How does integration challenge us?
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This theme explores some of the economic and social challenges faced by members of cultural communities in Canada.
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Article by a specialist
Racism in Canada
Article by Jean-Claude Icart of the International Observatory of Racism and Discrimination.
Article by a specialist
Racism in Canada
Racism exists today to a greater or lesser extent in every country in the world. It takes various forms depending on culture, context and era, but no region on earth is exempt from this scourge. Canada, too, must face up to this ongoing reality.
Racism basically seeks to establish definitive differences between human beings. In North America it was first used to justify the abusive treatment of First Nations peoples and the enslavement of Blacks from Africa. Canada is a direct legacy of the French and English colonization of this continent and the arrival of the Europeans in Canada was to have grim consequences for the Aboriginal nations. I strongly recommend readers to visit Aboriginal Perspectives, the NFB’s Website devoted to Aboriginal cultures (www.nfb.ca/aboriginalperspectives). Slavery, considered at the time as part of the normal order of things, also existed in Canada: the first recorded purchase of an African slave was that of Olivier Le Jeune in 1628. At the time slaves came largely from the West Indies, and most of them were employed as domestic staff.
During the American War of Independence, the Loyalists — American colonists loyal to Great Britain — who came to Canada brought with them Blacks (free and slaves) who had been promised liberty and land by the British if they fought with them against the American insurgents. The promise to grant them freedom was respected, but they were mainly obliged to work as labourers for white farmers and merchants. Other Blacks arrived from the United States during the War of 1812 and throughout most of the nineteenth century, as Canada had abolished slavery far earlier than the United States. They could live as free people, but were kept on the fringe of society (see Speakers for the Dead and Speak It!).
Following Confederation in 1867, Canada adopted a number of racist measures in its legislation on immigration in order to exclude non-whites. For some forms of work it seemed necessary to call on immigrants of colour, but their presence was only tolerated. Chinese labourers, for example, played a major part in building the Trans-Canada railroad, and yet once construction was completed in 1885, a special entry tax prevented their families from joining them (see From Harling Point).
Another example: a provision of the Immigration Bill of 1910 stipulated that an immigrant could only enter Canada by way of a non-stop voyage. Since at the time boats arriving from Asia (principally from India and Japan) had to put in at Hawaii to refuel, nationals of these countries were automatically excluded (see A Sense of Family). It should be noted that many immigrants from Europe were also victims of racism (see Opre Roma).
In the 1930s came the Depression. These years of economic insecurity were marked by fear and intolerance. Throughout the decade many French-Canadians also felt that they were victims of discrimination. As well, Canada closed its doors to Jews escaping persecution in Europe. But after the end of World War II, which was fought to combat racism and anti-Semitism, the situation rapidly changed. Canada admitted tens of thousands of refugees in the post-war era. In 1962 a new immigration bill eliminated all racist clauses and finally, in 1967, a selection process aiming at impartiality and objectivity was put in place. These changes opened the door to immigrants from all over the world, and today people of non-European origins constitute the majority of new arrivals in Canada. Those who immigrated in recent years are also liable to be the targets of the most common forms of discrimination (see Le quatuor de l'exil1 and Fighting Back).
Racism, in the form of discriminatory practices, can be found in fields as varied as education, health care, employment and housing. This discrimination has grave consequences, including tension and socio-economic marginalization, often causing the communities affected to withdraw from the wider society.
Yet in the meantime Canada adopted a multi-cultural policy and pointed with pride at the ethnic, racial, cultural and religious diversity of the country. After the World War II, legal measures were taken to combat racism (see in particular Dresden Story). These measures included the passing of the Canadian Bill of Rights in 1960 and above all the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982.
Discrimination is fundamentally an expression of prejudice. Racism cannot be fought solely in courts of law. Public education and awareness campaigns are necessary at all levels of society and for all age groups. The media can make a significant contribution in this regard. Furthermore, the teaching of history must emphasize the importance and input of groups other than Francophones and Anglophones in our society. All these measures are necessary to foster the desire to live together in harmony based on shared values and sympathies. Much work remains to be done, but we can rejoice at the progress that has already been made.
There are obvious links between racism and poverty. The combination of cultural differences and social inequality constitutes a powerful stimulus to discrimination. Given the particular difficulties that render access to some forms of employment more problematic for immigrants and visible minorities, it is important to facilitate the swift and successful integration of these communities into the job market.