There are plenty of good reasons to oppose immigration into Canada. Presumably a man of the Left, Environmentalist David Suzuki opposes immigration: “Canada is full! Although it’s the second largest country in the world,” he says, “our useful area has been reduced. Our immigration policy is disgusting: We plunder southern countries by depriving them of future leaders, and we want to increase our population to support economic growth. It’s crazy!”
Canada has a burgeoning underclass of multigenerational welfare recipients, many but by no means all of them Indians and Inuit. The Fraser Institute says there’s an intensifying jobs shortage, and that recent immigrants receive tens of billions of dollars more in benefits than they pay in taxes. The root of this challenge, then, is not just that so many of the marginalized seem to be unemployed and unemployable. It’s that they’re unequipped for participation in the modern economy.
Maclean’s magazine had a special edition about racism in Winnipeg, reporting that Indians in the North End endure daily indignities and horrific violence. They said the circumstances for Aboriginals in Canada are a national disgrace, and statistically worse on all major counts, except for the incarceration rate, than for African Americans in the United States.
There’s a myth promulgated by prominent Aboriginals like Senator Murray Sinclair. It’s that their people must be confined forever into ghettoes, and ideally ones located in the wilderness. But the Senator, for example, never suggests that Indians and Inuit should have the opportunities he had when growing up in the real-world city of Selkirk, Manitoba. For all his blather about residential schools, some of which were admittedly horrendous, why doesn’t he look forward instead of backwards?
An Ojibwa grandmother told me, “We could have gotten over the residential schools trauma years ago if we’d had support systems that worked.” Another Ojibwa grandmother recently said to me. “I simply don’t care about our land. It doesn’t do a damned thing for us any more.’
I expect Mr. Suzuki would agree with me when I say there are no jobs in Canada for which we couldn’t prepare our own people.
My problem is that while we extend a red carpet to hundreds of thousands of immigrants, there are hundreds of thousands of our own who are permanently excluded from the mainstream society.
As an example of indignity, I took an Indian woman to Ottawa’s YM/YWCA, which provides comprehensive one-on-one mentoring for life and work. As we were filling out the application, a black man came over. On learning of my protégée’s ethnicity, he said in effect, “Go away. We only serve immigrants.” Devastated, my protégée jumped up to leave
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett recently announced funding for a power line to connect the remote community of Pikangikum to the grid, at a cost of $60 million, or more than $20,000 per resident. That may provide reliable power to a community where 80 percent of the shacks don’t now have it, and a third of the housing is condemned as unfit for human habitation. But that’s a band-aid on the problem in a community where just this summer four young people, out of a population of 2,800, killed themselves within a single month. Chief Owen says having a reliable electricity supply will allow his community to move forward with infrastructure, economic development and community growth. But you can’t give a shoe factory to a community that has no trained managers or employees and expect it to compete with China.
Iqaluit, capital of the eastern arctic Nunavut territory, just approved the opening of a store to sell beer and wine, with the hope that bootlegging and binge-drinking would subside. Even if you solved the ghastly housing crisis, there are deeper foundational challenges. The first arises simply from people living in a community having no economic reason to exist.
The second is that the school system is based on the concept that the future lies with the traditional attitudes and practices of the preindustrial economy. With the intention of preserving the Inuktitut language, the schools start teaching children to read only in Grade 4, using books for preschoolers. One young man recently told me his schooling was torture by boredom.
But as France’s GEO magazine reported, a young man in Pangnirtung typically dreams of becoming an airline pilot, and a young woman, an interior decorator.
Things are hardly better for Canada’s urban Aboriginals, with 60 percent of all Indians now living in cities and Ottawa the largest Inuit community. Absent support systems, the welfare community is also largely the drugs and crime community. Imagine being an able-bodied person and getting up in the morning day after day with nothing to do and nowhere to go! As one Indian recently said to me, “I wouldn’t have to take my medications (crack cocaine and alcohol) if I had something to do.”
Aboriginal children are not the only ones in the back of the bus. I know of a middle-class mother advised to move her daughter to another school in Ottawa. “Because of the high proportion of Somali children,” the teacher said, “we have to teach to a much lower standard.” My point is that Canada should deliver to all children, of all backgrounds, a real chance to develop talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential. That’s what the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of the Child requires.
The Indian-run non-profit agency in Vancouver, Aboriginal Community Career Employment Services Society (ACCESS) provides a template for enabling Aboriginals like him to transition into the mainstream. CEO John Webster, a member of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, was reported in Toronto’s Globe & Mail as saying that most clients are in bad shape on arrival. Providing around-the-clock assistance, ACCESS looks at all needs and makes a plan that may start with finding a place to live. If clients have addiction issues, they get directed into treatment. If they need basic training, they go into an eight-week classroom program that teaches essential skills for work, learning and everyday life. On graduation from the initial program, ACCESS clients can go into an apprenticeship program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Unlike other students, Aboriginals rarely fail their programs. Thousands of graduates have gone on to work in construction, food retail, the police and other occupations.
Why isn’t this program universal? It’s not the proverbial rocket science that both positive and negative communities support their corresponding outcomes.
In sum, I oppose immigration because we need first to look after our own.
Colin Alexander was publisher of the Yellowknife News of the North and the advisor on education for the Ontario Royal Commission on the Northern Environment. He lives in Ottawa and has family living in Nunavut.Commenting Policy
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