by Beatrice Paez in Toronto
Tucked behind Toronto City Hall’s curved towers, on Elizabeth Street, is a modest patch of greenery outfitted with bright red benches and blossoming tulips. It’s from this spot — once a parking lot— that historian Arlene Chan reconstructs an image of Toronto’s first Chinatown.
Chan draws on a mix of personal history and research to inform her audience, who joined her Heritage Toronto tour of Old Chinatown on May 14. A librarian turned writer, Chan offers a glimpse into the lives of the city’s early Chinese immigrants.
“Why was there a Chinatown? Why was there such a tight-knit community?” asks Chan, before answering her own question. “It was because the Chinese were isolated. ”
Chinatown emerged out of necessity, with different associations providing social services, whether it came to finding a place to live or borrowing startup capital for their business, she says.
The origins of Toronto’s Chinatown
Today’s Elizabeth Street bears little resemblance to the lively stretch it had been in the 1930s. Gone are the streetcar tracks, the destination restaurants and the Chinese-owned laundry services that made it Chinatown’s first core.
Chan takes the tour group through several stops, starting with Old City Hall, where she points to the pillars carved with faces of municipal politicians and immigrants — including the Chinese — and then coming full circle at New City Hall.
The area and its surroundings (known as The Ward) was from the 1840s to the Second World War, a gateway community for Toronto’s new arrivals. Successive waves of immigrant communities— Jews, Poles, Italians and the Irish—all passed through.
Up until the end of the Second World War, the movement of Chinese immigrants in and out of the country had been regulated—first with prohibitive head taxes and then with documents called CI-9s, head tax certificates that were one of the first pieces of photo IDs in Canada.
“They were passports before passports were introduced,” says Lily Cho, professor at York University, in an interview. “These were documents explicitly used to identify people who weren’t given the rights of citizenship. You live here, you’ve worked here all your life, but you’re not a citizen.”
When the Exclusion Act, which banned immigration from China, was repealed in 1947, so too were CI-9s.
Canada’s adoption of the immigration point system in 1967 enabled Hong Kong entrepreneurs to invest in Chinatown at Dundas.
Redevelopment threatens historic Chinatown
But by the 1940s, the City of Toronto began eyeing the land as a crucial site for redevelopment, the linchpin for its plans to build a new city hall and civic square. Not only was it in close proximity to the seat of government, but The Ward was also considered a slum.
Media reports depicted an unsavoury climate riddled with crime and prostitution, an area dotted with overcrowded tenements and ramshackle storefronts.
“The Ward was considered an undesirable place; it had a bad reputation,” says Chan.
The City expropriated two-thirds of Chinatown, forcing property owners to disperse or relocate their business to Dundas and Spadina streets, explains Chan.
“They moved to establish their new buildings and facilities nearby, but that destroyed a lot of significant landmarks,” says Jack Leong, director of the Hong Kong-Canada library at the University of Toronto, in a separate interview.
By then, about 55 per cent of the property in Chinatown was Chinese-owned, says Chan. “People who had paid a certain amount for the real estate were not fairly compensated. They didn’t get fair market value for the land.”
What remained was a strip of unremarkable storefronts and forgettable restaurants, with little hint of its significance as the site where most Chinese immigrants settled into their new life.
The fight to save Chinatown
Seen through Chan’s eyes, Elizabeth Street looms large in the imagination. It’s where her parents, Jean and Doyle Lumb, opened their famed establishment, Kwong Chow restaurant. It’s also the last frontier on which the fight to preserve Chinatown was waged.
Together with other community leaders, Jean organized the Save Chinatown Committee in 1967.
The campaign mobilized in response to the city’s intention to acquire what was left of Chinatown. Council ultimately decided to preserve what was left, which also allowed Chinatown to be extended to where it is now, says Chan.
“My strong feeling was that it was [actually] because of four restaurants that opened after the Second World War,” she says. “[They] were dramatically different than restaurants in Chinatown earlier—the pre-World War II restaurants were very small, had a very limited menu and catered to the Chinese clientele.”
The “big four” restaurants, Sai Woo, Kwong Chow, Nanking and Lichee Garden, fashioned themselves as classy restaurants that accommodated large parties, offered a Canadian take on Chinese food and provided musical entertainment.
Chinatown also began offering tours around the neighbourhood, which wrapped up with a meal at one of these restaurants.
“All of the owners were prominent members of the Chinese community,” explains Chan. “Because of their leadership and interactions with Canadian society – politicians, celebrities started going to these restaurants. It turned people’s opinions.”
Today’s Chinatown is still bound together by a shared culture and similar values, notes Leong. But Chan and Leong say that Chinatown is always in a state of flux.
Condos have steadily sprung up on the south end of Spadina, notes Chan, along with new restaurants catering to the younger crowd seeking a modern take on Chinese cuisine. Such developments don’t concern Chan, who says Chinatown will endure because it knows how to adapt to survive.
“It’s constantly changing because the community has adapted as things are happening,” says Chan. “[The change] is going to take a while. It’s going to become a hipper part of the city; it’s going to reinvent itself again.”
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
by Susan Korah in Ottawa
Canada’s foreign policy is caught in a precarious balancing act between the “sunny ways” of election promises and the realpolitik of weapons sales to countries with dubious human rights records.
In his new book, Two Freedoms: Canada’s Global Future, former Senator Hugh Segal suggests a solution that he says is focused, principled, and based on two foundational principles – freedom from fear and freedom from want.
Segal’s expertise in foreign policy was acquired through more than 30 years of involvement in foreign and security policy. This included chairing the Senate Foreign Affairs and Special Anti-Terrorism committees and the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies, as well as a serving term as President of the Institute for Research and Public Policy (IRPP), a non-partisan think tank and research institution.
Introducing his book at a launch hosted by the IRPP in partnership with the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival, he explained that while he has the highest regard for some of Canada’s hardworking diplomats and other foreign service personnel, he is concerned that foreign policy is a mess of shifting priorities swinging from right to left, according to the ideology of the government that happens to be in power.
His aim, he said, is to give some clarity and direction to foreign policy, which in his opinion, should not be dependent on party politics.
More foreign aid
Elaborating on freedom from want, Segal said it is in Canada’s interest to see that families, communities and nations around the world live in reasonable prosperity, buoyed by a sense of hope for the future.
“Living in a state of economic and social despair can produce huge and even cataclysmic consequences, not only for those living in despair, but for their neighbouring communities and countries,” he pointed out, adding that the total absence of hope leads to violent behaviour based on a “nothing-to-lose” attitude.
“Putting those two freedoms – freedom from want and from fear – at the centre of our foreign policy would make it more coherent and the world would understand better what we stand for as Canadians,” Segal said.
He added that if extreme poverty is the root cause of violence, we have to ask ourselves what we can do to diminish this cause.
“I think that both in terms of foreign aid and international development and in terms of doing our fair share militarily, we are not doing enough,” he said. “In the [Prime Minister] Lester Pearson era we contributed 0.7 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP) to foreign aid, but in recent years our numbers have been much lower.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently pledged to boost funding to the global fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, but said Ottawa will not meet the goal to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on foreign aid anytime soon.
Increase military capacity
Another key point that Segal makes in his book and highlighted at the event, is that Canada needs to reinforce its values-based foreign policy with an appropriate military capacity.
“We have a great military, but we need more of them,” he said. “Canada should probably have Armed Forces of 150,000, of which 100,000 are regular forces and 50,000 are reserves rather than our present number which is in the 50,000 to 60,000 range.”
He said Canada also needs a 60-ship fighting navy, rather than one that has 20 or 30 ships, that can be deployed on humanitarian and diplomatic missions “to send a clear message about Canadian values.”
Giving some examples of how such military strength could help Canadians and those abroad, Segal said, “We need to make sure the Chinese respect the territorial integrity of Taiwan and other people.”
“Our failure to engage with [Bashar al-] Assad three or four years ago is why we have such a horrendous situation now,” he added, referring to the ongoing civil war in Syria.
Using a Western Canadian expression, he said: “We have a big hat, but no cattle,” a reference to cowboys whose boastful talk is not matched by action or even the capacity for action.
Decline since Chrétien era
“There has to be more cohesion between our foreign policy and defence policy,” he emphasized.
Segal’s central thesis is strongly reminiscent of a 2003 publication While Canada Slept: How We Lost Our Place in the World by Ottawa writer Andrew Cohen. Both authors lament the decline of Canada’s foreign policy and its military, especially since the glory days of Prime Minister Pearson.
Both consider that it took a turn for the worse under the leadership of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Segal points out that in that era, by sending delegations of Canadian business people and politicians around the world to increase trade, it became necessary to tread carefully so that no potential trading partner would be offended.
Both Segal and Cohen call for a values-based approach.
“The notion that this book might contribute to that debate in some constructive way would be my fondest hope,” said Segal.
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by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City
The 75th anniversary of the Battle of Hong Kong is being commemorated across Canada by veterans and survivors of Japanese occupation and their families. About 2,000 Canadians fought to defend Hong Kong against Japanese occupation in Canada’s first combat mission of the Second World War.
“They were relatively inexperienced. A lot of them were new recruits,” says Patrick Donovan, curator of the exhibit Hong Kong and the Home Front at the Morrin Centre in Québec City, Quebec. “A lot of them learned to fire their rifles on the boat ride over.”
The Royal Rifles of Canada, Quebec City’s main English-speaking regiment, and the Winnipeg Grenadiers were sent to Hong Kong in fall of 1941 to join a battalion of commonwealth forces totalling 14,000 troops.
On December 8, 1941, Japanese aircraft began attacking Hong Kong. A day earlier, they had attacked Pearl Harbor. The defence of Hong Kong ended almost three weeks later when Canadian and other defending troops were forced to surrender. Among Canadian troops, 290 were killed and 493 were wounded.
Hong Kong and several other countries and territories were occupied by Japan for the duration of the war. On November 4, 1948, the International Military Tribunals for the Far East found 25 Japanese military and government officials guilty of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Second World War.
Personal experiences of war
“The occupation is something we never talk about,” says Sovita Chander, whose father grew up in Japanese-occupied British Malay. The former president of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, which runs the Morrin Centre, Chander says she learned about this period of her father’s life through his memoirs.
“I can't imagine my own children — now in university — having to go through that, and my heart goes out to my parents who were so young at that time,” says Chander.
Her father’s memoirs describe how at the age of six, he and his family spent a day in an underground shelter as the Japanese army passed overhead. The next day, he watched his father stay with a dying Indian soldier, who he buried the next day.
“Despite the atrocities, horror, and depravation, he held no animosity for the former occupiers,” says Chander of her father, noting that Malaya was also a British colony. “He developed an international outlook that was liberal and tolerant.”
Chander says it’s important to tell the story of the people from the Québec City region who were in Hong Kong, including some people who were involved with the Morrin Centre at the time.
“We tend to focus a lot on the victories of the war and it tends to glorify the whole business of war,” says Donovan of the Centre’s exhibit. “It's important to look at some of the defeats, and this story is a tragedy.”
He says the soldiers who were not killed were held in Japanese Prisoner of War camps for the duration of the War. Many prisoners died of malnutrition or diseases related to lack of food.
According to Veterans Affairs Canada, more than 550 of the almost 2,000 Canadians who went to Hong Kong never returned.
“The Japanese still have not come to terms with what they did in the Second World War,” says Judy Lam Maxwell, whose mother lived under Japanese occupation in Hong Kong as a child.
“She had told me that because her father was a doctor, he could hide the kids in the hospital and they would be safe from harm,” says Lam Maxwell. “My mom, her siblings, and her mom are fortunate to have survived.” She says that her grandfather, or Goong Goong, was tortured by the Japanese, but also survived.
Commemorating the Battle
Lam Maxwell heard the stories of other survivors when she travelled to Hong Kong with ex-servicemen from Canada several years ago. She collected newspaper articles from Canada and Hong Kong that will be part of an exhibit at Centre A in Vancouver, B.C. later this year to commemorate the Battle of Hong Kong.
“Many of the Canadians and immigrants from Hong Kong living in Canada do not know this history and it’s important for museums and historians to share the significant link between Canada and Hong Kong,” says King Wan, president of the Chinese Canadian Military Museum Society.
The Chinese Canadian Military Museum in Vancouver will showcase “Force 136” on May 14 as part of Asian Heritage Month to commemorate Chinese-Canadians who joined the Special Operations Executive in East Asia during the war.
He notes that at the time, people of Chinese descent were prohibited from joining Canada’s armed forces. While many were rejected, recruiters who were eager to meet quotas accepted some Chinese-Canadians who enlisted.
The policy against Chinese recruitment was rescinded after the British government pressured the Canadian government to recruit Chinese-Canadians, as they could easily assimilate into East-Asian society and work for the army undercover. More than 700 Chinese-Canadians joined the Canadian army, mostly in British Columbia.
The museum will also commemorate the Battle of Hong Kong with another exhibit in the fall.
For Wan, whose family immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong, he feels these events are especially important so that we remember the service of both Chinese and Canadian soldiers who served in Asia and in the Battle of Hong Kong.
A poster recalls the Battle of Hong Kong to enlist new recruits to join the Royal Rifles of Canada, based in Quebec City. Source: Canadian Museum of History.
by BJ Siekierski in Ottawa
Patrick Brown has already taken the Ontario Progressive Conservative party in a new direction since becoming its leader — now he’s encouraging his former federal colleagues to do the same as they try to reinvent themselves in the post-Harper era.
On Saturday afternoon, over 300 people filled a warehouse in Barrie, Ontario to hear from Brown and six current Conservative MPs, all of whom are at least exploring the possibility of running for the Conservative party leadership.
The event was called “Conservative Futures” and the majority of them were confident about the party’s prospects in 2019, convinced the Liberal government will defeat itself through a combination of bigger-than-promised deficits, unmet promises, and arrogance.
Fewer, however, were willing to really look critically at the past — and specifically the last election.
Patrick Brown was an exception.
“(It’s) important to have this pause and understand where mistakes have been made so we can go into the future with a sense of conviction that we’re on the right path. My sense, showing up to probably about 1,000 cultural events in the last year in the GTA, is that if we do not defend minority communities of every religion, of every race, then every other cultural group will say: are we next?” he told the crowd.
“I think we lost our way when we did not say that unequivocally. I think there were mistakes made, and I think we have to learn from that.”
Reconnecting with ethnocultural communities
As both his and Jason Kenney’s persistent outreach to different ethnic communities have proved, Brown added, many ethnic minorities share Conservative values. But the party went “too far” with its niqab rhetoric during the federal election campaign.
They alienated voters they’d spent years bringing into the Conservative tent.
It was a blunt assessment that only Conservative MP Michael Chong would come close to matching on Saturday.
“I think it’s clear in the last election we lost the ethnocultural communities in this country, and we need to regain their trust,” Chong said.
He then recounted the struggles his father faced as a Chinese immigrant to the country in the 1950s, only four years after the repeal of the Chinese exclusion act. And the struggles he faced as a “mixed-race kid” growing up in rural Ontario in the 1970s.
“I tell you these stories because we need to reconnect with ethnocultural communities. We need to tell them that we understand the challenges of coming to a new country, often with a foreign language. We need to tell them that we understand the barriers that they face; that we understand their fears, hopes, and aspirations; that we understand the plight of Syrian refugees coming to this country, scared, facing an environment unknown,” he said.
Closer to turning the page
Though Chong acknowledged the mistakes, he didn’t mention the niqab specifically. Nor did he mention the barbaric cultural practices tip line Conservative candidates Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander introduced in the final weeks of the last campaign, and which was met with widespread scorn and derision.
Leitch, who spoke of the need for tolerance on Saturday, didn’t touch on it either.
“We know as Conservatives that we have to make sure that every Canadian is treated fairly and equally,” she said.
“We are the party where families of all religious backgrounds, of all ethnic backgrounds, have a home. As Patrick was mentioning, Jason Kenney has done outstanding work in reaching out to so many different groups across this country. He did a remarkable job. And he had many of us join him in doing that.”
A few weeks ago at the Manning Centre Conference in Ottawa, it was clear Conservatives were still bothered by the divisive identity politics that featured so prominently in the last campaign.
On Saturday in Barrie, five months to the day Canadians replaced a Conservative majority with a Liberal one, they came a bit closer to turning the page.
But they didn’t get all the way there.
“The reality is, in four years there will be people looking for change,” Brown said. “And if the Conservative Party has the courage to talk in a positive fashion…I believe there’s going to be a lot more Conservative MPs, and one of the people running for this Conservative leadership will be the prime minister of Canada.”
Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City
Flesh, Tongue, Yaya Yao’s first collection of poetry, brings you to a crossroads where you have a desire for belonging in the place you feel is home, but must first understand why your parents’ own upbringing makes finding acceptance such a struggle.
It is another example of how the need to reconcile with the past is felt across cultures and spans generations.
Yao’s collection recounts her adolescence between paradigms – past and present; tradition and modernity; a new home and the one left behind.
These are the fragmentations many children of immigrant parents experience, especially when they grow up in a culture that is markedly different from the one of their parents.
Yao’s poems, 44 in total, tell of the need for a continuous narrative and context for one’s place in the world. Her words, which sometimes appear scattered on the page and non-linear in form, symbolize this process of tying different histories together.
Language, history, family
Yao dedicated Flesh, Tongue to her father, Eugene Yong-Ging Yao, “who said he never got my poems.” Still, she made an effort to “get” him and her mother by learning their languages and sharing them in her writing.
Her poetry mixes Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, and Shanghainese – sometimes translating these dialects into English to reveal similarities and contrasts.
To someone unfamiliar with these languages, they demonstrate that one’s identity can be made both richer and more complicated with their knowledge. The harsh-sounding words on the page force us to appreciate the challenges of learning a language that sounds and even feels different on our tongues from the one in which we were raised.
Chinese culture’s emphasis on ancestors and honour also emanates from Yao’s retellings. They express a definition of family that goes beyond a biological, skin-deep bond to something much deeper, embedded in historical psyche.
There is also a reference to the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Knowledge of our past, and the significance it holds for our parents, forces us to embrace and hold on to these fragments of our ancestry as we build our own identities.
Yao was born and raised in the Parkdale and Little Portugal neighbourhoods of Toronto. These communities are built on many histories that have been uprooted from around the world and will continue to change as new narratives take form.
She tells her story in a unique voice, yet the nostalgia created by her images is a familiar sensation to anyone who has grappled with understanding where they came from and whether they ended up in the right place.
Dundas Street evokes memories
Yao’s “living room over dundas” symbolizes many of the homes immigrants have built for themselves in Canada’s bustling metropolises.
For me, Dundas Street brings back images of my earliest memories, spent with my Iranian grandparents in Dixie, a neighbourhood in southeast Mississauga. I knew at the time that, when we walked outside in one direction, we would arrive at the park where Grandfather would push me on the swing.
When we went in the other direction, we would cross a busy street to get to Chinatown, where I would skip from stone to stone in the pond around the imperially decorated gazebo.
The street was Dundas, which I now know goes a long way beyond our old neighbourhood and is a meeting place for people from even further away.
The Afghani bakery, the Latino pharmacy, the Indian restaurant – they all hold the histories of many immigrants who came to Canada and undoubtedly struggled to find their footing.
Like my grandparents and parents, they felt the strain of trying to fit the familiar pieces of their ancestral homeland into the strange spaces of a new home, many miles away.
Their children – like Yao, and like me – grew up learning that their paths do not start and stop outside their home, but cross continents and oceans. Carrying these narratives is both our burden and our blessing.
Reflecting on one’s past can induce grieving for what is lost, but also the recognition that there are parts of ourselves we can regain. Yao’s memories – built with colours, feelings and scents – not only tell of desperate times, but also of times when uncertainty was less destabilizing, before it beckoned us to question our place within our families, in society and in history.
“meet your younger
eyes, ones that never
doubt that you, now
are doing what you
Rosanna Haroutounian is a freelance writer and the assignment editor at New Canadian Media. She studied journalism and political science at Carleton University and now splits her time between Quebec City and Peterborough, ON.
by Jacky Habib in Toronto
Joyce Chan suspected something was wrong with her husband when he started losing his way to their local Tim Hortons five years ago.
“Instead of walking south, he’d walk north and get lost. I would have to go out and look for him,” Chan, 77, recalls, about her 82-year-old husband, Peter. She says he lost his way one day when they decided to go out for lunch. “We didn’t know where he was, but he had walked home by himself. He fell down quite a few times.”
Peter was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia with symptoms including a decline in memory, reasoning and communication skills and a gradual loss in ability to carry out daily activities.
Over 700,000 Canadians live with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, for every person with the disease, two or more family members provide care.
The diagnosis has taken a toll on Chan, who is Peter’s main caregiver. He has been on a waiting list for the last year to receive long-term care. The couple immigrated to Canada 48 years ago and have one adult son whom they seldom lean on for support because of his busy schedule.
“It’s not easy. Back home in Hong Kong, we have lots of relatives ... I can call them [for support],” says Chan. “We have been here so long and we have friends, but everyone has their own family and their own problems.”
Reverting to native language, reliving trauma
Sharon Tong, the support and education coordinator at the Vancouver Chinese Resource Centre (VCRC), says many of the seniors she works with came to Canada through sponsorship and this impacts the dynamic they have with their children.
Elderly parents often insist they can manage themselves and are not forthcoming with their children about their needs, she explains.
“They don’t want to put an extra burden on their children, but they don’t have a social network, because a lot of their social networks are still in their hometown,” she says.
The VCRC is an initiative of the Alzheimer Society of B.C. that began 20 years ago. The centre provides educational workshops in Cantonese and Mandarin as well as personal support and support groups for people with dementia and caregivers.
It has filled a gap for people who struggle to find services in their native language.
Ekta Hattangady, a social worker at the Alzheimer Society of Toronto, says losing the ability to speak English is a unique challenge for immigrants with dementia.
“A lot of people revert to their first language,” Hattangady says. “The services that are available to them last year are no longer suitable to them because they no longer speak English.”
The Alzheimer Society offers information in various languages as well as counselling with an interpreter. The most commonly requested languages are Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Arabic and Cantonese.
Another challenge with declining memory is that people recall old memories, which can be especially difficult if they have suffered trauma.
To deal with this trauma, Hattangady sometimes recommends attending programs or listening to familiar music, which has proven to decrease isolation and boost the cognitive processes of patients.
Accessing culturally specific services
For people with dementia who are in need of long-term care, dietary restrictions such as eating halal or kosher food can also be a concern.
This is where places like the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care come in. The centre was established in 1994 to serve the Chinese community. It now has four locations in the Greater Toronto Area serving several communities, including a dedicated unit for Japanese patients and another for South Asians.
The Yee Hong Centre incorporates culture in all aspects of service delivery, from the food it serves to the staff on site, who speak the same languages as the patients.
“When [patients] talk about home, they are talking about home in a small town in eastern China or a village in India,” says Yee Hong's CEO Eric Hong. “They may not realize they’re in Canada. Our programs cater to that so they feel they’re in familiar grounds and don’t get anxious.” Cultural music and newspapers at the centre contribute to this atmosphere, he adds.
Hong explains that the Centre also provides health care that is conscious of people’s experiences and expectations.
“Health-care [in Canada] isn’t as straightforward as people expect it to be. Even if [immigrants] get services here, sometimes they are not tuned into what a person of colour may want.”
This includes addressing different perspectives on what constitutes healthy behaviour, and the relationship between a health practitioner and patient, he explains.
Caregivers face challenges also
Isolation is another common experience of people dealing with dementia and their caregivers.
Chan shares the difficulty in caring for her husband who she says has not been the same since his dementia has progressed. She says Peter was sharp, intelligent and had a decent build, but is now skinny, weak and needs help with tasks like using the microwave.
Although he’s a quiet person who doesn’t converse with her much, Chan says when he gets sick, he screams at night and it’s tough to handle on her own.
“I count my blessings every day,” she shares. “I like to play Sudoku and to watch TV and to listen to music, otherwise I will be very depressed. I’ve got to keep up my spirits. I have to set an example for my husband. If I don’t think positive, he’ll be worse.”
Editor’s Note: Joyce and Peter Chan are pseudonyms as the couple did not want to be identified.
by Priya Ramanujam in Scarborough, Ontario
At a time when national and local mainstream media seem to be downsizing and shutting down daily, where does Canada’s ethnic media fit in? And how will these outlets survive?
The 2015 Canadian edition of the Global Media Journal, edited by Rukhsana Ahmed, explores these questions with five research papers that “address challenges and opportunities multicultural (ethnic) media present to immigrant integration.”
Across the board, one sentiment is clear: when considering both its multiculturalism and national media policy, Canada must keep ethnic media in mind.
Brampton’s ethnic media bridges cultural divides
It takes more than receiving a press release from the municipal government to ensure ethnic media report on city affairs, according to a case study by Ryerson University’s April Lindgren. In her study, “Municipal Communication Strategies and Ethnic Media: A Settlement Service in Disguise”, she suggests the city of Brampton is leading the pack in understanding this.
Interestingly, a decade ago, a similar study deemed the city of Brampton unresponsive to the needs of its immigrant community.
So what changed?
Lindgren cites 2006, when the city transitioned from being a multiracial city with various visible minority groups making up over 50 per cent of its demographic to a city with a dominant South Asian — specifically Punjabi-speaking Indo-Canadian — population as a turning point of sorts.
This is when growing concern emerged from long-time residents about newcomers and the city recognized a need to amplify its ethnic media reach in order to mitigate brewing conflict.
The resulting strategy included hiring an ethnic media coordinator who had to speak Punjabi, standardizing advertising buys across a number of approved ethnic media outlets and translating all communications material into Punjabi and Hindi (as well as Urdu and Portuguese).
While it wasn’t all smooth sailing — for example, some papers thought the press releases were paid advertisements and invoiced the city for them — Lindgren concludes that municipalities that follow Brampton’s lead will find they are actually “providing a settlement service in the guise of a communication policy.”
This is echoed by University of Ottawa researchers Luisa Veronis and Rukhsana Ahmed, who studied four ethno-cultural communities in Ottawa — Chinese, Spanish-speaking Latin American, South Asian and Somali — and their access to and use of ethnic media.
They suggest the City of Ottawa adopt a similar strategy as Brampton and engage multicultural media, which is typically more accessible (i.e. free, absent of language barriers) as well as translate important communications material, particularly on the city website.
Chinese language media struggles to maintain standards
The pressing need for stability and growth often trumps journalistic quality for Chinese-language media in Canada, say many members of the Chinese Canadian ethnic media in Xiapoing Li’s research paper, “A Critical Examination of Chinese Language Media’s Normative Goals and News Decisions.”
Much of the pressure for remaining profitable comes as a result of increased competition from free newspapers and websites entering the market and declining advertising revenues. Case in point: one of the top dailies, World Journal, ceasing all publication in Canada.
But as Li points out, Chinese-language outlets have many important functions, one of the most important being assisting with the integration and settlement of first generation Canadians.
These outlets are also the preferred media for Chinese migrants living in major Canadian cities who are looking to gather both government and general lifestyle information, according to researcher Yuping Mao.
“The government and NGOs should try to disseminate important information in Chinese ethnic media and through Chinese social networks,” states Mao in “Investigating Chinese Migrants’ Information-Seeking Patterns in Canada: Media Selection and Language Preference”.
For this to happen, Li puts forth three recommendations for Chinese ethnic media in Canada: offer professional training opportunities for ethnic media journalists, some who are hired without any previous experience to reduce costs; explore possibilities of organizations like the CBC collaborating with major ethnic media outlets; and finally allocate public funds for multicultural and multilingual media — a model already in place in Australia.
“There is little justification for the absence of similar services when Canada is held up as a model of multiculturalism,” Li writes.
Younger generations distance themselves from ethnic media
While ethnic media’s importance among first generation Canadians is clear, these outlets are growing out of touch with subsequent generations, says University of Waterloo’s Augie Fleras.
In “Multicultural Media in a Post-Multicultural Canada? Rethinking Integration,” Fleras examines the shortcomings of “multicultural media” when it comes to connecting with readers and viewers who are resistant to being placed in ethnic silos.
The issue is part of a larger context in which second and third generation Canadians see multiculturalism as an “obsolete straight jacket,” the paper suggests.
Fleras writes that in 2015, 10 ethnic papers flourished in their federal election coverage throughout just five Brampton, Ontario ridings where there is a heavy South Asian population. This is at the same time when longstanding publications like Canadian Jewish News and Corriere Canadese struggle to stay afloat.
In order to survive, traditional ethnic media must evolve, Fleras explains, making several recommendations.
The most important one is to produce content that is reflective of the complex lived realities of racialized Canadians, many of whom subscribe to this mentality: “Do not judge me because of my ethnicity, but never forget where I came from.”
Research Watch is a monthly column on NewCanadianMedia.ca that looks at recently released and emerging research relating to immigration, settlement, immigrant/ethno-cultural communities and multiculturalism. Researchers or organizations releasing studies we should consider are encouraged to write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Daniel Leon Rodriguez in Calgary
For some, Alberta’s history is just about cowboys, oil, and Conservatives, but a new television series is shedding light on the many contributions that minority groups have made in the province.
An Omni TV magazine-style series, “Alberta Roots”, goes under the surface to tell the stories of immigrant communities and their contributions to the wild rose province, since the time of their early settlement to the present.
Gingi Baki, the executive producer of the show, says immigrants with their kind spirit have defined Alberta since its beginning – defying the intolerant redneck stereotype many hold of the province.
“Generosity is a common theme among all immigrants,” said Baki, who adds that throughout Alberta’s history when immigrants did well, they also helped others in their communities.
The province’s first pioneers were from Great Britain, the U.S., Germany, Ukraine, Scandinavia and other parts of Europe.
Among the first immigrants to come to Alberta from the U.S. were black farmers who were denied equal rights in Oklahoma. Many Chinese workers made Calgary home as well after the national railway was built.
“There have been small pockets of immigrants through all our history,” says Baki.
Many immigrants have also come to Alberta because of the good economic times – from the gold rush to the first oil booms. However, many of them stayed after because of the beauty of the province, Baki suggests.
“The openness, the skies and the sunsets stay in your soul.”
Facing racism in the pioneer years
Kirk Niergarth, a professor of Canadian history at Mount Royal University in Calgary, says it was hard for minority groups to settle in Alberta right up to the early 20th century.
In 1911, a white teenager, Hazel Huff, lost her mother’s diamond ring and blamed it on a “big, black, burly nigger”* who broke into her home and assaulted her.
Media hysteria broke in Edmonton, and her assault was blamed on black people immigrating to the province, according to historical archives.
When Huff later told the truth, it was too late. “The damage was already done,” says Niergarth.
In 1892, a Chinese man fell ill with smallpox in Calgary. To contain the disease, city officials burned the laundry where he lived, and put all of its occupants under armed quarantine.
A mob of 300 people tried to run the quarantined individuals out of Calgary when they were released – and the RCMP had to control the situation.
Niergarth explains that Alberta – like the rest of Canada – felt troubled by the changes newcomers were bringing to society.
“The waves of immigration created anxiety of the unknown.”
Alberta’s changing fabric
It is not a secret that Alberta is growing rapidly. Part of this growth is that more minorities are moving into the province.
According to Statistics Canada census data, the growth of Alberta visible minorities has skyrocketed. In 1991, visible minorities made 9.4 per cent of Alberta’s population. As of 2011, they represented 18.4 per cent.
Of those visible minorities, a 2008 report shows 91 per cent settled in the major cities – Calgary and Edmonton. But that also appears to be changing.
Presently, the city of Lethbridge attracts many visible minorities thanks to its low cost of living and good job market. The city is home to the biggest Bhutanese community in Canada.
Surya Acharya, an agricultural research scientist and immigrant from India, moved to Lethbridge from Edmonton in 1989. His friends told him that he was moving into “redneck country.” They said he wouldn’t survive too long in the small southern Alberta city.
It has been almost 30 years, and Acharya says he has been comfortable in Lethbridge since he arrived.
“They were wrong,” he adds.
Today, he is the president of the Southern Alberta Ethnic Association, where 32 different ethnic groups from four different continents are represented.
Acharya says things have changed extensively since he moved into Lethbridge. “It is more common these days to see visible minorities in Southern Alberta.”
Acharya says the reason why there aren’t more visible minorities in rural Alberta isn’t because of intolerance, but lack of resources and entertainment opportunities.
“Jobs only keep them busy for 40 hours,” he says.
Alberta’s immigrant spirit
Acharya says that the redneck stereotype is untrue in modern Alberta. For him the pioneer immigrant spirit is what represents the province.
“It doesn’t matter where you came from, people only care that you work hard – it doesn’t matter your colour or religion,” he shares.
Niergarth says the stereotype of Alberta being a redneck province comes from the interpretation of its culture and politics in other parts of Canada.
Things like the Calgary Stampede and the platform of the Reform party were associated with the redneck image, he explains.
However, these views of Alberta aren’t always accurate. “It is not based in research, so proceed with caution,” Niergarth says.
If Alberta was really intolerant there would be no immigrants in the province, he adds.
“Maybe the proof is in the dough.”
“Alberta Roots” is being aired on Omni TV in Alberta and British Columbia. In the future it will be aired in Ontario, and it will be available on the Omni website.
*Editor's Note: "The racial slur, albeit disquieting, was quoted precisely from a historical context to establish the type of mentality that existed among some people."
Family reunification is at the core of the Liberal government’s immigration policy. After our two-part in-depth piece on the pros and cons of the family class immigration stream, this new series takes a closer look at the process from the perspectives of major immigrant groups in Canada. What are the opinions and experiences of individuals and families who took this route or are in the process of doing so? We find out what works and what needs improvement. The following report is the first in our series and looks at what can happen when family reunification rules bring together and split apart a family at the same time.
by Shan Qiao in Toronto
Canada’s family reunification program brought Simei Wu’s parents to Canada, while simultaneously separating her from her husband, who chose to return to Mainland China to be with his parents.
Wu and her husband Feng Xie immigrated to Canada in 2008. Two years later, after they settled down in Toronto working full-time in the service sector, Wu applied to have her parents come to Canada under the Family Reunification (FR) class.
“I’m the only child to my parents,” she says. “They [wanted] to live with me and help me take care of my child.”
As a popular tradition in the Chinese community, elderly parents often help their children by looking after their newborn grandchildren and assisting with housework.
Wu had her first child in early 2010. At that time, both she and her husband earned just enough to pay the bills. There wasn’t too much leftover to hire a nanny or for Wu to be a stay-at-home mom.
“I sent applications to sponsor my parents to immigrate in May 2010,” she recalls. “I learned from CIC’s (Citizenship and Immigration Canada's) website that the average waiting time was five to eight years.”
She initiated the same application process for her husband’s parents later that year.
The impact of changing policies
When Wu submitted her applications there was no yearly intake cap for the parent and grandparent sponsorship program.
This soon changed, under the Conservative government, due to the large backlog of applications.
On Nov. 5, 2011, CIC imposed a two-year moratorium on new applications and announced that when they were accepted again, only 5,000 a year would be permitted. As such, the government also created the super visa allowing elderly parents to visit Canada for two year periods. The visa is good for 10 years.
Wu’s parents were consequently on the super visa, remaining with their daughter while waiting for their FR application to progress.
“My parents were anxious when they learned [about] the halt on new applications. They didn’t know when they will receive immigrant status and worried [that] they might not be able to afford going to the hospital if sick,” Wu shares.
In addition, when Wu initially applied, the minimum required income for a family of her size (four grandparents, two parents, one child) was $59,907. This was determined based on the Low Income Cut-Off (LICO) established by Statistics Canada annually.
The Conservatives then introduced a 30 per cent increase, meaning Wu’s family would need earn $77, 879 annually in order to sponsor all four grandparents. This posed a challenge since the family had been earning a humble $60,000 a year.
Last summer, after Wu’s second child started to walk, she found out through CIC’s website that her parents’ applications had been approved and their next step was to undergo a medical check.
Her husband’s parents’ applications, however, had been forwarded to a Hong Kong office for further review, meaning possibly another five to eight years of waiting.
“Everything goes back to zero for my in-laws,” Wu explains.
She says the prolonged process has already consumed her relationship with her husband Feng. The different outcome of each other’s parents’ applications has caused tension between Feng and his in-laws. He now works in China to look after his ailing parents, and only returns to Canada during holidays.
Getting through the red-tape
As a result of her own experience, Wu has become more involved in talking with her immigrant friends and helping their elderly parents to apply for family reunification.
She and her friends formed an unofficial parents’ immigration club at the Peanut Plaza in Toronto’s Don Valley West community.
Group members exchange information with each other on the bench outside of the Feng Tai (Foody Mart) Supermarket. They pick up free Chinese weekly newspapers and magazines, searching for knowledge-based articles or immigration consultant advertisements.
Each November, Wu and her friends begin preparing application documents. They secure Purolator couriers and meet them right at 9 a.m. on the first work day of each new year for CIC, to hand in their application packages, which are now only accepted by mail or couriers.
“People pay couriers an extra $200 or more for this job,” explains Wu. “They have to line up at CIC’s office to ensure the application is sent … it’s a battle to get your hope started.”
Skeptical of changes ahead
Yang Haifeng, the president of New Canadian Community Centre, is doubtful about the Liberal government’s campaign promise to double the number of applications allowed for parents and grandparents to 10,000 a year.
“We’re not sure if it is really 10,000 applications yet because the additional 5,000 applications are not a small amount. It takes four to five years for applicants to get their FR status approved,” Yang says.
“I’m concerned that doubling the application numbers will also double the process time, making the waiting time as long as eight to 10 years. How could our seniors afford to wait for such a long time?”
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit