in population strains services in those communities - health, education, essential services. Parks, recreation, traffic, everything is jammed with more people. No thanks.

Have I been to London, no. NY, yes. Why on earth would we want a metropolis that size?

So what if the UK is crammed and surviving. Why do we need that lifestyle here?