July 2019 / Toronto - This has been an interesting past few weeks with various polls being released gauging Canadians including immigrants (including refugees) beliefs, feelings and understanding of (im)migration, immigrants as people, ethno-racial make-up of immigration and the changing face of Canada`s ethno-cultural/racial make-up.
The latest, a poll for CBC had similar results as the Ekos, Leger and Ipsos polls of the last few months: A majority of those polled (76%) believe that more should be done to encourage skilled labour to come to Canada, while 60% said they didn’t care one way or the other about the ethnic make-up of new immigrants. Only 24% of those polled said that too many immigrants came from racialized (visible minority) communities. This is better news than the other polls referenced above.
On the other hand, fifty-six percent of those polled said they were worried that accepting too many immigrants would change Canada. That same sentiment was expressed by slightly less than half (47%) of new Canadians.
I found two things interesting but not too surprising about this new poll. First, that immigrants themselves worried that accepting too many would change Canada (culture is dynamic and of course it changes with newcomers. This is not a negative phenomenon in and of itself). Second, that of the 56% who worried about immigration changing Canada, the majority was in Alberta and Quebec.
Last week, at the International Metropolis Conference (a gathering of governments, academics and civil society organizations and practitioners) I presented on a plenary on Cities, Migration and Inclusion. I spoke of Quebec’s egregious Bill 21, and called it ‘forced secularism’. I talked about how Islamophobia is often fought on the bodies of Muslim women and that all policies from municipalities to provinces to the federal government; from employment to childcare, to seniors’ benefits must be grounded in feminist, anti-racist frameworks.
I think I offended representatives from Quebec’s provincial government and mayors from Quebec’s municipalities who were present, and my colleagues from civil society organizations who have been silent for the most part about the passing of the Bill. I have no regrets!
While I am forever optimistic that Canada will realize its potential as a decolonized, anti-racist, inclusive society, there is much work to be done; and as we continue the push for social and economic justice we must name what must be changed: Anti-Black Racism, the ongoing colonial practices in our country’s relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples; the xenophobia faced by immigrants and refugees, particularly those who are racialized; issues of ableism, trans and homophobia, misogyny, economic disenfranchisement; Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of exclusion and marginalization. We must speak to root causes and put policies and practices in place to address and redress these inequalities. It is time for a new conversation about how we create the change we want to see. If we are truly committed to a Canada that is inclusive of all, we cannot wait. And we cannot and must not be silent. Audre Lorde, essayist and lesbian-feminist activist reminded us time and time again in her writings, ‘Your silence will not protect you”.
I ended my comments at the Metropolis panel, during the Q and A period by repeating my mantra which I truly believe or else I could not continue to do the work that I do: ‘The arc of history is long, but it always bends towards justice’.
I wanted to use this space to welcome Sean Rehaag, a legal scholar, social justice activist and supporter extraordinaire to the sector, to his new role as the Director of the Centre for Refugee Studies (CRS) at York University. Sean is always inspirational as you’ll see from his introductory remarks on assuming his new position. I’ve reprinted it here with his permission.
“I am honoured to be taking on the role of Director at the Centre for Refugee Studies.
When I was considering where to begin my academic career, CRS was one of the main reasons I chose York University. As an interdisciplinary refugee law scholar, as an advocate for advancing the rights of refugees through evidence-informed laws and policies, and as a teacher committed to social justice and community-engaged pedagogies, CRS offers a space where I can (and have) lived my values.
I would like to take this opportunity to express a heartfelt thanks to former Director Jennifer Hyndman. She has steered CRS impressively over the past several years and has left everything in great shape. Happily, she is just moving down the hall, so CRS will continue to benefit from her considerable talents and energy.
As I begin my term as Director, there are more refugees around the world than at any point since World War II. Many more are internally displaced by human rights abuses, conflict, development and environmental degradation.
At the same time, racist and xenophobic rhetoric and policy are on the rise. Political actors are increasingly seeking attention and power by beating up on refugees and other migrants. New fences and detention centres are going up. Legal protections for migrants have been narrowed. Safe and lawful migration routes are being cut off. Those fleeing for safety are confronted with ever more dangerous pathways, all too often with devastating consequences.
For many of us who research, teach and study in areas connected to refugees and displaced people, it is a challenging time. The news often seems bleak. But it is also a time when research involving refugees and other displaced people is more important than ever.
We need solid critical and theoretical accounts of forced migration and related issues. We need strong interdisciplinary and empirically grounded research offering methodologically robust analysis in this area. We need creative and effective knowledge mobilization strategies so that such analysis better informs debates and policy, both in Canada and abroad. And we need to ensure that research and knowledge mobilization efforts include refugees and other displaced people as partners, at every stage in the process.
I am excited about working to pursue these objectives with partner organizations, faculty, staff, research affiliates, visitors, students, alumni, community members, and everyone else associated with CRS.
If you have ideas about how I can best do that in my new role as Director, please feel free to reach out.”