Commentary by Farid Rohani in Vancouver
We don’t blame all Arabs every time OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) pushes up (or down!) the price of a litre of gas. We don’t blame Mexicans if fruit prices go up or the Japanese when B.C. lumber mills close for lack of demand. We accept the free market principles of supply and demand and we deal with price fluctuations as best we can.
So why do we blame immigrants, and specifically the Chinese, for spiking real estate prices when the real problem is lack of supply and increasing demand?
It’s a dangerous tendency, and one that threatens to undermine the very ideals of citizenship and plurality that have made Canada so admired around the world. Our country’s heritage includes every ethnicity on earth. The principles that define us as Canadians include those of dignity and kindness, tolerance and compassion. The elements that underpin our democracy include a respect for liberty, for freedom of movement and for the potential of a market driven economy under the rule of law.
But these principles and values are not guiding the current discussion. Instead we see outbursts of ignorant emotionalism and incipient racism.
It’s important, first, to define the immediate problem. The economic power of recent immigrants and foreign purchasers has showcased excessive economic advantage while denying many the ability to be part of a vibrant, growing cosmopolitan city. Many of the young people and professionals who make up our city’s core are feeling frustrated by our failure to find a solution to affordable housing.
Yet, instead of working together to address the challenges of inequity, many are retreating to the more familiar ground of racial accusations. They use the seeming intractability of these problems to build scapegoats. Even people who may have been acting in goodwill have been guilty of launching dubious studies that rely on selective facts and the dangerous sweep of ethnic stereotyping.
In an age when terrorism is also a serious social issue, and when certain people have chosen to target ethnicity or religion in that conversation, this raises a risk that I feel personally. I, who have been proud to call Canada my home for more than four decades, have an Arabic name — one that might easily become part of a database of potential security targets, not for anything I have done, but merely because of my heritage.
This is a perversion of the Canadian experiment, and one we must deal with quickly, and together. We cannot promote prejudice against any racial or ethnic group without betraying ourselves. The vitriolic accusations against “others” can lead only to hate and a division that will harm us all.
We need a solution, of the sort that can only be found through joint action. We cannot continue to speak from both sides of our mouths, on the one hand promising economic hope and jobs, while at the same time isolating recent immigrants and visitors from normal social intercourse based on mutual respect.
Certainly, government must be forceful in addressing issues such as the disruptive influence of laundered money. At the same time, we must all stay focused on the economic principles of a liberal democracy, of supply and demand. We must remember the values of immigration and the benefits of building a progressive society in which people of diverse backgrounds can live and prosper together as members of one city and country.
This responsibility rests upon all levels of government, as well as upon community leaders and the media. All must work together to refresh the spirit of optimism, while rejecting any narrative where facts are manipulated to become food for racist agitators or dismissive special interest groups.
The only way to resolve deep social and economic problems is by forging a unity of purpose.
Racism has deep roots. Without a conscious, deliberate, and sustained effort, we are all at risk from its destructive influences. It can only be overcome through open dialogue and close association among those of opposing points of view.
So, I address this appeal to all — politicians, pundits and community leaders: the realization of our collective potential depends on the character and initiative of every individual. No action plan can succeed if leaders fail respond in their own capacity. I respectfully and urgently call upon my fellow Vancouverites of whatever background to look at current real estate situation with new eyes and with a new resolve to set ethnicity aside — to embrace all of your neighbours, new and old, in the search for a lasting solution.
Farid Rohani is a life member of The Laurier Institution.
Published under arrangement with the Asian Pacific Post