Go Back To Your Country!

30 May 2006

Do Some People Have More of a Right to Live in Canada than Others?

I love Toronto. It is one of the most multicultural cities in the world and that is what attracted me to it. Over half of Torontonians were born outside Canada. Most of Canada''s huge numbers of annual immigrants settle in Toronto. It is a cultural mélange of languages, tribes, religions, traditions, origins, nationalities and colours. It is one of those few cities where you will be riding the streetcar or strolling on the streets and hear a smattering of Chinese in one corner, snippets of Spanish in another, fragments of French in another and a whole assortment of other languages; Gujarati, Tagalog, Twi, Nigerian Pidgin, Russian, Polish, Arabic, Amharic, Luganda, the Queens English, Jamaican Patois and even Haitian Creole. You will find Muslim, Hindus, Sikhs, Anglicans, Catholics, Baha''is, Orthodox Christians, Pentecostals, Buddhists, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New-Agers and Zoroastrians all living in harmony as Canadians.

It is one of those rare cities where you can enjoy a rich smorgasbord of ethnic and cultural festivals and events. You can celebrate Black history Month, Caribana - the big, Caribbean-style street festival, AfroFest, the Irie Music Festival (Caribbean), The Taste of the Danforth Festival (Greek), the International Dragon Boat Race Festival (Chinese), the Toronto International Film Festival, the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, St. Patrick''s Day Parade (Irish), Deepawali (Indian Festival of Lights), Annual Corso Italia Toronto Fiesta, the Beaches Jazz Festival and so many more.

Toronto is a multicultural mosaic maze of neighbourhoods, which reflect the distinct ethnicities, cultural groups and lifestyles. There is Chinatown, Little Italy, Little India, Little Portugal, Koreatown, Little Jamaica, the Danforth (Greek town), black-populated areas; Brampton, Rexdale and Malvern, and so many more. In Toronto you can eat Middle-Eastern falafels, Ethiopian injera, Italian pizzas and pasta’s, Mexican fajitas, Japanese sushi, Jamaican jerk chicken, Greek salad, Trinidadian roti, Indian chapattis and Russian samovar. There is no lack of cultural experience in Toronto if you are looking for it.

Is Toronto a Racist-free Metropia?

So, with all the wonderful diversity Toronto has to offer, one would wonder if racism ever rears its ugly head in this metropia, which the UN has designated as the most multicultural city in the world. Well, sad to say, it still exists. Last week a friend of mine from Montreal had his first Toronto in-your-face racial experience. They say racism exists in Canada but only subtly; it’s never openly shown. But his experience was a real as it could get.

This friend is a tall, handsome, chocolate-coloured black man of French Caribbean ancestry who was born in Montreal in the mid-70’s, which was right after many Caribbean women were being let into Canada as nannies. My friend was dressed in semi-casual wear and his hair was shortly cropped. There was nothing stereotypically threatening about him. As he was leaving the subway, heading towards the Yonge and Sheppard intersection, he was approached by a ruggedly-dressed, middle-aged, bearded, white man. The man stepped in his path, stopped him and shook his hand.

“How are you doing?” He greeted my friend.

“I am ok,” my friend responded suspiciously, hoping the man would not jump into religious jargon and try to convert him into whatever new religion had been concocted in someone’s basement.

“Do you like Stephen Harper?” The man asked and my friend frowned, wondering where this was going.

“Yes, he’s alright.’ My friend responded hesitatingly, “I have no problems with him.”

“Well I do not like Stephen Harper,” the ruggedly-dressed white man announced, suddenly sneering as he looked my friend up and down, “You want to know why?”

My friend did not really want to know why, but he figured he’d be told anyway. So the man continued.

“I hate Stephen Harper because it’s because of him that people like you are allowed into my country! Go back to wherever you are from! Go back to your country!”

Well that day he chose the wrong black man. My friend is as witty as one can get. He is a very intellectual person, working in the office of the Presidents of one of the biggest multi-million companies in Canada on a team which prevents lawsuits. He probably makes more money than his attacker makes. My friend did not pull out a gun, and shoot him, as some ignorant people would expect blacks to stereotypically do, but he pulled out something that was more effective. His tongue.

“This is my country!” My friend protested, very offended.

“No it’s not!” The white man said.

“Well I am from Nova Scotia.” My friend lied, “I was born in this country. My people have been here for centuries. As a matter of fact, I am sure that we have been here longer than your family. My family has been here for several generations. I also have Native Indian blood from my great grandmother’s side, which means my people from that part of the family were here long before yours even dreamed of setting foot in Canada, so don’t talk to me about going back to my country! If anything you go back to yours!”

The middle-aged, racist man was defeated. Rendered, speechless and stupefied, he slinked off into oblivion. I thought it served him right. How could his smart-Alec, racist self argue against a powerful comeback like that?

Racism and Immigration

Now this experience brings up the issues which many immigrants and refugees have to go through. I’ll call this particular one the “Go back to your country syndrome.” With the heated immigration situation in the USA, one wonders if the race relations in Canada will follow suit and take a beating. Many immigrants and refugees in the black community do not come here by choice. They come here because the conditions in their countries of origins were unfavorable at the time they left. Many have fled dangerous regimes, unstable political environments and yes, some have even fled for economic reasons. Whatever the reasons, most of them are here now and are settled. Many of them are working hard, studying in universities, buying homes, owning businesses, and entrenching themselves deeply into the Canadian system as Canadians. That is called immigrating.

The “Go back to your country syndrome” is a very disturbing phenomenon, not only because of its racial slurs, but also because nobody has more right to this country than anyone else, with perhaps the exception of the Natives Indians - the First Nations tribes, who were here long before Europeans started fighting for their land. The first blacks who came to Canada and stayed as Canadians, the Nova Scotians ancestors, came as slaves. They did not willingly get on boats and head out on discovery trips to find that utopian land of dreams. They did not come to Canada looking for greener grass, unlike their European counterparts. They came in chains. So I need someone to explain to me how the “Go back to your country” comments relate to them.

Now in case of the other blacks; the Africans, Caribbeans and Americans, in fact let me go further and say all the different groups who came here after the Nova Scotians, they too have every right to be here. They have as much right as a third generation Irish-Canadian person because in the end, they are all immigrants or children (even grandchildren) of immigrants. This is the year 2006 and for decades, Canada has been implementing an immigration system which has brought, among many other people, blacks. I agree that many illegal immigrants have slipped through the system and some of them may be ‘undesirable’ criminal elements, but that fact is not just limited to the black community.

Besides, not all those illegal immigrants are criminals. Some of them are just people who, as mentioned above, have come here to flee from danger, from economic strife and cannot afford to pay the hefty economic price landed immigrants have to pay before Canada accepts them. Many of them are just desperate human beings looking for greener grass. A big number of them are also in their late teens and early twenties. Canada needs young people in its workforce.

I do not work for the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada but I know that determining who stays and who does not stay in Canada is not an easy job. Each person’s circumstance is different. I do know of some people who came here illegally and yet today, because the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada let them stay, they are working hard, have saved up enough money to buy homes and are paying taxes to the government. There are plenty of these success stories.

Canada is one of the biggest countries in the world in terms of its size, yet it only has 30 million people. This is only slightly higher than Uganda, a considerably smaller country, which has about 23 million people. Because of the low birth rate among the Canadian-born population of European background, Canada has no choice but to bring immigrants from all over the world. These same immigrants have no problems populating the country quickly. So those who resent immigrants had better get used to the fact that immigrants and refugees who have been accepted by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada are not going anywhere. They are here to stay. This is their country.

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